In the last few decades, the rate and frequency of incarceration in America has boomed to unprecedented levels (U.S. Department of Justice, 2010, 2011). In 2010, 1,550,257 prisoners resided in correctional institutions, a rate of 500 persons for every 100,000. Accompanying this are larger numbers of Americans carrying criminal records, and researchers have examined the criminal record as being a powerful barrier toward reintegration and stability, and a driving force for higher recidivism which has been nicknamed the revolving door of justice. This paper presents a possible solution known by advocates as Ban the Box. By banning questions of criminal history on employment applications, it is believed the playing field will be leveled as ex-offenders are considered based on qualification like those without criminal histories. This should reduce recidivism as it reduces barriers toward reintegration. The weaknesses of this approach are that larger and systemic causes toward incarceration are not examined, and the term ban the box is actually misleading. The implications for social work are numerous as more and more people move into and out of prisons, affecting families and sometimes entire communities. Social workers need to know the issues and laws surrounding this vulnerable but historically denigrated population. They may be the ones called on to work with ex-offenders, their families, and communities as a broker for services and resources, and they may serve as educators and advocates within the criminal justice system.
Incarceration Nation: Banning the Box to Strengthen Rehabilitation Outcomes
When asked, people think people can reform their character (Sweig & McClure, 2010). But policymakers are historically unwilling to consider that 20% of our population with criminal records can reform theirs. That’s 65 million people, and 20% of those are convicted felons. These numbers will continue to grow as 700,000 prisoners are released from prison annually (Sweig & McClure, 2010; U.S. Department of Justice, 2011).
A direct consequence of a criminal conviction is serving a prison sentence. Arguably, the real consequences come after release. As one former prisoner stated: “I got out after ten years and I was so excited. But it was like I was starting the sentence all over again. I walked out of one prison into another. I thought I had, but now I see I’ll never repay my debt to society.” (S. Thomas, personal communication, 2013).
Sweig and McClure (2010) call this the collateral consequences of conviction. There are numerous federal and statutory bars to employment and, just as concerning, housing, for those with criminal convictions. Socially and legally, we enforce and endorse these restrictions which put emphasis on the “badness” of the person (Sweig & McClure, 2010, p 27). What this actually does is allow recidivism to flourish and prison populations to boom because accessing and implementing change in identity and seeking out a sense of self and what one can become is denied (Sweig & McClure, 2010). Without proper employment, the means for achieving that sense of self and a predictive future are depleted or eliminated. When we lock people up over and over and prison populations rise along with recidivism rates, we as a society shouldn’t act so baffled. The system isn’t broken, it’s fixed: the denial of employment, housing, education, and other social and welfare benefits breeds recidivism for people with criminal records (Sweig & McClure, 2010).
Studies by Pager (2003) have demonstrated employers would rather hire welfare recipients and those with no work experience over those with criminal records. In a fascinating experiment, she sent out job applications to employers that were the same in every way but for one thing: some of the applications disclosed an 18 month prison sentence for a drug felony. She also accounted for race. Of the white applicants, those without a criminal record were twice as likely to receive a positive response. Of the Black applicants, employers showed interest in 14% of those without a criminal record. This is compared to the 5% with criminal records. Alarmingly, Black job seekers without a record fare worse than whites with one. Evidently, criminal records amplify racial discrimination (Jacobs & Henry, 2007; EEOC, 2012).
That is the policy as it stands now. A recommended change is known by advocates as Ban the Box and simply means removing the criminal history question from initial employment applications (bantheboxcampaign.org, 2013). The rationale is that by denying employers access to criminal history information, all applicants are on the same playing field and considered for employment in the same way. Another way to look at it is this: knowledge of criminal history leads directly to a refusal to hire (Stoll & Bushway, 2008). Indeed, Pepsi Co. was required to pay 3.3 million back in 2012 because the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found them to be in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act: they had a blanket ban on consideration of applicants with a criminal history, which also meant they were discriminating on the basis of race (EEOC, 2012).
The Ban the Box campaign began in 2004 with All of Us or None – a coalition of smart justice advocates, former prisoners and their families, legal aid groups, and re-entry service providers in California (bantheboxcampaign.org, 2013). Research and ex-prisoner testimony revealed lack of access to employment as the primary barrier to reintegration and the primary variable in increased recidivism (Loeffler, 2013). The focus was first on public employers because they often have blanket bans in place on the hiring of those with criminal records, even if the conviction doesn’t have anything to do with the nature of the job itself (Sweig & McClure, 2010). This is in direct violation of EEOC guidelines (EEOC, 2012). In 2009, Minnesota was the first state to ban the box for public sector jobs (Sweig & McClure, 2010). Today over 45 cities and counties including New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Seattle, and San Francisco have implemented some kind of ban the box policy and removed questions about conviction history from initial employment applications. Some cities and the entire state of Massachusetts enacted legislation to require private sector employers to do the same. With advocacy and education, some employers are beginning to adopt this policy of their own accord (bantheboxcampaign.org, 2013).
When one in four adults in the United States has a criminal history (bantheboxcampaign.org, 2013) the need for this change in policy and practice appears necessary. The primary strength toward this approach is financial – it doesn’t cost anything to implement. No new programs are being created, no one in the justice system is being asked to perform additional duties or change the nature of their current job descriptions. Essentially, it is easy, and results can be immediate and measurable. Additionally, the EEOC backs these fairer hiring practices and in 2012, updated their Enforcement Guidance on Consideration of Arrest or Conviction Records in Employment Decisions. While they stop short on calling convicted persons a protected class, they do uphold the ban in places where this policy applies and have begun to aggressively prosecute employers with blanket bans on ex-prisoners because, from the EEOC’s point of view, this violates the Civil Right Act (EEOC, 2012).
A weakness toward this approach is the moniker for the movement: Ban the Box. Researchers Sweig and McClure (2010) challenge the practice of examining criminal records before the interview stage in hiring practices but also call attention to the misrepresentation Banning the Box causes. They propose calling it Moving the Box instead, because nothing is actually being banned – the criminal history inquiry is simply being moved aside for later, at the interview stage or post-interview stage, when a conditional offer of employment is made. This is making that playing field fairer between those with and without criminal records, as those with them are likely to be rejected by virtue of their conviction and not qualifications. It is better to call this Moving the Box rather than Banning the Box because people – especially legislators – feel banning the box means trying to “prevent an employer from discovering a criminal record.” (Sweig & McClure, 2010, p. 24; Stoll & Bushway, 2008).
As Stoll and Bushway (2008) note, this also doesn’t address the larger systemic causes of increased incarceration and recidivism, which is why it is a Band-Aid approach. Also, it isn’t clear if banning the box increases ex-prisoner employment, or if the basic assumption – that knowledge of criminal history results in refusal to hire – is correct. These researchers affirm in their work, however, that use of the background check is negatively related to the hiring of ex-offenders.
Opponents have already called out these very weaknesses and are hesitant to endorse such a policy because of them. Engagement with these opponents, whether they be legislators or employers, is more crucial than engaging supporters. The advocacy doesn’t truly begin until those opposing the advocacy are challenged and educated. Because of this I agree with Sweig & McClure (2010) who say we should call it Moving the Box: it is simply more accurate. It will make more sense to employers, who are arguably the greatest stakeholders in this whole issue – they have the jobs. Coalitions in California like All of Us or None and Minnesota’s Second Chance Coalition are already deeply engaged in the education and advocacy process and have wisely focused on educating employers, previously shown to be averse to hiring ex-prisoners (Pager, 2003; Stoll & Bushway, 2008). The work with legislators focuses on the emergency of the situation – hundreds of thousands of new felons are released every year with all the odds stacked against them, and it would be in society’s best interest to make pathways to reintegration as obstacle-free as possible. That’s why Moving the Box, or banning it, appears to be such a Band-Aid type of approach. It is truly a quick fix, ideally buying us time to come up with more nuanced and longer term solutions to the wider causes of incarceration and recidivism.
There are already models in place to follow in the implementation of this policy. At the grassroots level, ex-offenders, their families, and the communities they come from are organized. Emphasis is placed on advocacy and education – advocating for formerly incarcerated individuals as oppressed and marginalized persons, and education into what Moving the Box really means for employers and society as a whole. Of particular note is that Moving the Box isn’t beneficial for ex-prisoners per se, it is beneficial for the communities they come from and the nation at large (bantheboxcampaign.org, 2013). If we systematically deny people with criminal convictions access to fair hiring practices, fair housing and the like, we are essentially shooting ourselves in the foot: it is much more expensive to incarcerate someone (especially over and over) than it is to reintegrate them (bantheboxcampaign.org, 2013, Stoll & Bushway, 2008).
This policy recommendation is in line with the social work code of ethics because it puts dignity and worth of the person at the front of our attention. The policy recognizes ex-prisoners as human beings like the rest of us, and reminds us we have an obligation to help in the reintegration process once the debt to society is paid. It focuses on social (in)justice, taking into account not only ex-prisoners, but the families and communities they come from which are also impacted. In short, it adds some humanity and hope to a complex problem with no easy answers.
Social workers will need to know the laws and policies surrounding prisoners, their status, and effective reintegration methods. They will need to understand the gravity of the situation and realize they are not only working with ex-prisoners and their families but entire communities, some of which have been completely decimated by our record-breaking frequency of incarceration (Loeffler, 2013). The primary reason social workers will be at the forefront of issues surrounding prisoners is their sheer numbers – the justice system itself doesn’t work to advocate but to punish, and even when parole and probation officers have the best interests of their clients at heart, they don’t have necessary skills like brokering, examining systemic causes of oppression and potential solutions, mental health awareness and treatment, and environmental factors contributing to a person’s path toward prison. In short, the justice system as it stands needs the heart of a social worker.
Berrien, J.A. (2012). EEOC Enforcement Guidance. Retrieved from: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/guidance/arrest_conviction.cfm
Henry, J., Jacobs, J. (2007). Ban the box to promote ex-offender employment. Criminology and
Public Policy. 6 (4), 755-762.
Loeffler, C.E. (2013). Does imprisonment alter the life course? Evidence on crime and
employment from a natural experiment. Criminology, 51, 137-166.
Nicole, D. (2011). Re: Employer’s Guide to Discrimination: Hiring and managing employees
with criminal records. [Weblog message]. Retrieved from: http://www.sba.gov/community/blogs/community-blogs/business-law-advisor/employers-guide-discrimination-hiring-and-man-0
Pager, D. (2003). The mark of a criminal record. American Journal of Sociology, 108: 937-975.
Stoll, M. A., & Bushway, S.D. (2008). The effect of criminal background checks on hiring ex-
offenders. Criminology and Public Policy, 7: 371-404.
Sweig, M., & McClure, M. (2010). “Moving the box” by executive order in Illinois. DePaul
Journal for Social Justice, 4 (1): 17-60.
Stout, J. (2013). Ban the box – about. Retrieved from: http://bantheboxcampaign.org/?p=20
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (December 2011). Prisoners in 2010.
U.S. Department of Justice, Bureau of Justice Statistics. (December 2010). Capital Punishment,
2009. NJ 231676.
A couple years after exiting the Army and finishing basic college prerequisites in California I applied to Eastern Washington University in hopes of actually graduating someday, and I already knew my major. I wanted to be back in Washington and I knew this was the most inexpensive school in the state. When I got the acceptance letter, my blood rushed quicker, my heart thudded faster, and I took a long breath out, feeling a keen sense of relief I hadn’t been expecting – I never faced the possibility of not getting in. There was no plan if that happened. I might as well have been accepted into Harvard.
While working on two degrees, Psychology and Women and Gender Studies, I spent time both fascinated and disturbed. While I participated in research, excelled in all classes, worked overtime and attended conferences, I was painfully aware of how much some of the subjects and issues studied weren’t just academic – it was personal. I was unnerved by how much my earlier history had propelled me toward these fields and interests. It was at this time I physically felt my brain actually complete its total development – I could sense the final locking of neurons, the synapses at full strength and speed. While I had no problem figuring out my major for school early on, I was unsure my future course of action in a myriad of tempting and interesting possibilities. However, a pattern had been established: helping behavior. I had come to this: there was no greater honor, no higher virtue, than that of serving others. While seeing a psychologist at the Veteran’s Administration hospital, shortly after I had come to this conclusion of thought, I said to him in great joy and satisfaction, “I diagnosed myself! Would you like to hear it?”
This was a development years in the making, but this is only something that’s obvious in retrospect. Years ago, I was one of those street kids everyone is so afraid of. I was homeless because I kept running away as there was abuse at home. There also wasn’t any food, heat, soap or other basic luxuries so what did it matter, I thought. If I went back fights happened, and yelling and screaming. I spent time on friend’s couches and basements, washed my hair in the bathroom at the bus plaza when they opened in the morning and really did try to make it to school – I really did like it and enjoyed things like reading and writing. My father, whom I was close to, said I was the smartest of all his kids. I inherently valued education for some reason. I enjoyed competition and knew school was something at which I was talented. It bothered me my life was so chaotic my classes suffered. But school is a luxury when you’re hiding from the snow so I only made it intermittently and my grades suffered badly. I dropped a lot of acid, smoked a lot of pot, and would rather be drinking than actually addressing my problems. I got raped. I was stealing a lot, often reselling the items to make money. I got caught and went to the Juvenile Detention Center and I couldn’t believe it, how scared I really was. It’s a kind of scary that makes your face hot and the rest of your body cold with a clammy film. They kept me a couple days and took me to Crosswalk, the homeless shelter for teens downtown. I guess they couldn’t find any legal guardians or whatnot – to this day I’m not sure what exactly went on here. At Crosswalk I just remember being so hungry and they fed me and gave me a jacket but you must have permission from a legal guardian to be staying there overnight so it was back on the streets. I also had mental problems from bipolar disorder, something I’d been diagnosed with when I was nine, and if I went to school I fought with others, had crying fits in class, and sometimes just stormed out of class and ignored the teacher asking me where I was going. I cut on myself, tried to kill myself with a bottle of pills and then a razor, got arrested for vandalism and shoplifting again, got released, got arrested for being in possession of alcohol, got released, for possession of drugs, released, being drunk and disorderly, over and over again for many months. I don’t remember much of this period. Mostly, cooling off in holding cells. On a day I made it to school I got called in to see the school social worker. She was asking me about my living situation and that made me really uncomfortable. My adrenaline was pumping; I started crying immediately and asked her to please leave me alone. She told me she had already called Child Protective Services and she knew about the cutting and a Mental Health Professional was coming from Spokane Mental Health. I adamantly refused to talk to the MHP and was taken to Secured Crisis Residential Center, or SCRC. This was a hellish place for me. Then I was moved to Crisis Residential Center (CRC) and I ran away again. I stole a gun from a friend’s parents and intended to shoot myself with it but my friend called the cops and there was a small standoff where I may have pointed the gun at the police in my fear and confusion. This time I was taken to jail and stayed there several weeks, charged with felony minor in possession of a gun, resisting arrest, and possession of a controlled substance (I had a bag of weed on me). Then there was all the truancy, running away, being a pain in the ass on the streets of Spokane, etc.
What changed my life was the miracle of the social worker. On my very first day in jail I was taken to this little office, my left hand was handcuffed to the desk and this lady started talking to me. I was high, and hungry, and cold and crying and a total mess. She asked me where I got the gun and what I wanted to do with it. She asked me if I knew I pointed it toward police. She asked me if I wanted to die, point blank. So I told her everything, everything over the course of years. She gave me a sandwich. I was put on suicide watch and assigned to a public defender who was also working with that social worker. Together, they prepared me for court with the goal of not being branded with a felony. In statements to the judge, the social worker testified that prolonged abuse, homelessness, and untreated mental disorder warranted psychiatric hospitalization, and the lawyer argued past success with singing and academics suggested efforts should be made to keep me from losing all incentive – it would be difficult to find reason for rehabilitation with a felony record before turning eighteen. They both felt my problems stemmed from mental illness and I needed treatment with a stable social environment. The judge agreed, went with the treatment option, and dismissed the charges but there was a price to pay – I was to be taken to an adolescent psychiatric hospital indefinitely and when released, subject to a unique mental health type of probation known as the LRA, or Least Restrictive Alternative – I had to take my meds, see my doctor, the therapist, the social worker, etc. I had several case workers and at the time, didn’t know the extent to which they contributed to my survival and eventual maturation. I spent close to four months in Sacred Heart’s psych unit and was just about to be sent to a long term facility in Tacoma when the treatment team changed course and decided to release me. When I got out, things at home were nowhere near being healed, so I was taken to a group home. I was going to be eighteen in about a year, and began working with more social workers in navigating the system, seeing what resources I had, and preparing for total freedom.
While completing my Psychology degree I used to joke that the major was more therapeutic than actual therapy. This isn’t always a joke though – sometimes it’s really true. The foundation had been set by all these difficult experiences while I was so young – I never stopped being interested in how I could be such a delinquent and then such a scholar. I relished it and wanted to work with teenagers of my own, so I did. I wanted to learn about other bipolar people, so I did. I wanted to learn and meet and treat and help and talk to those people that were there in jail with me, in the hospital, and later in college. I had to, like Brene Brown states in her video, use vulnerability to find my courage. It is so hard talking about these things, and when I do, it’s like taking a real wall apart brick by brick. Each brick is a word.
The “personal is political” is a powerful phrase often used in women’s circles. While all can relate to this, it still feels so significant and powerful to the individual person. Both of my majors were very triggering and I had no idea that was going to happen – never did it become so starkly true than when we talked about asocial families and delinquent teenagers in Attachment and Child Development Theory class, or when sexual violence as a construct of power was discussed in Women’s Studies class, or when I learned through a psychology research project on campus just how strong my attachment disorder really is. I can’t have relationships, I can’t live with people, and I can’t have children, because I’m not mentally and emotionally able. I stayed on my course, I dealt with the triggers and ongoing trauma effects with the VA doctors and when I didn’t make it into a PhD psychology program, in hopes of working with mentally ill and disadvantaged people, I found the next best way- Social Work. I needed to do this, and still do. I need not just a graduate degree, to prove everyone and myself wrong, but I need to do that which is social work. Social work is also a noun, a thing, and work toward and with people – learning about them, helping them. I have come all this way and that still blows me away, surprises me – at the same time I don’t know what else I could have done, what other course I could have taken other than this one. The condition is simple as stated before: no higher virtue or honor other than serving others.
When I went to visit the psychologist at the VA that day, I asked him if he’d like to hear my self-diagnosis. He grinned and said sure. I smiled.
“The Jesus Complex!”
A Look at a Night in a Psychiatric Residential Setting
I found myself holding a gauze pad to a resident’s face last night because it just kept bleeding. It was all scraped up, there were open scabs that he had been picking at, and those went from his face to him arms to all over his torso. He couldn't walk without almost falling and normally he gets around real well with his cane. But his skin, all those scabs…it was like a horror movie. The one on his face was particularly bad and paramedics came in as I was sopping it up.
He wasn't my resident but one of my coworker’s – we divide up the floors. I came down when she called for help because she couldn't convince him to go to the hospital. So I walked in there, got a look at him, but didn't show what I felt. I told him we were calling 911 because he absolutely needed to be seen by a doctor. That’s how you do it – you say what you’re going to do instead of asking. That’s how I deal with my bosses too. And he just nodded feebly and said “okay.”
I was able to get his temp and O2 stats but he was too twitchy for me to get an accurate blood pressure reading. I have new cuffs too. The paramedics were very rude as they normally are – before leaving, one of them even said don’t call 911, call the non-emergent number. I wanted to say “but you take all night when we do it that way” however I just smiled and turned from him to my resident: “good luck, we’ll see you soon.”
My coworker felt the same way. We exchanged glances which communicated all.
This resident had refused going to the hospital because he didn't want to be labeled as a junkie – he had admitted to another staff-person that he had used some meth a couple days ago, but otherwise it was ten years since he had done any of that. He said all this in front us me, my coworker, and the paramedics. But they didn't care, while we responded to the resident and told him it wasn't like that – something was obviously medically wrong and he needed to be seen. The paramedics didn't seem so sure, and I know – those scabs and scrapings all over his fucking body were a sight to behold. When asked about it he said “I’m picking, I keep picking,” and I thought of schizophrenics without the benefit of psychotropic medications bound up in straight jackets so they wouldn't tear their own hair out in all the psych hospitals that used to be in this country.
And so what if he was lying about the drug use? If he was using meth on a regular basis, he wouldn't be as big as he is, going on 300 pounds, just for the record. I believed him. Those emergency responders had the irritated look of someone who’d been irritated by an inept friend at a public place. They seemed not too concerned with him at all and took him because we insisted, our resident was ambivalent.
(Text from my coworker after tonight, after saying the person who relieved her called the resident a meth head seeking pills and why was he sent out? – “As far as I’m concerned everyone can just fuck off. We did the right thing.”)
So that night is over, tonight is already my Friday again and my kitten is driving me CRAZY!! Actually all of them are. They need food and I’m going to the bank when they open (finally, fuck you, Columbus) and depositing the check for my refunded deposit from the old place. Then I’m going to buy a propane heater because it’s official – the Okanogan Family Faire is banning campfires!
These shoes and the story behind them fascinated me when I came across it. I like to collect this sort of thing as I find it on the internet, and the original link can be found here.
I found the video included with the article to be particularly disturbing and creepy, more so than can be described by other adjectives like "weird" or "painful." It did not shock as much as creep me out because all the message really sends is another one, one we have all heard before and seen in our popular media and culture, of women as our bearers of beauty, the ones who carry this burden exclusively. Simply a parody is created.
Reportedly, the creators of these shoes are asking Lady Gaga to use them in a video. It would not be the first time she has done this, as in the "Bad Romance" video when she wore those bizarre armadillo shoes.
”We need to get this country back on the right track!”
“This country is on the wrong track!”
What is this mystical track you speak of? When will it be good enough for you?
People – we have NEVER been on the right track!
“I’m not saying God preordains rape.”
“If you get raped and then get pregnant, it was intended by God.”
Paper products are everywhere - we use so much paper for so many things. I'm not just talking about tissues and typing paper - there are also hordes of napkins at every restaurant and fast food joint (the coolness of cloth napkins just doesn't seem to be apparent to anyone) paper plates and cups at every family and church BBQ, paper towels at every workplace (who wants to wash those cotton hand towels? Not me!) and Kleenex is pushing their newest and coolest product - the disposable hand towel - so you don't get those cotton towel germs on you after washing your hands! And finally, we have the ever present, quintessential toilet paper in its convenient roll.
There are dozens of brands and types. Scott, Angel Soft, Charmin, Western Family, as well as 2-ply, 1-ply (the kind that leaves stuff behind, as Charmin would have you believe) and stores like Walmart and Costco devote entire aisles to their toilet paper and maybe a few paper towels and napkins.
Everybody poops, so it makes sense everyone wants access to this toilet paper. I poop too, and yet I haven't bought toilet paper in over three years. How did I do this?
I just don't need to. I argue that it's unlikely anyone does, because there is an overproduction of paper products occurring as it is. The United States holds about 15-20% of the world's people, yet we are using over 65% of the world's resources - much of it coming from forests which is making our paper products.
Now to the point - I told you why you don't need to buy toilet paper, but HOW do you not buy toilet paper? By exercising creativity, and noticing all those paper products lying around in the first place!
At the restaurant or fast food joint, request extra napkins. When you're at work or school, create a day's worth of toilet paper on your own using the toilet paper found in the bathrooms. When you see leftover remains of toilet paper rolls sitting around, grab them. You probably don't know this, but the janitor who works in the building where you found that toilet paper has to throw it away at the end of the day if it isn't used up. What a waste!
As you can see, there are many alternatives to buying toilet paper in a culture drowning in paper supplies. Many varieties of securing the needed paper supplies as well. Remember this - you use a lot less than you realize when you make a commitment to avoiding the purchase of that wasteful product - toilet paper.
Hermaphrodites and the Construction of Science: Exploring the intersections of science, politics and society
Anne Fausto-Sterling’s book Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, can be neatly summed as this – all we thought was “real” or “constructed” is only so because of the biases and beliefs we hold about what we think should be real vs. constructed.
This book is so loaded with information and detail that I am forced to focus on that which is my primary interest for this paper: intersexuality, and how both sex and gender are constructed (besides other labels we take for granted, like gay, lesbian, transgender, heterosexual, bisexual, etc.). Our history, science, and language allow for only two types of bodies on the biological continuum – male and female, at the outermost ends – but there are all kinds of bodies. Bodies with components normally attributed to males and females, and even DNA which scatters itself all over this continuum as possibilities (Fausto-Sterling, 31). This idea that there are only two bodies, two sexes and two genders is so ingrained at such an early age that by preschool, the damage is already done and we believe such a dichotomy is truly natural.
Hermaphrodites have always existed, but how were they treated? Cultures varied – Jewish law treated them largely like women – they could not inherit, serve as priests or witnesses, or be in the presence of men when menstruating. In early Roman times under Romulus’s rule, hermaphrodites were seen as cursed and promptly thrown into the fire after birth. Before them, the ancient Greeks considered them downright God-like. In the middle ages, early medical practitioners did not see sex or gender as fixed, but agreed that all kinds of bodies existed on the biological continuum. This surprises some, who see the medieval era as a time of repression and ignorance. However, willingness to find a place for hermaphrodites in scientific theory did not translate into social acceptance: hermaphrodites were considered rebellious, disruptive, and even fraudulent (Fausto-Sterling, 34). While Hildegard of Bingen denounced hermaphrodites as a “disorder of sex roles and a threat to the social fabric and religious order,” outright condemnation was mild at this time (Fausto-Sterling, 34).
During the renaissance, biologists and physicians were not the only ones attempting to define and regulate the hermaphrodite. Consider Marie/Marin Le Marcis of France in 1601 – s/he decided to wear men’s clothing at age 21 and marry the woman with whom s/he lived. S/he was initially arrested and sentenced to burn at the stake, but was later released on the condition that s/he wear women’s clothing till age 25. Two crimes were committed: sodomy and cross dressing (Fausto-Sterling, 35).
In England, cross dressing wasn’t forbidden or condemned the way social class violations were. In Italy, the same year Marie/Marin was arrested, a soldier named Daniel Burghammer gave birth to a healthy baby girl. S/he confessed to being both male and female. Church authorities this time handled the case, christening the child Elizabeth and declaring the birth a miracle while granting Burghammer’s wife a divorce, suggesting Burghammer’s ability to give birth was incompatible with the role of husband (Fausto-Sterling, 35).
Then there is the story of Thomas/Thomasine – probably the most fascinating of all. In a Virginia colony, 1629, where regulation of the hermaphrodite had largely transferred to the legal system, Thomas/Thomasine was examined by one doctor after another, each one offering different opinions. The judge, in a most flabbergasted way, legally declared Thomas/Thomasine to be both, and was ordered by the court to wear both male and female clothing to show everyone her/his status as both.
The point of these stories is to show how different countries legally and religiously handle hermaphrodites. In Italy it was disturbing, in France gender bending was condemned and in England it was distasteful but they worried more about class transgressions (Fausto-Sterling, 35). All over Europe and later America, the core of laws and politics centered on sex: inheritance, judicial punishment, voting, community participation, etc. The structure of society was sex, so those falling in-between made a few judges and priests uneasy. Typically, with the exception of the unusual case of Thomas/Thomasine, hermaphrodites were expected to “pick that which prevaileth” and stick with it. The punishment for reverting back could be severe. Most who chose a gender to follow chose to be male, and that’s not surprising – as James, born in 1915, raised as female and later becoming a man, told his half sister – “it is easier to be a man. You get more money (wages) and you don’t have to be married. If you’re a girl and don’t get married people make fun of you,” (Fausto-Sterling, 43).
In the 19th century, biology emerged as a science with far more authority than previously seen, and declared the hermaphrodite to be an abnormal body in need of correction. Hermaphrodites could not be “fixed” before, new medical science allowed this possibility. Biologist Isadore Geoffrey Saint-Hilare was instrumental in this regard, founding a new science called Teratology: the study and classification of unusual births. Two important principles guided this science: that nature was one whole (even hermaphrodites) and those hermaphrodites came from abnormal development which could only be understood by studying normal development (Fausto-Sterling, 36).
This resulted in what is known as the hermaphrodite vanishing act. While Teratology offered natural explanations for extraordinary bodies, it also redefined them as pathological and in need of a cure through scientific, medical means. The irony is that scientific understanding is being used to obliterate precisely that which was illuminated (Fausto-Sterling, 37). By the middle of the 20th century, hermaphrodites had all but disappeared, in the name of “correcting nature’s mistakes.” The implicit assumption underlying all of this was that underneath any body was a male or female just waiting to be released.
This science expanded in unprecedented ways to the social arena. Under the guise of “scientific advancement” medical men and scientists insisted on fundamental differences between male/female, white/black, Jew/gentile. Some were more deserving of rights than others. In an era where “all men are created equal,” this seems paradoxical, but science was merely being used to invalidate claims for social and political emancipation, especially in regards to voting, marriage, and slavery.
To make this point more clear, we must push toward the present time – where handling of the hermaphrodite by medical doctors is the norm. Additionally, it has become imperative that doctors catch them at birth, unlike in the past where numerous medical texts outlined case studies of living, breathing hermaphrodites, including “practicing” hermaphrodites and non-practicing hermaphrodites (Fausto-Sterling, 42). Books like the 1937 Genital Abnormalities, Hermaphroditism and Related Adrenal Diseases, by Hugh Hampton Young, was remarkable in its lack of judgment while being filled with scientific insight. Medical treatments were always optional for the patient.
The shift in ideas – that hermaphrodites can and must be corrected as soon as possible – seemed genuinely humanitarian. It was a social emergency, how will they fit in if they’re not fixed? Medical science allowed fixing, and society was structured around sex so finally the opportunity to not need to accommodate them was considered scientific advancement. But there was more – the unexamined assumptions that there are only two sexes, that heterosexuality was normal and those specific gender roles defined healthy males and females. Like the field of psychology in the 20th century, scientific advancement seemed to improve treatment and handling, when in hindsight we actually just made things worse.
When a hermaphrodite baby is born, doctors scramble, panic, and declare a medical emergency. Parents are often not notified, the baby is often “fixed” before they can consult with others or talk to adult hermaphrodites. When they are notified, doctors use terminology like “sex chromosome anomalies,” gonadal anomalies,” or “external organ anomalies,” and refer to some aspect of the child’s physiology, not that they constitute a category other than male or female. Doctors see the case as so urgent that they tell the parents it is very rare, and that there is unlikely anyone with whom they can consult (Fausto-Sterling, 51). In 1969, Christopher Dewhurst and Ronald Gordon wrote The Intersexual Disorders, at a time when Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique critiqued these strict suburban gender roles. Dewhurst and Gordon display a nearly panicked tone when people fail to conform to these gender roles in regards to the hermaphrodite: “one can only attempt to imagine the anguish of the parents. That a newborn should have a deformity affecting so fundamental an issue as the very sex of the child…is a tragic event which immediately conjures up visions of a hopeless psychological misfit doomed to live always as a sexual freak in loneliness and frustration,” (Fausto-Sterling, 47).
Hermaphrodite births are a lot more common than most realize. At a rate of 1.7%, a city of 300,000 has 5,100 people with varying degrees of hermaphroditism (Fausto-Sterling, 51). I say varying degrees because just as male and female are not static and independent categories, neither is the hermaphrodite, except as science has defined it. There are CAH girls (Congenital Adrenal Hyperplasia) and AIS boys (Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome). There are vast and incredible cases of males with breasts, genetic females with penises, and cases of hermaphrodites with both male and female sexual parts, known as true hermaphrodites. There are hermaphrodites with an ovotestis on the inside but normal male/female development on the outside. There are “hidden hermaphrodites” who appear initially to be girls at birth but whose DNA is male and during puberty, the body begins to reflect this. There are hermaphrodites like those with Klinefelter’s and Turner’s syndrome, whose DNA is not male or female. What is a scientist to do? In order to move beyond these labels and categories, the sex/gender system would need to be abolished. In my opinion, as cynical as it might sound, I don’t think that could be done. Humans have existed with this system, in various shapes and forms, for thousands of years. We can blame whatever we want but it’s still there, ingrained in our heads, our brains. Our existence is still contingent on the sex/gender system, and even for me, it is hard to imagine a genderless society.
I love science, and appreciate how much understanding into the hermaphrodite has been done. I admit it is nice to have a label for my own form of hermaphroditism. ISNA has done incredible work in trying to stop infant genital mutilation, of which was only causing more problems later in the lives of hermaphroditic people. But when it comes to knowledge and the pursuit of science, background introspection and the big WHY must be answered – what do I already think about this? What biases or assumptions do I already have about this subject, whether I want to admit them or not? Those assumptions will influence my results. Why is it necessary to study this?
In a way, no science is ever really objective. That was Fausto-Sterling’s whole point: “once again, we see that experiment and culture co-produce scientific knowledge, while such hybrid knowledge in turn shapes the social debates we have about humans,” (Fausto-Sterling, 226).
 I will specifically use the word hermaphrodite throughout this paper, rather than intersex. Most hermaphrodites hate that word, but I am not that hermaphrodite. Hermaphrodite as a descriptor is also much older than intersex, and would be more appropriate for use when discussing hermaphrodite history.
The word Hermaphrodite comes from Greek lore. In one story, Hermes and Aphrodite make a baby so perfectly endowed with all their shared beauty that the only name they can think of is Hermaphroditos. In another story, the child is a beautiful male with whom a water nymph falls in love. Overcome with desire, she embraces him and they become one (Fausto-Sterling, 32). Early biblical interpreters considered Adam to be a hermaphrodite, only splitting into male and female after falling from grace.
 A practicing hermaphrodite is one who straddles both male and female roles/identities. I fall into this category.
 In theory, a true hermaphrodite (with a functioning ovotestis producing either male or female hormones or sperm/egg) could give birth to its own child, but this has never been documented. In practice, the external genitalia and accompanying ducts are so mixed up that exploratory surgery is required to see what’s there and what’s attached to what.
 Klinefelter’s is usually a combination of XXY or YYX DNA/chromosomal structure. Turner’s is a mosaic, with XX/XO or XY/XO – the latter of which is also my chromosomal structure. One doctor once told me to think of the O as “filler DNA.”
Here is an alarming story, ran in my university newspaper, concerning why "women's games" propagate rape culture.
Here is our response:
April 20, 2011
To the editor:
As women, victims of rape and partner violence, and allies, we were disgusted and infuriated by the ideas
expressed in the Humpday Quickie titled “False advertising leads to power-based relationships” in the April 13,
“Why can some guys get away with what other guys cannot?” Coil’s opening question leaves us with a question
of our own -- why does Coil seem so eager to condone rape in our school newspaper? This question implies not
only that what some guys get away with is non-consensual sex, but that those who cannot get away with rape
wish they could. We should not need to point out how incredibly offensive this presumption is to survivors of
rape and sexual assault, whose experience is trivialized, and to campus men, the majority of whom would never
consider assaulting a woman. Coil continues, “When a man is justified in his decision not to accept no as an
answer, he feels a sense of power, which will encourage him to keep pursuing a woman even after he hears the
word no”. While surely some men do feel a sense of power while they are in the process of dominating and
hurting a woman, it is our position that no person is ever justified in any decision that entails raping somebody.
Not all men, or even most men, as this article implies.
“Some men, some women.” Who are these people? The bottom line is some people want sex while others do
not. Women are not here to keep men in line, nor to be the gatekeepers of male sexuality. This mistaken notion
that men can't control their sexual urges propagates rape culture. There is no "oh, I raped you? Oops."
The author cites an article from the Journal of Sex Research and erroneously interprets the article to support his
position that women's behaviors create a "more sexually aggressive man." The study does not support the
author's viewpoint, but instead states that power-sex associations are implicit and are associated with rape
proclivity. Coil’s misinterpretation is victim blaming.
How many students have read this column and buy into the wrong-headed logic, rape justification, and victim blaming? It is disturbing enough that one man on our campus holds these views but even more so that the
editor approved and published the article in a newspaper that represents all of us.
Students in WMST 490: Capstone in Women’s & Gender Studies
How do you deter those who are dangerous from doing dangerous things?
It's one thing to create deterrents for other crimes with respect to people not mentally disabled. Pedophiles can be castrated or drugged, murderers imprisoned, etc. Psychopaths, as rare as they are, can be contained and kept separate from those not inclined to inflict harm or pain (i.e., society at large). Petty criminals can be rehabilitated, as mountains of research has shown. Proper education, opportunity for oppressed and minority groups, and especially rehabilitation programs and services for those with criminal records has substantially decreased dangerousness in humans, at least it would if we expanded on this line of thinking for those potentially dangerous and those already dangerous.
How do you handle those who are mentally disabled and who are also dangerous? By mentally disabled, I am NOT talking about the mentally ill. I am not talking about the scores of schizophrenics and bipolar individuals currently imprisoned. I am talking about organic mental retardation.
The mentally disabled also have programs and rehabilitative services available to them. Sometimes, more than what non-mentally disabled individuals can receive. Those who are mentally disabled and inflict harm or pain on others offers the justice system an interesting dilemma - because they are not competent, they cannot be tried like a competent person, or even a mentally ill person. So they are placed in state hospitals (which takes away from the possible opportunities of those mentally ill, who arguably have more potential as their brain is not organically low-functioning) or in LRAs (Least Restrictive Alternatives) in which they are housed in residential settings or group homes with other residents of similar backgrounds. Treatment plans are written up to keep them from their target, to keep them medicated, to keep them controlled and contained. Nothing ever changes, they typically reside in these programs for life because they are incompetent for life (unlike, by contrast, those whose brains are not organically low-functioning).
So Is this it? We just put them on the states' dime, hire workers at barely a living wage to provide substandard care and supervision? Let them live out a meaningless existence so they can shit in their pants and take pills to keep the workers' sanity intact?
Why are they born? I'm going to question God now. If there is a purpose for every human life, why are mentally disabled people born, particularly, dangerous mentally disabled people? The greatest gift is mental ability, the greatest curse mental disability. Why do I claim this? Because with mental ability comes so much more - the gift of resilience, the gift of rationality, creative thinking, problem solving, gratification delay, a desire for learning, a desire for change when one is ready. Among those mentally ill, high IQs also exist. There is potential, potential for change and opportunity, a chance for such individuals to do for themselves and others. A chance for purpose. I am living proof of this.
So for the dangerous mentally disabled purpose, who arguably cannot change in any significant way, what is the purpose?
Side note to accentuate my point, to further the conundrum in my mind regarding those mentally disabled in the non-mentally ill way - there is a Korean community in New York being studied; high rates of autism among the children are being reported. In such communties, school achievement is highly valued. These autistic children are a source of shame for these Korean families. Don't judge me when I say this, but I understand that shame they feel. I understand where it is coming from and why they feel it.
I work with mentally disabled, dangerous individuals. One of my clients is a dangerous child rapist, severely retarded, and has been institutionalized all his life. Why was he brought into this world? For what purpose is he here? To me it is absurd and cruel that some "loving and merciful God" would allow this human creature to exist.