The Latin Bechdels – Part 3: The DAGGER Test

Disclaimer: I’ve taken way, way longer than intended to get this post out. Why? Because I wanted to figure out the perfect way to talk about the DAGGER without offending anyone. I’m not sure that’s possible; the DAGGER Test is designed specifically to call certain elements of fantasy–some of them beloved–into question. I took pains not to mention any particular series or novel, but I’m sure that the DAGGER will criticize something you love.

That said, I’m not naming names in this post because the goal here is not to call anyone out. And also because the weird, exclusionary elements or ideas that the DAGGER points out are all institutional.

That in mind, I’m not saying that any of the elements herein need to be abolished forever or that they are universally, eternally wrong.

All I’m trying to do with this post–if I’m destined to be a popular author one day–is give a large audience food for thought. My goal is to challenge a few old story standards, not start a flame war. 

That said, here we go.

We’ve finally made it to a long, serious discussion about what I’m calling the DAGGER (Degrees of Archaic, Grandfathered, Generalizing, Exclusionary Racism) Test. Unlike the last two, this one does not focus on racism against Latinos in fiction; instead, the DAGGER is about institutional racism, as a whole, in the fantasy genre.

Now, despite the name of the test, I don’t think the DAGGER is a violent thing (which probably means I should change the test’s name . . . but no). What the DAGGER exposes shouldn’t be looked at as really harsh, intentional racism. Instead, what it exposes is institutional racism; most of the stories that fail the DAGGER on any level don’t fail because the people responsible for them are horrible bigots. In most cases, creators fail the DAGGER because fantasy, like the rest of the entertainment, has a long-ingrained tendency to white-wash everything.

I think that, for most writers, it’s strangely difficult not to be exclusionary with fantasy. After all, the genre has its roots in medieval England–with characters exclusively speaking with heavy, British accents so often that we don’t even notice it anymore. Many fantasy stories focus solely on a cast that comes from royalty (even stories where the young prince is trying to save commoners rarely deals with the actual commoners). And fantasy races are a major part of many fantasy settings; if you take that fact and pair it with America’s pro-white tendencies, of course things are going to get hairy.

What I’m trying to say here is, I love fantasy. I love fantasy races as well. I love the idea of a story taking place on an enclosed continent, with the sea standing as a big, mysterious barrier between our characters and the Otherlands/the Far-away/the etc.

But I do think that there are certain standards we need to question as fantasy writers. A few practices that are a bit quaint that we should try to steer away from.

Classifying these quaint standards and making them into degrees that can be applied to stories is all that the DAGGER Test is about.

Do you want to figure out if your fantasy story is quaintly exclusionary of real-life races? Take the DAGGER Test. The more degrees your story has, the more exclusionary it is.

The DAGGER Test

Criteria for Passing: Your fantasy story has none of the seven following degrees of institutional racism.

    1. Your fantasy world features no people of color. The entire world has been explored, but nowhere in that thriving fantasy world does a person of color exist. This does not apply to a fantasy world where the entire planet has not been explored (i.e. analogues of medieval England). Not every series clarifies this point, but The Wheel of Time is a good example of a story that makes it clear that there are other cultures in distant lands and across the seas.
    2. Your fantasy world features people of color, but none of them are named and none find their way into your plot. Because it’s as unlikely as it is unwittingly exclusionary (in most cases [I choose to believe]).
    3. Your fantasy world features people of color who double as a character class. While fantasy cultures can be really cool, sometimes, they’re awkwardly one-note. For made-up example, if “He’s a Vaneth assassin” is synonymous with “He’s a Vaneth,” the end product is a very generalized culture. “He/she is Vaneth, which means he/she only does the one thing that Vaneth are good for.” To be clear, this does not apply in a case where the fantasy culture is shown to be complex, with varying social tiers, jobs, ideas, etc.
    4. Your fantasy world only features either white Humans . . . or abnormal/inhuman fantasy races of varied skin color. I feel like this one is a bizarre accident in most cases (a mixture of an enduring, old Hollywood preference for white characters mixed with a love of monster fantasy races [like orcs]). But still, if not handled correctly, that combo sends a really bad, subliminal message: “You’re white or you’re a monster person with weird-colored skin.”
    5. Your fantasy world features fantasy races that are also all white. The tendency to make all characters white often spills over to fantasy races. And, really, of course it does. There are some series that challenge this very well (The Elder Scrolls series does an awesome job of presenting elves of varying skin color and culture), but most of the time, its an all white cast of humans, dwarves, and elves saving the day. It’s neither better nor worse than the fourth degree; it’s exclusionary in its own way.
    6. Your fantasy story features a fantasy race that is better than all of the others. That race is also whiter than all of the others. Although I love them, elves, who typically sing better, dance better, make superior weaponry, and use superior magic, are often exclusively light-skinned, commonly with bleach blonde hair and bright blue eyes. In stories that feature drow, this degree doesn’t apply only if the drow are not portrayed as evil/thieves (Extra Disclaimer: I also love drow, but I have to call it like I see it).
    7. Your fantasy story features people from far away lands, but they’re all just white people who dress and/or talk differently. Because sometimes ethnicity in a fantasy world amounts to other white people getting wacky with their color choices. To be clear, this does not apply to people in a distant town on the same, enclosed continent; if I traveled south on horse back, I’m going to find people who sound different and dress differently from how I dress (it’s called the south and I’m scared of it). Here, the problem is when invaders arrive from a different continent, wearing crazy armor that looks like it’s made out of swords (or whatever) and they’re all . . . still white people for some reason. Now, hey, vikings. I know. It isn’t unrealistic for a race of white invaders to lay siege on a continent controlled by another white race. All I’m saying is that maybe we should question when the invaders/foreign delegates/etc. are also white but wearing different clothes. Is there a strong, creative reason for it? . . . Or was it just an easy, reflex choice? Are you trying to mirror actual history or are you just shying away from representing people of color?

Now, considering these degrees, you probably know a fantasy series (again, not naming names here) that has a little or a lot of DAGGER in it. And, really, almost everything does.

But, again, the goal here isn’t to point fingers or sling flame. It’s to cast an evaluative eye on fantasy as a whole–it’s weird, quaint predilections.

So, for anyone reading this, I’m not asking for you to raise arms against me or anyone else. I’m asking you to just consider the DAGGER. Particularly for aspiring fantasy writers, take the DAGGER with you. Please.

Because, if there was ever a time for us to start re-evaluating fantasy, as Americans, it’s now. Just the other day, I saw on Facebook that Chick-fil-A (seriously, Chick-fil-A) of all places finally stopped making contributions to anti-gay groups.

Hearing that and thinking about other recent events here in America, with our government and our people getting amazingly progressive . . . maybe it’s also time for us to question the standards of fantasy. Not to abolish elves, stories on enclosed continents, or stories logically dominated by white characters–I’d never suggest any of that–but to actually cast a raised eyebrow at those ideas. Time for some of us to reconsider putting them in our stories. Time to make harder, more complicated choices about the characters we put into our work. Time to acknowledge that America’s tendency to white-wash has gotten into everything.

And to work against that. Because slowly, finally, America, as a whole is working against the white wash and I don’t want fantasy–my beloved, amazing fantasy–to miss out.

—Project Updates—

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-9.26.15As is almost . . . always the case with my sci-fi stories, I soft quit on “Reset.” What does that mean? Well, I definitely didn’t throw my hands up in frustration. There was no, “I can’t write this!” I just took a break from it (to figure out a snag that I totally figured out) . . . right as I found the perfect setting and tone for my fantasy short, “Rainwater’s Archaic Goods.” And, holy shit, wouldn’t you know it, the moment I started brainstorming details for “Rainwater,” I just forgot about “Reset.” At no point did I groan an exhausted, “I have to put this story on the back burner.” Nope. There was just a recent, “Oh, right! ‘Reset!’ I . . . was supposed to be writing that.”

And now, talking about it, I realize that “Dream Runner” was also sci-fi . . . I’m seeing a pattern here. I will go back to “Reset” at some point, but not while I’m burning to finish/polish/submit a group of strong fantasy pieces.

When it comes to my goals from last time, I wound up spending all of my recent writing time editing “Aixa,” which I’m submitting this weekend. Memory edits have been slow because–full disclosure–I burned out on edits and I had no idea if some of the changes I was making where hurting or helping the novel. So I had to step away, although I’m going right back after I send “Aixa.”

Well, that wraps up this controversial series of posts on racism. And man am I grateful; this one in particular was a study in, “How can I write something that’s guaranteed to piss people off . . . without pissing them off?” Oy.

If you enjoyed this post, I always appreciate a Like or Follow. But, regardless of all that, thank you just for passing by. And, as always, write well.

The Latin Bechdels – Part 2: The Latin Lover Test

It’s been a little over two weeks since I posted the first part of my Latin Bechdels series. Since then, I’ve continued casually subjecting everything I watch, read, or play to the CAR Test. Nothing new has passed; there are only ever new failures for the CAR.

Zoo? Despite its culturally diverse cast, that’s a fail.

Rick and Morty? I want to believe, but I’m pretty sure Rick Sanchez’ last name is only “Sanchez” because it’s funny. Besides, Rick is technically a criminal so he wouldn’t pass anyway. But holy shit if Rick Sanchez is actually Hispanic! Because, seriously, a Hispanic protagonist? In a widely popular American anything? That is actually rarer than finding a unicorn. A Hispanic protagonist who’s a scientist? That’s like finding you were a unicorn this entire time.

Fair warning: I’m writing this at 4 AM.

Anyway, let’s not let the unending barrage of CAR Test failures keep us down. Let’s talk about a test that most media passes! But a test for which the failing grade is I. I as in, “I can’t believe people still make this joke.”

Let’s talk about the Latin Lover Test!

The Latin Lover Test

Criteria for Failure: Your story features a Latino or Hispanic male character whose personality traits are dominated by or include an immediate, cartoon-ish determination to have sex with a female character.

Bonus: This character actually says, “Oh, hello, pretty lady,” in Telemundo voice the moment he sees whatever woman he creeps on for the rest of the story.

*If your story doesn’t feature a named Latino or Hispanic character–if, instead, the Latin Lover is used as a disembodied gag (i.e. a replacement personality for a non-Latino character who has hit their head/gotten comedic amnesia/etc.), that story extra fails the Latin Lover Test.

I’m going to keep it short and sweet with this one, because I feel it should be really obvious why using the latin lover–in anything–is bad.

My full explanation: It’s racist humor from the 40’s.

That’s it. Seriously, it’s an obviously demeaning racist gag that’s decades old, grandfathered into American culture so firmly that it’s still being used.

It’s also pathetically easy comic relief. Need a quick laugh? Don’t want to actually work for it? Then dump the Latin Lover into your story! No tact required!

A simpler perspective on it:

Blackface? Obviously not cool.

Gross, joke Asian characters? No!

The latin lover stereotype? Oh, that one’s still okay.

. . .

Let’s take a look at what properties could possibly be ignorant enough to fail the Latin Lover test. You won’t be surprised.

Properties that Fail

Toy Story 3 – I lied.

I absolutely love the Toy Story movies. I think they’re great.

But that doesn’t mean Toy Story 3 isn’t incredibly racist.

Partway through the movie, Buzz Lightyear has his language setting changed from English to Spanish. That single change instantly 180’s his personality, making him go from level-headed, adventure-loving astronaut . . .

. . . to Latino horndog, trying relentlessly to bone Jessie. There’s not even a hint of who he was; he is immediately a stereotype, present for comic relief and nothing else. If I remember correctly, the movie walks us through a few matador stereotypes too. Because, ya know, that’s what men do in Spain–walk around with roses in their mouths and gross-flirt.

I know–I know it’s an animated film–but the Latin Lover is still so… casually offensive. And easy; really, so fucking easy.

If you’re on the defensive about this, just take a moment to imagine a non-offensive alternative; Buzz Lightyear has his language switch turned to Spanish and is the same person but now struggles with being understood. To pour on the humor, let Buzz see a glaring plothole/solution that would neatly wrap up the the movie’s entire conflict in the first or second act–but no one understands him. He can desperately try to point it out while everyone stares, taking progressively less realistic guesses at what he’s trying to say.

The sad thing? Coming up with the non-offensive alternative to the Latin Lover wasn’t actually hard at all.

Moving on.

Final Fantasy XII – It was ages ago, but I still remember meeting Al-Cid in that game. We get our first glimpse of him when he interrupts a meeting the protagonists are having.

I remember that, when he opened his mouth and had a strong, Spanish accent, I thought, “Whoa! A Hispanic character in Final Fantasy? Awesome!”

Then he almost instantly gets on one knee in front of Ashe, the female lead. Kisses her hand. Continues holding it as he starts in with, “Stunning is Dalmasca’s desert bloom,” because Ashe is the princess of Dalmasca. Immediately, another character groans in disgust.

So did I.

Did Al-Cid have a character outside of being a gross caricature? I have no idea and I never will. I instantly popped FFXII out of my PS2 without saving and haven’t touched a FF game since.

Properties that Pass

Red VS Blue – It’s weird to bring up this ancient web series, but I do it to provide a direct reply to Toy Story 3. Yes, when it comes to what’s more racist, a crass, turn-of-the-century machinima based on Halo–the franchise with space marines killing aliens–is actually less racist than the family friendly movie about kids’ toys.

Bear with me on this one.

In RVB, the mechanic for Red Team is a robot named Lopez. For fifteen episodes, he doesn’t have a speech unit, but when Red Team eventually gets their hands on one, it’s damaged on instillation. The result? Although he can understand everyone else, Lopez can only speak Spanish.

And, from there, the robot does not become a horndog. He doesn’t become a matador, doesn’t start humping Tex’s leg, and he doesn’t suddenly weld a rose to the mouth of his combat visor.

The robot remains a mechanic. Literally the only difference: he speaks Spanish now.

Is it weird that the only Hispanic character on the show is a robot? Yes. Is it weird that the only Hispanic character on the show is a Mexican worker? Even though there are obviously hard working Mexicans in the USA, yeah, it’s still weird that Lopez is a stereotype. Is RVB tasteless in a lot of other ways? Absolutely.

But is Lopez his own character? Yes, he is. He’s melodramatic. He thinks of the Red’s Sarge as his dad because Sarge built him. He talks way too much and is super loyal to Red Team.

In short, he’s still a joke character, sure, but at least he’s not a quaintly racist gag.

Aside from The Flash, I honestly can’t think of another property that passes both the CAR and the Latin Lover Test – The Flash, is officially a bright, shining beacon of representation for Latino characters in fantasy, but I already talked about Cisco in the last post.

The more important point for me to make here… I genuinely can’t think of another popular, American series that passes both the CAR and the Latin Lover.

Because, usually, these tests are mutually exclusive–a Hispanic character is either a criminal/an ex-criminal/a person who’s related to a criminal, or they’re a gross stereotype.

It’s a weird thing to just openly write about all of this–like I’m breaking some unspoken code of conduct. Like someone’s going to bear down on me about how wrong I am to criticize an old joke character. I’m not sure why; maybe because it’s always been the Latin American modus operandi to just shrug these things off.

Regardless, we’re going to keep talking about all of this in two weeks, when I get to the test I’ve really wanted to write about this entire time–the DAGGER Test. It’ll be about racism, as a whole, in fantasy, so if you love fantasy, you won’t want to miss it.

—Project Updates—

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-8.30.15-(InPost)Had a weirdly intense breakthrough while brainstorming my novel for this year’s NaNoWriMo. The result? It totally invalidated a few of the short stories I was working on. Dream Runner? Possibly out because its message is done better by the NaNoWriMo novel. Another short I was planning? Same thing.

The other two shorts have endured similar creative weirdness. One of them has snowballed into a potential novel. The other I realized I need to take apart from the ground up (at least I caught it before finishing it).

My goals for next time:

  1. Finish editing Memory.
  2. Submit “Aixa” again.
  3. Finish one of the remaining shorts, now whittled down to the two that are worth finishing.

 

 

—Acknowledgements—

Thanks for the Likes . . .

. . . moteridgerider! I appreciate the support!

. . . Damyanti! Check out her Q&A with playright/author Michele Lee! It’s a really interesting read–especially if you’re an aspiring playwright!

. . . Megan Manzano! The Manzano clan is currently knee deep in the 777 Challenge, and Megan’s contribution was pretty solid!

. . . Justine Manzano! Her post from the Dark Side of submissions is definitely comforting for any writer who struggles with them (i.e. all writers).

And that about wraps it up! If you like what you’ve read, consider giving this post a Like or giving me a Follow.

But even if you don’t, thank you for reading. And, as always, write well.

The Latin Bechdels – Part 1: The CAR Test

It’s been almost two years since I first talked about Earth-Modern race in fantasy on this site. Two whole years and the world has changed a lot. At least, lately, America is coming along. Same sex marriage has been legalized. The confederate flag has finally been thrown into question. And I’ve lost at least two pounds (seriously, I got weighed at the doctor’s office the other day and I’ve lost two whole pounds).

Being a latino though, the bit of news I’m most grateful for is Donald Trump’s racist rant against Mexicans. Not because I’m an impossible idiot who agrees with him–I don’t–but because it’s finally opened the door for casual talk about Latin American and Hispanic culture. People are finally aware that–specifically–Mexicans have a voice and aren’t just a silent work force, and–more broadly–that Latin American culture is a thing that can’t be trivialized or ignored. People are out there, right now, watching videos about the difference between “Latino” and “Hispanic.” Or they’ve at least seen that video of the Mexican construction worker talking smack on Trump. That means there’s an opportunity for people like me to speak up–say things like, “Yes. Yes, latinos are also here in America–hello–and no, we aren’t just drug dealers or gangbangers, like you see on TV.”

And, for me (closet bureaucrat that I am) it’s also an opportunity to create three tests–in the spirit of the Bechdel test–that dictate whether fictional stories are archaically racist against Latinos!

And write a whooole mess of posts about them!

Ladies and gentlemen, this is the first of a three parter, The Latin Bechdels. I was fully intending to make this one post, but talking about the very first test ran on way, way longer than I intended. So, instead, I’m devoting the next month to discussing my three tests for racism. Two of these tests are applicable to all fiction, but the last one is only for fantasy. They are the Cops and Robbers (CAR) Test; The Latin Lover Test; and the Degrees of Archaic, Guiltlessly Generalizing, Exclusionary Racism (DAGGER) Test specifically for fantasy. That’s right–DAGGER. Because I could and it sounded awesome.

Today, we’re starting with the CAR Test.

The CAR Test

Criteria for Failure: the named Latino or Hispanic characters in your story are either criminals, cops who are reformed criminals, cops who are related to criminals, or civilians . . . who are related to criminals.

Not having a Latino or Hispanic character to begin with is an automatic failure.

I was considering naming this one “the Trump Test,” but I don’t want his stupidity to live on, so instead, we’re going with a disarmingly playful name for a facet of fictional racism that has bothered me since I was young.

You’d be surprised by how completely everything fails the CAR Test. Seriously, when it comes to general fiction, you are almost guaranteed two things: 1) you will not get a named Latino character, but 2) if you do get a named Latino character, their arcs will always depend on being, having been, or knowing a criminal. I think the implications are clear here; if you’re Latino, you either are a criminal or know someone who’s a criminal. The inherent racism and slack-jawed assumption in that kind of thinking is obvious, so I won’t delve into it.

Instead, I’ll tell you to just take the CAR Test for a spin (don’t think about that pun–I hate myself for it). Test it out and discover that, in most movies, any Latinos who appear have a depressingly high chance of being gun-toting drug dealers, or cops who are only cops because they grew up with gun-toting drug dealers.

Of course, you can apply CAR to any race, but it’s at its best (worst) when applied to Latino or Hispanic characters. There are stories that pass (I mention two below), but if the stars align and a movie or show even features a named Latino, chances are it’s going to fail the CAR anyway. Like these fantastic examples:

Properties that Fail

The Walking Dead – In season one, Felipe is the leader of the Vatos gang. Yes, they were taking care of elderly people. But, no, the plot twist, “The Hispanic criminals are actually nice! Whoa!” isn’t a plot twist that excites me in any way. Felipe and his thugs are around for a single episode.

Two seasons later, another Latino finally appears, but, of course, he’s Tomas, the most unlikable of the criminals holed up at West Georgia Correctional Facility (or “the prison,” as it’s usually called). By the end of his second episode, Tomas is dead at the hands of our protagonist.

Another season later, the show finally introduces Rosita Espinosa. But, of course, by this point, The Walking Dead has already super–ultra–failed the CAR Test.

Ant-Man – This was pretty depressing for me, but Marvel’s Ant-Man actually goes above and beyond with the CAR Test, failing so spectacularly that it’s actually offensive for all races.

In a predominately white cast, the protagonist is Scott Lang, an altruistic, tech-saavy ex-con. His partners–who are all completely unapologetic and active criminals–are a Hispanic man, an African American man, and a Russian American immigrant, all three of whom act as bizarre race caricatures for comic relief, their intelligence routinely jabbed throughout the film for laughs.

The Hispanic man, Luis, spends most of his screen time talking very quickly and acting masculine in front of the female lead, Hope Pym, in an obvious attempt to get into her pants.

The African American man, Dave, only makes a significant contribution to the story by quickly stealing a car to divert police attention–a contribution he squanders by over-excitedly throwing his hands around in celebration and accidentally honking the gag horn of the team’s disguised truck.

The Russian American immigrant, Kurt, is the tamest of the bunch–a hacker who seems intelligent–but is still portrayed as an idiot whose most notable character trait is arguably his heavy accent.

All three of these characters are, at one point, literally science-talked to sleep. Not as a side note but as one of the movie’s direct jokes; the protagonist displays his powers and all three of his minority side kicks freak out. The following scene has Hope Pym explain that she fed them some drugs and explained the science of the Ant-Man suit to them, which made them fall asleep almost instantly.

Let me just rephrase and restate that joke: after the movie’s only three minorities freak out over a character’s super powers–in a universe where super powers are now common and accepted–a white scientist says to a white super hero, “I gave the minorities some Xanax and talked science at them for a few minutes. The combination of a name brand anxiety drug with smart person talk shut off their stupid, minority brains like a bird cage cover puts a bird to sleep. Even the Russian hacker couldn’t stay awake . . . Comedy!”

. . . Yeah. I think that just about captures all of the weird racism of that joke.

Moving on . . .

Properties that Pass

The Flash At first, I thought Cisco Ramon was really annoying. It’s the villain naming thing; the villains’ rebooted, TV aesthetics really, really clash class with their old-timey, Silver Age names, making each naming really cringey. Cisco decides, “He’s the Pied Piper,” and I think, “Why? Because he has gauntlets that make sound? That’s a pretty big stretch for Pied Piper; he doesn’t even have an instrument. Why not Shockwave or Soundwave or–oh right. It’s because this character was created in 1959.”

But then I realized, “OMFG he actually isn’t an ex-criminal! He’s just a smart Latino! Who does science!” Of course, I’m still waiting for the day when we get more of his backstory and find out about . . . fuck–I don’t know–Ignacio the Dragon, Cisco’s other brother who leads a drug cartel somewhere and gets super powers from . . . I don’t even know who. <sigh> It’s going to happen.

Daredevil – (I’m sorry. I watch a lot of super hero shows, alright? It’s technically fantasy–what do you expect?) Claire Temple is at least portrayed by a Latina (Rosario Dawson). Granted, I grew up with the disappointment of seeing Latino actors and actresses playing non-stereotypical characters in movies only to learn that they’re portraying other ethnicities, so Claire Temple is a hard call; she might not be Latina at all. Still, she seems to be an intelligent, well-spoken Latin American character who isn’t a criminal or related to criminals.

And, regardless, Elena Cardenas (Judith Delgado) is an adorably accurate depiction of an abuela. Yes, she’s a side character, but she’s still a named Hispanic character with no connection to criminals. It happens so rarely that I’ll take it as a win!

And, with that, I think I’ve said enough about the CAR Test. Did I say too much? Maybe. But has the CAR been brewing in my mind for decades? Really frustrating decades? Absolutely.

Hopefully, you were as horrified by the test. If you were–if you stopped to test some of your favorite movies and found that they failed miserably (even The Avengers! Hooray!)–drop a comment below. I’d love to hear about it–although I’d really, really love to hear it if you found a movie that passes the CAR.

Drop by again in two weeks, when I’ll dish on the Latin Lover Test, which forces us to consider a really overused and incredibly frustrating racial stereotype that people still laugh at to this very day.

— Project Updates —

LS-ProgressBar(3.0)-8.12.15-(InPost)Disclaimer: Apologies about the how tiny this Progress Tab is. The next biggest size was obnoxious. If you’re reading this after my next post, click the Tab here for a better look.

I made a new Progress Tab to reflect my weird, unexpected, on-going writing trends. That surge of short stories? That never really calmed down. The result: I’m working on a ton of ideas that I quit on a long time ago (including a few that I didn’t list there because I’m still figuring out how to make actual stories out of them). “Rainwater,” “Reset,” and “Dream Runner” are stories that I’ve already started, however–all halfway done.

Thus the change; I kept making new tabs with progress bars that never moved (the last few months I’ve started “Writing” projects that have always jumped to “Editing” two weeks later), so I’ve streamlined. The only progress indicators that remain are the terrible, ever-present ticks for submissions.

 

— Acknowledgements —

Thanks for the Follows . . .

. . . Siuquxebooks! It’s a blog that posts recommendations for Mystery/Thrillers, so it’s not really my thing, but I appreciate the Follow regardless, of course!

. . . and Jack J. Binding! His post on social media is absolutely fantastic. As a man who tries and fails to find patience for Twitter on a daily basis, absolutely hates Facebook, and also says an unabashed “fuck you” to Pinterest, how could I not love that post?

And thanks for the Likes . . .

. . . Megan Manzano! Her latest post, on YA’s over-dependence on romance, posed some pretty interesting questions about the genre. Full disclosure: I haven’t read a lot of YA, but I always love challenging tropes. And I’m pretty anti-romance (not the genre, but the plot element), so, naturally, bitter fuck that I am, I had to like that post . . . Give it a read!

. . . Siuquxebooks! Thanks again!

. . . Damyanti! Seriously, I could not help linking this post about the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. I was once a super secure writer, but now, I can safely say that the submissions process has completely changed my mind about that! So I absolutely have to support any group that supports struggling writers. It is a rough business. If you’re a writer struggling with the craft, check out IWSG. I definitely will.

. . . and James Radcliffe! His latest post takes a look at why he’s getting happier as he gets older, which turns into a listing of the five elements of his life that contribute to his on-going happiness. As someone who absolutely needs an outlet for some bad and inlet for some good, I have to give you a firm thanks, sir; your post gave me a few interesting ideas.

That’s it for this week. If you’ve liked what you read, consider giving me a Like or Follow; it’s fine if you don’t, but I’d appreciate it if you do! As always, you can find me fitfully posting on Twitter as @LSantiagoAuthor.

Either way, thank you for reading. And, as always, write well.

The Weird, Casual Sexism of Nerddom – Part 2: The Free Female Protagonist

So, here we are; the final part of my series about sexism in nerddom. We’re going to wrap up with a look at nerd narrative. I feel like nerd culture is at a point where it’s floundering for a firm grasp on portraying women. People are trying, but they’re also still ascribing to old standards and clinging to old stereotypes, making progress really slow and making what I think of as the “Free Female Protagonist” ridiculously rare. Defining that Free Female Protagonist, as I see her, is what I’m going to try to do here. Fair warning: I’m going to do it in a round-about way, mimicking how I came to the idea. More fair warning: in order to do this, I am also going to sound like a petty bastard quite a bit… Let’s get started!

The Not-So-Obvious, Narrative Kind of Sexism

I hate River Song.

I understand it’s a point of contention for Whovians, and I’d also like to point out immediately that I have enjoyed a lot of Steven Moffat’s work and respect him a lot as a writer. However, I’ve never liked River Song. And, initially, it was because of massively ham-fisted character bias; Moffat clearly loved her so much that he wrote a scene in which she made a Dalek beg for mercy. Maybe character bias is just my pet peeve (it is one of my Fiction Sins), but that’s not the only reason I disliked River.

And I didn’t realize it until I was at a friend’s place a few years back, watching an episode with her. Very likely, it was one that cold started with a long, panning body shot of her set to sexy music.

Now, unfortunately, I’m horrible at talking and I was a total idiot a few years ago. So, instead of trying to figure out why that intro was weird to me, I blurted out, “She’s not that attractive,” literally the first observation in a series that would ultimately lead to a non-offensive point.

My friend, very naturally, got offended for Alex Kingston. I tried to explain that she isn’t ugly—clearly she isn’t—but that it was weird that they were doing a long shot of her from toe to head with sultry saxophone. Not because Alex Kingston isn’t sultry sax worthy, but because…

… was that even the appeal of River Song???

At that point, what I understood about River came from “Silence in the Library” and “Forest of the Dead.” And what I took from those episodes was, “She’s extremely witty.” “She takes charge in difficult situations, which is awesome.” “She knows the Doctor really well and is also a time traveler—very intriguing.”

Essentially, what I took from those episodes is that she was a character… who had a lot of appeal that wasn’t centered around her being a sex object. And, of course, River could be sexy as well—River could be whatever she wanted to be. But River wasn’t calling the shots and neither was Alex Kingston (as far as I know). As far as I know, Steven Moffat was calling the shots. And the shots he decided to call that day were, “She’s a sex object.” An extremely stereotypical sex object.

And that’s when I started to hate River Song. This must sound incredibly nitpicky (“River can be all of those things I just listed, but what the hell!? Why was she then???”). But, in my eyes, this is that it was the start of River Song not being an actual character. This was the start of her being what I think of as a Catch All—a non-character who does everything that’s right and great and awesome by the sheer will of the writer… possibly because the writer doesn’t know how to make said character a person. This kind of character is everywhere (the perfect badass, cart-wheeling with guns blazing in both hands right before defusing the bomb with “00:01” left on the counter) and side-stepping a rant about how much I hate Catch Alls, I’ll get to the point; River isn’t that bad, but she was still suddenly thin and obvious.”I bet River knows how to hack / program / work this thing no one else understands.” “I bet that—unless it’s time for the Doctor to figure things out—River will.” “I bet River can kill a Dalek with no fear.” And, for me, that all started with her, on top of everything else, also having to be a femme fatale, one of the many stereotypes I hate.

But I didn’t convey this well at all to my friend years ago and kept quiet about it for the time it took to casually figure it out.

But then, this graphic happened:
is-doctor-who-sexist-01-2
I know. It’s not finite evidence that I was right about her being a Catch All—this graphic highlights a completely different set of flaws with the majority of Moffat’s run. But those flaws came as absolutely no surprise to me; this graphic, linked to me years later, only pointed out other reasons I didn’t like River without realizing. All she cared about was the Doctor, much like Amy; for a supposedly strong, independent female character, most of her screen time was spent fawning over him. And she did this despite their love not being well conveyed at all; she loves the Doctor not for a concrete experience that we’re shown (as we actually are with Amy)—she loves the Doctor because we’re told she loves the Doctor and that he loves her. And all of this resonated with my notion of her as a non-character—a plot device with dialogue.

But it took forever for me to see it because she’s one of countless female non-characters who exist throughout all of fiction. I’m talking about nerdy things and fantasy because it’s what I do, but the fact remains that there are go-to, male-centric ideas about / approaches to female characters that persist—and result in strange, subtly off characters like River. Women will cling to men in a story and never interact with other women. Often there aren’t many named women in a story, and if there are, they will, like River Song and Amy Pond, be fixated with a single male character. The Bechdel test highlights these standards very, very clearly. If you don’t know about it, you should check it out and you should absolutely take the test for all of your writing (even beyond sexism, it’s just an awesome reviewing tool for your work [and if I didn’t care about drawing attention away from sexism, I’d try to make similar tools to foster realism and diversity in narrative]). Subjecting some of your favorite stories to the test will also be eye-opening.

But all I’ve done so far is tell you what the Free Female Protagonist isn’t. And, I’m sorry, but I want to reinforce that more to make my point clear. So one more stop into the world of comics to talk about the idea that …

Women in Comics Are Strong Because They’re Like Men

It started with Captain Marvel.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Carol Danvers taking the mantel of Captain Marvel; arguably (to the very casual comic reader’s eye), she is more popular than Mar-Vell by far. I’m sure that an avid reader already has a list of reasons why I’m wrong, but I’ve seen a ton of Carol Danvers everywhere and almost no Mar-Vell in my time with comics. Besides, “captain” is a title and there’s no reason a woman can’t be a captain. So I was all for it. I’ve always loved Carol Danvers. Again, I’m not an avid comic reader, but she’s always been one of my favorite Avengers.

And then “Thor” happened.

Now… I am not upset at all that the new Thor is a woman—I think that’s awesome actually.

But I do think that it’s weird that the new Thor’s name… is Thor. Because “Thor” isn’t a title. If she was the new Captain America—cool. That makes sense. But “Thor”… is Thor’s name… Why do I not know the name of new Thor?

And, immediately, I know that this also sounds super nitpicky, because this is a step better than “She-Hulk” and “Ms. Marvel.” And maybe she does have a name. And maybe (hopefully) her name will be plastered on the cover of her new series and not… Thor’s name. But I can’t help assuming that won’t happen. From a business standpoint, I’m sure there’s a depressing, sexist branding conflict there; “But people won’t read a comic about girl Thor unless she’s heavily related to Thor!” At best, I’m assuming she’ll just take over in Journey into Mystery, which doesn’t make things much better.

And that’s the entire problem I’m getting at: the “new Thor” is still not where we need to be because she’s so heavily tied to Thor. Maybe that sounds odd, but my point that there is still, and always has been, another way to write a female mainstream superhero.

Make a mainstream, female super hero who is completely independent of a male super hero.

I will not make the argument that this undoes the progress that Carol Danvers makes as Captain Marvel—to me, that still works and is awesome. However, it seems like Marvel is searching for their Wonder Woman (the closest to an exception that I can think of)… and missing the fact that Wonder Woman is named Wonder Woman and not “new Superman.”

But I think that this is part of a strange suite of choices that comic writers seem to make every time they try to establish a strong female lead. Does she have a male super hero’s name (Thor)? Is she being related to a male super hero in any way (She-Hulk, Batwoman)? Is she scantily clad? I’m absolutely sure there are exceptions and I’m not sure that all of those choices are consistent.

But I’m also absolutely sure that, outside of (possibly) Wonder Woman, there is no completely independent, non-male reliant, big name, super hero comic female lead who is not doing time as a sex object. I don’t want to undermine the progress that has been made, but it’s time for the jump; it’s time to try to make a new, actually independent female super hero. Not new Thor. Not Star Duchess (it sounded funnier than Star Lady).

In short, it’s time for people to just try writing…

The Free Female Protagonist

What she isn’t:

  1. A non-character who does everything right.
  2. A scantily clad sex object (unless she’s honestly a character who wants to be sexy—she should be able to choose, after all).
  3. Attached to a male character who is established as stronger.
  4. Named after a male character.
  5. Obsessed with a male character.

What she is:

A woman. A woman written by a comfortable, brave writer.

Let’s have Madame Galaxy—a lame name off the top of my head. Let’s have a super hero with no ties to anyone and her own origin. Let’s not start her first issue by having her shouting about how she’s just as strong as a male super hero because that would immediately be awkward floundering; let’s just have her be a woman and awesome and let that be enough. Let’s embrace her relationship issues instead of glossing over them because she’s a human who will undoubtedly have relationship issues (especially if she’s straight because comic writers and artists clearly aren’t afraid to show women waking up next to / making out with other women—that’s very obvious at this point). And let’s flirt with the idea of maybe—maybe somewhere down the line having Madame Galaxy heading her own team of other super heroes with absolutely no male supervisors or Super- / Bat-peers to help her.

That is all I want. And it doesn’t seem like it’s happening enough. Thus, this article.

I want to see just Wonder Woman leading the Justice League. I cannot tell you why—I just think it would be awesome.

I want to see more characters like Korra from the Legend of Korra, who stands firm as one of my favorite protagonists of all time at this point.

And, whether my kids are boys or girls, I want them to have a collection of obvious female role models to look up to in nerd culture—without having to seek them out. And without having to lose them the way I lost Samus.

That is never going to happen if we don’t start writing those characters ourselves. So, to you, reading this, fight those standards if you’ve found that you don’t. Start with the Bechdel test. Don’t settle for being typical and comfortable; write women who are not damsels. Not femme fatales. Not bewbs in armorkinis. And don’t avoid writing them because damsels, femme fatales, and women who like armorkinis can’t or don’t exist or shouldn’t have their stories told for some reason. Try to avoid writing them because women are always more beautifully complicated and real than need, sex, and metal tits.

~~~

Well, that was a monster of a post. You can totally look forward to me kicking back for a short while. I will keep focusing on writing, but my next post is going to be an status update on my projects, centering around that totally full Progress Bar you might have noticed at the top of my page. I’ll talk about that and what comes next in the middle of the month! Until then, thank you for the read.

And, as always, write well.