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Why feminism still matters (for criminology and everyone else for that matter!)

Why feminism still matters (for criminology and everyone else for that matter!)

7th March 2018

Professor Sandra Walklate, Eleanor Rathbone Chair of Sociology at the University of Liverpool and Kate Fitz-Gibbon, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University, Australia are two editors of a brand new book series – Emerald Studies in Criminology, Feminism and Social Change, and have written this blog to explain the continuing importance of feminist perspectives in Criminology.

Why feminism still matters (for criminology and everyone else for that matter!) 

In 1878 Frances Power Cobbe wrote a powerful essay entitled ‘Wife Torture in England’. That essay made a major contribution to establishing intimate partner violence as a legitimate cause for legal separation from their husbands and greatly influenced the Matrimonial Causes Act of that same year.

It seems remarkable that 140 years later, the issue of violence against women remains a major pre-occupation of politics, policy, and academic debate across the globe. Yet it does. From violence in the home, to violence in the street to the violence(s) of war (whether that is the use of rape as a weapon of war or the wide-ranging migrations and diasporas caused by wars), the impact on women’s lives is real and tangible. Yes, such events impact on men too, and feminist thought has been central to our understanding of the widespread nature of the consequences of all these forms of violence(s) and the toll that they take on us all: but especially women and children. This is one reason why feminism still matters.

Establishing crime and violence as ‘men’s work’ 

For criminology, feminism, particularly in the 1970s, played a crucial role in informing the shape, form and development of the discipline. This has taken the form of challenging the way in which the discipline thinks about the problem of crime, who the criminal might be, and how to respond to them as well as inserting invaluable interventions on who the victim of crime might be and how to respond to them. Without feminist intervention the idea that crime is men’s work would remain a ‘taken for granted’ assumption within the discipline.

But why is feminism still important to criminology?

Over the last 140 years, progressive changes have improved the lives of many women in the Northern hemisphere. For example, the right to vote, access to the workplace, and the freedom from the tyranny of bearing children are some features of contemporary life taken for granted by many. Other things have remained the same: lack of equality and gender harassment in the work place for example. In those same societies, crime remains a male dominated activity and women and children remain predominantly the victims of what is often referred to (albeit problematically) as ‘ private’ crime. Even when the kinds of crime committed have significantly changed as the nature of social life has changed.

This is one reason feminism still matters to criminology. However the reach of the discipline is now global and this global reach is another reason why feminism still matters to criminology.

There has been a tendency for criminology to impact on the rest of the world through the lens of the Northern hemisphere. Feminism, with its grassroots and activist connections, has been and continues to be an important source of critical thinking in challenging such assumptions. Women’s lives, in all of their diversity, and their experiences of all kinds of crimes cannot necessarily be understood through the sole lens of Northern theorising. Neither can the nature of the crime problem or response to the crime be understood in this way.

Feminist thought and activism affords ongoing opportunities across the globe to connect and think differently about these issues. The internet and the ease with which ‘people connect’ for example, a key feature of social change that has impacted upon every aspect of contemporary life, provides the opportunity for activists of all kinds, including feminists, to connect and influence policy within and across jurisdictional barriers in ways undreamt of in the time of Frances Power Cobbe. This is another reason why feminism still matters to criminology: to continue to challenge not only malestream thoughts but Northern malestream and femalestream thinking and to ensure that the lessons of the South are bought to bear on the experiences of the North.

Our contribution: Feminism, Criminology and Social Change

Feminism, Criminology and Social Change will explore the major concepts, debates and controversies that the developments outlined above have generated across a range of disciplines but particularly within feminism and its uneasy relationship with criminology.

As the impact of globalisation, the movement of peoples, the divergences between the global north and the global south have become ever more apparent, this series provides an authoritative space for original contributions in making sense of these far-reaching changes on individuals, communities, localities and nationalities through feminist eyes. These issues by their very nature demand an interdisciplinary gendered approach and an interdisciplinary voice outside the conventional conceptual boundaries of criminology per se: this series will offer a space for those voices.

Feminist voices are an important conduit for challenging the conceptual boundaries across all social sciences but for criminology in particular. Such voices have animated debate and generated social change for over 140 years but the value of doing so remains today.

That’s why feminism still matters.

Criminology, Feminism and Social Change offers a platform for innovative, engaged, and forward-looking feminist-informed work to explore the interconnections between social change and the capacity of criminology to grapple with the implications of such change.

Please click here for more information about this book series, including details on how to submit a proposal: 

Series Editors:
Prof Sandra Walklate
Dr Kate Fitz-Gibbon  @Kate_FitzGibbon
Prof Jude McCulloch  @Jude_McCulloch
Prof JaneMaree Maher @JanemareeMaher

Professor Sandra Walklate and Kate Fitz-Gibbon

Eleanor Rathbone Chair of Sociology and Senior Lecturer in Criminology
University of Liverpool and Monash University, Australia