Kateřina Nedbálková

Gender of prison / the prison of gender

Based of my research and volunteer experience in Czech prisons (focusing especially on women in prisons) I would like to address the prison as a strongly gendered organization.

Prisons seek not only segregate the labeled evil from the law abiding, among other goals prisons are also supposed to resocialize and redeem inmates. These goals are often met in stereotypically gendered ways: men are resocialized to succeed in public sphere as workers on a labor market (and therefore trained in various workmanlike professions), whereas women are trained to succeed in private sphere as wives, mothers and housekeepers (and therefore trained in domestic chores).

The prison together with the people also imprisons their pleasures and desires. With gender being the opiate of masses outside of the prison, gender also becomes the only available drug in the prison. The lack of work opportunities is in prison replaced by constant work on relationships. Such work does not require any special material or equipment, everything necessary is available also in the prison context and the specific nature of this environment as if supported full-time preoccupation with relationships.

The butch/femme gendered roles enacted in homosexual partnerships in prisons can be perceived as both reproduction of heteronormativity and also its subversion. Through their relationships women in prison accept and reproduce not only the legitimacy of heterosexuality but also the normativity of the definition of deviance. Their value structure is in this case the same as that of the majority’s vision that prefers and idealizes the model of the heterosexual relationship or family. There is, however, a difference in cultural practices through which the model is in both different contexts created since in the case of the total institution of prison they must be altered and formed in a specific way.

The complementarity of masculinity and femininity of the traditional partnerships and families can be also perceived as imported to the conceptualizations of prisoner’s subcultures by researchers for which gender also works as the opiate nurturing their theories.