Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Another Case for Reading Bitch Planet

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Such good prose
with such a big problem...
I know a lot of people who take a few issues with Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and I can understand why. It is a BRILLIANT piece of modern literature that properly stokes fears of a dystopian future. It is riveting to read, even more riveting to hear Claire Danes read it to you (Thanks, Audible.com!), and the Hulu series is a great watch, even with the liberties taken with the original text. Despite that, there are a few cringe worthy issues I have with it. The fact that women are categorized for specific roles like livestock is rough, that some women are essentially being systematically sexually assaulted and in order to further the human race, and brainwashed to think everything is fine is even worse, but that is also part of the horror of the book. It’s 1984 with rape, and it is not pretty.
Also, as I stated before, it is also something that has happened in history before. Enslaved African women were treated exactly like the women in Handmaid’s Tale. Atwood seems to have a hard time acknowledging that. In the book, she spent about 15 words in a 300-page book on what happened to people of color in Gilead. Jewish people got at least a few paragraphs. The TV show hosts a diverse cast, but that is only because the producers didn’t want to deal with the issue of race…but by NOT dealing with it, they kind of did. At a minimum, though, they showed that talent comes in all shapes, sizes, and hues. Overall, though, as good as Handmaid’s Tale is, it is a dystopian nightmare, especially for white feminism.
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Literally flipping off the Patriarchy.
Enter Bitch Planet. Whether you are into comics or not, you will enjoy this book. Bitch Planet is also a dystopian patriarchal future with horrors befalling women. This one takes place on a women’s prison planet, where the offenders’ crimes are primarily that they are women. Too fat? Jail. Too thin? Jail. Too promiscuous? Jail. Too prudish? Jail. Gay? Jail. Transgender? Jail, plus torture…so that part is pretty much like modern times. For the women who are NOT imprisoned, they have to put up with condescending micro-aggressions throughout their day-to-day lives that are essentially macro-aggressions in this shit world. The wives are trophies who have no real power. The working women cannot talk back to the clueless men ‘splaining every little thing to them. The condescension they endure should make anyone jump someone, which of course is also an imprisonable crime.
Both story arcs are solid and find the women both in and out of prison finding their power and harnessing it. The author, Kelly Sue DeConnick, writes Bitch Planet in a style that that makes the dialogue in the comic feel conversational, as though she just recorded and transcribed the characters’ interactions. Most comics, even ones I know and adore, have a feel of every speech bubble feeling like an announcement. Bitch Planet flows. Also, I was a little bit worried about DeConnick’s declaration that she was going to make a deliberately “feminist agenda” comic in response to sad boys’™ disdain for her version of Captain Marvel. I am all for a deliberately feminist agenda, but is it going to be fully feminist, or more white feminist lit? Is this going to be Orange Is the New Black in space? Is it going to be another white savior trope to all of the PoC prisoners?
The short answer to these questions is NOOOOPE. What sticks out to me about Bitch Planet is that all of the main characters are people of color! The first panels of the first issue depict an incarcerated staff as varied and diverse as a college brochure, except it is authentic. Imagine Orange is the New Black, except nobody gives a shit about Piper, because seriously, fuck Piper. She’s so goddamn boring. Much to my satisfaction, the characters have their own personalities; not one is a stereotype. They’ve got personal histories, and they rock. Even the male heroes of the story get it right. It shows that you can identify with characters even if you are not the particular demographic of the character, but damn, it’s nice to see a plethora of demographics. Kelly Sue DeConnick crafted a story that encompasses everyone in the world, not just a small majority.
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The "A" stands for "aider/abetter"
I am in love with this book, so much so, that I actually followed the many that connected with the story and got a “Non-Compliant” tattoo. I even reached out to the author about designing it. I broke my promise to never get a pop culture inspired tattoo! I’m trying to be a better dude in general after reading it. You may not be as moved to smash the patriarchy with a sledge hammer or have your viewpoint etched into your flesh if you read the first or second story arc, but dammit it is poignant, especially in these times. Bitch Planet is what Handmaid’s Tale could have been if Atwood was down with intersectional feminism. You need Bitch Planet in your life.
…Still maybe pick up Handmaid’s Tale, but still…Bitch Planet. Kelly Sue DeConnick is woke AF.


Eleanor Doane lives.

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