The Crossroads of Prostitution in the 1800s

by Algomau5260 on Mars 17, 2017 - 2:57pm

Intersectionality as a concept adds new ways to view issues in infinitely complex combinations. Intersectionality refers to the overlapping of social denominations and how they interact with each other and impact an individual’s life. Within the criminal justice system, intersectionality engages with the law on a macro and micro level, which leads to over representation of certain groups and expanded vulnerability for others. While someone’s race and sexuality may be considered within the norm, other denominations such as gender and economic status may hinder them. Specifically, gender plays a contentious role in an individual’s identity, especially in our current cultural climate. Transgender individuals and individuals who do not ascribe to the mainstream genders find themselves at a particular disadvantage when engaging with the criminal justice system. Even those who are of the mainstream genders may find themselves in a vulnerable position because of other aspects of their identity. Examining how intersectional identities engage with the criminal justice system, focusing on how gender interacts with the other components of an individual’s identity, is critical to identifying issues of discrimination.


Fictional accounts offer an idealized view of how gender plays a role within identities. While in real life accounts you acquire a more pragmatic and direct view of how gender can be interpreted, fictional accounts allow one to trace how the entirety of society may view that gender. After all, media informs culture which informs media which informs culture. For this purpose, I will be identifying the intersectional identity of Eva Toole, a character from the show Hell on Wheels. Eva Toole is a white, straight, woman who works as a prostitute. However, Eva Toole was raised by the Yavapai tribe, leading her to adopt many values of their culture. As a poor woman who was considered an outsider, she had to turn to prostitution to survive. Within the show, this leads her to engage with many criminal elements, while the act of prostitution itself was not illegal. In our criminal justice system however, Eva would find herself in constant conflict with the law. Considering this, we can view how Eva’s gender may impact her life choices, which in turn may change her interaction with the law. Tweaking her identity, were Eva to have been a male or identify as a male rather than a female, she may have turned to different professions to survive. In the setting of the show, which is based around the construction of the railroads in the United States, were Eva a male she would have had many opportunities to work as a physical labourer or in more violent enterprises. However, as a woman, the only opportunity afforded her was prostitution.

So what issues does this present with the criminal justice system? In Eva’s case, she would be criminalized for engaging in the only enterprise she could, the only other choice being starvation. And that is one of the prevailing issues within our criminal justice system. As it stands, the law is being used in place of actual social programs to address issues of “undesirables”. Low income and the homeless are targeted through legislation that criminalizes behaviours that they are more likely to engage in. Through the institution of fines, those who are unable to pay fines find themselves imprisoned and as a result more socially burdened and more likely to commit severe crimes. Coupling low income with vulnerable intersectional identities, you have individuals who are targeted and vulnerable placed into a culture where violence ultimately prevails. While institutionalized, this individuals may feel punished for their identity alone, rather than whatever crime they may have committed. The criminal justice system is bloated, and issues of vulnerable classes need to be properly addressed by shifting the burden away from the criminal justice system.