She Can Fly: b*tches be crazy

LANGUAGE WARNING

I’ve never been comfortable with the word “bitch.”

It’s one of a couple words that are implicitly “female” that gives me an uncomfortable feeling in my gut, that makes me squirm and feel vaguely upset.

I especially don’t like the word “bitch” (or “slut” or “whore” or words much worse than that) when they are used by women to refer to other women.

Culturally speaking, there’s been a societal shift, where “bitch,” “slut,” and “whore” have become terms of female endearment. Or that’s what many who use the words would assert. But using those words implies a dubious polysemy. The decade old movie, Mean Girls, sums this up succinctly: “boo, you whore!” These are words exchanged by people who call one another “friends,” and yet their entire character arc (and the movie’s plot) is based on backstabbing and false friendship. Because of this, the female re-appropriation of “bitch” (et. al.) ultimately has no power, as it’s used as a word to degrade and insult other women.

Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue Deconnick’s new gender and race barrier-breaking comic, released last week. I’m a big fan of Kelly Sue’s, and naturally the title was on my pull list from the moment it was solicited, but I felt this sense of trepidation about the title. I had a concern that “Bitch Planet” would be a name assigned by the female characters, as a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to themselves.

Instead, Bitch Planet was so much more.

bitch01The comic is about women who are deemed “non-compliant” by society for a multitude of reasons (they murdered, stole, or simply got mad at their cheating husbands and made a toothless threat). These noncom women are sent to another planet to serve life sentences for not fitting in. The patriarchy has colloquially deemed this place “Bitch Planet.”

The women don’t call each other “bitches” (at least not in the first issue), and instead of pitting themselves against one another, trying to prove their innocence over someone else’s guilt, they fight the guards, and ultimately the patriarchy, of Earth. They fight for themselves and they fight for each other, implicitly struggling to survive and, hopefully, escape the figurative and literally cages that bind them.

This is the right way to use “bitch” as a literary device, and I hope Deconnick continues the comic in the empowering and clever direction it is headed.

What it ultimately comes down to is: there’s power in a woman re-appropriating the word “cunt” to mean something beyond a brutish insult. But there’s no power in women calling one another names; it looks like Bitch Planet is going to embrace that and be a real mouthpiece about the state of women in society and where the world we live in could be headed if we don’t do something about it.

And that’s pretty bitchin’.

Captain America is a Jerk!

Captain America (Sam Wilson) and Superior Iron Man make the conflict in Mark Millar’s Civil War look subtle and nuanced. They are dicks who subscribe to a very right-wing Fox News agenda. My political stance is unimportant, but the agenda and point of view of the Marvel editors is obvious.

CapJerk[Click image to enlarge] Given that, I would ask them, why have Cap (Sam) be such a poster-boy for dickery? “Every comic is someone’s first” is attributed to Stan Lee. Imagine a reader picking up an issue of Captain America and The Mighty Avengers, having heard the hype about a new African-American Captain America. They would see that this new Captain America is 100% an asshole, and Luke Cage, previously a hero for the people, stands right next to Cap in his dbaggery.

What message does this send? Is Marvel’s change in the status quo a push for more representation, or is it just a publicity gathering machine of hype? Why would you deliberately choose to introduce a black Captain America and then immediately have him be a class A jerk?

Presumably, Axis will develop, and the status quo will be restored. Will we still have a black Captain America? A female Thor? Or like many things in comics, will the stories that led us to this point (Steve Rogers aging, Thor Odinson no longer worthy) be wiped away?

Shame on you Marvel. Anyone can be an asshole, regardless of skin color, that is true, but if you are going to capitalize on your diversity attempts, then you are responsible for making choices with positive outcomes, and not just riding the hype train.

Top 10 Reasons I ask “Can it Be January Already?”

Why can’t it be January?

10. Netflix releases (throughout January, 2015)
Psych’s final season, Mean Girls, Batman and Robin (even though I already own that one on DVD)!

9. The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (releases January 7, 2015)
Whether it will be the best or most disappointing comic to Squirrel Girl’s number 1 fan (hint: that’s me), this ongoing comic promises to be very different from standard superhero fare. And who can hate on a heroine who rocks a fuzzy tail?

8. Multiversity Guide Book (releases January 21, 2015)
Well not every issue of Multiversity has been a hit for me personally, this guidebook of alternate earths promises to harken back to a time when Marvel and DC released character handbooks that included all sorts of bizarre (and factually unreal) information about their characters.

7. Agent Carter Miniseries (debuts January 6, 2015)
Our first taste of female-led superhero content, Peggy Carter of Captain America fame will be gracing the small screen with her no-nonsense attitude, her bright red lipstick, and her first wave feminism. Though it’s all in the past, the miniseries will almost definitely tie in to the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Think we’ll see any Kree?

6. Henshin (releases January 14, 2015)
Ken Niimura (of I Kill Giants fame) brings together a superpowered kid, a lonely girl, and a weary businessman with Japan as the backdrop.  This series of short graphic stories explore a unique version of Tokyo that promises to be a little bit magical, a little bit touching, and a lot of fun.

5. The 7 Secrets of Awakening the Highly Effective Four-Hour Giant, Today (releases January 6, 0215)
Okay, maybe Charlie, Dee, Mac, Dennis, and Frank from It’s Always Sunny in Philedelphia are the last people I want to give me life advice, but this self-help guide will likely follow in the footsteps of Archer’s How to Archer, which was just as sardonic and witty as the TV show. Hopefully this book will also include how to play Chardee Macdennis and make Milk Steak.

4. Archer Season 6 (debuts January 8, 2015)
Archer is back to being a spy (now with less cocaine)! Though ISIS is no longer the name of the organization in the show (for obvious reasons), things will return to normal. Relatively speaking. Archer’s a daddy now, Ray won’t be in a wheelchair (for the first premier in a while), Cyril is in a murderous rage, Pam’s sister is getting married (maybe to Barry or other Barry?), and the Frisky Dingo characters are making a special appearance (maybe Xander and Archer get a case of confused identity?). It’s going to be a wild ride!

3. Parks and Rec Season 7 (debuts January 13, 2015)
The final season is here, and though it may not be presented as ceremoniously as we’d like NBC to treat it (with them tossing out back-to-back episodes week after week), the season will hopefully tie all the loose ends together, picking up five-some years after we last saw the gang from Pawnee. My bet is that Ben is going to an award ceremony for his incredibly successful board game, the Cones of Dunshire.

2. The Legendary Star-Lord #7 (releases January 7, 2015)
Peter Quill and Kitty Pryde are going to kiss! Or at least make some form of physical contact. Hopefully? (I’m watching you, Bendis and Humphries!)

1. Broad City Season 2 (debuts January 14, 2015)
Abbi and Iliana are back! I think it’s fair to say this quirky, lady-centric slacker comedy really found its rhythm at the end of season 1, and they will likely pick up right where they left off. Abbi, Iliana, and Hannibal Buress will all be returning to ask the big questions, like what kind of dog are you, will we ever get to see Li’l Wayne, and when will my roommate’s horrible boyfriend ever leave the couch?

She Can Fly: The Problem with Joss Whedon

Joss Whedon is one of those ever-present figures of nerd culture. He’s celebrated and praised for his “strong female characters” and his “bravery” in speaking out against misogyny and in favor of feminism. Like (much maligned by some) internet icon John Green, Joss Whedon advertises himself—and makes a lot of money in doing this—as a feminist.

There are some who posit that men cannot be feminists because feminism is a specifically female issue that is deeply affected by the patriarchal aspects of society (and, really, nobody wants to hear “men suffer under the patriarchy too!”). These people offer that men can be allies to feminists, but should not represent themselves as “feminists” (a lot like LGBTQA allies, who can support the people and the cause, but should never ever “come out” as an ally or say “the A stands for ‘ally!’”). While this is not a view I necessarily share, as I believe a feminist can be anyone who believes in the equality of the sexes, it rings true in a lot of ways. Men who claim to be “good guys” and feminists are often the people most guilty of presenting a misogynistic view of women and female characters. This is no more true than in pop culture and Hollywood media. Male Hollywood figures who claim feminism deserve to be scrutinized.

 

scfwhedon02Whedon may claim to be a feminist, but the media he creates and produces doesn’t back that claim up.

There’s a great article on the Mary Sue that tackles the anti-feminist aspects of some of Whedon’s earlier work, including topics like: how sex in Buffy ends up having violent repercussions for female characters, yet the male characters get away scot-free, and constantly undermine their partners sexually and mentally (not to mention the fact that Buffy, the title character, is built into a woman who’s ultimate power is…dying a lot); in Firefly, Inara is presented as being in the highest position for a woman—a concubine who specifically has only sexual-based powers (and then there’s River, in the celebrated role of broken cutie who is mentally raped—an archetype that Whedon has a bizarre fondness for).

It’s really Dollhouse that indicates Whedon’s explicit issues with women most obviously. The show’s entire premise is about (primarily) women who can be purchased and made into anything they buyer wants, mostly for the purpose of sex. Echo has literally no agency as a character. The only way in which she’s “strong” is physically, and, even then, each episode she is physically brutalized, usually by a man.

I’ve even written previous articles about Whedon’s comic work on Astonishing X-Men, which takes away the agency of both of the (only) two female character in the comic, and pits them against one another in constant, petty, vitriolic fights.

Are you seeing a pattern?

It doesn’t help that Whedon tends to cast the same type of tall, willowy, long-haired women for all his female characters (try to discern Skye from Drusilla from Echo from River from Wanda, they’re basically the same character with slightly different faces set in a different surrounding). Gina Torres and Ming-Na Wen are two of the very few examples of main characters in Joss Whedon media who are characters of color (but that’s a whole other blog post) and Miracle Laurie is one of the only women he’s ever used that could be described as “full figured” (for Joss Whedon, at least).

As the director and writer of the Avengers, Whedon purportedly had the chance to add more female characters to the film, but he did not. In Avengers: Age of Ultron, he chose to portray Scarlet Witch not as a supremely powerful Jewish-Romany fighter she has been in the comics, but instead as an insecure, broken cutie with uncontrollable powers who volunteered to work with Nazis (according to interviews with Whedon and Elizabeth Olsen).

When he penned the Runaways, shortly after the death of Gert, he sent the team back in time where they met Klara, who, in a shocking turn of events, is a (sexually and mentally) abused girl with uncontrollable powers. The film Cabin in the Woods is entirely based on the idea of the main characters losing their agency, especially the women, who suddenly become obsessed with sex; the woman who actually has sex then dies a horrible death, as per the classic horror movie trope. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog features one female character, beloved nerd girl Felicia Day, who just can’t see what a “good guy” Dr. Horrible (a villain) is, and ultimately dies to provide the man-pain that furthers his career as a bad guy.

Joss Whedon does not write strong female characters.

He does not write complex female characters. He writes one dimensional caricatures of women who might be strong, but are usually overpowered, either by men or by their own weakness as a person.

The Whedon characters that are so celebrated in nerd culture are not supporting feminism, and they aren’t furthering the presentation of women in pop media. Instead, they represent a repressed desire to see women who aren’t in control of themselves be repeatedly harassed and brutalized.

Joss Whedon should stop saying he’s a feminist. At least until he starts writing female characters that are actually strong.