Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Happy Halloween!

If you're like me, then you'll take any excuse to don a costume and play around. And if you're like me, that means you love Halloween.

Halloween is probably my favorite holiday, but I have to say, sometimes the costumes I see break my heart.

Look, I'm a firm believer that people should be able to wear whatever they want and not get harassed for it. You wanna dress sexy, go for it. You want to genderbend, do it. My issue isn't that people are using Halloween as an excuse to dress in sexy costumes.

My issues are these: one, that most of the sexy costumes show a lamentable lack of creativity (seriously, it's like "take x, and turn it into a tube dress"), and two that the options for female costumes are limited to the overtly sexy--again, if you want to dress in a sexy costume, that's great, but for female-identifiers who don't, the lack of options makes the whole process frustrating.

Seriously. (image via Sociological Images)

I could spend some time talking about how these gendered costumes perpetuate some pretty insidious ideas about sexuality and gender performance, but there are plenty of other places that are leading that discussion--I've spent a lot of time scrolling through the Fuck No Sexist Halloween Costumes Tumblr page.

But instead of bemoaning the heteronormative travesty that is Halloween costume advertising or the disappointing lack of unique costume options, I thought I'd share a place where you can see some creative options for female-identifiers.

I was introduced to Take Back Halloween last year. It's a collection of interesting costume ideas--notable women from history, goddesses from nearly every pantheon, classic glamour girls, and queens from just about any where and any time--and lists of how and the things you'll need to make the costumes.

Just check out some of their options.

Queen Nzinga of Ndongo

Japanese Sun Goddess Amaterasu

Mexican artist Frida Kahlo

I know the day before Halloween is a little too late to put together a new costume, but I'm sharing this in part to give you something to think about to distract you when you see the fiftieth Sexy Big Bird of the night and, in part, to let you know about their Kickstarter project

Take Back Halloween  is in the process of expanding their costume ideas for 2013, and they need help funding their research. Check it out--see if funding this project is something you're interested in.

In the end, it's Halloween. You should dress how you want, without being limited by what stores and society think is appropriate for your gender.

Enjoy the holiday, guys!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

More on Gender

There'll be a Halloween post up on Tuesday, but in the meantime, here are a couple of videos that related to the gendered products we looked at earlier this week.

It's interesting to me that the overwhelming majority of videos on gender stereotyping focus more on women than men--making perceptions of feminine more broad, but not broadening the scope for masculinity. To me, this reinforces the idea that masculinity is more strictly enforced than femininity-there's a lot of societal pressure on boys and men to succeed, provide, and be strong. Whatever that means.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Today in "Wait, What?": Pointlessly Gendered Products

It's old news by this point, but back in August pen-making company BIC released a new type of pen.

A pen for women.

Aren't they pretty.

The reaction to these pens was about what you'd expect--a hardy "Wait, what? Seriously?" and plenty of snark. Just look at the reviews of the product on Amazon.com.

My favorite, though, was Ellen Degeneres's take on it on her show.

We can pretty much all agree that the notion of pens for a specific gender is a pretty ridiculous one--I mean, we all know that women can write whatever they want, and that a pen is a pen whether its pink, black, or whatever.

The thing that gets me, though, is that this sort of dismissal hasn't been applied to other products.

There's a whole host of products that are pointlessly marketed to a specific gender.

Look at Dr. Pepper 10.

I'm not supposed to want a lower-calorie soda because I'm a woman? And Men aren't supposed to want to drink anything that has "Diet" in the name because "that means it's for ladies"?

There are gendered calamine lotions, gendered ear plugs, gendered face masks--the list goes on and on. There are so many, in fact, that the sociologists behind the blog Sociological Images created a board on Pinterest specifically to catalog instances of products that are needlessly being gendered.

The media love to pit men against women--we see it in television shows, in advertising, all over the place. We've learned to deal with it and, in many cases, to expect it. It creates a sort of "us against them' mentality that, I think, is a pretty significant part of the problems we as a society have with issues of gender performance and sexuality. It forges an environment in which a person who doesn't perform his or her gender in the way that's considered appropriate--a guy who likes the color pink or a girl who wants to play football--gets ostracized.

And I'd say it's men who suffer more from this. Women can usuallly get away with not conforming with all aspects of their gender more easily than men can. People may roll their eyes at a girl who plays in the mud and dresses in boys' clothes, but she won't receive the immediate censure that a boy who plays with dolls or dresses girls' clothes. Masculinity is more intensely enforced than femininity in most cases, and it does a disservice to people who are different.

So, yes, we can all agree that "pens for women" are stupid. But maybe we ought to take a closer look at the thinking behind products like this--because that's pretty crazy, too.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

TV Moms, Part Five: "Now, What Would You Like In Your Coffee?"

While Roseanne and The Golden Girls both saw a great deal of success in the '80s and early '90s, one 1980s sitcom seems to outshine them all.

You can probably guess which show I'm talking about.


In the eight seasons The Cosby Show spent on NBC from 1984 to 1992, it's Nielsen ratings never fell out of the top twenty shows, and it spent five of those seasons in the number one spot. It's often given credit for paving the way for shows like In Living Color and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

The Cosby Show was unique in many ways: the show was filmed in New York instead of Los Angeles, Bill Cosby had an unusual amount of creative control over the show, and, in spite of its predominantly African American cast, it very rarely dealt with the subject of race (though it did promote African and African American music and culture, and it did spawn a spin off that dealt with race issues more frequently). The show is also both praised for breaking stereotypes in portrayals of African Americans--both parents of the Huxtable clan are professionals with college degrees and prestigious jobs--and criticized for only representing a certain portion of the African American community.

But aside from its significance in the context of NBC's sitcom history and in the context of shows with predominantly African American casts, The Cosby Show is remembered for one more contribution to television history.

Clair Huxtable is arguably the most memorable mother that's ever been on television. She consistently makes the top ten in lists of greatest television mothers, and understandably so: she's the "power woman": five kids, a full-time job as an attorney.

Where June Cleaver may be the ideal for the stay-at-home mother, Clair Huxtable is the working mom that has it all together.  She not only had a job, she had a job that was equal in prestige to her husband's--something that, even today, when there is no shortage of working women and even working mothers on television, is rare (the only other example I can think of off the top of my head is NBC's current sitcom Up All Night, which is not enjoying anywhere near the same level of success). She was undeniably present in her children's lives--who remembers the episode where she catches son Theo trying to cut corners on studying MacBeth? She wrote her own test for him! She got her kids to school and made dinner, even making a scrambled eggs supper for Rudy's friend who had just been to the dentist in one episode. And, while she varied from the pearls-and-heels ensembles of Mrs. Cleaver, Clair was always stylish and professional.

It's interesting to note, also, that, while early television mothers like June Cleaver and Harriet Nelson seem dated to modern audiences, Clair remains relatable. This could, certainly, be because 1984 is not nearly so removed from 2012 as 1957 is, but with more women going to college than ever and more women in the workforce, it's likely that viewers in 2012 are more able to see themselves in Clair Huxtable than 1984 viewers.

And, in a time where women's issues are making news, Clair is as relatable as ever.

Yeah, Clair's enduring popularity makes sense. She serves as a great model of a strong woman and is one of the most positive portrayals of working mothers television has seen.

In the coming weeks, we'll take a look some non-traditional mothers, including single mothers like Grace Kelly from Grace Under Fire and non-mother maternal figures like The Andy Griffith Show's Aunt Bee.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Girl Wonder

Carrie Kelly’s been getting a lot of attention lately.

Websites like Super Hero Hype and Toon Zone have run interviews with Ariel Winters, the actress who provides Carrie’s voice in the latest DC direct-to-DVD feature. Alyssa Rosenberg at Think Progress wrote a short piece about how exciting it is to see this” self-made superhero in glasses and with moxie to burn.” And artist Noelle Stevenson, better known as Ginger Haze is clearly a fan, too. She’s everywhere.

With The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1 hitting stores a couple weeks ago, it’s really not surprising that so many people are talking about Carrie Kelly. I mean, Robin is an undeniably important part of the Batman mythos, and Carrie is the first female Robin to get airtime in any film incarnation, animated or otherwise, of Batman.

Female Robins are hardly ever met by cheering crowds and sparkling praise, but the response to Carrie has been, from what I can tell, at best, optimism and enthusiasm and, at worst, apathy.
Helena Wayne, too, only recently retconned into holding the Robin mantel, hasn’t inspired the fury with which some comic book fans are quick to meet continuity changes and new heroes in old identities.
The same cannot be said for the third Girl Wonder.

Stephanie Brown may be one of the most polarizing characters in comics. She inspires a lot of fan love and fan action on her behalf, especially after Bryan Q. Miller’s take on her.

But, boy, do people hate her—fans, creators, and executives alike.

Why, though? Objectively, she’s not that different from the other two ladies who’ve donned the red and green. Like both of the others, she was Robin briefly before moving on to another identity. Like Carrie, she was selected to take the place of a Robin that could no longer perform his duties, and, like Carrie, she’s the child of neglectful parents. And she and Helena were both removed abruptly from the role of Robin, though the circumstances were certainly different.

What is it, then, about Stephanie that gets people so worked up? There are a few things that I can think of.
First, Stephanie took the place of an active Robin. Tim Drake didn’t get killed, he just retired, and he only did that because his father forced him. And Batman appointed Stephanie to the job in the hopes of getting Tim to return. Tim Drake is a popular character—I got into comics in the first place through the Robin and Young Justice books; Tim was the first character I cared about, so I get the attachment people have to him. Whoever replaced him was bound to meet with some resentment; Damian was met with his fair share of hate when he was introduced to take the Robin mantle from Tim (and in a much more literal sense than Stephanie). And Stephanie, who was Tim’s girlfriend at that time in comics, went behind his back to take up the role. It didn’t go over well.

Then, there’s the fact that Stephanie got fired. Stephanie was not the best hero before— as Spoiler, she was reckless and sloppy and frequently got into more trouble than she could handle-- and her appointment as Robin didn’t really improve her all that much. The deal from the beginning was that she’d only be Robin as long as she followed all of Batman’s orders. She doesn’t, though she’s hardly the only Robin to disobey (rebellion was Jason’s M.O., and Carrie was known to go against the Bat more than once, Dick and Tim both struck out on their own after a while, and Damian…well, is Damian), and she gets canned pretty quickly; the mantle is taken away from her, and the way is paved to restore the status quo—it surprises no one when Tim becomes Robin again.

So, Stephanie takes the mantle from someone else, and she gets it taken away from her by the Bat himself.  Neither of the other female Robins share those characteristics—Carrie becomes Robin years after Jason’s death and chooses to move on to her Catgirl identity, and Helena is raised to be Robin and only abandons that title after being tossed from her world. But I think there’s a third factor that plays into the harsh reactions to Stephanie as Robin.

Carrie and Helena are both Robins on alternate Earths. The two of them can have as many adventures as they want for as long as they want, and it will have no effect on Dick, Jason, Tim, or Damian. Stephanie, however, was Robin on the main Earth. Paired with the way that she became Robin, the fact that every issue in which she appears as Robin means that one of the guys is booted from the role, Stephanie had a lot working against her. It would’ve taken time and some pretty fantastic writers to allow her to win over fans that were (a) devoted to the Robin(s) already in place and/or (b) not used to a girl in the Robin suit.

And Stephanie wasn’t given that time. She only spends about three issues of Robin as the Girl Wonder—seventy-one days in Gotham-time, according to her narration. And while there may be nothing wrong with Bill Willingham as a writer, his writing of Stephanie didn’t endear her to the longtime fans of Tim Drake who had been reading the series for years. Then Stephanie was seemingly killed off and disappeared from comics for years.

There’s a lot working against Stephanie getting respect as a Robin—and, really, against her getting respect as a character, in some cases, though her fanbase is a loyal one, and if they have anything to say about it, we haven’t seen the last of her.

But at least it can be said that the vehement dislike for Stephanie-as-Robin is not a case of “people hate all girl Robins.” It is nice to see Carrie Kelly getting attention in a positive way. Not many women of the Bat Family have made it to the screen—big or small—and while Steph fans will probably be fighting the “was she a real Robin” battle forever, the popularity that Carrie seems to be gaining proves that there is room in the DC Universe for a female Robin.

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Saturday, October 6, 2012

Prime-Time's Glass Ceiling

For those that don't know, I currently work in production at a television station. I'm one of nine people with the same job title and, of that nine, one of three women. And, while I've never been "harassed" per se and the people I work with directly don't find my gender to be relevant to the work that I do or the quality with which I do it, I do get treated very differently from my male colleagues by people in other departments: the guys will be asked a question before I am, if something technical needs doing I'm either not asked or am instructed in a manner that can only be described as condescending--and it's not just the men that do these things.

There's more than one reason for this, I think: a combination of the station not bothering to seek out women interested in the position and women not being interested in the position and women, in general, are thought to be less informed and/or less abled when it comes to dealing with technology (which are pretty significant problemd in and of themselves, but that's a post for another day). Frankly, though, men make up the vast majority of people working behind the camera in television and movies (though the number of female creators, producers, and writers has been steadily on the rise).

I get it, though. Television and film, like pretty much all other industries has been traditionally dominated by men, and it takes time to turn that around (sixtyish years seems like a bit too long to me, but my perspective is admittedly skewed).

Though, there was something this week that caught my attention.

It's appeared in a few places (I caught the story on The Mary Sue, but I've since tracked it to this site), and it was certainly jarring to me--I recognize that there are relatively few women in television and film that get the recognition that their male counterparts do, but it's not something that I focus on while I'm working.

But this was just too much.

Director Barbara Stepansky (Fugue, Girls! Girls! Girls! and others) shared the tale of a male acquaintance from film school's winning the Student Emmy. The award was presented by the producer/director of a prime-time drama that runs on Fox, and that producer invited the male acquaintance to shadow the show's director on the set. After this, the acquaintance was invited to direct an episode himself.

This is not a problem. This is a director getting noticed for his good work and gaining opportunities because he's apparently good at what he does. That's a cool thing.

Here's the problem:

A few years ago, I won the same exact award for my own thesis film, the Student Emmy for Best Drama and Best Director. At the awards ceremony, I was approached by an equally heavy-hitting producer of an equally popular prime-time TV drama on Fox (alas, a different one). He was impressed with my thesis film, which had garnered the two top awards of the night. He also graciously invited me to come and visit the set of the show he was producing. I was allowed to shadow an episode he himself was directing for a day. During that visit, I asked about the opportunity to direct.
“Here’s the thing,” he said. “The lead actor hates female directors. We only had one in the first season, and she was never invited back.  He just doesn’t like them.”


It's not so shocking that there's an actor who is a jerk--in fact, that's probably more the rule than the exception. What gets me is that no one fought against this. TV is a business, and I understand that it's necessary to hire actors that are marketable, even though I don't necessarily agree with the accepted definition of "marketable" (I mean, I can't watch an episode of Friends without being faced with the overwhelming desire to buy everyone in the cast a cheeseburger and watching to make sure they eat it), but seriously. It doesn't matter if you're limiting the show's potential by nixing female directors before you even try working with them so long as you're popular and your show gets high enough ratings?

I agree with Ms. Stepansky on this one.

I’d like to live in a world where people are ashamed to say things like that, but for some reason it’s still OK.  Take out the word “female” in that quote and substitute it with “black,” “Jewish,” or “gay.  You may tolerate your grandpa spouting misogynist rhetoric at Thanksgiving with a roll of your eyes, but it’s simply not acceptable coming from people who hold the keys to prestigious and lucrative jobs.

This experience transcends personal feelings, and it is endemic in the Hollywood culture.  I mentioned to somebody with a connection to a current popular TV show that I would travel across the globe at my own expense for the opportunity to shadow. They told me that unfortunately it would be pointless because I would have to be a white, ideally British guy. How can I hope to direct episodic TV if one of the main criteria is that I’m male?
 I've said it before; I'll say it again: This is not okay.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

High Hopes: CW's ARROW

Next Wednesday, the CW is premiering its latest foray into superhero television programs.

Arrow, based on the DC Comics character Green Arrow--Oliver Queen, in his civilian ID--is CW's attempt to bring back the fans of their Superman-based series, Smallville, back to the network for another show.

Now, I don't know how realistic the expectation of winning back the Smallville audience is, what with Green Arrow being a) a hero with no super powers b) not immediately familiar to people who aren't into comic books and/or didn't make it to the later seasons of Smallville and c) pretty clearly being used because CW couldn't afford the rights to Batman and wanted to use the next closest thing in the DC Universe (there's a actually a pretty big difference in how Batman and Green Arrow are traditionally characterized in comics, but you wouldn't know that from the promotional material for Arrow), but there are a few things about this show that have me hopeful.

1. Casting of actors from geek properties.

In August, John Barrowman, of Torchwood  and Doctor Who fame,was announced as joining the cast (though who he's playing is still unclear). Tahmoh Penikett, who was in both Battlestar Galactica  and Joss Whedon's Dollhouse has been cast as a high-ranking mobster, the right hand man to the father of a character that we pretty much know will have a significant role in the story. While fans of one geek property aren't necessarily going to be fans of another, CW's attempts to get out of the rut of reusing actors from their other shows--which is something that, if you take a look at their programming, they do a lot--shows promise. Though I, personally, have never been the biggest fan of Green Arrow, a well-handled show about him could be interesting and an excellent stepping-stone for other superhero-based shows, and that's pretty exciting.

2. Lots of potential for some outstanding female heroes.

We've known from the beginning that Kate Cassidy's character, Laurel Lance, could potentially become DC superhero (and on-again-off-again love interest of Green Arrow) Black Canary.
And it's been confirmed that Jessica De Gouw will be appearing as Helena Bertinelli, a.k.a. The Huntress (and my personal favorite DC lady) starting around episode six.

It looks like there may be long-term plans to evolve Ollie's younger sister into his sidekick, Speedy--based on the character's second incarnation, Mia Dearden.

And Ashley Scott, who played the Helena Wayne version of The Huntress in the short-lived Birds of Prey TV series, tweeted back in August that she was auditioning for the role of Kate Spencer, who the more comic-savvy will recognize as the civilian name for the vigilante Manhunter.
That's the potential for four awesome ladies. The last time we had this many superwomen in a show (that lasted more than one season...poor Birds of Prey) was probably the Justice League Unlimited cartoon. If these women are written with any care at all, it'll go a long way to pulling in a female audience--not to mention giving the show an engaging and unusual supporting cast.

3. The possibility for more live-action superhero shows--even ones centered on female heroes

I'm not gonna lie, I was disappointed when David E. Kelley's Wonder Woman pilot flopped, not because I thought it was good (it wasn't), but because I really, really want a Wonder Woman show. Superheroes are branching into new media with successful films like The Avengers and Nolan's Batman trilogy, but even with the films' success and Smallville's ten seasons, superladies are still conspicuously absent.

But, since the announcement of Arrow and the apparent warm reception to the pilot, CW, Warner Bros., and DC Comics are apparently collaborating to create a Wonder Woman script.  It's a long way from a pilot and an even longer way from a series, but the fact that they're trying--and the fact that they're using Allan Heinberg, who's written Wonder Woman comics (issue 1-5 of her series following the events of Identity Crisis)--gives me hope that we may yet see Wonder Woman on TV again. And, if Arrow continues to show promise, we may see her sooner than later.

The premiere of the show is still over a week away, so there's no telling yet if Arrow will succeed because of these factors or fail in spite of them. Either way, I know I'll be watching next Wednesday with hopes high.