Problematic Badass Female Tropes #6: One Of The Guys

This is the PBFT that illustrates the story of my life, lovely lurkers. Please to enjoy it over at Writers’ HQ.


The More You Holmes

From: Elementary 6.21

Character Names: Lord St. Simon, Hattie Doran

Reference: Not only the names of Holmes’ client and his missing American wife are from canon story “The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor,” but the situation of her going missing at their wedding reception, and Holmes’ subsequent deduction that she wasn’t abducted but left voluntarily to be with another man, is also from the original.

(Side note: wasn’t Season 6’s finale just a corker? Love it…)

Shaky Narrative Upon a New Semester

Remember when we used to wear overalls with one shoulder loose? Yes I said “we”–don’t you dare deny it. At the very least, you wore suspenders dangling down around your knees, I know for a fact you did. If you were a teen or older in the ’80s, you did. Accept it and move on.

I mention this because I’m writing this beginning-semester musing, appropriately enough, from the Tivoli brewery on Auraria campus, and they always not only often play ’80s hits, but the videos of such up on their screens as well. So. The overalls. And the mullets. And short sprayed boy cuts for the women.

I have begun my new semester (and quarter) in earnest, lovely lurkers, and as is the tradition of this blog, I needs must give you an overview.

School wise, I’m headfirst in Regis, DU, and Metro. CCD has just expressed interest too, for next semester, and I’m rolling my eyes and heavenward gazing about how, of all the many jobs I’ve been applying for, it’s the additional adjunct job that actually bit. Ah well. Career transitions are supposed to take years, right? Sigh…

At Regis, I’m advising a student in a course called Editing Nonfiction, and on deck I’ve got a student doing a course I cobbled up from scratch, called Education Technology.

DU is a hybrid course this time, called The Writer’s Workshop. So I shall be guiding ten grad students in the Professional Writing program through several genres of writing and revisions of same.

At Metro, I’m teaching Intro to Theatre to a group of oh so very young things, and that online Staging Cultures class you’ve heard me mention before.

In other professional news:

FIGHTS! I did the fights for StageDoor’s production of Superior Donuts, which went great but I don’t know that I’ll be getting up there to see it. This week, I’m going back to Local Theatre company, to give them some fights and intimacy for Paper Cut. And I was conscripted by RRCC to do their fights for She Kills Monsters, in the beginning of 2019. Oh, and I’m involved in Shakesbeer now too–having done fights for their soused & abbreviated Henry IV, pt 1 I’m now part of their Irregulars. Which is nice.

DANCE! Blue Dime did great at the Fringe Festival, and now we are at the conclusion of three shows at Denver’s Dangerous Theatre (the pic above shows what our curtain looks like there). The SO mentioned that we are getting some high quality acts in our shows, and that we’ve basically leveled up. I agree. Our upcoming show in October back at Full Cycle is nerd themed, oh which reminds me! I’ve been asked by Frequent Flyers to return for their Theatre of the Vampires showcase, to sing Worms Crawl In while dancers swing in a giant coffin. We’ll be previewing this at Blue Dime’s October show, but what I’m really gobsmacked about is returning for this number I originated twenty years ago! Just. Wow.

BUSINESS! I’m still in changing-career mode, and as such I’m offering my body language workshop to a few different places (Twitter and Spellbinders at the immediate moment), and am seeking more expansion for it as well as reaching out to potential mentors. I’ll tell you how that goes.

Well that sounds like a lot, now I write it down. That plus an intense and long term relationship? How do I do it?

Because I’m a difficult person. Difficult people get difficult things done.

What’s on your plate right now?

Random Movement Pic

In honor of July’s Longmont Dance Theatre Stage Combat gig I do each year (and hoping enough college kids sign up for Advanced Stage Combat this Fall at Metro), please to enjoy this picture of me showing a group of 6th graders in Arvada how to swordfight. I did the fights for their production of Twelfth Night, and it was delightful.

Denver Comic Con 2018

While my presentation titledThe Fight Is The Storyhas been a Denver Comic Con mainstay since its inception (often through the academic branch of the DCC, called Page 23), this year I am doing two presentations there, but neither one is The Fight Is The Story.

You will recall, lovely lurkers, my post here about theseven problematic badass female tropes? Well, Page 23 likes the idea, and I will be presenting this concept on one of their panels this year. I’ll let you all know as soon as I know what day/time it will be. Will this be the catalyst for Gamergate 2.0? Time will tell….

Side note on this: Writers HQ is having me write about the first of the 7: The Marion Effect, for their May selections online. I’ll keep you apprised of that too: if I get enough readership, it may turn into a series, which I’ll of course ask you for help with.

DCC proper wants me too: they have accepted me to hold a session on my concept of theThree Rules For Protagonists, which you have read about before right here. Honestly, I don’t recall whether this is a panel presentation or a more hands on workshop, but either way it should be a great time!

Wi-Fi (or indeed, any) online connection is famously absent over at Comic Con. So it’s time to start making some PowerPoints, people! Let’s do this!

The More You Holmes

From: several of the eps 

Line: “The game is on!”–Sherlock, and sometimes Watson, newspaper headlines, and others

Reference: The line in the original canon is, “the game is afoot,” which we come across first in “Abbey Grange,” and which the Victorian Sherlock says in the infamous Christmas special.

But of course the very first time this catchphrase was uttered in English literature was in Shakespeare’s Henry IV, Part I.

The Archmage is Dead

The magus is dead

Long live the magus

–Anselm Hollo

Only in silence the word

Only in dark the light

Only in dying life

Bright the hawk’s flight

On the empty sky

(The Creation of Éa)

–Ursula K. LeGuin

Better (and certainly more accomplished) writers than me have already written beautiful pieces in tribute to one of our greatest writers in literature (let alone in the much maligned genre of Fantasy), upon the news of her death. What can I possibly add, that Scalzi, Gaiman, King, and the NY Times haven’t already said?

Decades before Harry Potter got his letter to admit him to Hogwarts, upstart Ged chose Roke Island over a rural existence learning from his master Ogion. Like another gifted youth after him, he chose the big conflict and the school for wizards over his backwater mentor who yet had more knowledge and wisdom than any of his big city professors. And, like Skywalker later, he finds his way finally back to accept the last phase of his higher learning, almost too late.

As a headstrong, gifted youth myself, I found Ged’s story profound in a way I can’t describe to you unless you’ve read the Earthsea books. Imagine, then, my astonishment when, in 1991, when I was poised to graduate high school, I saw, more than ten years out, the sequel to what had been only a trilogy since the ’60s: a book called Tehanu. This was something different. An aging widow and a rape survivor girl with unnamed power were the protagonists this time. I won’t spoil this for you, because you NEED to read this whole thing, but the revolution of what love can be, what being gifted really means, which I found in this late sequel, blew my fucking head off.

Later, Ursula K. LeGuin continued her adventures in the land of Earthsea, addressing the innate sexist structures of her patriarchal world, and discovering what death in her world actually was. We had been through the land of death, with her most profound protagonist and a young someone who could do nothing but follow. We knew what the Dry Land was all about. And yet. She had the guts to allow a minor character to come forth in a still later sequel and call bullshit. She questioned the very structure of her worldbuilding, and let her imaginary population say No. And thus the Earthsea series grew. And grew up. Like I did.

I’ve read a couple other works by LeGuin (short story “Buffalo Gals…” is one that reverberated through my old story saturated self) and of course like any young Fantasy writer, attempted to imitate her. But such things are impossible. Her complete concepts, thorough world building, and precisely cut prose, as pared down and beautiful as any expertly cut gem, are all things to catch one’s breath about in awe, not to copy. This was a master that can’t be copied. Many writers rightly talk of Left Hand of Darkness or The Word For World is Forest as sci fi works that speak profoundly to what sci fi normally does: the state of our society and earth as it is. And in the wake of Mr. Potter’s journey through his magical realism school for wizards, who is looking back at a rural Archipelago populated mainly with people of color, and dragons? We should be.

I declare, we all have much to learn from how Ged reacts to rich asshole Jasper, befriends Vetch, what he does about the shadow he unleashes, the lessons about indoctrinated religion we learn when he visits the Tombs of Atuan, and especially what he does with his incredible gifts, in order to save the world. The writers of Last Jedi got this, and got it spot on. LeGuin taught it to us first.

When I saw her read in Seattle, when I thought I’d be going there for grad school in writing, she was in the middle of translating the I Ching.

Ursula K. LeGuin has passed, but we are all fortunate that she not only left her rich worlds behind in immortality, but also her writing instruction. What a gift, even to have a series of writing exercises she feels important (Steering the Craft), and essays in which she expresses her views of grammar, structure, genre, and feminism in language (The Language of the Night), let alone the volumes of this vein of work online…. She may be gone, but we should delay not one moment to (continue to) learn from her.

RIP Ursula K. LeGuin. I hope your experience of death is more like your later Earthsea books than the early ones. Of course it is. You discovered such so long ago.

Problematic Badass Female Tropes

I mentioned to the SO that I had come up with seven stereotypes/damaging/problematic tropes of the Female Badass, that I was interested in writing an article about. Or a series of articles. I read my basic descriptions of all 7 to him, and he purred, “Um, this is a book, darling; you realize that, right?”


Well, this coming semester I will have quite a bit of time on my hands, and not much money to speak of, so. All righty then. It’s a book. It will be a book, that is.

Here’s a basic rundown of the seven tropes I will be analyzing. Some of them are already-established from feminist scholars before me, others I have invented (as far as I can tell; at least the terminology for them). Most have sub-tropes, which I’ll also briefly describe here. Another note: I am not equipped to discuss any non-binary nor POC issues. There’s a lot more here to write about, that I highly recommend those of you who can, should.

And away we go……

1) The Marion Effect

I named this trope off two Marions from cinema: Maid Marion in the delightfully awful Robin Hood, Prince Of Thieves; and Indy’s gal-pal in Raiders Of the Lost Ark. Both Marions begin as total unquestionable badasses (the former kicking Robin Hood’s ass, the latter drinking a dude under a table and still saving the artifact), and both switch to simpering weaklings as soon as it’s a plot point to have them become Damsels in Distress. In other words, they’re completely awesome until the male hero shows up and needs a love interest to rescue.

(Sub-trope: Someday My Prince Will Come) This can happen to any Marion Effect character but it’s mostly seen in the Disney Robin Hood’s Maid Marian. She’s even got a wanted poster of her remote crush up in her closet like a high schooler with a bad boy band poster. Either way, she does nothing to get what she wants, even if she can. Disney’s Little Mermaid is like a combination of both Marion Effects.

2) Wonder Woman

This trope is summed up with one question: does the sexiness of the ass preclude the badness of the ass? James Cameron has recently averred that a female character can’t (or shouldn’t) be both tough and sexy, but regular people of all genders seem to disagree with him. So then the problematic bits come twofold with this trope: either the strong, tough woman is depicted as manly and/or not hot, or sexiness is shoehorned onto a tough character, because she’s female.

3) Down the Rabbit Hole

It’s fun to watch women get tortured!

(Sub-trope: Slasher Fodder) Especially when we don’t have to invest in her as a fully developed character!

4) The Meaning Of (His) Life

The only function of this otherwise intelligent, quirky, and otherwise interesting character is to change the male hero’s perspective, life, etc.

(Sub-trope: Manic Pixie Dream Girl) This is a well discussed trope already: basically, the MPDG is thoroughly disposable once she has been of use to the male protagonist. This sketch sums it up: Underwritten Female Characters

(Sub-trope: The Arwen Syndrome) This sub-trope has been around for a long, long, time: since the troubadours of old. Heck, since the ancient Greeks, let’s be honest. The Arwen Syndrome refers to how Arwen was written in Tolkien’s original books. Or, rather, not written. She’s an ethereal, not-really-there figure that exists purely to keep Aragorn’s gumption up, and is basically given to him as a reward by Elrond and Galadriel for a job well done. The longest passage we have written about her is a physical description.

5) Mother Knows Best, But Hero Knows Better

I’m not sure I can think of a more badass act than giving birth. Oh wait, yes I can: it’s the act of parenting itself. Toughest thing anyone can do. But even the strongest and most badass of mothers are always second-string when it comes to the male hero.

(Sub-trope: All Women Are Maternal) This is the related trope that any woman, no matter how tough or strong she is, no matter what difference she makes or what she survives through, is simply not a real woman unless she’s a mother. The ends of Kill Bill and Aliens are examples of this.

6) One of the Guys

Story of my life, actually. But. This is the female character that isn’t “really female” because she’s pals, not lovers, with the male hero. Or she’s a part of the mostly male gang (think Anybodys in West Side Story). Or she joins the military and subsequently either is treated or in disguise as, one of the guys (G.I. Jane and Mulan are this, as are legendary pirates irl Anne Bonny and Mary Reade).

(Sub-trope: Banter Becomes True Love) Any romantic comedy from the 1980s has this in spades. Win the girl. If she, too, is intelligent, it’ll just take more persistence & work. Remember Moonlighting? The main problematic issue about the BBTL trope (besides idealizing stalking) is that the female is rendered completely uninteresting once she’s finally a love interest.

7) I’m Only Here For My Vagina

The only reason the character exists, and the only thing she’s good at or for, is sex. She can be a bad guy (Onatopp from Goldeneye) good guy love interest (insert your favorite here, pun intended), or a variety of Arwen Syndrome, but she’s just about the sex.

(Sub-trope: Witchy Woman) Circe is the first one of these who comes to mind; the female whose magic superpower is her vagina.

(Sub-trope: Bond Girl) Bond Girls can be any number of things, from villain to brief encounter to The One Who Changed Bond’s Life, but one thing they all are: they are all about sex with Bond. Once that’s accomplished, they go away.

Tell me your thoughts about these tropes and my brief onceovers of them in the comments, and I’ll post updates as I write.