Gender as Factor in Crime
A wide variety of evidence consistently supports one factor in regard to crime, in that men commit it more often, and in larger numbers, than do women. This uniformity of gender difference is, in fact, highly disproportionate. In cases of violent persona assault, over 80 percent of assailants are male. Men also account for over 70 percent of all serious property crimes, and the ratio of male to female convicted murderers is eight to one (Siegel, 2009, p. 72). The gender differences are apparent in virtually all arenas of crime, as more men invariably commit burglary and other offenses than women. This is known as the “gender gap” in crime, and it has long intrigued theorists, the judicial system, and the society itself. Then, the greater amount of male crime also promotes a vicious cycle of a kind; as many male crimes are violent assaults upon women, the victims in turn are driven to criminality of their own in response (Warner, 2012, p. 122). Despite certain fluctuations to be noted, there is no escaping that fact that men are far more likely to perpetrate crime, and of types ranging from petty robbery to murder.
Linked to this is the interesting element of self-reporting. More exactly, just as men commit more crime, they are also more prone to confess before being apprehended. There exists controversy over the validity of official statistics in terms of self-reporting, but all evidence supports that men overwhelmingly self-report in comparison to female criminals. It is believed as well that the male offending is even greater than is accepted because the same research finds that women tend to be more willing and conscientious when they do self-report; more exactly, men are less willing to disclose their criminality, so the far higher degree of self-reporting points to unknown and higher levels of it (Ellis, Beaver, & Wright, 2009, p. 16). Then, as noted, there are recent shifts in the actual percentages of crime assessed by gender. In simple terms, more women are committing crime. Debate exists regarding the subject, in terms of actual crime as opposed to heightened measures in place to pursue and prosecute female offenders, but the data uniformly points to a lessening gender gap. In 1980, for instance, arrests of women for simple assault were at 21 percent of the total; by 2000, the figure was 33 percent. Within the same time frame, cases of women committing homicide, robbery, and aggravated assault rose by ten percent in the Violent Crime Index (Steffensmeier, Schwartz, Zhong, & Ackerman, 2005, p, 356). In virtually all arenas of criminality, women are consistently more present as offenders.
These changes in gender ratios, however, must be viewed in light of several factors. To begin with, men still vastly outnumber women in terms of committing crime. Then, as mentioned, there is serious concern over the actual criminality of the girls and women cited as rising. It is proposed that changes in address are actually creating the new “reality”: “Recent changes in law enforcement practices and the juvenile justice system have apparently escalated the arrest proneness of adolescent females” (Steffensmeier, Schwartz, Zhong, & Ackerman, 2005, p, 387). In other words, it is more that the society is inclined to pursue females as criminals, rather than an actual increase in the criminality. This element will be relevant as theory is applied shortly, but what is critical here is that there is no reasonable disputing of the fact that men commit crime more than do women, and by a large degree. This has been the case historically and, potential shifts in gender ratios notwithstanding, it remains the reality today.
The criminology theory to be employed in examining and explaining the preponderance of male crime is the social positivist, which is an extension of the positivist school. This is theory perhaps best defined by how it differs from classical or rational theories. In the latter, there is an assumption of free will as the determining agent; deterrence is then more enabled because the individual is perceived as turning to crime to satisfy hedonistic or mercenary aims, and the decision-making process inherent in this would then support the power of deterrent forces discouraging the ambitions. In positivism, there is instead an emphasis on those elements beyond the individual’s control, which in turn become inextricably part of the individual’s character. More to the point, positivism allows for external and internal forces to be taken into account simultaneously; as the individual is shaped by the external, they then inculcate the effects and translate them in individual ways (Einstadter, 2006, p. 75). Essentially, positivism relies on the premise that free will is irrelevant when social and biological agents clearly go to influencing, if not outright development, of character. Criminality is then not a matter of purely direct choice, even as positivists acknowledge some element of choice in most instances.
The rise of positivism it must be stressed, was largely due to the inability of classical theory to account for rising tides of crime, and the less then remarkable effects of deterrent measures. It seemed by the early 19th century that more was needed, and that the society itself, or other factors, must in some way be held accountable for crime. More exactly, the phenomenon of certain crime could not be properly accounted for by classical theory; clearly, other forces were at play, and this leads to the diverse layers within positivism. Interestingly, there was an initial emphasis here on biology. Darwin’s thinking on evolution fueled ideas that criminal deviance, as with other traits, might be biologically driven, and the “science” of phrenology was widely adopted as a means of predicting criminal behavior by noting the patterns of bumps on the skull. Inevitably, Freudian theories would be turned to as well, in which severe emotional and psychological disturbances were seen as responsible for criminal deviance (Vito, Maahs, 2011, p. 14). Fortunately, such extremes eventually evolved to positivism as recognizing a variety of social and biological components as going to the promotion or likelihood of crime.
Social positivism, as the name suggests, focuses more on those social and cultural elements influencing human behavior. The range is, not unexpectedly, wide. Economic status, race, levels of education, and – importantly – gender and gender roles are elements having varied effects on the individual’s development, and consequently indicating criminality when one or more element dominates in an unhealthy way. The individual feels unable to meet societal standards in some manner, and the deviance of crime then presents itself as a viable option. Social positivism, itself a variation of a larger theory, thus contains or reflects others, such as strain theory. In this, the deviation of crime is actually a normal, adaptive response to the conflict between the individual and the social arena challenging them (Einstadter, 2006, p. 152). Given the enormity of the issue of males as far more likely to engage in crime, however, the broader scope of social positivism is necessary to theoretically account for the subject.
Subject and Theory
To begin with, and as discussed, social positivism was developed virtually as a reaction to classical theory, and was by no means created to address the issue of gender in crime. Essentially, positivism itself was born from the thinking of 19th century philosopher August Comte, who rejected rationality and free will as determinants. Comte also relied heavily on the new science of sociology to support his ideas, as he viewed human behavior as far too complex to be accounted for by classical theory (Giddens, 1995, p. 141). The vast issue of gender in crime, then, is within the scope of social positivist theory, rather than an impetus for it. It may in fact be argued that a subject with such broad implications demands a theory that encompasses all cultural and social concerns.
This understood, it is then possible to directly relate theory to subject. In the plainest of terms, and certainly in the lengthy history and traditions of Western culture, men are both far more socially empowered than women and encouraged to be aggressive. Societies typically and historically value male prerogatives, and stress the importance of masculine achievement in every social realm. Boys are raised within cultures that emphasize, first of all, the masculine imperative to succeed economically. As women have traditionally been relegated to maternal and domestic roles, long centuries have reinforced the need for the male to provide. This in turn generates social fields of intense competition; it is not enough to provide, and the goal becomes providing more fully than do other males. The rise of feminism has by no means minimized this essential social construct; rather, and ironically, there has arisen in response to feminism the men’s rights movement. Vast research supports the reality that, for most men, earning at a certain level, and in order to care for a female partner, is an obligation. The masculine sense of identity, then, is largely based on income (Wood, 2011, p. 106). Here is one social component, then, external to the male individual and of immense influence on behavior and thinking. Put another way, it is reasonable to conclude that, when identity and income are so merged, men may be swayed to turn to criminality to financially gain beyond any actual need.
Another aspect of socialization related to male tendencies to criminality lies in a kind of hostility actually promoted by the culture, and one employing gender as its instrument. This is behavior beyond aggressiveness, in that boys are potently discouraged from being in any way identified with a female. Studies support that growing boys who evince traditionally female behaviors of sensitivity and expressiveness are typically mocked, for they are deviating from the masculine standard (Wood, 2011, p. 174). This is an antifemale directive still very much in place, and one that cuts across races. Young boys learn very early that not conforming to the masculine ideal is in fact dangerous; they are likely to be assaulted just as they are typically ridiculed and ostracized from their peer group. What this aspect then presents is something of a societal encouragement to despise women. The equation is relatively plain; if the boy is taught by the culture to disdain what is feminine, it is likely that this contempt must in some way attach to women. A social positivist explanation, or at least partial explanation, for the excess of male violence towards women is then presented. Equally important is to note the converse. As men are encouraged to develop these hostile tendencies, girls are essentially freed from this specific influence, a factor further validating the reality of crime as less often committed by women.
There is as well the component of how sexuality is socialized with men, and it requires no great leap of imagination to perceive the relevance between this conditioning and sexual crime. To begin with, there is the fact that men are typically physically stronger than women, and thus more capable of successfully assaulting them sexually. This reality of physicality, however, is vastly amplified when how men are socially instructed to view sex itself is taken into account. Even in today’s more “enlightened” society, there persists the ideology that sexual conquest over women is a defining element of manhood. Men are encouraged by the culture, and from boyhood on, to be as demonstrably sexual as possible. This has been shown to be even more stressed in African American culture, just as the association between masculine power and sexual activity is equally strong (Wood, 2011, p. 176). When this element of socialization is acknowledged, it becomes evident that each factor tends to abet the others. To be aggressive in a heterosexual manner translates to being more removed from what is feminine; to be successful on the sports field and in the job translates to a greater likelihood of dominance over both other men and women. While there is always a danger in generalization, there remains nonetheless irrefutable connections between criminal motivations and the behaviors men are profoundly encouraged to develop. Social positivism, then, in connecting external social and cultural factors as explanations for criminality, powerfully supports the far greater numbers of men who commit crimes, as opposed to women. Even in times of changing ideologies and feminist thinking, it may be argued that Western culture actually promotes masculine crime.
Evidence Linking Theory to Subject
One means of validating social positivism as the theory best suited to the preponderance of male crime lies in noting the very meaningful differences between the ways men and women typically engage in crime. A great deal of modern research, prompted by increases in adolescent girl violence, finds that women’s crimes are by and large reactive. Differing views account for the “distanced” aspect of female crime, many which assert that an absence of female empowerment in general terms lessens motivations. Society remains constructed in a way denying women prestige for the aggression fueling much crime, just as they are denied the rewards of being attached to a criminal network of any size: “Women’s crimes tend to be less violent, less rewarding, less specialized, and less a part of a rewarding criminal lifestyle” (Enos, 2012, p. 5).
This then emphasizes the converse. As men are socialized to display to some extent the behaviors which, taken to extremes, go to criminality, so too does the masculine construct reward the behavior. Women are in a sense doubly punished for criminality because they are defying the societal norms of female behavior, so there can be no corollary of higher status as a criminal within a criminal arena. That men enjoy levels of prestige as criminals, a fact supported by the evidence regarding women, then validates socialization as a key component.
A variety of studies also indicate that the encouragement of male aggression within the culture likely accounts for those forms of criminality in which physical abuse figures, and in regard to both women and other men. Masculine socialization is typically centered on dominance, and it has been seen that this translates to the perceived need to physically dominate. Interestingly, one study found that physical abuse committed by men and women occurs when the women in question exhibit masculine orientations (Wood, 2011, p. 176). The socializing of aggression in males is so pervasive, then, that it defies gender, which in turn reinforces its influence in generating physical assault. That the individual male turning to crime infuses or enhances the encouraged aggression does not lessen the reality or importance of that aggression as a social impetus.
Other research emphasizes the connections between socialization, or consequences of it, with male tendencies toward crime. These are, again, typically distanced from the social influences going to female behavior, just as they convey again how linked are the masculine ideologies. For example, studies have determined that male abuse to females, sexual and otherwise, is not solely generated by motives of sexuality or male aggression as such; rather, economics is the primary force, and this is widely evident in environments of poverty. Given the cultural emphasis on financial success, the male who fails to achieve this is in a sense emasculated, and this has been seen to promote the rage going to physical abuse. Here, too, is a pattern that defies racial boundaries, or is in fact furthered by them. Studies of Puerto Rican males in New York, for example, find that there is a hyper-masculinization in the specific culture that exacerbates poverty and renders criminal violence against women something of a norm. At the same time, the combination of social pressures to conform to the ideal of masculinity also encourages other types of criminality: “In these circumstances, ideals of masculinity are reshaped to emphasize misogyny, substance use, and participation in crime” (Jewkes, 2002, p. 1424).
When the various elements documented as pertaining to the formations of masculine identity are truly assessed, it becomes evident that excesses of male crime are not merely explicable, but inevitable. Social positivism seeks to comprehend the external factors influencing the individual; this being the case, its relevance to greater percentages of male crime is plain. Shifts in ideology notwithstanding, Western culture certainly still very much promotes a range of masculine behaviors which, when taken beyond normative standards, easily evolve into the criminal. Men are consistently instructed by the society to be aggressive, sexually dominant, and financially successful, and each component exponentially serves to complete the male ideal. Failure is then psychologically catastrophic, and the aggression is then taken to the extremes of criminality to reinforce the masculine identity. There can be no discounting of individual character or innate issues, just as it is specious to allocate society for the fact of far higher rates of male crime. Nonetheless, both the evidence and rational thought point to social constructions as significantly serving to account for excesses of male crime.
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