Tellingly, I was going to title this article, ‘It’s a Hard Life Out There for a Lady Fan’. But then I realised, that’s stupid. There are men, there are ladies, and then there are fans, which are both men and ladies. (I should also point out that there are genderqueer fans, they’re pretty terrific too).
But lately, what I’m discovering more and more, that it’s hard to reconcile being a fan and being a lady at the same time, when the media that I’m a fan of doesn’t represent many characters that share my gender. Or, represents them poorly.
Let’s take Star Wars as an example. I love the living heck out of Star Wars. I have Star Wars shirts, books, bobbleheads. My childhood was spent trying to perfect a Wookie roar, and I wiled away the hours on my Gameboy trying to beat Gasgano in Star Wars Episode 1: Racer.
Filled with glee, a week ago I posted the news about the Star Wars: Episode VII casting on Facebook. And the first comment was:
“Needs more women.”
As a fan, I got riled up the only way that borderline-obsessive autodidacts can. I pointed out that there was going to be another female major role! The Star Wars Expanded Universe has plenty of female characters! Over the years many female writers have contributed texts to the Star Wars Expanded Universe! Women like Kathy Tyers, Jude Watson, Barbara Hambley, Rebecca Moesta, Jennifer Roberson, Vonda N. McIntyre, Esther Friesner, Deborah Wheeler, Krystyna Katherine Rusch! Women are all over Star Wars, so NYUH!
Over the next few days, however, I took off my Blind Fan Goggles, and realised that my argument was weak at best, and offensive at worst.
Two new female characters, one yet to be confirmed, compared to six new male characters? That ratio sucks. It especially sucks considering that the only female characters in the original trilogy that had speaking roles were Princess Leia, Aunt Beru, Mon Mothma, and Oola. Sy Snootles had a singing role, I guess. And if we really want to split hairs, Kabe, the little bat-like Chadra-Fan that chittered to Wuher for more Juri-Juice in the Mos Eisley cantina, had a ‘speaking’ role.
Were things better in the prequels? Not really. Sure, there were Naboo handmaidens, and female Jedi on the council, and even Gardulla the Hutt and Aurra Sing made appearances at the podrace. But let’s face it, the only females who managed to speak more than two words were Shmi Skywalker, Padme Amidala, Zam Wessell, and Taun We. Beru Lars has the honor (?) of once again getting a speaking role. Hooray for Beru.
And to this day I have no idea why there were no female podracers in the Boonta Eve Classic. That is just some straight-up bullshit!
As much as I love Star Wars, the films have a glaring disparity between male and female characters in active, speaking roles. That’s just indefensible fact.
And if the Expanded Universe is no longer going to be accepted as canon, then a lot of work by female authors is going by the wayside. Meanwhile, Episode VII is going to be directed by a man, based on a script written by men. Of all the Star Wars films, only Leigh Brackett has ever been credited as a writer, even though her original script was heavily worked over by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas after her death. On the Clone Wars TV series, out of 32 writers, only 5 are women.
Think about that.
I later apologized to my friends over a gin, as they aren’t the only ones who can see that in 2014, this simply isn’t good enough. AV Club, Io9, and Screen Crush have all commented on the Star Wars 7 having a distinct lack of humanoids with estrogen. (If there’s two lead female characters then they had better pass the Bechdel Test, at least).
Even though it’s great that John Boyega has a lead role and all (and the next cast member may not only be a woman but a woman of color), seriously Star Wars… you’ve got a huge problem with including people of color in your universe. Wookiepedia lists 21 species that start with ‘H’, but in the original trilogy there was only one black human on Bespin, and represented in the galaxy in general.
What’s that you say? “The prequels gave us Mace Windu, though! And Captain Tanaka, and the Fetts!” … And that’s about it for people of color with speaking roles. (There’s the stormtroopers, but they’re clones, so you can’t really consider them original characters.)
Star Wars hasn’t been the only bit of media that’s let me down lately. Just a few weeks before the Star Wars casting debacle, I was defending Game of Thrones against the argument that it was very rape-centric. I got my Blind Fan Goggles on and pointed out that in the medieval war period setting, rape was a huge threat, but many of the main female characters are not actually raped. Sansa, Brienne, Arya, Catelyn, Daenerys, Asha, Ygritte, Lysa, Missandei, Myrcella, Shae, Melisandre, Ellaria, Margaery, Olenna… and Cersei.
In my argument, I was positing that in the books, George R.R. Martin acknowledges that rape is a very real and horrible thing, and that it does happen to countless minor characters like Eroeh, or has happened to past characters, like Tysha or Elia. The female leads however have remained relatively unscathed — the lazy trope of a woman being raped as a way to make her more sympathetic or aggressive isn’t there.
I love the books and I really like the show, but I take issue with some of the things that Benioff and Weiss do with the source material, and my argument, (which was flimsy to start with), fell apart when the shitty decision was made to have Jaime rape Cersei. And I just throw up my hands and say, why? I wince at how when my friend rightfully and sensibly brought up the fact that there’s a disproportionate amount of female nudity on the show, I put on my Blind Fan Goggles on again and argued, well, other shows I like, such as The Sopranos, Boardwalk Empire, and Deadwood, are also shows with lots of disproportionate female nudity! So NYUH!
… You can see, as I can see, how ridiculous that ‘argument’ is in retrospect. It’s like giving a gold star to a show for having like, one less nipple than this other show. Whoopee.
The cherry on this Sundae of Disappointment has been the comics industry. It started with Janelle Asselin critiquing a comic cover, and that escalated to Asselin being inundated with rape threats online, attempts were made to hack her bank account, and the Comic Book Resources boards got so out of control with misogynistic content that they were shut down and then rebooted. A stupid company made a stupid tee-shirt about fangirls and then posted an even stupider reply to the criticism. And speaking of stupid responses to criticism, this article about the organizer of Cherry City Comic-Con being terrible at social media (along with his wife) has to be read to be believed.
I don’t want to feel this way, Comics. I don’t want to feel exhausted or morose when I read this stuff, and I don’t want to feel nervous writing about sexism in the comics industry, wondering if today will be the day I’ll need to put privacy locks on my Twitter account. To quote Brian Michael Bendis:
I think that a huge problem is people who read comics and don’t understand the point of superheroes, which is to be the best version of yourself. You love Captain America? Well, you know what Captain America would never do? Go online anonymously and shit on a girl for having an opinion.
When I’m blindly defending the things I love, I’m not being the best version of myself. I need to acknowledge that it’s okay to love something even if it’s not the best version of what it could be. Star Wars could have more female characters in it. The TV version of Game of Thrones could stop being so gratuitous. And comics need to be a safer place for women.
It’s time to take the Blind Fan Goggles off.