PROLOGUE: I almost didn’t bother posting this because I figured everything I was saying had already been said by more well known people than me. I didn’t think I was offering anything new, and worried that it would look like I was just jumping on a bandwagon. But then I realized this is an ongoing conversation, and at the urging of a fellow writer decided to post it anyway. Because remaining silent is worse.
Okay, I’m back. Back from Tribeca 2014. Back from parties and screenings, and networking and meetings and seminars and more screenings. I’m exhausted and am staring at the pile of work sitting on my desk — a script that needs rewriting, a series pitch that also needs rewriting, a chapter and outline that need to be drafted, and a TV pilot in need of some light polishing. So naturally I’m updating my blog to look and feel busy without actually tackling that scary work pile.
But a thing happened at Tribeca 2014 that got me thinking about a lot of things. This is something that I found after three days, and six screenings. I thought about it on my way home Saturday, when on returning I hit up twitter and tweeted the following:
“I’d really like to see the end of “pregnancy as character motivation/plot point” in movies. Female ≠ “baby maker”.
To clarify; of the first six movies I saw, five featured a female character who was pregnant, or expecting, or discovered during the course of the movie that they were, in fact, pregnant. The sixth movie did not feature any pregnant females — save for the one who tells her lazy slob boyfriend she wants to have babies, prompting a break up.
So here comes the part where I “go off.” Because the “your female must be facing a dilemma and the best way to illustrate that is by making her pregnant” is the surest sign a sign of lazy and just plain bad writing (IMO), because clearly no woman character can be interesting or passionate or believable without having the requisite bun in the oven. It’s a trope I’ve been told to put into my work to make my female characters more “sympathetic” because it’s more important for a character to be sympathetic than “interesting”.
Look, I get the urge; not the child-making urge as it pertains to real life. I’m talking about fictional characters. I’m talking about needing to get the audience on-side with your hero and heroine. When you have 100 minutes to tell a story you have to economize, set up your characters quickly and efficiently, and give them some sort of central dilemma to complicate matters for them and to give them an extra motive to survive whatever challenges are thrown in their way. And frankly you do this with all characters; male female, old, young, major, minor. But five movies, all in a row, where the female characters main defining trait was “having baby”?
I wondered why I was reacting to this. And it reminded me of the debate that’s been raging through other media, particularly comics.
If you’re at all into comics you’ll know we’ve seen an uptick in both female writers, artists, letterers, editors, and especially fans. The fastest growing demographic in comics is female. Heck, the fastest growing demo for Mixtape is female. It’s a sign of how vital and wide-ranging a medium comics are, to see so many female fans and creators involved. Way more, it seems, then when I was in my formative comics fandom years (aka the 90s). Back then the only guys you saw in a comic book store were guys.
Naturally the comic bro douche contingent is trying to derail that. Because women are supposed to be submissive, to be rescued by strong heroic men, to want to be mothers, to breed, to perpetuate the line, to nurture et cetera. And if they’re none of these things then they must have big boobs. And heaven forbid you’re a female fan at a convention where there’s always the threat you’ll be grabbed and groped, and then threatened with rape if you go public and complain about it.
[Oh, and you want to talk about angry stereotyping? Describe your typical male comic book fan as being fat, greasy, covered in zits, living in mom’s basement and hammering angry screeds on the internet with Cheeto-stained fingers. Do that and wait for the angry retorts that is a “stereotype”]
The contingent who seems hell-bent in telling this large and growing group they’re not welcome do this because they’re afraid, and they’re weak, and they know it, but that doesn’t make their words and actions any less poisonous. Every comic shop proprietor who looks down his nose at a girl perusing the shelves, every comic bro who demands a girl know the intricate history of Wonder Woman or Green Lantern before she can say she’s a comic book “fan” and the creators who fail to stand up and call bullshit on that behavior are all part of a larger problem.
Despite the fact that female comic book readers are the largest growing audience in a field that has seen diminishing sales for years, it’s not about sales. Let me repeat that; It’s Not About Sales.
It’s about a thing that happened to me more than 25 years ago.
I lived for a time in North Carolina. I was the “new kid” in a school of new faces. I felt out of place, partially for being a young teen, also for being a northerner relocated to the South. So I didn’t have a lot of friends. But I had my comic books and in a way they became my friends. During lunch I’d often sit in the corner of the cafeteria, eat my lunch and flip through whatever comic book I was reading at the time. Nobody ever commented on this at school, but one day returning home, I got off the bus and walked up my street and as it passed me a kid in one of my classes leaned out the window and shouted “Go home and read more comic books you fucking spaz.”
I just … stood there as the bus sped away. This kid had never spoken to me at school, once. I didn’t cry or didn’t really do anything but flip him the bird and hoped he saw my act of defiance. And beyond that I can’t remember much of the rest of my day, any other run-ins I had with him or anyone else at school. I still read comics — I probably read them after I got home and finished homework. But the point her is I lived in NC for a year, and that part is one of the few specific memories I have of the time. Being called a “fucking spaz”.
That’s what this is all about.
It’s about all those other “fucking spazzes”, now in a position of power and authority, turning around and calling women “fake geek girls” and other terms I won’t sully this page by repeating. Acting like the jocks and the preps and the popular kids who insulted them for being comic book fans. Like they need to get “back” at people who hurt them by hurting people who never did them any wrong. “Fucking spazzes” who have become the same people who bullied you when you were younger, smaller, weaker, all because you liked things they didn’t. It wasn’t cool when you were on the receiving end, and it’s not cool when you’re the one dishing it out now.
You have become that kid on that bus.
That’s what this is all about. It’s about setting aside all that petty bullshit that prevents comics fandom (or indeed any fandom) from being anything less than 100% fun for everyone. Because if you can’t do that; if you can’t treat other fans the way you want to be treated, you don’t deserve to call yourself anything other than the villain.
EPILOGUE: As I mentioned I wasn’t going to post the above but was convinced, ultimately by fellow writer JC Piech. You can follow JC on Twitter @JCPiech, or on FB.
Also, buy her book