Design and Demographics: An Ongoing Debate

Audio Edition Coming Soon!

Character designs from 1985 vs. 2018 for She-Ra, Bow, Glimmer, and Catra. (Images from @SheRaUpdates)

Fall 2018 and Spring 2019 are going to be pretty exciting! A whole slew of television that I love will be airing, either as a continuation of shows I already love, or brand new offerings to enjoy: The Dragon Prince, Star Wars: The Clone WarsCastlevania, Doctor Who, The Expanse, Young Justice, Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, and Star Trek Discovery, to name a few.

However, the one that caught my attention and sparked this entry was discovering a controversy over the upcoming animated reboot of She-Ra. (Controversy? On the internet? I’m shocked. Shocked, I tell you!) It seems like it boils down to the relationship between aesthetic design and sexism. Some people were stoked about the new animation style for the show, courtesy of Noelle Stevenson who worked on the comic book series Lumberjanes and the graphic novel Nimona. Others were… less enthusiastic. Apparently there’s been a great deal of backlash because the new design for She-Ra isn’t “sexy” enough. (Since She-Ra is apparently actually supposed to be 16 years old, the new design looks far more age-appropriate than the original, who I would have assumed was in her 20s.)

Personally, I think the entire debate is a bit ridiculous. I’ve never seen the original TV show from the 80s, although I did have some of the dolls (and totally made up my own stories because I had no idea who they were.) But something struck me as I was reading articles about this design battle. There was talk of how She-Ra is a “girls’ show” and “this is why girls can’t have nice things” and “why can’t men let girls have role models that aren’t based on sex appeal?” This controversy over gender separation (such as the color-coding of children’s toys in stores and the difference in design between male and female characters) has popped up in various forms over the years.

Is there really a difference anymore between “his” and “hers”? It seems like folks on both sides of the She-Ra debate think that there is. What I want to know was if this was a result of old-style marketing, environmental/societal values, or genuine difference of interest between boys and girls.

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Book Review! “Before Mako Came Yoko: A Comparative Study” by Natacha Guyot

 

This entry is part of “Natacha Guyot’s Blook Blog Tour!”


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BeforeMakoCameYokoCover

I don’t usually care much for summer blockbusters, which usually have more explosions than compelling emotions.  However, Pacific Rim is one of those rare “popcorn movies” that I felt gave a layer of depth to its characters.  I confess that I was surprised to see Mako, a female Japanese Jaeger pilot, get as much screen time and character arc as she did!  Women as primary main characters is becoming more prominent, albeit slowly, and there is still a dearth of women of color in such roles.  Pacific Rim provided a step in the right direction, even if it fell short on certain points.  But I was unaware that a long-running 1970s comic book series from Belgium had already allowed a female Asian character to step into the spotlight.  Natacha Guyot’s brief but engaging treatise Before Mako Came Yoko: A Comparative Study Between Pacific Rim and Yoko Tsuno elaborates on how the title character of Yoko Tsuno and Mako of Pacific Rim share many key traits.

The book is divided into three parts that explore these similarities, as well as a few of their short-comings.  The first part, “Women of Color as a Female Lead Character” explores the history of the two characters as they developed through their respective media.  While Yoko has four decades of story to draw on and develop from, Mako only has a single film.  Yet both present strong, well-rounded, engaging characters who aren’t reduced to eye candy, exotic tokens, or inevitable love interests by the presence of male associates.  (However, like Ms. Guyot, I would have preferred Mako as the main character and focus of Pacific Rim, since I found her origins and presentation far more interesting than that of the male lead!)

The second part is “Combat, Science, and Compassion,” which looks at the skill sets Yoko and Mako possess that helps make them real people and helps solidify their importance and relevance to the plots of their respective stories.  Scientific knowledge and martial arts are a shared skill set, although Yoko Tsuno touches on religion and spirituality in a way that has little to no place in Pacific Rim.  A big difference is that Yoko faces danger on a more or less regular basis throughout the comics.  Mako doesn’t have the opportunity to fight her enemies, the alien Kaiju, until well into the film, and even then, only for a short time.  Visually and narratively, Mako and Yoko break the mold in progressive ways.

“Composite Family and Inner Circle” comprises the final section.  Yoko and Mako share many similarities in their creation of a new “family” outside their blood relations.  With so many years of development, Yoko has far outpaced Mako in this area.  This may be a necessity of the medium, but there is hope that future installments of Pacific Rim will expand on Mako’s role in the story and her circle of friends.

Before Mako Came Yoko is an intriguing look into the world of representation for female and minority characters in media. It draws connections between modern cinema and classic comics to show how progressive some of these characters are… and how far we still have to go. Be sure to check out Ms. Guyot’s website for other books and articles discussing similar topics in Star Wars, Farscape, and more!


 

natachaguyotNatacha Guyot is a French researcher, author and public speaker. She holds two Master’s degrees: Film and Media Studies (Paris III Sorbonne Nouvelle) and Digital Culture and Technology (King’s College London).

Her main fields of interest are Science fiction, Gender Studies, Children Media and Fan Studies. Besides her nonfiction work, she also writes Science Fiction and Fantasy stories.

Natacha’s Publications     |     Twitter     |     Facebook     |     LinkedIn

Where Are the Ladies? Female Protagonists in Fantasy

Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

 

One of my friends mentioned that, when she was a kid, she couldn’t find any female characters she liked or could relate to.  In fact, she became misogynistic herself for a time because the only examples of women were weak, whiny, helpless bimbos.  Not exactly the best role model for a growing girl.

But oddly enough, I don’t remember there being a deficiency in heroines during my childhood years of reading.  But then again, I read fantasy and it seems that fantasy has a higher prevalence of female protagonists (and women in general.)

I’ve heard about several studies that speculate on the lack of female characters in children’s and young adult literature.  Granted, this has been changing over the last few years, especially in teen literature, but I still find that female characters, when they are present, tend to fall into the emotional/romance category.  There are fewer examples of (dare I say it?) “strong” (or rather, “well-rounded”) female characters in children’s fiction.

Since my last entry, “Character Charisma,” was so heavily skewed towards male characters (9 men to 1 woman), I wanted to explore some of my favorite female characters in fantasy novels. Unfortunately, in the video games I’ve played so far, there are very few, if any, female characters who left much of an impression, and even fewer who were the star of the show. The only two that come to mind are the sun goddess Amaterasu (Ammy) from Okami and Aurora from Child of Light. (Both of these are beautiful games with unique designs and gorgeous musical scores, and I highly recommend playing them.) Or maybe I just haven’t played enough games, but either way I’m going to focus on books that I read with interesting, unique, or kick-ass protagonists… who happen to be girls.  (I apologize in advance for any mispronunciations.)

 

WARNING: THE DESCRIPTIONS BELOW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS!

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Are You a Fake Fan? (Gamer Edition)

In light of recent developments in the comic, gamer, and cosplay worlds, I’m doing a series of entries about “fake fans” and how established fandoms treat newcomers, women, and minorities.  This entry is the Gamer Edition, wherein I focus on the gaming community.  You can read the companion Comics Edition here.

 Click HERE for the Audio Edition!

nofake

How do you decide if someone is unworthy to be part of your fandom?  How do you label someone a poser, a noob, or a fake?  Whom do you invite into a fandom and why?  Whom do you reject and why?  What are the criteria to go from noob to knowledge-master?  How does someone graduate from being a “fake geek girl/boy” or “fake fan” into a “true fan”?  Is such a thing even possible?  

….

I’m not sure if I want to write this entry.  I’m not sure if it’s safe for me to write this entry.  In the wake of #GamerGate, it’s become more obvious how dangerous it can be to be a woman online and have opinions.  Especially if you are a woman involved in games, and particularly if you have some level of popularity.  Granted, my profile is no where near as high as the targets of GamerGate, but the very fact that I’m nervous about posting this also makes me mad.  I shouldn’t be afraid to have an opinion, provided I try to express it respectfully.

vivianjames

Vivian James, the semi-official mascot of #gamergate (click image for source)

If you don’t know what GamerGate is, I’ve provided links below to various journals, news articles, and individual blogs that talk a lot more about it.  To summarize, GamerGate is the outpouring of misogyny in the gaming world that people tend to ignore, disregard, or minimize.  It is the systematic anonymous attempt to destroy women in gaming, be they game developers, journalists, critics, or just outspoken fans.  This hate has spewed forth in a fashion that cannot be covered up or explained away (although lord knows that GamerGate tried.)

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Dangerous Stereotypes: Bad Boys

I’m going to tackle some stereotypes present in modern fiction that I think are dangerous when used irresponsibly.  Any entries part of this series will be labeled as “Dangerous Stereotypes.”  The previous entry on this topic is about the Scientist stereotype, which can be read here.  

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God of Mischief

Image via desktop-wallpapers.net

People have interesting ways of coping with scary things.  Some deny their fear.  Some avoid what frightens them.  Some seek it out.  And many people, often women, seem to be taking what should be scary and try to make it cute.

I’m talking about the “bad boys.”

There are so many villainous characters out there with cute, sorrowful, gentle, loving, or chibi-fied pictures of them out on the internet.  Sometimes they are anti-heroes like Vegeta from Dragon Ball Z or Spike from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  Sometimes they are villains like Voldemort from Harry Potter or Loki from the Marvel Comics.  Sometimes they are someone who flickers in between like Mr. Gold from Once Upon a Time.  And sometimes they are like Alucard from the anime and manga Hellsing. Alucard is the opposite of cute.  He’s one of, if not the most, badass, psychotic, murderous vampire in modern literature.  He’s fucking terrifying.  He’s murdered and drunk the blood of hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, human and vampire, and enjoyed it.  The only think that keeps him under control is the special spell that binds him to the will of the leader of the Hellsing Organization.  And he’s one of the GOOD guys!

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Feminism in Fiction

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(click image for source)

(click image for source)

Feminism is not a dirty word.  (I actually read a book recently with that statement in the title, and I stand by it.)  A lot of people shy away from the term “feminist” because they think it means “insane man-hating career/sex obsessed woman (who may or may not be a lesbian.)”  Even I’m careful hen using this term, lest my meaning be misconstrued.  While such people do exist, they are the extreme end of the spectrum and have no bearing on what I consider feminism.  That is, that women should be treated politically, socially, and economically as equals to men.

Fantasy and science fiction are wonderful because you can break so many stereotypes.  With a lot of realistic fiction, especially in historical fiction, there are certain limitations, certain expectations and roles that people play that can be difficult to change without losing a sense of authenticity.  But science fiction is usually set far into the future, often on other planets.  Fantasy deals in alternate realities and fairy tales.  The potential to explore and turn traditional gender/racial/economic/sexual roles upside down is all around!  And I’m sorry to say that a lot of writers who deal in science fiction and fantasy don’t take advantage of that potential.

Since a lot of fantasy is set in medieval look-alike worlds, we tend to get medieval values.  Women are passive objects to be won while men do all the fighting, rescuing, political maneuvering, and pretty much anything else interesting.  Science fiction often has male military leaders, male soldiers, male explorers…  Women are very often not present at all, or, if they are, they get regulated to sexual roles or are presented in a very wooden or unrealistic manner.

Obviously this isn’t the case for every fantasy or science fiction story.  And I should point out that while there is nothing inherently wrong with having characters fill traditional gender roles, that shouldn’t be the only role that they can play.  (And that goes for men as well as women.)  Older science fiction and fantasy often get a pass from me because the social mores of the time necessarily colors the way the plot and characters are presented.  But even in modern stories, I rarely see the envelop pushed.

We can be so much more than this.

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Gender, Color, and Sexuality in Characters

I’m currently working on the script for my manga project Astral Rain for the April edition of Camp NaNoWriMo 2014.  Well, more accurately, I’ve been working on a lot of background notes, plot notes, and world-building because I noticed that a lot of that hadn’t been worked out in advance.  As I was writing, I came across the article “I’m Demanding Better Representation For Black Girl Nerds in Geek Culture” by Chaka Cumberbatch.  And that’s when it hit me:  all of my characters in Astral Rain are white.

Granted, it’s supposed to be an OEL (Original English Language) manga, and most anime and manga lack people of color.  I have no problem featuring white characters, but what surprised me is that the idea of any of the cast of Astral Rain being anything but fair-skinned never occurred to me.  And that concerns me.

Image via What If Books Etc (click for link)

Image via What If Books Etc (click for link)

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