Sexualized Saturdays: Holy Gender Roles

One of the things I’ve always loved about fantasy literature is that it provides an escape from the real world. When I’m comfortably ensconced in a Robin McKinley novel or re-reading the Wheel of Time series for the ninetieth time, I am not worried about real life things like job hunting or school loans. It’s a mini-vacation from the suckiness of meatspace, and so it’s all the more depressing when some of the crappiest things in real life—sexism, racism, entrenched heteronormativity—show up in my fantasy novels.

Me encountering unpleasant -isms in my fantasy novels.

Me encountering unpleasant -isms in my fantasy novels.

One of my biggest frustrations in this sense is that, because fantasy novels seem to have become synonymous with “medieval stuff but with magic”, women are constantly relegated to the tasks and roles that would have been theirs during the Middle Ages. There’s a lot of embroidery and marriage-drama, and the female characters who do defy the gender norms are not met with societal acceptance or approval. Unfortunately, in the case of a lot of fantasy novels, even the mythical deities seem to have been stuck into very traditional gender roles. Continue reading

Sexualized Saturdays: Sexism Against Men and Male Stereotypes

When I get a break and can sit down and actually enjoy myself on Tumblr, I often find myself getting angry at many of the things that are posted and reblogged in my fandoms. There are many things that piss me off, but recently it’s been the extreme gender roles and sexism against certain male characters. That’s right—the feminist is going to talk about sexism against men.

3220614-batman-vs-superman-1-tptivirz0s-1024x768I have always believed that sexism affects men as much as women, but in very different ways. Men, just like women, are forced into gender roles and societal expectations that they don’t necessarily want. When teaching feminist theology to my college students, I tried to point out to the men (because I always felt no one else was) that they should be just as insulted by sexism and gender roles as the women. After classes, many of my male students approached me to say that they were angry about the gender roles men were placed into. They felt they had to always be tough—not necessarily physically strong, but that they always had to act macho and unaffected by everything. They felt threatened and uncomfortable by ideas that claimed men couldn’t be loving or nurturing as fathers; that they shouldn’t say anything about it if they felt (or were) sick. They felt pressured to avoid asking for help or working toward peaceful compromises, but rather, felt that they must always be the aggressive loner who does his own thing. These are all roles that greatly influence men’s lives today.

So what does this have to do with fandoms? Well, masculine gender roles often results in stereotyped male characters like Dean Winchester, Batman, Derek Hale, and Wolverine, whom fandoms love and think are awesome. Now, granted, many of the characters I just listed have a lot of depth. Dean, for example, really grows and develops as a character (at least in the first five seasons), so it’s not that I think these characters are necessarily negative stereotypes. What bothers me is how fandom reacts to other male characters that don’t fit the typical male stereotype.

teen-wolf-3x01-tattoo-scott-mccall1For this post I’m going to talk about the three male characters I see picked on the most by fans: Sam Winchester, Superman, and Scott McCall. I always said these three characters need to sit down and get a drink together because it really makes no sense that the fandom hates them as much as they seem to. Of course, none of this means that the entire fandom hates a certain character, but that enough people hate a character that the rest of the fandom starts to notice it and see it as a problem. (I really should point out that characters like Superman, Sam Winchester, and Scott McCall are also male stereotypes of a different sort, but that is a post for another time.) For now, let’s look at why these characters are so hated.

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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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Theatre Thursdays: Gender, Masculinity, and “The Creation of Man”

The+Scarlet+Pimpernel+Encore+The_Scarlet_PimpernelThe_ScarlI am a sucker for both creative works set during the French Revolution and for Frank Wildhorn-penned musicals, so it stands to reason that The Scarlet Pimpernel is one of my all-time favorite shows.

If you’re not familiar with the show or the novel, the story in a nutshell is this: a group of English noblemen, disgusted by the brutality and wholesale slaughter taking place during the French Revolution, undertake many daring excursions across the Channel to rescue French nobility from the guillotine. As they become more and more famous for their exploits in England, they are forced to hide their true personalities under a pretend love of fashion, as no one expects a foppish lord to also be a national hero.

This ‘disguise’ is most clearly seen in the scene where Lord Percy Blakeney, the titular Scarlet Pimpernel (a pimpernel is a flower, by the way, and it’s his signet, hence the code name) and mastermind of the whole operation, is taken aside by the Prince of Wales. The Prince wants to ask him about something serious, but Percy keeps up his fashion-forward front, singing this song that states the true purpose of the male gender is to be flashy and fashionable.

The song in and of itself is a hilarious subversion of gender expectations, since in every species they mention besides humans, the male gender is the one who’s supposed to put on a show and look pretty to attract a mate. It’s a clever, funny song by itself, but I’m of two minds about foppishness as plot device.  Continue reading

Anime Review: Princess Jellyfish

So it turns out that even though I love action-packed anime, nothing sucks me in like a potential romance. I watched two seasons of Kimi ni Todoke in a week, but it took me months to finish Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. I have a deep-seated love for shows that layer on the unresolved romantic tension.

banner_1577Princess Jellyfish (also known by its Japanese name Kuragehime) is an interesting show that depends on a lot of tropes but also breaks out of them as well. Tsukimi, the main character, is one of a group of five girls who live in an all-female apartment building. Tsukimi and her buildingmates are all poorly-adjusted, socially awkward otaku obsessed with one thing or another, whether it’s trains, older gentlemen, Chinese historical drama, traditional Japanese clothing, or, in Tsukimi’s case, jellyfish. Continue reading

Teen Wolf and Feminism Part 2: Allison and Lydia are BAMFs

Lady Geek Girl: Well, we’re back to talk some more about feminism in Teen Wolf. This time we will discuss Allison and Lydia as strong female characters.

8_lydia-allisonSo let’s continue our talk on Teen Wolf and feminism!

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Anime Review—No.6

It’s been a long time since I’ve had time to sit down and watch an anime, let alone review it. The last one was… yikes, last August, with Star Driver, and I was less than complimentary.

550301This time around I’m looking at No.6, which is an anime adaptation of a light novel series with the same name. It’s set in a The Giver-esque dystopian future society, where people are sorted into positions/career tracks early in life based on caste and intellectual ability. Shion is primed to be a shining star in the society of No. 6, one of several futuristic cities that are the remaining bastion of high civilization in the show’s post-apocalyptic world. However, his life is thrown off track when he helps another kid who’s on the run, a boy named Nezumi (which means Rat in Japanese, fun fact). When he denies knowledge of Nezumi’s whereabouts, he’s demoted and ends up stuck in a thankless maintenance job.

Four years pass and a bizarre plague strikes No. 6—wasp-like insects that have laid eggs under peoples’ skin start hatching, killing their hosts. Shion finds himself rescued by Nezumi this time, and they go into hiding together to attempt to figure out the secrets that No. 6 is hiding.

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Color-Coded Power Rangers

Power Rangers 1- Mighty MorphinSince the dawn of recorded time (aka: the early 90’s) the Power Rangers have fought the forces of evil with their flashy suits and even flashier fight scenes. Initially there were five Rangers, eventually joined by a sixth, and their characters seemed to be irrevocably entwined with the color of their suit. Not only did the characters wear street clothes of the same color as their Ranger suits, but as they left the team and their suits were taken on by new members, the character traits seemed to remain largely the same.

For example, the Red Ranger will invariably be the leader (unless some upstart punk joins the team late and decides he’s in charge now) and will typically be full of bravado and inspiring speeches. He will also always be male. The Pink Ranger will always be female and she will probably embody very traditional ideals of femininity: gentleness, a fondness for nature, grace, etc. The Yellow Ranger will typically be a spunky young woman, more spitfire than the girl donning the pink.

Despite the frequently changing Rangers, there always seemed to be a tie between the color of the suit and the personality of the one wearing it. It was often the case that the new team members seemed to be new variants of the person they were replacing. Not only do the colors seem to determine what kind of person will wear them, they also seem to be very gender-specific. For the majority of the Rangers’ history Yellow and Pink have been exclusively female while any and all other colors were reserved for the guys.

Even though the Japanese series on which the original Power Rangers were based had a male Yellow Ranger, the American version cast a female in the role instead. While it did offer more female representation on the show it also did something very limiting for women in the series by relegating them exclusively to the “girl colors” of Yellow and Pink from the get go while every other color seemed to be open to the men. Because Yellow and Pink were never the leaders of the team, female Rangers seemed to be precluded from this position, though one early exception to this rule came in the form of the Alien Rangers whose leader was a female White Ranger. They were a very special case though, coming from another planet and really only being around to help out Earth’s Rangers when they were incapacitated for an extended period.

For many years the Power Rangers continued on in this fashion until the Time Force Rangers saw the first Pink Ranger in the lead. Somehow, though, I don’t remember much about her being the leader…

I wonder why that is?

I wonder why that is?

It wasn’t until Power Rangers Ninja Storm that the Power Rangers really started breaking out of their color-coded gender norms. While the leader of the Rangers was still the Red Ranger there were two firsts: the first female Blue Ranger and the first male Yellow Ranger. Not only was a girl allowed to wear one of the traditionally male colors (and there’s probably no more male color in American culture than blue) but a man was actually allowed to wear one of the female colors which seems even more surprising.

It’s one thing for a woman to be shown with masculine characteristics, that’s usually associated with strength in the media, but a man, especially a straight man, taking on feminine characteristics is usually seen as degrading since being female is given so little respect in our culture.

Thankfully the Power Rangers have shown some growth in their many years fighting evil. Hopefully they will do so even more as they continue their battles. Maybe one day we’ll see a female Red Ranger or even a male Pink Ranger! The former seems more likely than the latter, but one can dream! I think the Ninja Storm Rangers showed us that the gender-restrictive color-coding should be defied more often because they were a kick-ass team.

Power Rangers 5- Ninja Storm

Pop Masculism: An Intro to Frasier

I’d like to periodically talk about masculism here, and specifically its issues exemplified in pop culture. If I’m going to talk masculism, I need to clear the air regarding what that means. Masculism or masculinism can refer to an ideology principally concerned with restoring male power and subjugating women, like those good old natural days. For my part, I believe that ideology is wholly harmful and destructive. I have a great distaste for this ideology and a distaste for the unparallel grammatical rules applied to the word ‘masculinism,’ (it’s not femininism; that sounds silly). Thus, I’ll refer to that ideology and movement as masculinism. Masculism, then, will refer to feminism’s male counter-part, which focuses on male empowerment, equality, and general advocacy. The first rule about masculism is that it is not ideologically opposed to feminism. For reasons I’ll touch on over time and which also are available here, the world needs masculism. And masculism needs feminism. It needs it as a framework, it needs it as inspiration, it needs it for support, and most of all it needs it for equality. So with the air cleared, let’s get into some of the masculist issues I identify in one of my favorite shows, Frasier.

Frasier and Niles Crane are what some people would call post-feminism men. Their behaviors and interests are very much different from those traditional of men while never losing their masculine self-identity. Yet, they still suffer from many of the same problems that most men struggle with. They get sometimes get unreasonably upset if their masculinity is called into question. They are almost completely incapable of properly dealing with and communicating their emotions. They have a often feel they need to prove their manliness by either being aggressors or providers. And, despite both being psychiatrists, they are often incapable of properly empathizing. Their emotional unintelligence, communicative shortcomings, and shallow gender-identity, despite their otherwise feminist-empowered lives (they escape certain gender roles and attempt to embrace feminist ideals), are a great representation in fiction for why we need masculism in addition to feminism.

The Crane brothers’ father, Martin, provides an excellent contrast; he is a blend of men with and without feminism. While his attitudes toward women are impeccable, he is very much caught up in the old male gender roles. Be a provider, do not access emotions, avoid affection, do not change, and evade the unknown. As the show develops throughout the seasons, the somewhat more empowered Frasier and Niles gradually effect positive change in Martin, making him a much more well-rounded and happier person. He enjoys openly loving relationships with his family, accessing and expressing emotions, and develops his sense of gender identity to incorporate such things along with his love of sports, pragmatism, and cheap beer.

Niles and Frasier, however, do not develop quite as much as their father. One could argue that they have less distance to travel, but I would tend to disagree. Sure, they develop a much healthier relationship with their father and each other, but they don’t really change much when compared to their father. Niles gains confidence, Frasier puts himself back together after divorce, and they both become ever so slightly less fussy (though they will always prance gleefully for a glass of sherry!), but their identity as men doesn’t develop. They never feel empowered to be anything but a provider. They never stop feeling pressure to be aggressive. They never really reconcile what society says men are with who they are as men.

There’s a lot to get into with Frasier as it relates to this subject – far too much to get into all at once – so let’s wrap it up here. The main female characters in the show, Roz and Daphne, are both very imperfect but very much empowered women thanks to feminism. Other than some superficial similarities, they hold very few similarities to the old and destructive female gender roles. That is a good thing, and is often a sign that things are moving in the right direction. Certainly they are empowered to be providers, to be sexually liberated, to be aggressive, and to feel proud in their femininity. And, it’s certainly true that the Crane boys are very different from the old male gender roles. But Roz escaped the traditional social requirements of chastity, staying in the kitchen, feeling shamed for being a woman, and needing a husband. Frasier and Niles feel empowered to enjoy their interests and to pursue a healthy personal life, but they never escape the need to provide, the need to aggress, or the lack of specific pride as men. Thanks for reading; I really hope I’ve gotten you thinking a little about masculism and feminism. Also, you should watch Frasier. It’s hilarious.

Theatre Thursdays: Dinner and a Show

About a month ago, I was lucky enough to go to Medieval Times with my family. For those who don’t know, Medieval Times is a dinner theatre franchise that gives its attendees an ‘authentic medieval experience’. They make you eat with your hands while watching knights swordfight and joust and ride ridiculously well-trained horses and whatnot. The show is styled like an old-timey tourney, and the seating arrangement decides which of the six knights you’ll be rooting for. Eventually the tournament is interrupted by a rogue knight or an evil warlock or some other unfortunate menace, and the champion of the tournament must take up arms and defeat them. They switch out the scripts for the shows every four years or so—over the course of my life I’ve seen (I think) three of the different plots. This evening’s plot featured a sinister herald from a northern king, who threatened the tourney’s king with war over a disagreement.

Although an evening at Medieval Times is always fun, I have a few beefs, both feminism-based and general, with the show.

First of all, women have very little place in the show. The Princess’s part is simpering, inane, and two-dimensional, and it grates on me. The knights’ squires can be boys or girls, but their parts are silent and entail mostly setting up obstacles and picking up horse crap. I’d have loved for this year’s new show to have included a female knight, but the heteronormativity built into the show (knights give tokens—flowers and sashes—to their chosen ladies in the audience, and it would just be gross if it was a girl giving it to another girl) really doesn’t allow for it.

Outside of that, I have a few other complaints. First, the King at our show was a terrible actor. Most of the actors either put on a British accent (despite the show being apparently set in 11th century Spain) or speak in generally posh-sounding Standard American English. This King sounded like Billy Crystal in The Princess Bride. The touch of Brooklyn accent made it hard to suspend disbelief that this guy was an 11th century lord.

The other thing that bugged me was the show’s plot. These shows often have trouble deciding whether they’re part of a fantasy kingdom or an actual historical place.  As I mentioned, the setting is apparently Spain—the knights all represent Leon or Navarre or Castile or whatever—but the mysterious Northern emissary looked like a mix of Shan Yu from Mulan and Ned Stark from Game of Thrones—a fur-wearing, menacingly broad-shouldered warrior from some far-off and frozen land. I’m probably just wildly over-thinking it, but I feel like in the 11th century people who lived so far north of Spain that they dressed like Winter is Coming weren’t just going to ride by themselves hundreds of miles to treat with a Spanish king. /overthinking

Medieval Times is a fun experience if you’re willing and able to shell out the dough for it. Just don’t go in expecting Masterpiece Theatre on horseback and you should have a good time.