Representation is weird, readers. Since some people that enjoy a level of privilege also contend with marginalization, it’s difficult to say where we need to get better in our media. Despite men enjoying incredible amounts of privilege, we still have the task of dismantling toxic masculinity. While we are slowly but surely destroying the “no homo, bro” narrative of friendship, I would like to see more well formed male friendships in media that actually explore friendship and aren’t just used as passive plot traits.
I’ve been a fan of the Marvel movies for some time now; they’re usually, at worst, a great visual spectacle. But for me, this never really translated into reading the comics. Superhero comics don’t exactly jump out at me visually, and even when socially inclusive, they typically have borderline impenetrable lore. So when I heard there was a standalone graphic novel for Squirrel Girl, I knew I had to pick it up: even though my knowledge of the character is very limited, I did know she is one of the funnier heroes and has a far above average success rate at defeating the universe’s villains. I had been interested in Squirrel Girl for a while, but wasn’t sure where a good jumping on point would be. Additionally, who wouldn’t want to see one character (other than Thanos) beat up the whole Marvel Universe? I was not let down.
Minor/early story spoilers for The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe ahead.
Plenty has already been said about heroes and anti-heroes. Superman was created over seventy-five years ago, and yet America today prefers its heroes to have a bit more grit, like Tony Stark. What’s undeniable is that a dichotomy exists between light heroes and dark heroes. It’s a way of looking at protagonists that has ancient roots, but manifests differently in male and female characters.
The light and dark dichotomy is very old and very ingrained in our storytelling traditions. On the surface, “light” stereotypes give the character traits that are traditionally associated with positive ideas and symbolism. More often than not these characters will wear white or light colors, have light skin, blonde hair, and blue eyes. “Dark” characters tend to have dark hair, skin, eyes, and clothing. This color dichotomy is associated with good and evil, for religious and historical reasons. If you don’t have electricity you can be more productive when the sun’s out, while it’s easier for robbers and rule-breakers to hide in the cover of night. White is associated with purity and goodness, especially in Christianity, while black is associated with evil and the consequences of evil (like sin and death).
While light heroes cling to a traditional morality, dark heroes have a more subversive attitude. There’s something bad or wrong or broken with a dark character, which is usually the source of their darkness. Men tend to be gallant, chivalrous heroes or troubled rogues, while women tend to be virginal maidens or seductive vamps. It’s taken generations to move beyond this rigid dichotomy, giving the light and dark new and interesting implications. But if we really care about smashing gender stereotypes, we need to move beyond the light and dark gender axis. Both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones from Marvel’s respective Netflix series take the light and dark dichotomies and smash them to bits.
Spoilers for all of Luke Cage and Jessica Jones below.
Sexism is something all of us here at LGG&F are familiar with. Positive gender dynamics, or the relationships between people of different genders, is an important component of feminist storytelling. We all know that the messages we consume in our favorite media will normalize positive behaviors and ideas, or negative ones. That’s why it’s so important that everyone gets fair representation, and everyone gets treated like a human being, not an object. Unfortunately, that’s not usually the case, even in geekdom. More often than not, men are treated like people and women are treated like objects: by the plot, by other characters, and in real life. Recently I stumbled upon a particular trope that is especially good at articulating this double standard: “Men get old. Women get replaced.” Not only do some of the most popular geeky stories take this trope for granted, but incorporate it into the basic plot structure.
Spoilers for the Captain America movies, Doctor Who, and The Legend of Korra after the jump.
The 2016 Rio Games are the first Summer Olympics since the Marvel Cinematic Universe took over the world: The Avengers was still in theaters during the London Olympics, and since then, we’ve had seven more movies and nine seasons of TV. The MCU has been joined by multiple DC universes, plus various Spider-men, X-Men, Deadpools, and yet another Fantastic Four. As never before, the superhero has been firmly lodged in our collective consciousness.
The Olympics offer a real-world counterpart to superheroes. Without radioactive spiders or super-soldier serums, Olympic athletes demonstrate impossible powers every four years. Each time a record is broken, the athlete exceeds the previous limit on human capabilities.
Neither happens in a vacuum—both superheroes and athletes complete narratives far greater than a list of records and abilities. They stand astride the existing fissures in society, especially regarding gender, which is particularly tied to the expectations placed on bodies. In many ways, they show us how far we have come and our hopes for the future, but of course, they reveal how far we still have to go.
Our community here at Lady Geek Girl and Friends is a tight-knit one, and as a majority queer group, we were shaken to our core by the horrible tragedy that occurred a week ago in Orlando. Our deepest sympathies go out to the victims and their families, and we urge those who can to take an active role in responding to it, whether through blood donation, financial aid, or political activism. In the wake of the shooting, the LGBTQ+ community has responded with vigils, with calls to action, and with affirmations of self-worth. Notably among the latter is the #queerselflove hashtag, started by Welcome to Night Vale actor Dylan Marron on Twitter.
The hashtag quickly took off as the wounded queer community took the time to reflect on what made us special and important. In response to a hate crime, we told the world that if it was not going to love us, we were still going to love ourselves. I contributed my own personal #queerselflove to the tag on Wednesday night, but today I’d like to talk about a few of my favorite happy LGBTQ+ people and pairings in pop culture. We’ve spent so many posts recently condemning the treatment of queer people in fiction and this post isn’t meant to erase or negate those. Indeed, the importance of meaningful queer representation is more important than ever in a time when the gays we’re burying are no longer fictional. Queer people need to be able to look to something and see ourselves being happy.
So, I have to tell you how happy I am to be able to keep this series going by jumping from Ned and Catelyn to Iron Man himself, Tony Stark. That happy little coincidence would justify this post on its own, but worry not friends, I have actual points as well!
We’ve covered Captain America: Civil War a bit so far, but we’ve been light on the endorsements. And I certainly can’t speak for the entire LGG group here, but while I admit that there is no way I could ever say no to Steve Rogers if he asked for my help, when you give me a moment or two to think it through, I’m with Tony.