Men are People, Women are…Not

I’ve been getting a lot of comments on my post about The Women of DBZ as well my post on rape culture in Teen Titans Go!

Mainly, commenters tell me that I am over reacting. These are cartoons and anime, after all! What does it matter? Why do I care, especially when this media is out for ratings, not appeal to feminists.

And though I’ve replied with my own comments and counter arguments (because yes, DBZ and Teen Titans Go! are two of many examples of sexism and misogyny in animated programming) I have yet to formulate a cohesive rebuttal. Until now.

Critiquing sexism in animated programs (or any media) is necessary because this criticism challenges the idea that men are people and everyone else are not.

women-are-people-too

When we tell stories about men, make male centered narratives the only stories, consume media that features almost exclusively straight, white, cis, male protagonists, we create a culture where men are the only ones who matter. Men are human and we can connect with them and their struggles and triumphs.

Male characters have a backstory, dreams and a life beyond the constraints of plot. We know Goku since he was a child, we age with him as he develops into an adult and we believe his actions come from a deep rooted place of emotional honesty. He’s an alien, but we believe he is complex enough to be human. We can see ourselves in Goku, regardless of our gender.

Female characters in mainstream media, however, exist for a male hero. She is his lover, his mother, his friend, his ex. Whether explicitly or implicitly, he owns her, the same way male viewers own her. She is created for male pleasure because she only exists on the page or the screen only so long as the male hero exists. Her conversations (and relationships to other women–if there are other women in the narrative– revolve around men, (so much so that we can test this with the Bechdel Test). She has no real struggles or triumphs of her own. We do not believe she is alive.

By extension, it is such a small, dangerous step, but so simple to believe women are not alive. This is one facet of rape culture: dehumanization.

The media representations of women are flat, sexual beings who exist only for the male hero. The real life women who jog down the street, bag your groceries, practice medicine, sleep in on Saturdays, drown their cereal in skim milk, drink their coffee black, become flat sexual beings. We have no responsibility for them because they are the shadows and cardboard cut-outs on the periphery of our lives. They are not human. They are receptacles for violence.

This is why when even well-intentioned people fight rape culture, they can resort to the argument: “This could be your sister. Your daughter. Your mother. Your aunt.” It’s a tempting argument, one I’ve considered using with my own brother. It’s a tempting argument, but a flawed argument. Just like the media we consume, we are then saying that women only matter when they are placed in relation to a man.

I am a sister, a daughter, a niece, but I am a human being! A human being in my own right. Women exist, even if a man isn’t watching. And if media, especially media geared toward young people, refuses to acknowledge female autonomy then I will continue my criticisms. Because with the media we consume being so male-centered, there is no way in hell I am going back for a second helping.

How Superheroes Can Demonize People of Color

I went to an anti-police brutality rally protesting the death of Mike Brown recently. But it wasn’t just about Mike Brown. It was Trayvon Martin. It was the woman down the street.  It was for everyone who ever suffered under a racist police system.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/ari/8460113914/

Anti-police brutality rally, Feb. 2013.

And as I stood in the crowd and chanted and yelled with my voice ringing with a myriad of voices around me, I thought about superheroes. I thought about the Justice League coffee mug I own and how out of all the superheroes depicted everyone is white.

jla

The mug features head shots of Robin, Batman, Superman, The Flash, Green Lantern (Hal Jordan) and Wonder Woman. Everyone is white. What this means is that the heroes are white. The good guys are white. The guys who win, the guys who have the power, the moral righteousness that lets them make difficult choices. These heroes are white (and overwhelmingly male). I know not all police officers are white. I know you can be a person of color and still be racist both against your own race and against others. But I also know the message DC sends to its fans when it produces merchandise like this.

Cyborg is now on the Justice League and I’m thrilled that DC has taken this step, but it’s not enough. We need to show comic book readers of all colors  that your race has nothing to do with your morals. We need to show casual fans that in a world where racist police exist, at least in fiction it doesn’t have to. That’s the joy of fiction: it can illuminate the world’s problems and it can also offer solutions to them. And sometimes the solution is depicting a world where it has already been overcome.

Teen Titans Go! Go and Learn Consent

I am a huge Teen Titans fan. It was one of my first introductions to the superhero genre and what I loved the most was that I didn’t get into the show until I was sixteen, but the plots were dark and complicated enough that I was wholeheartedly invested. For anyone who has seen the monstrosity that is Teen Titans Go! (TTG) however, I don’t think I need to make it clearer that this funny take on the original cartoon is an awful desecration of the original genius.

From L to Right: Robin, Cyborg, Beast Boy, Terra, Raven, Starfire

No,Teen Titans didn’t always take itself seriously, but when it did it handled everything from abusive relationships to racism to family issues. A majority of the time it balanced humor and darker plots. It has been an inspiration for me to write children’s cartoons that can appeal to a wider audience and say something worthwhile.

I don’t care that they brought back the old voice actors for TTG. This new show is a minefield and I wanted nothing to do with it.

Then the creators brought Terra into the show  in the episode “Terra-Ized”. If it wasn’t apparent from my previous post about how much I love Terra, she is my favorite fictional female character. I had to watch that episode. So I gritted my teeth and sat down with one of my friends and continued to grit my teeth and by the end of the episode I’m surprised I still had teeth left to grit.

The basic premise of the show is that the Teen Titans had never met Terra before and Beast Boy brings her back to Titans Tower. He gives her all sorts of access codes and secret information thinking she’s in love with him. She (like in the original series) is spying on the team, which TTG makes obvious and derives most of their humor from the blatancy of her “spying”.

I can forgive TTG! that they ruined all continuity by having no one know who Terra is. I can forgive them for completely ruining a fantastic female character who had deep emotional issues and a legitimate story arc over the course of Season 2 in the original Teen Titans. I can forgive them for making her a character who openly hates the team as opposed to a covert spy and traitor.

What I can’t forgive is that this show perpetuates rape culture by blatantly ignoring consent. Watch this clip of the episode and focus specifically on the pictures Beast Boy has of him and Terra at the end of the clip.

It is not funny when a character who clearly says “no” to another character’s advances is brushed aside as a joke. What’s worse is that this is a major and recurring joke throughout the episode. Terra continuously rebuffs Beast Boy’s advances and the writers rebuff her complaints. She’s just a female character, after all. She doesn’t have autonomy over her own body or anything. No one wants to see the boat rocked by addressing issues of consent. It’s not as if consent is a real issue men and women have to deal with in real life or anything!

It’s a kids show yes, but before anyone tells me I’m over reacting, where do kids learn their behaviors if not from the media they’re exposed to? If no one questions this blatant disregard of Terra’s voice ignoring the woman becomes another piece of ordinary life to be glossed over as natural.

When Terra rejects Beast Boy’s advances, he has no right to continue to pursue her and Cyborg has no right to advise Beast Boy to press after her. It is even worse when Cyborg gets involved because that normalizes the behavior even more. Beast Boy can no longer be viewed as anomaly who acts in a way we are not supposed to approve of. No, his choices are validated by Cyborg’s advice. It is the men of the series conferring over and rejecting a woman’s decision. This suddenly doesn’t sound like a kid’s show, but rather a sexist insertion driving the plot as a running joke.

The episode relied on sexism and misogyny to make children laugh. This is wrong. This is wrong on every level because children won’t see the systems of oppression that make these jokes possible. But we who see them need to speak out because no one else will.

I don’t want young children to be indoctrinated into believing that “no” is a joke to be laughed off. “No” is definitive. It is always taken seriously. And Teen Titans Go! needs to learn about consent.

 

Terra: Radical Rocker of Teen Titans

I’ve noticed a trend in my favorite fictional characters: at least 90% of them are male. What surprised me the most about this realization was that I have way more female friends than male friends. There was no way I couldn’t brush aside this point and say that maybe I just “don’t connect with women”.

I have heard women talk about how women are annoying, petty, and more difficult to be around because of their tendency to be overly emotional. This seems to be less about how women actually are and far more about how they are portrayed in fiction, especially in relationship to how their male counterparts are portrayed. In short, the men (even men who are evil) are almost guaranteed to be people in their own right and therefore more likeable. Rarely are male characters designed to benefit a female character. Chances are it’s the other way around.

Now, when I first began to be interested in superheroes I fell in love with the Cartoon Network series Teen Titans. While I do have a few complaints about the female characters in the show I was floored by one character. I fell in love with Terra.

She was the first female character I had a genuine connection with. She was a young girl trying to be a hero with her powers of earth manipulation, but because she could not control these powers she would inevitably cause more harm than good. When she is introduced in Season 2 she was a live-life-to-the-fullest go-getter hiding her massive insecurities about her powers, her past, and her ability to have normal relationships. Her backstory is never fully explained in the cartoon, but watching the series and seeing how she interacts with main cast of Robin, Starfire, Beast Boy, Cyborg, and Raven, it is easy to see she is a rounded character.

Terra reacts out of fear, love and pain, just to name a few of the emotions she goes through. Her character arc is treated with respect and even though she is paired with Beast Boy she was not created to be his love interest. She is her own person no matter that her arc is bound up with the male characters of the series, Robin, Beastboy and Slade.

I feel the most interesting thing about Terra though, is that she is not a feminist character. For all that I could rave about her being a rounded character, that does not mean that she is a feminist or that the creators of the show wanted her to be one. And that’s alright.

I love her because I connect with her on the basis that I could meet someone like her on the street. She doesn’t fit into the women-are-either-angels-or-monsters paradigm.

The irony to all this is that her comic book version created in the 1980s (read “Terra Incognito” and “The Judas Contract” for her comic book arc) was designed for her to be a loud mouthed jack ass who hates the Teen Titans for no other reason than that they are good. She is sexually involved with Slade Wilson, a man at least 40 years her elder and it is only to prove that she is psychotic. She is a “monster” in the comics, but the cartoon made a different call. The cartoon wanted a female character who was well developed and wasn’t created to further the story of the male heroes. Although she isn’t a feminist character this doesn’t mean she doesn’t do radical things for how female characters are perceived and written.