Posts tagged gender issues
It is no secret that I love gender-bending fiction. I’ve read and reviewed many books over the years that delve into the topic. For the most part, I’ve found myself drawn to works that are written by women, bringing the male into the world of womanhood and giving a deeper insight into what that means. However, I’m always open to seeing how male authors take on femininity. When I came across mention of A Woman’s Passion by Alan Barrie, a book that’s been in print well over a decade, I wanted to give it a try and see what the genre was like back then. I went into this book hoping I’d love it. I came out of it more frustrated than satisfied, which made me sad.
The main character, aptly named Alan Barrie, is a self-proclaimed straight man who has long wondered what sex is like from a female perspective. Now, pushing aside the author insertion of naming the character after himself, the subject of sexuality comes up again and again, mainly to assure the reader that despite whatever feelings are developing between the characters, heterosexuality is to remain at the forefront. This is really about a man coming to terms with the fact he’s transgendered, but it’s couched in this time-limited forced feminization fantasy. More aggravating to me are the ideals that the book promotes in terms of what makes a woman who she is and how that relates to her sexuality. The book is very much a male fantasy that buys into the gender tropes rather than trying to tap into the female viewpoint.
After years of wondering what it’s like for a woman, being met with strange glances every time he brings it up, Alan finally finds a girlfriend who understands and wants to help, by way of some family magic. Her mother figure has the power to change Alan, for one week, into a woman. That way, he could get the full female experience, including the sex he so desires. But, wait, that won’t work because he’d still be a straight man inside his mind. Instead, they’ll make the transformation gradual and Cassandra will condition him to be a woman, to think and act like one, so that when his body is fully female he will have sexual desires for men. I think that’s what bothered me most. I find it offensive that the author sees sexuality as something that can be conditioned. The main character is not straight, no matter what he thinks. The fact that the author asserts that Alan can turn on and off his feelings by way of a one-week training session is hard to deal with. So, too, is the ideal of female desire that he is working toward. Alan takes on the name Allison during his transformation and, after the gradual process of changing, she becomes a 5’7″ woman who weighs only 118 pounds. This is after she recedes in age to 14 before aging again as a girl. I was constantly confused as to the reasoning behind this, other than to play out male fascination with female development.
The constant push towards helping Allison lose her virginity was the main theme of the week. It was why Alan chose to go through this experiment in the first place, but Allison flip flops on her desire to go through with it on multiple occasions. Alan is willing to stop the transformation half-way through the week, for fear that Cassandra will become jealous of his developing female sexuality. This is in conflict with the understanding that Cassandra is straight and does not look at Allison in a sexual manner most of the time. Both the characters are dealing with defining who they are and what they mean to one another, so it was nice to see that conflict acknowledged. However, the male/female interactions of Allison and her dates were not as appealing to me as the short scene in which she explores her body with a vibrator, a present left by Cassandra. In that scene, she’s not defining herself through male interaction, but instead coming to terms with herself and her desires. She and her body are one in that situation and I think the author shined in that exploration. I just wish the other scenes were up to these standards. Instead, I’m left with a book that promotes stereotypical experiences and gives a twist at the end that is essentially a get-out-of-jail-free card to all the changes and desires that have developed among these characters. Alan, as Allison, can have everything and not have to give up any part of his/her identity. It left me to question if this was truly what men think when they look at women and wonder “what if?”
I adore MPREG (male pregnancy) stories. Ask any of my friends and they might tell you that I talk about the gender exploration of the genre more than they’d like. So, as a result, I often seek out not only MPREG fanfiction, but also mainstream novels that utilize the trope. Yes, there are many. And when I noticed that “The Wiener Diaries” by Susanna Kramer was one such novel, I asked the author if I could review it. The concepts are good in this book. You’ve got a society that has suddenly developed a third sex, male-bearers, who are essentially hermaphrodites that can menstruate and get pregnant. The story focuses on a teen, Joss, who is such a person and how he deals with the identity of who he thinks he is versus who society thinks he is. So, yes, great concepts to explore. The execution, however, is a bit flawed.
This book feels like a first draft. It’s more scene, summary, scene, summary than a continuous storyline. The essential plot, Joss’ gender issues, are weighed down with red herrings and subplots that the novel doesn’t give time for. Max, who Joss has a one-night stand with and gets pregnant by, is cutting, yet that avenue isn’t actually dealt with in any way more than a passing mention. If he’s depressed enough to cut, possibly brought on by his big brother’s homophobia, then I would have liked to see that dealt with. Joss is the first male-bearer to become pregnant, though there are others immediately after him. However, society doesn’t seem to have a negative reaction to any of them when faced with them on the street. It’s just a calm acceptance of “a pregnant male-bearer is normal.” I would have loved to see some reaction, especially when it doesn’t seem like this society is very accepting of homosexuality despite the repeated assurances by the narrator. There’s a brief mention of one pregnant male who was killed and his baby removed from the womb that might give a hint towards a more sinister storyline, but that’s dropped quickly. And there’s a subplot about aliens having created this third gender, but they’re glossed over to a large extent. I was left unsure of who they were, what they looked like, and why they thought this path was the best one to take in achieving the peace they seemingly sought. Added to that, there is stilted language in the dialogue and noted editing and spelling errors throughout. Again, it feels like a first draft. I think many of these issues could have been cleared up with subsequent drafting and critiques.
One of the larger issues I had about the book was about the sexuality storyline. Joss falls into bed with Max out of nowhere and then repeatedly assures everyone he’s not gay. I can understand denying your own sexuality, I get that, but it’s more like everyone is against being labeled homosexual. Joss becomes pregnant and gets it confirmed by the doctor and his mother is more concerned with assuring herself that her son isn’t gay rather than dealing with the fact he’s pregnant and wants to give the baby to the scientists as soon as it’s born so that it can become a lab rat. Joss repeatedly says that as soon as the government will allow him, he’s going to get his female sex removed, thus becoming the full man he believes himself to be. Yet he has adults constantly telling him that it’s okay to experiment because he has both parts, giving him an out with the whole “I’m not gay” mindset. However, when the baby’s born and the doctor asks if he’d like to go through with the procedure to remove his female sex, he does an about-face. There was no lead-up or acceptance of his gender or sexuality, he just decides he’s okay with who he is randomly. I saw no motivation for the sudden turn in his thinking.
Gender exploration is hard and when a novel sets out to subvert the societal expectations of what it means to be male-gendered or female-gendered it’s made even more difficult. The spark of potential was there in this novel, but it was just not allowed to come through. I’m interested in what this third gender means for a society such as ours, as well as what the male experience is when dealing with menstruation and pregnancy. If those issues were given time enough to be explored, this could have been a great novel. Unfortunately, too many events and plots were condensed down into 140 pages so that all the interweaving plots got cheated. I’d love to see the author do short stories from this universe that has been created because I feel like there’s so much more to explore and I don’t want to give up on this world just yet.
Rating: 2 / 5 stars
Before last month I had never been to San Diego Comic-Con. I have been to WonderCon many times over the years but never made the trek down south. That has all changed. No longer am I a SDCC virgin. I had a general idea of what to expect from it, having attended WonderCon, only not really. The crowds are bigger, the panels more surprising and the after-parties more insane.
I had a general plan of which panels I HAD to see and those I would like to. I didn’t realize that Ballroom 20 meant a line outside, down the stairs “you better get there at 5am” kind of situation. I didn’t do that, but did find a friend who had so, yes, I got into the Game of Thrones panel. AWESOME! I was far far faaaar in the back but that doesn’t matter I got to hear the answers and dialogue before those of you who saw it online. SWEET!
I wanted to make sure I supported my friends who were on panels more so than see celebrities, because I am of the opinion that Friends are better than celebrities. In waiting for the Archaia Immortals panel I saw on the schedule that Dark Horse had something going on in the same room, and the door guards were letting people in mid-session. So I popped in with my friend Dina and, oh look, Guillermo Del Torro was on the panel; in a room with maybe 60 people in it. I was blown away; I didn’t see his name on the schedule he was just… there. He was, by the way, cracking jokes and cursing up a storm. That was probably my biggest, “HOLY CRAP” moment; mostly because it was so unexpected.
As anyone who knows me is aware I’m a huge Star Wars fan so of course I attended the Star Wars Lego panel. Where they showed clips from the new Lego Star Wars cartoon that aired that night (thank you Xfinity iPhone app! I was able to set my DVR to record it at home, from the panel; WE ARE IN THE FUTURE!). They also revealed a few new toys and a Lego Star Wars Advent Calendar. This is probably the coolest thing ever. Every year I get Seth an advent calendar, and every year it has crappy old chocolate. This year we will have the Star Wars Lego one for sure. They go on sale in October if you were unable to purchase it at the Con.
I also attended Bonnie Burton’s Star Wars craft panel on Sunday instead of waiting in the crazy person line for the Doctor Who panel (see again Friends are better than Celebrities, but I still love you crazy people I call friends who stood in that line!). She was hilarious as usual and entertained the crowd with stories about condiment googly eye murder scenes in the fridge and sparkly doggie poop with eyes. We made felt Yoda puppets from her Star Wars Craft Book. I own the book and it was on my list of projects so getting to make it with a bunch of other people was a lot of fun!
On Thursday morning I attended the much talked about “Oh, You Sexy Geek” panel. Kristen McHugh goes into the panel in detail here, so I will only touch on a few of my own personal observations and thoughts.
The fact that I am friends with and/or know ½ of the panelists and where they stand on the issue of sexy cosplay I was expecting a good back-and-forth. I was a little disappointed that the self-described “humorless feminists” did not make a larger effort to speak and get their points across. And I was even more disappointed when one panelist said to another “Well would you wear a Slave Leia costume?” This was said to someone who has never been seen in a Slave Leia costume, so from an audience member’s point-of-view it appeared to be an attack on her personally and not a legitimate attempt at furthering the conversation. On the specific topic of “Slave Leia” there is a post over at FanGirlBlog that makes the points I would love to, in a much more eloquent way than I ever could.
I have never identified as a “feminist” mostly because the feminists I had been exposed to were very much of the “This penis party’s got to go hey-HEY ho-HO” ilk and that is not a world view I agree with or wish to spread. I am also not one who enjoys looking at the world though one very specifically colored pair of glasses, always looking for a reason to get angry about things. However, recently I have been exposed to a much different flavor of feminism that falls more in line with my personal beliefs and view on things.
Which, in a much condensed and quickie version, are this: We are responsible for our actions and how we react to and feel about ourselves and the world we live in. We have no right to dictate what another individual does, says, wears, etc. unless that person is causing direct harm to us or another individual whose care is our responsibility. I do not believe that a girl walking around in a metal bikini is causing anyone any harm, so let her have her fun and who gives a damn if she is doing it to be “empowered” or just to be “sexy” or “cute” what matters is if she is having fun while doing it. And if she isn’t having fun doing it, then it is on her to make the necessary change.
One more thing I would like to talk about before we resume our regularly scheduled programming is the Chris Gore comment and subsequent fall out. Yes, Chris was late to the panel, bad on him; yes he made a bad joke, some of us speak before thinking perhaps he should look into that. I personally was not offended by it, mostly because it was not directed AT me, but also because I tend to have the sense of humor of a teenage boy (farts are HILARIOUS, so are poop jokes). The only individuals who truly have a right to be offended are the ladies on the panel; the comment was directed AT THEM and no one else. If they have a problem with it, it is their responsibility to address it with Chris. People seem to be forgetting that Kat asked him immediately after he said it if he was trying to get kicked off the panel, the moderator DID address it immediately. I was horrified when I saw this post online. It is one thing to be upset by a comment someone makes on a panel, to blog about it and discuss it with the person who said it if possible; it is another thing entirely to try and negatively impact their livelihood because of your upset feelings. That is taking your personal beliefs and feelings too far. It wasn’t as if he said he was GOING TO, or would do so against their will. He simply said he would be willing to. It was in poor taste, especially considering the content of the panel, but it certainly wasn’t a punishable offense to the extent of his livelihood being threatened.
I had an excellent time all around, my cosplays were well received, and I got to see friends old and new. Met some of my twitter friends in person for the first time and got some awesome graphic novels from the Archaia booth. Wednesday night I went on a Haunted Tour of San Diego with my friends Matt & AJ and had a BLAST! We didn’t see any ghosts but that’s ok, it was still fun and I found the “haunted” hotel where I hope to be able to stay next year. All in all it was an awesome 5 day vacation. It had its ups and downs, I had a few moments where my anxiety kicked into high gear and I needed time to myself. But the good far outweighed the bad and I cannot wait till next time!
Guest post written by T. Johnson. T. Johnson is a blogger, au pair, and part-time tutor who has been obsessed with science fiction and comics since roughly first grade. One of her life`s big revelations was discovering Wonder Woman comics-another milestone was starting to read the works of Heinlein and Aldous Huxley. She has always been convinced that girls can be as truly nerdy as any fanboy.
A blog post on Wired.com assets that the female characters of Cartoon Network`s Clone Wars are “over-sexualized” by their “scanty” attire, especially Jedi apprentice Ahsoka Tano and the older mentor Aayla Secura. The author admittedly makes a good case for this in some ways. Male Jedis of Clone Wars tend to wear long monk-like robes and/or practical cropped pants. Ahsoka and Aayla do wear somewhat less.
But I`m not sure if their clothing can be construed as scanty in the extreme. Consider Ahsoka`s costume: it consists of a leather halter top worn wth a short brown skirt and leggings. I never thought of it as particularly sexy or revealing. This is reinforced by the fact that AT is a character who is concerned with becoming a better Jedi, not dancing in a cantina. We usually see her in full-on action scenes, running,leaping, and wielding her light saber.
In fact, most costumes worn by comic book heroines are far more “scanty” (gasp)! Look at the stuff foisted on Supergirl. Everyone draws her with her navel front and center,regardless of what kind of shirt she wears. She and cousin Power Girl (to name but two examples) are also renowned for their amazing displays of cleavage. Marvel`s Emma Frost always sheds her snow-white or gray cloak to expose a white sports bra and miles of shapely legs. Next to these fan-boy favorites, Aayla and Ahsoka look amazingly modest.
Now, I’m no prude – showing skin (male and female) in comics and cartoons is a long-held tradition. Male heroes have always dressed to show off their chest and leg muscles, even in the fashion-conservative 40`s and 50`s. I’m sure many straight and gay folks enjoyed seeing them this way, and I do as well. But it`s interesting that no one worries about, say, Anakin Skywalker`s pants “over-sexualizing” him. This is something that is applied far more to female characters, as if they are somehow more vulnerable-even if they have good light saber skills or super strength. In fact, fretting about their attire sometimes seems to be a politically correct put-down.
A few months ago, the artists who draw Clone Wars modified Ahsoka Tano`s costume. She`s now wearing a long brown tunic and gray pants-like leggings (funny how this trouser option has never gone away, even in fiction). I`m not sure if fans will take her more seriously with covered legs. She never had much of a problem fighting in her other attire. It remains to be seen whether Aayla will suddenly cover her cleavage with a high-necked blouse. As noted above, I guess I did not notice clothing implications because I was far more interested in these women as valid people. Whether they rock short skirts or full body armor, the women of Clone Wars are competent and powerful.
A portion of this post can also be found at Nerd Society.
Cross-posted from The Carnival of the Random
If you click through, you’ll see the review of Game of Thrones from NYT’s Ginia Bellafante. I take issue with the entire slant of the review, since there is no substantive discussion of the series itself, and it plays more as a, “Oh this is such crap and it’s been tarted up to attract female viewers for the sex, but it’s macho crap and I don’t like it.” The troubling thing, is that as a reviewer, you’re supposed to review the material. Not intent, (unless a creator has told you what that is,) and what you think of the material. I get that Ms. Bellafante dislikes Game of Thrones, I just don’t really know why. I also feel like she’s attempted to bolster her view of it as, “Boy fiction,” by making a sweeping statement about what women do and don’t want from their entertainment. In fact, while I find it refreshing that she acknowledges women are interested in seeing sex onscreen (read more on my thoughts on that topic here), it’s disturbing that she doesn’t think women are interested in genre storytelling. Has Ms. Bellafante met the internet? I don’t think so. She also, clearly – did not do the research.
Lots of people, and lots of different types of people, read the NYT. If you say that no woman would ever want to watch something because women don’t like that genre, it will come back to bite you.
It has definitely bitten Ms. Bellafante.
When the link to the review came across my twitterfeed last night, via @cleolinda, my initial reaction to the tweet, “Women don’t like fantasy,” was, “LOLWUT,” because it was an obviously ridiculous statement.
After reading the review, I was incensed enough to email the NYT, post on my twitter and FB, and in the morning – all hell had broken loose.
I want to be clear – I don’t speak for all women. However, I can tell you that nearly ALL of the women I know, online and IRL, love genre storytelling. Comics, movies, television and books – give us fantasy, sci-fi, and horror, and we’re happy.
My question for the NYT, specifically Ginia Bellafante, is this: How is fiction gendered at all? A story is a story. Authors may be gendered, characters may be gendered, but story is neutral. That Bilbo and Frodo Baggins are male, doesn’t make me feel less interested in their stories. That Bella Swan is female, doesn’t make me more interested in hers. Do I want to see strong female characters? Yes, which is why I’m probably going to watch and enjoy Game of Thrones. Do I care if there’s sex or not? Only if it is integral to the story. If that’s where relationships go, that’s where they go. People have sex, even fictional people have sex.
Except when they don’t.
I suppose what I want the New York Times to acknowledge is this – women aren’t one thing. You can’t pander to us, and you can’t allow the publication of misogynistic statements, (even when they’re made by a woman,) without expecting backlash.
Given that the Times’ editors also allowed a heavily-misogynistic and rape-culture sympathetic article on the brutal gang-rape of a child to slip through their net, this gaffe, while minor in comparison, still represents an overall failure in journalism.
If no one Ms. Bellafante knows, would rather read The Hobbit, than Lorrie Moore, I’d say she ought to cultivate a wider circle of friends. I, and most of the women I know, would be just as open to reading Tolkien, Straub, Cherie Priest, E. Annie Proulx, or any of a hundred authors.
Stories aren’t gendered, but this review was certainly not neutral when it comes to what women want. That’s a really entitled and insulting way to address your audience, no matter what publication you are. I’m hoping the NYT sees fit to reach out to their readers, and maybe open up some space for women who disagree with Ms. Bellafante’s characterizations.
In the meantime, for more wonderful responses to this privileged fiasco, please go here for a great aggregated post with plenty of links to what women who love science fiction, fantasy, horror, and who are definitely, (defiantly, based on Ms. Bellafante’s review,) excited about Game of Thrones.
I started off intending to write this article as a straightforward review, but instead I found myself looking at the larger issue of gender change fiction and the aspects it often focuses on. Unlike gender swap fiction, where a character is suddenly put into a body of the opposite gender, gender change fiction is when a character either willingly or unwillingly takes on the gender aspects which is opposite to their own, more often men becoming women than vice versa. That may come from simply dressing as the opposite gender or taking on entire physical aspects. However, I’ve noticed a prevalence of that male femaling being focused on the elements of fetishism more than any other type of exploration.
One has merely to look at sites such a Fictionmania to see how active the aspect of gender change fiction is online. In many cases, when the change is not willing, the male character is dominated by a stronger female and forced to take on the role of a submissive. The theme seems to indicate that the female gender equates to being willing and being dominated. It leads one wonder why this stereotype is perpetrated through this type of fiction. As the permeation of fiction in gender change archives such as this is focused on the eroticism of changing gender roles, does it ruin the fantasy to bring reality or equality into the situation? Is the notion of a strong female character in direct opposition to the ideal of femininity, so much that men becoming women must give up that aspect of their personality?
Another prevalent theme of gender change fiction is the focus on the material trappings of what it means to be a woman. The book “Virgin Bride” by Thomas Newgen & Barbara Deloto illustrates this quite well. In the novel, a wife forces her husband to start dressing and acting like a woman, at first under the guise of going to a costume party but later it’s relied on for the aspect of domination. Meticulous detail is given during the first parts of transformation to focus on the clothing that he must wear and how that makes him feel sexually. Silk and satin is equated to femininity and that femininity is both a source of arousal as well as accepted identity. If he looks like a woman and acts like a woman, then he can become a woman. Asserting any type of resistance is seen as masculine, so he must take on the submissive role of willing female. Again, this type of novel is targeted towards the eroticism of gender change, of becoming someone you’re not to the point of being accepted within that role, so reality has no place in disrupting the fantasy created.
These types of stories serve a purpose to those who read them. It’s another type of pornography, but in literary form since it’s an area that cannot be easily explored through visual means. However, it also must be considered for what it’s portraying. The idealized woman in these situations is one that likes to be dominated, who must act and dress a certain way to appeal to the societal roles they are inhabiting. It reiterates the feeling that femininity cannot coexist alongside being a strong, independent person, and that’s what’s most detrimental of all. If we perpetuate the stereotype, even within fantasy, how will that translate to what we seek within reality?
I have always been drawn to body swap fiction. But just switching bodies isn’t enough for me. No, my ultimate attraction is when the body swap is combined with a gender swap. Boy in a girl’s body, girl in a boy’s body. The disorientation of not being the person you see in the mirror, coupled with having to learn how the other half of the population lives, is something that has always fascinated me. That’s why the self-published young adult novel “In My Shoes” by Adrian Stephens caught my eye. I asked the author if I could read and review it, so here we go!
First off, I had to get back into the mindset of young adult fiction. I’ve been out of the market for a while, but once I realigned my reading towards the genre, I found the novel interesting. It’s the typical plot of “they don’t understand each other, so now they’ll learn how to really understand each other.” Jake liked Nicole, but she wouldn’t give him the time of day. Little did they know that they’d soon learn more about one another than they ever expected. In the night, they switch bodies, and wake up to the surprising results. We get the routine plot points of how a boy learns to deal with a girl’s daily routine, how much easier it is for a girl to go through a boy’s routine, and how different their demeanor seems to the outside world. It’s all well-expected in a book such as this. However, I felt like there were many things missing from the explanation aspect of the novel.
The characters are around 17-18 years of age, but the dialogue and apparent obliviousness of their actions make it seem like they were much younger. I think the plot could have potentially worked better if their ages had been set back a few years. It would have made more sense to me in how they were acting. What’s more frustrating to me was the lack of explanation on why this happened. They switched bodies, yet I could never find a clear indication of why that happened. Jake and Nicole don’t seem that intent on finding the reason, either, since they never sought it out and instead waited around in hopes that it would sort itself out each night they went to sleep.
What was most lacking for me was the real exploration of being in the body of the opposite sex. Yes, we had multiple mentions of Nicole getting aroused at inopportune moments and we got the expected “Jake gets his period” scene, but everything was taken as routine and I would have liked to have seen it delved into deeper. These are teenagers who are already struggling with their identity and then their genders get switched, yet there wasn’t much exploration of feeling like they didn’t belong or questioning sexualities or any of the aspects I’ve come to expect in the gender swap genre.
The book as a whole was a good first attempt by an author finding their way in the writing marketplace. If you’re interested in gender swap fiction, I’d give this a look. Just be aware of the plot-lines that could have gone further, but were held back. And also be aware that, in my opinion, the book would have been stronger had the last chapter not been included because it time-jumped, but didn’t feel necessary. I would be interested in seeing how the author’s talent gets refined after multiple novels as I can see potential in the rough draft. Writing is a craft and we get stronger with each attempt.
Warning: Contains frank discussion of nudity, including some discussion of sexual content, in film, television, and theater.
Nudity and sex appeal seem to be loaded topics, particularly for women. As audience reviews of Danny Boyle’s production of Frankenstein at the National Theatre in London came out with the revelation that *gasp* the Creature is born naked and therefore the actor playing the role spends a bit of time STARK NAKED ONSTAGE, I started thinking about why this is so shocking.
Then, I read this roundtable at Geektress.com and found myself vexed. Very vexed. For several reasons, (not least of which is that whenever someone says that a character has to be played by someone that’s the nationality/race/orientation/etc., of the character, I feel the need to shout, “THAT’S WHY IT’S CALLED ACTING.”) My primary source of vexation is that the overall point seems to be that women don’t want their heroes to be sexy/sexual. Yes, it’s one discussion, and it’s a perfectly valid opinion, I won’t deny that. However, it feeds into a perception of women as not only incapable of genuinely lustful, sweaty desire, but as frail flowers who don’t want male nudity in film/television/theater and will faint at it when it’s presented.
Then, I sent a tweet meant to reject what is seen as a the prevailing point of view in pop culture, namely that women are only interested in a sort of chaste longing that has nothing to do with anything below the waist.
And my twitter feed blew up. In a good way. A frank discussion among women and men on what nudity in film/stage both obscures and reveals about a production, an audience, and how we (at least in the USA) perceive it. One point made during the conversation involved the dissolution of audience immersion in a work due to nudity that should be present and isn’t. For example: there are countless sex scenes where the female partner is completely nude but the male partner is still clothed, at least below the waist. Yet, in Sex and The City it seemed that nearly every cast member except Sarah Jessica Parker was seen in some state of undress over the six-season run. We discussed the lack of hot snogging in porn, and the aggressive misuse of male nudity there, my conclusion being that close-ups of heaving-thrusting-whatever body parts, does not equal hotness. Last but not least, we discussed the fact that so much female nudity in mainstream television and film serves no purpose but to serve the male gaze.
There’s the rub, finally. The myth of sexless female sexuality, the perpetuation of unfunny, unromantic (and very definitely unsexy) romantic comedies as serving the female gaze and interests and yet, men need boobies. Male actors in their 70s are shown as virile lovers of women 30 years their junior, yet women in their 40s are called, “Cougars,” and are vilified for dating men even a couple of years younger than themselves.
Tragically, the only mainstream film in the last five years to explicitly serve the female gaze, and directly address female desire, is Twilight. Yes, I said it. For as much as the dynamics of the series disturb the hell out of me, Twilight directly says that its protagonist has a desire for sex, thwarted though it may be by her suitors. She wants it and she’s unafraid to say it.
Perhaps one of the few adult (i.e., for grown-ups, not porn) films in the last decade that shows that sort of female desire, albeit with some very heavy-handed telegraphing of the consequences of it, is In The Cut. Once America’s Sweetheart, Meg Ryan’s portrayal of twisted relationships, ambiguity, and bluntly transgressive female desire did not do well at the box office, but it did show the audience that women can and do want all sorts of things society tells us we’re not supposed to.
In a strange instance of synchronicity, recently, I came across a New York Times piece that addresses the way we not only historically prefer violence over sex in US film, but have become even more repressive in the 21st century. Some of the reasons are laudable, as women feel empowered enough to say they won’t take their clothes off for a role, and some are ridiculous, as we seem to be so frightened of the mirror of art that the intimacy in a film like Blue Valentine is something we shy away from.
I keep coming back to my original statement: I endorse male full-frontal nudity in film, television and theatre. From Richard Gere in American Gigolo, to Bruce Willis in The Color of Night, to Ewan McGregor in – well, nearly every movie he made, prior to becoming Obi-Wan, to Martin Freeman in Nightwatching.
Perhaps it’s the fear of appearing inadequate due to the endless obssesion with penis-size, or perhaps it’s a fear that nudity will detract from an audience’s attention to a performance, (which strangely, never comes up for actresses) but male nudity is still verboten.
In comics, we’ve seen a history of pin-up proportioned superheroines and villainesses wearing costumes that would make a stripper blush. Even now, in the upcoming X-Men: First Class, Emma Frost appears to be wearing a glorified bra. In reality, it’s actually significantly less sexualized than her original comic-book costume. Mystique on film, has essentially been a lot of blue body paint, and strategic covering of anatomy as though it doesn’t exist, rather than costuming, per se. Catwoman is a leather/S&M festishists’ dream, in most incarnations, although I’m interested to see what Christopher Nolan and Anne Hathaway will bring us in The Dark Knight Rises. Still, what about what women want?
Yes, we’ve had the artificial hardbody and smooth playboy iterations of Batman and Bruce Wayne, the tights and cape of Superman, Spidey’s form-fitting suit and the raw sexuality of Hank Logan/Wolverine in those very tight jeans. In some ways, the exaggeration of comics and their film adaptations are better suited to serving the female gaze. Slightly hyppereal, but attractively drawn, (or cast) presentations of masculinity are a very good way of drawing in an underserved audience.
The New York Times article mentions Brokeback Mountain, and the article’s conclusion on the film’s appeal to a female audience is true. Yes, it is a moving, gripping, heartbreaking drama, but it also has gorgeous men in a gorgeous, if stark environment, with raw, painful, intensely passionate sexuality among all of its relationships.
We don’t get that in the portrayal of most straight romances, these days. Closer, (a dissection of the ways in which we betray and break each other, both sexually and emotionally,) has very little nudity, but an incredibly frank sense of sexuality that serves the male and female gaze equally.
So where are producers of film/telly in particular going wrong? Is it the simple assumption that women will be repulsed by the sight of a completely naked man, fear of the MPAA issuing an NC-17 rating, lack of studio funding, or is it an institutional memory that drifts to the formulaic?
In network television, much as it’s slammed as soapy entertainment without a lot of depth, the universe created by Shonda Rhimes, serves the female gaze in a deeply satisfying way. Patrick Dempsey, Eric Dane, Kevin McKidd, and Taye Diggs have been in some of the hottest sequences on Network TV, providing both the eye candy and romance, and I have had to pick my jaw up off the floor at scenes between McKidd and Sandra Oh, because when you not only have raw sexual chemistry, but the painful intimacy of broken people, well. . . it’s intense.
Go ahead and judge me, I watch Grey’s Anatomy.
Yes, Sex and The City was about the female gaze, but it was a gaze tempered by a traditional, rather than transgressive point of view. Sexual desire was less important than emotional desire and the consumerist desire, except for Samantha, and she was constantly slut-shamed.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, an exception to the rule, puts female desire on an equal footing with male desire, and while there are still consequences to that desire, they’re not one-sided consequences. Everybody gets hurt, everybody’s at risk, and desire can mean losing your soul, or gaining it back. Which is a little bit like the real world, if we’re all honest.
In conversation, women encouraged the attempt to de-mythologize female desire, and made clear that we’re not actually prone to getting the vapors at the mere idea of male nudity. (Well, not in the OMG, MY EYES, I CAN’T UNSEE THAT, HAND ME THE BRAIN BLEACH way) The overall consensus seems to be: YES, PLEASE, MORE NOW, I AM SO FREAKING TIRED OF SEEING ALL THESE BOOBS AND CASUAL FEMALE NUDITY.
I asked @SarahLister specifically, as someone who I trust in media/art analysis, for her opinion:
“It’s grossly underrepresented in American media, and this is of course, easy to blame entirely on a predominantly male gaze.” (Sarah is in Canada, which is a bit different to the US, for all we have in common.) She continued, “But it has to be said that while a nude/partially nude female is quite easy to pass off as artistic or acceptable these days, American standards criteria don’t really allow for male frontal nudity even though it’s no less natural than female nudity.”
This touches on something I mentioned earlier – ratings. The MPAA sees fit to rate a film PG-13 without including notice of animal cruelty, (The Roommate, and I’ll refer you to Scott Weinberg’s excellent rant on that topic) but even non-sexual full-frontal male nudity will likely get an R rating. The MPAA warns for male nudity in Grown-ups, Eat, Pray, Love, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall, but declines to warn for female nudity. That says to me that either female nudity is an expected component, or that the MPAA thinks America has a problem with dangly bits.
Have you seen the amount of porn this country consumes? It’s not all men watching it. Plenty of women watch porn, plenty of women enjoy it. (Although, we would very definitely like HEAT instead of FAKE, and better production values, please.)
Clearly, women are capable of seeing a penis and not passing out. Even one that isn’t safely flaccid and non-threatening. The consensus in discussion, and after asking for input on the subject, through my twitter feed can be found here and here.
I suppose, what I’m wondering, is this – in the mirror of media and pop culture, where is the female gaze? What is the female gaze? I don’t think it’s just one thing, after all. I think there’s room for smart, adult rom-coms, and more intense, mature filmmaking. I think we can cheer our superheroes- and -heroines, speculate on time travel, and enjoy a good high speed chase. Can we convince Hollywood of this though? I don’t know.
What do you think?
Here is an excerpt of an interview I had with local literary editor Alison Dickson. Find the rest at bonzuko.com. ~Prof. Jenn
5 Questions: Allison M. Dickson Interviewer: Jenn Zuko Boughn
1) How did you get into the editing gig? Do you like it? How does it compare to being a writer?
It really started in college, when I was always the go-to girl in peer editing groups in various writing classes. The act of editing has always come very naturally to me. Having an “ear” for another person’s voice is part of it, but I truly enjoy seeking out errors and looking for compelling ways to express something more visually. After college, I started doing beta reading for some writer friends and one of them was so impressed and suggested that I should consider looking for ways to get paid to do it. That stuck with me. Since I was a stay-at-home mom in need of additional income, and I loved doing it, I figured why not give it a go? I started researching the freelance editing market, getting a feel for the services other companies offered, as well as thinking of ways I could set myself apart from the pack. Eventually, Allison Edits was born. The little company has undergone some adjustments since its inception, and there have been some moments when I’ve asked myself what the heck I’ve gotten myself into, but overall, I have found it to be rewarding. Overall, I bill myself as a “boutique” service. I don’t have a staff or a fancy uploader on my site. Instead, what you get is me devoting as much time and effort as possible into delivering the best edit for your work and making you feel more confident as you wade through the process of getting published. It’s a jungle out there.
Unfortunately, editing takes time away from my writing. I find that when I’m in the course of a hard edit, I’m devoting most of my creative energies to the client. And that’s fine. But I’ve never been able to edit and write in tandem. However, I have found that editing someone else’s work has often given me the inspiration or energy to tackle my own projects again after I’ve finished. And when I do, I find that I write better. I recommend all writers network with other folks in the craft so that they have the opportunity to beta read and edit other writing, even free of charge. It’s easier to see shortcomings in other people’s work than it is your own, and so it’s a priceless educational experience in what not to do.
So, this guest post is part of an ongoing series of posts that will be bouncing back and forth between Nerds in Babeland and Tia-Marie. The impetus behind this series can be found at Tia Marie’s blog (I’m Sick of the ‘Women in Tech’ debate).
In high school I was one of the top students in almost all of my math classes, but I also had serious confidence issues. Sadly, I gave up on those pursuits in math and science because it wasn’t “popular” to be smart in those areas (at least not at my school) and it was much “cooler” to be in drama club and do well in English. Yes, I know. I am ashamed. I’ve always regretted those decisions and that is why bullying stories like Katie’s story particularly affect me.
This post isn’t about me though. When I saw Tia Marie’s discussion about women in technology and her idea of hearing from ACTUAL women in the fields of science and engineering, I immediately contacted her about setting up these series of posts. We put out a call to women in these fields via twitter (I know, super professional, right?) and we were lucky enough to hear from these two amazing women, Jenn and Holly.
As a good intro to this series, I thought the first post should be entirely written by one of the women themselves (future posts may resemble more of a Q&A format). A solid THANK YOU to these two women is necessary and if you also have stories you’d like to share on either of these blogs, please contact us! The below is from Jenn’s personal blog.
For those who don’t know me, I have worked in aviation and aerospace for the past decade. In October, I volunteered for a layoff from my job as a technician on the Space Shuttle Program, as it is coming to an end soon. I am very much a space advocate, and have been using Twitter to share my enthusiasm for space for over two years. I am also the founder of the Space Tweep Society, a growing group of space enthusiasts on Twitter. Due to that role, I am often asked to participate in interviews or space outreach activities, many with the goal of encouraging girls to pursue careers in science or technology. This leaves me feeling quite conflicted because I’d love to have more women in aviation and aerospace, but in my experience breaking into these fields was really rough. I almost feel guilty for encouraging them, knowing what kind of obstacles they may face.
Of course I say “obstacles they may face” because there is a chance they won’t have any issues. A certain author who was once an engineer for a contractor on NASA’s Apollo program said in a recent interview, “All of the guys were great. No problems. I was just ‘one of the team.’ I have worked for many companies for 25+ years in technical jobs. I was the only woman in many. I was treated with respect and courtesy… There is no conflict in any job if you don’t act like a jackass.” She also tweeted, “Get rid of [the] idea that guys [are] mean to gals in Space Exp[loration]. Guys [are] great friends. I worked with men in all jobs for years. Some gals [are] idiots.” While I’m very happy to hear that she had only positive experiences, for many of us this was not the case- and I don’t think it was because we are “idiots” or “act like jackasses.” My own entry into the career field of aviation was definitely rocky, and I blogged about it a few years ago. The following is an updated version of that post: