Female Criminals Essay, Research Paper
-Chapter One Introduction Crime, when discussed or written about, appears initially neutral, meaning you can not differentiate whether the author is writing about men, women or both. References to “offenders” and “criminals” are common language among much criminological literature. Only after considerable reading does it become clear that the subjects concerned are male, not female. Such neglect is often rationalised by suggesting “females represent a small proportion of arrested offenders” (Morris, 1987, p.1). Frances Heidensohn (1996, p.7) states “shoplifting is in practice the only major category of crime which women make a significant contribution”. Despite being in small proportion to male offending, female criminality does exists in modern society, which is a deserving justification for it to be studied in equal balance to male criminality. Pat Carlen et al (1992, p.18) suggest that “female criminals have been consistently portrayed down the ages as peculiarly evil and depraved, and as unstable and irrational. Often their irrationality is linked to their biological and their psychological nature”. The notoriety of Mary Bell, Myra Hindley and Rosemary West aids in reinforcing this image. The effects of criminal activity upon society are often issues raised for legal, political and moral debate. However, the effects of academic and societal perceptions upon the offender are rarely determined. This study will concentrate on highlighting how, and to what extent, negative perceptions of female offenders have been created. Aiming to establish how criminological theories and media portrayals of female offenders have contributed to such perceptions. Female offenders no matter how grave or trivial the crime committed, are often viewed by academics and society as ‘doubly deviant’, “having offended not only against the Law but deeply ingrained social norms about how women should be” (Cavadino et al, 1998, p.280). A stereotypical image of a female offender has been set, and seeded deep into the societal framework. By taking a look at where these views have come from, perhaps the issues concerned can be fully understood. It is also fair to say that female offenders are often judged upon the roles that they are seen to be deviating away from rather, than the crime they have committed. Once again, an attempt will be made to discover an explanation for such a situation. This piece of documentary research will be formed in chapters, the introduction being the first. The second chapter will consist of the aims and objectives as well as the methodology. Within this chapter the desired outcome and the way in which it will be achieved shall be expressed. The third chapter will be compiled of, a critique of a selection of relevant literature surrounding criminological theories and, an analysis of the implications on society regarding media depiction’s of crime. The principle point of such an exercise it to help clarify terms and to establish existing limits of knowledge. A basis to suggest approaches not previously considered and for questions to be answered can be created as a result. In the fourth chapter a selection of relevant criminological theories will be highlighted. By assessing where views of female offenders originated it can be established how they influence academics who make use of and enforce the theories to have negative perceptions of such individuals. The first to be discussed is the masculinity theory. The underpinning principle of this theory is that men who commit crimes are doing so to display virility, carrying out acts brought on by natural male instincts. Whereas women who commit crime are simply deviating away from their societal roles. Thus presenting the argument that crime for men is justifiable, but is highly inappropriate behaviour for women. The second theory to be discussed in this chapter is the labelling theory. The principles of such a proposal are of paramount importance to this study as it highlights how labels set by powerful members of society can be adopted by the powerless to create an overall perspective of certain individuals, in this case criminals. It must be noted that the labelling theory is not meant to explain the primary incidence of crime, merely the impact of the labels. However, the Strain theory, as outlined in Naffine (1987) is offered as an explanation for the actual incidence of crime. Due to this reason, the strain theory will follow the labelling theory. The main assumption that it makes is that individuals commit crime due to external strains. It also contends that women face pressures such as “maintaining positive affective relationships” (Naffine, 1987, p.16), which will result in their deviancy. In addition to the previously mentioned theories, the fourth chapter will also contain definitions and explanations of the ‘evil women’ and ‘chivalry’ theories, which are outlined in Cavadino et al (1997). Once all the theories mentioned have been defined, their direct impact upon female offenders will be debated. An analysis of the negative implications that can result will also be presented. The point of this exercise is to highlight how traditional and contemporary criminological theories can influence the socialisation of women, enforcing stereotypes which women often feel pressured to maintain. If such social standards are not met, by acts of criminality taking place, it can be argued that women will be ostracised as a result, whereas the male offender does not face such strict social barriers. The way in which female offenders are “sensationally treated in the media” (Carlen et al, 1992, p. 19) will also be a topic for discussion, in the sixth chapter. Due to media portrayal, offenders in general will often suffer from severe stigmatisation. However, this chapter will aim to assess how the media has influenced perceptions of female offenders in particular. The contents of the final chapter will take the form of an overall conclusion. A summary of all the points discussed throughout the study will be offered to ascertain how academic views and media portrayals can create negative effects on female offenders, as a result of their gender alone. -Chapter 2-Aims, Objectives and Methodology This chapter will attempt to highlight the subject matter of this dissertation, outlining how key stages will be achieved and why such methods were undertaken. AimsThe primary aim of this study is to answer the research question, ‘What are the effects of academic views and media portrayals of crime upon female offenders’, as fully and effectively as possibly. Objectivesi) To analyse a selection of criminological theories and attempt to discover how and to what extent they can effect perceptions of academics involved with such a field of study, in relation to female offenders. ii) Determine how and to what extent media portrayals of female offenders can effect and influence societal perceptions of such individuals. iii) To successfully complete such tasks. Methodology This study will be based upon the method of documentary research making use of secondary sources of information. The use of secondary sources of information, such as books, journals and newspapers will be implemented. A relatively philosophical stance will also be taken on the overall essence of the dissertation. There are certain advantages to using such a method, which will be discussed in due course. However, with advantages, disadvantages will inevitably arise, these will also be highlighted in this methodology. The initial question when beginning research should be, as Judith Bell (1996, p.50) states, ” what do I need to know and why?” followed by, “what is the best way to collect information?” Once these questions were answered it seemed apparent that primary research would be an unnecessary act to carry out. Mainly due to the fact that the study is centred around examining theories and portrayals to gain an answer to the research question. This dissertation does not set out to prove a particular hypothesis, it is more likened to an investigation into a particular topic, trying to establish how perceptions of female offenders were created and, the extent to which such perceptions have an effect on the offender. By carrying out documentary research, a sense of self-sufficiency is created, as in there is no dependency upon respondents to satisfactorily complete either questionnaires or interviews. If primary research were to be carried out, there would be a risk element as to whether there would be any response at all. In the event of such a situation arising, the entire study could be jeopardy. Although, it could be argued that successful documentary research is dependant upon the validity of the information found or documents made use of. However, overall documentary research appears to be a much more secure form of gaining the desired information and outcome in relation to this particular area of study. The use of primary research can cause constraints. Once primary research has been decided upon as a method of study, be it interviews or questionnaires, restrictions in relation to commenting on the results it produces will arise. However, documentary research provides a complete free reign over what is to be discussed and analyse. The only instance in which primary research could be beneficial to this study is if questionnaires or interviews were issued to discover academic and societal perceptions of female offenders. Although, such an exercise would not highlight the effects of such perceptions which is what the dissertation is attempting to assess. It can therefore be seen that documentary research, in this case, is a more appropriate form of study offering more validity, security, certainty and less constraints with regard to the desired outcome of the research question. -Chapter Three-Literature Review The purpose of a literature review is one that is paramount to the completion of any study or piece of research. It is a critical summary of existing materials in a particular field. The ability to form the background knowledge by providing insights into previous work results. As this dissertation is separated into two main sections, so to will the literature review. The first section will consist of a critique of certain criminological theories, which are concerned with assessing, why criminal behaviour among individuals arises. This process will aim to establish their effectiveness by highlighting a variety of academic opinions. This information will then act as a basis for further study into the subject. The second topic for analysis is one that relates to the media. Differing opinions as to the effect on society from the reporting of crime stories will be assessed. The literature derived from researching the subject can act as a springboard, allowing a continuation of study to arise. Section One – Criminological Theories. There are three main theories that will be analysed in this review and further on in the dissertation; Masculinity theory, labelling theory and strain theory. The main concern of such theories is to assess why certain individuals behave in a criminal manner. The first theory to be critiqued is the masculinity or, sex-role theory. The masculinity theory contends that crime is firstly, symbolically masculine and secondly, masculinity supplies the motive for a good deal of crime. It also outlines the ideal roles that men and women are desired to fulfil i.e., men to provide financial stability and women to stay at home and raise children. Masculinity theory, pioneered by Talcot Parsons (1947) also supposes that when males commit a crime it is justifiable, as they are simply acting out natural traits of masculinity such as aggression. However, it dictates that if a female commits a crime she would be diverting away from the ‘norm’, defying societal perceptions of women. This particular theory has received many criticisms due to the fact that, as Ngaire Naffine (1987, p.60) suggests, it is “one of the muddiest concepts in the psychologists vocabulary”. It appears as if much negativity surrounds the theory as it is vague in its conception of gender and criminality. Naffine (1987, p.60) continues to comment by stating that “those who theorise the significance of masculinity for criminality (and femininity for conformity) have never managed to specify exactly what it is about masculinity and femininity which triggers this behaviour”. However, alternative, and rather more positive views of masculinity theory have been given. James Messerschmidt (1993, p.19) outlines its importance to criminology and the work of criminologists “because it was the first attempt connect masculinity with the gendered nature of crime”. Messerschmidt (1993, p.19) even extends his views by suggesting, it is a “full-fledged criminological theory”. It is obvious that there is a vast comparison between the views of Naffine and Messerschmidt. On the one hand is the belief that the sheer vagueness is its main drawback. Whereas on the other, is the proposal that it is in fact complete in its assumptions and as a theory. Another area to question is its actual influence on criminological thinking. How, and to what extent, has it actually effected the way criminologists perceive gender role in relation to criminology? What impact has it had on the subject of criminology and, has it been of any importance? Naffine (1987, p.60), provides vast amounts of criticisms in relation to masculinity theory and is under the impression that it “failed to develop beyond a vague notion that women are socialised in a manner which equips them poorly for offending”. Which can be interpreted to mean it created no real impact upon the world of criminology as it has no real validity. In contrast to this, Sandra Walklate proposes that the reason why masculinity theory is limited in its influence is due to the fact that criminologists neglected to advance the suppositions that it makes. Walklate, (1998, p.83) expresses this by proposing “while sex-role theory had some influence on criminological thinking…that influence has been limited by the failure of criminology and criminologists to reflect upon its value.” To summarise, it would be fair to say that masculinity theory advances some important suppositions about gender roles and criminality. From a brief insight into the literature which surrounds the subject it is evident that there are mixed views. Naffine (1987) appears to draw on the negative aspects suggesting that it has no real validity as it is based on assumption rather than factual knowledge. Messerschmidt (1993) is of the contrasting view that it should not be discarded as it evolutionary almost. The fact that it was the first theory to consider gender as an aspect of crime provides Messerschmidt with the view that it is of great importance to the field of criminology.
The second theory to be analysed is labelling theory. The essence of such a theory is that powerful members of society have the ability to create labels as terms for certain powerless individuals, which are then adopted by the powerless, in this case criminals. To explain this approach further it can be said that such labels create secondary crime. Simplified, this means that individuals will live up to the adopted label and behave accordingly. Like the masculinity theory, many conflicting arguments have arisen in relation to labelling. Robert Lilly et al, (1995, p.120) are of the view that “few criminologists would dispute that labelling succeeded in bringing attention to the issue of societal reaction”. Later suggesting that it drew “criminologists to the important insight that the criminal nature of behaviour is socially constructed” (Lilly et al, 1995, p.130). The impact of societal reaction towards offenders is an issue that is of the utmost importance. Taking into account Lilly et al’s documentation of labelling theory, only a positive reaction is portrayed. However, Hazel Croall is not so favourable of the labelling theory’s achievements. After defining and discussing labelling theory, Croall highlights the fact that “despite its enormous appeal a number of critical points have been raised” (Croall, 1998, p.64). She continues to explain that “it neglected to explore the power involved in defining crime and the political nature of deviant labels” (Croall, 1998, p.65). One of her major criticisms is that “the approach was too sympathetic to offenders” (croall, 1998, p.64). Suggesting that criminal behaviour could be justified as it is not the criminal’s fault that certain labels, which have been inflicted upon them, resulted in offending. What can be ascertained from the literature surrounding labelling theory? It seems that on the surface, labelling theory is successful in its aims. It manages to outline the ways in which societal reaction to individuals can cause negative implications for those concerned. This factor will allow criminologists to broaden the scope of study, instigating new possibilities in relation to the cause of crime. However, when looked at more closely the theory appears fundamentally flawed. Croall was correct in contending that those who are deemed to be powerful, being those creating the label, never have their identity fully exposed. Leaving questions such as, who are the powerful, and where is this power derived? Strain theory is the third and final theory to be debated. The principles of strain as a component of criminal activity were first introduced with the work of Emile Durkheim and later adapted by Robert Merton (1949). Strain theory supposes that individuals seek such pleasures as monetary gain, social status and affective relationships, if such satisfactions are not achieved, frustration and consequent deviant and criminal behaviour could result. Strain theory can be criticised for the fact that it supposes that all individuals have the same aspirations. It also assumes that those who do not achieve them are of the lower classes and out of frustration they resort to crime. However, Joseph Sheley (1995, p.309) is of the view, like many researchers that, “lower class individuals have low aspirations for success and therefore are not under any strain”. Hyman (1953) was the first to raise this argument, subsequently, research has taken place to assess the statements validity. Such research has proved that “lower-class individuals have lower absolute levels of aspiration than do middle-class individuals .That is, lower-class individuals on average desire less education, less money, and less prestigious occupations than do middle-class individuals” (Sheley, 1995, p.309). According to strain theory, those with high aspirations that are not achieved are the most likely to become frustrated and resort in criminal activities. However, it is those with low aspirations where criminal activity most often occurs. The situation where “several prominent criminologists have called for the abandonment of classic strain theory” began to evolve. The studies that set out to prove the level of aspiration in conjunction with crime only took into consideration a desire for education attainment and not monetary success. Sheley continues to comment on strain theory by suggesting it “must be more relevant to adults, to whom the pursuit of money is a more serious matter, and to the hard-core poor, who face the greatest barriers to goal achievement” (Sheley, 1995, p.311). To conclude the chapter Sheley, (1995, p.311) highlights the fact that “strain theory is unable to explain the extreme nature of middle-class crime”. Despite the complete criticisms of the strain theory, Katherine Williams (1991) suggests that the views of both Durkheim and Merton, the pioneers of strain theory, each “explains why some people may be motivated to commit a crime”. Later stating that “the theory of anomie therefore can be another useful tool of explanation and prediction for the criminologists” (Williams, 1991, p.303). There is a clear divide between the criticisms and appraisals of strain theory. It can be understood that those of the lower-classes do not have the same aspirations as the middle-classes thus, they would not be susceptible to frustrations and a consequent life of crime. However, it does actually highlight the fact that frustration and crimes are linked, be it the lower or middle classes. Perhaps if it were modified it would become a credible theory. SummaryThe main judgement that can be made from the review of the theories is that, despite criticisms they still have some relevance within the field of criminology. A level of effectiveness in assessing why people commit crime can be seen from all the theories. Chapter four will aim to establish the effects of such theories on female offenders, as an extension of what has been discussed. The primary reason for doing so is that, criticisms can be made about the structure of the theories, but can they be made about their implementation? Section Two – The Effects of Crime Reports on Society. The main function of the media be it newspapers, radio or television, is to transport news and information into society. To highlight events that have occurred on a world wide level. Heath and Gilbert (1996, p.379) suggests that, “within newspapers and magazines, the mass media entered our homes. With radio and television, the mass media became accessible from cradle to grave. With VCR’s, cable and satellite access, the sheer volume of programming available at any time exploded”.It is highly evident that the availability of some or all media genres is ever increasing, thus making it unavoidable to come into contact with. Within media boundaries, crime is perhaps one of the most documented events. Jack Katz (1987, p.60) believes that “the public does not appear to read crime news in a na ve search for the empirical truth about crime”, but the “immediacy, dramatisation, personalisation, simplification, titillation, conventionalism, structural access to novelty” (Cousins, 1987, p.56) that it offers. This section of the literature review will attempt to critique the varying assumptions also the effects of media portrayals of crime on society or, media consumers. Particular attention will be paid to the impact of crime reports within newspapers. The assumption that Heath and Gilbert (1996) make is that the documentation of crime within newspapers creates an essence of fear among society. They begin by assessing how such fear could arise, arriving at the conclusion that “sex and violence are staples in newspapers” later commenting that “violent crimes are much more likely to be reported than less violent ones, often with important details such as motive omitted from the newspapers” (Heath and Gilbert, 1996, p.382). This would create an essence of randomness and pointlessness to the offence committed, with the phrase, ‘how could someone do something like that’ often associated. Ultimately this would create a sense of fear, with individuals believing that violent acts of crime, if motiveless, could also happen to them. Factors such as the proportion of newspaper committed to discussing crime could also evoke feeling of fear. If there were many reports of crime within a newspaper the reader would be lead to believe that a high proportion of society is criminal in nature. Consequently resulting in readers being under the impression that they are unsafe, unprotected from inevitable act of crime. This is another issue that Heath and Gilbert assume to be correct. Also highlighted within their research is the assumption that fear is often higher when lesser crimes are committed in their local area as opposed to seemingly worse crimes occurring elsewhere. In fact, they make the statement that, “reports of local crimes that were sensational or random were associated with higher levels of fear of crime, whereas reports of non-local random or sensational crimes were associated with lower levels of fear of crime.” (Heath and Gilbert, 1996, p.382). This can be explained because, the media, in this case newspapers, “perform the function of providing tension release/escapism” (Cousins, 1987, p.56). However, when reports of offences occurring are near in locality to the reader, a sense of reality forms. The story is no longer a random piece of news, it is fact based, with significantly more meaning, and worse implications of fear. As a summary it would be fair to say that the concept of fear is brought on by “complex patterns involving the level of sensationalism, randomness, and location of the crime” (Heath and Gilbert, 1996, p.383). The points that Heath and Gilbert raise are of importance as they assert how readers, and society as a whole, are effected by crime in the media. However, the main drawback appears to relate to the fact that no other negative implications for society, in relation to media depictions of crime are discussed. For which reason, their work must be viewed as having limitations. When analysing crime and the media from a criminological perspective, David Kidd-Hewitt (1995), like Heath and Gilbert, theorises that fear among society can arise as a result of reading such articles. He suggests that “by over reporting criminal and violent events” individuals will become fearful. He later comments that the reasoning behind over reporting of crimes can be justified by the fact that the media is seeking “primarily for sensation above accuracy” (Kidd-Hewitt, 1995, p.2). In contrast to Heath and Gilbert, Kidd-Hewitt (1995) voices alternative views as to the implications that crime reporting in the media can have on society. One of which relates to the distortions of reality that can “construct and present our social world” (Kidd-Hewitt, 1995, p.1). Roughly translated, this can be taken to mean that forms of media, in this case newspapers, can mould societal perceptions. This is a concept which Heath and Gilbert had not considered, believing that the media could only influence and increase levels of fear. The distortions of reality could be seen as an equally detrimental effect. On the one hand a source of detachment ‘from all things bad’, a sense of denial or avoidance of what is occurring could result. However, it could also cause information to be misinterpreted. Thus provoking incorrect assumptions about individuals. SummaryFear among society is obviously one of the main causes of reading crime reports in the newspaper. However, as Kidd-Hewitt (1995, p.5) concludes “anxiety, terror, hatred, admiration, prejudice, intolerance, bigotry, bias, racism” also result. Perhaps the reason as to why Heath and Gilbert (1996) do not highlight such implications is that fear, in its many forms, is the most frequently aroused emotion. Despite the fact that Heath and Gilbert consider the concept of fear on an in-depth scale, Kidd-Hewitt theorises over many other points to a lesser extent. Thus giving a general impression of the effects of crime reporting. He even takes into consideration the effect upon the criminal suggesting “the mass media present stereotypical depiction’s not only of crime but also of policing”, later commenting that newspapers can make “heroes out of villains” (Kidd-Hewitt, 1995, p.5). This brief insight into implications upon the criminal will form the foundations for later study into the effects of the media on offenders, female offenders specifically. -Chapter 4-Gender and Criminological Theories When discussing perceptions of female offenders, many variables must be taken into consideration, some of which will be discussed in due course. This chapter will be concerned with gender, focusing on a sample of relevant theories that surround female criminality, highlighting where negative perceptions of female offenders originated, and the implications they have had on the views of academics. The theories to be analysed derive from the positivist school of criminology, as in they discuss the causes of crime. The first to be outlined is Talcot Parsons’ Masculinity theory, followed by that of Howard Becker’s Labelling theory. The analysis of the Strain theory, as discussed by Naffine (1987) and Vold et al (1998) will precipitate the theories of ‘evil women’ and ‘chivalry’ which are present in “The Penal System” (Cavadino et al. 1997). The chapter will end with an analysis of all the concepts presented, expressing how they influence academics with a concern for criminology in their perceptions of female offenders. The consequent effects that are incurred upon such individuals will also be established. Masculinity TheoryIt is evident from the literature review that much criticism in relation to the masculinity theory has evolved. Throughout this section of the chapter an assessment will be made regarding how female offenders can be negatively perceived by academics as a result of the assumptions that the theory makes. In 1947, Talcot Parsons, an American sociologists, was the first to offer this theory as an explanation for delinquency in boys. He suggested that within the nuclear family the mother would act as a role model for her daughter, and the father for the son. He continued to explain that the boy would divorce himself from the feminine role by acts of rebellion in an attempt to demonstrate his independence, toughness and aggression. In our society there is a belief that women are non-aggressive, passive and dependant. For these reason, Parsons believed that wo