Situational Lesbians & the Daddy Tank: Women Prisoners Negotiating Queer Identity and Space, 1970-1980

By Jackson, Jessi Lee | Genders, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Situational Lesbians & the Daddy Tank: Women Prisoners Negotiating Queer Identity and Space, 1970-1980


Jackson, Jessi Lee, Genders


I think I hear at least every other day: "You're not normal!" You only like women because you're in prison!"

--Karen Batton, personal correspondence

[1] Prisons in the United States regulate the ways in which people in them can build a home and construct intimate, sexual, and family lives. These prisons are often geographically isolated from the cities from which they draw residents. In addition, they are segregated by assigned sex, allow only the most heavily monitored visiting, and are characterized by very limited personal privacy. These conditions combine to deny most prisoners access to their previous domestic lives. In addition, they severely limit the ability to form new romantic relationships. While this is more obviously true for heterosexual relationships, the ability of prisoners to form romantic relationships with one another has also been restricted through both explicit prohibition and intense monitoring. Through their structures and rules, prisons deny people the right to a private space that could include partnering, sex, and opportunities to raise children.

[2] Despite this targeted attack on prisoner's personal lives, incarcerated people do partner, have sex, and build families. Cheryl Dunye (2004) described her perception of women prisoners in a workshop she facilitated. "They weren't radically changing who they were because of being in prison. They were still functioning as they would in the context of family and relationships." When incarcerated women resist state attempts to deny their private lives by building sexual intimacy or family with other prisoners, the prison becomes a queer space.

[3] Women have queered the space of prisons in different ways through time. This paper explores the ways that people involved with women's prisons constructed lesbian identity and the queer space of prisons between 1970 and 1980, at a historical moment shaped by the rise of gay and lesbian liberation, second wave feminism, and prisoner's rights movements. Women in prison at this time, especially those who defied prison rules by forming romances and families behind bars, seemed poised to bring together the concerns of these various movements. However, rather than serving as an example of the commonality of liberation struggles, incarcerated women remained on the margins of feminist, gay liberationist, and anti-prison movements. Why were these women not recognized as leaders in the struggle against sexism, homophobia, racism, and punitive state control?

[4] The daily battles were certainly there. Over the course of the decade, women were often punished for their ability to queer the space of prisons. In one example, women entering a Los Angeles jail in the 1970s were thrown into a maximum-security "Daddy Tank" if they were perceived to be butch or lesbian. In other locations, "players" who defied the norms by expressing sexual desire were punished by both guards and other prisoners.

[5] Understanding how incarcerated women interacted with activists on the outside requires an engagement with both identity and space. This paper explores diverse understandings of sexual and gender identity, particularly lesbian identity, inside women's prisons. These identity constructions often rest on a false dichotomy between "real" and "situational" lesbians. They also provide the challenge of discussing multiple, conflicting, and shifting identities as they rub up against state systems' attempts to classify, order, and contain in the space of the prison. How different parties understood and negotiated queer space in the prison is then explored through an examination of the Daddy Tank. This discussion includes both the ways that women in prison negotiated the space of the Daddy Tank, as well as the L.A. lesbian-feminist community's protests against "separate and unequal" housing for perceived lesbians. As an example of how outside activists engaged with women prisoners, the story of the Daddy Tank also provides clues about the lack of broader solidarity struggles with queer women in prison. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Situational Lesbians & the Daddy Tank: Women Prisoners Negotiating Queer Identity and Space, 1970-1980
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.