Christine Rudell states that however laughable it may sound, she was asked to talk about keeping femininity while still earning respect as a female police officer. To be respected and accepted by the other police officers who are predominantly male, female officers often have to leave their femininity behind. Law enforcement is a field dominated by male workers. Women working in this field choose to act under work mates’ rules, therefore, taking on some masculine qualities. They do this in order to coordinate with their workmates effectively. Adopting these traits does not mean a woman has to surrender feminine traits. Indeed, it has been proposed that the world of law enforcement has enough people to knock down doors and that a different kind of police officer is what is needed (Oliver, 2012). This is the reason why I interviewed a 47-year-old black female officer who works in the St. Louis area, Missouri. She has been working in the police force for long and has had firsthand experience as a pioneering black female police officer, gradually rising through the ranks.
Since the assigning of two police officers in 1968 by the Indianapolis Police Department to patrol with fellow male colleagues, women’s entry into the police force has been on the rise. Despite the fact that the society has traditionally associated law enforcement with men, women, like men, have found aspects of law enforcement attractive and thus draw their inspiration to join from them. Among the reasons people are attracted to law enforcement are the fact that police save lives by providing first aid (to victims of shooting, road accident etc) before paramedics arrive, and help maintain peace in communities, among others. Sometimes women’s attraction to and inspiration to join law enforcement sources from a childhood experience they had. For instance, a former police officer, Seline Mascaro, was attracted to law enforcement, a third grader then, when she saw a photo of a female police officer with the captions, “I want to be a police officer when I grow up.” That was when she started pursuing the career.
An attraction to law enforcement is one thing; the recruitment process is another, especially concerning women. The fact that law enforcement had traditionally been regarded as a profession for men, because of which the recruitment process was designed with only men in mind, and it has not been changed significantly, the recruitment process may be unfair to women in some cases. The police force has not taken enough measures to reform the recruitment process in order to accommodate women (Ellison & Pino, 2012). The old methods continue to be used. What is more is that the police force sometimes considers things that are not strictly necessary for the recruitment process.
Seline Mascaro talks about her parents’ reluctance to allow her to join law enforcement because the physical standards required would be too high for her, considering that she is a woman. (She, however, successfully convinced them). Women are capable of attaining the physical requirement. Besides, modern day policing is more about negotiation and communication skills, both of which women have been proven to be better at than men. The number of female police officers continues to be low for that reason, among others. Seline Mascaro was one of the only 24 women out of the 800 recruits when she joined.
Since the start of the entry of women into the police force, the assignment of roles has been based on gender, though the practice has continues to fade away with time. When women first entered the police force at the beginning of the nineteenth century, they were assigned the jobs of prison matrons and, later, jail matrons, in England and the United States. With time, their responsibilities were extended beyond custodial work. They however continued to be assigned roles that were associated with the stereotypical traditional roles as caregivers (Schulz, 2004). As a new police officer, Seline Mascaro was offered a general duties officer position, which entails being a receptionist, problem helper and other office work. She and her fellow female officers would file reports and occurrences at the office. She complains that they were not allowed to go out in the field like their fellow male officers and, for that reason, it felt like doing housework. Over time, women in law enforcement have assumed more and more roles. For example, the first time police officers were assigned patrol roles was in 1968 in Indianapolis Police Department, four years later, a significantly high number of women were put on patrol by the Metropolitan Police Department Washington, DC, first as an ‘experiment’ (Northwestern University …, 1973). Changes have continued to take place albeit at a snail’s pace.
Women’s entry into the law enforcement has turned out to be so good for policing that it is regretted why it had to come so late. While male police officers are more likely to opt for the use of physical force in their policing, women tend to use communication, negotiation, persuasion, and convincing to deescalate violence and solve conflicts. The female police officers’ approach has been more successful than the approach used by male police officers. The use of physical force has recently resulted in the deaths of criminal suspects at the hands of male police officers in the United States, the aftermath of each of which has been demonstrations, riots, and the loss of trust between the police and the communities. Female police executives are more flexible, emotionally independent, self assertive, self confident, proactive, and creative than their male counterparts who on the other hand, are more authoritarian and prejudiced than the women studied (Price, 1974). Seline Mascaro agrees that women are more emotionally intelligent than men are and for that reason, female police officers understand many circumstances better than male police officers do.
It is acknowledged that women can handle cases as well as men but there are some cases that would be handled better by women than men. An important situation is when a woman has been sexually assaulted or, worse, raped. Being a woman, the female police officer would understand the plight of the victim better and be quick to take the necessary measures in the most proper order. Seline Mascaro said that her first response to a situation that involved the rape of a woman by her ex-husband and two of his friends was to take the woman to a local hospital and make sure she got the medical attention and got well, before pursuing the sex offenders.
Unfortunately, just like in any other profession, female police officers experience difficulties in at the workplace. Two major issues that affect women are issues of maternal nature and sexual harassment. Seline Mascaro gives an account of how she had trouble at work when she was expectant. That was the time when she found out how demanding her job was. Her request for a maternity leave was granted several months into the pregnancy and she was required to report a few weeks after giving birth. In addition, she remembers that some of her female colleagues worked through their pregnancy and a few of them even gave birth at work. It also found it challenging to juggle between parenting and working. Another problem female police officers face is sexual harassment and discrimination. Some studies have shown that 68% to 86% of female police officers have reported sexual harassment by their male counterparts (Dowler & Arai, 2008). Most of the police officers in the higher ranks in the police force are male. For that reason, reports of such complaints are never given the seriousness they deserve. Seline Mascaro also points out the problem of gender in the work place-some of her fellow female police officers exhibit inferiority complex; some men lament working with them; and other men give them preferential treatment just because they are women.
Rising among the ranks in the police force is something that happens more easily to male officers than female officers. The domination of male police officers in the higher ranks may be attributed to the fact that the proportion of men in the police force is far higher than women. However, there has not been a significant rise in the number of women in the higher ranks with the increase in the number of women joining law enforcement as would be expected. Most of the male counterparts with whom Seline Mascaro was recruited into the police force at the time have risen unbelievably higher and faster up the ranks than female police officers, she says. which is in agreement with Dick and Metcalfe’s empirical analysis that shows that a “comparison the proportion of female police officers achieving promotion relative to men shows that even with similar years of service in the police they are much less likely to be promoted” (2007, p. 94). One of the reasons could be because it is those in the higher ranks that make decisions on promotion. Because they are predominantly male, they are likely to favor fellow men. The fact that there are disproportionately more men than women in the higher ranks of the police force, means that men, obviously, earn more than women do.
Frankly speaking, women are still not equal to men in the police force and something can and should be done to improve their state in the police. Being a woman and having served in law enforcement, Seline Mascaro believes that it is necessary that something be done to improve the state of women in the police because women, arguably, are better than men are. As police officers, there is no reason why they should not be equal. Among her suggestions are that the constitution be amended to allow women access the same privileges, promotion opportunities, rights and exposures as it does for male officers. Thus, changes in the general welfare of female police officers should also be advocated for.
Agencies, E. Recruiting, & Retaining Women: A Self-Assessment Guide for Law Enforcement.
Price, B. R. (1974). A study of leadership strength of female police executives. Journal of Police Science & Administration.
Dowler, K., & Arai, B. (2008). Stress, gender and policing: the impact of perceived gender discrimination on symptoms of stress. International Journal of Police Science and Management, 10(2), 123-135.
Dick, G., & Metcalfe, B. (2007). The progress of female police officers? An empirical analysis of organisational commitment and tenure explanations in two UK police forces. International Journal of Public Sector Management, 20(2), 81-100.
Oliver, Patrick (2012, May n.d.). Law Enforcement Publications and Conferences. Challenges & Recommendations for the Aspiring Women Police Leaders.
Ellison, G., & Pino, N. (2012). Globalization, police reform and development: Doing it the Western way?. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.
Northwestern University (Evanston, Ill.)., & International Association of Chiefs of Police. (1973). Journal of police science and administration. Gaithersburg, Md.: International Association of Chiefs of Police.