Criminal Justice - Gender and Thesis

  • Length: 12 pages
  • Sources: 6
  • Subject: Criminal Justice
  • Type: Thesis
  • Paper: #98457029

Excerpt from Thesis :

In that regard, Agnew's version of strain theory no longer explains the marked difference in male and female homicide rates, simply because it downplays the importance of the types of strains described by Merton. Whereas Merton's strains were associated more with the types of failures more likely to be experienced by males, Agnew's strains included many types of strains that, at least arguably, could be said to plague females even more than males.

Merton conceived of the source of strain as predominantly a function of identity roles and social success as defined in the cultural environment; Agnew added the many other sources of potential strain that relate to expectations of the individual rather than necessarily of society (Macionis 2003). More specifically, Agnew (1992) suggested that individuals vary substantially from one another and form many elements of their ideal "role model" more autonomously: whereas some individuals (of either gender) may value their athleticism, for just one example, others might maintain completely different criteria for defining their own self-worth. Therefore, in Agnew's formulation of Merton's strain theory, the specific components of the value system are arbitrary except in their subjective importance to the individual. However, the consequences to the individual (at least in terms of strain theory) are substantially similar, regardless of the particular values underlying the self-perception of failure.

In many respects, females are more susceptible to the cumulative effect of long- term social strains that include emotional issues, self-perception, attractiveness, and self- worth than their male counterparts. Contemporary society places greater value on the importance of physical appearance of women and it has often been suggested that this alone accounts for higher rates of low self-esteem in adolescent females in particular, but also among females in general (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2005). Therefore, at least on first glance, it would seem that Agnew's strain theory provides no explanation for differences observed in rates of homicide and other crimes as between males and females.

However, Broidy (2001) and others have pointed out that females may be better equipped than males to cope with social strains. In general, females tend to form more intimate friendships than males both in childhood as well as throughout life. In addition to apparently greater natural inclination on the part of females to seek emotional support from peers and within the family, they are socialized to express their emotions more freely than males. Conversely, males tend to form friendships that are more superficial with their peers and they receive social messages from childhood on that value stoicism and bravery over emotional interdependence (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2005).

In response to similar strains, females often cope better than males because their personal relationships and communication styles are both conducive to minimizing the emotional toll of individual strains. Men, by contrast, are less likely to seek or accept emotional support and much more likely to avoid actually dealing with their feelings altogether. Consequently, males tend to accumulate higher levels of emotional discord and anger in response to long-term exposure to the strains described by Merton and Agnew. Ultimately, this would suggest either that: (1) females are less susceptible to deviant criminal conduct (and therefore, to homicidal crimes as well) because society (under Merton's view) places more pressure on males to exemplify goals that some may never reach; or (2) females are less susceptible to accumulating anger and hostility-based deviance (and therefore, to homicidal crimes as well), because (under Agnew's view), they are better equipped to deal with strains than males. C. Structured Action Theory of Criminology

West and Zimmerman (1987) offered a different explanation of gender-based differences in criminality. According to their "Doing Gender" concept, individuals receive substantially different messages throughout their lives, but particularly during the early socialization process, to associate certain traits and behaviors with the male identity and a very different set of traits and behaviors expected of females in society. In addition to any evolutionary tendencies toward gender-specific social behaviors, the structured action theory relates much of male competitiveness, dominance urge and aggression to reinforcement by social expectations and role modeling in the predominant societal environment. The structured action theory of gender-based behavioral differences suggests that males "doing" male gender behaviors are more likely to rebel and take risks, as well as to repress their anger, respond aggressively and engage in criminally violent social deviance like homicide than females "doing" their gender.

III. Research Methods for Analyzing Gender Differences in Homicidal Crimes:

A. Preferred Research Method for Studying Homicide and Gender

Ideally, research into gender-based differences in homicidal crime would incorporate many research methods, including surveys, interviews, ethnography and official crime statistics. Among them, the best single choice for this issue would likely be interviews. Statistics are valuable, but provide only quantitative information demonstrating that the discrepancy between the behavior of two groups exists.

In principle, surveys fulfill many of the same functions of interviews but as a practical matter, it is much more difficult to structure surveys sufficiently in depth to elicit the same information as an interview. Even if a survey could be composed that was long and detailed enough to attempt to do so, the element of follow up questions and redirecting the focus of conversation in the manner most conducive to maximizing the value of the inquiry is absent without a face-to-face dynamic. Finally, human communication includes many more variables and mechanisms than could possibly be represented by the written format of a survey. Particularly in the case of criminally deviant conduct and homicidal rage, the one dimensional character of surveys omits a tremendous amount of potentially relevant information available to interviewers.

B. Least Beneficial Method for Studying Homicide and Gender

To the extent that ethnography focuses on a "holistic" or "all-inclusive" approach to understanding human behavior, it may add a valuable component in applicable inquiries. However, in relation to the gender-based difference in homicidal crimes, ethnography is comparatively ineffective, primarily because it concerns the effects of differential gender behavior rather than the cause. As with the strict statistical approach, ethnography would help provide a picture of all the different ways that female behavior differs from male behavior, but without much emphasis (or ability to identify) the underlying reasons that males and females respond differently, either to similar long-term situations or to specific incidents. Unlike statistical analysis, the ethnographic approach to studying human behavior introduces significant elements of subjectivity (Macionis 2003) that detract from its usefulness in this study.

IV. Prior Research - Homicidal Crimes and Gender Differences: Evolutionary biologists have long known of the common analogues apparent between various aspects of human behavior and animal behavior that is observable in other species (Gerrig & Zimbardo, 2005). In general, the males of most animal species (and certainly the "higher" mammals) are larger, more physically dominating and more aggressive than females. No doubt this plays some role in the observed differences in male and female criminal tendencies.

However, beyond evolutionary biology, society contributes significantly to human behavior and behavioral choices. Comparatively less is known conclusively about the social influences on violent behavior than about the hard-wired components of human behavior, in part, because of the myriad possible variables at issue. Nevertheless, various recent peer-reviewed studies seem to corroborate elements of strain theory of deviance and the structured action theory of criminal behavior with respect to homicidal tendencies of the two genders respectively.

In the study Measuring Gender Differences in Partner Violence: Implications from Research on Other Forms of Violent and Socially Undesirable Behavior (Hamby, 2005) presents convincing evidence documenting that the largest class of female homicide relates to the killing of a spouse or significant other; while males still commit spousal homicide more often, it is the only category of violence or homicide where females incidences even approach that of males. More importantly, Hamby (2005) discloses that whereas males who kill their spouses are more likely than not to have a criminal history and prior incidents of violence in their lives, females who kill their spouses usually do not have any such prior history.

Finally, Hamby (2005) demonstrates that among females who do ultimately kill their spouses, most of those incidents arise within the context of an overreaction to a continual pattern of verbal, emotional, and physical abuse by the victim. The implication is that, as large as the discrepancy is between male and female homicide, female homicide is still overrepresented in comparison to males, because so much of it occurs in this particular context. In that regard, the Hamby analysis would also seem to support Agnew's strain theory in that: (1) social strains relevant to homicidal crimes include much more than those associated just with Merton's original class of social strains, and (2) the eventual eruption of a homicidal rage is at least partially attributable to accumulated anger over being victimized by an abusive spouse. The study Explaining the Decline in Intimate Partner Homicide: The Effects of Changing Domesticity, Women's Status, and Domestic Violence…

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