THE BLOG
05/15/2006 10:39 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

[Prison] Rape

Yesterday I was listening to the radio, when "This American Life" came on. This edition was called "Lockup." It was about prison. The third act was called, "Who's your Daddy?" It was a reading from ex-con Stephen Donaldson's pamphlet telling new convicts how to survive in prison by protective sexual pairing. The description of this segment on This American Life's website is:

"Who's Your Daddy? A reading of a pamphlet written by ex-con Stephen Donaldson for heterosexual men who are about to enter prison, about how to 'hook up' with a stronger man -- a 'daddy' or 'jocker' -- who'll provide protection in return for sex. He explains the rules and mores that govern this part of American prison culture. There's no graphic language and there are no graphic images in this story, but it does acknowledge the existence of sexual acts. Read by Larry DiStasi. (6 minutes)"

It was a matter-of-fact, step-by-step instruction booklet on how to shop for a strong man, and how to manage the relationship with him. I strongly recommend this to all readers. Go to the website (above), then click on "Complete Archive" on the left margin. Then click on 2006. Then select the May 5 edition "Lockup." Go to Act Three, which is about 32 minutes in. It only takes six minutes.

There is a very vigorous discussion of this piece at Metafilter. I also recommend this.

One comment: "memo to myself: don't go to prison"

Another comment: "Disturbing article. I'm not into constantly losing fights only to get raped at the end. And no way would I catch for someone. I would either become a jocker, or stay in solitary. Unbelievable -- what a different world."

More: "Oh. My. God. It's one thing to joke about 'Federal Pound-Me-In-The-Ass Prison,' but this article's matter-of-fact presentation exposes the horror. Can't prison authorities do something about this? Like maybe investigate and prosecute all rapes?"

And this: "Wow. The section at the end on Adaptation was really interesting. It must be compleley world-altering to start out a jail-sentence straight and then slowly have your identity punk'd. Reading stuff like this reminds me of the kind of horrific practices that happened in previous centuries of human history and in animal tribes. Not much has changed, in some ways."

Finally: (This one caused some to get angry) "Ah yes, there's nothing to get red-blooded men fired up about rape than a good ol' drop-the-soap-story. By the way, it happens to a woman about once every 2 minutes, according to the DOJ."

When I heard this on the radio yesterday, I said to myself, "This is it. This is the piece we can use to start discussions that get to the root of how difference is constructed as hierarchy... which is what women's oppression is, what gender is as a system of oppressive social power... and when there is no "difference," difference is constructed (you get to be the "wife," the punk) to construct heirarchy. This is where we can show men what it is like to be women... how rape as a constant reality (one more regulated than really prohibited) in the background serves to push all women into the perennial sexual-contract: protection in exchange for obedience."

I note in the metafilter discussion how the men try to find anything to make this different than what happens to women... women are not locked up by the state... rape doesn't generally happen "in the ass"... and on and on and on. The avoidance is visceral, desperate. I can't be a "catcher"! We have to stop PRISON rape... oh yeah, and all other rape, too. [as an afterthought]

This is a perfect metaphor for women's condition, and for the so-called instant of "consent," because it is NOT metaphorical... it is real, and it is happening to men, and THAT makes it an urgent issue all of a sudden.

How do we now parlay that outrage into an understanding that this is what feminism is about... the same urgency to end the system of sexual subjugation of all women. I'm not talking about simply equal pay, but about the subjugation of women AS women by men AS men. That is why rape and battering and the renting of Indian women's wombs as surrogate mothers and international sex-trafficking and the explosion of misogynistic internet pornography are important issues. They don't happen to women because women are the same as men. They happen to women because they are women.

And if we want to get to the root of homophobia, then we have to understand that the behavioral expectations that underwrite it are based fundamentally on women's subordination. The policing of what Adrienne Rich called "compulsory heterosexuality" is the enforcement of a sexual binary that is defined by domination and subordination.

What does it tell us that men's most terrified reaction to the idea of prison is the fear that women experience all the time? What does it tell us that the worst punishment is to be made like a woman?