Unruly Women: The Politics of Confinement Resistance


337 pages
Contains Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-88974-050-X
DDC 364.3'74




Reviewed by Andrea Levan

Andrea Levan is an assistant professor and co-ordinator of the Women’s
Studies Program, Thorneloe College, Laurentian University.


This book attempts to examine the situation of women prisoners in Canada
and to place it in the larger historical and theoretical context of
women’s resistance to oppression based on class, race, and sex. The
strongest sections of the book are those in which the author focuses on
the experience of prison (Chapters 3 to 5). Observations from her own
years as a prison activist and researcher in California and Canada lend
a sense of rich immediacy to her descriptions of prison life and the
particular interpersonal and structural problems that develop. The
sections on P4W (the prison for women in Kingston, Ontario) and the 1990
Task Force report on prison reform for federally sentenced women provide
an excellent overview of contemporary issues, but are particularly
interesting because, as an advocate, the author gives primacy to the
opinions and criticisms of the prisoners themselves. Chapter 2, which
reviews feminist contributions to theories of women and crime in the
last three decades, is also very useful.

The author is less successful in her stated goal of acknowledging the
historical locatedness of various attitudes about women. Especially in
the sections on witchcraft, she more or less repeats the analysis of
earlier (and much more criticized) radical feminist writers such as
Andrea Dworkin or Mary Daly, and she tends to lapse into a polemical
tone, which is difficult to avoid when reviewing complex and emotional
issues in such a short space. In addition, the last two chapters (on
media representations of female offenders and the Santa Cruz prison
education project in which the author participated in the 1970s) do not
substantially develop the book’s thesis that “unruly women” (i.e.,
those in conflict with the law) are practising a form of resistance to
oppression. Finally, a conclusion to draw the book’s diverse themes
together is badly needed. Despite these shortcomings, Unruly Women is an
important addition to the scholarship on women and crime in Canada.


Faith, Karlene., “Unruly Women: The Politics of Confinement Resistance,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 25, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/6837.