November 22/23 sees the fiftieth anniversaries of the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the debut of Doctor Who and the deaths of C.S. Lewis and Aldous Huxley. However, at least the first two have been extensively discussed and written about, though Lewis and Huxley suffer somewhat for attention among the other two events and here in Germany, the media happily pretends that the death of Kennedy is all that has happened, since hardly anybody knows what Doctor Who is.
So if you’ve had enough of the inevitable anniversaries, here are some mixed links about gender, SFF, YA and Star Wars:
The Millions has a terribly condescending article about popular YA series aimed at teen girls, because apparently they are too fantastic, have too many romance elements, “infect their readers with chaos” and don’t inspire young girls to “carve a path of resilience”. Uhm, has the author ever read The Hunger Games or even Twilight? Foz Meadows has a great and detailed rebuttal.
Here is even more good stuff from Foz Meadows, namely she’s calling out Joss Whedon for some of the problematic stuff he’s said and written, including a recent speech in which he called the word “feminism” passé, because it sounds ugly and anyway, believing men and women are equal should be natural. Yeah, should be, but isn’t. And as long as it’s not, we still need the term feminism. Oh yes, and there’s some bonus anti-Germanism as well (feminist sounds ugly because it sounds Germanic – never mind that it’s actually Latin derived). Sigh – and that from the men who made the whole fake Stuttgart sequence in The Avengers less offensive than it might have been.
Talking of why we need feminism, here is John C. Wright ranting about how strong female characters are ruining science fiction and western civilization in general, because men and women are fundamentally different and have naturally behaved along the lines of Victorian and/or 1950s gender clichés for all of human history, until those evil Leftists in the 1960s told them they could be equal. It’s one of those strangely pompous rants which make me wonder whether John C. Wright is actually a Victorian time traveller stranded in the 21st century with internet access (which would explain a lot, come to think of it), though he does make one good point among a lot of stereotypical crap about the female qualities of delicacy, modesty and chastity, namely that a lot of SFF and adventure heroines from the pre-feminist era such as Nyoka the Jungle Girl or Wilma Deering were what would be called strong female characters today, even if they did their adventuring in leather mini-skirts, tight bodysuits, cone bras and other unlikely costumes.
Now I wouldn’t really expect anything except contempt for the tough leather-clad arse-kicking female heroines of much of modern SFF from someone like John C. Wright, who is after all a rightwing conservative Christian. But what disturbs me is that we get a backlash against leather-clad arsekicking women not just from the right, but also from the other side of the political spectrum. Take for example this typical rant about stereotypical urban fantasy covers featuring female characters in revealing leather garments brandishing tattoos and/or weapons (and this is just one of many blogposts along those lines), which takes it for granted that urban fantasy covers are harmful to women, because the vision of female strength they depict is not a vision of female strength many feel comfortable with. Instead, so the poster argues, the strong women he or she knows wield diaper bags rather than swords, i.e. they are more stereotypically feminine and have children. Usually, these posts – and there are many of them from both men and women, so it’s not as if I single out this particular post – also go on to declare how leather-clad amazons are a male fantasy rather than how women imagine themselves. Never mind that the leather-clad, weapon-wielding, arse-kicking heroine was definitely a fantasy I had (and a character I wrote again and again), including the mid-riff baring costume, long before such characters appeared on urban fantasy covers. Which is why I find it insulting when usually well-meaning men insist that such characters are male fantasies and that women would and should choose other role models. Because while a leather-clad amazon may not be every woman’s fantasy, she sure as hell was one of mine as was the sword-wielding princess and the diva with a stunning voice, magical powers and the world’s most gorgeous gowns. And I doubt I was the only one who had such fantasies.
For reasons of its own, iO9 decides to feature what it deems the 16 most useless Star Wars figures in the galaxy. What’s most striking about the article – apart from the fact that 6 of the 16 most useless figure according to iO9 are female characters (including poor Aunt Beru twice), which is a lot given the generally skewed gender balance in the Star Wars universe – are the comments by people who declare that they used to have figures of minor characters such as Rancor Keeper, Hammerhead or R2-D4 and that those figures were their favourites and had absolutely amazing adventures in their imagination. This proud owner of Hammerhead, Wicket the Ewok, a Gamorrean Guard and Bib Fortuna wholly agrees.
And while the veritable flood of action figures of every walk-on character for every conceviable franchise clearly is a ploy for the money of the completist collector, I’m also aware how happy the availability even of minor characters in action figure form would have made my younger self, who often had problems finding representations of the characters she loved most, particularly if said characters were women. I still recall how I searched for an action figure of Meggan from the Excalibur comics (Marvel still hasn’t made one – one of the few X-Men related characters who never had an action figure – though some customisers have filled the gap) and finally settled for a blonde elf/fairy figure as a substitute. And don’t even get me started on Dr. Owen Harper from Torchwood, who never got an action figure, even though he was a member of the main cast and one of the most important characters in seasons 1 and 2, whereas a fish-headed alien who appeared in fifteen minutes of a single episode did get an action figure. And guess who was my favourite character on the whole show?
So even while it may seem silly that walk-on characters in Star Wars get their own action figure, every walk-on character is someone’s favourite. Indeed, I was happy to see a Biggs Darklighter figure, complete with Biggs’ 1970s porn star moustache, for sale at a local discount store recently. Almost bought him, too, before I firmly told myself that I didn’t need any more Star Wars figures. And if I were to run across a figure of Bail Organa’s wife, I’d buy her in a second. Never mind that one shouldn’t discount the importance of Uncle Owen (Lars, not Harper) and Aunt Beru as well as Bail Organa and his wife to the Star Wars universe, because they are the ones who brought up the children of Darth Vader to become good people and eventually heroes. And yet they don’t deserve an action figure?