As it does with almost any existing issue of social relevance, the media plays a pivotal role in shaping mindsets on female empowerment and leadership in any societal circle.
Over the years, the media has been able to document the rise of feminism and shed light on the patriarchal oppression of women around the world.
We could agree that to some extent, the media has successfully educated people on said issue, but let’s face it: To this day, many TV shows still demonstrate a glaring lack of diversity among women, be it in the characters they represent, their nationalities or their sexual orientations.
Today’s media still often depicts women as one-dimensional and almost merely ornamental, with roles that are only relevant alongside stronger and more complex male characters.
So, when a show like Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black” comes along and features a multifarious range of female characters with a generous representation of women of color, it is refreshing and somewhat hopeful.
People see it as a brave take on women’s issues, and it is praised for doing away with the clichéd “manic pixie dream girl” persona often seen in Hollywood.
When it first debuted last year, "Orange is the New Black" quickly propelled itself to the top by becoming the most watched Netflix series of 2013. Set behind and beyond the walls of a prison, "OITNB" hosts interesting portrayals of women co-existing in a place where their ideals can’t help but clash.
The show tackles real, thought-provoking topics on race, culture, gender identity, sexuality, religion and much more without fear of invalidation and ridicule.
"OITNB" is a prison-based drama, but it also shows the life of women outside bars, where they function beyond societal norms and confront day-to-day struggles with an enlightened sense of self.
Because of this, viewers of the show are exposed to varied representations of women. Emphasis is placed on how women perform in the workplace and how they fare as leaders in this society.
Critics have been anything but close-mouthed about their thoughts on the series and the majority comment on how the show does not shy away from complex female characters with strong principles and real problems.
The women of the show are women of color, of different ethnicities, of awakened senses of sexuality and of distinctive religious beliefs. With their own unique backstories shown throughout the series, the women of "OITNB" are anything but one-dimensional. They are real representations of women today: strong, insightful, outspoken, but also oftentimes lost and confused.
Although the physical attributes of the main character, Piper, fit into the common representation of women on TV shows (white, thin, attractive), it is the highly diversified ensemble of her female co-actors that makes "OITNB" a visual, intellectual and emotional treat for anyone who is used to seeing only superficial female characters on screen.
Sexual discrimination is still a common issue faced in many countries today, but women are now entitled to more rights than they had before.
More and more, women claim valuable roles in the workplace, with some even making it to the top of the corporate ladder. There is no questioning these facts, but where the media often fails is in the representation of these empowered women.
Depth is often compromised when featuring overtly sexualized female characters, simply because shallow female roles are the ones that “sell” more.
Think of the movies in Hollywood. Think of the numerous TV shows that give low regard to what women can accomplish in this day and age.
Most of them still fail to show a diverse representation of women, don’t you think? In fact, some even fail to show the great attributes of women beyond superficial qualities, as there is no attempt to do so.
Given this standard, what "OITNB" has done is nothing short of phenomenal. How often do you encounter a female-dominated show that does away with any attempt to sugarcoat the harsh realities women still face today?
Generally, women have grown skillful at protecting themselves and their interests. This is evident in many "OITNB" scenes that reinforce the reality that women are capable of protecting not just themselves, but each other, too.
"OITNB" is, indeed, a refreshing take on women’s roles. It is insightful as much as it is bold. It gives much-needed attention to female perspectives and stirs meaningful, thought-provoking conversations on a wide range of topics that are seldom heard in a female-dominated setting.
It may be a long time before shows like "OITNB" outnumber those wherein women are poorly represented and over-sexualized, but knowing there are people who produce shows that focus on what it’s really like to be an empowered woman in the 21st century gives me hope.
Photo Courtesy: Netflix/Orange Is The New Black