Gender, Sexuality, and Intimacy in a Women’s Penal Colony in Russia
This article explores sexuality and intimacy in a women’s penal colony in Russia. Russian researchers rarely focus on the Russian prison system as a whole, or on women’s experiences in colonies, female identities, and punishment practices in particular. These topics therefore remain marginalized, out of the spotlight of critical public debate and sociological research. The present article contributes to the current debate on the meaning and consequences of close relations in women’s colonies, varying in context from friendship and love to exploitation under the tough control of the gender regime from both the prison administration and the informal system of power typical of a prison hierarchy. The female body becomes an additional mechanism of supporting the repressive nature of a penal colony, strengthening patriarchal traditions, and maintaining a high level of homophobia in Russian society as a whole. Based on the analysis of 33 in-depth interviews including biographical elements with women between 18 and 55 years old convicted for various crimes, I argue that the gender regime in correctional facilities for women becomes an additional mechanism aimed at strengthening discipline, control, and the patriarchy in a patriarchal society. Whilst the regime is not prescribed by law, it becomes the law because of the extreme objectification of women, the female body, and the status of the female.