Sexualized Saturdays: Powerful Women and the Men Who Love Them

Power comes in many different forms, and there’s no one right way to be a strong female character. That said, however, there’s a clear dearth of female characters whose strength is, well, strength. We’re moving forward in media in terms of representing women in STEM professions and many other male-dominated fields, but one spot that remains lacking is the sort of woman who can bench-press a truck.

The superhuman guy + regular-human girl = love trope is a tale as old as time, and it’s one that’s getting kind of boring to me, to be honest. How many pairings of this nature can you name off the top of your head? Thor and Jane Foster; Bruce Banner and Betty Ross, Superman and Lois Lane—hell, might as well mention Belle and the Beast since I made that tale as old as time reference. And it’s not even limited to Western media—add Abel and Esther of Trinity Blood, and Tsuna and Kyoko from Reborn, among others.

Off topic, they are super cute together.

Off topic, they are super cute together.

Even in cases where the guy is not powered, per se, like Carol Danvers and James Rhodes, the guy is still a superhero of similar caliber. He isn’t, like, a brilliant scientist, or a librarian—he’s a fighter just like her. When both are equal, whether powered or not, our best bet is that they’ll have equivalent combat skills as well (think Sailor Moon and Tuxedo Mask, or Hawkeye and Mockingbird/Spider-Woman/Black Widow/whoever he’s dating these days).

Meanwhile, there are very few pairings in which the woman is the super-strong punchy one, and the man is just a regular dude with non-combat skills that’s occasionally in awe of his lady’s powers. This is a representational problem on two levels: one, it perpetuates the idea that it’s weird for women to be physically stronger than men, and two, that men who aren’t their girlfriend’s equal in strength are somehow lesser than men who are.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Imposed Gender and Asari

Mass Effect Aria T'LoakI’ve been sitting on this post for a while, and after years of thinking of how to write it I still have no conclusive plan but to jump in and finally do it. Now, my enjoyment of the Mass Effect series isn’t a new or surprising thing, and not really having ever jumped on the Star Trek/Star Wars bandwagon, the series could very well have been my first serious venture into the sci-fi genre. However, as this blog has discussed before, sci-fi is full of some pretty shitty tropes, and Mass Effect isn’t as much of as an exception as one would hope. I think where this is clearest is concerning matters of the asari—one of the main alien races in the game, and the one that presents as wholly female. As a culture, the asari are complex and compelling; however, a lot of their biology and presentation leave me wondering if Bioware didn’t know what to do with them outside of a very narrow label.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Captain America & Male Virginity

Sexism affects people of all genders, but it affects us all differently. Women, whether virgins or sexually active, tend to be demonized and ridiculed. But for men, virginity is the ultimate crime. Whether the guy just hasn’t had the opportunity for sex or has chosen to wait, it doesn’t matter. According to our society, men who have not had sex, particularly with a woman, are somehow lacking. So when a prominent male figure is revealed or even implied to be a virgin (for whatever reason), there tends to be something of an uproar. In our media, there is almost never a virgin male character, and when there is, they are either portrayed as having something wrong with them or almost their entire plotline is dedicated to them losing their virginity. For our pop culture to have a character who doesn’t follow these rules is rare and frankly revolutionary. That’s why I am so happy that Steve Rogers, Captain America himself, is a virgin.

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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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Sexualized Saturdays: Pairings Between Black Women & White Men and the Lack of Acceptance in Fandom

Interracial marriages have been legal in the United States since 1967. You would think that since then things would have gotten better for interracial couples, but sadly that doesn’t seem to be the case. Just this past September Django Unchained actress Daniele Watts was arrested after a police officer suspected her of being a prostitute when he saw her kissing her white boyfriend. It still seems that many people have an aversion to interracial couples, and sadly that affects the representation we get in the media. In the world of geekdom it is hard enough to get a person of color in a TV show or movie, let alone see them in an interracial relationship. For the purposes of this post I will mostly be focusing on interracial relationships between Black women and white men. So let’s take a look at some of the interracial couples we do see in geek culture and how they are written and perceived by the fans.

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Sexualized Saturdays: Immortal Men and the Mortal Women Who Love Them

I want to discuss a strange one-sided trope I’ve noticed, and why I have a problem with it: immortal male characters who have a series of mortal girlfriends. For some reason, this trope appears in geek media fairly often, yet I can’t think of a single example of the reverse (i.e., immortal women with several mortal boyfriends) or of a queer version. In fact, immortal women tend to only be allowed to have a single male lover, and must spend the rest of their long lives alone after their lovers die—or else give up their immortality. This perpetuates the double standard that it’s okay for otherwise good men—heroic men, even—to have multiple lovers, while if women want to remain “pure” and upstanding, they can only ever love a single man. This whole issue is worse than a double standard; it’s a matter of differential power in relationships.

Slight spoilers for Doctor Who, Watchmen, Sandman, Lord of the Rings, Stardust, and The Last Unicorn below!

All 13 Doctors

Yes, the Doctor is pretty much immortal… as long as he keeps making money for the BBC.

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Sexualized Saturdays: “Not Your Angel” or Gender and Morality in Teen Wolf

No AngelRecently I’ve been listening to a lot of Beyoncé, and while jamming to the song “No Angel”, I was struck by how some of the lyrics reminded me of a major trope female characters are often placed in.

Baby put your arms around me
Tell me I’m the problem
Know I’m not the girl you thought you knew and that you wanted
Underneath the pretty face is something complicated
I come with a side of trouble
But I know that’s why you’re staying

I think the reason these lyrics struck me is simply because it’s shocking that women have to explain things like this. We have to say, yeah, I’m not perfect, I’m complicated, I have my own issues I have to deal with. It seems weird that we should have to explain this at all, but with pervasive tropes telling people that women should be placed on a pedestal because they are inherently good, loving, nurturing, and moral, it is a huge problem. This may seem like one of those “not all stereotypes are bad” kind of things, but let’s make the point now that all stereotypes are bad—even the ones that seem “positive”. This stereotype in particular makes women less human and less complex. Even further, this kind of attitude makes women into nothing more than the moral compass for men, and worse still, makes them evil or less than human if they can’t fulfill that role.This is reflected in our storytelling, and female characters in geekdom often fulfill this trope.

Spoilers for all of Teen Wolf below the jump. Also trigger warning for some brief mentions of rape.

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