© Peabody Awards via Creative Commons

Orange Is the New Black’s Biggest Nod to Feminism: Piper’s Panty Monologue

The commoditization, even commercialization, of women’s bodies has historically been accepted by society. Every day we see images of women in well-defined roles, adorned with the physical attributes that supposedly make her female. Maybe in decades past, people barely noticed these occurrences; however, today we notice this misrepresentation of women, but we’re often forced to accept, standing in the shadow of an industry far more powerful than we are. When the Victoria’s Secret fashion show is annually aired on live television, it receives a viewership akin to the Super Bowl, which we can safely say proves that the expectations for a woman, the standards in which we face daily, are, to put it lightly, absurd. When our role models are celebrities equipped with personal trainers and dietitians, we also know that we’re doomed to ever achieve the standard that will make the world satisfied with our bodies.

Piper Chapman, the character in which the premise for Orange is the New Black is based on, receives scorn from other inmates for criticizing her body, because they believe that she is blessed with the kind of physique, skin and hair, that is closest to the ideal body type projected by society. Should Piper be made to feel that because she is white, blond, and tall that she shouldn’t express doubt or dissatisfaction about her body? Women can be made to feel less than they’re worth if they do not meet certain criteria set by the media, but women can receive just as much contempt for being ungrateful, especially if her body closely portrays the perceived idea of a “normal” female body. The threads of mistreatment towards women’s bodies are complicated. The shame that women experience can mostly be attributed to external forces, unfortunately; however, much of the backlash from societal pressure is projected on women themselves instead of being directed at the source of the oppression, (TV, magazines, music videos). Instead of blaming the media, we judge each other in a game of tit-for-tat and compare ourselves against something that will always be unattainable.

This season of Orange is the New Black features Piper all about the panties. The “pervs” that she’s selling the soiled undies to are men who are literally sniffing out the real scent of a woman, not a pre-packaged, bottled representation of what a woman should be. Selling dirty panties to men who like to sniff ‘em is Piper’s way of embracing something that is hers and always has been: her true womanhood without the cover-ups, cosmetics, and perfumes that masks that authenticity.


I, too, was once embarrassed and squeamish about my personal eau de perfume. But then I thought, why should I be ashamed? Isn’t that part of the self hatred that has been bred into me by the patriarchy?


She begs the other women to ask themselves why they express disgust by the thing they were born with that makes them a woman. For, what is the scent of a woman? It is surely not cinnamon-vanilla-cake-pop-dream body spray from Bath & Body Works. Piper asserts that someone taught them this insecurity about their scent; it is a learned hatred that is a symptom of the patriarchy. The other women gaze at her as she stands on the picnic table interrupting their game of chess, and though it’s still early in her speech and they haven’t been won over completely yet, there is wonderment and acknowledgment in their stares and, what I imagined, as them shyly thinking I can love thy stench? or Thy stench is a stench no longer.  

I believe that Piper’s speech was meant to jerk tears, to be sentimental, but also to be wild and revolutionary. And I wondered, as I watched, how did we get here? In a good way – how did we get to this place in society and in our media that we can even talk about vaginal sweat with pride? Feminism is fed-up; it’s sick of being a thing and yet never getting proper representation in our politics and media or even a strong enough following to change our archetypes in Hollywood. Orange is the New Black has done well by feminism in many ways, but Piper’s panty monologue might be its proudest moment. Representing women in diverse roles is crucial and we’re just now starting to see that happen, but giving a voice to the supposed indecent parts of being a woman is groundbreaking. Bravo to Orange, we need you, we appreciate you, and we love our lady juice because of you.