Friday, May 25, 2012

Absent Mothers in Urban Fantasy

Urban Fantasy -- the bringing of the fantastic (vampires, werewolves, magic, fae and so much more) to a modern, real world setting -- has become ever more popular as a mainstream genre. From Twilight to True Blood to The Vampire Diaries, it is now firmly entrenched on our televisions. The books regularly reach the best seller lists - this isn’t a fringe genre. It’s here, it’s huge and it’s here to stay.

This means the portrayals represented matter. Any popular media has the power to shape culture and society; any stories that are consumed by a large number of people are going to draw upon our societal prejudices and, in turn, feed and encourage those prejudices and portrayals.

Urban Fantasy is a genre that seldom gets critical examination. At first blush, the opposite would appear to be true when one considers the social conversation around Twilight or True Blood, but these are only two examples within an extremely large genre. It is interesting to note that much of Urban Fantasy contains female protagonists and is largely produced and consumed by women. Considering the ongoing gender divide, it is hardly surprising that this immensely popular genre is being ignored by critics.

Just because Urban Fantasy is largely produced by women and consumed by women does not mean that it is free of sexism and misogyny. When it comes to motherhood, a role that most women will one day assume, it is hardly surprising that within the genre most examples are highly problematic --  when they appear at all.

The lack of representation of motherhood is so extreme that the viewer is forced to ask is, “where are the mothers?”. It seems like such an odd question, because you’d expect most characters, like most people, to have a mother lurking around somewhere; especially since most of the heroines in these stories are young women or even teenagers. Search as we might, the mothers are conspicuous by their absence.

The most common cause of the missing mother seems to be death -- indeed, it is almost mandatory for an Urban Fantasy heroine to have a tragically dead mother. In The Vampire Diaries Elena’s mother is dead. True Blood has the orphaned Sookie; Charmed killed the sisters’ mother off before the series even started; Cassie, Diana, Melissa, Jake and Adam all have dead mothers in The Secret Circle. Buffy’s mother died part way through the series. In The Dresden Files, Harry’s mother died before the series began. In Grimm, Nick is yet another protagonist with a dead mother. The whole beginning motivation of Supernatural revolves around their dead mother. In Blood and Chocolate, both mother and father are brutally murdered. In The Craft Sarah Bailey's mother is dead. In Underworld, Selene’s mother is murdered by Viktor.

This list is extremely -- even excessively -- long but it’s shocking that we looked through all the shows and movies that we’ve watched and actually found it hard to find a series where the mother was alive and present.

Even in stories where the mother is lucky enough to have dodged the bullet and is actually alive, she is still often absent. In Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight, Renee, Bella’s mother, is absent, living in a completely different state. In The Vampire Diaries, Bonnie’s mother, Abby, is absent through much of her childhood and, when they are finally reunited, Abby not only presents Bonnie with a child that she raised as a replacement, but quickly disappears after becoming a vampire. Abby is well aware of the pain that her absence has caused Bonnie and yet she steadfastly finds a reason not to engage with her daughter. Once Upon a Time sets records for absent mothers -- Augustus never had one, Snow White and Ruby’s mothers are dead, and Emma grew up in the foster system without her mother.
I suppose we should be grateful these mothers ducked the Urban Fantasy plague that has put so many parents in their graves, but they still have little to no actual influence and presence in their children’s -- the protagonists' -- lives.

With such a massive pattern, we have to ask why. Why is it almost a requirement in Urban Fantasy for the young, female protagonist to be lacking a mother (and often a father too for that matter)?
One reason seems to be to make the characters sad, relatable and, frankly, angst ridden. It’s quick, cheap and easy characterisation to establish a sad, tortured or otherwise issue-laden character with “depth” to kill off a parent and have them be sad about it. These dead mothers are sacrificed for quick and easy back story for the protagonist. Take a heroine, load her up with a shiny ability, a bit of snark, a love interest -- now kill her mother so she has “depth.” The back story is established: we have a “3-dimensional character” who has suffered (which seems to be shorthand for an established character in far too much fiction).

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Let's Hear it Fellow Disabled People

'Free Freshly Painted Handicap Wheelchair Parking Sign in Parking Lot Creative Commons' photo (c) 2011, D. Sharon Pruitt - license:

As a disabled woman, I find that small accommodations can make so much of a difference in my day.  Unfortunately, this does not happen often and instead I find myself rolling my eyes and snarking about the same complaint day after day.

It's a beautiful day here in the armpit of Canada, known as Niagara Falls, and so I decided to make a coffee run to Tim Hortons. It is after all ice cap season (no, don't tell me about the calories) As I approached Tim Hortons, once again there was a crowd standing in front of the ramp.  I pulled up right in front of them and had to ask them to move, though they saw me waiting and then was treated to sighs and eye rolling.  You would think that seeing me enter Timmy's that they would assume that I would be leaving and would once again need the ramp, but you would be wrong.  As I left the store, they were once again congregated on the ramp, causing me to have to ask them to move so that I could get by.  Freaking get it together people.

Yes, I am irritated.  TAB people need to be more sensitive and yes a little common sense would go along way. I thought that we could use this thread to talk about the everyday irritations we face as disabled people.

I will start off with a few of mine and you can finish:
  1. don't block the curb cuts
  2. don't assume that I need you to hold the door for me
  3. don't assume that because you held the door that I am going to worship you like you are the second coming
  4. don't treat my mobility device like it's a hideous appendage 
  5. don't offer me miracle cures (and this goes double for cherry juice, vitamin C and triple for fucking Mormon goji juice)
  6. Recognize that I am not bound to my mobility device and that I use it instead
  7. Don't assume that because of my disability that I am not an intelligent woman
  8. Don't expect me to be silent about a lack of access
  9. Understand that my disability does not make me passive
  10. Finally, respect my limits. When I say I cannot do something accept it.
Okay people, hit me up in the comment sections with your common everyday issues regarding disability.

Hustler Photoshops A Penis In Conservative Commentators Mouth

Okay, for the sake of consistency, I am going to talk about the picture below.

That is a photoshopped image of conservative columnist S.E. Cup with a penis in her mouth, which was published by Hustler magazine. 

Under the headline “Celebrity Fantasy,” the text beside the picture asks, “What would S.E. Cupp look like with a dick in her mouth?”
S.E. Cupp is a lovely young lady who read too much Ayn Rand in high school and ended up joining the dark side. Cupp, an author and media commentator who often shows up on Fox News programs, is undeniably cute. But her hotness is diminished when she espouses dumb ideas like defunding Planned Parenthood. Perhaps the method pictured here is Ms. Cupp’s suggestion for avoiding an unwanted pregnancy.
Hustler printed a disclaimer beneath the image saying,  “No such picture of S.E. Cupp actually exists. This composite fantasy is altered from the original for our imagination, does not depict reality, and is not to be taken seriously for any purpose.”

On Hate Speech and Concentration Camps for Gay People

Pastor Charles Worley of Maiden, NC took to the pulpit to advocate placing gays and lesbians in concentration camps last Sunday.  His speech was absolutely one of the most horrific things that I have ever heard. 

The following video comes with an extreme trigger warning for violence against gays and lesbians.

Willow Smith Is Going to be Annie and Why It's Important

'Annie The Musical,' photo (c) 2012, Eva Rinaldi - license:

There is no doubt that the Smiths are a performing family.  Willow is moving beyond her musical aspirations to the big screen, to star in a remake of the musical Annie.
Will Smith confirmed that the youngest of the Smith clan, Willow, 11, would be following in her parents and older brother Jayden’s (The Karate Kid) footsteps, with a starring role in the modernized film version of the 1982 musical Annie.

Will Smith, who is slated to produce the Sony Pictures project, also confirmed to Good Morning America that his Men In Black 3 co-star, Oscar winner Emma Thompson, wrote the script for the contemporary Annie film.

The film will be set in modern-day New York and will feature a host of new updated songs. Hip-hop, mogul, and hit maker Jay-Z is in charge of the music and is expected to write new musical tracks for the soundtrack.  Jay-z is not new to re-imagining Annie tracks.  His 1998 hit single “Hard Knock Life (Ghetto Anthem)” featured samples from the Broadway musical version.  [source]
Little Orphan Annie began as a comic strip, and made its debut on August 5, 1924 in the New York Daily News. "The original Broadway production opened in 1977 and ran for nearly six years, setting a record for the Alvin Theatre (now the Neil Simon Theatre)."  As a little girl, I was given an Annie watch (yes, I know I am dating myself, now hush) At the time, I was polite and said thank you, but truth be told, Annie didn't hold any magic for me.  All I saw was a pale red headed little girl that for some reason so many thought was cute and I most certainly did not agree.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

When You’re A White Straight Comic, Bigotry’s All About the Joke

I have a new piece up at Clutch Magazine

You may remember Colin Quinn from his stint on Saturday Night Live, where he became a regular with such character as “Lenny the Lion” and “Joe Blow.”  He even took over “The Weekend Update” for a time. After leaving SNL, Quinn became the host of the short-lived Tough Crowd with Colin Quinn. Today, he spends a lot of time on the road performing stand-up comedy.  Quinn recently joined the ranks of celebrities who really need to learn that Twitter is not the forum for them to express their bigoted pointed of view.

With this kind of logic, Jim Crow would still be the law of the land, and women would not be allowed to vote. The fact of the matter is that the law often runs behind the social push for change.  More importantly, societies that don’t progress and change become stagnant and die. Two sets of laws for citizens is not now, or ever will be equality.  As it is, the U.S. is already behind because Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, South Africa, and Sweden all allow same sex marriage.  The United Kingdom, Brazil, New Zealand, Uruguay, and France all allow civil unions between same sex couples.  It’s nice to know that Quinn is against the closet, but his position is hardly unbiased.

Saying I don’t believe in forcing people to hide and then finishing by advocating inequality in the law is homophobic. What Quinn does not realize is that one need not be spewing homophobic slurs, or participating in a gay bashing to be a homophobe.  All one need do is suggest that there are limits to equality to be understood as a homophobe.

One would think that after showing his inner bigot to the world that Quinn would step back from Twitter for awhile, but apparently, Quinn was only sorry that he didn’t take the time to put people of colour in their place.

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A tale of two hoodies: Mark Zuckerberg vs. Trayvon Martin

Cheryl Contee of Jack and Jill Politics wrote the following article for The Grio.  I really think that you should check it out.  I am going to get you started and you can finish over there.

Star Jones recently pointed out the double standard inherent in how two young men wearing hoodies were treated in the public eye by the media. She was dismissed as just another angry black woman by others on the show, and right-leaning bloggers on the 'net.

But does Star have a point? Trayvon committed no crime -- he was merely walking home one fateful night after a trip to 7-11 for Skittles -- yet was accosted by a stranger as suspicious in part, it's claimed, because of his hoodie. When Mark Zukerberg wore a hoodie to launch Facebook's public stock offering, he was praised as an icon of a new generation representing the best of American values.
We can see this mirror in law enforcement practices. Study after study shows that young whites are more likely to use marijuana than blacks or Latinos, yet blacks are at least seven times more likely to get arrested for the same offense. Mark Zuckerberg was probably not a victim of New York City's terrible "Stop and Frisk" policy during his recent trip to Wall Street's halls of power. But who's the real gangsta here?

Some Wall Street analysts are questioning possible unethical behavior by Facebook's executives and its partner Morgan Stanley in "selective dissemination of information" that gave insider knowledge to some large investors but not others. FB's stock is being called "muppet bait for the masses" who didn't know that Facebook's quarter one earnings estimates had been cut mid-launch. The stock is now sinking like a stone in the NASDAQ stock echange. It's not clear how much Zuckerberg himself knew about the alleged financial shenanigans and shakedowns. But we all must be left wondering -- who would Geraldo name as the hood wearing "thug wear" now?

 Finish reading at The Grio

Louisiana School Psychologist Calls For Black Thugs to Die

Mark A. Triana tweeted:
We need to declare war on Thugism in America. Bring them under control. Use the Hammer and Trigger Method!  If White People were going around killing people the Blacks would be crying Fowl.  This is Bullshit - to let one group control the lives of all.  Young Black Thug who won't follow the law need to be put down no incarcerated. Put down like the Dogs they are!  Young Black Thugs have created an atmosphere of Fear throughout America. The Real Terrorist live among us! Not over seas! Right here and now.
On their own these comments are horrendous and clearly racist.  What is perhaps more disturbing is that Mark A. Triana is a school psychologist in Jefferson Parish.  This man should not be in a position of authority concerning vulnerable children.  Such an attitude would empower White supremacy in White children and negatively impact the life chances of Black children.

Unsurprisingly Triana works in the same district that the Southern Poverty Law Center filed a complaint against alleging that the school system "sends a disproportionate number of black and disabled students to alternative schools to languish for months." A story about the allegation appeared on and Triana of course had something to say about this.

The Language of Adjectives

Mike is an 18 year female to male transman. He is currently studying psychology at The Evergreen State College between making quilts. He someday aspires to be a social worker, and in the mean time, he wants to fix the fact that not everyone is born with an inherent right to be themselves. 

In theory, every person is created equal and deserves the same rights and privileges of every other individual. Being a part of a minority makes that trickier. Instead of being seen as a person, first and foremost, you are seen as the adjective that comes before your name. Your personhood comes with an asterisk. Certain conditions need to be met in order for personhood to apply, and those conditions are usually conforming to look and act like the person who doles out the adjective. Even then, if it is convenient for you to be treated as a non-person, those conditions will be seen as not having been met.

I am a trans* man. I have one adjective in front of my name that brings my gender into question. Because I choose to be open about both who I am now and before I chose to come out as trans*, it means that I wear my asterisk on my sleeve. It means that I field dumb questions about my genitals and I get asked personal questions about my sex life from people who I have known for all of five minutes. It means that I fear using the bathrooms and that my driver’s license doesn’t accurately reflect who I am. It means that in the state I call my home, I can legally be fired simply because I am trans*. It means that in some states I can legally be evicted from my home because I am trans*.

I have another asterisk in the form of fibromyalgia. If I am having a good day, no one notices and the asterisk to my personhood need not apply. If I am having a bad day and use either my chair or my cane, I suddenly become the object of questions or pity. I am suddenly no longer seen as attractive or a potential mate (although the same can be said of the trans* thing much of the time). This adjective of disabled takes something away from me. I get reduced to my chair, a really rather small characteristic of who I am as a whole. Instead of a person, I become a disease, fibromyalgia that wheels around, someone that will no doubt always need help, whether or not I actually do. I will be seen as infringing on the rights of the able bodied to simply appear as I am in a chair. It is unsettling for them to see me in a chair, so I should push through the pain. After all, their feelings matter and my pain is inconsequential compared to that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Today Is Harvey Milk Day

Far too much of LGBT history has been lost and that is why I think it is really important to talk about the events and people that we are aware of.  Harvey Bernard Milk was the first publicly out gay man to be elected to public office in California.  He only managed to serve 11 months before he was assassinated  by Dan White, another city supervisor who had recently resigned but wanted his job back.

"In August 2009, President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Milk the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his contribution to the gay rights movement stating “he fought discrimination with visionary courage and conviction”. Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk accepted for his uncle.  Not long after that, Stuart co-founded the Harvey Milk Foundation with Anne Kronenberg with the support of Desmond Tutu, co-recipient of 2009 Presidential Medal of Freedom and now a member of the Foundation’s Advisory Board."

The following is an award winning documentary about Milk that we should all watch.


Community Can be Harmful to GLBT People

 This is a guest post from Sparky, of Spark in Darkness.  Many of you are  familiar with him from Livejournal, as well as from his insightful and often hilarious commentary here. Each Tuesday, Womanist Musings will be featuring a post from Sparky.
So let’s have a talk about “big society”  and “community” and all that lovey dovey idea of all the local people getting together.

See, this is an in-topic in the UK because the Tories are all for the “big society”. Now this actually translates to cutting lots and lots and lots of essential services, benefits and local facilities (like parks, child care groups, libraries and homeless shelters to name a few of many) and then hoping local charities, religious groups and local communities will swoop in and do all of this for free.

Yeah, I know, I know, but they’re the Tories, what do you expect? You’ve got to pay for those rich folks’  tax cuts some how.

But let’s look at the whole sainted idea of “local community”, this force that is supposed to take over all these local services, in particular, I’m going to look at it critically. And this is almost blasphemous – criticising community? COMMUNITY? How could you! It’s COMMUNITY! It’s precious and wonderful and the source of all things shiny and beautiful – how could I criticise it?

See, I grew up in quite a close knit community. It was a semi-rural semi-suburb full of people my parents age many of whom were all raising kids my age. It was a close knit community where everyone knew everyone else’s business and everyone’s life was always the topic of discussion.

Game of Thrones Season 2, Episode 8: The Prince of Winterfell

Robb Stark is having a merry conversation with Talisa about his upcoming nuptials to an unnamed Frey daughter and the powerful duties and responsibilities of being a lord. It’s all very pleasant until they get a message – Jaime Lannitser escaped during the night, Catelyn the Spunky freed him in the hope that this would lead to Sansa and Arya being freed. Naturally, Lord Karstark, whose son was killed by Jaime Lannister

Brienne is escorting (well acting as prison warder) Jaime Lannister while he tries to taunt and mock her – not that it gets him very far.

Robb seeks more comfort with Talisa in face of Theon’s betrayal, his mother’s foolishness and all the other stresses of his life, exchanging more small talk and personal history stories. Which leads to Robb and Talisa finally giving in to the sexual tension  in a sex scene where Talisa strips naked and Robb manages to keep his trousers on, uh-huh.

At Harenhal Arya is still playing servant to Lord Tywin while he has a war council. Tywin plans a secret march to get ahead of Robb’s forces – and to leave Arya at Harenhal with Clegane the Mountain.

Arya shows a much craftier side – having lost the chance to name Tywin to Jaqen, she names Jaqen himself as someone Jaqen has to kill. She will un-name him only if he helps her and her friends escape. She secures his help (if not his happiness). It seems the ridiculously stifling Stark sense of honour and Tully lack of sense has skipped Arya at least.

In Kings Landing Tyrion is stressed over the up coming siege and trying to plan defences. For added stress, Varys congratulates Bronn (the new head of the city watch) on the reduction in crime rate – by rounding up all the suspected thieves and killing them. Tyrion isn’t especially thrilled by this tactic but Bronn and Varys believes it’s necessary in a siege when shortage and theft are rampant.

Cersei has dinner with Tyrion and they discuss Joffrey’s intention to fight – Cersei obviously doesn’t want to, he’s only a boy. But, as Tyrion points out, there are boys of the same age in his army fighting for him. She protests his place is not on the battlefield and Tyrion points out it’s not on the throne either (best line of the episode).

But Cersei has her own plan – kidnapping and abusing a prostitute to control Tyrion, relying on his affection and love for her and threatening her to ensure that Joffrey comes to no harm. Except they got the wrong prostitute – the one they have captured and abused is Ros, not Shae. (Ros is, again, disposable). Naturally Tyrion runs to check on Shae and warns her to be more careful.

Later Tryion and Varys have the joyful task of listening to Joffrey who wants to strike against the Starks while they’re distracted (as Tyrion points out, there is a siege approaching in Kings Landing). Neither Tyrion nor Varys are especially impressed by Joffrey’s boasting . This gives Varys and Tyrion chance for some verbal fencing – though their extreme intelligences and natural suspicion makes it difficult. After much discussion and exposition (really well done) we find that Varys is aware of Daenerys and her dragons – though everyone is far too distracted to worry about her.

Stannis is sailing on Kings Landing with his fleet and having some more exposition with Ser Davos, the Onion Knight and declaring that he intends to make Ser Davos his Hand of the King (he has to win it yet). Other than some not very necessary exposition, I’m not sure what the point of this scene was.

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White Child Wears Blackface to School to Celebrate Martin Luther King

I actually thought about calling this piece White people and their intentions. 

A white Colorado second-grade student was sent home from school last week after he showed up to school in blackface. Sean King, 7, covered his face in black paint to portray Martin Luther King Jr., as part of an assignment that required students to dress up as a historical figure.

“They thought it was inappropriate and it will be disrespectful to black people and I say it’s not,” Sean told Colorado’s NewsChannel 13. “I like black people. It’s just a costume and I don’t want to insult anybody.”

King was removed from school after he refused to wash the black paint of his face.

“Sean seems to be a decent kid who wanted to honor Dr. King in some way. I think it would be good for the young man to understand and his family to also understand why there are still people who are offended by black face worn by white people,” Steve Klein from The King Center in Atlanta told NewsChannel 13. [source]

Monday, May 21, 2012

Why is Raven Symoné’s Sexuality Your Business?

I have a new piece up at Clutch magazine

As long as there are celebrities, and people are curious about their lives, there will always be celebrity gossip.  The media has recently been a flutter with the rumour that Raven Symoné may potentially be in a same sex relationship with America’s Next Top Model beauty AzMarie Livingston.  Ms. Symoné took to Twitter recently to respond to the speculation.

Raven is not the only celebrity whose private life has been speculated about like this.  Will Smith, Queen Latifah, and Anderson Cooper all face ongoing questions about their sexuality and all have refused to comment, preferring instead to keep their private life private.  A refusal to answer in the minds of many constitutes affirmation that one is indeed a member of the LGBTQ community.
These inquires arise because we live in a heterosexist world, which assumes everyone is straight, thus turning homosexuality into something that must be divulged.  If a celebrity plays a role in which they are a LGBTQ character, or sits too close to someone of the same sex, the rumors are off and flying. Will Smith didn’t even actually kiss his co-actor in Six Degrees of Separation and has been married to Jada for many years, yet still people continue to question his sexuality.

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The Flip Side (or dose of Positivity)

Biyuti is a bakla Filipina living on stolen Algonquin land. He works to sustain and increase the biyuti of the world through decolonization and through her explorations of the intersections of race with queerness/gender. She also blogs at The Biyuti Collective and you can find her on Twitter: @JustBiyuti.  

I've been doing a lot of criticism of the trans community on my posts here. And while trans discourse is in deep need of some anti-colonial criticism, it has tended to make it seem like I spend most of my time thinking about white trans stuff, and less so my own things.

One of the things that has been great about going out and experiencing some of what the community has to offer is connecting with other non-cis PoC (few, if any, actively ID as trans, even if would fit). This has been great because it really has allowed me to see and feel that I am not alone.

I am not alone in my resistance of the white hegemonic and colonial trans discourse on gender. I'm not alone in my attempts to decolonize and liberate myself from white gender constructs and the language that helps form them.

Not alone.

The Danger of Parenting With A Disability

'Fireworks' photo (c) 2008, bayasaa - license:

It's Victoria Day Weekend here in the great white north.  For most of us this means, bbqs and beer.  No one is honestly thinking about the queen.  On holidays the Niagara Falls Park commission holds a great fireworks show over the falls.  When I was able bodied, I used to take my kids down regularly to see the fireworks.  It's been some time since I have done this, and so I decided to revive the tradition and take them last night.

If I had remembered the fact that these fireworks show draw thousands of people, I might not have done it.  I knew that it would be crowded, but I was immediately overwhelmed by the number.  Being in a scooter, I was unable to hold their hands.  I instructed Destruction who is 11, to hold onto Mayhem who is 6 and not to let go no matter what.  Being in a scooter, immediately put me at a disadvantage.  People cut in front of me without looking, causing me to stop suddenly, or they simply refused to let me move forward no matter how patiently I waited.  The first time I lost my children we were simply trying to cross the street.  My children were pushed along with  the crowd and I was so surrounded that I could not immediately follow.  It took me five minutes of searching through the crowd, unable to move before I spotted them across the street.

I crossed the street to join them and tried to get us closer to the falls so that they could see the fireworks show.  Once again, people cut in front me and in frustration I ended up yelling at a woman.  Due to stairs, I was unable to actually look over the falls with the kids, so I stayed on the lower level and kept one eye on them and the other eye on the fireworks.  As soon as it was over, there was a massive push to leave the area.  I knew that this was going to be trouble.  I yelled at my children to hold onto each other no matter what and if we got separated, I instructed them to go to their fathers place of employment.