When I told people about the Ladyist Experiment, most were supportive. Lots were confused, and absolutely none were hostile or aggressive (which was a nice surprise). Plenty of people reacted like I’d declared a plan to live as a possessionless monk in some far-flung forest; that, by limiting myself to pop culture focusing on women, I’d forced on myself an ascetic lifestyle where I’d subsist mainly on silence and Charmed re-runs.
There’s a good reason we think there’s no pop-culture about women, and that’s because we almost never see any. The films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar were uniformly stories about men (and mostly white men, with the exception of the Martin Luther King biopic, Selma). TV shows tend to prioritise men’s stories, even in more diverse casts (I’m looking at you, Game of Thrones), and Coachella, one of the world’s biggest music festivals, looks pretty bare when you leave only the bands with women on the poster:
Games are no better. When Bioshock Infinite was initially released, the cover featured the square jaw and bracing pose of Booker DeWitt, whom you NEVER ACTUALLY SEE IN THE GAME because of the first-person perspective. All this at the expense of Elizabeth, who was the game’s real breakout star and an inspiration to cosplayers all over the world. Why was she left off in the first place? Because the industry theory is that people don’t buy games with women on the box art. This is, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy, because no one puts women on the cover in the first place, (though having Lara Croft on the cover didn’t seem to hurt 2013’s Tomb Raider, which sold a million copies in less than 48 hours).
That scarcity teaches us to believe that there just isn’t much out there about women, but in repeating that idea, we only reinforce the structures that ignore women and their stories, and justify our own unwillingness to go looking for them. Because I can tell you from personal experience: once you go looking, you start to find stuff. It’s not just hard at first: it’s always hard, scrabbling past layers of grizzled anti-heroes and interchangeable, chinless dudes, while every bit of the Western world is trying to make you pay attention to them. Eventually, though, you learn to tune it out, and keep digging. What you find depends on how hard you want to look, but your effort will pay off trust me.
Take comics, for example. Want more than Wonder Woman? You’re in for a treat. Woman have begun to boom in the comic world, as characters and creators. Try Captain Marvel, Batgirl, Subatomic Party Girls, Spider-Gwen, Bee and Puppycat, Lazarus, ODY-C, Rocket Girl, The Kitchen, Gotham Academy, Saga, Elektra, Revival, Batwoman, Silk, Wayward, The Unknown, Stumptown, Black Widow, Sex Criminals, Copperhead, Thor (you know the one), Lumberjanes, or the amazing Bitch Planet, which is basically an angrier, more explicitly feminist Orange Is The New Black, only in space. Look for staggering creators like Kelly Sue DeConnick, Becky Cloonan, Kate Leth, G. Willow Wilson, Natasha Allegri, Noelle Stevenson, Ming Doyle, Stacey Lee, Kate Beaton and Marguerite Bennet to see what’s so exciting about modern comics. Download the Comixology app, or go to the site, and get a taste!
In need of some tunes? Shit yes there are tunes for you. What do you feel like? If you want to jump on your bed and thrash along, try Bully, Tacocat or ‘Rollercoaster’ by Sleater-Kinney. Need a song to match your wicked strut? Cue up ‘Love Letter’ by Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes, or Janelle’ Monae’s ‘Dance Apocalyptic’. Serious authentic types will love Neko Case, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Emmylou Harris, but there’s also plenty for the bubblegum popsters in the form of Carly Rae Jepsen, Colleen Green and Veronica Maggio. Glossy groovers will feel super-chic with Metric, Yumi Zouma or Solange in their headphones, while those who want to stare out a window on a rainy day and just, y’know, feeeeeeeel will be at home with FKA Twigs, Emmy the Great and Sharon Van Etten. And then there are the ones that just don’t sound like anyone else: tUnE-yArDs, Sylvan Esso and Julia Holter are perfect to inject something new into your day.
That seems like a lot to take in, and it is. Plus, there’s more! All on this Spotify playlist, made for you. It’s a hodge-podge of stuff I’ve listened to over the last 12 months (minus the Spotify-reluctant Taylor Swift and Vivian Girls). Go listen, and find something new!
I don’t have as many recommendations for books, since I started the year with Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, which is dense both in its page count and in the writing. It’s an extraordinary novel, and well worth the time and energy it will demand. The storytelling skips back and forth across decades, mixing an uncommon love story, Canada’s post-WWII economic hardships, and some fantastical in-story science fiction that will only tempt you to read all of Margaret’s work (if you’re anything like me, that is). That started me on a path of amazing sci-fi, and though I haven’t yet started on Octavia Butler’s work, I’m very excited to do so soon.
In fact, my reading list is immense, and I’ll probably still be chipping away at it around this time in 2016. I’ve only just begun, and fallen in love with, The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton, while my shelves groan with other books to be read. Rainbow Rowell, Girls to the Front, Sarah Silverman’s Bedwetter; there are too many to list (also several are in-transit after a move, and my memory is not so sharp as it once was).
Special mentions must be made of the few books I finished. I’ve already thrown a few words at trying to explain the immense impact Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had on me, and that impact has hardly diminished in the months since I finished it. The specificity of her writing, and the clarity with which she picks apart her own experience as an immigrant, will stay with me for years. Though totally different in tone, Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half is similarly life-changing, as her frank tone and crude but evocative drawings offer a startling insight into mental illness, depression and the ownership of a very strange dog.
On the subject of rough-but-brilliant art, please bless your eyes with this Kate Beaton cartoon.
I could spend days rapturously talking about the critical fourth panel, and how Kate’s loose style works better than any photo-realist in capturing the intent focus on the King’s face, upon which the whole joke hangs. Like Allie’s book, Kate’s collection, Hark! A Vagrant!, was the cause of many nights spent in breathless, silent paroxysms as I tried to stop myself from bursting into gales of laughter that would wake my sleeping partner. Kate’s work is absurd and gleeful, but manages to slide in some incisive observations on gender, history and religion. She’s a marvel, and I hope she writes her ridiculous (and alarmingly well-researched) histories and critiques for the foreseeable decades.
If I talk about any TV here, it’s only so I can talk about Leslie Knope.
In the toughest parts of the last year, I’ve turned to Amy Poehler’s unicorn/government employee for comfort, sweetness and unalloyed joy. There’s a unique light that shines from deep within Amy, one that’s we’ve seen since her earliest performances, but the character of Leslie Knope somehow magnifies that magnificent glow to almost messianic levels. I cared for her more than I thought I could; I still tear up at the thought of Ben proposing to her, or the moment she and Ann share before the wedding. Parks and Recreation just ended its seventh and final season, and as such there are plenty of more assured and interesting pieces on it, so I won’t repeat the internet’s major talking points. I’ll miss Parks and Rec for more than just Leslie Knope: Rashida Jones’ Ann Perkins was the only thing that could approach Leslie’s pure glow, and the friendship they forged is the kind of high-watermark that I can only aspire to in all of my relationships; April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza) wrapped herself in ironic distance and sarcasm, but eventually revealed herself to be vulnerable and human in the company of such amazing women. Donna Meagle could’ve been a cartoon character, and heaven knows the early scripts didn’t give Retta much to work with. Over time, though, she carved out a hedonistic lust for life that made Donna an icon, and built her into a complex character.
Of course, there are many stellar male characters: Ben Wyatt, Andy Dwyer and Ron Swanson are iconic in their own right, but they are all stars that orbit the sun that is Leslie. Because of her, the tiny, mostly horrible town of Pawnee, Indiana became a haven, a home that was always warm and full of love. Knowing that I’ll always be able to visit is a special comfort.