Research Paper: Gender Bias in the U.S

Pages: 8 (2961 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 10  ·  Level: College Junior  ·  Topic: Criminal Justice  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] In certain situations women have been given leniency because of their physical femininity such as the case where a woman became impregnated by a 14-year-old and was granted probation because she needed to stay out of prison to take care of the newborn baby (Elias 2007). Because she was a woman she was granted probation when a man in her same position would have been given a much harsher sentence.

Researchers found that both male and female judges tend to award women with a great deal of leniency as opposed to male criminals, but each for different reasons entirely. Both psychology and sociology takes part in the sentencing stage of a trial. According to Goldman & Portney (1997):

While the lenience of male judges toward female defendants might have been considered a 'chivalrous' display of minority, similar displays of leniency by female judges toward female defendants were seen as the result of 'sympathy' caused by the female judges' greater will and ability to identify with and understand the differences which drove their 'sister' defendants to violate the law (page 12).

In female judges, the likelihood for kindnesses and leniency is based upon a feeling of sisterhood and in males is more complicated. One study suggests that the universal desire to be lenient on women stems from a "deep-seated psychological prohibition against 'inflicting physical pain on girls'" (Goldman & Portney 1997,-page 12). If this is true, then it speaks for a larger psychological theory regarding all peoples. There are different theories about why males are lax in their demands for punishment. Each poses a potential answer without wholly satisfying the question at hand.

The chivalry theory, also known as paternalism, is one of the reasons that sociologists and psychologists point to in addressing this phenomenon of gender biases in criminal proceedings (Trueman 2012). Chivalry is a medieval tradition which was a series of rules stating what appropriate behaviors were when addressing ladies. Even before the medieval period, it was thought that women were mentally weak as evidenced in Romans 7:15 where a woman is quoted as saying, "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate." This is the idea of all women; that they are flighty and without logical thought. Over the course of time, this became ingrained into the universal psyche the idea that women are weaker than men both mentally and physically and thus should be treated with leniency when they error because they are less in control of themselves than men (Brockway 2011). The tendency in modern males and thus the society at large is to view women as lesser beings and therefore less responsible for their actions so it is then argued that they should get less punishment. Instead of treating women as equals, the propensity of members of society is to belittle women and to hold them in less regard. C. Truman (2012) claims:

After arrest, women are more likely than men to be cautioned rather than charged. They are less likely than men to be remanded in custody or committed for trial. Woman offenders are more likely than men to be discharged or given community sentence and less likely to be fined or sentenced to prison.

Male chivalry in the criminal courts refers to the idea of male police officers being less likely to charge women with crimes or even give them tickets for traffic infractions. It also takes into account the realization that traditionally women receive lighter sentences when they are convicted of crimes, which happens less often than with males. An alternative view of this theory is called selective chivalry or evil woman theory that states that females may receive lenient sentences only when the crimes that they have committed do not go against the stipulated norms of the female gender (Rodriguez, Curry, & Lee 2006,-page 321). The evil woman theory goes back to biblical times where women were first made subservient to men. In Timothy 2:12, it is written "I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet." This is the appropriate behavior for women even today and those who do not agree with this are marginalized and othered. If a woman murders through poison which is expected or engages in prostitution, she will receive a lenient sentence because it is not beyond the norms of the female gender. However, if they happen to commit an act such as a brutal beating with a hammer, this defies female norms and she will be more harshly punished. The evil woman hypothesis has been proven to be false, according to some researchers, because if there was validity in it, then women convicted of sexual crimes against minors would receive harsher punishments as this violates the characteristics of femininity (Embry & Lyons 2012,-page 146). As evidenced already, the fact is that most women are given extremely lighter sentences rather than being judged more harshly for behaving in an unwomanly way.

Another theory which has been formulated to address the disparity in females being punished for crimes is called the focal concerns theory (Rodriguez, Curry, & Lee 2006,-page 318). Sociologists focus on certain criteria in order to formulate their theories about feminine criminality and other items. This theory explains perceived gender biases in sentencing as being a product of the swift dispersal of crimes and personal views. Rodriguez, Curry, & Lee (2006) state:

According to this view, constraints on the amount of time judges can spend on their cases and other factors mean that judges generally receive incomplete information on defendants and their cases. Confronted with these restrictions, judicial decisions on sentencing outcomes are thereby infused, to some extent, with generalizations and personal bias. Judges and other court players commonly make contextual attributions about the defendant's culpability, character, and potential recidivism based on three focal concerns: blame-worthiness, dangerousness (community protection), and practical constraints (page 321).

With these criteria in mind, it is argued that women traditionally pose less of a threat to the outside world than men who are considered more inherently criminal. Judges may rely on their own personal biases by asserting women to be less criminally capable and be lenient, which they very often do.

Women in the United States are not treated equally under the law. Instead of receiving the same amount of jail time for crimes as men who performed the same illegal actions, women are given lighter sentences. They spend far less time in jail; on average one to two years less time in jail. Instead of time behind bars, they usually receive probation or are forced to pay a fine. Either one of these options is assigned them or they are allowed to perform acts of community service in reparation for the wrong they have done. There are different explanations for why this is, an ingrained idea of women as inferior and less able to control themselves or a feeling of solidarity and sisterhood. Whatever the reason, the facts bear out that if a person is going to commit a crime, then they will more than likely receive a more lenient sentence if they are a woman than if they were a man.

Works Cited:

Brockway, J. (2011). Gender bias and the death penalty. Death Penalty Focus. Retrieved from

Crew, K. (1991). Sex differences in criminal sentencing: chivalry or patriarchy? Justice

Quarterly. (8:1). 59-83.

Doerner, J. (2012). Explaining the gender gap in sentencing outcomes: an investigation of differential treatment in U.S. federal courts. Bowling Green State University.

Elias, J. (2007). Mom who has child by teen gets probation. The Patriot News.

Embry, R. & Lyons, P. (2012). Sex-based sentencing: sentencing discrepancies between male and female sex offenders. Feminist Criminology. (7:2). 146-62.

Gelb, K. (2010). Gender Differences in Sentencing Outcomes. Melbourne, Victoria, Australia:

Sentencing Advisory Council.

Goldman, J. & Portney, K. (1997). The role of gender in determining the criminal sanction:

results from multimedia experiments in criminal sentencing. American Political Science Association: Washington, D.C.

Jones, P. (2010). Crime and punishment: does gender bias affect justice? My Daily.

Rodriguez, S., Curry, T. & Lee, G. (2006). Gender differences in criminal sentencing: do effects vary across violent, property, and drug offenses? Social Science Quarterly. Southwestern Social Science Association. (87: 2). 318-39.

Sacks, G. (2007). Extreme gender bias: woman who statutory raped boy avoids jail, while boy's older brother goes to prison for exact same crime. Blogger News Network.

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Gender Bias in the U.S.  (2012, November 21).  Retrieved August 22, 2019, from

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