Video Game Heroines In 2013: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Seems like 2013 was a pretty good year for video game heroines. We saw Lara Croft go from being the quintessential video game pin-up character to something resembling a real human woman. Compare:

laraoldandnew

What’s better about the new Lara Croft? Where to start? She’s wearing actual clothes. She’s wearing pants, which, you know, makes sense for an adventurer. Her proportions are realistic! There’s still a sexy vibe about the new Lara, but that’s not the point of her new character. Her design speaks to the kind of athleticism you’d expect from someone who goes on adventurers and climbs and hikes and all that. In short, while she may have sex appeal, she’s definitely not a sex object anymore.

I think this is a step in the right direction for video game heroines. It’s a sign of progress! We’re moving in the right direction, at long last. We’re finally recognizing that 45% of gamers (at least) don’t have a Y-chromosome. 2013 has been a great year in this regard!

And then this happened:

Meet Quiet, the new protagonist for the upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5:

quiet

Sigh.

Underwear? Check.

Prominently displayed cleavage? Check.

Impractically sexy clothing damage? Check.

I can’t think of anything else to say about her character based on this design. She has the same distant, snarky expression of the Lara Croft from the previous decade, the one that says, don’t worry, I won’t be ruining the sex appeal by showing any actual emotion like fear, anger, or determination.

True, this is only concept art and her actual personality might be very different in the final game. On the other hand, I think you can tell a lot by looking just at the concept art. Let’s compare Quiet to 2013 Lara.

laraquiet

Aside from the fact that she’s basically in her underwear, we can see that Quiet’s leggings are torn in several places. Is this supposed to suggest that she’s been through a harrowing survival experience? Maybe, but if so, the fact that everything else about her appearance is flawless suggests that actually, she just likes to wear leggings with big holes in them. She doesn’t look like a warrior. The gun-belt doesn’t communicate anything of the sort; if anything, it just sends the entire design further in male fantasy land. Chicks with guns + underwear = hot.

With the two character designs side by side, you can really see the difference. Lara looks like she’s been through a survival experience. She’s covered in dirt and grime, with several makeshift bandages here and there. Her clothes are torn, but not in a way that’s strategically sexy. Is she still unrealistically beautiful for someone in a life-and-death situation? Yes, absolutely. In “real life,” she’d likely be a lot worse off. But we’re talking about video game protagonists here; male and female alike are allowed to have the “attractive” attribute, as long as that’s not the primary attribute for the character. As soon as you have a character parading around in their lingerie instead of actual clothing, you’ve sacrificed characterization for sex appeal.

Because, let’s be honest: you know what’s really fucking useful when you’re fighting or surviving in the jungle?

POCKETS.

Pants have pockets on them. Hell, even shorts have them. You know what doesn’t have any pockets? Bikinis with ripped lingerie leggings. Huh, imagine that.

Basically, it comes down to the fact that when I look at Quiet, my first thought is “stripper.” When I look at Lara, my first thought is “survivor.” I’m not a woman, so I can’t say which character design would give me a feeling of female empowerment, but I do know which image is more heroic to me. I know which character I’d want my daughter to look up to.

Regardless of hypothetical scenarios, I know which kind of character I enjoy and appreciate more. Evidently, that taste isn’t mainstream yet. I thought we’d come further along than this. Alas.

One Word At A Time

After yesterday’s post, I spent the rest of my time thinking how do we fix this problem? Game culture, despite how tongue-in-cheek we might use the phrase, is a real thing now. It’s as real as popular culture in its ability to influence. We have cultural conventions now. We have cultural language.

It’s hard to describe how game culture came to be without resorting to dramatic, overblown language describing the strife that it emerged from. While the “violence in video games” discussion won’t ever truly disperse, I think we’ve come a long way from the days of Jack Thompson and his ilk. They’re not gone, of course, but for the moment, they’ve been defeated. Someone will be along eventually to take his place, but hopefully not for a while.

We won that round, at the low cost of developing a reflexive siege mentality that is one of the causes of the dickwolves thing I wrote about yesterday. We’ve traded one problem for another, which isn’t as cynical as you might think, because that’s basically how progress works. The only people who don’t have problems are dead. Dead people might have problems, too, that we just don’t know about.

So, you know, we’re doing okay, really.

Regardless of my inability to commit to a side on the dickwolves debacle, there are plenty of other instances of misogyny and rape culture in game culture itself. Nobody can rationally dispute that fact, regardless of where you come down on the dickwolves issue. The question we should all be asking ourselves is, as I said above, how do we fix this?

While I’d love to say I came upon the solution in a flash of brilliance, the truth is this was a comment made on yesterday’s dickwolves post. From my friend therationalpi:

Ya know, I used to say “rape” a lot. In videogame parlance, “rape” is just another way to say “beat on.” Like, instead of saying, “The red team really beat the blue team that game.” you might say “The red team really *raped* the blue team.” It’s a pretty common expression, that I used to use very casually.

Then I realized how much that word can bother people. For some people it brings up really negative memories and emotions. After realizing that, I stopped being so insensitive and slowly excised that word from my vocabulary. I never thought that actual rape was anything to joke about, but my vocabulary didn’t reflect that sentiment. So I changed my vocabulary.

This. This is how we start fixing things. Small changes. A piece at a time. I believe this will work, because this is exactly analogous to my own experience.

Confession time: I wasn’t always the male-feminist-ally-vegetarian-idealist that I style myself as today. I was a gamer a lot further back than I was any of those other things. I engaged in my share of smack-talk. I used the word “rape” in video games liberally and I used it as recently as 2005, when I was deep into the PvP scene in World of WarCraft.

I remember the first moment somebody called me out on using that word. It wasn’t much, just an admonishment that what I was saying was pretty insensitive. Because this admonishment came from a person that I admired and respected greatly and because it was done gently, it made me think. It made me reflect on the power of the words that I was using which was something I should have done all along. I was studying Creative Writing for my undergraduate degree; you’d think I would have been more sensitive to the power of certain words and their effects.

I realized what my words had the potential to do to another person and I changed my vocabulary. I stopped saying “rape” in the context of playing games. I don’t use it in any context other than its actual definition and even then, I use it carefully, knowing its potential harm.

It doesn’t take much to change your vocabulary. It’s a small change to start saying “yeah, we owned them” or “we pwned them” or any other permutation. Pwned is nice, albeit in an abomination-of-English-sort-of-way, because it’s a true “gamer word.” It’s part of the cultural lingo.

Why is “owned” acceptable when “raped” isn’t? Certainly, the idea of “owning” another person is offensive, if you really think about it. But that’s the thing about smack-talk in competition, isn’t it? You want it to be a little bit offensive. A polite taunt is no taunt at all. The trick is to find something that can make for good trash talk in a way that doesn’t bring up a real problem that people are dealing with and are dealing with in a culture that doesn’t treat their situation with the gravity it deserves.

Sure, “owning” is offensive. But it doesn’t trigger the same harm, in my opinion, the way the word rape does. I don’t know anybody in my life who has ever actually been “owned.” I know a few people that have been raped. I know that for those people, the former is just a word and the latter can trigger post-traumatic stress symptoms.

Choosing the word you uses matters. Telling somebody “hey, that’s not cool” isn’t always going to work. It might only work 1 time in 10, or maybe 1 in 20, or 1 in 100. But it did work for me, as it worked for my friend in the above quote.

It won’t fix the current game culture. But think about how many games of Call of Duty or Halo or StarCraft that you’re going to play in your lifetime. Think about how many times you will make the choice to either use the word “rape” without regard to its effect and thus perpetuate rape culture or choose a different word and enact a small amount of change.

It doesn’t cost much to make this change. It doesn’t take away the games we enjoy or the competition that brings out the trash-talk that’s so much a part of competitive game culture. It does, however, move things ever so slightly in a better direction.

That’s how change happens.

On A Very Certain Type Of Wolf

If you’re not immersed in “video game culture,” this post isn’t going to make any sense to you. That’s okay; honestly, you’re probably better off, because sometimes, video game culture gets pretty weird. This is one of those times.

I’ve never been shy about sharing my opinion on something. Generally, if I’m not writing about a particular topic, it’s because I haven’t researched the issue to the extent that I feel confident writing about it. Alternatively, it might be an issue that I don’t hold an opinion worth writing about either way. The health care discussion is one example of this; my opinion is cautious optimism, but I don’t argue strongly for it because it’s not a debate that I have anything new to say. There are other, more eloquent writers talking about it, so my response, if asked, would be to go read one of them.

However, sometimes there’s a topic that comes along that hits all the issues that I do care about and it seems like I should have something to say about it and I haven’t said anything. Feminism and gender issues are two of those particular issues. Video games are another.

If you’re still with me at this point, here’s your required reading to understand the Dickwolf controversy. I don’t even know how to distill it down to a paragraph at this point, but I’ll try. A comic strip that was created three years ago created a controversy that continues to this day. Its very mention is enough to create headlines on gaming news sites and blogs. Even mentioning it here makes me feel uneasy.

So why mention it at all? One reason is because of how much I’ve written about feminism already and how much I think about issues of gender equality. This is one of those issues that everybody is talking about. I should say something, right?

Except that I don’t know what to say.

It’s like watching your friends fight and it’s the kind of fight that you know is going to end the friendship between these two friends because of what’s been said. It’s the kind of argument where really hurtful things are said and it’s gone past the point of anybody really being “right,” although perhaps nobody was right to begin with. Worst of all, you can see both sides. You can understand where each one is coming from, even if you don’t necessarily agree with both sides.

In this case, one side is arguing for the freedom of speech to tell jokes without reprisal and they are defending this position. The other side is arguing that it’s not a freedom of speech issue and that’s an issue of making jokes about rape culture. The response is that the original joke wasn’t a rape joke and that the true “victims” of the joke were so-called heroes in MMORPGs, who are actually quite abominable themselves. And then came everything afterwards, when things got really messy.

So, what do I do? I feel very strongly about freedom of speech! I think the way rape is treated in our society is abominable!

And so we have this debacle. If I were to try to pinpoint where it all became so hopelessly entangled, I think it’s due to the various ideals that have been called in as part of the argument. Making it a freedom of speech issue is as problematic as making it a “rape culture” issue. It brings in a lot of material that creates a quagmire.

I don’t know. I guess I don’t have anything to say. I can see both sides. I won’t say who I am in agreement with, because people I respect and whose content I enjoy are on opposite sides of the issue. It feels like saying who I think is correct is like choosing between friends.

All I can really say is that I feel like I’ve failed both my ideals by existing in this sort of wishy-washy neutral ground. I feel like I should be supporting one side. There are a lot of wounded feelings all around. Standing on the sideline doesn’t feel right. But I don’t really know what to do.

And that’s where I’m at and why I haven’t written about it before. It’s not that I don’t care. I do care, very deeply, and I’ve followed the controversy since it began. I just didn’t know what to say then and I don’t know what to say now. The link, if you clicked it, gives you opinions from all the big names in game journalism and geek culture who have weighed in on this before me. You’ll find plenty to keep you busy.

As for me, I’ll just keep on watching, feeling like I should say something more substantial, but having no idea what that should be.

Witches Waiting For Wizards

I watched Oz the Great and Powerful last night and had a few thoughts.

A few notes of preface: I realize that it’s a Disney movie which brings with it an entire host of gender conventions, not all of them positive. I realize, too, that it’s a children’s movie, even considering the efforts of director Sam Raimi to push the movie’s scare factor to the very limit of what was appropriate for its target audience. Seriously, Evanora’s true face? Looks just like the evil gypsy woman from Drag Me to Hell. Also, the shot of the Wicked Witch of the West’s arm reaching up and clawing the table? Classic Raimi.

The mixed reviews kept me from going to the movie theater when it was playing, although to be honest, these days I’ll avoid movie theaters even for movies I really want to see. I just don’t like movie theaters anymore; too expensive, too many irritating people, my favorite theater is still closed, etc. etc, somebody call the wambulance. Also, my home theater set up is pretty kick-ass, and I can drink beer without having to smuggle it in, and I can pause the movie when I need to expel that beer from my system. So, really, home theater is where it’s at these days. Apologies for the digression, let’s talk about the movie.

After I’d finished watching it, I couldn’t quite decide how I felt about it. Did I like it? Was it a good movie? Such indecision is usually a sign for me that there were high points being held back by other issues.

The highlights for me, aside from the visual effects, was Mila Kunis’s performance as Theodora, who (spoilers) manages to combine a little of Wicked’s sympathy of Elphaba as well as Margaret Hamilton’s iconic, delightfully over the top performance as the Wicked Witch in the original movie. Sure, in this movie, Theodora goes from 0 to crazy in about 0.5 seconds and has all the subtlety of a rabid wolverine, but she was still fun to watch.

So, the basic plot in one paragraph or less is that Oscar is a stage magician who lands in Oz. It turns out his stage name is Oz, which means he fulfills a prophecy made by the old, now-deceased king where a wizard will appear and save the land of Oz from the Wicked Witch. Theodora the Good Witch tells all of this to Oscar when they meet. Hilarity ensues since Oscar is more con artist than competent sorcerer.

I think my uncertainty about the movie is that I never really bought into this prophecy thing or why Theodora believed in it so fervently. She’s a true idealist and believes that the prophecied Wizard will make Oz safe from the Wicked Witch. But why is she waiting for a wizard at all? She’s a witch, one of the most powerful beings in Oz! Why isn’t she out fighting the Wicked Witch?

At first, I thought her reluctance to fight was because she didn’t have the same level of power as the other witches, but that notion is very clearly dispelled (hah) when she’s shown throwing a fireball while angry. She definitely has the magical strength. Furthermore, she’s one of two witches in the Emerald City. She and her sister outnumber the alleged Wicked Witch, so they’ve got numbers on their side.

Even though the plot reason is that Theodora isn’t aware that (spoiler) the actual Wicked Witch is her sister, she still thinks she knows who the enemy is. She could and should be out hunting Glinda, who is the alleged Wicked Witch initially.

I kept hoping for some explanation for why Theodora needed the Wizard to save Oz. A scene of Evanora manipulating her or some indication that she doubts her own strength would indicate why she’s not fixing the problem herself, or at least trying to do so. Theodora clearly wants to help and is shown to have the power to do so, since she can throw fireballs around (“as the size of an explosion increases, the number of social situations it is incapable of solving approaches zero“). She doesn’t gain any real agency, however, until she transforms into the Wicked Witch of the West.

Of course, once she turns green, she immediately  flies out and starts kicking ass, exposing Oscar’s lack of actual power for all to see. Why didn’t she have that motivation prior to her fall? Is this a Space Balls-esque “good is dumb” situation?

In the end, I came away feeling that, while the movie was entertaining, it fell short of its own potential. I love, love, love a good tragic villain. I love fallen hero stories. I love redemption arcs and I love villains that throw offers of redemption right back in the hero’s face. There’s so much potential here to do all of those things. Why wasn’t Theodora with Oscar when he went witch-hunting? The movie poster made it seem like it would be Oscar and the three witches on a journey together, but you actually never see all three of them in the same place at any point (other than the end, sort of).

In Black Swan, Mila Kunis proved she has serious acting chops. I think the success of Wicked (both the book and the musical) have shown that, as a culture, we are fascinated by the Wicked Witch of the West. She’s as iconic a character as Darth Vader, Hannibal Lecter, and so many other great movie villains. This movie could have, and should have, been as much about her as it was about Oscar himself.

Instead, she’s . . . well, she doesn’t really even do enough to qualify as a sidekick. Glinda gets that role later in the movie. It’s disappointing. The bones were in place for a great story, but so much of the screen time was spent on Oscar, the reluctant hero (apparently the new heroic archetype of this decade, much as the anti-hero was for the 90s).

Sam Raimi and his cast still delivered a decent movie . . . but I feel like the potential was here to do a truly great one.

Thoughts On Tauriel

Who the hell is Tauriel, you might be thinking to yourself. It’s a reasonable thought. She’s the ninja-elf-archer lady featured in the new Hobbit trailer. Played by Evangeline Lilly, she’s an addition to the Hobbit cast that doesn’t appear in the book. If you’ve read the Hobbit or if you saw part one of the movie, you can imagine why the filmmakers might have felt the need to modify Tolkien’s pristine work: it’s literally all dudes in Middle-earth, otherwise.

Seriously, it wasn’t until Galadriel appeared in her cameo during An Unexpected Journey that I realized she was the first (and ultimately the only) woman in the entire film.

I don’t care that it’s otherwise accurate to the book; it feels off. It feels weird. It reminds me how I felt the moment that I realized there are precisely four women in the Star Wars universe: exactly one badass princess, one rebel leader who doesn’t get named in the movie, and Jabba’s slave girls. And three of those women don’t appear until Return of the Jedi!

Well, I guess there’s Luke’s aunt in the first movie. So, five women total. Glee.

I’m glad there’s at least one female character in the next Hobbit movie. We can acknowledge that these books, however, wonderful they otherwise were, were written in a time and place where nobody was talking or wondering about this kind of thing. Fine. Great. I’m not proposing we rewrite the books. But that doesn’t mean we have to stick to every convention, especially not when these are the stories that are shaping the next generation.

The majority of kids growing up now are not going to be re-enacting the books. They are going to do exactly what kids have always done when they watch a movie. After the movie, they call a character when it’s time to play. “I’m Aragon!” “I’m Legolas!” “I’m Luke!” “I’m Han Solo!” I wonder how it feels when the only character that looks like you is a minor or supporting role. Or a villain. Or doesn’t exist at all. I literally can’t imagine it, because I had the privilege of being sci-fi/fantasy’s most targeted demographic. It probably doesn’t feel too good, though.

At least Star Wars had Leia and Lord of the Rings had Eowyn (although I’ll note she wasn’t part of the Fellowship a.k.a. the main characters,so . . .)

Without Tauriel, the Hobbit is a movie about fifteen dudes. I don’t mind the idea of a movie about fifteen men sharing an adventure together. What I do mind is this implied idea of a world where women don’t seem to exist. That strikes me as odd. What I do mind is that in a cast of fifteen protagonists, there are approximately zero women (although, to be fair, most of the dwarves are purely ancillary characters themselves).

I’m glad there’s someone that the younger girls get to call when it comes time to play. Until we get to the point where more inclusive sci-fi/fantasy books have been around long enough to become classics, this is the road I hope we take. I hope we continue to carve out some characters for the girls, even if they don’t exist in the original text. Frankly, I hope this goes further! Why not pull a Battlestar Galactica and change a male character into a female one? The Hobbit could have spared a dwarf or three for this purpose.

Let’s not stop with adding women, either. Let’s see some homosexual characters. Transgender characters? Sure! Some non-white characters that aren’t orcs, klingons, or any other variant of the “noble savage/barbarian hero/warrior race” archetype. Yes, please.

In short, let’s hope for sci-fi and fantasy created that cater to people of all demographics, not just mine. ‘Cause, you know what? I had  plenty of heroes who looked like me growing up. I got to have Han Solo and Luke Skywalker and Peter Parker and Bruce Wayne and quite a few other heroic characters to identify with. I was spoiled for choice. A lot of kids weren’t, though. A lot of them were ignored or marginalized.

There are enough stories and characters that everybody should have someone. And don’t tell me it’s unimportant; growing up, these are the stories that provided the lens through which I engaged the world. These are the stories that helped make me me.

My stories told me, over and over, that I looked like the hero, the protagonist, the main character, the star. If you wonder what privilege looks like, that’s it right there.

Men’s Rights Activists: A Follow-Up

I told myself I was going to write about something happier (or at least more whimsical) but I couldn’t let this one pass by. Chloe over at the Bodycrimes blog has some great posts on the topic of Men’s Rights Activism. I wanted to highlight one of her posts because it sums up my feelings on the topic perfectly:

These reactions are rarely about addressing imbalances. They’re about the dominant group trying to stay dominant. Let’s face it, the Men’s Rights movement is never going to get out and campaign for child care in their work place, so they can see more of their kids, or shorter hours for working fathers, or the right to paternity leave. They’re not going to be marching against the sexual abuse of children, or even putting programs in place to support men in prisons and the military who are victims of rape. That’s not what they really want. What they want is for equality to go away and for us to return to some idealised time that never really existed.Let’s face it. They just hate women.

I couldn’t have said it better. The entire post is worth your time. You should go take a look.

An Idealistic Thought For The Day

I know I linked to him in yesterday’s post about Romanticism, but I think David Brin really did have a point about the state of the world (beyond just the scope of Romanticism and the fantasy genre) and I wanted to highlight it in light of some other recent news.

From David Brin’s blog:

“. . . anyone who thinks we’ve gotten worse in our brutal savagery is simply a historical ignoramus.  I mean an ignoramus of historical proportions, who knows nothing of what the Assyrians did to the lost ten tribes of Israel, or the Romans to Judea, or the Mongols to Poland, or the Spanish to every native population they encountered. Or the Polynesians to each other, every year. Do you doubt that I could go on with this list? All day and all week? Can you cite counter-examples? Sure, but not many.

By comparison, . . . the per capita rate of violence on planet Earth has plummeted every single decade.

Don’t believe it? Watch this: Stephen Pinker on the Myth of Violence. Then ponder the most marvelous irony: that you think modernity is more violent and cruel only because modernity has succeeded in raising our standards of decent behavior, making us more self-critical about the travesties that remain.  Crimes that are so much milder than our ancestors committed routinely, without a twinge.”

It’s a good point to keep in mind. I know I fall victim to feeling like things are getting worse. It seems like every other day, some asshole from Tucson is making us all look bad. Or people are getting shot. Or blown up. Or blown up due to negligence. Anyway, it just feels like things are getting worse, even though, as Brin argues, the inverse is actually true.

That despair we’re feeling at the state of the world? That’s not the world descending into hell, that’s us getting more sensitive to the horrors that need our silent consent to continue unopposed. A generation ago, fuckwads like Tucson’s own Dean Saxton couldn’t be publicly shamed for his idiocy. Sure, that means he has a larger audience now and his message will reach more minds. It also means that more people will have an opportunity to say, “fuck you and fuck your ideas.” Contrary to popular belief, there is such a thing as bad publicity. The parts of you that exist on the Internet are eternal. These things have a way of sticking around. Maybe Saxton’s name will come up when he’s applying for a job and his fifteen minutes of fame will cost him. Or maybe this will be the greatest aspect of his legacy and this is how history will remember him, as a hateful misogynist swept aside by the changing times.

Silence and ignorance are the sanctuaries that breed cruelty the most effectively. Sure, it doesn’t make a big difference, calling out one asshole to a small audience on a wordpress blog (even if I did pay for my domain so you know that I’m hella serious). The effective change in the world won’t be felt today. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or next year. I haven’t made the world any better by writing this post. Nobody saves the world by tweeting about it.

But if you get enough small changes? Over a long enough period?

Then you have enough change to erode mountains. Enough small changes together can move continents.

That’s what our technology is doing for us. It’s making us better by helping us to demand that the world be better. And in the mind of a better person, an injustice that was once ignorable is now intolerable. The world seems more intolerable today than it did yesterday because today we’re less willing to tolerate today what yesterday we could comfortably ignore.

A Woman On Facebook Loves Science? It’s More Likely Than You Think

This is commentary on old news, but I missed it during its life cycle and I think it’s worth discussing. Do you love science? I love science. In fact, I’m prepared to say that I fucking love science. Based on the popularity of this page and the frequency of its images showing up in my Facebook feed, I’m willing to bet that there are many other people who also love science. That’s a good thing.

Less good is the reaction to the revelation that the “I fucking love science” page is run by *gasp* a woman.

If you read through the comments on that page (and good luck if you try, as of this writing the comments are up to about 1,400), you’ll see that a good number of people are surprised that this page is being run by a woman.

Now, there was something surprising to me about this revelation but it’s not that    the page is being run by a woman. I’m surprised that the page is being run by a single person. When you consider the volume of content that comes from that page, it seems like you’d need a staff of at least a few people. So that’s something noteworthy and if that’s what people were remarking on, there wouldn’t be an issue to discuss in the next few paragraphs.

I’m not going to comment on all the commenting on her physical appearance. I’ve made my case for why I think it’s better to just let those slide despite the sexism there.

However, all the comments that are expressing surprise that a woman is running a science page? That’s something worth commenting on, both because of the sexism inherent in the incredulity and what that incredulity says about our society.

First problem: why are you surprised by this fact? Is it because your assumption is that science-minded folk are male? White? Saying “I can’t believe a woman is running this science page” is the same thing as saying “only a man can run a science page like this” and “women can’t do science or like science or promote science” or whatever. That surprise you’re feeling? That’s the problem.

Second problem: the thing is, the surprise isn’t unjustified despite its sexism. It’s the result of living in a culture where science is still perceived as a boy’s only club. People think of scientists as white males because that’s the majority of people we see as scientists (although this is slowly changing). It’s sort of like how people think of US presidents as white males because, with one exception, that’s who’s been getting the job. We shouldn’t be surprised that’s what the perception is. We should be working to change the circumstances that cause the perception to exist.

The solution should be self-evident: more women involved with science fields and stop being so damned surprised when they do. Don’t be surprised when your daughter says, “I want to study physics.” Say “awesome,” “go for it,” or whatever form of encouragement you deem appropriate.

Fighting Crime With Your Clothes On

This is pretty awesome. If you didn’t check the link, it’s an article about an artist who redesigned several popular super heroines with costumes that, get this, actually cover their skin. The best part about this is not only are the characters recognizable, in my humble opinion, many of them look far better with costumes that speak to practicality instead of blatant sexuality. Wonder Woman, in particular, comes across as far more powerful with this new look.

It makes sense, you know? If your career choice involves copious amounts of violence, I think you’d want to put some pants on.

True, comic books have always been an equal opportunity offender and male characters are just as sexualized with their skintight outfits and rippling muscles.  I think that’s more a comment on the nature of superhero comics as a whole, however.

The other observation I’d like to make is that, rather than making these characters seem frumpy or staid, I think these designs are more attractive. I don’t know if it’s a case of “less is more” or because these designs lend a certain sense of power that’s sexy all on its own, but whatever it is, I think it works. This is a trend I’ve love to see continue across entertainment; I think covering up a little is one of the many reasons the new Lara Croft design from the reboot is superior to the original.

A Follow-Up To Yesterday’s Feminism Post

I saw an article today over at Salon that I believe reinforces yesterday’s post very nicely. If you didn’t check the link, basically it’s a list of powerful women in today’s culture who do not self-identify as feminists. Amid the expected celebrities, one name in particular stands out to me:

Sandra Day O’Connor:I never did [call myself a feminist]. I care very much about women and their progress. I didn’t go march in the streets, but when I was in the Arizona Legislature, one of the things that I did was to examine every single statute in the state of Arizona to pick out the ones that discriminated against women and get them changed.”

I think that this is the reason why feminists need to worry more about “the strength of our brand.” I hope you’ll forgive the smarmy “corporate-speak” there; to be honest, I makes me feel a little dirty typing something that sounds like it belongs in the mouth and mind of a high-powered venture capitalist or corporate consultant. But I think that it’s also very true.

When you have high-profile, powerful women using the phrase “I’m not a feminist, but . . .” it is indicative of an image problem. The fact is that these women are feminists in that they agree with the feminist cause: equality for women. The fact that they don’t adopt the label is indicative of a negative association with the label in the public consciousness. Consider Madonna’s comment at the end of the article:

Madonna: I’m not a feminist, I’m a humanist.”

That should be a telling differentiation right there and one that I think many people would agree with: the label of humanist is fine for most people. The label of feminist, not so much. That’s indicative of a problem. It means people are less likely to listen when they hear the “f-word,” much in the same way that straight white males like myself currently shut down their brains when they hear the “p-word”: privilege.

Though I’m a dedicated humanist myself, I think that feminism is worthy of its own distinct identity because the goal of humanism is too broad. Feminism as a label addresses certainly issues like male privilege and rape culture that get lost in the shuffle for humanism. In a perfect world, feminism and humanism are synonymous and I very much hope we get to the point where the distinction is unnecessary, because that means feminism will have won.