And here is the Amanda post:
How I feel about this character:
FuckYeahAmandaWaller.tumblr.com <— my first tumblr, offered as a hint on my position.
I have a fierce, unwavering loyalty for Amanda Waller (which ftr is not the same thing as believing she is usually correct).
This is what I tell people who disagree with me:
Amanda Waller is Reverse Batman, okay, stripped entirely of the rich dude noblesse oblige. She starts out stashed away out of mind in the Chicago Cabrini-Green projects. And there she loses half her family - two kids and her husband - and goes from “poor” to “homeless with young children”.
And she climbed out of *that* hole with her fingernails and teeth, and got her babies enough of a headstart to be adults on their own terms, and went like: No.
This shit is unacceptable. The world is going to be a better place, or else.
Ah, but the villains in this world are a banal, cowardly lot. She must be able to strike terror into their hearts. She must become a creature of the shadows, black, terrible…
The thing which has screwed over her and hers.
She must become.
In fiction, paternal characters are everywhere (from Obi-Wan to Qui-Gon to Yoda), but there is a lack of strong maternal ones, especially in video games.
During the last few days I’ve been asked about two Wonder Woman items a number of times. The possible new creative team is one and I’ll be putting together some thoughts on that. Second, is my reaction to this post on CBR, "My 10 Year-Old Daughter Couldn’t Care Less About Wonder Woman."
It’s a good read so go take a look. She notes that Wonder Woman is not pervasive as a role model for girls in pop culture is absolutely true. She hasn’t had a TV show in 35 year; has never a big screen movie; she has had not ever had a kid friendly comics that focus exclusively on her. And there are so few kid’s toys that feature Wonder Woman that I have written entire posts on them when they show up. By contrast if I did that for, say, Batman there would be an entire blog devoted to it. Oh wait, there is one.
And I absolutely agree with the writer’s concern about her daughter not caring about Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is a great character for girls - powerful, wise, smart and, when written correctly, one who chooses peace over war and love over hate. One who fights for good and equality. Plus she has an invisible plane. Who wouldn’t want to be like her?
Obviously this little girl does.
So I have to ask, “so why isn’t there a Wonder Woman all-ages comic?”
The post in question is here, for those who are curious. Unfortunately, I’m gonna have to disagree with you on this one. I like Padme. I think that the Padme of The Phantom Menace has a lot to offer as a role model for young girls. I think that even the Padme of Attack of the Clones exhibits some amazing qualities that are refreshing to see. Padme as an individual is just absolutely fantastic. Everything about Padme’s relationship to Anakin? It’s awful. Everything about her role in Revenge of the Sith? Atrocious.
An excellent essay on how the Padme of The Phantam Menace was betrayed by the rest prequel trilogy
Divorce yourself from this idea right now, author. While I’m sure it is the narrative you’ve been presented with your entire life, I’m here to tell you that it isn’t true. Women do find building up muscles in the upper body more difficult than men, but since power does not come from the arms, it’s actually a superfluous distinction. Women build up muscles in the lower body and in the core muscles (abdominal) very rapidly.
Skill in combat is not a matter of biology, but in training and dedication. Remember, if your female character fights, she’s neither unique nor special. In my experience as a martial artist and a martial arts instructor, there are on average per class 2 girls to every 10 boys, with the female number either remaining constant or doubling as the class goes up in age. While there are fewer female combatants around than male, it’s not hard to find 20 women to every 100 men. Extrapolate that out and think about it, women who fight are not as rare as you might have previously imagined.
Here are a few things to consider:
1) Power comes from the hips.
I will harp on this until the end of time until everyone shakes the myth of punch strength being decided by arm muscle strength out of their heads. The strength of the strike comes from the pivot of the hips and guess what? Women have wider hips than men, thus a greater opportunity to generate more power and hit their opponents harder. Combine this advantage with a low-center of gravity and the ability to push that center even lower and you have a fighter capable, not just in power, but able to topple much larger opponents.
2) Women have a lower center of gravity.
This is the advantage of the short fighter, it’s the same for short men and short women, a tall woman fighting a shorter woman will encounter the same resistance as a tall man fighting a short one. I list this as a female advantage because most women will always find themselves facing larger opponents. So, it’s important for an author to keep in mind.
So, how does this work? A center of gravity is the height difference from the ground to your core, around the belly button. The shorter the fighter, the lower their center of gravity, the lower the center of gravity the closer they are to the earth, the closer they are to the earth the better their ability to generate a stable base and the harder they are to knock over. A fighter who knows where to put their feet and weight to make use of their center is a hard one to take to the ground. This is one way for women to overcome the height and weight disadvantage.
3) Women are naturally more resistant to pain and fatigue than men, have a greater potential for stamina, and can fight harder for longer.
It’s important to note: it’s not just that men cannot biologically carry a child to term and survive the birth, but if they did with their current make-up, they would die. So, you may call it the miracle of childbirth, but a woman’s body is gifted with a much greater level of resilience than their male counterparts. While these abilities must be honed and improved through training, the natural talent is already present in every woman’s body.
4) The only combatants who ever actively terrified me were women.
I’ve met a great many master martial artists from a great many different styles, all of whom I deeply respect, and can trust in their ability to utterly annihilate me. But the female black belt sparring division, my first thought on encountering those women as a teenager was: “I want to spar with the boys.”
Women live in a very different world than men do, they live in a world that is comprised of dangers even in places that are supposed to be safe. A woman cannot walk down a street alone, never mind if it’s at night, without wondering if an attack will happen. Rape and other acts of violence are very real, every day threats, and women live with the knowledge that the places they have been told to go to for protection will disregard them, laugh at them, and judge them on their worth for “allowing” these acts to happen to them. Every woman, even the ones like me who began at a young age, will eventually be faced with the realization that they may have to use what they know against another person one day. This is not fantasy assessment full of wishful thinking, but a cold reality. What if one day I have to hurt someone else? What if one day I have to kill them? The women who practice and prepare through forms of combat do so with that in mind, with the knowledge that they are the underdogs and that one day, they may have to use that training to fight for their lives.
The ferocity with which they beat on each other in sparring matches is a reflection of that. Remember, these are women who have shaken off the socially ingrained idea of ‘I can’t hurt anyone' and moved on to 'I will break you if you hurt me’. They follow that up with: you will never walk right again.
Unless your character comes from a very different society, this attitude will be part of who they are. Women who are trained and dedicated have the capacity to be terrifying, especially in a patriarchal society. Why? It’s not the behavior that most men expect.
One of the (many) things I love about AtLA is the multiplicity of relationships, and how all the characters bond over shared experiences and histories. For that reason, I’m going to disagree with the comments here. This is not a Kataang OR Zutara episode specifically. It’s both of those and more. Here’s why.
Firstly, this episode is about Katara; her history, her loss, her trauma. Her mother’s death changed Katara’s life forever and cemented her determination to learn Waterbending. So neither Zuko or Aang are the prominent figures here: it’s Katara who’s making tough decisions about closure, revenge, agency and forgiveness. So by pigeon-holing the relationship into a Kataang vs. Zutara analysis, we’re kind of diminishing Katara’s importance here.
Secondly, if in fact TPTB did characterize Aang as a guardian angel and Zuko as a devil in respect to Katara here, I’m going to side-eye them a bit because this is a very reductive way of positioning their own complex characters as well as antithetical to the Buddhist ideas of balance and multiplicity that permeate this whole show.
Aang’s perspective on revenge and forgiveness stem from his beliefs, his experiences and his sense of spiritual duty as the Avatar. I’m irritated when people dismiss Aang as “self righteous” and talked about how he’s only doing his duty as the Avatar and as Katara’s friend.
Similarly, Zuko’s perspectives come from his own experiences (which are radically different from Aang’s but also parallels them) his personal experience with losing his mother and his determination to redeem himself to each member of the Gaang.
Both of these are important, because both of these characters are important.
If Zuko and Aang’s friendship signals the beginning of peace and the restoration of balance, Katara is the connection between them. Katara takes Aang out of the iceberg, Katara protects Aang from Zuko at the Siege of the North, Katara is the first member of the Gaang with whom Zuko has conversation of mutuality (Ba Sing Se and the loss of their mothers), Katara helps Zuko become Firelord by deposing his sister just like she helps Aang realize his full potential by continuing to believe in him, and Katara is the one who heals both Zuko and Aang after Azula shoots them with lightning.
Katara, who’s motherly and fussy and compassionate and cries easily, is also a fiercely protective bender who threatens to kill Zuko if he harms Aang. Katara loves Aang with all her heart but she wasn’t about to let him stop her from taking Appa and facing the man who killed her mother. Katara bloodbends the ship’s captain with pleasure, but ultimately spares the man who killed Kya. She needed to face the parts of herself that are like Zuko - angry, vengeful, hurt - and the parts of herself that are like Aang - compassionate, spiritual, giving - and find out where she, Katara of the Southern Tribe, emerges. WHICH SHE DID. She faced Yon Rah and scared the living daylights out of him, she stripped him of all dignity and made him crawl and beg for his life. AND SHE DIDN’T FORGIVE HIM.
But she forgave Zuko, because she recognized his sincerity and his effort. She thanked Aang, for understanding why she needed to make this journey.
In the end, she did what SHE felt was right, and she made a choice that was neither Zuko’s or Aang’s but hers alone.
This episode IS a zutara episode because it’s about Zuko making amends for his past actions, and that’s pretty dang important. It’s also a Kataang episode because Aang, though he disagrees, understands what Katara needs to do. Both of these relationships have their own functionality and power, both of them draw out different qualities and different emotions in Katara, but ultimately neither of them define or influence her to the degree of being an “angel” or “devil” (ugh i HATE that), because Katara forges her own choice out of the multiple influences in her life.
I love that she said she’ll never forgive him, because it’s important that we understand how yes, some actions are beyond the pale of forgiveness.
I love that she thanked Aang for understanding.
I love that she forgave Zuko, and that their shared history of losing their mothers to the Fire Nation was given a nod.
I wasn’t present at the height of this fandom’s ship wars, so I won’t police people over how they interpret these things and why. I understand how ugly ship wars can get. But I do want to urge us to look at this episode from a perspective of multiplicity, and acknowledge that there are many different ways to love, to grieve, to heal, to redeem.
I recommend reading the whole article in the link. It’s long but good, and also points out the annoying trope of Hollywood thinking that as long as the female character gets a token “can beat people up” scene, then it’s totally fine that otherwise they still are filling very typical fictional roles women are pigeon-holed into, and usually are still just a love interest or plot device.
Also, to the above quote, this is about having that diversity in a single story, or even having many of those traits in 1 character, and not just plucking a few examples out of all of fiction and go “see, in this story, the woman was shy and quiet, and in this story, the woman beat somebody up, and this story the woman was mean. There! Diversity!” It’s about overall trends, it’s about not just having one or two women in a cast, it’s about how women are situated in the story, it’s about whether the women are protagonists or plot devices, it’s about all sorts of ways that women are marginalized, pigeon-holed, etc in fiction, and not simply just about one thing. There’s no easy fix where you go “see in my story, the woman warrior wears a shirt and she doesn’t get raped!” The problem is there are so many issues with the way women, and every other marginalized group, are portrayed in fiction (and even more so with the intersectional problems with characters who are part of several of those groups), and only so much that people can talk about in one go, so usually people are only able to address one or two issues at any time, and it leads to the idea that as long as you fix (or superficially) fix that element, then it’s all good, and it’s more than that.
From the standpoint of this blog, sometimes there comes the misconception that as long as a story has fully armored women, or has battle-ready posed women, then that’s something that’s necessarily a good story about women, or necessarily a good depiction. It’s a step forward, definitely, and I absolutely think it’s good for people to keep the visual portrayal of women in their minds when creating fiction and not just doing one thing over and over because it’s just how we’re so used to seeing women depicted visually. But it can’t stop at that. How many women there are in the story matters. Whether or not she’s portrayed as being “exceptional” for her gender, and therefore all other women in the fictional world are still flat stereotypes matters. What happens to her in the story, how she’s situated, presented, talked about matters. Whether she’s the protagonist, or if despite her armor, she gets kidnapped by the villain to anger the male hero matters. It’s about more than simply avoiding one single way women are portrayed, and then dusting off our hands and patting ourselves on the back for fixing how women are portrayed in fiction. It’s about examining the way we see women in our society, and being aware of how that affects the way we depict and situate them in our writing, often without realizing it.
Escher Girls, The Bechdel Test, Bikini Armor, etc, are all catchy terms, and great things to keep in mind when writing fiction with women in it, but it’s not as simple as just “not doing this one thing”. These phrases and ideas are meant to highlight specific issues about the way women are written and drawn in fiction and to open up a discussion about the larger picture of how women are portrayed. The Bechdel Test is meant to point out how few women have roles and how even fewer of them have stories of their own that don’t revolve around men. Escher Girls is about showing the prevalence of female characters being contorted or dressed in ways that maximize titillation over function. They are symptoms, not the cause, and addressing just one of them once doesn’t fix the underlying issue. Change comes by challenging ourselves to not just settle at “my princess punches people before being captured” or “the male hero’s love interest talks to her female friend about dogs at one point”, but to be willing to examine the overall way we’re depicting women in our fiction, how many there are, and how they’re situated. Centaur women, battle bikinis, and the boobs and butt pose are the beginning of the discussion, not the end.
While rereading The Last Command recently, it finally struck me why Mara is a much-beloved character. I’ve never thought hard on it before because I started reading Star Wars books when I was 13 and just kind of accepted that Mara was a fucking badass and what more do you need to know? There’s all kinds of explanations, from the idea that she’s a “strong female character” to Zahn’s explanation that “she’s also flawed and searching and—dare we say it?—human. At the same time, she’s highly competent at her job. One simplistic answer might be that women can identify with her, while men would like to have her at their side in trouble” (1) (which is kind of a problematic answer on a number of levels but that’s another issue). What made Mara likeable and relatable for me in this arc is her struggle for her own agency against the men in her life and the fact that she fought as hard as she could to maintain her autonomy and won.
The (not) in the title of this post indicates an order of operations, as in mathematics. Pretty much, it’s to call attention to the way in which Mako Mori is not your “strong feminist heroine,” according to some, and why this is a problem with the way we think and speak about “strong feminist heroines.”
Several of the feminist critiques of Mako Mori have expressed the opinion that Mako is somehow less of a character due to the fat that she has fewer lines compared to her male co-stars. The argument appears to run that, despite being front and center for the entirety of the movie, in order for Mako to be considered a “strong feminist heroine,” she needed to be talking as much as Stacker, Raleigh, Chuck, and Herc in addition to the way in which she is established as a character in her own right.
This strikes me as odd: Mako Mori, who ostensibly embodies a kind of warrior archetype that is less common in western media; who demonstrates martial and technical skill exceeding, or on par with, her male counterparts; who helps provide the emotional ground for the whole narrative; and who demonstrates a strength that, in my opinion, is exceeded only by Stacker Pentecost, is not a “strong feminist heroine” because she doesn’t have many lines? I am not sure that this is a critique that we can carry to it’s logical conclusion.
One of the primary problems that I see with this critique is that it assumes a certain kind of strength is necessary for the presentation of a “strong feminist heroine,” and the expression of that strength is not only through the actions that the character takes within the narrative, but how vocal the character is within the narrative. To this end, these critiques seem to make the argument that the actions Mako takes during the narrative of Pacific Rim (piloting a Jaeger, accepting the loss of her family, accepting the loss of stacker) are somehow diminished because she didn’t contribute to the dialogue.
Against this, I offer that Mako’s very silence is what defines her strength. Too often we assume that strength is assertive, it is something that pushes out into the world. In the case of the “strong feminist heroine” articulated by critiques of Mako, she lacked the strength (some might even say agency) to project her voice out into a narrative dominated by men. However, this ignores the possibility of an internal, non-assertive strength, the kind possessed by Mako and made manifest in several scenes throughout Pacific Rim.
As I, and others, have pointed out, her statement to Raleigh, “It’s not obedience, it’s respect,” indicates a kind of inner strength to set aside ones desires for the sake of the group. Students of Japanese culture will note, generally, that this is the kind of internal fortitude that makes up some of the best Japanese characters, and I would count Mako Mori among them. As an example from Japanese literature, I would point to Tomoe Goezen (one of the more notable onna-bugeisha) in the Heikei Monogatari. At the defeat of her commander’s army, she was willing to lay down her life so that she could die honorably with her commander. In turn, her commander orders her to depart the field against her wishes. Granted, in the context of the Heike Monogatari, the order was given because the commander did not wish to be responsible for her death, however, the implication was that her life (as a warrior) was too valuable to waste in seppuku at that battle.
Out of respect, and against her wishes, Goezen flees the battle. This is the kind of strength that Mako Mori possesses, and it is a characteristic of all good Samurai and all good deshi to their Sensei. We can see this kind of strength emerge again when Stacker is preparing for his final ride, just before declaring that they are “cancelling the apocalypse.” When Stacker asserts that he will be piloting the mission, despite it leading to his death, Mako accepts his decision without question, and further assents to defend him (to the death is implied) while he completes the mission. To knowingly allow your commander, your Sensei, and your father to walk to his own death and simply accept his decision requires a kind of strength that cannot be articulated in mere dialogue, it must be demonstrated through action.
This strength through respect is further demonstrated by the way in which she accepts, rather than protests, Stacker’s decision to ground her following the near disaster in the synchronization test with G*psy Danger. We, as American viewers, are used to our “hero” characters fighting for their chance to prove their value, to prove that they are right. Raleigh embodies this kind of mentality when he argues for Mako (actually, we might read Raleigh’s staunch defense of Mako as recognizing that she possesses the kind of strength needed to do what is necessary) to be his co-pilot, throwing everything he has against Stacker. We’re used to seeing this assertive strength as “true strength” as opposed to Mako’s more internal, composed strength.
To belabor the point, Mako further possesses enough mental strength to suck Raleigh into her own memory. There are some who might deride an “in universe” plot exposition point as a example of a female character’s strength, with something like, “oh, we needed that scene to explain Stacker’s relationship with Mako.” However, the dialogue in the sequence clearly indicates that Mako’s connection to G*psy was too strong for them to disconnect. Let me put it another way, Raleigh is the more experienced pilot, and has “flown” G*psy before so it would be logical to assume that his connection would be stronger than Mako’s. In fact, it appears the reverse is the case: Mako, on her first connection with G*psy, manages to overpower Raleigh’s own connection and draw him into the memory.
Now, again, since Raleigh fell out of synch with G*psy and Mako first, it would be logical to assume that Mako (as the inexperienced pilot) would be pulled into Raleigh’s memories. Instead, Mako’s falling out of synch pulls Raleigh into her own memories, despite the fact that he had regained his connection with G*psy Danger and was aware of what was going on. I may be overly charitable to the film, but all in universe evidence points to Mako being a stronger and more capable pilot than Raleigh himself: “51 drops, 51 kills” in the simulator. I’m willing to hazard that Mako’s lack of dialogue as a factor which denies her the status of “strong feminist heorine,” is on shaky legs.
The deathblow to this critique of Mako Mori does not come from within the narrative, but is aimed at our presuppositions about strength. Again, in our Western framework, we assume strength must always equate to assertion, a kind of aggressive devil may care attitude that is embodied by characters like Raleigh and Chuck Hanson. In contrast, Mako Mori provides us with a kind of inner cultivated strength that stands out in stark relief to our cowboy hero archetype. For me, this points to the insufficiency of the characterization of strength always pushing outwards against the world, seeking to enforce its will upon the world. Strength, of character, of will, can be internal: a control over oneself and one’s emotions despite the turmoil that one finds themselves embroiled in.
This is the kind of strength that we see in Mako. Even at her most “emotional” during the compatibility dialogue, a point that Stacker notes, she is still in control over her body, her feelings, and the fight itself. We might further see this internal strength resulting in the focusing of her desire for revenge, her emotional trauma, into the deathblow that takes down otachi: when Raleigh seems all but willing to give up as G*psy is dragged into the air, it is Mako who finds the way, and Mako who delivers the deathblow as the articulation of her emotions into a single focused strike: “watashi no kazoku no tame ni,” indeed.
I make a point of the single strike for a good reason: typically, when one exacts revenge for the death of one’s family, we see it as “the beatdown.” The character in question vents their trauma in a rain of blows that often continues after the object of their vengeance is dead. We see this in movies all the time: the hero empties an entire magazine into a fallen foe or continues to pummel the enemy long after they are unconscious. For Mako, it is a single, focused strike that ends the battle: she has the strength of character not to waste energy venting her rage on Otachi, she gets the job done, and has her satisfaction.
For all of the above reasons Mako Mori is (not) your “strong feminist heroine,” and it is not out of any deficiency in her characterization, but an inability of the concept of “strength” to recognize the kind of strength that Mako embodies. In short, Mako Mori demonstrates the degree to which our notion of a “strong feminist heroine” is insufficient and needs to be adjusted.
Fantasy writer and historian Django Wexler kicks off World Weaver Press’ series of articles on writing epic fantasy warfare with his discussion of the societal conditions which likely would (and wouldn’t) produce a female warrior class