DZA Marie's personal favorite romantic subplots in sci-fi and fantasy
Ah, early February. Living in Minnesota, I can see why Hallmark decided this was the prime time to start a romantic holiday: it's too cold outside to do anything other than snuggle with your significant other. (-50 degree windchill. Thanks, climate change.)
Now obviously, in the spirit of the holiday, the next couple of blog posts and this month's video will be relationship-oriented. However, I do not read romance novels. I read romance fanfiction, but in my movies and published novels I vastly prefer hard sci-fi and fantasy. Luckily (or unluckily, as this month's YouTube video will argue) you cannot open an SFF book or movie without there being at least a 95% chance of a romantic subplot popping up. And while most of them are very annoying and have no place in the story at all, some of them are downright adorable.
So, I have gathered a list of my personal favorite romantic subplots in the sci-fi, fantasy and superhero genres. They're not really in any particular order, and the biggest qualification is it has to make me go "Awwww" with a bare minimum of eye-rolling.
Nakia & T'Challa (Black Panther)
Most blockbuster movies with romantic subplots--especially superhero movies--tend to either ignore the woman's growth and character development, or make said growth and development all about the love and romance she bares for the hero.
This is not the case with Black Panther. Nakia is a fully fleshed-out badass who doesn't have so much of a narrative arc so much as the moral of, "Bitch, you should have listened to me from the start. Would've saved you a lot of trouble and Killmonger wouldn't have had a chance."
Also noteworthy is the fact that, at the time the movie starts, Nakia and T'Challa are exes. And while it's clear that T'Challa still has strong feelings for her, he does not whine and cry about it. They both act like adults, both respect each other, and they have a strong friendship that they then use to re-build their romance. (While they never go into it, I'm pretty sure the break-up came from clashing ideologies and world paths. Nakia wanted to go out and save the world, T'Challa wanted to hide behind his vibranium walls. That's not going to create a very stable relationship.)
Rapunzel & Eugene (Tangled)
Disney has several really good relationships, especially in recent years: Tiana and Prince Naveen, Kristophe and Anna, Mulan and Captain Shang...but my favorite is Rapunzel and Eugene (a.k.a. Flynn Rider). A lot of it has to do with Eugene's character development. Rapunzel manages to influence and change him into a better person, without going out of her way to "save" him. In fact, no romance starts until most of this change happens. At the same time, Eugene helps and encourages Rapunzel into taking charge of her own destiny.
Then there's the fact that Disney broke its own "married within three days of meeting each other" rule in order to clearly state that Eugene and Rapunzel didn't get married until years after the fact. Rushed marriages rarely work. Cinderella and Prince Charming probably got divorced three months after their wedding. But Rapunzel and Eugene? That's going to last forever.
Also, "You were my new dream." *cries*
Will Solace & Nico di Angelo (Percy Jackson series)
This relationship doesn't actually get started until the very, very end of The Blood of Olympus (book five in the Heroes of Olympus series), and we only see pieces of it in the first Trials of Apollo book. It's utterly adorable and one of the few romantic subplots that I really, really want to see more of.
This one gets points for being an LGBT relationship rather than the usual hetero stuff, without it being such a big freaking deal. We find out Nico is gay and had a crush on Percy in House of Hades, both of which he tried to ruthlessly squash down (the kid's from the 1930s, so it was definitely ones of those yikes moments for him). Blood of Olympus is him not only coming to terms with his sexuality, but also coming to terms with who he is as a person. You see, the son of Hades has had it in his head for a long time that nobody likes him, people are scared of him, everyone will be much happier if he just stays away, et cetera. But, by the end of Blood of Olympus, he's come to realize that while some people may be a little scared and even freaked out by him, nobody actually hates him. He can have friends. He can even have a boyfriend. And that's exactly what he gets.
Will Solace doesn't get nearly as much character development. He just kind of pops up and calls Nico out on all of his shit, and then enables bad behavior and rule-breaking when they start dating. So if there was one thing I'd change about this relationship, it'd be more insight into Will's frame of mind.
Edward & Winry (Fullmetal Alchemist)
(Please note: I'm going off of the manga and the anime Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood. Not the anime that's just Fullmetal Alchemist. Yes, they are very different.)
This one is kind of weird. Primarily because, while both characters admit to themselves that they have a crush on the other, they never get to the point where they're actually dating before the end of the story. But while we're not entirely sure how they would act in a romantic relationship with each other, we still get a pretty good idea. Edward would continue to be an obnoxious (short) badass, while Winry would call out his obnoxiousness, fix his metal limb when he breaks it, and also be badass.
One of my favorite moments between these two is during Winry's breakdown, when she meets Scar and realizes he was the one who killed her parents. Edward has to stop her from trying to kill him, largely because he knows that she'd never forgive herself for it, even if that execution is arguably well-earned. It's a moment that shows that these two have each other's backs and bring out the best in each other.
Tormund & Brienne (Game of Thrones)
Fun fact: the show's writers never intended for Tormund or Brienne to be interested in each other at all. This was purely the actors and how they interacted with each other without any dialogue in season six. The writers saw that and thought, "Welp, guess this is going to be a thing," and wrote it into season seven (and hopefully season eight!).
Tormund is obviously head-over-heels in love with Brienne. She, on the other hand, does not seem to return his affections at all. But I'm really hoping she'll change her mind, and here's why: Brienne has been scorned all her life because she's not beautiful, she's good with weapons, and she doesn't take anyone's shit. She's grown up in a society that idealizes the women who are pretty, demure, obedient, et cetera. Worse, she's learned that any time a man does show interest in her, he's just making fun of her, or (in the case of the books) trying to win a bet.
Tormund, on the other hand, did not grow up in that society. In wildling culture (for the most part), the women are encouraged to be big, strong fighters just like the men. No wonder Tormund fell in love at first sight: Brienne is a powerfully-built, amazing fighter who's smart. That is the ideal wildling bride. And hopefully, Brienne will realize that all of the aspects that make southern men hate her are exactly what draws Tormund to her and return his affections.
Aang & Katara (Avatar: the Last Airbender)
I am not going to get into the Zutara debate. We're sticking with canon here. (And frankly, I prefer Katara and Zuko as really good friends. He need more friends than girlfriends.)
All of ATLA's relationships (all of ATLA's everything) are really great: Suki and Sokka, Sokka and Yue, Zuko and Mai...but the one that the writers spent the most time on is, of course, Aang and Katara.
For a kids' show (well, "kids' show," just like Pixar is "kids' movies"), their relationship moves at glacial speed, even though it's obvious that Aang's harbored a crush on Katara since the first episode. And while Katara loves him as a friend, she seems pretty oblivious to the romantic side and doesn't seem to reciprocate for a long time. We get a little "did they kiss, they probably kissed" moment in season two, but they don't have a first actual kiss until the Day of Black Sun in season three. And how does Katara react?
She slaps the "pause" button like a whack-a-mole because they're in the middle of a war and she doesn't have time for this shit, a decision that Aang--after some minor protest--respects. He doesn't persistently nag her, or keep flirting with her, or spite-date someone else in the hopes that she'll get jealous. He gives her space to work things out, and doesn't make another move until she instigates.
Also, in the post-series comics, they call each other sweetie. And my parents call each other sweetie. It's just really cute.
Bob & Helen Parr (The Incredibles)
This relationship is so strong it can handle all of Bob's issues in two consecutive movies. First his overwhelming desire to relive the glory days of his superhero youth, and second his jealousy at Helen being able to do that before him. There's obviously a lot of character development that happens with him--and he would've gotten a divorce at the end of the first movie if there wasn't--but if their relationship and commitment to each other had been any weaker than it was, then they wouldn't have lasted.
Also, these movies get huge props for having the main romantic subplot center around a married couple that have been together for fifteen years. Most romances happen when the two characters are pining for each other and trying to start a relationship, or at the height of "maximum drama" (someone cheated, they just broke up, et cetera). While their relationship has to weather some storms, the relationship itself is not the storm, if that makes sense. There's the minor blip where Helen thinks Bob is cheating on her with Mirage, but for the most part, all the problems they face in The Incredibles and The Incredibles 2 stem from Bob's personal issues and bad guys trying to destroy the world. Which is a good thing, because everyone knows that beating up the villain of the week is great couples' therapy.
What's the best romantic subplot you've ever seen/read in a sci-fi/fantasy/superhero story? Let me know in the comments so I can check it out!
Game of Thrones season seven starts this Sunday.
After all this time, at long last we can finally resume our natural form as Sunday night couch potatoes! Rumors and theories have been flying around all year. Some are a given, and some are just plain ridiculous (Who the hell came up with the idea of Lord Varys being a merman? And where can I hire them?).
These six are my personal theories, having read the books and obsessively watched the show for years. I’d bet a solid hundred dollars on each of them coming true. Which means George R. R. Martin is now going to re-write book six just to contradict these theories. The glorious bastard.
6. Jaime's going to kill Cersei (and then himself)
Cersei has to go down in order for Daenerys to take over Westeros. Given the staggering number of enemies Cersei has made in the last six seasons, the only question is who’s going to get to her first? Well, according to the books, her little brother.
We got a part of the prophecy that’s been plaguing Cersei since childhood in the season five premier, where the witch told her that her children would die young. What you may not know if you’ve never read the books is that is only half of the prophecy. She was told, “And when your tears have drowned you, the valonqar shall wrap his hands about your pale white throat and choke the life from you.”
“Valonqar” is High Valyrian for “little brother.”
Cersei automatically assumes that this means Tyrion, but that’s a little too obvious for George R. R. Martin. And there’s the fact that Jaime, while Cersei’s twin, was born after her. Therefore, he’s also her little brother, and he now has a motive for killing her. After all, he killed the Mad King because he was going to burn down the city. And what does Cersei do while Jaime’s away? Burns down part of the city. And we know she’ll have no qualms about destroying any other part of Westeros. Jaime may love her, but that’s too much even for his morals. And once he kills Cersei, we’re probably going to get a Romeo and Juliet-like ending.
5. Bran's going to take down the Wall. #Oops
He may not physically bring down the seven hundred feet of ice and snow, but he will certainly accidentally destroy the magical barrier keeping the ice zombies at bay (as told to us by a zombified Benjen Stark).
How would that happen? Remember that episode that made all of us cry? Oh, wait, let me narrow that down. It’s the one where one of the most beloved characters of the show died heroically. Well, technically two. Also the one where Bran was a bit of an idiot. Am I ringing any bells?
The episode’s called “The Door,” the one where Bran is Marked by the Night King, thus allowing him to enter the protected cave and kill the Children of the Forest, the Three-Eyed Raven, Summer, and Hodor. As far as we know, Bran still has that Mark. So what happens when he crosses the Wall?
Bad things. That’s what’ll happen. And because this show is written and directed by sadists, it’s probably going to be the last episode of the season.
4. Jon and Daenerys are getting married
Let’s do a little roleplay, shall we? We’ll pretend to be Daenerys first. She gets to Westeros, destroys Cersei, and with the help of Highgarden and Dorne gets all the lands south of the Neck under her control. But what about the North? The Starks and their followers may decide to follow their ancestors and bow to the dragons, but they’re still a very prickly bunch who will only ever truly follow one of their own. What better way to bring peace between North and South than for the Dragon Queen to marry the King of North?
Jon, meanwhile, is going to think, What do we do about the zombies? What do we do about the zombies? What do we...oh, look! Dragons!
3. Tyrion is a Targaryen
The dragon has three heads. That’s a prophecy Daenerys received in book two, A Clash of Kings. Given all the animal symbolism going on, and the fact that the Targaryen symbol is a three-headed dragon, it’s safe to assume that each head represents a Targaryen.
So far we have Daenerys and Jon. We need a third. In the books, we do have a third (but I won’t spoil it here). Since that character doesn’t appear in the show, we need to look elsewhere.
Tywin may have hated Tyrion for more than just the rough childbirth. It could be that Tyrion isn’t even his kid. In the books we learn that the Mad King reeeeally liked flirting with Lady Joanna Lannister. And we never did find out why Tywin betrayed him. Given how he managed his sadistic grandson, it wasn’t an issue of morals or dealing with an unpredictable ruler. Strategy? He saw Aerys as doomed and decided to join the winning side? Maybe not. King’s Landing is a strong city, and with Tywin’s army, they had a solid chance of defeating Robert and ending the Rebellion.
That leaves personal issues. If Tyrion’s birth killed Joanna, whom Tywin had genuine feelings for, then Tywin may blame the man who impregnated her. If that man is Aerys, then the sack of King’s Landing would’ve been excellent revenge.
Also, in the books, Tyrion is described as having very pale hair, almost silver. And while one eye is green, the other is black, but in the right light it’s said to be purple. Those are the trademark traits of a Targaryen.
This also explains Tyrion’s interest in and affinity for dragons. So far the only other person who’s managed to touch our favorite lizards has been their mother, yet Tyrion managed it on his first try. Speaking of...
2. Jon and Tyrion are getting dragons
It only makes sense. Dragons needs riders, and those riders have to be Targaryens. Even the dragons’ coloring is a clue. Drogon is Dany’s favorite and black, which is one of the Targaryen colors (black and red). Viserion is white, which is not only one of the Starks’ colors but also the same color as Ghost. And every Lannister has green eyes, just like Rhaegal’s scales.
1. The "handsome young man" talked about in this scene is Gendry
It’s hard to keep track of all the conspiracies going on in this show, and most of us don’t even remember this vague, unexplained exchange between Littlefinger and Olenna Tyrell in season five. After his brothel was destroyed by the High Sparrow’s religious fanatics, Littlefinger offered to give Olenna a “handsome young man.” Considering the death count on this show, the amount of available young men is slim, and that’s before you factor in noble bloodlines.
The only person alive who fits that bill is Gendry. If you can’t recall, let me save you the time of googling him: Gendry is Robert Baratheon’s last bastard child and therefore another person who has a claim on the Iron Throne. He hung out with Arya on the Kingsroad and in Harrenhall, before he was sold by the Brotherhood Without Banners. We saw him last in season three, when Davos smuggled him out of Dragonstone in a rowboat before Melisandre could host a Baratheon barbeque (a BBBQ?).
Here’s what probably happened: Gendry made it back to King’s Landing hoping to return to a normal life. However, Littlefinger has almost as many spies as Varys and managed to get his hands on him. He’s kept Gendry hidden all this time, and has probably been feeding him ambition. Not too much, since he wouldn’t want Gendry to try to stake his claim, however slim. But if you can’t be a king, why not be a lord?
It’s no secret that Littlefinger wants the Iron Throne. He’ll need the Stormlands to get it, which are ruled by, you guessed it, House Baratheon. Since Gendry is the last living Baratheon, that makes him Lord of the Stormlands.
I don’t know about you, but Littlefinger can jump off the Wall. Lord Gendry for the Iron Throne!
What are your theories for season seven?
Who do you want to see rule Westeros?
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!
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).
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.
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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!
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!