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Corporeal Masculinities

Men’s prisons have a very distinctive smell. The number of male bodies, doing male things, presenting male identities—corporeal masculinities— results in a very unique scent. The concept of gendered identity being an action, a presentation, a ‘process’ (Jenkins 2008), is particularly useful when placing the prison individual into an academic framework which argues that masculinity is also a selection of actions and processes undertaken for the benefit of both the self and others who are watching. What should be recognised from the start, however, is that this process of watching and being watched—the notion of gaze and spectacle—is highly gendered in itself. In modern Western culture, women are posited in the realm of the watched, the spectacle, the observed—men are the watchers, the spectators, the powerful gaze (see Cohan 1993; Neale 1993; Healey 1994; Boscagli 1996; White 2007: 33). Those who watch have power over the watched—the power to judge, the power to assign cultural importance through recognition, the power to grant masculinity (Kimmel 1994). With this in mind, the performance of identity is gendered before the action even begins, and the audience can be vital in shaping the process.

© The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2016 43

J.A. Sloan, Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience,

DOI 10.1057/978-1-137-39915-1_3

Identity is ‘rooted in language’, which includes ‘acts, gestures, enactments’ (Butler 1990: 173) but also dress, corporeal control, and even habits. This book is concerned with the male prison experience, and many participants spoke about issues and concepts that were central to their identities and the criminal and prison contexts of their lives. Although the subject of the prisoner identity has been considered for many years by those seen as the ‘founding fathers’ of prison studies (Clemmer, Sykes, Goffman, Irwin and Cressey, etc.), it is only a relatively recent development for such studies to give direct attention to male gendered dimensions. This book aims, in part, to see (a) how men manage their identities in an arena that arguably objectifies them, and (b) whether and how the hegemonic masculinity expectations set by the hypermasculine prison environment—and thus imposing a masculine gaze upon their states of self—makes men look at themselves as men.

The concept of the masculine corporeal identity of the participant in this research context relates to their personal selves: their prisoner and non-prisoner identities and how they used their bodies and ‘performed’ these as gendered individuals (as Butler [1990] and West and Zimmerman [1987] would describe it). In addition, aspects relating to who they were as criminals/prisoners and who they were on the outside (in addition to those factors that transcended both situations) were of interest. For example, many participants spoke in terms of how they performed their masculine identities (or how they felt that they did not) through the development of a performed front (see Crewe 2009, who also discusses the concept of ‘fronting’ and the use of ‘masks’ within prison). Managed identities were displayed through the body (with masculine behaviours), by the body (in terms of stature and poise), and on the body (through physical size and build, hairstyles, clothing, and so on). This chapter focuses closely on how men see themselves as men, how they see others, and how they think they may be seen through their bodies.

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