Tattoos and Gender
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The “feminine” tattoos can be divided to two main groups of exaggerated traits: in one group the woman depicted in the tattoo symbolizes extremely negative traits of betrayal, disloyalty, revenge and disappointment. Every trait of feminine behavior (obedience, weakness, asking for help, expressing emotions, etc.) may undermine the criminal’s masculinity and threaten his position in the hierarchy and so men must exhibit their masculine superiority over the feminine and its associated emotions at all times. In the other, less common, group, the female figure represents positive lucky traits. Russian prisoner women also preserve the value system of the criminal subculture, which attributes great value to loyalty, suffering and endurance. While female prisoner’ tattoos are characterized by images of animals and flowers, some are similar to male tattoos and others are unique to women. They reflect the struggle between the correctional system’s attempts at “refeminisation” and forcing women to adopt their traditional gender roles and their symbolic representations, and the women’s attempt to shed representations and adopt those of male criminals.