In Defense of Silver Age Lois Lane

I love Lois Lane. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t. When I was little I’d go with my dad to the drug store and he’d buy the Sunday paper for himself and a Superman’s Girlfriend, Lois Lane comic for me.

When I had my kids I thought I could share my comics and my favorite character. Well. The joke was on me. They were not interested beyond the animated and live action.

The young adult novel Lois Lane: Fallout by Gwenda Bond was an unexpected meeting point.

My daughter read Fallout and said to me “About that Lois Lane book?” I braced myself to hear what would break my heart. Then? “I loved it.” I can’t even tell you how excited I was. However, I remained outwardly calm as we talked about the book and the character in general. Continue reading In Defense of Silver Age Lois Lane

Supergirl 1.3 Flight of Fight – Cat Grant & How Not to Portray Feminism

Hi, Friends. I am so sorry for the delay in this week’s Supergirl post. Sometimes even Superheroes get sick.  So without further ado, let’s dive into Fight or Flight.

Spoilers ahead!!

This week, we pick up right where we left off, with Cat, car and all, on a roof and Supergirl ready for her close up. Well not quite close up. She flies around Cat while they talk, presumably to avoid being identified. Although I have to say, it seemed to me that the producers were just looking for a reason to have her fly or float as the case may be.

To kick off the interview Cat asks, “Who are you?” In response, Kara begins to tell her origin story, which bores Cat who has heard it before. “This is my story!” Kara asserts. Cat begins to pose deeper questions that are just dripping with disdain as if she’s bored and annoyed by Supergirl.

This incarnation of Cat Grant has been set up to be a role model for Kara/Supergirl and frankly her portrayal is far from that of a role model.

She does not have Supergirl’s best interests at heart, as any good role model should. She is only interested in Supergirl as a story that can enhance her career. Supergirl’s failure will serve Cat better, far better, than any of her successes. In fact, Cat seems to be rooting for Supergirl’s failure, as it will clearly provide a more enthralling story.
Continue reading Supergirl 1.3 Flight of Fight – Cat Grant & How Not to Portray Feminism

Are Disney Princesses a Problem? Not in Our House, Not Anymore.

I’m a bit of a Disney fanatic. Always have been.

When I was about seven years old, my mom took my brother and me to see Bambi. This was the first Disney movie that I remember seeing. For the first time in my life, I sat in silence. I was amazed by the talking animals on the enormous screen before me. This was, as I remember it, my introduction to the Wonderful World of Disney. And I have been in awe ever since.

However, as I grew older, and a bit more feminist, I noticed hardly anyone in Disney’s movies had a mom who lived through or stuck around for the entire movie. The closer I looked, the more I realized nobody seemed to have a mom, and the modelesque heroines didn’t seem to have any goals outside of snagging a prince.

So, in my senior year of college I choose to examine the life cycle of women, as they are portrayed by Disney, for my thesis. In my mind, there are three categories of Disney woman. Continue reading Are Disney Princesses a Problem? Not in Our House, Not Anymore.

‘SheZow’ – A Fun Gender-Flipping Cartoon With Issues

We haven’t fully cut the cable cord, but we have dramatically cut back on our subscription. Our kids are such astute users of Netflix and Hulu (and TiVo) that live TV befuddles them. As a mom, that means I’m watching a very wide variety of TV from across channels I’ve never watched and countries I’ve never been to. That also means I can walk you through what to expect from these new-to-us shows.

SheZow, an Australian-Canadian show, is one my kids found over the summer.

SheZow exemplifies the problems of having an interesting thought or making a funny one-liner joke and then trying to flesh it out into a full idea. What would happen if a superhero, upon becoming that hero for the first time, found him- or herself in the wrong set of circumstances? Thus was born Guy Hamdon, also known as the greatest female superhero, SheZow.

The premise is simple: As the creator, Obie Scott Wade, explained, he was a fan of Shazam as a child and wondered what would happen if he said his name wrong. SheZow grew out of that flight of fancy; Guy and Kelly Hamdon find their deceased Aunt Agnes’ ring and Guy puts it on, transforming instantly. Continue reading ‘SheZow’ – A Fun Gender-Flipping Cartoon With Issues

Let’s Talk About Black Widow in ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’

Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

The calendar may say it’s spring, but the summer movie season is officially upon us with the release of the sequel to 2012’s blockbuster The Avengers this weekend. It’s Marvel, it’s Joss Whedon, and it’s the Avengers, so there’s no question Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be a megahit to rival, perhaps even surpass, its predecessor.

A traditional review seems rather pointless for a film like this. I mean, if you want to see it you’re going to see it, no matter what the critics say (for the record, I say it’s a whole lot of fun and well worth your time). What’s more valuable, I think, is an exploration of the issues the film raises, particularly in terms of the depiction of its main female hero, Black Widow (deftly portrayed by Scarlett Johansson).

Due to some grossly insensitive comments made by a couple of the actors in an interview (et tu, Evans?) and the observation that Black Widow has been woefully underrepresented when it comes to merchandise, the character has become a lightning rod for controversy on the fringes of the Avengers franchise. And let’s not forget that despite Johansson’s popularity and the rich well of story material, there’s still no sign of a Black Widow standalone film.

These are all legitimate gripes, important to the ongoing conversation about the treatment (or, sadly more often, mistreatment) of women in Hollywood. Yet it always seems as though there are those lying in wait for things like this to happen, ready to fire up the outrage machine and whipping out hashtags like pre-printed Super Bowl championship T-shirts. There’s a old newspaper saying: “Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” The updated version is: “Never offend anyone who sells ad space by the page click.” To be fair, it doesn’t help that tone-deaf filmmakers, actors, and studios fall into the trap every single time.

So now, instead of talking about Black Widow’s arc in Age of Ultron, we’re drawn into a larger debate about slut shaming and invisible protagonists on retail shelves. There are plenty of places where you can engage in that worthy discussion, but I’m not going to get into all of that here (others have covered the topic quite thoroughly). What I’d rather focus on is Natasha’s storyline in the film itself, an aspect often overlooked in the midst of all these external elements.

This is where I must to pause to issue a spoiler warning before continuing. The following article will deal with some minor plot points from the film. I won’t be revealing any major details about the final act or any of the other character’s storylines (except where they directly intersect with Black Widow), but if you want to go in truly knowing nothing you may want to stop here and come back after you’ve seen the film. Otherwise, let’s dive right in.

Image credit: Marvel Entertainment

Setting aside for the moment her appearances in previous MCU installments, I would argue that the storyline Whedon has written for Black Widow in Age of Ultron is actually quite empowering. The sweeping action sequence in the film’s opening shows her fighting shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts. They value her for her skills and what she can contribute to the team. No one talks down to her, flirts with her, or considers her lesser because of her gender. She’s the only one who points out the difference, often jokingly referring to her compatriots as “boys.”

In a way, Natasha Romanoff is the spiritual successor to Peggy Carter, achieving the equality and respect among her colleagues that Peggy could only dream about in the 1940s. I believe in giving credit where it’s due, and Whedon has made Black Widow an intrinsic part of the Avengers, consumer products not withstanding.

It’s Natasha herself who goes and challenges that dynamic by not only having romantic feelings for Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), but expressing them to him outright. She takes the initiative, making it clear to him that she’s still considering whether to go for it, and if she does it will be on her terms. It’s sort of adorable the way Bruce has no idea what to do with this declaration. He’s obviously interested (even the “other guy” has a soft spot for her), but has convinced himself he’s damaged goods. What he doesn’t realize is that’s exactly what she sees in him. She’s damaged too, and looking for someone who won’t judge her for it.

I’ve heard some critics take issue with the fact that Black Widow in Age of Ultron is basically defined by her relationship to a man, as if somehow that diminishes her as a character in comparison to her male counterparts. I don’t agree with either part of that assessment, but let’s say for the sake of argument that the first part is valid and her journey in the film is centered around her connection with Bruce. If that’s true of Natasha, then it’s true of Bruce too, since they are on a parallel path. Their story is about trying to find some shred of good in a whole lot of bad. The question that unites them is whether they are too far gone for redemption. Love is one measure of redemption, but it’s not Natasha’s only option.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the film should be held up as beacon of feminism or anything. Though it features a handful of outstanding female characters, they scarcely interact.

I especially wanted to see more of the strong friendship hinted at between Natasha and another female character outside of the world of the Avengers, but their screen time together is minimal. Certainly there’s room for improvement on the Bechdel front. What I’m arguing is that Black Widow is far from marginalized in the source material, even if she gets the shaft everywhere else.

Age of Ultron is a very crowded film, with lots of moving parts. That Whedon was able to serve so many characters, even in a minimal way, and still keep the running time under three hours is an impressive feat of storytelling.

I encourage Black Widow fans to see the film themselves and form their own opinion, outside of the Internet echo chamber. You may come to a completely different conclusion, and that’s fine. That’s great. That’s a discussion I’d love to have.

Who Needs a Hero?

Photo: Melanie R. Meadors

A series of strange conversations prompted me to write this article about heroes: discussions of superheroes, jerks, and yes, even underpants.

I was told pretty plainly by a couple of people that any girl would be a fool to turn down Superman over Batman, or Captain America over Iron Man. Iron Man’s a jerk, isn’t he? Batman is tortured, and who wants a guy with all those issues? Why not go for a REAL hero? The nice, polite guys who would treat you like a princess?

This got me thinking, quite a bit, actually. Didn’t I deserve to be treated like… well, all I can think of is a “damsel.” Shouldn’t men behave in a chivalrous way toward me? Be my protector, be my rock? I suppose that’s nice for some people. I suppose some women like men to open doors for them, and carry the groceries, and tell them they are beautiful all the time.

But I find I’m just not one of those women. I find all those things kind of condescending. Sure it’s nice, if my hands are full and I’m having a hard time, for someone to get the door. But I am perfectly capable of doing things for myself too. Yes, I’ve stood and waited for guys to open the car door, but to tell you the truth, it gets old after a while. It’s much faster if I just get the door for myself. But I *get* the whole chivalry thing, really I do. I’m not saying that guys shouldn’t woo a woman in that way. It’s just not what I find attractive.

As the conversations about heroes went on in their various venues, I started to wonder—why is it that I am attracted to the tortured heroes, the anti-heroes, and the guys that some consider to be self-centered jerks? I mean, my mom was worried about me when I was younger, because I always went for the cold, calculating types, the selfish guys bordering on the obnoxious: the Professor Snapes, the Darth Vaders, the Batmen, and the Iron Men. I’d even go for the kind of villainous Lokis and Goblin Kings. The dark, the slightly mad.

As someone pointed out, these guys certainly aren’t easy to love. Well, maybe, for me, that’s part of it. There’s a challenge to these guys. I have to be more than just a pretty face, more than just an ordinary girl. I have to be my best me (and even a little wicked…). And I LOVE a guy who can bring out the best in me (the same with the wickedness). Working to impress these men won’t work. A woman has to be something special to get through to these guys, something real. And who doesn’t love to think that maybe they are that something special?

This wasn’t enough, however, to really explain why I dug these types of “heroes.” It wasn’t until someone said something along the lines of, “Heroes fill the need you have. That’s what makes them your hero,” then finally, it clicked.

I don’t need a superhero, some invincible hunk of a man. I need someone I can be on more even ground with. I don’t just want a hero. I want to be someone else’s hero, too. I want to rescue him even as he might rescue me. I’m strong enough to be his rock. I’m strong enough to handle his vulnerabilities, just as he can help me with my own.

I’m not saying someone should be codependent, or get involved in an unhealthy relationship so that they can “save” someone. But don’t sell yourself short. Don’t just settle for being a hero’s rescue toy. Show them that you are a hero, too. Even Superman has his vulnerabilities. They need a strong woman to listen, to understand, and to be there for them.

No, I don’t need a hero to rescue me. But maybe I do need one to make me be all the woman I can be. I need my personal hero, the one who is right for me.

How about you? Do you have a hero? Spill it—who is he? Would you rather rescue him, or be rescued by him? Do you like an all-good guy, or a guy with a bit of the devil to him?

Cinderella 2015: A Princess in the Golden Age of Hollywood

Cinderella Picture
Image Courtesy Disney

Disney has spent a lot of time re-examining its traditional tales. In Frozen, the not-at-all passive princess saves the kingdom from the evil prince. In Maleficent, the evil queen turns out to not be so evil after all. And we’re not even going to start with Once Upon a Time. By retelling Cinderella, this story could have actually gone back to much older versions of the fairy tale, where the father isn’t so kind-hearted and the stepsisters are willing to cut off pieces of their feet in order to fit into the tiny golden shoe. That would make for some fine family viewing, eh?

Cinderella does not reinvent the basic Disney version of this story. There are no major plot surprises in the retelling. Her stepsisters are still wicked. Her pumpkin still turns into a coach, and our heroine is still the pleasant peasant girl who gets rescued by the prince. The message of the story, we are told perhaps a little too repeatedly, is “have courage and be kind.”

Kenneth Branagh has reinterpreted this live-action Cinderella to feel like a golden age of Hollywood classic (with English accents). Cate Blanchett’s wicked stepmother wanders around in 1940’s inspired hats with veils, pin-curled updos, bright red lips, and “mode de Paris.” The stepsisters don peter pan collars, loud prints, big curly hair, and pink, fuzzy 1950’s inspired sweater shrugs. Cinderella’s ball dress looks as if it mixed the original cartoon dress with a little Scarlett O’Hara and a lot of Swarovski crystals.

While the update remains consistent with the animated classic, this live-action movie is longer, and the characters are a little deeper. Cinderella, we learn, is really named Ella and given the nickname Cinder-Ella by her wicked stepsisters. Our prince has a name in this story (Kit) and motivations and friends. He’s not just a cardboard figure on a horse (though the love-at-first-sight aspect is probably the weakest part of the movie). Even the wicked stepmother isn’t completely without depth. She’s still despicable, but she’s not a mindless sociopath.

Cinderella is still mostly a passive damsel in distress, but she does have some agency. She claims she remains in the house her parents loved by choice. When she confronts her wicked stepmother, she makes another choice, and movie-goers will cheer at the scene. I would have liked to have seen a stronger princess from post-Frozen Disney, but at least she wasn’t a total doormat. She didn’t seem to want to save herself, but she consistently tried to save others (have courage and be kind).

Lily James (Rose on Downton Abbey) is a very charming and innocent Cinderella. Her fellow Downton Abbey castmember Sophie McShera plays one of her wicked stepsisters (there’s a brief nod with a servant bell scene). Helena Bonham Carter is a wonderfully quirky fairy godmother, and Hayley Atwell (Agent Carter) has a brief part as Cinderella’s biological mother. We get a “real” prince (Richard Madden) from Game of Thrones—without any red weddings.

I brought my teen daughter along to the preview to hear her take. She thought the movie was mostly pretty good and the fairy stepmother scenes were fantastic, but she was disappointed that there wasn’t more complexity to the storyline. She also thought Cinderella was “too mellow” in her reactions and should be less passive.

Overall, this is still a fun, family-friendly feel-good movie, even if it isn’t telling us a new story. But don’t take that as encouragement to keep making more movies about passive heroines. Next time give us a little more self-rescuing princess.

Passion and History in ‘She Makes Comics’

Image by Respect! Films

Being a geek is becoming more and more mainstream. Yet there are still stereotypes of what makes a geek a “geek.” Being a comic book fan is a quintessential sign, and often linked to the old-school idea of socially-inept, single guys. For women who proclaim their love of comics (like me), it’s just…strange.

But that is changing. I was just invited to a Fan Girls Night Out at my local comic store by another mom who is also into comics. There are more of us than you realize. And although it may seem new to the mainstream world, it is far from abnormal. The history of women in comics as both fans and within the industry stretches back to the beginning.

The new documentary She Makes Comics is an eye-opening and heartfelt look at women within the history of comics, and I highly recommend watching it. The film is directed by Marisa Stotter and produced by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect!Films. It is executive produced by Sequart’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips and by Columbia University comics librarian Karen Green. It is a series of interwoven interviews of passionate people with different roles and points of view. My teenage son and I watched it together, finding it informative and entertaining.

Did you know that women and men made up equal numbers of comic book readership before the 1950s? American comics were about many topics, had various settings, and reflected every possible interest. By the ’70s, women readers started to drop off dramatically, partly due to the focus on male superheroes as the best-seller comic book theme, as well as the feminist movement awakening a generation of women who were tired of the same “wedding bliss” ending. An underground women’s comic movement began, and it was fascinating listening to the creators talk about it on camera: both the excitement and the fears.

Several women really changed the comic book world, from Wendy Pini, the original chain-mail bikini awesome cosplayer who then created ElfQuest, to Janette Kahn, former publisher of DC who broke the glass ceiling, to Gail Simone, notable comic writer, and author of Women in Refrigerators, an unapologetic look at how female characters are unfairly treated in comic stories, to Kelly Sue DeConnick, the creator of the hugely popular female Captain Marvel, and many more.

How do women get into comics in the first place? Better comics. The consensus of the interviewees was: Give us a variety of women featured, complex characters, and in-depth storytelling. As an X-Men fan, it was cool to know how many other women in this film cited that series as their turn-on to the whole genre. The fact that the male creator of the series had two female editors makes sense. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was another “gateway” comic, again, with a female editor. In fact, that editor, Karen Berger, is credited with developing the talents of some of the biggest names in comics for the past several decades.

I personally got into comics in the 1990s, and was quite alone. I took my two young children to the comic book store and was the only female there, let alone a mother. I found it interesting to hear about that time period. The film talked about how more women were getting into the creative side of comics then, but still not equally represented by a long-shot. The industry was not welcome to women or women-centered stories, but also, women are not as confidant in promoting themselves.

Comics used to be sold in supermarkets and bookstores, but then only in specific comic stores that were (and mostly still are) very much a bachelor den of boob posters and all-male staff who assume a girl is only there because she is dating a comic book fan. In 1994, a support organization for women in comics was created called Friends of Lulu which put out a book helping comic book stores understand how to attract more females to their stores—why shut out the biggest consumers in the country? The internet ushered in a huge change. This has given women a place to connect, collaborate, and share their love of comics. The film also mentions the influence of the manga craze during that time as well, with comics targeted to girls.

There is so much to this film, but what stood out to me most was the passion of the people interviewed, and the range of ages. I loved hearing from the elder pioneers in the industry, as well as the younger talents of today. Inspiring the next generation of comic creators came up a lot, and is something I support wholeheartedly. Everyone should be able to express themselves in whatever medium suits them best, boys and girls. Check out the film!

She Makes Comics is now available to order on DVD and as a digital download at

GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.

New Wonder Woman Writer Speaks

Wonder Woman,  Finch, Feminism
Wonder Woman variant cover by David Finch. Copyright DC Comics.

The announcement of a female writer on Wonder Woman would, under most circumstances, be met with praise. But the announcement that Meredith Finch, who has only a few comic credits to her resume, would be writing the book while her husband, well-known artist David Finch, would be on art was met instead with skepticism. Wonder Woman is an important character to put in the hands of a newcomer to comics and Finch’s art has been criticized as overly cheesecake-y, an opinion that I share.

It didn’t help that David Finch gave an interview in which he seemed to be shying away from Wonder Woman’s essential feminism. With the character’s visibility as high as it’s ever been, it seemed odd to not use the “feminism” word in regards to one of the icons of feminism.

With the first issue of the new creative team, Wonder Woman #36, due out on Wednesday, 11/19, DC offered me a chance to interview Meredith Finch about the controversy, her view of Wonder Woman, and what she hopes to accomplish with the run. She also talks about why she believes her husband’s art is well-suited to the character.

GeekMom: Gail Simone said about her take on the character: “If you need an army, call Wonder Woman.” What’s your take on her role in the DCU?

Meredith Finch: For me, Wonder Woman is the epitome of love. Superman is good. Batman is brilliance. Wonder Woman brings the strength of unconditional love.

GM: What kind of storylines will be featured in your run?

Wonder Woman #36, page 10. Copyright DC Comics

MF: Our first arc will be focused on introducing a new villain to Diana’s life and we plan to explore more intimately how Diana is affected by the different roles she plays in her life—she’s a member of the Justice League, she’s in a relationship with Superman, she’s The God of War and has siblings and she’s Queen of the Amazons.

GM: What do you hope people take away about Wonder Woman from reading your run?

MF: I really want people to feel even more connected with Diana at the end of our first arc. I want them to be able to relate to her on a personal level and say yah, “I’ve been there, or felt that.” Yes, she’s a superhero, but first and foremost, she’s a person.

GM: What Wonder Woman story do you think best demonstrates her role as a feminist role model?

MF: Being a relative newcomer to comics, I have really tried to stay away from past incarnations. I don’t want to look too far back on what has been done because looking at the incredible history and trying to live up to it can be crippling. I want to move forward and continue to explore what has been established for her in the new 52.

GM: What is your favorite Wonder Woman run and why?

MF: Definitely the Brian Azzarello/Cliff Chiang run [the creative team that rebooted Wonder Woman in the new 52] has been the most influential to me. What they have created, the characters, the settings, the conflicts… they have all been great stepping stones for our story.

Main cover to Wonder Woman #36, copyright DC Comics

GM: What do you think is Wonder Woman’s one over-riding characteristic?

MF: Again, I have to go back to the virtue of love. I really believe that Diana does what she does because she has such a deep and abiding love for humanity. I always try to keep that central in my thoughts when I’m writing.

GM: You have written one comic book story to date. Why do you think you are the right person to write Wonder Woman at a time when her visibility has never been higher?

MF: I don’t know that I can unabashedly say that I’m the right person for the job.

However, I do know that I have a deep affection for the character and feel really connected to who she is and what she’s all about. Being a mother is such an amazing, joyful, intense experience, and it’s that unconditional love that I feel for my children that I’m bringing to the character of Wonder Woman. It takes us mortals a long time to garner the kind of wisdom Diana seems to have been born with. Hopefully I can share some of my knowledge and experience with her as we get to know each other.

GM: Wonder Woman is an Amazon and therefore has a strong physical presence and a maturity beyond her years. Why do you think David Finch is the best person to portray her, especially as his art been criticized as too much T&A in the past?

MF: When you have a career that is a long and as successful as David’s I think that it is clear that the majority of people are simply enjoying the beauty of the artwork that David puts on the page. When I first met him I was absolutely blown away by his talent. It comes very naturally to him and he only has to decide he’s going to do something, like painting for example, and suddenly he’s a painter. The longer I’ve known him, the more I learned about how seriously he takes his craft.

I hope that people look at this book and really appreciate his level of talent and the beauty of his art.

GM: What’s your creative process? Do you storyboard your scripts or use another method?

MF: The great thing about working with your spouse is that you can do a little of everything. For the first couple of scripts, I wrote the setting and the dialogue and then David drew the pages from that. Issue three was a bit of a challenge for me. I had been away from writing for the summer, with the kids, and it was hard to get back into it. I knew what I wanted to do, but wasn’t sure about the pacing. When I talked to Dave about it he suggested we lay out what I already had and it was a really positive experience for both of us. I’m sure our working style will continue to evolve the more we work together.

GM: Where would you like to take your writing in the future? Dream job?

MF: I’m writing Wonder Woman! I don’t know if it gets better, in terms of comic dream jobs. That being said I have always had it in my head that I would write a book about the experience of raising my oldest son. He has CHARGE Syndrome and a crystal ball or “How to Guide” would have been a great thing to have 13 years ago.

When you are going through the experience of raising a child with special needs you don’t have a What to Expect in the First Year book to turn to. If a book about my experiences gives even one mother a sense of relief and comfort, then I’ll consider myself a success.

Wonder Woman #36 goes on sale this Wednesday at all local comic shops and at


Korra: Why You and Your Kids Should Be Watching

Image By Nickelodeon

There are many reasons to enjoy The Legend of Korra. It’s full of action: stunning martial arts, elemental power fights, speeding car chases, airship rides, and flying bison. There’s comedy in every episode: Bolin’s silly and frightening romance with Eska, one-liner brilliance from Varrick, and various cute animal antics. There’s romance too. The plot keeps moving and moving. The characters grow and change. And the world itself is artistically creative and engaging.

But there are other, very important reasons to watch The Legend of Korra, and I will give you a brief description of some characters to prove the first one:

1. A trainee who will never let a friend down, but is quick to fight and lacks patience.
2. A ruler who keeps order with cruelty, and steals from the people.
3. A stylish and good-looking engineer who likes fast cars and planes.
4. A thoughtful child who struggles with Dad to take on responsibility.
5. A captain of the police force who doesn’t crack a smile, but is clever and self-sacrificing.

These characters may not be anything you haven’t seen in a show, but in this case they are all female and in the same show- sometimes even the same episode! Gasp!

Like its predecessor, Avatar: The Last Airbender, the female population is represented in an equal and diverse way—the way it should be in every story. I wrote a post awhile back called “Great Heroines for Boys“: “Why should you encourage your son to read books with heroines? That’s easy. You want your son to grow up knowing that a strong female for a friend, wife, or boss is normal and good.”

Korra is the lead character in the show, but she is far from the only interesting girl and woman to watch. When first watching, you may think it is female heavy in its speaking and side characters, but don’t be fooled! We have been trained to see mostly males on screen, even though our real world is half and half. When seeing something in entertainment that is closer to reality, it seems odd. That’s a good reason to watch Korra with your kids. Make seeing women and girls as part of the “normal” storytelling world. Regardless if they are good, bad, speaking, or in the background—just make us be there!

Are there awesome boys and men? Absolutely! The cast is full of great male heroes, villains, and some that play both sides too.

Besides being diverse with gender roles, I have never seen a show that has strong characters of so many different ages—this is truly a family show where everyone can see themselves in a cool role. There are children to kick ass, teens that kick ass, mid-lifers that kick-ass, and a couple of grannies that made me laugh. When Lin Beifong had a big scene at the end of Season One, I found my new hero—and she was an older woman with gray hair. In season three we meet her sister (with curly gray hair!).

Working through relationships is a huge part of the plot lines between siblings, friends, children and parents, and romantic interests; even the spiritual essence of GOOD and EVIL had a relationship to balance out. One of the overall plot arcs is a romance with Mako, the angsty, fire bending teen boy. Within the first two seasons (or books), Mako alternately is dating the main character Korra, and/or Asami. They all make mistakes, and by the third season Mako isn’t dating anyone. Asami and Korra become friends, and it’s an important relationship for both of them. And although it’s awkward with Mako for awhile, eventually the need to work together overshadows everything else, and he is able to be friends with his exes. Rarely do series show the normal ups and downs of dating, such as how time is needed to heal, and how to handle it all in a mature way.

I recommend The Legend of Korra because it proves that bringing quality and equality to cartoons only adds to the fun and entertainment. We need more shows like this!

Screening Twilight

Screening Twilight © I.B.Tauris
Screening Twilight © I.B.Tauris

Love it or loathe it, there’s simply no denying the cultural impact of Twilight. Since the publication of the first book in 2005, The Twilight Saga has helped fuel an explosion in young adult literature. It has become the basis of uncountable internet memes, produced four best-selling novels and five blockbuster movies, and launched three relatively unknown actors into global superstardom. Screening Twilight takes a critical look at the saga and its place in the wider cultural landscape through a collection of academic essays that touch on widely varied areas of interest.

It is often the case that popular culture texts that appeal to the masses are dismissed by academics in favor of more “worthy” subjects of study. For example, consider the reading list of a university English literature course. They are filled with Wordsworth, Homer, Milton, and Eliot, but rarely, if ever, with even a single example of the works which populate the NYT bestsellers list: Lee Child, James Patterson, or Jodi Picoult. Screening Twilight begins with this lament, opining that the study of The Twilight Saga as cultural phenomena has been dismissed as lightweight and frivolous, even within the field of fandom studies.

“Indeed,” the introduction goes, “the criticism of the saga and surrounding franchise often relies on the same sort of gendered lens that not only constructs females as rabid, hysterical consumers, but also as silly fangirls.” It states the important notion that “just because something is popular does not mean it is undeserving of critical, serious” attention, even pointing out that the “dismissive attitude towards the popular seems all the more likely when a cultural phenomena is coded as ‘feminine.’” The link between femininity and cultural dismissal is a topic that will be returned to frequently throughout the pages.

Screening Twilight © I.B. Tauris
Screening Twilight © I.B. Tauris

The book is divided into five sections that tackle genre and reception, myth, sexual dysfunction and sexuality, post-colonialism and racial whiteness, and deviating fandom. I found myself most interested in the chapters on genre, specifically those that dealt with the saga’s place within femininity and feminism. An especially eye-opening section of the book appeared in Mark Jancovich’s essay “‘Cue the Shrieking Virgins’?: The Critical Reception of The Twilight Saga.”  Jancovich discusses how many of the films’ reviews focused more on the behavior of its audience than on the relative merits of the films themselves, even to the level of criticizing the teenage girls watching for being “rapt with attention,” instead of gossiping and texting. It is pointed out that the way Twilight’s fans have been portrayed by the media causes them to be “othered,” seen as homogeneous and irrelevant to the more sophisticated and “rational” people reading the review. Considering how the media’s depiction of the Twilight demographic has gradually widened to include nearly all women, this then becomes a belittling of women in general and gives rise to the interesting situation in which predominantly male critics adopt the mantle of feminism in order to condemn women and their interests. SFX magazine bemoaned New Moon as “a century of feminism down the drain,” yet as Jancovich points out, the same magazines fails to take “the same stance against the anti-feminist politics of more male-centred films.”

“It does seem odd,” the author adds, “ that a man is the only figure who can be found to authorize feminism.”

The Twilight Saga has indeed faced untold amounts of criticism from all directions—often with good reason—giving rise to the anti-fans, a group whose primary love of the texts is in criticizing them. In fact, Twilight is a rare franchise in that loving criticism constitutes a principal interest for many of its fans. In Francesca Haig’s essay “Guilty Pleasures: Twilight, Snark and Critical Fandom,” a rather brilliant example of this “loving criticism” is given in an extract from Cleolinda Jones’ “Twilight in Fifteen Minutes” recaps. The essay discusses fan shame, something I have experienced myself and discussed at length when reviewing Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls, and the understanding that fans can identify flaws and problems within the text (such as Edward’s controlling behavior towards Bella), but still enjoy the text as a whole. This is somewhat similar to the mantra of Feminist Frequency’s Anita Sarkeesian that “it’s entirely possible to be critical of some aspects of a piece of media while still finding other parts valuable and enjoyable.” Haig looks at the common comparison of Twilight to junk food as “mindless, sugary indulgence,” but also points out that this is flawed logic, unless of course, you regularly indulge in detailed, critical analysis of cake…

While I found myself utterly engaged with many of the essays and having my views of both Twilight and its surrounding media culture significantly widened, there were of course essays and points I disagreed with. Ruth O’Donnell’s “My Distaste for Forks: Twilight, Oral Gratification, and Self-Denial” brings a Freudian analysis to the saga, describing the saga as “an exploration of [Bella’s] experience of… abandonment and anger toward [her mother Renee].” The essay argues that the vampiric obsession with the oral through motifs of biting, sucking, and “insatiable oral craving” can be linked to Bella’s regression to the oral stage of babyhood. That her relationship with Edward is “a reflection of Bella’s… unresolved issues with her mother”—not a viewpoint I personally agree with. On an entirely different subject, the discussions of the ways race is portrayed within the saga make for often uncomfortable reading, especially the section on the ways white power and privilege is encoded throughout in both overt and frighteningly subtle ways.

As a Twilight fan myself, indeed one identifying close to an anti-fan, I was interested to see how the saga would be portrayed across these collected essays. I found my horizons significantly expanded and my understanding deepened by each one and by the end of the book, I was thinking hard over the significance of countless scenes and tropes that I had earlier paid little attention to. I also found my love of New Moon (often disregarded as a “failed” sequel) validated for the very reasons I love it; the way the film “[visualizes] absence through color palette and editing,” making it one of the most intriguing blockbuster films this millennium. Whatever your thoughts on The Twilight Saga and its impact, Screening Twilight will open your mind.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

Sketches From the Upcoming Wonder Woman Team

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DC Comics has released debut work by the new Wonder Woman team of David Finch (art) and Meredith Finch (story) to give readers a glimpse at their upcoming storyline.

The Finches have a tough act to follow. While the writing/art team of Brian Azzerello and Cliff Chiang made a few story choices I absolutely loathed, like making the Amazons rapists and murderers, they also had an imaginative take on Wonder Woman’s mythology and it’s possible Princess Diana will never look quite as good as she did under Chiang’s talented hands.

But following up the departing team was made even tougher by the controversy surrounding an interview by the Finches in which Wonder Woman wasn’t deemed a feminist.

What do I see in these pages? I see David Finch’s proclivity to cheesecake, a style particularly ill-suited to Wonder Woman, but the inclusion of the Justice League in her title for the first time is interesting and the appearance of the Swamp Thing is intriguing.

Wonder Woman #36 will be in stores this October.

Fangasm: The Curious Case of The Supernatural Fangirl

Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls © University of Iowa Press
Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls © University of Iowa Press

On November 18th 2013 I made a life changing decision: I pressed play on episode one of Supernatural. I didn’t recognize that it was a life changing moment at the time, it’s rare that you do, but it’s clear that I saw it for what it was fairly quickly. A look at my Twitter feed 45 minutes later shows me posting: “I think I’m in love already. #Supernatural.”

Six months down the line and it’s fair to say I’m already a dedicated, bordering on die-hard, fan. I’ve watched all nine seasons of the show so far, begun reading the spin-off books, have bookmarked folders filled with links to interesting articles and fanfiction, plus my Tumblr now resembles a shrine to Misha Collins, Jensen Ackles, and Jared Padalecki. I’ve even learned how to spell Padalecki. I’m subscribed to the Twitter, Instagram, and other social media feeds of every cast member. I am also finishing up cosplays of both Dean and Castiel for this summer’s convention season, and as I write this, models of Dean and Sam are sitting to my left watching curiously from their hallowed position atop an X-Files box set. It’s been a rapid descent but I’m now fully immersed in the Supernatural fandom and I don’t see a way out. Honestly, I don’t want to find one.

Nine Year Old Me Was *That* Kid © Sophie Brown
Nine Year Old Me Was *That* Kid © Sophie Brown

I found the whole process curious. I’ve been a “fan” my whole life. I remember collecting the official magazine series (complete with binders) for The Animals of Farthing Wood. Later I moved on to cult Sci-Fi shows like The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Sapphire and Steel, devouring annuals and re-watching episodes until I wore out the VHS tapes. However it’s rare that a fandom consumes me entirely; in fact it has only happened twice. When The X-Files appeared in my life in the mid 90s it changed my world to the point where I never looked back. Since then that all consuming feeling has only happened once again, on the arrival of Supernatural. Why? What was it about these two shows that caused me to ditch my sanity so completely? Why has that not happened with other shows I love? I don’t know, but I do know that I’m not alone.

Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls is the story of two university professors, Lynn S. Zubernis (associate professor of counselor education at West Chester University of Pennsylvania) and Katherine Larsen (literary scholar and teacher at George Washington University in Washington D.C.) who also happen to be devoted Supernatural fans. The book follows them as they attend multiple conventions across the US and Canada, indulging in their passion whilst researching the subject of fandom with the intention of writing a book. That book eventually became split in two. This title covers the personal story of their fandom and the other, Fandom at The Crossroads: Celebration, Shame, & Fan/Producer Relationships, the more academic side of their research.*

Far from being 245 pages of fangirl flailing and nonsensical squealing, Fangasm raises many serious issues surrounding fans; specifically those faced by females. There is often an unspoken (sometimes loudly spoken) judgement aimed at female fans, especially older female fans who are told they “should know better” at their age. Who out there hasn’t seen pictures of Twimoms (female fans of Twilight who are mothers and over the age of 25—usually much older) with offensive, or at least unpleasant, captions photo-shopped on top? In fact the entry for Twimom at Urban Dictionary sums up the issues very well.

“A group of ‘adults’ who have children and/or are married, who are overly obsessed fans of the overrated ‘Twilight’ book series. They usually spend their time, neglecting their children, ie. – forgetting to feed them…”

Compared to the entry for Trekkie-–a group generally stereotyped as male—and you’ll instantly see the difference in the presentation of the two terms:

“A devoted fan of the television series Star Trek or one of its spin-off series or films. Variant: Trekker”

The Trekkie entry reads like a regular dictionary entry with no emotive language used. The Twimom entry however is almost violently emotional, calling this group of fans “overly obsessed”, accusing them of neglecting their children and even placing the word adult within inverted commas, as if somehow by choosing to display their fandom, these women are not worthy of the status.

Jensen and Jared Take a Look at Fangasm © Chris Schmelke
Jensen and Jared Take a Look at Fangasm © Chris Schmelke

Fangasm begins by raising the point that all of us are most likely fans of something—“the local football team, model railroading, Elvis Presley, Anthony Bourdain”—and that the feeling of cheering together with other fans is a bonding experience we all gain satisfaction from. It also points out that certain fans are respected to a greater extent than others, something clearly illustrated by the Urban Dictionary entries above. Being a sports fan is seen as normal, “in fact, to be male and not a fan of some team somewhere is the more questionable position,” the authors point out. Dog enthusiasts have formed the Westminster Kennel Club, while opera, ballet, and theater fans “have the weight of cultural approval on their side”. Tell someone you’re a fan of Beethoven or Placido Domingo and you’ll no doubt receive a very different reaction than if you told them you love Doctor Who or My Chemical Romance despite the fact that the fandoms are equally passionate, albeit, in different ways. I once spent over an hour standing at the stage door of Covent Garden Opera House while my mother waited to get Domingo’s autograph, so I can speak with some authority on this matter.

The authors speak at length about the ways fans are ridiculed and humiliated online simply for showing their passions. The reaction to the death of a Twilight fan at SDCC 2012 is noted for the way online commenters joked about the event. It is noted how female fans are referred to as “creepy”, “ridiculous”, “unattractive” and “horrible parents” simply for daring to show their enthusiasm. This is not a new phenomenon. Back in the 1800s, fans of Lord Byron were described as being driven to a state of “hysterical excitement” and he was accused of producing in them a taste “for extreme sensation”. However despite the negativity fans may face by admitting their passions, for many the online communities fostered around television shows like Supernatural are hugely important: especially to women.

The book talks about studies that have shown the benefits gained by emotional investment in television shows and in relationships with other fans online. This is important to recall in discussions on fandom where shame is often a factor. Fans, women especially, often feel shame for “indulging in ‘frivolous’ pursuits’ like fandom”, feeling that they should instead be doing something of “value” with their time such as working to earn money or taking care of the family. It is considered entirely normal for a man to take an afternoon away from his family to attend a sports game, yet if a woman were to spend that same time visiting a filming location or attending a convention then this is often seen very differently. Guilt is a huge issue for many women. Mothers often find that they are neglecting themselves because of how guilty taking time out away from the family makes them feel. However, fandoms offer so much to those who participate: bonding experiences, relaxation, and (in the case of Supernatural but also many other TV shows) “an emotional framework upon which you can hang anything”.

Whilst this is primarily a book about Supernatural fans, it is of interest to anyone who considers themselves a “fan”— whether they admit to it in public or not. It is also a book that will interest those concerned with feminist issues. The frank discussions of sex, why for example male fans of Star Trek feel at ease discussing their appreciation of Seven of Nine’s costume while female fans are looked on as “disgusting” and “oversexed” for an equal appreciation of Jensen Ackles’ six pack, are valid and important conversations that need to be out in public. How is it that a TV network is clearly at ease casting with the intention of attracting the female gaze (Supernatural has used “Scary just got sexy” as an official tag line) yet equally uncomfortable with those same women discussing the subject?

Of course Supernatural fans will find more than others to enjoy here. The interviews with cast and crew, especially the long insights from actor Jim Beaver who plays Bobby Singer, are interesting and offer more than simple anecdotes while the stories about the conventions are of more relevance to fans of the show. However even if you have never watched an episode, (go and watch it now, it will change your life) then you will find a lot to think about and enjoy in here.

*Katherine and Lynn are also the editors of Fan Culture: Theory/Practice and the Supernatural edition of Intellect’s Fan Phenomena series.

A copy of Fangasm: Supernatural Fangirls was provided for this review by the publisher.

The Cliffs of Insanity: GeekOuts, Troll Hunts, and Feminism

We Love Fine Carol Corps
Higher, Further, Faster, More. We Love Fine, Carol Corps

“I don’t want the crumbs anymore; I want the cake & icing. Everyone deserves the cake & icing.” –Bille Jean King.

Welcome to this week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity. Since we last spoke, a major comic site reboots its entire forum community in response to being called for allowing trolls, I had a major geekout, there was a great talk on the need for superheroines, and I’m surprised by my story being called “feminist” when didn’t realize it was that radical.

But, first, I have to share the geek out with you. My first steampunk novel, The Curse of the Brimstone Contract, came out two weeks ago. I had some nice reviews, including one at That was great all by itself but then I received the online newsletter from And not only is my book in it but I’m on a virtual shelf right next to Sex Criminals: Volume 1: One Weird Trick by Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky.

I’m a virtual shelf with Fraction and Zdarsky.

kermit flail
Kermit Muppet Flail. copyright Jim Henson Company.

Yes, I’ve saved that newsletter. I was thinking of printing it out and framing it but that seems a bit extreme.

Now a follow-up to my column about Internet Bullying.

I wrote it because I was sick and tired of “don’t read the comments” mindset in which we can’t talk about issues like adults on public spaces. I particularly called out not only because they’d allowed trolling comments on a post in which former DC Editor Janelle Asselin critiqued a Teen Titans cover but also because of my own bad experience with CBR.

CBR used to host Gail Simone’s forum until it was clear that the moderators there weren’t taking homophobic and the worst kind of insults to female posters seriously. As one of the co-moderators of the forum, I took some flak but it was nothing compared to what my co-moderator took for being a lesbian.

Gail Simone pulled the forum and moved us over to Brian Bendis’ Jinxworld site, where we are today.

Let me put that another way:

One of the most prominent female writers in mainstream comics pulled her board from one of comic’s most popular websites because that website dismissed concerns about continued and frequent bullying and trolling of female and LGBT posters.

So when CBR announced on April 30 that they were completely rebooting its forums and would no longer allow these types of comments, my first thought wasn’t “all right, good for them,” it was “what took you so long?” (Gail Simone also had the latter reaction.) I did wonder if my column had anything to do with it. It was probably part of it, since I called them out on the reason Gail Simone’s forum was no longer there, but I suspect it was an amalgam of things.

Though it did make me think that next time I write a column, I should wish for a pony. Or maybe I should wish for women to be more than a tiny fraction of the women in the new Star Wars. (I’m more likely to get the pony.)

Speaking of dreams coming true….

Feminist? Strong Female Characters?

First, there’s an incredible post about wanting gender-swapping heroes and heroines at the Argh Ink blog which has over 100 comments already. Fun to read and yet another voice in the rising chorus for a female-led superhero movie.

And it’s made me think about some of the reviews I’ve gotten for the steampunk novel. Some of them mention that the main character, Joan Krieger, is the proverbial strong female character and that the novel is feminist.

The Curse of The Brimstone Contract © Samhain Publishing LtdThis made me raise my eyebrows because I wasn’t think “write a strong female character” or “write a feminist book,” when I wrote Curse of the Brimstone Contract. I was thinking that an intelligent, ambitious young woman like Joan would naturally want more than the hand she was dealt. As a designer and seamstress, she sees the benefits of the nobility from the other side of the looking glass. She has the education and drive to do more than marry an eventual husband who will run her business but she’s stuck. I’d imagine a young male merchant in that situation who wanted more control of his destiny might feel the same, though at least he’d be allowed to run the business.

And, of course, the society in the steampunk world is in flux due to all the changes, as it was in our own Victorian Age. It was an age of questioning in science, in society, in politics. Again, it seemed natural that a smart person caught in this situation would chafe at restrictions.

What I’m saying is this didn’t strike me so much as “feminist” as “what a character in that situation might feel.” And I’m a little concerned that Joan is seen as unusual. Why is she so radical? Shouldn’t  a multi-dimensional character be the default?

But I guess it is. I believe I was nonplussed because I hope every female character is like that. (Male characters too but they usually are.)

Well, that’s cool. Joan is called a “radical” in the book and she doesn’t like being a pawn. The hero, a Sherlock Holmes-analogue, accepts her for that but, again, not unusual given the very first short Holmes story that Arthur Conan Doyle wrote for The Strand magazine was “A Scandal in Bohemia.” And in that story, Holmes loses. To a woman. Who outsmarts him.

I wonder what Doyle would have said if someone called that story feminist. Probably not too much, I guess, given he had a love/hate relationship with his most famous creation anyway.

But Joan’s isn’t so unusual. She’s just the latest in a long line. Unfortunately, some of these earlier characters were kept under the rug. Wonder Woman gets depowered for a while. Then she’s brought back. Except now she’s Superman’s girlfriend. Black Canary is created in 1947 as a superhero with a male sidekick and eventually becomes Green Arrow’s girlfriend. Ms. Marvel is raped and impregnated by an interdimensional being and the rest of the Avengers think it’s cool she’s having a baby. (Yes, this was an actual storyline.)

This is why a Wonder Woman movie is important. It’s why the Carol Corps and Captain Marvel is important. History has tended to erase the women. And that’s nowhere better said in this Hugo-nominated essay  “We Have Always Fought: Challenging the Women, Cattle and Slaves Narrative” by Kameron Hurley:

“Let’s just put it this way: if you think there’s a thing–anything–women didn’t do in the past, you’re wrong. Women–now and then–even made a habit of peeing standing up. They wore dildos. So even things the funny-ha-ha folks immediately raise a hand to say “It’s impossible women didn’t do X!” Well. They did it. Except maybe impregnate other women. But even then, there were, of course, intersex folks categorized as “women” who did just that.

But none of those things fit our narrative. What we want to talk about are women in one capacity: their capacity as wife, mother, sister, daughter to a man.  I see this in fiction all the time.  I see it in books and TV. I hear it in the way people talk.” (But do go read the whole thing, not just the quote, it’s brilliant.)

Let’s keep our narrative this time.

Why the Feminist Controversy Over Frozen Misses the Point

Frozen's Anna and Elsa
© Disney

I’ve seen a lot of criticism from feminists in many corners of the web and social media leading up to the release of Frozen. Their gripes range from a knee-jerk aversion to Disney’s princess culture in general to the liberties taken with the source material—Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen—to outrage when the studio’s animation supervisor was quoted as saying that animating female characters is hard because you have to make them “pretty.”

I resisted the temptation to comment until now since I hadn’t yet seen the film, and though the early footage and previews seemed to discount these charges as wildly reactionary and having little to do with the actual product itself, I wanted to be sure I hadn’t been taken in by my own anticipation and the formidable powers of Disney’s PR machine.

Now that I have seen it, I believe it’s even more important to confront these accusations head on, because not only are they way off base, they distract from the film’s true message and may actually be detrimental to the promotion of feminism in Hollywood. I believe this because Frozen may just be the most feminist animated film Disney has ever produced. Anyone who supports the depiction of strong, independent women in the media, not to mention the positive representation of sororal bonds, ought to be championing it, not organizing a boycott.

It’s true that Disney has a princess dilemma. The consumer product driven phenomenon is extremely popular and lucrative, yet its detractors are becoming increasingly vocal and demanding of better role models. (I’ve personally tried to stem the tide of princess culture in our house, and I’m here to tell you it’s a constant struggle.) Disney’s response to the backlash has been mixed. At the same time the studio is promoting the resurgence of The Little Mermaid, with its archaic message of “change yourself for your man,” we also get a film like Brave, which actively avoids those tropes and features a princess who dreams of independence rather than the love of a prince. And then that progress was undermined with the infamous slimmed-down, glammed-up redesign of Merida. Even Tangled, with its capable, headstrong version of Rapunzel, left the final heroic act to her leading man. Knowing the studio’s history, you could be forgiven for expecting Frozen to follow suit. But it doesn’t. Instead, it cleverly tweaks the formula, all the while acknowledging that it is a formula.

Frozen directors Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck. © Disney

Without going into too many spoilers, let’s just say that Frozen‘s climax does not involve a man coming to the rescue of a starry-eyed princess. The princesses at the center of this story—sisters Elsa and Anna—are defined by their unique upbringing and estranged relationship to one another, not by the men in their lives. They are fully fleshed out characters with a wide spectrum of human qualities including love, fear, loneliness, anger, frustration, bravery, and vulnerability. What drives the film is Anna’s longing to connect with her sister and Elsa’s struggle to protect Anna by keeping her distance. The stakes couldn’t be higher for them. Romantic love is an aside, a subplot; the men are supporting players in this love story between two sisters. I have no problem with them being role models for my daughters.

That said, there’s no getting around the fact that those who were hoping for an animated adaptation of The Snow Queen are going to be disappointed. There is a legitimate conversation to be had over what happened between the page and the screen and whether Disney should even mention the connection to the book in the credits. That’s not what I’m talking about, though.

Let’s dispense with the notion that the finished film is anything other than an original work influenced by, not based on, Andersen’s story. Rather than focusing on what it doesn’t do or doesn’t have, look at what it does do (promote positive female role models and relationships) and does have (fascinating, three-dimensional characters). Frozen doesn’t purport to be a faithful adaptation. In case that wasn’t already obvious, the different title should make it crystal clear. (And yet those same critics have complained about the title change too.) As Elsa sings in her defiant anthem, let it go.

"FROZEN" (Pictured) ELSA. ©2013 Disney. All Rights Reserved.
Elsa has some good advice for critics. © Disney

Finally, we come to the whole “pretty” controversy. Let’s take a look at the actual quote from Disney animation supervisor Lino DiSalvo, as reported by Fan Voice (I’d link to the article, but it is no longer available on the site):

Historically speaking, animating female characters are [sic] really, really difficult, ’cause they have to go through these range of emotions, but they’re very, very… you have to keep them pretty and they’re very sensitive to… you can get them off a model very quickly. So, having a film with two hero female characters was really tough, and having them both in the scene and look very different if they’re echoing the same expression; that Elsa looking angry looks different from Anna being angry.

A few things about that quote spring to mind. First off, I was at the same press event where this quote was given, although I was in a different group so I didn’t hear DiSalvo say it (the studio divided everyone into groups and rotated us through the various departments). When it was our turn to interview him and two of the lead animators who worked on the film (one of them a woman), DiSalvo spoke about the extensive research that goes into creating each character, how they brought in the actors and acting coaches and discussed at length where the characters were coming from and going to. He made it clear that the inner lives of these characters were just as important as how they looked.

“The ultimate goal at the end of the day was, is always, obviously, honest, truthful, believable performances,” DiSalvo told my group. “And once we kind of got our hands on the script and we realized how well-written and how weighty the characters were and how rich the depth of them [was], we knew that we had to elevate our game.”

Later, he talked about what he called “shape language” and how the animators strove to make each character unique to any other Disney character. There wasn’t any distinction between the degree of difficulty in drawing females or males, he lumped them all together.

“If she was mad or sad or excited or angry—from everything that we learned with the acting coach and the actors coming in and doing our homework—how does that funnel into the actual shape language of the characters?” he said. “And the idea is that when the characters are in a scene together, if you have two characters sharing an angry scene or if there’s a sad emotion involved, that each character still has their own sad shape.”

He also mentioned in our interview that there were as many as 70 animators working on the film at one time. When you have that many artists, each with his or her own style, it can be a difficult task to keep the characters consistent through a wide range of actions and emotions. That’s why they create model sheets like the one below.

Character designs for Frozen's Elsa
Elsa shows a range of emotions. © Disney

If you were predisposed to be offended, you could take these comments to mean that Disney as a company is overly concerned with the attractiveness of its heroines. I don’t think that’s what he was saying at all. I interpret his use of the word pretty to mean “on model,” in other words, keeping the character looking like the original character design. In that context it becomes an entirely innocuous quote. Of course, that’s not the kind of statement that goes viral now, is it?

In response to the heat this quote generated, a spokesman for Disney later told The Wrap:

These comments were recklessly taken out of context. As part of a roundtable discussion, the animator was describing some technical aspects of CG animation and not making a general comment on animating females versus males or other characters.

I have one last thing to say about this, and then we can all move on with our lives. When we get incensed that Disney princesses are too pretty or too white or look too much like the last Disney princess, aren’t we really saying that aesthetics are more worthy of concern than any other aspect of a character? Doesn’t it matter more how they are written and depicted within the context of the story? To focus solely on appearance without considering what’s beneath the polished exterior isn’t just shallow, it’s hypocritical. Anna and Elsa are so much more than pretty faces.

I would urge those who read some of the same feisty reactions I did to keep an open mind about Frozen. I waited until I saw the movie to see if the complaints were legitimate, but you don’t have to take my word for it. See it for yourself when it opens Thanksgiving weekend and draw (see what I did there?) your own conclusions.

Online Harassment Is an “In Real Life” Problem

Image by Jules Sherred

With so much press recently, both in Canada and the United States, about how online bullying has led to suicide, often the discussions tend to be framed in terms of online versus “in real life.” This is also the case in many other discussions that happen when someone decides to publicly come forward because they’ve received threats of rape or death or harm, and the list continues.

As someone who is constantly under attack because of my online profile, I have a lot to say on this matter, but it is only in very rare circumstances do I ever talk about it in public. The reasons for my lack of public disclosure may become clearer as I share my own personal experiences. Sharing these experiences either makes me extremely brave, or extremely stupid, depending on who you ask.

If you take only one thing away from this, I hope that it’s recognizing the fact that online bullying and harassment is a “in real life” problem, with “real life” ramifications, including loss of income and people removing themselves from the target of the harassment’s life.

One of the reasons I have stayed quiet for so long about this issue is that, very often, I see people refer to this ever increasing issue as a “woman’s problem,” or a “teen bullying problem,” or a “feminist issue.” I’m here to tell you that it isn’t. It’s a “people problem.”

Warning: The following does contain some language that some will find offensive. However, I feel it is necessary for the sake of honesty.

Some may automatically assume that because I was born a female, that I receive threats because of how the world perceives my gender. I have never once been threatened with rape. I have never once been told by someone online to shut up because they think I’m a woman. However, I have been called a pedophile and a tranny.

Recently, when a group of internet trolls decided to really stick it me because of something I dared to write about, I was called a “homosexual pedo tranny,” plus this group conspired to create evidence that I force my children to participate in the creation of porn, and threats that that they will turn this fabricated evidence over to child protection authorities and the local police. Some may be surprised to learn that “tranny” isn’t only reserved as a slur for trans women. Twitter accounts were created to flood my mentions with a very special pedo hashtag dedicated to me. Fake Facebook accounts were created to also attack publications for which I write. My address was discovered and posted online, with someone saying, “Kill it and post pictures,” after someone else said they lived just down the street from me. They threatened to vandalize my property. They attacked my friends. They tried to find out information about my children so they could attack them, too. They even posted a link to a local school’s website, because they thought that is where my children attended school. They also tried to hack my social media accounts so that they could tweet on my behalf, and used my throw-away e-mail address to sign me up for a bunch of porn and spam. There was a series of DDoS attacks.

There isn’t a day that I do not receive some form of threat. At least every six months, someone decides to do a DDoS attack on my servers. I’ve even had someone from a well-known online community of anarchic hackers take down all of my websites and replace them with their calling card. I’m now approaching four years of daily threats and like-clockwork DDoS attacks.

The reasons for these attacks are various. One reason is because I’m a trans man. Another reason is because people assume I’m an atheist. Another reason is because people assume I’m sympathetic to Muslims. Another reason is because I dare to speak out against anti-vaccine proponents. These are just a few reasons.

I’m feel I have a certain amount of privilege living in Canada. Most of the time, I can shrug off these daily threats. Twice, I’ve had to call the R.C.M.P (Royal Canadian Mounted Police) because I felt the threat to my safety and my children’s safety was immediate. The R.C.M.P took these threats as credible. The first time, eventually the person making the threats was arrested and went to jail. Most recently, they opened a new file and are investigating as much as resources allow. However, because of the nature of the threats I receive, and how slowly the Criminal Code has been to adapt to the changes in technology, there is only so much they can do. But, at least the R.C.M.P have an open investigation for if the attackers actually make good on the physical threats of harm, death, and vandalism, and the threats to try to have my children removed from my care.

But, it isn’t only the threat to my children’s physical safety and my physical safety that make this an “in real life” problem. It also damages my ability to make money. Every time my server goes down because of an attack, I lose income streams, not only because my own websites are down, but also the websites of clients. I am thankful that I have very understanding editors, who stand behind me when they, too, get attacked, instead of asking that I no longer contribute to their publication, as it also puts their enterprise at risk.

I think I have remained publicly quiet about this for too long. But, I’ve had my reasons. The reason is a by-product of identifying as a man. Women are not the only people who receive physical threats. Men, who have any type of online profile, also receive frequent threats. But, as men, we are taught to deal with it quietly and in the background. Basically, we are taught that we must “man up.” The other reason is that I am always very worried about the blowback I’ll receive from some people who use the label “feminist” in reference to themselves. I’ve had it happen. I’ve been told that I’m a male rights advocate who is trying to take the spotlight away from this extremely real problem facing women bloggers. I’ve been told, “Yeah, it sucks to be intersectional. But you chose this lifestyle.” I’ve been called a misogynist. I’ve had people tell me, “Well, you should hear what I get told every day in real life,” because it is their perception that being told I’m a pedophile and being called a tranny via an online medium does not count as “in real life.” There is also a lot of “these are just words on a screen” personal mentality.

Every day, I’m given messages that I need to shut up and sit in the corner, for so many different reasons, none of which have to do with being born in a female body.

In some ways, these people are correct. I don’t know what it’s like for women who receive threats of rape. I don’t know what it feels like to worry about my safety when walking alone at night. I don’t know what it feels like to have anxiety because I’m alone in an enclosed space with a man. I don’t know what it is like to be harassed at a con, or wolf-whistled when walking down the street, or all of the other real issues women face during the day. These have never been my experiences. As a result, often I feel that I’m not qualified to discuss these issues. Also, I really do not want to distract from the real issues that women face, especially women in the United States, as feminist issues in the United States are very different than feminist issues in Canada.

But, I do think it is time we change the channel. I think it’s time that we recognize that this is a very real issue, not only for women, teens, gays and lesbians, and trans women, but also for men, trans men, skeptics, atheists, and really just anyone who dares to stand up against any sort of wrongdoing and injustice. This is a very serious people-problem that isn’t contained within the boundaries of the online world; it reaches out to the real world. While I’m not going to commit suicide as a result of my daily threats, I do face other extreme dangers that are just as valid.

Of course, there are things you can do to protect yourself. Advocating for certain self-protections is not victim-blaming.

Some of the things I do to protect myself and my family is that I never mention my children’s names online. I keep my phone number unlisted. I’m very selective about what information I share with the public. I don’t have a profile on Facebook, which with Graph Search makes stalking and hacking your account very easy, even if you post everything privately. I change my passwords every three months. I keep my domain registration information private–though because of an error with my domain registrar, recently they become public and that is how my recent attackers got my home address. My registrar has since fixed this. I keep my children as much removed from my social media accounts as possible. And, very importantly, I’m not afraid to call the R.C.M.P. when things get serious.

Some of these things, especially not using Facebook, is not something everyone can do. For some people, it may be too late to keep their children’s names unassociated with their public life. But, if you do use Facebook, don’t have your real e-mail posted. If you use Facebook, don’t have your phone number listed, even if it’s private for friends only. Ask yourself, “What steps do I take to protect my child from online predators? Why am I not taking these steps for myself? What more can I do?” People who want to do you harm have a lot of time on their hands, and they will take extreme measures to really mess with your life. They know they can get away with it, too.

While I doubt I’ll see the day where I don’t live in some sort of fear, simply because I dare to exist, I do hope that I see a day where I can talk about these things freely and people recognize that I’m not trying to distract from the many other real issues facing people in this online age. There is room for us all.

The Cliffs of Insanity: Wonder Woman

Wonder Woman on the cover of the 40th Anniversary of Ms. Magazine

This week’s adventure climbing the cliffs of insanity is all about the Amazon Princess. It relates back to last week’s post about superhero movies, not so much as a call for a Wonder Woman movie, but a recognition that superheroes are icons and sources of inspiration beyond their basic storytelling purpose and, in this role, Wonder Woman is the premier superhero feminist icon.

Except, apparently, those that keep trying to make her otherwise.

Lo, those many years ago, before even my ancient memory kicks in, Wonder Woman was depowered as part of DC Comics’ attempt to revamp the character and make her more modern. This revamp included a break from the Amazons, ditching her previous costume, clothing her all in white, taking away much of her powers, and giving her a (male) martial arts mentor.

The idea was to model Diana after Emma Peel in the then-popular The Avengers rather than her previous Wonder Woman-self. Not a bad idea except, well, this was Wonder Woman. It was putting a square peg in a round hole. I can’t imagine, for example, revamping Superman and making him resemble Mr. Steed in an attempt to keep up with the times.

Feminists, particularly Gloria Steinem, were so disturbed by this revamp that they put classic Wonder Woman on the first cover of Ms. magazine. As a callback, Wonder Woman was also featured on the magazine’s 40th anniversary cover in 2012.

Why do I bring this up again?

Because it seems, once again, in an attempt to revitalize the character, DC is going in the wrong direction. And because these changes to a feminist icon don’t happen in a vacuum. They happen in a world where women are still fighting for some basic rights, even to the point of having to listen to politicians talk about “legitimate rape.”

It’s in this environment that DC Comics announced this week a new Superman/Wonder Woman series that focuses on the romance between the two characters, a romance that thus far comic audiences have greeted with a shrug.

It’s part of a disturbing overall pattern with DC Comics, a pattern that saw nearly every marriage among DC heroes waved away, a pattern that includes a DC editor calling Lois Lane a “trophy wife,” and a pattern that completely wiped away the backstories of the female main characters of the long-running Birds of Prey series.

Let’s tackle the current problems with Wonder Woman.

Problem #1: Devaluation of the Amazons.

At this point, the Amazons are like Kenny on South Park or kid sidekicks in the DCU. Omigod, they killed them! If not killed, then turned them evil, with happened in Flashpoint, which reset the current DC Universe, or in the current DC Universe, where they’ve been turned into a batch of murderers and child slavers, with a lot of implications that their “seduction” of male sailors was coerced.

That an all-women society views men as useless save for sperm banks is, at the best, unfortunate, and, at the worst, misogynistic. And it also doesn’t make any sense as part of Wonder Woman’s backstory because she’s still presented in the same comic as an avatar of truth and protector of the innocent, the person specially chosen to help others live up to Amazonian ideals.

Except if the Amazons are murderers and slavers, how the heck did she absorb those qualities that her people were supposed to possess?

It makes no story sense whatsoever.

Problem #2: Superman is a boring romantic partner.

Why is this a problem? Well, the series itself seems to be a grab at the lowest common denominator, especially ones who  are waiting to see Superman and Wonder Woman “bone” as it was put during a Twitter exchange with the writer of the series, Charles Soule. (He seems like a very good guy but I’m talking about his story choices, not Soule as a person.)

There’s also the issue of putting Lois Lane yet further into the background, which I believe in a horrible story choice but it’s also horrible marketing synergy, given that the success of Man of Steel on the big screen, which features Lois.

But, most of all, it’s a problem because this book becomes “Superman’s girlfriend, Wonder Woman.” This relationship isn’t new, it was developed in the pages of Justice League, there was a story in the Valentine’s special about the pair. And aside from the initial announcement, which caused a minor stir, it’s been meet with indifference.

That’s because it’s dull.

I say this as a romance writer.

Superman and Wonder Woman is too much of the same. It’s similar to similar. Similar power structure, similar looks, even similar approaches to battle. They’re far more like siblings than they are romantic partners.

Problem #3: Wonder Woman Should Have Her Own Story

From the very start, Wonder Woman was created as a feminist counter to Superman. She was consciously created to be a role model for girls: a powerful, intelligent women that girls and women could emulate. Yes, there are also some other elements to her original creation that are tied into “loving submission” and bondage/domination but first and foremost, William Marston Moulton and the two women in his life, wanted Wonder Woman to be a beacon to women who aspired to be their very best.

Romance certainly doesn’t interfere with that. Steve Trevor is present very early in Wonder Woman’s backstory. But a romance with Superman does interfere with that, as it automatically puts her in a secondary position. Want evidence? Just look at the cover tease for Superman-Wonder Woman, in which he’s taller. She’s an Amazon. It’s been fully established she’s taller. And if you think that’s silly, just read the Valentine’s Special and some of their interactions. He’s the teacher, she’s the student, he’s the one that tells her stuff.

She’s in the secondary position. As Zack Smith, a writer for MTV Geek and Newsarama said on Twitter: “Wow, after 70+ years, Wonder Woman gets a title where she’s OFFICIALLY defined by a relationship.”

There’s a story problem too. By making Superman such a prominent part of Wonder Woman’s story, it prevents her own background and supporting cast from being developed. Think how the Daily Planet is such a part of the Superman mythos, as are Ma and Pa Kent and Smallville.

Wonder Woman deserves a fully developed cast and setting as well, one that belongs just to her. One of the reasons her comic hasn’t sold well is that because she keeps being constantly “rebooted” so the background and setting put together by one creative team vanishes, is replaced by another, and that vanishes again. Superman, even eventually as her ex, looms over all of this and basically becomes this huge part of her character.

But, most of all, the current storytelling choices at DC Comics seem to be blind to what they have in Wonder Woman. She’s quite possibly the most famous fictional women on the planet. Instead, they keep trying to put her in this box where she’s “more relatable” to men by giving her “daddy issues,” and making her younger and sexier, and having the uber-male of the DC universe sex her all up so her feminist cooties don’t show.

DC, this isn’t last year’s direct market. You have the power of digital. Via digital release, either Comixology or elsewhere, you could reach a huge potential audience of women by embracing what Wonder Woman is and telling great stories that embrace who she is.

The audience for The Avengers was 40 percent female. The audience for Man of Steel was 44 percent female. (This actually pleases the movie makers. Shocking, I know!) Last year, female and male moviegoers flocked to The Hunger Games.

DC is sitting on a potential gold mine with Wonder Woman and the female audience. To understand her potential impact, you have only to watch the Wonder Women: The Untold Story of American Superheroines.

Instead, the powers that be at DC editorial seem bent on remaking her so the mostly male direct comic reading audience will like her better and won’t think of her as having female cooties.

My message to DC Comics:

She’s. Not. Just. Yours. She’s also ours.


Wonder Woman and Superman in DC: The New Frontier by Darwyn Cooke






The Cliffs of Insanity: Mommy Bloggers

GeekMom News
So are GeekMoms “mommy bloggers?” Can’t speak for them but I won’t reject the title.

This week’s adventures climbing the cliffs of insanity include a rumination what being a “mommy blogger” means, a great article on why the new Wonder Woman series is disappointing one female comic reader, and a link to a continuing celebration of the 75th anniversary of Lois Lane, and where you can find me as Wonder Woman. Live and in person, even.

When I was doing the Geeky Jules radio show last Friday night, I was asked a question that I’ve been pondering ever since. Jules asked what I thought of GeekMom being called a “mommy blog,” as that term is a pejorative to some.

The term “mommy blogger” seems inherently somewhat dismissive because it’s not “mom blogger” or even “parenting blogger.” It uses the least formal parenting name for mothers. Plus, I’m immediately suspicious of those making judgments about the worth of something that’s inherently female.

In other words, if you call me  “mommy blogger,” my initial reaction is to pick that label, wear it with pride, and say “and your point would be?,” just as I did years ago with the term “bitch.” (Yes, I actually possess a baseball cap with the word “Bitch” on it.) Continue reading The Cliffs of Insanity: Mommy Bloggers

Twilight Week At GeekMom!

twilight-book-cover2With the release Eclipse on DVD on Saturday, we at GeekMom decided to take a look at the Twilight phenomenon.

The immensely popular series has been incredibly polarizing among fandom.

One side side, teen girls reading the series, which included my own a few years ago, see someone they can identify with in Bella and a fascinating new world where they can escape.  Older female readers love the fantasy and romance of it all.

One the other side, feminists claim Twilight promotes stalking by men and teaches teen girls to be submissive and that getting married and having children is the ultimate goal of any woman.

And then there are the male geeks who roll their eyes and make fun of vampires that sparkle.

This week, we’ll have articles from as many angles as possible, with an eye to seeing why exactly this series creates strong emotions in so many.