March 28, 2014
A few things have been bothering me about jail life. I found myself getting along with other prisoners but some things annoy me; namely, the copious amounts of sexism, misogyny, and homophobia on display here. I’m not in a position to confront people on these issues so I’ve resorted to writing to vent my frustration. First, on the issue of misogyny, in here it is common to hear women described as things, “bitches”, and “sluts”. It’s also common to hear guys brag about the sexual things they would do to a woman if given the opportunity. These things are often very derogatory.
This is done to demonstrate masculinity and affirm heterosexuality in a place that is overtly homophobic. Much of this behavior is, without a doubt, rooted in insecurity and an overwhelming desire to fit in with the pack. Regarding homosexuality, there seems to be an accepted consensus that being gay is bad. I’ve had a few disagreements with other inmates regarding gay marriage or any reforms that would progress gay rights. The folks I spend time with outside jail are mostly all progressive on social issues so I’m having difficulty gauging whether jail culture is objectively more misogynistic and homophobic than mainstream culture. My theory is that these behaviors are just more condensed and highlighted in here.
I also have a theory that homophobia in jail is a response to mainstream stereotypes around sexual assaults behind bars. Most people, when you tell them you’ve been to jail, will wonder – if not ask directly – whether you’ve encountered rape and violence during your incarceration. It appears that the homophobia here might be a way to discourage and neutralize sexual assaults before it happens. Sexual assault within the Canadian provincial jail system is essentially nonexistent and that is mainly because inmate culture has zero tolerance for it. Perhaps this intense homophobia is a crude reaction to the fear of sexual assault. Asserting one’s masculinity through sexism might be another reaction to such a fear. That wouldn’t make these behaviors justifiable but it would help explain them.
What is most peculiar is the existence of anti-authoritarian ideas and anti-gay/anti-woman ideas among inmates. I’m opposed to all oppressive systems that are designed to empower one group of people over another. This goes for economic as well as social systems. These are ideas I’ve spent quite a bit of time refining and thinking about. I’m just not on the same page as my fellow prisoners on these matters. Unfortunately, I’m not in a great position to agitate for change in here. All I can do thus far is disassociate myself from the situations that make me uncomfortable.
Written by Joel Bitar, an American activist serving a 20-month sentence in Canada for charges stemming from the 2010 Toronto G20 protests.