Gender & Society in the Classroom: Crime, Law & Social Control
Organized by: Claudia Vega and Ian Vazquez, Florida International University
Updated by: Jenny Lendrum, Wayne State University
The following guide is a compilation of resources to help instructors teach Crime, Law, and Social Control in the context of feminist sociology. Its central themes—violence, crime, the legal system, and social inequality—are discussed and analyzed by a series of articles and abridgements which contain nearly thirty years worth of research, all published in Gender & Society. This cluster of research would be applicable in courses beyond feminist sociology, offering valid viewpoints in gender studies, criminal justice, criminology, deviancy, juvenile delinquency, social stratification, and urban studies.
In 2012, 73.8 percent of all U.S. arrestees were male. Men accounted for 80 percent of persons arrested for violent crimes; 99.1 percent of persons arrested for forcible rape; 88.7 percent for murder and non-negligent manslaughter; 77.1 percent for aggravated assault; 83.6 percent for burglary; and 73.4 percent of persons arrested for offenses against family and children (U.S. Department of Justice 2012). Although most criminal offenders are men, we rarely question why men, as opposed to women, perpetrate violence. Instead, the public treats this as the norm. Why is crime gendered, and how can we overcome this institutional problem?
The following articles observe the construction of gender difference and inequality at both the individual level of identity and at the institutional level. They also present arguments that other forms of social inequality, such as race and socioeconomic status, breed violence and crime. Very broadly, they acknowledge that crime—particularly violent crime—is a domain executed almost exclusively by men because it is socially sanctioned and legitimated as an expression of masculine power.
This study uses in-depth interviews and participant observation with gun carriers in Michigan to examine how socioeconomic decline shapes the appropriation of guns by men of diverse class and race backgrounds. Gun carriers nostalgically referenced the decline of Mayberry America—a version of America characterized by the stable employment of male breadwinners and low crime rates. While men of color and poor and working-class men bear the material brunt of these transformations, this narrative of decline impacts how both privileged and marginalized men think of themselves as men because of the ideological centrality of breadwinning to American masculinity. Using Young’s (2003) “masculine protectionism” framework, I argue that against this backdrop of decline, men use guns not simply to instrumentally address the threat of crime but also to negotiate their own position within a context of socioeconomic decline by emphasizing their role as protector.
In most states in the U.S. it is legal to carry a concealed handgun in public, but little is known about why people want to do this. While the existing literature argues that guns symbolize masculinity, most research on the actual use of guns has focused on marginalized men. The issue of concealed handguns is interesting because they must remain concealed and because relatively privileged men are most likely to have a license to carry one. Using in-depth interviews with 20 men, this article explores how they draw on discourses of masculinity to explain their use of concealed handguns. These men claim that they are motivated by a desire to protect their wives and children, to compensate for lost strength as they age, and to defend themselves against people and places they perceive as dangerous, especially those involving racial/ethnic minority men. These findings suggest that part of the appeal of carrying a concealed firearm is that it allows men to identify with hegemonic masculinity through fantasies of violence and self-defense.
Many theories suggest that physiological gender differences account for criminality as a male-dominated sphere, and others suggest that the increase in female criminality is due to either women’s participation in the labor force or masculinization. Utilizing unpublished counts of larceny arrests and census data of urban cities in the United States, Chilton and Datesman propose that gender and race must be examined to properly determine arrest trends. They challenge the prior notions by pointing out the similarities of arrest rates for white men and black women, and highlight that black women are more likely to be arrested than middle-class white women. The authors also note that age and socioeconomic status should be included in further research for a more detailed explanation of crime.
Public concern about the involvement of young men in gangs has increased because of the perceived violence associated with gangs, but research in the participation of girls in gangs has been neglected, sexualized, or oversimplified. This article explores both ethnic and gender variations in order to gauge the roles of masculinities and femininities that lead young men and women to join gangs. Based on analyses of interviews with 48 self-identified gang members from several ethnic gangs in Hawaii, the authors suggest that marginalized and chaotic neighborhoods set the stage for group solidarity. This theme is coupled with the notions of the gang as a social outlet and alternative family in explaining boy’s and girls’ involvement in gangs. The study also revealed that gang activity is shaped by gender, producing different sets of experiences, skills, and opportunities to their members.
Britton applies Acker’s idea of “gendered organizational logic” to frame an analysis of the ways in which policies and practices in male- and female-dominated organizations reflect and reproduce gendered inequalities. Using interview data collected from correctional officers in a male and a female prison, the article examines the ways in which officer training and assignments, although designed to be gender-neutral, assume a male employee. This presumption reproduces a particular and hegemonic occupational masculinity, exaggerates the dangers associated with the job, and neglects the realities of female prisons.
Observing the inconsistencies between women’s fear and the geography of violence, Hollander addresses the question, “Why are women so much more afraid of men, even though their reported risk of violence is lower?” Using data from 13 focus groups, the author demonstrates that in addition to external forces, people construct women’s vulnerability and men’s dangerousness through daily conversation about violence, which is framed in the language of physical bodies. These gendered and biological notions identify women as inherently vulnerable and men as inherently dangerous.
This study explores how gender and family responsibilities influence criminal justice sentencing in the United States. Flavin addresses two questions: “Are the predictors of incarceration similar for Black women and men drug offenders?” and “To what extent do family ties and responsibilities influence the likelihood of incarceration?” Her findings suggest that judges primarily consider the offender’s prior record, regardless of gender, but are more likely to sentence males to prison based solely off this record. However, when presented with a female offender, judges are more likely to consider the offender’s family in sentencing—they are less likely to incarcerate Black female drug offenders who are either single mothers or non-mothers who live with adult family members.
In this study, Whaley investigates the short-term versus long-term relationships between gender inequality and rape by integrating two feminist theories: the traditional hypothesis that inequality increases rape in a long-term process, and the backlash hypothesis that gender equality may increase rape as an immediate short-term consequence. She proposes that because a system of gender discrimination shapes the construction of masculinities and social support of rape, women are “rewarded” with lower rates of rape in the short-term, but rates of rape will increase in the long-term. Conversely, in a system of gender equality, the short-term effect is increased rape rate by means of increased threats to the status quo, and the long-term effect is reduced rape rates through an improved social climate toward women. Although Whiley’s findings were not strongly supportive of her hypotheses, this study is a keystone for determining the social means by which rape rates fluctuate.
African Americans living in poor urban communities are subjected to disproportionately negative experiences with police, such as excessive force, surveillance, and stops, and not receiving the same protection as middle class neighborhoods. This particular scholarship aimed to discover how this aggressive policing is experienced across gender through the surveying and interviewing of 75 adolescents living in St. Louis, Missouri. Brunson and Miller found that although young women are not exempt from this style of policing, young men are submitted to the majority of aggression, as they are more often presumed guilty. This highlights the need for systematic attention to the intersections of race and gender in researching criminal justice practices in hopes of reduce discriminatory policing.
Wyse interrogates how contemporary supervision is shaped by and constitutive of particular notions of men and women as criminal subjects. Utilizing mixed methodology and data collected within the probation/parole system of a western U.S. state, Wyse proposes that officers view the male criminal as flawed and underdeveloped and the female criminal as permeable and unstructured. As a result, officers aim to rehabilitate men largely by encouraging economic roles and responsibilities. For women, rehabilitation aims to solidify boundaries by discouraging relationship formation and containing emotions. These gendered typologies contribute to gender disparities in contemporary rehabilitation.
Scholars have identified policing and hyper-incarceration as key mechanisms to reproduce racial inequality and poverty. Existing research, however, often overlooks how policing practices impact gender and sexuality, especially expansive expressions of gender and non-heterosexuality. This lack of attention is critical because lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) people disproportionately experience incarceration, including LGBTQ youth who are disproportionately incarcerated in juvenile detention. In this article, I draw on 18 months of ethnographic fieldwork and 40 in-depth interviews with LGBTQ youth experiencing homelessness to address this gap in the literature by documenting how police and other agents of the state use their discretion to regulate youth’s gender expressions, identities, and sex lives. I posit that current policing patterns of discrimination operate primarily not through de jure discrimination against LGBTQ people but as de facto discrimination based on discretionary hyper-incarceration practices that police gender, sexuality, and LGBTQ people. I contend that policing is not only about maintaining racial inequality and governing poverty but also about controlling and regulating gender and sexuality, especially the gender and sexuality of poor LGBTQ people of color.