In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Feminist Theories

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Liberal Feminism
  • Radical Feminism
  • Marxist/Socialist Feminism
  • Postmodern Feminism
  • Multiracial Feminism
  • Masculinities and Crime
  • Gendered Pathways
  • Feminist Methodologies
  • Social Policy

Criminology Feminist Theories
Claire M. Renzetti
  • LAST REVIEWED: 14 December 2009
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0013


Feminist theories are a group of related theories that share several principles in common. First, feminist theories maintain that gender—the socially constructed expectations about the attitudes and behaviors of women and men that are typically referred to as femininity and masculinity, respectively—is a central organizing component of social life, including criminal offending, victimization, and criminal justice processing. Second, feminist theories hold that because of patriarchal sexism—that is, the valuing of men and masculinity over women and femininity—women and girls have been systematically excluded or marginalized in criminology, both as professionals and as subjects of study. Consequently, a core principle of feminist theories is to include female perspectives and experiences in all research and practice. Feminist theories, though, do not treat women or men as homogenous groups but rather recognize that gender privilege varies across different groups of women and men. Therefore, a third fundamental principle of feminist theories is to examine criminal offending, victimization, and criminal justice processing in the context of multiple intersecting social factors, including—in addition to gender, race, and ethnicity—social class, age, and sexual orientation. Fourth, feminist theories not only attempt to explain criminal offending, victimization, and criminal justice processing but also combine theory with practice so as to develop more equitable and just solutions to the crime problem. Although feminist theories share these four major principles, the theories themselves are diverse. Among the major feminist theories are liberal feminism, radical feminism, Marxist/socialist feminism, postmodern/poststructuralist feminism, and multiracial feminism.

General Overviews

Several recently published books, book chapters, and articles offer a general overview of feminist theories and their application to various subfields of criminology (e.g., the study of violent crime, gangs, drug offenses, policing, corrections). Belknap 2007 critiques traditional theories of crime, comparing them with feminist theories, and uses a feminist theoretical perspective to analyze offending, victimization, and the criminal justice professions. Morash 2006 provides a similar approach. Renzetti, et al. 2006 along with Reasons, et al. 2001 and Daly and Maher 1998 bring together the writings of several criminologists who take a feminist approach and also emphasize the intersection of gender inequality with other inequalities. Rafter and Heidensohn 1995 is a collection of essays written by feminist criminologists throughout the world who discuss the impact of feminism on criminology in their countries. Chesney-Lind and Faith 2001 reviews the central tenets of different types of feminist theories. These works join others that may be considered classics in introducing and establishing feminist theories in criminology, including Smart 1976 and Daly and Chesney-Lind 1988.

  • Belknap, Joanne. 2007. The invisible woman: Gender, crime, and justice, 3d ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

    An overview of feminist theories in contrast to traditional theories and their application to female offending, female victims of male violence, and women working in the criminal legal system.

  • Chesney-Lind, Meda and Karlene Faith. 2001. What about feminism? Engendering theory-making in criminology. In Explaining criminals and crime. Edited by Raymond Paternoster and Ronet Bachman, 287–302. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

    A review of the major schools of feminist thought as well as the authors’ assessment of what criminology gains from feminist theory and the future of feminist criminology.

  • Daly, Kathleen, and Meda Chesney-Lind. 1988. Feminism and criminology. Justice Quarterly 5:497–538.

    DOI: 10.1080/07418828800089871

    Two pioneers of feminist criminology critique the historical exclusion of women from criminological research and theorizing and show how a feminist perspective could be beneficial to the discipline.

  • Daly, Kathleen, and Lisa Maher., eds. 1998. Criminology at the crossroads: Feminist readings in crime and justice. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.

    An edited volume of fourteen chapters on gender, crime, and justice that addresses issues feminist criminologists struggle with, including the consequences of the intersections of gender, race, class, politics, and justice.

  • Morash, Merry. 2006. Understanding gender, crime, and justice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

    A textbook treatment of the gendered nature of crime and criminal justice that provides a feminist alternative to traditional criminology texts for undergraduate courses.

  • Rafter, Nicole Hahn, and Frances M. Heidensohn. eds. 1995. International feminist perspectives in criminology: Engendering a discipline. Berkshire, UK: Open Univ. Press.

    A collection of essays written by feminist criminologists from the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, and South Africa, who discuss how feminist theories have impacted traditional criminology in their countries and offered alternative analyses of various crimes, including crimes of violence against women.

  • Reasons, Charles E., Darlene J. Conley, and Julius Debro., eds. 2001. Race, class, gender, and justice in the United States: A text-reader. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

    A compilation of eighteen readings that examine the significance of not only gender, race, and class in criminology and criminal justice but also other social-locating factors, such as age and sexual orientation.

  • Renzetti, Claire M., Lynne Goodstein, and Susan L. Miller. eds. 2006. Rethinking gender, crime, and justice: Feminist readings. Los Angeles: Roxbury.

    An edited volume of eighteen original papers that introduce feminist theories and show their application to the study of various types of offending, victimization, criminal justice processing, and employment in the criminal justice system.

  • Smart, Carol. 1976. Women, crime, and criminology: A feminist critique. London: Routledge.

    One of the first feminist critiques of traditional criminology that simultaneously lays out a feminist theoretical framework.

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