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Bill Potts died for your sins, or, Even more ways in which the previous season of Doctor Who is a flaming turd

Bill Potts died for your sins, or, Even more ways in which the previous season of Doctor Who is a flaming turd published on No Comments on Bill Potts died for your sins, or, Even more ways in which the previous season of Doctor Who is a flaming turd

Now that I have had time to concentrate my rage into the long-smoldering core of righteous fury that burns within my core, fueling both activism and fixit fics, I would like to mention two more ways in which Season 10 of Doctor Who was horribly wretched.


It’s especially shitty, particularly in in World Enough and Time and The Doctor Falls.

Think of the Cyber people as people with disabilities: difficulties in communicating, in gross motor control, in feeling/connecting with their emotions, and/or people with chronic pain. You will soon understand how disgustingly they are portrayed.

A. They look dead. They are shown at first as motionless figures in wheelchairs. Their white costumes and head masks recall either body bags or bags over people’s heads when they’re going to a firing squad; either way, they carry connotations of death.

B. Their voices are silenced and treated as irrelevant. The first Cyber person who does have a voice, saying, “Pain, pain,” with their communications device, is treated as an annoyance; the nurse deals with them brusquely. Even further, Bill turns down the device’s volume so she doesn’t have to hear the disabled person speak. Her action suggests that the disabled person’s voice as scary and objectionable.

C. They do not want to live; they all want to die. After the pain Cyber person, we hear two other Cyber voices in the hospital. One person says, “Die me.” The other says, “Kill me.” Viewers are expected to take this death wish as applicable for all Cyber people; even Bill, in The Doctor Falls, says something like “If I can’t be me, I don’t want to go on living.” In this case, “me” means the entirely organic, able-bodied person that she was before. These statements from Cyber people imply that life with a disability is so hopeless and miserable that even those with disabilities don’t want to continue living.

D. They’re treated as cannon fodder. The Cyber people look dead, have no voices [according to able-bodied people], and say that they want to die. It’s very easy to jump from these observations to the conclusion that they are not people, but mere objects. Their deaths don’t count as deaths of people because they’re subhuman and…well…they were essentially dead already, right? As a result of this dehumanization, we get torture porn of the people at the orphanage blowing up Cyber people because killing nonpersons isn’t really killing, so it’s not a real problem or anything. It’s so kind, brave, noble, compassionate, admirable, and heroic for the Doctor to indiscriminately slaughter crowds of disabled people. This show really sends the message that we should respect all people’s worth, dignity, and integrity. I love it in shows and movies and books when all the disabled people die. I find it inspirational and uplifting.

For another ableist treatment, refer to the depiction of Eyeliner Master, as played by John Simm. Last time we saw the dude in the End of Time, he was insane on account of the Drums. Yup, that counts as being disabled. When he reappears in the Season 10 finale, he acts more like Roger Delgado’s Master: mentally disturbed and disordered, but much more restrained in speech and action. He presents as being sane[r]. Notably, he makes no reference to the Drums that so deranged his earlier life and plot arcs. What’s going on here? The character gives no explanation for the change, and all supporting media portray Eyeliner Master as a return of EoT Master, which leads us to conclude that they’re the same person. So EoT Master = Eyeliner Master – disability.

What the hell, fuckos? You can’t just wave a Magical Wand of Disability Deletion! After years and years of making the Master’s Drums and consequent Insanity a key part of his character, you can’t just remove them because you feel like it. The cheating is especially transparent because there’s no in-story explanation for his reappearance, his changed behavior, or indeed what the hell he was doing circling the drain in a Mondasian colony ship in the first place. An in-story explanation could have made his personality change more plausible and acceptable. For example, maybe he’s still insane, but he has learned how, at great mental and physical cost, present as “sane.” Or maybe he adapted some Cyber technology to partially inhibit his explosive rages and so restore some measure of his beloved self-control. However, without an in-story explanation, we are left with a deus ex machina Magical Disability Deletion. The form of the character remains, but not the content. In a way, disabled EoT Master was dehumanized and discarded just like the disabled Cyber people. The character is lost, and so is his [highly problematic] representation.


Those squealing with unalloyed joy over Jodie Whittaker as the Thirteenth Doctor should note that a white woman came on as the Doctor just as Pearl Mackie, a woman of color, departed.

@stardust-rain points out that the timing is no coincidence:

also everyone ignores the fact that we are getting a female doctor in the expanse of getting rid of an amazing black lesbian character. that’s right, this is the reason why Bill Potts isn’t coming back, bc having a female doctor AND a black lesbian would have given a heart attack to the bigoted fans all at once. they had to make a sacrifice and Bill was it.

When I say BILL POTTS DIED FOR YOUR SINS, this is what I mean. The show has had an overall craptacular history of representing women and/or queer people and/or Black people and/or disabled people. Attempts to make the show more accurately reflect the demographics and identities of the viewers have been piecemeal and insultingly small. Bill, as a queer Black woman, had the potential to significantly improve the show and make it more relevant, interesting, nuanced, and overall better. But she was done in by a poorly organized conception [seriously, what’s her backstory beyond chips, Moira, and a mum about which we know nothing, not even her fucking name?] and horrible, stereotypical writing.

Bill became a liability to the show, not because of her underdevelopment and shitty lines, but because she was a queer Black woman. Here’s the thought process at the BBC: “Whoa there! That’s just way too much representation; the straight cis white dudes won’t stand for it! If we stick a white female Doctor in the mix along with a queer Black female character, the straight white cis dudes will pitch shit fits. We need to think strategically and make it look like we’re actually representing our audience when we’re not. So Bill’s gotta go. There aren’t that many queer and/or Black people who watch this show, so it won’t be a big deal. We can just turn her into LITERAL SLIME and send her off with her space stalker and call it a happy ending. THEN we’ll have a female Doctor. We can’t have a queer Black female Doctor because that would be too much representation. But we can have a straight white female Doctor. Yeah, that’s just enough representation. We’ll look edgy without really making substantive change. [Plz fanboys don’t hurt us. D: ].”

Bill Potts was too real for the BBC to handle. Thus they killed her off, making her the scapegoat for their cowardice.

The Doctor Falls is a flaming turd of misogynoir, aka Bill deserved so much better, but she was never gonna get it

The Doctor Falls is a flaming turd of misogynoir, aka Bill deserved so much better, but she was never gonna get it published on No Comments on The Doctor Falls is a flaming turd of misogynoir, aka Bill deserved so much better, but she was never gonna get it

Oh look spoilers. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The latest season of DW has treated Bill shittily, both as a WOC and as a lesbian, and The Doctor Falls was just the diarrhea sauce on a crap sundae of disappointment.

If you think it’s a “happy ending” that Bill, the first lesbian COC [companion of color] on Doctor Who, suffered medical violation for ten years by the Cyber conversion team and ten years of mental violation by Eyeliner Master, then ended up condemned to the equivalent of TOTAL NARRATIVE DEATH, flying off into the universe with a personalityless dead wet white chick with whom she had no substantive relationship just because the DWWC had been stalking her for a decade, go read something else.

If you feel like partaking of my rage, stay with me. Other people, I’m sure, will direct their rage, frustration, and sense of betrayal into far more eloquent and exhaustive essays than mine about how this entire season failed Bill. I’m only going to focus on two moments from the beginning of The Doctor Falls that epitomized for me just how racist, sexist, and anti-Black women the narrative has been.

Note: I’m quoting from memory here because I have better things to do than to go back and watch the show torture Bill.

Both moments of quintessential misogynoir occur early on in the episode when the Doctor is telling Bill about her Cyber conversion and its consequences.

1) The Doctor says to her something like, “You’re so strong,” then lists examples of Bill’s mental strength, including her survival of physical and mental rape for ten years. He then adds something to the effect of her having to resist her programming.

So the Doctor blows off Bill’s stated fears of both dying and of Missy [see World Enough and Time], then proceeds to get her thoroughly perforated and DEAD, tells her to wait for him, doesn’t come for her, leaves her to a decade of medical torture and mind-fucks from Eyeliner Master, then has the audacity to say that she’s so strong for having survived despite the fact that he failed her on multiple levels.

This is the equivalent of straight and/or cis and/or white and/or dude-type persons treating queer and/or Black women like subhuman objects for years and then saying that they’re so impressed by how the queer and/or Black women handle adversity. It’s the Strong Black Woman stereotype: the idea that Black women’s fortitude is an individual choice of personal responsibility, rather than a trait often developed out of the necessity of surviving in an oppressive society.

2) The Doctor also says to her in this conversation, “You’re a Cyberman now. You cannot get angry.” Of course, Bill, having been raped and tortured for a decade, then pulled out of hell too late by the Doctor, does become angry, so her blaster fires and something burns. “Because of that,” the Doctor says.

Right…so…here we have a straight cis white dude lecturing  a queer woman of color. The QWOC has just spent  a decade of her life being abused, raped, and tortured in ways that queer and/or Black women have been particularly vulnerable to now and throughout history. The QWOC is full of rage, pain, and sadness. The straight cis white dude tells her not to feel her entirely understandable emotions.

This is playing directly into the stereotype of the Angry Black Woman whose wrath scares white people [especially dudes] so shitless that they must prohibit it. This also plays directly into the tendency of straight people to do tone policing on queer people, claiming that, if queer people weren’t so loud/flamboyant/outraged/“openly gay,” they would attain their goals of equal rights more effectively.

Bill deserved so much better than all the objectification, humiliation, and cancellation she suffered, but she was doomed from the start. The story tied up her arc and identity in losing and then ultimately finding that dead wet white chick with no personality. However, there’s a stronger case to be made that Bill’s arc and identity may more accurately be linked to an anxiety about her identity, her parentage, and being seen for who she truly is. [I am indebted to irascible bogtrotter’s thoughts on the subject.]

But the narrative didn’t give a shit about that, so it deprived the character of a significant chance for true development and flourishing. Add to that all the flaming racism, sexism, and homophobia that the showrunners et al. heaped on Bill, and you can see why the way in which she was constructed as a character gave her no hope of any satisfaction or satisfactory development in-universe.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m never watching the new DW again. I’m going back to play in my Shalkaverse sandbox, where it is quite possible that Alison Cheney, the Master, and the Doctor will vworp over to an alternative timeline and extract Bill from that shitshow to help her achieve the dignity, respect, and happiness that she was never able to in her season.

Women’s March on Washington DC ignites “contentious dialogue” — a.k.a. “white people whining”

Women’s March on Washington DC ignites “contentious dialogue” — a.k.a. “white people whining” published on No Comments on Women’s March on Washington DC ignites “contentious dialogue” — a.k.a. “white people whining”

The New York Times misses the story yet again. In a piece about the Women’s March on Washington movement, Farah Stockman focuses on white women whining about having to deal with the intersectional feminism propounded by women of other races. The white women become upset when the women of other races tell them that their racial privilege inures them to trials that women of other races face, so they take their toys and go home. God forbid they take the opportunity to learn anything about their privilege, how to acknowledge it, how to speak and think about it, and how to use their unearned powers for good. No, their individual hurt feelings matter more than the systemic, programmatic, societal, wholesale oppression of entire colors of people.

I don’t care about the whiny white women. I want to hear the story of this event developing from a narrowly focused, exclusive event, to a more intersectional one, with a broader base. The white feminists should not be the focus of coverage. The women of other races should.

On a personal level, I’m not sure how I feel about this event. Participation on some level would certainly bring me together with other people who feel similarly impassioned and wish to change the world, as I do. But it’s still a Women’s March, and I don’t care how inclusive their principles say they are, because it still looks to me that it privileges people who are white, and/or non-disabled, and and/or women over people who aren’t one or several of these things.

The most horrific scene in Clarissa…

The most horrific scene in Clarissa… published on No Comments on The most horrific scene in Clarissa…

…is not actually the rape scene, in my opinion. It’s the scene in which [yet again] Clarissa has escaped Lovelace’s clutches and found refuge in some nice person’s house.

Lovelace finds out where she is and barges in. He claims that Clarissa is his wife. In excessive anger over a disagreement, she, the silly thing, is now denying their marriage. He has, however, come to take her home now.


Clarissa, understandably vibrating with fear and barely able to support herself at the sight of her jailer and abuser coming after her [yet again], says that she is not his wife. He is not her husband. He’s vile, horrible, contemptible, and mean, and she wants nothing to do with him.


And the women who stand between Clarissa and Lovelace, guarding Clarissa, don’t know what to do. They hold their ground in compassionate defense of the obviously terrified and distressed Clarissa. And yet they can’t dismiss Lovelace out of hand. He has cleverly predetermined the situation so that every statement of Clarissa’s may be interpreted as the unreasonably incensed blather of a hysterical wife. Plus he’s a straight white cis aristocratic dude, and, just as the women are used to deferring to him and his ilk, so he is used to receiving deference.


That, right there, is the horrifying crux of Clarissa: the realization that straight cis white rich dude privilege may be employed to break links of compassion, altruism, and resistance so that even allies start thinking that they should betray each other for a man’s favor. It’s this sort of scene that demonstrates the chilling omnipotence and inevitability of straight cis rich white dude privilege.

In such a setting, Clarissa’s choice to opt out of the toxic system entirely by dying appears less like the Instructive Apotheosis of Virtue and more like The Only Thing She Really Could Do. I pretty much loathe Heroine Deaths for the Promulgation of Moral Sentiment, but I can accept Clarissa’s death because, besides being morally sentimental, it arises straight out of Clarissa’s character, conflict, and setting. She chooses to die because, as the bulk of the novel demonstrates, it’s the sole action she can take on her own terms. It’s not a happy ending, obviously, but, given the fictional universe and its populace, it’s right and fitting and good. [The happy ending is when Lovelace dies. > :p ]

I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night.

I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night. published on No Comments on I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night.

No one really knows how long Samuel Richardson’s epistolary novel Clarissa, first published in 1748, is. The exhaustive story of a young rich white woman’s struggle for self-determination is, however, considered the longest novel in the English language. If you’d like to follow the story, I’ve modernized, condensed, and dramatized it for you in a single blog post below! You’re welcome. Continue reading I finished an abridged version of Clarissa last night.

The Force Awakens and Smug White People Feminism

The Force Awakens and Smug White People Feminism published on No Comments on The Force Awakens and Smug White People Feminism

While many media outlets are covering Star Wars: The Force Awakens with glee, one reason for the excitement is the way in which female characters and characters of color are treated. Rey, a white woman, seizes a primary protagonist role, kicks general ass, fights her first cousin to a standstill despite no formal training, avoids a metal bikini, and [surprisingly enough] doesn’t get railroaded into a bullshit romantic subplot with Finn — awesome! Finn, a black man, also features as a protagonist and gets to be goofy and heroic, and no one makes a stink about his skin color — yippee! Poe, an arguable secondary protagonist and brown man, is a totally hot dude whose origins on a Guatemela-like planet seem to pay homage to the actor’s own nationality — nifty! Princess Leia, a white woman, is a general now, leading the Resistance — finally! Captain Phasma, a white woman, intimidates everyone, also avoiding metal bikini — aw yes! Maz Kanata, an alien voiced by a black woman, does a wise, wry, insightful female Yoda impression — woo hoo! There’s a female Resistance pilot [I think she’s Asian] with lines — and she doesn’t die — party party! There are actual women, including Asian women, African women, and women of color, in bit parts and extra roles — sometimes they too have lines, and sometimes they don’t die either — ZOMG1111! From the way that general media interpretations are reacting, you’d think that this film was a historic landmark in progressive portrayals of women and/or people of color.


Mmmm…nah. It’s only a stupendous achievement if you’re looking at it from the limited lens of Smug White People Feminism. Otherwise, it’s not.


You see — if we were really going to have a super cool Force Awakens with novel and progressive treatment of its female characters and/or characters of colors other than pasty, the movie would address these aspects of characters’ identities in their stories. I do not care how irrelevant one’s sex and/or one’s race are supposed to be in the sci-fi universe of Star Wars; in the present day, on this planet, these highly salient characteristics inflect pretty much every aspect of one’s daily existence. Thus, The Force Awakens, as a movie that was created in the present day, on this planet, must reckon with the cultural truths that sex and race significantly define our lives.

What might such a realistic consideration of the characters’ sex and race look like in The Force Awakens? Perhaps Rey, having heard so many “myths” about the predominantly dude-based Jedis, could have some serious questions about her ability to use the Force like them. Maybe Finn’s revulsion at serving the Empire could include his unwillingness to support an overwhelmingly Aryan elite that sends brown people to do their dirty work. Maybe Maz could attribute her watering hole’s thousand-year tenure to the toughness she’s had to develop as a single woman running a huge business. Maybe the whole movie could stop gendering its primary conflict as “sons and their extremely boring Daddy Issues” and reconceptualize it as “people and their struggles with legacies, broadly construed.” In any event, a truly insightful treatment of sex and race in The Force Awakens would have the characters actively discussing such salient traits from which many aspects of their identities arise.


So…does The Force Awakens contain any self-consciousness for its characters about the sex they were assigned, the color of their skin, how these traits are negotiated in their cultures of origin, anything, anything? No! Of course not! Then we wouldn’t have enough time for Daddy Issues Part VII: A Lost Hope!


Seriously, though, The Force Awakens tries to update itself for modern liberal interests, but its treatment of female characters and characters of color shows the update as superficial at best. For example, let’s look at Captain Phasma, storm trooper leader of Finn’s regiment [and apparently the only woman in any position of power anywhere in the Empire]. Her character was originally male, explains Force Awakens cowriter Lawrence Kasden, but then was changed to female at the last minute. The Vulture article in which Kasden was quoted strongly implies that this change occurred in response to fan disappointment with the lack of women in the movie. The ecstasy with which actress Gwendoline Christie, who plays Phasma, receives this information — “…For that evolved thinking to be in a Star Wars movie, I think people love that!” [also from the Vulture article] — seems to represent the general joy with which The Force Awakens’ “evolved thinking” has been received.


A closer look at the example of Captain Phasma, however, reveals absolutely no “evolved thinking” of any kind. As Kasden explains, she was originally thought up as a man, but then her sex was swapped out as almost an afterthought. In other words, nothing changed about the character except that she would be played by a woman, rather than a man. In practice, this means that no one in the movie notices the novelty of a female storm trooper captain, despite the fact that they’ve been male in all previous films. I’m not asking for a soliloquy in which Captain Phasma reveals that she has impostor syndrome [although it could be really cool if done right, which it wouldn’t be]; I’m just saying that a truly progressive and insightful portrayal of a female character doesn’t just slot her in where a male character would have been. Instead, it considers how her experience, perspective, and personality are shaped because she’s a woman and, more specifically, a woman in a society dominated by men. In the same way, Finn’s story does him no justice as a black man because it refuses to let him engage with the reality of being a black man in a society dominated by people who look like the upper echelons of the Empire.

For further proof of lack of “evolved thinking,” let’s consider the example of Maz Kanata. Her character, who presides over a bar where characters go to get Luke’s light saber, is a small, four-fingered, hairless orange humanoid with super-powered glasses. She is played by actress Lupita Nyong’o, who identifies as Mexican-Kenyan. She has also won an Oscar, as well as acclaim in 2014 as one of People’s Most Beautiful. In other words, she’s an extremely skilled and talented performer who considers her embodiment as a brown-skinned woman with kinky hair important. In fact, in her commentary on being chosen as one of the magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful, Nyong’o implicitly contrasts her own features with the “light skin and long, flowing, straight hair” that formed her template for attractiveness when she was growing up. Force Awakens, take note — Nyong’o’s self-consciousness is just one example of the way that sex and race impinge on one’s self-concept and development.

The Force Awakens may give a brown woman a strong, crucial role, but that doesn’t mean it’s any good. In fact, it’s pretty racist. This Entertainment Weekly article points out why: “Maz is one of the few creatures in her court who is not a real-life, practical effect…” In other words, there were plenty of people and puppets in Maz’s set, but the director specifically decided to omit Nyong’o bodily and entirely, her presence only available as mediated through motion capture. While Nyong’o is performing in the movie, she’s not performing as a brown-skinned woman with kinky hair. She is instead performing as an orange-skinned alien with [unlike most of the bar patrons] no tangible presence. The Force Awakens literally disembodies Nyong’o, whose body and beauty are inseparable from her personality, identity, acting style and success, and public reception. The long [white, male] colonial project of reducing, distorting, and suppressing the [brown, female] Other continues unabated.

Anyone who thinks that The Force Awakens is an amazing win for representation of women and/or people of color should temper this analysis with two observations. First, representation is more than just a superficial numbers game. Authentic representation requires an engagement with the ways in which sex and race affect one’s life, especially if one isn’t white and/or male. Unfortunately, The Force Awakens lacks such character development. Second, we can’t just take as our measure of success, for example, Lupita Nyong’o playing a character who actually does stuff and performs integral, interesting plot functions. We have to examine how such a character is portrayed. And, if she’s not only deprived of a backstory that addresses her experiences as a person of a non-dominant sex and non-dominant race, but she’s also deprived of physical, bodily presence, then we have to recognize the sexism and racism at play here. Then we have to call it out, criticize it, and work against it, ’cause that’s the only way anything will change.

P.S. I actually really liked this movie.

Sexually active teenage girls are repulsive; Abenaki Indians are disposable; and “sex changes” are humiliating punishment: lessons from The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant

Sexually active teenage girls are repulsive; Abenaki Indians are disposable; and “sex changes” are humiliating punishment: lessons from The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant published on No Comments on Sexually active teenage girls are repulsive; Abenaki Indians are disposable; and “sex changes” are humiliating punishment: lessons from The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant

Please note that this discussion of Joanna Wiebe’s Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant contains critical examination of huge spoilers. Don’t read further if you want to maintain the mystery. Read further if you want detail on how this otherwise promising debut fails disappointingly.Continue reading Sexually active teenage girls are repulsive; Abenaki Indians are disposable; and “sex changes” are humiliating punishment: lessons from The Unseemly Education of Anne Merchant

Kanya Sesser skateboards and surfs on hands, models lingerie, kicks ass, prompts ableist “journalism”

Kanya Sesser skateboards and surfs on hands, models lingerie, kicks ass, prompts ableist “journalism” published on No Comments on Kanya Sesser skateboards and surfs on hands, models lingerie, kicks ass, prompts ableist “journalism”

23-year-old Californian skateboarder, surfer, Paralympian in training, motivational speaker, and lingerie model Kanya Sesser is unusual because she is a successful multisport athlete and model who was born without legs. She is definitely newsworthy because of her achievements in realms from with people with disabilities are all too frequently excluded. Her challenge to ableist beauty standards — “I’m different and that is sexy; I don’t need legs to feel sexy…These images show my strength” — also rates coverage, as the idea that people with visible physical disabilities are sexy, sexual, confident, and okay with their bodies is, unfortunately, a mind-blowing concept for most people. Yes! She is a cool person with notable achievements in fields uncommon for people with physical disabilities! The news media should definitely propagate her story!


That said, coverage needs to nix the “overcoming disability,”  “inspirational,”  and “something missing” angles, especially when Sesser obviously doesn’t promote them herself. The New York Daily News article to which I linked describes Sesser as “determined to overcome her disability” from her youth. Never mind the fact that Sesser says nothing about overcoming anything. She talks about “expressing [her]self in a different way than people usually see,” enjoying herself [“It’s something fun”], making money, and “showing people what beauty can look like.” These are not the words of a person “determined to overcome her disability.” These are the words of a person who has decided to campaign against ableist conceptions of beauty and ability by demonstrating that she, as a person with a disability, is attractive, expressive, playful, and sexy. Y’all need to stop putting words in Sesser’s mouth, clueless journos.


As for the “inspirational” and “something missing” argle bargle, it shows up in articles like this one from Bustle. The article introduces Sesser as someone with “the biggest reason to be bitter about” her body, but then goes on to say that “she’s got enough determination, drive, and talent to make up for” the fact that she does not have legs. A clip of an interview with Sesser is introduced as “inspiring advice.” Once again, the coverage is ignoring Sesser’s actual story. She says nothing about bitterness; that’s an editorial aside on the part of the writer, who assumes that a person with a physical disability would automatically feel bitter because of her bodily difference. Sesser also says nothing about compensating for her physical disability by working extra hard; again, this phrasing speaks to the ableist assumption that her disability creates an emptiness inherent in her life. Finally, Sesser never describes herself as inspirational. She’s not doing a Supercrip performance to elicit the ableist hordes’ condescending admiration. As she herself states [see first paragraph], she is living publicly as an athletically active, commercially successful person with a physical disability because she is explicitly challenging limited conceptions of what people with disabilities can do and be and how they can act. The ableist media needs to stop silencing her with its patronizing templates and let her speak for herself.

I like Steven Universe!

I like Steven Universe! published on No Comments on I like Steven Universe!

Now that I’ve watched every single episode except for that April Fool’s one, I have to state that I love Steven Universe!


I love the fact that it’s about a boy with three [living] moms, including two women of color, whose closeness, queerness, and strength is celebrated.

I love the fact that Steven’s awesome superpower is basically love and open-minded acceptance, modeled not only by Garnet, Amethyst, and Pearl, but by his dad. I love the fact that his dad could so easily be a dull schlub, but instead he’s a wonderful, practical, down-to-earth guy who nurtures Steven’s big heart.

I love the fact that his best friend, Connie, is a super-serious, nerdy, analytical girl, respected as a character in her own right, never relegated to the role of love interest or stick-in-the-mud.

It thrills me beyond belief that the two of them fuse into a genderqueer “experience” named Stevonnie whose immediate reaction to creation is not to have some heteronormatively determined panic with sexual subtexts, but to revel in the sheer joy of dancing.

Of all the characters I watch this show for, my favorite is Pearl. As an intellectual who believes in the power of rational thought, she constantly struggles with the supposed purity of knightly virtues and the supposed messiness of emotional attachments. I identify all too much with her tendency to lead from her head [or to at least convince herself that her head is right] rather than to appropriately respect her intuition. I find her equation of devotion and abasement poignant and psychologically profound. I like how, even though she feels worthless, even though she can be rigid and snappy, she’s also capable of great love and tenderness. I think that Steven’s open-minded acceptance benefits all the Crystal Gems, as they all have reasons for hating themselves, and I hope that, in future, his love can help her see that love, equality, and self-respect can coexist.

Steven Universe has so many wonderful aspects that I can scarcely believe that it will continue such a magnificent run. I dread its inevitable devolution into heteronormative crappiness, overrun with male-coded Gems and supposedly romantic plots for Steven and Connie. It’s the only piece of mainstream media that I’ve encountered recently where I feel like myself and my imagination are represented — i.e., it’s a world where queerness is a fact of life, where women are fuckin’ awesome in multifarious ways, where kindness, honesty, emotional expressiveness, and open-mindedness are strengths, and where the white, straight, cis, male, bourgeois narrative is shown for the unimaginative, boring, toxic, dull, and ultimately irrelevant delusion that it is. It’s not perfect, but it’s surprisingly awesome…although I wonder how long it can stay that way.

If you’re trying to establish a reliable system of parental relations…

If you’re trying to establish a reliable system of parental relations… published on No Comments on If you’re trying to establish a reliable system of parental relations…

…Patriliny is really not the way to go. I mean, seriously. For most of human history, we could not make absolutely certain who the biological father of a particular child was. However, the fact that biological mothers very frequently bear biologically related children made it pretty apparent that a certain mother was the biological parent of a certain child. Yes, I understand that now this connection is complicated by sperm donation, egg donation, surrogate parenting, etc., etc., but, for much of human history, you could pretty much depend on a biological relationship between a kid and the person out of whose body the kid was born.


If we used matriliny instead of patriliny, our current standards of reproductive control would make no sense. We wouldn’t necessarily want to police the behavior of childbearing people, girls, and women in general. We’d probably think that their reproductive experiences were open and honest, in comparison to the hidden — and quite possibly sneaky — actions of people with sperm, boys, and men in general. In fact, I can easily envision a deep distrust and disdain for people with sperm, based mostly on the fact that the results of their reproductive experiences are not necessarily obvious. To go even further, I could conjecture that this contempt for people with sperm would probably develop from a time during which the matrilineal people believed that childbearing people just had babies spontaneously and people with sperm didn’t have anything to do with it.


That would be a reversal from our current, actual attitudes toward childbearing people and people with sperm, and don’t for a minute think it would be any sort of improvement!



Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling

Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling published on No Comments on Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling

I should start by saying that I liked the first book in Erika Johansen’s fantasy trilogy, The Queen of the Tearling. While set amidst Ye Olde Tirede Fantasie Elements [princess raised in secrecy must ascend to throne and deal with treacherous nobles while fending off an evil, magical queen who threatens to invade], the book distinguished itself by considering how a young noble woman might fare, coming of age in such a setting. Frankly, I’m bored by princes Finding Their Destinies, but I read The Queen of the Tearling with interest, as it lavishes attention on protagonist Kelsea as she both rises to the challenges of her role and chafes at unfamiliar restraints. The story of a young woman with a bad temper and an egalitarian, reactionary perspective coming into her own in a conservative, sexist, hierarchical society fascinates me. Thus I finished book 1 eager to learn how Kelsea’s new magic powers and the impending invasion of her country would affect her character, particularly her impulsiveness and her reformist tendencies.

Continue reading Not angry at, just disappointed in, Erika Johansen’s Invasion of the Tearling

Rachel Dolezal’s appropriation of black identity

Rachel Dolezal’s appropriation of black identity published on 1 Comment on Rachel Dolezal’s appropriation of black identity

Rachel Dolezal has made headlines recently for being a racist liar in her makeover of herself from white kid of Christian missionaries to prominent civil rights activist of color. To support her identity as a black woman, she pulled such shit as claiming she lived in a teepee and hunted with bow and arrows in South Africa, identifying a man of color and family friend as her dad, and saying that her adopted brother [person of color] was her son. Her identification of herself as black certainly helped her get the position of president of the Idahoan Human Rights Education Institute and the presidency of Seattle, WA’s NAACP chapter.

Dolezal’s fabrications remind me of white people who pretend to be Indians. Back when yet another author was revealed to have perpetrated [yet another] lie about her nonexistent Native American youth in [yet another] false memoir, David Treuer, an Ojibwe from Leech Lake Reservation, MN, analyzed the phenomenon insightfully.  Noting that popular culture associates Indians with “tragedy,” he writes that “[t]ragedy is a shortcut that sells.” Privileged white people glom onto Indian identity to partake of the sad history of oppression, invasion, and dispossession experienced by so many Native Americans because such stories garner immediate sympathy. [Treuer also cannily observes that the deployment of Indian melodrama distracts from the fake Indians’ thoroughly mediocre writing. HAH!]

Treuer’s comments on the seductive suffering of [fake] members of a racial group seems particularly applicable to Dolezal’s case. Just as white memoirists find the specter of Indian suffering somehow appealing, so Dolezal appears particularly drawn to the concept of woman of color as tragic victim. I say this particularly in light of her claims that she has been the target of anti-black hate crimes. Investigation into these alleged incidents reveals almost all as dubious at best and spurious at worst. Her reiteration of discrimination claims suggests that she feels herself to be victimized. Apparently the “romance” of the suffering of women of color gives her the vehicle she wants to win attention, sympathy, and righteous indignation on her behalf.

Even if Dolezal portrays herself as a victim here, she does not suffer the most grievous repercussions. I return to Treuer’s comments on fake Indians for perspective: “The real victims are Indian citizens and writers. People who have for so long been denied the opportunity to express themselves. … As for Indian citizens, the more than 2 million of us living in the U.S. who are not fakes — our lives [especially if they are happy lives] will go on unseen. This is the greater tragedy. …” Indeed. Dolezal co-opted an experience of race that was not hers, and she made it all about her. So now the public focuses on a white woman and her fake sob story of oppression, while overlooking women of color, whose experiences of racism, activism, frustration, and success are being overshadowed.

Girl, implicated: the child in the labyrinth in the fantastic

Girl, implicated: the child in the labyrinth in the fantastic published on No Comments on Girl, implicated: the child in the labyrinth in the fantastic

Greer Gilman, master of purple involuted mock-Jacobean epics, muses about one of my favorite themes. The girls who have adventures in labyrinths fare differently compared to the boys. [Also she has a bone to pick with Tehanu’s crabbed domesticity in Ursula Le Guin’s novel of the same name. So do I, Gilman. So do I.]

I like her observation that the girls [Ariadne, Alice, Eilonwy from — yack! — the endlessly irritating Book of Three, Arha/Tehanu, Sarah] find their ways out; they know where they’re going. Meanwhile, the boys [Theseus, the White Knight {?}, Taran, Sparrowhawk/Ged, Jareth] don’t; they get lost and bonk around aimlessly. They’re "clueless," Gilman says, which is to say without a clue…or without a clew, Ariadne’s map-like ball of thread that knows the way through the passages. ["Clue" as a hint of a guide derives from "clew" qua thread. I love etymology!]

So why do we only hear of the boys getting out and through the maze? Why don’t we ever hear of the girls who get to know their labyrinths and walk through the darkness, unafraid of Minotaurs?

Beats me. For some reason, Inanna’s descent to the otherworld ain’t considered as compelling. Why not???


Goin’ to read Moonwise again, even though it drives me up the wall.

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Drag queen interviewing fellows on purposes and meanings of drag

Drag queen interviewing fellows on purposes and meanings of drag published on No Comments on Drag queen interviewing fellows on purposes and meanings of drag

Wow, Slate actually has an interesting article for once! On Outward ["expanding the LGBTQ conversation," whatever the hell that means], Miz Cracker writes a post on "Getting into Drag: The Many Meanings of Being a Queen." To answer the question of what drag is, the author interviews other drag performers. In bullet form, her findings are as follows:

  • Drag ain’t necessarily about looking glamorous and fashionable. Nor is it necessarily about appearing unclockably feminine.
  • Drag may be thought of as an acting job, performance art in which one creates and embodies a character.
  • Drag usually has subversive elements in which the performers comment on and criticize society.
  • Drag has an ambiguous relationship to trans identities. For some people, drag is a means to seriously explore alternative gender presentations. For others, it is not particularly reflective of their own gender identities.

In my estimation, Miz Cracker neglects some important aspects of drag. For one thing, she doesn’t really interrogate drag queening’s history as an art practiced by men, frequently in comic contexts. Thus it has an ambiguous relationship to the concepts of femininity and womanhood. In its exaggerated style, does drag reflect a loving tribute to women and femininity? Is it rather an over-the-top misogynist mockery? Drag is not inherently fabulous and therefore unproblematic, and I think a truly substantive inquiry into its nature should address its messy history.

For another thing, how does race play into dragging? Toward the end of her article, Miz Cracker refers to Kizha Carr’s treatment of racism in one of her routines. She also adds that drag "is the only forum where [she] can speak candidly…about the issues shaping [her] life," one of which includes racism. Right, so drag queens of color may take race as a subject for commentary, but how does race more generally inflect queens’ initial decisions to go into drag queening and then the development of their art in general? Drag queens from different racial and ethnic backgrounds probably have different reasons and philosophies, depending on their cultures of origin, that help them interpret their work, and we can’t have a full discussion about the meanings and goals of drag without that information.

Finally, how does socioeconomic class contribute to the discourse on drag? All the queens in Miz Cracker’s article, including the author herself, talk about performing in bars, dealing with sexual harassment from audience members, etc. In other words, the queens spend much of their time playing small venues and not earning tons of money. They work hard and depend on an uncertain income. Even though Bob TheDragQueen appears in the article with bling that says RICH clamped between her teeth, she and her sisters probably really aren’t. 
What’s going on here? Aspirations to upward mobility? A proclamation of self-worth through looking richly caparisoned? I dunno, but I’d sure like to find out.

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Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual

Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual published on No Comments on Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual

Interactive and/or serialized and/or illustrated sci fi/fantasy stories decorated with a mid-century pulpy flair appear to contain actual women and people of color! 

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Advice column: “Saddest Song, Smallest Violin” version

Advice column: “Saddest Song, Smallest Violin” version published on No Comments on Advice column: “Saddest Song, Smallest Violin” version

Bah hah hah hah hah! 

In answer to someone who is extremely bothered by the fact that their wife enthusiastically enjoys YA fiction: "Gift her a nice Franzen box set, a fresh copy of Infinite Jest or the complete works of Dave Eggers, so that she may better learn to center her recreational reading around fictional middle-aged white men instead of fictional people who aren’t as important and interesting as they are."

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Brave again

Brave again published on 5 Comments on Brave again

I previously pronounced Pixar’s upcoming Brave as bilge. I stand by that statement, despite the awesomeness of the protagonist’s hair.

Remind me against why I’m supposed to be excited about a headstrong princess defying restrictive standards of femininity and charting her own destiny, thus proving that she’s just as good as a man? That trope just reinforces the idea that a female character with self-knowledge has to be an egregiously ass-kicking iconoclast in order to determine her own life. It’s a form of exceptionalism that dismisses the much more interesting [and common] stories of the ways that women create their own stories in more ambivalent, less flagrant fashion.

Pixar/Disney clearly thinks it’s so great for doing Brave, like they’re supposed to get feminist cookies for pushing tired stereotypes. This movie irritates me so much, and it’s not even out yet!

Why “women” “like” “vampires”

Why “women” “like” “vampires” published on 1 Comment on Why “women” “like” “vampires”

On the eve of the movie debut of Twilight, much pissing and swooning occurs on the subject of vampires as depicted in this film. Lots of articles wonder about the attraction that the Twilight vampires have to their audience.

Rosemary Black, New York Daily News: 1) Women are drawn to Byronic heroes. 2) We desire them because the intense fear provides orgasmic arousal. 3) They’re the ultimate symbol of a chaste sensuality. 4) They’re perpetually young, sexy and intensely devoted to their mortal lovers.

Kate Harding, Broadsheet [Salon]: 1) New York Daily News is full of shit. All the article’s arguments represent tired stereotypes about female sexuality. 2) Women are attracted to the recent crop of vampires because they are written by women and /or because there’s a focused on well-rounded female characters.

Henly 424, Salon commenter: The current iteration of the vampire, an intensely devoted, magical, eternally loving being with awesome superpowers, recapitulates the old fantasy that a supernatural creature can somehow rescue an ordinary kid from a life of boring normalcy and transform him/her into something powerful and stupendous, merely by association with the undead.

There’s not anything particularly attractive to women as a whole about vampires as a whole. For women as a whole to be attracted to vampires as a whole, both women as a whole and vampires as a whole would require definition as monadic entities. However, women are diverse in their attractions; vampires are diverse in their manifestations. The idea that "vampires" can reveal something "essential" about "feminine sexuality" can just go to hell.

Even if we’re talking about the type of vampires shown in the Twilight saga [which we probably are, even though it’s never explicitly stated], the question is still not "Why do women love vampires?" The question is "Why are these particular characters extremely popular among a huge subset of U.S. readers who are mostly teenaged and female?" There’s no ahistorical answer. I can’t stand it when people can’t frame their inquiries with appropriate exactness.

As to why the Twilight vampires are so popular with their audience, I think Laura Miller’s analysis of Bella as Mary Sue is an insightful start.

The LHF vampires are amused about the amount of critical ink being spilled in an attempt to explain their attractiveness to mortals. :p

Investigate Lavena Jackson’s murder, you liars.

Investigate Lavena Jackson’s murder, you liars. published on No Comments on Investigate Lavena Jackson’s murder, you liars.

From Feministing: Armed forces refuses to investigate the suspicious circumstances of Lavena Jackson’s death. She was the first female soldier from Missouri to die in Iraq in 2005. Strong evidence suggests that she suffered assault and rape before being murdered, but the armed forces call it a “suicide.” Online petition to open an investigation here. I don’t understand how the armed services thinks it can successfully persuade people to join if it rejects people for being gay, harasses and murders people for being female and does not adequately support its veterans. 

My tag on the petition:

Investigate the misidentified “suicide” of this soldier and expose the physical assault and other suppressed circumstances surrounding her death. Challenge the regime that, through cover-ups, allows such sexual abuse of female soldiers.

Stupid reaction to Disney princess industry

Stupid reaction to Disney princess industry published on 8 Comments on Stupid reaction to Disney princess industry

As the stepparent of a 6-year-old, the Disney princess marketing machine is old news to me. This article by the always-behind-the-times Newsweek pisses me off, though. Here’s part of the concluding paragraph:

Considering that “What’s Love Got to Do With It” attitude, it’s no wonder that Disney is modernizing its princess formulas.

In the new Broadway “Little Mermaid,” Ariel no longer needs Prince Eric to dispatch Ursula the sea witch; she does it herself. In 2009 the studio will debut the animated film “The Princess and the Frog,” featuring its first African-American princess (which is pretty shocking, if you think about the fact that there’s already been Asian, Native American and Arab princesses). She’s already stirred some controversy —she was originally a lowly chambermaid named Maddy, but after the blogosphere got wind of that, she was promoted to full princess and given a more regal-sounding name: Tiana. “Enchanted” (which comes out this week) offers its own extreme princess makeover. Giselle begins as your classic, animated princess. When she falls through a manhole into Times Square (where the movie switches to live action) and falls again after climbing up a billboard for a castle-themed casino, she reasons she’s always falling because, well, someone always catches her. Not in New York City, sweetheart. Giselle soon discovers that her petticoats are a pain and her saccharine personality annoys people. She gets her man, but not before she’s lost the dress and the breathy voice and learned to stand on her own feet—or at least catch herself when she falls down. “Traditionally, the female character is very strong until the last minutes of the film, and then the prince comes in and she’s saved,” says “Enchanted” director Kevin Lima. “I don’t think that’s a contemporarily responsible story. I had to give an alternate ending.” Lima wants the new message to be: “You are responsible for your own happily-ever-after.” And if that includes a Disney Fairy Tale Wedding Snow White gown, all the better.

So, after a review of the Disney princess marketing machine, this article tries to allay concerns that said marketing machine is racist, classist, sexist and generally stupefying to people who buy into it, especially if they are little girls who don’t know any better. The concluding paragraph as quoted above turns backflips in an attempt to convince readers that Disney princess culture is not a huge cause for alarm.

Disney princess culture isn’t sexist, the article argues, because, for example, the stage musical version of Disney’s The Little Mermaid has given Ariel a more active role in defeating the sea witch Ursula. She’s more assertive, not a wimpy woman at all.

No, actually, what would make The Little Mermaid less sexist would be having Ariel defeat the sea witch by herself in the first place in the damn original animated film…or by considering the novel idea that perhaps a powerful, magical, ambitious, frustrated, middle-aged female character like Ursula should not be automatically vilified, ridiculed and made into a grotesque parody.

Disney princess culture isn’t racist, the article insists, because…look! They have an African-American princess coming up in The Princess and the Frog in 2009. 

No, actually, what would make Disney princess culture less racist would be, say, a little respect  for the cultures they’re portraying. For example, the ancestors as venerated in Mulan could be serious characters; or they could be off-screen completely; they needn’t be slapstick caricatures. Or the Native Americans as portrayed in Pocahontas could stop having some sort of gooey, hallucinatory relationship with colored wind and talking trees, and their spiritual practices could be woven into the story with more understatement and less excuse for talking non-human characters.

Disney princess culture isn’t generally retrograde, the article tries desperately to convince us, because Enchanted provides a modern twist on the happy-ever-after ending. In Enchanted, Giselle finds that her animated air-headedness can’t stand up to reality. Also she saves the divorce lawyer before the end. That makes it all better.

No, actually, what would make Disney princess culture less retrograde would be for them to dump the pining/suffering/wedding arc that characterizes all Disney princess stories. Just because Giselle in Enchanted momentarily flexes her muscles before settling down to her wedding does not mean that the pining/suffering/wedding arc has been radically disrupted, allowing for change. Giselle’s rescue of the divorce lawyer represents a superficial concession to reality, brains and general feminist agitation. There is no wholesale examination and revamping of the inherent passivity and stupidity of the tropes. Enchanted is NOT “contemporarily responsible.” It’s just a tired old retread.

“You are responsible for your own happily-ever-after.” And if that includes a Disney Fairy Tale Wedding Snow White gown, all the better.

This conclusion disturbs me. It implies that happily-ever-after does exist and is achievable. Furthermore, it suggests that participating in the Disney princess culture helps a person achieve said happy ending. But, as we’ve seen, Disney princess culture is a seething boil of sexism, racism, classism and general hebetation. It may purport to be liberating, hip, empowering and cool, but it is not. It is merely dressing up sexist, racist, classist stupidity in an appealing guise so that people will think that Disney princess culture represents the road to happiness and therefore consume more Disney princess products and increase Disney’s capital.

There is no happily-ever-after. There is only life. Happily-ever-after is not achieved by consuming Disney princess products because there’s no happily-ever-after to achieve in the first place. Thus, Disney princess products are merely a part of life. Their consumption does not lead to happiness. I do not deny that their consumption may bring pleasure to people; I do, however, vehemently dispute the assumption that consumption of Disney products causes lifelong personal fulfillment and deep satisfaction. They do not. No product does. In fact, consumption of Disney princess products can lead to distress, unhappiness and a dead-end state in a mire of racism, classism, sexism and stupidity…if one does not develop a critical intelligence about the hidden goals of the Disney corporate conglomerate. 

So that’s the key, folks. Examine; criticize, and provide alternatives.

P.S. For bonus nausea [and possibly VOMITING!!!!!], note that the 2009 Princess and the Frog is set in New Orleans. Cue the sassy Southern mammy stereotype, the comic and subhuman speaker of Cajun creole, not to mention the stupid, ignorant, stereotyped jokes about voodoo [more properly called Voudon, I think]. Extra bingo points for gratuitous depiction of New Orleans as some sort of swingin’ place full of cheerful Stepin Fetchits just groovin’ to the wild rhythms of that racy, “uncivilized,” “wild” jazz. 

P.P.S. For a bonus bonus, read Deborah Siegl’s review of Enchanted, which uses the movie as a case study to argue many of the points I bring up here.

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