Internet Encounters: Someone Actually Said ‘Feminazis’

This is probably something that is encountered my female feminists more often than by male feminists. It’s not the only thing—it’s not entirely uncommon for angry men to tell female feminists over the internet that they should be raped. Awful. And it’s all part of Lewis’ Law (referring to the journalist, Helen Lewis): “the comments on any article abut feminism justify feminism.”

Very true.

So, today, I saw a lovely post on Tumblr about one of my favorite superheroes, Wonder Woman.

Tumblr users superblys posted the following, in bullet points:

By the time that this post reached my dashboard, others who had reblogged it had added images of Wonder Woman being awesome.

I reblogged the post, because it was very much to my taste. And I happened to glance down at the other notes. Somewhere along the way, though not in the direct path of the version of the post that reached me, Tumblr user mariahellbunny reblogged with this comment:

And actually used the word feminazi. Or, you know, the plural form.

I do not understand.

And I would like to know exactly what this Tumblr-user (possibly a female?) means by the term.

So, here was my response:

To clarify, I’m not suggesting that it is reasonable that people be uncomfortable with Wonder Woman for this. Fictional characters, including superheroes, do not have to fit into a tidy little box. The idea that people would feel uncomfortable because Wonder Woman uses brute force and a warrior’s skill instead of improbably artful ninja skills is upsetting to me.

Please do not make the mistake of believing that most of the responses were negative. From what I can tell, most of the responses have been quite positive. Lots of reblogs and comments and clarifications and messages of support for superblys.

Miscommunications happen online all of the time. Maybe mariahellbunny thought that people were cheering, specifically, for Wonder Woman to go around killing men because they are men. I don’t know.

I do know that using the word ‘feminazis’ turns the credibility of any argument that you might make to 0. You might as well use the word ‘chemtrails.’



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Gay TV (Part I): Queerbaiting

This is Part I of II. Part II will list the most genuinely LGBT-friendly TV shows that I know.

Have you guys heard the term “queerbaiting” before? I had not, until a few years ago, though I’ve seen it on television for most of my life.

Basically, at some point, people (writers and producers) behind various entertainment media, including television, realized that they could drive up sales and ratings in serial dramas (yeah, I’m basically talking about TV, here) by appealing to gay and bisexual viewers and other viewers who are straight but might like to see gay storylines.

Awesome, right? It’s always good when people whose job is to make money notice that your demographic exists.

Unfortunately, for a long time, gay storylines were extremely controversial. Willow and Tara, on Buffy The Vampire Slayer, did not have an on-screen kiss for a very long time after their relationship began. Will And Grace, a show in which two of the protagonists were gay men, did not have an on-screen gay kiss for a long time.

As in, I think that the Dan Schneider Nickelodeon comedy Drake And Josh had a male-on-male on-screen kiss with less of a kerfuffle than those shows.

I always thought that there was an L after the first F in “kerfuffle,” but apparently not. The more you know.

Now, Drake And Josh does not count as a cutting-edge LGBT show because, well, that was not an actual romantic or sexual kiss and was, like everything else on that show, a joke. And it was, well, on a kids show (though one that I watched pretty reliably in high school for reasons totally unrelated to Drake Bell’s appearance).

Anyway, as I mentioned, gay storylines have been pretty controversial on television for a long time. In the past, it could lead to a show being heavily censored and boycotted (in a meaningful way), and that’s if the network allowed it. Now, if you have a gay storyline for the sake of having a gay storyline, you come across as preachy (like on Glee, in which being preachy about every possible social ill seems to supersede plot). It can also cost ratings—on certain shows.

We’ve all probably heard that there will be same-sex parents on the Disney Channel show, Good Luck Charlie. Because it’s a kids show on Disney, this has ruffled more feathers than it would have in a different context.

I, for one, was really surprised to hear that Good Luck Charlie was still on the air. Good for them, I guess?

So, to get around the potential controversy or a simple lack of desire to tell a gay storyline, some television shows will play up sexual tension between two characters of the same sex, even if they both seem to be heterosexual. Sometimes, this is in response to fans of a show overwhelmingly shipping (supporting the relationSHIP between) certain character pairings. Fan enthusiasm can be increased by, well, making the show appealing to people who want to see ambiguous interpersonal escalation on screen.

And it works really well. People will analyze every look and word exchanged between two characters. They’ll do fanart and write endless fanfiction.

The added bonus being that you can have the fans hooked, in a “will-they-or-won’t-they” sort of way, without actually portraying the characters in question as being gay or bisexual.

A well-known example is Xena: Warrior Princess. And that was in the 1990s. The showrunners realized that the show was really popular among lesbians, and they catered to that without actually catering to that. An advantage of queerbaiting with female characters? Straight men love it, too.

More recently, an advantage of queerbaiting with male characters has clearly been that straight women love it, too.

Supernatural and Once Upon A Time are both shows that I watch that have a lot of queerbaiting. Supernatural is much more overt about it, but they both do it. The casts and writers are well-aware that the fans are more or less overwhelming in terms of shipping same-sex pairings (specifically, Dean and Castiel as Destiel on SPN and Emma Swan and Queen Regina as Swan Queen on OUAT).

Now, a lot of people watch these shows with a will-they-or-won’t-they perspective. Others are absolutely convinced that these characters will run off into the sunset.

Guys, they won’t. Supernatural will begin it’s ninth season this fall. Ninth. I watched the pilot when I was a freshman in college (I’m so ancient). Do people who seem to be completely gay or straight sometimes, in real life, suddenly hook up with a member of the same sex? Absolutely. That does not mean that this is going to happen on the show. Though Once Upon A Time is only about to enter its third season, the same is probably pretty true for Swan Queen. They’ll be friends, they’ll look at each other dramatically, and they’ll do magic together.

The thing is that fans who watch the show primarily for the queerbaiting will be satisfied by that. It’s why Supernatural has been on for nearly a decade.

I don’t think that queerbaiting hurts anyone, but I do think that it is a bit wasteful and outdated. Most of the time.

However, queerbaiting does have its place: television for younger viewers.

At the moment, some TV that targets (if not exclusively) younger audiences contains gay characters. But they are never stated as such, or shown to be gay—but they are also never shown to be not gay. This basically comes down to networks or studios saying: “No, you may not identify anyone as gay.”

Probably the best example of this is Blue Beetle and Impulse on Young Justice. While the show’s writer, Greg Weisman (a major writing idol of mine), has stated that he believes that there are LGBT characters on the show, he asked and was told that he would not be allowed to identify them on-screen.

Queerbaiting is totally appropriate for shows where the writers are all but required to show male protagonists have a female love interest. There was a lot of queerbaiting on Generator Rex (a lot; this set of images barely begins to cover it), which was a surprisingly good show (not the strongest first few episodes).

And then there’s Transformers Prime, a recent (still on the air) show on Hub that is infinitely better than the Michael Bay Transformers films (as in, this show actually has a plot and I understand what is happening at all times). Among other things, the show has a Decepticon named Knockout who is very clearly gay. He conforms to a few too many stereotypes to win a GLAAD award, and, since Cybertronians do not officially have sexes, labels like “gay” or “straight” are meaningless, he does whistle at Optimus Prime and compliment his appearance (along with that of several other transformers) on the show.

There’s also queerbaiting in the pilot of Sam And Cat, a spin-off of both iCarly and Victorious. I haven’t seen past the pilot but I hope that they keep that up.

Queerbaiting in these instances is fine. Good, even. It’s something that will go over the heads of younger viewers but be appreciated by older ones (honestly, if you’re an adult and you automatically dismiss all cartoons because they happen to be cartoons, you need to look at your life and look at your choices). And it’s something that viewers can see or ignore as they choose. I look forward to living in a world where an action cartoon that targets a ten-year-old audience can have official, canon gay characters. A gay protagonist, even.

Sadly, we are not yet there.

 

PS: I did not mention that the BBC series Merlin had a lot of queerbaiting. That show somehow managed to do it really tastefully.

I also did not mention the queerbaiting on Avatar: The Last Airbender. Totally acceptable, as that may have been the greatest show to ever air on television, but it was allegedly a kids show.

I was going to put in another screencap that I took, but it may have been too inappropriate.



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Ridiculing The Ridiculous: Chainmail Bikinis

Disclaimer: I am all kinds of fine with sexualized characters in fiction. I’ve heard friends describe themselves by saying: “My sexual orientation is the cast of Teen Wolf.” That’s awesome. I love beautiful characters in books, in comics, in film, on television. Fanfic, even. It’s not just that sex sells and adds a few bonus points to the media that I am consuming—it can add another layer to a character and to character relationships.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, let me just say that, sometimes, sexualizing a character really sucks. Sometimes, it’s a bad move purely from a storytelling standpoint. Case in point: the “chainmail bikini.”

This has a lot of forms, but basically the idea is a female warrior of some sort (whether she’s a futuristic super-soldier or a warrior princess in the sword and sorcery type of fantasy storytelling) whose armor seems designed to titillate consumers (readers, viewers, etc) rather than to actually protect the female character’s body from harm.

Now, sometimes, clothing is revealing. Emma Frost from X-Men is a great example.

But, as you may have noticed, her clothing is not even attempting to be armor. Emma Frost is a telepath—she does not fight you hand-to-hand, she destroys your mind from the inside out. And if she can’t and she needs to protect herself from some sort of physical danger, well, she can shift her body into an organic diamond form. Not a lot of armor out there that can beat that, you know? And, like every person, she is welcome to dress however the hell she damn well pleases. Female characters in comics are too often sexualized for no apparent reason, but sexuality is very much a part of Emma Frost’s character.

When I say armor, I mean some sort of protective attire that is supposed to physically protect characters against harm. If you aren’t the sort of fighter who wears armor, that’s fine. But the idea of putting a character in minimal armor and then arguing that it “serves as a distraction” is, well, absurd.

How about nope.

In battle, you kill your enemies. You don’t pause, do a Squidward voice, and exclaim: “Oh, no! She’s hot!”

But, this isn’t a post to argue with people who want to shut their eyes and make-believe that “distraction” is a good enough reason for a character to leave herself unprotected. Actually, I really started thinking about this post because this post showed up on Tumblr (here you can see where I’ve reblogged it and added my own comments; the original poster then reblogged it from me which is always really flattering).

If you are totally dead-set on having a character be drawn provocatively, you can give it a more plausible explanation. Let’s say that you have a female warrior character who is, personally, almost invulnerable to physical harm (like Superman, but maybe she’ll get a decent film made about her). So, why would she wear armor? It would be an expensive extra weight that is much more fragile than her own body. She would wear, I assume, clothes that allowed her to move freely. Probably not a bikini, but reasonably attractive clothes.

If you really wanted, you could have her buy some very expensive undergarments, made of diamondmail or dragon scales or whatever you like. Then, if you’re totally dead-set on your female warrior going around in various stages of undress, you can have that be her contingency plan. If her clothes are torn off by a pack of wolves or incinerated in a fire, she’ll still have her ultra-durable underwear that is from a material that is too darn expensive or heavy for the rest of her body.

It’s a crowbar move, but it’s an option.

I hate crowbar plot moves. Sometimes, when a writer really wants to do something, he or she will go out of his or her way to rearrange everyone and everything in a story to make that one thing plausible. Ever see a show suddenly change dramatically in a single episode, with a character getting a massive wardrobe/design change and another character leaving abruptly? That happened on Andromeda when they switched lead writers (and it was a tragic twist). Sometimes we see it from one season to another on all sorts of television shows, when a killed-off character suddenly ceases to be dead “because of reasons” or someone’s personality changes.

That’s annoying enough without having the clear purpose of getting your character’s clothes off.

If you want sexy characters, whether it’s a TV show or a novel, there are plenty of ways to do that. With the exception of a certain nevernude from Arrested Development, people are naked in real life all of the time. In fantasy, this can happen even more. Shape-shifters, especially those who take other-than-human forms, can very plausibly end up in little to no clothing as a fact of life.

As it happens, my Super-Best-Friend and I are writing a book right now that involves a few shape-shifters. In our case, we weren’t really sitting around plotting to write a book about a bunch of characters who sometimes don’t wear clothes (it’s actually an occasional obstacle in writing, because dramatic scenes don’t need to be interrupted by people reacting to each other’s nudity). But it comes up.

It comes up when comic writers write Incredible Hulk stories. Or Superman (or Superboy, on Young Justice – unlike Superman, Superboy’s clothes were normal human attire, not Kryptonian material, so if someone shot him in the chest with an energy weapon or clawed at him, his clothes were torn. No one complained).

There are so many ways to write characters, especially female characters, who can be strong and sexual without perpetually putting themselves on display for other characters—and for the reader. Writers need to be conscious of this. Readers need to be conscious of this.

Sexual characters are great—so long as they make sense. And, ideally, so long as the sexualization is evenly distributed.

And we all need to call out people on their nonsense.

 



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Butawhiteboy Cantbekhan

Star Trek: Into Darkness is the second of JJ Abrams’ Star Trek films. These films have a good budget, great actors, and are action-packed and endearing in many ways.

They also have their problems. The most recent and notable of which was the casting of Khan. Khan, who originally appeared on The Original Series and later in Star Trek: The Wrath Of Khan, was the product of eugenics (less the genocidal type and more the selective breeding and genetic augmentation type) from the Eugenics War. He was a POC, which was a bold move (among many bold moves) for Star Trek (suggesting that a perfect human would be something other than white). And it was not just progress for the sake of seeming progressive—it makes sense that any “perfect specimen” of humanity would not be monoracial.

But I don’t really want to talk about multiracial people or eugenics at the moment—I want to talk about casting. Because (I hope that this is not a spoiler for anyone), JJ Abrams chose to whitewash the character of Khan, as he is played in the film by Banananut Cheerios (Benedict Cumberbatch).

Now, Boomerang Contradict (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an actor on BBC’s Sherlock series, and is therefore entirely unavoidable if you are on Tumblr. He has a lot of fans who would be delighted to watch him play anything. While I bear him no personal ill will (though I am fatigued by how much he shows up on Tumblr), I am definitely in the “seriously this was a terrible choice for Khan” crowd.

The following image was the original post of Butawhiteboy Cantbekhan. And it’s perfect. Because, well, whitewashing a POC into a white dude is a step backwards.

More recently, someone posted on Tumblr that no one should hate Blenderman Crumbucket (Benedict Cumberbatch) “for being white,” on the grounds that that is racist. The following was my response:

It’s not hating on him for being white. It is, in fact, a very justified moral outrage at Khan being whitewashed. Which makes no sense for a number of reasons.

It’s really JJ Abrams who is responsible — actors are, I think, expected to take major roles that they are offered (under most circumstances). But it’s not a lack of diversity on its own, and it’s not just normal whitewashing (like if they had cast a white woman to play Storm in X-Men, which would still be awful).

Khan is a genetically enhanced product of eugenics. He’s a perfect physical specimen (which can have many interpretations, certainly), is absolutely brilliant, and absolutely no augments should, realistically, be monoracial. It makes no sense.

Combine something that upsets me as a nerd (that he just doesn’t fit the idea of Khan) with the great-step-backwards whitewashing of an intellectual mastermind (who was a groundbreakingly progressive choice in TOS), and we all have every right to be angry about Into Darkness.

No one hates Benadryl Copperpot (Benedict Cumberbatch) for being white. I don’t think that anyone hates him for accepting that particular role. But I do think that many of us hate the idea of him portraying that role.

PS: I was pretty fond of Fringe but it seems like it’s JJ Abrams’ mission in life to make me want to set him on fire. He might succeed.

PPS: If you think that I’m getting all worked up over nothing, think about Disney’s Lone Ranger film. In which they could not bring themselves to cast a Native American as a Native American.



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