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.
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.)
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.
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.
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!
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.
The manga series Loveless is… well, it’s a weird one. It’s admittedly terrible, vaguely shounen-ai, and based in a universe where magically linked pairs of fighters battle in duels based on language—but none of that is what I want to talk about today. Rather, I want to talk about one of the stranger details that mangaka Yun Kouga included in the series: namely, virginity as a visible trait.
In Loveless, humans are born with cat ears and a tail—bear with me—and shed them after they lose their virginity. And while this could have made for an interesting discussion of virgin- and slut-shaming and effectively parodied our own society’s obsession with both, I found the actual implementation of the idea disappointing at best.
Usually I’m an easygoing person, but one thing that gets under my skin is “kitchen jokes”. Partly because someone actually thinks they’re being clever, and in my opinion, they’re ironic. As a woman who has been working in food service for seven years now, I’m not blind to “men only” kitchens in restaurants. The general reason for this seems to be “because women can’t handle the pressure and the workload”. I know that that excuse is complete malarkey, but I don’t understand why it seems to be a continuing trend, especially in the media. Women are portrayed as home cooks, and not as professional chefs. On television there are many examples of serious female chefs. There’s Cat Cora, who’s still the only female Iron Chef in America. Julia Child, one of the first chefs ever televised in America, is famous for her influence in culinary arts. If we have women on TV who can be professional chefs, why can’t this be more common in fictional mediums?