Metaphors of patriarchy in Orphan Black and Westworld

Academic articles by Olivia Belton

Metaphors of patriarchy in Orphan Black and Westworld. Feminist Media Studies.

Orphan Black (2013–17) and Westworld (2016-) use their science fiction narratives to create metaphors for patriarchal oppression. The female protagonists struggle against the paternalistic scientists and corporate leaders who seek to control them. These series break away from more liberal representations of feminism on television by explicitly portraying how systemic patriarchal oppression seeks to control and exploit women, especially under capitalism. They also engage with radical feminist ideas of separatism and compulsory heterosexuality. The science fiction plots allow them to deal with feminist issues. Westworld uses computer programming as a metaphor for patriarchal social conditioning, while Orphan Black’s clones recall cyborg feminism. The programs vary in how well they ultimately deal with patriarchy. Orphan Black encourages assimilation, while Westworld allows for some advocacy of a violent overthrow of the robots’ oppressors. Moments of narrative closure, and especially endings, within the series reveal interesting frictions between the series’ awareness of systemic sexism and their inability to imagine a solution to the problem of patriarchy. Nevertheless, I argue that these series represent a new possibility for television’s representation of complex and challenging feminist ideas.

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Olivia Belton

Olivia Belton

Research Fellow, April 2019 - August 2020