Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Problem With Higher Standards

Sometimes I miss being ignorant of both my privilege and my oppression.

I went to see two movies this summer: Pacific Rim and Two Guns. I enjoyed both of them and went to see Pacific Rim two more times after I first watched it. And despite liking both movies, I couldn't help feeling disappointed. Maybe disappointed is too strong a word; perhaps 'dissatisfied' would be more accurate.

Both have lead characters who are POC (though none of them are a sole lead; they all share the spotlight with white dudes). Pacific Rim also has a female character as an action protagonist. She gets her own narrative arc that is about her development, rather than supporting the development of a male character.

Spoilers below.

Another friend wanted to see Two Guns after we'd already watched it once. And I just... I knew I wasn't going to enjoy it a second time. The first time through, the clever dialogue and the chemistry between Denzel and Marky Mark was enough to get me past the painfully hackneyed racial and gender tropes: a Mexican drug lord who is in cahoots with the CIA! domestics and thugs! and of course there's one female character who is of any significance and what happens? she gets fridged.


And I was just so bummed about it, because like... I want to be able to spend time with this friend, but I feel like no matter what I do, I'm excluded. Either I tag along and suffer through a movie that I'm not happy about and keep my mouth shut so everyone else can have fun, or I stay home by myself while everyone else has fun.

I'm tentatively hopeful about Saving Mr. Banks, though.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Another FemFreq Video!

After yesterday's rambling post, here's one that's nice and succinct!

Perhaps you're already familiar with Anita Sarkeesian and Feminist Frequency, but if not, you totally need to check it out. Because if you're reading this (*crickets*) you're probably interested in critical analysis. There's a fascinating push-pull between a culture and its created works -- or should that be 'between created works and their culture'? Analysis is a way of looking at the individual pieces of each and how they fit together and how one piece perhaps influences others, and it's super intriguing.

Anyway, Sarkeesian recently produced the third video in her series Tropes vs. Women:

And -- big surprise here -- it's fantastic. May I say that I even love her outfit? I love that she wears a blue-and-pink (maybe salmon, but hey, that's a pink tone by my reckoning) plaid shirt. Is it a metaphor or just happy coincidence? I don't know, but it's awesome! And the familiarity of it just makes me smile. It reminds me of Mr. Rogers hanging up his jacket and putting on his cardigan. It's like, "yay, here's Anita again in her comfy shirt, and she's going to be calm and clever and just a wee bit adorably snarky."And she always is.

So you should watch the video!! Check out part 1 and part 2 if you haven't already seen them.

Friday, August 16, 2013


Change is something that interests me. For most of my life, I have had long (or at least, long-ish) hair. Part of this is because long hair is fairly easy to style - pull it back in a barrette or up in a ponytail and voila! - and also because I'm both cheap and lazy, and making an appointment, getting to the hairdresser, waiting my turn, getting the cut and then getting home often takes the better part of an afternoon, and I don't even want to think about the cost anymore.

When I was in college, I dyed my hair on a regular basis. Just wash-out stuff, though. My natural color is a nondescript "mousy brown" of the sort that female protagonists in YA novels complain about as The Most Boring Color Ever. When I went to Comic-Con, I met this one girl who had a fantastic turquoise dye job. Even then, though... I've just always been a bit uncertain about permanent dyes. They're so... permanent!

It also used to be incredibly thick. Back in 2010 I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and after surgery I had chemo and radiation. Losing your hair is a common side effect, but it's not a sure thing. So I got mine chopped and donated it and went ahead and got highlights. (Meh.) It did end up coming out -- it was hard to tell at first, though, because my hair was so freaking thick that it shed a lot.

I wore wigs to work and around town. Although I had several scarves, I never really got the hang of them. But as weeks turned into months, I got more and more comfortable with my scraggly pate. One thing they don't tell you is that your hair still tries to grow and just keeps dying off because of the drugs. I was expecting a smooth, shiny noggin and I never got one.

When it grew back, it was curly at first, which is pretty common. By the next summer I had a full head of hair, and it had started coming in straight again. It's a little weird having hair that does two things, but I guess it's better to have it curly first then straight, with the curls at the ends, than vice versa! But I've noticed that it isn't nearly as thick as it used to be. Mostly, I'm glad. It doesn't shed nearly as much, it's a bit easier to style, and it looks more like hair is supposed to look, instead of giving me a perpetual mushroom-head. Even so, it still feels a little weird. When I sit back with my head against a pillow, there's just not as much there.

Also my eyebrows are now super-sparse and my face looks wrong to me. Fortunately it's pretty easy to take care of with eyebrow pencils. Or brown eyeliner, if I want something a little darker. Hell, even eyeshadow works. (As long as I don't use something funky like green or orange.)

More recently, I quit shaving my legs. I haven't been one for shorts or skirts for quite some time, so it's not really noticeable. Somehow, for no apparent reason, I wondered how long it would take for my legs to go past "scratchy" into "fluffy." My arm hair is super-soft and I wondered if my leg hair would be similar. I figured it wouldn't be exactly the same because the Hunk is a man, and so he isn't expected to shave his body hair, and his leg hair is a tiny bit coarser and curlier than his arm hair. Also I think it's not as long as it gets... though that varies.

Mine's the same way. It's soft and a little shaggy now. It doesn't lay as neatly as my arm hair does. Because I'm tall, I've always been self-conscious about wearing pants that showed anything above the ankle. Capris just look weird to me. And so for awhile I was even more self-conscious, because of course in our society women are expected not to have hair on their legs.

But I have some exercise wear that comes to mid-calf. Yes, it looks weird to me, but it was affordable and comfy, so I bought it. And it feels ever so daring to wear that when I go for a walk or run errands or something. I feel just the slightest bit scandalous! When I think about it, I can't help grinning at how silly it is -- oo, leg hair, sooo avant-garde. Whatever, Clix, you're a goofball.

I do still shave my nethers and under my arms. Too much hair down there feels odd, like I may have started my period without noticing. And to avoid being smelly I wear deodorant, and if there's hair under my arms it tends to tangle (ouch!) or get clumps (ew).

My attitude toward my body changes often, as I'm sure is the case for most women. I drift between being curious and impressed at the way that it works at some times and then at others vainly wishing it was more conventionally attractive. Sometimes it's both at the same time!

Friday, August 2, 2013

Reflecting on Mary Sue

So I followed a link to this post on tumblr and it got me thinking (again) about Mary Sues. And then I was putzing around over on the ffn forums and saw this topic and its discussion and it got me thinking even more. So here's what I said:

First of all, I'm gonna say that I don't like the term Mary Sue for two reasons.

(A) It's been used so much to slander characters for so many different reasons (too many strengths, too few flaws or flaws that do not seem proportionate to the character's strengths, too unique [how is this even … ugh, that phrase is an offense to Standard English!] too easily successful, unlikely connections with significant canon characters - the list goes on) that it currently feels like a catchall slur for "I don't like this character and I'm too lazy to go into specifics."

(B) It's sexist. Let's say there's an idea for a new dude character with a tragic background that recalls the protagonist's own, world-class athletic ability, a rare hair color / eye color / complexion combination that matches the protagonist's, starts as an adorable, witty sidekick who softens the protagonist's hard heart, and grows into a freaking sex god who leads a team of superheroes despite being a vanilla mortal, because he's just THAT good… If this idea is pitched by a dude to a dude, not only is it not immediately scrapped, it might actually be accepted for publication and given its own series!

Dick Grayson, I love you, but you're a Mary Sue by anyone's reckoning.

And this was decades before the actual "Mary Sue" was ever written. I don't think it's remotely coincidental that the name we use to denote a type of character who is near-universally despised and mocked comes from a female character in a story with a female author.

The key to a character being labeled a Mary Sue is that the character's traits -- abilities, good looks, popularity and success -- seem unbelievable. It's kind of sad that despite having made significant progress in gender equity (women are allowed to own property! YEAH!) it's still much easier to believe in a man being competent, handsome, popular and successful than in a woman having those same qualities.  But I guess that's only reasonable, as it's a sad but honest reflection of our current cultural reality. Overall, women have to work much harder than men and accomplish more than their male peers to achieve a commensurate level of respect or even acknowledgement.

Further, traits that are typically coded female -- a focus on beauty, popularity, and romance -- are the ones that get the most heavy vilification from the anti-Sue critics. I doubt that this is a coincidence, either.

Finally, there are plenty of over-the-top characters that I enjoy despite (and perhaps even because of?) their Sue-ness. Dick Grayson is one, definitely, but also Jacky Faber and Kvothe, to name a couple others off the top of my head. Interestingly enough, the latter two are both redheads, and I can't remember but it wouldn't surprise me a bit if Kvothe had violet eyes.

So love your Sues! Give 'em hell, sure, but love them through it all.

Image credit: Mary Sue Academy on deviantArt

Thursday, August 1, 2013


So I write VERY slowly. I tend to be pretty happy with what I come up with, but it often is a bit of a grind to get something actually written.

One strategy that seems to help is what I call "paragraph-slinging." This is where I inflict my work in progress on someone else who's online at the same time as I am, usually via email or private messaging of some sort. It's often not more than a few sentences, and the only response I need is a question or comment or even "looks good! what happens next?" - some sort of continual push to keep me going.

I've started to be more proactive about my writing. I'm following a few more writing blogs and I've joined a couple of forums. But I've noticed that most people are very serious about their writing. And I'm kind of ... not? So I feel like something of a fraud, like I'm butting in where I don't belong.

I can't help wondering if there are communities out there of UNserious writers, people like me, who aren't interested in being published or even having a large following online. People who just like talking about stories, about what works and what doesn't and why.

It would be awesome to find something like that.