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So I watched Joss Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. And I really enjoyed it! Until the finale.
First, in full disclosure: I’m not a Whedon fangirl. I was at most pretty much indifferent to Buffy and Angel; I watched them on occasion, but never got the big deal. I could see a lot of effort being put into making Buffy a dynamic female lead, which I appreciate, but I also spent a lot of time going, “…Really?” because there were areas where the show seemed to me to fail. But I’m sure those criticisms have been tackled by others, who are far more familiar with the show than I am, so that’s not what this entry is about. Also: I’ve never seen Firefly/Serenity. I kind of meant to get around to it, but never really had much of an urge, so it hasn’t happened. However, I’ve also always appreciated that, while he doesn’t do a perfect job, Whedon at least seems to always try, when it comes to female characters. He knows the world needs good ones, he does his best to put them out there, and he never comes across as a grandstanding douche who just wants recognition for writing good women even when he doesn’t do a good job, Aaron Sorkin.
Wait, got sidetracked.
Basically, what I’m saying is that I’m pretty indifferent to Whedon, but positively-inclined. And so the end of Dr. Horrible pisses me off hugely, because it really seems like he didn’t even try, and embraced everything he’s always stood against. More, with spoilers, below the cut.
This article (via Chaos Theory) is absolutely excellent. Both in its analysis of the show Beauty and the Geek (which is fascinating and touching, despite being incredibly shallow), and in its analysis of why it’s so uncomfortable to add Nicole and Sam, the female geek and male beauty, to the show.
But I think there’s also more to it than that. I’ve discussed the idea of a reverse-gender cast with GC before (as we accidentally watched all of season two together in a New Years marathon last year. In one sitting,) and have always been against the idea. Which at first struck GC as odd, what with me being, you know, a female geek and all. But there are two points I’d like to make about this.
First: I don’t like having Sam in the competition against the female beauties. First off, because a lot of their challenges are things which are, in this society, gendered as male activities*, such as the week they were building bottle rockets. As GC pointed out, there’s a much bigger chance that at some point in his childhood, Sam had already done that, or at least known kids who did and was familiar with it. But it isn’t just that.
The stereotype of the shallow, sexy woman is also invariably tied to low self-esteem and a lack of self-confidence. The theory seems to be that the cliche beauty, the sort found on the show, uses her body in place of brains, and thus has never tried to use her brains. She may not be dumb, but she’s uncomfortable and doesn’t like being put in a position where her smarts and not her body are being judged. So that’s what the show does. It repeatedly challenges these walking stereotypes to learn something, and to be confident in their newly-acquired knowledge, and in almost any competition, the most confident wins.
The thing is? Good looking men aren’t socialized that way. That stereotype does exist for guys, but with guys, “lack of confidence” and “attractive” aren’t inextricably linked. Where beauty for women is generally passive and objectified (literally meaning they’re at their prettiest when they’re not contributing anything but good looks), it isn’t for men; a man can be attractive and shallow without getting the message that he should shut up. So to have a contest such as the one where the beauties had to debate against each other, but throwing him in the mix, is unfair. The show is a learning journey, where the beauties gain that confidence. Sam, raised in a society that can appreciate his opinions as well as his attractiveness (not to mention one which urges him to be competitive while it urges women to be supportive and gentle), is not lacking in that confidence.
And then there’s the matter of judges. Society already values male opinions over female one; in a contest where there are, what, eight women stumbling to find an answer and one guy (who, while not especially well-spoken, is also not shy or nervous), who is going to stand out more? I’m not saying that he didn’t genuinely learn his material and present it well, but regardless, the whole competition was already biased in his favor.
Point two: let’s talk about being female and geeky. It isn’t easy. Though male geeks tend to appreciate your existence, society overall is confused, baffled, and just doesn’t know what to do with you. You’re smart, but instead of being judged on competence, you’re judged on looks. But the thing is, inherent attractiveness isn’t even the point. Different things tend to be important to geeks as compared to most of the rest of the population, and one of the major differences is that looks (and with them, fashion, the ability to use make-up, or do your hair) are waaaay further down on the priority list.
Look at Nicole. She’s not ugly, but she doesn’t dress with attractiveness in mind. Especially when she’s surrounded by other women, all of whom are concerned primarily about being attractive, the message is that she’s lacking. Actually ugly or not, she might as well be, because not caring means being ugly, and being ugly means, well…dealing with it.
This is not a society that’s kind to the unattractive. At all. And when all you want is to be judged by your intelligence, and instead you spend your life having all of your hard work barely noticed but your physical attractiveness scrutinized…well, it’s hard. It’s frustrating. Being yourself without apologizing for it is hard, because no matter how awesome you are, you’re fully aware you’d be treated better if you were prettier.
So back to the show. The reason having the female geek on a show where the geeks all get makeovers and learn to better fit in with society is that it’s damn hard to not do that. It strikes me as very much taking someone who has, consciously or not, rejected the patriarchal idea of female beauty, and trying to shoehorn her right back into it. Because the thing is, guys can be appreciated for being geeks. Which isn’t to write off their legitimate struggles with social awkwardness or attractiveness; when I said this society isn’t kind to the unattractive, I meant that, full stop. Both genders. But for men, there are other ways to contribute to society and be appreciated for them. For women, it’s beauty first, kindness and femininity second, and everything else after that. So for male geeks, learning to jump these hurdles and conquer personal demons is a bonus. It’ll make life much easier, sure.
But for a female geek? It’s akin to saying, “You’re really great at what you do. But you’d be better if you were prettier and easier to get along with.” Which is the same damn thing women are told every day. It isn’t subverting the societal message of what a woman should be, it’s reinforcing it.
I get enough of that in my daily life, as someone who’s female and a geek. I identify with Nicole, and it’s rare to find someone on reality TV (or, for that matter, TV generally) I can see myself in. I really don’t want to see her buy into this.
* Mostly unrelatedly, fuck you and your “boys are different” campaign, Playskool toys. Because sure, only little boys like toy trucks and want to run around…but at least they make girl toys! Play houses! With play kitchens and a play washing machine! Seriously, fuck you.
First off, I’m sorry things have been kind of scarce around here…most of my blogging time has gone to gathering the links for this, The Tenth Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction & Fantasy.
There were a couple of subjects I ran into a few times each; either bloggers responding to one another, or coincidentally covering the same topic from a different perspective. I’ve grouped those together at the top; then we get into posts separated by media.
TOPIC: CASSANDRA CAIN
Things start with Kalinara at Pretty, Fizzy Paradise, whose post,“Of Course She Is…” My Problem With Cassandra Cain, is a criticism of the current Batgirl. Kalinara looks at Cass not as an exciting, unique character, but instead as a collection of traits that the writers thought would be really neat:
Her past is tremendously angsty. Okay, I can dig that. She was trained as an uber-assassin by a villain. Makes sense. He was abusive and scary and raised her without the capacity for speech. It’s a bit over the top for my taste, but it’s original at least. And ties into a particularly neat ability to read people’s body language like a book.
And naturally, she’s not really a killer! After all that, she only killed someone once! When she was too young to know what she was doing! And she ran away immediately afterwards! At the age of 8. And she lived alone, incapable of speech until she hooked up with the Batclan at age 16/17 or so. …now we’re getting to things that I start to find hard to swallow. It’s such a cliche. Someone raised to be a killer, but somehow managing to be so pure that she only did it once. When she couldn’t possibly be blamed? And then immediately left? Because she was so good at heart, she couldn’t take it? Oh, brother.
Johanna at Comics Worth Reading agrees in Batgirl’s Creepy. However, in More About Cassandra, jlg1 disagrees:
Even though it’s a modification of the suit, the stitches, as a design point, suits her character as a silent, no-nonsense fighter. She doesn’t make wise-cracks, or intimidate through words. She gets right down to business and fights. It’s actually sort of refreshing that she doesn’t engage in that cliched, belabored hero-villain rhetoric. And another thing the suit adds is the intimidation and mysteriousness factor. “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot” and all. The fact that “creepy” comes up is some sign that it works, to some degree.
More about Cassandra:
Does Batgirl Have A More Flattering Angle?
This entry was supposed to be about Cassandra Cain
Shades of Batgirl
TOPIC: MARY SUE
At The True Confessions of an Hourly Bookseller, Mickle tells us why she considers Mary Sue a sexist term:
So, yeah, any female equivalent of Rocky is going to have aspects of Mary Sue-ness – because Rocky has aspects of Mary Sue-ness.
But we only call River a Mary Sue, not James Bond. And seriously, which is more deserving of the title of Mary Sue – James Bond or River?
At The Uncanny Soyo there’s a response: girls, women, spaceships.
In Mistress Mary, Quite Contrary to Popular Belief…, I give my own take on why Mary Sues happen, and why I enjoy them.
In other fun Mary Sue links, a fifth grade teacher uses Mary Sue as a teach aid, and who knows how many of us need Mary Sue Anonymous?
(Then, in Speaking of Terms That Need to Disappear, Mickle also tackles the idea of fanservice.)
TOPIC: CHILDREN OF MEN
The movie, a dystopian film, premiered last month, and reactions to it were across the board.
First, a fairly in depth review by Maia at Alas, A Blog. At Feministe, piny mostly agrees, adding:
The thesis of the movie — and I understand that we aren’t meant to take it so literally — is that this is what happens when people lose hope. Why have they lost hope? Well, there are no children; there have been no births for nearly two decades. If there were children, everyone would be less inclined to horrific behavior towards other human beings, because we would have some hope for the future that would give us reason to love each other. In other words, if only women weren’t all infertile (of course, sterility is always the woman’s fault, even in the future), society wouldn’t look like this.
At Plucky Punk’s Happy Land…Grr…Spit…, Vanessa disagrees that the movie has a sexist message: Best. Movie. Ever.
Karen at Like Scratches in the Sand shows us DC’s attempt at wooing female readers to the Supergirl title: Supergirl: Now Safe for Female Consumption?
At One Diverse Comic Book Nation, Loren also reacts to the DC announcement: DC Looking For A Few Good Women…To Read Supergirl.
At her blog, Ami Angelwings has another take-down of the message:
Maybe this is cynical, but the way he’s singling out women as the people who dislike Supergirl, it’s almost like he’s telling the male readers, “hey if you’re unhappy with what we do, blame those GIRLS”. >:|
Jared also gives us his thoughts on Supergirl:
By focusing on the “girl” at the expense of the “super,” Berganza and Co. have denied female readers their power fantasy. So why then would a female superhero want to read a book that goes so directly against why they like superheroes in the first place?
(That’s Not Really Super, Supergirl.)
TOPIC: WOMEN IN SPIDER-MAN:
Jesse writes about Mary Jane as Peter Parker’s wife, not as Spider-Man’s trophy, in Joe Quesada versus Mary Jane.
At Me Myself and I, Liliaeth has an interesting rant about the “designated love interest” and why it makes for uninteresting characters. She looks specifically at Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man: Rant: The Designated Girlfriend.
Also dealing with Spider-Man, The Four Color Media Monitor has an interesting piece on MJ: What is so wrong with Mary Jane?
In I’m Just A (Gamer) Girl, and That’s All That You’ll Let Me Be, the Heroine Next Door debunks the myth of the Gamer Girlfriend, and takes on the idea of the Hot Gamer Chick.
In the Girl Gamers LJ Community, filthy_bonnet recalls dealing with guys whose minds are boggled by “being beat by a girl”, and asks the eternal question: Is this a common experience for girl gamers or do I just keep versing jerks?
Steve-O, at Taller Than Thou, writes Dead Rising: my own stupid little annoyance, an analysis of the guns and weapons used by a female character, and how they show her to be a fantasy rather than a character in her own right.
100littledolls postulates: Link (of Zelda) is less a character in his own right, and more an instrument for female characters: Link, A Tool?
At New Game Plus, Lake Desire posts about Objectivity and Gamer Kinship. Her more recent posts also deal with being a female gamer, and are worth looking at.
At Remix’s Corner, Remix talks about Catwoman in On Catwoman. The question: is Catwoman an empowered woman? Or is she just a male writer’s fantasy?
In Alex In Wonder Land, there’s an in-depth analysis of Perez’s Wonder Woman reboot, covering topics from the removal of Steve Trevor as a love interest to Diana’s costume, and a lot more: Revisiting the Perez Era: Making Wonder Woman political.
In ID-ing Identity Crisis, Kalinara explains why she doesn’t think Identity Crisis was a story about rape, making a powerful point: It’s the fact that Identity Crisis was NOT about the rape that made the inclusion so damned offensive.
Also dealing the rape in Identity Crisis, there is a very powerful post by Loren at One Diverse Comic Book Nation, in which he acknowledges he is a rape survivor, and gives his thoughts on the storyline in that light: A Personal Story: Identity Crisis and Rape.
Over at 4th Letter!, Hermanos has given us a list of the top three Black women in comics: She Got That Good Hair: Top 5 3 Black Women!
At In One Ear, there is a hilarious post: Advice for Artists and Writers: Getting the Elusive Female Audience. (There’s also a follow-up: Writing Minorities: How to Approach Gay Characters.)
TV, MOVIES, BOOKS, WRITING
At Riba Rambles: Musings of a Mental Magpie, Riba Lis implores Smallville’s creative team to include some female heroes: In Justice. She’s also got another post of note, Don’t be such a skank – an Arisia gripe, about parties that are invite-only (unless you’re hot).
In her entry, Oh, Look, A CAN OF WORMS! Let’s watch Mary open it again! 😀 at Tangled up in blue, monkeycrackmary writes about being a feminist, and wanted to have female characters she can identify with when she watches TV:
It’s not fair for a black kid to watch tv and only see white people when they’d also like to see black people. It’s not fair for a gay teen to watch tv and see only straight people when they’d also like to see gay people. And it’s not fair for me to watch tv and only see male people when I’d also like to see female people.
There’s a response by wemblee in her LJ, the definite fraggle, where she notes:
But when debates about misogyny in fandom, or in source texts, roll around, as much as I enjoy those debates for the most part, I often leave feeling like I’m a bad feminist since I always identified with those male characters reflexively.
(yeah, I’m gonna regret this…)
Over at The Hathor Legacy, Ravena explains why she likes the romance between Kasidy and Sisko on Star Trek: Deep Space 9: Kasidy’s Convictions.
Ladydreamer posted an excellent rant at the WB in feminist_fandom: Argh.
In Carmarthan’s LJ, An Old Song, she has an interesting post about finding female characters she enjoys in different mediums:
I can see how a woman who is fixated on TV–with its narrower range of choices–and a few particular genres (narrowing the range further) could have trouble finding the specific type of female characters she loves, especially given that most TV still has the male characters outnumbering the women by at least 3 to 1. I don’t think it’s necessarily sexist–the odds are generally better for people with narrow tastes to find male characters they like on TV because there are a lot more choices.
( On narrow genre tastes, female characters, and the wider variety of books)
At Megatrouble, there’s a great post: Four Reasons Why Heroes Bothers Me:
Whoa, hold up. You both think Niki is a strong female character because she’s a mom who strips on the internet? Is that all we’re looking at here? Is this why this woman is empowering? Because to me, it’s more than just “Niki can strip.”
Check out the comments, too; there’s some great discussion.
Another Heroes post: at ’til there was rock, you only had god, Desdenova reinterprets Heroes as social commentary: More Heroes, Now With Bonus Feminist Theory.
At Amateurverbs, Becky has a post on the problems with fantasy she’s encountered while writing fantasy: I Write Stories. It’s the first in a series, so check back for more.
Another awesome Heroine Next Door post deals with the breakdown of masculinity and femininity: Re-defining heroic feats.
At Oh My Fair North Star, Harper gives us a quick lowdown on some ass-kicking female characters: …and she’s gotta be fresh from the fight!
Over at Divided We Stand United We Fall, there’s a humorous look at Nancy Pelosi’s new position: Nancy Pelosi tempted by the One Ring.
UrsulaV of Bark Like A Fish, Damnit! hits us with a post about fanfiction, childhood, and the biggest, scariest moster of all, sex: Further Thoughts on Fan Fiction…
And finally, at Suzy Says there’s a detailed and spoiler-y response to the movie Pan’s Labyrinth, from a feminist perspective: Pan’s Labyrinth.
Is that not enough feminist sf&f for you? Well, no worries! The call isn’t up yet, but the next Carnival will be at Women’s Work — But Can She Spin?
Good Christ. I just found and read through this. Ahem:
“I’m at the local wine bar and a very attractive hostess is recommending books in the science fiction genre to another (far less attractive) hostess. So far I’ve heard Ender’s Game, Hyperion and Snow Crash tossed off as appropriate for a “newbie.” Is this the Twlight Zone??? Am I a freak to think this is freaky? I haven’t had a sip of wine, so it isn’t the alcohol.”
So now, please let me explain why I’m dating GC, who, while he has his nerdy tendencies (such as an encyclopedic knowledge of the history of baseball, which I find perhaps a little too hot), has no interest in anything even vaguely related to scifi; and not someone who has a fetish for hot nerds.
Whether you call it a nerd, a dork, a geek, or a brain, I am one. I’m a woman who loves science fiction, for example. And on the one hand, I’ve always been proud of my geekiness — much prouder of that than of my looks, in fact. Part of being in a subculture that’s often mocked is that if you don’t embrace it, there’s a good chance you’ll be miserable. So I embraced it. I own my nerdiness and my fangirly glee. But I don’t advertise it anymore, because, quite frankly, I’m sick to fucking death of male nerds being amazed by my very existence.
Case in point. GC and I met when we were both working at Borders. He and I had gone out on a couple of dates before the subject of Batman came up. I don’t remember how it happened, but I suspect it was something along the lines of favorite actors → Christian Bale → Batman Begins → Batman. He likes Batman, in an abstract sense, but has never been into comics. And while most of my friends are hardcore comics fans whose knowledge makes mine look miniscule, I’ve read a whole bunch of trade paperbacks, and a couple of histories/social studies of Batman. I’m definitely at least conversant on the subject. GC was impressed (and perhaps terrified, but he got over that), and in the break room the next week, he asked me a Batman-related question. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only people in the room. Two other guys, both of them nerds, were there. Both of them overheard. And upon affirming that yes, I really like Batman and have a mild interest in and knowledge of comics, I was asked what other titles I read.
This was not a friendly question. It wasn’t the way you’d ask a new acquaintance what they read to see if there’s anything to discuss or bond over. It was a challenge, which they made very clear. The question may have been, “What other comics do you like?” but the subtext was very clearly, “You’re a girl, what other comics could you possibly actually be familiar with?”
But I am, as I said, conversant in Batman and passingly interested in comics. So I answered honestly that I don’t really read a lot of comics, and definitely know more about Batman than anything else, but thanks to friends who were really into them, I enjoy both Green Lantern and Green Arrow. And the guys in the staff room, well, freaked out.
The questions began. First I was asked to establish more credentials, and it wasn’t even innocently phrased anymore. One guy said, word for word, “If you really like Batman, name three Robins.” Because hey, I’m me, I busted out Stephanie Brown, in fact, and not Tim Drake. I was then told that I’d forgotten one. (“No, you asked for three and I named three. If you wanted Tim, you should have asked who the three male Robins were.”) I was asked who killed Jason Todd. I was asked to detail current storylines.
And again, keep in mind, these were questions to establish that, good god, I really was a living, breathing girl — an attractive one, no less! — who was into something nerdy. One of the guys responded with wonder. The other, who many women at the store have had other, far worse kinds of run ins with, was angry and condescending. (Needless to say, he was the one who hadn’t even realized Stephanie was a valid answer to the Robin question.) This all went on for a good twenty minutes (until our break ended, in fact) and through the whole thing I got more flustered and more angry, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on why until later.
I later pondered and realized that what pissed me off was the notion that, because I’m female, I need to prove to men that I can join their exclusive club. And once that proof is established, I’m still not really allowed into their clubhouse. In the same way that so many nerds consider jocks to be practically another species, well, women are, too. We are Other. We’re confusing and mystifying. And it doesn’t matter if we like the same things, if we read the same things, if we discuss the same things. ‘Female’ is ‘Other’. But a female who is into those same things is put into yet another classification — as both female and nerd (especially if you’re attractive) you’re now a fetish. You’re someone who can share the joy of videogames and comics and science fiction, so he doesn’t have to alter his interests to impress you — and on top of that, you might have sex with him. You’re not just a girl, you’re a dream girl.
I used to be pretty pleased with that. I grew up awkward (as many nerds do) and when I first met a group of male nerds who treated me as Queen Nerd, it was a heady, thrilling feeling. But as I grew more comfortable and confident with myself, it started to feel creepier. I don’t like being someone’s concept, I like being a person. And Nerd Girl is not the same as Person.
To refer back to the title, though it’s a vast overstatement (there are many reasons why I’m dating GC, and I have definitely dated nerds in the past), one thing about the way GC and I interact that makes me feel really good is that he likes me as a person, and not as a Nerd Girl. He likes that I’m intelligent, he likes that I’m happy to kick back and watch baseball with him, he likes that I’m cute. And he finds my nerdiness to be an endearing quirk, one he’s fond of, but when it comes down to it, he likes me for me, nerdiness included, but not because I’m a nerd. And that is a much better feeling.