Chapter 8 Female Delinquency Theories 1 Introduction to Female Delinquency The study of delinquency has traditionally focused on males. Male

Chapter 8

Female Delinquency Theories


Introduction to Female Delinquency

The study of delinquency has traditionally focused on males.

Male law violations exceed female violations.

Patriarchy refers to a social, legal and political climate that values male dominance and hierarchy.

Recent research suggests patriarchy has a significant independent effect on female crime rates.

Females’ delinquency has frequently been studied by comparing them to males.


Growing Up Female

Historically, females have been viewed as inferior to males.

Has implications for gender roles

Relational Aggression

Refers to behaviors that focus on damage to relationships, or threats of damage to relationships

The “female” form of aggression


The Development of Gender
Roles (1 of 2)

Gender roles refers to the socialization of sex-appropriate behavior based on gender stereotypes.

Socialization begins at conception; the womb is an environment.

Parents treat children differently based on the child’s sex.

Socialization leads girls to identify with traditional female roles where nurturing and caring are reinforced.


The Development of Gender
Roles (2 of 2)

Socialization influences and shapes a person’s gender identify.


Gendered Pathways into Delinquency

Significance between risk factors and protective factors that shape a youth’s involvement with delinquency.

Women have had similar criminal careers as men but female offenders were disproportionately likely to have arrests for prostitution, theft, forgery, fraud and drug violations.

Female offenders have significantly more extensive victimization histories.


Girls and Violence

Female delinquency is increasing at a faster rate than male delinquency.

Concerns exist about the increase of violent offenses committed by females.

However, there is no looming national crisis of serious violence among adolescent girls.


Theories of Female Delinquency

Females have traditionally been viewed as less delinquent than males.

As more women have entered the field of criminology, more research on female delinquency has emerged.


Biological and Psychological Theories

Under these perspectives female violators are uniquely different than males.

Lombroso and Ferrero’s “Atavistic Girl”

A throwback to a prior evolution of women

Thomas’s “Unadjusted Girl”

Males and females are biologically different

Pollack’s “Deceitful Girl”

Women are more deceitful than men


Lombroso and Ferrero

Female criminals are seen as biologically distinct and inferior to non-criminal women.

Women are naturally more child-like, less intelligent, lacking in passion, more maternal, and weak, characteristics that make them less inclined to commit crimes.

Women’s criminality is a product of their biology, but this biology also keeps women from crime.


W.I. Thomas

In The Unadjusted Girl, published in 1923

Thomas argued that males and females
are biologically different.

“Wish fulfillment”

Four distinct categories of wishes:

The desire for new experience.

The desire for security.

The desire for response.

The desire for recognition.


Otto Pollak

In 1950, The Criminality of Women, Pollak argued:

Women are actually as criminal as men, but their criminality is hidden or “masked.”

The physiological nature of women makes them more deceitful than men.

Chivalry Hypothesis: The belief that lower rates of delinquency among females reflect men’s deference and protective attitude toward them whereby female offenses are generally overlooked or excused by males.


Recent Biological and Psychological Explanations (1 of 2)

Recent biological and psychological approaches to female criminality argue that biological nature interacts with social forces to produce delinquency.

John Cowie’s “Delinquency in Girls”

Female delinquency is dominated by sexual misbehaviors.

Evolutionary psychology argues that psychological differences have developed between the sexes.


Recent Biological and Psychological Explanations (2 of 2)

Recent attempts to link biology and physiology have stressed hormonal difference between males and females.

Neurosciences have produced compelling differences between the sexes.

Simon Baron-Cohen

Systematizing versus empathizing


Sociological Theories (1 of 5)

Sociological theories of delinquency examine how social forces influence behavior.

Sociological theories have traditionally examined male criminality.

Durkheim was the first sociologists to observe gender differences in homicide

Shaw and McKay did not examine female delinquency in their studies.


Sociological Theories (2 of 5)

Merton did not address female criminality.

Morris believes women have similar aspirations to men but are denied the same opportunities to achieve them.

Agnew thinks females experience different types of strain and respond to strain differently than males.


Sociological Theories (3 of 5)

Miller was generally unconcerned with female delinquency; he focused on the male, lower-class subculture.

Cohen argued that delinquency is a male phenomenon; he recognized female delinquency primarily as sexual delinquency.

Cloward and Ohlin focused on male delinquency.


Sociological Theories (4 of 5)

Sutherland believed that girls encountered more anti-criminal patterns and are exposed to fewer criminal associations; girls who became delinquent have less parental supervision.

Travis Hirschi excluded girls from his social control theory.


Sociological Theories (5 of 5)

Michael Gottfredson and Travis Hirschi argued that delinquency occurs among youth who lack self-control for both boys and girls.

Edwin Schur believed that labeling served as an informal social control over females and suggested that differential enforcement of status offending exists.


Power Control Theory

John Hagan developed power control theory.

Argues that girls engage in less delinquency because behavior is more closely monitored.

Child supervision varies between patriarchal families and egalitarian families.

Meda Chesney-Lind and Randall Shelden’s liberation hypothesis.


Marxist-Feminist Theories

Combines the notions of patriarchal male dominance in the home and interpersonal relationships with male control of the means of production.

Crimes are those actions that threaten the capitalist-patriarchal system.


James Messerschmidt’s Theory

Women experience marginality doubly.

Subordinate to both capitalists and men

Three reasons women are less likely to commit serious crimes than men.

Privatized resistance and accommodation.


Mapping Delinquency Theory:
James Messerschmidt

© Jones & Bartlett Learning.


Robert Regoli and John Hewitt’s
Differential Oppression Theory (1 of 3)

Adults oppress children as adults attempt to impose and maintain adult conceptions of social order.

Girls in patriarchal societies are doubly oppressed: they are oppressed as children and as females.

© Jones & Bartlett Learning.


Differential oppression theory contends that girls turn to prostitution because it helps establish a sense of power and autonomy. Does it? What are other reasons girls turn to prostitution? Is sex a form of social capital?

© RapidEye/E+/Getty.

Differential Oppression Theory (2 of 3)


Differential Oppression Theory (3 of 3)

To counteract their oppression, girls use the following strategies:

Passive Acceptance

Illegitimate Coercive Power

Manipulation of peers



Mapping Delinquency Theory:
Robert Regoli and John Hewitt

© Jones & Bartlett Learning.


Juvenile Justice Policy Applications

Meda Chesney-Lind argues that females are “invisible in terms of programming.”

Most programs offered for girls are based on stereotypes of “girls’ issues,” such as teen pregnancy and sexual abuse, and focus on issues of girls in trouble rather than prevention.

Traditional programs focus on intervention rather than prevention.


Programs Needed for Female Delinquency Include:

Protecting females from physical and sexual violence.

Reducing the risk of sexual diseases and pregnancy.

Unemployment and job training.

Safe housing, managing family problems and stress.

Developing a sense of empowerment.

Meda Chesney-Lind argues that programs need to separate at-risk girls from boys so girls’ needs will not be overshadowed by boys’ needs.



Females have been relatively absent from criminology research until the twentieth century.

Theories of female delinquency include: biological, psychological, sociological, Marxist-feminist, and differential oppression perspectives.

Prevention programs tailored to females are needed.








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