My Mental Illness Has Never Made Me Hurt Someone – So Stop Suggesting It Will!

Trigger Warnings: Murder, Suicide, Several Mental Illnesses, Assault and the recent Germanwings Plane Crash.

I’m mentally ill.

I have been since I was eleven. Never in my life have I committed a violent crime. I have never been physically violent with another human being. Most of my friends have mental illnesses, perhaps because I gravitate towards people who understand how it feels. My friends’ mental illnesses include: clinical depression, generalised anxiety disorder, social anxiety, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder.

Not one of them has ever committed an act of physical violence towards another person.

When a mentally ill person commits an act of violence, whether it be assault, murder, rape or even mass murder, authorities and media rush to talk about the mental illness in question. Speculation about the recent Germanwings tragedy has focused on the co-pilot*, whether he deliberately crashed the plane and if so, what his motive was. Specifically, whether some mental illness caused him to do such a terrible thing. Was he concealing his mental illness from his employer? Was he medicated? Do we need to change the rules around pilots and mental health?

None of this is relevant whatsoever. I’m guessing that’s probably a controversial statement, but bear with me. When a person commits a violent act, we need to stop asking questions about their mental health.

Because 1 in 4 people suffers from some form of mental illness in their lifetime and the unbelievably enormous majority never commits an act of violence.

Many people committing violent crimes don’t suffer from mental illness at all.

So why is a violent criminal’s mental health the first thing we ask questions about? Simple logic dictates that if there was a strong correlation between mental illness and violent crime, either most mentally ill people would commit violence or most violence would be committed by the mentally ill. Neither of these things is true. In fact, those with a psychiatric disorder are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators.

Of course, popular media has played a huge role in this misperception of mentally ill people as violent. Films, books and movies often portray violent criminals as suffering from a mental illness, and portray the mentally ill as violent. But in reality, for most mentally ill people, our daily struggles do not involve fighting the urge to violently murder someone. We are not ticking time bombs who will kill if we forget to take our medication. Our primary struggle is internal and doesn’t involve others at all.

Let me give you a for instance.

As I type this, I have music blaring through my headphones so loudly that it’s probably damaging my eardrums. Why would I do such a thing? Because the bathroom is being renovated and that involves a lot of banging and drilling. Annoying noises that anyone would want to block out. I have to block them out. Because banging and drilling are among the sounds that can trigger my psychosis.

“Psychosis! Doesn’t that mean violent? You’re dangerous!”

No. Psychosis and violence do not bear any relation and psychotic does not mean violent. Psychosis, put simply, is a disconnect from reality. Those banging sounds are not going to make me kill anybody, or even lightly slap someone. My psychosis involves hallucinations and delusions. I see, hear and feel things that are not there. I become paranoid. Last year, I had an episode in which I was completely convinced people around me were plotting to kill me. It didn’t make me violent. It just made me afraid. I locked myself in a room so no one could get me and called my mother for help.

I had a total disconnect from reality. I heard people saying things they were certainly not saying. I could feel spiders crawling in my brain. I believed things to be true that were not true and in some cases, not even possible.

It was horrible, it was frightening and it was exhausting. It did not make me hurt anyone.

Some people might hurt others while they are experiencing a psychosis similar to mine. But the vast majority are more like me, and withdraw into themselves.

Let’s talk about depression. Depression makes it difficult to get out of bed. It makes it hard to get enthusiastic about things you used to enjoy. Depression makes you despair, it makes you hate yourself and it makes you tired. It makes you stop caring about yourself, and you start to believe others don’t care about you either. In some cases, depression makes life so unpleasant that the sufferer commits suicide.

Depression does not make you want to kill other people.

So why are news articles discussing the Germanwings co-pilot and his possible depression and despair? That is relevant to why a person might want to kill himself, but not why he’d want to kill 150 other people. Depression is one of the most common mental illnesses in the world. If it made you want to kill people, there’d be a great deal more murder.

Mental illness doesn’t lead to homicide.

People who commit murder do so because they want to hurt another human being. Some people who commit murder have a mental illness. A great many more do not. In the USA, a possible plea in a criminal trial is “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”. If most violent criminals are mentally ill, you’d think that defense would come up all the time. If there was any chance whatsoever of being able to claim a mental illness and avoid jail, people would take it.

Just 0.85 percent of defendants in the USA claim they are “Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity”. Seventy percent of those later withdraw that plea when experts declare them to be legally sane. Think about how many people that is, committing crimes while in full possession of their reason and retaining the capacity to stop themselves if they wanted to. Well over 99 out of 100.

Our media needs to stop depicting the experience of a person with mental illness as violent and uncontrollable. Most people with mental illness are going about their lives every day, mixing peacefully with the rest of the community. You can’t tell the lady at the supermarket is bipolar. You don’t know that your barista is schizophrenic. You may even have no idea that a good friend is suffering from depression. People with mental illnesses are just like everybody else, but with the added struggle of trying to get by when sometimes our own brain seems like the enemy.

And on top of that, we have to constantly listen to people who equate our conditions with violence, as though we too are only one missed dosage away from killing somebody.

Have you ever had one of those really unpleasant colds? Where you can’t breathe properly through the mucus and your head feels all stuffy? Your everything hurts and it’s all so frustrating that you become short tempered and you get irritated about everything. If you murdered someone during that cranky, painful time, would you blame the cold? “I just couldn’t help myself? I was so short tempered because of the cold I had.”

It would be a ridiculous claim. If it were the cold that made you do it, everyone with a cold would be so irritable they murdered people, and that is obviously not the case. Having a cold didn’t make you forget that murdering others is wrong. Having a cold didn’t render you incapable of connecting actions to consequences. Anyone who suggested it does would have a gross misconception about what the common cold is.

And that’s how you sound to me when you suggest someone’s mental illness is the reason they killed someone else.

Some people want to harm other people and if they want to do it enough, they will. But I am pretty tired of hearing “he was schizophrenic” or “she suffered from extreme depression” like that explains it. That doesn’t explain it at all. All it does is imply that mental illness is the same as violent.


* I am choosing not to use the name of the co-pilot in question, because mass murderers are often motivated by a desire for fame and people to remember their name. Better to remember the names of victims than (ALLEGED) perpetrators.

What Does Medication REALLY Cost?

In Australia, we have a thing called the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). This is a good thing to have, and 10/10 to the successive Australian Governments that have continued to fund it.

Under the PBS, any medicine that is included on the “PBS Schedule” is discounted. How many medicines is that? Well, I’m not going to count them all, but the PBS Information Website lists at least 72 different drugs just under “A”. Pretty much any drug that is commonly used and not brand new is covered. Every Australian is eligible for the PBS, which reduces the price of medication considerably.

For example, the drug Fingolimod, which is used to treat Multiple Sclerosis, would cost $2,313.32 per prescription (SOURCE), without the PBS. Instead it costs only $37.70. That’s an extreme example, but you can see how the PBS prevents people going broke trying to pay for their essential medicines. If, like me, you are eligible for pensioner concessions on medication, well then even better news!

I pay just $6.10 for every prescription covered under the PBS.

There’s also a safety net. Once you’ve spent a certain amount on PBS medicines in a year, you don’t have to pay anything at all anymore. This year, the safety net is $366 for a pensioner (SOURCE).

This sounds amazing, right? What a glorious nation this is! Sick people get all their medicines for practically free!!! But WHOA there. Steady on, friend. Because not every medicine prescribed to a chronic illness patient such as myself is covered under the PBS. And those medicines that are covered have conditions upon them which don’t always match up with what the doctor prescribes.

I’m pretty tired of hearing that “we have the PBS, therefore medication is cheap”. That is an oversimplification of the real facts. So, in interests of public information, I present the following account of my own medication spending, to demonstrate the real cost of medications in AustraliaEverything I list is prescribed by my doctor, although some of these things don’t actually require a written prescription and can be bought over the counter.

Let’s take a look at my medicines and their relationship to the PBS, shall we?

Medicine 1: An antidepressant which also acts as a painkiller and as one of two medicines to treat my Migraine Vertigo. This is the wonder drug, treating my bipolar, fibromyalgia and vertigo at the same time. Covered by the PBS, but only a dose of 10mg or 20mg. My dose is 30mg. That means I get covered for 20mg and have to refill my prescription 50% more frequently. Also the PBS limits my doctor to 2 repeats, meaning I have to pay for a $75 consultation every 3 boxes to get my new prescription. I pay $6.10 for 16 days worth, with an extra $75 every two months.

Medicine 2: Treats my Migraine Vertigo. That’s a condition, incidentally, that cripples me completely. I cannot stand or even sit upright without intense dizziness and nausea. Fortunately, it’s very treatable and if I take my two-drug cocktail, I’m completely asymptomatic. This is lifelong condition, and apparently cannot be cured. This drug is completely covered by the PBS, so I only pay $6.10 for a month’s worth.

Medicine 3: A mood stabiliser, to treat my Bipolar. Completely covered by PBS, I pay only $6.10 a month.

Medicine 4: Treats the severe acne which is a side-effect of Medicine 1. Not covered by the PBS. I pay about $9.00 for 25 days worth.

Medicine 5: Also treats the acne. Comes in cream form. One tube costs about $20 but it lasts as long as I make it last, which so far is quite a while. A little goes a long way. My estimate is that the tube lasts about 3 months.

Medicine 6: Treats my Irritable Bowel Syndrome (caused by Fibromyalgia). Not a prescription medication, but still essential to my health. $20 for 42 days worth.

Medicine 7: A heavy duty painkiller. Only to be taken when the pain from Fibromyalgia is particularly crippling. Available over the counter, so I have to pay the over the counter price, even though I have a doctor’s prescription for the medicine. $15 for 30 (Ideally, I should try to make that last two months, because this stuff is damaging to my kidneys)

Medicine 8: A drug that treats severe period cramps. While the Oral Contraceptive Pill is covered by PBS (as it damn well should be), I am unable to take the OCP because my migraines put me at risk of stroke if I have a bad interaction. That’s a shame, because it made my cramps so much better. Instead I have to take this tablet, which I take only when I experience a cramp. It’s not a prescription medication, so it is not covered by the PBS. I go through about a packet per cycle. It’s about $12.00 a packet.

Medicine 9: A vitamin that most people take as a supplement, but which I am medically prescribed, as it treats Fibromyalgia, reducing my pain and (allegedly!) increasing my energy. Vitamins are not covered by PBS, no matter how medically necessary it is for you to take them. $25 for 30 days.

Medicine 10: Also a vitamin. Counteracts some of the cognitive symptoms of Fibromyalgia: improves my concentration, aids with my short term memory loss. $40-$45 for 50 days worth.

Those are the 8 medications I take every single day, plus the 2 painkillers I’m only allowed to take when the preventative things aren’t enough. Only two of them are completely covered by the PBS.

I have done the complex maths required to calculate my monthly expenditure on medicines (there was a spreadsheet and everything).

I spend $158.45 per month on medicines. (That’s without counting the $75 doctor’s consultations I need to get the prescriptions). This amounts to about about 10% of my pension. That’s a lot. The Australian Bureau of Statistics says that the average household spends 20% of its income on housing. (SOURCE)

But that’s okay! Because of that $366 safety net, I shouldn’t need to pay after the first few months… Except that the safety net only applies to the medicines covered by the PBS. And my yearly total for those 3 drugs only amounts to $279.99.

The Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme is important and useful and we absolutely need to have it. But if you think it’s as simple as “we don’t have to pay much for medicine in Australia” you are so wrong. So so wrong.

For the chronically ill, medication is much more complicated than handing over $6.10 and getting your box of pills for the month.

Just FYI.

Ace Advice: Interviews with Asexuality Advice Bloggers

After last week’s post about ace and aro oppression, I wanted to interview some people who were there on the front line, face-to-face with the problems asexual people are dealing with.

Via Skype and the power of insomnia to surmount a 18-hour time difference, I interviewed two bloggers who run Asexual Advice Blogs on Tumblr.com. Tumblr is a blogging platform that allows readers to send in a question, sometimes anonymously. The blogger can then answer that question in a public post for everyone to see.

The stories I used last week in “13 Stories of Asexual and Aromantic Oppression” came from a blog called “fuckyeahasexual“. The person behind that blog is Tiffany.

A hugely popular blog for asexuality advice is The Asexuality Blog. The blogger, Sara, has a website and a podcast. She also hosts a chatroom. I asked questions just about Sara’s tumblr blog.

I’ve done the bare minimum of grammar and spelling edits for the interviews, just for ease of reading. I present the answers one after another, although I conducted the two interviews separately.


What orientations do you identify with?

Tiffany: I use the terms biromantic asexual, but likely have bits of grey in both.

Sara: Asexual and Aroflux/Grey-Aromantic‏

At what ages did you start identifying that way?

Tiffany: I knew some part of asexuality was right for me around or just before my 23rd birthday‏.

Sara: I’ve identified as asexual since I was 25, which was when I discovered there was a word for what I was. So, that’s been about 3 years now. The Aroflux/grey-aromantic is a more recent development. After I discovered Asexuality and did more research, I went with lithromantic since that was how I’d always been. Then, my relationship with my now-boyfriend started developing more and over the course of a few months I realized that my romantic attraction fluctuated, hence the Aroflux identity. That’s been about 4 months‏.

How many followers do you have on Tumblr?

Tiffany: Fuckyeahasexual currently has 3,522 followers.‏

Sara: Currently, 5 273.

How many asks do you get in a day, roughly?

Tiffany: It varies by how active I am. Recently since I gained so much attention is been 5-6 a day.

Sara: 30-40‏.

Is that total, or do you have to weed some out because they are abuse or harassment?

Tiffany: In total. If its hate or abuse I can directly reply too I often do.

Sara: That’s total. I actually don’t get too much abuse or harassment anymore. I did in early days, but I think once people saw I wasn’t responding to it, it became pretty much non-existent‏.

What is the most common type of question people ask?

Tiffany: “Am I asexual?”

Sara: “How do I know if I’m asexual?”

Where do you think most young people first find out about asexuality as an orientation?

Tiffany: Social media‏. Social media keeps saying the word and it’s where people already are. You can’t google a world you don’t know.

Sara: The Internet, mostly. There really isn’t much in off-line society that acknowledges asexuality, but there are new resources online popping up all of the time. I specifically chose Tumblr to start my blog because I knew there was already a fairly well established asexual community on it and that there was a good amount of teenagers who used the site and were likely to come across the information on there. Social networks have done a world of good for promoting asexual awareness‏.

About what proportion of asks include concerns about things that you would classify as acephobic or otherwise harmful?

Tiffany: Recently, 50% or more. It’s become less what is this term and more help, what should I do‏

Sara: Maybe 20%. I get a lot of people asking how to come out and worrying about how people will respond to their being asexual, but I haven’t encountered a lot of people who have had violent reactions. It’s mostly that they’re told Asexuality isn’t real or that they “haven’t met the right person”. Things like that that a lot of us hear on a regular basis. It’s still harmful, even if it is non-violent.

Why do you think people say that asexuality isn’t real or that we need to meet the right person?

Tiffany: At least where I grew up it was very clear to everyone that the saying was “sex sells”. So obviously sex must be valuable, and/or important. At very least attention grabbing. But when you are young, even more so as a girl you are told you it isn’t meant to catch your attention. Any dating leads to protecting your virginity even by a high school age. So when you find someone who is just like “oh I don’t want sex”, I think the first thought to others at times is that “oh, they are secretly still waiting for the right one”, or haven’t let themselves let sex grab their attention.

Sara: For a lot of people outside of the asexual spectrum, sex is a really big deal. They can’t fathom that it’s possible to never look at another person sexually because of that. Asexuals, for them, are difficult to understand because we come off as sex-less a lot of the time. We don’t experience sexual attraction and the vast majority of us are sex-averse on some level. Sex is seen as “normal” and “healthy” and “natural”; something that everyone wants because it’s part of a biological imperative to procreate. Since we don’t fall into that same line of thinking and feeling, we’re viewed as incomplete, and sometimes juvenile. To remedy that, and I think in their minds to reassure us that we are normal, they tell us that we just need to meet this one magical person that’ll get the idea of non-normal orientations out of our heads.

Based on the asks that you get, what do you think are the most common difficulties people have once they start to identify as asexual?

Tiffany: They forget, or simply don’t know, there is a grey area of the asexual spectrum. More recently it’s how do I come out?

Sara: Easily the idea that they’ll never be able to have a romantic relationship because everyone wants sex. They feel like their orientation dooms them to a life of loneliness.

Do you get many asks from aromantic people?

Tiffany: A lot recently. I had a day or two where I felt that’s all people wanted to talk about. I’m not sure how high the percentage is but since I was inclusive to them, they in turn found me.

Sara: A few, here and there. I’ve started getting more and more as time has gone on, especially after the podcast episode on aromanticism posted.

Do you find your asks about aromanticism are much like the asexuality ones, or are there some major differences?

Tiffany: They are very similar.

Sara: For the most part, they’re pretty similar. “How do I know if I’m aromantic?”, “What’s the difference between romantic and platonic attraction?”. Stuff like that‏

When young asexual people send you asks with concerns about coming out, who are they concerned about? Are they worried about people of their own generation, like friends or siblings? Or is their concern more about older people like parents?

Tiffany: It’s mostly concern from parents and a couple where they like someone and are confused about how to explain it to them. The ones I get about friends are that they already came out to friends and they were either cool with it or really awful about it. Coming out to parents is hands down the biggest group they are worried about.

Sara: More often than not, it’s parents and other family members. I’d say about 60% of the time it’s the older generation they’re concerned about and 40% their own generation.

When so many parents are concerned with teaching their kids about safe sex and trying to delay sexual activity, why do you think they often react negatively to a child coming out as asexual?

Tiffany: Hmm, I think there is this expectation that reaching adulthood means sexuality. So while parents say wait, when you come out they think something is going wrong on that path or that you haven’t reached the age to find people sexually attractive yet.

Sara: A lot of the time I think it stems more from believing that their child is too young to know for sure (a 15 year old coming out as gay or bi would likely face the same “you’re too young to know what you are” responses a 15 year old asexual would). The older we get, the harder it is for us to remember what it was like or how mature one can be at that age. Apart from that, it goes back to that “normality” situation. Asexuality is seen as abnormal to those who don’t understand it, and therefore they dismiss it.

What advice would you give to a parent whose child comes out to them as asexual?

Tiffany: Trust them. Teens start to know they aren’t fitting the norm, I can look back and pin point when I could have first known I was asexual to my freshman year of highschool. There is no harm to be done if a teenager identifies as asexual only to later find out they aren’t. But, there is harm in a kid’s support system that says “no, you are sick and/or wrong.”

Sara: Be supportive, even if you think you know better or don’t agree with it. They might not feel asexual forever, but they will always remember whether their parent was supportive and open to how they felt or if that parent cut them off and made them doubt themselves.


I’ll leave it there on Tiffany and Sara’s words of wisdom. Don’t forget to visit It’s a Business Expense again next week, when I’ll be ranting at length about something else. Possibly the outrageous cost of medication. But we’ll see if I’m still angry about that in a week.

 

13 Stories of Asexual and Aromantic Oppression

Warning: Contains discussion of acephobia, arophobia, homophobia and sexual violence.


 

Some things happened in the asexual and aromantic community this week and for the most part they were positive. I won’t go into detail now because this post is not about that. One thing that did happen was aces and aros getting some attention on the blogging platform tumblr. And not all of it good attention.

What I found particularly disturbing was repeated assertions that asexual and aromantic people do not experience oppression. This is so incorrect.

First of all, let me be clear what I mean when I say oppression. The word doesn’t necessarily mean being locked up or killed. It doesn’t have to mean systematic and deliberate acts by a Government. Oppression, in the context of social justice, means behaviours and words that marginalise and cause harm to a minority. It doesn’t have to be overt and it doesn’t have to be deliberate. All that’s required is that the victims are marginalised and that the behaviour is harmful: physically harmful, emotionally harmful, it doesn’t matter. It also doesn’t matter whether a person who is not part of the marginalised group in question thinks the act should be considered oppressive. It is up to the people experiencing the harm to say whether they feel oppressed.

Let me be clear right now. Anyone who says that asexual and aromantic people do not experience any oppression is flat out wrong. (Agender people also certainly experience oppression, but as I am not agender, I will not be writing about that today).

First and foremost I must say this: Asexuality describes a lack of sexual attraction to others. There are asexual people who are in same-sex relationships. Some of those relationships involve sex and some of them are purely romantic. Some aromantic people have sexual relationships. Some have romantic relationships based on something other than initial attraction. Those asexual and aromantic people who are in relationships with people of the same gender (or even people of the same perceived gender) are certainly victims of oppression. They shouldn’t have to identify as gay for it to be acknowledged that they experience the same treatment.

Having said that, this is oppression based on perceived homosexuality and as important as that is, I want to talk about the specific oppressions experienced by ace and aro people based on their actual orientation.

To demonstrate what asexual oppression looks like, I went to one of the many asexual advice blogs on tumblr. I picked fuckyeahasexual, because they were the first to give me permission to use content from their blog. I scoured the blog going back just one week, and took screenshots of questions sent in by readers. I got 13. I only copied those questions which described an incident of oppression. I did not include any of the abusive messages sent directly to the blog (most of which are not published anyway). I also cut a few out because they were in the context of a larger conversation that blog was involved in, and they made no sense in isolation.

I also have not included the advice given to these readers. I’ve just taken a screencap of the question, as written by the reader. Below each, I have written it out in full, making minor grammatical and spelling corrections, to make it easier to read. Most of these were anonymous, some were not, but I made the decision to cut off all the names, to protect privacy.

That said, here are:

13 Stories of Asexual and Aromantic Oppression

ace1

ace12

They Say: “I came out to a friend who knows asexuality and thought he can encourage me to come out to everyone. But he said “You are just a coldhearted sociopath. You probably don’t have any feelings at all.” I am scared everyone else reacts the same.”

“I hear so many people say that asexuals don’t face anything near what others in the LGBTQ+ have to deal with. While yes I can admit that the “A” spectrum is not openly assaulted, it’s still challenging as an aromantic asexual. Everyday I am forced to face the idea that “To Love is to Be Human”, or that “Love is what makes us special” and to live with the fact that I won’t feel this. Everyday I struggle with “If Love is what it means to be human, to be living, than what does that make me?”

Why it’s Oppression: In the first case, this person is dehumanising their asexual friend. He uses insults to degrade and belittle them. He is making them feel as though there is something wrong with them. This has obviously damaged their self esteem and has reduced them to a state of fear. I think the second example speaks clearly enough about how this attitude is destructive.

ace2

It Says: “Do you think that it’s wrong for someone to not want to date someone because they’re asexual? I’m ace and there’s this person I really like, but they said that they think that sex is really important in a relationship and they didn’t want to pressure me into doing anything I didn’t want to do, but that they didn’t want a relationship without sex. I mean, I get where they’re coming from but I was still really hurt and I guess I just wanted some other opinions/hear if this has happened to others.”

Why it’s Oppression: Let me be clear here. The person who rejected this reader seems to have done so very respectfully. Based on the story as it is told, I would not say that the individual is committing an act of oppression. Everyone has the right to refuse a relationship for any reason whatsoever. Getting rejected makes you sad, but it isn’t oppression. The culprit here is society itself. Media and societal influences perpetuate a belief that all romantic relationships must have an element of sex to them. No individual is to blame for buying into that. But that prevailing societal attitude is oppressive and harmful not just to asexual people but also to people who choose to abstain from sex for any reason, but still desire romantic relationships.

ace3

It says: “I go out to gay bars because I am ace aro and gender queer so it should be a safe place. Every time my sexuality is questioned and when I answer I get ridiculed and insulted. The other night I was told I was sick and needed therapy because I’ve never masturbated. It hurts that I don’t get the acceptance or the kind “explain please” but a medical diagnosis. People should accept us and not… Make us feel like we’re ill.”

Why it’s Oppression: This should be obvious. A person’s sexual orientation is not an illness. Most of mainstream society has gotten behind the declassification of homosexuality as a medical condition. Asexuality hasn’t reached that point yet, and many people continue to disregard the personal experiences of asexual people and tell them they’re sick.

ace4

It Says: “Hello. My friend and I both identify as asexual but she aromantic and I’m panromantic. People seem to have gotten the idea that we are dating and many people have made comments about us “fucking”. We are both openly asexual and I’ve explained these comments offend me because they imply I’m lying about my sexuality and while I don’t go around flaunting that I’m asexual it’s a common question at my school. But I’m just wondering what’s the best way to deal with it since it really bothers me.”

Why it’s Oppression: It is hurtful  to disregard another person’s subjective statements about themselves. It is not okay to tell someone what their sexuality is, and while what this person describes is not overt denial of their sexuality, it is still a subtle implication that they don’t know their own mind. If someone tells you they are straight, it is not okay to insist they are gay. This is a similar scenario to that.

ace5

It Says: “So I’m kind of on the fence about telling people I’m grey-ace. Half of me really wants to share my feelings with my loved ones and friends. The other half is terrified someone will hear about it by proxy and try to “fix” me by possibly assertive means. Is this a concern other people feel or am I just super sensitive to that kind of thing…”

Why it’s Oppression: This person hasn’t even come out as asexual, but societal attitudes towards asexuality have them in genuine fear of sexual assault. Of course that’s oppression.

ace6

ace8

ace9

They Say: “I’ve asked many people on tumblr this question and I can’t get any proper advice so I’m nervous about how to go about this. The past few weeks my college sent out emails informing its students about support of lgbtqia+ students, which included the use of the alphabet that explains different terms (I’m sure you’re familiar with this method). Unfortunately the a was listed as standing for ally. I want to email them explaining how harmful this erasure is but I need help with exactly what to say :(”

“As an asexual, I don’t feel welcome within the LGBT+ community, nor in “regular” society. I feel like no matter where I go, I’ll always be erased. I honestly don’t even see the point in fighting for the A anymore… :(”

“I need my voice heard because while explaining my orientation, a bisexual cis boy (that had never heard of asexuality before he met me) told me that the a-spectrum isn’t part of MOGAI. I’m still angry about it all the time, five months later.”*

Why it’s Oppression: Erasure is a form of oppression that involves denying that the minority group exists at all. Erasure leads to ignorance which leads to all the other examples of oppression in this post.

ace7

It Says: “I got told I was being “selfish” for wanting a relationship without sex and that “I should expect my boyfriend to cheat on me” and that I should be ok with it.”

Why it’s Oppression: The people telling this writer that they “deserve” to be cheated on are using her sexual orientation as a reason to invalidate her emotions. Any person has a right to be respected by their romantic partner. The implication (or outright statement) that asexual people don’t deserve to be loved and respected by a partner is hurtful and offensive. Every person deserves respect and to suggest otherwise based on sexual orientation is dehumanising.

ace10

ace11

They Say: “So I’m ace and I’m out to my friends as such but I haven’t [come out] to any of my parents (divorced and remarried each) I know they don’t think asexuality is a real thing, should I continue to keep it from them or tell them?”

“I sort of have an issue. I’ve identified as asexual for a little over two years now (although I used to think something was actually wrong with me where I was repulsed by the idea of sex, which kept me out of basically any relationship in school). I tried to come out to my family as asexual, and even after explaining it, they either disregard it, or, like my sister, she flat out tells me I’m not, and basically said I need to have sex in order to know. I don’t know what to do and I’m sad over it.”

Why it’s Oppression: These are more examples of erasure, but I have put them separately because they are coming from the person’s own family. Self esteem is hugely tied up in the way parents treat their children. In the second case, it is a whole family causing damage to the asexual person’s self esteem. The sister is very wrong to say an asexual person needs to have sex to be sure. That is like telling a straight person that they must have gay sex to be sure they are not gay. It is total nonsense and it is hurtful.  If it wasn’t, this person would not have found it necessary to write to a stranger on the internet for advice.

ace13

It Says: “I’m afraid to out myself as a victim, but this needs to be said. Could you perhaps tweet it as a screencap for me? The people who sexually assaulted me had never heard of asexuality. They thought they could “cure” me. They also thought they were LGBT allies. But they didn’t have my back. Asexual erasure destroys life, GLAAD.”

Why it’s Oppression: If I have to explain to you why sexually assaulting someone to “cure” their sexuality is oppression than you are not worth my time. Of course this is oppression. Even if these people did not know the word for it, they committed an act of violence against someone because of their sexual orientation. That’s a hate crime.

There you have it. Just one week of just one advice blog provided me with 13 clear examples of the oppression, erasure, discrimination and violence experienced by asexual and aromantic people. I don’t want to hear ever again that it isn’t real. Because it clearly is.


*MOGAI stands for Minority Orientations, Gender Indentities And Intersex

I’ll be following up later this week with an interview I’ll be conducting with moderators of Asexual Advice Blogs. I’ll be asking them about the kinds of questions they get, anonymous hatemail, and their thoughts on the oppression of asexuals and aromantics.

Here’s another blog post about the erasure of asexuals and aromantics from the media.

 

 

My Top 9 TV Shows: The Good and the Bad

Some day, I would like to be paid to do what I do. And what I do is watch a lot of television and have some serious feels about it. That’s why my DVD collection is a Business Expense.

But what do I watch? Well… a lot of things, from a variety of genres. I wanted to write a list of my Top 10 favourite current TV shows, but then I hit a snag. The obvious first step was to write down all the shows that I keep up to date with. These are the shows I am so invested in that I go out of my way to see the latest episode. I came up with a list of nine and I thought “Why push it and try to find a tenth?” So, if you’re looking for a TV show to enjoy, try consulting this, my super quick guide to the nine TV shows that I am religious about staying up to date with. Ranking them is hard, so they’re in alphabetical order.

Agent Carter

What is it?
Peggy Carter was the best character in Captain America: The First Avenger and now she has her own show. It tells of her adventures in Post World War II America. Now the men have returned from war, her role as an agent of the Strategic Scientific Reserve has been reduced to filing and getting coffee. Peggy deals with sexism, the legacy of the war (one of her colleagues has combat PTSD), losing the love of her life and a conspiracy to frame her friend Howard Stark (that’s Iron Man’s dad, if you’re not as into Marvel-canon as I am).

What’s good about it?
Peggy is so freakin’ cool! She is frustrated by the misogyny of her colleagues, but she uses it against them, playing into the feminine stereotype if it gets her what she needs. The show also portrays strong female friendships, which is super important to me. And Peggy’s outfits are always on point.

What’s bad about it?
Why is everyone so white? Literally everyone. I think I may have seen an African American extra in one episode, but other than that, it’s like pouring mayonnaise on your vanilla icecream and mopping it up with a cracker. It’s incredibly white, and tastes horrible.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D

What is it?
Another Marvel series, this one is set in the here and now. Our heroes are Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D and his crack team of agents. There’s the newbie, recruited for her mean hacking skills, there’s the scientist duo who work so closely together, they share a nickname. There’s the stern and serious muscle. And there’s the pilot/martial artist/incomparable badass Agent Melinda May. They travel the world, dealing with threats to humanity: aliens, evil scientists, superhumans and Nazis.

What’s good about it?
For a start, there’s a high female/male ratio of major characters. The female characters all have different strengths and weaknesses too, which I like a lot. From Season 2, one of the characters is learning to live with an acquired brain injury, and though they struggle, they are still valued as a team member and as a person. I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen that on TV before. Also, that one time when Melinda May nail-gunned a dude’s foot to the floor.

What’s bad about it?
Like most Marvel stuff, there is a scarcity of people of colour. Melinda May is incredible, but surprise surprise, the Asian character is a martial arts expert… And the fact that Nick Fury (the Director of S.H.I.E.L.D himself) is African American doesn’t make up for the racial makeup of the rest of the agency. Supporting characters tend to be white, the villains are mostly white, the guys walking in the background are white. This is a Hollywood wide problem, but that doesn’t stop me calling it out when I spot it. It’s more racially diverse than Agent Carter, but the show still doesn’t accurately depict the racial makeup of its setting.

Arrow

What is it?
So, obviously I like superheroes. Oliver Queen is The Arrow (in comics he’s the Green Arrow, a kind of modern day Robin Hood, but whatever). He used to be a rich, idle playboy, but after a traumatic experience and five years of everyone thinking he was dead, he returns to Starling City to make it a better place and Right Wrongs. He is aided by a team of other vigilantes who join his cause for various reasons of their own.

What’s good about it?
Two words: Felicity Smoak. Oliver’s tech-savvy friend/love interest is one of my favourite female characters ever, and some of the reasons why are outlined HERE. Not gonna lie, I watch the show 50% for Felicity, 45% for Oliver’s right hand man, John Diggle. And 5% for the sweet fight choreography.

What’s bad about it?
This show has a serious fridging problem. Fridging, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is when a female character dies in order to motivate or drive plot for a male character. It’s happened at least three times in three seasons and I’m over it. Also, the implausibility of Oliver maintaining his secret identity just keeps growing.

Downton Abbey

What is it?
A period drama about an Earl, his family and his servants adapting to change in the early twentieth century. It starts in 1912, with the sinking of the Titanic, and each series spans a few years, so the latest season (Season 5) is set in the twenties. The Earl of Grantham has an American wife, three grown up daughters and a sassy mother. The show focuses equally on the family and their servants, and its high drama. There’s romance, tragedy, legal troubles, money troubles and more feels than I can usually handle. We can pretend it’s high-brow, but it’s a soap opera.

What’s good about it?
There are so many characters that everyone is bound to find someone they like. I have about six favourite characters. It’s some enjoyable escapism, though it does occasionally get a little more real than I would like.

What’s bad about it?
This is a show about the English aristocracy, so it’s very white. Also, I think maybe they should stop after Season Six. The plots are becoming a bit too extreme and implausible.

Game of Thrones

What is it?
Based on the novel series A Song of Ice and Fire, this show is about the political and military goings-on in a fantasy land called Westeros. There’s a lot of fighting over the throne, lots of intrigue and murder, murder, murder.

What’s good about it?
I like the books too, but I prefer the TV show. I have mixed feelings about the portrayal of women, but it is true that the female characters are varied and interesting. They all have different strengths: some are smart, some are cunning, some are strong, some are just determined.  I like that all characters are motivated by different things and that their actions are consistent with that. It’s very much character driven.

What’s bad about it?
Gratuitous violence and nudity. I think the story and characters are interesting, so I really don’t understand why they feel the need to include it. But that’s HBO for you.

Glee

What is it?
A musical TV show about a High School glee club that competes in competitions while learning valuable life lessons that can be resolved in 40 minutes. Music makes everything better and we should all love one another and so on.

What’s good about it?
Glee is in its sixth and final season and finally returning to form. It is best when it doesn’t take itself seriously. It’s escapism, but it does handle real issues that affect young people. Plotlines have included teen pregnancy, coming out as gay, lesbian and transgender, bullying, relationship abuse, disability, suicide and a whole host of other things. It usually tackles them in a simplistic way, but generally with a message of open-mindedness and accepting others for who they are.

What’s bad about it?
All of Seasons 4 and 5? No, but for real, when the show started to take itself too seriously, it became dull. It is best when it takes the issues seriously but treats itself like a joke. It can also be too simplistic. There should be a disclaimer at the beginning of each episode. “WARNING: Just singing about it will not solve all your problems.”

Orange is the New Black

What is it?
An ensemble show about a women’s prison. There’s a variety of women, from different backgrounds and serving time for different crimes. The show is part drama but mostly comedy. There’s sadness and death and commentary about how the legal system can be biased and unfair. There’s also an episode about a magical chicken.

What’s good about it?
Women. So many women. There are a few token men in the cast, but it’s primarily a show about women. The women interact with each other in different, real ways. Sometimes they love each other, sometimes they hate each other, sometimes it’s some combination of the two. Until I saw a show entirely about women, I never really understood how much our media usually focuses on men. This is a show about women in all their different forms, with real motivations and strong characterisation. Oh, and Laverne Cox is in it and she is my hero.

What’s bad about it?
Given that the main character has shown attraction to both men and women at various times, you’d think they’d be less afraid of the word “bisexual”. Piper is portrayed as a woman who can’t make up her mind if she’s gay or not. Also Jason Biggs is in it and I can’t decide who is a worse person, him or his character.

Orphan Black

What is it?
If you know the plot of Orphan Black before you see it for the first time, you will never experience it the way I got to. I’ll try and be vague. Basically, Sarah Manning has reasons to want to disappear. On a train platform at night, she sees a woman who looks exactly like her. The woman puts down her belongings and then steps in front of a train. So Sarah decides to steal her identity and finds herself involved in a dramatic conspiracy.

What’s good about it?
Tatiana Maslany is possibly the most talented actor who ever lived. She plays at least ten characters in this show, and she deserves an Emmy for every one of them. She wasn’t even nominated, what is this outrage? Moving on… this is another show that is primarily about women and they’re relationships to each other. The women are realistic and different and interesting.

What’s bad about it?
There’s probably something. Nothing is ever perfect, but Orphan Black comes pretty damn close.

Supernatural

What is it?
Two brothers travel America, killing monsters and experiencing a shitload of angst. Technically, it’s a show about supernatural monsters, but it’s really about the relationship between two brothers. There are ghosts and vampires and demons and angels and God himself and all kinds of other things. But the theme of what it means to be a family remains constant.

What’s good about it?
Good quality writing and interesting characters and storylines. Also, Sam Winchester is a magical man made of sunlight and puppies, with hair that defies gravity.

What’s bad about it?
This show writes great female characters. And then kills them horribly. It’s added only two new series regulars in its 10 year run and both of them were white men, just like the stars. Most of the recurring characters are men and most of them are white. The ones who aren’t white? Brutal death. Some have also accused the show of queerbaiting, which means hinting at queer identities and relationships to keep LGBTQPIA viewers interested, with no intention of delivering. Sometimes I think the show is queerbaiting and other times I think they are in fact going to reveal one of the brothers is bisexual, so… jury is out on that, I guess. And finally, some of the fandom… tread that ground with extreme caution.

“Not All Men”

Here’s a sentence: “Men who yell at women from cars should be burned at the stake”

A somewhat controversial statement, and I don’t think I’ve ever said this exact sentence, but it’s the sort of thing I might say in the heat of anger. When I have said things similar to this, the frequent response is something like “Hey! Not all men are like that!”

Yes. Correct. 100% accurate. Not all men yell at women from cars. But before you expect to engage me in an argument, before you start crowing that you have defeated me with pure, cold logic, look back over the sentence again.

At what point did I say the words “all men”? I said “men who yell at women from cars”: In linguistics, we call this the “subject” of the sentence. This is a sentence about men who yell at women from cars. The rest of the sentence is something that applies specifically to the subject of the sentence. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean I don’t believe there are other people who should be burned at the stake. I might believe that “People who yell at innocent check-out staff” or “My neighbours who party until 4am on a weeknight” should be burned at the stake, too. But that isn’t something you can tell from the original sentence. I might even believe “all men” should be burned at the stake (clue: I don’t believe that). But you can’t infer that from the sentence.

“Not all men yell at women from cars” is a true and accurate statement, but it is NOT a response to the thing that I said. I am talking about men who do act like that. You’re talking about all men, which is a totally different thing.

I’ve been trying to work out why statements like the above cause people to lose all their observation skills. Obviously, rationally, the man who screams “not all men” at me, should be able to see that I never said all men do the thing I’m referring to. But for some reason, when I say “Men who yell at women from cars should be burned at the stake”, they hear “All men should be burned at the stake because some of them yell at women from cars”. That would be a totally unfair position for me to take.  But it’s not remotely like what I actually said.

Supposing, however, that I actually use the words “all men” or even “men”, without any kind of qualifier? Let’s look at an example:

“Oh God! I am so sick of men and their bullshit.”

Yes, the lack of any qualifying words for “men” means that you CAN infer that I mean all men, without exception. But since the sorts of people who choose to send me abusive messages for saying this sort of thing pride themselves on their logic and reasoning skill, it amazes me that this is the inference they choose. That sentence as it stands, in this blog post, without context, could mean that I literally am physically ill at the prospect of every single man ever. But in the real world, I won’t say that sentence without context, will I?

You need to look at the context surrounding that kind of statement. Have I posted an article about a man murdering a woman and getting away with it and used this sentence to describe my feelings about the incident? Well then, think about that context. Obviously, I am saying that I am sick of hearing about men who murder women and get away with it. If these men who argue with feminists on the internet were really so good at logic, they would figure that out and focus on the subject matter, instead of removing all context from a statement and analysing words chosen in anger and frustration.

This is a thing called “hyperbole”. It means using exaggeration for dramatic effect. Hyperbole is not intended to be taken literally. Let’s look at a comparative example:

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.”

It doesn’t take a linguist to understand that I don’t literally mean that I could actually eat an entire horse. Everybody knows I don’t mean that and no one would take me to task over the statement. “You couldn’t eat an entire horse, you are a liar, you’re not hungry at all, how dare you!” Of course I can’t eat a whole horse. I mean that I am extremely hungry. I have used hyperbole to emphasise how hungry I am.

Let’s imagine a woman going through an unpleasant breakup and she says to her friend in irritation “Ugh! I hate men.” The friend’s response isn’t going to be “What? You literally hate ALL MEN? Every single man? Including your father? I thought you loved your father? What is this? What about my brother, my brother is a very nice man! Do you hate my brother?”

No. Because that friend understands that this is not about literally hating every man ever. In the context of their conversation and the woman’s emotional state, it is clear that she is saying she hates men in order to express how frustrated she is with her ex-boyfriend and the things he has said or done during their breakup. It’s hyperbole.

Why is “not all men” such a frequent cry of protest? Why do men who pride themselves on their superior logic skills not have the capacity to understand context and hyperbole? Why can they sometimes not even read a sentence accurately, adding in words like “all” that were never there in the first place?

Because it covers up their real opinion. It allows them to hide behind my words (or the imaginary words they chose to put in my mouth) rather than admit the truth they know to be unsupportable.

When I want to talk about men who yell at women from cars, it is easier to say that not all men do that. Because what’s the alternative? Admit that you don’t care that it bothers women when men yell at them from cars.

When I say “Another domestic violence murder. I hate men!” It is easier to say “You can’t hate all men just because this man was violent!” than it is to say “I don’t care that this woman was just murdered by her husband”.

When someone says “Not all men”, what I hear is “I don’t care”. They don’t care about the issue I want to talk about. They are more interested in making it clear to me that they are not guilty of doing whatever it is I am angry about. And I couldn’t give a fuck if they are guilty of it or not. We’re not talking about nice men who never yell at or murder women right now. We are talking about something else. We are talking about victims. We are talking about people who suffer.

Reminding us that you aren’t the one who made them suffer is not important right now.

Imagine if every time someone wanted to talk about a news story, I brought myself into that conversation! Everyone is talking about a brutal murder: “Yes, it’s all very well that the police are asking for information about the possible suspect, but have you ever stopped to think about how I have never murdered anyone?” There’s a new Government Education policy: “I know that you’re all angry about this, but have you considered that I’ve never cut funding to public schools?”

Of course I don’t do that. Nobody does that. Because we’re watching the news. It’s not about me!

Well guess what, men who say “Not all men”. Sometimes I’m talking about men who aren’t you. When you insist on screaming “not all men” at me like I don’t know that, you are trying to make it about you. So instead of saying “not all men do the thing”, come out and admit the truth. You don’t care about the thing at all.

NOTE: This is a post in which I am talking about men who use the phrase “Not all Men”. But there are also people of other genders who say “Not all Men” and this all applies to those other genders too. Because if you’re a person of any gender who is more interested in defending men who don’t do the thing and whom everyone knows don’t do the thing than you are in talking about those who are victims of the thing, than you need to stop and think about your priorities.

Revenge of the Patriarchy: How the Star Wars Prequels Broke My Feminist Heart Before I Even Knew I Was a Feminist

I cannot remember the first time I saw Star Wars. That’s kind of a sad thing. I’d like to remember how it felt for me, as a child, to watch that movie on VHS, the Imperial Destroyer drifting across the top of the screen on that old chunky TV we had when I was growing up. I know our copy of Return of the Jedi was definitely taped off the TV, because I can still sometimes remember where the ad breaks were. I don’t remember if we had any Star Wars toys, but I don’t think we did. My memories of playing with my older brother are largely Lego based, and they didn’t have Star Wars Lego in those days. They didn’t have Lego “for girls” either, just Lego. But I digress…

What I remember is Princess Leia. As an unsophisticated seven year old feminist, I’m sure a large part of her appeal was that she wasn’t like other girls. Nowadays, I hate the concept of “not like other girls”, but I do acknowledge that it was pretty forefront in my thinking during my formative years.  Here’s the thing about Princess Leia, though. She wasn’t like other girls, but also, she was. Leia was everything I wanted to be. She was the tomboy I was and thought was superior, but she was also the pretty girl I secretly wished I could be.

Not only was she an actual Princess, but she also carried a gun and fought in the war like all the boy characters did. She gave orders and people followed them, which appealed to me very much. As a child I had strong leadership skills, and, because I was a little girl that made me “bossy”. Princess Leia was bossy too, and it was awesome! She could give sass to Darth Vader or strangle Jabba the Hutt, but she could also be kind and friendly. On top of all that, she was pretty and boys liked her! Also, there was that time she got to hang out with all the walking, talking giant teddy bears, which was basically my dream. And did I mention how she was a Princess?

As an adult, I see a lot that is problematic about Leia. She’s kind of racist, for a start. But, when you’re seven and not yet a critical thinker, you pick the idols you pick. I picked Princess Leia. She was my hero and my role model. Princess Leia taught me that it’s okay to be bossy. She could be pretty and smart and tough all at the same time. There were plenty of interesting male characters in the media I absorbed as a child. I liked Mr. Spock because he was super smart, but he still had lots of friends. My mother says I wasn’t a big hero-worshipper as a kid. I liked movies and books and TV. I was as much a geek then as I am now. But I liked my media as a whole, I didn’t, as a general rule, favour specific characters the way I do now.  I can remember more male influences than I could have room to list here. I can think of only two female characters that shaped my development to the point I can still remember them today. Lisa Simpson is the other one, but she was a little girl like me. Leia was a grown-up.

As a childhood Star Wars fan, I was pretty excited about the release of The Phantom Menace in 1999. I was thirteen and I went with my family on Opening Night. I didn’t love it the way I loved the original movies. I was too old for Jar Jar Binks and either too young or too asexual for Ewan McGregor. Padme was real cool. She was a young politician who could also handle a gun and wasn’t afraid to get hands on when her planet’s freedom was at stake. I didn’t really notice that there was only one major female character in the film. I hadn’t fully developed my representation radar yet. I knew she was going to turn out to be Luke and Leia’s mother and I could kind of see it because she had Leia’s leadership skills and she was all up in the battle with her own gun and everything.

The day Star Wars broke my heart was in 2005. I went to see Revenge of the Sith, and by then I was either eighteen or nineteen. I didn’t describe myself as a feminist yet, but I had definitely begun to figure out that there was something deeply wrong with the world around me and that the media I was passionately consuming was somehow not meant for me. Even when I was the target audience, I still felt like I wasn’t. I didn’t expect great things of Revenge of the Sith, but a friend and I went anyway, because it was Star Wars and we were fans.

I have only seen Revenge of the Sith once. I only needed to see it once, because the life-changing disappointment is burned eternally into my heart. My thoughts, on leaving the cinema, were on little girls. When I was an assertive, intelligent little girl, I had Princess Leia. She was those things too, and it was okay. I went home uneasy about the generation of assertive, intelligent little girls who had Padme to look up to. For one thing, Princess Leia had that whole romance thing going on with Han, but it was secondary to the plot. He was a character in Luke Skywalker’s world. She was a character in Luke’s world too. They were both supporting characters in his story and they fell in love. I realised what I hadn’t in the previous two films. Padme, in contrast to her daughter, existed solely to be Anakin’s love interest. Her part in the story was to be in love and she had no identity outside of that. Worse, she did develop a character in the first film, but that character became irrelevant once she and her love interest were old enough. But it gets worse. Much worse.

Padme Amidala gives birth to a pair of twins, only to be told that her husband has run off to become a Sith Lord. So she dies. That character from the first film, the one who was the elected Queen of a whole planet at just fourteen, the one who saw her planet being invaded and said “the Hell with that!” and got herself a gun and led the rebellion… that character… was abandoned by her husband and so she just chose to give up and die. She assigned no value to her children, to her friends, to the cause she’d been fighting for. She just sort of… dropped dead. The cause of death was having no further purpose in the plot.

First of all, this angers me from a continuity stand point, because Luke specifically asked Leia during Return of the Jedi what she remembered of her mother. Her “real mother”. And Leia has memories, so for Padme to die five minutes after giving birth is an unforgiveable retcon, in my opinion. But it’s also an unnecessary, misogynist, objectification of the prequel trilogy’s only prominent female character.

Padme could have lived another two years before dying of untreatable cancer or in an ill-fated Rebel raid. She might have fostered her twins out at one-year-old, for their own safety, but gone on to die at some point during the next sixteen years, thus accounting for her absence in the original trilogy. She might have died at any time, in any way. But she died of a broken heart.

I grew up with a role model that taught me I could be a leader, I could be smart and I could be kind, and I could have romance and that I didn’t have to pick just one. The next generation of Star Wars girls had a role model that taught them that whatever their personality, whatever their own contributions to the world, there was no point to them without a man… that without their true love, they might just as well die.

If Han Solo died, Leia would be sad. She’d grieve… And then she’d get the fuck on with her life. But you know what? I think Padme would too! The Padme of The Phantom Menace was not a woman to drop dead because life wasn’t worth living without her husband. I think she’d be pretty upset about it, especially with him turning to the Dark Side and murdering all those children and everything. I’m not suggesting that it was wrong to write the character feeling grief. What’s wrong is to have a female character die of a broken heart because her only function in the story was to be a wife and a mother. Padme was reduced to an incubator for Luke and Leia. She was objectified, not through hyper-sexualisation, but through turning her into a literal object and taking away any purpose she had as an individual and as a human being.

Now, I can see an argument here that I’m being ableist and that I’m discounting the impact that depression can have on a person’s life. I can see how this essay thusfar could be read to say “awesome women don’t give up on life”. That’s not remotely what I’m saying. I have had depression since I was eleven years old, and I’ve attempted suicide. I’m still an awesome woman and many many awesome women have depression. Many give up on life for one reason or another and I will defend those women any time. Sometimes, it’s hard to go on with life.

But the reality about Padme is that she isn’t a real human woman with postnatal depression. She isn’t a character in a story about mental illness and its impact. She is a female character killed off by a male writer, who made a conscious decision that she should a) die when she no longer served the plot and b) that her death should be related to her separation from a man. My concern is the message that this decision sent to young girls, a group that I know from experience are loose in the world, desperately seeking role models.

Since the Star Wars prequels are over ten years old now, this isn’t exactly up to the minute commentary. But, the new films have been announced and I’m terrified. What kind of representation can I expect? What messages will this brand new generation of space-loving little girls take home? What will they do to Leia? Creators of media need to be more aware of the impact of their creative decisions on the real world. Media is not a vacuum and you don’t create a movie in isolation. Cultural norms will permeate the film and the film in turn contributes to the culture. When we write, whether it is for film, television or in print, we need to be thinking about what messages we’re sending into the world. What will the consumer take away from the product? That’s something we need to sit down and think about, and if the answer is “that a woman isn’t important except to further the storyline of men”, it’s time for a drastic rewrite.

Take More Selfies

I don’t take a lot of Selfies. People praise me for that. They think it’s great that I’m “not that kind of girl who takes Selfies all the time”. When I do take Selfies… when anyone takes a photo of me at all, I’m usually pulling some sort of deliberately ugly face. “Your selfies are funny though, you don’t take yourself seriously”.

No.

No. No. No. Stop saying that. Stop admiring that. Stop praising me for being a woman who doesn’t take pictures of herself and post them to the internet. My failure to take copious numbers of Selfies has nothing to do with my being deep or intelligent or engaged in more worthy pursuits. My face-pulling Selfies are not evidence of my great sense of humour or that I’m better than other women.

I don’t like the way I look.

When I see photographs of myself, I cringe. At least by pulling an ugly face, I can control the ugliness. I can take some agency over the way I look. It’s the only way I can bare to see myself photographed. As a teen, I was bullied about my facial flaws: the acne and the eczema so severe it made my eyebrows fall out. The result is that I now become anxious about the accusing gaze of the camera in close ups of my face.

And maybe… just maybe… people should stop treating that like a good thing.

I have extensive feels on the subject of the Selfie. Although many people take the occasional Selfie, it’s a phenomenon that’s largely associated with young women, especially teen girls. And that’s the ultimate evil, isn’t it?

The Selfie is about young women being proud of their appearance when we have an entire society geared toward the exact opposite.  Advertising encourages girls to be ashamed of their flaws and the media depicts a very limited range of beauty. Beautiful is thin and white, feminine, flawless. The Selfie is young women taking a photograph of themselves and publishing it for other people to see, shouting out “I am proud of the way I look today”. Young women aren’t supposed to be proud of the way they look. Magazines, TV, billboards, everywhere they look, they see images designed to tell them what’s wrong with them.

I have nothing but admiration and respect for women who take a Selfie of themselves and proudly post it for anyone to see. Think about that for a moment: anyone can see it! Instead of criticising girls for having that confidence, we should be embracing it. In a society of brutal advertising designed to make us scrutinise every aspect of their appearance, they are confidently controlling their own image. Maybe it takes ten or fifty shots to produce a picture they are confident enough to put out there. But that’s okay. Because it’s an act of pure and bold feminism to take back that agency and say “this is how I want to be presented to the world”.

The argument against Selfies is that they are about saying “Look at me!” about promoting yourself. I don’t agree that this is a bad thing – not when it comes to young women, anyway – but even if promoting yourself by reproducing your image is a bad thing, it’s hardly a new phenomenon. Take a look at these vintage portraits.

Selfies

Now tell me… what’s more vain and self obsessed? Taking a quick shot of your make-up with your camera phone and posting it to Facebook because you’re proud of the kick-ass eyeliner you’re wearing? Or getting all dressed up and posing for hours on end, sometimes over the course of several months or even years, while a paid painter crafts your image exactly the way you want them to, deliberately taking a few pounds off your stomach or adding more hair on your head? Don’t forget the carefully chosen background, designed to indicate what sort of person you are. Books to show you’re intellectual, guns to show you’re sporting, pets to show your caring nature.

In comparison to a traditional portrait, the Selfie is a relatively humble act. Let us also not forget that a Selfie goes on your Facebook wall, gets a few likes and then disappears into the ether, still available if anyone wants to see it, but largely forgotten and ignored. How is that more self-absorbed than hanging a four foot painting of yourself in your damn living room?

Hatred of Selfies is on par with the Things Girls Like that I wrote about last week. It’s an act of ageism and sexism. I guarantee you that if the Selfie were commonly associated with the middle aged man, it would not be regarded as such an evil.

What in the world is wrong with young women being proud of their appearance? Regardless of whether they identify as feminists, most people agree that the media damages the self esteem of young people of all genders, by depicting unrealistic beauty standards. That’s basically a given. And if you agree with that, why try to tear down someone who is rejecting that narrative of self-hate? You should be applauding them!

Take more Selfies. Take all the Selfies. Maybe it is an act of vanity or self-absorption. But it’s also an act of rebellion. It’s a “Fuck You” to a media machine that wants you to only think about how bad you look and never how good you look.

I should try and take more. I should stop panicking at the thought of my acne or giant cavernous pores being forever immortalised in a photograph. Because that panic is exactly what Clearasil wants me to feel.

In Defense of Things Girls Like

I want you to try a little intellectual exercise. Imagine a world where those interests and cultural phenomena generally associated with teenaged girls are instead associated with middle-aged men. And vice versa.

I’m talking about a magical place where fifteen year old girls gather in the school toilets to gush about how great Bruce Springsteen is while at an upscale lawfirm, the water cooler talk is all about One Direction’s latest single.  In this imaginary world, men in their forties are glued to their phone, posting regular selfies: #lunchwitdamanagingdirector #newsuit #fashionking. Meanwhile, girls get out of class and check the Dow Jones before they start lunch. Home in the evening, there’s trouble over the remote, because Dad wants to watch Supernatural but it’s on at the same time as Breaking Bad.

I’m stereotyping, of course, but there’s a method to my madness. Because, I have a question: in this imaginary world, which things would be ascribed the greater value? What hobbies would be considered worthiest? Which artistic efforts would be considered the greatest? Here’s what I think: One Direction would be considered better musicians than Bruce. Breaking Bad would be regarded as silliness by most, though occasionally critically praised as a genre piece. The taking of selfies would be considered natural, civilised behaviour, while an interest in the share market would be unhealthy – a reflection of the obsession young girls have with money.

In our society, things that young women like are automatically assumed to be valueless. Shallow motives and low intelligence are traits associated with girls. The things girls like must, therefore, be of lesser value. Don’t believe me? Why don’t we look at some contemporary reviews of The Beatles:

Musically they are a near disaster, guitars and drums slamming out a merciless beat that does away with secondary rhythms, harmony and melody. Their lyrics (punctuated by nutty shouts of “yeah, yeah, yeah”) are a catastrophe, a preposterous farrago of Valentine-card romantic sentiments….” (Newsweek, Feb 24th 1964)

The Beatles’ vocal quality can be described as hoarsely incoherent, with the minimal enunciation necessary to communicate the schematic texts.

Two theories were offered in at least one household to explain the Beatles’ popularity. The specialist said: “We haven’t had an idol in a few years. The Beatles are different, and we have to get rid of our excess energy somehow.”

The other theory is that the longer parents object with such high dudgeon, the longer children will squeal so hysterically.” (New York Times, Feb 10th, 1964)

(Source for Both: Los Angeles Times)

Several other reviews show a similar sentiment: The Beatles are crappy musicians for teenaged girls and they have no musical merit.

Yet, guess who topped Rolling Stones 2011 list of the 100 Greatest Artists? A spectacular achievement for a band who were allegedly “hoarsely incoherent”. Looking back over those bad Beatles reviews, there is a real focus on two specific criticisms: their lack of musical quality and the age (and sometimes gender) of their audience. These two criticisms are irrevocably married together in the early reviews. Only one of those elements can change, however. Their musical merit is the same now as it was fifty years ago, so you have to ask yourself: if the music didn’t get better, what changed? The answer is the age (and to some extent gender) of the audience.


When I was young, my favourite bands included Hanson and Westlife. Being an asexual teenager, I certainly wasn’t interested in the bands for their looks. I genuinely liked the sound of their music. These days, it’s my understanding that One Direction and Taylor Swift are pretty cool. I could write a whole essay on the world of bullshit that is grown men slut shaming Taylor Swift, but I’ll leave off that for now. I’m a film and television critic, but I don’t know a whole lot about music. I honestly couldn’t tell you what the difference is between One Direction and Ed Sheeran, but I do know that Ed is considered more musically talented. Maybe he is. All I know is that there’s a pattern. Musicians who have a fanbase consisting primarily of teenaged girls are not highly valued by other demographics.

Let us for a moment imagine that all pre-teen and teen girls base their musical choices entirely on the physical appearance of the artist. That would not account for the young lesbian who enjoys One Direction or the millions of straight girls who love Taylor Swift, but we’ll ignore that for the moment and just imagine that music choice is based entirely on looks. It is simply not possible that every good looking young person aspiring to a music career also happens to be talentless. It is entirely inconceivable that only ugly people are capable of singing a great harmony or writing a good song. Perhaps One Direction’s popularity is based on their appearance: why should that also mean they aren’t any good? I’m not a fan of One Direction, but nor do I greatly dislike them. On the whole, despite the problematic nature of some of their lyrics, I find their sound to be pleasing enough. I don’t cover my ears when I hear them or anything. They might be autotuned, I suppose.

My point is simply this: Just like the Beatles in 1964, musicians are considered less talented because teenaged girls like them. There are probably some musicians who have a teen girl fanbase who are also not very good. But I find it impossible that all of them are. And next time you find yourself thinking it, remember how The Beatles have been named the greatest band of all time and think twice. Who’s making shallow judgements here? The teenaged girl who enjoys a particular attractive boy band? Or the person assuming that a person’s age and gender renders them incapable of assessing quality?


This isn’t just true of music. There are many television shows I could have mentioned in my opening scenario. I chose Supernatural for two reasons: because I am familiar with it, and because it has a fandom that is overwhelmingly female.

Seeing that I own full set of Supernatural DVDs last week, my brother said to me (and this is a direct quote) “Supernatural? Really?” When I responded with a “Hells yeah!” he went on to remark that he understood it to be a terrible show.

I responded by explaining why it wasn’t, but what I should have done is ask why he believed this to be the case, given he has never seen it. But I think I know why. Because it is a show overwhelmingly popular with young women. The fan conventions (there are several each year, all over the world) are packed with women, mostly fairly young. And of course, the stars are (according to my non-asexual sources) three of the most sexually appealing men ever to grace the earth. I’m sure that’s part of the reason for its success.

When all you hear about a show is that the fans are rabid young women, there is often an accompanying assumption that the show is bad. This is an assumption about Glee, about Dawson’s  Creek, about Gilmore Girls. Why is that? Why must that be the case? Because young women have no taste? No ability to critically analyse? Well, I can’t speak for any of the other examples, but I’ve known sixteen year old girls to write 3000 word essays of analysis about a Supernatural episode and how it fits into the overall subtext of the show. If you follow the right tumblr blogs, you can fill up your days with intelligent, creative and thoughtful analysis of every aspect of the show. These are female fans as young as fourteen and they are analysing their favourite show from a feminist perspective or a queer studies perspective, or a sociological perspective, they’re mining the subtext, they’re referring to the work of Joseph Campbell or Carl Jung. Why, then, is there a perception that these young female fans only choose to watch a TV show because the actors are attractive?


Late last year, IMDB’s facebook page published the headline that Mockingjay Part 1, the third film in the Hunger Games franchise had led the weekend’s box office. Reading the comments, what I found was middle aged man after middle aged man lamenting the state of the cinema industry today and railing against the appalling taste of teenaged girls in going to see this film. They were quite specific on that point. It’s a film for teen girls, they agreed.

If you’ve never read or seen The Hunger Games, you could be forgiven for thinking it’s a story about a love triangle. It is not. There is a girl in it and two boys who are in love with that girl, but it is also so much more than that. It’s the story of a dystopian future in which the decadent and wasteful people of The Capitol live lives of disgusting luxury while the people of the twelve surrounding Districts live in horrifying poverty. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Districts are punished for their part in a rebellion decades earlier. Every year, each District must send one boy and one girl to The Capitol to take part in a ritual called The Hunger Games. There, they are forced to hunt and kill one another in a giant arena for a reality show. These are children as young as twelve, primped and polished for the cameras before being thrown into a deadly contest in which only one comes out alive. The people of The Capitol watch and take bets, delighting in seeing these kids slaughter one another. Through the course of the three books (four films), that system is challenged, but are the rebels any more morally upright than those they seek to overthrow?

What the fuck is shallow and unworthy about that concept? Seriously, this is a series which examines power and privilege, the disconnect the wealthy have with the labour class, and the way in which power corrupts even those with the very best intentions. It’s about senseless revenge, it’s about class warfare, it’s about fighting against the system. And also, there’s a love triangle. So to you, middle aged dudes lamenting the taste of teenage girls, I say… go watch two hours of fucking car chases. You don’t know shit about what’s “worthy”.

And with that obscenity-laced paragraph, I have summed up a good many of my feelings about media that appeals to young women, and why hating it on that basis alone is an act of unconscious (or sometimes totally conscious) sexism. Young women are just as capable of critically analysing their media choices as anyone else. Just because the conclusions they reach are not the same as yours, this does not invalidate their choices or render them tasteless. The average adult man does not have a degree in literary criticism, so why do his reading or film choices have more validity than those of a teenaged girl who also holds no degree in literary criticism? I can think of only one reason: because we hold the man to be of more value than the girl. Therefore, his tastes must be of more value too.

I call bullshit.


Note:
In defending the individual examples here, I am not suggesting that they are undeserving of any criticism at all. One Direction have some deeply troubling lyrics. Supernatural is a cast of entirely white guys. The Hunger Games movies whitewashed and romanticised the books in a troublesome way. What I am saying is that these things don’t deserve to be criticised on the basis of their primary audience.

Note 2:
There is one other important cultural phenomenon I have hinted at here, but not yet had the chance to write about. Stay tuned next week, for an extended rant in defence of the Selfie. But if you have found any of this week’s rant at all convincing and you are anti-Selfie, maybe take that week to think about why and to consider the question: what would we think of Selfies if they were primarily an act of middle aged white men?

Ten Role Models For The Girl Who Can’t Kill A Man With Her Thighs

At the moment, my absolute hero is Agent Melinda May of S.H.I.E.L.D (played by Ming-Na Wen). She is quick thinking, in control, can fly a jet, prefers bare-handed killing over using a gun and she absolutely refuses to let other people tell her how to act or what to feel. And also, one time she nailgunned a dude’s foot to the floor. What a badass.

But I realised some time ago that I am never going to be Melinda May. I’m not Buffy Summers or Katniss Everdeen. I’m never going to be the kind of woman who inspires fear by flexing her perfectly toned muscles, because some days, I can’t even get out of bed. What I need are role models with skills that aren’t physical. I need female characters in sci-fi and fantasy who are smart or cunning or really nice people. The kind of role models I need to inspire me are the women who excel at something other than physical combat.

Sometimes, all strong women with a killing instinct and the ability to crack a skull with one hand do is make me hate myself and my body. They make me feel more broken by setting a standard that’s ridiculous for any woman, let alone one who can’t walk without pain.

So, I’ve made a list. The ten women on this list show badassery through some other means than the physical. Some of them may occasionally get into fisticuffs, but that’s not what makes them an inspiring character.

This isn’t necessarily my Top Ten. I’ve tried to showcase a range of different skillsets, rather than make a list of ten “nerd girl” characters. I’ve also tried to include women of different ages and ethnicities. The result is a list which I think is diverse and interesting, and which presents plenty of new ways to be badass.

Oh! And if you don’t want to be spoilered for something, I’d avoid reading that particular entry…

1. Felicity Smoak (Arrow, played by Emily Bett Rickards)

I’ve got a whole essay almost finished on the subject of this particular badass. Since I only have a few hundred words here, I will summarise. First of all, she is a super-intelligent MIT graduate who once designed her own corpse-scanning system so she could perform secret autopsies down in the Arrow Cave. While she is ostensibly an IT expert, her skills seem to be limitless. From helping someone defuse a bomb over voice-link to assisting in emergency bullet-removal, Felicity is capable of anything.

But what I love most about her is that she does not take shit. Not even from Oliver Queen, her boss and also the dude she’s in love with. When he is rude to her (or to anyone else, for that matter), she calls him out on it. When he is disrespectful of her, she demands respect. When she thinks he is wrong, she tells him so and argues her case. And Oliver, despite being used to his own way, listens.

Being a love interest for the male lead can often silence a female character, because having an opinion is unattractive. Felicity Smoak has opinions and she’s not afraid to express them. That’s an attitude I want to emulate.

 

2. Rue (The Hunger Games, played by Amandla Stenberg)

Even Katniss Everdeen knows that Rue is a role model for us all. Despite being only twelve-years old, Rue receives a score of eight out of twelve from the Gamemakers. Her quick-thinking cunning is a direct factor in Katniss winning the Games, and Katniss’ first kill (Glimmer) is as much Rue’s work as it is hers. Although the sensational climbing skills that protect her during the early days of the Games are a physical skill, I think it’s important to recognise that this little girl has the smarts to take the skills she has and figure out how to apply them most effectively.

Rue has the kind of charisma most of us can never dream of. She doesn’t try to manipulate Katniss or the audience, but she manages to win their affection by just being herself and retaining her honesty and innocence in the arena. Although we never get to see Rue at home in District 11, we also know that she is a loving, responsible big sister who works hard from a young age.

Rue is a great example of how kindness, honesty and goodness are assets and that cold, hard killers are not the only women who kick ass.

 

3. Alison Hendrix (Orphan Black, played by Tatiana Maslany)

Just about every clone in Orphan Black is a role model in some way. I could have made this list up almost entirely from women in this brilliant show. I had to pick a favourite, however, and so I’ve chosen suburban mother of two Alison Hendrix.

Although Alison’s initial response to the dramatic situations in her life is often panic and heavy drinking, who can blame her? What’s important is that she always gets through it and does what needs to be done. Whether that be trying to extract a confession from her husband with a glue gun or helping him bury a body, Alison just gets it done. Alison might be a little hysterical at times, but even in rehab, she continues to Get Shit Done.

The drama that comes from being a member of Clone Club was initially so alien to Alison, who has always taken such comfort from being “normal” and who still continues to try and appear a perfect suburban soccer-mom.  She also manages to keep her kids away from all the intrigue and murder going on around her. Alison’s resilience and determination are something I aspire to.

 

4. Kaylee Frye (Firefly, played by Jewel Staite)

As well as being super good at her job, Kaylee is brave and adventurous, smart and always sees the best in people. I like characters who are afraid in situations where I would be afraid; after all, an act can’t be courageous if you weren’t scared in the first place.

I’m a person who always strives to be kind to others and I’m also a person who is often taken advantage of. Thanks to media images of nice women as obliging and accommodating, I internally equate kindness with agreeing to everything and never telling anyone no. That’s the real reason why Kaylee is a role model for me.

Kaylee is friendly, optimistic, kind and honest. Often, those traits would be equated with naivety and malleability, but Kaylee manages to be a nice person while also standing up for herself. There’s that super important scene where after being insulting about Serenity and its crew’s lifestyle, Simon tries to claim he was being ironic. “No,” Kaylee tells him. “You were being mean.”

Kaylee is a role model for me because she knows that being a nice person doesn’t have to mean letting people walk all over you, and I often need to remember that.

 

5. Inara Serra (Firefly, played by Morena Baccarin)

So, I told myself only one character per source material, but you know what, this is my damn list and I’ll break the rules if I want to. Inara is on this list for two reasons. The first is because she and Kaylee represent what female friendships can be and what I want all mine to be: loving, supportive and equal.

The other reason is because Inara is always unapologetic about who she is and what she does. Mal tries to make her feel ashamed of her job and she refuses to let him. She is an excellent Companion. Her work is highly skilled, and she does it better than most. Why should she be ashamed of that?

She’s not ashamed of her politics (she admits to voting for Unification). She’s not ashamed of enjoying luxury, or of having rich friends and clients. She goes through life being exactly who she wants to be and if Mal doesn’t like it… well that’s too bad. Sure, she’s in love with him and everything. But she’s not going to change herself to suit him.

Inara is a role model who reminds me that I have a right to make my own decisions about myself, my body and my life.

 

6. Uhura (Star Trek, played by Nichelle Nicholls)

I’ve got no real problem with the Star Trek reboots. In fact, I like them. But I’m here to talk about the original Uhura, the one I grew up watching because my parents are Trekkies.

Even in the early 90s, I was still not seeing a whole lot of inspiring female characters to take on as role models. I can’t even imagine what it must have been like for little girls (especially African American girls) in the 1960s. Here was a woman on the spaceship not to be the screaming victim or the beautiful girlfriend but to do her job. She was employed on that spaceship.

Elements of Star Trek sometimes make me cringe with my modern feminist brain, but Uhura is still, for the most part, treated as an equal colleague by the rest of the crew. She is qualified for her job and trusted to do that job. When things go wrong, she is in there modifying frequencies and filtering out white noise, not being pushed aside by a man with more expertise.

People still try to put Uhura down by saying she just answers the Enterprise’s telephone. Her job was is much more than that. It’s technically skilled, it requires specialised training and Uhura is the most senior communications officer on that ship. Sometimes, when she isn’t on shift, there are other people operating that station, meaning Uhura outranks male communications officers. If shit goes down, they have to call her to the station, because she is the best.

Uhura has been a role model longer than any other woman on this list, because she does a job, she does it the best, and 95% of the time, her gender is completely irrelevant.

7. Margaery Tyrell (Game of Thrones, played by Natalie Dormer)

I’m house Tyrell for one reason and one reason only. Because Margaery is my hero. She is the poster girl for taking stock of your assets and using them to your advantage. Maybe I don’t have her looks or her brains or her sex appeal or her money or her family connections, but that doesn’t matter. Margaery is brilliant not because of the specific resources at her disposal but because she figures out how to use those resources.

It wouldn’t matter what circumstances she found herself in, or which of her skills or external resources you took away. Margaery would still find a way to rise to the top. Societal expectations in Westeros render Margaery unable to use physical prowess to her advantage, just as pain and sickness prevent me from finding empowerment in mixed martial arts. Margaery is a role model because she doesn’t dwell on what she can’t do. She thinks about the things she can, and that makes her a natural to survive in and excel at the intrigue and manipulation of King’s Landing.

Margaery Tyrell is a role model because she has taught me that knowledge and understanding of your own strengths and weaknesses can be more important than anything else.

8. Martha Jones (Doctor Who, played by Freema Agyeman)

Sure, Martha is a doctor, she’s highly intelligent. She’s loyal, she’s brave she’s compassionate, she’s friendly. She takes the time to talk to people. She’s got most of the traits of the rest of the list, in fact. But I don’t want to talk about that. Martha is a role model not for her actions during her year as The Doctor’s companion, but because of the way she ends that year.

Let’s take a moment to talk about self-care. Martha is in love with the Doctor but he isn’t in love with her. Ouch. Does she complain? No. Martha Jones walks out of that TARDIS with her head held high and decides she wants better for herself. She doesn’t expect The Doctor to love her back. She doesn’t blame him for not feeling the way she does. But she makes an assessment of her situation and she realises that it is making her unhappy. Being with The Doctor is causing her pain, so she decides to remove herself from that situation. That takes some guts!

One of the hardest things in the world to learn is that it’s okay to take care of yourself and your own needs. I have a real problem remembering that doing something I need to do is not selfishness and that I have as much right to happiness as anybody else. I know a whole lot of people, especially women, with the same problem. Martha Jones should be a role model for all of us. Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is put yourself first.

9. Hermione Granger (Harry Potter, played by Emma Watson)

I saw myself in two characters when I first read Harry Potter. One was Neville (socially awkward, incredibly shy and unlucky). The other was Hermione. If you know me, this probably won’t come as a shock but as a child I was, as Professor Snape would put it “an insufferable little know it all”.

There are so many great traits about Hermione that we can all aspire to share. She’s kind (always sticking up for Neville). She’s honest (horrified at the thought of cheating at Quidditch). She’s wise (her romantic advice to Ginny is superb). She’s socially conscious (trying to make others care about house elf welfare). I wish I had half Hermione’s work ethic and study skills. She may be a stickler for the rules, but she also knows when it’s right to break them. She’s so wise and good that Harry’s own conscience speaks in Hermione’s voice.

All those things make Hermione fabulous, but what makes her a role model for me is always that she is smart and she is proud of it. I wish I’d been younger when Harry Potter came out, because Hermione was the role model I needed when I was eleven. I was bullied because I was smart and high achieving, to the point where, at around sixteen and seventeen, I stopped being those things. I didn’t want to be smart anymore. I didn’t care about school and my dreams stopped being academic in nature. If I hadn’t been so afraid of disappointing my parents, I might even have dropped out of school after tenth grade.

If only I’d had Hermione. She is smart, she enjoys studying and she’s high achieving. Sometimes she is made to feel ashamed of that, even by teachers (I’m looking at you, Snape) but she has a cry and then she carries on, being who she is.

We have a society in which ambition is seen as unattractive in women. Words like “pushy”, “bossy” and “bitch” are used to demean women and girls who talk themselves up when Patriarchy would prefer we put ourselves down.  But sometimes, you are smart, or skilled, or qualified and if you are, why shouldn’t you say so? If Hermione can do Hermione, you can do you!

10. Laura Roslin (Battlestar Galactica, played by Mary McDonnell)

I’ll tell you when I knew President Roslin was a woman to aspire to. When she had a man thrown out an airlock without trial. As a woman with chronic illness, is there a better role model for me than a badass, no mercy politician who spent the entire run of a series terminally ill?

In fact, I was diagnosed with terminal cancer during Battlestar Galactica’s original run. It turned out to be a lot less terminal than they thought, but my ongoing health issues all stem from that original cancer diagnosis. Laura Roslin taught me that illness is not the end, even if that illness is killing you.

Laura always puts her people first (even if that drives you crazy because you have an unhealthy level of emotional investment in her love life). In everything she does, the best interests of the human race are always her top priority. She is also a great boss, taking personal interest in the professional and emotional development of her employees. She strikes a delicate balance between taking advice from the military and letting them dictate policy. She works with Admiral Adama, but is always clear that she is an elected official and he is not.

Laura Roslin is politically savvy, with genuine compassion and a sense of ethics, but she also has the capacity to be utterly ruthless when the safety of the fleet is at stake. And she does it all while battling a terminal illness.

Although this list is in no particular order, Laura Roslin should be number one on this list. She should be the list. So say we all.