Why do women offend, reoffend and how do we break the cycle?
This recent Positive Thinking Podcast on radio 4 (30 December 2019) explores why women offend, reoffend and how to break the cycle.
It has obvious relevance to the Crime and Deviance module and this is also an excellent example of a Feminist inspired programme, with the focus on stories rather than stats and solutions rather than causes.
Women make up a tiny proportion of the overall prison population and are twice as likely as men to be given a short sentence (of two years or less). However, the reoffending rates for women given short sentences is around 70% compared to men’s which is 20%.
It’s suggested that short prison sentences hit women a lot harder than men, especially the 50% of them who have children. A short sentence is just enough to mess up their lives and break down their social and emotional support networks, but not enough time for them to receive the structured support/ therapy that might help them break out bad habits such as substance abuse, for example.
The programme is co-presented by an ex-offender, Whitney, who has had 10 convictions for offences such as drugs and carrying weapons, and has spent time in jail. The programme focuses a lot on her story about why she started and continued offending ( rather than focusing on statistics) but its real focus is on solutions.
Whitney’s case is presented as ‘typical’ and it’s pretty bleak (well worth a listen first five mins of the podcast) – she was abused as a four year old by someone known to the family, and taken into foster care at 7 years of age along with here siblings, then spent the next several years in various foster homes, making 47 run-away attempts during that period. She was also excluded from multiple schools.
Eventually the authorities let the siblings go back and live with their mother, it seems because of their belligerence, but rows happened between Whitney and her mother, and that’s where her criminal record started. However, it was getting caught carrying a knife that led to her first jail sentence – she never used or drew the knife, just carried it for self defence, and she didn’t actually get a jail sentence for carrying it – she got sent down for failing to stick to the restrictions but on her as part of her remand-sentence – interfering with her tag and staying out clubbing after curfew.
She describes going to jail for 2 months as something which ‘broke her’ – she says she saw women going and coming back during that time, saw and learnt things that maybe she never should have.
Probably the most interesting section is when Whitney asks ‘could I as a four year old stopped myself from being abused? Could I as a 7 year old stopped my siblings being taken into care?’
The answer – ‘Probably not’ reminds us that Whitney is actually a victim of abuse, and that’s the root cause of her offending behaviour, so maybe being tough on such people by giving them prison sentences is not the right answer, especially when the stats show that prison does very little to break the cycle of offending.
Solutions – breaking the cycle of offending
The show looks at three projects working on solutions – one of the most interesting is a hair dressing salon in Dagenham, Essex, in which one enterprising woman trains ex offenders and drug users in level one hair dressing.
Part of the reason this works is that hairdressing is very social, and so it gives the students a connection to ‘normal’ life – and the feeling that ‘other people’ are interested in them – one student referred to didn’t have that as all she’d ever known was abusive relationships.
This project is really about going back to the very basics and just giving women the building blocks to structure their lives, and it seems to work – out of more than 40 people who took the course, only 3 didn’t complete it – 1 died and 2 went back to their own ways.
This post focuses on traditional representations of men as reinforcing aspects of hegemonic masculinity before considering some of the changes to male representations in more recent years.
Traditional representations of men reinforce hegemonic masculinity
Traditional representations of men have ascribed certain attributes to male characters such as strength, power, control, authority, rationality and lack of emotion. In other words, media representations of men have reinforced hegemonic masculinity.
Gilmore has summarised this even more simply, arguing that the media stereotype men into ‘the provider, the protector and the impregnator’.
Violence as a normal part of masculinity
According to Earp and Katz (1999) the media have provided us with a steady stream of images which define violence as an ordinary or normal part of masculinity, or in their own words….
“The media help construct violent masculinity as a cultural norm. Media discourse reveals the assumption that violence is not so much a deviation but an accepted part of masculinity”.
Wider representations of men and masculinity
Children Now (1999) conducted research in the late 1990s and found that there were six common types of representation of men in the media
The joker – uses laughter to avoid displaying seriousness or emotion
The jock – demonstrates his power and strength to win the approval of other men and women
The strong silent type (James Bond) – being in charge, acting decisively, controlling emotion and succeeding with women.
The big shot – power comes from professional status
The action hero – strong and shows extreme aggression and violence
The Buffoon – a bungling father figure, well intentioned and light hearted. (Homer). Hopeless at domestic affairs.
(Boys to Men: Media Messages About Masculinity, Children Now 1999).
The Crisis of Masculinity, the New Man and changing representations of masculinity
As with women, the changing roles of men in society are reflected in changing representations of men in the media.
Representations of men are moving away from absolute toughness, stubborn self-reliance and emotional silence with more male characters being comfortable with showing emotions and seeking advice about how to deal with the problems of masculinity.
There are also an increasing amount of images within advertising which encourage men to be concerned with body image and appearance as well as a sexualisation of male bodies, in which they are presented as sex objects for female viewing pleasure, much in the same way as female bodies have been traditionally been used by the media.
An essay plan covering some of the knowledge and evaluation points you could use to answer this question for AQA A-level sociology paper two: the media option.
You might like to review this post on how women are represented in the media before going through the plan below.
The item refers to three main types of stereotypical representations
A limited range of roles (Symbolic annihilation)
Concern with appearance (The Beauty Myth)
Women needing a partner
Symbolic Annihilation (Tuchman, 1978) = under-representation/ narrow range of social roles, gender stereotypes – housework and motherhood
‘Mouse that Roared’ Henry Giroux – Disney Films – Snow White.
Gauntlett – increase in the diversity of representations, reflects wider social changes.
films with ‘strong’ lead female characters – e.g. Alien, Kill Bill, and The Hunger Games.
However, lead female characters are slim and attractive
The Bechdel Test.
Global Media Monitoring group (2015) – women in news – the overall presence of women as sources was 28%. largely confined to the sphere of the private, emotional and subjective, while men still dominate the sphere of the public, rational and objective.
The Beauty Myth
media present unrealistic and unattainable images of women which encourages women to worry unnecessarily about their looks (Naomi Wolfe).
Tebbel (2000) body and faces of real women have been symbolically annihilated, replaced by computer manipulated, airbrushed, artificially images.
Killborn – women presented as ‘mannequins’ – size zero, tall and thin, and with perfect blemish-free skin.
Orbach – media associates slimness with health, happiness, success and popularity
Recent evidence challenges Beauty Myth…. Backlash to 2015 Protein World’s ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign
Since 2015 increase in the diversity of representations of women in advertising: Dove‘s Real Beauty‘ campaign72 , Sport England ‘ This Girl Can‘ campaign.
2017 – Advertising Standards Authority launched new guidelines on avoiding gender stereotyping in advertising, banned ads 2019.
UN women’s Unstereotype Alliance‘.
Women needing a partner
Ferguson (1980) – content analysis of women’s magazines from the end of WWII to 1980: cult of femininity: caring for others, family, marriage, and concern for appearance.
Ferguson: teenage magazines aimed at girls offered broader range of female representations, but still a focus on him, home and looking good for him.
However, McRobbie – Cosmopolitan has featured positive representations of young women as seeking to control their own lives rather than being dependent on men.
The gap between men and women in terms of pay, and representation in big companies is decreasing rapidly, but significant inequalities remain in both of these areas, domestic life, and chances of being a victim of sexual assault. All of this is despite the fact that girls have been outperforming boys at GCSE (and above) for decades. The only area of life where there seems to be equality is reported happiness levels, yet women still report slightly higher anxiety levels.
This post summarizes statistics from six key areas of social life:
income – the gender pay gap.
domestic life – amount of time spent on leisure and unpaid work
economic power – the proportion of women represented on the boards of large companies
education – GCSE results
crime – the number of men and women who have been victims of sexual assault.
well being – reported levels of happiness and anxiety.
There are a lot statistics available on gender inequality (both in the UK and worldwide) and here I’ve tried to select just six key statistics that summarize the state of gender inequality today.
I’ve kept the data to a minimum so as to avoid information overload, as this post is written as part of an introduction to A-level sociology for students in their first week of study. I’ve also deliberately selected data that is relevant to the topics students are likely to be studying deeper into the A-level, such as families and households and education, so they can get a first look at it now.
If you want to find out more about trends in gender equality in the U.K. I recommend the U.K. Government’s Gender Equality Monitor, which tracks progress towards gender equality. This recent report was very much the basis for this post!
NB – you’ll find it easier just read the charts if you click here to get to my Tableau Public page where I’ve stored all of the data visualizations below.
Women’s Income compared to men’s
The gender pay gap has fallen by about 10 percentage points since 1997, but the pay gap remains at just below 9%.
Women have historically been underrepresented and misrepresented in stereotypical roles within mainstream media.
This post focuses on symbolic annihilation, the cult of femininity and the male gaze as examples of this, and then looks at whether things have changed in recent decades.
Under-representation and symbolic annihilation
Gaye Tuchman (1978) developed the concept of Symbolic Annihilation to refer to the under-representation of women in a narrow range of social roles, while men were represented in a full range of social and occupational roles.
Tuchman also argued that women’s achievements were often not reported or trivialised and often seen as less important than things like their looks
According to Tuchman, women were often represented in roles linked to gender stereotypes, particularly those related to housework and motherhood – a good example of this being washing powder advertisements in which mothers and small daughters are working together, while men and boys are the ones covered in mud. This post has some excellent examples of such stereotypes.
Ferguson (1980) conducted a content analysis of women’s magazines from the end of WWII to 1980 and found that representations were organised around what she called the cult of femininity, based on traditional, stereotypical female roles and values: caring for others, family, marriage, and concern for appearance.
Ferguson noted that teenage magazines aimed at girls did offer a broader range of female representations, but there was still a focus on him, home and looking good for him.
The Women’s Sport and Fitness Foundation in 2006 found that there was little coverage of women’s sport, but what little coverage there was had a tendency to trivialise, sexualise and devalue women’s sporting achievements. HOWEVER, this later example may be something that has changed considerably over the last decade (see below).
Misrepresentations (myths and stereotypes)
In ‘The Mouse that Roared’ Henry Giroux argued that women were represented in a narrow, restricted and distorted range of roles.
Supporting evidence for Giroux lies in the historical representation of female characters in Disney Films – where the typical female character is a sexualised yet delicate princess who needs to be rescued by a stronger male character.
Examples of where Disney reinforces female stereotypes include:
Snow White – who cleans the house of the male dwarves and is eventually rescued by a male prince because she is pretty.
Beauty and the Beast – In which Belle endures an abusive and violent beast in order to redeem him.
Ariel – who gives up her voice to win the prince with her body.
Mulan – who wins the war almost single handed only to return home to be romanced.
Laura Mulvey studied cinema films and developed the concept of the Male Gaze to describe how the camera lens eyed up the female characters for the sexual viewing pleasure of men.
The Male Gaze occurs when the camera focuses on women’s bodies, especially breasts, bums and things, and spends too long lingering on these areas when it isn’t necessary.
The male gaze of the camera puts the audience in the perspective of the heterosexual men – woman are displayed as a sexual object for both the characters in the film and the spectator – thus the man emerges as the dominant force and the woman is passive under the active (sexual) gaze of the man.
The overall effect of this is that women become objectified as sex objects, rather than being represented as whole people.
Mulvey argued that the Male Gaze occurred in film because heterosexual men were in control of the camera.
Video summarizing all of the above:
This is a very useful vodcast outlining the classic theories of the poor representation of women in the media historically:
Changes to the representations of women?
The roles of women in society have changed considerably since these historical analyses of women’s representations: since the 1970s women now occupy a much wider range of roles and equality with men.
David Gauntlett in ‘Media Gender and Identity’ argues that there has been an increase in the diversity of representations and roles of women in the media since the 1970s, and a corresponding decrease in stereotypical representations, which broadly reflects wider social changes.
The representation of women in films
There have been several films in recent decades with ‘strong’ lead female characters who are fierce, tough and resourceful, and thus arguably subvert hegemonic concepts of masculinity. Arguably a watershed moment in this was the 1979 film ‘Alien’ in which the female lead character Ripley outlives her male colleagues and ultimately kills the Alien threat.
Since then a number of female heroines have featured as the lead characters in various action movies such Terminator 2, the Tomb Raider films, Kill Bill, and The Hunger Games.
However, rather than subverting hegemonic concepts of masculinity, it could be argued that such films still perpetuate the ‘beauty myth’ as all the above lead female characters are slim and attractive.
The Bechdel Test
The Bechdel Test is a simple test which presents a quantitative analysis of the representation of women in relation to men in film. To pass the test a film has to pass three tests…
It has to have at least two (named) women in it
Who talk to each other
Above something other than a man
The website above allows you to search for films which passed the test by year, and there is clear evidence that female characters are more visible and independent year on year, but there are still many films which do not pass this simple basic test.
The representation of women in Game of Thrones
At first glance, there seem to be a number of positive female characters in Game of Thrones – the assassin and ultimate killer of the Ice King Arya Stark being the most stand-out example, with other positive female characters including Daenerys Targaryen, Cersei Lannister, Brienne of Tarth, Sansa Stark (once she gets through her abusive relationship).
However, various feminist commentators have argued that all of these positive representations are let down by the end of series eight with Brienne falling apart emotionally because of her love for Jamie Lannister, Daenerys literally going mad, Sansa apparently being strong because of her previous abusive relationship (rather than in spite of it), and with all the anonymous women cowering in the crypt during the battle with the Ice King, while all the anonymous men are outside fighting.
A further Feminist argument is that all of these women are portrayed as strong individuals who are strong because they adopt male characteristics, and ultimately it is male violence which wins the day rather than more diverse forms of feminine power.
Compared to 2010 data, the number of women sources as a proportion of all sources, had decreased by 3 per cent.
Women continued to remain largely confined to the sphere of the private, emotional and subjective, while men still dominate the sphere of the public, rational and objective.
Women were significantly under-represented in hard news stories and in all the authoritative, professional and elite source occupational categories and are, instead, significantly over-represented as voices of the general, public (homemaker, parent, student, child) and in the occupational groups most associated with ‘women’s work’, such as health and social and childcare worker, office or service industry worker.
Looking at the function women performed in stories, their contribution as experts (20%) and spokespeople (25%) were low, instead, they were mostly called upon to voice popular opinion (54%) or speak from their personal experience including as eye-witnesses or speak from their own subject position.
The persistence of the Beauty Myth?
Tebbel (2000) argues that women are under more pressure than ever before to conform to the Beauty Myth. She argues that the body and faces of real women have been symbolically annihilated, replaced by computer manipulated, airbrushed, artificially images.
Killborn argues that media representations present women as ‘mannequins’ – size zero, tall and thin, and with perfect blemish-free skin.
Orbach further argues that the media continues to associate slimness with health, happiness, success and popularity
The representations of women in advertising
Some recent evidence seems to challenge the persistence of the Beauty Myth….
There seems to have been progress in this area in recent years. In 2015, Protein World launched its ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign, and while this clearly reinforced the Beauty Myth stereotype, it prompted a significant backlash with several of the advertisements being vandalised, and many women posting images of their ordinary bodies on social media as a criticism of the overt body shaming involved with Protein World’s advert.
Since 2015, there has been an increase in the diversity of representations of women in advertising, for example:
Dove‘s Real Beauty‘ campaign72 featured a diverse range of body shapes and ethnicities.
Sport England has been running its successful ‘This Girl Can‘ campaign since 2015, which has since evolved into the ‘fit got real’ campaign:
Finally, UN women has recently launched its ‘Unstereotype Alliance‘, which challenges gender stereotypes in advertising on a global scale. Supporters of this initiative include advertising industry companies such as Unilever, P&G, WPP, Diageo, Google and Facebook.
57 pages of revision notes covering all of the sub-topics within the sociology of the media
19 mind maps in pdf and png format – covering most sub-topics within the sociology of the media.
Short answer exam practice questions and exemplar answers – three examples of the 10 mark, ‘outline and explain’ questions and three of the 10 mark ‘analyse’ with item questions, all take from the specimen paper and the 2017/2018 exam papers.
Three essays and essay plans, taken from the specimen paper and 2017 and 2018 exam papers.
In 2017 the Advertising Standards Authority published a report on gender stereotypes in advertising, prompted (among other things) by the hundreds of complaints it had received from the public about Protein World’s 2015 ‘Beach Body Ready’ advertising campaign.
That particular advert led a public backlash, with several people posting images of themselves and their ‘ordinary’ bodies in bikinis, vandalism of some the posters, as well as making the advertising industry reflect on how it should be representing women.
The ASA’s 2017 report identified six categories of gender stereotypes in adverts:
Roles Occupations or positions usually associated with a specific gender
Characteristics Attributes or behaviours associated with a specific gender
Mocking people for not conforming to stereotype or making fun of someone for behaving or looking in a non-stereotypical way
Sexualisation Portraying individuals in a highly sexualised manner
Objectification Depicting someone in a way that focuses on their body or body parts
One example is Volkswagon’s recent electric Golf ad which shows men actively doing a range of dynamic activities (such as exploring space) and closes with a woman passively sitting on a bench with a pram, watching the car go by:
A second example is this Philadelphia ad, which was banned for depicting men as poor child carers, with one of them accidentally putting his child on a food conveyor belt in a restaurant:
An effective mechanism for combating gender stereotypes in advertising?
The very fact that the ASA is now censoring ads for representing men and women in narrow stereotypical ways suggests that we should see less gender stereotyping in adverts in the future: now that ads have actively been banned from UK screens for failing to conform to these new standards, it should make ad makers more sensitive to how they represent men and women: it doesn’t take a great deal of thought to avoid stereotyping, after all, and surely most ad makers would rather make ads that can be broadcast as widely as possible, especially in countries with large consumer economies like the U.K.
The limitation of this is that the ASA only has the power the censor in the United Kingdom, not globally, and the U.K. only makes up 1% of the global population!
What are the patterns of new-media usage in the UK by age, social class, gender. Is there still a digital divide?
In 2019, almost nine in ten (87%) UK households had internet access, and adults who use the internet spent, on average, 3 hours 15 minutes a day online (in September 2018) (1)
Around 70% of UK adults have a social media account and about one in every five minutes spent online is on social media (1)
The number of households connected to the internet and the use of New Media has increased rapidly in the last decade, but statistics from OFCOM clearly show that there are still differences in new media usage by age, social class and gender.
For an overview of what the New Media are, please see these two posts:
This is especially clear if we contrast the youngest age groups (as classified by OFCOM) of 16-24 year olds with the oldest of 74+
The differences are less marked, but still clear if we look at a wider variety of age groups. I’ve deliberately selected two consecutive age groups below (45-54 and 55-64) because there appears to be quite a significant drop off in new media usage between these two age categories.
· 99% use a mobile phone
· 79% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 93% have a social media profile
· 1% do not use the internet (2)
· 47% play games online (4)
· 98% use a mobile phone
· 69% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 76% have a social media profile
· 7% do not use the internet (2)
· 10% play online games (4)
· 96% use a mobile phone
· 43% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 58% have a social media profile
· 19% do not use the internet (2)
· 5% play online games (4)
· 81% use a mobile phone
· 22% watch on-demand or streamed content
· 20% have a social media profile
· 48% do not use the internet (2)
· 5% play games online (4)
The social class digital divide
Working-age adults in DE socio-economic group1 households are more than three times as likely as those in non-DE households to be non-users of the internet (14% vs. 4%). (1)
The contrast is best shown by comparing the highest socio-economic group (AB) with the lowest socio-economic group (DE):
Socio-Economic Group AB:
97% use a mobile phone
73% watch on-demand or streamed content
74% have a social media profile
57% correctly identify advertising on Google
6% do not use the internet (2)
Socioeconomic Group DE:
93% use a mobile phone
46% watch on-demand or streamed content
56% have a social media profile
37% correctly identify advertising on Google
23% do not use the internet (2)
The digital gender divide
In 2017, women (81%) continue to be more likely to have a profile/ account, compared to men (74%). (4)
Women are more likely than men to say they have ever seen content that upset or offended them in social media over the past year (58% vs. 51%). (4)
(50%) of men say they are ‘very’ interested in the news (50%) compared to only a third (34%) of women. Twice as many women (15%) as men (8%) are not interested. (4)
A quarter of men (24%) play games online, compared to 9% of women. (4)
Conclusions – is there a significant new media digital divide in the UK in 2019?
While there does seem to be a very significant generation divide between the very youngest and oldest, the differences between young adults and those in their early 50s is relatively small.
There does appear to be some evidence that those in class DE are less well connected than those in class DE with nearly a quarter of adults in class DE not being connected to the internet.
There also appear to be quite significant differences by gender: women are more likely to have social media profiles while men are much more likely to take an interest in the news.
You’ll probably recognize Caster Semenya the female 400 meter runner with intersex traits who won the 800 meters in the 2012 and 2016 Olympic Games.
However she probably won’t be at next year’s in 2020 because the Court of Arbitration for Sport recently judged that female athletes with intersex traits won’t be able to compete in middle distance events (from 400m to 1 mile) unless they take medication to suppress their naturally high levels of testosterone.
On the surface this seems to be creating a ‘level playing field’ for all female athletes, but if we’re going to insist that someone like Semenva takes medication to suppress her unfair natural advantage, surely we should drug all the future Michael Phelps and Usain Bolts of the athletics world too?
Michael Phelps’ 6 ft 7″ arm span and size 13 feet certainly gave him an unfair natural advantage, and Usain Bolt’s supreme body-mechanics contributed to his sprint world records: how many other people have you seen ‘jogging to line’ and winning that often?
So maybe there’s more to the Semenva Case?
Maybe she (and anyone else whose intersex) is being punished for their ‘gender ambiguity’ rather than this being a just penalty for being physically advantaged.
Then there’s the fact that she (and other intersex females) are easy victims here: they are an extreme minority, and relatively powerless, after all – easy to mete out harsh justice on such individuals and then forget about it in the name of ‘fairness’.
Maybe this is about rendering intersex females invisible – policing our ‘normalised’ sex-boundaries, making sure the rest of us don’t become too uncomfortable about the reality that sex/gender are complex/ fluid….. it CANNOT be about just biological advantage as the cases of Phelps and Bolt demonstrate – we celebrate their ‘good’ freakishness, after all!)
Sonita Alleyne is 51 years old studied Philosophy at Cambridge 30 years ago and went on to establish a successful career in journalism and has been awarded and OBE. She is a real champion for diversity and inclusion.
At first sight this seems like a very progressive move to promote equality and diversity, especially when Oxbridge universities have been under so much criticism recently over their disproportionately low numbers of black students and staff.
However, critics might suggest this is an ‘easy trophy appointment’ – what do Heads of Colleges do after all? They’re basically figure heads who liaise with other educational establishments, businesses and the wider communities.
Surely addressing the lack of black female staff (and especially professors) would have more of an impact in promoting equality and diversity? I mean these are the people who students interact with on a day to day basis, so surely appointments to these positions would have more of a role-model effect, and surely make a difference to the lives of more people (i.e. the people appointed and the students they might inspire.
This appointment is progress, yes, but maybe not the most effective way of promoting equality and diversity
Relevance to A-level sociology
This is most obviously relevant to the sociology of education. You can use this as contemporary evidence against the view that elite universities are institutionally racist.
The technique to answering such a question is to think of it in terms of 3 lots of 1 + 1 – you need 3 identifiers and then three developments
Teacher’s sexist ideas channeling girls into ‘girls subjects’
Science taught in a male way using male examples (engines), put girls off
Biological differences. Girls better at communication, not much discussion in science subjects
Differential parental encouragement
Boys more likely to play with technical toys
Fewer girls in text books
Fewer female science teachers
Boys dominate classroom by dominating practical equipment
Three identifiers plus three explanations/ developments…
(ID) Teachers may have stereotypical ideas that girls would struggle in male dominated subjects such as physics, (EX) and they may try and put them off, steering them towards other, more traditionally feminine subjects such as English, meaning fewer girls end up doing science subjects.
(ID) Science subjects are often taught using masculine examples – for example, physics text books might use cars to illustrate the laws of motion. (EX) This might put girls off doing physics because they have no interest in the masculine examples used to teach these subjects.
(ID) Girls are more likely to be socialised into discussing their feelings, (EX) and thus they might be more likely to choose subjects such as history and English where you need to discuss things more, rather than sciences where there is less discussion and ‘one right answer’.
For more examples of exam practice questions, please see links on my ‘exams page‘!
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