Losing Confidence and Foucault’s Carceral Society

The loss of confidence Ahmed writes about in her post on Feministkilljoys parallels the metaphors and examples in Foucault’s Discipline and Punish to showcase that a loss of confidence is a form of gendered self-surveillance and thus the entrance point to the gendered carceral society from which feminism revolts and reclaims.

Ahmed states that confidence is “…a manner of existence… to have trust in an expectation.” She further describes the use of gender as a mechanism for distributing confidence, and the problem of regarding the modification of the confidence of women as necessary to solve patriarchal systems. In his description of the “Carceral Society” in Discipline and Punish, Foucault writes of the self as conditioned by the expectation of being under surveillance; similar to a prison inmate who refrains from acting out due to the lingering feeling of being watched even when a prison guard is not immediately present. In this sense, Ahmed’s descriptions of women under-estimating their potential suggests a kind of gendered self-surveillance. The woman watches herself and becomes hyper-aware of the power structures in which she lives and thus acts according to the expectations of her or against them. Either way, Girl falters in her conviction and “Girl is being accomplished because of how she falters…”


This hyper-awareness of women’s visibility and presence within patriarchy applies to Foucault’s explanation that “[S]He who is subjected to a field of visibility, and who knows it, assumes responsibility for the constraints of power; he makes them play spontaneously upon himself; he inscribed in himself the power relation in which he simultaneously plays both roles; he becomes the principle of his own subjection.” Foucault argues that the visibility of the subject of discipline rather than the punishment is key in maintaining the individual in their subjection. In the same way that the disciplined subject is always watched, it is the constant awareness in women of how they must appear to the outside world that maintains the self consciousness and the subsequent “wall” to which Ahmed refers in her post. She states “A wall can feel internal, like a voice inside your own head that says don’t go there; you can’t do that. Even when a wall feels internal it does not begin there. You might have been told: you can’t do that.” Ahmed’s post once again contrasts Foucault in that within the gendered carceral society, Girl becomes both the subject of discipline constantly being seen and the discipliner constantly watching and questioning herself.

Ahmed writes that “Sometimes, we revolt against an expectation. Even then: how you are perceived as being shapes what you come to be: to revolt against something is to be shaped by what you are against.” The hierarchal structures in which woman surveils herself when she loses confidence are the same structures that she fights when she gains confidence. Ahmed writes that “To lose confidence is the gift of a new thought.” This reflects Foucault’s idea that “In fact, power produces; it produces reality; it produces domains of objects and rituals of truth.” This acknowledgement of the productive quality of power structures in both texts is crucial in that it outlines a future pathway for living as feminist. People need not change their vulnerability because not only is it symptomatic of the self-surveillance of members of a gendered carceral society but it is this vulnerability which produces a careful and accountable kind of feminism. Ahmed ends her post with the following quote: “There is no guarantee that in struggling for justice we ourselves will be just… A feminist movement that proceeds with too much confidence has cost us too much already. We falter with feminist conviction. As we must.” The feminists who are aware of the gendered carceral society can then limit their self-surveilling in aspects of their lives which lower confidence and cause doubt for the sake of maintaining gender roles. Meanwhile, they can acknowledge the value of self-surveilling in establishing theory and social justice and allow for self-doubt as a means to an end of developing an even more inclusive and critically nuanced revolution.

Works Cited:

Losing Confidence

Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 2nd Vintage Books ed. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. Print.




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