In Favour of the Babe Article

Katie Way, the author of the Babe article about “Grace” and Aziz Ansari, is currently being dogpiled on Twitter for a couple of reasons. Mainly because she wrote the article, in huge part because she sent a blistering email insulting journalist Ashleigh Banfield, and maybe a little bit because her piece was sort of amateurish and potentially caused unnecessary damage to Grace, its subject.

I read the email to Banfield and found it a little bit cringey, because Way does attack Banfield for her age and makeup and for being irrelevant, which is untrue (and is also the problem), but I thought her rage was justified. Banfield, wagging her pen at the camera, goes on and on speaking directly to Grace and tells her that she should have this, should have that, and now she’s damaged the #MeToo movement by being a not-good-enough victim of an experience that wasn’t quite traumatic enough to qualify it as worthy of discussion at all. If Way’s email had omitted all of the unnecessary attacks on appearance and age, and had admitted that Banfield’s relevance is a huge problem if she’s going on TV and declaring that a woman sharing her story about being coerced is somehow harmful to the movement, then it would have been perfect.

Not “professional” or anything. Not “respectable.” But perfect. Right now is a time for anger, and it’s regrettable that this anger is sometimes directed at older women, but, hey, maybe don’t victim blame. CC Margaret Atwood.

Anyway, Banfield said this in response: “The reason I want to share that is because, if you truly believe in the #MeToo movement, if you truly believe in women’s rights, if you truly believe in feminism, the last thing you should do is attack someone in an ad hominem way for [her] age or [her] highlights or [her] lipstick because it is the most hypocritical thing a woman who says she supports the women’s movement could ever do, and that’s the caliber of the woman who was given all of this power, and was able to wield this power.”

Noooooooope. Slightly more hypocritical, I humbly think, is the victim blaming. Is the failure to understand that sometimes a woman can’t just leave, sometimes she feels unable to just say outright in harsh language what she thinks, because she’s trying to minimize and not hurt the guy’s feelings, which she has been socialized to do, and he has been socialized to pursue, pursue, pursue, you know, because of the misogynistic culture we live in that allows Trump to be elected president.

In the case of the Babe story, there was more than a ten year age difference between Ansari and Grace, and Ansari is famous and respected and is kind of known for being one of those “feminist” men. Also, she liked him. She probably wanted to have sex with him, maybe not that night, or maybe that night, if he hadn’t turned her off by his hearing “I don’t want you to force me because I’ll hate you,” as an invitation to KEEP GOING.

One more thing on the older feminist/younger feminist divide that is apparently happening here, in this piece Tracy Loxley concludes with, “If there’s one thing I’ve come to dislike about where #MeToo has gone, and the backlash that has emerged, it’s the disconnect between younger women, and those of us who are middle-aged and older. In learning more about Banfield’s history, I can see she sees #MeToo as a godsend, and sees Way and her subject as ungrateful whiners, not to mention a historical blind spot to the gains women before us have won. To us old ladies, Grace’s apparent helplessness has struck a chord, in that she seemed so disempowered to tell her possibly receptive date what she wanted. Then again, it also read like the story of a girl who didn’t know what she wanted.”

I’m not entirely sure what this… means. Rather, I know what it means but I don’t know what I’m supposed to take away from it, apart from frustration. I’ll admit that some of us millennials could sometimes word our thoughts better to avoid sounding dismissive of the work older women have done to create the climate we have now where we can even discuss these things. But I think most of us understand that we’ve come a long way. Do we need to prelude every statement of “We have much further to go,” with, “Not to take anything away from the progress of the past, but…”?

For my part I’m horrified by the apparent inability of some of these women to understand that Grace was trying to communicate what she wanted. Multiple times, either in words or by getting up and walking away, she communicated that she wanted to slow down and probably stop. Not once does Ansari ask if what he’s doing is OK, if she wants to keep going. Where is these women’s shrewd focus on that communication failure? Why characterize him as “possibly receptive” when he hears, “Whoa, let’s chill,” to mean, “keep going”? The inability to understand that if Grace appears to be “a girl who didn’t know what she wanted,” it’s because she liked the guy, respected him, wanted to have sex with him at some point if not that night, and she had to endure him refusing to pay attention to her clear signals, clear even though she tampered down on them to spare his feelings, or her own. Millennials are just asking that the burden of this communication not solely be placed on women. It shouldn’t be too much to ask.

Banfield may be all about #MeToo as a movement SOLELY about rape and other, more minor sexual assaults and harassment, as long as those more minor things are career-stifling, but her inability to acknowledge that being coerced into sex during a date is a huge, very common problem that women who date men have is, in my opinion, an incredible disappointment. Liking someone and having them not take you at your word, not listen to you when you say you want to slow down, ignoring your body-language cues of discomfort (like REPEATEDLY PULLING YOUR HAND AWAY FROM HIS DICK), is dehumanizing. Maybe it doesn’t have a direct effect on a woman’s career but it’s a problem. It needs to be discussed, because, though this sort of thing is comparatively minor, it happens all the time.

This is why I’m glad that Way’s piece exists. I’ve been seething all week, but I’m glad. I’ve muted SO MANY men and women who think that a woman going home with a man means she is legally obligated to have sex with him and legally obligated to never ever complain about his, at best, lack of consideration for her. I’ve muted so many victim blamers and slut shamers, but there are always ten more to pop up like freaking Whack-A-Mole. I’m still glad this happened. If #MeToo didn’t include this story, if we decided as feminists to only focus on instances where consent was clearly absent, we wouldn’t be pushing forward towards a brighter, kinder future for everyone to enjoy however they want to.

This from Laurie Penny goes into how this story AND the backlash that’s been heartily fueled by it push #MeToo forward into fighting for sexual liberation for EVERYONE. Sexual liberation for women requires access to contraception and abortion, AS WELL AS women feeling as though they can go on a date with a guy, go to his house, even, and he’ll respect them and their boundaries. If women are afraid of their potential partners, they aren’t sexually liberated. This isn’t new, not at all. Penny wrote this in September of last year, and there have been plenty of others like it before. But in the wake of the Babe piece, there are more pieces from more sources more clearly connecting that the burden of communication and ensuring consent are not only women’s responsibility is an essential tenet of feminism. “This is not an anti-sex movement gone off the rails. It is a pro-sex movement just laying the tracks,” from this by James Hamblin. “It may feel like the rules shifted overnight, and what your dad called the thrill of the chase is now what some people are calling assault. Unfortunately, no one — even plenty of men who call themselves feminists — wanted to listen to feminist women themselves. We tried to warn you. We wish you’d listened, too,” from this by Lindy West. “If #MeToo somehow brings about a world in which sex has to be excellent and much-wanted in order to happen at all, bring on the puritan dystopia,” from this by Sady Doyle.

The one thing I disagree with in Penny’s piece and in others that have highlighted that requiring men to pay more attention to their partners is an important part of this new women’s movement are the complaints about Way’s piece. On the one hand, I do agree that it needed some trimming. The wine part at the beginning just doesn’t need to be there, for example. On the other hand, the lurid play-by-play that some suggest lacks integrity for a sexual assault piece, I think may actually be essential here. I think it should have been written and edited more carefully, definitely, but even in some pieces that begin by criticizing this aspect of the reporting, the author ends up pulling details from the play-by-play to explain why and how this encounter is coercive and where there is nuance and why it is important to discuss it. It’s possible that with a more experienced and tactful writer the same thing would have been achieved but without leaving Grace as exposed as she’s been, but, I doubt it. I think this story has made so many people angry because it’s a very common experience, and now plenty of men are panicking that they, too, will be held to account for coercing or trying to coerce women. No matter how tactfully the story was told, it would have caused the same backlash. I think, anyway.

A bit more on the backlash:

Here is Katie Way’s pinned tweet.

Read through the responses, if you can stomach it. Her crime is being rude to a prominent journalist, which I’m absolutely certain 100% of the people screaming at her or even simply casually mocking her have done. There are also a couple of tweets from me, at the grossest of people I saw there, just saying “fuck you” but with extra vowels. I wish I could have been more eloquent, but I was mad. I was also not brave enough to reply directly in praise of the part of her email about Banfield that I liked. I was the only dissenting voice, apart from two people who liked this article she wrote on prison life, and one person telling her the dogpiling would eventually pass.

Twitter is a gross place.

We also did a thread, here:

jumping off of a Nora Reed thread on how they think Way’s email kind of rocks because it shows sexual assault survivors that their rage at the frankly disgusting victim blaming Banfield and other prominent, older women have done is shared. Survivors whose stories resemble Grace’s aren’t alone. Katie Way is prepared to, somewhat clumsily, sure, lash out on their behalf. That, too, is why Way’s original piece is so important. A lot of people have had this experience. For many of them, Grace’s date with Ansari is how their rape started. After the piece, many more people went through their memories of uncomfortable, possibly traumatic sexual encounters, and realized that they had been coerced and/or raped. And they aren’t alone. And it isn’t right. Just because what Ansari did wasn’t AS BAD as what plenty of other men have done, it’s not to be dismissed as “revenge porn” or “attention whoreing.” It’s integral for anyone who is interested in having sex without hurting anyone to see stories like this, to learn from them. Grace liked Ansari, I’ve said before, and I’ll repeat. She probably wanted to have sex with him. Instead, she went home crying and traumatized. We need to dissect encounters like this to begin to change the culture.

I am all about reaching out to older woman and for celebrating all that they have accomplished with fewer resources, but right now what I’m seeing is a 22-year-old woman whose career is just beginning being shouted down from all corners, even though her piece has been a jumping off point to discuss the central point of having a feminist movement at all. There will always be time for measured critiques of how she wrote the piece and why she wrote it and why she wrote that email, but right now, I’m on her side.

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Anne Episode Recap: An Inward Treasure Born

(changing up the featured image because of this)

All right so:

People determined to excuse Aziz Ansari because the woman he was super aggressive towards didn’t just leave the apartment entirely or say explicitly “no” or “stop” was annoying today. Based on the discussions I saw about it I was expecting it to be much grayer than it was when I actually read it. I was thinking, “Really, guys? You think she wasn’t being clear enough?”

There was also some Margaret Atwood nonsense. She wrote an op-ed called “Am I a Bad Feminist?” and the answer is yes. She really is, if indeed she’s a feminist at all. Her shtick is calmly, gently restating over and over that feminism makes us all want to insist that women are angels, victims always, forever blameless.

  1. No.
  2. To me, feminism is the radical notion that a woman can be flawed and complicated and that human experiences can be gray and SHE SHOULD STILL HAVE HER BASIC HUMANITY RESPECTED.
  3. I honestly thought, until recently, that was kind of what Atwood meant, to a certain extent. But apparently no.
  4. To Atwood, “women aren’t angels” means “we need to always always always mistrust sexual misconduct allegations especially if they’re against well-respected and powerful men I like. Because women aren’t angels.”
  5. (Nobody is saying we need to instantly convict every person accused of sexual misconduct. Nobody. NOBODY IS SAYING THAT.)
  6. (False accusations are rare.)
  7. (Rapists and sexual harassers never facing any consequences whatsoever for their actions is PRETTY COMMON.)
  8. (That NEEDS TO CHANGE.)
  9. (We can start by getting rid of judges who excuse rape because of what the victim was wearing or because there was previous flirtation or because “she didn’t look like a thirteen-year-old.”)
  10. (Holding more terrible men accountable for their actions is PROBABLY NOT GOING TO HURT ANYONE WHO ISN’T A TERRIBLE MAN.)
  11. Fuck you, Atwood.
  12. Ten bucks several Atwood controversies down the line is going to be one that is her going full TERF. I’m calling it now.

Also the thing she retweeted the other day, apart from the Sullivan shit piece, was a shit piece about how #metoo goes too far in that workplace flirtation can be hot.

There’s a little paragraph that’s like, “Straight women like when men are sexually aggressive because it confirms our desirability and can be thrilling and unexpected.”

OK so kudos to this writer for discovering what kinks are.

She should have followed through with her research to determine that acting on those kinks with a partner still requires consent if it’s being done, like, right.

I find it hard to believe that – look, I don’t care how kinky you are. You aren’t always, in every context, with any potential partner, up for being grabbed and kissed, or even just flirted with. Which is where the millennial feminist affirmations of “FUCKING ASK” or “enthusiastic consent” come in. It should not be that hard to understand that none of us are asking you to not have your romance and your sexy funtimes the way you like them. And MAYBE, a conversation about harassment and assault, particularly where women are just trying to go to work and do their jobs, is NOT THE PLACE FOR YOU TO SHOW UP AND SCREAM INTO THE VOID THAT YOU LIKE FLIRTING.

Nobody cares. Do your thing. Do it consensually. THAT ISN’T WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT, BRENDA.

I’m finding it legitimately exhausting that the backlash so far has been people itching to do a bad take looking at a movement revolting against the silencing and horrific sexual harassment and assault of women in the workplace and going, “But, but, but, how will we do romance, then?”

THAT. ISN’T. ROMANCE.

IT ISN’T ROMANCE.

THAT YOU JUMP SO QUICKLY TO EQUATING IT TO ROMANCE IS SCARY AND AWFUL.

STOP.

OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOKKKKKKKKKKKKKKKK

So on this episode of Anne, a pastor shows up and says Anne doesn’t need to go to school anyway because she can just stay at home and learn how to be a wife, and then Marilla gets PISSED and yells at Matthew, who basically just asks if she’s OK, “Now, is there anything I can bake or clean or mend or fetch for you?” before storming off, and then when Billy jokes that “girls are so useless” and they should “stay in the kitchen” and that they should “leave the men to their work” Anne screams, “Why don’t you give me that hammer and I’ll finish the job myself if YOU’RE too busy being a bully to GET IT DONE?” And then all the men laugh.

Last episode I thought Ruby and Josie smiling in a rather shocked way meant that they admired Anne for smacking Gilbert with the slate, but apparently I was wrong. This time, I’ll say I guess it’s possible that the men think Anne is just being silly, but it still plays to me as though they thought it was legit great that she screamed that at him.

When it comes to Ruby (and Josie, probably, but she isn’t here this episode), I still think she does admire Anne. I think she just understands that Anne’s behaviour and personality and orphan status make her stick out, and that it’s socially unacceptable to be seen publicly liking her.

I’m going to hold onto that because the smiling/awe from last time really, really doesn’t make sense to me as the girls laughing at Anne’s expense. Do they not know what to make of it? Are they shaken to their cores? Yes. You’re not supposed to loudly, violently, publicly rebuff Gilbert Blythe. But Anne did. Upon further reflection they decide to uphold status quo and keep treating her badly because she’s too dramatic for their delicate sensibilities (or so they’ve been taught).

So apart from the screaming, this episode was fairly dramatic in other sort of overblown ways. Anne gets to be a hero and I like it, but it is kind of out there. I prefer the budding friendship with Ruby. I also like the moments she gets with Gerry, who keeps hinting that he really wants to go to school and be educated but he doesn’t have that opportunity. My prediction is that Anne will lobby for him to go to school at some point, or that she’ll teach him herself, or both.

Well that’s all. Hopefully news won’t be as aggravating next time I recap an episode, or, if it is, hopefully Anne will scream at someone again because it’s so rare to see girls and women in media fully let loose with their rage. It’s CLEANSING, I say.

“Funny” Anguish, Female Exceptionalism, and Stranger Things 2

Spoilers. Large ones.

Last time I watched an entire season of Stranger Things in a short amount of time, I wrote this thing about the weird trope of young women having sex while someone they’re responsible for in some way dies, or, almost dies. I called it “girls murdering people by having sex” and in this season, Nancy literally tells Steve that they killed Barb. So. I’m right.

This time around, I would like to not be insightful and instead complain about the two things that bothered me. First, the minor thing: the cat’s death.

As soon as they introduced that cat I knew she was going to die. As soon as they introduced Dart I knew he was going to kill her. What I have a problem with (apart from transparent AF storytelling) is more how the show reacts to the death of the cat than the actual death of the cat.

dustin and momdustin's mom

Dustin tells his mom that far away neighbours spotted the cat and sends her off to look. She’s crying, anguished, worried sick, and because of how every other scene between Dustin and Mom-Dustin has played, this too looks like it’s supposed to be funny. Maybe it’s because I’m me, but I don’t actually see anything funny about this. Even if Mom-Dustin never finds out how her cat died, she’ll be left imagining the worst. She’ll never have closure. And knowing how her cat died, while providing closure, sure, will never relieve the sorrow she’ll always feel that her cat died that way, even if she has a new one.

Even if you’re not inclined to sympathize with people feeling reasonable amounts of attachment to their pets or feeling a reasonable amount of worry for them, you do have to note that aspects of Mom-Dustin’s character are also problematic here. She’s an older, single woman, with a cat. She’s adorable, generously affectionate, and in a season filled with bigger dudes, she’s pretty much the biggest woman present (and, she’s, like, not that big). Depicting her worry and sorrow like this, like it’s something to laugh at (and I’m not going to give the show the benefit of the doubt here; again, every other scene between her and her son is played for laughs), is cruel. Ugh.

It would probably have been better if there had been a point to the Dart subplot apart from padding up the run-time, and giving Dustin something to do that isn’t just him being a little shit (and whether what he does with Dart, up to and including facilitating his friends’ escape with candy, is him not being a little shit is debatable). It adds nothing. Learning that Dart feels some amount of empathy or childhood nostalgia is useless if all that comes of it is we watch him die next to a chocolate bar wrapper and are… supposed… to feel… sad? This isn’t nuance added, it’s just, there. Just a little mini adventure in the interest of selling chocolate bars. At least the cringey KFC part was legitimately sad, and not just because four helpless actors were contractually obligated to pretend to enjoy KFC.

And then there’s that female exceptionalism.

I didn’t notice it when I first watched the first season, but then reading this was eye-opening. Eleven is the only girl in a group of four boys and the reality is, she’s only allowed to be there because she’s quirky, quiet, and deadly. That was made very clear in this new season with the addition of Max.

Max’s first appearance concerned me because it seemed like it was carrying on the female exceptionalism of season one Eleven. Max is angry, lashes out, flips off her step brother, and is really good at video games. Everything seemed to be leading up to that dreaded “she’s not like other girls” thing that goes unspoken – but, actually, it gets spoken in Season 2.

I forget what he calls them, but Steve has come up with two categories in which to place all girls ever – it’s fine though, because the only important thing about it is that when Dustin asks, “So which is Nancy?” Steve’s response is, “Nancy is different.”

Uuuuuuuuugh.

Unlike with Mom-Dustin, here, I’m willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt. Steve and Dustin’s whole conversation about how to “get girls” or whatever is absolutely ridiculous, and I think what it’s really trying to get across is not that Max and Nancy are somehow different, but instead that these two boys have a flawed and uninformed outlook on one half of the population. At least, that’s how I’m going to take it, to preserve my peace of mind.

It doesn’t hurt that when Max actually does join their group, she acts like a regular person and not a brooding, intriguing, aloof mystery. She has fun trick-or-treating and joking around, is curious, and wants to be included in whatever the little group is doing. She’s honestly more real than Bev Marsh is in this year’s It, and, minus all of the rejection and rudeness she endures (which I have to talk about in a second), Max is a lot more like what Bev should have been. Until near the end, anyway.

trick or treating

Max starts out as a good answer to the female exceptionalism of season one because what happens when she joins the group is utter dickishness. Dustin and Lucas are both happy at first but start competing for her attention. Mike is pissed because he thinks she’s there to replace Eleven. Eleven is pissed because she thinks she’s there to replace Eleven.

My girl. My boy. You can have more than one girl in your group.

Dustin decides that Max likes Lucas better than him and gets all sad about it. Unlike Ben Hanscom who endures Bev’s crush on not him with grace, Dustin becomes prickly and pathetic about it too. He lashes out at Max just like Mike does.

The only unrealistic thing about boys treating girls like they’re encroaching on their precious nerd safe spaces or lashing out at them when they don’t lavish them with the attentions they think they’re entitled to is that Max, um, stays. For some inexplicable reason.

She does try to leave at one point. But then Lucas goes out of his way to include her in the group’s secrets. They talk. He’s genuinely nice to her. He’s the only one who treats her like a human being. They actually communicate with each other. They worry about what dangerous effects their associating might have on each other. Their relationship is one of the most functional this season. It does bother me that, once again, the only boy being nice to the only girl is the one who has a (requited) crush. But still, in a sea of “everyone is being a jerk to Max,” Lucas’s parts were nice.

The inclusion of Lucas’s sister makes it better. She mocks Lucas for only being friends with boys, so, really, Lucas’s attempts to include Max could be partly him actually listening to the wise council of his sister. Expanding his horizons, getting to know people with different lived experiences, not closing off his spaces to people based on gender, and not just because he has a crush on her and is being selfish.

The best moment this season is her barbie’s make-out session with He-Man, and then when Lucas takes He-Man away she just replaces him with an owl.

lucas sister

lucas sister 2

LOL.

Here’s the problem: Max is finally accepted into the group when she physically attacks her much larger, much more dangerous step brother, threatens him with the nail bat, and then drives them to a pumpkin patch. That stuff was all cool, don’t get me wrong, but the fact that it takes this for Mike and Dustin to get over themselves sucks. None of the boys have to prove their worth to get into the nerd club by assaulting huge bullies and doing things kids shouldn’t be doing. But both Max and Eleven last season had to. Not cool, dudes.

Also, not cool, Eleven.

Look at this:

mike and max

This is the part where Max is wearing Mike down, and actually makes him smile, because she wants to be accepted. I maintain that she’d have blown these losers off a long time ago but whatever, this scene is cute. Except for the part where Eleven is watching this entirely innocent conversation, gets jealous after two seconds, and knocks Max off her board with her mind. I thought maybe we’d have a moment where Max and Eleven talk properly, but no, all we get is Max trying to introduce herself and Eleven ignoring her.

It made me get really sad, remembering the story of how Winona Ryder and Millie Bobby Brown were on set, and knowing that female camaraderie that absolutely happens everyday in real life in response to male dickishness was never going to be portrayed on this show, even though it happens literally on set:

And for the moments the boys on set, with their silly crushes, became tiresome, Brown could turn to Winona Ryder. “I would just go to her like, ‘Ugh, the boys are getting on my nerves today!’ And she’d be like, ‘Got it — come sit.’ And we’d eat cheese.”

I’m pretty sure that if you’re the only girl in a group of all boys, the addition of another girl would be fantastic. But the show wanted to focus on the romantic tension between Mike and Eleven. Which is stupid, because jealousy that turns into rudeness and violence isn’t romantic. Like. This needed a resolution, but the two girls never even look at each other ever again. Season 3?

And then there’s the Nancy/Dustin dance. I was prepared to love it until Nancy says, “Girls this age are dumb. Give them a couple of years and they’ll wise up,” and broke my heart.

Nancy. No.

I mean, maybe in a couple of years they’ll come around because Dustin will be treating girls like human beings rather than being a huge jerk to them when he doesn’t get his way, or only smiling and winking and asking them to dance when he’s interested in them as whatever the 12-year-old version of a sex object is and not because he might actually want to get to know them as people also. But probably not. Not when the older girl he looks up to tells him the rejection he just experienced is basically illegitimate because “girls are dumb.”

I understand that the show is portraying this as, “little innocent boy just wants to dance with pretty girls but they all think he’s awkward and nerdy and then it makes him sad and that’s so sad” but the majority of his screen time with Max this season has either been him coming on too strong or being really mean, and comparatively very little actual listening and empathizing. I feel like all the popular girls have, I don’t know, noticed, that the kid is a jerk to girls, and rejected him accordingly, and not because of his hair or whatever. And where is the extended-for-audience-sympathy part where Max sits alone and cries because the boys that were supposed to be her friends are being total assholes to her and she doesn’t understand why? And then Steve or whoever sits with her and is like, “… um. Go make female friends. Seriously.”

So I’m just going to go ahead and say it. Overall, Stranger Things is totally cool with the “no girls allowed” sign. Because the girls who are allowed are different, so they don’t really count as girls anyway.

Man. I started out this post thinking I enjoyed the season overall and now I actually feel horrible. Sigh.

Pssst. People who make Stranger Things. Please watch this scene please please please. Before you make Season 3. Thanks.

Hermione and Ron: What Went Wrong?

 

^^^^^^^^^^^^^ This, by Emily Sowers, who will hopefully make a thousand more soon, is a good video essay.

I could just leave it there, but watching it got me thinking about my simultaneously most hated and most beloved topic of discussion: Ron and Hermione, and their adaptation hell.

The video starts with Hermione and then can’t quite help but comment on Ron. In fact, I think because of the ways Ron and Hermione are intertwined in the story, it’s almost impossible to talk about the changes the movies made to one of them without discussing the changes made to the other.

I’ve often felt a little weird about complaining that the movies made Ron useless and bumbling, and then adding, “And Hermione isn’t useless enough! Where are her flaws?” I think that’s because at first glance, removing Hermione’s flaws and taking away any sign of weakness makes her a stronger female character, and if I want her to cry more and mess up and be bossy and be the butt of a joke occasionally, that’s me wanting a strong woman torn down.

But I’m done worrying about that, because no. I wanted Hermione to be more like she was in the book because she was real, and her flaws were uniquely feminine, and removing them is – look, I’m not going to say it’s misogynistic, but it does suggest that unfortunate thing where we’re all really turned off by what are generally considered to be feminine traits. Also, complex and flawed female characters are so important and WHY RUIN HERMIONE LIKE THIS. She was perfect the way she was, with her damn flaws intact.

Six years ago (nothing changes, alas) I wrote this:

The real root of the problem is that they failed at both characters separately, so their interactions inevitably didn’t work properly. With Hermione, the hair is just the beginning, but it represents what they did to her. She was supposed to be flawed, but they stuck her on that horrific pedestal and turned her into the world’s most perfect, most bland, most heroineish heroine. I suspect that deep down, the filmmakers are supporters of Grangerverse. If you’ve been reading this in sheer horror that I put so much thought into such things, I can assure you that it only gets worse from this point on. There are some crazy people who think that Hermione is God himself in human, fictional form. She is so brilliant, so perfect, that she is actually, without JKR’s knowledge, the main character. As in, when JKR named all of the books after HP and made him the protagonist she simply wasn’t thinking straight. These people are also very often people who despise Ron, which reinforces my suspicions about the filmmakers.

Grangerverse isn’t relevant anymore, but I do occasionally see the odd pro-Hermione comment that makes me feel sad. Not because I think Hermione shouldn’t be celebrated – she should. Every day we should be throwing Hermione Parties. I get sad because I can’t just take for granted that the pro-Hermione comment is informed by the real Hermione, flaws and all. Also, this typical pro-Hermione comment is usually at the expense of Ron and that’s how I can tell that, yeah, this person either didn’t read the books or did, but only once or twice, and now only remembers the movie version.

Which is a shame.

Because movie-version Hermione is a one-dimensional character: defanged, prettified, and smooth where she should be all rough edges.

I’m friends with a Hermione-type in real life, and let me tell you, sometimes conversations get difficult. Hermione is demanding of her friends. She doesn’t let things go. She doesn’t always listen. She doesn’t always spare her friends’ feelings. She’s stubborn and confrontational. These are all traits that make her amazing, but they also have their pitfalls, just as Ron’s humour and surprising displays of sensitivity are the flip sides of occasional cruelty and insecurity. In my real life friendship where I guess I’m the Harry to my friend’s Hermione, sometimes I feel like there’s a huge spotlight being shone on all of my shortcomings and my friend can’t or won’t notice that it’s making me a bit uncomfortable. She’s an amazing person and I love her, and she doesn’t mean to make me feel bad – no, she really is just trying to make me better and often that’s great and invaluable to have that, but, look. I change the subject a lot. Because. Nobody (except Hermione-types) can be that pure.

Examples of Hermione being an exhausting friend:

  • Those freaking homework diaries she gives Ron and Harry for Christmas. I can only imagine. I would rip my hair out.
  • Being infuriatingly nosy about what her friends’ marks are, all while loudly complaining about her own (very good, but apparently not good enough) marks. It’s impossible to commiserate with Hermione; she’s top in the class and yet she’s still too insecure about marks by half.
  • Remember when Harry uses sectumsempra on Malfoy, feels rotten, and she lectures him about it nonstop? It’s like, Hermione, he knows, shut up.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

She’s also not always Ms. Extremely Bloody Capable – she mostly is, of course, but sometimes she can’t quite do a thing. The video essay pointed out a lot of key Hermione fumbles but whatever, a short list:

  • She can’t fight Boggarts for shit, at least in third year
  • The freak-out with the Devil’s Snare in book one is a highlight for sure
  • She cannot do social justice work well. She is very bad at it. Just ask any Hogwarts House-Elf (this is not to say she was wrong, because of course she was right. But SPEW is, um, not the way to do anything, ever)
  • She’s often a mess during or after combat, especially in the Ron-gets-splinched part.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

Hermione is sometimes, surprisingly, really insensitive. She and Ron seem to flip-flop on this – where usually she’s the one who picks up on others’ feelings Ron is the one being a little flippant (or a complete jerk), but where she’s insisting on being confrontational Ron is noticing that it would be better if she left it alone. Some key Hermione being insensitive moments:

  • Well, the sectumsempra part works here too
  • Remember when her cat was non-stop after Scabbers? It turned out that Crookshanks was right to persecute him but nobody knew that at first. She handled that whole thing really badly, which is to say, she didn’t handle it.
  • A couple of times she gets people to do things for her by being overbearing and insufferable. A fun time was when she blackmailed Fred and George into not testing their skiving snack boxes on first years, and a less fun one was when she cornered Neville into signing up for SPEW.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

She is occasionally, delightfully, ridiculous:

  • Her huge crush on Lockhart is a fine example. She slept with his get well card under her pillow. Oh, Hermione.
  • When she failed her DADA exam because her Boggart turned into Professor McGonagall telling her she’d failed everything and she went to pieces.
  • She asked McLaggen to the Slug Club Christmas Party to spite Ron and regretted it almost instantly and then spent the evening hiding behind columns.
  • She blackmailed Rita Skeeter. Both ridiculous and amazing.

And Harry and Ron love her anyway.

Hermione cries all the time. All. The. Time.

And they love her anyway.

See, that’s the thing. If you take a female character from a book who cries a lot and sometimes doesn’t really act like the brightest witch of her age and you adapt her into a perfect, intelligent action girl and stick her on a pedestal because you think it’s more realistic, or entertaining, or god forbid more feminist that way, then, no. Please don’t. It’s not more feminist. Feminism is not about wanting women to be on pedestals and if you think it is you have been led well astray.

And finally, allow me to comment on the Ron thing, because I will probably never stop commenting on the Ron thing. In fact, if “The Harry Potter movies ruined Ron and I will NEVER rest in peace because of it” isn’t engraved on my tombstone then someone’s getting haunted, I swear it.

I no longer care if you wanted Hermione and Harry to end up married. That’s fine. They’re compatible. I mean, he yells a lot and she cries a lot and they aren’t attracted to each other in the slightest but fine. Have it your way – it’s eons better than wanting either of them to have ended up with Draco so I’ll take it.

But I am sick of the anti-Ron thing. Hermione isn’t too good for Ron just because she’s smarter than him. She isn’t too good for Ron just because he has insecurities and makes mistakes sometimes. She isn’t too good for Ron just because he sometimes says mean things. He’s flawed; she likes him anyway. He works on his flaws and occasionally even learns something.

If you’d like to talk about how writing a friendship-to-romance where the friendship is occasionally volatile as a way to hint that they’d be a lot happier if they’d just kiss already is problematic or at the very least not your favourite thing, I’m here for that. I’ll have that discussion. Sometimes Ron and Hermione’s fighting annoys me too. What I like is that they always get over it, even if it’s a big fight, because of course they do. They’re friends and also apparently in love. But I see that point and I’m good with it.

But can we also discuss how I think the real appeal of the Ron/Hermione romantic relationship is the appeal of having someone you know well, who knows you well, who has seen you at your best and your worst, who often expresses annoyance at you and at whom you often express annoyance, who you can argue with without the world ending, who doesn’t let you get away with indulging your worst instincts without calling you out for it, turn out to be romantically interested in you even though you’re both sometimes annoying? I think this works from both sides of their relationship. They know each other’s worst habits and are friends in spite of them, and if they’re also capable of being lovers in spite of them, well, isn’t that a lot more realistic a depiction of a healthy relationship than it ever gets credit for being?

I don’t really know. I’m more open to Ron/Hermione criticism than I have been in the past, but if you come at me with “She’s perfect and he’s always eating,” I’m going to tell you to crack open the damn books. Which is what Hermione would say. Seriously, if you hate Ron so much stop emulating him. He’s the one who would just leave it at the movie version.

**Also we went to see It again after I’d drafted this post and now I think Bev got almost the same treatment as Hermione did. I’ll have to write extensively about that at some other time.**


In other nostalgia news, I narrated an old LotR parody fic we wrote and it was definitely not a waste of time… *shifty eyes*

Click Haldir to listen.

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Powerful Women in Disney

In thinking of examples of powerful women being demonized, one need look no further than Hillary Rodham Clinton.

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Alt-POTUS for life

I don’t need to remind you. 2016 was a difficult year for all of us for a lot of reasons, and just one of those was the constant negative rhetoric surrounding HRC’s run for President, which seemed to be coming from everywhere – even the left-leaning. Trump was among the worst of them.

Of course, using sexism is also the laziest way to demean a woman. If you can’t debate her ideas, just slam her appearance, her personality, her relationships and her likeability. Trump crossed the line all the time. Flustered during the debate because he couldn’t out debate Clinton on policy, he just leaned into the mic and dismissed her entirely: “nasty woman.” – Mel Robbins for CNN (emphasis mine)

As I write this, HRC’s book sits at my feet, currently unopened. What Happened, indeed. I think we all know what happened – but I’ll read it, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it.

Like any deep-rooted societal assumptions, the idea that powerful women are inherently evil can be found all over our favourite media. Golden Age Disney is no different. We love our Villainesses – The Evil Queen, Maleficent, and Lady Tremaine, the big three of powerful women whose actions make no sense. Later, Disney gave us such Villainesses as Cruella DeVil, Ursula, Madam Mim, the Queen of Hearts, Ysma, and Mother Gothel. As for protagonists, we had an overabundance of sweet-tempered Princesses, and a couple of ambitious ones – but none who could honestly be defined as powerful.

Frozen Breaks the Cycle

Not only was Elsa the first Disney Princess to be crowned Queen; she was also the first one to wield actual, dangerous power.

It wasn’t originally going to be like that:

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Yikes. Elsa originally looked like a young Yzma.

We all know about how Elsa was supposed to be the villain of Frozen. Thankfully that changed, because the movie we end up with was a much-needed change of pace.

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Rather than immediately vilify a woman with power, Frozen unpacked this a little bit – what it meant for Elsa to have to hide her power, knowing that the kingdom would fear her because of it. Given the current political climate, I almost begin to think she was right all along.

Frozen tells a story that rings true for many women – knowing you have power, but being afraid to use it in a world that sees powerful women as threatening.

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It’s a fear that consumes Elsa’s every waking moment; her very identity. This fear is what causes her to actually harm Anna – although the movie does not allow her  to make too many mistakes, it does cause her to live out her worst fear – that she will freeze Anna’s heart, losing the only person who sees more than just her abilities.

Not long after Frozen came another story of a woman struggling with power:

Maleficent Atones for Sleeping Beauty’s Sins

As we’ve discussed at length, Maleficent takes a powerful woman who we have virtually no reason to sympathize with – except perhaps envy at her ability to spontaneously morph into a dragon – and gives us a reason to forgive something as severe as sentencing a newborn to death.

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Couldn’t she have just killed Stefan and saved everyone the trouble?

Sorry. But the truth is that Stefan (and the King before him) targeting Maleficent is just the same as the other examples I’ve noted in which people target, abuse, and attempt to destroy women who they see as a threat.

In doing so, Stefan creates the villain they feared she was – and unlike Elsa, Maleficent actually goes through with being a full-blown Disney Villain.

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And looks fabulous while doing it.

This done, Maleficent takes us along on a redemption arc in which our anti-villain (?) learns that women should protect each other, not sentence each other to an untimely death.

Powerful Women Don’t Necessarily Have To Destroy Each Other: A Disney Story

One thing that Frozen and Maleficent have in common is that each one takes True Love and un-hetero-normalizes it (there may have been a clearer way to say that, but I stand by it). In Frozen, Anna believes she needs to be saved by an “act of true love”, and this act turns out being sacrificing her life to save her sister.

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The moral of the story is that non-sexual relationships, familial relationships, sisterhood, and even relationships that don’t happen to involve men, have incredible power.

On the same vein, we replace Aurora’s “true love’s kiss” with a kiss from her surrogate mother figure, Maleficent.

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These resolutions, with Anna and Aurora (the traditional Disney Princesses) as catalysts, allow the stories to show powerful women in a softer light. And even though these women maintain close relationships with the other women in their lives, they remain powerful, ruling over their respective lands and using their incredible powers.

That Brings us to Moana

Please just assume that when I (three) talk Disney or Women or Movies from now on, I will always use Moana as the ultimate example because I am not over it yet.

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Moana is the daughter of the chief, and her political power can’t be understated. Although she is only learning to rule in the duration of the film, she shows aptitude for critical thinking, a passionate dedication to her people, and most importantly, a unique ability to bring them back to their roots as voyagers. Unlike Elsa and Maleficent, Moana is never targeted for her power – it is framed as a burden, and a challenge, but she is never vilified for it.

That’s where Te Ka comes in.

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In the prior two examples, Elsa and Maleficent have a kind-hearted traditional princess – Anna and Aurora – to lend softness to their character. In Moana, things aren’t so simple. Te Ka does not show Moana any kindness, or give her any reason to give her the benefit of the doubt – it’s Moana who sees past Te Ka’s terrifying exterior and realizes that someone has done this to her.

This creates an interesting comparison to Maleficent, who spends the entire movie redeeming herself for one mistake, which honestly, we kind of already forgave her for. In comparison, no one expects Te Fiti to apologize for ruining everything after she has her heart stolen.

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They have stolen the heart from inside you, but this does not define you

This comparison isn’t completely parallel: Elsa and Maleficent are unfairly feared and targeted for their power, whereas Te Fiti, a literal god, is not vilified in the slightest; at least not until she becomes a giant lava monster. I’ll go ahead and argue that it is fair to see Te Ka as a villain, given that she’s utterly terrifying and is trying to kill everyone.

The main message I want to distill from that comparison, however, is that we are still very careful about how we portray forgivable powerful women. Elsa barely even does anything wrong. Maleficent does one thing wrong one time, and does so as a rash but understandable act of revenge after she was attacked by Stefan-the-terrible. Despite the fact that it should actually be pretty easy to forgive Maleficent, and there is literally nothing to forgive Elsa for, both of their characters were not allowed to get away with it – Elsa suffers years of anxiety after hurting Anna by accident one time, and Maleficent spends sixteen years learning to love the child she rashly sentenced to death. Te Fiti, on the other hand, destroys like half the ocean, and when Moana figures this out it’s as simple as:

They have stolen the heart from inside you
But this does not define you

This is not who you are
You know who you are

This embodies what I find so refreshing about women in Moana: It’s a given that they are powerful, and it’s okay. No one has to suffer the guilt that Elsa and Maleficent feel for their effects on others – they can just focus on the plot, the character development, and the journey.

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30 Days of Avatar: Feminism

Week 10: Messages of Avatar Land

Day 28: Masculinity
Day 29: Animal Rights
Day 30: Feminism

Day 30 is for… feminism. Dun dun duuuuuuun.

Content Warning! Y’know. Casual references to a lot of woman hate.

Self Care tip! When you encounter casual woman hate out there in person or on the internet, throw on “Venom of the Red Lotus” and pretend Zaheer and co. are whoever is doing the woman hate and pretend you are Korra. Very therapeutic.

Oh and also it starts with a random tangent about The Handmaid’s Tale and how there was that panel where all the actors were at pains to state that the show wasn’t “feminist propaganda” and we’re not sure why, just go with it.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

OK so feminism is a tough one because even something that lends itself as clearly to feminist interpretations as The Handmaid’s Tale is sometimes revised as “not feminist, but about ALL people,” by both actors who apparently don’t know what words mean, and the author, even, who – OK but Margaret Atwood knows what words mean! She just struggles with the meaning of the word “feminism” because she’s afraid that people use it to claim all women are saints and martyrs and victims, which robs us of our agency and contributes to inequality – which, no. At least in our opinion.

If it seems that way to you, it’s because you’re not really paying attention. There is a lot of turmoil in feminism. There is a lot of introspection. People are always building up on and dissecting the work that has come previously, and everything, EVERYTHING, gets critiqued, always, and forever. The prominence of rape narrative written by actual victims gets critiqued, for example, because maybe rape narrative isn’t doing much to help matters because it constantly portrays women as victims. We’re not cosigning that one because it seems kind of very stupid, but it’s (sort of) a worthwhile discussion that, while we’re personally not fussed about it, is still happening. Also, The Fearless Girl statue gets a lot of criticism. Because “corporate art.” In fact, just add in every “strong female character” lately – particularly if they’re the protagonist and center of the narrative. We’ve seen critiques of Moana, Wonder Woman, and Daenerys to name a few, many of which are thought-provoking even when we disagree with some (or a lot) of the arguments being made. Some are, of course, crap. Marxist interpretations of art are really important but when they’re presented all on their own without recognition of other factors besides the monetary forces behind commercially successful art made to be consumed by the masses, they’re definitely going to ignore all of those other important elements about art, which can make them sometimes super unhelpful, sometimes super elitist, and occasionally pretty misogynistic. It usually depends on who’s doing the Marxist critique. If they’re doing it on top of a bunch of other things it’s great. If it’s just “commercial art is still commercial art even if there’s womz in it,” it tends to be pretty awful.

Then there’re the different factions of feminism that are actively bad. For starters, there’s pop feminism, though we here at Owlmachine think pop feminism is a good thing, actually. It’s definitely a SUPER FLAWED good thing, though. Like, when T Swift claims feminism whenever she wins an award but does nothing with her enormous platform to advocate maybe not voting for the sexual predator, yeah. That’s really bad and needs to be called out. (But real quick: SOLIDARITY TO HER COUNTERSUING THAT SHITHEAD DJ FOR A BUCK. See, this is why pop feminism shouldn’t just be quickly dismissed, because here’s an example where fair critiques give way to the sort of unearned vitriol we seem to only ever see directed at female megastars.) Thoughtful critique of every single pop feminism thing ever is also really good, but we think (and maybe we’re wrong) that if pop feminism were more prominent, the silly “Is The Handmaid’s Tale feminist propaganda or not” discussion wouldn’t have happened and that’s kind of important. But there are certain feminism things that do really suck. Like white feminism (in which white women yell at, harass, ignore, and belittle women of colour and their voices and experiences because we think it’s uncomfortable to acknowledge intersectionality and how even as a woman, being white = major privilege) or trans-exclusionary radfems (who think trans women are men and have stupidly contradictory opinions about what “being a woman” is – like, how are you a feminist if your argument boils down to “woman = boobs, vag, and womb” YOU’RE NOT IS THE ANSWER YOU’RE JUST GROSS) and those are just two groups. Those are the worst two groups typically, but there’re more. There are different subgroups of those two things and there are other things, like SWERFs. And if you haven’t noticed the pushback on all of these things, you’re not listening to the right people.

We will grant that sometimes maybe it does seem that feminism is a big, tribal monolith, but that is probably because there’s a lot of bigger garbage out there that is more important to address than the minor stuff that can cause infighting (we classify “minor” as arguing over pop feminism and marxist feminism, and definitely not, y’know, transphobia and racism). So although we frequently see feminists doing important self-reflection like seriously questioning the merits of pop feminism or the possible fallout of uncritical sex-positivity or insisting that we center women’s agency even while we’re talking about rape culture or wondering what might go wrong with the conservative co-opting of feminism for things like “lean in” or doing more outreach with regards to the intersections of social justice or even more outreach to men, who are also victims of this stupid system, these important and complex topics can sometimes be sidelined, unfortunately, because Donald Trump is president, and misogyny is still very rampant and all of the important conversations get derailed because feminists consistently have to repeat things that should be taken for granted by now, like: yes, women should be equal, no, women are not currently equal even if there are laws stating they are because of the way the system actually works, yes, women at various intersections have it harder than the rest of us and need to not be talked over, no, women should not be expected to endlessly “debate” whether we are biologically inferior to men in the interest of upholding some idiot’s freeze peach, and yes, rape should be illegal.

Annnyway. The Handmaid’s Tale shows women subjugating other women in order to seize what small amounts of power may be seizeable, which, well, consider what happens when trans women, sex workers, and women of colour speak up about how feminism leaves them behind to see how that happens EVEN WITHIN FEMINISM. It shows how poor men are exploited for their labour similarly, though not completely the same, as women are. It’s therefore kind of clearly feminist – the complex, thoughtful kind of feminist, introspective and self-critical, showing how a hierarchical society hurts everyone at every level and those at the lowest and most vulnerable ends of the hierarchies are hurt the most – though, there is that one pesky criticism for most popular dystopias: there’s nothing about racial politics. And in the book, there’s little in the way of queer politics, though the show has improved on that a bit, if showing horrific executions of and FGMing queer women can actually be considered an improvement (which, no, and of course there’s still nothing whatsoever about transgender and nonbinary people). So The Handmaid’s Tale overall talks about how oppression works, but without showing the mechanisms that would (and do) apply in real life for marginalized people beyond the gender binary, it does fall a little short.

… Anyway. Avatar also has no racial or queer politics. And it can’t even be read through a feminist lens like The Handmaid’s Tale can. This is because in Avatar Land, women and men are equal.

Sure, Sokka makes a stupid comment about women being better at housework and men being better at warrioring and such, and we see his casual insistence that gender roles are real, unquestionable things manifest itself twice: first when he meets the Kyoshi warriors and his fragile masculinity is threatened, and then later more sinisterly in the Northern Water Tribe where women are not allowed to learn how to use their water bending for combat.

In “The Warriors of Kyoshi” Sokka gets all ruffled because the titular Kyoshi warriors are all girls, and they best him multiple times. But then he gets a crush and learns some things and wears makeup and a dress, and he apologizes to Suki for “treating [her] like a girl when [he] should have treated [her] like a warrior.” And she’s like, “Dude I’m both. Loser.” Anyway after that Sokka stops with the casual misogyny and starts being a bit of a fanboy – mostly for Toph and her metal bending skills.

But casual misogyny is alive and well when master Paku refuses to teach Katara combat water bending, because in the north it’s illegal for women to use bending to fight. This situation is solved because Katara is awesome, and the entire Northern Tribe obviously is like, “OK, sure, let’s change our super old customs immediately, that’s something we’re definitely all going to be cool with. Totes believable.”

OK so first, what gives, they edited a bunch of reaction shots and long pauses out 😦

Also, it’s not really that Katara’s already pretty impressive combat skills change Paku’s mind about accepting women pupils. It’s because he realizes that his prejudice is based on being bitter about how he was dumped by Gran-Gran five thousand years ago. She dumped him and moved to an entirely different pole because the Northern customs were too restrictive for her awesome self. This is what gets him to reevaluate his life choices.

And other than that, there’s nothing unequal about how men and women are treated.

Toph’s parents see her as helpless, sure, but it’s more because she’s blind than because she’s a girl. Would this work as well for us if Toph were a boy? Probably not, but that’s not because of the inherent constrictions of gender roles in Avatar Land, it’s because of our own cultural norms. If men, women, et al. were allowed to express themselves and perform their genders in whatever way they pleased, and if everyone were systemically equal, then we probably would read Toph as a blind boy exactly the same way we read her as a blind girl – but then blindness would not be read the same way either so that’s a whole other thing.

There’s also the case of Azula. She is the second of Ozai’s children but he likes her better, because she’s stronger, crueler, and more skilled. He makes her Firelord without even a question. Like in Moana, Azula’s gender is never, ever, brought up as something she has to struggle against in order to be taken seriously as a leader. She bests Zuko in their father’s eyes, but she also overcomes Long Feng and wins the loyalty of the Dai Lee even though she’s THE ENEMY NATION’S PRINCESS AND HEIR APPARENT! Like. They’ll sell their entire kingdom to the Fire Nation because they think her leadership is so great.

Korra is never told that she can’t be a good Avatar because she’s a girl. Time and time again people see her Avataring and later tell her, “Jesus, lady, you are a legend,” without ever qualifying it because of her gender. Even Zaheer, who wanted her wiped out, tells her years after their incredibly epic battle, “Uh, you should have died. There is no logical way you survived that. You kind of rock; have a self esteem boost on me.”

This is probably because when a nation or kingdom or tribe or republic starts backsliding and wants to force women to stick to traditional gender roles, someone like Katara shows up and challenges whichever dude is in charge to a duel, and as we see, gender has no bearing on how powerful someone’s bending is.

It’s important to note that performing what we see as traditional female gender roles does not make someone a bad female character, or a bad, gender-betraying, actual, real-life woman. Katara, who is a fierce warrior, is also a skilled healer, and eventually becomes the best healer in Avatar Land. Besides that, she also performs a lot of wife-work (the less exclusionary term feminists use for this type of work is “the mental load” but we like “wife work” for the moment to easily express what we mean – but here’s an excellent comic on the topic) and motherly support for her group of parentless children as they take on the Firelord. Her emotional and mental labour is central to her character and whenever someone mocks her for it, they usually get taken to task (see “The Runaway” for that). Perhaps the best depiction of Katara doing the wife work is in “The Desert” – as Aang has a gigantic breakdown because of Appa’s theft, Katara is left taking care of the Gaang. She’s even more on her own than she normally would be because her older brother is high on cactus juice – it’s the quenchiest. An incredible moment shows Aang, who is accusing everyone of being less invested in Appa than he is, demanding to know what Katara is doing lately for the group. You see her pause, close her eyes, inhale, and say, calmly, “Keeping everyone together.” What an amazing way of showing something like that. She never breaks down herself, she visibly stays strong, and yet there is no doubt in the viewer’s mind that she is under some serious pressure here. Katara is a LEGEND.

What’s more is that just because she’s motherly and sweet, she also gets to make mistakes and be kind of selfish sometimes. See her snapping at Aang for being a quick learner in “The Water Bending Scroll” or mocking Toph for not being able to see the stars in “The Chase” or everything that happens in “The Southern Raiders.” Katara is a really good example of how this show allows its female characters to be just as complex as the male characters. Katara isn’t defined by her combat skills or her nurturing or her occasional selfishness. She is all of these things put together, which makes her real in a way that a lot of characters, female or not, just aren’t, when the story they’re in isn’t letting them be.

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lin and sukuviraold tophkorrasamitoph and katara 2toph su and lindangerous ladies 2korrasami3

Anyway, we love it.

Avatar Land shows a lot of varied female characters which is one of the best things about the show. It shows women being nurturing as well as hard as stone, making mistakes, learning, and growing. It shows warriors, leaders, police chiefs, dictators, monarchs, villains, heroes, sisters, mothers, daughters, friends, and no one is screaming at them that they don’t belong in any one of these roles or that they should shut up because their words aren’t of value or that Avatar Land is a decaying society because we’ve allowed them to “fuck freely” or that their bodies don’t really belong to them after all as soon as some man is interested in them or if they get pregnant or that they need to smile more. Imagine some patronizing dick telling Azula, unsolicited, that she would look prettier if she smiled more.

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We know this meme is old, but this is the future that liberals want. And we maintain that it’s a pretty feminist move of the show’s creators to depict their world like this.

And that concludes 30 Days of Avatar! It’s been fun, guys.

Get it?

100 Books: July

Jan Feb March April May June

Since when is it August already. Not cool, passage of time.

All right. This month I liked pretty much everything I read but with caveats, and I’m not confident that my caveats are even worth mentioning because I don’t know if I’m just being extremely nit picky like when Three complained that the flying key scene in the Philosopher’s Stone movie wasn’t brightly lit like it specifically said it was in the book. If you read through my long and possibly over-critical thoughts and think I’m being ridiculous feel free to copy-paste this: “You are a ridiculous human being.” into the comments or into my twitter DMs because if required I would like to be checked. Thank you for your cooperation.

Trap Lines by Eden Robinson

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This had way too much animal cruelty and death, thanks. But Eden Robinson is still one of my favourites ever. This is a collection of short stories and it’s disturbing and fascinating and I could. not. look. away. Also one of the stories is an off-shoot of Monkey Beach which is one of the most haunting books I’ve ever read, so it was nice to revisit it in an equally haunting short story centering a different character this time. Just wow.

Nights of Rain and Stars by Maeve Binchy

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Well. I’ve never read Maeve Binchy before but from what I’d gathered she writes chick lit and is not to be taken seriously, so obviously I had to check her out.

The premise is that a bunch of people whose lives are a mess but who somehow have unlimited means for spending however long on vacation in Greece are on vacation in Greece and they become friends after they witness a tragedy and then their lives get fixed. So, I liked this book, but I did think it was overly saccharine and there’s a depiction of an abusive relationship that could definitely have been worse but I was raising my eyebrows a lot.

Of Power, Politics, and Pesky Poltergeists by JK Rowling

of power politics and pesky poltergeists

All right I really liked it, of course. It contained Umbridge and Peeves, who are my favourite villain and hero of the Potterverse, respectively. I just don’t know why I bought it when I could just have read it on Pottermore.

The Faerie Godmother’s Apprentice Wore Green by Nicky Kyle

the faerie godmother's apprentice wore green

This was a super-quick read and I recommend it fully to everyone everywhere, especially if you’ve never encountered an aro-ace character before. But I do have caveats.

So there are two main characters, the mainest of which is an aro-ace woman and she is also the Faerie Godmother’s apprentice of the title. The other is a young lesbian. Dea (the apprentice) is, I think, a really good character, warm and compassionate, but she’s also kind of playing into typical stereotypes of aro-ace people. I think this sort of thing can (and should!) be done, but then, I’m not aromantic and I don’t know how tiring it would be for me to read a story like this if I were. While I think it’s really important to have more characters be aromantic and asexual and for them to be also fully human characters and varied types of characters as well, it’s also really important to remember that we here IRL don’t live in a fantasy world in which being queer in whatever way automatically grants people magical powers and heightened abilities.

See. Like. I think what this story does is important, it’s just also important to note that it doesn’t 100% eschew a-spec stereotypes. And I don’t know if I’m communicating clearly enough that I whole-heartedly believe that it’s OK, and probably good, even, that it plays with those stereotypes the way that it does. But that’s what I think, whether I’ve explained it properly or not. Insert 20,000 crying emojis because I can’t express myself properly.

My only other caveat is that I think it’s a little too long. It’s already just a novella, but I think this would work a lot better as a short story trimmed of a lot of its description. But what do I know, really?

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee

tash hearts tolstoy

I loved this. One of two I loved without caveats this month.

The main character is asexual and it’s woven so well into the rest of the story that it just makes me happy. There’s also another male interest that I love and I think he beats out Clarent from Poison Kiss for my favourite male love interest this year. Also her female BFF was really refreshingly exhausting and trying and it was probably one of my favourite depictions of female friendship I’ve ever read, ever.

I just. Man. I wish I’d had this book when I was in high school. Or even in university. But at least I have it now.

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

uprooted

Sigh.

I liked it a lot but. Ugh.

I’ll start with the good: this was a fantasy and a very good one. I was somewhat recently under the impression that fantasy was stagnant and dull now but that was probably because the only fantasy I’d been engaging with at the time was HBO’s hilarious take on A Song of Ice and Fire. Anyway. This is one hell of a fantasy book written by a woman who is apparently a name in fantasy and I didn’t know that. The magic in it is really cool, the threat is really disturbing and gripping, the world it takes place in is different and fresh.

Buuuuuuuut I didn’t like the guy.

Well. I did, actually. It just would have been better if he and the main character hadn’t been a thing.

So he was like Snape but slightly nicer. And I know, Byronic heroes are everyone’s favourite romantic dudes, but not me, anymore, at least. After Deathly Hallows I definitely went through a phase, and it lasted more than a year, of really really liking Snape and thinking he was the most romantic thing ever. But then I thought about it some more and I also reread some of the previous books and remembered all of the times that he was an incredibly irredeemable bully of children.

That’s what makes Snape a great character. At the end, we learn about the best part of him, but it’s so easy to romanticize him after that because we romanticize pretty much every male character who displays trademark Snapeisms.

Snapeisms:

  • tortured
  • spurned
  • lonely, if you tilt your head and squint at him you’ll see it eventually, but it’s not at first apparent that he’s bothered by loneliness
  • not conventionally attractive (but still somehow conventionally attractive anyway) (I mean, have you SEEN the fanfic) (guys. he doesn’t even bathe. Like.)
  • cold
  • cynical
  • mean
  • verbally abusive
  • easy to anger
  • super smart
  • powerful
  • intimidating
  • makes everyone uncomfortable always
  • not fun to be around ever. at all. ever.

But for some reason everyone wants to have sex with these guys. IDK.

I understand the impulse to love a Byronic hero or to enjoy a Byronic romance or to write a Byronic romance, and I want to make it clear that my thing is a personal preference. But I do actually think that it’s important to acknowledge that these types of male characters are, and I shudder to use the word, problematic.

This became a lot clearer to me when I watched Happy-Go-Lucky. As a woman I’ve been conditioned to be patient with a jerk, but through media I’ve also been asked to romanticize them as well. Through a woman’s love and patience the jerk eventually changes. Well. That’s not what happens in Happy-Go-Lucky. I was shaken after watching it, because I realized that how that movie portrays a relationship (platonic, and freaking still) between a nice, compassionate woman and a total jerk is how 99% of these romanticized versions of this same relationship would go, if they were happening in real life.

JK Rowling gets it. That’s why she didn’t have Hermione end up with Snape because that would be FUCKIN’ GROSS, you guys. Snape is horrible, and also, not interested, but mostly, he’s horrible.

But here, Sarkan (their names are always stupid, too), “The Dragon,” (he has a pretentious title, as well), does end up with the girl. She’s a teenager. He’s over 150 years old. He points it out to her before they have sex, and she tells him to be quiet and then mentally is like, “Of all the excuses!”

Girl. GIRL.

The age difference I could look past, actually. Well. No. I’d need it to be more thoroughly addressed, because the fact that it gives him temporary pause doesn’t somehow magically make the serious power-imbalance OK. But the power-imbalance between these characters is beginning to be overcome by the time they have sex, so, fine. I could deal with it.

The verbal abuse not so much. The first half of the book, every time he talks to her he’s calling her an imbecile and/or yelling. There is never a moment where she deals with and overcomes the trauma that living with a verbally abusive teacher figure would cause her, because of course not. It wouldn’t work as a love story if we were being honest about what kind of impact being name-called and shouted at and made to feel inadequate and useless all the time would actually have on a little girl. And even near the end when they’re “dating” he isn’t being overly nice to her. There’s a part where she initiates affection right after the climactic battle by leaning on his shoulder and he “reluctantly” puts an arm around her.

FUCKIN’ GROSS.

Girl if he isn’t stoked to be with you get out of there.

So yeah. I liked Sarkan, The Dragon, as a character but holy god I wish their relationship had been a platonic teacher-student grudging respect blossoming friendship. She could have dabbled with someone else, someone who would actually appreciate her and treat her well and is her own age, romantically. Like Kasia.

The Awesome by Eva Darrows

the awesome

Sigh OK.

I liked it kind of. It was its own interesting version of sex positive, so that was nice to see. I don’t like how it discussed virginity at all, though. I think to be truly sex positive you need to have a better way of approaching the topic of no sex but maybe that’s just me being asexual and wanting everything to be about me.

It’s not, though. A little bit, yes, but still. The concept is that in order to go on vampire hunts with her mom, Maggie needs to have sex for the first time so that vampires won’t fly into a blood-lust frenzy at the scent of virgin blood. So. Upholding that virginity makes you physically a completely different person is kind of weird. In this case, it’s a good thing that you physically change after having sex, so my thing earlier about taking a stereotype and playing with it could be used against me here. But I think it’s a little different. I think ultimately if virginity is a real thing in your universe with real consequences, you’re still upholding all of the centuries-worth of weirdness about female virginity.

Then there’s the other side of it. Being pressured to have sex is not fun either. It’s sometimes life-destroying, and this is both men and women who deal with this shit. This is again me feeling really conflicted because I know this book isn’t telling people that they’re worthless for not having sex but there is still this whole thing to be aware of. I feel like virginity as a concept is just not the greatest thing to base a premise off of, ever, because it is so politicized and weaponized freaking always so without a heavy deconstruction of the concept added in, it’s really distracting. At least it is to me.

Also there are all of these rules about what constitutes loss of virginity. It has to be penile-vaginal sex, but if you’re a lesbian who hasn’t had sex with penis it’s OK but someone has to shove a whole hand in there or something. Or at least that’s what I gathered from the vague and yet still pretty obnoxious dialogue about the topic. And I don’t get that. I’m sorry, I’m one of those people who broods endlessly about the Unsullied having sex and flies off the handle when yet another person thinks that the stupid Podrick thing that happened years ago meant that he’s “well-endowed.” I think about these things a lot, OK, despite not being sexually attracted to people. I obsessed about it the whole time I was reading this book and I came away from it absolutely positive that the virginity thing was a major flaw.

I found the monster hunting stuff a little distracting as well, because they meet and befriend monsters along the way but reveling in the violence of killing their friends’ brethren is still a thing by the end. I like that the main character is morally gray, but I’m also a boring person who likes morality in any given universe to make a little bit of sense. If there had been more honest questioning of the violence I think I’d be less uneasy about it.

Then there were a lot of references to meat and they were all really obnoxious. More obnoxious than the “how a lesbian has to lose her virginity” dialogue. I’m inclined to raise my eyebrows at a meat reference anyway but these references were a rare shade of distracting. I think it was because she was calling the meat by the animal name, so, like, “dead cow” or “pig” rather than “burger” or “ham.” Ordinarily I’d hail that for not normalizing meat but I think it’s there to make it edgier, so, blah.

Finally, of all the YA this month this was the YAest of them, and I mean there was a lot of informal prose and quirky internal monologuing and I did get annoyed a little too often. But I’m not a teenager so again, what do I know? I’d try Monahan’s books for adults, I think, because she knows how to craft a story and keep interest but I think I’d prefer her writing without all the cutesy stuff.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

when dimple met rishi

First of all, I love the cover and I wish I looked that carefree drinking iced coffee.

mostly liked this one. I thought the romance was cute until I realized there was still half the book to go, and then there was a lot of PDA (like to the point where she was lying on top of him in front of his younger brother and I’m sorry but don’t do that, real people and fictional people alike) and then the final conflict, when it came, seemed a little bit forced because they’d already been together for so long that you’d think they’d have worked all of that out by now.

But. I recognize that it might be helpful to portray a relationship past the point where it starts occasionally, so I really wanted to like it more. Maybe it was just me.

Also, Rishi! Another great male love interest. Good. I’m glad. The world needs more of that. And unlike freaking Sarkan he is at least as if not more enthusiastic about their relationship than Dimple is so, yes to that.

The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan

the governess affair

Sigh. I love Courtney Milan.

It was short (another novella, gotta hit that 100 this year, man). But good. And I think I met the Brothers Sinister at the end so now I’m excited to read the series that this was the prequel to.

To start August right, here’s why I love Courtney Milan:

  • female character with complicated and valued relationships with family members
  • equally intelligent male and female love interests who revel in each other’s intelligence
  • male love interest who respects the fuck out of the woman, thank you
  • dude mansplains consent because it matters to him and he knows his stuff
  • funny courtship without verbal abuse, fancy that
  • economic realities made real and pressing and interesting to read about
  • cuuuuuuuuuuuuute

Happy August. Read some romance.

30 Days of Avatar: Boy Hero VS Girl Hero

Week 8: Aang VS Korra

Day 22: Boy Hero VS Girl Hero
Day 23: Consequences
Day 24: Limitations

Day 22 is for reluctance, confidence, gender identities, and hero moments.

All screenshots from Avatar Spirit.

Airbender

“Why didn’t you tell us you’re the Avatar?”

“Because… I never wanted to be.”

aang never wanted to be avatar

Korra

“What makes you so sure your daughter is the one?”

“I’m the Avatar, you gotta deal with it!”

Presented without comment.

OK, not really.

When it comes right down to it, Aang and Korra’s genders have nothing to do with their respective approaches to being the Avatar, and, even before that, dealing with finding out and accepting that they are the Avatar. HOWEVER, we thought it would be interesting to look at how Aang and Korra deal with being the Avatar in their different ways through the lens of their genders to make just a little teeny tiny point about representation.

In Book 1, Aang has two entire episodes that explore, either briefly or at length, that learning that he is the Avatar at such a young age really messed him up. Here are some various images of him moping:

aang mopingaang ashamedaang ashamed 2

This is not to say that he should just get over himself, because, of course not. He wasn’t just told too early for no reason. The monks decided to tell him four years before he turned 16 because Fire Lord Sozin was becoming an increasing threat, and they wanted to speed up the process of turning him into a fully realized Avatar so that they could take care of it.

So, you’re 12 years old, you’re told that the balance of the world is in serious peril, and you need to grow up fast and stop doing the things you enjoy and being around the people you love because it’s on you to deal with it. Of course he mopes.

Also, he runs away, and almost dies, and freezes himself for 100 years. While he’s frozen, his entire nation gets destroyed. So. Mope away, baby Aang. 😦

But there’s also the fact that Aang is reluctant to learn fire bending. Well. Not at first.

kataraburn1kataraburn3kataraburn4

After he accidentally burns Katara because he’s not being a respectful, patient student, he vows never to fire bend again. Guru Pathik helps him overcome this, as does Zuko, who understands that fire is dangerous and then some, but this whole thing is a pretty big deal.

And when Aang isn’t doing so well with earth bending, he just gets kind of sad and tries to avoid Toph.

Come to think of it, even when he’s trying to master water bending he’s more interested in snowman bending and playing with Momo.

And then there’s Korra.

Korra is a bending prodigy and never runs from a challenge. She struggles big time with air bending, but rather than mope about it like Aang would, she burns a bunch of stuff and yells in Tenzin’s face that she is bad at air bending because, 1. He’s a bad teacher, and 2. She doesn’t even need it anyway.

That goes away, of course, but she’s always determined to perfect her bending. She seeks out a metal bending tutor in Su Beifong, and is eager to learn how to use bending to purify angry spirits from Unalaq.

Later on she does reject the Avatar label, but that’s a conversation for another day.

How Korra is as a student and how Aang is seems pretty significantly different. She’s eager and determined, and easily, easily frustrated. Aang is fairly eager, but he’s more patient and at least slightly less determined than Korra is. A lot of that may be the age difference… but let’s look at how they both found out they’re the Avatar to begin with.

Aang is 12 when the monks tell him, Korra looks like a toddler and can already bend three elements. Korra was probably the first person in the world to realize that she is the Avatar and is clearly delighted by the prospect. Again, Aang has lots of reasons to not be so happy about it, and Korra definitely doesn’t at that young age. If Korra was growing up already on fantastic stories of Aang’s saving of the world, then why wouldn’t she be thrilled to discover that it’s her turn now?

Women getting to take on hero roles that were once mostly taken on by male characters is a thing now. It’s pretty contentious still for reasons that boggle the mind. There is some cynicism about it as well, like, the radical feminists are cautious about embracing female characters as role models and something to celebrate if they are just as violent and occasionally as fascist as your typical toxic masculine male action hero, also marxist critique would like to remind everyone that commercial art is commercial and rarely challenges the status quo in any meaningful way that will tear down capitalism or something, yadda yadda. Also, of course, it’s been mostly white women who get to do these hero things, and that needs to stop. Women of colour shouldn’t have to “wait their turn” or whatever it is that people are saying to try to justify why, if it isn’t a man, then it has to be a white woman. And we need plenty of characters representing men of colour as well. And that doesn’t even begin to discuss how there are genderqueer people who could use decent rep and trans women are still largely being played by cis men on screen which is absolutely ridiculous, and, really, men full stop could use more varied representation if we’re being honest. There’s a lot of good stuff that at least tries to detoxify masculinity if you look for it (we here humbly opine that Disney does it best) but we could always use some more.

But representation is seriously important. Last year, erm convinced Three to go and see girl Ghostbusters, and then this happened:

(the whole thing is good but it’s the Holtzman part especially, of course)

(just)

It’s hard to explain. A woman character doesn’t get to be cool like that unless she’s wearing something sexy and everything that’s happening has been choreographed specifically to enhance the sexiness. This was completely different.

Also this.

This is the scene making all the women cry in theatres. So.

We can talk about “commercial art” and “violence is bad,” but still, representation matters.

Korra’s declaration of Avatarness is really like a celebration of that. In the first series, we had a typical boy chosen one hero, with the weight of the world on his shoulders, and only he could bring back the balance. We’re not knocking it, it was great. But in the second series, rather than have another beleaguered chosen one, we instead get this prodigy, thrilled to be the Avatar. Also, she’s a brown girl, so there’s that.

This is her, trying out her Avatarness for the first time against a street gang and clearly enjoying herself:

Korra has a lot to learn, and her eagerness is mainly a thing that helps her character growth end up being really rewarding and interesting. And this is what pushes Korra as a female hero beyond just “the Avatar but a girl now,” because she does actually have to learn how to Avatar responsibly and not just stomp around declaring that she’s the Avatar. But still, it’s fun to watch her have fun.

Also, notice how Aang isn’t overly involved with Korra’s Avatar training the way Roku was with him? Partly it’s because she’s not great at spirituality, but once she opens up that block, we think it’s because he took a quick peek at how things were going with her, made this face:

intimidated aang

and then said, “Eh. She’s got it covered.”

100 Books: March

January. February.

I diiiiiiiid it.

OK I didn’t read 96 books this month. But I did read 10.

… all right so I cheated a little. Two of them I’d already read half of, one is a novelette, two are essays, and one is a 100-page kids book. But I consulted my sister (you remember hershe used to regularly contribute to this blog but then decided to be a full time student on top of being a full time employee as well as moving to the worst city known to humanity in which the zombie apocalypse, should it ever happen, will definitely be beginning in) and she said that short fiction (and short non fiction, I guess) is broadly defined as something you read in one sitting. So. I didn’t read even the shortest thing on this list in one sitting. Also, I’ve been reading JK Rowling novels in one sitting since the age of 11, so shut up.

Anyway next month I plan on reading an anthology so that has to count for something.

Here are the books I read in the order that I completed them.

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

the bluest eye

I hadn’t ever read a Toni Morrison book before and after reading this one, I was livid. I mean. I have an English degree. I took postmodernism and American lit and not once did a Morrison book show up on any of my syllabuses, which makes no sense. Did I really have to read The Sound and the Fury twice? Did I really need that terrible one about the sociopath accountant in my life? No, is the answer. Morrison is a titan. This book was extremely disturbing and I need some time before I revisit her.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

the hate u give

I and everyone else read The Hate U Give this month. I thought Thomas handled her difficult and extremely relevant subject matter very well, connecting one horrifying, life-altering encounter to Starr’s smaller experiences of everyday racism. This book has seen major success so far, and there will be a movie adaptation soon, so I hope this means it makes an impression on its young target audience.

The Story of Lamia and Pan by CM Blackwood

story of lamia and pan

This was like reading an old fairy tale – lots of gore, anger, and bitterness as well as magic and romance. The difference was that the protagonists were two women (well, one was a female elf, but still), and their romance was a supportive unity rather than the sort of thing you see with the girl and the king in Rumpelstiltskin, if you’d like one example of weird relationships we’re supposed to root for in fairy tales.

We Should All be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

we should all be feminiss

I deliberated over buying this one because early in the month Adichie implied that trans women aren’t real women, but I’m glad I read it ultimately. A lot of it was stuff I’d already read in all the think pieces all over the internet, but I think there was enough of a unique focus in here to make it worthwhile reading. Of course, I couldn’t help but notice all of the times she focused on the male/female binary, which is something I don’t think anyone can speak eloquently about if they misunderstand how that binary impacts the most vulnerable among us. I’ve got to find some trans rights stuff to read for next month.

Unicorns of Balinor: Secrets of the Scepter by Mary Stanton

secrets of the scepter

I used to love this series until Harry Potter happened and I forgot all about it, so I wanted to revisit to see what I used to enjoy. I wasn’t thrilled with it this time around. The characters were a little one-note and the adventure was lacking a bit. But it’s the story of a young woman on a magic quest to prove that she’s worthy of leadership, and I’m grateful that I and other kids had this story growing up.

Guns by Stephen King

guns stephen king

America.

Real quick:

***So I’m really excited about It, even if it is only part 1 (which is a huuuuge mistake imho. One of the biggest problems of the tv movie is that it split the kids’ and adults’ stories. In the book it all happens together and is WAY better mirrored like that but whatever.) because it is probably my favourite book ever and I’m really trying to temper my excitement because a) it’ll probably just be OK and b) the subject matter of “Guns” is very serious.***

This essay of King’s is sobering and very sad. There’s one part where he makes a false equivalency between Fox News and MSNBC – Fox and MSNBC are not two sides of the same spectrum. One is very significantly off on its own. But I appreciate what his point was in that part anyway. I just came away from this like I come away from anything to do with America’s gun violence problem: feeling completely hopeless.

Who Killed Edie Montgomery by CM Blackwood

whokilledediemontgomery

One that I started in 2016 and finally finished! So although I liked the ending that the protagonists got, I was less happy about the actual ending of the book (spoiler: the bad guy, being pretty much a demon, continues to do terrible things). Also, I would have preferred less of the long parties where everyone acts suspicious and shallow, and more Mary and Jessica, or more Mary sleuthing.

Two things about this book: One – Jessica is my favourite love interest this month. Chris in The Hate U Give mildly annoyed me a couple of times and Niko from Vengeance Bound was flipping insufferable. Jessica is just nice, and funny, and supportive. I wish I knew why YA male love interests have to be such jerks, but all I know is that Jessica wasn’t and it was much better that way. And two – Jessica’s murder scene, and everything to do with male violence against women, is somehow depicted here in a way that isn’t… gross? It’s hard to explain but here’s an easy example: Game of Thrones really likes to show rape and murder of women, and the times when they show rape and murder of men don’t, you know, fix that problem. It just makes it worse. Somehow they don’t know this. This book wants us to care about the female victims and it’s as shocking to me now as it was when I started reading what a difference that makes.

Our culture sucks.

Vengeance Bound by Justina Ireland

vengeance bound

This is like if Twilight had been much better, and somewhat less romance-focused. The writing is tighter, the main character is more interesting and more likable, her friends that she’s lying to are more interesting and likable, her love interest is slightly more likable (that’s not saying much, I know, but still), anytime violence against women is brought up it’s always a bad thing and not, you know, the main part of the romance, and the supernatural element is the female protagonist’s burden and it’s way cooler. Harpies > Vampires. It’s just the way it is.

The one thing I didn’t like was Niko, the love interest. He kept smiling wickedly which made me think of this:

wicked smile

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe there’s some stuff I should work through with a therapist. But honestly I think it’s just that generally, my 100 books this year so far are just not pulling their weight in making me care about who their protagonists care about. We’ll see.

Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson

monkey-beach

The other one I’d already read half of. This book was beautiful and haunting and I loved every minute of it. It’s my favourite this year so far and I wish I could adequately explain it. My review of the first half is a start, I guess.

Luna Station Quarterly, Issue 029

luna station quarterly 029

I don’t think a literary journal is cheating! This was a lot of fun. My favourites are probably “Sex After Fascism,” “Genie’s Retirement,” and “An Astronaut Lights a Candle.” I’m glad I found this journal and I think I’ll be going through their backlog soon.

April is calling. Hopefully I’ll like next month’s love interests a little better.

Since Katniss is mine, lemme clear some things up

revolution

In response to the many male critical voices who just don’t get it.

In which Bob Chipman argues that The Hunger Games codes the feminine as evil and the masculine as good, which is a thing movies have been doing for a long time:

The thing is, he’s completely right. He’s also argued recently on Twitter that The Hunger Games’ coding can be interpreted to suggest that the white, rural working class are the true heroes and the true victims of oppression while urban elites and effeminate fashionistas are actually evil. This would at least partially disqualify it from working as one of the cultural touchstone narratives that should have warned people against letting Trump get elected (others include Harry Potter and Star Wars, which are fine, but I seem to recall that Tatooine and Coruscant are making use of some coding and things as well but that doesn’t count apparently).

The Capitol is evil. The fashion and obsession with fashion demonstrated there are not the reasons why the Capitol is evil, but they are a part of the larger problem. The Capitol is evil because of how normal the Games are considered to be there.

Indulge me for a second; it’s shoehorn-in-some-animal-rights-stuff time.

This controversial post from a local Dog Rescue describes normalizing brutality for meat industry animals at Toronto’s Royal Winter Fair:

“What struck us most about the entire day was the sense of normalcy. Thousands of smiling visitors gazed adoringly at groups of tiny piglets, blind to the caged mother who stood in the corner, friends took group photos in front of chained cows while holding steak sandwiches, and crowds laughed and cheered as announcers joked that perhaps the pigs in the auction ring were squealing in terror because of the auctioneer’s bacon costume. It seemed as though none of these animals were viewed by guests as living creatures, but as products, photo-ops, and, in some cases, a joke. Making a spectacle of the suffering of animals and transforming it into a fun-for-the-whole-family event should not be considered a proud Toronto tradition. It should be considered a primitive black mark that a compassionate and civilized society must work together to remove.”

Imagine someone like Plutarch or Cressida, Capitol citizens, watching the Games year after year, knowing them to be wrong, horrified by how the media and average citizens are so willfully blind to the brutality. This could easily be a paragraph either of them would write on the Capitol’s version of Facebook while they watch the festivities leading up to the 74th Hunger Games, if they had been allowed to express a dissenting opinion without having their tongues cut out.

Fashion and obsession with fashion certainly play a role in the Capitol’s normalizing of spectacle child murder. But these things are more like distractions that would be considered completely benign if it weren’t for the Games, the fascism, the poverty, and the oppression Capitol citizens are ignoring and facilitating while they focus on what loud colour to die their hair (or skin) next.

The movies admittedly let the coding do the work for them, but Katniss’s inner monologue reminds us that the real mechanics the Capitol uses to normalize the Games are the celebrity culture and worship, in which Capitol citizens drool over the tributes while they live and drool over them while they die brutal deaths at the hands of other oppressed children.

Celebrity worship is a thing everyone does. When it’s men worshiping sports stars (heterosexually, of course) we don’t really equate it to women (and effeminate men, because you’d have to be an effeminate man if you care about non-sports celebrities, amirite) following whoever in gossip columns, but it’s all the same. The Hunger Games, I tentatively argue, meshes the two together, as everyone sits back and watches in anticipation as the tributes are graded based on their athletic abilities and survival skills. Capitol citizens don’t just love the tributes because of how their stylists dress them, but also because of their physicality. Remember that the two most prosperous Districts have special academies for kids to train in until they’re 18, at which point they volunteer. Their athleticism and weapons-mastery are required to make it a good show.

Of course, the fact that sports-worship is meshed in to the rest of celebrity worship in these stories still doesn’t change how fashion and celebrity worship are considered by culture to be feminine things and therefore perpetual targets for mockery and hatred. Here’s where The Hunger Games changes things up in this regard.

Katniss makes use of both fashion and celebrity worship to become The Mockingjay, beginning the revolution that will end the Capitol’s tyranny. She doesn’t do these things actively, because she’s Katniss. All Katniss wants to do is live in the forest and shoot things with her bow. Unfortunately she has greatness thrust upon her, literally at times, by Cinna, one of the most celebrated stylists in the Capitol.

Yes, Cinna’s clothes are comparatively muted (just look at Effie). But he does wear gold eyeshadow for special occasions, and his work is adored by the excess-loving Capitol citizens as much, and often more than the louder designs by his peers. This is probably because as a highly fashion-conscious people, they can appreciate the beauty in something more simple than what they are used to, they will love something that is to them novel, and they can certainly appreciate the statement of clothing catching fire (even if they don’t see it as a call to arms as the rest of Panem does). I even remember one moment in Catching Fire (the novel) in which Katniss’s prep team listen very respectfully, and even reverently, as her mother teaches them how she does Katniss’s trademark braid. Katniss is impressed by this, and it’s one of those moments that makes it clear that the problem is not how excited these people are about fashion and celebrities, but rather that it’s all they care about. They never consider, because of their privilege, that basic human rights and human dignity are being denied to the people in the Districts. The resentment Katniss and her peers have about their fashion and celebrity culture grows directly out of that real concern. To me, that’s less about slamming American urban culture for being too wrapped up in, well, urban culture to know what the concerns of “real America” are, and more about illustrating through this one particular allegory how the privilege afforded to those with wealth, and, underneath everything else, the privilege afforded to those who were lucky enough to be born in the Capitol, and not in a District being harshly oppressed by the Capitol, requires that people be given spectacles to keep them from thinking too hard about any of the systems that make them so lucky at the expense of others.

The Hunger Games is not deliberately apolitical. It is making a deliberate statement about how privilege works. I’ve seen it argued that it’s an indictment against American imperialism, and I think that’s probably the “most correct” way of reading the Capitol/District dichotomy. That still leaves the coding in the films especially but it’s certainly there in the books too. And if people are going to take advantage of the lack of spectrum politics to declare that their people and way of life are the real ones being oppressed because they dress like Katniss and coal mining is a thing, well, that’s just life imitating art. People are using The Hunger Games, a story about an upper caste using spectacles to distract them from the human cost of their affluence and power, as a spectacle to distract them from how their actions and inactions will hurt those in worse states of vulnerability than them. This is why we need to teach critical thinking in elementary and high schools. And all the time. Always.

So back to fashion and celebrity culture in The Hunger Games: there’s also the fact that Katniss genuinely loves the outfits and costumes that Cinna makes for her Being from District 12, she appreciates both how the Capitol’s citizens will interpret her outfits and how the people at home and in the other districts will. When her wedding dress burns and transforms into a Mockingjay costume, her role as the revolutionary hero is cemented. Fashion, typically a tool used in the Capitol as a distraction from their brutal government, is co-opted and used against them, encouraging people rigidly separated to unite, and people who would rather ignore the underside of the Capitol to face it honestly.

And real quick: the fire is activated by twirling. TWIRLING. There is nothing girlier than twirling.

Celebrity worship is the other part of this, and Katniss and her various handlers certainly makes use of it as well. Katniss believes that there are better contenders for the Mockingjay role. She thinks Johanna would have been great, as she is loud and impossible to ignore. Peeta, though, is the real contender. He can make anyone believe anything and is highly likable. Still, the role has fallen to her, awkward, sort of prudish, constantly deer-in-headlights Katniss. There are layers to why it has to be her:

  • because it all started when she volunteered for Prim
  • and then the riots all started because she stopped playing the role of survivalist competitor in order to grieve for Rue, breaking the illusion of the Games and calling District 7 to action
  • and then she defiantly threatened to commit suicide with Peeta because it was the one act of true rebellion she was actually capable of as well as the only opportunity she has to save her own life as well as someone else’s
  • Cinna put her in a dress that looked like it was on fire
  • Peeta told the entire country that he was in love with her and thus everyone else fell in love with her
  • Snow decided she was his number one target (villains need to stop doing this. I’m looking at you, Voldemort. And the Peacock from Harry Potter and the Kung Fu Panda 2)
  • Cinna put Katniss in the fairy tale wedding dress everyone in the Districts knew to be a lie, only for the country to watch it burn into a Mockingjay costume
  • The alliance of the victors decided Katniss was their priority
  • Plutarch was like, “Yup, she’ll do.” And then he kept insisting.

Most of these layers have little to do with Katniss herself. Also, those layers that are just Katniss doing things because she must, or because she is self-righteously compelled to, are only as powerful as they are because the Capitol is filming and displaying her every move. Katniss spends most of the trilogy (quadrilogy if we’re talking the movies) deeply traumatized and damaged, sometimes physically as well as mentally. I’ll never forget how the opening of Mockingjay: Part 1 is a traumatized Katniss hiding in the dark, trying to remember what she knows for sure. And Mockingjay: Part 2 begins with the neck brace coming off, and I can’t express how horrifying it was to hear her try to talk for the first time. How many times in Part 2 does the movie pause to zoom in on Katniss’s injuries? Katniss faces the consequences of being made into a myth, which has been a joint effort but mainly the work of other people, more talented, strategic, and charismatic than her.

And thus, by Katniss herself and by other players who are better at the game, celebrity culture and fashion obsession are both co-opted to wreck the Capitol.

To be clear: the coding is still there, and Katniss’s outfits are not quite comparable to the things Effie and the like wear, but The Hunger Games can’t be easily dismissed as having just lazily used the most typical and problematic shortcut to designate good and evil in the book since black hats and white hats.

So the urban versus rural thing.

PSA: I am not an expert in any way, shape, or form. I’m still going to talk about it though because lol

District 12 are coal miners. This fact and the very muted fashion choices 12’s inhabitants have to make really do seem to invoke the city elite versus working class rust belt type disaster that apparently helps to elect Donald Trump.

This is because, yes, that’s what Suzanne Collins is doing.

I can’t really back up that claim because I haven’t asked her personally, but I’m going to assume that because she’s an American, the huge divide between urban and rural is a thing that she is hyper-conscious of. Creating a distopia where people are divided into classes geographically is certainly going to make the rural/urban divide the prudent choice for which obvious real-life class divide your fictional universe will resemble.

On the other hand, the District system is not the only vision of class divides and class warfare that we see in the books (and films, briefly). The Avoxes live among the Capitol citizens, waiting on them silently because their tongues have been cut out. The Capitol has found a way to dehumanize a group of people so as to justify using them as slaves. Some of the most horrific stuff that we see in the books has to do with the Avoxes (I’m recalling Peeta talking about listening to Capitol soldiers torture an Avox for information even though he couldn’t talk), and Katniss herself ponders more than once how horrible it would be to be made into one, empathizing with the Avox waiting on her.

So while poverty more like what we see in urban environments is not the focus of this story, disenfranchisement happens in plain sight in the Capitol. People are not automatically safe in the Capitol just because they’re in the Capitol. In fact, there’s a certain freedom in living in the Districts. Katniss feeds her family by hunting illegally beyond the electric fence. She sells to Peacekeepers who should be turning her in, but they don’t, because otherwise they wouldn’t get their occasional squirrel meat. This kind of liberty couldn’t possibly work in the Capitol.

I’ve read the argument that because these stories are “deliberately apolitical” anyone can decide to identify with the oppressed Districts – for example, a reasonably well-off white person could identify with Katniss’s struggle against those liberal elites in their cities. I actually like the lack of politics here (I am pretty political, but I feel like if you had the chance to defeat your tyrannical President who hosts an annual child murder fest, arguments about whether to set up a capitalist society or a social democracy or something more like communism would be sort of a secondary concern). I would argue that although there isn’t any invoking of the economic spectrum of left vs right, the Capitol is very clearly a fascist regime, and as fascism is about more than money (read: identity), we don’t need the Districts to be clearly identified as poor, oppressed progressives in search of a socialist democracy. We know they’re poor and starving, and we know that every year they face the prospect of their children being taken away for slaughter. We don’t need more than that.

Identity politics do happen in these stories, but it’s a tad subtle and race politics don’t really happen at all. I fully acknowledge that Collins could have been a little more careful with her handling of race and diversity. All of the main players are white in the movies for sure, which does make the larger oppression narrative a little less relevant to the real world it’s supposedly speaking to. In the books, District 12, which is racially homogeneous, could be any number of things: Katniss has dark hair, olive skin, and green eyes. To me, that suggests that 12 is a mix of all sorts of ethnicities. Because all of the Districts are racially homogeneous, racism isn’t really at play. It probably will be after the revolution, when all of these people forced together out of necessity have to start living with each other peacefully, but during the timeline we have it isn’t a thing. Misogyny, too, isn’t really at play. The Capitol is not a nightmare vision of the patriarchy. But identity politics happen nonetheless. And I will show you.

So the thing about woman heroes…

Think about The Lord of the Rings. There aren’t many women. One of the women is actually a spider. There is one woman who gets to do cool, violent things, but she’s also hopelessly in love with some guy who couldn’t care less and then she randomly falls in love with a different version of that guy and declares out loud that she’s giving up shield-maidening to be the wife of a steward. Fun times. (To be clear, I love Faramir, but gah.)

Think about Star Wars (the original three and the prequels. I don’t know what’ll happen in these new ones). Leia is amazing but a huge huge huge part of her story is being in an antagonistic love story with Han. I’d go so far as to say that the part of Han’s story that is being in an antagonistic love story with Leia is comparatively much smaller, because Han has Chewy to be friends with, Luke to disappoint or impress, and his own motivations in life to reconsider. Leia nes pas.

Amidala is my favourite. She deserved better than Padmé and stupid-face’s stupid-faced “love” story. But that’s what she got.

Think about Harry Potter. Hermione is one of the best things in the known universe and the most important female character in the Potterverse, but she’s also one half of the major romance of that series. And I love it. But. Romance.

There is nothing wrong with romance.

But there’s a reason Merida from Brave is so special, and a reason that the ending of Frozen, which, while it does include romance, emphasizes female familial love above all else, is so special. And that is because female characters usually have to do romance things.

Male characters, not so much. Luke kisses his sister and that’s it. Frodo is ace for life, or maybe he’s just hopelessly in love with his straight BFF but we never have to watch him brood about it. Harry and Ginny sure, but that’s barely a thing in the books and even less of a thing in the movies. And when female characters find themselves as protagonists, usually they’re the protagonists in what is, above all else, a love story.

Katniss, who very well may be asexual, is definitely starring in a love story, but the romance takes a back seat. In the first book, Katniss is positive that everything Peeta says to her is for the cameras. That’s why when Seneca Crane announces, “Whoops, you know how we said you could both be the winners if you made it to the end together? Well, never mind,” Katniss immediately whips out her bow. In the movie, I notice, she pulls out her bow at the beginning of the announcement, but in the book she very clearly intends to fight Peeta to the death, because she is naively sure that he intends to do the very same thing.

On the train home she discovers that Peeta actually did love her this whole time. Oops. Double oops, because the next book finds them barely speaking but having to pretend the fairy tale romance is a very real thing because unrest in the Districts. Triple oops, because it turns out Katniss’s BFF Gale actually loves her too. Quadruple oops, because it turns out that Katniss could really use Peeta’s presence and support the whole time so they have to sleep in the same bed for months but she isn’t sure how she feels about any of this because she does like Gale, but she does like Peeta, but she doesn’t like either of them like that (maybe) and she definitely doesn’t want kids because they might end up reaped. Quintuple oops, because the Capitol will basically force a Katniss/Peeta wedding whether they want to or not and can apparently HIJACK HER REPRODUCTIVE ORGANS to ensure that she has a baby and you’d better believe that baby will end up as tribute because the Capitol would just LOVE that. Sextuple oops because while we were worrying about all of that stuff a lot of other things happened and they’re both back in the arena again fighting against each other because they are both bound and determined that the other one is the sole survivor, but this is just platonic, maybe, but now there’s a kiss and it actually makes Katniss feel things she hasn’t felt before. Septule oops, Gale will be sad because Katniss kissed him once out of pity. Octuple oops, the Capitol got Peeta and psychologically tortured him into hating Katniss and now he feels an uncontrollable urge to kill her when all he’s been doing this whole time up until now is trying to protect her. Novuple oops, turns out even that madness can’t stop Peeta being primarily motivated by making out with protecting Katniss. Dicuple oops, they end up together with kids because the war is over. And Gale sucks.

So. Look, I don’t know what to do with that summary of the romance in these books that I just made apart from reiterating that while romance is definitely there, and it is definitely a much bigger thing in the books than in the movies, it is not the defining thing. Katniss’s love triangle choice is not like Bella Swan’s between a freezing cold statuesque douche canoe and a boiling hot statuesque used-to-be-nice-but-is-now-a douche canoe, which is to say that it isn’t the centerpiece of the story, and the choice is a lot more intertwined with the themes. I used to know what Peeta and Gale represented, respectively. I seem to recall that Peeta represented a safe and secure future, and Gale represented an unsafe, unstable present, but those divides are clearer in the books and I haven’t reread them lately. In the films it’s less obvious because the romance was less featured.

What I do know for sure is that Katniss’s inner monologue allows for The Hunger Games to use romance tropes, and it allows us to enjoy them, but it also critiques them. The Capitol is enraptured with the romance between Katniss and Peeta but it’s a complete lie. They don’t actually get together until well after the war is ended. The Districts watch the romance play out and they don’t believe it for a second. It’s only those close to Peeta and Katniss who suspect that there might be a modicum of truth to the romance. Everyone else knows that Katniss didn’t offer Peeta the berries because she would rather die than live without him (cooooooooough New Moon).

forbidenfruitforbidenfruit2

Apart from enduring a love triangle she did not want, pursue, or enjoy, Katniss gets to play out female power fantasies that are really intriguing. Because Peeta makes Katniss desirable by confessing that he’s always loved her on compulsory TV, Katniss becomes something of a sex symbol. Her flaming dresses don’t hurt either in this regard. But she paradoxically reads to others as being “pure.” Johanna apparently strips in the elevator in front of Katniss, Peeta, and Haymitch because Johanna knows what kind of a reaction it will get out of pure, incorruptible Katniss. The twirling conveys innocence, the fire conveys lust and power, the offering forbidden fruit to a male love interest conveys original sin but it is revolutionary in exactly how NOT motivated by sex or romance the act is.

Peeta tells everyone Katniss is pregnant in book two as an attempt to get the 75th Games called off, but it doesn’t work. In book three, Katniss and Peeta are pitted against each other in a propaganda war. Charismatic Peeta tells everyone to calm down and stop revolting. Katniss, who has, supposedly, suffered a miscarriage, stands resolute and calls for open rebellion.

In the background, Katniss is described as being moving only when she’s being genuine and empathetic. She’s also described as being psychologically broken and emotionally volatile. She describes herself as being bad at making friends, and not a nice person. But look at her with Prim, and even her mother as she begins to forgive her. She is a gentle and loving nurturer, but she also thinks with her heart (dangerous and impractical in the efficient District 13) and can’t be trusted to follow orders.

She kills animals for food and when it comes down to it, she kills other tributes in the Games. But she is squeamish about wounds, admiring her “delicate” sister and mother because they aren’t bothered by a bit of pus.

In the midst of being offered up as a sacrifice to the bloodthirsty appetites of an oppressive ruling class, she gets a genuine kick out of wearing pretty clothes.

She gets to play a lot of different roles as a woman with power, but it is the innocent, sexless version of herself that wields the most power in the end. What is nice is that even though eventually she always has to return to the inhuman Mockingjay symbol, along the way, she gets to play with fire. Reading the book, it’s almost always clear that the real Katniss is there under the outfit and the makeup. This dichotomy is not new for female characters (the one that immediately springs to mind is Hannah Montana) but The Hunger Games does a lot of interesting things with it, and I rarely see it get credit for that.

It’s been argued that a character like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider is just like any male protagonist, but female. It’s a difficult argument to chew on and I definitely think it has some merit, but the reason I briefly bring it up here is to point out that Katniss Everdeen cannot be honestly read like that. She isn’t a male action hero in female skin. She is very, very clearly a young woman. It is the character’s very rich, complicated performance of her gender that proves that.

Having the female protagonist live through multiple and contradictory female-specific power fantasies and romances that both are and aren’t romantic is huge. Trust me, girls didn’t just love The Hunger Games because Team Gale or Team Peeta and JLaw. Though we did of course enjoy those things.

The ending of The Hunger Games is a lie and pointless and blah blah blah

If you’ve decided that coding the feminine and the urban as evil is disqualifying, and that the setup for class warfare is woefully lacking economic progressive politics, and for reasons relating to identity politics you are less inclined to notice when a female character gets to do new and exciting things beyond romance and also gets to quietly discuss the multiple and contradictory realities of the female existence, you will probably have misread the ending of this series.

Let me help you.

So District 13 shows up in a surprise move at the end of book 2. They’ve been fighting a rebellion for decades – indeed, they’ve never stopped fighting ever since the Capitol nuked them underground. But now, as their reproductive abilities are visibly slowing down and the Mockingjay has stirred up rioting in the Districts, 13 has a chance to unite the other Districts and end the war.

To end the war, President Coin bombs a bunch of Capitol children, swiftly followed by the second, deadlier blast killing the medics and everyone else who rushed in to aid the children, using a Capitol plane. You see, war crimes are OK if your politics are basically utilitarianism gone extreme.

Coin then proposes a democratic vote on one final Hunger Games, this time with Capitol children, because if they do this, then the oppressed Districts will be less inclined to yell and scream for vengeance against every Capitol official ever. 23 Capitol children will die, many more will be spared. She has completely missed the irony of her suggestion, even though Beetee and/or Peeta points it out to her.

So Katniss pretends to go along with it so Coin will let her execute Snow. But Snow is dying and he has lost the war and Katniss knows this. Her real goal is to assassinate Coin.

The misreading of this states that The Hunger Games goes for lazy nuance by suggesting that both sides are equally evil, like any given episode of South Park. The mechanism of the misreading is that you are comparing Coin to Snow.

Snow is a fascist who lost the war, lost power, and is succumbing to a fatal illness. Coin is the utilitarian version of a fascist (… whatever that is). The reason she doesn’t make a lot of sense (besides the fact that the whole apolitical aspect makes her arc rather clunky, admittedly) is that she isn’t really meant as an alternative to Snow. She is instead a foil to the entire revolution.

Recall that Katniss started the revolution simply by volunteering as tribute in Prim’s place. Reinforcing the revolution was Rue’s death. There are plenty of images of older women sacrificing themselves for younger women. Mags volunteers for Annie and then sacrifices herself for Peeta, for Katniss. Johanna puts herself in danger multiple times to save or protect Katniss. Cressida places herself between Jackson’s gun and Katniss. In the movie, the Leeg sister who doesn’t get injured chooses to stay with her injured sister and they die together.

Coin deliberately sends Prim to the front lines, knowing that once the children are bombed, Prim will rush in and be killed in the second blast. Coin kills the younger sister to end all younger sisters, and she does this specifically to psychologically destroy Katniss, another younger woman, so that Katniss will fall in line and support her in the first democratic elections.

We are not supposed to compare Coin and Snow. We are supposed to compare Coin and Katniss.

What Coin will do to secure her own power is exactly the opposite of what Katniss does at the beginning of the uprisings. Katniss sacrifices herself, even though she is the breadwinner of the family, because her little sister is worth doing the impractical and right thing for. The spirit of the rebellion is that little girls are worth sacrificing ourselves to protect, because they are the future we have to safeguard. Practicality and pragmatism are for nothing if we can’t save them. That is bold and naive and beautiful. Coin is a traitor to her little sisters, to her gender, and to the rebellion, and she must die.

The bitter end

And that is where we are. I, an older sister, feminist, and awkward lady, will take my perfect awesome hero girl, thank you. I don’t have that many to choose from, but Katniss is more than enough.

I Want: Our Guide to Disney Princess Songs

Disney Princesses are much maligned in modern pseudo – feminist clickbait. Here on 0wlmachine, we spend a disproportionate amount of time defending these young ladies based on a guiding principle of our lives, which, simply, is to not police the minds and bodies of women. As far as we’re concerned, the wants and feelings of any girl are exactly as legitimate as they need to be and no, these princesses are not bad role models (and in fact, the very concept of role model characters is damaging and deeply flawed and simply a buzzword used when trying to judge girls for their own supposed best interests).

On that note, today we’re going to have an I Want party! Let’s celebrate the girls of Disney and how their dreams came true.

The “I Want” song is a traditional part of any musical in which the leading lady sings about what she wants out of life. Most Disney princesses have one, and that’s what we’ll be celebrating today.

Snow White

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs: I’m Wishing

Snow wants a prince. She’s the kind of girl who knows exactly what she wants and isn’t afraid to say it sing it.

Some may tell you that having a prince isn’t an ambition worthy of a girl such as Snow, but those same people are probably turning around and judging women who never marry or have children. You’re supposed to want a prince, but you’re not supposed to say it.

Okay, sorry, this was supposed to be a positive post. Snow dreams of a prince and the one she gets is as good a prince as any, saving her from eternal slumber and also looking freakishly childlike just like she does. Congrats on your prince, Snow!

Cinderella

Cinderella: A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes

Cinders doesn’t even bother telling us WHAT she wants – just that she wants something. If she tells you, that will spoil it. Awfully convenient, Disney.

Actually, this is probably reinforcing the point of Cinderella, which is that if you wait patiently you’ll get what you deserve. Cinders never complains, and that is her virtue. Boo. Cinders could learn something from her predecessor.

But as we know from actually watching the movie, Cinders has a crappy life and it seems pretty obvious that the dream/wish her heart makes is about leaving her abusive stepfamily. And since these are olden times, she probably intends to do that by landing a dude, because it’s not like she can just go out and get a job, is it?

She married the richest man in town and got away from the Tremaines. Get yours, Cinderella.

Aurora

Sleeping Beauty: Once Upon a Dream

This one’s less of a Want and more of a “I had a dream about a guy oh look a guy.” But let’s remember for a moment that Aurora is a young woman growing up in a forest being only vaguely aware that other people exist probably. Of course she will dream of romance. Just because the man she meets isn’t Joffrey Baratheon, we condemn Aurora for wanting to fall in love. This is harsh. Most of us planned to fall in love when we were 16, and some of us even sang about it in a forest. Probably the wildlife was less co-operative, but we tried. And we are happy that Aurora met her literal dream man! Sort of. He’s kind of sleazy. But hey, they can’t all be winners.

Ariel

The Little Mermaid: Part of Your World

This is the I Want song to end all I Want songs. We tentatively believe that Disney will never animate a Princess Want more powerful than this one right here. It’s the Let it Go of I Wants.

Ariel wants something, all right. And it’s not Eric, although truly, Eric is a great guy and we wouldn’t blame her. But she hasn’t met him yet, so this isn’t about a guy.

Ariel wants, desperately, to be part of the human world. And just as importantly, she wants her father to love her and respect her wishes instead of just dismissing everything she says. The reason this song is so powerful is because it’s something that rings true for all young people – we want to gain control of our own identity.

Ariel had a rough time of it, but we’re sure as hell happy that she made this happen for herself.

Belle

Beauty and the Beast: Belle (reprise)

Belle wants adventure in the “great wide somewhere.” Good luck with that, Belle – you’re just going to spend your life in a local castle.

Credit where credit is due though: we love Belle (the song) as much as any red-blooded millenial and we of course know all the words. We also find this animation to be gorgeous, and we obviously relate to Belle not wanting to marry Gaston because… yeah.

The true power of this want is the fact that Belle voluntarily gives it up in an extreme way, condemning herself to be a prisoner for life. Just like Triton destroying Ariel’s cavern of human things, the following events are all the more powerful from the context of Belle’s true want.

Pocahontas

Pocahontas: Just Around the Riverbend

Like Belle, Pocahontas doesn’t want to marry the guy she’s currently been offered, and also, wants some sort of adventure.

A pattern emerges here, and we don’t think it’s a bad thing. So many of these girls are wishing for their lives not to be predetermined, and to be able to have exciting experiences and to forge their own path and identity. In a way, these wants are the princesses’ way of weighing in on the problem everyone else knows they have, and that’s a really interesting step towards liberating the female character.

So with that in mind, Pocahontas (and Belle, and Ariel) wants to break free of her cultural narrative and do her own thing. We are 110% behind you, even if your movie IS a total train wreck.

Mulan

Mulan: Reflection

Wrapping up the Renaissance, Mulan is yet another woman whose want is to break a cultural mold. And even more so than the other three ladies before her, this girl gets it DONE. And she becomes a national hero, because she’s Mulan.

But for now, she’s a sad youth who feels the pressures of being forced into a cookie cutter of a society that only wants one thing from you.

Let’s all congratulate Mulan on being the most bad ass person ever and also for finally feeling comfortable in her own skin!

Tiana

The Princess and the Frog: Almost There

Tiana knows how to dream. Even Dr. Facilier thinks so. Her want is the most specific, and the most ambitious, and the most respectable by cultural norms, which is probably why everyone conveniently forgets she exists when they bang on about Princess movies.

What’s truly interesting about Tiana and her want is that the movie is about wants VS needs and how wants aren’t exactly what you should strive for. This may be the best example we know of a story taking a hardworking woman and reminding her to live and enjoy her life, without going too far and suggesting that women should only care about love and family. Tiana does indeed get her want, but she learns that above all else, she needs a loving support system in her life. Blue skies and sunshine guaranteed.

Rapunzel

Tangled: When Will My Life Begin

This is a serious contrast to Tiana. Rapunzel brings back the pattern of wanting autonomy and adventure, but most importantly, she wants to see the floating lights.

Let’s not write this off. Leaving the tower for the first time in her life, to realize an 18-year-long dream, is a real want, especially for children’s fiction. On top of that, the lanterns represent discovering who she is and returning home, and although Rapunzel doesn’t know that yet, she feels like they’re meant for her.

This is a song about wanting to discover yourself, and this is exactly the kind of thing we believe children’s characters should be all about. Rapunzel, by way of being kind and positive and optimistic, finds her happy ending, and this movie is a really fun watch because of it.

Anna

Frozen: For the First Time in Forever

This isn’t Elsa’s want (unless Elsa’s want is just for nothing to go wrong that day), but it is Anna’s. Anna is very excited about seeing other humans, dancing, and – this is key – meeting a guy.

Like Aurora, Anna is an isolated young person who’d like to have a social life. She dreams of romance,  and why shouldn’t she?

Oh right, because of Hans.

Special shout out to the men who have “I Want” songs:

Aladdin: One Jump Ahead (reprise)

Aladdin wants to be seen as more than a street rat, we assume. We have to assume because he doesn’t exactly say it, he just begrudges the way he is treated. Fair enough, though.

The Lion King: Just Can’t Wait to be King

Simba wants to be king. He is the poster child of specific ambition, and also of “be careful what you wish for.”

The Hunchback of Notre Dame: Out There

Quasimodo wants to go outside.

Hercules: Go the Distance

Hercules wants to find a place where he belongs. This is similar to Rapunzel’s – she knows what small step she wants to take, and deep down she understands that this means she will unlock her identity.

***Next time! We’ll talk about some of the more recent “I Want” songs and how they’re kind of a cruel irony, like Yzma’s dependence on Kronk.