Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Gary S. Foster
In the past, many criminologists have viewed the collective sentiments of feminism as potentially crimogenic (Lombroso, 1985; Thomas, 1923; Pollak, 1950). Even female academics writing in the last decade have claimed the women's movement has a "darker side" (Cowie, 1968; Adler, 1975; Simon, 1975; Hart, 1975; Dening, 1977). Substantial sceptics appear to remain unheard amongst those who profess that "liberated" women are committing more masculine, violent, serious, male-dominated and occupational crimes. Such remarks are generally unsubstantiated by research.
Box and Hale (1983:36) suggest that "... those who are attempting to prove a causal connection between emancipation and female crime by merely documenting the historical overlap between those two phenomena seem to be fatally flawed ..." Something more than concurrence is needed to prove causation. Steffensmeier goes on to state that "... the new female criminal is more of a social invention than an empirical reality" (Steffensmeier, 1978:580).
Such conflicting views concerning the relationship between female criminality and feminism generated my interest in this area. A further review of the literature indicated that existing work was largely classical or traditionalist in its interpretation. Further research was needed.
Analysis of female criminality and feminism has indicated that assumptions made about increasing levels and the changing nature of female crime are questionable (Wise, 1967 & 1976; Campbell, 1981; Smart, 1979; Steffensmeier, 1980(a) & 1980(b)). Success of the Women's Liberation Movement with regard to improving the social, political and economic position of women has been overrated (Smart, 1977; Steffensmeier, 1978; Campbell, 1981) and oversimplified (Giordano & Cernkovich, 1979). Any relationship between the two phenomena appears more spurious than causal (Hart, 1975; Dening, 1977; Steffensmeier, 1978; Box and Hale, 1983).
In order to test the above statement, I designed a questionnaire and conducted research based on a non-random sample of 176 female undergraduate students enrolled in two introductory sociology classes at a mid western state university. The first part of the questionnaire consisted of an attitude inventory designed by Smith and Self (1981) to measure attitudes favourable to feminism. Respondents were asked about the domestic role, relations with men, male/female differences, politics and the labour market. Respondents indicated their level of agreement with each statement on a Likert-type scale. Scores were assigned for each item so that the feminist response was high (+4). Mean scores were computed and those scoring above 2.5 were interpreted as pro-feminist.
This divided my sample into two groups, feminist (51.7%) and nonfeminist (48.3%).
The second part of the questionnaire was concerned with deviant behavioural traits. Questions were specifically chosen to cover deviant activities most likely to apply to the student population.
Once the results were interpreted, I found there was no greater incidence of women possessing feminist attitudes amongst those engaging in deviant and/or criminal activities. My findings are thus supportive of recent research (Giordano & Cernkovich, 1979; James & Thornton, 1980; Box & Hale, 1983). I find nothing inherently crimogenic about the women's movement and would suggest something other than mono-causal explanations are needed to understand such a complex phenomenon.
Whitcroft, Heather, "Female Criminality and Feminism – Is There a Causal Relationship?" (1986). Masters Theses. 2732.