NEW AT BEACON: Saved By a Kiss: Neil Gaiman’s “The Sleeper and the Spindle”

Illustrations by Chris Riddell.

Today’s piece at Beacon discusses a new book for young readers written by one of my faves, Neil Gaiman, called The Sleeper and the Spindle.

EXCERPT:

It’s the story of a woman saving another woman, teaching that we can and should help each other, rather than compete. It’s the story of a queen who is unsure of marriage having an adventure and hoping to do something bigger with her life than just stick to the prescribed path of marriage-babies-death. It’s the story of a woman who sees something that needs doing and is capable of solving the problem herself, rather than calling the nearest man to do it. In a fairy tale setting, that’s huge, because so often, girls are taught to wait for princes.

To read the full article and/or comment on the article, CLICK HERE! That’s right! Whether you subscribe to me at Beacon or not, you can now read all of my posts for FREE for seven days. So feel free to not only read and comment, but pass the link around! Hopefully, you’ll like what you read enough (both my work and the work of some of the other talented writers at Beacon) to subscribe to me for as little as $5/month and enjoy all that Beacon has to offer!

And if you like what you read, don’t forget to click the “Worth It” button at the bottom of the article! 🙂 Thanks!

NEW AT BEACON: “Joan Rivers: Unapologetic”

I write a pop culture column over at Beacon. So it would be remiss of me to not talk about the passing of one of pop culture’s loudest satirists, the inimitable Joan Rivers.

EXCERPT: 

I’ve spent most of my life not a huge Joan Rivers fan. 

I know, I’m not supposed to say that now that she’s passed away (she died yesterday at the age of 81), but considering how outspoken and brash she was throughout her career, I’m sure she wouldn’t begrudge me the opportunity to speak my mind. 

Her jokes always seemed a bit dated to me – women either being sluts, or “not being able to catch husbands,” etc – and I found the way she tended to laugh between each joke, as if she wanted to fill in just in case no one in the audience found her funny, a bit grating. People of my generation have known of Joan Rivers’ existence for our entire lives. However, unlike Robin Williams, she rarely appeared in a context that we were allowed to enjoy as children, so we didn’t “grow up” with her in the same way. Her stand-up was either on late-night talk shows, which we couldn’t stay up and watch, or it was on cable, where it was allowed to be as raunchy as she could make it, and we weren’t allowed to watch. So, unless we were specifically interested in pursuing comedy as a career, my generation primarily grew up knowing Joan Rivers as That Annoying Woman on Awards Show Red Carpets Who Doesn’t Have Her Facts Straight and Is Embarrassing Us All. We grew up with parodies of Joan Rivers, and very often, Rivers seemed like a parody of herself. 

And this is a horrible shame. 

It wasn’t until I watched the brilliant documentary about her life and career,Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work (IFC, 2010), that I truly began to understand just how much she contributed to comedy, to show business, and to feminism.

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! Starting at only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

NEW AT BEACON: “The Angel of Verdun: Nuanced Female Characters”

Posts once a week at Beacon. That’s how I wanna roll. 🙂

Anyway, here’s the latest at my pop culture column over there. It’s about the difference between “Strong Female Characters” and “Nuanced Female Characters” and why I think Rita Vratasky (Emily Blunt) in Edge of Tomorrow is a great example of the kind of female character we should be clamoring to see in films.

EXCERPT: 

I hate the phrase Strong Female Character

“Strong Female Character” carries with it a judgement that I don’t think its users intend. After all, what does “strong” mean? Does it mean physically strong (and so, are we defining strength according to stereotypically male criteria)? Does it mean emotionally strong (and so, does this mean that if a woman cries, falls in love, or protects her children she’s not strong)? Does it mean assertive and ambitious (and so, can more average women not be “strong characters?” And how do we square that with the fact that, with male protagonists, the Hero’s Journey is often defined by his starting out as an ineffectual schlub who grows into leadership. Was he not a “strong character” until the very end)? 

My preferred phrase – and what I think most people mean when they say “Strong Female Character” – is Nuanced Female Character.

What those who want gender parity in pop culture want in their female characters is complexity. We want them to be more than girlfriends, doormats, or prizes to be won. We want them to have their own inner lives and goals in the stories we watch. Even if they’re not the protagonists, we want them to be fully-realized people, not caricatures. We want them to have strengths and flaws. We want them to have, or at least want and earn, agency. Most of all, we want them to have a reason to be in the story that doesn’t boil down to: Plot Device.

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

NEW AT BEACON: “When Feminism Becomes a Marketing Tool”


Finally, a Beacon post about something OTHER than the movie, Noah! 🙂 In my latest over at Beacon, I talk about the current trend of using feminism to market products: when it’s effective, when it isn’t, and whether doing it at all is OK.

EXCERPT:

Not to be left out, Pantene put out an ad that focused on the double standard inherent in labels placed on confident women who work hard (“bossy,” “selfish,” “show-off”) as opposed to men who do the same (“boss,” “dedicated,” “confident”). The ad encouraged women to #ShineStrong (and apparently one way to do that is by washing your hair with Pantene, rather than – I don’t know – getting a Masters Degree), and again put the onus on them to not “let labels hold [them] back,” while not acknowledging that beauty companies are a big reason why women focus so much on their looks as their only asset, which leads to the labels this ad is warning against.

These ads are the equivalent of your older sibling grabbing your hand, slapping you in the face with it over and over, then asking “Why’re you hitting yourself? Why’re you hitting yourself? Why’re you hitting yourself?”

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

NEW AT BEACON: “NOAH PART 3: Where Is the Good In All This?”

It’s taken me forever – mostly because I was out of town for a month, and spent a month playing catch-up on various things in my life – but I’ve finally posted the third and final part in my discussion of the film Noah over at Beacon. I hope it was worth the wait!

In this final part, I discuss the thing I liked most about Noah, particularly now in light of stuff like the shooting committed by Elliot Rodger at USCB: the examination of gender, and gender roles.

EXCERPT:

We watch as Ham jealously eyes his brother and Ila’s interactions, wanting the same for himself. It’s understandable for a young person to want a partner, and as a woman with plenty of experience in being single while watching everyone around me pair up, I felt this kid’s pain! The trouble with Ham was that he had somehow gotten it into his head that Being a Man = Having a Wife and Fathering Children, which is a narrow definition. 

As he builds The Ark, Noah (Russell Crowe) gives Ham tasks for which he is to be responsible, including the greatest task of all – caring for the animals. The whole point of The Ark is to allow Creation to go on after the flood, so ensuring the safety of everything on The Ark is extremely important, requiring a high level of maturity and responsibility. Some might say that Noah would only bestow this responsibility on a mature adult – aka (if you’re male) A Man. Yet Ham is so preoccupied with Finding a Wife that he dismisses this great responsibility, runs off to try and find a wife, and when he can’t bring the girl he finds onto The Ark with him, he sabotages his father’s endeavor, allowing an interloper onto the boat (Tubal Cain, played by Ray Winstone), causing all sorts of problems, and eventually being so ashamed that he leaves his family once they do get back onto dry land.

Yet, as we’re seeing all this through Noah’s eyes, we know that Ham has it all wrong. That Real Men aren’t defined by the women they bed or the children they conceive. They’re defined by what they protect and cultivate. They’re defined not by destruction, but by growth. This is an amazing, appropriate, and necessary message in this day and age, when gender roles are shifting and feminism has caused many men to question what their “job” is now. It’s the same as its always been. Protect, create, cultivate. 

If you want to read and comment on my full post, you’ll have to subscribe to my work over at Beacon! For only $5/month, you’ll be able to access all my pop culture criticism, as well as the work of 100+ other journalists writing about the topics you care about. Check it out! Once there, please click the “Worth It” button on the bottom of my article! (That is, if you actually like what I’ve written.)

Thanks! 🙂

COUNTDOWN TO BEACON: Pop Culture and Feminism

Hello all!

Today, as I count down to my campaign on Beacon (beginning March 3, I’m going to be offering subscriptions to my pop culture writing for $5/month), I thought I’d shine a spotlight on one of my more popular pieces over at Tor.com.

And when I say “popular,” I don’t necessarily mean in the best way.

In this piece, Moffat’s Women: Amy and her Skirt, I talk about how much I love the character of Amy Pond, and how much I hate the fact that in the Comic Relief videos, “Space” and “Time,” the TARDIS crashing is blamed on Amy’s choice to wear a short skirt (rather than on Rory’s lack of concentration while fixing it).

EXCERPT:

Rory being distracted by Amy in a short skirt (not to mention the idea of two of her) is understandable. After all, he knows what she looks like under the skirt, making it even more understandable in his case. This isn’t my problem with the minisodes. My problem is with the too-easy, dated, sexist humor they employ, especially in the second part. First, there’s the issue of Amy being a bad driver and Rory being allowed to “have a go” at driving the TARDIS. Bad woman driver, ha ha. Now, one of the things I love about Amy is the fact that she’s flawed. She’s a complex woman, so if being a bad driver is one of the many things that make her who she is, I can forgive that.

Less forgivable, however, is the final message at the end. Once the crisis is resolved, The Doctor says that they should be safe, but to prevent it from happening again, he says “Pond, put some trousers on.” So, let me get this straight: Rory gets distracted, Rory drops the coupling…and it’s Amy’s job to put some pants on? Yes, it’s just a joke. Yes, she rolls her eyes at The Doctor and gives Rory a glare…but the fact that Moffat chose to have The Doctor reprimand Amy at the end instead of, oh I don’t know, slapping Rory upside the head for not paying attention, soured the experience for me.

If you enjoy this piece, and want to see more like it, consider subscribing to me at Beacon, beginning March 3rd. I’d love to continue to bring you the in-depth pop culture discussion to which you’ve become accustomed! 🙂

Women in Film: RAZE

Film: Raze

Director: Josh Waller; Writer: Robert Beaucage

Chosen because: Female protagonist and a predominantly female cast in a stereotypically “male” genre; Produced by Zoe Bell, and two other female Executive Producers  – Rachel Nichols, and Allene Quincy

I really need more people to go and see the film Raze, which is now in several cities across the country, because I need to be able to talk to more people about what they think about the ending!

Raze opens with a young woman named Jamie (Rachel Nichols) talking with a guy in a bar. Next thing she knows, she’s unconscious and wakes up in a dark, underground room. As she tries to escape, she meets another young woman, Sabrina (played by awesome stuntwoman and actress, Zoe Bell), and they walk together under the pretense that they’re looking for a way out.  But Sabrina leads Jamie into an enclosed, circular, stone-walled room with a steel door that shuts behind them and starts kicking the crap out of her for no reason. When Jamie asks her why, Sabrina says “Because we have to.”

Sabrina isn’t the only woman there. There are about fifty or so chosen (rather, kidnapped) by this crazy and ancient cult that does this every year because something-something-Greek mythology-something-something-women are powerful-something-something.  The women have to fight each other, tournament-style, to the death. The “winner” gets to leave and is crowned Princess of I Fucked All These Bitches Up, or somesuch. In order to force them into fighting rather than just escaping, killing themselves or letting themselves be killed, each woman has a loved one that the cult is targeting and has surveillance on. So, if the woman refuses to fight, she risks someone killing her child, or her husband, or her parent…

I enjoyed this movie muchly, because:

1) It was an amazing metaphor for what women face on a day-to-day basis. Not that we’re pitted against each other in brutal fights to the death – but we are pitted against each other in other ways. Especially if we’re powerful. Because God forbid there be more than one powerful woman at the top, amirite? It was also a great metaphor for how women are taught to do things, or sacrifice themselves, or put themselves through hell for other people. These women were encouraged to fight “for your daughter,” or “for your mother,” or “for your fiance.” But Tracie Thoms’ character has an amazing line where she basically says, “Any of those people you care about can be taken away from you anyway. You have to fight for yourself.” You have to deem yourself worth saving, because at the end of the day any other reason for staying alive doesn’t matter – you should be doing it because you want to survive and thrive.

2) There was a diverse cast of women. I don’t just mean racially, though they were that (shout-out to Tracie Thoms and Rosario Dawson, who is also in this film). I mean as far as personality types. There were women who were scared, there were women who were brave, and there were women who were driven insane by the experience. And there was one woman who loved violence and couldn’t wait to get her hands on anyone and everyone. It wasn’t just a parade of “kick-ass women.” They were real, average women under crazy, heightened circumstances. Some, like Zoe Bell’s character, had military training. Others had kickboxing experience, or gymnastics experience. They were all chosen because they were a certain level of physically fit/trained so that the fights would be interesting…but they weren’t Superwomen, and that’s what made this film so frightening, and what many of these women had to do all the more amazing. To top it all off, one of the leaders of the crazy cult is a woman, played by Sherilyn Fenn, and she sees what she’s doing as beneficial to women – well, to the one woman who survives. Sabrina asks her at one point, “How can you do this to other women?”

Her answer is not fucking cool.

3) There was also some crazy-amazing fight scenes, and if you’re a fan of stylized, violent fare, like I am, you will LOVE this. At first, the fights were too brutal to watch. But by the middle of the movie, I was actively, viscerally rooting for certain characters to kick other characters’ asses. So, not only is this a movie about women and their place in the world, but it’s about violence and how we, the viewers, respond to it. Even if violence isn’t your thing, you have to admire the phenomenal fight choreography. It takes a lot of work to make a fake fight look so intensely brutal.

Anyway, all this doesn’t mean the movie was perfect. Some of the shots, particularly when related to Sabrina and her daughter, were really heavy-handed and schmaltzy. And then there was that ending; that ending that I personally didn’t like, but that I know could be great conversation fodder – I’m still not sure if “being conversation fodder” is good enough for an ending, which is part of the reason why I want to hear what others think about it!

In any case, go see Raze if it’s playing in a city near you. And then find me so we can talk about it. 🙂