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To understand the contribution made by both Sociology and Criminology towards the study of gender difference we must first distinguish the meaning between gender and sex. For example, sex describes the biological differences between males and females whereas gender stands to represent the social perception of what is considered to be masculine or feminine, referring more to the phsycological and cultural influences upon gender difference.
Sociologists suggest that it is through early socialisation, drawing from our interaction with others, that we adopt the socially accepted characteristics attached to our given sex thus allowing us to perform the approved gender role. `A person's gender is not simply an aspect of what one is, but, more fundamentally, it is something that one does, and does recurrently in interaction with others' ( West and Zimmerman, 1987: 125).
In the past, the roles played both men and women were decided for them, for example men were considered to be the household provider, whilst women were expected to perform the tasks around the home and bring up the children. In contemporary society their is a less visable divide between what is considered to be masculine or feminine yet there are still sterotypes attached to both.
The ideology that the male of a household should take on the role of breadwinner is still apparent. However, nowadays, at least `60% of married couples are dependent upon two incomes' (Macionis et al, 2005, 313), illustrating the progression of society from the traditonal belief of women being somehow inferior to men. Women are now less likely to accept the role imposed on them and share an equality with men that only a few decades ago was not thought of. Social learning theories suggest that gender difference is learnt through being either punished or rewarded for acting up to the assumptions made concerning masculine and feminine behaviour.
The study of Criminology, has up until recently, lacked in its contirbution towards studies based on gender difference. This is due to members of the public viewing crime as dominanted by male and so is greatly criticised for what feminists refer to as gender blindless. What is meant by this is that criminology mainly concerns itself with male crime, ignoring women as offenders and victims. Feminists believe that `gender and gender relations order social life and social institutions and it is directed towards social change and, in particular, towards negating the neglect and subordination of women.' (Hale et al, 2005: 346). From this developed feminist criminology that hoped to see a shift in recogintion towards womens criminality and acknowlegde their status as victims.
The British Crime Survey (BSC) reports that men are more likely to be victims of violent crime yet are less worried about crime then females, who are only at greater risk in crimes geared towards domestic violence.
Over recent years the increase in reported violence against women has recieved special attention from the social science disciplines of Criminology and Sociology. For centuries this particular form of violence was not considered to be a serious problem with the `legal system has historically turned a blind eye towards violence against women, especially violence committed by boyfriends, husbands and fathers' (Macionis et al, 2005: 312).
However, with the rise of feminism in the 1970's there bacame a huge emphasis concerning violence in the home. Up until this point domestic violence was generally `a phenomenon which was tactfully ignored' (Giddens, 2006: 221). Due to feminist aggression towards this subject area, from the 1980's onwards, police then identified it as a serious offence.
It was argued by feminists that this crime was due, in part to, hegemonic masculinites and the mens need to exercise their patriarchal power upon others, from this they where then able to dominate and essentially exploit women. The United Nations have also began to recognise this problem and agree that patriarchy is a key factor in understanding why such violence takes place, they stated `At least one in five of the world's female population has been physically or sexually abused by a man or men at some time in their lives' (UNFPA, 2000: 25). It is for this reason that the United Nations set up The Declaration on the Elimination of Violence Against Women in order to protect those faced with domestic abuse.
This, however, is not only a problem amongst females. The British Crime Survey (BCS) conducted a study in which they asked members of society `have you experienced domestic violence in the past twelve months?'. The results from this concluded that 4.2% of both men and women had come across this problem the numbers concerning females outweighed those of the males. Such statistics have fallen under criticism as they can not give us a great deal of insight into this phenomena, this could be due to many acts of violence going unreported due to fear, the effect it could have upon family, feeling ashamed or guilty in some way. Despite this the BSC does provide us with the evidence that domestic violence is committed by both sexes but it is largely females who suffer.
To conclude, Gender difference is still a problem within society today yet continues to progress with more and more females abandoning their prescribed roles and becoming high powered women. It is a common belief that gender difference is defined by socialisation therefore there is room for improvement in what is thought to be `appropriate' gender roles. In addition to this, female criminality has also risen thus generating the criminologists need to explore this phenomena. Issues of violence that went largely un-noticed or unreported are now examined further by authoriy figures, showing the extent to which ideas on gender have evolved from centuries ago.
Both the social science disciplines of criminology and sociology agrree that sociliasation are contributing factors to gender difference. The influence from such things as family, education and the mass media shape the people that we become and hold sway over our thoughts and opinions, thus guiding our actions.