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Marshall: Spending ten months undercover in a women's prison? I can think of worse.
Women's prison is a setting that stands out for how unbelievably rare its depictions are... outside of porn that is. At most, only expect a vague allusion but the instances where the lives of female inmates are featured are vanishingly rare in comparison to that of male inmates. And the only thing that most people recall about women's prison is its Fetish Fuel potential.
In short, women's prisons are hotbeds of... uh... intrigue. For instance, if there's a female detective character, she pretty much has to be sent to prison undercover, as is the law in most countries.
Still, an unfortunate effect of Most Writers Are Male is that most of them have never been to a women's prison, nor do they know how life is inside of it. It can be because men are not allowed inside, much like women in men's prisons. It may be because female offenders aren't considered as Badass as male offenders and thus less worthy of scrutiny. Or it may be because they just Did Not Do the Research.
But, let's face it, it's mostly because most of them assume women's prisons are a lesbian porn heaven. No matter what, in sharp contrast to men's prisons, women's prisons are always believed to be a Fetish Fuel station where women learn to be bisexuals thanks to this oh-so beautiful and chaste thing called lesbianism (which doesn't involve rape at all, oh no), so they can serve men's fantasies better once they get out. And of course, female guardians partake joyfully in it as well as the lucky male staff who live in this palace of pleasure! Depending on how dirty-minded the audience is, and the time slot, this may result in a sort of Chekhov's Gun scenario as the audience expects... action. In a movie or late-night cable TV show, there will be at least one Shower Scene or strip-search.
Needless to say, the above description is purely fantasy and NOT Truth in Television, except maybe for the shower scenes and the nudes searches, as can be seen in men's prisons. But the preponderance of the porn-friendly description is so deeply ingrained in pop-culture that realistic depictions of women's prison as a main setting that don't include these elements are exceptional.
In Real Life, women's prisons are populated with the same ilk as men's prisons: criminals and lawbreakers. Thus, the laws of fight for dominance also apply there, and the Alpha Bitches can be just as ruthless and violent as Alpha Dogs in men's prisons, especially to newcomers who happen to be prettier than them.
Compare Prison Rape.
- Alluded to in this commercial for Harley Quinn's animated series. The commercial is SFW but Harley promises the series itself will not be...
- In one chapter of the Excel Saga manga, Excel and Elgala are on a boat headed for an island women's prison. A guard mentions that "they will be subjected to tortures both savage and sensual!"
- The sixth story arc of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure begins with protagonist Jolyne Kujo being framed for murder and sent to prison.
- Black Lagoon alludes to this when Revy threatens Janet to "show her her stuff" if she ever tried to have sex with Rock, tellingly hinting at how she would make every other inmate her bitch back in prison.
- Sengoku Collection has an episode that is an homage to the famous Japanese women's prison film Joshuu Sasori (Female Prisoner Scorpion).
- Happens to Ms. Tree in the "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell" storyline.
- Gold Digger #82 has Gina Diggers doing time in a women's prison. The comic includes a shower scene and a fight with the head bitch, who happens to be a Shout-Out of a certain female Star Wars character.
- Adventure Comics #394 features a Silver Age story with Supergirl in an alien women's prison. The story isn't really that good; however, and the comic is best remembered for its cover with the laughter inducing tagline "Heartbreak Prison! Where Every Girl's A Lifer!"
- Catwoman #80 features said character being thrown into a women's prison. It includes catfights and a shower scene.
- O'Brien spends time in a women's prison during the Punisher arc where Frank is going after Nicky Cavella and his men for pissing on his family's remains. Being a Punisher story, O'Brien's arc is played for drama rather than titillation as she fights viciously to keep other convicts from raping her.
- Homaged in the Hack Slash story "Interdimensional Women's Prison Breakout", with obligatory Sexy Packaging.
- In the mini-series G.I. Joe: America's Elite, the Baroness was held prisoner at a "black site" for interrogation.
- The zombie movie Planet Terror has the two heroines behind bars for a scene in the third act.
- Also, :WOMEN IN CAGES!
- The whole point of the 80's flick Reform School Girls.
- Chained Heat is the classic series of movies in the late-night genre.
- Likewise, Caged Heat was another example of the genre from the 70's.
- Tank Girl. Tank Girl and Jet Girl in Water and Power's prison.
- And God Created Woman
- Roger Corman's Swamp Diamonds (as seen on Mystery Science Theater 3000). Undercover cop, check; struggle for dominance, check; Beverly Garland as a Psycho for Hire, bonus!
- Black Mama White Mama
- The Big Doll House
- Caged, a 50's film that is considered a classic example of women in prison.
- Bare Behind Bars is an especially brutal example of the genre.
- Girls in Prison, a 1994 film that is an example of the innocent woman in prison plotline.
- Under Lock and Key, a B-Movie with the classic undercover female cop plot.
- Werewolf in a Women's Prison. Nuff said.
- Joshuu Sasori (Female Prisoner Scorpion), a Japanese women's prison movie that sparked an entire series of sequels and copycats. Thing is, the prison in question is full of feuding, scheming inmates and the whole film is a deconstruction of the genre, shot through with sadistic torment and unexpected surrealism. The only person who behaves like the stereotypical sexpot prisoner is an undercover warden with zero in-story credibility.
- Gothika is a notable aversion, despite being an asylum for the criminally insane, featuring an all female prison with NO porn-like scene. The Shower Scene, for instance, features a bunch of inmates in which some are unattractive or old, like a Real Life women's prison would feature. Scenes in recreation rooms consist of those women often sobbing, staring blankly, or gabbling to themselves.
- Played with in Freeway. On one side, you have the typical lesbian inmate Rhonda (Brittany Murphy) who hits on Vanessa (Reese Witherspoon) and on the other hand, the dominant Mesquita (Alanna Ubach) who immediately provokes Vanessa to a physical fight over who's the baddest bitch, thus the one in command.
- Bound invokes this trope by depicting Butch Lesbian Corky (Gina Gershon) as a former inmate.
- Charlie's Angels sent three of them at once. Chained together in the aptly named episode "Angels in Chains."
- This series liked the women's prison plot enough to use it a second time, albeit with only one Angel actually imprisoned in "Caged Angel."
- The 2011 remake also had an episode where the Angels went to prison, titled "Angels in Chains" in homage of the original series episode. There are some notable differences; however, such as the prison being located in Cuba and the absence of a Shower Scene.
- Occurs in an episode of La Femme Nikita.
- Charmed had Piper in prison briefly.
- Subverted Trope in a Seinfeld episode where George goes on a tour of a women's prison, and is disappointed to discover it's a peaceful, minimum-security institution without a shower fight to be seen.
- The Bill has done this several times.
- Mutant X, "The Taking Of Crows"
- Bad Girls has made an entire series of this, but without the detective.
- The Prison Break Made for TV Movie revolved around breaking Sarah out of a women's prison.
- An otherwise best forgotten episode of Stargate SG-1 had Carter lampshade this trope.
Carter: Why do I feel like I'm in a women behind bars movie?
- Pacific Blue had an episode that guest starred WWF diva Sable, with one of the (female) main characters going undercover into the prison and Sable playing the head bitch. Yes, there was a shower scene, and a couple different catfight scenes.
- German TV series Hinter Gittern — der Frauenknast (English: "Behind bars — The Women's Prison")
- One episode of Xena: Warrior Princess has her sent to a women's prison island for murdering a woman who turns out to be the very-much-alive commandant of the prison. It is, however, played entirely for drama rather than sex appeal.
- On Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Olivia goes undercover at a women's prison in one episode. However, it is definitely not played for prurient amusement; in fact she's sexually assaulted by a guard and several later episodes show her dealing with the trauma.
- Lexx had an episode where Xev went to prison, complete with a shower scene.
- Lois and Clark has a two-part episode where Lois Lane is framed for murder and sent to a women's prison.
- Red Dwarf series VIII was set in the eponymous spaceship's brig. In the episode "Krytie TV", Kryten is classified as a woman because of his lack of identifying male genitalia. Although his programming does not allow him to exploit that, Killcrazy and other prisoners kidnap him, reprogram him and make him secretly film and broadcast the women prisoners showering for the viewing of the male prisoners.
- NCIS episode "Caged" plays this realistically. McGee is at a womens' prison interviewing a murder suspect when a riot breaks out over the murder of a guard—and the female inmates prove very difficult to handle, one threatening to kill him repeatedly.
- The fifth season of The L Word sees Helena incarcerated in a women's prison. Scenes include a strip search and shower.
- Not to mention sex with her cellmate, who is very butch. Trope played absolutely straight.
- Coronation Street has Fizz falsely in jail for murders committed by her husband John Stape.
- Prisoner Cell Block H was set in a women's prison.
- In the CSI episode "XX", the CSI team investigate a murder inside a women's prison.
- In My Name Is Earl, Joy frets about going to prison, because she is Genre Savvy enough to know that it's not lingerie and pillow fights. (Randy tries to convince her that it won't be so bad, because of this trope.)
- The short-lived 1987 Fox series Women In Prison featured ladies from all different walks of life: a socialite framed by her slimy ex, an angry domestic abuse survivor, a prostitute, an elderly bank robber, and a computer hacker.
- Orange is the New Black is likely the most famous work about a women's prison, as the basis for a popular Netflix-original TV series which ran for seven seasons (2013-2019). Author Piper Kerman served hard time at FCI Danbury, a minimum-security federal prison in Connecticut, before writing the memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women's Prison (2010) about her experiences.
- Lady Gaga's music video for "Telephone". Crotch shots, chains, girl on girl action, and undies galore. Seems to be another one of her attempts at Playing to The Fetishes.
- Pam Grier's song "Long Time Woman" from The Big Doll House.
- "When You're Good to Mama" from most versions of Chicago.
- Mo'Nique in her routine I Coulda Been You Cellmate, that is set in a women's institution, playfully toys with this trope about its implausibility.
- One of the storylines in the Japanese RPG SaGa Frontier opens with the main character, Emelia, having to escape from a women's prison.
- Mentioned briefly in Homestar Runner. In the Strong Bad Email rated, Strong Bad makes reference to the "triple-R rated" Women's Penitentiary Bakesale Nightmare.
- Subverted in The Japanese Beetle when Kremlina goes to jail. The "top dog" tries to make her her bitch, only to get downed in one punch — which makes Kremlina the new top dog, complete with another inmate asking very politely to be her bitch.
- Averted in Last Res0rt—There are plenty of female contestants, and yes, the show is in a prison, so while there ARE Girls Behind Bars, it's a relatively calm co-ed prison environment and the closest we get to a Shower Scene is one panel of Daisy from the shoulders up.
- Ace in Eerie Cuties remorsefully admits he liked to watch this sort of films once. It's the only case when even Maria apparently doesn't know what to say on that.
- In Sodality, Candi is constantly getting arrested, often for really petty crimes, even though there are plenty of far more serious things she could be charged with.
- Her first time was for failure to appear — for a medical exam. (It's complicated.) She spent two weeks in jail, but got regular visits from her boyfriend and her godfather. Her sisters, somehow, never found out. When Islamic terrorists take over a quarter of the country, Candi is captured and sent to a concentration camp, simply for not being Arab or Muslim. She escapes. Border patrol at Toklisana is run by corrupt agents. That take her in because they want her head. Another near-death experience. She is then mistaken for Julia Milagro. She gets out after finally convincing the zealous police force in Houston to actually check her ID. They still keep her in for as long as they can get away with. Found a joint in the grass? It must have been hers! Then there's the Earwig theft affair (which she didn't do.) And at one point, she gets taken into protective custody when a senator tries to assassinate her for identifying his secretary as being involved in a bank robbery.
- Stephanie, Dolly, Miriam, Laurie, and Celia have similar bad luck. All of them have done some time in jail throughout the series. By contrast, SCALLOP personnel have a lot of difficulty apprehending male members of the Sodality — even though many of them have done far worse things!
- Season Five takes this Up to Eleven. Nearly all the women (and five of the men) get sent to the SCALLOP prison system. Which is run by none-to-bright staff. The Kirby Act is reason for this. After a month, the ones that aren't ruled "safe" and free to let go, are put under house arrest for varying lengths. The girls that are this time around wanted for more serious offenses (four of them total) are eventually transferred to more realistic prisons. Marge spends her days pretty quietly in minimum security, and is paroled afterward. Tabby gets three years in a juvenile system for attempting to sell an Artifact of Doom to avoid the terrorists chasing her from getting their hands on it. (She's lucky she didn't get 30.) Mingmei is given death row given she's also an MSS agent. She plays the "Big Sister" role to Celia, a thief who is actually quite petite and vulnerable.
- Instead of the lesbian angle, a (slightly) Lighter and Softer fantasy that's a tad less pornographic ensues, where the girls begin to go crazy in various ways; and the Hidden Depths of more than a few of them are revealed. Candi and Dolly begin having flashbacks to all the times they were raped or almost killed in previous seasons. Letting their husbands visit them seems to alleviate these problems a little, although the state isn't too fond of SCALLOP allowing them to have sex with their husbands. Mingmei begins suffering visions of Hell, and has to seek counseling from Rev. Wilbur. She feels she deserves it for all her dirty work as a Honey Trap in the past. Stephanie...starts inventing things that freak out the guards. Emily gets lost in her science work. Hea becomes the Karaoke Queen, and Pam the Foosball Queen. Celia begins reverting mentally to her childhood. Miranda begins imagining that the treadmills have personalities of their own. Tiffany goes into a catatonic state for a time. Michelle begins knitting, etc.
- In one episode of Family Guy, Peter reveals that he accidentally recorded over his and Lois' wedding video with "softcore cable porn"; the brief clips we're shown are of a Girls Behind Bars film.
- And referenced in another episode, where Quagmire frets that what Peter is doing could land him in jail- "And not the good kind of jail, like on Cinemax! The man jail!"
- In the episode "Dial Meg for Murder," Meg goes to prison and becomes a hardened criminal.
- Averted entirely on The Simpsons where Marge goes to prison for a month, as the situation is Played for Drama and this particular trope is not even mentioned.
- The Futurama movie "Into the Wild Green Yonder" has Leela, Amy and a bunch of other female characters from the show all get sent to a women's prison.
- Tripping the Rift has a women's prison themed episode. It contains skimpy prison dresses, a shower scene, and a catfight during said shower scene.