FREQ: A Feminist Frequency Newsletter
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Illustration of Jane Ng

Welcome to Freq

Welcome back to the third edition of FREQ, the e-newsletter of Feminist Frequency. As always, we've got the latest news and updates, along with an interview with one woman in media who inspires us and does extraordinary things. If you have friends who would enjoy getting FREQ in their inbox, send them this link to subscribe for free. This month we're talking to Tatiana Maslany, the star of the critically-acclaimed sci-fi television drama Orphan Black

We’re also incredibly pleased to tell you that the crowdfunding campaign for our next video series, Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History, successfully raised over $200,000 thanks to supporters like you. If you want to back the project but didn’t have a chance—or just want to add more rewards to your pledge—you can still add your support through our BackerKit page. We’re so grateful, and we can’t wait to get started on this series about five defiant women in history.

Sincerely,
Anita Sarkeesian

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Tatiana Maslany plays some of the most interesting women on television—and all of them are on the same show. In Orphan Black, the Emmy-nominated Canadian drama that recently returned for its fourth season, Maslany stars as a woman named Sarah Manning who discovers that she's part of a nefarious cloning experiment that left her with an unknown number of identical sisters scattered across the globe. 

Over the last several years of the show, this premise has allowed Maslany to step into the shoes of Ukrainian assassins, soccer moms, scientists, and CEOs. It's a spectacular, many-headed hydra of a role, and one where a lesser actor might have faltered badly. Instead, it's allowed Maslany to demonstrate her tremendous range as an actor and put something equally as rare on display: a show where the majority of characters are multi-dimensional women, and one that is deeply concerned with how we perceive women's bodies, minds and humanity.

With the latest season of Orphan Black now airing on BBC America, Maslany talked to FREQ about inequality in Hollywood, "strong female characters," and redefining the way we think about women's stories.

FREQ: I know that you identify as a feminist, and I'm curious about how your relationship with feminism evolved. Was it a realization you had at a young age, or something you came to later in life?

TM: I think the first book I read about it was Yes Means Yes, and it's about rape culture and this idea of enthusiastic consent, saying "yes" versus an absence of "no." It was so mind-blowing to me because I knew I felt certain things about the way the world was, but I'd never heard them articulated like that. I just kind of became obsessed with reading about it and talking about it with friends. But it did come into my life later than some people. It wasn't until I was in my mid-20s that I started to really feel my place in it and claim it as my own.

But [representation] is definitely been something I've noticed since I was a kid, in terms of not having women I related to on the screen. Even from a very young age, I didn't understand why I didn't see people like myself on screen, why I couldn't connect with those characters. And definitely when I started doing Orphan Black, I became really aware of it and really cognizant of how lucky I was to be on a show that defied those norms. It's definitely something I think about a lot.
 

FREQ: Do you think that the focus on female characters and experiences in Orphan Black has changed the way the show is received?

TM: I think it's great that the fans have really grasped on to that concept, that they saw those undertones and really ran with them. I think it's become [part of] the conversation in terms of feminism and what we're saying about bodies and about women and about autonomy. Especially after the reaction to the first season, it became something that we were really conscious of going into the next season.

I think [women] are always kind of reduced to type and a body, and what's exciting about the show is that it goes, yeah ok, we could look like this. We could look like anything, really. But what's the truth of who we are? Our society is so aesthetically inclined, and we define ourselves so much by the exterior and what people think of that exterior and how that reflects who we really are. I'm always interested in switching up those expectations. There's a character on our show who's so manicured and [representative] of a certain kind of woman, and yet the first episode she's in we really break her open and allow her to have this other life inside of her that's so not what we see on the outside, and not what we expect. That's really fun to play with and I really love that.

FREQ: The term "strong female character" gets thrown around a lot to praise female characters, but one of the things I love about so many of the characters on Orphan Black is how they have more levels than just stereotypical "strength."

TM:
I don't even know where that [term] came from, but it's just so limiting. It also feels like it looks to male imagery and male behavior to indicate strength. And it looks to infallibility to indicate strength. The strongest people I look up to are people who are incredibly flawed and human. They're not necessarily doing cartwheels and kicking someone in the face. They're struggling with life and their emotions and their relationships and their goals. I don't even know what "strong female character" means anymore. It's so overused. Look at [actor] Gena Rowlands in [the 1974 movie] A Woman Under the Influence. Her character could never in a generalized way be a "strong female character" but she's a strong female character anyway because she's a complete, complex human being, and she isn't just reduced to power or bravery. 

I'm really interested in a conversation about what spaces we can define for ourselves as women. We get so obsessed with occupying male-dominated spaces or storylines or narratives, but there are just so many other stories we haven't told. What about all the other stories that we haven't told yet about women? We haven't even gone there in a big way yet.
 

FREQ: What do you think it would mean to create spaces that are more focused on women and more interested in women's perspectives?

TM:
I think definitely having more women involved in making these stories. On most sets that I'm on, 80 percent of the people are men… I would just love to see what it looks like if 80 percent of the people on set were women. I don't even know what we would create differently or what would happen but I'd love to find out. There are these untapped areas. I don't even know what they look like, but I know that they're possible.

FREQ: There's been a lot of discussion recently about demographics in Hollywood, about the gender pay gap, about the whiteness of the Oscars. Do you feel like there's any sort of shift happening on the ground, that people are interested in changing things?

TM:
I think things are changing. I hope they are. I see that change a lot more in television and film than I did in the past, and how social media has allowed for certain voices to be heard that wouldn't normally have a platform. But then you look at the current political climate, and you also see this fear of that happening and this desire to revert to archaic, terrifying ways of looking at civil rights and the legal system. It feels like we're pushing forward in a big way, but there are also a lot of people who are very afraid of that charge and are going in the extreme opposite direction. It's really scary.

FREQ: You mentioned being interested in more stories about women. Obviously you have that now in Orphan Black, but is this something you want to focus on moving forward in your career as well?

TM:
Absolutely. These stories are few and far between but when I see them I'm super excited by them. I'm also so excited to see other women get those parts and create those parts. I want it to become more of a default, to become more of the norm rather than a remarkable thing. That's the weird thing about our show—it's perceived as so amazing because it's women-centric. But I can't wait for the day when that's not an amazing thing. 

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What's New

The crowdfunding campaign for Feminist Frequency’s next video series, Ordinary Women: Daring to Defy History, successfully raised over $200,000 thanks to the generous support of people like you. The episodes are already in the works, and we’re also in the process of sourcing physical rewards like posters and stickers so we can get them out to backers as soon as possible. If you want to back the project but didn’t have a chance—or just want to add more items to your pledge—then check out our page at BackerKit for more information. 

Carolyn Petit wrote a preview article about Elsinore, a time-looping game set in the world of Shakespeare’s Hamlet where Ophelia takes center stage and finally gets a chance to take control of her fate.

Anita was profiled in the Los Angeles Times, and will also be awarded an honorary degree in May from The New School for her work with Feminist Frequency, alongside other honorees including actor Laverne Cox and activist DeRay Mckesson. The school selects recipients who “embody the university’s driving principles of academic freedom, tolerance, and creative experimentation… bold innovators whose work across disciplines has addressed important contemporary issues.”

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Although we’re incredibly grateful at the support we’ve received for many of our individual projects, Feminist Frequency still depends on the generosity of donors to continue producing all of our programming from Tropes vs Women in Video Games, to reviews, to this new monthly newsletter! Please consider donating to help us continue this critical work, and because Feminist Frequency is a non-profit charity, it’s also tax-deductible!

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