“Orange is the New Black” Author’s Talk Falls Short

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In case you were wondering, I can confidently report that Orange is the New Black is still the new black. I thought that because of the supbar third season of OITNB, that the crowd at Piper Kerman’s (i.e. “Piper Chapman”) talk last Tuesday (10/13) in Rackham auditorium would be moderately light. However, tons of OINTB fans and Piper enthusiasts alike filled the foyer of Rackham as the anxiously awaited Piper Kerman–the woman, the myth and legend.

Having read Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison (and by read I mean having listened to the audiobook), I went into Kerman’s talk with high hopes. The book, a poignant collection of one woman’s personal experiences within the prison system, explores complex social, political, racial and emotional issues. And while the Netflix series can go off the rails a bit, it does an adequate job bringing these issues to light as well. It would seem,then, that Piper Kerman’s speech would cover these important issues.She could have chosen to relate her speech to the issues of race plaguing the nation and how that has a unique representation in prisons. She could have related her experience in the Danbury Correctional facility to the overcrowding happening at Women’s Huron Valley, a prison only 25 miles from where Kerman stood that day. Piper Kerman had the fucking buffet of social issues to talk about and instead produced a brief and shallow synopsis of her story and the prison system.

Kerman opened her talk by relaying the basics of her story. Granted, from listening to the audiobook multiple times, I had every minute of this intro memorized, but still it was quite amazing to have the real person telling it 10 feet away from me. Kerman explained her lesbian affair (with euphemisms, of course) that led her into the world of drugs and eventually forced her into carrying a bag of drug money from Chicago to Switzerland. Kerman told us that she was from Boston, the offspring of two teachers and a graduate of Smith College. When referencing Smith she called it “the first women’s institution she would be held at.” On the surface the joke is funny. I’ll admit it, I laughed. But come on, Piper, you’re really going to compare college to prison? From what I read of the book–of all the abuses and human rights violations that happen in prison–it seems demeaning to the experiences of prisoners to compare them to my pampered life as a college student. Look, I know you were just trying to lighten the talk with a joke but strike one, Kerman. Strike one.

Strike two, came at about one hour into her talk. Piper began speaking at 5:10 P.M., and she did not bring up the word “race” until 6:01 pm (yes, I did indeed record these numbers). She spoke about race and class together, with a powerpoint slide that had an image of an two hands of different races embracing in cultural connectivity. Because of course, right? Kerman stopped talking about race and changed the slide at 6:07 P.M. Six minutes. She dedicated a mere six minutes to talking about race. I’ve read (read: listened) to her book. She intimately and beautifully talks about race and the way it shaped her prison time. She breaks down her assumptions about her new friends and the racial stereotypes that used to occupy space in her brain. Instead Kerman only mentioned race once more when she compared “ConAir”–prison flight transit–to “modern day slave ships.” At that moment Kerman threw out a powerful image and didn’t give any more evidence to back it up. From reading her book, I know about the shackling of prisoners tightly for hours at a time, how one is often refused access to a bathroom, and how food service is seen as a luxury, not a necessity. I have read how prisoners are treated like the cattle of the Bureau of Prisons, unwanted extra baggage of the federal government. I encourage you to read her book, or others like it. The prison system in the United States is atrocious. Incarcerated people are the victims of a broken system that collects every bias and corruption imaginable. As a public figure, Piper Kerman literally has the stage to make change. In this talk, someone I had admired for a clever delivery of a revolutionary topic gave a puff piece covering just enough, yet barely anything at all.

Don’t get me wrong Kerman’s talk was enjoyable. She made other jokes that were funny and showed us pictures of her and the ‘real’ Larry which, let’s face it, every Netflix binge watcher wanted to see. She filled her hour well, kept a good pace, and delivered decent material, but she didn’t do anything meaningful. So while enjoyable, it was not at all impactful. That was strike three for me. I left the talk excited that I was in the same room as someone who has met Laverne Cox, but I was not moved in any way. When I put down her book (paused the recording), when I walked away uncomfortable, festering with ideas about what we do with the incarcerated. I walked away from her talk, however, unfulfilled.

For those of you who wanted more than Kerman gave and haven’t read the book, I urge you to read it. Or even better, buy the audiobook–you won’t regret it. For those of you who can’t commit to the book, stick to the show. However, do this for me: watch it with a skeptical eye. Parse every representation, understand that Piper Chapman the character may not exist, but the system of Litchfield does. Remember that what we are using as entertainment is actually someone’s reality. One thing Kerman said at her talk that I agreed with is that the show is making people think and talk about prisons. So please, keep reading, keep watching, keep thinking, and keep talking.


Rebecca Langsam

What the F Campus Coordinator

The Case for Visibility and Intersectionality in College Student Domestic Violence Survivorhood

Disclaimer: the opinions expressed in this article are my own and are not representative of any organization that I am affiliated with.

Content warning: discussions of intimate partner violence, sexual violence, domestic violence.

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During the past five years, media coverage of sexual assault and rape on college campuses nationwide has exploded. Thanks to grassroots student-led movements, such as Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz’s “Carry that Weight” project and “End Rape on Campus,” led by then-students Annie Clark and Andrea Pino (who were also featured in the 2015 documentary The Hunting Ground), local campus movements advocating for the rights of survivors and better campus policies have gained momentum. Solidarity within the movement has drastically expanded, and certain schools (such as the University of Michigan) have started primary prevention programs that teach about healthy relationships and consent, with the hope of creating a safer and more respectful culture on campus.

As a fourth-year student at U of M and an advocate for sexual violence prevention, I am amazed every day at what my friends and fellow students have accomplished through ground-up activism: the changes they have been making within school policy, working with various communities through workshops, and changing the general campus climate around sexual misconduct. However, one thing I have noticed through my own work around this issue is the surprising lack of awareness and visibility of intimate partner violence (IPV) in college students and young people as a whole.

It’s worth acknowledging that IPV is an umbrella term in itself; interpersonal violence within intimate relationships – romantic, sexual, or both –  takes many forms. Some of the most commonly reported forms of abuse within intimate relationships include verbal abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, or any combination. Furthermore, IPV is complex; sometimes it goes unrecognized by family or friends of the survivor or the perpetrator, sometimes the abuse is not constant and is instead cyclical where the perpetrator is loving and respectful at times and then abusive at others, and sometimes the person experiencing IPV does not even recognize it as abuse. The list goes on and on. Factors such as these create barriers and complexities for survivors hoping to seek services.

Sexual assault and rape on campus is an issue that needs to be addressed. However, abusive relationships have not gotten enough visibility in both national and local movements, and I hope to change that through my research. For my undergraduate honors thesis, I am attempting to get a better idea of why IPV in young people has not received as much attention as isolated incidents of sexual assault or rape, and whether or not services on individual campuses that serve survivors are accessible to students who have specifically experienced IPV. Through interviews with college students in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti who have experienced any forms of interpersonal violence or abuse within an intimate relationship (whatever they define that to be), I hope to better understand their experiences with or impressions of services and organizations on their campus and if they perceive them to be accessible or not to them and their specific needs. By speaking with the people directly affected by services’ accessibility, I will gain a more direct perspective. I hope to approach this research from an intersectional lens, and reach out to different communities in order to recruit participants. With the data I collect, I then hope to distribute the data widely to school administrators at the University of Michigan so that services may then make the necessary changes to reach this population.

So what does it mean for a service to be accessible? In the context of IPV, I define accessible to be services, organizations, or people that survivors with varying social identities feel comfortable coming forward and discussing their experiences and seeking help without fear of judgement, exclusion, or any type of microaggressions related to the survivor’s race, gender identity, sexuality, or more. The connection between social identity and intimate partner violence is a crucial one that must always be addressed in sexual violence prevention work, as well as all social justice work in general. Although I cannot speak to others’ identities that I do not hold, students may face different barriers to coming forward and seeking the help that they want if they do not feel that certain services adequately serve people with their identities or have heard negative things about these organizations. The purpose of this study is to learn what schools are doing well and what they are not doing well when addressing IPV in diverse communities and to make change with the research findings to make services more accessible to students who have experienced IPV in the future. Intersectionality and identity politics and their role in sexual violence prevention are important; safety depends on it.

If you or anyone you know would be interested in participating in this confidential research, I am very much interested in speaking with you and hearing about your experiences. I am looking specifically for college or graduate students ages 18-24 who are enrolled in a college or university in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti and who have experienced any forms of interpersonal violence or abuse within an intimate relationship. If you are interested, I am recruiting participants all semester. Participation involves a 1-hour interview, and participants will be compensated for their time. I can be reached at kirani@umich.edu or by call/text at 734-892-7211. Participants do not have to use their real name to be part of the study.


Katherine Irani

University of Michigan Honors College and Residential College Class of 2016
Departments of Women’s Studies and Romance Languages and Literatures

Being a Feminist Voter During the 2016 Election

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Being a feminist can be hard. There are so many people telling you how you’re supposed to act, what you’re supposed to think, and who you’re supposed listen to. You want to be radical, but not too radical. You hunger for change, but change happens slowly, and sometimes it feels like that change will never happen at all.

As the upcoming 2016 election nears, people are trying to tell feminists the “proper” way to vote. There’s pressure from friends, family, random strangers on the internet–I know all about it. I’ve lived most of my life hearing about the horrible nature of all conservatives from my father and the disgusting tendencies of all liberals from my uncles, and it has always been hard finding my own path. Voting is already difficult, but add in the idea that feminists must vote for women, and we’ve got a problem. Call me crazy, but I thought voting was a personal decision.

For the first time in history, something incredible has happened: both Democrats and Republicans have impressive women vying for the presidency. It’s exciting and new, and both women have interesting platforms. Hillary Clinton (D) is using her history in politics, equal rights advocacy, and healthcare advocacy to gain voter attention, while adding in somewhat traditional liberal ideas. Carly Fiorina (R) is running with a strong background in business. She is focusing on political and educational accountability and believes innovation is the answer to many of America’s struggles.

Assuming the title of Feminist, others will, undoubtedly, expect you to vote for one of the women candidates. Because obviously.

However, it’s important to remember that you can be an advocate for equal rights without automatically voting for Clinton or Fiorina. Yes, Hillary Clinton and Carly Fiorina are women, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they have women’s best interests at heart every time they make a decision.

Roxane Gay, author of Bad Feminist, spoke about putting feminists on pedestals. She said, “we demand perfection from feminists because we are still fighting for so much. [But] we go far beyond reasonable constructive criticism to dissecting any woman’s feminism and tearing it apart until there’s nothing left.” In telling feminists they need to vote for one of two women, otherwise they aren’t really feminists, we limit the ability of so many men and women who believe in equal rights to impact the world with their votes. Sometimes, choosing a woman to run a country can be the best way to fight for feminism. And, sometimes, choosing a man can be the best way to fight for feminism.

I have personally struggled with this idea throughout the race so far. I am a woman. I am a feminist. I want to see a woman in the White House. But I also want to vote for the candidate whose ideas I agree with most, who has my best interests at heart, and who will be the best president and advocate for me and the rest of America. And, it may be shocking, but that doesn’t necessarily mean I will be voting for a woman.

I’ve realized that the best thing I can do to fight for women’s rights when it comes to voting is to make an educated decision about who I’m voting for. In fact, without studying each candidate’s platforms carefully, I would have assumed that Donald Trump wanted to defund Planned Parenthood and Carly Fiorina, as a woman who needs health care, didn’t, but in actuality, their positions are reversed.

Now remember, I’m not saying Donald Trump is the best candidate for feminism. He may be (though I really, really don’t think so.) What I am saying is that it’s time to do our research and really get to know the candidates, hopefully without pandering and biases. And most importantly, it’s about time we realized that it is absolutely okay to be a feminist and vote for a man.

One day there will be a female president. That’s for sure. That woman could be elected in 2016, or she could be elected in 2020. What’s important is this: your vote matters, so do your research, check the candidates, and see who will be the best person for the job based on her or his viewpoints, not based on the incorrect idea that all feminists must vote for a woman president.

Don’t know which candidate best represents you? Here are some links to help you find the right candidate for your vote!

http://www.isidewith.com

http://www.cnn.com/specials/politics/2016-election

http://ballotpedia.org/Presidential_election,_2016

http://www.theskimm.com/skimm-your-candidate


Hannah Levine

University of Michigan, Class of 2016
B.A. Creative Writing and Literature
Digital Studies Minor