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Critique Humanities Law/Legal Nonfiction Social Sciences Theory

Feminism and the (Trans)gender Entrapment of Gender Nonconforming Prisoners

By Julia C. Oparah, 2012

This article explores the challenges for feminism presented by Bakari’s experiences of gender violence in and out of the prison system. Beginning in the midst of the second wave women’s liberation movement, feminist scholars in the U.S., U.K. and Canada began to critique what they named “malestream” criminology, and to generate new methodologies for understanding the lives of “women in conflict with the law.” 7 Studies by pioneers such as Frances Heidensohn, Dorie Klein and Carol Smart pointed to the sexism of theories of crime and punishment, and argued that previous scholarship had taken men as the normative subject of criminological theorizing. 8 In seeking to rectify this gender bias, feminist scholars have developed a body of research during the past four decades that takes women and girls seriously as the subjects of knowledge production. 9 This work has made significant strides toward investigating the relationship between the social construction of gender, criminalization and punishment regimes. However, it has failed to interrogate the category of “woman” as a stable basis and foundation for feminist research. 0 Because we have taken the subject of “women in prison” as fixed rather than fluid and contested, feminist scholars have relied upon and further legitimated the rigid gender binary that violates gender nonconforming individuals like Bakari entering the criminal justice system. By assuming, erroneously, that all people incarcerated in women’s prisons are women, and that all imprisoned women are in women’s prisons, we have overlooked and misrepresented the gender fluidity and multiplicity that exists in men’s and women’s prisons, jails and detention centers.

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