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Gender and Crime

3. Theories of Female Offending

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In this module, we think about the various theories that have emerged to explain female offending, since the later 19th century, focusing in particular on: (i) the extent to which criminological theory prior to 1970 was focused almost entirely on men and boys; (ii) the theories of Lombroso and Ferrero, and the supposed link between one's biology/physiognomy and one's tendency to commit crimes; (iii) the theory of W. I. Thomas and the idea of the 'catabolic' and 'anabolic' forces of men and women, respectively; (iv) the Freudian concept of 'penis envy' and its links to criminality among women; (v) the theory of Otto Pollak and the view that female crime is more 'hidden' than male crime and tend to be under-reported; (vi) the various sociological theories relating to female criminality, including differential association theory and the various functionalist theories that emerged in the 1960s and 70s; (vii) the work of Freda Adler and her view that women's equality has led to equality between men and women in not only 'legitimate' activities (e.g. in the workplace), but also 'illegitimate' activities (e.g. crime); and (viii) the lack of an evidentiary base for Adler's theory, and its persistence in modern criminological theory.


In this course, Dr Karen Evans (University of Liverpool) explores several topics related to gender and crime. In the first module, we think about the differences between men and women as perpetrators of crime. To what extent, in other words, is there a difference between the kinds of crimes committed by men and the kinds of crimes committed by women? After that, in the second module, we think about the differences between men and women as victims of crime. In the third and fourth modules, we explore the various theories that have attempted to explain female offending, including the theories of Cesare Lombroso, W. I. Thomas, Otto Pollak, Freda Adler, and Kathleen Daley, before turning in the fifth module to consider how some of the more recent, feminist theories of criminology have enhanced our understanding of male criminality. Finally, in the sixth module, we think about the role played by gender in the criminal justice system in England and Wales, and consider whether the criminal justice system would be better served by pursuing substantive rather than formal equality.


Dr Karen Evans is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Sociology, Social Policy and Criminology at the University of Liverpool. Her work has focused, although not exclusively, on communities in excluded neighbourhoods and their responses to marginalisation and deprivation. From the early 1990s this focus on the urban experience took Karen into research which was more criminological in nature as the fear of crime and victimisation increased in many neighbourhoods.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Evans, K. (2021, August 23). Gender and Crime - Theories of Female Offending [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Evans, K. "Gender and Crime – Theories of Female Offending." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 23 Aug 2021,

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