CUTE BRUISER SAYS YO Cute Bruiser is a trope meaning a small, often female character who fights like a bruiser. Bruisers tend to favour melee combat focused on punches and blocks. The cute bruiser shows contrast between appearance and strength, breaking the masculine stereotype associated with this combat style.
This zine is kind of a baseball bat. We almost called it Manic Pixie Dreamgirl but that didn’t say what we needed it to say. Manic Pixie Dreamgirl is a term that describes a certain kind of character, but it describes some showrunner’s wet-dream version of a strong female character. Cute Bruiser sounds more like us: unabashed femininity, but all the strength and violence usually denied women characters. Manic Pixie Dreamgirls can look after themselves, but a Cute Bruiser has an implied confrontational nature that meshes with our first and only remaining in-house rule: don’t be apologetic. These articles don’t have to placate or please anybody. Hunter S. Thompson said he didn’t know any better high than writing— and you know he knew most of them. A better buzz than an argument then seems self-evident. So here’s a way to get angry, but not try to bludgeon any brick walls with it. It’s called Cute Bruiser, and it’s a zine about feminism. This is the kind of anger that doesn’t come with a hangover. Something gets made. I don’t know who you are or where you found this or what your relationship to feminism is, but I hope you get something out of Cute Bruiser: maybe you’ll get the second hand guilt-free righteous-anger buzz too.
CUTE BRUISER LAYS IT OUT
Be a Geek, Not a Dick
Get This: Our Abortion Law is Messed Up as Heck
Play This Movie Backwards to Hear Feminist Propaganda
Is it Feminist? Lightning Farron
BE A GEEK, NOT A DICK C. Carruthers
Iâ€™m a bit of a geek. When I was approximately ten I made a geocities website dedicated to Final Fantasy games, with midi music and animated cursors. Before I knew what fan fiction was, I was four chapters into my own Harry Potter novel. At 11 I attempted to manually remove a virus from my computer and deleted all of the system files. That wasnâ€™t really a geeky thing to do but it explains why my novel has never seen the light of day. After playing Devil May Cry 3 my cousin and I would stage dramatic re-enactments of the cut scenes with long sticks as weapons and memorised dialogue.
Being a fan is a hard thing to describe or explain. It’s that connection you have to a piece of media—to a show or character or story. It’s that sense that you’ve shared a journey together, and even when the credits scroll or the book ends, that journey keeps going. Being a fan of something is a defining part of who we are and sometimes even what we do (what would Buffy do?). I’m not being dramatic when I say that the things we are a fan of shape our personalities, and while this is a wonderful thing it can also be a scary thing. What happens when we love things that are just plain bad? But they’re never ‘just plain bad’, are they? Supernatural is a TV show with an enormous fan base. It has a great setting and strong characters. It’s also super misogynistic. I enjoy watching Supernatural, one of my fellow writers is a pretty damn big fan, but we both know that show is problematic. We know it every time a woman is killed before the opening credits (most episodes), every time the protagonists throw around words like bitch and whore, every time they pass through a town in the southern United States without seeing a single person of colour. That show has serious problems, but I continue to be a fan. And being a fan can hurt. There have been times when I’ve consciously decided not to become a fan of something, or to remove myself from the fandom, because of these problems. I’ve always loved the
Hitman games, but the advertising for Hitman: Absolution was so offensive, sexist and vicious, that I can’t bring myself to play the game. I walked out of the New Zealand western Good for Nothing because of the constant rape jokes. Refusing to support problematic media is a contribution, but often fans won’t do this. Often fans can’t do this. I want to find out what happens to Sam and Dean next, but I’m not going to pretend Supernatural is A-okay. Unfortunately, that’s what a lot of fans do. When we feel like the media we love so much is being attacked, naturally we want to defend it. God help anyone who tries to trash talk Pokémon in front of me, but blindly defending our fandoms isn’t the answer. To give you an example, I want to talk about Tolkien’s fans. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit are epic, detailed fantasy stories with huge fan bases. Tolkien’s stories are notorious for ignoring female characters and displaying overt racism, but try telling that to a fan. The most common defence is “but that’s how it was back then”. A lot of fantasy work is set in a pseudo-medieval era, which is used as an excuse for assuming outdated, offensive attitudes. This is not acceptable. The argument for factual accuracy has no traction in a world with dragons and wizards. In these worlds women are almost always side characters; wives, daughters, gentile elves. If a female warrior comes along she is always very much alone, and we are constantly reminded
how unusual it is for her to fight since she is a woman. People of colour? Often represented as beasts and Orcs, or otherwise as the noble and magical savage. These stories are about white men. White men are the kings and warriors, the explorers and raconteurs. They are the people with stories worth telling. But that, we are told, is because that’s just how it was. You know, back then. If we are more comfortable with the idea of talking trees and magic elves than we are with a black main character or gender parity, we have a serious problem. Our willingness to defend these problematic TV shows, videogames, books and films echoes a surprising willingness to defend these problems in the real world. We can’t keep excusing and explaining away problematic media—we need to acknowledge it, and start questioning it. But why do we—geeks, fans—find this so hard? I recently watched the film The Help at the insistence of a friend who had spent days extolling its virtues. That film is inexcusably racist, to the point where Octavia Spencer is made to say, “I love me some fried chicken.” When I pointed this out to my friend she felt attacked, she tried to explain to me that maybe that character really does love fried chicken, the fact that she’s black has “nothing to do with it”.
Every piece of media produced has a social responsibility. No media exists in a vacuum, and the attitudes and messages it conveys shape society, just as it is shaped by society. If you, like me, find yourself a fan of problematic things, do not excuse them. Do not laud their good points. There’s a time and place for that, and it’s not immediately after someone says, “I find that offensive”. When someone calls your special piece of media sexist or racist, they are not calling you sexist or racist. But if you refuse to acknowledge that Tolkien’s lack of inclusivity is a problem, maybe you are. Call that shit out, then make a tumblr dedicated to your favourite fandom and fill it with hilarious gifs.
GET THIS: OUR ABORTION LAW IS MESSED UP AS HECK K. Dash
Get this: it’s 2013 and abortion is still technically a crime in New Zealand. It’s right between ‘Murder, manslaughter, etc’ and ‘Assaults and injuries to the person’ in the Crimes Act. Get this: the legislation we’re currently operating on was laid down in 1977, a time when homosexuality was outlawed, raping your wife was no big and Robert Muldoon was still prime minister. So maybe a little outdated, a little old-fashioned. Not that this matters though—so long as abortion is available in practice it’s no big, right? Right—if you’re willing to ignore some problems. The raw answer, the real, hard-hittin’, no-nonsense answer, is no, no, it’s not. This is Bull Shit. Witness this.
It’s the mid-1960s and illegal abortion is going strong. Accurate statistics are a pipe dream, but estimates hover around 4,000 to 10,000 a year. The criteria for getting an abortion legally is incredibly specific, so if you don’t have the finances to jet over to the recently abortion-on-demand Australia you’re stuck getting one surreptitiously, by largely untrained or underequipped doctors in unsterilized environments. Or if you’re brave, or out in the country, or seriously strapped for cash, you can try performing one on yourself. Antibiotics were invented around 20 years ago so infection isn’t as serious a problem as it could be, but this doesn’t make some of the other potential dangers any less horrific: air embolisms caused by syringes and disinfectant; oil embolisms through much the same; septicaemia; septic shock; one account described a woman pulling out her own intestine. Fast-forward to April 1977 and a report produced by the Royal Commission on Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion has just been presented to Parliament. The report, founded on inconsistent ethical grounds and conservative politic, recommends a number of legislative changes in order to reduce the number of criminal abortions being performed. After an allnight sitting the team at Parliament passes the ‘Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion Act’, based on the royal commission’s report. Let’s break this down: under the new law, abortions are legal
if the pregnancy poses “serious danger … to the life, or to the physical or mental health, of the woman”; if there is a “substantial risk that the child … would be so physically or mentally abnormal as to be seriously handicapped”; if the pregnancy is “the result of sexual intercourse” between “a parent and child”, or “a brother and sister”, or “a grandparent and grandchild”; if the pregnant woman is “severely subnormal”. Factors that are considered but not grounds in themselves are if the woman is “near the beginning or the end of the usual child-bearing years” or if there are “reasonable grounds for believing that the pregnancy is the result of sexual violation”. Sure would be crazy to unconditionally O.K. abortions for victims of rape. If the pregnancy is post-20 weeks the abortion has to be “necessary to save the life of the woman … or to prevent serious permanent injury to her physical or mental health” for it to be legal. There’s no specific legally-defined upper limit on the number of weeks before the operation is 100% verboten. All this is underpinned by a system of ‘certifying consultants’, about 200 doctors specially appointed by the Abortion Supervisory Committee. The idea is you get your usual doctor to refer you to two of these consultants so you can convince them that letting your pregnancy continue will cause you physical harm, or leave you with mental problems, or whatever apposite clause. If you get a positive response from one but not the other you can choose to hit up a third consultant, and if they say no too you’re
supposed to drop it, though if you’ve got the time you can keep trying until you hit the jackpot, consultant-wise. This was meant to be a moderate approach. The Government didn’t want to make abortions outright criminal, but no way were they going to just let women decide what to do with their bodies. When the bill was initially proposed the four women in parliament at the time voted against it, and in 13 weeks 319,000 people—ten percent of the total New Zealand population in 1977—had signed a petition to repeal it. The act was considered restrictive and authoritarian, totally out of sync with the public zeitgeist. In the 1960s only 58% of criminal abortion prosecutions ended in a conviction. In 1968, when conservative estimates sat at around 4,000 illegal abortions per year, there were a total of four prosecutions. In 1969, two. Even when the abortionist was sentenced it was rare for the woman seeking the abortion to be convicted. Prosecutions for self-abortions were rarer still. The CS&A Act worked as intended, at first: abortion numbers dropped significantly for the first two years. No time for the Government to go hootin’ and hollerin’, though. Come 1980 and the figures shot right back up, surpassing 1977’s by about 100, and they’ve been going hard since. Roll up to 1997, the 20th anniversary of the CS&A Act, and you’ll find ministers Jim Bolger, Bill Birch and Bill English spittin’ some truths: yeah, abortion
rates are higher than ever; yeah, our law has failed miserably. Yikes. Despite the (publically attested!) inadequacy of the abortion laws, we’re still stuck with them. Check out Sweden. Check out Canada. Check out parts of Australia, check out the United States and Cuba and Austria and Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Switzerland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Georgia, Turkey. Check out the rest of the almost 30% of all countries that allow abortion solely on the woman’s request. New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote—how are we so behind on this? The problem here isn’t that the current law has failed to work as intended, but that it’s utterly broken where it counts. The consultant system—aside from having literally no precedent, at all, ever, anywhere— is straight up wack. It essentially creates two huge, clipboard-wielding hoops to jump through which, besides being unnecessarily stressful, a huge waste of time and a potential loss of income, increases the length of the pregnancy, making the procedure more arduous. The whole process can take weeks (3 or 4 are numbers usually thrown around) to get through, especially for rural women without easy access to consultants. Imagine having to drive for hours, twice, to see two different consultants, then a third time for the actual procedure. Imagine doing this but then having your application declined,
despite doing your best to appear rational enough to make coherent decisions but emotionally fragile enough to be permanently mentally crippled by having a child, i.e. despite trying to get the operation on mental health grounds, which is what like 99% of legal abortions here are performed under, even though that’s totally unrealistic. How demeaning is this? How demeaning is it to have to convince two people, that aren’t you, that can’t fully know your whole situation or your emotional state, that you meet x criteria so they can tell you O.K. yeah, you can go ahead and get an abortion? As hell, is how. Fuck agency. Fuck having control over your own body. Also: reminder that it’s unbelievably messed up that sexual violation isn’t grounds in itself. Also: reminder that 100% effective contraception doesn’t exist. Also: the pool of consultants keeps growing smaller, down from the original ~200 to 170 in 2012, and they increasingly garner abuse from pro-lifers. Also: the whole consultant system costs around 4 and a half million yearly to keep up, money that could instead be spent on e.g. preventing unwanted pregnancies. Yeah, the mental health clause is used as a vehicle to green-light most procedures, resulting in something similar to on-demand with some dressing. But does this mean the system isn’t broken? No way in heck. Here’s a plan: scrap the entire consultant system, remove abortion from the crimes act, make the procedure
entirely the woman’s decision. Stick a 24-week limit on there, if you’d feel ethically compromised otherwise. Booyah: logical abortion laws. If you’re super concerned about abortion rates (even though n.b. they’ve been steadily dropping since 2007) there are some other solutions, like maybe free and effective contraception. Like maybe positive attitudes re: sex and sex ed. Like maybe liveable welfare and affordable medical care and supportive employers. Want to do something about this? Check out alranz.org for rallies and additional information. Vocally defend your right to make decisions about your body. Write to Parliament. Write a frickin’ zine. Tell your friends. Start something. K. Dash out. *drops the mic*
PLAY THIS MOVIE BACKWARDS TO HEAR FEMINIST PROPAGANDA H. Davidson
Writers get given a lot of advice. I can’t remember much of the shit I was told, except for two pieces which probably in their own ways seeded this article. The first, to paraphrase, is “suck it up and actually do the writing, asshole,” and the other came from various industry professionals who came to address my college classes or spoke to writers at large via the internet, and it was: if you’re writing for children, your main character should be male unless the story’s aimed at girls. Little girls don’t mind reading about / watching male characters, but boys don’t like dealing with female characters. Boys get a wealth of characters to ‘be’ when they play make believe—and girls get stuck with the token pink power ranger.
Put your pink knuckle dusters away. Not everybody who’s told me this is a misogynist. It’s all about selling the story, especially for children’s TV, much of which relies on merchandise sales— toys, which are famously gendered. See: dinosaurs vs dolls. See: cap guns & foam swords vs tiny pink plastic ironing boards & kitchen supplies. Marketing aimed at children is almost always gendered as hell. You gotta program them young. But here’s a secret: I think people tell writers of fiction for adults the same thing, and this is why ‘chick flicks’ exist. Get it? Whoa, champ, you can’t have a lady main character, that means the movie’s for girls! I spent ten minutes trying to come up with a cute rhyming neologism to call the male-targeted alternative and came up flat because there isn’t one. That isn’t a genre, that’s regular-male-people-movies. Sure, there are movies aimed at men—any title starring Jason Stantham—but women aren’t excluded from the audience. So what happens if we’re not watching movies about women? In his 2011 book The Better Angels of our Nature, Steven Pinker cites the ‘reading revolution’—the increasing availability of books after the invention of the printing press in 1450 by Johannes Gutenberg, and much later, the rise of literacy in the nineteen hundreds—as a possible reason for the decline of violence. Any written work, and perhaps especially fiction, requires a level of empathy—the ability to inhabit another person’s head
and see that they are the same (and different) from you. This is supported by a recent study by researchers at Ohio State University, which revealed what many of us already know: readers feel the emotions and beliefs of characters as if they were their own. In one experiment, readers were found to have more favorable attitudes towards homosexuals after reading narratives about gay characters (L. Libby, May 2012). A study conducted by Dutch researchers and published in PLOS ONE had similar results: reading fiction makes you more empathic. Fiction can penetrate where non-fiction can’t because it’s a safe space that makes no over threat to your personal beliefs, and that makes it powerful. (B. Krans, January 2013). If more media were to feature the narratives of female characters—and men weren’t excused from consuming it from an early age—would we see more positive attitudes towards women? But it’s not just how many women we’re seeing on television, it’s also how those women are written. For example, a lot of media portrays women as victims—which research conducted at Texas A&M International University proved could be harmful if not outright dangerous. Researchers found that women felt much less anxious watching scenes of sexual violence in television where the female characters involved were strong characters compared to where they were
weak and submissive—but perhaps more importantly, they found that men reported more negative attitudes towards women than the control group after watching submissive female characters (C.J. Ferguson, August 2012). The phrase ‘strong female characters’ has seen a lot of play over the last few years, but unfortunately I don’t think a lot of people using it have pinned down what it means. It shouldn’t be that hard to write a female character: you probably know a couple of women. There you go. I’ve just handed you secret number two: writing women. They’re people. They are not, and this is what seems to be challenging to understand to some folks, plot devices—a victim to avenge, a victim to rescue, a vagina to fight over, a vagina that the male hero gets for completing their mission. They’re not decorative, either. And this is where the strong part comes in. Pretty much as soon as you start giving female characters agency and allowing them to exist as more than ‘the girlfriend’ or ‘the kidnapped girl’ they get a whole lot stronger, to say nothing of when they get to be more than sexy set dressing. When they don’t have to die for the male hero to have something to avenge, they get to stick around to have their own stories. So there’s the big secret, secret number three, the big hushhush: writing female characters isn’t harder than writing dudes,
once you switch off all the bullshit. Here’s a story: when Alien was written, the characters were all written gender-neutral, so that anybody could be cast for them—the studios wanted a female main character (this does happen every now and then) and so Ellen Ripley was born. Because she wasn’t written as a lady, the hangups all of us—even the best of us—have about female characters didn’t keep her down. There’s an important distinction to be made about just running word-replace on a character’s pronouns and writing strong female characters, though. The Alien franchise goes on to explore themes about motherhood without reducing Ripley’s ability to barbeque xenos—women have different stories to tell, and it would be disingenuous to pretend that isn’t the case. A strong female character is not just a male character with breasts, nor does simply giving her a gun—especially a pink one—empower her. The issues surrounding female representation and portrayal in media are manifold, and the best I can do is pass on the only piece of advice I have ever heeded: write. Write women. If you are not a writer (which I respect as a decision, believe me), then support media with female characters. Question content creators and producers who don’t believe women have a place at the forefront of stories. Prove them wrong.
IS IT FEMINIST? LIGHTNING FARRON C. Carruthers
Lightning Farron is the main protagonist of the video game Final Fantasy XIII. She’s the selling point of the sequel Final Fantasy XIII-2 and has her very own game coming out next year: Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII. Square have been producing super-awesome games under the title Final Fantasy since 1987. I love their games. I love the elaborate stories and crazy coloured hair and I even love the turn-based battle system in Final Fantasy X. More than anything, I love Lightning Farron. She’s the ultimate bad-ass. She’s staunch and athletic and brave and revolutionary and doesn’t care about your feelings because she’s got shit to do. She’s similar in many ways to Cloud Strife and Squall Leonheart—the protagonists of VII and VIII, Square’s two highest grossing titles to date. And when I say she’s similar, I mean the character designer was literally asked to make her ‘like a female version of Cloud’. Cloud is an iconic character, he’s on the top of all the lists, how could making a lady version go wrong?
But here’s the thing—guys hate Lightning. They hate her a lot. I’ve heard my friends happily agree that she’s a ‘bitch’, shrug off my complaints and then compliment Caius’ stellar outfit. What is going on? Men like women who smile. Ever heard a guy say to a woman who looks angry or upset, “Smile! You look so pretty when you smile”? It’s the creepiest thing ever. If you said that to Lightning she’d punch you in the face. Maybe that’s the problem for men—Lightning isn’t approachable. She isn’t open or welcoming. She isn’t nice to strangers, or men she doesn’t approve of, or people who get in her way. Women are socialized to be nice, to welcome attention at all times and to look pretty doing it. Lightning doesn’t exist for the male gaze. She’s trying to save her sister. Her sister has a male hero coming to save her, the super problematic character ‘Snow’. Lightning doesn’t trust Snow to get the job done for a second, and goes in to do it herself. Fuck. Yeah. Bizarrely, those guys who hate Lightning will often defend Snow. He’s a good guy, they say, a guy who wants to be a hero. He just cares so, so much. The thing about Snow is—he’s ineffective. He’s a bit useless. He’s all talk with little results. Lightning knows this. She’s dealt with his type before, haven’t we all? And she’s not going to step back and leave the adventure to him. How feminist is that. Lightning’s relationship with her sister is awesome—awesome
because it’s cold and difficult. She disapproves of Serah’s horrific choice of fiancé because she loves her sister and that guy’s a giant flaccid dick. He really is. But over the course of the game Lightning comes to understand Snow and Serah’s love. Even though she disapproves of Serah’s choice, she realizes that Serah’s choice makes her happy, and so Lighting is happy. She accepts Serah’s right to choose, even when she disagrees with her choice. How feminist is that. Lightning exists in one of the most difficult situations of any Final Fantasy character. She loses everything in the first mission of the game. Her sister, her only remaining family, is as good as dead and guess what—now Lightning is too. She is going to die in one of two horrible ways and time is running out and there is absolutely nothing she can do about it. The whole world wants to kill her. Half of the game sees Lightning dealing with this situation the only way she can—by making plans, setting goals, and going for them. She’s cold and hard and holy shit how could she not be. What a depressing situation. What a premise. And people call her a bitch because she doesn’t smile enough. Fuck those people. Lightning Farron is my hero. In Final Fantasy XIII-2, Lightning is pretty much single-handedly saving the whole world from collapse and needs some help. No, not from a dude, from her feminine little sister. Lightning sends Serah a badass weapon-which-is-also-a-talking-animal-
thing and Serah starts her own adventure. It’s dangerous and important and Lightning has passed this power and responsibility to a girl. How feminist is that. Serah kicks ass and is way more effective than any of the male characters in the game. Fan reactions to Lightning’s character are a clear display of the misogyny and double standards that exist in geek culture. She is a female character showing the exact same traits as previous male characters, and she is vilified for them while those male characters are lauded. Our expectation for women to be ‘nice’ all the time is insidious and terrifying when exposed. Google ‘I hate lightning’. The key complaint is that she doesn’t have a heart. That she’s emotionless. “she was a cold bitch” says reinward82, “And she is not even entertaining to look at” says Lexy, before spending an entire paragraph complaining that she is too thin and has bad hair. A lot of them complain about how mean she is to Snow. Don’t worry—Serah gets a fair share of hate too. Evanescence_GER suggests: “serah can go die in a fire, but lightning should just shut her mouth and look cool as she was intended to be.” The message is pretty clear. Women are meant to show emotion, to care, to be nice. Especially to men. If you can’t do that, at least look good. In fact, look good but don’t speak. That’s the ideal. It’s the incredible fans that defend Lightning who give me hope.
A lot of them praise her bravery and actions, some point out her similarity to earlier beloved characters like Squall. Notably, few of them mention her gender. One fan calls her an inspirational badass—none of them consider whether she is ‘too thin’. These are people who are judging Lightning for her character, not for being a woman. These people are awesome. Lighting is only a character in a videogame, but let me make one thing clear. This shit matters. The way made-up, just-forfun female characters are judged mirrors the way all women are judged. Real life human women. You can bet no one’s going to call a man a bitch for being cold, goal-focused and emotionless, but if I don’t smile back at some dude who yells at me on the street, I sure will be. The way men talk about female characters tells me how those men feel about women, and a lot of those feelings are fucked up. Is Lightning Farron Feminist? Yes. She turns her cold, emotionless back on gender stereotypes and next year she’s getting her own game. Fight the Patriarchy. <3 Lightning.
CUTE BRUISER SAYS LATER SKATER Cute Bruiser is an independent feminist zine made in Wellington, New Zealand and printed on Eco 100 recycled paper. Got comments, articles or other contributions? Contact us at: cutebruiser.tumblr.com or firstname.lastname@example.org - â™Ľ the Bruisers