Review: Unruly Women by Karlene Faith
Title: Unruly Women: The Politics of Confinement and Resistance
Author: Faith, Karlene
Length: 339 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction, Gender, Law
Publisher / Year: Seven Stories Press / 2011 – first published in 1993
Source: From the publisher for review.
Why I Read It: You need to ask? Re-read the title!
Date Read: 29/01/12
We should all be aware that we are in a culture, here in North America, that is increasingly about confinement and police action. The United States has more people in prison than any other country and the prison population only continues to grow – and women are the fastest growing prison population. Sadly, Canada is moving down the same path with the new ‘crime bills’ our current government is pushing through. In this book Faith looks at what this means, especially for women through history who have been incarcerated. Most women aren’t in for violent crimes yet sometimes face years behind bars, and while there they encounter specific types of situations that are often little reported or understood by the public. In this book Faith tries to bring us all to a place of understanding and knowledge about what it can mean to be a woman who transgresses.
Faith is the type of researcher and writer who truly delights me. Through this book she not only examines topics that greatly interest me, but she also does with a truly intersectional focus discussing also race, class, and more. She discusses language and breaks down the stereotypes behind the various terms which make it difficult to even write about women who are behind bars without bringing up negative pre-conceptions. She also provides endless references and a large index. AND even better, unlike most books which deal predominantly with the United States, Faith is a Canadian who discusses the issues and the system in both the United States and in Canada.
The continuum, then, does not follow deterministically from victimization to criminalization. Rather, social victims en masse serve as the very large pool from which the anomalous woman, who sells sex, steals or hurts people and gets caught, is a candidate for prosecution. These unruly masses are the target of criminal justice as well as the target of other dominant regulatory institutions in bureaucratized societies. The continuum from victimization to criminalization is arbitrarily drawn according to power relations as constructed through racially divided and class-based social structures, in tandem with the authority of law and other dominant discourses such as medicine, social sciences and welfare, which all serve selective law enforcement practices. (page 108)
Throughout the book Faith examines the ways in which women in prison are seen as transgressors of the law, and the different ways they are viewed and treated from males in prison. They are more likely to be sedated, to be punished more severely for speaking out / attempting things such as hunger strikes, and in how they are viewed upon release as well. Through history various means, such as witch hunts or nunneries, were used to keep women in their place. The prison system and mass incarceration is simply the latest in a long line of ways in which dominant society has placed rules on the acceptable options for women and punished those who transgress. Currently prison is used as an alternative to fixing social systems that would give all an equal chance, instead any who steal (even small things like a loaf of bread), or who resort to sex work, are criminalized. Crime exists in all levels of society, the author reminds us, we have simply chosen to punish more harshly the crimes committed by those with the least.
This was a fantastic and very well-written and researched book that I highly recommend to all. If you are interested in social justice, gender issues, mass incarceration, history, or just learning more about our society, you definitely want to search out this book. My only criticism with the book is that although Faith discusses so much, including class, race, and sexual preference, transgender men and women were not discussed. No doubt their situation would have required even more research and time, but I would have appreciated at least a comment about the fact that they exist. Despite this fact, I still can’t recommend enough that you go read this book.