Marshall: Spending ten months undercover in a women's prison? I can think of worse.
Mary: You do know it's not all lingerie and pillow fights?
Marshall: But it is sometimes, right?Women's prison is a setting that stands out for how scarce 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 those of male inmates. And the only thing that most people recall about women's prison is its fetish 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 violent, dangerous or despicable as male offenders and thus less worthy of scrutiny - never mind that being in a prison means they are ostensibly guilty of one or more crimes in the first place. It almost certainly involves a (possibly subconscious) downplaying of violence between females inmates, as acknowledging that would mean treating the loss of female life in the same way as loss of male life. It may even be because in most places, there are a lot more male prisoners than female. Or it may be because they just didn't bother with 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 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 lesbian fantasies better. And of course, female guardians partake joyfully in it as well as the lucky male staff who live in this palace of pleasure! It also goes without saying that the women are beautifully feminine except perhaps for a few tough dominant ones who run the prison and initiate newcomers into the homosexual prison environment. 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. Female prisons are dangerous, disgusting hellholes - this is what makes them prisons and not, say, resorts. 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: violent and dangerous criminals and lawbreakers. And no, just because they're vagina-havers doesn't mean they are more peaceful and gentle than penis-havers. The daily fight for dominance also applies there, catfights tend to involve the use of shivs and the Alpha Bitches are just as ruthless and physically violent as Alpha Dogs in men's prisons, especially to newcomers who happen to be prettier than them. Remember: in an all-female setting, good looks are a hindrance, not an asset. Also, just like in men's prisons, sexual violence, at the hands of corrections staff as well as fellow prisoners, is a very real and constant threat. A case of Situational Sexuality taken Up to Eleven to pander to the audience. Might be used as an Excuse Plot for a Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss. May contain offensive tropes like Double Standard: Rape, Female on Female. Compare Prison Rape and Wondrous Ladies Room (another trope whose fallaciously ideal depiction of women is due to Most Writers Are Male). See also: Chained Heat, Forced Prize Fight.
open/close all folders
Anime and Manga
- 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!"
- Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Stone Ocean 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).
- Cross Ange makes heavy use of the fetish potential, with an all-female population on a military prison island. Besides the typical hijinks in the locker rooms and showers/baths, the squadron commander has herself a small harem and attempts to force Ange to join.
- Happens to Ms. Tree in the "Prisoner in Cell Block Hell" storyline. Despite the general realism of the series, this arc does include the obligatory shower scene and a fight with the Alpha Bitch of the cell block.
- 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 MAX arc where Frank is going after Nicky Cavella and his men for pissing on his family's remains. Being a Punisher MAX story, O'Brien's arc is played for drama rather than titillation as she fights viciously to keep the other convicts from raping her.
- Homaged in the Hack/Slash story "Interdimensional Women's Prison Breakout", with obligatory◊ Sexy Packaging.
- The "Lockdown" arc (#76-81) of Grimm Fairy Tales features Sela in a women's prison. Plenty of the standard tropes apply, including a Shower Scene, a fight with the Butch Lesbian, etc.
- Bitch Planet is all about this, set in a Penal Colony on a prison planet for Non-Compliant women.
- The Parody Fic Voyager Chicks Behind Forcefields is this trope Recycled In SPACE using the intrepid crew of Star Trek: Voyager.
- A.A. Pessimal's Discworld tale Murder most Horrible introduces the womens' wing of Ankh-Morpork's Tanty Prison. It has a suspicious amount in common with Prisoner Cell Block H.
- In Kitsune no Ken: Fist of the Fox, the Shimo City Women's Prison averts the trope's standard depiction. When Yugito and the kids go there to visit the temporarily-incarcerated Fuu, the warden informs them that the inmates include husband-killers, boyfriend-beaters, child abusers, thieves, white-collar crooks, and perverts, "and not in the way late-night soft-core TV would lead you to think."
Warden: I have two teenage boys and a cable subscription at home. I've seen what they watch. And what I see here on a weekly basis is nothing like what porn claims.
- 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 spend some time incarcerated in Water and Power's coed prison.
- The 1980s In-Name-Only remake of And God Created Woman features this as its setting.
- 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!
- The first part of the Pam Grier movie Black Mama, White Mama takes place in a woman's prison. As is to be expected from an Exploitation Film the situation is played for Fanservice in almost every conceivable way.
- The Big Doll House
- Ladies They Talk About is an early example from The Pre-Code Era.
- Caged, a 50's film that is considered a classic example of women in prison. It's something of an Unbuilt Trope, as the story is more of a film noir - showing how the innocent Marie Allen is slowly corrupted by the system and becomes just as cold and ruthless as her fellow prisoners. It's pretty much a gender flipped version of any male prison story, without the fetish elements of a usual Girls Behind Bars story.
- 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 a 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 (1996) invokes this trope by depicting Butch Lesbian Corky (Gina Gershon) as a former inmate.
- Parodied in the Strangers with Candy film. The opening Shower Scene features women who, well... look like the women you'd actually see in a women's prison.
- The filmography of Andreas Bethmann consists almost entirely of incredibly extreme entries in this genre.
- Averted in Jackie Brown, with a realistic view of women's prison.
- There was a whole genre of Exploitation Films based on this Trope, the American ones mentioned above; foreign films with this subject like Women's Prison Massacre (1985), Caged Women (1984), and Jail — A Women's Hell (2006) from Italy and Bamboo House of Dolls (1973) and Great Escape from a Women's Prison (1988) from Hong Kong all had far more graphic sex and violence than those produced in the U.S. The 1992 Hong Kong movie Comfort Women was based on true events of World War II.
- Not the case in Madea Goes To Jail, to Big Sal's (initial) chagrin and Madea's relief regarding Tee Tee.
- In Diary of a Lost Girl Thymian is in a reformatory for "wayward women", so technically not a prison, but the girls are being held prisoner there, so basically it is. And like this trope usually plays out, there's all kinds of lesbianism, including an evil Depraved Homosexual headmistress, another inmate who plays Footsie Under the Table with Thymian, and other inmates who simply crawl into bunks together in the communal barracks. The most surprising thing is the year this movie came out—1929.
- In Suffragette the protagonists are imprisoned for ... taking part in a demonstration for women's voting rights. Which law exactly forbids this is not clear, and they are also not treated as political prisoners, but as common criminals, and forced to strip and change into prison clothes, an additional humiliation designed to discourage them from standing up for their rights. The prison is not depicted as comfy, but realistically depicted as the horrid place a women's prison of that era would be - grey, cold cells, bad food, sadistic guards, and fellow prisoners who are too overworked and underfed to even think of entertaining violence or lesbian sexytimes. When the protagonist goes on hunger strike, she's force-fed, in a way that looks like torture. Which is probably what is is intended as, as the reason it is done is because the government doesn't want the women's rights movement to have a martyr. The only nice thing about the protagonist's stay in prison is the fact that she's given flowers and a medal by fellow suffragists when she's finally released and walks out of the prison door.
- Jailbait is set in a woman's correctional institute. There is liberal amounts of lesbian sex and underwear is apparently a privilege only earned after the first year.
- Born American (1986). One of the protagonists in the gulag gets hold of a coin and tries to purchase medical care for his friend. The Friend in the Black Market says it's not enough, but as the protagonist is a young man he could use it to buy... (puts a finger through hole in coin and leers) We then cut to several male inmates, including the protagonist, looking through vents into the women's shower. Contrary to the usual examples of this trope, the women are rather unshapely.
- Rose Under Fire is set in Ravensbrück, a women's concentration camp, during World War II.
- In the first book of the Birthright trilogy, All These Things I've Done, Anya Balanchine, the anti-heroine, spends some time in a female correctional facility. She's a mafiosa and murder suspect, though ironically, at the time of her imprisonment, she hasn't actually done anything yet. Unusual to the trope, the correctional facility Anya is sent to is more akin to male depictions of prison, unglamorous, with ruthless occupants, abusive wardens, and desperation to leave.
- In the Danielle Steel novel Malice, the heroine is sent to prison for killing her sexually abusive father (no one believed her, thanks to his pillar of the community status). The depiction is fairly realistic, namely in that she's nearly assaulted by a group of other prisoners before her cellmate rescues her.
- 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.
- In one multi-part episode of Cheers, Sam and the other patrons uncovered Robin's plot to enact a hostile takeover of his company, using Rebecca as a pawn; in one scene, Sam had was discussing what to do about it with the others, mentioning that Rebecca wouldn't last long in a women's prison, the conversation quickly turning into a fetish fantasy discussion between them on what she might wear if incarcerated. (They did this a lot, actually.)
- Subverted on the Seinfeld episode "The Little Jerry," where George goes on a tour of a women's prison, as he is in a relationship with one of the convicts, 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.
- Bad Girls has made a series of this, but without the detective.
- The Prison Break Made-for-TV Movie revolved around breaking Sarah out of a women's prison. However, while it's probably not as tough as most Real Life women's prisons, it still contains no small amount of gangs and violence.
- 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 WWE's 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.
- Law & Order: UK. While investigating the murder of a prison guard, Matt and Ronnie note that one of the other guards is reluctant to talk. When the press him, it turns out that he's new and is reluctant to cause trouble, as, "it would be very easy to find yourself in the middle of a riot and no one coming to help you", thus making it quite clear that a women's prison is just as dangerous as its male counterpart. Indeed, the guard in question turns out to be an Asshole Victim who was forcing himself on several of the inmates.
- 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.
- Season 5 of The L Word sees Helena incarcerated in a women's prison. Scenes include a strip search and shower.
- 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 an Australian women's prison, and was at the time one of the more realistic depictions of this trope.
- In the CSI episode "XX", the CSI team investigate a murder inside a women's prison. However, the episode is devoid of most the tropes associated with women's prisons and shows it as a brutal and dangerous place to be.
- 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.)
- Burn Notice does a fairly realistic depiction when Fiona goes to prison for awhile. While there, she has to fight the most dominant member of the prison and has to adapt to the harsh conditions. Of course, she does pretty well under the circumstances..... It should be noted that Fi as always been portrayed as a full fledged action girl, quite self-reliant, self confident, independent, and succesfull in pretty much every aspect of her life, both before, and after Michael showed up in Miami, yet when he visits her in prison she has an emotional breakdown, and Michael later informs his mother when asked, that she is eating very little, and is quite scared. this is all shown without a trace of chickification.
- Angel Shows Faith in jail a few times. Mostly it's the visitor's room, complete with telephones and a window, but there is a prison fight between two inmates in the yard. There is no fetishizing of the prison, mostly it looks like depictions of male prisons but with the inmates having longer hair.
- The Late Show with David Letterman: when Martha Stewart was in prison for insider trading Letterman made many jokes implying that Stewart was in this kind of prison.
- The entire premise of the dramedy series Orange Is the New Black, notable for being a weird mix of racial and sexual stereotypes with much more realistic elements about life in prison. But the violence element is notably downplayed, at least until the arrival of a one-woman Apple of Discord in the second season.
- In the audio commentary for the first episode, the director states that they chose to start the series with a shower scene as a homage to the typical porn depiction of women's prisons.
- The third season of Lost Girl sees Bo in prison for having gone on a crime spree following the defeat of the Garuda. It's... kinda porny, in keeping with the tone of the show.
- In one episode of Police Woman from 1974, detective sgt. Pepper Anderson has to go undercover in a women's prison. Despite looking like a high-security facility from the outside, with guard towers and tall walls, the inside of the prison is rather "soft": the inmates don't have cells, but "rooms" (without doors), the furniture looks more comfortable than in most depictions of prisons, and the guards seem pretty nice for prison guards. If there is any Fanservice it is that all the inmates are young, good-looking (with makeup and nice hairdos), wear uniforms consisting of sleeveless minidresses, and spend a lot of time walking around in their short nighties.
- Alluded to in Peep Show, where Jeremy is put on jury service with a female defendant. He doesn't seem to grasp the reality of it, though, even thinking that women's prison was "probably like one long hen night".
- Rhonda and Leanne start You, Me And The Apocalypse in a women's prison in New Mexico.
- Spanish series Locked Up / Vis a Vis centres on a naive and idealistic woman sent to prison. In addition to the thriller aspect of the main plotline, it details more everyday problems of prison. This includes one inmate who is unable to get a heart transplant because she is convicted of murder, the main character trying to get bail, smuggling, prison rape, escape attempts, an abusive doctor, 'snitches', etc.
- The Bold and the Beautiful: While in a mental hospital for her various crimes, Sheila gets beaten up by two other prisoners. Their unpleasant appearance and demeanor, plus the way Sheila acts afterwards—taking a Shower of Angst—are clearly meant to imply that they sexually assaulted her as well. Even if not, the whole sequence still gives off a Does This Remind You of Anything? vibe.
- On the flip side, Sheila and the other prisoners get along great, giving off a "college—dorm" atmosphere.
- General Hospital: Laura is wrongfully imprisoned. Aside from taking an instant dislike to her because of her cherubic looks, the other prisoners get even more ticked off when the police commissioner, a friend, comes to visit (a highly stupid move that he should have known would endanger her), assuming that she's a snitch. Luckily, she's bailed out before anything happens.
- Walker, Texas Ranger. When Alex is imprisoned, she's inexplicably placed in general population and sure enough, gets attacked by a vengeful inmate.
- The WOW (Women of Wrestling) Tag Team Caged Heat, named after the film, Loca and Delta Lotta Pain, who were the first and only WOW World Tag Team Champions until they were defeated by The All American Girls one year after the company's revival, and Vendetta, who mostly just hung around and did not return with them. They were billed from the Nevada State Correctional Facility, wore orange jumpsuits and their signature moves had such names as "Hard Time" (Bear Hug with top rope clothesline) and "Capital Punishment" (better known as The Dudley Boys' "Dudley Death Drop"/"3D," a combined flapjack and a "cutter"). Their entrance video showed them in prison rapping their theme songnote . The absence of logic in the fact that they were supposedly driven to the arena from prison, and then sent back after the match, was not even Handwaved away, as this promotion adhered to an old-school, straight-faced Kayfabe mentality, which is what would be expected from a promotion started by David McLane, who had previously created GLOW in The '80s. In 2000-2001, this was a decided contrast to WWE's Attitude Era, which was taking place at the same time. Despite the implications of their gimmick, they were VERY popular. The revival did come up with a reason for their presence (and absence of Vendetta). A lawyer named Sophia Lopez had been fighting to prove their innocence and finally did in 2012, for two of them.
- More inline with 90s "Attitude" was a pay per view on demand called Wet Wrestling: The Shawshank Redemption. It was about convicts being forced to compete in a wrestling ring.
- WOW's spiritual successors CRUSH and Wrestlicious featured a wrestler known as Felony (Cheerleader Melissa in the former, indie wrestler Rain in the latter). The gimmick worked on the premise she was allowed to wrestle on work release. She had to be led to the ring in handcuffs by her parole officer and a Running Gag would be Felony trying to escape from him whenever she got the chance.
- "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.
- Subverted in A Gulag Mouse, where the plays is set in a women's prison camp that is starkly realistic and brutal.
- One of the storylines in the Japanese RPG SaGa Frontier opens with the main character, Emelia, having to escape from a women's prison.
- 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.
- 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!"
- The episode "Breaking Out Is Hard to Do" sees Lois sent to prison. When visiting with her family she remarks-"I'm just gonna have to lay back and let the penal system teach me a lesson."
- 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. While it's far from the nicest place, all these good friends are put in cells together and start painting toenails and the like.
- 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.
- Johnny Bravo had an episode where Johnny was falsely convicted of bank robbery and sent to a women's prison because of a typo on his birth certificate spelling his name "Joanie".
- In Ben 10, the porno version is naturally not an option, so when Gwen gets thrown in jail after Charmcaster forced a body-switch with her, a jail for girls looks a lot like... jail! Or rather, jail in a superhero show. She busts out rather easily, but it helps when you're in a mundane jail and have the body of a magic-wielding supervillain.