Orange is the New Black: Feminism without the F Word

The Feminist Premise

o-ORANGE-IS-THE-NEW-BLACK-facebook Orange is the New Black’s female cast (image from Orange is the New Black Facebook page)

As I prepare to teach a Gender, Race, and Sexuality in Popular Culture class this coming spring, I have been looking for an example of a television show or film that can start out the term, offering a strong jumping off point for our feminist analyses of pop culture. And I am thrilled to have found it in Netflix’s newest original series, Orange is the New Black.

[Spoilers ahead, so only make the jump if you have seen the show; if you haven’t yet seen it, stop reading and go watch it]

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Sorry, but can we stop saying ‘sorry’?

According to studies, British women apologise up to eight times a day. We apologise for being unable to attend social engagements, and for putting our health and careers first. We apologise for disagreeing with people, to avoid causing offense, and we apologise for the way we look and feel. We are apologising for our choices, every day, and it needs to stop. We don’t need to be the ‘yes’ girls all the time, and we don’t need to justify that either. We’re women, and the choices we make are our own. The mere concept of apologising for something that isn’t your fault, or hasn’t caused any wrongdoing is bloody ridiculous. It’s very British too.

There is a good explanation for our apologies too. Women are socialised from an early age to focus on relationships and nurturing. Any sign of strength can be off-putting, so we’re conditioned to soften communication that can be construed as assertive or aggressive. We undermine our decisions and choices by apologising for them, because we don’t want to seem aggressive or antagonistic, but we need to start taking charge of our decisions, and not apologising for them. Men put their careers first every single day, and they don’t apologise for it, so why should we? Emotional and financial independence is something to be proud of. It doesn’t warrant an apology. People should not be offended by your success. My point is that we can follow our heart’s callings and that’s ok. Do you think Hilary Clinton apologised for becoming the First Lady of the United States? I don’t think she did. She worked hard for it. She earned it.

There are too many pressures on women in this day and age. We are expected to reach certain milestones in a specified timeframe, but those pressures are not ok. Why shouldn’t we wait until we’re ready to have babies? Is it wrong if we don’t want babies at all? Should we all dress and act a certain way, for fear of causing offense? Should we hold back on our careers because there’s a man involved? Absolutely not. I’ve recently realised how often I use the word ‘sorry,’ and it’s a little embarrassing. I’m not taking credit where credit is due, and why not? Am I afraid of upsetting someone for the way I look, act and feel? Should my achievements be apologised for? No they shouldn’t.

In essence, we need to stand by our decisions, and believe firmly in them. It isn’t wrong to be in control of your own life. We should believe in ourselves. You won’t do any good by pretending to be anything less than you are. Let’s stop doing ourselves a disservice.

No more Page 3? I say no more body shaming.

So, Page 3 is over. The Sun has been heavily criticised for its sexualisation and anachronistic views of women for several years now, and have finally decided to replace images of women with bare breasts with images of women in bikinis. Apparently that 6 inches of fabric makes a big difference. I’ll admit to being skeptical when the feminist group – ‘No More Page 3’ – emerged in 2012, led by a woman called Lucy-Ann Holmes. It was an honourable movement, and yes, the sexualisation of women is prevalent in the current media. My issue is that this victory is pointless. This is nothing to do with the sexualisation of women. It is an attempt at body-shaming, by people who should know better.

 

Let me be frank. I posed for Page 3 in 2010, and found it massively liberating. I wasn’t ashamed of my body, and was quite excited about standing up confidently. I felt powerful. I felt in control. To me, baring your breasts for the newspaper is no different to breastfeeding in public. We are women. We’re allowed to be proud of our forms, and breasts are not offensive. Page 3 is not the problem. It’s people’s perceptions of it. We fought for the freedom of choice, and now other women are telling us what jobs we should and shouldn’t be doing? Modelling is a career choice. It isn’t exploitative, and we should be supporting each other as women. Where is the sisterhood? Where is the support? As a feminist, I am incredibly pro-choice, and Page 3 was a choice for me. Should I feel ashamed for that now? Are we making choices that must be approved by others first? That doesn’t really sound like a ‘choice’ at all.

 

Lucy-Ann Holmes, the leader of the ‘No More Page 3’ movement, once said that sex should be ‘beautiful,’ but now seems disgusted by the image of the human body. It’s an almost puritanistic view of nudity, which seems more reflective of a 1600s mindset. Will we be forced to cover our ankles eventually, to protect others against the seemingly offensive view of skin? It is also incredibly insulting to men, who apparently cannot be trusted to act sensibly around a pair of breasts. Many feminists argue that nudity in the media promotes rape, which is a ridiculous argument to make, and again, it is completely insulting to men. I’ll confess to seeing pictures of Vin Diesel in magazines that have made me feel gooey, but it doesn’t make me anymore likely to attack him in the street. You just don’t bloody do it.

 

Feminism is also quickly gaining a bad reputation, which isn’t good for the future. It is supposed to be a liberating movement, and not be forcing unrealisatic and puritanistic views on us. It isn’t healthy. Feminism should make us proud to be a female, and proud of our bodies. The dissolution of Page 3 feels like a step backwards, back into the shaming of the female form, and I am not in favour. My Page 3 days are over, but I’ll still look back on my pictures and smile. I look happy. I look happy, confident and totally in control of my life.