Fighting Against Conformity

In the TV show, Orange is the New Black Carrie Black also known as “Boo” is an inmate at Litchfield women’s prison. Her character can be described as outspoken because she is never afraid to say what she feels or to be the way she is. In the episode “Finger in the Dyke” there is a lot that is learned about Boo. The title implies the episode will focus on the sexuality and the way Boo identifies. It is a very graphic name, but it relates to the way the character behaves because those two aspects of her are very important in the way she presents herself in the show; Boo is a very complex character and she depicts one of the many sexual and gender identities that exist. She describes herself as a Butch Lesbian. She has the word Butch tattooed on her arm and she feels it is a really big part of her identity and something she has had to fight for. This show has a lot of underlying messages in general about issues dealing with gender and sexuality, but the scene I wanted to focus on was on season 3 episode 4. It is a scene where Carrie Black “Boo” is young and her mother wants her to wear a dress, but she refuses to wear it. The scene starts off with a very unhappy looking teenage Boo wearing a dress. Her mother in the background seems hopeful that her daughter will finally listen to her and stop dressing in ways that make her stand out. The mother then goes on to say that she shouldn’t try and go against the expectations of society because that would bring the wrong kind of attention. What this suggests about society is that there is a set of structures dictating the behaviors and characteristics of each of the sexes, and to stray away from the expectations set will only result in judgment and ostracism. In society, there is a clear gender binary that has dictated the way males and females have to look like and behave like. The mother then walks away angrily as the father comes in to help her “deal” with the situation and try to convince Boo to wear the dress. The father takes a different approach to “dealing with” Carrie’s opposition to wearing the dress. There are a couple of things he says that help with understanding the way people view those who fall outside the gender norms. He pleads Carrie to just wear the dress to make her mother happy. What can be interpreted from this is how conformity plays a role in society. In the scene, the imagery is very strong because it shows just how intense it can be to not conform. You have the mother who is getting really upset and calling her daughter a bitch because she doesn’t want to fit into the mold that her mother is trying to force her into. Boo is very visibly upset, and she also refuses to give in right away. People conform to the gender norms they don’t always identify with because they want to stay in the boundaries set by society in order to keep everyone happy and prevent conflicts. The father then goes to talk about her teenage hormones. What he is implying from this is he thinks what she is going through is a phase because of her hormones as a teenager. He is being dismissive of the way she feels. Boo expresses this to him because she brings up how she thinks it is not a good enough reason to change the way she is in order to make other people happy.

This is something people who fall outside of the “traditional gender norms” have to deal with. Overall, the scene tries to argue how there are pre-set gender norms that people are expected to fit into. Society has built this idea of what a young girl is supposed to look like, and if the person does not fit the mold, like wearing a dress on picture day, then there is a lot of judgment directed at her. In the reading “Female Masculinity” by Judith Halberstam she talks about being a tomboy; in society being a tomboy comes with difficulties because it is seen as a phase and once the girl goes on to her pubescent stage, then the pressure to conform to the rules of femininity are forced upon her by the people in society and, like in Boo’s case, her parents.  The scene is especially powerful because it brings to the forefront the way family can be at the center of trying to push people into conforming to what society wants. One one hand it is because of the concern that they will be judged by others, but it is also on some level because they also believe it is the way things should be.

The intention of the clip is to show the oppressive nature of gender conformity. The scene focuses on how there is an expectation for young girls to be complacent and to behave in a certain way. They have to wear dresses and have to not want to stand out. The mother mentions how there is a bad kind of attention that Boo is trying to get is not the “good kind.” She brings up the way other kids will make fun of her and that plays into the role of how people are forced to conform because of the way other people will treat them. A lot of what happened in the scene was touched upon in the documentary “Three to Infinity: Beyond Two Genders.” There is this idea that forces people into these two binary roles in society when in fact peoples’ likes and dislikes can go beyond that. People will identify differently and that makes people uncomfortable because it is something they do not see often because there are so many social constructs around who people have to be according to the standards set by society. Anyone who doesn’t meet the criteria for what it means to be feminine or what it is to be masculine is looked at weird because people don’t know how to categorize them. Boo is “Butch” and this identity takes on different characteristics and intersects masculine and feminine traits. The intersection defies the binary spectrum which is something people are not used to seeing, therefore leading to judgments against her. It is an effective in portraying the struggles of gender conformity because it shows the strain on relationships and the anguish of the teens trying to push against the behavioral expectations of their gender.

The target audience would be the younger generation. The show does have a lot of younger women as the main characters, but it is still graphic enough to not have the target audience be young teenagers. This affects how the show is written because it can be more explicit with the way it tries to explain things as well as it can focus on a variety of issues that women have to face. This is important because the show does expose the viewers to stories they may have never thought about before. The show does go beyond the plot of piper chapman in order to increase awareness into the lives of the other women in the prison. The episode. in particular, is trying to make people understand that there are a lot of limits to the traditional binary roles and that there are people who identify outside of them. People have to fight all of their lives to justify who they are if they do not fall into one of the two categories designated by society, and they have to put up with judgments constantly while trying to defend who they are. It is necessary to expand the spectrum of identification and move away from the binary in order to understand gender identity and expression, as well as sexuality, come in various forms.

 

Works Cited

“Finger in the Dyke.” Orange is the New Black. Netflix. 12 June 2015. Web.

Halberstam, Judith. Female Masculinity. Durham: Duke UP, 1998. Print.

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