Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

Since I finished Orphan Black, and I’m not allowed to watch The Wire without my husband, I’ve been looking for a new TV show to inhale watch on Netflix. Someone mentioned MI-5 was good and there are a lot of episodes so I thought I would give it a try.

Mistake.

I got to the second episode and it was WTF, hell, no time.

Meet Helen, a trained agent, who makes no attempt to save her own life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen, a trained agent, makes no attempt to save her life.

Helen is admin, not a field agent, but at the beginning of episode 2 when she’s angling to get into the field, she very clearly states: I’ve taken all the trainings.  This could be a cool story line, right? The woman stuck in a gendered class of employment who longs for something else and believes she has what it takes to make it as a field agent. Wrong.

Helen is not the hero of her own story. She’s motivation-bait for her coworker, Steve (or something, I’ve blocked it out of my mind already). Steve is the hero, and Helen is here to make sure he goes down the proper path of fulfilling his mission, feeling a shit-ton of grief and making the right choice of taking the next step in his relationship with the woman in his life.

Presumably, training for British spies involves at the least self-defense, unarmed combat, weapons training, negotiation–actually I have no idea what training for real spies is like–but on TV it seems the men get training in all those areas. And Helen has taken all the trainings, remember? She said so. Her superiors allowed her into the field, so she must have taken them and done well.

But when her life is threatened, does she do any more than gasp and look blondly terrified? Why, no, she doesn’t. Sure there’s a thug with a gun, but the mastermind criminal holding her–not very securely I might add–is threatening to put her hand in boiling oil (which eww, as a call out to the specifically gendered violence against women in areas of Asia, is disgusting).

Never mind that she’s got one hand completely free (the one you can’t see in the screenshot), her feet are untied and, oh yeah, he’s not holding her in a very secure way.

So what could our trained Helen do?

She could stomp those little black boots on his toes or instep and break them. I bet the pain would make him take notice, maybe even loosen his grip

She could kick his knees and do some serious damage because she’d be kicking against the joint. Knees aren’t meant to bend that way, but they will under pressure

She could head-but him, not my personal favorite, but she could break his nose

She’s also got that free hand. Maybe he has a gun on him. Maybe he has a knife. She could elbow him in the ribs and then slam her fist into his nose/temple/throat. She could gouge out his eyes, hook his nose or mouth and cause some distracting pain. Or my personal favorite (I am not a bloodthirsty person, but depictions of women on TV drive me to it. The writers had a CHOICE. They MADE THIS ONE. We don’t all get choices all the time. In real life, women are assaulted and killed without a chance to defend themselves, but this is NOT REAL LIFE.) Anyway, back to my personal favorite and the favorite of women everywhere: she could grab his testicles and twist/yank/squeeze his brains out.

Oh, wait, did I mention that he’s not holding her very securely? That arm is not around her throat. There is absolutely no reason that in terror for her life Helen could not turn into his hold so she’s facing him and make it a lot harder for him to dunk her in oil without dunking himself. And then she could attack him in any of the ways mentioned above but face to face, because, yanno, she’s a trained agent.

But no, she dies and poor Steve finally finds a negotiating point and manages to save himself…too late for Helen, who’s just another incapable, weak woman sacrificed on the TV altar of women are victims… to keep us real-life women victims too.

Try this at home. Well, don’t try it on your friends and loved ones. Find someplace that teaches women, specifically, self-defense, and then go beat the hell out of the padded attackers. It’s scary. It might give you an adrenaline headache. You might hurt your hands on the punching bag. You might have to be told 100 times how to punch correctly. Or, hell, you might have untapped skills as fighter. You might feel really good slamming all your aggressions out on a punching bag or a man in a head-to-toe padded suit. You might find you like hitting things. It’s made me feel a little better just to list all the ways Helen could have wrecked serious damage on the bad guy and been the hero of this episode.

(Also, MI-5? I wanted to give you credit for making the villains white supremacists, but the only character of color was totally sidelined and not able to be a hero in this narrative that I’d imagine directly affects him. Instead, we got white savior Steve.)

Maybe next time I’ll talk about a show that pleasantly surprised me.

Alias

Once Upon a Time

Luther, why do you fail me so?

Seeing is Understanding, and Five Things I’ve Learned About Teaching Self-Defense, Blair MacGregor

The Narrative of Women in Fear and Pain, Kate Elliott

Somewhere out there is an excellent post by Julliet Marillier about self defense and women that I can’t find. Does anyone know what I’m talking about?

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Kitchen Sink Links

Foz Meadows being brilliant. This is the best explanation of the difference between male and female narratives I’ve seen.

In het-male-oriented action stories where the hero gets the girl, his manly efforts at saving the day serve as the narrative justification for the romantic outcome: he has done X, therefore he wins the lady. But because the story is all about the hero’s wants and needs, we’re very rarely shown why the lady likes X beyond a sort of implied, innate correlation:obviously ladies like X – or at least, this particularlady does, because otherwise, she wouldn’t be in the story. Her emotional complicity is a given, because the story doesn’t care about how she arrives at (from the hero’s standpoint) the correct decision; only that he gets his reward for performing X. In het-female-oriented romance stories, the resolution of conflict between hero and heroine serves as the narrative justification for the romantic outcome: he has done Y and she has done Z, therefore they win each other. The story is aboutboth their wants and needs, and while there’s often a stronger emotional focus on the heroine, the why of the hero’s attraction is still deemed important.

Go read the rest. The brilliance continues. I wish I could be so smart. Seeing is Understanding. This post by Blair MacGregor creeped me out and I thought I knew a thing or two about creepy men after working with domestic violence victims (their word not mine) for the district attorney’s office.

“No, I don’t,” I blurted out, and described how that man knew precisely where the lines of “inappropriate” behavior were drawn, and had spent the last couple of years nudging those lines whenever he came across a woman he considered “available.”  I mentioned he’d been called out for failing to heed polite turn-downs, that he got offended when the turn-down became less polite.  I mentioned how women who weren’t even the focus of his attention breathed a sigh of relief when he left the room.

You probably already read Libba Bray’s post On Writing Despair. If not, bookmark it for when you need it. If my dentist projected these videos of Hypnotic Wind-powered Kinetic Sculptures by Anthony Howe on the ceiling I would be a much happier patient. via thisiscolossal.com

It Must Be That Time of Year Again: A Response to Has Fantasy Forgotten the Consequences of Violence?

There’s a post up at A Dribble of Ink, Has Fantasy Forgotten the Consequences of Violence? by Adam Calloway that asks

…it occurred to me that I was writing a fantasy novel with almost no violence (outside of a fistfight or two). The plot is resolved through hard work and cleverness. It got me to wondering why there aren’t more fantasy (or science fiction) novels that deal with issues outside of violence?… Is it time that genre media diversifies into non-violent narratives as well?

If we take for granted the fact that four out of every five fantasy books will have a non-negligible amount of violence in them, then should the discussion be less about whether fantasy has too much violence, and more about the purpose the violence serves?

I think this is the real discussion. I’ve suggested that violence works best when we’re forced as readers to confront both the action and consequence.

A while back, I was shocked out of a book by a popular MG/YA writer by the casual violence of a pre-teen casually killing a foot soldier of the enemy. It happened in passing, on the way to the important confrontation, without emotional consequence for the character either immediate or in the future.

Good fantasy presents violence in a way that affects both the characters involved as well as the world in which the violence takes place.

That’s Adam again, but it’s essentially the thought I had as I began to write my own YA fantasy, which I couldn’t help but see as in conversation with the book by the popular writer. I was determined that violence would be relatively easy for some and relatively hard for others, but it would always have consequences, both immediate and in the future. Around the same time I read What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes and On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society Dave Grossman. Both those books talk about how hard it is, even for soldiers trained (read psychologically broken down and rebuilt as soldiers) and facing enemy fire, to kill. The latter includes information such as during World Wars I and II, only and estimated 15-20% of frontline soldiers actually fired their weapons and of that, many fired into the air instead of at the enemy. The numbers are even lower for earlier wars and, according to the author, hold true for whichever nation you study. Later, armies got much better at getting soldiers to kill, but even so, Karl Marlantes, who fought in the Vietnam War, talks as much about the times he didn’t kill as much as the incandescent joy he felt when he did.

Violence happens of course, but even in war, even in the Medieval Ages, which we think of as brutal and ugly (although this article by Kelly DeVries, a medieval historian, tells us they were actually very boring (sorry, the article has been moved beyond a paywall)) the actual hacking and mayhem occurred less than we like to think it did. And violence, when it is used, in our present day and stretching back into the past, is often used against women, children, marginalized people and, as Liz Bourke reminded us, against male soldiers captured in war.

A Song of Ice and Fire is very violent, but in many circumstances, the violence has meaning and far reaching consequences. After a fight or a battle comrades are grieved over, foes are cursed, tallies are taken. However, the series seems to focus on the consequences of shocking violence: an assassination, an ambush, an orchestrated martial campaign, a naval attack. Casual violence — especially sexual violence — often goes without comment or consequence. This is the type of violence that I believe detracts from a work

I agree with Adam. I can’t read the more explicitly violent books and I rarely see, much less enjoy, the blockbuster Hollywood movies because of their emphasis on meaningless, endless, gory violence and action for the sake of moving. It’s boring and offensive at the same time, to me. It’s also lazy, probably a symptom of our ongoing and never-ending wars (drone strikes, anyone?) and says something about the American psyche that we probably all don’t want to know. But it’s also a symptom of chasing the already has been done: The Matrix was incredibly popular, we’ll make another movie just like it, but with more violence! Some video game was incredibly popular (I betray my ignorance about them), we’ll make another just like it, but with more violence! Hollywood is still chasing what they imagine are the tastes of the 16-24 year old males (why should they be any more right about this than they are about what women like? Have you tried to sit through a “romcom” lately?) and the rest of our entertainment follows suit because for most of us our palate is so accustomed to it, we can’t taste it unless it’s bigger, bloodier, more violent than the last. Because we’re so used to it, we don’t see it.

Why am I writing this blog post? Because comments.

But realism, a few responders (notably mostly male at the beginning of the attack, sorry I mean conversation) cry. Stop trying to dictate my art, others cry, how dare you make me think that what I do may have real world consequences. But genre expectations; but Adam, you stupid; but only white Westerners live in a world without daily violence (and those Other People don’t feel it the way we do anyway); but diversity (Adam rightly points out that he’s asking for more diversity in fantasy because he loves it, not less); but promotion=evil, he just wants to sell books (I’d point out this book isn’t finished yet, and Adam is musing out loud about what it means to write a book without violence); but numbers! are you sure what you’re saying is true?

It all wearingly reminds me of last summer’s conversation about grim dark. Some of us want less violence; some want to examine the consequences of the mainly gendered violence in the media we consume; some of us love the anti-hero and tragedy, and some people knee-jerk and shout censorship! cooties! you (women, pacifists, communists, un-Americans) just don’t understand and are trying to take over the world anyway!

Sigh.

Since so many said it better than I can, just think about it with violence, general, instead of grimdark, specific:

Elizabeth Bear, I Love a Good Tragedy As Much as the Next Guy

If every woman’s going to be raped, if every hero is going to turn out to be a pedophile or a coward, if every halfway honorable man is going to be impaled, if every picturesque little town is going to be burned to the ashes… Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies is just as lazy a narrative as the one where all challenges are resolved by a handy Deus ex machina. And possibly a little more juvenile.

Foz Meadows, On Grittiness and Grimdark

Not unsurprisingly, therefore, many SFF readers – especially those who are female, POC and/or LGBTQ – are going to object to your definition of reality, not just as you’ve elected to apply it in an SFFnal context, but as an effective commentary on them, personally: because when you contend that realistic worldbuilding requires the inclusion of certain specific inequalities in order to count as realistic, you’re simultaneously asserting that such inequalities are inherent to reality – that a story cannot be honest, or your characters believably human, if there aren’t mechanisms in place to keep women oppressed, POC othered and LGBTQ persons invisible.

Liz Bourke with some facts about violence against men in war (think about why it’s so disturbing to talk about this kind of violence, but we accept depictions of the same kinds of violence against women without a blink—even me sometimes. We all swim in the cultural soup). Realism, Male Rape and Epic Fantasy

Kate Elliott reflects on consensual sex in fantasy in What is Your Consensual Sex & Love Doing in My Epic Fantasy?

Sophia McDougall on rape as wallpaper in The Rape of James Bond (The google results while I was looking for that were horrific)

I’ll leave you with Marie Brennan to end. Welcome to the Desert of the Real

I repeat: there’s nothing wrong with writing about violence (even bloody, horrific violence), sex (even nonconsensual sex, which is to say rape), or moral greyness. All of those things are real. But they are not the whole picture. Reality is not a desert in which we stagger from one tiny oasis to the next, barely sucking down enough muddy, stagnant water to stay alive. If you’re writing about the desert, ask yourself why, and where you’re going in it, and whether you’re following that path because it will take you somewhere useful, or just because everyone else has gone that way.

And finally, various people:

It’s fantasy! Why would you want to do the same old thing and keep the same old rules when you could make up anything? Isn’t that the point?

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

Trigger warning: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

So, you know those things you think you know? Or better yet, you know that quote by Mark Twain?

It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.

I am here to tell you about the dreaded choke hold. It’s not the end game most writers think it is.

You know what I mean. When the bad guy gets his hands around the woman’s (and sometimes even a man’s–hey, strangulation must be pretty respectable if it’s done to men, too) throat. That’s it, right? Unless someone else comes to save the damsel in distress or, sometimes, she finds something conveniently to hand to smash into his head.

I was watching Alias when I thought of this post, but the chokehold comes up at least once a season in any TV show with violence. Alias is only egregious because Sydney is supposed to be a highly trained, deadly CIA agent. We see her fight, and win, many times during each episode (yay, that’s great! Women who know how to fight!). She knows some kind of martial art. She knows how to use weapons and do other spy things. She’s kind of like a female James Bond. So why, the moment she’s in a chokehold, does she fail to do what any trained, professional fighter would do to break the hold?!

Alias

(I’ll tell you my suspicions: 1. rape culture 2. most writers don’t actually practice a martial art/take self defense classes 3. most TV writers are male, why would they question what they know? 4. everyone else is doing it, it must be true 5. writers can be lazy (I can say that because I’m a writer and it’s soooo easy to be lazy))

But back to Alias, Sydney and chokeholds. First, let’s have an anatomy lesson: elbows bend.

End of lesson.

Getting out of a choke hold is often one of the first things you learn in a self defense class, probably because it’s incredibly easy to learn and therefore gives students a feeling of power and control. And because any able bodied person can do it and many physically handicapped people can too. As suggested by the review above, it depends on anatomy and physics rather than body strength, agility or fancy martial arts knowledge.

If someone has you in this position, what you need to do is shoot one arm straight up into the air, rotate your body sharply away from your upraised arm, and bring that arm down, as hard as you can, on the other person’s elbows. Remember that anatomy lesson? Their elbows MUST bend under your blow.

That’s hard to picture from the description so I’m linking to a random video I found on the internet. Elbow down self defense for choke hold.

You are also weakening their hold on your neck by turning your body away from them and you’re ensuring that you get both their elbows, not just one. Now, as with all self defense moves, the more power and strength you put into it the better. And just because you’ve broken out of the choke hold doesn’t mean the other person will automatically stop trying to hurt you. Follow through is essential.

Keep in mind, I am not bad-mouthing the heavy thing to the head tactic. I just want to tell you the more direct route.

For Alias, this was bad, lazy writing. Sydney would know this move and she would have used it (or some other similar move instead of hanging out until the last possible second and searching through his clothes or whatever she does(. For all the other TV shows and movies that use this? BORING. A lot of women know self defense. A lot of women take martial arts. A lot of women save their own lives when they are attacked, whether that’s by a stranger or someone known to them. It’s not the 1960s Mad Men world anymore. Wouldn’t it be cool if some of the women on TV reflected our reality? Wouldn’t it be cool if we all knew how to protect ourselves?

But hey, if even super competent heroes like Sydney can’t get out of a chokehold, what ordinary woman could, right? Why should you—yes, you, sitting there reading this—think you could? Learned helplessness, you say!? Excuse me while I go practice some self defense.

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

TW: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

Snow Falls, Episode 3, Season 1 of Once Upon a Time doesn’t start out too badly. Snow White looks pretty cool in her forest garb and she’s obviously doing all right for herself hiding out in the forest from the evil step-mother. She pulls off a nice bit of highway robbery, which I liked for the reverse gender roles: female highwayman robbing the prince. Who doesn’t like to watch people being competent? Almost everyone does; there’s even a name for it: competence porn. It’s why heist movies, James Bond movies and doctor and cop shows are so popular. IMO it’s one of the reasons for The Good Wife’s popularity. Every character, but especially every woman character, on that show is competent in a realistic, everyday kind of way. Alicia Florrick, Kalinda Sharma, Diane Lockhart, Amanda Peet’s character, even the  opposing attorneys are all good at what they do. It’s still sadly rare to see competence porn involving smart, ambitious, kick ass women.

Which is why when the fail comes in Snow Falls it is such a let-down. I had forgotten exactly how much fail, in terms of logic and physical self defense there is in this episode.

So, in spite of her successful theft and later giving Prince Charming a well placed knee in the gut and a shove in the river, when the real baddies come after her, she damsels. That’s right, she wimpers while they pin her to a tree. I’ll give her a little bit of a pass because it’s three against one and she does try to escape when Prince Charming interferes, although she’s forgotten the first rule of self-defense: don’t leave anyone mobile enough to come after you when you run away.

I’m not going to focus on that because later we have the classic grab from behind around the throat. I think this kind of grab is one that most women are afraid of in real life, compounded by seeing it thousands of times on TV where the woman is helpless. The thing is SHE IS FAR FROM HELPLESS.

Once Upon a Time

The thing about self defense (and common sense) that Hollywood and TV forget or don’t care about because it would ruin their limited idea of what  constitutes a good story, is that if someone is close enough to hurt you, you are also close enough to hurt him.

So I’d like to repeat here: SHE IS FAR FROM HELPLESS.

She’s already halfway to a protective response if this guy were trying to strangle her, which he’s not. But if he were, she has her hand on his arm. She can pull his arm away from her throat and tuck her chin to protect her throat and her ability to breathe before focusing on getting away from him.

In terms of offense, bad guy is just as exposed to Snow here as she is to him. Everything on his body is in close proximity her hands, feet, elbows and her head (she can head butt him if she has to).

We all know how to kick and stomp our feet. His feet, with all their tiny little bones are right there, hard to miss if she slides her foot down his leg as she stomps. His knees are also right there, all ready to bend backwards under a good hard kick. His eyes are exposed to a being stabbed with her fingers. She could cause serious injury with any of these responses.

If, for whatever reason, she doesn’t want to cause permanent injury but thinks he’d be deterred by pain, his balls are within EASY reach of a grab and wrench. She could clap both her hands over his ears at the same time. I’ve seen her elbows, they are pointy and made for slamming into someone’s ribs.

That’s it for this week. I’m not feeling very well so I can’t seem to think of a snappy ending.

Updated to add: Right, now that I’m no longer sick, I remember how I wanted to end this post. I kind of got my hopes up for Once Upon a Time but I should have taken a clue from it’s lame title: Snow Falls. Not Snow Storms or Snow Drifts or anything else kind of cool.

Some Tips for TV Ladies (and all others) Who Want to Go On Living

TW: violence against women, violent images, violent self defense suggestions

So you know that thing you do when you yell at the TV? And of course the TV doesn’t listen to you? Well here it is, on the epic fail of women on to defend themselves in TV land, my living room rant, brought to you. Welcome to my head.

Luther. Guilty of fail. every. single. time.

Season 1. Episode 4 (untitled as far as I can tell)

A woman unwittingly enters the home of serial killer. She has received a phone call from no less than the police telling her she is in danger. She locks herself in the bathroom (with a DEAD BODY, in case she was in doubt). The killer pounds a hole in the door, sticks his head in and laughs manically:

BBC One, image from Luther, season 1, episode 4

And she:

BBC One, image from Luther, season 1, episode 4

Cowers. Now don’t get me wrong. This is a SCARY situation. The adrenaline and the terror must be overwhelming and probably almost paralyzing. But her life is AT STAKE. And she is in a bathroom where there are many DANGEROUS POINTY THINGS. After the kitchen, she probably has chosen the best room in the house (if she couldn’t get out the front door that is) to lock herself into.

He is unable to reach her because the hole is too SMALL.

This is what she could use as a weapon based, on my own bathroom:

Toilet bowl brush — good for stabbing right down his throat (which would choke off his maniac laughter), into his eyes (if he can’t see, it’s harder for him to hit her) or into his windpipe (ditto, if he can’t breathe). Also he seemed pretty fastidious, as many TV serial killers are, so waving the business end in his face would probably freak him out. But in self defense it’s best to injure with the intent to neutralize the threat.

Deodorant spray — I imagine this would hurt a lot if sprayed in the eyes. Also is this stuff flammable like hairspray? I don’t have hairspray, but I totally remember making hairspray flamethrowers in high school (what, you didn’t do that?). Light it up. MAJOR DAMAGE.

Free-standing toilet paper holder, shelving, metal garbage can, hair dryer, etc. — all that adrenaline could be used to batter the shit out of this guy, and from a little bit of distance too

Scissors — by the time he’s close enough for her to use these, he’s awfully close. Still, last ditch effort because it’s her LIFE. Stab hands, eyes, throat, ears, etc.

Shower curtain — if it weren’t wrapped around the dead guy she could wrap it around the killer’s head and/or body to suffocate him/limit his movement (I don’t actually recommend this one, but it’s got to be better than nothing, right?)

Shoes — she’s wearing pointy heeled shoes. If she nailed one of those suckers in his eye or throat she’d do some serious damage.

Lastly, her fists, the palm of her hands, the edges of her hands, her feet, her head — everyone can use their own body as a weapon, not just the bad guys. TRY SOMETHING. IT  CAN’T BE WORSE THAN WHAT HE HAS PLANNED because he’s a sexual predator/serial killer!

His throat and eyes, two of the main areas you should concentrate on in self defense are exposed and vulnerable. She could gouge out his eyes. She could punch him in the throat with either a fist or the V of her hand between her thumb and the rest of her fingers. Any of these things could incapacitate him enough to prevent him from harming her. Since his head is so exposed, she could try hitting him in the temple. You can kill someone like that.

If he got in the bathroom, she should kick his knees to break/dislocate them, stomp on his feet to break the little bones there and aim for all the other vulnerable places already mentioned.

Instead, she waits for the police to come rescue her. And she’s lucky, they DO. But I was PISSED, because if this wasn’t the moment, with an immobilized killer with a door between them, for self defense, I don’t know what is. Another missed opportunity for a TV lady to act like a real person. Sigh.

In the search for some crumbs to make me feel better about watching TV, here are the things she did right:

She listened to her instincts/the phone call from the police and got as far away from him as possible
I think at least once she screamed for help. She knows the police are on the way, she should be giving them and anyone around a clue to where she is
She put a locked door between him and her. While a small room with no other exits is NOT the best plan, she might not have made it to the front door, so it might have been her best option.

Sooo, that was Luther. I could probably do this for every episode. Hell, episode 3 literally had a woman in a refrigerator. Instead, next time, I’ll do something a little lighter, less violent, physically or psychologically, maybe even a little family friendly: Once Upon A Time.

Serious part here. I am not a self defense expert. I have taken three different kinds of self defense classes as well as karate in my life, which I think were of differing usefulness. One of places I took self defense, the Center for Anti-Violence Education, teaches self defense to kids. One of the things they teach the kids is that EVERYONE has the skills to protect themselves, either by avoiding a dangerous situation, getting out of a dangerous situation or telling someone about a bad thing someone they are supposed to trust is doing to them.

Women can protect themselves, but we are socialized not to trust our instincts and into victimhood by the depiction of passivity in the media (among lots of other things). If all you see on TV and movies are either women as victims or women as superheroes (ala Buffy, which we can’t possibly imitate), why would you believe you could? If you never take a self defense class or a martial arts, why would you believe you could?