Women in Law Enforcement Series, Part 3

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Women in Policing: A Different Approach

By: Victor E. Kappeler, Ph.D.

In this series, we have examined the widely held belief that women are inferior to men in law enforcement and discovered that females perform equally as well as males in many areas and out-perform them in others. Our first two installments focused on similarities.

There are, however, important differences between male and female police officers. Some scholars suggest that the primary difference lies in how the sexes approach police work (Gilligan, 1993; Hale and Wyland, 1993; Rabe-Hemp, 2009; Worden, 1993). Gilligan suggests that male officers tend to subscribe to a “morality of justice,” while female officers are more likely to possess a “morality of care.” Rabe-Hemp meanwhile suggests that female officers tend to perform police work collaboratively, while men tend to act individually. Female officers tend to work together and are less physically aggressive than their male counterparts; yet this trait is often seen as a sign of weakness or inadequacy.

Given the never ending parade of police abuses broadcasted across the media as well as today’s professed emphasis on problem-solving and community oriented policing, female officers seem to bring a more diplomatic and reasoned approach to policing. In this sense women officers may be more effective and certainly should be given wider acceptance.

More from this series:

Read Part 1: Gender Ideology and Women in Policing

Read Part 2: The Inferiority Myth

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


Gilligan, C. (1993). In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development (6th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hale, D., & Wyland, S. M. (1993). Dragons and Dinosaurs: The Plight of Patrol Women. Police Forum3(2): 1–6.

Rabe-Hemp, C. (2009). POLICEwomen or PoliceWOMEN: Doing Gender and Police Work. Feminist Criminology4: 114–129.

Worden, A. P. (1993). The Attitudes of Women and Men in Policing: Testing Conventional and Contemporary Wisdom. Criminology3(2): 203-237.

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