Jessica Jones and Power

It’s been a while. I wish I had a good excuse, but, mostly, I’ve been writing like hell.

It’s funny. Even on this blog, I hesitate to label myself a romance writer. But that is what I am, and, at this point, I’m pretty damn good at it. My books are doing well enough that I don’t need a twice month angst outpouring.

No matter what I do, as a romance novelist, I will never command the respect of a writer from another genre. No one writes AV club reviews or think pieces about typical romances. Is this disinterest or subtle misogyny? A little of both? No matter how much people pay lip service to strong female characters, women’s fiction is still considered inherently less worthwhile than men’s.

From a different angle, Jessica Jones is women’s fiction. The title character is suffering PTSD after being kidnapped and raped (by a man with mind control powers — not the most subtle metaphor but it never pulls a punch). People don’t believe her story. She copes by drinking and pushing everyone away. She’s capable and smart but she’s not a good tactician.

The villain is not out to destroy the world, the country, or even the city. He’s out to get Jessica back under his thumb. He’s dangerous because he’s impatient and petulant and willing to do whatever it takes to fuck with her.

Jessica Jones is a Marvel show. It’s funny looking at the comments on the AV Club because most of them are through the super hero lense– they compare it to Daredevil and discuss other Marvel characters. The show is cool in ways Law and Order SVU will never be cool, despite the similar subject material (that’s not sexism, of course, Law and Order will never be cool either). It’s Marvel, so it’s part of geek culture, and it gets all the neat pluses that come with being part of a culture that is somehow mainstream and indie cool at once.

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But Jessica Jones is not about superheroes. Not the way The Avengers or even Spiderman, a much closer relative, is. Jessica Jones is about power, specifically power imbalances between men and women, white people and minorities, the super human and the average.

The stakes are personal. And they should be personal. People without power feel the imbalance in personal ways every single day.

I don’t like most super hero movies. They are too abstract with their missions to save the world, too unrelatable with their super powered heroes, too empty with their generic evil villains. But they are taken much more seriously than equivalent genre fiction (like romance) because of their geek culture status.

There’s nothing wrong with a good escapist super hero TV show with no deeper meaning. But it’s not for me. The world is destroyed– so what? We’re all dead. What does any of it matter?

I want stakes I understand. And I understand a woman wanting to punish the man who abused her.

Jessica makes terrible decisions because she’s so caught up in using the legal system to find justice. She’s not willing to kill her abuser, because that means she won’t be able to prove he manipulated an innocent girl to get to Jessica. She’s unwilling to get additional treatment for her PTSD (partially because of cost). She drinks too much. She doesn’t have any good friends.

She is not some fantastical rape survivor who is magically okay. She is not some tragic rape survivor who is horribly broken. She is most the same woman she was before she was abused, only with PTSD and a less under control drinking problem.

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There is a divide when people talk about “strong female characters.” They focus on stereotypically masculine modes of strength or shove women into the “feisty bad ass” box. They talk about how a female character is cool because she acts like a man, as if a woman could never be cool, powerful, or strong.

But there are other ways a person can be strong, more stereotypically feminine ways– caring for the people around them emotionally and physically, using words, charm, or sexuality, using the admiration of others, and Jessica Jones highlights many of these.  Jessica exhibits stereotypically masculine strength. She nails the wisecracking PI trope to a T. But she is not stronger for her lack of feminine traits. She is weaker for her inability to deal with her emotions. Her untreated PTSD causes her to make all sorts of bad decisions. Her insistence on doing everything herself causes all sorts of trouble.

Trisch is a smart, caring, and supportive friend (feminine) who is learning self-defensive (masculine). Malcolm is a wannabe social worker who tries to help people (feminine). Killgrave uses pleasantness and manipulation (typically feminine traits) and super powers and blunt strength (typically masculine traits) to get his way.

It is not a perfect show. There is some spotty plotting. The show occasionally hits cliches (when you hear the police detective announce he’s two years from retirement you know what’s coming). It is lacking in women of color considering the NYC setting. But, overall, it’s a great psychological thriller super hero crossover. Without going into spoilers, it never excuses the villain, Killgrave for his actions. He is a real life abuser– charming enough to convince us he is not all bad in one breath and despicable in the next.

 

Parks and Rec

I had a rant planned, but I’m putting it aside in favor of a little praise.

Parks and Rec is not the greatest TV show in the world. It isn’t revolutionizing the medium. It doesn’t get great numbers. It’s so sweet it could make you sick. But it’s well into the “good” territory, it’s characters are well-drawn, and it hits most of its laughs.

And the show is unapologetically feminist.

It’s feminist and it’s not a big deal. Leslie Knope is the closest thing to a great role model for girls who don’t realize they can be leaders. Leslie is a obnoxious and overbearing (it is a comedy, after all), but only because she cares too much. No one ever puts her down for being a woman. No one can stand in her way when she wants something.

Her friendship with Anne is as important to her as her romantic relationships, even when those romantic relationships get serious. She chooses her career over love (but ends up getting both). She tries hard. Sometimes she succeeds, sometimes she fails, but she always picks herself up and brushes herself off again.

It’s sad how rare this is. I can’t think of many other shows on TV with developed characters of color, female leaders/role models, and women who care about their friends as much as they care about their boyfriends. I should need to praise Parks and Rec for meeting this very low bar, but I do, because so few movies and TV shows meet this bar.

Still, it’s nice people watch and talk about Parks and Rec. There is plenty in the show to talk about besides its feminist leanings. It is feminist and it’s a lot of other stuff too.

We should all aim for our writing to be like this–it can just happen to espouse the ideals we need

 

For the Love of God, Stop Making Up Tests

http://www.slate.com/blogs/xx_factor/2014/01/07/the_bechdel_test_needs_an_update_we_ve_set_the_bar_for_female_representation.html

Dear Journalists, Film Critics, and Feminist bloggers,

Please stop making tests. Please, for the love of God, stop making up tests. I understand, your intentions are good. You’ve noticed that women don’t get the kind of representation men get onscreen. You find this unfair. You want women to get a better deal. You want more stories about women, more stories where women are important, more stories where women do more than love some guy or get loved by some guy.

But you are not helping anyone with these tests.

Listen, the problem isn’t that any one movie doesn’t pass any test. The Bechdel Test is interesting not because any one movie fails it, but because 3/4 of movies fail it. And, really, it doesn’t matter if a movie passes the Bechdel Test. It can still be a misogynist piece of shit if it passes. It can still be a brilliant, feminist work if it fails. The actual test tells us nothing but a movie. It tells us something about the film industry. It tells us something about the big picture.

And, you, dear journalists, no doubt realized this. You are overeducated and underemployed, no doubt. So you create a new test, a test that WILL tell us if women are properly represented in a film. But such a test is pointless, because movies are not products, and they do not need to fit into some Consumer Reports checklist. Movies are works of art and they are meant to be interpreted emotionally. They cannot be broken into yes or no criteria. They have to be looked at as a whole. They have to be considered in their genre, and as part of a larger culture. And, really, it really, really doesn’t matter if ONE movie fails any one, or twenty tests.

The Bechdel Test works to open eyes because it is simple and obvious, because it seems easy to pass, because you don’t even notice how many movies fai. But focusing on The Bechdel Test makes people think about the test. It makes people think of excuses and exceptions, instead of considering that maybe, just maybe, there is a problem with only allowing women to occupy certain kinds of stories, with only allowing women to be the main character of a story for women. Because the problem isn’t that The Shawshank Redemption fails the Bechdel Test. The problem is that all the heros of all the movies are dudes, and their goals are the only interest of the female sidekicks/love interests.

Stop focusing on the test. Making up tests is a fine way to pass the time, but it passes for productivity. Making up tests does nothing to help the role of women in film. It helps journalists write about films. It helps blogs get clicks. It makes people feel like good, productive feminists while doing absolutely nothing.

If you want more women in movies, say you want more women in movies. Don’t make up a test to point out that women are not in movies. WE HAVE ALREADY ESTABLISHED THAT. Tell me something meaningful. Tell me why we don’t value women as characters, and how that means we don’t value them as people. Tell me about how people write off The Hunger Games while praising Harry Potter. Tell me something meaningful. Don’t recite a list of rules. Rules will never tell you if a movie is good. Rules will never tell you if a movie supports women. Rules will never tell you if a movie is feminist.

Listen, let’s not be shy. Let’s not act like we will be appeased by a movie passing some test that is meant to be a bare minimum. Let’s be loud. Let’s demand more stories about women’s lives–their jobs, their lovers, their friends, their goals, their kids, their family, their status as the chosen ones.

Because, when I write my films and books about women and their relationships to love and sex, I don’t give a fuck if I pass any tests. I give a fuck about telling an interesting story about a real, 3-dimensional character. I give a fuck about what she wants, and, no, I don’t care if she wants a man. Because there is nothing wrong with wanting a member of whatever gender you are attracted to. There is nothing wrong with a woman talking about a man. There is nothing wrong with a story about heterosexual romance.

We all have relationships–romantic, platonic, familial–with members of the opposite sex. That’s okay. That’s great! There’s nothing wrong with women having relationships with men. There is something wrong with 2-dimensional, women-like creations caring about nothing other than the MALE PROTAGONIST.

So, please, stop making up tests and tell me something that actually means something.

Love,
Fiona Fire

Manic Pixie Whatever

It’s funny reading through old scripts. They are simultaneously so much better and worse than I remember.

One of my older scripts is the funniest. It’s a mumblecore kind of thing– 90 pages of people talking about the meaning of life. But that’s not the funny part. The funny part is that I wrote a perfect manic pixie dream girl. The girl literally tries to show the boy the meaning of life. It’s embarrassing, to say the least. And, in my first few drafts, that’s all she was. A manic pixie dream girl to save the tortured boy. Ah, how I wanted to be that girl, once upon a time, to save a troubled artist and peer inside his beautiful soul. But a friend read the script and he called me out. And I realized, fuck, this girl should have problems. I certainly do. And so she does. And she doesn’t talk to Mr. Protagonist just for his story. She does it to exorcise her old demons. And, by the end, she’s realized she can’t deal with his problems. She has her own shit to deal with.

And, now, I’m trying to think of a way to update it for public consumption. To make my manic pixie dream girl the main character. Because who is more interesting–some suicidal rocker or a woman so desperate to be needed that she tries to save an acquaintance from his suicidal tendencies?

Box Office

I just love that the top two films of the week (Catching Fire and Frozen) are stories about women. Together, they made $140 million, and this is Catching Fire’s second week. They made more than the other eight films in the top ten combines.

Sadly, these weeks are a rare thing. But let’s try to stay optimistic.

The Hunger Games

I’ve noticed an incredibly obnoxious trend. People, mostly male adults, aim to discredit The Hunger Games–the books and the films–because the franchise is aimed at teenage girls. Because, of course, if something is aimed at teenage girls, it must be inane. A novel aimed at teenage girls could never contain intelligent social commentary or touch on the horrors of war, trauma, and PTSD. Everyone knows GIRLS DON’T GO TO WAR. Only MEN go to war. Only men can write REAL books about war. Only men write serious books. Joseph Heller, Ernest Hemingway, Joseph Conrad, Kurt Vonnegut–these are MEN who know war, who can write real books, about men, for men.

And, wow, The Onion, I am so impressed that you can mock 14 year old girls. Now go circle jerk over Breaking Bad with your bros at the AV Club.

The only thing worse is people complaining that Gale is hotter than Peeta. Missing the point for 800, Alec. It’s almost as idiotic as creating a Hunger Games inspired makeup line. Oh wait, they already did that… because we all know teenage girls like makeup.

A Girl in a Boys Club

This is a long and angry rant, so if you are not in the mood for that, please check out now.

There’s a fair amount of productive and non-productive things I should be doing. I should write notes on my screenplay. I should write notes on the stuff I have to read for my writer’s group. I should begin the arduous blind query process.

But I do not wish to do any of those things.

I could do a number of enjoyable, less productive things. I could play Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies. I could finish the movie I was watching last night. I could take a bike ride.

But I do not wish to do any of those things.

No, I am filled with that vague “I want to go home” feeling, even though I’m at home. I am so full of malaise I don’t know what to do with myself. No, I do know. I will sit and stare and alt-tab long enough to squash productivity into non-existence.

It may sound stupid, why my general bad mood is compounded by more shitty shit, but it’s hard to care so much about things and see other people brush them off.

No, I am not talking about my writing.

I’m talking the f-word. Yes, feminism, but not the productive feminism that tries to bust bullshit abortion laws. I am not that useful. I am talking the intersection of feminism and media criticism and writing (yeah, not a real intersection, but whatever). I am talking caring about things like representation of women on screen or in video games. I am talking caring about woman as actual, three dimensional characters and not sex objects, plot points, or things to be rescued. I am talking about something so few people give three fucks about.

I need to get out of my circles. I am so tired of other writers, upon learning of my unapologetically feminist “brand,” apologizing to me for their lack of female characters or quoting the Bechdel test. Fuck the Bechdel test. Can we please stop pretending like this arbitrary test is some way to prove a movie cares about women? I am so tired of smart, compassionate people making lame excuses. Just this week, John August and Craig Mazin were on Scriptnotes–a  popular screenwriting podcast– talking damsels in distress. Halfway through the episode I was so fucking happy, I started penning a thank you email in my head. Finally, two writers people respect, on a super-popular podcast, are talking about women being reduced to objects and plot points. And people will listen, because John and Craig are not women and they are not feminists and they do not have “an agenda.” And, when I return to my podcast, my heart sinks, because they backpedal and make excuses for including damsels in their current projects.

There are people who care about these things, but most care only enough to pay lip service to the idea. Few take action. Few care enough to change their their writing or mention misogyny when they give notes. I am so tired of feeling like I am tearing my hair out and screaming at the top of my lungs. I am so tired of caring so much about things when no one else gives a fuck. I am so tired of all the horrible things that happen to women everywhere. And, I know a lot of people think it’s stupid to care so much about trivial things like movies and TV when there are “real problems” in the world. But, these aren’t trivial things. Movies and TV are where we learn who we are, who everyone else is. Movies and TV are where we get our ideas about love, work, and family. Movies and TV are why, until I was well into my 20s, I really believed all men want nothing but sex and that “taking advantage” of a drunk girl is totally normal. Movies and TV (and books and magazines and billboards and music and commercials) are much of why I had an eating disorder for years and why I still can’t get over this fucking split in my head that has me craving and hating the feeling of being objectified simultaneously.

So, no, I am not willing to write off movies and TV as trivial, because girls are still learning that being pretty is more important than being smart. Girls are still learning that they are the sidekicks and love interests in their own story. Girls are still learning that Prince Charming or Spiderman or Edward or whoever the fuck Liam Neeson plays in Taken is coming to save them. And when these girls become women, they hold onto these ideas. And, if they are anything like me, their thoughts and self-esteem are fucked because of it.

And, yes, the patriarchy hurts men too, and boys are taught all sorts of terrible things they still believe as men, but that’s a topic for another day.

It feels like such a small request–to want to see better female characters, better representations of women–something to watch besides bro movies about bros. And these bros are rather limited too–raunchy players, stoic heroes, loveable losers, awkward nerds–but for every cookie cutter trope, there’s a nuanced character to balance him out.

I want to tear myself away from writing this so I can actually get some shit done, but I can’t. I am so angry I can’t think. I am so angry that I will continue to see the reflection of myself as nothing more than a bunch of bullshit stereotypes. I am so angry that my friends dismiss sites like esher girls or the hawkeye initiative as something you only need to see once, or when a friend refers to my history with an eating disorder as a girl problems, or when my boyfriend makes a joke about me not being able to work at his company because I wouldn’t put up with the sexual harassment. These are my friends. These are people who are above average. These are not the asshole running pick up artist blogs or whining about the friendzone on reddit or calling me PC for any mention of feminist ideas. These are people who care.

God forbid, I read the comments on Kotaku or Gawker.

And, really, I should be working, and not wallowing in this pathos, but when I tried to read my script on the kindle I just couldn’t. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m indicting men. I wish it were only men who participated in this bullshit. Plenty of women play a part, especially in the genres I write. I’m looking at you 50 Shades of Grey and forgettably named knockoffs–with your pretty, inexperienced, educated, young, white protagonists and your handsome, educated, rich, type-A love interests. 

I know, I’m circling around my point, but it’s time to restate my thesis. I am tired of caring so much about how women are viewed in the media when no one I know cares a lick. Because it’s easy for these male individuals to write this off as someone else’s problem. After all, they can still be the hero. They can still save the day. They can still get the girl (and she’s always a girl). They can still be valuable, even if they aren’t sexy.

Sometimes I think it would be easier to shut off my internet and leave this male-dominated industry, but where would I go? I don’t have any skills, and my back up plan has always been programming. I know enough to know I could learn how to do it, and I know enough about the job market to know I need a skill employers value. But will things really be better in another male dominated industry?

I need some female friends.

I need to get out of my head.

I need to get off the fucking internet.