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Lipstick, lace, and longing : constructions of femininity inside a Russian prison

Moran, D. and Pallot, J. and Piacentini, L.F. (2009) Lipstick, lace, and longing : constructions of femininity inside a Russian prison. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 27 (4). pp. 700-720. ISSN 0263-7758

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Abstract

This paper examines the construction of femininity within Russian women's prisons. On the basis of fieldwork carried out in three women's prisons in the secure and restricted penal zone within Mordovia, Russian Federation, we present unique and original qualitative data, as well as a critical engagement with contemporary Russian press sources. Starting from the assumption that the (free) female body is a particular target of Foucauldian disciplinary power, in that gender is a discipline which produces bodies and identities and operates as an effective form of social control, we examine the ways in which this disciplinary power of gender is compounded by bodily imprisonment. Criminal women are often considered not only to have broken the law but also to have offended against their culturally specific gender role expectations, and punishment applied to women prisoners is grounded not on what women are like, but on how women 'ought' to behave in a particular cultural context, with interventions coercing or persuading women to reintegrate into a recognisably 'feminine' form.We uncover Russia's exceptional and exclusionary geography of women's imprison- ment, and rehabilitative and educational processes, including a beauty pageant, which seek to rescript criminal women toward a predetermined 'ideal' of Russian womanhood, and also explore the ways in which women seek to resist.