Why Captain America is (not) Perfect

[Content note: racism, white supremacy, misogyny, ableism, disablism, elimination of disabled people, whitewashing, anti-semitism, holocaust, genocide, homophobia]

Seen this comic recently?

Captain America, fauxgressivism, progressivism, diversity in comics,

Captain America, Nazi, Naziism,

Captain America, Nazi, Naziism

Credit: Tony Wilson and Andrew Bridgman at Dorkly

Probably you have. It’s been making the rounds on tumblr/literally everywhere else. I’ve seen it on my dash a couple dozen times. And it makes me super-uncomfortable.

Until yesterday, though, I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t quite articulate why I didn’t like it, and once I figured it out… well, I had other shit to do. A lot of social-justice type people were reblogging it, and I really didn’t want to get in an argument. Despite popular belief, I don’t look for fights.

A few days ago, I dipped my toe in the water. I saw the comic on my dash, and I reblogged it with a note saying: “Yes, but why does smashing the nazi ideal have to involve a white dude?”

Immediate response: “^ Go back and read the comic this time.”

Ah, the internet.

A couple more reblogs, and I got this explanation:

“The Nazi ideal of the perfect man is a white man. Sure, having a black man be Captain America would be awesome, (Or hell, a native american/Indian) But the problem of having a POC Captain America fighting Nazis is the fact that the Aryan master race consider [...] POCs to be racially inferior to them. A POC Captain America to Third Reich wouldn’t inspire fear, just the belief they could defeat him…not that could ever happen.

But by having a white, blonde, blue-eyed Captain America? The Nazis are doubting themselves. Here is a man going through and destroying your war machines, and he’s the perfect description that Hitler enforced that should be a soldier on their side. White Captain America is a middle-finger to the Nazis.” (the entire tumblr exchange here)

In the past couple days, I’ve gotten four people pushing back on my point that Captain America’s whiteness does not make him perfect.  This doesn’t sound like a lot – but on my tumblr? – it’s a lot. My significant other, who was reblogging my Captain America posts (with added commentary) got his second anon message ever… from someone insisting that Captain America must be white.

I think there’s something going on here.

****

(Note: I am aware that there have been non-white Captain Americas. But this comic is pretty clearly talking about the Steve Rogers’ Captain America, and that’s what I’ll be addressing here!)

Look, I like Captain America. I like Captain America a lot. The Winter Soldier is still my favorite post-Avengers movie in the Marvel franchise, and I want ten more Captain America/the Falcon romantic-action-comedies right now (THEY BELONG TOGETHER).I think white, blond, Chris Evans is great as Captain America. I like Captain America, and if you do too, that’s great.

But this comic arguing that Captain America’s race makes him “perfect” (to quote the title “Why Captain America is Perfect”) is pretty fucked up.

And there’s a reason we like it so much. There’s a reason it’s got nearly 50,000 notes on tumblr. We just love the idea that Captain America’s Aryan-ness, his whiteness, his massive well of privilege, are progressive. We love the idea of unproblematic whiteness. We will twist ourselves in knots to try to explain why he must be white, why he is PERFECT because he is white.

(Let’s not forget that the name of this comic is “Why Captain America is Perfect”)

Diversity in comics is a big time problem. A lot of progressive/ social justice oriented folks are very aware of this issue. Even people who aren’t progressive are aware. And when you’re someone who cares a lot about representation (or feels like you *should* care about representation), and one of your favorite things is superhero narratives… that can feel pretty uncomfortable.  It’s hard to just *enjoy* the medium. You have to ask yourself tough questions about why you love the heroes you love.

Then a comic like this comes along, and BAM. It erases all those tough questions. It puts a bandaid on the problem. Captain America isn’t a problematic figure. He’s a progressive one. And in fact, all of his privileges make him *more* progressive, not less.

It’s the surface explanation that provides the answer we most want – this thing you like is entirely good.

It’s the easy answer. And you can be comfortable again.

***

And I’ll say it again: no one is a bad person for liking Captain America. I like Captain America! I don’t even necessarily have a problem with him being the Big White Superhero, except inasmuch as I have a problem with the fact that *so many* superheroes are white, cis, straight dudes (especially the superheroes who get movies. Where is my goddamn black widow movie?).

I’m just saying, generally, the moment when something with the veneer of social justice makes you feel comfortable with privilege? That’s the moment you should run screaming for the woods.

Sam Wilson, Sam Wilson running, Sam Wilson Come On, Come On, The winter Soldier, Captain America: The Winter Soldier

So let’s debunk this notion of Captain America as “the most perfectly conceived” superhero, shall we?

The implication of the comic above is that Captain America’s creators deliberately made him a white, extra-aryan dude with blond hair and blue eyes so he could be the perfect nazi ideal. This whole thing would be super-ironic and super-progressive, since it would show that Aryans don’t have to be nazis.

His whiteness, his Aryanness were all, in the comic’s worldview, “perfectly conceived” – a deliberate choice on the part of the creators. Which makes it sound like all the creators sat around the table, trying to think of the perfect rejoinder to Naziism. Ethiopian jew? No. Disabled woman? No. Queer, effeminate man? Nope! White man. That’s the one.

Miranda Priestly, Groundbreaking, groundbreaking, devil wears prada, meryl streep

I don’t have a time machine, but trust me on this: the creators of Captain America did not sit down and go “jeez, we’d love to have a black woman as Captain America, but we really need someone who will scare Hitler. It’s gotta be a white blond dude.”

Captain America was not invented five minutes ago. It was the 1940s (1941, to be precise). It was mainstream comics. The creators were not surveying a bevvy of options and picking the Best One. He was a white dude because That Is What You Did.

Shall we be even more precise? Let’s take a look at the mainstream superheroes created in the 1930s and 1940s: Doctor Occult (white man), Superman (white man), Zatara (white man), Namor (white man), Batman (white man), Blue Beatle (white dude), the Human Torch (white man), the Flash (white dude), Hawkman (white dude), Johnny  Thunder (white dude), The Spectre (white man), Hourman (white guy), Captain Marvel (white guy), Black Marvel (a white man with native american powers… wow), Catwoman – hey, a white woman!, Black Canary (white woman), Aquaman (white dude), Mister Terrific (white dude), Superboy (white dude), the Shield (white dude), Fighting Yank (white dude), Green Arrow (white dude).

Oh, hey, look at all those white people. It’s almost like… all…the…superheroes…were…white.

Even better: Shield (white dude), Fighting Yank (white dude) and Captain America were ALL characters created during WWII. They were all patriotic american fighters who fought nazis. And they were all white men.

super yank, yankee, superheroes,

Super Yank!

The Shield

Captain America, Naziism, Diversity in Comics, Representation

Captain America

Wow, it’s almost like Captain America was less the “perfectly conceived” opponent for the Nazis so much as he was literally everyone’s default idea of what an American hero looked like.

To make the point even further: Captain America was created nearly THIRTY YEARS before mainstream comics would even *touch* a black superhero (1966: Black Panther). Let me express some skepticism at the idea that a white Captain America was some kind of grandiose choice, as opposed to the default.

So let’s all SIT THE FUCK DOWN and stop acting like this was a decision made in a vacuum. Let’s all SIT. DOWN. and stop thinking Captain America: The White Dude was a brilliant progressive choice as opposed to what literally everyone working in mainstream comics was doing.

***

Now, let’s address this weird-ass idea that Steve Rogers HAS to be a white aryan, because white aryans are the only people Nazis respect/ are afraid of.

Llama nope gif, Llama nope, Nope, Nope  gif

Okay, first off: why are we catering to what Nazis respect? Because I feel like that never ends well.

“The Nazi ideal of the perfect man is a white man. Sure, having a black man be Captain America would be awesome, (Or hell, a native american/Indian) But the problem of having a POC Captain America fighting Nazis is the fact that the Aryan master race consider [...] POCs to be racially inferior to them. A POC Captain America to Third Reich wouldn’t inspire fear, just the belief they could defeat him…not that could ever happen.

But by having a white, blonde, blue-eyed Captain America? The Nazis are doubting themselves. Here is a man going through and destroying your war machines, and he’s the perfect description that Hitler enforced that should be a soldier on their side. White Captain America is a middle-finger to the Nazis.”

HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA

Distinguished readers, apparently there were no white, blond, blue-eyed aryans fighting against the nazis. At all. Because if there had been – if the people destroying the nazis were white, blond, blue-eyed aryans – the nazis would have been doubting themselves.

Excuse me whilst the many, many, many white aryans in France, England and the United States sob with laughter.

Uh, yeah, a WHOLE LOT of aryans who were the “perfect description that Hitler enforced” opposed the Nazis. And the Nazis were well aware of that fact. For some reason, the idea that Not All Aryans agreed with them did not shake the nazis to their core.

(#NotAllAryans)

Look at the real world for a millisecond. Do the thousands of white anti-racist activists scare the KKK? Do they make the KKK reconsider their motives? Are white supremacists shaken to their core by the fact that lots of white people hate them? Do the thousands of straight people who support queer rights scare the Westboro Baptist Church? Did the confederates lay down their arms when they realized white people opposed slavery?

… no.

Trust me on this, Nazis were not that scared of white people.

Now, you know who Nazis WERE scared of? Jews.

Hitler: “The struggle for world domination will be fought entirely between us, between Germans and Jews.  All else is facade and illusion.  Behind England stands Israel, and behind France, and behind the United States.  Even when we have driven the Jew out of Germany, he remains our world enemy.”

“Unless we expel the Jewish people soon, they will have judaized our people within a very short time.”

Disabled people, who Hitler (and the Nazis) thought were a drain on the economy, and would destroy the Aryan race: “is not only the decline in population which is a cause for serious concern but equally the increasingly evident genetic composition of our people. Whereas the hereditarily healthy families have for the most part adopted a policy of having only one or two children, countless numbers of inferiors and those suffering from hereditary conditions are reproducing unrestrainedly while their sick and asocial offspring burden the community.”

Gay people: “Homosexuality was classed as a “degenerate form of behaviour” in Nazi Germany that threatened the nation’s “disciplined masculinity” (…) ‘The Amendment to the Law for the Prevention of Offspring with Hereditary Diseases”defined homosexuals as “asocial” and a threat to the moral purity of the Third Reich.” 

etc.

NON-Aryans were much scarier to the Nazis than Aryans. NON-Aryans – Jews, people of color, homosexuals, disabled people – were the real enemies, the one who could take down the third reich just by existing.

So the idea that Captain America has to be white in order to “intimidate” the Nazis?

LOL, no.

***

Moreover – and there’s no way this can be said enough – these are FICTIONAL nazis were talking about. Captain America is a work. of. fiction. The Nazis could be intimidated by whomever the writers goddamn wanted them to be intimidated by. Unicorns! Kangaroos! Little girls in green dresses! THIS IS FICTION.

One of the other objections to my argument that Captain America/Steve Rogers does not NEED to be white  to be “perfect” was that Captain America must be white, because white americans in the 1940s were bigots.

Steinpratt’s response to this anon was pretty much perfect:

there’s also something else I should’ve pushed back on: This assumption that the most important thing in a story about a SUPER-SOLDIER who PUNCHES HITLER IN THE FACE is that bigotry is accurately represented. Why is it okay to have fantastical stories about a hero, but not okay to imagine that that hero could be black, or gay, or Roma? Why can’t the hero America looks up to be someone OTHER than a white man?

Which isn’t to say that there’s no place for honest examination of bigotry in stories… but that’s not what Steve Rogers being white does. It’s not a commentary on American racism. It’s never really addressed at all. So claiming that Steve Rogers had to be white so people could look up to him is doubly cheap, because you’re at once relying on the fact of American bigotry to justify your boring choices AND refusing to actually display that bigotry on the page. You want it to just be an unspoken assumption. That’s messed up. (my bolded) 

Professor McGonagall Gif, McGonagall BOOM gif, McGonagall, Professor McGonagall

(full disclosure: Steinpratt is the Aforementioned Significant Other)

Heart Eyes Motherfucker gif, heart eyes motherfucker gif

FICTION, people. It’s not written in stone.

***

Why do we cling so hard to the idea that Steve Rogers as Captain America *must* be a white guy? Why is it so important to us that his whiteness be “perfect”? Why do so many socially aware, progressive-type people love that comic?

One part of it is definitely fauxgressive guilt, the relief of being able to enjoy deeply privileged hero who has “progressive” rather than oppressive privilege. White supremacy is a hell of a drug.

And people – some progressive, some not – like to be able to counter discussions of diversity in comics with arguments like “well, but Captain America HAS TO be white.” It’s an easy way to shut down a discussion. And even when you believe in that discussion – even when you believe that diversity in comics is important (as most of the people who messaged me did) – that doesn’t mean you’re necessarily ready to engage in that conversation and all the discomfort and examination it entails.Unproblematic whiteness is a hell of a drug, even for those of us who should know better.

We like the easy solution.

Also? Fighting oppression is always extra special when a white dude does it.

This comic falls right in line with the thinking that white able-bodied men are the most important allies, because they’re the most respected outside social justice spaces.

It falls right in line with lionizing white dudes who “get it” because it’s sooooo much harder for white dudes to get it, because they’re not oppressed.

It falls right in line with the idea that white men are the most *objective* social justice activists, because they have the least stake in activism.

Progressivism is always more special when a white guy is doing it.

And we will fight people who try to point out how problematic that is. We will fight anything that points out we’re just reaffirming the same gendered, racialized hierarchies that social justice is supposed to be fighting *against*. Who cares if we’re saying Captain America is perfect because he’s a white aryan dude? 

Yeah, just say that to yourself a couple times. Doesn’t sound that great, does it?

This comic lets us lionize a white dude FOR BEING WHITE – and lets us feel good about it. Because it’s progressive.
And that’s fucked up.

You want to lionize a hyper-privileged white dude? Fine, but don’t act like his whiteness is some kind of progressive triumph.

You want to like Captain America? Go for it. You can like Captain America. You can think he’s great. I certainly do. And I don’t have any interest in changing Steve Rogers’ race or gender at this point.

But don’t try to justify Captain America’s white male aryanness as some kind of progressive coup. It’s not a progressive coup. It’s not social justice-y. It’s not spitting in the face of naziism. It is the product of white male supremacy, both in the 1940s and today.

Trust me, white men already dominate the superhero roster. They don’t also need us to come up with bullshit reasons to justify their dominance as being “progressive” or “perfect.”

Sam Wilson, Falcon, Shut the Hell Up, Man, Shut the Hell Up, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Sam Wilson Shut the hell up,

 


Revenge of The Bodies We Want: Even More Naked Athletes and Even More Unwanted Feminist Analysis

In this blog’s two-and-a-half year existence, one post has gotten more views than all my other posts combined. One post has brought me traffic every single day. One post has gotten me the most amazing search terms like “female athletes boobs?” and “nude basketball PuSsy” and  “suzann pettersen lesbian”. One post has gotten me quoted – and basically plagiarized – on feministing (thanks for quoting me, guys. Not so much for the “acting like we’d magically come to the same conclusion at the same time,” though). ONE POST has ranked above them all: The naked athletes post. Otherwise known as: “The Bodies We Want: Female Athletes in ESPN’s Body Issue” . I should write more about naked people, is the conclusion I draw from that post’s popularity.

Streaker American Ninja Warrior GIF

THIS BLOG, FROM NOW ON

ESPN’s Body Issue is ESPN Magazine’s “annual exploration and celebration of the athletic form” through the medium of lots and lots and lot of naked athletes. So many naked athletes. To quote ESPN.com editor in chief Chad Millman, the Body Issue “showcases an array of sports and body types. It inhabits our mission to pay tribute to these athletes’ bodies and all they are capable of.” Back in the day – lo, in those innocent years of 2012 – I reviewed the 2012 Body Issue, concluding that: “The shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful. And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful.” And my conclusions about the Body Issue’s gender problems are still occasionally linked to/quoted – mostly recently when NCWTV quoted me in a piece about ESPN’s *current* body issue – the 2014 version. But: those are conclusions I drew from the 2012 body issue. They’re specific to that magazine, to that year, to those athletes and those photos. Looking at NCWTV’s pull-quote, I wasn’t sure I felt the same way about the 2014 Body Issue. In a lot of ways, I felt like the 2014 edition had gotten *better*. I wasn’t unhappy about being quoted – links are always nice! But I did think my initial conclusions deserved some updating. After all, two whole years have gone by. Had ESPN’s Body Issue gotten better? Would I get to say the phrase “male gaze” at least a billion times? (probably) So I jumped once more into the realm of naked photos. Johnny Rocket, American Ninja Warrior, American Ninja Warrior Streaker

WRONG NAKED PICTURES, GODDAMN IT

. American ninja warrior streaker, american ninja warrior, streaker, american ninja streaker, johnny rocket

STILL WRONG

Johnny Rocket, American Ninja Warrior, American Ninja Streaker, American Ninja Warrior Streaker

Those are balls, Arrested Development, Barry Zuckercorn

Indeed.

All right, enough with the cracks. (… I couldn’t help myself)

Prince Fielder, ESPN Bodies We Want, Baseball, Prince Fielder Naked, Prince Fielder Nude

Okay, yes, HELLO MR. PRINCE FIELDER. Exhibit A for why I like 2014’s issue much more than 2012’s. Two years ago, I said I wanted to see fat athletes in ESPN’s Body Issue, and THEY HAVE DONE IT. (Not because of me, obviously. BUT STILL) This is a fat athlete we’re seeing, in all his naked glory. We see his muscles, his face, his stomach, his arms – his fat is not covered up, hidden, or minimized. Better still, Prince Fielder looks straight at the viewers: there is no shame in his face, no bashfulness, no apology. He’s not unhappy about the condition of his body, not abashed. He’s proud. Prince Fielder, Naked Prince Fielder, ESPN Body Issue, ESPN Body Issue 2014 Moreover, the shoot portrays him in motion, playing his sport. This is crucial – the Body Issue has an tendency to show athletes with non-normative bodies just standing there, used for shock value: Look How Brave We Are To Photograph A Naked Fat Man. Here, Fielder is portrayed as an athlete. We see his fat, athletic body moving. Fat and athletic are not opposed in these pictures; they are intwined. His body is both fat and functional. And they gave him a cover. He’s not buried in the back of the issue. ESPN’s Body Issue is also called “The Bodies We Want,” and it’s a beautiful and radical thing to put a fat man up as an example of a “Body We Want.” Y Predictably, some fatphobic assholes are grossed out by Prince Fielder’s photos, because fat people are terrifying. Predictably, I don’t care. As Melissa McEwan points out, “It’s not about finding [Fielder] beautiful; beautiful is beyond the point. No one need agree that he is beautiful to understand that he is a human being with a right to be free from judgment and hatred on the basis of his appearance. The conflation of those two—asking to be found beautiful and asking to be seen—is the shortest (and most mendacious) way that conversations about body acceptance get shut down.” To use McEwan’s wording, I’d add that no one needs to find Prince Fielder beautiful to understand that he’s a gifted, hard-working athlete at the top of his field. Conflating those two – asking to be found beautiful, and asking that one’s skills be acknowledged – is one of the more frustrating ways conversations about body acceptance get shut down. Fielder is a gifted athlete whether or not you think he’s attractive. Indeed, ESPN’s Body Issue is NOT about showing off conventionally attractive people – at least, that’s not it’s mission statement. It IS about showing off athletes’ bodies – to: “admire the vast potential of the human form. To unapologetically stand in awe of the athletes who’ve pushed their physiques to profound frontiers. To imagine how it would feel to inhabit those bodies, to leap and punch and throw like a god.” And if that is the Body Issue’s mission, then Prince Fielder belongs in its pages as much as any other athlete. Because fat people are athletes, and do play sports at a high level – whether you’re personally okay with that or not. [Like McEwan, I'm not linking to any of the more disgusting things people have said about Fielder, but you can find them if you look] *** I do think it’s interesting that ESPN chose a fat man, rather than a fat woman, to be the first fat athlete in the Body Issue.  Indeed, while the Body Issue has always pushed the visual boundaries of our idea of athleticism, it’s always done so in a deeply gendered fashion. Looking back across the past several issues, ESPN has featured three groups of people who don’t fit our visual idea of “athlete”: visibly disabled athletes, fat athletes and old athletes. (While many of the athletes in the Body Issue may have invisible disabilities – chronic illnesses, mental health problems, injuries etc. – those disabilities remain invisible to the viewer because of the Body Issue’s visual emphasis)

Jeff Farrell, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Peter Hapak, Jeff Farrell naked, ESPN Body Issue 2010

Jeff Farrell, ESPN Body Issue 2010, photo credit: Peter Hapak

Gary Player, ESPN The Body Issue 2013, Gary Player The Body Issue, Gary Player Naked

Gary Player, ESPN The Body Issue 2013, Photo credit: Peter Hapak

Steven Holcomb, ESPN Body Issue 2010, ESPN Body Issue, Steven Holcomb nude,

Steven Holcomb, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Photo Credit Patrick Hoelck

Byambajav Ulambayar, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Byambajav Ulambayar nude

Byambajav Ulambayar, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Photo Credit: Christopher Griffith

Esther Vergeer, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Bodies We Want, Esther Vergeer Nude,

Esther Vergeer, ESPN Body Issue 2010, Photo Credit Finlay Mackay

Sarah Reinertsen, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Sarah Reinertsen nude

Sarah Reinertsen, ESPN Body Issue 2009, Photo Credit Sheryl Nields

Oksana Masters, ESPN Body Issue 2012, ESPN Body Issue Oksana Masters, Oksana Masters naked

Oksana Masters, ESPN Body Issue 2012, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

Amy Purdy, ESPN Body issue 2014, Amy Purdy Nude,

Amy Purdy, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Paola Kudacki

Do you see it? All of the old athletes and the fat athletes are men. All of the visibly disabled athletes are thin, conventionally attractive white women. Most of whom are blonde. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but in the pictures of disabled athletes, there’s a sense of… trying to reassure the audience, almost. Yes, the magazine seems to be saying, sometimes women lose limbs, sometimes they’re confined to wheelchairs, but they’re still *women*. They’re still beautiful, feminine, thin, fuckable. You would still be attracted to them if they wore a swimsuit. They’re disabled, but they’re not ugly  – that line women must not cross. It’s telling that except for their visible disabilities, they are the pinnacle of female attractiveness: white, thin, long-haired, conventionally attractive, usually in graceful, feminine poses, almost always smiling at the camera. They’re inviting, not defiant. Obviously, disabilities don’t *actually* make people more passive – but I think there’s a reason we as a society tend to react differently to disabled men v. disabled women. I think there’s a reason ESPN is much more comfortable portraying visibly disabled women than they are portraying visibly disabled men in the Body Issue (to the point where they have not done so at all) . Visible disabilities reinforce women’s passivity, while they destroy the image of male strength. A visibly disabled woman can still appeal to the male gaze, while a visibly disabled man disturbs that gaze. While the Body Issue won’t portray visibly disabled men, they will portray men who are old or fat. Fat and age aren’t inherently unattractive, but they’re coded as such in media. And the Body Issue does not shy away from portraying fat men, or old men.  en, in other words, can be shown as unattractive, at least according to societal standards. Their skin can be wrinkled; we can see their fat; we can see the sagging. Unattractive men aren’t disturbing – as long as they’re still able-bodied. In ESPN’s body issue, women can be disabled as long as they’re still attractive, and men can be unattractive as long as they’re visibly able-bodied. Women in the Body Issue can push the visual boundaries of “athleticism”, but they can’t be unattractive – they have to be thin and young, even if they’re disabled, or muscular, or otherwise break the “athletic woman” mold. Men in the Body issue can push the visual boundaries of athleticism, but they can’t be disabled – they must be able-bodied. The core of the athletic woman is still her attractiveness; the core of the athletic man, his strength.This is a theme that comes up in the Body Issue again and again, even when we’re not talking about disability, age and fat. *** The other way in which ESPN’s Body Issue tends to be gendered is in how the athletes are portrayed visually in terms of their movement. Waaaay back in 2012 (THE DARK AGES), I concluded that male athletes were far more likely to be portrayed in active, impressive poses, playing their sport, showing off their moves, while female athletes were mostly portrayed in passive poses that had little, if anything, to do with their athletic talents and abilities. To repeat myself: “The shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful.And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful. But most women in the shoot are not portrayed as powerful, talented athletes. They’re portrayed as hot chicks.” Does this visual divide still hold true in 2014? Are men still portrayed as active and strong, while women stay coy and beautiful? LET’S FIND OUT WITH SOME STATISTICS! … I am way too excited about this. So, first, clarification of terms. An active pose is where the athlete is moving, and is doing something related to sport (note that I did not say “something related to THEIR sport” – we’ll come back to that part) Example of an active pose:

Angel McCoughtry, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, The Body issue, Angel McCoughtry Naked

Angel McCoughtry, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Art Streiber

A passive pose, on the other hand, is one where the athlete is not moving, and is not doing anything related to sport. Example of a passive pose:

Jamie Anderson, Body Issue 2014, ESPN The Bodies We Want, Jamie Anderson Naked

Jamie Anderson, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Peggy Sirota

Now that we’re clear on terms, let’s look at the breakdown from 2012:

Individual Male Athletes in the Shoot: 11 Individual Female Athletes in the Shoot: 17

Photographs of Men: 19 Photographs of Women: 17

Photographs of Men in active poses: 15 (78%) Photographs of Men in passive poses: 4 (22%)

Photographs of Women in active poses: 9 (52%) Photographs of Women in passive poses: 8 (48%)

And now, let’s see if 2014 changed anything:

Number of Female Athletes: 10  Number of Male Athletes: 10 

Photographs of Women: 29 Photographs of Men: 28

# of Active Male Poses: 23 (82%)   # of Passive Male Poses: 5 (18%) 

# of Active Female Poses: 17 (59%)  # of Passive Female Poses: 12 (41%) 

IMPROVEMENT! Very obvious, if small improvement. 59% of the photographs of women in 2014 have them doing active, athletic poses, versus 52% in 2012. And although men are still portrayed as far more active, the gap between the number of active male poses and active female poses has lessened from a 28% difference to a 23% difference. Now, good news aside, there’s still a giant gap between the number of women portrayed as active athletes, and the number of men portrayed as active athletes. Almost all the photographs of men – eighty two percent – have them doing something impressive, active, athletic. Only 59% of the photographs of women have them doing the same thing. It’s more than half, yes, but barely. Men are still *far* more likely to be depicted as talented and powerful. Let’s take this a step further. How many athletes had at least *one* photograph in their shoot where they were in an active pose? And how many athletes had at least *one* photograph in their shoot where they were in a passive pose? 2012: 

Individual Male athletes: 11 Male athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 10 (90%) Male athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 1 (10%)

Male Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 3 (28%) Male Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 8 (72%)

Individual Female athletes: 17 Female Athletes with at least ONE active pose in the slideshow: 7 (46%) Female Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 8 (54%)

Female Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in the slideshow: 15 (88%) Female Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 3 (12%)

Versus 2014:

Individual Male Athletes: 10  Male Athletes with at least ONE active pose in their shoot: 10 (100%)  Male Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 5 (50%)  Male Athletes with at least ONE passive pose in their shoot: 5 (50%)  Male Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 0 (0%) 

Individual Female Athletes: 10  Female Athletes with at least ONE active pose: 8 (80%)  Female Athletes who are ALWAYS active: 3 (30%)  Female Athletes with at least ONE passive pose: 7 (70%)  Female Athletes who are ALWAYS passive: 2 (20%) 

Here, I think the improvement is even more visible. While only 46% of female athletes had at least 1 active pose in 2012, a 80% of them have an active pose in 2014 – an almost 40% jump. A whopping 54% of female athletes were ALWAYS portrayed as passive in 2012, but that percentage drops to 20 in 2014. More and more women athletes are being portrayed as talented, powerful and strong at least ONCE in their photoshoot. Again, though, there’s still a big gap between the portrayal of men and women. ALL the male athletes had at least one active pose in their shoot. None of the men were always passive, and 50% of them were always active – while 70% of women had at least one passive pose. ESPN continues to feel far more comfortable portraying men as active athletes. It still feels the need to tone down, say, Hilary Knight’s amazing, dynamic hockey picture:

Hillary Knight, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014, Hillary Knight Naked

Hillary Knight, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

with a picture of her sitting and smiling, a soft expression on her face:

Hillary Knight, The Bodies We Want 2014, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Hillary Knight Naked

Hillary Knight, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

70% of the female athletes’ shoots have at least one of these passive, calm pictures. In fact, there seems to be a tradition in the magazine whereupon ESPN will portray a woman as incredibly powerful and gifted in her sport – and then follow it up with a very male-gaze focused picture. Women are strong, the magazine tells us – but don’t worry! They’re still attractive. They’re still traditionally feminine. We have preserved the core of their womanliness. Even when ESPN portrays a male athlete in both passive and active poses, the passive poses aren’t geared towards the male gaze – they’re geared towards showing off the male athlete’s strength. Looking at Nigel Sylvester’s shoot, for example:

Nigel Sylvester, Nigel Sylvester Naked, ESPN Body Issue 2014, The Bodies We Want

Nigel Sylvester, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

One pose is more passive than the other, but both are very much geared towards highlighting the strength and power of Sylvester’s body. It’s not like Nigel Sylvester’s passive pose involves him sitting down, smiling coyly at us while he touches his body (more’s the pity). If you contrast his pictures with say, Hillary Knight’s or Coco Ho’s: Coco Ho, Coco Ho Naked, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014 Unlike with Sylvester, only *one* of the pictures is about highlighting the athletes’ talent, strength and ability. The other is very much geared towards showing off the women’s femininity and sexiness. Now, before we move on to other subjects, let’s take a look at the two women who are portrayed solely in passive poses: Jamie Anderson and Venus Williams. Notice anything interesting about them?

ESPN Body Issue, Serena Williams, Jaime Anderson

All the ESPN Body Issue 2014 covers

That’s ri-ight! They’re the two female cover models. And here, the contrast is pretty fucking obvious. All the men are doing something active, something related to their sport. They’re also all looking AWAY from the viewer, and towards whatever they’re doing – while Jamie Anderson is smiling at us, and Venus Williams is, if not looking towards us, at least looking far closer towards us than the men are. The male athletes are focused on their sport; the female athletes are focused on us. The fact that Venus Williams and Jamie Anderson are both disconnected from their sport, and are instead portrayed in a feminine, passive, male-gaze-oriented ways, is… telling (I really love the word “telling.” Is it obvious?). Because this is the way that the Body Issue advertises itself – through its cover. And when it comes to its cover, the Body Issue casts women and men into deeply gendered roles. The male athletes are talented, powerful, active. The female ones are passive, beautiful, alluring. It’s, again, reassuring to a male gaze: if you buy this magazine, you’ll see some tough, amazing male bodies, and some lovely, sexy female ones. Now, once you get *inside* the magazine, there’s a lot less passivity on the part of the female athletes. But you wouldn’t know that just looking at the covers, would you? ESPN may be making progress in terms of its gendered aesthetic, but it doesn’t advertise it. So yeah, women are getting a whole lot more active in The Bodies We Want. But they’re still not on par with the men – and, more importantly, ESPN is still very invested in “reassuring” the viewers that, while its female athletes are gifted, powerful sportswomen, they’re still feminine, feminized, submissive. *** Remember how earlier, I defined “active” as “where the athlete is moving, and doing something related to sport (note that I did not say “something related to THEIR sport)”  Yeah, there was a reason for that. As I was tallying up all the active female poses of 2014, I noticed something. A lot of the women were being active… but they weren’t actually playing their sport. At all. Quick, what sport does Amy Purdy play?

Amy Purdy, The Bodies We Want 2014, ESPN The Body Issue, Paola Kudacki, Amy Purdy Nude

Amy Purdy, The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Paola Kudacki

What about Lyn-Z Pastrana? What sport does she play? NO GOOGLE!

Travis Pastrana, Lyn-Z Pastrana, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Isue 2014, Lyn-Z Pastrana nude

Travis and Lyn-Z Pastrana, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Martin Schoeller

I mean, Megan Rapinoe at least gets a ball, but still:

Megan Rapinoe, ESPN Body Issue 2014, ESPN The Bodies We Want, Megan Rapinoe naked

Megan Rapinoe, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

Amy Purdy, for the record, is a snowboarder. She also came in second on the latest edition of Dancing With The Stars. Whatever she’s doing in that picture, it’s neither dancing nor snowboarding.

Amy Purdy snowboarding

Lyn-Z Pastrana is a pro-skateboarder (the dude on the bike is Travis Pastrana, her husband, a RallyCross racer)

Lyn-Z Pastrana skateboarding.

Megan Rapinoe plays soccer.

Megan Rapinoe playing soccer

Now, I’m not morally opposed to showing athletes bodies’ doing something *other* than the sport they’re famous for. I just think it’s… interesting… when you look at the gender breakdown:

# of men shown playing their sport: 10 (100%)  # of men not shown playing their sport: 0 (0%)  # of women shown playing their sport: 6 (55%)  # of women not shown playing their sport: 5 (45%)

Men always get shown playing their sport. Always. They’re always portrayed as athletes first. They’re not just in the magazine to show off their bodies – they’re in the magazine to show off their SKILLS. But even though Megan Rapinoe, Lyn-Z Pastrana, Amy Purdy, Venus Williams and Jaime Anderson were presumably invited to appear in the issue on the basis of their talents in their chosen sports, none of them are allowed to show off that skill. Venus Williams gets to stare at a desert.

Venus Williams, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014, Venus Williams naked

Venus Williams, The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Williams and Hirakawa

Jaime Anderson is draped over a chairlift.

Jamie Anderson, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Jaime Anderson Naked, The Bodies We Want 2014, A FUCKING CHAIRLIFT

Jamie Anderson, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Peggy Sirota

Lyn-Z Pastrana is on the back of her husband’s motorcycle. Travis Pastrana, Lyn-Z Pastrana, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Isue 2014, Lyn-Z Pastrana nude Amy Purdy gets to do various acrobatic things – which seem to be more about “look, she can do awesome things with her artificial legs” than about “look at the awesome things she can do in her SPORT.”

Amy Purdy, Amy Purdy Nude, Amy Purdy The Body Issue

Amy Purdy, ESPN The Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Paola Kudacki

And Megan Rapinoe is literally doing a pilates move. Megan Rapinoe, ESPN Body Issue 2014, ESPN The Bodies We Want, Megan Rapinoe naked

Just for context, here’s what the OTHER soccer player in the magazine is doing:

Omar Gonzales, Omar Gonzales Naked, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014

Omar Gonzales, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Finlay Mackay

There’s something disturbing about the way these shoots distance women from the sports they play. While we are asked to admire the men for their athletic skills, we are asked to admire the women’s bodies as athletic *objects* – not as active agents within the sport they play. We as viewers aren’t invited to admire their abilities, their talent, their command of the sport. We’re often just invited to admire them as bodies, full stop. Men’s athletic bodies are functional. Women’s athletic bodies are sexual. There’s much more power – not to mention personal agency – in a photoshoot that demands the viewer look at what she’s doing with her athletic body, rather than a photoshoot that asks you to look at her athletic body. Plus, it makes for a much more dynamic image. Which is more interesting – picture #1:

Marshawn Lynch, Marshawn Lynch naked

Marshawn Lynch, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

Or Picture #2:

Coco Ho, Coco Ho Naked, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Body Issue 2014

Coco Ho, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo by Morgan Maassen

We see this division in real life too. Women are invited to play sports so that they can look good, while men are invited to play sports so that they can be good at sports. Again: Men’s athletic bodies are functional. Women’s athletic bodies are sexual.  Now, I’m already guessing there are going to be a few complaints about this point. Mainly, people will say: “BUT IT’S HARDER TO SHOOT WOMEN PLAYING THEIR SPORT/ BEING ACTIVE BECAUSE BOOBS.” THINK OF THE CHILDREN. We have to hide the Lady Boobs. National priority here. To which I say: 1. If ESPN wants to be truly radical, it could take the revolutionary step of not treating women’s breasts as sex objects. Then we could just see breasts, and it would not be a problem. (Yeah, I know, not likely, but a girl can dream.) 2. If you can hide balls, you can hide breasts. Johnny Rocket, American Ninja Warrior, American Ninja Streaker, American Ninja Warrior Streaker

Serge Ibaka, Serge Ibaka nude, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, The Bodies We Want 2014

Serge Ibaka, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2014, Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

I’m just saying, there has to be tape/photoshop involved in some of these shots of the men. #3. ESPN has shot female athletes in dynamic poses before. Yes, even in soccer. Yes, even in snowboarding. They can handle it. SNOWBOARDING

Elena Hight, Elena Hight nude, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013

Elena Hight, ESPN Bodies We Want 2013, Photo Credit Martin Schoeller

SOCCER

Sydney Leroux naked, Sydney Leroux, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013,

Sydney Leroux, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013, Photo Credit: Peter Hapak

Abby Wambach, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2012, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

Abby Wambach, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2012, Photo Credit: Carlos Serrao

MOTORCROSS

Tarah Gieger, Tarah Gieger Naked, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013, The Body Issue 2013

Tarah Gieger, ESPN The Bodies We Want 2013, Photo: Peter Hapak

ROLLER DERBY

Suzy Hotrod, The Bodies We Want 2011, Peter Hapak

Suzy Hotrod, The Bodies We Want 2011, Photo by Peter Hapak

 They are capable of taking an active picture of women with NO BOOBS flying around.  Okay, you say. Fair enough. BUT! There are two soccer players in this issue. Maybe they just wanted Omar Gonzales and Megan Rapinoe to have different *types* of shoots. That’s a perfectly reasonable point. But. Why is it always the chick who has to do the Pilates? Why isn’t Omar Gonzales doing the Pilates? Why isn’t Travis Pastrana holding onto his WIFE as she skateboards down a half – pipe? Why aren’t more random male athletes doing yoga poses, or draping themselves artfully around hula-hoops and curtains? Why aren’t more men lying in the snow, laughing? Why aren’t more of them lying on exercise equipment and smiling coyly at the viewers? Morgan Maassen, who photographed surfer Coco Ho for this issue, had this to say: “”The ESPN Body Issue exists to both celebrate top athlete’s bodies as well as show that they can be sexy too. Juggling that combination, we took to the water to shoot Coco doing what she does best.” That’s all I really want: for the female athletes to be shown doing what they do best. Not pilates. (Unless they’re a pilates champion) (In which case: PILATES AWAY) *** Another major difference between male athletes and female athletes in the Body Issue is the amount of smiling. Guess who smiles more? That’s right! It’s the ladies.

Of the ten male athletes, one is shown smiling (10%)  Of the ten female athletes, five are shown smiling (50%) 

When men are in passive poses, they’re far more likely to be giving proud, defiant, strong looks to the camera:

Jimmy Spithill, Jimmy Spithill nude, ESPN Body Issue 2014,

Jimmy Spithill, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo by Steven Lippman

And some women get the same edit:

Angle McCoughtry, ESPN Bodies We Want 2014, Photo by Art Streiber

But a lot of women, when in these passive poses, aren’t shown confronting the viewer . They’re shown smiling at us.

ESPN Body Issue, Peggy Sirota, Jamie Anderson Naked, Jamie Anderson

Jamie Anderson, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Peggy Sirota

If you compare the photos of Jamie Anderson and Angel McCoughtry, it’s pretty clear that one of them is *much* more viewer-oriented. Jamie Anderson is leaning towards us, smiling at us, inviting us in. Angel McCoughtry is just looking at us. There’s nothing particularly inviting about her look, or her stance – she just is. She’s not being presented as an object for consumption. This goes back to the theme of “reassuring” readers. Female athletes are allowed in the “elite athletes” club – but only if we keep emphasizing how attractive and feminine they are. They can dunk basketballs and win olympic gold, but they’re still pretty. They can win fights, and they can still pose for the male gaze. Male athletes, on the other hand, can be as strong, confrontational and proud as they want without intimidating readers. Female athletes must be friendly. Male athletes must be fierce. All these things are true – but. But. There’s an added twist.

Female athletes (with Lyn-Z Pastrana): 11  Black female athletes: 3 (27%)  White female athletes: 8 (73%) 

Black female athletes who smile at some point in their shoot: 1 (33%)  White female athletes who smile at some point in their shoot: 6 (75%).  Aha. I don’t think I would have noticed this distinction before reading the work of Trudy at Gradient Lair on the portrayal of black athletes. In her post “7 Predictable Ways That The Media Portrays Black Olympic Athletes,” Trudy points out that black athletes are portrayed as innately physical “versus as ones who also work hard and use the mental acumen of focus and strategy to contribute to their performances and competitive spirit (…) the “natural” physicality (and objectification in relation musculature and size) of Blackness is central to any sports commentary. Rarely is Serena’s mental game that contributes to her success mentioned (as the obsession is ALWAYS about her physical power/size), yet it is always mentioned for White tennis players.” Black female athletes are, in particular: “de-sexualized, “masculine” and aggressive. John McEnroe made a disgusting comparison of Misty May Treanor and Kerry Walsh to Serena and Venus Williams, saying that the former “out classes” the latter (…) The hyper-feminization of the volleyball stars because of their Whiteness conforming to Eurocentric ideals of beauty juxtaposed to the consistently negative racialized sexist perceptions that are hoisted on to the Williams sisters is a part of a consistent theme in sports (…) The Williams’ aren’t the only ones to be portrayed this way. It’s common outside of the Olympics with Black women athletes.” (my italics) The phenomenon Trudy discusses reappears on the pages of ESPN’s Body Issue. While the white female athletes are consistently sexualized (Jamie Anderson), and shown as soft and passive, almost all the black female athletes are portrayed in the same way as their masculine counterparts – desexualized and aggressive. White female athletes are portrayed to appeal to the male gaze. Black female athletes are not. Here, the Body Issue firmly adheres to white, eurocentric beauty standards: white women CAN be portrayed as appealing towards the male gaze – black women, not so much. Context matters here. Without an analysis of misogynoir, it seems great that Aja Evans and Angel McCoughtry are portrayed as just as tough, active and aggressive as the male athletes in the shoot. But once you realize that black female athletes are *overwhelmingly* portrayed this way, while white female athletes get to be feminine, sexy, inviting… you realize there’s something gross going on. To quote Victoria Carthy in “Textual Portrayals of Female Athletes: Liberation or Nuanced Forms of Patriarchy?” : “black women are seen as more athletic than white women, so their femininity is discounted as irrelevant (…) they have never been fully included in the stringent ideals of femininity and heterosexuality to begin with.” (140). Black female athletes, in other words, just aren’t *good enough* for the white supremacist heteropatriarchy to find them attractive. So when we see athletes like Aja Evans and Angel McCouhtry being portrayed as aggressive and masculine (while white women are feminine and sexy), we shouldn’t just read that as them being treated like male athletes – we should also read it as black women being denied their femininity. As my boyfriend put it: white women may be stuck in the foyer of forced sexualization, but black women aren’t even allowed through the door. Thus, while two years ago, I might have viewed Venus Williams’ shoot in The Body Issue in a solely negative light – here,  we have a strong, talented female athlete who only gets to look pretty and smile at the viewers – my understanding of racialized misogyny forces me to re-examine my assumptions. Instead of being portrayed as “masculine,” “overwhelming,” “pummeling,” “aggressive,” or “predator” (common ways the media describes Venus Williams)  here Venus gets to be feminine – something that media usually does not allow her to be. Since she’s often denied that facet of her character, the fact that this photoshoot allows her to be feminine, sexy, vulnerable is… progressive. Black female athletes being portrayed as feminine has a very different context from white female athletes being portrayed as feminine. Oppression is complicated as fuck. It gets even more complicated when you look at the racial breakdown of the male athletes. While the female athletes in the Body Issue are overwhelmingly white, the male athletes are overwhelmingly black.

Male athletes: 11 (counting Travis Pastrana)  Black male athletes: 6 (55%)  Latino male athletes: 1 (10%)  White male athletes: 4 (36%) 

Which, again, reinforces the idea that black people are *inherently* athletic. So male athletes tend to be black hypermasculinized, aggressive and active, while female athletes tend to be white, passive feminine and feminized. Male athletes are a power fantasy – an extreme version of maleness – while female athletes tend to cater to the male gaze. Most of the female athletes are at the pinnacle of female attractiveness: young, thin, white, passive, feminine, smiling. Those women who *don’t* fit into that narrow box (i.e: black women) tend to be portrayed like their male counterparts. And again, I think this is very much about reassuring a male gaze.Most of the female athletes aren’t portrayed pushing the boundaries of femininity, but rather, reinforcing them. Sure, women will be athletes, but they’ll be the kind of athletes we can still be *attracted* to. You get to have your cake and eat it too – acknowledge women are athletes while still keeping most of them as objects of consumption (see what I did there with the cake metaphor? And objects of consumption? HAHAHAHAHAHA, I crack myself up). It’s interesting how ESPN’s Body Issue can push the visual boundaries of what we consider “athletic,” all while reinforcing a bunch of narratives about who is an athlete, and how they’re allowed to express their athleticism. *** One of the biggest criticisms of my previous post was: “but what if the female athletes WANT to be portrayed that way?” What if Jaime Anderson didn’t *want* to snowboard? What if Megan Rapinoe really wanted to show off her pilates prowess? What if Lyn-Z Pastrana wants to be on the back of her husband’s motorcycle instead of starring in her own shoot? First: maybe they do want to be portrayed this way. But if they do isn’t that also worth examining? If all these women want to be portrayed as particularly feminine/sexy/passive – while all the men want to be portrayed as active/strong/confrontational – there’s something going on there. Why do men feel more comfortable being active? Why do women feel more comfortable being passive? Do female athletes feel pressure to *prove* their femininity? Three of the female athletes in ESPN’s Body issue specifically mention their femininity – clearly, it’s something they think about a lot. Conversely, do male athletes feel pressured to prove their masculinity? Would male athletes like to lounge around on the sand and show off their softer side (I mean, no pressure, gentlemen, but I’d like that)? What kind of cultural pressures are women under to prove that they’re still sexy and feminine even when they do traditionally masculine things? What kind of cultural pressures are *men* under to prove that they’re never vulnerable? It’s entirely possible to examine those issues without saying “women are wrong for wanting to be feminine.” Moreover, the intent of the athlete doesn’t change the message of the shoot. Whether the athletes personally chose everything in their poses or not, viewers will still get the impression that a female athletic bodies are sexual, while male athletic ones are functional. Death of the author and all that jazz. But second… I really don’t buy that these shoots are the result of what the female athletes want. Because that’s just not how professional photoshoots work. The photographer, the set, the costumes, the props – these are all chosen without the athletes’ input.  If Megan Rapinoe had shown up at her shoot and said “whoa, I was hoping to shoot at a soccer field, just like Omar Gonzales,” would the photographers/lighting tech/makeup artists etc. pack up and go find her a new location? Probably not. These very basic decisions – set the shoot on location, or in a studio? Use a snowboard or use a hula hoop? – are probably made very early in the process, long before the athletes are actually consulted. It’s ESPN’s photoshoot and the athletes are their models. The ESPN editorial team will have very specific ideas about the kinds of locations, moods and themes they want. And that’s understandable. Shoots cost thousands of dollars; they want to make sure they’re going to get a good return on their investment. Once the athlete comes on set, most decisions are too far gone to change. Was Amy Purdy really going to walk into the studio where they’d set up a hula hoop and a weird curtain and say that she wanted a snowboard instead? She’s not paying for the shoot – ESPN is. Photographers, meanwhile, control the flow of the shoot. They’re the ones telling the athletes how to move, how to pose, where to look, when to smile. Yes, this can be a collaborative effort, with the photographer and athlete working together to get the shot – but the photographer is ultimately in charge of how the athlete will look. And even if the athlete does a lot of active poses, and the photographer takes an amazing series of photos, neither of them are the ones who CHOSE the photos that run in the magazine. The editorial board does that. They’re ultimately the ones who decide how an athlete will be portrayed. In Morgan Maassen’s interview, for example, he talks about wanting to take pictures of Coco Ho that show her doing what she does best “bending and contorting at surfing’s behest.” When you look at the magazine itself, however, only one of the pictures really shows Coco Ho surfing. Given Maassen’s remarks, I’m pretty sure this was an editorial decision. Maassen probably took a lot of pictures of Ho surfing, but the team putting together the magazine just didn’t choose a lot of pictures where Ho was particularly active.

Coco Ho, Coco Ho Nude, ESPN Body Issue 2014, The Bodies We Want 2014

Coco Ho, ESPN Body Issue 2014, Photo Credit: Morgan Maassen

And no, for the record, I don’t think the magazine editors were cackling maniacally while going “AH YES, WE SHALL REDUCE THESE PUNY FEMALES TO MERE PASSIVITY MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA WE ARE THE PATRIARCHY.” I bet they weren’t even thinking about it. That’s what’s so disturbing about institutional oppression. You’re not thinking about it. So yeah, maybe female athletes *want* to be portrayed in a particular way. But they’re not the ones who are in charge of those decisions. If anything, they’re the smallest cog in a very big production machine. *** Wrapping it all up. Looking back at my conclusions from 2012 “The shoot is one where men show off their athletic abilities; where men are depicted as talented and powerful.And it is a shoot where some women can show off their athletic abilities, and are portrayed as talented and powerful. But most women in the shoot are not portrayed as powerful, talented athletes. They’re portrayed as hot chicks,” I’d say yeah, that’s still true in a lot of ways. But it’s more complicated than that. The Body Issue is getting better. It’s pushing the visual boundaries of what we consider “athletic,” who we consider “athletes,” and how we think these “athletes” should act. And all while pushing some boundaries, the Body Issue continues to leave others firmly in place. I’m looking forward to the day when athletes don’t to be “reassuring” to a male gaze to become part of the Body Issue.  We’re getting there. But we’re not there yet. *** To finish off, here are some amazing athletes who *don’t* fit our typical definition of athletic. Maybe ESPN will consider asking them  to appear in the Body Issue. (note: I am aware that a few of these athletes would be unlikely to say yes for religious reason)

Zahra Nemati, 2012 Paralympics

Zahra Nemati, 2012 Paralympics, Gold Medalist for Individual Recurve Archery. First Iranian woman to win an Olympic gold medal (either in the olympics or paralympics)

Peggy Oki, Skateboarding,

Peggy Oki, skateboarder. One of the original Z-Boys; inducted into skateboarding hall of fame in 2012. photo credit: Kevin Steele

Misty Copeland

Misty Copeland, first black soloist at the American Ballet Theater in 20 years.

Fallon Fox

Fallon Fox, openly trans MMA fighter (featherweight) Photo Credit: CFA / Rolando de la Fuente

 

Sarah Robles

Sarah Robles, the “strongest woman in America.” 7th Place at the London Olympics

Treyvon Jenifer

Treyvon Jenifer, bronze medalist for USA basketball at 2012 paralympics,

Idalys Ortiz

Idalys Ortiz of Cuba, Gold Medalist in the 2012 Olympics for Judo (78kg)

Brenda Villa

Brenda Villa, the most decorated athlete in women’s water polo history

Brittney Griner

Brittney Griner, 2013 WBCA NCAA Division I Defensive Player of the Year, youngest athlete selected for women’s USA Olympic basketball team

Diana Nyad

Diana Nyad, 62, first person to swim from Cuba to Florida. Photo credit: Jeffery A. Salter

Amber Riley, Winner of Season 17 of Dancing with the Stars

Keri Miller, Silver Medalist in Sitting Volleyball, 2012 London Paralympics

Anyone else you’d add to the list? (Note: googling “fat athlete” will get you a WHOLE LOT of fatshaming. Learn from my mistakes, my ducks. Learn from my mistakes.)


This is what I was Wearing When I was called a Harlot: 2014 Edition

Last Saturday, I went clinic escorting, as I often do. It was an *interesting* morning, especially since it was the day before Mother’s day. You have not lived until you’ve seen grown men screaming “Mommy, Mommy, I want to wish you a happy mother’s day, but you’re going to kill me.”

Severus Snape newspaper, alan rickman, flipping newspaper down

I’d just finished walking a client in, when one of the regular anti-choicers started yelling at me.

Anti-choicer: “All you care about is money!” (this is because most of the antis are convinced we’re being paid, which LOLOLOLOLOLOLOL) “Plus, you’re a feminist! You hate men!”

Anti-choicer: *starts to walk away*

Anti-choicer: “And look at what you’re wearing!”

Me: *looks down at my clothes*

Me: “What’s wrong with my clothes?”

At this point, I genuinely thought she just didn’t like my fashion sense, which: fair enough. Not everyone grooves to the black-grey theme.

Fellow escort: “Don’t listen to her. You look adorable.”

This, apparently, was too much for the anti-choicer to handle.

Anti-choicer: “You’re dressed like a HARLOT.”

Me: “…”

Me: *bursts out laughing*

Anti-choicer: “Like a SLUT.”

Me: *starts crying with laughter*

Other escorts: “WHAT THE FUCK?”

Me: *walks away before I fall on the ground from laughing*

I COULD NOT MAKE THIS SHIT UP IF I TRIED. 

Now, I will admit, I was not wearing my usual clinic escort garb, so maybe I deserved it. Winter had finally let up in NYC. I didn’t need to wear approximately a billion layers to survive the cold.

Instead, I wore more provocative garb:

STRUMPETTTTTT!

STRUMPETTTTTT!

I know, I’ve shocked you.

MAKING IT WORSE: you have to imagine that instead of the red coat, I’m wearing an oversized white lab-coat that basically hits the bottom of my skirt. That enhances the sluttiness of the outfit even more.

Holy Shit GIF

In retrospect, I don’t even know how the anti-choicers managed to stick around the whole four hours while in the presence of so much harlot-ness.

Let’s get a close-up on the cleavage:

Photo on 5-13-14 at 9.16 PM

IT IS PRETTY CLEAR FROM THIS PICTURE THAT I HAVE BREASTS.

Brooklyn 99, Rosa Diaz, boyle, NOOOOOOOOOO, GIF

 

Brooklyn 99, Rosa Diaz, Boyle, Diaz, NOOOOOOOOO, GIF

 

Rosa Diaz, Brooklyn 99, Boyle, Diaz, NOOOOOOOO, GIF,

SLUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUT.

***

All jokes aside, it’s never appropriate to call anyone a slut. Ever. Full stop. Whatever they’re wearing (or not wearing!) It’s not appropriate to call someone a harlot either.

…Although I have to admit, until this Saturday, being called a harlot was not something I worried about very much. Except on the off-chance that I went on a wacky time-traveling adventure and was dropped off in Tudor England.

Still, I do think it’s worth it to realize just how extreme this particular anti was. You can see my knees and my collarbone. This is an outfit that would pass muster in most catholic churches. If I’m a slut and a harlot, how does this anti see most women in NYC? For a group of people who claim they “love women,” I’m not seeing much basic respect.

***

I had two more equally hilarious interactions with this anti-choicer.

One: I pass by her a few minutes later, still tickled by my newfound identity as the Harlot of Deathscorts.

Me: “Hey, if I hate all men, why do I dress like a slut? Shouldn’t I be trying to avoid their attentions?”

Her: “You just don’t know any better.”

Me: *chokes on my own spit*
Me: *beats a hasty retreat before I laugh in her face*

Two: One of my fellow escorts comes to see me, cackling.

Escort: “So, the Anti? She came up to us after you left, and said “You know, I really shouldn’t have called her a slut. I’m here to preach the gospel, and not to be judgmental.””

Me: “Oh, wow.”

Escort: “So, we were like:  “Well, why don’t you apologize to her instead of talking to us?” And you know what she said?”

Me: *braces self*

Escort: “She was like “Oh, well, I’m not saying she’s NOT a slut, I’m just saying I shouldn’t have CALLED her one.”

Me: *starts crying of laughter*
Me: *tries to breath, fails*

Escort: “Are you okay? ‘

Me: “Can’t breathe.”
Me: “Too slutty.”
Me: *dies*

Chris, I'm dead, Chris Traegar, Parks and Recreation, Parks and Rec

I am writing from beyond the grave with this important message:

Kids, never let anyone tell you that reproductive justice isn’t fucking hilarious.

***

p.s: In a show of solidarity, every escort decided to wear a skirt next week. Because my fellow escorts are fucking awesome.
We’re hoping for a “trollop” next week. Maybe “strumpet.” Let’s not get our hopes up, though.

p.p.s: I did have another proud moment at the clinic today when I recommended Dragon Age: Origins to the entire pro-life nation (or whatever small segment of pro-life creepers watch videos of escorts) . We were being filmed by the pastor all morning, and at some point, I just decided to make random recommendations to the camera every time I passed him. Because the way I figure, if you’re an anti-choicer sifting through thirty hours of watching bored people waiting around, you might want occasional recommendations! It’s lively and fun!

So I started with Dragon Age: Origins. The pastor did not really appreciate my recommendations (I also recommended Crest as the best dental brand), and asked me two times what the relevance was.

“Seriously?”

 

DRAGON AGE ORIGINS DOES NOT NEED TO BE RELEVANT.

Geeky Harlot of the Deathscort Squad, that’s me!

***

(For a more serious description of my escorting experiences, see this post.)

 


Abusive Relationships and Victim-Blaming in the Legend of Korra

[Content note: flashing gifs, abusive relationships, child abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, violence against children, dating violence, misogynistic slurs, misogyny, racism]

Remember that time Grey’s Anatomy made physical and emotional abuse seem totally okay, as long as it was aimed towards disabled people?

Well, now comes part 2! (Huzzah). Yes, everyone, it’s time to sit down, gird our loins and talk about that time a show primarily aimed at kids turned physical abuse into a hilarious joke.

I am talking, of course, about the second season of the Legend of Korra, and the relationship between Bolin and Eska.

Now, there’s been a lot of really screwed-up stuff going on in the second season of Legend of Korra. A total lack of female characters, the disappearance of really cool characters like Katara and Lin Bei Fong, the return of the terrible love triangle ( NO ONE CARES), inconsistent characterization, nonsensical sexism, plots that make absolutely no sense etc. etc. etc.

But right up there in the Hall of Horror with the sexism and the bad writing is the way the show turned a physically and emotionally abusive relationship into a “funny” punch-line.

nopetopus gif nope

You may remember Bolin as one of Korra (the protagonist’s) best friends. In the first episode of season 2, Bolin becomes enamoured with Eska, Korra’s cousin. Eska decides Bolin’s cute, and hey presto, they’re dating.

Eska, Bolin, Legend of Korra

Eska on the left, Bolin on the right.

Ah, young love. Sweet, adorable and…

Wait, what’s this?

Eska, Bolin, Korra, gif, Legend of Korra, icebending,

Eska, Bolin, Korra, Legend of Korra, icebending, episode 2

… did Eska just use a wall of ice to physically drag Bolin away from Korra?
Did she seriously just physically prevent her boyfriend from touching one of his best friends?

DID THE SHOW JUST PLAY THAT MOMENT FOR LAUGHS?

Uh, not okay, Korra. What Eska did is the equivalent of physically grabbing and restraining Bolin. That. is. assault. It’s  a pretty major red flag for abuse. 

I wish I could say this moment in episode 2 was an isolated incident. Unfortunately, over the next few episodes, Eska becomes more and more abusive towards Bolin – and the show continues to portray the abuse as a joke.

In fact, given how the show has portrayed the relationship as *hilarious*, you may not even have realized all the gross, abusive shit that’s been happening!

Here’s a (shortened) recap:

A. Eska uses threats of violence and emotional abuse to force Bolin to stay in a relationship with her.

1. When Mako tells Bolin to”tell [Eska] you’re not into her anymore”, Bolin appears terrified, and says “”Oh no, no, no, I don’t think she’d like that.”

2. Then when Bolin takes Mako’s advice and tries to break up with Eska, she threatens to freeze him in a block of ice and feed him to dolphin piranhas. In case you think this is hyperbolic, let’s remember that this woman trapped Bolin in a block of ice when he hugged his  friend.

3. The next time he tries to break up with her, she forces him to accept a marriage proposal and drags him away. The image makes it clear that Bolin is in pain as she pulls him.

Eska and Bolin, abuse, dating violence, domestic abuse, Legend of Korra

4. When Bolin finally manages to get on a boat and escape the southern water tribe, Eska chases after him with on a massive water wave of doom, and it’s pretty clear that she’s prepared to use violence to get him back.
Eska, Waterbending,Bolin, domestic abuse, abuse, Legend of Korra,

B. Eska consistently humiliates Bolin, and enjoys watching him in pain.

1. At the beginning of episode 3, we see Bolin forced to carry Desna and Eska in their cart. He’s very obviously unhappy about it. When Eska makes a joke, she orders Bolin to “laugh at my humerous quip!” and we see him look terrified and laugh.
I feel like I have to make this clear: forcing your boyfriend to pull you in a cart and then laugh at your jokes is pretty fucking gross. And, in most contexts (including this one) pretty abusive.

2. Later in the season, Eska tells Bolin: “Boyfriend! Bow to me before I exit!” Looking, again, terrified, Bolin throws himself on the ground. Eska grins: “You are so sweet when you grovel.”

Bolin, Eska, Legend of Korra, humiliation, abuse

GDSH(#@HGSUDB:OSGKK

HILARIOUS! THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE A HILARIOUS MOMENT! AS OPPOSED TO A “HOLY SHIT THIS RELATIONSHIP IS SO FUCKING ABUSIVE” MOMENT!

… sorry. I needed that.

3. When Eska forces Bolin to accept her marriage proposal, she does not even wait for him to say yes before she puts the betrothal necklace on his neck and drags him away, telling him he can “express his joy with tears.” Crying, Bolin says “[The necklace] is really tight”

Bolin, Eska, abuse, legend of korra, Bolin and Eska

And we’re expected to laugh at all of these scenes. We’re expected to laugh at someone being forced into a betrothal. We’re expected to laugh as their partner physically drags them away and they cry in pain. This is Legend of Korra‘s idea of a joke.

[There are, of course, relationships where physical violence and humiliation are okay: consensual BDSM relationships. But what's happening between Bolin and Eska is pretty clearly nonconsensual]

To recap: Eska (non-consensually) humiliates Bolin and enjoys watching him in pain. She controls his actions and his emotions. He’s not even allowed to talk without asking for Eska’s permission first. And she uses fear and abuse in order to prevent him from leaving the relationship.

Yup! That’s abusive! Almost any of these moments, taken in isolation, would be a red flag for abuse. Together, they’re a  Massive Abuse Warning Siren that screams: “BEWARE: HERE THERE BE REALLY GROSS ABUSE HAPPENING.”

Now, I don’t actually oppose showing abusive relationships in TV shows. Hell, I don’t even oppose showing abusive relationships in children’s TV shows.  What I oppose is showing abusive relationships as lighthearted and funny.

Legend of Korra isn’t trying to make a point about how gross abusive relationships are. They’re trying to make a joke.

I know this because the Avatar Universe (of which Korra is a part) has a history of portraying abusive relationship with nuance and sensitivity. I know what it looks like when an Avatar show portrays abuse with nuance and sensitivity: it looks like Zuko’s relationship with Ozai, his father.
Ozai is a horrific parent. He forces his thirteen-year-old son to duel against him when Zuko speaks out of turn. After Zuko refuses to duel his own father, Ozai burns his son’s face, permanently scarring him, and then banishes him from the Fire Kingdom. Later, he tries to kill Zuko when his son turns against him.

Zuko, Ozai, abusive parent, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Fire Lord, Flashing Gif

Avatar: the Last Airbender never turned Ozai’s actions into comedy. And it never allowed us to forget that Ozai is a terrifying, violent and manipulative parent.

In Legend of Korra, on the other hand, the relationship between Bolin and Eska is a non-stop, unrelenting joke.

****

There are, I suspect, two forces at work in the “hilarity” of the Bolin/Eska relationship: first, the  myth that men can’t be abused (which means that domestic violence against men isn’t “serious”), and second, the “bitches be crazy” corollary (which means that women acting violent against men isn’t “serious” either).

In other words, Eska’s abuse of Bolin is hilarious because she’s a woman abusing a man.

Let’s parse these problems separately.

First, it’s pretty clear that no character in the Korra universe thinks Bolin is being abused. In fact, they blame him for his treatment at Eska’s hands.

When Bolin tells Korra and Mako that Eska threatened to freeze him in a block of ice and feed him to dolphin piranhas, they both shrug it off, and act annoyed that he’s ruining their date. Neither Korra nor Mako – Bolin’s brother –  seems the least bit worried that Eska told Bolin she would kill him if he tried to break up with her, even though they’ve already witnessed her being violent towards Bolin (when Eska traps him a block of ice to prevent him from hugging Korra)

Hey, what’s to worry about, am I right?

Bolin starts to hide in order to avoid Eska. His friend Asami tells him he should “stand up for himself” – and later, when she witnesses Eska ordering Bolin to bow, she says: “Don’t LET her treat you that way.”

Mako, Korra and Asami’s reactions put the blame for Eska’s abusive behavior squarely on Bolin. Bolin should have known better than to date Eska. Bolin should “stand up for himself.” Bolin is LETTING Eska treat him this way. It’s his fault his girlfriend is violent and abusive!

Not to put too fine a point on it, but those guys are the worst friends.

They’re also doing a superb job of reinforcing the idea that abuse just can’t happen to men. In this worldview, no matter how violent or how manipulative a man’s partner is, a man just cannot be abused. Their relationships are always under their own control – they can put an end to them at any time and “stand up for themselves” whenever they want to.

No wonder none of Bolin’s friends take his problems seriously. They know that what’s happening to him isn’t serious at all – after all, he’s a man!

It gets worse. When Eska forces Bolin to accept a marriage proposal, he rejoins his friends, wearing a traditional betrothal necklace.

Korra: “I’m pretty sure the guy is supposed to give the girl the betrothal necklace.”

It’s FUNNY because Eska has forced Bolin to take on a FEMALE role. HAHAHAHA… so gross. . It’s the other side to the “Men can’t be abused” coin: if men are abused, they are like women. They become feminized by their abuse.

And we could get into the misogyny that idea implies, but frankly, we have enough on our plate.

In most of the world – maleness is defined in opposition to victimhood. Men aren’t victims. They’re the aggressors, the winners. They’re strong, in control. Our definition of manhood, therefore, leaves no room for people who are victims, who are used and abused and wounded. After all, if you can’t protect yourself, you’re not a “real” man.

In this twisted logic, Bolin – and other men and boys in similar situations – aren’t experiencing abuse. And if they are, it is either because they choose to stay, or because they aren’t “real” men.

It’s pretty clear that the “joke” of Bolin’s abuse relies on the assumption that  Bolin’s relationship with Eska is totally under his control. If he were only able to stand up for himself, the abuse would just magically go away. It’s also “hilarious” because Bolin’s inability to stand up to Eska shows how incompetent he is as a man (“the guy is supposed to give the GIRL a proposal necklace”)

Moreover, if you take a wide view of the season, you’ll see that Eska isn’t the only woman who physically abuses her partner. For example, when Korra and her boyfriend, Mako, have an argument, Korra earthbends his desk into a wall. Which is pretty fucking threatening, in my opinion.  And if your partner is throwing things while you’re arguing?  Massively abusive.

When Lin Bei Fong, Mako’s boss, walks in the room and notices the torn-up wall and the broken desk, she asks Mako what happened. Mako tells her he broke up with Korra, and Lin smiles: “You got off easy. You should have seen Air Temple Island when Tenzin broke up with me.”

Oh, yeah, hilarious.

In both cases, we have women physically destroying things at their boyfriends. And as someone who has experienced people breaking things at me, I can tell you right now, it’s terrifying. It’s an obvious threat. I’ve been in cars with someone who starts driving really erratically when they get angry at me, and oh god, it does not make you want to make them angry ever again, because I was terrified we were going to drive straight into a tree. Which is exactly the point. It’s behavior that’s supposed to teach you not to go “out of line” again – or you’ll be next.

(As a note, abusers who throw or hit objects in when arguing with you almost always escalate to violence eventually)

All of these moments – Eska’s violence towards Bolin, Korra’s violence towards Mako, and Lin Bei Fong’s violence towards Tenzin – are meant to be comedic. Korra and Lin Bei Fong are both characters we’re supposed to like – I highly doubt the show wants us to read them as abusive, even though that’s exactly what they are, at least in these moments with their partners. It’s supposed to be funny that Lin Bei Fong destroyed Tenzin’s home when he broke up with her.

So what is with this trend of comic portrayals of abusive women?

That’s the second half of the Bolin/Eska joke – the “bitches be crazy” corollary.

This season has had a plethora of the “women are so hysterical and crazy in relationships” trope. Korra’s behavior this season with Mako is a  prime example – he can’t do anything without making her blow up. And that’s an incredibly misogynistic trope to begin with. But it also has really unpleasant consequences when you line it up with abuse, because it makes it seem like Korra, Eska and Lin’s violent behaviors are just “crazy” things women “naturally” do.

Because women, am I right? They’re just “crazy.” And men have to put up with it, because women, am I right?

This narrative transforms abuse from an aberration into something “natural” and comedic.

I think, moreover, that there’s something more than your average “bitches be crazy” trope going on in The Legend of Korra. I think the show is having a  hard time coping with their female protagonist.

You would not thing a strong female protagonist would be a problem for the writers of Korra, given that the previoous series, Avatar,  is full of strong, interesting women:  Katara, the waterbending master, Toph, one of the greatest earthbenders to ever live, Azula, who… I mean, how do you even talk about the powerhouse that is Azula? And Mai, Tai-Lee and Suki, three non-benders who could stand toe-to-toe with any bender and come out on top.

But in Avatar, unlike in Korra,  there was always one male character who was theoretically more powerful than any given woman:  Aang, by virtue of being the Avatar. In Legend of Korra, however, the protagonist is female. Aang is dead and Korra is the new Avatar – the most powerful person in the entire show. Once she’s fully trained, nothing will be able to stand against her. There is no male character more powerful than Korra.

People have… problems with that kind of female power. A whole lot of writers just have no idea how to deal with it, especially in the context of western patriarchy and western-prescribed gender roles (most of the characters of Avatar are POC, and the areas they live in correspond to asian and first nations locations, but the writers of the show are mainly from north america). There aren’t a whole lot of creators with the kind of talent and chutzpah to deal with a world where women and men are on equal footing – and where a woman is the “savior” of the world.

Which is where you get weird stuff like the Korra abuse narrative. The writers are unable to separate the world of Korra from western ideas about gender and patriarchal structures. More specifically, they’re unable to conceive of a world where the strength of women doesn’t come at the expense of the strength of men. They’ve moved beyond the patriarchy by flipping it.

Thus, in Korra, gender equality doesn’t mean that relationships will become healthier and more equitable. No – a gain in power by women must mean a loss in power by men, since we’re still stuck in gender hierarchies. Thus, if women are the “strong” ones – if women are captains of industry (Asami), police chiefs (Lin Bei Fong), Avatars (Korra) and incredibly powerful waterbenders (Eska) – then the men must be the “weak” ones. Thus, we get all the heterosexual relationships where the women are abusive and the men are passive.

Which, I should note, tells you a whole lot about how the writers conceive traditional male-female relationships. And a whole lot about how the writers conceive “strength.” They seem unable to conceive of a woman with stereotypically male attributes – like Korra, who is very physically strong, who acts first and think later, who is competitive and impulsive – without also making her borderline abusive. I don’t know if it’s because the writer’s vision of masculinity is so entwined with strength-as-abuse, or if it’s because they can’t help but see a character like Korra as an aberration, and thus infuse her with “bad” qualities. Whatever it is, it’s disturbing.

It’s also a pretty disturbing message about female strength. Women are only strong and in control, the narrative goes, because men have ceded the place to them. If men *wanted* to be in charge again, they could.

The other explanation for the woman-as-abuser and man-as-passively-accepting-abuse trope in Korra  is the narrative of men being “whipped” by their girlfriends. In a sentence: men allow women to walk all over them because they love/admire/desire the women so much – or because they’re just too lazy/stupid to exercise their male control over the relationship. This brings us straight back to the victim-blaming: Bolin and Mako are abused because they “let” the women abuse them. Moreover, it makes it seem like abuse is the price you pay for a woman’s love. Being in a relationship and having access to women’s bodies is worth the emotional and physical abuse – a storyline that plays directly into the stereotype of men being voracious, mindless, sex-pursuing velociraptors.

(okay, so I made that part about the velociraptors up).

Oh yeah. There’s a whole shitload of toxic stuff wrapped up in the “joke” of Eska abusing Bolin.

****

Let’s be clear, finally, and explain exactly why the victim-blaming, misogyny and toxic masculinity at the root of the “comedy” of abuse is so disturbing:

Because abuse is a thing that happens in the real world.

And abuse is a thing that happens – in spite of the myths –  to men. Often it happens to them exactly how it happened to Bolin. And often, people will react exactly the way Bolin’s friends reacted to him – with laughter, with victim-blaming, with a complete lack of support.

According to the latest study by the CDC, approximately one in seven men have experienced some form of domestic violence (compared to one in four women). 1.4% of men have been raped, while 6% have experienced some form of sexual coercion. One in nineteen men have been stalked. One in seven men have experienced severe physical violence by an intimate partner.

Abuse happens to men. Abuse happens to men a lot. And just as  it’s socially unacceptable for women to talk about their experiences with rape, sexual violence, harassment and domestic violence, it’s also socially unacceptable for men to admit to being the victims of rape, harassment and domestic violence. Because we see those stories as funny.

Yes, men are threatened, stalked, hurt and emotionally manipulated, just as Bolin was on the show. It’s not funny when it happens to them. And it’s not funny when it happened to Bolin.

The abuse-as-comedy trope is particularly harmful because Korra is aimed at children and young adults. And guess who is most at risk of abuse?

That’s right! Kids.

More than one in four male victims of rape experience their first rape when they are ten years or younger. Of the men who have experienced stalking, 1/3 have been stalked before the age of 25. 53% of male victims of domestic violence experience their first incident before the age of 21.
Of the men who have experienced rape, stalking or physical abuse by an intimate partner, 15% had their first experience when they were between the ages of 11 and 17. 38.6% of them had their first experience between the ages of 18 to 24.

So when you turn abuse into a joke in a kid’s show, you’re basically teaching the most vulnerable male demographic (children and young adults) that abuse is funny, not serious, and to be expected in  romantic relationships. Right as they’re entering their first dating years – and the years where they’re most likely to experience abuse.

Great job, guys. No, seriously.

Here’s another important fact: Bolin is a man of color (as are Mako, Tenzin, and every other male character on Korra). Which is great! But dismissing the abuse of men of color as “funny” carries particularly damaging connotations, since men of color are much more likely to experience rape, stalking and domestic violence than white men. Approximately 1/5 of white men reported experiencing sexual violence, rape or domestic violence. In comparison, one third of multiracial men, one fourth of latino men, forty percent of black men and 43.5% of american native and alaskan native men reported experiencing rape, physical violence and/or stalking in their lifetimes.

To put it bluntly:  men of color are more likely to experience rape, sexual violence and/or stalking. So turning a man of color’s abuse into a joke? Is really not okay.

(this is not to say that 20% of white men experiencing abuse is in *any* way okay – it’s just that men of color experience higher rates of abuse)

****

Is this the lesson we want to teach the young audience of Korra? For that matter, is this the lesson we want to teach the older audience of Korra? That abuse is acceptable? That abuse is funny? That abuse is the victim’s fault? That men can’t be abused? That abuse is to be expected in a romantic relationship? That abuse is a fair trade for romance, love and sex? That men should fear female strength because it leads to emotional and domestic abuse?

What a toxic message.

And what a disappointing narrative from Korra, a show that follows in the footsteps of the wonderfully progressive Avatar: the Last Airbender, where abuse was treated seriously, and gender hierarchies were ignored in favor of good storytelling.

Sure, it’s just a show. But if the writers of Korra didn’t want to shoulder the responsibility of treating abuse with nuance and sensitivity, they shouldn’t have brought it up in the first place. Because it’s not “just” abuse, not when it’s happening to one in seven men.

Since I started writing this post, the show has gotten, if possible, worse on abuse. Bolin has turned from abuse-victim into rape-culture perpetrator, when he kissed his co-star, Ginger, against her will, and then told her “I think you liked it too.”Ginger eventually goes out with Bolin, because he’s rich and famous – and women don’t mind sexual assault as long as it comes from a rich and famous dude! This, again, is played for laughs, because if there’s anything funnier than abuse, it’s sexual violence.
Then Eska and Bolin reunite, and it’s clear that Bolin still harbors feelings for Eska. Which I don’t have a problem with in and of itself (often, abuse victims remain emotionally attached to their abusers). But since the show keeps pretending Eska hasn’t abused Bolin, I have no reason to believe they’ll treat the romantic subplot with any kind of nuance or sensitivity. The writers have turned what used to be a joke subplot into an actual romantic subplot. With both narratives, they’ve ignored Eska’s abusive behavior.

So since the show won’t say it, let me, once again, emphatically explain: What Eska did to Bolin is abuse. It is physical and emotional abuse. What Korra, Mako and Asami did to Bolin is victim-blaming.

And none of it is fucking funny.

****
Commenting guidelines:

1. Do not try to explain that Eska’s behavior is not abusive. It is.
2. Do not victim-blame Bolin (or any other victim of domestic violence)
3. Please don’t start blaming abuse on misandry.
If you engage in any of these three activities, I may just delete your comment, because LOL, I am not playing the “but physically dragging people around isn’t ABUSE” game.

****

Resources:

1. CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: Executive Summary
2. CDC National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey: Full Report
3. Domestic violence red flags: one, two, three, four, five (includes red flags specific to men experiencing domestic violence)
4. One in Six: A group that helps male survivors of child sexual abuse
5. Male Survivor: Group for male survivors of abuse

Hotlines:

1. Domestic Abuse Helpline for Men and Women: 1-888-7HELPLINE
2. Gay Men’s Domestic Violence Project: 1-800-832-1901
3. National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline: 1-866-331-9474
4. National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673
5. National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233


What I Learned From Batwoman

Content Note: Spoilers for Batwoman, discussions of homophobia, heterosexism, Bury Your Gays

I just moved into a new place (Stressful! Fun! Exciting! Terrifying!), and I’m trying to be more organized. Instead of putting ALL the books on my desk, most of them are going on a bookshelf. Radical, I know!

I’ve decided that only my most important reference books should live on my desk.

Oh, and I also put two comic books on my desk, to accompany the big serious boys of literary criticism, gender studies and racial deconstruction.

Batwoman: Elegy

Batwoman: Elegy, JH Williams III, Greg  Rucka, Batwoman, Kate Kane
and

Batwoman: Hydrology

Batwoman: Hydrology, JH Williams III, W. Haden Blackman, Batwoman, Kate Kane

They were expensive – twenty dollars apiece. I bought them as gifts to myself.

… That’s a lie. I bought them as protection, not as gifts. I bought them the day after Amanda Todd, a victim of cyberbullying and slut-shaming, committed suicide. I’d just spent an hour on the internet, reading the horrible things people said about her both before and after her death, and I was devastated. Just – devastated. That Amanda Todd had to grow up in this world, where people treat women so despicably. That so many people would say such vile things to, and about, a child. That Todd was just one of many girls who experience this level of cruelty and bullying.

I needed something – someone – to remind that there is hope, and power, and possibility .

Batwoman, JH Williams, W.H. Blackman, DC Comics, Kate Kane,

So I bought Batwoman.

****

Last week, Batwoman co-writers J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman announced that, due to DC’s editorial interferences, they would be leaving the comic after issue 26.  J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman are largely responsible for Batwoman’s success over the last two years (with Greg Rucka, who wrote the initial Elegy storyline, and whose departure I still mourn). J. H. Williams III’s art defines Batwoman – he’s been with the comic since the beginning, and his work is so superb and distinct that I still find myself flipping through my trade books to look at the art. His artistic vision of Kate Kane  made her an instant superhero.

Williams and Blackman cite several instances where DC overruled long-outlined plot events at the eleventh hour. But the one that is receiving the most attention – and that angered Williams and Blackman the most – was DC’s edict that Kate Kane (Batwoman) could never marry her fiancee Maggie Sawyer.

Batwoman is a lesbian superhero. She’s the only one in the DC or Marvel universe, as far as I know, to have her own book. She was kicked out of the military under Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, she’s had several girlfriends (including my favorite, Renee Montoya), and she’s now engaged to marry a woman.

Kate Kane, Batwoman, Renee Montoya, Batwoman, JH Williams III, Greg Rucka, DC Comics,

DC and Williams/Blackman all say that the marriage prohibition was due to creative reasons, not to Kate Kane’s sexual orientation. And I believe them – I think Dan Didio and the higher-ups at DC honestly didn’t want one of their superheroes to be married. They have a bizarre anti-marriage policy for their protagonists.

But creative decisions cannot be separated from their cultural context. And preventing a queer couple from getting married has a very different context from preventing a straight couple from getting married. As Susana Polo from The Mary Sue explains, gay characters have “a history of being disproportionately depicted in either no relationships, failed relationships, prematurely ended relationships, or terrible relationships.” Moreover, queer people in comics, movies and literature are rarely allowed to have happy endings – think Ennis/Jack from Brokeback Mountain, Willow/Tara from Buffy and Jack/Ianto from Torchwood.

Hell, DC made the original Green Lantern, Alan Scott, gay – and then promptly killed off Alan’s boyfriend WHILE ALAN WAS PROPOSING.

The  “Bury Your Gays” trope isn’t an old narrative we’ve all outgrown. It’s well and alive. And harmful.

Yes, it sucks when straight couples can’t get married in the DC Universe. And yes, in my opinion, it’s shitty storytelling. But straight people can look out into a world where their relationships are validated, are legitimized and are common. They can go to literally any medium and find straight couples living happy lives and getting married. They will not find a whole pile of narratives where straight people die because of their sexuality.

Queer people, on the other hand, don’t have that luxury. They don’t get to shrug off the Batwoman marriage ban and say “okay, well, we’ve got so many other examples of happy queer couples in real life and in fiction, we’ll be fine.”

And it’s a fucked-up, oppressive and harmful trope. It makes queer people believe they have no chance at happiness – that their sexuality dooms them to failed relationships and death. It reinforces the idea that queerness is fundamentally tragic: it’s not something you want for your children, or your friends, or yourself.

Maggie Sawyer, Kate Kane, BAtwoman, JH Williams III, W Haden Blackman

There are many places in the USA where you can be fired for your sexual orientation (29 states, in fact). There are few places where you can get married to a same-sex partner. Yes, the Defense of Marriage Act was overturned this summer. But the end of DOMA didn’t magically solve the marriage problem. Charlie Morgan, an officer in the National Guard, died of breast cancer before she could see DOMA overturned. Her wife and daughter will not receive the federal benefits to which military spouses and children are entitled. Charlie Morgan spent the last few years of her life fighting to make sure her wife and child were recognized as her family. She had to fight – while dying of breast cancer – for that basic right. And she lost.

She’s not alone.

Queer children – and children who “seem” queer – are bullied, sometimes to death (MASSIVE trigger warning for that link – the stories of bullying are horrific). Some states have tried to pass anti-bullying laws, only to see them vetoed by conservative governors. Because apparently, children killing themselves due to bullying isn’t problem. Sometimes, teachers are barred by law from helping gay kids or talking about gay issues. Kids at my brother’s school still throw around the word “gay” as an insult. His gay friends are afraid to come out in Madison, one of the more progressive cities in the USA. In Russia, same-sex couples are facing a law that could take their children away from them. Their children could get taken away because of their sexuality.

So that’s the context in which Dan Didio and the DC executives decided that Kate Kane couldn’t marry her girlfriend.

That’s… not a neutral context. And that’s not a neutral choice. Even if it was well-intentioned. You can’t avoid playing into anti-queer tropes when you bar the queer protagonist of the only queer-headlined book in DC from getting married.

You just can’t avoid playing straight into those tropes. Your intentions do not matter. The tropes you are playing into reinforce the oppression that queer people have to navigate on a daily basis. I do not care about your intentions. You are now part of a long and proud tradition of grossness. Congratulations.

***

Now would be a good time to explain why Batwoman is the only trade I’ve ever bought. And why it’s the only piece of fiction on my desk. And why my computer background is a picture of Batwoman. And why this blog’s icon is Batwoman.

About a year ago, I announced on this blog that I would start a new project: I would read as many comics as I could so I could  find some that were non-oppressive and female-friendly. My friend immediately recommended Batwoman: Elegy. And since I trusted her. I immediately ordered it from the library.

That summer we had a massive heatwave in Wisconsin. No rain at all, and sweltering temperatures every day – it was pretty miserable. And I’d volunteered to take care of my family friends’ garden, which was enormous and intricate and required an extraordinary amount of water. So I had to bike there every day around five (when it started to cool down), water for about three or four hours, and then bike home. In epic heat.

By the time I got home, I very rarely had energy to read. So I kept putting Batwoman off.

One night, I brought all the comics I’d ordered from the library with me to the garden. As the sun dropped slowly towards the west, I listened to Adele and and watered the roses, the tomato plants, the lilies. I put the sprinkler on, sat on the porch and pulled out Batwoman. The garden was lit with the orange-pink light of sunset.

I read for a long time.

I’m a fast reader – a trade comic usually takes me twenty minutes to read.

But I was in that garden for at least two hours.

I read until it was dark, and I had to turn the floodlights on – and then I kept reading. And reading. And reading.

I’m not sure I’ve ever had an experience with comics as absorbing as I did that night with Batwoman. I  read pages over and over again, looking carefully at JH Williams’ artwork, flipping pages back to check relevant bits of dialogue, marveling at Kate Kane’s character and admiring Batwoman’s costume.

When I got home, I reread the entire comic.

I loved Batwoman. I love Batwoman. The art is incredible. The storytelling is engrossing and powerful and painful. Greg Rucka gives us information exactly when we least expect it, complicating our understandings of the characters and their motivations. When we feel like we can’t handle anymore, he pushes again, shattering our impressions and forcing us to reconsider everything we believed. Meanwhile, Williams’ artwork is such a perfect interpretation of Rucka’s plot: it’s arresting and beautiful and thematically resonant and disturbing all at once.

Batwoman, Batwoman: Elegy, Comics, Greg Rucka, JH Williams III

Batwoman: Elegy is a stunning, superb piece of work. I love it for many reasons, and I re-read it for many reasons.

But there’s one sequence that kept drawing me in. At this point in the story, Kate Kane is a military cadet at West Point. She’s called into her Colonel’s office and told that she’s been accused her of homosexual conduct. The Colonel tells her that if she apologizes – if she says it’s a mistake, a joke – she’ll face a disciplinary action, but she’ll stay in the army. The Colonel believes she’ll make a great officer, so he’s willing to bend the rules a little and let her stay on.

The next few panels are worth seeing in their entirety:

Batwoman Greg Rucka JH Williams III Batwoman Elegy

Kate Kane Greg Rucka JH Williams Batwoman,

[Transcript: Kate Kane, a white woman wearing a cadet's uniform, stands in the Colonel's office. He's a white man wearing a military uniform.
Kate: "Sir, all I've ever wanted since my mother and sister were murdered is to serve." 
Colonel: "Then it seems to me your choice is clear. You know what I need you to say." 
Kate: "A cadet shall not lie, cheat or steal, or suffer others to do so. I'm sorry sir, I can't." 
Kate: "I'm gay." 
Kate removes her cadet's ring and places it on the Colonel's table.]

That sequence, for me, was Batwoman. Honor. Integrity. And a desire to serve without having to compromise herself.

That’s what Kate Kane achieved when she remade herself into Batwoman after being barred from military service. She could still serve, even if her country did not want her service. She could still protect her city and her people, even if her sexuality kept her out of the military. She could serve by her own code.

It was a message I needed to hear.

For the next few days, I was in turmoil. Was I living by my own code? Was I being honest about myself? Was I even being honest to myself?

I’d identified as straight for my entire life. My only relationship was with a man. I talked about crushes on boys all the time, and I certainly never mentioned crushes on girls. Sure, I always said I wasn’t 100% positive about my sexuality. Anything could change, and it was entirely possible that I could also be attracted to women. But I wasn’t attracted to women now. And I hadn’t been at any point in the past.

I acted like I wasn’t hiding anything.

But I was. I was lying, even to myself. I was deeply attracted to women. I’d had crushes on women – only I didn’t *call* them crushes, even in my mind, even when I thought about what it would be like to kiss them, to touch the and  to hold their hands. I’d flirted with women. I’d wanted women.

Those crushes were so vivid in my mind. The incredible actress I met in high school. A friend I admired. Another friend I admired. A girl who flirted with me. I remembered them all perfectly, remembered the way they’d made me feel, the way I stared at them, and desired them. And the way I didn’t think of it as attraction at all.

The longest crush I ever had was on a woman.

And the most instant attraction I’ve ever had was to a woman. I sat down next to her in class, glanced over at her face, and it hit me right in the gut. My lips and my fingertips were tingling

Whoa.

I sat next to her all that semester. We became friends. My crush dissipated when she talked about her boyfriend, though my attraction never did.

But these weren’t crushes, even though I’d had them for just as long as I’d had crushes to men. This wasn’t attraction. I was still straight, to everyone else, and to myself.

I was scared to admit my desire towards women. Scared, because yes, queerness is dangerous. Scared of how my friends would react and what my family would think. And what it would mean for me to identify as queer, to openly admit to liking women. But I was also hopeful. I saw something in that comic – in Kate Kane’s strength, in her honesty, in the normalcy of her life as a gay woman and a gay superhero. The strength of my reaction to Batwoman – the way I kept reading and rereading it, the emotional force with which it gripped me – made me reconsider my identity. I questioned myself, questioned those memories, questioned my feelings.

A few days after reading Batwoman, I came out on my social networks as bisexual.

I told my brother when we took a trip to New Orleans. “Oh, cool,” he said, and we started talking about Octavia Butler. I’ve never really told my parents, although I’ve mentioned it on the blog, and at least one of them reads it. But even if I haven’t formally “come out” to everyone, I’ve exited that strange place of dissonance where I could be attracted to women on one level, and completely straight on the other.

And I feel… better. Much better. Much happier, and more comfortable with myself.

There’s a reason Batwoman is my avatar, and my icon.

There’s a reason the Feminist Batwoman lives on this blog.

Batwoman

***

Batwoman means a lot ot me. And part of the reason she means so much to me is because of the way she – and her writers – handle her sexuality. With honesty, integrity and simplicity.

Even though I’m a Renee/Kate shipper, I was excited for Kate’s marriage to Maggie. I knew it was a major milestone. It meant something to me, a bisexual woman, to see a queer relationship treated with so much respect. To see that Kate’s sexuality was still an integral part of her storyline , without the writers ever turning it into a token social justice commentary.

Kate Kane’s creators respected her.

I respected her.

Now we’ve got the DC executives nixing storylines at the last minute. We have them kicking off the creative team two issues earlier than they planned to go (JH Williams and W. Haden Blackman both planned to stay until Issue 26, but DC’s decided to put the book under new management starting on Issue 24). You have Dan Didio saying the company stands behind the character – while calling her Kathy Kane the whole time.

Hint, Mr. Didio: Kathy Kane is a totally different character. And Kate *never* goes by Kathy, which you would know if you’d read BatwomanElegy.

And the execs are acting like nixing Kate’s marriage isn’t problematic. At all.

Which shows how little they understand about their own creations.

This is not respect.

Batwoman inspired me to be honest about my sexual orientation. Her bravery gave me courage. Her relationships with women filled me with joy. I felt safe within the pages of those comics. I felt hopeful within the pages of those comics.

I will keep my Batwoman trades on my desk.

But I will not be buying any Batwoman comics after Issue 24.

***

Quick note:

I asked the Feminist Batwoman, who sometimes takes over my blog, what she thought of DC’s handling of Batwoman.

This was her response:

Photo on 9-7-13 at 8.14 PM

Not very mature, but what are you going to do? She’s a vigilante who sometimes steals my computer to write on my blog. She’s not exactly polite.

***

Second Note: DC is also responsible for the Harley Quinn debacle, which combines stereotyping of mental illness, casual use of suicide, mental illness/suicide as a pinup etc. DC comics is doing GREAT right now.

Comment note: please do not try to defend DC’s stance as “neutral” or non-oppressive towards queer people.


Female Creators in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television: The Stats

OH HAI EVERYONE. I’m back! After writing my senior thesis and then *dying* for a few weeks. I SHOULD BE BACK MORE REGULARLY. I will tell you all about my journey with Tiptree, Russ and Butler soon. Maybe. Feminist Science Fiction, yay!

(can you tell I’m still exhausted from the end of the semester?)

Anyways. Back to your regularly scheduled yelling and rants and statistics!

***

[Content Note: GIFs, misogyny, racism]

Whenever I explain about why I prefer television to movies, I throw one random line in: “Television is more friendly to women.”

Don’t ask me where I first got that idea. It’s one of those unexamined assumptions floating around my brain. But I’m not the only one who thinks this way. It seems like a broadly accepted truth that television is some kind of haven for women. Movies are aimed towards men. Videogames are aimed towards men. But more women watch television. Waaaay more women watch television. Network prime time television has 65-70% female viewership. Some stations, like the CW, go up to 70-75%.

With those kinds of numbers, television as a medium must be female friendly, right? It must have lots of female creators and female characters and female-friendly stories, right?

See, this is why I should always examine my unexamined assumptions.

Because: Nope.

Sure, women watch more TV. But according to the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, only 38.9% of characters in prime-time programs are women (compared to a 60%-65% female viewership). Only 22% of prime time shows feature girls and women in roughly half of all speaking parts. And 20% of shows cast men or boys in 75% or more of speaking roles.

TV! The Land of Women Mostly Men!

(also, I swear to claude, if anyone responds “but there are more men on TV because women WANT to see more men because all women are attracted to men and only want to see men men men men and they hate women” I will throw things. LOTS OF THINGS)

So that’s what’s happening on-screen. But what about off-screen? Who is creating these shows? Who produces them, directs them, writes them?

Every year when the Oscars come around, feminists (including me) complain about how few female writers and directors are recognized by the academy. Movie directing and writing is still very much a boys-club.Given the high female viewership, would it be different for TV? Do female creators thrive in television?

Azula Avatar Dominate

(probably not, tho)

Two months ago – right before the hell of writing my honors thesis hit – I decided to find out. Given my interest in SF/F – and the time necessary to gather the stats (the numbers for one TV show takes about 15 minutes, which sounds fine… until you realize there are hundreds of prime-time shows) – I decided to concentrate on female creators in SF/F television. Plus, in SF/F fandom, we often talk about the number – and visibility – of female creators in books, in comics and in movies. The television stats, I thought, would make an interesting addition to the discussion, especially given how many big, influential SF/F shows there are on TV today.

The following statistics are very ad-hoc. Very ad-hoc. Which isn’t to say that they aren’t interesting, or that they don’t speak to the general state of female creators in SF/F television. But they were done by one overwhelmed blogger with a weird  methodology. They are not supposed to be the be-all, end-all of a discussion.

Thus: I made a list of as many SF/F shows that appeared in North America in 2012 and 2013 and that I could think of/find on the internet. I was pretty loose about the definition of SF/F, which is why you’ll see shows like Elementary and Drop Dead Diva (she is a GHOST) on the list. I only looked at one season of each show: for those shows that had more than one season, I chose whichever season was most current. So for Supernatural, I looked at Season 8 (the 2012-2013 season) as opposed to Season 7 (the 2011-2012 season), while for Eureka, I looked at the 2012 season (because that was the show’s last season).

The twenty six shows I covered are: Lost Girl, Eureka, Beauty and the Beast, Being Human (US), Alcatraz, Arrow, Touch, Fringe, The Neighbors, Last Resort, Revolution, Vampire Diaries, True Blood, Once Upon A Time, Person of Interest, Drop Dead Diva, The Walking Dead, Alphas, Warehouse 13, Supernatural, Game of Thrones, Elementary, Grimm, Falling Skies, Teen Wolf and Doctor Who.

I only took stats on episodes that had already aired, which would have been a great idea if I hadn’t let two months go by between gathering the stats and writing up this post. This is why, for example, I looked at Game of Thrones season 2, instead of Game of Thrones season 3 – season 3 hadn’t started when I gathered the stats. Like I said: this stats gathering is wonky. WONKY. I thought about redoing the stats for shows that aired more episodes, but it took me twelve hours of work to gather stats the first time and I’m lazy. So, fair warning.

(Fun experiment: if you were really dedicated, you could use these stats to figure out the exact date when All The Shit Hit The Fan and I had to abandon my blog for three months)

Once I had the 26 shows, I calculated the gender breakdown for

1. The Executive Producers (colloquially known as the showrunners)
2. The episode directors
3. The episode writers
4. How many episodes were written by men v. women. As I quickly realized, sometimes a show can have a fair number of female writers… while most of the episodes are still written by men.

The results were… interesting. And by interesting, I mean “depressing.”

In 77% percent of SF/F shows, less than half the writers were female. 77%. Twenty out of twenty six.

Twenty three percent of shows – 6 shows –  had 50% or more female writers. Out of those 6 shows, only three had a majority of female writers (three shows were exactly gender-balanced). So basically, 77% of shows are majority-male written, 11.5% are majority-female written, and 11.5% are perfectly gender-balanced.

On average, 68.2% of writers for SF/F shows were men, while 31.5% of them were women.

I want to go deeper in those numbers, because there might be an instinct to go “well, there are some shows where men dominate, and some shows where women dominate, and it all evens out.” Which: no.There are 77% of shows where men dominate, and 11.5% of shows where women dominate, so it’s clearly NOT evening out. But even in those shows where women “dominate,” they don’t dominate in the same ways men do. Numbers, please!

Joan Watson, Elementary

The highest percentage of female writers on a show is 57%. The highest percentage of male writers is 100% (in fact, there are two shows – Doctor Who and Teen Wolf – where all the writers are male). The lowest percentage of male writers is 43%. The lowest percentage of female writers is 0%. In other words, while there are shows with no female writers, there are no shows that do not have male writers. There is always male representation, and the lowest male representation is 43%… for two out of twenty six shows.

In 31% of SF/F shows, less than one fourth of the writers were female. Most shows – 46% – employ between 25% and 49% percent female writers. 11.5% employ exactly the same number of men and women, and 11.5% employ a higher number of  women (between 51-57%).

Do women thrive as SF/F television writers? I don’t know about you, but I would not call that “thriving.”

If you think the numbers for female writers are depressing, you might want to take a second before we move on to the statistics for female directors. Trust me, we haven’t even gotten to the best worst part.

Out of twenty six shows, absolutely NONE had 50% or more female directors. Zero. Zip. Nada.

David Tennant Doctor Who What?

Ten of the twenty six shows – Thirty eight percent –  had ZERO female directors. A whooping 96% of the shows  had 75% or more male directors.

Let me rephrase that: in twenty five out of twenty six SF/F shows, less than one fourth of the directors were female. Only one show had more than 25% female directors.

On average, 89.9% of directors for SF/F shows were men, while 10.9% of them were women. Men aren’t just a majority of directors. They’re an overwhelming majority. Women barely have any presence at all.

So that’s the cursory overview state of women in the marvelously female-friendly land of television.

Unexamined assumptions, huh? Really worth examining.

Here’s the complete breakdown for writers, directors and executive producers for all twenty six shows. I put them in order of highest-to-lowest percentage of female writers (which yields results both obvious – Game of Thrones is #21 – and surprising: Elementary is #22).

1. Lost Girl (Season 3) 

Episodes: 7
Executive Producers: 3 (2 men, 1 woman) 33% women, 67% men 
Director: 6 (5 men, 1 woman) 16% women, 84% men 
Writers: 7 (3 men, 4 women) 57% women, 43% men
-episodes written only by women: 4 (57%)
-episodes written only by men: 3 (43%)

2. Eureka (season 5) 

Episodes: 13
Executive producers: 2 (1 woman, 2 men) 33% women, 67% men 
Directors: 8 (3 women, 5 men) 37.5% women, 62.5% men 
Writers: 14 (8 women, 6 men) 57% women, 43% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 3 (23%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 4 (30%) 
– Episodes written by both: 6 (46%) 

3. Beauty and the Beast (Season 1) 

Episodes: 14
Executive producers: 11 (3 men, 8 women) 27% women, 73% men
Director: 12 (11 men, 1 woman) 8% women, 92% men 
Writer: 11 (6 women, 5 man) 54% women, 46% men 
– written only by men: 4 (28.5%) 
– written only by women: 6 (43%)
– written by both: 4 (28.5%) 

4.  Being Human (season 3) 

Episodes: 7
Executive producers: 2 (1 man, 1 woman) 50% men, 50% women
Directors: 4 (3 men, 1 woman) 75% men, 25% women 
Writers: 8 (4 men, 4 women) 50% men, 50% women 
– Episodes written only by men: 3 (43%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 3 (43%) 
– Episodes written by both: 1 (14%) 

5.  Alcatraz (season 1) 

Episodes: 13
Executive Producers: 5 (4 men, 1 woman) 20% women, 80% men 
Directors: 8 – all men (100% men) 
Writers: 10 (5 men, 5 women) (50% women, 50% men) 
– Episodes written only by men: 4 (31%)
– Episodes written only by women: 4 (31%) 
– Episodes written by both: 5 (38%) 

6.  Arrow (Season 1) 

Episodes: 16
Executive Producers: 4 (all men) 100% 
Directors: 13 (12 men, 1 woman) 8% women, 92% men 
Writer: 10 (5 men, 5 women) 50% men, 50% women 
– Episodes written only by men: 7 (44%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 3 (19%) 
– Episodes written by both: 6 (37%)  

7. Touch (season 2) 

Episodes: 5
Executive producers: 7 (3 women, 4 men) 43% women, 57% men 
Directors: 4 (all men) 100% men 
Writers: 5 (2 women, 3 men) 40% women, 60% men
– episodes written only by men: 3 (60%) 
– episodes written only by women: 2 (40%) 
– episode written by both: 0

8. Fringe (Season 5) 

Episodes : 13
Executive producers: 1 man (100% male)
Directors: 12, all men (100% male) 
Writers: 5 (3 men, 2 women) 40% women, 60% men 
– 9 episodes written by only men (69%) 
– 4 episodes written by only women (31%) 
– 0 written by both

9. The Neighbors (season 1) 

Episode: 18
Executive producers: 4 (all men) 100% men 
Directors: 7 (all men) 100% men 
Writers: 10 (4 women, 6 men) 40% women, 60% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 9 (50%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 4 (22%) 
– Episodes written by both: 5 (27%) 

10. Last Resort (season 3) 

Episode: 13
Executive Producers: 4, all men 100% men 
Directors: 10 (8 men, 2 women) (20% women, 80% men) 
Writers: 11 (3 women, 8 men) (37.5% women, 62.5% men )
– Episodes written only by men: 9 (70%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 4 (30%) 
– Episodes written by both: 0 (0%) 

11.  Revolution (season 1) 

Episodes: 10
Executive Producers: 3 (all men) 100% men 
Directors: 8 (all men) 100% men 
Writers: 8 (3 women, 5 men) 37.5% women, 62.5% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 6  (60%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 2 (20%) 
– Episodes written by both: 2 (20%) 

12. Vampire Diaries (season four) 

Episodes: 15
Executive Producers: 4 (2 men, 2 women ) – 50% men, 50% women 
Directors: 12 (11 men, 1 woman) - 91% men, 9% women 
Writers: 11 (4 women, 7 men) – 36% women, 64% men 
– 6 episodes written only by men (40%) 
– 5 episodes written only by women (34%) 
– 4 episodes written by both (26%) 

13. True Blood (Season 5) 

Episodes: 12
Executive producer: 2 (both men) 100% men 
Directors: 9 (8 men, 1 woman) 11% women, 89% women 
Writers: 6 (2 women, 4 men) 33% women, 67% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 8 (67%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 4 (37%) 
– Both: 0 (0%) 

 14. Once Upon a Time (Season 2) 

Episodes: 15
Executive Producers: 2 (both men) 100% men 
Directors: 10 (9 men, 1 woman) 90% men, 10% women 
Writers: 10 (3 women, 7 men) 70% men, 30% women 
-10 episodes written by only men (67%)
– 4 episode written by only women (27%) 
– 1 episode written by both (6%) 

15. Person of Interest (season 2)

Episodes: 16
Executive Producers: 5, all men (100% male
Directors: 11 (10 men, 1 woman) 9% women, 91% men 
Writers: 13 (4 women, 9 men) 30% women, 70% men 
– 9 episodes written only by men (60%)
– 3 episodes written only by women (15%)
– 3 episodes written by both (15%)  

16. Drop Dead Diva (Season 4) 

Episodes: 13
Executive Producers: 5 (all men) 100% men 
Directors: 9 (8 men, 1 woman) 11% women, 89% men 
Writers: 11 (3 women, 8 men) 27% women, 73% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 9 (69%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 1 (8%) 
– Episodes written by both: 3 (27%) 

17. The Walking Dead (Season 3) 

Episodes: 12
Executive producers: 2 (both men) 100%
Directors: 9 (2 women, 7 men) 22% women, 78% men 
Writers: 8 (2 women, 6 men) 25% women, 75% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 8 (67%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 4 (33%) 
– Episodes written by both: 0 (0%) 

18. Alphas (season 2) 

Episodes: 13
Executive Producers: 6 (all men) 100% men 
Directors: 8 (6 men, 2 women) 25% women, 75% men 
Writers: 11 (8 men, 3 women) 27% women, 73% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 9 (69%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 1 (8%) 
– Episodes written by both: 3 (27%)

19. Warehouse 13 (season 4) 

Episodes: 10
Executive Producers; 3 (all men) 100% men 
Directors: 6 (all men) 100% men 
Writers: 9 (2 women, 7 men) (22% women, 78% men) 
– Episodes written only by men: 6 (60%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 4 (40%) 
– Episodes written by both: 0

20. Supernatural (season 8) 

Episodes: 16
Executive Producers: 1 (male)
Directors: 14 (14 men)  100% men 
Writers: 9 (7 men, 2 women) – 22% women, 78% men 
– 12 episodes written only by men (81%) 
– 1 episode written only by women (6%) 
– 3 episodes written by both (13%) 

21. Game of Thrones (season 2) 

Episodes: 10
Executive producers: 2 (both men) 100% men 
Directors: 5 (all men) 100% men
Writers: 5 (4 men, 1 woman) 20% women, 80% men 
– episodes written by only men: 8 (80%) 
– episodes written by only women: 2 (20%) 
– episodes written by both: 0

22. Elementary (Season 1) 

Episodes: 17
Executive producers: 4 (3 male, 1 female) – 25% women, 75% men  
Directors: 14 (11 male, 3 female) - 20% women, 80% men 
Writers: 12 (2 women, 10 men) – 16% women, 84% men 
– 13 episodes written only by men: 76% 
– 2 episodes written only by women: 12% 
– 2 episodes written by both: 12% 

23. Grimm (season 2) 

Episodes: 12
Executive Producers: 5 (all men) 100% 
Directors: 12 (2  women, 10 men) 17% women, 83% men 
Writers: 10 (1 woman, 9 men) 10% women, 90% men 
– Episodes written only by men: 9  (90%) 
– Episodes written only by women: 1 (10%) 
– Episodes written by both: 0

24. Falling Skies (season 2) 

Episodes: 10
Executive Producer: 1 (male) 100% men 
Directors: 7 (6 men, 1 woman) 14% women, 86% men 
Writers :7 (6 men, 1 woman) 14% women, 86% men 
– episodes written only by men: 8 (80%) 
– episodes written only by women: 2 (20%) 

25. Teen Wolf (Season 2) 

Episodes: 12
Executive Producers: 6 (5 men, 1 woman) 16% women, 84% men 
Directors: 2 (all men) 100% men 
Writers: 6 (all men) 100% men 

26. Doctor Who (series 7) 

Episodes: 6
Executive Producers: 1 (man) 100% men 
Directors: 4 (all men) 100% men 
Writers: 3 (all men) 100% men 

(note: the executive producer stats are BY FAR the most fuzzy. With some shows, it’s really hard to tell WHO the showrunner is. So take those stats with a MASSIVE grain of salt, and correct me if I’m wrong)

****

A few weeks after I took these statistics, articles began to pop up about Steven Moffat, Doctor Who’s showrunner. Apparently, people figured out that he hadn’t had a  female writer on the show during his entire tenure as showrunner.

I will not lie! My initial reaction was: “Damn, they got the drop on me. This is why you publish blog posts EARLY, girl.”

Anyways – people were understandably mad at Stephen Moffat.  Doctor Who is a very popular Sci-Fi show – more importantly, it’s a show that is very popular with women. Steven Moffat has had thirty two episodes to work with. You’re telling me he can’t find one female writer he wants on the show? Over thirty two episodes? Not a single one?

Yeah, it’s pretty terrible.

Martha Jones GIF Oh Do You Think

It’s also worth noting that Steven Moffat has had zero female directors and zero female writers on the other show he runs, Sherlock. And he hasn’t had a female director on Doctor Who in two series (twenty four episodes). So it’s a pretty obvious pattern.

But here’s the thing. Steven Moffat is not a glaring exception from the norm. Steven Moffat is the norm. A slightly more extreme version, yes. But only slightly.

And listen, I do not like Steven Moffat. At all. My boyfriend and I recently watched all of Doctor Who, and it’s pretty striking how quickly our attitude went from “yay, another Doctor Who episode to watch!” to “… I guess we should watch the next episode of Doctor Who, huh? Blurrrgh” when Moffat took over as showrunner.

(Aside from anything else, he’s not a good writer. Example: WHY THE FUCK DID THE TARDIS BLOW UP? Are we ever going to find out? WHY DID THE SILENCE NEED RIVER SONG IN THE FIRST PLACE, if the spacesuit was CONTROLLING THE PERSON INSIDE IT?) Plus Steven Moffat is terrible to female characters. Like, painfully terrible. I have so many rants stored up about his treatment of Amy Pond, River Song and Clara Oswin.

… sorry, that rant was supposed to be shorter. Point being: I do not like Steven Moffat. I do not want to defend Steven Moffat.  But he is not alone in his show’s lack of female creators. So if we’re going to call him out for his lack of female writers, we  should also call out all the other shows with few – or zero – female writers and directors.

And that’s basically all of them.

Put it this way: I’m worried we’re turning Steven Moffat into the bogeyman. He’s terrible to female characters! He’s terrible to female creators! He says the most despicable shit in interviews (as a bisexual woman, I particularly enjoyed his comment that he doesn’t put bisexuals on his shows because “[bisexuals] are too busy having fun” to care about representation. Thanks. No, seriously). So we (correctly) get outraged and yell at him a lot, and call him out etc.

But meanwhile, we don’t even notice that, say, Elementary’s writers are 80% male, and its directors are 84% male. Elementary  is a great show for female representation. It’s a great show for POC representation. It includes all kinds of feminist  concepts like boundaries, consent, good treatment of abuse victims, gaslighting etc. But behind the scenes? It’s only a tiny bit better than Doctor Who.

How about Once Upon A Time, a show where the hero, the villain and a whole lot of the main supporting characters are all female? Where there are a lot of kick-ass, interesting, complex women?  Where women are portrayed in a variety of ways (not just the Strong Female Character TM?) Ninety percent of their directors are men. Seventy percent of their writers are men.
(and it’s a show that tends to fail pretty hard on female characters of color).

So why does it matter? If a show is doing well in terms of female representation, why should we care if their writing staff and directorial pool is filled with men?

That argument – the “good representation in one area negates bad representation in another” argument – is, I submit to you, poppycock.

Elementary GIF sherlock poppycock

Having more women writing, producing and directing TV shows is good in and of itself. Not just because it might bring about better female representation – as we’ve seen, men are capable of writing good female characters, and of avoiding sexist narratives. Better female representation might be a side effect of more female writers, producers and directors, but it’s not the only reason to push for it.

Both Elementary and Once Upon A Time do a better job with female characters than Doctor Who. A way better job. Hell, I would go so far as to say that even Game of Thrones does a better job with female characters (when it’s not busy adding more sexism to the source material). But it’s not just how you write the female characters in your show. It’s not just how you incorporate feminist concepts into your script. It’s also who you think is good enough to CREATE that show. To  create those worlds. To tell those stories.

For most SF/F shows, the people they think are good enough to create those shows and tell those stories are – men. Sure, there are a few women thrown in there. But mostly, it’s men.

And not having good representation of female creators isn’t just an implicit commentary on who you think is good enough to create a show. It also has economic consequences.

Having more female creators on TV shows is important because it means women are getting paid. I don’t know how to spell it out more clearly: these are jobs. These are jobs for which people are getting paid. And women are not getting paid to do these jobs, because women are not getting these jobs. It’s part of the reason I thought the sexism on American Idol in the last two seasons was particularly terrible – by denying women a chance to compete in the higher ranks of Idol, you’re denying them a higher paycheck. And that matters. On a basic,  fundamental level, this is about money and jobs. Money and jobs that women cannot get, even on shows that are supposed to be catering to women (like the Vampire Diaries or True Blood). We need to support women economically just as much as we need to support women creatively.

And yes, representation offscreen is also important because it’s about supporting women creatively. As the stats show, women are not allowed to write, create, or direct their own stories. Even in shows that are ostensibly about women (Once Upon A Time, True Blood etc.) and that are ostensibly aimed towards a female audience, men are the ones creating, crafting and writing women’s stories. We don’t get control over our own narratives. Which is problematic because women are a marginalized group. The right to self-definition is one we rarely have – we are the other, not the self. The Self – men – get to define us. And part of breaking down oppression and marginalization is gaining the ability to define ourselves – to write ourselves, to tell our own stories.

(This is not an argument that no man should ever write about women. It’s an institutional problem, not an individual one, which we can change by getting *more* women into the industry.  Nor is it an argument that women are obligated to write about women – it’s important women be able to write about men, particularly since many people still think women are restricted to writing about their own experiences)

Moreover, most showrunners – the people who create those new shows, new mythologies, new characters, new stories – start off as TV directors or TV writers. If we want more showrunners to be women, we need to give them access to writing and directing jobs.

In other words, when we think about women in the television industry, we need to remember that both women’s representation onscreen and women’s representation offscreen matters. We shouldn’t write off bad representation behind the scenes just because a show has good female characters onscreen; a show can do well in one respect and fail in the other. And both sorts of representation (or lack of representation) have consequences.

For example, consider a girl who loves Doctor Who. She loves Amy Pond (one of the Doctor’s recent companions) so much that she decides to become a writer, just like Amy. And since she enjoys SF/F TV so much, she decides to become a television writer. Maybe she’ll even get a job on Doctor Who!

The problem is, given the current state of SF/F television (and Doctor Who) – she would probably have a really hard time getting work.

There are consequences to not promoting female creators offscreen.

***

These statistics, unfortunately, are fundamentally flawed. They only look at one axis of marginalization (sexism), and they do so with no real intersectionality. It is undoubtably the case that women of color have an even harder time getting jobs writing or directing SF/F TV shows. It’s almost certainly true that there are very few POC (men or women) writing or directing network television. That I didn’t look at these statistics means that my conclusions are inherently flawed – I can tell you that women are less likely to be hired, but I can’t tell you if certain kinds of women (white women, straight women, abled women) have an easier time, or if women are more likely to be hired than POC. Partially, these flaws come from the fact that it’s much easier to tell how many women v. men write a show – you can just count names (ah, the convenience of gendered names). I also tried to figure out number of POC writing for certain shows, and felt really gross, as a white woman, trying to guess who was a POC and who wasn’t from pictures (when I couldn’t find any self-identification).

But I do think the information I didn’t gather – information on race etc. –  is crucial to understanding who exactly is allowed to create SF/F television.

For example, in taking a second look at Elementary, I realized that even if Elementary doesn’t do a great job with female writers and directors, it does do a pretty good job in terms of Directors of Color. They had at least two WOC and three MOC directing episodes (out of twenty four episodes). Which isn’t perfect, but it’s a lot better than most shows. While that doesn’t negate Elementary’s lack of women, it does provide an extra dimension to consider (and gives me hope that they’re *trying*)

Here are some broad, if incomplete, statistics to add to my numbers. According to the Writers Guild of America West, 87.3% of television screenwriters are white (while only 63.7% of the US population is non-hispanic white/european American). And 55 shows in the 2011-2012 television year hired no writers of  color. Those shows include Game of Thrones and Once Upon A Time.

I mean, again: even shows that are good about representation onscreen can be terrible about representation behind the scenes (not that either Game of Thrones or Once Upon A Time is good about POC representation onscreen). And it’s important to document and publicize those aspects of representation.

****

On a final note, these statistics are important because they belie the idea that creators and narratives respond to the audience – as opposed to the patriarchy. One of the most common (misogynistic) arguments you’ll hear when you talk about lack of female creators in literature or in movies or in comic books is that the audience for those mediums is mostly male. Therefore, the creators are mostly male, because they’re best suited to respond to male desires. So it’s not misogyny! It’s just Reflecting the Audience.

This is a bullshit, victim-blaming argument to begin with, but it’s pretty much completely disproven if you look at the television statistics. Women watch way more television than men. Women watch way more network television than men. And yet women are still in the minority – often in the overwhelming minority – when it comes to creating television. It’s an important reminder that institutions don’t primarily respond to the makeup of their audience. They respond to the patriarchy. Comic books are often sexist not because they are aimed towards men, but because they are part of the patriarchy. The movie industry is often sexist not because its products are aimed towards men, but because it is responding to the patriarchy. The solution is not just for more women to watch shows/read comics etc. The solution is to dismantle institutional sexism.  

Is it easy? Nope.

Do I know how to do it (except by complaining online a lot and trying to raise awareness)? Nope

Is it worth doing? Absolutely.

Because this is just ridiculous.

Donna Noble Doctor Who Yelling GIF

Donna Noble I Can Try Doctor Who GIF

#Personal Hero

(I miss Donna)

(also, as I mentioned, these statistics are super ad-hoc, so if you find errors, or if you want to add information, that would be very welcome! More info/getting a broader picture is always welcome)

(on the other hand, explaining why I am super-wrong and a bad statistics gatherer when I explain UPFRONT the problems with my methodology and *why* I didn’t have the capacity to do better is… not welcome. PRE-EMPTIVE WARNING)


Right-Before-The-Deadline-Hugo-Nominations

[okay, apparently wordpress published this post... and then unpublished it. I don't even know. If you're getting an update twice, let me know?] 

Oh, hi everyone! Enjoying the beginning of March? (SNOW, URGH, PLEASE STOP)

Hey, what day are we? The tenth?

Why does that sound ominous?

OH CLAUDE, THE HUGO NOMINATIONS ARE DUE MARCH 10TH! TODAY! TODAY! TODAY!

Now would be a good time to panic!

MAYDAY! MAYDAY! MAYDAY!

I meant to put my recommendations up, oh… weeks before? But I’ve been having blog troubles (and real life troubles, which tend to lead to blog troubles), so you’re getting these much later than I would like. But hey, if you’re seeing this post, it means I managed to get my nominations written up before the deadline!

At this point, that’s a pretty major victory for me.

(we’re just going to forget the fact that it’s FOURTEEN HOURS before the deadline, okay? MAJOR VICTORY OVER DEPRESSION = forgetting how close the call was)

So! First things first! If you have no idea what these bloody awards are, let me explain!
The Hugo are arguably the most prestigious speculative fiction awards in the world. Sure, it says “Science Fiction Awards” on the tin, but let’s face it, these awards are as much for Fantasy as they are for SF, or authors like Neil Gaiman, NK Jemisin and Catherynne Valente would never be nominated.

(I do think it’s harder for fantasy material to win the Hugos, but that’s another post).

Here’s the crucial bit: the Hugos are a fan award, which means that Random Fans can, in theory, influence the process.

… Hey! Are you a fan? Do you care about awards? Do you complain about nominations for days after they’ve been announced? Consider voting (and nominating for the Hugos)! More voters = better.

Details! Important details! You need to be a member of WorldCon to nominate and vote . And the way you become a member is by paying $60.

No joke, $60 is a pretty hefty sum for the privilege of voting. At least it is for me, your friendly neighborhood feminist batwoman student blogger. There are, however, some benefits that offset the cost. As a Hugo Voter, you get the voting packet, which contains almost all the novels, short stories, novellas, movies, shows, fanzines etc. nominated for the Hugo awards. It would cost you a shitload more than $60 to get all those books/movies/novellas etc. on your own.

Another fun fact! If you buy a membership for a WorldCon, you get to nominate for the next year’s Hugos. I was a member of last year’s WorldCon (ChiCon), so I get to nominate this year, even though I haven’t bought a membership for 2013 yet.

Reminder to any fellow ChiCon members: if you paid to nominate/vote last year, or if you paid to go to ChiCon, YOU CAN NOMINATE THIS YEAR. You can’t vote without a new membership, but you can nominate. So nominate! In the next fourteen hours! Because you only have until 11:59 EST.

For everyone else – it’s too late to sign up to nominate, but if you are interested in voting this year, there’s more information on how to sign up here.

Okay! Now, without further ado, the fun part: MY super-last-minute nominations for the Hugos.

(note: not all categories are filled out, because I am just one woman, and I have not read/watched everything in the SF/F field. I’ve tried to restrict my recommendations to fields that I actually know something about).

Novel: 

1. The Killing Moon by NK Jemisin

At first, I thought I only had one nominee in the novel category because I just hadn’t read enough 2012 books. But looking back over my reading log… nope. I actually have read quite a few 2012 books. I just haven’t been impressed by very many of them (oh, BURN) (sorry, China Mielville and Elizabeth Bear. Better luck next time!)

There was one (okay, two) notable exception.

NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon, and the sequel, The Shadowed Sun.

The Killing Moon NK Jemisin

Honestly, if NK Jemisin’s The Killing Moon doesn’t make it onto the ballot, I will side-eye fandom forever. For my money (if I had any money), it’s not only the best book Jemisin’s ever written, it’s the best novel published in SF/F last year. Jemisin’s worldbuilding and magical systems have never been better. And the plot. GAAAAH, THE PLOT.

A digression here: I think there’s a big difference between a book that should win the Hugo, and a book that CAN win the Hugo. Two years ago, I thought that Feed (Mira Grant) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms (NK Jemisin) SHOULD have won the Hugo over Blackout/All Clear. But I didn’t think The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms COULD win the Hugo (too much sex! Plus, politics).
Moreover, a someone fairly engaged in social justice, I’m always interested in seeing books nominated that deconstruct, or challenge the more conservative aspects of the SF/F genre. At the same time, I recognize that those books aren’t likely to win, precisely BECAUSE they challenge conservative (and popular) aspects of the genre.

The point of the digression? I think The Killing Moon is one of those rare books that both SHOULD and COULD win the Hugo Award for best novel.

Whenever I think about The Killing Moon, I keep coming back to one word: tight. The plot is tight. The worldbuilding is tight. The characters are tight. The prose is tight. Everything is crafted with such skill that I think the more challenging aspects of the book can just – slide by, unnoticed. Jemisin’s first book, The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was a much more obvious confrontation and reconstruction of the epic fantasy genre, which is why I think it was so controversial. Don’t get me wrong – Jemisin’s Dreamblood books are just as engaged in challenging the epic fantasy genre. But it’s – quieter. The progressive politics of The Killing Moon can probably slide by more conservative voters in a way the politics of The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms could not.

It’s sneakily political.

The second book in the duology, The Shadowed Sun was also published in 2012 (and I also loved it), but NK Jemisin specifically asked that fans nominate The Killing Moon (so her books aren’t in competition with one another), and I’m following her wishes.

I would also be very interested in seeing Catherynne Valente’s The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There and/or Frances Hardinge’s A Face Like Glass on the nomination ballot. I have not read either book, although I enjoy both authors and I’ve heard good things from people I trust about these particular works.

I’d like to see one of them on the ballot because they’re young adult fantasy novels written by women. While young adult novels occasionally make it onto the ballot (and win), it’s my impression that those Chosen Few tend to be by men (e.g. Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book). Again, this is just a theory, but I think there’s a tendency to assume that young adult novels written by men can still be Serious Literature, while young adult novels written by women cannot, even if those women have written Serious Literature in the past.

Thus, I would not be surprised if China Mielville’s foray into YA, Railsea, made it onto the ballot, but I think Valente or Hardinge’s novel would be far more interesting choices.

Best Fan Writer:

Wait, that’s not the category after Best Novel!

…Except for me. Because Best Fan Writer is the category I care about the most.  I love cultural criticism. YOU MAY HAVE NOTICED… since I started an entire blog for just that purpose.

Best Fan Writer is also a category that I’ve found drearily boring in past years – the same writers are usually nominated year after year after year. And, to the surprise of no one, the nominations tends to be dominated by white men (it’s been six years since the final ballot included more than one woman).

Point being: there are tons of brilliant, diverse, interesting writers talking about SF/F. More of them should be recognized.

1. Foz Meadows.

I want to be Foz Meadows when my blog grows up. Her work on racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression in SF/F is unparalleled. She’s articulate, passionate, and thorough: her arguments are brilliant, her research is impecable.

Oh, and she’s extraordinarily entertaining.

Examples: PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical, Politics, YA and Narrative, Racism, Revealing Eden and STGRB, Rape Culture in Gaming

2. Mark Oshiro of MarkReads and MarkWatches

When someone suggested Mark Oshiro for this category, I went “Oh duh, why didn’t I think of him?”

How do you even describe Mark? He’s been reading – and watching – lots of the most important shows and books in SF/F for his two sites, MarkReads and MarkWatches. His reviews are simultaneously insightful and hilarious. He’s perpetually unprepared for plot twists, and perpetually prepared to fall madly in love with new books.

You have not lived until you’ve read – or watched – a Mark Oshiro review.

I can’t tell you how much I love him. He just brings such JOY to his work (while also calling out problematic shit!)

It’s a rare writer who can critique a genre while simultaneously reminding you of why you’re in love with it.

Examples: Mark Reads Revealing Eden (if you want to see Mark dying over terrible writing and racism), Mark Watches Doctor Who: The Angels Take Manhattan, Mark Watches The Legend of Korra: The Revelation, Mark Reads Wild Magic Chapter 3

3. Ana Mardoll of Ana Mardoll’s Ramblings

Ana Mardoll’s website is filled with smart, thorough deconstructions of important genre books – Twilight, the Narnia Books, Buffy, The Hunger Games etc. Her coverage of disability in SF/F is particularly interesting. Like Mark Oshiro, she’s incredibly thorough with her analysis – her deconstructions often go chapter by chapter, and each post can go well over 2000 words.

I suspect she’s overlooked by the SF/F community because she doesn’t fit our model of a fan writer – she’s a feminist/social justice blogger who writes about genre fiction a lot. And that’s part of the reason I’d like to see her and Mark Oshiro on the ballot – their very presence would expand what we see as “fan writing.”
Plus, I am personally a fan of bloggers like Ana Mardoll, who talk about genre fiction in one post, feminism in the next, and the wives of Henry VIII in the third. Because fuck, that’s the kind of blogger I want to be – so I do love seeing it done well.

Examples: “L” is for Madonna-Whore Complex (deconstructing an article about Twilight that is, if possible, EVEN MORE problematic than Twilight), Twilight: Carried in the Arms of Assholes (fascinating exploration of the appropriation of disability in the Twilight series), Buffy: Freebird (talks the character of Joyce and emotional abuse, and WHOA, I DID NOT SEE IT BEFORE, BUT NOW I DO), The Hunger Games: A Question of Agency

4. Catherynne Valente

I am a huge fan of Catherynne Valente as a fiction writer – but I am, if possible, an even bigger fan of her as a non-fiction writer. No joke, I’ve re-read her Guest of Honor speech for MythCon… five times?

Valente is particularly important as a commentator on fandom and fan writing itself. Yes, very meta of me! Christopher Priest ranted about the Clarke Awards; Catherynne Valente looked at the fan reaction to his post, and turned it into an entire discussion of sexism in fandom. Her post on the Readercon debacle reminded us that Genevieve Valentine’s experience was actually workplace harassment. And when people attacked Valente for refusing to repudiate Requires Hate, Valente wrote a post that simultaneously explored her own problematic behavior (cultural appropriation), and discussed a wider fandom problem. 

Valente does not write often, but when she does, she is on fire.

Other examples: Girl Grit: Feminism, Westerns, Sherlock and Erasure

5. NK Jemisin:

I almost didn’t put NK Jemisin on my final ballot, because I didn’t want more than two professional authors in the fanwriter category. And then I was all “What are you even doing, Suzanne?” because Jemisin’s voice is so critical to the way I think about the field. She, like Valente, has some of the best commentary on fandom on the interwebs. Her posts on sexism, racism and oppression in fan spaces are brilliant and provocative (example discussing racism in fandom)

She also wrote smart posts about video games, on why magic doesn’t need to make sense, and on the use of  sexual violence in her own books.

Yes, it’s frustrating that Jemisin can simultaneously be both a brilliant fiction writer, and a brilliant fan writer. But she is, so I must recognize her.

Honorable Mentions: I read so many people who deserve a nomination, and sadly, not all of them can end up on my final ballot.

Tansy Rayner Roberts, for her discussions of Domesticity in Doctor Who, her series on Women in Comic Books, her Xena posts, and her article on Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy.

Liz Bourke, for her series Sleeps With Monsters on Tor.com (The Smurfette Principle is a good example of the series)

Abigail Nussbaum, for being the essayist and reviewer I wish I were, and for her spectacular, worldview-changing article Women and Horses, which asks: “Why are we, on the one hand, outraged by the deaths of horses on the set of Luck, and on the other, casually accepting of the potential mistreatment of human women on the set of Game of Thrones?” (particularly when those women are underage).

Best Related Work: 

Chicks Dig Comics edited by Lynne M. Thomas and Sigrid Ellis. Has lots of very fun, very smart articles, and is responsible for introducing me to Kelly Sue Deconnick, Amanda Connor, Greg Rucka and Marjorie Liu.

Best Graphic Story:

1. Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples

Saga is… strangely unepic, for a story named “Saga” that opens with a tale of star-crossed lovers from warring civilizations. Rather than aiming for obvious epic themes, Vaughn makes the comic an intimate, almost domestic, story about an odd couple escaping from the forces that want them dead… all while trying to take care of their newborn (urgh, diapers!)
The plot is weird and brutal. The worldbuilding is ridiculous, and I mean that as a compliment. Staples and Vaughn’s worldbuilding strategy seems to consist of throwing random stuff at the wall, and seeing what sticks – but they’re talented enough that it works out beautifully. And the characters are both atypical and compelling.

2. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

A ridiculously fun, well-drawn webcomic I stumbled on a few weeks ago. It chronicles how the adventures of Lord Balister Blackheart, the biggest name in Supervillainy, go terribly wrong when he takes on a sidekick: Nimona, a shapechanging teenager.

It’s hilarious and it has lots of fun meta-commentary about superheroes, epic fantasy and villains. I’m in internet love.

Also, Sir Ambrosius Goldenlion (Lord Ballister Blackheart’s greatest enemy) has The Best Hair. Nomination for that alone, quite frankly.

Best Dramatic Presentation, Long Form: 

I’m not going to talk about my reasons for these, because they’re not strikingly different from what I’ve seen on other lists.

1. The Hunger Games
2. The Avengers
3. The Dark Knight Rises
4. Brave
5. The Legend of Korra, Season One.

Okay, about the last: I had some SERIOUS problems with the first season of The Legend of Korra (LOK). In fact, I just finished it last night, and spent a good hour ranting at my boyfriend. But I still think the series had incredible animation, some brilliant plots (alongside less-than-brilliant-ones) and wonderful characters (Tenzin! Chief Bei Fong! Korra! Asami!)
Is it perfect?
No.
But I would like to see it on the ballot. 

Best Dramatic Presentation, Short Form: 

I have zero nominations here, because I am so not caught up on current SF/F television. I will say that I would be very happy to see episodes that AREN’T from Doctor Who on this list. Have you considered The Legend of Korra, My Little Pony, Community or Fringe for nominations? You should!

Best Professional Artist: 

Listen, I’m not an expert on art, and usually, I wouldn’t care about this category. But because I am a professional misandrist and I hate all men* – and also because very few women are ever nominated in this category – I wanted to find women artists who deserved a nomination.

And yes, this is rather necessary. From my cursory research, I don’t think a single woman has been nominated for this category in the last DECADE.

*(May Not Be A Factual Statement)

1. Julie Dillon (AKA: Why The Hell Hasn’t She Been Nominated)

I regularly use her art as wallpaper for my computer. Can you blame me?

Julie Dillon breaking through

Breaking Through

The Dala Horse (Julie Dillon)

The Dala Horse (Julie Dillon)

2. Fiona Staples

Stapes is responsible for both the interior illustrations, and the covers for Saga. I don’t usually notice the art in comic books, but Staples’ work is so richly, gloriously bizarre that I can’t NOT notice.

Saga Issue one cover fiona staples

Saga, issue one

Saga Chapter 3 Fiona Staples

Saga chapter 3

Saga Fiona Staples

The Stalk (Saga)

3. Kathleen Jennings 

I’m a huge fan of Jennings’ lovely, whimsical book covers – I particularly love how she uses wraparound effects. Her illustrations for Eclipse Online are also wonderful.

Kat Jennings

The Memcordist by Lavie Tidhar, illustrated by Kat Jennings

Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

Cover and Dustjacket for Stranger Things Happen by Kelly Link

4. Amy Reeder 

I’ve been a fan of Amy Reeder’s for a very long time – even though I wasn’t aware of it. My wordpress icon? The Batwoman picture?

Amy Reeder Batwoman

Batwoman by Amy Reeder

Yep! Drawn by Amy Reeder.

Although the Batwoman franchise tends to be known for JH Williams’ artwork, some of the most iconic covers come from Reeder’s pen (I am using one of them as my wallpaper right now). And her artwork on the creator-owned Halloween Eve is stunning. I wish I’d known I was a fan of hers before!

Amy Reeder Halloween Eve

Halloween Eve

Batwoman Amy Reeder

Batwoman, Issue 9 by Amy Reeder

5. Ana Juan

Hat Tip to The Book Smugglers for this recommendation – I was trying to find a fifth nominee, to no avail, when their post on Hugo nominations came out. I’ve loved the artwork in Catherynne Valente’s Fairyland books, but I never looked up the artist. Juan’s work is beautiful, whimsical, and a bit off-kilter.

Fairyland Ana Juan

Ana Juan

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland And Led The Revels There by Catherynne Valente

Best Fan Artist 

1. Kathleen Jennings, for all her daleks on her blog – and specifically, for drawing Daleks into all of our favorite books and movies.

2. Noelle Stevenson for Nimona (not a professional work – she’s not, as far as I can tell, getting paid). Because her work is fun and beautiful and witty, and reminds me of nothing so much as Kate Beaton

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Best Semi-Prozine: 

The Mary Sue: A guide to geek girl culture. I love The Mary Sue, and they serve my primary source of SF/F news. The writers are funny and incisive, the coverage is wide-ranging, the politics are feminist and progressive.

Best Fanzine: The Book Smugglers: I am counting The Book Smugglers as a fanzine rather than as fan writers, because there are TWO writers on The Book Smugglers. And they deserve a nomination for all the work they do. My god, they publish a post a day, and although Ana and Thea don’t cover speculative fiction exclusively, they do write a whole lot about the genre. Their book reviews are wonderful and incisive, and their genre commentary is always on-point.

Ana and Thea also host an annual blog event called Smugglivus, when they invite authors and bloggers to talk about the year past. It is responsible for introducing me to waaaaaaay too many good books.

Best Fancast: 

Galactic Suburbia (and not just because they put me on their award honors list!)

Galactic Suburbia is a feminist podcast, and thus I am contractually obligated to love them. Fortunately, they make it easy on me, by being perpetually wonderful, and funny, and outraged. Plus, they keep me up to date with all of the Australian Speculative Fiction news (important, since I am a provincial USian).

Last year, I said I was nominating them “because they are awesome. And they make me read ALL the good books.”

And they are still awesome, and making me read all the good books. I really hope they make the ballot again this year.

****

PHEW.

And with that, my friends, my Hugo Nominations are in!

*****

A couple brief announcements, for those of you who haven’t fallen asleep yet!

1. For the purposes of me not getting super-confused ALL THE TIME, I’m now going by the name I use in non-internet life (Suzanne). I get SUPER-CONFUSED whenever anyone uses the name “CD” to refer to me. And although this is a pseudonymous blog, I don’t think using my real name will cause anyone to figure out my ultra-secret identity.
So yes, from now on, I am Suzanne (and my preferred pronoun is “she”).

Of course, you are also welcome to refer to the blog name, full stop (Culturally Disoriented), or to call me The Feminist Batwoman (even though I am NOT the Feminist Batwoman. LET’S BE CLEAR).

2. I have a tumblr! Which has absolutely zero original content. I just reblog a lot of kittens and GIFS. But if you’re interested, I’m over at Feminist Batwoman (although, again, I AM NOT THE FEMINIST BATWOMAN).

3. Content has been slow here! For lots of reasons. Mostly, but not solely medical. I switched antidepressants over winter break, and unfortunately, the new medications caused some pretty brutal side effects. So I am now OFF those antidepressants, which means I am off antidepressants completely, and the transition has been… rough. I also ended up at the ER twice for totally unrelated reasons, because my body hates me right now.
Anyway, content is likely to REMAIN slow for a bit. But I am still here, so bear with me! There’s a GIANT POST OF DOOM coming up. It has lots and lots of statistics! About women in SF/F television! IT IS GIANT! The research is DONE. So it is ALMOST READY.


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