Anne Bean

I make delicious words. // I make words delicious.

Tag: feminism

Pour One Out for 1990s Feminism

So, I was watching cartoons the other day. And I had such feels that I had to interrupt my Oblivion craft breakdown and talk about it.

I watched the pilot of the X-Men series, which aired in 1992 and ran until 1997.

Then, for contrast, I watched the pilot of the X-Men: Evolution series that aired in 2000 and ran until 2003.

And the difference between the two has a lot to do with just the style of popular TV and world-building that was common in TV shows of the different times…but there was something more, something about the female characters I wanted to try to explain.

X-Men (1992)

xmen_animated-1024x798

This series starts with the titles–showing all of the X-Men with their branded logos: Cyclops, Wolverine, Rogue, Storm, the Beast, Gambit, Jubilee, Jean Grey, and Professor X. This seems like a direct descendant of 80s TV shows that were designed to sell toys. But I digress.

The opening image of the show is a TV that’s running a news program about a dangerous mutant tearing things up (it’s Sabretooth).

Then we zoom out and see Jubilee’s foster parents watching the program and arguing about whether or not to register Jubilee with the mutant control agency. Jubilee is the Wesley Crusher of the series, both in that she’s the youngest character meant to be a viewpoint character for the kids watching the show, and also that she can be pretty annoying. Still, take note: The “viewpoint” character we are first introduced to is a Chinese-American girl.

Jubilee flees a Sentinal

The first action sequence in the series is when Rogue and Storm interrupt a Sentinal that’s in the middle of trying to abduct Jubilee. They beat up the Sentinal until they are thrown out of a window. Jubilee continues to run away from the Sentinal, eventually aided by Gambit and Cyclops, who psi-blasts off his head. Let me rewind for a second there. The first action sequence is three women and a robot. And yes, Storm and Rogue are in a mall, ’cause they’re shopping, like girls. But they’re shown as quick-thinking and powerful.

Storm and Rogue prepare to take down the Sentinal that's holding Jubilee

In the first episode, there’s a lot of talk about the relationship of the mutants with the rest of the world: the Mutant Control Agency (which is a “private company occasionally assisted by the government.” Blackwater, anyone?) has a secret agenda, people hate and fear mutants, etc. This is a world with mutants firmly established as a thing, a thing to which the world is reacting in a variety of helpful and destructive ways.

Callisto

A couple of episodes in, Jean Gray and Cyclops are on a date, and end up running into a bunch of sewer-dwelling mutants known as the Morlocks. Their leader, a brash, semi-masculine woman named Callisto, takes Cyclops hostage. When Jean comes back with the cavalry to save him, Callisto makes it clear that she doesn’t care about Cyclops’ powers or anything, she just wants someone to impregnate her. So, Cyclops is reduced to a hunky sperm-bag in her eyes, even though we know about his power, leadership abilities, and relationships with other characters. Nobody says to Cyclops, “Well, it must have been that tight costume. That’s what caught her eye. If you didn’t wear such a sexual costume…” They rescue him, no big deal, and carry right on.

To recap:

  • About half of the X-men team is female. They are team leaders, powerful, and integral parts of the plot. Jubilee is not a leader yet, but she is the viewpoint character.
  • The first action sequence in the whole show is three women fighting a Sentinal.
  • There is a lot of casual inclusion of women in the show: main characters are female, side-characters are female, random walk-ons are female.
  • The gender-reversed Damsel in Distress episode with Cyclops pokes fun at the trope as a whole: “See how ridiculous it is that this evil lady only wants him for his body? When we know he is so much more than that?”

A scene like that would never happen in cartoons these days. It would be considered too…blatant? Are we too cool to directly gender-swap sexist tropes? Is that passe now? Do we use “ironic” sexism now? ‘Cause frankly, I don’t see nearly the representation now in TV shows that there was in the 90s.  I’m not just talking about X-Men and cartoon shows. I’m talking about Xena, Buffy, Daria, and Aeon Flux. These are all mainstream or popular alternative TV shows that featured women as leads, and often had female side-characters as well (in contrast to the plethora of “woman makes it in a man’s world” shows, *coughCastleAliasMadMencough*). I mean, maybe my perceptions are skewed, but can anyone name off some TV shows from this decade, or even the 2000s, that featured female leads (not a female half of a duo, but actually a female main character)? In the world of animation I’ve got My Life as a Teenage Robot and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I know there are others, so help me out in the comments.

X-Men: Evolution (2000)

This series is a reboot of the whole show, in a very specific context: high school.

Earth-11052

The opening image of this show, before the titles, is a high school football games. First, cheerleaders. Then, football players: the home team makes a touchdown. Then we see Jean Gray taking photos.Then Cyclops, watching. Then, Todd Tolanski (a.k.a. Toad) stealing wallets. Three of the football players notice Todd’s thieving and go to beat him up.

"Hey, I gotta go beat up some kid I don't like or understand. BRB."

“Hey, I gotta go beat up some kid I don’t like or understand. BRB.”

Cyclops ends up sticking up for Toad, suggesting that they settle the issue peacefully and return the wallets. Instead, the football players beat up Scott/Cyclops, knock off his glasses, and there are eyebeam explosions and shit that Storm and Professor X have to clean up after the titles happen.

Welp, that was awkward.

Yes, instead of one Wesley Crusher character, there are a whole slew of Wesley Crusher characters. Each of the first several episodes introduces a new character: Shadowcat, Spyke, Rogue, Nightcrawler, and more. The adults in the series are Storm, Logan/Wolverine, and of course Professor X. We also get to see Mystique revealed to be disguised as an administrator in the high school. Yep. The high school is the battle ground. And that, I think, is where this series breaks down. Fundamentally, it seems like school administrators are battling over teenagers and using them as weapons against one another. Which I find kind of depressing, perhaps because it hits too close to home in the world of educational politics; we just have test scores instead of mutant powers.X-Men-Evolution-x-men-6480523-889-700

In general, I think the series is served poorly by its beginning in this world where mutant politics are not out in the open and already a thing. In X-Men, we had a whole world, even a planet as a setting. It felt like these mutants really did have the fate of the world in their hands. In X-Men Evolution, the setting is greatly reduced, to just a dang high school. And while the male:female ratio is about the same, the girls don’t get screen time in that same effortless way. We don’t see Storm leading teams, we see her standing next to Professor X like he needs her to push his wheelchair or something. The Shadowcat introduction involves a lot of Naughty Mutant Boy trying to corrupt Kitty Pryde and her trying to run from her own powers.

Seriously. I know she'll all undercover and stuff, but in the '92 series she straight up spontaneously costume changed and zapped a robot. This is much less badass.

Seriously. I know she’ll all undercover and stuff, but in the ’92 series she straight up spontaneously costume changed and zapped a robot. This is much less badass.

While the X-Men are still about 50% X-Women, the relationship with women in X-Men: Evolution is subtly less empowering enough to make the series disappointing, along with the great shrinkage of the mutant world. Did you want a world of drama and high-stakes big mutant battles? Welp, you get high school. The end.

Why Women Need to Tell Stories

(Trigger and/or blasphemy warning: I talk about the Bible in this post.)

When I read the Grimm’s tales, I realized, “Huh. This is part of the seeds for the Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth trope.” In the tales, if there is a pretty daughter and an ugly (usually step-) daughter, then the pretty one will also be demure (i.e. quiet), kind, and loyal. The ugly daughter will be selfish, loud, and mean-spirited.

Disney's Cinderella stepmother and stepsisters.

They were framed by centuries of stories!

Let’s break that down a tad, shall we?

Here’s what these tales are weaving together:

  1. Kindness goes with beauty; meanness goes with ugliness.
  2. Silence goes with beauty; speech goes with ugliness.
  3. Kindness and silence are then correlated, as are speech and meanness.
  4. So, by extension: In order to be a loyal, true, and ultimately successful person, you must be silent, kind, and beautiful. If you are ugly, selfish, or loud, then you are the villain and will be punished.

There’s something going on that’s deeper than Truth is Beauty and Beauty is Truth going on here. There’s some dynamic with speech and silence that I hadn’t really noticed until I was reading Marina Warner’s From the Beast to the Blonde.

She points out the multiple instances in Medieval art and literature where women having a voice or speaking their mind is connected to them being somehow…not women. It’s not even that these images chastise women for speaking, it’s more of a symbolic correlation that in order to be properly female you have to be quiet and obedient. As Warner notes, “The figure of Obedience was traditionally represented by the iconic representation of Silence […] When the object of desire raised her voice, her desirability decreased; speaking implied unruliness, disobedience.”

Franciscan-Allegories--Allegory-of-Obedience-c-1330-large

Franciscan Allegory of Obedience, circa 1330. Silence is the central figure with their finger to their lips. To me, it looks like a female figure; crones get excitingly weird in Christian historical imagery.

In the New Testament, there are some frighteningly specific injunctions against women’s voices. Paul’s first epistle to Timothy (1 Tim 2:11-15) has this to say about women’s behavior in church:

Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or have authority over a man; she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing, provided they continue in faith and love and holiness, with modesty.

Marina Warner points out that he’s saying women can be redeemed for the apparent sin of speaking or teaching by having babies. Ladies, if you’ve screwed up already by telling your stories, then no worries, just be fecund and pop out babies, and all will be forgiven. As long as you’re also modest. And if you should become a widow, it had better not be at a young age, because young widows’ “sensual desires alienate them from Christ, they want to marry, and so they incur condemnation for having violated their first pledge. Besides that, they learn to be idle, gadding about from house to house; and they are not merely idle, but also gossips and busybodies, saying what they should not say.” (1 Tim 5.11-13)(emphasis mine)

To give context, Paul does actually think younger widows should remarry and bear children. He goes on a great deal in his letter to Timothy about “real widows” as being deserving of support from society. As opposed to what kind of widow, I’m not sure. To Christian society at the time the Bible was written, women’s speech was terrifying, and any woman in a position to use her voice or tell her story was socially outcast. This included unmarried women, old women, and widows who took no other husband, all groups traditionally associated with witchcraft.

So, this is all ancient history, yes?

Aside from modern Christians who still insist on an all-male clergy, there’s still some societal level of discomfort with women’s voices. I’m not just talking about Christianity or trying to pidgeon-hole Christians. I’m talking widespread Western cultural fear of women’s voices (Gynologophobia?), especially if they’re saying something “feminist” or something that threatens traditional positions of power.

Consider the case of Anita Sarkeesian. A writer and vlogger at her website Feminist Frequency, Sarkeesian made a series of videos about film called “Tropes v Women,” where she explicated film tropes about women such as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, the Straw Feminist, and the Mystical Pregnancy. She made a Kickstarter, asking for $6,000 to fund a similar series of videos exploring tropes about women in video games. Somehow, the internet exploded at this. Her social media was inundated with harassment including threats of death and rape; her Wikipedia site was hacked with pornographic images. Consequently, her Kickstarter raised over $150,000, which says that not everyone was against her. Just some really vocal people and a “cybermob” of trolls raising a constant noisy alarm were against her. Again, speech and silence do their weirdo power-tango.

In case it’s not abundantly clear, let me spell it out: The mere suggestion of a woman raising her voice to shed light on problematic aspects of a male-dominated arena was enough to cause rampant, gibbering panic and hatred. I have heard geeks of all genders try to downplay the whole debacle off as a silly one-off thing that got too much attention. I hear some voices crying out She Spews Only Lies! I hear some voices say, I Don’t Like Her “Brand” of Feminism Because It Attacks Things I Like. I hear a lot of whispers of But They’re Just Games.

Personally, I think her case serves as a coal-mine canary. The amount of trolling, internet hate, and intimidation Sarkeesian got corresponds only to how much poisonous gas, if I may extend the coal-mine metaphor, is in the surroundings. There are plenty of ways to deal with poisonous hot air. Some people like to light a match and watch it burn. Some people like to dig alternate pathways and let the gas seep off on its own. In any case, the more we keep digging here, the more things will clear up.

By the way, Sarkeesian did finally make her video about the Damsel in Distress, and it’s pretty good. It was a almost underwhelming, actually…I found myself thinking “THIS is what they were all afraid of?”

But hey, from Biblical times until now, nothing is more frightening to the machinations of society than a woman’s voice. Here’s to the pretty heroine actually getting to speak her piece. Here’s to the ugly stepsister not being condemned to only sound and fury (signifying nothing, as the Bard reminds us).

***

I want to put a brief qualifier on here lest I seem to be hating on men or not acknowledging the even greater struggles of folks who fall outside of dualistic gender categories.

I think it is important for everyone to tell their stories: our stories are what makes us human, the vital connective tissue of our species. Only some of our species, however, has been systematically silenced. (And it’s not just women.) I want to keep prodding at why until some of that nasty patriarchal gas seeps off.

Bluebeard’s Secret Key

So I’ve been wrestling with the tale of Bluebeard recently.

Serial wife-murder. Clearly from Forn Parts. Just in time for Christmas.

In case you’re not up on your psychosexual fairy tales, Bluebeard goes something like this:

Once upon a time, the youngest daughter in a family gets married off to a vaguely creepy dude because he has a lot of money. He also has a blue beard, which rather than being punk aesthetic is supposed to be a red flag of “something’s off about this guy,” but both the girl and her family ignore it because of the fat stacks of cash Bluebeard brings to the marriage. Once married, Bluebeard takes the girl back to his castle and presents her with a charmingly sadistic conundrum: He’s leaving, he says, on a trip. She is welcome to go in any of the rooms in castle, except one, for which he has specifically given her a key which she is not to use. He leaves and she wanders around in the rich castle, and eventually her curiosity overwhelms her and she enters the forbidden room. Turns out the room is filled with all the corpses of Bluebeard’s murdered former wives. (The faux loyalty test begs the question of Bluebeard’s first wife, of course. How did that one come about? Random murder? Her discovering some other dark secret of his? A stash of tentacle porn?)

Bluebeard gives his wife the key: engraving by Walter Crane in 1874

Anyway, in different versions of the tale, various things happen that make it impossible for the girl to conceal the fact that she’s found the body-locker: either she drops the key and it gets stained with blood, or the key starts bleeding and won’t stop, or she’s been entrusted an egg* rather than a key, and that gets stained with blood… whichever happens, Bluebeard comes back, finds out, flies into a rage, and decides he must kill the girl. She asks to go pray before her inevitable death, and in reality runs upstairs and screams for her brothers to come rescue her. They find her before Bluebeard can kill her, and justice is served, i.e. Bluebeard winds up dead in his own body locker in some versions, and tossed out to the carrion birds in other versions.

Obviously, Disney gave this one a pass.

Bruno Bettleheim, a Freudian scholar, says that the girl entering the forbidden room is a bit like losing one’s virginity: an act that “sullies” the girl (or the symbol of her sexuality, the key/egg) and cannot be undone. The body locker is supposed to represent a terrible sexual secret of Bluebeard’s. In The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales, he says:

However one interprets “Bluebeard,” it is a cautionary tale which warns: Women, don’t give in to your sexual curiosity; men, don’t permit yourself to be carried away by your anger at being sexually betrayed. (p. 302)

I’d like to note that not only is this a destructive image for women (“Even if you are married, you may not have sexual curiosity; you will die.”) but a terrible image for men as well. Bluebeard is has not only closeted his sexuality, he has expressed sexual passion in the form of hacking up women. The message, easily passed over in favor of looking at the role of the girl, is that men’s sexuality can only be expressed in the form of violence.

Bettleheim also points out that neither Bluebeard nor the girl have undergone any kind of character development–“Earth-shaking events have taken place in the story and nobody is the better for them.” (p. 303) I think he’s got a mighty interesting point there. This isn’t really a story about people, at least, it doesn’t work like the rest of fiction in terms of having a character arc. It’s a fable. Fables supposedly serve a different psychological purpose, and there’s a lot of debate as to what that purpose is.

I’ve been reading Clarissa Pinkola Estes’ Women Who Run with the Wolves, and she has an entirely different take on the Bluebeard tale. Feminist scholar Marcia Lieberman notes that Bluebeard’s wife is the ultimate “damsel in distress” who is reactive and passive in the face of her own death and waits for her borhters to swoop in and rescue her. Estes says that this tale is less about her being helpless, and more about initiation through confrontation with the predator… “finally cutting down and rendering neutral the natural predator of the psyche.” (p. 61)

Estes sees the brothers rescuing the girl at the end not as literal, but as her animus aspect come to save the day. The animus**, Estes reminds us, is “a partly moral, partly instinctual, partly cultural element of a woman’s psyche that shows up in fairy tales and dream symbols as her husband, son, stranger, and/or lover […] invested with qualities that are traditionally bred out of women, aggression being one of the more common.” (p. 58) She says the tale is actually about the woman tapping into her animus in order to find the necessary agency to get out of a predator/prey situation. Never mind that the animus seems to be where she keeps all her agency…clearly this is not a self-actualized heroine if she doesn’t yet realize she can save herself. To be fair, many women don’t realize that. They may need to access heretofore untapped bits of their psyches to get out of being “prey”. As Estes states, “Many women’s alacrity and fighting natures are not as close to consciousness as is efficient.” (p. 57) Certainly Bluebeard is a horrible story…and it is terrible to think about all the time that it might be psychologically acted out in real life.

By "body locker" we mean "unfair divorce settlement."

So…in conclusion, I’m not sure what to think of Bluebeard. Is it a tale that stunts men’s and women’s psychic growth by having a backward, sex-negative view of sexuality? Is it a tale about naive women finding agency and escaping the victim role? My answer is a tentative yes to all. Also, I wish the girl had a name. It’s terribly hard to write an article about a nameless protagonist.

What do you think?

 

*The egg variant comes from the Grimm tale “Fitcher’s Bird”, which is very similar but with more wizards and dismemberment, and the girl has more agency in rescuing herself.

**I don’t think Jung’s animus/anima concept is jiggy with there being more than two genders, therefore I am less than jiggy with it. That being said, it’s still a useful idea. Example: The reason why the Manic Pixie Dream Girl bothers me so much is that she’s not a real woman, she’s the personified anima of the hero. If the Handsome Prince is the personified animus of the heroine in fairy tales, then perhaps that’s why he bothers me, too. He’s not a real person, either.

And Another Thing…

Apparently, it’s Things That Bother Me Week. Well, who am I to say no to the opportunity to complain on the Internet. (Complaint is the purpose of the internet, after all. That and porn.)

So. Something that bothers me: Chick Lit.

Chick Lit, to me, literature by women for women that probably has some literary merit, but at the end of day is about Getting A Man. It’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, Sex in the City, modernized versions of Jane Austen that don’t involve zombies* (e.g. Clueless), and other works of literature where sassy spunky heroines decide that their existence is sad and pointless without a man. Chick Lit is the magical lifestyle that Cosmopolitan is trying to sell to you. Chick Lit is close to a lot of feminist ideals that I treasure (sassy spunky heroines, for example), but then falls on its face and undercuts said ideals. Bridget Jones must lose weight to feel worthwhile. Charlotte isn’t allowed by her friends to stop dating just because she has a more fulfilling relationship with her sex toy than she does with men. I love Elizabeth Bennet to death, but she really couldn’t function without eventually finding Mr. Darcy.

The biggest appeal of Chick Lit, to me, is that most of the heroines are Bad Girls. Cameron Tuttle, author of Bad Girl’s Guide series, says, “Bad girls make it happen. A bad girl knows what she wants and how to get it. She makes her own rules, makes her own way, and makes no apologies. […] A bad girl is you at your best–whoever you are, whatever your style.”

This sounds remarkably like my definition of badass. I’d like to see more Badass Girls.  I’m talking girls with a wide range of interests and abilities, for whom romance may be a factor of life, but is not the be-all and end-all of existence. (Who knows, perhaps I’m just sick of stories about marriage.) Now, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for a woman who’s willing to kick butt and take names, but that’s not the only type of Bad-Ass Girl I can think of. I’m thinking of women who can hold their own, keep to their ideals, and shape their own destinies as much as possible. To name a few:

  • Scout Finch, To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
  • Emilia, Othello by Shakespeare (tragically bad-ass, but still.)
  • Molly, Neuromancer by William Gibson
  • Mary, Mind of my Mind by Octavia E. Butler
  • Morgaine, Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • Tiffany Aching, The Wee Free Men and series (In general, Terry Pratchett’s writing is filled with Bad-Ass women.)
  • Many many heroines of young adult literature. Really, most female characters in the fantasy genre tend to be quite Bad Ass…except Bella Swan, who is the most milquetoast human being possible.
  • And, I’ll admit, of the 1800s British Chick Lit characters, I find Elizabeth Bennet and Jane Eyre to be the least obnoxious. Secretly, though, I think they’ve got nothing on Becky Sharp out of Vanity Fair

Anyhow. While making that list, I found that it was way easier to come up with Bad-Ass heroines for whom marriage wasn’t an option: the very young or the very old. Also, a lot of young adult literature is filled with exciting strong women. So then what happens to our girls (and boys!) who grow up reading books filled with strong girl characters? As adults, the literature featuring women that gets any kind of publicity is Getting Married Stories with varying levels of Sex and Plot. I guess it begs the question: How much of modern femininity is still defined by the woman’s societal duty to marry and/or pop out babies? Am I just jaded because so many of my high school and college friends’ Facebook pictures are weddings and pregnancies and babies?

I’m curious. What’s your take on Chick Lit? How do you define it? Do you find it appealing? Worthy? Vile? Subconsciously antifeminist? What say you?

*I have not yet actually read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and I think I should. Perhaps I would like it better?

Blatant Balladry

So, I suppose it’s time I talked about Novel No. 2. It’s tentatively titled Changeling, because I love me some single-word titles. Currently, it consists of a few more than 50,000 words of text (thanks, NaNoWriMo), a couple of outlines, and a bunch of research into the wacky, wacky world of British folklore.

Specifically, I’ve been doing some serious reading of The English and Scottish Popular Ballads compiled by Francis James Child in the late 1800s, a.k.a. the Childs’ Ballads. It turns out that most of the things I was really nerdy about as a kid (Robin Hood stories, some aspects of Arthurian legend, Steeleye Span, and a boatload of British fairy tales) all come from these ballads.

A surprising number of these ballads have wicked strong female characters in them. They aren’t always, y’know, moral, but they are often pretty badass. Consider the heroine of The Elfin Knight…some otherworldly prettyboy rides up and says, “La di dah, you can’t have me until you make me this totally magical and impossible shirt, ’cause I’m so fabulous, prance prance.” (or that’s how I read it, anyway.) Her response? “Okay, ask the impossible of me and I only ask the same of you. Fair!” She’s having none of his tomfoolery. The Childs’ Ballads are chock full of badass ladies like this.

To further make my point, and in honor of National Poetry Month, I present to you a version of The Elfin Knight. It’s pretty heavily Scottish/difficult to read, but persist! I beg you. You’ll totally recognise it, or at least you will if you listen to Simon and Garfunkle. Helpful notes: 1. If you can’t figure out what it’s saying, try pretending to have a heavy Scottish accent and see if that helps. 2. A sark is a kind of shirt. 3. Maun=must.

There are many, many versions of this song. I have chosen this one because it’s semi-intelligible and totally channels Tiffany Aching.

2D.1	THE Elfin knight stands on yon hill,
      Refrain:	Blaw, blaw, blaw winds, blaw
	Blawing his horn loud and shrill.
      Refrain:	And the wind has blawin my plaid awa
2D.2	‘If I had yon horn in my kist,
	And the bonny laddie here that I luve best!
2D.3	‘I hae a sister eleven years auld,
	And she to the young men’s bed has made bauld.
2D.4	‘And I mysell am only nine,
	And oh! sae fain, luve, as I woud be thine.’
2D.5	‘Ye maun make me a fine Holland sark,
	Without ony stitching or needle wark.
2D.6	‘And ye maun wash it in yonder well,
	Where the dew never wat, nor the rain ever fell.
2D.7	‘And ye maun dry it upon a thorn
	That never budded sin Adam was born.’
2D.8	‘Now sin ye’ve askd some things o me,
	It’s right I ask as mony o thee.
2D.9	‘My father he askd me an acre o land,
	Between the saut sea and the strand.
2D.10	‘And ye maun plow’t wi your blawing horn,
	And ye maun saw’t wi pepper corn.
2D.11	And ye maun harrow’t wi a single tyne,
	And ye maun shear’t wi a sheep’s shank bane.
2D.12	‘And ye maun big it in the sea,
	And bring the stathle dry to me.
2D.13	‘And ye maun barn ’t in yon mouse hole,
	And ye maun thrash’t in your shee sole.
2D.14	‘And ye maun sack it in your gluve,
	And ye maun winno’t in your leuve.
2D.15	‘And ye maun dry’t without candle or coal,
	And grind it without quirn or mill.
2D.16	‘Ye’ll big a cart o stane and lime,
	Gar Robin Redbreast trail it syne.
2D.17	‘When ye’ve dune, and finishd your wark,
	Ye’ll come to me, luve, and get your sark.’

This, and so many more are available in awesomely accessible format at Sacred Texts.

And I’m spent. More fairies, balladeering, and tomfoolery later.

Badass.

Badass is a fascinating and problematic concept to me. Even the word itself makes no sense: someone who is badass is neither bad, nor an ass, nor so they have a substandard bottom. Exactly what other qualities they possess is up for significant debate.

The dictionary (American Heritage) says badass is vulgar slang for “a mean-tempered or belligerent person.” Dictionary.com expands on this definition, stating that a badass is someone “distinctively tough or powerful; so exceptional as to be intimidating.” As far as I can tell, the word seems to have spawned out of the blaxploitation films of the 60s and 70s, or in any case it is a new word, only about 50 years old.

The internet (by which I mean the stew of popular culture in which we all squat) seems to define badass as follows:

1. Violence

Anyone badass, says Culture, is going to need to kick some serious ass. The asses kicked are sometimes of the deserving, sometimes not. Badass does not come with a particular moral code: there are badass good guys and badass bad guys. Either way, badass people are not to be messed with, or they will hurt you. Like, real bad.

2. Appearance

To be able to inflict the appropriate amount of violence, a badass person must have the appropriate body type. You must be muscular, in-shape, and able to flip out and kick stuff in the face at any moment. In addition, many badasses have adopted an appearance and attitude to signify this readiness of flipping out and kicking stuff. Signifiers traditionally include sunlgasses, leather, spikes, and/or wacky costumery. The mere presence of these signifiers DO NOT, however, necesarily mean that the person in question is a badass. The form of badass without the content is called posing, and the Intarwubs looks on posers with extreme disdain.

3. Lack of emotion

Badass people show no emotion on the outside. On the inside, though, they are often a powder keg of repressed feelings: whether avenging a family member’s death or settling a personal vendetta, there is usually a rationale behind their actions. That being said, the point is that badass people do not freak out in circumstances when regular people would be gibbering and/or dead. Instead, they sometimes have a witty catchphrase to say, or even better, no reaction at all.

Andy Samberg of Saturday Night Live (with “Neil Diamond” and JJ Abrams) says it best:

You may have noticed that this definition of Badass is overwhelmingly male. In fact, most of the urbandictionary.com definitions of badass specifically revolve around men. So what about women?  If women are to be Badass, says the Intarwebs, they need to act like badass men.

Violence is the same. Badass appearance for women usually plays up their sexuality. Lack of emotion is key, but since we all know women are hysterical*, emotional creatures, we secretly know that their underlying current of Feelings could reach up and incapacitate them at any moment. I mean, emotions are the secret of badass men, too, but there’s no way that their feelings would cripple them at key points in the final battle, right?

My goodness. What a can of worms I am opening. Look at them go. For a fun time, google How to Become a Badass, or  images of Badass.

Let me be clear: I don’t see anything wrong with that definition of badass, I just think it’s a bit limiting. I’m looking for a broader definition of badass, one less focused on ripping the crap out of stuff. Some crap-ripping, well, that’s okay. But that’s not the be-all and end-all of badass.

For example, my roommates and I last year wrote a list of badass attributes that we posted on our fridge. It reads as follows:

  • Confidence
  • Walking your talk
  • Stick-shift driving
  • Mechanic skills
  • Making organic fertilizer
  • Making meaningful rap/poetry
  • Welding
  • Hot blues voice
  • Slaughering and butchering an animal
  • Being an awesome, fast cook
  • Doing everything one-legged
  • Bike commuting and/or repair
  • Juggling
  • Playing the accordian (well)
  • Working on trains
  • Giving birth

I imagine a more all-encompassing definition of badass, one in which the end result is not violence, but rather a sort of ultimate authenticity. I know a three year old girl who is so totally herself without letting anyone else control who she is or will be…she’s pretty badass. Badass, to me, is a combination of self-sufficient, fierce, purposeful, authentic, multitalented, and passionate. And as much as I love me some Reservoir Dogs, I love fierce authenticity more.

And thus it is so.

*Note for my readers who didn’t get the same flavor of liberal arts education as me: Hysteria. I think it’s a hilarious word. Hysteria comes from the Greek word for uterus. The basic theory of the Greeks, our noble and wise cultural predecessors, was that all the ladies were crazy because of their babymakers. The whole menses-babies-lack of penis thing confused the hell out of our classical anscestors, to the point where they came up with wacky theories about menstrual blood being the least pure of all the humours and fluids (sperm being the purest), thus justifying on a biological level thousands of years of misogyny. Whew. In other news, in the 1800s certain doctors discovered that since feminine hysteria obviously came from the uterus, the answer to curing it was clearly to stimulate the clitoris, thus calming the uterus and making the woman posessing said organs more sane. I suspect it was a popular treatment. That’s right, ladies. Orgasms make you less crazy.

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