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Maria Alexander

(s)Word Slinger

Category: feminism

Dear JJ Abrams: Star Wars Was a “Girls Thing,” Too. Ya Twit.

In an interview on Good Morning, America, JJ Abrams, director of the newest Star Wars installment, said, “Star Wars was always a boys thing and a movie that dads took their sons to.” He went on to spew, “and though that’s still very much the case, I was really hoping this could be a movie that mothers take their daughters to as well.”

Mr. Abrams, if you really think that it “was always a boys thing,” you’re a total fucking maroon. You’ve never talked to a female Star Wars fan, or any woman, really. And that’s pathetic. Because if you had, you’d realize that Star Wars wasn’t a “boys thing” or a “girls thing” — it was everybody’s thing.

If you knew me, you’d have probably already read my essay, “Dogma, Darth Vader and My Sexual Awakening,” which describes how much I loved Darth Vader growing up. But I wasn’t just a Darth Vader fan. I was a fan of all things Star Wars from the first movie onward. (I admit my enthusiasm waned with the barfy prequels.) My little sister Danielle, too, loved the films. However, she was five years younger, and no film captures a toddler’s imagination the same way it does a precocious pre-tween. Still, we both begged our parents to see the first movie. My father resisted. “For Christ’s sake!” he’d say. “Lines are around the block!” We’d just moved to Simi Valley, which was not in Los Angeles proper. Still, the film was as insanely popular there as anywhere else. Danielle and I begged him to take us until he relented.

The whole family went and stood in those long lines because it was an everybody film. And everyone in my family loved it. That’s why it’s a classic, JJ. I hate to break it to you, but if everybody didn’t love Star Wars, it wouldn’t have been the phenomenon that it was. So please stop congratulating your Y chromosome for something it couldn’t have done on its own.

Me? I was obsessed. My parents bought Danielle and I light sabers for the following Christmas, as well as the board game. (I still have that light saber. The handle broke years later, so I replaced it with a yellow flashlight.) One of my good friends in sixth grade, Julie Byram, gave me the original Star Wars poster because I was slightly more obsessed than she was. (I’m pissed because my ex-husband absconded with it. IT’S MINE, DAMMIT.) Every girl and boy I knew loved that movie. I loved the film more, in fact, than any of my male friends. And I had plenty, as I was the only girl in my junior high school who played Dungeons & Dragons.

When I was in high school, I joined the Official Star Wars Fan Club with the help of Mom. (Mom, not Dad.) I thought I’d absolutely die of suspense waiting for the second film as I read rumors about the plot and saw photos of my heroes in the snows of Hoth. I had Star Wars dreams. I bought — but couldn’t bear to use — Star Wars notebooks, which sat in a drawer untouched with my beloved comic books. I drew pictures of Darth Vader and other characters. I wrote Star Wars stories in my head. I counted down the days until The Empire Strikes Back opened. I even recorded the cheesy radio series off of NPR, The New Hope. Talk about a geek!

And as I watched the film with my family, I blissed out. The sequel was possibly the best movie I’d ever seen. When you’re sixteen, that’s not a great feat, I admit. But it remained the best movie I’d ever seen until maybe… I don’t know. Amadeus? Blade Runner? Apocalypse Now? Silence of the Lambs? Last time I checked, those were “everybody” movies, too. (Well, maybe for grownups.)

Star Wars Fan Club Memorabilia

Remnants of a Girl’s Childhood

The revelation that Darth Vader (Dark Father) was Luke’s dad remains to this day one of the greatest movie revelations of all time. If you’ve ever read my story, “The King of Shadows,” you’d see how deeply I identified with the themes in Star Wars — specifically The Empire Strikes Back. I’m sure I’m not the only child who did, either, male or female.

I spent weekends at my friend Linda’s house. Whenever her parents stepped out, Linda and I listened to their copy of the Star Wars soundtrack. Thankfully she stayed my friend even though I asked her to replay the Imperial Death Star Theme about a thousand times.

In all the films, Princess Leia was a powerful role model. She saves Luke, Han and Chewie when they’re supposed to be rescuing her. She leads the Rebel Alliance. She saves Han again. She…fucking…ROCKS. I could not have asked for a stronger female role model. Yes, I loved my “bad boy” Darth Vader. But Leia was The Ass-Kicking Princess and Senator of Alderaan. And I loved her, too. Why? Because I saw myself in her.

Look, JJ. I don’t know what possessed you to yammer on like such an ignorant twit to Good Morning, America. One might well ask what planet are you from. Because even on Hoth they know Star Wars was beloved by both boys and girls, and that dads never, ever had a monopoly on the franchise as a bonding experience with their sons. At best, you were probably trying to make the movie sound like it has wide appeal. Instead, your comments came off ridiculous and condescending. “Oh, see? This used to be for men. But now we’re doing something for the ladies, too.”

Seriously, dude? Go fuck yourself. I have a plastic lightsaber you can use. Glad I hung onto it.

lightsaber

Some Hilarious Additions to the Women with Swords Wall of Shame

Just when I thought things had died down, a Russian blogger recently discovered my well-disseminated post about why I hate most photos and drawings of women with swords. In that article, I give many examples of how photos and drawings tend to depict women (unlike men) as grossly incompetent with bladed weapons, far more likely to hurt themselves than anyone else. Anyway, as website activity has been crazier than usual around the article, it made me realize that it’s been two years since I posted that rant. I love that it still resonates with people.

Examples have only proliferated since then. Like this:

“Men go to battle. Women wage war – ON THEMSELVES.”

thewhitequeenduh

Seriously?!? This isn’t waging war, people. This is cutting the shit out of your own hand so that you can’t even wield a sword. Starz marketing really fucked this up.

I guess at least she isn’t poised to slit her own throat like in this one:

(Oh, honey, let me help you with that.)

Or trying to use the sword as a… chin-up bar? Oh, fuck. I have no idea what is going on here. Do you?

Look at my bloody sword that has the blood on it!

The crap I posted two years ago was good compared to this. Although, I should note that, in German and Scottish longsword fighting techniques, it was legit to hold the grip with one hand while simultaneously holding the blade somewhere up toward the tip as you fought. If I understand my sources correctly (and perhaps I don’t), the part of the blade where you held it was a bit duller. Regardless, you usually held the blade with a heavily gloved hand.

And then there is this.

japanese-sword

::drops microphone::

::walks offstage::

::returns, picks up microphone::

HOW THE HELL DO YOU DO THIS AND NOT REALIZE IT’S EVERY SHADE OF STUPID? LIKE, EVEN ULTRAVIOLET, INFRARED AND X-RAY STUPID? Did they not notice she is slicing open her scalp? She’s parting her hair. Permanently.

This unbelievably bad photo originally appeared on the “What Do Nerds Like?” website. I guess what they’re saying is that nerds like to humiliate women? I doubt that’s what they meant to say, but that’s what came across to me. To be honest, I was also like JJ:

giphy

Just so you know, it’s not just swords. Take this photo for example, which is supposed to be marketing a corset:

1901391_10151939720718157_1659165741_n

Arrow drawn and pointed at foot? Check!

Right hand upside down? Check!

Left arm on wrong side of bow string? Check!

Can you even see the damned corset? Nope!

There is no reason to pose this model with a weapon, especially if neither she nor the photographer know how to use it. Undoubtedly, somebody thought this would look “sexy.”

They were wrong.

Mind you, people send me loads of this stuff now. They almost never realize how bad it is. In fact, they often think it’s good. For example, when this interview with a “deadly” martial artist went viral, many people sent it my way. It was clear from her website that, while she claims to be a martial artist, she is certainly a model who poses in all kinds of appalling, dangerous (to herself) ways with her weapons.

In her interview, she talks about how women have to be tough, and this is how she poses — like a pre-1970 Disney princess who has never held a weapon in her life. (A sensei of mine especially condemned her website photos.) Some of her interview poses are so poorly formed, she would tear the tendons of her arms if she actually tried to attack. Even the way she holds a bo stick — more like a pool cue than a staff — she would break her fingers. Why not pose correctly? With strength? Was she afraid of looking too “angry”?

(If your martial art is what tells you to hold a bo stick that way, you need to find a new discipline. Stat.)

We have to be honest when we’re buying into the game of appealing to the male gaze at the expense of our power. We who know better — that is, female martial artists — have to do better than this.

(And, boy, am I going to get hate mail for that last critique. Hoo!)

I now leave you with this wonderful longsword duel between Bénédicte Robitaille and Amy Graham at the Montreal Winter Tournament 2015.

Bénédicte went on to take the gold at the 2015 Medieval Combat World Championships.

Kick ass, ladies!

The Violence Behind My Stiff Upper Lip

One morning as I waited outside of my kindergarten class at Berylwood Elementary for the teacher to arrive, a boy punched me in the mouth.

I had not spoken to him. I had not interacted with him at all. He just punched me in the mouth. Hard. I screamed. My face felt like it was on fire.

My father had just dropped me off. He witnessed the assault from the curbside. According to him, he jumped out of the car and yelled at the boy. “What the hell is wrong with you? Why did you do that?”

The boy responded, “I didn’t like her looks.”

My father couldn’t see the real damage. So, he left. When the kindergarten teacher finally arrived, she was unmoved by my tears, not even shrugging when I showed her my bloody tooth and pointed at the boy who did it. (She had always been an awful teacher, even prior to this incident.) Later that day, probably because I kept crying from the pain, there was an emergency visit to the oral surgeon. The boy’s punch had broken off my front tooth at the root. I remember the surgeon talking to me through his cotton mask, putting me to sleep so that he could extract the fragments that had shattered up inside my gumline.

The surgery was a success, but it left an ugly scar on my gum. Every single dental professional who has ever examined my mouth or cleaned my teeth has asked about that scar, as have many people I’ve met. I’ve practiced over the years how to hide the discoloration by dimming my smile, keeping my upper lip from riding up too high. People ask questions, you see. They always want to know what happened. And I rarely feel like telling them because, no matter how I phrase it, the incident makes me feel like a victim. Not just a victim, but someone who never found justice.

This happened back in the days before parents were litigious. The surgery must have set my parents back quite a bit, but they never sued anyone. They did repeat the story over the years, reinforcing my victimhood and subtly implying that, if he had liked my looks, he’d not have hit me.

I didn’t like her looks.

These days, plenty of men seem to think I’m attractive. (I just got an obnoxious reminder of that in an incident yesterday.) Not that it matters. Men commit violence against women — both domestic and virtual — regardless of whether they meet society’s beauty standards. Being attractive in anyone’s estimation far from guarantees future safety. There’s never any excuse, really.

Today on Denim Day, I don’t need to put on a pair of jeans to remind myself of the violence. All I have to do is to stand in front of a mirror and lift my lip. Like my scar, we don’t always see the violence, but it’s there, hiding in plain sight behind a well-rehearsed smile.

Depictions of Sword Women that are (Mostly) Awesome

Game-of-Thrones-Season-3-Beast

In my previous post — that was both lauded and lynched* — I complained about how most depictions of women in photos and artwork make them look more endangered than dangerous. As a follow-up to that post, here are some photos and artwork that don’t make women look like feeble idiots when they pick up a sword. Truly, quite the opposite.

We’ll start with Brienne. There are multiple stunt coordinators on the Game of Thrones TV series, but only one swordmaster listed — C.C. Smiff. Whether it’s Smiff or someone else, whoever handles Brienne’s fight scenes keeps her in good form. She actually looks dangerous and competent both onscreen and in these promotional stills. And she’s highly watchable when she’s fighting. Great stuff. Notice that, unlike the women in my previous post, she keeps the sword tip forward and away from her face.

They do a terrific job with Arya and her Needle, too (although some of Maisie’s out-of-character publicity stills are a bit unfortunate).

While Xena’s armor is sometimes ridiculous and her grip in this photo isn’t perfect, I like this picture because, unlike that still of Michonne in my previous post, she’s actually protecting her head with this katana.

It’s no surprise that some of the better photos and artwork are Asian. My friend Keith in the link I gave above posts some stunning stills from Asian action films and artwork that take women with weapons seriously. On my own without Keith’s expertise, I couldn’t find much, but I do like this one:

And although her saya should be secured in her hakama belts rather than detached, this is still beautiful:

I pick on the saya issue because it’s a critical piece of equipment that protects your sword. If it’s not hitched to your hakama or whatever, you’ll drop it and lose it in battle. Therefore, if you keep it handy, you’ll be able to protect your sword after the fight. Ergo, you’ll continue to protect yourself and probably shorten the life of your next enemy.

Turning to comics, the preliminary artwork for Ann Nocenti’s “Katana” by Alex Sanchez looks really promising:

For the record, while I appreciate the strength they are trying to imbue this character and others by having them hold a katana one-handed, the sword just doesn’t work that way. It’s a two-handed weapon. Now, if you’re practicing nito-ken, that’s different because the two swords are working together in a scissoring technique. But a one-handed katana doesn’t really work as well. The power behind your cuts comes from your core. Really muscular folk can kind of blast their way through anything and make it work to a degree, but proper handling is what gives the katana its best edge, so to speak, for the deepest and most deadly cuts.

Some people complained that I was just being an authenticity Nazi in my last post. They entirely missed the point. Compare the women in these images to those in the other post and you’ll see what I mean. A change in grip and stance can mean the difference between wet dream that couldn’t hurt a fly if she tried to a gorgeous bad ass who’s going to thread her “needle” with your intestines. You could argue that it’s “just eye candy” and “art.” But why does art have to debilitate women? Why can’t it make them look strong, dangerous and sexy at the same time? If you want to draw naked chicks, fine. I’ve got nothing against naked chicks, porn and erotica. In fact, I love it all. But this disingenuous “arming” of the arm candy is just infantilizing bullshit.

I’ll end with two more brilliant shots of Alex Kingston as Boudica.

and

Because…Boudica!

*MODERATION POLICY: I’ll approve only courteous comments that contribute. I didn’t publish all of the comments I received for the last post because almost no one was interested in a constructive conversation. Most people were either bitterly offended that I had hard words for Michonne’s sword stance or didn’t get the issue at all (they didn’t sound as if they’d read the whole article). So, please be polite, even if you disagree.

Holding Back the Tide

Unsuccessfully, I might add.

I’m feeling a wee overwhelmed by the pending transition. But I did speak to my former hairdresser, who referred me to two gals who used to work in her salon. I remember their work, which was awesome. I just didn’t remember their names and I hadn’t any idea where they went. They’re both at a salon & spa up in Burbank. I dropped the salon an email, but I’ll definitely try to call Tuesday.

There are other details floating out there. Damn, I hate it when details are not nailed down. It’s much more fun when I can watch them squirm and bleed!

For example: Feral sent me a generous box of ritual supplies — mostly herbs and a vial of special water. That box somehow made it through French customs unharmed. I now need to come back with said box and bring her in return some tasty dried ritual goodness. I can’t decide how to do this, though. Either way I risk confiscation of everything, including what she originally sent me. It seems the best way to minimize this is to make sure everything is well dried and put in zip lock bags. But still.

The sword and the umbrella will be fine, methinks, but it will be vastly more expensive to send those back than it was to bring them in. (Especially the umbrella, which used to be broken and fit just fine randomly stuffed in my suitcase.) Both fit nicely together in the original box the sword blade came in.

I just need to make sure that my P.O. Box place accepts those big bags of books sent by boat.

And then there’s the social race. Almost every night there’s another social gathering to say goodbye. I’m looking forward to Sunday night, as we’ll be meeting one of the editors of make/shift. I have an idea to pitch to her that night for an article. They only have one issue out, and I can’t subscribe at the moment. Maybe she’ll be able to give me a better idea of what they’re looking for.

I’ve had completely ridiculous encounters with so-called feminists who denigrate the BDSM lifestyle and any form of casual sex. Isn’t feminism about women having power over their own lives? Women being recognized as having equal rights to men, equal pay, equal recognition, equal social standing? Sometimes I have great difficulty with the movement, even as it evolves over time. Call me an equalicist, not a feminist. I’m not saying that there are no physical distinctions between the two genders, just that no moral, social or financial distinctions should be made.

Okay, back to whatever was waking me up.

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