[Contains spoilers for ‘Orange is the New Black’ up to mid season 2]
Caitlin Moran says that sexism is like Meryl Streep: just as you could watch and enjoy a film, and not recognise the actress as Meryl until after the film ends and you’ve had an evening to mull it over, so too with sexism. Sometimes, you can leave the situation, go home, brush your teeth, turn out the light and suddenly realise THAT WAS SEXISM! THAT WAS SOME SEXISM THAT HAPPENED TO ME! (I mean, I don’t know how anyone could not recognise the great Meryl Streep but I understand the analogy).
Well, I’m going to tell you of an incident of Meryl Streep-ism which didn’t reveal itself to me that same night. This story actually takes me back to a conversation I had with my younger brother in 2014. I had just started watching Orange Is The New Black. I was about halfway through season 2 and we were chatting about the show. I suspected he probably only watched it for the (mostly lesbian) nudity but I decided not to dwell on that. As we chatted about plotlines and characters, I said something along the lines of “I like Morello. She’s funny, she makes me laugh.”
My brother’s face fell. His eyes got wide and his voice got serious. “She is absolutely terrifying,” he said, and he meant it. The character of Morello left him with a feeling of terror.
Now, if you haven’t seen OITNB, I’m not talking to you until you go off and watch it. I’ll wait. If you have watched it but need reminding, Lorna Morello is in love with her fiancé who she speaks about often, and is constantly making wedding plans for after her release. After 17 episodes of this, it is revealed that Morello has in fact been incarcerated for stalking a man she never had a relationship with, and she has become obsessed with a fantasy.
My brother’s reaction reminded me of my housemates at university, who became so scared when we watched Fatal Attraction that they walked around wide-eyed and jittery for almost a week. They would often point to female characters who relentlessly pursue unrequited love interests and call them ‘crazy’ and shudder. I’m thinking of Meg Griffin from Family Guy, Mel from Flight of the Conchords, there was an Adam Sandler film…these characters are dotted around. On Netflix there is a film actually entitled My Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It would seem that this particular brand of stock female character is usually cast in a comedic light and is labelled ‘crazy’, but where the comedy runs dry she crosses over to ‘scary’ and that is what I find interesting. Our screens are so littered with abuse and violence against female characters that these boys almost don’t notice the abusive male characters is the worrying thing. That someone can look at Meg Griffin in the same show as Quagmire and think that she is the scary one is frankly baffling. And it is astounding that my brother thought Morello was more horrifying than the bullying, groping, drug-pushing rapist guards. To go back to Meryl, she said in an interview that men are less empathetic than women when they watch films and TV, as women are forced to empathise with male characters far more than male viewers can with female characters, because there are fewer of them and they tend to be less interesting or multi-faceted.
I’m not letting my brother off the hook that easily. This is what I would like to say to him, over two years later:
Yes, Little Brother, Morello is scary. Being stalked is scary. Being harassed is scary. The object of Morello’s obsession went to the police and she faced justice. This does not happen very often.
Be scared of Morello. Be scared of the rapists and harassers and abusers, in fiction and on screen and in real life. Because they don’t very often face justice, and they are mostly men. Just because you, brother of mine, are also male, and these other stalkers and rapists are not necessarily a direct threat to you does not mean you should not fear them. Fear them on women’s behalf. When you see them on screen, (which, I have to tell you, once you open your eyes to it you will realise they are almost constantly on screen), I want you to realise, and recognise them for what they are. Try to feel that same fear.
You are 18 now. You have three older sisters and a very domineering mother. I think it’s time you picked up the feminist mantle and started fighting for women and equality. Don’t sit back and think that because there are so many strong women in your life feminism doesn’t need you.
And I’m not here to pull an Emma Watson and make a space in feminism for you. Feminism has plenty of space for you. What you need to do is take your space in society as a straight, cis, white, hetero male and make it feminist.
Don’t worry. You can do it. I know you’ll be one fantastic feminist.