Not a Prize to be Won

As the first month of this new year draws to a close, I begin my Disney blog series with its first installment: a feminist exploration of Princess Jasmine.

 

Aladdin was the first Disney movie to feature a non-Caucasian princess. Finally, little girls with darker skin and hair could see themselves in a Disney Princess.

But how well did Aladdin portray Jasmine’s nationality and culture?

The movie takes place in the fictional Middle Eastern kingdom of Agrabah. The narrator is our first impression of this land, and one of the first lines in his opening song is: “It’s barbaric, but hey, it’s home.” This sense of barbarity continues later on in the movie when a marketplace vendor nearly chops off Jasmine’s hand for stealing an apple. Not exactly painting a positive cultural image.

Although they are Middle Eastern characters, both Aladdin and Jasmine have typically Caucasian features, other than their hair and skin color. Which characters do have the stereotypical Middle Eastern features? Jafar, Gazeem (the “humble thief” who gets eaten by the Cave of Wonders in the beginning of the movie), the palace guards, the narrator, & various background characters. In other words: villains and side characters.

Also be aware that almost every name is mispronounced. I grew up pronouncing Allah incorrectly, which in certain company can be upsetting and offensive. I didn’t even know that Aladdin and Jasmine had their name pronunciations butchered until I watched the movie with a friend of mine who speaks Hindi as her first language.

In short, if someone tells you Disney doesn’t whitewash, because they didn’t make Jasmine into Jessica, you can show them the realistic depictions of the princess whose name should be pronounced “Jaz-meen.”

historically accurate Jasmine - model

image courtesy of bustle.com

historically accurate Jasmine - drawing

historically accurate Jasmine courtesy of deviantart user Wickfield

Of course, Jasmine’s role in the movie is what you’ll want to focus on when discussing Aladdin with your kids. And Jasmine’s role and experiences would have been very different had the creators chosen to follow realistic cultural values. We’ll assume the movie takes place around the beginning of Islam because they reference Allah, and Jasmine is allowed a say in who she marries – just a bit later in history her consent would not have been required for her marriage. Suitors come to her, and she has the power to tell her father that she will not marry them. When Jafar suggests to the Sultan that he should choose for his daughter, the Sultan argues that she didn’t like any of those suitors and he can’t pick someone she doesn’t like.

But this time period also means that Jasmine would most likely be one of four wives. Depending on her husband’s opinion of her, she might still be considered a “queen,” but probably not one with much power.

Instead, Jasmine is the heir to the throne in her own right. Her husband will become Sultan through her. She is the one with the power.

Jasmine is well aware of this power she has. We see this when she tells Jafar that the one good thing that will come of her being forced to marry is that “when [she] is queen, [she] will have the power to get rid of” him.

Yet when Jasmine overhears her father, Jafar, and Aladdin talking behind her back about who she will marry, she tells them off. She is indignant, and she is not afraid to let them know it. And rather than berating her for speaking in their presence, the men are actually ashamed of their behavior when she calls them on it. (Well, not Jafar, but he’s the bad guy! I mean, Jafar also says that being speechless is “a fine quality in a wife.” Make sure to point out to your kids that there’s a reason it’s the bad guy saying that!)

Jasmine’s reaction in this scene is what to emphasize with your children when you watch Aladdin together – not just your daughters either. Jasmine’s expectation of how she deserves to be treated is how all children should learn to treat people. And the crazy thing is, the words Jasmine uses directly contradict what a realistic society of the time would not question: “I am not a prize to be won.”

Honesty is an Editor’s Best Policy

With the new Star Wars coming out next week, some friends and I decided to do a marathon. Starting with The Phantom Menace and ending with Return of the Jedi, we’ve been watching one movie per week until The Force Awakens.

 

We were all ecstatic when we completed the most difficult part of this marathon: the prequel trilogy. Phew! It was all downhill from there!

 

Watching those prequels got my husband and I to wondering, How? How in the world did those movies get made? How did those special effects pass for acceptable? Better yet, how did the scripts even make it through the editing process in the first place?

 

My husband had a great insight into the answer to these questions: The Star Wars prequels are simply a demonstration of what happens when nobody tells the writer, “No.”

 

Before The Phantom Menace, George Lucas could do no wrong in the eyes of many of his fans. (In hindsight, the rerelease of the original trilogy with “upgraded” special effects should’ve tipped us off.) People were actually excited for the new trilogy.

 

No one wanted to tell George Lucas he should hire someone else to write the romance between Padmé and Anakin. No one wanted to tell him he was going overboard with the special effects. No one wanted to tell him Jar Jar Binks was a terrible idea.

 

That is, until The Phantom Menace came out. Then, suddenly, they couldn’t wait to tear George Lucas to shreds. Even his most devout fans have lost faith in the once-great George Lucas, and they rejoice in the fact that he no longer has control over the franchise.

 

Of course, this (often not-so-constructive) criticism came far too late. As much as we would like to pretend they never happened at all, we must now live in a world in which the Star Wars prequel trilogy exists.

 

Therefore, the lesson to be learned from the catastrophe that is Episodes I, II, and III, is the extreme importance of editing and getting honest feedback before signing off on a completed work. Whether you’re a rookie author writing your first short story or a big time Hollywood director expanding your pet nerd-verse, you’re going to need to revise your drafts multiple times. Get over it.

 

So when your newest project is fresh off the printer, don’t rely on your best friend, significant other, or mother to give you constructive criticism. Get an unbiased opinion. Hire a professional editor (I’m available, btw) who won’t treat you like a diva. You don’t need to be babied – you need to become better at your artform.

 

Once you have that editor, don’t take their critiques personally. They’re not trying to hurt your feelings. They’re trying to strengthen your writing. Remember that when you’re mourning the Story That Was. Know when to keep your own voice, and when to make changes.

 

And for goodness sakes, know when to cut that annoying, racist, poorly-CGI’d character out of the story entirely!

2015-12-11_14.30.40

Kindred Spirits

Last weekend was my very first time attending a comic book convention: Wizard World Comic Con. Being here in Reno, Nevada, it was a relatively small convention, but it was an amazing experience.

I’ve wanted to go to a Comic Con for years now, even though I was not entirely sure what to expect. To be honest, the biggest appeal for me was probably the cosplay. I do love having excuses to dress up! I got to pull out my steampunk costume, which is always fun.

But the highlight of the Con, for me, turned out to be a panel on world-building and story-telling. I hadn’t put much thought at all into hearing a panel, but I’m so glad I did.

Panelists

from left to right: David Michael Slater, Genese Davis, Tracy Clark, & Heather Petty

I’d forgotten how much I love being surrounded by other people who share my passion for writing. I learned new things and walked away with some great tips, but mostly I just wanted to soak up the energy of that room filled with creative minds bursting to put their ideas on paper.

Panel

Panel Audience

You can see me in the audience, about halfway back!

There’s something about being with kindred spirits that makes you resist waiting any longer to pursue your dream.

 

 

If this is the feeling I got from a single writing panel at a Comic Con, imagine what a conference focused entirely on writing can do!

It’s been almost four years since the first and only Writers’ Conference I ever attended. The time has definitely come to revisit one. Obviously the TMCC Writers’ Conference is most convenient for me, but I’ll be looking into those of surrounding areas as well. The conference I attended in 2013 was so inspiring – and it got me out of my comfort zone as well as introduced me to some friendly and influential people in the publishing business.

I’m already excited to go again!

My Coming Out Story

Happy National Coming Out Day! Whether you came out today, you’re celebrating an anniversary of coming out, or you’re simply reflecting on your own personal journey, today is a day to be proud of yourself exactly as you are.

This year for Coming Out Day, I’m going to tell the story of how I came out… to myself.

***

I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian church, which meant I had some strong feelings about homosexuality and God. So when I was in high school, and I started to wonder if I was in love with my best (girl) friend, I shoved the “sinful” thoughts away. Most of the time, my general repression was subconscious, but these were feelings that I actively repressed. They scared me too much to give any serious thought to them. I comforted myself with the reassurance that I was attracted to boys, and therefore could not be a lesbian.

Four years or so later, having been in a couple of feminist theory classes, and out of my parents’ house, I stopped going to church. I could no longer believe that love could keep someone out of Heaven. My decision to leave that toxic environment was the first step I had to take before I could truly love and accept myself.

About six months later, my then-boyfriend and I were talking and he said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if we told people that we’re both bi, and we both just happened to end up with someone of the opposite sex?” So that became our inside joke.

I think I needed that non-threatening, humorous space to say those words about myself before I could say in all seriousness and honesty, “I don’t think it’s a joke for me.” It still took me months to be comfortable enough to say out loud, “I’m bisexual,” and even longer to be able to say it to my family and the majority of my friends.

But admitting to myself that I’m attracted to women was not the end of my self-acceptance journey. For me, the last piece of the puzzle was a life-changing college class, Philosophy of the Body, with Denise Lecamp.

I was more or less halfway through getting my bachelor’s degree at the University of Nevada, Reno, and a philosophy course that doubled as a women’s studies course seemed like a great way to get the major-related elective that I needed. We discussed the mind-body split and wabi sabi, and I learned that “imperfection” could be viewed as a form of perfection.

Now, I’d had body image issues for years, since before I’d even begun middle school. I used to spend days at a time with sheets draped over my mirrors, and fantasies of self-attempted liposuction in my head. I used to beat myself up over not having enough will power to be anorexic.

So the idea of finding beauty in imperfection was a much-needed revelation.

But it was one specific passage of one specific book, Appetites: Why Women Want by Caroline Knapp, that made the true difference:

Look at me, the goddess says. You’re so fat compared  to me. You’ll never have hair like mine. You’ll never be so desirable. As Wheelock professor Gail Dines puts it, “To men, the look says ‘Fuck me’; to women, it says, ‘Fuck you.'”

Like I said, it was the last piece of the puzzle. All those years I’d spent hating myself, it wasn’t truly because of the way I looked. The real reason was because whenever I saw that ever-present image of the “perfect” woman, I couldn’t handle the “fuck me” message she sent, and so I exaggerated the “fuck you” message.

Once I was able to accept my bisexuality, I was able to stop exaggerating the “fuck you” message. And I was able to truly love myself. Just as I learned that there is no split between the mind and the body, I learned that I had to fully love who I am on the inside before I could love myself on the outside.To Love Oneself

Dear Ms. Transphobic Ciswoman

This is a post that came up on my Facebook feed. I blocked out the original poster's name and profile picture to protect her privacy.

This is a screenshot of a shared post that came up on my Facebook feed. I do not know the original poster, only the person who shared the post. I blocked out the original poster’s name and profile picture to protect her privacy.

Dear Ms. Transphobic Ciswoman,

I’ve seen what you had to say about Caitlyn Jenner, and as a fellow ciswoman I found your statement highly insulting. You see, Ms. TC, there is more to being a woman than making catty comments and feeling a false sense of superiority. Compassion and understanding are traits we parents should begin teaching our young children at an early age.

As a woman with diagnosed polycystic ovarian syndrome, I can tell you that I have never woken up with searing cramps. Am I less of a woman than you?

You will never know what it is like to wake up almost every day with the crippling body dysphoria that so many transgender people experience, and yet (those of them who have not been fired for simply being brave enough to show their true selves) must still go off to work or school as though everything is fine.

As an American ciswoman with an interest in social equality, I can tell you that you are dead wrong when you say that a transwoman will never know what it is like to have her car break down on the side of the road, and when a couple of men stop to help, her prayer is that their intentions are good because there is no way on Earth she has the ability to physically overpower all of them. Outnumbered is outnumbered, Ms. TC. Even a cisman could be overpowered in such a situation. And the fact is that transgender people are “1.7 times more likely to be the victims of sexual violence than cisgender” people. That means that Caitlyn Jenner is nearly twice as likely as you are to become a victim of sexual violence.

It is extremely classless of you to remind transwomen such as Ms. Jenner that however much they may long to have a child, they will never be able to experience the joy of pregnancy or childbirth. Not to mention all of the ciswomen who cannot get pregnant, or choose not to. Are any of them less of a woman than you?

Believe it or not, many transwomen take hormones, because they were not as lucky as you were to be born with the correct ones. So many of them do in fact know what it is like at the age of fifty to be walking down the streets of Phoenix and pop into an ice cream shop only to be gripped by their fourth hot flash of the day. They just also have to deal with people like you staring at them while they are gripped by that hot flash.

To say that “identifying as a woman” means sharing all the same experiences with all women is ludicrous. A transwoman identifies as a woman because being a woman is part of her identity. She does not have to be you to be a woman.

No, Ms. TC, there is more to being a human being than sharing every experience with every other human being. Lesson #1 for all true human beings is this: treat each other with respect. Being assigned female at birth is not what makes you a woman. A real woman is one who knows, deep down, however she does or does not express it, despite the ignorant and bigoted comments, and even with curvy and natural ciswomen out to get her, that she is a woman. Hear her roar. Those of us who love her see her real beauty and find her far more valuable than rubies or diamonds.

Ms. TC, you are ignorant of transgender issues, but you are right about one thing: Ms. Jenner is privileged. So privileged that she can even spend her massive amounts of money to change her outward appearance. This is not something that most women (trans or cis) around the globe are able to do. True, most women in our world don’t even have access to a high school education. Fortunately, education, socioeconomic status, and country of origin have nothing to do with a person’s true gender. Caitlyn Jenner is a woman, and so are all the women in our world who cannot afford surgery or hormones. And so are all the women in our world who cannot even afford to be honest about who they truly are.

They are no less women than you.

Caitlyn Jenner is not an anomaly. She is not the only transwoman in this world. This post is not even about her. This post is about all the transwomen you may have hurt with your commentary, for all the transwomen who have been hurt by other statements like yours. Because it is ignorance such as yours that contributes to transgender people being three times more likely than cisgender people to experience police violence, nine times more likely than the national average to attempt suicide, and “21 times more likely to be murdered while walking down the streets of America than a solider in the Iraqi combat zone.”

So, Ms. Transphobic Ciswoman, I find your claim that Ms. Jenner has somehow insulted you to be disingenuous, uneducated, and – honestly – quite offensive.

We are LGBT-riffic!

 

Resources:

Rutherford-Morrison, Lara. (2015). 5 Shocking Facts About Transgender Suicide and Violence That You Need to Know. Bustle.

Ten Eyck, Meg. Shocking Stats That Show Trans* Violence is an Epidemic. Posture.

What is this “free time” of which you speak?

You’d think that being unemployed would come with oodles of free time.

But I’m finding that having more time at home does not mean having more time to do with as I please. In fact, it means having less time. Because now I’m spending eight hours every day taking care of my toddler, and what used to be my “free” time, when I could write and do laundry and maybe squeeze in a shower, has now become my apply-for-jobs-online time.

And that’s on the good days. You know, the days when there are any new jobs at all for me to send applications to.

Anyway. I just wanted to check in and let my readers know that I have not fallen off the face of the Earth.

I’m hoping to summon the time and energy to write an actual post in the near(ish) future. Thanks for bearing with me.

“Tahoe’s Moon” Synopsis

In the weeks leading up to NaNoWriMo 2014, I did a lot of research and pre-writing. But one thing I did not do was write a synopsis, despite the fact that I am aware of how beneficial it can be to write a novel’s synopsis before writing the novel itself.

Well, I’m still not quite done with Tahoe’s Moon, so I’m going to write its synopsis now, before the finished novel has too many details rattling around in my brain. Better late than never, right?

 

Tahoe Shailaja Kapoor is not a werewolf.

strength of the pack
Okay yeah, she and her family do change into wolves fairly frequently. And no, they never spend a night under the Full Moon without running through the woods on four furry legs. But they are not werewolves. Tahoe and her family are Santaan Raksha – the descendants of Mukta, who was adopted by wolves in India centuries ago. And Tahoe loves nothing more than the freedom she feels when racing through the mountain forest in her true form as a wolf.

Unfortunately, Tahoe’s boyfriend Jonathan fails to see the beauty of being Santaan, and her parents don’t exactly appreciate the fact that Tahoe revealed their secret without the approval of the Bherdiyon ka Jhund, the wolf pack. Tahoe finds herself torn not just between her boyfriend and her parents, but between the two conflicting sides of her own identity: human and wolf.

But making amends is the least of her worries when a student is found dead on Tahoe’s college campus, and her best friend starts to show the same mysterious symptoms the other student had before being killed. It turns out, Mukta left some unfinished business with a tiger who believed himself to be king of the jungle.Jungle Book

Now he’s returned to take revenge on Mukta’s descendants, and he’s leaving a trail of dead bodies on his way to them. 

 

 

 
 

Even though I’ve only written maybe three-quarters of the novel so far, I already have a few too many details distracting me from writing an overarching synopsis. But I think this is a good place to start. I’ll probably edit it plenty from here on!

In the meantime, what do you think?

If you’re a reader (as everyone should be), does the story sound intriguing? Original? Entertaining? What kinds of expectations would you have for this novel? And, most importantly, do you want to read it?

If you’re a writer, what difficulties have you come across when writing a synopsis? Do you tend to write a synopsis before or after writing a novel?