The changing gender landscape of Orphan Black, season 2 and beyond

(originally posted on 6/26/14)

*Note* Spoilers ahead! This post assumes you’ve watched the end of season 2

I’m a huge fan of Orphan Black, and I want to state up front that this blog praises the show on many levels.

But first, I have to confess I was really sad at the second season ending. For a show that has been so refreshingly and unapologetically feminist to introduce a line of male clones felt to me like an abandonment of its core principles. I turned off the TV disappointed that next season will be filled with men going through many of the same issues our favorite clones have been facing. I felt like Helena’s raping Henrik was the perfect antidote to all the conversations exploding about the many rape scenes in Game of Thrones, and the way women are still objectified in si-fi/fantasy genres. So I wasn’t ready for my favorite female characters on TV to secede precious screen time to men.

As I’ve mulled over this new development, however, I grew increasingly excited to see what this progressive show does with masculinity. The writers have a strong track record of exploring masculinity just as thoroughly as they do femininity. From the emasculated Donny to the effeminate Felix to the hyper-masculine Paul, the show challenges conventional notions of what it means be a man.

One of the most underutilized aspects of feminism is the study of how our culture relegates men to boxes much like it does women, to the detriment of all. We allow men only a narrow emotional range and encourage them to channel anxiety, fear, and insecurity into aggression. The phrases “be a man” and “man up” represent an insidious rejection of multifaceted and complex masculinity. And this in turn violently summons men into a system that valorizes misogyny as a performative means to enact an ideal that damages both genders.

A line of male clones in Orphan Black promises to spark conversations about male physicality (which we almost never talk about); the interrelations among strength, sensitivity, and creativity; and the way men, too, are victimized by the patriarchy. Season two showed us with shockingly clarity that men can be raped too. I’m looking forward to what Season three shows us about who owns men’s bodies, military culture’s relationship to gender, and which bastards Helena can destroy with her bare hands.

I think the show will always be about seestras. It’s okay if it’s about brother-seestras too.

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