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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Different media showcase empowered women

Published: August 22, 2014
Section: Opinions

If you consider yourself a typical college student, you probably did what I did this summer: binge watched one or more television shows. And if you saw some of the shows I did, you’d agree that women found empowerment through television this summer.

If you had access to a Netflix account and some free time in early June, it’s highly probable that you watched season two of Netflix’s Emmy-nominated original series, “Orange is the New Black.” If you’re like me, you watched it twice. No matter how many episodes you saw, or the number of times you saw them, I think we’d have to agree that for once, a show is portraying the diversity and relationships of women right.

“Orange is the New Black” is a show loosely based on Piper Kerman’s memoir, “Orange is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison.” The show mainly follows the life of Piper Chapman in a fictional correctional facility, but we really are shown much more than that. Inside the walls of this prison we meet women of all shapes, sizes, colors, sexualities and gender identities, with varied struggles and triumphs. We see the different types of bonds shared by women and just how extraordinary and complex those relationships can be.

Frankly, one of the most wonderful things about “Orange is the New Black” is the diversity of its cast. No two women look even remotely alike in this show, and it is beautiful. I suppose it reflects on the type of world we live in that such a simple fact deserves this praise. However, in this culture of ours that so often portrays women only as young, thin and predominantly white, it is quite remarkable to see all women being represented. With the widespread success of the show, it seems that perhaps women are finally getting at least a slightly larger fraction of the representation we deserve.

Female empowerment could be found in reality television too with NBC’s competition show “American Ninja Warrior.” This show, currently in its sixth season, is an extreme obstacle course that requires contestants to be both physically strong and mentally fit. The show has three phases to it. There is first a qualifying course in five cities across America, where the top 30 contestants advance. These competitors then compete in their respective city finals course. At the completion of the finals run, the 15 competitors who completed the course, or went the furthest the fastest, advance to the finals. The finals course is dubbed “Mount Midoriyama,” and takes place in Las Vegas in several stages.

Over the course of the show’s prior five seasons, no woman had ever finished a qualifying course. The course’s last obstacle, the warped wall, is notoriously difficult, as it involves running at and scaling a 17-foot curved wall. However, this season, not one, not two, but three women in different cities all defeated the harrowing qualifying course. Kacy Catanzaro, Michelle Warnky and Meagan Martin all successfully completed the course in Dallas, St. Louis, and Denver, respectively. However, Kacy Catanzaro took her dreams a step further, by completing the Dallas Finals course too. The five-foot tall, 100-pound former NCAA gymnast managed feats of extreme strength and hung on through seemingly impossible obstacles. She even leaped between poles with the distances between them as large as her entire height. Kacy made wedging yourself between walls four feet apart and then propelling yourself up thirty feet look easy. Kacy’s finals run was a marvel to watch, and proved that women can do anything they set their mind to. What this victory also proves is that the course is fair and able to be completed regardless of gender. Kacy’s triumph is evidence that women, regardless of size, can achieve greatness in this physical realm. By completing this dream, Kacy has empowered women to believe in themselves and know that if she can do it, they can too. As for Kacy’s performance in the finals at Mount Midoriyama, we can only wait and see.

Another triumph for women this summer came as news on ESPN: The San Antonio Spurs have hired Becky Hammon, former WNBA player, to be an assistant coach. As the six-time WNBA all-star takes the position, she becomes the first full-time, paid female NBA coach. It’s truly inspiring to see a woman shatter the glass ceiling and enter into the male basketball realm.

Women are gradually catching up to men in this eternal and ridiculous battle for equality, and it couldn’t have been more evident in this summer’s television. Whether you watched Meredith Grey stand up to her sometimes overbearing neurosurgeon husband, saw the determination and drive of Chyler Leigh’s character in Taxi Brooklyn or laughed with respect as Leslie Knope effected change, you saw that smidge of equality being earned. Still, when you look away from the fiction, you’ll still see how women in the real world created names for themselves this summer and made the outlook for equality just the tiniest bit brighter.