Investigating Female Delinquency: The Role of Gender Construction
The shared hypothesis that delinquency—by far and wide— is a male phenomenon is an erroneous conception. Even though males have historically been recognized as violent perpetrators and females as passive and non-threatening victims, the increase in female violence and gang membership has become a cause for concern in several cities across the country. There has been marginal emphasis placed on females’ involvement in crime and delinquency due to entrenched stereotypical notions of females as “biologically incapable” of committing certain heinous acts; the lack of attention to female involvement in delinquency stems from the interpretation of their involvement as petty indignities or as a form of rebellion during the adolescence stage. However, social scientists are cognizant, based on statistical evidence, that this is not the case. In fact, females’ involvement in delinquency and other forms of crime bespeaks a far greater problem than what has been purported. According to the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Between 1985 and 2008, the number of delinquency cases involving females increased 102% (from 222,800 to 449,700 cases); for males, the increase was 29% (from 932,300 to 1,203,600 cases). The average annual growth in the female caseload outpaced that for males for all offense categories between 1985 and 2008. In 2008, more females were responsible for person and property offenses than males” (OJJDP, 2008, p.12-14).
Females’ involvement in delinquency may encompass gang membership and participation, individual delinquent acts, and minor and serious forms of offenses, ranging from underage drinking to homicide. The disregard meted out to female delinquency is disheartening given that female involvement in crime has been pronounced over the previous three decades. While female gang membership was once largely confined to male gangs, in which females were employed in mediocre roles or used as objects during sexual exploitation, female gang memberships have presently evolved beyond females’ roles of sub ordinance to male gang leaders toward gangs dominated by females and/or consist solely of females.
I can precisely remember a notorious female gang leader in Kansas City, Missouri, named Shauntay Henderson. Henderson‘s rage of terror in Kansas City gave her the coveted title of being on the FBI’s most wanted list for 2007. Shauntay was eventually arrested and charged for multiple crimes comprising of serious felonies. She was being sought for an execution-style murder of a Kansas City man in his truck, among other related charges. I am sure there are other equally notorious females sought after for other atrocious crimes. However, given the undeserved attention to their behavior, any prospects of rehabilitation for these criminals become diminished. Being that females are equally capable of committing vicious crimes as men, why then has their involvement in criminal behavior been trivialized? One proposition has been postulated by Cobbina, Like-Haislip, and Miller (2010) who suggested that the interpretation of women’s involvement in crime is largely construed by the opposite sex who sees women’s delinquency and/or criminality as inconsequential, simply because it is committed by a female. According to the authors, young men viewed male violence as necessary to earn respect, settle monetary disputes, and defend one’s loved ones. Male violence was viewed as lethal, explosive, and dangerous, especially violence stemming from gang wars. However, these same boys viewed female violence as emotionally driven, irrational, and unpredictable. These boys indicated that female violence is ineffectual because it is less lethal than male violence. Additionally, they believe female violence to be stupid, as females generally fight over petty stuff, such as gossip, boys, or jealousy.
Theoretical explanations of female delinquency and/or criminality have largely been placed into a dichotomy of the liberation hypothesis or the injury hypothesis. The liberation hypothesis proposed by Adler (2011) posits that the drive to achieve equality resulted in crimes committed by women. The notion is that the transformation of gender roles, such as liberation from cooking and cleaning and the adoption of nontraditional gender roles, such as working in the political sphere, created a social revolution with increased opportunities for women to engage in criminal activities. For example, the author notes that during the war years in the 1940s, crime for women peaked when women were employed in factory and industry jobs. However, prior to industrialization, women were largely non-criminals because of the cultural institutions that barred them from engaging in crime. The author notes that the four sex differences that have been linked with criminal patterns are size, strength, aggression, and dominance; men tend to be superior in these traits. As a result, these traits and socially constructed gender roles (girls are taught to be dependent and disciplined while boys are taught to be aggressive and strong) led to the dominance of men and their higher percentage in crimes. However, when technology/industrialization was included in the criminal model, both sexes became equally capable of being criminals (Adler, 2011).
Chesney-Lind (2004), proponent of the injury hypothesis, enunciates that existing theories concerning delinquency are not sufficient to explain female delinquency and that most theories cannot explain status offenses committed by females. In addition, most of the existing theories of delinquency fail to explicate gender stratification in a male-dominated society and how this impacts female delinquency. The author notes that a feminist theory of delinquency needs to include how the criminal justice system reinforces gender stereotypes, and a deeper emphasis should be placed on the personal lives of young girls and how racism and poverty affects their behavior. The author contends that some young girls are sexually abused in their homes, and as such, they run away from these environments only to find themselves on the street being forced into crimes such as prostitution and theft in order to survive. The author notes that women, by nature of their sex, are seen as sexual properties and are more likely to run away from their abuser. However, because running way is a crime, these girls are forced back into the home by the criminal justice system and the abuser, and if they refuse to stay in the home, they will be incarcerated. In essence, it is the patriarchal system that forces women into crime and the criminal justice system plays a huge role in this process (Chesney-Lind, 2004).
The conduit through which female criminality is developed is important to explicate; however, the measures needed to prevent or reduce such behaviors should not be prejudicial toward one theory, but rather an integrated focus must be met in order to adequately address female criminality. As members of society, we need to develop proactive measures and assess ways to reduce females’ gang and criminal involvement. Policies to decrease violence should focus on solutions that take gender into consideration. The focus should be aimed at economic conditions and how it “plays upon gender” to produce violent situations. In addition, greater focus should be placed on the structure of inner cities, i.e. informal economy, drug market and how it contributes to violence. More efforts need to concentrate on recognizing the ideologies that sustains violence, such as a patriarchal society where power is unequally distributed among gender, class, and race. Finally, the author calls for a collective effort to reduce violence; one which deals with crime from a gendered perspective.
Adler, F. (2011). Sisters in crime. In F. Cullen & R. Agnew (Eds.), Criminological theory: Past
to present, essential readings (pp. 333-340). New York: Oxford University Press.
Chesney-Lind, M. (2004). Girls’ crime and woman’s place: Toward a feminist model of female
delinquency. In J. Jacoby (Ed.), Classics of criminology (pp.336-345). Illinois: Waveland
Cobbina, J. E., Like-Haislip, T.Z., & Miller, J. (2010). Gang fights versus cat fights: Urban
young men’s gendered narratives of violence. Deviant Behavior, 31 (7), 596-853. DOI: 10.1080/01639620903231522.
Puzzanchera, C., Adams, B., Sickmund, M. (2011). Juvenile Court Statistics 2008. Pittsburg,PA: National Center for Juvenile Justice.