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Home arrow Psychology arrow Masculinities and the Adult Male Prison Experience

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Summary

Vulnerabilities and masculinities are two subjects that are rarely engaged with in academic and policy discourse, particularly not together. Yet physical and mental vulnerabilities are often the result of sustained immersion in a hypermasculine setting such as the prison, and can themselves have implications for the masculinities of the individual and others who situate their genders relative to him. This chapter brings a new dimension to discourse regarding male vulnerabilities. Although recognition has been made of the associations between masculine identities and vulnerabilities with regard to how individuals behave for distinct audiences with the available gendered resources (see Kimmel 1994; Wolf-Light 1994), and although the physical and mental vulnerabilities associated within processes of imprisonment are also regularly considered, rarely are these two notions drawn together. This chapter has shown how vulnerability in prison is intrinsically linked to masculine identity—rather than simply seeing vulnerability in terms of physical or mental harms, potential harms to gendered identity are seen to result from imprisonment due, in part, to a lack of control or certainty over the self (see also Ricciardelli et al. 2015 for synergy with the Canadian experience). Although this could have been anticipated with regard to those individuals who become labelled as weak and vulnerable through their location on the wing for vulnerable prisoners, this chapter has actually shown that vulnerabilities in men are much more extensively experienced.

The vulnerabilities experienced tend to manifest into three spheres— the outside world, the internal world of the prison, and the internalised world of the self and personal identity. In addition, vulnerabilities shape and are shaped by the three realms of the past, present, and future, generally centred around notions of disempowerment and a lack of control over some sphere or time of one’s life. Other men have substantial impacts upon an individual man’s vulnerabilities, with many having to hide their vulnerabilities from others in order to disguise weaknesses and appear emotionally tough to gain masculine credentials (Kimmel 1994), often simply reformulating their vulnerabilities into communications that are viewed in a more masculine fashion, such as violence and harm to others.

Vulnerabilities and masculinities are inherently linked, shaping the ways men feel that they can or should be men, be that through the processes of putting on a front to try to hide one’s vulnerable self, through the performance of emotionally tough personas, through distancing oneself from negative labels of weakness, or through limiting the degree of trust or friendship shown towards others in the reduction and management of risks to masculine identity.

 
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