Ladies, Please

We live in a time where the world is more aware than ever that there are more people in it besides white males over 21 who own land.

There is a high demand for more diverse representation in our media: diversity in race, culture, religion, sexual orientation, etc. There are so many voices that need to be heard, and there is no question that we will suffer as a society until equality for all people is achieved.

However, before we can truly begin to grasp all the ways people differ, I think the world needs to fully embrace the fact that there is more than one gender on the planet. One-half of the population still needs to be represented.

I’m talking about you, ladies. About us and our representation.

Rather than complain about all the ways that people are doing it wrong, I would like to focus on the people who are doing it right. My heroes in the entertainment industry.

First up, of course, is the wonderful Joss Whedon, a brilliant mind in the film industry. Joss is responsible for giving us shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dollhouse, and Firefly. Joss isn’t afraid to have a female play the leading role in his shows. And in shows where he doesn’t have a female lead, he ensures that his cast is full of female characters. Female characters who don’t all have the same personality. Look at Inara, Kaylee, River, and Zoe. Vastly different characters—all with important roles to play. None of these girls are present to merely be a love interest. Zoe is the one always helping Mal make sure their deals go down smoothly. Kaylee keeps the ship running. Inara uses her contacts and influence to save the crew from more than one tight spot. And River, well, can anyone forget the badass role she plays at the end of Serenity?

Right now, Marvel owns Joss’s brain. He had perhaps the most influential roles to play in The Avengers as both the screenwriter and director. While it’s sad that Black Widow is the only female character in the avengers gang, Joss could only draw from an already set cast in the Marvel comics. But he does pull in Agent Maria Hill as part of the movies, giving us another fantastic female addition to the movie. Where Joss does have a lot of leeway is with Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. He is responsible for helping write the show. All those fantastic female characters—May, Skye, Simmons—are no doubt his doing. Distinct, important, and awesome. Each and every one of them.

Next up is Shonda Rhimes, who is responsible for giving us fantastic shows like Grey’s Anatomy, Private Practice, Scandal, and the newly aired How to Get Away with Murder. Not only does Shonda give us fantastic female characters, she also loves to give us wonderfully diverse characters. Her shows always feature PoC and frequently have LGBTQ characters. How many lawyer shows and medical dramas are out there? SO MANY. Yet Shonda’s shows stand out among others in their genres. Her characters develop beautifully, and the plot arcs are to die for. These shows should not be missed.

Julie Plec, most known for The Vampire Diaries and The Originals, is responsible for my favorite show on television (TVD). This show has the best series arc I’ve ever seen. And talk about a wonderful female cast of characters. Nina Dobrev does a wonderful job playing doppelgangers Elena and Katherine. Their personalities are as different as fire and ice. Elena is the sweet, small town girl while Katherine is the manipulative, only-cares-about-herself type. These two characters alone demonstrate the diversity of female personalities—even when the characters look exactly the same! Then we add Caroline to the mix. Detail-oriented, snarky girl with attitude. Everything is just full of awesome.

Aside from these wonderful TV show producers, there are other people doing exciting things in the industry. I have to give a quick shout out to Peter Jackson for adding a female character to The Hobbit movies that was not present in the book. I gave him a single-person round of applause as soon as I found out. And (*spoilers* for the third hobbit movie are ahead) I just love that part in the The Battle of the Five Armies where the women decide to go out and fight alongside their men. It’s moving and heartwarming in a way that makes you want to cheer on all women. My only complaint about Peter’s addition of Tauriel was that her purpose ultimately came down to being a love interest. She’s distraught after Kili dies, and there’s no mention of what happens to her afterward. If you’re going to create a new character and get us invested in her, the least you can do is let us know what happens to her after the battle.

I also appreciate the show Elementary and its attempt to promote female characters. The show is a modernized, Americanized story of Sherlock Holmes. They decide to change things up by making Watson a girl. I love it. I’m all for remakes and reinterpretations. I only wish they’d taken the time to make Watson’s character more interesting. As it is, she’s really boring. Not much of a personality there. There is no excuse for poor characterization for male or female characters. But it’s especially poor taste to think that having a token woman in a story otherwise filled with men makes her distinct.

Lastly, I would like to recognize Stephenie Meyer. She’s a brilliant mind in the storytelling industry. There’s no denying that she’s influenced teens across the world through her writing. And now she’s focusing her efforts in movie production. Her company, Fickle Fish Films, is providing vast opportunities for females in production, so that more female voices can be heard in Hollywood. And they’re focusing on adapting books for the big screen. How cool is that?

As a concluding note, let’s listen to Joss Whedon’s Equality Now speech. Because it’s full of awesome. (Start about two minutes in if you want to get to the good stuff right away.)

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The Devil’s in the Details

My husband and I recently started watching a show called The 100 on Netflix. The 100 is based on a book series of the same name by Kass Morgan and the first season aired on the CW last year. (Oddly enough, I heard absolutely nothing about this show until the last few months when it made its way to Netflix and, subsequently, made its way to tumblr fandoms.) Anyway, as far as entertaining and diverse media goes, I’d give The 100 a solid A. I’m only six or seven episodes into season one, but the cast features plenty of PoC and women as driving forces of the narrative instead of just background decoration, and that’s something I can always stand behind—especially when it’s entertaining too!

The-100-cast-season-one

image from primetime.unrealitytv.co.uk

 

The 100’s grade starts slipping a little, though, in the details of its storytelling. During the first three episodes, my husband and I had a rousing good time picking apart all the flaws in the plot and in the costuming and in the world building. To be fair, I’m married to the sort of person who spends the drive home every time we go see a movie picking apart every single detail about said movie that doesn’t make sense and he can be overly critical, but at the same time, I feel like he and I were making some good points—and these good points have shifted The 100 from “oh my gosh everyone go watch this show it’s amazing!!!” to “eh it’s a pretty good show and entertaining, but it could have been so much better.”

Let’s look at the costume design. The 100 is set 97 years after a nuclear fallout on Earth and the only surviving humans are the descendants of people who’d been living on twelve different space stations (now hodge-podged together into one). The only resources these people have are what already existed on those space stations at the time of Earth’s destruction. And yet everyone wears tailored-to-fit skinny jeans and I’m pretty sure that the teenage cast (the 100 juvenile delinquents sent to Earth to see if it’s survivable) were all outfitted with custom made leather jackets before they were booted out of the space station. (How else are we supposed to indicate that they’re delinquents if they’re not wearing leather?)

The show has nodded to the fact that the people on the space station to recycle and reuse a lot of clothes and shoes and supplies, but there hasn’t been a significant explanation of why those space stations had all that gear in the first place.

And beyond the jeans and leather jackets, we’ve seen a couple of girls in their underwear and so we know that at least one of the girls wears a standard underwire bra—that apparently fits her like a dream even though that bra is 97 years old (or has been repurposed from 97 year old parts). I’m lucky if my bras last more than a year.

Now, I suppose a lot of this is probably nit-picking. It’s just costuming, right? Besides, skinny jeans and combat boots and leather jackets are part of the post-apocalyptic aesthetic and that sort of aesthetic is important when marketing a show so people know what they’re getting themselves into. Fine. Fair enough. I’ll give you that.

But what about this guy?

image from thetvaddict.com

image from thetvaddict.com

This guy is a grounder—the descendant of one of the humans who survived the nuclear fallout 97 years ago. Until the 100 showed up, he’d been living in a cave, but LOOK AT THAT T-SHIRT! I can perhaps buy that the clothes on the space station have held up better than they should because they haven’t been exposed to natural elements, but this guy has been living in a cave and I’m pretty sure I could find that exact shirt out at Hollister or something. That doesn’t suggest to me that the grounders have been living it rough the last 97 years.

Another thing about that character? He speaks and understands English. In the episode where he’s introduced, the showrunners make a little nod to the fact that he probably doesn’t understand English, but by the end of the episode, it becomes pretty clear that he does. And while 97 years isn’t enough time for language to completely shift—enough time for the space survivors and the grounders to be using wildly different dialects, perhaps, but not enough for them to be speaking completely different languages—I still have a hard time believing that the 100’s space pod, which essentially crash-landed in the middle of a forest in some unidentified part of the world, happened to land in the pocket of the world that still speaks English. The odds are unfathomable.

And from here, my problems with the details in the storytelling only get worse. In the first few episodes, several of the teenagers take a dip in a river. How did they learn to swim? I doubt their space station has a lap pool. Even if they do have enough water to fill a lap pool, I doubt they’d want that water being contaminated by people swimming in it.

And that time they had to save one of their buddies from a fever from an infected wound? As far as I can tell, they just went out to the same river and grabbed a handful of radioactive-red seaweed and…boiled it? And it saved him? Granted, I know nothing about herbal remedies, but doesn’t anyone else think that the flora on Earth would be so warped by radiation that you shouldn’t really trust it without testing it first?

And when some of the 100 drag home a wild monster-puma for everyone to eat, how do they know how to cook it? Have any of them ever eaten meat? Where did they get meat in space? And how do they know how to control fire so well? Considering the space station is running out of oxygen, I’d assume that fire would be a number one banned item in space considering how it feeds off oxygen.

On the subject of oxygen, what’s the deal with the space station government executing criminals by throwing them out of an airlock—along with an entire room full of oxygen? The method of execution does add some fun vernacular—the practice is called “floating” and leads to such phrases as “Oh, go float yourself”—but for a people concerned with conserving oxygen, it does not make an ounce of sense to launch your criminals into space through an airlock without vacuuming the oxygen out of the room in the first place! Especially since these people operate by a “one strike and you’re out” policy. How much oxygen have they wasted by booting people out of airlocks like that? How much of their current crisis could have been avoided if they’d figured out a better way to kill their criminals?

At the end of the day, all of these details are pretty extraneous. None of them are terribly important to the plot and none of them feel like gimmicks designed to prop the plot up (which is a worse crime, in my opinion). But the fact is that these extraneous details pull me out of the show and out of the story. As much as I enjoy the show, I can’t help but notice all these little things that don’t make sense and then I spend time complaining about it with my husband instead of paying attention to the show. The show is very good, but it’s not mind-blowing in the way it could have been…all because the attention to detail is a little lacking.

A Correction

I read an interesting twitter exchange yesterday about fat representation as regards women of color, and it hit me like a mac truck that my last post was very white-centric. In the images and examples I posted, I only featured one WoC. I apologize (this is a great example of how privilege makes you blind—though that’s no excuse). A series of thoughtful tweets below:

I don’t want to co-opt that conversation, so I’ll let those tweets stand on their own and only add the following:

As I did with the first post about fat representation, I’d like to show a few “plus-sized” WoC whom I admire greatly. I would love to read any book with similar main characters.

Image via curvygirlchic.com

Allison Teng: plus size blogger

amber-riley-2014-trumpet-awards-atlanta

Image via Fashion Bomb Daily

Amber Riley: singer, dancer, actress,  lady I’d like to have lunch with

Image via Plus Model Mag

Ashley Graham: plus size model, most gorgeous woman ever? Probably.

Kellie Brown

Image via And I Get Dressed

Kellie Brown: PR/marketing expert and plus size blogger

Image via nadiaaboulhosn.com

Nadia Aboulhosn: plus size blogger, model, and fashion designer

naomi watanabe

Image via everysimpleplan.tumblr.com

Naomi Watanabe: actress, comedian, Beyoncé impersonator.

Gabourey sidibe

Image via US Magazine

Gabourey Sidibe: Oscar-nominated actress

Image via eurweb.com

 …and truth-teller extraordinaire

Love these ladies. They’re succeeding in a world where even a size ten is “fat.”

Leave your recs for books in any genre featuring fat main characters–I’m always looking for more.

I’m an Adult, and I Read YA

The other day I was talking to this guy. He tells me that I should read more sci-fi. I say, “Okay, can you recommend a good YA sci-fi for me?”

His response: “I don’t know about a YA sci-fi, but you could try [x book]. It’s an easy read.” (Emphasis added.)

And as Sarah so eloquently put it last week, “I have words.”

I am an adult. I’ll even go so far as to say that I am an intelligent adult. I don’t read YA because I need an easy read, and the fact that anyone would suggest that we read YA for this reason is just downright insulting. The fact that this person would insinuate that YA books are easier reads than adult books tells me one thing: this person has never read YA.

Because YA books have just as complex vocabulary and sentence structures as adult books. The characters are just as round, the world building just as vivid, the stakes just as high, the conflicts just as intriguing.

You know where I think YA most differs from A? The pacing.

YA does without all the fluff. Fluff’s not necessarily bad. It’s good to feel immersed in a world. To know the backgrounds of all the characters. To visualize the scenery as if it’s on a screen in front of you. Adult does a very good job of this. But YA tends to tell the readers only what’s necessary. It keeps things to the point and tends to have faster pacing as a result. You can say that this is the case because teenagers have shorter attention spans and authors need to hook them in faster, but I don’t think this is the case either. I think it’s just nice to read books that stick to the exciting bits you need to know and do away with the fluff.

There’s the short answer for why I read YA and how it differs from adult, but I’ll go on. Because I can.

Sure, YA books have protagonists that are teenagers, but as I said before, the stakes are just as high. The fate of the world is still on the line. But because it’s a teenager instead of an adult facing the problem, well, I find it even more fulfilling when the good guy saves the day. How exciting would it have been if Dumbledore killed Voldemort instead of seventeen-year-old Harry? What if it had been President Coin who had inspired an entire nation to rise up against its corrupt government instead of sixteen-year-old Katniss? Not as interesting, is it?

As a reader, I like to see lots of character growth. While there’s plenty of this to be found in adult, I think you can find even more of it in middle grade and YA. Because so much of our development happens during these years. Is a fifteen year old not vastly different from a sixteen year old? Whereas a twenty-eight year old hardly differs from a twenty-nine year old. Our teen protagonists can undergo so many changes throughout these years. It’s fun to read.

And reading about these younger years is interesting because of the struggles encountered during this time: first love, defining who you are, deciding whether your beliefs are worth fighting for, figuring out the adult you want to be. These are the years where this happens. This is where people start to think for themselves and become separate from their parents. This is a fascinating time in every person’s life.

Really now, would so many adults read YA if it was more childish and less intellectual? Most teen books are written by adult writers. You can learn just as profound of concepts and morals from YA as you can from A. As I said before, it can be even more inspiring and profound because it’s a younger, less experienced protagonist taking on a serious threat.

I say to you, random man whom I had a conversation with, go read some YA. Heck, I can recommend some good sci-fis for you. Because I have read some! Go read these:

Ender's Game Cinder_Cover Divergent Hunger_games legend Possession Steelheart The-Host

Go do some reading. Then just try to tell me that YA is an easy read.

Content Warning Not Needed

So this showed up in my twitter feed last weekend:

And I have Thoughts.

But first, a story. Like Kiersten White, I graduated from BYU, which was a great school for me and provided me with a thorough education…but it also happens to be one of the least LGBT-friendly schools in the country. Casual homophobia is pretty common on campus, which is a real shame, but that’s not exactly what this story is about. This story is about the conversation I had with a girl in the dorm cafeteria my freshman year.

This particular girl was the friend of a casual acquaintance. I didn’t know her terribly well. In fact, I’m not even certain of her name at this point. (I can’t even remember if I’m thinking of the right girl or if this conversation happened between me and this girl’s friend, who happened to look remarkably similar in that weird way that best friends or dogs and their owners tend to look like each other.) Anyway, for the sake of simplicity, we’re going to call this girl Alice. As far as I knew, Alice was a nice enough person. Friendly, though perhaps a little overeager to give hugs. (That’s another story. Remind me and I’ll tell you one day.)

Anyway, because Alice was the friend of a casual acquaintance who was friends with my friends, sometimes she ended up sitting at my table in the dorm cafeteria. Not a big deal. I’m a bit territorial but I know how to share. On this particular day, my friends and I and Alice and her friends were talking about books, which is one of the few topics that I could talk for hours about. Specifically, we were talking about favorite books growing up and one of my friends mentioned Tamora Pierce.

Now let’s be clear here. I’m a rabid Tamora Pierce fangirl. I practically have her Tortall books memorized. I have read those books so many times that the words have etched themselves into my bones and there’s a pretty good chance that I learned a lot of my feminist ideology from Tamora Pierce’s books. Between the ages of 9 and 18, if I wasn’t reading a Harry Potter book, odds were I was reading a Tamora Pierce book.

So when my friend mentioned Tamora Pierce, I immediately launched into a speech about my undying love for her and her books and how fundamental they were in shaping me as a person.

Across the table, Alice said something along the lines of, “Oh, I really liked her books for a while, but in the Circle of Magic books there was some…content…that I wasn’t ready for and I had a lot of issues with it.”

After some prompting, she admitted she was referring to Daja, the series’ young lesbian protagonist, and Rosethorn and Lark, an adult same-gender couple in the series who helped take care of the books’ four protagonists.

Now, if you haven’t read these books, first please repent and go to your local bookstore or library and fix the problem immediately. If you don’t have the time, let me explain a few things. Daja’s sexuality isn’t really explored until The Will of the Empress, which is a stand alone that takes place after the series’ two quartets. I’ve only read The Will of the Empress once, as I’ve always preferred Pierce’s Tortall books, and looking back, I hardly remember anything about Daja’s relationship with her girlfriend in that book. Considering I was a sheltered young Mormon girl when I read that book, I’m pretty sure I would have remembered if there was any sort of graphic sexual content. As for Rosethorn and Lark, well, I didn’t realize they had a romantic and sexual relationship until years after I had read the book. As far as I was concerned, the two women were friends who lived in the same house and took care of young magical children together. The fact that they were in a relationship—even though it was apparently stated explicitly in The Will of the Empress—never even crossed my mind.

But apparently these two portrayals of same-gender relationships was enough to scar Alice. She wasn’t ready for same-gender relationships. Seeing them portrayed—arguably in a non-graphic way—was enough for her to have “issues” with the books.

I don’t blame Alice for that. Having been raised in a conservative household where even opposite-gender sex wasn’t talked about, I know what it’s like to have to make nice with topics that make you feel a little awkward. A lot of us have had to do some learning when it comes to dealing with LGBT+ people and relationships.

But the thing is, books like Tamora Pierce’s or Cassandra Clare’s or David Leviathan’s help with that learning process. For kids from conservative homes where anything other than heteronormative relationships are taboo, being able to access these characters and these conversations in books is absolutely vital. They’re even more vital for the LGBT+ kids who grow up in those conservative homes. If you don’t understand how powerful it is to see characters like yourself in the books you read when you don’t know anyone like yourself, go check out the We Need Diverse Books campaign.

Here’s the thing that still bothers me about that conversation six years ago: Alice seemed to think that the homosexual content of those books—as innocent and clean as the heterosexual content in those books—was somehow deserving of a warning or a higher content rating. Having LGBT characters made her code those books as something bad, as something not for young people.

Because there’s idea that gets tossed around that LGBT people and their relationships are inherently perverse or dirty. It’s what conservative people mean by “the gay lifestyle.” They are coding relationships that are no better or worse than opposite-gender relationships as being different, as being Other, as being bad and dangerous and not safe to talk about. These relationships are seen as being adult with a capital A and not appropriate for children.

Now take a moment and think what that means to an LGBT+ teen who doesn’t have access to community support. Instead of getting access to books and stories where they can see their own puppy love and first crushes—the sort of stories that flood the shelves for their straight friends—they get told that the kind of relationships they want are too Adult for them to read about, that there is something inherently dirty or shameful about their love lives.

Do we all see how wrong that is?

Content warnings have their place. I don’t like reading or watching things with lots of graphic violence—especially violence against women. Other people don’t like reading or watching things with lots of explicit sexual content. Some people need warnings about sexual violence in a book or portrayals of abusive relationships or even something as simple as foul language.

But books with LGBT+ characters who are living their lives and having adventures and not engaging in any of those things doesn’t need a content warning. The existence of LGBT people in relationships with each other is not something that people need to be shielded from.

So next time someone suggests that a book might not be appropriate for younger readers because it tells the stories of an LGBT+ person, ask them if they’d feel the same way if all the characters were straight. If the answer is no, then a content warning is not needed.