Vulnerability to Others

On the one hand vulnerability is seen through the lens of violence and physical and sexual harms from others (or the potential of such victimisation). Such vulnerability is quite real: the Ministry of Justice reports that, in the 12 months ending June 2015, 16,895 assault incidents occurred in male establishments in England and Wales (2015: 19). The interaction between masculinity and vulnerability is generally only viewed as negative or depreciated, rather than a non-presumptive consideration of how ‘vulnerable’ men perform (both positively and negatively) their own masculinities. Edgar et al. (2003) do discuss the concept of fear of crime, concepts of safety and personal harm avoidance, and then—more specifically—the Vulnerable Prisoner Unit context of avoidance of harm from others through segregation. This is, however, very much about the fear of others, and no consideration is given to more convoluted personal vulnerabilities with respect to masculinities and male identities. Some reference to machismo and status were considered by McCorkle (1992) with reference to which individuals opted for ‘passive precaution’ or ‘aggressive precaution’ factors to avoid personal victimisation (1992: 166). It was recognised that challenges to such signifiers of (masculine) reputation tended to trigger more severe moments of victimisation, but such avoidance of these elements through passivity, whilst reducing their personal risk of victimisation, were:

generally interpreted by aggressive inmates as signs of weakness and vulnerability, those who employ them risk being assigned to a pool of victims who can easily be robbed or more generally exploited or dominated. (1992: 170)

There tends to be a presumption that the potential for aggressive precautionary measures is necessary for the avoidance of perceptions of vulnerability. Rather than being seen as different types of men, nonaggressive individuals are, arguably, seen as lesser men. Unfortunately, McCorkle does allude to the importance of certain negative behaviours in the creation of successful prison masculine identities, but does not then explain why that should be within the context of masculine behaviour, or explore further identity behaviours.

The notion of physical victimisation by others being ihe signifier of vulnerability is both restrictive and vague. Physical violence and victimisation may be one aspect that indicates an individual’s vulnerabilities within the social context, but even that is problematic. As O’Donnell and Edgar argue, ‘much victimization is mutual’ (1999: 98), and whether an individual feels vulnerable as a result will be wholly subjective. Although many prisoners who were officially classified as vulnerable were subjected to violence or threats from others who judged their masculine performances, the concepts of vulnerability I encountered extended beyond the ‘vulnerable’ inmates and was much more concerned with personal vulnerabilities, including those that others may not see in everyday interactions.

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