Recently in Tracking the Issues Category

Tracking the Issue: Raunch Culture Summary

| 1 Comment

Our group (Tamar, Adam, Julia) decided to investigate raunch culture as a subset of sex wars.

First, we needed to find out what raunch culture is. Ariel Levy (since she essentially coined the term) gives us an explanation. Raunch culture is the idea that being sexy should be public, and being sexy means some very specific things. The current societal standard for 'sexiness' means participating in wet t-shirt contests, learning how to pole dance for fun, wearing revealing clothing, etc. Things that some feminists critiqued as degrading are now being embraced as the ultimate realization of female sexuality. It's a recent phenomenon - even 30 years ago, the societal reaction to hearing that someone took a pole dancing class would be very different than it is now.

Before learning anything about raunch culture, we were all interested in the idea, but knew very little about it. Researching and learning more about raunch culture has brought up a lot of interesting issues for us, and made us curious about the idea of what our society prescribes as "sexy" and how this affects peoples actions.

There's a fair amount of academic research that has gone into the 'raunch culture' phenomenon, on both sides of the issue. Some people think that it is sexually liberating for women, and a method of escape for puritanical ideals for sexuality - others think that it forces a conformation to one particular type of sexual identity.

Here are the main controversies in the issue:

1. Is acting "raunchy" a way to reclaim female sexuality from the male gaze, or is it playing into a male desire for public, degrading sexual practices? (lap dancing, wet t shirt contests, etc)
2. Can it ever be empowering for women to participate in raunch culture?
3. Does raunch culture narrow the sexual options available to women, or broaden them?
4. Is it "feminist" to ever critique a certain sexuality/way of being sexual? If feminists do critique certain types of sexuality, does that mean that feminists are making a new "charmed circle"?
5. Does the exchange of money make a situation empowering or degrading?
6. To what extent is the rise of raunch culture (in many ways, a product that can be marketed) due to capitalist profit motives?


All in all, the rise of raunch culture is a relatively new phenomenon. We think it's important for people to be curious and critically think about the ways that raunch culture relates to feminism and women's well being, but we think prescribing a certain "solution" is a bad idea. What is empowering and satisfying to one person is different than what is empowering and satisfying to another person, and we think people should strive to find out what REALLY makes them happy, and follow that, regardless of whether or not it has been approved by society.

Sex Wars: Sex Workers' Advocacy Groups

| 1 Comment

(Tracking the issue: Prostitution)

In tracking the issue for sex work (more specifically, prostitution), I have come upon many web communities that focus on advocacy for sex workers and the rights of sex workers. Like Wendy Chapkis' discusses in her chapter "The Emotional Labor of Sex," these advocates call for recognition of the "labor" aspects of sex work, and demand that sex work be de-stigmatized and recognized as legitimate labor in order to support those who engage in sex work. The following is a PSA put together by Sex Work Awareness, and it is a product of a day-long media training conference they put together for sex work advocacy:

The clip itself and many of the comments shared by users on the site emphasize the well-roundedness and realness of the women who engage in sex work- they aim to de-shame sex work and to break the silence of sex workers.

The Sex Workers Project organization is somewhat less politically charged: their aim to improve rights and protection for any and all sex workers. Their mission statement claims that the Sex Workers Project "provides legal services and legal training, and engages in documentation and policy advocacy, for sex workers. Using a harm reduction and human rights model, we protect the rights and safety of sex workers who by choice, circumstance, or coercion remain in the industry."
Their focus is on improving the rights and safety of every sex worker, but their recognition that people who engage in sex work by choice exist alongside people who are likewise there "by coercion" is a bit disturbing.

Like much of the movement surrounding sex workers' rights, the focus of these organizations is very based upon the individual sex worker. Language about individual rights and freedoms prevail. Because so much of the debate is focused on individual rights, the implications that sex work can have for the broader community are left out. Issues about worker exploitation and the negative impacts sex work could have on clients and workers alike are skirted around entirely. I'd like to see an organization that advocates for sex work address these issues intelligently--not enough evidence is presented about the negative aspects of sex work for their arguments to be convincing.

Further Reading:
http://www.sexworkersproject.org
http://www.sexworkawareness.org

Prostitution-Local Impact

When I think of popular cities for prostitution, the first that come to mind are LA, New York City, and Las Vegas, not Minneapolis and St. Paul. I was surprised to learn that Minnesota is home to a large prostitute population. Here are some quick facts about prostitution in Minnesota:
-Minnesota is known to some as "the factory" for the number of prostitutes it produces (1).
-The FBI has reported that 10% of the teen prostitutes in Las Vegas are from MN (1).
-more Minnesota teens have been arrested for prostitution than Massachusetts, Maryland and Michigan combined (1).
-There are 6,000-8,000 women in prostitution work in Minnesota (2).

While these statistics are shocking, it is also important to know that our community has started programs to help women change their situations.
One such program, PRIDE (PRostitution to Independence, Dignity, and Equality), is a "nationally recognized and highly successful program to help women get out, and stay out, of prostitution." PRIDE is a part of the larger organization, Family and Children's Service, which strives to create healthy and strong families and communities. PRIDE provides court advocacy, outreach, and support groups for survivors of prostitution (3).

Another group, Source, is a faith-based non-profit that provides mentors, life skill training, and transitional housing to at-risk and alienated youth:
"Our holistic approach of being a FRIEND (serving physical, emotional and spiritual needs) and a VOICE (communicating God's love and forgiveness) allows us to reach those who are coming out of devastating and troubling histories, skeptical of the mainstream, and would not come into a church for help or answers. Our goal is to be a Missional Community embracing the lambs and looking for the *prodigals who want to return home - existing at the crossroads of culture providing hospitality and impacting this hurting, skeptical, and diverse culture through prayer, urban outreach, the Fallout Arts Initiative (Fallout Urban Art Center & Art Co-op), transitional homes and Urban Ministry Trainings" (1).

Kwanzaa Community Church in North Minneapolis is planning to open Northside Women's space this month as refuge to women in prostitution where "women could wash up or use a phone, take light refreshments and connect with community resources. They could sign up for health classes, counseling, job search support, chemical dependency referrals, HIV/AIDS services and spiritual direction, if desired" (4).

It's reassuring to see so many groups reaching out to prostitutes in the area, seeing them as victims and not criminals.

1- http://www.sourcemn.org/
2- "Race and Prostitution in the United States" - Donna M. Hughes http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/pubtrfrep.htm
3- http://www.everyfamilymatters.org/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC=%7B06C4C9B8-8DA9-4AFE-BA8C-658065E23661%7D
4- "North Minneapolis church hopes to offer refuge for victims of prostitution" by Cynthia Boyd. 2-22-10. MinnPost.com. http://www.minnpost.com/communitysketchbook/2010/02/22/16099/north_minneapolis_church_hopes_to_offer_refuge_for_victims_of_prostitution

Victor K. Groze and James A. Rosenthal's Single Parents and Their Adoptive Children: A Psychosocial Analysis is a study that compared adoptions completed by single versus two parents of special needs children. Children with special needs, accoring to Groze and Rosenthal, are those "older children, physically handicapped children, children of mixed or minority ethnicity, children who are members of a sibling group, and children with emotional or behavioral problems" (67).

The authors use a table to lay out for the reader the interesting findings in regard to the demographic of adopted children for single and two-parent homes. Something interesting to note when analyzing the demographics is that single parents were more likely to have adopted older children, children with special needs, and girls (70). The authors note, additionally, that "The finding that single parents more often adopt girls contrasts with previous reports...[It] should be considered in the context that most single parents (84%) are women and that single parents tend to adopt children of the same sex as themselves" (70). The table additionally shows that single parent families are more likely than two parent families to be comprised of children of minority races. What does this say about two parent families that they are less willing than single parents to adopt children of a minority race? What message does this send to society?

In terms of the children's emotional and behavioral functions, Groze and Rosenthal rated the children by utilizing the 113 behavior problems in the Child Behavior Checklist (CBC). They compared children who were utilizing mental health services of some kind "clinical group," and children who were not receiving any mental health treatment "nonclinical" (71). In both the single and two parent families, the percentage of adopted children in the clinical range exceeded the corresponding percentage of the nonclinical sample (72). The authors also noted that "differences between the special needs and sample and the nonclinical sample were modest among 4 to 5 year old children, but more pronounced among the 6-11 and 12-16 age groups" (72). It makes sense that the behavioral problems would be more prevalent in children who were older when they were adopted, as the children likely experienced less stability in their daily lives.

The study also examined the educational functioning of the children. An interesting finding, note the authors, is that "no significant differences between single-parent and two-parent families were found regarding attendance, grades, or enjoyment of school. Most children performed well in school and, according to parents' reports, enjoyed school" (73). In particular, this finding supports the idea that single parents are just as suited as two parents to assist in the intellectual development of their children.

The last area of functioning that the study covered was ecological, where the adoptive family was examined based on their use of mental health services. The authors state, "statistically significant differences in the number of in-person meetings with the social workers between one and two parent families were noted" (72). Interestingly, single parents reported fewer visits after being placed with their child than did two parent families. If both the educational data and the ecological data suggest that single parents are just as qualified (if not more) than two parent families to raise a special needs child, why, then, do some assert that singles are unfit to adopt a child?

Groze and Rosenthal discuss the possible reasons as to why single parents experienced fewer emotional and behavioral problems than did two-parent homes. "Perhaps the intensity of relating to two adults on an intimate basis results in more difficulties after placement than does having to relate to one adult caretaker" (74). Furthermore, the study also revealed that in regard to adoption smoothness, "although differences were noted in the child's emotional and behavioral functioning and in the social and ecological functioning of one and two parent families, no differences were found in their evaluation of adoption smoothness" (75). This further suggests that single parents are just as suited as two parent families to adopt a special needs child.

In conclusion, Groze and Rosenthal assert that new adoption policies, with the goal of securing permanent homes for children, should target such nontraditional candidates as single parents for adoption. Furthermore, the authors state "Singles make up a significant portion of the population and a number of single people are raising children on their own. Single adoptive parents are not only a feasible but an untapped resource to provide homes for children with special needs" (76).


Groze, V. K. "Single parents and their adopted children: A psychosocial analysis." Families in Society 72.2 (1991):130.

http://tc.liblink.umn.edu/sfx_local?sid=google&auinit=VK&aulast=Groze&atitle=Single%20parents%20and%20their%20adopted%20children%3A%20A%20psychosocial%20analysis&title=Families%20in%20Society&volume=72&issue=2&date=1991&spage=130&issn=1044-3894

A Brief History of Prostitution

| 1 Comment

Prostitution is supposedly the oldest profession in the world. The ways in which society has viewed prostitution has changed over history. The 18th century BCE Code of Hammurabi included laws protecting the inheritance of prostitutes because they typically had no male figure, such as a father or older brother, looking out for them. In ancient Greece and Rome prostitution was legal and at times even state-sanctioned. There were three types of prostitutes. The first two, sex slaves called pornai in Greek and freeborn prostitutes who worked the streets, could be either male or female. The third class included only females. These educated prostitute-entertainers, called hetaera in Greek, were some of the wealthiest women in ancient Greece. State-sanction brothels included mainly inexpensive pornai, so that all men, despite income level, could afford to have sex.

lupanare.jpg


As Christianity came about prostitution began to be seen as impure. In the 590s CE, Spain had laws punishing women who sold sexual favors by whipping them 300 times and forced them into exile. The men who exploited these women for their 'goods' were never punished. During medieval times, prostitution was so common in large cities that it was hard for kings and queens to outlaw it completely, instead it was heavily regulated. In England, single women could only be prostitutes brothels were inspected weekly. In the 1300-1400s in Italy, prostitution was seen as an integral part of life and many state-sponsored brothels were in operation. In the early 1800s in France, a government agency called the Bureau of Morals was created to inspect brothels to be sure that other criminal activities were taking place. During World War II, the Japanese government abducted between almost 300,000 women and girls from its territories and made them serve as sex slaves in brothels to serve Japanese soldiers. In India, laws have restricted legal prostitution to specific areas in large cities. Today, India's Kamathipura district in Mumbai is home Asia's largest brothels.

intro120051212.jpg


In 1971, Nevada passed a law allowing its counties to decide to criminalize prostitution. Of the 17 counties, 11 have legalized prostitution. In 1999, Sweden, calling prostitution a crime against women outlawed the buying of sex while still allowing the selling of sex.


Head, Tom. "History of Prostitution - Illustrated History of Prostitution." Civil Liberties at About.com - Your Guide to Civil Liberties News and Issues. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .

Hickenbottom, Iris L., and Melanie Ulrich. "Women's History Then & Now - Prostitution." Digital Writing and Research Lab. 18 May 2002. Web. 26 Apr. 2010. .

Single Parent Adoption--History

Since the mid-nineteenth century, when the first adoption laws were passed, singles have legally been allowed to adopt. However, single individuals looking to adopt have faced a substantial amount of adversity in order to be seen as positive parents and candidates for adoption.

During the 1900's, families began to take a different shape. Divorce and children out of wedlock became more common; however, this did little to affect the opinion on single parent adoption. Some state welfare agencies even went so far as to enact regulations that made it "difficult or impossible for agencies to place children in the care of single individuals" ("Adoption History Project" 1). Single parent adoption was so rare that until the 1960's, there was no way of knowing the amount of adoptions that were occurring. Though it happened, experts believe the number was very small. In fact, single parents were so discriminated against that in 1958, the Child Welfare League of America put out a release stating that adoptive families must be comprised of both a mother and a father ("Adoption History Project" 1).

Efforts to recruit single parents for adoption picked up in the 1960's, in part due to advocates of special needs children up for adoption ("Adoption History Project" 1). The argument for single parent adoption was that children, despite any mental, physical, or emotional handicaps, should have the right to grow up in a loving, caring home. According to adoptioninformation.com, single parents now account for around 25% of all adoptions of children with disabilities.

The Los Angeles Bureau of Adoptions was the first group nationwide to fervently recruit single parents, beginning in 1965. They were also the first organization to seek out single African-American parents, so that they could match African-American children with parents of the same race. Over the course of a few years, 39 single mothers were placed with children, and only one father. Why did adoption agencies assume that mothers would make better single parents than fathers?

Eventually, in 1968, the Child Welfare League conceded that single parent adoptions were permissible when "exceptional circumstances" were in place that would prohibit the child to be adopted to any other family. Why, if a parent is willing to provide a loving home for a child, would an agency deem the adult to be unqualified, simply because of the fact that the candidate is without a partner?

Today, single parent adoptions are more prevalent (about 1/3 of the total adoptions, according to the Adoption History Project). However, the dim hierarchy of preferences still exists within the system, and single parents are largely adoptive when the child has no other choice. The History Project states concisely and dismally, "They are as unwanted as the children they take in." Nevertheless, some point to the potential benefits of single parent adoption, such in the case of a child who may need a more focused, close relationship, or, in the case of single father adoption, where the child needs a strong male figure who is also loving.

Sources:

Adoption History: Single Parent Adoptions." University of Oregon. 11 July 2007. Web. 30

Apr. 2010. .

"Single Parent Adoption - Adoption Information. General Info on Adopting a Child."

Adoption Information - Services, Centers, Home Study, Situations, Open

Adoptions, Attorneys. 22 Jan. 2008. Web. 30 Apr. 2010.

.

PIC- Restorative Justice (2 Academic Sources)

| 1 Comment

There is a series of books about Restorative Justice called 'The Little Books of Justice and Peace Building'. I chose to focus on two, but they are all pretty amazing. Very short and concise, they offer case studies and practical information that anyone can integrate into their conceptions of the world.

ACADEMIC SOURCE #1
Zehr, Howard. The Little Book of Restorative Justice. Good Books, Intercouse, PA. 2002.

This book is described by the author as the 'cliff notes' version of restorative justice. While there are mentions of programs and practices, this book generally outlines the principles or philosophy of restorative justice. According to Zehr:

"Most restorative justice advocates agree that crime has both a public dimension and a private dimension. I believe it would be more accurate to say that crime has a societal dimension, as well as a more local and personal dimension. The legal system focuses on the public dimensions; that is, on society's interests and obligations as represented by the state. However, this emphasis downplays or ignores the personal and interpersonal aspects of crime. By putting a spotlight on and elevating the private dimensions of crime, restorative justices seeks to provide a better balance in how we experience justice." (12).

ACADEMIC SOURCE # 2
Toews, Barb. Restorative Justice for People in Prison: Rebuilding the Web of Relationships. Good Books, Intercourse, PA. 2006.

This books draws on insights from incarcerated men and women who have been involved with restorative justice processes. Using this perspective, the author states the problem with gaining 'prisoner perspective':

"At times, I use labels like "prisoner," "offender," and "victim." I want to acknowledge, though, that these labels have the potential to dehumanize and lock people into one single identity. As humans, we have the potential to both hurt and to be hurt, to be both victim and offender. So these labels have pitfalls. Still, when they are used to identify only part of a person or a particular act, they do have some value. They provide a way to identify those with a "stake" in a situation of wrongdoing, for example. Moreover, to admit that one is an "offender" is a step toward accountability. So I use these labels, aware of their limitations and dangers." (10)

Tracking the Issue: Parental Leave

Feminist movements
I could not find any movements that dealt with paternal leave before the presidential commission of 1961. Most of the movements before this were dealing with the voting rights of women. Presidential commission on the status of women (PCSW): 1961
Objectives
• Affordable childcare
• Equal employment for women
• Paid maternity leave
Healthy Families Act
Objectives
• If a company has more than 15 employees an employee is eligible to receive a certain percentage of their earnings during eight weeks of leave. This includes mothers that leave for maternity.
• Under the bill, workers would accrue paid sick leave at the rate of one hour for every 30 hours worked, could begin using the paid sick leave after 60 days of employment, and could roll over unused sick leave into the next calendar year.
Pregnancy Discrimination Act 1978
• This act prohibited employers from discriminating employees due to pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions. This was an amendment to the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
• One of the requirements is that any employer-provided health insurance plan must treat pregnancy-related conditions the same as other medical conditions
• Pregnant employees cannot pay a larger health insurance deductible than other employees pay. for more requirements take a look at this article
Parental Leave Act 2009
• There are different requirement for parental leave in the federal or state. Minnesota does not have any medical leave (paid or unpaid) available other than the use of the employee's sick leave for themselves or their sick child. However, an employer is not mandated to offer sick leave to its employees. You can see different requirements here.

Group Members: Zahra, Abeer, Rija and Correy

Summary and Findings of the Prison Industrial Complex

| 1 Comment

The Prison Industrial Complex is a very interesting and somewhat obscure issue that I was fascinated with from the very first time I did a Google search. There are no doubt those we as taxpayers spend an enormous amount of money on our prison systems. The benefits of these institutions are debatable with the wide variance of treatment facilities and segregation of prisoners. Due to the absolutely enormous population of incarcerated individuals, I wanted to focus on what makes a 'deviant' in our society. I wanted to understand how a person goes from a very young child and into our super-max prisons. The more I dug, the more I found that there are a lot of environmental factors proven to have direct correlations with criminal behavior. The idea that we help 'create the criminal' is a very true idea indeed and I believe that that is a widely dismissed idea. Our government spends so much money trying to prevent criminal behavior by funding the Prison Industrial Complex, when in actuality we are just putting more people in prison. Research proves that factors such as; low income, minority ethnicity, noninvolved parenting, and young age all increase the likely hood of criminal behavior in a person. Social may benefit a lot of people, but we are clearly uneven with our benefits. People who are unable to have their basic needs provided for are more likely to throw off social conformity and rules. If we want to expect social conformity by those committing 'criminal behavior' we need to give them a reason to buy into society. We can't allow social laws to perpetuate white capitalistic ideologies any longer. If we continue to segregate social benefits, we will continue to see our crime rates increase exponentially. Our first and foremost focus to reduce crime in America should be our children. We must ensure, as a Nation, that our children are safe and able to be educated equally. We are currently teaching some of our children criminal tendencies by denying them basic human necessities and relationships. Our Prison Industrial Complex focuses on building a lot of things and one of its most critical oversights is its lack of building community...

Prison or Rehabilitation

| 1 Comment

I found this interesting article on a Moose Lake center for our states sex offender treatment program. I was stunned by the sheer cost of the whole institution! MN taxpayers are investing 45.7 million for just and expansion of the facility and that is so it can just keep up with the number of people needing treatment for sex crimes. I was also stunned that the 400 people in the facility cost the state over 328 dollars a day. From what I've read this seems to be a very good institution that focuses on intensive therapy for the inmates for long periods of time. I also thought it was great the counselors working within the facility view the people not as inmates, but as patients. Another shocking thing was that the facility is only estimated to be able to keep pace with the growing population of sex offenders for just two years after the expansion project is completed.

Why People Break the Rules?

In the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency Benjamin Steiner an John Wooldrege examine the qualities of deviance by women in prison within the article; Individual and Environmental Effects on Assaults and Nonviolent Rule Breaking by Women in prison. The purpose of this article is to understand why women break rules while in prison through both violent and non-violent means. These researchers found that inmates who often choose to reject social controls within prison have fewer connections to people outside of the prison. Also they found that individuals who were younger were more likely to commit misconduct due to a lower level of social commitment and studies showed that these individuals were "less invested in more conformist activities such as education or work" (439). There is also a strong connection between an inmate's ethnicity and socioeconomic status and their respect for the rules in prison. Inmates with a lower socioeconomic status were found to "question the legitimacy of rules" within the prisons. This questioning of rules brings to question why inmates question the rules in prisons and choose to break them instead of follow them. Deviance within prisons is created by social systems outside of prisons and those managing our prison systems often overlook this connection. This article even states, although from a very mathematical perspective, how relationships and jobs affect the level of deviance within prisons; "employment prior to incarceration, higher levels of education, and having children might constitute informal controls over an individual." These informal controls are found to govern those in prison and reduce the likely hood of these individuals acting out.
This article reinforces the idea that the problem with prisoner's nonconformity is not due solely to factors in prisons. There is a clear connection between the socioeconomic history of an inmate and their respect of social rules. If people are subject to poverty and oppression within society, then their respect for the rules of society is little to nonexistent. We cannot look to rule enforcement within prisons to 'rehabilitate' people for society when they are given no reason to respect social rules in the first place. In order to reconnect the 'rule breakers' of society we need to give them a reason to buy into social modes of conduct. If a society does not provide adequately the ability for people to gain the most basic necessities for life, then there is little preventing them from following social rules.

The importance of Age in Creating a criminal

One of the critical things to examine in regards to the prison industrial complex is to understand what influences 'create' the criminal characteristics within an individual. The theory is that society interjects certain factors on an individual making them more likely to break social modes of conduct. John MacDonald, Amelia Haviland, and Andrew Morral examined violence within adolescent offenders. Their article states that there are "different developmental pathways to problematic behaviors in which some of the causes of overt/violent behaviors . . . can lead to serious offending " (556). Researchers have found consistent connections between environmental factors and the likelihood for young adults to commit crimes. This understanding shows the serious importance of the environment and crime. One current cultural ideology within America is the idea that criminals choose to their criminal lifestyle. This mentality isolates people from society and further enacts oppression on people who have committed crimes at one point in their lives.
In a similar study done by the Journal of research in crime and delinquency found a pattern among age the likely hood for someone to commit a crime. It was discovered that "of all groups of high-risk offenders reveals a high conviction rate with age". Two of the main influencing factors that increase the potential for an individual to commit a crime are age and socioeconomic status. This may not seem like a break through to many, but it leaves a big question to know why more money isn't being put into addressing the potential symptoms of crimes.

Our justice system is supposed to be fair and impartial, looking at all bodies as equal under the eyes of law. This, clearly, is not the case.

The statistics show the truth:
U.S. incarceration rates by race, June 30, 2006:

* Whites: 409 per 100,000
* Latinos: 1,038 per 100,000
* Blacks: 2,468 per 100,000

Gender is an important "filter" on the who goes to prison or jail, June 30, 2006:

* Females: 134 per 100,000
* Males: 1,384 per 100,000

Look at just the males by race, and the incarceration rates become even more frightening, June 30, 2006:

* White males: 736 per 100,000
* Latino males: 1,862 per 100,000
* Black males: 4,789 per 100,000

If you look at males aged 25-29 and by race, you can see what is going on even clearer, June 30, 2006:

* For White males ages 25-29: 1,685 per 100,000.
* For Latino males ages 25-29: 3,912 per 100,000.
* For Black males ages 25-29: 11,695 per 100,000. (That's 11.7% of Black men in their late 20s.)

Or you can make some international comparisons:
South Africa under Apartheid was internationally condemned as a racist society.

* South Africa under apartheid (1993), Black males: 851 per 100,000
* U.S. under George Bush (2006), Black males: 4,789 per 100,000

[all statistics taken from Prison Sucks.com]

How has it come to this? Why does our judicial system so blatantly target black and Latino bodies?

Angela Davis suggests that we have learned to forget about it. We don't know how to talk about it. We don't teach about the prison system. She says that, our society, rather than recognizing certain people as needing help, especially in terms of non-violent drug charges, we simply get rid of them. We don't have to think about them, or the problems they have. By doing this, we don't have to talk about the systems that perpetuate the need to hide these people. And because of the way the criminal is constructed and represented, we are made to be afraid to acknowledge community members who are in prison. Davis also says that we ignore other forms of crime, such as corporate crime, or crimes against the environment which generations to come.

angela_davis_blogspot.jpg

Contact needs to be raised between the "inside" and the "outside". We have the ability to move around where as those inside don't. Davis says that the prison holds "obvious vestiges" of slavery. Prison systems reproduce the problems for which people are sent there in the first place. Prisoners are human beings, and should be treated as such.

What if marijuana was decriminalized?

| 2 Comments

marijuana_leaf.gif

In our capitalistic society, everything comes down to the dollar. Looking at marijuana without a moral lens of "good vs bad", we can examine the possibilities and consequences of legalization.

In the event of decriminalization, the following would likely happen:
- A savings of $5.3 billion at the state/local level and an additional $2.4 billion federally, annually
- An additional $6.2 billion annually if marijuana was taxed comparably to tobacco and alcohol
- Destroy major source of revenue for cartels and gangs
- An enhancement in the effectiveness of our court and police systems (where current annual marijuana arrests are over 700,000 annually)
- A separation between marijuana and far more dangerous illegal drugs, cutting the "gateway" to drug dealers we currently have
- An increase in effectiveness and credibility in drug education
- An end to our over-flowing prisons, which ultimately do more damage and harm than the drug itself
- A revival of research for medical/scientific use

In these tight economic times, one could be sold on legalizing marijuana simply by the first two points alone. All points considered, however, there is a very compelling arguement to legalize and control the substance.

As feminists, we must actively support the freedoms and liberties of ALL people, including those who CHOOSE to participate in recreational marijuana consumption. It is not the place of government to choose for us what we can and cannot do to our bodies. By demystifying the drug through education, we can end the hypocrisy that surrounds this issue to the benefit of all.

More information on the topic can be found at here.

How does drug policy play into the PIC?

The infamous "War on Drugs" was first declared by President Richard Nixon in 1971, two years after calling for the creation of a national drug policy, identifying drug abuse as "public enemy No. 1". Regulation of the drug cannabis began in the early 1900s at state levels, and finally became a federally unified venture in 1973 as the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Below is a graph comparing the number of American cannabis related arrests between 1965 and 2008. This image can be compared to the one directly below it, showing the total number of incarcerated Americans.
U.S._cannabis_arrests_by_year.gif
incarcerated americans.png

It is interesting to compare the two images above and see how many prison cells are being filled by people who's only crime committed was handling marijuana. In 1997, about 60% of both state and federal prison cells where occupied by drug law offenders, including cannabis. This number was much higher than in previous years, and is likely even higher in 2010.

What makes these statistics even more interesting is when you consider the number of African-Americans in the prison system relative to the actual population. Black bodies are disproportionally represented in our prisons, making up 46% in 1997 (where this is only higher today).

Why is cannabis illegal in the first place?
Who benefits from this policy?
What would our prison system, or our society in general, look like if cannabis was federally decriminalized?

These are all questions that the aforementioned statistics brings up, and in further tracking issues we will look at these questions and how feminism relates to them.

PIC Research Summary

| 1 Comment

The direction of my research about the Prison Industrial Complex (PIC from now on) took many different paths. I began by reviewing an old standard in academic theory: Michelle Foucault's Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. With no clear idea of where I wanted to go with this, I went on to read about women and the transgendered and crime, the War on Drugs, and exploited prison labor. It was when I began to read some of Angela Y.
Davis's work on the PIC that I discovered the Critical Resistance
Collective (CRC), the only organization in the US that works to eradicate the PIC and its various arms: incriminating legislation, police, surveillance, etc. While reading their collective work, Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex, I was struck by how many of their arguments threw a wrench into Foucault's thesis. Clearly, this old academic standard that I've read in so many of my classes needs quite a bit more criticism than I have ever heard it given. Hence, conversation and criticism between Foucault's Birth of the Prison and the CRC's Abolition Now! has become the focus and culmination of my research. In the following paragraphs, I plan to discuss in what ways the arguments of the CRC complicate those of Foucault. I will end with questions raised by the CRC through their struggles and the material reality of their movement.

Before I begin, it is important that I summarize the ideas that my arguments are based off of and the terminology I will use to articulate my points.

My entire engagement with the PIC rests on the idea that what is a crime and who are criminals is not always self-evident, that people (especially poor, young, non-white, immigrant, and queer people) are intentionally criminalized and pathologized by the state and its various fascist arms. This is done in order to create populations of caged people which can be profited off of through the supply of cheap labor and the production of damaged humans, which in turn will maintain and expand the flow of prison workers. The PIC and its brutality are justified through giving people the illusion that disappearing human beings into prisons solves social problems, such as gang violence and domestic violence (well, at least they're off the street!), and with the belief that prisons reform rather than damage people. Indeed, most never question the legitimacy of the PIC, because for a person to be in prison, "they must have done something wrong." Therefore, all arguments I put forth will be made with the conviction that the PIC is a tool of slavery, racism, patriarchy, and colonialism and must not be simply "reformed," but done away with entirely.

Some important terms:
panoptacism: a method of surveillance which motivates surveyed subjects to self-police. For example, the camera on the street corner - any person walking past cannot be sure whether the camera is real or not, or whether or not there is someone watching them through it. Thus, the subject regulates their own behavior.

materiality: having to do with the tangible, the "real;" material realities are people's lived experiences; material complexity can express many things about bodies and objects (for example, the massive immigration of micro organisms); the material and feasible reality of dismantling the PIC

biopower: the interest of the state and capitol to evaluate, measure, catalogue, survey, manipulate, and influence mass or specific populations of people

necropower: the power to decide life or death

the docile body: the target and object of power; easily recognizable; easy to categorize; the "working unit" that helps run the "well oiled machine;" subjected, practiced, and disciplined bodies (people)

Sources:

Critical Resistance Collective, Abolition Now! Ten Years of Strategy and
Struggle Against the Prison Industrial Complex. New York, NY. The CR10
Publications Collective. 2008.


Foucault, Michelle. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Vintage.
New York, NY. 1979.


Michelle Foucault's thesis in The Birth of the Prison is that in the 18th century, disciplinary power used by the state to accomplish its ends and regulate its subjects went through a transformation. Through an admittedly sloppy historical illustration, he argues that disciplinary power went from being a brutal public display of the state's power in which transgressors were horrendously punished in front of on-looking spectators to a muted and professionalized business in which the object was reform, not punishment, and the public face of the state became the glossiness of the courtroom and the detention center. Thus, the state's disciplinary power moved from focusing on the bodies of criminals to the souls of criminals; from branding criminals with white hot irons to having them participate in "productive" yard and industrial labor, educational and religious programs. In the new order, Foucault argues, the kind of brute force exerted on bodies that had been used before was not necessary due to the increased sophistication of methods of surveillance and containment facilities and the confessional, of which panopticism is one; things like necropower became less under the jurisdiction of the executioner and more under the auspices of the judge. This new order dedicated to saving the souls of the damned and the delinquent was motivated by the development of biopower, in which the state came to take a supposed interest in the welfare, safety, and, most importantly, the productivity of its citizens. The further development of biopower paralleled the development of the docile body and its accompanying tenants: the uniform which marks the worker, the specialization of knowledge and labor, the rhetoric of partitioning (a place for everyone, everyone in their place) and the organizing of small things (the will of individuals) to perform for the greater things (the will of god and the state).

There are many things that are missing from Foucault's analysis of disciplinary power, not least of which is his failure to address the rise of violent military imperialism at the same time the birth of the prison as a reforming institution in Europe was happening and the new formation of the criminal directly tied to race and status in colonization. Foucault may make apt observations as to the development of biopower, panoptacism, and the docile body. However, the linear understanding of historical "progression" by which he presents these observations, his claim that the state no longer has a stake in overt brutality and that violence is no longer spectative are complicated by arguments presented by members of the CRC. In her essay COPS and the Visual Economy of Punishment, Ofelia Cuevas reviews the revitalization and explosive expansion of racial punishment as entertainment. Speaking of shows like COPS and police brutality and murders, she writes:

"Every evening on television, in news and dramatic programming, policed and punished Black and Brown bodies are part of the popular landscape of state-sanctioned domination and violence. So common and accepted, so significantly mundane is the brutality of the police against raced communities that the reality in which they are displayed before us becomes a social hallucination. The 'racist disposition of the visible, which will prepare and achieve its own inverted perceptions under the rubric of what is seen,' according to Judith Butler can turn a clear vision of police brutality into a myth of 'police vulnerability.' Thus the violence enacted upon Rodney King, who was clearly beaten by police, becomes not a case of state brutality but a reality so twisted that it is seen as a case of police victimization . . . We no longer stand as witnesses to brutality, we gather in front of televisions (and computer screens) as public entertained by racial punishment," (pg. 42).

Thus, Foucault's assertion that power is no longer overt, but primarily covert, is dashed by the construction of the policed as violator, the state as violated, and the public as spectator in television crime dramas and the news. Indeed, this harkens to the construction of entertained and policed bodies and the state in the "lynch mobs of yore." It would seem that Foucault's analysis of state power is decidedly unmarked by race, class, or gender, and, furthermore, that it is based upon a dismissively selective review of historic European documents. The linear progression of history that Foucault presents, in which persecution of "criminals" moves from being solidly about brutality and elimination to cleverly "making use" of undesirables can be complicated merely by a review of European vagrancy laws. In his essay, Safer Cities Unplugged, Peter White writes,

"Vagrancy laws - which happen to be the original name for today's quality-of-life policing strategy - have roots that extend as far back as 14th century England. The original purpose was to create a substitute form of serfdom [slavery] by legislatively tying workers to the master's land. By the middle of the 17th century, and up until the 19th century, the number of 'masterless' men and families that crowded the streets led to a change of emphasis in vagrancy laws. The new thrust was to create methods of control and ways to banish those that were undesirable, financial burdens, nuisances, and potential criminals," (pg. 72).

As we have seen, observations and arguments put forth by Cuevas and White complicate Foucault's thesis that modern expression of state power is covert and focused only on the soul, and furthermore, that the PIC's investment in organized slavery is a new development. Rather, state brutality has ascended to the level of mass media entertainment, and the creation and exploitation of criminals in prison complexes is part of an on-going system spanning at least hundreds of years.


For the CRC, and for many others, the abolition of the PIC and the possibility for a new way of life is not a pipedream characterized by impractical idealism. Rather, it is an urgently pressing matter; a matter that involves revolutionary action as the only way to make an end of an endless cycle of capitalistic and imperial violence that has always victimized the underbelly of the empire. Indeed, the structures of capitalism and colonization that produce marginalized and impoverished groups, and thus, produce criminals, give critical emphasis to the realization that "working with what we already have," doesn't work. The material existence, resistance, and reality of the movements of people in the CRC and their affiliates should serve as an example of the practicality of revolutionary politics. Rather than approaching massive obstacles to human well-being with diminished expectations for social transformation, the CR10 Publications Collective writes,

". . . as many organizers have demonstrated, we are not only struggling to tear down the cages of the PIC, but also to abolish the actions of policing, surveillance, and imprisonment that give the PIC its power. We are also reminded that abolition is the creation of possibilities for our dreams and demands for health and happiness - for what we want, not what we think we can get," (pg. xii, emphasis added).

For the PIC, once one has come to a place in which it is reasonable to demand health and happiness that is integral to dismantling and rebuilding the established order, and when abolition is not only the goal, but the strategy as well, all that remains is possibility. I would like to close simply with a list of questions for consideration raised by members of the CRC in an interview. Hopefully, these questions will guide us in a direction where we think openly and proactively about possibility, and refuse to have our dreams dashed by the myth of what is "realistic."

• How do we question all violence (including state violence) in our daily lives?
• How might we form institutions that protect people from violence without relying on police, surveillance, and prisons?
• How might we form institutions that are not based on ideas of nation-state governance?
• At what points do structural and revolutionary organizing and everyday life meet?
• How can we establish space to express dissent without punishment?
• How can we establish accountability for all the violence we commit upon each other?
• How can we work on a "human level" without recreating romanticized ideas of "community?"
• How might we expand the ideas of abolition rather than the organization itself?
• How do we form coalitions?
• How can we think outside of colonial criminalization?

Important Litigation on Parental Leave in the US

Pregnancy Discrimination Act (1978)
Key Points: prohibits the discrimination on the basis of pregnancy and childbirth in the consideration of hiring, firing and pay levels of employees.
Criticisms:
*labels pregnancy as a disability - stigmatizing pregnancy itself as an "unexpected event that disrupts life"
*does not require aid from institutions on the matter of maternal leave
*poor regulation - employers still discriminate

FMLA - Family and medical Leave Act
Also see this link for more information.
Key Points: Covered employers must grant an eligible employee up to a total of 12 workweeks of unpaid leave during any 12-month period for one or more of the following reasons:
* for the birth and care of the newborn child of the employee;
* for placement with the employee of a son or daughter for adoption or foster care;
* to care for an immediate family member (spouse, child, or parent) with a serious health condition; or
* to take medical leave when the employee is unable to work because of a serious health condition.
Criticisms:
*limited eligibility for recipients
*many people cannot afford unpaid leave
*employees of small organizations are not covered


Summary - Feminist Perspectives on Commercial Surrogacy

| 1 Comment

When we decided which topic within reproductive rights/choice to choose, we realized that the only widely recognized as a feminist issue is abortion. We decided to investigate commercial surrogacy because we realized that we ourselves had little knowledge of the wide range of feminist opinions surrounding reproductive choice and surrogacy. We learned that the feminist issues surrounding surrogacy were even more complicated than we anticipated; incorporating the financial, legal, emotional, physical, and psychological intricacies of the actual process brings surrogacy from muddied waters into an unnavigable tropical storm.

Of the sources we consulted, we found three main perspectives on commercial surrogacy.

The pro-surrogacy feminist perspective argues reproductive choice includes the right to sell one's reproductive services; if sperm can be sold, so can a woman's reproductive services.

We found two different anti-surrogacy (or at least cautionary) feminist perspectives:

Anti-Perspective One argues that allowing pregnancy to become a service alienates women from their own bodies. The argument equating sperm donation and surrogacy fails; pregnancy involves a much longer time commitment and is far too emotionally and physically intense to equate it to what is, in essence, paid masturbation.

Anti-Perspective Two argues that Perspective One is too simplistic - it is true that pregnancy is long and emotionally intense, but so is writing a novel, and no one questions an author's right to be paid for her books. Instead Anti-Perspective Two argues that the real concerns surrounding commercial surrogacy are its potential to exploit certain groups of women, and that it could reinforce the idea that women are baby factories.

The 1986 Baby M custody case
between a surrogate mother and a sperm-donor father brought such issues to the forefront of the public eye, and forced feminists and others to make some tough decisions regarding reproductive rights and choice.

A survey of local and international surrogacy perspectives and issues lead to some surprising results.

Locally, Minnesota law is completely silent regarding surrogacy. On the other hand, we do have several reproductive centers in the Twin Cities-area for both physical surrogacy services, and financial, psychological, and other concerns.

Internationally, oversees surrogacy has stirred feminist controversy - are Indian surrogate mothers being regionally and financially exploited, or are they empowered women, filling a commercial niche?

And surrogacy isn't as simple as we've presented it here. Issues of exploitation related to impoverished regions or countries, class discrimination, etcetera can be analyzed outside of the context of reproductive rights and choice.

Group Members: Sarah Turgeant, Danielle Hall, and Will Menzel

Academic Source: Surrogacy: The Psychological Issues

Edelmann, R. J. "Surrogacy: The Psychological Issues." Journal of Reproductive & Infant Psychology 22.2 (2004): 123-36. Print.
This article was written by R.J. Edelmann with intent to discuss the psychological issues both of the infertile couple and of the surrogate mother. In any case, they found that those seeking treatment for infertility were under a great deal of stress, especially after going through multiple procedures with no success; the author sees this as completely understandable. Edelmann further writes that there is nothing abnormal in the current psychological exams of surrogates -something that may seem a bit odd, since a woman who is willing to let another couple use her body for nine months is generally either desperate for payment or excessively altruistic, especially when the surrogate is completely unrelated and a stranger originally to the infertile couple.
Edelmann goes on to describe societal views of surrogacy, which he believes are generally negative. "It has been suggested that surrogate motherhood raises 'intense feelings of endangering the family and society, evoking adultery and incest taboos and raising legal concerns and theological objections'" It seems that the author advocates surrogacy as a decent method for infertile couples, however, believes that surrogate motherhood is not for couples who want a surrogate for convenience. His research shows that both in a small sample from Canada and the United States that in general, society disapproves of the idea of surrogacy no matter what the case. Edelmann is worried that the societal disapproval will negatively impact the infertile couple seeking a surrogate and may even have a negative impact on the future child.
Motives for looking for a surrogate are fairly obvious - when a couple is desperate for a child of their own and all other treatments fail, that is there last option. The only other way for them to have children is those not of any genetic relation by adoption. Edelmann specifically mentions 'continuing the genetic line' as a reason for seeking a surrogate. He also brings up the idea of surrogacy for convenience; something that he believes would be rare and completely unnecessary and immoral. Women who want someone else to carry their child because they're too busy will still probably be too busy to really devote their full attention to the child born. In general, Edelmann has found that motives to become a surrogate mother are based on the idea that the mother is achieving something for the greater good, all motives are altruistic. In many cases, the surrogate mother already has children of her own and is doing this to help a couple, and at the same time, can make the process much smoother because the knowledge of the positive and negative aspects of pregnancy are already known.
About half of the time, it appears that the commissioning couple and the surrogate mother keep contact, and the other half of the time, the infertile couple are too afraid that the surrogate mother may later try to help raise the child or take the child away. In many of these cases, the infertile couple and the surrogate mother develop a strong relationship and then immediately cut it off after the baby is born. This is one of the reasons that Edelmann believes more therapy would be useful to the surrogate especially. Research suggests though that only 5% of all cases the surrogate ends up deciding to keep the baby.
The main concerns about the child psychologically are that the parents who have spent so much time and effort trying to have a child in the first place may be too overprotective or have exceedingly high expectations for the child, something that would trouble later in life. However, research shows that most children conceived through the new reproductive technologies, including surrogacy, have no differences in family perception or any psychological disorders that were caused by the surrogacy. Only half of all infertile couples that choose surrogacy would ever tell their family, even less would tell their friends and less than seventy percent would tell the child where his/her origins came from, out of fear that the child might feel less of a connection for the parents and try to seek out the surrogate mother. No matter what the case, Edelmann still believes that counseling is absolutely essential for a smooth process and no long term psychological disturbances.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the Tracking the Issues category.

This is a feminist issue because… is the previous category.

What is feminism? is the next category.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 4.31-en