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I feel like so much has happened this week. I’m constantly looking to Twitter, the newspaper, Facebook, television, tuning into the radio and those around me, in an attempt to keep up with everything going on.

My schedule seems to have been more hectic than usual. Work for university seems to have blown in my face en masse, despite me remaining relatively up to date throughout the semester. This week has seen numerous group meetings, time spent in the edit suites crafting and perfecting a short broadcast program, numerous blogs, readings and symposium conversations, time researching new theories and concepts on networks, technology and Ray Kurzweil amongst others.

Today, my Broadcast Media television group reshot some footage for our current affairs segment at N2 Extreme Gelato in the 40 degree heat, where the menu included tofu and Kopiko creme gelati for the week’s Chinese New Year theme.

ImageI spent my Thursday at my internship collating information on how different not-for-profits organise their media coverage, discussing events and updating brand and logo charts.

I am often overwhelmed by the weekend newspapers and having recently approached them differently, which actually involves getting on with other things before I’ve read the entire editions back to front. While this has enabled me to be more productive and somewhat less restricted, today, I found myself still trying to finish off last Saturday’s magazines while this week’s ones were on the dinning room table. The perils of so much information and diverse interests.

This week also brought us a number of media controversies and notable world events (or non-events). There was the attack on ABC from numerous Coalition and associated identities and Abbott’s announcement of an ‘efficiency study’ into the network and the SBS.

SPC Ardmona became a company in even more dire straits while local Liberal MP Sharman Stone stood up to her party and the nation’s leader in defence of the rights of her people.

The winner of America’s 15th season of The Biggest Loser spurred a worldwide controversy over the program’s lack of ethics, and disrespect for individuals’ health and overall wellbeing in favour of sensationalistic and damaging television. Fortunately, much of the health and wellness industry has spoken out against the show, but I still saw too many tweets and comments by mainstream news organisations and high profile individuals who saw Rachel’s extreme ‘makeover’ as ‘inspirational’, and led to me posting this:

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This came on the back of a contentious ‘body image issue’ of Fairfax Media’s Sunday Life magazine. For a good read in response to the issue, check out Madeline Beveridge’s letter to the publishers.

The Pakistani government and the Taliban didn’t and then did meet, and an evacuation of the besieged Syrian city of Homs finally began.

The creative industry and beyond were shocked by the death of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the Daily Telegraph sank to new journalistic lows – which I have chosen not to link to as they/it/he deserve no further coverage of such a distasteful nature.

And of course, Sochi happened, although whether the region was ready or not is another point up for discussion. While many athletes and journalists had photographic proof of their arduous arrival and accommodation, Dmitry Kozak, the deputy prime minister responsible for the Olympic preparations, retaliated and claimed he could be certain all such reports were false as Russia had ‘surveillance video from the hotels that shows people turn on the shower, direct the nozzle at the wall and then leave the room for the whole day’. Apparently Mr Kozak was pulled away before he could make any other spying admissions.

Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.30 pm Screen Shot 2014-02-08 at 8.51.39 pmFinally, Google came out in support of all people and the Winter Olympics with a lovely Google doodle to mark the games’ opening, which also appeared on Google’s Russian homepage.

unnamedSo that’s just a snippet of what’s making news in my world this week. Here’s hoping for more progress, equality, peace and awareness in the week to come.

In this week’s symposium, our tutor referred to ‘traditional media’ as ‘heritage media’.

I’d never heard the term used in this context and it really stood out as something quite shocking. As I’ve mentioned time and time again, I’m a print girl, true and through. I read books, tangible newspapers and magazines in hand as much as possible. But I’m also a constant consumer of news and other texts online and via my phone.

We discussed the conservative argument for free market economics which might say heritage media has an inherent ‘checks and balance’ system for quality. Theoretically, this would ensure the ‘best’ stories would go to print or air. Yet what tends to happen reflects more of a populist approach as, largely, it is the content deemed to appeal to the masses that is published and produced.

Online there is (infinite) space for diversity of content, opinion, language, perspective and debate. By coincidence, in my webscrawling today I came across a 2006 publication of Harvard Law professor, Yochai BenklerThe Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom.

As a side note – I love that as I’ve started formally studying more topics or subjects I am genuinely interested in, the time I spend online for pleasure is actually resonating with that guided learning.

Benkler’s work is one such example. He discusses how the internet has restructured public discourse, giving individuals greater freedom and autonomy, encouraging participation, engagement as a scale-free network. He suggests the internet provides ‘avenues of discourse around the bottle-necks of older media, whether these are held by authoritarian governments or by media owners’ (p. 271). This point is particularly pertinent in light of Prime Minister Tony Abbott and the Coalition’s latest tirade against (or ‘efficiency review’ of) the ABC and SBS. Of course, this is in addition to two publishing houses (or rather, two millionaires) dominating Australia’s print industry, providing the public with ‘news’ that is about as ‘fair and balanced’ as Fox News.

Benkler says ‘filtering, accreditation, and synthesis mechanisms [are a] part of network behavior’ (p. 271) and that peer production ‘is providing some of the most important fuctionalities of the media. These efforts provide a watchdog, a source of salient observations regarding matters of public concern, and a platform for discussing the alternatives open to a polity’ (p. 272).

‘In the networked information environment, everyone is free to observe, report, question, and debate, not only in principle, but in actual capability.’ (p. 272)

Perhaps most importantly, is that in today’s online, networked world, anyone can become what New York Univerrsity journalism professor, Jay Rosen, calls a ‘citizen journalist‘.

‘…the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another.’

Citizen journalism, the internet and networked science are shifting power away from leaders, managers and millionaires, and are democratising the media landscape and the society in which they exist. While I will hold on to heritage media, I am incredibly grateful for the proliferation of online networks that constantly offer me new pages to view, opinions to read and thoughts to think. But still, I’m pretty excited for The Saturday Paper. Aren’t you?

You may remember that I’m fortunate enough to be interning at artsHub, Australia’s premiere website for everything you need to know about the arts – performing, literary, visual, screen and related fields. Tomorrow night, artsHub is launching a whole new website. It’s a makeover that’s had a lot of time and effort behind it and from the sneak peaks I’ve enjoyed, it’s an amazingly streamline environment. It’s incredibly user-friendly, adaptable for mobile and tablet devices, and marks a positive turn in and for, the organisation where membership and subscription options are being revamped to offer you more information, faster, and in greater detail.

I’ve been doing some spring cleaning of my own in my life: trying to work out what to do in the coming days/weeks/moths/years (!!!). It’s quite overwhelming and daunting, but many nice prospects are presenting themselves along the way. Primarily, I want to travel. Back to Europe, New York, Japan and beyond. Take me anywhere, really! However, before that happens, I need a paying job. So, if anyone in Melbourne knows of a company/shop/organisation who are looking for someone to do some admin/retail assisting/writing/almost anything, please let them or me know, I’d be super grateful. I’ll even send you a postcard from a city of your choice when I do finally venture across the seas.

Australia is going through it’s own ‘cleaning’ processes, streamlining a new government and organising national and international policies and priorities. There is a lot to be said about the election and voting systems we experienced last weekend, but for now, I’ll leave that to other commentators. I’m sure if you’re interested, you’ve already found your way across other websites such as Crikey, The Conversation and The Drum, alongside mainstream newspapers and television stations.

I’m also after some new podcasts to listen to. I’m pretty open and generally interested in anything, so if you’ve got any recommendations, please let me know in the comments section or any other communicative method.

I’ll leave you with a couple of pieces I wrote at artsHub yesterday:

SDC commissions eight new works for next year <— this article has the best picture, worth clicking the link just to see it

Daffy Duck, Wagnerlicht, and The Ride of the Valkyries

Emerging South Australian printmaker wins $5,000 art prize

Canberra Symphony Orchestra explores emotion in its 2014 season

Malthouse announces 2014 season

Despite its prevalence in our community, the stigma associated with having a mental illness is evident and challenging for those with mental health struggles. Similarly, I am aware that many people are self-conscious about seeing a therapist/psychologist/psychiatrist/counsellor/social worker or other type of mental health professional, despite their services being available for a multitude of issues, conversations and conditions. It’s a shame that this stigma is so prominent as I believe the benefits of seeing some kind of mental health professional are numerous and do not just pertain to those with a serious mental health condition. Therapists are available for individuals, families and couples who just want someone to talk to, to listen to their stories, provide them with a sounding board and commonly, some feedback as to how to proceed, what to tackle next, or how to work with a troubling situation, person or circumstance.

It is with this sentiment that I wonder whether the language we use is a significant contributing factor preventing more people accessing and seeking out these kinds of health services. When we have a sore back, we have no trouble going to the doctor and asking for a referral to a chiropractor, or seeing a teacher of the Alexander Technique for some help with postural realignment and lifestyle changes. When we have a sports injury, we see a physiotherapist, or perhaps, someone even more specialised. Generally, we seem to have no (internal) trouble with seeing a podiatrist, dermatologist or occupational therapist. So then why have we, collectively, created an invisible barrier barring us from seeking and receving guidance and help for what is intrinsically associated with what is arguably our most vital bodily organ, our brain?

Each week, I attend a range of appointments. This is not unusual for any of us lucky enough to live in a developed society with relatively easy and cost-friendly access to a range of health services. However, I’ve noticed that, at least until recently, I felt some sort of shame saying to others that I had a session booked with my psychiatrist, and instead of just saying so, I would omit the ‘location of difficulty’ or ‘source of stress’ if you like, and just say I had ‘an appointment’. Fundamentally, there is nothing wrong with that, and privacy to such an extent should be our right. Except the problem arises with the emotional guilt or side-effect associated with that omission, and I believe is comes from the stigma we as a society have attached to mental health.

Unfortunately, those receiving care for their mental health are often referred to, and immediately though of, as having a mental illness or mental disorder. For some, this is appropriate and true and I am not saying these terms should not be used, per say. Rather, I question; is it possible that due do these terms so often being used interchangeably, we are in fact, unintentionally, reinforcing that stigma and subsequently preventing ordinary people from seeking out mental health services? That people won’t see a therapist because they don’t want to be thought to have a ‘mental disorder’?

So, I guess I am kind of addressing two separate, yet interrelated, stigmas: one with diagnosed mental illness, and another with mental health care in general. I believe that neither are justified and both should be dispelled, but maybe starting with the latter will help to lift the stigma from the former. And to do so, I suggest the following:

Let’s change our language. Let’s start referring to ‘mental wellbeing’, adding a positive connotation to the world of mental health care. We know that to achieve optimal health we must strive for a state of complete physical, social and mental wellbeing, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity (WHO, 1946), and as such, are entitled to and worthy of receiving assistance and professional care for all elements of our wellbeing.

If you’re going through a series of life changes, you’re in an interim phase between jobs/houses/relationships, you’re needing some guidance, or would just like an impartial, in-judgemental face to talk to, seek out a professional to provide you with that support. You may not need ‘help’, you mightn’t be in a crisis, you might even be at the height of your career. But, by taking care of your mental wellness, you’re actively maintaing or working towards achieving your optimal health. And what better way to live your life than that?

I was just alerted to this post by journalist and self-proclaimed health advocate, Sarah Wilson, via a friend on Facebook. Whilst I understand Wilson has gone sugar-free for her own personal health reasons, I believe the way she distributes and promotes her message and ‘diet’ of a life without sugar as a lifestyle change is very troubling. The I Quit Sugar program advises followers to cut out all sugar, including fresh, dried and juiced fruit for at least the first six weeks. However, dried and juiced fruits are ‘to be eliminated for good’.

At the conclusion of this piece, Wilson writes:

I wanted to share this today because I know so many of you who follow this blog are starting the 8-Week Program today. And I don’t think it’s helpful embarking on the journey thinking that it’s about perfection. Or rigidity. And I am not a guru. I’m working through it (sugar-free living, life, acts of self-sabotage) just as hard as you. I say this often – quitting sugar is an experiment. You see what it does, what it brings up, where it takes you. And I say this just as often – life is practice. It’s the practice, not some rigid finality that is what it’s all about.

But, I’d encourage you to read the whole post. I really don’t think it sends the the right kind of messages to anyone, particularly to a whole new bunch of potential sugar-quitters. The diet sounds incredibly ‘rigid’ to me and as someone who’s been stuck in many rigid patterns and routines for many years now, I can say that anything so strict and extreme cannot be considered ‘healthy’.

I commented on the blog post, sadly underneath many women who’d claimed the piece to be ‘inspirational’, calling Wilson their ‘hero’. One commenter says:

I was having some tension in a relationship, so I told myself I deserved a box of TV snacks. And they don’t satiate like they once did when junk was my bestie. Groan. Back on the bike.

Yet, another, Rebecca, had this to say:

Hi Sarah, thank you for this post. It is endearingly honest of you to admit to the occasional slip-up. However, I think it would be useful for you to discuss in one of your posts the concept of denial and how it can lead to bingeing in some people. I am – in principle – very much in favour of your IQS tenets. But, having myself gone through an anorexic adolescence, and having remained very entrenched in abstinence behaviour all the way through my twenties (I am now in my early forties), I had to learn to allow myself to eat EVERYTHING in order to get well. I had to completely re-set my mindset and tell myself no food was ‘bad’. I had to free myself of food-guilt! And now, when I try completely abstaining from sugar, I find that it triggers memories of my old, bad anorexic times, which I never want to go back to. Then, as if in sub-conscious protest at those memories, as if in refusal ever to return to abstinence-land, I find myself rebelling by bingeing on either sugary things, or on fatty non-sugary things like cheese and coconut butter. I don’t think I am alone on this, and I don’t think you have ever really addressed these issues, though I have seen them brought up by readers and critics before. What do you think, Sarah? I think your readers would welcome this discussion.

Funnily enough, Wilson is yet to reply. Many commenters talk about ‘balance’ and ‘vulnerability’. But is cutting out a whole food group really leading you to a life of ‘balance’? We are fed so many lies and conflicting arguments about health and food these days, it’s just a shame that a woman with such a presence in Australian culture is promoting these extreme measures as a pathway to better physical and mental health, when the consequences – particularly mentally – could be severely traumatic and disordered.

Here’s what I had to say to Wilson:

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I concur with the words of Paula Kotowicz, who responded to Wilson with the following:

Hi Sarah. The response you describe must have been quite frightening for you. I have to admit though that as a therapist who specialises in eating disorders, disordered eating and body image issues, I really do question the helpfulness of completely avoiding an entire food group, without medical necessity. Obviously medical necessity is a whole other thing…
To some vulnerable people in our society, it simply provides an excuse to restrict and control and can trigger these people into disordered eating or even into bona fide eating disorders. My other concern are the notions of ‘failing’ or ‘slip-ups’ as described by many of the readers in their comments. A great deal of my work is focusing on helping people to develop self-compassion and a greater sense of self overall – including self-worth, self-value. Self-kindness in a nutshell. While you may wonder what this has to do with anything, imagine being able to say to yourself: “So I ate the croissants… Did I enjoy them? No. Will I do this again? Almost definitely. But for some reason, I needed to eat them and that’s ok. I am human after all…” Being harsh on ourselves, not only does not help, but makes us feel so much worse in the long run because it deconstructs our sense of self and causes us to beat up on ourselves.
Isn’t it possible that there is a happy medium in there somewhere? It’s not crack. Just food.
Thanks for sharing and opening up the discussion.

Already this post has sparked controversy across the media sphere with Mia Freedman sharing it and questioning Wilson’s message via Facebook. I particularly like these first two comments on Freedman’s post:

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Basically, I’m fed up (no pun intended). We need role models that promote a truly balanced wellbeing without restrictions, stress and inflexible rules. Our culture needs a healthy overhaul but for now the onus is on us to take in the good and reject the disordered behaviour we are so often presented with. If only it were that easy.

I am writing a series of pieces documenting my thoughts on the lead up to the Australian Federal Election to be held on 7 September 2013. As a young woman, it will be my first experience of voting in a Federal election. I am not endorsing any particular party or politician. All opinions are mine unless stated otherwise, and while I will try to include honest information at all times, nothing should be taken as fact without further investigation. You can view my first post here and second post here.

Men in Black

Men in Black

With the election less than five weeks away, the Government and the Opposition are well and truly into their campaigning across the country. Both parties seem to be most concerned with the state of the Australian economy, and the action of the Reserve Bank today, has only given the economy a more prominent position in the debating arena. The Australian dollar is down, as are interest rates, but so is spending. Australians are saving their money, and as a result, the retail and business sectors as struggling. Shops are closing, private organisations are going into voluntary administration and liquidation sales seem to be on every second street corner.

Asylum seekers are making every effort to enter our country in the hope of a better future. Both major political parties are doing their best to ‘Stop the Boats’. I am currently reading Geoffrey Robertson QC’s Crimes Against Humanity. Robertson speaks in detail about the UN’s High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and the agency’s ‘hurculean task’ of supervising millions of asylum seekers and processing their claims.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that ‘Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution’. Yet politicians are deeming these so-called boat people, ‘economic immigrants’, therefore denying the legitimacy of their asylum seeking.

It is interesting in the context of the 2001 Tampa case where Australia had the humanitarian duty to consider those on board the sinking boat’s claims to asylum. I am reading the 4th edition of Robertson’s book, published in 2012.

Robertson writes: ‘Many Asian countries refuse to sign the [International Convention on Refugees] and have become notorious for pushing ‘boat people’ back to sea as prey for pirates (Malaysia) or for turning a blind eye to the bribery which makes them a transit point for people-smugglers (Indonesia).’

He then comments on the Tampa case, saying the country bribed Nauru to take the majority of the refugees, which ‘may be explained by the fact that the government was in the throes of an election, and took the opportunity to boost its popularity at the expense of refugees and respect for international law’. Sound familiar? It’s great to see how much progress our nation has made in the name of equality, acceptance and diversity, (note the sarcasm).

Labor says it will increase the country’s refugee intake from 13,750 to 20,000 per year, inline with the recommendation of the Expert Panel of Asylum Seekers. The Coalition argues any increase in the quota is both unaffordable and would send the wrong message to people smugglers. The Greens say they will boost capacity of UN in Indonesia and Malaysia to speed up assessment and resettlement, yet as mentioned above, these countries have not signed the Convention, and thus are less likely to be open to much negotiation.

The Solomon Islands are also uninterested in being a part of the Australian Government’s new ‘Pacific Solution’ for processing and resettling asylum seekers. However, the country’s Prime Minister makes a good point: ‘We have to respect the choice of asylum seekers, and the choices that these people have made is that they want to come to Australia.’

The state of mental health care in Australia and across the world is dismal. This piece published in the New York Times is incredibly poignant in describing the urgency of improved and expanded mental health care in the States, but translates easily to other nations, including Australia.

Labor has the $2.2 billion mental health packages announced in May 2011. The funding aims to provide ‘genuine, practical and sustainable mental health reform to ensure that Australians living with mental illness get the care they need, when they need it’. Both the ALP and the Coalition will back EPPIC, an integrated and comprehensive mental health service model aimed at addressing the needs of people aged 15-24 with early psychosis, and promote the growth of treatment and opportunities for those with mental health conditions, including employment prospects.

However, progress and action in regards to mental health seems to be happening on a smaller, state-wide basis. New South Wales police will receive specialised mental health training from as soon as next month, while in Victoria, Labor’s mental health parliamentary secretary Wade Noonan has said ‘Our acute mental health services have reached breaking point under the Napthine Government, which increases the risks to both staff and patients’. In a similar response to assaults on nurses, the ACT government will speed-up the timetable to build Canberra’s first secure mental health unit after receiving Opposition support for the proposal.

Yet despite all of this, Former Australian of the year Pat McGorry, Brain and Mind Research Institute head Ian Hickie, and former chairman of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health, John Mendoza, have today called for and end to political talk without subsequent action and voiced concern that neither parties had ensured adequate funding for mental health.

Tying two issues into one, the Greens will commit to setting up an independent panel of medical and mental health experts to monitor asylum seekers sent to Papua New Guinea and Nauru under Labor and Coalition policies, after reports of suicide threats, hunger strikes and severe trauma amongst asylum seekers.

Of course, there are other significant issues and policies in this year’s federal election including education, jobs, a price on carbon, transport, and DisabilityCare. The ABC is hosting an educational tool called Vote Compass, that is designed to help you ‘discover how you fit in the Australian political landscape’. By answering a few short questions, you will be given a numerical and visual representation of how your values and interests sit in comparison with those of the major political parties. You can find Vote Compass here.

Additionally, make sure you’re enrolled to vote. You must be enrolled by 8pm on Monday 12 August. Visit the Australian Electoral Commission here.

Anyone can be a victim of violence. From petty crime to theft, domestic violence, physical or verbal abuse, emotional trauma, as well as rape, and murder. The list goes on and none of it is pretty. Violence can lead to physical and mental ill health, homelessness, feelings of shame, embarrassment, and acts of retaliation. The severity of violence is vast, and each case is unique. I am fortunate enough to live a life where I feel cared for, loved and safe. But too often, I take these life essentials for granted.

Three stories have featured in tonight’s news headlines, each involving women and acts of violence. Without going in to too much detail, Adrian Ernest Bayley was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum jail term of 35 years, for the rape and murder of Melbournian Jill Meagher. Ms Meagher’s father said ‘justice has now been done’. But, nothing will bring back the innocent woman who found herself in that eventually fatal position in Brunswick last September.

St Kilda footballer Stephen Milne was yesterday convicted of four counts of rape of a 19 year old female, dating back to 2004. Victoria Police say they have ‘implemented substantial reforms and improvements to [their] sex crimes investigative processes which has enabled a number of older investigations to be reviewed, offenders identified and charges laid’. Yet one may beg to ask why it has taken so long for the truth to come out. There has been deception and what one party involved called a ‘sabotaged investigation’. However, the AFL have now disputed Milne’s suspension based on the presumption of innocence. I find it hard to believe that in any other workplace or sector that an organisation would speak out against an employee’s suspension when accused of rape, but is it not both troubling and fascinating to hear the different arguments in play?

The third news item is undoubtedly less severe but just as intriguing in its own way. In recent months there have been numerous reports of abuse on Melbourne and Sydneys’ public transport system. On Monday evening, a customer was physically and verbally assaulted on an Eltham-bound train out of Melbourne’s CBD. The difference in this case though, was that the victim was a 56 year old man, and his abusers, two 15 and 16 year old girls. While the girls have been questioned and the victim’s story has been told and retold, the emphasis has certainly been placed (at least by commercial and tabloid media) on the age and gender of each of the three involved. Yes, it is terrible and unjust, the man was victimised and abused in a public situation that should have been safe. Yes, others should have stepped in to prevent the action or assist the man (hello, PSO officers?). But the focus is on the two girls. Journalistic reporting also shifts: words chosen are inherently more feminine, soft, and possibly, forgiving. The teens are described as ‘feral’ rather than violent or brutal.

So, why do we find female criminals so, do I dare say, inviting?

I took a subject over the summer called Women and International Justice that asked this very question. Through exploration of the way women are treated in court, in society, and in prison facilities, I gained a great deal of knowledge, and began to form my own perspectives on these issues. Women can be both victims and perpetrators of violence, and there are many factors – biological, environmental, psychological – that play a part in each case. For my final essay, I focused particularly on the case of Aileen Wuornos, America’s most infamous female serial killer. Filmmaker Nick Broomfield made two documentaries on Wuornos, and a blockbuster film Monster, starring Charlize Theron was produced in 2003. I highly recommend all three of these films, and for you to watch the documentaries first, to gain the ‘facts’, and then Monster, as a testament to and so as gain fully appreciate Theron’s incredible acting. She physically embodies Wuornos’ character and personality in a way I’ve never seen an actor do so, before.

Charlize Theron in 'Monster'

Charlize Theron in ‘Monster’

 

I’ll also post my essay below, for further interest.

***

Meanwhile, I’ve had another week at artsHub and here are the links to this week’s work:

The End of the Educational DVD

$12,000 Playwright Commission Available

International Artists Bolster Competition in Stencil Prize

Record Breaking Box Office for Melbourne Jazz Fest

Penguin Kicking Goals with the AFL

60th Sydney FIlm Festival Award Winners

***

Compare and contrast two major theories to explain the offending behaviour of women.

Gender is a socially constructed idea, and unlike sex, which is biologically determined, is reflective of the culture in which it is located. The definition of ‘gender’ changes as what is considered ‘acceptable’ for a male or female is both rooted in tradition, and crafted by new thinkers and philosophies. Whether male or female, a person’s life course is affected by conditions including race, social class or socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and physical ability. Much traditional thought expresses women as inferior beings to their male counterparts, and feminist theory sees many women criminals to be stuck in a patriarchal bind, where “women have no civic identity separate from their husbands or fathers” (Goodstein, 2000). This struggle to pronounce themselves as separate individuals leaves many women relying upon men for representation in the public sphere, money, and other resources. Such dependence was not always held respectfully, as what males chose to do to their ‘property’ behind closed doors was off limits to those enforcing justice (Goodstein, 2000).

In Western countries a ‘rule of thumb’ operated, with a literal meaning that men could freely beat their wives so long as the instrument used was no thicker than their thumb. In a culture of male privilege and female service, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse and wife battering were not considered ‘real’ crimes until the 1970s (Goodstein, 2000). While some consider those violent towards women as having ‘sick personalities’ or a ‘psychological illness’, these practices are likely to have been founded more concretely as reflections of structural gender dynamics, in keeping with the traditional roles assigned to a man and woman. Ferraro (2000) argues social institutions of religion, kinship, the economy, and media, normalize hierarchical gender relations and enforce male power and privilege, leading some males to exercise emotional and physical control through abusive means (Goodstein, 2000). In broad terms, feminist criminologists agree with this sentiment, with radical feminism defining women’s oppression as originating in the categorization of women as an inferior class. Similarly, socio-cultural feminism sees the patriarchal structure of society perpetuating sexual violence against women which is particularly evident in some middle eastern nations, where rape has not been criminalized in marriage, and domestic violence is a pervasive problem.

Attachment Theory

The Attachment Theory suggests that abuse and offending behaviour is a cycle, passed through generations, perpetuated by childhood abuse and offending as a result of insecure and anxious attachment to a primary parental figure. Both boys and girls growing up in violent environments have higher propensities to model such behaviour (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004), yet girls must also negotiate gender oppression, where yearning for someone to be close to them, they feel powerless and are left with limited options for change, where thus, they are met with continued abuse and violence.

Many girls abused as minors try to flee violence and trauma, leaving them without a home, education, or access to a steady income and daily necessities. Widom (2000) attests that victimized girls who enter delinquency as a result of this continuum, and “often with deficits in cognitive abilities and achievement and few positive relationships or social controls”, end up on the streets with very few survival skills (cited in Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004, p. 106). Furthermore, they may experience lowered self-esteem, a lack of sense of control over their lives, and thus show tendencies towards criminal behaviour. Chesney-Lind and Pasko (2004) state that consequently, these girls grow into women “with few social or psychological resources for successful adult development” (p. 106), and are likely to become involved with others who have walked similar paths. Group affiliation penetrates crime-ridden neighbourhoods and some women feel compelled into illegal behaviours through their menfolk or other associations (van Wormer, 2010). Geography is significant in determining the influence of crime and drug use (van Wormer, 2010), with areas populated by those of lower socio-economic status often reporting higher levels of crime, gangs and drug abuse. This supports the evidence in favour of the Attachment theory, and reinforces one’s experiences during childhood as a key determinant of one’s ability to grow into a law-responsive adult.

Prostitution is commonly known to be the only crime in which women dominate numerically. Research has shown it to be part of a recursive cycle of victimization leading to criminality and then back again, where these women are knowingly both offenders and victims, in order to maintain their lives. Women arrested for embezzlement were often employed in low-paying clerical, sales and service positions, and were found to have pocketed smaller amounts than males involved in embezzlement. Women were less likely than men to be ‘commercial shoplifters’ (stealing for possible resale) and saw their criminal activity as being part of a ‘second shift’ of household management, rather than for extensive or personal gains (Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004). Where women are arrested for more serious crimes (such as robbery) they are more likely to have served as accomplices to men in various capacities, than to have masterminded the offense. Murders by women are likely to be domestic or inflicted upon someone they knew, to be carried out whilst the victim was asleep or incapacitated, and as an act of self-defense, with the women in fear of her (or a child’s) life. Female perpetrators of these crimes were less likely to have a criminal history, or to have a criminal history overwhelmingly dominated by prostitution.

Many studies of women’s crime focus on the events and circumstances women faced during childhood, with a specific emphasis on the importance of victimization and abuse. Heimer identifies, ‘Nearly all of the women discussed in the ethnographic literature on women’s poverty and crime find themselves living in disadvantaged, disorganized, and deteriorating communities with high rates of drug use, property crime, and violence’ (p. 26). Daly coined a subgroup of female criminals as “harmed and harming women” who experienced abuse as children in addition to economic hardship, invoking what Heimer calls a ‘quasi-psychological argument’, maintaining that as abused girls grew up, they were unable to contain their rage and were increasingly violent and committed violent crime. She adds that these felons are simply reproducing their experiences of abuse, and utilizing them as a coping mechanism when faced by confronting circumstances or situations. Moreover, women living in marginalized communities are more likely to encounter and become incorporated into criminal and deviant networks where family members may serve as the conduit between young women and criminal groups (Miller, 1986, cited in Heimer, 2000). Therefore, these women are easily initiated into groups of crime that then sustain their criminal involvement.

Economic Marginalization Hypothesis

The economic marginalization hypothesis suggests the gender gap in crime has narrowed as women have experienced increasing economic hardship relative to men. When this occurs, women’s rates of crime as compared with men’s rates will increase. The hypothesis emphasizes that economic circumstances and crime are a dynamic process (Heimer, 2000) influenced by social demographic and economic indicators. Importantly, gender ratios of arrests can increase when female crime rates are not rising if men’s crime rates are dropping off more rapidly (Heimer, 2000). Citing Blau and Blau’s (1982) argument about inequality and violent crime rates, Heimer notes that high levels of inequality can create a sense of relative deprivation, to which crime is a natural response. Similarly, Steffensmeier and Allan (1996) discuss poverty as a key factor driving changes in women’s offending.

Employment, or lack thereof, is a significant indicator when studying individuals or demographics at risk of criminal behaviour. Box and Hale (1983, 1984) reported that women’s rates of registering as unemployed had some influence on female conviction rates in England and Wales, for the period of 1952 to 1980, yet the percentage of unemployed women does not give information about levels of male unemployment, thus capturing absolute rather than relative economic status (cited in Heimer, 2000). In a study of women street hustlers in Milwaukee, Romenesko and Miller (1989) note previous jobs of women in their sample included work as cooks, housekeepers, store clerks, waitresses, and go-go dancers (cited in Heimer, 2000). Baskin and Sommers (1998) reported that employed women offenders in their sample worked mostly in unskilled jobs as factory workers, salespersons, and office clerks. In these positions, women are at greater risk of committing property crime when faced with financial hardship. Additionally, Daly (1994) observed that at the time of arrest, only 8 of 40 women studied worked in legitimate jobs, 16 were receiving welfare benefits, and the remaining 16 had “no clear means of economic support” (cited in Chesney-Lind & Pasko, 2004, p. 26).

Chesney-Lind and Pasko (2004) discuss a study done by Gilfus (1992) in which 20 incarcerated women were interviewed in exploration of the link between childhood injuries and adult crime. Gilfus found many likenesses between the 20 women, most of whom were single mothers who considered their illegal activities as work, economically necessary to support partners, children, and addictions. Three-quarters were intravenous drug users, 17 had histories of prostitution, 13 reported child sexual abuse, 13 ran away from home as girls, and only four completed high school. The women collectively recalled trying to care for and protect others, particularly younger siblings, from violence and abuse, and 15 had lived with violent men who expected them to bring in money through prostitution and shoplifting. These women saw their criminal role as a form of caretaking. Whilst this study consisted only of 20 women incarcerated in the United States, the social and economic conditions in which they were brought up are similar to those of women held in prisons across the globe. Baskin and Sommers (1992) note, “‘violence and drug involvement’ are adaptive strategies in underclass communities that are racked by poverty and unemployment” (p. 114). Chesney-Lind and Pasko support this statement that “women experiencing gender and racial oppression and social marginalization are particularly vulnerable to both abuse and victimization and involvement in illegal activity” (2004, p. 106).

Aileen Wuornos – A Case Study

American serial killer, Aileen Wuornos, embodied many facets of both Attachment Theory and the Economic Marginalization Hypothesis. She was arrested and charged with capital murder in January 1991. Wuornos was born to a broken family, where her mother left Aileen and Aileen’s brother to her own parents (Wuornos’ grandparents), and her father committed suicide in prison soon after. Wuornos’ grandmother was an alcoholic and it is alleged that her grandfather beat her, and his friend molested her. At nine years of age, Wuornos began work as a sex servant and became pregnant at the age of 13. After the pregnancy and subsequent adoption, Wuornos was told she could no longer live at the house and took to the streets, making money as a prostitute. Prior to the murders, Wuornos committed crimes of theft, robbery, assault and illegal possession of a firearm and had served short sentences in prison. Maher (1997) argues female sex workers robbed their clients as a way to build reputations for violence to help them divert potential victimization (cited in Heimer, 2000). Wuornos had experienced victimization from a young age and it is possible these crimes were an example of building her resilience, in addition to maintaining her lifestyle and her life. Wuornos also played the role of caretaker to her lover, Tyria Moore, who eventually got Wuornos to confess to the murders via telephone, tapped by police (Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, 1993, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, 2003; Monster, 2003).

While Wuornos worked alone as an adult, during childhood, she was surrounded by drugs, rape and criminal behaviour. Often betrayed by loved ones, Wuornos was unable to trust anyone and learned to fend for herself at a young age. She was economically marginalized and often homeless, where hooking and stealing were her only avenues through which to obtain money and necessities. Unlike other female offenders, Wuornos was the key perpetrator of the crimes she was involved in. She was socially and economically marginalized, unemployed (save prostitution), sparsely connected to family or friends, and was victimized and abused as a child (Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer, 1993, Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer, 2003; Monster, 2003).

While her status as a serial killer may be uncommon amongst women, her traumatic childhood and marginalization from social, economic and familial realms stands to support the propositions of each theory. With a more supportive networking system and a stable income from an occupation not marred by such potential risk and violence, Wuornos may have found a life very different from the one she led. The Attachment Theory signifies the importance of a parental figure in a child’s life, and without this presence, Wuornos found herself to be detached from society. In turn, she held loose morals and became a victim of the social system, from which she was largely set apart.

Conclusion

A broad feminist framework is vital for understanding offending women, yet both the attachment theory and the economic marginalization hypothesis help shed specific and critical light on many of the underlying issues. Without these perspectives, our understanding of the reason why women offend would be much more limited, as would our capacity for generating legal reforms and social changes that might ultimately lead to a reduction in women’s crimes and their underlying causes.

References

Aileen: Life and Death of a Serial Killer 2003, documentary, Lafayette Films, Louisiana, USA, viewed 21 December, 2012.

Aileen Wuornos: The Selling of a Serial Killer 1993, documentary, Lafayette Films, Louisiana, USA, viewed 22 December, 2012.

Baskin, D and Sommers, I 1992, Sex, Race, Age, and Violent Offending, Violence and Victims, vol. 7, no. 3, pp. 191-201, Springer Publishing Company, New York, USA.

Chesney-Lind, M and Pasko, L 2004, ‘Trends in Women’s Crime’ in The Female Offender Girls, Women and Crime, 2nd edn, Sage Publications, Inc, California, USA.

Ferraro, K J 2000, ‘Woman Battering: More Than a Family Problem’ in Goodstein L and Renzetti C, Women, Crime and Criminal Justice: Original Feminist Readings, Oxford University Press, USA, viewed 27 December 2012, http://roxbury.net/images/pdfs/wcj2_chapter1.pdf

Goodstein, L 2000, ‘Women, Crime and Criminal Justice – An Overview’ in Goodstein L and Renzetti C, Women, Crime and Criminal Justice: Original Feminist Readings, Oxford University Press, USA, viewed 27 December 2012, http://roxbury.net/images/pdfs/wcj2_chapter1.pdf

Heimer, K 2000, Changes in the Gender Gap in Crime and Women’s Economic Marginalization, Criminal Justice, vol. 1, pp. 427-483, viewed 27 December 2012, https://www.ncjrs.gov/criminal_justice2000/vol_1/02i.pdf

Monster 2003, film, Media 8 Entertainment, Florida, USA, viewed 20 December, 2012.

Steffensmeier, D J 1980, Sex Differences in Patterns of Adult Crime, 1965-77: A Review and Assessment, Social Forces, vol. 58, no. 4, pp. 1080-1108, The University of North Carolina Press, North Carolina, USA.

Van Wormer, K 2010, Working With Female Offenders, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, New Jersey, USA.

Widom, C S 2000, ‘Understanding the Consequences of Childhood Victimization’ in Reece, R M ed. 2000, Treatment of Child Abuse, The John Hopkins University Press, Maryland, USA.