The role of females in gangs in the United States

Spencer, Jessica (2011) The role of females in gangs in the United States. MSc dissertation, University of Portsmouth.

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    ‘Gang’ is a contested concept amongst researchers in the U.K. and Europe, but there is more agreement in research based in the United States (Klein, 1971, 1995; Klein & Maxson, 2006; Miller, 1992, 2001). Spergel (1995) suggested that gang membership is an extremely fluid and dynamic process with most gangs demonstrating relatively high turnover rates as new recruits enter as other members disassociate themselves from the gang and its activities. Historically gangs have been a male dominated institution with females being relegated to support roles such as drugs or weapon carriers; or are separate auxiliary gang members attached to all male gangs (Campbell, 1991; Curry, 1998; Moore & Hagedorn, 2001; Thrasher, 1927). Members of these auxiliary gangs tend to posses the same psychological and sociological attributes of their male counterparts and engage in independent criminal activity but to a lesser and substantially less violent extent (Campbell, 1993; Moore & Hagedorn, 2001). Recent research on female gangs provides evidence of a changing pattern with respect to male gangs. Females are now joining male gangs as true members, as opposed to fulfilling a support role and a greater number are also forming their own independent non-male affiliated gangs. Findings have shown that female gang members are becoming equally violent, and in some cases even more violent, than their male counterparts (Messerschmidt, 2005; Miller, 2001). According to Miller (2001), gang girls engage in gender crossing in order to become ‘one of the guys’. From a gender perspective, the violence of males, and the gender gap in terms of violence, have primarily been described in terms of dominance and superiority in relation to women and other men as a way of showing that one is a ‘real man’. But female gang members are using violence as a way of establishing, maintaining, and enhancing a reputation for both themselves and for the gang as a whole.

    This study is focused on the role of females in gangs in the United States. It draws on three sources: the published research literature, film and an autoethnographic account using the author’s own experiences. This personal account is central to the thesis with other data (the research literature and film) being used to inform an analysis of the complexities, interpretations, and reflections of a female ‘gangster’. Through an insider’s advantage point, I have chronicled and traced the experiences of my own involvement using the methodology of autoethnography. I was particularly interested in understanding the extent to which my personal experience is reflected in the research literature and film. The study concludes that females are still being relegated to the sidelines as unimportant and nonproblematic. Despite the media’s portrayal of females in gangs, the gang problem is not solely attributed to the males. Females are becoming a significant component of the gang crisis that faces many American communities.

    Item Type: Dissertation
    Departments/Research Groups: Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences > Institute of Criminal Justice Studies
    Depositing User: Jane Polwin
    Date Deposited: 19 Dec 2011 10:22
    Last Modified: 28 Jan 2015 11:50

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