Week 1

fighting patriarchy with purity

Key Questions

  • How did feminism in the late 19th century and early 20th century contribute to carceral expansion? What narratives did feminists deploy to justify their carceral agenda?

  • How did the proto-carceral-feminism of this era coalesce with racism and anti-migrant politics? What does this indicate about the nature of carceral feminist politics?

  • What sort of legislative changes resulted from feminist efforts of this period? How did legislation differentially impact people according to race, class, and gender?

Required Materials:

Supplementary Materials:


Historically, carceral feminists have advocated for raising the age of consent, as Aya Gruber documents. However, Judith Levine and Erica Meiners explain how some feminists have also supported lowering the age of consent:

There was, however, a moment not so long ago when some decidedly un-radical feminists not only declined to support raising the age of consent but worked to lower it. In 1978, the New Jersey legislature was overhauling its sex crimes statutes. Anti-violence feminists and law enforcement pushed to toughen sexual assault laws, in part by raising the age of consent.

But other feminists, working with the National Organization for Women (NOW), foresaw a problem: they feared that prosecution of consensual sex between teens would divert attention from rape. To protect women and girls from unwanted sex without punishing girls for being sexual, they lobbied to lower the age of consent, from sixteen to thirteen.

Discuss what the implications of this are for conversations around consent, feminism, and abolition. What would an anti-carceral approach to consent look like? Should feminists and abolitionists contest age of consent legislation?