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Feminist Perspectives on Women and Victimization

The feminist perspective on victimization and women is an aspect of criminology that suggests that as a result of the lifelong endurance of victimization, women are more likely to become criminal offenders. Victimization has been found to have a tremendous impact on an individual’s psychological functioning which in turn influences their social growth. Both genders experience victimization. However, it is important to note that women, while compared to their male counterparts, react to it differently. There has been a proven correlation between criminal offences and a history of abuse, both sexual and physical. The abuse is often experienced since childhood and may at times persist through adulthood. Having experienced various forms of abuse, these women in most cases turn to crime in a bid to reclaim the power that they lost. Victimization is undoubtedly considered a global problem and Canada is not an exception (“The Sexploitation Of Amanda Todd”). In Canada, stratified systems determine gender-based abuse. These include but are not limited to vulnerability to victimization, forms of victimization, the state’s response to the matter, access to justice and experiences of women who have survived sexual or physical assault. This essay will highlight the various forms of victimization experienced in Canada, their likely causes and the government response if any. It will also consider political, social, economic, discursive and structural position of women in the country and how it affects or conditions victimization.

Before the 1950’s, criminology focused on male offenders and the justice system resultantly responded more to male offenders. However, in the 1980’s instances of female crime skyrocketed.  This caused more research on the new breed of female offenders and the criminal justice system’s response. Possible explanations to the rise in number of female criminals were the gender equality argument, the influence of critical criminology and the rise of radical feminism and feminist criminology.  The gender quality argument proposed that women were initially left out of criminology research but due to the need for equality, people were more aware of the offenders. Critical criminology was at the time based on pure intellect and it sought to integrate various philosophies, most notably Marxist ideologies. Therefore, they proposed that female offences emerged as a result of social and economic oppression. Prior to the rise of feminism, victimization was blamed on women regardless of the circumstances. However, this movement led to public awareness on the matter. Feminist criminology explained the underlying factors that led some women into lives of crime (MacDonald, Gayle Michelle et al.).

As previously mentioned, stratified systems such as race, gender and class condition victimization in Canada. Racism is defined as a social injustice that is based on a widely accepted but untrue assumption about a specific group of individuals and their self worth. It has been used a myriad of times by governments in a bid to explain the disparities in the allocation of resources. The most apparent example of racism in Canada is the relationship between the native aborigines and the European settlers. The aboriginal people comprise of three tribes: the Inuit, First Nations and Metis (Lappie, S et al.). Current and historic contexts show how Europeans have expressed racism and the various ways aborigines experience it. This discourse will study how racism affects healthcare, education, government policies and judicial systems.

Racism occurs in instances where one group of people consider themselves superior the other individuals. As a result, they expect to hold all the economic and political power in a region. It reinforces other forms of human discrimination such as those based on an individual’s sexual orientation or perhaps even physical disability. Lappie, S et al’s article explains that racism is not just an abstract concept; in order to fully understand it, it must be lived and experienced. She also points out that it is not a problem limited to one country or region, instead, it is a global problem that affects each group of people differently. Additionally, individuals who experience racism, particularly women have long term effects most notable of which is low self-esteem (Welsh, Sandy). Racism occurs due to the intentional or unintentional creation of social hierarchies by labeling a particular group as different. This is considered the foundation of oppressive tendencies which cause the ‘superior’ groups to harness all the powers leaving the marginalized hopeless (Craig, M. L.).

This discrimination can be expressed in violent and non-violent ways such as slavery. In Canada, racism against the aborigines is articulated in a number of ways. These include violence, stereotypes and stigma (Human Rights Watch,). For instance the aboriginals are considered to have a higher likelihood of violence, developing alcohol and drug addiction and unemployment (Lappie, S et al.). The most damaging of these stereotypes is the fact that the community cannot depend on itself and requires the government to manage their matters. This undermines their basic human rights, particularly the need to make independent decisions based on the community’s needs (Maynard, R). Since these stereotypes have been in place for several years, newer generations are at times forced to accept this as fact and not fight for more involvement in their leadership. It is important to note that the media plays a huge role in the propagation of these stereotypes (Lappie, S et al.).

Most stories covered by the media focus on the economic and political problems facing the people rather than highlighting discrimination. However, in the past years, leaders from the community have used the media to raise awareness on their discrimination over the years. Violent racism has existed since the early 1700’s during the Mi’kmaq massacres (Lappie, S et al.). This is not to mean that this violence is not present in contemporary society. In Canada, aboriginal men are more likely to be harassed than their European counterparts (Lappie, S et al.). Unfortunately, the aboriginal woman had borne the brunt of racial violence in Canada. In addition to the higher rates of harassment, they also experience ‘radicalized misogyny’ (Lappie, S et al.). This phenomenon can be best described as hatred that stems from the racialization of these women. As a result of their inferior social status, aboriginal women are more likely to experience social and physical violence (Lindberg, T et al.). Proof of this phenomenon is the disappearance of a large number of aboriginal women from Vancouver between the 1980’s and 2002 and the murders perpetrated by Robert Picktin, which featured a suspiciously high number of aborigines (Lappie, S et al.).

The problems plaguing aboriginal women can be traced back to post colonialism Canada where their roles and importance was diminished by a confounding degree (Human Rights Watch,). Initially, the aboriginal community respected and appreciated their women. Despite the clearly defined gender roles, they involved women in decision-making processes and afforded them significant economic and political power. In spite of it all, the community and specifically the women are fighting back, trying to reclaim what they lost. Proving that they are just as human and important as their European counterparts. The most recent illustration of this is the Idle No More (INM) movement formed by four women from Saskatchewan in response to prejudiced alterations to the Aboriginal land rights (Lappie, S et al.). The movement endured widespread backlash from Canadian non-aboriginals especially through social media. The movement wanted to do more than to fight unfair laws, they also used INM to expose the extent of discrimination and racism the community faced in the country

Gender is another factor that determines victimization. Gender roles refer to a socially fabricated and accepted concept that describes behavioral patterns and characters that are deemed appropriate for members of a particular race (SIECCAN,). At an early age, children begin to understand their gender roles based on interactions with their friends, parents, teachers and the types of toys bought for them. By the time children are two years old, they already display a certain bias to the toys they like depending on their gender (SIECCAN,). For instance, girls play with dolls while boys prefer balls.  This sense of social expectation and responsibility evolves over the lifetime of the child. Parents play an enormous role in helping their children understand their gender roles. However, this is affected by some factors such as their race or ethnicity, sexual orientation and socioeconomic background. For instance a heterosexual father may get worried when his son prefers to play with Barbie dolls and is curious about dresses. This is probably due to a deep-seated fear that the boy will grow into a gay man (SIECCAN,).

On the other hand, for the girl child, more neutral characteristics were appreciated. Most parents prefer to have a daughter who in addition to playing with dolls has some interest in masculine activities such as sports or fishing. This preference is based on the fact that they do not want a weak ‘damsel in distress’ kind of daughter; instead they want one who has an element of independence and a problem solving ability (SIECCAN,). On the other hand, boys with compassionate characteristics are made fun of since they lack the basic male character. With regard to aggression and shyness, the former is considered a typical male character while the latter is effeminate. Shyness is considered to originate from anxiety and fear, all of which are thought to be feminine characters. Sieccan points out that liberal mothers were worried about their sons’ aggression while traditional mothers condoned the aggression but were concerned about shy sons. This due to the fact that liberal parents are open minded and more likely to veer from the traditionally set gender roles and expectations for their children. However, traditional parents expect their children to display socially accepted behaviours and are less likely to forgive a deviation to either side (SIECCAN,).

The acceptance of physical aggression among boys is based on masculine role models exposed to the boys as they grow up such as professional sports personalities, super-heroes and action figures (SIECCAN,). Therefore, boys grow up knowing that they can get away with aggression, which in turn leads to abuse. This may explain the lack of remorse that sexual offenders often show since they are just doing what society expects them to do, be aggressive. Sieccan 2013, notes a disturbing trend starts to emerge. Most parents belittle feminine characteristics and place more emphasis on masculine behaviours. As a result, the children understand this as a message that masculine characters are respected more in the society. Over time girls considered extremely feminine gradually lose their self-esteem due to the societal expectations (SIECCAN,). If ever these girls experience abuse, they will probably not report it and instead blame themselves. They will also most likely forgive the perpetrator since they think the society expects them to do so (Abraham, M. and E. Tastsoglou). While this is completely unacceptable, changing this notion will take time. We must uproot the current societal framework of and put in place a new fabric that respects the role and femininity of women rather than putting them down (“AIN’t I A WOMAN?” BY SOJOURNER TRUTH”).

Socioeconomic status or class also has a bearing on gender-based victimization. In most cases, the women affected are from lower income classes. This is not to mean that wealthier women are not abused, instead to highlight the fact that more women of a lower social climbing experience victimization (Lindberg, T et al.). In Canada, most sexual assault survivors are from the working middle class, who includes, nurses, hotel housekeepers, long-term care workers and even sex workers (Liladrie, S.). Income is an important contributor to an individuals well being. One’s level of income directly affects their living conditions, their health and education, just to mention a few. In most cases, low incomes predispose the individuals to both social and material deprivation, which makes it difficult to afford the basic human needs such as food and clothing. Over time, deprivation leads to social exclusion. This is because these individuals are unable to participate in social and educational activities. As such, they are not part of decision-making processes and in the long run they are completely forgotten. This results in the segregation of such individuals with their needs ignored since they cannot properly air their views. The aboriginal community and commercial sex works in Canada are perfect illustrations of the effect of deprivation (Mikkonen).

Sex workers have always faced stigma due to their occupation. By virtue of their job, these women are exposed to the risk of abuse daily (Hunt, Sarah). However, feminists have been among their greatest critics. This is because the movement believes that prostitution is another way of ensuring male dominance over females (Elene, Jeffrey). Therefore, in most cases, feminists have been critical of sex workers’ accounts of their experiences with regard to sexual abuse. However, sex workers are unapologetic and demand to be heard whether the feminists support their life choices or not (Elene, Jeffrey). It is only human that law protects their rights. However, this was not the case prior to the 2013 Bedford vs. Canada ruling. Additionally, even with the ruling, sex workers were not sure if the country would stop criminalizing their occupations or if they would just find new ways to do so (SWUAV,). Sex workers were initially plagued with problems such as random arrests. Over the past few years, the number of arrests has decreased but the police have instead focused on scaring potential clients away (SWUAV,). The resultant criminalization of customers has caused a worsening of the workers safety (Maynard, R). For instance, they were forced to relocate to isolated areas often unsafe, they did not have enough time to properly negotiate the terms of the business and finally, they had no access protection offered by the police (Karaian, L.).

Increased risk of physical and sexual abuse as well as health-associated risks was the consequence (Banwell, Stacy). Associated health risks include contracting HIV or sexually transmitted infections. A client, being well aware of the criminalization they are likely to face once they seek the services of a sex worker is expected to negotiate in bad faith. For instance, they can deny her compensation or physically abuse the sex worker (SWUAV,). The workers, having a terrible relationship with the police will not report this and will instead ignore it. This means that these women are exposed to danger at every turn yet the government and the laws of the land did nothing to protect them (Hunt, Sarah).

Another affected class of individuals is the long-term care worker.  Working in the Canadian care sector should not be dangerous, but it unfortunately is (Banerjee, Albert). Workers in these facilities endure physical, verbal and sexual abuse on a daily basis. Their counterparts in Nordic countries do not suffer from the same problems. This raises the question of what their countries are doing differently to ensure that their employees are safe in their place of work. These incidents are rarely ever reported since nothing is done even when they are. Additionally, reporting these cases may place their jobs in jeopardy. Some cases of abuse have been attributed to the fact that the sector is severely understaffed causing the women to work for long hours. This is in direct contradiction to the Nordic countries, which offer more flexible work schedules and openness among colleagues. These conditions greatly reduce workplace abuse.

Workers in these facilities are often hit, bitten and shoved. For them, this is not new, rather it is considered a part of their job; one that they have no control over. However, this should not be the case. Incidences of violence can be reduced to ensure the safety of the care providers (O’Conner, Jennifer). The few who report instances of violence are blamed for them, which creates a demoralizing work atmosphere. These long-term care workers are expected to tolerate of ignore these injustices just to ensure their continued employment. Most of the violence occurs during daily activities involving a shared personal space such as bathing and dressing the residents. Cyber bullying has been another phenomenon on the rise whereby individuals use the Internet to find young impressionable minds and blackmail them into performing sexual acts, which they record. They later use these recordings to force them into doing something else or post them online. One such tragic incident was that od Amanda Todd, a fifteen year old girl who committed suicide due to the pressures of cyber bullying (“The Sexploitation Of Amanda Todd”).

In Canada, women’s social and structural position is well defined. They are considered the caregivers by the society. This is to mean that their predominant role is to ensure the well being of their families. However, due to the rise of feminism, more women are able to balance successful careers and family life. This illustrates a shift from the traditional social position to a modernistic role that consolidates both aspects. The shift has promoted the sprit of feminism, which has enhanced confidence and in turn reduced the incidences of victimization.  Economic empowerment has improved the position of the Canadian woman in society. By setting up businesses and getting employed, women’s level of income has been on the rise. As such, they have better standards of life, and higher self esteem (Mikkonel, Juha and D Raphael). Therefore, there should be fewer incidences of victimization and if they do occur, the woman is not afraid to take relevant action against the offender (Lindhorst, Taryn et al.). Higher standards of life ensure that the women are not marginalized but are instead involved in decision-making processes.

Female political representation over the past years has been increasing, though at a very slow rate (O’Neill, B). Some countries have instituted gender quotas to ensure that women are represented in political office. However, without such measures, do women still prosper in politics? Canada does not have gender quotas in place. Nevertheless, some female leaders have been elected into office. Several factors affect the prospect of electing a woman. Voter preferences, high electoral risks and the reason why a woman runs are some of these factors (MacDonald, Gayle Michelle et al.). It has been claimed that fewer women are elected simply because voters prefer males politicians to female ones. However, studies have discredited this theory showing that voters are just as likely to vote for a woman, as they are a man (O’Neill, B). Political parties select candidates that run during elections. These parties prefer to select aspirants which a low electoral risk, that is those that are more likely to win, rather than one with a higher electoral risk. Women, across the board, are considered to have a very high electoral risk, which may explain why political parties select only a few (O’Neill, B). Understanding why a politician vies for a position is crucial in predicting the type of leader they will become. However, for women, this is a little distorted. The electorate is curious about a woman running for office in order to ensure that nothing out of the ordinary is happening (MacDonald, Gayle Michelle et al.). Foe instance a woman with very young children running for political office will raise too many questions compared to a man in the exact situation. However, with the increase in representation, women are becoming more vocal about their problems and their needs. Therefore, with regard to victimization, more empowerment will ensure women are no longer viewed as the victims they were initially considered to be (Carr, J). Instead that they are able members of society able to fight for what they believe in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

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“”AIN’t I A WOMAN?” BY SOJOURNER TRUTH”. Feminist.Com, 2016, http://www.feminist.com/resources/artspeech/genwom/sojour.htm.

Banerjee, Albert. “Out Of Control: Violence Against Personal Support Workers In Long-Term Care Toronto”. 1st ed., York University, 2008, http://www.yorku.ca/mediar/special/out_of_control___english.pdf.

Banwell, Stacy. “Rape And Sexual Violence In The Democratic Republic Of Congo: A Case Study Of Gender-Based Violence”. Journal Of Gender Studies, vol 23, no. 1, 2012, pp. 45-58. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/09589236.2012.726603.

Carr, J. “The Slut Walk Movement: A Study In Transnational Feminist Activism”. 1st ed., Journal Of Feminist Scholarship, 2013, http://www.jfsonline.org/issue4/pdfs/carr.pdf.

Craig, M. L. “Race, Beauty, And The Tangled Knot Of A Guilty Pleasure”. Feminist Theory, vol 7, no. 2, 2006, pp. 159-177. SAGE Publications, doi:10.1177/1464700106064414.

Elene, Jeffrey. “Why Feminists Should Listen To Sex Workers”. Scavenger, 2011, http://www.thescavenger.net/feminism-a-pop-culture-sp-9560/feminism-a-pop-culture/732-why-feminists-shouldlisten-to-sex-workers.html.

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