Movie Analysis: Gender Inequality and Torture in Stanford Prison Experiment

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If an ordinary individual is given the powers that exceed their natural limitations, one could expect them to misuse them until and unless a superior force decides to intervene. The movie “The stanford experiment” also known as the zimbardo experiment was attempted to investigate the psychological effects it would have on young healthy individuals. Zimbardo hired college students as his actress in the experiment and divided them into two categories of prisoners and prison officers. The students were told that they had to perform in a simulation for two weeks and they would be paid high wages for this. The students were then asked if they wanted to act as a prisoner or as a prison officer. Many chose to act as prisoners as they thought it would be less work. The rest were assigned to be prisoner officers. The prisoner officers were told that they will be watched at all times by their superintendent. They were instructed not to abuse the prisoners physically but they could do whatever they felt should be done to maintain the law throughout the simulation experiment. As soon as the simulation started it was getting out of hand. The prison officers started to physically abuse and torture the prisoners, causing them mental stress.

This experiment was planned to last around two weeks but it was terminated in the first six days. Out of many people a Stanford PHD came to interview the prisoners and prison officers, she was the only one who objected the experiment Zimbardo had conducted.

This movie analysis will analyze “The Stanford Experiment” by using themes and sub-themes posed in the movie and by different scholars in their articles. The themes include; gender inequality, torture, and pressure. At the time of the Stanford prison experiment there was gender inequality present in society and throughout the experiment with see different types of tortures that prisoners go through. Gender inequality has been a vital component of human society throughout history. To begin, we notice gender inequality from the starting of The Stanford experiment. To proof, “Male college students needed for psychological study of prison life,'' This demonstrates the inequality present in Stanford at the time this investigation was conducted. Firstly, the newspaper ad for this prison experiment shows gender inequality because it only targeted male college students. This shows that women were not entitled to enough rights at the time of this experiment. Zimbardo’s experiment demonstrated gender inequality throughout. They advertised for male students only because they thought that women were not capable enough to survive the conditions their experiment took place in. The participants were not told the working conditions, most of them wanted to join because of the high wages they were being offered. The selection process was biased and was for male population only. It would have been fair if both genders were asked to participate. This would have helped Zimbardo view this experiment from two different point of views, maybe the male population would have behaved and followed the rules differently from the female population. The results would have been different if their selection was not biased and if all the participants were told about the working conditions before their selection.

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Furthermore, The article “Gender Discrimination in Job Ads: Evidence from China” analyzes the same issue of gender inequality but from a different century and it gives more rightd to women than men. The article quotes, “Employers’ relative preferences for female versus male workers, on the other hand, are more strongly related to the preferred age, height, and beauty of the worker than to job skill levels.”(Kuhn, 2013), this quote demonstrates that the employers in China would prefer to hire female workers over male workers. The women were hired based on their physical appearance not based on their intelligence or job skill level. Analyzing the movie and the article from two different centuries, female population are not seemed powerful enough as compared to the male population throughout the two centuries. The selection process is still biased based on the employers own preferences. Due to the bias decisions gender inequality is present throughout the movie and the article. Moreover, as mentioned in the police psychology slides, just like the police selection process works. All the selection processes should be fair for all genders. No matter which job a person is applying for. In the lecture slides, it is mentioned that during police selection process they have to go through many different tests to be considered fit for the job. Torture is physical, mental, or emotional abuse to person to an extent that they can not survive in that environment anymore. In the movie “The Stanford Prison Experiment”, we examine many variations of torture. Throughout the movie the prisoners are tortured to an extent that they can not survive the experiment anymore. Even though the prison officers were given instructions to not to physically abuse any of the prisoners but they abused them anyway. The prison officers were given the control over the prisoners and they were instructed that they have to maintain the law and make sure all the prisoners follow the laws. When the prisoners would not listen to the prison officers, they eventually started to force them to do things and physically abused them as a punishment. The prisoners wanted to leave the experiment and go back but the prison officers did not let them go. They were told to stay until the experiment had finished. The constant physical and verbal abuse by the prison officers led the prisoners to look themselves inside their cells and they would not come out.

The prisoners would fight back whenever they were abused by the prison officer but it only led to them being physically tortured. Moreover, an article about a muslim employee getting discriminated and torture at work relates to my theme of torture. To proof, “He leaned forward and pulled on her scarf, and with the force he used, she almost fell into him,” said Coopman. “The scarf came up over her head, exposing part of her hair, which for her is like having her breasts showing.For many employees, the incident would have been upsetting, but for Bashir--who had suffered severe abuse as a child--it was traumatic.”(Davenport, 2012), This quote explains the working conditions Bashir was working in. When Bashir converted to Islam, the very next day she wore a head scarf to her work and since then she had been discriminated and tortured by her own surpervisors. She tried for transfer to other supervisors or locations of her company but all her transfer requests were rejected and she got banned from going to the mosque in her work time. She was not informed that she would be treated this way if she converted to another religion, just like the prisoners in the movie were not told how will they be treated in the prisons. She suffered from mental stress and after-effects of all the events that she witnessed at her workplace after her religion conversion.

To correlate with the theme of torture, we witness mental torture and stress in policing as well. Police officers suffer from traumatic stress at some point in their career. Police officers witness events that make them suffer from traumatic stress and it becomes hard for them to survive in such working conditions. Police officers work in conditions where they are not encouraged to address anything about their stress. The stress they get from their work is a way of mental and emotional torture and they are not provided with enough resources to cop up with their stress. They experience mental torture when they can’t get out of the stress they are going through and they feel emotionally tortured after witnessing incidents that have an emotional impact on them; such as, someone passing away in an accident, or someone getting shot. People tend to make quick decisions when under pressure and sometimes they regret their decisions after they have been made. As we witness in the movie “The Stanford Prison Experiment”, the prison officers were given that position where they can pressurize the prisoners if they did not obey the laws. The prison officers made quick decisions when the prisoners did not obey their laws.

They were told that everyone in the prison should obey the laws and they were trying their best to do their work but the decisions they were required to make under pressure tortured many of the prisoners. Anytime a prisoner would not obey the law, the prison officers had no choice but to punish them and they used whatever they thought would be efficient at that time for their punishment. In addition, an article about police use-of-force incidents also highlights the pressure police officers get when they are assigned to a crime scene or and accident. Whenever a suspect does not cooperate with the police officers they have no choice but to apply force. To proof, “When a suspect shows utter disregard for the officer’s orders, the encoun- ter is likely to escalate.”(Rojek,2012). This quote from the article demonstrates how a police officer tries their best to control the situations but when a suspect disregards their orders, they have to take an action which can be applying force and this can escalate the encounter.

Also, this theme of pressure and force is shown in the course slides. “The phenomenon of suicide by cop refers to a situation in which a person wishing to die places an officer in a life-threatening situation in order to force the officer to use deadly force to protect him or herself or other individuals” (Dempsey & Forst, 2014, p. 170). This quote explains the term suicide by cop, which refers to a situation where a suspect is forcing a police officer to shot them or they are not doing what they are told to do by a police officer. E.g. If a criminal tries to run away from a crime scene and the police officers try to stop them and they don’t, then a police officer uses whatever force they can. The findings of The Stanford Prison Experiment teaches us that if an ordinary individual is given the powers that exceed their natural limitations, they can misuse them until and unless a superior force decides to intervene. If groups of individuals get so much power will most likely misuse it. The guards went too harsh on the prisoners. The prisoners were given numbers instead of names. They were abused physically and tortured. Many of them served mental trauma. Almost all of them wanted to leave but the guards did not let them leave, which was against the job ethics.

The Stanford Prison Experiment was also found unethical because the actors were not informed about their working conditions. They were not informed that the officers would not let them leave if they wanted. The prisoners and the officers were not provided any protection by Zimbardo. The job description was not enough and the interviews were not professional enough. The prison officers were not trained for their work. Altogether, this experiment was not justified. In conclusion, if a person or a group of individuals is given too much authority over something, they can be expected to go harsh with their decisions. In the movie “The Stanford Prison Experiment”, we are shown how the prison officers torture the prisoners because they are given too much authority over them and the prison officers were also told that they had to maintain the law. There was nothing they would do but to put force on the prisoners. There were many themes shown in the movie but the ones I found interesting were gender inequality, torture, and pressure or force.

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