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Undergraduate sociology journal Volume II 2019
Undergraduate Sociology Students’ Union | University of Toronto 2019 Undergraduate Sociology Journal This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License. Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 3
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Editor's Note I am proud to present Volume II of the Undergraduate Sociology Journal (USJ), which showcases essays written by undergraduate students at the University of Toronto. This volume highlights essays that engage with the interdisciplinary nature of sociology. In this publication, our contributors analyze contemporary issues through a sociological lens. Through the application of theories on crime and deviance to the high school context, Kenny explores how the social environment of high schools may influence students’ absenteeism. In the context of the United States, Rapson analyzes how the prison-industrial complex contributes to mass incarceration. With regard to the Canadian criminal justice system, Renaud evaluates conjugal visitation programs, namely the Private Family Visit and Mother-Child Program offered by Correctional Service Canada. With attention to the digital age, Waham discusses how Instagram, a social media platform, serves as a space for the construction and negotiation of gender. I would like to thank the passionate and brilliant individuals, whose hard work made this publication possible: I owe the copy editors a debt of gratitude for their enthusiasm, insight, and skills. I owe a special thank-you to Amal Khurram for creating the beautiful cover designs. I am grateful to our Faculty Advisor, Dr. Scott Schieman, for his time and guidance. I am indebted to the Undergraduate Sociology Students’ Union for their support and assistance in producing this journal. I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with a dedicated and talented team. Also, I would like to congratulate the contributors on being published. To our readers, I hope you enjoy reading the second volume. Sincerely, Susha Guan, Editor-in-Chief
Masthead editor-in-chief Susha Guan copy editors Dumkelechi Aligwekwe Marissa Hum Paula Jiménez Argumosa Amal Khurram Olivia Michael Naomi Trott Design editor Amal Khurram Faculty advisor Dr. Scott Schieman contributers Ariel Kenny Jessica Rapson Emilly Renaud Deem Waham
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Undergraduate Sociology Journal â&#x20AC;˘ Volume II â&#x20AC;˘ 2019 6
table of Contents 4
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Table of Contents
Trust the Truants: Theories on How Social Relief Sustains Elective Absenteeism Among High School Students Ariel Kenny
Putting Profits Over People: How the Prison-industrial Complex Contributes to Mass Incarceration in the United States Jessica Rapson
Comparing the Success and Failures of Conjugal Visitation Programs in Canada Emilly Renaud
Construction Through Curation: Instagram and Gender Deem Waham
TRUST THE TRUANTS: THEORIES ON HOW SOCIAL RELIEF SUSTAINS ELECTIVE ABSENTEEISM AMONG HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS Ariel K enny
ABSTRACT This article applies theories on crime and deviance to research on high school truancy to interpret how students’ emotional responses to their schools’ social environment may entice them into truancy. Katz’s (1988) foreground approach to deviance reveals the power that boredom, anxiety, and adolescent peer influence have over perpetuating adolescent delinquency. Sykes and Matza’s (1957:664) perspective on “delinquent sub-culture” and techniques of neutralization additionally aid in interpreting students’ rationales for absenting themselves from school. These theories are discussed in conversation with qualitative and quantitative studies on elective high school absenteeism to suggest that students commit truancy as a means of escaping social ostracization within their schools. As such, it is argued that identifying truants as delinquents and punishing them accordingly further excludes them from their school’s normative culture while exacerbating their desire to search for social opportunities off-campus. This allows truancy to become a vicious cycle wherein students can only experience emotional relief by avoiding the classrooms they no longer feel welcome in. In highlighting students’ subjective experiences of their social environments as a precursor to truancy, this article suggests that more socially inclusive school programming that is mindful of students’ perspectives and marginalization may remedy truancy rates. Keywords truancy, adolescence, delinquency, deviance theory
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IntrodUCtion Whether for medical conditions, family emergencies, or religious observances, high school students can often expect their schools to grant absentee grace periods as a result of extenuating circumstances. But for those who do not feel accepted, safe, or emotionally stable at school—for all the invisible issues that cannot be excused by administrators in the same way as a broken bone— truancy may be the only relief students have from the social and emotional stresses they encounter in the classroom. High school truancy is a common form of deviance and, when in excess, crime. Truancy can be defined as a minor electively absenting themselves from school for one or more class periods or even full days at a time without permission from their school, work, healthcare practitioners, or legal guardians. Arguably, the only victim of the act is the truant themselves as missing class time can jeopardize their academic performance and put them at risk for disciplinary action at hands of the school, family, or law. Previous and contemporary opinions often cast truants as “lost and troubled” juvenile delinquents of the “lower strata” who abuse their free will by cutting class to commit crimes with reckless abandon (Furlong 1991:66; Katz 1988:313; Wilkins 2008). However, research shows that truancy is far too widespread to simply be a positivistic matter of arrant lower-class rebellion: 62 percent to 71 percent of high school students in the United States have reportedly been truants at some point in their schooling, and this trend spans equally across all grade levels, genders, ethnic groups and age cohorts only slightly more so than class (Shute and Cooper 2015:66). The vast prevalence of this trend indicates that a more unifying variable is at play when students decide to skip schoolone that transcends the scope of the biosocial perspectives and strain theories so often applied to other forms of deviance. A resounding number of findings from contemporary qualitative and quantitative research into truancy now suggest that the impetus for absenteeism is one almost thought too obvious to consider and yet still remains so complex to acknowledge: emotions. Or, more specifically, boredom, and the desire to escape the socially isolating detachment that breeds it at school (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Shute and Cooper 2015; Wilkins 2008). Understanding the way that emotions incite deviant acts goes hand in hand with Katz’s (1988:52) theory on the foreground of emotions and the seductive “thrill” that occurs in the moment of crimes. In application, Katz’s foreground approach to truancy reveals the power of emotions, adolescent peer influence and the “delinquent sub-culture” of truancy, the latter of which is doubled down on by applying Sykes and Matza’s (1957:664) perspective on subculture and techniques of neutralization to the truant’s rationale. Given parallels between these theories and the findings of truancy researchers, this combination of perspectives provides a comprehensive framework towards explaining how a student’s emotional response to the social environment of their school may entice them into adopting a culture of truancy and nonconformity, and how that choice may be a more rational response than previously thought.
BOREDOM THROUGH ISOLATION Crime and deviance theorists such as Katz (1988) and Birkbeck and LaFree (1993) emphasize that negative emotions such as frustration, threats, humiliation and boredom can become significant situational factors when considering motivations for crime, especially if positive forms of relief— such as in the form of thrills or image-building—are provided. As it is, youth overwhelmingly cite boredom as the underlying motive for their deviant acts, and it is this sense of detachment that is often
blamed when they mentally and physically check out from the classroom (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Furlong 1991; Shute and Cooper 2015). Their quest for new sources of excitement, structure, and purpose outside of the “void” of the school day often leads them to adopt alternate activities that promote freedom—which can often mean getting into trouble (Cullingford and Morrison 1997:75; Furlong 1991). Katz’s (1988) theory on the thrill of crime makes sense of the truant’s inclination towards these disruptive activities by emphasizing how boredom has the unique ability to provoke individuals into transcending normative (and legal) boundaries in the pursuit of positive emotional stimuli, and in this manner his theory parallels the findings of these researchers. Though as Katz would additionally suggest, this foreground of emotions truants experience in the moment of the crime is only the first step towards understanding how their motives are situationalized. This then begs the question: what situation “causes” the boredom to begin with? Upon applying a Katzian approach to situational analysis, truants anecdotally reveal themselves to be subject to the seductive thrill of subverting not necessarily their educational institution but rather the negative experiences associated with their sense of isolation within it. In their study on the relationship between peer pressure and truancy, Cullingford and Morrison (1997) report that all offenders in their sample experienced some socially or formally imposed form of exclusion at their school. From these findings, Cullingford and Morrison (1997) suggest that truancy emerges when feelings of boredom, frustration and resentment at being ignored or isolated from the rest of the class prompt students to remove themselves from the situation (the school itself) rather than face the negative environment. Boredom, it would appear, functions as a stand-in term for social detachment, meaning the “thrill” may not necessarily be the rush of freedom or mischief—in fact, many reported truancy activities are actually quite dull (Zieman and Benson 1981)—but rather the emotional relief that comes from experiencing a form of social inclusion that is more accessible to truants outside of school than within (Hartnett 2007; Cullingford and Morrison 1997).
A SOCIAL SOLUTION In being provoked by feelings of ostracization, truancy effectively functions as a social solution to an emotional problem, and the availability and attractiveness of this solution plays a significant factor in tempting students to skip school (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Furlong 1991). For the casual truant, school attendance can begin as an earnest endeavor at the start of the day, though they can later be enticed off campus by their peers (Cullingford and Morrison 1997). For the more habitual truant, the school simply serves a meeting place to seek out peers to accompany them off campus (Cullingford and Morrison 1997). High school truants rarely, in fact, cut class alone as they often find themselves primarily—in Katzian terms—seduced by the appeal of socializing with their peers specifically (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Furlong 1991; Katz 1988, 1991). This experience of social relief and peer influence may not be a perfect substitute for Katz’s (1988) use of the term “thrill” as it exists in reference to the pleasures pursued by shoplifters, murderers, gamblers and other delinquents more devious than the minor who cuts class. However, the hedonistic sentiment can be applied to the truant’s devotion to their peer group as Katz (1991) observes its role in regard to social pressures and reputation maintenance within delinquent social circles. It should only be expected that truants, in their pursuit of social inclusion, often form an alternate subculture of fellow deviant peers as a social relief to their emotional discomfort (Furlong 1991). Embracing this aspect of truancy is not necessarily rooted in a student’s conscious desire to adopt a deviant lifestyle or peer group, per se, though it can often result in that all the same (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Furlong 1991; Sykes and Matza 1957). Truancy can easily and often breed a potent delinquent subculture that prescribes and abides by their nonconformity and collective Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 9
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 10 detachment from their institution (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Furlong 1991). To delve further into how this dynamic functions and persists, Katz’s (1991:285) foreground approach and research on adolescents’ draw to conforming to a “badass” reputation can be paired with Sykes and Matza’s (1957) theories on delinquent subculture to provide a theoretical framework that elaborates upon the conflicting social roles of delinquency and normative culture.
BECOMING A DELINQUENT The delinquent subculture of truants often entails pressure to commit deviant acts that are not limited to truanting; disrupting lessons, petty crime and challenging teacher authority can also be on the docket (Cullingford and Morrison 1997). This peer pressure is difficult for truants to resist not only due to their original longing for social inclusion but also the probability of gaining or losing social standing in the process (Cullingford and Morrison 1997). Truants in particularly delinquent crowds especially will yield to the pressure of their peers out of a strong desire to resist being labelled as a “softie” (Cullingford and Morrison 1997:70)—a dynamic that operates much like the “badass” or “hardman” identity complex Katz (1991:302) notes as being a powerful draw for adolescent offenders. But even truants who would be labeled as softies by their peers for their more mild-mannered excursions are subject to the same delinquent label in the eyes of school administrators; a large portion of truants report being singled out, ridiculed, and even bullied for their repetitive absence by teachers in the classroom (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Zieman and Benson 1980, 1981). In this, it is evident that the adoption or rather imposition of a delinquent identity further pushes truants out of classroom social circles and into deviant peer groups satelliting the school. Regardless of whether these delinquent reputations are ultimately imposed by peers or pedagogical power plays, the delinquent subculture of truants imposes both sub- and normative cultural sanctions on truants in a vicious cycle that is difficult to break.
SUB- VERSUS NORMATIVE CULTURE Though truant subculture may encourage deviance from the normative culture of formal education, it does not wholly reject its merits. Despite their voluntary absenteeism, truants still speak highly of teachers, administrators, and other aspects of the school environment that they appreciate and revere (Sykes and Matza 1957; Wilkins 2008; Zieman and Benson 1980, 1981). Truants also overwhelmingly wish to complete high school if not go onto post-secondary education (Zieman and Benson 1980, 1981). It may seem paradoxical that truants would have these perspectives on the very institution they seek to avoid, but these findings in fact echo the sentiments expressed by Sykes and Matza (1957) in their theory on delinquent subculture. Specifically, this evidence can be interpreted from Sykes and Matza’s (1957:666) perspective in that these juvenile delinquents are still “partially committed to the dominant social order”—in this case that of the school—and that this commitment can be observed by noting a delinquent’s guilt or shame post-delinquency. Applying Sykes and Matza’s (1957) techniques of neutralization to students’ most common explanations for truanting can expose and elaborate upon this dynamic as even hardened truants abiding by nonconformity can still tout a desire to be part of their school (Zieman and Benson 1980, 1981). Even in their denial of responsibility, their appeals to loyalty, and their condemnation of their condemners, truants will still acknowledge shame or guilt upon assuming their teachers and friends to be two hands marionetting them and mangling up their social ties (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Furlong 1991; Sykes and Matza 1957). As truants often use these techniques of neutralization to divert blame for their actions onto
the push and pull of peers and authority figures, they show themselves to be, by their own admission, susceptible to a role conflict between their subculture and that of the norm (Sykes and Matza 1957). That is to say, their truancy tendencies are confirmed as being symptomatic of their insecure attachment to the school’s normative culture as previously claimed. By circling Sykes and Matza’s (1957) supposition here back to Katz (1991, 1988), the social-seeking and thrill-seeking incentives of truancy can be interpreted as one and the same; skipping class gives high school students the thrill of a positive social sphere that relieves them from the negative social and emotional environment they believe they face in the classroom. The validity of truants’ emotional foreground and neutralizers should therefore be considered when seeking to understand the act, even if it means exploring the blame the condemned have placed on their condemners—the school itself.
DISCUSSION AND SOLUTIONS High school truancy is a vicious cycle, and punitive measures against it further exclude these students who already feel themselves to be on the fringe of society and are actively seeking out a more welcoming world. Sparked by a desire to avoid the reproduction of a negative social and emotional environment in school, the truant is understandably drawn towards the positive experience or “thrill” associated with truancy and the peer groups formed around it, though not without a cost. This peer or “delinquent” subculture can often pressure or entice students into further sustaining their truanting and otherwise deviant tendencies, thereby fortifying their negative experience within the classroom as the setting can become more hostile or distant to the student once they attempt to return. Considering this, it is no wonder that truants’ techniques of neutralization so often invoke their ties to peers and condemnation of teachers alike; truancy is a social pursuit begat by an anti-social experience. Though this cycle may appear to be a complex process of disaffection at first glance, it can be rationalized by first understanding the emotions, situations, subculture and defense mechanisms that truants subjectively experience as their formative social realities. An analysis from this perspective allows us to see how students’ decisions to truant may be rooted in social role conflicts that are more objective and meaningful than previously thought. Stopping the cycle of truancy therefore requires an approach that is more trusting and mindful of truants’ experiences rather than suspicious and disciplinary, as per convention. Much in tune with Sykes and Matza’s (1957) deviance theories and Katz’s (1991, 1988) foreground-first approach, researchers and theorists resoundingly suggest that restructuring the microsocial pedagogy of schools in a way that facilitates emotional sensitivity and social inclusion for students could diminish their urge to seek relief outside the classroom (Cullingford and Morrison 1997; Furlong 1991; Hartnett 2007; Shute and Cooper 2015; Wilkins 2008; Zieman and Benson 1980, 1981). As these experts have advised, the current practice of punishing truants—whether at the hands of school officials, parents, or the legal system—is ineffective as it worsens rather than addresses the volatile social environment already pushing students out (Hartnett 2007; Sykes and Matza 1957; Wilkins 2008; Zieman and Benson 1980). If anything, Sykes and Matza (1957:666) suggest that such punishment merely teaches adolescents to be more careful about not getting caught. A non-punitive approach to truancy excels, however, in that it respects and responds to students’ subjective experience of high school life and deviance rather than meet it with suspicion. In recognizing truancy as a symptom of social exclusion from a normative culture, advocates propose inclusive, intra-curricular solutions to strengthen students’ ties to their school such as through programming and assemblies that are representative and considerate of marginalized peer identity groups (Hartnett 2007; Wilkins 2008). These solutions take an etiological approach similar to Sykes and Matza (1957) in that they recognize students’ rationales for skipping class not as delinquent Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 11
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 12 excuses but as evidence of how highly they value their social ties—the key element behind truancy. As it were, truants are acutely aware of their need for a positive social environment; we just need to believe their experiences and facilitate their schooling accordingly.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS This article is dedicated to the educators who made it possible: Lawrence Williams, the University of Toronto lecturer who taught me these theories on crime, deviance, and the arguable importance of high school attendance; Mrs. Price-O'Neil, the newspaper advisor who let me skip class to ask Sam Denniston out to prom; Mr. White, the audio production teacher who wrote students hall passes to Popeyes; Mr. Dickerson, my loveably surly English teacher and honorary grandpa; and all the other empathetic educators who granted students some social relief from Enloe High School.
References Birkbeck, Christopher and Gary LaFree. 1993. “The Situational Analysis of Crime and Deviance.” Annual Review of Sociology 19:113–137. Cullingford, Cedric and Jenny Morrison. 1997. “Peer Group Pressure within and outside School.” British Educational Research Journal 23(1):61–80. Furlong, V.J. 1991. “Disaffected Pupils: Reconstructing the Sociological Perspective.” British Journal of Sociology of Education 12(3):293–307. Hartnett, Sharon. 2008. “Does Peer Group Identity Influence Absenteeism in High School Students?” The High School Journal 91(2):35–44. Katz, Jack. 1988. Seductions of Crime: Moral And Sensual Attractions In Doing Evil. New York: Basic Books. Katz, Jack. 1991. “The Motivation of the Persistent Robber.” Crime and Justice 14:277–306. Shute, Jonathan W. and Bruce S. Cooper. 2015. “Understanding in-school truancy.” The Phi Delta Kappan 96(6):65–68. Sykes, Gresham M. and David Matza. 1957. “Techniques of Neutralization: A Theory of Delinquency.” American Sociological Review 22:664–670. Wilkins, Julia. 2008. “School Characteristics That Influence Student Attendance: Experiences of Students in a School Avoidance Program.” The High School Journal 91(3):12–24. Zieman, Gayle L. and Gerald P. Benson. 1980. “School Perceptions of Truant Adolescent Boys.” Behavioral Disorders 5(4):212–222. Zieman, Gayle L. and Gerald P. Benson. 1981. “School Perceptions of Truant Adolescent Girls.”Behavioral Disorders 6(4):197–205.
PUTTING PROFITS OVER PEOPLE: HOW THE PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX CONTRIBUTES TO MASS INCARCERATION IN THE UNITED STATES Jessica Rapson
Abstract According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2018), state and federal correctional facilities in the United States held an estimated 1.5 million prisoners in the year 2016. That means that for every 100,000 U.S. citizens, approximately 445 individuals were behind barsf—or almost 1 in every 100 adults (Schlosser 2012). As a result, the United States has both the largest prison population and highest per capita rate of prisoners in the world (Schlosser 2012). The U.S.’s nearly incomprehensible level of imprisonment can be partially attributed to the pervasive influence of private firms—including prison operators, prison labour contractors, surveillance companies, food service providers, and medical organizations—on the criminal justice system. This influence, referred to as the “prisonindustrial complex,” has contributed to rising incarceration rates in the United States. Specifically, to maximize revenue, private stakeholders in the prison industry encourage public policy and opinions that favour incarceration (Lipton 2014). The following analysis examines the prison-industrial complex’s effect on incarceration and demonstrates its influence on incarceration rates in the United States. The analysis is divided into three sections: the first discusses the relationship between the so-called “War on Drugs” and the prison-industrial complex; the second investigates the economic incentives of incarceration; and the third explores how the prison-industrial complex uniquely impacts vulnerable groups. Ultimately, it is shown that private stakeholders influence public perceptions of deviance to increase incarceration. Keywords: prison-industrial complex, United States, mass incarceration, private prisons
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Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 14 “Our industry benefits from significant economies of scale, resulting in lower operating costs per inmate as occupancy rates increase. We believe we have been successful in increasing the number of residents in our care and continue to pursue a number of initiatives intended to further increase our occupancy and revenue. Our competitive cost structure offers prospective customers a compelling option for incarceration” (Corrections Corporation of America 2010:13).
THE WAR ON DRUGS AND THE PRISON-INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX To understand the prison industry’s influence on incarceration rates, it is necessary to explain how the private sector first began to influence the American criminal justice system (Schlosser 2012). It is important to note that the ubiquity of the prison industrial-complex is a relatively recent phenomenon that has only developed over the last 50 years. In fact, before the 1970s, less than 1 percent of correctional facilities were privately contracted, compared to over 8 percent in 2016 (Gold 1996: 370; Wagner and Sarabi 2003). During this period, federal and state governments were typically the sole body responsible for imprisoning individuals, while private firms merely provided contracted services such as food and medical support (Justice Policy Institute 2011). This period also saw a significantly smaller per capita rate of incarceration that was less than a third of what it is today. However, as private sector involvement in the criminal justice system shifted from contract work to prison management, incarceration increased at an unprecedented rate. One of the main instigating factors behind this change from public to private prison management was the infamous War on Drugs of the 1970s (Schlosser 2012). The War on Drugs inspired a change in mainstream opinion on drug addiction (Schlosser 2012). Previously, substance abuse had been viewed as a public health problem. However, the War on Drugs shifted focus from treating addictions to punishing and incarcerating drug users. This movement was led by several prominent political figures, including then-governor of New York, Nelson Rockefeller (Schlosser 2012). In 1973, Rockefeller gave a State address demanding harsher punishments for crime, including lifetime mandatory minimum sentences for drug dealers (Schlosser 2012). His “tough on crime” attitude was popular among politicians seeking to court white, middleclass voters who feared inner-city crime. For similar political reasons, President Nixon declared a nation-wide “War on Drugs” in 1971, increasing federal expenditure on drug enforcement by $4.3 billion over the course of his presidency (Bagley 1988:189). The subsequent increase in prison populations suddenly made prison management much more expensive for public providers. To reduce costs, local governments contracted private firms to operate correctional facilities (Justice Policy Institute 2011). With new financial opportunities caused by expanding prison populations, private prison companies became commonplace (Schlosser 2012). Private contractors were not the only beneficiaries of the War on Drugs. For-profit service providers, who now had a much larger pool of consumers, also became increasingly powerful. The control they had over their captive consumers facilitated customer abuse and allowed companies to cut corners when providing services to prisoners, all with the intent of maximizing profit. While the War on Drugs was unsuccessful in deterring drug-related crimes, it was hugely successful for private prison corporations (Bagley 1988:190; Justice Policy Institute 2011). Today, drug offences account for over half of all federal sentences and the two largest for-profit prison companies, the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, have a combined annual revenue of $2.9 billion (Justice Policy Institute 2011). The War on Drugs resulted in significant profits for these private firms, making them more influential than they ever were before. This newfound influence has since provided the prison industry with the means to ensure that incarceration
rates remain high and profits are secured.
THE ECONOMIC INCENTIVES OF MASS INCARCERATION Increased incarceration rates caused by the War on Drugs have made prisons into sources of profit for private firms (Justice Policy Institute 2011). Both prison operators and service contractors benefit from higher rates of imprisonment. Private prison operators, like the GEO Group and CCA, are paid by the government for each prisoner they house (Sommer 2017; The United States Department of Justice 2013). Thus, these companies are strongly motivated to optimize their capacity for inmates. For this reason, many private prisons exclusively focus on storing inmates as opposed to investing in rehabilitation programs or job training (Sommer 2017). Prisoners who cannot partake in these reformation programs have higher rates of recidivism, making them potential repeat customers for private prisons (Sommer 2017). Service contractors also benefit from mass incarceration (Schlosser 2012). Companies that provide various services such as food, medical care, and essential supplies can take advantage of an effective monopoly within prisons, as inmates do not have any alternative places to access necessities. For example, telephone service providers such as AT&T can generate upwards of $15,000 a year from a single pay phone installed in a prison—almost five times the revenue from external pay phones— because telephones are prisoners only means of contacting the outside world (Schlosser 2012). The profitability of prisons has even positively affected some municipalities by serving as stable sources of employment for residents (Lotke 1996:18). Private stakeholders that benefit from high prison populations encourage incarceration by influencing public policy and opinion (Lipton 2014). Large corporations like the GEO Group and CCA exert disproportionate influence on government, primarily through lobbying, but also through close ties with policymakers who may have relationships to the prison industry themselves (Lipton 2014). These corporations hire professional advocates to argue in Congress for specific legislation that increases prison profitably, like stricter mandatory minimums and increased funding for law enforcement (Lilly and Knepper 1993:155-56). They also make significant campaign donations to politicians who support their interests (DeChiaro 2017). For example, in 2017, the GEO Group gave over a quarter of a million dollars to a super PAC that supported President Trump, and hired individuals closely connected to the President as lobbyists (Brittain and Harwell 2017). These investments paid off when President Trump promised to continue to rely on private prisons companies after he was elected (Sommer 2017). Indeed, since Trump’s election, the GEO Group’s stock prices have climbed over 80 percent (Sommer 2017). Other policy initiatives are also extremely beneficial to prison companies. Recent crackdowns on illegal immigration, for example, means that more unauthorized immigrants will be incarcerated—thus, supplying a new group of profitable inmates (Sommer 2017). Finally, private firms in the prison industry influence public opinion to support policies that increase incarceration (Lipton 2014). This is done primarily through funding think tanks and policy research institutes that publish reports citing a need for more “tough on crime” legislation (Lipton 2014). These groups may publish misleading statistics that show rising crime rates which appeal to the general public’s fears. For example, the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) has published studies and advertisements that support crackdowns on illegal immigration. These messages warn Americans about the supposedly high rates of crime committed by illegal immigrants—a deceptive statistic that counted illegal immigration itself as a crime (Rojc, 2017). Privately-funded reports, sponsored by stakeholders who benefit from increased incarceration, have helped turn public opinion against illegal immigration and have caused many to support “tough on crime” laws that target migrants. This, and Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 15
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 16 similar legislation, has been disastrous for certain vulnerable populations.
MASS INCARCERATION AND VULNERABLE POPULATIONS Policies supported by the prison industry disproportionately affect immigrants, visible minorities, and those of low socio-economic status (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008:625). For-profit stakeholders often exploit existing biases to encourage “tough on crime” legislation that targets crimes associated with disenfranchised minority groups. For example, increased mandatory minimums for possession of crack cocaine and marijuana—drugs commonly associated with working class and black youth—are typically supported by the general public (Gertner 2009: 272). As a result, many marginalized groups are grossly overrepresented in prison populations. Black men, in particular, are affected by these policies. In the United States, it is estimated that 1 in every 8 black men between the ages of 24 and 35 is currently incarcerated; and even though blacks only make up about 12 percent of the U.S population, approximately 50 percent of all American prisoners are black (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008:628). Pre-existing societal biases towards groups, such as black men, make it easier for private parties who benefit from incarceration to manipulate public opinion and pass laws that increase incarceration of these groups (Brewer and Heitzeg 2008:625). In the past, these laws have been promoted by public figures who popularize pro-incarceration rhetoric, as Nixon did in the 1980s. This type of rhetoric encourages the general population to fear distant, vaguely defined groups or evils that threaten the well-being of society. Recent moral panics relating to illegal immigration in the United States have been inspired, in part, by President Trump’s campaign promises and public statements (Sommer 2017). By supporting politicians who use this rhetoric, private prison corporations can ensure policies that increase both incarceration and profits persist.
THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX AND PUBLIC PERCEPTIONS OF DEVIANCE Through its influence on public policy and opinion, the prison-industrial complex has undeniably contributed to mass incarceration in the United States (Lipton 2014). Moreover, the impact of private stakeholders on the American criminal justice system has extended beyond rates of imprisonment to alter societal perceptions of crime and its reduction (Schlosser 2012). For instance, while prisons were typically seen as undesirable and ineffective at reducing crime prior to the 1970s, private influence on public opinion have since warped this view. “Tough on crime” policies are now supported through privately-funded lobbyists, and moral panics about crime are sparked by privatelyfunded think tanks (Lipton 2014). This has created a criminal justice system where punishment is prioritized over harm-reduction and has ultimately harmed groups who were already vulnerable in society. Such a process is most clearly illustrated by the failed War on Drugs (Shultz and Aspe 2017). Nixon’s attempts to crack down on drug suppliers and deter drug users through aggressive policing did not bring about the intended decrease in demand, but simply forced the drug market to operate under the radar. In fact, studies show that today, despite having some of the toughest drug laws, the United States has one of the highest rates of drug use in the world (Shultz and Aspe 2017). Furthermore, violent drug cartels, frequent overdoses, and the funneling of young drug users to prisons where they further associate with criminals, can all be attributed to the failures of the War on Drugs (Wood et al. 2009:989). President Trump’s promises to detain and deport illegal immigrants reflects a similar prioritization of punishment over harm-reduction (Sommer 2017). His policies regarding illegal immigration illustrate how potentially beneficial solutions, such as facilitating legal immigration procedures, are disregarded in favour of policies that benefit private prison owners and
suppliers. Similar to the War on Drugs, stricter punishments for illegal immigration have not been found to reduce the amount of undocumented people living in the United States (Wayne and Salehyan 2007:139). Instead, they have resulted in undocumented individuals failing to report domestic abuse, seek medical care for life-threatening conditions, and report being victims of human trafficking (Cornelius 2001:167-69). However, while “tough on crime” attitudes do not typically achieve their desired goals, the high rates of incarceration that result from this mentality translate into profit for the prison industry (Justice Policy Institute 2011). Not only has the prison-industrial complex shifted beliefs about how crime should be addressed in the United States, but it has also affected how large portions of the population define crime itself (Lipton 2014). For example, prior to the War on Drugs, substance abuse was typically seen as a medical issue, not a criminal one (Schlosser 2012). Increased mandatory minimums for minor drug offences, encouraged by private stakeholders, have since caused individuals who commit these offences to be treated as criminals instead of addicts (Schlosser 2012). Influencing public opinion in this way is financially beneficial to the prison industry because it typically leads to considerable increases in prison populations. More recently, the same effect is shown with illegal immigration. Before the 2016 election, although illegal immigration was considered to be an issue, it did not receive nearly as much media and political attention as it did during and following the election (McCarthy 2018). Privately funded think tanks and large donations to candidates like President Trump, who support harsher punishments for illegal immigration, contributed to the success of these sentiments—allowing for the implementation of policies that cause illegal immigrants to be viewed as major criminals. The methods by which the public determines what constitutes a crime and how such crimes should be addressed are strongly affected by the prison-industrial complex. Through their disproportionate influence on government and public opinion, a harmful “tough on crime” mentality is encouraged by private prison companies. This has coloured many recent policies over the past 50 years, including Trump’s immigration policies (Lipton 2014). As a result, the prison-industrial complex has not only contributed to mass incarceration but has dramatically changed how Americans understand the causes and treatments of deviant behaviour.
CONCLUSION The prison-industrial complex, enabled by the War on Drugs, continues to influence public policy and opinion in ways that benefit the prison industry. Through lobbying, campaign contributions, and policy think tanks, private prison companies have encouraged incarceration at the expense of vulnerable citizens who are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system. The prison-industrial complex has done more than contribute to mass incarceration in the United States— it has also shaped public perceptions of crime and punishment to ultimately prioritize profits over people.
References Bagley, Bruce M. 1988. “US Foreign Policy and The War on Drugs: Analysis of a Policy Failure.” Cambridge University Press 30(2):189–212. Brewer, Rose M. and Nancy A. Heitzeg. 2008. “The Racialization of Crime and Punishment: Criminal Justice, Color-Blind Racism, and the Political Economy of the Prison Industrial Complex.” American Behavioral Scientist 51(5):625–44. Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 17
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 18 Brittain, Amy and Drew Harwell. 2017. “Private-prison giant, resurgent in Trump era, gathers at president’s resort.” The Washington Post, October 25. Retrieved February 1, 2018 (https:// www.washingtonpost.com/politics/with-business-booming-under-trump-private-prison-giantgathers-at-presidents-resort/2017/10/25/b281d32c-adee-11e7-a908-a3470754bbb9_story. html?utm_term=.dee5ca6bda51). Bureau of Justice Statistics. 2018. “Prisoners in 2016 Summary.” U.S. Department of Justice. Washington, DC. Cornelius, Wayne A. and Idean Salehyan. 2007. “Does Border Enforcement Deter Unauthorized immigration? The Case of Mexican Migration to the United States of America.” Regulation & Governance 1:139–53. Cornelius, Wayne. 2001. “Death at the Border: Efficacy and Unintended Consequences of US Immigration Control Policy.” Population and Development Review 27(4):661–85. Corrections Corporation of America. 2010. 2010 Annual Report on Form 10-K. Washington, DC. DeChiaro, Dan. 2017. “Private Prisons Boost Lobbying as Federal Detention Needs Grow.” Roll Call, October 25. Retrieved February 1, 2018 (https://www.rollcall.coim/news/politics/99602-2). Gold, Martin E. 1996. “The Privatization of Prisons.” The Urban Lawyer 28(3):359–99. Gertner, Nancy. 2009. “Supporting Advisory Guidelines.” Harvard Law & Policy Review 3:261–81. Justice Policy Institute. 2011. Gaming the System: How the Political Strategies of Private Prison Companies Promote Ineffective Incarceration Policies. Washington, DC. Lilly, Robert J. and Paul Knepper. 1993. “The Corrections-Commercial Complex.” Crime & Delinquency 39(2):150–66. Lipton, Eric. 2014. “A Closer Look at How Corporations Influence Congress.” Interview by Terry Gross. National Public Radio, February 13. Lotke, Eric. 1996. “The Prison-Industrial Complex.” Multinational Monitor 17(11):18–32. McCarthy, Justin. 2018. “Immigration Up Sharply as Most Important U.S. Problem.” Gallup.com, November 20. Retrieved March 13, 2019 (https://news.gallup.com/poll/244925/immigrationsharply-important-problem.aspx). Schlosser, Eric. 2012. “The Prison-Industrial Complex.” The Atlantic, August 24. Retrieved February 2, 2018 (https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1998/12/the-prison-industrialcomplex/304669/). Shultz, George P. and Pedro Aspe. 2017. “The Failed War on Drugs.” The New York Times, December 31. Retrieved February 1, 2018 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/12/31/opinion/failed-war-ondrugs.html). Sommer, Jeff. 2017. “Trump Immigration Crackdown is Great for Private Prison Stocks.” The New York Times, March 10. Retrieved February 2, 2018 (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/10/ your-money/immigrants-prison-stocks.html). Rojc, Philip. 2017. “Who Supports Trump's Favorite Immigration Think Tank?” Inside Philanthropy, April 21. Retrieved February 2, 2018 (https://www.insidephilanthropy.com/home/2017/4/21/ center-for-immigration-studies-funders). The United States Department of Justice. 2013. “Average Per Diem Rate Paid, by Type of Facility, Fiscal Year 1994-2011.” The United States Department of Justice Archives. Retrieved March 12, 2019 (https://www.justice.gov/archive/ofdt/perdiem-paid.htm). Wagner, Peter and Brigette Sarabi. 2003. The Prison Index: Taking the Pulse of the Crime Control Industry. Springfield, MA: Prison Policy Initiative. Wood, Evan, Daniel Werb, Brandon D. L. Marshall, Julio S. G. Montaner, and Thomas Kerr. 2009. “The War on Drugs: A Devastating Public-Policy Disaster.” The Lancet 373(9668):989–90.
COMPARING THE SUCCESS AND FAILURES OF CONJUGAL VISITATION PROGRAMS IN CANADA Emilly Renaud
Abstract Due to Canada’s more lenient judicial and incarceration policy (Doob and Webster 2006), some prisoners are able to participate in progressive conjugal visitation programs that help foster family connections and reduce recidivism. For male prisoners, they can participate in the Private Family Visit (PFV) program which allows their family to have overnight visits in apartment-like settings with minimal to no supervision (Correctional Service Canada 2019). The Mother-Child Program (MCP) allows female prisoners to have their young children live with them while they serve their sentence (Correctional Service Canada 2018). However, the MCP sees considerably less participation than the PFV program due to punitive policy changes implemented during Prime Minister Harper’s administration (Brennan 2014). Barriers to the MCP are further exacerbated for Aboriginal female offenders as these policy changes do not consider their history and status in Canada (Miller 2017). This essay investigates the structures and downfalls of each conjugal visitation program and draws attention to suggested changes for improving the PFV program and making the MCP more accessible to Aboriginal inmates. Keywords: female incarceration, Indigenous mothers, penal policy, conjugal visitation
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Introduction The Canadian criminal justice system has generally prioritized the use of alternative sanctions over imprisonment in sentencing offenders (Doob and Webster 2006). This has fostered greater rehabilitative programs in prisons, such as the Private Family Visit (PFV) program and the MotherChild program (MCP) which were both introduced to maintain family connections, encourage good behaviours in inmates, help the rehabilitative process of offenders, and promote a smooth transition back into society (Correctional Service Canada 2018; Correctional Service Canada 2019). The parameters around these conjugal visitation policies are quite different as PFV is focused on families visiting male offenders for up to three days, while the MCP allows children to live with their incarcerated mothers full time or part time, or at least visit frequently; however, both policies are intended to keep families together and instill hope in the inmates (Correctional Service Canada 2018; Correctional Service Canada 2019; Givetash 2016; Omand 2017). The PFV program has seen great success and use since its implementation in the 1980s (Omand 2016), while the MCP has seen a stark drop in participation since its inception in the early 2000s (Brennan 2014). In this paper, I explore why the PFV program has been much more successful than the MCP in Canada. First, I will provide a brief overview of the punitive attitudes prevalent in the Canadian justice system which provide a frame of reference for these rehabilitative conjugal visitation policies. Second, I will review the policy of PFV, its impact on women, and perceptions of the program from women, the media, and prison administration. Third, I will review the MCP and explore the causes of decreasing participation, which is tied to a rising “tough on crime agenda” since Stephen Harper’s election in 2006, and how revisions in MCP policy have caused disproportionate inaccessibility for Aboriginal female offenders. Lastly, I will present proposed changes to improve the PFV program and MCP.
Penal Attitudes in Canada Doob and Webster (2006) argue that despite trends towards penal populism in developed nations such as the U.S. and England, Canada’s judicial structural, political, and cultural makeup has seen the nation remain stable in the wake of global currents of penalism. There is a major difference between the U.S. and Canada regarding criminal law. In Canada, making changes to criminal law is a federal responsibility; provinces only have the responsibility to administer criminal justice and cannot make changes to criminal law (Doob and Webster 2006:346). In contrast, criminal law in the U.S. is under state jurisdiction (Doob and Webster 2006:346). Judicial legislation in Canada since 1969 has prioritized alternatives to imprisonment. In 1996, legislation mandated that offenders should be provided other sanctions before stripping “offenders of rights” (Doob and Webster 2006:344). Criminal law reforms are not written by political parties, but by professional civil servants, which prevent biased or extreme policy changes (Doob and Webster 2006:348). Sentencing is left to the discretion of judges who generally do not support tough-on-crime stances, who will firstly look to alternatives to prison if possible, and who are not permitted or encouraged to make public political statements or criticize the Canadian judicial system (Doob and Webster 2006:353–354). Importantly, cultural attitudes in Canada have not shifted towards penal harshness like public attitudes in the U.S. have. Canadians trust their government and the criminal justice system more than Americans trust their government (Doob and Webster 2006:354). Both conservative and liberal politicians understand imprisonment to be “both financially and socially too expensive,” as prisons are government-funded and not private (Doob and Webster 2006:345). Some of this more understanding stance on criminal offenses and disapproval of mass incarceration stems from Canadian identity to be more “open to change and diversity”, more communicative, and less isolationist which is oppositional to America
(Doob and Webster 2006:356–357). These cultural attitudes contribute to Canadian prison rates remaining stable and prison models emphasizing rehabilitation rather than punishment. Varma and Marinos (2013) assert that the work of Doob and various colleagues were “dismantled” with the introduction of the Harper administration’s criminal justice policies (p. 550). When Harper was elected in 2006, he began a “tough on crime” effort which altered penal attitudes in public and political realms in Canada for the next decade (Mallea 2010). Doob and Webster’s (2006) account of crime not being a political issue in Canada had not aged well as the Harper government lamented crime “epidemics” in Canada, fueling public fears of “guns, gangs, and drugs”, and shifting about 30 percent of legislation before the House of Commons to crime-related issues (Mallea 2006:5). As seen in the United States under Nixon’s and Reagan’s presidencies (Campbell and Schoenfeld 2013), crime entered into Canadian federal political discourse and oppositional parties began adopting a degree of crime rhetoric into their platforms to prevent being perceived as “soft on crime”, even though crime rates in Canada had been decreasing for decades (Mallea 2006:5,7). To quote Harper himself: “… the safe streets and safe neighbourhoods that Canadians have come to expect as part of our way of life are threatened by rising levels of crime” (Mallea 2006:12). Harper’s government introduced new policies, such as the controversial Bill C-10 which proposed the expansion in use of mandatory minimum sentencing for areas such as minor offenses and youth sentences (Varma and Marinos 2013:557). Although informed Canadians still maintain that tougher sentencing is not always effective or necessary (Varma and Marinos 2013:557), Harper’s Conservatives worked to bring crime politics to the foreground of political discourse and reaped some success in fueling fears on crime (Mallea 2006:5). Harper’s government has cut and reformed prison rehabilitation programs, such as the 2008 reformation of the Mother-Child program, which had dangerous consequences for families with incarcerated mothers (Mallea 2006:5; Brennan 2014:19). The scholarly work on penal attitudes in Canada and punitiveness in the Canadian criminal justice system provide a frame of reference for the PFV and MCP. In the following section, I will first review how PFV occurs in the federal prison system, how it impacts families with a focus on the experiences of women during conjugal visits, and correctional administrative perceptions of the PFV program. Next, I will discuss the MCP which was impacted much more heavily after the election of Harper’s Conservative government, and present findings on why it has been less successful than PFV.
The PFV Program Due to the centralization of criminal justice in Canada, conjugal visitation occurs similarly across the nation. The PFV program was introduced by Correctional Service Canada in the early 1980s. Inmates with no history of domestic violence and who engage in good behaviour while in prison may have access to a family visit about every two months, and the visit can span up to three days (Correctional Service Canada 2019:para.7). Inmates can only visit with immediate family or partners. Factors in evaluating whether someone is a legitimate conjugal partner include: shared housing, sexual and/or personal commitment, division of household chores and economic support, and social activities (Government of Canada 2019:para.3). Both the inmate and visiting family are subject to intensive searches before and after the visit, and attempts to bring in contraband result in inmates losing visitation privileges (Correctional Service Canada 2019:para.17). The visits are not supervised, but staff members make regular contact with the family for security and safety. Interestingly, visitors are subject to an interview with an officer to ensure the visit went smoothly and to assess if any alterations need to be made for future visits. The only space for variation is in deciding what toys and/ or items are allowed in the visiting unit, which is decided by prison staff (Correctional Service Canada 2019:para.17). This is how conjugal visitation programs run according to Correctional Service Canada Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 21
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 22 (CSC) (Correctional Service Canada 2019:para.6–32). In the following section I draw on research and news stories that provide insight into how the PFV program is perceived by Canadian inmates and their families, as well as by the prison staff administering the program.
Perceptions on PFV in Canada In a study conducted in Ontario by Toepell and Greaves (2001) on women’s perceptions about their safety during conjugal visits, the authors note some unintentional consequences or damaging outcomes of some of the PFV policies laid out by CSC. The main concern the authors brought forth was the lack of support for female visitors who wanted to delay the conjugal visit due to fears about abuse or violence when visiting their partners for the first time (p. 89–90). The PFV program requires a follow up interview with an officer, but the women in this study highlight how they will withhold experiences and feelings of discomfort to institutional authorities (Toepell and Greaves 2001:89). This stems from lack of trust of CSC, but also from a fear that their partners will be penalized, their partners will get angry with them, or that opportunities for future visits will cease (Toepell and Greaves 2001:89–90). This diminishes the whole purpose of “the follow up” as partners do not accurately report their experiences in the visit. Another consequence which intensified the distrust or disdain for correctional officers relates to prison staff’s responsibility to decide which items are allowed in the visitation dwelling. Partners faced inconsistent rules from staff relating to which items are permitted in the unit. Products such as bath oils were sometimes allowed, but some staff forbade them. Women always followed the staff’s orders but felt stress and hostility in trying to cater to staff who “keep changing the rules” (Toepell and Greaves 2001:98–99). Though Todd’s (2015) study is dated, his discussion on family visitation in Alberta prisons has also highlighted the stress both women and children experience during pre-visit and post-visit searches, as well as a need for correctional officers to treat family members with more trust and dignity to encourage them to continue visiting their incarcerated loved-ones. Research on female, child, and public perceptions is very limited, but a general of lack of trust of CSC staff due to harsh and/or inconsistent treatment seems to be a persisting problem in a few provinces running the federal PFV program. Recent academic research on PFV program in Canada is lacking, but reporter Geordon Omand has several articles about the topic published in different Canadian news outlets. In 2017, he published an article on PFV in a minimum-security prison in Mission, B.C., which provides insight into the importance of conjugal visitation from the perspective of prison officials (Omand 2017). Barb van Vugt, the warden at Mission Institute, stated that conjugal visitation “[gives] an inmate the best chance at successfully reintegrating back into society” (Omand 2017:para.10). Ms. van Vugt also noted that offenders return to our communities eventually and it is in the communities’ best interest to support offenders and maintain relationships (Omand 2017). Ms. van Vugt told Omand that, according to research conducted by CSC, the PVF program has seen a 22 percent drop in the likelihood of recidivism after at least two visits (Omand 2017:para.13). All prison staff interviewed by Omand stated the importance of maintaining ties with partners and children (Omand 2017). In an earlier article by Omand (2016), he introduces us to an inmate, Lee Chapelle, who briefly tells his story about how the PFV program instilled hope and love for his family while he served a 15year sentence. Chapelle now runs Prison Consulting Services Canada, which demonstrates how he was able to stay motivated and use his prison experience to serve the correctional institution as an employee. In this article, correctional officers told the reporter that incentives for visitation are also useful tools to encourage good behaviour among inmates (Omand 2016). Again, we see correctional staff maintaining positive perception on the PFV program and its importance for preparing inmates for societal re-entry.
Mother-Child Program (MCP) in Canada While the discussion on the PFV program by Toepell and Greaves (2001) and Omand (2016, 2017) focus on heteronormative families with an incarcerated father, the MCP—a program that was implemented in 2001 in Canada—focuses on incarcerated mothers. The MCP allows their children to live with them while they serve their sentence. The goal of the MCP, as stated by CSC, is “[t]o foster positive relationships between federally incarcerated women and their children by providing a supportive environment that promotes stability and continuity for the mother-child relationship” (Correctional Service Canada 2018:para.2). As of 2008, for a female inmate to be eligible for the MCP, she must have no prior violent or sexual offenses, the inmate must be classified at minimum or medium security level, and there must be approval from child protective services (Correctional Service Canada 2018; Brennan 2014:18). The inmate can be the biological, adoptive, or stepmother of the child. Children aged five and under can live with their mothers full time, and children aged six and over can visit their incarcerated mothers part-time such as on weekends and holidays (Correctional Service Canada 2018). Supporters of the program emphasize the importance of maintaining child-mother connections, especially when children are very young. In Canada, 70 percent of the female inmates in medium and minimum security have children (Givetash 2016:para.15), and most of these children were in the primary care of their mothers before they were sentenced to prison (Brennan 2014:13). About twothirds of incarcerated women are the sole caregivers of their children, which means 20,000 children are impacted by their mothers going to prison (Miller 2017:1). Children experience greater impact when their mothers go to prison than when their fathers do (Miller 2017:2). Separation of children from their mothers has detrimental effects for both sides. For children with mothers in prison, they are more likely to have emotional and behavioural issues such as depression, anxiety, withdrawal, anger issues, and poor performance in school (Brennan 2014:12–13). As children of incarcerated mothers enter into adolescence, they are more likely to have adverse attitudes towards the criminal justice system and engage in criminal activity (Brennan 2014:12–13). For the mothers, their separation from their children is one of the major “pains of imprisonment”, and they are likely to experience depression, anxiety, guilt, and distress around finding stable childcare for their kids while they serve their sentences (Brennan 2014:12). The United Nations (UN) Committee for the Rights of the Child considers “children of incarcerated mothers among the most vulnerable groups” (Miller 2017:2). Mo Korchinski, a former inmate, indicated that separation from her children during her sentence led her into such a poor state of mental health that she began to “deny” she had children (Givestash 2016). Korchinski is now an advocate for female prisoners and has spread awareness about the “life changing benefits” of the MCP (Givetash 2016:para.2). Not only does this program secure bonds between mothers and children, but the program gives inmates access to prenatal and various educational parenting skill programs. A professor at the University of British Columbia states “those babies have had a better chance in their life to start off than they otherwise would have” (Givetash 2016:para.9). Crucially, like the PFV program, these programs are an apparatus of hope and incentives for mothers and discourage recidivism (Givetash 2016). Despite the support for the program, this article addresses an important component of MCP in Canada, the fact that the program is seldom participated in (Brennan 2014:18).
Failures of the MCP in Canada Brennan (2014) found that in 2001, only 3 percent of incarcerated women in Canada utilized the MCP, but by 2012, there was only one full-time MCP participant and there had been no partUndergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 23
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 24 time participants since 2009 (p. 18). Brennan (2014) acknowledges limitations in her research as information and data on the program are sparse; she acknowledges that this is an overall weakness not only in her paper but on the part of CSC (p. 14–15). Brennen (2014) cites three barriers that women experience in accessing MCP. These include 2008 revisions of MCP policy eligibility, a change in the physical environment of prisons in the past decade, and coincidingly a change in the institutional culture towards more punitiveness (Brennan 2014:18). I will unpack each barrier accordingly. 2008 revisions: Prior to 2008, incarcerated mothers with violent offenses such as battered women who kill in self defense were eligible for MCP, and approval from child protective services was not required for program acceptance. In 2008, this changed; women convicted of violent crimes lost eligibility, and now inmates had to have approval from child services which added an additional barrier. This automatically prevented many federally incarcerated women from accessing MCP (Brennan 2014:18). Reformed “dual arrest policy” meant that more women involved in domestic abuse cases were being charged with assault, which is classified as a violent crime and leaves the female ineligible (Brennan 2014:19–20). This revision had an indirect compounding effect because now not only does the incarcerated mother have to have no history of violent offenses, but inmates housed with her also had to have no violent criminal history (Brennan 2014:19). Additionally, the participation of the part-time residency was restricted to children aged 6 and over, which meant that mothers who could not take on the responsibility of full-time residency would now only have access to standard visitation. Prison environment: Harper’s tough-on-crime rhetoric “increased the number of federallysentenced offenders”, with a 70 percent increase of federally sentenced women. Incarceration increased by over 5000 inmates between 2006 and 2011 (Brennan 2014:22). This led to more institutions reaching capacity, and since the accommodation of inmates was prioritized over the MCP, this decreased the ability of women to participate in the program (Brennan 2014:23). Institutional culture: Also coinciding with the new tough on crime efforts, prison environments were becoming more punitive. This is due to the implementation of more maximum security units in prisons which amplified the need for more security around the prison and “made the environment more risky” (Brennan 2014:24). It is said that this exacerbated power differences between the inmates and the prison staff and impacted the overall culture of the prison from a rehabilitative centre to heavily-secured space (Brennan 2014:24). Brennan notes that these barriers and these preventative factors are “institutional or systemic barriers”, as no respondents in her study reported a personal lack of interest in participating in the MCP (p. 19).
How These Barriers Disproportionately Affect Aboriginal Female Offenders Because Aboriginal women are overrepresented in Canadian prisons (representing one-quarter of the female prison population but only 3 percent of the Canadian female population), Aboriginal mothers and children are disproportionately affected by these barriers to MCP (Miller 2017:11). The 2008 revisions to the MCP were partly inspired by the case of Lisa Whitford, an Indigenous woman who was raised by an alcoholic mother and was a victim of sexual abuse and rape from early childhood until her adult years. While pregnant, Whitford killed her partner who had been both physically and emotionally abusing her. Under the MCP, she was able to keep her child after she gave birth during her imprisonment (Miller 2017:9–10). This story sparked debate around the safety of children of convicted mothers living in prison and prompted the 2008 revisions which would exclude over 66 percent of the federally incarcerated female offenders who had violent offenses (Miller
2017:10). It is important to note that the separation of Aboriginal children from their parents is rooted in a long history of colonialism where governmental policy enacted the removal of Aboriginal children from their homes into residential schools (Miller 2017:11). With a growing number of Aboriginal mothers being incarcerated, and because 75 percent of federally sentenced Aboriginal females have violent charges and represent 45 percent of female maximum security inmates (Miller 2017:12–13), Aboriginal women experience much less access to MCP than other Canadian females. These 2008 revisions had other indirect compounding effects on Aboriginal females. One reason is because of the use of the “Custody Rating Scale” which was developed and tested on white male populations to assess a citizen’s employment, marital status, attitude, and other factors (Miller 2017:12). If an Aboriginal person is skeptical or distrusting of the criminal justice system, which is common due to the long legacy of colonialism and racial profiling of Aboriginals, this is scored as uncooperative behaviour. The scale “applies normative constructs to Aboriginal people” and possesses a middle-class bias as it lacks consideration of an Aboriginal’s unique socioeconomic circumstances and systemic and historical discrimination and its relationship to criminal activity (Miller 2017:12). For example, Aboriginal women are more likely to be convicted in “battered women who kill in selfdefence” cases because they are more likely to experience spousal abuse, more likely to plead guilty due to lack of knowledge of their legal rights, and they are more likely to suffer from drug and alcohol abuse which undermines pleads of self-defence if they were intoxicated (Miller 2017:13–14). Despite evidence that women who kill in self-defence do not pose threats to children and are at low risk for recidivism, this violent offense leaves women ineligible for MCP. Further barriers include the involvement of child protective services. In 2011, “more than 14,000 Aboriginal children aged 14 and under [were] in foster care” (Tuner 2016:1). While “Aboriginal children accounted for 7 [percent] of all children in Canada”, they represented “48 [percent] of all foster care children” (Turner 2016:1). Again, this triggers a “painful history” of parent-child separation in Aboriginal communities which leaves Aboriginal parents distrusting of the Canadian government and reluctant to involve child protective services (Miller 2017:15). This research into the realities of Aboriginal mothers in jail is crucial in showing how policy can indirectly prevent certain peoples from accessing programs and resources that could benefit their lives. Harper’s admiration and move towards more American ideology in punishment has seen a significant increase in incarceration in Canada and shifts away from rehabilitative models, as seen in the changing environments of Canadian female prisons. Women in the United States have seen a much more drastic imprisonment rate, starting before the 21st century with the “War on Drugs” movement which increased female incarceration rates from 11 percent in 1980 to 69 percent in 2008, increasing the numbers of women in prison six-fold (Kruttschnitt 2010:32). As previously stated, children are more greatly impacted when their mother goes to prison than when their father does. Kruttschnitt (2010) addresses the crucial factor that when men go to prison, there is a 90 percent likelihood that their child will continue living with their mother. But when a woman with children is incarcerated, there is only a 28 percent chance they will reside with the father. Likely they will move in with their grandparents or be placed in foster care (Kruttschnitt 2010:35). Though these statistics are based in the United States, research on Canadian female prisoners has also highlighted the concern the women have for who will care for their children if they do not qualify for MCP because the majority of incarcerated mothers were the primary caregivers (Brennan 2014). The phenomenon that sees mothers placing larger efforts into maintaining family connections when their partners do time through utilizing the PFV program may speak to why it has seen greater success than the MCP.
Suggestions for Program Improvement Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 25
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 26 Brennan (2014) poses suggestions to better the MCP, and Miller (2017) builds on a lot of the work of Brennan to recommend “tools” Aboriginal women can utilize to access MCP. Toepell and Greaves (2001) have also made suggestions for improving PFV because, despite its greater success, there is room for improvement as well. For Brennan, solutions begin with rethinking and decreasing female incarceration. Increasing “community sentencing” and returning to the traditional Canadian practice of alternative sanctioning before imprisonment will reduce overcrowding in federal institutions and leave more room for women to use MCP (Brennan 2014:28). Along with reducing the rate of imprisonment, Brennan calls for CSC to make prison environments places for healing and rehabilitation rather than for security. She also suggests discontinuing security classification, or separating maximum security prison units from medium and minimum security in order to reduce the amount of surveillance needed in prisons and alleviate safety concerns regarding children staying in maximum-security style prisons (p. 29). Repealing the eligibility reforms enacted in 2008 so that a female’s offense cannot ultimately decide her approval in MCP is also recommended. Additionally, ridding of the “arbitrary” restrictions around ages, and allowing for children under six to partake in both full-time and part-time residency would increase the use of the program as some mothers may hold great interest in having her child stay with her but might not be able to take on the responsibility of caring for her child 24/7. The restrictions should not be fostering all or nothing options (Brennan 2014:29). Lastly, Brennan draws attention to news media which have used controversial headlines regarding MCP that have sensationalized the fears of babies being born and/or living in prison. Since Brennan’s (2014) article was published, there has seemed to be a shift in reporting style on incarcerated mothers, as headlines found in Global News and CBC on the topic are worded as “Canada’s women prison plan includes rooms for mothers – and children” (Stone 2014) and “Being a mom 'doesn't go away' for prison inmates, program shows” (Ferrier 2017), which are at least neutral if not more positive. For Aboriginal women, Miller (2017) suggests CSC draw from the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure the program is prioritizing the child’s best interests and considering the history of Aboriginal peoples in Canada seeing their children forcefully removed from them. It is also recommended that the child’s wishes should be considered in the MCP application (Miller 2017:16– 17). Miller also suggests Aboriginal offenders utilize legislation such as the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” and the “Gladue Principal” which were both conceived to ensure judges were taking the realities of Aboriginal peoples into sentencing guidelines. Miller suggests moves toward more punitiveness under Harper’s leadership, may have undermined legislations and put priority on imprisonment (p. 19–20). Reforming or removing the “Custody Rating Scale,” which was designed for white males, could also decrease the number of Aboriginal peoples who get charged with violent offenses or who end up in prisons (Miller 2017:12). Lastly, to move back to the PFV program, Toepell and Greaves suggest that correctional staff need to treat families with more respect during visitation as nearly all participants had reported staff being rude or humiliating them (Toepell and Greaves 2001:95,105). An option allowing women to confidentially delay a visitation with their incarcerated partners if they are anxious, could put the blame on the system and not on the wife, thus preventing conflict between partners (Toepell and Greaves 2001:90). In the unfortunate incidents where women are emotionally or physically abused during visits, staff must be better trained at recognizing abuse, especially if not obvious abuse, and responding to the incidents both quickly and respectfully as to ensure the woman feels safe (Toepell and Greaves 2001:105). Recent news coverage based on interviews with social workers who are involved with PFV suggest Toepell and Greaves’ findings on weaknesses in the program are still relevant.
Conclusion Keeping families connected while a parent is incarcerated has seen positive benefits for the inmate, the spouse, and the children. It provides the inmate with hope and motivation to carry out their sentence and rejoin their community. The Private Family Visit program which mainly serves male offenders is perceived by officers, wardens, and prisoners as an important tool to rehabilitate offenders and reduce recidivism. However more precautions should be implemented to ensure the safety of women visiting their partners, and correctional officers must change their attitudes and respect visiting families. The Mother-Child program was developed to address keeping families connected as well, stressing the importance of mother-child relationships, nevertheless, changes in Canada’s punitive culture which increased the number of women being incarcerated and imposed stricter restrictions for women with violent offenses have disallowed the program to grow and assist mothers in caring for their children. This is especially harmful when considering most mothers in prisons are the sole caregivers for their children, and Aboriginal female offenders are disproportionately affected by the punitive restrictions to MCP.
References Brennan, Sarah. 2014. “Canada’s Mother-Child Program.” Canadian Graduate Journal of Sociology and Criminology 3(1):11–33. Campbell, M.C. and Heather Schoenfeld. 2013. “The Transformation of America’s Penal Order: A Historicized Political Sociology of Punishment.” American Journal of Sociology 118(5):1375– 1423. Correctional Service Canada. 2018. “Institutional Mother-Child Program.” Government of Canada. Retrieved May 6, 2019 (http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/politiques-et-lois/768-cd-eng.shtml#E_ Residential_Component_Eligibility). Correctional Service Canada. 2019. Visiting an Inmate.” Government of Canada. Retrieved May 6, 2019 (https://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/family/003004-0001-en.shtml#_Private_family_visits). Doob, Anthony N. and Cheryl Marie Webster. 2006 “Countering Punitiveness: Understanding Stability in Canada’s Imprisonment Rate.” Law & Society Review 40(2):325–67. Ferrier, Melanie. 2017. “Being a mom 'doesn't go away' for prison inmates, program shows."CBC, November 16. Retrieved November 10, 2018 (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/kitchenerwaterloo/why-one-woman-thinks-prison-is-the-perfect-place-for-kids-1.4403784). Givetash, Linda. 2016. “Mother-child prison program giving babies, mothers ‘a better chance’”. The Toronto Star, July 17. Retrieved November 10, 2018 (https://www.thestar.com/news/ world/2016/07/17/mother-child-prison-program-giving-babies-mothers-a-better-chance.html). Government of Canada. 2019. “Assessing Conjugal Relationships.” Government of Canada. Retrieved May 6, 2019 (https://www.canada.ca/en/immigration-refugees-citizenship/corporate/ publications-manuals/operational-bulletins-manuals/permanent-residence/non-economicclasses/family-class-determining-spouse/assessing-conjugal.html). Kruttschnitt, Candace. 2010. “The Paradox of Women’s Imprisonment.” Daedalus 139(3):32–42. Mallea, Paula. 2010. The Fear Factor: Stephen Harper's ‘Tough on Crime’ Agenda. Ottawa, ON: Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. Retrieved May 6, 2017 (http://www. policyalternatives.ca/sites/default/files/uploads/publications/National%20Office/2010/11/ Tough%20on%20Crime.pdf).
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Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 28 Miller, K. 2017. “Canada's Mother-Child Program and Incarcerated Aboriginal Mothers: How and Why the Program is Inaccessible to Aboriginal Female Offenders.” Canadian Family Law Quarterly 37(1):1–23. Omand, Geordan. 2016. “Conjugal prison visits help offenders reintegrate to community, experts say”. CBC, October 30. Retrieved November 10, 2018 (https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/britishcolumbia/conjugal-visits-offenders-1.3828435). Omand, Geordan. 2017. “For Inmates in Mission, B.C., Conjugal Visits an Important Slice of Life Outside.” The Globe and Mail, February 1. Retrieved November 10, 2018 (https://www. theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/for-inmates-in-mission-bc-conjugal-visits-animportant-slice-of-life-outside/article33873787/). Stone, Laura. 2014. “Canada’s Women Prison Plan Includes Rooms for Mothers—and Children.” Global News, March 6. Retrieved November 20, 2018 (https://globalnews.ca/news/1191486/ canadas-women-prison-expansion-includes-rooms-for-mothers-and-children/). Todd, Zoe. 2016. “Canada's Prison Visitation System 'High-Tech, Low-Touch,' says Correctional Investigator.” CBC Edmonton, September 25. Retrieved November 20, 2018 (https://www. cbc.ca/news/canada/edmonton/canada-s-prison-visitation-system-high-tech-low-touch-sayscorrectional-investigator-1.3777990). Toepell, Andrea and Lorraine Greaves. 2001. “Experience of Abuse Among Women Visiting Incarcerated Partners.” Violence Against Women 7(1):80–109. Turner, Annie. 2016. “Living Arrangements of Aboriginal Children Aged 14 and Under.” Statistics Canada (75-006-X):1–13. Varma, Kimberly N. and Voula Marinos. 2013. “Three Decades of Public Attitudes Research on Crime and Punishment in Canada.” Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice 55(4):549–562.
CONSTRUCTION THROUGH CURATION: INSTAGRAM AND GENDER D eem Waham
Abstract Though previous work on gender and media has focused on traditional media forms such as television, film, or print magazines, social media is an interesting new area to explore the ways in which gender is constructed and embedded in the institutions of contemporary society. This paper examines the role of social media, in particular Instagram, as a site for the construction and negotiation of gender. Instagram is presented here as both a perpetuation of, as well as a departure from, traditional media forms. It is a gendered forum the same way most mainstream media is: The gender binary and an exaggerated portrayal of ideal femininity are perpetuated through the transmission of cultural messaging. However, it also provides individual autonomy and power to express oneâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s own experiences, constituting a major departure from traditional media forms. On Instagram, almost anyone has the opportunity to put forth content. This is particularly important for those traditionally left out of the mainstream narrative, including gender nonconforming individuals, trans people, and anyone not represented by existing dominant gender ideologies (i.e. the sex and gender binary systems). Keywords social media, gender performance, gender binary, ideal femininity, social construction, media democratization
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Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 30
Introduction Imagine a photo of four friends sitting close together in what appears to be a hotel room, raising flutes of sparkling rosé wine in a toast. They are wearing luxurious bathrobes, with towels wrapped around their hair, invoking the feel of a spa retreat, perhaps. They all have their legs crossed daintily, and are gazing towards each other, or at their wine, in what might be described as an adoring manner. The caption is full of an assortment of hashtags,1 including #CheersBetches, #LegsCrossedLikeABoss, #LiveLaughLove, and #TooBlessedToBeStressed. They are also all bearded, muscular-looking men. This is an image posted on “Bros Being Basic,”2 a parody Instagram page with over 900,000 followers to date. Compared to traditional media forms such as television or print magazines, social media platforms are unique in that users are both active creators and passive consumers. As per West and Zimmerman (1987), gender is constructed through everyday interactions. Today, a large proportion of these interactions take place on social media. As an agent of socialization, the media contributes to the perpetuation of dominant gender ideologies that strengthen Western heteronormative, cisgender, and patriarchal notions and behaviours. Social media is no different in this regard, especially when considering that most platforms contain sponsored advertising interspersed throughout one’s social feed. While this is true of other forms of social media, in this paper I will focus primarily on Instagram, as it is a photo-based social media platform which provides ample opportunity for gender construction and reproduction through imagery. I argue that Instagram has both supplemented and surpassed traditional media forms in the construction of gender. It reinforces the gender binary by highlighting differences between men and women, and perpetuates and adds to narratives of ideal femininity. However, at the same time, Instagram’s user-based, self-curation aspect allows for the representation of alternative gender expressions.
BROS, GIRLS, AND THE DOMINANT GENDER IDEOLOGY Perhaps at first glance the aforementioned Bros Being Basic page (@brosbeingbasic) seems positive, as physically stereotypical masculine men by Western standards are violating gender norms in front of a large audience. But all representation is not equal; these men pose and behave in ways that are meant to parody a specific demographic of Instagram users. That is, young, white, middle-toupper-class, cisgender women—what can perhaps be considered the standard of hegemonic femininity in Western society. The running joke of stereotypically masculine men acting like stereotypically feminine women is by no means a new one, but an interesting idea emerges in this context. Unsurprisingly, the gender binary—in which two distinct types of humans, “men” and “women”, exist with little acknowledgement of gender-nonconforming individuals—continues to persist in the online space. On Instagram, there seems to be an implicit understanding that men and women post content in different ways: the way they pose, what they choose to write in captions, and certainly what types of things are deemed important to post about all appear to be gendered. The implicitness is an important factor here. In his article on Molson beer advertising, Steven Jackson (2014) talks about the ad campaign “The Code”: 1 Normally used to tag and search for posts on social media by topic; in many cases nowadays, however, hashtags are used simply to add flair to photo captions 2 Bros Being Basic’s (@brosbeingbasic) Instagram post, accessed December 10, 2017, https:// www.instagram.com/p/BXtO9hVBU0_/
[T]he opening catchphrase ‘There’s an unwritten code in Canada’ suggests that these [gender] rules are not formal and explicit; rather there is a subtle expectation that they are known. To this extent, the codes infer hegemony, whereby they are the widely represented, accepted, and reproduced commonsense [sic], modus operandi for many Canadian males. (P. 908) In a similar way, the Bros Being Basic posts do not tell us explicitly that there are differences between men and women. Rather, by framing posts as a joke, the page is assuming that users already know that such differences exist. The differences are so concrete that the parody does not need to be explained, thus reinforcing the gender binary as an unsaid “truth”, and discouraging any critical questioning of it. This in turn perpetuates existing gender hierarchies by highlighting and standardizing differences.
IDEAL FEMININITY AND THE INSTAGRAMMABLE LIFE The gender binary narrative is not the only one that emerges in examining the construction of gender on Instagram. According to Business Insider, over two thirds of Instagram users are women (Smith 2014). Looking at how women negotiate gender in a space in which they make up a large majority may provide insight into our culture as a whole. This can be thought of in the context of Susan Bordo’s (2003) analysis of the body as a “medium of culture”. According to Bordo (2003), everything we do with our bodies, “what we eat, how we dress, and the daily rituals to which we attend” is an interpretation of and active participation in our culture (p. 165). In this sense, Instagram can be thought of as a symbolic extension of the body. Just as the body is “a powerful symbolic form, a surface on which the central rules, hierarchies, and even metaphysical commitments of a culture are inscribed and thus reinforced through the concrete language of the body” (Bordo 2003:165), the choices users make on Instagram are both a reflection and direct reproduction of their culture. Many users curate their accounts carefully, similar to putting thought into physical appearance to reflect one’s identity, and as such, there is an element of intentionality. A woman may not realize that a photo she posts is perpetuating a version of hegemonic femininity that reduces women’s value to their physical appearance. However, she does know that she will earn approval from online followers by posting a photo of herself wearing makeup and a fitted dress, for example, so she posts it as part of her gender performance. In this context, the performance of gender is no longer limited to the physical body but is carefully curated through posting decisions. The careful selection of which photo to post, how to edit it, what caption to add, and whether it fits in with the overall image that we would like to project to others—even the very act of choosing to have an Instagram account and post photos of oneself on it—all become part of the gender performance. This curatorial aspect is the process by which gender is negotiated, and the rules and hierarchies of our culture are represented. Images on traditional media are generally recognized as portraying idealized, unrealistic, and often altered representations of women (for a discussion on this, see Engeln-Maddox and Miller 2008; Milkie 1999). In contrast, it may be more difficult, especially for younger Instagram users, to discern the level of “filtering” that occurs on social media (Perloff 2014; Tiggemann 2014). It is a form of social interaction that can be controlled, shaped, and perfected to one’s liking prior to the occurrence of the interaction. This adds to the narrative of ideal femininity in which women feel pressured to “have it all”, without acknowledging that the so-called perfect life being portrayed might be a highlight reel, and not everyday reality. The curation of the perfect self—the careful and intentional construction of an Instagrammable life—has become a new norm for women in a way that does not seem to exist for heterosexual cisgender men. In this way, having a carefully curated Instagram account can be thought of as a “feminine” endeavour, akin to dieting or “attend[ing] to minute and often whimsical changes in fashion” (Bordo 2003:166). Since it is much easier to compare oneself to an acquaintance Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 31
Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 32 than an image in a magazine, it may be easy to forget that both the model in the magazine and the acquaintance on Instagram are performing. Both their images exaggerate, if not fabricate, reality. Insofar as an Instagram account is representative of one’s body, Bordo’s analysis perfectly captures why this is problematic: Through the exacting and normalizing disciplines of diet, makeup, and dress—central organizing principles of time and space in the day of many women—we are rendered less socially oriented and more centripetally focused on self-modification. Through these disciplines, we continue to memorize on our bodies the feel and conviction of lack, of insufficiency, of never being good enough… Viewed historically, the discipline and normalization of the female body… has to be acknowledged as an amazingly durable and flexible strategy of social control. (Bordo 2003:166) Though Bordo was writing before the creation of Instagram, the idea of self-modification as central for women continues to be applicable. Perhaps even more so today, as “never being good enough” has extended from Bordo’s discussion of a negative sense of one’s own body, to quantifiable forms of social approval through “likes” and “followers”.
DECENTRALIZATION AND DEMOCRATIZATION Constructing gender in this curatorial way does, however, have a positive side in the “democratization” of representation (as S.W. Underwood, PhD candidate in Sociology at the University of Toronto, phrased it).3 The user-based nature of most Instagram content production means there is the potential for alternative narratives to exist. Whereas traditional media and advertising generally show very similar bodies—cisgender, white, thin, and able-bodied—the diversity that exists on Instagram can potentially allow for a more comprehensive gender construction than previously available through mass media. In fact, many accounts exist solely for that purpose (see @effyourbeautystandards, @bodyposipanda, and @hashtag_equality for a few examples). One important narrative that appears in this context is that of trans or gender-nonconforming people. This narrative is almost entirely absent from traditional media, with what little existing coverage focusing mostly on trans people’s transitions, and the “before and after” aspect. This ultimately reduces transgender or transsexual individuals to a fleeting interval in time in which they are allowed to be relevant (their transition), and completely excludes gender-nonconformists who do not necessarily “transition”. The focus on the transition in mainstream media has the effect of oversimplifying a rich and complex narrative into a bite-sized version that is easier to consume by the general public since it maintains some adherence to the idea that one must fit into one of only two gender categories. With the advent of user-based content production on social media, such as Instagram, the voice of the trans person is their own. Their transition may or may not be the focal point of their curated page, and they may choose to display it however they wish. This allows for a forum on which a traditionally marginalized and oppressed group are not only able to be active participants, but can see themselves represented, and where other users can gain valuable educational insight in seeing alternatives to the dominant gender ideology.
CONCLUSION 3 S.W. Underwood, personal communication, November 23, 2017.
Instagram provides a unique vantage point to examine gender construction through social interaction and the consumption of individually curated content. It is a gendered forum in the same way most mainstream media is: The gender binary and ideal femininity are perpetuated through the transmission of cultural messaging wrapped up in imagery and text. However, Instagram is different from traditional media in that it grants individuals the autonomy to express their own experiences, whether or not they fit into dominant gender ideologies. Images such as ones of a transgender person of colour wearing colourful dresses yet talking about the reality of being “the only person on the street who looks like me,”4 a genderfluid person who posts images of themselves sitting on their wheelchair covered in glitter,5 or a cis woman who fits conventional beauty standards except that she proudly flaunts her leg hair,6 are examples of the type of content that normalizes body and gender diversity and gives hope for a more inclusive future.
References Bordo, Susan. 2003. Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body. 10th anniversary ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Engeln-Maddox, Renee and Steven A. Miller. 2008. “Talking Back to the Media Ideal: The Development and Validation of the Critical Processing of Beauty Images Scale.” Psychology of Women Quarterly 32(2):159–71. Jackson, Steven. 2014. “Globalization, Corporate Nationalism and Masculinity in Canada: Sport, Molson Beer Advertising and Consumer Citizenship.” Sport in Society 17(7):901–916. Milkie, Melissa A. 1999. “Social Comparisons, Reflected Appraisals, and Mass Media: The Impact of Pervasive Beauty Images on Black and White Girls Self-Concepts.” Social Psychology Quarterly 62(2):190. Perloff, Richard M. 2014. “Social Media Effects on Young Women’s Body Image Concerns: Theoretical Perspectives and an Agenda for Research.” Sex Roles 71(11-12):363–77. Smith, Cooper. 2014. “Here's Why Instagram's Demographics Are So Attractive To Brands”. Business Insider, August 17. Retrieved December 10, 2017 (http://www.businessinsider.com/instagramdemographics-2013-12). Tiggemann, Marika, Amy Slater, and Veronica Smyth. 2014. “‘Retouch Free’: The Effect of Labelling Media Images as Not Digitally Altered on Women’s Body Dissatisfaction.” Body Image 11(1):85–88. West, Candace and Don H. Zimmerman. 1987. “Doing Gender.” Gender & Society 1(2):125–151.
4 Alok Vaid-Menon’s (@alokvmenon) Instagram post, accessed December 10, 2017, https://www. instagram.com/p/BcVfhm7nTmp/ 5 Allegra Ruby’s (@rvbyallegra) Instagram post, accessed December 10, 2017, https://www. instagram.com/p/BbYiEMmBdAq/ 6 Dana Suchow’s (@danasuchow) Instagram post, accessed December 10, 2017, https://www. instagram.com/p/BWfjfeZnuoz/ Undergraduate Sociology Journal • Volume II • 2019 33
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