ENG 101

A Battle for Representation

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Women have been fighting all of history to be treated equally or simply  to be seen. The common belief that all women were given the right to vote since 1920 is actually a lie. In 1920 all white women could vote, in 1924 all native american women could finally vote, by 1952 all Asian women were given the right to vote, and finally it wasn’t until 1964 that all black women could vote. Though these facts do not relate to Orange is the New Black on the surface they do relate in the core concept that women have constantly been getting the short end of the stick all throughout history. In Noah Berlatsky’s article Orange Is the New Black’s Irresponsible Portrayal of Men he demonstrates that despite women finally being  given the opportunity to represent themselves, a man decides to step forward and  put the focus on the lack of male characters.

Berlatsky is another individual who chooses not to understand or take into account the true reason as to why the many female roles, and lack of male roles, in Orange is vital for not only pop culture but also a step for women’s representation. Yes I admit as a male I love to see our gender represented variously in pop culture however, it is much more important to start  giving  this key representation to the women who are constantly being looked over. Many try to argue that focusing primarily on women and their representation is the same thing as saying we shouldn’t care about men. This is a tactic many men can use to say, “why focus on one gender when you can focus on all of them?”. Well yes if we could just immediately be able to treat everyone equal why would we need feminism? This movement for women’s representation isn’t saying that men are inferior or unneeded but rather its purpose is to create an equal environment by finally giving women the spotlight.

Orange  is only one of few shows currently running that puts a primary focus on women and the different minorities and people that make up the show. Many films fail to  give female characters a basic story or even opportunity for character development. A main example was with the surprising death of Beth Greene in The Walking Dead that shocked thousands of fans, who afterward believed her character was only created to further add to Daryl, a male character. As you can see shows and films today are still constantly revolved around the male figure, being whether it’s direct or not. With this constant issue hovering over women it’s understandable to be almost angry at Berlatsky, a man, who wishes to see more representation of men. This is not to say his points are invalid; every person of every race, background, and origin should get their representation; but right now it’s time for women to get theirs. So now that we have finally received a well successful show represented by a diverse cast of women, a man decides once again he feels that his gender is not “represented” enough or as “good” as he’d like it to be. Yet with his entire argument he fails to realize that the show is based off a true story written by a woman in the eyes of a woman in a women’s prison. So naturally the show would have minimal representation of men since they are not the key focus of the story, the women are.

Even the show can be seen as a type of parody or mimic of the bechdel test but in a twisted manner. With Orange you see a profound female dominated cast that has a few male characters all of which generally talk about female partners, inmates, bosses and etc. However, it may be that Orange shows an obvious twist of events when it comes to the Bechdel test and represents the common issue women face by reversing the common roles they are in and now giving little power, representation, or opportunity to the casted men. They are finally the ones who are given the complex profound stories that are normally given to their male counterparts.

Season one had a lot of impact from the male characters, whether they were shown as helping or dehumanizing the women. In season two this concept switches gears and we finally focus even closer to all the diverse women of this prison. It’s true that men are much more likely to be sent to prison, their population constantly growing and staggering in the millions, while there are around only 100,000 women in prison. Yet even with these statistics other facts show that women are still the ones likely to be abused, molested, or even raped while in prison.  Berlatsky states that portraying the real stories of these women with sympathy is just a “feminist move” is almost degrading towards women. He’s indirectly saying that because these women want equality, they want representation, they want to be seen,  automatically has to present in a sympathetic way to actually get across.

He even believes that the men who are represented in the show are just the bad stereotypes that give “most” men a bad rep and how the show is presenting false ideologies. Yet Berlatsky fails to mention the several male characters who are not in this “stereotype”, for example John Bennett, Cal Chapman, Scott O’Neill, Wade Donaldson, Pete Harper, Yadriel, Charles Ford, Howard Bloom, Dimitri Reznikov, and more. Unlike many of the female characters in Orange many of these male characters are in great standing. And if Berlatsky only wishes to see representation of the large male prison community he should spend less time writing blog posts criticizing the lack of male representation in Orange is the New Black and instead use his time watching series that have already been produced revolving around male prisons like the Oz or Prison Break.

Or if he wishes to watch shows or films that feature more males may I recommend Anita Sarkeesian as she presents an extraordinary list of films that inherently fail the Bechdel Test. A test in which the only requirements are having two or more female characters that are given names and actually converse with one another about anything besides a male. Such a simple thing that somehow is constantly failed over and over again, even by the biggest films of our generation. And with of all these popular forms of media why does Berlatsky choose to focus on the lack of males characters in a show that doesn’t even have to do with males, more so even males in the U.S. correctional system?

On multiple occasions Berlatsky praises the show for its diversity and well thought out decisions of casting yet also simultaneously criticizes it here and there again that it doesn’t feature enough of a male dominated cast as he would like. Even claiming that the majority of prisoners in the United States are male and therefor should be represented more or even better than how they already are in Orange. Yet Berlatsky fails to put into account that society and media generally focus on the majority and only put in a dash of diversity just to claim they weren’t being prejudiced. In film and media it is hard for minorities to be seen or represented and Orange is the first show of its kind to finally give a voice to not only the minorities of the U.S but also to the minorities of the prison system: women.

And though there is a general equal ratio of men to women in the world today women are still treated as though they are a minority(ex: bechdel test). In our society minorities are the ones generally vulnerable to victimization because they do not have a big enough voice to overpower the majority. The majority primarily being cisgender white males, in which 18 out of 29 male characters in Orange are. Since the show is about a woman in a female prison right off the bat we rarely ever see male prisoners. And the few instances we do, like in “Thirsty Bird”, Berlatsky only focuses onto one prisoner, Darius McRae, a hitman and perfect example of a common idea of male prisoners. Berlatsky states, first in regards to Darius, that “…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.” Though he argues that women are the ones to always be victimized and real victimization is equal in both genders, he decides to portray the women in Orange as victims. Instead of resonating the victimization of men he chooses to put his focus on women, literally unable to further prove his reasoning. And yes there are some characters in Orange who are labeled victims or are seen in that light but his argument that all of the women are portrayed that way in the show is false.

Many characters like Vee, Red, Big Boo, Doggett(aka Pennsatucky), Diaz, or Hayes are not viewed as his standard “victim” because they all contain many flaws and have made bad choices that do not cause them to gain any sympathy. Like Doggett, whose own twisted morals and ideals already separates her from the rest, whom is willing to cause harm to others for her own personal gain. Or even Red, a well liked character, who turned from a sweet lady to a ruthless woman willing to go to great lengths just to keep her own standing, even if that means accidentally burning one of her own or attempting to murder a rival.

He also brings up a lot the victimization that is primarily involved with the violence against young black men. He implies that Orange fails to represent these individuals, and the few criminals that are shown are stereotypical drug dealers or are violent and abusive. Yet there is a key moment in the series that highlights the victimization of young black men and even how they are common targets for policemen and society. This primary example occurs with the death of Taystee’s close friend, RJ, who was unjustly framed and murdered by a New York police officer by the command of Vee. A significant event that highlights the constant mistreatment there race and gender face on a day to day basis. And the fact that Orange is able to depict that as well as its refusal to portray every woman on a pedestal, as a victim, or even corrupt demonstrates the shows profound diversity.

And a great thing about this series that though it shows the backstories of many characters and sometimes causes us to have empathy for them, they still decide to show just as much of the bad in these characters just as they do the good. A leading example of this is with the main protagonist, Piper Chapman, whom in the beginning we see as this helpless privileged white woman who doesn’t deserve to be sent to prison but the show chooses not to continue this sympathy card. Throughout season two we see the truth to Chapman and how she may as well deserve to be in prison just as much as the rest, from her attacking Pennsatucky to punching her wall out of anger of Larry’s affair to even ratting out her own lover and taking away her new found freedom by bringing her back to prison.

The reason for bringing this up is that Berlatsky cares about the representation of men in Orange is the New Black, but the key thing about representation is incorporating all the good and bad sides of a gender because representation isn’t just one directional view because all that is is misleading. And the men in Orange is the New Black fully represent the full spectrum of good and evil, the biggest example being correctional officers George Mendez and John Bennett. Both men that represent two very different worlds and ideals of men, one who manipulates and abuses the inmates and the other whom can actually show compassion and respect for the women in right circumstances. Bennett is also a main character that is well liked by viewers and is a prime example of the representation of men that Berlatsky has stated he wanted to see, funny how he was just hiding in plain sight. A role that perfectly exemplifies the representation that Berlatsky wants.

Orange is the New Black is a great television series that represents the worlds we are foreign to and the people and genders we often don’t hear of. Though it is often perceived as a show that only focused on women, to which Berlatsky rambles on about, it is actually a perfect representation of the minorities of women and the spectrum of good and evil men are seen on. From the sweet lovers, to the abusive officers, to even the often victimized black men Orange constantly surprises us with different views and stories. But is always successful in representing women in all their glory and finally giving them a voice that is often silenced.


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