In The Name Of The Moon, I Shall Punish You!

I’ve been watching Sailor Moon on Hulu for the last few weeks. I didn’t get into this franchise until I was an adult, but it’s still nostalgic to me in a way because it’s such a blatant celebration of female adolescence. Usagi Tsukino is the personification of the 14-year-old psyche. All the ups and downs, the joys and tears, the insecurity and the arrogance, are worn boldly on her sailor suit sleeve.

And for most of the first series, at least, Usagi’s main role as Sailor Moon is the defender of female adolescence. She fights demons who prey on typical teenage desires like finding love, shopping for beautiful jewelry, having a cute cuddly pet to play with, slimming down and toning up at the gym, becoming famous, and getting perfect grades to get into a top university.

My favorite thing about these battles? Sailor Moon never blames the victims.

She always puts the blame exactly where it belongs: on the evildoers who exploit these completely normal desires. You won’t hear her chastising girls for caring about their appearance, daydreaming about boys, or chasing fame and fortune. She unequivocally tells THE VILLAINS that they’re in the wrong for creating a world where it’s unsafe for young girls to pursue these desires.

“In the name of the moon, I shall punish you!” (Image via Wikipedia)

Then she brings the beatdown even though she’s so clueless about fighting that she needs a talking cat to walk her through every step. And a masked man in a tuxedo to create a distraction by throwing a ninja star rose and pithy one-liner. I don’t even mind it when Usagi can’t win her fights without a male character’s help, because Tuxedo Mask’s snarky interruptions still emphatically affirm Sailor Moon’s message. That, if the world isn’t safe for teenage girls, it’s not teenage girls’ fault. That youth isn’t a weakness. That femininity isn’t a weakness. That heroism sometimes throws roses and wears an opera cape.

Or maybe even a pretty sailor suit.

Want to watch Sailor Moon with some awesome nerds and (internet connection permitting) me? Join #SailorMoonLiveTweet hosted by @BlackGirlGeeks at 7pm/6pm Central on Mondays!

Concerning (Girl) Hobbits: 5 Gender-Flipped Classics

“Book” by Sam Howzit. Image via Flickr.

Last month, Slate writer Michelle Nijhuis wrote about reading The Hobbit aloud to her 5-year-old daughter and, at her daughter’s request, making Bilbo a she instead of a he. Nijhuis had some interesting observations and insight about the way male and female leads are often portrayed in fiction, and about how imagining the same character with a gender reassignment can provide some balance.

I found out about the Slate piece this past weekend because of this article in Barnes and Noble’s blog, in which Kat Rosenfeld speculates about gender-flips in other classic novels. Since I’m bored and I can’t think of anything else to write about this week it struck me as a thought-provoking writing exercise, I’ll play along.  Here are five literary classics I’ve reimagined with some switches in preferred pronouns. Unlike Rosenfeld’s list, I’m imagining these stories with absolutely nothing changed except the gender of one or more major characters.

1. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Who gets flipped? The whole cast

Continue reading “Concerning (Girl) Hobbits: 5 Gender-Flipped Classics”

Frigga, Sif, Darcy, and Jane

A few random, spoilery musings on the women of Thor: The Dark World.

Frigga, played by Rene Russo. Image via Who’s Who

I cannot overstate Frigga’s awesomeness. Frigga pwns everyone forever. I shall henceforth consider the epithet friggin’ an oath invoking the wrath of Frigga. I’m terrible about crying over movies, books, tv shows, songs, gifs, etc., but I couldn’t cry over Frigga’s death. It was just too awesome. I felt like she died exactly how she wanted to, with a sword in hand, defending her realm and her family. To quote another famous space Viking, it was a good day to die.

Sif, played by Jaimie Alexander. Image via GeekTyrant

I love Sif. Why does Sif have to love Thor? I mean, I know she and Jane Foster are both canon love interests in the comics, but why? Why does there have to be a love triangle at all? When two very different women who want very different things out of life are written as rivals for the same man, it reinforces the idea that all women ultimately want the same thing out of life. That thing being mating privileges with the Alpha Male. Can’t we just enjoy seeing a beautiful female warrior and a beautiful female scientist in the same movie without essentially making the hero declare one more desirable than the other? I have absolutely no problem with strong women wanting relationships (with men, even!), but there’s no lack of powerful male hotties in this story. Why bother making Sif and Jane compete when there’s enough to go around?

Darcy Lewis, played by Kat Dennings. Image via Marvel Wiki

Oh, Darcy. Characters like her are why comic relief sidekicks are often my favorites. Especially when those sidekicks demand and procure their own sidekick. And then make out with that sidekick on an interdimensional battlefield because why not?

Jane Foster, played by Natalie Portman. Image via GeekTyrant

What I am about to say is my personal, visceral, subjective, emotional response to Jane’s characterization based on how I’ve been feeling lately. It is irrespective of tropes or conventions or social history. Here goes.

Jane is smart, curious, educated, accomplished, self-assured, and for most of the movie, ill. The movie lets her be all of these things at once. The Aether is in control until it can be destroyed. The most Jane can do is cooperate with the people who have the power to destroy it, Jane herself not being one of them. Her rational acknowledgement of this isn’t treated as “letting her illness beat her.” She’s still herself. Ever the scientist, she investigates the alien technology in the Asgardian hospital while she’s on the exam table, and learns all she can about the city and its people in between being examined, sleeping, and pursuing a treatment (that might kill her). But those three things do take most of her time, and she can’t help that. As someone who can identify with all of the above, it felt really good to see a woman like this at the center of an epic. Sure, Thor is the real protagonist and Jane is “just” his love interest, but…Jane is Thor’s love interest. Thor would literally move heaven and earth to save Jane even though she can’t reciprocate. I love the scene where Jane unsuccessfully tries to drag Thor out of the falling ship’s path and finally just throws herself on top of him. It’s so earnest, and so comically futile. The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. And yet, Jane’s weakness doesn’t take away her agency. Thor protects and cares for her, but he doesn’t patronize or dominate her. Jane chooses to go along with Thor’s plan to destroy the Aether. She chooses to let Frigga, Sif, and other stronger people put themselves on the line for her. Which they all do willingly because Jane matters, if not intrinsically then at least in the sense that her best interests align with theirs. Is Jane Foster a damsel in distress? She does technically fit the trope. But I found this damsel engaging, encouraging, and dare I say, empowering.

Hey, Dan Savage – I’m Not Like That, And Neither Are Our Conservative Allies

Update: On 9/4/13, I wrote this follow-up post in response to Savage and John Shore launching the NALT Christians Project. I do support the NALT Christians Project, which addressed a lot of my concerns regarding Savage’s original challenge at its launch. 

I have such mixed feelings about Dan Savage. I love the It Gets Better project, and I think it’s pretty cool that Savage has endorsed Christian author John Shore‘s books on LGBTQ issues in the Church. On the other hand, Savage’s hotheaded, reactionary approach can be a real turn-off. And what is up with the biphobia? Did a bi guy leave him for a chick once or something, which I’m sure is so much worse than when a gay guy leaves you for a dude?

Anyway, in the last week both Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism and Fred Clark of Slacktivist have covered a challenge Dan Savage issued to liberal Christians: Stop telling the LGBTQ community that all Christians aren’t homophobic and start telling each other.

Sometimes I forget to qualify “Christian” with “fundamentalist evangelical right-wing bats–t Christian.” And I’ll write something taking “Christians” to task for their abuse of queer people. And I’ll get emails and I’ll get calls from liberal Christians, whispering in my ear, “We’re not all like that. Psst, we’re not all like that.” I call them NALTs now, for Not All Like That Christians. NALT Christians.

But the reason so many of us have the impression that you are all indeed like that, and why Christian has become synonymous with anti-gay, is because of these loud voices on the Christian right. And they’ve hijacked Christianity, with your complicit silence enabling their hijacking of it.

And you know what? Liberal Christians, you need to do something about it. You need to tell them you’re not all like that. We know — liberals, lefties, progressives, queers — we know that not all Christians are like that. The religious right: They don’t know. Tell them.

So stop writing me and telling me that you’re Not All Like That, and start doing something about it. Start telling them you’re Not All Like That.

– Dan Savage

I think Savage’s challenge, though well-intended, misses the mark on many levels. Mainly in that, while he doesn’t outright state that there are no queer Christians, his wording does play into the idea that LGBTQ and Christian are mutually exclusive identities. They’re not. I, for one, am a bisexual Christian. Of course, Savage doesn’t think bi people are sufficiently queer anyway, so who knows what that’s worth to him. Regardless, there are plenty of Christians out there who are higher on the Kinsey scale than I am.

And here’s the thing: not all of them are liberal. Heard of the Gay Christian Network? It’s an international ministry with thousands of members that reaches out to LGBTQ Christians and their communities. Its executive director, Justin Lee, is an openly-gay conservative Southern Baptist. Conservative preacher boy Matthew Vines went viral this summer with his sermon on how he reconciles his gayness with his faith in an inerrant Bible.

Not all straight allies are liberal, either. I know many evangelical right-wing Christians who personally believe homosexual sex acts are sinful, but who still support civil rights for LGBTQ people. Perhaps more importantly, they treat LGBTQ individuals the same way they treat everyone else, i.e. the way they want to be treated.

Does Dan Savage honestly think the first American president to publicly endorse same-sex marriage was re-elected without the votes of evangelical Christians? Does he think no votes for marriage equality in Maine, Maryland, Washington, and Minnesota were cast by evangelical Christians? Okay, maybe these Christians aren’t shouting from their church steeples that, “I’m a Christian and I’m not a tool!” But maybe it’s not because they’re complacently allowing the likes of James Dobson and Bryan Fischer to hijack the issue. Maybe it’s because they’re too busy not being tools. They’re out there just living, being kind to people, treating the people in their lives with justice, mercy, and equality, and quietly voting for our rights in elections they can’t wait to be over.

Once more for the record, I am a bisexual feminist liberal Christian. And personally, I’ll take the conservative friend who says “You know I believe differently than you on this, but I just want you to be happy” over the liberal activist who says I’m not gay enough or loud enough any day.

Is “Princess” a Career?

Last week I blogged about my take on princess culture and why I don’t hate it. Apparently Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor saw my post and thought, “Hey, this sounds like a timely topic! I think I’ll go on national television and address the nation about it.” (A blogger can dream, right?)

Judge Sotomayor comes to Sesame Street to explain the word “career.” She describes “career” as “a job that you train for and prepare for and plan on doing for a long time.” Muppet child Abby Cadabby immediately says she wants a career as a princess. Judge Sotomayor gently breaks it to Abby that “pretending to be a princess is fun, but it is definitely not a career.” She tells Abby that real careers that a girl like Abby can train for in real life include “a teacher, a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, and even a scientist.” In the end, Abby decides that when she grows up, she wants to follow Judge Sotomayor’s footsteps and earn a career as a judge.

So, what did a self-described lover of all things pink and purple and princessy think of this little PSA?

I loved it.

I loved the fact that Judge Sotomayor did affirm that pretending to be a princess is fun. It is fun (if you like that kind of thing), and it is just pretend. That’s why I don’t think it’s all that big of a deal for little girls to play princess any more than it is to play knights or dragons or zombies or space aliens or whatever. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not that hard for kids to learn the difference between make-believe and reality. You can encourage imaginative play and still make sure children understand the difference between fantasy and reality.

Which is and isn’t what Judge Sotomayor did on Sesame Street. How many little girls or little boys are really going to grow up to become Supreme Court justices? You can only have nine at any given time,  and one of them has to die or voluntarily resign for a spot to open up. So, in a way, Judge Sotomayor just replaced Abby’s completely unattainable fantasy with an almost completely unattainable fantasy.

And I love that.

A kid who’s capable of imagining herself as a fairy tale princess, something that’s not even real, is also a kid who’s capable of imagining herself as an engineer, a scientist, a doctor, a lawyer, a teacher, or a judge. Sure, her imaginings are probably as close to the real thing as her princess fantasies are to the life of The Lady Louise Windsor. But maybe as she grows up and she learns more things about the realities of those careers, she’ll keep the ability to imagine herself in them. The vision will change, but the power to believe it won’t.

When I was young enough for Sesame Street, I loved imagining I was a princess. And a dinosaur. And an alien. And a cowgirl. And a mermaid. And a fairy. And a Bedouin warrior. And a centaur. And an officer on the USS Enterprise. And Laura Ingalls Wilder. And Sacajawea. But most of all, I loved imagining that when I grew up, I’d be able to take all of my imaginings and show them to the world.

Hey, what do you know? Playing pretend did turn into a career.

The Quandary of a High Femme Feminist

[As I’ve said, I’ll be using this blog to talk about random stuff that’s on my mind in addition to Thalia’s Musings stuff. Welcome to the first such post.]

Can I tell you guys a secret?

I don’t hate princesses.

I’m not talking about Kate, Diana, and Grace. I’m talking about the romanticized idea of a princess in popular media. The mythical concept of Princess that never has and never will exist in reality. I love outrageous, opulent ball gowns. Being born to wealth and power sounds like a beautiful dream. A castle seems pretty cool compared to my tiny apartment. There’s something very appealing about being thought “the fairest in the land.” And I effin’ love pink and purple.

I can hear the freakouts already. Herp patriarchy! Derp weak dependent submissive women! Hurr durr pink and purple!!!

Calm down. I believe young girls should be taught to make their own way in the world. That they should be just as conditioned as boys to become assertive, self-confident adults who take on the world themselves and don’t sit around waiting for someone to hand it to them. That their sense of worth should be in themselves, not in a potential or current romantic partner.

But what the hell does any of that have to do with pink and purple?

That frilly pink or purple ball gown I dream of wearing? Maybe I want to acquire it with a fortune of my own making. That castle in the sky? Maybe I want to storm it in shining armor and wear my ball gown at a celebration for my victory. Or maybe I was born in the castle because my mom is a queen in a long line of matriarchs. O Noes! Princesses = patriarchy!!!! :O Well, guess what. It’s my queendom. It exists in my mind.

I can make it whatever I want.

If I want “princess” to mean a woman who holds great power and uses it for good, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who prefers a sword to a scepter, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who prefers a pen to a sword, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who wanted power and worked for it and claimed it, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman whose power was granted to her at birth because she bears the blood of hundreds of powerful women before her, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who doesn’t need a prince, but goes out and wins one because she wants one, it can. If I want “princess” to mean a woman who goes out and wins another princess, it can.

So when you see me in my pink ruffles, don’t assume I’m less driven and ambitious than the woman in a pantsuit. When you see my twirly floral miniskirts, don’t assume I’m waiting for a prince to call me pretty (or call me, period). And someday when I have a daughter and I call her my beautiful princess, don’t assume that I don’t also call her smart, strong, creative, hard-working, compassionate, and brave.

Because that’s my idea of a princess. And if I choose, I can be all of those things while decked out in pink and purple.