Asked by Anonymous
Oh my God, anon, I am so sorry. I finished this weeks ago (months? I know it was well before my surgery) and forgot to post it. I hope you’re still in the fandom!
(Contains: Bullying. Physical altercations. Mention of panic attacks. Little kids being dicks to each other, as they do.)
Stiles loved school, okay? Jackson insisted it wasn’t real school, but Stiles knew better. School was where you went during the day while your parents were at work, and teachers gave you things to do, and you learned stuff, and you made pictures to hang on the refrigerator at home. Stiles definitely went to school.
Jackson was probably just being annoying on purpose anyway, because it was called Little Dumplings Pre-School. It was right there in the name.
And Stiles looked forward to going there every day, because there was always lots of fun stuff to do, and a playground with a swingset and a sandbox, and Miss Blake didn’t get mad at him when he got the fidgets. And he got to spend all day with Scott.
Scott was Stiles’ best friend at school, and also his best friend outside of school, because their parents were friends, too. Scott and Stiles had sleepovers and everything, even though they were only four years old. No one else in their class had had a sleepover yet. Stiles liked to brag about it.
Even if they weren’t mature enough for sleepovers yet, everyone else in class had a best friend, too. Jackson had Danny, Lydia had Allison. Boyd and Erica and Isaac were all best friends together, which was unconventional, but who was Stiles to judge.
They spent their days playing games Miss Blake taught them, and taking naps on their squishy mats, and learning how to write their names and how to count things. Sometimes they argued over toys until Miss Blake reminded them they had to share, and sometimes someone (Jackson) cried over who got a bigger cookie at snack time, but for the most part, they all got along. It was very peaceful and fun.
Until Derek Hale showed up.
Recently, my husband and I burned through S1 of Orphan Black, which, as promised by virtually the entire internet, was awesome. But in all the praise I’d seen for it, a line from one review in particular stuck in my mind. The reviewer noted that, although the protagonist, Sarah, is an unlikeable character, her grifter skills make her perfectly suited to unravelling the mystery in which she finds herself. And as this was a positive review, I kept that quote in mind when we started watching, sort of by way of prewarning myself: you maybe won’t like Sarah, but that’s OK.
But here’s the thing: I fucking loved Sarah. I mean, I get what the reviewer was trying to say, in that she’s not always a sympathetic character, but that’s not the same as her actually being unlikeable. And the more I watched, the more I found myself thinking: why is this quality, the idea of likeability, considered so important for women, but so optional for men – not just in real life, but in narrative? Because when it comes to guys, we have whole fandoms bending over backwards to write soulful meta humanising male characters whose actions, regardless of their motives, are far less complex than monstrous. We take male villains and redeem them a hundred, a thousand times over – men who are murderers, stalkers, abusers, kinslayers, traitors, attempted or successful rapists; men with personal histories so bloody and tortured, it’s like looking at a battlefield. In doing this, we exhibit enormous compassion for and understanding of the nuances of human behaviour – sympathy for circumstance, for context, for motive and character and passion and rage, the heartache and, to steal a phrase, the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to; and as such, regardless of how I might feel about the practice as applied in specific instances, in general, it’s a praiseworthy endeavour. It helps us to see human beings, not as wholly black and white, but as flawed and complicated creatures, and we need to do that, because it’s what we are.
But when it comes to women, a single selfish or not-nice act – a stolen kiss, a lie, a brushoff – is somehow enough to see them condemned as whores and bitches forever. We readily excuse our favourite male characters of murder, but if a woman politely turns down a date with someone she has no interest in, she’s a timewasting user bimbo and god, what does he even see in her? Don’t get me wrong, I’ve seen some great online meta about, for instance, the soulfulness and moral ambiguity of Black Widow, but I’ve also seen a metric fucktonne more about what that particular jaw-spasm means in that one GIF of Cumberbatch/Ackles/Hiddleston/Smith alone, and that’s before you get into the pages-long pieces about why Rumplestiltskin or Hook or Spike or Bucky Barnes or whoever is really just a tortured woobie who needs a hug. Hell, I’m guilty of writing some of that stuff myself, because see above: plus, it’s meaty and fun and exactly the kind of analysis I like to write.
And yet, we tend overwhelmingly not to write it about ladies. It’s not just our cultural obsession with pushing increasingly specific variants of the Madonna/Whore complex onto women, such that audiences are disinclined to extend to female characters the same moral/emotional licenses they extend to men; it’s also a failure to create narratives where the women aren’t just flawed, but where the audience is still encouraged to like them when they are.
Returning to Orphan Black, for instance, if Sarah were male, he’d be unequivocally viewed as either a complex, sympathetic antihero or a loving battler with a heart of gold. I mean, the ex-con trying to go straight and get his daughter back while still battling the illegalities of his old life and punching bad guys? Let me introduce you to Swordfish, Death Race, and about a millionty other stories where a father’s separation from a beloved child, whether as a consequence of his actual criminal actions, shiftless neglect, sheer bad luck or a combination of all three, is never couched as a reason why he might not be a fit parent. We tend to accept, both culturally and narratively, that men who abandon their children aren’t automatically bad dads; they just have other, important things to be doing first, like coming to terms with parenthood, saving the world, escaping from prison or otherwise getting their shit together. But Sarah, who left her child in the care of someone she trusted absolutely, has to jump through hoops to prove her maternal readiness on returning; has to answer for her absence over and over again. And on one level, that’s fine; that’s as it should be, because Sarah’s life is dangerous. And yet, her situation stands in glaring contrast to every returning father who’s never been asked to do half so much, because women aren’t meant to struggle with motherhood, to have to try to succeed: we’re either maternal angels or selfish absentees, and the idea that we might sometimes be both or neither isn’t one you often see depicted with such nuance.
read this, read it right now it’s absolutely genius.
….when it comes to a black woman having a potential relationship with the white male lead. Suddenly, there’s “too much going on” for a relationship, and the black woman doesn’t need to be seen as dependent on a man (which is such bullshit as she’s already independent and solitary to a fault).
So here’s the thing…
Whether you agree with it or not, media criticism is an essential and necessary part of fandom. It is both a reflection and examination of what is and the hope for what might be.
if we’re being honest, our media has more often than not done an embarrassing job of showing the world as it should be. And the version of the world they do show is full of the same tropes, idioms and cliches that prevent us from telling more fully realized stories of POC that make the color of our skin just one part of a much more interesting characterization rather than a primary defining quality.
In the former, women of color are BAMF’s with agency who don’t need to be alone because “a man doesn’t define them”. They fuck, they fight, they give and receive love in a way that says more about their humanity then their skin color and the embedded messaging that it implies.
In the latter, Abbie Mills doesn’t need to be defined by her relationship to a man and will therefore never be romantically involved with Ichabod (or anyone else).
As the demographic makeup of our country changes, the codified biases and prejudices that have empowered white males throughout history and subjugated the “other” have not magically disappeared.
One hopes that the proliferation of new media platforms creates more opportunities in front of and behind the camera to tell stories that are a reflection of what our society is capable of becoming.
Ming-na Wen and Retta at NerdHQ’s A Conversation with Badass Women (x)Retta: My parents are from Liberia, and Liberians are ALL about school. It’s like, no joke. Most of them send their kids to the States to go to school because they think that’s where the best schools are, that sort of thing. And I was a math-science girl, I was pre-med. I was supposed to be a neurosurgeon.And I remember when I started doing stand up, I was like, “Shit! My mother is going to be like, ‘Are you fucking kidding me right now?’” And I remember calling my mom and saying, “So I’m going to drive to California and do the stand-up thing so I can get into TV.” And my mom, you know, she didn’t freak out like I thought she was totally going to freak out. My dad freaked out. He was like, “Please get health insurance.” That was his big thing, “GET HEALTH INSURANCE.” But my mom was like, “Just remember you’re carrying around your father’s last name. So don’t embarrass him.” She was like, “Do the best that you can. Don’t go playing. If you’re going to do, do it.” So, I dropped my last name so as not to embarrass my father.But God bless, because a lot of parents wouldn’t…Ming-na: You know, we have to talk. Because I dropped my stage last name Wen for the longest time when I did ER - which, by the way, I got to tell my mom, “I got to be a doctor for 5 years so, write that off the list.” because of same issues, fatherly things.But now, I have it back because I’m proud being who I was born as. And we have so much to talk about, girl.
It’s interesting that Nerd HQ’s “A Conversation with Badass Women” is more diverse than the SDCC’s “Women Who Kick Ass” panel…and doesn’t only focus on women who physically kick ass.