Feminized not Feminist Justice at the Toronto Women's Court

Amanda Glasbeek, Feminized Justice: The Toronto Women's Court 1913-1934 (Vancouver: UBC Press, 2009). Angela Fernandez This terrific book, coloured hot pink, has a black-and-white photograph of the Toronto Women's Court on its cover. The photograph is filled with a lot of men, at least a dozen, all wearing suits, and only two women. Where were the women lawyers, women judges, women clerks and bailiffs, not to mention the female defendants who occasioned the gathering of all this officialdom? The court had a male judge for its first eight years. The small number of women in the photograph and the initial lack of a female judge points to the same kind of contradiction Amanda Glasbeek's book is most concerned to highlight, namely, the way that this movement to create a female-friendly space for the "right" kind of woman (young ones who had temporarily lost their moral compass and needed to be protected) ended up mostly coercing, disciplining, and punishing a very different kind of woman (e.g. older veterans with persistent drinking problems who were deemed effectively non-reformable). The maternal feminists who brought the court into existence and eventually got their female magistrate, Margaret Patterson, to preside over it, are subjected to the kind of discussion that leaves no doubt in one's mind about the kind of reform they intended and achieved, not one with a paradoxical or unintended outcome for some women but one, Glasbeek argues, that did precisely what was intended, namely, "to separate the erring from the hardened, the daughters from the daughters of the night, and the women in need of protection from the women from whom the city needed protecting" (p.176). It was "an ideal reflection of the politics of the middle-class, white feminists of the TLCW [the Toronto Local Council of Women]" (p. 13). These women were moralistic, usually racist, and used the law to further a state-sponsored evangelical mission. Patterson herself, a physician by training, had been a missionary in colonial India who worked with the Indian army on venereal disease (p. 38). This pretty much says it all: "sexually active women [were] a moral and physical danger" (p. 155). Continue reading "Feminized not Feminist Justice at the Toronto Women's Court"

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