Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 12:28 on 22-08-2013, Shim
Xander from Buffy mostly acted within a stereotypically female role

Ah, yeah, you may have something there. And he needed a fair bit of protecting and rescuing, as I remember. I never actually saw that part of Buffy but I vaguely know about it.

I can't speak to Rory because I stopped watching Doctor Who, and I haven't read Hunger Games. But cheers nonetheless!
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at 10:30 on 22-08-2013, Robinson L
Shimmin: Out of curiosity: can people think of examples of male characters who act within the expected female range, and how do they come across?

For a while there, I couldn't come up with any, but then yesterday I had a brainwave. As I recall, Xander from Buffy mostly acted within a stereotypically female role, being the support character to the more action-oriented members of the gang, and especially providing emotional support. And in terms of flaws, his behavior in the season 2 finale,
telling Buffy to kick Angel's ass rather than informing her about Willow's spell to restore his soul
*, puts me in mind of a stereotypical spiteful female character. Anyway, that's Xander, and he seems to be pretty popular.

*(That's probably not a spoiler to most people here, but just in case.)

Rory Williams/Pond from Doctor Who is another one who comes to mind, especially in series five, where he was obviously cast in the feminine role in contrast to Amy's more stereotypically masculine one. The part in the finale where he punches out the Doctor for being insensitive about Amy
being Mostly Dead
kinda reminds me of discussions (including MacDougal's) of female violence being framed as funny because the idea of a woman being a physical threat is seen as implicitly funny - maybe the same blanket logic for female characters is being applied specifically to Rory; or am I reaching here? Rory's an interesting example for me, because he's aware that he doesn't live up to the masculine ideal, and he's mostly but not entirely reconciled himself to that fact (he still chafes on occasion). I know he has his detractors, but he seems to be popular as well.

In literature, there's Peeta from The Hunger Games, the baker in contrast to Katniss the hunter, and the one who needs to be rescued by the end. Granted, he's also the sensitive guy in contrast to Gale the bad boy in classic love triangle terms, so I'm not sure how best to classify him. I also know even less about Hunger Games fandom than Buffy or Doctor Who, so I dunno how he's received.

The question also reminds me of this post on the movie (500) Days of Summer by the folks who brought you "How to be a fan of problematic things." Disclaimer: I've never seen the movie, but according to the Social Justice League blogger, the writers, cast, and crew intended the film as a critique of Nice Guy attitudes and gender stereotyping:

The protagonist is an unreliable narrator who is selfish and unable to consider anyone else’s emotional needs but his own ... he embodies many of the negative traits commonly given to women in romantic comedies

However, because the film is told from his perspective and the subtext is maybe a bit too subtle

a great deal of people not acquainted with feminism leave Youtube comments about how Tom was too good for Summer and how Summer is a “bitch”.

So there's another take on it. Not sure what any of this says in a wider sense, though.


Bryn: Athena Andreadis did a post about this topic touching on some of the same points about academics.

Athena Andreadis often has good stuff to say; thanks for sharing. Also, congratulations on the whole coming out process, and best of luck taking it into your physics research.

I'm sorry, I don't want to make the Playpen all 'TALK ABOUT ME'

Ehn, don't sweat it. Personally, I appreciate somebody keeping the conversation going. It's a great distraction for when I need to take a break from the MA Thesis of Doom (or, at least, the MA Thesis of Stressful As F**k).


Melanie: Ooooo, I love the Toby Daye books! There's a new one coming out next month, too, so they've been on my mind (what with my impatience to get my grubby little hands on it and all).

I've heard really good things about the series, but, er, the first book was one of the few that I actually gave up on after reading the first few chapters (I've even toyed with doing a Damage Report on it, which I would have to fight myself not to title "Rosemary and Ruen"). I'm sure it's great and all, but the beginning was incredibly angst-y, and I quickly became aggravated by the protagonist's (understandable) insistence on not getting involved with the plot, and when the decisive plot hook did arrive it was massively cliche and promised even more angst. I just couldn't get into it after that.
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at 00:33 on 22-08-2013, Melanie
Oh, congratulations! I hope things continue to go well re: coming out to people.

Ooooo, I love the Toby Daye books! There's a new one coming out next month, too, so they've been on my mind (what with my impatience to get my grubby little hands on it and all).
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at 21:48 on 21-08-2013, Alice
Well, I certainly don't mind! :-) And duly noted re: pronouns. I tend not to use them on the internet, now that I think about it: I'm more likely to say "[commenter] said" rather than "she (or he) said" in a comment thread, for example. But I'm always glad to know people's preferences.

Meanwhile, back at the Strong Female Character discussion, here's Seanan McGuire weighing in. McGuire points out that her female character Toby Daye was considered "a total bitch" by a proofreader, but when McGuire asked said proofreader to replace Toby's name in the manuscript with "Harry Dresden", well:

They did, and lo and behold, what had been "bitchy" and "inappropriate" was suddenly "bold" and "assertive." A male character in the same situation, with the same background, taking the same actions, was completely in the right, justified, and draped with glory. He was a hero. Toby? Toby was an unlikeable bitch.

The proofer withdrew the compliant
[sic]. I have never forgotten it.

(As part of her post, McGuire links to a Zoë Marriott blog post which incidentally includes a neat summation of why I can't stand the woobification of film!Loki: Loki killed 80 people in two days and the fandom screams LET ME LOVE YOU. Loki, you poor baby, if only you had the care of a good woman I am sure you would stop slaughtering people and attempting to murder aged Holocaust survivors! None of it is your fault! I can't believe they put that horrid muzzle on your beautiful face at the end of the film, it's so UNFAIR. THANK YOU, MS MARRIOTT.)
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at 18:19 on 21-08-2013, Bryn
Thanks Alice! I'm sorry, I don't want to make the Playpen all 'TALK ABOUT ME', I just thought it might be relevant to the discussion of restricted gender behaviour in academia and media.

(It would be the second large-scale one, the others relating to being pan/bi, and something like the seventh if you count e.g. parents, therapist, doctor... )

Sorry, I thought I'd mentioned that. Non-binary pronouns such as the singular 'they' please. If you don't like plural conjugation for any reason, constructed pronouns such as 'zie' are also good.
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at 18:08 on 21-08-2013, Alice
Congrats on a happy (first?) coming-out experience, Bryn! Glad your friends were so accepting. :-) What are your preferred pronouns (so I can use the right ones!), if you don't mind sharing?
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at 15:42 on 21-08-2013, Arthur B
Bryn: check your GMail.
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at 15:38 on 21-08-2013, Bryn
Wow, quick response! Thanks, Arthur.
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at 15:31 on 21-08-2013, Arthur B
Lemme check with Kyra and see what can be done.
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at 15:30 on 21-08-2013, Bryn
Shimmin, offhand I remember reading discussions of Raiden from Metal Gear Solid as a character given some traditionally feminine traits in a series where the main characters were quite traditionally masculine. That apparently drew a very negative reaction from the series' fandom (or at least the English-speaking/Western fandom), with the character criticised as 'whiny' along with a hefty dose of heterosexism (because non-normative gender performance == gay, amirite?). However, I can't really expand on that in detail, not having played the games or participated in the fandom myself.

I suppose another place you could look is in slashfic and yaoi where traditionally feminine characterisation traits are often applied to male characters? Not sure how that fits into the current discussion as these media have different audiences and different problems.

Also you might have already seen it but Athena Andreadis did a post about this topic touching on some of the same points about academics. It's going to be... interesting adopting traditionally feminine aspects of gender presentation in physics research, as I plan to. I don't know if this is more likely to be rejected for someone who people might initially perceive as male, or rejected all the more strongly.

Also, perhaps in part thanks to Nine Worlds, I came out as non-binary to my friends (asked them to use different pronouns) last weekend. It turns out I have a really cool not-cissexist group of friends, which it would be nice to imagine could be generalised to more of the current cohort of university students. If so, I might be coming into physics at the same time as more and more physicists become accepting of non-normative gender performance and I won't experience too many problems.

Um, is there any chance of an editorial response to the Nine Worlds article soon? :) If Kyra's super-busy, I could instead publish it to a blog. I just don't want to wait until everyone's moved on from talking about Nine Worlds! Also there were a few tweaks I wanted to do to the version currently sitting in email.
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at 07:34 on 20-08-2013, Shim
As a couple of recent podcasts and blogposts have reminded me, a lot of this sadly also applies to real life. <a href="http://www.blubrry.com/thewalkingeye/1793687/cultural-appropriation-and-gaming/"One included discussion of how male academics can get away with a wide range of outfits from formal to studenty, while female academics are criticised for 'dressing down' (and generally get student feedback on their appearance, which ought to be a hauling-to-the-office issue in my book). Another discussed how men can get away with silly photos, swearing, over-the-top personas and being The Crazy One, specifically in conferences but I'd say more generally.

Out of curiosity: can people think of examples of male characters who act within the expected female range, and how do they come across?
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at 22:15 on 19-08-2013, Robinson L
Shimmin: Thought this post on strong female characters might interest people.

Interesting article discussion we've had here. The article itself is pretty good, although it doesn't seem to add much to what's been said already elsewhere. I'd also take Cheriola's comments as a companion essay, because while I'd like to see a proliferation of well-written (which, like Alice, is how I interpret "strong" character) female characters, (as well as queer, disabled, people of color etc.) in existing entertainment giants, it's also important to support the newcomers which are already doing that - so long as they're well-executed otherwise of course. (I take it you'd recommend "Sanctuary" and "Warehouse 13" as good shows in their own right, as well?)

I guess I tend to be less pessimistic about the average viewer/gamer than Cheriola, but I sadly have to agree with this part:

I'm also finding that a female character who acts the same way your usual male jerkass genius does, will not be tolerated by the audience and certainly won't be cheered as 'charming' and funny in the same way, so of course the female characters are normally written a bit less colourful.

Reminds me of Abigail Nussbaum's back-to-back review of "The Knife of Never Letting Go" and "The Hunger Games", in which she made this comparison of the protagonists:

Todd, who is not too bright, stubborn, illiterate, and often quite unpleasant, needs only a prodigious force of will to make him a sympathetic protagonist. Katniss is smart, strong, cunning, compassionate, determined, and beautiful, presumably in order to achieve the same effect.

I can't find it any more, but I'm pretty sure I read a comment somewhere which opined that what this says about the difference between male and female YA protagonists is kinda disheartening from both ends.

It also reminds me of "Oz, the Great and Powerful." When I posited to my sisters a hypothetical gender-swapped version of the movie, they agreed that a female Oz who acted like the male one in the film would be universally despised. (Whereas on the other hand, I'm not aware of the actual protagonist being generally despised despite being, well, generally despicable. And that's on a good day. Hell, at least Todd is mostly well-meaning.)
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at 14:15 on 18-08-2013, Bryn
I have! I really liked it - extremely strong characterisation, and I found it quite emotionally affecting (almost cried a few times, other times it was very funny) though perhaps that is partly due to circumstances and personal reasons. Don't want to say too much because it's probably better to experience directly. I'd be very interested to see what people on this site make of it...

I think the devs' site has it slightly cheaper than on Steam.
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at 12:48 on 18-08-2013, Jamie Johnston
Anyone played Gone home yet? It looks quite interesting (and is discounted on Steam until Wednesday but only slightly).
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at 07:51 on 18-08-2013, Shim
Ah soz, should've capitalised it... basically there's a bit of a trope of the misguised "Strong Female Character", which gets touched on in a bit on FB, and also for example here. Along the lines of giving female characters superficially "Strong" traits, without necessarily making them interesting, believable, addressing the ways they're actually permitted to behave in the story, or including more than a single token woman.
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at 03:11 on 18-08-2013, Cheriola
@Alice: I had the same impression about the meaning of "strong female character". And I think that some writers (Moffat, and western comic writers, apparently) interpret it differently seems to me more a result of their inability to look beyond their own ideas of what a 'hero'/power fantasy should behave like. Though to a certain degree I can understand it, too. I mean, there were plenty of interesting, emotionally strong female characters in literature even a hundred years ago ("Little Women" comes to mind, or even some of Sherlock Holmes' clients). So some writers may be thinking that what's missing is just the ability to do violence, not realising that what women are demanding is mainly to transplant complex female POV characters as written in 'chick lit' into originally male-targeted genres.

Though, personally, I don't think it did me any harm to grow up with the likes of Princess Fantaghiro or Lady Oscar. Come to think of it, most of the shows I watched as a kid were either female-dominated superhero / sports anime, or adaptations of classic literature with female protagonists. And the example of Buffy in that article is just plain weird, because that show had a lot more non-combatant female characters with agency and plot importance than just the tough-as-nails main character. Honestly, apart from Hollywood action movies and shooter games, I can't really think of any genre where the Token Chick or Smurfette principle still applies. Even obvious sausage-fests like Spartacus have a number of female characters with agency and their own storylines these days. Maybe feminist-minded viewers should stop supporting those comic movie adaptations if they're so far behind the times? Complaining won't help with writers that clueless and/or sexist. You've got to vote with your wallet.

Sherlock Holmes gets to be brilliant, solitary, abrasive, Bohemian, whimsical, brave, sad, manipulative, neurotic, vain, untidy, fastidious, artistic, courteous, rude, a polymath genius. Female characters get to be Strong.

Recently, with the female Doctor discussion, I get a bit pissy about statements like that. Because shows with complex female main characters exist - it's just that nobody's watching them, or at least there's no big fandom attached to them, because apparently at the end of the day, most female viewers (fanfic writers, tumblr-ites and video editors are overwhelmingly female) still prefer male heroes they can crush on or project themselves into to 'boring' female role models. I'm also finding that a female character who acts the same way your usual male jerkass genius does, will not be tolerated by the audience and certainly won't be cheered as 'charming' and funny in the same way, so of course the female characters are normally written a bit less colourful. Anything else is commercial suicide. I'm not saying we don't need more shows about complex female heroes - we do - but it bugs me that the people writing these kinds of articles always act like the whole geeky genre industry is like that and never support or promote the shows that already try to do these things right.

Take Sanctuary, for example. That show was basically a gender-swapped, far more competent version of Torchwood (except that, being an American show, they didn't have the guts to make their main character queer before they were notified of the cancellation). The main character and team leader, Helen Magnus, had practically all of the traits attributed to Sherlock Holmes in the quote above. And she didn't have any super powers beyond her innate brilliance, the experience that living a couple of centuries will give you, and a resolve made of pure steel. She had some reasonable hand-to-hand and marksmanship skills she picked up on the way, but nothing fancy like kung-fu and no unusual physical strength. In addition to Magnus, the show also featured a more conventionally gunslinging, bubbly Buffy-expy in Magnus' daughter Ashley, and later on a POC Han Solo -like mercenary-with-a-heart-of-gold character named Kate. And yet, nobody talks about the show and it was cancelled for lack of viewership.

Or Warehouse 13 - while the boss on that show's team is male, Myka, Claudia and H.G. Wells could probably cover all of the attributes in the quote between them. All of them are brilliant and mentally strong in different ways and none of them are particularly skilled fighters, with only Myka occasionally showing the training you'd expect of a former Secret Service agent. That show is on its last legs, too, with only a few episodes grace granted to wrap things up.

Even with Once Upon A Time (which I don't like as much as the other shows because it's a very white and extremely heteronormative show) where most of the regular heroes and villains are female (of rarely great physical fighting capability) and about 80% of the male cast is merely eye-candy or someone's boyfriend/father/son, and despite the fact that the writers do put some effort into feminist subversions of fairytales and romance tropes, the entire fandom seems to focus on Rumplestiltskin. (Except for the occasional femslasher.)
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at 15:37 on 17-08-2013, Alice
Interesting read, thanks for the link, Shimmin!

I must confess, I'm one of those people who always read the "strong" in the definition of "strong female character" as "compelling" rather than "capable of physical ass-kicking". But of course that tends not to be how they're written, and the bit of the article where she talks about Peggy Carter was particularly eye-opening.
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at 23:16 on 16-08-2013, Shim
@Bryn: I think this may be unfortunate timing, because I know she has a fair bit of work on plus Edinburgh is coming up, so it could be a while.

I suggest writing another one while you wait :)
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at 21:52 on 16-08-2013, Bookwyrm
"My despair that the film industry believes the world is more ready for a film featuring a superhero who is a raccoon than it is for a film led by a superhero who is a woman is long and loud."

Oh. I didn't realize that. I've been complaining about the fact that Wonder Woman has not gotten her own movie or cartoon,while Superman and Batman have gotten tons of movies, live action TV shows, and cartoons, for ages. And I knew about the Rocket Raccoon movie. Somehow I never connected those two facts. That's ... kind of depressing.
Hopefully DC will come out with a Wonder Woman movie soon to set up the upcoming Justice League movie. Hopefully one that doesn't suck.
(And hopefully they won't hire David S. Goyer to write the script or cast Megan Fox as Wonder Woman.)
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at 12:48 on 16-08-2013, Shim
Thought this post on strong female characters might interest people.
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at 12:29 on 16-08-2013, Bryn
Cara Ellison mentioned that all the Video Games track events were recorded, and I'm looking forward to watching those. I think some of the Queer Fandom events were also recorded, and there should at be recaps, compilations of recs and that sort of thing appearing at the nineworldsqueer tumblr soon. Probably the same is true for other tracks, but I don't know about them specifically.

Any idea how long it will be until I can hear back from the Editor (Kyra?) by the way? (miscellaneous impatient bouncing) :)

(I should probably post stuff in the Playpen that isn't about Nine Worlds, lest you all assume this is some really obscure paid advertising initiative...)
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at 07:17 on 16-08-2013, Shim
@Pear: I am assured that some recordings will be going up, so we can vicariously experience Nine Worlds without inconveniences like leaving the house or being in the same room as other humans.
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at 06:01 on 16-08-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I watched The Oregonian, a horror film from 2010, this evening.

I think I now know what it was like to see a midnight screening of Eraserhead back in the day.

And now if you will excuse me I am now going to shove a gasoline omelet into a womans spine wound.
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at 00:34 on 16-08-2013, Bryn
The article is now in the hands of the Editor, awaiting its Edit. It is quaking with fear. I try to reassure it: "I've written you as well as I can." It's not having any of it.

Um, I think this way is the correct direction. Turns out the link for viewing your own photos is not the sharing link. Sorry for the confusion. I'll edit them for contrast and stuff, and put them somewhere more accessible, anyway.
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