ARTICLE
How to Feel Like a Woman, or Why Punishment Is a Drag
Mary Anne Franks* 
61 UCLA L. Rev. 566

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Abstract

If a man in prison says that he was made “to feel like a woman,” this is commonly understood to mean that he was degraded, dehumanized, and sexualized. This association of femininity with punishment has significant implications for the way our society understands not only the sexual abuse of men in prison but also sexual abuse generally. These important implications are usually overlooked, however, because law and society typically regard prison feminization as a problem of gender transposition: that is, as a problem of men being treated like women. In contrast, this Article argues that feminization is punitive for both men and women. It is as unnatural and wrong for women to be degraded, dehumanized, and sexualized under coercive circumstances as it is for men to be. This Article suggests that examining the sexual abuse of men in prisons can help disrupt the persistent and uncritical linking of feminization and women. By reading the sexualized abuse of men in prison as a form of forced feminized performance—a coerced drag—this Article hopes to expose the artificiality and violence of compelled feminization. The proper approach to assessing forced feminization is to focus on its oppressive structure, not on the gender of its victims. When we do so, we can see what all victims along the spectrum of sexual and domestic abuse have in common, and we can form social and legal responses accordingly. The phenomenon of male sexual abuse in prison thus provides a potentially illuminating opportunity to think about the structure and consequences of sexual abuse in general. This is significant not least because social and legal responses to sexual abuse outside of the prison setting—where sexual abuse is generally perpetrated by men against women—are constrained by pernicious gender stereotypes and a massive failure of empathy. Understanding the phenomenon of male prison sexual abuse is thus essential not only for addressing a specific problem in carceral institutions, but also for forcing law and society to consider sexual abuse in a productively counterintuitive way.


* Mary Anne Franks is an Associate Professor at the University of Miami School of Law.

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