Tag Archives: Media fandom

Book Club: A Geek Feminist bounces off Batgirl Volume 1: The Darkest Reflection

I’ll be the first to admit that my taste in superheroism runs to the ultra-problematized, not to say outright subversive: I prefer Faith to Buffy, Grant Morrison’s Crazy Jane to Alan Moore’s Silk Spectre, Tony Stark to Bruce Wayne. As I see it, superpowers, like sex, are invariably more or less heavy-handed metaphors for something else. In Buffy and X-Men it’s puberty and burgeoning sexuality. In Doom Patrol, which meant the world to me in my twenties, it’s the marked body, simultaneously mortal and strong.

Superpowers repel me when they are used to single some folks out for special merit at the expense of everyone else. In The Incredibles Dash complains that if everyone is special, no one is. That’s exactly right, kiddo. My deepest political conviction is that everyone is extraordinary and superpowered and jewelled in their most secret inner recesses; everyone; no one is uniquely deserving of special treatment. Business Class is swankier, yes, but you must pay.

Hence my issues. In the Batman canon, superpowers are equated with effectively unlimited money and status. Bruce Wayne’s super secrets are his butler, his vast inheritance and his dungeon full of high-tech toys. As a person who has had to sit through a working lunch listening to a CEO brag about his collection of light aircraft, I find it hard to convey the extent to which this fills me with bored loathing. There’s nothing admirable about being a person like that. At least Tony Stark has shrapnel in his heart, and drinks.

At least it costs him. I’m very fond of that line of Tony’s from The Avengers: “This little circle of light. It’s part of me now, not just armor. It’s a… terrible privilege.” I like that he owns his privilege and its horrors. I like that it’s his way of reaching out to Bruce Banner, whose privileges are equally appalling. I have a lot of privilege that I want to use as a ploughshare, not a sword; the rocket that launched Curiosity to Mars, not an ICBM. Tony’s evolution from arms dealer to clean tech mogul is a useful myth in this way. Bruce Wayne’s Gothic manpain… isn’t.

All of which might explain, at least in part, why the Gail Simone Batgirl left me cold. Canonical Barbara Gordon is problematic in what for me are all the wrong ways. She’s the Police Commissioner’s daughter and the rich dude’s protege. She’s literally the tool of the patriarchy. She uses a wheelchair, yes, and then she’s miraculously healed. I appreciate that Simone lampshades this, most explicitly with her villain Mirror, who embodies the rage of the unlucky towards the lucky.

But Mirror is a villain, and Bruce Wayne, property developer, is a hero, whose acknowledgement of Barbara as Batgirl is the affirmation she needs. All her power is channeled into support for the police, and for capitalism. The arc of the narrative reverts towards the status quo. I am with Doctor Horrible in thinking that the status is not quo.

I’m sorry, but if Donald Trump praised me in any way, I would have to take a long hard look at my life and make some radical changes.

To be clear, I blame Simone for none of this. I think these are structural flaws in the Bat-canon, which tends Ayn Rand-wards and is therefore Not For Me.

I liked Barbara’s roommate, Alysia Yeoh. Alysia tapes Barbara’s cracked ribs and tells her:

If someone’s hurting you, I’m not going to sit by and watch it go on. I am not that person, are we clear?

…and then she makes laksa. I’d rather have read a whole book about her.

What am I missing? Help a Geek Feminist out.

Time Ladies: All 11 Doctors from Dr. Who, represented as women. Picture by Gladys @ http://rocketssurgery.tumblr.com

Time Ladies: Adorable Gender-swapped Doctor Who

So. Darned. Cute.

Time Ladies: first 6 Doctors from Doctor who, represented as women by Gladys @ http://rocketssurgery.tumblr.com

Time Ladies: Last 5 Doctors from Dr. Who, represented as women.  Picture by Gladys @ http://rocketssurgery.tumblr.com

Time Ladies: Doctors from Dr. Who, represented as women. Picture by Gladys @ http://rocketssurgery.tumblr.com

Picture via Gladys, whose artwork just took up some of my afternoon and I don’t mind a bit!

I should probably compile a post with some of the excellent gender swaps I’ve seen lately, but I know if I wait I might forget, and this is too cute risk forgetting.

So in preparation for a potential future post full of pictures… what’s the cutest gender swap you’ve seen lately?

steampunk-tardis-cosplay

Re-post: Steampunk, Tech, and TARDISes: A Cosplay Tale

During the December/January slowdown, Geek Feminism is re-publishing some of our highlights from last year. This post originally appeared on July 1, 2011.

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

So the idea of my cosplay project (which I have completed a big chunk of, but am putting on the shelf for a bit, so that I can mull it over in my subconscious) was pretty simple. Most people give these very simplistic answers about their motivations for their cosplay: it’s fun, it’s for the pure love of the show, it’s about hanging out with other fans, I like the character, I like the character’s costume, etc. I suspect, like most fan scholars, that something more complicated than those reasons go into cosplayers’ decision-making. So I chose a particular cosplay trend—women cosplaying as the Doctor—and tried to get beyond those reasons, both through interviewing and by “reading” the costumes. Which, of course, has all got me thinking about my own motivations and decisions in the cosplay I wore to Gally. Obviously, the premise of my project is that cosplayers don’t necessarily consciously know all the reasons they make the decisions they make in their cosplay, and I don’t consider myself an exception to that premise. In fact, I knew I wasn’t sure what it was about a steampunk TARDIS dress that held such a fascination with me. I only knew, as I told a friend at the time, that if I could dress as the TARDIS and wear a bustle at the same time, I’d be a happy lady.

Bustle time! Me in my steampunk TARDIS dress at Gally 2010. The dress consists of a white button up shirt, navy blue corset with appliqued windows, navy blue skirt with panels and a screen-printed “POLICE TELEPHONE” sign, navy blue bustle, and black headband with “POLICE PUBLIC PHONE BOX” painted in white.

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The girlfriend from the video, dressed as slave Leia

Cosplay is fine, girl, as long as you cosplay for me.

This post addresses the trend I discussed in my post on geek girls and the problem of self-objectification.

This post is cross-posted at The Cosplay Feminist.

My friend Lola showed me this video from CollegeHumor (lyrics are available at the website, just scroll down and click the “LYRICS†tab), a parody called “Cosplay with my Heartâ€:

In the first part of the video, the male white singer revels in his girlfriend’s cosplay, because she dresses as Leia from Star Wars, presumably something he’s a fan of. Having a real life Leia is a fantasy for him:

Oh her dress, her dress
It’s so true to film I can’t believe it
Her buns, her buns
How’d she get them both so even?
She’s so accurate
Though I prefer when she does slave

Yeah
I’ll go as Solo
When we walk the con floor
People don’t believe it
And I know these photos
When you search for her
Will be the first ones you see

The line “I prefer when she does slave [Leia]†makes it clear that the singer prefers his girlfriend in the “sexy†versions of cosplay, and he enjoys her cosplaying because it puts his girlfriend’s conventionally beautiful, thin, white, abled body on display for his consumption. The “her buns, her buns†line also contributes to this interpretation; the video shows first her butt, then her hair done in Princess Leia buns. The implication of this little entendre is that, while the singer is supposedly talking about the technical aspects of her costume (her hair and its evenness), he is actually just staring at her ass, and enjoying her body. And, there’s nothing wrong with a man enjoying his partner’s body. But this particular man is enjoying only her body. He parrots talk about authenticity and craftmanship because that’s what he thinks she wants to hear (after all, she really likes cosplaying!) but every time he does that, he follows it up with some reference to her sex-object status, like “She’s so accurate/Though I prefer when she does slave.”

What the singer finds exciting about his girlfriend cosplaying is not that she has fun, or that they share a geeky passion, but that she dresses in sexy costumes from geeky franchises he likes. While he pretends to care about authenticity, he is seems more concerned with the fact that her photos will show up on the internet and that people will envy him when they walk the convention floor. He’s enthusiastic about her hobby because of the benefits he gets: a sexy object-girlfriend and envy from other geek men for obtaining said object-girlfriend.

In the video, as her cosplaying moves further and further from this ideal—she dresses as a fantasy for him—he gets more and more freaked out by it. The first unambiguous “she’s a little crazy†reaction from him comes during the lines

Oh you know, you know, you know
I’m really into the scene
But she is REALLY into it
You know what I mean
But hey don’t get me wrong you know I really can’t complain
She likes anime

His discomfort escalates from here. Her next costume is Viking-esque (I don’t recognize the character), with a gold breastplate covering her breasts and torso, and a big-ass axe. He grimaces when she comes out, and again when she playfully and slowly swings the axe toward him. The next costume she puts on is a full-body mouse suit, and while he never says “furry,†it’s implied:

Whoa
Okay you’ve crossed the line
This may be your thing but it’s not mine
Cause girl you are crazy
You’ve taken it too far
Thought there was no such thing
As a girl who’s too nerdy
But now I’ve met her
And she cosplays and LARPs

The jokes about LARPing and furries are, I think, shorthand here. This video is only partly about a geek finding out that his girlfriend is more geeky than him, and more about how gross it is when your girlfriend starts acting like an actual, fully-developed geek, a person who decides what she likes without referencing your desires first, and explores those interests because she’s a person and that’s what people do.

Once we move past the HAHA FURRIES AND LARPERS ARE WEIRD aspect of this video, it’s disturbing. Because he could have stopped at LARPing, and it would have kept its humor, but the writers of this song thought it necessary to include a fursuit. And what’s important about that, I think, is that furry fandom is often portrayed as a sexual subculture, as about sexual desires. The video begins with the singer talking about his sexual desires, fulfilled by his sexy cosplaying girlfriend. And it ends with her supposed sexual desires, which are framed as “crazy†and “tak[ing] too far.†When he says “this may be your thing but it’s not mine,†it wouldn’t make any sense if he was just talking about LARPing (unless he’s a total asshole who thinks his girlfriend should only do things he enjoys), but it makes more sense if he’s talking about being furry in a culture that assumes monogamy and also often believes male sexual desires should determine a couple’s sexual activity.

Think about what this video is saying. Cosplaying is fun and cool if you dress as a “sexy†character of a geek franchise I like. Yay slave Leia! All the other boys will be jealous! But as soon as the girlfriend makes it clear that this is her thing, not his, and a passion she has, maybe even a kinky one, and one that she would like to share with him, she’s crazy. She’s too nerdy, and taking it too far. The line of excess here isn’t even drawn at getting sexual pleasure from cosplay, because he does that very thing in the beginning of the song. The line of excess (too nerdy) is drawn where the woman cosplaying gets any pleasure from cosplaying (and role-playing) that is outside of what he likes. And her getting sexual pleasure from it is, well, “crazy.â€

This is pretty damn offensive to geek women, even if they aren’t cosplayers or “really into the scene.†The humor of this song relies on the assumption that geek women should express their geekiness by positioning themselves as sexy objects for male geek consumption. And that assumption is a big fucking problem, and not at all funny.

(Do not go down in the comments to tell me how LARPers or furries are weird or gross or whatever. It will not get published because I don’t care. People should do what makes them happy, and feminists should not make it their job to police other people’s kink.)

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

Tough as an old linkspam (8th December, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wall of Spam, by freezelight on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

The performer formerly known as Linkspam (31st August, 2011)

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious, freelish.us or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

steampunk-tardis-cosplay

Steampunk, Tech, and TARDISes: A Cosplay Tale

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

So the idea of my cosplay project (which I have completed a big chunk of, but am putting on the shelf for a bit, so that I can mull it over in my subconscious) was pretty simple. Most people give these very simplistic answers about their motivations for their cosplay: it’s fun, it’s for the pure love of the show, it’s about hanging out with other fans, I like the character, I like the character’s costume, etc. I suspect, like most fan scholars, that something more complicated than those reasons go into cosplayers’ decision-making. So I chose a particular cosplay trend—women cosplaying as the Doctor—and tried to get beyond those reasons, both through interviewing and by “reading” the costumes. Which, of course, has all got me thinking about my own motivations and decisions in the cosplay I wore to Gally. Obviously, the premise of my project is that cosplayers don’t necessarily consciously know all the reasons they make the decisions they make in their cosplay, and I don’t consider myself an exception to that premise. In fact, I knew I wasn’t sure what it was about a steampunk TARDIS dress that held such a fascination with me. I only knew, as I told a friend at the time, that if I could dress as the TARDIS and wear a bustle at the same time, I’d be a happy lady.

Bustle time! Me in my steampunk TARDIS dress at Gally 2010. The dress consists of a white button up shirt, navy blue corset with appliqued windows, navy blue skirt with panels and a screen-printed “POLICE TELEPHONE” sign, navy blue bustle, and black headband with “POLICE PUBLIC PHONE BOX” painted in white.

Continue reading

Connecting with female characters in geek television

Cross-posted at From Austin to A&M.

s. e. smith wrote this amazing post a while back at Bitch’s Push(back) at the Intersections: “I Just Don’t Like That Many Female Characters.” And I read it and was like, “OMG GEEK CULTURE.” Because, really:

‘I just don’t really like many female characters, you know?’

I see this coming up again and again in discussions about pop culture; this is an attitude I myself once embraced and espoused, like it was a badge of honor to dislike most female characters. I thought I was being oh-so-edgy and critiquing female characters when really I was engaging in an age-old form of misogyny, where people prove how progressive they are by saying they hate women.

I know, it sounds weird. But there is a thing that happens where some feminists declare themselves firmly to be ‘one of the guys.’ I’m not sure if it’s a defensive tactic, designed to flip some attitudes about feminism and feminists, or if there is a genuine belief that being feminist means ‘being one of the guys.’ Once you are ‘one of the guys,’ you of course need to prove it by bashing on women, because this is what ‘guys’ do, yes? So you say that you don’t really ‘connect with’ or ‘like’ female characters you encounter in pop culture.

If feminists feel pressure to be accepted as “one of the guys,” imagine how geek women feel, particularly early in their lives, when they often feel isolated from one another.

This tendency to dislike female character reminds me of another “being one of the guys” strategy: I often meet women who tell me proudly, “I just don’t get along with women.* All of my best friends have been guys.” These women also often think that this fact actually makes them progressive (because nothing’s more radical than failing to create female-centric relationships!). And most of the women I’ve known who say this are geeks. It’s actually one of the reasons it took so long for me to become friends with geeks, because “I don’t get along with women” is dealbreaker for me. Any woman who says this is either a) telling me that I can never expect more than perfunctory friendship with them or b) inviting me to denigrate women as well, as the basis of our friendship. And no thank you.

Which is not, of course, to say that these ladies are horrible people. Women who refuse to connect with other women, fictional or real, are not causing the problem, but perpetuating it, because they’ve bought patriarchal narratives about women hook, line, and sinker. They seek connections with men, because men are the rational, smarter set, and by doing so they feel required to malign their own genders, because, as smith points out, “bashing on women” is just what dudes do. But loving other women, connecting with other women, is one of the most radical feminist act one can perform. And I think that goes for fictional characters, too, especially since I know that my personal path to feminism would have been greatly hindered if it weren’t for Xena and Buffy.

So it hurts my heart when geeks inexplicably “hate” female characters on geek shows. Indeed, the two examples smith uses are actually from geeky/fantasy/SF shows: True Blood and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It seems like misogynist write-offs of female characters are disturbingly prevalent in allegedly progressive fan cultures (like the overtly feminist Buffy), and the ones that have been pissing me off lately are, of course, Doctor Who-related. A sizeable part of DW and Torchwood fandoms has a lot of ire for female characters from these series. The two I want to focus on, in part because hatred of these characters is well-represented in both fan communitities, are Gwen Cooper (from Torchwood) and River Song (from Doctor Who).

[Spoilers for season 5 of Doctor Who and Torchwood: Children of Earth (season 3) below the fold.]

[Trigger warning for imagined violence against female characters, slut-shaming, and other misogynistic language.]

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The linkspam-whore dichotomy (17th May, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

The way of linkspam is neither swift nor easy (18th April, 2010)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.