Feminist Approaches

Home » Help With Sociology Assignment » Feminist Approaches

Feminist Approaches
Can theories developed to explain male behavior be used to understand female deviance and crime? According to feminist scholars, the answer is no. A new interest in women and deviance developed in 1975 when two books-Freda Adler's Sisters ill Crime and Rita James Simmons's Mellow and Crime-declared that women's crime rates were going to increase significantly as a result of the women's liberation movement. Although this so-called emancipation theory of female crime has been refuted by subsequent analysts. Adler's and Simons's works encouraged feminist scholars (both women and men) to examine more closely the relationship among gender, deviance, and crime. More recently. feminist scholars such as Kathleen

Daly and Meda Chesney-Lind (1988) have developed theories and conducted research to fill the void in our knowledge about gender and crime. For example, in a study of the female offender, Chesney-Lind (1997) examined the cultural factors in women's lives that may contribute to their involvement in criminal behavior. Although there is no single feminist perspective 011 deviance and crime, three schools of thought have emerged. ' Why do women engage in deviant behavior and commit crimes? According to the liberal feminist approach, women's deviance and crime are a rational response to the gender discrimination that women experience in families and the workplace. From this view, lower-income and minority women typically have fewer opportunities not only for education and good jobs but also for "high-end" criminal endeavors. As some feminist theorists have noted, a woman is no more likely to be a big-time drug dealer or an organized crime boss than she is to be a corporate director (Daly and Chesney-Lind, 1988;Simpson, 1989). By contrast, the radical feminist approach views the cause of women's crime as originating in patriarchy (male domination over females). This approach focuses on social forces that shape women's lives and experiences and shows how exploitation may trigger deviant behavior and criminal activities. From this
view, arrests and prosecution for crimes such as prostitution reflect our society's sexual double standard whereby it is acceptable for a man to pay for sex but unacceptable for a woman to accept money for such services. Although state laws usually view both the female prostitute and the male customer as violating the law, in most states the woman is far more likely than the man to be arrested, brought to trial, convicted, and sentenced.

The third school of feminist thought, the Marxist (socialist) feminist approach. is based on the assumption that women are ex-ploitedby both capitalism and patriarchy. From this approach. women's criminal behavior is linked to gender conflict created by the economic and social struggles that often take' place in postindustrial societies such as ours. According to the social scientist James Messerschmidt (1986), men control women biologically and economically just as members of the capitalist class control the labor of workers. As a result, women experience "double marginalize," which provides them with fewer opportunities to commit certain types of deviance and crime. Because most females have relatively low-wage jobs (if an)') and few economic resources. crimes such as prostitution and shoplifting become a means to earn money or acquire consumer goods. However, instead of freeing women from their problems, prostitution institutionalizes women's dependence on men and results ill a form of female sexual slavery (Vito and Holmes, 1994). Lower-income women are further victimized by the fact that they are often the targets of violent acts by lower-class males. who perceive them. selves as being powerless in the capitalist economic system. Because Western societies value aggressive male behavior, whether in sports or business pursuits. men who feel powerless may "prove" their manliness by doing gender-attempting to improve their male self-image through acts of violence or abuse against women or children (Siegel. 2007). Some feminist scholars have noted that these approaches to explaining deviance and crime neglect the centrality of race and ethnicity and focus on the problems and perspectives of women who are white. middle- and upper-income. and heterosexual without taking into account the views of women of color, lesbians. and women with disabilities (Martin and lurik, 1996).