In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Crime

  • Introduction
  • Introductory Works
  • General Overviews
  • Historical Context
  • Gender Differences in Crime
  • Gendered Crime Pathways
  • Gender and Desistance
  • Gendered Crime Rates: Convergence or Divergence
  • Early Feminist Critiques of Criminological Theory
  • Criminological Theory and Gender
  • Victimization
  • Debates and Controversies

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Criminology Gender and Crime
Sally S. Simpson
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 May 2016
  • LAST MODIFIED: 14 December 2009
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0052


In Western cultures, gender and crime, as a subject of intellectual curiosity, did not gain much attention until the late 1960s and the 1970s. Previously, female offenders were an object of curiosity, often understood and treated as an aberration to their sex. As a consequence of the women’s movement, female offenders and, in particular, female victims of male violence, moved front-and-center in the field of criminology. Feminists played a key role in this emergence, launching critical assessments of the field’s neglect, both in terms of empirical research and theoretical developments. These efforts produced a solid body of scholarship that led nonfeminist researchers to acknowledge that gender is a critical factor (some argue “the” critical variable) that distinguishes who participates in crime and who does not. Over time, scholarship shifted away from “women” as a category in favor of intersectional approaches (i.e., gender, race, class, ethnicity, and sexuality), a focus on gender differences, and postmodern theorizing (e.g., discourse analysis, rejection of structure, sexed bodies). Nonetheless, debates about how best to study gender (positivism versus other epistemological approaches), whether males and females have distinct pathways into crime (including violence and the potential link between early victimization and the risk of later criminality and victimization), and the impact of crime prevention policies such as mandatory arrest on female victims remain unresolved.

Introductory Works

The field of criminology and criminal justice, like that of other social science disciplines, has been dramatically affected by ideas and challenges brought about by the women’s movement. Scholars classify these influences in terms of “waves” linked to women’s suffrage (first wave), the social movements of the 1960s (second wave), and dissentions and discord within the movement itself (third wave). Distinct types of research are closely associated with these broad historical categories. Contemporary research, beginning in the second wave, emphasized women as research and theoretical subjects (Heidensohn 1968) out of which two distinct conceptualizations emerged (Daly and Maher 1998): real women (women offenders and victims as active agents in their own lives) and women of discourse (the ways in which women are constructed as discursive subjects—see Smart 1992). During the third wave, scholars adopted a more heterogeneous perspective by recognizing intersectional differences (Burgess-Proctor 2006) and “gendered” relations (Heimer and Kruttschnitt 2006).

  • Burgess-Proctor, Amanda. 2006. Intersections of race, class, gender, and crime: Future directions for feminist criminology. Feminist Criminology 1.1: 27–47.

    DOI: 10.1177/1557085105282899

    Reviews the emergence and importance of “multiracial” feminist criminology, especially with regard to theoretical, methodological, and praxis-related developments.

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

    Multifaceted compilation of feminist work organized around emergent themes, including discourse analysis, victimization and criminalization, masculinities and violence, and gender, politics, and justice. A helpful introductory chapter by Daly and Maher navigates the history of feminist criminology.

  • Heidensohn, Frances. 1968. The deviance of women: A critique and an enquiry. British Journal of Sociology 19.2: 160–175.

    DOI: 10.2307/588692

    In this classic article, Heidensohn assesses the absence of women from studies of deviance and challenges scholars to study female deviance “as an aspect of the female sex role and its relationship to the social structure.”

  • Heimer, Karen, and Candace Kruttschnitt, eds. 2006. Gender and crime: Patterns of victimization and offending. New York: New York Univ. Press.

    A collection of original empirical and conceptual papers that address some of the current gaps in the gender and crime/victimization literature. Compares feminist constructs with more traditional criminological approaches and integrates criminological knowledge about victimization more generally into violence against women specifically. Examines the role of agency in offending, the link between offending and victimization, and the debate surrounding quantitative versus qualitative approaches to knowledge. Also includes cross-national comparisons. Appropriate for graduate students and academics.

  • Smart, Carol. 1992. The woman of legal discourse. Social and Legal Studies 1.1:29–44.

    DOI: 10.1177/096466399200100103

    Explores the ways in which law is gendered, how law is a gendering strategy, and the challenges faced by feminist socio-legal studies. Uses examples from Great Britain.

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