The Weight of Being a Female Character

I read a very interesting article on tor.com yesterday. It’s about the double standard applied to male and female characters. In a nutshell: men can just kick ass and take names. Elements of their personality do not normally influence whether the audience continue to feel he kicks ass and take names. This does not apply to women. Women can kick ass. Or they can have feelings. They really can’t do both. Somehow, once she starts even remotely appearing female (you know, wanting kids or having icky feelings) she is no longer considered kick ass.

I couldn’t help thinking of Black Widow in Age of Ultron. If you haven’t seen it: here lie spoilers.

Black Widow is one of the very few female superheros in film (there are many in X-Men, I’m told and other comic books, but very few made it to the big screen). Not only that, she’s one of the few that are super awesome and a great role model. She is honest and good. She can keep up with the men, both physically and intellectually. She doesn’t need a man to keep a sense of purpose in life: she knows who she is, what she is capable of, and what she deserves. She is a strong woman. She kicks ass.

In the first Avengers movie, Loki tries to use her emotions and possible self-doubts against her and fails, in fact reveals his own plan because she turns it all around on him. She has an amazing fight scene where she plays the damsel beautifully until she kicks the asses of three strong men and doesn’t even break a sweat. Every feminist LOVED Black Widow in the first Avengers.

And then Joss Whedon decided to do  something CRAZY: he built up the characters. All of them. In Age of Ultron, every Avenger’s character was fleshed out a bit, giving insight into their characters and their fears. No one really complained about this because strong characterization makes good stories. No one really cared, that is, until Black Widow reveal her great sorrow.

Suddenly, her entire character narrowed down to a small point: her graduation ceremony to become an elite assassin was having her tubes tied, killing any chance she would ever have children.

OH.MY.GOD. Black Widow is sorry she can’t have kids?! Well, that’s it, she is no longer kick ass. She has revealed that she has needs and wants, ew. Not only that, but to many feminists, this meant she couldn’t be considered a feminist character anymore because it tied into society’s belief all women want kids. Also, she was kidnapped by Ultron and became a damsel in distress. Suddenly, here’s the double standard.

Suddenly, she stopped being a PERSON. She stopped being a character and became a vehicle for feminism and only that. And feminists were ticked off because she fed into the patriarchy by wishing she could have kids. This became such a hot button issue because she was the ONLY female Avenger (Scarlet Witch only becomes one at the end). As the only woman on the team, the entire weight of being a role model comes to the fore. She must be perfect. She must uphold the values of feminism. She cannot show weakness or she loses her ability to be kick ass. Female characters cannot have emotions or needs or regrets if they also want to be kick ass. They must choose.

What the complainers missed is this: by making it about her wanting kids, they themselves made it about the kids. They skipped over the fact that Bruce Banner ALSO regrets not being able to have kids. Just skipped right over that and it’s because he’s a man. It’s ok for male characters to have feelings and want kids or be sad about NOT having kids. Having kids or not having kids is not tied into a male characters ability to be kick ass. But Black Widow mourns the fertility that was TAKEN FROM HER WITHOUT PERMISSION and is suddenly seen as weaker.

But she was kidnapped and had to be rescued! Well, yes. But she was the only character that plot line would work for. She didn’t just sit there twiddling her thumbs and bemoaning her fate. She MADE A TELEGRAPH MACHINE FROM SPARE PARTS. Tony Stark was kidnapped in the first Iron Man and built the first suit and he’s hailed as a genius. Black Widow builds a telegraph machine and lets the team know where she is and she is reduced to a damsel in distress.  What the actual hell. Who else could have done that? Hawkeye couldn’t build one. Steve Rodgers could tell you it runs on electricity, but couldn’t build it. Iron Man had the suit and could break free. Thor has his hammer and could escape. Black Widow is the only one who could do this. She is the only one who could get them to where they needed to be for the finally. But, you know, she’s just a damsel in distress.

Most importantly, I think, is that because she became a vehicle for feminism, her ability to overcome was completely looked over. She was trained as a superior Russian spy. She killed a lot of people and they took away her chance of leaving that life for a regular one. She could have bought into how she was raised and become jaded and angry. She could be a super villain.  She’s not. She used that training to do good and to be GOOD. She mourns the loss of her fertility, but she doesn’t use it as an excuse. In the end, she puts herself, her LIFE, on the line to save innocent people. She sacrifices any possible relationship she could have with Bruce Banner by forcing him to become the Hulk. She is constantly doing what is RIGHT and GOOD because she believes in it. That’s the type of person she wants to be. She is totally kick ass and totally supports feminism.

Black Widow is a female character and she deserves to be a fully fledged one. Rock on, girl.

What I learned about breastfeeding

There are so so so many articles out there on how the breast is best. I believe it is the best option, but I also believe it’s not the ONLY option. Formula is easy and convenient but also expensive. So expensive. It comes down to what works best for you.

I breastfed my babies for a full year. Each. This is what pediatricians recommend with them being exclusively breastfed for six months. I did it. Somehow I did it. Not sure how, but I did it. Here’s what I learned.

  1. Babies aren’t born knowing how to do it more than you are. Maybe you’ll be a lucky person and everything will click together like legos, but for me with my first, there was a lot of, “am I fucking doing this right?!” You need to practice AND they need to practice. It’s a joint effort, so don’t get frustrated if it takes a while (it took me almost 3 weeks to get it down to a science) to get started. Wit my second, there was a LOT of unlatching and re-latching. OMG, so much of that. But they learn and so do you.
  2. Milk comes in suddenly. When the baby is born it drinks colostrum and only about a teaspoon at a time. That’s why they eat so often. Milk USUALLY arrives about 2-3 days after birth. With my first, it didn’t come in for TWO WEEKS. Come to find out, that’s actually sort of common with c-sections, but I didn’t know that. Two weeks after my first born my breast swelled up and became hard as rocks and she wanted to eat but was either not getting enough or too much. It was so damn confusing. Your breasts hurt like fucking hell and you start leaking everywhere. This, my friends, is called engorgement and it is sucky. Luckily, it only lasts for a day or two. Nursing doesn’t really help it go down, but it might make you feel better temporarily.
  3. Your boobs don’t know how much milk to make at first. They make milk based on demand and it takes about 4-6 weeks for everything calm down and mesh. You will make more milk than your baby needs (unless you have supply issues), so you will leak milk. Have nipple pads available and more than one nursing bra so you can wash one. Your shirts will be covered in spit up and leaked milk, so accept it now.
  4. It hurts. Like, really hurts, at least for a while. Your nipples, your wonderful sensitive nipples are going to be sucked on SO FUCKING HARD and they need to build up a resistance. It takes two to three weeks for that. If you’re bleeding, it’s probably a latching issue, but for a while you’re going to be wincing every that baby latches on. The good news is that as soon as the baby latches on and starts eating, the pain eases, so it’s only for a minute. If the pain lasts throughout the feeding and there’s bleeding, check the latch.
  5. Your baby sucks your entire boob into it’s mouth. Ok, not really, but your nipple should be practically down his throat and your areola inside his mouth. It’s amazing how much they fit in there.
  6. You can drink alcohol, but carefully. I was a paranoid breastfeeder. I didn’t take the hardcore pain meds my doc sent home after either c-section. I didn’t want the  baby getting exposed to them. I survived recovery of a major surgery on Advil. I’m not a natural drug taker or drinker. I don’t like feeling out of control or woozy. I was assured by all doctors and people that it was FINE to take those meds, but I just couldn’t do it. So, take the meds if you want them. Do what’s best for you. I did drink occasionally. The rule is if you can drive a car, you can breastfeed. I usually gave a bottle of pumped milk because I was Miss Paranoia, but again, don’t be a slave to MY anxiety.
  7. What you eat can affect the baby. I couldn’t drink caffeine with my second. At all. She would not sleep if I had ANY. So, for a year, no caffeine for me. *sob* I know some people who couldn’t do dairy because it gave the baby gas. Some had to drop chocolate for similar issues. So, if the baby starts having weird gas issues, check your diet. They might also turn away because they don’t like the taste of your milk. Spicy foods can do that. So, while you’re not nearly as restricted as you were when you were pregnant, you might still have to give up something.
  8. Growth spurts are hell. Every once in a while the baby decides to grow a foot in a week and so he needs more milk to support that newly grown body. In order to build up supply, they eat. All the time. They are always hungry and you will exclaim more than once, “BUT YOU JUST ATE AN HOUR AGO.” It will go away after they get the supply up, but for a few days to a week you are in constant demand and sleep will be disrupted.
  9. You’re it. As a stay-at-home mom who breastfed, I was it. My husband couldn’t feed the newborn, I had to get up every damn time. You will hate your partner. You will hate your baby. You will hate breastfeeding. It WILL get better. Once you get past the nipple confusion worries (about 6 weeks) you can introduce bottle feeding, but until then, you’re it. Be prepared for that.
  10. Pumping sucks ass. And my breasts sucked at it. I was lucky to get 4-6 ounces at a time. Ever. I’ve known women who got 8 ounces in one go. I hate those women. Every drop of breast milk in my freezer was worth it’s weight in gold because it took so much work to get it. You will become obsessed with how much you have stored. It will never be enough. You will be afraid it will run out. You’ll end up throwing a ton of it away after you wean, crying a little as you do it. There was a scene in “Outlander” where a new mom hand expresses into a cup and then DUMPS IT INTO THE BUSHES. I actually cried out in horror. THE HORROR. And my baby had been weaned for MONTHS when that happened. Milk is precious. I’ve totally cried over spilt breast milk.  TIP: set up a time of day to pump and stick to it. You’ll start making more milk for that feeding and it will get better (if you’re not me with the non-responsive boobs). Once a day should be enough unless you’re working. Then you’ll pump more because your baby is bottle feeding more.
  11. It takes a long time in the beginning. Feeding a newborn can take 40 minutes to an hour. Then you burp them, they sleep for a bit and then you feed them again. Every 2-3 hours you go through this cycle. You feel like all you do is feed them when they’re new. They’re stomachs are small and breast milk digests super fast. It gets faster, but in the beginning, you’re feeding for a while. I watched a lot of Netflix during the newborn phases.
  12. One breast does better than the other. And your baby will like one better than the other.
  13. I didn’t stick to a schedule. If the baby was hungry I fed it. You cannot spoil a newborn. Schedules tend to happen naturally, but if you force it you might be making it harder for yourself than you need to be. Those boobs are natural pacifiers. Use them.
  14. Get help if you need it. Seriously, don’t be me. Get help if you need it. Don’t just give up (I didn’t thank god) because you’re afraid it’s not going to work. Ask!
  15. If it’s too much stress, don’t do it. Seriously. If it’s making you cry constantly or worry too much, don’t do it. If you’ve given it the best shot you have in you and you’ve tried everything FORMULA IS FINE. However, once you start supplementing you will start making less milk, so only start doing that if you’re absolutely sure that’s what you want to do.

Good luck! It does settle down and become easy as pie, it just takes a while sometimes. I wish good breastfeeding vibes on you and  your little one!