Beyond Superheros: Why You Must Watch “The Incredibles 2”

Beyond Superheros: Why You Must Watch “The Incredibles 2”

This week I’m in Sydney for the Feminist Writer’s Festival and I had planned to repost an older blog post that pretty no one read. It’s lazy, but practical in the midst of an incredibly busy and blustery week. However, last night as I flew over from Perth I watched The Incredibles 2 and was so taken with this lovely little film that I changed my mind and decided to write about it.

Confession: Life is tough at the moment. I’m in The Queen Victoria building, waiting for my coffee to arrive. I slept in until 9am. Seriously, 9am? And am a free agent until six when the first lecture of the festival starts. Pity me.

The Incredibles 2.

The first Incredibles movie is one of my favourites. Anyone with small people in their lives will know what it is like to have to continuously watch the same trite, vacuous and irritating animated films on repeated loop for say… ten years? The Incredibles was one that I got into. It’s take on life after superdom. That is, life after the romance, the adventure, the thrill of the chase. Married life. Family life. How do we reconcile our young, beautiful former selves with this ragged person just trying to hang on. This, all mixed in with a super cute super-hero storyline.

The latest iteration of The Incredibles somehow does it better again. This time we follow the rebooted career of Elastogirl (The mother, wife and carer of the Incredibles family). The husband and wife team reverse roles and while there’s nothing new in that plot-line it is handled so beautifully and poignantly that I almost forgot I was watching a kids’ film. The film begins with the family saving the city from “The Underminer” (where the first film ended). When the action scene ends, the family is arrested. Superheros are still illegal. The insurance won’t cover the damage of their intervention. Now homeless and unemployed the family is destitute. This is when Elastogirl is offered an opportunity to raise the image of superheros through a suit-cam and PR campaign. Like the first film, the superhero plot is an absolute aside to the relationships and identities this film is exploring.

It is overwhelmingly exciting that the protagonist of a kids’ superhero movie is a middle-aged mother-of-three who is trying to recapture her own sense of self as autonomous and important while balancing her need to care for her family. Layered over this is the equally amusing but touching narrative of Mr Incredible. He too struggles to give up his past identity in order to do maths homework, care for a baby and steer his teenage daughter through adolescence. COupled with this is his own identity crisis in which he must manage his ego and expectations as he is outshone by his previously second-fiddle wife. While the film draws on familiar jokes about a father’s inability to cope in the home it swiftly dispels the rather insulting notion that it can’t be done. Mr Incredible adapts, learns and copes in order to give Elastogirl the space and the time she needs to thrive outside the home.

This film is funny, beautifully made, and full of pop-culture references. It engages with the social and political sphere in its ongoing storyline about doing what it right versus what is legal and the way that governments and legislation can lose sight of people.

Why do I think this film is important?

This film is about family. It is about the relationships that make us who we are. It doesn’t valorise youth and beauty. Nor does it dismiss its young characters as incapable or reliant. Rather, The Incredibles 2 is a film I want my children to see because it shows a family working together to navigate life and reminds us that every member has value, both within the family and as a member of the larger community.

 

Don’t forget to signup for regular blog posts to receive a free copy of my novella, THE STATION!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required


<!–End mc_embed_signup-

‘You Belong, We’ve Got You’: Can advertising to women change the message?

‘You Belong, We’ve Got You’: Can advertising to women change the message?

We’ve all heard them. The positive body-image messages being shouted from the rooftops. The idea that ‘you are enough’ is slowly seeping into our collective consciousnesses. We say it but in our heart of hearts do we actually believe it?

So, if ‘you are enough’ is just a platitude, a bumper sticker, a thing as elusive as weight loss chocolate and imaginary as the tooth fairy or Santa Claus, how can we shift the message to make it tangible and believable?

It isn’t enough to tell women that they are just fine the way they are. I sometimes wonder if the constant telling is part of the problem. It feels like a trick. Like your mum telling you that your five-year-old drawing is the best she has ever seen. It’s nice. It feels good and your love her for it but even then, deep-down, you know she has to say that.

It’s this fault line between good intentions and our own sense of the truth that I think we (or at least I) are detecting in some of the body-positive rhetoric that is circulating. My *bullshit* meter is twitching.

We even try to fool each other. Maybe fool isn’t the right world. No, it’s ourselves that we try to fool. I will, with complete sincerity tell a friend that she is beautiful. I don’t care what size she is, whether she wears makeup or how she dresses. I honestly DON’T CARE.  I just don’t look at those indicators. To me, the women in my life are all the things we are supposed to love about other people: funny, kind, smart, sweary, cynical, jaded, (okay, maybe some of these might just be my criteria), HONEST.

Yet, in the same instant, as I extol their virtues I will remind myself of the number on the scales that morning. Those three vicious little numbers that glow like a possessed demon-child and spew-forth all the self-loathing and inadequacies that I would never impose on other women, and that, from the best I can tell, other women don’t impose on me.

Why is the body-positive message only partially grafted onto our consciousnesses then?  Why can’t I succumb to a sense of self-approval that lets me stop whining and just get on with the business of my life? Once again, this is where story (for me) comes into play.

Storyline A:

Once there was a beautiful princess. She was meek and mild with flowing golden hair and a teeny-tiny waste. She liked men (NOT women they were all against her), but not too much. Just enough though, that the first one to come along and do something nice for her would do. Babies, babies, babies (we think, the stories don’t go that far). Blah. She dies (probably killed by a younger female rival), the end.

After a while, women decided that this story sucked, so with a ‘little’ convincing (thousands of years) they were able to shift it—somewhat.

Story-line B:

Once there was a beautiful woman. She was quite smart (just the right level, in certain areas) and always made time between her long work hours, perfect children, home and career to get her hair and nails done. She always looked amazing in active-wear and never missed a workout. She was so supportive of her partner’s amazing career—without her they’d be nothing. Babies, babies… blah. She dies, the end.

Better?  A little?

My story-line:

Once there was a girl. She liked school and was pretty good at it. She met the person that understood her and together they shared a family They like to travel and do sport together. She isn’t perfect, but that’s irrelevant because she is healthy and they are happy.

At least, that’s the gist it what I want my story to be, but damned if Story-line B doesn’t keep sneaking in there. Why? Because Story-line B is sill the one (to a greater or lesser extent) that we see out there: on TV, in the movies, books, and advertising. (I promise I’m getting to the point soon!)

Obviously, Story-line B is about as subtle as a heavy mallet smashing you over the head when spoken out loud, but it pervades (like a soft, soothing mist) through the images and stories that surround us. If telling us that we ‘are enough’ isn’t working because everything else we see suggests that we aren’t. So how do we fix it?

I had one idea.

Appeal to capitalism.

I won’t shop in certain shops because, based on their advertising, I assume that they won’t have any sizes or styles that fit me (I’m an AU12, US8). Especially sportswear (because only really slim ladies play sport, right?).

I’m going to ping Lululemon here. For years (and even in an earlier blog post) I have scoffed at their advertising and their merchandise. It’s only for tiny women. I don’t know more than three women who could, or would wear such skimpy clothes, etc… etc… moral high-ground, angry feminist, feelings of sadness and shame. 

Then I had reason to actually go into the shop. I gave the (admittedly young and tiny) shop assistant a hard time about never being able to find anything to fit. But then it did. It was attractive, supported my body-shape and was (choking on my own self-righteousness, splutter, splutter) comfortable. So, they did have clothes in their range that fit me, and women bigger than me. Their advertising, however—with the exception one set of slightly heavier-set legs on their website— had completely alienated me.

My challenge to advertisers, then, is this:

Stop telling me I’m ‘enough’ (see Dove’s campaign for real women.) It’s condescending and cynical. Don’t market ‘plus sizes.’ Don’t stop marketing to the thin, muscular, power-women that intimidate me so much (they actually do exist and also deserve nice clothes.) Just advertise ALL of your range. Show women in your small sizes AND in your larger sizes (trust me, selling me a size 12 or 14 that I have seen only a size 4 model NEVER ends well). That is, show us what you sell. I don’t need an explicitly body-positive message, a pat on the head or a special campaign. Like everything, just include me. If you make it in a fourteen, or a sixteen, or a twenty show me a woman that size wearing it. She’s not a ‘plus-size’ model by the way, she’s just a model.

And to those shops that assume women bigger than fifty-five kgs don’t exercise—your time is coming to an end (and you are missing out on a profitable market-share.)

Check out these guys as an example of amazing advertising to women. Their mission statement at Active Truth says:

“….We believe in size inclusivity and not segregating plus size activewear and standard activewear ranges…”

While some normalising buzz words could be removed there (plus-size/standard) at least this company is making an effort to change the story they are telling. The big brands in women’s clothing could learn a lot and gain customers without actually changing much.

Actions speak louder than words and inclusion speaks louder than platitudes.

(I get the irony of this last sentence btw.)

 

Don’t forget to signup for regular blog posts to receive a free copy of my novella, THE STATION!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required


“Sunny”, you’re actually a smug little git: cars can’t and shouldn’t buy girls

“Sunny”, you’re actually a smug little git: cars can’t and shouldn’t buy girls

Let’s talk about boys, girls, and cars. Volkswagen’s television commercial that has recently been aired in Australia portrays a group of “adorable” children at a birthday party and is, at first glance, a sweetly innocent way of pointing out the many features on their vehicles. Fine. Awesome. You have park-assist, collision prevention, headlights (bestill my beating heart), though I imagine Volkswagen doesn’t deliver on the transformer capabilities they allude to in this particular ad.

Haven’t seen it? Check it out here before reading any further. As you watch, really think about what is going on in the story being told.

“Sunny” RoboBoy Volkswagen Ad

Seen it? Okay, so what bothers me is the narrative which Volkswagen has chosen in order to spruik their car. A three-way love triangle of jealousy, competition, and aggression in which two boys vie for the affections of the girl. OBVIOUSLY, the girl chooses the boy with the car.

Because that’s how attraction works.

Not only does the little girl pick the car over her previous love interest but she delights in the displays of ridicule and bullying that the new, shiny version partakes in in order to win her affection.

The end of the ad sees the boy’s father come and collect him in a matching “real” version of the dress-up car and together they laugh and drive away. The end scene makes us understand that the father and son have hatched this scheme together, almost as though the father is passing down some long-held wisdom about women and sexual rivalry.

Sigh. Grumble. Grumble. Grumble.

What does this ad say about the girl?

1: She is attracted to shiny things: i.e. wealth and power.

2: She enjoys watching boys fight over her.

3: She knows she is a prize to be won by the highest bidder.

4: She will choose the boy who is most capable of caring for her, with Volkswagen playing into the cliché of girls needing the physical (and financial) protection of men in order to advertise their collision prevention technology (groan.)

5: She’s a shallow idiot (aren’t we all? Volkswagen seems to think so.)

What I wonder, however, is do girls really get that excited about cars? Or do they just pretend to because it makes boys like them better?

The car in this ad isn’t exactly a luxury or muscle car. That is, this isn’t a car that I imagine appeals to many men, so is Volkswagen actually trying to sell to a female market through this story? Are they really saying “look ladies this car is the equivalent of a gentleman taking care of you”? I find it highly confusing. Is the so-called “romance” seen through the so-called “cuteness” of obnoxious children supposed to appeal to women in some way?

And the boy?

1: Girls are a prize he can win through money, showmanship and bullying.

2: Girls value material wealth above personality or ethics.

3: His father had bestowed upon him the secret truth of women’s shallow natures.

4: If another boy has something you want, you can simply take it if you have more material wealth.

5: The joy in gaining the affection of a girl is as much about triumph over another male as it is about the relationship with that girl (note the expression of smug satisfaction when the boy in the car pushes his rival to the side.)

This ad is an example, to me, of these dangerous and ingrained narratives that exist in our daily lives. It is moderately cute. They are, after all, only selling a hatchback car—nothing sexy about that—but they are playing with old ideas of sexual politics, reinforcing clichés and stereotypes of how romantic relationships are supposed to look, and suggesting (because of the age of these “characters”) that there is some universal truth those representations.

I’m surprised the little boy in the car costume didn’t pull the girl’s hair, or push her over as a sign that he “liked” her.

 

 

Don’t forget to signup for regular blog posts to receive a free copy of my novella, THE STATION!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required


Standing Up to Fear: Why Losing in Competition Can Help Others

Standing Up to Fear: Why Losing in Competition Can Help Others

Over the school holiday break my family and I, along with a large contingent of people from my taekwon-do club made the trek to Sydney to compete in the 7th ITF Taekwon-Do World Cup. I was a late entry (thanks to recent surgery) and so my preparation for this event was far from ideal. The reality was, however, that the chances of this massive event coming so close to home any time soon is remote, so for better or worse, it was competition time. The competition was a massive success for our club and it was a privilege to part of such an awesome team.

Just a little back-story:

As a young martial artist, I didn’t compete. It wasn’t part of our club culture. In fact, it wasn’t permitted. I entered my first TKD competition when I was thirty-one, after a six-year break from training, and less than a year after having had my second baby. I got hurt—no surprises there.

Since then I have entered the odd competition, most of which were club-based. They made me so nervous that I finally decided that I simply didn’t have the temperament for competition. Besides, I was overweight and over-the-hill. It was better to leave the competitive stuff to the young ones.

Back to the World Cup:

After four months off for surgery, I had a mere 3-4 weeks to prepare for this competition and at a reduced intensity, I stood up in front of a thousand competitors and gave it a crack. The results (personally) were as good as were to be expected. I lost my first round of patterns, I lost my pre-arranged (choreographed fight, like in the movies) and I failed to complete any of my board breaks. Bummer.

There were many positives, however: I remembered my pattern and while it wasn’t the best I have ever done I didn’t let my extreme anxiety completely overwhelm me; the pre-arranged was pretty good and pretty fun; my power-breaking was by no means a disgrace. Of all the women that entered across all division only three or four made their breaks. Mine attempts came close and I didn’t injure myself—so I’m counting that as a win. I also got to coach many of my fellow competitors, the highlight of which was being in the coaches chair when my husband smashed his special technique competition to take gold (jumping really high and kicking a target).

At key moments across the tournament I asked myself the question “Why?” Why do I put myself in stressful situations for which I am hopelessly under-prepared, and leading to an inevitable sense of self-disappointment? There are a few reasons:

1: I’m an idiot.

2: My instructor is very persuasive.

3: I am constantly banging on that older women aren’t irrelevant and should put themselves out there more often.

4: To encourage other female members of my club (of all ages) that they should get up and try even if they’re scared. I’m proud to say that our team was almost an even split of female:male competitors.

5: I’m an idiot who doesn’t like to give in.

The highlight of the tournament for me came, however, at the after party.

Imagine this: hundreds of young, fit, competitive athletes who have been training for many months and have travelled from all over the world are finally let off the leash. That’s right, by nine pm the little pub where the function was being held was transformed into a shirts-off, dance-battle mosh-pit as everyone let off their pent-up steam.

As I stood having a few drinks with my friends, a lovely lady who was the ring coordinator for one of the rings I had competed in came up and said hello. She told me that she had enjoyed watching my pre-arranged sparring and that it was exciting to see women actually competing. She didn’t like competing, she said, because she was never sure if she would have an opponent or if her opponent would be twice her size.

And suddenly my disappointment in my own performance didn’t matter.

I had achieved something important and tangible.

 

P.S. Apparently we are going to compete in the next World Cup: Slovenia 2020 here we come.

 

Don’t forget to signup for regular blog posts to receive a free copy of my novella, THE STATION!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required


Great Feminist Fiction: N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

Great Feminist Fiction: N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy

N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy is nothing short of incredible. Often fantasy fiction is written of as “genre fiction” which is code for a good story but essentially time-filling, superficial fluff. In other words, blockbuster material but nothing that is going to change the world. That honour is given to dark, moody, emotional dramas and often books that take two or three readings to really nail down. Given that the bulk of literature consumed is genre fiction this dismissive attitude from some writers, readers and critics of literary fiction must be wrong at least some of the time.

Fantasy fiction has come a long way since I was reading the same formulaic plot of teenage magician, dragons, mages, and journeys through deep, dark forests over and over again when I was a teenager. So burned was I by the generic template of fantasy fiction that I stopped reading it entirely for over twenty years. Then my hairdresser (seriously, I get book tips from my hairdresser) put me on to a few incredible authors and I’m back into a full-blown addiction. Science fiction is still my preference, but there are some serious players in the world of fantasy fiction.

N. K. Jemisin is one of them. Unsurprisingly all three books in the Broken Earth Trilogy won the Hugo award, with the final book also winning this year’s Nebula Award and Locus Award for Best Fantasy. These are a series of books that I would call literary fantasy fiction. Why? The prose is superb. The world-building immaculate. The magic system is new, imaginative and explored to its fullest extent. The novels are narrated in third and second person point of view—no mean feat. The protagonist is a middle-aged mother. Whoa. I know. How the *$#% did someone manage to make a middle-aged mother not only the heroine but portray her as tough, with emotional depth, and physically tangible without boring us? (Maybe this touches a nerve).

The strength of Jemisin’s narrative lies precisely in her choice of protagonist. There is no shortage of powerful male characters through which this story could easily have been told, but in choosing a female lead the personal and the political become indistinguishable. Her identity as a mother is inseparable from that of a community member, a “Raga”, or the potential saviour of the world. Jemisin balances the tension between the multifaceted identities of her protagonist in a way that is both heartbreaking and believable. Women, their bodies, their lives, their choices are expressed with nuance and sensitivity and no one identity is prioritised over the other.

These books are ultimately about the myriad of relationships that make up who we are: self, community, familial, maternal, global and environmental.

*N. K. Jemisin’s Broken Earth Trilogy:

1: The Fifth Season

2: The Obelisk Gate

3: The Stone Sky

 

***

 

Don’t forget to signup for regular blog posts to receive a free copy of my novella, THE STATION!

Subscribe to our mailing list

* indicates required


*Affiliate program links