Women in Law Enforcement Series, Part 1

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Gender Ideology and Women in Policing

By: Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.

Women in American law enforcement face substantial obstacles to integration when entering the ranks of police organizations.

While racial/ethnic minorities have faced significant discrimination in policing because of racial prejudice, women entering law enforcement have confronted gender ideology and gender bias as major impediments. Gender ideology is defined as a system of beliefs that attempts to justify differential treatment of women on the basis of socially constructed categories as well as hyper-masculine perceptions of police work.

For example, there has been a widespread belief among law enforcement officials that women cannot adequately perform the physically demanding aspects of police work. This notion, however, is the product of an institution that has always been dominated by men and male ways of thinking about the occupation.

In terms of gender bias, there have been and continue to be a significant number of male power-holders who have difficulty working with females, not because of actual job performance, but because of their biased views of women. Historically, white males have been the major power-holders in American society and they have been very reluctant to give up, or share this power. Police organizations evidence these same power differentials and many male officers believe that females are not physically capable of being “good” officers. This objection to female officers is based on the mistaken belief that police work is so physically strenuous that women are incapable of performing it.

Many police executives still hold stereotypical views of women and police work and an International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) survey of 800 of its members found that 28% expressed a concern that women lacked “sufficient physical strength, capacity for confrontation, size, strength and force” to be effective police officers (IACP, 1998: 6).

More from this series:

Read Part 2: The Inferiority Myth

Read Part 3: Women in Policing: A Different Approach

Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.
Associate Dean and Foundation Professor
School of Justice Studies
Eastern Kentucky University


IACP (1998). The Future of Women in Policing: Mandates for Action. Fairfax, VA: International Association of Chiefs of Police.

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