Friday, July 27, 2012

Women in Science Fiction Week: The Problem with Female Representation in Science Fiction on Television

Falling Skies' Margaret
The wonderful thing about science fiction is that the writers have the opportunity to create a world, which while based on ours, can be markedly different. This means that there should be a place for strong female characters who are not restricted by sexism or forced into a situation in which they must perform femininity on a daily basis to be accepted as 'woman.' Despite the freedom of this genre; however, nothing is born outside of discourse, which means of course that we end up with the same sexist tropes repeatedly. 
Even in shows which readily lend themselves to recurring scenes of violence, because women have historically been framed as delicate and passive, men end up in the leadership roles. This also means that when the action does finally happen, women are placed into nurturing roles like doctors and nurses to aid the wounded men. While some may see this exchange as complementary, it in fact sets up a serious gender divide that is reductive. 
We actually see this most strongly and most blatantly in dystopias. In Falling Skies, humanity is locked into a battle for survival against an alien threat. Humanity is nearly extinct, the group is excited at the prospect of a capital that has managed to scrape together 2,000 survivors. The 2nd Massachusetts itself is reduced to a mere 150 people, meaning it has lost nearly half of its already low numbers since the series began. Clearly, this is a series about desperation - every man must be ready to fight, desperately, to survive.
And I said “man” purposefully there. Because, while there are plenty of women in the crowd scenes and even in most of the fight scenes we will find one token, nameless female fighter in a large number of men, the vast majority of the fighters are male. In fact, there’s only ever one named female fighter at a time (Karen, who gets replaced by Maggie after she is captured. She also inherited Karen’s love interest - which did rather make the two women seem interchangeable).
Remember how desperate humanity is here. For most of the show, Jimmy, a 13 year old boy was drafted to fight. As they get more desperate, Matt, a 6 year old boy, starts carrying a gun around and taking part in military action. Where are the women? It’s clearly not a matter of military background with both children and school teachers on the battlefield, why do we only see one or two women standing side by side with their men to hold the line against the alien threat?
By contrast, the most prominent female characters we do see except for the interchangeable-Hal-Love-Interest are, of course, caregivers. Dr. Ann Glass and Lourdes, the medical team for the 2nd Massachusetts. It’s the 21st century, humanity is nearly destroyed, every day is a struggle to survive - I think we can move past men holding guns while women roll bandages.
We can see a similar pervasive female passivity in Alphas, reinforced and ingrained by the special abilities the characters have. Two of the characters, Cameron and Bill, have abilities that make them dangerous in a fight. Their physical capabilities make them the team muscle - contrast that with the two women. Well, they have super senses and limited mind control respectively. The women are inherently placed in support roles and set up as support from the very beginning. And I know that someone will say “well, they don’t have combat powers!” true - but why was it written that way? Why couldn’t Nina have the super-strength? Why did the writers choose the women and the disabled character to have the less active, support powers? And that’s not to say their powers aren’t powerful or useful - far from it - but then, so is rolling bandages.
Sanctuary's Helen Magnus
Even in shows like Sanctuary where we have female leadership, not all women are created equal. Helen Magnus is the only female of the original scientists to survive. The two most prominent recurring female characters outside of the protagonist are Kate Freelander and Abbey Corrigan. Kate essentially is the replacement for Ashley, Magnus’ daughter who died at the end of season one. She is a woman of colour who seems to exist only for Magnus to reform her evil ways. She disappears for large swaths of time and is barely missed by the team. In this way, they make her quite disposable. There were other options to send to work in hollow earth, but it was Kate that was chosen. Biggie would have made a much more natural choice but because he was a fan favourite, there was no way he would have been sent.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Dear Twilight Fans, Please Join Us in Reality

It seems that every where I look in the last two days, someone is talking about the fact that Kristen Stewart cheated on Robert Pattinson. People have a tendency to invest in celebrity relationships but in the case of the Robert and Kristen, it has been heightened due to their participation in the Twilight movies. To some degree, most of us are fanpoodles about something, but when it comes to Twilight, despite all of it's problematic elements, some people have clearly surpassed fanpoodle status and are orbiting somewhere around Uranus.

She starts off telling people to mind their own business which is good, but then quickly moves to shaming Stewart for cheating on Pattinson.  She is really no better than the people she is calling out.

Why do you think that people are so invested in this relationship and do you believe that the intensity around this situation is worse than other celebrity infidelities that we have seen?

Pregnancy and Abortion: A Tale of Two Mothers

I have a new piece up at Clutch

'its true' photo (c) 2005, Josh Parrish - license:

Twenty-four-year-old Tonya Reaves was a mother of one with a fiance when she walked into a Planned Parenthood in Chicago’s South Loop to have an abortion.  This decision ultimately cost Reaves her life because she  hemorrhaged after “cervical dilation and evacuation.”  We don’t know the reasons why she chose to have an abortion, but it can be said without doubt, no woman makes the decision to terminate her pregnancy lightly. A black woman in her 20s with one child, Reaves fit the highest percentile of women most likely to have an abortion. When the story broke, I was horrified to read comments sections that turned Reaves’ death into a call to ban abortion, suggesting that it is an unsafe medical procedure or claiming the loss of the fetus as the death of a child.

Reaves’ death is absolutely tragic, but to politicize her death in the hopes of calling into question a woman’s right to choose is unconscionable. Carole Brite, the CEO and president of Planned Parenthood Illinois, released the following statement:
“While legal abortion services in the United States have a very high safety record, a tragedy such as this is devastating to loved ones and we offer our deepest sympathies. Planned Parenthood of Illinois cares deeply about the health and safety of each and every patient.”
According to the Guttmacher Institute, “less than 0.3 percent of abortion patients experience serious complications.” The issue is clearly not about safety, but about a woman’s right to reproductive freedom.

In recent years, we have seen numerous attacks on Planned Parenthood, including campaigns specifically targeting black women.  In 2011, pro-life group Always Life placed more than 30 billboards in the Chicago area with an image of Obama and a tagline that read: “Every 21 minutes our next possible leader is aborted.” During Black History Month, this same organization was behind billboards with a picture of a young black girl and the following statement: “The most dangerous place for a black child is in the womb.”

As much as the right to choose is a woman’s issue, race cannot be erased from the conversation, because of the high rate of abortion in the black community. The facts are startling:

·    67 percent of black pregnancies are unplanned;
·   Non-Hispanic black women account for 36 percent of all abortions, despite only making up 12 percent of the population; and
·   8 percent of women who have abortions have never used a method of birth control; non use of contraceptives is greatest among those who are young, poor, black, Hispanic, or less educated.

This fight is essentially about who will control our reproduction and, conversely, our lives. Black women’s reproduction is shamed at every level. The shaming and attacks for having abortions is equally as horrific as the shame and attacks black women face when they reproduce.

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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Buy a gun but no medicinal marijuana in Los Angeles

'Marijuana Vector Image' photo (c) 2011, Vectorportal - license:

I was on twitter this morning when I was tweeted a link for the L.A. Times.  It seems that Los Angeles has decided to force the closing of 762 medicinal marijuana dispensaries.
Under the ban, each of the 762 dispensaries that have registered with the city will be sent a letter ordering them to shut down immediately. Those that don’t comply may face legal action from the city.

Medical marijuana activists who had packed the council chambers jeered when the vote came down. More than a dozen Los Angeles Police Department officers were called in to quell them.

Under the ban, medical patients and their caregivers will be able to grow and share the drug in small groups of three people or less.

But the activists say most patients don’t have the time or skills to cultivate marijuana. One dispensary owner told the council that it would cost patients a minimum of $5,000 to grow marijuana at home. [source]
For many people who have chronic conditions, marijuana is a great medical option.  It comes with less side effects than many prescription drugs.  It increases appetite, encourages sleep and relaxes the body. When this debate first started, many refused to believe the medicinal properties of marijuana, thanks to the fact that the drug itself has been criminalized. It is still described as a gateway drug in many places. Beyond the medicinal properties, hemp, which is the by product of marijuana, is far more environmentally friendly than many products which we use commonly today. This ruling actually makes it easier to buy a gun than to buy much needed medicine. It is ridiclous to worry about the proliferation of medicinal marijuana dispensaries, when there are stores littered across the state that sell guns.  Medicinal marijuana won't kill anyone, but a gun most certainly will, despite the bullshit the NRA parrots.

Where do my rights begin and where do the rights of others end?

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

 So this is going to be a tough post to write. For those of you who haven’t heard yet, there was a shooting in Colorado. On Friday, at one of the midnight showings of the new Batman movie, a lone gunman entered the theater and started shooting. He had two assault rifles and a different gun, along with tear gas. He ended up giving himself up and is currently in police custody. Later, the police found out his house was rigged with traps, full of buckets and buckets of bullets. There are explosives or other flammable devices all over the place, dangerous items in a dangerous place. 

I went online looking for a petition to ban assault rifles on, hoping to do something to make a difference and to prevent something like this from happening again. I have been campaigning as hard as I possibly can, hoping that I can make a difference. There are people online who have started a petition demanding that they get their assault rifles back, despite the fact that no national law about assault rifles exists. 

And that scares me more than I can say. There are people out there who are dangerous, violent, who don’t care for people who can go out and buy a high powered assault rifles. They can own these dangerous guns and carry them around. They can go to where I live, where I play, where there are children. Their right to bear arms should not cover these weapons that are designed to mow down humans like cattle to the slaughter, taking lives so rapidly it is almost incomprehensible. Never the less, there is no national law to ban assault rifles. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Straight folks and their sainted opinions

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.  

It’s time for another fun game of Straight Folks reaction, folks. Every now and then a BIG GAY STORY happens and I see lots of straight folks bless us with their sainted opinions. Now, the booze cabinet is empty and I’ve run out of original ideas for new profanity, so I’m left with poking them.

So, the story. After many many months of playing the denial and the “neutrality” game, the president of fast-food chain, Chick-fil-a has finally openly admitted that they are homophobic bigots. Like we didn’t know that, still in many spaces we have discussed this and spread the word. Now for some of the unfortunate reactions.

But Their Food Tastes so Goooood!

I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s not relevant. We’re taking about a homophobic company, not commenting on the quality of their food.

Ugh I wouldn’t Eat There Anyway, Their Food is so Gross/Unhealthy/Full of X

Again, the quality of their food is irrelevant. Look, I know that the idea is that since we’re criticising a company for its badness, it seems right to heap insult on it, right? Well, wrong, because it’s irrelevant badness. And the fact you comment on this rather than their homophobia suggests that, if the food were better, you’d eat there. Which impresses no-one and is irrelevant

But I Simply Can’t Live Without It! It’s going to be so Hard!

If you’re seriously agonising over the choice between fast food and our human rights then it might not be a good idea to share that with us, no-one’s going to be impressed. It’s fried chicken – just one of a gazillion vendors of fried chicken –  if choosing a different provider or *gasp* giving up on chicken altogether is going to be sooo difficult and such a horrendous hardship then you might want check your privilege levels, and keep your whining to yourself.

Monday, July 23, 2012

True Blood Season Five, Episode Seven: In the Beginning

When last we left True Blood, Russel had just killed Roman Zimojic. On the heels of this, a group of armed men break into the compound and drop a net over him and Eric is silvered off his feet to the wall.

At the fae bar, Sookie learns that she will run out of her magic if she uses it.  This means that she won't be fae any longer. Fans of the book are probably aware that this is yet another deviation from the Harris' version because in the books, Sookie's ability to read minds was a gift from a demon and not  result of her fae blood. Sookie thanks Claude for the information and leaves the club. I call this getting the viewers hopes up just a little.  Deep down we all know that they even if somehow Sookie's ever so special fae powers disappear, that they will find some other reason to make her a special snowflake.

Andy is in the process of being questioned about the death that happened last week.  Sam takes the opportunity to sniff around the store looking for any link with the people who killed the other shifters in town.  He asks Debbie to check a box and they discover that it is filled with Obama masks.  When he proceeds to roll around the floor checking the scent it causes Debbie to ask if there is something she needs to know about him. 

Hoyt has joined an anti supernatural hate group. Hey True Blood, haven't we had this storyline with a different character already?  Hoyt claims to feel more love in the hate group.  The entire conversation is absolutely ridiculous but I can appreciate it to some degree, as it really is a mirrors how privileged people talk about those who are historically marginalized, though in this case, supernatural beings are not marginalized in anyway. Hoyt claims not to know, how it is that he ended up in a relationship with Jessica. I was fine until one of the haters claims that what happened between them was date rape.  Look, I get that this is a conversation involving men who are not educated or intelligent, but the rape analogy was over the line.  When it comes to the subject of rape, True Blood has a history fraught with problems and in this situation, it makes it seem like people accuse rape because their feelings were hurt rather than being violated.

In the authority compound, Bill and Eric figure out that Nora had something to do with Russell having the ability to kill Roman. In the cell, Bill and Eric determine that Nora did not act alone and so they turn to Molly to try and figure out why the I-Stake didn't work. They are brought before Salome Agrippa, who is anything but grieving.  Russell tells Eric that he forgives him for killing Talbot and suggests that both should respond with forgiveness.  Russell claims that he has been born again in his new makers image.  Born again vampire?  You know that Christian fundamentalists are somewhere losing their shit over that one. Each time Nora refers to Eric as brother he loses his temper because he knows that she set them up. I get that Eric was upset that Nora betrayed him, but did the writers have to get him to call her a cunt? I hate that word beyond all belief.

It turns out that Salome Agrippa followed Eric and Bill and dug up Russell because she knew that he was the only one strong enough to defeat Roman. Salome asks Bill and Eric to join them, but Bill says he believes that without peaceful co-existence that both sides will die and for his part, Eric simply says no.

Alcide is sparring with his new second and he points out that his opponent will be on V and so he is prepared to lose.  He refuses to take V, even to level the playing field. Martha is not happy about the challenge because she believes that it's J.d's turn to be alpha.

Arlene is watching the tape of her wedding tape to Terry. Holly tries to comfort her but Arlene says that Terry is crazy.  Holly tries to tell her that he has PTSD, but Arelene persists and tells her about the Ifrit.  Finally someone on this show of vampires, werewolves, witches, maenad and fae admits that Terry could be right about the smoke monster.  See, that wasn't so damn hard now was it?
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