Team Rocket in Drag

Who here loves Pokémon? (Trick questions. Everyone loves Pokémon.) And the best part of Pokémon (except for possibly Ash’s complete incompetence) is clearly Team Rocket. They have a catchy motto! A talking Pokémon! Lots of attitude and endless hope that maybe this time they’ll be able to steal Pikachu (though why they would want to is anyone’s guess. Pikachu is terrible).

They also have a lot of costumes.

team rocket crossdressing

(From, because of course that’s a thing.)

James “has a tendency to cross-dress“; a large portion of his disguises are stereotypically female. Jessie does it to a lesser degree, but it’s still not infrequent to see her pose as a man. As in the above picture, there is usually no particular reason for the cross-dressing; their faces could be hidden just as well if James was the groom and Jessie the bride. It could be all just “fun” from the creators’ side – or we can take more away from it than that.

I’m fascinated by the idea of drag as a subversion of gender roles; that a large part of gender is performance and that it can be challenged by performing as a gender others don’t necessarily view us as belonging to. It’s an interesting way to question and undermine the gender binary. So much of gender identity lies in clothes, but clothes are really just a way to cover up the body and keep warm. Why should it matter so much how we do that?

When Team Rocket dress up in disguise, they don’t care what they’re supposed to be wearing. They are not only happy to switch up gender roles, but even seem to prefer doing so. The problem, of course, is that Team Rocket are presented as always a bit ridiculous – their plans are terrible and they themselves are pompous cowards. It makes me worry that the drag is meant to be part of this ridiculousness, that the creators meant for us to laugh at the ludicrous idea of a man in a dress.

But I don’t remember that I ever did. Cross-dressing was just something Jessie and James did; a little unusual, perhaps, but not laughable. They already didn’t adhere completely to traditional gender roles – Jessie is (marginally) smarter than James and clearly the leader – and the drag underlines and brings out this break from what we have been taught to expect. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

In conclusion: Team Rocket’s blasting off again!

Joss Whedon’s Women: Inara


So I didn’t forget about Inara. Obviously. I just forgot that I hadn’t written about her. (And about this blog and posting on it. But I digress.)

Inara Serra: Prostitute and not ashamed of it. I am not going to get into any debate about sex work and feminism, because a) that’s an incredibly complicated issue and b) this post is about Inara. In her case, at least, it’s a choice that she has made, and while it may be a decision made within the context of a patriarchal society, that doesn’t make it any less valid. She also stands up to Mal whenever he makes remarks about her work, and she’s not going to take any disrespect about it from him or anyone else. Go Inara!

In “Shindig”, though, Atherton disrespects Inara immensely. He treats her as property; “All of [the men] wish they were in your bed” isn’t a compliment, it is reducing her to an object. And she lets him get away with it, until the very end. I can’t judge her for that – this is her livelihood – but I wish she didn’t have to. She can pick and choose the clients she wants, and that is great, but there is still an attitude about her and about sex workers in general which casts them as objects of male desire.

I do think Firefly handles this well; Inara is always shown to be her own person and worthy of respect. The whores in “Heart of Gold”, too, while lacking the public respect and protection afforded to Companions, are shown to be human, and it is made very clear that they should be treated as such. The patriarchy is in place, as always, but Firefly doesn’t condone it, and it doesn’t damn Inara for being a sex worker.

I am not a thermometer

I’ve been working full time for a few months now (which is quite an adjustment from student life, let me tell you), in an office near the city centre. In those two months, I swear I have experienced more street harassment than ever before in my life.

Some of it’s very straightforward. “Hey baby, you’re so sexy” is gross and unnecessary and disrespectful and I hate it. But it’s also direct; you can have a reaction to it because there’s no mistaking what just happened. That doesn’t make it okay, obviously, but it makes it possible to deal with it. (I’m not always very good at that. But I want to be.)

One day this summer I walked past two men cleaning windows. I was wearing a light, pretty dress, because finally it was warm and I wanted to enjoy it. As I walked past the window cleaners, one of them turned to the other and said, “Guess it’s summer now, mate.”

It was about me. I knew it was about me. And there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. He hadn’t spoken to me or even acknowledged my existence. Except that he had, in a way; he’d seen my dress and my bare legs and he’d decided that it was appropriate for him to say something about them, to use my body and the way I dressed as a thermometer. Hey, look, a girl in a dress, guess it’s summer now! And there was nothing I could do about it, because what could I say? If I’d confronted him, he would have told me I was crazy, that he’d just been talking about the weather. I had no way of proving that wasn’t true.

I can’t think of any time in my life when I’ve felt more like an object. He didn’t speak to me like you would to a person. He saw my body and he used it to make a comment on the weather, like there was nothing to me but my body, no ears, no brain. And I couldn’t respond; I didn’t know what to do. I still don’t. But I want to find a way to deal with that kind of indirect harassment, the kind that robs you of your personhood. Because it is not okay, and never will be.

And I am not a fucking thermometer.

Joss Whedon’s Women: River

Oh, River. I don’t even know where to start with you. You are so awesome and problematic and complex and disturbing. And also you are an amazing dancer.

The thing about River is, she’s powerful. She can read minds and kill people with her brain. The entire plot of Firefly revolves around her because yeah, she’s just that important.

And she’s also a mess. She’s been experimented on and probably tortured; she’s a pre-broken cutie and she may never be okay again. And that’s what the plot is and that’s what’s disturbing.

Sarah Rees Brennan writes a lot of great posts about how female characters are treated and reacted to differently from male ones; at least a couple of them have been about how a lot of writers seem to think that it’s okay to torture female characters more. It’s not that I’m opposed to torturing characters, rather the opposite (trauma is FUN and good for the story!), but no one is as traumatised as River, no one else is even close to being so completely fucked up. And that feels odd and a little uncomfortable.

So that’s why I have such mixed feelings about River, because I love her as a character and I think Summer Glau is criminally underused as an actress (why isn’t she in everything?), and I love that she is in some ways the most important character in the series. But she’s also limited to one function, somewhat; she is the crazy, messed-up one, the one who can fight off reevers and save everyone, the one who is almost burned at the stake because she can’t understand that most people aren’t fans of having their minds read, the one who just can’t control herself because just a word can trigger her. She doesn’t ever get to be her own person, not really. And that’s not good. A female character should be able to be the crux of the story and still have a life, to have other sides to her personality than just crazy and awesome at it.

One last aside: The scene where River dances has always been my favourite, and I think I get why now. It’s because she’s a real person there, doing something that she loves, that brings her joy. And she deserves that.

The Unbearable Lightness of Consumerism

I spent a week back home in Norway a couple of weeks go. There was a strike on while I was there (or several, I’m going to be a bit vague on the details. Bear with me); public servants were striking to bring up their salary increase to match those working in the private sector.

I’m generally in favour of strikes. I believe in unions and workers standing up for their rights, and I believe that those working for the government should earn as much as those privately employed. But. We are SO rich in Norway. It’s a little sickening how much most of us have and how much more we want (I am not exempt from this. That only makes it more sickening). I’m told no one in the Euro zone had any sympathy with the striking Norwegians; I have no problems believing that. While so many other countries in Europe are struggling, our national economy grew by 3.25 %. And we want it to grow bigger, to go up and up and up until… Well, forever, really. Because that’s just how economics work.

Now, I don’t have anything new to say about consumerism. Everyone knows (well, most people, anyway) that if we all lived like Europeans and Americans do, we’d need several Earths. And I’m not saying I’m better than others. I like shopping. I fly more than I should. I try not to eat too much meat, but it doesn’t feel like it’s enough to make a difference. So much as I’d like to end this on a moralising note, telling people that “This is what you should do”, I can’t. But I’m going to keep thinking about it. I hope other people will, too.

(And I’m also going to add a link to the Global Footprint Network, because they know a lot more about this than I do.)

Becoming an activist: WE ARE THE MEDIA

I’ve mentioned Amanda Palmer on here before and I’m sure I’ll do so again, because she is AWESOME. I don’t mean that I always agree with her, because I don’t; sometimes she’s too extreme and a little too unaware of her privilege for my tastes (but then, there are times when I could say the same about myself). But overall, I love her: the things she does and the way she lives her life (and of course I’m wildly jealous of the fact that she’s married to Neil Gaiman).

I’m not sure exactly what made me go from vaguely being an Amanda fan to being slightly obsessed with her. It may have been her Twitter, which is one of the most consistently entertaining and fascinating I know; she is so engaged with her fans and the world around her and I think that is wonderful. Or it may have been when I went to see her live this summer and she played the Ukulele Anthem and it was freaking amazing (and now I own a ukulele). Or potentially it was the Fuck Plan B thing, which I swear there was a blog post for which I now can’t find. Oh well. That was one of the times where I thought she was coming from a massively privileged standpoint therefore it was controversial, but also very interesting and inspiring (“controversial, but very interesting and inspiring” could probably be her slogan).

Anyway. Part of what I love about Amanda is her blog slogan: WE ARE THE MEDIA. Those are powerful words, and they speak to so many things that have  started to fascinate me in the last year. It’s people power: the Occupy movement, the idea that we matter, that everyone should have a say no matter how much money they have. It’s the internet community: a bunch of strangers coming together because they care about the same things, want to talk about the same things, want to show the world that those things matter. It’s blogging activism: we are the ones who decide what matter, simply by showing that we care. And it is, to me, individuality: I matter. The things I say matter. I can change things. I can change the world.

And this, of course is what I want. I may not know yet exactly what I’ll do with my life, which issues I will end up fighting for (although I have a pretty good idea), how I will make my mark on the world (big words there. Bear with me, I’m inspired). But I do know that there are things I can do and ways I can have my say, simply by using words. And that, to me, is a pretty damn powerful thing to know.

Joss Whedon’s Women: Zoe

I’ll admit, I have mixed feelings about Zoe. I feel like I should love her, and I do want to. She’s fucking fierce, she’s a crack shot, she’s funny and smart and cool. And yet, somehow, it’s just not enough. Someone put it like this to me: “It’s like she’s Mal number 2.” And there, I think, lies the problem. Because Zoe’s pretty great, but compared to the other characters of Firefly, she doesn’t quite make it. She’s funny, but not as funny as Wash; she’s good at her job, but she’s still Mal’s second-in-command. While she adheres to the stereotype of a “strong woman”, she’s constantly showed up by the men closest to her.

So what would it take for me to love Zoe? Letting her have her own story. In Firefly, she’s the only character who appears to have nothing she wishes to achieve, no dreams and no life of her own. She’s not a person, she’s there to back up Mal and allow Wash to be funny. And making her kick ass isn’t enough to make that okay.