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The Bronx, New York-born female rapper Cardi B has been the talk of social media lately. An older video was released of her admitting to drugging and robbing several men. Previous black men of high standing have been exposed for crimes of similar status, such as R Kelly, Bill Cosby, and soon to be Michael Jackson. However, Cardi B has not faced the same punishments as Cosby and Kelly. In fact, she has not been punished or even investigated at all. “I have a past that I can’t change we all do,” she stated on a recent Instagram post. And for the most part, her fans are divided on whether they should “cancel” her or not. After I read about this, I began to think. I thought about all of the women’s rights campaigns that I see every day. I considered the myriad of big movies that are being released with women in the spotlight, with a “Girl Power” message behind almost every one of them. Way too often does one hear about how women are treated unfairly, how they’re always the victim of one thing or another. I considered Cardi B’s situation again. I considered Bill Cosby, a man who was sentenced to 3-10 years for similar crimes. When it comes to federal law, do women often get the upper hand? Do women receive more lenient sentencing than men in criminal cases? And if so, is morally right? And finally, is there a way to reduce or end this trend?
After discovering this question, I became invested in it. I wanted to find more information, so I began to research “gender disparity in criminal sentencing” and examined what came up. The first thing I found was an article by a University of Michigan news article titled “Prof. Starr’s Research Shows Large Unexplained Gender Disparities in Federal Criminal Cases”. Perfect. The article gave me a profound statistic: “ ‘After controlling for the arrest offense, criminal history, and other prior characteristics, “men receive 63% longer sentences on average than women do,” and “[w]omen are…twice as likely to avoid incarceration if convicted.” I did not expect such a huge gap. That mean that if Cardi B was to be convicted, she had twice the chance to not even be sentenced than R Kelly and Cosby did. And if she did get convicted, she would have a 63% shorter sentence than a man in a similar situation did. After reading a bit further, the author of the article stated that “This gender gap is about six times as large as the racial disparity that Prof. Starr found in another recent paper.” That meant that even though race is made out to be one of the biggest problems in the nation, gender disparity in criminal sentencing was on its way to becoming a much bigger problem. The author went on to say that Professor Starr looked into various theories about the disparities, but “they did not appear capable of explaining anything close to the total disparity that Prof. Starr found.”
How it works
There wasn’t much else to the article, so I had to find more information. I searched “gender disparity in criminal sentencing” and combed through the articles that popped up. There was not much more information to continue my research. Nearly every other source I found was a regurgitation of Sonja Starr’s study, in which the professor herself emphasizes that “ it is not possible to “prove” gender discrimination with data like hers, because it is always possible that two seemingly similar cases could differ in ways not captured by the data.” But, there had to be more information out there. This was too big of an issue. So, I went again to Google and searched a simple question: “Do men receive longer sentencing than men?” What I found was a small Wikipedia article on sentencing disparity. I found to my disappointment that it only had one sentence about my topic of research, which was yet another regurgitation of Starr’s work. Then I noticed that this wasn’t just an article about sentencing disparity, but in fact a part of an entire series titled “Violence Against Men.” There were a variety of topics within this series, including “Men’s Rights Movement,” “Sentencing Disparity,” and one that caught my eye, “Reverse Sexism”.
Author Carol Thomas Neely defines reverse sexism as “ sexism directed towards the dominant sex, and in a narrower sense to sexism against men.” (Thomas pp. 3-15) Usually men are referred to as the “dominant sex,” so reverse sexism is simply sexism against men. Takers of this position believe that there is no longer an imbalance between men and women, and some even believe that women are the new dominant sex, making men the inferior. The page compares it to similar terms such as “reverse racism” and “reverse ethnocentrism”, all of which can be a side effect of actions and laws that were intended to reduce and/or end sexism, racism, or ethnicism. Blacks now being more racist towards whites, societies being centered around a formerly minority class… and women now being more sexist towards men. The term doesn’t imply that men do not have sexist tendencies anymore, but it does imply that women now have a larger advantage over men than before. Reading through the rest of the page, I found that the history of the term ironically started around the same time as feminist movements (in the 1960s). The idea then was that “men were responsible for oppressing women, but also were oppressed themselves by strict gender roles.” In the 1970s, author Warren Farrell defines those gender roles as ones that “disadvantaged men by forbidding them from seeming caring or having emotion.”
This information does, in fact, have some connection of sentencing disparity. If men are held to very specific gender roles and are forced to not show emotion, it would make sense for them to receive longer criminal sentences. They’re forced to put on this facade of strength and power and masculinity. They’re men. They oppress women and treat them unfairly, so obviously they can take a heavier prison sentence. Meanwhile women, they’re projected as fragile beings who need protection from the big bad world, so they have to get off easy because.. well, they’re women. “While adults will often say soothing things to a crying child to get them to calm down, boys are more likely to be told by parents, teachers and their peers that they shouldn’t cry and that they should suck it up instead,” OneLove writer Karina Sumano states in a blog post. “This leads boys to bottle up their emotions and keeps them from overcoming them effectively. And since it’s perfectly acceptable for girls to cry, many men associate crying with femininity and weakness.” This also explains why even though sentencing disparity is such a glaring issue, it if often not addressed. Men are taught to suck up whatever pain they receive, no matter the magnitude or injustice of it. And not just that, this form of discrimination against men often is considered less important than feminism for various reasons. Whether that be because, again, women claimed to be treated unfair by big, bad men or because they are portrayed as strong and independent beings who obviously don’t need men but do need someone to remind them everyday of that, there are various reasons why the concept of feminism often blocks out the idea that men too, might be treated unfairly.
However, considering all of this, the argument of sentencing disparity dos have a few holes in it. Going back to the Wikipedia article on reverse sexism, It goes on to quote three academic students (Steve Bearman, Neill Korobov and Avril Thorne) in saying that “while individual women or women as a whole may enact prejudicial biases towards specific men or toward men as a group, this is done without the backing of a societal system of institutional power.” (Bearman, Korobov, Thorne 345-352) Two assistant professors later responded by saying that the concept of reverse sexism doesn’t exist at all, defining “sexism” as “power relations that are historic and embedded, and these relations do not flip back and forth.” That means that theoretically, there really isn’t any sexism towards men, because the power is not supposed to flip between men and women. The academic students even admit that men may experience gender disparities, but it’s apparently invalid because it’s done without an “institutional power” (probably referring to a government or social construct).
But, I didn’t come this far into research to simply prove myself wrong. This argument is just as invalid as the concept that black people can’t be racist simply because “whites are the ones with the power” or whatnot. I could see how that could pass maybe a couple of decades ago, but that doesn’t work now. Yes, racism is still one of the many issues that America has not fully solved, but we have made huge progress. Blacks have the same opportunities as whites. Progress and success is not based on race, but it can be argued that lower income communities have less opportunities than higher income communities. But even considering that, those communities are not based on race, but on income. So, you cannot blame the issue on race. Similarly, women do indeed still experience unfairness, sexism, forced to uphold gender roles, and even experience unequal pay and other very real issues. However, it can be argued that life is better for women now than ever before. There are numerous women’s rights movements that are fighting to eliminate the last of unfair treatment towards women. More and more media and movies are being made, putting women in the forefront. Instead of formerly being taught to be quiet and passive and to look flawless (Sumano), they are now taught to be confident and independent.
So, where does that leave the issue of gender disparity in criminal sentencing? Well, it has been proven that it indeed exists. An article on a website titled “A Voice for Men” examines Professor Sonja Starr’s study on sentencing disparity. The author, Hannah Wallen, quotes Starr’s study in saying that “There are large unexplained gaps across the sentence distribution, and across a wide variety of specifications, subsamples, and estimation strategies.” Starr explains that the data itself didn’t fully explain the reasoning behind the disparity, but “they do suggest that certain factors (such as child care and offense roles) are partial, but not complete explanations, even combined.” So, if the data doesn’t explain it, then our research on reverse sexism has to. Therefore, this is the conclusion that I have come to: women receive shorter sentencing because of a form of reverse sexism. Women are now seen as fragile and needing protection, so innately, judges are keen to be more lenient on them as opposed to men, who are seen as strong, the breadwinner of a household, and beings who are supposed to be able to take more punishment than women, no matter how unfair it may be. Some individual examples of senctencing disparity can be explained by specific circumstances such as child care, liability, offense roles, family hardship, illnesses, and even other disparities such as race. Wallen states in her article that “To put it simply, putting a woman on trial can be a public relations nightmare for a prosecutor, who is faced with a defendant who may damsel for both jury and public sympathy, painting herself as a victim of prosecutorial bullying.” It’s simply much more easier for a woman to use her gender to her advantage.
America is slowly but surely working to make the “American Dream” a reality for everyone, eliminating inequality issues one step at a time. Yes, women treated unfairly by men, but the same can be argued vice versa. If we are to have equality between genders, the balance needs to exist on both ends. And it needs to start with our criminal justice system, a construct that was made to ensure that every person is punished equally and fairly in the first place. Or at least it should be.
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