Feminist Theory and Control Balance Theory

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Tim and Lionel: An Incident of Sexting

Tim and Lionel convinced four schoolmates to send them nude photos. Tim is 14 while Lionel is 15 years old. The two boys received the nude photos and distributed to their other friends. From the perspective of the media, this was an incident of sexting. 'Sexting' is defined as the process of sending sexually explicit messages and media using digital devices, especially mobile phones. This term is mainly used to refer to situations involving adults. The society considers adults, who are individuals above the age of 18, as people who have the mental capacity to weigh options in life and choose what is good for them. However, the case of Tim and Lionel 'sexting' their schoolmates is a special one since it involves young children. The society has a responsibility of protecting these children until they develop to a level where they have the discretion to decide what is good for them. From a legal and ethical perspective, the actions of Tim and Lionel involving receiving, storing and sexually explicit images of minors amount to child pornography. This is also a special case of child pornography since the perpetrators are minors. This essay is an application and evaluation of two criminological theories to help the reader understand the issues surrounding this case study. The writer will explore the feminist thought in criminology and control balance theory in explaining the issues around the case study.

Thesis Statement: The actions by Tim and Lionel are a reflection of societal gender power relations and an imbalanced control ratio of the perpetrators.

Feminist Thought in Criminology

The feminist theory uses gender as a theoretical concept when focusing on class. Class affects the susceptibility of an individual to being a victim of crime. There are also incidences where class puts a person in a better position to be a perpetrator for certain crimes. Feminism insists that classes created by gender should redefine the was the society studies, defines and responds to crime. Child pornography is one of the many sexual offences where women are more likely to be victimized than men (Jordan et al., 2014). Feminism conceptualizes sexual relations as one of the areas where men have dominated. There are many instances where men misuse this dominance to disadvantage their female counterparts.

There are different facets of the feminist theory. The common theme in all these facets is the patriarchal nature of relationships in the society. According to Akers and Sellers (2004), the privileges and rights enjoyed by men are superior to those of the females. In this case study, the perpetrators of child pornography are male minors. Development in technology has led to democratization of the cyberspace. Pornography has been industrialized, this has seen it grow into a fully recognized sector. However, there are relatively many restrictions on the productions and distribution of pornographic material in the UK compared to other countries such as the US and Australia. Despite the liberation of the sector, most pornography targets the heterosexual male population. It thus reflects societal gender power relations while at the same time depicting women in various degrading ways (Tong, 2013). Children such as Tim and Lionel must have come across the materials from the mainstream pornography industry. The likely effect of such material on young men is giving them a sense of entitlement over others and making them initiate scenarios such as the one in the case study where they start soliciting explicit images from their peers.

Application of Title’s Control Balance Theory

The control balance theory integrates theories such as rational choice, control theory, labelling and social balance. Title views criminality as a result of the control ratio of individuals. A balanced control means that an individual is more conscious of their actions and are unlikely to commit any act that shows deviance or crime. A control deficit refers to a situation when an individual is under the control of others. A control surplus emerges where an individual has more control over the others. In both cases, an individual is more likely to engage in crime than when their control is balanced. In a control deficit, the person is likely to take part in criminal activities without involving their reasoning. Other people are likely to take advantage of them by convincing them to take part in action that harm other people in the society. A control surplus is likely to motivate an individual into luring others into deviance or criminal activities. The person may also commit crimes against the people they deem as being lesser in terms or rank and power.

Title (2004) states that repressive deviance is what results in control deficits. The deficit may be actual or perceived. Deviance is usually an effort to cognitively restore an individual’s control ratio. For instance, perpetrators of sexual assault predate on the victims as a result of repressive defiance. An individual will consume drugs in order to gain courage and affirm their position in the society through actions such as violence. In other cases, a person who suffers from control deficit may go into submission, allowing other people to bully them.

Surplus control often results in exploitation. For instance, an individual who finds oneself with power over the labour laws will not work to improve the conditions of their employees or subordinates in the workplace. A person who feels that environmental laws are inconsequential is likely to pollute the environment. This is an example of plunder that results from control surplus. Another action that may result from surplus control is decadence. This is associated with moral and cultural decline and may result in actions such as child pornography and paedophilia.

Teenagers who have a balanced social control utilize privileges such as access to mobile devices for normal uses such as friendly conversations with their friends through calls, text and social media, playing games and using the internet to access useful information. They communicate with their peers on useful issues such as academics, sports and mutual friendships that result in personal development. Instead of utilizing the two factors for these beneficial uses, Lionel and Tim decided to combine the two factors and use them for committing an offence.

This theory prepones that individuals have different control ratios depending on the power others have over them and vice-versa. Criminal conduct is caused by variations in the controls that people have over themselves and others (Paternoster & Bachman, 2001). In Tim and Lionel’s scenario, there are two major factors that gave them control over the others: the ownership of the devices and ability to convince their schoolmates to send nude photos. Many children around the country have access to these two factors. However, very few have the thought of using them to gain control of others and utilize them for negative actions such as child pornography.

Tim and Lionel’s case is a good example of control surplus. The ability of the individuals to get in contact with their schoolmates and convince them is misused to spread moral and cultural decline. This is one of the most serious cases that may result from a control surplus. Decadence may spread in the society to unprecedented levels when the peers of the perpetrator realize that they can also misuses their real or perceived power over others.

Comparison and Contrast of the Theories

Control balance theory is more compelling than the feminist theory. According to the low self-control theory, deviant behaviour exhibited in the case resulted from the perceived control surplus of Tim and Lionel. The feminist theory points to the power imbalance between the male and female gender. Control balance theory can be used to integrate factors such as labelling, social learning, rational learning and control theories to explain the role that other stakeholders such as parents, school and the society played in this scenario.

Empirical Validity

Control balance theory is empirically valid. It describes the various attributes of the delinquents that can be tested to prove how they came to perceive themselves as having more power over their schoolmates. One of the weaknesses of this theory is provision of six categories of criminal activities. Crime is a wide and dynamic phenomenon that may not necessarily fit into these categories.

The feminist theory is empirically valid in this scenario. It explains how gender relations have resulted in giving more power to the males. The case scenario results from the depiction of these gender power imbalances to the two young men.

Scope or Ability

Control balance theory classifies crime into only two categories depending on whether an individual has control over others or the vice versa. Some crimes may be committed by one individual without necessarily involving other people. Therefore, the scope of this theory is limited. However, this theory’s scope is in explaining the above case is wide because it involves individuals misusing their control over other people.

The feminist theory is also shallow and does not provide a full description of the factors that can be analysed to understand the actions of the delinquents. There is need to look at how the actions taken by stakeholders such as parents and the school impact the behaviour of the students.

Cognitive Clarity

Piquero and Hickman (1999) provided an explanation on how various factors may interact to give individuals control over others. In other cases, this control may only be perceived. However, when both the perpetrator and the victim believe that this control exists, deviance occurs. The control balance theory is cognitively clear as one can easily determine how an individual relates with or perceives the other.

The cognitive clarity of the feminist theory is limited outside the perspective of Tim and Lionel. It does not recognize the role of the school, parents and the larger community in guiding the young people and instilling positive values in them.

Sentimental Relevance

Control balance theory makes sense to me. It provides a good connection between control ratios and character traits and the ability of an individual to commit crime.

Sentimental relevance of the feminist theory is limited in this case. It mainly explains how the character and personalities of the two boys resulted in this case scenario. However, it cannot fully account for failure of the school and the parents and how the actions of these two parties can be used to deter similar occurrences in the future.

Integrating the Two Theories

These two theories can be integrated to provide a candid discussion that links the causes of Tim and Lionel’s delinquency to reliable solutions. Theoretical integration should form the basis of this process. Control balance theory explains how power is distributed between members of the society and how it impacts their outlook of the world and the society. Feminism mainly explains how gender relations result in power imbalance thus creating classes. From the perspective of the control balance theory, the school and parents have to work towards distributing power or perceived power between their children. The school and parents are the closest stakeholders in a child’s life during the early years. Integrating these two theories will involve examining how the school and parents can stimulate a balanced control ratio that results in balance of power between the male and female children. The theoretical integration of these two theories will help in determining how gender relations impact control ratio of individuals. There is need to erode the elevated feeling of entitlement among men when relating with their female counterparts, especially in romantic relationships.

The feministic thought in criminology gives a good account of how power and control imbalances influence crime. This theory cannot form a strong basis for a good approach to crime deterrence. Crime, including one that results from power imbalances between gender, is a multi-faceted societal problem that may be a consequence of various people. In his case scenario for instance, delinquency of the two boys can be blamed on themselves, the parents, school, technology and the teachers. Feminist theory only explains how relations between the victims and the perpetrator influence the crime. Social control theory will help stakeholders in coming up with a plan on linking power imbalance between genders to viable solutions.

There is need for both intra-disciplinary and multi-disciplinary integration of the two theories. In applying intra disciplinary integration, gender relations will be looked at an key influence towards control ratio. There is need for individuals in the society to remain conscious and have control over their actions in gender relations. Young men have to be recognizant of their role towards their female counterparts. A sense of responsibility should stem from a perspective where men and women look at each other as compliments who require mutual support.

Policy Implication

There is need for policy that targets to elevate the role of parents and schools towards the behaviour of minors. These two stakeholders spend most time with the children and should be empowered with information and data that can help them shift the power imbalance among males and females from an early age. Specifically, there is need to target male children with the aim of making them make a positive impact in gender relations. The perception by the male children that they have more power than their female counterparts should either be eroded or be harnessed to ensure that the former protects the latter from any form of harm. There is need for formation of curricula that enhances a balanced control ratio among children. The children should be taught the importance of ethics and how they can avoid being perpetrators of crime when when there are opportunities. This will make the children more responsible with factors such as technology and relations with their peers. For gender relations, there should be non-lenient but effective methods of handling young people who perpetrate sexual crimes against their peers. The best approach is strengthening attributes such as patience, manual skills and empathy among the perpetrators.


Akers, R. L., & Sellers, C. S. (2004). Criminological theory.

Bachman, R., Paternoster, R., & Ward, S. (1992). The rationality of sexual offending: Testing a deterrence/rational choice conception of sexual assault. Law and Society Review, 343-372.

Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (1990). A general theory of crime. Stanford University Press.

Gottfredson, M. R., & Hirschi, T. (2003). Self-control and opportunity. Control theories of crime and delinquency, 12, 5-19.

Piquero, A. R., & Hickman, M. (1999). An empirical test of Tittle's control balance theory. Criminology, 37(2), 319-342.

Jordan, C. E., Combs, J. L., & Smith, G. T. (2014). An exploration of sexual victimization and academic performance among college women. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 15(3), 191-200.

Paternoster, R., & Bachman, R. (Eds.). (2001). Explaining criminals and crime: Essays in contemporary criminological theory. Roxbury Publishing Company.

Tong, R. (2013). Feminist thought: A comprehensive introduction. Routledge.

August 21, 2023

Crime Sociology

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