Why I Quit Watching “Game Of Thrones”

The title says it all, doesn’t it? I used to watch Game of Thrones, but I don’t anymore. I quit. I watched all of the episodes through season five, but I haven’t seen any of season six yet, and I plan to keep it that way. I lost interest.

One of the factors in my decision was convenience: The show is on HBO, and I don’t have cable, so watching the show always required hunting for illegally-uploaded videos on YouTube or Vimeo or whatever, and hoping that they wouldn’t be taken down too quickly.

You could argue that this was actually a non-decision on my part. It wasn’t so much an action as it was a desire to not act. The air date of the first episode came and went, and I didn’t make any effort to watch. I did nothing because I’m lazy that way, and doing so has freed up an hour each weekend. Which is nice.

Also, the plot of the show has at this point moved beyond that of the books. That, and the fact that the show’s plot has been given room to wildly diverge from that of the books, is another reason I lost interest. I would rather read this story than watch it – and I want to know what George R.R. Martin, not the showrunners, had in mind.

This leads me to my next reason. There is a lot of misogyny present on Game of Thrones. This has made me a little uncomfortable since season one, and REALLY uncomfortable since season five. I almost stopped watching after Sansa was raped by Ramsay Snow but because that scene occurred in one of the final episodes, I finished out the season and put the issue of whether I would continue the show on the back burner of my mind.

I didn’t think about it again, at least not seriously, until a few weeks ago. I’m really uncomfortable watching a show run by people who say they loved Jeyne Poole’s rape/torture scene so much that they gave it to Sansa instead.

Me when I think about the showrunners

Me when I think about the showrunners

Like, yes, I understand that Jeyne does not appear in the show because there was only room for so many characters, but we get it: Ramsay is evil. At some point it just becomes gratuitous violence against women. That kind of scene is very difficult for me to watch, and it wasn’t even part of the books – it’s yet another instance of the showrunners deciding to alter characters’ personalities and give them different story arcs.

And don’t even get me started on the objectification. We’ve all heard this show referred to as Game of Boobs, no? THERE ARE SO MANY. It’s as though the writers think the actual plot of this show is incapable of holding our attention. Someone goes on a rant about their mortal enemy? Add some boobs. Some else is planning battle strategies? YES LET’S PUT A NIPPLE HERE AND A NIPPLE THERE AND A NIPPLE EVERYWHERE. NIPPLES FOR EVERYONE.

How many times do we need to see Daenerys-the-fireproof-dragon-queen walk through a fire that causes all her clothes to burn off? Has the audience seriously forgotten that she can do that since the scene in, oh, I don’t know, season one?

About a month and a half ago I was talking to one of my friends about the show, and that conversation further contributed to my decision to quit watching. She and I both realized that we were only watching the show for the most surface-level reasons: The costumes, the music, the architecture, and the dozen or so actresses we have crushes on.

And I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong about watching a show for those reasons! Please don’t think that that’s what I’m saying here. There is nothing wrong with watching a show because the cinematography makes you smile, or because you want to smush mouths with one of one of the cast members, or whatever.

But I think that decision should be made, and is already made, on a case-by-case basis. Some people watch loads of shows for superficial reasons. Some people prefer to continue watching only the shows whose plots they are interested in, or the shows that they love for lots and lots of reasons and not just one.

I hope my use of “superficial” isn’t too confusing here? I’m not trying to say that these are dumb reasons but that they are, as I mentioned above, surface-level reasons. I’m using the word in that sense. I don’t appreciate the show on multiple and deeper levels anymore. I had ceased to watch it for things such as the plot and character development, and was now watching it because I like seeing castles and pretty dresses and lady knights. And that wasn’t really how I wanted to spend my time, especially when I could find similar, less problematic content elsewhere.

And besides, I can still see all of those things without having to watch the show. I can find pictures all over the Internet, and listen to whatever new and beautiful concoctions Ramin Djawadi has composed for the show – all without sitting through an hour-long episode each Sunday.

I still plan to keep reading the books. I need to read the fifth one, because it’s been published for years now and is there waiting for me, and then I guess I’ll just join everyone else in waiting impatiently for the next few volumes. I’m not giving up on George R.R. Martin’s story – at least, not yet.

Sometimes I do feel as though I’m missing out by seeing only pictures and snippets from the show. I know all the major events that have happened thus far because A) a lot of my friends still watch the show and B) social media is dark and full of spoilers, and I do kind of miss seeing those events within the larger context of the show.

Also, Margaery and Sansa and Yara and Cersei and Brienne. I miss them. But I also know that I would end up getting frustrated by how their respective story arcs have been handled, and then I’d be left muttering angrily at my computer screen, and what’s the point of putting myself through all that?

More than anything, it just feels weird to quit a TV show. I haven’t quit many because I don’t watch that much TV. I have nothing against TV, but it tends to attract me less than other mediums such as books, movies, or webseries. And it typically takes me FOREVER to watch a show from start to finish – I’m currently guilty of this with Daredevil. I put my TV-watching habits on hold for months or more, only to eventually return to a show after I’ve finished my book or writing project or whatever else distracted me.

Honestly, if I remember correctly, I’ve only quit watching one TV show before: Sherlock. The difference is that I’ve been watching Game of Thrones since 2013, but I started and then stopped watching Sherlock within a period of less than two weeks. I binged the first three seasons, did not like what I’d gotten myself into, and backed out – almost as soon as I’d begun.

So quitting that show did not have the same effect on me as quitting Game of Thrones did. (Does?) It feels weird to not watch it on Sunday night or Monday morning and then talk about it with my friends and think through all the newly-formed and at times ridiculous fan theories. Honestly, it’s made me ponder the likelihood of quitting Doctor Who in the not-too-distance future. Because that’s another show that I’ve been watching for a few years and, although I am quite attached to it in some ways, I also have a lot of problems with it.

Who knows? Maybe I’ll return to Game of Thrones someday, after both the books and the show have drawn to a close. That doesn’t seem very likely from where I stand in the here and now, but it’s always a possibility, especially if the showrunners get their act together and drastically improve the quality of the writing.

What I do know is that I need to read A Dance with Dragons, and I want to pursue some new – new to me, that is – fantasy series and movies and shows as well. Sorry, Game of Thrones. We parted, and I don’t THINK I’ll be back any time soon, if at all, but… you weren’t worth my time anymore. I found other ways to spend that time.

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Call For Suggestions For 2016 Pride Posts!

Hey, everyone! This is just a quick post to A) let you know that I’m doing a month’s worth of Pride posts again this June and B) ask for some feedback. Basically, I’m going to list some of the things I want to write about and then ask which of those ideas you would be most interested in. I already have some posts written and scheduled but I can always change the schedule or edit the posts as needed, so… without further ado, let’s get started.

I guess I’ll begin by saying that I really, really want to catch up on my Reading The Rainbow posts. I haven’t reviewed any books in so long and it’s really been bothering me because I feel like I’ve fallen behind so far that I’ll never catch up and I don’t like that. I think most of the reviews would be YA, but some may be about adult books?

I’d never seen any LGBTQ+ movies until last June, and even then I forgot to write about it, so I would like to write some posts about that as well. I want to talk about LGBTQ+ stories in other mediums, basically, because I talk about books all the time here (even if I don’t always do formal reviews) but it’s not every day that I talk about movies, TV, et cetera.

I would like to do a tag or two, and my only problem is that I don’t know of any LGBTQ+ themed tags. I mean, I did the only LGBTQ+ tag that I know of last June, so… blehhh. My tag posts tend to be some of the most popular, and I want to write posts that I know people will like – that’s the whole point of writing this post and asking what people are most interested in seeing next month – so if you know of any, PLEASE let me know in the comments!

I’m also thinking about writing some posts about music, if anyone is interested in that. LGBTQ+ musicians, for instance?

LISTS! Lists are a thing. I love them. There will probably be a lot of overlap with some of the other types of posts mentioned here, such as “10 reasons you should read this book” and whatnot.

In terms of more serious posts, I have ideas for some personal posts, as well as stuff about current events. (Although some of that will be on an “as needed” basis, of course.)

I also want to write some advice-type posts, because I’ve been asked to do so in the past and the few times when I have written posts like that before, people seemed to enjoy them. SO if you need advice, feel free to leave your questions in the comments below and I’ll see if I can answer them next month!

(If you don’t feel comfortable leaving your answers there and want a little more anonymity, you can send me a message through my contact page. I’ll still see your name, of course, but no one else will, and I’ll make sure not to include it in my advice to you.)

The reason this comes after “personal posts” in my list is that I think some of the advice may end up being tied to stuff that I know from personal experience, et cetera. But we’ll just have to play that by ear, because if you’re tired of hearing about MEEEE, I’ll see if I can figure something else out.

Anyway, that’s all I have for you today. It would be greatly appreciated if you listed the top three types of posts you would most like to see, as well as any suggestions or recommendations that you have! (Such as a book you’d like me to read and review, or something that’s been in the news lately, or a list about a particular subject.)

Thank you so much, and enjoy the rest of your May! I’ll see you in just a few days with a ton of Pride posts… I plan to use the rest of this long weekend to work ahead on my schoolwork and, hopefully, write a bunch of blog posts.

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A Bookish Update #3

Hey, everyone! So, I started doing these bookish updates a while ago, but I haven’t been reading very much lately so it’s been quite some time since I last posted one of these. (Since last fall, actually? Wow.)

I wanted to talk about what I’ve been reading lately for, among other things, my Gothic lit class, but didn’t know how I would manage to eke out an entire post about just one of those books. And then I remembered that bookish update posts are a THING. Oops. Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading lately!

desolationFinished A Little While Ago

Desolation by Derek Landy, I guess. I finished it over a month ago so it’s not exactly a recent read for me, but… yeah, like I said, I haven’t read very much lately. I’ve been either too busy or, when not busy, too tired.

And now that I think about it, it’s fitting that I read this within a few weeks of the beginning of my Gothic lit class, because it’s a YA horror novel and horror is a genre that grew out of the Gothic canon. Very cool!

Just Finished

Yesterday, my class wrapped up our unit on The Monk by Matthew Lewis, which is… I don’t even know how to describe it. At times it pokes fun at the Gothic genre by purposely trying to be as ridiculous as can be, but at other times it takes itself fairly seriously.

One thing I really enjoyed about this novel was the story-within-a-story structure. By this, I mean that one of the characters will start telling a story and then one of the characters from that story tells yet another story, and so on and so forth. It was really fun to read, and at times I completely forgot what was going on in the main plot because I was so absorbed by the digressions.

Ultimately, though, I have mixed feelings about this book. I gave it two stars on Goodreads, although I may later change that rating to three stars because two feels, perhaps, a bit TOO low. I don’t know… the character development of the secondary characters was lacking, and the misogyny really bothered me.

I could write an entire post about that last bit, by the way – I’m always interested in exploring the ways different authors deal with horrible topics like that. I mean, there’s a huge difference between an author who is a straight-up misogynist and an author who includes misogyny in their stories for the express purpose of calling it out. In other words, one or more of their characters treats women horribly but it’s used to show why that’s not OK. I felt that The Monk waffled back and forth between the two, and that makes me stumped as to how to rate it.

the hidden oracleCurrently Reading

I’m currently reading a few different things, but there are two I want to focus on here. The first is Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, which is for that same lit class. I’ve been meaning to read it for FOREVER since I enjoyed Pride and Prejudice so much, so I’m glad that I have a course to motivate me to keep reading it and not become distracted by fifty-five hundred thousand other books. (As I am prone to do.) I love Austen’s sense of humor and the accessibility of her writing, so this has been a breeze to read.

Another book I’m reading is Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky, for my Internet and Journalism class. It’s a bit wordy at times but doesn’t get bogged down in too much theory, and it’s basically about how technology changed how people form groups. It’s easier to interact, to find others of like mind, and to put your opinions out there now that we have the Internet. This is another book I’ve been meaning to read – my journalism prof from the fall, who teaches this online course, recommended it.

Reading Next

I NEED A BREAK FROM SCHOOLISH BOOKS. I want to read Hildafolk by Luke Pearson next! Is it a picture book? Is it a graphic novel? I DON’T EVEN KNOW. I heard about it through Free Comic Book Day and it looked cute, so I picked it up from the library today.

Other than that, I will be reading Dracula by Bram Stoker after the unit on Northanger Abbey, but that doesn’t really count since I studied it in high school and so I’m actually just rereading it. I’m looking forward to it, though, because it is quite possibly my favorite classic EVER. (It’s basically a tie between that or The Great Gatsby. It all depends on what mood I’m in, really.)

our own private universeReading Soon

Hopefully? The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan! I’m so excited to start his latest series, and have heard so many good things about it. Like, Apollo is canonically bi, and Nico & Will’s relationship gets a lot of pagetime too. I’M SO READY FOR THIS. Rick Riordan makes my heart happy. It’s so cool to see the evolution of his writing over time because his earlier series weren’t all that diverse but he’s grown and changed so much in that regard over time.

Recently Added To TBR List

Some of the books I recently found and/or were recommended to me are:

  • SO EXCITED for Princess Princess Ever After by Katie O’Neill – the upcoming sequel to one of my favorite LGBTQ+ webcomics! I had no idea she was even writing another story!
  • My Travel Writing professor read excerpts from Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke to us on the last day of class, and the language was so beautiful that now I want to read the whole thing.
  • Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley looks like exactly the cute, lighthearted F/F story I need in my life.
  • Anxiously awaiting an email from the library telling me that I’m next in line to read Saga, Vol. 6 by Brian K. Vaughan! Love  this series.
  • How Beautiful the Ordinary: Twelve Stories of Identity edited by Michael Cart is a YA LGBTQ+ anthology that was published a few years ago, but I only just found out about it. I’ve had more luck reading short stories lately since they’re, well, shorter and easier to focus on, so I look forward to this.

-~-

Feel free to steal this idea for your own blog, or answer the questions in the comments! Actually, PLEASE answer the questions in the comments, because I would love to know more about your reading habits! (And what is the best book you’ve read lately? Do you have any recs for me?!)

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Can We Please Get Some Context About Tropes & Originality In Diverse Stories?

Context is important. Context matters when it comes to diverse stories, especially if you’re reviewing or critiquing them. It really bothers me when people ignore the larger context of diverse stories, so… to my blog I go. To discuss this. I promised a post like this the last time I blogged, and here it is: Context. Matters.

This post has been floating around in the recesses of my mind for some time now, with little bits and pieces of ideas popping into it every so often, but I only recently decided to sit down and write it after seeing some of the responses to casting news about the upcoming Marvel movie Black Panther.

Lupita Nyong’o is in talks to star, most probably as T’Challa’s love interest. The comment section of the article I read about it – I think it was on The Mary Sue or something like that – were full of people complaining about how Marvel can do better than casting women as love interests.

I was inclined to agree with this, but I stuck around for a little while longer and found a string of comments pointing out that this is actually a GREAT move on Marvel’s part because, and I quote, “There aren’t very many movies where the love interest is a woman of color, especially a darker-skinned woman.” These women aren’t seen as worthy of attention, as someone to be desired.

I’m so glad that I procrastinated whatever it was that I was supposed to be doing by reading the comment section for a few more minutes, because it raised a point that I probably wouldn’t have thought of on my own – since I’m white.

And I think that’s key when you’re discussing diverse stories: Listen to what people from the group you are reading about or watching have to say about this story. Don’t write it off as something that’s been seen ten thousand times before, because chances are that it hasn’t – not for the diverse group in question.

The piece of media that gave me the first idea for this post was Malinda Lo’s Ash, which is a lesbian/bisexual retelling of “Cinderella.” I was upset after seeing reviews where people dismissed it as being no different from the original fairy tale. They said it wasn’t creative enough. I talked about this with a friend, and – to make a long story short – we ended up talking about tropes and lack of representation and how stories like this are more important than people realize.

Yes, Ash is a straightforward (…pun not intended) retelling of “Cinderella.” There aren’t any bells and whistles to it, no frills attached except for the fact that the protagonist falls in love with a woman.

But that’s enough to make it different. To make it stand out. Because girls like me, we don’t get very many stories like this. Genre fiction. Fairy tales. Happy endings.

And, I don’t know, maybe this just goes to show that I’m much too invested in books for my own good, but it breaks my heart to see people react in this way to books like this – to stories in general like this one – because it’s so obvious that they don’t know what they’re talking about. They have little or no understanding of the history of LGBTQ+ representation – the lack of it, the damaging tropes, and more.

This GIF isn't here to prove a point. I just included it because T'Challa & Bucky are my sons.

This GIF isn’t here to prove a point. I just included it because T’Challa & Bucky are my sons.

They’re approaching this from the point of view of an outsider, and that’s OK, but I also believe that if you really, truly want to make a difference in your allyship, you need to listen to people from whatever diverse group is being represented when they tell you why a particular type of representation is huge news for them. (Whether good or bad.)

I felt the same way when I saw reviews of Carol. The reviews from LGBTQ+ critics and websites were overwhelmingly positive, but a lot of straight reviewers… didn’t really get it. They couldn’t seem to see how this movie was different from any other romance. Like Ash, there aren’t many gimmicks here either – it’s set in the fifties, and the main characters go for a road trip, and there’s divorce angst to sort out. Nothing too different from what you might find in a movie about a straight couple.

Except, well, Carol isn’t about a straight couple. I mean, there are some in the background and everything, but the protagonists are two lesbians living in the 1950s, and if you can’t see why that’s huge – well, you need some context. And I don’t really care whether you ask people to explain the context to you, or do some googling and find things out for yourself, but the point is that you should make an effort to learn about the context.

Learn about why The Price of Salt, the novel it was based on, was revolutionary in the genre of LGBTQ+ lit. Learn about the long history of the Bury Your Gays trope, which stretches back to loooong before the novel’s publication in 1952. Learn why it was important for an LGBTQ+ woman to write and publish stories about women like herself, and why that made it stand out from all the other LGBTQ+ novels written by straight men. There is so much context to learn.

And don’t ignore that context, either. I have a feeling that someone will pop onto this post and exclaim, unbidden, “You don’t have to like a diverse story just because it’s diverse!” And if they do such a thing, I’m going to be very disappointed, because that’s not what I’m saying at all and I don’t know how you got the idea that it is.

What I’m saying is this: OK, so maybe you didn’t like something about a diverse story. Maybe you thought one of the characters in Ash was underdeveloped. Maybe the cinematography of Carol wasn’t quite to your tastes. That’s fine.

But for god’s sake, please stop critiquing diverse media because you perceive it to be “more of the same.” You don’t have to love everything about a diverse story, but taking the time to learn a bit about the context behind it – and the reason why people from a diverse group to which you do not belong love it – can give you at least a basic appreciation of why that story matters to that group.

Chances are that if you’ve seen, say, [insert romcom trope here] many times before, it was only in movies about straight couples and never in movies about LGBTQ+ couples. Chances are that if you think there are “too many superhero movies,” there’s a little black boy somewhere who never sees people like him in action flicks except as the sidekick and/or comic relief to a white superhero.

Chances are that this story is more “original” than you realize.

Just because you have seen, read, and heard countless stories about people like you doesn’t mean everyone has. Media is skewed towards a very white, cis, straight, abled point of view and therefore most of what you may perceive as tropes… aren’t tropes for certain groups of people. Because we’re hardly ever in stories like that.

Imagine Me & You, one of my favorite LGBTQ+ movies of all time – and the first one I ever watched, actually – differs from most romcoms only in that it’s about two women. It’s the tropiest tropefest you’ve ever watched. One of my friends once described it as “all the fanfiction clichés rolled into one movie.”

And those tropes don’t bother me at all, because I’ve seen them one hundred thousand kazillion times with straight couples and never before with an F/F couple. It’s new to me when presented in this way, with these characters. I love finding media with unexpected twists such as this because those twists are what make those stories stand out. When the context is that a certain group of people has very few stories, we need to learn to celebrate what they do have.

Instead of saying, “Where have I seen this story before,” we need to start asking ourselves, “Who hasn’t seen this story before?” What is a tried-and-true plot to one person may be a story that someone else doesn’t, can’t, take for granted. I think that if you understand this, your understanding of diverse media in general – the impulse behind creating it, the reasons fans give for praising it, and so much more – will grow by leaps and bounds.

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#GiveElsaAGirlfriend | Let’s Talk About Single Characters, Diversity, & Making Excuses

#GiveElsaAGirlfriend began trending on Twitter a few weeks ago in response to the news that Disney is planning a sequel to Frozen. (Imaginatively titled, at least for now, Frozen 2.) I have to admit that I haven’t actually seen the original movie yet – I know, I know. I want to READ ALL THE THINGS and WATCH ALL THE THINGS and DO ALL THE THINGS but there is only so much time in the day, so I don’t watch as many movies as I would like.

But I know enough about the movie to know that many people noted how well the story functions as an allegory for being closeted and then coming out. This is what prompted fans to start tweeting at Disney, asking them to make Elsa canonically gay in the sequel.

If you’ve followed me for a while, you’ll have noticed that I devote a lot of posts to discussing diversity. I spend a lot of time rebutting arguments against including diverse characters in stories, and today’s post will be no different.

One thing I’ve noticed since becoming involved in the push for diversity a few years ago is that the same arguments tend to crop up again and again. A common argument against including LGBTQ+ characters is that those characters should be single instead, and this line of thought is EXTREMELY prevalent in the discussions surrounding Frozen 2.

Today, I want to examine the “we need more single characters” argument – which is so often directed towards LGBTQ+ characters – through the lens of Elsa and Frozen, and to challenge some of the assumptions we make in that conversation. Because the reasons given for wanting those characters to be single just… don’t hold up.

Consider, for instance, the claim that people are sick and tired of romance. Yes, people say that – but they don’t act that way. I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve seen a straight person complain, “But why does EVERYTHING have to be about ROMANCE?!” when someone brings up the idea of an LGBTQ+ character, only to turn around and spend hours fangirling about their favorite M/F ship from a book they read, or a TV show they watched, or whatever.

Straight people LOVE fictional romantic pairings, as long as they’re straight. Fandoms are full of it. The most minor het pairings with the smallest amount of screentime and/or pagetime are adored. But when an LGBTQ+ person says that they want a character like them? Suddenly the response is, “Um, not everything has to be about romance. I can’t believe you would say such a thing!”

I have a feeling I’ll probably end up with some folks saying #NotAllStraightPeople in the comments, so let me stave that off before it begins by saying: Yes, I know not all straight people are like this. But a lot of them are. A LOT of them. And their comments go unchecked.

If you’re reading this and you’re a straight person and you’re thinking, “Well, don’t do that,” then I need you to think seriously about what you do do when someone says something like that. Do you speak up, pointing out that this excuse gets pulled out every time someone wants a character to be LGBTQ+, or do you stay quiet? Because if you stay quiet then… well, you’re not making hurtful comments, but you’re not doing anything about the problem either.

It’s equally important to examine what kinds of romantic stories are most prevalent because, let’s be honest, they are OVERWHELMINGLY heterosexual. There still aren’t very many M/M or F/F relationships in fiction, and the numbers drop even further when you count only the relationships that are long-term. Or that include protagonists and not just minor characters who say one line and then are never seen nor heard from again. Or that end happily, and not with one or both of the characters dead.

I think it’s really important to be specific about the types of couples portrayed in fiction. It’s time to do away with the notion that all sexual orientations are equally complicit in this. It’s not some vague problem having to do with couples in general. It has to do with straight couples.

To everyone saying, “Kids need to know that it’s OK to be single! Happiness doesn’t depend on being in a relationship!” I would like to say this: LGBTQ+ couples make up a tiny percentage of fictional relationships. LGBTQ+ people are not pressuring your kids to be in relationships because there are so few of us in fiction. You’re mad that people want LGBTQ+ romance because… there is a lot of straight romance? That doesn’t make sense. Like, at all.

Context matters. (This is actually the subject of my next post, which talks about – among other things – the importance of racial diversity in romantic storylines. But I digress.) It is still revolutionary to include LGBTQ+ romance in stories. I see so many people pretending that all romance is overdone and that making Elsa canonically gay feeds into the romance mentality just as much as making her canonically straight does, but that’s not true.

While we’re on the subject of context, let’s talk about single people who want to see themselves represented: There is an undertone in all of these arguments that the mean, mean lesbians in long-term, happy relationships are somehow taking representation away from the poor single straight women. That it is somehow INCREDIBLY HARD for single straight women to see themselves depicted in the media because there are lesbian characters in committed relationships everywhere, as far as the eye can see. Oh no, won’t someone think of the straight women?!

SHOW ME where this overabundance of fictional lesbian couples exists. Please. Oh, that’s right – it doesn’t exist. Lesbians are virtually invisible in media and when they do exist, they’re too busy having their sexual orientations erased so that they will end up with a man by the finale, or being murdered for shock value and/or the “character development” of a straight person, or whatever.

We don’t live in a world where just any relationship will do – it has to be a specific kind of relationship. There is enormous pressure to either be heterosexual, or to not date at all. Being single isn’t seen as being as bad as dating someone of the same gender, because at least then you’re not acting on your disgusting gay impulses. Even when straight people won’t outright say that they’re grossed out by it, there’s still a sense of being uncomfortable: “Why do you have to tell everyone? Why do you have to make it so obvious by dating a girl? We know you don’t want to date a guy, but have you considered just not dating anyone?”

As I said earlier in this post, you tend to see the same arguments used over and over again. I saw this particular argument used a lot by people who were upset that the Xena: Warrior Princess reboot is going to be super gay, and now I’m seeing it again with Frozen 2.

With both stories there has been an outcry of, “We need more strong female characters! Stop giving them romantic storylines!” In the original Xena and the first Frozen movie the female protagonists did not have any romantic storylines, and these new developments are seen as somehow contrary to the original spirit of those stories.

I have a few things to say to that. The first is that being in a relationship doesn’t make you any less of a strong woman. BEING IN A RELATIONSHIP DOESN’T MAKE YOU ANY LESS OF A STRONG WOMAN.

One of the things I cannot bear about pop culture feminism is its obsession with the “strong female character.” We toss that term around so much that it’s become watered down, with no real meaning. It’s become shorthand for a girl who is physically strong. A girl who says, “I’m not like other girls.” We’ve arbitrarily decided that, in order to show how “different” she is – in order to show what a strong person she is – she shouldn’t date or be married.

And I think that’s ridiculous. Writing “strong female characters” shouldn’t be about making your character literally strong or about having them rebel for no discernible reason – it should refer to their strong characterization. As in, your writing skills. Is this character a complex person? Do they have character development over the course of the story, or does this character remain static?

The “female” part of “strong female character” simply refers to the fact that female characters have traditionally not been afforded the same opportunities for complexity and character growth as the men. They were one-dimensional, or defined only in relation to the men around them, or whatever.

And that’s why I have a problem with anyone who says that a strong female character ceases to be strong if she is in a relationship, or that the lack of a relationship is what made her strong in the first place. Being in a romantic relationship isn’t weakness and I wish people would stop acting as though it is. Yes, female characters who were in relationships have traditionally had most of their character development and story arc revolve around the man they were dating/married to, but IT DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THAT WAY.

Somewhere along the way we’ve begun to equate “shitty male writers who are unable to think of their female characters as separate entities from the men with whom they are involved” with “any writers who give their female characters a romantic storyline.” And that bothers me. It bothers me SO MUCH.

If Elsa falls in love with, I don’t know, a princess from a different country in Frozen 2, that wouldn’t make her any less of a strong woman. One of the messages in Frozen was that you don’t need someone else to make you happy. But if you do find someone else, and they make you happy? That’s OK too. I really think it’s all just a matter of blooming where you’re planted – you shouldn’t feel worthless or lesser for not being in a relationship, but you shouldn’t feel weak for being in a relationship.

I could even go on a rant about how M/M and F/F relationships tend to be more egalitarian than M/F relationships because of the lack of an imbalance in power and status, and how that affects fictional portrayals of relationships, but I won’t do that here, because it’s a long rant. I will do it in the comments if you want me to, though, and I’ll even give you a reading list if you’re interested in learning more.

So, yeah. Elsa’s hypothetical love for another woman doesn’t make her less of a strong female character. But – there’s always a “but,” isn’t there? – the argument against that is that, “Why are all the strong female characters lesbians?” I’m not being hyperbolic here; this is something I have seen and heard countless times, word for word. Why are ALL of them lesbians?!

I would like to point you ever so graciously towards my previous rebuttal: There aren’t that many fictional lesbians to begin with. Most strong female characters are straight because most female characters are straight. This isn’t difficult to understand.

Straight women have been spoiled for choice because there are SO MANY characters like them that they’re just used to it and throw a fit when a strong female character isn’t straight. I grew up having to take what I could get. I found strong female characters who were my role models, and since most of them were straight I couldn’t relate to that part of their story, but I soon got over it because I didn’t have a choice. Straight women need to learn to do this.

Also? If we accept that a “strong female character” is defined as a woman whose story arc does not revolve around a man and cease to be about her, we must be sure to not forget about fridging. This is the phenomenon of killing off a female character in order to cause a male character – typically her husband or boyfriend – a great deal of emotional pain. (It’s called fridging because one of the most commonly cited examples involves a comic where a minor female characters was dismembered and her body was left in the fridge for her boyfriend to find.)

I won’t say that straight female characters have entirely moved beyond this trope, but it is certainly less prevalent now. Lesbians… haven’t moved beyond it. We’ve made a lot of progress in the treatment of straight female characters, to the point where most people can recognize fridging for what it is and call it out. This isn’t true of fictional lesbians, at least not among the general populace. (LGBTQ+ readers/viewers are a different story, and this outcry does have to start somewhere, but it hasn’t spread to the majority of society yet.)

So I’m shaking my head at this idea that ALL the strong female characters are lesbians because… let’s face it, they’re so rarely given a chance to be strong, so how it is possible for lesbians to make up ALL the strong female characters. It’s kind of hard to have a strongly-written and well-developed lesbian character when you keep killing her off – or when, even though it is categorically impossible for her to be attracted to men, you erase her sexual orientation and make her story arc revolve around having sex with the one man who is her “exception.”

I don’t think that these arguments are more prevalent when it comes to F/F couples than with M/M couples, because fictional M/M relationships face challenges too, but I think the arguments do take different forms. I have found that arguments against including M/M romances are generally much more overtly homophobic. It’s harder to be sneaky about what you’re doing.

With F/F couples, though, the arguments take on a much more insidious tone. As you can see throughout my post, most of the arguments are made under the guise of feminism. “But what about strong female characters? We need to EMPOWER little girls by showing them that it’s OK to be single!” It’s a lot easier to pass off homophobia as feminist concern. #SorryNotSorry, straight feminists – feminism is for everyone.

This post is extraordinarily long now, and I want to thank everyone who has kept reading this far, but I do have one more thing to say: Elsa can be single and a lesbian. Maybe she falls in love with a girl but ends up breaking off the relationship (in a non-tragic way, of course) by the end of the moive? Personally, I want her to have a girlfriend, since Frozen isn’t the only Disney movie about staying single – hellooooo, Brave exists – but either way, her relationship status wouldn’t make her any more or less gay.

Straight people tend to forget that. I mean, it’s heteronormativity at work, isn’t it? There is an assumption that everyone is straight until proven otherwise, and that your “proof” is a relationship with someone of the same gender, but that’s not actually how things work. I’m single. I’ve never been in a relationship. But it doesn’t make me less gay. As a protagonist I would EXUDE gayness. There’s no love interest in my story – yet – and I’m perfectly content with where I am in life right now. It doesn’t stop me from being the GAYEST little gay. I mean, just look at me. Here I am, writing a blog about post giving Elsa a girlfriend. That’s gay.

Come on, Disney. You can do it. #GiveElsaAGirlfriend. I’m going to turn the bigots’ favorite phrase against them and say: Think of the children! It would’ve meant the world to me if I had seen a princess end up with another princess when I was a little girl. That didn’t happen, but there’s never a bad time to change your ways and do something amazing for the next generation.

P.S. Now that I’ve written more than two thousand words about this movie, I feel like I should probably go watch Frozen now…. maybe I’ll ask my new roommate if she wants to watch it with me? She has a giant Olaf pillow. I love college students’ love of all things Disney.

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Captain America & Achilles: Jaded War Heroes

Hello, everyone! I was sorting through old essays today and remembered that I meant to post some of the work I wrote during my Superheroes Unleashed course last fall. I’d completely forgotten about this particular essay until now, but I want to share it because I’ve been having approximately 194728 different emotions about Cap & Bucky ever since I watched Civil War.

So, yeah. This is an essay comparing Cap & Bucky to Achilles & Patroclus. My professor returned it with exclamation point scattered all over the margins. About half the things I’ve written in her classes have to do with Captain America and it’s SO satisfying to be able to write academic papers about something as fun as this. Like… oh, you mean I can quote directly from a comic book and it counts for school?! NICE. 

Enjoy!

Although the United States has not formally declared war since 1941, this nation has been continually at war – unofficially, of course – for the past several decades. The effects of war on soldiers is, therefore, an important topic even today. Many returning soldiers experience PTSD, depression, and feelings of guilt – symptoms which can be greatly exacerbated by the loss of a friend on the battlefield. Such experiences often result in a feeling of jadedness. Captain America and Achilles are prime examples of this – the broken, jaded, no-longer-naïve war hero.

Both characters began their journeys with an idealistic vision of war. Achilles fought alongside the Achaeans in the Trojan War because he yearned for honor and adventure. In Age of Bronze: A Thousand Ships, Eric Shanower retells the story of how Diomedes and Odysseus visited Lykomedes’ house – where Achilles was in disguise as one of his daughters – with gifts.

All of the girls eagerly looked at the trinkets Diomedes and Odysseus brought, but Achilles was drawn to the only spear they brought, and in this way it was shown that it was Achilles, not “Pyrrha,” who had been under Lykomedes’ roof all this time. Achilles thirsted for battle so much that he was willing to come out of hiding if it meant that he could lead the Achaean army to Troy.

Similarly, Steve Rogers attempted to enlist in the army over and over again. Although he was rejected multiple times due to health problems, he was undaunted by this. Eventually, he was recruited by the Strategic Scientific Reserve, which chose him for his character – he is “not a good soldier, but a good man.” The SSR gave him the Super Serum, and Steve Rogers became Captain America. He soon balked at the role of performing in shows for the military – he wanted to get out there and fight!

Eventually, both of our heroes joined the battlefield alongside their friends. Historians disagree as to whether Achilles and Patroclus were best friends or lovers – either way, though, Homer’s The Iliad makes it clear that they shared a very strong bond.

Steve Rogers, now Captain America, joined the fight in the European Theater only to discover that his best friend, Bucky Barnes, had been captured and was behind enemy lines. The two had grown up together and, until the moment that Bucky enlisted and was shipped off to war, had been inseparable. (And some fans theorize that they, too, were boyfriends, but that’s another topic for another day.)

Bucky protected Steve when he was sickly, and now he had been captured. Now it was Steve’s turn to save his friend – and he did so successfully, but it is worth pointing out at this time that this was only the first of many instances in which Steve lost Bucky.

In Book XVI of The Iliad, Patroclus begged Achilles to let him wear his armor if Achilles himself would not fight. Achilles agreed, but only under the condition that Patroclus would return as soon as the ships were saved from the Trojans. However, Patroclus disobeyed Achilles and continued to fight the Trojans all the way back to the gates of Troy. There, he was slain by Zeus as punishment for killing Sarpedon.

In Book XVII, Antilochus returned to Achilles with news of Patroclus’ death. Achilles lost all control, crying inconsolably and uttering a “terrible, wrenching cry.” At this moment, Achilles shifted from the stereotype of a strong, unbreakable war hero into something much more vulnerable and broken.

Patroclus’ death motivated him to return to battle and avenge the death of his friend by killing Hector, who led the Trojans. Vengeance was, essentially, the only motivating factor in his return, as the death of his friend had caused him to grown disenchanted with and tired of the battle.

In Book XXI, it is said that Achilles, in a fit of grief and rage, slaughtered so many Trojans that the river grew clogged with their bodies. Additionally, he did succeed in killing Hector.

Bucky Barnes, on the other hand, never really died – but for the longest time, Steve Rogers had no way of knowing that. On a mission to capture Zola, one of the Red Skull’s top henchmen, Bucky fell to his “death.” In The First Avenger, that scene is immediately followed by one with Steve and Peggy. He, too, was disconsolate, but she managed to talk him out of blaming himself by saying:

“You did everything you could. Did you believe in your friend? Did you respect him? Then stop blaming yourself. Allow Barnes the dignity of his choice. He damn well must have thought you were worth it.”

Having realized that what she said was true, Captain America returned to the front lines to destroy the Red Skull once and for all. It is there that his plane crashes into the Arctic, and his story shifts to a new time and a different world when he woke up.

The story of the friendship between Achilles and Patroclus ends here, but the story of Captain America and Bucky Barnes does not. In The Winter Soldier, Steve continued to process his friend’s death. Despite Peggy’s words, he continued to blame at least a little bit of himself, and he was haunted by the war as well.

The Winter Soldier is almost a case study in depression and PTSD: Steve Rogers was sad, exhausted, and guilty, and lacked interest in social activities. He performed reckless acts such as jumping out of a plane without wearing a parachute, and was perfectly willing to let the Winter Soldier kill him. He lost the naivety present in The First Avenger and began to question Nick Fury and others, eventually discovering that S.H.I.E.L.D. was in league with Hydra. In this way, he grew disillusioned with war.

It is here, however, that we see some definite differences between Achilles and Captain America. Both of them have lost a dear friend (if not a lover). Both of them felt sad, immensely guilty, and probably depressed. However, Achilles acted out in a more violent manner.

Steve Rogers, even in his lowest moments, could not bring himself to act that way. He accepted the possibility of his own death at the hands of the Winter Soldier – AKA a brainwashed, Hydra-controlled Bucky Barnes – but, unlike Achilles, sought to avoid the death of others by attempting to subdue the Winter Soldier before he could hurt any more civilians on that freeway. This was the third time Steve had lost Bucky, this time in a much more figurative sense, but he was determined to do the right thing anyway – by saving lives, not taking them in his grief.

Both Achilles and Steve Rogers are fascinating examples of the ways in which the war hero archetype can be subverted into something different – a hero who no longer yearns to prove his worth, but one who has gone face to face with the horrors of war and loss. Both heroes were affected psychologically by their battles – the Trojan War and WWII, respectively – and this topic is still widely discussed today, in the light of today’s conflicts.

As long as we continue to fight wars, the archetype of the war hero will be relevant – and the archetype of the jaded, broken war hero will be even more so, as men and women return from conflicts overseas with PTSD and the knowledge that some of their friends whom they fought alongside will never return with them.

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Honors @ Iowa | 5 Reasons Why I Love Living In Daum Hall

I moved into my new room today, which just meant going down a few floors and then down the hall. EASIEST MOVE EVER. That doesn’t mean it felt any less weird to move, though. I don’t know anyone else staying in summer housing, so whenever anyone sees anyone else in the hallway we do this weird little awkward nod.

I met my new roommate – she’s from Brazil – and settled in with all my stuff. I just realized that I never posted pictures here of my old room, but I wanna post pictures of my new one soon… it’s quite cozy. MY BED IS BASICALLY A NEST OF BLANKETS AND PILLOWS.

Anyway, I wanted to spend some time today talking about why I love my dorm. It’s only for honors students  during the school year, and houses all kinds of students during the summer months. I ended up there kind of on a whim. I mean, my GPA was high enough to join the honors program, so I did. I didn’t really  spend much time on that decision, and I’m so glad for that, because participating in honors classes and living in the honors dorm was one of the best choices I’ve made thus far in college.

So without further ado, here are the reasons I love living in the honors dorm.

1. Honors housing doesn’t separate students by major…

The only requirement is that residents must have been accepted into the U of Iowa’s honors program by the time they apply for housing, so we end up being jumbled together. All different kinds of majors and interests and backgrounds.

On my floor alone, I met and befriended people who were majoring in a vast array of subjects: Music education, art, film, microbiology, dance, French, pre-law, engineering, occupational therapy, radiation sciences, international studies… the list goes on and on. Some of my very best friends were people I probably would have never talked to if we didn’t happen to live in the same dorm, because we had no classes together – but we found common ground in being honors students.

2. …which means I didn’t spend all my time around other writers.

So, at Iowa the dorms are divided into these things called living-learning communities, or LLCS for short. They’re themed to fit a certain interest or demographic, with the goal being that you’ll make friends who share your particular interests and talents. Most of the time, an LLC is comprised of just a few floors, but the ENTIRE honors dorm is its own LLC: The Honors LLC. (Duh.)

strongly considered applying for housing in the Iowa Writers LLC, and I am so glad that I didn’t. I spend so much time writing already. Most of my IRL friends are writers. Most of my online friends are writing. I’m in writing classes (and lit classes) all day.

In the end, I really, truly did not want to spend any more time in such an environment. That’s not to say that it’s unhealthy or anything – absolutely not. Simply put, sometimes I need a break. WRITERS ARE INTENSE, PEOPLES. Joining the Honors LLC gave me that much-need respite from writing, reading about writing, talking about writing, thinking about writing, and writing about writing.

3. The honors center is AMAZING

All students have access to the honors center. (Which must be very helpful to the small percentage of honors underclassmen who chose, for whatever reason, not to live with the rest of their honors peers.) But WE have a SKY WALK connecting the honors dorm to the honors center, so we don’t even have to go outside on especially cold or rainy days/nights!

I love the honors center. There are study rooms, classrooms, a computer lab, a library, and more. I love to curl up on one of the many couches on the third floor – there are loads of windows up there, giving you a lovely view of all the trees planted along the walkway below.

4.The honors dorm is in a very convenient location 

We are right next to a dining hall – in fact, we can access it via a tunnel on inclement days! Like I mentioned earlier, we’re within ridiculously close proximity to the honors center, and we’re pretty close to the university’s Housing & Dining offices as well, in case something goes wrong.

My dorm is located closer to the career center, the main administrative buildings, the school library, and downtown than any other dorm. We are not located close to student health services – that would be the west side dorms, not the east side ones – but I’m OK with that. I love that this campus is so walkable, and I ADORE that my dorm is in a prime location for all of that.

5. I’m surrounded by studious people and it’s GREAT 

I don’t consider myself to be a naturally studious person. I know this may come as a surprise to many of you, but it’s true. I mean, yeah, I study a lot. But mostly I study because I start comparing myself to other people… so when I’ve been procrastinating on that final paper for much too long, I see other honor students hard at work and remember what I’m supposed to be doing.

Also, quiet hours. QUIET. HOURS. They weren’t always enforced very well on my floor during the first half of the year, but by the second semester this had ceased to be a problem. I love listening to music while I study, but I can’t stand just pure noise, so I’m glad that my dorm had more extensive quiet hours than other dorms.

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So, there you have it. MY DORM. I think that we are sometimes overlooked. At a little over three hundred residents when at capacity, we are the smallest dorm on either side of campus. We don’t have anything “extra” in our dorm – just attached to it. So, no important offices. No dining halls. Just a bunch of honors students with their books and papers and laptops. I love Daum Hall, my dorm. I’m proud to have called it home for the past nine months.

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