#MeToo and Mass Incarceration
18 Pages Posted: 2 Oct 2020
Date Written: March 1, 2020
This Symposium Guest Editor’s Note is an adapted version of the Introduction to The Feminist War on Crime: The Unexpected Role of Women’s Liberation in Mass Incarceration (UC Press 2020). The book examines how American feminists, in the quest to secure women’s protection from domestic violence and rape, often acted as soldiers in the war on crime by emphasizing white female victimhood, expanding the power of police and prosecutors, touting incarceration, and diverting resources toward law enforcement and away from marginalized communities Today, despite deep concerns over racist policing and mass incarceration, many feminists continue to assert that gender crime law is not tough enough. This punitive impulse, I argue, is dangerous and counterproductive, and should be abandoned. History reveals that feminists' carceral approach often exacerbated social inequalities by expanding and underwriting the repressive criminal system, that harmed defendants, victims, and their families and communities.
This essay begins with the feminist defense attorney dilemma I felt as a law student, when I trained to represent marginalized people against state prosecutorial power but did so with a dread of defending horrific rapists and batterers. Later, as a public defender, I represented clients like Jamal, an accused abuser whose story is related in detail, and I saw firsthand the costs of the tough-on-crime machine that carceral feminism built. The essay then moves to the present day, with a discussion of the #MeToo movement and campus rape reform. I counsel contemporary feminists that their noble fight against sexual misconduct can easily collapse into simple crime-control politics and urge them to articulate their complex beliefs about gender and violence without relying on penal discourses and institutions that are steeped in hypermasculinity and gratuitous violence.
Keywords: Carceral Feminism, Rape, Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Mass Incarceration, Policing, Title IX, Feminism, War on Crime, #MeToo
JEL Classification: k14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation