Thoughts on shipping.

A ship-shipping ship, shipping shipping ships. source (for the image, as well as the caption)

A ship-shipping ship, shipping shipping ships. source (for the caption as well as the image. I’m not that clever).

Not that kind of shipping. Shipping. Like when you write fan fiction (on paper or in your head) in which fictional characters fall in luuuuve with each other and (presumably, at some point) have sex and/or are permanently joined together in sacred and/or fleshy bliss. It comes from the word “relationship” – hence “shipping,” as in: “I ship Harry and Ron, everyone knows they were the real love story at Hogwarts!”

And if you don’t know it yet — yes, that really is a thing, all across the various realms of geekdom, and recently more broadly in popular culture. So you’ll have fan communities who create art or write stories or make videos that bring together two (or more) characters who were not imagined by their creator as romantically involved.

Coupla things. Thing the First, and let’s just get this out of the way: I have a thing about canon. The creator is, to my mind, God in the universe of these characters to whom we feel so attached, and thus, if JK Rowling didn’t think that Harry and Ron would fall in love — well, she would know. Plain and simple. It’s one thing to create fan art that builds on the creator’s world, but I honestly think it’s another thing entirely to upend the story as the creator intended for it to be told. In my always humble (and probably minority) opinion.

But here’s Thing the Second, and Thing the Second is actually the thing that I believe is most important.

Most of these imagined relationships (Harry-Ron, Kirk-Spock, Jess-Jules [Bend It Like Beckham], Arthur-Merlin [Merlin], Katniss-Peeta-Gale, etc and so on, ad infinitum) don’t just upend the story as originally conceived, they upend the sexuality of those involved, often because the characters are so close — their relationship runs so deep — that we do not know how to let it be friendship. We do not know how to understand need and longing and fierce loyalty, unless it’s about romance and sexuality.

And thus, to my mind, when we ship Kirk and Spock, or Arthur and Merlin, or Sam and Frodo, we’re not only doing a disservice to the creator’s vision, we’re dishonoring the characters, and revealing more about about ourselves and our society than we may have intended. 

Note, for instance, that most shipping seems to entail male characters — as a society, we’re usually ok with girls and women loving each other and expressing that love in a way that is not romantic or sexual. Men on the other hand? We really don’t know what to do with that.

So we change it. We diminish and dismiss men’s capacity for loving each other — truly, deeply loving each other — and insist that such love can only find true expression in something akin to 21st century notions of romance and sexuality.

Once upon a time, in mid-19th century America, men wrote love letters to each other — honest to God, “I haven’t been able to stop thinking of our last hours spent together,” love letters to each other. Like, it was thing. You wrote to your friends and told them how you felt.

And true to late-20th/early 21st century form, letters such as these have led some to conclude that Abraham Lincoln himself was gay, despite copious evidence to the contrary — because why else would he express such tender affection for a man? Even though I presume that at least some of the men writing these letters were, in fact, expressing an emotion to which they were otherwise unable to give voice, sheer statistics would suggest that most of them weren’t. Which is to say: We weren’t always like this, America.

I do understand that some fan fic/shipping comes in response to the appalling dearth of LGBTQ love stories in our culture, and I guess it’s easier for me, a straight woman, to not want to validate the work that some people create around a love they’d like to see expressed. I will concede that.

But beyond that, mostly it just cheeses me off. You cannot tell me that a romantic, sexual relationship between Sam and Frodo would have been deeper or more real than the relationship we are told they had; you cannot tell me that Merlin’s love for Arthur was any less because they didn’t have sex.

I’m tired of telling boys and men that they cannot, may not love each other — frankly, shipping of this kind is little more than the flip-side of guys who yell “No homo!” after a big hug. There is nothing wrong with men falling in love with other men; there is also nothing wrong with men having loving friendships.

And with that, I have likely sealed my fate in the geek community, and so I bid you adieu. It was fun while it lasted. I’ll just be over here, reading my books.

Impatient. (Or: On the women in my entertainment).

Kat just saved her own life, thank you very much. And someone else’s, too. (PS You really need to start watching Alphas).

Was a time that women did not publicly kick ass. That time was very much up to and including my childhood, and it has only been in recent years (roughly corresponding to the advent of Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that our culture has allowed women to regularly be tough and authoritative (and yes, I know there were exceptions [Cagney & Lacey comes to mind] — but they were just that).

Nowadays, though, we can be seen kicking ass and taking names and running the show and shooting arrows and saving lives alllll over the place. Maybe not as much as I’d like? Maybe not  as much as I think generally reflects our abilities, experiences, and aspirations? But you know: It’s genuinely, really out there. Things have begun to change for real, and as a mother, I am so glad that my kids get to grow up into that change.

But I’m impatient. I want more.

And not just more of the above. Not just more of Buffy, and Katniss (Hunger Games), and Zoe (Firefly), and Kat (Alphas), and Black Widow (Avengers) and so on. I want more kinds of women.

Like our women detectives (Olivia Benson, Brenda Leigh Johnson) and our paradigm-shifting princesses (Snow White, Merida) and our comedic powerhouses (Liz Lemon [crossing my fingers for Mindy Lahiri!]), every single one of the women I’ve just listed is absolutely lovely. And slender. And in the cases of Buffy, Kat, and Black Widow, positively tiny.

We are willing to allow our women to be powerful, it seems, as long as they don’t look it (and, all too often, as long as some part of their lives is really messed up).

I realize that this is not news, breaking or otherwise, nor am I the first person to call attention to it. But as I sat watching Alphas the other night, absolutely lovinglovingloving the teeny-tiny character that is Kat, I couldn’t help but feel the old impatience rise.

It’s the same impatience I felt when, emerging from Avengers (one of my favorite movies in recent history), my first thought (after “OMFGTHATWASAWESOME!!”) was: “The only women in that movie looked like you could snap them in half. Including the one whose job it was to snap you first.”

It’s the same impatience I feel all the time. Because it’s the same problem everywhere.

There’s no reason to write the Buffies and the Black Widows and the Kats any differently. Small ladies can be powerful too! Beauty is no impediment to badassery! Grrl Power!

But for heaven’s sake.

First of all, in most cases, physical prowess requires at least a little physical ballast, and women (in fact) can be soft-n-squishy and still command authority. Moreover, women are as many and varied as men. Take a good hard look at the men on our screens, both big and small: Very few of them are genuinely fat, and most of them are some kind of good-lookin’ — but they’re much more representative of actual men in actual society than the women ever are. Because men are allowed to be many and varied.

So, even as I enjoy and hail the changes (bows and arrows and underwater lock-picking — oh my!), I can’t wait for us to cover more ground. I can’t wait for us to open the door even further to all the many wonderful ways of being human that women have found.