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Regulating Girls and Women

Regulating Girls and Women: Sexuality, Family, and the Law in Ontario, 1920-1960

Joan Sangster
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 278
  • Book Info
    Regulating Girls and Women
    Book Description:

    In this fascinating study of sexuality, family, and the law, historian Joan Sangster focuses on key issues that drew women into the courts, as plaintiffs and defendants: incest and sexual abuse, wife assault, prostitution, female delinquency, and the unique 'colonization of the soul' that Aboriginal women had to endure before the law.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2350-7
    Subjects: History, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgements
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    In a rare, public disavowal of the courts, Alberta police and child welfare workers recently decried a judicial decision declaring as unconstitutional a law that allows police to seize and isolate minor prostitutes in ‘safe houses’ for three days. In the war of words between zealous police and the constitutionally cautious courts, those advocating forced removal of prostitutes from the streets claim the law should be used as a protective measure to forestall the sexual exploitation of young girls.¹ Forty years ago the courts may well have concurred, reflecting the prevailing belief that the law should intervene to protect and...

  5. 2 Incest, the Sexual Abuse of Children, and the Power of Familiasm
    (pp. 17-46)

    Evidence that sexual relations have been defined, regulated, and punished in markedly different ways over time is starkly apparent with the example of incest in twentieth-century Canada. Placed officially in the Canadian Criminal Code in 1890, incest was explained and analysed within changing paradigms of legal, medical, and social discourse that are strikingly different today than they were a century earlier. Indeed, we might employ different terminology today, putting more emphasis on those kinds of incest that fall under the broader framework of the ‘sexual abuse of children’.

    This chapter explores the evolution of these changing understandings of incest, particularly...

  6. 3 Rhetoric of Shame, Reality of Leniency: Wife Assault and the Law
    (pp. 47-84)

    In January 1950 a Peterborough man appeared in Magistrate’s Court charged with wife assault. The magistrate reprimanded the husband severely, as his wife was badly beaten, her ‘face almost unrecognizable’ after the vicious assault.¹ Making his abhorrence of the man’s actions clear, the magistrate sentenced him to a jail term and a whipping. While the magistrate’s cure for the man’s violence—prescribing more violence—would be seen today as counterproductive, his condemnation of violence against women would not. But was his denunciation of wife-battering distinctive to the 1950s? Twenty years earlier, in the very same courtroom another local magistrate had...

  7. 4 Prostitution and Promiscuity: Sexual Regulation and the Law
    (pp. 85-130)

    A fundamental tenet of feminist political critique throughout the twentieth century has been that the law regulated the sexual activity of men and women in profoundly different ways, with heterosexual women subject to stricter policing and harsher stigmatization for sexual activity outside of marriage. The double standard that castigated women for their rejection of chastity and fidelity, for childbirth outside of marriage, and for the sale of sex was the focus of suffragists’ ire before World War I. The latter continues to be a focus for feminist critique today. While most suffragists agreed that limitation of sex to monogamous marriage...

  8. 5 ‘Out of Control’: Girls in Conflict with the Law
    (pp. 131-167)

    If one aspect of the criminal justice system seemed to confirm Foucault’s emphasis on the norm overtaking the law in modern times, it was the legal practice relating to juveniles, especially the treatment of female juvenile ‘delinquents’.¹ The laws concerning delinquency offered the courts incredible latitude, power, and disciplinary potential; as American writer Roscoe Pound quipped, ‘the powers of the Star Chamber were a trifle in comparison to those of our juvenile courts.’² Most importantly, the legal definitions of what constituted delinquency were increasingly influenced by medical, criminological, and social work experts linked to the justice and penal systems. While...

  9. 6 Native Women, Sexuality, and the Law
    (pp. 168-193)

    In the early 1930s a young Ojibwa woman, Emma, living on a northwestern Ontario reserve was sentenced to two years in the provincial reformatory for vagrancy. All the evidence against her centred on her supposed sexual promiscuity—including graphic evidence of her most recent sexual liaison—and the fact she had two illegitimate children. Although the Indian agent and RCMP appeared at the trial, the complaint appeared to have been made by her relatives and other community members. A petition was presented by the Indian agent, with the signatures of her cousins, aunts, uncles, grandfather, and others, asking that ‘in...

  10. 7 Conclusion
    (pp. 194-204)

    Although the moral politics of recent anti-prostitution campaigns reflects current discourses, legal strategies, and connections to the state, the existence of moral politics, expressed through and constituted by the law, has a much longer history. In trying to understand how legal regulation relating to women, sexuality, and the family operated in twentieth-century Ontario, I have drawn on the most basic premises of critical legal thinking: the plurality of law, the need for constant cross-examination of its fabrication and meaning, and the idea that law is only comprehensible in its social, economic, and political contexts. Moreover, the law was never a...

  11. Note on Sources
    (pp. 205-208)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 209-271)
  13. Index
    (pp. 272-278)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 279-280)