The Chivalry Thesis: Examining Gender Differences in Crime
In 1950, sociologist Edmund Pollak coined the concept of the chivalry thesis —state that as most criminal justice agents like magistrates and judges and police officers are mainly men, they are also socialised to act in a chivalrous way towards women. While there is some evidence to support this thesis, a closer look at the research reveals a much more complicated picture. Let’s take a deeper dive into gender differences in crime and explore what theories and research can tell us about the chivalry thesis.
What is the Chivalry Thesis?
The chivalry thesis proposes that because of their perceived vulnerability as victims of male violence, female criminals are treated differently than their male counterparts by criminal justice systems. It suggests that police officers, prosecutors, judges, and juries are all more likely to treat female offenders with leniency due to their gender. In other words, it implies that men face harsher punishments for the same crimes than women do.
‘Men hate to accuse women and thus send them to their punishment, police officers dislike to
arrest them, district attorneys to prosecute them, judges and juries to find them guilty, and so on’
– Pollak (1950)
Evidence Against the Chivalry Thesis
Despite early evidence in favor of the chivalry thesis, researchers have since found plenty of data that refutes this hypothesis. For example, a 1998 study by Heidensohn et al., which looked at 35 countries including England and Wales found no evidence that female offenders were consistently treated more lightly than male offenders. Similarly, studies conducted by Carlen (1992) and Walklate (1998) both concluded that there was no significant difference between how men and women were dealt with by criminal justice systems.
In addition to these empirical findings, functionalist sex role theory has also been used to explain gender differences in crime. According to this perspective, differences in offending patterns between men and women can be explained by looking at how society rewards particular types of behavior for each gender based on traditional gender roles—for example, males are rewarded for aggression while females are rewarded for passivity and obedience. This theory suggests that instead of being treated differently because they are female, women commit fewer offenses because they do not receive social approval or rewards for aggressive behavior like men do.
Feminist Explanations for Female Crime
The feminist perspective provides an additional explanation for why women commit fewer crimes than men—namely, patriarchal power structures prevent them from having access to resources necessary to engage in certain types of criminal activities such as drug dealing or theft from businesses (Smart & Neale 2006). Because these activities require some degree of financial independence or freedom from supervision (both of which are largely denied to most women), they are less likely to engage in such crimes than their male counterparts who have greater access to resources and autonomy within society (Smart & Neale 2006). Furthermore, feminists argue that due to patriarchal power structures like sexism and racism which limit economic opportunities for minority women particularly those living in poverty-stricken neighborhoods- many resorting illegal activities as a means of survival.(Smart & Neale 2006).
Gender Differences in Crime
Overall it appears clear from our discussion today that while there may have been some truth behind Pollak’s original chivalry thesis when it was first proposed back in 1950; further research has revealed a much more complex picture regarding gender differences in crime today. As we have seen here there is strong evidence against the notion that criminal justice systems treat female offenders differently than male ones but also important insights provided by functionalist sex role theory and feminist explanations which cast light on why certain behaviors may be seen as ‘deviant’ or ‘criminal’ depending on one’s gender identity or socioeconomic background respectively . All these factors combined prove just how nuanced an issue like this really is – one which requires further exploration if we ever hope to fully understand its implications both now and into the future .
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