The Rare Quality Female Protagonist

A long time ago in a recently-post-college world far far away, my friend Jessica and I endeavored to write a body-image blog. We didn’t have time to keep it up, so it’s been closed, but I realized a lot of good material got hidden away when we did that. Here’s one of those pieces, with some updates.

Director Elena Rossini had an interesting guest post over at The Beheld about women in movies and how their characters so often relate to their relationships instead of their individual accomplishments.  She challenged herself and her readers to find a character who met all of these criteria:

  • Protagonist of the TV show/film
  • Over the age of 30
  • Holds an important job and is successful at it
  • Liked/likeable
  • Her physical appearance is peripheral to the story (and she can’t use her sex appeal to get what she wants)
  • Her romantic/personal relationships are peripheral to the story
  • The TV show/film takes place in “the real world” (not a sci-fi universe)
  • She has to be alive by the end of the film

It was, sadly, a difficult challenge.  Some great characters, like Captain Janeway from “Voyager” and Rita Vrataski from “Edge of Tomorrow,” don’t count because their shows/movies are sci-fi. There’s “Alphas,” which has two well-developed female characters whose relationships are side plots, but neither of them are over 30 and their jobs are not very clearly defined. And there’s Donna Noble – over 30, likeable (usually), with minimal romance and an unconventional physical appearance – but who doesn’t have an important job, isn’t the protagonist, and (spoilers?) basically dies. Oh, and sci-fi.

I fully support her inclusion of CJ from “The West Wing,” though, for obvious reasons:

Commenters brought up lots of interesting ideas, like which formats allow for more rounded female protagonists (ie. plot-driven shows like “Fringe”) and the subjectivity over the role a female character’s relationship plays in her life.  Some viewers may think a character values a relationship more highly that other viewers do, and it all depends on their own personal experience.

Also? I have a major problem with her exclusion of sci-fi. Science fiction has always served as a commentary on our culture, whether it’s to criticize it or show it where it could go. Does that make Uhura, Zoe from “Firefly,” Ripley, or Sarah-Jane Smith from all eras of “Doctor Who” any less valid or inspiring?

With that in mind, I’m adding Ellie Sattler from “Jurassic Park.”  She’s a talented grad student personally invited to give her scientific opinion on the very science-fictiony park. By the third movie (did anyone else even see that? because I kind of love it), she’s reduced to the background, married with a child and presumably through with her archaeology career. But she talks to Sam Neill about dinosaurs, not boys, so at least that holds up.

The gals at Beauty Redefined have a related post in which Geena Davis talks about research she’s supporting regarding the way women are portrayed in G-rated films and its impact on young girls.  Some of the figures are pretty scary, like the fact that for every female character, there are three male characters. There’s been progress, like Pixar’s first female-led movie (“Brave”), groundbreaking comedies like “Bridesmaids,” and the upcoming all-female remake of “Ghostbusters,” but all it takes is a quick scan of upcoming trailers to know that there’s still much work to be done.

Who else can you guys think of to meet Rossini’s criteria? And what’s the deal with women in kid’s movies/shows? Is their portrayal as damaging as everyone says, and if so, how do we reverse it?

The Do’s and Don’t’s of Hosting A Panel About Comic Book Ethics

Earlier this week, I shared my overall positive experiences at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. Almost all of the panels were informative and well-run, the attendees were kind and enthusiastic, and the staff were helpful and just as enthusiastic as the attendees.

But then there was that panel. That one panel.

Since I’m interested in writing comics, and since I’ve had a fair bit of outrage recently regarding certain issues in the world of comics (not to mention that other “ethics” debacle that refuses to die, Gamergate), I thought a panel called “Ethics in Comics” would be a good one to attend.

It was almost 100% a disaster.

The disaster began right away, when the first panelist opened by saying that it was because of his four daughters that he was concerned about how women were represented in comics.

It’s not quite a red flag, but if you openly admit that you couldn’t perceive an issue before it affected you directly, say, by having daughters, I’m not going to take what you have to say on the subject seriously. I don’t like it when people (usually, but not always, men) try to stand up for women by saying “she could be your wife/mother/daughter/sister.” It suggests that those men are incapable of viewing women as human beings without first determining that woman’s relationship to themselves.

So, yellow flag. Within the first five minutes.

It all slid slowly downhill from there, so here is my handy guide to putting on a successful panel about ethics.

Don’t admit that you’re only invested in a feminist issue because of the women in your life. If that’s how you came to that conclusion, fine, glad you’re finally on board, but keep it to yourself.

Don’t proclaim yourself to be a champion of ethics and diversity and then interrupt both of your female co-presenters with off-color jokes while they are still introducing themselves. Actually, don’t interrupt your co-presenters at all.

Don’t joke about your youthful female co-presenter being the “baby” of the group, even if she did it first. She can be self-deprecating if she wants – it’s not very professional, but it’s her prerogative – but coming from you, it’s flat-out disrespectful.

Don’t make transphobic jokes. Oh right, we’re focusing on the panel. Okay, if you sometimes do make transphobic jokes because you’re still working on that, definitely don’t crack one when in a room full of people trying to learn how to make comics more inclusive.

Do get your definitions straight, and explain them clearly. Any small group is bound to have its own vernacular which is understood by everyone participating in group, but won’t make sense to outsiders. Heck, a large percentage of the population still isn’t clear on the definition of “feminism.” This group of panelists had their own, slightly different definition of “ethics,” which they explained right off the bat and which helped guide the rest of their talk. Soon afterward, though, one of the presenters mangled the definition of “male gaze,” which prevented a good discussion on an important comics issue from taking place.

Do check your internal filter first. Not everyone in the room is going to have the same sense of humor as you. Listen to that tiny voice when it says maybe you shouldn’t make that joke right now. (Seriously, do not make that joke about how you couldn’t tell whether Legolas is male or female. No.)

Do have visual aids. This group of panelists had done this talk before, and they’ve developed a 12-item list of their key topics – which was nowhere to be seen, and which they could only partly explain verbally during the time allotted. It made it hard to follow their discussion and learn from them, even when they were making good points (which two of the panelists did very well).

As soon as the opportunity becomes available, I’ll be leaving feedback with GGC about this panel in hopes of improving it for next year. Comics have taken big strides over the last few years, introducing more diverse characters and improving how women are depicted, but there’s still a ways to go. An effective, well-presented panel could help – but another one like this, with offensive jokes and insincere allies and scattershot topics, is only going to make things worse.

Why You Should Go To Geek Girl Con, Even If You Aren’t A Girl

I spent this weekend at Geek Girl Con in Seattle. I’ve only been to two other cons, PAX and Rose City Comic Con, both of which are large and draw a lot of talent, crowds, and retailers. GGC is only three years old, but it’s clearly on its way, selling out completely and attracting names like Susan Eisenberg (a.k.a. Wonder Woman) and even Anita Sarkeesian.

My friends Tess and Jessica came with me. We cosplayed Han, Luke, and Leia, and heard delighted gasps from the other attendees approximately once every 10 minutes. It was the first time Tess had been to a convention, and I’m glad this one was her first, ego-feeding cosplay appreciation aside.

Here are five reasons why, and why you should consider attending next year:

1) It’s family-friendly. With the con’s emphasis on being welcoming to fans of all types, GGC is a great con for families. The size helps – no need to worry about crisscrossing a huge building to get to panels with a child in tow. Plus the cosplay was generally not as reliant on sex appeal as it might be at a larger convention. We saw husband-and-wife Master Chief cosplayers with their two daughters. We saw not one, but TWO little girl Darth Vaders in tutus. We saw girls dressed as everyone from Spider-Woman to Harley Quinn to the cutest Miss Marvel ever. The panels covered a wide variety of subjects ranging from fun to educational to practical, which could entertain a little girl or get her interested in a career in the STEM fields. GGC even has a DIY science section where kids can do experiments!

It was also family-friendly in that it was inclusive, with many panels focusing on minority creators and characters, including women of color and LBGTQ. We attended a panel about diversity in YA and it was heartbreaking to hear the panelists talk about the narratives they wish had been available to them as teenagers – narratives which are only now being produced, and struggling to gain traction.

2) Everyone was nice. The attendees took the con’s message of inclusivity to heart. Only once did I hear of anyone being catty or disrespectful – the rest of the time, I was surrounded by women (and men!) gushing about their favorite fandoms and complimenting each other’s costumes. A huge percentage of the panels focused on diversity, and all of them shared the goal of helping everyone find – or make – safe and successful spaces for themselves doing or participating in the geeky things they enjoy. When a 13-year-old fanfiction writer had a question the panelists couldn’t answer, several attendees went to the mic and offered their own advice. There was even an Introvert Alley, where those who needed it could escape to a quiet place for a little while!

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Links Lundi

The perfect t-shirt to improve self-esteem!

Plus-size fashion at London Fashion Week. (via Already Pretty)

How To Apologize Like A Grown-Up.

Apparently #gamergate is still a thing, oh joy. “I would like people outside of gaming culture to know that this ugliness is the spittle and spite and self-immolation of a cornered minority, joined by the callous excitement of others who…aren’t particularly scrupulous when it comes to picking a side.”

We Built Some Shelves

Almost a year ago, we built some shelves. We have this awkward space where bar stools should go, but can’t because of the carpet, so we decided hey, shelves!

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If you need proof of how much I’ve procrastinated on posting this, those are Christmas decorations on the counter.

We spent a long time searching for wrought iron shelves, but eventually we decided to make our own pipe shelves, using this tutorial and this blog post to guide us.

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We were able to order the flanges (the round “feet” parts) online for around $2 each, as opposed to the $7+ they would have cost at Home Depot. The tutorial recommended spray-painting the pipe black, but we were happy with the black finish already on the pipe, so we left them as-is. We chose hefty pine boards and had them cut to size at Home Depot. Finally, we picked a dark stain rather than trying to match to our cabinets.

Then came the fun part:

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We tried a few different methods of distressing the wood: sawing, scraping, hammering, and stabbing with a screwdriver, but ultimately we had the most success with…a rock. It was nice and big, plus it was curved on one side, so it fit nicely in our hands – but the other side was jagged, perfect for roughing up the board. The larger rounded side helped wear down the clean edges of the boards.

The other technique we had good luck with was scattering handfuls of large gravel on the board, then stepping on it to mash the gravel around.

Both were extremely therapeutic, even for me and my stupid tendonitis hands, and I highly recommend both.

Once the boards were properly gnarly, it was time to stain:

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And when that was dry, Kevin aligned the pipe legs. This actually turned out to be the trickiest part because the screw threads had to be lined up verrrry carefully to keep everything level.

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Some versions drill all the way through the board and run the pipe straight through inch-plus holes – this would definitely make the shelves sturdier, but we don’t have a drill capable of that kind of work, and a little free-standing project like this wouldn’t need it anyway.

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Final product:

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20141006_084127Total cost for boards, stain, pipe, and fittings: around $80. Level of satisfaction derived from distressing wood + not buying expensive furniture: VERY HIGH.

Stuff Unchanging

It’s going to be 80 degrees for another week. I keep thinking I should be happy, but I’m starting to hate it in the same way I hate fall and winter: the weather never changes. I do want a little change. I want to wear my boots and leggings and scarves and sweaters and drink cider and tea (y’all can keep your pumpkin spice lattes) and crush crunchy leaves. I even want a little rain – just a little. I don’t want it to be the same for this long, even if that “same” is beautiful and warm. Maybe I’d like it more if I didn’t know it should be changing, if I knew it wasn’t abnormal.

And yes, one of the reasons I’m unhappy with the weather is because my wrists still hurt. That doesn’t change, either. It fluctuates – two or three days of minimal pain, in which I can unload the dishwasher or use the Xbox controller for 30 seconds while Kevin gets more water, followed by a week of inexplicable discomfort spent wearing my braces for six or seven hours a day, reading only the largest books which can stay open without me having to hold them, not driving, asking Kevin to open the goddamn soy sauce bottle for me.

I used to think I was staying positive, but now I don’t know what I am. Desperate, maybe. In denial. Because it can’t possibly stay like this forever – right? The question prompts a little internal hysterical laughter because the alternative is sobbing. I’m mad – mad that it happened, mad that it won’t go away, mad that it makes me dependent, mad that no one seems to know how to fix it, mad that I’m mad, mad that it’s ultimately a stupid tiny problem and people have way worse problems but I can’t get over mine.

And now those gigantic new iPhone 6s are out and I’m calling it right now: there will be an epidemic of tendonitis around January. Maybe then someone will figure out how to cure it.