The application of feminism to the field of criminology provides a critical assessment to he most fundamental protectorate of the regulation, control and reproduction of power and order in society. The principles of governing and maintenance of rules of behavior and the interpretation of right and wrong which can be construed as our basic freedoms are defended and defined by the legal system. Feminists look to our frames of reference in regard to these belief systems.
Men are studied as non-gendered subjects, "In criminology, as in other disciplines, it is men, not women, who supply the essential (and therefore unexamined) 'standard case'. Men, themselves, are not compared with others to see what makes them specific and different"(Naffine 2-3). Standpoint feminists wished to draw attention to the criminological subject as a sentient being and away from the scientific approach to looking at the criminal as an object, "To standpoint feminists, the identity of the inquirer mattered, and the best sort of inquiry was conducted by the individual whose behavior was in question"(Naffine 60). Standpoint theorists believed men and women experienced and perceived the world in different ways and therefore it is important for women to have a voice in interpreting their behavior, as opposed to having it decided by beliefs and sanctions that do not include women's experience. Standpoint theorists want to incorporate the meanings of women's experience and diversity around the perception of the accused or accuser. The meaning and interpretation of knowledge and perception is an important factor in understanding the groundwork under which modern criminology has resulted, "Standpoint theorists sought to undermine the conventional scientific (Kantian) view that knowledge was unitary (Naffine 61). The dominant view was formed through the repression of dissident views, and the understanding that only dominant and subjugated knowledge is deemed the truth. Criminology as a viewpoint of men places women as the objects of male knowledge (Naffine 61). Standpoint theorists "suggested that power is not always a function of brute force or economic, or even political, advantage, but can also, and perhaps more importantly, take the form of the control of knowledge"(Naffine 62). Their argument supports the idea that men were free to shape the world in their own likeliness with their own interests and intentions.
Crime is defined by the offender, victim, state, and society and the "'rates of crime are by definition a result of the interplay of actors and reactors: of victims and offenders, on one hand, and of formal and informal control, on the other'"(Naffine 64). Feminist criminology states that crime must be viewed from all perspectives in order to obtain the most complete picture of the crime. Postmodern feminists argue for freedom from oppressive thought and script by de-constructing and pulling apart the foundation of thought, knowledge, and beliefs in modern western culture. In order to rewrite criminology with the inclusion of women's identities and perspectives, the masculine view of crime that crime is the activity of men needs to be thrown out.
Feminist standpoint theory asserts that human materiality, the biological, physical activities, and possessions, shape the way knowledge is formed and delineates the inequalities of patriarchal thought. If crime is seen as an act of aggression, and men are biologically characterized for their aggressive nature than not only is criminal theory male centered, so is the criminal practice. If society accepts that men are predisposed to aggression, which leads to crime, then women are socialized as passive actors and consequently many times the victimized. The implications for women are their sense of powerlessness and far reaching dependency upon men.
The masculinity of the victim as it is depicted through criminal theory and public observation has altered the ways in which particular crimes are addressed. Rape crimes and domestic crimes are predominantly male perpetrated and female inflicted. The victim of assault is viewed by different standards when gender questions are involved. The realists define assault asstrictly a coercive act committed in the street, in a public house or any other public venue (Nafine 65). Domestic violence, however, is not a form of assault despite the fact that it is the form of assault most likely to occur to a woman (Naffine 65). Domestic violence is given a special class of victimization, "public assault ( which a man is most likely to experience) is the standard case; domestic violence is the complication"(Naffine 65). Women never appear as more than a special instance of victimization(Naffine 66). This sexist interpretation of crime and law is just one example of the discrimination played out against women assumed by fault of women's designation to the private sphere and men's role in the public sphere. The definition of crime related to sexual acts is not consensually agreed on by men and women. The legal definition of prostitution, pornography, domestic abuse, and rape is not proved by the harm inflicted to women, rather man's understanding of those acts, "The place of women in realist criminology is deeply traditional. Women are there to receive special protection, because they are considered vulnerable to crime, but their experiences are never allowed to set the defining conditions of the realist project"(Naffine 66).
There is an underlying presumption behind private acts of violence as being interpreted as consensual interaction. Those activities (we objectively call crimes) in the private sphere are articulated as resulting out of the consensual (Naffine 65). Women's fears relating to class status, legal complications, dependency on men are all connected to fear of men and their confusion and inevitable lack of opportunity to change their environment. Martin Schwartz and Walter DeKeseredy have said that,"'Left realist discussions of fear of crime never make it explicit that women's fear of crime as found in victimization surveys is very closely connected to a fear of men"(Naffine 66). Therefore although class issues play a large part to crime fear, power supplied to men in a patriarchal society may perhaps play a larger part(Naffine 66).
One hard pressed question of feminist criminologists is how can notions of inequality in society be changed to provide for a new examination of legal thought and practice, "What are the mechanisms...whereby these men are able to evacuate questions of their sexuality, their subjectivity, their relationship to language from their sympathetic texts on 'feminism', on 'woman', on 'feminine identity'?"(Naffine 67). Standpoint feminists point to the connection between power and knowledge on the interpretation and production of criminality. The standpoint theorists position is that sides were important in deliberating the formation and casting and they believed that when criminologists turned to scientific explanations and reasoning of crimes they "had traditionally sided with the agents of the law and the state against the offender"(Naffine 67). This may not seem like a major point of contention, however when the viewpoint of the offender is not given equal appreciation, consideration, and weight, then the goal of providing fair and just protection is obscured.
"Foucauldian theorists of power/knowledge suggest that neither 'the powerful' nor 'the powerless' are free from the constituting effects of knowledge. Both are immersed in already-existing frameworks of thought out of which neither can simply step. Neither group can have a direct, unmediated grasp of some true authentic reality-to which the criminologists can have recourse through observing the correct, appreciative methods or by simply listening to the offender"(Naffine 69).
The positive assertion I hope to make in this discourse is that although the "(male) subject of criminal law and criminology is a creation of (Western male) culture... He is a feat of the Western male imagination and he can be re-imagined, even dislocated"(Naffine 140). Womenshould recognize and challenge their outsider status and refuse to remain passive in the deliberation of legitimate claims. The reasons and meanings of crime should include women in the intellectual and ethical pursuit of the knowledge surrounding the forces and players of crime as well as the understanding of how to justly wield the power of order.
Naffine, Ngaire. Feminism and Criminology. Philadephia: Temple University Press, 1996.