Home' LOTL : August 2004 Contents With dykonic status, and lesbian characters in almost
every scene, the hit UK prison drama Bad Girls is set to
become a classic of the genre. Series 7 is currently in production
in London in the new £1/2 million HMP Larkhall set, while in
Australia Channel 7 is currently screening the latter half of series
3, which was filmed onsite at the disused HMP Oxford.
The 'babes behind bars' genre tends to depict jails as either
modern torture chambers or rather strict boarding schools.
Sadistic guards, innocent but framed nice lasses, and naughty
girls who just like to cause trouble, mix freely with evil
psychopaths. In the context of prison, there is no closet to hide
one's sexuality and lesbians are stock characters.
In fact, the prison chick flick is the only genre that virtually
guarantees dyke characters. Prior to Bad Girls, Australia's classic
serial drama Prisoner gained cult status in the UK where it was
titled Prisoner: Cell Block H so as not to confuse it with the
UK's 1960s surreal spy mini-series The Prisoner. Ironically, it
was the English prison drama Within These Walls (1974--78)
that inspired the Australian Prisoner (1979--86).
During the 1970s and 1980s a large number of low
standard (yet often highly amusing) women in prison films
were produced. Big Bird Cage, Chained Heat, Scrubbers and
Reform School Girls were among the many movies that
sympathised with the prisoners, rather than the guards. This
shift in popular culture's representation of prison life coincided
with the growing visibility of the prison reform movement.
Bad Girls is typical of this genre, and Mandana Jones, who
plays lipstick lesbian lifer Nikki Wade, sees Bad Girls as
"basically about the unfairness of so many women ending up
in prison, and the predicaments and injustices of the society
that they live in". Mandana, and her co-star Simone Lahbib
(who plays Nikki Wade's lover the Lifers' Liaison Governor
Helen Stewart), quickly became the darlings of the UK dyke
scene and Simone found the experience "more like being pop
stars than actresses".
While hundreds of films have exploited the vulnerability of
women prisoners, and titillated audiences with depictions of
sexy evil women, in reality few women (compared to men) end
up in jail. In Australia, for example, women make up only 7%
of the prison population, a mere 1,495 according to the March
quarter 2004 ABS figures.
However, despite the low numbers of women in prison
they are often treated much more harshly than their male
counterparts. Debbie Kilroy, Director of the Prisoner advocacy
group Sisters Inside, likens the treatment of Australian women
prisoners to the recent abuses of Iraqi prisoners. For women,
strip searches and isolations are common practices. Sisters
Inside's perspective and values are that "people are neither
'good' nor 'bad'; human behaviour is circumstantial,
environmental, transformable and fallible".
As criminals, women face the double taboo of both
transgressing the law and transgressing the stereotype of the
nurturing feminine good girl. A female lawbreaker is
constructed as far more immoral and corr upt than the male
because she is seen to contravene her very nature.
Prison demands a shift in the boundaries of appropriate
female behaviour. To sur vive behind bars, women must become
more assertive, daring and defiant. Good Girls are too
vulnerable and defenceless to cope with the big house, but Bad
Girls are the rebels with attitude that fight back and we can look
for ward to seeing plenty more seasons of them to come.
MANDANA AND SIMONE FROM BAD GIRLS
EVELYN HARTOGH LOOKS AT LESBIAN LUST
IN THE LOCKUP.
Both Prisoner and Bad Girls are available on DVD.
Visit www.sistersinside.com.au or subscribe to their journal at
PO Box 3407 South Brisbane 4101.
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