To The Joust!

Amidst all the weird, non-historical programming that the History Channel is bringing us daily, there is one weird, half-historical show that I’m actually excited for: Full Metal Jousting.

The show fuses modern metal armor with the medieval rules of jousting, creating a totally awesome spectacle I will definitely be watching. (The show has already started, but I only found out about it today.) I love jousting. When I go to a ren faire (the Renaissance Faire, for all you non-rennies), even faires that follow the formulaic three-show storyline, I go to as many jousts as possible. (Although when I do go to storyline jousts, I miss having all the other tournament games that don’t involve fighting each other.) I know they’re staged, and that no one’s actually getting hurt. I don’t particularly care.  Watching a joust is exhilarating and fun, and the only time when screaming things like, “Your blood will water the grass” is at all an ok thing to do. The show is championship-style, with a cash prize for the winner.

My first hesitation about the show is that jousting may not be as amazing on TV as it is in person. Sitting outside in garb, with a hundred other people who are also screaming “Your blood will water the grass” is a very different experience from lounging on the couch by yourself. Of course, that’s the same difference between seeing any sport in person and on TV. I just hope that the History Channel adequately translates jousting to TV (something I imagine is difficult).

I’m also a little disappointed, though completely unsurprised, that there are no female jousters on the show. I realize that it could be asking too much of History to feature a coed jousting tournament when there are plenty of people who refuse to acknowledge female athleticism. And History definitely seems to want to market this in a macho kind of way. Which I get. But in real life (real life being, of course, the world of historical reenactors) there are female jousters. Plenty of them. There are even all-female jousting groups like Mounted Fury.

I don’t know what the casting call for these jousters was like, or what the audition process was like for the show. I have no idea if History tried to include female jousters or not. That isn’t really my point here. I’m just disappointed that, once again, an area where women are actually prevalent participants is being portrayed as an all-male zone.

I know that if there were female jousters on Full Metal Jousting, what everyone would say to discredit the female jousters would be: Are they strong enough to compete with the others? Should they change the rules to make it easier for women? These are the questions that still haunt any discussion, intelligent or otherwise, about coed sports or allowing women to do things like try out to be Navy SEALS. Because, as well all know, all men are big muscular giants and all women are teeny little flowers. Never mind that in the “real life” world of jousting and swordfighting, women and men compete together, in both staged jousting and real swordplay.

(In case anyone doubts those statements, the North Carolina Renaissance Faire has for years included a female knight in the jousts. Bat Cat and I also used to be involved with the European Medieval Arts of Arms group, who do actual period swordfighting. Women and men fight and rise to the rank of knighthood together, and no one seems upset by that.)

So, while I will give Full Metal Jousting a try, I know that the world of jousting that the show is portraying is only a limited one. And, as much as I might enjoy it, I won’t be able to help thinking that I might enjoy it a little more if it better represented the whole of jousters.

-Joanna

My Little Brony Revisited

It’s been a couple months since I first blogged about how my thirteen year-old brother is a proud Brony (a boy over the age of 10 who likes the show ‘My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic’). In my graphic design class, we had to pick an article that either we wrote or found online to reformat for print and design illustration for. I knew that I wanted to use one of my blogs from Geekalitarian, and after careful consideration I chose ‘My Little Brony’.

After reading through the post again and mind-mapping ideas for illustrations, I began to think about myself when I was a middle schooler. While my brother may be obsessed with sparkly ponies, I worshiped at the altar of Tim Burton. While my brother is writing stories about ponies discovering the meaning of harmony, I wrote a story about a group of people brutally murdered who meet up in the afterlife to solve a mystery. Where Joanna and I spent gym classes discussing the virtues of various forms of torture, my brother and his friends discuss the complexities of Ponyville. For the most part, I still lean towards these ‘dark’ and macabre themes in my work. Who’s to say how long my brother will be in to ponies?

This makes me wonder what possible implications this could have. Does this say something signifigant about gender or sexuality? Some would like to think that my brother is gay becuase of his interest in MLP, a lot of other people also think that I am a lesbian. The world isn’t so black and white.

It is my hope that this comparison sparks some sort of discussion- either here online or elsewhere in your lives. The questions above that I raised are important, and I don’t know all the answers. (Although for the most part I know everything)

PS: Incase you are wondering, my illustration for this project is going to be a family photo of Burton-styled me and my brother as a pony. Once it’s finished I’ll edit this pos

-BatCat

Another Kind of Alien

In the world of comics, strong female leads who wear clothes are often pretty alien. Arcadia Alvarado, the star of Saucer Country, is pretty alien, but for entirely different reasons.

Ms. Alvarado is the governor of New Mexico, about to announce her presidential candidacy, and she realizes she had been abducted by aliens recently. In #1’s final lines, Arcadia explains to her advisors, “I was abducted by aliens. We’re being invaded.” That’s the basic story that the first issue sets up, plus a Harvard academic who just lost his job for publishing what the institution sees as a crackpot book about UFOs.

So far, I’m on board. Paul Cornell openly plays with the definition of “alien,” often choosing the word instead of another, like “immigrant.” Arcadia’s parents were themselves aliens who came to the US. I like the parallels, but I do hope they don’t become heavy-handed in future issues.

Beyond the alien connections Cornell obviously wants the reader to make, it’s clear that Arcadia is alien in all kinds of ways, particularly for a presidential candidate. She’s female, Latina, and divorced. That sounds just like the candidates in this year’s GOP race, right? If Cornell wanted to write a series that only parallels space alien invasions and the perceived “invasion” of immigrants, he could have easily written a male protagonist, or at least a female protagonist without an ex-husband. Instead, Cornell chose to write about a character with multiple layers of alienness. Arcadia’s advisor says to her, “America is ready for a female, divorced, Hispanic president, if it’s you.” Obviously Cornell is aware of the Otherness of his protagonist. I hope that he continues to work this other alien subtext into the story, if only because it provides a skillful complement to the pre-existing space/immigrant parallel (and probably subtle enough that it wouldn’t… alienate? readers who don’t want to dwell on possible political statements about the alienness of women in politics).

A female politician (a rarely well-portrayed person) in a comic book (a genre well-chided for unfair portrayals of women) could go horribly wrong. It could mix the worst parts of how women in politics are portrayed (backstabbing, unfeminine, power-hungry, etc.) with the worst ways artists draw women. But, judging by the first issue, Saucer Country will not be like this. Ryan Kelly’s artwork is wonderful. Even when Arcadia is in the shower or her nightgown, there is nothing sexual in the way she’s drawn. The series doesn’t even seem like it will grapple with the age-old questions asked in order to discredit women in politics: How can she reconcile her womanness with politics? How will she deal with the loss of femininity inherent in being a politician? It seems like Saucer Country will avoid those questions, focusing instead on the more interesting/valid questions of what it means to be alien. The only times, with one exception, anyone explicitly mentions her sex is to use it as yet another reason why she is alien. The exception happens when the (female) advisor Arcadia’s campaign hires in order to help win Republican voters suggests that she use an invented subtext of being beaten by her now ex-husband. This suggestion is knowingly sinister, the advisor herself calling it “useful sexism.” Arcadia is appalled by it. The writing makes it very clear that the reader, too, is supposed to feel shock at reading about such a plan.

So, to sum up my feelings on Saucer Country, I haven’t been this excited about a new female character in comics since Alejandra was being groomed to destroy all sin.

-Joanna

Life Update

I would like to explain why I was absent from the blog last week.

Last week was my spring break and I decided that it was finally the right time to break up with my boyfriend (whom I was living with) of three years. Practically since the start the relationship had been emotionally abusive. Since that was something I was familiar with, I didn’t realize I had fallen into the Spin-Cycle of Abuse ®. During our three years together my boyfriend cheated on me over seven times. I knew about all of this while it was happening, but I continued to buy into his bullshit.

I don’t know when it happened, but I woke up one day and realized how unhappy I was and that I deserved to be treated better. Much better. No one deserves to be cheated on, lied to, told that they are fat and ugly, told that they aren’t allowed to meet their partner’s friends.

Last Monday I knew it was the right time. I broke up with him. The rest of the week was spent either sleeping or moving into my grandparent’s house.

I thought that after I had my stuff out and someone to take over my lease that it would be the end. But I am going to have to change my phone number at this point.

To everyone out there: You all deserve to be treated with respect. Don’t let anyone treat you the way I’ve been treated.

– BatCat

P.S. I will have a real post next week about Guerrilla Girls!

The Easiest Way to Break My Heart…

… is to misrepresent the books of Tamora Pierce, my all-time favorite young adult writer, with new covers meant to appeal to this post-Twilight generation of young readers.

The cover of the first book of the Song of the Lioness quartet that I read looked like this:

It’s a pretty decent representation of what you’ll find inside the book. A young girl posing as a boy so that she can become a knight. It’s young adult, girl power high fantasy at it’s best. Pierce’s work, as I’ve mentioned in previous posts, influenced me enormously when I was young, and I have a place for her in my heart. I will forever and ever have that place in my heart, because Tamora Pierce showed me over and over again (in all her gazillion books) that girls, like me, were multi-faceted, strong, brave, kind, intelligent, capable, loving people (who could also have sex as teenagers, and that was fine).

So, I go into a bookstore a few days ago and happen to see the Song of the Lioness quartet on display. I’m all for new covers, new representations of my beloved books, but not when they look like this:

What? Since when does Alanna wear a cute faux-medieval belted tunic and strike feisty little poses? Alanna doesn’t lean sweetly on her sword, she wields it! But that’s far from the worst.

This is the worst:

Is this a Tamora Pierce book or the latest installment of the Twilight Saga? It looks like the same cute little kohl-eyed heroine (again posing with her sword stuck in the dirt), but this time she’s torn between two brooding young men. I promise this book is so much more than Alanna choosing which boyfriend she wants.

Compare to the cover of the book I read:

This is also an accurate representation of the story inside.

I understand that marketing strategies change. But I also understand that saturating the young adult fantasy market with Twilight knockoffs and supernatural romances does no good for any young adult, female or male. I resent this attempt to market Pierce’s work as a supernatural romance.

What about kids like I was, who needed high fantasy and its swords, sieges, tournaments, and castles? What about the girls like I was, who needed high fantasy that would inspire me, empower me? Maybe some of those girls will, distraught amongst the rows and rows of vampire circus masquerade romances, decide not to trust this cover and give Pierce a try. Maybe some of those girls will ignore Pierce’s work, thinking they’re the only girls on the planet who want to read about knights. It’s not that Pierce’s books are devoid of romance or sensuality; but this is merely a facet of these well-rounded books, with the romance and sex usually taking a backseat to the protagonists’ other accomplishments and conflicts.

The new covers, beyond simply being misrepresentations of the books, diminish the importance that strength and being well-rounded (and frankly, being medieval) have to the series. If there is one thing I’m sick of, it’s how desperate our culture is to tell girls and young women that they aren’t strong, that they’re one-dimensional.

Pierce wrote the Song of the Lioness series in part to prove that swords are for girls, but these new covers tell us that swords, for girls, are only a prop with which to simper.

-Joanna

A Dash of Pessimistic Encouragement on Sluts Day

Happy International Women’s Day! Or, in other current parlance, Happy Sluts Day!

Don’t you hate that we still have to have a day that celebrates about one half of the population? That the US legislature is seriously having to consider whether women deserve access to basic reproductive healthcare? That women who require this basic reproductive healthcare are sluts? That single mother households ruin lives? (I’m sure the reason why I’m an effed up Feminazi has something to do with being raised by a single mother.)

I wish I had a more uplifting message for this Women’s Day post, but since I live in the US, it feels like nothing good is happening for women right now. For some reason all the crazy that was being held back for years has resurfaced, rendering it impossible to have an intelligent political conversation.

I’m sick of culture wars. I’m sick of having to argue about whether I deserve the same basic rights that the rest of US citizens get. I’m sick of misogynists throwing veils of “Religious freedom!”  and “Why should employers pay for stuff they don’t like?” over their woman-hate. I’m sick of everyone pretending that the current political climate isn’t actually steeped in misogyny. Right now the US is bitter, bitter sexist tea.

It all makes me feel like a 1890s hysteric being tortured with a vibrator.

I guess my message today is that, as frustrated as I am, as exhausted as I am of having to fight for what should be mine, I will not stop. I can’t stop. This is one flaming skull of justice that is not going to stop burning any time soon. Especially not as long as we keep trying to torture women for being born with reproductive organs that aren’t penises.

So, to inspire you to keep fighting the good fight, I’m posting this wonderful suffragette-themed parody of Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” (Isn’t it depressing that this is actually relevant?) Despite the amusing “I want to wear pants!” line I actually find this video rather heart-wrenching and inspiring. So, enjoy! And remember to keep laughing or you might just start weeping!

-Joanna

Uptown/Downton

For those of you who have been living under a rock, the British television drama ‘Downton Abbey’ has taken the US by storm. The Christmas special aired a few weeks ago here, and I think I finally have enough perspective to discuss the past two seasons.

‘Downton Abbey’ is centered around an old English household (both the nobility and the servants) in the early 1900s. In the first episode we meet Lord and Lady Grantham who are unfortunate enough to have three daughters and no heir. The cousin who is to take over the title and Downton upon Lord Grantham’s death tragically dies when the Titanic goes down. When they find the next successor he is- gasp and scandal- a middle class lawyer! The early 1900s was a tumultuous time for nobility (who were quickly losing power and socialist ideals were on the rise in Europe) without having to worry about their great estate being entailed away.

There are so many issues covered by the extensive plot-lines of Downton (with each episode lasting as long as a movie) that I hardly know where to begin. I will try not to be too descriptive and I hope that this will convince those of you who haven’t been swept-up to get caught up before season three (which hasn’t even aired in Britain yet, so those of you state-side have plenty of time).

Perhaps the strongest female characters in the show are the Dowager Countess Violet Grantham, Miss O’Brien and Lady Sybil Grantham.

The Dowager Countess is completely old school. Although the world around her is changing, she remains the figure of preening nobility. While she doesn’t believe in giving the vote to women, the Dowager Countess is unafraid to speak her mind, stand up for herself and her family, and bows to no one (which is probably because she is noble- but still). I think this video sums her up quite well: *SPOILERS*

My personal favorite moment:

Basically, she is the biggest badass of the show. Everyone else plays their little games, but Violet can end things with a simple quip.

Miss O’Brien is Lady Grantham’s lady’s maid and resident villain of season one. O’Brien is a scheming and bitter, but chooses to live out her schemes through Thomas a footman (who is amazing- but gay. Sorry ladies). Unlike some of the other servants we are introduced to, O’Brien does not let her class keep her down. She isn’t timid, but rather a total bitch. After Lady Grantham miscarries, O’Brien’s character goes through a transformation. O’Brien’s nastiness made her into a monster, and she can’t look at herself in the eye. The growth that we see in O’Brien makes her such a great character. One could argue that the characters on Downton are like caricatures of their roles, but we see throughout the series how they evolve into their own identities.

Lady Sybil. Oh, Lady Sybil. The youngest of the Grantham daughter, Sybil is the most genuinely kind. She believes in progress and equality between men and women, and for the most part class. The Granthams get a new driver, Branson, who is an Irish socialist. After eavesdropping while driving the ladies around, he gives Lady Sybil a collection of pamphlets on women’s rights (Adorable). Sybil constantly surprises her family with her strong beliefs and desire to wear pants. During the war, Sybil joins a nursing core and helps run the hospital and later the convalescent home in Downton Abbey itself.  After what seemed like an eternity, she really dropped a bomb when she told her family that she was marrying Branson! Although her sisters tried to convince her not to, she stood up to her family and found her happiness.

And because I can:

I have high hopes for season three, although I’ve watched enough British television to know that this show is going to rip out my heart and smash it to tiny pieces (here’s looking at you, Torchwood!). After watching Downton, I feel like I’ve been spoiled. I want more television as gripping and involved as this show. If as much happened in an episode of… any other show, then maybe I would feel compelled to watch more T.V.

Also: If you do want to get caught up, I would recommend tracking down the BBC versions because the PBS versions cut out some of the content  (which is crazy since most of the episodes are 1 1/2 to 2 hours long).

-BatCat