You’re Either First Second or Dead

To be blunt, I hate competitions. I stopped watching The Food Network when nearly every show became a contest over who could be better than the guy next to them. Cut Throat Kitchen. Guy’s Grocery Grab. The Next Food Network Star. Can’t you just show me how to cook?

I hate how I am in competitions, knowing that if I let myself, I whoop and holler on the frisbee field, shouting and exclaiming sounds of adrenaline when an opponent drops the catch or misjudges their throw. Whenever possible I avoid these moments because I don’t recognize that person on the field who can cheer for someone else’s misfortune and who believes that scoring a point ahead of your opponent is worth fighting for. On a smaller level, I avoid games like Monopoly, Uno or Scrabble.

monopolyman

What if I win and feel great about beating someone else? What if I lose and have to acknowledge that I am imperfect?

Competition is patriarchy. The competitive capitalist culture tells us that the goal is to win and you win by beating everyone else. There is no way to share resources or wealth. You win or you lose. You take or what you have is taken. The logic here is not logic at all, but pervades our understanding of the world. If women have equal rights, men must lose rights. Except, this is not the case at all. Men will lose privilege, but we will all have equal rights. You don’t have to knock your opponent down to get up.

At the restaurant where I work, a co-worker approached me to test my knowledge about superheroes. He heard I know about superheroes and here he was ready to challenge my knowledge and put me in my place. He asked me questions about Jean Grey and Cyclops and Emma Frost. He asked me questions about Wolverine. This wasn’t a friendly conversation or a way to initiate an exchange of ideas on a topic we both enjoy: this was meant to shame me and make him a winner. A few servers stopped to listen and throw in their knowledge, but I didn’t want them there. I didn’t want to be a spectacle to increase someone’s self esteem at the expense of my own. I stumbled through some answers (many of which were wrong or incomplete) and went away from the conversation feeling like an idiot.

I spoke with my co-worker a few minutes later and told him that the conversation made me uncomfortable. And though he said he didn’t mean to put me on the spot, that was exactly what he was doing. He needed to assert dominance over me and be the winner. I didn’t even want to compete.

When we foster and allow competitive patriarchal culture to flourish everyone loses. The losers lose self esteem and become the under caste–on every level from small conversations to larger issues of systematic oppression. The losers lose dignity and then have to fight and climb over others to not be the bottom of the bottom. The winners lose ideas of cooperation and knowledge that a life without oppression and dominating others is possible. The winners lose security because they must constantly defend their position of dominance and power through aggression.

I met an American naval officer in the airport a few months ago and she said we live in a world where “You’re either first, second or dead and you’ll never be first.” As long as we are in competition with each other, we cannot work together to overcome or analyze what keeps us divided. We see it in racism where poor white communities are pitted against communities of color, or middle class communities of color are pitted against poor communities of color, where straight women are pitted against the queer community, where women are pitted against trans women. We see this needless competition everywhere, this mad scramble to be first.

And, unfortunately, Patriarchy and the culture of competition is first, and the rest of us claw and spit and climb over each other for the scraps to be second. When we think about competitions, think about who’s dead.

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Gender Bent Cross-Plays

I had always wanted to cosplay ever since I found out that dressing up as a character could be more than just a Halloween costume or an obsessive hobby.

And while I have still never been to a con or cosplayed “for real”, a  few years ago I put together a costume of Terra from Teen Titans, may favorite female character. Because I was not going to cut up my under-armour shirt I didn’t do the midriff shirt, but I had the blonde wig and the yellow shorts and some rocking boots.

I wore the costume to a Purim service at my synagogue (Purim is a Jewish holiday where everyone dresses up in costume). When I walking around passing out programs one of the older men of my synagogue was giving me a look like I was suddenly sexy and that because I was wearing boots and shorts that he could comment on my body and my appearance. I knew nothing of feminism then and was just embarrassed and hurt, wondering what I had done wrong to deserve this attention. I didn’t do anything: I had the right to dress as I pleased and looking back on it, that was sexual harassment.

But despite my debut in cosplaying being less than satisfactory, my Terra costume was (and still is) a staple in my life. It’s the friendly clothes I go back to when I need a boost, comfortable in the way only a second skin can be.

And for a while this was my only attempt to cosplay because there weren’t any other characters I so wholeheartedly identified with or struggled to become not just in appearance but personality as well. I dressed up as Captain Hook once,. Another time I went with a group as the Three Musketeers, but it didn’t have the same emotional impact that Terra did.

Then the movie The Avengers came out and I was quickly introduced to the beauty that can only be known to the world as Science Bros. This wonderful friendship between Tony Stark and Bruce Banner was the highlight of the film for me and even a year later I am still so deeply invested in that friendship that it is more than just actors on a screen.

It feels as real to me as Terra does because there is so much to unpack from their interactions.

I am lucky enough to have a friend who is legitimately Tony Stark as a woman. And because I’m the quieter one, the one who responds to her snark and keeps her in check, I am Bruce Banner in this relationship. Together we are: Gender Swapped Science Bros.

It didn’t take long for us to come up with a cosplay for this and it was the first time I had felt truly comfortable in a costume since Terra. What I loved the most is that we weren’t playing male attributes. We didn’t go into this idea thinking that Tony and Bruce are inherently  male characters and that even if we change their gender they’d still act like men. We were able to embrace the aspects of their personalities we already had and work to push ourselves for what we did not, but we were never forgoing our femininity in favor of popular maleness.

Our female versions of these characters were not marked or othered because of the gender we played them as. It was such an excellent experience to wear a skirt and carry a purse, but feel that my version of a female Bruce would still use the name Bruce  maybe as a nickname. So I was still Bruce Banner. My partner in crime wore a Pink Floyd Shirt, jeans and sneakers, jazzed up with a headband and sunglasses. Though she was technically Antonia Stark, Toni was every bit the Tony Stark we know and love from the films and comics just gender bent.

It was a brilliant experience to feel at once wonderfully androgynous and at the same time so aware that I was playing a woman and doing her justice.

I love gender bent cross-plays because they challenge gender and sexuality in ways few other things can. They’re messy and complicated, but that’s the best part. It would feel so easy to bind my breasts and put on a man’s clothes and cosplay as a male character, but then I’m ignoring my own sense of being a woman. I’m disregarding female characters that way. And this is why I love gender bending fandoms: you’re not doing disservice to women, but expanding what a woman can be.

Because I had such a great time being Bruce, I’ve been drawing up doodle comic strips of my adventures with Tony. Take a look below: we’re women in all but name and proud to express our gender in this expanding medium of cross-plays.

doodle comics I drew of my friend and myself.

 

Marvel’s Romance Comics

I mentioned in my post, Queering Wolverine that I hadn’t been keeping up with the X-Men recently. Truth be told though, I haven’t been keeping up Marvel recently. Comic books are expensive and my philosophy has been that I’ll buy it if I know it’s influential to the Marvel universe or a must-read of some caliber.

If something happens with Marvel comics I’ll know even if I’m not perfectly keeping up with their publishing. And, unfortunately, something has happened at Marvel comics.

Marvel has made the decision to team up with Hyperion and publish two romance comics based on Rogue, from the X-Men, and She-Hulk. The comics are titled Rogue Touch and The She-Hulk Diaries.

The Editor-in-Chief of Hyperion said, “It’s a great time to explore what happens to super-heroines when they are dropped into traditional women’s novels.”

Traditional Women’s Novels? What does this even mean? This is such bigotry. This is literature grounded in women’s difference and in the separation of the sexes. This is based on ridiculous gender roles that hold no bearing on what a woman is. By creating these comic books, Marvel and Hyperion are saying they have found a set definition of the elusive term “woman” and that guess what? What a “woman” is has been in front of us all along because this is a “traditional” idea.

Since when do women need books that are written for some unfounded idea of their identity?

These are two established female superheroes, not some unknown romance heroins Marvel hasn’t written since the 1950s. The ’50s were when Romance comics sold because comic book companies were under constant fire that comics were too violent and were corrupting the youth. Everything but superheroes sold in the 1950s. There are no traditional women’s novels and certainly no grounds to force ideas of womanhood into the comic book genre. Comic books are just starting to break free from heteronormativity, but as a whole the industry is incredibly sexist. The last thing Marvel needs is to isolate a chunk of their fan base by deciding they suddenly know what women want in their reading material.

I think Marvel needs to learn that these “women’s novels” were only women’s novels because up until the early 20th century, women writers were few and far between. Their work was never taken seriously because it was written for women and there were limited subjects available to them to write about because writing might put a strain on the female mind.

Marvel already has a female audience! Adding romance will not expand their audience, but isolate those who want more well developed female characters. It’s time Marvel learned that femininity and womanhood are not characteristics that define a person. Woman does not equal reads romance novels.

Queering Wolverine

It’s difficult to find feminism in comic books. The women are generally drawn as sex objects and a majority of them are characters either to be the token woman on the team or to serve as a love interest for the main character. But don’t worry, I don’t plan on rehashing old arguments about comic book women.

I’d given up on the X-men for a while-though this was less of a decision for feminist reasons and more because to keep up with the X-men you need to be reading 4 or 5 different series. Still, I hadn’t read any recent X-men at all until my mom got me X-Treme X-men #6 for no other reason than that she thought I would find the cover amusing.

I found it very amusing actually. I’m always ready to laugh at Spiderman lunch boxes, especially when they’re held by other, much cooler, Marvel heroes like Nightcrawler.

I was expecting to read this and be more than a little confused. It’s in the middle of a series run, it’s an alternate universe I know nothing about, and I’m reading only 15 pages out of a more complex story.

From what I gathered from the plot, Wolverine and Dazzler are traveling across different universes to stop versions of Charles Xavier  from destroying worlds. The comic was nothing special until I came to a conversation between Wolverine and Dazzler that did more for feminism than I’ve seen in almost any comic. In this alternate universe, Wolverine is queer.

Take a look at the conversation:

As I mentioned in my post regarding the Doctrine of Labyrinths series, it is a big step for feminism when writers craft queer characters because it works against the notion that gay is feminine and feminine is what you don’t want to be. The author of the comic, Greg Pak, however does more for feminism than if he had just created a character who is gay.

This is Wolverine. He is a recognizable symbol of masculinity and his feelings for Hercules  are treated with respect. Look at the panel focused on Wolverine’s face when he talks about “any man…loving another” and see how his feelings for another man are not sensationalized or played for laughs, but are genuine and treated as such. Queering Wolverine is such a bold move not only in the fact that it makes readers rethink sexuality, but that Wolverine is an established character; it is not possible for this Wolverine’s personality to be stripped down to the word gay.

Hercules is bisexual in the canon Marvel universe, adding another layer of feminism to promote the fact that sexuality is not a gay-straight binary.  Masculinity is not the clearly marked ideal people wish to believe in.

It is such a relief to know there are authors out there who are willing to make their readers understand that being queer is not about being masculine or feminine and it’s not a person’s only attribute either. I don’t think I’ll continue to read X-Treme X-Men, but I am glad I got a hold of the issue that I’m sharing with you.