Academic journal article Social Justice

Bias Crime as Gendered Behavior

Academic journal article Social Justice

Bias Crime as Gendered Behavior

Article excerpt

During the late 1970s and early 1980s, criminologists became interested in hate or bias crimes. Since that time, numerous explanations of bias crimes have been offered and each adds valuable insights. Overall, however, these explanations suffer from two common limitations. In the criminological tradition (Leonard, 1982; Mann, 1993), theories of bias crime fail to meaningfully incorporate race and gender. If addressed, gender is treated as a static, categorical variable, as a sex or gender role. In typical fashion, higher male bias-crime offending rates are attributed to gender-role socialization, which renders males more capable of aggressive, violent behavior than females (Comstock, 1991; Harem, 1993; Heitmeyer, 1993; Levin and McDevitt, 1993; Aronowitz, 1994; Bowling, 1994).

Race is handled in a similar manner. Individuals are lumped into "us versus them" racial groups (Hesse et al., 1992; Hamm, 1993; Heitmeyer, 1993; Levin and McDevitt, 1993), with no explanation of how those categories are formed and sustained. Race and gender are not viewed as processes, or practices involving creative human actors (Connell, 1985; 1987; 1989). This failure to conceptualize gender and race as social constructs compresses their variability and diminishes their explanatory capacity. Gender and race remain decontextualized correlates devoid of theoretical significance because their "situated accomplishment" is not considered (West and Zimmerman, 1987: 127).

This article addresses the role of race and gender construction in bias crime and thereby attempts to avoid these shortcomings. I first discuss race and gender as situated accomplishments or identifies and then briefly review the dominant bias crime theories. Once the limits of such theories are more adequately delineated, I use quantitative and qualitative bias crime data to examine the hypothesis that bias crimes are a means of "doing" gender.

Literature Review

The notion of gender and race as situated accomplishments is linked to research that suggests that "doing" race and gender (and class) is important to everyday human activities (Garfinkel, 1967; Kessler and McKenna, 1978; Morgan, 1987; West and Zimmerman, 1987; Acker, 1989; Kimmel, 1990; Messerschmidt, 1993; 1997). As West and Zimmerman (1995) explain, individuals constantly place those with whom they interact in gender and race categories, while simultaneously acting in ways that allow their own categorization. Linking identification and categorization to situational practices recognizes the dynamic nature of race and gender, as well as an undeniably personal dimension of their construction. It also suggests that the personal is inherently tied to the social. The idea that the subjective does not stand alone is exemplified by the concepts "accountability" and "structured knowledge" (Heritage, 1984; West and Zimmerman, 1987; Fenstermaker, West, and Zimmerman, 1991; Giddens, 1984).

Accountability, as applied to self-identification and attribution processes, implies that social situations are governed by norms or patterned ways of behaving. Individuals are seen as knowing actors, aware that there are interpretive consequences to their actions. The question is: Where does this shared knowledge originate? How do people know which practices bring about a particular type of gender and race identity/categorization? These questions can be addressed with reference to Giddens' (1976, 1984, 1989) notion of structured knowledge.

Following a well-established approach to the study of human behavior (e.g., Marx, 1978; Mills, 1959; Berger and Luckmann, 1967; Schulz, 1967), Giddens' goal is to elucidate the manner in which human action is enmeshed with social structures. His basic contention is that historically situated gender, race, and other social relations solidify into objective realities called structures. Once created through social action, structures inform future human conduct, opening up possibilities and providing limitations for practice. …

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