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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Where Are All the Female Werewolves?

the wolf man 1941Werewolves have never really been the most popular monster; they’re usually second fiddle to vampires or zombies. I suppose there’s some sense to that. Vampires are sexy romantics and zombie hoards are harbingers of the apocalypse. Werewolves usually act alone, and, outside of Twilight and Teen Wolf, aren’t typically portrayed as having much sex appeal. In 1941, The Wolf Man became the first successful werewolf film. Our monster has a furry face, spreads his affliction through biting others, kills people, and is ultimately killed by his own silver walking stick. He’s monstrous, not sexy.  We can understand why vampires and zombies scare us, too. Vampires might represent a powerful person draining us of our own power for personal gain. Zombies drawn on our fear of pandemics and the ignorant masses destroying those of us just trying to survive. But what about werewolves? The most common answer I find is that werewolves speak to the changes a teenager experiences during puberty. Pisces already explored how this dynamic works in Teen Wolf. But if that’s the case, then where are all the female werewolves?

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Stargate SG-1 and the Evil Seductress

Hathor SG1Trigger warning for rape below.

A while back, I wrote a post on Stargate and feminism, and said that I appreciated that the show at least tried to talk about women’s issues. Unfortunately, the episode in question, “Emancipation”, did it in the worst way possible, and it ended up being both racist and sexist. Sadly, “Emancipation” is hardly the only harmful episode in the first season. The other episode that stuck out to me is “Hathor”. In some ways, “Emancipation” is worse than “Hathor”, since the offensive material is so much more obvious, but at least “Emancipation” knew it was trying to address certain issues. In “Hathor”, one of the main characters is raped, and the show doesn’t even seem to be aware that it happened.

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Wonder Woman and Transphobia

If you have been spending any time on Tumblr recently, you have probably seen this page of a Wonder Woman comic that not only implies that the Amazons accept trans women, but that Wonder Woman herself is a trans woman. It’s beautiful and makes you happy to be alive just reading it, but, sadly, it’s not real (here is the real picture). As of right now, DC Comics only has one trans character, Alysia Yeoh, Barbara Gordon’s roommate in Batgirl. DC has never really been great when it comes to minority representation. For a while they did have more female-led comics than Marvel, but it was debatable whether those comics actually portrayed their female characters with respect. DC did, however, beat out Marvel when it came to trans representation, and though Alysia is not a trans superhero it is nice to finally see a well done and respectful portrayal of a trans character in a comic book. The inclusion of one character is not enough to really be authentic representation, though, and with transgender rights finally gaining more visibility, fans are now turning critical eyes on to Wonder Woman and the often transphobic portrayal of the Amazons.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Fruits Basket

A while back, I wrote a Manga Mondays on this series. In short, it’s about a group of thirteen people—one person for every animal in the Chinese zodiac legend—who are cursed to turn into their respective animal whenever they are hugged by a person of the opposite sex. While cute and adorable, Fruits Basket leaves a lot to be desired because it is written from a very heteronormative viewpoint. Not only is it heteronormative, it creates a world in which there is no one outside the gender binary. As far as I can tell, they do not exist in this universe.

fruits-basket--big--7As someone who more or less identifies according to the binary, I don’t often pay attention to whether or not stories are dismissive of people who don’t fit into it. However, Fruits Basket makes it impossible not to notice, since gender and gender roles are both a driving force of the plot and a gimmick to make the story “cuter”.

Spoilers for Fruits Basket after the jump.

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