There is something that keeps happening on Orphan Black that is one of the best things I think I’ve ever seen on TV: the ability of each the clones to say “Don’t touch me.” This may not seem like a big deal, but it is. Women grow up in a world where their body is not necessarily theirs alone. It is for other men and women to look at, to ogle, to touch. Pregnant women have to deal with strangers touching their stomachs without permission. Women on the subway have to shrink into themselves, to take up as little space as possible because the man next to them is sitting as though to take up all the space he can. We have been socialized to believe that touching is always allowed, by spouses, by family, by friends, and by strangers, no matter what we’ve gone through in our lives, no matter how we feel about being touched, as long as it’s not “bad touching” (this is simplistic, but the less simple is far too much to get into here).
But the women on Orphan Black have used both verbal and non-verbal cues to express their need to NOT be touched (Rachel is the exception, currently, having only said out loud to Sarah that no one lays hands on her as a threat). Sarah dodges around Paul at their first meeting in the bedroom, Alison slaps Donnie when he tries to initiate sex, Cosima shifts away from Delphine when she finds out her tag number. Helena gives off an aura of “Don’t come close.” And then we have these verbal statements. Each is important not only for the woman saying the words, but the reactions to them. Paul (thinking Sarah is Beth, though that’s besides the point) reacts in an unnecessarily ridiculous and grandiose way, making fun of and belitting his significant other. Sarah, as another woman talking to a woman who is a stranger, backs away from Alison. Delphine doesn’t try to touch Cosima again, scoots closer on the couch but still leaves space between them, and speaks to her as an equal. Art completely demeans Helena, doesn’t even try to respect her feelings, and overpowers her. He’s got his reasons, yes, but this is a girl who’s been used and abused for most of her life. You can see her expression go dead-eyed as he manhandles her. Lastly, Paul expects things to go a certain way, and acts on his own expectations. He knows better than to react like he did to Sarah as Beth though when Rachel slaps him, her non-verbal but obvious cue not to touch her, and instead follows her lead afterwards.
I honestly believe, in the same way gay characters on TV help gay kids to come out, that if even one girl or woman learns from watching Orphan Black to say “Don’t touch me” to someone without thinking they’re out of line or are doing something wrong, and if anyone, man or woman, thinks before trying to belittle or get offended by someone saying “Don’t touch me,” this show is doing more for the women and the men who watch it than perhaps any other show on TV.