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Female writer for Doctor Who Season 9

Doctor Who has its first female writer in 6 years.

Writer Catherine Tregenna, whose credits include three episodes of Torchwood, will be writing one of the episodes of Doctor Who Season 9. Assumedly, she won’t have much say in the general arc of the season or in character development, since it’s just one episode, but after six years of no female writers whatsoever, it’s an improvement.

But it feels perverse to celebrate the fact that, after about 60 episodes written by men, there will finally be one episode written by a woman. It’s a single episode, and a single writer, among 13. And she’ll only be the fifth female writer to ever work on the show, compared to the 87 male writers over the series history. She’s boosting the percentage up to 5.4% female! And forgive my skepticism, but I feel like her appearance as a female writer will be considered enough for the Doctor Who team to give themselves a pat on the back for “including women” and not hire anyone else — just like Steven Moffat’s Who hired one female director for the show in season 5 and hasn’t had a female director since.

The thing that irks me the most is that the Doctor Who team say it isn’t their fault. Neil Gaiman says that the team has reached out to a lot of women writers, but they’ve always had scheduling conflicts, or people saying no. I find it pretty hard to believe. They manage to find six or seven male writers to write each season, but all the massive number of women they approach are busy or uninterested? There’ve really been no talented female writers available over the last six years? No sci-fi/fantasy fans who would love to write for Who and make it their priority? No up-and-coming script writers, no writing veterans? Not the several women who wrote for Being Human, or Merlin, or Robin Hood or other BBC sci-fi/fantasy? Not the other female writers who’ve written for Doctor Who before, or the women who’ve written companion novels? No-one?

And if the show really was approaching as many female writers as male writers, and every female writer was saying no, why were they saying no? Female writer after female writer wouldn’t reject the opportunity to write for one of Britain’s most iconic scripted shows unless they had a good reason to avoid it.

Honestly, this news just has me feeling rather depressed about the whole thing. Not because they’ve hired a female writer — that’s great — but because the appearance of one female writer in a six year period is so surprising that it’s worthy of note and even celebration.

The Designated Ugly Fat Friend

“If you don’t know who it is, it’s probably you.”

Yay for teen movies preying on girls’ insecurities?

The Duff is a recent popular YA novel about a girl labelled the “Designated Ugly Fat Friend” by a hot guy. She hooks up with him while she’s dealing with other problems at home, and then realizes that every girl thinks they’re the Designated Ugly Fat Friend, and that everyone in highschool is struggling against labels to figure out who they are. Yay, self-affirming happy ending. Not my favorite book, I had some issues with it, but enjoyable enough.

The new movie version, due out in mid-2015, feels like a different story. It’s a mash-up of 90s teen movies and Mean Girls, combining the tongue-in-cheek detached narrative style with the idea that the “ugly” friend can become beautiful if only she can find a hot guy to remove her glasses.

Assumedly, the movie will still end with the idea that everyone thinks they’re the “Ugly Fat Friend” (although the protagonist’s friends have been cast as so model-attractive that that feels a little hard to believe), and everyone will laugh and feel good about themselves and run off into the sunset together.

But that message from the book is completely negated by the tagline: “if you don’t know who it is, it’s probably you.” Aka, if you’ve never considered that you or one of your friends must be the “ugly fat one” used by everyone else to look better to guys, then the “ugly fat one” must be you. At best, it encourages girls to compare themselves to their friends, and either reassure themselves that their friends are fatter and uglier than them, or feel comparatively bad about themselves — yay for introducing more competition and self-loathing into teenage friend groups. It not only provides another label for girls to apply to themselves, it actively encourages girls to think about how the label fits into their friend group, and tells them that, as they’ve never thought about it before, it’s “probably them.” Basically, anyone who doesn’t view their friends as comparative competition is the ugly fat one. OK then.

This isn’t even touching on the idea that a guy can call a girl “the ugly fat friend,” and she’ll not only believe him, but offer him homework help so that he’ll fix her ugly fat-ness. And that this fixing inevitably involves some kind of makeover, and her then falling for him despite the fact the he called her ugly and made her feel terribly insecure.

And even that self-affirming feel-good twist comes from the lips of that guy in the trailer. “You need to realize that you’re only as awesome as you think you are,” he says, suggesting that protagonist never needed to change in the first place. The protagonist isn’t realizing this herself and telling him to get lost, of course. She never doubted herself in the first place until he told her she was the “ugly fat friend.” He gets to make her feel terrible and insecure, and then he takes the insecurity away with a few more of his all-important, protagonist-judging words.

Also, apparently you can’t think you’re awesome while “dressing like Wreck It Ralph.” Funny, I don’t remember the makeover scene in his movie of self-discovery.

The thing is, this looks like it might be a fun movie. But does it have to rehash the old “not good enough unless a guy gives you approval” tropes? And does it really have to project its “every group of friends has a fatter, less-attractive one” onto its audience?

Everyone should be watching Jane the Virgin

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I am so in love with this show.

I vaguely recall hearing the premise sometime over the summer, and thinking it was the worst-sounding thing I had ever heard. Jane, a student teacher working part-time at a hotel to pay her bills, is accidentally artificially inseminated by her doctor, and decides to keep the baby. Wackiness ensues.

Yeah, it definitely didn’t sound like the show for me. But after hearing other people gasp about how amazing it was, I finally gave it a try this weekend. And now I can’t wait for the next episode to air.

This show is pure fun. It’s styled like a telenovella, complete with sweeping moments of romance, evil schemers and insane plot twists. Listing the events out of context makes it seem beyond ridiculous, but the combination of the cheery adorable vibe, the amazing acting and the winsome narrator somehow sells it in the context of the show. You’ll gasp in shock and laugh in delight and generally be totally taken in.

And when things get serious, they get serious. Although the events of the show are consistently over-the-top, the emotions are spot on. Gina Rodriguez is particularly noteworthy as Jane, but all the actors absolutely nail every scene. The circumstances may be ridiculous, but the characters feel real, and you will laugh with them, and cry with them, and swoon with them too.

I’m not qualified to comment on how well done (or not well done) the show’s diversity is, but it seems good. Most of the main characters are Latina, including three generations of Jane’s family, and the show itself is bilingual, with Jane’s grandmother talking exclusively in Spanish.

Although hotel boss Rafael’s wife is the stereotypical scheming evil wife, she’s clearly presented as a caricature, and she’s the exception in a cast of varied and compelling female characters. Jane, her mother and her grandmother are all very different characters with very different experiences and values, and their family dynamic is one of the highlights of the show. The supporting cast is also full of lively, diverse female characters who are easy to love.

I’ve seen wary people comment that the show seems like a preachy, pro-life tale, but it isn’t that at all. Jane is Catholic, and her religion does play a part in the story, but in a very genuine-feeling, compelling way. It’s as pro-choice as shows come — presenting different possibilities and their challenges and exploring what is right for this character in particular. And when Jane chooses to keep the baby, the decision comes from various story reasons — morality is never even mentioned.

The great thing about the show is how positive it is. Emotions run high, thanks to the telenovella-esque situations, but the people themselves almost exclusively mean well, leading to some wonderful heartwarming moments. Jane’s father, in particular, is shallow and overdramatic with everything he does, and so seemingly insincere, but he has a good heart with it. No matter how ill-conceived his actions might be, there’s something genuine and sweet behind them. People betray one another, they hurt one another, they keep secrets and get caught in ever-tangling webs of lies, but they still feel like people we can like and root for — which is, I think, key in getting behind the telenovella concept.

Tear-jerking moments aside, Jane the Virgin is pure joy in TV form.  With compelling characters, laugh-out-loud situations, swoon-worthy romance and a general conveyer of warm fuzzy feelings, Jane the Virgin is must-watch feminist TV. Trust me. The only reason to not watch it right now would be to build up more episodes to marathon later, since once you start, you won’t want to stop. But why do that, when you can watch six episodes of this sweet, hilarious awesomeness right now?

Gogogo watch. All the episodes are currently on Hulu.

The Problem with Katrina

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Somebody save Katrina from Sleepy Hollow.

I have to admit, I’ve been on Team “Why is Katrina even here?” before. In the past, she hasn’t been given much to do except play the damsel, she’s a “powerful witch” only because people keep insisting it’s so, and her lack of chemistry with the other actors made her few scenes less than compelling.

But after the past couple of episodes, she’s been catapulted into the camp of “female characters grossly misused by their writers,” along with, to a lesser extent, Abbie herself. It made me regret everything I have ever said about her being the weak link in the show, about her needing to be written out, because dear lord, this was bleak, bleak stuff. She needs to not be in the show any more, because I don’t trust the writers to write another word about her. Because when they want Katrina drama, it seems, they turn to some of the worst misogynistic tropes in the book.

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The Girls Left Behind

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WARNING: This post contains spoilers for the season finale of Doctor Who.

In the recent Doctor Who finale, Clara Oswald said goodbye first to her love interest Danny and then to the Doctor, both heartbreaking separations that deprived Clara of almost everything we’ve seen her care about in the show. She doesn’t get to make a choice to leave or to fight or to do anything, really, except be left in mundanity alone. And although Clara will hopefully get a different ending in the series finale, it got me thinking about how common these endings are. Amy was known as the “girl who waited,” and I’ve written about that trope before, but I think a better term would be “the girl who was left behind.”

When writers want to give female characters anything other than a happy ending, they rarely choose for them to go down in a blaze of glory, saving the world or their loved ones in dramatic fashion. Female character don’t often seem to self-destruct, or even to quietly choose to leave. They’re often just left with nothing.

Doctor Who is particularly bad for this. Even back in season two, Rose left the series completely involuntarily, crying on the beach because she was trapped in a parallel world and could never see the Doctor again or return home. Sure, she had her parents, and she built herself a good life, but we left her with the sense that she’d lost everything she cared about. Donna similarly lost everything against her will, with the Doctor wiping her memories of all their adventures, without even consulting her on what she would prefer. She lost all of her character development, all of her confidence, all her knowledge that she was amazing… back at home, like she was before. Amy at least chose to go back in time to be with Rory, even though again she lost everything that wasn’t him. And now Clara is alone, without Danny, without her best friend, no other friends or relatives shown on screen, just… left.

Each moment feels like an attempt to have a tragic ending without having the companion die. But in some ways, it’s a worse ending than if they did die. Characters like Danny get to leave the show by heroically acting to take down the bad guys, sacrificing themselves in the process. They don’t simply get left. But with characters like Clara, our final glimpse is one of sadness and powerlessness. If they do get a say in their own conclusion, it’s quiet, unremarked-upon self-sacrifice — the decision to go quietly, rather than the decision to go down in a blaze of glory.

And it’s got me thinking about female characters in other stories. Although she eventually gets her temporary happy ending, Arwen spends most of Lord of the Rings wasting away because she’s been left behind. And at the end of her story, she dies of a broken heart because Aragorn died, all the other elves left, and she has nothing. Such beautiful tragedy, right? Or Elizabeth Swann, the pirate king, left on an island with nothing because Will got cursed.

It’s the trope of the hero’s girlfriend waiting for him, hoping he comes back alive, taken to the extreme. Sure, these characters can be heroes themselves for the duration of the story, but once it comes to an end, they fall back into that pattern of waiting and loss. The weak damsel seems far more evocative than the strong heroine, and so their tragic endings are about powerlessness, about a lack of choice.

And it’s incredibly tiring. The character’s emotional journey, her previous achievements, her many talents… none of these seem to matter once we reach this “bittersweet” ending. These characters are left diminished, undermining all of the adventure that came before.

On Tauriel, Love Triangles, and Girls in Fantasy

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It’s kind of late for a post on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. The movie came out almost a year ago now, but after being disappointed by There and Back Again, I never went to see it in the theater. But I finally watched it a few days ago, and I’m now full of Thoughts on Tauriel, the original character created to address the slight problem that there isn’t a single female character in the entire novel.

How could I resist writing about that? I have such strong and contradictory feelings about her character. She made me want to jump up and cheer. I want a Tauriel action figure, I want her own spinoff series, I wanted her in every scene… and I left the movie knowing that I was cheering for one of the most cut-and-paste “strong female characters” I’d ever seen.

And this contradiction, I think, comes from Tauriel being the only significant female character in the movie.

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This Is What A Feminist Looks Like

If you’ve been online at all in the past month, you’ve probably seen images from the “This is what a feminist looks like” campaign. The Fawcett Society and Elle magazine joined forces to create a rather cute and stylish t-shirt that says “this is what a feminist looks like,” and photograph many celebrities wearing it, including Emma Watson, Tom Hiddleston, and Benedict Cumberbatch. All proceeds from t-shirt sales go to the Fawcett Society.

After years of seeing celebrities say “I’m not a feminist,” or not speak about the issue at best, it’s so refreshing to see my tumblr dash filled with these images. And yet, more and more, I’m seeing really negative reactions to the campaign. Part of this criticism is based on allegations that the tees were made in a sweatshop — which I’ll come to later — but before that news report, many people were dismissing the campaign because it is too shallow. Because it sets the bar too low. Because some of the famous t-shirt wearers have done un-feminist things in the past. Because it waters down feminism in order to make it fashionable.

But making feminism fashionable is the entire point. Feminism has a bit of an image problem, especially for teenage girls, who might be more reluctant to do anything that makes them stand out or seem “uncool.” The campaign’s main goal is to change how people view feminism, and what they imagine when they think of the word “feminist.” It says it’s cool to be a feminist. It’s the thing to be. Your favorite actor, your favorite pop star, the people in the posters on your walls? They identify as feminist. They wear this t-shirt, they’re willing to make a statement. So why aren’t you?

In fact, celebrities and public figures have been challenged for not wearing the t-shirt — most notably British prime minister David Cameron. Even if people end up wearing it without really supporting the message, the image is a powerful one. Everyone is calling themselves a feminist, and if they aren’t, they are the ones with a problem.

There’s no such thing as “diluting” feminism. It needs as many people to believe in it and promote it as possible. The more celebrities involved, the better. And sure, people who already consider themselves feminist might say “my feminism doesn’t include THAT person’s views and actions,” but their individual stance doesn’t matter that much. Somewhere out in the world, there’s a young fan of that actor who’s seen the Elle t-shirt picture and questioned their previous impression of feminism. There’s someone who’s gone “wait, but isn’t feminism about hating men?”, done a little research into why their favorite celebrity is wearing the t-shirt, and changed their stance.

Heck, even if people only adopt the term because their favorite celebrity did, it’s still progress. It’s far better for a movement to be fashionable than to be painfully unfashionable. The more people who can say the words on that t-shirt with confidence, the more discussion we’ll be able to have, and the more progress we can make.

Sure, you don’t only want to have slogans on t-shirts. But the popularity of this campaign is a very good thing.

Then there was the recent controversy reported in the Daily Mail, that the t-shirts were produced in a sweatshop in Mauritius. Again, people have been using this report to say that the campaign is shallow and meaningless, and that those running it are hypocrites. First, let’s note that the Fawcett Society did their own research into the factory and found that sweatshop claims were false, a development that has barely been mentioned when compared to the initial report. But even if the shirt had been made under unethical conditions — and, considering the nature of the modern garment industry, the odds were always high — this anti-campaign outcry would have been incredibly misleading. The company behind the t-shirt were first promised that it would be made in the UK. When they questioned the “made in Mauritius” on the label, they were assured that the factory met their standards. At worst, they were duped, and the British newspaper equivalent of Fox News uncovered the “truth” in order to make the entire campaign look bad, and shift focus onto how these “feminists” don’t actually care about real issues like human rights, but only superficial, silly, “first world problems.”

Otherwise, why isn’t it major news that the clothes in almost every high-street shop are at least partly made in sweatshops too? And why isn’t the discussion about how even an ethical charity unwittingly ends up with sweatshop-produced goods, despite their best efforts to the contrary?

It’s not a flawless campaign. But it is highly effective at removing the stigma around the word “feminist” and making it a positive talking point. And that’s a really powerful thing.

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