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  • Effects of Cultural Conceptions of Femininity on Careers of Women in Trouble

Young women in trouble often come under greater paternalistic official investigation than do young men of the same age whose adolescent delinquencies are seen to be a ‘normal’ part of growing up. When they come before the courts and, because of their parents’ poverty, have previously been in state care, they are more likely to be seen as lacking family controls, and therefore more at risk of committing crime in the future and therefore more in need of in-prison re-programming. If, however, they have been sexually abused or exploited and are consequently seen as victims, they are likely to come under closer surveillance in future and thus be more vulnerable to prosecution for any offences they do commit (see Phoenix 2002). Women, however, are frequently ‘muted’ when they wish to translate their private experiences into public language, and, as a result, the extent of the abuse they have suffered is often not revealed in court. Kim and two others of our respondents expressed bitterness, and a feeling that they had been failed by adults, because, although they had been taken into state care, no-one had ever fully appreciated the extent of the abuse they had suffered.

The theory of mutedness…does not require that the muted be actually silent. They may speak a great deal. The important issue is whether they are able to say all that they would wish to say, where and when they wish to say it. Must they, for instance, re-encode their thoughts to make them understood in the public domain? Are they able to think in ways which they would have thought had they been responsible for generating the linguistic tools with which to shape their thoughts? If they devise their own code will they be understood? (Ardener 1978:21)

As we shall see in the discussion under 1.1c., it is in the area of the differences between women’s actual experiences and the legal discourses within which they are required (allowed) to frame those experiences in court that there has been the greatest failure to address an area of primary exclusion.

Sub hypothesis 1.1c. The gender aspects of women prisoners’ primary exclusion are even less acknowledged and addressed as factors in their criminal careers than many of the other factors constitutive of the primary exclusion. Overall, (and with one exception identified at the end of the discussion below) it is concluded that this hypothesis is not upheld in the case of England and Wales.

Figure 2: Suggested Indicators of Exclusion and Reintegration for Women Ex- Prisoners (from MIP Project, Work Package 2)



low income: (measure to be established at national level, but related to household need)

income adequate to household need.

Work unemployed, casual work

Work educational, language or employment training course; apprenticeship; regular employment;




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