Never would I have imagined that a movie about the whitest white guy (from the 40s, even!) who is the epitome of the idealized male hero, would be one of the best movies I’ve seen in a good long while. It also features some of the most nuanced, well-rounded and ass-kicking ladies we’ve seen in any comic book movie so far.
Hey moviemakers: pay attention. The Winter Soldier got it right.
Multiple female characters who play a prominent role, check.
Ladies are not objectified by being paraded around in skimpy outfits, check.
None of the women are there simply to be girlfriends or love interests, check.
The women significantly affect the plot in multiple meaningful ways, check.
None of the women were damsels in distress, check. (Yes, the women were in peril, but their peril was equal to the male characters.)
The women hold their own in combat situations, double check.
See? There’s absolutely a way to have a money-making, well-reviewed, exciting, entertaining comic book movie where women are treated with respect and given a prominent role. (It’s currently sitting at 89% on Rotten Tomatoes.)
Black Widow, Agent Maria Hill, Agent 13, this one’s for you. And you too, Winter Soldier producers, writers and director. Thanks for making me feel like I’m part of the audience. You’ve still got work to do, though. Give us some women of colour and some LGBT people in starring roles. My vote’s for Laverne Cox.
Piper Chapman, the primary protagonist of Netflix’s “Orange is the New Black,” is a spoiled WASP, a self-centred, insecure, pretty blonde who had a ‘lesbian phase’ and made stupid (and criminal) choices. Taken by herself, she would be a good (and interesting) character. If she were one of only two or three female characters on the show, she’d be subject to criticism. She’d be problematic when it comes to sexual identity. Her lesbianism (or, technically, bisexuality) could be put under the microscope with accusations of tokenism or titillation. The fact that she is a young, attractive white woman would also be problematic.
In short, Piper Chapman, no matter how well-written, no matter how complex and layered she was, would always be problematic in some way. Why? Because as one of only a handful of female characters, she would bear the burden of representation for all women.
Thankfully, Chapman does not exist in a vacuum. She is only one of a large ensemble cast of women of all ages, races, body types, sexual orientations and economic backgrounds.
Quality of representation will never replace quantity.”Orange is the New Black” demonstrates what happens when you write female characters who are as diverse as women actually are. The result is a show that is funny, gritty, touching, fearless, at times terrifying and equal parts real and comedic. It’s also utterly refreshing to see a female ensemble cast without some kind of Oprah-esque core of “sisterhood.” These women are broken, but the show never lets us forget that each of them is responsible for their own fate. They develop friendships, but these aren’t the type of women to braid each others’ hair and cry together while Bette Midler sings ‘Wind Beneath My Wings.’
I can only hope “Orange” is the first of many shows to figure out that the way to represent women properly is to create a plethora of female characters, rather than try and pack it all in to an impossible everywoman.
In the meantime, I’ll enjoy this utter gem of a show. You should, too.
So I’m digging the choice of Peter Capaldi as Twelve. I think it’s time for the Doctor to be more mature and less slapstick, and Capaldi has shown that he has great range.
One thing that’s really been bothering me about some of the comments I’ve read: people are snarking at the fans who say Capaldi is too old.
There are two problems with this. One is ageism on the part of the younger viewers. They have it in their head that someone older cannot be a romantic interest or lead adventures because they’re icky or whatever. The other however, is the shaming of young women for wanting to find a male lead attractive. And I’m sorry, that’s just not cool. In addition to being a double-standard, it’s dismissive of their opinions. I do not agree that the Doctor has to be younger to be an adventurous hero who you find a bit sexy. Kids will be kids, and as they become part of the ‘old people club,’ their opinions will change.
I hear people calling these young women shallow for being upset that they no longer find the madman in a box sexually attractive. That argument might hold water if either Tennant or Smith was from the Robert Pattinson or Taylor Kitsch school of attractiveness. These younger female fans were used to seeing the Doctor as someone of their age group (or close to) and it’s totally legit to find it jarring to see the lead suddenly in the age bracket of their parents, especially for the fans who came on-board with Smith. The male fans would be griping in the exact same way if they were used to seeing a character who was young and attractive, suddenly 25 years older. But no, instead these female fans get called shallow and only in it to ‘wank off’ to the hero. It makes it seem like it was a bad thing for these women to find any of the Doctors sexually attractive at all.
The reactions to this ties into the ‘fake geek girl’ trope that has been getting discussed a lot lately. Male fans are perfectly allowed to find characters in SF&F sexually attractive. – that’s normal. But the moment a woman is drawn to a character because of their looks, she’s called shallow and people say she’s not taking it seriously enough. It’s a ridiculous double-standard.
I read similar criticisms leveled at women who complained about Smith’s run. I heard many a rebuke from (presumably male) fans that they were Smith and Moffat haters only because they were moony-eyed over Tennant.
It just really bums me out to see women shamed for finding characters sexually attractive, especially when it was there on-screen that Eleven flirted and charmed and was clearly set up to be that sort of romantic hero. Double standard. Not cool.
Every day it seems like there’s a new article talking about how a female character is underused or poorly-written. Women are half the planet. We consume media just the same as men do, yet we continue to be underrepresented and poorly-represented across nearly all media. Why is it that media continues to have such a hard time showing fully-rounded, human women? Why are we still seeing horrible numbers like less than 30% of speaking roles in Hollywood blockbusters going to women?
Every now and then, we get breakthrough characters who change the way we view women in a particular context, (Buffy, Xena, etc…) who prove that a female-led show can be highly marketable. Still, these are few and far between. The idea that “female led-media doesn’t sell” perpetuates despite proof to the contrary. It doesn’t help that the vast majority of the people making the decisions about what gets put into production are men. You can point to a few instances of this not being the case, or of men making decisions to push female-led media, but they are definitely in the minority. The places where women are represented well often seem confined to a particular genre where the audience is primarily women. Men should be seeing well-rounded female characters in shows targeted at them, too. There shouldn’t be a split.
What some male creators seem to get stuck on is the idea that women are fundamentally different from men. These men think they can’t write women because we’re so alien and different that it takes some kind of magic to get into our headspace, and thus they rely on tropes to define their lady characters. The truth is, we really aren’t as different as pop culture imagines we are. The result of this notion is that we see talented male writers churning out stock, flat female characters. The difference ends up incredibly acute when they’re seen alongside their fully-realized male co-stars. Sometimes, these creators avoid writing female characters at all, which results in the male-to-female ratio in ensemble casts being incredibly lopsided.
The solution to this is far easier than these creators imagine. The best way to write a character of any stripe, be they villain or hero is to have their gender far down the checklist. Write interesting, fully-formed, believable characters and decide on the gender after the fact. Write awesome characters who happen to be female, rather than awesome female characters.
Proof that this switch-up works is the movie “Salt,” starring Angelina Jolie. Sure, the plot was a bit predictable and convoluted. BUT it was written for a man and then changed for Jolie, with very little altered in the plot. As a result? We have a kickass, fully-formed, non-sexualized action hero. Salt is a complex character who just happens to be a woman. Ideally, writers shouldn’t have to write a man and then flip the gender to get something that balanced, but it might be a good exercise for the ones who find themselves repeating old patterns and then being criticized for it. Using the genderflip method, you get things like their relationships and sexuality as secondary traits, rather than primary. That way, those traits do not end up defining the character.
When people start with “woman” when they’re developing something, it’s a whole lot easier to fall into tropes and repeat old patterns. If you can describe a character as “the _____” (the femme fatale, the wallflower, the girl next door, the ice queen) then you might just be stuck in tropeland. There are genres and types where tropes are the norm and just how things work, but if you are really honestly trying to break type, seeing how short your description of the character can be is a good way to check your work, so to speak.
Women are not defined by their relationships any more than men are. If writers don’t start their development of a character with so-called “female” traits, then the character itself is going to be more well-rounded, more complex and more interesting. Men aren’t from Mars and women aren’t from Venus. We’re all from planet Earth.
(WARNING: Here be spoilers for Iron Man 3.)
I recently saw Iron Man 3. So many things were great about it. I loved the quick-paced, snappy dialogue and the vulnerability of Tony Stark as he tried to be heroic out of the suit. Guy Pearce makes a great bad guy and although there were some holes, it was for the most part, a rollicking good time.
One thing that I found slightly uncomfortable is the praise that’s floating around for what Pepper Potts got to do. Don’t get me wrong: Pepper is great. She’s whip-smart, she can handle Tony and although she screams a lot, she’s ultimately brave. However, I have heard people call her a badass and even a hero in her own right. That’s just not true.
Having a few badass moments is not the same as being a badass character. Yes, Pepper’s turn in the suit was visually interesting (with her protecting Tony in a man-shaped suit) but it was extremely brief. It’s also notable that Pepper did not choose to be in the suit – Tony put her in the suit to protect her.
Yes, Pepper got to cut down Killian while wielding superpowers, but only after she had been kidnapped for over half the movie and had her body violated with strange chemicals. Despite her superpowers, she still needed to be rescued. Only after Tony failed in that attempt did she rise.
I’m not saying that these things weren’t very cool. I liked them very much. However, entirely too much weight is being given to these all-too-brief moments. Not only that, these moments are a tiny fraction of the movie. If you line them up next to the real badasses of the movie (Tony and Rhodey) she falls far short.
Yes, Pepper is a support character by nature. She’s the personal assistant (or was) and the girlfriend. It is part of the lot of those characters to not be in the spotlight and to support the story of the hero. I’m not contesting that. I’m not saying they should have pushed Pepper out of her long-established (both in films and comics) characterization.
I’m saying, don’t call her a badass.
We have been trained as viewers to accept any small bit of badassery from a female character, any small bit of heroism and say, well, she’s clearly good enough, she’s clearly badass enough. She got to do these one or two things. The danger is that filmmakers and writers might stop there, instead of pushing forward and making female characters who are heroic on-par with their male counterparts.
In the end, Pepper is a victim. Things happen to her, not because of her. Just because she had two moments of being strong does not mean she’s suddenly a kickass heroic woman. It takes more than that to be a hero.
I give the filmmakers credit for trying to move Pepper beyond the role of bait and emotional support. They can only do so much while still staying true to her essential role and her established character. I’m not saying we should radically change Pepper and stick her in an Iron Man suit full-time. I’m saying we should be critical of how much weight we give small actions of female characters. No matter how pivotal one action is, it doesn’t make up for a pattern of being reactive and being in distress.
One landed punch does not a badass make.
(NOTE: I am aware that in the comics, Pepper did in fact spend time in an Iron Man suit. I am however, strictly discussing the films. They can stand alone and a critique of them doesn’t require deep knowledge of their source material. The movies and the comics exist in separate continuities, so any development that happens in one has no relevance in the discussion of the other, unless of course your point is to compare and contrast portrayals.)
My previous post and the discussion around a female Doctor has got me thinking about what might actually be behind the desire to see a woman wield the sonic screwdriver and pilot the TARDIS. Helen Mirren’s name has been the post popular choice, and she herself has expressed a desire to play the role.
As interesting as it would be to see a female regeneration, I think the Doctor is male. If his personality were more like the freewheeling Captain Jack, I can see the argument for regeneration into either gender. There are very few things that stay constant from regeneration to regeneration, and the fact that the Doctor is male is one of the few things to remain unchanged. In my heart, I believe that it should stay that way. To break one of the few consistent things of a changeable man is to risk losing sight of who the Doctor is.
That said, there’s something underlying the fan desire to see a lady step into the role. For all their charm, heroism, bravery and goodness, the Doctor’s companions are always secondary to him. They’re always the ones who are left flat-footed and have to trust the Doctor with their safety. In short, even the strongest companion (male or female) lacks agency when in the Doctor’s company.
Science fiction has, for whatever reason, been ahead of the game when it comes to showing women in positions of power and authority where their gender is a non-issue. Doctor Who is behind the times when it comes to this, precisely because the show is called Doctor Who. There have been many stellar guest or recurring roles where women have been in positions of power (especially during Russell T. Davies’ run,) but that isn’t quite the same as a woman sharing the spotlight week to week. A companion is always the Doctor’s support, not his equal. A companion very rarely has power over the Doctor, unless it’s in an emotional way.
Some people point to River Song as someone who is the Doctor’s equal, but her storyline was handled so poorly that any character integrity she had went out the window. She may have been a good representation of a strong leading lady before her backstory was revealed, but once it was, things sort of went to pot. River spent her life in the Doctor’s orbit, and her obsession with him and her temporal ties to him him, robbed her of the power she would have otherwise had.
So when fans (particularly female fans) call for the next regeneration to be a woman, we’re expressing our desire to be the hero instead of the sidekick. That’s an an entirely valid desire, especially these days, and especially in the genre of science fiction. We want to see ourselves in the spotlight, wearing the crazy clothes, knowing all the secrets, piloting the timeship and defeating vast evil with a well-spoken monologue. We want to wear the pinstripe pants in the relationship and have ourselves looked on with affection and awe. It’s not enough for us to see ourselves as the moral centre, the conscience, the fresh eyes to see the world. That is a worthy role, but we’d like to play other roles too.
Last time, I put together a team of showrunner, Doctor and Companion for the post-Moffat, post-Smith Doctor Who era. Those choices were made based on realistic criteria, such as marketing realities within the BBC, pedigree with the network, budget and availability of actors.
This time, I’m goin’ crazy and have made my choices based on nothing more than my desire to see it happen.
After watching the end of Being Human recently, I have reaffirmed my choice of Toby Whithouse for next Doctor Who big cheese. In a perfect world, though? Whithouse would co-run the show with Jane Espenson. Given that Espenson is American, this will never happen. Still, she has an incredibly impressive resume, including Buffy, Battlestar Galactica, Dollhouse, Once Upon a Time and her innovative online sitcom, Husbands. I can even forgive her for the trainwreck that was Torchwood: Miracle Day, because Russell T. Davies was the one who pushed that mess forward. My whole rant on that is another article entirely.
What Doctor Who has missed very much since its reboot is a woman’s voice. Although RTD did an excellent job creating fully-rounded female characters (and Whithouse does the same) nothing really replaces a woman’s actual voice. Whithouse and Espenson together would be a powerhouse, especially if Espenson got herself caught up on Who-canon so she could avoid the total break of narrative continuity and tone that happened with TW: Miracle Day. (But I’m not bitter or anything.)
The other advantage is, if the BBC is really trying to appeal to both their home and abroad audiences, a partnership with someone who has a great deal of experience writing for the American market would be a good move. Whithouse would make sure its essential cultural core isn’t lost, while Espenson could look at things from a wider market perspective. Plus. Espenson worked extensively with Joss Whedon and knows how to write snappy dialogue. The conversion of Whedonverse and Whoniverse would create an explosion of awesome that could level countries.
The Doctor – Martin Freeman
I know, right? Now, I’m certainly not the first person to champion Freeman for the next Doctor. He and Benedict Cumberbatch’s names have been bandied about since Sherlock became such a sensation. The reality is, Freeman is far too well-known post-Hobbit to be a possibility. Now, people might point and go, ‘He does TV with Sherlock!” and that’s entirely true. But shooting 4.5 hours of TV is a far cry from the grind and 8-9 month intensive commitment that is the Doctor Who shooting schedule. At this point in his career, I see Freeman picking high-quality award-caliber roles, be they in Hollywood or no.
All that aside, he’d be fantastic, wouldn’t he? Freeman is a master of creating characters and draws people in immediately with a lovable vulnerability. If you watch him in different roles, everything about him changes to suit the character. He would create a Doctor who would be unrivaled in subtlety and complexity. I picture a slightly fussy gent in patterned sweatervest, who is sweet and soft-spoken one moment and a warrior the next.
Things are always more interesting when the Doctor’s traveling with more than one companion, or when he travels with a male companion. I would love to see two companions who sometimes both travel with him, sometimes individually.
Lenora Crichlow illustrates my current affection for Being Human (Toby Whithouse ran the show, and Crichlow’s replacement, Kate Bracken, was my choice for my realistic picks.) She was actually my first choice in my plausible picks, but the realist in me sadly noted that the BBC would never cast minorities as both Doctor and Companion.
Lenora is just delightful. She is full of energy and wit, but also handles emotional complexity with skill. In my ideal world, Lenora’s companion-origins would be off Earth. Perhaps another 51st century human? From humanity’s future? Imagine her being full of wonder at seeing ‘ancient’ 21st century London? There’s plenty of potential for humour and self-examination there. I picture her as a doctor or a scientist, someone who is curious and adventurous, but also deeply moral.
Iwan Rheon is best known for his role of Simon Bellamy in Misfits. He is a very fine young actor who can be charming, intense and comic. His companion would be from modern London, to keep that tether in place. I picture him being rather rudderless and lost, someone seeking direction and meaning but instead finding himself going in circles. Rheon is Welsh, and hell, after all the shooting that Who is done in Wales over the years, they deserve a homegrown companion.
So those are my picks! Not nearly as cracked as some fan casting. Helen Mirren’s name is tossed around a lot to be a female regeneration of the Doctor. I think that’d be the perfect way to toss in a female regeneration while still making sure everyone took it seriously. But the reality is, no one with ‘Dame’ in front of their name and a shelf full of prestigious awards is going to do network television, and I tried to keep my picks as ‘not going to happen’ rather than ‘pipe dream.’
So there you have it! What are your totally cracked picks for the next generation of Doctor Who?
EDIT: I’ve been informed that Helen Mirren has said she’d want to play the Doctor. But whether that’s a serious offer or not, who knows? I think the ideal compromise between people who would love to see this and the purists is to have Helen Mirren play the Doctor for a special, or a miniseries, with a regeneration on either end.
Doctor Who’s constant reinvention means there’s no shortage of speculation for what might be next, who might take the show over, and what the Doctor’s next incarnation will look like. The production schedule of Who is, by all accounts, incredibly grueling, which means even the most dedicated cast members and showrunners will eventually reach a breaking point.
That means, unless the BBC decides to cancel Doctor Who (which seems unlikely for at least the near future) that regeneration is inevitable. There will be a Twelve, and maybe even a Thirteen and a Fourteen within the next several years.
So what will the next incarnation of the Doctor look like? Fans have spent plenty of time imagining a dream scenario, but they don’t all take certain realities into account. I’ve formed my own picks for new Doctor, companion and showrunner, but with an eye towards plausibility.
For the Showrunner
- The big cheese will have experience writing for Who.
- He or she will have experience running another successful show for a UK network.
- He or she will be on good terms with the BBC and Moffat.
- He or she will have built their career domestically.
For the Doctor:
- He will be a he. As much as it would be brilliant to see a female regeneration, it seems unlikely. It would be exceedingly hard to do properly, especially without alienating fans.
- He will be played by a UK actor. I think we’d sooner see a woman Doctor than an American one – and that’s as it should be. Doctor Who is a UK cultural icon.
- The actor who plays him will either be a young actor who hasn’t yet caught his big break (Matt Smith,) or an established mid-career actor who has never made much of a break in Hollywood but has a strong pedigree and a good reputation (Tennant and Eccleston.) That puts out most of the big names that come to mind when looking at casting the Doctor, as it would lock them in for too much of the year to take on the role. The BBC would also likely want a multi-year commitment from any actor, something the likes of Benedict Cumbarbatch, say, would be unlikely to give. That, and frankly, the BBC can’t afford the big names.
For the Companion
- She will be a she. If we see a male companion, it will likely be in conjunction with a woman. Yes, Doctor Who has in the past strayed from this formula, but given the fact that many people jumped onboard with Smith and the show has been trying to make inroads in the US, it would be unwise to shake the formula up too much – at least while they’re still establishing their expanded fanbase.
- She will be under 30 and from modern London. See above for reasons.
- She will be conventionally attractive.
That all may sound quite limiting, and it is, in fact. Compared to the freedom of Russell T. Davies’ days, this formula looks like it might be doomed to predictability. Being a now-flagship show, the BBC can afford to take fewer risks. Still, there are things you can do within this formula.
Here are my picks:
Showrunner – Toby Whithouse
Whithouse is perhaps best-known for creating the original version of Being Human for BBC. The series was recently cancelled, but it seemed to be a mutual decision between Whithouse and the BBC that the show had reached a natural end. Being Human had moments of brilliance, a lot of sharp writing and fully-formed characters. Its tone was only a few shades darker than Who’s darker moments, which means he wouldn’t have to radically adapt his style. Whithouse is also responsible for writing School Reunion, (the one with Sarah Jane and K-9. He was trusted with a huge callback episode, which suggests he’s well-versed in Who canon), Vampires of Venice, The God Complex and A Town Called Mercy. His episodes have straddled both the Moffat and RTD eras, and he even penned an episode for the RTD-helmed spinoff, Torchwood. Whithouse’s Who pedigree is solid. Where he might stumble, is if he tries to craft any large arcs. Although Being Human was brilliant for its small character interactions, its larger arcs were rather clumsy. Still, he checks most of the boxes. He’d make a fine showrunner. Bonus points for proving he can write fully-realized, well-rounded female characters.
The Doctor – Alexander Siddig
Alexander Siddig is an established, mid-career actor with a great resume full of fine films. He’s best known for his role as Doctor Julian Bashir in Star Trek: Deep Space 9, so he is no stranger to the grind of a genre show. He hasn’t been a series regular in a number of years, but history suggests he’d be open to it. He might seem a bit old compared to previous Doctors, but if you know his performance as Bashir, you know he’s capable of boyish enthusiasm and energy. He is Sudanese by birth, but raised in London. The fact that he spent so much of his life in the UK strongly suggests he’s a British citizen.
Sadly, I realize an Arabic Doctor would be controversial, but if we can’t have a woman Doctor, we can at least have a non-white one. The Doctor wouldn’t care about something as foolish as human cultural prejudices. Plus, face it: it would be utterly brilliant to see him hit with human ignorance on a sojourn into the past, and then to see him completely smack down the offending party with sharp with and incisive commentary as only the Doctor can.
Siddig has the gravitas and experience to bring depth and weight to the role, but he’s also capable of wide-eyed energy and enthusiasm. This Twelve would call back to Eccleston’s Nine – and I think that’s a good thing. Modern Who hasn’t spent very much time with a Doctor who looks quite normal on the outside, but is still brimming with eccentricities and crackling with energy. Twelve would be impishness and playfulness wrapped up in an adult package. He’d still be the same old Doctor, ready to grab a hand and rush headlong into adventure, but he’d also be able to project an air of authority and respectability that Smith doesn’t even try to do. I imagine him rattling off streams of data on the different cultures that he visits, as if he expects those around him to be furiously taking down lecture notes. I see him as someone who strives to educate his companion about the universe instead of hitting the tourist hotspots and tripping over danger along the way. He’d be the Indiana Jones of Doctors, who is drawn by the winds of time to fascinating hubs of culture and history.
Here’s a clip of Siddig in action as Julian Bashir:
The Companion – Kate Bracken
I’ve dubbed my Kate Bracken companion, Heather MacIsaac. Bracken hasn’t had a long career, but so far, she’s shown great potential. Her most well-known role is as Alex in Being Human. If Whithouse is my showrunner, then it makes sense that he bring along someone he’s worked with before who didn’t have a very long go of it. She’s pretty, energetic and delivers quick-witted lines with confidence and comic timing. Her Scottish accent is a different flavour from Amy’s, and she has her own unique sense of style. In short, if the companion has to be a young, pretty woman, the BBC could do worse than Bracken.
What kind of personality would my Kate Bracken companion have? I imagine Heather to be artistic and culturally engaged. She’d be interested in the fashion trends through time and space, as well as the artwork these cultures create. Unlike other companions, she’s already got a history of travel, having backpacked across Europe, and perhaps Australia and South America as well. Her relationship to the Doctor would be that of professor and graduate student. She’d listen to what he has to teach her, and she’d be the one asking the hard questions when the Doctor mis-stepped. She’d also have a bit of an attitude, especially when people disrespect her, a trait that would occasionally get her in trouble.
Kate Bracken in action. (Spoiler alert for season 4 of Being Human!)
So, those are my picks for a possible trifecta for Doctor Twelve. It may not be plausible (except Whithouse. I’m not the only one tossing his name around to take the torch from Moffat), but unlike some fan casting, I don’t think it’s impossible.
What are your Project Twelve picks? Try and follow my points outlined above and put together your own team!
There’s been a lot of talk and debate lately over the place of women in such traditionally male-focused areas such as comics and video games. Conversations have been happening about everything from the representation of women in comics and video games (see the fantastic Hawkeye Initiative for one of many examples,) ‘booth babes’ at industry events and the ‘fake geek girl‘ trope.
Women in fandom tend to externalize the unfair assumptions, judgements and poor representation of female characters on outside sources. We blame creators for being an old boys’ club. We point to ridiculously outdated statistics that video game companies use to not consider female gamers to be part of their target market. We point out rampant sexism and the overuse of tropes and the repeated failure of many industries to create well-rounded female characters. All of this has merit, and all of it is true, but the external forces aren’t the only culprit.
I have been a geek for as long as I can remember. My first fandom was Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’d get home from school, sit there with a stack of paper, watch the adventures of Picard and crew and doodle their likenesses. I devoured Trek novels. I had a Trek-themed birthday party. I still own the Playmates Enterprise bridge playset. As time passed, my fandoms grew in number. When the internet first entered my home when I was 15, I discovered online communities dedicated to Sliders, Buffy and The X-Files. My current fandoms would be a list of the best-of-the-best in sci-fi, horror and fantasy of the past 10 years.
Needless to say, I feel I have pretty solid geek cred when it comes to film and television, but I have never considered myself worthy of being called a comic fan. I moved around a lot, and I grew up on military bases. The comic selection consisted of one rack with one or two copies of each comic a month. My absolute aching need for narrative continuity made me shy away from comics, as it was far too easy to miss an issue and thus a chunk of the story. Although I loved Batman: The Animated Series and the X-Men 90s cartoons, I never got into their four-colour counterparts. So my comic collection consisted of a few standalone special editions and some TNG comics (naturally.) In the geek world, that’s not nearly enough cred to make me worthy to call myself a fan.
Except I did read a huge number of comics. Boxes of comics. Piles of comics. I spent road trips devouring comics and eagerly awaited the next issue. My collection was spandex and superpower-free. I read the adventures of the teens of Riverdale. I read Archie Comics. Double Digests were my favourite. I branched out a bit into Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Casper , Richie Rich and Wendy the Good Little Witch, but I always came back to Archie, Betty and Veronica. Had they been around when I was a kid, I would have devoured the work of Faith Erin Hicks and others who are creating non-superhero narratives with girls as a target market.
Why exactly had I forgotten about a childhood full of comics? Why didn’t I consider this a worthy pedigree note to add to my geek cred? It’s only recently that the industry has moved to more adult representations that make the likes of Archie look so juvenile in comparison. Archie Comics is no more mature and sophisticated than many of the 80s and 90s superhero comics targeted at children. Archie may have lacked a sustained narrative, but that does not de-legitimize its place in the canon of comics. Did I subconsciously consider my devotion to Archie unworthy because there were no capes and superpowers? Or did I not consider them ‘real’ comics because they were written for girls?
When I realized that I had ignored something I had been a fan of my whole childhood, I started to wonder why. I started to question what I had been doing to myself as a woman in fandom, to make myself and my interests feel unworthy. It’s time for an internal attitude shift as well as pushing back against the negative portrayal and treatment of women in fandom. Either we shouldn’t be talking about ‘worth’ at all in the context of geek culture, or we should widen our definition significantly to include things that are targeted to all age groups and interests. This is a problem that needs addressing, especially if we want to encourage girls to feel safe flying the flag of the things they love.