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Book Reviews- Spring 2018

Lead Section Editor: Venessa Garcia
Co-Editors: Eliana Behounek, Kerry Richmond, Andrea Nichols

Rabe-Hemp, Cara E. 2018. Thriving in an All-Boys Club: Female Police and Their Fight for Equality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Reviewed by: Sarah Bannister, M.A., University of California – Riverside

Women have been working as police officers in some capacity for decades, yet women have not gained wide-ranging acceptance and respect as police officers. In both their agencies and in public, women are still met with sexism and discrimination in their work. As Rabe-Hemp describes: “women make up 13 percent of police officers in the United States, making it one of the few existing male-dominated industries left” (2018:viii). So how have women, a statistical minority in their workplace, dealt with this disparity and the work of policing itself? Rabe-Hemp tracks the entrance of women into policing and the challenges and successes of three different cohorts of female officers.

Rabe-Hemp begins with a brief timeline of women’s entry into policing, beginning in the end of the 19th century with police matrons in charge of the women and children in the police station, the policewomen of the early-to-mid 20th century mainly charged with morality crimes and job assignments more aligned with social work and caregiving, through to police women’s fight for inclusion in patrol duty in the 1960s and 1970s. At every point women were met with gender-stereotyping regarding men’s sole ability to perform ‘real’ police work, and workplace sex segregation. The remainder of the book is organized into three sections examining the experiences female officers of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s.

The first section examines the experiences of women entering the police force in the 1980s, many of whom were the first women to join their police agency. The first chapter outlines women’s reasons for joining in larger numbers: the first being the Public Lab 88-352, which forbade discrimination in hiring on the basis of sex or race; the second being Title IX, which meant that women entering the work force expected the equity they experienced in higher education to continue at their jobs; and finally, the implementation in larger agencies especially, of affirmative action policies. The second chapter within this section details the process of becoming a police officer, from pre-employment testing, the police academy, and field training, Rabe-Hemp describes how at each stage, women faced discrimination both overtly and covertly. The next chapter introduces the theoretical understandings of these initial women in policing agencies, using first, Kanter’s (1977) theory of tokenism, and then Martin’s (1980) seminal work on policewomen. The fourth chapter in this section focuses on female officer’s experiences of sexual harassment and discrimination, although some women did choose to file lawsuits against their agencies, many others instead endured the treatment often at the cost of their own well-being. The final chapter in this section describes the dangers of police-work. Although it is statistically unlikely for officers to be physically injured or killed in the line of duty, it is much more common for trauma and mental illness to go untreated due to the culture of policing which sees asking for help as a sign of weakness. This first major wave of women acting as full officers broke barriers and fought for the respect of their colleagues in a way that the next two cohorts benefitted from.

The second section focuses on female officers who joined the police force in the 1990s, women in policing had to navigate the divide of the time between zero-tolerance policing and community policing. The first chapter in this section describes the rise of community policing as an effort to remedy the negative police-community relationship. Here Rabe-Hemp cites Miller’s (1999) argument that “the same feminine-gendered traits that maintained women outside of the traditional crime-fighter model were embraced by the community policing model” (75). The next chapter in this section discusses the targeted recruitment and retention of female officers as a result of corrective action following the legal action of women in the 1980s. Rabe-Hemp identifies three major pathways to policing for women in this cohort: military, a common transition for returning soldiers given the similar structure; blue-collar roots, a group of women whose working-class position made the salary, stability, and benefits of policing attractive; and police families, where generations of officers grow up understanding the benefits and draw-backs of policing as a career. The third chapter in this section presents female officers’ fight for acceptance within the largely masculine police culture. This chapter also presents the unique struggles of women police of color, who represent a minority within a minority. The final chapter in this section outlines the trajectory of women’s promotions within policing, termed “making rank” in police agencies. Women sought fair chances at promotions, but although overt discrimination among officers declined, discriminatory promotion processes prevented their success.

Finally, the third section explores the experiences of the “career minded and college educated” female officers of the 2000s. The first chapter in this section asks whether men and women really police differently, and the theoretical explanations for why this may or may not be true. Similarly, the next chapter, entitled “women’s work,” discusses the proliferation in policing of sex-stereotyped job assignments, where female officers are predominantly pushed into work with victims. The public does identify a preference for female officers in response to victimization, however this keeps women in roles that demand emotional labor, and ultimately hurts their chance at promotion. The third chapter in this section explores the unique challenges of motherhood in policing. Pregnant officers are not treated uniformly across departments, with some women having to fight for light-duty assignments which may not be legally protected due to foggy legal precedent. The final chapter in this section examines work-life balance among women police. Police officers face unique stressors at work, which places stress on both the officer and her family, coupled with the structure of police-work – long, unpredictable hours and shift-work – mean officers need to find a way to cope. Rabe-Hemp identifies both positive and negative coping mechanisms used by female officers including speaking with a counselor or family members, trying to maintain a boundary between work and home, and negatively, isolation from family and friends, increased substance use, and domestic violence

What is the future of female police officers? Rabe-Hemp ends with a recommendation for police agencies: actively recruit a more diverse police force that more accurately represents the communities they serve, this will help to increase police legitimacy, but will also improve policing, as women police bring positive effects with them. Although Rabe-Hemp is mostly positive about the outlook for female officers, she acknowledges several major factors contributing to the underemployment and poor retention of women in policing. First, the overemphasis placed on upper-body strength in police hiring decisions, which systematically disadvantages women candidates. Second, the image of police both culturally and in the media overwhelmingly favors traditional images of police as crime-fighters who use force regularly, which reinforces the masculine image of the profession. Next, consent decrees, which in larger areas led to the unprecedented numbers of women being hired by police agencies are expiring, and once an agency is no longer required to hire women, they stop recruiting them. Yet even among agencies that hire women, retention rates are poor, which is a product of police culture which is male-dominated and exclusionary to women. Finally, as discussed previously, women look for family-friendly policies and may leave one agency to work for another that has more progressive policies regarding maternity leave, light-duty accommodation, on-site daycare, and more flexible hours. Rabe-Hemp ends by recognizing the impact these female officers have on policing, both in representation and in their disruption of the masculine bureaucracy of policing.

This book is easily readable and has strong narrative flow throughout. Rabe-Hemp makes strong and well-evidenced arguments in favor of women in policing that even those outside of the subject area can follow. Peppered throughout the book are the voices and stories of female police officers, which adds interest and authenticity. This work is also novel in its use of generation-based analyses of women in police, where many existing works only focus on more recently hired police officers. As more of an ‘insider’ to this subject, information about the methods used in data collection would have been appreciated, it was unclear as a reader how the excerpts from female officers were collected or if they were published elsewhere previously. Racial tensions between police and the public were discussed and there was a brief sub-section which discussed women of color as police officers, however, this could be expanded upon as there is existing work discussing the unique experiences of female officers of color (Texeira 2002, for example). Even with these criticisms, I believe this book is a major contribution to the study of women in policing and could be easily read and discussed by both undergraduate and graduate students in a classroom setting.


Kanter, Rosabeth Moss. 1977. Men and Women of the Corporation. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Martin, Susan. 1980. Breaking and Entering: Policewomen on Patrol. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Miller, Susan, 1999. Gender and Community Policing: Walking the Talk. Boston, MA: Northeastern University Press.

Rabe-Hemp, Cara E. 2018. Thriving in an All-Boys Club: Female Police and Their Fight for Equality. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Texeira, Mary Theirry. 2002. “‘Who Protects and Serves Me?’: A Case Study of Sexual Harassment of African American Women in One U.S. Law Enforcement Agency.” Gender & Society 16(4):524-545.