Who is the typical female delinquent? What causes her to get into trouble? What happens to her if she is caught? These are questions that few members of the general public could answer quickly. By contrast, almost every citizen can talk about “delinquency,” by which they generally mean male delinquency, and can even generate some fairly specific complaints about, for example, the failure of the juvenile justice system to deal with such problems as “the alarming increase in the rate of serious juvenile crime” and the fact that the juvenile courts are too lenient on juveniles found guilty of these offenses.
This situation should come as no surprise since even the academic study of delinquent behavior has, for all intents and purposes, been the study of male delinquency. “The delinquent is a rogue male” stated by Albert Cohen in his influential book on gang delinquency. A decade later, Travis Hirschi, with his equally important book entitled The Causes of Delinquency, regulated women and suggested in a somewhat apologetic manner that “in analysis that follows, the ‘non-Negro’ becomes ‘white,’ and the girls disappear.”
This pattern of neglect is not all that unusual. All areas of social inquiry have been notoriously gender blind. What is perhaps less well understood is that theories developed to describe the misbehavior of working-class male youth fail to capture the full concept of delinquency in America; and are inadequate when it comes to explaining female misbehavior and official reactions to girls’ deviance.
Specifically, delinquent behavior involves a range of activities far broader than those committed by the “stereotypical” street gang. Also, many more young people than the visibly group of “troublemakers” that exist on every intermediate and high school campus commit some sort of juvenile offense and many of these youth have brushes with the law. One study revealed that 33% of all ...