Friday, June 14, 2013

What Happened to Girl Power?

I usually use this blog for writing updates and posting silly things. And I'm normally perfectly fine with this. As I've said before, I don't consider myself an uber-serious person, and keeping things light on the blog seemed like the natural thing to do.


I've come across a slew of things lately that have made me think. And not only have I thought. A lot. But I've also worried. A lot. And gotten mad. A lot. And then worried some more.

Most recently, a few things have caught my eye and sort of...augmented my thought process, I guess. So the first was N.K. Jemisin's speech that was a retort to comments from SF authors that women were ruining the genre and, essentially, had no place in it. Despite the obvious WTF-ery of the people who made these statements, the fact that there are still authors out there who think that way totally floored me.

Really, though, I shouldn't have been floored. I know that sexism still exists, and that it's something I'll have to deal with. And, to a really sad extent, I've accepted that it's an inevitability in different facets of my life. I know, I KNOW I shouldn't have been surprised by the statements that a few old white dudes made.

But I was.

As N K Jemisin and Justine Larbalestier point out, women and people of color have been working with Science Fiction from the beginning. Often hiding behind gender or race neutral pseudonyms, but they were still there. These ladies articulate my thoughts on the matter better than I ever could, so I'll defer to their awesome articles on the subject matter. I do, however, have one last thing to say about the SF sexism and racism debacle, though, and that's this: as an aspiring SF writer who identifies as both a woman and a person of color, I feel ashamed. I feel ashamed that people still have trouble embracing stories and characters that are different and expose people to new experiences.

I feel ashamed that authors are still getting discounted because they're female or aren't white.

And it's not just a SF thing. Let's take a look at other types of media, shall we?

I read this awesome article by NPR contributor Linda Holmes about the lack of female movies out there. Holmes looked at the movie theaters within 10 minutes of where she lived, and the results (after doing a bit of math) were staggering.

According to Fandango and some back-of-the-envelope math, excluding documentaries and animation, there are 617 movie showings today — that's just today, Friday — within 10 miles of my house.

Of those 617 showings, 561 of them — 90 percent — are stories about men or groups of men, where women play supporting roles or fill out ensembles primarily focused on men. The movies making up those 561 showings: Man Of Steel (143), This Is The End (77), The Internship (52),The Purge (49), After Earth (29), Now You See Me (56), Fast & Furious 6 (44), The Hangover Part III (16), Star Trek Into Darkness (34), The Great Gatsby (16), Iron Man 3 (18), Mud (9),The Company You Keep (4), Kings Of Summer (9), and 42 (5).

Thirty-one are showings of movies about balanced pairings or ensembles of men and women:Before Midnight (26), Shadow Dancer (4), and Wish You Were Here (1).

Twenty-five are showings of movies about women or girls: The East (8), Fill The Void (4),Frances Ha (9), and What Maisie Knew (4).

Of the seven movies about women or balanced groups, only one — the Israeli film Fill The Void— is directed by a woman, Rama Burshtein. That's also the only one that isn't about a well-off white American.

There are nearly six times as many showings of Man Of Steel alone as there are of all the films about women put together.

I read that and...REALLY? That's the best we can do, Hollywood? Holmes breaks it down a bit more:

I want to stress this again: In many, many parts of the country right now, if you want to go to see a movie in the theater and see a current movie about a woman — any story about any woman that isn't a documentary or a cartoon — you can't. You cannot. There are not any. You cannot take yourself to one, take your friend to one, take your daughter to one.

There are not any.

There are not any. I've asked it a few times on this blog before, but what kind of message are we sending to young girls when THE BEST roles women (and right now, sadly, I'm really only talking about white women) can get are supporting player/love interest roles?

Yesterday, I went to see "Now You See Me," which is on Holmes's list of small female roles, because I was intrigued by the concept. While the movie was fairly predictable, it was still fun enough that I enjoyed it. Save for a few things.

1. The movie did not pass the Bechdel Test. While it had more than one named female character (uhhh TWO counts, right?) These female characters never conversed. And, had they conversed, I'm sure they would have talked about guys.

2. There were weight jokes about one of the female characters. WEIGHT JOKES. These jokes were used to illuminate why one female character and one male character never got into a relationship (with the oh-so-obvious punchline that people who weren't a certain body type couldn't be attractive! Ha ha. So funny). Once the weight jokes happened, I was out. Unfortunately, they happened within the first 20 minutes or so.

3. When the (TWO!!!) named female characters did get stuff to do, most of it revolved around assisting a dude/being dude's love interest. While I'm not trying to rail against romance in any way, shape, or form, I'd just like to point out that there can be more to a female character than loving a dude. I'm going to restate that.

There can be more to a female character than loving a dude.

Radical notion, right? That suuuuuuuuuuure isn't supported by the onslaught of recent (and not-so-recent) movies. I'm tired, so tired, of female getting used as plot points. It's fine if female characters are in a relationship/love someone. Totally fine. But the second that's ALL they become ---the second that female character stops developing and changing (for better or worse) and becomes the means to an end for a male character to develop? THAT is where I start to take issue.

Let's look at Star Trek: Into Darkness for a couple of examples. I had a lot of issues with that movie, but the two that stuck out for me were A) The horrendous lack of diversity and B) The treatment of women characters.

So first we have Carol Marcus who is really just there to strip down in front of Kirk and...uhhh scream at her Dad. Yeah. That's it, really. That's all she gets. So here, she's not really helping develop anyone and is pretty much one step above a redshirt. There's a hint of a possible future romance between her and Kirk, but really that's it. She's just a character who strips down into her underwear for no apparent plot-serving reason.

And then we have Uhura, who I had such high hopes for, since she was pretty much the lone female in the first movie. She was a character who had a romance going, but who was also smart, and assertive, and knew her languages/dialects. But then Star Trek: Into Darkness happens and...we lose most of what made Uhura the awesome lone female to hold down the fort. She gets reduced to being solely Spock's love interest, and really doesn't get to do much of anything in the movie. Oh well. at least she's not stripping down just because ---oh, wait. She did that in the first movie.

It's not just Star Trek: Into Darkness, either. I could list off TV shows, more movies, books that do the exact same thing to women characters (and I've not even started to scratch the surface on the lack of people of color in mainstream media, but that's a fight for another day).

But I think I've ranted enough today (hopefully). My point is that all of this has to stop. The women-bashing, relegating them solely to the role of "love interest" or "supporting player" or "eye candy" (UGH I hate that term). Women need their own stories, too. Girls need their own stories, too.

How can we expect any girl to grow up thinking she can be whatever she wants to be ---whether that's President of the U.S., or an astronaut, or a famous chef, or whatever else she wants to be ---if we don't let them see that they actually have the authority and agency to be in charge of their own lives. Are we always going to reinforce the notion that women only exist to be in love with a guy (which, heteronormativity, anyone?) or show said guy the error of his ways?

To bring this full circle, yes, I am still ashamed that this is the way things are right now (and have been for quite some time). I'm ashamed that because of the way I look and who I am, some authors in the SF community may never take me seriously. I'm ashamed that, to this day in 2013, I still cannot look at any mainstream actress and identify someone who looks like me. I'm ashamed that, as of this moment, if I wanted to go see a movie that revolved around female characters, I couldn't.

I am one-hundred percent ashamed. But I'm also one-hundred percent determined to change things, and to point out ridiculous bull-shit like this when I see it. I'm committed to writing stories about female characters and trying to find a way to get those stories out into the world. And, most of all, I'm one-hundred percent hopeful that things will get better. Because I'm not the only one who has noticed these things. And because it has to get better.

It just has to.