Orange May Be The New Black, But White Is Still The Dominant Race

          The Netflix phenomenon Orange is the New Black has been the topic on every North America’s mind since the release of its first season in July 2013. With the second season coming to Netflix this June I decided to watch this series for a second time, but this time I made the decision to analyze it as I searched for undertones of cultural hegemony. Originally based on a book written by Piper Kerman depicting her experiences in a women’s prison, the television show takes this inspiration and creates a hyperbole in order to achieve laughs. While this show does a fantastic job in representing many races and ethnicities, as well as housing one of televisions few representations of a transsexual woman, the show contains major culturally hegemonic issues which all seem to favour the white community.  This trend is one that we have seen for centuries, as white has been viewed as the dominant race or cultural form, but Orange is the New Black does a relatively good job of hiding this theme unless you are directly searching for it.

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(via: https://zap2it.com/blogs/hemlock_grove_adds_orange_is_the_new_blacks_madeline_brewer_for_season_2-2013-10)

            Cultural hegemony can be described as the predominant influence over other groups. Although some believe that all people are equal and society has achieved equality, there is still a person or group that has power or influence over other people or groups. When watching Orange is the New Black, I saw this theme benefiting the white population. This hegemony is clear within the first 20 minutes of the first episode. Firstly, it seemed as if almost all of those who had special privileges or were trusted to do important jobs in the prison were white. There is the white inmate, Morello, who is trusted to drive new prisoners into the prison following their strip search. The woman who is in charge of cooking the food for the entire prison is another white woman named Red, with all white inmates helping her. The inmate who is in charge of the chapel is yet another white woman named Tiffany Doggett. Jones is a white inmate who is allowed to teach her own yoga classes. I find it interesting that even when incarcerated, we can see this theme of cultural hegemony benefitting white inmates. The prison seems to be split into racial groups, with each race sitting together during meals and staying together during their free time. When questioning why this was, one reason that I came up with was that black inmates understand the struggles of other black inmates, just as do Latinos and Latinos, and white inmates with white inmates. Because the prison system does not involve equality within incarceration, those of similar races may stick together because they feel that they cannot identify with those from any other racial group. Fights that are shown in the show usually occur between women of different races, possibly because they don’t feel a connection to each other.

Along with the inmates having dominance, I noticed that the majority of the prison guards are white. This display of supremacy is more apparent than that of the inmates as the guards clearly exhibit theirs. The guards use degrading names towards the inmates, along with treating them like animals instead of people. Guards have been accused of rape, with a certain guard commonly making sexual remarks. This display of not only cultural hegemony, but also patriarchy is degrading and offensive to all inmates, including those who are white. Making the women feel like they are no longer people, the guards have clear control over them.

            Another example of cultural hegemony within this show, and also real prisons is the Prison Industrial Complex refers to the practice of private investment in mass incarceration (Tolmie, 2014). The PIC aids in securing the authority of those whose power is based on economic, racial, and even structural privileges. Those who benefit from this complex are primarily white, American people who are wealthy. The PIC is directly related to cultural hegemony in prisons, as it is clear that this hegemony is not only evident in prisons, but also for those outside operating and investing in them. By dehumanizing people, dominant groups can gain more superiority and power. An example of the PIC in this television show is seen through those who run the prison. The executive assistant to the warden is a white woman who dresses well and clearly flaunts her wealth and authority. In the second episode, she tells the new inmates during their orientation that she is available to talk anytime about anything relating to their needs as women. When an inmate tries to ask her a question, she states that she is only there as a formality that day. This woman’s dominance and ability to profit off of the incarceration of these women is even more dehumanizing to the inmates.

            Although I didn’t notice it very much the first time that I watched this series, the cultural hegemony is very clear in Orange is the New Black. The superiority and privilege of inmates who are white allow them to maintain jobs within the prison that women who are of other races are not allowed to do. The guards are also predominantly white, reinforcing this hegemony. The Prison Industrial Complex is seen in this show through those who run the prison, again being predominantly white, and displaying the wealth that they have made through the incarceration of these women. These displays of privilege is disappointing for viewers to see, as it shows that even when people are taken out of society and put into a prison, the inequalities that they face on the street are still apparent within the stone walls and barbed wire fences.

 

Herzing, Rachel. “What is the Prison Industrial Complex?.” Defending Justice. N.p., 2005. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. <http://www.publiceye.org/defendingjustice/overview/herzing_pic.html&gt;.

“I Wasn’t Ready.” Orange is the New Black. Netflix. 11 May 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

“Tit Punch.” Orange is the New Black. Netflix. 11 May 2013. Web. 20 Apr. 2014.

Tolmie, Jamie. “Prisons, Intersection of Race, Class and.” Queen’s University. Kingston. 28 Jan. 2014. Lecture.

White Beauty- Propaganda and Objectification

           As white Western society is so prominent in media all around the world today, it has widely become the desirable depiction of life. The glamorization of Hollywood, filled with thin, white, beautiful actresses and actors. The lives of these people, and the majority of those living in Western society reflects the privilege that we have. As explored by Peggy McIntosh in White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack, it is clear that the privilege of white people existing in Western society is something that those living in different parts of the world strive for. McIntosh’s dissection of media and white privilege shows the objectification of those of other ethnicities, as she writes “I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented” (1988). Women all over the world dream about having white skin in order to fit into Western society and look like the people in Hollywood. Advertisements for skin lightening products are prevalent in Eastern societies, particularly India, promising to give women the skin of an American white woman.

            In this Ponds advertisement, we see a man leaving an Indian woman and supposedly breaking her heart. After 3 years apart, this woman sees a picture of this man and another woman on the cover of a magazine. This man’s new love interest is a white woman. One day she passes the couple on the street and is embarrassed by her darker complexion. The man stares at her in an objectifying way. The woman then sees an ad for a new Ponds product, called “Ponds White Beauty.” This product claims to lighten skin to a “radiant pinkish-white glow”.  After seeing the advertisement, the woman looks more confident and seems as if she is on a mission. The commercial ends with a “to be continued” message. This advertisement seems to claim that the only way for this woman to get her true love back is to lighten her skin to a white colour. She will then be viewed as beautiful and can win back the man. This propaganda tells women that the only definition of beauty includes white skin. Although highly racist, this claim is present in the minds of women all over the world. Skin lightening is a very popular trend in India, and the commercial for this product reinforces this idea of white beauty. While the advertisement doesn’t directly state it, the underlying message tells women that if they use this product, they will be beautiful like white women. If they don’t use this product, their men will leave them for white women. This sexual myth stating that women with darker complexions are undesirable to men seems to be the prominent factor pushing women into lightening their skin. All women want to feel beautiful and desirable, and advertisements like these spread messages that the only way to achieve that is to be white.

            It is interesting how women who are of darker complexions strive to be white, while white women strive to be different also. As seen in the television show The Swan, we see primarily white women going through multiple procedures in order to achieve what they consider to be beautiful. These women end up looking like totally different people, and commonly look fake. The sad reality of our society is that women never seem to be satisfied with the way that we look. It seems that if we are Indian, we wish to be whiter yet if we are white, we are still not happy with the way that we look and must go to great lengths to achieve our misconception of what beauty is.

           I am curious as to why all of this media is focused on women. As outlined in the Ponds advertisement, the woman strives to be white in order to gain the love of the man. And in the television show, The Swan, the women strive to be more sexually desirable. It seems that the objectification of women is so prominent in today’s society, whether it is in America or in India, while the objectification of men is seemingly non-existent. This Ponds product has a clear link between race, gender and sexuality. By portraying the Indian race as ugly, women are made to feel that they must be of a different race in order to be sexually desirable. This propaganda is degrading to all women of races other than white. Media should be making women feel beautiful in their own skin, not make them feel like they must change themselves in order to be desirable.

 

 

McIntosh, Peggy. White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack. Wellesley: Wellesley College Center for Research on Women, 1988. White Privilege and Male Privilege: A Personal Account of Coming To See Correspondences through Work in Women’s Studies. Ser. 189. Web. 29 Mar. 2014. <http://amptoons.com/blog/files/mcintosh.html&gt;

 

G.B.F. – An Accurate Depiction of the High School Experience

G.B.F., directed by Darren Stein, is a film depicting the teenage struggles of coming out as homosexual in high school. Tanner Daniels, a student at North Gateway High, was accidentally “out-ed” by his peers after he downloaded an app where you can find other homosexual people in your community. While Tanner had been content to fly under the radar, his life is turned upside-down as he suddenly becomes the latest fad that all of the girls want—the gay best friend.  The three Queen Bees of the school, Caprice, Shlee and Fawcett, all fight for Tanner’s friendship and to claim him as their GBF.

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This film gives an intersectional analysis of the high school experience, telling a story of love, friendship, struggles with peer pressure and the desire to be popular. G.B.F. is a high school film that is an accurate depiction of teenage life today, even if it is somewhat hyperbolized. Full of stereotypes, the movie is humorous with its witty lines bringing to light many false views that we have of the homosexual community: “So you’re a gay now”, “Are you going to audition for the spring musical?”, “Oh, that’s not gay”, “You’re not like the ones on Bravo…”, and my personal favourite: “When you’re getting gay with a guy, how do you decide who’s the girl and who’s the boy?”. Tanner comes back with “Not an expert, but I think you’re both the boy… That’s kind of the point”.

The main issue of the film arises when Tanner is not allowed to bring another male to prom as his date. Fawcett, a Queen Bee, decides that she will hold an alternative prom where Tanner can bring whomever he chooses. After winning Prom King, Tanner makes a speech where he finally lets his peers know his true feelings about his experience of being the only “out” homosexual at their school: “I don’t want to be King of a gay prom or be a gay best friend or get gay married. I just want to go to prom, be a friend, get married maybe. You all see me as an object or a symbol” (Stein 2014). Tanner paved the way for other students in his school to come out as homosexual, or any other sexuality or gender they chose. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. While they kept it light with all of the humour, the message is an important one. Society does treat homosexual people, or really those of any minority, as different. When we refer to someone as “a gay” or talk about homosexual marriage as just that instead of simply marriage, it becomes problematic. While we may not mean to, we are further embedding inequality into our society through the way that we treat and even talk about those who are different than us. To promote equality, we must change many things including the terminology we use. Tanner makes a good point in his speech after becoming Prom King. We shouldn’t refer to homosexual friends as our GBF. They are simply friends. Their sexuality should not influence our likelihood to befriend them.

My experience at the ReelOut Film Festival was immensely positive. Have you ever walked into an environment and just felt safe and accepted? This is exactly how I felt when I entered the Screening Room. I felt like those surrounding me would not judge me based on the way that I looked and dressed, my sexuality, my choice of makeup, etc. Sometimes I don’t feel this acceptance in my school community. It is almost as if all of my peers are striving to be better than me and do better than me. I feel constant judgement from not only my peers, but also my professors and TAs to act a certain way, dress a certain way, perform a certain way. At times, I don’t feel comfortable in my school environment and therefore don’t feel comfortable within myself. I wish that Queen’s had the same atmosphere that the ReelOut Film Festival did. In fact, I wish that all places felt like that. Fearing constant scrutiny from those surrounding you even as a straight white woman is not something that we should still be struggling with in 2014. 

 

Stein, Darren, dir. G.B.F.. School Pictures, 2013. Film.

Female Pubic Hair—a Societal Taboo

The sexualisation of the female body has been present in various Western societies for centuries. From naked figures in artwork to the commoditization of women’s bodies in music, no one is safe from this controversial fad that exists today. Within this sexualisation of women’s bodies, there is an unspoken standard or expectation of how these bodies should look. Anyone can see by observing pop culture today that this standard consists of white, thin females.  Women strive to achieve this societal perfection—a seemingly unattainable image for the majority of the female population. Within this societal norm, there is a further criterion that women feel they must obey in order to be deemed as attractive by society. One of these is the hairless factor.

American Apparel, a popular American clothing store, recently made headlines as they unveiled a new set of mannequins in a New York store window. These mannequins consist of white women with unruly pubic hair seen through sheer undergarments that the mannequins are wearing.

The author of the article on the blog website Gothamist.com, Jen Carlson, discusses this controversy. She refers to this display of pubic hair as  “1970’s porn bush[es].” Carlson is simply adding to the body shaming of women. What she refers to as a porn bush from the seventies, I simply refer to it as what it is—a vagina, in all its glory. The fact that Carlson is contributing to the societal expectation of having a hairless body is discouraging for women. As a woman herself, she should be standing up for the rights of women. She should be encouraging them to have the confidence to sport this “porn bush”, therefore gaining back the rights over their own bodies and not giving into the body modification trends.

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(Photo by Michelle Barber-Perry)

            This discussion has become the ultimate taboo as women feel that it is wrong or gross to have pubic hair. Women have been made to feel that body hair equals masculinity. Therefore in order to be feminine, we must be hairless. This especially pertains to pubic hair. While many claim that it is a personal preference of how you style your pubic hair, it is my understanding  that many of us feel that we must be hairless “down there” in order to be seen as attractive or sexy to men. We feel that we must shave our legs, wax our eyebrows, shave our armpits, and wax our vaginas in order to be seen as feminine in today’s society. We put our bodies through torture in order to achieve the beauty that society forces us to strive for. And if we don’t strive for this beauty, then we are deemed as feminists.

When asked the question of whether women have free will in terms of their body modification, I would argue that society does not allow us to. Society and pop culture has deemed pubic hair as a sign of masculinity and when females are attributed to masculinity, they are deemed as lesbians or feminists. Clearly there is nothing wrong with being either of these things, yet a woman who is neither a lesbian nor a feminist should feel that she has enough control over her own body to choose to sport pubic hair. Hairlessness attributed to feminism is a socially constructed craze that further deepens the insecurity that women feel within their own bodies.

I think that it is ridiculous that this American Apparel display has been deemed as feminist. Yes, you could attribute it to third wave feminism, but these images still objectify women. With these mannequins scantily clad in sheer undergarments on display for everyone to see, nothing is left up to the imagination. While American Apparel’s Ryan Holiday claims that these mannequins are meant to challenge the ideas of “sexiness”, he also said that it is meant to make people reconsider their personal opinions of the natural female form. Firstly, these mannequins are stick thin, displaying a societal expectation forced upon women that has led to higher rates of eating disorders and mental illness. Secondly, all of these mannequins are white, displaying another societal expectation. By claiming that these mannequins are meant to exhibit the “natural female form”, it makes me wonder why they chose to use pubic hair to do so.

I’m curious as to whether people would react the same way if these mannequins were not thin, tall white women. Had American Apparel chosen to display a curvaceous African-American woman or a short Asian woman sporting pubic hair, would American Apparel still have received the same reaction from the public? Had the store used mannequins that did not fit society’s description of beautiful women, I would expect that there would be much more backlash.

The warped image of what society views as “sexy” is degrading to women, and although I praise American Apparel for challenging these views with the exposure of female pubic hair, I further challenge them to experiment with models who are not predominantly white, tall, and thin.

Click on the picture or find the original article here:  http://gothamist.com/2014/01/16/american_apparel_mannequin.php