Clones. Religious cults. Corporate science. Oh, and feminism. As odd as it may sound, all of these elements can be found in the TV series Orphan Black. The show, which just began its third season in April, follows Sarah Manning (played by Tatiana Maslany) as she discovers she is one of many clones. The series focuses on issues surrounding human cloning but also engages with issues that all women face today.
Basically, everyone should be watching this show, but women especially should take note of its feminist awesomeness. If you’re still not convinced, let’s check out four reasons why Orphan Black is great for women:
1. Orphan Black KILLS at the Bechdel Test
The Bechdel Test involves three basic criteria for analyzing gender representation in the media. To “pass” the test (created by Alison Bechdel), there must be: a) at least two women, who b) talk to each other, c) about something other than a man. Simple enough, right? Apparently not, as only half of all movies pass this test.
Orphan Black contains a wide array of complex and unique female characters. Tatiana Maslany believably portrays complex and unique female characters, from a British ex-pat to a brilliant scientist, to a suburban soccer mom — all of whom continue to develop as the story line expands. Even more in contrast to other television shows is the fact that female relationships are at the core of Orphan Black. The deep bond between Sarah and her clone sisters is a major theme of the series, emphasizing the strength of family and female solidarity.
2. Sexuality ≠ Stereotype
Orphan Black realistically deals with sexuality and LGBTQ issues. One major character is Felix, who is surprisingly not defined by his sexuality. Although Felix is gay and a sex worker, he’s not shamed or overly sexualized. Felix is portrayed as a person, not a stereotype; he is a brother, an artist, and a confidant. One of the clones, Cosima, is a lesbian, which is just another point of individuality between her and her “sisters.” By depicting such nuanced characters, Orphan Black has created well-rounded, complex individuals — something not always apparent in pop culture today.
3. Female Agency
The “villains” of Orphan Black — aka the Dyad Institute who created the clones and the religiously fanatic Proletheans — all seek one thing: control of Sarah and her sisters’ lives. This involves experimentation (on both sides) and trying to limit the women’s reproductive agency. Sarah and her clone sisters all struggle against these larger, male-dominated institutions, fighting for the right to have control over their own bodies and lives.
Individuality is another important aspect of Orphan Black — something you may not expect to see in a show about clones. While the women are all physically identical, they could not be more distinct in personality. Early on in the series, a character asks Sarah “There are nine of you?” and she replies, “No, there’s only one of me.” Such a small statement reflects not only the individuality of the women in the show but also the way women should be portrayed in the media at large.
Convinced yet? While I could continue on with how great Orphan Black is for women and the media, I think it would be best if you watched for yourself. Tune into BBC America every Saturday at 9 pm (ET) and relish in the feminist goodness.
Courtney Harchaoui holds her Master’s degree in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies from the University of Cincinnati. She loves all things feminist + pop culture related.
“possible stereotype” becuase I have indeed been camping and have planted an organic vegetable garden (with compost from my backyard, natch). No cats or cat sweaters though.This has indeed been a great summer of TV. And it’s QUALITY TV too, not watching whatever crap on just becuase it has a same-gender loving woman on it in a token role. I’m having trouble keeping up, in fact, with all the awesome shows.One of the nicest surprises for me has been The Fosters. When I first heard about it, I thought “I don’t want to watch a show about child rearing, I have 3 kids already and want some escapism.” But I was so delighted with the show. Both the portrayal of Stef and Lena’s relationship and the issues they tackle with the kids. It’s very real and authentic and it is funny and moving and I love it.My wife and I see ourselves in their relationship all the time. It goes something like this:”That passive-agressive behavior is totally you.””That was mean! It is not. Why would you say that?””Okay, I’m sorry. Let’s stay up late and process why I said that.”(Heh, just kidding, but I swear that when Stef rolls her eyes at Lena’s fretting over her dress, or Lena ignores Stef in bed when she’s mad, I totally can see myself.)