Perfected Bodies: Superheroes and Gymnastics

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.

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New Year, New Black Widow

It’s hard to watch a comic book you love come to an end. Unfortunately, the utter nonsense of Marvel’s Secret Wars event at the end of last summer did that to most of the books I followed. Thankfully, most of these books reappeared right after Secret Wars ended with new number ones, but one was still missing: Black Widow. I wondered at the lack, but series do often come and go and I didn’t give it a ton of thought. Apparently I missed both the hype and the window for preorders for the new Black Widow series, which just premiered last week, to my surprise. Whether that surprise was pleasant or not hinged on what I found inside the issue. (Spoiler alert: it was pleasant.)

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Sexualized Saturdays: Childbearing and Womanhood

Baby-having. It’s traditionally one of the societal markers of womanhood—women are supposed to have uteruses, and men aren’t, and if you’re a woman and fail to successfully grow a baby, for whatever reason, that makes you a failure at your gender.

I’m a cis woman, and society has told me from the get-go that one day I’ll be giving birth to the next generation. I spent the first eighteen or so years of my life plotting out elaborate (and often fandom-based) names for my future kids, and now today, when I tell people I don’t really know that I want children after all, I have to qualify it with a reassurance that I might change my mind—before they assure me that I will.

What this boils down to is gender essentialism. This method of thinking boils women down to what thousands of years of society says is woman’s defining trait, and sets that above everything else. Women who can’t have children are referred to as “barren”, a negatively connotated word which calls up desolate fields in which nothing living grows. (There’s no equally negatively connotated word for men—“sterile” just suggests cleanliness.)

Steven Moffat is so, so guilty of this.

Steven Moffat is so, so guilty of this.

It also moralizes the existence of women without uteruses or without the ability to bear children, making sterility into an issue of good and bad rather than just an apolitical medical condition. Trans women exist; they can’t bear children. Cis women who have had hysterectomies for personal or health reasons, or who are infertile for other reasons, can’t bear children. They are not any less worthwhile, or any less women, for this. Unfortunately, pop culture seems to disagree.

Spoilers for Avengers: Age of Ultron, Orphan Black, and Series 7 of Doctor Who below the jump.

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Black Widow Is Kicking Some Ass

After months—years, actually—of wanting a freaking Black Widow movie, we’ve still got noting but hot air from Marvel Studios execs. In the meantime, though, all is not entirely lost. The comics-producing side of Marvel is on its fifth issue of a new Black Widow title, and so far it’s fantastic.

black widow coverThe new series follows the highly successful Hawkeye’s example of showing us what Natasha does when she’s not being an Avenger. It turns out that what that is is taking solo work as atonement for past crimes, and using the payout to support her network of safe houses and the trust funds she has set up for families of those she’s wronged. (Being an Avenger doesn’t pay so well, it turns out.) The first three issues are very episodic, more concerned with setting the tone than establishing a central conflict, but the writing is compelling from the get-go.

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Fanfiction Fridays: love is for children and other lies by Fahye

Asking certain types of questions is encouraged. It’s the start of a lifetime spent gathering information one way or another. So Natalia’s starting point for this mission is the same as any other: gather adequate data. She likes her intelligence firsthand, like any well-trained spy. Clean. As far as possible, unsullied by agenda or ego. The trust that webbed itself between the Black Widow girls as a survival mechanism is being teased apart, as they grow older and more aware of their roles, but she’s not in direct competition with anyone here. Natalia sits in a crosslegged circle of teenagers swapping stories about sex; they could be normal girls, anywhere in the world.

Question: is it enjoyable?

The consensus is: yes. Mostly. And they touch their throats and smile at the absurdity of it, these girls, at the sounds and the stickiness and the potential for sheer awkwardness. Natalia ventures, leaning back on her hands, that it doesn’t sound all that fun.

“Have a go with yourself,” Anna says, to a general wave of squirming and laughter.

—from love is for children and other lies, by Fahye

April is Asexy April in fandom; much like Femslash February, which celebrated works with female/female pairings, this month’s goal is to celebrate and educate all and sundry on asexuality-related matters through fanfiction. Today’s fic is from 2012, but it’s a great example of what this month could be.

love is for children and other lies spans Natasha’s life from when she was first recruited into the Black Widow program until a little after the events of The Avengers. Author Fahye doesn’t draw from any particular comics canon, instead choosing to construct their own backstory for Natasha through what we know of her from her MCU appearances. I may be biased, but Fahye does a great job. What a backstory this is—it’s so emotional and so real that I almost want Marvel to keep their vague Black Widow movie promises to themselves, because I’ve already got my Black Widow headcanon right here.

natasha romanoffMany times when a fanfic author writes a fic with an asexual character, the fic ends up intentionally or unintentionally sounding like an after-school special or an Asexuality 101 class. This fic never does, though. While Natasha is very aware of her asexuality, the author makes sure to emphasize that it isn’t “caused” by Natasha’s Black Widow training and no characters ever remark on how “wrong” it is or tries to “fix” her. Natasha’s asexuality is simply an intrinsic part of her, and it only adds to Natasha’s fantastically three-dimensional character. And while subtle, the fic also refutes various misbegotten ideas about asexual people: Natasha may not feel sexual attraction, but she can and does still form intimate bonds, albeit of a different nature, with her closest partners and friends.

At 30k, love is for children and other lies will take a good chunk out of your day, but it’s so worth it to finally see a fic with an asexual character that isn’t just about that character dealing with their asexuality or a couple learning to “deal” with one partner’s asexuality. Natasha is never reduced to her asexuality, and for that alone, you should read this fic.

The Mako Mori Test—A Good Alternative to Bechdel?

Hopefully you’ve all heard of the Bechdel test. For years it’s stood as shorthand for indicating that a movie does a decent job in representing both women and female relationships. If one said that a movie passed the Bechdel test, it meant that that movie: 1) had two named female characters who 2) talk to each other about 3) something other than a man.

But now, in the wake of Pacific Rim‘s enormous online success, there have been calls for a Pacific Rim-inspired feminist test to join the Bechdel test. The Mako Mori test, as defined by Tumblr user chaila, states:

The Mako Mori test is passed if the movie has: a) at least one female character; b) who gets her own narrative arc; c) that is not about supporting a man’s story. I think this is about as indicative of “feminism” (that is, minimally indicative, a pretty low bar) as the Bechdel test. It is a pretty basic test for the representation of women, as is the Bechdel test. It does not make a movie automatically feminist.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Badass Ladies Can’t Have Romance?

We do a lot of complaining about the way women’s roles in action movies are typically that of the romantic interest. And hell, it’s justified. There are far too many films where the lady, however interesting she is, is nothing less than window dressing or the arm candy.

However, on the other side of this coin, it’s important to remember that having a romantic interest does not inherently lessen the worth of a female character. It’s only when her role boils down to ‘my only motivation is my love for my amazing prince charming dudebro’ that it becomes a problem.

Consider The Avengers. Does it matter if Clint Barton and Natasha Romanoff have a thing? I’m not necessarily arguing that they do, but if they did, would it make Nat any less kickass? No. In this case, the Black Widow is a well-rounded, complex character with various motivations, and romantic feelings are just one part of those motivations.

On the other hand, let’s look at Sherlock. Irene Adler is also an arguably badass lady. But over the course of her part in “A Scandal in Belgravia”, all of her actions are motivated by her romantic attachment to Sherlock, and it makes her character unpleasantly two-dimensional.

The problem with boiling women down to just their romantic motivations is that it essentially removes their agency, and forces us to define their characters in relation to their romantic partner. But at the same time it’s important to remember that the basic fact of having a male romantic partner does not immediately make a lady less kickass.

Avengers: The Drinking Game

This does what it says on the tin. Use this as an excellent way to celebrate the release of the Avengers on blu-ray and DVD earlier this week! 😀 (Yes, I know it came out Tuesday; I was trying to be a responsible drinking mentor and postpone possible inebriation till the weekend.)

This game is possibly a little more drinking-heavy than the last one I posted, for virtue of the fact that the last one was to be played during a LotR movie marathon and the Avengers is only two and a half hours long.

Without further ado, and in no particular order, da roolz:

Before drinking, choose a character name.

Take one drink when:

  • Your character’s first or superhero name is said.
  • Clint poses.
  • Fury says a baller one-liner.
  • Natasha says ‘red in my ledger’.
  • Tony calls someone a nickname instead of their real name. (Superhero names don’t count; think “Point Break”, “Rock of Ages”, “Reindeer Games”, “Legolas.”)
  • Thor says ‘brother.’
  • Bruce calls Hulk ‘the other guy.’
  • Steve doesn’t understand modern things.
  • The Glowstick of Destiny does something. (It’s so multi-useful! It zaps! It brainwashes! It makes julienne fries!)
  • Someone says Tesseract.
  • Coulson’s an awkward fanboy.

Special rules:

  • You can try to say lines in unison with the movie, but if you fuck it up there is a three drink or one shot penalty.
  • Whenever Thor grabs Loki’s neck, drink for the duration of neck grabbing.
  • Whenever Loki monologues, drink for the duration of the monologue.
  • When Coulson ‘dies’, finish your drink. (‘Dies’ is in quotes because I refuse to accept that we’ve been Jossed and that he’s actually gone.)


And remember, as always, Lady Geek Girl and Friends does not condone alcohol poisoning, underage drinking, or collaborating with Thanos to take over Midgard.