My final project is going to focus on the representation of female masculinity in popular media and especially as seen in Orange is the New Black (OINB). The representation of gay women on television started back in the 1980s in the medical series called Heartbeat. It took so long a time until the 21st century for society to accept their existence. Television plays a very critical role as mainstream media, and many people find themselves glued to it. In order for society to appreciate gender diversity that has strayed from mainstream traditional gender relations, it is important to look at how gay and lesbian personality are looked at in popular culture. In as much as same-sex relationships are received with so much criticism almost all the time, it is imperative to look at how visual entertainment through television can change the perspective of the population.
The use of a femme and butch lesbians in OINB says a lot about the power of sexual identity and how it shapes personalities. The absence of men in the movie clearly states that it is possible to have women relationships, and they turn out as good as the traditional male- female relationships (Morrow & Messinger 39). Women, in this case, are shown as independent and that they can be found in different body types, skin colors as well as social classes (Witten 62). Women left on their own can bond beyond friendships and not even bars can change their feelings and attitudes towards each other. It does not matter whether among them are killers, nuns, robbers, black or Latina. At least their butch behavior breaks the chains of them being objects to being used by men as sex toys (Maite 3).
The good thing about what is portrayed on television by the minority lesbian or gay groups has started to be given positive acclamation because finally the world is opening up to them and respecting them for who they are (Macadon 79). Lesbian characters such as those represented in OINB are slowly becoming respectable and iconic because they are coming out are representatives of a minority group of the LGBT. But at the same time they receive a lot of criticism because many viewers are those that have chosen to tread the traditional paths of gender functionality and so do not identify with the transgender community on screen.
Media fails to capture all the personalities that are a representation of transgender. There are not so many television programs that use male characters that act like or behave like a woman as they are expected when they are in their circles. The same applies to women. But in OINB, femme lesbian characters are not as many as it has been witnessed in several other gay or lesbian television programs. The butch woman is adequately represented as compared to their femme counterparts. Perhaps this is the case because it is set in prison, and one could expect to find rough women who have committed crimes. Good examples are those of characters like Nicky Nichols and Carrie ‘Big Boo’ Black. In as much as Nicky wears makeup and has maintained long hair, she looks masculine, and she is quite rough. Carrie too is a bit overweight and does not wear makeup. She is covered with tattoos and has maintained short hair like a man. Alex Vause is the only lesbian who portrays femme attributes and cannot be compared to the rest who talk, walk and act like men within the prison walls.
The lesbian woman is represented as dangerous. At least those that have been represented in OINB show it through character. But again, a new dimension about this fact is brought in when Sam Healy warns Tiffany Pennsatucky about associating and relating to inmates with lesbian tendencies. Healy tells her to keep off Boo not because she is bad or something, but because the book “The End of Men” that recommends for her reading shows how female independence will lead to men losing value and meaning in society. By the mere fact that women are becoming independent, more educated and economically powerful shows how much the male species is at the risk of extinction (Deutsch 121). At least women will not desire them romantically when they can be romantically attracted to each other and meet their sexual desires.
Society is finally waking up to the realities of women and men leading parallel lifestyles away from normal or valid societal expectations. OINB diverges from what is considered normal and presents women who have different personalities from societal expectations but who are comfortable being them. People can now identify with screen characters such as Boo because they represent what they feel and what they would wish society to recognize in them (Varo 136). It is not surprising that television will create a revolution in changing people’s mindsets especially on issues that were traditionally considered taboo (Haberstam 67). The choice of using butch characters on the screen may never have been easy in the past, but now that the world has become accommodating of them there might be several other movies coming up about female masculinity. Television has made society become open minded and more people are willing to watch something new and different from mainstream societal norms (Adams 8).
Adams, Rachel. Masculinity Without men: Review of Judith Haberstam, Female Masculinity.Web. Retrieved on 11th April 2015. http://www.columbia.edu/itc/english/adams/g6651-001 x01/HalberstamReview.pdf
Deutsch, Francine M. “Undoing Gender”. Sage Journals Vol. 21, no. 1 (2013) 106- 127
Haberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke University Press, 1998. Print
Macadon, Harvey. The Fenway Guide to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Health. New York: ACP Press, 2008. Print
Maite Alias. Shattering gender taboos in Gabriel Bauer's Venus Boyz. Journal of Gender Studies. 19 (2) (2010).
Morrow, Deana F. & Messinger,, Lori. Sexual Orientation and Gender Expression in Work Practice: Working with Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual & Transgender People. New York: Columbia University Press
Varo, Asuncion Argon. This is a Man’s World: Drag Kings and the Female Embodiment of Masculinity. Alicante Journal of English Studies. 26 (2013): 129- 141
Witten, Tarynn M. & Eyler, Evan A. Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Aging: Challenges in Research, Practice and Policy. Baltimore, John Hopkins University Press, 2012. Print