Sex Role Theory explains gendered differences in offending in terms of the differences in gender socialization, gender roles and gendered identities. The norms and values associated with traditional femininity are not conducive to crime, while the norms and values associated with traditional masculinity are more likely to lead to crime.
Female socialisation, traditional female roles and low female crime rates
Parsons (1937) argued that because females carry out the ‘expressive role’ in the family which involved them caring for their children and looking after the emotional needs of their husbands, that girls grew up to internalise such values as caring and empathy, both of which reduce the likelihood of someone committing crime simply because a caring and empathetic attitude towards others means you are less likely to harm others.
The child caring role also means that women are also effectively more attached to their families and wider communities than men – It is traditionally women who keep in touch with relatives and get to know their children’s friends families and thus bond local communities together. In terms of bonds of attachment theory, women are thus more attached to wider society and thus less likely to commit crime.
Similarly, because traditional female gender roles involve women being busier than men, especially since they have taken on the ‘dual burden’ and ‘triple shift’ in recent decades, this reduces the opportunities for women to commit crime.
Masculinity and the high male crime rate
It has long been theorized that the early socialization of boys into traditional masculine identities is at least partly responsible for the higher male crime rate. Sociologist Sutherland (1960) stated this very simply by saying that ‘boys are taught to be “rough and tough,” which makes them more likely to become delinquent’.
Talcott Parsons (1964) purported that masculinity was then internalized during adolescence, which led to boys engaging in more delinquent behavior than girls, and sub cultural theorists Cloward and Ohlin (1960) proposed that in gangs, younger members learn through contact with older males that traits such as toughness and dominance are necessary in order to assert a strong masculine reputation.
Evaluations of Sex-Role Theory
One possible criticism of sex-role theory is that it is less relevant in today’s society because of the decline of traditional gender roles.
The theory is based in the functionalist theory of the family, so many of the same criticisms apply here.
This post has been written primarily for students of A-level sociology. The gender and crime topic is studied as part of the second year crime and deviance compulsory module, usually taught in the second year.
A related topic is the The Liberationist Perspective on the (Long Term) Increase in the Female Crime Rate.
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