Tag Archives: feminism

Curtain Call

27 Jul

good girls tallulah

Thank you so much for visiting 2000irises! I’m no longer updating this blog. I’ve got some new, pretty time-consuming projects happening, and I have to finally admit I’m just not going to make it back here very often.

In lieu of a new post, allow me to share some of my favorite feminist links.

Feministing

Feminist Music Geek

Feminist Majority

Feministe

Adios Barbie

Geek Feminism

Bust Magazine

Bitch Magazine

I’m still available via email and @dcohncomm on twitter. Feel free to contact me.

Be well, brainy women!

Edit — 1/5/13: updated twitter name. (Hi! *waves*)

A Scandal in Belgravia

2 Jan

No worries. I’m not going to spoil anything. I’ll leave the details of “A Scandal in Belgravia” to your speculation, but I will say I seriously lost my cool. My friend G. later described my outburst towards the end of Sherlock as a “primal scream.”


I’ve been on sabbatical here at 2000Irises for a while, but it’s alright because only one of my posts draws much attention. You may have read it. Last February I debuted my little blog with a rant about the way the character of Irene Adler is portrayed in film. If you haven’t read it, I can easily sum it up: Dear Mr. Gatiss, Dear Mr. Moffat, when you recreate “A Scandal in Bohemia” for Season Two of Sherlock, please do a better job than Guy Ritchie did in Sherlock Holmes. Please stay faithful to the Irene Adler as written by Arthur Conan Doyle. Please don’t turn her into a romantic sap who can’t resist Sherlock, or worse, needs rescuing. Please don’t have her on her knees, weeping.

Guess what?

Yeah, that’s exactly what they did.

There is lots to love about Season Two’s first episode: it’s as sharply styled as Season One with excellent character development, humor, snappy dialogue, sexiness, coy nods to ACD’s original stories, and Benedict Cumberbatch sans pants. I even liked Irene for a while. Then the tear. The tear. Oh Jesus, not again.

So there you have it. Discuss. But have pity on most Americans and keep it spoiler-free, please. PBS still isn’t planning to air it until May.

Addendum: If you’d like a far more thorough and very beautifully expressed discussion of some of the more frustrating and offensive elements of Sherlock’s Irene, Vida S. dishes it at Buckish Eloquence and Pick-pocketed Wit. Spoilers aplenty, be warned.

Check out Another Angry Woman‘s thoughts on Irene as well. Feminism-fail. Perfectly said.

The September Vogue

24 Aug


Last week, coming into our bedroom to fold laundry, my husband picked up the hefty issue of Vogue I’d left on the bed and scornfully tossed it aside. “Why did you buy a magazine with Kate Moss on the cover?” He made no effort to hide his disapproval. Why should he? Every good feminist knows fashion magazines are evil.

“Because I wanted to.”

Apparently this was not the answer he was looking for. He scowled at me. I scowled right back. I mocked his derision. He told me to… well, you get the idea. In the end, we avoided a scuffle, but as he pointed out, I can do whatever I want, but I can’t make him like it.

Indeed.

Every August I face the same dilemma: to buy or not to buy the September Vogue. It’s everywhere, taunting me. It calls to me like free samples of Godiva, like Paul Konerko in tight pants, like an open bar with top-shelf margaritas. I know I shouldn’t and yet… Every August I lose my shit to the fall Vogue.

It’s just so big! So beautiful! So over-the-top glamorous! (The magazine, people.) With cover models swathed in richly hued fabrics, shiny like high-end lip gloss, the September Vogue promises luxury and excess few of us can dream of. That’s the whole point. The September Vogue is all about dreaming. Flipping through its pages, one loses the reality that she has just dropped $4 for a collection of ads, and gains the pretense that she too could spend her days shopping, sipping cocktails with celebrities, and attending charity galas with socialites who are talented and strikingly attractive, but not quite as talented or striking as she.

I have always had a love/hate relationship with fashion magazines, which is why Mr. Irises snarls about them. He’s really just looking out for me. (He’s honestly a very sweet, supportive guy.) But again, it’s my magpie problem – I like shiny, pretty things, and that’s all fashion magazines are. Pretty fluff. Few people read Vogue for the articles (although, at least in Vogue you can expect quality articles, unlike its more salacious counterparts.) Nonetheless, I am aware that when I buy Vogue I’m looking at a magazine which is 90% advertising, promoting products which are at best impractical for most women, and at worst degrading. We all know Vogue offers a very limited vision of what a ‘woman’ can be. I am not thin enough to fit into one single piece of clothing advertised in Vogue, but then, few people are. (Perhaps I could throw one of the photoshoots’ velvet backdrops around my shoulders.) I wear very little makeup. I have never been to Cabo St. Lucas. I’d break my ankles in a pair of Jimmy Choos. But looking at a Vogue, I can pretend, just for a few minutes, that I could stride along the Cabo beach in my Jimmy Choos and Alexander McQueen gown with perfect grace, if I only chose to. (As though I live in small town Indiana because I like cows and corn, not out of necessity.)

For years, knowing Mr. Irises disapproves of such an indulgent, limiting and frankly sexist form of entertainment, I snuck the September Vogue into my house like contraband and looked at it only behind the closed door of my office room. I didn’t like having to defend my interest. Now and then, at other times during the year, I’d have the urge to look through women’s fashion magazines, but I rarely bought them. I could just flip through them in the bookstore. The September Vogue, however, must be purchased. It’s 750+ pages, for heaven’s sake. I can hardly lift it.

Then, a few weeks ago, I saw an old issue of Vogue at my awesome friend Melissa Washburn’s home. (She is responsible for the lovely redesign of my blog. Have a look at her beautiful site featuring her art and design work.) I told her about Mr. Irises’ position, how I never brought women’s fashion magazines home because I didn’t want to debate my odd, decidedly non-feminist affection for them, how I felt guilty for even looking at them. I subscribe to Bitch and Bust. How could I explain the Vogue? She offered up the following point: as long as I am reading with a critical eye, how feminist is it to limit my own enthusiasms based on my husband’s approval?

Indeed.

So this year I carried my 4 lb. September Vogue to the Barnes & Noble counter with pride – not hidden beneath a stack of car magazines like a guy buying a Penthouse. I didn’t even try to hide it from my daughter. (If it’s okay for her to like imaginary dragons, it’s okay for me to like impossible dresses.) And I left it right out in the open, on my bed, where I’d been reading it when the dryer buzzed. And I prepped myself with my non-answer, because I knew he’d ask. Why did I buy it? Because I wanted to. That is feminist enough.

Speaking of Bitch and Bust, I offer Vag Magazine.

A funny, biting send up of pop culture feminist magazines. Produced by The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater, this web series gently mocks those magazines’ sometimes vague, strident, crafty, celebrity-heavy, pop-culture feminism. *Hides knitting behind back* Think Portlandia for feminist mags. “Horses are tools of the patriarchy.”

Indeed.

Tina Fey’s Bossypants

31 May

To best enjoy Tina Fey’s memoir Bossypants: 1. Have a couple of margaritas. 2. Be a female, 3. aged 40-ish, 4. who’s well-educated and career-minded, 5. with a kid or two. Now, these are general guidelines, and you can slide on one or two of these requirements, but don’t skip the margaritas (that’s just good policy.) It’s not that readers who don’t fit this description won’t enjoy Bossypants. It is funny as hell, and Fey doesn’t skimp on anecdotes from her stints at Second City, Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. Anyone will respond to those segments. But there is a reflective tone to the memoir which I think adult women in particular will relate to, as Fey examines how her experiences as a young woman and later as a mother shaped (and continue to shape) her ambitions, neuroses and successes.

Fey’s initial stories about her working-class upbringing and time spent in the trenches of the service industry humanize her enough that we’re willing to follow her when she turns her attention to the challenges of celebrity. She relates these stories by paying particular attention to anxieties most women will recognize. For example, I’ve never had to endure a professional photo shoot for a glossy magazine (and that’s really okay with me), but Fey describes the experience with such frankness and humor that anyone who’s ever had her picture taken will feel reassured.

“Somebody will put up a makeshift wall by holding a full-length mirror next to an open loft window, and you will strip down naked. You must not look in that mirror at your doughy legs and flat feet, for today is all about dreams and illusions, and unfiltered natural daylight is the enemy or dreams.

When you inevitably can’t fit into a garment, the stylist’s assistant will be sent in to help you. The stylist’s assistant will be a chic twenty-year-old Asian girl named Esther or Agnes or Lot’s Wife.

…at this point in time her job is to stuff a middle-aged woman’s bare ass crack into a Prada dress and zip it up. In my case, Esther and I are always mutually frustrated when zipping up the tiny dress. Esther is disgusted by my dimply flesh and her low status. I’m annoyed that her tiny hands lack the strength to get Pandora’s plague back into the box.”

Fey never shies from the fact that being a woman has shaped her experiences and successes. She’s up front about her feminism, but she’s not a cookie-cutter feminist. She challenges women to resist victimhood and plunge on with their ambitions, even in the face of sexism. One particularly funny segment of Bossypants details Amy Poehler’s arrival at SNL and exposes the sometimes subtle, unspoken sexism of the entertainment (in particular the comedy) industry:

“Amy (Poehler) was new to SNL and we were all crowded into the seventeenth-floor writers’ room, waiting for the Wednesday read-through to start. There were always a lot of noisy “comedy bits” going on in that room. Amy was in the middle of some such nonsense with Seth Meyers across the table, and she did something vulgar as a joke. I can’t remember what it was exactly, except it was dirty and loud and ‘unladylike’.

Jimmy Fallon, who was arguably the star of the show at the time, turned to her in and in a faux-squeamish voice said, ‘Stop that! It’s not cute! I don’t like it!’ Amy dropped what she was doing, went black in the eyes for a second, and wheeled around on him. ‘I don’t fucking care if you like it.’

…With that exchange, a cosmic shift took place. Amy made it clear that she wasn’t there to be cute. She wasn’t there to play wives and girlfriends in the boys’ scenes. She was there to do what she wanted to do and she did not fucking care if you like it.”

I can’t say I love Fey’s advice to women facing workplace sexism, however:

“So my unsolicited advice to women in the workplace is this. When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: ‘Is this person in between me and what I want to do?’ If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. …

If the answer is yes, you have a more difficult road ahead of you … don’t waste your energy trying to educate or change opinions. Go ‘Over! Under! Through!’ and opinions will change organically when you’re the boss. Or they won’t. Who cares? Do your thing and don’t care if they like it.”

I agree that trusting our own competence is definitely the most valuable response to sexism in the long-run, but sometimes (as Poehler demonstrates) calling others out on their assumptions is valuable and lets people know you’re not showing up just to ferry their coffee.

If you get a chance, I recommend supplementing Bossypants with Rosanne Barr’s recent article in New York Magazine. Both women discuss sexism in the entertainment industry, but Barr’s response is both more strident and more potent. Perhaps Barr’s unwillingness to compromise as a writer, actress and comedian (and ultimately as the boss of her own show) cleared a somewhat smoother path for the Tina Feys, Amy Poehlers and Kristin Wiigs of the next generation.

Fey’s comic timing and original point-of-view are fantastic, and I giggled through most of Bossypants, but long-form prose isn’t exactly her strong suit. Transitions tend to be slight or non-existent, her chapters tend to end abruptly, and her organization is inconsistent. It’s clear Fey spends most of her time writing short sketches and screenplays, as the book’s funniest moments are the lists like “The Mother’s Prayer for Its Daughter,” which includes hopes such as:

“May she play the Drums to the fiery rhythm of her Own Heart with the sinewy strength of her Own Arms, so she need Not Lie With Drummers.”

and

“And when she one day turns on me and calls me a Bitch in front of Hollister,
Give me the strength, Lord, to yank her directly into a cab in front of her friends,
For I will not have that Shit. I will not have it.”

Charmingly, Fey isn’t afraid to expose her own insecurities in the interest of honest reflection, and it’s these insecurities which resonate throughout Bossypants. But I believe the specificity of Fey’s point-of-view prevented even open-minded Mr. Irises from enjoying even the funniest bits I read aloud to him. He’s not a nearly-40-year-old woman writer, terrified of having her picture taken, with a working-class background and young daughter, for example – hence my recommended-reader qualifications. Perhaps I should have plied him with margaritas first? Nah. I think I’ll keep both the margaritas and Bossypants to myself (or share them with my girls.) After all, he has Woody Allen.

Weekly Round Up

10 May

While I wrestle my newest post-in-progress into submission, I thought I’d share some of the most intriguing/thoughtful bits of webby goodness I’ve come across this week. Some newish, some older, in no particular order:


First, I’m hosting the Downtown Throwdown Poetry Slam and Coffee Binge at Blackbird Cafe in Valparaiso on June 3rd. Click through for details, and then tell me you’re coming to read, ’cause I really want you to.

Second, Meet Laurie LaGrone at Fooleryland. Ms. LaGrone writes terrifically smart, funny pieces for Smartly.com (among other things) and her blog has way more.

Next, if you’re into positive sexuality, I give you Violet Blue, author, editor, educator. Her racy site is not appropriate for those under 18 or easily offended, but awesome for everyone else. I particularly enjoyed her recent podcast, How to Flirt With Geeks. (No, I’m not flirting with anyone, Mr. Irises. You’re the only geek for me.)

Also, I discovered the results of the Women in America study, released by the White House in March. It’s a lengthy PDF, but well-organized and pretty clear. Worth a look.

Finally, this is not new but it’s wonderful: the It Gets Better Project, founded by sexuality columnist Dan Savage, works to send positive reinforcement and hope to young LGBTs. Take the pledge, make a video, tell everyone you can.

Smiling at Strangers

5 May

2000irises: Smiling at Strangers

This piece originally appeared on Smartly Chicago:

Smiling at Strangers

At 21, with just $600 in my pocket and the full wind of naïve bravado at my back, I moved to London alone. This dumb fearlessness served me quite well in London, but not without cost. London aged me, taught me fear, and gave shape to my own limitations in a way I’ve been working to undo ever since.

One night, about 11 pm, I was walking the 2 ½ miles from SoHo back to the hotel in Paddington where I lived and worked, when I was approached by an elderly man. I walked the same route several times a week, and by then I knew to be alert and careful: walk purposefully, head up, never make eye contact. Never, ever smile at strangers. Aside from the plentiful homeless, no one ever said a word to me on the street. I was justifiably leery when the man stopped me, but he only handed me a bloom – just the bloom – of a small red carnation and said “Cheer up, love, night’s still young.” Then he smiled and continued on his way. I cradled that flower in my hand all the way back to my tiny room. I hoped it would live for a while, but you know it didn’t.

As soon as the man spoke to me, I realized I’d been walking about London for months with a fierce, cold expression on my face. This ferocity ran so counter to my ordinary cheerful, friendly nature that it disturbed me. I had to consider if my love of London was really worth such a sacrifice.

This transformation began as soon as I arrived in London. Fresh off the airplane, I settled into a window seat on the Tube with my considerable luggage flowered around me. I donned my earphones and cued up my portable CD player (cutting edge technology in 1994.) A man took the seat across from me. As he sat down, I looked up and smiled – just a polite “hello” smile. He smiled back, and I looked out the window.

A moment later, he tapped my arm and smiled at me again – a huge, inviting grin. I smiled weakly, nodded, and pointedly went back to looking out the window. A few minutes later he tapped me yet again and smiled. This time I didn’t respond, but I knew he was staring at me, grinning like an idiot. I hoped he would get off the train soon. Then he touched my knee. I frowned and shoved his hand away.

I resigned myself to hauling my luggage off at the next stop to wait for the next train. When we slowed for the station, I stood up, but he stood too. Then he leaned down and kissed my cheek. I was too astonished to react. I just stood there, horrified, frozen. Finally, another man realized what was happening. He shouted “Hey!” and loverboy dashed off. This was the moment I realized I might have gotten in over my head.

You would think I’d have learned my lesson after that, but I didn’t. All over London, men reacted very differently to me than any American man ever had. While, thank God, no one else ever touched me, I’m not used to drawing strangers’ attention, and it took me far too long to figure out what I was doing wrong. I was smiling at strangers.

Perhaps I overcompensated then, disconnecting from others completely in exchange for an imagined invisibility. The old man made me realize I wasn’t invisible at all – just afraid and angry: angry at myself for having been naïve, angry at the world for being dangerous for women. I wanted independence so badly that I fooled myself into believing I was invincible, and when I realized that wasn’t true, I mourned.

I still miss my stupid moxie, the beautiful illusion that I could do anything at all – the same necessary, optimistic lie we still teach our daughters. I would get on that plane to London again in a heartbeat, but if I did so now, I would have to take my fear with me. Heavy luggage indeed.

photo by d’n’c

Adapt or Die

18 Apr

2000irises: Adapt or Die — A Review of the film Hanna

I’m not normally a fan of the action film. Testosterone-drenched, glamorized violence does nothing for me. Generally, action movies are ridiculous at best, boring at worst. Yes, boring. I don’t care enough about pumping soundtracks and squealing tires to sit through a plotless parade of scantily clad women and sweaty men. Yawn. Action movies rarely show any inspiration or creativity, and the inevitable, endless regurgitation of sequels only waters down the already-bland content. Fast Five, for example.

Then, occasionally, an action movie comes along which surprises me. This year, it’s Hanna. If you haven’t seen Hanna yet, you really, really should. Hanna’s director, Joe Wright, is most widely known for his literary adaptations of Atonement and Pride and Prejudice. (He recently announced he’s tackling Anna Karenina next.) Hanna is nothing like his previous work, but it retains crucial elements of his auteur style, in particular, his focus on complex female characters and their social environments. In a recent interview with Morgan Denno, Wright said, “I think most action movies have a very dubious socio-political point of view. It’s all about the glorification of violence and women becoming objects. I wanted to make an action movie that had a moral and a socio-political conscious.” [sic]

Hanna (Saoirse Ronan) is unlike any film heroine in recent memory. She’s s teen girl who’s been raised in the arctic wilderness, trained by her father to be an assassin. Sure, she kicks ass, but that’s a tiny part of why she’s so compelling. She’s lived away from civilization for most of her life, and despite her fluency in several languages, she doesn’t understand people or society. When it comes to relationships, motivations, falsehoods, love, she’s totally at a loss. This vulnerability balances out her fearsome fighting skills. Hanna has the innocence and self-preservation instincts of an wild animal – a comparison Wright sets up in the first scene. Hanna must kill her nemesis before she is killed, but her real challenge is to learn how to exist and survive among other people.

It’s notable that Hanna is not the only woman in this film. Unlike almost any other action film, the leads in Hanna are primarily women, none of whom are hypersexualized. (For comparison, check out what Joe Wright has to say about Sucker Punch.) Cate Blanchett plays Marissa, the CIA agent out to destroy Hanna and her father.

Jessica Barden plays Sophie, the “typical” teen daughter of the vacationing family that Hanna temporarily latches onto. And Olivia Williams plays Rachel, Sophie’s affectionate mother who tries to show Hanna kindness and protection. In contrast, only Eric Bana as Hanna’s father, and a truly sinister Tom Hollander have significant male roles. (Oh Mr. Collins, No!)

Hanna features gorgeous fairy-tale locations, fantastic cinematography, solid, terse dialogue, and amazing acting. What especially intrigued me, however, was the thematic question about mother-daughter relationships. Mothers populate this film: Photographs of Hanna’s dead mother haunt her throughout the movie. Hanna’s grandmother also appears briefly, and challenges Marissa to consider her position as a mother. (Watch Blanchett’s mouth and throat twitch when she admits she has no children.) Rachel is a surrogate protective figure, and Marissa, of course, is the anti-mother. Significantly, Wright doesn’t moralize about or idealize these mothers (or non-mothers) one bit. Instead, he presents complex characters in impossible situations and lets us consider how these mother-daughter relationships are relevant.

One doesn’t ordinarily expect such subtlety or philosophic consideration from an action movie. In his Vanity Fair interview with John Lopez, Wright explained, “Paul Greengrass showed us with the Bourne films that it’s possible to make an action film with a political, social conscience. I liked that idea of making an action film that was the opposite of misogynistic, gun-loving bullshit. Something that could entertain, first and foremost, but also have a social conscience.” Well done, Mr. Wright. Hanna is beautiful, well-written and masterfully executed.

Oh yeah, it’s also fast-paced, loaded with cool weaponry and impressive fighting, and set to a kicking soundtrack by the Chemical Brothers. No car chases though. You’ll have to (gulp) see Fast Five for that.

Ink Stains and the Brainy Girl

31 Mar

2000irises: Ink Stains and the Brainy Girl — A review of webcomics

In honor of Dilbert creator Scott Adams’s recent coming-out as an asshat (be sure to click through and read Adams’s original post!), I thought it might be therapeutic to take in some truly wonderful, original, creative comics by and featuring brainy women.

If you haven’t spent much time exploring the almost infinite world of web comics, it can be somewhat daunting. In the interest of avoiding another Irene Adler-sized post, I’m only going to tap three examples here, but consider this the first in a series of posts about web comics. The traditional comics publishing world may still be a boys’ club, but online, anything goes.

I credit my first recommendation to my supersmart and oh-so-cutting-edge friend Ifreet, who is a kind of awesome magnet. She always finds the coolest stuff ages before I do. I literally keep a notepad out when she’s around because she’s always pointing me to things I need to see, hear and do. (I still owe her my first-born child to pay off my Sassy Gay Friend debt.)

–Lately, Ifreet has been raving about 2D Goggles or The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage by Sydney Padua. I cannot second her rave enough.

In 2D Goggles, Actual Real Life friends Ida Lovelace and Charles Babbage – Victorian mathematicians, scientists and engineering vanguards — team up to fight crime (by which they mean street music and poetry.) Some of the best things about this comic:

  1. It’s pretty: Frenetic drawing style paired with keen composition, technical know-how, and an eye for meaningful detail.
  2. It’s funny: Sassy dialogue, pop culture references and bad puns aplenty.
  3. Footnotes: Oh yes girls and boys, Padua is good at research, and she really, really wants us to get her in-jokes. I get smarter with each installment. (I cannot say the same thing for Dilbert. *ahem*)
  4. Hyperlinks: Wanna learn more? Padua hyperlinks like a maniac: primary sources, secondary sources, visual inspirations, tangentially related nonsense, completely unrelated nonsense – it’s all here for the clicking.

The nice thing here is you can begin at the beginning and you don’t have thousands of comics to read through before you get to the newest installments. The episodes run concurrently, and each has its own arc.

–Next up is Bite Me! by Dylan Meconis.

Ifreet may have told me about this little gem, too, but I kind of forgot and later rediscovered it on my own. What’s it about? Glad you asked. It’s about Vampires! and the French Revolution! It’s sophisticated, funny, and has some kick-ass lady vamp types.

I’m a sucker for kick-ass lady anythings, really. Buffy is a personal hero. But, honestly, I’m suffering from vampire burnout. Too much Buffy, perhaps. More likely too much Twilight, Vampire Diaries, Being Human, etc. I’ve always been a fan of the vampire trope, but it’s pretty much circled the drain since Anne Rice. Thankfully, Meconis avoids falling into the current “tortured vampire” cliché – the one that pits the “I’ll eat anything that moves” vampire against the “God I love/resent/desire fragile humanity” vampire. The vampires here are mostly cool with being vampires and are on the run and having fun. Flying heads! Funny Hats! Robespierre! Go vampires go!

Ms. Meconis began this comic in high school, because she had, as she says, “a burning desire to simultaneously make fun of A Tale of Two Cities and Interview With the Vampire.” She actually completed Bite Me! in 2004, and now publishes a newer web comic called Family Man, which I also highly recommend.

–And finally, we have Subnormality.

Subnormality is the kind of comic where you read through all the panels, and then you have to go back and look closely at the art because it’s peppered with funny, sad, lovely details you probably missed the first time. Most of the episodes are one-offs, but Subnormality does have a recurring character in the form of a 3000 year-old sphynx. She wanders around a modern metropolis trying desperately to understand why people live and feel the way they do. She bumps up against contemporary social constructs and wonders why human beings’ priorities are so screwed up. It’s sharp at times, almost cynical even, but mostly Subnormality is poignant and has a very curious, quite gentle approach to talking about human frailty. “Sexier Than” actually made me cry. (Yeah, I’m a sucker.)

The artist/author of Subnormality is Winston Rowntree – the pseudonym for a guy who earned my eternal devotion by plainly declaring, “I’m downright feminist.” Many of the characters in these strips are women, and he writes women well. He writes men well, also. And sphinxes. And monsters. And so on. Mr. Irises introduced me to Subnormality, and it’s only loyal gratitude that keeps me from writing Winston Rowntree daily love letters. Well, that and my pride.

If you’re interested in exploring further, here are just a couple more sites where you can find other female-friendly web comics:

Girlamatic.com

and

Feministe’s 10 Webcomics You Should Read

If you have more suggestions, I’m all ears.

A Defense of Irene Adler: Part One

18 Feb

2000irises: A Defense of Irene Adler, Part One

It turns out I’ve worked up quite a froth about Irene Adler. I’ve been sitting on this post for quite a while and it turned out l o n g. (Could I edit it down? Sure. But why? It’s the bloody Internet.) So I’ve broken it into two pieces. Pace yourself. Take stretch breaks. Drink water.

A Defense of Irene Adler: Part One
The Rant

Irene Adler is a woman with a reputation. Even though she appears in just one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s sixty Holmes stories (“A Scandal in Bohemia,”) readers and filmgoers can never get enough of her. Countless pastiches have expanded on her story – some rather creatively. (Notably, see Carole Nelson Douglas’s Irene Adler series. )

Most recently, Guy Ritchie’s 2009 film Sherlock Holmes casts Adler (Rachel McAdams) as Sherlock’s former lover and capricious sidekick.

(She’s the wily one who tied a naked Robert Downey, Jr. to a headboard, for which many men and women offer their gratitude.)

Thank you again, Irene.

For Sherlock Holmes, Ritchie modernizes the classic characters, styling them edgier, sexier, scruffy and slick. This makes for exciting movie watching, but as many others have noted, his explosive vision dispenses with all of Conan Doyle’s subtlety. The characters lose dimension for sensation’s sake. Unfortunately, Irene Adler’s character suffers the worst betrayal.

Conan Doyle’s Adler is actually a fascinating and nuanced female character, but she’s often only remembered as the one woman who ever impressed Sherlock Holmes, the only woman he might have loved. Thus, Ritchie’s version of Irene is neither original nor surprising, but still it misses the mark. She’s only a supporting character in the film, so naturally we don’t get much of her backstory, and her history with Holmes is merely implied. But for Adler enthusiasts, the final shot of her handcuffed on a scaffold, weeping and love-sick, sitting passively while Holmes steals her necklace – honestly, it’s just revolting. I’d hardly consider myself a purist, but really, this departs so completely from the character of Irene Adler as written by Conan Doyle, I was insulted. She’s not stronger for Ritchie’s revamp. He keeps Irene’s sauciness, sneakiness, and self-interest, but he loses everything that makes Irene cool.

Long before strutting through Richie’s steampunk London in a shockingly fuchsia silk gown, Irene Adler made a name for herself by accomplishing the impossible. In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Adler goes head to head with Sherlock Holmes and she wins. Of the four people who ever best Holmes, Irene is the only woman to do so, and she’s the only one who merits a whole story.

But beyond outwitting Holmes, Irene Adler is a compelling character in her own right. She is fearless, fiercely independent, and for a proper Victorian lady, unusually forthright about her ambitions – both professional and romantic. In “A Scandal in Bohemia,” Holmes describes Adler as a spinster because she’s an unmarried woman of thirty, but she’s hardly been home embroidering cushions. She’s traveled the world. She’s enjoyed a wildly successful career as an opera singer, and carried on scandalous love affairs with prominent men. She hasn’t had babies. She hasn’t settled down into dull domestic bliss. She’s smart and ambitious and rejects the dull social demands of polite society, choosing not to trouble herself with the common concerns of ordinary women. Irene Adler makes her own rules, and unlike Conan Doyle’s other female characters, she doesn’t allow herself to be manipulated by repressive families or greedy men. (Adler is blackmailing the King of Bohemia, after all.) She matches Sherlock Holmes’ intellect and cunning, but also his stubborn independence.

Many women appear in the Sherlock Holmes stories, but of them, only Irene Adler is a developed character. Many have questioned Conan Doyle’s attitude toward women, but in context, he isn’t any more misogynous than any writer of his time. In fact, his villains were often nasty men bent on taking advantage of women. Conan Doyle was at least sympathetic to some of the grizzlier struggles women faced: assault, theft, and forced marriage. Conan Doyle is not sensationalistic about these abuses; he doesn’t linger over the damage, but quickly moves toward retribution. More than once, Sherlock Holmes releases men who have committed crimes in the service of oppressed women. (See “The Abbey Grange” and “The Devil’s Foot”, for example.)

Sherlock Holmes the character often scoffs at women’s intellectual abilities, not because he dislikes women exactly, but rather because they confound him. He mistrusts women based entirely on his affinity for precision and logic and his impatience with sentiment and emotion. In “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” Holmes tells Watson, “the motives of women are so inscrutable. … How can you build on such a quicksand? Their most trivial action may mean volumes, or their most extraordinary conduct may depend upon a hairpin or a curling-tong.”

Obviously, this view of women is unrealistic, and Conan Doyle knows it. He undermines Holmes’s prejudices almost immediately by pitting him against Irene Adler in the first short story. She may be beautiful and her actions mercurial, but she is also observant, clever, intuitive and calculating. She also has a sense of humor, and clearly enjoys rubbing Holmes’s nose in his arrogant ignorance. Ultimately, even Moriarty can’t elude Holmes, but Adler can, because she takes advantage of his sexism.

At least he has the good grace to be impressed. Watson explains that forever after Irene Adler is “The Woman” to Sherlock Holmes: a hard won title which ironically dooms her to be largely remembered not as a creative, exciting example of emancipated Victorian womanhood, but rather as the sole object of Holmes’ repressed sexuality.

Watson clarifies Holmes’s relationship with Adler in the very first paragraph of “A Scandal in Bohemia.” Holmes admires her, we are told, but “It was not that he felt any emotion akin to love for Irene Adler. All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen, but as a lover he would have placed himself in a false position. He never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer.”

Thus, Watson practically trips over himself to assure readers that despite Holmes’s appreciation of Adler, he does not love her. Nonetheless, in the 120 years since this story first appeared, countless pastiches and films have found ways to hook them up. This wishful thinking does a disservice to Holmes’s extraordinary, almost inhuman, detachment, but honestly, it does a disservice to Adler as well. Just as Holmes doesn’t love Adler, she doesn’t love him either.

Furthermore, not only does Irene not love Sherlock Holmes, she outright mocks him. She thumbs her nose at him right on his very doorstep. Her “Goodnight, Mister Sherlock Holmes” isn’t meant to seduce, it’s meant to humble.

She doesn’t pine for Holmes. She doesn’t offer to stick around and keep house for him. She doesn’t stay to spawn little mini-detectives with him. She packs her bags in the dead of night and skips town. Her parting gifts – a short, sarcastic letter and formal photograph – only serve to remind her gobsmacked pursuers that even though she admires Sherlock’s “formidable” talents, she is mistress of her own fate.

All this makes it difficult to swallow stories of Holmes and Adler in which they overcome their singular incompatibly and find romance. Honestly, would the vivacious, confident Adler put up with a cold, dispassionate Holmes just because she admires his great mind? Can we really imagine a love-struck Holmes becoming a father? How would that work, exactly? Would there be test tubes?

So my further question is, if Sherlock Holmes is enjoying a modern revival of interest and if Irene Adler is accompanying him back into the spotlight, will we see a modern version of Adler that adequately captures her spirit and independence without turning her into a shrew?

A Defense of Irene Adler: Part Two

18 Feb

2000irises: A Defense of Irene Adler, Part Two

A Defense of Irene Adler: Part Two
The Plea (and Maybe a Just a Smidge More Rant)

With Guy Ritchie’s RDJ vehicle behind us (and its sequel looming,) we turn our hopes for Irene Adler to Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat, the co-producers and writers of BBC’s Sherlock. Both have hinted that Adler may appear in their show’s second season. I remain reservedly optimistic about Sherlock‘s Irene. If anyone can do her justice, it’ll be Gatiss and Moffat. Thus far, their 21st Century versions of the Holmes stories and characters add sparkle and dash while remaining impressively true to the spirit of the originals. But how will they update Irene? Are the qualities that made her an exceptional Victorian woman still relevant?

I wonder all the time if there’s room in popular entertainment for sexy, brainy women, and by that I don’t just mean librarians in heat.

Irene is beautiful, that’s not surprising for film or television, and easy to manage – look at the gorgeous McAdams. Beautiful is not difficult to write. Even sassy isn’t hard to write. Everyone likes a sassy girl, as long as she’s properly tamed by the end of the movie (McAdams in handcuffs.) But beauty and sass mixed with self-determination and empowerment, that’s another matter entirely. That’s fairly rare.

Is it because filmmakers don’t think modern audiences can handle strong women? Is it because it isn’t satisfying narratively if the girl gets away? Is it harder to identify with Adler if she isn’t Holmes’s feisty second sidekick or saucy love interest? Maybe it just isn’t sexy enough for the infallible Holmes to be upstaged by a cunning woman. We love Holmes, shouldn’t she?

It seems that Ritchie, at least, believes that as far as Sherlock and Irene go, she may win the match, but she can’t win the game. Robert Downey Jr. can be tied to a bed, but only so long as it’s comic, and only so long as we know he’ll eventually show her who’s really in charge. (Again, the handcuffs, the pitiful silent tear.)

Certainly wherever Adler meets Holmes there will be sexual tension – that tension is present in the story as well. If it weren’t, we wouldn’t need Watson to explain their relationship right out of the gate, nor would so many pastiches attempt to resolve that tension. Sexual frustration is fun, we love to see it, bring it on. But can’t that tension remain unresolved? Honestly, isn’t that hotter? Do we really need to declaw Irene in order to affirm Holmes’s superiority? Can’t Sherlock come away from his dealings with Irene with a tiny crack in his invulnerability? After all, many argue that Irene Adler is important to the Sherlock Holmes mythology because she does more than compromise Holmes’s view of women: she humanizes him.

So please Mr. Gatiss, please Mr. Moffat, I beg you. I can’t bear to see another Irene dangling prostrate above the Thames. If you do write Adler into the next season of Sherlock, let Irene Adler show Holmes up, and then let her celebrate by hopping a redeye on the arm of gorgeous man, a self-satisfied smirk on her face.

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