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.

 

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Let’s Talk about That Game of Thrones Episode

A.K.A. Bad writing is sexist writing is bad writing, GoT edition.

Spoilers for GoT through Season 5, Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken.

If you spend any time on the internet, you have already heard of the horrible events of the latest GoT episode. The GoT showrunner’s D&D gave us extra servings of their favorite topping– gratuitous rape.

In the interest of everyone’s sanity, I’m not going to catch us up to this episode. Take my word for it–poor Sansa Stark has been suffering for nearly four seasons now. She has been humiliated publicly by her ex-fiance (the king!), almost raped, threatened with rape, forced to watch her father beheaded. Most of her family is dead. The family members who are alive are presumed dead. It’s not a good time to be Sansa.

Unfortunately for those of us who hate sexism and poor writing, D&D, our resident cackling villains, have taken Sansa on a journey of suffering where everyone is acting either illogically and/or out of character. All so that we can get poor Sansa to the point where she is raped on her wedding night by her new sadistic fiance, Ramsey Bolton.

Take creepy, flesh peddler Littlefinger. A bad guy, absolutely. But thus far, he has proven himself a shrewd and savvy manipulator. He has spies everywhere so he always has the 411. And he’s eeirely obsessed with Sansa. It has something to do with his love for her late mother and how he could never have her. Nevermind that. He would not marry Sansa off to a sadistic creep like Ramsey unless it was for truly great political gain. And he would absolutely know that Ramsey is a creep. He knows everything.

Take the creep Ramsey. He’s been a moustache twirling sadistic villain for a good season or two now. Not at all an interesting character. No shades there. He’s pure evil. We got the point when he tortured and mutilated Theon. And again when he sicked the dogs on his ex lover. There may have been a third or fourth time. I really don’t recall. Evil, we get it. Evil and sadistic. That’s about it. We don’t need the rape scene to teach us he’s evil and sadistic. We know. Sansa knows too– she got it during the awkward family dinner where he reminded her how she was surrounded by people who literally killed her family. Even his dad (the guy responsible for killing Sansa’s mother and brother) told him to STFU and show some manners.

Now, here’s the thing. It doesn’t make sense for Ramsey to rape Sansa. Yes, he’s evil, but he’s been respectful to Sansa so far. He seems to convince Littlefinger that he won’t hurt her (and lord knows Littlefinger would see through a lie). But even if is heart is full of evil, Ramsey is in a tough spot. He needs to stay in line. Once a bastard, now a Bolton, Ramsey is heir as long as he’s the only son around (and as long as he isn’t renounced). But his new step-mom is preggers. Oh noes! The sexist, lackluster writing requires that he ignore any bit of sense so he can rape Sansa on their wedding night.

Bad writing. Sexist writing. They’re all tangled up in each other and there’s no way of telling what came first. One doesn’t excuse or explain the other. Not really. The showrunners made a conscious decision to ignore internal consistency in favor of adding a rape scene that serves no narrative purpose. Bad writing all around. Sexist writing all around.

It’s that same chestnut we discussed many moons ago. Sexist writing is bad writing. Bad writing is sexist writing. Instead of doing something interesting with Sansa’s story, GoT subjects her to horrors we’ve seen before. We know women on the show are raped. And we’ve seen poor Sansa tortured by her sadistic fiance. This was lazy, uninspired writing. It was also sexist. Or maybe it was sexist and lazy and uninspired. There’s no telling which came first, really.

We know Ramsey is evil. We know Sansa is made to suffer. We know Westeros is not an easy place for a lady. There’s no reason why Ramsey needs to rape Sansa. It’s not new information and it doesn’t advance the narrative. It’s not as if the plot the put Sansa in this predicament is interesting and well constructed. It’s like the plot is written around the damn rape scene!

The scene itself doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Sansa enters the room steel-eyed, understanding the expectations of her wedding night. it’s not like she’s excited to have sex with a weird stranger, but she knows it’s expected of her and seems perfectly willing to go along with it. Ramsey acts respectfully toward her. He asks if she likes the way the room is set up and seems genuinely concerned with her well-being. For no apparent reason, Ramsey questions Sansa’s chastity (she was technically married before. How is it she’s really a virgin?) There’s no sign that her answers push him to a breaking point. That they bring out his inner evil or something. That would be bad writing but at least there would be an effort.

There is no narrative reason why Sansa and Ramsey couldn’t have consensual sex. She seems perfectly willing to go along with it until he orders Theon/Reek to watch. And even then, she starts taking off her clothes.

But, for some reason that is not at all apparent in the scene, this is not good enough for Ramsey. He rips off her dress and orders Theon/Reek to watch Sansa become a women. The camera cuts to Sansa’s face for a few seconds then to Theon’s horrified reaction.

This is the worst of it yet.

His reaction becomes more important than hers.

What. The. Fuck!?!?!

That’s bad writing– plot doesn’t happen to main characters to motivate side characters–and it’s really, really sexist. We’ve all seen movies where the wife is killed to motivate the hero (better known as fridge stuffing).

The plot went through a lot of terrible contortions to put Sansa in a situation where she was at risk of sexual assault. All of these things were decisions on the parts of the showrunners. That is how fiction works. Writers make decisions and those decisions shape the plot, the characters, the world. GoT is not based on real life. It is not based on history. There are ice zombies and dragons and 800 foot tall walls. All of these things are DECISIONS. There is nothing inevitable about Sansa’s plot. This is not about her becoming a woman or a player in the game. She doesn’t need any more motivation– she’s surrounded by people who killed her family. That’s plenty motivation. The only possible narrative reason for this scene was to motivate Theon. That is not okay.

That’s bad writing.

That’s sexist writing.

This plot was boring. It was predictable. It was repetitive. And it was sexist.

Unfortunately, GoT has been all of the above.

(And before anyone tells me not to watch if I don’t like it. Well, one that’s a stupid argument. And two, I watch so I can take part in these conversations and because the hate coursing through my veins makes me feel alive).

The Personal is Political

I’ve never thought of myself as a political person. Perhaps, as usual, I underestimated myself in comparison to everyone else. After all, I do have very strong opinions about the feminism and the death penalty and social programs and fair wages…

Okay. I might be more political than I thought. But most of this stuff is obscenely obvious. Who, in this day and age, is actually against women having the right to choose? And who, in this day and age, thinks it’s acceptable for companies to decide what birth control woman should be able to use?

Oh, wait, just THE SUPREME COURT.

Sadly, when you are a woman, the personal is political. Want the same pay as a man who does the same job? You’re greedy. Want birth control? You’re a slut. Want an abortion? Why the fuck didn’t you use birth control, you slut? Want to press charges on your rapist? You were probably asking for it.

When I was younger, say in high school, I didn’t understand why anyone would write a political song. I thought songs needed to be personal. I thought art needed to be about feelings. But, as we all are in high school, I was immature and limited in my perspective.

The political is personal. And it’s full of all sorts of strong emotion. Mostly outrage, but, hell, that’s a strong emotion.

And that is why everything I get so mad at people who tell me their writing is apolitical, or people who tell me they have no message to impart.

There is no point in doing art if you have nothing of value to say.

If you want to write like Seth MacFarlane and continue to spew mildly misogynist shit, because it’s just a TV show, then please, please, stop writing now.

Just stop.

I have no time or patience for you.

There is so much in the world that needs changing. There are so many people whose minds need changing. If you want to write for film or TV, you need to have something to say, because, one day, you will have a platform.

It is not enough to want to entertain people or make them laugh.

You need to make them think.

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

Revisiting the Karaoke Hostess

It’s been nearly two years since I stopped working as a domi. It’s funny. I was only a karaoke hostess for a few months, but it still occupies a large space in my brain. I got funny stories, sure, and met interesting people, but, mostly, the thing was an awakening.

It took a while for me to iron out the thoughts. Maybe they are silly thoughts, petty things, easy to brush aside in favor of real concerns like getting a job and paying the bills.

It’s not as if I am the first woman to see my body as an object. The world wants us to see ourselves as objects. Open up a magazine and you will see page after page of women dissected for their parts–their luscious tits, their perfect asses, their lean legs, their flat stomachs. We are parts, not wholes, smooth and poreless from plenty of photoshop. Sure, men are posed provocatively in ads, but it is never the same. Men are strong and powerful, big muscles and broad shoulders. Women are weak and diminutive, with tiny bodies taking up as little space as possible.

It is hard to explain how if feels to see yourself as thing first, person second. I’m mostly over it, mostly able to think of myself as a whole thing, my brain first, my body second. But I think all women feel this to some degree. How we look is always most important. How much we appeal to men is always most important.

I liked being a karaoke hostess. It was an easy job, except for the cigarette smoke and the late hours. It was surprisingly easy to pretend to like boring assholes. After all, I have been taught how to play this role my whole life. I have been taught to be sexy, to be sweet, to be demure–that is what a woman should be. I have been taught to play defense. I am a thing to be protected, to be defended from the big, scary thing that is male sexuality. Women on defense, men on offense– our culturual expectations play out in those karaoke rooms. I had to deflect groping attempts and requests for sex nicely, like so many women do, despite the progress made by sexual harassment laws.

The funny thing is how unremarkable the whole thing was. I was so used to this kind of thing–wanting to look pretty, win male affection, trade my body for money–that it never stood out to me. I never told any of my friends. A few strangers, here and there. My boyfriend. But friends and family–no way. How would I even explain it? The truth it, I didn’t want them to know. After two years, I crave confessional, but I am afraid of perverting others’ opinions of me. Will they take me less seriously? Will they think I’m a slut? Will they even understand what it was.

I have always had a problem with my self-worth. Many people do, women especially. I have always needed something to measure it by. In the old days, my eating disorder days, I measured my worth by my calorie deficit. The less I ate and the more I exercised, the more value I had. But, with that horrible phase mostly behind me, I needed something else to measure my value–my look and my ability to make money.

In a capitalist society, people are only as good as their ability to earn and spend money. In a sexist society, women are only as good as their ability to fit into the role of mother, wife, or ingenue. How convenient–a job that assured me of my sexual value while it made me a good, little capitalist. The trouble is, it didn’t work out quite like that. Instead of rising, my self-esteem got tangled in the idea of making money. I was only worth what I brought home every night. I was only as happy as what I brought home every night. If I didn’t make enough, I wasn’t enough– pretty enough, fun enough, sexy enough.

I don’t know how I managed to untangle my self-worth. I am finally at a point where I recognize my value as a person, aside from my looks or my earning potential. I still don’t earn a lot of money, but I don’t let it define me. I have moments where I obsess over my appearance– changing my hair, perfecting my makeup, criticizing my stomach–but I acknowledge them and push past them. I wish I had more useful advice, but I have no clue how I arrived at this place.

I don’t regret any of my actions, but I don’t recommend them to others. If you have other options, don’t trade on your sexuality to make money. Not because it is immoral or indecent. Because you start to see yourself as a thing, and it is very hard to see yourself as a person again.

Best of 2013

I am still trying to figure out what I want this blog to be. It’s anonymous, for now, and in equal parts about feminism, screenwriting, and snippets of my life. Expect more of everything in the coming year, even a few thoughts tying my past work as a domi to my feminist take on writing and media. An, of course, more thoughts about Death Note and my other obsessions. Now, without further ado, my recommendations from 2013!

My most popular posts- my take on working as a domi (karaoke hostess) in Koreatown in winter/spring 2012:

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/02/16/domi/

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/02/20/that-girl-karaoke-hostess-continued/

Best feminist analysis/writing advice, but plenty of Death Note spoilers:

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/05/31/death-note-raye-penber/

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/06/12/why-sexist-writing-is-lackluster-writing-death-note-pt-2/

Best slice of life:

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/holy-awkwardness-batman/

https://fionafire.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/the-return-of-awkwardness/

Politically Correct

“Politically Correct” is a funny term. Once upon a time it stood for something. It suggested liberals (it’s always liberals) who went to such great lengths to follow the law and avoid discrimination that they sucked the joy out of everyday activities or fired people for mostly innocuous acts. A teacher mentions God in class and is fired. A company forbids its employees from wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas.” Things like that.

But, the time for PC to mean anything has come and gone. PC has become a strawman argument made by straight, white, middle class men who believe freedom of speech means freedom from criticism. PC is a strawman used by mediocre comedians who believe their racist/sexist/homophobic shtick is innovative and avant-garde.

It’s always straight, white men who complain about these things, as if political correctness is somehow limiting their ability to express themselves. How dare people criticize tit and ass ogling spectacles like Dragon’s Crown. All this PC bullshut is destroying freedom of speech. Why do we need more women/minorities in games/movies/tv? All the PC bullshit is limiting creative freedom! “Rape culture!” What PC bullshit.

PC whiners are very, very outraged that anyone would think to criticize their precious movies/books/songs/games/TV shows for political or sociological reasons. In their mind, media should be criticized only for how enjoyable it is. Any mention of politics is PC bullshit ran astray. This is especially potent in the sphere of gaming where people are FINALLY talking about angency-less female characters looking like fucktoys (although the issue of agency in games is a whole other “what is art” kind of discussion) and (to a lesser degree) talking about how all the characters are white.

A common complaint goes something like this:

“Game developers need to feel free to explore these issues if it fits their games story, but should in no way have to worry about political backlash because they didn’t have a protagonist that was a minority or enough non-sexualized women in their games. They should be able to tell their stories how they want.

http://www.ign.com/boards/threads/do-gender-minority-roles-in-gaming-need-to-be-challenged.453358093/

Often, the commenter will start with claims that he or she is not in fact sexist/racist/transphobic. He (usually a he, but let’s be fair- women can be just as sexist and misogynist as men) points out a few examples so extreme he’d have to be blind not to notice them (e.g. Dragon Age). But this commenter does not understand what freedom of speech means. He believes that media creation is an altruistic act, an inspired, creative act. He believes that his precious media is motivated by the desire to make awesome art rather than the desire to make a buck. Writers, musicians, comedians, and game developers have never been able to tell their stories how they want. They always answer to someone whether it is their bosses or their customers. Freedom of speech does not mean freedom of criticism. You can say you hate Jews. I can say you’re a stupid fuckbag. I can protest your game. I can call for a boycott. The freedom to assemble is, in fact, part of freedom of speech. It is not censorship. It is not PC bullshit. It is me, exercising MY freedom of speech. It does not, in fact, limit your freedom of speech.

You can’t have it both ways. If media is protected by freedom of speech, criticism of media is protected by freedom of speech. Trying to shut down this criticism is EXACTLY THE THING PC whiners are whining about. 

It’s funny, because the same people will complain if filmmakers cast a minority in a white role or if game developers squeeze i Ugh! Why are these bastards forcing their PC bullshit on me.n a homosexual romance subplot.

I don’t mean to pick on gamers. This was just the most illustrative comment I found in my google searching. Gamers occupy a large terrain on the net. Their medium is younger and, on average, less mature than the others I listed. They tend to be the most vocal whiners since games are undergoing A TON of criticism for favoring straight, white dudes.

Plenty of movie fans and screenwriters do this shit too.

As fans, we need to be careful not to fall into the trap of limiting discussion. We need to vote with our dollars and refuse to support media that strikes us as sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. As creators, we need to be aware of what we are creating. Sure, we can get away with a script where straight, white men save the world from German, Russian, or Muslim terrorists. But can doesn’t mean should. You can drink a 12 pack of mountain dew in an hour. But you certainly shouldn’t.