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Homeboys, Babies, Men in Suits: The State and the Reproduction of Male Dominance

Author(s): Lynne Haney

Source: American Sociological Review, Vol. 61, No. 5 (Oct., 1996), pp. 759-778
Published by: American Sociological Association
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Lynne Haney
University of California, Berkeley
This article is a theoretically based ethnography of the gender practices of
two state institutions. Feminist scholarship on the state has tended to conceptualize the state as a macro-level structure, embodied in social policies,
provisions, and abstract principles. By conceptualizing the state at the institutional level, I widen the scope offeminist state theory to include the micro
apparatuses of state power In my case studies, I depict the dynamics of two
institutional gender regimes and the distinct patterns of control and contestation that characterize them. These ethnographic data capture how women's
relations to men, children, and welfare programs are constructed and reconstructed by state actors andfemale clients who regulate and resist each other
From these data I demonstrate that the state is not a uniform structure that
acts to impose a singular set of gender expectations on women. Rather, I
propose that feminist theorists begin to conceptualize the state as a network
of differentiated institutions, layered with conflicting and competing messages about gender

n the decade since MacKinnon(1983)

boldly proclaimed that there was "no
theory of the state" within feminism, state
theory has become a central part of feminist
scholarship. Feminists from multiple academic disciplines and theoretical orientations are now engaged in this project and are
producing a diversity of feminist approaches
to the study of the state. Examining topics
as diverse as social policy (Abramovitz
1988; Gordon 1990, 1994; Skocpol 1992),
legal/bureaucratic norms (Eisenstein 1985;
MacKinnon 1989), modes of institution
building (Koven and Michel 1993; Muncy
*Direct correspondence to Lynne Haney, Department of Sociology, 410 Barrows Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720
( Special thanks to
Michael Burawoy for his support and encouragement. I also thank Robert Bulman, Nancy Chodorow, Shana Cohen, Kathleen Daly, Craig Haney,
Jerome Karabel, Louise Lamphere, LauraLovett,
Kristen Luker, Jackie Orr, Janice Peritz, Arona
Ragins, Elizabeth C. Rudd, Maria Cecilia Dos
Santos, Jirina Strickland, Andras Tapolcai, Miklos Voros, the ASR Editor, and two ASR reviewers
for their assistance with earlier drafts of this article. [Reviewers acknowledged by the authorare
Lisa D. Brush and Christine L. Williams. -ED.]

1991), and notions of citizenship (Jones

1990; Orloff 1993; Pateman 1988), feminist
scholars have begun to delineate the contours of the state's "genderregime" (Connell
1987). These different feminist perspectives
are united by their assumptions about the nature of the state itself-their conception of
the state as a macro-level, masculine entity.
Although feminists disagree about the specific arrangementand location of this "maleness," they agree in viewing the state as primarily a structural entity guided in some
way by male interests.
This view of the state has led feminists in
revealing directions, but it has also left them
with only a partial vision of the way the state
patternsgender relations.The state is not simply an abstract, macro-level structure; it is
also a complex of concrete institutions with
which women interact in direct and immediate ways. To discover how women are socialized at this latter level of state practice, I conducted ethnographic research in the juvenile
justice system of a large California city-in
the county probation departmentand at Alliance, a group home for incarcerated teen
mothers. The institutional gender regimes I
encountered in this work problematized the
centraltenets of feminist state theory.Instead

AmericanSociological Review, 1996, Vol. 61 (October:759-778)




capitalist relations of production while enforcing patriarchalrelations of reproduction.

Socialist feminists have made the case for
the state's enforcement of a patriarchal social order in two ways. First, in their analyses of social policy, these scholars implicate
the state in the oppression of women through
its support of a specific household structure,
the nuclear family, which relies on male
wages and female domestic services (McIntosh 1978; Zaretsky 1982). These theorists
demonstrate how welfare policy bifurcates
the social world into public and private
spheres and polices their borders through a
"traditionalfamily ethic" (Abramovitz 1988;
Eisenstein 1983). They also reveal how policies such as AFDC and Social Security are
premised on the family wage and on assumptions of female dependence (Gordon 1994;
Nelson 1990). Many then argue that the state
ultimately encourages female dependence.
By keeping welfare payments low or by forcing women to accept low-wage, unskilled
jobs, the state coerces women to attach themselves to men and to nuclear family structures (Gordon 1990). Central to all of these
arguments is the state's role in upholding
"private"patriarchy-individual women's reliance on individual men.
In a second approach, socialist feminists
implicate the state as instrumentalin constituting a new form of patriarchy-"public"
patriarchy.In this case it is arguedthat men's
familial power has been passed over to the
state. The state no longer oppresses women
indirectly by supporting the nuclear family;
this is now done directly by securing
women's dependence on the state itself
(Brown 1981). Social welfare provisions are
then analyzed for their tendency to make
women dependent on men as a collective
embodied in the state (Boris and Bardaglio
The state entered feminist theory largely 1983). This approach is often used in referthrough socialist feminism. The main contri- ence to "manless"women for whom the state
bution of this feminist tradition is its theo- intervenes to "manage dependence" (Mink
rizing on the relationship between produc- 1990; Nelson 1990). Burnstyn (1983) stated
tion and reproduction. This connection en- this idea vividly when she called the state
abled socialist feminists to see the state's "the great collective father-figure,a new reprole in mediating gender relations of power. resentative of men-as-a-group . . . a bureauThe state was necessarily more than an arbi- cratic, impersonal pyramid of a group of
trator of class conflicts. Because these sys- men, who have taken the place of all those
tems of oppression were interconnected, the absent fathers"(p. 64).
Taking this argument further, many nonstate simultaneously served the needs of
capitalism and of patriarchy; it protected socialist feminist state theorists assert that
of confronting a uniform, male-dominated
state apparatus,I uncovered numerous institutions in the juvenile system, most of which
were staffed by women. These state actors did
not work unilaterallyto impose a singular set
of gender norms on their clients. Rather,they
set out to empower their clients by transmitting distinct messages of independencemessages that were shaped by their respective institutional settings. I also found striking patterns of resistance by clients-young
women who evaluated and subsequently
transformedthese messages.
In this article I apply these field observations to prevailing feminist state theories and
suggest ways of reconstructing those theories. Instead of viewing the state as an abstract entity guided by masculine interests, I
propose that feminist theorists begin to conceive of the state as a set of conflicting institutional contexts. I also demonstrate how
agendas for women are created in these different settings and how female clients receive them. In short, I argue for a more
grounded, interactive theory of the state. I
begin by examining the image of the state inherent in feminist theory, and problematize
that image by explicating the bifurcated nature of the juvenile system. I then explore the
patterns of control and resistance characteristic of the state agencies I studied, connecting them to their institutional settings and
their relations with the surrounding innercity community. I conclude by reiteratingthe
implications of my findings for feminist state
theory. In the Appendix, I provide a complete
methodological discussion of the fieldwork


patriarchy is endemic to the foundations of

the modern state itself. This theorizing has
followed two directions. For some feminist
theorists, the state's viewpoint is essentially
male (Eisenstein 1985; MacKinnon 1989).
They see the state as the institutionalization
of male subjectivity-the embodiment of objectivity, neutrality, and rationality. State
policy and law therefore "constitute the social order in the interest of men as a gender"
(MacKinnon 1989:162). For others, the principles of citizenship guiding modern polities
constitute the state as a masculine entity
(Jones 1990; Pateman 1988). These theorists
argue that because employment, and the "independence" it presumably bestows, determine one's ability to demand broad civil and
political rights, the state adheres to a notion
of citizenship that opposes the independentworker male to the dependent-nonworkerfemale (Orloff 1993; Pateman 1988). Substantive state programsthen reproducethis bifurcation, positioning men as rights-bearingcitizens and women as dependent clients (Fraser
Finally, a few feminist scholars have
moved away from a "top-down"perspective
on the state and toward a "power resource"
type of analysis. Rejecting the idea that
women are passive in their relations with the
state, these scholars restore agency to feminist state theory. To do so, feminist historians emphasize women's role in building the
Western welfare state: how women, inspired
by professionalism and maternalism,infused
male bureaucraciesand welfare systems with
their values and norms (Koven and Michel
1993; Muncy 1991). Others focus on women
as clients. They demonstratehow female clients use the state's interest in the private
sphere to their advantage, appropriatingstate
resources and social workers in domestic
power struggles (Gordon 1988). They also
show how state policy can foster clients' activism: how women use notions of entitlement to form alliances, demand social rights,
and thus recast "public patriarchy"(Hernes
1987; Morgen 1990; Piven 1990). Hence,
these theorists focus on the unintended outcomes of state gender regimes: how attempts
to reproduce male dominance are challenged
by women themselves.
Although these feminist theorists have
made importantinroads into the "gendering"


of the state, I believe their conceptualizations

of the state are too narrow.Whether they implicate the state for participating in the constitution of private or public patriarchy, for
its male stance or for its notion of citizenship, and whether they focus on intended or
unintendedeffects, they conceive of the state
in similar terms: as a national structure, embodied in policies or abstract principles,
which seeks to advance female dependency.
The one-dimensional quality of feminist
state theory also characterizes feminist
analyses of one specific "arm"of the statethe criminal justice system. Feminist criminologists have tended to explore gender differences in treatmentwithin the penal system
(Cain 1989; Smart 1990). Particularly in
their work on the juvenile system, they rely
almost exclusively on quantitative data such
as arrest statistics and sentencing rates.
These data then are used to make larger
claims about the system's gender bias-that
is, how the "system" reacts to young women
more harshly (Chesney-Lind 1977) and/or
more leniently (Visher 1983; Webb 1984). A
similar approach marks the few qualitative
studies conducted by feminist criminologists: Interview data collected in prisons
(Arnold 1990, 1994) and detention centers
(Chesney-Lind 1992) are used to support assertions of the "system's" patriarchalnature.
In both cases, feminist criminologists interpret the outcomes of specific penal institutions as evidence of the system's overall
gendered character.The result is an undifferentiated conception of a singular state apparatus operating with only one approach to
young women.
Yet from my initial interactions with the
state actors working in the two institutions I
studied, it was clear that no single state apparatus was at work in the juvenile justice
system. Probation officers and the group
home staff at Alliance saw themselves as
separate from the "system." They spoke in
"us versus them" terms-referring to themselves and their girls as "us," and the police,
courts, and prisons as "them." In short, the
juvenile system was bifurcated between co-


ercive and permissive apparatuses,which operated according to different principles.

Probation officer Carol Jackson was an
African American woman in her early fifties. When we met, her caseload had just increased to over 100, and she was overwhelmed. According to Carol, probation
was a "special" part of the system. It did not
exert too much control over clients, as did
Juvenile Hall or the California Youth Authority (CYA), which she saw as hostile
places oriented toward punishment. She, on
the other hand, just kept tabs on her girls.
Officially she was to meet with each girl
twice a month. Laughing, she admitted that
this would never happen; there was no time
and no need. If her girls failed to report to
her, she was supposed to issue a warrantfor
their arrest. This was also out of the question. In her eyes, these girls had been beaten
down by their men, their friends, and "the
system." The system was most dangerous.
"The courts treat my girls like a piece of
meat to be processed," she once remarked,
"and when they reach Juvenile Hall, they're
cooked." Carol refused to take this approach
with her female clients. Instead she tried to
foster the determination and strength these
girls already had. She believed they needed
these attributesto survive. As Carol's supervisor, Don, said, "We like 'em feisty here.
Carol does a good job keepin' them feisty,
and that's great."
Carol Jackson's distrust of the "system"
was shared by the 15 other probation officers (POs) in the Department. The great majority, like Carol, were women of color: approximately 60 percent were African American, 20 percent Latina, and 20 percentAnglo.
Like Carol, these other POs believed they
were different from those working in other
parts of the system. An aura of fear surrounded Juvenile Hall; it had a reputationas
a brutal place. Probation wasn't like that,
however. This idea was articulated most
clearly in a series of ongoing orientation
meetings held by the Departmentfor new clients. Each meeting began with a discussion
of the clients' treatment in court and Juvenile Hall. Horror stories of their experiences
in these institutions inevitably ensued, and
POs always distanced themselves from these
facilities. "We don't do you like that," Don
would say. "Yes, there are injustices in the


system, but here you'll be treatedlike people,

with opinions to be heard."
Although these POs tried to keep their distance from the brutality of the coercive apparatus, they also used it to their advantage.
The threat of "Juvie" loomed over Carol's
girls. When one of her girls, Temica, continued to see her boyfriend despite Carol's advice, she remindedTemica that she could end
the relationship by sending her to Juvie.
Most often, Juvie just loomed, but POs occasionally sent their clients there for what they
called "cool-off periods." When Cassandra
was arrested for assaulting a girl who
"messed with her man" and gave Carol a
"badattitude"about it, Carol left her in Juvie
for an extra week. When Rose, another PO,
disapproved of the way one of her wards
spoke to her, she sent her to Juvie to "learn
to talk right."Hence, although probation was
one part of the system in which clients were
not dehumanized,probationofficers used the
mere presence of the coercive arm to induce
their clients to act in certain ways.
A similar "us versus them" perspective
prevailed at Alliance. The facility had a contractwith CYA whereby any girl who entered
the prison pregnanthad the option of coming
to Alliance for the length of her sentence.
Each girl was put on AFDC when admitted,
and this money was used to support her. Alliance received other state and local funds,
but AFDC was its main source. In this way
the facility relied on receiving girls from
CYA. According to the director, Marika
Jenkins, this was no simple task. She thought
Alliance worked differently than CYA, and
she believed that this situation put the two
facilities at odds with each other: "They get
nervous that we help girls make it on their
own," she once told me. Like Carol, Marika
expressed hostility toward the "system" and
viewed Alliance as separate from it. She also
wanted to keep her girls out of a "destructive
system" that "entraps them and produces a
horrible cycle of welfare and dependency."
The Alliance staff consisted of eight
women, four African American and four
Anglo. All these women believed that their
facility was different. They reminded the
girls of this difference every day, telling
them how lucky they were to be at Alliance.
Limits placed on the girls' daily routines
were presented as being in their interest.


They were learning to live productively.

Wasn't this better than CYA, where they
were coerced into acting in certain ways? As
Denise, the house director, stated in a meeting, "If CYA had it their way, you would be
stuck in little cells and your babies would be
mothered by the government. We are doing
this for you, so you won't be in jail or on
welfare all your life."
Yet the staff members also used the threat
of CYA to their advantage. If they thought a
girl was not taking the program seriously,
they raised the possibility of returningher to
CYA. This threat was more serious for these
girls because of their babies. A trip to CYA
meant that the babies would be placed in foster care. Thus the staff followed throughwith
this threat only for those girls who had not
yet had their babies. Even so, they used the
girls' fear of CYA to force them to act in certain ways. Tonya, who rarely woke before
noon, was often threatenedwith a CYA stay.
Maria, who smoked out a window, was reminded of the sexual acts that girls had to
perform in CYA for cigarettes. Hence
Alliance's more permissive approach rested
on the existence of the coercive arm; its discipline relied on the punishment of CYA.
In this way, a common image emerged
from the probation department and Alliance-an image of a juvenile system bifurcated between a coercive arm, characterized
by punishment and force, and a permissive
arm, governed by discipline and independence. This picture complicates the homogeneous conception of the state inherent in
feminist state theory and criminology. The
state actors I observed would be appalled to
know that events in the courts or prisons
were generalized to their work. Although
they relied on these bodies in their work,
they saw themselves as something separate.
By replacing punishment with discipline and
dependence with independence, they defined
their work in opposition to what they perceived as the hegemonic practices of other
state bodies; by trying to empower their girls,
they believed they directly resisted what the
coercive arm produced in clients.
This situation was even more complex. Although these state actors were located in the
alternative apparatusand both sought to instill autonomy in their girls, they did so in
different ways. These divergences were


rooted in differences in their institutional settings and in their understandingsof the forces
threateningtheir girls. Yet because these were
not the forces their girls felt threatened by,
both approaches prompted resistance. Two
patterns of control and contestation resulted-the patterns were enacted on the terrains of private and public patriarchy.
It is orientationnight at the ProbationDepartment. Sixteen young women sit in a room and
listen as their probation officer, Carol Jackson, lectures them about the conditions of
their probation. Carol lists a series of rules
before reaching the most important one of
all-her "ruleof independence."While under
her care, Carol tells the girls, they will learn
to rely on themselves and to realize that nobody, not even their boyfriends or homeboys,
can take care of them. "You sittin' here is
proof that those boys aren't carin' for you,"
Carol reminds them. As she speaks, two girls
roll their eyes. Another puts on lipstick in a
mirror; two others flip through pictures in
their wallets and show each other photos of
their homeboys.
In their work on gender bias in the juvenile system, feminist criminologists have
reached a common understanding of the
gendered norms transmittedto young women
in this system. Like feminist state theorists,
feminist criminologists tend to conceptualize
the penal system as a male, paternalistic entity that acts to "enforce women's place in a
patriarchal society" (Chesney-Lind and
Sheldon 1992:80). Many of these scholars
locate this orientation in judicial "chivalry"
and/or "paternalism"-that is, in lingering
notions of female fragility and vulnerability
(Chesney-Lind 1977; Daly 1989; Datesman
and Scarpetti 1980; Frazier, Bock, and
Henretta 1983). This judicial stance allegedly teaches women that passivity and dependence are positive gender attributes,thus
preparing them for traditional positions in
nuclear family structures (Messerschmidt
1986). Other feminist criminologists trace
the system's patriarchalnature to the kind of
girls it draws into its web (Gelsthorpe 1989;
Hudson 1990). They argue that state actors
use status offenses to regulate female sexu-

ality and to impose "traditional gender norms
and behaviors" (Alder 1984; Visher 1983;
Webb 1984). Still others focus on the kind of
punishment inflicted on girls, arguing that
girls are policed with hegemonic images of
heterosexuality (Cain 1989) and are taught to
become subordinate partners in heterosexual
relationships (Lees 1989). All of these arguments entail a view of the system as an upholder of traditional sexual mores and an enforcer of private patriarchy.

The "Be-Your-Own-Woman"Rule
Many of the issues addressed by feminist
criminologists also concerned probation officer Carol Jackson and her colleagues.
These state actors held expectations for their
that revolved
female clients-expectations
around their clients' sexuality and relations
to men. Yet to clarify how they approached
these issues, their work must be viewed in
its larger institutional context. These POs
were overworked and overwhelmed. Carol's
girls dropped in for a quick meeting once every few months and then moved on. At the
same time, Carol was committed to "protecting" her clients. This responsibility was twofold: It involved keeping them out of the rest
of the system and teaching them to make it
in their community. The two elements were
connected: By helping her girls stay afloat in
the community, Carol effectively kept them
out of the system. Hence she spent a great
deal of time figuring out what endangered
her girls in their inner-city communities, and
then attacked what she thought pulled them
down. In this way, the terrain where Carol
worked was the community itself. It was
Carol Jackson against the inner city, or at
least her vision of the inner city.
This qualification is important because
Carol had a particular view of these innercity communities and the forces that endangered her girls there. For Carol and other
POs, men were the biggest internal threat to
their girls' survival. According to Carol, most
of her girls had been arrested for offenses related to their "homeboys," a term they used
synonymously with boyfriend or lover. Her
girls had been caught selling drugs for these
men, fighting with them, or robbing stores
with them. Even when it seemed that the men
were not involved, a little digging by Carol


revealed that they were the root of the problem. Many of her girls had been picked up
for shoplifting jewelry, perfume, and clothing. Carol believed that their motivation was
to "look fine for the boys." One of Carol's
girls, who had been arrested for selling
drugs, admitted to Carol that she had started
selling because she wanted nice clothing; her
boyfriend did not like the way she dressed.
Carol attacked this explanation, faulting the
boyfriend for making the girl feel she had to
be attractive.
These POs had a common line about the
male/female relationships characteristic of
inner-city communities. "I've seen a million
of them," Carol said, "I know exactly what
they're like." In her view, these relationships
were essentially economic exchanges. "It's
like a business deal," she theorized. "You've
got the guy who sells drugs. He's got the
cash, the good things in life. But he needs
the image, sexy girls on each arm. So he
gives my girls the cash and buys them nice
things. And, of course, they give him sex
when he wants." As Rose, another PO, once
said after returning from a home visit, "I saw
that girl laying there, all burnt out with that
man next to her, and I wanted to shake her.
Give her the energy to break free from him."
In this way, these POs perceived a community in which men had the economic control
and the ability to convince women they could
take care of them. Yet this was a lie, according to the POs: Women always got the short
end of the stick. "The guy has the control
here," Carol argued. "My girls are just objects for him. But the fools buy into it. They
think the finer they look, the more their
homeboys will love them." Problems arose
when girls engaged in illegal activities to
stand by their men. At this juncture they "lost
their strength," and the system stepped in.
Hence, like many state actors responsible
for regulating the lives of "unorthodox"
young women, these POs connected their
girls' delinquency to their sexuality (Nathanson 1991; Solinger 1992). But they did not
do so in the traditional way, by deeming
them delinquent for transgressing sexual
norms or rules of domesticity (Cain 1989;
Lees 1989; Rains 1971). Instead they faulted
their girls' overinvestment in men for its tendency to make them weak, malleable, and ultimately delinquent. It was this cycle of male


dependency and delinquency that Carol Jackson tried to undercut in her work.
Overall I observed four components of this
socialization process-strategies that Carol
used to break this cycle. First she tried to
make her girls admit that they relied too
much on men. Usually this began with Carol
asking her girls about their boyfriends. Most
of them responded by discussing what their
boyfriends did for them. Lasondra listed all
of the material objects her homeboy had
bought her; Donna described how her boyfriend protected her; Jamika told stories
about what Ricardo gave her sexually, how
good he was in bed. Yet I never saw Carol
accept their portrayalsof these relationships.
Rather, she countered by asking them if they
loved their homeboys enough to do what
these boys wanted or to listen to whatever
they said. If the girl said yes-which most of
them eventually did, with minor qualifications-Carol moved on to her next strategy.
At this juncture she forced them to acknowledge the short-lived nature of heterosexual relationships. Did they think their
homies would always be there? Men aren't
like that, she warned. They come and go as
they please. "And where you gonna be?
'Cause you know you ain't gonna be with
them." One of Carol's favorite tactics here
was to point out that her girls were on probation because of men's inability to care for
them; if their men were protecting them, they
were not doing it very effectively. Usually
Carol coupled this strategy with attempts to
make her girls feel strong themselves. In her
words, she tried to give them "self-esteem."
These POs loved this term. To them it meant
exhibiting strength and perseverance, or, as
supervisor Don said, acting "feisty." Ironically, fostering self-esteem often entailed
praising girls for lying or manipulating
people. POs saw this behavior as evidence
that their girls were bright and assertive. One
of Carol's clients, Shavon, had been arrested
for stabbing a boy at school. She admitted to
Carol that she had lied to the authorities
about her relationship with the boy to receive
a lesser sentence. Carol loved this story and
applauded Shavon for manipulating the system successfully. At other times, promoting
self-esteem was more difficult. Keisha, for
instance, in one of her meetings with Carol,
ripped off her shirt to display a tattoo on her


chest. It read "Emilio," the name of an old

boyfriend. Infuriated, Carol yelled: "Come
on, girl, you'd be better than that. I'm
teachin' you better. You ain't no wall to be
graffitied on. What's next, you gonna tattoo
his name on your brain?"
When Carol wasn't getting anywhere with
either of these strategies, she employed a
third method-coercion. If a girl was particularly recalcitrant or too deeply entrenched in a relationship, Carol raised the
prospect of jail. Generally this remained a
threat, something she mentioned when they
"lost their senses," but she did send a few of
her girls to Juvie to "cool out." In one case,
Carol was worried about Donna's attachment
to her gang-member boyfriend, Candy. One
day Carol discovered that Donna had been
arrested for a fight in which Candy was involved. Furious, she sent Donna to Juvie until the day after Candy's trial. By the time
Donna came out of Juvie, he was on his way
into jail. In the case of Tyneshia, a girl who
was arrested for selling drugs to buy a dress
for her boyfriend's prom, Carol responded by
sending her to Juvie until the day after the
prom. She believed this would solve the
problem: The guy would find another girl
and forget Tyneshia.
Overall, Carol saved coercive strategies for
extreme cases. A fourth, more common approach was to present her girls with alternatives to their homeboys. In addition to fostering self-reliance, Carol steered her girls
toward their mothers and female kin. She
tried to make them acknowledge and utilize
what Collins (1991) called the "other mothers" surroundingthem in their communities.
According to Carol, this was the hardest part
of her work. Because adolescent girls see
their mothers as enemies, it was a struggle to
recast them as allies. This was her main objective with Nieka, a young woman surroundedby men. The only woman in Nieka's
life was her father's wife, whom she hated,
so Carol set up regular meetings between the
women and acted as a mediator.Again, in the
case of Jamika's pregnancy, Jamika decided
to have the baby but refused to tell her
mother. Carol could not convince her otherwise; finally she called Jamika's mother and
told her to talk to her daughter. She made
weekly interventions to make sure they were
communicating. Then, Karrina, a young


woman who claimed that she "hated all

women's guts," refused to go on a Department-sponsored summer retreat for girls because, as she put it, "I ain't gonna be stuck
with all them girls." In response, Carol called
a Big Sisters program and had an "other
mother" assigned to Karrina.As part of her
probation,Karrinahad to meet regularlywith
this woman.
In sum, Carol's agenda was to break her
girls' dependency on men and to strengthen
their self-esteem and their ties to female kin.
Her approach was rooted largely in the terrain of her work. Carol's girls were deeply
embedded in their inner-city communities. If
Carol was to protect them and shield them
from the system, her only option was to deal
with these communities-to tie her girls into
trustworthy survival networks and to keep
them out of relationships that "pulled them
down." Because she believed that her girls'
relations to men fell into the latter category,
she set out to draw them away from their
homeboys. Rather than socializing them to
be dependent (Chesney-Lind 1992) or policing them with images of heterosexual coupling (Cain 1989; Lees 1989), Carol tried to
convince them that the heterosexual social
contract was not viable. In socialist feminist
terms, instead of institutionalizing "private"
patriarchy,she sought to undermineit.
In this way Carol's message could be read
as potentially liberating, as an attempt to
overcome harmful stereotypes about her clients and relations of domination. Her girls,
however, saw nothing emancipatory about
her agenda. To them her message sounded
threatening and dangerous. As a result, it set
into motion acts of resistance-acts that ultimately reinforced exactly what Carol wanted
to undercut.
"My Man Won't Do Me Like That"
Carol's meetings with her girls rarely went
smoothly. The fact that she had to employ
three or four strategies to deliver her message
was itself indicative of the resistance she
met. Her girls did not simply "see the light"
during their talks; instead they often sent
messages back to Carol. A common idea that
I heardCarol's girls articulate,implicitly and
explicitly, was that she was no longer in
touch with the community. I first observed


this message relayed to Carol in a meeting

with Botswana, who was "wanted"by a drug
dealer in her neighborhood. She deliberately
was arrestedso she could hide from him. After being released from Juvie, she took up
with a gang member. In response, Carol began with her "mother thing." Botswana
laughed, telling Carol that she "didn't get it."
What could her mama do when the dealer
came looking for her? Was her mama as
strong as the machine gun he would be
wielding? The message to Carol was clear:
Her advice was not viable. What's more, it
was potentially dangerous.
Other girls attempted to communicate
similar messages to Carol. Many of them
spent their time with Carol educating her
about their communities. When Carol employed her socialization strategies, her girls
often countered by listing how many of their
friends had been killed recently, as if they
were throwing danger in Carol's face to indicate that her agenda was not feasible. When
Carol was sick one afternoon and called me
in to cover for her, two girls articulated this
idea to me. When I reached the office, both
girls were waiting. I took them out for
milkshakes and told them this would count
as a meeting.
LaToyaand Reeba didn't know each other,
but they immediately began to talk about
Carol and how "messed up" she was. They
liked her but thought she was "out of touch."
As Reeba said, "She's thinkin' of an old way,
like my grandmother.Like the community 20
years ago." LaToyaagreed, adding that Carol
was originally from Texas and didn't know
what "went down in this town." Sometimes
it was cool to have your homegirls back you
up, but you also needed a man. "I like my
man 'cause he gives me money and hooks me
up," LaToya revealed. "Man, if Carol gives
me the money, then maybe I'd listen."
In addition to sounding out of touch,
Carol's message was threatening to her girls
for anotherreason: On all of the main hierarchies of power and privilege, Carol's girls
were at the bottom. All were young and poor,
and had little formal schooling. Most were
women of color. As Barbara Smith (1982)
notes, heterosexuality is "usually the only
privilege that black women have. None of us
have racial or sexual privilege, almost none
of us have class privilege. [M]aintaining


'straightness' is our last resort" (p. 171).

Collins (1991) corroboratesthis point, arguing that many Black women fear stigmatization on this axis and hence accentuate their
heterosexuality. By calling into question the
viability of the heterosexual social contract,
Carol therefore was attacking her girls on
their one axis of power, robbing them of their
one source of privilege.
As a result, her girls resisted. Much as
Rains (1971) describes how African American unwed mothers contested the "expert"
discourse used to explain their pregnancies,
the girls under Carol's supervision appraised
and then rejected her definition of their
needs. One way of doing this was to reaffirm
the advantages they received from those relations that Carol tried to undermine.I never
saw a woman present her homeboy as
troubled or problematic; when she was in
Carol's office, he was her knight in shining
armor. For Donna, Candy was all good. He
was her protector,the only one who watched
out for her. To Jennifer, who came in with a
new piece of diamond jewelry every month,
her boyfriend was "the man"because he gave
her "all the good stuff." Jamika told Carol
about all of her sexual escapades. As Carol
fidgeted and begged Jamika to refrain from
the details, Jamikagrew increasingly explicit
about what Ricardo did for her, where and
how they did the "wild thing." In a group
meeting, Jamika even gave Carol some advice of her own: "Girl, you should try the
wild thing sometime. It might lighten you
up." Carol ignored the comment, as the other
girls laughed hysterically.
Sometimes Carol's girls did more than talk
about their homeboys. Often their boyfriends
escorted them to the office. Usually the
young men sat in the waiting room while the
girls met with Carol, but frequently the girls
brought them in. In some cases they did this
to show Carol that she couldn't stop them
from being together. Tyneshia, whom Carol
sent to Juvie to miss her boyfriend's prom,
came to her next appointment with Mike at
her side. She didn't say anything about the
prom or Mike's presence; he simply sat there
as a silent symbol of her resistance. In other
cases, girls brought boyfriends to Carol to
prove that they were not as bad as she
thought. Jamika brought in Ricardo, the sex
star, to show Carol that he wasn't like all the


rest. It didn't work; Carol screamed at him

and accused him of taking advantage of
Jamika. Meanwhile Jamika sat silent, playing with Ricardo's hair. Carol repeatedly told
her to stop and said she was "acting a fool."
Jamika refused, suggesting that Carol touch
his hair too.
Carol's girls also used their femininity as
a form of protest by (literally) holding it up
in Carol's face. When a discussion grew
heated, they brought out mirrorsand applied
makeup, which they knew infuriated Carol.
Others startedbraidingor combing their hair.
One young woman, Shirika, always sprayed
perfume around Carol's office when she entered, telling her that the office needed to be
"freshened up." Even more common were
those girls who called into question Carol's
own femininity. In front of Carol, they suggested that she change her hairstyle, makeup,
or clothing: "Jamesbought me this lipstick,"
Lasondraonce announced, "butit would look
better on you."Yet behind Carol's back, they
often made fun of her appearance. "Look at
that hair,"I once heard a girl whisper to another. "Ain't nothing worse than that."Many
girls used Carol's appearance to dismiss her
ideas about their homeboys; maybe the heterosexual contract would work for her too if
she looked better. One day, when I was walking Donna out of the office after a discussion
about Candy, she turnedto me and remarked,
"Carol hates men. It's 'cause she's so fat.
Men do that shit to her. No one likes her."
But she would be all right as long as she kept
looking fine.
Many of Carol's girls took a similar line
about their mothers. They believed they
could not gain support from these relationships because their mothers were jealous of
"all I got." Group meetings regularly turned
into complaint sessions about mothers. Some
girls proclaimed that their mothers envied
them; they wanted to be young again and
"look fine." In explaining how her mother
used Juvenile Hall to control her at home,
LaToyaclaimed that her motherpunished her
because "she's an old hag, ain't got nothin'
left, and is pissed off." Another girl, Shavon,
described how her mother tried to sleep with
her man: "Now, Carol Jackson, what do you
say about that?" Carol sat silently in disbelief. Still, her girls' message was important:
Even their mothers realized the value of


sexual attractiveness, and this divided rather

than united them. Once again Carol was accused of being "out of touch,"an "old-timer."
This point brings us back to the control
that Carol's girls regarded her as exerting
over them and how it informed their resistance. They did not agree with Carol's image
of their community. The relationships that
Carol interpretedas threats, her girls viewed
as assets. What Carol believed to be frivolous femininity and dangerous dependence
on men, her girls considered to be economic
and physical necessities. Carol's messages of
independence thus came across as threatening. As a result, her girls resisted and emphasized all the more what they "had"-by highlighting their femininity and reassertingtheir
heterosexual bonds and the possibilities
within them. When these girls left Carol's
office with their homeboys at their side and
wearing even more makeup than when they
came in, they had learned precisely what
Carol tried to make them unlearn. Through
their resistance, they reinforced exactly what
Carol fought so hard to undermine.
In this way, Carol's control and her girls'
resistance were connected. Together they
formed a "pattern," an interactive process
through which the young women were socialized. The contours of this pattern were
not determined by an abstract patriarchal
conspiracy or male plot. Instead they were
shaped by contrasting images of and positions in the urban context; they were governed by conflicting understandings of the
surroundinginner-city community and of appropriate survival strategies. Once this context changed, as I discovered at Alliance, so
too did the institutionalpatternof control and


it decides." Frustrated,Debra puts back the

baby food, replying, "Well, that's just fine
'cause my baby ain't hungry anyway."
The institutional setting at Alliance differed from that of the Probation Department
in a numberof importantways. Alliance was
a minimum-security facility whose wards
were restricted from coming and going as
they pleased. They spent most of their days
within the confines of the home; even their
school was located in the basement. Their
parents and their babies' fathers could visit
only twice a month. No one else was allowed
in the facility. The girls were forbidden to
make phone calls or to receive more than two
incoming calls a month. Their contact with
the surrounding community therefore was
quite limited; they did not have sustained relations with anyone outside the home. Three
primarygroups were present at Alliance: the
girls, their babies, and the state. All of these
girls were official wards of the court and received AFDC. Hence, in this setting, their
main relationshipswere with their babies and
with the state. It was precisely these relations
that the Alliance staff sought to transformin
their interactions with these young women.
Taking the Bull by the Horns

The institutionalcontext at Alliance gave rise

to its own set of gendered messages and
norms. Unlike Carol Jackson, the Alliance
staff was not concerned about the girls' dependency on men. These young women were
not in the same kind of relationships as were
Carol's girls. Their men had disappeared;either they had left the girls or were themselves incarcerated. The staff believed that
these men had already proved themselves
unreliable. Instead the Alliance staff viewed
the girls as relying too heavily on governUNDERCUTTING AND REINFORCING ment institutions. They thought their girls
turned too readily to the "impersonal pyraIt is lunchtime at Alliance. As Debra takes mid of men" for support.They worried most
out a jar of baby food to feed her son, she is that these girls were tangled in the web of
immediately stopped by Liz, the house man- the system, which produced its own "cycle
ager. "You know the rule. Here at Alliance of dependency." The staff often said how
we grind our table food for the babies. When "tragic"it was for adolescent girls to be deyou become independent and pay for your- pendent on the government, and staff memself, you can decide these things." Debra bers frequently employed the "trope of the
counters that she is paying for herself with welfare mother"to instill fear in them (Irvine
her AFDC check. "AFDCis not your money," 1994). "I'll tell you," remarkedCharlene, an
Liz retorts, "and when the government pays, African American counselor, "if you girls


don't stop actin' a fool, you're gonna be welfare mothers forever."

Thus Alliance set out to disentangle its
girls from the state's web. Like Carol Jackson, the staff deployed numerous tactics to
accomplish this. One way was to present the
young women with abstractargumentsabout
the government's limitations. Denise, the
Anglo house director, never gave the girls
their AFDC checks directly or told them
where the money went. When they asked her,
she told the girls that she did not want them
to become accustomed to "being taken care
of by the government."To provide the girls
with a lesson on this point, Rachel Brennan,
the schoolteacher, held a special two-week
social studies class on the concept of "limited government."She was tired of the girls'
constant assertions of their rights and what
the government owed them. She wanted to
show them how importantit was to keep the
government out of their lives, how this was a
hard-fought "American right." As she lectured, "The government doesn't owe you
much, and that's good sometimes."
The staff members not only lectured the
girls about the limits of the government, but
also relayed their message by continually
trying to instill initiative and independence
in the girls. These two "house themes" permeated the workings of the facility. The program at Alliance was structuredto encourage
both attributes:The girls moved up a series
of "steps" when they did anything that the
staff considered importantin preparingthem
to lead independent lives upon release. During my time at Alliance, girls moved up the
steps when they found childcare, took the
GED exam, enrolled in evening courses at a
nearby beauty school, and went on job interviews. Rachel, the teacher, created her own
program, called "Brennan Bucks," to promote initiative. Each day she gave the girls
fake money if they followed the school rules.
Every Friday the girls used their "Bucks" to
buy cheap goods, which Rachel purchased
for them. In explaining the program, Rachel
said she wanted them to learn to respond to
"materialincentives just like the rest of us in
the normal world."
Although these programs illustrate the
staff's attempts to promote initiative, the
staff did this mainly through the organization of everyday life. To an outsider like


myself, life at Alliance was fairly chaotic.

Nobody ever seemed to be in charge. Although two staff members were always on
duty, they usually worked in the back office,
uninvolved in the girls' activities. As long as
the girls remained in the facility, they could
do more or less as they pleased. I never saw
a staff member force the girls to attend
school or house meetings. According to the
director, this lack of centralized control was
intended to foster independence: Because no
one told the girls what to do, they had to
figure out what was best on their own. They
had to choose to do the right thing, of their
own volition. One of the girls, Debra, stated
this situation clearly during the lecture on
limited government. Rachel was looking for
an example of a dictatorship and suggested
Alliance. Debra disagreed: "We got all these
people saying different stuff and telling us
to decide. There ain't no one in control here.
It's no dictatorship.It's anarchy."
When the staff evaluated the girls, they
used independence and initiative as criteria.
Maria, the superstar of the house, was applauded for "getting her act together." In
preparationfor her release she began to look
for a job, found childcare for her son, went
back on the birth control pill, and made arrangements to take her GED. On the other
hand, the "problem"girls were those whom
the staff considered lazy or aloof. For example, the staff had sent Nikita to Juvenile
Hall for a "cool-out" period and held a meeting to evaluate her. One staff member noted
that Nikita was tough and "pissed off." The
others agreed but believed that the real problem was her laziness and passivity. As they
discussed her, Nikita called from Juvie to put
in a few words on her own behalf. She promised that she would start "working the program"if they took her back. She didn't want
to give up her baby, and she knew she had to
work for this. The staff was impressed by the
call and by her ability to "take the bull by
the horns." Within minutes they decided to
accept her back.
This account leads to the final component
of Alliance's socialization for independence-the babies. In addition to the incentive programs and the organization of everyday life, the staff tried to break the "cycle of
institutional dependency" by manipulating
the girls' relationships with their children.


They frequently told the girls that it was impossible to be a good mother while relying
on state institutions for support. Charlene
made this argument explicitly in a house
meeting devoted to Rachel's resignation. The
girls were distressed about Rachel's departure and saw it as further proof that "no one
in the world cares about us and that's why
we are so fucked up." Infuriated, Charlene
yelled: "You are women. You have babies.
Babies must be cared for. Women care for
others. Until you learn this, you'll be doin' a
lot of crying in your lives."
At Alliance, the girls had to earn motherhood. They did so by exhibiting the initiative
and independence thatAlliance sought to foster in them. In this way the staff adhered to
what Nathanson (1991:159) called a "redefinition of female adolescence" by presenting
this time in the girls' lives as a preparatory
period for self-sufficiency. The battle over
childcare was an example. When I arrivedat
Alliance, the babies came to the classroom
with the girls. Problems arose when Rachel
sensed that the girls worked less when the
babies were around. She tried to alter this
situation with her Brennan Bucks program,
rewarding the girls materially for placing
education before reproduction.It was unsuccessful. Finally she demanded that the babies
be removed from the classroom. Furious, the
girls refused altogether to work. Then Rachel
went on strike. Eventually the director gave
in and provided childcare. Rachel claimed
that this was the girls' punishment; because
they refused to alter theirpriorities, they were
reprimandedwith forced childcare.
In short, Alliance's aim was to undercut
the girls' dependency on institutions. Like
Carol Jackson's expectations for her girls,
the staff's agenda was shaped by the institutional setting. This battleground, however,
was an enclosed, minimum-security facility.
These young women were mothers, official
wards of the court, and AFDC recipients.
They were connected more closely to state
institutions, and less to individual men.
Therefore their potential for institutional reliance was greater. This was precisely what
worried the staff membersand informed their
agenda. This concern prompted them to organize the facility, to create miniprograms,
and to utilize the babies to foster initiative.
In doing so, they warned these "manless"


young women of the risks involved in replacing their fathers/homeboys with an "impersonal pyramid of men" (Burnstyn 1983:64).
Hence Alliance's agenda could be viewed as
potentially empowering. It could be interpreted as an attempt to socialize the girls
against the currents of public patriarchy,of
female dependence on men as a collective
embodied in the state (Boris and Bardaglio
1983; Brown 198 1).
Once again, however, the girls saw it otherwise. Alliance's attempt to undercut their
institutional reliance set into motion its own
resistance-a resistance that also taught the
girls, in the end, precisely what Alliance
wanted them to unlearn.
Bring Back Those Men in Suits
The girls at Alliance were quite aware of the
message that the staff was sending them, but
they saw nothingemancipatoryabout it. From
my first day at the home, it was clear that
they viewed themselves in an "us versus
them"relationshipwith Alliance. They spoke
in these terms. They found the house themes
oppressive-or, as Mildred put it, "all their
talk of bein' self full"-and they used every
possible chance to relay this to the staff.
Maria,for example, was awaiting her release.
One week before her parole hearing, the staff
membersconfrontedher; they had discovered
that she had made phone calls from the front
office. In theory Maria had broken the phone
rule, although in practice everyone knew that
the phone rule was flexible. This time, however, the staff enforced the rule rigidly. They
told Maria that she could spend six more
months at Alliance or take her chances before
the parole board. She did neither: The night
before her original release date, she escaped
with her baby through a basement window,
and never was found. The other girls saw this
as poetic justice and immediately made the
connection between her escape and the house
theme of initiative. They used the incident to
relay messages to the staff. As Tonya said to
Rachel, "Look at that, Maria really 'took the
bull by the horns' didn't she?" As Debra remarked to Liz, "There was no laziness last
night at Alliance! She sure did learn good
from Alliance."
Just like Carol's girls, the Alliance girls
viewed the staff's agenda as not viable and


undesirable. To understandwhy, one must attend to who these girls were. First and foremost, they were teen mothers-young women
with small dependent children. They were
also poor and uneducated. Most were women
of color. Therefore their ability to "make it
on their own" was limited at best. Alliance's
continual proclamations that they should do
so were quite threatening. In Tonya's words,
Alliance made it a "crime" to ask for help,
and this was "all messed up."As Lakishasaid,
"It's like they don't know what's up. The talk
is OK for them but not for us. They aren't
with us." Debra observed, "Yaknow, it's easy
for Rachel to say we can do it on our own.
She gots all her degrees. She don't need no
help and says we don't either."
Furthermore,it was not surprising that the
girls were angered by the staff's desire to
steer them away from a reliance on the state.
All of them had family problems and repeatedly had been cast out of their homes.
Hence these survival networks were not an
option for most of them. Moreover, the heterosexual bonds that Carol's girls defended
so militantly were problematic for these
girls. They were at a disadvantage in the
"heterosexual marketplace"that Carol Jackson described as characteristic of the inner
city. They had babies. They were mothers.
They carried more baggage than others
when they entered this marketplace.Thus it
was harder for them to maneuver into the
kinds of relationships that Carol's girls entered and exited. Many told stories of being
left by their homeboys when they became
pregnant. They still dreamed about these
men (many, like Tonya, continued to doodle
mottoes like "Big Ken, little Kenny, and
Tonya-a family forever"), but basically
they were without men. It may be that these
were Carol's girls in a few years; they were
Carol's girls once the men had disappeared.
Thus they did not embrace Alliance's demand that they break their institutional dependence and "free" themselves from
Instead they were prompted to resist. Unlike Carol's girls, they did not protest by appropriatingmen or their femininity. Such resources were not available in the Alliance
environment.These girls had at their disposal
other state institutions and their babies. These
were the two sites of control. Not by chance,


they were the sites upon which the girls mobilized their resistance to the staff.
First, they used welfare. AFDC checks
were a major source of conflict at Alliance.
The staff withheld them to ensure that the
girls did not grow accustomed to being cared
for by the government. For the same reason,
the girls were preoccupied with the checks.
At the beginning of each month, fights
erupted when they asked for accounts of the
money. In doing so, they asserted that it was
their money. They also regulated the staff by
making them account for every penny. The
staff never did so, and thus infuriated the
girls. In one case, when the staff denied
Tonya a new baby blanket, Tonya called the
welfare office to report a stolen check. She
asked the social worker to come to Alliance
and investigate. Apparently when the social
worker arrived,she took the staff by surprise.
Tonya demanded that the woman receive an
account of her checks. The social worker uncomfortably agreed to do so, to the outrage
of the staff.
The girls also used welfare in a more
symbolic way. When they grew angry at the
staff, they spoke of how they planned to be
on welfare for the rest of their lives. In effect, they appropriatedthe politically loaded
"trope of the welfare mother" to protest. For
instance, Rachel spent a great deal of time
persuading the girls to take the GED, but the
girls did not think she was preparing them
well enough for the test. Thus whenever she
raised the subject, they told her they didn't
need to take it because AFDC would care
for them. To annoy her, Tonya always sang
"I'm on welfare and it's gonna take care of
me forever" to the tune of a popular rap
song. The leading example of such appropriation was the girls' Welfare Club, which
originated in a house meeting at which the
girls were accused of being too dependent.
In defiance, Tonya started singing her welfare song. Debra interjected, reminding the
others that they were in the same predicament; they should form a club, a Welfare
Club. At first it was a joke, but then it materialized. They held secret meetings. Probably the girls did not talk about welfare at
the meetings; the name was the important
thing. It was a sign of their resistance,
which clearly was scripted by the form of
control exerted over them.


The girls also used CYA, another state institution, to resist. The staff feared CYA because of its power to close down the home,
and the girls played on this fear. When the
staff did something the girls did not like,
they threatened to call CYA. Maria was the
only girl who followed through with this
threat. After her escape from Alliance, she
called CYA to report a series of rule violations. The girls were thrilled when four
CYA officers arrived the next day; all were
men in suits. The girls met with them privately to air their complaints. After the CYA
men left, the girls refused to reveal to the
nervous staff what they had told the men.
The legacy of the Men in Suits lived on at
Alliance. When the girls were angry, they
said "I'll call the Men in Suits if you don't
watch it," or "Those Men in Suits liked us,
I'm gonna ask them to come back." Their
message to the staff was clear: Sometimes
Men in Suits can help. In effect, the girls
were learning how to utilize state institutions for their own ends-not what Alliance
wanted to teach them.
In addition, the girls called on the County
Rules and Regulations Department to come
to their rescue. One morning, this department
called the staff. A girl in the home had made
an anonymous call, reporting a series of licensing violations, and they were sending an
investigator to check the facility. During the
ensuing cleaning frenzy, Mildred secretly admitted to me that she had called. She was
seven months pregnant and angry that the
staff made her do chores: "They say all this
shit about being self full. Forget it, it's slave
labor." When the investigator arrived, she
met alone with the girls and followed them
around the home, listening to their complaints. The staff was furious, the girls were
thrilled. Later, at the collective meeting, the
official scolded the staff for making the girls
do chores; it was forced labor and hence illegal. The girls looked on, smiling triumphantly. After the meeting Nikita whispered
to me: "We done told Alliance today, didn't
we?" Indeed, they had done so, in at least
two ways. They told the staff that the way
they ran the facility was "uncool" and, more
important, that they could mobilize other
state forces to come to their aid.
Finally, just as the staff appropriatedthe
babies to relay their message, the girls mo-


bilized their babies to fight the staff. They

used their babies to reassert a definition of
themselves as mothers above all else,
thereby inverting the staff's ordering of
their priorities. "I can't do that, my baby
needs me" was the most common line I
heard. In saying this, the girls proclaimed
that the staff's demands were secondary to
those of their babies, especially when the
demand pertained to proving they were "self
full." This scenario was played out most often in the classroom. One way in which
Rachel tried to foster initiative in the girls
was to give them an assignment and then
leave the room. She claimed that this provided them with the chance to "do it on
their own." The girls knew that these were
tests, moments when they had to demonstrate that their priorities were in order.
Without fail, they turned to their babies at
these times. When Rachel returned, they
told her they had not worked because
"Kenny was crying" or "Chris needed a
bottle." Yet the deeper message was their
contempt for the house theme of initiative.
The girls communicated this message
through the babies, just as the staff sent its
message to them.
Hence, at Alliance, forms of control were
connected to forms of resistance. Yet the
pattern at Alliance was quite different from
that involving Carol and her girls. The context was not the same; this facility and its
relationship to the surrounding community
were different. This context produced its
own distinct gender regime, which centered
around state dependency and reliance. Yet
despite these differences, the outcomes of
the two regimes were strikingly similar.
Like Carol's girls, the Alliance girls evaluated the agenda and found it threatening. In
response, they also emphasized what they
had: their ability to mobilize Men in Suits,
the welfare office, and their babies. In the
end, they utilized exactly what Alliance
tried to discourage; they embraced precisely
what Alliance wanted to undermine. This
was made clear in my last interaction with
the girls on the day of my departure.I asked
them what they planned to do, once released. Tonya, Lakisha, and Mildred each
said they wanted to have two more babies.
Mildred said that babies made her feel
"somethin' special." Tonya planned to con-



tinue the Welfare Club on the outside. "I'm ticular visions of what endangers women.
on welfare and it's gonna take care of me For probation officers, that vision includes
forever,"she sang, checking to see if Rachel men and homeboys; for the Alliance staff, it
was listening. Mildred agreed, laughing. encompasses state institutions. These then
inform their agendas for their clients. They
They had learned well.
prompt probationofficers to attack "private"
patriarchy by demanding independence
from men, and the staff of the group home
The conceptualization of the state and its re- to attack "public" patriarchyby insisting on
lation to women, as presented in this ethnog- independence from state bodies. Moreover,
raphy, differs in important ways from pre- this is not imposed on female clients in a
vailing macro-level feminist theories of the "top down" fashion; the girls are active
state. First, by moving to the level of state agents. They evaluate these messages and
practice, I reveal how the state is a differen- fight back by appropriating and inverting
tiated body composed of multiple institu- them. Regulation and resistance are closely
tional contexts. The particular "arm"of the connected; together they constitute patterns.
state examined here, the juvenile justice sys- In this way, the girls' socialization is a netem, is characterized by a dualism in which gotiated process, the product of institutiontwo distinct apparatusesoperate: a coercive ally fashioned modes of control and contesapparatusgoverned by punishmentand force, tation.
At the same time, the patternsof regulation
and a permissive apparatusgoverned by discipline and rules. In this way, the forms of and resistance captured here diverge from
control exerted over clients vary by appara- those described in recent feminist scholarship
tus. They also oppose one another. The Pro- on the state. In an attempt to restore agency
bation Department is not only different from to feminist state theory, these scholars highJuvenile Hall but is in conflict with it; Alli- light the unintendedeffects of the state's genance is not merely an alternative to CYA but der regime and the interactive quality of
stands in opposition to it. Moreover, a dual- women's relations with that regime (Gordon
ism exists within this larger dualism. Differ- 1988, 1990; Morgen 1990; Piven 1990).
ent forms of control characterize even the Overall the patternsof interactionarticulated
"alternative"apparatus. On the one side is in their work consist of a state that tries to
Carol Jackson with her attacks on homeboys advance male dominance as women underand "private"patriarchy; on the other, Alli- mine it-a state that attempts to reproduce
ance with its battles against institutional de- female dependence while women use state rependence and "public"patriarchy.These du- sources to organize or gain power in the
alisms problematize prevailing conceptions home. Yet the patterns I discovered in this
of the state as a homogeneous, singular study are the reverse: State actors try to un"structure."They suggest that it may be more dercut "patriarchal"social relations, while
fruitful to conceive of the state as fragmented female clients defend those relations. Aland layered, with various sites of control and though female clients are strategic actors in
my analysis, they strategize to salvage their
Second, by shifting the feminist focus to "dependent"relations with the state. This distate practice, I complicate classic models vergence should not be read as suggesting
of the state's gender regime. The ethno- that feminist theory take these patterns as
graphic data presented here call into ques- more characteristic of the state's relation to
tion the socialist feminist understanding of women. Rather, it suggests that we should
the state as an entity with a uniform, mascu- become more attuned to the many possible
line agenda to impose on women. My analy- forms of these interactions, and less fixed in
sis unearthed multiple agendas for women, our notions of the state's interests in women
and demonstrated how they are institution- or (for that matter) women's interests in the
ally constituted and contested by female cli- state.
Finally, I propose here that the state be
ents. These state actors' agendas are shaped
by the institutional terrains on which they conceptualized as interactive in yet another
work-terrains that provide them with par- sense-as an institution that itself is situated


in a larger social context. The patterns of

control and resistance outlined in this study
were not examined in isolation from the
larger inner-city community. These patterns
are deeply embedded in and responsive to
that surrounding community; both control
and resistance are shaped by the urban context. Carol Jackson's evaluation of the inner
city and what endangered her girls within it
led to her preoccupation with homeboys and
other mothers. Alliance's understanding of
this community and what threatenedits girls
there gave rise to its focus on welfare and
state dependency. On the other side, Carol's
girls' understandings of their communities
and what was empowering in them produced
their defense of femininity and heterosexuality. Likewise, the material realities of
Alliance's girls' lives generated their insistence on the usefulness of Men in Suits and
babies. These patterns of control and resistance are propelled by conflicting views of
the community and of appropriate survival
strategies within it. Only by uncovering and


contextualizing these different positions can

one understand their interactions within
these institutions. In this way, the feminist
conceptualizationof the state that I have proposed here would work on multiple levels
and would allow us to examine interactions
among state apparatuses, between state actors and female clients, and between state institutions and the communities surrounding
LynneHaneyis a Ph.D.candidatein theDepartmentof Sociologyat the Universityof California,
Berkeley.She has conductedempiricalresearch
on genderand the state in the UnitedStatesand
in EasternEurope.Herdissertationexaminesthe
gender regimes of three successive Hungarian
welfaresystemsfromtheinceptionof statesocialism to thepresent.Herpublicationsinclude "But
WeAre Still Mothers:Genderand the Construction of Need in PostsocialistHungary,"in Ethnographies of Transition (edited by M. Burawoy

and K. Verdery,forthcoming)and "FromProud

Workerto GoodMother:Gender,the State, and
Regime Changein Hungary"(Frontiers,1994,
vol. 14, pp. 113-50).

Appendix. Power, Identity, and Intervention in the Field: The Limits of Reflexivity
This ethnographyis based on fieldworkI conducted
from Februaryto November 1992 in a juvenile ProbationDepartmentandin Alliance, a grouphome for
incarceratedteen mothers.My decision to research
these state agencies was motivated by theory. Because the criminaljustice system intervenesdirectly
in people's lives to transform"deviant"women into
"acceptable"women, it was an ideal context for examining the state's gender regime. I chose to work
in the juvenile armof this system because I believed
it would provide a clearerview of this socialization
process; I predictedthat the state's articulationand
imposition of gender norms would be most evident
when applied to young women. Within the juvenile
system, I selected the ProbationDepartmentandAlliance on the basis of several criteria.Because these
agencies had distinct organizationalstructures,they
enabledme to examinewhetherthe institutionalsetting affected the gender messages relayedto female
clients. At the same time, the agencies were located
in the same "alternative"juvenile justice apparatus,
and both took a long-term, rehabilitativeapproach
to clients. These similarities and differences made
them perfect comparativecases for my theoretical
I began my researchin the ProbationDepartment
by conductinginterviews with the head of the division, the Departmentsupervisor,and two probation
officers. In these interviewsI discoveredthat Carol

Jacksonwas responsiblefor the female clientele; she

dealt with the great majorityof girls on probation
andgave lectureson how to approachfemale clients.
Thus I decided to work with Carol as her assistant.
My duties were twofold: I organized Department
events and assisted Carol with her caseload. The
first type of work put me in contact with other POs,
allowing me to comparetheirapproachwith Carol's
and to ensure that my findings were generalizable.
The second type of work placed me in contact with
Carol's clients. I began by sitting in on their meetings andsimply observinghow they interacted.With
time I became closer to the clients, corneringthem
before and after appointmentsand taking them to a
nearbyrestaurant.By the end of the nine months, I
had met nearly all of Carol's clients and had observed hundredsof meetings between her and these
young women.
At Alliance I conducted initial interviews with
those in charge of the facility, including the director, the house manager,the head counselor, and the
teacher. After these interviews, I began to work as
an academictutor for the young women. From the
onset, I was immersed in the everyday life of the
home. In the morning I attendedthe girls' classes
and assisted them with their schoolwork. In the afternoon I "hungout" with them in the living room
of the home. Once a week I accompaniedthem on
tripsto parks,libraries,and shops. I also maintained


contactwith the eight staff members,talkingto them
aboutthe home andtheirpositions there.By the end
of my stay, I was attendinghouse and staff meetings, and thus gained a sense of the full rangeof relations in the home.
The most common methodological questions
raisedby the sociologists and feminist scholarswho
have commented on this ethnography revolved
aroundtwo issues, both relatedto reflexivity. First,
some questioned why I, the ethnographer,seem to
be absent from the text. They wanted to know how
my own social backgroundaffected me in the field,
and thus encouraged me to situate my knowledge
claims socially. Second, others suggested that I examine how my researchsubjects viewed the work.
They wonderedwhethermy interpretationsmeshed
with these women's, and hence urged me to allow
them to "gaze back"at the ethnographicproduct.
Both of these calls for increasedreflexivity must
be understoodin relationto developmentsin feminist methodology. Early feminist methodological
work was premised on the notion of a "woman's
standpoint"-the assumptionthat if we elicited our
social inquiriesfromthe actualitiesof women's lives
andemployedmoreclosely connectedresearchpractices, the androcentricbias of much traditionalsocial science would be overcome (Hartsock 1987;
Smith 1987). This assumption subsequently was
problematizedby what Harding (1991) called the
"fall of UniversalWoman"-that is, the recognition
that women are situatedon multiple axes which intersect to unite and divide us. This led to a rethinking of "woman'sstandpoint"andto the development
of mixed, flexible, and partialperspectives(Collins
1991; Haraway 1991; Sandoval 1991). Many feminist scholars then suggested that we "socially situate"our knowledge claims by locating the positions
from which we speak(Fonow andCook 1991; Reinharz 1992; Rose 1994). This rethinkingalso spawned discussions of the relationshipbetween power
and knowledge:how the power embeddedin the researchprocess may be located in the "knower's"position, not simply in the knower's gender (Stacey
1988). As a result, feminist scholars began to call
for increased dialogue between the researcherand
the researched, to be achieved by exchanging researchproductsandsharinginterpretivepower(Harding 1991).
In this context, the feminist move towardgreater
reflexivity is quite understandable.In the abstract,it
also seems to be a promisingway of addressingthe
limitations of early feminist methodologicalwork.
As I moved to the level of practice, however, numerousproblemssurfaced.I found it almost impossible to situate my knowledge claims socially because I occupied so many positions in the research.
Moreover, my recognition of the relationship between power and knowledge ultimately convinced
me of the danger involved in returningthe text to
those I studied.


From my earliest interactionswith these women,

our differences were apparent.In our first meeting,
CarolJacksonspoke almostentirelyaboutinner-city
life, using the "we"to referonly to herself, her girls,
and the community.She referredcontinually to the
academic "ivory tower" and how it was "out of
touch."It was obvious that no matterwhat I did, she
would associateme with this tower. At Alliance, the
initial dividing lines were even sharper.On my first
day, the girls ignored me; they spoke to each other
in rap and refusedto respondto me. I was devastated when, at the end of the day, I overheardthem discussing how I tipped the balance of power in the
staff's favor: "Theygots more of them than we got
of us now," as Lakisharemarked.
It would be naive to think that I ever transcended
these divisions, and it would be easy for me to analyze how these "locations"shaped my work. Such
an analysis would be too simplistic, however;
throughoutthe fieldwork, these divisions intersected with others to complicate the picture. With Carol, age was also an importantsocial location. Because I was only slightly olderthanher clients, I was
often subjectedto her counseling. WheneverI told
her a story she disapprovedof, she yelled, "Girl,
haven't you learned anythingfrom me?" Thus, although I was connected to the ivory tower, I was
also just a "girl."At the same time, age allied me
with her clients; they often turnedto me for generational supportin their battles with Carol. At other
times it seemed that race was the most important
shapingforce, as on the day when Caroland I interviewed an AfricanAmericangirl at Juvie, who fixated on me and glaredat me angrily.I felt that I was
becoming whiter and whiter as each minute passed.
At othertimes, my class backgroundwas at the center. My mother was herself a teen mother, who
struggledfor much of my childhood. Carol always
drew on this fact, telling me that it was why I could
"see so much"and "understand."
My position was even more uncertainat Alliance.
ThereI engaged in a balancingact, moving continually between "them"and "us."Many staff members
were well educated, with graduatetraining; some
were also self-proclaimed"radicalfeminists." Our
ability to connect on these planes placed the facility
in a new light for me. Otheraxes were central with
the girls, although they, too, were multiple and
changing. Race and class seemed very often to be
determinant.The girls frequently spoke in rap, referring to people and places of which I was ignorant.Thus my lens was partial.It was also contextual, and grew cloudierwhen we went for walks in the
neighborhood.In the home, however, the dynamics
of the facility andthe ethos of autonomycolored our
positions. Because I never pressuredthe girls to be
"self full," I was more "in"-or, as Nikita once said,
"one of the only bitches in this place who gives a
shit about us." Also, when the babies were around,
my interestin themandmy maternalyearningsmade

me an "insider"with the girls.
In short, I never knew clearly how my "long line
of adjectives"affected me in the field. My position
was quite situationalandvariable.As Thorne(1993)
argues,identityis not a staticphenomenon.It changes with context; some contexts draw out certainaspects of our "selves" and mute others. Because of
this flexibility, I found it difficult to locate myself
socially in my work. It was also nearly impossible
to determinehow these locations affected my analysis. As a woman who had had negative experiences
with the male staff at Juvenile Hall, was I more sensitive to the divisions in the system? Maybe. As the
daughterof a teenage mother,was I more attunedto
the girls' resistances? Maybe. As a well-educated
woman, did I identify with the Alliance staff and
underestimate their control? Maybe. As a White
woman, have I repressedculturalstereotypesabout
the sexuality of women of color and hence have fixated on this aspect of theirrelationswith the state?I
hope not. All of this is to say that socially situating
our knowledgeclaims is not always feasible, or even
particularlyuseful, in practice.In my work, it would
have entailed presenting a still life of continually
shifting relations.
I encountereddifferentproblemswith the second
kind of reflexivity: returningmy text to the women
I studiedto elicit their reflections on us. Here I had
to consider the interpersonaland social power that
my text could wield over these women, and how it
might disrupt their lives further.With Carol Jackson, I was concerned with the potentially hurtful
consequences of the text. Carol was quite insecure
abouther weight, andreadingabouther girls' mockery could have hurther. Moreover,Caroltakes great
pride in her work. She has numerousfamily problems and, to lessen her feeling of failure, assures
herself that she does well by her "girls." And she
does so; her commitmentto these young women demands respect. Yet I wonderedwhether she would
find this respect in the text, buriedbeneaththe descriptions of mocking resistance. Exposing her to
such mockerythen felt like a power move, even if I
had the intention of sharingthe power of representation.
At Alliance I was concernedaboutthe social pow-


er of my text, particularlyfor the girls. These young
women revealedmanysecrets to me andcontributed
a great deal to my analysis. Yet their information
could have come back to harmthem. It might have
caused them immediate trouble for calling in the
Men in Suits and forming the Welfare Club. In the
long run, it might have taughtthe staff how to control them better. Although I am sure the girls consideredthis possibility before revealing anythingto
me, I analyzed their experience in ways not known
to them. My theorizingthen had strategicpotential
for the staff. Handingit over, even in the name of.
reflexivity, seemed unjustifiable.My attemptto be
intellectuallydemocraticmight have had unintended consequences;I was not willing to take the risk.
In the end, for all of these reasons, a move toward greater "reflexivity"seemed neither feasible
nor desirable in my fieldwork. Yet these reservations do not apply to all researchand should not be
readas a dismissal of the feminist conceptionof reflexivity. Rather,they suggest thatreflexivity be understoodin relationto specific researchsettings. My
researchwas unique in that I worked with diverse
groups of women who were allied and divided in
complex ways. They differed even in their understandingsof these alliances and divisions; their definitions of "us"and "them"varied.These dynamics
appealedto my interestsas a feminist researcherin
complicatedways. My commitmentto "listening to
women's voices" placed me on all sides-on the
side of the probationofficers, the staff of the group
home, and the young women. This situation increased my awarenessof the shifting natureof my
own identity, and of the social and interpersonal
power of my text. These complications might not
have surfaced had I interacted with only one of
these "sides,"or had I workedin a field where "us"
and "them"were demarcatedmore clearly. Accordingly, ratherthanholding out reflexivity as the ultimate goal, I suggest that it be conceptualizedmore
contextually.Such an approachwould imply an understandingof reflexivity that recognizes the power
dynamics of particular research settings and acknowledges the conditions that can both foster and
undermine our attempts to become intellectually

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