FEMINIST JUSTICE~S CONTRIBUTION TO CRIMINOLOGY
Harold E. Pepinsky
Bloomington~ IN 47405
To be presented at a session on peacemaking at the American
Society of Criminology Meeting~ Montre~l~ November 1987.
FEMINIST JUSTICE~S CONTRIBUTION TO CRIMINOLOGY
This is an assessment of an experiment in offering Feminist
Justice as a criminal justice seminar. Personally. the seminar
contributed to the assertiveness of women and to the softening of
men. Structurally~ the seminar was a testing ground for theories
of how to transcend domination and violence. The seminar made it
possible to see crime and punishment as twin forms of violence~
and peacemaking as a foundation for organizing a democratic
alternative. Altogether~ radical feminism is an especially
powerful way to build a theory and practice of responding to
crime and punishment.
The spring of 1987 I taught a seminar on feminist justice.
Twenty-nine of us participated. 13 were women. The seminar was
the idea of my wife, Jill Bystydzienski, who helped orient me in
feminist literature and suggested readings. Jill had been
working with Birgit Brock-Utne, a Norwegian peace researcher
whose book called Educating for Peace: R Feminist Perspective,
became the pivotal work in the seminar. Bi rgi t .... 'i si ted
Bloomington during the semester. Seminar participants got to
hear her and meet her, which brought life to the written word.
Another key work for me was American criminal justice researcher
Kay Harris's paper for the 1985 Second International Conference
on Prison Abolition, "Toward a Feminist Vision of Justice." which
explicitly related feminism to issues of crime and justice. The
syllabus for the semi nar', which lists these readings, is
appended. The syllabus indicates that the seminar focused on a
particular genre of feminist work called "radical femini'sm,"
which regards women not only as ultimate victims of viol~nce and
domination, but as having special personal gifts of peacemaking.
As luck would have it. shortly after the seminar ended Canadian
criminologist Gail Kellough and I were made co-presenters at a
session of the Third International Conference on Penal Abolition
(ICOPA), where I reacted to her presentation of how she had
changed as she had moved from prison abolitionism to radical
feminism. In this setting I got to see a different level of
criminal justice response to radical feminism, which helped put
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the seminar in perspective.
I had originally thought of going on to explore another
subject--perhaps nonviolent techniques for handling conflict--in
the spring seminar slot the following year. However~ comments
from a number of participants persuaded me that feminist justice
ought to be repeated. In this essay I aim to identify what it is
that students in the seminar, I, and feminists like Kellough,
Harris and Brock-utne feel radical feminist literature
contributes to issues of crime and punishment.
An incident at the ICOPA session highlighted a strength of the
seminar I had just finished. At the ICOPA session we were
discussing systems of domination as a foundation for violence
including crime and punishment. One woman argued that if people
were to transcend violence in the larger society~ children had to
be raised without being dominated by parents, to grow up knowing
that domination was neither right nor inevitable. To illustrate~
the woman described how she had related to her own children. A
male criminologist who happens to be a pacifist and gifted
theorist interrupted. He said that we had precious little time
to discuss important issues, and under these circumstances, he
considered it especially rude for someone to introduce personal
anecdotes. Personal anecdotes were after all beyond refutation~
hence foreclosed discussion. Instead. we should be describing
structures in which various forms of ~iolence presented
It happens that personal experience is a foundation for radical
feminist thinking~ and the anecdote a starting point for many a
theoretical generalization. Personal history is featured in
Kellough and Harris's presentations of ideas about justice.
Birgit Brock-Utne is particularly effective when she moves from
describing global structures of violence to discussing, how
structural issues have manifested themselves in her attempts to
raise nonviolent sans of her awn. What same of us see as r"Jer
genius in this regard has been dismissed by prominent male
colleagues as lightweight scholarship.
It was getting personal which students recurrently emphasized
was the mare valuable feature of the seminar. As the syllabus
indicates I tried to play dawn grading, and asked students to
turn their awn rationales for grades at the end of the semester.
One graduating senior woman who very nearly had a straight A
average, generally regarded as one of the best and brightest of
our criminal justice majors, wrote:
I learned mare from this class than I have in any
other, and since I need a grade, I am forced to say
that I think I deserve an "A". But, I want everyone to
know that what made this class such a valuable learning
experience was the willingness of my fellow classmates
(and I include you in this group, Hal) to openly
e:-:press thei r innermost thoughts ~ feel i ngs, and idea':;,.
In this course~ we all
student and teacher.
played the double role of both
In the same vein~ a man who has barely been getting grades he
needs to stay in school~ who is big and not averse to using
violence as in his -ob .J as a bouncer~ wrote~ "This is the first
class of my college career that I have enjoyed coming to~ and got
involved in." (And indeed he cpntributed a great deal to class
discussion~ including making a well-researched presentation as a
team prOject he initiated with a woman classmate.)
It has been a struggle over the years to overcome classroom
resistance to thinking at all critically about issues of crime
and punishment. Even some very clearly and simply written works l
like Nils Christie's Limits to Pain~ have been dismissed as
abstract~ meaningless~ impractical. While some fairly
conservative members of the seminar group remained so, no one
complained about the irrelevancy or abstractness of readings or
of class discussion.
It is of course possible to make a course informal and concrete
on any number of topics~ but the subject of how women and men
relate seemed to have special power. For one thing, many of us
are curious and interested in crossing the gender barrier and
getting better acquainted with members of the opposite sex.
E-ar I y on, men who read about extraordinary violence against
women--from assault, to failure to share food~ to failure to
recognize labor--were inclined to feel protective~ and to shc)w
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women in the class that they wanted to care for them. This
protectiveness was graphically displayed by our third class
meeting. Most of the women were sitting at a long table~ while
most of the men were sitting on chairs along the wall surrounding
them. Carol Gilligan's description of the different voices of
men and women was up for discussion (see the syllabus). The men
talked long and intensely about how men discriminated against
women and what ought to be done to help. One or two of the women
spoke up initially, but soon the women lapsed into silence.
A form of violence of major concern to Birgit Brock-Utne is
that men interrupt women and take up most of the time in
discussions. I called a break in the class. After the break, I
pointed out the pattern of the discussion~ and encouraged the
women to speak. Now, instead of talking about how men treat
women, the women started describing--in their own terms--the
"silent voice" depicted by Gilligan, the voice that speaks in
terms of connectedness with others, of nurture and compassion.
After class, I noticed that most of the essays turned in that
week had been written by women, who again eloquently described
the silent voice. I was moved by the experience to write the
first of what turned out to be a series of letters to seminar
participants, observing that women and men in the class tended to
f .~.ll into the gender patterns that Gilligan and Brock-Utne
This was a turning point in the semester.
Women continued to
listen hard, but men began to listen more too. Women became more
assertive and expressive. And alternatives to positions normally
taken in public discourse began to be vividly, personally
taken--first by women, then by more and more of the men.
Cooperation versus competition and nonviolent resistance versus
violent defense became recurrent topics of discussion. We went
back and forth from the specific to the general. For instance, a
discussion of whether personal progress depended on competition,
as in studying in school, became a televised panel discussion by
dental hygienists, a midwife and a state legislator of whether
competition between men (doctors/dentists) and women
(midwives/nurses/hygienists) impaired the quality of health care,
with seminar members joining in lively conversation. Discussion
with an administrator of a local women's shelter of whether to
blame victims for assault alternated with discussions of personal
decisions as to whether to engage in fights.
As women in this process became more assertive about describinq
the silent voice, one key insight was that women were in real
ways the stronger rather than the weaker sex. This was revealed
not only in figures like Brock-Utne's about how women generally
work more hours than men (especially when they add jobs outside
home to housework), or can afford less time off as from caring
for sick children than men, or show fortitude in peace movements
as in Greenham Common. It also showed up in personal stories of
courage and fortitude from women in the class.
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This meant not only that examples of cooperation and
nonviolence were real rather than abstract~ but that men could
afford to open up and show the softer side of themselves~ and the
side that warmed to compassion and nonviolent
It almost became a badge of honor for a man to
describe personal shame at having given way to violence~ or to
acknowledge having cried or having thrived on cooperation. One
man in the seminar repeatedly wrote of seeing and enjoying new
ways of relating to people~ as when he played a game of
racquetball with a less experienced player to keep the ball going
rather than to show winning form. A couple of men who early in
the semester stressed how tough their young lives .had been~
turned to describing how they had stopped fighting. All in all,
as women and women's positive experience gained more respect and
attention in the seminar~ men and women themselves let softness
and compassion emerge in their public discourse and writing.
Even the men who held to traditional male stances did so more
quietly and diffidently, listening hard along the way.
These changes were not always discovery of new ways to behave
and feel. Often, even for men, they were affirmation of parts of
their past~ as in recalling and newly appreCiating that one's
mother had tried to teach nonviolence.
At the same time women acknowledged violence of their own or
among women. I came to believe not that women and men are
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different~ but that convention allows different sides of women
and men to be acknowledged in public discourse. Giving respect
and recognition to the "women's" voice allowed men to e>;press
this side of themselves. Allowing women to be more vocal in an
-atmosphere I'Jhere honesty was safe I et them el-:press "men' s" -sides
of themselves. Given the tenor of the radical feminist
literature which celebrated cooperation~ nurture and nonviolence,
it became permissible for men to tryout and explore such
feelings and experiences as genuine, concrete, viable options to
competition, individualism and violence.
As Gilligan and Brock-Utne point out, larger value systems and
theories of social life emerge from the personal e:-:perience of
being able to express oneself cooperatively or competitively,
connectedly or individualistically. Radical feminism is an
unabashedly personal examination of social structure and action.
As a topic of discussion radical feminism legitimizes an
e:-:p I orati on of personal options which open people's minds to
larger social criticism. Political stances on larger issues
became softened and liberalized more than I have encountered in
classes on other SUbjects.
The man who interrupted the personal anecdote at the ICOPA
session might well acknowledge that beginners start from personal
experience, but that more advanced social theorists could leave
it behind and get farther faster. Suppose we are already
sophisticated enough to recognize that domination and
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exploitation exist. Suppose that when it comes to crime and
punishment, we already agree on abolitionism and nonviolence.
Then surely we need not be so primitive as to rely on personal
anecdotes. We need instead to examine larger patterns of how
people outside our personal circle live.
I disagree. I regard the transformations which happened in the
seminar as advanced forms of theorizing which senior social
theorists would do well to adopt.
A basic premise of radical feminism is that the public realm
recapitulates the private. Those who live by domination at home
will live by domination outside. Structural change will at best
be a facade unless the change reaches people's intimate lives.
In his study of Private Justice (London/New York: Routledge and
Kegan Paul, 1983) , StLlart Henry has provided remarkable
confirmation that formal structure is confounded by private
habits. Henry examined how discipline was imposed on employees
in a variety of organizational structures. In a worker
cooperative radically organized to be egalitarian, he found that
managers could still impose punitive sanctions on employees quite
autocratically. As far as he could see relation between dispute
management and organizational form was purely coincidental,
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although he did not examine the private lives and personal
histories of members.
Disillusionment with real life
government is widely experienced.
autocracy are routinely found in all
under supposedly model
supposedly democratic regimes. Time and again, various forms of
class oppression appear to those who live or observe closely in
formally egalitarian communities~ including radically utopian
One such massive recent experiment is the Chinese Communist
revolution~ which I happen to have become enamored of at the
the Cultural Revolution, and have followed fairly
The first major legislation of the People's Republic of
China was the family law. Early on, women were encouraged to get
divorced and out of of abusive and arranged marriages. As late
as the Cultural Revolution, children were encouraged to resist
parental oppression. Life in work and residence groups was built
on and mirrored family life. As the children of the
revolutionaries became adults and challenged their parents for
hegemony, traditional patterns of domination began to be noticed
at home, and ultimately reasserted themselves in the larger
political and economic structure. Symbolically, the conservative
movement was spearheaded by villification of a woman, the
charismatic leader's widow, who was too uppity to know her
place. Confucian stratification by age and gender has reasserted
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itself with remarkable force; even the legal structure has taken
Radical feminists argue that by relegating cooperative,
nurturant behavior to women in the private realm, public life has
been reduced to mechanistic expedience. So one-sided has
male-associated public life become that even revolutionary
rhetoric portends a top-down~ hierarchical imposition on a social
order. If a revolution really were democratic, the private
compassion of women would be recognized as a primary ingredient
of public life. If power really began to move f~om the
grassroots up rather than from the top down, we would first
recognize that a vast portion of vital labor occurs in the
uncompensated privacy of women's housework, and build on the
foundation of having democratized that most intimate part of our
lives. There, too, succeeding generations could be socialized in
democratic lifestyles rather than in drawing the most basic class
distinctions--those of gender and age--so that as they ihherited
other organizations they would not tend to impose hierarchical
substance on democratic forms. The tragic flaw in Gandhi's
resistance to British violence and oppression was that beyond the
clear and brilliant exposition of principles of satyagraha, not
even Gandhi himself was able to treat his own wife and children
with the compassion and nonviolence he espoused~ and without this
most basic change in the life of Gandhi and his followers,
violence and oppression reasserted itself in the Congress Party
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and elsewhere in Indian public life, nurtured by the daily
experience df privat~ despotism. Nor can male workers carry aut
a proletarian revolution without having conquered their awn
oppression of women and children at home. It is one thing to
spat class oppression. It is another thing to transcend it in
public life without even having managed to transcend it in the
private life one mast controls. A real revolution is nat an
abstraction. As American criminologist Richard Quinney is
discovering in his current reflections on Buddhist teaching~ one
has to learn to cultivate compassion in one's daily sphere of
interaction before one can aspire to cultivate it
Birgit Brock-Utne exemplifies the radical feminist gift of
identifying parallels between larger social structure and
personal experience. It is moot whether we anthropomorphize
society or sociologize personality;
know the one as we know the other.
whichever way we begin~ we
How social structure works is
mare than noting that phenomena coincide. The way we expect the
coincidence to recur or vary depends on how we infer people
living that reality to feel the connections. If reports of
domestic violence fall after men are arrested~ for instance~ our
inference as to whether arrests inhibit the violence or change
and mask its form depend not on material form of the data alone~
but instead an placing the response of arrested men in same
category of how we believe people feel and react between data
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sets. If we believe that the reformation of policing in
Minneapolis to make arrests routine has reduced domestic violence
there, consistency dictates find fear of retr i but ion
controlling the violence of ourselves and our intimates, unless
of course we have a theory of how as by gene structure or grace
of God "we" differ from "them." If we find that punishment makes
us find sneakier ways to pass on our anger to others~ we have the
basis for inferring that police mobilization has merely displaced
OLlr se 1 yes .
In either case~ our inference rests on supplementing
data with feelings which we experience thrc)ugh
Data "make sense" when they sound affective chords
within LIS. The historian, the survey researcher, the
ethnographer infer structural significance of data sets by what
they find they themselves are capable of feeling. Conversely, to
discover a new social pattern implies the discovery of a
previously unnoticed capacity of oneself to respond to others in
daily life. The extent of possibilities for structural and
change we have brought to awareness constrain one
This accounts for why data or logic alone do not change
scientific or political opinion. Before one person acknowledges
a soc i al str"ucture as another descr i bes i t ~ the listener must
accept being able to feel as those in the structure implicitly
do. Until. I for instance am willing to accept that people can
reduce my own violence by hurting me, I am unwilling to infer
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police hegemony to be a deterrent to violence. Unless people get
in touch with their own capacity to feel superior or inferior to
no one they relate to, they are incapable of imagining let alone
implementing eg ad i tar i an orders. When an anthropologist
describes a cultural pattern, the anthropologist is implicitly
saying, "Here is how I feel capable of living." Utopian visions
are likewise born of one's experience of oneself.
social structures amounts to self-discovery.
Whether past lives and karma exist as some postulate, the logic
of our knowledge of humanity is consistent with the idea that we
learn not by imposing knowledge on empty brain capacity, but by
using data to arouse awareness of patterns that are already
imprinted in our being.
structural change has to be implemented by
Just as one cannot depict egalitarian structures
beyond one's discovery of egalitarianism in oneself, so
egalitarian structures cannot be created except as individuals
manage to live a personal egalitaria~ existence. Radical
feminists draw this inference from the unity of private and
public existence, and hence emphasize remaining self-conscious
about avoiding hierarchy and extending compassion in movements
and organizations they build.
Trying to implement justice or democracy is a profoundly
humbling experience. In the feminist justice seminar I found
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that as soon as the six weeks had passed beyond which the
syllabus contained no readings or suggested essays, the energy of
participants dissipated. If a student provided a reading, most
other students ignored it. If a student started a discussion and
invited response, there was silence unless I, the teacher,
intervened and raised issues of my own. Occasionally someone
would say that she or he had wanted to write about something, but
was not sure whether I would give permission. L1Jhile I had
implicitly assigned material for writing and discussion, essays
poured in and discussion would go for two hours without my even
getting in a comment or observation, let alone being able to
interrupt to call a break. After the ensuing lull, I found
myself arousing the seminar by setting structure in other ways.
And while the activity and interest in the seminar was in my
teaching experience remarkably high, a number of students became
aimless and even paralyzed. I felt continual ambivalence (and
still do) about whether to be more or less authoritarian.
ambivalence was shared. In a cloSing letter to me
participant put it this way:
You commented on the wealth of paper writing at the
beginning of the semester and the lack of any at the
end. In rereadi ng your syll abLls, I find there was the
strong sLlggestion that for a grade of "e" several
500-word essays would be required. There was no real
need for any written work towards the end of the
semester. Individuals covered what they wished to and
unless someone felt very strongly about the topic and
wished to discover more details and wished to share
those, there was no need to write.
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I would encourage you and the department to continue
your e:-:periment. IU has too fe~o,j "different" class
structures and contents. I would encourage you to make
more of an effort to have total discussion class. If
possible it might be better to get it off a
personal-support group level and into a more academic
level. Although, I assume you would counter that there
are enough academic courses already available on this
campus and to make your course that way would be to
continue the "masculine domination" which you are
attempting to avoid •••.
One of the things that bothered me most especially in
the beginning, was the lack of discussion in the
class. Very few people spoke in relation to the number
present at any given time. Additionally, very early, I
interpreted some of your comments to indicate you
expected I would have some earth shattering comments to
make, and I literally shook for the first few weeks of.
class. I felt stressed, scared, unsure of myself and
of you and 'y'our "e)-:periment" at the same time I was
exhilarated and excited to be involved in such an
"e:-:periment. II I was shocked and appall ed at some of the
statements which were made by the more conservative
contingents. I could not understand why they were in
such a class if that is how they felt. I still have
problems with that.
Here is an effort at democratization of limited scope and
size. In the feelings and efforts of participants including me
are all manner of resistance to democracy, even to the urge to
take non-conformists out of the community. It is often said that
change like that I attempted in the seminar is hard or impossible
because the larger social structure is so screwed up. But if
miniscule democratization like that attempted in the seminar or
in one's own home life is so elusive, how on earth can
authoritarian urges and habits be controlled in grand
I suggest that for all the glibness we can muster when we
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construct grand structural analyses and build broad theories~ the
difficulties of impl~menting change on even the smallest scale
reveal how little we actually know. As one of those grand
theorists myself~ the seminar has taught me about my own
Personal experience and anecdotes do not interrupt our
understanding of social structure. Rather~ they are a crucial
test of our understanding~ and ought to become a regular part of
our theoretical discourse.
ON CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
Brock-Utne~ Harris and Kellough oppose punishment as a form of
violence. This opposition stems both from women's special
awareness of how punishment is unjustly applied~ and from their
experience as peacemakers.
Punishment like all forms of violence moves toward those least
able to resist or to offend. In the public realm of punishment~
underclass young men are most often punished for crime the world
over. Class standing interacts with age--Iate adolescence when
one is stripped of parental protection but not yet established in
adulthood--to minimize ability to resist punishment.
Meanwhile~ white-collar and organizational crime research has
made it clear that the amount and seriousness of crime increases
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with wealth and status. Middle-aged powerholders are odds-on to
be our worst offenders both because they have most opportunity to
steal~ hurt and kill~ and because they are most immune to
detection let alone to being called to account. Just now one
illustration has attained prominence in the American media.
People in the White House sent missiles to Iran in violation of
the Arms Export Control Act~ and arranged weapons sales to the
Nicaraguan Contras in violation of the Boland Amendment~ which
without Congressional declarations of war also amounted to
massive misappropriation of government funds. These acts
certainly resulted in many deaths. Under District of Columbia
law, whoever causes death by committing a felony is guilty of
first-degree murder. The difference between the~e murderers and
a mass murderer like John Wayne Gacy is that the White House
officials killed more people more cold-bloodedly.
The greater criminality of powerholders ought to be apparent to
students of crime~ for criminology is wedded to the idea that
opportunity and capacity to escape sanction--together with close
association with other major offenders--are criminality's major
determinants. However, practically everyone is also inclined to
overlook or rationalize abuses of power. We tend to vent our
anger at the violence and crime we suffer in safer directions.
As electricity flows~ so we pass on violent tension we receive in
paths of least resistance. It is convenient for politicians and
all too acceptable among the public at large to blame underclass
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young men for the disorder generated from above. Another path of
low political resistance is underclass young men in foreign
armies~ and in an increasingly violent society like the United
Btates~ foreign warfare and wars on "the criminal element" e).;pand
in alternating waves. Powerholding is in turn concentrated and
expanded by government support of military and criminal justice
production. Lawful and unlawful violence and predation grow in
all social strata as the irresponsibility of powerholders is
catered to by battering oppressed people.
Domestic violence against women and girls is the private
counterpart to public violence against underclass young men.
Domestic violence appears to be more prevalent among men who lack
the power to hire others to do their assault and predation. Men
who are least able to pass on violence publicly are perhaps most
disposed to pass it on privately~ although of course we c,an
expect private violence by persons of status and wealth to be
more hidden from public view~ and hence our picture of domestic
violence may be heavily skewed. In any event it seems clear that
women and girls suffer heavily not for what they do to men~ but
because they are convenient targets for the violence men receive
from elsewhere and pass along.
Public violence is largely reserved for men~ while the lives of
women are relegated to private management by men.
toward keeping women's affairs under private~
unsupervised male management helps explain why the label of
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"criminal" 'or the status of "soldier" is seldom given to women~
even though women suffer the greatest hidden violence in war (as
by being raped) as they do at home. For criminal courts to take
greater cognizance of women's actions is an implicit usurpation
of men's private domain; hence going after underclass young men
in public is a path of less resistance than going after the
As victims of private injustice it is easy for women to
understand and recognize the parallel injustice of criminal
sancti cms. With one logic radical feminists attack violence
against women and punishment of offenders.
While the general American ethos, extending to my own
university classrooms, is of approval for beating down assailants
and getting tougher still on the kinds of offenders police
arrest, the ethos in the feminist justice seminar rapidly came to
be such that an aggressive, arrest-prone police officer became
the deviant. As the semester moved along he came to open his
statements with apologies for his own supposed ignorance or
character defects. Mind you, he was drawn into class discussion
like a moth to a flame. He closed the semester by writing:
.. . I've learned some important things
other people, and how we are socialized.
tell you that I think this is right up
best classes I have taken at I.U. I
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I'd like to
there with the
like the open
But he was the only student in the seminar to propose that he
be given a grade of B rather than A. He became the most
self-critical member of the group.
This contrasts with other classes I have taught where women
have been among the unabashed and unflinching advocates of
getting tough on young criminals~ and where leniency has tended
to be a minority position.
We had some strong personal accounts of women's victimization
in our early discussion. It appeared to me that women moved to
show solidarity with the plight of their sisters~
moved--perhaps paternalistically--to sympathize.
while men were
of passing violence downward was widely acknowledged because it
felt so close to home. Once that injustice was felt~ the logic
of the position tended to carryover to matters of criminal
jUstice. Questioning why' people would abuse women carried over
to why someone would use violence to effect an arrest, or indeed
why someone would bother to make an arrest at all~ let alone why
people should be sent to prison.
In the course of these same discussions women in particular
became confident of describing how conflicts might be peacefully
resolved. As part of recognizing women's strength~ peacemaking
became a celebrated skill.
their skill by describing
to stay cool and talk
Now it was left to men to boast of
occasions on which they had been able
instead of fighting. This happened
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repeatedly both in essays and in class discussion.
Peacemaking is an alternative not only to punishment~ but to
forms of violence and predation we know as crime. As punishment
feeds crime~ so peacemaking is the means not only to refrain from
crime~ but to resist crime in a way that relieves rather than
passing on and building violent tension.
As peacemaking and penal abolition go hand-in-hand with
feminism for Brock-Utne~ Harris and Kellough~ so feminism became
the key to unlocking the peacemaking sides of men and women alike
in the seminar. Feminism made alternatives to crime and
punishment real, practical and respectable.
Coherent rejection of violence, crime and punishment~ and
practicing peacemaking in their place. have largely been
dismissed as something women do privately. Radical feminist
literature is a vehicle for celebrating these virtues,
legitimizing their assertion in public discourse.
founded on discussion of this literature enabled women to make
this side of themselves public,
side of their own experience.
and for men to acknowledge this
Birgit Brock-Utne observes that growing up is harder for boys
than girls inasmuch as girls are allowed to be tomboys and public
while boys suffer unrelenting condemnation for being
As important as it was for women in the seminar to
celebrate their connectedness and compassion and to have their
victimization acknowledged, I think it perhaps even more
important for humanity that men were able to express and
celebrate the "feminine" sides of themselves.
crime and punishment begs to be feminized.
The male domain of
In a structural sense the seminar allowed peacemaking to be
tied to democratization~ not only in literature but as an
objective of classroom life. Democracy--influencing action in
proportion to how directly one is affected by the consequences
rather than owning the right to make decisions for others--is the
collective form of personal commitment to peacemaking. Pad i cal
feminist literature inspired seminar members to try peacemaking;
our ability was tested by our capacity to share power in our
group. Our experience together was a ground upon which we built
and revised our theories of social structure and crime control.
Sexism is one of our earliest and most basic experiences of
violence including patterns of crime and punishment. This
experience may be preceded for many of us by agism--an awareness
of how prejudice against the old and the young feeds violence and
oppression. But as yet, only sexism has spawned a rich
literature and broadly organized political resistance. Padical
feminism adds a concrete, personal vision of how to make peace.
The feminist justice seminar indicates that getting back to such
basic experience of violence and oppression is a powerful way to
move beyond crime and punishment, into democracy. Feminist
justice contributes so much to our theorizing because it enables
us to feel issues of crime, punishment and social structure so
deeply in ourselves.
- 24 -
SEMINAR ON FEMINIST JUSTICE
Criminal Justice P493 (sec. 1720)/P680 (sec. 1731)
Spring Semester 1986
Meets ~, ". Ball an tine Hall
Convened by Hal Pepinsky
335-1450; 335-9325 (messages)
Office hrs. M, 3:30-4:30, W, 1:15-2:15
I don't presume to know a lot about feminist literature, and understanding
justice is a constant struggle. It would be foolish to spell out what will be
covered in this seminar throughout the semester. Rather, here is what I hope
to layout in this syllabus:
1. Why I am offering the seminar •.
2. Some substance to get us underway the first few weeks.
3. A set of ground rules by which I will be bound, and some requests of
WHY THE SEMINAR IS BEIlIG COllVERED . :
When, 'last May, we were asked to propose'what we would teach this spring, I
was awash in a sea of newd.deas and -experiences', in the latter part of a study
of "peaceful. societies" in Oslo, Norway.·' I was away from where I could survey
local library resources. ·1 had afee:ling I would want to do something new,
but I was at a loss to figure out what wonln be practical and meaningful.
My wife, Jill Bystydzienski, came to ,the rescue •. , Women's studies is her
. specialty. She knew I had.'been interested in her' york, and knew roughly what
literature would be available. She suggested I offer'a:course on feminist
justice, and promised to help introduce me to the literature •
. As luck would have it, I had.recently received a paper by Kay Harris, who
teaches 'criminal justice at Temple University, "Toward·a Feminist Vision of
Justice." I found the paper exciting; I still do. . I would like to start the
seminar by discussing the paper with participants.
I had also noticed that feminists featured prominently in peace studies and in
law in Oslo. The author of a ground breaking book which I would also like us
to discuss, Birgit Brock-Utne (Educating for Peace: !Feminist Perspective),
was facilitating Jill's research. (Birgit Brock-Utne is 'slated to spend time
here at TUB this April; you'll have a chance to meet her.) The office I had
borrowed ha.ppened to be in the University of Oslo's pioneering Women's Law
'Department, which I would like for us to discuss as well.
All in all, I knew just enough to know that I could learn a great deal from
looking at crime and punishment as all these feminist sources proposed, and so
I accepted Jill's suggestion with enthusiasm.
Birgit Brock-Utne, Educating for Peace: A Feminist Perspective. New York:
Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's
Development. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press (1981).
Available at Collegiate Copies:
M. Kay Harris, "Toward a Feminist Vision of Justice" (unpublished paper
presented at the International Conference on Prison Abolition, 1985).
Sara Ruddick, "Maternal Thinking." Feminist Studies 6 (Summer 1980): 342-67.
Department of Women's Law, University of Oslo, "Working Papers in Women's Law
No.2" (February 1983).
I'm proposing that we discuss some of these readings on each of several
topics, from the second through the sLxth class meetings. Each selection of
readings is headed by a question.
I suggest. we begi~ each discussion by trying to describe how the question is
answered in the readings.
I propose we then turn to applying each of these feminist "answers" to
criticizing traditional notions about crime and punishment. Kay Harris
provides some examples (for example Packer's distinction between "crime
control" and "due process" models of punishment). Many participants doubtless
,bave a background in.criminal justice, :andcanreadilyprovide examples of
their own. For others,!. suggest :pe.rusing the libraryshel ves' in the region
of HV6001 (t~e number for criminology te~ts), and picking out a book of
.standard ideas abol,1t cr-ime and .punishment'you can take out and use during the
I :expect we will be disqussing material from Harris's paper during each of
these five class sessions. I would therefore ask seminar participants to read
through her paper before each of these class meetings. I would also ask
participants to read the other suggested readings, and then to think through
(1) how you would answer the question posed 'for the clas's session, and (2) how
you would use this answer to criticize some standard ("masculine") idea about
crime and punishment.
One way to structure your reading and thinking is to write a short essay, say
about 500 words, reviewing your points" for class discussion •. I'll begin by
asking someone to start in, perhaps by paraphrasing what she or he has
written. I will also be happy to read a~y paper you give me and give quick
and specific written feedback •. I .ould ask each participant to tr,y writing
such essays for at least thrae of these five class sessions. .
rationale for the grade they believe they deserve. I expect to give you the
grade you propose and honestly defend.
Except for personal written communications you ask me to keep off the record
(and which I may find too personal to respond to), I'll reserve the right to
make copies and show any of your written work, including your proposal and
self-evaluation, to any of my colleagues. This way I can hold myself
accountable ,to them for the grading, and open this experiment of mine to
critical examination with them.
What I hope from this experiment in grading and course requirements is to show
that students can take charge of their own learning and conduct themselves
responsibly without being dict9ted to by the teacher.
I ask students not to abuse this freedom, to take charge of their own
education. If the experiment succeeds, I'll feel comfortable giving students
in other classes a similar opportunity. Please don't spoil it for them.