Deviance & Gender Research Paper Starter

Deviance & Gender

(Research Starters)

Early studies on deviance largely ignored the intersections of deviance and gender in society. However, recent researchers have been able to better understand and define deviance by examining the points where deviance and gender converge. Although theories regarding social deviance have been generated for decades, it is only recently that theorists have begun to explore the intersections between deviance, crime and gender. This article describes the tenets of Control Balance Theory, Self Control Theory, Differential Association Theory (as described in Social Learning Theory), and Strain Theory and examines these theories using a gender specific lens.

Deviance & Social Control



By definition, deviance is any action or activity that differs from accepted social standards or what society deems to be normal (Webster's New World College Dictionary, 2001). Early studies on deviance largely ignored the intersections of deviance and gender in society. However, recent researchers have been able to better understand and define deviance by examining the points where deviance and gender converge.

Upon hearing the phrase "deviant behavior," most people immediately think of criminals. And when speaking of criminals, most people will envision males as the criminals. In fact, males are more often found to be involved in criminal behavior than females. For research purposes, criminality is often divided into various categories, such as violent crimes, substance-abuse crimes, and property crimes, all of which tend to be dominated by males (Baron, 2003). Yet a lot of non-criminal behaviors are also, by definition, deviant, while others were considered deviant in the past and are now considered to be acceptable behavior. Defiant behavior, rebellious behavior, causing harm to oneself, and acting outside of roles assigned by society are all considered to be deviant behavior. Due to its location in social attitudes and practices, the definition of deviance changes as society evolves. For example, women who chose to exert themselves in an effort to preserve their constitutional rights were considered to be social deviants from the inception of the United States until the early twentieth century (Kerber, 2000). As society changed and accepted women's claims to personal rights and freedoms, the definition of deviance slowly began to exclude these women.

Today what is considered to be deviant behavior continues to evolve. Consider how views of homosexuality have changed over the past decades. Once considered deviant behavior by the majority of people and the American Psychological Association (APA), it is now viewed as an innate trait and accepted by many people in society, and the APA has dropped it from its diagnostic manual (Cummings, 2006). The evolving nature of what is considered to be deviant makes deviance a bit difficult to understand from a sociological perspective. However, understanding deviance and its impacts on people within a society helps to inform how people deal with the roles imposed on them by society and how society works to maintain these social roles. Hence, many theories of deviance have been developed, and many researchers have examined the differences in perceived deviance in males and females. Some of the more prevalent theories here discussed are control balance theory, self-control theory, differential association theory, and strain theory,


Control Balance Theory

This theory, devised by Charles Tittle (1995), claims that the types of deviance in which one engages are based on a control ratio (i.e., the amount of control that one is under versus the amount of control one commands). Control is placed along a gradient line, with too little control (i.e., a control deficit) to the left of center and too much control (i.e., a control surplus) to the right. It is only when achieving a balance in the center of this gradient that a person will be motivated to conform to social conventions. Tittle hypothesized that when deviance is examined along lines of gender, most females will be subjected to constraints in their ability to exercise control and will most likely violate social conventions via predation or defiance. Conversely, males will more often experience an excess of control and will most likely violate social conventions via predation or exploitation (Tittle, 1995; Hickman & Piquero, 2001). In other words, because women are relegated to social positions in which they are forced into a role of submission relative to males, they are more likely to violate social conventions by defying the structures that control them or by manipulating the structures to get what they want. Men, who are located in social positions that largely afford them control or dominance, are more likely to manipulate the social structure or engage in the outright exploitation of others to get what they want. Figure 1, below, illustrates this hypothesis.

Control balance theorists believe deviance will occur when all three of the following factors are present:

* The person is motivated toward deviance by virtue of temperament or situational circumstances,

* Constraint (i.e., the risk of being caught or punished) is perceived as low, and

* Opportunity is present.

If one of these factors is absent, the deviance is less likely to occur. This theory clearly reveals the convergence of deviance and gender by taking into account the differences in how females and males are socialized in society. Females are generally socialized to care for others, consider the needs of the group as opposed to the individual, and provide support and maintenance for the social group. Males are generally socialized to occupy a position of dominance and privilege in which competition and acquisition of material goods are valued. Though this position provides greater motivation for males to conform, thus maintaining the status quo, it also moves them to commit acts of deviance that are more often categorized as criminal activity within the society (Beutel & Marini, 1995).

Self-Control Theory

This theory purports to have identified one of the major causes of deviant behavior. Gottfredson and Hirschi (1990) hypothesize that the amount of self-control one has is predictive of how likely one will engage in socially deviant behavior (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). They suggest that people who are "insensitive, physical (as opposed to mental), risk-taking, shortsighted, and nonverbal" (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990, p. 90) will have less self-control than other people in the general population. Intuitively, this makes sense. A person with low self-control would seem more likely to break a law or engage in behavior that is exciting or gratifying without a thought of future consequences.

Self-control theorists suggest that propensity for self-control is established during childhood, is correlated to the quality of child rearing practiced by parents, and is unlikely to change much during one's lifetime. They also claim that parents must exert strong influence over a child's level of self-control by setting and adhering to strict behavioral expectations until the child is eight years old (Unnever, Cullen, & Pratt, 2003). An adult with low levels of self-control will have difficulty refraining from temptations that arise when working to create long-term personal or working relationships within a societal structure. People with low self-control will not have the fortitude to pass up opportunities to cheat on spouses, lie for personal gain, steal from work, or execute other breaches of the social contract.

This theory has been challenged and tested several times in the past decades and remains a valid predictor of social deviance (Pratt & Cullen, 2000; Grasmick, Tittle, Bursik, & Arneklev, 1993; Hay, 2001). A few studies have indicated gender to be a significant, indirect factor correlated with criminal and delinquent behavior (Unnever, Cullen, & Pratt, 2003; Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003). It is suggested that parents are more attentive and controlling of their daughters' behaviors due to their more vulnerable position in society, supporting the finding that females are involved in fewer criminal offenses while manifesting similar levels of self-control as boys (Tittle, Ward, & Grasmick, 2003; Gibbs, Giever, & Martin, 1998; LaGrange & Silverman, 1999). Notably, these studies focused more on criminal behaviors than other types of socially deviant behaviors (e.g., smoking, eating disorders, alternative lifestyles, etc.). It has been noted in the literature that people reporting low self-control tend to form friendship groups with similar people, with whom they tend to engage in deviant behaviors as a group (Gottfredson & Hirschi, 1990). This observation led to the development of the differential association theory, which argues that deviance is a product of socialization (i.e., social learning) and group association.

Differential Association Theory

Older people always have a saying that helps describe what they have learned from life experience, such as "Birds of a feather flock together," meaning people who are similar will hang out with each other. That is the gist of the differential association theory, except in reverse: according to the theory, people tend to adopt the behaviors of the group, rather than deviant people seeking out groups who are deviant. This is more a case of peer influence than one of peer pressure. People who hang out with...

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