Ladies Kicking Ass in Captain America: The Winter Soldier


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.

Quantity of Representation in “Orange is the New Black”


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.

Ageism and Sexism in the Reactions to Peter Capaldi as Twelve


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.

On Writing Ladies

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.

Criticism vs Bashing (and cake!)

If you’ve been around the ole’ internet a few times, you’ve no doubt come across fans who vigorously defend their chosen fandom against any and all criticisms and call this criticism, “bashing” something. If someone points out something problematic in the portrayal of characters or examines weakness in writing, they’re often told to just not watch. What people who comment like this are missing is that it is entirely possible to enjoy and in fact, be a devoted fan of media while also examining it from a critical standpoint.

To help make my point I present you with a metaphor. Say there is delicious cake. (And to forestall the obvious joke, no the cake is not a lie.)  Here it is, cake.

ImageYum! So this cake is very delicious. It has lots of good qualities. The filling is flavourful and the icing is not too sweet. You are thoroughly enjoying this cake. But, you realize as you take a third bite, it’s a little bit dry, and the chocolate between the layers could be better quality. You still absolutely enjoy the cake, but there are certain things that could be improved to make the next cake even more delicious. Also, you consider the context of the chocolate as a centre-filling to be problematic and find the cake-to-filling ratio rather skewed and…at this point my metaphor falls apart, but you get the idea.

A TV show or a movie is cake. You can enjoy it completely while still noting where things could be improved. Telling people that they must accept everything about a fandom or show or to stop watching is the same as telling someone that if they think parts of a cake could be improved that they should just not eat cake at all. Fandom isn’t all or nothing the same way food isn’t. If we didn’t care so much about the media we consume, we wouldn’t bother taking the time to express thoughtful critique.

Don’t be slavishly devoted to your cake, kids. Also, something about sharing. I don’t know.

One Landed Punch Does Not a Badass Make


(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.) 

Why We Crave a Female Doctor


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.