Challenges for Women in Law Enforcement

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This paper explores a few of the challenge’s women face as law enforcement officers. Historically, women have always had to work hard to prove they belong in the work force and policing is no exception. Gender bias is very much alive and well despite all efforts of feminists and women around the world. Departments are seeking more female officers now and women are making a stronger presence in the police force; however, they are still a minority. Acceptance of female police officers has also proven to be challenging as women seek equality on the job.

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Women know when they enter a world where they are expected to fail, they must work harder than their male counterparts to prove their worth. Despite these added stressors, women bring a unique set of skills to policing and are an asset to their departments and communities. This paper contains research from multiple sources including, a dissertation, articles, journals, and books that will describe some of the barrier’s women have to overcome as law enforcement officers.

Women first entered the police force in 1845 as matrons and have since paved the way for a more general acceptance of female law enforcement officers (Koenig, 1978, p. 267). However, Koenig (1978) mentions “it was not smooth sailing for policewomen by any means. The average male officer and police chief considered policewomen a fad and their entry into police work an unjustified excursion into social work” (p. 267). The obstacles women face as justice workers is a societal arrangement that constructs and reinforce women’s subordination to men. Being male or female is socially produced, and women face many challenges on the job due to being female (Martin, Jurik, 2007, p. 2). Unfortunately, the negative attitude toward females prevailed, and women have had to continue to prove themselves to be good officers (Koenig, 1978, p. 267). This can be challenging and stressful for women, as they are expected to carry the weight of the job in addition to the stigmas that come with being a female police officer.

Stress is something women face in all aspects of their life. In addition to the stressful demands of policing, women are always trying to prove they belong, show their value, and gain acceptance from fellow male officers. Tenny (1953) states that “a policewoman will be accepted as a “good officer” by her co-workers when she earns their approval and respect” (p. 240). Policewomen are expected to function at the same level and perform similar tasks as policemen. However, “women were generally not given important roles, or the opportunity to handle critical jobs, which deprived them from earning recognition and sharing power” (Sahgal, 2007, p. 419). Not only do women fall victims to their male counterparts, but police officers in general are constantly in the public eye and their every action, both in their professional and personal life is subject to comment and often criticism (Tenny, 1953, p. 239). In addition to constant criticism from the public, on the job, policewomen are assessed and identified by how well they can or cannot perform against their male counterparts (Agcos, Langan, Sanders, 2015, p. 267). This prejudice behavior made it even harder for women to be acknowledged, causing them to feel inadequate in their positions. Not only do they feel pressured in their professional lives, their personal lives can suffer as well.

Balancing their roles, as wife, mother, and police officer also adds stress to policewomen. Working in law enforcement is demanding, hours vary, days vary, and things come up that can keep officers at work longer. This in turn results in missing birthdays, holidays, and special milestones with their partners and children. “The group of middle-aged respondents reported that they were often reminded that they were not policewomen at home and were therefore expected to be obedient and subservient in performing their home roles” (Sahgal, 1978, p. 420). Additionally, women face different challenges that are not an issue for men. As a result, “they feel torn between the demands of work and home, they are responsible for most of the domestic labor, and they feel guilty that their paid employment detracts from time they would like to spend with their children” (Agcos et al., 2015, p. 267).

Many women feel they are challenged in their role as policewomen due to the gender bias stereotypes and the expectations that they should look, behave, and seem a certain way. “Every move she makes will be watched. Not only will she need balance in actual job performance, but it is required throughout her relations in and out of the department and with offenders. In manner, the policewoman should not be overly-feminine or too manly or aggressive. Women must prove themselves to be capable of taking a place in the “No Man’s Land” of male superiority before they will be unconditionally accepted.

Emotionally, she must take a middle course between being too sensitive or sentimental and being callous and indifferent. In her associations, she should have extra-curricular social activities so she will be happier and better-adjusted personally, but her police work should not suffer because of too many outside commitments” (Tenny, 1953, p. 242).

In addition to these unwritten rules women also must act as if they are unphased by them. They must handle it and prove their value, regardless of the negative comments they deal with daily. Davis (2007) mentions how law enforcement is a male-dominated profession, and these gender stereotypes and inferior attitudes about women by men hamstring the professions ability to recruit and retain talented women (Davis, 2007, p. 2).

The Challenges that affect female police officer’s work performance and recruitment are also important factors. “Most women never even consider a career in law enforcement to begin with, due to their misunderstanding of the nature of the job, and the aggressive and authoritarian images portrayed in the media” (Felperin, 2004, p. 1). The behavioral norms of the police culture are what set the tone for the negative integration of women in law enforcement (Davis, 2007, p. 22). Women work hard, meet the same standards, and paid the same price as the policemen and deserve the same respect. “The policewoman is a member of the department and should be governed by the same rules and regulations, assume the same responsibilities, and share the same rights and privileges as male officers who are doing the same work” (Tenny, 1953, p. 240). Felperin (2004) states that police organizational attitudes are finally beginning to change. Although the general mindset is shifting, once hired, women still face discrimination, sexual harassment, peer intimidation, and often lack the necessary role models to help them move up the ranks (p. 1). Despite all that women must overcome in the police role, they still manage to be an asset to their department and their communities.

“Since the inclusion of women, it has been stated that departmental function had improved and the public image of the police had changed considerably. Additionally, their presence had made the work environment more humane. As duty officers in the police stations, they asserted that women were more understanding and civil and that the public had more confidence and faith in women” (Sahgal, 2007, p. 419).

Gender shouldn’t define a man or woman’s ability to have a successful career in law enforcement, in turn it shouldn’t be divided into male or female divisions. Tenny (1953) states “there is no place for rivalry between male and female officers. While their specific duties may vary, they all serve the people, while doing the same job, and working toward the same end. They must work as a unit” (p. 239).

The limitations of these findings is in the amount of information that can be discovered because every person is unique and what challenges one woman may not be an issue for another. Some women accept that it is just the way it is as a female officer and stay in service for job security, while others want to continue the fight for gender equality. The number of women that were surveyed were from certain areas and certain age groups, so culture and beliefs are a contributing factor. Another issue is the generational gaps between the women surveyed, the difference in age and how they are conditioned to think and perceive things would have an affect on the results. Another concern was the lack of resources on specific topics in this area.

There are many challenges women must overcome to become a successful policewoman. Even though gender biases still exist and sexual harassment and discrimination is likely, women have a place in law enforcement and they are a commodity. Although their credibility doesn’t come easily, women are proven to be as effective as men in the field. Female police add value to police departments and their communities. While some may still face the challenges of being the minority, it is important that perception doesn’t hold power over their position. Proper training, following protocol, and being assertive is crucial in finding a place in this male dominated field. Seeking equality is something that will always come harder for women, but that doesn’t define their success.


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Challenges for Women in Law Enforcement. (2021, May 17). Retrieved from