August 26, 2020 in Analysis
Orange is the new Black


In the mid-2013, TV show with a title Orange is the New Black was introduced. The show was scripted and created by Jenji Kohan. The movie series takes place in a fictional female’s prison called Litchfield prison. It follows the storyline of Piper Chapman, a female prisoner, as the struggle to adjust to the prison life. It also pays attention to some of her experiences with Chapman’s fellow female prisoners, who she interacted with during her imprisonment.

Hooks simply defines feminism as a movement to end sexist oppression, exploitation and sexism. This definition makes it clear that feminism should not be anti-male, rather the main issues is sexism.

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In OINB, female characters represent a diversity of sexism through sexual inclinations, races, gender identities, and social classes. The writer and director have worked with fifteen female characters to accomplish this mission.

The current study seeks to explore the patterns in representation of sexism as a tool of feminism. It is important to understand that patterns used in the TV series are the representation of feminism ideologies within the culture and environments that create them.

The Pattern of Power of Women to Control their Destiny

In the series Orange is the New Black, the interlocking system of domination, oppression, and discrimination that individual prisoner struggle with cannot be separated. All these aspects contribute significantly to the general oppression the prisoner faces in prison. Female prisoners in OINB are subject of this interlocking system, however, women are depicted as manipulative.

Femininity privileges characters in prison especially with wardens. At the beginning of the series, Piper’s normative female expression causes Mr. Healy to often side with her.

Though he is a counselor, the manipulative power of Piper, arm-twisted him to allow most of the requests. During episode three of season one, “Lesbian Request Denied,” Piper Chapman is instructed by her fellow inmates that Caputo, a middle aged male warden, does not stand a woman cry and if Piper could cry in while with him in his office he would allow her to make a phone call she needed to make. Piper used this controlling power and cried while in Caputo’s office, unaware of the scheme, the warden allowed her to use his office phone to make a call to Larry.

Although Piper is portrayed as an individual in need of help and weak, her femininity has been displayed as a tool of power and control to her desired destiny.

Racial Breakdown of the Orange is the New Black

According to Hooks, in 1970 studies of women replaced the free-for-all studies. However, the free-for-all studies were taken over by privileged middle-class white women. The majority white women gained prominence since the mass media on them as the envoy of the struggle.

The case has not been different in OINB, female with revolutionary feminist awareness, such as lesbian have lost visibility to mainstream.

According to Hooks, feminist revolution alone cannot create a world of equality; people should endeavor to eradicate imperialism, class exclusiveness, and racism.

In Orange is the New Black, Piper makes severally refer to her White Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) background in the series. Although according to Mclntosh’ theory that white privilege is invisible, Piper’s white race is brought to limelight by the response of her fellow inmates towards her privilege as a white. In OINB season one Chapman’s whiteness in displayed in ways that make her race more visible than usual. White’s privileges in prison did not go unnoticed by Piper’s fellow inmate, more so the prisoner of different races.

In season one, Piper upon arriving in prison she was given a toothbrush by a white inmate called Morello, and she was told take care of fellow whites is tribal but not racial. “We take care of our own”, this statement was made by Morello as she handed a toothbrush to Piper. This statement set the stage of how the element of racial segregation among the population of prisoners at Litchfield.

In a separate instance, Piper enters the cafeteria and while looking for a place she could sit, she is asked by a fellow inmate to sit with “a white lady” – addressing herself as such. When instructed to join other white inmate at cafeteria table, race becomes a pivotal factor in the space occupied by inmates.

During episode three, Piper is assigned to a new bunk assignment. Her fellow inmates are not surprised when she is assigned to “the ghettos,” housing bunk that housed largely black prisoners. The other inmates were rather surprised because normally the inmates are housed on the basis of race. Therefore, Healy the warden would have to approve of Piper being assigned to reside in “the ghetto” housing wing.

The warden is not seen to be uncomfortable assigning Piper in a largely black housing wing, but he was absolutely against assigning her a room with a lesbian inmate. In this case, the warden’s fear of exposing Piper to a Lesbian overcame his desire to assign her to a predominantly white housing wing and conform to racial segregation norm.

Moreover, the show predominantly concentrates on Piper, a white inmate as Litchfield. Piper’s imprisonment highlighted the challenges faced by other female prisoners, who are largely people of color. This is awkward because the series develops the narrative of inmate of color from the view point of a white inmate.

By portraying Piper as a white rescuer, the inmate of color in Orange is the New Black are depicted as women without capacity to relief themselves and must depend on whiteness of Piper to express themselves and their challenges at Litchfield.

Bechtel Test

The series Orange is the New Black has passed the Bechdel Test. This conclusion is based on the facts that there are more than two female active characters in the show and all are referred to by their names.

In addition, the series has several instances where the female characters have had conversations that are not necessarily about man.

In episode one, as Piper enter the prison, Morello gives her a toothbrush and told her that that was the way the whites take care of their colleagues. In another instance, Sophia discussed the transgender identify with her fellow female prisoners. She was telling them about the gender reassignment surgery.

Women Characters and Gender Based Violence

According to Hooks, “The enemy within must be transformed before we confront the enemy outside.” Although in OTNB the main characters are women, their experiences and violence in prison differ on the basis of their sexuality.

In the first episode of season one when Piper joins the prison, Healy warned her about interacting with lesbians during her stay at prison. Although it was rarely done, he had to assign her a room on “the ghetto” housing wing. This would amount to discrimination against those prisoners who are perceived to be lesbians based on the masculine behaviors.

Women are exposed to dangers while in prison include sexual coercion and violence even from the fellow prisoner. The situation is even worse for transgender women.

However, from incarceration systems that are single gender the comparison of gender-based violence may be difficult to compare.

Message to Women and Men

The incarceration centers are supposed are depicted as places of behavior correction as opposed to punishment. The series Orange is the New Black has managed to pass this message effectually. However, the writer and director go an extra mile in highlighting some of areas that are supposed to rectified such as racial discrimination and sexual violence that inmate may be exposed to from other prisoners as well as from staff.

According to Hooks, the same support that is accorded to straight women should be to lesbians and no one should be treated higher than the other based on their sexual inclination.


Although it would be misguiding to expect a complete genuineness the series about oppressed females, Orange is the New Black should be approached as a significant effort in the process of creating awareness about medial representation of women in prison. The series both explores, and evokes, myths and stereotypes concerning female, implying that popular culture’s contribution to OINB is more hesitant.

The series highlight consciousness of the debates around misrepresentations of the US incarceration, unconditionally inviting the audience to engage with their experience further. Although the series may be viewed as more conventional than classic feminism films, it holds on genre’s obligation to the study of marginal identities while at the same time interrogating the character of the middle-class, privileged whites through characters such as Piper.


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