Let me start by saying that it actually doesn’t happen that often.
The yelling and screaming usually comes from men who aren’t under my care. It often happens when I’m talking with my patients or when I am just walking past a cell block.
Sometimes, it is repetitive yelling that sounds like a metronome:
WHORE! WHORE! WHORE! WHORE!
Sometimes, it is a tirade:
F-CKING SLUT, you’re a F-CKING SLUT, d-mn whore, F-CKING C-NT, YOU HEAR ME? YOU’RE A F-CKING SLUT, YOU F-CKING B-TCH, yes, YOU, you’re a F-CKING BITCH…
Other men take issue with my short hair and assert that I am a lesbian:
You’re a LESBIAN, aren’t you? What the F-CK is wrong with you, LESBO? Why don’t you like dick? F-CKING LESBIAN, you and your F-CKING SHORT HAIR…
For reasons I don’t understand, it is uncommon for men to yell racial slurs at me.[1. No one in jail has yet to call me a “chink“—at least not to my face or when I am in earshot. I did have a patient who would intersperse his sentences with musical phrases: “Ching chong ding ding ting tang…”. He didn’t do this with anyone else. He also refused to believe that I am a physician. He insisted, “There’s no way you’re a doctor. Women can’t be doctors. You’re probably just a clinical assistant. Women aren’t smart enough to be doctors.” I steered the conversation elsewhere.]
I have since learned that those men who yell synonyms for commercial sex workers at me or insist that I am a lesbian become more enraged when I ask them to stop yelling. Usually it goes something like this:
Maria: “Hi. Could you please stop yelling for ten minutes so I can talk to the guy over there? It’s hard for me to hear him.”
Inmate: [spewing more hatred at a louder volume and a greater frequency]
This response differs from other men who yell for different reasons. Often the men who scream about the crimes of the government, the arrival of the aliens, the ghosts in the machines, and the coming of the Antichrist will acknowledge my request and kindly stop yelling. Some can’t stay quiet for more than three minutes, but they try.
On occasion, the men who are my patients—and sometimes these are the same men who proclaim that they are actually machines and not humans, or they can’t string together coherent sentences—will scream past me to the men yelling malicious things: “SHUT THE F-CK UP!”
Their imperatives often go unheeded.
Hearing this vitriol doesn’t bother me too much. I mean, it bothers me enough to write a blog post about it, but such behaviors make me wonder more about the suffering of these men. Perhaps these men are screaming at me because I am on the other side of their cell doors and they feel anger with their lack of freedom. Perhaps these men don’t like the inherent power differential between them and me in a setting like the jail. In an effort to assert dominance a man may shout misogynistic things at me because he is trying to close the gap between his status and my status. Maybe women in his past have done terrible things to him.
My male colleagues have mentioned that these same inmates might insist that they are gay. Otherwise, most of the commentary these men lob against my male colleagues are death threats. This is in contrast to the threats I receive; men usually threaten to rape me. (Let’s be clear: Such threats are rare.) And it is not necessarily the men who scream hateful things at me who threaten rape.
What people say and what they do aren’t always congruent, whether in the jail or elsewhere. Consider the men in jail who have been charged or convicted many times of sexual assault. They may never shout anything at female staff. Some of these men show great courtesy; they look me in the eye; they say “please”, “thank you”, and offer gracious social smiles.
One wonders what they do not say out loud.
Some people will judge you just based on how you look. To some men, women are malignant deviants; they induce fear and loathing. Some men decide that the best course of action is to hurl hatred at women.
Sometimes, they might do even worse things.