Mad Max smashes the patriarchy

Dear Dad,

Have you seen Mad Max: Fury Road yet? If not, head to the movies RIGHT NOW and watch it.

Did you do it? Hopefully yes, because I am about to talk about what an empowering feminist flick it is. If you haven’t seen it yet, though, I shall attempt to keep this post as spoilers-free as possible.

Let me start by saying that I planned to see this movie from the first time I saw the trailer. It looked awesome. I mean, hello? Car chases, futuristic desert setting, explosions, post-apoc punks, those awesome firework flares? It all looked rad! 

To top it off, a bunch of Men’s Rights Activist-types were enraged by Charlize Theron’s tough character Furiosa in the trailer, and called for a boycott of the film:

Not only REFUSE to see the movie, but spread the word to as many men as possible. … Because if [men] sheepishly attend and Fury Road is a blockbuster, then you, me, and all the other men (and real women) in the world will never be able to see a real action movie ever again that doesn’t contain some damn political lecture or moray about feminism, SJW-ing, and socialism.

As David Futrelle writes over at We Hunted The Mammoth, these men are enraged that an action movie would dare to have a woman in one of the lead roles. So of course, if misogynists want to boycott a film, I have to go see it.

I was expecting action, explosions, a post-apocalyptic world and Charlize Theron. But I got an incredible movie about the power and agency of women.

To start with, there are the wives, the pretty young women wrapped in white cloth in the trailer. The harem of a powerful dictator, they rebel and try to escape, setting up the entire conflict for the movie. And their mantra? 

“We are not things.”

  
These women fight actively against being objectified, and their fight is the central struggle of the film. All of these car chases and explosions happen because a patriarch wants to keep women as property, and they refuse.

There’s also a delightful number of women in this movie, not just the wives and Furiosa, but a matriarchal tribe of biker babes who are badass and good with muskets. And these women are of all ages, with more women over 40 in speaking roles than any other film I can think of off the top of my head. (I will say no more on this matriarchal tribe as I don’t want to spoil anything, except that they’re called the Vulvalini, which is delightfully campy as well as hella feminist.)

And then of course there’s Furiosa, Charlize Theron’s delightful, glorious Furiosa, who gets top billing alongside Tom Hardy’s Max in the opening credits, who drives a war rig and is well respected in her society, who is missing an arm and wears an awesome robotic prosthetic, but can keep up with Max in a fight even without it. Furiosa is fierce, smart, brave, willing to die for what she believes in, and absolutely mesmerizing. She is a complex character, not reduced to eye candy or a love interest, and watching her on-screen made me feel as if I (and women in general) was included in the intended audience of the film, which is HUGE.

In sum, Dad, this is a movie about women’s struggle against an oppressive patriarchy, their fight to be seen as people and not objects, all set to the soundtrack of cars, explosions, and that awesome guitarist hypeman guy. Go see Mad Max.  Go see it again and again! I know I will.

Love, 

Victoria

What happens when we get representation

Heya, Dad!

How long has it been since we talked representation? Awhile?

As a refresher, representation is when diverse people are included in media (preferably) as fleshed-out individuals. It’s the idea that people want to see stories about people they can relate to, and that when we see positive portrayals of people like us, that can give us something to aspire to. Like Whoopi Goldberg going into acting after seeing Nichelle Nichols on Star Trek.



Recently, I read a phenomenal article, Hanna Brooks Olsen’s “A Leslie Knope in a World of Liz Lemons.” Olsen contrasts Parks and Recreation and 30 Rock, two enormously popular sitcoms created by celebrity best friends and outspoken feminists Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. When 30 Rock aired, Olsen says, women reveled in seeing a woman as flawed as they were on TV. Liz Lemon was hungry, sloppy, kind of a mess with guys and really selfish. Seeing such an honest character was a breath of fresh air. Women everywhere found themselves saying, “I am Liz Lemon!” (Including me.)

But, Olsen argues, aspiring to Lemon-hood holds us back. Instead, we should aspire to be Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope, a woman whose flaws include her intense passion:

Leslie’s flaws — like that she’s a borderline hoarder and that she sometimes is so passionate about issues that it’s “like arguing with the sun,” as her husband tells her at one point—are less cute. They are real and they are difficult and they are the kind of flaws that women rarely play up. They are the flaws that get women pegged as “bossy” or “bitchy” in the workplace. They are the flaws that we desperately try to distract from as we “complain” that we sometimes (adorably!!!) eat the entire tub of Just One Of The Guys Full Fat Because We’re So Bad Ice Cream in one sitting.

But her positive traits — her unstoppable work ethic, her deep, thoughtful love of her friends, and her nonstop motivation to succeed—are the ones that make her a role model.

While the representation of Liz Lemon was refreshing and new, Olsen argues, Knope gives women someone they can aspire to be.

Reading this article, I couldn’t help but think of Broad City, another female-driven comedy. It’s the first comedy series I’ve ever watched that has made me laugh out loud at every single episode from the very first episode. 



Watching it, I tried to figure out which of the two protagonists I was. Like Ilana, I have short hair and sometimes wear inappropriate, childlike outfits. Like Abby, I work hard at my job and aspire to climb the ladder. But after several episodes of vacillating between the two, I decided I am neither. I don’t smoke weed or Skype my best friend everyday, or go on the same wild adventures they do.

And that is perfectly okay. That’s the thing about representation: When there are enough diverse, interesting women in media, I don’t have to see myself in every one. I don’t have to be every complex portrayal of every woman on TV. But when there are so many different women on TV, I have plenty of role models to choose from.

Have you seen Big Hero 6 yet, Dad? You’re missing out if you haven’t. Like I’ve said before, the film features several female scientists in the main group of friends. The best part about that is their gender doesn’t become central to their identity. When you don’t have one girl in the cast fulfilling the role of “the girl,” you’re free to create more interesting characters. In this case, there’s the tough-as-nails speed-demon with a cool bicycle and the sweet, all-things-pink chemistry whiz. Do you know how powerful it is to see a group of diverse women and realize how open your options are? It’s empowerment.

And it’s why representation matters.

Love,

Victoria

When our strong women characters get written out

Dear Dad,

Have you seen that archer viral video going around? It’s pretty cool. Archer Lars Andersen has studied old paintings and manuscripts to better understand forgotten archery techniques, and demonstrates how to shoot quickly and accurately through a host of challenges. It’s really mind blowing, and satisfies my interest in archery and history in one fell swoop:

However, I have one issue with this, and it’s not with the video; it’s with the way the video is being written again. I first noticed it in The Nerdist’s write up of the video. The article said on-screen archers are popular right now, citing Green Arrow, Hawkeye and Legolas. True, all these are on-screen archers, but Katniss Everdeen, one of the most popular fictional characters with a bow right now, was completely forgotten.

2015/01/img_0121.jpg

Another article, from bleedingcool.com, was titled “Move over Hawkeye, Green Arrow, and Legolas, there’s a new archer in town.” These archers are “pretty darn cool,” but again, Katniss doesn’t get a mention.

And it’s not that Katniss is unpopular. None of the three Hobbit movies, released around the same time as The Hunger Games films, have grossed as much as the dystopian trilogy about the archer girl from District 12. Covergirl even released a makeup line inspired by the films (which made me a little uncomfortable considering the books’ attitude toward fashion and frivolous consumption but I digress).

But I suspect that is part of the problem: Katniss is a woman. She’s feminine and in our society, feminine is considered superficial and less important than masculine things. Katniss is a dynamic character, with strengths, flaws and goals, and she’s good enough with a bow to fight her way out of an arena. She did make an appearance in the video, briefly, in a segment about how movie archers shoot wrong, but in coverage of this viral video, she is forgotten.

This is erasure, Dad. We have a female main character known for her archery, and yet male supporting characters get mentioned when discussing archery in film and television. I can’t help but be reminded of the female scientists who are not taught about in school in favor of their male counterparts. This casually forgetting strong women lowers women’s visibility. It tells other women that our stories and accomplishments are not as important as men’s, and it erases our history for the girls who come after us. As a child, I didn’t think women could be funny because I didn’t know any great female comedians. I didn’t think women could be scientists because instead of Rosalind Franklin, we studied Watson and Crick.

It’s a small thing, I know, but I would have liked to see Katniss mentioned in these articles. I would have liked to see women represented.

Love,
Victoria

A big week for women in STEM

Dad!

We landed on a comet! How cool is that?

Everyone’s been really excited about this Rosetta mission, and so have I. It’s a cool example of the international community working together, plus there’s space! I love space.
IMG_0090.JPG
To top it off, the project director for NASA’s contribution to the project is a black woman, Claudia Alexander. She spoke with the LA Times about being a woman in a predominantly white male field. Alexander said her experiences as an African-American woman were even a benefit in communicating with the European Space Agency:

I’m used to walking between two different cultures. For me, this is among the purposes of my life — to take us from states of ignorance to states of understanding with bold exploration that you can’t do every day.

She’s a great role model for girls interested in STEM fields (that’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). I’m really glad she’s been visible in this project, actively combatting the stereotype that women can’t science.

Speaking of which, did you see the story about the Rosetta scientist who wore a sexist shirt, Dad? This dude wore a shirt covered in sexy ladies for an interview, sending the message, as The Atlantic’s science writer Rose Eveleth pointed out, that STEM is maybe not so welcoming to women.

To his credit, the scientist, Matt Taylor, has apologized for his fashion choices. It’s a very good example of how critique and dialogue can help bring about more thoughtful choices.

But Rosetta’s not the only great thing happening in science right now. In the fictional science world, we have a whole slew of new scientists to admire. I just recently saw both “Interstellar” and “Big Hero 6,” and have to recommend both. In addition to having great stories and wonderful, emotional depth, these two movies put science at the forefront, and women play huge roles in that.

In “Interstellar,” which had a physicist as one of its executive producers and has won praise from Neil DeGrasse Tyson for its faithfulness to Einstein’s theories, two of the main scientists are women. Dr. Brand is a gutsy explorer and physicist who risks everything to save humanity, while Dr. Murphy Cooper is a plucky young kid who grows into a brilliant and perceptive physicist. Both of these women are main characters and have wonderful story arcs.

Big Hero 6” is an awesome movie for kids that makes science and education cool. While maybe less faithful to reality, the robotics at play are fantastic and riveting. In addition, it features a diverse cast (with an Asian-American protagonist) and two more female roboticists! I loved, too, that these two women show there’s no one proper way to be a girl. Honey Lemon is bubbly and loves pink and is super feminine, while Gogo is tougher, riding a bike she invented and telling people to “woman up.” Both are independent, developed characters.

So there’s a lot of things to be excited about this week: I’m excited for my female friends in engineering, that they have more examples of women like them; I’m excited for the little girls watching movies and comet landings, seeing what women are capable of; I’m excited for the guys who will see these women and understand how valuable it is to have multiple viewpoints and voices in projects; I’m excited for both the arts and the sciences to have more women making inroads, setting examples, and diversifying the stories and ideas that are available.

And I’m just feeling positive and encouraged over all.

Love ya,
Victoria

“The Book of Life” tells stories of strong female characters

Hey Dad,

Have you seen trailers for that new Day of the Dead movie, “The Book of Life”? I’d seen some trailers for it this summer, so when it came time to plan a Halloween activity for the boyfriend’s kids, I recommended a trip to the movies.

The plot seemed simple enough: Two deities make a bet on which of two boys will marry a girl both boys are in love with. Life and death stakes and journeys through fantastical afterlives as a bonus.

I was looking forward to beautiful animation, kid humor and a movie that focused on Mexican cultural heritage. As a bonus, I got a movie that was chock-full of awesome, independent female characters.

The first is Maria. She’s gorgeous and charming, but not content to be a simple love interest or prize. She’s the hero in her own story here, and she’s not afraid to assert herself. When a pig liberation runs amok, her father declares she must become a proper lady. Her response is, “Why?” When others refer to her as one of the male character’s “woman,” she makes it clear she belongs to no one. And when a suitor tells her it’s okay to accept his proposal because her dad already gave his permission, she is anything but happy with her father.

To top it off, she reads books, fences and knows kung-fu. And she rallies the troops when the town is threatened. If she marries anyone, it will be her own choice, and it will be someone who respects her as an equal.
IMG_0086.JPG

I mean, the Maria toy comes with a freaking sword.

Then there’s La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, a gorgeous, strong and wise deity. She juggles her duties as ruler of the Land of the Remembered and her tense marriage with the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. She’s a fabulous matriarch who is always five steps ahead of her rivals.

IMG_0085.JPG

And then there’s the twins, Adelita and Nina, I believe. Their roles are fairly small, but they quickly became the boyfriend’s favorite characters (and possibly mine). These rambunctious skeletons fought in the revolution, “and we won,” they tell their cousin.

IMG_0087.PNG

I loved that these two women didn’t have love interests, and it didn’t bother them in the least. What they cared about was fighting for their cause, and how good they looked in their boots. They have some of the best comebacks in this film.

I’m pretty sure this film passed the Bechdel test on multiple occasions. And there are plenty of other women and girls I didn’t mention. The men in the film range from emotional to macho, too. Plus, directed and written by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, with many Mexican voice actors, it isn’t a movie about Mexican culture that’s been coopted by white Americans.

It’s also funny, beautiful, memorable, and boasts a great soundtrack. I was really glad we took the boyfriend’s daughter because this was a movie with some great role models.

So if you’re looking for a good Halloween movie (and totally not scary), I recommend “The Book of Life.” As a feminist, it was a joy to watch.

Love,
Victoria

Achieving parity

Dear Dad,

I saw another study about women’s representation in movies and was reminded of our brief conversation on the topic a few months back.

First, some summaries of this study:

  • Globally, there are 2.24 males for every female character.
  • Only about 30 percent of speaking or named characters are female.
  • Only 20.5 percent of filmmakers are female.
  • Female characters are more likely to be sexualized, skinny, or wearing sexy clothes. (Almost twice as often as male characters)
  • In films for children, female characters are even more likely to be thin than in films targeted at adults.
  • Women make up only 23.2 percent of the U.S. workforce in films, but 46.3 percent of the workforce in real life.
  • Comments about appearance were directed at women at FIVE TIMES the rate they were directed at men.

In my last post, I talked about how women make up about 17 percent of crowd scenes in movies, as well as about 17 percent of leadership positions in real life. You replied that women are rapidly surpassing men in holding bachelor’s degrees, and that the gender pay gap is nigh but a thing of the past. And that is encouraging (though if you read that story, you’ll realize that the reason women are graduating at higher rates is because they can’t get a lucrative job without a degree, so they’re more willing to take on student debt than men, who have more job opportunities available regardless of education, and student debt is a whole other issue that saddles students of lower socio-economic status and any gender, but I digress).

You also mention negative portrayals of dads in media, and you’re right! This is a shame! The “dad-as-dumb-couch-potato” trope is harmful to men! And it perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to families and women. These are important media critiques to make, and I should add that the slacker dad plays into the “mother runs the home” trope, keeping Mom in the kitchen and taking care of the kids because that is her purview. The slacker dad trope perpetuates ideas of masculinity as being animalistic and lazy, thus giving men a free pass on participation at home. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see positive portrayals of engaged fathers. It’s one of the reasons “Boy Meets World” is still one of my favorite sitcoms. “How I Met Your Mother” is another sitcom, this one geared at adults, that features passionate, engaged dads. They sometimes make silly goofs, but that doesn’t make them buffoons. They can be funny without being stupid, and I appreciate that.

But on the topic of women surpassing men in the job market, even the articles you point me to say that that hasn’t yet happened. Certainly, the gap is closing, but we’re nowhere near equality. On John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” segment on the pay gap, one pundit points out that unmarried, childless women between the age of 35 and 43 make 108 cents to a man’s dollar. Which is like, great if you don’t want to have kids or get married or ever turn 44. But we shouldn’t be restricting women’s options in the name of fairness!

The full, thorough, hilarious segment here:

And, as the fabulous documentary “Miss Representation” points out (I really liked that movie, okay?), an interesting thing happened when women first started to make forays into the job market: Media representations of women became far more toxic. In fact, as women continue to make headway, our counterparts on television become weaker and more sexualized, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. This is a way of making equality harder to achieve.

Just because we’ve made progress doesn’t mean we don’t have more to get done. And the latest study on representation in media shows that there is still so much to do.

Love,

Victoria

On Zoe Saldana

Dear Dad,

Today, I was browsing the ol’ Facebook and a friend of mine had posted a hilarious link to a Funny Or Die article about Zoe Saldana being typecast in roles where she has a weird skin color (please tell my you’ve seen her as the green Gamora in “Guardians of the Galaxy” by now?). I clicked on it, and was not disappointed. I’d actually buy tickets to see Aunt Jaundice or Pepto Abysmal.

Then, I went back to Facebook and discovered that the site had recommended three related articles: Zoe Saldana “bares all in Women’s Health UK,” Zoe Saldana’s “bangin’ curves” with the caption “And me likey,” and some article about her covering a “baby bump” by wearing black.

I was pretty disgusted.

Here we are, talking about a fabulously talented, intelligent actress. An article made a joke about how she’s played a blue woman and a green woman, and the only suggestions I get are about her hot body and her ability to procreate? Pretty disgusting, and pretty typical of our attitude toward women, especially celebrities.

It seems everywhere I turn there are stories about pregnant actresses, or singers in bikinis (hot or not?) or celebrities showing some skin. Zoe Saldana plays an incredibly tough space renegade and all Facebook can recommend is that I check out her curves. Kim Kardashian releases a phenomenally successful game and journalists are still bringing up her sex tape, or mocking her choice of husband. Nicki Minaj releases a single with a racy cover and men are simultaneously admonishing her for the sake of the children and adding that they appreciate her “perfect posterior.”

Gross! Can’t we for once talk about these women’s professional successes without reducing them to sex objects?

No?

Well, that’s upsetting.
Victoria