Three women in a comic stare at the viewer in front of big statues

The stars of Grace Randolph’s superhero comic Supurbia, on its first issue cover. 

Originally posted at BitchMedia.

I came to Comic-Con International this weekend with an eye on gender—how would female fans and comics creators be represented in the convention that draws 150,000 proud nerds to San Diego?

Day one alone of the epic convention included three gender-specific panels: The Witty Women of SteampunkGender in Comics, and The Most Dangerous Women at Comic-Con: Dual Identities, which all included a mix of academics, comics creators, and fan community organizers.

My takeaway from three panels was big and simple: the female experience is the human experience, people just aren’t trained to think that way. Jeanine Schaefer, editor of the new all-female X-Men series, said on the Gender in Comics panel that when the idea first came up to do an all-female X-Men series, “There was a lot of, ‘What if they all get their periods at the same time? I wouldn’t want to be a dude when that happens!'” Marvel went forward with the comic, but, “Online, people kept asking, ‘Why can’t you just identify with dudes?’ And I just wanted to be like, ‘Guys! I’ve been doing that my whole life because there is no one else to identify with!'”

Dire predictions aside, X-Men #1 sold more than any other comic in the month in which it was released.

Despite the overall optimism that readers can connect with female characters, queer characters, and characters of color, panel moderator Christina Blanch noted that in the popular imagination, comics is still a man’s world. A Ball State University professor who also teaches a popular online gender-through-comics class, Blanch related the results of a class experiment in which she had students read comics in public and gauge the reaction. Every single one of the women was questioned by passersby about why she was reading a comic. On the other hand, only one male student was questioned, and he was reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The panelists agreed that the development that has most changed the landscape for women in comics is the ability to buy them online—without going to the kinds of stores that Blanch referred to as “rapey.” At the same time, creators urged the audience to pre-order comics they like from their neighborhood stores because that’s the only way the stores will ever carry them. Comics writer Grace Randolph says she often hears from fans that Supurbia, her multi-racial comic populated with both male and female heroes, is not available in stores. Dafna Pleban, an editor at Boom!, which publishes Supurbia, bemoaned the effect that a lack of diversity has had on her favorite genre:

“Women love superheroes. We love characters who are empowered both physically and as people who make decisions in their lives. This perception that women read different genres is why the superhero genre is where it is now—because it has limited voices. In the end, being inclusive and being seen by other people as human, that’s just good writing. If you want to tell the story you have to do it.”

Though the Witty Women of Steampunk panel contained very few actual references to the gender of the panelists or of their characters, Anina Bennett, author of Boilerplate, summed up why steampunk—a subgenre of speculative fiction set in a psuedo-historical, steam-powered era—provides such fertile ground for female artists who want to reclaim an historical image of womanhood:

People make a categorical distinction in their minds between fiction and history, and they think that history is pure fact, utterly objective, no information left out. But history is written by winners, we all know that. So part of what we’re trying to do is tweak those lines a little bit and get them to think about when they’re reading other things that are supposedly non-fiction, there’s always a point of view.

I tracked down panelist Kaja Foglio, author of steampunk comic Girl Genius, on the convention floor to find out what it is about steampunk that makes it a good fit for women writers and female characters.

“I think we see the age of steam as this time of adventure and travel and that’s something that people enjoy. I mean everybody does. And there really were women doing exciting things back then. They just didn’t get as much press,” said Foglio. “So now you have female creators saying, ‘Cool, we can tell her story.’ But it’s not just because I’m a woman—I think it’s more of human thing really, to like exotic locations and interesting machines.”

sarandonOriginally posted at Ms.

This month has been a mixed one for the F word in Hollywood. Just as Ellen Page and Toni Collette showed us what feminists look like, Susan Sarandon baffled many of her women fans by refusing to claim the term.

In an interview with The Guardian, Page put it succinctly:

How could it be any more obvious that we still live in a patriarchal world when feminism is a bad word?

Page even went so far as to admit a problem with Juno, the movie in which she plays a pregnant teenager who decides not to have an abortion after a protestor tells her that the fetus has fingernails. The actor didn’t stop there: She laments the lack of films about women, says she’s writing her own feminist movie, and openly disses Hollywood for its sexism:

It’s constant! It’s how you’re treated, it’s how you’re looked at, how you’re expected to look in a photoshoot, it’s how you’re expected to shut up and not have an opinion … If you’re a girl and you don’t fit the very specific vision of what a girl should be, which is always from a man’s perspective, then you’re a little bit at a loss.

Toni Collette, whose new show Hostages premiers on CBS this fall, went off in an interview with Refinery 29 about the ways Hollywood enforces a narrow code of appropriate appearance and behavior:

Some of the characters I’ve played have not felt comfortable in themselves, and so there’s a physical counterpart to that. That’s what happens in life, you know? We do things to protect ourselves, to deny ourselves, or to present something we’re not, or to hide something we are. … Now, the media has other agendas: It’s not about reflecting humanity, it’s about dictatorship and being dogmatic in telling people how to dress, how to look, what to say, what to do with your life, how to spend your time, everything.

Collette’s embrace of the term feminist is new, but she no longer hesitates to call her philosophy what it is:

For years people would say to me, ‘You are [a feminist]! You are! You really are!’ And I’d say, ‘No, I’m not. I’m a humanist. I think it’s sexist to say I’m a feminist.’ Now, I see a great imbalance not only in my industry, but also in the world at large. I want to change it. … It needs to be varied and real.

Unfortunately, Susan Sarandon is still playing the humanist card. Despite being a frequent speaker on reproductive rights, Sarandon told The Guardian that she thinks “feminist” is “a bit of an old-fashioned word. It’s used more in a way to minimize you.” But unlike when Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, and Marissa Mayer declared their lack of allegiance to the sisterhood, Sarandon has suffered little backlash for her statement, a fact that Lizzie Crocker at The Daily Beast attributes to her longstanding and outspoken support for feminist causes.

No doubt for some, Sarandon’s activist cred warrants giving her a pass. But the response may also have been muted because, unlike Perry, Swift and Taylor, who stated categorically that they do not believe in feminism, Sarandon did not reject feminist beliefs, she simply said that she does not call herself a feminist. In fact in the same interview she intimated that she does “want everyone to have equal pay, equal rights, education and healthcare,” all of which are feminist ideals.

Whereas Swift rejected feminism because she thinks it’s a “guys versus girls thing,” Sarandon seems to understand both the philosophy of and need for feminism. She frames her rejection of the label as strategic: Feminist is a word that is used to dismiss women. She’s right, of course. The more progress feminists make in achieving parity, the harder opponents have to work to discredit them, and redefining feminist to mean man-hater has proven to be a very successful strategy.

What feminists disagree with Sarandon on is whether this foreswearing of the name constitutes a good strategy or not. Sarandon may very well be tired of having to justify her beliefs to haters—no doubt she’s had to do so many times. The constant demand that we defend ourselves is a big part of what has made some feminists so quick to take offense at anyone who rejects the term. But are we really at the point where we need to cede authority over the meaning of the word entirely?

Yes, feminism has taken on some negative connotations. But those connotations are not accurate; they’re the product of years of backlash. I don’t know a single feminist who sees what they do as “guys versus girls.” None of them have, as Melissa Mayer claimed, a chip on their shoulder. Most of them don’t even share the exact definition of feminism. What they do share is a conviction that action is needed in order to make our world a more peaceful and equitable place. Sarandon’s activism indicates that she shares this conviction, though she will only call herself a humanist.

Collette, on the other hand, recognizes an important distinction: Humanism is not really an alternative to feminism. Humanism is a cultural and educational philosophy that defines mankind as capable of betterment through study and reason. In this case, a rose by any other name does not smell as sweet: Though there are various definitions of feminism, there really is no synonym, no other word that accurately describes our beliefs.

Perhaps Sarandon sees activism as something more appropriate to rallies and fundraisers than to Hollywood. That Page and Collette — women who have far more to risk from being openly political than the long-established Sarandon — are not afraid to call themselves feminist is heartening. That they are actively engaged in using their positions to change the equation in Hollywood is more than heartening. It’s inspiring.

Photo of Susan Sarandon at 2012 Toronto Film Festival by Flickr user Josh Jensen under license from Creative Commons 2.0

texas_flag_with_bluebonnettsIn honor of the great state of Texas moving one step closer to ending access to abortion by passing a law that will close all but 5 women’s health clinics in the state and unconstitutionally prohibit abortions after 20 weeks, I thought I’d bring back a list of questions (originally posted at Ms.) that so-called pro-life people seem to have trouble answering. It’s almost as if they haven’t carefully examined their own philosophy.

1. How many years do you consider to be a fair prison term for a woman who has an abortion?

2. How many years for a doctor who performs one?

3. How will you know for sure whether a woman has had an abortion or a miscarriage?

4. Where will the state get the money necessary to prosecute one-third of all women for this crime?

5. Forty-two percent of women who have an abortion have incomes below 100 percent of the federal poverty level (that’s $10,830 for a single woman with no children, if you’re counting). When women are forced to have children they cannot afford to raise, will those children become wards of the state or simply new Medicaid recipients? Where will the state find the money necessary to support them?

6. Will you be willing to watch your wife die in front of you when her life is threatened by an unsafe pregnancy that no one is allowed to do anything about? Your daughter? Or are you aware that abortions will always be available for those who can pay for them and therefore know that the law doesn’t actually apply to you?

7. Will rapists have to pay child support to women who are forced to have their children?

8. Will the child of incest be in the custody of its rapist father or the father’s teenaged daughter, his mother?

9. 18 percent of women in America who have an abortion are teenagers. Will they be forced to drop out of high school to raise their children or will the state provide free childcare? While they are pregnant, will you force them to go school or allow a lying in period during which the state pays for a tutor?

10. Will upper-class white women be prosecuted as vigorously as other women who have abortions? You are aware that upper-class white women have abortions, aren’t you? 1 in 3 of all women do. All women, including the anti-choice ones. AKA your friends.

I’ve got a few more questions for the Texas Lege in particular:

1. How much of the taxpayers’ money do you estimate you’ll be spending defending a law in court that you know to be unconstitutional?

2. What are you going to do about the more than 12,000 kids already in foster care in Texas? Are you seriously not aware of the hypocrisy of rejecting an amendment to HB2 that would have added funding for the Adoption Assistance Program, which provides financial assistance to families that adopt children in the foster care system?

3. What are you going to do about the 26%–that’s one in four–children living in poverty in Texas?

4. What are you going to do about the fact that Texas ranks 44th in child welfare?

5. Have you ever seen a tampon? They are very lightweight and do not make good projectiles.

What questions do you have? Add them below!

trassaultIn the midst of a dark summer for geek girls (sorry USA Today, one lady per movie does not constitute a good summer for women), a ray of light has finally broken through. MGM has announced it plans to reboot The Tomb Raider film franchise, and they’ve hired a female screenwriter: none other than Marti Noxon of Buffy the Vampire fame.

The Tomb Raider game–one of the few with a female protagonist–was rebooted earlier this year, and its new incarnation garnered it’s share of criticism as well as praise. Before it came out, executive producer Ron Rosenberg announced that Croft would be a victim of rape and encouraged players to protect her. Amidst backlash, the development company, Crystal Dynamics, walked back the statement. But when the game was released earlier this year, the controversy flared again. The violence that Lara Croft suffers at the beginning of the game is intense and distinctly sexual.

Violence against women has been a part of video games since Grand Theft Auto allowed players to pay prostitutes for sex and then murder them and take their money back. in 2009, a Japanese video game called RapeLay went so far as to make sexual assault the point of the game, including the rape of a 10-year-old girl who stammers, “I want to die” while tears roll down her cheeks. In fact the trope has become so common and gamers so comfortable with it, that a Microsoft employee at last week’s now notorious E3 convention made a rape joke while demonstrating a game with a female colleague.

Crystal Dynamics has said that the new Tomb Raider film will follow in the footsteps of the rebooted video game, which aims “to take you on a journey of breaking [Lara] down and then building her back up again.” How Noxon plans to deal with the sexual assault remains to be seen. Though she did not write the episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in which the vampire Spike attempts to rape Buffy (“Seeing Red”), Noxon was an executive producer at that point and was held responsible for the choice by fans. Because the incident motivates Spike to get his soul back so that he can be good, it ultimately improved reception of his character. Some feminists also find it troubling that Buffy later resumed a friendship with Spike.

With Tomb Raider, the attempted rapist is not a major character, so the sympathy-for-Spike problem can probably be avoided. The story of a strong woman not just surviving a sexual assault and but also going on to become a major action hero is not necessarily a bad story to tell. (It bears mentioning that the the writer of the rebooted game is also a woman–Rhianna Pratchett.) Should Noxon choose to include the attempted rape in the movie, it could become a powerful origin story.

Casting and design will also be key to keeping the new Croft from being purely a sex object. Angelina Jolie had some game (pun intended) in the original two films, but her bra, though padded, provided so little actual support that most of her action sequences became all about the boobage. A genuinely athletic actor, a costume that she can reasonably fight in, and a script that makes her a complex character could make this Lara Croft the best female action hero on screen in a long, long time.

Who do you think should play the new Lara Croft?

The reason the sky is bigger here is because there aren’t any trees. The reason folks here eat grits is because they ain’t got no taste. Cowboys mostly stink and it’s hot, oh God, is it hot…. Texas is a mosaic of cultures, which overlap in several parts of the state, with the darker layers on the bottom. The cultures are black, Chicano, Southern, freak, suburban and shitkicker. (Shitkicker is dominant.) They are all rotten for women. — Molly Ivins

I have a ghost in my computer. This poltergeist spontaneously shuts my laptop down whenever there’s anything important happening. On Tuesday I finally broke down and took it into the shop for an exorcism, so as Wendy Davis filibustered SB5 in the Texas Senate, I could only follow what was happening via the Twitter app on my phone.

Refresh refresh refresh refresh.

There was something right about the way I experienced this event, huddled on the couch with my dog and cat–neither of whom could tell if the sounds I was making were of pleasure or pain–hunched over the tiny screen of my iPhone 3.

You see, I grew up in Texas. I went to a public school in Dallas where football was everybody’s favorite pastime except mine. I was in the marching band, and yes, the uniforms were exactly as ugly as you imagine, polyester and hot as hell–and we got made fun of for them exactly as much as you think. I performed in school plays and I was at the top of my class. I did not have big boobs. I did not wear makeup. For a while I didn’t even shave my legs. I did not speak with an accent. I did not fit in.

I don’t think I even heard the word feminism until college. I most certainly was a feminist–baby, I was born that way–but I didn’t know that there was a word to describe my sense that something just wasn’t right for women in Texas. I knew that if I would just get a better bra, wear makeup, and pretend not to be smart, I would fit right in, on the outside at least. But I also knew that I shouldn’t have to use padding and pushups, shouldn’t need cake makeup for my 16-year-old skin to look “pretty,” and I most definitely should not have to pretend that I was not smart.

My family lives in Texas and even though I only go back to visit, Texas still lives in me. Texas is like that–the incredibly loud and enthusiastic house guest whom you love but who just won’t leave. So I follow the news out of Texas as if it were still my Lone Star State.

So as Senator Davis held her filibuster, I held my breath. I shouted out loud. I tried to convince my dog that my tears were of joy. And it made sense to me that my efforts to follow what was happening were limited by a phone that is practically an antique. It has never been easy to be feminist in Texas.

To hear the voices of the women in Austin raised together in protest–well, as we like to say, it warmed the cockles of my heart. I had always known that there had to be other Texas feminists somewhere, but unless you are a hardcore activist, even being aware of oppression in Texas can be very lonely. In the communities in which I grew up, abortion was generally not discussed: Not at the dinner table, not at parties, not at the football game, and definitely not at school. (Conservative Christians, on the other hand, discuss it constantly but inaccurately.)

I wanted to be there, in Texas, in Austin, in the capitol, in the rotunda I remember so well from visits with my youth group. I wanted to call everyone I know in Texas and tell them to go. I wanted to sprout wings and fly away home.

Too many women in Texas are taught to keep silent unless they’re laughing at a man’s joke. They are taught that their opinion doesn’t matter, that nobody is listening, that nobody agrees with them, that little ol’ they can’t possibly do anything to effect politics in a blood red state. But that changed on Tuesday. Texas women had something to say and they made themselves heard.

From this day forth, let no Texan woman be silenced. Let no Texan woman believe that her voice doesn’t matter. Let no Texan woman think that she has to pretend to be stupid just to fit in.  We know what we need to keep us healthy and free. And we’re gonna git it.

It used to be hard to be feminist in Texas. Not anymore. Be loud, ya’ll. Be fierce. We got your back.

Originally posted at HowlRound

Just as HowlRound was finishing up its tweet chat on “Making a Career, Making a Living in the Arts,” the news broke that a judge for the Southern district of New York ruled that Fox Searchlight had violated the law by not paying its interns.

The U.S. Department of Labor has guidelines on what constitutes an internship and what is minimum-wage work, but those guidelines are subject to some interpretation, and many corporations have proved all too eager to interpret them liberally. Today’s ruling takes a big step towards clarifying these criteria by determining that what interns on Searchlight’s production of Black Swan gained from the opportunity was “incidental to working in the office like any other employees and [was] not the result of internships intentionally structured to benefit them.”

In other words, businesses can no longer claim that simply being on the set or in the rehearsal room is a benefit worthy of an internship.

Non-profits have always had some leeway in these matters because they are allowed volunteers. But there is a legal distinction between interns and volunteers, too. The Department of Labor defines volunteers as people who do not have any expectation of benefits and who are not being trained for a job. In other words, even non-profits won’t be able to simply start calling interns volunteers. Therefore over the next few years, organizations will need to look closely at their internship programs to ensure that they are really “providing training at no benefit to themselves.”

The law on this is still evolving, but as it does, we have a great opportunity to ask questions of ourselves, our economy, and our art. Though companies offering internships cannot do so in expectation of benefiting from them, the industry as a whole can and should determine what our community gains from internships as well as how to best structure them to facilitate those gains without asking workers to provide free labor.

@HowlRound Working for no pay or underpaid has created a false economy in the whole nonprofit sector (not just theatre) #newplay

— Linda Essig (@LindaInPhoenix) June 13, 2013

I was privileged enough to have the support of my parents when I was in college and was able to do two summer internships. For me, as for many people, they provided me with connections as well as valuable hands-on experience. They also involved a lot of tasks that the Labor Department would not have considered legal in the context of an internship.

I’m glad I did these internships, but it troubles me that the only way to begin a career in the theater is to have financial support from somewhere else. If you weren’t born into the middle or upper class, the primary avenue to a career in our field is not an option for you.

Let’s think about this for a second. We talk a lot about diversity in our business–about a desire to serve a variety of audiences and reflect the full spectrum of American life on our stages. Can you imagine how much our art and our audiences would change if people not born into privileged circumstances could take advantage of internships?

We are all on tight budgets–institutions, families, and artists. Clarifying the distinction between what constitutes work, internships, and volunteering will help companies clarify their mission and structure–both keys to balancing their budgets. Finding a way to pay interns for the portion of the work they do that is not training would give whole new groups of Americans a shot at a career in the theater, which in turn would exponentially expand the possibilities of the stories we tell and the people who want to hear them.

If that’s not part of your mission, well I guess I think it should be.

Originally posted at Ms.

It’s summer, which means elite theater professionals all over America are headed to the country for summer stock. If you can’t make it up into the mountains this summer (or if you can’t afford the expensive tickets to these high-society productions), fear not: Our cities are full of all variety of underground artists hawking their wares at Fringe Festivals.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which began in 1947 when uninvited artists showed up and performed on the fringe of the Edinburgh International Festival, is the crème de la crème of fringes, but today almost every major city in this country holds their own Fringe: New York, Cincinnati, New Orleans and Los Angeles are just a few. Even the Berkshires—the nucleus of America’s summer stock culture—hosts a Fringe Festival.

Discounted rental rates and collective marketing opportunities attract so many artists to Fringes that sorting through the list of hundreds of shows can be rather overwhelming. I can at least help you out with the affordable, eclectic, feminist-friendly offerings at this year’s Hollywood Fringe Festival—here are my top picks:

Gracie and Rose, written and performed by Anastasia Coon, June 16-29

GnR3Set in Wyoming in the late 1950s, Gracie and Rose tells the story of two lesbians: Gracie, who passes as a man in order to do the work she loves (cattle rustling and farm work), and her wife, Rose. Gracie, or George in public, does not want to be a man; in fact, at home she lives as Gracie, and as a character one of her driving concerns is reclaiming the girl she was before society and her parents made clear that her desires were “wrong.” But when Rose has a child, Gracie becomes George—and Eula May’s father—full time.

Playwright and performer Coon, who performs all of the roles, told Ms. that she has always been fascinated that strangers, primed to see any couple as male/female, tend to refer to her butch girlfriends as “sir.” The play—a movement piece in which Coon uses her body and voice to travel through time and place as well as between characters—also grew out of her admiration for women throughout history who have had to pass as men in order to follow their hearts. Asked why she stopped short of writing a play about a woman who actually wants to be a man, Coon offered:

The dominant paradigm has the opportunity to tell lots of different stories, but since there’s so few queer stories, there’s a lot of pressure to make each one represent every queer person, and I understand that. That’s just not my experience. This piece unpacks pre-Stonewall queer history in the American West, the deep human longing to live authentically despite being rendered invisible, gender performance in a butch/femme tradition, the body as landscape for desire, and the violence and redemption of breaking and making family.

Take Me to the Poorhouse, written and performed by Liz Femi, June 8-28

IMG_3661Liz Femi’s Take Me to the Poorhouse draws on her childhood in Nigeria to tell the funny and touching story of a young, middle-class girl named Lizzie who yearns to be poor just like her friends—for the poor, she says, have:

rugged spirits. The best Your Mama jokes. They sit in circles and telling tales by moonlight. Triumphant stories about rising from the streets to the throne. Heart aching blues. … It’s a Cinderella world … If you’re lucky enough to be persecuted by a stepmother.

The play grew out of a graduate school assignment to make an autobiographical 10-minute solo piece. Femi chose to use a dream she had as a girl about a boy in her class at school. She developed the story and characters further in writing workshops and eventually realized she was writing a comedy about an adventurous, ambitious, outspoken little girl who, it turns out, is a little more attached to her middle-class life than she knows.

Femi says her play is part of a larger effort to depict African children as having a sense of humor, having crushes on one another, and enjoying television instead of exclusively as starving child soldiers:

The thing is kids do the same freaking stuff everywhere! They tell the same kind of lies, and they have the same insecurities, they imagine things and have crushes on one another. That other reality is true and deserves attention, but I just want people to have a curiosity about this reality, too.

Poorhouse will donate 10 percent of its ticket sales to Mama Hope, a nonprofit that aims to “stop the pity and unlock the potential” in African communities.

Define: Dif-fer-ent, written and performed by Keaton Talmadge, June 8-27

Buster Keaton‘s great-granddaughter delivers her share of comedy in her one-woman show, Define: Dif-fer-ent, about her experience falling in love with a woman for the first time. Talmadge both narrates and reenacts her journey, from the terror of realizing she may never have really known herself to an embrace of all of the possibilities now before her.

DDcropimageTalmadge definitely inherited her great-grandfather’s penchant for physical comedy as well as her father’s love of musical theater. She sings, dances and trips over herself with abandon in this show. Even in real life, she says her favorite party trick has always been falling down the stairs. Asked how her DNA and extensive physical training come to bear on this show, she says:

It’s easy to be yourself, you know what that body is, and you [the actor] know how to embody another character for a whole play, but in a one-woman show you get to do that with both characters. You’ve got to figure out how you go from one character to the next, and as long as you keep the crispness, it’s very easy for the audience to see all of the people. The thing that has always made sense to me is that you have to build the character from the feet up.

Part poetry, part pop culture, this ode to falling in love finds a way to celebrate heartbreak as much as romance. Though the very personal story stays mostly away from politics, a gentle reminder at the end that marriage should be a question of love and not of laws will help the audience take the compassion they have developed for their protagonist out of the theater and into the world.

For a list of more shows by women at the Hollywood Fringe, check out the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative Fringe page.

Originally posted at RH Reality Check.

Planned Parenthood has officially been exposed for what it is: a popular, necessary source of health care for millions of people.There are some benefits to spending the weekend home alone. For example, you get to be the first person to see all the Facebook pictures of your friends out having fun. Sometimes you also get to watch a pretty amazing thing happen on Twitter.

An anti-choice Facebook community called Project Wildfire had planned a “tweetup” last weekend using the hashtag #exposePP, during which they said they would “POST PRO-LIFE COMMENTS & TWEETS TO PLANNED PARENTHOOD & IT’S SUPPORTERS. We will also fb post & tweet THE NATIONAL MEDIA” [sic]. (The Facebook event page has since been deleted.)

Friday night, pro-choice activist Michelle Kinsey Bruns (@ClinicEscort) learned about the tweetup via the @AbortTheocracy account. Bruns checked out the hashtag and found that, despite a few tweets from the anti-choice group the Susan B. Anthony List, it hadn’t been used much in several years. Twitter user @CSRA_prsn suggested they highjack the hashtag and provide “raw facts about Planned Parenthood.”

And highjack it they did.

Planned Parenthood has officially been exposed for what it is: a popular, necessary source of health care for millions of people. Tweets range from the literal:

#ExposePP handle

…to the snarky:

#exposePP? Petter Pettigrew was already exposed. Time to re-read Prisoner of Azkaban.  — The Dark Lord (@Lord_Voldemort7)

… to the ironic:

Planned Parenthood in cahoots with the movement to Trust Black Women. #exposePP  — Shira Tarrant (@shiratarrant)

Pro-choice tweets quickly outnumbered anti-choice ones. Project Wildfire called off the tweetup Saturday night, citing “sick disgusting Pro-Abortion haters,” but Planned Parenthood supporters did not relent. By Sunday, stars were lending their handles to the cause. Comedian Michael Ian Black tweeted:

Planned Parenthood never issues spoiler alerts when talking about “Game of Thrones!” #exposepp  — Michael Ian Black (@michaelianblack)

While comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted:

Planned Parenthood gave me (an) AIDS (test)#ExposePP  — Sarah Silverman (@SarahKSilverman) June 1, 2013

Planned Parenthood Director of Digital Strategy Heather Holdridge said that so far at least 53,730 tweets have been posted in support of the organization. Of the top 25 tweets using the hashtag (measured in terms of impressions), 23 are in support Planned Parenthood.

“What was so fascinating to watch unfold—and we’ve seen this countless times over the past few years of unrelenting attacks on women’s health—was our supporters using their own voice, whether it was sarcastic or serious, to share what it means to them to ‘expose PP,’” Holdridge told RH Reality Check. “We felt like the most important thing we could do was to provide opportunities for supporters to share positive information about Planned Parenthood’s services, like birth control and cancer screenings, elevate the most compelling stories that were being posted, and most importantly thank our community for supporting Planned Parenthood and the 3 million people who come to our health centers every year.”

In terms of evaluating the effect an effort like this actually has, we have to assume that once Wildfire called off the tweetup, very few antis were following the hashtag. I witnessed some back-and-forth about Margaret Sanger—”She promoted eugenics!” “No she didn’t!”—and about the difference between “life” and the ability to survive outside the womb. But I saw no evidence that the parties engaged in these discussions were swaying one another.

The outpouring of pro-choice support may give some antis pause, but undoubtedly many will double down, invigorated by their martyrdom.

If anything, the success of the event should be measured in terms of Planned Parenthood’s public image, and the extent to which the relentless campaign against the group can be turned on its head.

Bruns thinks it can be. “It becomes a lot harder for anti-choicers to stigmatize Planned Parenthood, or downplay its incredibly vital role in providing health care to millions of people, when there are literally tens of thousands of tweets out there saying otherwise,” she said.

Me, I’m up for anything that allows me to support my causes with irony.

Planned Parenthood wrote Juno just to throw you off their scent. #exposepp  — Holly L. Derr (@hld6oddblend) June 2, 2013

Originally posted at HowlRound

Slide1It was a sunny day in May and LA Stage Alliance was hosting LA Stage Day, a gathering of Los Angeles theater folk centered around inspirational presentations, workshops, and breakout sessions. So I ventured down the 5 to University Hills, just off the 10, where participants in small group discussions like “Leading Diversity on the LA Stage,” “New Media in the Rehearsal Room,” and “Blue Sky: What Are Your Dream Ideas?” were sharing best practices, brainstorming new ideas, and challenging their own assumptions about how theater works.

As part of a day geared around questions like how to engage new, increasingly diverse, tech savvy audiences, the playwriting workshop stood out for advocating the safest route to getting produced. Led by four men and one woman, “Play!: The 60-minute Everything-You-Need-to-Know-About-Playwriting-in-LA Marathon” offered such revelatory tidbits as “cast a name actor or no one will come see your play,” “every story has to have a protagonist and a resolution,” and “plays only get produced when they have small casts and one set.” Now these things are all well and good if that’s the kind of play you want to write, but what if the best actors you can get have impeccable training but aren’t names? What if the world as you see it or as you want to show it has multiple protagonists and locations, lots of people, and conflicts that don’t necessarily get resolved? What if you want to make art more than you want to sell tickets? What if you’re a woman?

In search of more fertile ground for innovative new play development, I headed up the 101 to Silver Lake for a reading of Crazy Bitch, a new play by Jennie Webb, presented by The Playwrights Union. As if the theater gods had heard my cry, Webb’s 70-minute play has not one but four protagonists, one of which is a character called The Immortal Jellyfish who is described as 4.5mm wide and lives in a petri dish. And though the play, which is set in LA, deeply investigates questions of life and death, the actual plot is left unresolved. Asked to what extent her play was consciously created in relation to the commercialism of Los Angeles, Webb said:

I’ve lived here all my life but this is the first play I’ve set here. I just got tired of all the new plays set in New York and gave myself a challenge to set one in LA. But I’m not savvy enough to write what’s producible. I write what I write and I hope it speaks to someone. I’d rather write plays where a woman loses body parts or shoes start raining from the ceiling. I call it “domestic absurdism,” with domestic meaning everyday life, because I find that life is absurd, especially for women.

In contrast to the male-heavy representation among speakers at LA Stage Day, a full five of the seven readings done that weekend by The Playwrights Union were by women. The Union, which began in 2009 as a meeting of interested colleagues in organizer Jennifer Haley‘s backyard, hosts an annual February challenge to write a play in a month. Participating playwrights gather over a long weekend to read and talk about one another’s plays. They do another round of rewrites and then host a weekend of public readings with actors. Haley, whose own play The Nether recently premiered at Center Theater Group’s Kirk Douglas Theater, told me:

We have about 30 members, and there was a time when we had to recruit men in order to achieve parity. Right now it’s about even, but more women participated in the February Challenge that lead to these plays.

Asked how her writing functions in relation to the commercial culture of Hollywood and the idea of what’s “producable,” Haley offered:

I’ve worked as a playwright in Austin, Seattle and all over the East Coast. Studying at Brown with Paula Vogel, I learned to play with both experimental and traditional forms.  I think circulation in a variety of theater communities helps you look at different models… there are new Playwrights arriving all the time in LA, and it will be interesting to see if this influences the kind of work being done here.

Though many playwrights are drawn to Los Angeles to write for television, others come here to study and end up making the city their home. Brittany Knupper, a recent grad from the playwriting program headed by Alice Tuan at the California Institute of the Arts–just up the 5 from the Valley–talked to me about her first year living here as a writer:

A lot of people their first year out of school have an existential crisis. Maybe mine just hasn’t hit yet but it hasn’t been that bad. Then again I constantly feel like I’m in an existential crisis, so maybe I’m just used to it. At CalArts I felt like I wasn’t being experimental enough as a writer, but in Hollywood people think what I do is too experimental. LA is such an industry town: People are trying to do anything they can to make a connection. You can feel the desperation. It’s funky and weird and gross, and I kind of like how dirty and weird it is.

Knupper has found an artistic outlet in storytelling, a popular form of Los Angeles entertainment in which people gather in theaters, bars, and homes to hear individuals read stories, usually autobiographical but sometimes fictional. These pop-up salons feature the work of playwrights, journalists, fiction writers, and essayists and provide writers with regular opportunities to present work and receive feedback from within a supportive community.

Because the nightmare of driving in LA keeps most Angelenos locked in their own neighborhoods, writers who want to reach a city-wide audience have to create communities like these, organized around the discipline rather than through established institutions. Jennie Webb and writer/mythologist Laura Shamas formed just such an association in 2009–the Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative–to coordinate efforts to get more plays by women produced on local stages. Webb related,

LA is almost pridefully inaccessible. We needed an organization that would bring women together and spread the word that women writers exist. We are focused on connecting artists to one another, supporting one another by going to see each others plays, and getting the message out that it pays to produce work by women.

Clearly LA is not lacking in women playwrights, yet a study done by LAFPI in conjunction with LA Stage Alliance revealed that between 2000 and 2010, only 20% of plays produced in Los Angeles were written or co-written by women.

Hopefully next year’s LA Stage Day will address the lack of gender diversity on our city’s stages. Organizers at the Alliance should start by asking more women to speak and conduct workshops and should include breakout sessions addressing the issue. For their part, producers need to recognize that the only way to appeal to new audiences is to tell stories in new ways, which is why I’m going to stay on the trail of the LA writing underground, where work by women–and experimental work at that–is flourishing. In fact, on Sunday I’m hosting a reading of Knupper’s play, Galatea, in my backyard. If you can make it up the 405, then come on out.

follow Holly on twitter @hld6oddblend

originally posted at XX Factor/Slate

Feminist concern with representations of women in comic books and video games is hardly a new thing, nor is it always greeted with support—just ask Anita Sarkeesian, whose Tropes Vs Women has inspired intense backlash from territorial gamers. But as more and more women enter these previously male-dominated fields, the possibility of feminists effecting change from within the industry has, logically, skyrocketed. Take the case of Meteor Entertainment/Adhesive Games, where a female employee recently punked her boss, and with outstanding results.

Meteor Entertainment is the creator of the free-to-play mech game Hawken, in which users build their own virtual robots and use them to fight other users’ robots. But the tale of the master prank actually begins with a tumblr called The Hawkeye Initiative.

Founded on December 2, 2012, this project creates and solicits original art that addresses the over-sexualization of women in comics by replacing them with a male hero—Marvel’s master archer Hawkeye—standing in the same pose. (Moviegoers may know Hawkeye from Jeremy Renner’s hotsy-totsy portrayal in The Avengers.) A manly man with super strength and agility, Hawkeye posed as, say, Black Cat from The Amazing Spiderman makes a powerful visual point: that comic book women’s costumes, body shapes, and poses undercut their superpowers by overemphasizing their sexuality.

A Meteor employee and fan of the Initiative, who goes by the handle K2, was disgruntled by prominently displayed office art of a scantily-clad woman. (K2 dubbed the woman “Ruby Underboob.”) She conspired with co-worker and artist Sam Kirk to change out the poster with one of a man, equally sexualized and equally naked. And thus was born “Brosie the Riveter.”

Luckily for our merry mischief makers, Meteor CEO Mark Long loved it. In fact, he copped not just to having sexual art around the office, but also to contributing to the creation of that art. He wrote in an email: “I didn’t just hang the picture on the wall. I collaborated on the design with the artist. He and I came up with the Rosie idea. The underboob is pretty much all my fault. Since then, I’ve learned about The Hawkeye Initiative and the larger gender-flip meme going on in comics and games, which is righteous and transgressive. I’m a dumbass, but at least now I know I’m a dumbass!” He and his employees are now in an “open dialogue about gender in comics and gaming.”

K2 told XX Factor, “I’m glad to see awareness of the gender-flipping meme spreading. I hope and expect to see a lot more of it, and other innovations on the theme, too. There’s more than one right way to do this. The Hawkeye Initiative has put out a call to action for more real-world plays in the gender equality space. The more—and the more real-world—the better.”

K2 is also collecting stories of action on the tumblr GenderShenanigans.

All too often, Internet feminism of the kind practiced by The Hawkeye Initiative preaches to the choir, rarely resulting in or even aiming for concrete outcomes. In the case of Meteor Entertainment and their intrepid employees, though, the idea behind The Hawkeye Initiative produced tangible results. That’s my kind of feminism.

Photo courtesy The Hawkeye Initiative

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