Prison Spanking Embarrassment

Some interesting social attitudes on display in this historical account of the 1950s Canadian committee that recommended the abolition of judicial corporal punishment (prison whipping and the use of the infamous Canadian prison strap) in Canada:

Virtually everyone agreed that corporal punishment, if used at all, had to be restricted to cocky young men and male prisoners who became violent or mutinous. No one took seriously the prospect of whipping females, and most found explicit talk about bodies of either gender and punishment vaguely embarrassing. Wardens provided committee members with exhaustive details about the placement of prisoners on strapping tables, their immobilization, and the exposure of their bare flesh. Had sexologists or psychiatrists been called as witnesses, they might have pointed out the voyeuristic and sado-masochistic subtext of such acts. This was precisely the Pandora’s box of barbarous impulses that Joint Committee members preferred to keep tightly lidded.

Titillating notions popped out at several points, but teasing and jokes nervously sublimated them. When the presiding chairman asked William Common why youth gang “molls” were not “spanked” along with their male compatriots, he rattled the prosecutor, provoking him to assert that “assaulting females” was “more or less revolting to the average man.” The Joint Committee’s unofficial gadfly, Harold Winch, punched holes in Common’s chivalrous armor. As he reminded the prosecutor, the “average” man might very well spank his errant daughter when she was naughty. And if legislators were so chivalrous, Winch added, why did they not exempt women from the death penalty? As pointed as this heckling was, it still delicately sidestepped the scandalous prospect of “burly” male guards strapping or paddling women’s bare buttocks.

The Joint Committee members confronted the pornographic qualities of physical punishment again when members debated the prospect of observing an actual whipping. MP Ann Shipley, one of three women on the committee, shocked her fellow members when she argued that watching lashes and whips in action would be more instructive than merely gazing at them and listening to prison officials describe them. The warden of the Kingston penitentiary politely declined her request, protesting that the prospect would be “very embarrassing” (to whom, he did not specify).

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