Chapter 11 Review questions answer guidance

1. What is meant by the term ‘gender blindness’?

In the context of criminology, ‘gender blindness’ is the historical overlooking of gender by mainstream criminology. Researchers, inspired by feminism, have tried to address this by developing theories on the concept of gender and its impact on crime and criminal justice.

2. What are the main similarities and differences between liberal feminist theory and radical feminist theory?

Both liberal and radical feminist theories are concerned with gender inequality and how to effectively address it so women’s lives both in the home and in the public sphere can be improved. To identify their differences, it is helpful to explore what each theory views as the root problem of gender inequality, and how it seeks to address it. In this chapter, we have seen that the concepts of patriarchy and the social construction of gender roles (and our socialisation into them) are central in understanding female victimisation and offending. In light of this, start by considering which concept features prominently in which feminist theory.

3. How did positivism seek to explain female criminality?

Positivist explanations of female criminality drew upon female biology and sex determinants, which were seen as greatly influencing women’s psychology. Women were essentially seen as weak, passive, fragile and emotional. As a result of this, women who committed crimes were viewed as abnormal. Positivist explanations of female criminality were arguably not only deterministic but also sexist.

4. What is the ‘chivalry thesis’?

The chivalry thesis – associated with the work of Otto Pollak (1950) – concerns how women offenders are treated by the criminal justice system. It argues that the criminal justice system treats women offenders more leniently (see, for example, the punishments they may receive for their crimes), influenced by dominant but misleading depictions of women as passive and in need of men’s protection.

5. Outline the main criticisms of standpoint and postmodern feminism.

Standpoint and postmodern feminism are epistemological positions (approaches to generating knowledge).

Standpoint feminism prioritises the experiences of women, as expressed by women, in research. Criticisms of standpoint feminism include that it wrongly depicts women’s views as definitive knowledge of social reality; and that it views women as a homogenous group and tries to ‘impose: a different unitary reality’ on women (Smart,1995: 95), ignoring the racial, cultural, and other structures of disadvantage that impact on women differently.

Postmodern feminists aim to deconstruct the dominant language or discourses (forms of communication) that give meaning to social categories such as gender, and view all accounts, whatever the source, as constructed and biased (Howe 1994; Smart 1995; Young 1996). A key criticism of postmodern feminism is that it is relativist (relativism is the belief that there is no absolute knowledge or truth, implying that these exist only in relation to their context) because it views knowledge as socially constructed. Critics suggest that this perspective on knowledge could prevent postmodern feminists from studying and challenging dominant discourses, whereas its intention should be to challenge these discourses and replace them with accounts that highlight women’s experiences. Other criticisms are outlined in the section, ‘Postmodern feminism’.

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