Finding the Words

My apologies for the spotty posting recently. I can’t give any particularly good excuse, other than my (temporary) mindless minimum wage job. In general, the issue is that I’ve been finding it hard to muster the appropriation indignation for events like the Mark Millar “rape doesn’t matter” incident. My reaction was basically: am I going to get really angry about this, or am I going to just throw up quietly somewhere because this man is an actual, real writer of comics who has more cultural power than I probably ever will? I basically chose the second option. His comments went into the deep recesses of my brain, to join similar incidents whose deeply tonedeaf wrongheadedness have made me nauseous. (I’d give examples, but the specifics have become ether and joined the “background radiation of my life.”)

As for what hasn’t been making me want to find a hole to live in until the world is no longer terrible, I could very easily turn this site into a Pacific Rim fan blog, but I won’t.

Today, in light of my blogger’s block, I will consider the benefits and pitfalls of being able to find the words.

Being able to identify and express harmful aspects of our society by using precise terminology can be extremely empowering. For better or worse, words hold power. Language reinforces and influences culture. This is one of the reasons that, every so often, the internet finds itself in a debate about the real, quantifiable definition of sexual assault. Armed with the specific words to describe an incident, it can be easier to cope with. Being able to say, “that is sexist” or “this is racist” helps to reinforce the idea that inequality not only exists, but marks our everyday lives. We can point it out, say This Specific Thing is Bad.

But language is not always enough. When we lack the discourse and actions required to solve the problems we are able to point out, we remain as powerless as we are without the terminology. It seems that we, culturally speaking, have the vocabulary for identifying racism, but lack the teeth to enforce the punishment that should logically result from saying racist things and holding racist beliefs. We all, at some level (excepting extreme cases), think that racism is a real phenomenon, even if we think it means only Jim Crow or apartheid. Even if the definition is woefully inaccurate or incomplete, we believe at some level that it is real.

By contrast, it is much more common to hear women identifying sexism without ever using the word. Women will say things like, “if men got pregnant, abortion wouldn’t be an issue.” Or, “women have to work twice as hard as men do to get just as far.” But they will rarely say that sexism is the cause of the problems they are identifying. And I think that a lot more women would deny the existence of “sexism” than people of color would deny “racism.” Yet, I would argue that the US’ cultural discourse on gender is (marginally) better than its racial discourse, if only because mainstream media outlets are free to frame gender discussion around upper-class white women.

So is it better to have the terminology, even without the power to enforce it? Or is it better to be able to state the problem without naming it? Do they leave us ultimately in the same position culturally? I don’t have any answers to these questions. But I figured I’d offer these somewhat coherent thoughts to you, O Internet, to consider. Next week, I promise to return to more tangible analysis. Until then, be glad this didn’t turn into “Mako Is Tha Best!!!!!!111 Part Two.”

-Joanna

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Fangirls/Fanboys

I don’t consider myself a fangirl. I might be ok with someone jokingly referring to me as an Aragorn fangirl, for example, but it’s not a label I identify with at all. Partly, this is because of the stigma associated with the word fangirl. While “fanboy” is certainly used derisively now and again, it is also a word with a sense of pride attached to it. (For example, the name of the comics website iFanboy.) Generally speaking, fanboys are super into geeky things to the point of obsession, while fangirls, on the other hand, are super into geeky men to the point of obsession.

WARNING: The following post contains anecdotal evidence.

I was talking to someone at work about various comics related things. I laughingly told him about how the new Gambit series’ writer has said that Gambit’s sex appeal isn’t going anywhere. Later, when I was trying to refute his friend’s anti-Gambit arguments, I ended with, “and he’s a dreamboat.” (Again, a joke. Not that there’s anything wrong with crushin’ on Gambit, but I don’t really think of Gambit like that. Gambit and I are just friends.)

My co-worker smiled at me, and made the kind of face that usually greets comments like that. A face I’m not sure how to describe. It’s a little smug, a little condescending, and weirdly knowing. He said, “Ok, so you don’t have any real arguments.” (I won’t object to that comment, because I was mostly goofing around by suggesting that Gambit’s sex appeal makes him a better character. However, it does make me wonder what happens in conversations between two men, where one man argues a superheroine is better than another partly based on her superior hotness.)

Last week, this same co-worker was gushing over Catwoman as played by Eartha Kitt and Michelle Pfeiffer. While I didn’t really have anything to add to his comments (Catwoman and I are also just friends), my reaction wasn’t a vaguely condescending laugh and a comment that suggested: oh how silly, you find this person attractive. It’s not that I really think he no longer views me as a comics fan (although some men would), it’s just that my comment was completely blown off. Talking about whether or not Gambit is sexy is not up for discussion.

Is my co-worker a meanie-pants sexist jerk? No. But his reaction to me (even jokingly) referring to a male comics character as attractive is pretty much the reaction I always get from men if I call attention to the dreamboat qualities of male characters.

This wouldn’t be a problem if that’s how men talking about female characters were greeted. But men are always talking about how hot female characters are, without women feeling the need to condescendingly nod at them and act as though it’s sorta funny that a female character might be thought of as attractive. Women put up with a lot of talk about who the hottest female characters are.

The issue with this reaction can be highlighted through the difference between the terms fangirl and fanboy.

Fangirl is often used derisively, to denote that a woman or girl only likes Geeky Thing because of a male character. This is often used to devalue said woman or girl’s genuine appreciation of Geeky Thing.

Take the first Urban Dictionary entry for each word:

Fanboy: A passionate fan of various elements of geek culture (e.g. sci-fi, comics, Star Wars, video games, anime, hobbits, Magic: the Gathering, etc.), but who lets his passion override social graces.

Fangirl: A rabid breed of human female who is obesessed with either a fictional character or an actor. Similar to the breed of fanboy. Fangirls congregate at anime conventions and livejournal. Have been known to glomp, grope, and tackle when encountering said obesessions.

While fanboy is sometimes used derisively too, among the geek community it also denotes a source of pride. In this way, a fanboy is the opposite of a fangirl: his obssession, rather than devaluing his appreciation, actually increases it. Being a fanboy proves your stature in the geeky community, while being a fangirl demotes it.

It’s for this reason that often women don’t like sharing in mixed company the male characters they think are dreamboats. Men usually tease us when we do. This reflects a larger societal issue of making light of female desire. Much of the negative hoopla surrounding Magic Mike revolves around society’s disinterest in the female gaze and female sexual agency. It’s ok for men to gawk at female strippers, but women gawking at male strippers is silly and up for laughs. Female sexuality is funny and shameful, unless men are calling the shots.

Dismissing conversation about attractive male characters also partly stems from the homophobia inherent in much of society and geek culture alike. Men, to some degree, don’t want to seem gay by discussing the attributes of a man, while women usually feel less inhibited adding to the reasons why Hot Female Character is attractive. Of course, that also relates to the way that it is normal to fetishize the female body, but not as normal to do so to the male body. Women are also (generally) more comfortable describing a woman’s looks because judging women’s appearances is pretty normal for both sexes.

So what does all this mean? It relates to my previous point about the geek community and society’s values. We can’t pretend like we’re better than normal folk if it means we partake in the same negative behavior as the rest of society. I don’t want men to stop feeling comfortable being attracted to female characters and talking about it. What I do want is for that same privilege to be granted to female geeks. I want women to be able to feel comfortable talking about their fictitious crushes in mixed company. I want gay geeks to be able to discuss their same-sex fictitious crushes without scorn. And I want fangirl to stop being a dirty word.

The geek community, like the rest of society, needs to embrace a more whole vision of human sexuality. And as with fat-shaming and racism, it is up to geeks to lead the way: otherwise all our self-important superiority about being fringe members of society is completely worthless.

-Joanna

The Vatican: UN Member Circa… Never?

Another day, another week full of things to say. Man, does this War on Women and the general shitty misogynistic culture we live in ever give me a horde of topics to write on! What do I choose when day after day, I have so many possibilities?

How badass Rep. Lisa Brown is for performing the Vagina Monologues on the steps of Michigan’s state house? How that whole situation makes me want to run through various legislature buildings, yelling “VAGINAVAGINAVAGINA! I HAVE A VAGINA AND I VOTE!”? What about the serious crush I’m developing on Mr. Jay Smooth, eloquent video blogger extraordinaire whose total awesomeness is finally going viral? Or how lazy writing is claiming Lara Croft as its next victim, by using the age-old ill-advised plot device of sexual assault as a way to make a female character more sympathetic and give her a big obstacle to overcome? How, if we have to spend our time squabbling about basic legal rights women should already have, we’ll never get to other stuff that matters, like the absolute travesty of justice that is the CeCe McDonald case?

I could talk about these. But I won’t. Instead, I’ve linked to websites that are already doing excellent work on these topics.

Today I’m moving the discussion to Brazil. Specifically, to Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development. As Zonibel Woods at RH Reality Check explains, the conference, which began in 1992, “was the first of a series of United Nations global conferences that sought progress on sustainable development, including human rights, population change, social development, women’s human rights and gender equality.”

The 2012 conference attendees are currently negotiating the Future We Want document. The contested portions of the document surround– what else? –reproductive rights and other rights unique to women and sexual health. According to the Youth Coalition for Sexual and Reproductive Rights, “This morning [June 19] the draft text compiled by Brazil does not include any reference to Reproductive Rights, it has been removed.”

Youth SHRH goes into further detail: “Yesterday the G77 proposed to remove references to young people in paragraph 147 which outlines commitments to reducing maternal mortality, improving health of women, men, youth and children and reaffirming commitments to gender equality and language on youth having control over and decide freely and responsibly on matters related to their sexuality, including access to sexual and reproductive health.

The Holy See, Russia, Honduras, Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, Chile, Syria, Egypt, Costa Rica all spoke against including reproductive rights in the Gender Section of the draft outcome document. This was the ONLY reference to reproductive rights in the 80 page document. These governments not only questioned reproductive health, they also claimed to not understand the relationship between sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights within the context of sustainable development. They claimed that reproductive rights go against national legislations and constitutions, and that reproductive rights was a ‘code word’ (for abortion) and they have to protect rights of unborn and right to life.”

After reading this, in addition to being upset, I was confused by the idea that the Holy See has any say in this. I have since discovered that the Vatican is what is considered a “permanent observer state,” which apparently means it is a “Non-member State having received a standing invitation to participate as observer in the sessions and the work of the General Assembly and maintaining permanent observer mission at Headquarters.”

Call me a cynic, but I’m not sure that attempting to prevent reproductive and sexual health is really observing. In any case, G77 members are also guilty of this push to refuse to acknowledge that empowering women can help lead to a sustainable future. Achieving a sustainable future, after all, is ostensibly the purpose of Rio+20.

I have no idea when the Vatican will get its head out of my and everyone else’s uterus, but I can tell you that a future without global reproductive health, sexual health, and women’s rights is not a future I want. So please spread the word all across the internet, so that activists and G77 leaders alike can be told that sustainability means including women’s human rights and reproductive justice.

-Joanna

Catwoman as Contortionist and Tropes Vs. Women

Today I was all ready to post my thoughts on Prometheus, but I’ve decided to let those stew a bit longer, so instead, here are some interesting links for your perusal.

First, ComicsAlliance posted a compilation of artist responses to the most recent WTF superheroine pose, this one belonging to Catwoman:

This cover definitely makes me wish that I didn’t have a spine. Think of all the cool pictures I could take of my boobs and butt at the same time, if only I didn’t have that pesky spine. Ugh! As if being a woman wasn’t hard enough!

Speaking of life being hard for women, boy am I glad I’ve never had the audacity to make a video explaining my KickStarter project! Because apparently, if someone disagreed with the premise of my project, I’d be setting myself up for rape threats. Yes, this is the world we live in.

Anita Sarkeesian over at Feminist Frequency wants to fund (and, in part due to the vehement harassment, has already succeeded in funding) a series of videos called Tropes Vs. Women: Video Games. Tropes Vs. Women is an existing series that deconstructs gender tropes present in pop culture, i.e. in Legos. This particular series would focus on video games.

Like women the internet over, Sarkeesian is now facing brutal harassment, including misogynistic and racial slurs as well as rape threats, simply because she pointed out an area of pop culture where women don’t exactly fare very well. The mildest of negative reactions from YouTube commenters involve griping that women are not only equal to men now, but are more equal (which is obviously why we get paid less than men– we’re just trying to level the playing field) and that Sarkeesian is trying to guilt regular ol’ gamers into feeling personally responsible for gender-based injustice (which, if you actually watch the video, she clearly isn’t). People are also having a field day pointing out numerous (read: one or two) examples of strong female characters in games, like The Boss, as though Sarkeesian hadn’t said in the video that she would also be discussing games that actually do get women right.

As her mission statement clearly maintains, “This video project will explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games. The series will highlight the larger reoccurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry rather than just focusing on the worst offenders.” That sounds pretty horrifying and insulting, right? I mean, take a look at this outrage yourself:

The fact that this is the internet’s response to a fairly mild suggestion (sometimes video games portray women in ways that are the same as ways women are portrayed in other video games) proves just how important Sarkeesian’s work is. I commend her for fighting the good fight, even after suddenly finding herself the target of enormous backlash and harassment.

The sad thing is that this is hardly an isolated occurrence. Every day, women (feminist or not) and other members of marginalized groups face this kind of internet harassment. I guess life must really be hard for people faced with the thought of losing the firm grip on their privilege, the grip they’ve had since birth. Sorry, male gamers, that women have the audacity to play video games and then analyze them. Life is really, really hard, right?

At least I’m given some hope. Sarkeesian hoped to raise $6000. At the time I’m posting, she’s raised $73,388. Looks like Sarkeesian and her smart, incredibly necessary analysis of pop culture ain’t goin’ anywhere.

So you know what? Fuck you, trolls.

-Joanna

P.S. BatCat’s presence will be a little sparse until August, as she is off empowering girls through art at Girl Scout camp.

Princess Free Zone

Insert genric excuses about being on antibiotics, finals, and paper writing.

So I have decided to plug Princess Free Zone, a pretty amazing brand and site that encourages youg girls to explore their interests and not to live up to th ‘princess’ role.

“‘Girls need to know that they can do anything they want—that might include hammering a nail into a wall or fixing a broken faucet. But just saying the words doesn’t make it so.’  She believes a girl can wear a tiara if she wants, but she should feel free to take it off as well.” -Michelle Yulo, founder of PFZ

Follow PFZ on Facebook for all the lastest updates, buy shirts with bugs an dinos for your girls, and support the message that girls can be more than princesses!

-BatCat

Love Letter to Storm

Dear Storm,

Why are just the coolest? I mean it, the coolest. Look at you! Harnessing your control of the elements with your badass glowing eyes!

Image credit: Windriderx23 on Deviantart.com

When I grow up, I want to be like you. I’m sure other women and girls feel the same way. You’re physically and emotionally strong, independent, can control the elements, and when The Dazzler wants to have girl time at the mall, you’re sort of wary of this whole thing until you start dancing. When you talk, it’s sort of funny to me in the same way that it’s funny to me when Thor talks. All in all, you’re like my favorite superheroine ever! The thing that I don’t get is, why, when you’re such a total badass, haven’t you gotten the chance to star in your own movie?

I know the easy answer: you’re a black woman. And because we live in the dumb society we live in, movie executives think that black women (in general, but especially in action movies) won’t sell movie tickets. That, for some reason, no one would want to see a movie about one of the most beloved X-Men of any gender. Not only that, but you’re (I would argue) the second-most easily recognizable superheroine. (Name one other black superheroine with white hair.)

But, I know that’s the problem. You’re a superheroine. We can’t even get THE most recognizable superheroine her own movie or TV show. Because spell check doesn’t even want to acknowledge the existence of women like you. So why should movie execs? Never mind that ever since you busted into the comics world in the ’70s, you’ve been a vital part of the X-Men. Never mind that practically everyone knows who you are. Never mind that Halle Berry, when she was a super-duper star, even played you in the X-Men movies.

You know what else bothers me, Storm? The fact that I can’t go into stores like Target and buy Storm T-shirts like I can buy T-shirts of Hulk or whoever. (I’d have to buy them in the men’s section, but that’s a whole ‘nother letter.) You’d think that Marvel would love to market you. If I were Marvel, I would market the crap out of you. You know why? Yes, because you’re a total badass. But also because you are so visually recognizable. People, the kinds of people who’d be buying superhero shirts, would look at a Storm shirt and go, hey that’s Storm. Part of the reason why certain superheroes still get merchandise without a recent movie release is that they stand out visually. They don’t look like other superheroes. And nobody else looks like you, Storm. How could they? No one else’s mom is a Kenyan witch-priestess princess.

Someone tried telling me that regular non-comics people wouldn’t recognize you or care about you if they did make a Storm movie. I don’t believe that. I don’t know for sure how many people would recognize you (though I’m willing to bet it’s a lot), but it’s not like people only watch movies because they decided to before they saw a commercial for them. The point of trailers and marketing is to make people interested in movies. And, tell me Storm, who wouldn’t want to see someone wielding lighting and creating windstorms in the name of justice?

And since when has anyone who doesn’t care about superheroes known about Deadpool? He’s getting his own movie, and he’s not even half as cool as you, Storm. So I don’t want people to give me this bullshit about how people wouldn’t want to see your movie because they don’t know who you are. (Sorry about the language, Storm, but this really bothers me.) When I Google “Storm,” your Wikipedia page is the second link, despite the fact that your name is a common noun. But, you know, you’re not that well-known or anything.

There are a few other things that bother me, Storm, like why you aren’t in the X-Men Vs. Avengers series, and why they made you marry the Black Panther. (No offense to him or anything, but Storm, you’re an untameable force of nature! You don’t need him! They just married you two so that they could inexplicably pander to the women and black readers, as though all we really wanted was a black supercouple, not constant, positive portrayals of people like us.)

But anyway, the thing that bothers me the most is that, despite being one of the most visible superheroines (or -heroes, really), you’re practically invisible from non-comics pop culture. Even though, you as you are, without any changes, are already an amazing role model for girls and women, you get thrown into the corner, because the racist, sexist world of media and marketing has decided you aren’t worth their time. In reality, they aren’t worth your time. Because even though they might try to make excuses and place the blame on the public, I know, and I’m pretty sure you know, that it’s really just that they can’t handle your power and your poise. They want to control you by silencing you, but they can’t, because you already control yourself. They can’t tame you and belittle you, so they try to destroy you by ignoring you. They would do anything to destroy what you represent. But you won’t let them, and I know you never will.

Lots of love and admiration,

Joanna xoxo

Winter is Here

As most of you should know, HBO’s Game of Thrones returned on Sunday for season 2.

I have a love/hate relationship with this series. On the one hand, there are some pretty rad characters and plots. On the other hand, there is a lot of unnecessary rape and sex. Whatever happened to good old-fashioned Medieval violence? Part of me wanted to continue watching the series because of certain characters, and the other part of me wanted to have nothing to do with their stupid over-sexualization of everything. I can say over-sexualization because I did read the first book. Sex in the book was handled much differently, but the show completely played it to the male gaze. I am sick of this shit. How about last season we got to see a full-on lipstick lesbian sex scene but the camera cut out when two guys started going at it. (Also turning Drogo and Danny’s first night into a rape was not cool HBO.)

Anyway, so when season 2 started I wasn’t really looking forward to it, but felt compelled to watch. Do my duty to the blog and all nerddom.

I was pumped for THE DRAGON! Danny is perhaps my favorite character. Although she wasn’t in the first episode of season two very much, I still danced around every time she was on-screen. Also, there is something I noticed: The wild woman who is with the Starks mentions that falling stars don’t fall for men, but for dragons. Also the red-headed oracle lady mentions that: “The night is dark and full of terror but fire burns them all away.” I have reason to believe that both these women are alluding to the rise of the dragon. The red-head was portrayed as evil because she is going against the pre-established religion, but for once I don’t think she can be placed in the typical ‘women who do magic are evil’ category. I say this because the system is already so fucked up and evil, that the Dragon coming would actually be amazing.

The Imp was another character I looked forward to seeing again for all his witty one-liners. He told off that little prick of a king, told the dumbass queen she was useless, and was totally appalled that they ‘lost’ the little Stark girl. “One? One! How? Did she disappear in a puff of smoke!” Even though he is a Lanister, I don’t think he is a bad person.

What made me the most happy about this first episode was that there were not sex scenes every three seconds. In fact, the only time they showed stuff happening was in the brothel which was then shut down by the Queen (Little Finger tried to threaten her and she was like: Ha! Bring it).

A couple other things I noticed:

The wolves are finally getting huge! They are a much bigger deal in the books than in the show, but I hope we see more from them.

When Rob needed to send someone as an ambassador, he chose his mommy! Aw. He said she was more capable and trust worthy than all the men who were with them.

Although season one was terrible for women, I hope this season is much better. The lack of boobs in the first episode are promising- but we shall see.

-BatCat