Monday, June 25, 2012

Brain Goblins

I have Brain Goblins. I talk about them from time to time, first identifying them while in treatment for an eating disorder and body dysmorphic disorder. They'd been rattling around in here for years, and while I learned to articulate their piccadillo's, the different ways they needle away at my gray matter, or just plain gnaw gleefully at my self-worth, I could never really put them down on paper in a satisfying way. Normally what I do in terms of illustration is on the pretty/cute side of things, occasionally delving into the strange...but never really ugly or disturbing. Until now.

I guess it was a little over a month ago that I sat down with a piece of paper and one of my favorite pens and starting drawing Ed. He came first because he's sort of omnipresent, my head version of Puck, only not in any way lovable or charming. Ed represents my eating disorder (ED is the nickname/shorthand a lot of people in recovery use). While in therapy for what has been (and sometimes still continues to be) a nearly 20 year struggle with disordered/restrictive eating, I read a book called Life Without Ed. In it the author, herself in recovery, and her therapist illuminated on a few techniques that often help patients identify the emotions and issues that trigger their Ed. One technique that seems to work for a lot of people is to personify the disorder as a sort of person or figure. Hence, Ed.

In my case I ended up with a kind of pantheon of brain "goblins" because A. Labyrinth is probably the most influential story/film in my life and that's just where my head went (especially since I own the Brian Froud illustrated Goblin Companion guide, which has his sketches for the movie and descriptions of the various goblins you see but don't get to know in the film*) and B. it just seemed to fit. Goblins are creepy and unpleasant in mythology, ranging from problem causing tricksters to, you know, pretty evil. Take "goblins" or, really, smaller orcs in Tolkien. They are without question awful, and that kind of depiction has led me to associate them with things I have come to dislike. Like being angry, violent, and toothy. Teeth loom large in my nightmares, for instance. Losing them, pulling them out, or just rows and rows of gnashing, biting, teeth. That kind of recurrent imagery clearly means something to me, especially since I lucid dream a lot.

After I drew Ed I kind of just randomly starting sketching other...creatures. Some of them have names, like "Molly of the Many Teeth" or "Dread the Desperate Damsel". Lots of others don't, they're more associated with concepts or feelings.

I took a few days to just draw these things, not thinking about them too much, not trying to make them "perfect" or pretty in any way...hence the no sketching first. I didn't judge them so much as just let them do their thing. Obviously a lot of them are nude, or missing limbs, with gaping mouths and haunted eyes. It's a side of myself that's always a bit there, like a shadow even in the brightest sun, but I spend a lot of time trying to hide it or mitigate it.

Since drawing them there's been a kind of weight lifted in my head. Being able to really draw Ed and go, yeah, that's what he looks and, more importantly, FEELS like when he's fucking around in my brain...made something ease up. I can go back and look at him and call him names and just deal with him a whole lot better. It didn't fix anything permanently, but I've long since accepted that "fixing" when it comes to mental illnesses is an ongoing, possibly always, sort of process. To a degree you'll always have some of the baggage from it and recovering is more about understanding what's happening and knowing how to deal with it than necessarily "curing" it like a cold or fixing it like a car. Our brains are a bit more complicated.

The hardest thing about sharing anything to do with having a mental illness is the shame and fear of judgment. The truth, though, is that talking about it and sharing it (for me) keeps it from festering like a wound that won't heal. It's a part of who I am and, though I'm often unhappy about it, the only way to stop feeling ashamed of it is to not keep a secret. It's not something that's my fault, though I take responsibility for dealing with it. It shapes the way I think and feel, and often influences the stories I tell and characters I write to some degree. It's made me very aware of and active about body acceptance, and though I judge myself far too harshly, I think it's made me less judgmental of others, especially when it comes to bodies, weight, and the whole concept of "beauty" in general.

So, I leave you all with a page of my Brain Goblins. They're a pretty nasty lot, but I find them way less scary on paper. You little buggers aren't so tough now.

* The one exception is the "Should Fairy" who I haven't gotten down yet. If you've seen Brian Frouds' Good Fairies/Bad Fairies it'll probably end up somewhere in the latter category.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Life and Things

It is an odd thing to constantly feel as though you're not doing enough when you have little to no spare time because of all things you're, you know, doing. There are a number of projects I keep wanting to get to, stories in various stages of Not Done, and just...stuff I want to be able to do, that there aren't enough hours in the day for.

Mind you, I'm not exactly immune to procrastination or avoidance. I'm as guilty of spending way too much time online as anyone, watching videos, reading articles, or doing the internet equivalent of window shopping. I get all mad at myself like I'm not allowed to ever have down time.

I don't really know where that comes from. In school, I was never an overachiever. I wasn't the 'dictorian of any sort, nor particularly concerned with grades. I did fine but never quite, I don't think, worked to my potential. That changed a bit in college where I was doing what I loved every day: writing or art. I definitely applied myself diligently then, and I suppose it's a matter of pride today that I'm always working, often to the point of it being  a bit excessive. Getting comics done right is a real job, but it's not a 24/7 gig, like, say, programming or being a surgeon.

This is one of the reasons I'm glad that my "day" job these days is working with kids. It's easy to forget when you're dealing with the urgency of deadlines and publishing that there are other things going on that don't revolve around this little industry you're in. Making a more direct impact, doing silly projects, wiping away tears, playing made up games, helping with homework and listening to little kid drama's...it's a good reminder that life is about a lot of things outside ourselves, and there are many ways to get meaning out of it.

I give this kind of thing a lot of thought because it's really important to me that my life not be pointless, insofar as I am able to define that for myself. I have a finite amount of time, whatever that ends up being, and I want to spend it doing things that matter to me and with people I care about. It's one of the reasons I love to tell stories and share them. I like being able to connect with other people through that, giving them something to think about, to feel, to enjoy. Storytelling, to me, is a kind of magic. Not the abracadabra kind, it doesn't just appear. But the same kind as when you have a really fantastic conversation at 2am, or meet someone for the first time and it's like you've always known them. It's the feeling of really...being...and being able to share that.

The thing is, though, being like that all the time is nearly impossible...and kind of ponderous after awhile. For the existential dread and constant struggle for meaning...life is also silly and weird and plain stupid sometimes. There's a kind of magic in that, too. When you just have to laugh at the utter absurdity of things because, really, taking it all too seriously ends up robbing you of the whole experience.

This is what I get out of working with kids, or at least the ones I've been lucky enough to spend time with. They're curious, bright, but inexperienced and often very clueless about the world at large. I suppose a lot of that has to do with being American and at least middle class. Parents do this kind of interesting sheltering, like they really think keeping their kid from playing a violent video game will inoculate them against anything bad ever happening to them. It's fascinating.

But the kids themselves, most of them have inklings by a certain age that the world is larger and stranger than they've been exposed to. Or maybe that's just the kids who are into the kind of creative stuff I do. But I find most kids, with very few exceptions, respond to art and storytelling on some level. I have yet to meet a child who didn't have a story they wanted to tell, or whose eyes didn't light up when I told them they could do it, however they want to, and give them the tools to do so.

Kid drama also tends to make me step back and reconsider some of the things I let get to me. It's a good dose of perspective when you realize the meltdown they're having over who got to use the fancier swing on the swing set isn't that far off you getting worked up over an email that was probably just the victim of how difficult tone of voice can be to translate/interpret. I make it a point of pride not to act like a tantrummy 5 year old, so, it's a good reminded to step back and maybe not leap to conclusions.

In the end, life is too short to constantly spend taking it either too seriously, or not seriously at all. It's about balance. You find meaning where you find it, you tell some good stories along the way, and hope you aren't forgotten too soon. If you can help other people tell their stories, too, so much the better. And laugh. Great leaping hop toads, laugh well and OFTEN.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Feminist Discussions: In Which I Am Very Wordy

One of my recent posts about trolling women on the Internet using misogynist threats/insults got quite a bit of traction. While I was happy to see the interest and discussion, I was less thrilled with having to field a lot of “but feminists hate men!” and “feminism is a bad word, use something else!” and a whopping great pile of “mansplaining” comments on what Feminism “really” means and how I should talk to people (i.e. men) about gender issues without using scary words like “patriarchy” and “privilege”. It was both amusing and frustrating, as these kinds of discussions often are. It wasn’t unexpected, but it did get super repetitive.


Prepare yourself, this post is long, but thorough.


Something that should be noted: when you try to steer a conversation about women and discrimination into a conversation about men in general/how men also have issues/how Feminism “really” means man-hating…intentionally or not you are attempting to derail that conversation. There are times to have that conversation, and even times when those concerns are valid. But they aren’t on posts about women being threatened online, or pretty much any post that’s specifically discussing Not Men. You have basically the entire rest of the internet you can turn to for spaces that will happily have that conversation with you. That right there is one of the main reasons bloggers/activists/people get tired of talking to you about this subject. Try listening first.



Now, I happily identify as a feminist. But it’s not all I identify as and it was interesting to see how many people assume that being a feminist means not caring about other equality issues, like racism or homophobia or poverty. It was interesting because while Feminism is specifically addressing gender related discrimination and inequality, it’s not to the exclusion of any other problem. In fact, Feminism as an academic study, for instance, usually involves looking at ALL issues of inequality as interrelated and connected to one another. You really can't study gender issues without the idea of intersectionality. That's right, I have a Masters Degree in Liberal Arts. Can you tell?


One of the reasons gender issues are so important to me personally is that they effect one half of the world’s population, and it’s arguably the first “othering” most of us are subjected to. The gender binary seems to be the first way we define ourselves and the rigid gender norming of each begins at birth. We base a lot of discrimination on this first “difference”, and use it as an excuse for all kinds of problematic assumptions that lead to real world problems.



There’s also the fact that treating gender inequality effectively treats other issues, like poverty, child welfare, and education. So it has a pretty wide reach.



Now, I am NOT suggesting that gender problems are “worse” than any other. I do not believe in the Oppression Olympics. However, my Feminism does inform my activism, and the ways in which I address inequality as a human being. We all focus our attention on some things over others, but it doesn’t mean we don’t care about a lot of different issues. It’s just that there’s only so much of yourself to go around and so many hours in the day. I personally have a day job writing comic books, so, there comes a point when I have to focus my energy elsewhere.



For the purposes of this discussion, the general definition of Feminism: the radical notion that women are people.



It’s really that simple. Yes, there are lots of different waves of Feminism and many differing opinions on how to apply it and to what effect. This is because that while Feminism has a simple base concept, feminists are individuals and not a monolithic entity. So you’re probably better served by treating them as individuals, not representatives of every other feminist. You know, like you do with any person.



In that vein, here are my answers to the various assumptions about Feminism and feminists. You can also check out Feminist Bingo for some more succinct (and snarkier) responses to the same things. I’ll refer back to this in any threads going further where these questions/comments come up to save myself a lot of time and aggravation. It’s by no means comprehensive, but it's kind of like a "Greatest Hits".



1. “Well, this girl I knew in college/someone on Facebook says they are feminist and they hate men, so I think that’s what Feminism means!”



I say this with the utmost respect and kindness but: So what? People say all kinds of things in college when they’re just discovering how unequal and messed up the world really is. You can easily point out that no, actually, Feminism is just the radical notion that women are people. It says absolutely nothing about men as individuals being terrible or evil. It does, however, take a look at systemic sexism and how it undermines both genders and their ability to make equal choices.

Feminism definitely criticizes the patriarchy, which is the overall structure we currently reside in, which values “men” the general over anyone else when it comes most anything. It’s a system of power and all you really have to do is look around and see it working. If you’re a dude then you benefit from that structure, even if you don’t think you do. If you get defensive about it that’s normal, but it’s not the other person’s responsibility to make you feel better about it. It also, by the way, doesn’t mean that the patriarchy isn’t doing damage to men, too. It definitely is.



As for Facebook, people post all kinds of dreck on there. Like they do on Twitter/Tumblr/The Internet, that is not indicative of how every single person thinks or feels about something. If one person named Sam posted that they hate homosexuals I wouldn’t then jump to the conclusion that all people named Sam are homophobes. That would be silly. It’s up to you to look at the source and consider all available information. Expecting other people to provide you with an education in feminism on their blog, when you have Google at your disposal, seems a bit…weird to me.



This a legitimate question to ask yourself before posting: Do I really know much about Feminism? Have I bothered to check out any of the feminist blogs or writers out there? Read any Gloria Steinem? Susan Bordo? Lynda Nead? Erin Gloria Ryan? Dodai Stewart? Irin Carmon? Feministing? Jezebel? Feminist Frequency? Shakespeare’s Sister? Why is some idiot on your FB page the sole representative of a whole movement all of a sudden? Considering all the things Feminism has actually done for real life women (the vote, reproductive rights, pay gap, maternity leave, rape laws, etc) that seems dodgy.



Last, is it maybe possible that you might interpret the things said by someone who identifies as Feminist in less than favorable ways because you’re predisposed to be defensive about gender discussions? I know that can be really difficult to consider, but I run into it all the time. What a Feminist actually says and what is heard can depend a great deal on the biases of the person “listening”.



2.“Feminism has too many negative connotations to it so you should use a different term. Use humanist or equalist etc.” See also: “why do you label yourself? That’s bad.”

This gets a little tricky because my answer is probably going to seem somewhat hostile. But, the thing is, the royal “you” don’t really get to dictate what other people identify as. Nor do you get to define what Feminism is. And that’s particularly true if you’re a dude trying to tell a feminist woman what to call herself in a conversation about how women face gender discrimination. ‘Cos that’s some privilege-y stuff right there.



Besides, I refuse to let someone like Rush Limbaugh (who coined that obnoxious term “feminazi”) or his ilk define the movement. Civil Rights didn’t put up with that and I don’t see why Feminism should. Unlike, say, racism or chauvinism, feminism seeks to make life better for people of both genders by acknowledging the systemic issues of sexism. At the moment the group that’s most negatively affected by this system are women (though I absolutely acknowledge that this binary limits men in a whole lot of unnecessary and crappy ways as well). Those other isms seek to limit and dehumanize people who are not part of the power structure. Those are significant differences.



I also think it’s important to say when I’m looking at something from a feminist perspective because it is specifying the gendered nature of the discussion. I’m not going to shy away from that just because it can be polarizing. Sometimes we have to have uncomfortable conversations in order to move past a problem. If I’m talking about racism or homophobia or poverty I’ll use a different identifier. It’s not really that complicated.



Last, we all label ourselves, even if you’re saying you don’t like labels. That’s basically saying you are labeling yourself un-labeled so you will seem carefree and different, man. I get it, but, eh. Since I know what Feminism stands for I have no issue with identifying as such. It’s kind of not really my problem if you don’t. Other than having to constantly field it, obviously. Worry less about what other people choose to identify as and more about whether you insisting on them labeling themselves in a way that makes you more comfortable isn’t maybe a tad jerky.



4. "Some girls do stuff for attention!" or "A lot of girls aren't really geeks, they just say they are to get free stuff/wear skimpy clothing!"



Again...so what? Are you suggesting that dudes don't do anything for attention? Because, seriously, no. I go to conventions, I've seen the spandex and men and ladies alike. Maybe our cultures obsession with valuing women for how they look over who they are has something to do with this "problem".


Also, is there a geek test that I don't know about? Because, seriously, there are a LOT of ways to be a geek/nerd/whatever. We don't all fixate on the same stuff. Maybe those girls are costuming geeks. Maybe they really love Buffy or Lara Croft or what have you. The length of their outfit doesn't actually correlate to the size of their brain or their dedication to a fandom.


Regardless, there's an important discussion to be had about objectification, but that's not really the point of comments like the above. They're just out to slut-shame women and pre-judge their value as a geek. Considering all it takes is being female in a geekysphere to get accused of not being a "real" one, I find the addition of what outfit a person is wearing indicating their intelligence or dedication dubious. Hell, I don't ever cosplay, but the commitment I see in some of those costumes? The details, the skills? Yeah, by that definition, they're a lot more geeky than I am in my store bought comfy dress.



4. “My anecdotal experience with x form of unpleasantness proves that racism/sexism/homophobia doesn’t exist” or: “white people can experience racism, too.”

Unfortunately, this is a prime example of privilege working its magic and turning unfortunate individual circumstances into universal “truths”.



In this case “privilege” is basically well, here, this is a good place to start (this one is male privilege centric): http://www.amptoons.com/blog/the-male-privilege-checklist/



Having privilege does not make you a bad person, but it usually does mean you’ve benefitted from it in obvious to subtle ways. And you probably aren’t aware of it. It also doesn’t mean you haven’t suffered or worked hard or earned things in your life. It’s about a system that allows for invisible privileges, not whether every single one is true for you personally. The above link addresses all that, too.



Basically, your personal experience is not necessarily relevant to the issue of systemic bias/discrimination. It’s relevant to you the individual, but our personal hurt feelings are not the point of discussion. You have to learn to separate that from the larger context.



While the word “privilege” may make you balk, it’s still the best term for the issue, and accurate. Plus, I mean, just how soaked in privilege are you that you think demanding that other people change their terms and conversation to make you feel better is going to lead to a better conversation? You’re sort of proving our point. And why would anyone want to indulge that? It won’t lead to a more productive discussion, it just serves to coddle those who don’t want to deal with the world the way it is.



It’s sort of like when people pull that whole “Why isn’t there a white/men’s history month?” Because aside from those two months that are about not that, that’s mainly what the history we’re taught IS. White, male, history. It’s also the default perspective ON history, with all the issues of bias that go with it. It’s one of those obtuse arguments that people think is really clever but is actually deeply stupid and annoying. So don’t do it.



4. “Why do people have to advertise the fact that they’re gay/a girl/a poc? Why can’t they just “be who they are” and not rub it in my face all the time like they’re special?”



Oy. The sheer fact that you think that sort of perfectly shows why we’re still struggling with issues of equality. You have the luxury of the culture not othering you constantly, where what you are is the default majority, whose perspective is more likely to be listened to, showcased, and revered. You also aren’t having your rights eroded or denied, and no one is silencing you regularly just for being “who you are” in any meaningful way. That time someone was mean to you online doesn’t count.



The entire culture caters, for instance, to being straight/hetero. It’s everywhere, in just about every ad, tv show, story, etc. The only reason it would even seem like someone being gay is “rubbing it in your face” is because you’re not used to having to consider that pov regularly. It’s the same reason people get all upset when people point out gender issues in male dominated spaces, or racial issues in our whitewashed culture. Whenever the other points out that they exist and are being othered, a certain part of the status quo gets offended and tries to silence it immediately. Because it’s so used to getting its own way and dictating the terms of the conversation.



5. But I still think feminists hate men!



Let’s try this again: Nope!



Moving on!


Monday, June 18, 2012

Hi, Internet!

Well! Hello there all you new readers and comment-making people. It's nice to see you. I am both surprised and pleased at the discussion taking place on my Let's Play A Game Part 2 post, and I appreciate all the kind words of encouragement + the thoughtful discourse. I apologize if I haven't responded to your comment directly, and there are a few I chose not to publish as they were either redundant or, you guessed it, troll-y. Most of those latter had to do with insisting that feminism = man-hating and, although I would like to discuss that particular misconception at some point, I wanted to keep those threads on the topic at hand.

Later this week I'll have some more posts for you all, but right now I'm on a writing AND editing deadline and need to give artists some feedback and my editor a script.

So in lieu of musings from me, I will give you this video: Ill Doctrine: All These Sexist Gamer Dudes are Some Shook Ones. It discusses, from a different perspective, how all of this is a problem, and gives some thoughtful advice on dealing with trolling and not allowing the spaces you go to online to become cesspits. All I really have to say about it is: YES THIS.

Ill Doctrine: All These Sexist Gamer Dudes Are Some Shook Ones from ANIMALNewYork.com on Vimeo.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Let's Play a Game Part 2: Women vs. Tropes + Trolling Felicia Day

I'm telling you, I think the internet finally went too far this past week. Well, okay, I know not really...but it seems like, for once, people are actually paying attention to online harrassment and what a detrimental and unpleasant pall it casts on geek culture. Obviously it's focused on games right now, but you could apply it to anything where women create/discuss something and guys become frothing mad bullies about it.

I'll freely admit that I don't understand the impulse to troll, just like I don't understand the impulse to bully. Both are unintelligent, nasty, demeaning, and pointless, other than to make their target feel like crap. I personally think they're interchangeable words for the same/similar activity, except trolling is more online exclusive and can be just stupid instead of nasty. However, trolling does seem to be catching on in real life to a worrying degree. See anything regarding women's health or our current political "debates" for reference.

I don't get it, not because I'm some kind of amazing person, but because I am able to both sympathize and empathize with others. And because, since I also make things, I would be pretty ashamed of myself if I attacked someone else for doing so, even if whatever they do isn't my cup of tea. There's also a world of difference between a thoughtful critique of a work, which if you put it out there you are opening yourself up to, and heaping abuse on someone just because you don't like something they made/did/said. It would kind of be like if I walked up to people on the street and started screaming in their faces because I don't like their pants. Their pants are not my problem, I'm fully capable of going about my day without making a comment about them. The only time I might confront someone about their pants is if they're, like, attacking other people & strangling them, on fire, or missing altogether in a public place.

Of course, online anonymity makes this a lot easier for some people. I use handles myself but I don't use them as an excuse to be an asshole. If I say something I own it. And I personally believe in courtesy, even if the exchange is happening in a comments section on a website with strangers. That doesn't mean I don't get passionate or snarky from time to time. But I don't, for instance, call people names, threaten them with violence, or otherwise behave like the internet is my own personal, private, shit show. The fact that some people just go straight to that baffles me.

I'm sure people can (and have) argued that this is "just how the internet is". And most of us who spend any time here know that a certain amount of crap comes with it. However. That doesn't make rape/death threats okay, nor does it mean that we can't work towards making spaces better, and calling out awful when we see it. To me, very few things have ever changed by ignoring them. Which is not to say you should engage with every online troll you run across, that would take forever. But sometimes engaging can be important and you should do it when and if you feel safe to.

This brings me to the two instances this last week that really brought the this whole issue of Being a Woman on the Internet front and center for a lot of people. Since I'm an active feminist I've seen many versions of this already. Blogging While Female, Blogging While Feminist, Men Call Me Things, Crap Email From a Dude, and other examples of what women face (many daily) when they discuss gender politics (or just politics) and/or are just female and do stuff online. You don't have to be doing anything divisive or political or activism-y to warrant it.

So, there's this awesome Kickstarter project, Women vs Tropes: Video Games. http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/566429325/tropes-vs-women-in-video-games
It's a project by Anita Sarkeesian, who does videos criticizing pop culture media with a feminist bent. They're all awesome and you should check them out. You can check out the one the Kickstarter is for here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l8I0Wy58adM.

The shitstorm basically happened when that same Youtube video was trolled like whoa, with some of the most disgustingly misogynist comments, threats, and ugliness I've ever seen. You can check it out, she's left them all up to make a point about why this is such a problem. Beyond that, her Wikipedia page was basically defaced with a porn shot and liberal use of the word "cunt", and I suspect her email inbox was flooded with additional crap. Whether you agree with her premise or project is beside the point. Wanting to discuss tropes and issues in video games shouldn't result in rape threats. But then, in an industry that thinks giving Lara Croft a rapey backstory gives her "depth" and weirdly paternalistic "sexiness", it just shows how necessary the project is.

I'm happy to say that not only is Sarkeesian standing up and talking about this, her project is funded, and has raised a whopping $155k+. That's a goodly amount more than the original $6 thousand goal. So, kudos internet trolls, you just made sure she'll be making a LOT more of these, and opened up a massive can of worms that no one who isn't a giant asshole is going to defend.

Finally, we have Felicia Day. Who had the apparent audacity to write, produce, sing, and make a video of a charming little country western song about a gamer girl and a country boy. It's sweet and fun and I'm not even a country music person. It also made the trolls come out in force, mostly with weird accusations about "gamer girls" who aren't real gamers and just play them to get attention...and other assorted stupidity. I watched the video and...the point, they missed it. By a bajillion miles. Yeah, sure, her "character" dresses up in cos-play. I was not aware that dressing up as characters you like means you're not really a geek. Someone should tell all those authentic Stormtroopers they don't really like Star Wars, they just want attention. I'll wait.

Anyway, Day wrote a very thoughtful blog post about it (http://feliciaday.com/blog) and it's pretty clear that sexism played a major role in the kind of comments she got. Since she's a visible geek (who is also a woman), and a successful one who needn't prove herself to anyone, she bore the brunt of what looks like a lot of petty jealousy and girl-hate. Whether you like the stuff that Day does or not, there's no doubt that she works hard and cares about what she's doing. And she has the brass ovaries to put it out there, knowing some people won't like it, and for that she gets a troll storm.

Whatever. I'd really like to see any one of those commenters do even a third of the things she does. It's always people who do nothing but have a lot of opinions that seem to feel the most entitled to crap on anything anyone else does in the least intelligent manner possible. I'll eat my shoes if a single one of them is a legitimate writer/musician/math degree wielding/geek/gamer/actor, who produces their own successful web series, site, and book club. Not to mention comic book writer and assorted other stuff, like going to a ton of conventions and doing charity work. But let's totes yell at her, you guys! Sheesh, you'd think she was ACCOMPLISHING something.

The point of all this is that when women do things, there's a certain sort of person who wants to put them down and silence them. Not because what they're doing is bad or wrong, but because they're daring to do it at all. Sometimes it's because they're discussing sexism directly and working towards better awareness of how it pervades the culture. Other times it's because they're making things in fields men feel entitled to be the arbiters of, and their sheer presence neatly undermines a lot of common sexist stereotypes people don't appreciate being made to re-think. Bonus if they have the audacity to be accomplished and good at it, too. Whoops. That's a big old no-no, apparently.

But I think this latest blow up kind of put in sharp relief just how wrong and off this all is. The Women vs. Tropes Kickstarter funding is one way that's indicated. The amount of people coming out in defense of Day is another. But even more, maybe, are the sheer number of articles and blogs dedicated to discussing this all as a real problem within gaming culture, and the culture at large. There're only so many times you can see this kind of thing and not start seeing how it's all connected. Unless you're really obtuse, in which case, whatevs, life is going to be difficult for you.

And the thing is, some people will say "well, whatever, this isn't a REAL problem" like they do with pretty much any issue that effects Not Them. That's happens with literally every problem that effects women no matter how big or "important" it actually is. Curiously, something else is always "worse". But I think the real problem is that people don't understand that it's all interconnected. How you treat women online who say things you don't like is directly related to how you view women in general. It also relates to how you view female characters and what kind of backstory gives them "depth". It relates to the casual use of rape threats to try and silence uncomfortable discussion about gender in media. Which then relates to the problem with our rape culture, where 1 in 3 women will be sexually assaulted. Which can then be viewed by how in some places in the world women are raped as a form of genocide. That is then related to the fact that we're currently seeing some of the most regressive reproductive health laws/bills in the U.S., and being told that "women don't care about it", they care about the economy, only we were just denied equal pay, again. Then there's how women's economic power is directly related to issues of poverty, and that the more economic growth women have, the better the world wide economy is, not to mention improvement in education and children's welfare.

So, sure, I guess you can dismiss this stuff as "silly" if you really want to. But the reality is that if you treat women as "things" to any degree, you're part of the larger problem. And I'm pretty sure women in general are really sick of it.

WTF Prometheus or Whoops, God Hates Us! : SPOILERS

I would, in all honesty, rather be writing a positive, possibly even glowing, review of Prometheus right now...but I can't. Because unfortunately the movie was kind of a story mess and, though it had good (even excellent parts) they were undermined by either mediocre or downright misguided moments that, as a whole, made for a film that is its own worst enemy.

Let me start off by saying that my expectations were as follows:
1. Horror/Sci-Fi
2. A story.
3. Characters you want to watch.
4. An entertaining movie experience.

What I did not expect (or require) it to be:
1. Alien.
2. Bladerunner.
3. Deep.
4. Perfect.

All things considered, those aren't such bad expectations. Unfortunately, the movie went for a pretty strange philosophical tone that meandered and then completely lost its way...and somewhere along the line it forgot to develop nearly any of the characters, pick a narrative arc, or execute on even one of the myriad plot threads to any satisfying degree.

Here's the thing: movies are a storytelling medium. You can certainly play around with structure and how you want to realize your story in that format...but if, at the end of the day, you have a barely functioning narrative that's sort of like story ping pong on acid...you haven't succeeded. And Ridley Scott is too experienced and adept a director and storyteller to be given a pass on that.

A few other things to note: I happen to like both sci-fi "lite" and sci-fi "serious". I have no issue with asking the "big" questions, so long as you're making some attempt to explore them meaningfully, not haphazardly. I don't even need "answers" to those questions, I'm comfortable with coming to my own conclusions, or just having a good old fashioned lit critique wank about symbolism and themes and what have you. Or, on the opposite end, I'm perfectly fine with an entertaining romp that's no deeper than a shallow pool.

But in order for either of those to work, the story has to be there and it has to matter. The characters need to have personalities, arcs, purpose. And certain kinds of inconsistencies really need to be ironed out or it just yanks you right out of it, so you're spending more time wondering why everyone is being so patently stupid/annoying, instead of being immersed in the world the filmmaker is supposed to be creating.

I mean, I just think it's a crime against humanity to cast Idris Elba and then...do nothing with his character. I guess he was supposed to be a well-worn captain who's "seen it all"...but when the most development you get is him (successfully, somehow) picking up Charlize Theron with "Are you a robot?", you feel a bit cheated.

As for the other characters...well. There's Shaw, who while developed, was strangely naive and kind of stupid. Ditto her boyfriend, though other than some kind of weird banter with a robot, was fairly void as a character. Vickers, the Ice Queen, had about zero reason to be there and did nothing particularly interesting except set someone on fire. Oh, and forget how to run sideways. That was...odd. Everyone else was just...there. Not very integral to the plot in any real sense, or alien fodder. My favorite was the Stoner Geologist and Groupie Biologist, who were kind of an awesome Team Discovery Channel for a few minutes. They had the good sense to avoid the dead alien corpses and unknown "life" signs...right up until the mapmaker got lost, and the biologist decided that a suspiciously cobra-like alien was like a kitten. They pretty much did complete character 180's in the space of a scene. It was weird.

I would have found Shaw's character more compelling, I think, if the grand total of backstory with her had been something more than her and her dad talking about what happens when you die. As a motivation for going into space and assuming you'll find god, it was a bit weak. And then a sudden "I can't have children" weepy moment out of a nowhere, that was so obvious and telegraphy it was painful. She was, however, extremely badass in other scenes and I think Noomi Rapace is pretty awesome. The character just wasn't very dimensional, and the ones she did have, were kind of blah.

Which brings us to the character that everyone is rightly talking about, and the one that almost makes up for a lot of the movie being a convoluted mess. That would be David, the robot, played by Michael Fassbender. Of the many things he does well in this role, being not-sexy is probably the most amazing. I kid, though it's true. His mannerisms, voice cadence, everything down to the way he smiles and just...observes...was uncanny and just shy of human. The effect is mesmerizing and disturbing, and incredibly compelling. I wish the movie had been about him because he was the only character I got any sense of wonder from at all. Plus, since he didn't have human emotions or ethical issues, he lived in this oddly poetic pseudo-villain state, while having an interestingly philosophical pov. David seems more aware than any of them that finding "god" is probably not going to be what they expect/hope.

There has been some interesting analysis of the movies themes about said "search for god", and possible explanations for the myriad things that are kind of just dumped on the audience without any attempt to explain (or maybe importantly) explore them at all. As I said before, I don't need answers to everything, but maybe breadcrumbs to being able to put it all together would be nice. Giving me an opening scene with a disintegrating alien that becomes DNA of something, then jumping to ancient wall art, then space, then some goo, then "whoops, god hates us because we killed Space Jesus"...I mean, I get it. I do. I got what they were intending. They just didn't execute it well. Or possibly, as my husband says, it's all actually a satire...although it had the weirdest tone for one if it was.

I don't want to be all negative, and if you liked the movie as a whole, I envy you. I just see such basic story problems and go, nope, sorry, I can't. Call it a consequence of doing this for a living, but all I could see at a certain point was where a story editor should have stepped in and said "Ridley, no. You can do better." If you're going to spend this much money on a film, cast really great actors, and take this much time...the least you can do is care just a little about whether what you're intending and what you're actually doing lineup.

I mean, I know Alien 3 and 4 were pretty crummy, and he's probably gotten sick of the whole franchise. And I know Scott's had all kinds of issues with studios mucking around in what he does. But at the end of the day he still gets to make movies that people will see, so I don't think it's too much to ask to get the story straight and functional. Layer on top of that like crazy, but get the basics down. It shouldn't rely on characters doing literally the stupidest things possible or mystery goop that may or may not be magic psychic "cum" or whatever that destroys or creates...unless you maybe mention that. I'm down with a story that's basically about how human beings suck and destroy everything they touch...but I have to give a shit about the characters and narrative on some level to even want to bother with thinking that long about it.

In the end, the movie was worth it for David for me...I just wish we'd been watching his weirdo, 2001 Space Odyssey, Peter O'Toole watching, dream creeper, story instead.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Let's Play a Game Part 1: Catwoman and Lara Croft

So, the internet has been ablaze the past few days with a truly stunning amount of asshattery in both games and comics. Since it's all aimed at either female characters or women who are creating things within arguably male dominated spaces, I'm comfortable with putting it all under the umbrella of gross misogyny. And I'm discussing it all together because I personally believe that it's all interconnected. How we treat female characters directly relates to how we treat women and vice versa. (Links at bottom for pics/articles on what I'm discussing here).

This first post will deal with Catwoman and Lara Croft.

I'll start with comics since it's a field I'm directly involved with. It all revolves around a Catwoman #0 cover which is...yeah, no, not really working on a lot of levels. (see here for the original: http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/24951190254/thereal)

Now I'm going to break down the most popular arguments about it here to save time.

1. Women CAN pose like that. I've seen them. Like contortionists or gymnasts.

A. Contortionists, maybe, but not gymnasts. However, what contortionists do you know who have an arm growing out of their head, no right shoulder, two completely different sized buttocks, a butt foot, and a severed leg? Also, Catwoman is not a contortionist, she's a cat-burglar, and in this image she's jumping, not performing in a circus. I think she might also be stabbing herself in the palms with those claws, but, that's the least of her worries right now. I'm mostly concerned about her butt foot, though the arm growing out of her head is also troubling.

2. Well, she's CATwoman. Cats put themselves in uncomfortable positions all the time. It's just an exaggeration.

A. This is true, I have three cats. Of course, they don't tend to break their spines to show me their tits and ass, nor do they have limbs growing out of their heads. If they did, you can be sure I'd be taking them to the vet post-haste.

I also have no problem with exaggeration so long at it makes some kind of sense. I've worked with a lot of artists, they still base their exaggerations on real anatomy, not butt feet.

3. You just hate women who are sexy. This is a sexy picture.

A. Nope. I like pinups and cheesecake and boobs and butts. And while I agree that what's sexy is subjective, weirdo anatomy and brokeback don't seem like the only requirements for something to be considered sexy. I think we're maybe lowering our standards a little too much here.

4. You hate men and men are who read comics. So shut up.

A. Actually, I think very highly of men. I just don't think very highly of sexism and objectification for the sake of a lowest common denominator audience assumption. Also, I write and edit comics and most of the books I've worked on have had at least a 50% female readership. Maybe fewer women read supe books, but I'm pretty sure that's not a valid argument for putting out books that alienate them. But it might be an argument for why they don't read them in higher numbers, or why we should maybe consider not doing things that suggest they aren't welcome here. I mean, unless we're saying comics as an industry hates money and growing its' audience. In which case, it's been nice knowing you, comics.

5. Men are objectified just as much as women. They get exaggerated too.

A. ::sigh:: They are exaggerated to look stronger, tougher, and more heroic. So that the presumably male audience will want to identify with them, not shag them. If these comics are "for" men, and straight men at that, then they aren't drawn that way to be sexualized. It may be unrealistic, but it's not dehumanizing, and the intent is completely different. You can't have it both ways.

6. This isn't a "real" issue. Why don't you complain about something important?

A. I'm not so much complaining as discussing. Because I work in this industry and I care enough about it to want it to get better, reach more people, and stop stagnating in tired tropes and sexism. So, to me, that IS important. Likewise, it's important because it speaks to larger issues with sexism in both media and the culture in general. Also, my brain is fully capable of caring about and discussing this while ALSO caring about and discussing other issues, such as women's reproductive rights, politics, healthcare, and equality issues all over the world. It's not like caring about this precluded me from caring about or knowing about any number of other issues. This is just a bad argument that seeks to silence discussion about sexism, and it's used no matter what is being discussed. I could be talking about the issue of rape as genocide in The Democratic Republic of the Congo or why empowering women financially in developing nations helps them directly and the world economy generally, and someone would still tell me it's less important than something else.

Further, a big summer movie will be opening soon that stars Anne Hathaway as Catwoman. DC books have a pretty good track record with their films sparking interest in their titles, especially bat books. So they developed a backstory issue, Catwoman #0, which is presumably for new readers to get to know the character. And they went with that cover. I'm sure the sales on it will be fine, and they may even get some new readers. But I suspect they will not be from the movie going crowd, but from people who already read supe books and want to check this out too. We're an insulated, niche industry enough already. This isn't doing us any favors, especially since it plays into every cliche there is about comic book art and female characters. We can do better.

Now, on to games. Let's let's talk about Lara Croft and the "cornered like an animal"/attempted rape backstory that supposedly adds depth and nuance to her character. On the one hand, the developer gave her more realistic body proportions for who she is and what she's doing. That's great. However, following that up with some kind of brutal, almost-rape story pretty much undermines any goodwill I might have had. This is one of those tropes that has needed to die a painful death for quite some time. Female characters do not need to experience sexual violence to be interesting or have motivation. It's lazy storytelling, for one thing, via superficial character "development" that is almost never done with any sort of care or understanding, and it's generally exploitative and gross. This was further confirmed in an interview with one of the developers who claimed Croft was "sexier" now that she's a vulnerable character who goes through this trauma, making players want to protect her, not be her.

Great.

So, instead of having a badass female character who was a lot like Indiana Jones (who didn't need to be sexually assaulted OR lose a lady in his life to be motivated, I might add)...we have a victimized character who does what she does out of revenge. Super. I can't imagine why anyone has a problem with this.

Oh, wait, yeah I can. Because to add insult to injury, that same developer managed to imply that the only players who matter for this game are male players who feel "protective" of her. And that they can't identify with her character, so, let's just throw in some rapeyness so they'll feel extra protective while wanting to sleep with her. Because that's not weird and problematic and gross. Personally, I think a lot more highly of male game players since I'm married to one. I think they can identify with a female character, I don't think they need to feel protective of her or want to sleep with her, and I think a lot of them would prefer she not have this particular backstory. It doesn't add to the gameplay and it's a pretty crummy story trope to be relying on. Plus, Croft was a popular character without all this before.

And just like Catwoman, why are we doing things that will likely alienate female players? I see a ton of Lara Croft cos-players at conventions. Lots of women like having kickass female characters to identify with and it seems like something that would bring even more players to the game. I mean, even if more men play games than women, I don't think that's a good excuse for shitting on female characters and being horribly sexist. What does that say about men, that apparently people think they won't play/read/watch something unless it's offensively misogynistic? And if that's the case, why are feminists like myself the ones who get accused of hating men?

Beyond all that, these are industries that want to make money. I should think they'd want as much of it as they can get from as many people as possible. And yet, they do this. So is there something about lady money they just don't like? It doesn't have cooties, I swear. You can still pay your bills with it.

So, to sum up: Both comics and games seem to have this weird blind spot when it comes to female characters and doing things that potentially alienate an audience because they're too myopic to tell better stories or rethink a pose. Games are able to get away with it a little more easily because they're still very lucrative and widely played. Comics, though, should really get with the program or they're not even going to have T&A books to read when the medium blows up because it can't sustain itself. Games, meanwhile, should take it as a lesson that stagnancy ultimately kills your bottom line.

Next up: Women Vs. Tropes: Video Games harassment and Trolling Felicia Day: I think you guys finally went too far...

Catwoman links:

Shows the original: http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/24951190254/thereal

Cameron Stewart's awesome counter art: http://yfrog.com/j2mmtogj

Kate Beaton's take: http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/post/24919361751/kbcato


Lara Croft links:

Forbes article: http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielnyegriffiths/2012/06/12/the-new-lara-croft/

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

our breath above the earth
we slip
a cry a sigh a whisper, down
we eat the dust
grateful for the taste
now spread
and
lick the pink
forbidden
desert of our heart
for us there is no always
for us there is the
dark