Buffy: The Most Feminist Show

From Jessica Valenti's "He's a Stud, She's a Slut":

Without a doubt, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is probably one of the most feminist shows there is. Shit, women’s studies departments even have small conferences on the show! There were fully developed, strong female protagonists; a main character was a lesbian; and the messages were undoubtedly about gender equality. I frigging miss Buffy.

Do you agree with this? Why or why not?

I don't think that I do agree with it. Yes, I'm still on Season 2, but a major issue I have is with the pervading "Nice Guyism" that I see throughout the show. There seems to be a very strong emphasis on men -- particularly Xander, but Giles and Angel are guilty of this too -- policing Buffy's choices, particularly her romantic choices. Despite Buffy's choices being questioned and probed in almost every episode so far, I've yet to see anyone called out for this behavior, nor have I seen Buffy effectively resist this intrusion. I'm also led to believe that the intrusion is considered beneficial by the writers, given that it frequently ends up saving Buffy's life (as when Xander follows her to the frat party, and ends up helping to save her). I just don't see any of this adding up to being a message about gender equality.

I'm also frustrated by the lack of people of color and people with physical disabilities and fat people on the show. When we did have a person of color -- Kendra the Slayer -- she was portrayed as backward and impoverished, stating that a torn shirt was her "only shirt" and unable to speak to Xander without stammering because she had been so deeply segregated from boys. Hell, the job fell to Buffy to "teach" the poor Jamaican girl that she does in fact have emotions. (Thank god there was a white woman around, amiright?) It's hard for me to reconcile 'most feminist thing ever' with major issues of race and the invisibiling of people with physical disabilities and fat.

Of course, one response is that "most feminist show" doesn't necessary imply potential so much as actual. Perhaps by whatever metric you reach for, Buffy is the best thing we've had so far. I don't watch a lot of television, so I can't really offer anything in rebuttal to that -- was Xena: Warrior Princess more or less essentially feminist than Buffy? And then we have to ask: by what measures? And how? A search for "feminist tv shows" nets such responses as Sex in the City (character Miranda identifies as a feminist), Saved by the Bell (ditto re: character Jessie), Big Bang Theory (LOLWHUT), and Game of Thrones (Because Arya). None of those shows, to my recollection, had a deeply diverse cast of people of color, people with disabilities, and/or fat people. So there's that.

What do you think defines "feminist television"? 
What are some examples of television you consider to be positively feminist, and why? 
Where do those same shows fall down and how would you like to see them improved?


Lonespark said...

I will put Star Trek: Deep Space Nine up against just about anything. This is not to say it also isn't full of fail, but... The female characters are strong and independent and smart and skilled and accomplished and they get to have romantic lives on their own terms. Even The Main Dude's Girlfriend (see icon).

By the end the main cast includes several POC, only one of whom is portraying a non-human character. POC characters have families and lives and there are episodes dealing with historical racism and class issues that I personally find effective (I know opinions vary widely.)

There are religious characters who are good people and others who are corrupt or evil. There are doubters and zealots and THE SHOW DEALS MEANINGFULLY WITH COLONIALISM!

One major failing is the way human culture, and specifically circa-20th-century human culture is glorified and normalized. I don't know that it's unrealistic for the humans to expect their alien colleagues to enjoy their favorite cultural entertainment, but I'm not sure the show realizes it's doing that. (Mostly relates to the holodeck; I don't think it's as bad regarding food and maybe music and art?)

Pqw said...

What I've always liked about SFF was thinking it really was about other places and times and People Not Like Us. (I often identify more with monsters and aliens than human beings.) I was pretty disappointed when, maybe 2 years ago, I realized that SFF is often about looking at our current world from a different angle.

So, while I was a big fan of Buffy (and Angel) when they were on TV - 15 years ago, or whenever that was - it was because of the supernatural elements: monsters and the Hellmouth in California! Demons who can be just people!

Anyway, I didn't think Buffy or Angel were feminist at all. Girl title character, and other girls in the cast. A lesbian who becomes a witch. That's all good. But as you said, also a lot of Nice Guyism. A lot of troubling storylines. And almost no racial, cultural, body type, etc., diversity.

I don't think ANYTHING on TV is feminist.
[Caveat: I stopped watching TV 2+ years ago, so I can't speak to anything currently (or recently) on TV. ]

Ymfon Tviergh said...

Wait, Game of Thrones is feminist now? GAME OF THRONES? That's not setting the bar too low, that's burying it so deep no one will ever find it again.

Ana Mardoll said...

Speaking of SciFi, I really wanted to like Voyager.

Janeway seemed like a Rorschach character; depending on the writer, she was either badass and competent, or she became a straw feminist with terrifying absolute certainty in her own moral compass to the exclusion of all others. I think this can be done well (see Picard when he engages the Borg in that one movie with the Borg Queen), but I felt like the Voyager writers missed the mark by a wide mile.

But I really *wanted* to like the show. Torres was used in some plots about institutionalized sexism in the workplace, and it was delightful when she butted heads against Janeway. Seven of Nine was dressed problematically, but still had some decent plotlines. Yet it seemed for every step forward, they took two steps back, and it's noteworthy that the Doctor -- a white, older, straight, cis male -- ended up getting more plotlines and more character development than pretty much everyone else.

Plus that show had massive race fail ... so yeah. *sadface*

Ana Mardoll said...

Wait, wait, wait. If waifish girls kicking ass *isn't* automatically feminist, then that's gong to require a LOT of cultural recalibration. *grin*

Pqw said...

Despite being gobsmacked by Seven of Nine's costume every time I saw it, I really liked her character and her storylines. I also liked a bunch of the other characters. But I didn't like Janeway or the Doctor, so I stopped watching the show. :(

AnonaMiss said...

I think Sex and the City was more important to feminist TV than it gets credit for: the mere fact that it was a show with no male main characters was groundbreaking. Come to think of it, I'm not sure it passed the reverse-Bechdell test, with two named male characters ever talking about anything but a woman.

The show itself is of course problematic, but the fact that the show was made at all was, sadly enough, something of a feminist victory.

Ana Mardoll said...

I do think SitC deserves some credit. For me, at least, it was the first sex-positive thing I was exposed to AND was the first thing that put female pleasure as just as important or even more important (in a Healthy Selfishness kind of way) as male pleasure.

I didn't care for all the shopping, though. (Not coincidentally, I dislike shopping so it's VERY EASY for me to be all GRR CONSUMERISM.)

But! It also portrayed all-female groups and all-female friendships as normal, which is very lacking in television, I think.

Yamikuronue said...

What bothered me most about Buffy was this sentence: "A main character was a lesbian."
A lesbian who had deep, meaningful sexual relationships with men followed by deep, meaningful, sexual relationships with women.

The character in question has the right to identify as whatever she'd like, but why does nobody in the history of the show ever mention or even think the word "bisexual"? Instead there's phrases like "a little bit gay". As a bisexual, that just pisses me off. As a bisexual who was, at the time, a practitioner of Wicca, their inaccurate depiction and insistence on using the word "wicca" as a synonym for "witch" (as in, "she's a very strong wicca"), bothered me. The father figure abandoning his daughter-figure when she's been given a monumental plate of shit to deal with because "I'm making her too dependent on me" bothered the crap out of me too. I didn't mind so much about people policing her choices because, honestly, a teenage girl is going to have the crap policed out of her choices by both her friends and her parental figures. As she gets a bit older it seemed (maybe just because I liked the show) like she started being more decisive in her own life.

I'm watching Angel now. It bothers me that there are four main characters at this point (fluctuating cast and all): three males and one female. Any time a storyline calls for a character to be helpless, brought low, imprisoned, raped, or forcibly impregnated, they pick the female. Every other kind of plot falls on one of the males. Even when one of the males gets shot, he's an agent in his own plotlines afterwards, and it serves to help showcase his badassity. The female? Never really gets closure, just quietly never mentions things again.

Will Wildman said...

I'd rate the recent Battlestar Galactica as reasonably good on the feminism front. Famously, one of the first things that the creator was able to grab producers' attention with was his plan to have the new Starbuck - originally the womanizin' hard-drinkin' ace pilot dudebro - be a woman. Her drinking, brawling, enjoyment of sex, and distaste for commitment remain unchanged.

The writers endeavoured to present a society that simply didn't have ingrained sexism, so when the Secretary of Education finds out that the 43 people ahead of her in line to the executive have all been killed and she is now President of the Colonies, the crotchety executive officer of the Galactica sputters in disbelief that the commander is going to allow post-apocalyptic humanity to be led by "a schoolteacher?!" The fact that she's a woman doesn't enter into it.

The female cast got as much if not more development than the males over the series, and were awesome and evil and heroic and selfish and wise and frakked-up and everything else that a great cast should be. Mind you, the fanservice was primarily delivered by a leggy blonde in a slinky red dress who spent at least half of her time caressing things. (Yes, this was partly because she was a vision projected inside someone's head and she liked to mess with him, but it was still the writers' choice to do so.) Not that there weren't plenty of shirtless dudes around too, but they didn't get nearly the same cinematic focus.

It also had its diversity issues. Very few PoC, and often relegated to minor or disliked roles. All of the QUILTBAG stuff was relegated to supplementary materials - the web series reveals that one major character is bisexual and another minor character is bi or gay; one of the movies reveals that two temporary major characters were a lesbian couple - and most of them have unpleasant or unfortunate ends. The series finale in particular had some really glaring colonialism arrows with racist undertones, though (I think) not to the extent that some critics have suggested.

Kerry said...

Re: Buffy, an important thing for me is that I don't read the show as endorsing Xander and Giles's policing of Buffy's personal life (except for when it, you know, potentially kills people - I'm not sure how far you've got into S2 so I'll stop there!). It's been a while since I've seen it and I've seen all of it, so I'm probably backreading themes from the later half of S2 on, but it was clear to me that although the men in Buffy's life did often try to control her and tell her off for not listening, they were *wrong*.

Will Wildman said...

It's freely known at this point that the writers not only didn't know what to do with Janeway (or most characters), but quite literally stopped caring at some point and explicitly embraced the idea that people would have whatever personality traits were conducive to the plot of the week. Apparently there was a command from the top that the show needed to be made for syndication and so continuity between episodes (such as substantial progressive character growth) would only confuse people who saw episodes out of order.

I was just beginning to understand the concept of fanservice when Seven of Nine was added to the cast - I was mostly excited because having a Borg protagonist fed my deep hunger for Heroic Villains - but I do remember being kind of startled that the character who was obviously put there to look sexy was actually providing the majority of meaningful acting and depth in storylines.

There are no words to describe the racism around Chakotay, though. Sweet Zod.

Will Wildman said...

I'm never sure whether their use of 'wicca' as a noun for a practitioner was intentional or not - of course, in the modern religion(s), Wicca is the faith and Wiccans are practitioners, but the original word 'wicca/wicce' in Old English did refer to practitioners, and was used in that sense in the early revival, through the mid-20th century. It seems like it's not clear whether it's an outright research failure or an intentional throwback.

The treatment of Wicca as basically Hogwarts Distance Ed rather than as an actual religion, of course, is a whole raft of problems.

FrenchRoast said...

I don't know that it's a "feminist" show, but Covert Affairs has wonderful, strong female characters. It definitely passes the Bechtel test. Annie is kick-ass, not because she's a girl, but because she's smart and motivated and resourceful. The other female characters are also awesome in their own ways. For example, Joan (Annie's boss and head of her division) is experienced, intelligent, and has no fear of challenging her boss (who happens to also be her husband, and man, that's a complicated marriage right there) when necessary.

I'd say that now in its 3rd season, it has more main female characters than male characters, which is (sadly) unusual in a more action-oriented show. Auggie, one of the main male characters, is blind, and while I'm not blind and so I don't know for sure, they seem to handle that realistically. There isn't a lot of color variety in the main cast (Jai, played by Sendhil Ramamurthy, has some Indian ancestry), but the recurring characters are more varied. I think part of the reason the show is successful is that it seems as though the writers have made the assumption that if the character is in the CIA or the larger world the CIA works in, they are more than capable of doing whatever is needed, regardless of gender, age, ability, etc.

Warehouse 13 is also pretty good from a "has lots of great female characters who handle things just fine without men saving them" POV. It also introduced a main character who is gay without that totally engulfing his characterization. There are women of color, but now that I think about it, not many men of color are ever seen, so that's problematic.

JarredH said...

Even in modern Wicca, there's some precedent for using "Wicca" as a label for its practitioners. It happens in certain circles of British Traditional Wicca, both talking about individual initiates as Wicca and all initiates collective as "The Wic(c)a." Plus, I seem to recall that in "Guide for a Solitary Practitioner," Cunningham tended to use "Wicca" to refer to a practitioner. (I was a bit surprised when I turned around and read "Further Guide" and he switched to "Wiccan.")

jill heather said...

Wow, these comments are full of spoilers for Buffy.

Buffy is, as television goes, a pretty feminist show. Is it racist? Yes. (I heard that Kendra was given a very specific regional accent which is fairly unknown, so she sounded like a bad stereotype.) Does it have Nice Guy isms? Sure. But, yeah, there's not that much around which is actually better.

The Good Wife is, surprisingly, very good in this aspect. It's also a very white show (not as much as Buffy), but it's a much more nuanced look at things. Maybe Gilmore Girls?

Thousand said...

Re: Buffy: I think it's way more feminist than the average TV Show, and probably in the upper 10% as far as feminism goes overall. However, that's because the average TV show is absurdly terrible, not because Buffy is some shining paragon of well-done feminist.

I agree that there isn't much in the way of fat, disabled, etc. people in the show, except of course for a few minor villains later on who are obviously inhuman and demonic... I think this is pretty much a standardized Hollywood thing that occurs so often that people are increasingly blind to it as it is perceived as 'normal' - when was the last time you saw a TV show with fat people which wasn't specifically about fat people being fat and instead portrayed them as real, human, normal people? It's quite irritating that it happens so rarely...

The lesbian thing in Buffy really annoyed me. It felt like Whedon wanted to have a lesbian in the show, but for some reason didn't want to write a new character in, and also for some reason didn't accept the possibility of bisexuality or any of the many varieties of human sexuality beyond "straight" and "gay" - it's even made to be a big thing later on that comes up frequently that the character couldn't be attracted to males, when in earlier seasons she had an extended romance with a male, that included physical intimacy and seemed to be as close as anyone on Buffy got to a healthy relationship. It felt like a really bad, really silly retcon of her character. Perhaps if I watched it when it was airing it wouldn't be so irritating, but I marathoned it over about a month and observed a character going from "having a good heterosexual relationship with a male character" to "I am and always have been purely gay and never like men at all as romantic partners" in the course of what was ~2 weeks realtime made the level of retconning occuring really, really obvious.

I'm pretty sure Whedon had no overarching plan for the BTVS franchise on anything beyond a season at a time scope - I suspect that he could have done a lot better if he knew it was going to go as long as it did from the start and had the various characters' developments thought out in advance...

There are a lot of problems with BTVS, and I look forward to hearing more of your opinions on it as you get farther into the series.

Pqw said...

when I referenced "lesbian character" on Buffy, it was in reply to someone else saying it. I didn't pause, and recall that Willow was, as someone else mentioned above, bisexual. Sorry.

Laurel_Cz said...

Buffy is one of those shows where, they sometimes have these kinds of sexist archetypes, and sometimes I can't tell if they're exposing them or just perpetuating them because they work. Like, for a non-spoiler example, Buffy's wardrobe when she goes slaying. Braless, uncomfortable shoes, hawt clothes that look like they'd easily constrict or tear (not every time she goes, but often enough)...So is the show appealing to the male gaze or subtly making a statement about how women need to look perfectly coiffed no matter what they're doing and how much that sucks?

I do think the show is very feminist in lots of ways (no idea about most feminist) for a few reasons. 1) Strong Independent Women who is actually a fleshed out character and drives the plot 2) That the plot is often about women's problems, concerns and choices as something worth caring about, 3) that the main friendship is two women, and it never devolves into competetiveness or sniping even when the opportunity is there and most writers would take it, 4) Buffy is allowed to make bad choices and she's not a Bad Person for them, she's just being human and trying her best (which isn't to say she isn't castigated for making those choices (esp. by Xander) but when that happens it seems to me it comes as much from his own issues as his issues with her). 5) it reverses gender roles a lot, 6) Willow is very tech savvy which very much goes against stereotypes for women (esp. in the 90's). Umm...that's all I can think of without spoilers.

Sometimes the show is way to clunky with trying to be FEMINIST (like season 7, for example, which I hated), sometimes it's so subtle that I don't think the target audience would understand it as intended, and sometimes I think it's just a big older gender fail (Drusilla, for example, who embodies three of the most damaging archetypes against womankind). So I don't know.

Lots of racefail and, since it's already been mentioned, Joss's gay/straight binary always really got to me too (I actually just read this the other day on the subject: http://www.btchflcks.com/2012/08/buffy-vampire-slayer-week-whedons.html). And other stuff that would be a spoiler to give away. I will say though, "True Blood" is the hit vampire show du jour and that pisses me off so much more with regard to homosexuality through metaphor. In Buffy, if anyone is kind of coded as gay it's Buffy (secret life, born into it not a choice, no one will accept her if they know, intrinsically different from everyone else, and then some key quotes from Joyce seem to drive the metaphor home more). In "True Blood" the metaphor for homosexuality is vampirism (with all the "Came out of the Coffin" "God hates Fangs" "We just want equal rights with everyone else" "Vermont just legalized vampire marriage" etc) except it really sucks because the vampires are the bad guys in the show. The Good vampires are the ones who mainstream and pretend to be just like everyone else but all the other vampires practice their True Nature (which is the murderous equivalent of predatory gay). Sorry, this has been eating at me for forever now.

Randomosity said...

Bones, up until they turned Booth and Bones into a Serious Romantic Arc. All seasons include a diverse cast of men, women, geeks, nerds, persons of color, caucasians, immigrants, and they didn't all interact through the men and white people. The problematical part is with the HUGE amount of on-the-job discussions of various people's sex lives and just how many pairings there are at this particular workplace. It does get called out a couple times by interns.

One of my favorite recurring secondaries is Caroline Julian with the US Attorney's office.

Unfortunately, the Serious Romantic Arc between Bones and Booth sometimes overpowers the murders they're all trying to solve by the use of forensic anthropology. Despite this, I still love Bones. I also love that Kathy Reichs, the author of the novels they're loosely based on, holds a doctorate in forensic anthropology and is a technical consultant for the show.

Laurel_Cz said...

[content note: reference to sexualized death(?)]

Bones! Another thing I love about "Bones" that I think separates it from most crime procedurals is how it doesn't sexualize violence/death. By the nature of their specialty, the cadavers are so decomposed that only specialists can figure out who they were and how they died. Because of that (unlike Criminal Minds or SVU or whatever) you never get exposed to half-dressed, splayed legged, sometimes raped cadavers that often still have that O face. Also, off the top of my head I don't recall them ever having a victim-blaming plotline (I could be wrong since this is American television here).

jill heather said...

Bones is . . . well, the Booth/Bones romantic arc is "Bones, you are not neurotypical! I will teach you to be more neurotypical because that is a better way to be!" and "Bones, I know you have lots and lots of money but I don't therefore we have to buy a falling apart house because manliness!" and "Bones, I know you spent five seasons saying you didn't want a kid but now you magically do yay!" and it is so, so problematic. But yeah, it's got lots of women and POC. The first two or so seasons were good, but it lost the things that made it interesting and different a while ago.(Carolyn Julian for the win, though.)

meenalives said...

Former lurker, putting in a plug for Parks and Recreation. A show about a female city government who is supremely competent at her job and unabashedly feminist, and supported by all her coworkers. The most important relationship in her life is with her best friend, a woman of color, yet she still has healthy romantic relationships, including one with a man who sacrifices his own career to be with her. The supporting cast is amazing as well, about half female, and racially mixed. I'm not generally a huge fan of TV comedy, but I love this one.

Nathaniel said...

This. This. A thousand times this. A captain written confidently enough they didn't even feel the need to go explicitly against stereotypes, a woman who doesn't take shit from anyone without going over the top into straw Strong Woman territory, never a word indicating that women were inappropriate for any sort of leadership or combat roles, romance plots done realistically and without character derails. Any poor characters are due to the sins of weak writing, not giving into easy sexist tropes. If you have any interest Ana, I urge you to give it a try. Its 1000% better than Voyager.

They even have a sex worker become a fully realized and important character. How many other shows besides DS9 can claim that?

Randomosity said...

I am very much annoyed by the Obligatory Romantic Story Arc. The series doesn't need it. I so much prefer the first couple seasons because the Brennan/Booth conflict was about job-related/case-related issues not about How Can We Work Together Now That We're An Item and it's a weak conflict besides. Everyone in the lab knows about it so there's no undercurrent of "We shouldn't be doing this but..." I wonder if there are writers and producers trying to turn it into a soap opera.

I don't have cable or network TV so I'm way way WAY behind on keeping up with everyone's favorite shows. I'm Netflixin' my way through Bones and I'm most of the way through Season Five.

Love Warehouse 13. Claudia is my favorite character. Only saw most of Season One, so I'm way behind here, too.

Dav said...

I dunno. I don't think you can easily label entire shows/movies/book/etc. feminist. Or you can, but they're like prisms - their feminism is determined by the sorts of conversations they're having with viewers and readers. Maybe "feminist show" is shorthand for "show that has lots of feminist moments or topics or tropes against type", but I'd rather do feminist readings of material rather than declare the material is feminist in itself. Declaring material feminist (and not, say, written by a feminist) can really shut down critique. Like, say, are we allowed to complain about the borderline-hilarious lack of people of color on Buffy, or is that complaint preempted by its declared Feminist-ness?

Personally, I think there's multiple valid reads of a lot of material. I liked Buffy, found it usually engaging, and yeah, I think there's some neat ideas that get a thumbs-up from my POV. There's also some bog-standard headdesk stuff (some of which I found enjoyable because We Like Problematic Things), and a few shining I-don't-think-that-word-means-what-you-think-it-means examples.

Plus, I think if you get too caught up in labels, it can be actively harmful to the quality of the stuff you produce, and it can make it too hard to take criticism if you're failing. *cough*Dollhouse*cough*

On a different topic, I'm bi (or poly, if you want to be hardcore about it). I understand bisexual invisibility like whoa. But. My mom's a lesbian. That's how she identifies. She was married to my dad for 20-odd years, and that meaningful relationship doesn't trump her identity. So that's actually something I support. Willow identifies as lesbian? We don't get to decide she's not, although we can criticize the writers for maybe not being a bit more nuanced or presenting it in a different way.

Pqw said...

I don't actually remember how Willow self-identified. I never rewatched the shows.

I was trying to be more nuanced and inclusive; if I messed up there too, I'm sorry.

jill heather said...

Other than that totally pre-spoiled Willow spoiler, no Buffy spoilers ahead. Well, except the thing in ROT13.

FWIW, Willow specifically says "Gay now" about herself (in the episode "Triangle", I think), though this is likely part of the erasure of bisexuality from tv (explicitly bisexual characters -- like Jack Harkness, sort of, though I believe he was called or called himself pansexual -- often sort of morph into same-sex only).

I found the weirdest part of the whiteness of Buffy that part of season 3 where Mr Trick comments on how white the show is (and you think, hey, it noticed it and it will make changes because it's pointing this out) and then there are still no nom-minor non-white characters until season 7. (There's a very very secondary character in season 4, and a high-level secondary character in season 7. Both are black. That's about it for POC in Sunnydale California. We do not want to discuss (or, indeed, remember) how they dealt with Native Americans in that one Thanksgiving episode in season 4. This is not a spoiler, it's a warning.)

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Will Wildman said...

Yeah, Willow's identity is one of those things where I think it's important to distinguish between a Watsonian approach (Willow Rosenberg as a real person whose life we are viewing) and Doylist ('Willow' as a character being written by other people). Watsonian-Willow identifies as lesbian and that's not something other people should be second-guessing for her. (I've only rarely had conversations with people about how to label my orientation, and I was amazed by how quickly it became incredibly irritating if they said anything like 'No, that means you're X'.)

Doylist-Willow was somewhat hamfistedly written: Whedon has been pretty explicit that he said 'I want to have a main character with same-sex attraction' and flipped a coin to choose between Willow being lesbian or Xander being gay. I think that, having made the decision so starkly and audaciously, they then tended to write it that way, just barely managing to not give Willow lines like "So remember when my character became gay?"

Ana Mardoll said...

Will, a lot of times people fly in and ask the difference between Watsonian and Doylist approaches, and I usually don't have good examples to provide. May I lift the substance of your comment for inclusion in the comment policy?

Lonespark said...

I'd rather do feminist readings of material rather than declare the material is feminist in itself.

Huzzah to this!
It makes more sense anyway, given the low bar for "slightly more feminist than average." We are still going to engage with our culture.

I have heard Community is good and I would like to see it.

sweetcraspy said...

Does anyone know enough about Rosanne to evaluate it? When it was running I didn`t watch it because of how it was marketed, and because of personal fails. More recently, I`ve heard a few interviews with Rosanne Barr, and was impressed with the things she had to say about her ownership of the show. I`ve been meaning to Netflix it.

Will Wildman said...

Oh, absolutely. I wasn't sure I should use the terms (because they're rather a mouthful and not exactly in common use) so I'm quite glad if I was able to sum them up effectively.

Lonespark said...

I think DS9 did a pretty good job on "it's usually more complicated than that."

Maybe someone you love didn't die heroically; maybe she died by inches warming the bed of your people's enemy. What does that mean about you, and her, and the people who lied in her memory?

Etc., etc. The Bajoran/Cardassian stuff was the best, I think, but there was a lot.

Unfortunately there are still episodes like "Profit and Lace" where everyone involved should be very, very ashamed. Through the magic of DVD I can pretend they do not exist.

Dav said...

Exactly. I don't mind complaints about Doyalist-Willow.

Spoilers (?) for Battlestar Galactica:
I've watched a few episodes of the new Battlestar Galactica, and am actively rooting for a mutiny for Chief Competent and Colonel Cynical to rise up and take over. I actively hate so many characters on that show it's not even funny. (And if I never hear another word about Dead Brother-Son, that will be completely fine. In fact I think I stopped watching because the preview for the next episode promised to have lots more about Dead Brother-Son. Show: enough already. Cut it out.) I'm a fan of the idea of Starbuck, but apparently watching Starbuck doesn't do anything for me. Not that I think I should like every show that might have some feminist readings, but still.

Beth Z said...

This was exactly my issue with how the character was handled! I'm so glad to see someone else bring this up, as it seems like it's not often mentioned. It seems to me far more likely that character is bisexual, and I'm really puzzled as to why this was never brought up.

I can't comment on Angel, because I ragequit that show somewhere in S3, though I've watched a handful of episodes from S4. But most of my rage was indeed over how they treated that character. I thought the general tone and ideas of the show were interesting (partly because I am a huge sucker for noir-detective hunting monsters/the supernatural) but ultimately it seemed like Whedon used it to do what he always does--that is, make sure everyone is miserable/suffers horribly-- only cranked up to 11. I've heard S5 was better, but I'm having a hard time convincing myself to watch it.

Dav said...

I heard that about Community, too. Let me know what you think if you ever end up checking it out.

jill heather said...

Whedon has been pretty explicit that he said 'I want to have a main character with same-sex attraction' and flipped a coin to choose between Willow being lesbian or Xander being gay.

Really? Because there were hints about Willow in season 3, while she was still with a boy -- but then I heard that her first lesbian relationship wasn't planned as such until they noticed how good the chemistry between the two actors was.

Community is pretty good, though I think they draw on the Britta well in problematic ways. Still, fun.

Will Wildman said...

I had a similar experience - when it was first on, my mother's intense dislike for Roseanne (plus bad advertising) meant that I ignored it completely and assumed it was terrible; the recent interviews and nostalgia from people whose criticism I valued caused me to take a second look. I saw about eight episodes before the only network I know of that was showing it decided to stop.

What I did see was, I think, somewhat Rorschachy. It's either a show about a bunch of losers being terrible and mocked, or it's a show about flawed people shown in their entirety and coping (not always well) with messy problems. It is by no means a bastion of progressivism and enlightenment, but it had more substance than I expected, and I think I'd rather watch more of it than of the vast majority of other sitcoms out there, given the choice.

sweetcraspy said...

Thanks for the overview. Given the subject matter, I'm not surprised it can be problematic. It's not like, say, BSG, where the starting assumptions on gender roles and expectations can be tweaked.

Ana Mardoll said...

They're not in common use, you're right. I kind of panicked the first time I heard them because WE DID NOT COVER THIS IN SCHOOL. And then, oh, Dr. Watson and Arthur Conan Doyle. Okay.

But they can be scary the first time, I know. Thank you for the awesome example!

Will Wildman said...

Well, looking into it more I'm now not sure - I distinctly recall a quote to that effect, which I have no been able to find again, but I did find these:


The implication from all of those is that they already had a goal to have someone 'explore their sexuality' and noticed that it lined up very well with Willow and Tara's character arcs. Willow and Tara's actors (and some writers) seem to have maintained the idea that Willow (again, at least to start with) did not identify strictly as 'lesbian', but was best not labelled.

(The other implication is that Joss Whedon will never tire of talking about how he's not interested in political positions or statements. Oh, Joss, you irascible iconoclast you! /gag)

Brin Bellway said...

I wasn't sure I should use the terms (because they're rather a mouthful and not exactly in common use)

They're not? Since when?

Well, I suppose it wouldn't really be that surprising if they're not. I've never been a very good judge of what common knowledge is.

Ana Mardoll said...

I hate BSG too, so we can hate it together as buddies.

Have had two different Very Good Friends try to get me interested in the show, have failed each time. I loathe Roslin -- and I don't care if that puts me on the level of villains who kick puppies -- and I think Starbuck's fight-and-fuck demeanor might have been useful as a non-stereotypical representation of women, had they not then turned around and loaded her down with more issues than I can count which makes her seem dysfunctional (to me) rather than a healthy example of a sex positive woman. (Really, I would not let Starbuck command a goddamn segway, and I wouldn't let Roslin be night manager at Blockbuster. I'm just sayin'.)

For awhile I honestly thought I was the ONLY PERSON ON EARTH who didn't like BSG, but I *think* I remember Izzy not being enthralled with New Starbuck either? Not sure.

NOTE: I feel compelled to point out that just because I don't like it doesn't mean it's automatically not feminist. I don't know that it is or not; I haven't watched enough to evaluate the show meaningfully. I have strong likes/dislikes in my fiction that are not necessarily informed by Perfect Feminism. So this is not a judgment on people who do like the show -- as noted, two people I deeply respect just adore the show to pieces.

Ana Mardoll said...

If the terms really originated in a Bujold mailing list, they're probably no more than 20 years old? Ish? And not taught in the schools I went to, alas.

depizan said...

I never even tried it, for reasons most of you can probably guess. I do not do grim darkness, thanks.

The idea of throwing out modern gender roles is a good one though. There's no particular reason to ever have them in sci-fi (or fantasy, really), except that they're what we're familiar with.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yeah, and Starbuck probably works a lot better if you're used to Male Starbuck and you see that Female Starbuck is precisely the same, only a girl.

But if you only have new Starbuck as the reference (like I do), it fits too comfortably into Issues --> Fight & Fuck --> Assertive Female Sexuality Therefore Indicative Of Problems.

Strange how there are harmful stereotypes for just about every kind of woman out there, no? SOMEONE SHOULD ALERT THE FEMINISM.

Will Wildman said...

I still really like BSG, although I liked it far more when I was first watching it than I do in retrospect. (Which is funny, because retrospect is where I should be able to conveniently fog out all the bits that were terrible.)

Just to share perspectives: I cannot disagree that Starbuck is loaded with all the issues they could fit into the ship after spending two full days trawling the Issues Clearance Sale at Issues Depot, but I think my perceptions of the cast are largely relative to each other, and I'm not sure I'd call anyone on that show a healthy example of anything ever.

Pqw said...

I loathed Roslin too. But everyone around me thought the show rocked, so I ... just stopped watching it.

Ana Mardoll said...

I'm the same way: it's often in retrospect that I'm like OMG HOW DID I NOT SEE THAT. Assuming I'm really *in* to the show and not just doing my jaded-eye thing. :)

And I completely agree that everyone on the ship seems utterly dysfunctional. But I have such a low tolerance for that, I wanted them all to fly into the nearest star. BECAUSE I AM EVIL*.

(But Doylistly evil, not Watsonianly evil. Dysfunctional people I love. Dysfunctional characters ... less so.)

Now trying to think of a dysfunctional cast where I enjoyed the show anyway. I just think I like something bright in my ... wait. KOTOR 2. Everyone was dysfunctional in that, and I liked it bunches. There you go. But I'm not sure a role-playing game counts.

Anyway. I generally like someone bright and pleasant to latch onto if I'm going to stick with a show for any length of time. Or at least snarky and sensible and genre savvy to lash out at the other characters. That is also acceptable.

Ana Mardoll said...

We will start a club. :D

BSG SPOILERS / TW: Serious Illness

Because I am utterly narcissistic sometimes, I actually thought it was a bit manipulative when they gave her cancer. I felt like the writers were saying, "But, look, Ana: she has cancer! You can't hate someone with CANCER, can you?" And I was all, "Screw you, writers, I hated her before you made her sick, so making her sick won't make me stop hating her." And then I stopped watching.

Mind you, I'd only seen like, every third episode at that point. Basically just whenever friends would pop it in and I didn't want to leave just because. This is also my level of exposure to Big Bang Theory.

Ana Mardoll said...

Also: Issues Depot. LOL.


Isabel C. said...

@Ana: That was me, yeah, and OMG HAAAAATE.

Loved Starbuck in early seasons, but...sorry, you can't have a female character be sexual and aggressive without giving her issues? Fuck you, Ron Moore. (And also fuck you for the abortion episode that was so heavy-handed it might as well have been written by Dr. No. I don't care that you ultimately come down on my side politically; I could've written a better episode while drunk.)

Buffy...hm. I don't know if it's the most feminist show ever, but I'd argue that it was the most feminist show I was aware of at the time when it was on. Granted, the alternatives were "Ally McBeal" and "Dawson's Creek", which: ew. Fair For Its Time, maybe. I enjoy it now, even, but I also see the issues, as has come up elsewhere.

Sex and the City I like for having a female character who wasn't monogamous by inclination, and for having female-female friendship. I hate it for having said non-monogamous character get converted by the love of a good man and be the one to get sick (shades of Ruby Gillis); for Charlotte and Carrie, who I loathed; and for the Nice Guy Triumphant qualities of the Steve/Miranda plot.

I see a "feminist" show as one which shows female characters as people, on the same terms as male characters--or which, in a historical environment, explores the problems with being female back then, but also doesn't make a woman's entire character arc about being a woman or being in love or being a mother.

So I'd put up Downton Abbey and Mad Men (I've seen some argument back and forth on the latter, and I haven't seen S5 yet, but through S4 I could see it as exploring the issues of being female in the 1960s) in the latter categories. In the former, I'd say Better Off Ted, which is hilarious and great. It could use more female characters, but the ones it has are lovely and non-stereotypical. Also My Little Pony, because yeah.

Ana Mardoll said...

Which, oh my god, Big Bang Theory. I still can't decide if I like it or loathe it.

Ana Mardoll said...


I see a "feminist" show as one which shows female characters as people, on the same terms as male characters--or which, in a historical environment, explores the problems with being female back then, but also doesn't make a woman's entire character arc about being a woman or being in love or being a mother.

Speaking of ... Does anyone remember anything about Doctor Quinn, Medicine Woman? We watched it at the time, but I remember absolutely nothing about it. Is it too much to hope that it wasn't awful?

--- Sex In The City Spoilers ---

I am so bad with character names, but I remember Steve and Miranda not working out because (iirc) Miranda was (justifiably, I thought) very career oriented, and Steve wanted her to basically stop being that way. To the point of pressuring her for co-habitation, baby, pet, etc.? And then they broke up?

No, wait, I guess he came back again in a Carrie / Aidan plotline. Or my memories are just entirely scrambled.

I need to re-watch those. I'm not sure how much I can stomach Carrie / Big angst, though. I never liked Big even a little. I loved Samantha, though, if only because -- again -- first sex positive character I'd seen. This was well after my divorce and I was all "wait, I can have sex with WHOEVER I WANT? Even if they're not my monogamous boyfriend or fiance or husband? Like, I can have sex on the first date? OH MY GOD, WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THIS?" (Very sheltered upbringing, let me tell you.)

Isator Levi said...

I'm still gonna advocate for Avatar: The Last Airbender.

Not only does it, by necessity, have a presentation of diverse ethnic groups, not only does it present competent women not only as main characters but in the background (there are about four occasions in the first season where major group action has woman involved as a matter of course), not only does it have an instance of a named supporting character in a wheelchair and a major character who is blind, but it also presents these things in almost all instances as matter of fact to the point that they're not commented on.

Well, except for the blind girl, but she's the one making the jokes about her own inability to see (largely because she refuses to see it as something that weakens her in a relevent way).

Seriously, check that show out.

Ana Mardoll said...

It's on The List, but we keep saying we'll finish Fullmetal Alchemist first, which will be tricky since we keep not watching Fullmetal Alchemist.

jill heather said...

Yeah, that's pretty heavily implied -- they were going to do something, hey look we like Tara, let's do it now. Then I can pretend that the comments between Angel and Willow in season 3 (when it was clear Willow was going to get more and more into magic) were some kind of deliberate. Va cnegvphyne, nsgre Jvyybj ybbxf ng InzcverJvyybj naq fnlf fur "guvaxf fur'f xvaqn tnl", Ohssl fnlf gur inzcver crefbanyvgl vf gbgnyyl hayvxr gur uhzna bar, Natry gevrf gb fnl "jryy ab" naq Ohssl tvirf uvz n ybbx.

BSG spoilers:

I loved Roslin (who had cancer from early on, no?). I loved most of BSG, especially when it had that super despairing last episode where they found earth and it was a desolate nuclear wasteland, the end.

Will Wildman said...

Continued BSG spoilers, kind of (also TW for cancer and treatments thereof):

Roslin finds out she has cancer in her very first scene, although I don't remember offhand how explicit it is. What seemed weird to me was that she has it, and it affects her more over time, and then she's near death, and then she is saved because Plot-Relevant Magic Science*, and then in the final season it comes back, for reasons thoroughly unexplained. And that, the unexplained return of the cancer, was perhaps supposed to parallel real-life cancer treatments and the uncertainty about whether it will come back, but it also just felt a bit like the writers missed the days when Roslin had cancer and wanted to return to the Frail Leader With Inner Strength tropes.

*The Magic Science in question was pretty standard issue technobabble, except that there's a wonderful moment when their omnidisciplinary scientist is trying to explain how unique blood will save the day, and he's all "If this" *scribblescribble* "is what normal human blood looks like, then this" *scribblescribble* "is what [magic blood] looks like, and that will let it fight cancer". And maybe that works okay if you're a space fighter pilot, but my parents are chemists and we could only say "No, doctor, that is not what blood looks like. That is benzene. Admittedly, if Roslin had benzene instead of blood, she might not get cancer, but she would also be a walking cigar. Are you sure you've thought this through? With the conflagration and everything?"

Isator Levi said...

I think you might have a bit more luck putting Avatar first; you can watch the whole thing on Netflix, if that matters.

Seriously, watch that show, it's great.

(Note: Netflix seems to put an episode of the second season out of order; The Secret of the Fire Nation is supposed to go after The Desert)

Isator Levi said...

Oh dear, I'm becoming a bit of a broken record. Do I have no expressions instead of "Seriously, do this thing"? Need to read more.

Ana Mardoll said...

(Thank you for that correction, Will and Jill. I've seen the pilot at least three times with three different people, but somehow missed that reveal which is a bit embarrassing. Possibly I was yelling about other things -- it's been known to happen. I watched the first season with Friend 1, and gave up; Friend 2 convinced me to dive into wherever they were at the time in Real Time, and by that point it was a Big Plot Point that seemed to be brought up once per episode and I was already pretty jaded.

I honestly can't even remember WHY I loathed Roslin so much. I feel vaguely like she hit all my Bad Janeway memories, and I do not like leaders who seem uninterested in listening to other viewpoints and who are frighteningly single-minded in their Rightness and who are conveniently proven by the narrative to be right. I can't say that the BSG writers did that, because I've deliberately purged those memories, but the Janeway writers did, and I remember thinking that Roslin was another Bad Janeway, so I deduce that was my reason.

I've seriously considered re-watching the series to understand why I hated it so viscerally, but then decided life was too short.)

Will Wildman said...

That's where you'd draw your discontinuity line? There were a couple of episodes in S4 that I really liked, but if I were going to chop part of the show off for its own good, I'd have gone with the S3 finale and the colossal WTF and the Bolivian Army Ending.

(Series that I dislike on a macro level insist on having amazing moments in them regardless, which is representative of a general Thing About Life, I expect. My favourite Star Wars book comes two-thirds of the way through the New Jedi Order series that I really can't say enough bad about. The BSG episode "Someone To Watch Over Me" is in amidst all the things wrong with the last season, but I have never seen anything like that ending before.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Aren't the New Jedi Order books pretty spotty based on author, though? Series are tricky.

I've heard good things about Zahn. Have a few of his books, but haven't read them.

The Aliens novelizations (based on the comic, not the movies) either ROCK HARD or SUCK BAD. Purely by author, as far as I can tell.

Ana Mardoll said...

Ha. I googled "hate Roslin" for fun, and we're not alone.

Second link down (for me) compares her to Janeway (lol) and says Roslin is a Lawful character. Since I'm as Chaotic as they come, that explains that little enigma.

I think you're Chaotic, too, Pqw?

Now I want to map all the thread characters onto a D&D ethics chart. Buffy, Willow, Roslin, Starbuck, Carrie.....

Will Wildman said...

Quite so. It's no surprise that the NJO books that I liked were mostly written by authors I liked (e.g., Aaron Allston, though his work since then has disappointed me). But Traitor was written by someone I'd never heard of before, and it was very, very heavily based in the new story elements of the NJO - Allston basically found a way to write a pre-NJO story in an NJO setting, while Stover took aspects of the fundamental mythology that had been mucked around with and made them awesome.

I'm not as entertained by Zahn's books as I used to be (I didn't finish the latest one, not because it was bad, but because it just didn't hold my interest) but he's definitely one of their best. He is, of course, best known for introducing Mara Jade, and was possibly the only author who ever knew how to write her effectively (rather than diminishing her to either a simple Action Girl or a bit of fluff).

Ana Mardoll said...

I think the Zahn book I have is still set in the Luke/Leia/Han time period. It was recommended, iirc, as one that wrote Leia "correctly" (as with Mara Jade, not a fluffy Action Girl).

Hang on, I have it here somewhere... "Heir to the Empire", it's called.

My favorite Aliens novel is "Rogue", which has a female protagonist and an (apparently) female author and is much, much better than the ones with male protagonists and (apparently) male authors in my opinion.

Series books tend to be hit or miss. I have the Resident Evil novels knocking around here somewhere and I really hope they aren't dreadful. I hope they are wonderful awesomeness. I've yet to read any of the Star Trek books. And we DO NOT TALK ABOUT Dragonlance in our household. Ha.

MaryKaye said...

While the Mythbusters tease each other a great deal, the teasing of female members has never read as gendered to me, and the pregnancy of one of the cast was handled in a matter-of-fact, decent way. I have beefs with the Mythbusters as examples of science in action (statistics are not optional, dudes) but I can't fault their handling of gender issues.

There's a little bit of "ooh, chick with gun!" eye candy, especially in which clips are reused for the credits, but I can live with that. And Jamie (male) gets nearly as much of that as Keri (female).

Mime_Paradox said...

It's controversial for lots of different reasons, but looking back at Robotech (a 1985 anime/cartoon about three different alien invasions) , I'm surprised at how relatively progressive it feels, now. While it and the three different anime it was based on all had their bits of fail--large bits, some times (*)--the very fact that it was a chimera means that the good bits of the original material are emphasized while the fail bits are often made less so. For example, one of the source anime, while notable for having its three stars be women, fails when you notice that those three appear to be the only women in the entire military. However, since the footage from the original show makes up only one third of Robotech, whose other two thirds do have women in the military, the fail is lessened; it's made into a continuity error borne out of inconvenient footage, instead of something conscious.

In any case, given that Robotech is a show that features: loads of women characters, non-stereotypical women of color, three prominent interracial relationships (although one of those comes about because one of the two characters in the pair is whitewashed, while the other isn't--the show is complicated, okay?) and one female protagonist (in the sense that 1/3 of the show has her as the main character), and a prominent character who muddies the waters when it comes to the gender binary (i.e.: he's a man who has a singing career where he performs as a woman, and who generally acts in a very effeminate manner, and is also a fighter pilot--this show aired on TV in the eighties).

Like I said, it's not without large bits of fail, and I'm fairly sure that all the good things I can say about it that didn't stem from its source material more or less came about accidentally. I certainly wouldn't call it "the most feminist show". But given that it's almost thirty years old and things like interracial relationships and passing the Bechdel test are still considered notable, and that execs still believe that men won't watch works starring women, it makes me sad that there hasn't been more progress made since then.

Also, Switched at Birth.

As for Buffy, I would say it has done a lot for feminism, in a way that can't really be ascribed directly to itself or Joss Whedon. It's a match but it's not the fire itself.

jill heather said...

Yes, that was the right ending. They find earth, ruined by war, all this has happened before and all this will happen again, and then we have evil roombas. Or not that last scene maybe. The season 3 ending was just too cliffhangery and also stupid. This is why you figure out plot arcs earlier, people!

Ana, I liked BSG overall, and some episodes were really stellar, but you're not losing out on the best television ever by skipping it. The Roslin cancer plot points in the beginning were really interesting discussions about sickness and jobs and secrecy, but some of the stories got silly. I do think that the pilot isn't the best example of the show.

Dav said...

No, doctor, that is not what blood looks like. That is benzene.

AWESOME. God, but I love biology-fail. Although I do plan to try that next time someone asks me to explain something.

Ana Mardoll said...

I do keep thinking there must be SOMETHING good in there if so many people like them.

Tell ya what, I'll put on the The List after Avatar. :D

Maybe if I watched it again without the pilot...? I remember that pilot being SO MUCH frustrating. Even the "you're in charge, Madam Xth in line" bit just strikes me as... really? REALLY? REALLY. REALLY?!?

/Insert Chaotic Good rant here.


/Elevator Music Playing Over Very Long Chaotic Good Rant

Ahem. In retrospect, possibly the above rant was how I missed her illness reveal all three times.

(I also wonder how I might view Roslin differently now that we've just gone through that particular illness in the family. Hard to say.)

Ana Mardoll said...

Ooh, I hadn't even thought of non-fiction shows.

I love Dirty Jobs. And I really love that they make a real effort to include the crew in the shots.

I'm NOT sure how I feel about the fact that for all of Season 2, I've seen zero female crew members. Am I blinking too much?? (There were some in Season 1, I saw them.) I'm even less sure how I feel about an early "replacement host" fluff segment where they had Hot Young Women replace Mike only to react in stereotypically girly ways (screaming at rats, etc.).

I *really* like that the women who show him around the job sites are usually very badass, especially in the military episodes. I *really* like that the women who show him around non-military jobs are varied, and people-y, and not overtly cut to fit random stereotypes. I *really* like that Mike generally seems (on camera, at least) to treat the women with the same respect that he treats everyone else.

I don't think we're watching any other non-fiction right now. Well, Nat Geo stuff, but Death Valley seemed gender-equitable.

Lonespark said...

I can't believe I forgot AtLA and Legend of Korra.

Will Wildman said...

Ah, Heir to the Empire! That was Zahn's first SW book, and the first Star Wars book that had been written at all in years upon years - harbinger of the entire Star Wars revival that's taken place since. And Leia is also written very well (as are all of the other returning characters - Zahn listened to the audio or radio tracks for the movies over and over again on long drives, so he really mastered each character's 'voice').

Minor spoiler for Heir to the Empire (and the other two books in the Thrawn trilogy): one thing about Star Wars is that the surprise relationships (Vader is Luke's dad, Leia is Luke's sister) are both centred solely on Luke, without really addressing the third side of the triangle - Vader is Leia's dad. The movies largely ignore this, as it seems to me most people do. Zahn does not. I mention this because it feels in the theme of the thread that, in a story whose most famous aspect is the father-son relationship between a villain and a hero, Zahn spotlights the father-daughter relationship between a villain and a hero that normally gets shoved way off to the side.

Isator Levi said...

Aaarrrggghhhh, don't bring up Robotech! It's still a knife to my heart that I can't find any videos of the original Japanese of Super Dimension Fortress Macross.

Oh Lord how I want to see the Zentradi introduced to the beauties of culture and music, and I can't because it's only available as inelegantly edited dub*.

* Please note that I'm no dub snob; for one thing, I vastly prefer the dubbed version of Hellsing. I just don't care for dubs that mess up the original story and/or characters.

Ana Mardoll said...

Wow, that really makes me want to read it. A big SW pet peeve of mine is that we never really get to explore Leia's feelings about Vader being her dad. And the whole sister thing is discarded with that "I've always known" line that I am sure I'm butchering with my paraphrase. (W.T.F.)

So that actually sounds really really awesome. Thanks for the heads-up. (With 2000 books in my To Read list, prioritization is KEY.)

Silver Adept said...

A good set of questions. And what a set of recommendations. I'll say aye to DS9 and to both Avatar series as having good examples of diverse casting and feminism-friendly messaging (although the butt monkey of the first series has to get over some macho posturing before he fully gets going).

I'll give Glee a little credit, at least in the sense that they show the negative consequences for the bad behavior that constantly goes on there. But they don't necessarily go in depth about anything feminist, at least at the standards of today.

I think what would count as feminist in these times would be to ensure that actions have consequences and that the bad decisions get talked about and called out. That's minimal, but it would certainly be leaps and bounds above even what Buffy is vaunted to be.

Isator Levi said...

"although the butt monkey of the first series has to get over some macho posturing before he fully gets going"

It's funny, when you look for it, you notice that despite his posturing, Sokka has a couple of typically considered feminine habits himself. Like his fondness for shopping (which comes up few enough times for it not to be in your face, but enough times for it to be a clear character trait).

Avatar's got a lot of other good things going for it; some genuine depiction of character traits like cunning (and the times it can overcome force) and honour, and an excellent sense of story progression and escalation, as well as some real distinctions in personal combat style even between people practicing the same Bending discipline.

Avatar is one of those really good things where rewatching is rewarded with all kinds of little details.

(Looking back at the criteria established at the start, there are also overweight characters, both as mains and in background, and there's generally never a huge amount of attention brought to it except as insults from obvious jerks.)

Rikalous said...

Once Upon a Time has some decent stuff in the way of feminism, and I think I might have mentioned it somewhere on here before. Both the main hero and main villain are female, and despite being the Evil Queen from Snow White, the villain is concerned with traditional villainy things like control over the town and delicious revenge rather than her relative level of fairness. There's also a female character who is stated to be promiscuous in her introductory scene and is consistently portrayed positively. There's also this lovely speech, which I'm sure will be horribly misformatted by disqus:
Emma (hero): Screw 'em
Ashley (alternate Cinderella): What?
Emma: Screw. Them. How old are you?
Ashley: Nineteen
Emma: I was eighteen.
Ashley: When you had a kid?
Emma: Yeah. I know what it's like. Everybody loves to tell what you can and can't do. Especially with a kid. But ultimately, whatever you are considering on doing, or giving up, the choice is yours.
Ashley: It's not exactly what you might think it is.
Emma: Never is. People are gonna tell you who you are your whole life. You just gotta punch back and say "No, this is who I am." Want people look at you differently, make them. You wanna change things? You have to go out there and change them yourself - because there are no fairy godmothers in this world.

Most of the female characters are motivated by romantic or familial love, but so are most of the male characters so it doesn't stand out. The bad stuff is that there are all of two characters of color, one of whom is the villains' lackey and the other one a fairy godmother with a very minor role. No one disabled, no one fat.

Now Lost, Lost had characters of color, a fat character, and a disabled character in the main cast. The disabled character's case is a bit complicated, though. He's got a duality going on where in his life on the island, he's a respected badass, but in flashbacks to civilization, he's a loser. His disability is sometimes in effect as civilization-loser, but never as island-badass. So there's that. Hurley, the fat character, has a little focus on his weight and an overeating problem, but it's overshadowed by other issues, especially the fact that he won the lottery and has been jinxed ever since. Plus, he ends up gur ehyre bs gur vfynaq. The cast does lean more white and male than not, but the ensemble thing makes sure that the women and people of color get focus. There's one character who's an obvious Magical Negro pre-character development, and a woman whose pregnancy and eventual baby is the primary focus of her arc, but there are enough women and people of color that there's plenty of less stereotypical stuff for them, too. Word of warning: there's a love triangle that lasts through pretty much the entire show.

BaseDeltaZero said...

white, older, straight, cis male

The doctor did have the excuse of falling solidly in the Weird Character slot, since he's an AI. Weird Characters tend to get a lot of development, and by that point. Seven of Nine was another Weird Character (they actually seem to be mostly female, at least in my circles), and she too got a lot of focus. And technically, because of that weirdness, the doctor is not male, straight, or older (he's the youngest on the crew, actually!)... but that's only from an in-universe perspective.

Her drinking, brawling, enjoyment of sex, and distaste for commitment remain unchanged.
It's possible that oStarbuck got a lot worse in later episodes, but in my experience, nStarbuck really intensified all those things. oStarbuck seemed more suave and Han Solo-ish, while nStarbuck was more cynical.

They're not in common use, you're right. I kind of panicked the first time I heard them because WE DID NOT COVER THIS IN SCHOOL. And then, oh, Dr. Watson and Arthur Conan Doyle. Okay.

I still kinda prefer the terms 'in universe' and 'out of universe' from vs debating... seems a bit less kitschy - although I suppose it might not work as well in series with more than one universe!

Now I want to map all the thread characters onto a D&D ethics chart.

I'll try for the two I know.

Roslin: Neutral, or possibly Neutral Evil
Starbuck: Chaotic Neutral
(Adama: Lawful Neutral, possibly Lawful Evil?
Baltar: Chaotic Neutral, on the edge of Chaotic Evil
Cavill: DEFINITELY Lawful Evil (unless I missed something that might push him more towards chaos...)

nBSG really doesn't touch the upper side of the alignment chart... like at all. Except maybe Zoe Graystone. Maybe.

Ana Mardoll said...

*does double take at previous Voyager comment*

Wait, they were TRYING to go without character growth? For purposes of SYNDICATION?? I ... I ... Does. Not. Compute.

And the idea was that Next Gen Trekkies would just be peachy with this?

This explains SO much. I'd been assuming that a lot of that was accidental.

Ana Mardoll said...

True, re: the Doctor. And I mostly liked him as a character, when he wasn't being unrequited lovey and when the plot point wasn't about him being un-backup-able. He had funny lines.

If you ever read... Oh, I can't think of the name of the book. I'll have to look it up. Something about zombies at a Trek convention, anyway, and I reviewed it there's a cute reference to favorably, the Doctor in that book. Someone dresses up not as him, but as the Borg Movie Cameo version of him for an obscure costume contest.

Rikalous said...

Actually, now that I think about it, Leroy/Grumpy from Once Upon a Time was pretty stocky. I'm not sure where the line is that determines if someone counts as a fat character or not.

Ana Mardoll said...

Bah, Disqus. Words in that last comment are out of order and cannot be fixed.

Amaryllis said...

I think what would count as feminist in these times would be to ensure that actions have consequences and that the bad decisions get talked about and called out.

I think that's really a YMMV perception, though, as to what's a recognizable consequence or a sufficient calling-out.
Junot DIaz talked about this (in a link from a link from Slacktivist, so some of you may have read it):
I was hoping that the book would expose my characters’ race craziness and that this craziness would strike readers, at the very minimum, as authentic. But exposing our racisms, etc., accurately has never seemed to be enough; the problem with faithful representations is that they run the risk of being mere titillation or sensationalism. In my books, I try to show how these oppressive paradigms work together with the social reality of the characters to undermine the very dreams the characters have for themselves. So, Yunior thinks X and Y about people and that logic is, in part, what fucks him up. Now if the redounding is too blunt and obvious, then what you get is a moralistic parable and not literature. But, if it’s done well, then you get both the ugliness that comes out of showing how people really are around issues like race and gender, but also a hidden underlying counter-current that puts in front of you the very real, very personal, consequences of these orientations.

The line between overly preachy and overly subtle is a fine one, I guess.

I can't comment on anything; I haven't seen anything. What have I been doing for the last twenty years?

Well, I did watch Roseanne, too many years ago to have any distinct recollections. I vaguely recall that it started out well, and kinda declined in quality as the years went on, but that's not uncommon. And having the main character be a working-class, overweight woman with a sharp tongue was unusual then as well as now.

iiii said...

I've come to judge the feminist-ness of tv shows by the costuming. Is the male lead dressed to do his job, while the female lead is dressed to go dancing? Then no matter how many degrees the female lead has, or what her job title is, she will eventually be shown as a distressed damsel who needs a good man who will rescue her and whom she can serve as acolyte and admin assistant.

By the wardrobe standard, _Roseanne_ is the most feminist show *ever.*
See also _Any Day Now_, _I'll Fly Away_, and _Saving Grace_. All of which, come to think of it, were set in the middle of the country. Hm. No, wait, _Thirtysomething_. That was set in Philadelphia.

_Buffy_ was arguably the most feminist show on the air at the time... but that says more about what else was on the air than it does about _Buffy_.

Lonespark said...

I love the fact that Sokka thinks girls can't do X and Y, and that the whole Northern Water Tribe does too. Because Katara calls that out in the first episode, and Suki screws with Sokka's gender perceptions and makes him like it, and Katara is able to overcome societal obstacles to become High Queen Badass.

(I desperately need to know what Katara was up to during all the LoK flashbacks. I hope they show us next season.)

Loquat said...

One of the main problems of BSG was that the writers really didn't seem to have put much thought into how everything was going to work and develop on the civilian side. So they'd come up with these random one-shot episodes involving "civilian issues" that didn't impact the overall plot at all, and they just wouldn't make any sense. My favorite example is how the Abortion episode utterly ignored the question of WHY so many women were having abortions - but later that season, the Black Market episode had a line about lots of civilian mothers in the fleet having to turn to prostitution in order to support their children, which sounds like a pretty big incentive to not have a baby. Roslin and the rest of the civilian leadership (and, by extension, the writers) apparently thought it was a good idea to try and maintain civilian society as much like the pre-apocalypse society as possible, with no thought for how things would have to change to accommodate the fact that there had indeed been an apocalypse, society was reduced to less than 50,000 people crammed into various spaceships, and most everyone not employed on a spaceship or in government was suddenly jobless.

Also, Avatar is awesome. Female characters frequently interact with each other, and have interpersonal conflicts that arise from their own personal differences and political loyalties! (More in The Last Airbender than in the sequel Legend of Korra, mind you - in fact, The Last Airbender is a better show all round. Korra spends too much time on teenage love triangles and not enough time on issues like how much support the main villain's social movement actually has in the general population, and whether or not said villain's accusations of bender tyranny have any basis in fact.)

Mime_Paradox said...

Um...are you in the States? Cause if you are, the original unaltered Macross has been available for a while now. The DVDs may not be the easiest things to find, but if you'd like you can watch the dub (including the utterly mixed blessing of having Mari Ijima reprising her role in English) on Hulu.

ZMiles said...

Was that Night of the Living Trekkies, by Kevin Anderson? (I remember that book because, on my first visit to The Strand in New York, I happened to run across it).

Ana Mardoll said...

YES! That was it.

Dragoness Eclectic said...


Dragoness Eclectic said...

Star Wars books in general depend on who is writing them. Karen Traviss, Aaron Alston & Timothy Zahn are good writers; Kevin J. Anderson should not be trusted with important things like characterization and plotlines. (He's not as bad as some of the Forgotten Realms tie-in novel authors, at least..)

St. Jebus said...

So, I have to put in a plug for Alphas. Passes the Bechdel test, and does not turn the women into "damsels in distress" all the time - even when it's a minor character. In fact, one of the minor characters is introduced originally as using her power(of technomancy - breaking stereotypes right there) to escape from hired killers. When she comes back in a later episode, when she is put in danger, the males with her are in just as much danger as she is, and she ends up rescuing them.

Even the character who would be the most likely to fall prey to the damsel in distress issue(due to a combination of youth and a "non-combat" power) mostly doesn't - and when she does, it's almost always due to a power issue,(power incontinence and such).

Dragoness Eclectic said...

It's hard for me to reconcile 'most feminist thing ever' with major issues of race and the invisibiling of people with physical disabilities and fat.

I don't follow your reasoning. Aren't those a different topic than feminism? I'll agree that the privileged mentality that erases one minority will erase another without thought, but we have different words for different things. Saying "A isn't B because it doesn't have C" when B != C confuses my logical engineering mind.

Reaching back a few years to the 1960's, how about the British TV series "The Avengers"? John Steed and Emma Peel (and his other partners in various seasons) were equals in the duo, and both superbly competent characters.

Ana Mardoll said...

No, they are not different topics. They are issues of intersectionality.

Women are not, by default, white, able bodied, heterosexual, and cis gendered. Feminism isn't either.

Asha said...

I will wholeheartedly endorse Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra as very feminist. I remember loving Babylon 5, and every time I've tried watching it out of nostalgia, it has held up for me. I found Susan Ivanova to be made of awesome, because GOD SENT HER. While Sheridan was annoying at times, I still loved everyone else, and there seemed, if I remember correctly, to be POC in the cast even if they did not overwhelm it. While I haven't watched the show recently, it is still something I highly recommend.

As for Fullmetal Alchemist? Try to watch the first anime first, then follow the manga and Brotherhood. The first anime is, in my opinion, a great story, even if it diverges from the manga. The manga and Brotherhood are essentially the same (I like the first anime best, but that's a personal opinion.)

As for personal alignment? It really depends. I've switched a few times and right now, I'm likely True Neutral verging on Lawful Neutral, if for no other reasons than I am most comfortable working within boundaries. Yet if I feel those rules are bad, I want them changed... which puts me somewhere near Lawful Good at times. *shrugs*

I love alignment discussions. Just throwing that out there.

As for Buffy, well... I can see your point, Ana, as well as Valenti's. You are pointing out the fail from the men, Valenti seems to be pointing out the good in the women and coming to different conclusions based on that, in my opinion.

... Does Xena fall anywhere on this list? It has been ages, and lord the fanservice was strong, but the main story centered on a strong female friendship and character development, and the side characters came from all races. It did fail on a number of points, but it was a fun, campy show that loved its strong women.

Silver Adept said...

@Amaryllis - point taken - a morality play wouldn't be all that effective. It seems like a show would have to drop anvils to point things out in the current climate, though. Then again, after mentally reviewing what I've seen, Warehouse 13 definitely has a lot of good feminism in it, especially in everyone giving Pete sideways looks at his dudebro reactions to things, and doesn't swing the anvils around a whole lot. (Unless it's an artifact.)

@Dragoness Eclectic - I'm going to say no to Firefly, mostly because of Mal, Jayne, and to a lesser degree, Wash. There are good things, like Kaylee and Zoe, but Mal's favorite pastime is demeaning Inara for her career choice, Jayne is a big misogynist boor, and Wash shows some Nice Guy signs here and there. Also, the time spent on the male cast compared to the female cast.

@Lonespark - And then there's Toph, who can out-macho Sokka with one foot. And whose awesome apparently is genetic. (We hope season two explores more on worldbuilding and the bigger issues, too.)

Lonespark said...

And Azula, and Mai, and...really no shortage of female characters both badass and complex.

Isator Levi said...

Let's be careful not to get too close to Avatar spoilers here now. :)

Isator Levi said...

You know, just thinking back on Game of Thrones, one thing I would think could undermine Arya as depicting any kind of feminist narrative is the fact that she's not exactly going to develop into a stable character, so to speak.

Although, I have a friend who looked on Arya of the first few books as more akin to a transboy than somebody who advocated for girls doing more things. Although I'm starting to wonder if there might not be problematic implications in that...

Amaryllis said...

I understand the concern about spoiling, but isn't it hard to discuss a specific show as an example of a point, without giving examples?

Maybe this kind of thread needs to come with a "spoilers possible" warning? Or even a "mild spoilers acceptable" policy?

I know, there's always rot-13, but I find that kind of disruptive to the flow of the conversation.

But then, I'm probably in the minority about spoilers, because I always forget them before I get around to watching a show anyway. So, never mind, carry on.

Maartje said...

I don't like the 'Arya as a transboy' idea - the world is explicitly written with a 'life sucks, and when you're a woman or poor or a combination of the two, life sucks exponentially more.' You don't have to be trans to want a life that just sucks, instead of one that sucks horribly. Of course Arya's thoughts are 'I hate being a girl, I don't want to be a lady' but I don't think that should be taken literally - the biggest reason she doesn't want to be a lady is that being a lady means sitting still all day and embroidering and eventually marrying some man that's assigned to you and popping out heirs until you die. She doesn't exactly have a lot of exposure to adult women who have Arya's hobbies AND the respect of their peers.

So, partially Arya fails at being a 'good' girl, and partially she doesn't want to be. Her being trans would remove the interesting parallels with Cersei (grew up Arya-style, only 'pretty' from a young age; traded places with twin brother whenever they felt like it; got caged in gender expectations by her father who didn't nourish her spirit the way Arya's dad does; ends up queen and the ladiest of ladies, at least on the surface) and Brienne (doesn't seem to particularly hate being a girl, except that from a young age everyone tells her she's a failure at being one because she's ugly and tall and strong; decides 'OK, if I suck at being a woman I'm going to try my hand at being a man, then' and tailors her behaviours to those of a knight; when we meet her she's all 'I'm no lady,' but I don't think that's because she ever wanted NOT to be one).

Arya begins with a lot of options - she's not as pretty as young Cersei (but it's hinted that she will grow up beautiful) but not disqualifyingly 'ugly' like young Brienne. She's not fully accepted as a prospective lady (like Cersei always was, even though she didn't want it) but she's not fully kicked out of ladyhood like Brienne. She's not striving to be a man as much as Cersei was (If I recall correctly, I remember her crossdressing just for the feel of being a man? And part of her fascination for her twin brother being because he reminds her of how she should have been?) and not striving to be a lady as much as Brienne was. Arya's fate is open. Will she make the role of lady her own like Cersei did, but in a more congruent way? Or will she make the role of knight her own, like Brienne did, but in a more congruent way? (Of course, it's GRRM so none of the above and lots of grimdark instead, but the seed was there.)

Of course, Arya MIGHT be a transboy. But I think it's simply more likely that she's just a girl who chafes at what society wants from girls, especially when those things entail a lot of stillness and precision work, which just isn't her talent. In the current day and age in my country, she'd be a perfectly normal girl, behaviour-wise. I think if anyone's trans, it's Cersei (which would cause a LOT of issues because Cersei isn't someone you want representing ANY group, let alone a marginalised one).

That's the problem with one-of-each storitelling - if there were 10 tomboy girls and one turned out to be a transboy, I'd be fine with that. If you have one tomboy girl who is a girl, you're not helping trans issues. If you have ONE tomboy girl who is actually a transboy in a world where nobody actually enjoys being a woman, that's being gender essentialist to the point of absurdity.

Amaryllis said...

Women are not, by default, white, able bodied, heterosexual, and cis gendered. Feminism isn't either.

I get that. I understand about issues of intersectionality. A work which prioritizes the concerns of "white, able bodied, heterosexual, and cis gendered" women over all other women can't be considered a feminist work.

On the other hand, I do kind of agree with DragonessEclectic that feminism is in fact about women. And I'm not sure that the mere presence or absence of characters who are not white, able-bodied, straight and cis, is enough to determine whether a work is "feminist." It depends--does a character's gender detemine how he/she is going to be treated by the writers?

Maartje said...

(And before I get ahead of myself: even with Cersei I don't think she's trans. She liked playing at being a boy, but her brother liked playing at being a girl. I don't think there was any 'wrong body' feelings going on. It's when Cersei was so suddenly cut off from all the things she valued that she started thinking she should've been a man. If that hadn't happened, I don't see any in-text hints that she's actually unhappy with her body. Sure, she treats people in a grotesquely masculine way when she gets her way (although for me I think that's just Martin going off the deep end with her characterisation in book 4), but how much is that natural inclination and how much is years of telling herself she should've had a man's opportunities, and there's no way to get those except being born a man?)

Amaryllis said...

It seems like a show would have to drop anvils to point things out in the current climate, though.
You've got a point.

And hey, I've actually seen Firefly! I can talk about it! (Quickly, or I'm gonna be late for work.)
Yeah, Jayne is a misogynist boor, and that's played for laughs, but at least it doesn't get him anywhere. As for Mal, I admit I have a soft spot for that scene where ur raqf hc anxrq va gur qrfreg jvgu Vanen fgnaqvat ol shyyl pybgurq. N avpr erirefny bs gur hfhny gebcr, naq freir uvz evtug vs ur tbg fhaohearq. But maybe that was because I watched it shortly after that horrendous Irene Adler episode of Sherlock, and I was biased.

I once tried to re-imagine SImon and River's story with the genders reversed, and you know? It just doesn't work that way, or at least I bet the characters wouldn't have been developed the same way. Goes to show you.

Gotta go to work.

Lonespark said...

I once tried to re-imagine SImon and River's story with the genders reversed, and you know? It just doesn't work that way,

Really? I haven't watched Firefly in a while (got too annoyed about the racial/cultural issues of the casting and the universe), but I can totally imagine it pretty exactly reversed and I think that would be awesome and I'm going to go look for fanfic to that effect this afternoon.

Makhno said...

> John Steed and Emma Peel (and his other partners in various seasons) were equals in the duo

Emma Peel, yes; Cathy Gale, yes; Tara King, god no. I tend to wonder, given that she came along when, about 1968?, if her portrayal wasn't part of the backlash against feminism's real-world progress.

Ana Mardoll said...

There is a saying I like, and I think it came from Tiger Beatdown, but possibly not Sady (can't google at the moment):

"My feminism will be intersectional or it will be bullshit."

If we say, "feminism is about women, not about people of color", then we have just made "white" a default for "women", whether we mean to or not.

So no, this isn't about feminism with intersectionality tacked on for bonus liberal points. It's about remembering that more women do NOT fit in to "white, straight, heterosexual, cis gendered, able bodied" than DO. Pretending otherwise and tailoring the entire movement in service to that conceit is a major problem in the community.

Ana Mardoll said...

But if you mean this to say that you think *I* think POC characters automatically equals a feminist work, well, I don't know what to say to that except that I'm pretty sure I didn't say that.

Did I somewhere say the "mere presence" of marginalized communities make a work feminist? That doesn't sound like something I would say.

I did say something about the absence of such characters, but I spoke to that in the above comment, I believe.

Will Wildman said...

The post in question was by Flavia Dzodan; it's one I recall often as well.


The comments are also worth reading, particularly for the appearances of Hektor the Comment-Moderating Dog.

Fitcher's Bird said...

Content warning: miscarriage, abortion

Grey's Anatomy has a lot of fail but it does have a strong emphasis on female friendships, characters of colour and GLB representation. (There was a one episode with a trans woman but that's it for trans representation.) I'll forgive it a lot simply for the way that Shondra Rimes has leveraged its success to make certain statements. Example (and therefore spoilers) - Cristina early on planned to have an abortion but network interference meant she had a convenient miscarriage. That was when she was single and early in a demanding career - often seen as more "forgiveable" reasons for not wanting a child. When the show was firmly established, Cristina not only has an abortion for no other reason than not wanting a child but the main character gave a speech about how her mother would have been a lot better off if she'd been able to have an abortion instead of giving birth to the main character.

(And then the writers had to screw it all up and now I hate Owen with enough force to destroy galaxies.)

I also think there's an argument for at least season 2 of Dollhouse as a feminist show, where the villain is systemic patriarchy . Admittedly this is more on a metaphorical level that on a representational one. Female characters have fought misogynist villains before but there's something refreshing about a show that admits that punching patriarchy in the face will not solve sexism forever. Instead it's spread throughout society to the extent it's understandable how many women will choose to work with it despite the damage it does.

EdinburghEye said...

Three shows I think not mentioned yet:

The West Wing - which doesn't look like a very feminist show, but which had CJ Cregg as the White House Press Secretary and then the White House Chief of Staff, Nancy McNally as the N ational Security Advisor and later Director of the National Security Agency, and a bunch of other rounded female characters, named and with speaking roles, so that it passed the basic feminist Bechdel Test I think practically every week.

The Sarah Jane Adventures. Though perhaps I just think this because I have a weakness for Sarah Jane Smith. Still, it's an unexpectedly fine SF spin-off with a central female character and a gender-balanced and multi-ethnic supporting ensemble cast.

Cagney and Lacey - though in an unexpectedly-white New York, they're buddies, cops, each other's Most Important Person on the job, Lacey's sons both have massive crushes on their mother's partner in a very cool way... I love it and I want the rest of the seasons on DVD, not just the first.

Lonespark said...

If we say, "feminism is about women, not about people of color", then we have just made "white" a default for "women", whether we mean to or not.

This, this this THIS.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you! That was exactly it!

(I must read the comments now. A moderating dog??)

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Barbara Hambly's early fantasy & horror novels suffered from a nasty tendency to pull out deus ex machina endings. However, she seems to have improved as a writer; her Benjamin January historical mystery stories are excellent--and a really harsh look at what it's like to be a free man of color in old New Orleans.

Troy Denning wrote Star Wars EU stuff? Ugh! He's one of the awful Forgotten Realms tie-in novelists I was hinting about. I'd expect his stuff to be bad, unless he's learned how to plot, do characterization and write dialogue since then. Back in the FR days, he apparently couldn't figure out how to end a novel and wrap up character issues properly, so he'd randomly kill off major characters for reasons that didn't make much sense. Sadly, when you are getting rewarded for doing poorly (i.e., getting published & paid), it's harder to improve.

I don't like Law & Order for other reasons: namely, characterization of the Not-McCoy prosecutor changes randomly from episode to episode as the writers need him/her/it to be the mouthpiece for the Other Side of the Issue of the Week. I don't like characters that are blatant Writer On Board mouthpieces with no real minds of their own.

Randomosity said...

I've come to judge the feminist-ness of tv shows by the costuming. Is the male lead dressed to do his job, while the female lead is dressed to go dancing?

This is a very good point. So many movies treat female characters as manikins to advertise designer clothing even when it doesn't serve the plot.

Costuming is where the movie Fifth Element earned maximum eyerolls from me. As a costumer - I love costumes, but for worldbuilding - cringe-ariffic. Every single female character you see wears a costume, most of the men wear clothes, in which "costume" equals looks cool, very impractical for living daily life, how do you eat and use the facilities, do you need help putting it on and taking it off, is it painful to wear? Clothes are practical for the most part. Also, many things worn by nobility in the real world past centuries were heavily into "costume" territory. But they had servants. In movies, they may be servants or people in the service industry.

And Leeloo in the outfit she is wearing for the fight scene. Ow. OW. Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow. How do those suspenders not dig into where they shouldn't? I spent too much time thinking about costuming logistics and not paying attention to the fight scene because OWWWW!

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Words mean things. If you say that a work is not feminist if it does not portray all minorities of all types positively, then I have to ask just what is "feminism" supposed to mean?

Please note that I am not saying that a work is "good" or "positive" if it negatively protrays or erases any minority. There's probably something sketchy about the writers' attitudes or the cultural biases if white women are portrayed well and, say, black men are not.

Am I making the mistake of confusing "not feminist" with "misogynist"? That may be my problem. I can say that "erasing POCs of both genders is not 'misogynist', it's 'racist'", and would wonder why someone would disagree.

Lonespark said...

That's interesting. I have a love/hate relationship with The Fifth Element. I liked the opera singer, and most of the other aliens, and goofy religious people, and Ruby(!!!) but overall it was meh and the end exceedingly so. (That does not stop it from being eminently quotable. "NameName MultiPass!" "Brrrr, Autowash..." "Meat Popsicles," etc.)

Ana Mardoll said...

In all gentle kindness, I need to remind you that this is not a Feminism 101 board and that I find repeated education of advanced feminist concepts to be draining. I also very strongly feel that you are misrepresenting my position in the OP and ignoring my reiteration of that position above, which is a feeling that makes me feel very tired.

Re-read what I wrote in the OP. Read my responses to you on this subject as well as my parsing between FEMINIST and MOST FEMINIST. Read the excellent Tiger Beatdown link that Will has kindly provided.

If you still do not understand my words after all that, I'm afraid I don't have the spoons to discuss this further with you at this time.

Lonespark said...

If you say that a work is not feminist if it does not portray all minorities of all types positively, then I have to ask just what is "feminism" supposed to mean?

First of all, no one is saying that. Things can have feminist elements and elements that are antifeminist and/or racist, ableist, etc. But to be "most feminist" a work would have to not contain too much feminismFail on any axis. If queer or gender nonconforming characters aren't portrayed as fully human, that's a kind of Fail because feminism is concerned with resisting patriarchal sex and gender roles. If POC characters aren't portrayed as fully human, that's a potential fail because feminism is concerned with resisting a patriarchal power structure that, in US culture, affirms and reinforces systemic racism/white supremecism. It's an obvious fail if POC women aren't portrayed as fully human but white women are.

Will Wildman said...

West Wing would make an interesting rewatch now that I'm more aware of the kinds of social and political issues it addressed and didn't. I have a vague impression that it was rather better at feminism when it wasn't trying to do Women's Issues - for example, I recall Ainsley Hayes getting a speech about how the constitution was already supposed to grant her equal rights and thus she had little interest in more legislation to prevent discrimination against women, and it came out as kind of a muddle as to whether her point was 'We already have equal protection and shouldn't need more help' or more 'Instead of writing new laws how about we focus on enforcing the ones we've already got'.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you, Lonespark.

I'm having one of those mornings, where I'm like, "Wait, DID I blip out and say 'something cannot be considered feminist if it doesn't contain at least 83 characters, covering the following categories..."? I don't THINK I'd say that, but maybe I did! o.O

Ana Mardoll said...

I believe Isator made the spoilers request on my behalf, since I've not seen Avatar. (Thank you.) If we had multiple moderators here, that would be less of an issue, but we don't.

So far I haven't seen anything that bothers me personally. Obviously if there's a big climactic main character death or something, that should probably be ROT13'd.

Ana Mardoll said...

CN: Xena (Rape, Mental Illness Terms)

I would LOVE to see someone discuss Xena. I haven't seen it in years and want to rewatch it.

IMHO & IIRC, it definitely had a Nice Guy -- I would call recurring character Joxer (sp?) a serious case -- but I also thought we saw him evolve, and though he did occasionally get a girl, I never got the feeling that he DESERVED the girl because he was so very nice.

Also a bonus: the protagonist cast didn't feel the need to include a man. There were recurring male characters, but there were also plenty of episodes (more often than not, I'd say) without X recurring male character. The show seemed confident to carry itself on female shoulders.

Sex positivity ... maybe? On the one hand, the women do have sex and they usually seemed to have sex without it being a MEGA BIG DEAL? On the other hand, good things do not always follow afterward. There *was* a rape storyline, of course -- that evil deity and Gabrielle.

POC characters, I can't really think of any. Disability issues ... hmm. I seem to recall that Callisto (sp?) fit a little too nicely into the whole "Grief Makes You Crazy; Crazy Makes You Evil" stereotype.

Mime_Paradox said...

Dragoness Eclectic:

If you say that a work is not feminist if it does not portray all minorities of all types positively[...]

I don't believe anyone has said this, though. The closest thing I've heard is that a work isn't completely feminist if it doesn't portray X group as one composed of individual people, which isn't the same thing at all. If a work claims that all [insert attribute here] women are or feel [insert adjective here], then it is not feminist because it is saying that some women aren't individuals, which is as unfeminist as you can get.

Lets take Switched at Birth, which I mentioned in passing. It contains several Deaf people, including one of its two protagonists--Deaf people who speak, Deaf people who don't, Deaf people who cheat on their girlfriends, Deaf people who date people who aren't. They are individuals who all happen to lack the ability to hear the way most people can, and since the show treats them that way, it means that it happily acknowledges that some of them can be assholes without making it a statement about all Deaf people.

On the other hand, if the show did take the stance that all Deaf People are the same, then it would be unfeminist, because it would be saying that all Deaf Women are the same, which would be saying that not all women are individuals.

Silver Adept said...

@Amaryllis - that is a nice scene, although if I recall the episode correctly, it happens because the characters involved are all playing their tropes straight, no chaser. Which doesn't impart much for "ha, inversion!" as much as "hah, serves you right." They can both be good messages, but I think their impact varies.

Firefly is definitely on my "it's okay to like problematic things" list, because there are a lot of problematic things, some of which are occasionally called out.

Mime_Paradox said...

(Continued, because I have additional thoughts)

Now, this isn't to say that a work needs to includes examples of every type of woman in order to be considered feminist, since it's patently impossible. However, it shouldn't actively be making those groups invisible. The Breakfast Club, for example, has no women who are not white, not teenagers, and not straight. Its world, however, contains the capacity for those people, and therefore it is not objectionable for that particular reason. The Dark Knight Rises, on the other hand, portrays a universe in which 98% of the people are male, all the females are conventionally attractive love interests, and turns people who were not white in the source material into people who are. As fun and empowering as some people may feel Catwoman is, it will never be considered a feminist work, because it conceives a world where women are secondary.

Silver Adept said...

@Randomosity and iiii - more reasons to snag the original AtlA - the characters are all dressed appropriately for what they do. (LoK, almost. Can't really see a polar Water Tribe character with anything that is sleeveless in their clothing kit, unless they got it when they have been in Republic City for a while, and we missed it somewhere.) That might be because many of the characters are too young to be dressed in costumes that show off things, but even the older characters are dressed for function first and form later.

And by that standard, Firefly does quite well - nobody is dressed in something inappropriate to their character without plot relevance demanding it, and it's not particularly fanservice-y when it happens.

Isator Levi said...

I knew it! I knew those Hulu episodes were for the original, and I do -not- live in America!

Cursed tiny green island; I'm going to go outside and kick the ground for a while.

ZMiles said...

Deus ex machina was a problem with Hambly, but moreso, I found, was her writing style. I literally couldn't tell you what happened in 'Children of the Jedi' or 'Planet of Twilight' even a few hours after I read them. PoT also suffered from the problem that the enemies were really gross and weren't well enough written to make them worth the squickiness. Yes, Star Wars did give us 'snot vampires' (really), but the drochs were even beyond that.

Denning began writing in the NJO era. What's sad is, Star By Star was really good. It was the midpoint of the NJO, featured a major character death that (I thought, at least) worked really well (better than the one in R. A. Salvatore's EU book), and the Battle of Coruscant was freaking awesome. But then Denning wrote the Dark Nest trilogy, which was a mess and screwed up a lot of things (did we really need the killiks to come back? Did we really need to wreck Alema Rar's character?) and then kept on going.

I don't really agree about the LAO characters; many of the ADAs had distinct personalities that were fairly consistent (or changed in good arcs). The exception is, I suppose, Jamie Ross, whose personality regressed into a copy of Claire Kincaid, but I thought that Carmichael, Southerlyn, Rubirosa, and Cutter all had strong, solid personalities that influenced the plot. (I'm omitting Robinette, who never worked with McCoy, and Borgia, who was the blandest of the ADAs).

Randy Kay said...

Phew, I never seem to catch these conversations early on! But I've made it through the comments.

Taisho Baseball Girls. Its about high school girls in Taisho-era Japan forming a baseball team, and it is fantastic. I finished it recently. It admittedly doesn't have much diversity in terms of able-ness, race, or size, but it is only one of two anime I would ever call 'feminist'.

The other, of course, is Revolutionary Girl Utena... which, ok, also lacks on the diversity front, although I think one can read a critique of Western feminism in it.

Diversity! It frustrates me, as I think the lack of it in feminist and feminist-flavored shows is really down to a larger lack of diversity in American TV overall. I loved Flashforward a couple of years back in part because the cast was so American, in that there were actually, shocker, people of color. It did poorly in the ratings and was replaced by some show that was much like it, except almost the entire cast was caucasian. I think the best description of my reaction was "disgust".

Having said that, I wish to mention a show which is not terribly diverse, although it has a main character who is Asian-American and gay. I wish to also stress that I haven't thought too deeply on its feminist credentials, for fear that people will think I am being silly. So, here it is: Pretty Little Liars. I'm trying to explain adequately why I would mention it... I think maybe so in the same sort of fashion that Sex in the City could be considered feminist. Its about four teenaged girls, and it takes them seriously, if that makes sense. You never get this feeling of someone behind the camera rolling their eyes because Stupid Teenaged Girls. It presents female friendships that are complex and not entirely smooth, but never ends up just being, "Oh, well, girls are bitchy to each other, that's how girls are." In particular, I consider the relationship between one of the girls and her mother to be one of the best depictions of a mother-daughter relationship I've seen in American television.

That being said, I've only seen up through episode twenty or so of the second season (three seasons have aired). And if I sat back and thought more deeply about it, I'm sure I'd realize that there are a lot of problematic elements to it. But as a show about and for teenaged girls, I find its depiction of female friendships refreshing.

Brin Bellway said...

I knew it! I knew those Hulu episodes were for the original, and I do -not- live in America!

Ah, Hulu. Gotta hate it. (grumble grumble Firefly grumble)

Ana Mardoll said...

That... wait, what?

Does this character have a reasonable familiarity with laws? Because a basic problem is that the laws we've got have sexism written in them. The problem is not that they aren't enforced, the problem is that they ARE.

TW: Rape

Here thinking of, for example, of the Maryland law that said a woman could not withdraw consent for sex once penetration had been accomplished. So if your partner starts hurting you midway through the sex, you had no legal right to make him stop.

That's not the only problematic law like that out there. I don't know that a politician would be aware of things like that, but if she was a lawyer, I would hope she would.

Nathaniel said...

I'd argued that Inara was the worst and most problematic character on the show, but that's just me.

Will Wildman said...

That's the kind of complexity (not actually that complex) that makes me unsure about it. On the one hand, the character is specifically speaking dismissively of some push that may just be lip service about 'more equal treatment' and not have any practical effect other than to state 'Women are equal and we really mean it this time'. But conversely, it's not clear if the scenario is just being dismissive of actual ineffectual policies, or if it means for her to be claiming that there is no good reason to pursue additional protections for women. (The character in question is the Token Republican, but still intended to be intelligent and reasonable.)

jill heather said...

I just started Switched at Birth -- which is fun, and I had no idea it wasn't a horrific reality show -- and it is reasonably good -- there are some non-white (but light-skinned) characters, there's a huge amount of Deaf culture and when two Deaf people talk, they use ASL and don't necessarily have an English interpreter, so you hear background noises or music, and at least the three major Deaf characters on the show are played by two Deaf people and one person whose family all had hearing issues so who spoke ASL from a young age. Of course they're all standard Hollywood beautiful.

What does bother me is that, so far, of the four main women (the two daughters and the two mothers), there's not much pre-existing female friendship. One daughter has a boy who is a friend, one daughter appears to have no friends, one mother has a single female friend, the other mother has a bunch of catty acquaintances who gossip a lot and don't trust each other. (One father is out of the picture, the other father has no friends, and the brother has one good male friend.) In part this is what tv shows do: you have Family, or you have Friends Who Are So Close They Are Family, and (almost) never the twain shall meet.

Still, it's a surprisingly fun show. And it was, apparently, the network which insisted on making the one daughter Deaf, which is a nice change from what you usually hear about.

LaEsmeralda said...

When did Miranda in Sex and the City identify as a feminist? I'm not trying to be snarky; I haven't seen all the episodes in a while and I can't remember the episode(s).

Ana Mardoll said...

I have an interesting relationship with Inara as a character. I love her, but I don't love what they do with her sometimes. I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts if you felt like sharing.

My biggest concerns:

- no relationship with other women in the ship despite having compelling reasons to do so (Inara could supply BC to Zoe and Kaylee, and her psychology training could help River)

- I like that she consistently sets boundaries with Mal, but I dislike that the action is usually portrayed as "flirting", which feeds badly into No Doesn't Mean No dynamics

- she has a career that apparently fulfills her, but it's a service job that largely caters to men. There's nothing wrong with that (Watson) but Whedon seems to do that a lot (Doyle). See The Avengers for another woman whose fulfilling career hinges on the patriarchy. I have Mixed Feelings.

- I do not fully buy the Companion thing from a world building economics perspective. I would have preferred to see mention of Inara growing her money in other ways, like investments, which would have helped re: Job Revolves Around Men AND would have made the whole Space Sex Worker seem less contrived to me.

- the bit where Inara tells Mal that she slept with Simon does not sit well with me. See Boundaries Seem Like Sexual Tension above.

- there's an ongoing thing in fiction where the writer wants a sex worker, but doesn't want to deal with the unfun bits of sex work, like clients you don't like (which exist in almost every service job). This is a serious pet peeve of mine. See Feels Contrived above.

I do love the character and I love the way the actress portrays her. But I'm not always 100% comfortable with how it plays out.

Ana Mardoll said...

I don't recall her doing so, but my google search landed me here:


It claims that Miranda was "vocal" about being a feminist, but I can't find any other references to her talking about feminism so...?

Isabel C. said...

I could never watch Xena/Hercules because I came in when it got seriously "Greek deities suck! Yaaaay Judeo-Christianity!" and...fuck you, show writers. Fuck you a lot. So religionfail, maybe.

But other than that, I believe it was good.

Dav said...

I confess to really liking the mentor-mentee conflict in Damages. There are some gender issues, but the protagonist and antagonist are interesting women who are strongly identified by their work and occupation (and various relationship failures, but not in a way that would feel particularly unusual if men were occupying the same role - YMMV). There's some multicultural fail, and a surprising absence of characters of color, but there's some interesting explorations of power dynamics that aren't gendered the way you'd expect, and I never felt that anyone's gender *determined* anything about them, only affected the way they were received. What minimal representation of QUILTBAG appeared I remember as being above average, although . . .

Mild spoilers for Damages:
One gay character kills himself, and although it's clear that's a result of other people's bigotry (anticipated? it's been awhile), I'm reeeally over the killing off of the LGBTQ characters as a way to cause angst for our straight main characters. I found the main conflict around the dead fiance boring as all get-out, but there was plenty else to love, and there's been lots of men motivated by dead girlfriends that it was sort of nice to have a fridged boyfriend.

Plus, Glenn Close never fails to make my heart go pit-a-pat. <3 <3 <3

Lonespark said...

See The Avengers for another woman whose fulfilling career hinges on the patriarchy.

Potts? Romanov? Hill? (guessing the answer could be "all of the above," and now I'm back to being mad at the lack of Dr. Foster.)

Lonespark said...

When we got Netflix I started watching Xena from the beginning and I was gobsmacked at seeing a female protagonist whose thoughts and feelings and sense of honor are consistently treated as legitimate and important. That just seems incredibly rare. And a lot of other important characters were women. But I didn't get far. Not a lot of time for watching non-kid TV around here.

Nathaniel said...

Eh, on a personal level Inara always felt the flattest as an actor on that show. So its partly that.

But like you, I also didn't buy the whole "space hookering is awesome!" line the show was trying to sell, nor did I find her character moments that compelling. They all revolved around her having "sexy" spats with Mal, and I've seen enough female character's whose arcs involve who they want to sleep with at the moment.

Isator Levi said...

Have there not been courtesan traditions in certain real cultures that would be remniscent of how Companions are presented?

I'm unsure; I know for a fact that geisha's were not sex workers as widely as people have grown to assume they were, and I can't quite find the details about how well the courtesans who did would be paid (although there does seem to have been a lot of ceremony around them).

Isator Levi said...

Arrrgghh, unnecessary apostrophe!

Pqw said...

I'd like to watch Xena again. At the time it was on, I only caught a random episode here and there, but I did like those, for exactly those reasons, Lonespark.

Was offline all day, so missed Ana's callout hours ago, but yes, I'm Chaotic. I aspire to Good, but I'm probably Neutral most of the time. Lawful people (and characters) tend to make my brain hurt, and I'm sure the feeling is mutual.

Isator Levi said...

"I believe Isator made the spoilers request on my behalf, since I've not seen Avatar. (Thank you.)"

Oh don't thank me; I too know the sting of watching a show with anticipation instead of uncertainty.

I've developed the evasion of that into an art form; every time I'm reading something, and the name of a work I want to read/watch in the future comes up, my eyes slide over it and my internal monologue goes "in Avatar: The Last Airbender [SOMETHING HAPPENS].

Will Wildman said...

It's cool; 'geisha' is a loanword (obviously) and therefore under certain punctuation rules it's supposed to have an apostrophe even in the plural form. Just play it off like you're old school.

I'm pretty sure there's no culture where a courtesan has such great social standing that they can function as an ambassador-for-hire, but I would have liked it if Firefly developed its background culture enough to allow for that. The idea that the sex worker is the most respectable person on the ship had potential.

There was the one episode with a brothel, which maybe tried to kind of address the more realistic and marginalised conditions that non-super-high-class sex workers would have to operate in, but it was not exactly the central focus of the episode (or most of the side foci).

Quoth Ana: no relationship with other women in the ship despite having compelling reasons to do so

The latter part of this (compelling reasons) is something that people might argue over, but I think that would still be missing the point, because: writers are allowed to make stuff up. All the time! MORE! So even if one looks at the show and says "Well, Zoe doesn't particularly like Inara because X and Y, and Kaylee doesn't hang out with Inara because Z and W", those are still choices. Any attempt to work out who should be friends is ultimately Watsonian, and I think the problem is at the Doylist level, in that the writers didn't look at Zoe and Inara and think "Hm, what would it be like if they were besties? What would it take to justify that?" Which I think is unfortunate, because that could have been amazing.

Though, on a Watsonian level, Kaylee and Inara obviously had a lot of affection for each other and I have no idea why they didn't hang out all of the time. Like, Stadtler-and-Waldorf levels of hanging out. Their areas of the ship are arguably the most isolated and they're both very social creatures.

Isabel C. said...

Well, there are certainly sex workers here and now who enjoy their jobs and take a spiritual approach, so I could buy that. The bad parts of service work is an issue: she's really the only person on the show who has a non-Serenity-based career, as far as I can tell, so I can see it not being a focus, but she doesn't have the sort of "oh my God that guy" complaints that everyone who deals with members of the public does.* On the other hand, she gets to pick her clients, and maybe that helps?

On the third hand, the relationship with Mal bugs me: much as I like Mal, he falls down in that area.** And it also bugs that her one really troublesome client comes up mostly as an excuse for Mal to be a macho hero guy. I mean, I like the episode, but.

I am conflicted, is what I'm saying. I'm pro-sex-work, and I like a positive depiction thereof. I'm just not sure this was it.

*Seriously, I'm not in a service industry, and I still regularly encounter people who I hope sit on a fire ant hive.

All my ill-wishes at the moment involve insects. Not sure why.

**See also season one of The West Wing, and Sam's interfering with someone's life because he disapproves of her sex work and He Knows Better Than You, Little Girl. And somehow she kept talking to him afterwards.

Amaryllis said...

I guess "Simone and River" could have worked, that is, I can imagine female-older-sibling, protective/doctor mode, and male-younger-sibling, damaged-genius mode. It just seemed that the show made a big deal out of River's "girliness," so to speak.

Amaryllis said...

If we say, "feminism is about women, not about people of color", then we have just made "white" a default for "women", whether we mean to or not.
Not all women are white. But not all people of color are men. If I say that feminism is about women, I don't see that as not including women of color. Lesbian women, disabled women, trans women, are they not all women?

more women do NOT fit in to "white, straight, heterosexual, cis gendered, able bodied" than DO.
True, and I did not mean to imply otherwise.

I'm all for people looking beyond their own specific interests. Hanging together before we all hang separately, as they say. And I know that I've got massive amounts of "white, straight, heterosexual, cis gendered, able bodied" privilege. But, well, is there a difference between "my feminism is intersectional" and "my feminism is defined as intersectionality"? That is, a difference between caring about, working for, at least noticing all the people who aren't at the top of the kyriarchy-- and specifically speaking about or working for gender equality? As I think Echidne asked once, is "feminism" really the word for advocating for equal rights for poor gay men, important as that advocacy is?

But I don't want to argue with you, or derail into Feminism 101. If you want to drop it, just ignore me, I won't mind.

Amaryllis said...

Huh, I guess I really was being annoying today. I just never know, in these discussions, what's a spoiler for what for who, but it's your blog and your Avatar (which I haven't seen either).

Long live ROT13 and spoiler warnings.

Silver Adept said...

Silv questions: Whedon shows apparently draw bigger amounts of discussion because there are both right and wrong in them with regard to major issues?

Elsewhere, dropping a new show in: New Doctor Who (9-11) seems to have managed to go both forward and backward on issues like feminism as the seasons have progressed. The formula seems something like: As companion abilities increase, Doctor's "cleverness" and occasional condescension increases as well, writers still have the same or more plots requiring Companion rescue as damsel in distress instead of companion being competent on their own. F'rex:

Rose: Mostly damsel in distress, gets crowning moment of awesome, then Blessed With Suck with a nice consolation prize
Martha: Competent doctor in her own right, often tasked with important things, but also has her doctor responsibilities get her in trouble. Some damsel in distress, though. Currently the only companion in New Who who had escaped the Doctor intact.
Donna: Mostly mother-type figure, strong and opinionated, with excellent skills of her own. Introduced as a damsel in distress, often reprises this role...seemingly because the writers demand it. Becomes an equal to the Doctor near the end of her season, before an abrupt fridging.
Amy and Rory: Has some amount of damsel already under her belt, but she seems to be developing into a Martha/Donna hybrid. And there's Rory, who gets played up as a Butt Monkey much of the time, except he's more like a Crouching Moron, Hidden Badass.

Yet, like any committee-written show, some writers get it more than others, and there are some very feminist moments and episodes there.

Rakka said...

Ana, that was beautiful. I don't get why getting it is so hard. I'd like to give you a bowl of spoons since this thread seems to be the spoon-eating sort.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you for the spoon bouquet.

I've been up all night with OMG I AM MEAN nightmares every 30 minutes. I am sorry that I apparently don't have a middle ground between gentle cooing and cranky rantfest.

However. As a disabled woman and a fat woman, I meet far more ableism and fat hatred on a daily basis than classic vanilla misogyny. It is very frustrating to be asked to continually justify why these issues - my issues, issues that affect women, issues that affect me and am I not a woman - should be a part of feminism proper and not side movements of fat acceptance and disability advocacy.

The overall impression in these repeated discussions on the net is that women who look like me are "abnormal" women whose issues are not mainstream enough. (I can only imagine and flinch at the double helping of this that women of color receive.)

Amaryllis said...

Okay, I guess we're done with this.

Obviously, I must have missed the part where you had asked the discussion to be discontinued entirely, and I didn't want to seem to be ignoring your response. I guess, though, that it was ruder to continue, and I apologize.

Ana Mardoll said...

Thank you.

chris the cynic said...

I've been up all night with OMG I AM MEAN nightmares every 30 minutes.

If it is at all within your power, please be happy.

I wanted to say something affirming to you in response to/defiance of your "I'm going to go lie down now while everyone quietly decides to UNSUBSCRIBE FOREVER," comment but I wasn't sure what I could say. I'm not subscribed so I can't say I won't unsubscribe (actually I might be subscribed come to think of it, but I'm never at the place where the subscription tells me about new posts) I just type in the address when the computer starts up, and leave the page open, refreshing as needed.

So I couldn't think of affirming thing to say.

Ursula L said...

For feminist television, don't forget "Golden Girls." Every episode passes the Bechdel test. Sex-positive. Also addresses issues of age and disability.

Lonespark said...

Subscribe? Huh, no, I just read...

Because being a mean bitch is apparently the only way I can effectively assert personal boundaries. *sigh*

You're not doing that. You have EVERY RIGHT to tell people who enjoy playing in your sandbox to play by your rules.

But I also have the experience where it's easier to be loud and abrupt and FUCK YOU GO AWAY than to calmly assert a boundary. I think a large part of this comes from the public/social version of the "retreat until cornered/avoid conflict as long as possible, then escalate quickly" style of fighting that women are on average more prone to. That is to say, usually by the time I get around to asserting a boundary it's been violated A LOT. But not necessarily by the person or in the setting I need to assert it.

Lonespark said...

Golden Girls, wooo!

And I think Rosanne, too, but I never got to see much of it.

Lonespark said...

I meet far more ableism and fat hatred on a daily basis than classic vanilla misogyny.

Right. But I think it's still misogyny because those things are intertwined. Being The Patriarcy/Kyriarchy means getting to define which bodies you can live in and still count as fully human. "Pure" misogyny that would be only about hating women for being female seems rare to noexistent. Even in extremist spaces where blatant misogyny is condoned, it's wrapped up with racism and fat hatred.

Lonespark said...

Oh, crap. If I am violating your wish to stop talking on that subject, I'm really sorry. You could delete that!

Dragoness Eclectic said...

Mythologically speaking, the Greek dieties behave like a bunch of temperamental children. Even the Classical Greeks looked down on their own dieties and evolved quite a few philosophies that didn't hinge on "gods behaving badly and demanding worship". "Greek dieties suck" isn't exactly religion!fail when the Classical Greeks felt that way about them, too.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

I think there was a certain barrier of Kaylee et al being "crew" and Inara being a passenger/customer. Remember, she had her own shuttle being carried aboard, that she lived in. She didn't live in the crew quarters, and wasn't one of the crew.

OTOH, Shepherd Book was a passenger who never managed to disembark, either, so...

Tigerpetals said...

I have watched more tv in the past year or so than usual (though I'm still not a big fan), and I agree with you.

Dragoness Eclectic said...

From that point of view, it make sense. Thank you for explaining it that way.

Isabel C. said...

I am actually conversant with the myths, thanks. Grew up on 'em, in fact.

"Greek gods are very human," fine. When it's explicitly presented in contrast to Yahweh-I-mean-"Eli" and baptism and the Archangel Michael? When the latter is going to kill off the former and that's totally awesome man?

Yep, still religionfail.

Ana Mardoll said...

Yeah, the episodes that went full-on compare and contrast to monotheism sucked pretty bad. I don't remember much of those except that they were pretty awful.

Were most of them in the last season or so? Because there was a serious decline in quality at that point, and I remember almost nothing after about the point where Xena was trying to figure out exactly WHICH afterlife someone had landed in. Because we really needed half a dozen or whatever. o.O

Isabel C. said...

That's the impression I get, but my wacky TV setup as a child means I saw episodes all sort of out of order.

Either way...fleh. I felt sort of the same way about the freshman atheist subtext of the Clash of the Titans remake. Yes, the Greek gods were not by any means Always Lawful Good, but using them to make some sort of point about how Christianity/atheism/etc is better just annoys me.

Tigerpetals said...

Exactly. Well, there are books I'd call feminist, if they're in some way associated with the movement or written with political views. I don't see that as Buffy, though, whether Whedon identifies as a feminist or not. I guess I'm not explaining this well. I was going to say I totally agreed with you, and then went "What about feminist SF/Fantasy?" Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Joanna Russ's stuff, off the top of my head.

But like I said above thread, I wouldn't consider any tv shows feminist, and generally when something gets lauded as feminist, especially something popular, I dnow to distrust the claim even though I hope.

Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little said...

TW: Rape culture

But I also have the experience where it's easier to be loud and abrupt and FUCK YOU GO AWAY than to calmly assert a boundary. I think a large part of this comes from the public/social version of the "retreat until cornered/avoid conflict as long as possible, then escalate quickly" style of fighting that women are on average more prone to.

In my experience, it's not so much that we're "prone" to retreatretreatretreatNUUUUUKE so much as we know that any effective boundary-assertion on our part is socially coded as "mean bitch." When you know that "calmly asserting a boundary" is just as likely to get you called a "mean bitch" as being loud and abrupt will, what's the incentive to try at all? If I retreat, maybe the situation will just go away, and I won't have to go through it all again. And if I'm going to try, what's the incentive to stay calm? If my attempt at boundary assertion is recognized as such, I'm going to get called a "mean bitch" anyway; but if my attempt is calm and polite, it may be effectively invisible. Which is to say -- I assert a boundary calmly and politely; he affects not to hear/understand. I repeat myself; he laughs and says "I heard you the first time" and continues to violate said boundary. I repeat the message but LOUDER and RUDER and IMPOSSIBLE TO IGNORE, and he says, "Sheesh, God, all right, I get it -- you don't have to be such a bitch about it!" Maybe I should just cut straight to that third round, because it gets me quicker to the point where the person violating my boundaries stops and goes away.

Socially speaking, there is very little happy medium for us between "Why didn't you say something?" and "Why you gotta be a bitch about it?" The moment our boundary assertion moves out of the realm of ignorable, it falls straight into "bitchy." It's a basic factor of rape culture: Women aren't allowed to assert boundaries. Women who assert boundaries are bitches.

Granted, this seems to have taken the subject away from the context of Ana asserting her boundaries her on the blog to women in general asserting boundaries in the face of rape culture. I think the phenomena are linked, but I recognize that I'm possibly no longer talking about the precise thing y'all started out talking about.

Hannah M said...

OK, this is what happens when I fall behind on my blog reading. Here are some comments several days late!

As a woman, I'm not sure how to respond to the term "feminist television," because it invokes all the issues I have with Strong Female Characters.

Most Strong Female Characters are women in male-dominated careers kicking butt and being all like, "Suck it, I'm a girl." I don't identify with those women at all, but neither do I identify with the submissive 1950s style housewives, because most of my life is not identified by my femaleness. My everyday activities are hardly ever deliberately feminine or unfeminine choices. At almost any point in my day, you could ask me, "And as a woman, how do you feel about this?" and I would have no idea how to answer, because if my gender has influenced it at all, it's at a very subtle, very deep down level that doesn't register at all in my conscious mind. (I promise the reason I don't cook has nothing to do with the fact that I'm a woman. It's because I'm lazy and don't like food enough to put that much effort into making it.)

And so I have no idea how to connect to female characters whose sole characteristic is being female, or a female [insert male-associated job/attribute]. Because, as a woman, my life is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

I just want to see shows where the females' main plotlines don't exist solely because they're female. I think Joss Whedon does a pretty good job of that, especially with the character of Willow (Buffy has a tendency to fall into the Strong Female Character trap, although even there he does a much better job of avoiding that than I'd expect in any other show).

I will wrap up, though, by saying that my very favorite female TV character, and the one I identify with most strongly, is Daria Morgendorfer. Sure, she defies female stereotypes (comparing her to her sister Quinn, that is clear) but she spends just as much time, if not more, refusing to fit into the box for "generic teenager," "smart kid," or "angry rebel." She truly just does her own thing as her own person. Her decisions are not actively informed by her femaleness.

Lonespark said...

Very good points, Nicole. It's totally a no-win catch-22 where anything assertive enough to be taken seriously will be seen as rude.

And so I have no idea how to connect to female characters whose sole characteristic is being female, or a female [insert male-associated job/attribute]. Because, as a woman, my life is SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT.

Yeah, this. I think often you can get away from that by having lots of female characters. Or at least, that that's an important step.

Makabit said...

Although, I have a friend who looked on Arya of the first few books as more akin to a transboy than somebody who advocated for girls doing more things. Although I'm starting to wonder if there might not be problematic implications in that...

I don't see it. Arya's decidedly female, as far as I can see, she's just a product of a. a society that has exalted the activities it sees as male, b. an author who had to do the 'girl with sword dressing as boy and being feisty' thing, and then sort of shoved her off a cliff. But while I don't think she's actually trans in any way, I do see her as an inheritor of a fantasy tradition where it's not that all girls should get to do stuff, it's just that the Girl With Sword should get to do stuff, because she is, you know, feisty, and Not Like Other Girls. So I can see the second part of that.

I actually see Cersei as the most feminist figure in ASOIAF. Not because she's a good person. This is a strong, aggressive, rather amoral individual who's been put in an intolerable situation due to her gender. (Most of the other ASOIAF characters are also in intolerable situations, but because of other things.) If Cersei had been a man, she'd be king of Westeros right now...unlike Jaime, she sure as hell would not have gotten off that throne because Ned Stark looked at her sternly. Instead, she ended up as a bargaining chip for the Lannisters, and a victim of sexual abuse. She used the means available to her to at least screw Robert out of the legitimate heirs he was supposedly entitled to, and she works relentlessly to get some measure of the power she wants through her children. She's horrible. But she's a very well-done kind of horrible, a formidable power-seeker who would have been acceptable had she only had some literal as well as figurative balls.

I like Lady Dustin, and Sansa, and Margaery, and Margaery's grandmother, and three of those are pretty minor characters. The rest of the women are meh. It's not Martin's strongest suit. I love Lady Dustin, though. I like it that there's a powerful woman who holds authority not because she dresses up in armor or is a mighty sorceress or what have you, but because that's her land, and her troops, and she gets to be on the committee because they need her.

I will put in a good word for "Firefly", mostly because I love Zoe. I love it that she is a real soldier, as opposed to a 'warrior woman', if even if Wash does call her that at one point. I love it that she is tough as nails, and married to a kind of goofy guy who plays with dinosaurs, and that they are crazy in love. And Inara. I love Inara. And I love it that Kaylee, goofy as she is, gets to be unabashedly sexual, (and that it freaks Mal out).

Makabit said...

One more thing, actually, which is that I'm intrigued by Cersei's apparent attempts to mentor Sansa, in between doing unbelievably horrible things to her. She, and the situation, are far too messed up for it to work out well, but I do get the impression that on some level she wants to show her how to survive in the miserable mess that being a woman with value on the marriage market is.

Ursula L said...

If you've had a chance to catch the latest Doctor Who episode (The Power of Three) they did a really good job with a new character, Kate Stewart, and also Amy's really grown into herself in a way that works well - comfortable, happy, competent, yet still her adventurous and travel-loving self.

Will Wildman said...

I was happy to see in S7 Ep2, Dinosaurs On A Spaceship, that they've acknowledged the degree to which Amy is a veteran companion now, capable of effectively taking charge of a situation and working to resolve it without just tailing the Doctor. (Way back in S2, the best thing about the Impossible Planet two-parter was getting to see Rose rock out in the same way.)

Smilodon said...

I think a saw Firefly a bit differently. We see very little of the ship's downtime activities, and when we do see Kaylee in downtime, she's hanging out with Simon, River or Inara. And the episode we see Inara and Kaylee hanging out, Inara is brushing Kaylee's hair - that's not a thing that casual friends do for each other. So I always assumed that they hung out a lot.
As for Mal's (and Jayne's) bad attitude towards prostitution, I feel like they get called out for it. And Inara gets plenty on unpleasant customers. Actually, the only customer I can remember her actually liking is the lesbian senator. The rest she acts politely towards, (even the stupid kid who accuses her of cheating him by speeding up the clocks.)

Smilodon said...

I FINALLY thought of a show to add. I realized the problem was that I was trying to think of Hollywood TV shows, when I should have been thinking of Canadian TV.
Little Mosque on the Prairie.
Full disclosure - I didn't actually like this show very much. It's light, fluffy sitcom, and the characters often seemed kind of one dimensional - ok, this is the Very Religious Single Father, this is the Black Strong Woman Restaurant Owner, etc. But from my recollection (it went off the air in Canada a while back, I think - though I think it's coming to the States) it would pass most of your tests.

Sample episodes, in order of my recollection:
Religious Single Father realizes that his daughter is old enough that she should start wearing the hijab. She resists because she doesn't want to be seen as different at school. By the end of the episode, he decides that he cares about her enough to overlook the fact that she's that old. And during the "forced to wear it" period, she realizes that the popular girl thinks her hijab looks kinda cool.
The mosque decides they should erect a barrier to separate men and women at prayer. I forget how the episode goes, but the barrier doesn't last long.
The strong-willed daughter goes to intern at a local radio station, and ends up being paired with the only real bad-guy of the show, the Islamophobic talk-show announcer. As he works with her, he realizes that Muslims are pretty cool, and as he loses his hate, his show loses its edge. She eventually quits because she realizes that he's going to lose his job if he becomes tolerent. (For the most part, the show tries to ensure nothing has changed at the end of the episodes. Which is sometimes unfortunate.)
The mayor in the show is a white woman, as is her assistant. The assistant is a major character, who married a (quite religiously lax) Muslim, and took the faith as well, also in a very relaxed way. In one episode, the mayor has to decide between hiring a female life-guard (so an observent woman can use the pool) or using the money to send her assistant to a conference in China.

It fails in a lot of the ways that sitcoms do, (e.g. the Imam is pretty Nice Guy at times) but I think it tries not to fail. And it's not didactic - I didn't realize how feminist it actually was until I started thinking of sample episodes to use to describe it.

Hops26 said...

was ok, but not as good with that stuff as Babylon 5 (obviously it was a ripoff of the show, but I digress). B5 had bisexual character in season 2, not to mention the racial diversity (tho DS9 obviously had it in the captain, something to be admired). Also, B5 really delved more deeply into the overwhelming religious conflicts, and wasn't afraid to NOT white-wash it in the ways Star Trek always did. Nothing was resolved in B5; it took literally years of character and plot arcs, and even when it was all said and done, it was still messy. It didn't follow the Star Trek reset-button (and every few months a brief arc).

Hops26 said...

Thank you. I think by feminist they mean "appealing to the rape sympathizer in us all."

Hops26 said...

Standard Whedon. Folks think he's a feminist writer because it's better than most of what's on TV. But I highly doubt his shows ever pass the Bechdel test (his films sure don't), and his pandering and ridiculous dialogue always outshadow any possible progress he could be encouraging.

Hops26 said...

Agree on all of these points. I felt like the LGBTQ death was actually handled quite well (possible spoilers ahead). In the later seasons, his death haunts the other characters into their dreams and their waking lives, and becomes extremely problematic for them as they deal with their future relationships. I felt like that made more sense to me than the previous LGBTQ deaths I've seen where the character is later forgotten. This one is mentioned in the very last season. And I felt like his death had as much to do with his case as his sexuality (though that's obviously an issue as well). But it's not like he just killed himself 'cuz he's gay.

Hops26 said...

I should note, I've seen lots of shows/movies where gay characters die, and no one gives a damn (or it's just the end of the series/film). Never seen one where the character even after death impacted people way down the line. I've always seen it done that way with straight characters, but never with a gay one.

Makabit said...

I'd like to also throw in a good word for Stargate SGI, not because it's a particularly feminist show, but because I love Dr. Sam Carter so much. Sam is just part of the team. She's a scientist and a military officer, and they didn't feel the need to make her HOT HOT HOT to make up for that. She wears her hair short, and when she's out of uniform, she wears jeans, and they didn't need to go nuts making it clear how straight she is to make up for it.

I'd like to also speak up for Criminal Minds, which may sound odd, because except for Garcia and perhaps the department head, the women on the show are all HOT HOT HOT, and the blondes tend to look like each other. (I should clarify here that HOT HOT HOT is meant to indicate the TV understanding of such a thing, not my own, since I think that Garcia is sizzling. Also Morgan, my God, but I digress...)

I like that the character who is kidnapped/tortured/imperiled for dramatic effect by the bad guys is as likely to be one of the men as one of the women. I like it that both male and female characters have arcs about addiction and maintaining families in the face of their work. And I like it that the women are physically competent, but not supergals. There's an evenhandedness to the way they handle the cast that I like.

And I do like it that one of the regular cast is a big woman. There are some issues with how they handle that, but it's a nice start.

Rakka said...

Depends on how you interpret things, but: [spoilers for Legend of Galactic Heroes] snaf fuvc Ervauneq naq Xvepuvnvf yvxr gurer'f ab gbzbeebj. Xvepuvrvf qvrf gelvat gb cerirag n ernyyl, ernyyl yhqvpebhfyl fghcvqyl unaqyrq nffnffvangvba naq Ervauneq fcraqf gur ragver erfg bs gur frevrf (~3 frnfbaf) zbheavat uvz, nf qbrf nyzbfg rirelbar ryfr. "Vs bayl ur jnf nyvir" trgf lbh ng yrnfg gvcfl vs lbh tb sbe n qevaxvat tnzr jvgu YbTU.

LoGH is also fairly feminist as 80s mainstream anime goes. That's a pretty huge "as", but the show has several strong female characters, although less visibly in the Empire front because it's mostly about military conflict and they're more "traditional values". (And pearly white, due to being founded by a neo-nazi.) It does happen that it's safe to assume that any female character will be important unless it's a crowd scene, but those you do see are very well rounded and agencied individuals. (Although apparently the show/society thinks a woman should know how to cook. Even if they've been busy kicking ass in the military. *sigh*)

Niala Wesley said...

I loathed Roslin too! There seemed to be scores of people on those ships that lauded and upheld this underqualified person simply because they were anti-military. When the planet has been destroyed via enemy attack and the only thing keeping you alive and safe are soldiers and their resources you should show more respect towards them and think that hey, maybe they might know how to handle what's coming next more than civilians. Yes, everyone has different life experiences and should be in control of their own future but Adama wasn't trying to take away anyone's rights. Infact, he even seemed to understand their fear of placing too much control in the military and having things turn into a Police State (Dark Angel comes to mind). He was a commanding officer that had dealt with war, battle strategy, lead hundreds or thousands of people (the military), and already had the loyalty, respect, and admiration of the soldiers that are keeping everyone safe it just makes sense for him to stay in charge. You shouldn't have to bank your well being on whether or not someone (Roslin) with no experience in these kinds of matters (being on the offensive, providing aid to war torn people) could make life and death split second decisions.

Niala Wesley said...

I felt that they were trying to be true to life. Everyone was pagan for thousands of years and then this new monothestic religion comes along, isn't accepted at first, and then before you know it it's the reigning religion while paganism is the one that people question.

I don't think we were supposed to see what Xena did to the Greek deities as necessarily a good thing since she ends up trying to do it to the leading archangel. And lets not forget that everything with DayHawk & Hope (the most evil and destructive Big Bads on the series) and Mephistopheles (and the fate of Xena's mother), were rooted more on the Judeo-Christian mythos side than paganism.

Even with the destruction of the Greek pantheon on XWP we still had Ares (God of War) and Aphrodite (Goddess of Love) and there is something so meaningful and symoblic about that. When the dust was cleared we still had love and war.

Niala Wesley said...

trigger: rape, murder

I always saw it as Buffy saving herself in Reptile Boy. Giles, Angel, Xander, and Willow went to the frat house to rescue her but it was Buffy that talked Machida out of eating Cordelia, broke free of her chains, swordfought the cult members, and killed the demon. She did all of that without any help. In fact, it was Willow (a girl) that had to yell at the boys to quit fighting upground and get down to the basement.

I always felt more upset with Giles' comment afterwards towards Buffy. He basically blamed her taking ONE NIGHT off from being a child soldier and having one alcoholic drink ( they could have drugged any beverage and it would've resulted in the same things happening) for being the reason that she was almost raped (she'll never even get to know that happened) by Richard Anderson and nearly brutally murdered by Machida. "You were nearly devoured by a giant snake demon. Let that be a lesson for you seems a bit redundant."

I felt that Cordelia was the real problem of the main characters in that episode. Fake laughing and sucking up to impress a boy she is only interested in because he could provide financial security. Hitting parked cars (it was a running theme that she was a bad driver *failed Driver's Ed 3 times* *hit a girl on her bike* and yet somehow the Buffyverse fans seem to latch onto the idea that Buffy is a horrible driver simply because someone else rammed into Joyce's car Buffy's very first time behind the wheel). Pressuring Buffy to have a drink in a "don't embarass me in front of the cute rich boys" way. Blaming Buffy when they were chained up and actually saying, "I don't know why I let you talk me into coming here" when she was the one that begged Buffy to come since Cordy couldn't come unless she could get Buffy to come too. Being the only one of the three girls forced by the writers to play the whimpering damsel in distress). And of course after Buffy saves her life she not only does not thank her but immediately goes over to the tall broad shouldered man, hugs him, and thanks him for saving her while again blaming Buffy (and her friends) for putting her in danger.

Niala Wesley said...

It really wasn't one episode or arc. It was one of the defining aspects of her character. Throughout the series she was very vocal about her beliefs, living in a patriarchial world, female stereotypes, women's rights, discrimination, perceived gender roles, etc.

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