Posted by: laurakoepsell | February 7, 2014

Women in Law Enforcement

I’m a political science major, and the subject of law enforcement ends up coming up a lot in our studies. Since taking this class, I have really thought about certain jobs that are considered more masculine, and I thought of law enforcement positions. I saw a post from Humans of New York on facebook, where the caption was this:

“I wanted to be in the FBI, but then I found out that first you have to be a police officer for four years. And I don’t think I want to do that.”
“Why not?”
“I’m literally five feet tall. If I tried to arrest someone, they’d think they were being pranked.”


This made me think about what gender role characteristics keep women away from the law enforcement field. Sure, their are women in the field, but in 2004 it was seen that only 12.7% of all all sworn law enforcement positions in large agencies are women. Why is this position still dominated by gender roles? Is it the women assuming that they are too weak for the position, or the men having that “needs to be a strong man” mentality in their mind that is causing them to not consider women as often?

I think this is a position that is seen very often with the social learning theory (I’m pretty sure this is the name of the theory). The theory I’m referencing is the theory where we are raised to believe in certain gender theories, and see gender roles as a natural part of life.


I found an article that tried to explain why there is a current decline in women pursuing law enforcement careers. Felperin’s main arguments were that uneven hiring processes, selection processes, and recruitment policies keep the number of women in the field very low. He also argued that most women don’t even consider a job in the law enforcement career due to their misconstrued concept of what the nature of the position is, as well as the aggressive and authoritarian images that go along with this role thanks to the media. There is also the issue of sexual harassment and discrimination once in the position they force them to stay in a base line position or quit.

Here is the article:

I’m curious what you guys think of women in the law enforcement field. Do any of you have relatives or know of someone in the field and know how they have been treated in the position? What do you think of the media’s portrayal of this position, which is seen on almost every TV show as of late? Do you think this position will always be considered a masculine position? I would like to see the position move towards a more equal playing field, for people can bring skills other than muscle to the table that can be utilized very well in this job. Things such as communication, logic, and quick wit are all important aspects of the law enforcement career, and I think the position should be more favorable to women. But I really want to hear what you all have to say about this.


  1. While I think that women will always be seen as the minority in law enforcement, I do think that there are some cases in which it is not as prevalent. A family friend of mine (who is a female) is a Naval Criminal Investigative Services (or NCIS) special agent. While she has “paid her dues” and had to start at the bottom of the totem pole in this career, she is now well-known and very well respected by her peers and immediate superiors, all of whom are male. However, she was able to get here not by conforming to the typical female stereotypes, but by going against them and proving herself as a competent and qualified special agent.

    I believe that with all law enforcement, not just this example, gender discrimination is a large factor in success, but it will only affect us women if we let it. If we let men tell us what we can and cannot do, it is going to make it that much easier for them to reign supreme. Instead, I think that us women need to chase our dreams without the interference of other men or even other women. This NCIS agent was able to get to where she is today due to pure determination and by keeping her eye on the prize. I think we can all learn something from her and other situations, because we are capable of anything we put our mind to without the impact of gender.

  2. This is a very interesting topic to consider. It actually makes me think of not only women in law enforcement, but in the armed forces. I had a conversation with some ROTC students about this. The men said they feel uncomfortable fighting along side women because they would feel like they need to worry about protecting them more than if they were with only men. At first I was offended, but then I understood why they might say that. Some of the female ROTC students said that the test for women to enter the army should be different than for men. I think that’s silly. If you have to perform the same tasks, you need to pass the same test. There is also no way that men could look at women equally if their requirements were less. If the test for women to enter the army was different, I completely understand why men would be more worried about protecting a female next to them. For any job like this, police, firefighters, military, etc., I believe that the entrance test should be the same for both men and women. This will help promote equality in the work place. Anyone woman who is put down because of her gender can say that she passed all the same requirements that the men did. She will be able to point to her performance and skills when her physical or mental strength is questioned. The ROTC women who believe they should have a different entrance test are asking for special treatment based on gender.

  3. I do think society makes it harder for women to be in the law enforcement. Society sees women as weaker and unable to have authority. For women who try to be in law enforcement, they not only have to prove they are stronger than the other females, but also that they can hold their own when it comes to the men. Like we have said in class, women have to deal with the double bind and I think people see female cops as bitches, yet if they do not show authority then they are seen as weak and incapable of doing their job well. I also believe times are changing where it is normal to see a female cop but the majority still sees law enforcement as a male domain.
    I do think the media as shown female cops in a better light in the past few years. Certain TV shows have been created to show female cops in action. I can’t remember the name of the show, but these women are strong and capable. In the show, criminals do not think the female cops will be harsh with them, but in most cases they are able to hold their own against the individual without any help from their male partners.
    I know one female cop who pulled over a guy for a DUI. He was apparently a very tall man and when he realized the cop was a female, he told her he could easily snap her neck and leave her where no one could find her. Most women could be intimidated by a comment like this but the cop responded by saying she could easily shoot him in the balls and make it look like an accident. After that response, the guy ended up doing as she said. This example shows me that even if a job is in a male dominated area, if a woman really wants to do something, they should not let what society says stop them. Women can’t wait for others to accept us into their little club of power and leadership, he have to work to get their ourselves.

  4. I completely agree that this is a result of social learning theory! I learned about social learning in my comm and gender class last semester and that is the first thing that popped into my mind as I was reading this. I think that many women are raised to believe that they are supposed to be “lady-like” and not resort to physical violence or aggression, while young boys are praised for exhibiting more aggressive behaviors. As we grow older, we start to internalize these things and it’s really hard to break out of that mentality once it’s engraved into our brains. With that being said, it’s not just difficult for a woman to see herself as a law enforcer, but it also makes it difficult for other people to see women as law enforcers because they have that stereotype of “women as being weaker” engraved into their brains as well. As always, this just seems to stem back to the fact that society has stereotypes of what people should be like and it is almost impossible to break those stereotypes when they are so wide-spread.

  5. Although I believe that society plays a major role in whether or not women join law enforcement; I do not think that it is as present today as it was in the past. What I mean by that is, I do not think that law enforcement looks down on women who are interested in these positions; it is women themselves who don’t believe they can do it. Women feel that they are not capable of being aggressive, arresting someone, being violent at times and dealing with some of the hardcore cases that come from law enforcement. As young children women are taught to be more domestic and expected to act and communicate a certain way, as a result they begin to internalize those thoughts and actions into who they are as a person. Women then become comfortable with being what society tells them to be because that means they are accepted within society. Breaking away from that is scary and difficult and something that women just do not want to face.

    However, I do think that the media is helping to address that issue. In almost every detective, law enforcement show there is a strong woman and man who are partners in solving the murders or cases that arise. The media portrays these women as strong, independent, powerful and in a good light. The media portrays these women as being successful and well respected in their field. What is interesting however is that while the media portrays women as a positive influence within the law enforcement field, the main women characters do not have families or serious relationships. The women are portrayed as being successful professionally but alone with their personal lives. This whole double bind with ambition.That could be what women pay attention to, and that idea scares them and prevents them from wanting to be apart of the force as well. This is an interesting topic though and one that I will be on the look out for within my Forensic Psychology course I am taking this semester.

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