English 1102: Television and Feminism

Dr. Casey Alane Wilson • Georgia Institute of Technology

Author: Alexander Marin

Light and Dark: Cinematography of Orange is the New Black

While the first season of Orange is the New Black is generally shot in the drab confines of Litchfield Penitentiary, frequent flashbacks spice up the visuals while providing intriguing backstories to many of the prison’s residents.

The show immediately kicks of with a series of quick cuts from a flashback of Piper enjoying getting clean, ending with a jarring closeup of her which eventually zooms out to reveal the confines of prison. Although the show is pretty much entirely shot in third person, the camera follows a variety of perspectives, some with minimal relation to the protagonist. The scenes generally only contain a few characters, but may start with a zoomed out view of many characters (such as in the mess hall), before focusing on the primary character in the scene.

The confines of prison are generally drab, but relatively well lit. There are several scenes that take place at night or in darker environments, such as in the prison theater or late at night in the dorms. There are also a fair number of romantic and sexual scenes, which are shot with much longer takes than other parts of the show. The solitary confinement is shot with an alternating focus on the inmate and the emptiness of their cell, giving the viewer a sense of that character’s isolation. Overall, there are many scenes with one on one interaction where the camera switches perspectives frequently, such as Piper’s meetings with Larry and Healy.

I believe the frequent cuts of the show serve to demonstrate how quickly change can occur in prison, while the longer shots emphasize individual relationships and emotions. The generally uninteresting background draws more focus on the colorful personality of the characters, who keep the prison from becoming too boring. Overall, the producers of the show did an excellent job keeping their shots in tune with the plot of the story, and using visuals to emphasize characters and emotions.

Below, I have linked an article that goes into much more detail on the equipment used in shooting OITNB.


Piper Chapman: The Multifaceted Female Protagonist That TV Needs

If you have been following along with my blogs, you are probably very familiar with Piper Chapman, the protagonist of Orange is the New Black who is spending time in prison for carrying drug money nearly a decade prior. Unlike many female characters shown in television Piper is portrayed as caring, yet surprisingly cruel at times. Although she appears to be very innocent upon first entering Litchfield Penitentiary, she almost immediately shuts down romantic advances from Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” without much thought to how this would make her fellow prisoner feel.

While Piper ended up in prison due to an unfortunate twist of fate, similar to many other inmates, she comes from a vastly different background than her contemporaries. Piper’s wealthier upbringing and previous life sometimes make her stuck-up and disrespectful, it also gives her a different point of view to act as an advocate for the other prisoners. An early example demonstrating that prison life is a far cry from what she is used to is when Piper unintentionally insults Red’s food. However, Piper tries incessantly to make this up to Red, showing that she cares about what the other prisoners think of her and doesn’t just want to be served food again.

A mugshot of Piper

Many female characters are expected to have a monogamous relationship with a man, which Piper initially has at the beginning of the series. Before long, her past relationship with Alex reveals Piper is not more complicated than she appears on the surface. Despite Alex having turned her in to the authorities, Piper forgives her and cheats on Larry with her. While this choice may partially be due to the loneliness she experiences in prison life, it is still a low blow to her faithful fiance.

In conclusion Piper’s relentless self-advocacy, decision making role in her relationships, and morally questionable actions potentially stemming from her transition to a much more difficult life make her the realistic, intriguing character that benefits her show and television as a whole.

If you would like to read more about Piper’s development over the subsequent seasons of Orange is The New Black, check out this article from Vulture: https://www.vulture.com/2015/06/piper-chapman-actually-the-worst.html

Flawed Prisons, Prejudiced Views

Episode 3 of Orange is the New Black’s first season explores a variety of themes ranging from transgender rights to a broken prison system.

A large portion of the episode focuses on the life of Sophia Burset, a transgender woman who stole credit cards to fund her sex-reassignment. Sophia is disrespected and mocked by many of the other inmates, who don’t consider to her to be a real woman. A lack of understanding of transgender people is also shown in the flashbacks with her firefighter colleagues and the store employee struggling to use proper pronouns This general lack of respect surprisingly

Sophia Burset

doesn’t stop one of the (presumably) heterosexual male guards from being attracted to her and trying to take advantage of her when the prison decides to give her smaller, generic doses of her hormone medication to cut costs. Sophia’s attempt to convince the prison staff to let her back on her medication by swallowing a bobblehead backfires when the doctor elects to completely take her off her medication, which is morally questionable at best.


Another key issue discussed in the episode revolves around the broken prison system in the United States, which has people who have committed minor crimes such as Piper in the same level of facility as international drug dealers like Alex. In multiple scenes the prison is suggested to be severely underfunded, as necessary 

Piper and Crazy Eyes

medications are hard for prisoners to come by, the prison management did not replace the freezer in the kitchen until it became inoperable, and the prison can not afford to keep basic exercise facilities for inmates open. It is also implied that the prison lacks proper mental health facilities and has a high proportion of inmates, including Crazy Eyes, suffering from mental health problems. Another issue for the prison is the unofficial segregation down racial lines in the prison and the racism displayed by some prisoners and prison staff.


These themes relate to the larger picture of the show by showing that some inmates have a much more difficult time in prison than others and the severe problem of prison overcrowding that harshly punishes minor offenders of the law and is a burden for the United States.

Gender Stereotypes in International Advertising

Through our research regarding gender representation in advertisements of different countries, we decided to continue along the same lines by examining gender representation in the Cannes Lions Grand Prix winners for the retail sector during a ten-year span from 2008 to 2018.  The data and conclusions from the research cited in our annotated bibliographies had many similarities across countries regarding the lack of gender representation in advertising, with women being less likely to be the primary character or do voice-overs in advertisements. In addition, there were continued stereotypes in the advertisements that confined women to the domestic sphere, such as with household goods and submissive roles. As a result of our findings, we wanted to take a closer look at the trends in advertising regarding gender representation while also examining the influence of country identity and culture in gender representation of these advertisements, so we decided on examining the winners of an annual international advertising competition, the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity, which would satisfy both aspects.

Our formal research question is: Are women fairly represented and not stereotyped in the Cannes Lions Grand Prix winning advertisements for the retail sector from 2008 to 2018?

Performing an in-depth analysis of the winners of an international advertising competition, with a focus on the last five years, allows us to determine if gender stereotyping is as common in the most popular contemporary ads as it has been in older television. We plan to use methods of analysis developed in our sources. These methods include examining the gender of the product user and voiceover, which allows us to determine if one gender is portrayed as more knowledgeable or trustworthy. Additionally, we will attempt to determine the age, marital status, employment, and the role in the advertisement for each character that appears for at least a predetermined amount of the time in an ad. Focusing on the retail sector is helpful because it allows us to have a smaller sample size (currently 18 advertisements) that is easier to analyze and has a wide variety of products, so the topics and settings of the ads should be fairly diverse.

Our research question is substantial for a variety of reasons. First, it allows us to explore various aspects of gender stereotyping, learning its different forms, and comparing international television to what we see daily in American advertisements. It also allows us and our audience to gain a greater understanding of an issue which is known to exist in the United States. This study also gives us the potential to conclude that Americans are not the only ones to responsible for gender stereotyping in television advertisements or that we are better or worse than than most of the international community in this regard.

A Women’s World

The setting of Orange Is the New Black in a female prison provides for a set of characters rarely seen before on television. All of the prisoners are female (there is also a female transgender prisoner), with the few male characters (such as some of the prison guards and Piper’s fiance) serving the secondary role of being connections to the outside world. This atypical gender ratio leads to a focus on women’s issues and a portrayal of women not commonly seen in television.

Kate Mulgrew, who plays Red, proclaims that “These women are unapologetic for their flaws, for being in your face, for making mistakes and speaking their mind.” The absence of males in the prison environment may be a factor in making the women bolder, possibly because they feel like all the other prisoners are more like them. In the show, nearly all of the prisoners have some degree of agency, as their separation from society forces them to be self-reliant. However, this agency is also limited by the fact that they are prisoners and do not have the freedoms that normal people do. Although the characters who are not prisoners have more agency than the prisoners, their actions do not affect the show as much due to their more distant relationship with the protagonist.

A key time that Piper demonstrated agency early in season 1 was when she declined help from her ex-lover and fellow prisoner Alex. When Alex offered Piper food while the kitchen staff was refusing to serve her, Piper chose to throw away the food, in order to defy Alex and prove that she would not give in to Red’s will so easily. This action gained Piper the respect of Red and the kitchen staff, who soon resumed serving her food.

Piper throwing food from Alex away

The show uses Piper as a gateway to the issues of race, sexual orientation and mental illness. Due to her white, somewhat privileged background, she doesn’t have to face some of the additional discrimination that some of her fellow inmates must suffer. For example, Hispanic and African-American women are generally shunned by the white prisoners, as well as some of the prison staff. Sue, an inmate who appears to have some kind of mental illness, is avoided by almost all of the prisoners. The inmate counselor, Sam Healy, goes as far as to falsely put Piper in a position of influence in the prison after she committed a similar violation to an African-American inmate who was harshly punished. Healy tries to exploit divisions between the women to maintain the patriarchy in the prison, and despises the lesbian women in the prison, looking for any excuse to punish them.

I have linked an article below that I found very interesting and provided valuable insights into discrimination in OITNB.


Gender Representation Analysis: Annotated Bibliogrpahy

1. Gilly, Mary C. “Sex Roles in Advertising: A Comparison of Television Advertisements in Australia, Mexico, and the United States.” Journal of Marketing, vol. 52, no. 2, 1988, p. 75., doi:10.2307/1251266. (Peer Reviewed)
This article is valuable because it was one of the first to examine the portrayal of gender roles in television outside the United States and gives a different perspective than the recent news articles, showing the progress that international media has made in this regard. Notable findings from the article are that only 12% of the voiceovers in the advertisements were done by females and the females in Mexican commercials appearing to be much younger than the male characters appearing. Women were much less likely to be portrayed as employed in both the American and Mexican advertising. Additionally, no female characters in either the U.S. or Mexican commercials were portrayed in jobs that could be as a high-level corporate executive. Males were portrayed as much more independent and self-reliant in each of the countries. Overall, the Australian advertising seemed to promote gender equality more than the other countries. This article appeared in the highly regarded Journal of Marketing.

2. Fullerton, Jami A., and Alice Kendrick. “Portrayal of Men and Women in U.S. Spanish-Language Television Commercials.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, vol. 77, no. 1, 2000, pp. 128–142., doi:10.1177/107769900007700110. (Peer Reviewed)
Although this article is about advertising in the United States, the advertising being discussed primarily appeals to people who were born outside of the country, making it a suitable source for this project. Eighteen hours of Univision (the most popular Spanish language channel in the country) were analyzed. The study found that women were more likely to be targeted in ads than men alone. More than half of the advertisements were found to feature “stereotypical” gender roles, although there were several ads that portrayed men and women equally or even in the reverse of stereotypical gender roles. Women were also much more likely to be dressed in a sexually suggestive manner than male characters. Overall, the study found that women were portrayed in a fairly similar manner to English-language programming in the United States. The article is published in the Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, an industry publication.

3. Villegas, Jorge, et al. “Marianismo and Machismo: The Portrayal of Females in Mexican TV Commercials.” Journal of International Consumer Marketing, vol. 22, no. 4, 2010, pp. 327–346., doi:10.1080/08961530.2010.505884. (Peer Reviewed)
This article provides an update on the status of women in Mexican television advertising twenty years after the first article cited above. This article goes into depth on the importance of gender roles in advertising due to the fact that people act similarly to what they see on television. The article describes how women are depicted as ideally renouncing her personal interests in favor of her husband and children. In Latin America, this belief is partially due to strong religious beliefs and the significant role of the Virgin Mary in culture. This article found similar results to the others in women being more likely to be portrayed in a family or homemaker role while males were more often portrayed as professionals. A surprising finding was that female characters showed more arousal and excitement than their male counterparts.
This article was published in the well regarded Journal of International Consumer Marketing.

4. Beaudoux, Virginia García. “How Media Sexism Demeans Women and Fuels Abuse by Men like Weinstein.” The Conversation, The Conversation, 19 Sept. 2018, theconversation.com/how-media-sexism-demeans-women-and-fuels-abuse-by-men-like-weinstein-85789. (Not peer reviewed)
This article is useful because it provides several specific examples of advertising portraying women in traditional gender roles. The first advertisement, about a cleaning product, portrays a women as both a housekeeper and princess. Another example discusses how men often “mansplain” how to use a product to women who are portrayed as less intelligent. Often times when men are portrayed as doing domestic work, it is for a sexual reward from their partner. The author takes a broader view and positively declares that significant progress has been made in advertising toward gender equality, but there is a long way to go. The recent decision by the United Kingdom to ban gender stereotypes in commercials is applauded as an example for the rest of the world. This article was published by The Conversation, an Australian news outlet that has expanded internationally in recent years. The article was written by a Argentinian professor in the School of Communication at the University of Buenos Aires.

5. Mailonline, Siofra Brennan For. “First Razor Ad Showing Real Body Hair Airs on UK TV.” Daily Mail Online, Associated Newspapers, 27 July 2018, www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-5999613/First-razor-ad-showing-real-body-hair-airs-UK-TV.html. (Not peer reviewed)
In contrast to other articles, this recent article zeroes in on a specific advertisement and the gender stereotype that it smashes. The ad (for a razor), which aired in Britain over the summer, depicts a woman shaving her body hair. This was significant because it had long been considered taboo for a women to have body hair in commercials. This is especially strange, considering the main purpose of a razor is to trim body hair, and men’s razor commercial zoom in on hair being cut. This advertisement followed an American body brand releasing a video campaign featuring models with body hair a month prior. This advertisement being released provides hope that more gender stereotypes can be destroyed by television. However, there are still only a few companies in a few Western countries that are promoting this portrayal of women. This article is published in the Daily Mail, a well-known British newspaper.

6. Issues, por Youngers’. “Top 8 Most Sexist Ads in Spain.” Youngers’ Issues, 26 Apr. 2017, wehavesomethingtotellyou.wordpress.com/2017/04/26/top-8-most-sexist-ads-spain/ (Not peer reviewed)
This article also analyes several advertisements that range from women being portrayed in a stereotypical gender role to being overtly sexist. The first advertisement discussed, for a luxury car, is a severe case of the latter. The female narrator says “Look at me, touch me, incite me, provoke me, seduce me, control me, protect me, shout me, relax me … I am [name of car]”. This advertisement depicts a woman as a sexual object for someone else’s (presumably a male) pleasure. Barbie and other girl toy advertisements establish a gender hierarchy and influence girls toward being household figures. An ad for a cleaning product claims that it will give the protagonist, a woman, more time to be with her children, assuming these are her primary responsibility. Alcohol advertisements are primarily aimed at men and appeal to their sense of manliness, in addition to frequently featuring females in sexualized roles. Although this article is written in a blog, I believe it is credible due to the professional manner of the writing an well-chosen examples of a writer who put significant research into their articles.

A Writer’s Perspective: Viewing Television in a New Light

In this post, I detail the writing and story line of the first episode of season 1 of Orange is the New Black. To prepare myself to better analyze the episode, I read the following article by Rob Serling, one of the first prominent television screenwriters.


This article is actually the introduction to his script Patterns, which was a popular live broadcast in the 1950s about a corporate power struggle. The introduction expresses the mentality and struggles of a television writer. Serling stresses the need to take advantage of the visual nature of television and the advantages of incorporating certain actors and themes into scripts. Something significant that I noticed in this article was that Serling claimed “There are no courses, however specialized and applied, that will catapult him into the profession.” This statement, although in the nascent stage of television, helped build the assumption that women could not be screenwriters.

In contrast to Serling’s beliefs, Orange is the New Black (OITNB) written by the talented female screenwriter Jenji Kohan. Kohan, who is also known for Weeds and Tracy Takes On.., employs several strategies to develop an intriguing introduction which draws viewers in to watch the rest of the season.

In episode 1, the show is told in first person perspective, which I assume will continue throughout the show.  The plot of the episode revolves around a middle aged women (Piper Chapman) who is sent to serve a fifteen month sentence in prison for carrying drug money for her ex-lover ten years ago. The primarily one to one nature of the character’s interactions lead me to believe that the show will heavily emphasize relationships between characters. The episode prominently features flashbacks to give background information about the protagonist, especially about her relationship with her lesbian, drug smuggling ex. These flashbacks also show  that this part of her life continues to haunt her psychologically and shows some of the complex emotional issues that women have to deal with that are not often portrayed in media. To set the premise for future episodes, the writer introduces a conflict with the prison cook and unexpected challenges for Piper, such as not having any money for her first few weeks. There is also a focus on the unexpected aspects of prison, particularly for a person coming from a privileged background.

Kohan constructs Piper as an emotionally complex character who made a mistake in her younger years, allowing the audience to sympathize with her predicament. The appearance of another lesbian prisoner foreshadows that Piper will continue to explore her sexuality, unlike the stereotypical female character. The script also flips traditional gender roles by having the woman outside the household instead of the man. In conclusion, Jenji Kohan starts off Orange is the New Black with an engaging episode that will keep viewers coming back for more while also introducing a complex, realistic female protagonist.

TVFem is the New English

Hello everyone! I am Alex Marin, a freshman MSE major from Sanford, NC who plans to graduate in May 2022.

Me at the Summer Palace in Beijing, China

While English has never been my favorite subject, I think this was largely due to the emphasis on writing and broad topics that many of my English classes focused on. During my senior year of high school, I experienced my first English classes on more specific topics (Southern Literature and Literature of the American West), which I enjoyed a lot more because they incorporated historical culture as well as just writing. This past summer I took English 1101, where I got my first taste of multimodal communication through the lens of the American Civil Rights Movement. I enjoy casual communication with friends through oral or electronic means, but I sometimes get nervous and stressed out when I have to give a formal speech or presentation. As this class is focused on television, I anticipate a lot of challenges with visual communication, where I need to choose visuals to accurately portray shows and statistics about television. As outline in my week one video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z9RD5_0irqs), I have come up with several goals to help me improve my verbal communication skills this semester.

Although I have never been a big television fan, I have enjoyed several historical and dramatic series including Showtime’s Billions and Amazon’s The Man in the High Castle. I recently binged the Netflix series American Vandal and started watching Game of Thrones with my roommates, so my exposure is growing quickly. However, I have never previously given much thought to how women were portrayed in television shows or whether they played significant roles in the production and writing of these shows. I am excited that this course’s theme will allow me to do just that, forcing me to view television in a new light.

I have chosen to review Netflix’s well known Orange is the New Black in my blog posts this semester. I chose this series due to its positive reception from some of my friends and critics alike, as well as the fact that it is a comedy and I love a good laugh. The series follows a women who is imprisoned in a women’s prison for a long ago minor drug offense and her and the other inmate’s struggles.

Season 1 Trailer for Orange is the New Black


Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén