Masculinity and the Disney Revival Era

The older I get, the less I feel attached to/need to defend the Disney Princesses. The only time I’ll get defensive is when a critic gets their characters completely wrong (Belle is not a victim of Stockholm Syndrome or pretentious), or claim they’re sexist by…making sexist statements (the original three Disney princesses are not ‘weak’ for being ultrafeminine and passive, it’s because they don’t get enough character development and screen time). They princesses I grew up with will forever hold a place in my heart, but I don’t worship them now like I did when I was a kid, basically.

So I guess that partially explains why I’m hyper critical of the new Disney Princess movies (The Princess and the Frog and onwards). I’ve talked in length on my issues with the new princesses themselves (Tiana should not have been a frog for most of the movie, Moana needed more character flaws, and Anna is literally just a quirky ‘relatable’ character that isn’t interesting at all), but for now let’s talk about the male roles in the Princess films compared to those of the non-Princess films.

Quick quiz: what do Naveen, Flynn Rider, Kristoff, and Maui all have in common, besides being the male leads of the recent Disney Princess films?

And at the beginning of their movies they are all extraordinarily rude and condescending to the female leads. While it is true that they all get better, the only one who’s character development feels the most believable is Flynn’s because he stops being rude to Rapunzel very quickly (after they escape from the Snuggly Duckling) and naturally grows more caring and concerned for her (and thus they grow an attraction to one another). By contrast, Naveen, Kristoff, and Maui are assholes to their respective female counterparts for almost the entire movie, and only stop when the girls either prove themselves to him or after a contrived moment. Kristoff falls in love with Anna right the hell out of nowhere, and Maui is suddenly all better right in time for the climax.

By contrast, look at Wreck-It Ralph. He has his flaws, but it is established at the very beginning that he had a hard life and wants to be loved and appreciated for who he is. When he meets Vanellope and Calhoun, he does NOT act like a jerk to them for no reason or behave like a sexist prick, even when they yank his chain. While he doesn’t think Vanellope is capable of being a racer at first, she doesn’t need to prove himself to him in order to make him sympathize with her; once he sees how bad her situation is he is willing to help out no matter what.

Why the huge difference?

Because, again, the Disney Princess movies have to have a contrived “Look how Feminist TM we are!” message hammered into the audiences heads after all the criticisms their predecessors got. The male characters feel less like characters and more like audience/critic surrogates. Oh, you think our Princesses are ‘weak’? Well fuck you, here’s our Princess doing something reckless to show how brave and strong she is!

This sucks because it makes it harder for me to get invested in their respective relationships. I love Belle and the Beast together because despite a rough start they find comfort and joy in one another. I love Aladdin and Jasmine together because they mutually respect and like each other and he’s willing to expand her horizon. I love Mulan and Shang together because they work efficiently as a team. And, ultimately, I do love Rapunzel and Flynn (or perhaps more appropriately, Eugene) together because they organically grow closer and will do anything for each other. By contrast…I’m supposed to like Kristoff and Anna together despite Kristoff being an absolute prick to her because they survived escaping Elsa’s palace and suddenly like each other? I’m supposed to like Maui and Moana as a friendship even though he demonstratively does not see her as an equal?

But what bothers me is that this is only happening with the Princess movies. Look at Calhoun and Felix, Ralph and Vanellope, or even Nick and Judy. Felix adores Calhoun from the moment he meets her, respects her boundaries, and helps her move on from her traumatic past. Ralph and Vanellope bond over being outcasts in their own games, enrich each other, and would die for one another.

And oh my god, Nick and Judy have some of the greatest chemistry between a male and female lead. They just work so well together, even when they don’t get along at first. Keep in mind, when Nick acts like a jerk to Judy at the beginning, she is always able to get her own back at him. We also understand WHY Nick acts like a jerk at first, and he is able to get better. And it’s not JUST him being a jerk to her; Judy also does something pretty shitty to him, and they BOTH have to make up to each other. In between that they make an excellent and engaging pair.

And of course I have to mention Big Hero 6. What makes that movie even more remarkable is that NO ONE is a jerk to anyone, AT ALL. Hiro, Aunt Cass, Gogo, Honey, Wasabi and Fred (and Baymax) all love and respect each other. No one needs to prove themselves to another. No one acts like a jerk to a woman because they perceive her as weaker. Everybody is equal.

In short, the insistence of making the male and female leads in Princess movies act antagonistically towards each other is just unnecessary and exhausting, and a half-assed attempt of making themselves look ‘progressive’ and ‘feminist’. So I’ll say this:

Women having to prove themselves to antagonistic men is NOT progressive.

Women and men having mutual respect for each other, seeing each other as equals, and working as a team? THAT is progressive.

And why Wreck-It Ralph and Big Hero 6 are my fave movies of all time.

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The Worst DC Animated Sex Scene Ever

TRIGGER WARNING: RAPE.

If you look at my Compare and Contrast tag, you’ll see that I have…issues with the way recent DC animated films have handled sex and sexuality. For the longest time, I thought the sex scene between Batman and Batgirl in The Killing Joke was the worst sex scene in movie history because it came right the fuck out of nowhere, does nothing for Barbara’s character (it actually adds more problems to the overall story) and is the least sexy scene imaginable.

But I was wrong. Oh, I was very wrong. Because I was not prepared for Batman and Harley Quinn.

Just so you know what we’re in for.

Full disclosure: this is a godawful movie. It is sexist, the plot makes no sense, there’s a prolonged farting sequence that adds nothing to the story, the animation is cheap and stiff, the ending is bullshittingly anticlimactic, and there’s a pointless and distasteful post credits scene. But that’s not even the worst part. Oh, no.

At the start of the movie, Nightwing has to find Harley Quinn to get some information on Poison Ivy, who is planning to save the Earth in the worst way possible. In the scene pictured above, Harley has captured Nightwing and tied him to her bed. After ranting to Nightwing about how she can’t get a good job due to her past, she undresses in front of him and looks for something else to wear. The sight of Harley’s half naked body gives Nightwing an implied boner, and when she sees it, she gives him a mischievous grin.

This is how the scene plays out:

N: “Okay now. Don’t be getting any funny ideas” (I don’t want to have sex with you).

HQ: “Too late” *turns off the lights, crawls into bed with him*

N: *visibly uncomfortable in the situation* “Look, Harley, I, uh…”

HQ: *ignores him, makes it clear she wants to have sex with him*

N: *I’m not saying I don’t want to, cuz, that could be nice, all sorts of wrong, but nice…right now, I just really need to find Poison Ivy…” (I do not want to have sex with you right now)

HQ: *makes it clear that she will only give him information about Poison Ivy if he agrees to have sex with her*

N: “The things I do for Gotham”.

HQ: “I’m taking that as a yes”.

Like…this is basically a rape scene. Nighwting is tied up, unable to fight back, and is in a situation where he is forced to consent to sex with someone in the hope she’ll help him. Harley Quinn, a VICTIM OF ABUSE, is manipulating someone to get what she wants.

And what’s worse? The movie completely brushes it aside. The scene is portrayed as sexy and comedic!

This is a very disturbing trend in media. There are tons of movies and shows (mostly comedies) where a man gets raped or forced or tricked into sex by a woman, and it is seen as funny or even sexy. Any implications of trauma or assault get shrugged off like it’s no big deal.

Well, guess what. MALE RAPE IS NOT FUNNY. I can’t believe I have to say it, but it’s not. There’s a serious problem in real life of male rape victims not being believed in or getting the help they need because they were “lucky” for getting laid. And for a Harley Quinn and Nightwing relationship (that absolutely no one wanted) to happen under these circumstances is disgusting.

Like…it would have been very easy to make this a scene of enthusiastic consent. It wouldn’t have been GOOD necessarily, but there was absolutely no way Nightwing couldn’t have said “let’s do it, Harley!” even while tied up. But for some ungodly reason, the writers thought it was okay to write the scene as creepily as possible. That is HORRIBLE.

This is the only DC animated movie so far that I’ve seriously hated. I feel like I’ve wasted an hour and a half of my life that I’ll never get back.

Please do not watch this movie. There are better DC offerings that deserve your support. Male rape and sexual assault victims deserve your support instead of this piece of shit movie.

The Mother of All Psychological Horrors Is All Too Familiar

Hmm, it’s Mother’s Day and I haven’t written in awhile. I know! I’ll talk about Rosemary’s Baby!

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What have you done to it? What have you done to its eyes?

A dark parallel to the story of the Virgin Birth, what makes this film scary is that it lulls you into a false sense of security. The first two acts or so aren’t very scary so much as weird and off-putting. But as the movie progresses you realize how horrifying and hopeless the situation is and in the end you’re on the verge of tears over the plight of Rosemary.

The movie is several decades old but is hailed as a master of horror. It has very little blood and gore and no jump scares; instead, it gets under your skin by building up the feeling of dread and paranoia with ominous music and shots, culminating in a pretty shocking twist. But because the twist isn’t explicitly shown, it leaves room for some interpretations.

To me, though, what makes it scary even now is that it’s still pretty relevant. It presents the all too real plight of the lack of reproductive rights and justice.

When Rosemary is not pregnant, her husband dotes on her and she is quick to make friends and acquaintances. When she states her desire to become pregnant, though, attitudes towards her start to change. By the time she actually is pregnant, she is not treated the same. She is essentially treated as a brood mare, being withheld important information about her body, being manipulated by her neighbors, and being verbally abused and controlled by her husband. The one person she can trust, her old doctor, doesn’t believe her when she says what’s going on and immediately turns her over to her husband. When the baby is born she isn’t even initially allowed to see him, and does not receive a warm welcome when she comes to the congregation. Almost all the members of the coven disrespect or even outright show contempt for the mother of their savior.

Hmm…does that sound familiar?

What struck me right away is that the only people who are on Rosemary’s side are young women. Literally all the men (with one exception) and the older women see Rosemary as a walking incubator that has to be carefully controlled.

Rosemary herself is a really great character. Initially submissive and docile, her fierce love for her unborn child drives her to take action, seeking a safe place to give birth and get away from the coven. She is one of the few female horror movie protagonists to actually have character development, albeit development that is too late to save her.

The climax is especially horrifying. Imagine the baby you worked so hard to protect turned out to be an unholy demon, the product of a brutal violation. In the end, her motherly instincts kick in, but her smile seems a little halfhearted. Ultimately the viewer will have to decide the fate of her and her child.

This movie has a wide range of interpretations, ranging from calling it feminist to misogynist. I lean more to the feminist interpretation for a few reasons. The first reason is just how frank the movie is when it talks about periods, abortions, and childbirth, all topics that a lot of movies shy away from. Secondly, the whole situation, from the moment of conception to Rosemary’s acceptance of the baby, is seen as genuinely HORRIFYING, not as a cheap shock or drama.

Ultimately, this is a horror movie of something all too familiar and relevant: being a pregnant person having your bodily autonomy, rights, and dignity taken away from you. And that is something that will always scare you on a psychological and personal level.

Why Not Having a Love Interest Isn’t Necessarily Feminist

In a world where writing female characters is still somehow a difficult task, a lot of praise is heaped on movies and shows where there is no romance. Creators pat themselves on the back for not making the female character have a love interest, the public gushes on how it’s oh so feminist and progressive. This is especially prominent in regards to Disney movies; the company, after receiving tons of criticisms for having their main characters fall in love and get together so quickly, has started to make itself appear revolutionary by phasing out on romance.

I think to myself, is this really the bare minimum a movie needs to do to prove that it’s female friendly? Not have a romance? Is this really what it’s come to?

Here’s the thing: it’s not always a bad thing to have romance. It’s only bad if it’s shoehorned.

Take a look at, say, Aladdin and Jasmine, Belle and the Beast or Ariel and Eric. All these couples have lots of onscreen chemistry and relationship development. They may have happened quickly, but it was clear they loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company. And it didn’t compromise any of the female characters. All these women still have an interest in exploring the world(s) around them, care about their family and friends, are kind, have distinct personalities, and have active roles in the plot. The romance didn’t harm any of that.

On the other hand, look at couples like Anna and Kristoff or Captain Amelia and Dr. Doppler. Kristoff is pretty rude and condescending to Anna for most of the movie and she doesn’t really show much interest in him but suddenly by the third act they love each other? And Dr. Doppler gets with a woman way out of his league and she becomes a mother (even though she’s not very maternal)? Yeah.

So there is nothing wrong with giving your female characters a love interest. It is a problem when the romance feels forced. But you can still have a romance without getting all lovey-dovey; you can just have one character asking the other character if they’d like to get a coffee or go on a date and that’s perfectly okay.

But the problem with Disney’s recent stance on not having romance is that it’s just starting to happen with their films focused on nonwhite people.

Wreck-It Ralph, Tangled, and Frozen all featured romances for their white (or white passing) leads. When Big Hero 6 rolled around, there were no romances whatsoever, not even implied ones. Then Moana got lauded for not giving the main lead a love interest. And now apparently they are getting rid of Shang to replace him with a rival in the Mulan remake.

Why is this a problem? Because people of color don’t get to see themselves be in a romantic relationship a lot. Sometimes you’ll see two black people pair up, but the white couple has the main focus. Or it will look like the white lead will get with a woman of color only to ditch her for a white woman later. Sometimes you’ll see pairings between a white man and a woman of color, but never a man of color with a white woman (unless the movie is making a statement on racism), and you’ll rarely see interracial couples between two different nonwhite races. And of course you’re hard pressed to find any LGBT couples. You can see how there would be an unfortunate implication that white, heterosexual couples are the more ‘acceptable’ or ‘desired’ couples that people are willing to see. Disney does not have a lot of pairings with a person of colour involved and, with the exception of Aladdin and Jasmine and Tiana and Naveen (or not, if you think them being frogs for most of the movie doesn’t count), none of them get a lot of focus.

My main point is, it IS possible to have a romance and still be progressive if it gives representation to people of colour and LGBT people (and other minority groups, without relying on offensive tropes). You don’t have to add romance to everything, but if you do, it won’t hurt to add in minority groups.

And if you’re NOT going to give your female lead a love interest, don’t make it sound more important than it actually is. Making your female character single is not the be all end all for making her a ‘feminist’ character.

My Most Empowering Female Characters

Happy International Women’s Day! To celebrate, here are some of the female characters that I really love and consider my personal feminist icons. In no particular order, they are…

Asami Sato (Legend of Korra) 

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A beautiful bisexual woman of color. She’s very kind and caring but is the furthest thing from a doormat. Despite not having any bending she is extremely skilled and intelligent, excelling as a mechanic and businesswoman. Cunning, resourceful, and stylish, she’s a great example of a feminine woman who can still kick ass done right.

Symmetra (Overwatch)

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Another beautiful woman of color, who is also on the autism spectrum (and thus I can relate to her a lot). She’s a complex character who believes in doing the right thing but goes about it the wrong way, but has the capacity to change.

Honey Lemon and Gogo Tomago (Big Hero 6)

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Two women of color excellling in stem. Honey Lemon is very feminine whereas Gogo is slightly more butch (but with a few feminine touches) and neither of them are demonized for it or shoehorned into love interest or damsel in distress roles. Honey Lemon is unwavering in her sweetness, whereas Gogo can be more upfront and blunt but has her own hidden kindness. Very smart and skilled, they can both kick your butt in their own way. (Special mention to Cass, who is a successful businesswoman and a loving aunt to her nephews.)

Vanellope Von Schweetz (Wreck It Ralph)

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A well written and layered female main character. She is very confident, knowing exactly who is she and what she wants. Lives a difficult and is bullied but doesn’t let the worst get to her. Starts off a little rude (and maintains a more snarky personality) but gets gradually sweeter as the film progresses. A fantastic racer who’s glitch is seen as something special and empowering. And most of all, she becomes a president! I just love her.

Cybersix (Cybersix animated series)

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A soft spoken, kind woman who owns and expresses her sexuality without being objectified or sexualized. She is a powerful fighter and can effortlessly glide across the city skyline. Cares for the lives of her fellow experiments and the people of the city and questions her place in the world, and eventually finds it (hopefully).

Raven, Starfire, and Bumblebee (Teen Titans)

Three awesome female characters from an awesome show. Bumblebee is a great leader and fighter who does not let men get the better of her. Starfire is a powerhouse who doesn’t always understand the world around her but still does her best and is extremely loyal to her friends. Raven is a withdrawn, quiet girl who has a lot of emotional baggage but is eventually able to put her life back into her own hands. All are well written and distinct female characters that lots of girls are able to look up to.

Mulan and Pocahontas

I love a lot of the Disney Princesses (especially Rapunzel, Belle, Jasmine, and Aurora) but these two in particular I hold in high regard. Mulan is a young woman struggling with her place in the world but above all is loyal to her family, eventually becomes comfortable with her gender, and saves China and brings honor to her family. And Pocahontas is able to bring peace and understanding to her people and others as she runs freely against the wind. They both find a unique way to save their people.

And of course…

Wonder Woman

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The greatest superheroine of all time. What else can I say?

Honorable mention to the great female villains: deliciously nasty and a reminder it’s good to be so bad sometimes.

And there you have it! What are some of your faves?

 

 

Motherhood is Not a Woman’s Only Worth

For most of my life, I’ve made it clear that the very last thing I want in life is to get pregnant, give birth, and have kids. Yet throughout the way, a lot of people insisted that I’d change my mind, that I’d be a good mother, ask “don’t you want to get pregnant? it’s great!” and just generally be disappointed. But I made up my mind. I want to be free to be a successful woman who can focus on my own problems and responsibilities.

Too bad Hollywood doesn’t think that.

While it’s a little different for animated family films that focus more on budding romances, a lot of live action movies and shows seem to reinforce the idea of motherhood (specifically being a mother to your own children) as THE MOST IMPORTANT THING for any woman.

To name some examples off the top of my head, Black Widow feels worthless and ‘like a monster’ because she was made infertile. Not because her body was violated, but because ‘oh no I can never have any kids’. Even though Natasha never seemed like the motherly type, and she keeps bouncing between potential love interests (which would indicate she’s in no way ready to settle down).

The Bride from Kill Bill decides to stop  being a mercenary and live a more peaceful live in the name of her unborn child, and the catalyst of the plot relies heavily on avenging the child she thought died in utero.

In The Girl on the Train, all the main women’s lives revolve around the ability to give birth. Rachel feels worthless and  her marriage crumbles because she can’t get pregnant, and Megan decides to keep a baby that she had in an affair in order to ‘take responsibility’ after what happened to her last baby (even though not having the baby is also a responsible decision, and the movie makes it clear she’s not exactly the type of person you’d want to leave babies with).

Teen movies also reinforce this. In the Britney Spears vehicle Crossroads, one of the main characters is a pregnant teenage girl who is going to give her baby up for adoption. When she loses the baby in a miscarriage, she is upset because she was planning on keeping it. Kind of a bad message to be sending to your teenage audience!

Family and children’s movies don’t focus on potential mothers (because what kid would want to see a movie about that), though there are occasions where this message does slip in. For example, at the end of Treasure Planet, Captain Amelia married Doctor Delbert and has not one but FOUR children with him. Not only is that incredibly sappy, but it doesn’t really fit Amelia’s character. But considering how Amelia gets injured and dependent on a man in the third act as a way to become softer and kinder, maybe it does fit!

And of course, in a lot of fantasy, science fiction, and supernatural films and shows, female characters often get pregnant (violated, really) with unholy demon spawn. Instead of, you know, aborting it, the female character just takes it. In The X-Files, Scully gets impregnated with alien spawn, gives birth to a daughter, and instead of feeling angry or hurt that she was made into a brood mare without her consent and almost died because of it, she feels a motherly attachment to her offspring. And of course, when she does grow to love her child, the child dies. She has another child with Mulder, she can’t keep it. So, you’re going to make this woman pregnant not once but TWICE, reinforce her as someone who wants to be a mother, and takes it away from her.

And of course, there’s the infamous Twilight installment(s), Breaking Dawn. Bella gets pregnant through impossible means and her fetus ends up literally draining the life out of her, but she’s still adamant about keeping the baby even though her entire family begs her not to because, hey, she’s a living, breathing human, she matters more than an unholy fetus. When she gives birth in a very graphic scene, she actually does die. It sort of works out in the end because now Bella is a vampire and married to Edward and has a domestic family and blah blah blah, but still…who the fuck wrote, directed, and edited this shit without throwing up? Why did this need to happen? Why did Bella need a child with Edward (when a child with Jacob would’ve been more interesting and probably less creepy and wouldn’t kill her)? Why did she have to become a vampire without her knowledge or consent? Gross, gross, gross.

This is just a handful of ways media reinforces the idea that somehow every single woman, even strong, independent women, all really want to be mothers, and that in a lot of cases, their worth or character development hinges on the ability to have children. Adoption is rarely brought up and abortion is only used in dramatic, negative situations (see the above Twilight example). We live in a world where reproductive rights are constantly contested and not always guaranteed due to unscientific, religious, patriarchal beliefs that a potential person matters more than an actual, existing pregnant person, and where women’s sexuality and sex lives are constantly scrutinized.

I want more stories that say it’s okay to not want to be a mother. Where it’s okay to not have to remain pregnant or keep a child. Where, if they DO want to be mothers but can’t, they can go out and adopt a child. I want women (and anyone who can get pregnant, really) to be told that they don’t HAVE to get pregnant, give birth, and raise a child in order to be important or valid. Don’t make them suddenly maternal for plot or character development reasons. Show them happy, successful, and childless and don’t make it look like a bad thing. Motherhood should be an option for women who really and truly want it, not something that must be a requirement for a woman’s worth.

 

Leslie Jones, I am so sorry

I am so fucking angry. And hurt. And horrified.

It looks like hating the new Ghostbusters for having an all-female team wasn’t enough. Oh no. It looks like misogynoir and general antiblackness fuels their fires too. Huzzah!

On the alt-right site Breitbart.com (where all the scum of humanity flourish), Islamophohbic (and racist and sexist) writer Milo Yiannopoulos wrote a negative review of the movie, and went out of his way to attack Leslie Jones (who plays Patty Tolan) in particular, essentially calling her ugly and unappealing and saying everyone should be offended by her existening.

It only got worse. On Twitter, he essentially encouraged his fans (a lot of them legitimate white supremacists and KKK members) to go out and attack Leslie Jones, calling and comparing her to apes, saying she’s ugly, making fake tweets of her being offensive, and other hateful, misogynoiristic comments. And the worst part? Yiannopoulos has the gall to laugh in her face about it and saying she’s playing victim!

So, to anyone who tries to say that the hatred of Ghostbusters (which is a legitimately funny, exciting, and empowering movie) has absolutely nothing to do with bigotry and people who point it out are ‘idiots’, you are very much mistaken. It’s very fucking obvious that, with the rise of nationalism, misogyny and antiblackness within this year alone (thank you, Donald Trump), all the evil alt-right-wingers are crawling out of the woodwork like the worms they are are attacking Ghostbusters and Leslie Jones in particular with glee, and they know not a damn person is going to stop them. Not even Twitter, which has proven time and time again it is useless when it comes to stopping harassment.

I am so sorry, Leslie Jones. I am so sorry you have to deal with this. All for the crime of starring (and being awesome in) a movie that racist white fuckboys cannot handle. I am so sorry that you’re being driven off Twitter over this. I am so sorry.

To anyone reading this, don’t stay silent. Give Leslie Jones as much love and support as you can and tear the haters down. We should not be living in a world where bigotry can go unpunished.