Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen

For readers of fantasy, novels, and YA lit: we have an interview with the great Roshani Chokshi, author of this year’s highly anticipated novel “The Star-Touched Queen.” Check it out!

Today, we’re very pleased to feature Roshani Chokshi, the amazing young woman who authored this year’s highly anticipated YA fantasy novel, The Star-Touched Queen.

Continue reading “Project Spotlight: The Star-Touched Queen”

Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)

By I.C.

January is always a time for looking backward as well as forward, and as 2016 gets underway I’ve been reflecting back on the cultural events that defined 2015 for me.  One of the things that strikes me is what a great year it was for documentaries.  I am an avid fan of documentaries, and, as 2016 opened with Netflix’s documentary miniseries Making a Murderer as the year’s first pop cultural obsession, I’m clearly not alone. In recent years the genre has become particularly effective at combining entertainment with vital insights and even the capacity for inspiring activism and real social change. (See: The Paradise Lost films about the West Memphis Three, spanning 1996 to 2011, or 2013’s Blackfish.)  Following this trend, some of 2015’s most acclaimed and compelling filmmaking came from this genre.  So here are four of the best from 2015, in case you missed them, with a synopsis and also a suggestion of what these documentaries offer particularly to a feminist viewer. Whether you’re looking for eye-opening insight or a chance to funnel righteous indignation into action for a cause, these films have something for you. Continue reading “Feminists Watch: Documentaries (Great Ones from 2015)”


OITNB Season 3: Recap and Watch-Along [Episode 2]

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

Maybe you, like me, loved the first season of Orange Is the New Black. A lot. The novelty of such a woman-centric cast, full to the brim with interesting and compelling characters of color, was heady. Sure, there were problems with the show—but only because we expected so much of it, no? It was so close to getting EVERYTHING right. Besides the fact that its frame was basically: Piper (IMO always the least interesting character on the show) was a fish out of water because she didn’t deserve to be in prison. By the extension of this logic, some people did deserve to be in prison. Those who didn’t look like Piper, perhaps? She was skinny and white and pretty and shopped at Whole Foods! This was just some fluke. Right?

Season 3 is now out, and we’re going to dive right in! Come watch and discuss along with me.

Thank god we no longer have to deal with Larry.

(A quick disclaimer: I didn’t really refresh myself on the show before beginning season 3. There may be a couple of factual/character/plot inconsistencies in my recaps. Any mistakes are unintentional. But I’m also kind of lazy, so they might remain.)

S3e2: Bed Bugs and Beyond

I could listen to Flaca talk for a loooong time. There’s something so soothing about it. In the opening scene of this episode, she rambles to a nurse about what she thinks are crabs on her arms, but the nurse quickly drops her arm when he realizes it’s actually….bedbugs.

While the hispanic inmates gather to tell cootie jokes, we see Red walking ponderously back to her old cell with Piper. Piper’s need for approval shines out from every pore and every follicle of her miraculously well-groomed eyebrows. “Red, you’re back!” she exclaims. Like a golden retriever, her eyes follow Red’s every move.


But Red’s not having it, saying that she doesn’t give liars second chances. Now we’re taken back to the episode where Piper, briefly outside Litchfield for furlough or whatever it’s called, went to see Red’s store on her behalf and found it closed. Piper lied then, and said there was a line out the door, but Mr. Red’s horrible lying has ratted Piper out.

Piper is her usual crunchy white savior self. “You know,” she preens, “many cultures value a person’s dignity over the truth. In Korea, they actually call it kibun…I heard that on The World with Marco Werman.” Oh my gooooooood, Piper. Just…stop. I understand that her character is in some ways parodying a specific type of person but it’s still just as painful to be reminded that there are so many well-intentioned young white women going around saying things like that IRL.

Red rightly points out that Piper lied to save her own ass from Red’s potential anger. Piper stands up and petulantly insists, “I said what I said because I am a nice person and it felt right.” A truly incontrovertible argument, Piper. Everyone knows that those who insist on their own niceness are the truly nice ones, of course.

“Nice is for cowards and Democrats,” Red spits back. “You’re a selfish little person. You wanted me to like you. Now I like you less.”

MMMhmmm Red! Withhold that approval.

At the entrance to the prison, Bureaucrat Bennett signs in a visiting woman while weirdly overenunciating his words. She says, like the mother of a five year old would, “Oh, Bennett! You’re George’s friend!”

I’m with Bennett, who hesitates and asks, “…George?”

Of course, it’s this woman who “never could resist an accent” (OK, whatever) and who, with her Cuban ex-husband, gave the world Pornstache. I think I recognize this actress as Elizabeth Banks’ mom from 30 Rock. Maybe? Does she get every hot mom role?

Mama Pornstache and Aleida have an awkward grandmother’s meeting in the visitation room, where MP says things like, “hispanic women have amazing skin.” Aleida cuts right to the chase, asking what Daya’s baby will get from Mama Pornstache. MP wants to adopt Daya’s baby, apparently to save it from a life of being raised by Cesar.

“I’m up nights…haunted…” MP says, closing her eyes dramatically under the weight of her words.I can’t bear the thought of the baby ending up…like…”

I expected her to say Daya, aka in prison, which seems in keeping with the kind of distancing benevolence that MP has so far evinced. Instead, she says, “George.”

I agree that the world of the show (and the world in general) does not need more Pornstaches. But…you raised him, so why would it make sense for you to raise yet another baby in order to avoid future Pornstache-ness? Aleida has the same question for her. “So…you want to raise the baby so it don’t turn out like the bay you raised?”

MP brags about having raised three sons total, naming a dentist and an art historian as proof of her parenting ability. “So you raised two sadists and a homo,” Aleida cracks.

Aleida goes on to negotiate a stipend for herself and for Daya, if MP gets the child. The scene ends with Team Hot Grandmas staring each other down.

Back in the dorms, the women gather their bedding and clothes in a pile. Bad News Bennett wanders in to whisper loudly to Daya that Aleida is meeting with MP. Daya hilariously calls MP “Lady Pornstache,” like a character in the world’s worst historical romance. Daya then has to repeatedly reassure Bad News Bennett, for some reason, since he’s puffing and sighing like he’s just run a marathon. Why are you so upset, Bennett? This feels like a weird contest of manhood—like he doesn’t really care that much about how Daya feels, giving birth in prison, but he just doesn’t want his genes to “belong” to Pornstache.


Then he changes the subject with the ever-romantic, “I don’t usually get to see this much of you at once,” since Daya is in her bra and underwear. Thanks, bedbugs, you make everything so much more romantic. Also, B.N.B, there’s a reason why guards like you don’t normally get to see inmates in their bras and underwear. Please stop acting like you’re Romeo. There’s something really disturbing about the composition of this scene, to me, with Daya’s vulnerability and exposed belly next to Bennett, who’s fully clothed and sports a shiny pair of handcuffs on his belt.

Daya doesn’t think about this though, and there is something sweet about the way she asks, “You like it?”

Oop, Caputo interrupts to make an announcement about the new paper uniforms. He comes over to Daya to tell her about the one maternity-sized paper uniform. As she leaves, Caputo takes the opportunity to breathe hot breath all over Stoic Bennett, warning him yet again to stay away from the inmates. Bennett whines, “BUT LADY PORNSTACHE IS HERE…” and Caputo cuts him off to say he doesn’t care, and neither should Bennett. “This is not 3 Men and a Baby…you [and Pornstache] are two morons, and a ward of the state.” It feels weird, how much I can dislike Caputo and yet find him sensible…at times.

Ohhh, ok! Now we’ve been dropped into an Army Bennett flashback, He strides around looking purposeful and shouting acronyms, like a proper Army Bennett, looking like a little action figure. Now’s the time to remember that Army Bennett, who tells his unamused sergeant that he’s “ready to get into the shit” (charming, Army Bennett), actually lost his leg to a hot-tub infection and not combat. Lying about that was what made him seem so vulnerable and lovable to Daya in the first place, right?

Army Bennett action figure, ooh shiny
Army Bennett action figure, ooh shiny

I’m a little confused what we’re supposed to get from this flashback. Sympathy? more dislike? ~*deep understanding*~?

The sergeant coins the fabulous jeer, “John Wayne McCain” to describe Overeager Bennett. I’m starting to see what this is going to be about. The sergeant reprimands Bennett for his eagerness to do the job of the “camel cowboys” who are, I assume, supposed to be Afghan soldiers (the set is very…Vaguely Middle Eastern ™ but they have Afghanistan Army arm patches in some scenes). Are we supposed to draw a pat conclusion about Bennett’s ability to connect with the people he should distance himself from—the people under his command, so to speak? Has OITNB inadvertently written into itself a critique of the way America conducts its interminable wars in the Middle East, by tracing a parallel between the American prison system and the hierarchy of dependency and see-sawing support of American foreign policy? Probably not, but damn it’s tempting to see that.

Back in Litchfield, CO Wanda looks over the cafeteria full of half-naked inmates and proclaims the situation a “cluster-knuckle.” “Could this be our fault,” she asks her…boyfriend (?), Fat Good Natured Security Guard. Apparently they brought in a mystery couch from the curb. For what? Fat Good Natured Sex? I guess we’ll never know.

An older white lady tries to sit with Janae, Cindy, Suzanne, and Taystee, and is unceremoniously shooed away. Poussey comes to sit down instead, wearing a necklace of garlic cloves. She defends the “magic” of Gloria and Norma. Cindy realizes that not only does the garlic necklace come from the hispanic contingent of the prison, so does the food, and she starts to spit it out. Suzanne jumps in to say (quite sensibly) that it’s just extra protein. When Taystee points out that Cindy hasn’t showered in 3 days and is scratching herself, Suzanne also offers this: “Poor personal hygiene can be a sign of depression.” Sometimes I love the way they write her lines. So sensible.


In the middle of all this, Pennsatucky calmly sits down at their table. “You’re discriminating me,” she says, winking, to Suzanne. Suzanne immediately agrees. Cindy asserts that even if Rosa Parks were to try to sit with them, they’d kick her out if she had bedbugs.

And THEN OH MY GOD Pennsatucky sneers something about Vee being their “big-haired mammy” and “taking Satan’s three-pronged penis up her butt.” WHY. Jesus. Suzanne freaks out, grabbing her potato to smash it into Pennsatucky’s disrespectful face. Taystee quickly holds Suzanne back as CO Wanda comes over to threaten them for causing trouble. Potato her at a future time, Suzanne.

Over at another table, Piper teases Alex about “secretly loving this” situation of half-naked inmates. The show is really taking Piper off the sympathy of the audience, I guess. Even a casual observer should have been able to tell that Alex was miserable and really struggling—Piper, remember that scene in the chapel where you told Alex it was “the system”? But P’s need for approval trumps all, I guess. “Give mama a smile,” she says, sounding like every gross man who has ever ignored a woman’s lack of desire to smile for his own gratification (ladies, you know what I’m talking about. This random dude in a coffee shop once demanded I smile while I was getting cream for my coffee.)

Alex tries to voice her fear of Kubra, who’s probably waiting for her to get out of jail so he can kill her. To Piper’s platitude about survival, Alex responds that she does indeed survive, like a cockroach. Piper points out that it might be her spirit animal. What kind of girlfriend says your spirit animal is a fucking cockroach? That is literally one of the worst ones you could have chosen, Piper. Is this your first time playing this game? Or interacting with another person? One who’s hurting?


When Alex points out how fucked up it is to say your lover’s spirit animal is a cockroach, Piper rattles off a list of reasons why cockroaches are “bad bitches” (cringe): they mated in space. They live in tight colonies because they love being touched. They can carry cigarettes. Each reason she gives highlights her own priorities: thinking about how to survive in the prison economy (the cigarettes), pursuing her own comfort (touch). Alex just gets up and leaves.

Nicky and Big Boo watch from the window as an inmate is released early, probably someone in for a minor drug offense. Nicky points out that their “smack scheme” is no minor offense.


In the kitchen, Gloria and Aleida prepare itch remedies for the girls who’ve been bitten up. Conspiracy Bennett stalks past, and Aleida hurries over to talk to him. So much Bennett plotline is really boring, honestly. I feel like he forfeited his right to our attention over his moral dilemma when he decided to have sex (and unprotected, at that) with an inmate in the first place.

In the storage room, Daya and Conspiracy Bennett corner Aleida to ask about her meeting with MP. CB starts freaking out, while Aleida says, “Your job is to listen right now.” Very sensible advice, Aleida. Aleida invokes Daya’s year in foster care as a reminder of what could happen to the baby if left unprovided for. Bennett chimes in with a “That’s not going to happen,” though it’s unclear what he plans to do about it since his hands are tied, anyway. When Daya says he should let Aleida finish, he gives her such a betrayed look. Stop being so dramatic, CB.

Aleida holds out her trump card—that with MP, Daya’s baby can have her own bedroom. “Did you ever spend the night in a room by yourself?” she asks Daya. Bennett looks on, uncomprehending. This is clearly a moment in which the economies of Daya and Bennett strongly diverge. Daya’s calculation includes that which Bennett, from his position of privilege, either takes for granted or assumes on blind belief.

To make this point even clearer, Aleida points out that the baby would have clean towels. “Daya and I are happy,” Bennett insists. “You don’t need clean towels for that…right?” Aleida and Daya just look at him. This is why I don’t buy Romantic Bennett at all. There’s no attempt, that we’ve seen, for him to understand where Daya is coming from, or the way she thinks, despite Conspiracy Bennett’s professed love for her.

NOW WE CUT TO A SCENE THAT NO ONE ASKED FOR: a shirtless Army Bennett, in flashback, dancing to “Hollaback Girl” while one of the Afghan soldiers films the Americans.


The soldier, named Farzad, starts to film one of the women soldiers instead, and the sergeant angrily stops him, saying that the point is the men dancing. Army Bennett comes by to reassure Farzad. “You did good, you did good,” he says, nodding at Farzad, who looks like a happy puppy. Farzad explains that the other Afghan soldiers are upset because the American soldiers are acting gay, dancing to Gwen Stefani.

Back in the present, Soso does laundry and intones, “We’re stuck in our own spin cycle.” Wise Soso. Nicky and Luschek arrive with fans. Pennsatucky’s former posse (I keep forgetting their names) warn Nicky to keep away from their “soggy boxes,” truly an inventively unappealing name for a vagina.

Luschek, realizing that the guards’ uniforms are just as susceptible to bedbugs as the inmates’ clothes were (is this a hidden ~**~*metaphor*~**~??!), treats us to a very jiggly, pale strip scene. While handing his jeans to Angie to wash, he quickly pulls out his baggie of weed—to the inmates’ side-eye.

In the bathroom, Cindy sprays her whole body, including her crotch and face, with chemical disinfectant to ward off bedbugs. As Taystee points out, this is “the Titanic of bad ideas” as Cindy is “steering out of the way of bedbugs, and CRASHING into an iceberg of chemical burns and shit.”

Suzanne comes out of a toilet stall she’s been cleaning, and Taystee also gives her some helpful advice: that she can’t lose her shit every time someone talks about Vee.

“Did you hear that slattern? …Look, that business about a tri-penis, unacceptable,” Suzanne argues. That’s not incorrect, Suzanne. AND Suzanne throws in a great pun for good measure, because she loves us, saying, “That WARRANTS/WARREN-S a severe response.” Get it? get it?? I do appreciate how Cindy and Taystee work to protect Suzanne, in many ways, from getting herself thrown into psych.

Alex wanders in, coughing, and stops Taystee from spraying herself with “Lybol” disinfectant. Followed shortly by Piper. “When did our bathroom become gentrified??” Cindy asks, pointing to them. Lines like this remind me why I watch this show, sometimes.


Alex clashes with the black CO (what is her name, OITNB?? Tell us!), when the CO tells her to leave the bathroom. Alex is clearly cracking under the strain of being back, and she goes on a mini-rant about the bedbugs and cockroaches swarming over Litchfield. Piper steps in to stop the CO from sending Alex to seg, earning herself a shot but successfully warding off a stint in SHU.

Out on the lawn, Daya reaches into the electrical box near her usual meeting spot with Romantic Bennett and pulls out a chewing tobacco tin that says “Open Me.” Inside is a ring made of a silver gum wrapper—and when she turns around, Romantic Bennett is kneeling at her feet. He gives a little speech about their future together and proposes. Daya agrees, and they kiss. I just know this couple is going to suffer—Romantic Bennett’s proposal sketched out a life with no particulars, just HAPPINESS. Kids! Think it through!

Over by the van, Nicky approaches Luschek and rather un-suavely brings up the subject of “candy.” Luschek’s slowness is supposed to be the joke, I guess, but I just don’t care enough about this forced subplot. Why are Nicky and Big Boo cooking up this “candy,” seeing as it could add 10 years in max for them both? What’s their motivation?

Luschek starts dragging her to Caputo’s office, but then stops and says he’s fucking with her. He then agrees to sell it for 80%.

Poussey comes into the kitchen with an egg that she slept with and prayed over, hoping that it would absorb her problems. Gloria takes it and puts it back with the other eggs, to be cooked at breakfast.

Gloria reveals that she cooks all of the eggs she gives to people as magic charms and walks away, but Norma comes around and breaks the egg for Poussey, earning herself (and us, thanks Norma!) a glorious Poussey smile.

In the cafeteria, Alex and Piper eat together as Alex jokes about being “literally garbage” in her trash-bag uniform substitute. “I think I’m having a nervous breakdown,” Alex says. Red pops her head in to say, in a dash of pretty heavy-handed foreshadowing (or is it some kind of post-shadowing?) that Piper will think of the right lie.

Piper talks about ignorance as the shield of her happiest time in Litchfield, but Alex points out that for her, revealing everything about themselves and “still deciding that we like each other? THAT is an amazing thing.” Piper looks tortured. Ok, she looks up and now LITERALLY a single tear is trickling down her cheek, cliche to end all cliches.

I think this scene is supposed to involve a big emotional payoff but I can’t remember what Piper did, or even what Alex did, or the many unnecessary twists and turns that their *whirlwind romance* or whatever has involved.

Piper reveals that she was the one to rat out Alex to her probation officer. For what, I don’t remember—maybe for having a gun? To protect herself from their old drug boss? Piper tearfully tries to argue that she was doing it to protect Alex, who was in danger.


Alex points out how fucked up this mind game is, and how Piper’s decision to unload the truth on Alex, and get Alex to stop blaming herself and start blaming Piper, is just another play to keep control of their increasingly complicated relationship. “You were having a nervous breakdown,” Piper starts saying. Alex cuts her off—”Which wasn’t hot for you, was it?” It’s harsh, I guess. But where’s the lie?

In the library, the exterminator tells Caputo that the books need to be burnt. Poussey and Taystee are working in the library, and Poussey defends Rats of NIMH against the exterminator’s recommendation of, well, extermination. Taystee, pointing out that the prison will never replace the books if they’re burnt, argues that what the exterminator thinks is a bedbug in the binding is just a muffin crumb. And then she FUCKING EATS IT to prove her point, because Taystee is a hero and a savior of books.


Awkward Bennett shows up at Cesar’s house to take up Cesar’s invitation to his house most literally. With no warning. So rude. But Cesar is excited to hear that Bennett has proposed to Daya, but is suitably unimpressed with Awkward Bennett’s gum wrapper ring.

Caputo is meeting with another old white man, whose name is apparently Mitch. He has a rolling suitcase and wears a sweater vest—that is literally all I know about him at this point. Oh, and he really liked Fig, Caputo’s predecessor. Mitch is not going to give Caputo new mattresses because these new mattresses will just be thrown away in two months. Ohhhh shit. Caputo realizes, along with us viewers, that Litchfield is being closed down. Fucking Mitch, he’s loving this. He reassures Caputo that he will still have a job, but it seems like all the other staff are being laid off.

Back at Cesar’s, Cesar gets into a heated argument with Aleida’s son, who won’t eat his fries.Cesar, of course, does the reasonable thing and points a gun in the boy’s face. After he eats one fry, he’s dismissed. Awkward Bennett watches all of this go down in nervous silence, and then the scene cuts back to Afghanistan. Army Bennett’s squad is playing a video game in their tent. Outside, Farzad is seen arguing with his fellow Afghan soldiers—only Bennett notices them approaching the tents. Er…


Farzad screams that they have a grenade, and one of the soldiers shoots him in a panic. The grenade rolls into the tent. Bennett, who’s ordered to kick it out, flings himself into a corner and closes his eyes. His young friend, another American soldier, throws his own body onto the grenade instead.

Cut to Healy, because we can’t have nice things and must look at his face once in a while. He’s watching a youtube video of a dog farting, because of course. Red comes in to ask him to add her lawyer to her visitation list, and to have her husband taken off. I guess they’re getting a divorce. Healy makes her sit because he’s just such.a.good.counselor. Healy then gives her some platitudes about avoiding absolutes when speaking emotionally, and marriage being a two way street, and blah blah blah. I know where this is heading, and it makes me tired. Don’t worry, Healy. We haven’t forgotten your disastrously stupid Russian mail-order bride who, surprise surprise, didn’t automatically love you just for buying her.


Also, surprise surprise, Healy starts to accuse Red of “trivializing a man’s emotions.” The manhood! It’s so fragile! The only real surprise in this scene is that Red actually looks somewhat chastised by this outburst. Come on, Red. Where’s the fire?

In the laundry room, Nicky and Boo find their stash is missing—because we’re not allowed to just let this storyline lie.

In the yard, Caputo watches the mattresses burn with a defeated look. He starts to toss books into the fire too, saying, “Doesn’t matter.”

The camera pans over the various inmates trying to arrange their beds for the night without mattresses. Soso prattles about leaves she found that might work, and looks over to see Chang sleeping upright because of course, we can’t resist a weird-old-mystic-Chinese-lady trope for good measure, can we, OITNB?

Piper confesses to Red that she got in trouble with Alex for telling the truth, and that she can’t do right no matter if she lies or tells the truth. “Stop trying to mold the real world into the one inside your pointy blonde head,” Red counsels. Wise Red. Piper sits up as she breathes, “Maybe I AM manipulative….you just described my mother.” Must we do this, OITNB? Must we sit through Piper’s self-awakening and a tired trope about becoming like one’s mother? I would much rather have an episode where Poussey and Taystee read Rats of NIMH with Suzanne.


We get an extra dose of Awkward Bennett for good measure. Cesar advises that Bennett get a side piece to help him with raising Daya’s baby, then offers Daya’s old crib to Bennett to use for the baby. Awkward Bennett is so awkward it’s a little painful to look at him. Is he having a moving revelation about his coming glory as a father? Somehow I doubt it.

In the hallway, Piper and Alex look at each other. Piper dramatically tears the police tape away from the closed library, and Alex follows her in. Without saying a word, Alex slaps her in the face. Then they start having sex, just to drive home the fact that Piper is manipulative and this is an unhealthy relationship. Poor Alex. I mean, Piper looks good at going down on someone, but still. Wasn’t the whole point of her struggle with Piper to avoid being used for a quick physical gratification?

At the very end of the episode, we see Conflicted Bennett crying in his pickup, because his life is a country music song. He drives off, and the camera tilts down to reveal that he’s left the crib Cesar gave him at the side of the road because SYMBOLISM. But also, RUDENESS. I mean that’s a perfectly good crib and Cesar did say it had been used by all of Aleida’s babies, and would be used again. Why waste it just because you want to be All Dramatic, Bennett??

I'm sighing too, Dramatic Bennett. I'm sighing too.
I’m sighing too, Dramatic Bennett. I’m sighing too.
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