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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Books by Women: Doomsday Book

I’ve taken the challenge to read only books by women (and non cis men) for a year. Though one of my favorite authors is female (Sarah Monette and her Doctrine of Labyrinths series), most of my other favorite authors are male. David Anthony Durham, J.R.R. Tolkien and when I browse in a book store my eye wanders to the titles I’m interested in and most of them are written by men. The covers of the books written by men are typically darker, grittier, and appear more intense and riveting: exactly what I want in a novel or story collection.

But I want to take the time to read female authors. Otherwise, I become part of the culture which ignores the work of female authors as chick lit, fluff or all about emotions. Especially because I blog for Luna Station Quarterly, a spec fic journal dedicated to emerging female writers, I need to support these writers as writers and not just female writers. Ideally, women would not be marked in every profession they enter.

One of my best friends explained to me that she can’t get interested in super hero stories because the stories are nearly all written by and about men. The industry isn’t interested in telling the stories of women because women are considered a niche market. Stories are dominated by men in the movies (take a look at movie trailers for instance–most women in the trailer are taking off their clothes and rarely have any speaking lines in the trailer), books (even books written by women tend to have male main characters) and television (programs meant for both genders have male leads). We are essentially saying that women’s stories and women’s voices have no value.

And so I’ve taken the challenge to read books by women for a year. This is a simple way to show support for female authors and the stories they create. Even if you’re still in school and cannot commit to the challenge for a full year, try it for a summer. Build your summer reading list around female authors.

I’ve started off with Connie Willis’ Doomsday Book (1992) winner of the Nebula and Hugo awards. It’s a blend of both science fiction and historical fiction. The novel is comprised of parallel stories one in the future where historians are sent back in time to conduct research and the other where a female historian Kivrin is sent back to the Middle Ages. I would recommend it for its plotting and pacing though the writing is not always the strongest.

Doomsday_Book

I’ll be keeping an updated list throughout the year with each new book I read. Keep a look out for future posts. Next up: Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower.

Who are your favorite female authors? What books can you recommend? I’m especially interested in finding female-led comic books.

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.

Adulting: Small-talk and Silence

I was at a creative writing reading the other night at a professor of mine’s house. My friend and I are undergraduate creative writing majors and imagine the stiffness of our walks as we entered our professor’s homes and found a living room full of adults drinking beers from the bottle, cups of whisky in their hands perhaps and all of them clearly over 21. My friend and I are clearly the youngest of the bunch.

We engage in small talk with a hipster looking man in his early thirties, as a pixie of a woman goes off to get us cups of water with a wedge of lime. The man we speak of is a professor as well, in the middle of his PhD program in creative writing. We talk about where we’re all from, what my friend and I are majoring in and what we want to do with our degrees. We wind up talking about comic books and I know my knowledge is immediately dwarfed by this man.  He’s been reading since the ’80s. He names off writers and artists off the top of his head, pulling them out of his sleeves like a magic trick. A few other men join the conversation and under the eyes of these older men with their drinks in hand and their careers in my chosen field I feel smaller and younger than ever before.

I am a big proponent that not only can no one make you feel inferior without your consent, but that no one can make you feel anything without your consent. I was letting these men somehow bully me into silence without them even having to say one off-hand comment. I just knew my opinion was valued less. And yes, I know I can’t support this. I know I can’t, and won’t, blame this on the men in that room. It’s me and my gender socialization that tells me I need to put on a front to be “cool” and “confident” and above all not a feminist.

So, when the conversation breaks off and the men are clearly talking amongst themselves I sip my lime-water and refuse to sit down though the men in the conversation are all seated and have been for a few minutes. I listen. The men talk about the Juicy Brand of pants where the backside reads “JUICY.” The man who knows about comic books says he sees a woman wearing that and he automatically has no respect for her.

This is a man in higher education! This is a man who is dealing with women of all types and styles of dress every single day and he can sit there on the couch, drink his beer and generalize about his respect for “those women.” He knows his opinion will be safe. I feel the words biting at my tongue. Oh, I want to tell this man that he doesn’t know anything about a woman by her style of dress and that I find that comment offensive and derogatory.

I take a long sip of my water to keep myself silent. My only victory is that I don’t laugh or smile at his comment like the other men. I look at my friend who shrugs slightly and I don’t know what the means.

The reading hasn’t started yet and already I feel exhausted by the pressure to be “cool” and not a feminist.

The entire evening I felt like I was putting on a production. I had to at once appear a calm, collected adult (even as I told the man asking for donations for beer that I wasn’t old enough to drink). an up-and-coming young writer who wanted to get noticed, and someone who knew how to nod approvingly at whatever anyone else in the room said even if I disagreed. There was an unspoken rule not to rock the boat. I couldn’t be a feminist. I couldn’t voice any disagreements. Everyone around me had to right and knowledgeable about what they said to keep up the illusion surrounding the event of a young up-and-coming writers’ club. They were all in MFA’s or PhD programs. They were all in my field of study as writers themselves. I couldn’t rock the boat and challenge them, even on trivial matters.

No, I had to nod my head and mutter my agreement to keep up my end of the small-talk. When I did speak I asked various men I met (there were very few women at the event) about their professions. Their degrees. Their lives. I kept the focus off myself like a good-little girl.

Is this what adult life is like? Putting on a facade and smiling and nodding when your head is bursting with responses? I feel so confident in my feminism and then I step into the real world outside my college campus. The hardest thing about being a feminist is learning to speak up. As an adult, what I need the most in my life isn’t a fancy degree or published books to my name, but the strongest voice I can muster telling whoever I meet that I am a feminist. I am a woman who is unashamed of being a woman. And I don’t care who I am forced to have small-chat with, because retreating into silence is the worst harm I think I’ve ever caused my body.

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.

 

“That Escalated Quickly”

I was at a barbecue the other night and the woman who hosted it is married to a man who a big comic books fan. We talked about Man of Steel, our favorite superheroes and if he had comic book recommendations. When everyone was sitting around eating, he asked me if I would like to see his comic book collection. I was so excited about this, but everyone around us started laughing and making jokes of “that escalated quickly”. I want to show you my comic book collection is obviously code for I want to have sex with you.

I felt like I was back in elementary school where I was terrified to have guy friends because the entire playground would bully you mercilessly about you getting married.

Now I’m an adult, surrounded by other adults and its the same mentality: men and women can’t be friends by this logic. There is an unbreachable divide that says men and women can only be in a relationship if it’s a sexual one and any conversation is just hidden sexual tension.

I think this especially applies to how people view me because I am the innocent one. I am the one who never talks about sex, boys, girls or romance and that means that there has to be something about me that is corrupt and that people can pick at. This is wrong on multiple levels. One, sex is not corrupt. Two: there is no reason to ever put anyone on a pedestal; it’s not admiring them, it’s waiting for them to fail so you have a right to rage against them. This instance was both sexist and heteronormative, as everyone assumed I was straight and was interested in him sexually.

The whole situation was so uncomfortable and just a moment ago I felt very at home and at peace with people I felt I could talk to.

No one at the BBQ knows I’m asexual, but it’s so heteronormative to assume that if I’m having a conversation with a man that it means I’m attracted to him. And the worst thing was that he played into their jokes. He never did show me his comics and said something about how maybe we should wait for the second time we meet. We could seriously be friends and he was more comfortable playing along with the jokes and stereotypes at our expense than looking into the friendship we could have.

I’ve been having a lot of conversations with my summer room mate about sexuality and how it’s so awkward to bring up your sexuality without the risk of either making yourself or someone else uncomfortable. It’s not a normal topic of conversation. But not talking about being asexual, especially in situations where people assume that I’m straight, leads to me feeling isolated and childish. I’m sure other members of the queer community can relate.

Sexuality is strangely treated as a marker of adulthood. Yet when you first get sexual feelings you’re not an adult but a hormone crazy kid. Sometime in college, or beyond, you somehow transition to adulthood and having sex is a part of that transition.

So where do asexuals fit in? I know I’m still at an age where people can look at the absence of a partner and tell me that I’m making the right decision to focus on my school work instead of dating. But when I leave college? Will I always be less of an adult because I’ve never wanted someone’s penis or vagina?

I don’t swear. I don’t drink. I don’t have tattoos. I don’t smoke. These factors coupled with being asexual mean that I’m the innocent one and therefore the perpetual child. Again there is the element that I need to be corrupted. There is something about this “innocence” which unnerves people. Why else make jokes about things “escalating quickly”?

Asexuality isn’t innocence any more than having a sexuality is maturity. There is no correlation or causation. I’m just as much an adult as most anyone else my age.

It’s time people stopped associated maturity and adulthood with sexual experience. It’s sexist and quite literally incorrect. I’m adult because I take responsibility for myself; what I do or don’t do with my body holds no bearing.

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.