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Often missing from discussions of deviance and crime is the notion of gender. Gender can be defined as the social positions, attitudes, traits, and behaviors that a society assigns to females and males. A close examination of theories of deviance reveals an androcentric perspective. Barring examinations of a few deviant behaviors (e.g., prostitution), there were, and still are, few serious considerations of female deviance.
Feminists have made a few strides with respect to introducing notions of gender into theories of deviance. While a single theory is still missing from the literature, there are four main schools of thought: (1) the chivalry perspective, (2) patriarchal considerations, (3) women’s liberation, and (4) victimization.
The chivalry perspective proposes that girls and women are not seen as deviant because male members of society protect them from the label. Male police officers, prosecutors, and judges have a traditionally chivalrous attitude toward women and treat them with more leniency than men. This theory, regardless of its potential accuracy, perpetuates the cycle of male-centered perspectives, attempting to explain female behavior by examining male attitudes and behaviors.
Patriarchal explanations posit that male-dominated social institutions, especially the family, are designed to prevent girls and women from engaging in deviance and crime. Socialization controls girls more than boys, teaching boys to be risk takers while teaching girls to avoid risk. According to the theory, the behaviors of girls and women are more closely monitored and controlled, resulting in less delinquency.
The remaining two perspectives, the women’s liberation hypothesis and the theory of victimization, attempt to explain the deviant behavior of girls and women apart from the attitudes/behavior of males. The women’s liberation hypothesis proposes that as the gap between women’s and men’s social equality decreases, the gap between women’s and men’s deviant behavior decreases as well. The ”liberation” hypothesis, however, has not received much empirical support. Though increasingly represented in the labor force, women continue to be concentrated in traditional ”pink-collar” work that reflects a persistence of traditional gender roles. Therefore, this theory would not explain an increase in female crime rates.
One of the most persuasive theories regarding girls’ and women’s deviance proposes that they are deviants in part because of their status as victims. Chesney-Lind and Pasko (2004) recognize that girls are much more likely to be the victims of childhood sexual abuse than are boys. Additionally, women offenders frequently report abuse/violence in their life histories. Empirical research suggests that exposure to abuse and violence could compel girls/ women to engage in various types of deviance (e.g., running away) and crime.
Contemporary research reflects a need to take female deviance and crime much more seriously. There is an increasing body of research examining girls and women engaged in deviance and crime (e.g., female gang members), but most of the contemporary research continues to examine girls and women engaged in traditional deviant and criminal behaviors (e.g., status offenses, prostitution) and/or limits discussions of women and deviance to women’s status as victims.
- Chesney-Lind, M. & Pasko, L. (2004) The Female Offender: Girls, Women and Crime. Sage, Walnut Creek, CA.
- Hagan, J. (1989) Micro- and macro-structures of delinquency causation and a power-control theory of gender and delinquency. In: Messner, S., Krohn, M., & Liska, A. (eds.), Theoretical Integration in the Study of Deviance and Crime. SUNY Press, Albany, NY, pp. 213—28.
- Thorne, B. (1994) Gender Play: Girls and Boys in School. Rutgers University Press, Piscataway, NJ.
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