The study of criminology developed in the late 18th century to study the causes, effects, and impact of criminal behavior on the society. However, research in this field was largely concentrated on the male offenders. It was with the Second Wave of Feminism in the late 1960s and 1970s that the feminist school of criminology started developing.
Theories on female criminality
Also known as the founder of criminal anthropology, Caesare Lambroso promoted the theory of ‘atavism’. He claimed that women had greater roles to play in the family and hence they were less involved in any sort of criminal activities. By fulfilling the maternal roles their sexual instincts were kept under check and this subdues their criminal instincts. According to him only those women who had masculine traits (such as short dark hair with moles) had greater tendency to commit crimes.
Susan Edwards argued that while studying female criminality, it is either the sexual passivity or sexual aggressiveness which is reflected. Women were always controlled and kept under a check. In case of middle class women who were home-makers they were kept under control by their fathers and husbands and in case of working women it was the law. According to her, female instability which inspired criminal behavior was largely based on the gynaecology.
Later, Sigmond Freud came up with the theory that women were anatomically inferior to men and it was in their attempt to be like men, they indulged in crimes. Such women were psychologically troubled and needed help to adjust to their sex roles. Thus, the arguments made a shift from a more biological argument to a psychological argument.
Kingsley Davis based his interpretation on one specific type of crime, prostitution. He considered it as an important component of the society as it served to satisfy the sexual desire of those men who were cut-off from their families or were ugly and deformed.
In 1950s Otto Pollak based his theory on the ground that women were mostly engaged in crimes which involved deceit and cunningness. He claimed, for example, that they prefer professions like maids, nurses, teachers, and homemakers so they can engage in undetectable crime. According to him criminal behaviors among women is influenced largely due to certain biological phases which cause natural inhibitions in them like menstruation, pregnancy, etc. Pollak shared similar views as Susan Edwards in his theory.
A more recent work in this field is attributable to Freda Adler according to whom rise in female criminality was a result of women emancipation and equated it with the feminist movements struggle for achievement of equality and rights for women. Such demands for equal opportunity paved to a whole new dimension of the world of crimes such as white collar crime, murder and robbery.
It is evident that the theories on female criminality evolved with time. Initial theories blamed female sexuality and the physical differences between women and men which led them to commit crimes. These theories pictured women as home-makers- playing an expressive role in the family and the moment they deny to take up these roles they enter into a world of crime. Nowadays, it cannot be assumed that such obligations are deterrent against committing crime A women can be a home-maker but she can at the same time be devious enough to cheat others.
This again leaves us with the most pertinent question- what causes women to commit crimes? Is it the role-collision between a man and woman, or is the female sexuality or an inferiority complex within them that drives them into a world dominated by men. In my opinion there is no one uniform theory that can be accepted. Examination of gender patterns reveals that at times there are similarities between male and female patterns. However, a closer examination is necessary since the study of criminology was always centered on male offenders. There are many areas that need to be explored such as access to criminal opportunity, defining crimes which are ‘female type’ and tapping the ‘criminal career’ of a female offender.
By Supreet Kaur