October 26, 2012

Heilbrun, Heteroglossia and Prison/Guard Studies

The thing I first thought of when viewing this piece is Heilbrun's "Writing a Woman's Life". It is interesting to see how far women have come since that piece has been published. In that piece, Heilbrun talks of women's inability to write honest autobiographies due to fear of misrepresenting what a woman should be in society. Now, there are webtexts of women's interviews, detailing the most private and brutal of experiences, through our prison system. I think Heilbrun would be really proud of the women's voice in this piece, and the way it is using its voice to try to make a change. It could be argued that the only reason the women in this piece are willing to give out these private interviews are because they are prisoners, with nothing to lose, in a desperate place. But all the same, their voice is overpowering in this project, inciting sympathy, sadness, and a desire for listeners to reach out and help them. Ironically, the "shrillness" Heilbrun discussed in her piece is still very much present in this piece-- but how could abused prison women not be shrill? While their "Shrill" voice may be emotional and desperate, the whole point of the piece is to point out that the reason for this voice is because the state of California has created a monster of a prison system.

Like many others have posted about, I saw a lot of heteroglossia in this webtext. Daniel's shows the "plurality of voices" heteroglossia is defined by, through interviews and visual quotes. The interviews show heteroglossia because they often show two different views of a situation, and because the way the blog is set up and framed, you are more inclined to believe the women prisoner's depictions. The only thing that freaks me out is that, in the introduction, it states that Daniel is a member of an organization that seeks to abolish prisons. As sad and horrific the conditions of the prisons seem from these interviews, I can't help but be really happy that Daniel's goal has not been achieved through this project. There still needs to be prisons, they just need to be reformed.

Another thing I thought of is the prison study I learned about in psychology, where subjects were divided into "prisoners" or "guards", and after less than 72 hours they had to end the study due to the "guards" taking their roles to seriously and dominating the prisoners, beating them and screaming obscenities. I find it interesting because I think that this also happens in real prisons, and this webtext is proof of that. Perhaps part of the problem is giving the guards too much control over a person. Maybe a solution is to better train the people working in the prison systems to make it so they have a better understanding of their role as a guard, to keep things under control, and don't abuse prisoners. Again, I don't think abolishing prisons should be an option, but I also don't think that people deserve to live in these less-than-humane conditions. 


Nicola Wood said...

I think you make a great connection between Heilbrun's piece and the Webtext, and totally agree that, while this may not be the ideal situation for a woman to have her voice heard, it is certainly a step up from the times when women barely had a voice at all.

I also think that heteroglossia is definitely in play in this work, as there are many voices with many different messages within one piece of work. I think heteroglossia is much more apparent here than in any other piece we have looked at so far this semester, and I think it is a definite necessity to get Daniel's point across, and create a certain amount of credibility and interest for the reader.

Jenny said...

I understand that they can be very "shrill", but the women have stories to tell and the reasons that they want to share the stories is to create discourse between two communities. The women's depictions of their stories allow for the reader to make a connection and become emotional about the issues at hand. And I agree, I do not think that prisons should be abolished completely. I do think that the way that they are handled in the prison should be adjusted. Is this something that can ever be fixed? Or is there anyway that we can contribute to this discourse?

Huong Le said...

"Heilbrun talks of women's inability to write honest autobiographies due to fear of misrepresenting what a woman should be in society."

I'm not sure that this isn't still true. I want to believe that women can write a free and honest autobiography, but when I look at the stories of these women I still see them being stereotyped as typical women. I can't find where I saw it, but there was a quote somewhere that talks about broken families and children without their mothers. Like I feel like even in jail that is all these women are delegated to be: a supporting character in someone else's story. Many of them talk about how they want to go home, be with their families, be with their children, work so that they can support their children. I don't know, there were probably women that did have personal goals, but I felt like the overall image that was represented stereotyped women as matriarchs and nothing else.

Shawn Binder said...

I agree completely with the idea that heteroglossia was extremely prevalent in the webtext. The idea that their was a vast variety of "voices" in this piece lent itself heavily to the Ethos of the piece. The fact that there was a lot of voices in the piece and the multitude of forms in which the cases were presented gave more credibility to the text.

Karlyn Mckell said...

Huong Le, I agree. I am not completely convinced that this isn't still true. Women still have a ways to go with achieving honest voice.

The quote you have pulled from the text, about 'children's without their mothers', is very interesting, because it does make the woman seem, as you said, as a supporting character in someone else's story. But I think that this is not necessarily only because they are women, but because they are prisoners. Male prisoners hear the same thing, "a young boy having to be the bread winner because his dad is locked up". I think prisoners in general are "supporting character's in someone else's story" because they generally don't get to have their own story. They are ignored by the general population-- we simply don't deal with them, except to criticize them for committing crimes and then abandoning their families.

In the novel White Oleander, a mom kills her boyfriend and then goes to prison and her daughter is sent to different foster cares where she is abused, physically and emotionally. The mother is framed throughout the whole novel as a sociopath who deserved to be locked up and ruined her daughter's childhood as a result. Society doesn't feel bad for prisoners, society feels bad for everyone in the free world who these prisoners have affected by their actions. This webtext offered the other perspective, and I found it really interesting to read.

Kathrynn Ward said...

I am not sure if it is the prison system alone that has made them shrill.. I think these women could have been shrill to begin with. I think some of their crimes may have been a high pitch cry for help. Like a child, they do wrong things to get attention without realizing they are acquiring the wrong kid of attention. They really want love and affection, but they get punishment instead because of their actions. This may be a brutal way of saying things,and as I type it, I'm not sure how I feel about it, but I just thought I'd put it out there.

Karlyn Mckell said...

In Heilbrun's article, she says all women are seen by society as "shrill". I was saying that pretty much all the women interviewed for this piece come across as highly emotional because they are discussing their physical and emotional abuse in the prison system-- a highly emotional topic. I think it is too much of a generalization to say that their crimes are cries for help due to their preexisting shrillness. Undoubtedly some are, but I don't necessarily think it's fair to generalize that most women are in prison because of that.

Your post almost solidifies what Heilbrun is saying by society's view of women as shrill. After all, we automatically assume that women are in prison because they committed crimes because of "cries for help" and "attention". But would the same be said of male prisoners? Probably not. They probably committed crimes because they are "agressive" "violent" "drunkards". In reality there are a million different reasons why both men and women commit crimes to end up in prison. But some, and arguably most, of society will still believe women are there due to their "shrillness" and "emotional outbursts", that cause them to act out.

rachel rivera said...

I remember learning about that study in psychology; it's interesting to see how people take advantage of power. When reading her introduction, it was interesting to see how people were being treated as they entered/exited and how the prisoners were subject to intensive searches.

I didn't know about her position to get rid of prisons though. I think that provides another type of bias - we're given this completely skewed/one-sided view of the ineffectiveness and cruelties of prison and we're inclined to believe her. I feel like this might give the use of heteroglossia a more effective use on her part. We're given so many different voices advocating her point of view that we're inclined to believe whatever she says because it seems like she has so much proof to back it up.

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