Women and the Criminal Justice System

Think of prison populations and you think of men. Indeed, men make up the greatest numbers within the system. Yet, the population of women in U.S. Prisons has more than doubled in the past 10 years. How a woman will be punished when she violates acceptable norms reflects the common view of that woman’s role in the greater community. Customary influence by family and community, for women, has traditionally been effective and much more violent than for men. The promise of formal controls, which for women carries a heavier toll than for men, seems intimidating and could account for the lower female prison population. The fact is, though, that across the world the percentage of women confined in prison is only a fraction of the total prison population, yet their sentences are generally longer and harsher. The question should be, Why this disparity when it comes to women and law?

Recent studies challenge the stero-typical thinking that women who are imprisoned are “bad”, or “whores”, or unnecessarily “tough”. Universally harsher and longer sentences illustrate a partiality. The issues of gender role and patriarchal culture must be understood to comprehend the relationship of women to law. Women in Kabul, have been targets of intense repression and victims of fundamentalist interpretation of religious law. Recently, a young woman wanted to marry a boy she had chosen and rejected by her parents’ choice. When she appealed to the Taliban for help, they sentenced her to five years in jail for violating Islamic law. Her two female cousins, 14 and 15, were taken to be married by force in exchange for a fee paid to their families. While the Taliban authority exemplified extremism, it is common for the Afghan family of the groom to pay a fee for his bride, diminishing the woman to property of a patriarchal society.

In the United States, the disparity of incarceration rates for men of African or Hispanic descent is well documented. For women, Black, Hispanic, or White, the disparity is even sharper. The percentage of women under correctional supervision had risen to almost 10 percent by 2006 compared to 1.3 percent increase for men. The disparity in incarceration rates for women may in part be attributable to the claim frequently made by women prisoners that they were incarcerated for crimes that were coerced, or even committed by their male partners, for whom they took the fall under the mistaken belief that a woman would get a more lenient sentence. Surveys conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice also reveal that prior to their own imprisonment, the majority of these women prisoners had been victims of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, or coerced drug abuse involving older men; in other words crimes committed against them by men presaged these women’s incarceration.

It has been my experience that men commit homicide as the result of extreme rivalry and competition,, and committed the act in public and outside of the family. This indicates to me that men are conditioned from infancy to see their role outside of the family core and into the world arena. Women, on the other hand, are socialized to remain within the family unit. Most women that commit homicide share a commonality of similar background experiences of abuse. Maybe it is time that homicide be examined as a “social issue and cultural phenomenon”. Additionally, society is critically unforgiving for women who are believed to have betrayed their maternal attributes. While men who commit homicides are viewed to have momentarily lapsed into uncontrollable anger, women are seen to have violated their nature. The behavior of a man in this situation is seen as an extreme exhibition of his masculine nature, even at times more firmly establishing his masculinity, but a violation of this nature for a women overturns her identity and leads to her ruin.

Whatever the violation and wherever the country, the population of women in prison continues to grow. Logic would say that women are committing more crime. Are they really? Or, has society, through the utility of formal and informal law, changed the intensity of its response to women?

“The advancement of women without a doubt is a pre-condition for the establishment of a humane and progressive society”

United Nations

A society reflective of that goal can only be measured by the maturity and benevolence of its citizenry and a complete respect for human life.

One Man’s Perspective on Violence Against Women

Breast bruised, brains battered,
Skin scarred, soul shattered
Can’t scream-neighbors stare,
Cry for help, no one’s there

Stanza from a poem by Nenna Nehru, a battered Indian Woman

Despite differences in cultures and ideologies, women seem to face a consistent bias regardless of where they live. Tied to the social expectations of feminine behavior, victimization of women reflects a universal value placed upon them by men.

Violence against women occurs throughout the life cycle: Pre-birth is marked by sex selective abortion (China, India); battering during pregnancy (emotional and physical effects on woman, effects on the birth outcome); and coerced pregnancy (i.e. mass rape in war). Infancy carries the threat of female infanticide; emotional and physical abuse; and disparity in access to food and medical care for girl infants. Adolescents can be scarred by child marriage; genital mutilation; sexual abuse by family members and strangers; more disparity in the access to food and medical care; and child prostitution. Dating and courtship violence (i.e. date rape in the United States, acid throwing in Bangladesh) as well as economically coerced sex ( Africa); sexual abuse in the workplace; rape; sexual harassment, forced prostitution; trafficking of women. The reproductive age carries the risk of abuse of women by intimate partners; marital rape; dowry abuse and murders; partner homicide; psychological abuse; sexual abuse in the workplace; sexual harassment; rape; abuse of women with disabilities. Being older does not reduce the risk of victimization. In the U.S. the only country where records exist, elder abuse affects mostly women.

Quite consistently, women are, “defined according to traditional patriarchal images and within the patriarchal ideologies and structures of national and international relations”. Judith Zinsser, researcher for the United Nations.

Crimes against women are based on their role in society, as a daughter, mother, wife, and sister. Women are never judged as persons, and always judged as passive to their roles. A man is evaluated as a man, aggressively responding to his situation, within his roles in life, as father, son brother, husband, secondary to his gender.

This subjectivity to patriarchy is well illustrated in dowry burnings, popular in India. Murder, generally accepted as a crime against humanity takes on a different persona when related to brides who for one reason or another, experience with their husbands and husband’s families conflict over their dowries. In areas that require a marriage settlement, dowries become a powerful tool for moving up through social strata. In a firmly patriarchal society, the esteem of the male depends on the “purity” of the female. Not only a financial inheritance, the dowry reflects the moral purity of the bride. Indian dowry effectively functions to disinherit women and promote their economic dependency on men which is the real crux of dowry murders. When the dowry is no longer satisfactory, the bride becomes vulnerable to harassment, assault, and death.

Murder is illegal, but social norms in India validate the acceptance of such practice, marking it virtually impossible to punish anyone participating. Families involved in this practice place tremendous significance upon the material value of the union between two families and a financial gain for at least one. When the woman is sacrificed, the families protect each other from civil prosecution, further ingraining the value of men and valuelessness of women.

Think about rape. In our culture evidence of rape is evaluated by a perceived participation by the woman (i.e. how was she dressed, did she invite sex and then change her mind, was she using drugs). A recent story of a young girl in Pakistan who became pregnant as the result of rape. Unable to convince the court that rape had occurred and since her pregnancy was taken as proof that sexual intercourse outside of marriage had taken place, she was thirty lashes and three years imprisonment. She gave birth to the child in prison (a girl). Because of this situation, women are more afraid than before to bring a case of rape to court, and in turn this could, of course, encourage rapist. There is an easy transformation from victim to offender. Her actions did not change, only the subjective political observation of them. In the United States, a woman illustrated how she was victimized into criminalization:

“She was a Chicana introduced to drugs at the age of eleven; a victim of brutal domestic violence that caused her to miscarry twice; a drug user addicted first to heroine then to the so called cure, methadone; finally a mother forcibly separated from her daughter on account of her convictions and incarceration, and, finally, a woman who died in prison of a brain hemorrhage, the cumulative effect of a lifetime of beatings”.

Written from her death bed.

I hope to have shed some light on the epidemic of violence being perpetrated by us (men). I hope that we will no longer live by a “criminal code” of silence and non action. Its not what you say and do when women are around. Its what you say and do when they are not. Take a stand in the fight to end violence against women.

Another Sexist Commercial.

Old spice has always sucked but now they get the finger……………..

Published in: on July 28, 2008 at 11:42 pm  Comments (1)  
Tags: , ,

Being A Feminist

If you grew up in the 60’s and 70’s like me, you probably were indoctrinated with the belief that feminist were “man haters”, “lesbians”, and “braless she-males”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Initially, my parents impacted me. My mother involved herself in politics that were anti-sexist and anti-racist. She never considered herself a feminist (which is indicator of patriarchy’s influence). My father seemed to challenge patriarchal norms. He consistently voiced a belief in equality between all sexes and races as well as other unequal facets of our society. I guess being in an interracial relationship my father had gotten used to discussing topics that were uncomfortable for others.

Feminism has grown in diversity. Additionally, it has incorporated the drive for equality in many other social injustices other than just gender. Just as the civil rights movement has evolved more than just a “black cause”. Both continue to try to establish social, political and economic equality between all races, sexes, sexual orientations, etc. Understand gender oppression is deeply intertwined with racism, classism, colonialism, ableism, the state, the destruction of the environment, and ultimately civilization itself. A lot of men I know don’t understand this. When I tell them I am a feminist, there is laughter, sneers, and frowns. I’m either a opportunist or a punk, don’t have enough “game” or soft, looking for an angle or my favorite “you know how I know you are gay….you say you are a feminist”. My response is always “How can a man not be a feminist?”. Let me ask the skeptics. Do you believe that people are entitled to basic human rights regardless of race, class or gender? If the answer is yes, then that is the fundamental principles of feminism. Why is the idea of a woman standing up for herself so radical? Why is the idea of a man supporting this so radical? While most men are willing to acknowledge unfair treatment of women and discrimination based on gender, many are reluctant to own up to their backward-ass gender politics, particularly in public. How many of us take other men to task over their misogyny or sexism in the absence of women? Are your actions tutoring young males to embrace sexist ideas and values? These seemingly little things and many more create a climate that maintains misogyny , inadvertently or not, supports and condones behaviors and thinking patterns that are a part of rape, sexual violence, and gender discrimination.

There are probably many closeted feminist men, who don’t know how or when to enter feminism. Here is my four step plan for you:

1. Confront in the absence- If you truly don’t support discrimination and misogyny then confront when there are no women in the room. Isiah Thomas and MSG should wish someone called them out sooner. Not only it is cost effective but it is right.

2. Educate yourself- Recognize the diversity in feminism. We do not all agree on every topic just like any other group. Oppression and degradation come in many forms. Be critical. Look at things like the media, advertisements, and programming with a more critical eye. Read and discuss issues with the women in your lives.

3. Get Active- One of my defining moments in my transformation was dating a woman who was gang raped. The range of emotions that she went through on a daily basis was heart wrenching. One minute she wanted to be held, the next minute she couldn’t be in the same room with me. The relationship was deteriorating until I went to a rape crisis center and understood that a man’s body part is a weapon if not used correctly and responsibly.

4. Show your support- In the time it took you to read this article, two women were sexually assaulted. If a woman tells you she was or felt abused, believe her. Don’t minimize it. The statistics are mind boggling. One in every four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime. Take a time out and pick four women you care about and choose one.

If you are still wondering why I am a feminist its OK. Im still wondering why you aren’t

Published in: on October 24, 2007 at 11:03 pm  Leave a Comment  
Tags: , , ,

Something I don’t understand

Before I started this blog, I have posted many articles about violence toward women only to find comments like “What about the violence toward men that women do”. My articles intent are to hopefully have men embrace notion of a progressive masculinities that share in the goals of feminism and womanism. Personally speaking I have victimized far more women in my lifetime than I have been victimized by them. I have been emotionally and physically abusive. It wasn’t until I confronted these issues inside of me that I was able to redefine myself to a more progressive masculinity. One where I can cry, show emotion, and who can resist and challenge the sexism, misogyny and patriarchal norms of our society. My sense is that while most men are willing to acknowledge unfair treatment of women, discrimination on the basis of gender, they are usually reluctant to admit that hatred of women is encouraged because it helps maintain the structure of male dominance. All I want to do is place accountability and bring attention to larger structures of domination and the individuals who are hierarchically placed to maintain and perpetuate the values that uphold these exploitative and oppressive systems.  Feel me….

Published in: on October 17, 2007 at 11:55 pm  Comments (2)  
Tags: , ,