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Essay: Gender issues relating to violence

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  • Published: 21 September 2015*
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This report will look into gender issues relating to violence. It will look at the theories of Criminology, the ‘Gender’Gap’, domestic violence and its effects as well as punishment of offenders. Gender’s importance inrelation to violent crime and the Nature versus nurture argument in reference to criminal behaviour. Gender issues in relation to violence have only recently become widely debated due largely to the advent of ‘Feminist Criminology’.’



Biological theories suggest that criminals are born and not made. A criminal personality can be inherited from parents. This theory was put forward in 1870 by an Italian doctor, Cesare Lombroso who devised his theory of the criminal man. He believed that certain facial characteristics were always present in a criminal. ‘large jaws, huge eye sockets and handle shaped ears”, Lombroso (1876).Lombroso stated that women criminals in contrast did not display such obvious facial characteristics but they were more cunning and devious.

Nature and Nurture:

Social Learning Theory is of relevance to the study of crime and has been used to explain the emergence and maintenance of deviant behaviour, especially aggression. Albert Bandura believed that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. Between 1961 and 1963 Bandura carried out a series of experiments called “The Bobo Doll Experiment’ which studied children’s social behaviour (aggression). He found that the children who observed aggressive behaviour towards the Bobo Doll were more likely to copy them and boys were more physically aggressive towards the doll than the girls. This has important implications for the effects of media violence on children. (Johnson et al., 2002)


Sex Role Theory argues that because boys and girls are socialised differently, they have different behavioural expectations placed on them. Talcott Parsons (1955) believes there are clear and distinct gender roles. The father is the leader and provider while the mother provides emotional support and nurturing. Girls are more likely to be subjected to stricter social controls at home during childhood while boys have more freedom and are encouraged to take more risks and to be more independent. Boys are brought up to be tough, to be able to look after themselves in a fight, to be protective of women and to provide for their families. A certain amount of violence is tolerated and in some situations encouraged.’

Summary of Nature vs. Nurture theories

Nature refers to the hereditary and genetic factors of our make-up; nurture is the environment we grow up in. It is not only genetic make-up that predisposes an individual to violent behaviours.The environment must also be taken into consideration. Not all children who have grown up in deprived or abusive homes or have negative childhood experiences (e.g. abuse of any kind) grow up to commit violent crimes. Genetics does play a part in determining the type of adult we grow up to be. If environmental factors were solely to blame then anyone could grow up to be a violent and aggressive adult. The majority of us will have experienced some form of traumatic incident in our lives (parent’s divorce, bullying, and bereavement).Therefore the tendency to violent behaviour must be a combination of nature and nurture.

The Gender Gap

Gender Gap refers to the difference between the male and female crime rates. It is widely accepted fact that males commit more crime than females. Over recent years there has been an apparent increase in the crimes committed by women. In1995 the mid-year female prison population was 1,979 and in 2010 it was 4,267, a 115% increase in 15 years. A total of 10,024 women were received into custody in the 12 months to the end of September 2012, a fall of 4% from the previous year. (Prison Reform Trust 2013)

The ‘Masculinity Theory’ is one theory put forward to explain this increase. Masculinity and crime are linked, and the increase in female offending in recent years has led to the belief that this is due to women’s increased masculinity. Oxford handbook of criminology (2012). Some women are acting more like men. They do however tend to desist from crime, outgrow their criminal activities at a younger age and rarely’participate in the world of organised crime. Their criminal deeds are less violent, require a higher level of provocation and tend not to be repeated. Traditionally, this distinction was attributed to masculine physicality. It is easy to blame women’s increased tendency to violence on the fact that they are no longer as restricted in their female role as they once were., Alder (1975) wrote ‘liberation in short, causes crime’ The problem with this explanation is that it is too simplistic. Causes of crime are generally a combination of factors. Connell put forward the concept of ‘hegemonic masculinity’; (Connell et al. 1982) Males are naturally more dominant socially than females who tend to be subordinate. This is clearly a fixed character type description, as not all men are ultra-masculine just as not all women are subordinate. Masculinity is a complex phenomenon and one type cannot be attributed to all men. What of complicit, marginalised and subordinated masculinities? Complicit masculinity doesn’t fit the characteristics of hegemonic masculinity but neither does it challenge it Marginalised masculinity is unable to be hegemonic because ofcharacteristics like race. Subordinate masculinity is the opposite of hegemonic masculinity, usually displayed by gay or effeminate men. Men do commit more violent crime than women but the reasons for the crimes are many and we cannot generalise that all men are likely to be violent.’

Gender based violence

Violence that is directed towards a person due to their gender, it reinforces the inequalities between the sexes. Most gender based violence is inflicted by men on women. Council of Europe (2006) it includes Domestic violence, female genital mutilation and sexual violence. During wars or other humanitarian crises the risks to women and girls are heightened due to the breakdown of social and moral order. The low status some cultures place on women in society is a significant factor in the perpetration of gender based violence. It is an accepted part of life for some.

Domestic violence

Estimates from the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) indicate that 2.0m adults experienced domestic abuse in the year 2011/12. This was made up of an estimated 1.2 million female and 800,000 male victims. CSEW (2013) Women are often seen as the passive victim of male oppression, However victims of domestic violence are both men and women. Women can be as violent as men, as figures for the incidence of domestic abuse show. The latest findings from the British Crime Survey reveal that 17 men were killed by their partners in England and Wales last year.(CSEW 2013).
The Home Secretary Theresa May, announced actions to improve the police response to victims of domestic violence and abuse after a report by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) found systematic failings. In 2013 HMIC was commissioned to review all police forces in England and Wales. It was found the police were failing on many levels. The Home Secretary has given police forces until September 2014 to put in place action plans to improve their responses to incidents of domestic violence.’


There are two theories relating specifically to the way the Criminal Justice Systems deals with women. The chivalry theory states that women are not treated as severely as men. The police are less likely to charge women and the courts will deliver lighter sentences on them.The double deviance theory states women are treated more harshly than men because they have not only committed a crime but they have also deviated from social norms.
Pollak (1950) argued his view of female offenders’ as inherently deceitful and vengeful, exploiting a flow of helpless victims and aided by men’s besotted chivalry’ (Chivalry Theory)

While Professor Heidensohn, a pioneer of feminist perspectives in criminology argued that women were ‘subjected to double jeopardy in that they are on trial for the crime they commit and for their femininity.’ (1985) (Double deviant theory). Jenny Earle, director of the Prison Reform Trust’s Programme to Reduce Women’s Imprisonment, stated that effective community alternatives to prison for female offenders should be found. (2013) Women found guilty of crimes of violence should face the same penalties as male offenders, there should be no bias.’.

Gender is relevant in the discussion of violence. The Nature versus nurture debate relating to whether criminals are born bad or made that way by their environment and upbringing will continue to rage. Stereotypical views of man as the aggressor and women as submissive are not as relevant as they were Gender roles are not as clearly defined as they once were. Many women take on the male role in the home, going out to work while the man looks after the house and the children. Domestic violence offences on men are being more widely reported although there is social stigma and a sense of embarrassment felt by men. BBC (2011). Both men and women are capable of carrying out acts of violence; one should not be treated more leniently simply due to their gender.

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