Sexualized Saturdays: Matriarchy Shouldn’t Just Be Patriarchy-But-With-Women

Our society has a poor relationship with gender, which is bad for reality, but gets interesting in fiction. This dynamic is pushed to some possible conclusion in works such as The Handmaid’s Tale, Bitch Planet, or Stepford Wives. In these stories, the degrading treatment of women in the present day becomes far more explicit and sinister. We aren’t just looking at microaggressions and lower pay, but being forced into servitude or stripped of all agency. Stories like these are both good cautionary tales and thought experiments, and they can more easily highlight some of the harder-to-see marginalizations women face. But sometimes, an author wants to shock the audience by flipping the gendered treatment of the characters. In some stories, we get to see matriarchal societies and how they tend to operate, which is useful for examining our own biases. But whenever I see these, I wonder if this is how things would actually go.

A month or so ago, we saw some of the drafts for a Wonder Woman movie penned by Joss Whedon. To put it lightly, it caught some flak. Within the droves of criticism, some commenters pointed out that Diana would most likely not resort to insulting someone by telling them to “be man enough.” First off, she was previously unfamiliar with the concept of men in general. Second, as an Amazon her frame of what is strong would include only women. So if anything, she would say to “woman up,” but again, the gender thing wouldn’t come up the same way, because she doesn’t even know men existed. Third, would a society completely comprised of women still value strength as one of its key tenets and judge someone’s value on their bravery and toughness? For a warrior society, maybe, but not necessarily. Would their values be roughly the same as our more patriarchal society, just with a gender flip? I started thinking about it, and then I got to thinking about other times this theme caught my attention.

Content warning for sexism and assault below.

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Sexualized Saturdays: The Life-Changing Magic of Being Not Like Other Girls

As I recently read S. Jae-Jones’s YA novel Wintersong, I noticed something troubling. The book seemed designed to appeal to me: it was a fantasy romance with strong (really strong) inspiration from both the movie Labyrinth and my favorite poem, Christina Rosetti’s Goblin Market. However, something about Liesl, the main character, bugged me, and it took me a while to figure it out. Not because it wasn’t obvious, but because I thought that, in this, the Year of Our Lord 2017, we had done away with the “not like other girls” trope.

It’s a tale as old as time: a girl who’s just ~not like~ the other girls around her, against all odds, wins the day. These stories are appealing to us because these girls are framed as the outcasts; we can relate to their being bookish or plain or unpopular. But a problem that uniquely affects the female characters who fit these roles is that they often succeed or achieve victory at the expense of other women and girls, or by denigrating traditional femininity (or both). Liesl is an on-the-nose example of this trope: she is terribly jealous of her sister’s physical beauty, a trait Liesl lacks and constantly laments. Liesl is a genius composer, but her skills are downplayed or overlooked because of her gender. Meanwhile, it feels like her gorgeous sister is set up to be resented, as she at least can win men’s attention with her looks.

The cup of a carpenter is not like those frilly other cups. (via indygear)

However, when offered a beautiful fae gown by the servants of the Goblin King, Liesl instead chooses a plain dress, and this is played like Indiana Jones correctly picking the right Holy Grail. But instead of just rejecting the wealth and majesty of the other dresses, it reads as though Liesl is casting a value judgment on the majority of the other women in the book, who did choose to wear frills and finery.

This is just the latest example of this issue, rather than the only one. Pop culture has a long and varied history of celebrating these not-like-other-girls, from formative Disney flicks all the way up to watch-at-your-own-risk premium television like Game of Thrones. These portrayals enforce a terrible message: that there’s only one right way to be a girl, and that it’s totally acceptable to tear down other girls who don’t meet those standards. Continue reading

Throwback Thursdays: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Hulu adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale and the story’s frightening relevance in Trump’s America has led to a resurgence of interest in the original book. I read it back in high school, but watching a couple episodes of the show rekindled my interest in reading it again. Recently, I was lucky enough to be able to listen to a copy of the audio book. Atwood’s magnificent prose delivers a chilling, timely tale of a world where women have lost all control over their own lives and bodies. Despite its 1985 publication date, the book engages with numerous issues that remain relevant today, especially in light of current events.

Warning for discussions of slavery and rape below. And, of course, spoilers through the very end of The Handmaid’s Tale novel.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Martyred Moms and Dastardly Dads in the MCU

My friend and I came out of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 convinced that the Infinity Wars movies, and the big Avengers/Guardians crossover therein, were mostly going to consist of Tony Stark and Peter Quill trying to out-Daddy-Issue each other. As well as both having facial hair and a penchant for roguish one-liners, the two heroes have a few things in common, most notably their parental situation: like Tony, Peter Quill has a complicated and at times antagonistic relationship with his father that forms the emotional core of a whole movie, and a sense of wistful mourning for his mother, who was sweet, kind, and only shows up in a few scenes. She’s also dead due to circumstances that were in no way her fault, so they can bond over that as well. At this point, maybe Thor can chime in too, perhaps initiating a group hug, since he also has a complicated relationship with his main-character dad and grieves over his good and nurturing dead mum. Jeez, is Infinity Wars just going to be one big session of father-related angst and mother-related mourning?

Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father to main character status once, Marvel, and that’s shame on you. Fridge a kind mother and elevate a father twice, still shame on you. Do this three times for three different superheroes and it’s officially a pattern. What exactly is going on here, and why does it annoy me so much?

GOTG Ego and Starlord

Complicated Father-Son Dynamic: Space Edition (Via Comic Book Movie)

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Throwback Thursdays: 1776 The Musical

It’s almost the Fourth of July, and for those of us here in the United States, we’ll soon be celebrating our nation’s founding. For me, that often meant watching 1776 with my parents, and I have to say that I adored this musical. The film version of the musical 1776 came out in 1972, and the musical itself came out in 1969. It follows John Adams as he tries to get a difficult, cantankerous, and often divided Congress to agree on American independence.

However, if you are a Hamilton fan, this musical might be a disappointment for you. This movie is very white and almost entirely male, with the exception of two female cast members, only one of whom plays a significant role. Regretfully, while there are some great moments in this musical, as far as representation goes, it definitely falls short.

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Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: Can Wonder Woman Be Jesus?

(via variety)

If you haven’t yet seen the new Wonder Woman movie… seriously, why haven’t you? It’s fabulous. After we gushed about its awesomeness while coming out of the theater, I mentioned to my group that Diana Prince seems like an awesome unconventional Christ figure. They were a little confused, because (spoiler alert) Wonder Woman isn’t crucified, and she’s certainly not a man. I couldn’t really explain it well then, but I can now.

Wonder Woman might be the most famous female superhero. While her story makes references to Greek myths, it doesn’t seem like her creators were Greek, and her writers didn’t really bother for accuracy when it comes to those myths. On the other hand, Christianity is so influential to Western culture and its history that Christ figures show up all over the place in our stories. We’ve already talked about how Disney’s Hercules draws from Greek myths but still turns Hercules into a Christ figure. Nearly all fictional Christ figures are male. So while making Wonder Woman into a Christ figure doesn’t do much for Greek mythology, it breaks new ground in the way we can understand what a Christ figure can be.

Significant spoilers for Wonder Woman below.

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Sexualized Saturdays: “I’ll Make My Own Gender, with Blackjack… and Hookers!”—A Critical Look at Futurama’s Handling of Bender’s Gender Identity

Futurama is one of my all-time favorite shows. I have watched these episodes so many times I think I broke Netflix’s suggestion algorithms. While there are many aspects to the show that are brilliant and remarkably nuanced, one topic that they have addressed repeatedly, and one that their exploration has handled in widely disparate and often problematic ways, is gender and gender identity. While not a main theme of the show, various aspects of gender and sexuality are regularly explored and put under the lens of Futurama’s satirical distant future.

Futurama calendar pic

A genderbent recreation of the Barbarella poster with Fry and Leela. (Screenshot from Futurama)

In examining how this is generally handled, the good and bad alike, there are some specific episodes scattered throughout the show’s run that specifically deal with these issues and demand specific attention; mostly through changes to the gender identity of one of its most widely known characters: Bender B Rodriguez.

TW: Discussion of transphobic and homophobic themes.

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