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  • Gender, Justice and Welfare: Bad Girls in Britain, 1900–1950
  • Penny Tinkler
Gender, Justice and Welfare: Bad Girls in Britain, 1900–1950. By Pamela Cox ( Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. x plus 228 pp.).

This book explores the development of the juvenile justice system 1900-1950 in England and Wales. Concentrating on girls, Cox maps out and explains how they came to be defined as 'problems' and how they were subsequently treated in the child welfare system. Based on a thoughtful and critical assessment of a wealth of sources including government reports, administrative records, case files, letters, autobiographies and contemporary academic studies, Cox establishes that a consideration of gender is essential to understanding the workings of juvenile justice.

Cox locates the discovery and treatment of 'problem' girls in the context of the redefinition of childhood and adolescence that occurred in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. She demonstrates how new ways of understanding [End Page 1195] youth prompted new ways of classifying girls' behaviour: "child welfare policies... contributed to the construction of new kinds of girls by redefining vulnerability, rediagnosing waywardness and reifying adolescence as a period of dependence" (p.4). The reformed juvenile justice system was, in this context, a response to fears about the conditions of modern girlhood; there were concerns about the effects of poverty and deprivation and, also, anxieties about the working girls' increased independence and affluence.

Youth crime has traditionally been seen as a masculine phenomenon because of the low rates of delinquency amongst girls relative to boys—annually, girls accounted for only five per cent of cases in the juvenile courts between 1910 and 1950. Cox argues, however, that the low number of girls in the twentieth-century juvenile justice system should not be interpreted as evidence that the policing of girls was a minor social concern. Prosecution rates do not convey adequately girls' involvement with the juvenile justice system.

Cox demonstrates that, arising from the workings of 'gendered justice', girls were less likely than boys to be treated in juvenile courts and Home Office Certified Schools. Though few girls were explicitly or formally charged with sexual offences, girls frequently came to public attention because of their 'waywardness'. This label embraced sexual delinquency as well as girls' perceived potential for sexual misconduct; both were judged by the clothes girls wore, their hairstyles, defiance of parental rules and/or association with unsuitable men. Defined neither as child or adult woman, the sexualised 'wayward' girl posed a problem for the juvenile justice system which was built around the supposed needs of children as distinct from adults. This was a key reason why the private sector retained an important place in the policing and protection of girls and was widely favoured. Cox explores in detail the partnership between the state and voluntary sectors and charts the ways Home Office schools in particular sought to reform their charges. Through attention to macro and micro processes, Cox unravels the history of the '(in)visible policing of girls' (p.7).

Whilst recognising the positive aspects of the rights afforded children by the state since the nineteenth century, Cox highlights the gendered characteristics and implications of these rights. Girls were viewed as children and as future workers and mothers, their rights and responsibilities were thereby feminised and sexualised. Conceptualisations of girls' 'needs', which underpinned their rights, focused on domesticity and their sexual health and welfare. These needs served to justify the use of private, domestic settings for the policing of 'wayward' girls and the care of girls perceived to be at risk. The tendency for girls to be treated outside the courts was not, Cox insists, a sign of leniency: "Regulation at the margins of the law was regulation without rights" (p.79). Even within Home Office Certified Schools the rights of girls were not unproblematic, arising partly from the gendered agendas which framed them. Certified Schools denied their female charges secondary education because the schools depended on girls' domestic labour. Even girls under the statutory school leaving age could be withdrawn from full-time schooling in order to undertake domestic duties. Girls who resisted this domestic regime, and/or who behaved inappropriately in other ways, could be transferred...


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pp. 1195-1197
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