Updated: Apr 12
Author: Shaily Garg, IV year of B.Com.,LL.B(Hons) from University Insitute of Legal Studies, Panjab University.
“To call woman the weaker sex is a libel; it is a man’s injustice to a woman. If strength is meant brute strength, then indeed, a woman less brute than a man. If by strength is meant moral power, then woman is immeasurably man’s superior. Has she not greater intuition, is she not more self-sacrificing, has she not greater powers of endurance, has she not greater courage? Without her, he could not be. If nonviolence is the law of our being the future is with women. Who can make a more effective appeal to the heart than women?”
- Mahatma Gandhi
Feminist Criminology focuses on women delinquent, women sufferers, and women in the criminal justice system dealing with the reasons, impacts, consequences of female criminality. The main objective of Feminist Criminology is to intensify our understanding related to both male and female offending as well as criminal justice system retaliations to their crimes. This article focuses on the emergence of feminist criminology, theories and methods associated with feminist criminology, and the perspective of feminist criminology both in scholarship and visibility.
Traditionally, criminology has been considered one of the most androcentric (male-centered) fields of study in the social sciences. The majority of the research and theories have been found on the analysis of male criminality and criminal justice reactions to male offenders. At that time, women were represented stereotypically and their traits were cited as feminine such as gentleness, empathy, humility, and sensitivity.
The criminology focused more on objective empirical research, using official records and large national surveys that failed to consider important differences in male and female pathways into crimes, types of offences, victimization, and punishments. This void has been filled by feminist criminology where more attention is placed in bringing women’s ways of understanding the world into the scholarship of crime, criminality, and responses to crime. A shift has been made in an approach that women are not only the subject of crime but can be the offenders of crime for various reasons.
The Scope of Feminist Criminology
Indeed, males commit far more offences than females, and hence, are deemed important to criminology because of the relationship of criminology with legislative and corrective systems. Later on, feminist criminology enhanced the scope of this field by making us understand why people commit crimes so that policies could be enacted to reduce those crimes. In 1970, women not only commit fewer crimes, but such crimes are the least bothered in the society, therefore, they are largely ignored.
It was viewed that the Weberian-value free approach to the study of criminology is based on the experiences of the researchers, and they shape and formulate their approaches to their research. This resulted in skepticism about the data and theories about men and boys. Researchers and theorists believed that the study of male crime is the generic aspect of the study of crime and that women who engaged in crime were more of an illusion than a subject to be studied in and of itself.
Ultimately, these criticisms give rise to the feminist approach to criminology. Feminist criminology circumscribes a wide range of theoretical perspectives and methodologies that focuses on a broad range of issues related to women and crime, including theoretical explanations of crime, responses to female offending, programming in women’s prisons, women as workers in the field of corrections, and the special needs of women prisoners. However, these feminist approaches have in common their focus on how the gendered structure of society is related to crime.
The emergence of Feminist Criminology
Before the last two decades of the 20th century, the criminological work was mainly focused on male offenders and criminal justice system retaliations to male crimes. However, later on, female incarceration rates were skyrocketing, leading to a cascade in research on women's crime and the criminal justice system. The primary explanations of the large increase in female prisoners and feminist criminological scholarship were federal sentencing reforms in the 1980s and the “war on drugs” The factors leading to the emergence of feminist criminology are:
Accepting the theories that could explain both the gender-gap in crime and female offenders.
Change in women’s movement, i.e., change in both female participation in crime and perceptions of female participation in the crime.
The criminal justice responses to female offending had become harsher and less ‘chivalrous’.
Introduction of ‘new criminologies' or the radical feminism, conflict approaches to the study of crime.
Feminist Criminological Theories
Feminist criminological theorizing is not limited to one approach and has adopted several different perspectives, the most noteworthy of which are a feminist approach to mainstream criminological theory, feminist pathways theory, socialist feminist theory, and multiple marginalities/ intersectionality theories.
Mainstream Criminological Theory: This theory focuses more on boys and men considering them mainstream in criminal activities, whereas women are somehow unimportant in this field and usually support sometimes men in criminality work but not equally show up like them.
Feminist Pathways Theory: This theory explicitly focused on the relationship between life experiences and future criminality of women, arguing that one must consider the role of patriarchal society if one truly wishes to understand female crime and criminality.
Socialist Feminist Theory: This theory explains both male and female crimes of various types and argued that one cannot ignore either economic structures or gender relationships in any true explanation of crime. The patriarchy and capitalism have placed women in desperate positions where they submit to exploitation to survive. The gender relation has structured crime such as domestic violence, sexual harassment, and sexual exploitation of women in the sex trade.
Multiple Marginalities: This theory is based on the different experiences of women in life because of race, class, religion, region, and sexual identity. These divergent experiences exceptionally transform crime, urging the study of feminist criminology as a paramount priority.
Present Status of Feminist Criminology
It has been a daunting task to gain widespread acceptance of feminist Criminology in the field of criminology which was dominated by scholars who are more adhered to mainstream theories and research and therefore the approaches challenging the mainstream perspective have met with condescension or simply with disinterest. With the change in time, the mindset of people changes, and they tend to accept the theories of Feminist Criminology.
Females are not seen as a victim only but also offenders and can be a part of the criminal justice system. The rising rate of female incarceration depicts the role of female criminology. Efforts have been made to publish Feminist criminology journals, record data of crime against women, encourage females to be part of the criminal justice system, and raise awareness of violence against a female on a daily basis. Also, feminist criminologists study how laws and criminal justice policies around the world may persecute women, sanctioning them for contravening traditional gender norms, in particular regarding sexuality, and also punishing those who commit offences against a woman. However, after all these efforts, women victims are still considered offenders in many cases such as rape, sexual abuse and harassment in the workplace, etc.
Although progress in Feminist Criminology has been made in recent times, it remains somewhat marginalized in the overall discipline. Minimal attention has been given to feminist criminology because mainstream journals publish only limited feminist scholarship. Thus, new generations of criminologists are educated and yet have scant information about feminist criminology.
However, feminist criminology remains alive and well. The Division on Women and Crime is one of the largest sections of the Society of Criminology, several major publishers have published book sequences focusing on women and crime, and new scholars continue to emerge. The defining characteristics of feminist criminology are the prominence on how social structures affect men and women differently, the relationship between research and activism, and the interrelatedness between victimization and offending among women.