Warning: all the spoilers for American Gods season one.
I had no idea what American Gods was until it became a television series. I don't read Neil Gaiman, so I didn't know this bestseller even existed before it hit the screen. Yes, I know, that makes me fail at geek. It's the same reason I don't read Stephen King. But while I might not be able to stand Gaiman's writing style, I love the stories. Coraline is one of my favorite kids' movies, so I knew American Gods was going to be good. And weird. Very, very weird.
These are the questions:
What's the deal with Bilquis?
The ancient goddess of love is my one criticism of this show. She seems like a rather useless character. All we've seen her do this season is have sex and suck people up in her vagina, and while her backstory in the finale is intriguing, it doesn't do much if the character herself isn't...well, useful. And the only useful thing she's done this whole season was show how low gods can get if they're forgotten. But we already knew that: the sisters live in poverty, and the ancient god in the Ice Age was wiped out completely. If we really needed to know that a god could be homeless and sick, then we got that in the one opener. Every other scene she's been in with her pants off is completely unnecessary.
Granted, this is only the first season. This season is just the opener, a long variation of "Once upon a time." It's supposed to ask far more questions than it answers. And that's fine. But still, why is Bilquis there? The other characters that dart in and out of the show that Odin tries to recruit--Vulcan, the three sisters and their jerk flatmate Czernobog, Mr. World--they have a fraction of Bilquis's screen time but their purpose is clear. The sisters give Shadow a disturbing prophecy and a coin that's "the daughter, not the father." Mr. World is clearly the new gods' boss and scary AF. Vulcan gives Odin a sword and an excuse for war. Bilquis...eats more people with her "vagina nebula."
Laura and Robbie were killed (excuse me, "sacrificed") on Odin's orders to insure Shadow Moon had nowhere to go and nothing to lose, guaranteeing that he would go into Odin's service. The god has been manipulating Shadow's life for years, at least as far back as the wayward robbery. And he probably had his old friend Loki (re: Low-Key Lyesmith, Shadow's fellow prisoner helping him with the weights in the pilot) make sure he was hale and healthy during those three years.
The question is why. What's so special about Shadow? He made it snow one episode, but is that an innate magical ability or something anyone can do with a little effort?
And how is Shadow going to react when he finds out?
How many Jesus Christs does it take to celebrate Easter?
All of them.
Odin dismissed the Jesuses (Jesi?) as sons of a god. But if a leprechaun can play such a major role, why not a demigod?
Would Jesus be considered an old deity or a new one? He's certainly younger than Ostara and Odin, but much older than Media and Technical Boy, and probably Mr. World, too. And does it matter? Jesus is a pacifist. We saw how he reacted to the soldiers shooting at the Mexicans: he didn't smite, he shielded. He never wanted to take over Ostara's holiday and feels terrible when he realizes that's exactly what he's done. So now that the war has started, Jesus may not choose a side. He may decide that the humans are more important than the gods and focus on protecting them rather than trying to win them over. Although that's a pretty easy decision for him to make. He doesn't have to win anyone over; he's already one of the most popular and celebrated deities in the world.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go back to binge-watching Game of Thrones before season seven starts. Then American Horror Story. And all those Marvel movies. That should be enough to hold me over for a year before American Gods season two comes out.
What were your thoughts on American Gods?
(If you've read the book, NO SPOILERS! Please and thank you.)
It’s Father’s Day! Today we honor our fathers (or father-figures) by taking them out to lunch, doing whatever he thinks is a fun family activity, and suffering through the Dad jokes. It’s a day to be grateful to our fathers for doing their best to take care of us, even though some of you might think you have the worst parents ever.
Maybe you do. But you probably don’t. Most of you could find worse fathers in real life, but where’s the fun in that? I decided to put together a list of the worst fathers of science fiction and fantasy. So let’s thank our dads for not acting like these assholes:
Darth Vader (Star Wars)
It wouldn’t be a “worst fictional fathers” post without him (no, seriously, it wouldn’t. Google it. He’s on every single one of them. It's like a law or something).
First, he’s an absentee father. Sure, Leia had it pretty great as a princess while he was trying to take over the galaxy, but Luke was stuck on a desert planet in a hut. And when Anakin does decide to get into his kids’ lives, he does it first by kidnapping Leia and destroying her home planet. Anakin, the idea is to give the world to your daughter, not blow it up! And this is all before chopping off Luke’s hand in a fight with laser-swords. He’s lucky nobody lost their head.
Fire Lord Ozai (Avatar: The Last Airbender)
We should’ve known Ozai would be a crappy dad when we found out he would be voiced by Jason Isaacs (a.k.a. Lucius Malfoy). His son Zuko said it best: “a terrible fire lord, and a worse father.” He’s emotionally abusive throughout Zuko’s entire childhood. Reading the graphic novels, we find out that the reason for this abuse was to get back at Zuko’s mother for loving another man (he’s not the best husband, either). Then he burns off half of Zuko’s face in front of the entire nation for speaking out of turn and exiles him. And then, when Zuko finally realizes what a dick his dad is and decides to leave, Ozai tries to kill him via lightning. This is actually pretty realistic, since the most dangerous time for a victim of abuse is when they try to leave.
Ozai’s not much better to his favorite kid, either. As bad as Zuko’s issues are, Azula is completely screwed up, and that’s before she goes insane. What’s worse, Ozai hating you or Ozai liking you?
Anthony Cooper (Lost)
Some of us have been swindled by our parents. They’ll promise to get us a specific gift if we do X and then not deliver, or we’ll loan them ten bucks and they’ll never repay it. But I don’t think any of us can say that we’ve been swindled out of a kidney.
For those of you who don’t remember, because Lost was a long time ago and there were a million characters with twenty different storylines, Anthony Cooper was John Locke’s dad. Locke was the bald guy originally in the wheelchair, and the reason he was in that wheelchair is because his organ-stealing papa pushed him out an apartment window.
Anthony was a con artist who ditched the fifteen-year-old he impregnated, then turned around decades later and was Father of the Year when he conveniently needed a kidney transplant. After the surgery, he ditched yet again, then came back after faking his death to convince Locke to retrieve a few hundred thousand dollars from a safety deposit box... which he did before Anthony disappeared again. Their third encounter resulted in Locke suspecting that Anthony was responsible for a murder in his latest con. To prevent Locke from telling anyone, Anthony pushed him out the window.
The really sad part? In the alternate universe, we find out that Anthony was a really good dad, even though he was still a con man. So while he certainly had the potential to be there for Locke, he just never acted on it.
Stannis Baratheon (Game of Thrones)
Stannis wasn’t the best dad even before he burned Shireen alive, but at least his awkwardness wasn’t from malicious intent (unlike a certain Lannister). He’s just crappy with kids. Good thing Davos was in the picture, or Shireen would’ve been even more miserable.
Queen Selyse was an even worse parent than her husband, if not outright emotionally abusive. But at least she sort of redeemed herself in the end and tried to stop Melisandre from killing Shireen. Stannis didn’t seem to regret it at all, as if Shireen was just another casualty of war. It’s not like he could have, I don’t know, left her at Castle Black away from the war, not brought her along at all, or maybe retreating to Castle Black to wait for the blizzard to pass. Those were all such impossible decisions.
Denethor (Lord of the Rings)
Denethor is another parent who made the classic mistake of playing favorites with his kids. At least Boromir turned out to be a decent person. You know, before the Ring tried to turn him against the rest of the Fellowship.
The last time they saw Boromir, Denethor was oh-so-proud of his son for re-taking Osgiliath from the orcs, and so disappointed in Faramir for losing the city beforehand. I’m sorry, Denethor, maybe you missed the nation of orcs on the edge of your border? The one Boromir thought was too powerful for Gondor to take so he left to get the Ring to use as the ultimate weapon? And then there was that awful scene where Denethor tells Faramir to his face that he wishes he had died instead of Boromir. Charming guy, really.
Shou Tucker (Fullmetal Alchemist)
This guy is the scummiest scum who ever scummed the earth. And shut up, that sentence totally makes sense and is completely justified. Stannis Baratheon at least had a tiny sliver of justification for killing Shireen: it was his men’s best chance for survival. Shou Tucker just wanted to keep his job. Yeah, losing his state alchemist license would’ve sucked, a certain blow to his career, but even the biggest workaholics would say that that’s no excuse for fusing your four-year-old kid with your dog. And worst of all, because he’d done it to his wife two years earlier and she killed herself because of it, Shou knew that life as a chimera would be a miserable existence for his kid. That didn’t stop him.
The Elric brothers’ confrontation with Tucker is definitely one of the creepiest scenes in the whole series. Not the homunculi, or Scar, or that sociopathic arsonist Kimblee. Those guys you know from the start are bad. But Shou is just so unassuming and non-threatening. The worst monsters are humans.
All the gods in the Percy Jackson Series
Olympians can’t parent for crap. At best, they completely neglect their kids. At worst, they send them on horrendously dangerous quests across the world. Poseidon knew that his twelve-year-old son would be sent to face horrible monsters and dangerous gods as soon as he was claimed. Did that stop him? Nope.
Athena sent dozens of her kids to their deaths until Annabeth succeeded in getting her statue in Mark of Athena. Zeus/Jupiter forced the woman he knocked up twice to give her two-year-old son to the wolves so he could join the Roman legion. Hera threw Hephaestus off of Olympus for being ugly. The list goes on.
You’d think these guys would know by now that they’re really bad at parenting. Maybe they should start using condoms.
Know someone who should be added to this list? Comment below!
Everyone in my family loves superhero movies. In the last ten years we’ve seen almost every one of those blockbusters in theaters. If it’s a Marvel movie, we dutifully sit in the dark for twenty minutes for the end-of-credits scene. When we leave, we geek out in the car and argue over which was the better fight scene.
I loved seeing Steve Rogers get crammed into a tiny elevator with a dozen bad guys and say, “Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?” My heart was broken by Captain America: Civil War and again by Logan. I was enraptured by Heath Ledger’s performance in The Dark Knight. I saw Wonder Woman on opening day and am counting down the hours to Justice League. It doesn’t matter if it’s Marvel or DC. Superhero movies are just awesome.
They also destroy young men by promoting toxic masculinity.
Whoops! I'm a man-hater.
Before you start blowing up the comments, let me clear up some confusion. Everyone has their own personal definition of what is “masculine” or “feminine.” However, broadly speaking, masculinity is the cultural norm of how men “should” act. It’s purely a social construct. What’s considered masculine in China is going to be different from Rwanda, which is different from Brazil. Even within the United States there are differences. For example, the average guy from San Francisco is going to have a different idea of what it means to be a man than a guy from rural Texas.
Masculinity is constantly changing, but it has undergone its most dramatic change in the last few decades. For centuries, Western nations have defined a man’s role as being dominant, aggressive, the provider, the protector, and stoic. Compare this to a woman’s supposed role of being submissive, meek, weak, nurturing, emotional, etc. But with the invention of effective birth control, the women’s rights movement, the work of the LGBT+ community, and now third wave feminism, we’re in a gender limbo of sorts. People of my generation (re: millennials) are having a tough time figuring out the new gender norms.
With me so far? Masculinity in and of itself is not a bad thing. It’s the defining characteristic of most men on the planet. When it’s defined to mean protecting loved ones, taking responsibility, and wearing sexy lumberjack shirts, it’s great (don’t judge me for my lumberjack love; I’m from Minnesota).
Let me repeat: being masculine or feminine is not a bad thing. And, conversely, being both or neither is not a bad thing. They’re just a part of human culture, a way to navigate gender. Most of us incorporate both aspects into our personalities. I use the thin line dividing the two as a jump-rope: my knitting and karate; the mixture of dresses and men’s pants in my wardrobe; my equal love for Metallica, Imagine Dragons, Avril Lavigne, and Florence + the Machine.
But like all things, there is a dark side to masculinity. The gross, shadowy corner we’re going to be exploring is called toxic masculinity.
What is toxic masculinity, anyway?
Toxic masculinity, otherwise known as hypermasculinity, is all the negative traits of what it means to “be a man” boiled together in a thick, nauseating soup. If masculinity is an apple, then toxic masculinity is a rotten apple. This is an excellent definition from the Good Man Project:
“Toxic masculinity is a narrow and repressive description of manhood, designating manhood as defined by violence, sex, status and aggression. It’s the cultural ideal of manliness, where strength is everything while emotions are a weakness; where sex and brutality are yardsticks by which men are measured, while supposedly “feminine” traits – which can range from emotional vulnerability to simply not being hypersexual – are the means by which your status as “man” can be taken away.”
Here’s another one from Yan Roblou’s article, “Complex Masculinities: the Superhero in Modern American Movies,” found in Culture, Society & Masculinities, Vol. 4:
“To be ‘masculine’ is not to be ‘feminine’, not to be ‘gay’, not to be tainted with any marks of ‘inferiority’—ethnic or otherwise.”
This is the attitude most closely linked to domestic and sexual violence. The idea that emotions are “feminine,” therefore a weakness, is a big contributor to the suicide rate of men, which is three times higher than that of women. It’s the club that has all the “rotten apples” and “not all men, just those men” as members, all those “isolated” incidents that we like to think are just one-offs, when in reality they’re part of a much bigger problem.
So what does this have to do with superhero movies?
Icons like Captain America and Batman are what set the standard for what it means to “be a man.” They’re our role models, our ideals. How many boys dress up as superheroes for Halloween? How many products read, “Always be Batman?” How many comparisons and compliments are given to men for looking or acting like Superman/Batman/Whateverman?
My recent articles, “Starfleet Miniskirts: Really?” and “How Sexism in Speculative Fiction Contributes to Rape Culture,” received a lot of criticism by men saying that Star Trek, James Bond, and Bruce Wayne are not real, that they’re just movies, so it’s not a big deal. But it is. What we see on screen, we emulate in real life. Hollywood has more power over our cultural and social norms than the White House. If the “ideal man” as seen on TV bottles up his emotions, solves problems with his fists, and interacts with women only for sex, then that’s what the fans are going to do.
Don’t believe me? 1980s Ireland had horrible censorship laws, and a writer who grew up in that environment said:
“In this fairly bleak landscape there were moments of brilliance that to this day stand out in my mind with crystal clarity. TV programmes that somehow escaped through the web of censorship and repression and talked about difference, love, equality, social justice and inclusion. Almost invariably, these programmes were science fiction, embodying an almost impossible vision of Utopian society and optimism about humanity. Hulk; Spiderman; Batman; Wonder Woman and of course, Star Trek. For better or for worse, my personal ideals and values and social justice dreams were set by utopian science fiction and the superhero genre, and I have never doubted the hugely important power of the media to teach and model.”
As much as we try to deny it, we surrender an awful lot of power to our televisions. This is why we need to pay special attention to the messages it sends to us and our kids.
Movies that promote toxic masculinity:
Marvel and DC teach us that all problems are solved by punching each other in the face:
“A staple of the superhero genre is the tendency to concoct these elaborate scenarios in which the iconic “good guys” end up having to fight each other for some reason or another. This is often framed as a way to resolve their interpersonal issues before they can go beat up the “bad guys” and save the world. Look no further than Hulk’s rampaging brawl with Iron Man in the second Avengers film, or Batman’s upcoming cinematic showdown with Superman. They’re the blockbuster versions of kids arguing in the schoolyard about which superhero would win in a fight. The ultimate macho pissing contest. Who’s the toughest tough guy of them all? This is evidenced by the showcasing of fights between Thor and Iron Man, Bucky Barnes and Captain America, and so on and so forth. Heck, now we even have Kirk and Spock throwing punches at each other on the bridge of the Enterprise in the rebooted Star Trek movie, Starfleet protocols be damned.” (Pop Culture Detective Agency)
The movies mentioned above (in order) are Avengers: Age of Ultron, Batman v. Superman, The Avengers (2012), and Captain America: the Winter Soldier. We also have the horrible Spider-Man 3 where Peter and Harry have to brawl each other before going after Sandman (I’m sorry, did I just remind everyone that this film exists? My bad). Oh, and there’s Ant-Man. His first interaction with Falcon was a fistfight, after which Sam Wilson apparently decided, “Yeah, he’s cool enough for #TeamCap.” Guardians of the Galaxy is another. All five of them were trying to kill each other before they teamed up to break out of prison. The list goes on.
The Dark Knight Trilogy manages to avoid this trope, but it has an arguably worse flaw. Batman is supposed to be untouchable and stoic, being a symbol of justice and awesomeness and whatnot. Bruce Wayne, on the other hand, is a human being. And the only emotions we ever get from him as an adult are anger, occasional dry amusement, and...yeah, that’s it. The rest of the time he’s pretty much emotionless with a resting bitch face. We get one tiny scene of sadness after Rachel’s death (no tears, of course), and that’s it.
Other action movies pose the same problem: the Die Hard series, the Fast and Furious franchise, the John Wick movies, etc. These men are getting shot and watching friends get killed before their eyes, yet they only dwell on it for a few seconds before moving on to the next bad guy. The message is loud and clear: if you have a problem, your first reaction should be to kill it, and you’re not allowed to cry, be cutely happy, be afraid, or be anything other than angry. Unless you have a vagina.
Movies that fight toxic masculinity:
Always look for the silver lining.
Counter to Batman v. Superman, Captain America: Civil War at least ended on a realistic note. All the problems that started the inter-Avengers war are still there at the end of the movie, and they’re exponentially larger because of the fighting. It also does a much better job of coming up with a reason for why these two otherwise intelligent, adult men would want to beat the crap out of each other, unlike BvS. But even then, the only “acceptable” way to handle the situation as it escalates is anger and violence. Honestly, if Black Panther had done two seconds of research, he would’ve realized there was no way the Winter Soldier would be caught on camera during a mission, and was therefore framed.
It’s been argued that Man of Steel takes a small step in the right direction. Earlier versions have Clark Kent erase Lois Lane’s memories whenever she finds out he’s Superman (because, apparently, he can do that?). In this version, however, he does not. He respects her enough and trusts her not to blab to the media, even as she works for the media and is in fact a better reporter than him. More than that, we see Clark get bullied and picked on, both during childhood as well as adulthood. Instead of stomping on those puny mortals to prove he’s tough, he stays rational and deals with it without resorting to violence.
Iron Man 3 gave Tony Stark PTSD, which is an incredibly realistic response to trauma. You can’t tell me Hawkeye doesn’t have the same problem after Loki took over his mind. Tony’s breakdowns do not emasculate him. They show us that he’s human. They present a harsh reality that many real people go through and, if anything, they make us respect him more.
But the real progress has been Wonder Woman. Granted, it certainly helps that it centers around Diana rather than the male lead, Steve Trevor. But Steve and his peeps are great around their Amazon ally. They help her rather than try to one-up her. Sameer flirts with her, but never crosses that line that separates “playful flirt” from “creep.” Charlie has two PTSD flashbacks, but his friends don’t see him as weak because of it. Even the villain, General Ludendorff, views his female partner Dr. Poison as an equal who deserves respect, and they’re not even romantically involved.
What arguably does an even better job than Wonder Woman is Pixar’s The Incredibles (which came out in 2004). Bob Parr (Mr. Incredible) is an emotional wreck, and it’s completely understandable. He loses the life he loves, has a chance to get it back, gets betrayed, then is told that his entire family is dead. Of course he’s going to break down. And of course he’s going to be remorseful when they’re all taken captive. Later, he tries to convince his wife to stay out of the fight because he’s afraid of losing her again. That plans lasts all of five seconds before the whole family takes down the giant killer robot. Is Mr. Incredible any less of a man for crying over his “dead” family, emotionally apologizing for screwing up, and then working with his wife to save the day? I don’t think so.
Am I suggesting we have our heroes try to talk about their feelings with the Joker, or try to hug it out with Ultron? Of course not. The last time someone tried that with Joker, she ended up as his psychotic girlfriend, and if there weren’t big explosions and epic villain defeats we wouldn’t have these movies in the first place.
The problem is that so many of these male characters are essentially robots. They do all these great things, go through so much trauma, and the vast majority of them don’t even blink. If they do have an emotional response, it’s anger. These are the kinds of characters held as role models to modern men and young boys.
Do we really want a twelve-year-old boy scolding his friend for crying because his heroes on screen never shed any tears? Do we want the ten-year-old dressed as Batman for Halloween to try to go through life alternating between emotionlessness and anger? Do we want these boys to learn that the only way to solve their problems is with their fists, or a bomb? Because that’s what they’re learning.
Last weekend I house-sat for a friend and watched their cat while they were out of town, but I had foolishly left my laptop, notebooks, and books at home. So I browsed their shelves, 98% of their library being history or historical fiction. As a recent graduate with a B.A. in history, that would’ve been fine. But I had a hankering for something more speculative. After finding probably the only YA novel they owned--Artemis Fowl--I snuggled with their cat on the couch and read the whole thing through.
(If any of you think that’s an impressive and unusual feat, then you clearly don’t know many bookworms. Assuming there are no plans that involve social interaction, book-binging with a cat is a pretty typical weekend.)
Basically, a twelve-year-old brat tricks a bunch of fairy-people into giving him gold. He does it because his family went from billionaires to poor l’il millionaires a few years ago and he wants to fix that. Also, his family is in the crime business, so morals aren’t really a thing.
That’s a great theme throughout the book: morals. Artemis’s (the aforementioned brat) plan centers around kidnapping a fairy, Captain Holly Short, and holding her for ransom. All of the major characters face a moral dilemma in the following twelve hours: Artemis is surprised at feeling guilt for his actions, Holly has to choose whether or not to save one of her kidnappers, Commander Root has to balance saving his subordinate against keeping the secrecy of the fairy race, etc.
The book itself is funny and very well-written. It takes on themes like guilt and ethics without being preachy. It’s suspenseful and hilarious to see a twelve-year-old take on the entire fairy underworld.
The biggest disappointment of the book was Juliet, one of Artemis’s servants/bodyguards. Teenage Juliet and her big brother are members of the Butler family, which has served the Fowls for centuries. They’re renowned for their excellent fighting skills, which her brother (only ever called Butler) uses on multiple occasions. When we first meet Juliet we’re told she’s big into wrestling and is one of the few people close enough to Artemis to sass him, and he may or may not have a crush on her.
Okay. Sixteen-year-old wrestler, bodyguard extraordinaire with attitude. Sounds like a cool character. I’m sure she’ll have at least one fight scene (since her brother has three), and that she’ll be a major part of the plot moving forward.
Nope. Juliet is delegated to DID mode (damsel in distress) after Holly uses magic to manipulate her into letting her go. Holly spends the majority of the book as the main DID, being the kidnapped fairy held for ransom, which is somewhat annoying since she’s supposed to be the fairy equivalent of SWAT. But she more or less gets herself out of the Fowls’ captivity, so it’s less annoying.
Holly also fights a troll a couple of times. The first time she is very low on magic and just barely pulls it off. The second time, when she’s reclaimed her magic and is much more powerful, her role is reduced to healing Butler so he can defeat the troll to save Juliet, which is managed without any of the technology/magic Holly needed to do the same thing.
Oh, that’s another thing. Butler should’ve been killed off. Artemis got away with his plan scot-free, having risked everything and lost nothing. Had he lost the closest thing he had to a friend/family, that would’ve been a tremendous emotional suckerpunch. The story would’ve been much more powerful. It also would’ve given Juliet and/or Holly a chance to defeat the troll in an awesome fight scene.
Obviously the story itself is very good, else I never would’ve read the whole thing in three short hours. The characters were intriguing and the plot kept me guessing. I may spend some money investing in the next book in the series, since the epilogue alluded to Holly becoming a total BAMF in future clashes with Artemis. There’s also some terrific world-building going on that I’d like to see more of. But if every book has zero losses and a minimum of girl-driven storylines, then I’m not going to waste my money. Not even Artemis himself could convince me otherwise.
Reviews for new movies will be posted on Monday, assuming I can catch them on opening weekend.
Minor spoilers for Wonder Woman.
By now you’ve probably already heard the news: Wonder Woman is awesome. Moviegoers can’t stop raving about it. You may have also heard the very few negative reviews that focus more on Gal Gadot’s body, or the fact that the film is too “PC” to be a good superhero movie. Luckily, they’re vastly outnumbered.
My greatest concern for the movie when I stepped into the theater was that there would be a romantic subplot. Remember in Batman v. Superman, near the end, Wonder Woman says that “a hundred years ago I turned my back on mankind,” because of the horrible, bloody things we do to each other. Of course, it could actually mean that she turned away because her poor little heart was broken by a boy she liked. Everyone knew that Chris Pine’s character wasn’t going to make it. Would his BAMF death be the shallow reason Wonder Woman turns away from humanity, rather than the gas, the bombs, the disease, and all the other terrible travesties of war? That was my greatest fear.
Obviously there is chemistry between Wonder Woman and Chris Pine’s character, the only British spy who does not have a British accent. They do have a short (and, to be perfectly honest, adorable) fling. But thankfully it’s an added bonus, rather than the focus of Diana’s character. We see her go from a fearless newbie who knows nothing about the world to a wiser, powerful superhero. The romance is an important factor in that transformation, but it is far from the only reason she changes. 90% of the movie is on-the-nose gender jokes and slow-motion, 300-esque fight scenes. In other words, a standard superhero blockbuster.
It was a great movie, and one that was long overdue. Wonder Woman was created in 1941, and this is her first-ever live-action, big-screen movie. With Captain Marvel scheduled to come out in 2019, it might be enough to convince Hollywood to make a few more woman-centered superhero movies.
What did you think of Wonder Woman?
This post was first published in February 2016 on the original Dragons, Zombies and Aliens website on Blogspot.
I’m gearing up for the CONvergence-Con in July, which I am super giddy about because it’s going to be my first time on a panel. It’s also going to be my first Con. I admit I’m a little nervous, but since the topic is “New Hollywood Tropes,” I should be fine. I probably won’t be cosplaying, but I will be enjoying other people’s outfits. I’ve already started browsing online, and I am impressed. The theme for this year’s CONvergence is To Infinity and Beyond, so we’re going to be seeing a lot of Whovians, both sides of the Force, and Trekkies.
The first time I saw a Star Trek uniform for women, my first thought was Oh, that’s cute. And it is. Those dresses are adorable. But then my second thought was, Wait, why is a government uniform "cute"? I thought back to the movies and the show and realized that all of the women are wearing miniskirts. In the military. At work. 300 years into the future.
Yes, yes, I know. Starfleet isn't actually a military despite the guns and wars and ranks. But they are a government program with a ranking system based on the U.S. Navy, and its people spend an awful lot of time traipsing through strange wildernesses and fighting hostile aliens. Have you ever done any of that in a skirt? Not fun. Not fun at all.
I can understand the original series (TOS) having the skirts. It premiered in the 1960s, just when women empowerment and second-wave feminism were starting. And I give full props to the writers for having so many women characters, the first interracial kiss on television, and all the other progressive values and philosophies that we all love, from a time period where that kind of thing could've easily gotten them fired. Or worse. So I'm not going to go nuts over the costume designs of a brilliant TV series from fifty years ago, even if they are a bit objectifying.
It is now the 21st century, people.
Starfleet is supposed to be a peaceful, quasi-military based off of the U.S. Navy, right? Well, here's a modern-day women's uniform worn by officers in today's Navy:
Here is the Starfleet uniform for men. Note the lack of skin showing and objectifying the body, because these are work uniforms.
And now, Starfleet standard issue uniform for women, both in the original show and from Into Darkness:
I don't know about the rest of you girls, but I would freeze my ass off in this. And running away from aliens and monsters and all around the ship? Forget it. So I'd petition for long pants for the winter wasteland planet and shorts for Vulcan, something the guys should have, too. We don't want anyone getting heatstroke here.
Now, in researching this blog post, I did see a few exceptions. Whenever a captain or other high-ranked woman outside of The Enterprise appeared on the original series, they were often in pants, not a miniskirt and tights with knee-high boots. Next Generation (which aired in 1987) had women who didn't wear miniskirts either:
I had to wade through a lot of little tight dresses and questionable Halloween costumes to find this, so I hope you're happy.
This means we went from having some women in miniskirts and some women in pants in the 1960s, to most women wearing realistic quasi-military uniforms in the 1980s, to all miniskirts all the time in the Alternate Original Series in 2009, with a few exceptions from Uhura and one scene from Carol--after being shown in a bra and panties--that put them out of uniform.
The miniskirts look great and are sexy, yes. But woman officers do not get their position by looking great and being sexy. They get it the same way Kirk and Spock and McCoy and all the others did: hard work, talent and skill, and an unhealthy dose of stubbornness. They do not deserve to be objectified by skin-tight dresses.
There is no way in hell that miniskirts would be the standard issue quasi-military uniform in a society as progressive as the Federation. When the next Star Trek movie comes out, I really friggin' hope that we see some more realistic uniforms. It's probably not going to happen, but I still hope.
What do you hope to see in the next Star Trek film? Leave your comments below!
Minor Spoilers for Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard: the Hammer of Thor
I finally, finally was able to read and finish the second Magnus Chase book. It’s been sitting on my bookshelf all year, sad and lonely and collecting dust because I’ve been stuck reading textbooks. I shouldn’t complain. I’ve been fortunate enough to graduate with a B.A. and these kinds of sacrifices are expected. But there’s only so much reading I can do on American Constitutional law before I get itchy for some Ricky. (Wow, that’s bad. Sorry.)
Anyway, Magnus. With The Sword of Summer, I was impressed once again by Rick Riordan’s excellent storytelling, sense of humor, and ability to handle complicated issues in a kid-friendly way. I also loved how he’s actively making the cast diverse: Samirah is a Muslim, Magnus is homeless (and quite possibly queer), and Hearthstone is deaf. However, I did not consider it on par with his Percy Jackson series, even though Magnus Chase is technically in that series because it’s all in the same crazy world.
It’s probably because The Sword of Summer didn’t really offer anything new. It was basically the same story as Percy Jackson, just dropped in Norse mythology rather than Greek. Also, there’s no Nico di Angelo. Which means there’s no Solangelo. I was more excited about Trials of Apollo because we got to see more of that adorableness missing in The Sword of Summer.
For those of you who used to read my old blog, this may be confusing. I’ve ranted about romantic subplots on multiple occasions. That’s because 90% of the time they are annoying, they reduce the girl/woman to nothing more than a sex object, and they serve no purpose to the overall plot. I touched on this last week. Some examples include Megan Fox’s character in Transformers, Arwen in Lord of the Rings, and every single superhero movie ever.
The other 10% are the well-written romantic subplots. They happen when A) the romance has a major impact on the story and/or characters; B) the girl (if there is a girl) can still stand on her own within the story without the love interest; and the optional C) it’s adorable. We see this with Leia and Han in Star Wars, Anna and Kristoff in Frozen, and pretty much every relationship in Rick Riordan’s books. For instance: Solangelo hit point A in Blood of Olympus, point B does not apply, and point C needs no explanation.
Then I read Magnus Chase book two, Hammer of Thor, and I can honestly say this series is as good as, if not better than, the Percy Jackson series. I’m not entirely sure what made me love the series so much more. Maybe it was Heimdall taking selfies. It might have been the Game of Thrones reference at the very end. It could be because it centered on a Norse myth I’d actually read and knew (in a book that had illustrations; the image of a burly, bearded Thor in a wedding dress is forever seared in my memory). It could’ve been seeing Hearthstone’s family and getting more of his tragic, intriguing background.
Maybe it was Alex Fierro, who is quite possibly my favorite character, and who I ship with Magnus like 99% of Rick Riordan’s fanbase. A lot has already been said about her (sometimes him) in other reviews (like this one, and this one, and this one…). Putting a genderfluid transgender character in a kids’ book is a bold move, one I wholeheartedly support; especially since it plays into the larger theme of defying gender roles: Blitz is a man with a degree in fashion, Samirah is a kickass warrior, Magnus is a nurturing healer (a role usually assigned to girls/women), and now we have Alex, who comes right out and says that (s)he will decide what is masculine or feminine as it relates to her, and if anyone has a problem they can shove it.
But having a genderfluid character only works if it’s done well. There have been some legitimate complaints about Alex. Not from the transphobes; we’ll just ignore them. Some fans argue that Alex is a token, a vessel for Rick to educate the youngins about gender. They do have a point: her largest defining trait is her gender. It comes up in almost every conversation she participates in. And unlike Samirah, who has a career goal, a romantic goal, heavy influence from her mortal family, and religious depth, Alex...doesn’t.
Now, we still have another book in this series. We didn’t know a whole lot about Hearth until visiting his homeworld in Hammer of Thor. And Alex, being a child of Loki and coming from a rough background, has good reason not to trust anyone with her life story. She refused to let Magnus heal her for as long as possible because she was afraid he’d read her mind.
Also, while Magnus has religious depth (being an atheist counts) and it looks like he now has the beginnings of a romantic goal in Alex, he wasn’t thinking very far ahead when he was living on the streets. He and Alex do not have the luxury Sam, Blitz, and Hearth do in career aspirations and dreams for the future. For one, they’re dead. Two, being homeless narrows your options down to surviving that day. Alex is fluid, changeable, and lives in the moment. That’s how she survived as long as she did in her old life, and that’s how she’s survived this long in her afterlife. The fact that she lacks career goals is completely understandable.
So I’m not too worried about Alex being flat and underused. She provides an excellent contrast to her half-sister Sam, and the gate is wide open for sibling disputes in book three. If she and Magnus do end up together, they’re going to spend a lot of time talking and sharing stories, which will provide an opportunity for character backstory and development. And if Rick managed to create a racially diverse cast of seven major characters, all of whom are in a romantic relationship and all of whom are complex, three-dimensional people, plus the adorableness that is Solangelo, I think he can handle Alex Fierro.
Admit it: we all want this to happen.
What’s been overshadowed by Alex in this book, and what I think is the most impressive feat, is getting into Samirah’s faith. The words “Muslim” and “Allah” never showed up in Sword of Summer. She wears the hijab, and there’s one line where she mentions going to mosque with her grandmother. Other than that, nothing. The arranged marriage with Amir is a cultural thing, not necessarily a religious thing. We’re all concerned about Alex being a two-dimensional token now? Last year I was worried about the opposite: having Sam talk about everything but her religion, like it somehow doesn’t influence any of her decisions or views of the world. I wouldn’t have been surprised, since the fact that we have an Arabic Muslim as one of the good guys is a step in the right direction. But I would’ve been disappointed.
Luckily, I worried over nothing. Hammer of Thor tackled her Islamic faith head-on. The Muslim Valkyrie says point-blank that the "gods" she's serving are not gods. They're just powerful beings created by her god, Allah. She asks Magnus to keep an eye out while she prays, with a prayer mat and everything, and we see how that ritual is a source of strength for her. Magnus overhears her muttering Arabic prayers near the end, right before the major fight with Loki and the giants. These days, when the media is clogged with portrayals of "radical Islam" and ISIS and scary brown people, Rick presents us with the peaceful, tranquil side of Islam. It's a much-needed message in this day and age.
There are a dozen reasons to love Hammer of Thor. For me, the biggest reason is this: it’s not the end of the story.
The last scene in Hammer of Thor had Annabeth deciding to introduce Magnus to Percy. We’ve all been dreaming of this moment ever since Sword of Summer came out. How do you think this meeting is going to go?
Growing up, I loved hearing the words strong female character ("SFC"). By the time I'd hit middle school I was boiling with anger. Not just because of awkward adolescence, but because I was sick and tired of seeing the same old damsels in distress and sexualized romantic interests in my favorite movies and series. I wanted more Mulans, but instead I got a truckload of Sleeping Beauties. And occasionally, an action movie or sci-fi book would deliver my semi-regular SFC.
Except they didn't. As I grew older and better at writing stories myself, I began to notice a problem with the "strong female character."
They weren't characters at all.
They were tokens. Something to get the "feminazis" off of the writers' backs, and maybe throw in some overused sexual tension for the main (man) character. Worse: they were grossly sexualized. Jessica Rabbit's exaggerated curves and revealing dress speak volumes.
So we need to get rid of the very idea of the "strong female character" for a variety of reasons. These are the big three.
The first problem is the term itself: strong female character. Not everyone with a uterus is a woman, and not everyone with a dick is a man.
Strong female character?
And what does strong even mean? Physical muscles? Confidence? Emotional endurance? Why do we need the word in the first place? It's never in front of "male character." Easy answer: men are automatically assumed to be "strong," and women weak. So when producers and directors say that they have a "strong female character" in their movie, it's like saying, "Regular women are pathetic wimps who can't do anything. But this person is strong and capable." More on this later.
Second problem. Let's assume that strong means "capable of looking after/rescuing herself." Essentially the writers are trying to create the exact opposite of a damsel in distress. That's a noble effort, so long as the character doesn't end up needing to be rescued anyway. Not that she should be invincible; she'd be boring if she was. But she should rescue the man at least as often as he rescues her. You know, that whole equality thing.
Good examples of this give-and-take are the characters of the Percy Jackson series, particularly Annabeth Chase, daughter of Athena. For all her intelligence, she does need help getting out of tough situations from time to time. The entire third book The Titan's Curse was dedicated to Percy going on a rescue mission after she was kidnapped, and he got critical help from Thalia and a couple of Hunters of Artemis, all of them girls. This was one book after Annabeth rescued Percy in Sea of Monsters when he was turned into a guinea pig by a witch and two books after she saved him with her intelligence a half a dozen times in The Lightning Thief. In all the books after Titan's Curse, Annabeth routinely battles and outsmarts monsters, Titans, and giants, often saving Percy's life as a result.
But as for stories that aren't written by Rick Riordan, an embarrassing number of "strong female characters" need rescuing by the man, and at no point is she given an opportunity to return the favor. Worse, she who has trained for years in the military, or was designed to be a weapon, or is otherwise entirely qualified to do whatever dangerous thing she and the other characters are doing, she must be rescued by a bumbling beginner. The guy who just entered the adventure, who has zero experience and very little idea of how to defeat the bad guy, ends up rescuing the supersoldier. In what world does that make sense?
The entire point of the SFC's existence--being a kickass woman who "don't need no man"--is completely undermined by falling into the ancient damsel in distress trope. Just look at Gamora in Guardians of the Galaxy (twice!) and Valka in How to Train Your Dragon 2 (also twice).
The third and final problem with SFCs is the most aggravating to me as a professional writer: it's lazy storytelling.
Black Widow (a.k.a. Natasha Romanov) in Age of Ultron was so disappointing because the writers didn't go into her complicated, mysterious past as much as they should have. During her conversation with Loki in the first Avengers movie, she mentions that she's on the team to balance out the "red in my ledger." To which Loki replies, "Can you? Can you wipe out that much red? Dreykov's daughter, Sao Paulo, the hospital fire? Barton told me everything. Your ledger is dripping, it's gushing red, and you think saving a man no more virtuous than yourself will change anything?"
There are three things in that single line of dialogue that make us go wait, what? It's the doorway to an excellent redemption story not unlike Tony Stark's. But instead of doing that, the writers decided that Black Widow's story in Ultron would be how sad she is that she can't be a mommy, and that that's what makes her a monster (which is a whole other rant altogether). The romantic subplot between her and Bruce Banner made her flat and two-dimensional, when she could've been one of the most intriguing and awe-inspiring characters in the movie.
Unfortunately, Natasha has lots of company. There are dozens of other intriguing women who've been doomed to a dull love interest: Trinity from The Matrix, Tauriel from The Hobbit trilogy, and Grace in Armageddon.
Not to say that all traditional SFCs in books and television are flat and undeveloped, or even those caught up in romance. Buffy has to juggle school, family, friends, love life and work with her Slayer duties, putting her and her friends through rigorous character development throughout the show. Annabeth cuts down more monsters than almost any other demigod in Camp Half-Blood while struggling to overcome her personal demons of pride and betrayal. Brienne of Tarth is loyal to a fault, yet she does not play well with others; in fact, she usually cuts them in half.
So, yes, you can have some kick-ass heroines with swords and stakes and guns. That is not the issue here. The issue is when that is all that defines them.
Buffy isn't a classic character of the vampire genre because of her karate skills. It's her ongoing struggle to try to live a normal life with friends and family while everything else is (literally) going to hell.
Annabeth doesn't inspire thousands of Percy Jackson fans because of her knife, but because of her strong sense of purpose and confidence.
Brienne's story in Game of Thrones is interesting not because she's hacking sexist jerks in two ("It's a bloody woman!"), but because of the difficult choices she makes. When she and Jaime were on opposite sides of the siege at Riverrun, she told him that she would do battle with him despite their friendship (and her crush) because "honor compels me."
But I don't consider them "strong female characters." They all have strength, of course; physical and emotional. But why would you use "strong" to describe someone like, say, Hermione Granger? The first words that come to mind for this classic witch are intelligent, stubborn, brave, arrogant, compassionate, and loyal. Not once does strong ever pop into my head.
"I think the major problem here is that women were clamoring for “strong female characters,” and male writers misunderstood. They thought the feminists meant [Strong Female] Characters. The feminists meant [Strong Characters], Female."
A character--man, woman, or anyone else--does not become a memorable, flesh-and-blood person in the eyes of their audience just because there's a sword in their hand. What makes them great characters is that they drive the story.
For example: the blind fighting champion Toph Bei Fong from the Nickelodeon series Avatar: the Last Airbender embodies all the stereotypes of the "strong female character": she's cocky, a total tomboy, loves fighting and dirt, she's stubborn and often arrogant, but deeply loyal and loves her friends. And those stereotypical features work because she has clear motivations and a narrative arc. She wants to get out from under her oppressive parents and save the world, and while that largely includes teaching Aang (the main boy character) how to earthbend (basically earth magic, for the uninitiated), it also involves fighting alongside her friends while they storm castles and kingdoms, inventing an entirely new branch of earthbending, discovering a passion for teaching, and trying to reconcile with her parents. She does finally get back on good terms with her father, but only when he accepts her as who she is, instead of her "softening up" (re: becoming more feminine and taking a back seat) to fit his picture of a "perfect daughter."
Opposite of Toph is Daenerys Targaryen from Game of Thrones. She's very feminine, wearing dresses and makeup and chatting with girls about boys in her down time. She has no military training and relies heavily on her bodyguards if she's caught in a physical fight. But she doesn't need a sword. She doesn't even need her dragons to be badass. She takes what she has--essentially nothing--and ends up with a massive army, three dragons, and ultimate authority over half the continent. She refuses to be tucked away into the Dothraki Sea when the horse lords capture her, and instead kills all of their leaders in one blow with a couple of friends and some kindling. And now the seventh season will be completely defined by her invasion of Westeros. As it happens, her main opponent is also a woman: Cersei Lannister, another great (though certainly not good) woman character.
The main takeaway is this: the strength of a character is not determined by how many bad guys she can kill or how sexy she looks with a gun. It's determined by her power over the story. If she has none and is only there as decoration/sex appeal/tokenism, then she needs to be rewritten. Maybe give her some girlfriends so she's not the token of the boy band. But if she has significant influence over the plot, then she truly is a strong, woman character.
Interesting counterargument to Valka being a damsel in distress: "Why How to Train Your Dragon 2 is a Radical Feminist Triumph"
Know any good movies, shows or books with badass women? Comment below!
These days, almost everyone's stumbled across the term "whitewashing." With Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell, Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange, and everyone in Noah--among many, many others--there are hundreds, if not thousands, of articles about Hollywood's race problem. And yet, some people are still confused about what whitewashing is and why it's so offensive. Worse, they tend to confuse it with racebending and are more offended by that. Hence, this beginner's guide. Because if those other thousands of articles didn't get the message across, surely this one will!
(Hey, a girl can dream, right?)
Everyone's heard of blackface, right? Back in the day, white actors would smear inky makeup over their faces to play black characters, usually in a horribly stereotypical, mocking manner. They did the same thing with Asian characters, and every other character of color. Thank goodness we don't do that anymore, right?
Hollywood might not practice blackface (or yellowface, or brownface, or redface) as much as it used to. Instead, they just hire white actors to play non-white roles, a practice called whitewashing. It's basically the same thing as blackface, except without the makeup.
One contemporary example is The Lone Ranger. When the show aired in the 1950's, the role of the Native American warrior Tonto was played by Jay Silverheels, who was, in fact, a Native American himself (born on Canada's Six Nations Reserve). But when they made the movie in 2013, Tonto was played by a very white Johnny Depp.
When the 1950's is more culturally sensitive than a movie in the 21st Century, you've got a problem.
Generally speaking, unless a character must be played by a person of color--such as Nelson Mandela, Solomon Northup from 12 Years a Slave, or any person that the vast majority of viewers know for a fact is not white--Hollywood will cast a white actor. If a white actor can pass or "pull off" the look of a character of color (especially Asians), they will be cast as those characters. If Hollywood can ignore the ethnic backstory of a character and simply say that person is white--such as the Hispanic Alisha Nash played by Jennifer Connelly in A Beautiful Mind--they will cast a white actor. That's whitewashing.
The problem gets worse when you consider the already-limited roles for characters of color. Take action and superhero movies, for instance. Think of a superhero. Any superhero. Let me guess: it's a white man. That's because the vast majority of superheroes are white men. Look at last year's Captain America: Civil War. The story centers around Steve Rogers and Tony Stark, both white men. They each have 1-2 black sidekicks on their teams (Sam Wilson, James Rhodes, and King T'Challa). They each have one woman (Wanda Maximoff and Natasha Romanov, also both white). Everyone else, and the vast majority of the supporting cast and extras, are white men. Well, and Vision, who technically doesn't have a race. But since he's played by the British actor Paul Bettany...
Basically, each team made sure to have just enough token characters so they could say they weren't being racist or sexist. Every other superhero movie is pretty much the same. Black Panther comes out in 2018...and that's it in terms of superhero movies that center around characters of color. Ghost in the Shell was supposed to be another POC blockbuster, but instead they changed the lead from Japanese to white.
If you're a black, Latinx or Asian actor, here are your options:
-sidekick (see above)
-a teacher/guide who ends up killed (such as the Ancient One in Doctor Strange...oh, wait, that was played by a white woman)
-or a villain (such as the Punisher's villain Barracuda). And even the villains are slim, especially in action movies, who tend to have a hot white British guy instead.
Basically, whitewashing is filling as many roles as possible with white actors and limiting already slim pickings for actors of color. It's a practice that Hollywood has been doing for as long as there have been movies.
Deadshot in Suicide Squad: comics (left) and movie (right)
So what happens when a person of color plays a traditionally white role? That is two things. One: rare. Two: that's racebending. It's basically the flip-side of whitewashing. And it's a good thing.
Remember, actors of color have slim pickings and limited opportunities in Hollywood, while there's a surplus of white roles. Plus, there's no history of black actors diminishing, minimizing, and mocking white people as a whole on a massive scale. So there is no reason to be upset when directors decide to practice racebending. In fact, that's reason to celebrate.
Case in point: Suicide Squad. In the DC comics, Deadshot is white. Yet they cast Will Smith in 2016. (Cue major controversy and racists losing their heads.) Obviously, Smith isn't going to have much trouble getting work, especially for action movies. But Shailyn Pierre-Dixon wouldn't have been able to play Deadshot's daughter if they'd gone with a different casting choice. Meaning she wouldn't have been able to put "played a minor character in a blockbuster superhero movie" on her IMDb profile, like the children in Ant-Man, Avengers: Age of Ultron, and Iron Man 3.
Although to be fair, Suicide Squad isn't the best example. While Deadshot is one of the protagonists (re: a character you're rooting for), he is still a villain. A better example would be Aquaman in the new D.C. League of Justice reboot; the usually blond King of Atlantis will be played by the native Hawaiian Jason Momoa. Or Nick Fury, who started the comics as white before they made him black in another universe and hired Samuel Jackson for the Phase Three Reboot.
Bottom line: white actors need to stop being greedy and hogging all of the roles that should go to actors of color. Honestly, they're acting like little kids grabbing all the cookies out of the jar, and the parents--re: the casting directors--are encouraging it. They're shoving the cookies in those kids' hands while the black, Asian, and Latinx kids only get the crumbs. It's unfair, annoying, and getting really boring.
The best way to end whitewashing is to pay to see movies that practice racebending, and boycott the others. I mentioned last week that I did not go see Ghost in the Shell, and not just because it's apparently a stinker (although that certainly made boycotting it a lot easier). If you don't want to see white actors plays characters of color, then don't pay to see it.
Know any good movies or TV shows that have been race-bent? Comment below!
Most of us have probably heard the term “rape culture” before. Its definition is “an environment in which rape is prevalent and in which sexual violence against women is normalized and excused in the media and popular culture.” A good example is this article from Everyday Feminism, which describes ten pop culture characters who stayed friends or lovers with their rapists, usually as the punchline of a really bad joke.
There are dozens—if not hundreds—of factors that play into and influence rape culture, which in turn influences us. I’m going to focus on how sexism in our movies, TV shows, and books fuels that culture. In other words, we’re going to talk about how those rape jokes everyone laughs at in the theater lead to a more dangerous environment, especially for women.
At this point I should mention who exactly rapists and rape victims are. Perpetrators are usually—but not always—men. Victims are usually—but not always—women. Stats vary from CDC to WHO to FBI, but the general consensus is that roughly 1 in 6 women in America will be raped/sexually assaulted in her lifetime (1 in 4 if she’s on a college campus), which translates to one every two minutes. 1 in 8 rape victims are men. This does not mean that 1 in 6 men are rapists, but it does make the problem and the perpetrators a lot more common than most people realize. Perpetrators are not abnormal. They’re not sociopaths or psychotic or crazy old men who hide in the bushes. Their average age is thirty-one, and slightly more than half of them are white. Most don’t even think they’ve committed a rape, and even more believe they didn’t do anything wrong. (More stats here.)
So with that in mind, this article is going to focus primarily on heterosexual rape (re: man-on-woman), as that is the most common form of rape, and the kind our movies, shows and books encourage.
The fact that Hollywood has a sexism problem is no secret. The lack of speaking roles for women, the fact that so many of their roles are reserved for the young and pretty, and how those roles are limited to that of girlfriend, mother, and daughter have all been documented and argued over for years. The internet is saturated with editorials and commentary of how we need more women in our movies, more diverse women, more diverse roles, etc.
One excellent example of that sexism is the romantic comedy. I don’t like rom-coms anyway: the clichés, the tropes, the sheer ridiculousness of the entire premise, and, of course, the sexism. But while drowning the female lead in stereotypes that paint all women as men-crazed fashionistas who go into credit card debt for clothes is bad enough (or the opposite: men as unfeeling jerks ruled by their penises), there is something much worse: the use of stalking. Stop me if this sounds familiar: he wants her, she doesn’t want him, he keeps pursuing her and eventually she falls in love with him. That’s not just inaccurate, that’s dangerous. It teaches men to ignore a woman’s clear discomfort and fear, and even an outright “no” if she’s confident enough to try to put a stop to it. It teaches women to be flattered by his “persistence.” Worse, law enforcement agencies do not take complaints of stalking seriously, and often laugh in the victim’s face.
Now you might say, “Yeah, right. They’re just cheesy movies, Chris! Nobody takes them seriously.”
No? How about this man accused of stalking two women in Australia in 2015? He used the “Bollywood defense,” by arguing that he “learned from Bollywood movies that relentlessly pursuing women was the only way to woo them.” The argument worked, and his case was thrown out.
That’s just rom-coms. Now think about all the movies we take a little more seriously: historical fiction, superhero movies, horror films…they all carry the same sexist messages, and they all have the same consequences.
So, what exactly is the difference between a perfectly innocent man who drinks beer and yells at the TV on Sunday during football season, and the man who does the same and then rapes his girlfriend? It’s that men who are sexually violent “have ‘hyper-masculine’ attitudes and self-concepts—their approval of male dominance and sexual rights is even stronger than that of non-rapists…The difference between sexually violent men and others appears to be only a matter of degree.”
In other words, men who are sexually violent believe that it’s their right to be sexually violent. That that kind of behavior is acceptable, and in some cases even encouraged.
There are many places a person can learn this message. Parents/guardians, friends, and of course, media. Modern movies desensitize viewers to violence, particularly violence against women. Some, especially porn, encourage it.
Sometimes the sexist messages and promotion of rape culture are blatantly obvious (see above: rom-coms). Other times it’s a little more subtle, and serves more to reinforce what we’ve been taught about gender roles and male dominance. The Fast and Furious franchise (and most other action movies) uses women only as decoration: sex objects, damsels in distress, occasionally a minor supporting character who gets to drive a car. The men in these movies and others like it—Captain America, James Bond, Bruce Wayne—are ultra-masculine and dominating, both features male rapists value.
Beauty and the Beast is an excellent study of Stockholm syndrome, as Beast effectively kidnaps Belle and forces her into submission. The Notebook has elements of emotional abuse as Ryan Gosling’s character threatens to commit suicide if Rachel McAdams doesn’t go out with him. It’s even been argued that Ron and Hermione’s relationship in the Harry Potter series echoes abusive elements, especially in the movies (as any Potterhead will tell you, Hollywood really screwed that up).
“Wait a minute, Chris. Harry Potter? Disney? You’re telling me that rape culture is everywhere and in everything?”
Yup. Pretty much.
“So I can’t enjoy any of my favorite movies, shows, and books and should just avoid everything?”
Well, no. We all have guilty pleasures. And frankly, the rape culture in our media is so common and widespread that you literally cannot escape it without shutting down every electronic device and spending the rest of your life in a cave in the Himalayas. The number of sorority sisters I have who are feminists and yet love to spend their Saturday nights watching crappy rom-coms is enough to drive me out of the house for a few hours. I personally love the Marvel Phase Three reboot, even though almost every single major character is a white male, and every single woman with more than ten minutes of screen time has been reduced to a love interest.
And there are some franchises and sources of entertainment that go against stereotypes and sexism. Game of Thrones is one of my favorite examples: look at all the prominent women of diverse skills, from Arya and Brienne to Sansa and Daenerys. Mad Max: Furious Road actively tackles sexism and the issue of human trafficking with a flame-thrower guitar. And the Percy Jackson series (especially the later books) has a wide variety of girls, LGBT+ teens, and people of color.
But nothing’s perfect. Thrones has a rape problem and a race problem (especially in the show). Mad Max apparently thinks the only people who will survive the apocalypse are white people. Percy Jackson…that is perfect, actually.
But you have a voice, and you probably have the internet if you’re reading this article. So when you see Hollywood falling onto bad habits and the directors try to cover it up with BS, call them out on it. Tweet, blog, vlog, Facebook, Snapchat. Make the internet explode with outrage. Even better, hit them where it hurts: their wallets. Buy tickets to movies like Zootopia and boycott the others. I didn’t see the Beauty and the Beast reboot despite my love of Emma Watson, nor did I pay to see a whitewashed Ghost in the Shell.
And to my fellow writers. You aspiring Rick Riordans, you Marvel geeks who scribble comics in the margins of your notebooks, you Comic-Con regulars who dream of people creating costumes for your characters. Keep writing. And then step past that dark wall of fear and self-doubt and get published. (Your writing does us no good if we can’t read it!) If someone says, “Why did you make this witch trans? Can’t you just make her normal?” unfriend them on Facebook. If someone says, “I know you didn’t mean anything by it, but that’s a really bad rape joke on page forty, and your starship captain is sexist AF,” give that person a medal and edit the scene.
Write what you want to read. Pay for what you want to see more of. And never stop the crusade against rape culture and bullshit.
What movies/shows/books have you seen that promote rape culture? Do you know any that try to fight it? Comment below!
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!