Tag Archives: equality

‘Orange is the New Black’ Attention Grabbing Head-Line

17 Jul

(Just a note: the following post contains spoilers pertaining to the first two seasons of Orange is the New Black)

This morning, my friend showed me an interesting article titled Orange is the New Black‘s Irresponsible Portrayal of Men. I quickly realized that the reason this article seemed familiar was because I had seen it online before-but in a very different context. I had seen excerpts from the first part of the article, arguing that there needs to be more male representation in the show, and the comments that followed were incredulous and indignant. After seeing just that much, I agreed with them. Once I read the entire article though, I see that the argument is a bit more nuanced than it was portrayed to be.

The author (Noah Berlatsky) opens by recognizing how his complaint could be construed; in a media world where women are portrayed less/worse than men, attacking an amazingly female inclusive show for not portraying men sounds laughably petty. He makes a good point of pointing out that his problem is not with the amount of men portrayed on the show, but how the few men on the show are portrayed. The example the author focuses on is the male prisoner from the beginning of season 2, and it is implied that because he is the only male prisoner focused on, he represents all male prisoner portrayal as “violent”, “abusive”, and “repulsive”. This is clear when the author writes,

“According to Orange Is the New Black, though, men in prison are “super-predators” while women in prison are, often, innocent victims, doomed by circumstances and their own painful but touching character flaws.”

However, I have to disagree with this point and the rather sweeping generalizations that follow. The male prisoner previously mentioned is first shown in a scene where a group of male prisoners board a plane; the first interaction between the female and male prisoners (after the women whistle and cat-call) is an amicable and sincere greeting between two friends who recognize each other. The only “deviant” and “dangerous” seeming man is the one who the main character, Piper, later speaks to. As the men sit on the plane, they overall seem rather tame, besides a few teases that could be interpreted as taunts thrown amongst each other (but there is a silent prisoner with a Nazi symbol tattooed on his forehead). These male prisoners are the only male prisoners ever seen/portrayed on the show. As the show does take place in a female prison, that is pretty reasonable. While I definitely agree that stereotypical portrayals of men are harmful, the author continuously uses the same male prisoner as an example of how all men on the show are treated. It feels a bit like grasping at straws.

The majority of the other men on the show are men in positions of authority; correctional officers and their supervisors (as well as various inmates significant others, like Larry, Piper’s ex-fiance). Agreed, these men are overall portrayed in a negative way, from slimy to power-abusing to homophobic. While I do think that these characters are included to show corruption in the legal system (including the female assistant warden, who swindles money from the prison), I can see how them mostly being male and portrayed in a harmful light can be problematic. The problem is moderately alleviated in the second season, where they become more nuanced and complex, but it can still be a general consensus that they are overall bad people. Piper’s counselor, Mr. Healey, was first shown as a generally well-meaning guy, even though he did favor Piper because of her education and up-bringing in contrast to his usual prisoners. However he is revealed to be extremely homophobic, rather controlling, and looks the other way when an inmate tries to murder Piper. The slimiest male guard, nick-named Pornstache, shows a bit of a softer side when he allegedly falls in love with a female inmate (when it’s actually closer to idealization) and willingly goes to jail for her, despite how in the first season he was smuggling drugs in exchange for sex. A response I’ve seen to this is when people say ‘now men knows what it feels like to have limited, often grossly exaggerated representations of themselves in television’. While this is true, I can only really see this as a temporary solution. In the case of men catcalling to women, it does not create equality when women start catcalling to men; it is merely prolonging the problem. There could be more varied portrayals of men in the show; however with the limited room to put more male characters in, I don’t really see how that can happen after you count the few good male characters like the guard Bennett and Piper’s brother.

The next main point Berlatsky brings up is how the women on the show, with the aid of their ‘melodramatic’ back-stories, are portrayed as victims of the system who deserve sympathy and recognition of their ‘innocence’. I can agree that with the way the show frames the stories of the main characters, the goal is certainly to get them in the viewer’s good graces. But I don’t think the intention of fleshing out the prisoners is to show that they are innocent, or that heart driven weaknesses led them to prison. I think it’s to show that while bad people can do bad things, good people can also do bad things. A point I continuously try to advocate is that no one is as bad or as good as they are made out to be; we generalize and polarize to neatly organize people into ‘good’ and ‘evil’. People are too multi-faceted to be divided in such a way, and there are really only varying degrees of good and bad, and everything in between. The show portrays prisoners who got locked away for a one-time mistake, it portrays prisoners who knowingly did bad things because of their circumstances, and it portrays rather awful, manipulative prisoners who are selfish and controlling. It is actually surprising to me how with a show full of diverse women, the article still manages to generalize ‘female’ portrayal into one category.

There are female inmates on the show who are capable of doing awful things, and who are not in prison because of ‘bad luck’ and “individual sadnesses”. The author even mentions Vee, the “sociopathic new villain”, but quickly dismisses her as an exception. However, the male prisoner he focused on before had a small sliver of screen-time compared to Vee, and there are actually quite a few similarities between the two characters, which the author didn’t recognize. The male prisoner was described as repulsive and deviant, whereas Vee adopted children to put into her drug business. When one of her adopted ‘sons’ betrays her, she sleeps with him and then has him murdered. I would describe that as repulsive and deviant. She is not the only example of how the female prisoners aren’t innocent, though. Morello is an inmate who constantly gushes about her wonderful fiance and the marriage she is planning for. In season 2, it is revealed that they went on only one date, and along with credit card fraud she also stalked him/fictionalized their entire relationship. By revealing the troubling backstory to an initial sweetheart, the message didn’t seem to say ‘you should excuse all her actions because we showed you what a sweetheart she is’. Even her friend in the show comforted her by acknowledging her problems and saying that she can still be loved despite them. It seems more like a message that all human beings have flaws, and do bad/wrong things, but that doesn’t mean that we are permanently undeserving of love. This is a show that focuses on the hearts and souls of human beings, and less on systematic injustices, like Berlatsky says. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.

The article, while it seems to be primarily about the television show, sandwiches a lot of commentary about violence against men and how it is ignored because women aren’t taken seriously as violent aggressors. This, I am behind 1000%. Abuse and violence are very serious things, and it is true that when women attack/hurt men, it is usually not taken as seriously as when it is the other way around.

However, the article originally posted by the author apparently received a lot of criticism, enough so that it warranted a follow-up article where the author brings in a second opinion, from author Adam Jones. This article barely comments on Orange is the New Black, and focuses on problems within the structure of female activists and male activists. It expands on the bigger issues touched on in the first article and brings them to the focus. But after reading this second article, it kind of felt to me that these were the main issues the author wanted to discuss in the first place. He stuck it in the middle of commentary about OITNB, and in doing so it felt to me that he used the show as a catalyst to point out important issues that aren’t exactly related to the show at all. It is absolutely true that in society, women aren’t seen as being capable of violence to the same degree as men. I’m glad that the author addresses stereotypes like that. But I’m not really sure how these important issues tie completely in with the show, since we often see women physically fighting each other and plotting violent deeds.

I’m not afraid to admit that I am a big fan of OITNB. But I have a feeling that someone could read this post and immediately dismiss it as ‘a feminist fangirl who blindly defends OITNB because of gender-related favoritism’. I would never claim that OITNB is a perfect show, because it’s not; like any piece of media, it has flaws and will never satisfy every viewer for every issue. But in this particular circumstance, I feel that it was receiving unjust criticism based on issues beyond it, because it had the gall to focus on women first and foremost. This post isn’t an in-depth commentary on the stereotypes and discriminations faced by both genders on an international and historical basis. I’ve been meaning to write about the show lately, and this is just a summation of my thoughts on a flawed show that is doing a pretty good job of portraying the human condition, while adding in commentary on the legal system. I applaud Berlatsky for addressing issues that others tend to shy away from, but I urge him to recognize more concise ways to address the issues instead of wrapping them in trendy packages that attract viewers.

“Hard Out Here” Song Review

25 Nov

If you haven’t heard of it yet, Lily Allen’s new song “Hard Out Here” has been garnering a lot of interest as a female-empowerment song as well as a direct call-out to Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines”. There are some direct shout-outs to his song/video as well as lines about sexism in general. The song has relatively low controversy, but it’s the music video that some are finding problematic. Upon writing this post, I realized that it would be too long to address everything, so I divided it into two. This first post is about the song, and the next one will be about the music video.

Via YouTube

Via YouTube

The lyrics of the song have a lot going on in them, so I’m going to deconstruct from start to finish. Just one line in, Allen uses the b word, which she continues to use for a majority of the song. Some people could complain of how using a misogynistic slur only sets feminism back, but I think this is more about a power play than anything else. If women want to use the b word and use it as empowering rather than derogatory, more power to them. I don’t really think it helps when women negatively call other women that word to bring each other down, but if you change the context of the word to turn it against people who try to use it negatively, it creates a different impact. It’s kind of how the show Queer As Folk revolved around gay characters who would constantly say f-g to each other and other gay characters. I think it’s okay to use words satirically to show that you won’t allow others to attack you with them.

The next couple of lines could be seen as problematic in a round-about sort of way. Allen states that she won’t be found in the kitchen, and that she doesn’t need to “shake her a-s” because she has a brain. This could be interpreted as shaming women who choose to be a housewife/cook through free will, not through societal standards, as well as slut shaming for women such as strippers who dance for men. The message of feminism is doing whatever you want to do, man or woman, because equality should allow everyone that freedom to choose. I don’t like the connotation of these lines, but she does say “Don’t need to shake my a** for you cause I’ve got a brain”. I’m glad she used ‘need’ rather than ‘want’, implying that people should do that because they want to, not because they feel that they have to. She also follows with “If I told you ’bout my sex life, you’d call me a slut”, so I don’t think it was her intention to imply slut-shaming with the previous line (that would be kind of backwards, wouldn’t it?).

The rest of the lines are all general observations on how society regards women, and they’re all perfectly reasonable and delivered with wonderful amounts of sarcasm and sass. She addresses double standards, beauty standards, and misconceptions of how inequality has disappeared (side-note, it hasn’t). She then has a line about someone tearing a butt in two, which is a direct hint towards a line referring to the same thing in “Blurred Lines”. Whether you think “Blurred Lines” is a good song or not, there is no way you can argue that ‘tearing a butt in two’ is not problematic; sex acts that are supposed to be pleasurable for both parties should not be referred to with violent connotations; even if it were in a BDSM or S&M context, the line is still cringe-worthy and creepy overall.

Regarding the song itself, I think it fits in with the general pop paradigm of today. On a purely musical level, there’s nothing too special or amazing about it, but it is catchy, fun, and has a rather mellow yet upbeat melody throughout. With the positive, no bs taking lyrics added in, it’s definitely an empowering song that I don’t mind getting stuck in my head once a day.

Chick-Fil-A and Bible Thumpers

2 Aug

Let me start off right off the bat: it’s okay if you don’t like gay relationships.

Obviously, it bothers me, but there’s nothing I can do if you don’t like homosexuality. I just have to deal with the fact that some people are uncomfortable with the concept; and you know what? That’s okay. I don’t know what kind of upbringing you had or what kind of culture you’re part of; if gays just aren’t your thing, that’s perfectly fine with me.

What does bother me is when you try to stop gay people from getting married because of your opinion.

Now I’m sure almost all of you are aware of all the controversy swirling around regarding Chick-Fil-A. The company has been giving money to anti-gay organizations for quite a while, and recently Dan Cathy, the president of the company, said some things about how he supported the ‘biblical definition of marriage’ and the ‘traditional family’. Now of course those statements seem innocuous enough, but the reason I and so many other people are riled up is because of what that statement implies.

When someone says that they support traditional marriages, it directly means that they don’t support gay marriages, because no one considers those to be ‘traditional’. And by not supporting gay marriages, they are implying that they are against the legalization of gay marriage. And that’s where my problem starts. So this is to anyone who doesn’t support gay marriage.

Again, it’s okay if you have a problem with homosexuality. It’s just not okay when your problem starts affecting other people lives. When your opinion of someone else starts infringing onto their legal and state rights, that is 100% wrong. When you make a certain group of people a hot-button political issue because of how uncomfortable you are with their sexual orientation, that is 100% wrong. When you deny a certain group the rights and liberties that you possess because they want to love someone you don’t approve of, that is 100% wrong.

Why should someone’s opinion have anything to do with someone else’s life? I could obviously understand if the opinion is about rapists being locked in jail, or thieves running rampant, but love lives? Seriously? Why is everyone so obsessed with the gender of who someone else loves?

There isn’t enough time in the world to touch on every anti-gay argument out there. Like the ‘what’s next, marrying animals? We can’t change laws based on every random romantic whim people have.’ Romantic whim? Homosexuality has existed for centuries upon centuries. It exists in almost every species on the planet. There are literally millions of homosexuals living on our planet right now. It is of utmost importance that this is understood: homosexuality is neither a whim, nor a choice. If it were a choice, straight people would have also had to choose who to be sexually attracted to at some point in their life. People are not automatically born attracted to the opposite gender, and gay people do not purposefully deviate from this orientation simply because they want to. Who would? Who would want to be ostracized and denied rights?

Like I said, I don’t have time to address all anti-gay arguments. But the biggest one that I will touch on is religion.

The bible states that “Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination.” (Leviticus 18:22)

In another version, Leviticus 18:22 states “Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable.”

Okay. Alright. So Christianity spells it out clear as day: homosexuality is a sin. And everything in the bible must be believed, correct? Because it is the word of God, and it cannot be denied, correct?

To go against God’s teachings would be a sin; absolutely. Do you agree that picking and choosing certain teachings to go with someones own opinions is wrong, because they’re denying some of God’s teaching based on what they want? Do you agree that certain teachings must be ignored as times change and society adapts?

Raise your hand if you like shrimp. Raise it again if you don’t coordinate your outfits based on their material. Again if you ladies keep forgetting to take two birds to your priest to sacrifice a week after your period.

These are all teaching that are in the bible. Eating shellfish is an abomination (11:9). Wearing clothing of two different materials is a sin (19:19). Women are unclean during their periods, and must sacrifice two birds to their priest to become clean again (15:28).

You may be thinking that that is absurd. Everyone knows that the times have changed. People have changed, customs have become outdated. So you simply disregard ones that have become irrelevant, correct?

Well, who is a mere mortal to decide what is irrelevant and what isn’t? No one can play God. No one can decide for themselves what teachings to follow and which to deny. Can they?

If so, then you must admit that to some extent, personal opinion is injected into the situation. Their personal beliefs are affecting how they interpret their holy book. Well, if someone personalizes their beliefs, it’s not really the bible’s teaching anymore, now is it? It’s their teachings. Their beliefs. They pick and choose what they want.

So using the bible as a reason for hating gay marriage is simply not valid. Because if one doesn’t support their holy book in its entirety, they are only using their religion as an excuse to fuel what they personally believe as wrong or right.

Even if you still support the bible’s views on homosexuality, this bears reminding: the United States does not have a theocracy as its government. Just because someone’s religion states that something is wrong, doesn’t mean that the government has to support and follow along in their beliefs. Christianity, nor any other religion, has no place in our governing system. So just because ‘homosexuality is a sin’, that doesn’t justify wanting it to be outlawed, even if they think that that is justification enough. I mean, Hindus believe that eating beef is a sin. But they are not the majority of the religion in this country, so even if they were trying to make eating meat outlawed, their commands would not become law.

But trust me, I am in no way trying to insult Christianity. I do not in any way hate Christians or believe that all of them are ignorant or hateful. I just can’t condone the usage of certain isolated sections of the bible to support political views.

And now back to Chick-Fil-A. Dan Cathy supports the biblical definition of marriage. And when you go to Chick-Fil-A to proudly show your support of the traditional and biblical family, do you understand the implications of supporting an anti-gay organization? Do you understand that allowing gays to marry is in no way affecting your current or future marriages? Do you understand that by not allowing gays to marry, they are not allowed to have many of the rights that you take for granted? They cannot have special visitation rights to each other in the hospital because they have no legal connection to each other. They cannot get tax breaks or marriage benefits because they cannot marry. They cannot receive any family benefits or legal privileges because as far as the law is concerned, they have no connection to each other.

Is it really that big of a deal that gay people get all of these things? Are you so determined to keep marriage between a man and a woman that you are ready to make an entire community second-class citizens?

I know it’s easy to smile, buy chicken, and say “I support traditional families. I support the bible’s view on marriage.” But there is a lot of weight in statements like these. There are a lot of implications that come with these words. There are a lot of people who suffer because of laws that stem from these words.

There may be some people that may be thinking that this girl seems a little angry. She seems kind of accusatory and spiteful. Isn’t she supposed to be representing a community filled with love, rainbows, and equality or something? Isn’t her entire community supposed to be happy and accepting of all people?

Well, so is theirs.