Feminist Criminology

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This essay will compare and contrast feminist approaches to criminology with biological positivism. It will discuss the varying approaches within both feminism and biological positivism and consider how feminists and positivists explain women's criminality. The main assumptions and methodology will be outlined, compared and analysed, as well as the limitations and strengths of both theories. Biological Positivism emerged in the early nineteenth century, however it had its roots in the Enlightenment period of the eighteenth century, where loss of faith in religion turned philosophers eager to gain knowledge and advocate the use of reason of re-evaluation of once accepted ideas. According to Williams (2004) Cesare Lombroso was the father of modern criminology and pioneered the Biological Positivist approach. His scientific theories centred on the idea that a criminal was a naturally occurring phenomenon, a biological mutation or throwback to an earlier form of evolutionary life, in other words people were born criminal, not made criminal and did not have a choice in their behaviour. He based his theory on facial features and abnormalities in the cranium on prisoners in an Italian jail who he claimed had true atavistic features, for example small craniums, excessive hairiness, dark skin, and the presence of moles and tattoos. He thought these particular physical features had a relationship with the probability of engaging in crime (Newburn, 2007; Smart, 1995). Lombroso and Ferrero, (Lombroso’s son in law) published a study using the same technique of examining criminal women and found they did not appear to have many of these signs of degeneration so they concluded that true atavism was rare amongst females. They argued that women were nearer to their original origin than men, in other words were more primitive than men, had not evolved to the same degree and were biologically inferior to men (Smart, 1995). Lombroso and Ferrero stated “Women are big children... their moral sense is deficient” (1895 Cited in Heidensohn, 1991 p114). They believed women were wicked or saintly; prostitutes or mothers; mad or bad and women criminals possess all the criminal qualities of the male plus the worst characteristics of women; cunning, spite and deceitfulness and because of these traits women criminals were thought of as doubly deviant (Smart, 1976). Lombroso and Ferrero believed that if a woman did degenerate into atavism they were more likely to become prostitutes (Heidensohn, 1991). Heidensohn citing the work of Lombroso and Ferrero (1991 p64) suggested that “Prostitution is the natural state of regression for women and any women who are criminal are unnatural and more like men, lacking maternal feelings and carrying virile stigmata”. However, Lombroso and Ferrero argues that “In ordinary cases these defects are neutralised by maternity, piety, want of passion, sexual coldness, by weakness and undeveloped intelligence”(Smart, 1995 p.21) However, if these neutralising factors were removed, for example educating women the ‘innocuous semi-criminal’ present in all women would emerge (Smart, 1995 p.21). They also believed that one strong proof of the degeneration of the female criminal was the lack of maternal instinct and belong more to the male sex and the female sex. However, Oakley (1972, cited in Smart, 1995 p.21) argues against this concept saying that “Sex is a biological term and gender a social, cultural and psychological term such that for a woman to act in a socially defined masculine way does not mean that she is sexually or biologically normal”. He was saying any evidence of gendered masculinity in women, does not play a part in criminal activity. Heidensohn (1991) argues that Lombroso and Ferrero work was more implausible than scientific; his analysis of the photographs of the fallen women was like adjudicating a beauty contest, this is could be...
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