Category Archives: Feminism

Favorite Stories Starring Women: Agent 355

In a world where 99.999% of the population is female, the comics are still about a man.

I have a hard time writing about Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man. The last time I did it (scroll down, I put the article in the chum section), it was this same character and I published the post the day the final issue came out. I’ve never been the same. That last issue was so perfectly final that I’ve never felt the need to come back to the series. I have closure and very little left to say.

The one exception is Agent 355. When it comes to comics about women there is no one else who comes close to what she means to me. It’s not just that she’s a Knitter (and is shown knitting realistically in the beautiful Pia Gurerra art) and yet, it’s also entirely that she’s a Knitter.

There’s one line that sums up my feelings about Agent 355 and it’s one she says while giving Yorik the scarf she’s knitted throughout the series, “I f%&%ed up a lot and had to start over a bunch of times.”  355 is a highly trained and skilled agent; she kicks all kinds of ass. Heck, she even stabs a pirate with her knitting needles, but she still makes mistakes, she lets her emotions get in the way, and she doesn’t realize what she wants out of life until it is tragically, painfully too late.

Through it all, Agent 355 knits that scarf. She makes progress slowly, over the five years covered by the main plot of Y: The Last Man. The scarf is supposed “to keep [her] hands busy,” but, for 355 it’s more than that. The scarf is a connection to a family she lost long before the men were wiped out. Her grandmother taught her to knit and her father made clothes for a living. They were all makers, they all created things. If you ask me, that’s the central message of Y: creativity is the most important thing.

When the fighting is over and 355 has delivered her charge to his destination (and long-lost girlfriend), she makes a choice. 355 chooses creation over destruction. She trades her gun to a tailor for a beautiful dress.

For the world of Y: The Last Man to survive (spoiler alert: it does), the people needed to embrace the choice 355 makes. They need to create new human beings, they need to find new ways of governing,  they need to choose to create a new world, rather than destroy the old one.

Of all the wildly creative people in Y, it’s 355 who speaks to me. It’s not the wacky escape artist or the brilliant biologist, it’s neither the rebel nor the mother, it’s the Knitter. The one who puts one stitch in front of the other, who f%&%s up and starts over, who perseveres through everything to create something new.

Thanks to the Women Write About Comics blog carnival for giving me the excuse to blather on about one of my favorite characters for 500 words. You should go check out the other entries!

3 Comments

Filed under Books, Comics, Feminism, knitting

WIR (huh) What is it good for?

(A surprising number of things, actually)

There’s this Women Write About Comics Carnival and as I am a woman who has been known to write about comics from time to (all the) time I really want to contribute. The thing is, they’ve got a theme and it’s Women in Refridgerators, 13 years later.

For those who aren’t familiar with the concept of Women In Refridgerators, it’s the brain child of that champion of women in comics, Gail Simone. As the story goes, one day Gail noticed a pattern, whenever things got too good to be true for our doughty (super) Hero something terrible would happen to heighten the drama and spur him into action. Frequently “something would happen” meant the violent beating, rape, or death of a female member of his supporting cast. A mother, an aunt, or, as in the most famous example from Green Lantern (vol. 3) #54, a girlfriend. The list of characters is long and it’s scary and it’s one instance where my particular brand of “how I got into comics” works against me.

You see, I’m very much a Jenny-come-lately as far as comics goes. I bought my first X-Men comic in 2006 and I’ve read a lot since then, but since I’ve missed so much, I’ll probably use something like Wikipedia or UncannyXmen.Net to catch up on the backstory of anyone I don’t recognize. Which means I get spoiled for everything, which in turnt gives me a layer of distance from those traumatic events. I know they happen before the more visceral experience of reading the books. It’s a necessary thing, but it means that I can think of precious few examples of seeing this trope in action where it actually affected me.

So, I have no huge dramatic story about how I read The Adventures of Suchandsuch #Number and the death of female protagonist seared my young soul to the bone. I do, however have my usual level of righteous indignation over the way women in comics (both characters and creators) are treated.

Because Women In Refridgerators is only a part of the problem. So’s cheesecake and every single thing that fails the Bechdel test. You see, there’s this faulty assumption in not just comics, but the larger nerdy community that there just aren’t that many women to offend, so it doesn’t matter if you do. This is blatantly wrong, of course, but being blatantly wrong has never stopped a perception from damaging anything.

I came to my decision back when the furor over Starfire went down. It came from an exchange I had with my buddy Tim on Twitter. It went like this:

We had it right. It’s not enough for us to be indignant and to speak out. It’s not enough to confront the writers and editors over this online, in the letter pages, and at cons. The only way to change the comics industry is to become the comics industry.

I accidentally reread part of Mira Grant’s Feed last night and one part stood out at me in the context of this situation:

You could tell the ones who were genuinely young from the ones who’d had all the plastic surgery and regenerative treatments money could buy, because the young ones were the ones looking nauseated by all the human contact around them. They hadn’t grown up in this political culture. They just had to live with it until they became the old men at the top of the hill.

~Mira Grant, Feed p. 483

I genuinely hope that this is true of us in the comics industry. That nerdy women are coming into our own and as our generation rises to the top of the heap we’ll be able to shed the nauseating focus on violence towards and sexualization of women. I hope that this happens, but hoping isn’t going to get us anywhere.

So I shifted a few projects around on my “to write” queue. I’m not as ready as I’d like to be and everything’s in a very early stage, but I’m talking with collaborators. We’re working on it. Because I can’t just sit around and hope anymore. I’ve gotta work towards change.

That was the end of post, but if you’ve still got an earworm from my terrible pun in the title, here’s what I’ve been hearing for the last hour while I wrote this:

24 Comments

Filed under Books, Comics, Feminism, Ponderings, Writing

A Tale of Two Series

I haven’t written about what an amazing experience it was to be a supporting member of Renovation last year, to vote in my first Hugos and to get a chance to experience my first Hugo voter’s packet. Honestly, I’m still reading through it, but I made it though enough of four of the novels to be sure about my decision. Which then lost, as did my second choice. Looking back, though, I wish I could have told past!me that I want people to read our second choice book more than I do our first.

Let’s rewind the clock back six months, to late July when I was pondering my choices for the Best Novel Hugo. This one means the most to me and I had narrowed my final choice down to two exceptional novels: Feed by Mira Grant (Bloggers fight corruption, disease, and zombies in pursuit of the truth) and The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms by N.K. Jemesin (A princess from the far flung edges of an empire is suddenly in the running for empress, with all the God-controlling powers that come with it). I absolutely loved both of these books, I was lucky enough to get my hands on copies on the sequels of both, both of which were actually better than the first entries in the series. I thought all of the books were innovative and welcome additions to the genre, but I could only give my first place vote* to one book and in the end my vote went to The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.

I loved The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms because it read to me like fanfiction. I mean that not in derision, but because it took attitudes I kinda hate in the fanfic context, like “Oh everyone totally sleeps with everyone else all the time and we’re all okay with that,” gave them an in-world reason for working, and made me enjoy the hell out of it. On top of that The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms is diverse and well written without trying too hard. I love it, but a big part of that love, for me, comes from a place of being in Fandom and I talk to people about books who, well, aren’t. This is a specifically me thing, but it means that I won’t be hounding people to read The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms unless I think they fit in that narrow Fandom slice of my life.

And then there’s Feed. What can I say about Feed?

Feed is flawless.
I hear Feed’s virology is insured for $10,000
I hear Feed does car commercials… in Alaska.
Feed’s favorite move is Dawn of the Dead.
One time Feed met Publisher’s Weekly on a plane…
–and it told Feed it was “gripping, thrilling and brutal.”
One time Feed punched me in the heartstrings with a rusty hacksaw. It was awesome.

Yeah, I liked Feed. A lot. So why didn’t I vote for it back then? Well I had some reserations about the writing during my first read. I thought it came off as preachy. However, I have since discovered that preachiness comes partially from the narrator, not from the author or the world. It’s an important distinction, because Georgia, the main character, is a little preachy about the importance of honest journalism and I love that about her character. If it was bias on the authorial level other narrators would participate in that preachiness, but they don’t. It’s something you don’t notice at first because Georgia narrates the bulk of Feed with only short interludes from others. The other reason took some research to track down. Reading backstory on Feed (because I am a nerd, I love to read author blogs,and Seanan McGuire’s** blog is really good) I found out she started working on it in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. That makes a world of difference, because the blog was the be all and end all of communicating with the world back then. Nowadays I get 75 hits on my blog on the best days and over 1,000 people see every one of my tweets. Technology outstripped the publishing process and that’s okay. Resolving those two things really killed off my reservations about Feed, leaving behind only a desire to make everyone I know read it.

In my second impassioned plea in as many days, I now ask you all to please go read Feed and then come back here and squee about it with me. I need to squee about Feed like I get to do about comic books or Doctor Who or Sherlock or musicals or the million other things I squee about on a regular basis.

*Hugo voting is a little confusing, but here’s basically how it works. You rank the nominated books in your order of preference, then the votes are counted. If no work has a clear majority the book with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and its votes are redistributed to the next eligible book on the voter’s ballot. This continues until one book has a majority. It’s cool because your second and third and fourth choice matters. You want to have read as much of the material as possible, so you can make an informed choice.

**Mira Grant is a pen name for Seanan McGuire, who writes other, excellent, books under her own name. I like pen names, especially how they’re used by genre authors skipping around genres. I will probably tell you about the Seanan/Mira thing if you get me talking about Feed. No Twitter Nat teases me about it.

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Feminism

What Cheesecake Really Costs Us: the DC Reboot and why I own a bottle of Twilight perfume

I haven’t posted about the DC Reboot yet, I’ve been out of work and the books I was planning to pick up seemed like an unnecessary expense. I can’t really write about something I haven’t read, so I haven’t had anything to say.  Then last week’s comics hit and threw the ball into a court I’m a little more familiar with: the visual treatment of women in and around comics.

If you haven’t yet read Laura Hudson’s incredible editorial on Comics Alliance about the treatment of Superheroines in the DC Relaunch, do yourself a favor and check it out.  There have been plenty of other reactions to last week’s comics. Today, an interview with a 7-year-old, via io9 sparked off a discussion on Twitter today about whether it was appropriate for the writer of that piece to be showing pictures like the ones in question (from the T rated Red Hood and the Outlaws) to her child.  I think it’s fine for her to use them as a teaching tool, perhaps because I have more memories of my mom talking about Barbie being an unrealistic representation of the female form than I do of actually playing with Barbie dolls.

Thinking about my mom, about Barbies and about unrealistic representations of the female form made me realize have something to say about this topic. I wanna tell you about Christmas last year.

You see, my mom is the Batman of Christmas shopping and she still has us give her christmas lists (due by 9 pm on Thanksgiving Day) because she enjoys the challenge of finding the best price on a set of Rock Band Instruments or whatever. So, while I was putting my list together last year, I added a bottle of Black Phoenix Alchemy Lab’s Heroine perfume. It seemed like a great idea because I like a lot of the notes in the scent, I like the idea of helping out the Hero Initiative and I never seem to pull the trigger on buying whole bottles of perfume .

So imagine my surprise Christmas morning when I open a bottle of perfume from my Mom and it isn’t Heroine. It isn’t even a BPAL scent, it’s this. That’s right, it’s Twilight perfume. Volturi Twilight Reign Scented Body Mist in the Romance shade.  Now, I like Twilight a bit, and I would have just laughed it off as a fantastically terrible thing to own if it hadn’t been for my mom’s answer when I asked her why she hadn’t gotten me the BPAL.  “Erin,” she said, “have you seen the picture on that website?”

I hadn’t actually, because I’d read about the perfume on Geek Girl Diva’s blog and she cuts off the picture a bit, making my memory of some generic tough girl with a gun a bit incomplete, see:

Seriously, there are other scents in that line closer to the one I asked for. I already own and use plenty of floral spring scents, what I asked for and needed was something more wintry.The woman in that picture is covering her breasts and her junk and that’s it. When forced to look at the full picture without the distractions of the BPAL website, I’m completely disgusted. Compare it to the Twilight thing on the left, which despite being utter crap as far as perfume goes looks so very much classier.  No wonder my mom chose the one over the other.

And who exactly is to blame for this? No one and everyone. I know Adam Hughes is capable of drawing beautiful women without making them look like porn stars, I know BPAL is a company run by a woman and I assume the folks at The Hero Initiative are pretty darn smart, so why does she look like that? Well, maybe the art is supposed to be a generic comic book heroine and that is what we get in 2010 when we depict a generic female heroine: art that makes my mom think I ignored every one of our discussions about how Barbie is an unrealistic standard of feminine beauty.

This is cost of cheesecake, the cost of the inescapable assumption that depictions of women need to be aimed at the lowest common denominator. Greg Land on the cover of the Women of Marvel trade. Greg Horn’s Emma Frost covers. Star Sapphires. Catwoman. Starfire. It’s the look on my mom’s face when she drew my attention to that picture, her decision to buy a product based on the story of Bella motherfucking Swan rather than one featuring our generic depiction of a comic book heroine.

Whether or not cheesecake is the norm in comic books, it is the face we present to the world too much of the time. I wish I knew how to change that, but refusing to buy cheesecakey things doesn’t seem to be working, so I’m adding my voice to the crowd. I don’t condone cheesecake, it isn’t a defining factor of comics for me, so please stop using it to represent comics.

ETA: I went over time by about an hour writing this, but when the timer rang and I was still in my stride I decided to let myself write until it was done.

2 Comments

Filed under Comics, Feminism, me me me, Twitter, Web