Cultural Commentary in 307: “Tongue-Tied”

Episode 7 is, frankly, all over the place with all of the themes that are touched upon, from prison safety to American media’s obsession with sexual objectification. This treatment will provide a brief overview of each.

The “Diminutive Lady Inmate”: The Business of Sexual Objectification in American Culture

Piper: “I think that women’s prison feeds into the whole ‘70s exploitation fantasy for men. It’s like we’re all in Chained Heat or Cellblock Sisters and all we do is have lesbian sex and strip searches and naked cat fights in the shower … We also do other things.”

Morello: “Who cares if it’s a fantasy? They get to do what they want, I get to make a buck, and everybody wins!”

As Piper illuminates above, this prison dramedy aptly uses the female imprisonment model to explode issues of sexual objectification in American culture. Once Black Cindy and Stella inadvertently give Piper the idea to sell prisoners’ panties, the series opens itself to commentary on both exploitation and female commodification. Troublingly, Morello’s nonchalant attitude toward the objectification of her own sex illuminates the variety of perspectives that women have regarding their representation in the media. As much as I love Morello, it is painfully obvious as to how naive she is regarding her function as a woman in society. Whereas Piper is taking a similar stance on this fantasy, she is more cognizant of her own exploitation. As a college-educated woman, she is already more predisposed to detecting sources of sexism than women like Morello, who do not have a college education and refuse to read anything other than Cosmopolitan (as an aside, I would like to believe that women like Taystee and Poussey are more in tune to societal sexism due to their avid reading habits, despite the fact that they lack formal higher education).

Morello Cafeteria

Hollywood – and American media at large – as well as businesses like Piper’s new enterprise perpetuate societal beauty standards, which directly percolate down through families and become the roots young women cling to at the crux of their womanhood. So long as the media continues to emphasize the “ideal image” of womankind, young women will continue to focus on their appearance rather than learn rudimentary life skills. This particularly becomes problematic in lower-income families, where parents are not always around to spend time with their children, who then turn to the media for guidance on how to act.

Gloria: “Ay, tonta, your mother never taught you how to reheat dinner rolls?”

Maritza: “My mother taught me to pluck my eyebrows and to duct-tape my tits together.”

As we can deduce from Martiza’s relationship with her mother, it is also true that some women pass on these socially dominant beliefs to their children, but this is not a definitive indicator of Maritza’s class (which, from the context we are given, we can assume is of the lower or working echelon). I am of the middle class, and I can attest to the fact that my mother still advocates various beauty practices and continuously tries to force me to dress as a “beautiful” young woman should any chance she gets. While heating up dinner rolls is not necessarily a make-or-break skill, the writers of Orange are trying to suggest that young women are often led astray in their obsession with beauty, which jeopardizes their learning of basic skills, such as cooking – one that is certainly vital.

Martiza Gif

While this phenomenon of beauty-over-practicality is not unique to America, Taystee highlights an interesting fact about freedom within American media when consoling Suzanne after her “erotically inclined” story was shunned by Berdie Rogers. American films and entertainment are different from that of Europe and other Western countries in that we are far freer with the depiction of violence than we are with sex, the opposite of which is true in Europe. Furthermore, European films are much more likely to depict various body types, of both men and women, than American films are. If you don’t believe me, log into Netflix or tune into the Sundance channel and watch any European film. You’ll see right away that a  number of body types and sizes are celebrated. So while we are hesitant to depict sexual content in our media, this censorship is still a method of policing “acceptable” body types, which contributes to how young men and women view their own bodies and those of the opposite sex.

Socioeconomic Status and Child-rearing

Speaking of cultural beliefs, I have neglected to comment upon the current drama with Daya’s unborn child, Pornstache’s mother, and Aleida’s involvement in the matter. Once John Bennett left the picture, Daya has been at a loss for how to handle her baby situation. One of her biggest concerns is the environment in which her child will be raised. Whereas Aleida actively lobbies for the child to be raised by their family, Daya is hesitant, for she believes that particular environment is what led both herself and her mother to imprisonment. In addition, she is concerned about the amount of attention Cesar could afford the baby, as well as the amount of money it takes to raise another child. As a victim of a traumatic foster care experience, Daya is also hesitant to give her child to Cesar or up for adoption. Though Aleida ensures that happiness is all you need, Daya feels that these vital factors play a great part in how her child will grow up.

Piper Child

Morello’s obsession with the game MASh leads to a conversation in this episode about Piper’s affluent upbringing. Piper insists that her house was “hardly a mansion,” even though there were four or five bathrooms, a playroom, and a housekeeper. Though Daya was originally under the impression that money would guarantee a good upbringing, Piper recalls being lonely as a child. Oh, and Piper still ended up in prison, which sheds light for Daya on the fact that money and a good upbringing does not necessarily guarantee a better life. Granted, Piper will likely have an easier time transitioning out of jail than any of her prison mates due to her class financially speaking, but she will still have a hard time readjusting to life on the outside.

Prison Safety

With the new Litchfield guards come newer, less effective training exercises, which Danny Pearson claims is the more “efficient” way of handling the trainees. What is troubling, yet realistic about the new hires is the fact that they are reluctant to take the sexual harassment seminar seriously. While this seminar targets harassment between correctional officers, sexual harassment – as we know from Pornstache’s use and abuse of inmates like Tricia Miller – is also common in officer-inmate relations.

Caputo Bennett

Lorie Nicholas notes that the transition of women into the law enforcement field has been slow and steady and not without great barriers to equality. Arguments made against women entering the field of corrections were as follows:

“A woman’s small body frame and lack of strength automatically made her vulnerable to being assaulted, and not being able to protect herself. In addition, the male staff were concerned that as a result of the women’s small body frame, this jeopardized the safety of their male counterparts; Women could be easily conned or manipulated by inmates; The presence of women in male facilities might incite sexual attacks by predatory inmates; Allowing women to work as correctional officers in housing units could lead to romantic involvements with inmates; and Women should not work in housing units due to correctional officers being required to supervise all areas of a housing unit, including bathrooms and showers” (Nicholas 42).

Though the Civil Rights Act of 1964 demanded that all women be afforded the same rights as men, it was not until 1972 that women were allowed to work in correctional facilities (Nicholas 41).

Indubitably, it is necessary for prison guards to understand their responsibilities within a correctional facility, to both each other and the inmates. However, it seems as though this private prison corporation cares little about the qualification and training of these new guards and a lot about cutting down costs, which they could easily be pocketing. One of the guards, at the mere age of twenty-one, proves that the MCC is looking for cheap labor – preferably young individuals without much experience – to run their money-making facilities. While the MCC is certainly cast in a demonic light, Pearson reminds us that those who have been in the business and have adequate experience have the tendency toward inappropriate behaviors – namely Joe Caputo and his behind-closed-doors office activity.

Another questionable practice of the MCC is their “on-the-job training” philosophy. Whereas Caputo is focused on briefing and demonstrating to the officers, new and returning, on how to best protect themselves, Pearson and the MCC feel that “reading their manuals” will provide the same sort of training. While almost anyone who has begun a new job can attest to the fact that a combination of on-the-job apprenticeship and pre-job training is the best way to go about learning any new trade, this split between public and private prison ideologies could cause some serious prison safety problems in season 4.

Work Cited

Nicholas, Lorie A. L. “It’s Still a Man’s World … or Is It? Advice for Women Working in Correction.” Corrections Today 74.6 (2012/2013): 41-44. Academic Search Complete. Web. 28 Oct. 2015.