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Criminology Essays - Appropriate Femininity Study

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Criminology
Wordcount: 2945 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Case Study on Appropriate Femininity.

In this article we will discuss a case study in which we will examine the notion of appropriate behaviour or femininity in women. This will include links between the notion of femininity and issues of identity, identity politics and social policies. The legal and social policy framework would be considered after which we would critically analyse the implications of the study and its impact and influence on criminology. Issues related to criminology, social policy and personal identity would be analyzed in detail.

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The Case study relevant to our research and study would deal with issues of identity and the notions and behavior of femininity. We begin a study on the behaviour of the female accused who not only defied norms of social behaviour as expected of females but also raised concerns on possible problems in identity of the female role in society. The notion of appropriate femininity is thus studied and analyzed in this context according to social norms, rules and policies and human behaviour is judged according to these policies. The historical context is studied to show how women’s conduct and behaviour specifically in relation to the notion of appropriate femininity have shaped and influenced the approach of the criminal justice system against deviant women who defied this notion (Emsley and Knafla, 1996). This helps us to do a gender analysis of the social history of criminal justice systems and punishment and how this relates to older and modern social systems. From the days of the witch hunt to female execution of recent times, gender seems to have played a central role in determining appropriateness of behavior and has contributed to all punishments imposed. The notion of appropriate femininity or socially appropriate feminine behaviour has shaped the ways the criminal justice system judges women which may be quite different from the way men are judged.

In this introductory section we thus introduce a relevant case study and indicate the structure of the whole essay. Our case study is on a 40 year old woman B who has been brought to court due to incidents of abusive behaviour and threats towards her 49 year old husband. B testified in court that her husband has been more abusive and she has only tried to take her revenge. In what seems a case of mutual harassment, the woman was however punished by law. This seems to be a case of a gender bias and a predetermined notion of how women are expected to behave with their male partners. The sort of behavior in which women are seen to be more aggressive may have very few takers and definitely little or no legal support. We analyse this in terms of the notion of appropriate femininity and issues of gender roles and stereotypes.

Following this introduction, we would go into some detail on issues related to identity and show the link between the case study and identity politics, extracting issues of identity within the norms of femininity and a general understanding of female behaviour. Next we discuss the legal and social policies and frameworks and analyse the responses to the case study and the problematic issues that may accompany these responses according to social norms. Policy responses may not fit in or may provide many obstacles to certain patterns of behavior, identity or notions of appropriateness. Finally we would engage in a critical analysis of the case study, on issues in appropriate femininity, relevant social policies and appropriate or acceptable behaviour and the problems of identity considering not just an individual case study but also extrapolating the findings to understand broader relevant issues in social policy and criminology.

Issues of Identity – Studies

This article deals with an analysis of gender roles, identity and the concerned social policies and organizational frameworks. Women are placed within a societal organizational structure that seems to limit their abilities and the manner or the extent to which they can be seen in certain roles (Atwell, 2002). Sex or gender stereotypes seems to have taken over all other notions of individual contributions and the focus is more on women’s contribution to society not on the basis of being an individual in society but on the basis of being a member of the female gender (see Barton, 2004). Thus gender roles, tend to limit female abilities and bring on notions of appropriate social behaviour on the basis of gender stereotypes. In this section we will discuss issues of gender identity and its relevance in our case study.

In a study on gender bias, Margarita (2005) developed a skills based theory to explain patterns of occupational segregation within advanced industrialized societies on the basis of gender. Insights and results were on obtained from twp types of critical literatures on the varieties of capitalism literature and feminist studies of welfare states. The main claim of the findings is that certain general skils arer expected and attributed to both men and women and are gender neutral whereas for certain specific skills especially firm specific skills, there is a practice to discriminate against women. Differences in national skills profiles have been considered as the major reason of any cross national variations in occupational segregation due to gender differences. In some countries where companies and majority of employers rely mainly on firm specific skills rather than general skills for work, it is expected that there will be higher degrees of occupational segregation by gender. Margarita also explores the interactive effects of social policy and national skills profiles on occupational segregation on the basis of gender differences.

Strachan et al (2004) discuss the social, political and organizational approaches to equal opportunity policies especially in response to the disadvantageous position of women in the workforce. The cases discussed are on opportunity policies in Australia and the authors emphasized that Australia’s unique form of affirmative action towards women was propelled by appropriate legislation, which aimed to promote gender equity in the workplace and provide equal opportunities to all genders by following positive action of employer.

From the beginnings of the 1990s, social policies changed considerably and there was a shift from collectivism towards individualism or realizing individual potential rather than group identity. Externally driven social programmes were replaced by managerially driven social programmes and the main purpose of introducing progressive social policies at the workplace was to improve human resource structures and functions linking employment diversity to organizational objectives. It was recognized through sound management perspectives that gender equity, and development of the workforce to its optimum abilities are issues that could improve company performance and help reach targets. Productivity and profitability were emphasized and company performance as a whole was highlighted and this led to some decline of gender related stereotypical roles or gender inequalities. Programmes of management were titled as ‘managing diversity’ and were introduced in some organizations by the 1990s and even today there are a variety of similar approaches within the corporate community and organizational structure. Several studies have emphasized on the need to understand the legislative, social and management frameworks and policies in order to optimize the notion of managing diversity within organizations.

In the case study we propose to examine, a 40-year-old woman was convicted of assaulting and maltreating her husband of 15 years. The woman was found to be very harsh and used sharp objects to ill treat and misbehave with her 49 year old husband. The husband brought the case to court and the woman pleaded not guilty on the grounds that the husband was also equally abusive and threatened to kill her. In what seems a case of mutual hatred and dangerous behaviour, the notion of appropriate femininity or stereotyped roles of women in which women are expected to remain silent despite abuse and harassment seems to have weighed heavily against the woman and it was she who was punished by the court. This was despite the claims of the woman that the husband has been behaving in abusive manner even before she began her revengeful behaviour.

We discuss this case further according to issues related to policy responses and legal and social frameworks.

Policy Responses –

Considering issues of welfare, social policies and reform, McCorkell (2004) argues that in the past 25 years, increases in severity of the criminal justice system and the welfare policies have had negative effects on poor women and their families. There has not only been a dramatic increase in the number of women sent to prison but there has also been very sharp restriction in welfare provisions given to poor women and families. Feminists criminologists rightly argue that this sharp increase on female inmates in prison definitely does not show any progress on the war on crime, drugs, poverty or terror but is a direct war on women as it is the women who seem to have been victimized (also see Bagilhole, 1997). These trends however have been analyzed and some suggest that an increase in the number of female criminals in prisons indicates a larger policy that seems to organize penal welfare responses for purposes of governing social marginality. Thus there are two sides of the picture with a group suggesting complete deprivation of women and another showing issues of governance of social marginality and differences. Both these approaches however assume that there is a state level cooperation and coordination within and across all social and political systems and larger policy mandates are also seen to be implemented at local levels.

McCorkell (2004) use ethnographic data from a state prison for women and examine whether and if at al , the to what extent criminal justice systems, welfare policies and legal frameworks are coordinated especially when compared with government’s approaches to drugs and poverty in the 1990s. McCorkell paints an interesting picture and shows that policies on drugs did transform punishment practices and this greatly affected the feminine side of the penal system and transformed the way in which women are seen in court. However McCorkell writes that such transformations ultimately were based on changes in institutional interpretive structures and altered ways in which the state and industries and other organizations conceptualized gender, crime and women’s roles and needs. There was thus an interpretive change or an interpretive reconfiguration in the way that women, gender and crime were related following social policies on gender issues. The institutionalized links between the welfare and criminal justice systems and the state systems along with strategic approaches of dependency discourses regarding policy responses have been emphasized as associated with the concept of welfare reforms.

Considering this particular case study of the 40 year old woman, the social and legal issues highlight that women are themselves powerful forces of social change and development. Women’s role in the society and in the workplace as also at home have been stressed by all social policies along with a focus on women’s equal rights whether in terms of equal opportunities, equal legal preferences or equal pay and work (Daly, 1994).

In this case study considered, equal legal preferences are expected which could be jeopardized by the concept of ‘appropriate femininity’ a social and legal description of women in the early years when women were considered as lesser and disadvantaged individuals. In this context Emsley et al (1996) discuss the history of crime and gender variations in the criminal justice system.

Critical Concerns – Conclusion

In this essay we discussed the social and legal implications of the notion of appropriate femininity considering a case study in which a 40 year old woman failed to attain justice and was punished by court due to threats and abusive behaviour towards her husband. However as discussed in the study, the husband of the woman B, was equally responsible and thus deserves to be punished. Yet we argue that considering the woman’s position and considering social roles and stereotypes, the notion of appropriate femininity might just have influenced the decisions in which a woman’s self defense is considered crime whereas a man’s abuse is normal. Here the woman’s husband got considerable legal support and in this context we discussed the appropriateness and claims for equal legal and social rights (also in Bagilhole, 1997). The social policies and policy responses and issues of identity have been discussed considering concepts of gender roles and stereotypes in which women seem to have specific roles beyond which they cannot venture. This is similar to firm specific skills discussed earlier in which certain companies prefer a specific gender, usually males for certain tasks and do not provide women the opportunities for progress. It seems that a dearth of work related opportunities, social factors and gender stereotyping seem to play crucial roles in shaping the legal approaches, frameworks and policies guided by the concept of appropriate femininity even in the present day judicial system and criminology.


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