The Keepers, The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange is the New Black – stories of women, for women

orange is the new black

I’d watched two or three episodes of The Keepers when I began to wonder what it was that was making me feel quite so… weird. I mean, I was enjoying it – insofar as one can enjoy a murder-mystery documentary which swiftly morphs into a tale of institutional child sex abuse – but I felt like it was missing something.

Then I realised; The Keepers was the first documentary I’d ever seen that was narrated predominantly by women. I’d been waiting for a man’s voice to arrive, to explain what it was the little women were talking about. It was one of those moments, for me, when I recognise my own prejudice.

You know, when I’m walking down the street near where I live and I see a black woman and I wonder where she’s from. What’s that about? There’s every chance that she’s from Dublin – a Dubliner (unlike me, as I was born in Kildare). It’s just my little inner racist who assumes that every non-Caucasian person must be a “non-national”. (We can blame the Government for the fact that I’m of a generation for whom “non-national” still feels like an acceptable term.)

This isn’t a spoiler, but it’s worth noting that The Keepers isn’t a documentary entirely devoid of male voices – but the whole point of it is to highlight the fact that women, as a general rule, are not believed. They need men to validate their truths – to testify to the fact that they’re telling the truth, that they’re not “hysterical” harpies making up random stories about respected members of society (spoiler alert: priests – although, not really a spoiler alert because: priests).

The Handmaid’s Tale makes an uncomfortable viewing partner for The Keepers, being another tale of male power and female powerlessness. Obviously, unlike the former, Handmaid’s is a fictional tale – but, chillingly, its original author Margaret Atwood has said that she included nothing in the novel that wasn’t based on historical events.

For every thinkpiece that points out how possible Handmaid’s is – in 2017, a time of Trump and Turner (Brock) and terminations being denied to children – there’s another that highlights how downright ridiculous that is. And while I don’t think we’re going to wake up tomorrow and realise that we’re living in Gilead, being denied the right to read, write or decide anything to do with our lives, there are chilling echoes in Elisabeth Moss’ Offred lamenting the fact that “I was asleep before… Now I’m awake to the world.” (Stay woke, y’all.)

After all that torture and misery – neither fictional, exactly – Orange is the New Black makes a tasty palate cleanser, even if I strongly suspect season five is where we jump the shark. (Fun fact: do you know where the phrase “jump the shark” comes from?) Still, there are echoes: women interned under careless white men, even if the struggles reflected in the Netflix prison drama have moved from being strictly feminist to being more closely related to movements like Black Lives Matter.

Even if we have jumped the shark – ‘Litchfield’s Got Talent’, episode four, is where we all get wet – it’s still fun to watch an entire TV series that, quite literally, does not care about its male characters. Sure, there are moments where we may begin to feel something resembling empathy for the menfolk caught up in the prison riot, but then we remember just how badly the women in the show are treated, and we’re back to square one.

All of this is to say, simply: it’s nice to consume media that, for a change, is female-focused. Not because I hate men, or even because I don’t care about them, but because I’ve probably heard enough from and about them for a lifetime. It’s nice to shift the balance of power sometimes.

2 Replies to “The Keepers, The Handmaid’s Tale and Orange is the New Black – stories of women, for women”

  1. “chillingly, its original author Margaret Atwood has said that she included nothing in the novel that wasn’t based on historical events.”

    I’ve been enjoying handmaid’s tail as an excellent piece of fiction but this piece of information just raised it to a whole new level. Do you have the reference where I can learn more about some of the real life events which provided inspiration?

  2. I’m loving the new stories that are being told, on so many different platforms, and in so many diverse voices. can’t wait to see what the future brings.

    Except Gilead, because that’s just terrifying

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