Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”: A not-so-improbable dystopian world

“You Read Like A Girl” Book Review Series

By Madison Teuscher

The Handmaid’s Tale is a dystopian-style tale set in a radically theocratic America. The regime, called Gilead, has classified women into based on fertility and obedience, with different ranks identified by their unique uniform. All women are completely stripped of their rights—everything from reading to purchasing power—and are sorted into classes to divide and control them. Handmaids are fertile women who serve as surrogate wombs for the Commanders and their aging wives. The Wives—women married to the powerful Commanders—are reduced to days of knitting, gardening, and waiting for their Handmaid to give birth to their children. Handmaids are completely powerless, and everywhere they go, there are Eyes—the military division of the Gilead regime—watching and waiting to kill them for any misbehavior.The cover of Margaret Atwood's novel "The Handmaid's Tale"

One reviewer writing for The Verge called it “1984 for feminists… but a lot scarier”. This theocratic society has based its societal revolution on a passage in the book of Genesis about Jacob’s wife, Rachel, allowing her handmaid to conceive Jacob’s child on her behalf. This passage is recited in the book during the monthly ceremony in which the Commander attempts to impregnate the Handmaid under the Wife’s watchful eye. If a Handmaid cannot reproduce, she is sent to a labor internment camp with other Unwomen—old and infertile women who are no longer valuable to the society. Handmaids are only containers for babies, and nothing more. Continue reading “Margaret Atwood’s “The Handmaid’s Tale”: A not-so-improbable dystopian world”

Three Feminist Punk Bands You Need to Check Out

By Stephanie Sampson

pussy_riot_-_denis_bochkarev_5
Members of Pussy Riot, a feminist Russian punk rock band

Feminist Punk is a feminist movement that originally started in the 1990’s in the Pacific Northwest that combines women empowerment, punk music and politics. This genre is inspiring women all over the world to express themselves.

Emma May from Scene Reports said that over the past couple of years, as groups like indie-pop heartthrobs Death Cab for Cutie and the bearded Fleet Foxes have mostly disbanded, the members of Seattle’s most-renowned alternative bands have shifted from primarily sad-white-dudes-in-flannel to women in outspokenly feminist bands.

Continue reading “Three Feminist Punk Bands You Need to Check Out”

More Than a Phase: Growing Up As a Feminist

By: Shanda Glover

Elle UK magazine cover
Since Elle UK re-branded their magazine they have started their own conversations about feminism today.

Is feminism just a fad? Has it become a new product to treat ourselves to, like leather jackets, Birkenstocks, and skinny jeans? In the media, feminism has opened doors for magazines and clothing designers to rebrand themselves and has given them the tools to change their image to make them seem more relevant to current generations. Last year, Cosmopolitan came out and stated that they were” deeply feminist.” The next magazine, Elle UK, created three feminist activist groups with three advertising groups.  Looking inside the fashion world, many designers are now putting women’s comforts first. “Feminism is back in fashion,” but what exactly does that mean? Feminism is back and hotter than ever…but for how long?

With so many celebrities coming out taking feminist stances without actually identifying as feminists or allowing the conversation to continue, feminism has just become a trend or a phase. Personally, I have been told that my feminist beliefs are not valid because I am merely following the crowd. Apparently, I only call myself a feminist because Beyoncé does. I only call myself a feminist because I want more movies that are directed by women. I have had friends tell me I only call myself a feminist because the media tells me I should.

Continue reading “More Than a Phase: Growing Up As a Feminist”

The Importance of Character Development: SciFi and the Bechdel Test

 

Amber Atalaya Evans Pinel

You may or may not be familiar with the Bechdel Test; it’s a strategy for looking at movies and TV shows in depth to determine whether or not they are featuring a realistic portrayal of women. Rather, the test asks three simple questions: Does it have at least two named female characters? Do these female characters talk to one another? And, if they do, do they talk about something other than a man?

This may sound ridiculous to you—of course movies feature women who talk to one another about something other than a man! Right? Actually, in most cases, wrong. As I continue to scrutinize my media, it becomes increasingly apparent that fully developed female characters are a rarity. It seems absurd, considering the number of women in our country alone who consume media. Obviously we do talk to one another, and we most certainly have more to talk about than men.

However, I was surprised to find that some of my own favorite movies fail the Bechdel Test. Underworld (2003), for example, the extremely popular Kate Beckinsale vampire vs. werewolf movie that started the vampire craze (in my opinion), totally fails. At first glance, it may appear that Selene is the most badass female character to ever grace the big screen with her presence. A few years ago I would have completely agreed. But let’s take the movie through the Bechdel Test.

Sure, there are quite a few female extras, but there are only three named female characters in the whole movie; Selene (the main character), Erika (her “female rival”), and Amelia (a royal elder of the vampires.) Amelia doesn’t even have lines, she only has two half-scenes where she is present. Erika is also completely lacking development; her only goal in the movie is to take Selene’s place as Kraven’s favorite hot vampire chick. Selene and Erika have a couple of scenes together, and in those scenes they only speak about Kraven and Michael (the other half of the love triangle.) For the rest of the movie, Selene is battling against men and speaking only with men. She appears to be the only female vampire in this world capable of fighting.

Not a whole lot of media passes the Bechdel Test, including everyone’s favorites. Doctor Who (2005 reboot) had a long standing reputation of fully developed companions. But recently I’ve been reading reviews from fans who are less than pleased about the direction the show is going in. Ever since Steven Moffat (co-creator of Sherlock) became the showrunner of Doctor Who, the development of female characters in that show has significantly dropped.

Moffat is receiving a lot of criticism for the direction he’s taken the show since Matt Smith became the Doctor. (Disclaimer: I haven’t seen more than a handful of episodes since Steven Moffat became the showrunner, so everything I am about to say is being reiterated from online blogs and columns I have read about the issue.)

A new companion was introduced–Amy Pond–who met the doctor when she was a child, and then meets him again as an adult. Basically, her entire life already revolved around the Doctor by the time she becomes his companion. However, this alone doesn’t make her a two dimensional character. The problem is that she was never really humanized. She faced numerous challenges and struggles throughout her time as the Doctor’s companion; things happened to her and her family that would be considered emotionally scarring by most psychologists. But by the time the next episode rolls around she seems to be totally un-phased emotionally. Her biggest struggle in the show is that she has to choose between the Doctor and her boyfriend/husband. Other than that decision, she has no goals in life, no prospects or dreams. She is totally governed as a character by the men around her. If you want a really in depth analysis of Steven Moffat’s Doctor Who, and Amy Pond as a character,  this one is the best you’ll ever find.

But Moffat isn’t just receiving criticism on Amy Pond; he’s well known for saying rather offensive things about women in general, including the female fans of Doctor Who and Sherlock. Not to mention the serious lack of developed LGBTQIA characters in his shows.

So, why is this a problem? A lot of people think that’s a dumb question, but Steven Moffat doesn’t. And neither do the all male writers and directors of Underworld. It’s a problem for several reasons: first of all, it’s not an accurate representation of real people. Women do have aspirations beyond choosing which man to follow around. Also, they do talk about other things besides men. Lot’s of other things. (Not to mention LGBTQIA people exist as real people in the real world.) But I think the biggest problem with popular TV shows like Doctor Who failing to show well developed female characters is that so many young people are getting social cues from media these days. Young people eat Doctor Who up. So if they see characters like Amy Pond, who only think about the men in their lives, what does that teach youth? It teaches them that women should only think about men, and that the biggest source of existential struggle they’ll ever have is always going to surround men.

Obviously, women will face a lot of challenges in their lives. Some of them may revolve around men. Many of those challenges will be overcoming gender-biased people trying to tell them they aren’t worth as much as their male counterparts. But what’s important is the media accurately reflect real people of all genders and sexual orientations, and that includes creating well developed characters that pass the Bechdel Test.

 

 

Sexuality, Gender, and Representation in Science Fiction

Amber Atalaya Evans Pinel

        For many people science fiction is a genre full of new ideas, futuristic thoughts, innovative design, and political insight. In many ways, science fiction reveals current political climates and cultural ideologies of our time. Some might even call the genre socially progressive due to it’s ability to introduce characters and ideas that don’t fit the “norm.” I can sing praises of all the great things about science fiction all day, but I think it’s time to explore what science fiction television shows are lacking – proper representation for people of the alphabet soup (LGBTQA & etc.), and specifically transgendered and non-binary people/characters.

I don’t want to say there aren’t any LGBTQA characters in science fiction television, because that’s not true at all. In the prequel to Battlestar Galactica (the 2003 reboot), a relatively short series called Caprica (2010), one of the main characters – Sam Adama – is portrayed in a loving and healthy relationship with his husband.

Sam Adama from the series Caprica

Sam Adama is a gang member who came to Caprica with his family some years before the show’s beginning. Sam is a hit man and is portrayed as a very strong, determined, and dangerous character. I think the writers did an excellent job on him and his family’s story, in that they did not make him a trope, nor did they particularly emphasize his relationship with his husband. The fact that he is in a same sex relationship isn’t even mentioned: he’s simply married. Furthermore, Caprica features a group/cooperative/polyamorous family in which one of the main characters, Sister Clarice Willow (the headmaster of a religious private school), has several husbands and wives, and they all communally raise their children and live under the same roof.

However, Battlestar Galactica doesn’t feature any relationships that aren’t heteronormative. And, both shows only have cisgendered characters. Unfortunately, this isn’t exclusive to Battlestar Galactica and Caprica. I have never seen a science fiction or fantasy television show that featured transgendered characters. Science fiction literature tends to be much more liberal with their characters; I’ve read a variety of books that contain lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters. However, even in the literature of one of the most progressive genres that features new ideas and “radical” political views, LGBTQA characters are still a rarity. And, books that feature transgendered characters are even more difficult to find. I wanted to include some titles and authors of books that do feature these characters, but after a lengthy internet search I’m still at a loss. Here’s a list of science fiction books that feature gay, lesbian, and bisexual characters.

It’s true that in recent years lesbian, gay, and bisexual characters have been making it into science fiction television. However, the numbers of those characters are still relatively small and there’s only one I know of who is the main character: Bo in the series Lost Girl. Lost Girl does an excellent job of portraying LGB characters without making them tropes. But even that excellent show lacks transgendered characters (as far as I know, I haven’t seen the whole series yet.)

Why, in the genre of the future, are transgendered characters invisible? Because writers, producers, directors, and screenwriters are not pushing for these characters to exist in their worlds. I cannot stress enough how important it is to put these characters into science fiction literature and television, and media in general. People who do not fit the gender binary do exist in our world; a large part of letting them know that they’re normal, and their experience is natural, is to make sure they see people like them in the media. We gather almost all of our cultural information through the media – especially through television. It is imperative that transgendered characters are written. And, in the futuristic and boundary-pushing genre of science fiction, I’m disgusted there isn’t already ample representation of transgendered characters.

 

 

What’s In Our Feed

CLICK on the links below to learn more about current events and relevant information.

VICTORY! Trans* folks are now protected under EEOC laws!

And… Cassidy Lynn Campbell, a trans high school student, was crowned homecoming queen. Sadly her joy was short lived as bullies did all they could to harass her.

In light of last week’s Take Back the Night event, I thought I would link to a great Ted Talk by Jason Katz. He speaks about how rape and sexual violence is a men’s issue and how we need to reframe the issue.

For those who are unfamiliar with the term ‘Rape Culture’, check out Melissa McEwan’s amazing post. 

A Dozen Lady Superhero’s redesigned by Celeste Pille.

Often when fat folks mention the oppression they feel and the level of fat shaming they experience they are told “thin people suffer just as much”. The reality is that fat and thin folks may both experience awful treatment but the privilege of thin folks is real. Take this test to see fat shaming in action.