September 1, 2014
Femininity in Prison: Is It Possible?
The words femininity and prison don’t really go together. After all, femininity is thought of as looking and acting like a “conventional” female. That would mean doing things like wearing pretty or attractive clothes, putting on makeup and doing hair, and even wearing jewelry and perfume. Federal prison is not really a place where such things occur.
In fact, federal prison camp garments are not what most women think of us feminine or pretty in the least. Though the television program “Orange is the New Black” makes it sound as if prison garb might somehow be “chic”, that is far from the truth.
In any federal prison, women wear identical garments – they look a lot like “scrubs” worn by nurses and physicians in hospitals and clinics, but they don’t come in those appealing colors or prints. Instead, both the top and bottom are the same colors, and everyone looks identical.
Most women cannot even feel “secretly” pretty or feminine by wearing nice underwear. Instead, they are issued what most call “granny panties” and sport bras. Their casual clothes are no better than their “formal” garments, and consist of cotton shorts or sweatpants and basic t-shirts.
So, how do women hold on to their sense of femininity when they are forced to wear clothing that is androgynous? Is it even possible to feel feminine when you also no longer have access to the fragrant soaps, shampoos, and lotions that can make you smell feminine? And how do you feel attractive when even feminine hygiene can become a struggle? (Schenwar, 2010)
The simplest answer is that women behind bars have to work on “feeling” feminine. This does not come from a package of eye makeup or a sexy skirt. Instead, it comes from making a distinction between femininity and feminism. The exterior stuff is how you might display your femininity – the makeup, hair, and pretty smells and clothes. When you are behind bars, though, you have to look at your feminism.
What does that mean? No matter what you look like, you are always a woman, and women have inner strength and beauty that could never come from a store. Women have the power to create life, to do hard work, to be anything they want! Nothing in the world can take that part of your female identity from you.
Embrace your inner goddess and take the time you are in prison to really discover what you are inside – are you someone who likes to write, read, knit, sing, cook, learn, do math? These are your feminine powers! And now is the perfect time to find them and celebrate them.
Schenwar, Maya. In Prison, Toilet Paper is the New Tampon. Ms.blog. 2010. http://msmagazine.com/blog/2010/04/12/in-prison-toilet-paper-is-the-new-tampon/