Feminist SF Carnival: 4th Edition

Welcome to the Fourth Edition of the Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans! We’ve got quite a collection here this time, a whole host of topics organized by medium: Comic Books and Novels, Film and Television, and (my favourite) Video Games!

Comic Books and Novels

Feminist Superheroes
Transexual Fury: Summer Camp Special!

Starting this edition off with a bang are two posts talking about comic books in general. First, reappropriate‘s Jenn entertains us with her post, Meme: the Comic Book version.

Peachblossom of A Libertine‘s post, Feminist Superhero Books, talks about how the issue of feminism in comic books was tackled in the book, Wonder Women: Feminisms and Superheroes, by Lillian s. Robinson.

This one is a bit old, but it’s too good to leave unremarked on. Elkins of Notes from the Tundra examines the very real problem of girl on girl hostility in fandom and the world at large with her post Paranoia in Online Fandom: CMC, Girls’ Aggression, and Overanalyzing the Texts.

My assumption about this paranoia and the behavior that it engenders always used to be that it was simply a side-effect of the nature of CMC itself. The other week, however, while I was at the beach, I read a book someone had recommended to me on the subject of girls’ particular modes of aggression–Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls, by Rachel Simmons–and it was really shocking to me just how well many of the things that this book described were things that I strongly associate with online fandom dynamics. That in turn has made me wonder to what extent much of the “paranoiac” behavior that I’ve been seeing in on-line fandom might be an artifact not only of CMC, but also of the predominantly female demographics of the fandom circles in which I’ve travelled.

Ampersand of Alas, a Blog connects this phenomenon to the feminist blogsphere at large in his post, How Girls Express Aggression and Online Fandom Dynamics.

In another instance of relating comics and feminism (this time with a superhero twist), this one Charlie Anders of othermag comments on a talented artist who is using comics as a medium to explore the anti-trans policy of Michfest, a popular women’s festival. The post, Superheroines team up to fight the real enemy, is worth a read, but don’t forget to check out the comic itself as well. It should be noted, however, that since the publishing of the comic, the festival that is alluded to has changed its policy and is now inclusive of all women.

Can I be like you when I grow up?Moving away from independent comics and into the world of The Big Two, Kalinara of Pretty, Fizzy Paradise says that she can’t find it in her heart to hate someone who brought such a touching moment of female solidarity in Darn You Geoff Johns.

In the wake of both the wedding between the X-Men’s Storm and Black Panther, as well as the Black Panel at Comic Con, it’s no surprise that bloggers are still talking about issues surrounding gender and race in comics. Starting us off is Ragnell of Written World and her post, It’s still bothering me…, where she writes about her disappointment in the way that the more popular Storm has taken a back seat to Black Panther. She continues her analysis of this issue over at Newsarama by discussing the implications of the cover art in her post, Amateur Art Appreciation: The Groom

Tackling the issue head on in her livejournal, I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, spiralsheep discusses sexism towards black women in comics in her post, In which our heroine asks, “What would T’Challa do?” , she has this to say:

But when a writer takes an achievement, a genuine victory, away from one character and gives it to another then there’d better be a good reason, when a writer takes away a female character’s self-determination and gives it to the men around her there’d better be a good reason, and when a writer turns a black victim of white crime into a black perpetrator of crime against a white person then there’d better be a !%@%! good reason.

The eponymous blogger Tlönista has written, Rebels from the waist down, a post on the portrayal of women in her favourite dystopian novels:

It gets scary-depressing when you read the feminist blogs and take in a piece on Joe Francis one day and teen virginity pledges the next and realize that the pressures on women in 1984 and Brave New World still exist simultaneously here, so that resisting one is giving into the other.

And what better way to end a section on comic books than with everybody’s favourite hero? Yes, that’s right, Planet Karen has a very special strip about Mars.

Film and Television

Fembots and the men who love them
Fembots (and the men who love them)

Over at Real Men Are Not, Luke dissects an essay on “Fembots” in his post, We’ll Pick You Up: Fembots and the Idiot at Enterprise [eta – broken link removed].

I don’t care if you say that fembots are some male-created extension in science of an already patriarchal culture but don’t tell me that that’s really the “perfect male fantasy”? Talk about something original and actually news-worthy.

Superwomen, not Fembots, are the subject of Ide Cyan’s post over at Feminist SF – The Blog!. In My Super Ex-Girlfriend [Caution! Spoilers in link.] she explores the movie of the same name from a feminist perspective.

The use of oversensitivity to sexual harrassment in the workplace as a running joke is particularly odious and tiresome. In the mouth of the protagonist’s Black, female boss, it adds to the caricature of women in positions of power as unreasonable and unjust towards the poor hapless (White) males.

Earthsea?And We Shall March laments yet another bastardization of Leguin’s Earthsea series in the post, And Then Ghibli Screwed Earthsea.

What sci-fi carnival would be complete without some Trekkie-loving? First we a post on the original series of Star Trek: heavenscalyx of The Calyx of the Heavens touches on (among other things) the treatment of Marla McGiver in, Khaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan! But TOS isn’t the only of the Star Trek series deserving of attention! On the Hathor Legacy, a blog devoted to the portrayal of women in the media, Revena discusses the fluid gender expression of the character in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine – Jadzia’s Gender.

Kirylin of Kirylin’s Voice muses on Traits of a strong female character, looking at shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer in contrast with shows of her youth, like G. I. Joe:

Thinking about Elisa; Gloria and Vanessa; Lady Jaye, Scarlett, and Cover Girl; R.C.; Tea and Alexisa… it makes me wonder what defines a “strong” female character.

And to wrap things up with this section, another post from Charlie Anders at othermag: So much for the feminist take on Doctor Who [Caution! Spoilers in link.], which discusses the relationship between the Doctor and his companion.

Video Games

Beyond Good and Evil
Feminist Video Games: Beyond Good and Evil?

Jeff of our very own Shrub.com kicks off this section by questioning why “feminist video games” didn’t pull up any matches in his post, Feminist Video Games?

Of course, there’s the larger question of what would make a game good from a feminist perspective. In addition to being good from a gameplay perspective, I’d say such a game would include female characters who are full agents in the game world, and who are treated as subjects rather than objects. I think a variation of the Mo Movie Measure applies as well, in that female characters should interact with other female characters in ways that aren’t centered around men.

And, speaking of feminism and games, you know it’s going to spark some controversy when Sony announces that it’s going to release a pink console. Ariel of New Game Plus discusses the politics of pink PS2s and PSPs in her post, Feminists and Pink Game Consoles.

In a more personal expression of feminism and video games, Brinstar of Acid for Blood asks her readers to help her live like a pro-gamer for a weekend in Send Me to Stockholm.

So why do I want to go to Stockholm to learn how to play FPS games with a professional Quake 4 clan? Because it sounds fun. I’d totally blog about it, too. And there would be pictures.

In a less personal post, Brinstar looks at the gender differences in the survivors of a new video game in her post, No Weapons for Women in Dead Rising. While all of the men players have encountered thus far will take a weapon to defend themselves, most women are offered a hand and ushered off to safety. Although I doubt anywhere is truly “safe” when zombies are involved.

And on an unrelated subject, in response to an e-mail I received, I call for readers’ opinions on the where they think the responsibilities of privileged groups lie when choosing avatars in roleplaying games. My post, Race and Video Game Avatars, is on Official Shrub.com Blog and is reproduced over at Alas, A blog, so be sure to check out the discussion at both sites.

Final Words

This concludes the Fourth Edition of the Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans. Ragnell is hurting for hosts, so please e-mail her here and volunteer!

What Quesada's Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome Says About Comics

I don’t think Joe Quesada’s a bad person. I don’t think he hates women. But I do think that he’s digging himself a deep, deep hole on this whole women in the comic book industry thing. For those of you not “in the know,” Joe Quesada is Marvel Comics’ Editor in Chief. This most recent kerfluffle involves him putting his foot into his mouth about the lack of women in the higher ranks of the comic book industry. Ragnell has the scoop on his mediocre response to the question “why hasn’t a women creator made it into the tight circle of Marvel creators?” in her post, Does This Sound Like An Answer?. More commentary can be found here. Continue reading

Changing Pop-Culture to Change Ourselves [Understanding Popular Culture, Part 4]

In the opening of this series, I talked about how popular culture influenced us because it’s all around us. I talked about how it becomes the elephant in the room because of that. But what I didn’t talk about was how popular culture fits into our battle to change harmful cultural paradigms. And, really, that’s a glaring oversight that I intend to correct right now.

You see, I came across a post today (… oy. by Julia) that gave me one of those headsmacking, “OH!” moments. Not because I agree with her — far from it, I’m about to spend this entire post rebutting the points that she made — but because I finally understand the basis for the argument that [x] concern needs to be shelved so [y] and [z] concern can be taken care of first.

I. Chicken or the Egg Syndrome

So much of what happens in comics seems to be based on predispositions of society. The sexualization won’t really change until society changes and doesn’t, as a whole, view it as being so acceptable.

I’m not going to dispute Julia’s assertion that “much of what happens in comics seems to be based on predispositions of society,” because, well, I agree. Popular culture draws its themes, plots, dialogue, stereotypes, and all that other good stuff from our existing culture. Nothing exists in a vacuum, and it would be naive to pretend that the treatment of women in comics/movies/etc. is self-contained.

But, at the same time, nothing exists in a vacuum. Popular culture doesn’t just draw from society, it is part of what shapes it. Popular culture has been around as long as societies have existed — being inspired by, reinforcing, and ultimately shaping society. Because of this, presenting the problem as linear — “culture –> popular culture” — is misleading. The reality is that the relationship is a circle, with popular culture influencing society and society in turn influencing popular culture.

II. Debunking the “Cause-Effect” Theory

Simply stated, my issue is with the cause and not the effect, because the effect will not dissipate until the cause is eliminated. I would truly like to see things change! But in order for that to happen the root of the problem has to be attacked, and that root is so large that it will take decades, probably, even with all the troops called in (and hopefully behaving themselves).

Bearing in mind what I said in Section I, I’d like to now turn to Julia’s argument that her “issue is with the cause and not the effect, because the effect will not dissipate until the cause is eliminated.” Well, it should come as no surprise that I disagree with the way in which she chose to frame the issue. Here again, I have to say that the “cause-effect” relationship she sets up is misleading because it oversimplifies the issue.

What root of which problem? The sexualization of women? Well, that’s just one facet of the oppression that women face. The patriarchy? Two problems there: 1) it’s an abstract concept, not a concrete problem to be solved, and 2) it supposes that gender inequity is the root of all oppression. Even if you use the word as I sometimes do, as a feminist shorthand for the oppressive institutions that legitimize hierarchies of power, “fighting oppression” is a starting point, not a path to success.

There is no concrete “root” because the problem of oppression intersects all kinds of different cultures. And, frankly, the group who we often think of as our feminist foremothers didn’t just fail to solve the problem of oppression because they didn’t have enough time, but because their idea of what the “root of all oppression” was too narrow. You can’t solve oppression by telling everyone to adopt your particular brand of tunnel vision.

III. The Importance of Recognizing Intersectionality

Let me clarify about the “particular brand of tunnel vision” thing. I don’t think having tunnel vision is a bad thing. We all have our pet topics and that’s cool. Some of us are more focused than others. Studying popular culture is probably my main focus, but since I love cross-sections I also keep abreast of other topics such as feminist issues,
human sexuality, and general oppression work. I don’t think that this is inherently better or worse than someone who chooses one topic, or even a smaller subset of topics, to focus on.

In fact, I’d go one step farther to say that the only way I think we’ll ever have a chance at winning the battle against oppression (as much as one can “win” such a thing) is if we wage this war on multiple levels. I believe that every fight we fight — whether it be against domestic violence or raising our voices against the overabundance of “sexy girls who kick ass” in popular media — is a valuable one. I believe every stride we make, however small and however flawed, should be appreciated.

That doesn’t mean that we have no right to critique it, but rather that the critique shouldn’t be done from a “our time could be spent better elsewhere.” Maybe your time could be spent better elsewhere, but you do not speak for me. If what speaks to you is fighting sexism on a societal level and shelving popular culture, then that’s wonderful! I, for one, am glad that there are activist out there who tackle issues that I don’t have the time and/or energy for.

IV. If the Goal is Unattainable, Why Bother?

And we can’t just snap our fingers and change society. Nor will a small group of people have that large of an impact on the world, in this case. It’s a monumental, impractical and impossible task to attempt, that at this point in time will lead to failure, and then disappointment, resentment and anger over that failure.

No matter how many times I read this quote, all I can think of is, “Oh, come on. Let’s be serious here.” The same can be said of feminism, or civil rights activism, or, really, any cause where people struggle against the way society is. It’s an uphill battle with few victories, and if you’re fighting for the glory you’d just as soon be better off cheering from the sidelines because it ain’t gonna happen.

But, faliure as a reason why we shouldn’t fight for our pet projects? Faliure? I mean, sure, there are some days when I look at what we do to each other and feel that the cause is hopeless. My blogging doesn’t stop the misogynists. It doesn’t stop the feminist infighting. It doesn’t stop the sexualization of women, inside or outside of comics. And if that’s a goal I expect to attain then, yeah, I’m going to fail.

When I, and I suspect many other people who fight oppression in whatever form they like best, say things like “ending the sexualization of women in comic books” is a goal of mine, I don’t mean that it’s my expectation that I, personally, will lead the crusade that once and for all eradicates the way women are used and abused in comics. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Girl Wonder thinks either. That kind of goal is known as a “long term goal” — which means that it’s the ideal that we strive for with our activism. It gives us a common goal from which to form a community.

Maybe one day this community will be big enough to make an impact. Maybe it won’t. But it’s stupid to just give up on fighting for what you believe in because you might not be around to see the main goal come to fruition. And, really, if everyone thought like that then the goal wouldn’t come to fruition! Fighting oppression starts with education — education of ourselves and spreading the awareness to others. If even one person becomes more informed on the issue, and therefore less likely to unthinkingly endorse it, then haven’t we already won?

V. Conclusion

There is no one way to fight for what we believe in. There’s no one topic, no magic button to press to get where we want. We all push our way through life doing the best we can. And, yeah, we’ll make mistakes. We’ll let our anger get the better of us and we’ll hurt each other. And it should be talked about and it should be discussed.

Because, really, discussion is what we all need. We’re not always going to agree, and we’re not always going to understand why another person does something else. And, you know what? That’s perfectly fine. It’s not all thinking the same way that’s the goal, it’s learning to understand our differences and change ourselves so we can change society.

Strangers in Paradise and "Man-Hating"

So my latest infatuation is Terry Moore’s comic Strangers In Paradise, which I discovered through the immensely fun Scans Daily Livejournal community. It’s well-drawn and well-characterized, and is erasing that reluctance to check out indie comics that the hipper-than-thou movie adaptation of Ghost World instilled.

What struck me, though, was a letter to Mr. Moore printed in the second issue of the first run, which asked:

I do have some criticism about the writing… is it me or do you hold a dim view of males?

[Spoilers for the first issue of Strangers in Paradise follow.]

Now, I’m assuming that these letters were published in the original printing of the second issue, which means that they’re responding only to the first issue. In that issue, we’re introduced to the following male characters:

Freddie: The boyfriend of Francine, one of the lead characters of the comic. At the beginning of the issue, they are fighting because Francine doesn’t want to have sex with him. She then catches him cheating on her, at which point he breaks up with her. Francine suffers a nervous breakdown, and injures herself crashing her car.

David: An art student who meets Katchoo, the other lead character of the comic, and goes out for coffee with her. When Francine crashes her car, it’s David who pulls her out of the wreck.

…And that’s it. Two men. One good, one bad. When the two are Batman and the Joker, nobody takes this as a statement on masculinity, but add women to the mix and suddenly a less than flattering portrayal becomes man-hating. (I do have a few issues with how being skinny, attractive and independently wealthy get mixed up with each other and with being “good,” but that’s a rant for another time and place.)

Now I’m still making my way through later issues, so I’m not yet sure what the overall portrayal of men in Strangers in Paradise is. But honestly, Terry Moore’s opinions on gender are not the point of such a letter, nor is actual “man-hating” the point of any of the accusations that get levelled. I’m convinced that the main reason such accusations are phrased as “hating men” – rather than making a more specific response – is to reframe. Instead of being about the comic itself and the behaviors described therein, the discussion is shifted to Mr. Moore’s own opinions and men as gestalt. It’s not so different from the pre-emptive defense that’s meant to make the respondent forgo criticism. The effect this has is to dismiss the criticism by applying it to “males” in general rather than a specific behavior; we can no longer see the tree for the rest of the forest that’s sprouted up around it.

Terry Moore’s discussion of the letter:

Basically I told him I don’t have a dim view of males, or of women. I do have a very dim view of the games we play with each other and so does Katchoo.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this: most charitably, it reads as “I don’t hate men; I hate the patriarchy”; but it has hints of “Women do it too” – i.e., of accepting the reframing. Freddie’s entitlement-minded behavior in the first issue is a very specific form of harm that deserves more criticism than simply being lumped in with “games” like waiting a day before calling a romantic interest back.

Still, the comic itself has a compelling story – I do like romances, even if I try to make sure I don’t take them too seriously – and I enjoy the art style, so unless something comes up that makes me want to throw the book across the room (I’m looking at you, George R.R. Martin), I’m going to stick with it.

This Gives a Whole New Meaning to 'Freudian Slip'

The Almighty Penis... I mean Dagger
Penis Envy

And people said I was crazy when I talked about “girl power” being not much more than male appropriation of female power. Howard Chaykin’s illustrations of Red Sonja take this to an extreme by giving her a penis dildo strategically placed dagger.

She still has the chainmail bikini to give fanservice to the boys, but Red Sonja has always been a strong (both physically and mentally) character and this illustration makes me wonder if the idea of a woman holding that much power herself was so threatening to Chaykin’s subconscious that he ended up giving her a consolation penis. No one’s accusing him of deliberately doing this (because, well, how would we know either way unless he came out and said something?), but come on. Can you honestly say that you saw this picture and didn’t go, “Whoa, she has a penis!”?

Via Dance of the Puppets.

The ups and downs of gender in the CG movie Ark

So, I finally got around to watching the movie Ark today. The first half hour or so got me really excited. The rest… well, let’s just say that the movie could have benefitted from an education regarding Women in Refrigerators.

The rest of the article is cut for massive spoilers that will ruin your ability to ever watch this movie if you read them. That being said, if you have already seen the movie or never intend to see it, please read on.

I. The Good

First there was Jallak. The movie opens with him doing the whole “protect the children” spiel when his commander and another fellow soldier want to shut down hibernation pods because the kids in them are Cevean. This gave me a warm fuzzy because usually the role of protector is relegated to women because it allows them to transgress the boundaries into the public/aggresive sphere without compromising their femininity. Them showing a man as having paternal instincts, to me at least, stood out.

Then there is the one kid who wakes up after Jallak takes a stand, Amarinth. She is adopted as his daughter. It skips to 16 years later (making her 18) and she is shown generating an electric current. Cool. The viewer already knows that she’s related somehow to the legendary priestess, Amiel, who built the Ark — the machine that is to help the races leave their dying planet.

And then… then the movie pops out three more surprises: the ruler of the Storrions (the militant race that has enslaved the Ceveans) is a woman, their lead scientist is a woman, and Jallak’s second in command (he’s the commander of the army at this point) is a woman. I mean, not one but three stereotype breaking women? There’s so much potential there I almost wet my pants.

The Empress is shown as a woman torn between her people/duty and saving her own skin. Although she is complicit in the slavery and war-like behaviour of her nation, she takes a strong stand against the nobility who want to build smaller ships and leave before the planet collapses. She also has a clearly evil adviser named Baramanda (he’s a total Sephiroth type).

We don’t get to see much of Piriel, but it’s made very clear that she’s Jallak’s second in command in the army. The doctor is introduced as the Storrians “leading scientist,” and even though the first scene she gets is of her failing, the viewer knows it’s because her task is impossible rather than because she isn’t smart enough.

Early on Amarinth’s love interest, Rogan, is introduced. He is a rebel Cevan who tries to assasinate Jallak to prevent the Storrions from obtaining data on the whereabouts of the body of Amiel. He gets some cool fighting scenes, then his gun craps out on him and he surrenders.

Amarinth gets exactly one cool scene: after all hell breaks loose, she uses her techno powers to power the escape vehicle for her and Rogan. All of her screaming and freaking out about the situation is mitigated by the way that she and Rogan talk about how she “saved him” and stuff.

Oh, and did I mention that all of the women have plausible proportions? None of them have huge boobs. All of the costumes are beautiful and skintight, but it’s not in a way that causes you to focus on their bodies to the exclusion of the rest of them. My only gripe in this area is that the leading men got more variety in their body shapes and age markers than the women did. In fact, for a long while I had a hard time telling the doctor and Piriel apart because they’re both short-haired blondes. Only one visibly old woman appeared in the movie (excepting random people in the street), but she just had a cameo. Jallak was clearly a distinguished gentleman of some years, and even Baramanda is clearly older than Rogan.

II. The Bad

The first 30 minutes sets up so many awesome possibilities, but things start going downhill from there. It all starts with Jallak being caught as a traitor when Baramanda calls him out on the incident with the kids in the first scene where he got Amarinth from. He gets arrested and Baramanda goes to get Amarinth because they now know that her blood will make the Ark run. I’m sitting around witing for her to bust out with her cool techno powers, but no. Not even a little bit. After her screaming and struggling ineffectually with her captor — who is a machine — Rogan comes to save her. And gets a cool fighting scene while he does so. Amarinth sits back and does nothing.

Then she wants to save her father and says that she’ll do it her way. Cool, right? Except her way involves her giving herself up to Baramanda with no actual assurance that anyone will be safe. You’d think she’d try to bust out her cool machine powers to stop the machine that’s about to kill her dad. But, no, she walks into the middle of the square and says, “Here I am, take me.” Great plan there. Great plan.

Rogan and Jallak join forces after Baramanda double-crosses Amarinth (and puts her to sleep, of course, which shelves her so that the boys can take centre stage). They get some wicked cool fight scenes. Remember Piriel, that female commander I mentioned? Yeah, no one else does, either. She got one scene telling Jallak how he had disappointed her and how he was on his own, and then she doesn’t show up again until after all the action has gone down. But her arm was shot when the rioting began! Wow!

Speaking of the rioting, that’s when we see the last of the Empress. But, I mean, she was clearly evil for asking her nobles to go ahead with the plans when it seemed like the whole finding Amiel’s body thing was a bust. Some pissant rebel shoots her in the head while she’s being all, “I’d never abandon you, my loyal subjects!” Her anti-climactic ending was assured by then, however, because Baramanda had been stealing the limelight with his blood-sucking bug power and obsession with Amarinth.

So, Amarinth has been out cold this whole time and Baramanda starts sucking her blood to steal her techno powers and get all the glory for himself. The doctor starts arguing with him, secure in her knowledge that he wouldn’t dare do anything to her because she’s the only one who knows how to run the Ark. Except for her assistant. Who apparently is in love with her. Gag me.

Just like Amarinth, the doctor gets taken down by Baramanda because her armour of moral outrage just didn’t cut it for protection. She’s actually shot, and killed. Her last line? She tells assistant-boy, “Just shut up and hold me.” No joke.

So, anyway, Baramanda continues sucking Amarinth’s “life force”. The boys bust in, but only manage to take out Baramanda’s guards before he gets his bugs back in her. At this point his blood triggers Amiel’s body to sort of wake up and shoot green things through him before disappearing. She also activates the Ark with all that stuff.

Baramanda is down for the count, and the boys rush to try to help Amarinth (still unconscious) while the assistant holds the body of the doctor. Piriel joins up at some point, sporting that wound I mentioned earlier, and the boys plus her take Amarinth to the escape pods. She decides to sacrifice herself to stay with Jallak try to shut down the Ark. Rogan and Amarinth (kicking and screaming like the helpless little girl she is) get sent to the location of the second ark.

You should know what comes next: Amarinth is told that she is to sacrifice herself to power the ark, of course! Women who get too powerful can’t be left to survive, you see. And she has to do it because Baramanda (remember him?) has joined with the other ark and is coming to kill everyone like the one-dimensional psychopath he is. She gets to have one kiss with Rogan and then she merges with her Ark for what has to be the most painful mech battle I have ever witnessed. And I saw Iczer-One, mind you.

Here’s the only real fighting scene that Amarinth gets in the entire movie. And it consists of her being knocked over and stepped on until she gets lucky and grabs the residential sector off of Baramanda’s back. Giving her father and Piriel a chance to sacrifice themselves by shutting down the core. And by that I mean that Jallak has been hacking the code to shut it off while Piriel stood around looking pretty and asking him if he was done yet.

Rogan lives at the end to give this long speech about how Amarinth taught the two races so much about living together and made The Big Sacrifice.

III. Let’s recap

All the women introduced are dead with most of them not having done anything worth note.

Amarinth, the lead female, has had to sacrifice herself because her Phoenix-class powers are too awesome to let her live (forgive the comic book reference, but it’s the same paradigm being used).

Piriel, who presumably has military experience, was never given a scene in which she could kick ass, but Jallak and Rogan were given several painfully long Matrix-esque fighting scenes. And, don’t forget that after her brave speech where stays behind with Jallak, she does squat except for die along with him.

The Empress, who should have been a driving force, is nothing more than a plot device used to introduce Baramanda, who is a one-dimensional Sephiroth clone. She also dies in a completely unbelievable manner. Honestly, even if there hasn’t been a riot in her entire lifetime (which is highly doubtful), at the first sign of trouble she would have been taken to a secure location — or, most realistically, the machine she was riding in would have snapped up a shield. Having her stand up and be like, “LOOK AT ME, I AM AN IDEAL TARGET!” just makes her, and her guards, look stupid and incompetent. Which flies in the face of the previous times we’ve seen her.

The doctor’s expertise on running the Ark comes to naught, and she’s killed because… well, I’m not exactly sure why they killed her. Maybe because she could have stopped Baramanda from fucking things up so badly?

Ultimately, I’m disappointed that the movie started off with so much potential to do something different but instead decided to fall back on tired old cliches with a tired old ending and a big ‘ol heaping of misogyny. In some ways I think it’s worse than if it had been honest about its intentions from the beginning, because then I wouldn’t have gotten excited and I would have been able to enjoy it for the carbon-copy cliche that it really was.

Wonder Woman brings up problems with E3's dress code

I blogged about my mixed feelings regarding E3’s crackdown on booth babes a while ago, but it seems the ambiguous wording has caused some problems. Kasey Poteet, a VJ for MusicPlusTV, decided to put the policy to the test by dressing up as Wonder Woman.

I. Against the rules? By the rules? What ARE the rules, anyway?

If you’re wondering what Wonder Woman costume would merit being kicked out but don’t want to watch the film, you can see a screenshot of Kasey’s outfit here:

Inappropriate Attire

At first glance I could have told you that E3 would deem her attire inappropriate, seeing as she has on what amounts to a sparkly bathing suit. But, given the ambiguity of the rules I personally have seen, I believe her claim that she read through all the handbook carefully before deciding on her outfit.

What she says next, however, really sticks with me [emphasis mine]:

I would also like to point out that, uh, I am representing a game that they are showing here, wearing more clothes than the character from the game. And yet I’m still inappropriate to minors, which aren’t even allowed to be in the show. From what I understand it says 18 and over.

I’m going to address the latter point first, as I think it illustrates the weakness of using minors as a shield. If E3 allowed people under the age of 18 in, then it might carry more weight. I mean, while I’m not sure I personally agree, I can see the logic behind trying to stay away from “adult” themes and materials during an event that is attended by a lot of minors.

Putting off the discussion on whether or not a Wonder Woman costume is “adult” themed or not for the moment, I think that saying that claiming the dress code violation is offensive to children erases the entire reason behind the offense. The point is not — or at least I don’t think it should be — that sexuality, or sexiness is wrong or whatever, but rather that the abuse of booth babes was taking the focus away from the game by using women as sexual objects.

Which leads me to my next point…

II. Good for the game, not for the cosplayer?

Justice League: Heroes for PS2Another issue that has been overlooked by E3’s ban on booth babes, and apparently any woman atendee whom they deem inappropriate, is that it severely limits women’s ability to cosplay as female characters. Especially female characters in upcoming games.

Kasey’s costume was a pretty typical Wonder Woman costume. The one my sister wore for Halloween a few years ago wasn’t much different, in fact. I’m not sure if the featured game was Justice League: Heroes or not, but I’ve included a screencap of Wonder Woman from that on the left. No matter what incarnation — including the one with the skirt — Wonder Woman has always worn a glorified bathing suit.Inappropriate?

Other popular characters like Lara Croft, Rayne, even Rikku from Final Fantasy X-2 would be banned from potential cosplay lists given E3’s rules, too. While there are undoubtedly male characters, such as Conan or perhaps the Hulk, that are similarly limited, the laundry list of usual suspects isn’t nearly as long. In fact, I was kind of grasping for the two I mentioned.

I wish Kasey had given more airtime to her comment about how her costume wasn’t any worse, and perhaps showed less skin, than that of Wonder Woman in the game. This is an issue that has gotten swept under the rug by the language E3 has chosen to employ in its rules. If these kinds of costumes are inappropriate for the people attending the convention, then why are they acceptable in their showcased games? Why does E3 allow games that create these kinds of characters that are inappropriate to cosplay in their non-adult games?

III. Wonder Woman: Crusader for justice or perpetuator of raunch culture?

I don’t know how I feel about Kasey’s stance on all this. While trying to find more clips of her show, I checked out her profile on MusicPlusTV and MySpace. She’s out there being a VJ, which I think is cool. She took a stance and stuck to it; also cool.

What bugs me, though, is that she pushes herself as sexy first and a geek second. To clarify:

    Tits are not indecent

  1. She seems to cosplay as “sexy” characters on her show. From the two clips I could find, she cosplays in outfits that show off her figure. Okay, given what I said in Section II of this post, that in itself is not so surprising. Nor something I can get overly grumpy about, although I’d feel better if I knew that her male co-host also did the cosplay thing.
  2. The vast majorities of pictures of her that I saw were of her naked, partially naked, and/or in erotic poses. She’s a model, so she’s obviously proud of her body and it makes sense that she’d want to show it off. She’s also into fighting sexual censorship, which I admire, but I personally don’t think that her approach gainfully combats a sex negative society. Especially given the way that geek culture already objectifies fictional women as well as real geeks who happen to be women.
  3. She projects a ditzy persona.This last point probably pisses me off the most. Even her having a bubbly personality doesn’t explain her saying things like “[sometimes I’m] WAAAAAAY to thinky,” and just in general downplaying the intelligent woman that I’m convinced that she is.

Bringing that over to her activism at E3, I must admit that I was at first annoyed. I thought to myself, “Did she honestly think they were going to let her in???” But, having watched the clip and sat and thought about the issue, I don’t really think she did. I think her entire point was to bring light to this issue.

I don’t know if there was more discussion on this outside of the clip, or if it was brought up in a later episode. Because of that, I don’t know exactly what angle she was approaching it from. Given her brand of activism, I think part of it might be from the, “Look, they’re barring women who want to do this from doing it!” And I both agree and disagree with that sentiment — something to be discussed in further detail at a later date, although I will say that I find the way in which E3 has chosen to approach this issue as troublesome (ya think?).

I also think that she wanted to bring to light the hypocrisy of E3’s attitude towards real women versus their silence of the women they allow to be showcased in the games. At least, that’s what her one line about Wonder Woman’s in-game costume conveyed to me. Seeing as, you know, I ended up writing a lengthy post on the matter.

Overall, I’d have to say that despite not agreeing with the way in which Kasey conducts her politics, I am glad that she took a stand. I’m glad that her stand was passed around the internet and that I found it.

IV. Conclusion

Bringing things back to the original issue, about E3 and its ambiguous line about “appropriate” oufits… Wonder Woman is not rated M for mature. She’s not sexually explicit. What she, and Lara, and Rayne, and even friggin Rikku, are is objectified. For good, ill, or neutral, that’s the lot of most video game women. Up until this year, real women were dressing up in the same manner that the video game creators dressed up these characters. Because of this they, too, were objectified.

And E3’s enforcement of the dress code has done nothing to address this root cause. In fact, I’d go farther to say that it has covered it up like some dirty little secret. When the announcement to ban booth babes was first made, I was skeptical. And, I think this incident has caused me to realize why: the lack of booth babes at E3 has done nothing to change the boy’s club of video games, nothing to fight or even address the ever-present objectification of women, and in the end amounts to nothing but them becoming hypocritical moral police of what women can and can’t wear.

Via When Fangirls Attack.

Watch Powerful Heroines Humiliated Like Never Before!

Watch Powerful Heroines Humiliated Like Never Before!So, there’s some discussion going on about a site called Superheroine’s Demise. What, do you ask, is this site? Well, it’s a pornography site that focuses exclusively on the violence and humiliation of female super heroes. Honestly, although I define as sex-positive, my kneejerk reaction to this site was, “Ugh, yet more misogynistic porn. Just what the world needs.” And after several hours to think about it, I still can’t shake that feeling.

Maybe part of it is because I have issues with pornography, period. I’m not flatly against it, but I have yet to find porn that isn’t in some way problematic. Maybe, also, because I feel like I should be uncritical of this because humilation play is a valid fetish. But, you know what? I’m not uncritical of anything. So, fuck that. I don’t like this site because I think it’s misogyny dressed up in a super heroine fetish, and this post is going to be discussing why I feel that way.

I. Fantasy? Reality? Where’s the Line?

Heroines Defeated and Caged!Part of my problem with this site is the problem I have with comic books: I believe that the objectification of women here influences the way the consumers of the porn view women. On the one hand, at least this site is honest about wanting to see strong women torn down and humiliated (comics just resort to things like the women in refrigerators syndrome), and honest about acknowledging it as a fetish/fantasy. On the other hand, dressing up women in spandex and mixing up the storylines doesn’t change the fact that getting off to the humilation of women is normalized in Western society.

Where is the line between having a fantasy of degredation and wanting to make it a reality? For me, the line is a lot more clear in real life where two people play together than when a person with a fetish watches pornography. In the former case, there are easy guidelines to follow — safe words, boundaries, etc. In these circumstances, consent is clear. The sexiness of the situation is, in fact, based on the fact that both parties are getting enjoyment out of it. But with porn, it’s a single party: the porn watcher. The fantasy on screen doesn’t involve a beforehand with the parties talking about the scene that is about to happen, nor does it show the aftercare that one normally goes through. It’s just the scene, and the only thing that is there to stop the lines between fantasy and reality blurring is the assumption that, somewhere in the watcher’s mind, there is an acknowledgement of this being a scene.

“But wait,” you say, “it’s super heroes! Of course there suspension of disbelief. No one could mistake that for reality.” Maybe so, but it’s also actual women (and the occasional male villain) involved in these scenes. There’s a theme of dominating a strong woman — which I would argue is a common male fantasy, especially in a society where men are encouraged to see women as stripping them of their power (or, as Gay Prof says: “straight men are [encouraged to see themselves as] losing power… [to] a tyrannical matriarchy where women threaten to hamper men’s natural rights to denigrate others, ignore women’s point of view…”). Given the prevalence of this theme in real life, it’s hard to be sure that those who watch humiliation pornography, even with caped crusaders, don’t have it spill over into their real life thoughts and lives.

II. The Ideal Woman?

Another thing that bothered me about the site was the way in which the super heroes were described. Part of fantasy is often times an idealization of a situation, but the way in which these women are idealized is… well, honestly, I find it creepy. While I’m only going to pull relevant parts of the Mission Statement, I would recommend browsing it in full first to get the original context.

First off, the attraction of the heroines themselves:

The image of supergirl or batgirl standing proud, hands on hips, ready to destroy their foes with just a flick of their powerful wrists is quite, quite sexy. Perhaps it’s the tight costumes they wear, or perhaps it’s their indescribable beauty matched with purity, power, and justice.

Strong is sexy, but...Given the way that female super heroes are depicted in comics, it’s not surprising that we have the “sexy woman who kicks ass” paradigm. And I can’t complain too much about the whole being the objects of lust. It is, after all, porn. And, admittedly, I understand the sexiness of powerful women — and I’d agree that erotic stories are a fine place to explore those kinds of power plays.

When I was reading the mission statement, I was nodding my head up until that last line excerpted. Indescribable beauty? Well, cheesy, but… well… okay. Purity, though? Purity?! Arguments on the cannon elements of the purity of super heroines aside (my take: it depends on who we’re talking about), this description screams “guilded cage” to me.

In real life situations, people who “idealize” women like this do so in place of seeing the humanity behind those same women. They are delicate flowers to be protected, not equals to be understood. The “respect” for their “power” is just a way to erase the reality of the woman while having a perfect way to make her feel bad if she objects. Actually, maybe my argument about the “purity” of super heroes varying from woman to woman isn’t just an aside after all.

This brings us to the second, but still necessary, element of this fantasy; the firm subjugation of these women:

See batwoman brutally defeated in hand to hand combat, and humiliatingly stripped, bound and photographed. See superwoman thrown through a wall and left sprawling on the ground in her shredded costume with plaster and debris all over her.

After all the talk about the “sexiness” of power, the what it comes down to is that the real sexiness here doesn’t come from these women’s strength, but in seeing that strength stripped away. Like I said above, power plays can be interesting. It’s the juxtaposition of these two issues — the gilded cage plus the end product of women’s subjugation — that bothers me well, if not the most, then certainly more than either issue alone.

It is, perhaps, the ultimate humiliation: a woman who is used to being dominant is not only physically beaten, forced to be submissive, but her personhood is erased. Completely. Without her personality, her powers, or her role in life she becomes yet another hole to fuck, or face to punch, or body to cage. Gee, sounds like mainstream porn to me!

III. Fanboy’s Dream Come True

Whether or not it’s true, the Mission Statement also portrays this fetish as a normal one for a comic book fan to have:

Simply put, this site is a comic book superheroine fan’s dream come true.

The implication here bothers me. Even moreso, because I think there’s truth in it. If you accept my premise that the fantasy of dominating powerful women is a pervasive one for men in Western culture, then it would obviously follow that (male) comic fans would have this fantasy, too. Not to mention those who write and draw these heroines. In essence, the fetish of humiliating strong women is perpetuated by the comics themselves, in turn influencing comic book readers to see it as erotic, which feeds the idea that this is what comic fans want… lather, rinse, repeat until you have these themes becoming codified into mainstream thought.

And, frankly, if I’m iffy about the line between fantasy and reality (and the ability to distinguish between a consensual fetish and the abuse of women) on a site that specifically markets itself to a fetish crowd, then you’d better believe that it bothers me that themes like this exist in comics, but in much more subtle ways. Most people don’t consider themselves sexually deviant. Most people would pale at the idea of looking into “risk-aware consensual kink” fetish practices. To most people, it would be very easy for this line to be blurred. If, of course, we’re assuming it hasn’t already been.

IV. Conclusion

Perhaps because it hits too close to home, it’s hard for me to see this site as being confined to purely fantasy. The theme has appeared in too many “normal” romance stories, or random bits of popular culture. It has affected my own life. And, you know what? Seeing that site makes me uncomforable. It makes my skin crawl. I really, honestly, and completely don’t like the idea of people getting off to the humiliation of women except in a strict BDSM scene in which clear boundaries are established. And given the history of violence against women in Western society, I really don’t think that there’s anything wrong with the way I feel.

Heads up on a new organization…

Ragnell is trying to spread awareness for a new organization called Friends of Lulu. I don’t have the time to write about it myself, so here’s her e-mail instead (formatted for blog):

Hello everyone.

I started http://womenincomics.blogspot.com (and lurking around your sites, actually) because I noticed a sharp increase of social awareness posts in a blogging community where a Feminist is someone who argues that Wonder Woman can beat Superman in a fight (and it was a tie AGAIN last time). A lot of people were thinking about women in comics because a column described a sexual assault at a convention. It didn’t name names, because the legal difficulties were still being ironed out

Anyway, today Ronee (the columnist) did a follow-up story. Taki Soma describes, in her own words, what happened to her which is something that takes a lot in the comics industry. It’s heavily male dominated, which I think is due to being left by the wayside during the women’s movement and a major sense of entitlement among the men who’ve been entrenched in it for a long time. There are a number of sexual harassment horror stories in the archives of WFA and in the columns and blogs of female workers/ex-workers.

In response, the Friends of Lulu, our resident Feminist organization, has put together a fund for fees when a woman in the industry wants to take legal action in sexual harassment/assault cases.

Unfortunately, our community is small, and news travels slowly beyond the main fan-sites. I’m mailing you specifically because I know you all get a lot more traffic than either of my little blogs, and I felt this deserved a wider distribution than I could give it.

If you can, please help spread awareness for Friends of Lulu so that it can continue to effectively fight for the rights of women in the comic book industry.

Obscuring the Male Gaze

I have been meaning to make this post for ages now (pretty much ever since Ragnell put out her first call for subs for the feminist carnival), but unfortunately it has come at a time where I’m freaking out over my last minute arrangements. This will, in fact, be my last real post for a while (more details to follow in my actual last post for a while).

When Ragnell put up what she thought was a fairly neutral image of Diana (that’s Wonder Woman, the Amazon warrior for justice and peace and stuff, for those of you not in the know) reading. I looked at it and “perfect example of the male gaze” is what stared right back at me. Me – thinking nothing of making such a comment on a blog by a woman who waxes poetically about the colour yellow and what it means when used in a Green Lantern comic – well, let’s just say I was surprised that pretty much none of her regulars agreed with me. At all. Even Ragnell herself wasn’t fully on board with my interpretation.

And that got me thinking: Have we become so desensitized to female sexuality that it reads as “neutral” to us when not in an obvious setting?

I. “Male Gaze”? “Objectification”? Say what?

Before we get into the actual image critique, I’d like to clarify what I mean by “male gaze” and “objectification”. A “gaze” in this instance refers to the mesages conveyed to us, the people viewing the image, by said image. Specifically, the “male gaze” is pertinent because most comic book audiences are assumed to be male. I’m going to turn to Wikipedia for more information. While the passage focuses on “advertising”, the same arguments can be made in terms of this comic panel.

This idea of power relationships within the gaze can be continued to analyse gendered power relationships in the depictions of women in advertising. Some advertising presents women in a sexual manner, and it is argued that this degrades women because of the power that the gaze provides for heterosexual men viewing these advertisements.

In short: I believe that the way the artist has chosen to depict Diana (and to a lesser extent, the other Amazons) puts her on display for the presumably male audience. In that sense, she is objectified. Which leads me to my next explanation.

Objectification, in its fullest sense, is to turn a human (or, in this case, the written/drawn representation of a human) into an object. I don’t think that the artist has completely dehumanized Diana in the panel, but I do believe that he has appropriated her sexuality for the pleasure of his viewers. Since she’s not real, she doesn’t have a say either way, but I think it’s important to see how objectification in popular culture can bleed into the way people view and treat actual people.

II. The Making of an Amazon Utopia

Exhibit A: Original
Exhibit A: Original

This is the image in its original, unaltered form. On the surface, it seems like the “Paradise Island” the text at the top says it is: blue skies, blue water, statues and temples (reminiscent of Greek/Roman society, which is a time that Western society associates with civility, peace, and great learning). The women are splashing around in the water, playing instruments, reading, and being altogether happy. And the fruit and wine glass are a nice touch: we often associate such items with wealth and leisure.

That reading is where most of the commenters stopped. And, indeed, it’s the reading they kept bringing up every time I was like, “x, y, z is why I see objectification.” And, I can understand it. There are many elements to a carefree utopia here. Diana isn’t breaking her back to puff out her boobs, and she actually has an outfit that has some give in it. Although, as one commenter pointed out, there’s no way anyone would ever actually be able to read over their shoulder like that.

Exhibit B: Without all those pesky distractions
Exhibit B: Without all those pesky distractions

I’ve taken the liberty to present an image of Diana alone. Although she’s not the only problematic image in the scene (in my comments I took issue with other elements of the group, as well as the depiction of the group as a whole), she is the one our eye is drawn to since she’s in the forefront and the largest element in the panel.

Hopefully now the reason behind my sexual objectification reading will be more apparent. Without the idyllic elements as a distraction, it’s easier to see Diana’s cleavage, her slightly spread legs, and her half-lidded eyes. Even the wineglass doesn’t look so innocent anymore. Still, perhaps she is not “come hither” enough, so I have quickly thrown together a third image.

Exhibit C: Now with pillows!
Exhibit C: Now with pillows!

I wanted to put her on a bed, but creating a convincing one would have taken too long. Still, red pillows are enough to set an erotic tone. Can anyone now tell me with a straight face that Diana isn’t even somewhat looking like she’s ready for a romp in the hay… er, pillows? That there’s nothing sexual about her? All I did was add a few red pillows, folks. That’s it. I have a thousand and one pictures of me (reading, computing, whatever) that I could add red pillows until the cows come home and I still wouldn’t look sexy.

III. Conclusion

One of the reasons this picture jumped out at me so clearly was that, on the surface, it was innocuous. It wasn’t the overt T&A, dehumanization shot that most female super heroes have to contend with. Just a nice, sweet scene with Diana reading while her sisters play in the water. My point, however, is that even in scenes that are supposed to be “neutral” women cannot escape the burden of being the sex class. Diana is not supposed to be seen as sexual in this panel. She is supposed to read as neutral, and perhaps a bit nerdy.

Yet, the sexualization of women is so ingrained in our culture, that a women’s paradise is still drawn for the male gaze, with T&A (literally) at the forefront. In some ways, this kind of thing is more insidious than the obvious reduction of women to sex objects that is found in most comics; at least then most people can see what is being done. Here, I’m not even sure that the artist himself realized what he was doing. And that is a scary thought.