Adolescent Males: Masculinity and Offending

Joe Yates, BA, MA/DipSW
Community and Criminal Justice Division
De Montfort University
Leicester, England



It is sex status which along with youth is the strongest predictor of criminal involvement. Men and Boys perpetrate more conventional crimes and the more serious of these crimes than women and girls. Sex difference explains more variance across nations and cultures than any other variable. In short, women commit fewer crimes of all types and proportionately fewer serious and violent crimes than men do (Collier 1998:2).


In this paper I will explore the impact of critical theories of masculinities on criminology and what they offer in developing criminological understanding of why crime is disproportionately committed by young males. In doing this, the paper will focus on the specific crime of TWOC or what has become euphemistically known as TWOCKing1, a crime overwhelmingly committed by young males2. Research into masculinities and the ‘problems’ that boys cause for their communities, themselves and the State has flourished in recent years (Connell 2000). Central to this has been an increased ‘problematisation’ of boys’ behaviour and a focus on their involvement in ‘problematic’ behaviour such as criminal activity. Indeed, the stark gender differential in recorded criminality has led to questions being raised regarding why young men commit proportionately more crime and more serious crimes than their female counterparts. Further, being male has also been identified as a ‘risk factor’ in the pathways into adolescent criminality (Graham and Bowling 1995).


In order to explore the contribution of critical theories of masculinities to criminology this paper will first offer a critical review how some traditional criminological perspectives have sought to explain the criminality of young males and the extent to which they have taken for granted the male nature of offending. In this section I do not intend to provide a comprehensive history of criminology which can be found elsewhere (for example, see Garland 1997). I will, however, discuss the extent to which traditional criminological approaches have normalised the maleness of offending behaviour, taking for granted the highly gendered nature of much criminal action and as such have rendered gender invisible3.


The paper will then go on to explore how applying critical theories of masculinities to criminal action can assist the criminologist in identifying the meanings behind the criminality of young males. In doing this, the paper will also consider issues relating to youth, unemployment, elongation of adolescence and the physical and symbolic marginalisation of working-class young men. The paper will conclude by considering how a gendered understanding of criminality can assist not only in understanding the criminality of young males but also the gendered responses of the State to crime and ‘antisocial behaviour’ in working-class communities.


Traditional Criminology


Criminology has been marked by a long history of masculine bias, yet men as men and boys as boys have never been the object of criminological enterprise. While criminological theory and research have concentrated on men and boys as the normal subjects, the gendered man and boy like women, has been relatively hidden (Messerschmidt 1997:14-15).


Criminology has historically focused its analytical gaze firmly on working-class men and boys and their involvement in criminality (Box 1983). However, despite this focus, criminology has failed to consider men and boys as gendered subjects but rather has taken for granted that crime is a ‘male’ activity. This has arguably served to ensure that the highly gendered nature of criminality has been rendered invisible and that the gendered nature of criminal action has been taken for granted. This can be clearly identified when we critically analyse the traditional criminological approaches of early Positivism and Marxism.




Early theorists from the positivist school, such as Lombroso and Ferrero (1895), employed a crude biogenic determinist model, which noted the role of biology in criminality and the biological sex of many criminals (male). However, they ignored the importance of the social construction of gender in relation to femininities or masculinities. Thus, they focused on the biological attributes of being male and female but ignored the social construction of gender in shaping the behavior or criminality of males and females. Lombroso did discuss biological sex in his research, and pointed towards ‘masculine’ features such as the mesomorphic body shape and body hair which he claimed to be indicators of criminal propensity. However, he ignored the socially constructed nature of gender by focusing on the physical credentials and attributes of males as a measuring stick of what is masculine. This operationalisation of masculinity in terms of biological attributes not only belied the crude biological determinism at the heart of the Lombrosian approach, but also drew on an essentialist concept of the criminality of the (biological) male. Indeed, this approach highlighted the taken-for-granted nature of male criminality.


In his analysis of female offenders, Lombroso identified male attributes such as ‘hairy arms’ and ‘hairy backs’ as indications of female criminality. Thus, through the application of a crude biological reductionism, early positivists, including Lombroso, served to normalise the maleness of criminality in relation to biological sex but also questioned the very sex of female offenders by ‘measuring’ their ‘criminality’ in relation to evidence of male physical credentials and presenting the female criminal as more male than female. By ignoring the role of gender and its social construction this contributed to the evolution of criminology as a discipline, which ignored, sidelined and medicalised female offenders, associating them with perceived biological masculine credentials.4




Classical Marxist explanations of crime focused on class inequality, alienation and Marx’s emiseration hypothesis to explain the high incidence of working-class criminality (Chambliss and Mankoff, 1976). The Marxist school moved away from the biogenic focus of early positivist criminology towards developing a structuralist socio-genic approach which firmly located analysis of crime and criminal action within the socio-structural and economic context, where the majority of its perpetrators (the working-class) were located (Pearce 1976). Marxist criminologists argued that crime must be understood in relation to the political economy and in relation to the effects of structural disadvantage and exploitation, endemic in industrial capitalist society. Some theorists even viewed working-class youth crime as a symbolic rebellion against the dominant views of an oppressive and exploitative system (Humphries 1981), and have thus beencriticised for allegedly romanticising criminal activity.


However, Marxist theorists offered no analysis of why males offended more than females even when females, occupied the same structural, class-based position.  This can be clearly illustrated by critically analyzing Merton’s (1938) study, ‘Social Structure and Anomie’, in which he looked at class, structural disadvantage and economic ‘strain’ to explain why working-class individuals committed more crime than their middle-class counterparts. He argued that crime offered an alternative and more easily accessible route to material rewards for the working-classes, for whom the institutional and socially acceptable routes to material success (the goals of western industrial capitalism) were restricted, and as such crime was a response to economic strain. However, Merton and his Marxist counterparts were largely blind to gender and offered no explanation of why more young males chose the alternative route of crime to achieve material rewards than working-class females. Indeed, some feminist commentators have argued that if we use ‘strain’ as a theoretical framework to understand criminality it should be working-class females who become more heavily involved in crime, as their hardship and experience of strain is heightened by the effects of sexism and patriarchy.


Although the analysis provided above is limited to Marxist and Positivist schools of criminology, the extent to which the ’maleness’ of crime has been taken for granted can be clearly seen. If we explore other theoretical positions, such as interactionist or sub cultural theorists or later approaches such as new right and new left realism, we can also see a similar taken-for-granted focus on male offending and a similar failure to explore the extent to which gender and the construction of masculinity play a role in the criminality of young males. Thus it could be argued that criminology has displayed its own masculine credentials and betrayed itself as an andocentric, patriarchal, and a classically ‘masculinist’ discipline (Collier 1998:4).


Allen (1989) has argued that explaining the gender differential in offending rates should be set as the litmus test of the efficacy of criminology as a discipline. However, he also notes that if this is the case criminology would fail the test spectacularly. As recently as 1993, Campbell (1993) argued that the great unspoken of the crime angst in Britain during the 1980s and 1990s was that it was a phenomenon of masculinity and that even in the early 1990’s the gendered nature of male criminality still remained invisible in both popular cultural discourses and within criminology.


Critical Theories of Masculinities


In order to understand the role of masculinities in crime, it has been argued that a theory which acknowledges the highly gendered nature of criminality must be employed, breaking away from the gender-blind nature of traditional criminology (Jefferson 1997). However, masculinity should not be used over inclusively as a concept (Jefferson 1997), as there is a need to consider the extent to which other social forces, such as class, power, status, poverty, social exclusion, sexuality, race, and ethnicity also play a role in the complex interplay of factors which underpins criminal behavior and gives it meaning.  In this section, I will firstly explore the development of critical theories of masculinity: how they have been utilised within criminology and how they can be employed to identify the meanings behind working-class male youths’ delinquency.


The contribution of feminism was central to the development of theories of masculinity in criminology. It is argued that feminism has contributed to the development of criminology in four main ways (Smith 1995). Firstly, feminism has identified that criminology has neglected offending women (Heidensohn 1997). Secondly, feminism identified how the criminal justice system had discriminated against women (Carlen and Worrall 1987). Thirdly, feminism has brought into focus ‘hidden’ offences, such as domestic violence and child abuse (Dobash and Dobash, 1979). Fourthly, feminism identified the need for gender as a concept to be utilised in order to explore the role that the social construction of masculinity has played in the criminal behaviour of males. 


Developments within criminology in relation to critical theories of masculinities have taken longer than in other disciplines such as sociology (Benyon 2002), arguably due to the masculine bias of the discipline (Collier 1998). However, once developed within criminology, critical theorists:

attempted to provide a framework for thinking about gender, both as masculinities and femininities, which uses this appreciation to explore how crime reflects, reinforces and reproduces wider gender structures in society (Stanko 1995:1).

Rather than male criminals being seen as the ‘norm’, and hence the highly gendered nature of crime being taken for granted, critical theories of masculinities raised questions regarding how men construct masculinities (Messerschmidt 1994) and the role that criminal acts play in the construction and accomplishment of gender roles. Thus, rather than male criminality being taken for granted, these theorists focused on how men achieve masculinity and how gender is socially constructed that predisposes men towards crime. Critical theorits also asked what role does society play in socially constructing a model of masculinity which lends itself to criminal activity and what relationship is there between age, class, gender, and crime. These studies have shed critical analytic light onto the salience of varieties of crime in accomplishing gendered identities exploring the role of gender in a variety of criminal activities, ranging from the zoot suiters (Messerschmidt 1997), delinquent activities of schoolboys (Messerschmidt 1997), wife batterers (Hearn 1998), sex offenders (Cowburn et al. 1992), car thieves (Jefferson 1992), and violent rapists (Jefferson 1997). Critical theories of masculinity have also shed light on male prisoners (Sim 1994), the behaviour of the police (Campbell 1993, Westermoreland 2001),and the behaviour of professionals within the criminal justice system, such as probation officers (Annisson 2001) and social workers (Hearn 2001).


One of the central theorists in the development of critical theories of masculinity was Connell (1987). Connell utilised the Gramscian concept of hegemony (Gramsci 1971), which has been defined as:

The power exercised by one social group over another - … - the ideological/cultural domination of one class by another, achieved by ‘engineering consensus’ through controlling the content of cultural forms and major institutions (Jary and Jary 1995:279)

Gramsci argued that the institutions of civil society played a crucial role in producing ideological hegemony and ensuring the domination of powerful ideas which are conducive to the smooth running and maintenance of the social order. Connell utlised Gramsci's concept of hegemony in developing the concept of hegemonic masculinity and related this to an overaching powerful idea of what it is to be male, which encompasses definitions of acceptable ways of being a man in particular situations and particular historical junctures. He saw hegemonic masculinity5 embodied in many different forms in society but, as a whole, it represented the patriarchal ideal of manliness. As such, it subjugated and oppressed women and subordinated and marginalised masculinities such as gay, working-class and black masculinities6. Thus, he conceptualised hegemonic masculinity as a powerful idea of what being male is and how men should behave with this idea being reinforced and reproduced by the state and civil institutions through ideological and sometimes repressive methods. Accordingly the ideals of hegemonic masculinity represent the ideals of manliness and masculinity which society expects young men to aspire to.


Some of the attributes of hegemonic masculinity can be seen in Lloyd’s identification of what it means to be male. He notes these as being big, inexpressive, responsible, hard, experienced, independent, and cannot cry (or show emotion) (Lloyd 1985) They can also be seen in David and Branons’ (1976) dated but often quoted study, in which they identify four key components which make up the traditional male sex role: No sissy stuff, Be a big wheel, Be a sturdy oak, Give ‘em hell. Whilst I would not argue that these provide a proscriptive list of ‘what it is to be male’ or indeed hegemonic masculinity (which is much too fluid a concept to be defined in such a narrow way) it does provide a helpful insight into the aspects of being male which are associated with hegemonic masculinity. They also begin to illustrate that living up to the attributes of hegemonic masculinity, which young men are expected to aspire to, can be an unachievable goal and a disempowering experience.


Connell (1995) argued that masculinity was never fixed and could not be viewed in the singular as ‘masculinity’ but rather must be viewed as ‘masculinities’. Connell (1987) identified three broad categories of masculinities complicit: marginal and protest. He saw which mode of masculinity an individual male constructed as being directly linked to their positions within the hierarchies of class, race and gender, thus highlighting how men construct their gendered selves in relation to power hierarchies and the resources which are available to them.


Messerschmidt (1994) drew on what he referred to as Connell’s ‘creative analytical synthesis’ and employed it in order to highlight how crimes can be used as resources for structurally disadvantaged young men to accomplish the ideals of hegemonic masculinity, whilst also challenging its emasculating, patriarchal  authority. He identified how working-class males, due to their disadvantaged socio-structural position, were more inclined to construct an oppositional or protest form of masculinity, which reworked the goals of hegemonic masculinity in an achievable and resource appropriate way. Indeed, utilising Messerschmidt’s and Connell’s analytical tools, it could be argued that young men who engage in crime such as TWOC are involved in a form of protest masculinity which reworks hegemonic masculine ‘ideals’ in an achievable albeit oppositional manner. Further, Campbell (1993) argues that young working-class men use crimes such as TWOC as a resource to defy their powerless position, defying the emasculating authority of hegemonic masculinity in the form of wider society and the police. As Messerschmidt also argues:


Boys will be boys depending upon their position in social structures and therefore upon their access to power and resources . . . young men situationally accomplish masculinity in response to their socially structured circumstances; indeed varieties of youth crime serve as a suitable resource for doing gender (Messerschmidt 1994:82)


Thus, in ‘doing gender’, young men construct their masculine gendered identities in relation to their positions within societal structures. As such, varieties of youth crime can act as particularly salient methods for doing gender or ‘situationally accomplishing’ gender roles. It is argued that it is within these complex relationships between socio-structural factors and individual constructions of gender within societal hierarchies that masculinities are constructed and where the gendered meanings associated with male youth crime can be found. I will now consider three issues which I would argue affect the construction of young working-class masculinities: youth, employment, and physical and symbolic marginalisation.




Most individuals convicted of TWOC are young and male (Kilpatrick 1988). Adolescence is undoubtedly a difficult period in the life cycle as it is a period of transition when young people tentatively move into their adult gender roles. Jenkins (1994) argues that there is a dichotomy between being young and male, which at its root is problematic. This can be illustrated by employing Lloyd’s model (below), which represents the process of adolescence for males as a one of proving the hegemonic masculine credentials associated with being an adult male and the denial of feminine qualities associated with being a male child. This model can be useful in exploring the efficacy of critical theories of masculinities in deconstructing the criminality of young working-class males engaging in TWOC (Lloyd 1985):



BOY                                                                    MAN                                                   

Small                                                                    Big

Emotional                                                             Inexpressive

Irresponsible                  Proving                           Responsible

Vulnerable                                                            Hard

Inexperienced              (Contradiction)                 Experienced

Dependent                                                           Independent

Can cry                                                                 Can’t cry



Lloyd’s model identifies that youth as a period in the life cycle is difficult for young males and is charactersised by a contradictory transition from boy to man, with males being required to prove themselves in opposition to the feminine qualities associated with the ‘private’ world of childhood and the family. The process of disproving these feminine qualities and proving male credentials is the result of the complex dynamic of gender socialisation with the values associated with hegemonic masculinity being central to the process (Connell 1995).


How adolescent males experience this contradiction and prove their masculine credentials can be directly related to their positions in the social and economic structures in society. As Schwendlinger and Schwendlinger argue, both middle-class and working-class boys: marshal gender and class resources in their struggle for power and status in the adolescent world (Schwendlinger and Schwendlinger, cited in Messerschmidt 1994). Access to resources differs, in relation to young men’s positions within the socio-structure of society, as well as in relation to their positions within the hierarchies of race and sexuality, which in turn affects the process of constructing their adolescent masculine identities. Thus, middle-class male adolescents in the Schwendlinger and Schwendlinger study had the ‘cultural capital’ (Bourdieu 1977) and access to resources to construct a masculine identity which was complicit with hegemonic masculinity. This reflects their capability to achieve hegemonic masculine ideals through institutions such as schooling (Messerschmidt 1994). By contrast the working-class male youths in the study were more likely to reject schooling (Willis 1977) and construct an oppositional masculinity, which reworked the ideals of hegemonic masculinity in an achievable manner. This, it is argued, is more likely to lend itself to delinquency (Messerschmidt, 1994), the subversion of authority in school (Willis 1977), and varieties of youthful delinquency to which the label ‘youth crime’ can be successfully applied (Campbell 1993).


For working-class young men, varieties of youth crime such as TWOC can provide a method of situationally accomplishing gender roles and also challenging their marginalised and disadvantaged position within society. Indeed, youth crime can act as a method of situationally accomplishing masculinity, thus providing young men with the opportunity to prove their masculine credentials, their ‘hardness’, their willingness to be a ‘big wheel’, and their fearlessness in taking excessive risks. Thus for the marginalized male youths crimes such as TWOC can offer a method of proving themselves in the face of the contradiction of boy/man by utilising a method which is achievable and employing the resources available to them.


Messerschmidt (1994) points out that the male adolescent process of proving masculinity (across class boundaries), although affected by structural location (class), lends itself to delinquency and anti-social behavior because of its very nature. This is the result of young males, regardless of class, being in a process of proving their masculinity and resorting to excessively macho methods of doing this. On the basis of Chambliss’s study, Messerschmidt identifies that both aspirational/complicit (middle-class) and oppositional/protest (working-class) constructions of masculinity employ delinquency to counter the emasculating effect of hegemonic masculinity in schooling and adolescence. However, although their process of proving masculinity and ‘doing gender’ employs delinquency, it takes different forms.7


It could be argued that, in considering male youths the ideals and lofty heights of hegemonic masculinity are problematic in their achievement due to young male’s position in the life cycle and the contradiction (Lloyd 1985) inherent in the status of boy/child as opposed to the man/adult. Indeed this contradiction between boy and adult has often been culturally signposted through the initiation into paid employment, an issue which will now be explored further.


Unemployment and the Elongation of Adolescence


Central to the construction of working-class masculinities within western industrial capitalist states has been employment and the breadwinner role. As early as 1933, theorists acknowledged the importance of employment and the role of the breadwinner in the construction of adult working-class masculine identity. This has also had an impact on young working-class masculinities and their approach to schooling, employment and their attitude to authority (for further discussion see Willis 1977). Both Bakke (1933) and Komarovsky (1940) illustrated how unemployment acted as a challenge to the male breadwinner role and subsequently a challenge to the unemployed males’ self-esteem.


The role of the breadwinner can be understood in relation to hegemonic masculinity, specifically with regard to the traditional discourses which identify the male as the wage earner or breadwinner who goes out to work to earn a ‘living’, and also in regard to patriarchal ideology within western industrial capitalist nations, which defines males in relation to their role in economic production. As such, this is a central foundation in the construction of individual masculine identities. Nowhere does this have more effect than in the working-class communities, where individuals are defined by the State and popular discourses in respect to their work or lack of it.


Campbell (1993) critically explored the effects of unemployment on the construction of male identities and unemployment’s relationship with crime and the process of maturing masculinities. She argued that Britain had been undergoing an extended economic emergency since the 1970s, in which traditionally ascribed gender roles had been eroded, along with the heavy industry that had served to underpin them. This process of deindustrialisation, associated with the decline of the manufacturing base, led to a reduction in traditionally male working-class employment opportunities for young males.


Campbell (1993) and Messerschmidt (1997) have argued that  deindustrialization and structural unemployment in working-class communities have threatened traditional working-class constructions of masculinity and have contributed to a ‘crisis’ in masculinity. It is argued by Brown and Scase (1991) and by Willis (1990) that deindustrialisation and the subsequent structural unemployment have hit working-class young people disproportionately hard, particularly working-class men. Thereby obstructing paths to adult statuses, identities and activities. The Audit Commission’s ‘Misspent Youth’ Report (1996) stated that more than  250,000 18-25 year olds are long-term unemployed and are detached from productive engagement in employment. Thus, in socially excluded working-class communities the traditional adolescent route from school to work, economic maturity and the traditionally ascribed male role of worker and breadwinner has become unobtainable for most and drastically elongated for the majority.


Morgan and Hearn (1990) argue that unemployment in working-class areas has disrupted the nexus which links time, work and gender. It has also elongated adolescence and the problems associated with it. It could be argued that young working-class men have reacted to this disruption by resorting to macho responses to the disempowering and emasculating experience of being frozen in a perpetual limbo of economic boyhood. Campbell (1993) argues that these oppositional masculine responses have led to young men becoming increasingly involved in delinquency and varieties of youth crime such as TWOC as a response to socio-structural stresses. Disenfranchised, politically and economically powerless young men are, it is argued, situationally accomplishing masculinity in an oppositional manner. They are seeking to prove themselves as men in the context of the hegemonic masculine ideals, which are perpetuated by society such as power, material success, status, and dominance. However, due to their lack of resources to achieve this, due to their marginalised socio-structural location, they are arguably using varieties of youth crime in a construction of perverse social capital to define and express their masculine identities


Crimes such as TWOC can act as a method of compensating for the lack of traditional routes to traditionally ascribed gender roles. In applying a gendered analysis, TWOC can be considered as expressive and instrumental forms of crime, both of which serve as methods to symbolically and physically accomplish masculinity. As an expressive crime, TWOC must be considered in the context of the powerlessness of the young men involved, their lack or status or respect, and their level of marginalisation and social exclusion within their own communities and within wider society. These young men have been demonised and dehumanized, referred to not even as ‘underdogs’ but as ‘underwolves’ (Wilkinson and Mulgan 1995). By engaging in TWOC, it could be argued that they are ‘doing gender’, employing the resources available to them to achieve masculinity in the morass of an enforced elongation of economic boyhood. Indeed, as Campbell (1993) notes, The working-class boys stranded in economically marginalised communities on Estates next to large cities may have no jobs, no income no car, no responsibilities and no prospects but what they do have is a reputation (Campbell 1993:31).


Although these young men have no work it could be argued that they are accomplishing masculinity through their engagement in varieties of youth crime, as a method of situationally accomplishing gender roles which historically they would have achieved through legitimate employment. In the absence of paid employment TWOC can act as a method for asserting masculinity, achieving status and respect, and establishing the lads’ reputation as men. Within their subculture, TWOC acts as a method of obtaining status, respect and kudos in their search for masculine identities, all of which were rendered unobtainable by the economic crisis in communities which have been abandoned by free market economics.  In fact, TWOC is widely regarded to take place within a subculture and represents a social activity, which is itself stratified in relation to skills. These skills which are needed to successfully engage in TWOC and gain access to the car  are referred to as ‘hot wiring’ and ‘black boxing’, while other skills relating to driving and ‘performing’ are referred to as ‘burn outs’, ‘donuts’ and ‘handbrake turns’. Most TWOCkers have a keen interest in cars and in developing their driving skills, and displaying these skills can confer respect, status and prestige, all of which traditionally may have been achieved through paid employment.


TWOC also allows illegitimate access to the materialist reward system through stealing goods from the TWOCked vehicles, such as mobile phones, alloy wheels, wheel trims, or other car parts, all of which are readily saleable, essentially providing an instrumental or economic function. Thus TWOC as a variety of youth crime can be seen as providing both expressive and instrumental functions in relation to filling the void left by the demise of the traditional masculine breadwinner role.


Physical and symbolic marginalisation


TWOC is an activity which is committed across the England and Wales. However, as Kilpatrick (1988) notes, the archetypal TWOCker is a young male, under 21, who originates from socially deprived areas which are concentrated in and around large cities. Kilpatrick’s observation is borne out by other research, such as McCaghy et al. (1977) and the widely publicised correspondences between indices of deprivation, poverty and incidents of TWOC (as well as other varieties of youth crime). Many of these communities which suffer high indices of deprivation and crime are slum clearance estates. Campbell (1993) described one of these estates in its capacity as one of ‘Britain’s dangerous places’; she noted the high incidence of TWOCking on these estates, and how they were socially excluded, located physically on the edge of big cities and also symbolically located on the edge of society, i.e. these estates are both symbolically and physically excluded. Campbell described one such estate as:

One of the demonised domains of the North East. It was a throw away place, imagined as akin to Botany Bay, a place to which folks had been transported. Politicians representing the agreeable townships dotted along the north coast saw it as a blot, a place where people didn’t pay their rates and didn’t give them their votes, and therefore didn’t deserve their attention. ‘Pigsville’, ‘The Bronx’, ‘Vietnam’: that is how it was known as its reputation as a war zone (Campbell, 1993:48).

MacDonald (1997), in describing similar areas, noted how they have high incidences of unemployment and a high level of social exclusion. They suffer from poor housing, poor health care, high mortality rates, and high crime rates, are largely disenfranchised from any decision-making regarding their own communities, and are policed in a way that is likened to military occupation (Lea and Young 1994).


It would appear that crimes which have an expressive and an instrumental component, such as TWOC, within areas such as these can be understood as a method for young males to symbolically regain control both physically (spatially) and symbolically over ‘their’ space. As Hayward notes, the physically and symbolically excluded estates become ‘performance zones’, and it could be argued that these are highly gendered in nature, as it is predominantly young men who engage in this type of behaviour.

The run-down estate or ghetto becomes a paradoxical space: on one hand it symbolizes the systematic powerlessness so often felt by the individuals who live in such environments, and on the other the sink estate serves as a site of risk consumption that provides numerous illegal avenues. The ghetto becomes a performance zone with displays of risk, excitement, masculinity and even “carnivalesque pleasure” (Hayward 2002:86).

Campbell (1993) makes a similar observation of the ‘performing’ of young male TWOCkers on estates such as Blackbird Leys in Oxfordshire. This revolved around young males stealing cars which were then driven at high speeds around the estate. In applying a gendered analysis, this could  arguably be understood as an assertion of masculine power, control, skill, and dominance – employing one of the most potent symbols of consumerism and masculine prowess: the car. Indeed, ‘Performing’ through TWOC can be understood as a masculinised spectacle and revolves around control and power/dominance of space in both a physical and symbolic manner. If we consider the situational accomplishment of masculinity as performative in its own right (whether in the workplace (Fielding 1994), on the sports field (Connell 2002) or the classroom (Mac and Ghaill 1994), we must acknowledge the role of the situational performance and accomplishment of gender roles in crimes such as TWOC. Campbell eloquently describes one such a performance on Blackbird Leys in 1992:

The master of joyriding did indeed bring great joy to his audience, who savoured the chagrin of the officers doomed to do nothing but watch man tango with machine. Rude and red, the Maestro was a perfect partner, it had been selected from the common chorus, but it was strong, it could swing. It was utterly recognisable as a mainstream motor – and that made the performance witty as well as piquant. The don made the car more than a Maestro when he tossed it into a handbrake turn, hit the horn and swept into the wings, to safety. It was not the car’s status, it was the Don’s performance that mattered (Campbell 1993:252).

Physically the ‘performance’ such as the one described above provides young men involved in TWOC with control over the space they live in and the machine which carries them. It is power in an environment where they are rendered powerless. Indeed, it a stylistic display of dominance by dispossessed young men emasculated by their own powerlessness, as  ‘Don’ argued when interviewed by Campbell;:

 that was to show that we ain't fucking around, we’re doing what we want (Campbell 1993:255).

This assertion identifies the centrality of power and stylistic rebellion of the disempowered ‘Don’ who had empowered himself through crime, he had asserted his masculine credentials in an oppositional manner, flaunting the authorities in open view of his own community. The young men, such as ‘Don’, who are located in the economic ‘hinterlands of society’ in communities which have been abandoned by the free market of neo-monetarist economic policies (Campbell 1993) and are viewed as ‘idle thieving bastards‘ are still members of society albeit on the edge. Indeed despite being members of the ‘repressed’ (Bauman, 1988) we can see from Campbell’s observations that they still share some of the more masculine ideals held by the advertisers and that they were employing TWOC as a delinquent solution to the frustration and inequalities they face (Moore 1990:8).




TWOC is a crime which is committed on the whole by male working-class adolescents. In order to understand the reasons behind this we must acknowledge the dynamic and complex relationships between class, age and individual constructions of masculinities. By acknowledging that crimes such as TWOC can act as a resource to accomplish masculinity and ‘do gender’ we can begin to understand why TWOCking is such a highly gendered activity, and why it is disproportionably committed by working-class adolescent males. Indeed, it is no coincidence that TWOC involves the car, which is argued by Jenkins to be ‘a symbol of masculinity [which] has taken on a cultural significance out of proportion to the reality‘ (Jenkins 1994:21) an observation which is borne out by Campbell’s assertion that ‘joy riders are nothing if not creatures of car culture‘ (Campbell 1993:263).


Critical theories of masculinities provide us with useful analytical tools which, when sensitive to structural issues, can help us understand how individual young men construct masculinity in a way which employs specific delinquent solutions to ‘protest’ (Connell 1987) and ‘oppose’ (Messerschmidt 1994) their subordination. TWOC, along with other forms of delinquency, acts as a resource for these disenfranchised, disempowered, economically surplus, and socially excluded male youths, to defy the emasculating powerlessness of their position in society. Indeed, it could be argued that this is not surprising considering the portrayal of machismo in the media, which celebrates macho, ‘brutal’ and ‘butch’ solutions to life’s problems (Campbell, 1993).



1 TWOC refers to taking a motor vehicle without the owner’s consent and contravenes the Theft Act 1968 (Section 12) (Home Office, 1968). There is an important distinction between TWOC and Theft,  TWOC is not Theft as there is no intention to permanently deprive the owner of the motor vehicle. Despite continued government attempts to censure the term (stating there is no joy in Joyriding) TWOCking is still often referred to as Joyriding.


2 In England and Wales in 2002/03 there were 15,189 recorded incidents of vehicle theft (which incorporates TWOC) committed by 10-17 year olds. Of these, 14,115 were committed by males and 1 074 committed by females (Youth Justice Board, 2003).


3Which has arguably limited the efficacy of criminology as a discipline (Heidensohn 1997).


4A similar but more recent example can be seen in Glueck and Glueck’s study (1950), which whilst employing a socio-genic analysis of juvenile delinquency, that considered the importance of social factors, resorted to an operationalisation of ‘masculine’ in relation to biological attributes rather than in relation to socially constructed gendered meanings.


5MacInnes (1998) argues hegemonic masculinity is best viewed as a social ideology rather than existing as the property of a person.


6Cornwall and Lindesfarne (1994) refer to these as subordinate variants.


7 It could also be argued that their respective delinquency is also viewed very differently by the Criminal Justice System and society as a whole, with the label of deviant being more successfully applied to working-class young men than to their middle-class counterparts.






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