Friday, 31 July 2015

The Marvel Designated Woman or why is there just one girl in many Marvel movies

This was written in 1991:
"Contemporary shows are either essentially all-male, like "Garfield," or are organized on what I call the Smurfette principle: a group of male buddies will be accented by a lone female (...). The message is clear. Boys are the norm, girls the variation; boys are central, girls peripheral; boys are individuals, girls types. Boys define the group, its story and its code of values. Girls exist only in relation to boys" [You can read the whole article via The New York Times].

I found it this morning, while looking for inspiration on this article, which I decided to write after watching the new Fantastic 4 movie yesterday. I've been playing with the idea since a couple of weeks ago, when I watched Ant Man.

Spoilers for both movies ahead...

So, these two movies are based on Marvel comics (although F4 was made by 20th Century Fox and not Marvel Studios) and have something in common: not just was there only one girl in the starring team, she was basically the only woman doing something in the whole movie. Well, in Ant Man it wasn't as bad: there was a brief appearance by an aging Peggy Carter and a reference to the first Wasp, and Scott's ex-wife and little daughter both had names, but that was as far as their personalities went.
In F4, besides the Invisible Woman, a few nameless moms and a couple of background staff members typing stuff were it. And Sue Storm (a.k.a. Invisible Woman) didn't really have any defining traits beyond being a daughter of professor Franklin, a sister of the Human Torch, an inferred ex-girlfriend of the villain and a potential love interest for the smartest guy (Reed Richards a.k.a. Mr. Fantastic). Ah, she liked music and she was "able to see patterns". 

She didn't even get invited to drink with the guys when the machine she helped create during years finally worked, nor was she in the group when they drunkenly decided to send themselves to the other dimension (the fact that Mr. Fantastic's childhood friend was there and she wasn't just makes this worse). But when things went wrong, she was there, supporting the guys and trying to bring them back home.
She was already the Invisible Woman before the accident gave her the power.

But Sue is not the only one with the super power of pattern noticing, and this made me think about a character type that I'll call the Marvel Designated Woman.

The good news is that she's strong, smart and brave, the not-so-good-news is that she still fits perfectly with the quoted article at the top of this post.
I am referring to the movies, but I wouldn't be surprised if this was the norm as well in the comics.
So, here are a few of the most popular Marvel Designated Women...

Pepper Potts: One of her most memorable lines says it all: "I do anything and everything Mr. Stark requires. Including occasionally taking out the trash." She's the CEO of Stark Industries, although she used to be his Personal Assistant and before that, an accountant at his company. She eventually develops feelings for Tony Stark, but their relationship is complicated (he doesn't put much time or effort into the relationship and still treats her like his PA most of the time... and he takes great pride on being a Playboy).

Peggy Carter: She's an extremely talented agent and part of elite scientific projects. She helped train Steve Rogers who then became Captain America. She eventually develops feelings for Rogers but their relationship is complicated (he was unfrozen after decades and she had moved on with her life and aged).

Black Widow: Named Natasha Romanoff, but renamed after the spider known for eating their males, she's a KGB trained martial artist/spy/killer that now fights with The Avengers. On one ocassion she reveals that she's sterile and calls herself a monster right after that. She eventually develops feelings for The Hulk, but their relationship is complicated (he doesn't seem very interested in happiness).

Gamora: After serving her adoptive father Thanos (who happened to kill her entire race and modified her to make her the ultimate weapon, so it made sense when she betrayed him), the "deadliest woman of the Galaxy", as she called herself, met Star-Lord while searching for the Orb. They antagonized in the begining, but eventually she accepts his leadership and shows potential for romance (she rebuffs his moves, but it's implied that she kind of likes him by the end).

Hope van Dyne: This super smart, martial artist and scientist is the daughter of Hank Pym (the creator of the Ant Man suit), the girlfriend of Darren Cross (Pym's protege gone bad) and the mentor of Scott, the charismatic but unqualified guy that got to wear the Ant Man suit and save the day instead of her (because daddy didn't want to risk her in combat, but some how it was ok with her sleeping with the sociopath bad guy all along). She went from resenting and disliking Scott, to eventually developing feelings for him and they kiss at the end. In the after credits she finally receives a Wasp Suit and she says "It's about damn time", but it was actually a little late.

So, if you are up for the job as a Marvel Designated Woman, here's what you'll need:
  • Be extremely good looking (to be fair, this is also expected in most of the guys, but I'd bet that if Groot or Rocket Racoon had female equivalents, they'd find a way to make them "sexy").
  • Be extremely smart.
  • Be an awesome figther, but have no actual super power.
  • Develop romantic feelings for one of the main guys.
  • Support the main guy/s at saving the day (but let him/them have the spotlight).
  • Be ok with having your action figure sold separately.
Yes, there are exceptions (like the X-Men with a more balanced team of heroes), and yes, they are all cool, strong characters, but still, all the guys have fun while the Marvel Designated Women drive them to save the universe.
And let's finish with music!

Monday, 20 July 2015

The 10 biggest movie regrets I've had [+Handmade Comic]

I love going to the cinema or watching movies at home, and normally, even if the movie itself turns out to be bad, I can still value the experience of spending time with someone whose company I enjoy.
However, there are times in which the film, the companion or something related to the situation is so ill-chosen that it all becomes not just an unpleasant time, but a horrible experience.

Here are my top 10 movie or cinema related regrets...

10. Trying to take a selfie inside a movie theatre...
It was 2003, so instead of a mobile I had a digital camera. The staff saw me and tought I was pirating the movie. I was kicked out and so were my friends. Luckily, they believed (the truth) after I explained and allowed us back. We missed the first 15 minutes of The Last Samurai, but the shame will stay with me forever.

9. Going to see "Zamora" with a politically active friend
For those who don't know or don't remember (which is probably everyone), it was an historic drama funded by the Venezuelan government. It was over the top, biased and full of lines that would make any historian cry. I wanted to see it because I was curious of how badly they could strech the facts, but I invited a friend with very strong feelings about politics and history (oposite to all the things the movie stood for), who just couldn't shut up for an hour. It was so bad that I grabed my stuff and left. We had a fight. We didn't speak for months. And it wasn't because my opinions were different, I agreed with him, but I had never seen a person talking so much during a film in my life, I just didn't know what to do.

8. Watching 50 Shades of Grey with fans of the book on premiere weekend
To each their own, but, as a person that couldn't care less about 50 Shades, being in the cinema with fans of the book started out as a bit awkward. And it was all down hill from there. Women screaming, gasping, moaning and being all weird (and that was in the audience). And of course, my friends comparing the scenes to the book (wasn't this the part where he whipped her? wasn't he nastier in the books? They are cutting all the good sex parts!). 

7. Going to see Scary Movie with my dad
All my friends had watched it and it was PG13 but I was 12 so, I could only see it with a responsible adult. I annoyed my dad into acompanying me and after the first 5 minutes I regreted that decision. The stupid parts felt more stupid, the sex jokes were making me annoyed, and the fact that I insisted so much to get away with that, made it impossible for me to admit that he was right, and it was a dumb movie, so I had to pretend I was having fun.

6. Watching Black Swan with a psychologist who was doing her thesis on depression in dancers
For some reason, I though it made perfect sense to share a movie about a dancer going mad with my cousin who was writing her thesis on depression in dancers. Now I know better. Of course, she had to analyze as we watched, of course she compared it to other cases, of course she had to make me regret the choice of film.

5. Having a pint just before entering the premiere of Song of the Sea
I was lucky enough to get an invitation for the screening of this beautiful Irish animated movie, I even got a "plus 1". Me and my "plus 1" -a friend from work- decided to drink a pint of beer and immediately after that, got in our seats. I loved the film, but I was dying to pee during the whole time and because it was the screening and everyone was all fancy, we didn't dare to get out and come back. The fact that the ocean, the waves and the beautifully animated water was all over the place didin't help.

4. Going to see Spirited Away with little cousins and grandma
Because it was distributed by Disney (and advertised as their movies ussually are), my family assumed that Chihiro would be some sort of Japanese Disney princess movie. My little cousins had two of the most boring hours of their life, and my granma had two hours of power napping (it wasn't so bad for her I guess). I was heavily into anime at the time and felt that I missed two birds with the same stone: the chance of doing something nice with the family, and the chance to enjoy the movie.

3. Watching Peter Jackson's King Kong with my father in law
I know that "animals don't behave that way in nature". I know that. But somehow, he needed to mention this every few minutes for the (three hours) duration of the movie. It's fantasy, not a documentary and nodding disapprovingly is not going to make the experience any better.

2. Watching Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland on a hot day where the Air Conditioning was down at the theatre
What do you get when 200 people are in a cinema with no air conditioning in a tropical country? Besides runny eye liner on all the emo kids (which were A LOT in this ocassion), you get the place smelling strongly like sweat, a few angry parents and crying babys. Welcome to Wonderland.

1. Watching any movie starring a cute dog
I've learned the hard way to say no to films with a lovely dog in the poster. They have only three possible outcomes: The dog saves the day, the dog dies or both at the same time. The first one is normally too dumb, the other two, too sad.

I'll leave you for now with a little comic about annoying stuff that people do at the movies...

Runners up:

  • Watching Harry Potter with my mom [who hates "when kids outsmart adults" in films].
  • Watching Hamlet with my husband [who fell asleep in Act I].
  • Watching The Ring with some highschool friends that I didn't really like [Who bullied the ones that looked scared].
  • Watching any musical with anyone who hates musicals [Especially if they didn't know the movie was a musical].

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Why is everyone rushing you through life? [+Handmade Comic]

Go and listen to a song by Blink 182 called "What's my age again" and you'll hear a line that says "Nobody likes you when you're 23".
Few times a song has said something so true. You're supossed to have 5 years of experience at adulting by then, but you still have no clue.
And maybe it's because this topic of age-appropriateness is one that annoys me particularly, but I feel like since I was a baby, everyone is been trying to rush me through life.
In fact, every 5 years, since I was three years old, there's been a landmark that I'm supposed to reach and that everyone loves to ask about.


Age: 3 years.
What you know: Walking, eating, holding a very basic conversation.
What's expected of you: Counting from 1 to 10, going to a nice pre-school, learning a few words in another language, singing full songs in front of your parent's guests......

Age: 8 years.
What you know: Reading and writing, very basic maths, making sandwiches.
What's expected of you: Knowing the Multiplication Table like a poem, not crying when upset (especially if you're a "big boy now"). Some people go as far as asking if you already have a crush or a sweetheart (does Pikachu count?). 

Age: 14 years.
What you know: Anything related to primary school knowledge (and most middle-school), playing a sport, videogames, making better sandwiches, travelling by bus by yourself.
What's expected of you: That you know what career you will study, behaving "like almost a grown up" (whatever that means) and that you help around the house (especially if you are a "young lady"). Your friends will expect, on top of that, that you have a boyfriend or girlfriend (and at least French kiss each other) and that you never say anything childish in public.

Age: 18 years.
What you know: If you're lucky, the same as above, plus how to be a freshman and perhaps 6 months retail experience.
What's expected of you: That you behave like a mature adult and make your own decisions (as long as your parents agree with them).

Age: 23 years.
What you know: You're either graduating from college or have a few years of experience at working in an area of your choice (likely, you've changed jobs a few times and only have summer jobs or internship experience).
What's expected of you: That you are the most extraordinary person to ever walk the Earth. Since your parents owned half the city when they were your age (and travelled the world as well), they can't explain how you haven't "made it" if you've always been so smart (you even knew full songs when you were three). Your friends start getting married or moving abroad and they want to know when you will do the same.

Age: 28 years.
What you know: Perhaps you have a Masters Degree (congratulations!). Maybe you're married or living with someone you like and you are likely employed at something that at least pays the bills. 
What's expected of you: If you're single, guess what. If you aren't, then the audience will demand BABIES, now. Some will warn you that you're about to "miss the train" and others will list all your friends and relatives that have joined the mommy club. No worries, if you have a baby, people will remind how important it is to give him/her a brother or sister.

This is why sometimes you erase your face with make up at 13 trying to look sexy to find a boyfriend, you have a panic attack if you're 18 and haven't been kissed or get yourself a big debt to buy a fancy and expensice hand bag at 23 to appear successful (because nothing says "I made it" like holding a 1000 euros bag with a 500 euros wallet with 5 cents inside it).

And this doesn't stop. Ever. A few weeks ago I had one of those conversations where a loved one screens you for progress and I lost it.

-Why don't you just ask me when am I planing to die?
-Woah, Gaby, you don't have to be so morbid. Relax.
-Sorry, but I would be nice to be asked about my present as well.
And, to avoid closing with such a bitter conversation, let me share a little comic I made:

¿What are you going to do with your life?

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

"Everything will be fine". Interview to a Venezuelan girl in Ireland

If you prefer to read the Spanish version of this article, click here.

A few days ago, I read an article about the efforts of a couple of Venezuelans to move to London and stay there. I really liked it and got me interested in finding similar stories in Dublin. After that, I contacted by Facebook and agreed to meet a Venezuelan girl living in Ireland. We met at a cafe in City Centre.
 Graciela, from Valencia (Venezuela) was kind enough to to tell me and let me tell her story.

Like many other Venezuelans on the island, she arrived during the infamous first quarter of 2014, a period in which many of us felt like we were inside one of those science fiction movies where you have to go through a portal that is closing and once that happens, it will be too late to escape and the characters will be trapped in a parallel universe.

Life Ireland was not actually her dream, In fact, Canada was her first choice, but after a mistake with paperwork, Graciela didin't want to risk herself to a second and costly rejection. That's when the idea of the Emerald Island came to her, during a fair for options to study abroad,

Initially, the plan was to spend six months studying English, a skill that was becoming more and more necessary in her work; as an International Trade graduate with a good position in a textile company in Valencia, things were going well, at least on a personal level.

But the environment was becoming less encouraging. It was October 2013 when she decided to buy a ticket and get away from the violence, insecurity and many other ills not worth listing at this moment.

Kinetic Art
A estas alturas la foto de los pies sobre la obra "Cromointerferencia de color aditivo" de Carlos Cruz Diez en el piso del aeropuerto es prácticamente un meme de Internet. Pero quienes recorren la obra con sus dos maletas y un bolso de mano son también artistas cinéticos, o en criollo, del movimiento.
By now, taking a picture of your feet while standing on the art piece "Cromointerferencia de color aditivo" by Carlos Cruz Diez, installed on the airport floor, is practically an Internet meme. But those who walk the site with their two suitcases and a handbag are also kinetic artists, or in plain English, artists of motion.
Since she had her ticket at hand, Graciela began planning her strategy, which involved bringing with her 19 year old brother to Dublin with her (his older sister was already in Miami).
"I decided to spend Christmas with my parents. I told them I had a feeling that this was going to be our last Christmas together in a long time," she says. In the coffee shop, during the interview, we share a latte and a tea with milk, and as usual, it's raining.

"On January 4, I left Mom's house and went to Dad's. At first I just wanted to learn English, but by this point I had had enough," witnesing the murder of a person and the occsaion where she decided to stay home instead of partying only to find out that some guys who were rejected at the club's door decided to get in a car and randomly shot bullets to the people queueing, gave her two arguments as heavy as the lead she no longer wanted to continously be fearing.
Thus, after she "removed all the thorns" and forgave accumulated grudges, Graciela said farewell to Venezuela in peace, without melodrama. A friend accompanied her to the airport, so she avoided sheding tears over the floor's work of art.

What are you going to there?- her mother asked a few days earlier.

The formalities to leave the country, long, bureaucratic and intimidating to many, went quickly and smoothly for Graciela, a fact that she soon interpreted as a good sign. Her only regret about how she handled things was the way she and her older sister decided the journey of her brother, "He understood that it was good for him, but he was very hurt that we had decided everything behind his back. He was sad, he had to break up with his girlfriend and leave all his friends. We never asked him what he wanted to do", she remembers.

"I took the typical photo at the airport and I said, I love my country and my experiences here. It's unfortunate and sad, but today I say goodbye and I hope that God and Virgin Mary might give me the opportunity to return someday."

The luck of the Irish
The expression "The Luck of the Irish" is used by many people to imply that someone is simply lucky, but it's a little more complicated; After all, anyone with minimum knowledge of Irish history knows that this is a nation that has gone through very hard times. Therefore, the expression actually has almost a bittersweet connotation: it is a type of luck that only comes after overcoming great odds, a fortune that makes you wait.

For example, the luck of the immigrant who left everything behind and crossed the ocean to survive. A hundred years ago were them, now it's us. One hundred years ago they found jobs at mines, today in the back of busy restaurant kitchens. Maybe the world has made a little progress after all.

Shortly after arriving in Dublin, Grace received her first portion of Irish luck ...

"A guy offered to rent a room for my brother, a friend who was with us and myself. The house was cute and in a nice area. The three of us would manage with just a room: My brother and I in the double bed and my friend in the small one." Unaware of prices in the area, and trusting the guy because he was Venezuelan as them, they accepted a price of 350 euros per person (for a total of 1050, the price of an apartment conveniently located or a nearly enough to rent a small house outside city centre).

"We arrived in winter and it was cold. The landlords were a couple of Venezuelan Evangelicals. We were not allowed to turn on the heating. We were always in the room and when the february mess exploted, I was all day glued to my computer."

Confronting their landlords only made matters worse, childish fighting in common areas kept the house busy, while on the other side of the Atlantic their country was a constant source of news about injured protesters, destruction and death tolls.
They decided to separate, both boys went into a double room and Graciela moved to another, in the apartment of an Irish woman, who she called "a disastrous spinster, who I was unable to understand at all. At least it was near the city center".

And the streak of Irish Luck was just beginning. The institute which she came to study English at was one of the first affected when several language schools began to close in 2014, leaving many students stranded in Ireland without the possibility of meeting the attendance requirements needed to keep their student visas. On top of that, after the aforementioned "February mess", the Venezuelan government took the closing of Irish schools as an argument to suspend the authorization of currency exchange for students that were already in Ireland (claiming that they could be participating on fraud with corrupt school managers). So, students like Graciela were not able to get money from home, and had no possibility to get jobs because their student visas were at risk due to attendance records.

"We were going to meetings with immigration and treated us like dogs. Having no access to CADIVI money [the system in place at the time for currency exchange approval by the Venezuelan Government] changed everything, and without money we became a nuisance," concludes on the matter. This blow was too much for her brother, who later decided to move to Miami, where at least his other sister was better established and could provide support.

"I started to leave my CVs everywhere, asking to speak with the managers. Once they rejected me for being Venezuelan because the owner had had another Venezuelan employee who had stolen from him." Job search was a mine and so far, Graciela had dig until exhausting herself only to return home with fatigue and cold.
"And then my grandmother died," she adds, blaming the tear gas that quickly deteriorated her granma's health during the infamous February mess, as she calls for the third time the series of protests that took place in the country during that month
Days before going to Ireland, she recalls telling her brother to "say good-bye to our grandmother because this is probably the last time you'll get to see her," however, the way things happened makes ther tell me this with anger rather than sadness.
"I had 70 euros left, I went to the grocery store and got some food and then fell depressed. I felt I couldn't take it anymore".
In those days she got an interview with a Pakistani man whose job was to find Au Pairs for local families.

Where do you live?- the guy asked her.
She bursted into tears.
Mi rent ends this Sunday and after that I have nowhere to go- she explained.

The man said that he would contact a friend who would rent her a room and he also offered to pay for the first two weeks of her stay on the condition that she agreed to pay him back as soon as she started  working.

Weren't you scared of trusting a stranger on something like that?-  I jumped and asked her while a series of flashes went through my mind, like an ultra short version of the movie Taken.
I wasn't scared, I had nothing to loose- She answered.

And finally, a little light begins to shine. Irish Luck is the ally of perseverance and the lady who received her this time was to become a great support. "It was a lovely person, an angel. She spoke Spanish and several other languages, she even teaches Japanese. We talked a lot, and she tried to give me strength and helped me remove my negative thoughts".

Skerries is a seaside town in Fingal (county located north of Dublin). With nearly 10,000 inhabitants, it is a total change of scene for someone who comes from Valencia, a hectic city inhabited by more than two million people.
Before the Pakistani man found Graciela a job, she was on her way to the house of an Irish family with 3 children (a 5 years old, a 3 years old and an 11 months old baby). Like many other Au Pairs, she was working for an allowance of 100 euros per week, Monday to Friday, from 8:00 am to 6:30 pm, with a room and all her food expenditures covered by the family.
"Although I didn't like the job, the house was great, on top of a hill, near the sea. There, I was able to organize my ideas."
Especially some of the more disordered thoughts that haunted her mind, like the marriage proposal that a Spanish friend had left standing, more for solidarity and friendship than with any romantic interest.

"What am I doing? I'm not like this. I will not make a decision that is important to me this way. I do not want to end up divorced, I'm old fashioned in that regard." This reflection led her to reject "love of her visa" [Spanish for "visa" and "vida" (life) sounds very similar, this being a word game for love of her visa instead of love of her life].

Gradually life in Skerries helped her regain her inner peace. "I put myself in God's hands and changed my attitude, I left the angst. It was a big opportunity whether I liked it or not, whether the family exploited me or not. You have no idea how much my English improved".

Let things flow
A few months later, in September 2014, now working as a "live out" nanny for a family with a 12 years old kid, Graciela returned to school to complete the attendance to renew her visa. She lived in a one-room house, inhabited by five people and a managed by very absent landlord.
"During those days, a friend had an accident where he burnt his arm so I went to his place to help him". As if they were in a rum commercial, one thing lead to another and they ended up at party where she met a Spanish guy. They started dating "but taking things slowly, we were going out for two weeks and hadn't even kissed".
After a couple of months, it was starting to get more serious and one day he saw the condition of the house in which Graciela lived.

"Now I understand why you're getting sick all the time".

Soon after that, he asked her to move together and this time Graciela says yes. For Christmas, they were both going to Spain to visit his family and despite the fact that they welcomed her with kindness, being away from her loved ones made her feel depressed.
And with sadness, self-doubt quickly took over..
Was this a rushed desicion? Was it real love or being in need clouded her judgment?
Time for a reality check. "This guy wants me and he's the best relationship I've ever had." The situation wasn't perfect, and neither was he, but life is not about perfection, and Graciela decided to be happy.

Everything will be fine
"I've never got anything handed to me. I've worked and supported myself since I was 16 years old. I paid for my own college and graduated, it was the greatest satisfaction in my life. I had a decent life in Venezuela, a fancy job with a good salary. When I got here I had to put my degree in the rubbish and clean toilets. That is the fate of Venezuelans abroad",
"It is hard and painful. And it's not that I deserve better than others, but after a year and a half cleaning toilets, it's getting to me".
It is a common destiny, a subject as sensitive for Venezuelans in the area as the soft part that's left exposed when a milk tooth falls. But while no one likes "cleaning toilets" is not a sad ending, in fact, is not an ending at all.
Recently, the Spanish guy asked her to marry him.

"Even though I do not believe in marriage, I'll do this for you, you've been through a lot and I have a mission in life to make you happy. Although marriage means nothing to me, I know you will help a lot," Graciela paraphrases the proposal, romantic in its own way.

After a yes said with conviction, her day to day hasn't changed that much. They live together and Graciela keeps cleaning while looking for a better job, but there are good vibes and optimism.

"Going back is not an option," she says. She's able to see a better future in the midst of the daily difficulties, she's confident that "everything will be fine."

When we parted, I noticed a small shamrock tattooed on her arm, a delicate token of Irish luck, perhaps. I regret now not asking her for the story of it, but it makes me think that Graciela is right,
Everything will be fine.