In my review of Izetta: The Last Witch, I ended the post wishing that there would be some anime series that focused on a lesbian relationship that was as overt as the gay relationship in Yuri!!! On Ice. When I started Flip Flappers, I was not expecting it to be that anime. In fact, I wasn’t expecting much from Flip Flappers at all. However, despite my apprehensions, the thirteen-episode semi-surrealist series surpassed all my expectations, and if you haven’t watched it for yourself, I highly recommend that you do. Avoiding spoilers, if you’re looking for a cute, vibrant anime series with a bit of mystery and a lot of relationship exploration, Flip Flappers is definitely for you. Still, I have a few issues with the series that keep it from being perfect, and unfortunately some of these issues are directly related to the main lesbian relationship.
Gentle readers, a little while ago I promised to review the new The Last of US DLC when it came out. Titled Left Behind, it was released on February 14th, which, among other things, was the same day that Ellen Page came out of the closet. This will become important later. In any case, because of a hateful thing that I call a “job”, I didn’t get to download and install it until today. It took me a couple hours to make my way through, with lots of pausing to gush about various parts. My review can be summed up thusly: it is important, and it is awesome.
My editors are telling me that I have to write more than that, so I’ll start by telling you why it’s awesome. Left Behind opens on a series of flashbacks which you’ll recognize if played the base game, a scene where Joel is gravely injured. Now, in the normal game, Ellie shoots her way out the front door, Ellie and Joel get on a horse, Joel falls off, fade-to-black, wake up in the Colorado wilderness. You start Left Behind playing through the story of how Ellie gets Joel patched up and manages to move him after he passes out. This adventure is interpolated by the story of Ellie and Riley, which you may remember was mentioned at the end of The Last of Us.
That story opens with a flashback to Riley, who, not for nothing, is a dead ringer for what you’d imagine a young Marlene to look like. She has reappeared in Ellie’s life after a long absence (about forty-five days) and surprises her by sneaking into her military school bedroom. After a confrontation about Ellie thinking that Riley was dead and Riley having joined the Fireflies, they venture off to rediscover their friendship via mischief in a local mall. Cut back to the mall in Colorado, where Ellie is attempting to collect the necessary supplies to suture Joel’s wound, and must move earth and sky to do so. I’ll get back to plot in a second, but it was at about this point in Left Behind that I noticed that Ellie’s sprint was slower in the snow.
I have noticed an upsetting trend recently. No one seems to care about queer ladies being represented in the media. Seems that any time a show announces that they will be including gay characters, or any time someone critiques a show for not having gay characters, more often than not those characters tend to be male. Gay men, despite also not having much representation on television, seem to at least currently hold the market on representation. Why is that? According to GlAAD’s most recent Where Are We On TV Report, there are fifty LGBTQ+ characters on broadcast TV. 61% of those characters are gay men, while only 20% are lesbians, though there are more bisexual women (14%) than bisexual men (4%) on broadcast TV. And of course only one of those characters is a transgender woman. Thank you, Elementary!
I think the lack of queer female characters largely has to do with with how society has sexualized queer women. When I was younger, I remember hearing that queer men are less accepted in society because straight men are uncomfortable with queer men, but queer women are more accepted because straight men find them attractive. Yep, that’s right, there is this misconception that because queer women have been heterosexualized and fetishized, they are somehow more empowered than queer men. If that’s empowerment, then sorry, I don’t want it.
So you know the stats, but how many queer female characters are there in our geek wheelhouse? This is including both cable and broadcast TV shows.
The Fosters is a new series on ABC Family. The show, which began airing earlier this month, is about the family pictured above which consists of two mothers (Stef and Lena), one biological son (Brandon), an adopted set of twins (Jesus and Mariana), and a new foster child (Callie). Absent from the photograph but also appearing in the series are Stef’s ex-husband/Brandon’s biological father (Mike) and Callie’s little brother (Jude).
Obviously there’s a hell of a lot going on in this show. How well is it being handled? Ah, well, that’s the question I intend to address, though perhaps not fully answer.
The reason I don’t feel I can fully answer the question is that the show is very young, only four episodes old, and I haven’t done a particularly good job keeping up with it despite wanting to. Still, I believe I have enough to go on to discuss a few of the show’s strengths and weaknesses.
Its strengths, I believe, are its diversity and especially its representation, while its main weakness is poor pacing. The diversity on the show is pretty apparent from the multi-racial family and homosexual relationship, but what I think is more impressive is how these things are handled. After all, it’s one thing to have minorities present on a show, merely filling spots on a diversity checklist; it’s quite another to actually make their characters unique and rounded and from what I’ve seen The Fosters is definitely putting in the extra effort to do so.
The twins, Mariana and Jesus (pronounced “hey-ZOOS”, by the way, in case you were reading his name the same as you would Mr. Christ’s), are Latino and their heritage is present in the story without being trumpeted every time they enter a room. For example, in a recent episode Mariana celebrated her quinceañera, the Latin American celebration of a girl’s entering womanhood on her fifteenth birthday, showing an important part of her culture, but she and Jesus don’t go around daily listening to salsa music and peppering their speech with simple Spanglish to accentuate their heritage without alienating the English-speaking audience.
Similarly, the relationship between the two mothers is portrayed as simple and natural, without ignoring the fact that homosexual relationships still face prejudice:
Callie: So, you’re dykes? Jesus: They prefer the term “people”, but yeah; they’re gay.
The show is walking that fine line between sensationalism and erasure: these characters and their identities are nothing to gawk at, but neither are they anything to be ignored or glossed over: they are worthy of attention and will be portrayed on screen. I was also happy to see that the lesbian relationship doesn’t go too far into the heteronormative representation of homosexual relationships where one partner is “masculine” and the other “feminine”. Both women feel realistically rounded and fulfill their roles as parents and lovers without losing their individuality.
The problem I had with the show’s pacing came from how quickly plot points were thrown at the viewer in the pilot episode. To break it down, within the first hour of the series I was expected to:
Get on board with the overall plot of the show
Meet some eight or nine characters and understand their complex relationships with each other
Invest emotionally in each of these characters’ lives
Follow at least three independent stories which each had their own climax by the end of the episode
That was quite a lot to absorb in roughly forty-five minutes of storytelling. I found it to be too much to tackle for a pilot, which should have focused on introducing the characters and setting before having each character tackle a dramatic personal hurdle that the audience can hardly be invested in after only knowing the characters for about twenty minutes.
That said, I was pulled in by the show, but I honestly had difficulty telling if it was because the writing was actually good or if I was just being emotionally manipulated, because I’ll come right out and say it: I’m soft and my heartstrings are easily tugged, especially when it has anything to do with young people and/or families going through tough situations. As such, I definitely plan to watch the show some more to flesh out my opinions. If you’re watching, let me know what you think of the show and maybe you can help me make a more level assessment free of my interfering sentimentality.
Okay, first I want to explain a few things about Poison Ivy so that we can better understand her sexuality within the context of her character development.
Poison Ivy is an ecoterrorist and a straw feminist. A straw feminist is a character who is labelled as a feminist only in a effort to ridicule or prove feminism wrong.
I should also mention that there is such a thing as an ecofeminist, who believes that the oppression women have suffered is similar to the suffering and oppression inflicted on the environment. This form of feminism, like most other forms, dislikes a hierarchy that puts one group above another, whether it’s men over women or humans over the environment, and recognizes more of a symbiotic relationship of all things.
So, Poison Ivy, at her worst, is probably a straw ecofeminist. She hates all men and cares only for plants, but in later years, maybe in an effort to down play her original straw feminist bent, Poison Ivy starts to hate all of humanity. In current incarnations Poison Ivy herself has morphed into a plant like human and she believes that humanity should be wiped out since they harm nature. Despite her hatred of all humanity, there is one person Poison Ivy does seem to care about, Harley Quinn.
It would be easy to simply claim Poison Ivy is asexual since she seems completely uninterested in people. Despite often seducing them to achieve her own ends, Poison Ivy never seems to have genuine attraction or affection for anyone. It would also be easy to claim Poison Ivy is a lesbian since she only seems to care about Harley Quinn, but things are much more complex than that.
Before she was Poison Ivy, she was Pamela Lillian Isley, a botanist working with Dr. Jason Woodrue who seduced her and turned her into the plant-human hybrid she is today. Woodrue is the reason that Poison Ivy hates all men. And though I stated that eventually her story is changed to hating all people, Poison Ivy still has a special hatred for men. Batman, Two-Face, Woodrue, and especially the Joker are targets for her wrath against men. That doesn’t, however, mean she’s not attracted to men. As mentioned earlier Poison Ivy’s hatred of men is there to paint her as this straw feminist character, but she is still obviously interested in men. She liked Woodrue before he betrayed her, and in season two of Batman: The Animated Series in the episode “Home and Garden” Poison Ivy married her very male doctor. Yes, he’s later revealed to be a plant, but she could have made a female spouse if she was more into that.
So, I really think that Poison Ivy isn’t necessarily a lesbian. She has just been given this male-hating persona, which somehow equates to lesbian, sadly. Even in recent years making her hate all people hasn’t changed the fact that she defiantly hates men more.
Later, Poison Ivy is often paired with Harley Quinn when the two form an unlikely friendship. Harley is the only person Poison Ivy seems to like or care about. Though it’s never explicitly stated that they have a sexual relationship it is heavily, heavily implied.
They are often shown scantily clad, or naked together, and even Batgirl has questions about their relationship. They both seem to really care about each other too. It has often been remarked that if it wasn’t for Harley constantly intervening, Poison Ivy would have killed the Joker a long time ago in order to protect Harley. And though much of their relationship could easily be attributed to a male lesbian fantasy in comics, I tend to think that they actually have something.
Poison Ivy seems to be stuck in the friend zone with Harley. I do think that Harley and Poison Ivy have maybe experimented sexually, but Harley if anything is more Joker-sexual than bisexual and her devotion to the Joker won’t allow her to make any commitment to Poison Ivy. Harley is beaten and almost killed by the Joker and then runs to Poison Ivy’s comforting arms, Poison Ivy then wants to kill the Joker to avenge Harley, but Harley stops her and goes back to the Joker–and the cycle continues.
There is no concrete evidence for their relationship, but I think there is a lot of circumstantial evidence that shows Poison Ivy loves Harley Quinn, maybe even despite herself, but Harley is too involved with the Joker to see Poison Ivy as anything but a friend, thus bringing about the central conflict in their relationship.