The Secret Meaning of “Lock Her Up”

What if the cry “Lock Her Up!” is not directed at any specific woman, but all women?   Is that not a chilling thought?

When folks at a political rally in 2016 first started crying “lock her up” they had one specific woman in mind: Hillary Clinton, the first female major party candidate. The refrain was spontaneously reinvigorated in 2018 against another specific woman: Diane Feinstein, California Senator with a seat on the judiciary committee. “Lock her up!” the people in the rally cried in refrain. Consider for a moment that the “her” in that sentence does not refer to a specific individual but to all who use the pronoun her. It is time to consider, who do they really want to lock up?

Consider “lock her up” in a broader sense.  How have women been silenced, kept out of decision-making positions, relegated to ‘pink ghetto’ job opportunities, sent to the kitchen, the prison, or the asylum?  Isn’t that ‘locking her up’?

My mother’s generation, who gave birth to the ‘baby boomers” and were raising kids from 1943- 1963, were “locked up” in the suburban housewife role.  Daddy came home with his briefcase and his paycheck while she was expected to naturally accept her role as housewife, childcare provider, and consumer buying new home appliances.  Even today, many men in policy making and legislative roles, seem ossified in their belief that this role for women that happened for just two decades following World War II, is somehow ‘natural’ and the ‘way things should be’.  It could be why it is so difficult to enact paid family leave and childcare services, as ‘nostalgia’ for this period blocks the reality of today’s women as breadwinners, and decision makers.

“Lock Her Up” can indeed mean putting women in prison, and our culture does not hesitate to do so. Women have been incarcerated in record numbers in recent years.  The United States has the one of the highest incarceration rates of women in the world, with over 219,000 incarcerated.  See The majority of these women, 60%, are awaiting trial – that is, they have not been convicted of a crime.   Women have become the fastest growing segment in the prison population.  When did the growth in the incarceration of women begin to rapidly increase?   It was in the 1970s when female incarceration rates grew dramatically. (See the eyepopping chart at  Let’s connect the dots here . . . what happened in the 1970s? Oh yes, the so-called second wave of the feminist movement happened.  Coincidence?

In 1917, Alice Paul and many of the women in the National Women’s Party were arrested for picketing the White House to demand the right to vote. Sent to a work house in Occoquan, Virginia, authorities were upset that Alice Paul went on a hunger strike and after force feeding her, they attempted to have her declared insane.

In the book Insane Sisters, author Gregg Andrews explores a famous case in a company town near Hannibal, Missouri, in 1903, where corporate interests attempted a land grab from two sisters who inherited property that the company wanted.   The two sisters were deemed insane or suffering from ‘utromania.’ A doctor at the time explained that a tipped uterus was the cause of this disorder, and it led “to why some women felt compelled to challenge their subordination to male authority.”  One of the two sisters was committed to an asylum.

The political rally cries of “lock her up” which began in 2016 and continue today are chilling. I remember the words of poet John Donne “[ do not ask] for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.”  He was speaking about the church bells, which served as a public announcement of a death in the 16th century. The poem suggests, don’t ask who died, the bell is tolling for you, because death is inevitable. In a similar manner today, do not ask for whom “lock her up’ refers. If you are female, it refers to thee.



1 Comment

  1. Caren Libby on November 5, 2018 at 5:00 pm

    Rebecca, Thank you for reminding us of the sacrifices that many women have made to gain our right to vote. Your efforts to educate people about the state of gender equality – from then to now – inspire women of all generations to exercise their right to vote and continue to work for positive change.

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