University of Alberta professor Chloe Taylor has taken on carceral feminism in her new book Foucault, Feminism, and Sex Crimes, released October 11.
The book, a work 10 years in the making, tackles the intricacies of dealing with sex offences while considering Foucauldian and feminist perspectives.
The works of Michel Foucault, a French philosopher and social theorist who died in 1984, have been influential in a wide array of fields, including feminism. His thinking in this field, in particular, has been very controversial.
For example, when asked by the French government to help reform government in 1977, he encouraged a reduction in severity of punishment for sexual offenders, Taylor explained. Many feminist scholars have criticized these policies, claiming that Foucault trivialized sexual crimes like pedophilia and rape, in having advocated for their decriminalization.
As a professor of women and gender studies who wrote her PhD in philosophy with a focus on Foucault, Taylor offers a different perspective on the treatment of sex offences in her new book. While she sympathizes with feminist views, she notes that these criticisms often aren’t considering Foucault’s underlying prison abolition philosophy. Taylor refers to the common inclination to support prisons as an answer to rape as carceral feminism.
“[Carceral] feminists use prison as a solution,” she explained. “They think it’s a remedy to sexual assault to have longer prison sentences, to have higher conviction rates for rapists and so forth.”
Though she disagrees with Foucault’s tendency to diminish the seriousness of sex crimes, she holds that prisons are ultimately ineffective in preventing crime or protecting society.
Taylor noted how the justice system often fails sexual abuse victims by not prosecuting offenders and recognizes the importance of believing survivors. However, as a prison abolitionist, Taylor feels that incarceration of deviants isn’t necessarily the solution to sexual assault.
“I want to find ways to respond to sex crimes without resorting to prisons,” she said, “but I don’t agree with Foucault’s way of doing that.”
Furthermore, Taylor argues that prisons perpetuate sexual assault.
“Prisons are very intense rape cultures,” she said. “They’re something that we need to address if we’re against rape.”
Prison abolitionists, like Taylor, support alternatives to the current punitive prison system, advocating instead for rehabilitation of criminals. She believes that prison reform is important, even out of the context of sexual assault. She notes that over-incarceration is an issue that’s affecting many western countries, though Canada’s issues stem from a unique place.
“All of the increase in our prison population can be accounted for by the hyper-incarceration of Indigenous people,” Taylor said.
According to Statistics Canada, while only accounting for 4.1 per cent of the Canadian population, Aboriginal adults composed 27 per cent of federal incarcerations in 2017. This isn’t the only inequality maintained by the prison systems, Taylor says.
“They’re working in terms of reinforcing white supremacy, reinforcing xenophobia, perpetuating colonialism…” she said. “They have replaced the residential school system in Canada.”
Taylor believes that to tackle prison reform, addressing the handling of sex offenders is crucial, though many prison abolitionists tend to avoid the subject.
“It’s really important to address sex crimes,” she said. “Because it is precisely sex crimes that make your average person think that prisons are inevitable.”