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Postfeminism Meets the Women in Prison Genre: Privilege and Spectatorship in Orange Is the New Black

Schwan, Anne



This article argues that Netflix’s original series Orange is the New Black (2013-), based on Piper Kerman’s memoir (2010), uses postfeminist strategies to covertly promote prison reform and exercise a subtle critique of (female) mass incarceration while renegotiating the boundaries of the women in prison genre in a neoliberal context of media production. Similar to earlier examples of the women in prison genre, OITNB highlights relationships between women, in this instance relationships between a particularly diverse group of women, with a view to interrogating white, middle-class women’s identity through Piper Chapman’s character, who also serves as a foil for the show’s implied viewer, at least initially. OITNB inhabits the tensions associated both with the women in prison genre and postfeminism, tensions manifesting themselves in titillating content and Netflix’s aggressive marketing campaigns, which appropriate women’s prison experiences as a life-style choice rather than focusing on in-depth analyses of the root causes of incarceration. Yet, the series has the potential to mobilize social awareness and activist sensibilities amongst its target audience, in a political and media environment where the individual and social cost of mass incarceration is increasingly recognized as untenable. Building on theories of postfeminism and recent work on the women in prison genre in feminist media, film and cultural studies, and by analyzing the show’s self-reflexive strategies and its exploration of Piper’s perspective, I suggest that the series affords useful opportunities for assessing the effectiveness of (post)feminism’s tactics as an ally in the fight against social inequalities, media (mis-)representation and mass imprisonment specifically.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 29, 2016
Online Publication Date May 11, 2016
Publication Date Sep 1, 2016
Deposit Date Mar 8, 2016
Publicly Available Date May 11, 2016
Journal Television and New Media
Print ISSN 1527-4764
Electronic ISSN 1552-8316
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 17
Issue 6
Pages 473-490
Keywords Postfeminism, Women in Prison, "Orange is the New Black", identity,
Public URL
Contract Date Mar 8, 2016


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