Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

"Saving Girls" With a Needs Based Framework....

sara.gladwin's picture

As I was reading “Offending Women” I started to draw some similarities and differences from the article we read for Jody’s class, “Suspending Damage: A Letter to Communities” by Eve Tuck. Both the Need-based system and Desire based system claimed to do similar things in the way in which it reframes the way we approach women offenders. Both claim to align themselves with the marginalized in their ability to attend to their needs/desires. However, the Alliance’s institution itself seemed more to be a situation that was filled with implicit codes of dependency, disguised under the rhetoric of a needs/desire based system. They maintained power and interdependency between the women and the institution by claiming to know and attend to the “girl’s real needs.” Unlike a desire-based system, they did not bother to ask what the mothers needed. Furthermore, the implications of desire and need have more subtle but significant distinctions.  A desire does not necessarily have to be a need; a need is something deemed more necessary for living. The word need itself is limited; whereas desire can account for possibilities and hope. Need implies one only requires the bare minimum to survive, while desire leaves much more room for more abstract needs as well- such as happiness or mental stability. While I realize this may sound idealistic, I think both kinds of needs and desires are necessary. In addition, more positive rhetoric like desire can be crucial to enabling “voice”- and by that I mean the recognition that there is space for desire and that one has the power to exert an opinion, resist injustices and speak to their own desires.

            I also found it incredibly ironic that these women were being taught independence while the institution constantly had to fight for it’s own independence and right to assert it’s own legitimacy. The denial of recourses and funding to the institution systematically contributed to undermining ideas of independence and reinforced the legitimacy of negative assumptions about the mothers under the Alliance’s care. In addition, Alliance’s cause and effect view of dependency leading to social marginalization appears way too simple, “dependency cause marginalization and left the girls unable to form strong relationships” (Haney 40). I think the intricacies surrounding dependency and marginalization are completely overlooked by seeing the relationship as a “one way street.” Dependency and Marginalization seem to exist much more fully as a cycle, in which they both serve to create and reinforce the other.

I think what bothered me the most was the lack of the children present in this text. I know they are there, but only because I am made aware of them in relationship to their mothers. In fact, the Alliance appeared to be using the children as a means of motivation/reward for the mothers. Haney writes, “…whenever a girl acted out, the first thing the staff did was to remove her child from the area, claiming that the girl might harm the child in anger. Yet such removals also served as a key form of punishment- a way to deny the caretaker role to those who failed to conform to the Alliance’s standards of independence” (53).  Something about the way children are constantly “shuttled” seemingly without regard to their own particular needs really angered me. It seemed as though they were constantly used as a means for teaching the young mothers a lesson about independence. However, I was under the impression that the first stages of a child’s life are crucial to that child’s development and I could not help but wonder how the setting of the institution was at all beneficial to the children who had absolutely no ability to have any voice at all in the matter.

I had a slew of other issues with their program but felt like if I kept going this would end up being very, very long….