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The Progressive Smoke Bomb
Laws that allow males into women’s prisons are cruel, dangerous, and regressive.
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“Feminists have long pointed out that right and left have developed their own, differing routes to exploiting women. To suggest feminists who call out left wing bullshit are therefore in support of right wing bullshit is to vastly underestimate how much bullshit there is.”
—Victoria Smith, Twitter 8/6/2022
In February of 2022, I wrote and recorded a song about Tomiekia, an incarcerated plaintiff in a lawsuit against the Department of Corrections in California. A recent California law allows any male, including those who have not had surgery or taken hormones, to be locked up with women in state prisons. In February, I submitted a written declaration and testified publicly to oppose yet another “progressive” bill in Washington state aiming to establish mixed-sex prisons. Since writing my song and testifying, more rapes and assaults have been reported not only in California and Washington, but in prisons throughout the world where these policies have been adopted.
I continue to correspond regularly with Tomiekia in the Central California Women’s Facility, and the situation for her and other women has only gotten worse. Recently, she and others were held in solitary confinement (supposedly for their safety) after making a complaint about a trans-identified male’s harassing behavior in her living space. She also passed on a report about a recent drugging and rape that happened to a fellow inmate by another trans-identified male.
Laws that allow males into women’s prisons are anti-progressive and anti-women. Like women in rape crisis centers, women in prison need single-sex spaces. If you self-identify as a progressive or a liberal, this is an issue you should care about deeply, because women—right now—are being hurt. This should not be flattened into a one-dimensional Right versus Left debate. These draconian laws are cruel to one of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups in our society: incarcerated women.
Before Queer Theory infiltrated schools, girls everywhere were taught a harsh truth fundamental to female survival: while many men are wonderful, some of them are very dangerous to girls and women. Men are likely to be bigger than you, stronger than you, and more aggressive than you. Unfortunately, you can’t always know in advance which are the dangerous ones. You need to be personally careful about which men you trust. As a society, we need basic “safety first” rules and laws to protect women and girls, such as: women should not be imprisoned alongside men.
The most dire predictions of those opposed to so-called “self-ID” laws have in recent years become the lived nightmares for incarcerated women wherever they have been implemented. In the US. In the UK. In Europe. In Australia. In Canada. Rape, sexual assault, and an atmosphere of fear are now standard-fare psychological torture for incarcerated women.
These laws and policies allow any man who simply “identifies” as a woman (or even: “not a man”) to be treated as a woman in every regard. Prison officials and everyone else must mis-sex and cater to his declaration rather than follow commonsense knowledge about human nature and biological reality. He may request transfer to leave the men’s estate and be housed with incarcerated women simply because he wishes to be. These laws open the door to sexual predators who assume a trans identity to exploit any weakness in the system, and there is ample evidence this is happening.
Concerns about safeguarding are frequently dismissed by Third Wave feminists and other political “progressives” as overblown and “outdated.” “This never happens!” they say, while mulishly denying the evidence. Or, more frequently, they’ll deflect by pointing out other serious issues with the criminal justice system more generally: “There are so many people in prison who should not be!” “The whole system is rotten and needs to be abolished!”
For those of us fighting to keep men out of women’s prisons, the truism that it’s a bad system in need of overhaul can feel compelling. We resonate with it. We also would like to dismantle corrupt and harmful systems of oppression. We agree that current prison policies and practices hurt both men and women. We also agree that many people who are in prison probably should not be there. For those of us who are or have been on the Left, this rhetorical move acts like a smoke bomb hurled into our faces. For good measure and extra smoke, accusations of “Right-wing” motives and bigotry are added to the mix. This can cloud our thinking, sting our eyes, and throw off our balance. When we plead for commonsense safeguarding practices concerning women’s spaces, this smoke bomb is hurled to destroy us, to shame us, and especially to shut us up.
But we must not let activists’ false sense of righteousness cause us to ignore the serious real-world harms being caused by their reality-denying ideologies. We must see clearly through the smoke.
“The whole prison system is rotten to the core!” Yes, many people throughout the world have been rightly calling for prison reform for decades. But no reform or improvement of any damaging system happens overnight. As others have argued, it is both unwise and unrealistic to “abolish” prisons.
Is there a problem of violence against vulnerable males housed in male prisons? Of course. However, that problem cannot be solved by creating an emotionally toxic and physically violent environment for marginalized incarcerated women. Even if these men are exceptionally vulnerable, why do the needs of a few vulnerable men need to come at the cost of the safety of every incarcerated woman? Such policies do nothing but make a bad system exponentially worse.
Real progressives work where the rubber hits the road: fighting laws and policies that are bad for women and proposing and promoting better laws and policies. We don’t have some special dynamite to blow up a corrupt system in one fell swoop, so we must keep our focus on making things better in the here and now by working within an imperfect legal system.
Real change is usually incremental and arduous. We see through your smoke bomb. Dreaming is cheap—we must work with reality as it is.
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