Violent femmes

May 20, 2008 at 10:17 pm | Posted in British Politics, Feminisms | Leave a comment
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Here’s a dilemma that’s got ‘Bleeding Heart’ written all over it: how do we understand the not-so-shocking fact that rather than just being simpering, sugar & spice sweethearts, women are just as capable (though far less likely) of committing crime as men?

Whilst he doesn’t make any earth-shattering insights (this is Comment is Free, after all), Ally Fogg at least makes an honourable attempt at it. Fogg’s main argument is that whilst there are some easily-identifyable facts about gender & crime – (a) we live in a patriarchal society, (b) men commit the most crime & the most violence and (c) women are more likely to be victims of male agression than vice versa – female criminality shouldn’t be reduced to just a symptom of these problems.

In this sense he’s absolutely right; crime can’t be understood by focusing exclusively on gender any more than it can understood by focusing exclusively on age, race, family background, economic circumstances, mental health, physical health or whether they like to drive around virtual cities running over pedestrians. To understand crime you need to look at a plurality of causes, and whilst you can prioritise some over others, it’s foolish to dismiss them for not fitting your preconceptions.

That said, I really can’t sign up to this:

To draw a distinction between male and female violence is often, I believe, simply bad science.

Notice there’s enough equivocation in that sentence to allow him to wriggle out of it if challenged. There is absolutely a need to distinguish between male and female violence, if only to account for the fact that it isn’t women who’re responsible for the vast majority of the rapings, the ‘honour’ killings and the genital mutilations on the planet. These are overwhelmingly male crimes and should be distinguished as such; failure to do so leads to the rather icky implication that capability & responsibility are somehow shared between the sexes.

Perhaps this didn’t fit with the argument he was trying to make, but I also think Fogg’s post would’ve had greater relevance if he’d talked about trends in female crime rather than just focusing on a few headline-making examples. Last week, the Youth Justice Board reported that crimes committed by girls aged 10 to 17 rose a whopping 25% between 2003/4 & 2006/07; the most commonly-committed were theft, violent attack, criminal damage and public order offences.

So yes, girls are committing more crimes and becoming more violent; they’re stealing and happy-slapping, vandalising and getting hammered. But when you look at the types of crimes being committed, you’ll notice how depressingly familiar they are to people from socially & economically deprived backgrounds. In areas with drugs and crime and antisocial behaviour kids have to be tough to survive, and this can certainly – though not inevitably – lead towards criminal, violent or otherwise ‘deviant’ behaviour whether they happen to be male or female. For me, it’s not that the problem of female violence is getting out of control, but that it’s rising to reflect the circumstances around them.

This perhaps supports Fogg’s general point that by viewing female crime solely through the blinkers of gender relations, you’ll get only a small slice of the myriad motivations and mitigations that drive women (and, indeed, men) to commit violent crime. But either way, we need to be a lot less freaked out by such incidents and a lot more focused on how they can be prevented.

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