In the last two centuries, great steps have been taken so as to ensure gender equality. However, the perception that women are inferior to men has not faded into oblivion. Various studies have proved that great disparities exist between men and women. Lippe, Graumans and Sevenhuijsen (2004) state that ‘a wide gap (exists) between the participation of men and women in the police force.’ Although the number of women in various fields previously considered as men’s domain, such as education, technology, security and politics has increased sharply, especially in the past 50 years, the opportunities availed to women are still far much less in comparison to those granted to their male counterparts.
Such perceptions are implanted in our minds since childhood. When a little boy is asked what he wants to become when he grows up, he is expected to state an answer which is in line with a ‘masculine’ career such as a fireman or a police officer. On the other hand, it is assumed that girls want to be teachers or housewives. With time, these stereotypes have become the ‘acceptable way.’ The society feels that men and women have clearly defined goals in life, such as career paths and employment areas. The police force has not been spared of these perceptions that promote gender inequality. Although the number of women in law enforcement has increased sharply in the last two decades, this number is not at par with that of their male counterparts. In their study, Lonsway et al (2003) found out that:
In 2001, women accounted for only 12.7% of all sworn law enforcement positions in large agencies, 8.1% in small and rural agencies, and 14.4% in federal agencies
The perception that law enforcement requires force serves to deter women from joining this noble field. Women have always been viewed as physically weaker. Therefore, any profession deemed as requiring force is reserved for men. If any significant headway is to be made, such biased view of the police force should be eliminated.
Despite the fact that changing times have influenced sweeping changes in various fields, the police force inclusive, these changes are not complete. There exists a large imbalance in various sectors of the police force. Several studies have shown that women are not as easily promoted as their male counterparts. In addition, there are very few women in positions of power and higher administration. This simply echoes similar situations in politics, technology and other key sectors. Crucial roles that shorten the promotion ladder, such as firearms specialists, are assigned to men. This greatly hinders women from ascending into positions of influence.
The fact that women are highly likely to leave the police force so as to attend to domestic issues has served to reduce the number of women in law enforcement even further. Most women do not advance easily in their careers since they are not available during periods such as maternity leave. In addition, the society dictates that women should be the first to quit their jobs if domestic issues that require the attention of a couple crop up. Therefore, while men advance their careers smoothly, women are left with a host of duties to take care of, which may even cut their careers short.
However, does this bias alone serve to deter women from law enforcement or do women subconsciously avoid this field too? The fact that women are not encouraged to pursue careers in security related fields paints the police force as a man’s world. Nonetheless, have the women accepted the view that the police force is reserved for men and decided to avoid law enforcement altogether? Do those women already in law enforcement encourage others to join either by encouragement or by example? Does the fact that there is a low critical mass for women employees in the police force deter women from joining this career? These questions necessitate the need to evaluate both men and women’s attitude towards law enforcement.
Although various laws have been put in place so as to ensure that women in law enforcement are treated fairly and get equal opportunities, gender inequality and discrimination has not been completely stamped out. There have been multiple cases reported whereby male police officers have assaulted their female partners, either sexually or physically As Gottschalk (2011) states ‘in every police agency there exists an element of dishonesty, lack of professionalism, and criminal behavior.’ Women in the police force have accepted this form of treatment and carry out their duties in this ‘normal’ environment. Obviously, those aspiring to join the police force are deterred by the poor working environment and may chose not to pursue their careers in law enforcement. By accepting this as the only way through which they can retain their jobs, women employees advance male attitudes in the work place. In addition, this deters efforts to recruit and retain talented women who choose to further their dreams in other professions.
Women have to meet the same academic, professional and ethical standards, just like their male counterparts. However, even after such achievements are made, women in law enforcement are still treated as inferior to their male counterparts. In their research, Gossett & Williams (1998) proved that policemen feel threatened by their male counterparts, especially if they are in the same job group and enjoy the same status. In their study, they found out that:
The officers who perceived discrimination against them noted that it was not as overt as in the past, but is more subtle and inadvertent….A few of the female officers felt that male officers do not want females in positions of authority, and male recruits were perceived as displaying hostility toward their female trainers.
Interestingly, women are not taken seriously in their line of duty. Seniors normally assign ‘serious, tasks to men while the day-to-day tasks are assigned to women. Gossett & Williams(1998) state that ‘the most frequently expressed complaints of discrimination were of not being taken seriously, of males not acknowledging females in positions of authority, and of generally inappropriate behavior directed at female officers.’ Duties that require force or violence are exclusive assigned to the men. Therefore, policemen are easily promoted and accorded more respect than their female counterparts. Such tasks can be performed by women, since not all police duties require force. Women are well known for their finesse and innovation and could therefore excel just as well as the policemen. In fact, this lopsided view of women was well observed by Cuadrado (1995) where she states that:
…evaluation variables based on potentially violent situations promote the belief that women are not as well fitted as men for constant exposure to violent confrontation. Caution against the danger of presenting discrete images of a male ‘brute force’ and a female ‘professional force.’
Such stereotypes are advanced further by tradition and religion. The status quo in any society is that women should be assigned the less laborious tasks while the men carry out tasks that require energy. As Lippe, Graumans and Sevenhuijsen (2004) found out, ‘the most important existing barrier to gender equality proves to be the culture within the organization… the police force is still male-dominated.’ Various religions support the perception that a woman is inferior to a woman. The bible and the Koran are two holy texts that advance this view. After creation, Adam was given control of the entire kingdom and a woman, Eve, was only to be his companion. This relegates the woman to second position and advances the perception that she should only be consulted. All decision-making should be left to the men. However, time has changed and so should we. Time and again, those women who have managed to breakthrough this stereotype have demonstrated their capabilities, which have, at times, outshone the achievements of their fellow male colleagues. In current times, women should be accorded similar tasks if they are to earn the respect they deserve in any work environment.
This study aims at identifying and analyzing the perceptions held by both male and female officers towards the female police officers and their work environment. In addition, the study aims at evaluating ways as to how the police force can attract and retain talented police officers in an effort to promote gender equality.
Significance of the study
The findings of this study are vital in analyzing the current gender bias in law enforcement agencies. This research clearly analyzes the perceptions held by both males and females towards women in the police force. Therefore, these findings are not biased since both genders are well-represented. These findings, therefore, provide an accurate assessment of the gender bias situation in any police force.
In addition, these findings will explain why women have lesser opportunities either in recruitment or in the work place. This study evaluates all stereotypes advanced by both men and women that deter women from pursuing a career in law enforcement. The findings of this study avails important data for administrators, women in law enforcement and those who responsible for the formulation of policies in police departments.