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Tag: sexism

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

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.

Why I Hate (Most) Photos and Drawings of Women with Swords

Recently, an artist pointed out how boob armor can kill you and someone else created a terrific blog entry for Tor on the subject.

But that’s only the beginning of everything that’s wrong with depictions of women warriors.

The biggest problem? Swords.

I love swords. Some more than others, admittedly. I have studied stage combat with some of Hollywood’s most talented sword masters, including Roberta Brown, TJ Rotolo, Anthony DeLongis, Robert ChapinTim Weske, and Richard Ryan. I am currently in love with Shinkendo, and I’ve been a member of the International Shinkendo Federation* for almost 3 years. I have handled a live katana as part of tameshigiri (target cutting) practice, and have had the chance to study directly with Kaiso Obata himself.  I’ve learned a great deal over the years about how to properly wield and care for all kinds of different blades. Only the katana, however, was ever sharpened. And it is that sharpness — or rather, the illusion of danger — that people find sexy.

To augment that “sexiness,” a vast number of artists and photographers depict women holding swords. This should be awesome, right? Strong, beautiful women warriors wielding deadly weapons? But no. While the all-too-familiar bikini chainmail or “boob armor” is a joke in and of itself, almost none of the women hold the sword safely, much less correctly. What the artists don’t seem to realize (and might not care about) is that portraying women as clumsy, brainless blade slingers is even more degrading to women than simply making them sex objects. Instead of looking dangerous, the women look endangered as they grossly mishandle weapons. It says (to men), “Oh, I can’t really do this. I’m such a dingbat. Will you please take this thing and do it for me?”

Here are some of my favorite “dumb babes with blades” categories:

Cutting My Own Throat

Swordwoman1

Or Cutting My Shoulder

Swordwoman2

Or Cutting My Own Throat While Shooting Myself in the Head

Wallpaper-girl-brunette-woman-gun-sword

Hot Celebrity Guy, Will You Please Double-Decapitate Me?

ba7b1-last_legion_rai_and_firth

Trying to Decapitate Myself from Behind

Backdecap

It’s Like Doing Pilates!

pilates

Oopsie. I’m About to Drop Them!

Oopsie

Is This Sharp?

Isthissharp

Check It! My DIY Stigmata!

DIY

“This scabbard doesn’t really go with my purse. So instead of wearing it at my waist or on my back, Imma just gonna hold it waaaaay up here like this…”

Wayuphere

Breast Sex

breastsex

Or Just…Sex (Ahem)

sexwithsword

(I can’t even…)

The “fate” of the blade in this book cover is that its tip is going to get fucked up because she’s dragging it along the street like a drugged chimpanzee.

chimp

Pressing Magical Sword Against Crotch Has Magical Powers! (Bonus Sparklemail Bikini!)

crotchpress

And so on. There are other major categories where women use swords as crutches or canes (endangered and disabled!), but I’ll stop here.

Let’s talk a moment about images of men wielding swords. While some of the same witless stock photographers are posing men in similar positions to women, a lot more photos and artwork depict the man pointing the sword outward at an enemy rather than, say, rubbing it against his crotch. They are posed more like, “I’m going to fuck up something other than myself with this thing.” You know, instead of this pose:

ninja_chick

Because, when Sensei teaches Nito Ken (two-sword fighting), he says I should stick out my breasts and keep the swords back…OH WAIT HE NEVER SAYS THAT EVER.

In fact, what he says is to “keep the swords alive.” That is, hold them out in front, ready to thrash the enemy. Don’t let down your guard.

I think some of these creators want to honor the female form. In their minds, women look appealing when holding a bladed weapon.  They are probably fascinated with the contrast of a woman’s curves to the blade’s unflinching edge. I agree that these ideas are artistically interesting and worthwhile. I don’t want people to stop creating warrior art by any means simply because it’s not “perfect.” I just wish someone would learn something about what they’re depicting. Maybe take a class. Or maybe just watch some classes. A simple fencing class would go a long way. The same way that writers must research a topic before writing about it, artists and photographers might do the same thing before creating art on a topic. They might be inspired to create something that is truly complimentary and dignified for women.

I mean, look at this amazing still with Alex Kingston as Boudica:

This is Hollywood, make-believe, dress up and pretend. Stage combat in particular is not about necessarily creating accurate-looking fights, but rather creating fights that tell a story using period-appropriate weapons and techniques. Still, look at how utterly amazing this is! The sword stays out in front of her. It crosses her body slightly in a defensive pose that is still ready to strike. (Check out who the sword master and fight director was.)

But it’s not really about being more “realistic” or taking a class. They could simply pose women doing the sorts of things men would do. Yet they don’t.

People say, “It’s just fantasy! Why criticize?” Well, why is so much fantasy about women with swords the kind that makes them look stupid or inept?  Why do they look anything BUT dangerous? Are you afraid of that? Is it too fucking scary to see a woman who is a competent fighter? Or is it safer to infantilize them? To imagine they’re holding your semi-hard dick rather than a real weapon? Or is this just a great big case of The Lazy?

This “brainless blade babe” thing is a goiter of sexism on the neck of fandom. Let’s excise it and start fresh.

P.S. Don’t even start about The Walking Dead. For example, this is a shitty pose and she’s holding the katana incorrectly. The blade should be at least protecting her head instead of sticking out into no-fucking-where (I mean, what is she protecting? The fern?) and her left hand should be anchored at the end of the hilt. It’s totally ineffective to wield a real katana that way.

michonne

UPDATE #1: Now check out the follow-up article to this one, “Depictions of Sword Women that are (Mostly) Awesome.” Thanks!

UPDATE #2: Now check out another follow-up article, “Why I Should Never Have Mentioned Michonne.”

UPDATE #3: And another follow-up. “Some Hilarious Additions to the Women with Swords Wall of Shame.”

*I do not speak (or snark) for the Federation.

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