Expanding on “Zones of Degeneracy”

In their article “Missing and Murdered Women: Reproducing Marginality in News Discourse,” Jewani and Young talk about the way that the media represents violence against women with focus on aborignality. Their research site is the news representation by the Vancouver Sun on the murdered and missing women of the Downtown Eastside, otherwise knows as the poorest postal code in Canada.

Young and Jiwani bring in in a scholar by the name of Sherene Razack, a Salteaux woman, who introduces the idea of “zones of degeneracy” (899). “Zones of degeneracy” are places where hegemonic masculinity is reinforced. It is reinforced because these zones are places for men to visit, do their business, and leave, thereby exploiting these spaces and the women who live there. The zones only exist for the purpose of the other. Additionally, the authors mention how with the existence of zones of degeneracy there must be zones of “respectability.” The men are able to cross between both zones, transcending any stigma for existing in the zone of degeneracy.

Jiwani and Young make the argument that the DTES is a “zone of degeneracy” where men come to slum-it-up and have a good time. In regards to the DTES they say:

 “not only are areas such as the Downtown Eastside created as degenerate zones that can be frequented with impunity by men, but such zones are also designed to demarcate degrease bodies” (900).

As they argue, the zones are created to separate, isolate, and identify those that society deem unwanted.

Expanding on the idea that “zones of degeneracy” are created, I will show that by looking at Geography’s understanding of place and space we can better understand the problems around the zones.

In geography 122 we often talk about how colonizers, or people in power, often fail to consider place and space. They usually just think of an area as a space rather than a place. They think of an area as a space for resource extraction, or as a strategic destination for military. We can consider that men are looking at the DTES as a space (or zone) of degeneracy, without considering the people who live in and animate the neighbourhood. Is problematic to think of an area as space, rather than place, because you fail to acknowledge local needs and concerns. A space is only important in relation to other spaces. Similarly, a zone of  degeneracy only exists in contrast to zones of respectability. However, a place is important in of itself without needing a relationship.

Furthermore, we can better understand the media attention that is drawn to the DTES and how it only portrays an image of a crime filled neighbourhood, by considering space and place. As can been seen in the hyper representation aboriginal women as “drug filled prostitutes”, the media takes a broad stereotypical understanding of a space and applies it to all the people within the zone.

The problematically of considering zones of degeneracy as spaces is that it fails to meet the issues of the community. This can be seen by the ongoing concerns of gentrification in the DTES. In “Through a Blue Lens” Nicola talks about being literally pushed into the DTES by security guards. She was being pushed into these spaces of degeneracy. These spaces where the poor/the prostitutes/the mentality ill/the old go. Perhaps if these “zones” can be understood as a place in the city, and not where we shove the unwanted, Vancouver could address the issues that happen in the DTES.

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