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My Fave is Problematic: Harry Potter

Barbara

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Harry Potter has been, and always shall be, my favourite fandom. It was my first, and my screen name on the discussion board that saw my first interaction with fandom was Pottermaniac. I would fight with my friends because they liked Lord of the Rings more than Harry Potter, and that was unacceptable. I tried to get the people who haven’t read the series to be socially ostracised. Yeah, I was a shitty person as a tween.

Anyway, naturally as one gets older – I read the first books of the series when I was eleven – one sees the faults in one’s favourite media, and one sees the problems. And in this case, there are many to choose from.

Now follows a part where a white girl talks about racial issues. Sorry about that. Leaving it out seemed like it would be even more problematic, because one of the most cited problems of Harry Potter is the problem of cishet white West-centric privilege just permeating the series. As for blaming Rowling for it, well, there is a post doing rounds on tumblr that sums up my feelings on this pretty well. She created that world and the basic characters of the story in the nineties. Many things were very different back then, many things were less discussed, people were less aware of them, and it’s not fair to judge Rowling by today’s standards for something she wrote that long ago. We can look at her newer work to see how she’s doing now. Far from perfect, as it turns out – not a week ago, she posted some info about famous magical schools in the world on Pottermore, giving us the whooping one school in each continent except Oceania, which doesn’t have any, while Europe boasts three – but that is a separate issue. She doesn’t, as far as I’m concerned, really deserve censure for what she did back then.

However, there’s a difference between blaming the author and critiquing the books, so I think it’s perfectly fair to say that this is a problem. It’s not, thank Merlin, as if Rowling made Britain completely whitewashed. In fact, when you look at the demographic numbers of the UK, you’ll see that she sort of got that right. The problem, of course, is the role of these characters, in light of the importance of representation of real world groups. While from the Watsonian perspective, someone could argue that if eighty-seven per cent of British people identifies as white, it’s statistically likely that all the protagonists would be white as well, the thing is, Hogwarts doesn’t actually exist.

It’s not life, it’s a story, and narratively, there’s no reason for all of not just the main trio, but the “secondary trio” (Ginny, Neville and Luna), as well as all of the ten or so significant adults, to be white, when having them be people of colour would enhance the experience of reading and made identification easier for non-white readers.

The only PoC characters of note, if memory serves, are Cho Chang, Angelina Johnson, Parvati and Padma Patil, Kingsley Shacklebolt and Dean Thomas. Out of these, Kingsley and Angelina are probably the most interesting. We don’t see much of Kingsley, but he is cool and capable and personally he has always been my favourite Order member. Plus he becomes the Minister at the end. But he is still a very minor character. Angelina is in the story more and she is fantastic, a great Quidditch player and a team Captain, a laid-back, fun girl to be around, good at her captain duties at the same time. I’m sorry she didn’t play more of a part in the story.

With Cho we can sympathise because of her tragic romantic history and because of Marietta, but identify with her? She’s a good Quidditch player, so there is that, but so are Angelina and Ginny and those, I think, are easier to relate to. Cho had a potential to be a relateable character for people suffering from depression, but for me at least, it falls a little flat, because of all the stereotypically girly and ‘boys will never understand girls’ aspects Rowling decided to give her, which, for me, detract from her humanity. Not that I think people who like frilly tearooms and get jealous aren’t human, but in this case it seems more like a strawman to me. Cho’s character, to my mind, is sidelined in favour of the type she is meant to represent.

And the rest of the characters…well. Perhaps I am wrong, but I find it a little difficult to imagine that anyone would particularly want to identify with them. They are not very fleshed out, barely feel real, and don’t have any actual good qualities one could latch onto (well, that’s not fair. We know Dean is artistically talented). Maybe the best thing about them is that, at least in some cases, they’re vague enough that one can project anything one likes onto them.

It’s of course even worse with LGBTQIA characters, since there is no one directly identifying as gay (let alone any of the other letters of the acronym) in the books, and the one character who Rowling straight-out said was gay ended up basically ruining the world by the one relationship of his that we know of. Narratively, not the least problematic choice.

So all this is a problem, yes, and if Rowling wrote another book series now, I’d certainly hope she did better with it.

But then there are all the things that were problematic in the nineties already. For one, the House divisions at Hogwarts, and the way she works with them.

The books give a very clear impression that she herself prefers Gryffindor to all the other houses, which is fine, of course. We all have a preference for one of the other, I guess. But the way she chose to depict that is another thing.

For one, the Gryffindors are overwhelmingly painted as the good guys, and not just by the Gryffindor characters – which would make sense – but by the story itself. In perhaps the most obvious display of this, Dumbledore tells Snape that “I sometimes think we Sort too soon” (DH, The Prince’s Tale) after commenting that Snape was brave, as if the only brave people were in Gryffindor. Gryffindor is also painted as the most ‘light’ house, which is very strange to me, because bravery as such does not necessarily have to be connected to the Light side, it depends on what are you brave in service of. For example, it always seemed to me that Bellatrix Lestrange had many very Gryffindor qualities. There’s nothing particularly cunning or subtle about her, but unquestionably she is very brave. Repulsive, yes, but she has courage. But Rowling’s personal bias makes Gryffindor the good house, with almost all of the prominent characters affiliated with it (the exceptions are Luna, Snape and Tonks – the remaining ten or so are all Gryffindors), and the marked exception to the goodness being Peter Pettigrew – and a very strange exception at that, too, since it’s patently clear Peter’s downfall was his fear, so how he ever got sorted in Gryffindor is a true mystery. There were many other ways a Gryffindor could have fallen that wouldn’t have negated their trademark characteristic, on the contrary, would have made use of it. You could turn into a merciless killer on the battlefield as a Gryffindor, for example – and we get a glimpse of that in Harry’s anger and his torture of Bellatrix, but we never actually see a Gryffindor go fully down that way. Instead, the fates of different characters make it seem like bravery is the only good quality truly worth of having. If you don’t have it, you will fall, or at the very least be useless; if you do, then yes, there are other dangers to overcome, but you’re on the right track.

And of course, Rowling’s treatment of other houses reflects her marked preference for Gryffindor. I’d argue that her second favourite was Hufflepuff, but she seems to regard it with a sort of fond condescension. There are two most prominent Puffs in the story: Cedric and Tonks (in whose case, however, it’s never stated outright in the text). Cedric, of course, is a paragon of perfection – good looks, great Quidditch player, skilled wizard. That is his job in the story. To be the unimitable competition for Harry when it regards Cho, and to make his death that more tragic. He is admirable, but he is also very much a plot device. Or perhaps it is just me, but I have trouble seeing him as a real person.

Tonks is better in this way, and in spite of her clumsiness, she is said to be a badass Auror and we even see her in action a few times. Not much, but we don’t see that much of any Order member fighting, honestly. Plus in her we have what I think is a better depiction of depression – we see her she suffer from it in the Half-Blood Prince, while still soldiering on in her job. So I’m happy with that representation, and my only objection is that her house affiliation was never mentioned in the text – and that she is the only one.

The Puffs we see in Harry’s year…they’re treated with barely hidden scorn, mostly, and serve as a sort of comic relief or simply as background characters. Plus there is Zacharias Smith, who is an unpleasant jerk. Once again, an odd sort of weakness for a Hufflepuff. I imagine a ‘fallen Puff’ as a SJW gone overboard, something we I think all have experience with, perhaps something we’ve all been, on occasion. People who get so enraged by racism and misrepresentation and misogyny and homophobia and similar vices that they resort to bullying the perpetrators, even though they’re often perhaps just unaware and uninformed and really meant no harm. I can see a Puff doing that (a Gryffindor too, for that matter). Or being blindly loyal to their friends and ignoring their faults. Or I can see them simply becoming a workaholic. Smith is a bit of a mystery, but well, Hufflepuff is also, by Helga’s original designation, a place for those every other house rejects. So maybe he ended up there on those grounds.

Oh and there’s Teddy Lupin, of course, but he can hardly be called a real character in the books, and his House affiliation is post-canon as well. In summary, there are very few Puffs depicted, and even fewer of any actual interest or depth, or seen displaying the qualities Hufflepuff is supposed to be known for. Even Tonks seems like more of a Gryffindor.

But to be honest, I’m even more angry about the depiction of Ravenclaw. It’s probably my personal bias (full disclosure: I identify as Slytherclaw), and the Puffs could certainly convincingly argue that at least Ravenclaw gets one proper supporting character. It’s true. Luna Lovegood is a fully fleshed out, wonderful young lady who should be treasured.

However, I have strong issues with her being the only properly depicted Ravenclaw.

She is an embodiment of some of Ravenclaw qualities, like the association with air, free thinking and so on. But I highly doubt she is a typical speciemen of a Claw (after all, her being bullied by her house implies otherwise). She holds a lot of silly and nonsensical beliefs, making her brand of smart a very special one. Just imagine her being given the job of doing the research about Horcruxes instead of Hermione. The idea sounds very absurd, and yet research is the sort of thing the usual Ravenclaw should excel at. Some more mainstream examples are badly needed as a counterweight.

And when we look at the other Ravenclaws, the prospect is very meagre. Probably the second most prominent character from that house is Cho Chang, and during her entire relationship with Harry, we see barely a hint of why she was sorted into that house. And it would have been so easy, too.

Give me Cho that tries to talk to Harry about books on their date, only to find out that he never read a book that wasn’t for school or about Quidditch. Give me Cho that tries to discuss classes, only to discover that Harry doesn’t care or only wants to complain about too much homework. Give me Cho wanting to talk about the electives, only to learn Harry picked the two classes Ron did to be with his friend and thus ended up in Divination.

Don’t give me Cho that just clumsily tries to make Harry jealous, because I just don’t see any traces of her having a particularly ready mind, wit or learning in that. The same goes for Padma, and for every other Ravenclaw present in the story – and what others are there, really? No one of import, and certainly no one showcasing any Ravenclaw qualities except Hermione, who is not in Ravenclaw.

And then, of course, there is the complete disaster of Slytherin.

The entire idea of how this House is treated is absurd, down to the Hogwarts origins story, which purports that Salazar held anti-Muggle-Born views seven hundred years before there was such a thing as properly separate Muggle and wizarding cultures, and that the other three founders were for some reason cool with starting a school with a racist jerk – and also a psychopath who puts a monster in a school with a vague murder-plan that doesn’t even work. Right from its founding, Slytherin is not shown as a house that values ambition and cunning, but as the racist, murder-happy house. There’s nothing particularly cunning or ambitious about antagonizing your three co-workers to the degree that they kick you out of your project and then putting a revenge monster in your old job site out of spite. Plus, the idea seems to be that while to be in Slytherin, you need certain qualities just like with other houses, you also can’t be Muggle-born to get there. There is no way any sane school administrator would find that acceptable. Godric, Helga and Rowena would have told Salazar to go to the devil.

And the depiction doesn’t get any better when we come to Harry’s time. The only supposedly good Slytherin character we get is Severus Snape, and even in his case it’s bought by a Death Eater past, and by bullying children, not to mention his problematic attachment to Lily. I don’t want to dwell on him too much, since he deserves a separate article – he was mentioned briefly in the last Fanwankers episode, and I might write an article about him in the future, unless someone else does it first. Suffice it to say, he’s not exactly a role model.

Then there’s Draco, not evil enough to do murder in cold blood, but a nasty piece of work nevertheless (what does it say about the picture of Slytherin Rowling painted that for someone to be considered as good, it’s enough for him to be not fully comfortable with murder?). Pansy the Bitch and her giggling gang that doesn’t ever deserve personalities of their own. Blaise I-Hate-Blood-Traitors Zabini. Crabbe and Goyle, who have zero Slytherin qualities and yet still ended up in that house, probably because they’re racist and murder-happy enough. All of these people’s parents, who are Death Eaters and it is quietly assumed were Slytherins – I mean, other houses don’t have a prevalence of Death Eater names. The implication is that someone who is cunning and ambitious will, more likely than not, also be happy to join a mass murderer.

One character that salvages the House’s reputation a little is Slughorn, of course. He’s honestly my favourite Slytherin, because I think he is the only one who truly shows the house’s qualities. He’s amazing, but there’s only one of him, and he’s very clearly a grey character. Regulus Black should also probably be mentioned in this context – I could go on for hours about him, he’s seriously the most under-appreciated person in canon – but he’s not actually in the story, and he has to be Death Eater first, too, before he can be good. Once again, backing out when witnessing the full scale of Voldemort’s brutality seems to be the requirement for “good” Slytherins, with the exception of Slughorn.

And there’s the treatment of Slytherins by other houses and by the teachers, too. These cases are pretty notorious in fandom, but just to refresh your memory: Dumbledore letting them think they were going to win the House Cup till the last minute at the end of Philosopher’s Stone, only to snatch it away from them. Everyone always cheering for Gryffindor because they want Slytherin to lose. McGonnagal simply ordering every Slytherin to leave in Deathly Hallows, not giving them a chance to fight, because everyone knows those jerks would just join the mass murderer. I could go on. Slytherin, in short, is universally hated, and assumed to be a House full of future Death Eaters, and the story cheerfully confirms this opinion, apparently without finding anything wrong about it.

But there is. So much.

When you look at the Hogwarts crest, it is symbols of the Houses united by the large H. It should be about that, it should be about unity in diversity. We each have our own talents and qualities, and the combination of them is what makes the school great. It’s what the Sorting Hat talks about, but it’s not just those evil Death Eaters hampering it, it’s the author, the story itself.

And look, dividing people into groups based on some similarity does have its pros and its cons. It makes forming bonds easier, but you lose the chance to be inspired by difference. You can make the best of a given talent, of the similarity in question, but you are in serious risk of also getting the worst of the flip side of the same thing. So any sane school that worked with this sort of division would try to gain the most of the benefits while minimizing the drawbacks, especially if they’ve had a thousand years to work out the kinks.

There’s a post floating around tumblr about each House being taught in a different way. That’s one option, and we see no hints of that. You could also have different disciplinary approaches. You’d need activities specifically designed to have the houses meet and mingle, to have some of that inspiration and to counterbalance division. You’d have House heads especially watching out for the weaknesses of each of the Houses and trying to prevent their students falling into that trap.

Instead we get animosity and bigotry and division that none of the teachers does anything about, which ends up sending the message that diversity is bad, that diversity is a problem, because look at the conflict it breeds. With some groups, you can just ignore them because thy are merely lesser, not bad, but with some, well, you have to eliminate them, because they are downright evil, right? Certain contemporary parallels come to mind.

I’ll tell you what I’d have liked to see. Different Houses contributing differently to the war, according to their strengths. I get that Harry was a Gryffindor, so his closest friends were always likely to be ones as well, but what about the rest? What about the Order members? I want to see the Claws doing some important war-related research, I want to see the Puffs take care of safe houses and healing and other background work that is not so shiny or heroic as what the Gryffindors do but just as necessary. Snape was spying, so I guess that’s one thing for the Slytherins to do and it was included, but I also want to see them in the political arena, fighting the Ministry or Lucius Malfoy there. I want to see Order members arguing about the methods because some prefer the Slytherin ones, some the Gryffindor ones and so on, but working it out, and finding strength in their differing views. I don’t want to basically have to have everyone turn into a Gryffindor to be useful for the war effort, the only difference of opinion being how much to tell Harry.

So yes, the message of diversity got a little bundled here, to “one type of human is better than most others, and one type is worse.” Something I think we can agree is not exactly desirable.

It is also still not the last diversity-related problem to be encountered.

Rowling makes racism one of her themes, against the Muggle-Born and Muggles and non-human beings. But the thing is, not even the supposedly good characters are free from it. And Rowling sometimes addresses this, and sometimes she doesn’t.

Let’s look at Muggles, for example. While anyone badmouthing the Muggle-Born is clearly shown as a bad person, the ever-present condescending attitude to Muggles is never really challenged. Right at the beginning, we have Hagrid’s condescending comments and Mrs. Weasley’s throwaway remark that King’s Cross is full of Muggles, which rather set the tone.

So then we get Arthur oh-so-cutely not being able to remember what are the different Muggle inventions called. The man’s profession has to do with Muggles, and it’s also supposed to be his chief hobby. Try to image that you were an expert in a field, were getting paid for working in it, and couldn’t even remember the essential terms. Or the way the Minister for Magic arranges a meeting with the PM, which is very far from being respectful and equal. They slip him Kingsley as a bodyguard without telling him first, too. What is being done to the camp owner in Goblet of Fire is way beyond mere disrespect and is absolutely monstrous. I’m not talking about what the Death Eaters do to him, mind you, but about the constant wipes of his memory. I could go on. This casual disregard of the weaker and defenceless (against magic) is realistic in many ways, of course, but to never have it called out by anyone? That makes it problematic.

And there are other cases apart from Muggles. With ghosts, we have everyone just ignoring Sir Nicolas’ wish to be called Sir Nicolas, and instead going with Nearly-Headless Nick, a nickname he clearly finds irritating, and we have Myrtle’s death being treated with what can hardly be called gravitas. Goblins frankly have overtones of a racist caricature, and Bill, who spent his entire adult life working for them and owes his career success to them, has doubts about there being a possibility of goblin-human friendship and, while warning Harry, just casually mentions that apparently the goblin idea of what ownership and sale means has been always ignored by witches and wizards. Centaurs are only shown to be in the right when they abandon their own principles or neutrality and non-interference and join the fight against Voldemort, or do the right thing according to the wizarding moral standards. House-Elves, of course, get the roughest end of the deal, but at least mistreatment of them is always called out, as far as I recall. But there are certainly traces of condescension, and Dobby’s noble self-sacrifice is a very troubling narrative (imagine a person of colour there instead of him to see it more clearly). The Merepeople playing the ‘angry natives’ in Triwizard Tournament is far from ideal as well, even though it was staged. The whole notion that there are intelligent creatures ‘incapable of overcoming their own violent nature’ (Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them) is very problematic. I could go on. Part of this criticism is probably unfair to levy on Rowling, since as with the issues mentioned at the beginning of this article, many of these troubling narratives were not so well recognized and talked about twenty years ago, but some of them should have been transparent even then, and at any rate, like I said before, even if we give the author a break, the problem with the story remains.

So once again, let me tell you what I’d have liked to see. Arthur who is an actual expert and helps the Grangers feel comfortable in Diagon Alley, making useful Muggle-wizarding parallels for them to help them understand the things Hermione, as a twelve year old, didn’t know about. Arthur outraged at what the Ministry does tot he camp owner and filing a complaint, even after everything that happened at Triwizard Tournament, because some things are simply wrong. Bill who tells Harry that he can’t do this thing, that he can’t just use Griphook to what he needs to be done while completely ignoring the goblin’s requests, not because it’s dangerous for Harry but because it’s wrong, and because Griphook is his friend. And Griphook actually acting like Bill’s friend, even if he was unpleasant to everyone else. Harry being shocked when seeing Myrtle, realizing that it’s a student who died at Hogwarts, how tragic is that? And how tragic is it and she is constantly unhappy even after her death? Dobby getting to live and starting a school for House-Elves. And so on.

I understand how all these things might seem like much less of a problem than the lack of representation for people of colour or LGBTQIA. Ghosts and Muggles and Slytherins are not real groups we need to be worried about, after all. But the thing is, that’s one of the strongest things speculative fiction can do. It can explore some issues in our society via allegory, thus allowing us to see them more clearly. It’s not even particularly hidden in case of Muggles and Death Eaters, the second world war parallels are there very clearly. Recently when Drumpf’s spokesperson asked where are all the “pure-breeds”, JKR retweeted it with a commentary saying “Death Eaters walk among us.” So the way the designated heroes of a story act towards oppressed groups and minorities and simply those who are different does actually serve as a model for how we should act towards them, even if they are different particular groups. When the heroes act racist and condescending and are never called out for it, it’s a problem, and it makes the story problematic.


Images courtesy of Warner Bros. Films

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Analysis

I like my women… competent

Patrycja

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Criminal minds is a show that I enjoy watching despite sometimes watching it trough my fingers. It never fails to get my adrenaline going. One of it’s many great traits is the selection and capability of present female characters, be it unsubs or agents. The lead women are versatile and different while still having a few common traits. Furthermore they’re always competent and do the job the best they can.

The leader

Emily Prentiss is one of member of the team that was with them from almost the beginning. She went trough all the career steps, finally becoming the team leader.

Her being in charge was one of my favorite story lines. She earned that privilege with exceptional service and field work with various agencies. Her character replaced Aaron Hotchner as unit chief in season 12 after he resigned. It’s wonderful to finally see a woman leading a team; it happens so rarely. She has a great deal of experience with many different cultures as her parents were diplomats. That’s also how she speaks a few different languages, and it’s a skillset that has helped solve quite a few cases.

While on cases, she’ s rarely upset or lets her emotions get in the way, which is one of the reasons why she makes a great unit chief. She is level headed and calm and always factors many different scenarios into her decisions. With that being said she is also quick on her feet and can make split second decisions when she needs to.

While being calm and collected she still empathizes with the victims and their families and doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice herself to protect others. She’s not only a skilled field agent but also an undercover operator, which was shown in her stint catching Ian Doyle. That particular unsub also forces her to fake her own death without informing her team, with JJ and Hotchner being the only exceptions. She eventually reunites with the team in season 7 after the whole Doyle debacle was over.

She isn’t with the BAU the entire time. As previously stated she also work with other agencies like the Interpol. Even if she isn’t always with the team, she is referenced and talked about or pops up for a visit. Her work as unit chief hasn’t always been smooth sailing either. She was reassigned after she pursued a case and went toe to toe with Linda Barnes, who disbanded the team.

The mother

Jennifer “JJ” Jareau is the only women on the team with a family. She has two sons with her husband Will, who was a police detective in New Orleans. The fact that JJ is a mother strongly affects the way she acts and responds.

Although she started working when she wasn’t a mom, she always sympathized with the victims and their families the most visibly. Since she started as a police and media liaison, JJ was often responsible for contacting the families of the victims or their loved ones. She always did a great job while consoling them.

Her early role as media liaison made her the “media face” of the bureau, as she often spoke at press conferences. She was also responsible for choosing the cases the team would be working on, so her job came with a lot of responsibility. Her excellent work in that position was the reason for her reassignment and classified assignment. After her comeback in season 7, she made the change to profiler and her responsibilities were taken over by Hotch and Penelope. She is a skilled profiler, as even before she was one she was often crucial to solving cases and did that job even without the title. Her transition was also easier because she observed the team as their liaison.

She was one of the two people to know that Emily didn’t die. As they are close friends. JJ was also the one who met Prentiss in Paris after her “death”.” That close friendship is a recurring theme with the two characters, as Prentiss comes back when Jennifer is missing.

JJ has been trough tough times including the suicide of her older sister, her classified assignment, not to mention the toll the cases take. While she can wear her heart on her sleeve, she is also a skilled operator who will do anything for her family and for the people she loves. As my choice of calling her “the mother” implies, Jennifer is the one who takes care of all the team members. She shares a special bond with Reid, who is the godfather of her son Henry.

Finally, Jennifer is also a great leader, which was showcased when she replaced Emily Prentiss in the role of team leader. Although she has the ability to lead she doesn’t aspire to be the BAU’s chief. She’s content being an SSA.

Baby Girl

The first thing that springs to mind when thinking of Penelope Garcia is her relationship with Derek Morgan, well, and her unique personality.

Penelope is a former hacker gone good who’s now a technical analyst. Out of all the Criminal Minds characters, she’s the most colorful one—literally. Garcia often offers comic relief and a sense of light and joy to the intense show, and is the one the audience can probably relate to the most if you exclude her computer knowledge.

She is very emotional and openly shows all of her reactions. It doesn’t surprise anyone that she can’t look at horrific crime scene photos; her office is filled with colorful and cute stuff because of the horror that fills her screens (that’s what Hotch says to Strauss while describing the analyst). She also often speaks a bit too intimately when talking to team members, especially Derek. She gives him nicknames like chocolate thunder, etc, and he, in turn, calls her ‘baby girl’. These would normally be considered sexual harassment (which was even addressed in a funny scene in episode 9×12).


But it never actually crosses that line because they have a mutual understanding that it’s a consensual conversational choice. In fact, Penelope’s special relationship with Morgan is what initially drew me to the show. There is just something in how different they are personality-wise while still being very close to each other and understanding the other perfectly that compelled me. And while my shipper heart never understood why the two never dated, I have to admit that sticking to a platonic relationship between these two was a great move.

She makes him laugh and calls him out on his BS. He grounds her and helps her focus and get the job done. Their close relationship is probably the reason why it took Garcia a long time to warm up to Luke Alvarez, who replaced Morgan after he retired. It was implied that Garcia and Morgan are still in contact despite him not being on the show; she is even the godmother to his son.

As previously stated, Garcia is a skilled computer expert and former hacker. Her work is often crucial to finding the unsub. While that is her primary job, after JJ’s promotion she also became the liaison for the team. A job she shared with Hotch till he retired. The best way to describe her is that Penelope’s character is the counterbalance we need to all the heaviness and seriousness of the show.

Criminal minds proves that we can have a show that perfectly balances it’s male and female characters. It offers us a selection of women who all are intelligent, skilled, competent, educated, professional, and strong while staying human and showing emotions.


Images courtesy of CBS

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Analysis

Game of Thrones 3×06 Rewatch: The Fall

Kylie

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It’s time for one of the famous Game of Thrones monologues in this week’s installment of The Wars to Come, our rewatch project looking back over David Benioff and Dan Weiss (D&D)’s masterpiece to see where it slipped out of gear. Last week, we appreciated Bryan Cogman’s use of book dialogue. This week, Kylie, Julia, Musa, and Bo examine some of D&D’s iconic writing in “The Climb.”

Episode Recap

It’s a difficult week for our characters on Game of Thrones, and Sam and Gilly are no exception. They may have escaped the Night’s Watch mutineers, but they’re still a few days from The Wall, and traveling alone.

Bran is also traveling, though with his new companions in the Reeds; there’s also new strife between Osha and Meera. The two women bicker since both feels the other is rude to them; this is quickly interrupted when a sleeping Jojen begins to have a seizure. Meera takes care of him through it—apparently this is a common side-effect of his green dreams.

Also traveling up north are Jon and the wildlings, who are planning on scaling the Wall. Ygritte tells Jon that she knows he didn’t really defect from the Night’s Watch when he killed the Halfhand. She doesn’t mind that, but she tells him that they need to look out for each other, since they’re both just soldiers on different sides of wars who don’t truly matter to those leading the efforts. They climb the Wall with Tormund and Orell, though there’s a moment where it seems like they won’t make it, and Orell proves that he was more than willing to sacrifice them if it meant him making it to the top alive. When they finally reach the top, Jon and Ygritte passionately kiss.

Meanwhile, in parts still undetermined, Theon is yet again being tortured, this time by the man who pretended to free him. The man admits that he is a liar, and they “play a game” where the man flays one of Theon’s fingers. If Theon begs him to cut it off, the man wins.

At Riverrun, two Freys deliver Walder’s terms to make up for Robb’s broken marriage. Walder wants Harrenhal, which Robb agrees to give after the war is over. He also wants Edmure to marry one of his daughters in place of Robb. Edmure initially refuses, but this is the only way to get Walder to agree to support Robb’s efforts in taking Casterly Rock, so Robb, Blackfish, and Cat all persuade him otherwise.

Speaking of that now promised Harrenhal, Jaime and Brienne dine with Roose Bolton, since they are now being treated as highborn prisoners. Roose tells Jaime that he’ll be free to go back to King’s Landing, provided that he explains to Tywin that it was Locke acting independently when he cut off his hand. Brienne, however, has to stay behind, since she holds no value to Roose and he considers her a traitor. Jaime argues against this, but Roose tells him not to over play his…position.

Elsewhere in the riverlands, Arya practices her shooting with the Brotherhood without Banners when Melisandre unexpectedly rides up. She meets Thoros and Beric, and learns about Thoros resurrecting the storm Lord numerous times. She then gets the Brotherhood to sell her Gendry in exchange for gold. Arya yells at them for this, but they don’t change their minds.

Finally, in King’s Landing, the weddings between Tyrion and Sansa, and Cersei and Loras, are finalized when Tywin tells Olenna that he’ll name Loras to the kingsguard—giving up all claims to Highgarden—if she refuses this offer. Loras likely won’t mind, since his attempts to converse with Sansa demonstrate his supreme disinterest in the match. Cersei and Tyrion discuss their upcoming weddings with each other, and how they’re unlikely to be able to get out of them. Tyrion asks once again about Ser Mandon trying to kill him, and it’s revealed that it had been Joffrey, not Cersei, who gave the orders.

Resigned to his fate, Tyrion tells Sansa about their engagement, made all the more awkward by Shae being right there. Sansa is crushed. Littlefinger and Varys discuss these events in the throne room, since it was Littlefinger who spoiled the arrangements anyway. He tells Varys that he thrives on chaos, which is a ladder, and implicitly informs him that Ros is now dead, since she informed on him to Varys. We are then shown Ros, who was murdered by Joffrey with his crossbow, presumably wanting to try out killing for the first time.  

Is chaos a ladder? We are absolutely going to discuss that below.

Initial, quick reaction

Kylie: Aaaaand here’s the Game of Thrones I’ve been watching for the past three years. Holy bajesus did this episode plummet right off the cliff faster than Jon and Ygritte. There’s a few pieces that were fine, but the King’s Landing plotline (and climax) is just a comedy now. Then we’ve got the return of torture porn, Mel’s adventure of randomness, and a catty Osha and Meera. This was just…such a decline in quality.

Bo: They quadrupled down on the gratuitous violence here. It’s the only impression this episode left on me. The hard dive into torture porn was unrelenting. You can tell they really want this to define Game of Thrones, too. I suppose it does. In the end Game of Thrones is the show of gruesome violence that punishes viewers for caring about anything and simply tortures for torture’s sake, just like Ramsay. The ultimate example of which comes in 3 episodes.

Julia: I like the idea of show!Ramsay being some kind of personification of the show itself. The question then is, who are the Knights of the Vale?

The only thing this episode didn’t have, in terms of Classic GoT Moves™ was making you like a character and then killing them horribly.

Musa: I was seriously just bored throughout this episode. There was so little about it that I felt in anyway compelled to be interested in. Even the infamous speechifying at the end was not enough to save it.

Kylie: I remember it being funnier, and less like word salad.

Highlights/lowlights

Kylie: I think my highlight was the Roose/Jaime/Brienne dinner. Those are three great actors, and you could tell that things were in motion with Roose that Jaime/Brienne were in the dark about. It also felt like there was tension, with Jaime insisting on Brienne accompanying him and such. There’s not much to say beyond that; a solid scene in a cruddy episode.

Am I allowed to pick everything in King’s Landing? I guess I’ll pick Sansa’s scripting if I have to focus in on one thing, where she’s so oblivious talking to Loras as he’s going on about fringed sleeves, and then is naively prattling to Shae who seems to know she’s being dumb, and finally she’s shown crying at the boat just as Littlefinger says, “Some are given the opportunity to climb, but refuse.” Everything put together makes her seem like this unobservant, imperceptive, superficial dolt. Which is a charming 180 from the books.  

Julia: In the interest of lowlight diversity, I’m going for the stuff with Osha and Meera. I think it’s quite indicative that they saw a plotline they thought was boring (their problem, in my opinion, not the plotline’s) and decided to fill it out with two women snipping at each other for no reason.

I would count the Brotherhood selling Gendry, but I think that’s mostly because I know what they’ll do with it by season 7. They did seed that they compromise their principles because they “need the gold” after all.

Highlight… huh. I agree about the Harrenhal scene, I guess. Though I think the direction was a little too willing to laugh at Brienne in a dress, rather than, like, using her discomfort with wearing traditionally female clothes to develop her character.

Bo: Meanwhile, Loras Tyrell, promising knight who represents a young Jaime, knows more about fashion than Sansa Stark. Of course he does. He’s gay. Get it. Everyone laugh because sword swallower.

I really don’t have anything that stood out as a highlight. The Bolton dinner scene was fine. From a purely spectacle level, the Wall climb was pretty cool. That’s all I have.

Theon’s torture is my lowlight. Ramsay says all there is to say. This scene exists just to exist. It’s just there to make us feel bad, just as he’s only torturing Theon to hurt Theon. It’s pointless, gratuitous, torture porn by every definition of the phrase. Ramsay also speaks the line that truly defines one of the key reasons I dislike the show so much, and the line that has caused millions to misinterpret what Martin wants to do with A Song of Ice and Fire. Shame on the torture scene. Shame on everything about it.

Musa: I’m going to have to double dip and say the torture stuff was my lowlight too. There’s a lot to be said about the poor handling of Theon’s torture. I’m sympathetic with the idea of not wanting to just leave the character and his story hanging for a whole season where he doesn’t appear (though it’s not like they wouldn’t do exactly that with Bran later) but there doesn’t actually seem to be anything worth exploring in what they show. Ramsay is a monster and Theon is being horribly brutalized after having done a lot of terrible things in his own way. That’s basically about the gist of this plotline and they spend ALL SEASON on it.

A highlight is significantly more difficult to really pull out of my hat here. Honestly, aside from all the nonsense of that scene itself, I actually do enjoy the back and forth between Charles Dance and Dianna Rigg. I mention the actor’s names instead of the characters because it’s honestly really just the actors showing off their performance chops in a scene together rather than anything meaningful for either character that they’re supposed to be playing. I don’t know whether I want to fully believe Tywin is just THAT uncomfortable with the topics of menopause and homosexuality, but I definitely felt that I was watching an old straight white man being confronted by things that are not his forte and thus terrify him to discuss them openly.

Quality of writing

Bo: “Chaos is a laddah.” “If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.”

We could probably leave it there. This episode was full of grimdark nonsense that D&D love. I’m probably being overly harsh, but I just feel nothing but grimness and anger afterwards. The Tywin/Olenna and Varys/Baelish scenes are also prime examples of D&D thinking they’re more clever than they really are.

Julia: You forgot “A sword swallower, through and through.”

I think it’s kind of amazing how obvious it is that the split of A Storm of Swords leaves both Cersei and Tyrion with nothing to do this season. So Tyrion is just asking random people who tried to kill him and Cersei is…sad she can’t control Joffery? What Emmy worthy arcs.

Bo: Remember people saying they can’t adapt A Dance with Dragons because it would be boring to have Tyrion wander Essos asking, “where do wh*res go?” every episode? I guess this is different somehow. Tyrion sitting around Meereen drinking and telling jokes was different, too. Somehow.

Kylie: I guess Tyrion gets married on top of drinking. Though why that particular conversation was put off-screen is beyond me. It kind of seemed like the one bit of natural tension there to be explored, since Sansa and Shae were both in the dark.

FOOLED YOU

We have to talk about the climb monologue, since the whole damn episode is structured around it. Nevermind Varys and Littlefinger no longer bearing any resemblance to their book counterparts (this is why the spy vs. spy doesn’t work!), but the content of the speech itself was complete drivel. “Some think about climbing, while others don’t climb, and some only know the climb, and the realm is an illusion!” It sounds like some first year English major who just learned about post-modernism. The point is that chaos creates social opportunity, but he’s still climbing the social order very much within the feudal framework. So…it’s less “chaos” and more “unrest.” Or even more simply, “some people profit in war.” Menacing.

Bo: Which is exactly what I mean by D&D thinking they’re more clever than they are. They love monologues like these, even when they’re often complete nonsense. I suppose you could give them the benefit of the doubt in that this is only Littlefinger’s view of the world, and that it’s a view proven false when chaos does prove to be a pit that swallows him whole later. But do we really think that’s what D&D had in mind with this speech?

Musa: The biggest problem with all the Littlefinger and Varys stuff is that they clearly outright state to each other stuff that they’ve done to try and thwart each other. In the books, they don’t do that…because they don’t want the other one to know what they’re doing. And that, children, is how actual spies and political machinators operate. Littlefinger expositing to Varys that he KNEW ALL ALONG about Varys’ scheme to give Sansa to the Tyrells and that he’s also had Ros killed just gives Varys additional information.

Also another sighting of random Varys Marx, doing things “for the good of the realm,” whatever the hell that’s supposed to mean. No wonder that sends Littlefinger off into his nonsensical monologue, it makes just about as much sense as Varys doing things for the good of the abstract concept of “the realm.”

Kylie: He was having Ros confide to him about Sansa boat logistics for the good of the realm. Duh.

Our 8th grade book report (on themes)

Kylie: I’m having a really hard time linking what Ygritte said to Jon to anyone else. From what I can tell, the best theme is, “everything is bad, and if you think it’s good, you’re dumb.” In every plotline, maybe with the exception of Bran/Sam’s, people are not having the best go of it. Sansa, Loras, Cersei, Tyrion, Ros, Shae, Edmure, Theon, Brienne, Gendry, and even mildly Olenna are dealing with some kind of terrible news this episode. Jon and Ygritte maybe ties in with her words about how everything’s terrible, which is why they need each other, though they had a more uplifting ending to it. Still, acedia is in full swing here.

Julia: I think you can actually link the title and the speech with that, as eye rolling as the exercise is. And the Wall is a visual representation of this ladder that LF is speaking of, though why they chose to mix their metaphors here is a good question. Why can’t chaos be a wall?

Bo: Jesus, why wasn’t chaos a wall?! I doubt it helps the speech that much, but it would have been better than a ladder. I’d agree that the “chaos ladder” is the theme of the episode. We’re seeing everyone try to climb it and how well (or not so well) the climb is going.

Except Ygritte, who just wants to step off the ladder and take Jon with her? What a wonderful metaphor for my interest in this show.

Kylie: I keep think of Turtle’s “chaos is a catch-all.” Go read that one, guys.

The Butterfly Effect

Bo: I’m not sure this fits here, but let’s remember how Melisandre banged the audience over the head with foreshadowing about Arya that never actually comes to pass. I’d wonder if they were going to cram it into season 8, but they already removed Mel from Arya’s list without any explanation. Game of Thrones does this a lot in the first 3 seasons, where they foreshadow future plot points or establish future conflicts, then randomly dropped them when season 5 rolled around.

And of course, acedia. Sooooo much acedia.

Julia: Maybe we’re just supposed to think Mel is full of shit by season 7?

Kylie: I think they were setting something else up for Arya entirely this year, maybe thinking they couldn’t just have her fuck around the riverlands for an entire season with The Hound, and certainly not spend two years in Braavos. This whole event puts Mel and the Brotherhood on her list, and then she just drops them off it by Season 5, deciding she’s “forgiven them.”

Something worth noting is that D&D stray further and further from using book lines, and begin to think of themselves as masters of iconic one-lines. Littlefinger and Ramsay both show that off here. I have to think if they had written the Jaime/Brienne tub scene rather than Cogman, I have to wonder if it would have still ended on the note, “My name is Jaime.”

Bo: Considering their numerous changes to other lines, probably not.

Remember adaptation?

Bo: Good Guy Tyrion had to tell poor Sansa what’s happening, rather than spring it on her come the wedding day like everyone else.

Kylie: I’m still confused why that was off-screen. And why Tyrion was the one to spring the news, now that I think about it.

I hate hitting on this every week, but Olenna’s adaptation is just god-awful. Now we’ve progressed to her implying that Tywin had a gay experience because the Reach is so full of great allies?

Julia: I mentioned last week that that week’s Olenna content was the second worst example of her being the official negotiator of House Tyrell. Well, here is the prime example of that nonsense. Maybe it would have made sense if she was yelling at Mace about his negotiating strategy, but Tywin actually had a meeting with her to discuss official marriages. During which she insults him to his face several times.

What even is patriarchy?

Kylie: Meanwhile, up north, can you tell me who is the best rabbit skinner of them all?

Julia: There’s more than one way to skin a rabbit, Kylie. God, you’re so judgmental.

Bo: It’s hard to decide what they adapt worst at this point, but how they turned the Reach, the pinnacle of patriarchal medieval feudalism, into this anachronistic nightmare is beyond me. Did they just assume the entire Reach is like Renly since they followed him as king? I mean, Renly’s not even FROM the Reach.

And I know I bang this drum a lot, but holy hell do they miss the point with Littlefinger, and his climb speech is exhibit A. Petyr Baelish is not a man creating chaos for chaos’s sake, just to see what opportunities it creates. He deliberately causes havoc aimed at very specific goals. He doesn’t pit the Lannisters against the Starks just to see what comes of it. He does so with goals in mind regarding Cat, and then Sansa. Reducing his scheming to, “lol chaos” would make book Baelish scream.

Also, the irony of Brynden freaking Tully trying to threaten someone into marriage. It’s not completely against adaptation or anything, but it’s quite funny.

Musa: I have a serious bone to pick with the change from it being maybe Cersei who possibly ordered Mandon Moore to kill Tyrion to it being definitely Joffrey who did so. They just keep on doing this thing where they continue to give Tyrion additional sympathy points while simultaneously taking menace and agency away from Cersei to give it to Joffrey. It ruins pretty much all three characters overall.

Kylie: Well Musa, that brings us to…

Carol Watch: who is Cersei this week?

Kylie: Poor Carol has done her best with Joffrey, but he went and tried to kill Tyrion and then she had no choice but to cover for him! Also, she’s sharing in her misery with Tyrion and genuinely bonding about that. Yeah, we get some zingers like, “we could kill them” and calling Margaery a, “doe-eyed whore,” but we all know Carol has a bad bark.

Julia: Well, Carol’s character is hardly free of internalized patriarchy either. And who can blame her for being resentful of Marg, who’s flouting all the rules and getting rewarded for it, when Carol spent all those years trying to make her marriage work and be a good mother and was still screwed over for it. Indeed she still has her dad trading her like a baseball card.

Poor Carol.

Bo: She loves her family so much. It’s such a shame everyone tosses her aside when she just wants to protect them. How dare Tyrion question her about Mandon Moore? Lions need to stick to their pride.

Exposition Imposition: good or clunky?

Kylie: We learned that Jojen has seizures without anyone saying something, which is a good use of the visual medium. And I guess Sam explained highborn fire-lighting to Gilly. But in general, I’m just not remember a ton of exposition this episode. Which is probably more of a good thing than the alternative.

Bo: Yeah, the fact nothing immediately stood out as bad exposition means they at least did well here. Sam’s song also does a nice job establishing more about religion in Westeros. Thoros described his life and newfound faith quite naturally, and overall the conversation with Mel imparted knowledge about the red priests.

Kylie: Yeah! Good on you, D&D!

How was the pacing?

Julia: This whole season’s pacing is hilarious. I love how Littlefinger is still packing all his stuff six episodes in. And I’ve already mentioned how Cersei and Tyrion have had nothing to do.

Kylie: I feel like the people that actually have a full season’s worth aren’t in focus at all. Jaime and Brienne might be an exception, but the Night’s Watch, Jon’s new Wildling posse, even Bran and the Reeds (if they had wanted to bother building up characters) could have all benefited from more screen-time. It really is astounding how little happens each episode though.

Bo: Game of Thrones is so poorly planned. They clearly don’t have a plan beyond the current season being written. That’s how you end up with A Storm of Swords taking two seasons when it really shouldn’t have. They should have bitten the bullet and dove into A Feast for Crows and A Dance with Dragons in the last third of season 4. We’re supposed to buy the excuse that Feast and Dance would have been boring to adapt properly, though. We can’t have multiple episodes of characters doing nothing!

There was no sex, baby

Kylie: Just some torture porn with both Theon, and then Ros’s obviously sexualized death. Are we supposed to make something of the fact that Joffrey hit Ros in the same place Arya hit the strawman?

Bo: What is it with HBO shows and the taboo on men giving oral sex to a woman? Jon’s weirdness about it brought back bad memories of The Sopranos doing a whole plotline about Junior Soprano being good at going down on his girlfriend but not wanting anyone to know.

Julia: And what is their weird thing about gay men not being able to pull off political marriages? And this idea that, like, they find all women so…boring or something, that they can’t even have a conversation with them, even as just two people having a conversation.

I just remembered that the one thing Renly did say to Marg during their marriage is that he liked her dress.

Bo: They can’t even get their stereotypes correct. I thought gay men got along great with women since they have so much in common, but not straight men? Wouldn’t Loras and Sansa have a great time talking about gowns and weddings? I guess Sansa was too busy not being the least bit perceptive of people to notice.

Kylie: All I know is that as a bisexual, I have great conversations with everyone because of my sexual interest in 100% of humanity.

Julia: That’s why the Dornish are the best conversationalists.

In Memoriam…Ros

Julia: The real death was any faith I had left in this show.

Kylie: Oh snap.

Bo: It’s okay, Julia, you just need a good old-fashioned desperate resurrection to restore the corpse of your love for Game of Thrones. Just remember the old words they taught you.

Kylie: I think we’re dancing around Ros’s death because it’s just so transparently voyeuristic. And gross. We didn’t need it to characterize Littlefinger, or Joffrey, and it’s just more of that punish you for caring. Ros showed concern about Sansa, well NOPE. Their shock-chasing is of the, “oh no, how messed up!’ ilk, and this is a nice inception point.

Musa: Though overall, this episode seriously does a number on Game of Thrones‘s reputation as the show with lots of tits, dragons, and death. This episode barely had any of those things. So is it REALLY a real Game of Thrones episode, even?

Kylie: Not according to Ian McShane, though I’d say this can hang with the best of Season 6’s wheel-spinning clunkers.

However, it’s time for us to climb the ladder on out of this rewatch for now. We’ll be back next week for some bear pit shenanigans, but we’re curious to hear your thoughts on this week in the meanwhile. Again, we closed on King’s Landing. Is it just the bad taste in the mouth that keeps on giving? Tell is in the comments, and we wish you good fortune in The Wars to Come.


Images courtesy of HBO

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Analysis

My First Queer: Evil Queens

Barbara

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This article is part of the My First Queer series, a site-wide series of articles written by some of our non-straight Fandomentals contributors. Each will contain their thoughts on their first experiences with queer media and what it meant to them. Enjoy!

Looking back at the other My First Queer articles, I have to say my experience is going to be rather different – but then again, each of those was different, too, and the experience is varied. Still, mine differs in the way that it is much more focused on attraction, instead of the more generalized realizations of queerness or powerful stories of love.

The second is definitely because there were none to be had. The first is, perhaps, because I grew up in a very liberal household. I knew about the existence of the the letters of the LGBTQIA acronym — except queer itself, I guess, because it doesn’t really have a Czech equivalent — probably by the time I started middle school, and certainly by the time I was fifteen. There was no need to discover the idea of queerness.

What was an entirely novel concept, on the other hand, was the idea that it could somehow relate to me, or to anyone close to me.

After all, in most media queerness was — and still is — only incidental, something that happens to the side characters, and as everyone is a protagonist of their own story, I never considered that it would be something to touch me in person. When I try to think of the first piece of media where I encountered a non-straight relationship, it’s difficult. I have been reading fantasy intermittently since I was eleven. Some of that fantasy probably contained background queer characters in a casual way that went well with my general expectations of “this is something that exists somewhere in the world but doesn’t concern me in any way”.

I do remember the first book where a non-straight relationship was at least a little bit prominent: the Witcher Saga by Andrzej Sapkowski. If you know Sapkowski or have read the books, you know it’s not…exactly an ideal introduction into the world of queerness. The protagonist — or one of the protagonists — of the book, Ciri, runs away from an attempt on her life, almost dies in the desert, and finally joins up with a band of outlaws. The first night with them, she is molested and almost raped by one of the men. One of the other women stops him…and then slides into bed in his place.

This is the beginning of Ciri’s first romantic relationship, which ends with her lover/rapist being brutally murdered by a man who then proceeds to enslave Ciri. So, you know. Not exactly the pinnacle of representation, and definitely not something you would want to model your romantic life on.

This choice always feels impossible in-game, precisely because Ciri’s relationship history is so charged,

Sapkowski’s books have other mentions of wlw, too: the long-lived sorceresses being bored of their relationships with men and so trying women for a time until they discover it’s not any better. That caught my attention a little more.

I loved everything about Sapkowski’s sorceresses. Powerful, beautiful and arrogant, I can say with the benefit of hindsight that however over-the-top and mired in sexist stereotypes, they were a combination of my life goals and my wife goals.

However narcissist that sounds, the kind of person I want to be has always been similar to the kind of person I want to have, be they women or men, because I’ve always been more fan of the concept of “marriage of true minds” than “opposites attract.” That probably didn’t help with making matters clearer, since it provided a comfortable excuse for why I cared about them so much: I wanted to be like them.

The most important part, though, is that the sorceresses weren’t really queer. They were still predominantly depicted as straight, focused on the men and interested in them, and their gayness was only incidental, and always connected to men. That, combined with my real-life experiences, likely shaped my views for quite some time. Because the thing is, there was a lot of wlw women around me, but either none of them identified as bisexual, or I didn’t know they did. Just like in Sapkowski! Sleeping with both men and women was just what all the really cool girls did, right? And men found it hot.

What an amazing view to absorb.

Philippa would be so disappointed in me.

Sadly, it held through my actual first experiences with women, and of those around me. Looking back at it, it was insane. A good friend of mine was in a relationship with a girl, they even got fake-married, but I still thought of her as straight and didn’t take it seriously. After all, it was just a couple of gals being pals. In bed.

In short, Sapkowski was the piece of media during my adolescence that got the furthest in having me engage with female queerness, and it did not go very well. But there was another way my identity as a straight girl had the potential to be eroded. Not with explicitly queer women, but with (assumed) straight women I simply found hot. And boy, were there plenty.

Like I said, Sapkowski’s sorceresses hit me exactly in my weak spot. I have always been fascinated by the “evil queen” archetype. If I lived in a country where Disney animated fairy tales were the standard entertainment for children, I’m pretty sure my first queer would have easily and decidedly been Maleficent and the Evil Queen from Snow White. As it is, I only came across them later, and Czech fairy tale films don’t really have any properly evil queens to speak of, for some reason.

So as it was, my first glimpse of this was Circe.

I had a retold-for-children version of Odyssey when I was little, and it was my favorite book. Odysseus was an amazing hero and everything, but there were also beautiful illustrations in my version, and the women in those illustrations were really pretty. Particularly attractive was the evil sorceress who almost defeated Odysseus (and totally would have if he hadn’t cheated by getting help from the gods). She was a-ma-zing.

I dare you not to fall in love.

Not too long after, there was an encounter with Disney after all: I had a book version of Aladdin, and in Aladdin there was Yasmine. In particular, Yasmine in her slave outfit. Yeah, I know.

Looking back at it, I can hardly see for the amount of cringe I’m doing, and I could write dissertations on the orientalization and sexism specific to what can be found in those scenes. But my seven year old self didn’t know anything about that. I just knew that there was, you know, something about Yasmine in that outfit, being so clever as she pretended to be willing to rule alongside Jafar.

I mostly thought it was because she was wearing red and I liked red. Like I said, I was seven.

The next step on this way was the evil queen from Never-Ending Story 2. I remember always being frustrated when she pretends to be good in the middle of the film, because she lost like half of her sex-appeal – though again, I wouldn’t have put it that way when I was probably about ten at this point. Then came Sapkowski, and my love for his sorceresses. And around the same time, there came the most important stepping stone from the realm of media on my way to self-discovery: Monica Bellucci.

I honestly don’t remember how I first came across her. It must have been online, because going through her filmography, the only things I really recall seeing her in are the Matrix films, and before that I was only aware of Asterix and Obelix. And I distinctly remember thinking when it came out, as a connoisseur of the animated version: yeah, she’s a good fit for Cleopatra, she’s hot.

Almost as hot as this one. Come to think of it, Cleopatra from the animated version of this film might actually belong to my series of childhood crushes, too.

So, somehow, somewhere, I discovered Monica Bellucci, and I was immediately smitten. To this day, I consider her effectively the epitome of female beauty.

I was fourteen when Matrix Reloaded came out, and I really enjoyed the scenes with her. A lot. In fact, they probably make me recall that film in a much more positive light than it deserves.  Soon after this, my computer was stuffed with all the pictures of her I could find, mostly of them lightly erotic. Hilariously, yes, I still believed I was straight.

I could continue listing all the other movies I saw with impressive evil queen/femme fatale types in them. Snow White and the Huntsman was a disaster of a movie. But the Queen, oh, the Queen! Well, I think you get the idea.

At any rate, Monica Bellucci was the first woman I have ever seen that I looked at and thought, yes, I want to have sex with her. Not even this, though, was enough to bring any change in how I understood my sexuality. Looking for the media that helped with that, the first media that actually included a healthy queer couple… That would be fanfiction. When I was over twenty, maybe even closer to my mid-twenties.

Yeah.

To be fair, if I had a varied romantic life in the years between, I probably would have figured things out sooner even without any books to help, but as I began dating my husband not too long after my Bellucci-induced awakening, that rather limited my exploration.

My computer was stuffed with pictures like this. Stuffed. How could I think I was straight?

The fact still remains, though. It took twenty years of reading to come across a wlw couple worthy of the name. And it required fanfiction.

I read a lot, though I didn’t seek out queer books – I probably didn’t know that was a thing, to be honest, and if I did, I wouldn’t have searched them out anyway. I was straight, remember? But I read a lot, and varied things – detective stories, fantasy, literary fiction. In none of that did I come across a proper wlw relationship.

The first “femslash” fanfiction I read was a bunch of stories from the Harry Potter universe. It was mostly sexual relationships, combining various Hogwarts girl into pairs and seeing what happened. While fun, it didn’t do much to convince me to take my own preferences too seriously.

I can’t actually pinpoint the one story that did that. What I do know, though, is that as I moved from my reading from HPFF to FF.net and then to AO3, the number of wlw relationships that appeared in my reading increased. Though they were still mostly background relationships, they were at least treated more seriously than what I was used to.

Little by little, the stories chipped away at my denial. But I still can’t help to think that had Sapkowski been less of a sexist clown, and had two of his powerful women been badass wlw queens who ruled the Lodge of Sorceresses, I could have figured everything out so much easier.

In fact, that sounds like an AU fanfiction someone should write.


Images courtesy of Dimension Films, CD Projekt Red, Dargaud Films, Bounty Books, and Fabrizio Ferri

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