Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Feminist Research on Mothers and Illegal Drugs

Academic journal article Resources for Feminist Research

Feminist Research on Mothers and Illegal Drugs

Article excerpt

Drawing from interviews with mothers who use illegal drugs in Canada in a research study completed in 1996, 1 this paper discusses the need for further feminist qualitative research on women and illegal drug use. The paper explores the social construction of drug use, the research design, access and ethical considerations, fieldwork, and the data, and explores future directions for feminist research.

En partant d'entretiens effectues avec des meres qui consomment des drogues illegales aux Canada, cet article discute du besoin d'effectuer davantage de recherche qualitative feministe sur les femmes et l'emploi des drogues illegales. La premiere section de l'article examine la recherche feministe, la construction sociale de l'emploi des drogues, la methodologie de la recherche, les questions d'acces et d'ethique, le travail sur le terrain, et les donnees. La derniere section depiste de futures voies que pourraient suivre la recherche feministe.

The social construction of drug use

Since the 1970s I have been involved with many community projects in Vancouver, BC, as an advocate, counsellor, and outreach worker. During this time I have straddled both worlds of academia and community. Although I never felt that I should abandon one over the other, there is little credit in the academic world for community activism. Nevertheless, I believe that my community work informs my academic work and vice versa. One could not exist without the other.

My work in the community has served to educate me about the concerns of women in relation to illegal drug use. Working at information centres, as a counsellor at youth clinics, and from 1991-1997, as an outreach worker with Drug and Alcohol and Meeting Support for Women (DAMS), has given me the opportunity to understand the concerns of women who use illegal drugs, and to grasp just how difficult it is for women to achieve stability in their own lives in the absence of economic and social support. My experiences in the community have made me critical of the studies, and policy recommendations, by many researchers in the field of women and illegal drugs.

Until recently, conventional research about illegal drugs focussed on the male user. The focus has been on the "the man about town" rather than the woman at home with the kids (see Preble and Casey, 1969). Women were either absent in these analyses or appendages to the discussions of male users. Traditionally, women who used illegal drugs have been viewed as more passive and pathological than their male counterparts (Stevenson et al., 1956; Perry, 1979; Ettorre, 1992; Inciardi, Lockwood, & Pottiegeret, 1993). Similar to other women in conflict with the law, they are viewed as being morally weaker, more out of control, promiscuous and deviant than men, even though men use more illegal drugs than women do (Addiction Research Foundation, 1994; Inciardi et al., 1993; Mondanaro, 1989; Reed, 1987; Stevenson et al., 1956). Women are also perceived as victims lacking agency who are led astray by their male partners (Henderson, 1993; Maher, 1995). Most importantly, mothers who use illegal drugs are viewed as unfit parents (Boyd, 1999).

Conventional research fails to address the legal, economic, and social factors that shape the lives of women who use illegal drugs. Instead women's illegal drug use is perceived as "evidence" of their deviancy. It wasn't until Colten's (1982) study on heroin-using mothers, and Rosenbaum's (1981) groundbreaking ethnographic study of women who use illegal narcotics, that a challenge to conventional research emerged. Since the 1980s, several other feminist qualitative studies of women drug users have emerged out of the US and Scotland (Taylor, 1993; Kearny, Murphy & Rosenbaum, 1994; Maher, 1995; Dunlap & Johnson, 1996; Knight et al., 1996; Dunlap, Johnson, & Maher, 1997; Morgan & Joe, 1997). While these studies challenged conventional research on women who use illegal drugs, none examines the experience of Canadian women and the impact of Canadian drug laws on mothers who use illegal drugs. …

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