On February 25, 2014, Orange is the New Black author Piper Kerman testified at the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee hearings on solitary confinement in Washington, DC. Unlike her fictional character, Kerman was never placed in solitary confinement. But she testified about the many women incarcerated alongside her who had:
While I was in prison, I saw many women sent to the SHU for minor infractions such as moving around a housing unit during a count, refusing an order from a correctional officer, and possession of low-level contraband like small amounts of cash (which is largely useless in prison) or having women’s underwear from the outside rather than prison-issued underwear. All of these infractions drew at least 30 days in solitary. Sometimes women are sent to the SHU immediately upon their arrival in prison because there aren’t any open beds.
Most politicians would rather ignore the reality of the problems with the prison system than address them head-on and risk being seen as “soft on crime.”Orange is the New Black—and Kerman’s determined attempt to link the peoples’ interest in the fictional story to real women’s suffering—has helped get Americans talking about prison in a way few pieces of pop culture have. It’s also a way to get people talking about women in the prison system rather than focusing the conversations around men. It’s also a sad truth that politicians and Americans in general are more likely to listen to a celebrity telling them about prison conditions than someone who didn’t become famous after being incarcerated. To her credit, Kerman (unlike some other celebrities who have experienced short stints behind bars) has been using her platform to advocate for change.
It sucks that it takes an upper-middle class white lady experiencing something for people to believe it’s a real thing, but I’m glad OITNB has sparked discussion about the inhumane way we treat prisoners in the U.S.
"Image Credit: Carol Rossetti
When Brazilian graphic designer Carol Rossetti began posting colorful illustrations of women and their stories to Facebook, she had no idea how popular they would become.
Thousands of shares throughout the world later, the appeal of Rosetti’s work is clear. Much like the street art phenomenon Stop Telling Women To Smile, Rossetti’s empowering images are the kind you want to post on every street corner, as both a reminder and affirmation of women’s bodily autonomy.
"It has always bothered me, the world’s attempts to control women’s bodies, behavior and identities," Rossetti told Mic via email. "It’s a kind of oppression so deeply entangled in our culture that most people don’t even see it’s there, and how cruel it can be."
Rossetti’s illustrations touch upon an impressive range of intersectional topics, including LGBTQ identity, body image, ageism, racism, sexism and ableism. Some characters are based on the experiences of friends or her own life, while others draw inspiration from the stories many women have shared across the Internet.
"I see those situations I portray every day," she wrote. "I lived some of them myself."
Despite quickly garnering thousands of enthusiastic comments and shares on Facebook, the project started as something personal — so personal, in fact, that Rossetti is still figuring out what to call it. For now, the images reside in albums simply titled “WOMEN in english!" or "Mujeres en español!" which is fitting: Rossetti’s illustrations encompass a vast set of experiences that together create a powerful picture of both women’s identity and oppression.
One of the most interesting aspects of the project is the way it has struck such a global chord. Rossetti originally wrote the text of the illustrations in Portuguese, and then worked with an Australian woman to translate them to English. A group of Israeli feminists also took it upon themselves to create versions of the illustrations in Hebrew. Now, more people have reached out to Rossetti through Facebook and offered to translate her work into even more languages. Next on the docket? Spanish, Russian, German and Lithuanian.
It’s an inspiring show of global solidarity, but the message of Rossetti’s art is clear in any language. Above all, her images celebrate being true to oneself, respecting others and questioning what society tells us is acceptable or beautiful.
"I can’t change the world by myself," Rossetti said. "But I’d love to know that my work made people review their privileges and be more open to understanding and respecting one another."”
From the site: All images courtesy Carol Rossetti and used with permission. You can find more illustrations, as well as more languages, on her Facebook page.