Michel Foucaults history of the penal system English Literature Essay

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#3-Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish

Michel Foucault's, Discipline and Punish discussed the history of the penal system. Foucault was especially interested in understanding punishment and the social implications or consequences it would have for society. In part one, "The Body of the Condemned", he depicts punishment as it was during the seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries; this was when public execution and corporal punishment (including vicious torture) was the key idea. Punishment at this time was directed solely at the prisoner's body; it was done to force discipline and control. The punishment would typically take place within a town's square and the residents would be the audience which was important for various reasons; one being determent.

Foucault wrote:

It was a time when, in Europe and in the United States, the entire economy of punishment was redistributed. It was a time of great scandals for traditional justice, a time of innumerable projects for reform. It saw a new theory of law and crime, a new moral or political justification of the right to punish; old laws were abolished, old customs died out." (7)

With the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries came a call for humanization and morality; the old system of punishment needed to be reformed. Foucault believed that the call for reform was as a result of wanting to make power more efficient and not as a result of concern for the prisoner's wellbeing. First, Foucault discusses the disappearance of the body as the target of punishment; "Punishment of a less immediately physical kind, a certain discretion in the art of inflicting pain, a combination of more subtle, more subdued sufferings, deprived of their visible display, should not all this be treated as a special case, an incidental effect of deeper changes?...the body as the major target of penal repression disappeared." (8) He then goes on to explain that not only did punishment directed at the body disappear by the public spectacle of it also went away; punishment was no longer "ceremonial." He believed that at this point punishment became a hidden part of the penal process which had severe implications/consequences. The first was when punishment ceased to be visible it left people with "abstract consciousness", that is, the new mechanism was that the certainty of being punished was there but the public display that was meant to deter punishment no longer existed; public display was no longer needed because internalization was on its way. Foucault states, "One no longer touched the body, or at least as little as possible, and then only to reach something other than the body itself."(11) He goes onto say that the, "body now serves as an instrument or intermediary; if one intervenes upon it to imprison it, or to make it work, it is in order to deprive the individual of liberty that is regarded both as right and a property. The body [thus]…is caught up in a system of constraints, and privations, obligations, and prohibitions." (11) Physical punishment was no longer the object but the punishment of the soul. According to Foucault, with this came the introduction of other significant individuals including, warders, doctors, chaplains, psychiatrists, psychologists, and educationalists. These people become part of a system that now not only aimed at punishment but also at rehabilitating, correcting, and improving the criminal.

According to Foucault, this was the problem; judgment was being passed onto the individual by a whole new range of so-called "experts." He writes that with the new mechanisms of punishment; "a whole set of assessing, diagnostic, prognostic, normative judgments concerning the criminal have become lodged into the framework of the penal system." (19) Foucault's concern was that with the new mechanism of punishment came new knowledge and techniques that became "scientific discourse" that not only was related to the penal system but also to society as a whole. This where Foucault believed that control of the soul was much more powerful than control of the body; social control by so-called "authorities" according to Foucault, was not what it seemed to be. Foucault warned us that what we think we know as "true" knowledge might just be nothing more than ideologies perpetuated by authorities and those ideologies in return function to change our understanding of ourselves and of society. Psychiatry was very important to Foucault because it he thought that it gave people the power to judge and assess others according to certain standards as to what was considered "normal" and "abnormal."

It is important to distinguish that Foucault's theory of punishment is not only about how the penal system has changed but it is also about how social control came to dominate society. The Panopticon was a structure that was first coined by Jeremy Bentham; it was a structure that was essentially developed to observe. It was a tower placed in the center of a prison; the point was to give the illusion that the prisoner was constantly being watched (whether or not someone was actually watching them did not matter because the intention was for internalization). According to Foucault, "the major effect of the Panopticon [was to] induce in the inmate a state of consciousness and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power." (201) The panopticon became a structure that came to dominate society in every way; the intention was to monitor and control people to the point of their normalization and internalization of concepts of right and wrong. The panopticon developed into a modern model in the form of a camera. The camera would surveill and monitor schools, hospitals, modern prisons and other various institutions existing in society. Schools, hospitals and prisons came to look as one and the same because the camera much like the panoptican serves to examine pupils, workers, patients and prisoners; it then serves to classify them as individuals and try to make them conform to what is considered "normal". Foucault argued that the larger social objective is to internalize discipline so that force is no longer necessary; this is the essence of social control. Just as the prisoner no longer needs to be told what to do; the "normal" citizen will come to control their own behavior.

We as individuals are affected by society and vice versa. We live and act according to certain standards and norms that are put into place. I believe Foucault wanted us to know that the way we think and our actions come from a much higher authority or as he would say power. To Foucault, the way we listen to this "power" does not only mean blind obedience on our part but he sees it as hiding the "truth" that lies within us. The soul is an important aspect of Foucault's theory because he believed that the development of "discourses" (medical, legal, bureaucratic, discourses) excluded certain groups of people and seek to label them as "abnormal." I have appreciation for Foucault's theory on punishment; actually interestingly enough I never thought about why I have never committed criminal acts; the concept of the panoptican is related; somehow knowing that you are being watched somehow, somewhere by someone explains the reason. Interesting questions include, how do "discourses" maintain their authority in society? And why is it that some voices are heard while others are not? And lastly, who benefits from discourses and why?

Question #4-Simone De Beauvoir, The Second Sex

Society has created an image of how the role of each sex (male/female) should manifest itself. The ways in which individuals, a man or a woman should behave and act is a social construction. Socialization occurs throughout life, and most of what we learn comes from our childhood. Socialization happens within the institution of family first and foremost. When we are born, we have little to no concept of our gender. What we come to know as "proper behavior" we learn from society and through our relationships with others especially our parents and peers. Society has created certain standards that are "gender appropriate" and are maintained by those who take care of us and by the society as a whole.

Simone De Beauvoir who was a French existentialist philosopher, and most importantly a social theorist wrote, The Second Sex in which she documented women's oppression in society. In De Beauvoir's most famous statement, she relates, "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." De Beauvoir's main argument is that women and men should not be defined as being different from on another based on biological differences; rather, the individual selves of male and female or "masculinity" and "femininity" is thus created socially. Overall, De Beauvoir believed that women are socialized to feel inferior to men. It is not that biologically women cannot do the things that men can do, but that male domination and female subordination is taught at a very young age and is reinforced through societal norms. The young girl/child is socialized to believe that as a woman she should obtain certain characteristics appropriate to her sex and vice versa with boys.

Drawing from a general overview of history De Beauvoir concluded that men have always controlled women and their status in society. In part IV, of The Second Sex, Simone De Beauvoir discusses the formative years of childhood and young adulthood. De Beauvoir states:

There is no difference in the attitudes of girls and boys during the first three or four years; both try to perpetuate the happy condition that preceded weaning; in both sexes enticement and showing-off behavior occur; boy are as desirous as their sisters of pleasing adults, causing smiles, making themselves admired. (270)

She then discusses a second weaning in which girls and boys discover their "privileged" identities differently; this is also a time when what she calls "specialized" socialization starts to take place. De Beauvoir wrote:

The boys especially are little by little denied the kisses and caresses they have been used to. As for the little girl, she continues to be cajoled, she is allowed to cling to her mothers skirts, her father takes her on his knee and strokes her hair. She wears sweet little dresses, her tears and caprices are viewed indulgently, her hair is done up carefully; older people are amused at her expressions and coquetries-bodily contacts and agreeable glances protect her against the anguish of solitude. The little boy in contrast will be denied ever coquetry; his efforts at enticements, his play-acting, are irritating. He is told that, 'a man doesn't asked to be kissed…A man doesn't look at himself in mirrors…A man doesn't cry.' He is urged to be a 'little man.'" (270)

De Beauvoir emphasized that if a boy appeared to be less favored compared to his sister, it was because there was something better in store for him; a greater destiny. Boy are therefore, socialized to believe that they are better than girls; "We are men, let us leave those women." (271) Therefore, pride is instilled in the boy at a young age; De Beauvoir explains that the boy does not experience pride in his "lazy sex" but rather in his attitude and other peoples attitude towards him such as mothers and nurses. She then, discusses the concept of "penis envy." She said that the little boy obtained from his penis a living experience that made it an object of pride to him, but this pride did not necessarily imply a corresponding humiliation for his sisters, since they knew the masculine organ was an outward aspect only; the penis only makes them feel indifference, or disgust. The penis in this sense takes on symbolic significance; it comes to represent power and privilege. She stated, "Because he has an alter ego in whom he sees himself, the little boy can boldly assume an attitude of subjectively; the very object into which he projects himself becomes a symbol of autonomy, of transcendence, of power." (278) In girls, not having that alter ego, she is led to make an object of her own self making herself "other." The foreign object given to her is a doll and in that doll she will identify herself with regard to the object. To the small young girl, the doll is beautiful, young, skinny and has imperfect features that every girl should aspire to want; the little girl comes to think of herself as a "marvelous doll."

Even more, De Beauvoir relates that even though the doll is a "help" it does not have a determining role because the boy can also have a teddy bear or a puppet with which he identifies himself with. Rather De Beauvoir believes that, "it is within the totality of their lives that each factor-penis or doll-takes on its importance." (280) She describes that in a boy, his training/socialization results in autonomy and free movement toward the outside world. He is encouraged to be independent, scorn girls, climbing trees, fight with his friends (facing them in rough games). His body should be used as a means to dominate nature. He is encouraged to:

take pride in his muscles and in his sex; in games, sports, fights, challenges, trials of strength, he finds a balanced exercise of his powers; at the same time he absorbs the severe lessons of violence; he learns from an early age to take blows, to scorn pain, to keep back the tears. He undertakes, he invents, and he dares. Certainly he tests himself also as if he were another; the challenges his own manhood, and many problems result in relation to adults and to other children. But what is very important is that there is no fundamental opposition between his concern for that objective figure which is his, and his will to self-realization in concrete projects. It is by doing that he creates his existence, both in one and the same action. (280)

On the other hand, the girl is, "taught that to please she must try to please, she must make herself object; she should therefore give up her autonomy/independence; "She is treated like a live doll and is refused liberty." (280) De Beauvoir is explicit in explaining that although children are brought up by their mothers the boy escapes the grasps of the mother while the mothers intentions towards the daughter is to mold her into the "feminine" world. Therefore, as described by De Beauvoir the girl is given only books and games that will guide her into "destined sphere"; feminine virtues and customs are urged upon her; she is taught cooking, sewing, and housekeeping. The girl also has to be charming, and modest. She must dress a certain way and act a certain way.

As a result, boys and girls grow up into socialized beings with an idea of what it means to be "masculine" and what it means to be "feminine." Men are encouraged to perform masculinity and women are encouraged to perform femininity therefore creating gender pressures on the individual. De Beauvoir relates, "Because she is a woman, the little girl knows that she is forbidden the sea and the polar regions, a thousand adventures, a thousand joys." (298) The girl knows that she is bound to a life of being, " a wife, mother, grandmother; she [too] will keep house just as her mother did, she will give her children the same care she herself received when young." (298) The girl is confined within the limits imposed on her by her femininity, while the boy's life is filled with a rich future.

Gender roles in this sense is purely socially constructed and reinforced through norms by the larger society as to what is "gender-appropriate" for each sex (male/female). Gender ideology is important because it is linked to gender stratification that is men and women's unequal access to power, prestige and social honor. Simone De Beauvoir's main argument, that femininity has been controlled by man, is accurate, but I feel that some of her points may not have relevant today. Women have made great strides in the last fifty years; women are fully capable of successfully obtaining an education, a career and a family. Women are also able to live unmarried without being looked down upon compared to the past. However, society does retain the idea that marriage for a woman is the right thing to do but in the end it is for the woman to decide what she wants to do with her life. Woman seemed to have moved out of the domestic/private sphere and into the public sphere; scholarly research on women and work shows that woman still continue to do the bulk of domestic duties of childrearing and housekeeping. Many modern stories/books which I have read such as, "The Yellow Wallpaper", The Second Shift, and Opting Out? presents the social relationship between male dominance and female imprisonment; the woman is portrayed as being trapped within the domestic life and the household.

There are many other socializing agents in society such as the schools, media, and the workplace that act to gender type males and females. Sadly, as a result of institutionalized differences among the sexes, gender inequality will persist in society.

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