chapter  1
43 Pages

Why gender and crime? Aspects of an international debate

WithMargaret L. Arnot, Cornelie Usborne

As recently as 1985 one historian of crime bemoaned the fact that women’s roles in connection with crime in past societies had received very little scholarly attention and he offered two tentative explanations for this: first, because women have traditionally been perceived as “exceptionally law-abiding”; and secondly, citing the criminologist Doris Klein, because of “the preponderance of male theorists in the field”.2 This dearth of interest was despite the publication at the turn of the century of a number of prominent studies of female criminality by male authors. But these were, to use Klein’s words, “classist, racist and sexist”, based, as they were, on prejudiced notions of female physiological and psychological peculiarities; they hardly qualifed as role models.3

Certainly, many major studies of the 1970s investigating patterns of crime and punishment in modern Europe paid scant attention to women4 although there were some important exceptions: for England, John Beattie published his germinal article on the criminality of women in eighteenth-century England in 1975 and certain specific “crimes” of central interest to women’s and gender history attracted attention from scholars from a wide range of sub-disciplines within history.5 Yet it was even possible as late as 1985 for a general crime history book to omit a clear entry for “women” from the index,6 although by this time most historians of crime gave women at least this level of recognition.7