Friday, February 24, 2012

ConFusion

By now, everyone's seen this article about this blog by British writer Paul Cornell. See how clever I am, to wait to write about it until you have already read it? SO CLEVER.

For those who are going, "Huh? I've been busy learning horse racing from the ground up so I can follow LUCK," here's the short version: Paul Cornell thinks there isn't enough female representation on convention panels and while he can't turn an entire industry around, he can effect how he handles it, which is to walk off of panels where there isn't a 50/50 gender split.

This has caused all kinds of consternation around the Internet. Geeks and nerds of every stripe are terrified that this means they won't get to see their comic writing hero at Comic Con because his spot will be filled by Some Woman. AS IF THAT WOULD EVER HAPPEN, first of all, and secondly, this isn't about a global protest. It's about one writer highlighting something he deems unfair. Fans moan about how now it will go from being The Most Talented People In The World to them plus some lame girl who isn't nearly as talented. Because that's what a lot of people think affirmative action is. It's about making every workplace look like a Benetton ad. At the bitter backend of this is the implication that people are successful because they are talented and work hard, which is certainly true, BUT ALSO ONLY THAT. So if a woman or a minority needs a hand up, it means that they need it because they aren't as talented, and they don't work as hard. It's easier to think of people not as successful as you as less talented, or even lazy. We've all heard this from politicians. If only poor people would get a job, then the economic crisis would be solved.

What I don't understand is why people think there's a finite amount of talent and hard work, and if some woman or minority wants a seat at the table, that somehow means one of the privileged guys already at the table has been diminished. If a woman is talented and works hard but hasn't gotten the breaks that a white male has gotten, that doesn't mean he's any less talented or works any less hard. It doesn't TAKE AWAY from the folks who are already at the table. So why the fear?

Some people have said, "You just aren't going to the right conventions." That's not a reason for anything. I have no doubt that there are conventions that feature more women, but we're talking about the biggies here, like Comic Con and WonderCon. Comic Con suffers even more because it's basically Movie Con now, which means that the panels about movies feature the filmmakers and stars of those movies, and I would peg that number at about 99.9999% male. So if you're talking about an Avengers panel, then trying to make that 50% female is obviously not going to work. But if you're talking about a discussion panel, confining the women to the "Women In Genre" panel, or the "Women in SF" panel, or the "Women in Comics" panel while all the other actually fun panels are all dudes, well... that's as unfair as putting the minority writers on the "Minorities in Comics" panel. After awhile, you don't necessarily want to talk about your gender or your race and how it pertains to whateverthefuck dumb topic you've been forced to blather on about. You just want your perspective to count as much as the white guys' perspectives do, and you don't necessarily want that perspective to be confined to gender. Just because wimmin is wimmin doesn't mean they want to talk about uteruses all the time. Or EVER, frankly.

One female commenter on another blog said that she went to conventions to see her favorite comics writers, and they happened to be male, so she doesn't want to see just random women on these panels JUST BECAUSE. I totally get her point. I wouldn't want that either. But what this topic does for me is to shine a light on the real problem - there would be more women on panels if there were more women creating content, and then more people would want to see them speak on panels. I think that, ultimately, is what Paul Cornell is talking about. Other people thought it was stupid that a successful white guy was going to try to prove a point, and why don't the women try to prove the point instead? Well, that would mean that women would have to walk off of panels that were not representative of their gender, which nobody would notice BECAUSE THERE AREN'T ENOUGH WOMEN ON PANELS. It's a problem when there IS a discussion, or a comment, about womens' points of view and all some idiot can come up with is to clone Jane Espenson.

NO, I WILL NEVER GET OVER HOW DUMB THAT WAS.

It'll be interesting to see how many women are on panels at WonderCon next month. I will have plenty of time to count, since I am not on any panels. HA! And the women who are going to be on panels are probably going to be women who write for television. They won't have to talk about ovaries or uteruses. They will be talking about the television show they write for. So why should non-TeeVee female writers have to just talk about lady business?

Look, not every woman wants to talk about their ovaries or how the character should have children or dress better. They're FORCED to, because whenever a woman is present somewhere in public like on a panel, it must be pointed out that the writer is female and therefore only there to talk about lady business. I don't WANT to talk about lady business. I want to talk about time travel and spaceships and robots and ask the question why, when female characters are introduced in stories, they have to be just about their vaginas and not about the fact that they are PEOPLE. I don't want to be handed a particular story because it's a "female issue," and therefore a good story for a woman to write.

Speaking of panels, Paul Cornell totes would have walked off Darrell Issa's dumb "let's insert shit into vaginas" panel, especially since there were no women on it at all. But they did have a black guy, so they probably thought they'd hit the diversity just fine.
Someone in the comments posted this utterly astonishing piece by Dan Harmon, creator of COMMUNITY, about how he was forced to staff his show with 50% women. He was as horrified as you could imagine, until he wasn't. And what I find most interesting is that the quota isn't what it usually is -- ONE woman, usually either very low level or very high level to charge off development -- but that it was HALF. I've been on shows that have more than one woman on staff because I have a female writing partner HA HA! But I've been on staffs that have had more than the two of us, too. People tend to relax when there's more than one woman on staff. Gender parity means that the chances of overreacting to THE WOMAN IN THE ROOM are much slimmer. It seems weird when there's one, because the inference is that it's a quota issue. But more than one, and that issue starts to go away.

Harmon also talks about how few female writers he could FIND, and how he had to work harder to staff his show. That's both sad and awesome. Comedy tilts towards a more male ratio than does drama, so it's much more of a natural boy's club. What's also interesting is how he talks about how the women fit in, how afraid he was that everyone was going to have to be vigilant about not offending them, and how it was very nearly the other way around. Seeing a male comedy showrunner have these revelations is just what the business needs.

I think about how the women are the real stars of Mad Men, and what kind of a boss Don Draper is. Peggy Olson is awfully prickly about her status as the female copywriter, and I love how Don doesn't let her get away with that. For all of his misogyny and horrible treatment of women, he's a gem with Peggy. He wants her to realize that the fact that she's a woman has no bearing on her ability, but that she has to get that chip off her shoulder so she can truly grow. It's an astonishing relationship on a show full of them, AND I CANNOT GODDAM WAIT FOR IT TO COME BACK ARRRRGHHH.

I've never seen Community but having read this, I'm going to check it out. Dan Harmon and Paul Cornell, you are the heroes for the day.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

GenderBender Redux

Everyone's gonna have to wait for a sec while I do this:

Ian Tregillis writes:
Thank you for the kind words.

I just watched your book trailer and read your post on In Obscura-- HOLY CRAP you had me at magic/secret history/ancient conspiracies.

Also: Millennium rocked my socks. Thank you for that.
OMG! I have no words. Thanks! It's a travesty that I have to wait until July to read the sequel to Bitter Seeds, though. JULY! Someone could have made the movie already!

Gentle readers, SERIOUSLY, read Bitter Seeds. I mean it. Do it.  I'll wait...

cgeye:
I am not watching Lost Girl because of the changeling/faerie stuff and a similar project. But hey, if someone is actually able to do a succubus and not have it be ridiculous, more power to them.
 Sasha:
Since you've mentioned the show before -- what do you think about the weaponized sexuality idea w/r/t Vampire Diaries, specifically Elena/Katherine? 
Ah, interesting! It doesn't bug me because unlike when Moffat does it, it's not salacious. I get the sense that he's way titillated by Adler but with Vampire Diaries, that's who the characters are. Katherine, of course, is the true femme fatale of the show but what's interesting about her is how often her power structure shifts. And you start to get the feeling that what she really longs for is somewhere to fit. I feel like she hasn't come to terms with her history, and that she's been fighting being the Petrova for her entire life. Katherine made the determination that she wouldn't be a victim, but at the expense of her humanity. Elena, on the other hand, refuses to be a victim but hangs onto her humanity, which is what makes her strong. This isn't a weepy girl who likes being fought over, or who likes being protected. She hates what being the Petrova means, but she's also accepted it in a cool way so who knows where that will take her. Whenever someone, whether it be Stefan, Damon, Alaric or anyone else, decides that they will concoct a plan that will protect Elena, it never works out. She finds out and sticks her nose in. Not only that, but she isn't constantly screwing things up, either, not like that character would on a lesser show. In fact, for someone who is ostensibly so important that everyone must keep her alive and protect her, Elena is largely responsible for driving the show. She doesn't accept the inevitable, or the destiny that the vampires and other supernatural creatures accept so readily. And she's starting to infect everyone around her with her individuality, too.

You can create the situation but have the characters react to it differently. Elena could be passive and inert, like Bella, but she isn't. And that's why the show works. They will create situations for the characters and then they actually go, "So how does Caroline react to this? How would Tyler behave after this happened?" I love that about the show and because the characters are so well defined, they can blow through plot like no other show.

So while you can, on the surface, see Katherine and Elena as purely sexualized women, it's so obvious to me that they aren't.

Wills:
Well. I don't want to get too bogged down here. I appreciate the thought that went into all of y'all's posts. Guys, look. It boils down to this for me -- no, you do not have the right to tell me what is misogynistic and what isn't, just as I don't have the right to tell a minority person what is racist and what isn't. Your opinion on this is not informed. You may have an idea about what is misogynistic and what isn't, but that has absolutely NOTHING to do with WHAT ACTUALLY IS. Because sorry, but women make that determination. That being said, there are varying degrees of what women will find misogynistic. So I am only speaking for me, to you, when I say that you don't get to dictate that to me.

I say this without anger or rancor. I just find it curious that so many men are so ready to fill me in on what misogyny is, or what feminism is. You think we're on the same page here, but we're not. You think, as far as I can glean, that Moffat's Adler is a forward-thinking woman, a reaction to modern femininity, a woman who owns her sexuality. But really, Moriarty owns it, doesn't he? To me, this is similar to the women who take pole-dancing classes because they find it empowering to own what was devised as a male fantasy. That's a crock. Women don't have to own it. They can fucking ignore it. This is the same as the folks who find The Woman to be a feminist horror film. It isn't.

This isn't to say that a female character who uses sexuality as coercion, or even as a weapon, is always across the board a bad idea. It's not at all. But when that's all a female character is then yes, we are going to have a problem. And that's all Adler is. I do appreciate that people read that scene as Adler removing physical clues for Sherlock, but that's not how Moffat intended it, that's not how the actors read it (much to my dismay), and if you really think about it, simply removing clothing isn't going to cut it because Sherlock's gotten physical clues off hands and fingernails and faces and hair and eyes and feet and ears and from posture and body language and vocal inflection... the list goes on and on. So you're all being a tiny bit too clever (like Moffat wants you to be) to find some value here. But it's Moffat who is forgetting what Sherlock's power is here. IF Moffat intended what you all read into it -- and he didn't, but IF he did -- then wouldn't it have been MORE interesting if she'd been fully clothed and Sherlock STILL couldn't get anything from her? My God, that would REALLY set him off. He wouldn't be able to stop thinking about her. How does she do it? How can she confound him like that?

I'm sure you'll have reasons for why her being naked works better. I'm a little surprised, though, that you are both ignoring the stone-cold obvious FACT that Moffat did NOT intend it the way you read it. Which certainly puts the two of you head and shoulders above Moffat, FWIW.

Moffat reversed the power structure, as you put it, in a very obvious, lazy way. He wasn't at all inventive about it. He stopped at "dominatrix." How that character could possibly confound someone like Sherlock is beyond me, since she is such an obvious construct. And at the end of the day, that's the biggest disappointment -- that she was so one-dimensional. And then there's the further degradation of the character by having her need to be rescued. Blech.

And if you haven't seen Moffat's treatment of women in Doctor Who, then sure, I can imagine that this is completely flummoxing to you!
Women can and should be about many things, just as men can and should. The only reason female characters get singled out is because a large segment of the population seems to think it's okay to use them as objects. The current political climate doesn't help, as it is apparent to a lot of folks that discussing what rights a woman has is a normal discussion to have.

For a look at a real woman doing real things, check out Steven Soderbergh's Haywire. And read this article, which is a pretty even look at the film and contains some interesting ideas about women in film. For the record, I have read something recently with a female character who is using sex as a coercion tactic and it not only works well, but the character is fascinating and you want to know more about her. I won't say what it is at the moment, but maybe later. Just know that it CAN work, if you're not lazy about it and you bother to look below the surface to the character and figure out what makes the character tick.

And that is all for the weekly rant!