She Can Fly: Oh What a World

Truly, we live in a geek renaissance.

Not only is it cool to read comics, play video games, and follow television series with bated breath, but all those things are absolutely in vogue. No longer do kids get shunned for being into roleplaying games. No longer are adults side-eyed for reading thick fantasy and sci fi novels. The most successful movies are superhero flicks; the best received television shows are based on books like Game of Thrones, and new game releases–be it video, board, or book–dominate conversation. Being nerdy, geeky, dorky is all the rage.

And on top of all those amazing things, we also have an influx of reboots, re-releases, remakes, and sequels that some thought would never actually come to fruition: Mad Max: Fury Road, another season of X-Files, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Twin Peaks (maybe), Baldur’s Gate: Seige of Dragonspear, Ash vs. Evil Dead, another Ghostbusters film…

The best thing of all, is all these sequels and reboots and recreations are, on the whole, surprisingly good. Really, really good.

So why are nerds so critical of them?

The truth is, it’s not simply nerds who are being so critical of these, it’s primarily male nerds (but not all men).

It was men who stated they would boycott Mad Max: Fury Road because a female character was featured just as prominently as the titular hero.

It was men who most actively reviled Star Wars: The Force Awakens for two of its three lead characters not being white men.

It was men who complained that the inclusion of a subtly transgender character in the newest Baldur’s Gate game was “political correctness,” “LGBT tokenism,” and “SJW pandering,” and subsequently attempted to flood the game with negative reviews and dox a one of the game’s writers.

It was men who have been most verbal about panning the Ghostbusters trailer, with their Youtube “dislikes” leading to the video being the “most disliked trailer of all time.”

(It’s also a man who says he won’t review–or see–Ghostbusters because…it won’t star the original cast? Because it “isn’t appropriate”? Because it has a majority female cast? Because it’s simply called “Ghostbusters”?)

These can’t all be a coincidence.

There’s an inherent thread of sexism tying all these “critiques” together.

This attitude of gatekeeping aimed at female and LGBTQ+ fans is nothing new, but since the rise of Gamergate, and the subsequent “Sad/Sick Puppies,” on social media, people who engage in that sort of discourse, regardless of gender, have become more courageous about speaking out.

The truth of the matter is many of these commentators are simply seeking to gain acknowledgement through ruffling feathers. These same people are often the ones to resort the death and rape threats when someone makes a less-than-positive comment about media they like, or even chooses simply to interpret a story element differently than they would. In some cases, these people will even go so far as to create multiple social media accounts on a single platform with the express intent to harass people who disagree with them.

There’s an inherent sense of privilege, whether it’s denied or acknowledge, that all men (but especially white men) have that makes them feel they are–or should be–the target audience for media. All media. In a lot of cases, companies encourage this attitude, like DC Comics’ skewed readership survey, used to affirm their choice of target audience (men 18-37), while other companies don’t actively dissuade it (think Marvel and Disney’s non-response to its lack of female toys back when Avengers: Age of Ultron came out).

New things, even when they are based on “nerd canon” standards, will always face negative commentary, but with the pervasiveness and anonymity of social media, negative comments can quickly turn down darker paths. Though it may be a minority voicing their dislike, it is often a verbal minority, and negative comments are more “news worthy” than positive ones.

When asked about the reception of the Ghostbusters trailer, director Paul Feig said, “Geek culture is home to some of the biggest assholes I’ve ever met in my life.”

He later clarified his comments to CBR, ending the interview with a celebration of what it truly means to be a geek: “the bullies are not the norm and I would dare say they are not even true geeks. They are the micro-minority. God bless the true geeks of the world, and here’s to taking our community back from the bullies.”

It’s a beautiful thing that men are no longer the only audience when it comes to geek media. Now if only everyone could embrace that.

Seven for 007: The Next James Bond, Brought To You by The Notorious RBG and Baby Deadpool!

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has said she wants to see an all-female Supreme Court, because, no one questioned when it was all men.

This film image released by Sony Pictures shows Judi Dench as MI6 head M, in a scene from the film "Skyfall." Dench resurrected Her James Bond character M in a video released Thursday, Nov. 7, as part of the Weinstein Co.’s appeal to the Motion Picture Association of America to change the rating of Dench’s latest film,“Philomena.” The MPAA has given the film an R rating for language, but the Weinstein Co. wants it changed to PG-13. The film is set for release later this month. (AP Photo/Sony Pictures, Francois Duhamel)Remember that time when M was a man? Of course, M is male again, but I think it is safe to say that Dame Judi Dench was a revelation as the head of MI-6.

The BBC had a chance to do some interesting casting for the newest Doctor, and instead went with an older Caucasian gentleman. As much as I might not be a fan, it would have been awesome to see Idris Elba get the role (and would have made my birthday game for AoG Editor Mike all those years ago prophetic!).

Instead of looking at which actors would be fun casting for the next James Bond, and blowing people’s minds by suggesting non-white dudes, why not really think big and cast a woman?

When Daniel Craig was announced, there was hullaballoo because he was blond. And now, Idris Elba’s name comes up again. Sure, that could be fun.

rbg007thorWe survived and thrived with the blond Bond, who was quippy enough to imply he might have been bisexual, a topic interesting enough to be covered in the Huffington Post. I greatly enjoyed that scene. But, why can’t Bond be a woman? And not Jane Bond. James Bond. Ryan Reynolds has made it ok. Because Thor is whoever holds the hammer, and that other fellow is the Odinson.

Now, which females should be considered? Here are our 7:

Archie Panjabi-James Bond likes ice cream.

Catherine Zeta Jones-Connery would approve.

Charlize Theron-Furiosa. Nuff Said.

Kate Beckinsale-From one Underworld to another.

Miranda Raison-From MI-5 to 007

Rosmund Pike-Bond Girl becomes Bond.

Zoë Bell-She would do her own stunts.

Who do you think the next Bond should be?

She Can Fly: By Any Other Name…

Your fandom doesn’t need a name.

The desire to name fandoms could be considered derivative of the label-dependent society we live in, but while personally applied labels for gender, sexuality, and identity can be helpful, it seems that fandom nomenclature, as of late, has been hurting the presentation of fandom and nerds more than helping.

Historically speaking, there have always been fans. The Aeneid is basically a fanfiction response to the Illiad. Purportedly, the first documented ship war was over Jo and Laurie in Little Women. The original Sherlock Holmes fandom was so rabid that the author was forced to revitalize the character after he had killed him off. And, since at least the dawn of modern “slash”, fans have applied portmanteaus to describe who they are by relating the name to what they are interested in (Trekkies being one of the most historically prominent labels).

The Trekkies felt the need to define themselves because the science fiction fandom was not welcoming to them. Some of the most verbal participants in the Star Trek fandom were female; they wrote fanfiction, created fanzines and newspapers, and presented a female perspective on the show (which included what is widely recognized as first slash fic, Kirk/Spock). The boys club of SF fandom (often considered to have, at the time, a 9:1 ratio of men to women) was not interested in having women be a part of their imagined organization, and so the concept of “the Trekkie” (in one aspect) was created.

Since then, fandom, in a lot of ways, has been viewed as specifically female. Fanfiction has been generally seen as a female hobby, with a 2010 survey confirming the 78% of Fanfiction.net’s users identified as female. Fanart is often seen as an inherently female outlet, ranging from fan comics to slash–however, the “male” aspect of fanart tends to be associated with art of female characters being sexualized or engaging in sexual (sometimes non-consensual) acts. Many of the most popular fan vloggers, bloggers, and columnists are women.

Yet, some of the most prominent fandom names of the 2010s thus far seem to be specifically gendered: Jobros. Cumberbitches. Bronies.

Female-gendered fandom names are often derogatory, like Cumberbitches or Pie-Hos, and enforce the idea that woman in media should be presented as objects, like FullMetal Alchemist‘s Miniskirt Army. The names may initially seem clever or funny, but there’s a deeper, underlying current of internalize misogyny.

Male-gendered fandom portmanteaus, like Bronies (My Little Pony) or the newly rumored “Gemtlemen” (Steven Universe), specifically imply that their fandom is for men only. Both My Little Pony and Steven Universe are shows that ultimately focus on presenting female characters (albeit non-binary female-appearing characters in Steven Universe) as real, well-rounded, fully fleshed-out characters. To have men as fans is wonderful, but for men to specifically highjack the media and turn the fandom into a space that is not only unfriendly to children (the shows’ intended demographic), but outright dangerous to women is unacceptable.

Media, especially cartoons with a young demographic, is already staunchly biased against women, presenting them as caricatures and tokens. Networks and companies defend their decision to not have female-led shows by saying young boys can’t relate to female characters, despite the fact that this theory has been criticized and disproved by a number of experts. Add to that male fans taking control of female oriented fandom, and that becomes a whole new layer as to why corporations may not want to feature female-led content.

Male-driven fandom that insists on essentially appropriating female-led shows and subsequently sexualize the female characters, demand that male characters get more screen time, or threaten female fans for “invading their fandom” are contributing to the idea that women are secondary citizens in what once was a specifically female space. To love something is wonderful, but to keep others from loving it is miserable.

dNot all fandom names are bad: for me, the Carol Corps seems different. It’s not just an identity as a fan of a type of media, it’s expanded to include a lifestyle and attitude. Carol Corps is about embracing feminism and personal identity. The name is not gendered or specific to any personal label. The idea is that fans are a Corps, a body of people engaged in similar activities.

Fandom is problematic: from racism and sexism to female characters being specifically disposed of by fans so male characters can be paired together to online and in-person harassment, fandom represents a double edged sword for nerds. It is a powerful tool to connect like-minded people, but it can just as easily be used destroy and harm people. In a lot of cases, the name a fandom choses contributes to the attitude of the fandom. Tacking “tard” onto the end of the titular character’s name is not just insulting to the people who created the content, but also to the people who love it. Being a nerd is about passionately embracing what you love, even if it is looked upon as childish, silly, or dorky. If fans insist on having a portmanteau, following the lead of the Carol Corps seems like the best idea: have a genderless title that emphasizes the idea of joining together out of friendship and similar interests.

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’.

She Can Fly: NYCC Women In Comics

Women in comics. It’s a hot topic, and one that I blog about weekly. From feminism to how characters are dressed to intersectional representation, women in comics matter. As I said in an earlier post, New York Comic Con 2014 has a lot of panels about that very topic (as well as racial diversity in comics, sexuality and gender in comics, and, generally, content emphasizing that #representationmatters—a hashtag favorite of mine while at cons).

That’s why I was so excited to attend my first panel of the day on Friday, “Marry, Do, Kill?: What Will it Take to Shatter Female Stereotypes in Comics?” The panel was held in one of the smaller rooms at the convention, but was packed full. Focusing a critical eye on female stereotypes in comics and pop media (because “stereotypes are lazy writing”), the panel included Dennis Celaro, Claire Connelly, Jennie Wood, Erica Schultz, Shaun Noel, and Ellie Pyle initially (although a few more panelists–Enrica Jang, Andy Schmidt, AK Lovelace–trickled in throughout the hour).

The first topic discussed—and one that was revisited throughout the panel—was the physical presentation of women in comics. Artist Dennis Celaro had a lot to say on the topic. “Is busty aspirational? No body type should be aspirational…our society values physical beauty far more than it should.” He continued, talking about his artistic aspirations, “I never wanted to be a ‘big tit’ artist. When I was drawing X-Factor, I made a choice to…make each character physically different…I got so much shit [for that decision]…Siren’s boobs are too big, this character’s boobs are too small, she’s not pretty enough…”

Erica Schultz agreed that comics create an unrealistic expectation of beauty, even within media itself , sharing a story of some banner art she had at a convention, where a 20-something man commented of the character on the banner: “god, she’s fat.” Dennis agreed that comics are mired in an illusion of what is beauty; “women who are just drawn like the airbrushed Marlyn Monroe…eyes, lips, and nostrils, thay have no character.” What might be “physically beautiful” is ultimately uninteresting to draw, look at, or use in comic art.

The panelists commented on their childhood experiences with comics. One stated “I grew up liking comics just as they were…but when you become a writer, you recognize tropes and clichés,” and begin to see them as boring. And though there was some question if we are telling creators to “teach to the test” (the Bechdel test, that is), there was agreement that “if you’re not interested in the diversity of people, you’re really limited yourself” as a writer and an artist. Ellie Pyle commented further, “there is no one specific way to create a ‘strong, female charater.’ Personality is as different as body types.”

Another writer touched on the topic of clichés, “if you call something a trope, that just means it was written poorly once,” and that is all the more reason to take that trope and write it well. The panel agreed upon the power of media. “It’s never ‘just’ a comic book…everything has an effect.

Shaun Noel and City of Walls artist, AK Lovelace, touched on the power of images: they had a convention banner featuring their lead character, Ariana, a black woman, in a warrior pose. The amount of positive feedback they got about the image was astounding. “We’re interested in normalcy. Our character is a little girl in a messed up city. We aren’t starting with an agenda,” but that’s port of the reason why their comic resonates. Dennis also touched on the power of comic are, “I don’t think art leads, it’s a reflection. The reason art is controversial is because it shows something that we don’t like in society.”

“The audience is diversifying, so the content is following suit. The market, the thirst for it, is there.” At the same time, “there’s a problem at a macro level with lack of representation. There’s a market not being served…but you can’t tell an artist what to make.” The entire panel agreed that “no matter what you’re writing….make the women human. That’s what makes them unique, makes them resonate.” Some writers will pat themselves on the back and say “oh, I wrote a strong female character—but they wrote a male character, just with breasts” and that’s very frustrating.”

Everybody agreed it was best to avoid comments on articles or content emphasizing the importance of diversity in terms of gender, race, and sexuality. “My mantra is ‘don’t read the comments.’”

The panel touched on indie versus mainstream: “Marvel and DC is a weak prism” to view comics through. Indie comics offer a “broader sense of the genre,” and allow artists to move away from the idea of an in-house style. It allows “you [to] find the right artist” for what is being written.

Talk turned to fridging women, with one panelist saying “if you’re going to fridge a woman, make sure we know her name, why it’s important this is happening.” Ellie responded, “if she has a name, and it’s part of her story, it’s not fridging. Killing a female character isn’t always fridging, and treating it as such negates the importance of what fridging actually is.”

In the last minute of the panel, I asked about making covers more positive and approachable for women, citing the Milo Manara controversy. AK commented that he thought the entire outrage was stupid, and Dennis agreed, saying he thought the cover was artistically bad for Manara, but “the ultimate power is ‘buy it’ or ‘don’t buy it.’…We can’t threaten someone’s livelihood if it threatens their career.” Art has to take risks to find success.

Another huge part of women in comics is fandom. NYCC 2014 had a few panels from the Mary Sue which touched on female fandom, but it was Vulture that had an entire panel devoted to the Carol Corps and the effect of female fandom on the industry. The panel was small, just Kelly Sue Deconnick, Gail Simone, and Sana Amanat, but they are some of the most qualified people to be on a panel about the spread of female-friendly fandom.

The first question asked was if there’s been a recent explosion of female fandom, or if people are just starting to pay attention to it now. Gail noted that convention attendance has dramatically changed (making bathroom lines much longer for women), and that, when she got started, many women were actually leaving the industry because it was such a bad atmosphere for them. She predicted that we will see an influx of female creators with the increase of positive views on women in fandom.

Kelly Sue reminded everyone that girls have always read comics, and emphasized that “equality is not a loss.” Today, women find their way into comics through cartoons and films, and the internet gives them a forum to openly speak and create. However, comics themselves are less ubiquitous, and readers have to seek out comic stores and specialty shop, which is a big barrier to readership, especially female readership. “The smart stores are going to find a way to support and grow new readership…also, comics are cool again!”

But it’s not just fandom that’s changed. The industry itself is transforming, “our content has changed. We’re telling a different type of story, and our characters are more realistic and relate-able on a greater scale.”

On the topic of Red Sonja, Gail commented “there’s a big difference in a character being written to look at, and a character being written to be a character.” While she has removed a few of the ickier parts of red Sonja’s character history, it’s also about spinning clichés around, and making the character “bloody and sexy and smelly, but fun.”

Ms. Marvel is one of the top selling books for Marvel, and the first issue has just gone into its 6th printing—something that’s usually unheard of, even for the most popular comics—but the moderator wondered if its success can be emulated. Sana says yes, “it can. It’s not just a gimmick. We’ve tapped into something that people wanted for a long time…and it worked out.” (A fan later commented that she loved character like Carol and Kamala, because they’re “a superhero first and a woman second.”)

Both Gail and Kelly Sue are extremely active on social media, and that’s a boon for them and women in fandom. Interactive with fans on Twitter and Tumblr is “a pleasure,” says Gail. “You guys are my comics community.” In general, female fandom is “very interactive” and supporting. Fans send gifts, engage in discussion, and sincerely want to interact.

When asked what fans can do to support women in comics, Kelly Sue replied in her trademark frankness “fuck shit up. Speak up, stand up for what is important for you. Make comics.” The whole panel emphasized that women shouldn’t fall into the trap of being pitted against one another. “’Would Carol or Wonder Woman win?’ They’re both good guys, they wouldn’t fight each other, dumbass!”

One fan asks about the difficulties for women of color in the industry. Sana answers “it’s tough…Ms. Marvel is the anthem against hate.” It’s hard when the media doesn’t show you, “when your version of beauty is not what you see in the mirror.” Ultimately, it’s about intersectionality: “feminism is about fairness. Championing only one aspect of it doesn’t make sense, that’s not fairness.”

Kelly Sue emphasized the importance of calling people out on fandom gatekeeping. “Nobody gets to decide what you can like.” (If they still try to, she suggests you ask them what Carol Danver’s birthday is—May 26th, fyi.)

Gail states she likes “sexy comics. But when you take that choice away, it becomes ugly…showing off sexuality can be empowering, but you also know when it’s being exploited.” The entire panel emphasizes their interest in moving away from the clichés of comics past.

“’Write what you know’ is a fallacy and it’s lazy,” said Kelly Sue when one male fan asked about writing female characters. “Don’t limit yourself. Nobody said ‘Brian Michael Bendis is neither a spider nor a woman’ when he wrote Jessica Drew.”

She Can Fly: A Genius To Watch Out For

On Wednesday, this year’s winners of the MacArthur “Genius” Grants were announced. Among mathematicians, scientists, lawyers, and poets, one cartoonist was also awarded the $625,000 grant. Why is this cartoonist special (after all, Ben Katchor was the first graphic novelist to win the award in 2000)? Because Alison Bechdel is the first female cartoonist to be awarded with the Fellowship.

If that name sounds familiar, it should. Aside from writing a number of bestselling, award-winning graphic novels, Bechdel also coined the eponymous “Bechdel Test:” if a work of fiction features at least two (named) female characters who talk to each other about something other than a man, then it passes the Bechdel Test. Seen as a sort of litmus test of gender bias in fiction, and specifically film, the Bechdel Test was first introduced in 1985, in Bechdel’s long-running queer comic Dykes to Watch Out For, but later became adapted by the popular culture mainstream in late 2009, and was eventually dubbed “the standard by which feminist critics judge television, movies, books, and other media” by critic Kay Steiger, in an essay on the gender politics of the Walking Dead.

Bechdel received the news while in an artist retreat in Umbria, Italy. “I actually didn’t want to pick up the phone…[but] I didn’t want to call back and pay for the long-distance call. Although now, I think I can afford it,” Bechdel told The Post’s Comic Riffs on Thursday morning.

An Eisner Award winner, Bechdel seems humble and surprised by the announcement, despite numerous awards and praise—including the musical adaptation of her 2006 memoir Fun Home being named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama in April: “What a year—it’s been really crazy. I’m struggling to keep up with myself, and keep my feet on the ground. The play has been an amazing experience…I’m finally figuring out what I’m doing, and sort of feeling like now, I have to start taking responsibility [as a high-profile figure in the comics world].”

Bechdel’s win is one of a few queer wins with the MacArthur Foundation this year (a Massachusetts gay rights activist is another 2014 “Genius” fellow), but Bechdel’s win also represents the ever present issues of gender and sexuality in the comics industry. While female representation has increased in the past years, so have instances of sexual harassment, gender discrimination, and orientation policing. The success of a prominent queer, female figure in comics promises more visibility to the plight that women face when it comes to comics—how they are advertised, viewed, and reacted to—as well as more support for up-and-coming female and queer cartoonists.

Because of the autobiographical nature of Bechdel’s work, more young women will have a figure to turn to when it comes to the representation of women in comics. Along with women in mainstream superhero comics, like Gail Simone, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Amanda Conner, and Babs Tarr, and the ever-growing list of female indie creators, like Fiona Staples, Amy Reeder, Becky Cloonan, and Renae De Liz, Alison Bechdel’s win just adds to the shift in the industry. Hopefully bigger companies will see this and follow suit in using existing female creators and attempting to draw in new creators as well.

She Can Fly: Ugg! Can’t We Have Pro-girl Female Characters?

Princess Ugg, the latest comic by Ted Naifeh from Oni Press, could easily be described as a charming, all ages fantasy story about a warrior princess learning to put down her axe and make friends.

Except it’s not.

ugg1The biggest issue with Princess Ugg was solidified in this week’s issue #3, in which a teacher from the Princess Academy tells the titular Viking princess, Ulga, that she needs to learn diplomacy, and that there is no better way to do this than by befriending her prissy princess roommate, Julifer. Ulga attempts friendship for all of two seconds before something her roommate says irritates her because it is stupid, petty, and/or shallow. The issue resolves with Ulga realizing she now has “two enemies”: Julifer and her pet unicorn.

Because strong women can’t get along with other women.

ugg2This attitude is a big part of internalized misogyny (or, in the case of Princess Ugg, straight up misogyny, as the writer/artist is a man), which is when women inherently adopt the culturally sexist attitudes toward women and applies them, consciously or subconsciously, towards all other women, and often even themselves. This attitude is also a huge problem. Showing this competitive attitude, lack of female friendships, and inherent desire to prove how the character is different from “normal”/”other” girls, in media aimed at young girls—however indirectly—is problematic to say the least.

And this sort of attitude is encouraged in most media. Princess Ugg is just a continuation of the presentation of internalized misogyny that pop culture forces on young women. When you look at television, movies, and books, there’s usually only one main female character, which primarily has male friends, and is “unique” and “not like other girls.” This implies to young women that, in order to be liked, in order to be the “main character,” they have to set themselves apart from their female peers.

ugg3This implication that women must constantly be in competition with each other follows through from childhood media (Smurfette syndrome), to pre-teen and teen media (books like Twilight, the Hunger Games, and Divergent put women who are friends at odds with each other, making them battle literally at times, and basically any song from Taylor Swift: “she wears short skirts/I wear t-shirts,” so obviously I am morally superior because I’m not wearing revealing clothing like her), to adult media (any number of rom-coms, any Moffat-written & directed New Who, and even in memes like “fake geek/gamer girls” and “me vs. other girls”).

I’m still giving Princess Ugg a chance. It has potential to be a fun, empowering comic, but at the moment, it’s a big disappointment for me. “Strong female characters” create a double edge sword in pop culture, and continue to limit how we view women.

If a female character is physically strong, then push against the cliché that she can’t like makeup, clothing, and other stereotypical “girly” items. If a female character is popular, move away from the stereotype that she hates other women and only views them as competition. Or, if you want to use the stereotypes to your advantage, create an internal struggle: a competitive woman who wants to have female friends, but often alienates herself with her desire to be the best; a “shallow” girl who actually likes to wear revealing clothing because she is proud of how she looks and wants to spread that self-love to other women; a strong, silent woman who is actually just painfully shy and has a hard time opening up. Re-appropriate clichés; use them to make your character become well-rounded, embrace the idea of flaws that go beyond the classic heroine concept of “she’s perfect, except she’s clumsy.”

If you’re looking for media with positive female characters, it does exist. My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic continuously champions the idea that women can be friends even if they don’t share all the same interests. The Princess and the Frog was one of the first Disney movies with a supportive female friendship that was actually a major part of the plot. Sailor Moon embraces the idea that all women are different, and that they are stronger when they are together. Parks and Rec features multiple different kinds of female friendships and mentorships, which include a lot of humor and sarcasm. There is good media out there that supports the idea that strong women don’t have to hate other women.

It’s okay to have a strong female character, but that doesn’t mean she has to fight alone.

She Can Fly: Broad City Review

Slackers have always been popular topic for nerd media. With comics like Scott Pilgrim and the newly reinvigorated Eltingville Club, TV shows like Workaholics and the League, and pretty much any movie starring Seth Rogan, slackers are a character type that a lot of nerds relate to. But there’s one thing about all the slacker content out there, from webcomics to studio produced shows, that bothers me: the lack of female slackers.

Women traditionally play the stooge to the antics of male characters, ultimately holding their hand, preventing them from harm, and looking on as the men coordinate bombastic antics and pointedly avoid work. April Ludgate in Parks and Rec originally started off as a rare example of a female slacker character, but has since morphed into a responsible adult who enjoys working. The Mindy Show skirts the idea of a female slacker on occasion, but the main character is also a successful OB-GYN, meaning she has been through years of college and works every day at an unrelenting job. Even in Seth Rogan’s This is the End, the single female character with more than a minute of screen time, Emma Watson, is characterized as hardworking, determined, and a straight man to Rogan’s pointedly male crew of idiots.

BC1This is why Broad City is so revolutionary. Broad City, executive produced by Amy Pohler, stars comediennes Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson in an episodic, slice-of-life story about two twenty-something women who are wholly unmotivated and prefer smoking pot and talking about what kind of dog they would be to doing their taxes or actually working at their jobs.

That said, Abbi certainly plays second banana to Ilana’s blase attitude towards being an “adult.” Abbi is shown as motivated and driven, wanting to succeed at her job, but ultimately being blocked from her career goal (a personal trainer) and instead having to work janitorial duty. This is a smart move, though, that allows the show to have a straight man who is hijacked into being a slacker by her lack of upward mobility.

The ensemble cast also stars Hannibal Buress as Ilana’s lovelorn booty call. Buress takes on the role that women traditionally play in slacker media: his character, Lincoln, is the straight man of the show. A successful dentist, Lincoln just wants to please Ilana so much that she will decide to settle down and become his girlfriend. This beautiful role reversal (and Buress’ jovial delivery), brings the show full circle in terms of bucking a traditionally all-male trope.

The show also features comedy that could be called “female,” in that they aren’t afraid to use the word “vagina” (albeit in a funny accent) akin to how Judd Apatow movies use the word “dick.” However, the show isn’t alienating towards any particular gender in its comedy, as it features content that is relate-able to anyone who has ever been to New York City, struggled to make money, or maybe done some not-so-legal things.

Still finding its footing, Broad City plays a bit like a female version of Workaholics, with New York City as the setting for the illicit adventures of two women who are just trying to live their lives and have some fun doing it.

Broad City has been renewed by Comedy Central for a second season. The first season is available streaming and will be available on DVD in the fall.

 

She Can Fly is a featured article at the Acts of Geek Network. Exploring pop culture, comics and games from a geek girls perspective. 

She Can Fly: Sex Criminals: Morning After Regrets

Disclaimer: This post contains adult language, adult themes, and adult images.

 

Sex Criminals #1 was one of the best, most unique, comics I ever read.

Sex Criminals #2 was one of the most disappointing second issues I’ve read.

Written by Matt Fraction, with art by Chip Zdarsky, Sex Criminals is a weird, pseudo-fantasy title where a small number of individuals have the power to freeze time…when they orgasm. Quirky!

The reason issue #1 struck such a chord with me is because the title explores something that comics (and most popular culture) up to this point have basically ignored: female sexuality.

SC1Exploring the sexual history (it’s not as dirty as it sounds, I promise) of the female lead, Suzie, as she discovers she can stop time and enter what she calls “the Quiet,” the issues touches on the exploration of topics usually considered taboo in mainstream media, mainly female masturbation. While female full frontal nudity is common in R-rated movies, female masturbation–or worse, female orgasm–can often gain an NC-17 rating for a movie, basically dooming it to never make it to theaters. Discomfort with female sexuality in pop culture is pretty apparent, with the gender inequality of men who have sex being “cool” and “experience,” and women who have sex become “loose” and “skanks.” Comics are not all that different; titles like Sex and even The Boys feature rampant displays of male sexuality, but tend to relegate the female characters to sexual objects to be won or to be abused and mistreated.

Sex Criminals#1 isSC2 a respectful portrayal of female sexuality, the good, the bad, and the bizarre. Best of all, the tone of the issue is not all that serious; it plays off common cliches and has fun with how young teens view sex and sexuality, and the incorrect impressions they get.

Issue #2 dove into the post-puberty history of the male lead, and suddenly the title became much cruder, full of what felt like forced dick jokes and an overwhelming number of dildos. The most disjointed aspect of the issue, aside from totally throwing out the sensitive, sweet, and humorous tone used to develop Suzie’s sexuality, is the fact that “the Quiet” is referred to from then on as “Cum World,” after Jon, the male lead’s, favorite porn store.

This motions to the direction of the rest of the series–Suzie is swept up into Jon’s world. It’s all about his mannerisms, his interests, and his desire to (ultimately) rob a bank. Suzie is relegated to a sex-sidekick, while Jon’s bizarre combination of ADHD and “Oppositional Defiant Disorder” takes lead in the story. It’s frustrating to have such a tantalizing taste of a realistic female lead, with a real sexuality and interesting flaws, only to have her sidelined for the “more interesting” male lead.

SC3I’m always happy to see Image, a company that’s extremely supportive of creator owned content, publish comics with unusual plot-lines and subject matter that has traditionally remained unexplored in comics. Newer titles like Saga have garnered unbelievable amounts of success for Image, and the nuanced storytelling that most current Image titles have is a far cry from their origin as a hip, 90s company that set the extreme trend of superheroes with pouches.

All the same, I’ve seen a number of Image’s titles take a huge tonal shift between the first issue and the subsequent ones.

Sometimes, editorial guidance can mean the different between an okay title and a truly great one. Conversely, too much editorial control can make entire companies falter. Ultimately, comics are about storytelling. It seems that the story Fraction wants to tell in Sex Criminals is not one of female sexuality, so much as sex as a literal weapon, with rude nicknames, gross jokes, and characterization worthy of eye-rolling.

 

She Can Fly is a featured article at the Acts of Geek Network. Exploring pop culture, comics and games from a geek girls perspective.