Last week, I went to see Pacific Rim.
SPOILER ALERT: It’s stupid. I know it’s not meant to be taken seriously. I know this. People in giant robot suits fight giant monsters in a futuristic battle for Earth. Not really thought-provoking stuff. But it did leave me with some questions nonetheless. Things like:
Why are there so few women left on planet Earth?
Are they hiding underground? Were they wiped out in a plague? Were they sent to colonize another planet? Did the kaiju eat them all? Actually – the movie does mention (spoiler) that the earlier waves of kaiju were intended to wipe out “the vermin” – us humans – to make way for the kaiju to inherit the earth. So maybe they ate the women to slow down population growth.
Seriously. We’re maybe a third of the way through the movie before they even introduce a female character. And she’s the only female character in the entire movie. Well, ok, unless you count the Russian Jaeger pilot who has two lines and (spoiler) gets eaten on the very first mission we see her go on. In the bustling army base, full of military personnel looking varying amounts of busy, I was able to count three extras that were female in appearance before I just gave up. This is in a scene where probably two dozen people appear on-screen. It was like a shitty game of Where’s Waldo.
Why is the girl such a wuss?
When we meet What’sherbucket (Mia? I got through the whole damn movie without learning anyone’s name), she’s your stereotypical acquiescent, quiet, cringing Japanese girl-lady archetype. She appears to be Colonel Badass’s assistant. Secretary maybe? Concubine. No, definitely not concubine. She wants nothing more than to pilot a Jaeger with Main Character, who she’s been studying obsessively for years because reasons. Colonel Badass is totally against it, because reasons. Main Character is sure she’s totally into him, because he’s a dude and why wouldn’t she be? And also reasons.
They spar. With sticks. He’s all “OMG we’re totally compatible!” (The giant robot suits require two pilots, and they have to be psychically linked so they can move the damn thing around and punch alien monsters in the face.) He tells Co. Badass that W.H.Bucket is his new copilot. Badass says no.
And Bucket? She looks hopeful. Then she looks sad. Then she disappears into her room. At no point does she tell Badass he’s wrong, that she can do it. She doesn’t stand up for herself at all, even though she’s clearly just demonstrated she is capable of administering an ass-kicking. She tells Main Character that she’s aced the simulations – she got a perfect score, which is apparently unheard-of – but she won’t stand up to Co. Badass. Out of “respect.” (How very Japanese of you, Bucket.)
Why? Well, as we find out during a flashback sequence… he’s her father. Basically. She was a little girl in Tokyo when it was attacked by a kaiju, and Badass was in the Jaeger that saved her life. So he, uh, adopted her or something. There’s also a shoe involved. Don’t ask, I don’t know.
Look, the point is: Bucket could have been a really interesting character. She could have been tough, and capable, and smart, and still have been sexy enough to draw the attention of MC. (More on that in a second.) But instead she’s just kind of this useless lump, and the only thing she’s really good for is making the guys in the movie look good. She isn’t even given the opportunity to stick up for herself when one of the other Jaeger pilots (a total douche by all accounts) calls her a bitch and tells MC to keep her on a leash. (Oh, yeah, that flashback sequence? That happens during a training exercise, where she powers up the Jaeger’s plasma cannon and comes within inches of vaporizing the whole army base from the inside out. Because it’s usually a good idea to put a total rookie through complex training maneuvers with live ammunition.) Instead of telling him off or beating his ass to a pulp for looking at her sideways, Bucket does…. well, nothing. She cringes in the background and looks pretty while MC wrestles Douchebag to the ground and tries to make him apologize. Total white knight style. Because it’s the man’s job to save the woman, apparently.
Does the movie even need a woman in it at this point?
Pacific Rim could have gotten by without casting any women at all, and it would barely have warranted an explanation. I think that’s the most off-putting part of the whole thing. Bucket brings nothing to the table by being a woman, except as an awkward and contrived way to convince MC to participate.
Yes, they fall in love. Why? It’s not like they spend all that much time interacting. There’s not anything to be gained by throwing them into a relationship together. It’s not like he’s suddenly motivated to fight to save her because OMG LURRRRVE. They don’t have sex (that we know of). They don’t even kiss on-screen. It’s enough to make me suspect that Bucket was originally a male character, too, and at the last minute someone went “Wait, there are no women in this script. We need at least one woman, for affirmative action purposes!” And then they had to go justify why there was a woman there. I honestly think this might have been a better movie (all things considered) if Bucket had been a male character. Then at least we wouldn’t have this stupid love story just kind of tacked on to our robot-fueled-alien-ass-kicking-fest.
And really, if you wanted to drop a woman into the story to keep the protesters quiet, there are way better ways to have done it. What would have changed if either of the neurotic scientists had been women? Nothing. What about Co. Badass? Nothing. What if Douchebag was a woman? No change. The fact that all these characters were male really points to societal views about what a woman can and can’t do, what she should and shouldn’t be.
Did I hate the movie? No, of course not. It was giant robots fighting giant deep-sea aliens. I never expected it to be Great Feminist Discourse. But it is an excellent example of the kinds of sexism we don’t even think about.
So I’ve been wanting to write about this for a while now: why aren’t there more women in comedy?
I have a theory. Google the term “women aren’t funny” (if your computer’s anything like mine, you can just type in “women aren” and Google will take it from there) and the first half-dozen links are articles discussing, in all seriousness, exactly why women aren’t funny. There’s a lot of evo psych in there – it’s because of their brains, see? It’s because women have to raise children, see? In fact, the Vanity Fair article (yes, Vanity Fair, the WOMEN’S MAGAZINE) goes so far as to suggest that the placenta is actually made of brain cells, and that most of those come from the humor center of the brain. It’s on page two, if you really think you can wade that far through that much bullshit. (And don’t give me the Lighten Up, It’s Just A Joke line – that’s not a fucking joke. Jokes are supposed to be funny.)
There’s a lot of misogyny in there, too – ohh, women are the oppressors of the male sex because we police what they wear, and eat, and how their bodies look; we control their access to medical care and legislate what they can and cannot do with their own bodies; we commit horrible violent crimes against them that we then blame on them because they didn’t conform to societal expectations rigorously enough, and…. oh, wait. I think I got my genders backwards. I’m actually not sure how women became the oppressors in this scenario. But apparently humor is a reaction to that situation – which is why women don’t have any.
I think the reason there aren’t more women in comedy is because there are men that just don’t fucking want us there. I went to an open mic night last week. There was a dude there whose entire five-minute set was about his divorce. I’m sure there can be funny material in there, folks. This guy did not find it. He “joked” about how much of a whore his wife is. He “joked” about how she still bosses him around three years after the divorce (because she asked him to spend more quality time with their son). He “joked” about how she makes everyone around her fat.
In five minutes, I knew why his wife left him. It’s because he’s a massive asshole.
I was there that night because I want to get into doing standup. I’ve been told I’m a pretty funny person, and I figure I’ve got an interesting perspective to share. But, fucking hell… I would never want to go up on stage after a set like that guy’s. If all the dudes in the bar were chuckling and guffawing over the horrible things he said about his ex, then I can only imagine they must believe those horrible things about me, too.
I’ll admit, I struggle with being a humorless feminist. I love humor; I love jokes and comedy and making people laugh and being made to laugh. I love it all. And whether a joke is actually funny or just makes me uncomfortable, my first reaction is to giggle anyway. It’s like a compulsion.
So when someone throws up the straw-man of “Well if we have to be PC all the time, what on earth will we ever joke about?!” it gets me thinking. After all, jokes usually have some element of insult to them, do they not? Humor is about finding and pointing out the differences between expectation and reality. Or it’s slapstick, I suppose, and you can only watch a dude get kicked in the nads so many times before it’s just completely lost its appeal. (For me, that number is one.)
What on earth would we ever joke about? We couldn’t tell racist jokes, obviously. Nothing to do with violence or disrespect against women. No political jokes. No religion jokes. No jokes about little people, or disabled people.
My God. It’s almost like we’d have to make jokes about….. ourselves.
I’ve realized that my favorite comics all have one thing loosely in common: they all make fun of themselves, first and foremost. Brian Regan talks about how badly he did in school, and it’s hilarious. Gabriel Iglesias pokes good-natured fun at his own weight, and I’m rolling in the aisles. Wanda Sykes fantasizes about leaving her vagina at home, and I’m right there with her. Eddie Izzard tells us about leaving his makeup in a squirrel hole, which still makes me giggle a good decade after he said it. And he makes fun of Hitler – I think most people can be comfortable with that.
None of the jokes these people tell ever make me go “Oh, that one was bad.” I never feel weird about laughing at their humor. And I think that’s because it’s all self-directed. Contrast that with someone like Tosh or Adam Corolla, who seem to do nothing but sit in a place of supreme privilege and spew hatred down upon anyone different and, thus, inferior to them. That’s not funny – that’s bullying. And society just goes right along with it. They wouldn’t have gotten popular unless there were enough people out there agree with them, who don’t think they’re total assholes, and who are willing to give them money.
Look. It’s hard to self-monitor, I know. I’m sure I’ve made off-color and disrespectful jokes from time to time. The hardest thing about a blind spot is that you don’t know it’s there until it’s too late. That’s why it’s so important to speak up. That’s why it’s so important that the minority be heard and not silenced by the majority. That’s why it’s so important to examine your own privilege when someone says “Hey, that wasn’t cool,” instead of just telling them to stop being so sensitive. Just because it isn’t a big deal to you doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal to someone.
When the reaction to dissent is an avalanche of hatred and vitriol, it makes one wonder what, exactly, is being defended. Freedom of speech? As Captain Awkward so deftly put it: “‘Freedom of speech’ means you can’t be locked up by the government for expressing an opinion. It doesn’t mean you can’t be kicked out of a party where you’re peeing on the carpet.” Freedom of speech isn’t the entitlement to thoughtlessly spew whatever vitriol is floating around in your head. Your fist ends where my nose begins. You aren’t free to say anything you want, free of social consequences – you are merely free of legal consequences. That is a massive difference.
I think it’s time we were more sensitive. Why is sensitive a bad thing? Because it’s inclusionary? Because it means asking you to admit you may have done something wrong? Because it means you might have to re-examine your beliefs and attitudes? Because it’s considered a feminine trait?
And if asking you to do that means getting an earful of name-calling and profanity… maybe I’m not the sensitive one, after all.
In rather timely other news, there’s a very funny and talented woman in Seattle who is putting together a female-friendly open mic. You can check it out on the Faceyspaces or here. There will be an open mic performance every Tuesday in April, with half the slots reserved for female (or female-identified) comics. There are also a few spaces left in the workshop next week, if you’d rather be onstage getting laughed at and just don’t know how to get started. Either way, if you are in the Seattle area, I strongly recommend you check it out.
What fresh hell is this? Some feminists are upset at First Lady Obama for not, uh, feministing enough?
The article itself is pretty well-balanced and raises some good points. I have no beef with the overall tone of it. I guess I’m just annoyed that there even needs to be an article like this. Once again, folks are looking around on the front lines and going “Well, I’m way more feminist than that woman over there.”
Seriously. Stop it.
So First Lady Obama likes gardening. And being a mother. So freaking what? I highly doubt the solution to the struggle that women face – really to any of the struggles that anyone faces – is to point to someone and say “She’s letting down the team!” “She’s not a REAL feminist!” “She should be feministier!”
When are we going to get it through our heads that what works for us might not work for everyone? That looking down our noses and pooh-pooh-ing the work of others is part of what reinforces the kyriarchy that holds us all back from living full and engaging lives? Accepting that everyone has a right to live life on their own terms means accepting that some people like to garden, that some people like being mothers, that some of us actually enjoy makeup and clothes and fashion magazines. That doesn’t make those people any less feminist.
Hell, the days I do wear makeup, I consider it a radical act of feminism. That’s because I’m wearing it for no one’s gratification but my own. I don’t wear it to please the men around me; the only ones I care about couldn’t give two shits about my makeup or lack thereof. And I certainly don’t wear it to please the feminists who would call me out as a traitor for doing so. That leaves… just me. I do it because I like it. I figure, if I’m ever late to work or an event because I simply couldn’t leave the house without a full face on, then I’m no longer doing it for me. Till then, the “must reject feminine things to be a feminist” camp can bite me. I’m not here to please them, any more than they’re here to please the men in their lives.
“Are fashion and body-toning tips all we can expect from one of the most highly educated First Ladies in history?” asked author Leslie Morgan Steiner in an online column last January.
Well, yeah, if we have a highly educated First Lady who’s passionate about fashion and fitness. What’s the problem there? Or, sorry – did you want to try and force her into a preconcieved model of what your ideal woman should be, regardless of her individual talents, passions, or circumstances? Hmm, that sounds familiar somehow…
Of course, the same writer then generously throws the First Lady a bone.
“I’m sure there is immense pressure — from political advisors, the black community, her husband, the watching world — to play her role as First Black Lady on the safe side.”
Ah, yes. She can’t show interest in something because she’s interested in it; it all has to be engineered by The Man. She’s only conforming because she’s being pressured to conform. Poor soul. If Michelle Obama could really be herself, of course she’d drop her interest in her children and her garden and run off to… I don’t know, become a radical butch dyke polyamorous oil rigger? Or something? She can’t like that stuff just because she likes it, right? She must be bending to pressure somewhere. Nobody actually likes raising children and gardening and getting schoolchildren to eat healthier.
Look, it’s easy to fall into the trap. The system we live under now has us believing that in order to get to the top of the dogpile, we have to throw someone else father down. It’s easy to forget that the only way we win is by walking away from the dogpile altogether. That’s what equality is, right? Equal footing, level playing field?
Let’s stop sneering down our noses at each other, okay? Let’s stop trying to pretend like our way of life is the only one that works. We talk big about acceptance; let’s start by nurturing that seed of acceptance within ourselves. No one will take our demands for acceptance seriously if we’re just as prejudiced as the folks we want to accept us.
I don’t care what the First Lady likes to do with her time. She has every right to do it without being criticized as “un-feminist” for it. It’s her life.
So, another person calling herself a feminist has posted another public rant, filled with hate and abusive language, targeting a minority group (of women, no less!) lower on the totem pole than herself. I found pieces of it – along with a well-written and delightfully snarky retort – on Consider The Tea Cosy . (As of yesterday or so, the original article was taken down and an apology posted – though I believe one of the Tea Cosy commentariat posted a link hosted elsewhere, if you really feel like slogging through the schoolyard name-calling vitriol.)
It got me thinking: What is the goal of feminism, exactly?
For some, it seems, feminism is about raising the status of women in the world. For some it is about taking power back from men, away from men. For some, it is about the expression of sexuality, gender identity, conformity or non-conformity to societal norms. For the writer of the article in question (a self-described “militant feminist”), it seems to be about pointing out all the ways men have more freedom than women – even people described as men at birth who would prefer to live their lives as women, who have a need and a desire to live as women – and how unfairrrrr that is. As tempted as I am to go into that more, I think Ms. O’Riordan has already covered it wonderfully. Instead, I will say this:
I think feminism is about freedom. And here’s the thing: if we can’t all be free, then none of us are free.
Feminism is about basic human rights. The right to be oneself. The right to live free of hatred. The right to live free of violence. The right to live free of shame. Feminism is more than just a women’s issue. And if I accept that feminism is a human rights issue, then I accept that feminism is about supporting the rights of those around me.
Feminism means supporting the rights people of color have to be seen always as equals, as peers, as who they are and not their racial history. It means supporting their right to be free of hatred, shame, persecution, prejudice, bias, violence. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.
Feminism means supporting the rights the LBGTQ community has to live life in the open, to seek and find and celebrate relationships as freely as the straight community does. It means supporting their right to be free of violence, hatred, shame, persecution, prejudice, bias. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.
Feminism means supporting the rights that trans people of all genders have, to be called not by the gender they were assigned at birth but by the gender they have always known themselves to be, to live life openly, at home in their own body. It means supporting their right to be free of bias, violence, hatred, shame, persecution, prejudice. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.
Feminism means supporting the rights that women have, to be treated as human beings and not decorations or toys or children. It means supporting their right to be free of prejudice, bias, violence, hatred, shame, persecution. It means supporting their right to have a voice. I lend that support gladly.
Feminism means supporting the rights that men have, to be treated as human beings and not cavemen or animals or simpletons. It means supporting their right to be free of persecution, prejudice, bias, violence, hatred, shame. Yes, it means supporting their right to have a voice. Yes, I lend that support gladly.
And I hope I can rely on that same support in return.
Feminism is about educating oneself. It means not just pointing out the privilege of others, but examining one’s own privilege and realizing the ways in which we, too, are flawed and prejudiced. It means re-structuring our beliefs to be more inclusive. Feminism is not about taking away rights; it is about extending them. It is about recognizing the humanity in every living soul; it is about respecting that humanity. It is not enough to support the rights of those like us or those that agree with us. Believing in equal rights means believing even in the rights of our oppressors. That does not mean supporting their presumed “right” to oppress us; but it means recognizing the humanity even in those we consider the enemy. It means understanding that the system, the kyriarchy, The Man, screws us all up; it implants false belief systems and skewed world views in all of us. It means realizing our jailors also live in a cell.
Regardless of who we are or how we live our lives, we are all in this together. Screaming angry slurs across lines drawn in the sand will not get us anywhere. It doesn’t matter which side of the line we’re on. We are all human. We are all in this together.
Until all of us are free, none of us are free.
I am a bisexual woman. And that’s okay.
I look like a straight woman. I wear my hair long and conventional, in a natural color. I wear feminine clothes, high heels, makeup, lingerie. I’m femme. I have a husband (who fully supports this journey I’m on). And that’s okay.
I want to meet a girl. I want to look up and see her across the room, and feel like maybe I’ve been struck by lightning because suddenly my limbs don’t work properly and I’m all shaky and oh jeez am I making a weird face? I want that nervous crush, the excitement of awkwardly flirting, of testing the waters and navigating slowly from the safe bay of mutual acquaintance out into the open waters of friendship and the possibility of more. And that’s okay.
I want to have a girlfriend. I want to go on dates, go see movies together, go out to cafes and restaurants and bars and karaoke maybe. I want to snuggle and watch tv on the couch. I want to play games together, and take her on creative dates, and surprise her on anniversaries and birthdays. I want to introduce her to my husband and hope they get along. I want to introduce her to my friends and integrate her into my social circle. I want to be the shy new girlfriend at the parties she brings me to; I want to meet the people that are important in her life and gain their approval. I want to walk down the streets holding hands and not care if people are staring or not. I want to open my heart to her, and invite her in to snuggle up and get comfortable. I want to be steady and dependable for her, and know that she can be there for me, too. And that’s okay.
I want to explore a sexual relationship with a girl. I want that first kiss, the first time we get frisky, the nervousness and excitement of new lovemaking. I want to break all the rules and make our own. I want to create a relationship from scratch, one that fits the two of us perfectly because it’s custom-made. I want to try new things, new toys, new positions. I want to take my time discovering what she likes. I want to watch her lovely face as she responds to my touch, my body, my words, my kiss. I want to surrender myself to her, too, and know she’s watching. And that’s okay.
I want the fights, too. I want the disagreements, the days when we seem to be at odds, the nights when we’re just not feeling it and we end up talking for hours about what’s not working instead of sleeping. I want to work through problems, to step carefully through the landmines and pitfalls, to draw back the veil and see the parts of our hearts that are ugly, bruised, hurt, and tender. I want to put my trust in her, tell her about the pain in my past, hear about the pain in hers and hold each other through the darkness that comes with it. I want the deepening connection that can only come when we’re fully honest with each other – even if it risks hurting or disappointing our partner. And that’s okay.
I know that it doesn’t come that easy. I know that attraction is unfair, and finding someone is hard, and takes time, and that this perfect girl I have in my head may not actually exist at all. I know that I will have to date, and be heartbroken, and love and lose, and take risks that don’t pan out. I know that the more pressure I put on myself to find someone, the harder it is and the less likely it’ll happen. I know that I need to make friends and let it develop naturally, the way any other relationship does. And that’s okay.
I want to tell the world, to put my intentions out in the universe: I may not be fully prepared, but I’m ready to make a start. I’m open and looking. I’ve been longing for this for some time, and I’m doing my best to put myself in a position where it’s possible and simultaneously stay out of my own way. There is a guilt, a voice inside me that says it’s selfish, it won’t work, it’s not right, no one will want you anyway, what you’re looking for can’t be found.
But I want it anyway. And that’s okay.
At its heart, I believe feminism is – or, at least, should be – about convincing women they’re good enough. Isn’t it? It’s the affirmation that a woman’s thoughts are good enough to be heard; that a woman’s work is good enough to be compensated; that a woman’s sexuality is good enough to be respected; that a woman’s body is good enough to be beautiful; that a woman is good enough to be a person. Many of the most terrible injustices of the world spring from that place of not-good-enough: if your thoughts are not good enough to be heard, you are silenced. If your work is not good enough to be compensated, you go hungry and homeless. If your sexuality is not good enough to be respected, you become an object for others’ pleasure and not your own. If your body is not good enough to be beautiful, you are scorned and denied legitimacy and opportunity. If you are not good enough to be a person, you become a piece of property, an object, something to be used or abused by those considered good enough to be human.
The insidious thing is, this message of not-good-enough is all around us. It’s in the ads that sell us things, the movies we watch, the magazines we read. It’s reflected in the eyes and attitudes of our family, and our friends, and our lovers. It seeps into the soul of who we are, until we accept the message and begin to oppress ourselves. Society doesn’t need to beat the average woman over the head to get her to accept that she’s not good enough; she’s already come to terms with it. She already believes it. Not-good-enough convinces you to become your own jailor.
In high school, I wanted to be an actress. Truthfully, I have craved being onstage since I can remember; whenever there was a school or church play, I always envied the kids who got picked (seemingly at random) to dress up in costume and read their lines before the crowd. I always wanted that. Does it matter why I wanted it? Nope. I’ve just always wanted it. And I was good at it. And I enjoyed it. (Isn’t that what they tell you to look for when choosing a career?)
Somewhere in my high school years, though, an absurd and horrible thing began to happen. Somewhere, the doubt crept in. I wasn’t pretty enough, not like the actresses in Hollywood. I wasn’t talented enough to make it into the main parts in many of the shows I auditioned for. I didn’t have the right body type. I didn’t have the right face. Maybe what I thought was a good performance was overacted. Maybe I was too subtle. And goodness knows I couldn’t sing well enough.
Late in my junior year or early in my senior one, a friend invited me to star in a movie he had written and was filming. The script was about a depressed and suicidal young woman who finds love in an alternate dream world. It becomes more and more difficult for her to distinguish reality from fiction, and eventually she is committed to a mental hospital. As she sinks deeper into despair in her real life, she turns more and more to the love she experienced in her fantasy life. Eventually the worlds blend indistinguishably, and the viewer is left questioning which version was reality, and which was the dream. Even by eighteen-year-old standards, the concept and scripting were quite good.
My boyfriend at the time was less than thrilled about my position as the main character – especially because the script called for a kissing scene. He was jealous, manipulative, and controlling… and so it was that the only way I was “allowed” to take the role was if he played the romantic interest.
He was also, as it turns out, a terrible actor. The film made it halfway through production before it all fell apart – mainly due to the fact that he could never remember his lines, constantly criticized the other production members, and never managed to show up on time to anything. He also hated letting me spend time with the friend directing the movie – since this friend and I had dated in the past.
That was more than ten years ago. It is only now, as I sit here writing it out again, that I realize what a ridiculous position he put me in. It was never up to him to decide who I could kiss, or why. It was never up to him to decide who I could or could not spend time with, nor how I spent that time. I was good enough to make those decisions on my own. I was good enough to choose my friends, and I was good enough to not allow some childish jerk to derail a project I found meaningful and important. I just didn’t know I was good enough at the time.
So this is me, taking that step out into the world. This is me believing that what I have to say is good enough; that there will be people to listen and read, people who agree and think I have something worthwhile to say, people who are interested.
I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and darnit, people are gonna like me.