Aren’t You Scared of Us? Expressions of Healthy Masculinity in Men’s Prisons

This manuscript is available for download here


After hegemonic masculinity theory became the dominant paradigm for studying masculinities in the social sciences in the 1990s, it was swiftly applied to criminological research. In the decades since, studies of prison masculinities have emphasized the role of prison as an incubator of hypermasculinity. Incarcerated men are subsequently implicated as the unwilling victims of the spatial and social restrictions that characterize prisons as “total institutions” (Goffman 1961). Operating under this premise, research on prison masculinities have documented a culture driven by hypermasculine ideals, particularly the use of violence to obtain status among inmates. While these perspectives have been illuminating, I argue that the overemphasis on hypermasculinity in the prison context has dehumanized incarcerated men by failing to recognize the ways they resist the “prison code” and create positive meaning for themselves as men. In an effort to diversify the literature on incarcerated men, this paper outlines some of the alternate ways that inmates engage in identity-forming practices outside of the conventional masculine scripts. I draws upon three different aspects of prison life—personal health and fitness, educational programming, and wellness programming—to challenge to the one-dimensional view of prison masculinity that has dominated the literature.



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Ruth Fuller

Ruth Fuller

Ruth Fuller ’20 is a Sociology major with a minor in Women’s and Gender Studies. She has a broad array of academic interests including criminal justice reform, historical and contemporary feminist movements, and the sociology and politics of gender in everyday life. She believes that humanizing incarcerated individuals is an essential component of ending mass incarceration. Ruth is exploring careers in social work and community organizing. She would also like to be a librarian one day. In her free time Ruth enjoys learning the definitions of new words, listening to NPR, and conversing with strangers.