Young and At Risk: Canada’s First Nation Women and California’s Latinas

This guest post is published during the American Society of Criminology conference in Philadelphia, occurring November 15-18. #ASCPhilly

By Jerry Flores, author of Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance, and Wraparound Incarceration

Tamara Lynn Chipman, missing since 2005.

Across Canada there has been tens of thousands of missing first nations women like Tamara Lynn Chipman. A similar pattern has occurred near American reservations as well as places like Juarez, Mexico where scores of women as young as 14 years old have been kidnapped, raped, murdered and never returned to their families. Most of these women have received little media coverage, scant support from criminal justice institutions and are seldom found alive, if at all.

As an incoming faculty member in the sociology department at the University of Toronto, a new resident to Canada, and a Chicano feminist I was stunned by these stories. During the last ten years, there have been an increase in documentaries on this issue, scores of independent efforts to find these people, but there has been little government support to successfully find these women or to curtail these disappearances. As I began to read about this issue I was baffled by how similar the stories of these youth compare to the experiences of justice involved Latinas that I interviewed in Caught Up: Girls, Surveillance and Wraparound Incarceration. In this book, I address the multiple home factors that contribute to Latinas in Southern California ending up behind bars and the challenges they face when attempting to return to a “normal life.” I interviewed over 30 young women and included twenty more via group interviews or ethnographic fieldwork.

Identical Challenges

Despite the roughly 4,048 kilometers between my field site in Southern California and the greater Toronto Area, young at risk Latinas and First Nations women experience almost identical challenges when attempting to survive to adulthood. They must negotiate abuse in the home, a lack of social services (even in Canada), the ever-present threat of sexual violence, and the looming possibility of ending up behind bars. Additionally, schools, community centers and even well intentioned adults cannot seem to provide them the tools they need to avoid victimization and to be successful. This—and what seems to be a lack of interest or just plain oversight from various institutions—pushes young women to run away, hitchhike large distances, and participate in other high-risk behavior. As a result, thousands of young native women like Tamara eventually disappear or end up murdered on the side of rural roads across North America.

As an academic, feminist and victim of childhood sexual assault, I hope that we as a society can find a way to stop the continued attack on women and more broadly on all marginalized and oppressed groups. Additionally, I hope we can find these First Nations women and help prevent their disappearance in the first place. It is high time that we make marginalized young women the focal point of our efforts.

Moving forward there are a few simply things caring individuals and policy makers can do to help these young women:

  • First, introduce safe space where youth can report victimization without the fear of retribution.
  • Second, encourage schools and community centers to provide mental health services to anyone in need and free of charge.
  • And finally, make sure that all marginalized people including First Nations women and Latinas have access to quality K-12 education, three meals a day, clean water and a safe place to sleep.

Taken together, this will help address the main issues that encourage young women to leave their homes in the first place.

*     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *     *

Attend Jerry’s author meets critics session on Friday, November 17, 8:00 to 9:20am, Marriott, Room 406, 4th Floor as well as his other sessions. And learn more about the book from Jerry.  

Jerry Flores is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Toronto.

Feminist Media Histories Celebrates Women’s Equality Day with Free Articles

Guest post by Shelley Stamp, UC Santa Cruz and Editor of Feminist Media Histories

Women’s Equality Day (August 26, 2017) commemorates ratification of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote in America.  It is a day to celebrate women’s history and histories of feminist activism. To mark the occasion select articles from past issues of Feminist Media Histories will be freely available all day.

Histories of women, particularly women of color and LGBTQ communities, continue to be untold and unrecognized. At FMH we honor the struggle to tell women’s histories—which is ultimately the struggle to change the larger historical narratives—by highlighting select articles from past issues.

Workers demand equal pay in The Amazing Equal Pay Show, 1974. (Still courtesy Fran McLean). From FMH article “Rising Up: A Memoir of the London Women’s Film Group, 1972–1977” by Barbara Evans
  • New translations of writing by pioneering Soviet filmmaker and theorist Esfir Shub demonstrate her centrality to Soviet montage style.
  • Sarah Murray documents how the brand personalityBetty Crocker was shaped on golden-age radio.
  • Sara Saljoughi shows how Marva Nabili’s Iranian New Wave classic The Sealed Soil marks “a cinema of refusal.”
  • Candace Moore studies the “proto-queer” film criticism of lesbian writer Lisa Ben, penned while she worked as a secretary at RKO in the 1940s.
  • Chika Kinoshita examines an abortion scandal that ruined the career of Japanese actress Shiga Akiko in the 1930s.
  • Suvadip Sinha considers Tun Tun, a central, but often overlooked star of Bollywood comedies.

Featured articles showcase the range of special issues published by Feminist Media Histories, including Women and Soundwork, Histories of Celebrity, Gender and Comedy, and Middle Eastern Media. Follow Feminist Media Histories on Facebook and Twitter for news about other upcoming free downloads. And watch for future issues on Labor, Comics, and Asian Media.


When Leaving is Not Enough

By Molly Dragiewicz, co-author of Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women

This guest post is published in advance of the National Women’s Studies Association conference in Montreal, Quebec from November 10 – 13 and in advance of American Society of Criminology conference in New Orleans from November 16 – 19. #NWSA2016 #ASC2016 #Election2016 

Recent developments in the U.S. election have turned up the volume on public discussions of violence against women. We have observed the ugly backlash that attends women’s efforts to participate in public life, the coded language used to attack women who dare advocate for social justice, and the reversion to violence and threats when constant harassment and abuse fail to silence women. These public discussions mirror private violence. 

DeKeseredy-AbusiveEndingsDisparate cultural and political histories have shaped the contemporary re-emergence of movements to end violence against women across the globe, but there has been an undeniable shift in the visibility of violence against women. However, awareness is only the first step in ending violence and abuse. Research on gender and violence has developed at a remarkable pace since the 1970s. While the most egregious examples of victim blaming have receded in scholarly circles, and most people you stopped on the street would probably say they oppose domestic violence, many misunderstandings about its nature and dynamics persist.

One of the most pernicious misconceptions about woman abuse is that it ends when the couple breaks up. Despite ample evidence to the contrary, such as reported breaches of domestic violence orders by former partners, murders of women and children in the context of child custody exchange and visitation, and high profile stalking cases, far too many scholars, practitioners, and regular folks assume that separation and divorce can cure violence against women. Implicit in this belief are the stereotypes we thought we’d buried: it takes two to tango; she was asking for it; she made me do it. Structural failures to effectively respond to domestic violence post-separation stem in large part from the widespread failure to address the ugly truths of domestic violence: that is not an accident or miscommunication or one-off, but a pattern of intentional behavior designed to compel submission to domination. Violence often escalates at separation for just this reason: a partner who leaves is refusing to submit, and a new level of violence is required to bring her back under control. Kids often become just another weapon in this battle, and systems such as the family courts can make the situation more dangerous when they fail to account for histories of violence.

These are just some of the reasons Walter S. DeKeseredy, Martin D. Schwartz and I wrote Abusive Endings: Separation and Divorce Violence against Women. We present the significant international research on what happens when women try to leave abusive relationships. We know quite a lot. We hope this book will help move popular and professional discourse to take the next step on from awareness, recognizing the complexity of woman abuse as well as how it changes across the span of relationships.

Molly DragiewiczDragiewicz.Molly-photo is Associate Professor in Crime and Justice Research Centre in the School of Justice, Faculty of Law at Queensland University of Technology in Australia. She is the author of Equality With a Vengeance and editor of Global Human Trafficking: Critical Issues and Contexts. You can find her blog at

Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism

by Shauna Pomerantz, author of Smart Girls: Success, School, and the Myth of Post-Feminism with Rebecca Raby 

This guest post is published in advance of the American Sociological Association conference in Seattle. Check back every week for new posts through the end of the conference on August 23rd.

Over the last decade we have seen a lot of hand-wringing about girls thriving in school while boys fail, and consequent policy recommendations to shift classroom materials to better meet boys’ needs.  Various scholars have been critical of these generalizations and policy proposals. Given the extent of these debates, what does your book, Smart Girls, add to this conversation?

Various researchers and commentators have rebuffed the universalizing arguments that we have seen over the past ten years, arguments that point to ‘successful girls’ and ‘failing boys’ as evidence that we now live in a post-feminist era where girls thrive and we should worry about boys’ achievements. However, despite widespread critiques that complicate and contextualize the idea that girls are ‘taking over the world’, we continue to see news headlines and popularized books pitting girls and boys against each other, as if gender is a stand alone category disconnected from many other social issues. At the policy level, these concerns are shape school curricula and lead many to assume that we no longer need to worry about girls in school.

In the face of these generalized arguments, we wanted to talk more deeply and contextually about the lives of smart girls in schools today. We wanted rich data that got at the everyday challenges that diverse smart girls, and boys, negotiate in school. We wanted a book that was based in the North American context, and that would be accessible to many readers so that a wide range of teachers, parents and young people themselves could engage with our participants’ stories and reflect on the challenges that girls still face in spite of claims that feminism – and girls – have ‘won’. If girls are doing so well, we asked: why do some girls dumb down? And how do dynamics of gender and smartness continue to play out within peer cultures, especially when smartness does not always sit easily with popular forms of femininity, and in a context where gender inequality is certainly not over. We wanted to talk to smart girls about how they handle being labeled ‘nerd’ or ‘loner’, how they deal with the ‘Supergirl’ drive for perfection and how their negotiations of academic success and peer culture are shaped by ‘race’ and class. We also wanted to learn from smart boys about their experiences in school – and how their challenges are similar to, and different from, those of girls.

The end result is a book that foregrounds young people’s stories about different smart girls’ lives. We hope that these stories and our reflections on them will further shatter common and troubling generalizations about girls’ success that continue to inform educational policy.

In talking to many smart girls and boys, you suggest that it can be hard to be smart while also fitting into popular masculinity and femininity.  Why is it difficult to be both smart and popular?  And how is it different for girls than for boys?

With shows like The Big Bang Theory, it can feel like ‘geek chic’ is in and that popular peer culture has expanded to make room for bookishness. And for some of the young people we talked to, being smart was indeed ‘in’, particularly if they were certain kinds of girls, with supportive groups of friends and going to inclusive schools. But we also heard many stories that indicated a continuing tension between popularity and academics.

Across a variety of schools, girls carefully negotiated their academic identities and many felt that often they had to choose: play down their smartness in order to be attractive (especially to boys) and popular, or sacrifice popularity in order to thrive academically. Girls sometimes found they could also balance out their smartness by being conventionally pretty and nice. Boys also faced challenges: while girls would downplay their smartness, boys did not want to be seen as trying too hard and would counter their studiousness by being funny and athletic. We noticed that girls were often rewarded for how they looked, and for being passive and demure, while boys were more likely to be rewarded for being active subjects who were extroverted, athletic and funny, patterns that reflect and reproduce gender inequality.

While post-feminism posits that we are now beyond sexism, numerous forces, statistics and incidents tell us otherwise. Dominant and hierarchical gender practices endure across society and in the school, which is reflected in much of our data. At the same time, post-feminism thrives as a discourse: in many of the interviews where young people talked about experiencing or noticing gender inequality, they also stated that gender inequality did not exist.

Other scholars have argued that a focus on ‘successful girls’ versus ‘failing boys’ neglects to consider other important social divisions around things like class and ‘race’. Is this something that you found too?

Yes, many researchers have suggested that there is far greater academic diversity within gender categories than across them and that this diversity is linked to significant class and ‘race’ inequalities that permeate North American society. In our book we highlight how class and ‘race’ were powerful forces in the lives of our participants. Class was a significant source of advantage for many of the young people we talked to, often in ways that they did not acknowledge. It shaped the school they were going to, the resources that supported their academic success, and the resources to help them negotiate gendered peer cultures. Class was also used to bolster privilege and exclude others, a pattern that was particularly evident to our working-class participants.

Similarly, ‘race’ emerged as a central feature in definitions of academic success, particularly in relation to the problematic stereotype of the ‘smart Asian’. This stereotype was used to reproduce the narrow idea that being ‘too smart’ is not only anti-social, but also the mark of a cultural outsider.

Shauna Pomerantz is Associate Professor of Child and Youth Studies at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada. She is the author of Girls, Style and School Identities: Dressing the Part and the coauthor of Girl Power: Girls Reinventing Girlhood.

No One Will Let Her Live

By Claire Snell-Rood, author of No One Will Let Her Live: Women’s Struggle for Well-Being in a Delhi Slum

This guest post is published in advance of the American Anthropological Association conference in Denver. Check back every day for new posts through the end of the conference on Sunday, November 22nd.



Was there any aspect that surprised you when researching and writing this book?

As a white American woman doing research in a slum community, I had anticipated that people would be skeptical of me. Of the white people who showed up in this particular industrial slum, many were affiliated with area NGOs; others were foreign journalists obligated to take pictures of dilapidated homes. For the initial months of my research, many women responded to my questions as if on auto-pilot, having anticipated what I would ask based on what others had before. They knew what white people wanted to know. After the slum was demolished partway through my fieldwork, I followed families to their new homes in neighboring low-income neighborhoods. I was surprised how close I became to families during this period, but even more, the way that families joked about what we held in common even though to me our class differences were even further entrenched by their increased insecurity.

In particular, my field assistant, Saraswati, sometimes joked that we could have similarities that made us more alike than she to her new neighbors. As we sat out on her stoop one day, Saraswati nodded toward her neighbor joining us, and, with an air of exposé, said that her neighbor was rich. Because her husband had a vegetable stand, she explained, they could eat whatever they wanted! Her neighbor just laughed and then pointed out that Saraswati’s and my bodies had become similar after many months spent together, with me eating lunch at her house. “Look at Saraswati’s family,” the neighbor advised me, with Saraswati chuckling alongside. “They are so dried out”—sukha sukha, another way of saying skinny—“no wonder you look the same if you eat at their house!” Saraswati laughed in agreement and added, “and she eats so much fruit!”

I was hesitant to make such comparisons, knowing that my height towered at least six inches over Saraswati’s, and that I returned daily to a home with full meals and much fruit, a food considered a luxury and boon to health. Through jest, Saraswati and many of the other women to whom I became close dealt with similarity and difference at the same time. They drew attention to the fact that we came from different backgrounds– clothes, money, desires, and traditions—but that our engagement could be real.

What implications does your research have for policy and future research related to health in urban slums?

In terms of policy, this research indicates the importance of policy-makers and interventionists being savvy about the social dynamics that structure women’s health decisions. First, community-based participatory change and advocacy are vital to social change in poor communities. Yet these can’t be the only mechanisms of change that outsiders count on. In many communities, the risks inherent in taking part in collective action are too big. Interventionists must be aware that as vulnerable as women living in slums are, they reason their decisions based on long-term family and personal security, which may have different results than community-based change. Second, in recent years, women’s collectives have become a common vehicle for NGOs to promote pooling of finances and community-based dispute resolution for married couples. Guided by the premise that vulnerable women are best positioned to understand needs within low-income communities, such initiatives also seek to empower the women participating, and in so doing, improve community capacity to address complex problems more broadly. However, my research shows that in slum communities characterized by immense diversity and inequality, interventionists must be aware of the potential for these groups to inadvertently re-instantiate local power dynamics. Therefore, women’s collectives must include steps to safeguard against the abuse of power and protect the anonymity of local women who may seek their help.

People who live in slums are deeply familiar with researchers—as well as the agendas of researchers, which are often focused on their health risks, poor conditions of their living environment, and poverty. Yet beyond the structure of risk-focused surveys, many residents of slums have deep philosophical reflections on their lives—their journeys of migration, hopes for transformation, and the immense social changes that they have experienced in moving to drastically different places during their lives. For the diverse people who live in neighborhoods classified as slums, quantitative research methods play a vital role in capturing the breadth of challenges people face and charting patterns between people and communities. Yet surveys would be well served by including questions that focus on community assets as well as the obvious health deficits. Further, longitudinal research demonstrates that women face multiple family transitions—divorce, secondary marriage, shared parenting, estrangement—that are extremely difficult to report to close associates, let alone itinerant researchers. Yet these under-reported family breaks hold deep significance for women’s overall security, and health behaviors. Innovative methods that ask women to estimate community incidence of family size and kinship practices may be an alternate way for researchers to explore these dynamics without compromising women’s desire for confidentiality.

Are there any misconceptions about the women and families you studies do you most wish to dispel?

Across the websites of NGOs, the funding priorities of international development organizations, and media stories on poor Indian women, the prevailing image of Indian women has them hiding shyly behind their pallus, the end of their saris. In combination with dismal health statistics that show higher levels of malnutrition, poor reproductive health, and domestic violence for Indian women living in slums, this image leaves little room for acknowledging that there is a voice on the other side of the pallu. Because the overwhelming emphasis has been on what is done to women, there has been little question about what exploring women’s perspectives could contribute. Further, the emphasis on the low educational status of women living in slums inadvertently produces the sense that women don’t know what’s good for them. The women with whom I did my research repeatedly communicated to me how much more they have to say than their initial silence in public settings conveys! These women and families are not shy, much less without complex reasoning about their beliefs and health practices. The key is to ensure that women are provided with a forum that allows for prolonged reflection.

Claire Snell-Rood is an assistant professor in behavioral science at the University of Kentucky.

Judging a Book by Its Cover: Color Drenched Acts of Resistance

by Caitlin O’Hara

Can’t Catch a Break, publishing this month, is a brilliant book that teases out the nuanced relationship between gender, drugs, and jail in many women’s lives.

We asked coauthor Susan Starr Sered the story behind the cover image, which features an abstract image of bold colored stripes, dripping paint, and few hints as to how to contextualize what we’re seeing.

In an email, Susan describes her search in vain for appropriate images dealing with women and prison. The results depicted literal prison imagery that didn’t capture the range of experiences of the women her book profiles, or “disgustingly voyeuristic male-fantasy pornography.”

And then she came upon “this gorgeous image.” The piece is part of an installation by artist Markus Linnenbrink, at the JVA/Prison in Düsseldorf, in a 132 ft long underground tunnel that connects its security check to the visitors’ area. The artist explains that the JVA prison is considered “a model institution and has been designed to deal with security and humanity as best as possible, thus the desire for a unique approach [to its visitor entrance].” You can find more images and information about the project at this Colossal profile.

“It’s hard for me to describe why this image struck me so forcefully,” Sered writes. “Perhaps the vertical lines look like bars made out of women’s make-up and nail polish. The color dripping down from the horizontal stripes looks as if it’s weeping. The ambitious horizontal stripes decaying down into drips on the wall evoke, for me, the mess that’s come of the good intentions behind trying to cut down on crime, drug use and so on. And finally, people in prison spend so much time with nothing to do but stare at blank walls, so I love imagining those walls as color drenched acts of resistance.”

And with that, Sered cuts to the heart with precision, as she does so often throughout the book. Beyond interpretations of line, color, drip, and context, what captivates is the image’s undefinable power: inviting yet defiant; strong despite, and owing to, its imperfections. Just like the women this book profiles.



Caitlin O’Hara is a Senior Publicist for UC Press.