Superheros, Fiction, TV, and lady problems.

I often say things like, “oh, I’ve got this BIG LIST of problems with the way women are portrayed in (insert form of media).”  Every once in a while someone will say, “oh?  I’d like to see the full list.”

So I’m working on compiling many various rants into an easy to read, distilled, bloggy form.

Here’s a start:

  1. Men get respect by default, women get questioned.  Go visit any fictional world, be it the world of the X-Men or Buffy’s Sunnydale or Xena’s realm, and you’ll see men being respected while women are, well, um… how can I put this nicely?  Women are accused of being female.  When the man rides into town to save the day on his horse or car or private jet, no one is like, “oh, he’s going to save us?  A MAN?”  But when the woman shows up, inevitably someone is going to point out that she’s a woman.  And they will do it with scorn.  So why is this?  Well, I’m sure many of my readers are thinking, “isn’t it obvious that people don’t expect the hero to be female and so she has to prove herself?”

    That thought, right there, is the problem.  The problem is there is no obvious reason why the woman should have to prove herself able to save the day, unless it is really true that women are not as capable as men.  Also, how does the woman normally prove that she’s just as salty a sea-dog as any given man?  Several examples come to mind and they all have something in common:  she throws down physical violence.  On the rare occasion she may just flay the doubting man with words, but more often than not she’s got to leave someone bleeding.  If a MAN was walking into the room and throwing punches as an introduction, how would people feel about that?  So there is a two-part problem:  the first is that women are doubted as capable where men are greeted with respect, and the second is that respect for a woman generally evolves from acting out in violence, or otherwise taking on attributes that are seen as “masculine”.  (Drinking a guy under the table, or smoking a cigar, or joining in the mocking or sexualization of other women.)

  2. Men confront danger, women find themselves in it.  Take any bit of media where you have both a male and female protagonist in a traditionally “male” role, like police officer or lawyer or spy or superhero, and count the amount of times that the male and female get into trouble.  I can guarantee you that the woman is going to inevitably end up in a lot more conflict that she didn’t choose, and also that it is almost inevitable that she will face the threat of rape, whereas the man does not.

    Why?

    Maybe the idea is that women can’t handle themselves as well.  Maybe it’s simply more titillating to see women trembling in fear or blundering into bad situations.  Maybe, as one friend once said, “the threat of physical violence against women is simply assumed.”  But why?  One prime example of this is Law and Order: SVU.  The main characters of that enterprise in the first several seasons were equals.  They were partners.  But while the man was greeted with respect and ability, the woman was greeted with endless questions and danger and yes, the threat of rape (or the reality of rape in her backstory.)  Why?  Well, one might say it’s because he was the more seasoned officer and she was the new one on the squad.  Wait… why is that?  Why couldn’t the more seasoned female been rescuing the newbie male from his own incompetence?

    Hm.

  3. Unequal relationships.  If a male superhero dates a girl, brace yourself for the tears.  She’s going to get into trouble.  She’ll be a victim.  She’ll probably die.  And if a female superhero dates, you can bet that it’s only a matter of time before her exposure to violence becomes a problem in their relationship.  Wait, what?  Why is it that you so rarely see a girl going to extreme lengths to protect a man, as Katniss does with Peeta in the Hunger Games?  Why is the central theme of all relationships where danger is an issue, the danger that the woman faces?  Spiderman may lose his love to violence, but then Jean Grey is exposed to violence as a way to demonstrate the relationship between her and her superhero heart throb… despite the fact that she herself is powerful?
     
    Take Buffy the Vampire Slayer as an example- she’s the One, right?  The most powerful.  She kills more demons than she can count, and still if she’s dating anyone, you can bet they aren’t going to like her getting her pretty little hands dirty.

    “Oh,” one guy-friend once told me, “that’s because she has to fight for respect.”

    Sigh.

  4. The Problem with Rape.  I’ll keep this short.  Yes, I get that the reason almost every major comic book, movie, and TV show that has a female character in a position of strength brings rape into the discussion is that rape is such a reality for women.  But the way in which it is done too often glamorizes the pain instead of dealing with it honestly.

    And do we really want to just throw our hands up and say, “it’s such a reality?”

    Is that where we want to live?

  5. Getting Beat Up By Men You Respect, and Having To Like It.  Buffy.  Xena.  Nikita.  Starbuck.  Sidney Bristow.  ANY FEMALE SUPERHERO EVER.  Getting punched in the face by a male mentor is par for the course, and if you’re a real woman you will understand that he’s kicking your ass just to make you stronger and you will ask for more.

    Eff.  That.  Shit.

 

And this is just the beginning.  

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Duck Dynasty, Exposure, and Godliness.

So, Phil Robertson of Duck Dynasty fame apparently couldn’t stop talking about how sinful being gay is while giving a reporter from GQ a tour of his home.  His subsequent suspension from appearances on A&E created a dual dust-up:  Gay people that are offended that yet another high-profile Christian has made them into a whipping boy, and Christians who scream “free speech” in response to his censure at the hands of the production company.

I had a handful of kneejerk responses to seeing the news.  The first was that I checked on all of my gay friends on Facebook, because if any of them had posted an angry, sad, or bitter retort I wanted to express my condolences for any pain they felt.  The second was to check on all my Christian friends, just in case I felt the need to offer some perspective.  The third was to hunt down the original article in question and read it carefully.  After that, I had to do some thinking.

My feelings on this issue are complex, as my feelings inevitably seem to be.

First, I am tired to my very bones of Christians feeling the need to pick at the sins of society as a whole.  We can’t ever fully understand God or his motivations, but we can look to the Bible and see what examples he gives us.  In the old Testament we see God ordering one of his prophets to marry a prostitute, as this is a metaphor for his love for his people.  The metaphor?  The man loves his wife but she leaves him to pursue her own interests time and time again, only coming back when she is beaten and bruised.  Hm.  Another example I find illuminating is, of course, Christ.  He did talk about sin, but he lived a life that was not focused on it.  His life was focused on compassion.  Then there are the letters of the apostles which of course are filled with admonitions- but they were talking to fellow Christians, and we really honestly cannot use their language as a model for how to speak with unbelievers, so what are we left with?

Looking back at the story of Hosea and the prostitute Gomer, I am continuously struck by the fact that while her sin and abandonment of her vows was an issue, the greater focus was on God’s love for his people and how Hosea’s love of her was a reflection of that.

The story of salvation may involve sin by necessity, but it isn’t the story of sin.

duck heads

Focusing on sin misses the mark, and that’s where I think that Phil Robertson’s portrayal of Christianity falls short.  You can say that his remarks about how guys ought to dig vaginas were a defense of Christian beliefs, but is that what Christianity boils down to?  Not liking anus?

Given a platform to discuss anything, or to defend the faith, what exactly needs defending?  The right to consider homosexuality a sin, or the right to demonstrate God’s love?

For me, at least, the choice is clear.

Then, when it comes to considering whether or not A&Es censure of Robertson is a condemnation of faith or simply an investment-saving move, I think the truth is equally as clear.  Robertson was given the time with the GQ reporter to further A&Es brand, which is bound up in the Robertson family’s persona.  While that persona involves their Christianity-inspired down-south values, consideration has to be given to the audience at hand.  GQs audience probably isn’t reading a spread on Duck Dynasty to hear about how being gay is bad.  It’s simply bad PR, and from A&Es point of view Robertson’s job was as a brand ambassador, not an ambassador for Christ.

He’s being censured for not doing his job.

This is the problem with mixing God and money.  If you choose God, you aren’t choosing money, and if you choose money you may have to turn on your morals.  If Robertson’s ultimate goal was furthering his version of the gospel, in the end losing his screen time should be a price he is happy to pay for having done that.  If his ultimate goal was money, well, he had the choice to keep his mouth shut.

(Although, honestly, there is a fair argument to be made that furthering God doesn’t necessitate gay-bashing.)

Now, for the issue of free speech:

If Robertson was an atheist and had said that Christianity had no place in American politics and that politicians should be censured if they admit to their personal ethics being influenced by the Bible, would the Christian community be saying his right to free speech is sacrosanct?

Food for thought.

Picture from Jamesjustin

Depressing Commonalities.

I may have said this before.  My brain, were I to compare it to any appliance in my kitchen, is a bit of a crock pot.  I tend to stew things for days before being really sure what I think about them.  (This is especially ironic when compared to the way I tend to reflexively make judgments about everything.  I snap to judgment and then rue it for days.)  So in the past few weeks, I’ve been exposed to several things I’ve had to mull over.  They aren’t things that have very much in common.  The first is the Netflix series House of Cards.  The second is Paula Deen’s cheerful racism.  The third is rape.

Sigh.

I realize now that there is a common thread:  News Media.

I haven’t been able to decide if I like House of Cards.  There are a lot of brilliantly executed moments in the show, the acting is incredible, and the plot was pleasantly surprising.  It seems like the kind of show I should like; it’s darkly cynical, hard to predict, and makes you think.  So why don’t I like it?  I think it may all boil down to the fact that I don’t like the way the reporters in the show are portrayed.  No one cares about truth in the show.  Everyone cares about getting a good break and beating the competition and keeping a razor sharp edge.  But truth?  Integrity?  F*** that sh**, who has time?  Gotta meet the deadline.  Gotta break it first.

Which brings me to Paula Deen, I suppose.  Almost all of my friends, even some of the most compassionate and racially sensitive, are angry that Paula Deen is being made a whipping girl for institutionalized racism in the South.  “She doesn’t deserve this,” people keep saying, “just because she said some crap 30 years ago that she regrets now.”  First:  If Mrs. Deen hadn’t willingly turned a blind eye to (and alternately propagated herself) institutionalized racism in the South, she couldn’t very well be made a whipping girl for it, could she?  She was the CEO of a company that had racist and sexist policies.  The CEO is held accountable, because everyone beneath them acts in their name.  Her company had policies that punished employees for the color of their skin.  Her family members, who managed HER establishments, abused their employees, exposed them to sexually explicit and abusive materials, mocked and insulted minority employees (including women) and behaved in a manner that is neither legal, prudent, or even understandable.  Yes, Mrs. Deen should be punished for all of these things, if they are true.  Yes, anyone with a few neurons firing in a normal manner who is in a position to distance themselves from her company is wise to do so- including the people who co-produce her shows and publish her materials.  That doesn’t make her a whipping girl, that makes her accountable for her own freaking actions, as well she should be.

Which brings me to rape, naturally.  Because people should be held accountable for their own actions.  A friend of mine posted a story about how she had said no repeatedly to a guy, and he kept pressuring her, and she was drunk and exhausted and didn’t want to make him angry so she silently caved in.  I’d like to point out that if a woman has said no multiple times and then mutely lets you have her way with her, that is rape.

And it makes me blindingly, searingly, furiously angry to realize that we live in a culture that calls that a determined, self-made man getting his way.

I’d like to take this moment to point out that I’m not sure if it is the heat wave making it 90 degrees in my living room despite the air conditioner running full bore, or just the fact that after 30 years of being nice I’m tired of being nice to people who are absolute bastards, but I’d like to take a moment and just scream a general F*** THIS SH** to the world at large.

F*** IT.  WITH A RUSTY SPOON.  THEN DOWSE IT IN KEROSENE AND CALL IT THE FOURTH OF JULY.

Because if you live in America you live in a country where there are scads of journalists ready to pick my friend apart and tell her how she could’ve avoided getting raped, and then blather on about how it’s so unfortunate that her rapist had a moment of flawed judgment which is totally excusable because of my friends rocking bosom.  Which may have been overexposed.  (It wasn’t.)

We live in a country where Paula Deen is pitied instead of being called to account, where the discussion is about poor rich white women having to watch their tongues instead of the beaten black sous chefs that provide them with wealth and are underpaid in return.  We live in a world where a TV show about a politician f***ing his way to running the news is sadly believable, where no matter how dark and cynical Hollywood paints the story it doesn’t feel as dark and cynical as real life.

I’m effing tired of it.

So to my friend, I love you.  I wish we lived in a world that defended you and others like you, because you deserve to be upheld and not torn down.  To Paula Deen, your empire should fall.  It was built on taking advantage of others, which is the worst kind of avarice and cowardice.  And to the producers of House of Cards, eff you.  I’ll watch the next season, though, because it’s still good television.

I just wish it didn’t feel so much like real life.