Jessie Downs, who studied abroad in Chile last summer, has been able to use her double major in Spanish and History to expand her history seminar on the experiences of women prisoners during the regime of General Augusto Pinochet to include the experiences of both men and women.
These Chilean prisoners were politically active citizens, those with leftist sympathies, or those who had public voices. Downs focuses on the prisoner narratives, and the prison system itself, and then the gendered experiences. She argues that prison guards purposefully gendered their treatment of prisoners in order to break down connections.
There were prisoners and then separate torture centers. The prison was actually the national stadium. These prisoners were dehumanized and make to seem not Chilean. Verbal assault was, however, gendered. Men were effeminate and weak and female were highly sexualized and regarded as failed mothers.
The bodies of the prisoners were often manipulated, and tortured. Their bodily senses were subjected to either overstimulation or isolation. One torture device included la parilla or the grill, and they were electrified in sensitive areas of their bodies. This device was used in sexual torture as well. Bodily punishment was a way of objectifying the prisoners and showing how weak they were compared to the masculine torturers. Prison guards also expressed their masculinity by sexually assaulted the female prisoners and regarding them as less than as mothers. Family was a large aspect of the humiliation, and even sometimes families were brought into torture rooms and these attacks were also gendered. For men, their wives were implied to be unfaithful, while women were questioned for their lack of successful motherhood.
Eventually detainment camps became more popular than keeping the prisoners in the stadium. These camps continued to be separated by gender and there was more freedom to organize among the prisoners. These led to more artistic and political forms of expression, including musical performances and newspapers. Gender began as a way for the prison guards to divide the prisoners, but as prisoners groups around gender specific issues they were able to take back agency over some of their experience.