Gender and Visibility

Prison does just about everything possible to render men invisible, and as men are highly visible beings due to the intertwined nature of masculinity and visibility, this results in prisoners often being positioned as ‘non-men’ relative to those in the outside world (as seen in terms of spatial access, the imposition of cyclical time, and other feminising sig- nifiers noted throughout this book). Thus, men have to make greater efforts to overcome invisibility within the prison, which is why violence and dominance can often occur: these make the individual highly visible and appear hypermasculine, even though they are not necessarily socially acceptable behaviours. Reputation equates to visibility (which is why men can achieve masculine status through crime even if they are not visible in the sense of having been caught, such as Jack the Ripper). The key is that men are visible to someone: to a specific audience that matters to him. Domestic violence perpetrators achieve masculinity by performing their dominating and violent behaviours to the audience of their own selves; drug dealers and murderers achieve masculine visibility to the audience that knows them by reputation, and so on.

Being visible to the audience that matters to the individual affects how they behave and how they see themselves as men in terms of hegemonic masculinity. We know that hegemonic masculinity is socially and culturally dependent: it changes with different audiences in time and space, which is why masculinity is such a fluid concept. There is a difference, however, in being visible and being a spectacle: women are spectacles, watched for the benefit of men; men must achieve visibility, but not be feminised in the process (see also Cohan 1993). Sex offenders tend to be seen as spectacles: they have misused their masculinities and become sexual beings (the perceived realm of women), and so are not visible in the masculine sense. In addition, when the audience that matters the most is internalised (as it often is with men who commit sexual offences, with this crime not being granted masculinity by the majority of other men), this can cause problems as men cannot easily grant any masculinity to themselves that other men will automatically recognise. As noted earlier, the outcomes of performances from the audience and the self must align to result in meaningful masculine status. The granting of masculinity that will be seen as currency within groups of other men must come from beyond the individual.

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