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.
Rick and Morty is currently one of my favorite TV shows, and for that reason I have been avoiding analyzing its gender politics, especially in “Raising Gazorpazorp,” the episode that tries to address gender. In this episode, Rick and Summer go to a planet where the genders are separated. The males are dumb, violent, sex-crazed beasts, while the women are cultured and sophisticated, but openly sexist against men. Rick and Morty uses the Gazorpians to discuss humanity’s own gender issues, but fails, for the most part, to come to any kind of satisfying conclusion.
Trigger warning for rape and rape culture and spoiler warning for “Raising Gazorpazorp,” “Rick Potion #9,” “Meeseeks and Destroy,” and “Look Who’s Purging Now.”
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.
It’s been a wild year in politics these past few months, and there are no signs that this will change anytime soon. As with most cultural events, this tends to bleed into the media we consume. As such, there are both people who celebrate the addition of politics into media, and those who abhor it. This commonly manifests in the meme-level response “keep politics out of x”. With the controversies and subsequent blowback over whitewashing (and lack of starring Asian roles) in Doctor Strange, Ghost in The Shell, Marvel’s Iron Fist,and Death Note, a large portion of people seem to want to consume media in a vacuum and ignore these issues. My personal experience tends to be more rooted in the video game space, considering the rise of progressive themes in games. Especially after the storm that was Gamergate, some people hate the idea of political themes in video games. I’d like to delve into why that claim is disingenuous, and why it’s never been possible.
When talking about politics in video games, a good place to start might be the Grand Theft Auto series. A lightning rod for controversy, GTA has never been shy about including political topics in their settings. GTA, with all its warts, does have a basis in satire, even if it is mostly present in the side content. In the worlds of Liberty City and San Andreas, for example, there are television programs parodying both “liberal social justice warriors” and “right-wing conservative firebrands” as uninformed, misguided, and wrong. It’s the classic South Park approach where “caring in one way or another is the ultimate sin”. Regardless, politics are incredibly present in these games. So, how could anyone ever claim that they don’t want politics in games?
With the recent news that Joss Whedon is in the works to do a (potentially amazing, if arguably problematic) Batgirl movie, I’ve been thinking about Barbara Gordon a lot. I mean, more than usual. BG’s always been a personal favorite and perhaps the first example I remember from my childhood of not only a real “strong female character” but a superhero I actually connected with. Babs has been a hero to many and while she has been used in incredibly problematic ways over the years, she remains one of the most prominent female superheroes to the average geek.
This shade of purple was forever associated with Batgirl in my brain. (image via Batman Wiki)
As different artists have taken a crack at Batgirl over the years, she has gone through a few phases, as have most of the other major players in the Batman canon. Many of those different versions of BG have been used in exploitative ways. Despite this, many have made her a feminist icon and often a source of inspiration to fans of all genders. In looking back at some of these incarnations, I also hope to highlight a few things that will be crucial to the Batgirl film not ending up horrible.
TW: Discussion of themes related to sexual violence and ableism.
A while back, a friend and I attempted what we called a Maximum Chaos playthrough of the game Until Dawn. Until Dawn is basically an interactive horror movie, presented cinematically but offering its players the chance to steer the story in different directions based on character interactions, decisions, and quick time events in action scenes. The Maximum Chaos run involves picking the most risky choices, starting as many fights between characters as possible, and not hitting any of the QTEs, leading to the most exciting, dramatic, and gory story possible. Given Until Dawn’s “anyone can die” premise, this leads to some interesting and brutal action. But, as we learned along the way, it also reveals that certain characters are quite literally indestructible no matter what your button-pressing and narrative choices inflict on them, and some are far too easy to damage, which leaves the game with some unfortunate implications.
Spoilers for the game, character deaths and possible endings beyond this point!