Self identifying as a feminist, a nerd, and a popular culture junkie, all while being a 32-year-old man, can be a tricky tight rope to walk. Hell, identifying as a feminist male is often greeted with snorts of derision and outright hostility, from both sides of the feminist debate. I’ve been told that I only call myself a feminist to get women by other feminists(an argument that is not sated by the fact that my fiancée was, at the time we met, the president of the largest feminist organization on our college campus) and a “feminist male eunuch” by the sad, and horribly named, men’s rights activists(MRAs). When you combine my passion for equality and feminism with my love of nerd and popular culture these identifications become even more difficult.
It will come as no shock to anyone that some aspects of popular culture, and, by extension, nerd culture, is not conducive to equal rights among genders(not to mention races, ages, or capabilities). In fact, one of the oft-cited criticisms of comic books, which I can completely identify with, is that they over-sexualize the female form. Do a Google Image search for Power Girl if you want a very clear example of this. She is a strong female superhero, with roughly the same power-set as her cousin, Superman, yet the artists insist on drawing her with a costume that has a circle cut out over her breasts, thus giving a clear shot of her cleavage. This is not uncommon. In fact, if you look at a majority of comic books on the stands today, you would think it is impossible to fight crime without cleavage.
And this is not limited to comic books. Television and movies, hell, even novels, are guilty of these same sexist tropes. Women are rarely the heroes, and when they are they are portrayed in an overly sexualized manner. We never get an ugly, or even a plain looking, women as the heroes of movies or series. In a rare case where the networks attempt to buck this trend on television, we are treated to shows that become all about the uniqueness of the fact that the lead is not a supermodel, which leads to some painfully bad writing. Anybody who ever sat through an episode of Ugly Betty or Drop Dead Diva can attest to this fact.
Still, for all the faults that exist in the various media, there are some great materials out there that combine my passion for equality and my passion for nerd stuff. Don’t believe me? Well, keep reading.
- Buffy The Vampire Slayer(TV Series)
No list of feminist-friendly popular culture could be made without talking about the series that introduced an entire generation of boys and girls to the fact that vampires could be cool, and sexy. Joss Whedon, who was spectacularly unsatisfied with the filming of his script for the movie, decided that he wanted to reboot his baby into a television series. The result was nothing less than nerd nirvana. The premise, in a nutshell, was that Whedon took the stereotypical damsel in distress, a young, attractive blond woman, and made her into the one doing the saving. Through the course of the 7 seasons of the series, and continuing in canonical comic books, this show was able to stand many stereotypical gender roles on their head. Featuring a main cast that was predominantly female, with only 2 or 3 men featured among the supporting cast in most seasons, Whedon was able to create a believable and capable heroine, even if the world that she exists in was supernatural by nature. This show was one of my earliest feminist faves. Add to it the fact that Buffy was, without a doubt, the MRAs worst nightmare(a strong, intelligent woman who could kick their ass), and you can see why this series is still one of my absolute favorite rainy day time killers.
- Batwoman(Comic Book)
Nerds have a reputation for being trolls. The stereotypical nerd is homophobic, misogynistic, and racist. Obviously, generalities are never fully accurate but when looking at the canon of nerd culture, it isn’t tough to find many examples of all of those types of behavior. That is why when you come across a comic that flies in the face of all those tropes, you must embrace it. Greg Rucka’s Detective Comics run featuring Kate Kane as Batwoman was an example of just such a comic. How good is this comic? It is a book about a lesbian, Jewish superheroine who was kicked out of the military for violating the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. It is a book that, when collected in the stellar Batwoman Elegy trade, it had an introduction written by the amazing Dr. Rachel Maddow(yes, she is a Dr. Look it up). It is, also, amazing enough that, on my first anniversary with the aforementioned fiancée, this is one of the books that I gave to the biggest feminist I know, and she read it as soon as she could, sitting in our hotel bed in Omaha, Nebraska, ignoring all opportunities for us to go out and explore the city until it was finished. While Rucka has since left DC Comics, his artist on the book(and, holy shit, what great art there was in this book), JH Williams III, is scripting and illustrating a new Batwoman ongoing series that we should be seeing in September or so. I, for one, can’t wait!
- Birds of Prey(Comic Book)
I’m going to open up here and admit that I’ve never watched the (very)short-lived series based on this property that was on the CW back a few years ago. However, I have read the comic as regularly as I possibly could, whenever Gail Simone is writing it, especially. This is a book about Barbara Gordon, who was formerly Batgirl and is now the all-knowing computer hacker extraordinaire Oracle, and her team of, almost exclusively, female vigilantes. This is a book that puts Oracle, Black Canary, Huntress, Misfit, and, on occasion, the new Batgirl of the moment(Cassandra Cain for a while, Stephanie Brown at the present) together in the ultimate expression of comic book girl power. These women are not hampered by their gender. If anything, they are helped by it. Barbara Gordon was forced to stop being Batgirl when the Joker shot her through the spine and confined her to a wheelchair. However, instead of standing on the sidelines waiting for her dad or Batman to save her from the bad guys, she still fights crime. That is one badass woman. And the rest of the team have similarly inspiring stories, if not quite as dramatic. This book is the best female superhero book that is consistently put out there, and that is, in no small part, due to having the most successful female comic book writer currently working for the big two on the book. Gail Simone has killed it on here and killed it on Wonder Woman. She is a great comic book writer, who just happens to be a woman.
These are not the end-all, be-all of the feminist popular culture. In fact, I will probably be giving other recommendations in this category quite often on this blog. But these are the three that really get my feminist juices flowing at the moment, so I wanted to share them with you.