Voice

All around me, people are declaring loud and clear that other human beings with different genders, sexualities, and religious beliefs are not, in fact, human beings. That they are less than. Different (in the worst way). Other.

There’s Orlando. And the scores of black men being killed by police for no reason. And Trump. And Christian religious extremists. And Muslim religious extremists. And all the wars and shootings and murders and violence that has come before.

Some days that hatred forms a large enough wave that it bowls me over and the only thing to do is cry. I’m not afraid or ashamed to admit that sometimes, I’m scared. I’m scared of the people who would take away my rights as a human being, who would try to control me and limit me. And I’m afraid and sad for those whose rights have already been taken away, or who never experienced them in the first place.

But I have a voice, and I will use it.

I am scared, yes, but more than that I’m tired. I’m tired of men harassing me in the street. I’m tired of senseless violence. I’m tired of making less money than men. I’m tired of having my reproductive choices taken away by rich men who will never, ever have to make those same choices. I’m tired of xenophobia and homophobia. I’m tired of us versus them.

You can call me unrealistic. Idealistic. Crazy. Naive. Foolish. Stupid. Think of me what you will. I don’t have power, or money, or much influence. I don’t have physical strength.

But I do have a voice, and by the goddess, I will use it.

 

#FridayReads: Bitch Planet

BitchPlanet_vol1-1Title: Bitch Planet Vol. 1: Extraordinary Machine
Author: Kelly Sue Deconnick (script), Valentine De Landro (covers/art), Robert Wilson IV (art on issue 3), Cris Peter (colors), and Clayton Cowles (letters)
Publisher: Image Comics
Publication Date: 2015
Format: Trade paperback
Pages: 136
ISBN: 978-1632153661
List Price: $9.99

As a card-carrying, ardent feminist, Bitch Planet is the best thing since sliced bread (and I do love me some bread). The entire comic is a giant fuck you to the patriarchy. In fact, every time someone reads Bitch Planet, a misogynist gets permanent erectile dysfunction.

Are you non-compliant? Do you fit in your box? Are you too fat, too thin, too loud, too shy, too religious, too secular, too prudish, too sexual, too queer, too black, too brown, too whatever-it-is-they’ll-judge-you-for-today?

You just may belong on… BITCH PLANET.

That’s the back copy, and it’s a great summary of what’s inside. Women of all colors, shapes, and sizes who stand up for themselves and fight the system, even though it’s grinding them into the ground.

Or, in this case, sending them to an entirely different planet, where they are imprisoned for their non-compliance. Things like “seduction and disappointment” and “patrilineal dishonor” and “unpermitted birth” and being a “bad mother.”

You’ll notice, though, that these are all things women have gotten into trouble for in reality, whether they’ve been jailed, assaulted, or outright murdered for their “crimes,” which amount to having a uterus and not feeling bad about it.

There’s so much social commentary in this comic, I’m not even sure where to start, so, let’s start with the future dystopian world we’re dealing with here.

In Bitch Planet, the political system has institutionalized patriarchy to the extent that those in power are called “Fathers,” and they exert total control over the world (sounds familiar, doesn’t it?). Any friend or family member can report a woman for non-compliance, and there aren’t any trials.

Citizens are required to watch the Feed, which is essentially the Fathers’ propaganda channel. Instead of looking at ratings or the number of people watching, they measure “engagement,” which is how many people are actually interested in what they’re watching.

And that’s where the story picks up. Engagement is down, and the Fathers want to bring it back up. One man has a possible solution—getting a female team of prisoners from Bitch Planet to play in the Megaton, a brutal sport that’s similar to football.

The catch, of course, is that no one expects the women to win. Indeed, the way the Fathers hope to get engagement up is from the actual deaths of the athletes.

And our main character, Kamau Kogo, knows it. Kamau is a kick-ass black lady with a giant Afro who knows her way around martial arts and doesn’t know the meaning of compliance. She befriends other women on Bitch Planet who feel the same way she does, and together they decide to take on the challenge not because they want to win, but because it will give them a chance to take down some of the Fathers directly.

Volume one ends before the actual sporting event begins, but there’s still plenty of intrigue and action. And that brings us back to the social commentary.

Bitch Planet is essentially an allegory for what women deal with today. We are judged on everything, especially our physical appearances, and always found lacking. If we are bold and assertive at work we get called bitches. If we aren’t assertive we get called hyper-sensitive and overly emotional. If we don’t look like porn stars with perfectly shaved snatches and giant perky tits, we get teased for being fat, flat-chested, and worse.

In Deconnick and De Landro’s world, these “failings” are actual crimes, and women go to jail for them. It’s no different than reality, really. No, we aren’t all in a physical prison, but there’s that pesky glass ceiling and all of those societal expectations keeping us in line (well, some of us).

But this book isn’t just RAWR WOMEN. The characters are fully-developed, three-dimensional people, and their relationships with each other are complex. It’s not just women vs. men, either. One of the primary antagonists is a woman, and while we don’t learn too much about her in this first volume, there’s definitely a story there, and I can’t wait to read it.

The men running Bitch Planet get a running commentary throughout, in the form of little panels off to the side. Their asides mirror the way men (and other women) feel the need to comment on women’s appearances, either positively or negatively. These men aren’t evil—they definitely show some compunctions over their jobs, but they are doing what they feel is “right.”

The back matter at the end of each issue is also full of commentary, and this time the target is the comics industry itself. The back matter features “ads” for junk products similar to the muscle-building programs and spy kits you see in comics from the 1960s and 70s.

Surprise insight! Scientific obfuscation really works. Imagine—you put on the “X Ray” Specs and hold his hand in front of you. You SEEM to be able to look right through him and see the truth! That guy in the black Taurus who followed you home? Is that really insecurity you “see” beneath his clothes? Or is it a gun? Is he probably going to murder you?

LOADS OF LAUGHS AND FUN AT PARTIES.

The fake ad is so depressingly true, it blows by funny and lands squarely in the land of irony. All to often, women are followed, and parties are one of the prime places women are sexually assaulted (and then blamed for it).

And, of course, there’s the whole “comic books are for boys” thing that is, unfortunately, still an issue today.

Thankfully, Deconnick and De Landro are here to say, “Fuck that shit.”

So, if you have lady parts, or you like people who have lady parts, read Bitch Planet.

Down with the patriarchy!

Adding diversity to my fiction

I was halfway through writing my MFA thesis—a collection of feminist retellings of Warren Zevon songs—when I read Full Frontal Feminism by Jessica Valenti (one of my favorite feminist authors) and realized I’d made a glaring omission in my project.

All my main characters were women, yes, but they were all white women.

As soon as I had this revelation I wanted to diversify my characters. But I kept asking myself, “As a white woman, do I have the right to write about people of color?

I understand some of the ways women of color experience the world differently from reading widely and having friends, but ultimately, I’m still white. People have treated me in shitty ways and said shitty things to me because I’m a woman and because of my age, but never because of my skin color. I can imagine what that feels like, but I’ve never felt it myself.

It can be hard to write characters that are vastly different from you. It’s hard not to fall in the trap of cliches and stereotypes, and instead build three-dimensional people.

But here’s the thing. As a woman and as a feminist, I can’t not write female characters of color just because it’s hard.

I’m probably going to screw up. I’m probably going to fall into traps I’m trying really hard to avoid.

But I think it’s important to forge ahead anyway. I’m striving to create characters and not caricatures. To create characters whose experiences are informed by their race and gender, but who are, ultimately, individuals with individual desires and needs.

And if I do my job as a fiction writer well, you won’t even notice the struggle and sweat I’ve invested in my work.