Sexism and Power Struggle

The correctional officers, mainly male, rule over the powerless female inmates. As a result, they become “territorial” and condescending. What happens, however, when a powerful woman rules over the all? Despite the idealistic notion that a woman in power should “smash” the Patriarchy and restore balance between women and men, Natalie Figueroa demonstrates her willingness to step on the “lesser” women for her own gain. Natalie Figueroa, when discussing Sophia Burset’s hormone pill situation, ponders: “Why would anyone ever give up being a man? It’s like winning the lottery and then giving the ticket back” (103). It’s a man’s world, and despite her power, Natalie Figueroa and the inmates are disrespected solely because they are women.

In the men’s attempt to subdue and “civilize” the women (as Mendez says: “We’re the pilgrims and you bitches are the Indians” in 109), all the women can do is “fight the power” (109) or obey the men.

Objectification and Exploitation

The women are subdued and stripped of their individuality and humanity. The men find it easier to treat the women they way they do if they call them all “inmate” and treat them as animals. Caputo instructs Susan Fischer to do so because “it reminds them that they’re not really people” (112). Next, they degrade and reduce the women to animals: Mendez calls the women “shitbirds,” “retards,” “shitstains,” “turdbags,” “whores,” and “fuckin’ sluts,” both inside and outside of Litchfield. Since the women are treated as cattle, Tricia Miler’s suicide goes without further investigation, for she doesn’t “matter” in the scheme of things.

They demean the women to no end, treating them like children and calling them “poor little bab[ies]” (102) and “sweetheart” (104). Healy sends Piper to SHU because she “needed a little time out to think about [her] behavior” (109), as if she were a child.

Most men are only interested in or kind toward the women if they are getting something out of it. Mendez watches Piper when he believes she is about to change her clothes; he tells Bennett that most of the women are willing to perform sexual favors for them if they smuggle things in for them; and the men, especially Mendez, take too much pleasure in patting down the women. Both Mendez and Healy are under the impression that if you “get [all the women] … locked up for a long time … they get this prehistoric yearning for man stink” (103). To suggest that the women slide back to aboriginal tendencies yet again classifies them as uncivilized or animalistc. At the same time, Mendez gets offended when women look at him like he’s “a piece of meat … I’m a fucking human being. I’m a person with feelings and emotions … it’s like we cease to exist out of those fuckin’ walls. What is that?” (111). Ironically, the men treat women the same exact way, as if they are not actually people that have lives outside of their time in Litchfield, and as if they are worth only as much as they are beautiful. Caputo listens to Fischer’s suggestion of reopening the track because she is “one smart piece of ass” (107).

Before entering Litchfield, each woman was “somebody.” As Sophia Burset observes, “Human beings aren’t supposed to live like this” (109).

 

Big Brother and the Illusion of Power

The men take it upon themselves to know every detail of what goes on between the women in prison, which is usually above and beyond their job requirements. The women are expected to do and act as the men say. Although they may act as though they care about the women’s wants and needs, Red highlights that “this isn’t a Democracy” (106) and having a big mouth (like Piper and Nicky Nichols do) is not an asset. Speaking up can only get you in trouble because they will “put you in psych for your ‘own protection’” (113).

The Women’s Advisory Council (WAC) is devised to make the women believe they are in control of small aspects of their life, when in fact they are not. Sam Healy says: “This isn’t about giving them power. This is about your mother telling you you could take a bath before dinner or after. You were still gonna get wet, but you thought you had a choice” (106). Even so, Caputo gives Healy a hard time about his relationship with Piper and how he’s “taking orders” (107) from her. Not only is this an issue of rank (as far as the prison system goes), but an issue of sex.

The women who have been through the system before, or have at least been in Litchfield long enough to know that they have no say in their living conditions, know better than to ask for any major changes in Litchfield. Their “major victories” include reopening the track and getting a second pillow for their cots. The illusion does not allow the women any power, and yet Caputo is mad at Healy for allowing Piper to think that “she’s running the place” (109).

 

WOMEN IN POWER:  Natalie Figueroa, Wanda Bell, and Susan Fischer

Many problems lie in the fact that the women in charge hardly do anything to help the women beneath them in the power struggle. Although it is Wanda Bell and Susan Fischer’s job to keep the inmates in line, they perpetuate their poor treatment. Women in high-up positions are referred to as “bitches” (Alex Vause makes up the charming nickname “dragon cunt” for Wanda Bell) because gender roles do not dictate that women be assertive and in-charge.

She is not taken seriously by her male subordinates, and is treated as a piece of meat. All they can think about in relation to Figueroa is her sexual activity. Only when she threatens their jobs do they try to take her seriously, and even then their cooperation is questionable. Caputo goes against Figueroa’s judgment regarding the drug bust and Bennett’s involvement in it because it is a “big win for us” (113) – it is not clear who the “us” is, but it seems as though he means the male counselors and officers of Litchfield, as if they were teamed up against Figueroa and the inmates. Joe Caputo explains to John Bennett that “she’s cutting off your balls to protect her own” (113).

It does not help that Figueroa is only in the business for herself. Despite her promises to make the facility “secure, humane, and cost-effective” (102), she is merely a figurehead who takes a good cut of the prison’s budget for herself. The incident with Daya, although not an actual rape, is handled in a shocking manner. Figueroa refuses to allow a rape tarnish the prison’s reputation. Because Daya was not screaming or crying, Figueroa refuses to treat it as a matter of abuse and/or inhumanity.

Wanda Bell is not seen mistreating the inmates, but she does give Larry Bloom a hard time when going to visit Piper. Her hardened attitude toward the women is her job, but her power lies in the fact that she can prevent or allow another inmate’s chance at seeing her loved ones. Susan Fischer is the mildest of the officers, for she sees the women as her equals. She is reprimanded for doing so, and in order to usurp her power and humanity, Caputo seems to instruct her to act more like the men do so that the inmates do not have an ally in the ranks.

Although the actual situations of the women in Litchfield are contingent upon the fact that they are inmates, the men are clearly waging a war on women as a whole. By scrutinizing their every move, condemning them for individuality, objectifying and exploiting them, preventing them from having a voice, and providing an illusion of democracy, the men are well on their way to robbing them of selfhood, which hopefully will  be turned around by Susan Fischer in due time.

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