The Feminist Criminology

The Feminist Criminology

The feminist school of criminology was established in the late 1960s and the 1970s as a response to the overall neglect and discrimination of females in the conventional research and study of crime. The male-controlled domination is not unique to the concept of criminology, and this domination is also showcased in the criminal justice system quoted as an establishment of one of the gender itself. [1] Both feminist criminologists and criminologists who do not attribute to this label have asserted that much of the theory of early criminology is both innately prejudiced and androcentric. [2]

Feminist criminology challenges the mainstream theory of criminology to stop the assumption of theories that explain crime as the action of males being equally valid to explain female crime. This practice is recognised as “generalisability problems” (i.e.- “adding” females to male understanding, generalising the results of male studies to females). Feminist criminologists operate to tackle the “gender ratio” issue by using a feminist methodology (i.e.- the reason explaining the cause of less probability of females committing a crime than males). [3]

This theory was strongly connected with the advent of the feminism of the second wave and it deals with various viewpoints created by distinct feminist authors. Similar to feminist thought as a whole, there are discussions on the cause of inequality within this branch of criminology that form various views. [4] The school of feminist criminology demonstrates that the social and general roles of women differ from men’s roles, leading to distinct paths to aberration, crime, and harassment that other criminal theories overlook. Early criminologists in this field observed the need for feminist criminology centred on three criminology fields where the study of women (as opposed to males) was scarce. These fields include females as criminals, females working for criminal justice and females as crime victims. [5]

Criminology is the study of crime and criminal justice, and it covers [6] a plethora of subjects, but as per the feminist school of criminology, these primary theories of criminality have evolved from a male understanding of subjects, and have majorly focussed on male victimisation. According to them, “sexism” in criminology has also influenced and still influences the procedure to sentence, punish, and imprison a woman as they are not expected to be criminals and, if they are, they may be described as “mad, not bad”. [7] Women’s attribution of insanity comes from the utterly obsolete construction that women are pure, obedient daughters, spouses, and mothers that conform to the norms of society and benefit men. If they dare to deviate ways from their natural biological attributes of “passivity” and “compliance to weakness”, they must be mentally ill [8] or disturbed: a classic androcentric perspective maintained for centuries by few scholars. [9]

Feminist criminology demands the down gradation of several theories, as they were built without considering the female viewpoint. Feminists are now calling for females to be included in criminal education, study, and theory. [10] Most criminal texts (propounded by males of the 19th century) and publications, debates and conversations nearly forgot about women as they were given little attention and were grouped with juvenile criminals and the mentally sick. Carol Smart, a feminist sociologist gives the reasoning behind this grouping and says the formation of a class of more overlooked members of the criminal world was a replication of the position of women in the society, as women lacked “civil and legal status,” it was accurate. [11] He further argues that the research of criminology was always men-related taking into account the rationality, motivation, and alienation of a male and a male victim. The disqualification of females from the crime branch was obvious as it was presumed that the “man could speak for a woman”. According to the norms of society and traditions, men became the fundamental of criminology, and females were their complement. [12]

History of Male Sterotype

Criticism was the vital instrument that paved the way for feminist theory. Victorian America regarded females in strict compliance with ideals of femininity and womanhood, and concepts of cavalry were inhibited in male-dominated criminal courts when it was necessary to apply justice to females who determined that cultural norms were “pure, passive and dependent” and who, according to leading specialists, rarely committed crimes.

Feminist criminology questioned the criminology of “malestream”. Otto Pollak, a writer and a professor of Sociology, subsequently claimed that males were socialised for fatherly and protective treatment of females. Female offenders were seen more like mothers or wives, and no criminal behaviour could be imagined by the courts dominated by males. Therefore, women were protected: their criminal activity was less probable to be severely identified, reported, prosecuted or convicted. This higher ability for deceit may have come from the “passive” position that females must assume during sexual intercourse, according to Pollack. Less flatteringly, women’s crime also stated that women opt for professions such as maids, nurses, educators, and homemakers in order to commit an untraceable crime.

The “distinction” between the sexes that was most researched was biological. Cesare Lombroso, founder of the Italian School of Positivist Criminology (1903) recognised the most probable thought of female physiognomy to determine the propensity of the criminal. This was the revised definition of “criminal anthropology” study that matched the overall fascination with Darwinism and physical anthropology, where researchers sought clinical and archaic causes for tendencies to behave like a criminal. While he believed that criminal females were stronger than males, the result was that they would hardly be affected by prison. Lombroso found that real female criminals were uncommon and showed few indications of degeneration because they “developed less than males because of their life’s inactivity.” [13]

Female Theories about Female Offending

Adler, criminologist and educator (1975) suggested that women’s emancipation in the 1970s would increase women’s financial possibilities and allow women to be as susceptible to crime as males. While “females have requested equal chance in the areas of lawful endeavours, a comparable amount of determined females have compelled their way into the globe of significant crime such as white-collar crime, assassination, and theft” (Adler, 1975:3). She proposed that as females climbed the corporate ladder, they used their “vocational freedom” to follow white-collar crime careers. Feminism, however, has made offences committed by women more visible through enhanced reporting to police and condemning of female offenders, and even then there is a tiny statistical base compared to males. [14]

A discussion in the latest literature on criminology focussed on the treatment of female offenders as they are administered through the criminal justice system. There are two views that compete. The insight of female prisoners as victims, claims that at different phases of the allegedly male-dominated judicial system, females are handled more leniently than males as a duty of the male willingness to safeguard the weaker (Crew, 1991; Erez, 1992). The “evil women” hypothesis says that women often are recipients of harsher action than taken against men in the justice mechanism and recommends that this different action is an outcome of the notion that a woman accused of an offence has not only violated legal borderlines but also gender role and expectations have been crossed over by her (Chesney-Lind, 1984; Erez, 1992).

Chapman (1980) researched the link between involvement in the labour force and found a rise in female crime in moments of financial distress. The lowest rise in arrests coincided with periods of the biggest rise in financial activity, with the store lifting being the most prevalent offence. [15] The offending female appears to stabilise rather than escalate when times are nice. A lack of job possibilities (liberation dissertation) rather than accessibility would appear to be a more conceivable explanation for the increasing rate of female crime. Naffine (1987: 1999) believes the woman’s motive appears more realistic and straightforward than exhibiting her gender-role issues. [16]

Theory of Victimology 

Feminists claim that criminal texts neglect women’s victimisation; forget about women’s victimisation: [17]

(a)   Three out of every four women are witnessed to be victims of violent crimes.

(b)   Violence is the foremost reason for injuries to women lying in the age group of 15 to 44.

(c)   50 per cent of destitute women and children abscond from domestic violence.

(d)   The State spends between 5-and 10 billion on domestic violence each year. [18]

Feminists argue that if society did not accept sexual exploitation, these numbers would not be ignored. Domestic violence and rape are increasingly recorded, as society has given them higher meaning and a deeper understanding. The absence of signs of police and criminology is the foremost cause that past generations of females have endured in silence. [19]

The absence of concern provided to females who are the silent sufferer while their masculine spouse is in prison is another criticism levelled at criminology by feminists. Criminological surveys usually concentrate on the inmate, having little interest in female issues, and his connection with the penal system. Prisoner surveys detail the distress of the incarcerated males who are segregated from their families, but we hear nothing about the pain of the females and their relatives who are on the other side of the partnership. [20]


Carlen believes that there are several flaws in the feminist school of criminality and their theories. Carlen propounded a three-point theory to point out the details that feminist schools cannot explain:

(i)   “Women’s crimes are that of the underclass, suggesting class conflict.

(ii)  Female offending is disproportionately from ethnic groups suggesting race conflict.

(iii) Women in prison have usually suffered from poverty.” [21]


It has been more than 50 years since feminist criminology has formed into a perceived reality in crime. However, the Division on Women and Crime is one of the major Criminology areas where new researchers continue to emerge.

The feminist school says this is because on the basis of gender, biological factors, marital status, hormonal imbalances, etc., women from ancient times, are treated very leniently but the concept of feminist criminology is more prevalent today and strongly represented. Since the 1990s, the role of women has shifted to the centre of attention once again. Far from the question of why women become fewer criminals than men, women as victims of crime have become a major focus. Violence against women, laws to prevent violence, prostitution and forced marriage are areas of concern for law enforcement and criminal justice professionals and criminologists.


[1] Kathleen Daly and Meda Chesney-Lind, “Feminism and Criminology, Justice Quarterly, 5:4, 497-538 (1988).

[2] Meda Chesney-Lind, “Girls’ Crime and Woman’s Place: Toward a Feminist Model of Female Delinquency”, Crime and Delinquency, 35: 5-29 (1989).

[3] Dana M. Britton, Gendered Organisational Logic: “Policy and Practice in Men’s and Women’s Prisons”, Gender and Society, 6 (6): 796-818 (1997).

[4] Sally S. Simpson, “Feminist Theory, Crime, and Justice, Criminology”, 27(4): 605-632  (November 1989)

[5] Joanne Belknap, “The Invisible Woman: Gender, Crime, and Justice, Wadsworth Publishing” (1996)

[6] Feminist School of Criminology, available at: (last visited on December 07, 2020).

[7] R.E. Dobash and R.P. Dobash, “Women, Violence and Social Change, Routledge London and New York” (1992).

[8] Supra note 6.

[9] Lori Moore, “Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Girls’ Sentencing in the Juvenile Justice System, Feminist Criminology”  (2010).

[10] Lloyd: A Feminist Perspective on Women and Crime 1995: xvii as cited in KeltaWeb (2005), available at: (last visited on December 07, 2020). 

[11] C. Smart, “Women, Crime, and Criminology”, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London (1976).

[12] Ibid.

[13] R. Burke, “An Introduction to Criminological Theory”, Willan Publishing, Devon  (2001).

[14] Van Wormer, Katherine Stuart; Bartollas, Clemens (2014), “Women and the Criminal Justice System” (4th Edn.), Boston: Pearson, p. 400.

[15] Holtfreter, Kristy, “Editor’s Introduction: The Future of Feminist Criminology, Feminist Criminology” (2018).

[16] D. Britton, Feminism in Criminology: Engendering the Outlaw, The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science (2000), 571, 57-76, retrieved from available at : (last visited on December 08,2020). 

[17] O’Brien, Jodi A., ed. “Crime and Criminal Justice, Gender and, Encyclopedia of gender and society”, Vol. 1, Sage, p. 206 (2009).

[18] David Souter’s dissent in Brzonkala v. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, 169 F 3d 820 (4th Cir 1999).

[19] John Hagan, “Feminist Theories on Crime”, Sage Journal (2011).

[20] Muraskin, R. and Roberts (eds.), A, “Visions for Change: Crime and Justice in the Twenty-First Century”, Prentice Hall, New Jersey, (2002).

[21] Carlen, P.,“Criminal Women and Criminal Justice: The Limits to and Potential of, Feminist and Left Realist Perspectives”, in Matthews, R., and Young, J., (eds.), “Issues in Realist Criminology”, Sage, London. (1992)



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