I Read the Internets – 1/13/07

After last week’s comparative drought, I have a deluge of internets for you all this week. First up, the Ninth Feminist SF Carnival is up at League of Substitute Superheroes. Lots of good stuff has been collected together, as always – go check it out! And if you dig the Feminist SF Carnivals as much as I do, please consider getting in touch with Ragnell about hosting one: ragnellthefoul[AT]hotmail[DOT]com.

If you enjoy reading smart essays about sci-fi and fantasy and whatever other pop culture things you’re into offline, too, you might be interested in a line of books I found out about this week: SmartPop Books. They have a lot of intriguing titles, and, better yet, some essays available for free download (or perusal online, if you don’t mind loading .pdfs in your browser window). I only had time to read one essay there this week, and while I found that I disagreed with many of the claims the author was making, it was still an enjoyable read, and I intend to go back for more (the essay was “To Sir, With Love,” by Joyce Millman, regarding Severus Snape, if you really want to know).

It was a pretty good week on the internets for feminist analysis of film. Lake Desire had some things to say about Nanny McPhee on both the Official Shrub.com Blog and Feminist SF – The Blog!:

Nanny McPhee is illustrative of the greater, often unsaid expectations of children and women in this culture. The children’s world is defined by adults, and they’re punished for stepping out of it, much like women are punished for deviating from their gender roles. It’s even more telling that these subtle messages are in a children’s movie, where lessons on maintaining the status quo start young.

Also at Feminist SF – The Blog!, Ide Cyan was not happy about the gendering of tools in The Sarah Jane Adventures:

Why is she defined, here, by giving her sonic “screwdriver” such a gendered form of camouflage as lipstick? Why not a pen? Something connected to her profession? Something that doesn’t have to be uncapped in times of emergency?

Why give a woman a Sonic Lipstick on a series aimed at children, whose other principal character was a young girl?

I don’t find it cute. At all. I find it insulting, and insidious.

At Faux Real Tho!, Lauren explores the relationship between a particular kind of Nice Guy and action movie heroes:

This brand of Nice Guy desperately wants all the world to shower him with appreciation for all of his niceness. He also wanted the world to see his inherent potential as a deeply dramatic, deep, deep guy, who really cares, who cares so much he would do anything “” anything! “” for his family and “real” friends. (Unreal friends are those who don’t appreciate his awesomeness.) And he really wants you to see that. Save the Day Guyâ„¢ is just like the hero in the movies. Just like, I don’t know, every lead character Mel Gibson has immortalized on the big screen.

If you’re interested in the whole Nice Guy thing (especially if you happen to be a guy, and are wondering wtf is wrong with being a nice one), a LiveJournal post by gunderpants, “dating tips a la gun,” might be of some interest to you.

Elsewhere on LiveJournal this week, monkeycrackmary wrote about why she hasn’t shut up yet about wanting to see more strong female characters, and Sara Frost discussed the ways in which some supposedly-threatening female characters are terribly weak [post since deleted]:

What I’m concerned about is that these female characters are weak; they have little real power or abilities, these shallow and pathetic girls. What harm they do is temporary and easily overcome. This is distinct from the male Dark Lords with a similar lack of redeeming qualities; they have power. Even the Repulsive Minion who wants to rape SpunkyGirl Generic is at least something of a threat, but the Mean Girl has no such ability. She’s nothing but low-level spite in a physically frail package, a girl with nothing but her looks (which don’t even appeal to the hero) to fall back on, no special hobbies like secret tuition in swordfighting or horseriding or everything else Special Miss I-Don’t-Want-To-Be-A-Lady occupies herself in.

And this is misogynist: it is bashing female characters who are essentially powerless. It’s similar to the “˜compliment’ “You’re not like other girls”: why do other women, especially those with stereotypical “˜feminine’ qualities, need to be demeaned to make the main female character look good?

Sarah Frost uses the term “Mary-Sue” to describe the heroine of the book she’s writing about. Though the concept of Mary-Sue as a type of character came out of fanfiction and fandom, it’s being used more and more often to describe characters in movies, television, and published fiction, especially in YA fantasy and sci-fi (from what I’ve seen, anyway). Mickle, writing at The True Confessions of an Hourly Bookseller, would like us to knock it off:

My pet theory for why girls are more likely to write Mary Sue fanfic? A) they are more likely to write fanfic and B) They need it more because fewer of the female characters out there fulfill the same function for girls and women that Rocky, Eragon, Batman, Luke Skywalker, James Bond etc. fulfill for boys and men.

So, yeah, any female equivalent of Rocky is going to have aspects of Mary Sue-ness – because Rocky has aspects of Mary Sue-ness.

But we only call River a Mary Sue, not James Bond. And seriously, which is more deserving of the title of Mary Sue – James Bond or River?

Mickle also took on the term “Fan Service” this week, discussing the ways in which the term as it is usually used is sexist (and heterosexist, really). Like many of her commenters (on both posts), I wasn’t sure that I agreed with her at first about terms like “Mary-Sue” and “Fan Service” being gendered-and-or-sexist – I mean, I use them in a gender neutral way! And so do all of my awesome friends! Surely, that must count for something!

But upon reflection, I think it’s worth remembering that the people who are reading and commenting on blogs like Mickle’s (or Hathor, or When Fangirls Attack, etc., etc.) tend to be people who are actively involved in the more-feminist side(s) of fandom(s). Consider for a moment the ways in which the vast majority of fans use “Mary-Sue” and “Fan Service”, and I suspect that you’ll conclude, as I did, that those terms really are sexist, in common usage.

For this week’s “I Read the Internets link that I have no idea how to segue gracefully into,” here’s a post at Packet Switched Press about how the comic Y: The Last Man could be adapted into a seriously rad videogame. It’s a fun speculative post, but one thing that wasn’t addressed which I thought of right away once the idea of “Y: The Last Man as a videogame” had penetrated was – that could totally be a game with significantly more playable female characters than male characters. The storyline in the comics is great, but wouldn’t it be cool – if a videogame based on the concept was ever developed – to explore some of the other aspects of that comic-book world? And not being able to play Yorick or Ampersand would mean that the only choices would be women and girls. I think Hero would make a particularly spiffing playable character.

Finishing up this week, via Elaine Cunningham’s LJ, I saw some funny altered romance novel covers. Some of them are pretty dreadful, but quite a few are hilarious. My favorite is the one with Scottie McMullet.

Annnnd finally – I hear that it’s “National Delurking Week,” or something like that. So, uh, if you’ve been reading us here at Hathor, and never commented, perhaps you’d like to say “hey”? We’d love to hear from you all, and if you can’t think of anything on-topic to say, you can always come to the forums and just introduce yourself.

I’ll have some more internets for you all next week!

Comments

  1. Jennifer Kesler says

    I dunno… the romance cover “I’m About to Let One” rocked, too. :D

    Lots of good links there, but the one that grabbed me was the nice guy thing. It seems to me “nice” shouldn’t be personality trait. It should be a baseline for decent human behavior. “Nice” is what you call someone when they’re so dull you can’t think of any other descriptors. It’s also sometimes a euphemism for “I am a rage-filled bigot, but I hide it behind a thin veil of socially appropriate behavior so you can’t call me on it.”

    For me, “nice” is a requirement for attraction – like having a pulse. But it’s just the beginning. He also needs some personality, some humor, some intelligence, some quirks.

    I think some women are willing to forego the nice bit in order to get the other stuff and THAT is why jerks sometimes attract women. Personally, I’d rather date Mr. Dull Man than a charming asshole, but I can see the logic. And it may also be that some women have run into too many of the afore-mentioned guys who act “nice” to hide the fact they’re really assholes, and figure at least the jerks put their flaws right out there in the open, no surprises.

  2. MaggieCat says

    I personally liked ‘The Legend Of The Totally Lost Mountie’, since a friend and I have a running joke every time I manage to stay offline for more than two days running that she’s sending them out to look for me…. but they’ve never shown up. ;-) “Lord Of The Tube Socks’ was a close second though. Hee!

    Even as someone who’s never seen Doctor Who I find the post on the Sonic Lipstick interesting, particularly this part:

    Little boys will get to continue to emulate the Doctor, gadgets unmodified for human guys’ guise, while little girls now have their own, very special, very sexist, Sonic Lipstick aimed at them. On television, if not in retail yet.

    because it reminds me of one of the things from She-Ra that I love even more looking back- the magical swords that She-Ra and He-Man have are almost exactly alike. There’s even a shot showing them side by side, and they are the exact same shape, size, and (presumably) weight. There’s a simple jewel in the hilt of hers but it’s not girly decoration, it has actual useful purposes. Equal tools for equal uses.

  3. says

    I have one quibble on the “Mary Sue” front. There actually is a male equivalent: Gary Stu.

    Granted, it developed from Mary Sue (which I believe is named after a character in a Start Trek fan-fic that embodied the qualities), but the term “Gary Stu” is used quite frequently in the fandom circles that I’ve come across.

    And just to thrown in some fun facts, while Mary Sue is named after a character out of a fan-fic, I think it’s pretty well established that the quintessential Gary Stu is a cannon character; none other than Wesley Crusher.

  4. says

    A fairly useful axiom is that anyone who genuinely has a desirable quality (whether it’s niceness, or anything else) is unlikely to constantly and loudly describe themselves as such.

  5. says

    That’s one of the things I love best about She-Ra, too. It really disturbs me when superheroes or magical saviors of the universe or space aliens, etc., have different powers or skills (or tools) based on gender. It seems natural once the difference is established to arrange them in a hierarchy, and that pretty much always means that the girlier ones are on the bottom.

  6. says

    Oh, totally. But I think Mickle’s point is that, regardless of there being a male-gendered version of the term, neither variant is used with the same frequency or to describe precisely the same attributes with male characters as with female characters.

    And, from my own experience, I’ve seen “Mary-Sue” used a lot as a way to describe male characters in preference to “Gary-Sue”, usually in a dialogue which also explicitly compares the character to a teenage girl (which is apparently the worst sort of person one can be!). I’ve pretty rarely seen anyone taking a male character to task for behaving like a teenage boy, and I’ve never seen anyone comparing a female character to a teenage boy, or calling a female character by the male version of “Mary-Sue.”

    I think it’s a really useful descriptive term, but I also think it is overused, and that it tends to feed into the same old “being like a girl is bad” messages that we see everywhere.

    (and I actually really liked Wesley Crusher, back when I first watched TNG – then again, I was right around his age, so him saving the day all the time seemed pretty ok!)

  7. sbg says

    And it may also be that some women have run into too many of the afore-mentioned guys who act “nice” to hide the fact they’re really assholes, and figure at least the jerks put their flaws right out there in the open, no surprises.

    I have come across so many closet bastards it’s not even funny. It’s all nice and charming on the surface, but the longer you’re around them you realize everything underneath is messed up.

    It sucks, because if I meet a person who seems genuinely nice, I’m still suspicious.

  8. says

    I think it’s a really useful descriptive term, but I also think it is overused, and that it tends to feed into the same old “being like a girl is bad” messages that we see everywhere.

    Oh, definitely agreed.

    (and I actually really liked Wesley Crusher, back when I first watched TNG – then again, I was right around his age, so him saving the day all the time seemed pretty ok!)

    Me too! Although I think my favourite character was his mom. Although Deanna wasn’t too bad, even though she was a bit touchy-feely for my tastes (totally worked for the character, of course, but Beverly’s personality jived on a more personal level with me).

  9. says

    Guinan was my favorite female character on TNG. I loved how wise she was. I also liked Ro Laren a lot, and Keiko, and always wished that all three characters would get more screentime (and yes, “Rascals” is one of my favorite episodes. I know that makes me a big dork).

    Favorite character of all, though, was always Data. Mmmm Data.

  10. MaggieCat says

    I think it’s pretty well established that the quintessential Gary Stu is a cannon character; none other than Wesley Crusher.

    I just have to say this made me laugh- just the other day I was watching a season 1 episode where some sterile alien race kidnapped the kids from the Enterprise, and commented out loud that if only they’d kept them…

    Not that I hated him at the beginning, so I’m sure I felt differently for the original airing. But one of my favorite characters was Geordi and Wesley’s boy wonderness frequently stole his thunder, so I was often a little miffed.

  11. MaggieCat says

    I find it even weirder when it happens with aliens or superheroes, since it makes so much less sense. Superpowers are not harder to accept than a female leader, and there’s absolutely no reason that aliens have to conform to our gender stereotypes.

  12. Jennifer Kesler says

    I do agree that those terms ARE frequently used in sexist ways – the “like a teenage girl” context being a very good example. It’s important to recognize that even though WE don’t use the terms that way, others do and we need to keep that in mind when we’re talking to a mixed audience.

    As I use the term, a “Mary Sue” is a male OR female character dehumanized by perfection. They can’t grow because they’re perfect; they can’t be challenged because everything comes so easily to them. Like porn characters, they’re not meant to gain your sympathy; they’re merely reflective surfaces onto which you can project your idealized self leading an impossibly exciting life. They’re pure escapism.

  13. SunlessNick says

    Oh, totally. But I think Mickle’s point is that, regardless of there being a male-gendered version of the term, neither variant is used with the same frequency or to describe precisely the same attributes with male characters as with female characters.

    The bar is much lower for female characters: I frequently see female characters with any competence at all (or any shred of decency at all, depending on the characteristics under discussion) dismissed as Mary Sues.

  14. says

    What I’ve heard from psychologists is that a lot of women go for men with high self-confidence to the point of arrogance. Jerks attract women because that type of arrogance is attractive in and of itself to many women. There’s also seem to be a pattern of people who won’t date nice people because they don’t feel worthy.

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    Jerks attract women because that type of arrogance is attractive in and of itself to many women.

    I’ve always considered that “truism” in psychology to be one of its more transparent cases of misogyny.  Here we have smart men evaluating why women choose to date less accomplished jerks rather than themselves.  Gee, no reason to double-check their findings for bias, huh?  ;)
    Men have more than once refused to date me because I’m “too good for them”, and then they choose manipulative, self-centered women (I can’t stomach manipulation or putting my happiness ahead of someone else’s). I actually see the problem as more prevalent among men, but psychologists (like film makers) choose to project their own issues onto women rather than recognize them in themselves.  That’s not to say women never do what you described; in my experience women are more likely to say they were attracted because the asshole fascinated them, rather than that he was so confident.

    The sad thing is, women who get abuse from these men have a chance of getting help and/or proper recovery treatment; but men who are emotionally tortured by arrogant, self-centered women have nowhere to turn because men are “supposed” to be able to take care of themselves. Emotional abuse is insidious, slippery-sloped and tricky to identify because it makes use of the victim’s good nature and tendency to trust and give the benefit of the doubt.

    And in any case of abuse – physical, sexual or emotional – it’s generally the emotional component that does the most harm in the long run. Most physical wounds will heal on their own in time; the mental wounds often don’t. Until we start giving men at least equal empathy on these matters, we can expect cycles of mistreatment and abuse to continue.

  16. SunlessNick says

    I think it’s pretty well established that the quintessential Gary Stu is a cannon character; none other than Wesley Crusher. - tekanji

    And outside Star Trek, Horatio Caine.

  17. MaggieCat says

    And outside Star Trek, Horatio Caine.

    Heh. Who can forget about the super detective and the sunglasses of justice?

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