• Athena Ives

Feminist Theories

By Athena Ives 2012

This article covers the different feminist theories, give a brief description of the murders of Aileen Wuornos, and demonstrate if this case supports the theories or not.

Liberal Feminist Theory

The Liberal feminist theory by Freda Adler and Rita Simon was the most widely recognized feminist theory in North America. It emerged in the 1960’s when liberal feminists started to contend that women are discriminated against on the basis of their sex, so that they are denied access to the same political, financial, career and personal opportunities as men. This can be eliminated by removing all obstacles to women’s access to education, paid employment and political activity, by enabling women to participate equally with men in the public sphere and by enacting legal change. The problem for gender inequality can be solved by clearing the way for women’s rapid integration into what has been the world of men (McShane, 2010).

Adler and Simon challenged sexist assertions made by Lombrosian criminologists. They argue that sociological factors, not physiology, best explain women’s criminality. There is a strong relationship between women’s emancipation and the increase in female crime rates. As women become more liberated and become more involved in full time jobs, they are more likely to engage in the types of crime that men commit (McShane, 2010).

There is not a lot to support this position mainly because most of the crimes that women have committed are not related to improved labor market opportunities. Women are known to commit petty property crimes, such as shoplifting, bad checks, and welfare fraud, which are offenses caused by an increasing feminization of poverty. Women’s crimes tend to follow their traditional roles as shoppers, consumers, and health care providers within the family. Other offenses include writing bad checks and theft of objects they want. While violent crimes committed by females are significantly lower than males, society reacts to their behavior with much more attention than if a man committed the crime (Flavin, 2007).

Radical Feminist Theory

The Radical Feminist theory is the theory most women side with. It was the first radical perspective to criticize the assertions of liberal feminism as simplistic. They view male power as the root cause of all social relations, inequality and crime. The most important relations in any society are found in patriarchy (masculine control of the labor power and sexuality of women). All other relations such as class are secondary and derive from male female relations (McShane, 2010).

The main causes of gender inequality are (i) the needs of men to control women’s sexuality and reproductive potential, and (ii) patriarchy. It does not believe women’s liberation will increase female crime. It believes liberation will result in lower crime and also a decrease in male violence against women (Flavin, 2007).

Marxist theory

The Marxist theory argues that the economic formation of a society is the primary determinant of other social relations, such as gender relations. Marxist feminism emerged in the late 1960’s in response to the masculine bias in the Marxist social theory. Capitalist society exploits subordinate groups to include women. Rape is not common in all societies. Capitalist societies have the highest rape rates because they produce unequal gender relations that foster violence (McShane, 2010).

Social Feminism

Social Feminism by Piers Beirne and James Messerschmidt, is a combination of Marxist and radical feminism. Class and gender relations are viewed as equally important. To understand class we must understand how it is structured by gender and to understand gender we must understand how it is structured by class. We are influenced by both gender and class relations. Crime is mainly seen as the product of patriarchal capitalism (McShane, 2010).

Postmodern Feminism

Postmodern Feminism argues that there is no absolute and objective truth. Illegality varies with different roles: Daughter, mother, wife, etc. Nature shifts with race, social status, and age. Life experience plays major role in the motivation of the women’s behavior (McShane, 2010).

Case of Aileen Wuornoss

Aileen Wuornoss was a prostitute from Florida who murdered seven of her clients from in 1989-1990. She was allegedly beaten and raped and at 13 she gave birth to the rapist’s child and had the baby placed up for adoption. To earn money she began turning tricks at 15, when she was kicked out of her house. Her first kill was 51-year-old Richard Mallory, in November 1989. Even though some of her reasons changed she usually claimed self-defense. She was executed in October of 2002(Capital Punishment, 2011).

Does this case support the feminist theories?

— Liberal feminism: If she had been given an opportunity to obtain a good job, she may have not have turned to prostitution which lead her to her crimes. Liberal feminism states that there is a strong relationship between women’s emancipation and the increase in female crime rates. In this case Aileen felt that she had the right to kill these men because of the way they had treated her. All though she was not in a job position that was opened to her through allowing women into the workforce, it supports the theory in the area that she felt it was her right as a woman to defend and protect herself. She believed these men needed to be punished for abusing women (McShane, 2010).

— Radical feminism: During this time rape was de-emphasized. Police officials tended to sweep in under the rug or treat it as if the woman was lying to get attention. These alleged rapes lead her to defend herself and possibly find revenge with future men. If rape had been a crime that was severely punished these murders may have not taken place. Wuornos case supports this theory.

— Marxist: She was put into a position where she had to support herself and she turned to the only position she felt she could do. This theory supports the case because if she had been brought up with a good family and had an honest way of earning money, these crimes would have not taken place.

— Socialist feminism: While she committed a violent crime and not a property crime, social organization put her into a position of lower income. She had no parents to provide for her, no relatives to support her, and no husband to take care of her. During this time she did not have many options. This case supports this theory.

— Postmodern feminism: Her past plaid a huge part in her crimes. This theory is the only one that takes into account all aspects. Involves her past, her economic status, her age, her gender, etc. This theory explains that due to Wuornos’ abusive childhood, her low income economic status, and many other aspects of her past pushed her to commit these crimes.


Overall these Feminist Theories were not reliable and further research is necessary. Although they explain how they were pushed into crime and why they continue on committing these crimes, it does not explain why they stop and it only covers women. It also does not have enough support to prove these theories. Perhaps in the future when women have taken a much greater role in the work force these theories will not be significant at all.


Capital Punishment. (2011) The facts, trial, and execution of Aileen Wuornos. Retrieved from http://www.capitalpunishmentincontext.org/node/77454

Flavin, Jeanne. (2007) Class Race Gender Crime, social realities of justice in America. Roman Littlefield Publishers Inc. New York, NY

McShane, Marilyn J., Williams, Frank P. (2010) Criminological Theory. Pearson Education Inc. Upper Saddle River, NJ

Myers, David, G. (2009) Psychology in Everyday Life. Worth Publisher. Holland, MI

Wrightsman, Lawrence, S., Fulero, Solomon, M. (2005) Forensic Psychology. Wadsworth Learning. Belmont, CA