Pretty, Fizzy Paradise

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Monday, October 01, 2007

I Like Ice, You Like Ice, Everybody Likes Ice!

This is where I type a really long entry specifically on my love for Tora Olafsdotter.

But first, I'd like to go into a personal anecdote.

When I was nineteen, in the summer after my freshman year of college, I decided to take a life-guarding class. I've had swimming lessons since I was about six months old, and even very briefly stinted on a swim team before back problems got in the way so while I was a bit out of shape, it didn't take that long to get used to the laps and exercises. I'm a fairly strong swimmer and of the three girls in the class, I was the best at getting loose from the clingy drowning victim. (A big kid too, I gave him bruises.) I did well enough with backboarding and was probably the best of us at CPR.

I even figured out how to dive under the water and not lose my glasses. Which is a pretty good trick, I think. It's all in the angle of the neck.

Anyway, the teacher had been a lifeguard for twenty-odd years and went on and on about how she was so alert and kept such strong authority of her pool that she had never even had to go in the water. Ever.

I remember the odd feeling I got when she asked me about my major, Japanese Language and Culture, and said something like "They're all so polite and self-effacing, aren't they?" I thought that was pretty fucking racist, though I didn't understand that particular tone in her voice. Eventually I would.

The tests came around. From what I could tell I didn't do any worse than the other girls but I was the only one who didn't get certified. I took the instructors' word that I still needed work, and came in every day for two weeks after. The guys and gals who worked at the pool were really nice in re-enacting drowning so I could keep at it. They seemed a bit puzzled as to why I was still there too. My perpetual clingy-victim (already certified himself) even told me that I was doing a good job. But I trusted my teacher's judgment.

After two weeks, my teacher sat me down and told me that there was nothing wrong with my ability, but she didn't want to sign my certificate because she didn't think I could keep order and authority in the pool. She felt that I was too quiet and self-effacing, too polite. She didn't think I could shout. The fact that I was studying Japanese was just more evidence against me. (Clearly the woman had never been on a Japanese subway. Or wandered about Sannomiya at nightfall. :-)) God, I wonder, if I'd been Asian and not white, if she'd have signed the certificate at all.

This was ridiculous. I mean, I'm pretty sure you can tell from this blog that I'm not some kind of wall-flower. I do act quite a bit more deferrent in class, because I'm the student. I'm there to learn. I don't see the point in acting out if I'm trying to learn something, thank you. In a position of authority, I have a lot of witnesses who can testify, I'm very different. I'm an utter bitch. :-)

But even so, even assuming I was as quiet as I seemed. There was no reason to assume I couldn't do my job. I've met quiet people in authority who were considerably more imposing than any yeller. And even if I did end up having to go in and rescue people more than she did (and come on, SOME of that at least had to be luck)...there was nothing wrong with my ability to do so.

She did ultimately sign off on my certificate, but only because I'd spent every day of those two weeks and she couldn't deny I was competent. I know this because she TOLD ME so.

I spent two extra weeks I could have been looking for a job proving to this woman that my decorum was not an impediment to my ability.

Because apparently loud, aggressive, obnoxious people are the only good lifeguards.

Right. A belated "Fuck you" to that racist and judgmental bitch.

Anyway, that's the thing about Ice. See, Oracle, Black Canary, Power Girl, heck, even Lois Lane. They're all forceful, aggressive women. Diana might be more diplomatic, but she still punches people.

And that's wonderful. It is. Ultimately in personality, I think I'm also of this type. I'm normally aggressive, bitchy and opinionated and not afraid to state it. It's wonderful to see such strong women in comics.

I've heard the complaint about "men with breasts", which is utterly ridiculous. And almost invariably, in my experience, made by men. Society may push us to act differently, but there are plenty of women who have a lot more in common with these so-called "men with breasts" than they do with the characters that the accuser thinks are more womanly, and while we appreciate the inclusion in the male gender, the tits and vagina kind of tend to indicate that we DO actually count as women, thank you. And there are more of us than you tend to think.

That said, it's also true that not every woman does see herself similar to Dinah, Barbara, Karen, Diana, or any of those types. Women come in all shapes and sizes and attitudes, after all. There are plenty of women who DO embody more "traditional" feminine virtues, who are soft-spoken, sweet and prone to tears.

And there's no damn reason THEY can't be heroes either.

Tora is wonderful for that. It can't be denied that she's soft-spoken, sweet, and prone to tears and emotional displays. She does have an inner core of temper, but it takes the atomic bomb level force of obnoxiousness that is Guy Gardner to actually bring it out. She's NICE. She's POLITE.

And she's as much of a hero as any of those other gals.

Even if I personally see myself as having a lot more in common with the Barbaras and the Dinahs of the world, I don't think being mistaken for a Tora should remotely have any implication about my abilities.

It's the same satisfaction that Superman brings, showing the hidden inner strength behind all the world's meek and mild-mannered Clark Kents. Characters like Clark, or Barry Allen, or Tora Olafsdotter are important because they show the variance in human nature, and how heroism isn't limited to just one specific personality type.

Too bad my lifeguarding instructor wasn't a comic book fan.


  • At October 01, 2007 9:45 AM, Blogger Thomwade said…

    Hmmm...I have actually heard the "Men With Breasts" commentary more from women, usually regarding characters that are "tough" but also really "hot". Because real women are "not like that."

  • At October 01, 2007 10:18 AM, Blogger SallyP said…

    I DO love Ice. Killing her off was a terrible terrible idea, and I'm so glad that they finally corrected that mistake.

    Tora IS nice, and sweet and polite and gentle and charming. She also has an iron core of inner strength.

    Frankly I think that one of the reasons that she and Guy got along was BECAUSE he brought out that hidden strength occasionally. When you spend your life being nice all the time, it must be rather invigorating to have a chance to just lose it and yell at someone who totally deserves to be yelled at.

    I also think that Ice is going to show up BEFORE December. Just because that is when she is on the cover of GLC, doesn't mean that's when she makes her first appearance.

  • At October 01, 2007 10:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    You unable to project/maintain authority... FOOWC,ROFLOL :D

    From the other side of this I think it's part of why I like Nightcrawler, the man is a comtempative, quiet former priest and still a kick ass hero.

    Jade, Zataana and HEROES Claire all fall in this category to IMO.

    Good day Kalinara,:)
    P.S. Howdy sallup

  • At October 01, 2007 10:59 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    thom: That's interesting. I almost invariably hear it from men, myself. (Usually about characters like Power Girl or Wonder Woman, which always proved the ridiculousness of the claim to me.)

    Then again, I wouldn't doubt that there are exceptions. We women can be horrible to other women who don't fit our pre-conceived notions. I've always hated the "real women aren't like this" sort of argument, because ultimately it's not that hard to find exceptions to every rule. It's rather like the "Real Women have curves" stuff, it's great to be proud of one's body, but implying someone is not a "real woman" because she's thin is equally as reprehensible as the reverse. And women as well as men are saying that.

    I admit though, there ARE characters where I'm immediately all "A man totally created this character", which may or may not be true. (Cassandra Cain, or Faith from Buffy the Vampire Slayer immediately come to mind) So I have my own pre-judgments on that topic too. :-)

    I'll fix the line to add a bit more "in my experience" type subjectivity to the statement though to reflect that sentiment. :-)

    Sally: Heh, I'd bet you're right. As much as someone might try to be polite there is something freeing about being able to cut loose on someone who really deserves it. :-)

    I hope you're right!

    green: Thank you. :-P

  • At October 01, 2007 3:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    I have to say this: "Men w/Breasts"=Bob from "Fight Club" but I can't say anymore because of Rule 1&2.;)

    "This is Bob, Bob had bitch-tits."

  • At October 01, 2007 6:15 PM, Blogger Ami Angelwings said…

    YAY! :D

    Great post :D

    Terrible instructor >:|

    But I agree! Why can't nice girls be heroes? :D Nice guys can be heroes (Peter Parker, Jaime Reyes, Ryan Choi, etc) :)

  • At October 01, 2007 8:59 PM, Blogger Brainfreeze said…

    Excellent post.

    (Speaking as someone who, temperamentally, is far closer to Ice than to many other comic-book women. :))

  • At October 02, 2007 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Hmmm. I first encountered the "men with breasts" line when i tried to introduce a friend to anime via the original Bubblegum Crisis (this was 1992, I am an old, old man). He described the heroines as exactly that. Was he eight or wrong in that case?

    (of course if you haven't seen BGC, never mind-it was pioneering when it first appeared, but its 80's fashion sense hasn't aged well...

  • At October 02, 2007 1:34 AM, Blogger kalinara said…

    I never thought BGC characters were particularly mannish at all.

    I remember most of my friends and I were quite fond of it once upon a time. (I liked Sylia, they tended toward Priss or Linna.) None of us ever felt that the girls were particularly mannish. It may be notable that most of us at the time thought the little red haired one that was slightly ditzy, Nene?, was really annoying.

    I've always called it "pink ranger syndrome", in which the (usually) most prominent female character also fit the most stereotypes. Which might not be a problem if you also identify with those stereotypes, but if you were a girl and did NOT, you tended to be SOL. (And then when female characters get written that didn't fit the stereotype, they were suddenly "men with breasts". You can imagine for a young girl that identifies more with the anti-type, that gets quite frustrating. Especially when someone tries to explain their reasoning... "Wait, so I'd rather suck it up than cry, I don't care about shopping, and I like action instead of romance, and that means I'm a man with breasts?" Very. Frustrating.)

    So yeah, in my personal opinion, your friend is pretty wrong. :-)

  • At October 03, 2007 12:56 PM, Blogger Scott (The Mad Thinker) Anderson said…

    Hey, we agree completely again. I loved the scene in the Justice League where Ice was able to heal with the GL ring even though Guy -- and I think all the rest of the GLs -- couldn't. It suggested to me that there were different kinds of strengths and power, and that Ice's meeker personality was just as valuable as Guy's ... umm, well Guy's personality.

    This post reminded me of mine -- he said because he had to make this somehow about himself --concerning stereotypical gays and how they could also be heroic even if they are in the "traditional" mode that some might see as a setback. There isn't just one model for heroism.

  • At October 05, 2007 1:36 AM, Blogger Timothy Liebe said…

    ::I've heard the complaint about "men with breasts", which is utterly ridiculous. And almost invariably, in my experience, made by men.::

    Actually, Kalinara, I've generally come across the term, or its counterpart "men in drag", from a certain type of feminist critic, like Roberta Seelinger Trites, who use it against Tammy or other writers of effective female heroes. I'm sure guys use it too, but Ms. Trites and her ilk are who I tend to associate with it myself,

    Tim Liebe
    Dreaded Spouse-Creature of Tamora Pierce

  • At October 05, 2007 10:49 PM, Blogger Alix said…

    I agree with those who said that the "men with breasts" line tends to come from women. I have not to my knowledge heard or seen that line from a man. It's always come from that particular kind of feminist critic (not trashing feminists, as I am one, or critics, as I am that, too, albeit an amateur) - the one who has such an incredibly narrow definition of female behavior herself that any female character who doesn't act right, she calls a "man with breasts". Also leveled by these women at female characters doing male things (becoming knights, being superheroes, etc.), especially if they are the first/only female characters in their stories to do this, and even more especially if they have to dress as a man/cut their hair/stop acting "feminine" to do so.

    Ergh. Long comment, sorry, and over a minor point, too.


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