Understanding Male Gaze

It was male gaze that made me realize that I was not entirely straight and not entirely female. My attention given to women and female-presenting people was always more hungry and carnal than the way more sapphic cis women did. I always appreciated the female body in a way that felt more masculine, more male, more physical and that was when I started to understand male gaze. I didn’t want to write poetry about women, I wanted to be with women. That was how I started to understand male gaze. 

Male gaze is something that not many enjoy talking about and the ones that do like to talk about it tend to only approach it from the stance of “it’s bad”. Well, sure it is, but it’s complicated. Male gaze like most things is neutral but has a negative connotation. It is, in short, the way cameras and media tend to leer, frame and discuss the female body; often sexualizing things that are not inherently sexual or lingering on a frame or part of the body. Male gaze is best seen on film either from cameras or motion pictures and there are notable examples like Michael Bay and his determination to shoot women like cars (his background was in music videos and ads) or the way swimsuit magazines even exist. 

Female gaze would be the feminist and female counterpart and not to say women don’t sexualize the female form or the male form, for that matter. But female gaze tends to be more nuanced, far more subtle and less focused on sexualizing the mundane. Female gaze is interesting and could really be its own topic but I was pretty sure I understood what male gaze was; I could throw it around like the very best of postmodern media critics. I thought I understood male gaze because I have seen a Michael Bay Transformers movie. But no, I was wrong. It was a music video that really helped me understand male gaze. 

Call on Me is a song I’ve heard plenty of times but have never seen the music video that accompanied the song. Not that I’m from the generation that aged out of music videos, this one just somehow managed to slide under my radar for many years. What immediately struck me to the point of nearly delirious laughter was just how horny this video was. And by horny I mostly just mean the choices made. Every shot is an extreme closeup or perfectly framed around a female human form. It’s also a male power fantasy in that of course there’s only one man in this incredibly sensual dancercise class. Each shot is just…good, lord. I think the first time I watched I was just sorta stunned. I’ve seen the video a few times now and each time over, I’m still struck by how many choices were made that made what should just be an aerobic dance class into a voyeuristic orgy.

It’s a choice and if I was the director, not a choice I think I’d make. But it is indeed a choice. 

And that’s the perfect encapsulation of male gaze. It’s easy to see why these decisions are made by directors: I’m still thinking about and talking about this music video in the way that we love to jeer and mock Transformers and still give Michael Bay money for some reason. It was a choice to film women the way the director did, a choice to time each hip thrust, each close up on breasts and each legging-clad woman’s ass. It was a choice to make something like exercise, something that human beings just do, incredibly sexy for no reason at all. There was no point making the video the way they did outside of a very tantalizing reason; one more tempting than the promise of sex despite being an inadequate man who doesn’t deserve the women who give him attention: money. 

The female body still sells, sex still sells and even in a world that is trying its damndest to embrace a more gender neutral world and one that focuses more on women as equals; a woman’s body still brings in capital. Now, I do know this video is a few years old but the sentiment and feelings behind it haven’t changed much. The same ideas that went into making this video are the same ones that allow modern movies and music videos to be made and be profitable. And sadly, it works. When we still view women as a commodity and sex as a product, it works and I’m giving more attention to a music video that realistically could and should just fade into the background hum of the universe. 

This month, we’re going to be talking more about gaze and while we won’t be discussing male gaze next time, I don’t want you all to forget the power and potency of male gaze. None of us are immune as even though we like to think we are beyond that in film and advertising, we are far from so evolved to not be swayed by the siren’s call of male gaze. The way cameras linger and leer on the female body and encourage you to follow its stare and the way women are put into clothes that can barely be described as; the fetishization of school girls, youth and why it’s gross to have your hair in a ponytail: all of that is an aspect of male gaze and it leeches in pervasive ways into day to day life. 

I hope that you came away from this little discussion with a better understanding of male gaze; it’s a word I see thrown around a lot and like many of the Tumblr criticism terms is not one that is often defined correctly. Like people can get about half way there to a compelling argument about male gaze and then they take a wrong turn at toxic masculinity and the whole thing goes to hell. 

Stay learned, dear reader. 

About Tone

My human shell is small and of a woman of color. My melanin has much baggage with it but one of the most painful pieces of baggage that I have been given is one of “the angry black woman”. The Angry Black Woman is a trope nearly as old as time. We’ve all encountered her. She’s usually large, has short hair and can hit you with a pot of grits from one hundred paces. For examples, see literally most Tyler Perry movies or many 90s sitcoms written by men (black men are not immune to this trope, in fact, they may be the worst perpetrators of this as the “crazy black girl” is a real form of sexism in the African-American community). The Angry Black Woman could be its own blog post but because of that trope, because of that stereotype I am very aware of tone and am very aware of my tone.

Which brings us to today’s topic. Tone policing, speech and and how one can properly express indignation.

It was actually Amber that got me thinking about tone. She is a proud member of a local African-American community group and her discussions about our shared history, our legacy of mistreatment and our slow but steady rise to semi-equality are insightful and brilliant. Remember a few years ago when I mentioned that now, just now, I became a somewhat angry black person over the history of mistreatment and the cruel legacy of racism and slavery. But my anger is tempered mostly. Because I am at the stage with casual racism, casual misogyny, casual transphobia and casual homophobia and just the regular versions of all of those things that my response to such is just a deep and beleaguered sigh.

I am tired. I am so tired of this. I have endured such things now for nearly 30 years. And I am tired. I am tired of being explained my history by mostly white people who are wrong. I’m tired of people saying they are an ally but and I am tired so so tired of people talking over me or talking for me.

But I am a well-trained Southern prince. I am not to speak out of turn. I am not to raise my voice and I am not to be too firm on anything. It’s unbecoming. It’s unladylike. I’ll never get married if I keep saying such hot button things like “Women are people.”

The training is hard to rewrite and thus, my tone is mixed between shrieking harpy and somewhat passive-aggressive pageant contestant.  I was trained to avoid religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin in public speech. And whenever I have been more openly political and aggressive with expressing my own views (if you’ve ever seen one of my panel videos, you know what I mean) I find that my tone is oftentimes sharp, pointed and somewhat irked that I even have to “defend” statements that to me and those I surround myself with willingly are not controversial, brave or a surprise. And that’s difficult to manage as a panelist, podcaster, and person. I have to be able to explain why my family’s history only goes back so far. I have to be able to explain why my hair is relaxed or why my human name is so white sounding. I have to be able to explain those things because explaining them helps people understand the complicated legacy of slavery, racism and white hegemony that rests on mine and the shoulders over every person of color in this nation, nay, the world.  

I am a communicator by trade be it both in my professional life and my panelist life and that means I am aware of how people listen. And I can promise you this: no one responds well to a shrieking harpy. It shuts people down. And while my indignation is valid, yelling, being pointed or being terse is no way to further a narrative.

But here is where Amber steps in. She seems no need to police tone. When she is terse or irked, she expresses so. And she passionately defends others who can be terse or aggressive with their tones. A showing of a local black-centric documentary brought up this conversation. I was hung up on a use of a word and Amber finally pressed me on why that bothered me. I said because it has the potential to make things sounds more intense than they were and Amber in the way only really she can said: “So?”

I didn’t know how to respond to that. Because I was taught to be measured, I expected this film to be measured and when it wasn’t, it angered me. Why couldn’t they just sit quietly and let civil rights infractions happen? Why didn’t they have my training? Why didn’t they have to deal with what I do?

And here is where I’ll pause to say there’s a fair amount of misogyny in that answer. My human shell is female and thus me being opinionated, blunt, educated and vocal is oftentimes framed entirely differently than if it were a man in my shoes. A man who confidently speaks over women, interrupts them, confidently spews the wrong thing is a smart, brave and driven man. A woman who does even one or more of these things is a shrill harpy and she’ll die alone because no man wants a woman with opinions, merely a set of ovaries and some bangs.

The reasons behind this are rooted in the patriarchal nature of Western culture and that’s a battle I cannot fight on my own.

So because of that double standard, I am hyper-aware of my tone while simultaneously being my most tired of having to police my tone. If someone is wrong, you should be able to say so respectfully. But challenging the status quo is how change happens. We would never have achieved freedom, emancipation, suffrage or the close grasp at equality we have now if people did not challenge the narrative. And sometimes that means not being nice. Pageant answers can only get you so far. Sometimes to really be an agent of change: one has to throw tone out the window.

When I Say “I’m Tired”

“Tired, tired with nothing, tired with everything, tired with the world’s weight he had never chosen to bear.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Beautiful and Damned.png

It wasn’t long after my birthday that Amber finally pressed me  further when I said that I was tired casually at brunch. It’s a response that I give often to the tedious question of “How are you?” and its variants. It’s a bit of a default response from me nowadays but the people that actually care about me that have noticed it. So I wanted to go over a few of the reasons why you’ve been hearing me say “I’m tired.” quite a bit.


It’s a Default Response

Typically, if I say “I’m tired.” I’m probably just avoiding answering the question of “How are you?” and its many disguises. I’m seldom intentionally trying to be rude with this answer (sometimes I am, see “catcalling” as an example) but I find it hard to be open with that question. Many people don’t want to hear that I may be a little sad because I miss my parents. Or that my day at work was long. Or that I’m really thinking about how a snake would hold a knife. It’s a means of protecting for the both of us, really. You don’t really want to know how I am if you don’t know the full leathery demon that I am. If you are, however, formally acquainted with my true casual swamp witch self then there may be other reasons why I’m saying “I’m tired.”


I Am Actually Tired

I have insomnia (likely caused by anxiety but we’ll get to that). I’m also anemic (thanks, endometriosis) and I’m not too proud to admit that I don’t always take great care of myself. My job is sedentary and occasionally I have a fickle appetite that means that dinner is Hawaiian sweet rolls and a dream. None of this likely helps the fact that I am truly an insomniac. That means there are plenty of nights that I just do not sleep. I take a fair amount of medication to make sure that I do sleep but every once in awhile, that fails me and I am up, awake and alert with my thoughts as the rest of the world sleeps. It is normally pretty easy to tell the difference, though, between being physically tired or emotionally tired. You can tell if I am actually tired by the size of the bags under my eyes: if I just look slightly puffy, probably did sleep some the night before. If you could, in fact, check my bags as luggage while flying, then I probably didn’t sleep and I would suggest not speaking or moving too quickly without dropping off tacos or coffee to appease me.


I Am Emotionally Tired (Because of Mental Health)

I am anxious. My thoughts can be oppressive and unkind. That means that emotionally, I am seldom allowed to rest. It means that oftentimes in my mind I hear mostly negative things about myself and mostly untrue things that my friends must certainly feel about me. My brain is always buzzing and that noise makes it very hard to really rest. I joke oftentimes that my panels are written at 3 A.M. and while that’s said in jest, sometimes it’s true. I do try to use the time I am awake with the owls to create and be creative but often times that just leaves me more tired. Being anxious on its own is a burden to carry but the way it affects my sleep schedule and clouds my mind is insidious. So even though I may have physically slept for several hours, most of it isn’t restorative or restful.


I Am Emotionally Tired (Because the World is a Hot Dumpster Fire)

While at Jo-Ann Fabrics not long ago, when asked “Why are you tired?” as a somewhat valid follow-up question from a questionably concerned cashier my response was thus:

“Ennui, malaise, the patriarchy, microaggressions, racismhomophobia, sexism…I can go on.”

She was satisfied with my answer or at least annoyed that I was flippant. But obnoxious response aside, I’m not entirely joking when I provide those as answers to the question of “Why are you tired?”

It’s exhausting having to go through day to day life being worried if someone is going hurt and/or kill me for being myself. And this is a feeling I have never had before in my life. I am from a remarkable amount of privilege and even though my life may not always be conventional, I’ve been never worried about someone hating me or hurting me because of who I am. This irrational (let’s be real, it’s pretty rational) fear is incredibly taxing and takes up more of my brain than I like admitting. And I’m a social media manager, I don’t have the luxury or ability to “just log off”; it is my job to stay connected. But all of it really is quite draining. It’s exhausting having to day in and day out hear catcalls and statements that either seek to qualify or quantify my level of blackness or whiteness. It’s exhausting looking at social media to see another mass shooting, another racially or gender/sex-based crime. It’s tiresome watching the president flail around and thus play chess with human lives. The world is a dumpster fire; the good news is we can recover from a dumpster fire but that doesn’t mean that the fumes and fallout are pleasant to enjoy while it burns.


I’m finally realizing just how often I say “I’m tired.” in day to day life. It’s not something I’m proud of. It’s a lazy verbal shorthand for a myriad of feelings. I can be more vulnerable. I’m pretty used to putting myself second while also always being afraid of putting too much on people so this is a clever little trick to give an answer without giving an answer: it defuses people who are asking either out of obligation or a shallow level of caring and it also builds a wall around me from having to answer to the people who actually do care about me.

I’ll try to be more careful with my words in the future: I’m a writer after all, I can do better.

 

With Friends Like These

“Abandon the cultural myth that all female friendships must be bitchy, toxic, or competitive. This myth is like heels and purses — pretty but designed to SLOW women down.” ― Roxa

I’ve been one of the guys since as long as I could remember. High school was full of mostly platonic guy friends and the occasional male suitor; not to say I didn’t have female friends, I had many three that were close but the rest were simply rivals to non-existent potential relationships. College was some female friends which is especially funny considering that my alma mater was overwhelmingly female. But like many things patriarchal, it was never encouraged for me to make friends with females. Female friends would only steal your man and waste your time with duplicitous lies and incessant neediness. This is what society taught me. That to be friends with females was to be in a Mean Girls-style girl gang full of cackling she-devils.

It took me well into my 20s to learn that I couldn’t be more wrong.

The shift did technically start in college. I was surrounded by my anime club members (who were mostly female) and other close friends that helped support me from my high points to my low. It was my girl friends who kept me sane and my senpais (who are all female) that gave me someone to look up to and aspire to be like.

It was post-grad that I separated from many of my female friends. We tried to stay in touch and the ones that still matter to me, did. But post-grad I fell more into the folds of the LGBT community and to put it bluntly, there’s a fair amount of misogyny in the gay community and the most important show to me during that time was RuPaul’s Drag Race, which is essentially (at least for most seasons) 10 or so gay men ranting about how awful biological females are while trying to be better women than biological females with just a hint of casual racism and transphobia sprinkled in for good measure.

Pop culture is also full of vapid female groupings that emphasize a very specific type of female friendship. The Ashleys from Recess (yes, I’m old) come to mind of just a gaggle of gossipy gals. Additionally, because of the patriarchy, it was always an asset for me to be “one of the guys”. The fact that I “wasn’t like most girls” made it easier for guys to relate to me since all the things synonymous with being part of a girl gang were negative like being chatty, manipulative or excessively emotional.

When I first moved back to San Antonio, my friend group stayed small. It was mostly the ones I had kept from college and if anything I went through a similar friend purge that most mid to late 20-somethings go through. I lost people that I thought I’d have in my life until I decide to return to the swamp that birthed me.

But I have some people in my life now that are ride-or-die. And I’ve never really experienced this from friends of any kind. I have people in my life willing to fight for me when I am not willing to fight for myself (which, let’s be honest, is most of the time). I have folks that empower me, inspire me, challenge me and think that I am worth something (which is, let’s be honest, not something I feel all the time). I didn’t think this was possible from friendships, I didn’t think this was even conceivable from female friends. I’m not one to fight for myself and I hate conflict (thanks, trauma) so I’m willing to stay close to people who hurt me. I don’t feel like I have to sacrifice anything with these ladies and I feel supported (genuinely), lifted up (expertly) and empowered (sometimes too much).

So I wanted to take some time out to thank some of the members of my Girl Gang.

Amanda: Literally, this is a girl I met at LUSH (she thought I was a secret shopper because I caught one of the most obscure references in a commercial retailer ever) and we said we were both going to the same con. During that con at one of my panels I mentioned that I had one right after the other and that I needed food. LIKE A CHAMPION, this girl brought me chicken nuggets right in the middle of my set and it’s been a friendship made in anime series history ever since then.

Victoria: She’s the best mom-friend I never thought I needed. Fellow Slytherin, fellow feminist, fellow person filled with ennui but just so much endless love and support. I’m emotional even thinking about it. I’m so lucky to have her in my life and every part of her life is just magical.

Amber: The current longest running member of the Girl Gang. I have known her since college. She was my treasurer in the anime club I ran in college and helped keep me sane with my Vice President resigned suddenly. Amber is a frequent figure mentioned on my blog: she is my travel companion and close friend and I’m so fortunate to still have her in my life 10 years nearly on (I’m so old…).

Lisa: Lisa is honestly one of the most spectacular women I have ever met. There’s a reason I continue to work with her over and over again. I have never had someone so in my corner. She’s brilliant and the world sorely needs more people as empathetic, enthusiastic and kind as Lisa.

I’ve spent a lot of time valuing others more than myself but it’s amazing and frankly, relieving to have these wonderful women in my life that support me so much. Society tells us that when girls get together it’s nothing but incessant chatter and back-handed compliments. When we get together it’s talks about philosophy and art. It’s support that is genuine and real. It’s a love that is unselfish and kind. It’s listening and caring and telling you when your skirt doesn’t match your top. It’s telling you that your boyfriend’s behavior is scary and making a family when your own is a hot trash pile.

It’s a type of friendship I didn’t think that was possible or that I deserved but I’m so happy to have it.

The Trope Trope

“A strong woman who recklessly throws away her strength, she is worse than a weak woman who has never had any strength to throw away.” ― Thomas Hardy, Tess of the D'Urbervilles.png

When I was little and watching the Star Wars prequels (yes, I grew up with the prequels) I didn’t question Senator Amidala and her power. I didn’t question the waffling between her being a queen or a senator or even really when she just became arm candy to Anakin. What I saw was a woman with a blaster who, when the movie let her, was a badass. And when I later saw her daughter, Leia, in the movies; I found an equally powerful and strong woman on screen. But her transition from Princess Leia to General Organa was one that was met with cynicism by me.

Today, we’re going to discuss why I still sometimes bristle at the “strong female character”.

I’ll pause here for the immediate cries of misogyny.

I’ve been humble enough to mention that many female narratives haven’t captured me. Often times, it’s because the writing just isn’t strong, a lot of it is personal bias. But I also grew up in an era of some of the weakest written female characters. That’s one of the biggest reasons I turned to anime, even though many of the female characters were still insufferable, they were insufferable in a different way. But Western media stayed rather stagnant with how it portrayed female characters. That was, of course, until the 90s. The 1990s were a strange time for media: female characters suddenly had to be very self-actualized.  I suppose hundreds of years of patriarchal writing has a systemic effect on women and how they see themselves based on the media they consume. In fact, you can watch an entire panel of me working through the angst of not having strong female role models in media in a panel and you get a bonus dramatic retelling of the story of Lilith.

The examples I had as a kid were Batgirl, Wonder Woman, and the token sassy female in every Disney cartoon. And for a while, that was great. It was just enough to still feel genuine. It was great having comic book characters that could hold their own while also having other females on television that didn’t have to sacrifice being girly to be strong: a lot of the late 90s and early 2000s Cartoon Network shows come to mind like Ed, Edd and Eddy and Codename: Kids Next Door.

But by that time, I had happily sold my soul to anime and I dipped out of Western media for easily 10 years and in those 10 years, a lot has seemed to change. Every show has an intensely self-actualized female character but there’s something missing in many of the newer examples of this seem a little hollow. I saw the pilot to the new Duck Tales and I was so annoyed by Webby being the smarmy know-it-all that writers assume that a hyper-competent girl must be. She wasn’t much better in the old version of the cartoon, but irksome is irksome and helplessness to me as just as damaging as dumbing down the rest of the cast to make the girl shine.

Speaking of Disney, I take particular umbridge with their sudden influx of “strong” and “independent” princesses that realistically began with Belle and culminates with a princess that I cannot stand, Tiana. Tiana is arguably the worst part of her own movie and she is so strict and self-actualized that Naveen’s immaturity seems very valid and okay. By the end of the movie, sure, she does loosen up a little but it wasn’t enough to make her easy to empathize with for the bulk of her own damn film. It’s their fault we have this damn trope to begin with, you can’t decide in the mid-2000s to suddenly have female characters that aren’t just sexy lamps. And the influx of Disney princesses who are “independent” and “strong” is not new. We started getting it in the 90s with Pocahontas who was a tan sexy lamp and Esmeralda who was an outcast tan sexy lamp and we didn’t get a genuinely independent strong female lead in a Disney movie until Lilo and Stitch and even more, Disney has yet to have a “strong” female character be in a relationship. Because remember, self-actualized means sexless.  

Very few examples come to mind of this trope working positively: one of them is Adventure Time. Princess Bubblegum is a complex character, more so than a little animated show about a boy and his dog can give credit for. Bonnibel Bubblegum is a scientist, monarch, warrior and more but she is far from flawless. Even though she is smarter than most of those in the Land of Ooo, her intelligence is often a hindrance, she lacks empathy at times and her overanalyzing leads to more complicated situations. Steven Universe is full of women (or female-appearing space rocks) that are almost too flawed for plot to even happen and while it’s easy to empathize and feel with them, it’s also somewhat damaging. Pearl’s lesbianism is damn near predatory, a trope that many lesbian women struggle with to this day.

And this brings us back to General Leia. I’m not here to rant about how I feel about the state of Star Wars, that could be its own blog post but I was one of the few folks who was not elated to have Princess Leia become a General. Is it because I hate women? No. It’s because I love strong storytelling and for me, Leia Organa was the canary in the coal mine. How many more characters would be leveled up like this just to keep up with the times? Now, Leia has earned it and we see this whole thing backfire with Admiral Holdo (who for the record, I do not hate). We don’t see Holdo do much of anything, at least with Leia, we grew up with her; her promotion makes sense. And because of that lack of feeling that Holdo “earned” her rank (a problem real women have) she is considered to be the worst part of an arguably bad movie.  

And while yes, women “earning it” is a sick and twisted aspect of the patriarchy (see the remake of Ghostbusters as an example), it’s an important part of making a character relatable. And that’s why so many struggle with “strong” female characters. To me a “strong” female character almost always is a Mary Sue. Let’s use Rey as an example because Star Wars. She is good at everything. She doesn’t have any questions about using lightsabers or the force or anything. She doesn’t get a training montage (until The Last Jedi and it would appear that she barely needed it) and she’s just supernaturally talented. Again, thanks to the patriarchy, when I female character has a linear arc, it’s bad while when Luke did the same thing in his trilogy, he was just “gifted” but I have to agree with some of the criticism of Rey being a Mary Sue. I think I would have connected with her much more if I saw her struggle even a little.

Now, dear reader, what have we learned? I’ll sum it up for you here. If we continue to dose out titles like this to female characters, it only stands to weaken the case as to why we need these characters to begin with. I got to look up to Storm as the leader of the X-Men and that was not a title she took laying down. I got to see Padme grab a blaster and do her best to hold her own against a sea of droids, clones and more. I got to see Leia take up arms and defend herself. It’s so much more powerful to see a female character be active in her narrative than passive. Simply blowing power into a female character does not make her strong: she has to do something with it.

The Woman, Framed

“I hope she'll be a fool -- that's the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.” ― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby.png

I still remember the first boy’s love series I picked up as a young one. It was Gravitation when I was a youngling and almost immediately I loved how radically different the series from from the shonen action fodder that dominated my anime landscape.

Ever since then, I’ve been a huge fan of shonen ai. For one reason or another, I found the aesthetic and tone much more rewarding and interesting than the typical  romance anime and their shojo counterparts. But because shonen ai by default focuses on male characters, the women in them tend to be…well, they’re something. And sure, we’ll pause here for the folks saying:

Well, why are you up in arms about the women in a boy’s love comic?

Because biologically, I’m female and boy’s love is, hilariously, mostly read by women; particularly, young women and the internalized misogyny attached to the genre can be very damaging.

Today we’re going to go over the three main ways women are framed in boy’s love narratives.

For some vocabulary, framing is how we look at a person or a person’s actions. We’ve talked a lot about framing this year but I think it’s an important part of fictive language. Even though we may know a character is in the wrong or in the right, the framing around that act or character can flip those two things very easily. Again like with Killmonger in Black Panther or Thanos in Infinity War the movie frames them oftentimes in the right even though we know they are both genocidal and very very wrong. Framing is an issue because as a viewer, it isn’t always easy to point out the negative in that character. If everything else in the film or work is telling you that this thing, character or act is okay it’s difficult to buck against that even though you may know logically or in your heart that it may not be true.

And now without any further interruption: here are a few ways that women are framed in boy’s love.


The Woman, Obstacle

This is probably the most common and most hurtful. The woman in so many narratives from Gravitation to Yellow feature subplots or plots where the woman stands in the way of the love between the two male leads. Now, this isn’t entirely unheard of. Sometimes men do discover they do not care for their female partner and try either out of curiosity or genuine desire to be themselves be with a male partner. And sure, not every woman is gracious during such a time but the idea that the woman is a consistent barrier to love is frustrating and exhausting. You also see this a lot in fanfiction where authors who wish to ship two male characters will demonize the female aspect the more canonical heterosexual pairing. This is troubling for more than one reason, the first is again the often flat out demonization of the female for standing in the way. Gravitation is the example I’ll use because it is still one of my favorite animes of all time and does absolutely face is issue. Right as Yuki and Shuichi are ready to finally say they are together, a young woman appears claiming to be Yuki’s fiance. This throws a wrench into the entire plot of these two men finally accepting that they may have feelings for each other and the plot (which is peak Murakami hating women and she will continue to do this in almost all of her works for the series) is a series of sight gags trying to get this woman (whose name I refuse to Google or recall) out of the way. Her refusal to “give up” Yuki, a man she is promised because Yuki’s father is a terrible garbage fire of a person along with the rest of the Uesugi family is seen as not courageous or valid but as irksome and immature. Eventually, the plot of the anime and manga give her the sloppy seconds that are Hiro and she is forgotten as Shuichi and Yuki find better things to argue about like whether Yuki is bisexual or gay.

Another example of this is Lizzie in Black Butler. Lizzie is…well, she is a precious little thing (says this Sebastian through gritted teeth). Lizzie is Ciel’s fiance and she is entirely oblivious to the obvious relationship between Sebastian and Ciel while also managing to be the one thing that keeps Ciel from completely diving off into the abyss of the black space where Sebastian’s heart would be. Lizzie’s helplessness and stupidity (which is somewhat corrected in later parts of the manga and the movies but as far as I am concerned, the damage is already done) make her an item that often requires saving: she is in fact that only character that requires as much saving as The Little Master does. Her needing rescuing and just well, existing on screen takes moments away that are more vital to the narrative and Black Butler has a lot going on; story-wise, we simply don’t have time to humor Lizzie and thus she’s consistently one of the least popular characters in the series.


The Woman, Duplicitous

Ah yes, the woman who plays the field for the sake of ruining the main couple. If there is a more common trope in boy’s love, it’d likely only be rivaled with bad hand proportions and hair that covers over one of the protagonist’s eyes. I’ll pull one more Gravitation example because this is my blog and I can do what I want. Yuki’s sister, Mika (who confirms the concept of the Uesugi family being full of garbage people) spends most of the manga and a vast majority of the anime gaslighting Shuichi for the simple sake that she doesn’t like the pink-haired brat with her precious little Eiri. There’s just one problem: this is awful and manipulative and tiresome. And while, yes, Gravitation is an adventure in keeping Yuki Eiri miserable, it’s particularly harmful because Mika is one of the few female characters that: 1) is important 2) has a great deal of lines and 3) isn’t a moron. Mika’s fall from grace is tragic because of what she could be which is a supportive sister who does rightfully have some reservations about her brother’s new boyfriend. We’ll pull a recent example as well, Hitorijime My Hero is the anime that made my heart sing after the Summer of Incessant Ice Skating. Hitorijime My Hero is pretty standard as far as boy’s love plots go centering around Setagawa ( a high school student ) and his mentor and crush Kousuke. During one of the later episodes of the series, Kousuke’s somewhat overly protective friends including one of his stylish female associates decide it’s a great idea to plant seeds of doubt in Setagawa’s mind. Keep in mind, Setagawa comes from what may be one of the more tragic of backgrounds for a mainstream boy’s love character that includes him being a former member of a gang, a neglectful mother and him struggling with the fact that he is in love with a man that’s easily 10 years his senior. It’s actually such a turn from the heart of the series that it took me a while to get back to it: I felt Setagawa’s betrayal and resented the show for using such a cheap trick for the sake of plot advancement.


The Woman, Pious Saint

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the woman as victim and saint. This one is strange at first because it makes you wonder why it’s such a bad thing. Isn’t it good after all of these examples of women who are bad that a woman can be good and pure? Well, here’s why it’s a problem: it removes a woman’s agency and choice. A noted example is Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners where Dr. Haskins’ wife is absolutely oblivious and in the dark about just how much of a tool her husband is. Dr. Haskins is as garbage of a garbage person as you can get, he’s been cheating on his wife since before they were even married and in one of the best parts of the manga, Dr. Haskins is entwined with his polo partner: Danny, who mind you is also engaged to a lovely woman; all the while, Dr. Haskins refuses to acknowledge the commitments either men made to their respective future wives and during their time entangled, Danny’s fiance is looking for him, calling for him and she almost catches them in the act and while Danny struggled to stop the encounter, he didn’t want to be caught.  During the whole thing Dr. Haskins continues not only egging Danny on but actively stopping any of his partner’s protests towards the act. It’s selfish and terrifying. This sets up one, Dr. Haskins as a tool (we’ll pause here for people saying he’s gay and just trying to live his life but cheating is cheating) and that his wife can do no wrong as she is during him cheating with Danny which is alluded to be one of many times, is conveniently out of the country . What’s even more tragic is that Dr. Haskins is a loving family man on the surface despite his affair with the series protagonist, Johnathan. One of the most interesting scenes in Lies are a Gentleman’s Manners involves Johnathan meeting Dr. Haskins’ wife and daughter and she is nothing but gracious and loving and treats the starving college student to a lavish ice cream sundae. She seems totally unaware that her husband is a serial cheater and she praises how loving her darling is despite her constant traveling for work.

This is tragic. We see a woman who is so in love with her husband that she cannot see what is in places a very obvious lie. There are chapters in the manga where it doesn’t even seem like Dr. Haskins cares much about hiding his torrid affairs from his doting wife and robbing women of agency is a huge issue in any narrative. At least if she knew about the affairs, it would still be tragic but it would either be her choice to stay or her choice to leave: both automatically give her more power in a narrative that is strongly run by one man. And yes, it isn’t her story Dr. Haskins being married is a huge part of the story. And his wife isn’t even given the chance to be an obstacle like Lizzie from Black Butler is; she’s just sort of there and she does her best to be supportive and kind. She does eventually become a bit of an obstacle, Johnathan does feel immense guilt after meeting his lover’s wife but not enough to stop sleeping with Dr. Haskins as a means to achieve his goals.


I’m going to take a moment here to address that pin I’m sure all of you have of:

Well, it’s boy’s love. What do you expect?

Here’s the thing. I know plenty of boy’s love stories that feature almost zero women entirely, especially if all they are going to do is be blocks of wood or literal obstacles to plot. Fumi Yoshinaga is an excellent boy’s love mangaka and many of her works either feature no women at all or they are relegated to supporting roles which means they cannot ruin the plot. Even Yoshinaga-senpai’s most noted female character in Antique Bakery appears for an episode and vanishes after dropping a bomb on the plot that is neatly wrapped up within the same episode she appears. Kyo Kara Maoh features several female characters that either push the main pairing together or are there to support the other main characters and not a single one is an obstacle to plot: some are antagonistic but none ever grind plot to a stop.

And here’s why we’re doing this: readers hold onto that misogyny and perpetuate it. I’ve been reading shonen ai for longer than I feel comfortable admitting as well as just shonen anime in general and years of women being irksome plot obstacles sticks with you. Even now, if you’ve been blessed or cursed to read any of my fiction, you can practically see me struggle with writing female characters that aren’t either aggressive Mary Sues or utterly useless pieces of furniture. It would be one thing if that internalized hatred simply stayed on the page but it leaches into other aspects of life. It forms and informs casual sexism and keeps old stereotypes afloat through confirmation bias. It fosters a complacency that means we don’t challenge the norms of female characters and thus create a feedback loop that perpetuates all the things we hate about them and quells any desire to change them for the better.

What’s even more fascinating is that many boy’s love novels are written by women who seem to hate or are irked by women; it’s typically the male shonen ai creators that either don’t worry about female characters at all or show them in a more complex light either as mostly supportive or actively antagonistic. And it is almost entirely women who read (indulge) in shonen ai so this harmful message is really hit home.

Challenging female characters regardless of genre is one of the only ways we can continue to hold creators and characters to a higher standard. Having the same message hammered into your head over and over again that just by being a woman you are lesser in a narrative is immensely hurtful and readers deserve better. They deserved to be loved, respected and appreciated. If we can do it for the boys, even in a trashy shonen ai manga, we can do it for the girls.

Pink Games Matter

I was like, 'I want us to stop using that term. I'm not a 'girl gamer.' I'm just a gamer.' The reasons I love gaming are the same reasons everyone loves gaming. Aisha TylerRead more at_
I got a Gameboy as a kid because I spent a lot of time inside. It was too hot during the Summer months to leave a little asthmatic like me out in the oppressive heat of the Texas Summer months. So out of school and with little activities, I was given my first handheld in 1998 with a copy of Pokemon Red. I had a magenta one, of course. And I have lots of memories from my first Gameboy Color. I remember Pokemon and Tarzan. I remember Donkey Kong Country and getting more Pokemon Games but the game I remember most is Barbie Ocean Discovery. For those of you who don’t know, Barbie Ocean Discovery is a game made for girls that features around Barbie exploring the ocean. You get to swim around, collect items, talk to fish, search for treasure and solve puzzles. This game absolutely is a Pink Game. Pink Games are games marketed towards young girls because apparently, gendered items are very real. Pink Games usually had pink art and pink game cartridges hence the title. Because if it’s girly: it’s pink.


So while I’m here to cop to some of the inherent misogyny that comes with Pink Games and game marketing, I want to sing some of the praises of Pink Games and Pink Gaming.


Pink Games get a really bad reputation for being deeply rooted in some ideas that the patriarchy has about what is important to girls: fashion, pets, cooking and the like. Pink Games assume that girls don’t want to be the very best or be world champion in a fighting tournament. Girls want to ride horses and swim with dolphins and be fashion designers. Sure, some girls do but this biological woman wanted to be both. I was always a weirdly gender queer kid, I suppose it makes sense. I always liked both. I liked sports and dance. I liked stuffed animals but with an edge (note, I recently found my much beloved Stuffed Velociraptor from my childhood).


So while I played a ton of Pokemon as a kid, as a teen, the games I remember the most is Cooking Mama. Cooking Mama is a very Japanese Pink Game where you play as Mama who is a dutiful housewife who cooks and cleans and has an entire game empire with cooking, crafting and running cake shops. You want camping or science? That’s up to Papa and he’s the one that controls the outdoor stuff or the science. Because remember: girls don’t like science. Girls like stringing fake beads.
And some of the earliest experiences I have with online gaming aren’t Runescape or Gaia, it’s dressing up Barbie online and playing Neopets. These little Flash games were intensely important to my early gaming career and that continued on despite the changes in handhelds and how much I cared about trading card games.
But as a stressed out college student, Cooking Mama was a welcomed distraction from my coursework and busy anime club. I took pleasure in being able to slice fake onions and blow into my DS mic despite being asthmatic. And while during college I played the hell out of Pokemon Platinum I used Cooking Mama to unwind. A lot of the recipes in the game I made for my friends and kouhai and it was comforting to have someone encourage me when I did well or scold me when I failed miserably and brought dishonor to the household.


If you open up the dictionary to “casual gamer” there’s an unflattering photo of me in it. Sure, I play a lot of games now: still mostly Pokemon but with the recent PS4 purchase I’ve gotten back into fighting games and into Persona 5 (a noted departure for me). But I wouldn’t be where I am now without the importance of some Pink Games. Ocean Discovery was one but it opened me up to realizing that I didn’t have to sacrifice being a “girl” and liking video games. Even now I struggle with being a “girl gamer” not just because I even struggle with gendering myself at times. I am a human person who plays video games and gendering items to me is silly. Some of the most talented people playing Overwatch that I know are biologically female and there are male friends of mine that enjoy Dance Dance Revolution more than I do (which is a lot).


Pink Games are often maligned for being too easy and pushing gender roles and yes, many of them do that. Super Princess Peach uses Peach’s emotions as weapons and is intensely dumbed down in places in comparison to some of the earlier Super Mario games and let’s pause for a moment of the metaphorical importance of one of the few female characters in the Mario franchise using her emotions as weapons to defeat enemies. But despite the thinly veiled misogyny, it’s a super fun game. I love me a good platformer and Super Princess Peach is a fun platformer.


It’s easy to shame NintenDogs and older pink games like Barbie Ocean Discovery but for a generation of girls, it was a great way to break into a world that to them seemed alien. Games just weren’t for girls. It just wasn’t lady like and I hope that most were like me and grew up with the sense or had the family and friends to later ignore labels and do what they wanted. I was lucky, I quickly found what I liked and stopped caring about being judged. I took pleasure in being the best Soul Calibur player that my friends knew and being an excellent shot in Halo. I had to. It wasn’t enough to be biologically a girl and to just be good at a game: I had to be the best. Even now, that means being the best I can at Street Fighter (which I am now very bad at) and doing my best in Pokemon (yes, still playing that damn franchise).


I’ll never forget playing Smash Bros in Travis Park on my DS and having a man stop me to say:
“Woah. You’re playing a game? I didn’t know girls played games.”
To which I promptly responded:
“Of course girls play games. But girls play games at home because men like you still feel the need to comment on girls playing games like me.”


The idea that games are still considered to be not ladylike is a struggle. We’ve made lots of progress since I was a youngling back in the time when dinosaurs roamed but we still have progress to make.
And this is the place where I’ll let the folks in the back say:
“Well, the trends show that women don’t play games the same as men.”


Sure, there are some games that women are more likely to play: Bejewled, Candy Crush, Farmville. Those types of Mom-Bored-At-PTA-Meeting type of games are very commonly played by women but that ignores all the men playing Words with Friends online. Yes, there are genres of games almost entirely played by men but that speaks to the issue of girls “talking” about what they are playing. Have we all forgotten GamerGate and the moment when girls had to return to the shadows with our charging cables and game cases?


I have fond memories of playing girly games. I still play Cooking Mama and I still stick to girly characters in fighting games because they are fast. I still have the best dressed character in Pokemon and still run mostly with contests and happily a member of the B-Button Club. I loved my pink Gameboy color, my purple Gameboy Advance and there’s a purple sticker on my Gameboy Advance SP. And while it’s easy to say “just separate gender from gaming” this is also a person who legit cried during Pokemon X/Y when I could make a little brown character that looked like me down to the impeccable fashion sense. Denying that a person can be girly and be a serious gamer is not incompatible and that also doesn’t mean that a male or male-aligned human can love the hell out of some DesignStar.


And gender aside, there was a certain safety in in Pink Games. They were safe spaces. There wasn’t a ton of smack talking, no abuse, no one being cruel to each other except for me playing Babysitting Mama with friends and spiking the Baby Doll stuffed up with the WiiMote because it wouldn’t stop crying. Hop on any Call of Duty server and watch the abuse flow like water. Not to say that it’s unbearable and that many women don’t face such a thing with great tact or with an immense lack of tact (no shame, ladies. ). But for many women (this biologically female author included) use games to escape and my escape doesn’t need violently chirping voices in my head. I’m much happier going through an AI run in Castlevania: Judgement. The only person being cruel to me when I play Cooking Mama: Sweet Shop is Mama when I press too hard on the piping bag.


I hope you all appreciated this little dive into Pink Games and gaming in general. In the comments below, I’d love to hear what sort of games you’re playing. If you ask nicely, I may even swap Friend Codes or PSN names with you.

Nothing Exhausts Like a Microaggression

_Women are systematically degraded by receiving the trivial attentions which men think it manly to pay to the sex, when, in fact, men are insultingly supporting their own superiority._ Mary Wollstonecraft.png

You’re so pretty for a black girl.
You’re so well-spoken, I’m impressed.
You went to college? Amazing. Were you the first one in your family to do so?
Your hair is so straight! Is it like that naturally?
Did you grow up with both parents?
I only date black girls.
Those are just a few microaggressions and all things I’ve heard before in some form or fashion and all of them make my eyes roll so loudly that you may just be able to hear it from wherever you call home, dear reader.
Let’s talk about microaggressions.
A microaggression is a seemingly innocuous comment usually hurled at people of color that to the deliverer of the comment (typically a white person) does not seem problematic but to the person of color is either mildly or highly offensive.
The problem with microaggressions is that due to its mostly harmless appearing nature, it’s difficult to challenge them or call someone out on their statement. It doesn’t sound racist and overreacting is a surefire way to to essentially confirm many of the stereotypes attached to people of color (being sensitive, overreacting, being dramatic).
So today we’re going to go over a few microaggressions and we’re gonna discuss why they are problematic and how to respond to them if you encounter them in the wild!


You’re Pretty for a Black Girl/I’ve Never Dated a Black Girl/I Only Date Black Girls
Welcome to the beautiful world of exoticism, my friend. There’s nothing like a qualified compliment. I hear this one a lot from mostly white men and they mean well, they really do. But short of a little extra melanin, I’m not too far off from a white girl. I like comic books, video games, anime, costumes, I bake, I go through a book a week: none of those things have anything to do with race. Now, if it’s a statement about how “hood” one may be, well, that’s a whole different bag of troublesome. I’d also like to point out much of the irony in these sorts of statement. I as a black biological female who mostly dates white guys am frequently called a racist for it. But if a white man dates black women because of how “hot” they are, he just likes something different. And if a black man dates white women because black women are too “mean” or too “dramatic”, he just wants to avoid crazy. Thus proving that the patriarchy knows no bounds.
You’re So Well-Spoken./Did You Go to School?
Apparently, it’s a surprise that a black girl can read. Apparently, it’s still a surprise in 2018. Dear reader, if only you knew how my eyes do roll when I’m told that I’m well-spoken, intelligent or smarter than expected. I’ve been told I talk “white” which unless you have synesthesia, shouldn’t be a thing. I’m fortunate that I was always a curious kid. I’m lucky that I was able to go to college and finish school with a degree and I’m even more fortunate that I get to work in a field I love and studied for. I’m aware of all of my brothers and sisters regardless of race that are not able to do what I did: but a thinly veiled statement about how surprised you are because I am black and educated happens to be tiresome.
Did You Grow Up With Both Parents?
No. I did not. I was raised by my aunts and other family members. But Death was the factor that separated my family not a “deadbeat dad” or the American prison system. I’m aware of the stigma that any people of color have strained relationships with families: realistically, that’s a very universal thing. Sometimes families are not nuclear. And sometimes that’s okay. I am so lucky my aunts raised me after I lost my dad and I know plenty of well-adjusted people who happened to be missing a parent or two due to a myriad of reasons. I am not the person I am just because I’m a member of the Bruce Wayne Orphan Club and it’s never an excuse for anyone alive on this planet.
Is That What Your Hair Looks Like Naturally?/ Your Hair is So Pretty! Can I Touch It?
Nope, it sure is not. I get relaxers because I was told from a young age that I couldn’t be too black and I needed relaxers to fit a certain hegemony. I’ve been getting relaxers since I was 7 and now I’m somewhat dysphoric about my hair. I do not feel attractive or good when I have too much new-growth. Also, never try and touch a black woman’s hair or anyone’s hair without their explicit consent. If I had a dollar for every well-intended person who thought it appropriate to touch my hair…well, I wouldn’t have a day job. I feel even more for my brothers and sisters who go natural. Hell, even at times I’m tempted to touch Amber’s hair but I would never because most black women have hair full of secrets. Now, you are allowed to compliment my hair! I spend plenty of time and money on it for it to be seen. However asking if this is what it looks like naturally is naive. Also, please do not ask if it’s real or not…we’ve made excellent advances in weave technology for a reason.
Where Is Your Family From?
My family is from Texas and Alabama and I have family all across this great nation, even on up in Yankee territory. Oh, you meant like which part of Africa? Good question! You see, there’s a problem when a person is not considered a whole person for over 100 years and continued systemic racism suppresses any data or information about them: it’s hard to find records. Now, I can get a DNA test and find out based on genetics and such but I personally have very little interest in where in the Motherland I came from. That being said, I do have a DNA Kit in the trunk. Who knows, maybe I’ll use it.

Do You Celebrate Kwanzaa?
No, my family has been Catholic and/or Christian for decades. My Father was Baptist and ended up at an anti-science fundamentalist Church in North Texas that wouldn’t let me read Harry Potter or play Pokemon as a kid and Mom was born, married and buried Catholic. I’m a lapsed Catholic but a Catholic at that. And while yes, I am black, I celebrate Christmas like any other Christian and I eat an entire Advent Calendar on Christmas Eve like any other bad Catholic.

You Have a White Name!/You Don’t Have an Ethnic Name.

No, you are right. I do not and that was very intentional. And the idea that a black woman should have a more “ethnic” name is troubling for a startling list of reasons. I was given my name because it fits me and my family. There have been plenty of studies that confirm what many black men and women knew forever: having names that are too ethnic does sometimes stifle you as far as opportunities go. It shouldn’t, but it does. Also, feel free to ask where my last name came from: the answer is slavery.


Microaggressions suck for an enumeration of reasons, mostly because they maintain a certain level of exoticism to people of color that we thought was lost in the Victorian era. It calls back to a day when people of color were spectacles and were described lushly while simultaneously being enslaved and mistreated. There’s plenty of blatant and labored discussion of how beautiful many slave owners found their slaves: but not beautiful enough to consider a full legal human until 1865. And they don’t just happen in Tinder conversations: they happen at work, on the bus, at the bus stop, in coffee shops, in bars, in Ubers and more. And while it may be petty to clock a microaggression, handling such things with grace is at times difficult.
And sure, there will be plenty who say I’m being too sensitive and that microaggressions aren’t real and that they were invented by libertard beta cucks or by militant feminists (which is a thing!) but rest assured, microaggressions are real, happen often and they do wear on the soul.

The New Normal

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” ― Margaret Mead.png

In 2016, a long-brewing storm began to stir to life.

In 2017, that storm broke ground.

In 2018, we are still in the process of coping with this deluge.


That storm that I did my best to analogize is the #MeToo movement and the wave of individuals stating that they have been sexually harassed or assaulted by people in power or celebrities.

Now, I’m not here to talk about the movement itself; I’m here to talk about its effects as someone who has been at the end of more sexual harassment than I like admitting.

Today, we’re here to talk about the storm and what it means for all of us left in its wake.

But there’s one thing that needs to be said immediately before we can go any further. 

Sexual harassment isn’t new.

This is not something that started last year, 10 years ago, or even 100 years ago. For as long as there has been the patriarchy, there has been forms of harassment. There are old rituals that were for “fertility” that now would essentially just be bride-kidnapping. Look at Lupercalia. Men in wolf skins run round and whip each other and women for the sake of fertility. Well, if a man in a wolf skin came anywhere near me now, despite me being a Classics student, I would absolutely call the police.

And as societies change, our attitudes on courting rituals changed. There is not a universal definition of rape and while many places agree loosely on what consent, there are always a few that seem to have less strict definitions on the act. Even though, universally, most understand the difference between “No” and “Yes”. 

Let’s start with what many will agree was the canary in the coal mine for all of this: Bill Cosby. Cosby was America’s black dad. He was non-threatening, intelligent and funny in a family sort of way. He seemed wholesome. He seemed like a good person.  He seemed non-threatening. We were all very wrong. Women recently began to claim that Cosby drugged and assaulted them. But many did not believe these women, there are still people that don’t believe these women despite Cosby being on trial now for his crimes. How could America’s chill black dad be a monster? Turns out, he could be a monster pretty easily and now most who read the news regularly enough know that he’s a monster and don’t question such a fast. And now we are left with this hollow shell of a reminder that someone once beloved is now nothing short of a villain.

Because let’s not mince words, one man’s flattery is another woman’s sexual harassment and that brings us back to #MeToo and the continued predation that directors, writers and producers have used to manipulate and control their actors both male and female. The stories are tragic, heartbreaking and exhausting and all of them are believable.

So what do we do now that this is our new normal?

I’d like to present an example near and dear to my heart: Quentin Tarantino.

Tarantino is…eccentric and he’s actually one of my favorite directors of all time and the creator of some of the finest films this generation has seen in my humble opinion. In a scene in Inglorious Basterds he is shown choking one of his actresses with his own bare hands because he was the only one who could do it just right. He famously berated and endangered Uma Thurman during the filming of both Kill Bill movies (some of my favorite films of all time). And even though we knew that he was a tough director and had less than ideal interactions with actresses: he was an artist. Hell, in a past life I praised him for that scene in Inglorious Basterds. It takes vision to realize that only your hands look good choking the life out of an actress.

But after Uma Thurman came out and provided a much needed humanizing voice about the actual horror that happened behind the camera. Suddenly, many of these scenes that were once praised are now tainted under a new darker lens.

And honestly, that can be said about many directors. Stanley Kubrick terrorized more than one actress during the filming of his excellent filmography. Alfred Hitchcock terrorized several of his actresses while he was making moves that would change cinema forever. But in their day, and in books, articles and interviews: that was just what it took to get the scene and they were visionaries for it. And that doesn’t even include all the microaggressions producers and directors have used to get the scene just right.

And 10, 20, 30 or more years ago: that was fine.

It was perfectly acceptable for such behavior.

One problem: it isn’t now.

So where do we go from here?

I’m not being cynical at all by saying it’s exhausting living in a world where suddenly everyone you looked up to is a monster. That is not said to minimize the allegations, they are all very valid, but as we judge older social mores by current views: how will we continue to move forward as lovers of media and hell, just as folks who lover conversation?

I’m not one that often enjoys hearing that the world is too politically correct now. To me, that’s an excuse often used by men who are out of touch and need a convenient line after they’ve said something repugnant.

I’m happy we are now in an era where a woman or man who screams “harassment” is listened to. I’m happy we are now in an era where a woman or man of color can say that they have experienced hardships because of their race. I am thrilled that LGBTQIA folks can candidly discuss the issues they face with great dignity daily.

I’m concerned that we will only continue to look on the actions of the past with harsher scrutiny. But that concern is tempered with hope. I do worry that some more nuanced things are lost in the conversation. I do worry that we may just one day become too politically correct.

But this is where we are now. Daily, more and more people come out against those who are famous and not so famous. Daily, we make steps in the right direction. Sure, sometimes those steps mean we stumble. But every single damn day we move forward so that one day, a little cosplayer will never have to face the harassment I did. We are reaching towards a day that an actress will never be preyed upon for the sake of advancing her career. We are quickly approaching that day.

And I welcome it.

 

Harassment vs. Compliments

“I'd rather take coffee than compliments just now.” ― Louisa May Alcott, Little Women.png

There’s a bus driver on my route almost every week day. He greets me when I’m at my least human and can only manage to grumble at him like Grendel does through his novel and makes sure I arrive safely downtown. And as I skitter off the bus, he says to me:

“Have a good day, mija.”

Now many of you who stuck around for my series last year on sexual harassment, you may think I bristle at such attention. Not at all. I accept his comments every day and do my best to be gracious despite my at times hellish commute.

So that makes for an interesting question that I feel shouldn’t need to be asked: but hey if we all answered questions like that, we’d never find out that salted caramel is a delicious option and that red wine and cola is a sin. With today’s current…climate, let’s call it, let’s have a candid discussion about what constitutes harassment and what is just a person being nice.

Now, here’s where this topic gets messy. It is highly subjective and highly personal.

Let’s try two scenarios. Picture yourself in them. Or you can picture me in them. Either is fine.


Scenario 1: You are waiting for your stop while on the bus. A man stares at you. He smiles. It’s somewhat unnerving, but it is a smile. You do not return his advances and once you reach your stop, he follows you. It is not his stop. He gets off abruptly. He rushes to reach you. He finally catches up to you and says: “Hey, beautiful.” you do return his greeting but flatly. His next statement is more intense: “You wanna be my girl?” this time, you flat out reject him. He continues following you for a few more paces down the sidewalk and you duck into a local coffee shop to avoid being cornered by him.

Scenario 2: You are sitting at a local cafe. You are at a table alone. A man offers to join you. You turn him down at first but upon further inspection, you notice that he is reading one of your favorite authors. You invite him to join you. You talk. He is forward but not in a way that bothers you. He says more than one forward thing, in fact, but none of them are irksome. He asks for your number and you accept his offer.


These two scenarios are probably a little more clear but now let’s let the lines blur some.

And we’ll go back to our mostly friendly bus driver.

Scenario 1: A bus driver you routinely see greets you in a friendly way and calls you a non-offensive diminutive name as you leave the bus.

Scenario 2: A man on a local park bench regularly calls you a diminutive name as you pass by.


This one is tricky because realistically, what makes the bus driver situation passable is the fact that the bus driver is in an authority position. He means well wish I hop off the bus or nearly run into a stop sign. In that instance, I’m a young (not too young) woman in a big city that he sees regularly.  The man on the bench? That’s another story. Even though he may not mean any harm, I don’t exactly enjoy hearing “Hey, baby.” from a random park vagrant.


Let’s take the conversation down one more level. Here’s a phrase and I want you to imagine it in as possibilities as you can.

That’s a nice dress. You look good in it.

I know  the default voice in my head that read that was not as a kind compliment but as a catcall. But I’m also aware that it can mean many different things on different days. If I’m feeling that dress, even if it’s a forward statement: I may be more receptive. If you happen to catch me on the more likely occasion of me wishing to blend into the background of my bus seat: then I may not be as kind to such a statement, though I’ll almost never be outwardly cold to anyone who “means well” (My resting bitch face and deeper voice for a lady do that just fine for me.).


And that’s what makes this whole discussion so strained. It’s highly subjective. The difference between a harmless instance of flirting, someone trying to genuinely connect and a catcall are sometimes as simple as how I am feeling on that particular day. And I know that’s frustrating for men to hear. Rest assured, the same can be said about female to female interactions. I’m if anything more put off by a woman calling me by a diminutive at times while I’ve also been clocked more than once for casually calling a woman “doll” and “hun” almost out of reflex because despite my views I am Southern as hell.

And in this somewhat muddy environment, it’s difficult to know when someone is being too sensitive or when someone has gone too far.

But here’s where I take an issue and here’s the whole point of this.

It shouldn’t have to be like this at all.

If I’m at a bar and have no issue with a person laying it on thick, that’s acceptable. If I am put off by someone trying way too hard at Travis Park, that is also perfectly acceptable.

Now what can possibly help the conservation is a base level of acceptance that a human’s feelings are most of the time valid. I do not owe any person an explanation as to why I am okay with one instance versus another. And as long as I am mostly kind, not breaking any laws and mostly tactful: my annoyance at one act versus another is valid, fair and my own.

I get rightfully annoyed when any human tells me I should smile more. You should hear the story of me telling my Uncle exactly how I felt on the matter. (If you ask nicely, I may tell it in the comments.)

And there’s plenty to be said about it being a bit generational as well. Older folks do tend to think they are just being nice. Many of the times I’ve been called something diminutive or told something that I find questionable: it’s by someone older. Back in their day, when the dinosaurs roamed, it was perfectly fine to tell a woman that she should wear makeup; she’d be prettier if she did. Back in their day, it was fine to call any woman you see by a pet name. Back in their day, it was fine for an older woman to demand a younger lady wear heels or to cover up their shoulders.

That was back in their day.

I’m from a cusp generation here in the South. As I was younger, many of those behaviors were still perfectly acceptable in North Texas. My great-grandma regularly commented on how nice it was that I wasn’t too dark. That was a compliment to her. My mom’s old Air Force office lady friends would often make comments on my weight as a small one. That was perfectly sound advice. Another great-grandma was very concerned over the fact that by 17, I was not marriage. By her standards, I was at risk of dying alone.
As I grew older, I found myself annoyed with such comments from men and women but accepted it as part and parcel of existence on this planet. I started cosplaying which meant that I grew to accept sexual harassment as a natural part of being a biological female in costume. It wasn’t until much later and in empowering younger cosplayers and fans that I had to stand up for myself because it made no sense for me to preach a higher standard of self-confidence to my kouhai than I believed in for myself.

The generation after me likely will have very different views on what is a compliment, what harassment is and what it means for someone to be aggressive or a potential assailant.  And in this current political climate where it seems as every single person you have ever looked up to is likely a garbage human (I firmly believe most of the allegations that have come out against most reported garbage humans.).

Next time, we’ll discuss this new higher standard more in depth.