An awareness of patriarchy is essential in the understanding of the treatment of women within the criminal justice system. There are many feminist theories that demonstrate the influence of patriarchy in the criminal justice system for both women criminals and victims. This paper will explore the the aspect of patriarchal understanding and the importance of the understanding within the criminal justice system.
The problem that is addressed within the criminal justice system through feminist theory is the gender ratio which demonstrates that women are less likely to commit crimes but more likely to be the victim of a crime. The three most relevant feminist theories applicable to the understanding of patriarchy within the criminal justice system is radical feminism, Marxist feminism and postmodern
Walklate (2004) discusses the problem of gender ratio in the criminal justice system. The number of women convicted in the criminal justice system is small compared to that of men, just five percent of the prison population as of 2001, women homicide victims are thirty-eight percent higher (2004). Exploring radical feminism in the context of criminology and victimology, provides an understanding of the role that patriarchy has in the criminal justice system. Radical feminism examines the existence of the power of men over women (Walklate, 2004). Radical feminist theory challenges conventional understanding of criminality and sexual violence towards women by examining the experiences of women and "the control of their sexuality by men" (Walklate, 2004, p. 95). By examining social relationships and the political landscape that influence the criminal justice system through a patriarchal lens, criminology researchers can obtain a better understanding of the bias present in both female criminals and victims.
Radical feminism has challenged the patriarchal beliefs that women sexual violence victims "contributed to their own victimization"; for example, women who led their attackers on with revealing clothing (Walklate, 2004, p. 95). An understanding of patriarchy can lead to a better understanding of the cultural and societal influences of objectification and possession that lead to increased violence towards women (Ferrell, 2008).
According to Barzilai (2001), "women have largely been subordinated to male control and violence as indicated in economic inequality, political under-representation, cultural marginalization, and sexual violence" (as cited in Barzilai, 2001, p. 3). Patriarchal understanding represents the women within the criminal justice system who have become victims or criminals due to domesticated control and the economic dependence of men. This economic dependence can best be understood through Marxist feminism because it examines crimes that women commit against men that threaten male property and dominance (French, 2006).
Postmodern feminism examines how women are set apart through "discourse and maledominated thinking" (French, 2006, p.1). Society's belief systems are grounded in male-centered thought which then causes laws to reflect male thought onto women criminals or victims (Cote, 2002). By examining what separates the actions and consequences of make and female behaviour and rationale through postmodern feminist theory, researchers can identify biases in the criminal justice system.
An understanding of patriarchy within the criminal justice system provides insight into the biases and legalities of women in the system; both as criminals and victims. This insight can be used to provide unbiased justice to both victims and their families and to provide appropriate punishment to offenders.