It’s hard to turn on your TV and not see the average televised model of what a woman should be: either petite, pretty, and proper, or undeniably sexualized and promiscuous. Don’t tell me that you’ve never seen Ariana Grande’s innocently sweet but incredibly dumbed down character on the show Victorious. Or how Gossip Girl shows us women who need to always have on that extra layer of lip gloss if they want to impress a man.
In fact, lately I haven’t found a show that isn’t either centered completely around men or women chasing after men. In all of my days of watching television, (and believe me, I watch a little too much of it), I’ve never seen a show where every single female character is a shining star on the battlefront of feminism the way I’ve seen on Jenji Kohan’s Orange is the New Black.
The Netflix original dramedy revolves around an exclusively female, minimum security federal prison. This show not only prioritizes women, but also shows them in an unexpected light, avoiding the usual stereotypes of women. We see lesbians, violent fights, abuse, female hygiene (or lack-thereof), all in a natural, raw state. This show is making giant leaps for women everywhere.
Take Uzo Aduba’s character Suzanne, for example. Often referred to as “Crazy Eyes,” she takes medication for her emotional outbursts, and occasionally can’t control her actions. We see a woman in her realest emotional state, but we also see a woman who can quote literature down to the T. Suzanne shows us that it’s okay for women to be emotional. It’s okay for women to be different.
Natasha Lyonne as Nicky and Lea DeLaria as Big Boo are really in touch with their sexuality, and have had various sexual partners throughout the show. No one judges them or harasses them about it. They just let them do their thing.
Laverne Cox, a transgender woman herself, plays a transgender character named Sophia on the show. Both her and Yael Stone’s character, Lorna Morello, are women who embrace their womanhood with makeup, hair, fancy clothes, and the works. Living up to the beauty standards women supposedly should be following does not make them any less of feminist icons. You are allowed to enjoy all the stereotypically girly things as much as you are allowed to abstain from makeup or liking boys, and can still be someone who all girls around the world look up to.
Then there’s Red. Strong, Russian, powerful Red. A leader in and outside of the kitchen, Head Chef Red acts as a mom to a specific group of the prisoners, and doesn’t take shit from anybody. Her advice is timeless and her strength is admirable. Red is the embodiment of a powerful female character on television.
The thing I love most about this show is that nothing about these women is dumbed down. A lot of people watch it thinking, “These women are prisoners, they can’t ever be anything like me,” but they have it all wrong. These characters have shown us so many important things about being a woman. We’ve seen unshaved legs and real hard-hitting issues other than just teenage-girl gossip (of course, there is some of that too. Let’s be realistic, it’s TV.)
“So what? What’s so special about it? It’s just a show about a bunch of women.” Well, that’s exactly it. It’s a show about women, and that makes it special. And in the midst of many shows dumbing down women for ratings, Orange is the New Black depicts women in a way that is real and relatable.
Featured image via screengrab of OITNB