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Feminist Criminology

By Claire M. Renzetti
New York, NY: Routledge, 2013

The French philosopher Blaise Pascal once wrote: “I have made this letter longer than usual, only because I have not had the time to make it shorter” (The Provincial Letters, Letter 16). What Pascal was stressing is the difficulty of conciseness and brevity in writing. The author, Claire Renzetti, must have taken a long time and a great care to write this book. Despite its small, pocket size – a mere 143 pages – she manages a sophisticated discussion of a broad topic in a clear and concise manner. Perhaps one of the reasons is that Renzetti, a Professor of Sociology, has written extensively on violence and women. Whatever the case might be, in her latest work she outlines the strengths and weaknesses of different feminist criminologies, which she then follows with recommendations for future research.

The first chapter begins by providing the readers with a nuanced synopsis of the first, second and third wave feminism movements. The second chapter consists of a descriptive analysis of liberal feminist criminology and its main theories such as emancipation theory and power-control theory. The same chapter also highlights the very real gender inequalities that exist in academia and the criminal justice system despite numerous advancements by women in both areas during the past decades. This is something that she captures tersely by repeating the old adage “…the more things have changed, the more they have stayed the same” (p.2). That is to say, women in both fields continue to experience overt and more subtle forms of gender-based discrimination and harassment despite legal reforms intended to remedy those problems (p. 30). The prevalence of racism and sexism, as well as the devaluing of women’s work, suggests that genuine equality has not been achieved; the dominant norm of hegemonic masculinity must be challenged (p. 84).

The third chapter covers the social class-focused Marxist Criminology; the patriarchal/sexist-focused radical criminology; and the (inherently intersectional) social feminist criminology which sees the convergence of patriarchy and capitalism as contributing to every aspect of gendered “offending and victimization” (p.42). Within this context Renzetti presents a pithy synopsis of the (relativist) Labeling Theory and the corresponding critical responses to the same theory.

The fourth chapter entitled “Identities and Intersectionalities” centres on structured action theory, left realism, postmodern feminism, and black/multiracial feminist criminology. In the specific case of black/multiracial feminist criminology Renzetti argues, and rightly so, that this theory, while still in its infancy, has much to offer in the exploration of perspectives that explore the “multiple and intricate ways that gender intersects with race and ethnicity, social class, age, sexuality, ability, and other status markers to shape differential outcomes for crimes victims and offenders, for students, and for criminal justice professionals…” (p. 74).

The focus of the fifth and last chapter is on future directions in feminist criminology. Here Renzetti highlights certain areas which she claims need more attention. While she names numerous areas I found gender-specific criminal justice programming and restorative justice options, to be particularly meaningful. Along the same lines, Renzetti contends that there is need to globalize feminist criminology, that is to say, that we must move beyond western understandings of feminism, towards an intersectional, all-encompassing appreciation of women’s experience.

In summary, this book is well structured and provides a comprehensive, chronological account of feminist criminological analyses. Renzetti does an excellent job of providing the necessary background, arguments, analyses, and critiques for each of the perspectives she presents. Renzetti’s work is a valuable contribution to the field of feminist criminology and an excellent introductory tool.

Concordia University

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