THE WORST WEBCOMIC ON THE INTERNET – ASSIGNED MALE: HOW NOT TO TACKLE IMPORTANT ISSUES

Oh God. I’ve actually found it the worst  comic on the internet. This is literally the personification of everything that is wrong with the overzealous left on Tumblr. A comic worse than Sonichu. Less articulate than My Immortal.

A comic is so polarizing, so ranty, it even isolates other trans people and feminists. A comic that is so far left, that when right wing trolls do edits of it,half the time I have difficulty telling which ones are real and which ones are parodies. The only key difference is that the parodies are at least funny. Which is a problem.

Attempts to help like this, done horrendously, to talk about important issues just give trolls ammunition and undermine attempts at improving representation. Honestly, if someone was a centrist, naive and heard endless stories about how bad ‘SJWs’ were and then saw a few of these strips, I can see them easily siding with them. Hell, I actually cheered on the bigot strawmen in half these comics.

BASIC SUMMARY AND STORYTELLING

 

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What is the purpose of this strip?

This strip takes the form of a ‘gag a day’ strip, except without a gag, or humour. Because who needs humour? Instead, we get a heavy handed ham fisted gender studies lecture which usually involves Stephie commiserating with her echo chamber   I mean, band of sycophants friends about some issue, or else berating some unwitting passer by who accidentally stepped on a land mine.

I mean, we read comics to be entertained. No one ever liked PSAs. Even as kids, no one wanted to watch this:

Even when there is a legitimate punchline, it’s often muddied by a bizarre set up:

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I don’t understand what she’s parodying

Wait, so you DON’T want people to research trans issues and be a good ally? What’s your point?? Normally, when this is done, it’s done to parody the weird questions that LGBT people are asked, in attempt to show how demeaning/ ridiculous they are. For example:

‘When did you decide to be straight?’

‘Straight clubs have the BEEESSSST music. Oooooh, I have a straight friend- nothing in common except their straight- you wanna go out?’

But trans issues are more complex than being cis. And they definately need support in this climate.  So it doesn’t work. And her mum asked her a completely innocuous question- what are you spending your money on? Why the sarcasm? Is it because If Stephie said ‘the latest Ms Marvel comic’, Stephie might actually have had an interest and conversation that doesn’t center around gender?

As for It sometimes has mini arcs, but there isn’t much in the way of continuity. No characters really develop, and I still have no idea what personality Stephie’s supposed to have… I know she’s angry, irrational, judgmental and self absorbed, but  I don’t know what personality the creator intended her to have.

Which brings me onto the biggest problem:

THIS AUTHOR HAS NO INTEREST IN WRITING A CHARACTER

Even if this comic is called ‘Assigned Male- the incredible adventures of Stephie who just happens to be transgendered’, don’t be fooled. There is nothing ‘just happens’ about it. Stephie is trans.  I don’t really know anything about her goals, hobbies, or much about her except that she speaks like a gender studies student. Seriously. The author even admits Stephie has no other interests.

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I genuinely had to debate whether to put this in because i wasn’t sure if this was an edit or not.

Lampshading your failure to write an actual character does not fix the problem. Also, there are so many great female lead comics like Batgirl, Wonder Woman, Batwoman, Rat Queens and Ms Marvel… and you’re just going to dismiss the whole medium? When there’s a huge push at the moment to make the medium more inclusive? Hell, we saw another character reading a lumberjanes comic at one point- so the author must know this. And as for videogames, what about Child of Light or Undertale- or freaking Tetris or Candy crush?Or Indie games? Also, football loses value if cis men get anything from it? WTF?

There is one or two token examples of Stephie having a hobby or two– but they were done in a ham fisted ‘tell’ way, is never organically incorporated in the story telling such as say, Lisa Simpson and her sax, or the blokes from Friends and their love of football.

For another example of Sophie’s lack of irony, see this:

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What’s wrong with this panel? This is a reasonable point for every day trans people to make. But in the context of this comic there are  three things:

a) Trans and gender issues are the ONLY thing Stephie can talk about.

b) She’s in a webcomic about a transperson’s life- ie. A PIECE OF MEDIA ABOUT TRANS LIVES FOR PUBLIC CONSUMPTION

c) IF YOU DON’T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT, WHY DID YOU AGREE TO THIS INTERVIEW?

STEPHIE AND HER SOCK PUPPETS ARE TERRIBLE PEOPLE

One thing to note, Stephie is supposed to be 11. She is 11 and she talks like This . Here’s more examples of Dick Grayson, age 12 speaks Stephie and her flunkies talk like:

11 years old – ‘Yes. Because of course I am a heterosexual cis male

11 years old- ‘so you want to compensate for your insecurity regarding your masculinity  and parenting skills by denying my identity‘ – NOT EVEN 20 YEAR OLDS TALK LIKE THIS

11 years old– ‘And spend the summer not getting any sleep because I’ll be so anxious performing a gender I don’t have.’

I understand that some kids are precocious, and the comic even tried to imply this in an earlier comic. But the reason  Lisa worked in the Simpsons was because she was the only character like this, and it contrasted with the straight man ie. the rest of Springfield. She even suffered iscolation from her peers due to her intellect.

This doesn’t work here because half the characters talk like this- even the strawmen. she’s literally like the raging feminists you find on campus that even the other feminists run a mile whenever they see them on the horizon.

Speaking of angry feminists, Oh God, the overwhelming problem with this story is how reprehensible the characters are and how aggressively they spout their views. Lets begin with the first ever comic.

Stephie is sick and Stephie’s mum takes her to the hospital. The receptionist notices that inspite of seeing a little girl, there’s a boys name on the card and she asks Stephie’s militant butch lesbian stereotype mum if there’s a mistake. Her mum, being a responsible adult, explains that Stephie identifies as female in a calm and rational manner…

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Her mum rages at the poor unsuspecting person trying to do their job.

Then, it’s Stephie’s turn. Stephie is angry with her mum. Is it because her mum’s being an irrational rage-aholic? No, it’s because she isn’t doing militant trans activism right. Even though her mum is sticking up for her and using language that mainstream activists use to describe being transgender, she is the real monster for getting it wrong. she throws a complete fit about it. Because apparently Stephie doesn’t think she wasn’t born in the wrong body- she doesn’t have gender dysphoria in spite of having it in other panels when convenient to the plot. No. This is a girl’s body. This is her girl’s penis! Even though she takes hormones and shows signs of dysphoria in some comics and then claims not to have it in others.

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HOW DARE SHE NOT MAGICALLY KNOW THAT STEPHIE’S EXACT WAY SHE VIEWS HER IDENTITY?!

Does her mum punish her for being a little shit? Of course not, Stephie can do no wrong and her mum bends and apologises. But the worst thing is her kid is sick and she leaves to hospital. She is literally going to let her kid be dangerously ill because some medical professional didn’t understand the situation at the counter and she couldn’t control her own kid. What a child abuser great parent.

HOW MILITANT THEY ALL ARE

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Wow. That passive aggressive bullshit definitely won’t isolate people who are reading your comic  to educate themselves and leave only the most militant of trans activists reading

Stephie  and her crew are absolutely horrendous to everyone around them. Even though trans people suffer from discrimination, homelessness and violence at alarming rates, you know what kind of issues this comic decides the tackle? Getting the wrong happy meal!

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Haha, I abused that minimum wage worker for no reason! 

Ah, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen non binary gender bending characters gain superpowers. But remember when Sailor Uranus used her powers to protect innocent people rather than assaulting overworked fast food employee? Yeah, that was terrible motivation. It would have been better if Sailor Uranus used it to attack people who got her the wrong toy on Child’s day or something. That would make her more engaging.sailor uranus.gif

No one even cares if you want a different toy. I used to ask for the boys toy all the time. I worked at a fast food place, we were used to switching them. The bronies already fought that civil right for you.  Let the internet fix this for you:

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This is how she treats the people around her. Attack them for the smallest slights! Most of her friends are trans/ non binary/ gay in some way or the other, but those who aren’t exist for two purposes: to be stawman and commit a slight for Stephie to yell at them about, or b) to worship the ground she walks on and only talk about her issues.

HOW STEPHIE HANDLES DEBATE

Well, it’s not about characters, and it’s not funny, and gives us lectures, it must be educational for newcomers, right? Lets look at how she handles arguments:

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I JUST WANT TO  BE SAFE, YOU PATRIARCHAL. CISGENDERED. BIGOTED. FUCK!

And fun fact! The author trans Yuno Sophie Labelle got kicked out of a local trans group for going off on an angry tirade  ‘questioning their beliefs.’ I wonder how she could have approached them that would have provoked that response?

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And aww, ‘truscum’?  Isn’t that cute. She’s invented a new hate term for transgender people who don’t agree with her! It’s lovely how she keeps those spaces safe for other trans women where they can go and not be verbally attacked.

But that is assigned male in a nutshell.

It doesn’t want to educate the audience. It doesn’t want to make logical arguments. It wants the audience to blindly agree with her points otherwise they’re a PRIVELEDGED CISSEXIST TOOL OF THE PATRIARCHY!

Yet asking questions about those points for clarification- even none invasive none personal questions? SEE ABOVE. And accidentally making a mistake?  … BTW, whatever happened to that kid who said transwomen were women trapped in a male’s body?

Worse still, aside from the strawmen, the biggest target of her ire are the perfectly

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Actually, that’s a pretty good argument- it makes their issues a mater of human rights, and people often dehumanise trans people by referring to them as ‘it’, so it’s something people need reminding. It should be done because they’re smart, funny and talented? Okay, fine. But what about Caitlin Jenner or trans people we despise? Do we get to respect them? What about trans women who are violent criminals? If we respected trans women based on merit, wouldn’t that mean that misgendering women who are terrible people is okay?

This comic doesn’t just rely on blind aggression to argue its points! We also have logical fallacies:

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‘I am a Duck! And my body is MINE. So it can only be a duck’s body. Ducks have all types of bodies ‘ LOGIC

Strawman, strawman everywhere:

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Yes, because transphobes typically have a problem using crass terms for genitalia in regards to transwomen.

Giving the enemy swirly eyes:

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Yeah, twitter wasn’t convinced.

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See what you did there, but no, people not being attracted to trans people is a VERY different debate to people not being attracted to different races. The ‘you are transphobic for not wanting to date me’ directly plays into the TERF fear mongering that they do to lesbians that transwomen are gonna bully and manipulate them into having sex with them.

And the admission that the presence of any logical scrutiny will destroy her:

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Stephie makes an Illogical arguement, is called out on it, then she pivots.

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That does not counter his point

You should try and be more like the perfect ally like Stephie… speaking of allyship

STEPHIE IS SELF ABSORBED

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Hmmm, learning and mostly listening….

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Don’t tell other people how to advocate for their rights? Well, that’s good advice. Lets see how long Stephie can keep that up before she starts telling a gay anti bullying campaigner how to do it and making it all about Stephie:

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She couldn’t even listen for a fucking panel. And of course, gay activist couldn’t be allowed to be right or have validity talking about his own his own issues! No, we’re going to turn him into a strawman so her Sueiness can be right!

Oh, gee! Thanks for transplaining to a gay man what homophobia is and making him the REAL homophobe, asshole! Why couldn’t he be as well versed on gay issues as an 11 year old trans girl?

I’m sure a homophobia educator who selflessly devotes his time to travelling around schools to promote equality would TOTALLY start calling femme gays ‘fags’ in the middle of class. It’s not like he would have recieved letters from or spoken to boys who go bullied for being effeminate or anything.

And also- maybe they aren’t tired of the effeminate stereotype because they’re monsters. Maybe it’s because the swishy stereotype is the only representation they get in media, and they’re sick of basically being belittled and reduced to this:

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And lets not forget that she’s only started living as a female for five minutes, and yet she’s the only one enlightened enough to stand up to those sexists and realise objectification is wrong.

She’s also so self absorbed she can’t put her own issues aside to help a kid with his homework:

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This wouldn’t be so bad, but we never see her do anything or care for anyone else’s issues unless its gender related.

This comic isn’t the only one she spent berating the gays for not being good enough cis allies . She never attacks lesbians or Muslims funny enough, even though both groups tend to have far more issue with transwomen in their communities than gay men.

I personally have a theory as to why: morality isn’t based on your actions, but how marginalized you are. You’re only allowed to be sympathetic in this series if you have at least two marginalizations. Gay men are scum because even though they’re cis men and being gay doesn’t cancel that out. Cis women are dickheads because they’re still straight and cis. Lesbians- in spite of being typically more anti trans than gay men- don’t get criticised because they’re still both women AND gay and can’t be evil. Myrick gets forgiven for being traditionally masculine because he’s trans and POC. Her best friend is good because she’s black and female, in spite of being cis.

SCIENCE AND FACTS ARE TRANSPHOBIC

Ugh! The worst thing is that this is anti science and anti reason.

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But Stephie, You  ARE female, so any experiences you have will be a girls experience! It doesn’t matter how you’re percieved. Unless you’re saying that you need other people to validate your identity.

‘Saying there are male and female brains is neurosexist’. First, wha? Second. BUUULLLLLSSSSHIIIIIITTTTTT! It’s not neurosexist, it’s scientifically demonstratable. Scientists have actually done research and found that there are male and female brains.  In fact, it’s those big mean neurosexist scientists that are actually proving that transgenderism has a biological basis and that trans women really do have a feminized brain– thus not men pretending to be women.

But Stephie aint having nothing to do with biology.

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Actually, Mr Scientific Research provides us with DNA testing which can determine how many chromosomes you have. Why don’t you take one if you think they got that wrong, Stephie? Because you KNOW what chromosomes you have; this is a red herring and you know that. And it’s the MALE Y chromosome which triggers the processes in the womb that cause the development of a penis, except in exceptionally rare cases where something goes wrong, so yeah, if everything is working correctly Y chromosomes = boy parts = biological sex.

This isn’t even an arguement that trans activists even use anyway.

Most trans activists  have a perception of reality and can make reasonable arguments see a difference between ‘gender’ and ‘sex’.

Here’s a fucking diagram:

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But for all those gender studies books she reads, Stephie uses the words interchangeably (unless its in a talking point to bash teh gayz), which leads me to believe she doesn’t grasp even the basic gender theory.

But I’ll bite. So… if saying that sex difference isn’t in the brain, has nothing to do with genitals, biology, then it must be to do with clothes and gender roles? What did you say about that again?

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So… the question remains… if gender has nothing to do with genitals, nothing to do with the brain, nothing to do with stereotypes and gender roles don’t mean anything and everyone gets to define gender for themselves… why do you need to identify as a girl? What is your motivation to transition? If girl and boy have no meaning besides what you want it to mean, why can’t you wear dresses and say you’re defining boy as someone who wears dresses? Afterall, you say men are privileged and being a girl sucks, so why do you want to experience life as a girl?

Also, why don’t you have dysphoria in the earlier part of the series and then get dysphoria in the later issues.

THE WORST PART

You know, there is so much more I wanted to talk about but don’t have enough energy to. This comic has ended me. Do you know what the worst part is? This book is being sold and marketed to small kids.

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There are hardly any books dealing with trans characters, so this book about an angry, hateful, irrational person who has no personality is the role model trans children are getting- and what other kids will think being trans means.

If her comics are anything to go by, what riveting reads in age appropriate language we’re gonna get:

riveting stuff

They’re also getting to see a mother genuinely struggle to come to terms with their trans kid’s transition and see them painted as a monstrous harpy.

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How DARE she have difficult letting go of the child she gave birth to and the mother/ daughter bond she thought she was going to be able to treasure the rest of her life. Also, why would she burn clothes that SHE WOULD HAVE PAID FOR?

Why was Sophie so intent on not letting Stephie be a character? Instead of the lectures, why couldn’t she create a role model like Sailor Moon provided 20 years ago? Sailor Uranus was a wonderful role model and a fun character.

Sailor Uranus is brave, strong, cocky, loyal, a race driver, a loving girlfriend and superhero who fights evil with her friends. She doesn’t identify with either gender and takes the male role, pronouns, dress and identity in civilian life . We see her live as none binary without endless soapboxing. We see her fight evil with her friends, bicker with her girlfriend and raise a child, not lecture people endlessly on privilige and cissexism.

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A race car driver AND superhero? It’s almost like she has other things to worry about rather than who gave her the right happy meal

Or even Alyssa from the tween friendly Batgirl comics. She’s not a pivotal character, but she is a character

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OMG Alyssa can be trans AND have a life as well.

Why couldn’t have Sophie given the world one of these women? A girl that trans women could look up to and cis children could recognise as loveable? Why did she have to let her pet peeves- mostly against allies and well meaning people who say the wrong thing- overthrow her story.

She created a platform, and yet she created a work which is more famous for its anti SJW (and much funnier) memes than its content.

But did this always have to be the case? How could Sophie have created a comic that teaches people about important social issues while still being fun and entertaining? Well, next time I’m going to look at some well handled trans/ female etc characters in other mediums, and the odd couple of panels the author sort of got right, to explore how it could be done right.

The Mermaid’s Snare

My legs were aching. My heart worked harder than it had ever done before, but it didn’t matter. I had her- the mermaid curled against my chest.

“Get back here!” cried Father John, “She’s not human! Such a union will be cursed!”

“We’re in love! That’s all that matters.”

I dove into the ocean- opened my eyes…saw my shimmering tale. My heart soared. We could be together.

Miriana was smiling. I looked at her pretty face, at her naked breasts- I pulled her against me…kissed her neck, her chest, slid my hands down her…down her… I paused

“Umm… honey.” I said , “How do we…”

“Oh silly.” She said. “Not like that!”

“Wait…. What?”

“We mate by linking fins.”

“Are you kidding me!?”

“What’s the problem.” she said, “It’s just breeding.I mean, it’s not like it’s fun.”

My blood turned cold- and not just because I’d turned myself into a reptile.

“Andrew,” said Miriana, “Why are ?”

My body was shaking. My scream echoed through the whole ocean.

“Curse you Father John!”

Daily Prompt: Scorched- BEYOND THE APOCALYPSE

via Daily Prompt: Scorched

BEYOND THE APOCALYPSE

2062- and we were running for our lives. Running from the men in anti radiation suits. We turned the corner- but there were more men out to kill us. They weren’t government or enforcers. They were ordinary men from our rival tribe; they were worse than enforcers. For them this was personal.

“You can’t do this!” screamed my sister.

“Like hell we can’t, you little vermin!” cried a woman.

“We didn’t do anything!” screamed my sister.

“You’re taking our food!” screamed man, “It’s thanks to people like you, that our supplies are dwindling! It’s your fault this happened in the first place!”

He handed us to the men in radiation suits. My sister screamed as they dragged us away. Towards the entrance. Towards the end. My heart pounded in my chest. This was more like a dream. I heard the door slam. I felt earth beneath my feet for the first time. Exposed on the surface. We were going to die. We were really going to die.

My sister banged on the door for what seemed like an hour. No one listened; of course they didn’t. If I learned one thing from the underground Haven, it’s that people never listen. Eventually my sister learned that too. Her screams grew silent. She fell to her knees and was silent for a long time. Then she began to speak again.

“There’s no way out.” she said.

My answer was silence. I looked up at the sky, at the grey snowflakes falling on my cheek. My sister looked up too, lost in thought.

“Hey sis, can you tell me about the sky again?” she said, “Before the great war.”

I smiled, sad. I looked into the big black sky; at the endless wasteland of fallen buildings, burnt to the ground and covered in grey snow.

“I’ve never seen it before. “

“Tell me anyway.” she said, “I…I need something…something to stop me thinking about this…”

I sighed and looked to the sky, at the grey flakes falling down.

“Grandma always said back then, snow used to be different than it is now. Before the surface was scorched.” I said, “It didn’t fall apart when you touched it- not like this.” I said, holding another ashy flake in my palm as it disintergrated, “It was cool and wet. It used to cover all the earth, all the trees with beautiful white sheets. And people used to build snow men. Or make little balls and throw it at each other.”

We stare out, into the ashen wasteland.

“There wasn’t the war back then.” I said, my voice small, “There was… but not like this. Not like the one that did this- not like the purges.”

“Sis…” my sister’s voice choked. “How long… do you think we have… before the radiation kills us?”

“I don’t know, four hours maybe?”

We were both silent. We looked back at the cave lead door of the underground city we came from.

“Four hours.” she choked, “…I don’t want to die.”

“I know you don’t.”

“I’m scared.”

“I know you are.”

I didn’t know what to tell her. In a few hours, we’d be nothing. We’d be dead. All I could do was hold her hand.

“The sky,” she spoke softly “It’s beautiful. Funny, all that time underground… I never thought I’d see it.”

I looked up at the endless void, filled with beautiful stars. I’d never seen a star before, but I’d assumed it was like one of our strobe lights. I never knew its life could be so…pure.

” Do you think it’s true- what they say?” she said, “That… maybe there is a paradise-somewhere here?”

The lost land sealed by the stone door. The story every child in the underground city knew by heart.

“Maybe.” i lied

“Hey, sis. I don’t want to die doing nothing.Do you think… maybe if we look, we might find it before the radiation kills us?”

“I think we should try.” I said.

We walked together, into the scorched wasteland, looking at the remains of humanity. At the piles of rubble that was once our greatest achievements that meant nothing now. In search of what man had been searching for since the dawn of time. Paradise. A place better than this one.

Hey, thanks for reading. This was done in response to the daily prompt challenge which is here: Scorched . Follow the link to find out about taking part.

If you’re interested in another piece of flash fiction set in this world, please click here for more on their paradise.

The Secret of The Sailor and The Kraken

Everyone knew the story of  my grandad. 50 years ago, a Kraken had terrorized our town. Killed a lot of people, including my Uncle. That’s when Grandpa snapped; with only a hunting knife, he went out and killed the monster and became a hero.

But one of the strange things about him was that he always walked along the sea front alone, late at night.

I followed him one night. I watched as he stood by the ocean. Moonlight glittered on a shiny black tentacle.

He didn’t even look up, “I knew you’d find me, lad. I’d like you to meet Ella. The Kraken’s daughter.”

“But… why?”

The old man gave a heavy sigh.

“Ella here’s a herbivore.” He said slowly, “Tried to feed her some tuna but she wouldn’t even touch it.”

“Then…”

He put his hands deep in his pockets.

“I found out…” he said, “many years ago, my son was seeing another man. Your mother said some men found out and didn’t like it. Were gonna blackmail him. Don’t know who.Apparently the thought of me knowing was worse than death to him.”

He kicked a rock.

“I’ll never know what happened- if it was someone else who killed him, or he did it himself.” his voice choked “All I know is that people still go missing, my son’s gone, and killing that Kraken didn’t do a damned thing.”

He gave me a long, tired look.

“If you only remember one thing I’ve told you, remember this.” he said, “It’s easier to kill a monster than look in the damned mirror.”

Grandpa walked away into the night,not looking back.

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This is my 280 word submission for the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. Each week we submit a story of approximately 100-175 words based on a photo which we use to center our short stories on. It’s really beyond the word length and is probably ineligible, but I had a good story and decided to share it here anyway. Hopefully it’ll be a good read anyway. For more information, click HERE.

Scarecrow of the Old South

 

Mr Abbott was always there, on the porch, drinking a beer. Holding his shotgun. Say his only friend was that scarecrow.

Older folks say it wasn’t always like this; he was different before ‘nam; or before his wife left. It always changed.

All we knew was that he’d always been there until one day, he wasn’t. We no longer saw him. We wondered, but no one dared ask. It was a salesman- an outsider – who found him. Said the door was open. He looked in. He dropped his suitcase. Called for help.

Police said Mr Abott had a fall. He’d layed there three days before he died. Shame really. We all went to his funeral. No one cried.

The only thing left of him is that scarecrow. On some nights people say they saw the scarecrow holding his old shot gun. Mr Abbott’s long been dead.But even now, no one dares go near his property.

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(157 words)

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This is my 150 word submission for the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers. Each week we submit a story of approximately 100-175 words based on a photo which we use to center our short stories on. For more information, click HERE.

FLASH FICTION: Last Man In Paradise

I opened the stone door, to the other world; the one I thought could only be a delusion. Paradise. My breathe caught in my throat. It was… real. All those years of fighting, grey clouds, bullets. Watching my father die. Now I was here, in a field of endless green.

I held a flower in my hand. Bright and red and beautiful. It withered and turned to dust. I scattered its ashes. It turned the grass brown. I smiled. There were no people here; no houses, no cities. Not the wars. The angry crowds.My father; the mob dragged him away. Now there was nothing but singing birds.No one else here. I walked back out the stone door. Let Paradise be.

WHY PEOPLE HATE FEMALE MARY SUES MORE THAN GARY STUS

‘Such a Mary Sue’- we see that insult hurled all the time at female characters. Sometimes it’s due to mysogyny/ internalised mysogyny, but often there’s another reason. There’s something fundamentally different about the way a lot of female protagonists in an action/ fantasy setting are written when compared with male characters.

Mary Sue is a term that has been really hard to pin down- in part because it’s supposed to be a criticism of original fanfic characters not characters in original works(though with the likes of Fifty Shades Of Grey and The Mortal Instruments). I think when people say ‘Mary Sue’, what they really mean is really a fanfic term, ‘author insert fantasy’- where we’re not really seeing a real, believable character with flaws, talents and a believable reason to be the hero, but a

Yet, pretty much the majority of fiction can be described as this in some way, especially the ‘geeky guy who nobody likes saves the day’ stories (which I now am beginning to loathe), so why is it that

Some of it is due to sexism- no doubt about that (see Men’s Rights Activists throwing tantrums who spend all their time whining about increased female representation rather than doing something about important issues that they claim to care about like the male suicide rate). Some of it is internalised sexism- you hear this criticism from girls with depressing regularity when all a heroine did was be really competent. But some of it is to do with a legitimate reason- female protagonists are more likely to be  granted special status without actually doing anything to do it.

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Is a ditzy school girl, has a whole host of more competent friends, and yet is the Moon Princess, chosen one and has an eternally devoted boyfriend. Yet Usagi never seems to draw the Mary Sue criticism

Although that criticism is sometimes directed at heroines like Rey, who’s a strong,capable action heroine who DOES a lot of stuff, not as many people criticize characters like Hermione, Katniss, Arya , Toph Bei Fong, Daenerys, Buffy, or Wonder Woman. Hell, a lot of people think Hermione’s so much cooler than Harry and I’ve heard the Gary Stu criticism being leveled at Harry far more than Hermione. The characters who receive the criticism are people like Bella Swann from Twilight or Clary from Mortal Instruments or Kairi from Kingdom Hearts.

And what do they all have in common? What is different about them compared to James Bond or Batman or Sora (apart from quality of writing?) Well, all those Male characters are special BECAUSE of their skill and prowess, while these women are deemed special IRRESPECTIVE (and often IN SPITE OF) of any actual skill or prowess shown. And that does not a compelling character make.

Everyone follows Clary in spite of her poor decision making skills, everyone loves Bella Swann for REASONS (special blood I guess) and while Sora had to earn his special status, Kairi is special in spite of getting kidnapped relentlessly and achieving nothing,  because she is pretty, nice and has special pure princess powers . People follow Rick from Walking Dead because he’s a good leader, like Luke Skywalker because he becomes a powerful Jedi, admire Superman because he’s saved Metropolis on many occasions. And Batman? Well, why do we like you , Bruce?

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I understand why the Princess characters like Kairi ended up that way (male writers, archetypical princess fantasy, plus she’s nothing more than a pretty plot device to motivate Sora), but a lot of these female wish fulfillment fantasies are written by women too, so why do we end up with these type of author inserts?

Well, a lot of these wish fulfillment involve fantasizing about fulfilling (and surpassing) societies expectations of what makes the ultimate Successful Person. And society has very different standards for success in men and women. This can be summed up as ‘Men Do, Women Are.’ And this is how these standards shape male and female heroes:

THE HERO’S JOURNEY

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As funny as Po is, he is the most rage inducing Gary Stu and audience wish fulfillment character I’ve ever seen

For men, a man is judged in society for what he DOES. He has to compete with other men and PROVE he’s top dog if he’s to be of any value. Is he rich, successful, a great fighter, able to attract that hot girlfriend that all his friends want to bang? If he isn’t any of these things- if he doesn’t have a job, can’t fight, isn’t a provider, not tough, then he isn’t a ‘real man’. This is pretty harsh and  a double edged sword; on the one hand this can lead to depression and resentment in those who can’t reach those sky high standards of masculinity, but on the other hand pushes them on to achieve things.

So a male character has to prove his worth to the story to be vital. A male author insert/ wish fulfillment has to EARN his esteem to be valuable, and the typical hero’s journey reflects that. With the nerdy guy who starts out a zero but becomes a hero (think Luke Sky Walker, Shia LaBouf in transformers, that kid from How To Train Your Dragon ), he has to grow and save the world or do something worthwhile before he gains esteem.

The already successful Asshole Hero (your House, your Tony Starks, to a lesser degree Wallander),  is already the Alpha Male, and he proves his worth by all of the cool shit he does and his brilliant plans. The flaws he has to overcome are usually personal, and involve Dark Tragic Backstory or an alcohol problem etc.

THE PRINCESS’… UM, SPECIALNESS

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Now, success is a very different matter for women. Time and time again, we see that in spite of her achievements, a woman’s reduced to who her boyfriend is and what she looks like.  Her most important attributes are (1) beauty- which although make up and gym help, either you’re born with beauty or you’re not, and are fairly passive traits and (2) being desired by a good man, which is mainly about looks, and (3) being nice and accommodating, and definitely not ‘a bitch’.

Sure, these women are often expected to have some kind of attainments. A woman should get great grades at school or get a good job, but she’s not really expected to go on and DO anything incredible with that, unlike her male counterparts. She’s meant to be smart, but at the end of the day her most important job is being a wife and mother, and finding an impossible medium between being an EVIL FEMINAZI CAREER WOMEN WHO ABANDONS HER KIDS AND ARE SELFISH, and being JUST A HOME MAKER WHO IS PATHETIC AND TERRIBLE BECAUSE ALL SHE DOES IS COOK AND CLEAN AND SPEND HER MAN’S MONEY!

And how do these low and contradictory expectations reflect itself in fiction? It means a lot of these female wish fulfillments don’t go through these Hero’s Journeys or have to earn their worth. They are special because they’re just really, really pretty; they are special because they’re princesses; because they’ve got special blood; because they’re the only female X; they’re the chosen one; their specialness makes them the most popular girl in school. Their most important victory is being desired by the male lead, not saving the day. Her skill, talent, intelligence are a nice extra, sure, but not the main event.

WOULD YOU WANT TO RELATE TO THESE WOMEN?

And as such, these are REALLY frustrating characters for both men and women to read about. No man can relate to that, and lots of women don’t want to fantasize about these passive, uninspiring characters.This also makes for less compelling story telling, because it means she doesn’t go through a hero’s journey or earn her success. She doesn’t do anything great (and when she does it’s not the point).

SO WHAT?…

So what is the take away of all this? Well, I guess there’s nothing wrong with having these fantasies- on the same token as the host of male harem leads in anime. But these are not great characters, and we shouldn’t expect them to have the appeal to all people the same way that these male harem leads will not appeal to a female audience; but I think we need more engaging characters.

I think we need more Katnisses, who endures and deals with loss and PTSD in a realistic way; more Batgirls and Ms Marvels, who struggles to get stronger and who’s strong will, determination and kindness (as well as her intellect) get her through; more Granny Weatherwaxes, who are talented and who’s pragmatism is more helpful than her magic. Also, more Harley Quinn- just because she’s awesome and basically crazy clown female Deadpool.

We should have less Bellas, less Clarys, less characters who are special because she’s a princess or the only female x, and more characters who are valued for their skill, which they prove through the course of the action.