The Favorite Aunt

Feminism in the Family


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Queerness in the YA Lit Universe, or: Aristotle & Dante is Still Important

I recently finished reading Aristotle & Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe and I cried reading the last two pages. I’m sure a lot of people could say that, whether they identify as queer or not. I also experienced a second wave of emotions concerning the state of queer representation and literature in YA several days after reading it. Aristotle & Dante isn’t the first young queer novel I’ve cried while reading the ending – The Song of Achilles involved sobbing for at least fifteen pages – but it is one that after reading and crying over I felt bad about crying over it.

A week or two before I read Aristotle & Dante I read a Publishers’ Weekly article describing the current state and trends of Young Adult literature, including LGBT novels that fall under the YA umbrella. It mentioned Aristotle & Dante as a touchstone title in queer YA much in the same way Speak is talked about in relation to YA in general – it created the subsection itself. It was so popular a rush of people moved to follow in Aristotle & Dante’s footsteps over the next seven years.

In doing so, apparently YA has moved past Aristotle & Dante – a story that involves a character repressing their own queerness for the majority of the book. Current queer YA has characters who are out and proud, characters who have same-sex or trans or genderqueer partners, characters whose queerness is a character trait, not a plot point. This is great for YA, great for the young adults reading novels where it’s a completely normal part of life to be queer, and it’s great that there are more books in existence with queer characters in general.

Part of me is despairing, though. Do the writers and editors and publishers of YA really think we’re past Aristotle & Dante? Are the storylines and struggles they encounter something we, the people writing and reading YA, are never going to read again? Are you telling me, as a queer person, that doubting my sexuality, being in denial, being afraid to tell people, being concerned about how I present in public, is no longer a relevant story? How much has really changed in those seven years?

Aristotle & Dante won several awards, at least two specifically because of the queer content and portrayals, and I don’t think the fact that it’s set in the 1980s is the reason it received them. It might be very different to be a high schooler these days, but I don’t think that much has changed in the seven years since the publishing of Aristotle & Dante. I know there’s been some change in the eleven years since I was in high school, but not that much.

It was just Pride Month, so I have seen many wonderful pride messages and celebrations – some sincere ones from queer friends and various queer content creators, and some not so sincere ones made by corporations. Pride Month isn’t all year long, though, and the wide world is not as queer friendly as a pride parade or pride festival. Once we [by “we” I mean queer people and I] start home, away from the festival, the world at large surrounds us again, implicitly and explicitly whispering hate into our ears.

In my social media bubble and my liberal workplace bubble everything is fine, but news stories are still happening that convince people to stay closeted, to fear for their lives. Which means yes, they still need to read stories where even if you’re closeted and fearing for your life – you can still fall in love and be loved by a significant other and your family.

There’s a scene in the second half of Aristotle and Dante that sticks with me in relation to the bad news we hear today. The two main characters are too young to be fired from their jobs for being gay, and they aren’t discriminated against while they plan a family through adoption – the news stories I see often and fear will affect my life. Instead, Dante kisses another boy and gets beaten up for it. This same thing happens now, too. I actually saw a recent news item that a lesbian couple was beaten up on public transportation for not kissing.

I’m absolutely thrilled that there are more YA novels in the world with queer characters whose story isn’t dominated by their orientation, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want stories where a character’s orientation is extremely relevant to their story. Gender identity and sexual orientation are as integral to a character as whether they have a single parent household or siblings or a part time job or an emotional support cat who refuses to cuddle with them.

I want both. And I don’t think it’s just my bisexuality talking.

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Zootopia’s Non-Intersectional Feminism

I just saw Zootopia! I have to admit, it was pretty good. I laughed a lot, and both the premise and the world built around it were solid and interesting. Plus it had a Shakira song! A very catchy Shakira song.

There’s been a lot of feminist discussion already done on this movie – so there’s no need to re-hash the racial allegory they used or what a terrific woman lead it featured. It’s a really great story of a career woman who works hard, doesn’t compromise her ideals and still comes out on top. (And she doesn’t feel the need to be likable at all! She pisses quite a few people off, and as a Disney woman lead it’s a breath of fresh air, frankly, that she can’t just charm other characters into working with her.)

The thing that did end up irking me about the movie was how it treated size. Rainbow Rowell drew my attention to it before I even went to see it, tweeting her personal reaction to the movie – and how it did what too much of media does – create a fat character who has no other defining characteristic than “is fat” and “eats a lot.” She’s since deleted the tweet(s), but it is very striking that in a movie all about proving stereotypes wrong there is a fat cop who eats donuts – and while also being friendly and seemingly well-liked, he also appears to be bad at his job.

More than just that, but the visual narrative of the film is that Judy Hopps – a very tiny bunny – has to prove everyone wrong, everyone who thinks she just isn’t cut out for a career as a police officer. Before Judy, the police force is made up of large predator and prey animals – tigers, elephants, rhinoceroses, ox, hippos, and the like. All of them are large, with fat and weight they can throw around, and it was actually nice to see so many big characters. As a fat woman if I ever feel like a hippo or an elephant it’s a bad thing – I feel like I’m taking up too much space and I just want to feel smaller.

But in Zootopia – it looks like the norm is to be large – there are special train accommodations and all of the doors, rooms, chairs, toilets and stalls are made for large animals. That’s the complete opposite of the world we live in today. I’m on the smaller end of the fatness scale, admittedly, and I have come across problems with being too big in all of those situations. It was kind of glorious to see background characters – good, bad, and in between – who were all big.

Of course, the main character is Judy Hopps – a bunny who is friends with a likewise tiny sheep, and she befriends a smaller predator – a fox. These featured characters are all “looking out for the little guys,” fighting adversity – Judy gets accepted into the police academy  through an inclusion program – and proving that they’re not to be underestimated. Naturally – they all succeed. It’s a victory for the little guys – literally – because they are all physically smaller. Not to mention that one of the running themes is that Judy and Nick (the fox) continually have to outsmart the people they’re dealing with, because they don’t have the size and brute force. The entire movie this pair of small animals is making fools out of their larger counterparts.

So even if larger is the visible majority of the movie – they were, for the most part, shown as not smart, bad at their jobs, and lacking the dexterity to do things quickly. Once you add in the cheetah who is a regular (if benign) presence in the film – with his inability to stop eating or do his job without mindless distractions – the message is pretty clear.

Even though large animals rule the place – it’s much better to be small. I’m very done with the unoriginal fat jokes (the cheetah had a donut stuck in a fat fold of his neck and I nearly gagged), but I’m also really tired of being put down for existing, for considering that larger people could ever be equal – let alone better than – small people.


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Big Hero 6 & Innovation

In praising Zootopia recently while discussing movies’ wider metaphors, allegories, and moral messages, Laci Green (on MTV’s Braless) mentioned that Big Hero 6 demonstrates the importance of non-violence.

And it’s true, the movie does push for the main character Hiro not to murder a man responsible for the death of his brother, Tadashi. But that’s buried in the story arc of Hiro grieving in a healthy way. Instead of seeking revenge for Tadashi’s death, Hiro, his classmates, and his robot stumble onto a nefarious plot and set out to undo it. Major kudo points go to the film for having Hiro actually report the initial incident to the police instead of setting his heart on revenge from the get-go , which is normal in revenge plots.

The rest of the movie, however, is simply a superhero movie. A more strangely plotted superhero movie than is normal, but after discovering his brother’s death was not an accident, Hiro follows the superhero path remarkably closely. He even creates a whole group of six superheroes made up of his friends.

Which is what really annoys me.

Superhero movies are nothing new and they’ll be around for ages to come, so the fact Disney created an animated superhero film is par for the course (although the Fall Out boy song montage was a nice touch). What bothered me was that the film did preach about helping others, but only allowed the characters to do so as superheroes. Before Hiro enlists his friends’ help to “catch the man in the mask,” they’re all in an elite science/engineering program at an impressive college. There’s a casual walk through their lab in the film, and it’s like every scientist’s dream. Impressive advancements in chemistry, engineering, and robotics are what the main characters are working on as school projects.

They inspire Hiro to do more with his life than bot-fighting, and he comes up with some pretty impressive tech himself. But that’s exactly when the catalyst death happens, and through various plot moves it’s suddenly vengeance time. Except Hiro’s tech has been stolen and co-opted by the bad guy, so his first act is to transform Baymax.

Baymax is a robot designed to help people, he has a “non-threatening, huggable” look, is programmed with over ten-thousand medical procedures, and can lift up to a thousand pounds. A robot like that could revolutionize the medical field – which already has problems with understaffing (or general nurse fatigue) and the general public not understanding what nurses do or how integral and important they are – but he also sounds like a godsend for disaster areas. A robot that can be programmed to speak multiple languages, scan for injuries or health levels without prejudice or bias, can lift debris safely, and administer treatment? I’m sure the National Guard, Red Cross, and Doctors Without Borders would love to get Baymax robots for their endeavors.

But that’s not cool enough to put in a superhero movie – Hiro has to program Baymax with karate, give him wings to fly with, and teach him to fist bump. Similarly, all of Hiro’s friends’ inventions aren’t cool enough for Hiro’s revenge superhero plan. So he remakes all of their inventions into crime fighting gear complete with costumes. And none of them want it – he does it all for them after basically ignoring their wishes and using the “my brother just died” guilt card.

Some more plot stuff happens, and they succeed in taking down the bad guy and in the fight a whole lot of property is damaged, and it’s likely a few people are hurt. But instead of using their awesome gear to help clean up and help people, the gang disappears into the city to officially become superheroes with secret identities.

Of course, they all end up continuing to take classes at their elite school, but considering the title, the merchandise, and that Disney’s producing a TV series about their superhero adventures – no one is supposed to remember that. The focus is on superheroes saving the day, and in doing so ignoring the genius, ingenuity, and real-life super work people do every day – creating a better world for us all.

Imagine if that’s what Disney made a heart-warming movie about? Nerds who create innovative and life-saving tech celebrated just as they are. I want Big Hero 6 to be that movie every time I watch it – and unfortunately it never is.


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Lent Approaches Quicker Than Ever in 2016

Lent is starting very early this year. We’ve only just gotten through Super Bowl Sunday – and the halftime performance (was it supposed to make you cry? it made me cry) – and Mardi Gras is in full swing, Ash Wednesday approaching rapidly.  That means making up your mind quick about what you’re doing for Lent.

Traditionally, you “give something up” for Lent – and in Sunday’s sermon, our new Bishop made a nice point that he was giving up coffee, and that every time he craved coffee during Lent he would be reminded that instead of craving coffee, he should be craving to be closer to God. He also made the point that it’s okay to fail – it’s human.

As a fat woman, I get very disagreeable if someone tells me to give something up – whether I should stop drinking pop or eating chocolate or indulging in fast food – and those are all things I have given up for Lent in the past – usually failing and feeling bad about it afterward. Which is the exact same feeling of New Year’s resolutions – where you have high expectations and then end up disappointed in yourself because you’re human. So I decided to move past “giving up” things for Lent a year or two ago, deciding to focus instead on the spiritual, focusing on praying more, being closer to God, and adding good things to my life – like compassion for others. It’s worked out well for me.

Whether you’re participating in Lent or if you’re still just trying to start the year off right, these are some things to keep in mind.

  • You’re human. It’s okay to fail and mess up. You just keep trying.
  • Trying to “better” yourself doesn’t work if it makes you feel terrible.
  • It’s your life, so what works for you is the only important thing.

Happy Mardi Gras! See you for Lent!


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Dangerous Expectations of Pregnancy & Drug Use

A few weeks ago, I saw the same tumblr post brought up at least twice on twitter in a screenshot that was derided as “tumblr SJWs have gone too far/ these social justice warriors are off the deep end.” In a nutshell – calling the idea stupid, as if it was written by someone with no common sense.

Here is the screenshot:

tumblr post screenshot

I read this and immediately realized that the post, and not the people ridiculing it on a different social media platform, was correct. Sure, the original poster (OP) is using tumblr-specific language, which doesn’t translate very well into non-tumblr forms. And the OP is generalizing a lot of things and using “disabilities” as a catch-all term to include mental illnesses, addiction, and birth defects – which in a general sense might be true, but in my opinion is still too much generalization.

Regardless – OP makes a good point! It is incredibly dangerous to insist that all pregnant people must immediately stop drinking or taking whatever drugs they’re on for a number of reasons.

  1. If a pregnant person is dependent on drugs or alcohol and stops cold turkey, the fetus can go into shock and the person can miscarry.
  2. Persons who are addicted to drugs and alcohol are just that – addicted. Expecting anyone to simply not do drugs anymore is ableist, and particularly cruel to expect that of someone also dealing with normal stresses of a pregnancy. They need help, not judgement.
  3. The data available on babies born with drugs in their system (neonatal abstinence syndrome) is not widely researched, using bias test groups, and there haven’t even been that many studies done overall.
  4. The process of getting clean while pregnant is an expensive one, and treatment centers with limited space is the norm.

 

The other dangerous part of this line of thinking “don’t do drugs/drink while pregnant” is that it bleeds into criminalizing people more harshly because they’re pregnant. The idea that pregnant people are not allowed to have mental issues that require medication, suicidal thoughts or tendencies, substance abuse problems, or anything less than a perfect life is a dangerous one that leads to criminalizing people for so-called child abuse or fetal neglect while they’re pregnant. It’s something that’s happening now, as children born with drugs in their system are taken into custody, and their parent arrested.

I could paint you a picture of the many ways this impacts poor working people and their families, but I don’t need to – other accomplished journalists have already done that.

This is an article published in December of 2014, and was the first I read on the subject.

Here is another article that was published in November of 2015 on the same issue.

 

I’m not saying that anyone should do drugs while they’re pregnant (unless it’s medication for mental illness in which case, yes, you really should continue taking those, just communicate with your OB and therapist about it), but I’m not going to get mad at anyone who does. Life is hard. Addiction is hard. Pregnancy is difficult in even the best circumstances.

My point is that the focus should be on supporting pregnant people in whatever decisions they make. Don’t be condescending. Have compassion.


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Disney & A New Feminist, Gay Hope!

The Walt Disney Corporation is… problematic, to say the least. And unlike most problematic media or popular culture, you can’t ignore it or blow it off. Not only does Disney infiltrate an extraordinary number of media channels, owning a lot of other companies and putting out every conceivable bit of merchandise, but they market their largest (and usually most successful) media almost exclusively to children.

For anyone trying to make a difference – trying to change some of the harmful stigmas and hateful tendencies of the world – the Disney machine is practically the home front. Whether you’re concerned about the babies watching Baby Einstein, toddlers watching Doc McStuffins and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, or elementary age kids watching Liv & Maddie, Girl Meets World, or Frozen for the millionth time – Disney is responsible for all of that.

rowan uterus sweater

Rowan Blanchard, in her uterus sweater, on her Instagram.

Of course, they have WAY more programming than that, and the issues that they do or don’t address are widespread. They have a lot of girl main characters in relatively diverse roles, and Girl Meets World, one of Disney’s more popular shows, has explicitly addressed someone being on the autism spectrum and wanting more girls in the STEM fields. Not to mention Rowan Blanchard (Girl Meets World) and Zendaya (K.C. Undercover) are making feminist news for their outspoken opinions they send out to their massive social media followings (full of young impressionable kids) about gender roles, body positivity, trans issues, gay rights, race issues, and some other intersectional feminist stuff that I can’t think of right now.

For all that I love the feminist attention Blanchard and Zendaya have received for their feminist articles or interview answers – I can still see other parts of Disney putting out new blockbuster movies with exclusively white casts, lots of superhero movies ignoring or skating over their female characters and their characters of color. (Black Panther is going to be made, but Black Widow still exists only in fan-made trailers.) And even on Disney Channel itself, as the world around it gets more accepting and inclusive to diverse voices, Disney Channel shows and Disney Channel Original Movies remain embarrassingly white, thin, and straight.

And yet.

I’m still hopeful.

The newest Disney Channel show to premiere is Best Friends Whenever. It’s a dorky show about two friends who stumble into the ability to time travel and the ensuing high-jinks that occur. The two main girls, Shelby and Cyd, are the best friends who time travel, finish each other’s sentences, and share a living space because Cyd’s parents are away on a three year work trip. The other half of the main cast is made up of two boys, Barry and Naldo, who live close by and spend almost all of their free time in an RV Barry uses as a science lab.

The two pairs of best friends form the show’s main friend group, and in spite of them all being white and conventionally attractive, they give me a lot of hope. Because I’m pretty sure they’re all gay.

I don’t know if the show is planning this or if it will meander there on its own, but I do know that a lot of key factors are different in this show, compared to other Disney Channel shows and other tween-based media. The character development arcs as they currently are, aren’t really concerned with romantic relationships at all. In the 13 episodes that have aired so far, the focus has been on friendships, family life, and growing up. If you’re thinking that this is normal for tween shows, I should let you know that usually tween main characters get into a “get boy/girl to like me” scheme about every third or fifth episode – especially in the first season.

Cyd and Shelby hugging in "A Time To Say Thank You."

Cyd and Shelby hugging in “A Time To Say Thank You.”

Instead, the characters are coded as queer, given story lines where they work together to solve time quandaries, do some nice things for each other, touch each other a lot, and constantly acknowledge gender inequality and other social justice issues (“Why you gotta assume it was a guy?” “You’re right, women can be anything – doctors, lawyers, a third thing!”). The strongest bonds, and the strongest chemistry, are between the two male leads and between the two female leads – which is only reinforced by the way the plots are broken up in individual episodes. The boys have their home base in the lab, and the girls have their home base in their shared bedroom.

It’s very easy to watch this show as though it’s about two married gay couples who are friends and neighbors – and I frequently do that. And younger children – I’ve heard through the grapevine – are saying that the girls are lesbians, or are noticing how much they touch each other. “They time-travel when they touch. But sometimes they touch and they don’t time-travel. They touch ALL THE TIME,” is how the show’s main girls were explained to a friend of mine by a third-grader.

Your viewing of the show might be different – what I view as queer coding and precursors to romantic (endgame) relationships may not be what you see. But it’s about opportunity and the environment where the viewers see it as a real possibility (the cast knows the ship names of their characters – Cydby & Baldo – for heaven’s sake!) and I have real hope that this will turn into canon.

I hope you do too.


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Happy Winter Holidays!

Happy Holidays!!!

Yes, still.

Okay – Happy New Year!

But only because it’s January 2, one day away from New Year’s Day. Any other time I’m a relatively strict “Happy Holidays” wisher – or I nod, or I say “You too!” when someone else wishes me a Merry Christmas.

That’s the danger of working in retail, I’m afraid – I’m bombarded with the well-wishes of customers cheerfully telling me “Merry Christmas” from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve itself – but not after.

And what bugs me so much isn’t that patrons of my store are wishing me well – if that was the case I’d never utter a single “Have a good day!” Which would suck. I love telling people – whether I’m behind the counter or out running errands – to have a nice/lovely/good day/night/rest of your shift. In general I really do want people to go out into the world and have a wonderful day – bringing light and joy to those around them. I’m borderline embarrassingly sincere about the whole thing.

But I can’t bring myself to wish strangers a Merry Christmas unless it’s actually Christmas Eve or actually Christmas.

And it’s not even for politically correct reasons – it’s more for religious reasons, to be honest. Most of December when people are shopping for Christmas presents it’s actually Advent. And for 11 days it’s actually Hanukkah – and no one has ever told me Happy Hanukkah. (Sadly – I haven’t said it to anyone either – but I came very close with one very pleasant customer when I knew it was the first night of Hanukkah. But who knows how she would’ve reacted – it could have been intensely awkward or scary, and I didn’t feel like a retail gamble like that after such a great customer service interaction.)

I do tell people in my family and friends “Happy Advent” or “Happy 2nd Sunday of Advent!” sometimes – because unlike Lent – the lead-up to Easter – Advent is pretty bright and cheerful. Masses focus on Mary and the preparation for Jesus’s birth. Preparation celebration.

The actual Christmas season – Christmas masses – doesn’t start until Christmas Eve. In my Catholic church the decorations – the manger with baby Jesus, gigantic Christmas trees, a star, poinsettias everywhere – they’re put up right before Christmas Eve, but at no mass before that.

The decorations stay up well into January – because Christmas is more than “Jesus is Born,” it’s about the Holy Family, the shepherds, Magi, and Kings reacting to prophecies and Signs, and it includes His Baptism when He’s about 30 years old. It’s about the development of Jesus as a person, as he becomes the prophet the world knows.

But very few people celebrate Christmas the way I do. So I don’t tell people Merry Christmas well into January, just like I don’t say Happy Advent all through December, and was unable to say “Happy Hanukkah” at work. I say “Happy Holidays!” – because all of the holidays are grouped together in December on purpose anyway (Jesus was born in May! Christmas was moved to align with the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice!) – traditions and religions blending together so all people could enjoy and participate in the light and joy the holidays bring to otherwise dark winter months.

I sincerely want everyone to have a good day – and I sincerely want everyone to have a Happy Holidays! – no matter which holidays you celebrate!!!