The Handmaid’s Tale is a modern classic story of one woman’s slavery in a dystopian post-America society. Recently adapted into a show on Hulu, its sixth episode (“A Woman’s Place”) is the first to seriously deviate from the plot of the original novel. Earlier I wondered how Hulu was going to further explore and expand the world of Gilead, and how that would impact the show’s feminist messages. With “A Woman’s Place”, Hulu has started to deliver. We see different women in different positions of power and oppression. Serena Joy takes center stage, but we also spend time with June/Offred (our titular Handmaid) as well as two other women. Each woman tells us something different about the way we respond to slavery.
Spoilers for Episode 6 of The Handmaid’s Tale and warnings for slavery and sex trafficking below.
It seems in recent years as though a dam has broken and the notion of what is “acceptable content” for a kids or YA show thankfully now has an ever-increasing flow of support. While themes of inclusivity and equality have been a staple of the genre since the early days of Children’s Television Workshop, recent examples like Steven Universe have dealt with gender identity and sexuality in ways that would likely have been vetoed by the networks even a decade ago. One show that, in many ways at least, was at the forefront of that charge is Adventure Time. While by no means perfect, it gives us numerous examples of gender equality and represents a fairly wide range of gender, sexual, and romantic identities that fall outside the heteronormative narratives that many of the genre’s examples, even the best ones, have traditionally retold ad nauseum.
Grab your friends, we’re going to very distant lands. (Screengrab from (Adventure Time)
While Adventure Time does this in numerous ways and through numerous characters, there is one example that is among the most direct and the most enduringly popular: Fionna and Cake. In looking not only at these characters specifically, but also more broadly at what they show us about the Ice King and toxic masculinity, we can see one of the best examples of these themes being presented in subtle and complex ways that are accessible to the target age group and, ultimately, further that tradition of inclusiveness.
After what feels like 600 actual years, I’ve finally reached the end of the newest installment in the Mass Effect series, Mass Effect: Andromeda. The previous trilogy left us with Commander Shepard defeating the harbingers of an oncoming galaxy-wide purging of intelligent life and everyone looking forward to a very bright future. But in Andromeda, that life, those problems, and their resolution are all thousands of light-years away and several hundred regular years in the past. Playing as Ryder alongside my fellow space frontierspeople, I found that exploringhumanity’s and all the Milky Way races’ newest home was a journey that often left me feeling conflicted, especially because Bioware never seemed to fully grasp the implications of Ryder’s and the Andromeda Initiative’s actions or feel brave enough to go beyond the hackneyed sci-fi plots of yore.To get it out of the way, yes: the graphics are janky at times and some of the voice acting feels like the actors/actresses had no direction for the context of their lines, but these factors alone do not a bad game make. And I wouldn’t say that Andromeda is even bad; honestly. Andromeda’s problems are due to its undeserved high opinion of itself, and by taking on too much, the game doesn’t give its audience enough of anything.
Hulu’s recent adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale couldn’t have hit our screens at a better time. Just as American politicians are “debating” all kinds of controversial healthcare policies (especially women’s reproductive health), we’re treated to a retelling of Atwood’s feminist dystopian classic. Atwood paints a world in which America is overtaken by a radical right-wing fundamentalist Christian sect, forcing women into subservient roles determined by their fertility. It’s the autobiographical story of June, aka Offred, one woman trying to survive life under the new regime. One of the best things about the Hulu adaptation is its determination to bring complexity to a variety of themes in the story. It’d be easy to write off The Handmaid’s Tale as a religious horror story, but it’s so much more than that.
Spoilers for the first three episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Atwood’s novel, plus trigger warnings for mentions of sexual slavery and forced pregnancy below.
To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have much hope for the latest installment in the Star Ocean franchise. I wanted to be optimistic, the same way I wanted to be optimistic about the Assassin’s Creed movie or Final Fantasy XV—but near every time I go for optimism, reality has its ways of disappointing me. Integrity and Faithlessness came out after The Last Hope, and The Last Hope is anything but a good game. The plot made no damn sense, the characters are all unlikable, and the massive amounts of sexism and rape culture on top of everything made the game more than unenjoyable.
The Last Hope’s failure ensured that the budget for Integrity and Faithlessness was small, and it sure as hell shows. We only get to visit one planet, the monster designs are all reused from previous games, there are hardly any cutscenes, meaning that it’s possible to walk away from important dialogue, and the plot itself is a little lackluster. It’s not hard to see why the game only has three stars on IGN. Despite all that, though, Integrity and Faithlessness did a really good job with what it had. A lot of effort went into its characters, and following a group of well rounded people more than made up for any of the game’s other shortcomings.
The comic book series that I come back to over the years tend to be the ones with the most memorable and well fleshed out characters. I generally also re-examine these treasured tomes from a more critical perspective as time goes on, often from an explicitly feminist one. Of these all-time favorites, one that particularly warrants that reexamination is Y: The Last Man.
The team dynamic in a nutshell. (Scan from Y: The Last Man)
I won’t lie, I’ve been wanting to write about Y since I survived the Jedi/Sith training required to write for LGG&F; I’ve also been absolutely dreading it. For those of you not familiar with the series, Last Man is a story by Brian K. Vaughan that ran from 2002–2008 in which all the characters aside from the titular protagonist are women, as is nearly every other human being alive. It’s a story, written by a man, about the last man alive in a world full of women. To say that there are some inherently problematic issues in the series from that information alone is an understatement. Many of my favorite comic book authors are men and many of my favorite comic book characters are women; that critical angle is one I encounter frequently, but Y takes it to a whole new level as nearly every character you encounter or see is female (or AFAB).
In looking back at The Last Man here, let’s explore how it inverts exploitation narratives in order to undermine them and how it uses gender as a lens through which to examine human nature.
Spoilers for the whole series, including the end, follow.
Like many fanbases, the Bioware fanbase/playerbase is a trash fire at any given time. Said fanbase didn’t even let Mass Effect: Andromeda get off the ground before lambasting it for various graphical inadequacies and stilted line delivery. However, while there do exist some graphical glitches, weird bugs, and a disappointing character creator, ME: A is not that bad. Since I’m not even halfway through the game yet (no spoilers!) this isn’t going to be a full review, but rather a look at a troubling reaction by Mass Effect’s audience. After already being labeled as “SJW propaganda” by people who loathe anything that looks like a diverse cast, it’s absolutely no surprise that there’s such negativity surrounding a woman in charge; even less surprising when that woman is Black. While there’s absolutely fault on the fanbase for the unfair treatment surrounding her, in what I’ve seen and experienced I can only come up with one conclusion: Bioware set up Sloane Kelly to fail.