Social Factors Influencing Crime


By Rector Sandema Gender and crime Men are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour than women (Grasmick, 1990:6). In most crime statistics, the proportion of men engaged in criminal activities has been higher than their female counterparts. This study recognizes the notion of shame and embarrassment as described by Grasmick (1990:6), as forms of informal sanctions. Shame is a self-imposed sanction that occurs when actors violate norms that the actor has internalized. Individuals considering the commission of an illegal act weigh the potential cost of feeling shame or guilt, should they decide to engage in a given behaviour. Embarrassment is described as a socially imposed sanction that occurs when actors violate norms that have been endorsed by others whose opinions are of value to them. This is experienced as a loss of respect from others or as a social stigma in the community (Grasmick, 1990: 7). They argue that women would consider the combination of perceived threats of shame and embarrassment with the perceived threat of legal sanctions in a more inclusive array of cost factors such as being sent to jail or paying a penalty before choosing to engage in crime. Silverman (1976) attempted to determine why females commit significantly fewer criminal and delinquent acts than males. He posited that females are more likely than males to perceive high sanction threats, asserting that girls are more controlled than boys in early childhood and therefore perceive greater formal and informal sanctions. Secondly, he proposes that perceived sanction threats serve as an intervening variable between gender and delinquency. (Silverman, 1976,). In other words, the gender differences in delinquency are the result of gender differences in the perceived threats of sanctions. More significantly, girls learn to internalize guilt and feel ashamed when contemplating norm violations, whereas boys are encouraged to be aggressive, independent and self-assertive. As a result, females are likely to perceive greater threats of shame than males when considering deviant behaviour. Women have more to lose, particularly in the arena of social relationships and reputation, if they are caught committing a crime. Because of the controls and their socialization experienced as children, females are expected to perceive greater costs of embarrassment than males when they consider status-threatening behaviour. Evidence indicates that females are, indeed, more concerned than males about people’s impressions of them (Gilligan, 1977:7). Corley (1989:9) observed that girls are more likely than boys to believe their parents would be upset if they engaged in criminal acts. It is also put forward by other theorists that females are more passive and less aggressive than males and therefore commit fewer violent crimes. Hence females are more likely to be convicted of crimes associated with their traditional gender roles such as shoplifting and prostitution. Tighter controls also exist for females both in the family and in their public lives. In spite of the clear and persistent differences in rates of male and female criminality, it is only recently that sociological and criminological attention has turned to the issue of female delinquency. Explanations focused on the biological and psychological make- up of women. These studies, which were often written by men, argued that female biology determines their personality and makes them more passive and timid and therefore less likely to commit crimes in an aggressive manner. (Heidensohn, 1989). The relatively few female criminals were seen as suffering from some sort of physical or mental pathology. Lombroso (1895:4) argued that women were naturally less inclined to crime than men, and that those who did commit crimes were not “really” feminine. The different role expectations for women and men lead to different patterns of socialization. Men, rather than women, learn the skills that are usually connected with certain types of criminal activities. For example, boys play with guns, learn how to fight and are more likely to be socialized for active and aggressive behaviour (Hart, 1985:290). Furthermore, it has been argued that women and girls, in particular, are subject to stronger social controls than are men and boys. Girls are taught law-abiding beha-viour and are expected to conform to a stricter morality by their parents and their peers (for example, girls are supposed to be non-violent, co-operative and docile). Adolescent girls are likely to be allowed less freedom to go out of the house and stay out than are their male counterparts. This limits the opportunities girls have to become involved in criminal and delinquent behaviour (Hart, 1985:300). Furthermore, the correlates of gender and crime has been described by feminists who argue that female violence may be statistically small, but daily experience shows that female aggression abounds within society. They hold that women may commit violence for many reasons, such as poverty, boredom, isolation, fear and greed, just as do men. Such feminists consider two important questions, which they feel have been unanswered for quite sometime: Why do so few women commit criminal acts? And for what reasons do such women commit these acts? Feminists have come to emphasize patriarchy and oppression in suggesting answers to the above questions. They believe that men, both inside the home and in the employment market, control women. They argue that women have been pushed to the sidelines and have become virtually invisible because of certain human beliefs that underplay female involvement in criminal and deviant activities. Feminists challenge the myths about the nature and extent of female participation in crime and deviance by putting emphasis on the following: socialization processes that from an early age lead to different values being developed between the sexes. Furthermore, feminists who argue that female violence may be statistically small have described the correlates of gender and crime, but daily experience shows that female aggression abounds within society. Other critics (Naffine, 1988, Sampson, 1989) claim that power control is limited specifically because it does not take into account the degree to which females are rational and calculating in their assessment of personal costs of illegal behaviour as well as the costs. Naffine, one of the chief critics, asserts that the female is typified by Hagan and his colleagues as “a manipulated thing, is passive, compliant, and dependent” (1988:68). She further states that the idea that official criminal labelling is reserved for men because women can be kept conformist in this sort of informal and subtle way, underpins the thinking of Hagan et al. who maintain that the stigma of the criminal label is used in the public sphere to deal only with the criminality of men. Females, she argues, are kept in line by informal mechanisms, in particular the exhortations of family members. Naffine (1988) has argued that the image of women in this theory, as in traditional control theories, does not portray women as rational decision makers asserting the personal costs of delinquency or crime. Consequently, the theory does not consider the degree to which females are tied to the conventional order, particularly as they protect their relationships with others. Naffine’s criticism draws heavily from the work of Gilligan (1977), who maintained that girls and boys develop differently, primarily because women fill the role of principal child rearers. The instrument-object relationship between mothers and daughters leads to develop an “ethic care”, a central concern with the welfare of others and with main-taining relationships with others. Boys, on the other hand, learn to cast morality by more universal principles, referred to as an “ethic rights”. He argued that the focus of females on relationships and the well-being of others does not render them necessarily as passive and compliant. Rather, they actively and rationally make decisions to minimize the personal costs of their behaviour. The difference between males and females, then, is how they conceptualize these costs. – Part 3 of a thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree Masters of Arts at the University of Namibia.