Has Female Gang Participation Changed over the Years?

Table of Content


Participation of female in gangs has been discussed in various TV talk shows, radio programs and newspapers since 1980s. Female gang members often considered as being wild, self-indulgent, riotous, pleasure seeking, self-gratifying, violent, irrational, and amoral. This paper reviews recent trend woman participation in gangs after the 1980s. Participation of female in gangs has changed dramatically during the last three decades. This paper highlights different issues, such as gender bias, economic backwardness, social conditions, ethnicity and race and addresses the major trends behind female participation the gangs. This paper also examines the portrayals of the demonic personality of female members in the gang and analyses the life history, social background of many female gang groups.

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In most of the researches conducted on street gangs female participation in the groups often ignored. Many of the researches and studies before 1970 on gangs were male specific and women hardly got any mention in them. One of the reasons the researches had in their mind that women were not criminal minded and if they were in any gang it was because of the presence of their boyfriends or husbands. “The notion seems to be that female gangs and their members are ‘pale imitations’ of male gangs” (Spergel, 1995). What we have written material, which were later incorporated either in books or academic generals, are the surveys or journalistic works of different social workers and the media men.

Before 1980’s hardly any of the social scientists or other academic researchers took pain to conduct any study on female participation in street gangs. But now the trend has changed and the social scientist began to notice the lack of studies of female participation in gangs and during the last two decades much of this phenomenon has caught the attention of the social scientists and researchers alike and now we have several studies on our disposal to see and analyze the causes behind women participation in gangs. This paper analyzes different researches on female participation in gangs and their rule and discusses what causes are behind this growing trend.

This paper also examines different aspects of why this trend is on the rise and in which circumstances female are coming into this horrid world of street crime and violence, which is often considered as a typical man domain. It also looks at how social background, economic condition, parents’ attitude, lack of education, and ethnicity play a part for inducing female into the gang world.

Stereotyping of Gang Culture

Gangs have long history as for as United States is concerned, but the growing trend of women participation in gangs belied those social scientists that are on the view that it is typically man specific. On their reckoning, gangs often resorted to act of violence, vandalism because of the inherent nature of masculine power. Women, as it sometimes assumed by the same social scientists, that women cannot indulge in the acts of violence because of there sheer feministic nature which is always on the brink of frigidity. And this is the reason that early social scientists did not show their interest in the criminal behavior in women members of the gang.

As we are famous of stereotyping, female participation in the gangs also fall in the same tendency because gangs considered as a macho male phenomenon, which involves high risk. Early social scientists always remained skeptic about women’s presence in the gangs and often they were confused if their participation were only because of their lovers or husbands. “Girls were defined solely in terms of their . . . relations to male gang members” (Campbell, 1990). “Sex objects or tomboys”—these are the images that, until recently, dominated the literature on female gang members. Individual females were portrayed in terms of their sexual activity, with an occasional mention of their functions as weapon carriers for male gang members (Spergel, 1964).

Female role in the gangs are different from the role of male members and their responsibilities differ in many ways. “Those differences affect the behavior of young members and their chances of maturing into conventional, law-abiding adults. A female gang may be autonomous or allied with a male gang, or female gang members may be part of a fully gender integrated gang” (Miller, 1975).

Social Background of Women Gangsters

            Well, it is not easygoing to be a gangster. It is one of the hardest decisions one could make in her early life because it involve threat to her life and her reputation as a member of the community will change forever. “Joining a gang is a significant, potentially life-altering, event. The reasons for any single juvenile’s joining a gang are complex and personal. Though most females join gangs for friendship and self-affirmation” (Campbell, 1984a, 1987; Moore, 1991)

Economic Condition and Ethnicity
It is generally believed that economic backwardness and especially the dire poverty are the main causes of youth join the different gangs. But, during the last three decades it has been realized that economic marginality and ethnicity are the major causes for emergence of the gangs. Hagedorn’s (1988) study of gang formation in Milwaukee, WI, a city then suffering economic decline, shows that although the parents of most gang members usually held good jobs, these jobs had disappeared by the time their children were grown. It is not surprising that gangs proliferated rapidly during this period, not only in Milwaukee but also throughout the Nation. (Hagedorn, 1988, 1998; Moore, 1991; Padilla, 1992; Taylor, 1990, 1993.)

“In Chicago, IL, for example, economically successful gangs—female and male— became significant community institutions, sometimes offering resources and protection to neighbors” (Venkatesh, 1996, 1998). Participation of female members in gangs has been widely affected by the economic environments the changes that have recently been introduced in the welfare system. “Welfare has been an important economic resource for many of them. In Los Angeles, CA, for example, Mexican American gang members active in the 1950’s and 1970’s became pregnant, on average, at age 18. They tended to rely on welfare, combined with work and help from their families, to survive” (Moore and Long, 1987).

Social Background
Social setup plays an important part to make crucial decisions in life. It is learnt that most of the female who are opted to become gang members are those who were living in dire conditions at their homes and many of them are victim of sexual abused mostly from their fathers. “In Los Angeles, for example, 29 percent of a large representative sample of Mexican American female gang members had been sexually abused at home, and their homes were more likely than those of male gang members to include drug users and persons arrested for crimes” (Moore, 1991,1994).

To join a gang is the hardest decision one could make in her lifetime and the female who choose to take this crucial decision believed that she has come out of the hell of family environment and now she is without any class of culture. This sense of feeling secure while gaining independence from family and society made these women prone to gangs. [They] construct . . . an image of the gang that counterpoints the suffocating futures they face” (Campbell, 1990). In Los Angeles, Mexican American gangs were described as “a substitute institution . . . [providing] meaning and identity” (Quicker, 1983)

Formation of Female Gang

It is generally believed that economic disparity, non-availability of a decent jobs and law in order situation in the downtown areas of the major cities are the major causes of formation of the gangs, male and female alike. How this trend is going to continue we cannot say for sure because is no recent search that could tell us if the economic conditions or the situation of law and order has changed during the last three decades where the gangs are rampant.

Rationale Behind Coming into the Life of Gangster

Easygoing, independence from family and society, self-indulgence, adventure, friendship are few of the many reasons behind female joining the gangs. And, according to some social scientists joining a gang sometimes tantamount to escape the responsibilities at home or workplace. But, other experts argue that their blood relatives sexually abused most of the female members of the gangs at home and the female feel sense of emancipation while joining the gangs. Sexual abuse at home is a complex subject, but we could explore new researches that enable us to better know what are the other causes other than sexual exploitation.

Ethnicity is the second major case of female joining the gangs. Latina and sometimes-Asian immigrants are relatively more prone to joining the gangs. People of different ethnicity have different level of violent tendencies and it is observed that most female in the gang world are belong to Latin background. Research is insufficient in this regard. “More research is needed on this topic, particularly with regard to Latina and Asian immigrant gangs, white gangs, and multiethnic gangs” (Brown, 1977).

Criminal Tendencies
This is another complex area, we cannot say for sure because of non-availability of the

research material why and when criminal tendencies develop in the female and they took the crucial decision to join the gang by putting their lives in danger zone. More research is need in this field, especially from the criminologist point of view.

·         Cost of Joining the Gang

It is not difficult to learn what happened to those female who in their earlier lives had chosen to become gangster. For this purpose we could gather the data of the ex-female gang members who in there later lives forsaken the gang life. By gathering the systematic samples of these women we could learn and classifies the factors connected to their later life failure or success. “Such studies would be useful for understanding the long-term consequences of female gang membership. In particular, research is needed on the incarceration experiences of female gang members and the role of female gangs in jails and prisons” (Chin, 1996)


It is very difficult to learn exactly how female participation in the gangs function and its different aspects of partaking because we don’t have much material on the subject. Stereotyping is the major cause of this lack of studies – and know, time has come the social scientist, media men and other researchers change this pattern and now spend more of there energies and time on exploring this vital issue. “Gangs are highly suspicious of researchers and cooperate with them only under unusual circumstances. Female gang members, in particular, have been averse to talking about sexual abuse, whether it occurred at home or within the gang” (Hagedorn, 1990).

            Gangs often work in underground so many of their activities remained hidden to researchers as well as general public. So nothing can be said of them for sure, but still we can understand the underlying causes, motives, and grounds to ascertain why this trend is growing and how a female could feel secure in the dangerous life of gangster. But, again more research is needed in this field so the policy makers could formulate strategies that could prove helpful while bringing this trend down.


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