This Blog is written by Souravi Das from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. Edited by Lisa Coutinho.
The article features the concept of Feminist Criminology, its development, significance, and implications in society. It also incorporates an analysis of the feminist theory of Criminology and highlights the key aspects of this school of criminology. Criminology refers to the interdisciplinary approach of studying crimes from a societal perspective. It focuses not just on studying the crimes, but also what implications such crimes have in the society, the reason behind crimes and the mentality of those individuals involved in the commission of such crimes. The study focuses on determining what factors lead people to commit criminal activity. It also emphasizes why crimes are more prevalent in certain areas as well as the impact of a criminal act on the victims. As such, Criminology includes all things associated with crimes, criminals, and the victims of such crime.
Criminology purports to understand why crimes are committed that lead to the disruption of law and order. It tries to identify the causes of criminal behavior so that it can be reduced or eliminated. The resultant findings of the study can then be utilized for amenable solutions and enabling law enforcement to frame such policies which would make the society a better and safer place.
The school of Feminist Criminology was developed around the late 1960s and 1970s as a response to the discrimination and disregard faced by the women in the traditional approach of studying crime. The feminist criminologists contend that the traditional criminological theories are androcentric, due to the presence of patriarchal dominance in the development of criminological theories as well as its reflection in the criminal justice system. Feminist criminology attempts to challenge the mainstream idea of criminology so that the theories which explain male crimes are not applied to explain those committed by women. This school of criminology is intimately connected with the advent of Second Wave Feminism, as it puts forth the several points of view of various feminist writers.
Feminist criminology emphasizes the fact that the societal roles played by the women are contrasting to the roles played by the male counterparts, thereby leading to separate pathways towards crime, deviance, and victimization, which are generally overlooked by the other theories of criminology. Earlier, the feminist criminologists pointed out the importance of the three aspects, which are women as victims, offenders and women working in the area of criminal justice, and about which very little was known.
The feminist criminological school also holds that “sexism”, present in criminology is responsible for influencing the imprisonment, sentencing, and punishment of women, who are actually not expected to be a criminal, however, if they were then they would be attributed as bad because they dared to go beyond their biological traits. This is due to the outdated construct of women. It is argued that women are considered to be different or more prominently ‘inferior’ to the men, and this stigma has affected the women in terms of their civil rights and the access to social resources. Just like in society, in criminology as well, the men were given the central position and women served complement roles.
The theories in Criminology will be of the substandard form if the importance of gender is not taken into consideration. It is pertinent to not only recognize the difference in the behavior of men and women but also highlight the factors that function differently for men and women. The school of feminist criminology believes it is more of a perspective than just a mere theory. It is also significant that women are given more visibility in this domain so that adequate research is conducted. Further, non-sexist methodologies should be applied for feminist research in order to have a practical and political implication.
Even in the domain of Criminology, the feministic approach is crucial for an enhanced understanding of the behavioral as well as psychological factors of the women who commit crimes and those who are the victims of such crimes. Feminist criminology constitutes an essential source of critical thinking, which is required for challenging the generalized assumptions of criminological theories. The various crimes experienced by women cannot be effectively understood through the sole androcentric approach of criminology, as such neither the nature of the criminal act nor the response to such an act be properly assessed. Feminist Criminology aims to examine the several political, economic, and social experiences of women in order to develop strategies for attaining higher equality in women’s roles.
The feminist approach to criminology has enhanced this discipline in several ways. Firstly, the earlier criminological theories failed to take into consideration the offenses committed by women, and those faced by them. While discussing offenders it was just assumed that one is referring to male offenders, whereas the female offenders were looked down upon as abnormal for having committed something which was beyond their character trait. Thus, feminist criminology enabled to take into cognizance the several factors responsible for such offenses and have a feminist outlook beyond the generalized assumptions. Further, feminist writing has sought attention to the way the women are treated within the realms of the criminal justice system and has also challenged the previous generalized assumption of the men dominated system.
Most importantly, the feminist criminology has set up a new discipline which focuses on the importance of the earlier ‘hidden’ forms of criminal activities, such as sexual abuse and domestic violence, which takes from the safety of homes. This has raised significant questions regarding how protection can be ensured to the females against male violence, and also how the survivors or victims of such violence can be supported. The feminist outlook has also laid significant emphasis on the gendered nature of crimes. It has also asked why women commit lesser offenses and why men committed more. Therefore, this school of thought has made remarkable implications by shedding light on the need to have feminine take in criminology beyond the generalized assumptions.
The question regarding the generalizability as well as the gender ratio problem has always guided the mainstream criminological theories. Feminist research in criminology has been attentive to both genders, and at the same time tries to link feminist criminology with the trends of mainstream criminology. Provided ahead is the way how the scholars of feminist criminology analyses these problems.
THE GENERALIZABILITY PROBLEM
The traditional criminological theories explaining what leads the people to commit crimes are the theories that explain why men commit crimes and yet be considered as gender-neutral. Upon recognizing that both the genders have a structured feature in the society, the feminists raised the question if the theories of men’s crimes are applied to the women as well. Those scholars who tried to test if mainstream criminological theories are generalized for women mostly relied on constructs such as the family, peer relations, social learning, and deterrence. Such studies only yielded mixed results. The mainstream theorists also could not account for the glaring differences in gender in terms of offending rates. This highlighted the necessity to examine how and what factors influence the offense across the genders. Also, feminist scholars emphasize that gender is a significant feature of the social organization, and as such, the experiences of men and women would be different. Hence, the theories that attempted to generalize across the genders were not able to address the primary social forces. Due to the gendered lives of men and women, the essential explanatory factors have different meanings and consequences for men and women.
THE GENDER-RATIO PROBLEM
The reason behind the divergent rates of offending between men and women is what constitutes the gender-ratio problem. The scholars dealing with such issues pay heed to the gender inequalities as well as the differences, so as to construct theories that will be accountable for the varying rates of offending between men and women. Also, the mainstream approach tries to assess the gender gaps by taking into consideration the differences in the gender and treating it as an individual trait. Even more promising approaches are the ones that treat gender as a crucial element of social organizations, as it allows a closer examination of the gender gap. The men and women live in different structural circumstances and conditions, which are highly affected by the factors such as racial and class inequality, as such the approaches that would tend to focus solely on the gender gap issue will not be able to address the causal factors which shape the differential offending rates of men and women.
Feminist criminology, which emerged during the second wave of the feminist movement, had highlighted the pressing issues affecting women, with regard to criminal activities. Mostly, the issue of crime and women was discussed from a masculine perspective. However, the school of feminist criminology has contributed greatly to the understanding of female offenders and victims. The concept of feminism and criminology is marked with discipline, effective policies, and methodologies. Over the years, feminist criminologists have questioned the gendered biased assumptions which existed in this domain, so that the voices and experiences of women are heard.
The female compliance with law and order and its conformity can be substantiated with several statistical pieces of evidence that report that female criminality is comparatively lesser than the male. Here, it is contended that the lower criminality is not the concern, but the generalization of gender-biased assumptions. As such, it is emphasized that since the societal roles of females are contrasting to the ones of the males, there are separate ways leading to victimization and crime, which tends to be overlooked by the criminological theories.
In the domain of Criminal law, where the criminal liability will arise based on the ‘mens rea’, which is a pre-requisite to make sure that the accused was aware of the commission of the crime. It is further possessed that ‘mens rea’ requires a willful intent to commit the crime, which the females don’t have, as per the traditional criminological theories. Several feminist criminologists affirm that females were incarcerated, more as punishment for being deviant from their biological trait than for the crimes committed by them. Also, much importance is given to the background of a female offender than male counterparts. The presence of such stigmas regarding women affects both the genders. It only purports to reinforce the notion that masculine violence is normal and stereotype them as perpetrators while carrying on with the notion that females are either the passive victims of the circumstances or behave as criminals under exceptional circumstances.
Feminist criminology stands for criminological research as well as theory that not only focus on crime and criminal justice but also attempts to understand the systematic and gendered social world. The concept recognizes that gender is not just a natural factor but a complex cultural and social index. It also points out that gender relations have a fundamental impact on social institutions and social life. Further, it is argued that there is a difference between the gender constructs and relation as femininity and masculinity is not viewed symmetrical, and are rather reliant upon the male superiority over women. Therefore, the school of feminist criminology emphasizes that women should be at the central and not peripheral to men, in the area of the intellectual framework.
1] Smith D. (1995) ‘The Contribution of Feminist Criminology. In: Criminology for Social Work. Practical Social Work’.
2] Cellen, F. (2017) ‘Taking Stock: The Status of Criminological Theory’.
3] Morris, A. (1988) ‘Feminism And Criminology In Britain’.