Fleisher, M.S., & Krienert, J. L. (2004). Life-course events, social networks, and the emergence of violence among female gang members. Journal of Community Psychology, 32(5), 607-622.
- Main Thesis: Drawing from a large field study, Fleisher and Krienert examine the social role of gangs for girls and young women in North End, a Champaign, IL, community. The authors discuss independence from household, gang affiliation, and first pregnancy as life-course events that affect the engagement of these females in violent activities. The authors offer suggestions for using this information to intervene in positive ways.
- Body of Evidence: In this article, Fleisher and Krienert report and analyze data from a multi-year study conducted in North End, a poor, predominantly black community in Champaign, IL. Using personal social-network data, self-report individual gang member data, and self-report public health/sex survey data, they collected a sample from 74 women who self-identified as being affiliated with gangs in North End. The authors also incorporate experiential knowledge to give context to the setting. The authors studied the life cycles and lifestyles of gang women, including their community involvement, early family life, parental drug/crime history, gang interactions, involvement in crime and violence, and social reaction to pregnancy. The study showed that the median age for initial gang membership for girls in North End was 14—the same age at which mothers said daughters should “learn how to care for themselves” (p. 614). The mean age for active female gang members was 18.8, and the mean age of inactive female gang members was 22.5. The study showed a correlation between violence and the presence of male gang members. The study also showed that gang membership correlates with violent crime and that life-course events—like independence from household, gang affiliation, and first pregnancy — are intertwined. Most shocking in this study’s evidentiary results is the finding that first pregnancy always led to decreased gang activity. The authors suggest that this may be an especially productive time for “outsiders” to offer information and support to female gang members in North End (p. 619).
- Conclusions: Based on their findings that gang network members have long-term social ties, the authors suggest that intervention should makes use of social networks. They also recommend that the larger community work against isolation by providing services to gang networks, “even if it means setting up shop in previously segregated areas” (p. 620). Finally, they encourage social workers to pay attention to the times and spaces—in particular, first pregnancy—most conducive to intervention. Finally, they recommend that social workers offer information and community support in ways that align with local culture.
- My Conclusions: I find this article fascinating in its focused and thoroughly researched approach and in its realistic recommendations for policy in regard to positive intervention for North End females. I especially appreciate the authors’ attention to broad social change; rather than being interested in taking particular individuals away from gang life, they advocate interventions that will push into the community and benefit broader social networks. Further, they point out the importance of researched intervention approaches: “we are not advocating teenage pregnancy” as a way to intervene, but rather as “a specific opportunity” for making connections between North End and the larger community (p. 619). Finally, I applaud the authors’ recommendation to respect local culture in order to create social ties and increase the opportunities for positive interactions and interventions.
Ogle, R.S., Maier-Katkin, D., & Bernard, T.J. (1995). A theory of homicidal behavior among women. Criminology, 33(2), 173-193.
- Main Thesis: This article uses an adaptation of strain theory, which is explained through Agnew (1992), Megargee (1966, 1973) and Bernard (1990, 1993) and supported by some feminist theory, to discuss the production of negative affect leading to criminal behavior in women. The authors suggest that women are placed under significant stress simply because they are women in a male-centric world/society. Unlike men, women then tend to internalize the emotions that arise from stress and this results in a pattern of controlled lifestyles with occasional violent outbursts. Although the authors focus on female homicide, they are careful to point out that this theory could apply to any violent crime perpetrated by a female.
- Body of Evidence: Ogle, Maier-Katkin, and Bernard use combinations of established literature to explore the limitations of prior theories of female criminality. They theorize a new rationale for female violence by combining the work of Agnew and Megargee as well as the third author, Bernard (p. 176, p. 182). They begin to prove their new theory by showing how women are made to be Other in relation to men (p. 177) and how social messages about sex and motherhood inevitably produce stress/strain for girls and women. They then discuss how girls and women are socially constrained from expressing that stress and therefore must internalize it, resulting in high rates of overcontrolled personality, which is a common trait of homicidal offenders. The authors suggest that “women as a group are more ‘controlled’ than men” ( p. 181). This leads to a pattern of a low female crime rate combined with instances of extreme violence. Next, the authors use Bernard’s past work to show that this theory disproportionately affects women of color, urban women, and women of low social class because of the additional stresses—especially including social isolation—on the lives of these women. Social isolation results in different cultural understandings about the expression of anger as well as limiting women’s access to potential victims, meaning victims of women’s criminal behavior often are people they are close to.
- Conclusions: This literature-based study proposes a new theory of female criminality with special focus on explaining homicidal behavior. This theory suggests that cultural strains disproportionately affect women as a group and especially affect disadvantaged women. The authors combine Agnew’s strain theory with Megargee’s theory of overcontrolled personality to create a new theory that can explain the overall pattern of low female crime with some highly violent anomalies.
- My Conclusions: I think there is certainly a place for literature-based studies of criminality, and I found Ogle, Maier-Katkin, and Bernard’s choices of supporting theories to be logical and smart. However, I also think that the authors of literature-based studies have a special obligation to make their work relevant to the field and to broader society; although the authors were socially responsible in noting that “at the individual level, however, prediction (of female crime) would be considerably more difficult,” (p. 187) they did not provide a call to action based on their work. To be fair, this call to action might be implicit. In addition to setting up empirical studies at the aggregate level, I think the authors are suggesting increased attention to the ways in which women are placed under cultural strain. I believe this article could have been even better if this latter call were made explicit.
I’m taking an online class this summer entitled Women in Criminal Justice. One of our ongoing assignments for this class is to post article reviews. Although I’m new to this field, it seems that we’re reading really important, canonical stuff … well, if there IS a “canon” in the sub-field of “women in criminal justice.” To that end, I’ll be posting most of those reviews. These documents are largely summative, but they also include a little nugget of opinion at the end.
Here’s the first one! *******
Maher, L., & Daly, K. (1996). Women in the street-level drug economy: Continuity or change? Criminology, 34(4), 465-491.
- Main Thesis: Contrary to the suggestions made by some recent work in the field, the expansion of the drug economy that arose with the increased prevalence of crack cocaine in the late 1980s and early 1990s did not increase economic opportunities for women. Instead, the widespread use of crack cocaine resulted in a larger pool of sex workers, which then limited earning opportunities for women drug users who had relied on the sex trade for income. Thus, the rise of crack cocaine actually contributed to the increased economic marginalization of women associated with the drug trade in this context.
- Body of Evidence: An ethnographic study was undertaken in Bushwick, a poor neighborhood in Brooklyn with a busy street-level drug market. The fieldwork began in the fall of 1989 and extended through the end of 1991. Fieldwork included observations and interviews. A total of 211 interviews, ranging from 20 minutes to 3 hours, with women crack users were recorded. In early 1992, data was sorted and 45 women identified about whom substantial information had been collected to report findings on. These women included 20 Latinas, 16 African-Americans, and 9 European-Americans ranging in age from 19 to 41 years. The authors examined women’s roles in the structure of New York City crack markets, selling and distributing drugs, selling drug paraphernalia, running shooting galleries, and copping drugs. Researchers found that women were a majority population only in the category of copping drugs; they were excluded from selling paraphernalia and drugs on more than an irregular basis, and they were intimidated out of running shooting galleries. In these examinations, special attention was paid to the importance of the potential for violence, relationships, protection, and performed attitude among these women.
- Conclusions: This ethnographic study shows some weaknesses and contradictions in current research. Chances for income in the Bushwick-area crack market during the time of this study arose based on who had particular traits, but perceptions of those traits were (and, likely, are) grounded in cultural perceptions that operated along gendered lines. The economic marginalization of women in this limited economy runs counter to assertions about empowering opportunities for women in such situations. Current research also often fails to take into account racial-ethnic considerations. The authors conclude that studies of women’s positions in drug economies have much more work to do in terms of taking into account gendered realities, race-ethnicity, sex, and sexuality.
- My Conclusions: I found Maher and Daly’s work to be careful, informative, and innovative—this last adjective despite the fact that it’s more than a decade old. They do an excellent job of explaining a prevailing narrative—that of increasing female emancipation in the drug trade—in criminology research and then respectfully complicating it. My concerns with this article largely involve bigger-picture items. For example, I was surprised at the lack of discussion surrounding the seemingly ethically questionable practice of paying drug addicts for their stories (but perhaps this is a commonplace in criminology research that I’m unaware of). I also wished that Maher and Daly had drawn more explicit connections to broader concerns in feminist criminology; that is, how can this study change our scholarship and practice in relation to how women are treated in the criminal justice system?