Why crime continues to be a masculine pursuit?

The theme of masculinity and crime was rumoured to  attract the minds of many academics particularly those with feminist views who argue that crime is male – orientated. The purpose of this essay is going to discuss and challenge on whether crime continues to be a masculine pursuit as it is obvious that the majority of crimes are committed by men. This essay investigates on what makes crime a masculine activity although women perpetrate crimes as well, but it is suggested to be only a minority, as women are stereotypically considered to be non deviant. There had been various literatures written on masculinity particularly by renowned writers such as Connell and Messerschmidt where this essay centres on analysing and criticising the works composed by these writers. Other literature has male – orientated crimes ranging from, victimless crimes, such as robbery, burglary, drug offences, drug induced crimes to most serious crimes, such as rape and homicide. This essay centres on masculinity, masculine subcultures, ethnic minorities, and crisis of masculine identities and sex offences against women. It will use theoretical approaches of sociology, particularly the strain theory as it can be argued that this theory could be helpful in explaining the sociological on persistence of masculinity and crime, and psychology particularly the Oedipus complex, a notion by Sigmund Freud. Works on masculinity has been increased significantly within the last few years (Messerschmidt, 1993, 1997 and 2002 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 387) and it was centred on sex roles and body differences. This essay will start by explaining the notion of hegemonic masculinity with intention to provide a stepping into the world of men and crime.

Hegemonic masculinity was based on the Gramscian model of hegemony where it illustrates the dominance of one form of the social hierarchy over all forms (Gramsci 1971 cited in Silvestri and Crowther – Dowey 2008: 61). This form of masculinity is suggested to be highly accepted in mainstream society and is seen as an ideal form of manhood which is embedded in all men than individual ideas of masculinity. Masculinity has been expressed through risk taking activities especiall excessive drinking, drug consumption and predatory violence (Jefferson 1996a cited in Silvestri and Crowther – Dowey 2008: 61). Gramsci’s model of hegemony was selected by R.W Connell to explain gender relations. She argues that hegemonic masculinity illustrates characteristics, such as power, dominance, strength and competition (1995 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388). She (Connell) also argues that masculinities manifests during the secondary socialisation process, particularly in school playgrounds, institutions where boys display aggressive and violent outbursts towards the teachers, their peers and play truant (1995 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388).

However, the concept of hegemonic masculinity has been subjected to various criticisms particularly Collier (1998 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388) who argues that hegemonic masculinity is an extensive collection of negative masculine behaviours and criminal activities rather than masculinity being expressed positively in sports and other physical activities, employment and academic success. It can be obvious and argued that hegemonic masculinity is a goal which is narrowly shared by white middle class heterosexual males with conservative views. Tony Jefferson (2002 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388) contributed to the criticism of hegemonic masculinity by arguing that it captivates an exaggerated socialised view of masculinity, where men are under pressure of achieving the values within that form of masculinity. He also argues that the psychoanalytical facet of behaviour has been misjudged and that males choose a trendy masculine behaviour which suits their psychological reasons and are unconsciously coerced to suppress any feelings which are regarded as effeminate, such as vulnerability, sensitivity, fear and powerlessness (2002 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388).  In Willis’s book Learning to Labour (1977), illustrates an example of how boys adapt to a trendy masculine demeanour, where he argues that young men engage in criminal activities preferably violence against another person to gain a sense of power and achievement (1977 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388). One example which display hegemonic masculinity is the American Dream revised by Robert Merton (1957 cited in Valier 2003) who can explain that men are pressured into achieving goals that are held in mainstream American Society and crime associates with innovation, the second adaption to anomie.

Strain theory is considered to explain the high rates of crime among young males and gender differences. Robert Agnew’s book Pressured into Crime (2006) highlights that Biopsychological theorists explain the gender gap by arguing that males tend be lower in constraint and have high levels of emotional illiteracy than their female counterparts (2006: 129). It had been noted (Agnew 2005a, Broidy and Agnew 1997 cited in Agnew 2006: 129) that social control theorists explain that males are less likely to be constrained in the household, such as having less responsibility for household tasks and childcare. They (Agnew, Broidy and Agnew) also argue that they are less likely to be committed to school and are less likely to believe that crime is wrong and are more likely to be punished for disruptive behaviour. In opposition, social control theorists explains the slit within gender differences by arguing that females were more socially controlled than males because of their gender roles, such as taking responsibility in the house and avoid risk taking activities and aggressive demeanours. Biopsychological theorists have argued that females are less likely to engage in criminality as they are smaller and weaker than their male counterparts (Steffensmeier 1983 cited in Agnew 2006: 129). It had been argued (Rose et al 1974., Keverne, Meller and Eberhart 1982 cited in Burke 2006: 66) boys and men are naturally more aggressive and physically stronger than girls. This can be influenced by high degrees of testosterone, the male hormone which is responsible for puberty in males.

Olwens (1987 cited in Burke, 2005:66) carried out a study on young males without criminal histories and learnt there was an obvious link among testosterone and violence, both physical and verbal. However it was more verbal than physical and this was a root reaction on intimidation and hostility given by another person. Schallings (1987 cited in Burke, 2005:66) discovered that high testosterone levels associated with more verbal aggression than physical. This suggests that young males use this type of aggression to protect their “macho” image whereas boys with low testosterone levels prefer to remain silent. However, Biopsychology could be criticised for ignoring that females are “doubly deviant” in breeching the biological rule as Polk (1961 cited in Croall 1998: 140) argues that women are clever at concealing their crimes through exploiting their gender stereotypical roles especially, poisoning their spouses’ food. Biopsychologists can be criticised for ignoring that not all men with have high testosterone levels do not necessarily become violent but become more aggressive and as result, aggression could escalate to violence especially if they live in area that promotes violence.

In contrast, it had been argued (Heimer and De Coster 1999 and Mazerolle 1998 cited in Agnew 2006: 129) that social learning theory, which concentrates on the process of learning among subcultures, explains the motives underlie gender differences in crime are due to the fact males are more likely to associate with gangs and delinquent peers, where they adopt the beliefs, the norms and values on what behaviour is acceptable and unacceptable. It had been argued (Mazerolle 1998 cited in Agnew 2006: 131) that males are academically declined than females and often have negative relations with teachers. It can be suggested that boys are influenced by ‘macho’ attitudes believing that academics could make them feel emasculated and prefer practical based learning and physical labour.

It had been further noted (Agnew and Brenzina, 1997; Aseltine et al., 2000; Broidy and Agnew 1997; McCarthy et al 2004; Morash and Moon 2005b cited in Agnew 2006: 131) males more likely to have conflicts with their peers through competition, comparison of one’s ability and jealousy. The strain theory also highlights that young males have a problem of achieving goals which are held in mainstream society particularly the American Dream defined by Robert Merton (1957 cited in White and Haines 2004: 67) where everyone is entitled the right to gain access to materialistic wealth. Innovation is arguably to be suitable to explain the persistent levels of  crime among males, where they adopt the cultural goals but, achieve it through illegitimate resources such as robbery, drug dealing to fund a lavish lifestyle as they have difficulties of accomplishing the goal legitimately, such as education, academic success and employment opportunities (Agnew 2006: 132). It had been noted (Agnew 2006: 132) that males are more likely to experience strain due to having high patterns of emotional instability which was mentioned earlier in the essay and hence, increases the possibility that they will provoke negative reactions and find themselves in environments where negative treatments are high. The Strain theory can be criticised for not acknowledging on why some young men experience strain do not necessarily engage in criminality and it tends to concentrate on white middle and working class males and the American Dream tends to mislead into believing that half of them successfully achieve the American Dream where others cannot.

The link between drug induced violence among young men seems to attract the curiosity of criminologists. Stephen Tomsen’s journal A Top Night  (1997) illustrates the examples on the relationship between alcohol – induced violence and masculine identities. It had been noted from his article, that drinking is seen as a ritual and to preserve a male identity (Felson and Steadman 1983; Polk and Ransom 1990 cited in Tomsen 1997: 94). Fagan (1993 cited in Bean 2008: 29) also argues that consumption of alcohol and drugs are expressions of male authority and to preserve their macho pride. Phillip Bean highlighted from his book Drugs and Crime (2008), that drug consumption associates with Robert Merton’s retreatism, the fourth adaption where males refuse to cultural goals and means to achieve them. Young males solace in drugs and alcohol to medicate the negative feelings and frustration of unable to achieve the goals held in mainstream society, particularly the American Dream either through legitimate or illegitimate resources (1957 cited in Bean 2008: 15). It had been argued (Pearson 1983 cited in Goodey 1997: 91) that drinking and violence had cause controversy among politicians, the public and law enforcements and examples of youth crime and football hooliganism were viewed as the outcome of unregulated drinking in Britain. Tomsen used interviews from his ethnographic study to investigate the link between heaving drinking and masculinity which was backed up Stuart, a 28-year-old clerk who briefly states:

….it’s so basic. Even the language people use to you as you’re drinking betrays this. If you drink ten schooners you’re a great lad, but if you just have one to two and then want to go home, well you’re a girl (5 August 1993 cited in Tomsen 1997: 96).

From the interview it had been concluded (Connell 1995 cited in Tomsen 1997: 96) that elements of symbolic protest goes beyond the idea of this activity of drinking competitions through creating a strong and tough masculine image. Concurrently, it rejects middle class values and offers a meaning of empowerment in what can be described as a mode of masculine protest.

Psychology is argued to contribute on explaining the persistent relationship between masculinity and violent crime. Sigmund Freud used the concept of the Oedipus complex where he explains that boys are simultaneously torn between craving for the love and affection from their mother and seeking approval from their tough, macho talking father (Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 1997: 537). It had been criticised (Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 1997: 537) that Freud sees masculinity on the basis of constitutional bisexuality where masculinity and drift from masculinity to effeminate masculinity, such as fatherhood and career aspirations.

On the topic of race and masculinity, particularly black masculinity and crime, Connell highlights that black masculinity falls into subordinate masculinity (1995 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 388). Experiences of racial oppression and discriminative based policies and inequalities are considered to be the unconcious root causes of low self –esteem, identity confusion and self – loathing experienced by young black males. Newburn and Stanko (1994: 75) noted that young black males conformed to exaggerated forms of masculine behaviour which is known as hypermasculine behaviours to compensate for their lack of legitimate opportunities to develop a strong sense of masculine identity. This form of behaviour consist of young black males hanging about in street corners, assimilate into the culture of hip – hop and manipulating family, friends and acquaintances for economic, social and sexual favours (Majors and Billson 1992, Schulz 1969 and Staples 1982 cited in Newburn and Stanko 1994: 75). J Taylor Gibbs and J R Merighi (1996 cited in Heartfield 2002: 4) concluded from their study that hypermasculinity serves as a symbolic armour against racial exploitation and oppression and at the same time, encourage violent criminality and argued that those who associate into hyper – masculinity are likely to engage in criminal and anti social activities.

Following Connell’s work on gender relations, James Messerschmidt’s book Masculinities and Crime (1993)  proposes an extensive analysis concerning the link between masculinity and crime where he develops an idea of situational accomplishment and crime symbolises the means of doing gender (1993 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 389). Messerschimdt further addresses themes of race, class alongside gender in his theorised categories of ‘structured action’ (1997 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007: 389). Messerchmidt (1993 cited in Silvestri and Crowther Dowey 2008: 63) took a glimpse on the correlation between youth crime and its interconnection with broad structural inequalities and demonstrates that masculinities are in relation of power and the division of labour. He also drew attention to the groups that are excluded from the labour market and describes that men commit crime in order express their masculinity or obtain a masculine identity because they lack in the legitimate initiatives that would enable them to achieve economical and materialistic goals. Jean – Paul Sartre (1963 cited in Messerschimdt 1993: 102) argues that social constructions of race, class and gender division of labour may hamper an individual’s chance of self-improvement. He also argues that ethnic minority youths endure a subjective impoverishment which it is rooted from class and race divisions of labour. As a result, he (Jean – Paul Satre cited in Messerschimdt 1993:103) argues that ethnic minority youths turn to street crime activity because they see it as opportunities of self – improvement which would provide them with economic and materialistic needs.

In connection with the Oedipus complex, reference to the topic of black masculinity and crime, Newburn and Stanko (1994: 73) highlights that a black boy who fails to make same-sex identifications with his father during the phallic stage could result in him rejecting his father’s racial identity and become a vulnerable and powerless male and the conflicts of sexual and racial identity may persist throughout his adolescence. Another assumption about the Oedipus complex was made by Rosenberg and Sutton – Smith (1972 cited in Newburn and Stanko 1994: 73) who argue that the disturbed link between sexual and racial identities has an agreement with the psychoanalytic theory, which determines a series of clashes of gender identity and sexual orientation which may occur in boys who are unable to make same-sex identifications with their fathers during the phallic stage. However, McInnes (1998: 84) criticised Freud’s notion for providing explicit details because it gives the readers the feeling that he discusses about incest. It can be suggested that primary socialisation process is not only the root cause of identity crisis among black young males but also the environmental influences and members in the secondary socialisation development as Spencer (1982 cited in Newburn and Stanko 1994: 72) argues that black young males who come from low-income backgrounds are at great risk of suffering from an identity imbalance because of their past experiences of racial oppression in education institutions and geographical regions that breeds racism.

A second psychological view which seems useful on explaining on masculinity and crime is Adler’s notion of ‘masculine protest’. This notion sees that young males compensate the feelings of powerless, vulnerability and humiliation in past experiences by displaying aggression and resentment (1927 cited in Goodey 1997: 404). Jo Goodey believes that protest masculinity is usefully interpreted acknowledging Connell who commented on the susceptibility of working class males, ethnic minority males by stating:

‘The growing boy puts together a tense, freaky facade, making a claim to power where there are no real resources for power’ (1995 cited in Goodey 1997: 404).

She (Goodey) praises Adlers psychoanalysis of masculine protest as useful because it brings the social, in the form of gendered powerlessness into empathising of individual’s consequential protest (1997: 404). Alder’s notions of masculine protests seems effective to apply on black young men’s past experiences of racial oppression and hostility which can agree with Spencer (1982 cited in Newburn and Stanko 1994: 72). Consequently, black criminality symbolises vengeance against racial hostility and suppression within the white hegemonic society which associates with Robert Merton’s adaptions to anomie innovation and rebellion. Rebellion, the fifth response to anomie is suggested to apply effectively on the relationship between black masculinity and crime where black young men adapt to hypermasculinity, an exaggerated form of masculinity to rebel against any values and norms held in the predominately white hegemonic society.

Sex crimes perpetrated by men aroused controversy and curiosity of academics especially those with feminist views. Radical feminists who maintain the idea that all men are “rapists” (cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 2007:387) because they believe men use rape and other forms of sexual violence to express their dominance over women rather than for sexual pleasure as they are seen as “property”. However, radical feminists can be criticised for not acknowledging that not all men are rapists because some of them are profeminist and have liberal views. Kersten (1996 cited in Maguire, Morgan and Reiner 1997: 543) argues the link between masculinity and sexual violence against women by comparing the rates of sex crimes between Australia which has high rates, Japan where the crime rates are low and rates in German seem to be neutral.

From the comparison, he (Kersten) explains that members of Australian society emphasises traditional masculinity on the basis of physical prowess and independence, and later argues by using Messerschimdt’s work on accomplishing masculinity, that men rape women in order to live up societal expectation of masculinity. It had been noted (Croall 1998: 149) that many feminist writers argue that rape against women is an expression of power and control rather than expression of love and desire. It can be considered that psychoanalysis is best  to explain the motives behind misogynistic violence against women. The Oedipus complex, mentioned by Sigmund Freud discussed earlier in the essay where boys are suspended by the pressure of making a same-sex identity with their fathers and yearning the love and affection from their mother, which whom they strongly identifies with. As a result, it created confusion among boys and consequently they grow up to suppress their feminine side in order to live up society’s expectations of manliness and rape symbolises the suppression of their feminine side.

Alder could explain that boys and men who endured negative experiences by women such as child abuse or domestic violence resort to rape which symbolises a weapon of revenge and hatred against women to compensate the feelings of powerlessness, emasculation and humiliation experienced in their past. Croall (1998: 149) also notes that the majority of violence against women is exercised in the private sphere and in the workplace through sexual harassment, physically and verbally. Many feminists also argue that violence against women reflects that men have the right to have access to women’s bodies and before the rape within marriage was criminalised, male power in the patriarchal family have the right to discipline their wives or partners even through physical sanctions in order to empower them and refer them as ‘property’(Croall 1998: 149). It can be argued that men also commit rape against women to suppress their insecurities of low self – esteem and lack of self – confidence. However, it can be criticised that men who have insecurities or experienced female – perpetrated child abuse and domestic violence do not turn to rape or domestic violence.

In conclusion, both psychology and sociology provided explanations on why crime continues to be a masculine pursuit where sociologist argues on the social influences of crime, such as subcultures, peer pressure and lack of social control. Whereas psychology argues on the link between behaviors past experiences and environmental influences.

Science provided answers to explaining the persistent link between masculinity and crime where Biopsychologists argued men commit more crimes than women due to high levels of testosterone although it causes aggression but not violence. The strain theory demonstrates most of the explanation where men turn to crime to vent their frustration of unable to accomplish masculinity through legal channels to gain materialistic needs. Both innovation and retreatism seem to be most effective at applying on the link between masculinity and crime. Society is considered to place a high emphasis on machismo which is suggests to be exaggerated by media influences which this essay neglects and it believes to play a huge influence on young males rather than their own perceptions of masculinity through religion and narrative experiences.

Alder’s notion of the masculine protest provides an effective explanation on the persistent patterns of masculinity and crime which stems from child hood or past feelings of vulnerability. This notion is best applied on race and masculinity where black young males are likely to display aggression and resentment towards the white hegemonic society because of their past experiences of racism preferably in childhood where they were defenceless and vulnerable. Messerschmitt work on masculinity has provided a reasonable analysis where he highlights the conflicts among gender, race and class where young ethnic minorities are encouraged to engage in criminal activities due to block opportunities and denied access to legitimate resources influenced by subconscious levels of institutional racism held in predominate white hegemonic education intuitions.

It appears to be obvious that Connell’s notion of hegemonic masculinity seems to be straight forward into explaining the persistent link between masculinity and crime which seems to associate with the strain theory where crime symbolises an expression of masculine traits, such as power, aggression and competition even through drinking in order to gain a sense of “Dutch” courage to carry out violent crimes and violence against women to gain a sense of power, as they are unable to achieve masculinity through legitimate means. It can be agreed with the criticisms about hegemonic masculinity as it associates with negativity through criminal activities rather than positive outlets, such as sports and other physical activities, academic success and making the most commissions in the sales industry.

The Oedipus complex seems to offer a promising psychological explanation on male identity crisis which roots from childhood identifications between parents and exposure to negative and hostile environments, such as hot spots for anti – social behaviour and diseases of racism among young black men.  It can be suggested that increase on the likelihood of aggression from high testosterone levels which escalates to violence among young men if they engage in criminal subcultures that glorifies drinking and violence that manifests in football hooliganism, skinheads and criminal gangs.

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