Sunday, 9 September 2018

'Women Who Dared' Oxford exhibition - Suffrage centenary and women in history

 Last August I went to Oxford to visit the Tolkien exhibition, and, by a lucky chance, there was also a feminist exhibition in honour of the suffrage centenary, called 'Women Who Dared', featuring both suffragette material and original manuscripts and books by and/or about women in history - writers, poetesses, scientists, pirates and soldiers. So I'm back to the blog with a pic spam about the exhibition :D! Enjoy :)

Suffrage-related shop goodies :)

And my Oxford haul, featuring both Tolkien and feminism :D:

Women in history represented in the exhibition:
  • Sappho, Ancient Greek poetess:
  •  Lady Ise, 9th-10th Century Japanese poetess:

  •  Christine de Pizan, the first Medieval European professional female writer (14th-15th Century), with feminist writings:

  • Mary Read and Anne Bonny, 17th-18th Century pirates:
  •  Hannah Snell, 18th Century soldier

  • Ada Lovelace, 19th Century mathematician and programming pioneer:
  • Mabel Purefoy FitzGerald, 19th-20th Century pathologist:


Saturday, 5 May 2018

Warrior-women outfit analysis - Iron Man I

Description about this series here.

Well, this one will be quick (by my standards xD) because there's practically no warrior or action women around, apart from a female soldier extra at the start of the movie and a brief foray of Pepper Potts into the final action scenes (not part of the action per se, but the 'women running in thin stiletto heels' must be always criticized *eyeroll* xD). In fact, this being one of the most infamously sexist movies in the MCU, most women are there to provide ample examples of casual gratuitous sexism - To be harassed, used, exploited and ogled at, as well as to fulfill the roles of the (future) love interest, personal assistant and emotional support who caters to every of our entitled male hero's wishes (hello, Pepper, you deserve so much better).

I'm going to focus on our small number of action women and how they are portrayed, but regarding general feminist criticism, I agree 100% with this post's discussion of Iron Man's sexism and racism/colonialism. I'd especially like to highlight this quote:

"Had the intent truly been to show Stark to be an ass, and not to use his mistreatment of women as proof of his success and charm, then some of the women would have registered disgust or discomfort in his company. By portraying women as being universally susceptible to the 'seductiveness' of Stark's misogyny, the film implies that all women either like being belittled, don't have the dignity to stand up for themselves, or are too empty-headed to notice a pig when he stares them in the face chest."

Peggy for one sure doesn't agree with that kind of bullshit
Yep. My main issue with the casual sexism as portrayed in the movie was that the women didn't seem to mind being harassed, belittled, sexualized and used - they reacted favourably because it was the 'desirable' Tony Stark doing it (for example, this idea is handled way better with Jim Kirk from Star Trek AOS - He begins as a cocky playboy wannabe but not all women he hits on are cool with his behaviour - nor is he into that level of casual sexism or lacks so many morals at the start of his story, but that's another topic). And of course, even though there are more than a handful of problematic aspects in Pepper and Tony's interactions, of course it's romantic story material from the start (I also 100% agree with the paragraph on Pepper in the above linked post).

Anyway, let's move on:
  • Number of warrior women: 1 - A female soldier extra. Pepper Potts gets involved a bit in the action, but barely.
 1. The lone female soldier

  • Context: The movie starts with Tony Stark being driven in a military humvee in Afghanistan. A female soldier is the driver of the transport he's in. She's the only female soldier in the car and practically the only female soldier to appear in the whole movie (if we're not counting a couple bringing a stretcher at the airport - it's also pretty sad that it's all full of men no problem but I have to be squinting at all the extras while pausing the film in order to find someone who's a woman). And she's basically there to be workplace harassed by Stark so that the audience knows that 'wow, he's an incorrigible - but still adorkable - playboy who hits on all the women'.  
The only other women in the military in the whole movie
"A female soldier giggles coquettishly when he throws some low-grade harassment her way, because what soldier wouldn't love to hear words like 'Now that I know you're a woman, I can't take my eyes off you. Does that make you feel uncomfortable?' drifting her way over the romantic rumbling of the humvee she's driving" Source

  • Armour/outfit analysis: The only positive thing about how this character is treated is that she's actually wearing a realistic military uniform, same as the rest of the men. According to the context, she's wearing practical clothing that don't sexualize her or impede her mobility. And because she's non-sexualized, Stark obviously mistakes her for a man at first because it's so hard to recognize that someone is a woman when she's wearing practical outfits that actually give her protection and mobility, right? I guess that's just why they need to sexualize action women so much everywhere, it's actually about not mistaking them for men! *eyeroll*
Not impressed.
Her response to Stark formerly mistaking her for a man is also problematic - 'I'm an airman', she says, having to prove her validity, worth and professionalism by using the masculine (sexist) (invisibilizing) generic. Yes, the military already usually use masculine generics for everything :/. But another interesting point is that apparently the only way to be seen as an equal by her all-male entourage is to define herself according to male terms. Being a woman means being sexualized and reduced to her 'bone structure' (something which the filmmakers have also made her react happily to, yay). Being an 'airman' is her proactive job. And this is a thing, unfortunately - many women actually prefer to use masculine generics for their jobs - even if the feminine version of the word is ridiculously straightforward - because they think they will be taken more seriously that way. And hey, that actually doesn't help society seeing women as equals.
-About the character as a warrior:
  • Representation: Female soldier. I'm anti-militaristic, but always nice to see parity (if you can call ONE female soldier parity *eyeroll*).
  • Female bonding/Bechdel with other (warrior) women: Nope. Surrounded by men.
  • Token warrior woman? Yep, practically the only female soldier in the movie.
  • Love interest/catering to men as main plot function? Harassed by Tony Stark while doing her job, laughs it off and is actually portrayed as being flattered by it because everyone wants to be talked in a condescending, sexualized manner by Tony Stark, of course they do. 
So -
+1 Non-sexualized, realistic outfit.
-1 Her minimal role is full of sexism
-1 No female bonding or positive interactions with other women 

 2. Pepper Potts and her stiletto heels
Running in heels. That infamous sexist trope.
-Context: Pepper becomes embroiled in the movie's final showdown and turns up to investigate the antagonist's doings alongside Coulson and Co. from SHIELD. The antagonist ends up attacking them. She has to run from explosions and from the suited-up 'baddie'. In heels.
And not just any heels. THESE heels o_O
-Outfit analysis: As is unfortunately usual for many jobs, pencil skirts (sometimes also pant suits) and stiletto heels are part of the daily 'uniform' of Pepper as a rich and important man's personal assistant. This is an example of the glaring double standard sexist-fest that is compulsory stiletto heels and skirts as part of many women's jobs - imagine having to wear uncomfortable and mobility-impairing contraptions just because of your sex and/of gender, because if you're a woman, no matter if your job involves standing up of walking a lot (servers, assistants, secretaries, flight stewardesses, you name it), it's apparently super important to enhance your 'sexiness' and 'femaleness' first and foremost. This has become so warped in our society that stiletto heels and pencil skirts have also come to mean 'professionalism' and 'smartness' as well as 'sexiness' and 'femininity', and are basically the 'female uniform' for many other occupations (from lawyers to businesswomen to politicians) where the woman in question wants to look adequately 'competent' and 'to be taken seriously'. 
Apart from Pepper, in this movie we also get the delightful example of Stark's private plane's stewardesses, who sport high thin stilettos (and whose job apparently also includes pole dancing for the boss >_<).
(Clarification - sarcasm all around)
So comfortable
But Pepper doesn't only have to brave through wearing stilettos and mobility-impairing skirts through her daily job, no. She also has to dive into - and run from - the action scenes of the last part of the movie in a tube-skirted dress and thin high heels. Because it's a cliché in this kind of man-made movies - as well as practical af, huh?! - to see women running from the danger and the baddies in stilettos.

"And as the tension mounts towards the film’s climax, watching her totter in heels to help save the day is unnerving–at least they could have given her some boots."  Source

(sarcasm all around once more)
(and again xD)
It was definitely ridiculous to have to see yet another woman run around in ridiculous thin heels without anyone questioning the absurdness of it all (couldn't Coulson or any of the agents give her another pair of shoes? Especially knowing they were going to face danger?? I guess maintaining her 'femaleness' was the priority there :/). She is 100% ill-equipped for these action scenes - Even though she's not an 'action woman' per se or part of the action (she has the wit and cool-headedness to evade the antagonist in a previous scene and the agency to go arrest him with SHIELD, but she actually also fulfills the 'damsel in distress' trope for a chunk of the action scenes, surrounded by male agents with guns and hunted by the weaponized baddie), she's very much in the *midst* of a pretty intense action area. And she is also very ill-equipped for an ardous daily job that requires moving and standing around a lot, just saying. 
Spot the differences between Coulson and Pepper
-About the character:
  • Representation: She's competent in everything that she does, does have a role in thwarting the antagonist in the final showdown, and will become CEO of Stark Industries, but we cannot forget that her role as Stark's personal assistant and love interest means that most if not all of her actions revolve around the male hero's plot and decisions.
  • Female bonding/Bechdel with other women: Talks briefly with a journalist seduced by Stark (which shows us that Pepper knows exactly what kind of playboy life Stark has going on - one aspect of her job is to usher all his one-night stands out - and still finds his male entitlement, ego remotely attractive. And not only that, but the only scene where women talk is full of female competition, hell yeah! :/). 

Pepper having a go at Stark's one-night conquests because hell yeah let's be jealous that your entitled womanizer boss sleeps with other women! "Why is she not referring to Stark as the trash in this situation? He's the one that continues to treat women as throwaway objects he's entitled to" Indeed (Source)
  • Love interest/catering to men as main plot function? Yep. Her job is literally about that. She doesn't really have a life of her own portrayed, and repeatedly has to put up with all the problematic stuff Stark comes up with because her job as his personal assistant is to attend to his every whim with a competent air, a ready smile, and a pair of stiletto heels always at the ready. Also a model of the female character who helps 'make the man better' with her emotional support and her putting up with too much of his shit (she does challenge some of his decisions, but yeah).  
  • Additional notes (you know I had to xD): 
  •  To those saying Stark appreciates and respects her competence, and that he gets more character development in that direction - that may be so, but she's still fulfilling the traditional role of the woman who does all the men's work while not being the actual boss, CEO or not. Not her actual company, but her boss-boyfriend's company. Yes, she wields power, as so many female PA's, consorts and the like do - But not her actual power, at the end of the day. Women with actual power are actually often portrayed as 'evil', 'bossy' and 'controlling', but because Pepper has Stark as her superior, that's all right if she displays her competence and skills. And it's also all right that she shows a lot of competence while catering to the male protagonist's plot and wishes, of course.          
  • She's also treated in a pretty controlling and manipulative way by Stark in more than one occasion in this movie. Yes, Stark has character development, especially regarding his moral compass, and that's great, but his entitlement and flyboy attitude are still there in more than one way, and he is never held accountable for his casual sexism and use of women in the same way he is for his prior pro-weapons stance (if at all). They want to sell us Pepper's constant calm competence and apparent no-nonsense attitude as proof of her empowerment, maybe to show us that everything's super normal and healthy where Stark is involved, a good foundation for a relationship (especially now that he's becoming the better hero!), but with that kind of discourse they're also hiding under the rug all of Stark's bullshit behaviour (for ex., that entitlement in the very last scene where he indirectly asks Pepper to be his girlfriend is cringeworthy), as well as promoting the idea that PA's are super happy to have demanding narcissistic bosses, so much they end up hardcore crushing on them! Yes, Pepper refuses Stark's offer at the end of the movie, and good for her ("No matter how proud she might be of the ‘man he’s become’ Pepper’s not about to get into a relationship with a man who treats her like shit (hurrah), even if she might still work for him." Source). But as we know, that won't last long :/
So - 

+1 Capable and competent (the aspects mentioned above nonwithstanding). Although not an 'action woman', and so not exactly a part of this particular series, she's also pretty cool-headed in a crisis, even though -
-1 SHE HAS TO RUN IN HEELS EVERYWHERE. Also, job, plot and love story revolve around narcissistic womanizer dude.
-1 No female bonding or positive interactions with other women

Friday, 13 April 2018

Goodreads feminist reviews - Doctor Who Audiodramas: The Ravelli Conspiracy

4/5. Goodreads review here.

 A story with the First Doctor, Vicki and Steven, who find themselves in early 16th Century Italy embroiled in intrigues featuring Giuliano de Medici, his brother Pope Leo X, and Niccolo Machiavelli. More engaging than I expected - I quite enjoyed this historical adventure :) And while I initially thought Peter Purves (Steven)'s impersonation of the Doctor's voice to be a bit meh at first, it grew up on me as the episode wore on. Also, female director (yay representation!).

The TARDIS team ^^!
+1 Ethics and anti-violence - When blackmailed into poisoning Giuliano de Medici, Steven refuses to kill anyone (he also opposes Carla's desire to poison Machiavelli after he's used and betrayed her). The Doctor and Vicki also try to stop the political intrigues and the murderous intent of the Medici ruler, and reach non-violent solutions (with varying degrees of success).

Steven: "I've thought about it, Carla, I've thought about this a lot - What you want me to do is murder! I can't help you, I'm sorry."
Carla: "You value your morals so highly, do you?"
Steven: "I do, yes." 

Steven: "You don't care who's hurt as long as you put the right people in charge. What happens when they decide they like power a little too much? Trust me, they'll soon realize the best way to keep it is by slaughtering a few more enemies."

+-1 Social criticism themes (about political intrigues, the religion institution, tyrannical rulers,...). However, the figure of Pope Leo X, while criticized in some ways, is also idealized in others, with the plot choosing to mainly criticize the tyrannical and violence-friendly Giuliano de Medici in comparison to his more 'reasonable and learned' pope brother. Pope Leo's corruption is also highlighted during the plot, but he's mainly shown in a rather sympathetic light :S.
Giuliano de Medici
Steven: "So there's nothing in this period we need to watch out for?"
The Doctor: "Oh, there's a little backstabbing, I suppose. Some plots, the odd civil war, torture, religious persecution...And the ever-constant threat of violence and damnation should we be foolish enough to criticize the current religious orthodoxy, huh!"
Steven: "Right. Then perhaps we should go." (xD)

Some themes which can be discussed from a feminist viewpoint are addressed, such as -

-The way Machiavelli uses servant Carla (who is in love with him and also bears grudges against the Medici) for his own political schemes is criticized. 

Machiavelli is not seen in a very good light in general, backstabbing the TARDIS team in various ways in 'machiavellian' style  - maybe a cliché, but I'm all for viewing historical figures who spent quite a lot of their time getting drunk and using women in a non-positive, non-idealized light. He was also a pretty sexist dude, seeing women as "weak, lesser and incapable of ruling government compared to the 'strong man'" and promoting abuse against women.

Hell yeah, go criticize this sexist dude, Big Finish

The Doctor clearly has not great liking of Machiavelli:
The Doctor: "It seems to me that you have all you can wish for, heh! Why do you try to claim power and influence for yourself by this foolish scheme?"
Machiavelli: "Have you never been attracted by the thrill of turbulent times, Doctor?"
The Doctor: "Possibly. Possibly, my good man, ha!"
Machiavelli: "We are quite similar, then, I think"
The Doctor: "We are most certainly not!" 

The Doctor: "Cesare Borgia, the very worst of them all, a bully and a tyrant! No doubt a close associate of yours, huh?"
(...) Machiavelli: "Have you ever considered that good ends may sometimes justify brutish means?"
The Doctor: "And does this theory form part of your treaties, huh?"

 -The way Popes used to use women as their 'consorts' for physical and emotional companionship is also addressed, with people assuming Vicki became Pope Leo X's 'companion' because of her interactions with him (which is not the case here, Pope Leo X clearly insinuating he's gay - although this being the Church, pederasty is the word :/). But even though Vicki's fortunately not a target of unwanted "affections", she's still treated in a very entitled way by Pope Leo, who demands she entertain him with poetry and companionship (he basically tells her that unless she has something interesting to entertain him with, he will not protect her from her torture-friendly brother :S). He also asks her to leave her companions and travel with him in order to offer him advice (at least he acknowledges her intelligence - "Is there no end to your talents? Poetry and politics, and now horse-riding!"; "Your wise counsel would be much appreciated" - But still, entitled).
And as usual, women have to gain favour and 'power' by complying to this kind of male entitlement behaviour (Carla later also has to resort to using her 'feminine wiles' and declare she's hopelessly in love with him in order to take back the TARDIS key while he's distracted with his inflated ego :/).

Vicki: "Your Holiness, have mercy, I did not realize that Carla had such feelings for you. But then again, how could she not?"
Pope Leo X: "What? What do you mean?"
Vicki: "How could she not have feelings for you? The luster of your intellect, those piercing eyes...(...) And your wit, charm,..."
Carla: "I'm so sorry, my Lord! I was overcome by your presence!"
Pope Leo X: "Well, I suppose my presence can be quite overpowering."

Also, let's note how men - even members of the Catholic Church - come to no harm if they go a-dallying with as many women as they like, while for women their everything depended on their 'reputation' on that respect. Here with a bonus of heteronormativity (although I'm not keen to defend the Church's homosexual pederasty, of course):
 Pope Leo X: "As leader of the Church, I am forbidden to marry, but that does not mean that I may not enjoy female company."
 Vicki: "Is that...encouraged?"
 Pope Leo X: "Maybe not encouraged, but it is certainly expected that I would take a consort, and so far, well, I have failed to do so."
 Vicki: "Failed?"
 Pope Leo X: "It would do no harm to my, um, public image to be seen arm in arm with a fair lady such as yourself ."
 Vicki: "Because you are expected to enjoy female company?"
 Pope Leo X: "Exactly."
 Vicki: "But, as it happens, you don't enjoy female company?"
 Pope Leo X: "Um, well, controlling an empire leaves very little time for such things."

Carla: "Every Pope needs a consort. And this Pope especially needs a consort, given the rumours." 
Vicki: "But I'm not his consort!"
Carla: "Have it your way. And at least you can be sure that he won't, not with you anyway."

(About Pope Leo Xs sexuality - this would be a good historical LGBT+ example in order to get narrow-minded religious people tearing at their hair (xD) if he hadn't taken advantage of young men in the usual pedophilic way the Church has going on :S (cf Wikipedia, "the pope's familiar banter with his chamberlains – handsome young men from noble families – and the advantage he was said to take of them" Not only age gaps, but power imbalances stemming from class differences and servants vs their lords as well - this happens *a lot* with female servants and handmaids, too). So not super keen to idealize or exalt that issue much, to be honest).

-Other issue that is tackled in a positive way is the patronizing way in which the Medici brothers treat Vicki (who is way smarter than both of them and uses their entitled sexist mindset in her favour more than once). Bonus points for Vicki demanding to be taken seriously and not to be called 'child' (chided, they end up resorting to 'person' a couple of times xD :D).

Pope Leo X: "I will write a letter for this child-"
Vicki (admonishing voice): "I'm not a child!" 
Pope Leo X: "This...person" (:D xD)

Pope Leo X: "I'm sure you can look after yourself, child - uh, girl, uh, young woman-"
Vicki: "Vicki"

Can we also talk about Vicki's complete snark and badassery xD?

Giuliano de Medici: "Prisoner! Guards, seize her!"
Pope Leo X: "No, no, no! Leave her alone!"
Vicki: "Oh, make your minds up!" (xDD) 

Giuliano de Medici: "She's part of it, I know she is! She was in [Machiavelli's] house!"
Vicki: "Well, this is your house, so by the same logic, I must be on your side!" (xDD)

+1 Vicki's actions are proactive throughout the story. She finds herself having to take part in the political intrigues between the Medici brothers and using her favourable relationship with Pope Leo X in order to try to free her companions from prison and get back the TARDIS key (Pope Leo being of an artistic disposition, he thinks the TARDIS is 'Greek art' and wants to take it with him xD). Steven and the Doctor have also good moments (one highlight is the Doctor impersonating a textile merchant, calling the Pope 'my dear chap' and trying to convince him that the TARDIS is not a valuable Greek piece of art xD), but I found Vicki to be the highlight of the audio adventure - Badass, smart, assertive and proactive female companions ftw :D!

"Oh, Steven...Try and get out of trouble till I get back with the Doctor!"
I love how Vicki is allowed to be portrayed as cute and sweet *while* being very proactive, smart and capable :D We  need more female characters like her (Jaylah is another great example of this)!
Machiavelli: "[The Doctor] has gone to the palace to secure your freedom. I little expected you would be able to affect your own release. You certainly have proven a fine and swift negotiator with our Holy Father!"

 Look how smart and capable Vicki is ^^ <3:

 Steven: "Oh, that's just brilliant! Trapped again!" (he's so done xD)
The Doctor: "And with Vicki in here with us, we've no possible means of escape!"
Vicki: "Well...I wouldn't go that far!"
Steven: "Eh? What are you talking about, Vicki? We're as trapped as we've ever been!"
Vicki: "We're not! I've got these keys!" 
The Doctor: "Hah! Where did you get those, child?"
Vicki: "If didn't know if I could trust Carla, so when I saw the guard at the door I said, better safe than sorry - I gave him a big hug and grabbed the keys off his belt. (...)  There you go! We're free!"
  Bonus line of Steven being 100% done xD: "Vicki, we're in the subterranean cells of a 16th Century Medieval gangster with no access to the TARDIS! It's not exactly what I'd call 'free'!"
Look at these dorks ^^
+-1 There are not many female characters in this story - Vicki and Carla are the only ones. They do have some scenes talking together and forming an alliance in order to get the TARDIS key back.

+-1 Carla is initially described as wanting revenge against the Medici and not caring if other people get hurt in the process (which Steven criticizes her for), and backstabs both Steve and later Vicki throughout the plot. However, she is seen in a more sympathetic light when Machiavelli is described using her by exploiting her grudge against the Medici, as well as the intense crush she has on him (problematic relationship with emotional dependence issues - "I have nothing left"; "I will only be satisfied when he's dead").  She ends up as the Pope's companion, so she definitely deserves better :S

 Steven: "Well, Carla, she hates the Medici, Doctor, the whole family! She was telling me horrible stories about what they've done, who they've killed."
Machiavelli: "Yes, poor girl."
The Doctor: "She must have been very easy to...manipulate."

The Doctor: "So, Signor Machiavelli has abandoned you to your fate, has he, huh? I'm very sorry, my dear."
Steven: "He was using you, Carla. If his plan had worked, you would have been arrested and killed!"

Also, special mention to the 'I'm so done with everything' prison guard who keeps losing his prisoners and fears writing long reports more than death xDD

Vicki: "I insist that we not being followed."
Guard: "That's a bit tricky, really. Because we've been doing not at all in keeping the prisoners in the cells as of late. Every time one escapes, I have to write a report, and probably face torture and death myself." (he wrote a lot of reports during this adventure, then xD)
Carla: "If [the Pope] finds out you've disobeyed his orders, given via Signora Vicki, you'll-"
Guard: "Face torture and death?"
(...) Carla: "And have to write an even longer report." (xDD)
Guard: "Ah, go on then. I'm thinking of quitting anyway." (xDD)

And I'll finish this review with some good old Whovian ethics from the Doctor, showing the TARDIS to Pope Leo in order to influence him into controlling his more violent brother: "I wanted to give you a glimpse of this, something bigger, something outside yourself. (...) Your brother and his nefarious associates, they believe they can control the state of Florence, control the future. They believe, if they make the right decisions, frighten the right people, execute their friends, well, then they can bend the universe to their will."
Vicki: "But life isn't quite as straightforward as that."
Steven: "No, it isn't" 
 *cue TARDIS dematerializing in order to scaring the religious fanatics of the day into being a little less violent, perhaps xD* (effect marred by the Pope being kinda idealized, but yeah)