Study Notes

Classic Texts: Pat Carlen "Women, Crime & Poverty" 1988


Last updated 23 Apr 2019

This feminist study, based on interviews with 39 women, looks at why some women commit crimes.

Most sociologists who have considered the issue of gender and crime have focused on why women commit far fewer crimes than men - after all, that is what the crime statistics show us. However, some women do commit crimes, and Carlen looked into that question.

She concluded that working-class women made a class deal and a gender deal that generally kept them under control. The class deal was that they would work hard in exchange for pay which they could then use to pay for consumer goods. The gender deal was that they should do domestic labour and give love and companionship to their husbands, in exchange for love and financial support. Both these deals keep working-class women respectable.

It was, Carlen suggested, when these deals broke down that working-class women were then more likely to commit crimes, as a rational choice.

For Carlen both these "deals" were really exploitative. As a feminist she believed that women were exploited in families, and she also believed that the working class was exploited by employers in the capitalist system (agreeing with Marxists). However, there was an illusion of fairness and respectability about these deals that, most of the time, kept women under control.

In one respect, Carlen agrees with functionalists, such as Durkheim or Hirschi, that social control prevents crime and a lack of control can lead to an increase in crime. But Carlen points out how that control is often maintained through exploitation.

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