Males have an official offending rate of at least four times that of females. Explanations for this differential range from socialisation to lesser levels of social control and postmodernist ideas of transgression. Therefore to answer why males have a higher offending rate, it is necessary to explain why females appear more conformist and, at the same time, factors that seem to be driving male offending.
Weak gender answers tend to focus on reasons for female conformity. Better answers look at factors driving male offending as well. While this introduction is quite short, it clearly signposts that both factors will be considered in this answer. It is always good practice to show the examiner you have a thorough understanding of the question and how you are going to approach it in your answer.
Frances Heidensohn notes that evidence from recorded crime statistics, self-report studies and victim surveys all confirm that it is mainly young, adult males who carry out crime. In terms of serious crime, males account for 87% of convictions and constitute about 97% of inmates in prisons and juvenile detention institutions. However, some critics argue that female offending is much higher than officially recognised. Females are simply better at evading being caught, or are treated more leniently. For example, Pollak talks of a ‘chivalry factor’ whereby females are treated more leniently throughout the criminal justice system.
Examiners like it when candidates include statistics in their essays. There is a good evaluative AO2 point about the ‘dark side’ of female crime statistics.
The Victorians had ideas, now largely discredited, that biological factors explained the differences in offending between men and women. For example, Cesare Lombroso argued that females are innately different from men and that this explained the different levels of crime between the genders. Such ideas have largely been replaced by sex-role theory, which sees the socialisation of young females as ‘lacking’ in the values that are generally associated with delinquency and aggressiveness, which lie behind a lot of crime.
Sometimes it is worth putting obsolete ideas into essays simply to discredit them. This will gain AO2 marks. If you do this it will enhance your answer further if you discuss which ideas and theories have replaced them, as here.
Another explanation for differential gender offending rates is the way females are controlled in society. Social control theory highlights how females are controlled in both public and private spheres in ways that do not apply to males. So, while daughters are controlled more within the family, most adult women are controlled by their domestic responsibilities. However, Pat Carlen argues that if the social control of women is so strong then why do some women still become deviant? Her explanation is that it is a failure on the part of some women to make ‘class deals’ (material rewards in return for working) and ‘gender deals’ (psychological and material rewards in return for love) that explains this deviance.
Control theory is discussed here and then evaluated through the work of Carlen.
Many feminists attribute differential offending rates simply to a lack of opportunities. This view is supported by many radical feminists who regard women’s position in the home as one of entrapment. Through the ideology of the family, women’s focus is in the private sphere of the home whereas men occupy the public sphere of the workplace, the streets at night and pubs. However, this traditional view of gender is now out-dated and to some extent obsolete. Women now increasingly occupy the public sphere and the growth of ladette culture and female misdemeanours linked to excessive drinking in the nocturnal economy reflect this. Stephen Jones wonders if the decline in male social control has encouraged women to make choices to offend in the same way that men do. However, others suggest that women offend precisely because they are under the control of men.
The marginalised position of women is effectively discussed here, followed by some evaluative points. The idea of social change is shown through the suggestion of increasing female offending rates.
Carol Smart argues from a feminist and postmodernist position that to truly understand issues of gender and crime we need to apply new radical thinking to challenge traditional ideas. She argues the case for a need to apply what she calls ‘transgressive criminology’ to explore in a reflective way explanations for women’s differential participation in crime as well as understanding the ways women can be harmed by crime. For example, she argues that a fear of crime results in many women having self-imposed curfews — too frightened to go out at night, especially if it is dark. Another area she highlights is the way women are sometimes labelled by the police, or in court, as somehow complicit in being raped if it can be shown that they were dressed in ‘provocative’ clothing, such as low-cut tops or miniskirts. Smart’s ideas, contained within transgressive criminology, deserve credit for the way they have made sociologists rethink their ideas about women and crime. In addition, it poses some challenging questions that were not considered in this topic, previously dominated by male sociologists. Another of its strength lies in the way it addresses why most offending is by males, through a focus on the impact of masculinity.
Examiners increasingly expect to see recent research and ideas in answers from candidates. Postmodernist ideas of transgressive criminology would be expected in essays like this. Note how the last three sentences make evaluative AO2 points as well as linking into the content of the next paragraph. This enhances the coherence and structure of the answer, but is a difficult skill to develop.
Raewyn Connell argues that although there is a range of masculinities, the most culturally dominant form is ‘hegemonic masculinity’ which is typically expressed through physical strength and male power. James Messerschmidt recognises that the construction of masculinity differs in different contexts. He cites the example of working-class males who, denied power at work, may seek to enhance their masculinity through violent behaviour. In response to the criticism that the work of Connell and Messerschmidt lacks context, Simon Winlow explained male violence as a result of the shift from a traditional to a post-industrial society. He argues that young men, particularly those not working at all, may have great difficulty resolving this, frequently resorting to antisocial and violent behaviour.
A range of theorists are discussed here, including Raewyn (né Bob) Connell. Although Winlow makes similar points, he can also be used here to evaluate and hence gain AO2 marks.
In developing the role of masculinity, Jack Katz argues that the general search for pleasure needs to be understood in the context of a male world-view. Katz recognises the importance to young males of status, control and success. Another postmodernist analysis comes from Stephen Lyng who argues that young males search for pleasure through the risk-taking behaviour of edgework (behaviour that is on the edge between safety and danger). However, neither Katz nor Lyng can explain why excitement and edgework should drive males (rather than females) to offend, other than in order to accomplish masculinity.
Postmodernist ideas are again explored here with Katz and Lyng, who are then evaluated, deriving AO2 marks.
In conclusion, it is apparent that females do offend less than men, although some of their crimes may be hidden. There are several explanations as to why this differential in offending takes place, ranging from factors specific to females to attempts to link it to an accomplishment of masculinity. However, female crime is rising and it might be the case that as female autonomy increases, then so will the offending by women.
This is a clear conclusion that refers explicitly back to the question. The notion of possible future change is the focus of the final sentence, written in a reflective way.
Ethnicity and crime
1 Intraracial crime is committed within ethnic groups rather than between them.
2 Blacks are four times more likely to be arrested than whites.
3 Results from self-report surveys vary, with some showing black people committing significantly fewer offences. However, any self-report survey has to be assessed with caution since individuals may conceal their offences (or indeed on occasions exaggerate). Probably the safest conclusion to draw is that offending rates are more or less the same for whites, blacks and Asians.
4 More likely, even for the same offence.
5 Canteen culture.
6 Institutional racism.
7 A moral panic about black muggers was generated according to Hall et al. in order to distract attention from a crisis of capitalism and to provide a justification for giving the police more powers.
8 Subculture, marginalisation and relative deprivation.
9 ‘Obligation by bystanders’.
10 a Like Merton he explained that blacks and Hispanics in El Barrio aspired to the same goals as the rest of American society with crime stemming from blocked opportunities.
b Like Cloward and Ohlin he found that they engaged in what he described as an ‘alternative economy’ of criminal and black-market operations, similar to their ‘illegitimate opportunity structure’.
11 While some sociologists argue that ethnic-minority groups are more likely to be victims of crime, it seems that, when their lower-age profile, social-class location and the deprived areas where most of them live are taken into account, this shows that their victimisation rate is similar to the majority white population. However, all ethnic-minority groups are at greater risk of racially motivated attacks than whites and they report higher levels of fear of crime than the white population.