Red Dead Redemption and women

That’s an episode of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games, the spinoff of Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women web series, dealing with the phenomenon of the generic female sex worker NPCs who are so ubiquitous in the background of open-world video games.  It’s thirty minutes, which is a huge time commitment on the Internet, but if you like these sorts of games, it’s well worth it.

Let me start off by making it clear: I love open-world games. I love Grand Theft Auto.  I love Assassin’s Creed.  I love Red Dead Redemption.  I love Sleeping Dogs.  I’m one of the few GTA fans who was around for the original Grand Theft Auto game in the 90s, and I own every GTA game released for console from GTA3 onward.  I own every Assassin’s Creed game released for console.  I replay Red Dead Redemption in the same way that people regularly reread their favourite book.  In fact I’m in the middle of an RDR replay right now, which I started after I finished replaying GTA5 last week; I started GTA5 right after I’d finished replaying Sleeping Dogs.  The games in this video can be divided, fairly evenly, into games I own and love, and games I haven’t played.

(The exception is Just Cause II, which I own and have played but abandoned about halfway through because I just didn’t enjoy it.  It was too much of a shooter and not enough of an action-adventure game for me.)

And yet I can still acknowledge that every criticism Sarkeesian makes in the video—of the games I’ve played specifically and of the culture of M-rated open-world games in general—is valid and deplorable.

I came across the video in Kotaku’s short article linking to it, and then I skimmed through the first few dozen comments.  The level of discourse was a lot higher than I’ve seen in other online posts confronting misogyny in video games, and there were plenty of commenters who recognised the truth of what Sarkeesian is saying.  But of course, there were also plenty who tried to refute her argument, either by being the guy who thinks he’s “living proof that any supposed correlation between ‘long-term exposure to hypersexualized images’ and ‘higher tolerance of sexual harassment of women’ is complete bullshit” because he watches “loads of porn.  I mean, crazy amounts”, but doesn’t think of himself as a misogynist; or by dismissing Sarkeesian’s legitimacy as a critic of video games (apparently because she funded Tropes vs. Women in Video Games through Kickstarter?  I couldn’t really follow the logic.); or by attempting to argue that the misogyny in these games is actually A-OK.

I’m going to assume that it’s pretty self evident what the problems are with the first two of those—the dude with too much porn and too little self-awareness, and the guys who would find a way to dismiss anyone who criticised the boobs in their video games—and instead address the last, the guys who acknowledge the misogyny on display here but who have arguments to legitimise it.  I’m mostly going to concentrate on Red Dead Redemption, for three reasons:

(1) It’s the game I’m seeing these commenters cite most often with their arguments;

(2) It’s one of my favourite games of all time; definitely my favourite console game;

(3) It actually is really progressive as far as these things go.  It has multiple strong female characters, one for every act of the game.  Apart from the single instance of the Dastardly trophy (discussed in the video), the player’s interactions with the prostituted women are always either polite or heroic, and the player is not allowed to avail himself of their services.  And again apart from the Dastardly trophy, every instance of violence against women in the game is depicted as making its perpetrator a horrible human being.  I ask myself with every narrative game I play, “Just how bad is the misogyny here?”, because I want to know if this is a game that I can discuss with or recommend to the women with whom I discuss games, and with Red Dead Redemption I come closer to saying, “Not that bad at all,” than I do with pretty much any other open-world game besides Assassin’s Creed: Liberation.  But it’s the very fact that Red Dead is actually one of the least offensively misogynistic games of its genre but is still such low-hanging fruit for a feminist critique that shows just how pervasive a problem this is.

(And yes, I do have to consciously ask myself about the misogyny, because I’m a straight male, and I’m aware that just being a straight male gives me the male privilege of ignoring that misogyny if I don’t make the effort to look for it.  Having male privilege doesn’t make us, as men, bad people; it just makes us men.  It’s only if we use that male privilege to pretend our blindness to misogyny means that the misogyny isn’t there that we make ourselves bad people.)

(Also, it should come at no surprise at this point when I warn that there will probably be spoilers for Red Dead Redemption ahead.)

The counterarguments seem to fall into two general categories: relegating women to sexually titillating background decoration is all right because it’s just realism or historical accuracy; or relegating women to sexually titillating background decoration is all right because it’s counterbalanced by the presence of three well-developed female characters.

The first argument is easy to refute: it’s just flat out not true.  Even if the situation were simply that Red Dead Redemption depicts women as passive and irrelevant while it’s the men who actively drive events (which of isn’t what’s being criticised, but the commenter would like to pretend that it is), it still wouldn’t be accurate.  You only assume it’s accurate precisely because you’ve been exposed to so much media that pretends it is.  Women have always been active in our public life; women have always been present in fields we think of as traditionally belonging to men.  Anyone who tells you that all the women characters being relegated to passive, supporting roles and kept away from the real action is legitimate storytelling because history isn’t qualified to tell you anything about history.

And besides, that’s not even how Red Dead Redemption presents its world.  It’s not that women don’t get much say in the course of events; it’s that most of the women who appear onscreen are sex workers. I mean, the game allows the character to roam across the American southwest and the Mexican northwest, and about half the women he sees are prostitutes.  Prostitutes who only ever appear in public wearing nothing more than their underwear.  Are you really going to argue that that’s valid in the name of accuracy?  The town of Armadillo is, in the game, the only urban settlement in the state of New Austin.  Its population apparently consists of one general storekeep, one gunsmith, one doctor, one telegrapher, one marshal and two deputies, a staff of three or four at the train station, that weird dude who runs the cinema, a dozen or so pedestrians, a dozen or so customers at the saloon (as well as the saloon keeper and the piano player), and two or three dozen prostituted women.  Does that really seem like an accurate portrayal of a frontier town’s economy to you?  Even accounting for the ranchers in the surrounding counties, there must be one prostituted woman for every two men west of Hennigan’s Stead.  This is no more “accurate” than is GTA5’s depiction of strippers as a demographic who really really want you to grope and fondle them in the champagne room, if only it wasn’t for that mean bouncer putting a stop to their fun, and who will happily take you home with them if you can manage to fondle them enough without the bouncer seeing.

As for the idea that the presence of a strong female character balances out the purely male-gaze prostituted women who are so visible in Red Dead Redemption and, indeed, in so many other open-world games.  Red Dead does indeed have three really solid female characters with a lot of depth to them, and that’s (sadly) a lot for a game like this.  In fact, let’s take a look at all the main characters in Red Dead Redemption to see just how overrepresented women are.  I’ll even highlight them so it’s easier to see their prevalence in the game world:

(I’m defining a “major character” here as someone who either (1) is John Marston, (2) gives Marston a main-storyline mission, (3) is one of the major villains Marston has to hunt down in the climactic missions of each act of the game, or (4) doesn’t give Marston a mission per se, but who is a frequent companion of a mission-giver and accompanies or leads Marston on multiple missions, like Nastas the Indian or Captain Espinoza.)


John Marston, male

Characters in the New Austin act

Bill Williamson, male (Williamson also appears in one mission in the Mexico act.)

Bonnie McFarlane, female (Bonnie also appears in two missions in the final act.)

Marshal Johnson, male

Jonah, male

Eli, male

Nigel West-Dickens, male (West-Dickens also appears in one mission in the final act.)

Drew McFarlane, male (Drew also appears in one mission in the final act.)

Seth, male

Irish, male

Characters in the Mexico act

Landon Ricketts, male

Captain de Santa, male

Colonel Allende, male

Luisa, female

Captain Espinoza, male

Abraham Reyes, male

Javier Escuella, male

Characters in the final act

Edgar Ross, male (Agent Ross also appears in one mission in the Mexico act)

Agent Fordham, male (Agent Fordham also appears in one mission in the Mexico act)

Dutch van der Linde, male

Professor MacDougal, male

Nastas, male

Abigail Marston, female

Jack Marston, male

Uncle, male

I mean, yeah, right?  It’s ridiculous how overrepresented women are in Red Dead Redemption.  It’s clear as day in that list.  Twelve per cent of the characters in the game who speak, have personalities, interact with the player and move the game forward are women.  That’s a ridiculously high proportion for a game with pretensions to “historical accuracy”.

(Seriously who can immerse themselves in a huge, deep game world like Red Dead Redemption but where only three out of twenty-five actual active human beings are female, and somehow come away with the idea that they’ve been playing a “historically accurate” rendition of how Western society works?  I guess the same guy who can play a game in which you can lasso and hogtie a prostituted woman, then place her on the train tracks, and she continues to sassily flirt with you while you both wait for the train to come run her over, and still describe the game he’s been playing as “historically accurate”.)

Like I said, Red Dead Redemption does have more—and more fully developed—major female characters than its peers such as most of the Grand Theft Auto games and most of the Assassin’s Creed games and Sleeping Dogs.  But that just highlights how low the standard is; it doesn’t make Red Dead some sort of bastion of egalitarian storytelling for giving John Marston literally one woman per act to interact with.  Pointing to Bonnie, Luisa and Abigail as if they somehow insulate the game from being called out on the objectification of the sex worker NPCs does much more to confirm accusations of misogyny in video gaming than it does to refute it.

But let’s say that three strong female characters really was impressive.  Let’s say Red Dead Redemption really did have a historically accurate, representative gender balance in its main narrative and cast of characters.  That still doesn’t change that the bordellos in towns throughout the game are creepy, male-gazey bits of window dressing that encourage the players to treat these women as being there just for their own entertainment.  Quite simply, the presence of the one element doesn’t erase the presence of the other.

(This works just as well in the opposite direction.  A lot of the commenters seem to take Sarkeesian’s criticism of Red Dead Redemption’s sex worker NPCs as her somehow saying that the presence of Bonnie, Luisa and Abigail doesn’t count.  Sarkeesian doesn’t ignore the major female characters or pretend they don’t exist; they simply aren’t relevant to a discussion of Red Dead being yet another instance of games that use sexualised images of women as objectified window dressing for the presumed straight male player.)

I started out by saying that I love open-world games in general, and I love Red Dead Redemption in particular.  I’m reiterating that now.  It’s important always to remember that finding some elements of a piece of media problematic doesn’t mean that other elements of it can’t be very satisfying and rewarding; it’s also important to remember that it is okay to like even the problematic elements.  But that doesn’t mean the problematic elements aren’t problematic, and it doesn’t mean we can wave away or dismiss the very real issues they raise.

Read Dead Redemption would be just as compelling and immersive a game without its three towns full of women walking around wearing only corsets, bloomers and stockings.  The gameplay experience would be just as satisfying. And yet someone still seems to think they need to be there.  And not just in Red Dead, but over and over again, in GTA, in Assassin’s Creed, you name it.  Why?


The Time Lord and his ladies

Spoilers for the seven series of New Who, concentrating on the plot and character arcs of the five primary companions

Saturday night I saw Star Trek: Skyfall, then came home and watched the Who finale, “The Name of the Doctor”.  So I spent a lot of that night watching loving homages to Classic Who and Original Series Trek that had clearly been made by people who care about those things as much as I do, and I loved every second of it.  A lot of effort obviously went into crafting things designed to bring joy to longtime, old-school fans, and I appreciate that.  Especially with Doctor Who–the technical achievement we saw in “The Name of the Doctor” was clearly a longtime coming in both conception and execution, long enough that it was already in a pretty advanced stage by the time that worst of Who episodes, “Let’s Get Hitler”, was produced back in 2011.

But there was something else that really struck me about “The Name of the Doctor”, something troubling.  I’ve been noticing bits and pieces of it at least as far back as “School Reunion” in 2006, and it’s always bothered me.

When Doctor Who repremiered in 2005, much was made of the new attitude the programme would now have toward the Doctor’s female companions.  They would be intelligent, active, independent and competent, not the ditzy, over-terrified sexist stereotypes that we were assured they had been throughout the programme’s first twenty-six seasons.  I long ago debunked the idea that ditzy, over-terrified companions were ever a common thing on Doctor Who, or that capable, confident companions were any sort of departure for the programme.  But this is more than that.  The more I look at it, the more it’s a central message of New Who that the Doctor’s female companions–women who we’re regularly told are special, unique, transcendent individuals in a way we never were in the classic programme–are of value only insofar as they submit themselves to the Doctor.

RosevsMarthaRose and Martha

Much got made during the RTD era of the effect the Doctor had on his companions, of how he made them flourish, capable of more than they would have been otherwise, whether we saw that as a good thing (“But she was better when she was with you!”) or bad (“He fashions his friends into weapons.”).  Three of RTD’s four series finales turn on the companion saving the universe (and the Doctor) by achieving some feat that shouldn’t be humanly possible.

First you’ve got Rose, cracking the TARDIS open and taking the time vortex into herself; then Martha, who spends a year wandering the post-apocalyptic Earth, spreading word of the Doctor.  Rose refuses to accept her separation from the Doctor and goes to any lengths, including physically impossible ones, to return to him, as she will later do once again with the dimension cannon.  Martha, on the other hand, walks away from the Doctor.  She sacrifices him, as she sacrifices her family, as she sacrifices at least a degree of her own humanity–when she returns to England at the beginning of “Last of the Time Lords”, she is a visibly harder, less merciful, less empathetic person.  Rose rips apart the fabric of space and time to satisfy her own desire to be with the Doctor, whereas Martha spends a whole year in a literal hell on Earth, surviving entirely on her own, telling everyone she meets the importance of having faith in the very man who failed to save her, her family or her world.

And yet of the two, who is routinely treated as the example of the perfect companion, the one who surpasses all others?  Whose sacrifice is considered greater?  Even the Master laughs at Martha’s trauma, derisively citing Rose as her better, because Rose stared into the time vortex in order to return to the Doctor.  The Master, who never even met Rose, thinks immediately of her when trying to come up with an example of companions superior to Martha, rather than thinking of, say, the companion whose brain had such a capacity for mathematics that the Master actually kidnapped him and wired him into his own TARDIS, then was able to harness that mental capacity into constructing solid illusions capable of invading the Doctor’s TARDIS.

After They Leave the Doctor

It is true that time with the Doctor seems to leave his companions more capable, more accomplished individuals.  New Who has shown us Sarah Jane, Martha and Donna all excelling in their independent lives–in Donna’s case, even after just a few hours and a single adventure with the Doctor.  Of course, Donna turns herself into a professional, perceptive investigator of suspicious situations not because the events of “The Runaway Bride” opened her eyes to the dangers Earth faces constantly and awakened in her a desire to be involved in foiling those dangers; no, she’s simply going to places she thinks she’s likely to find the Doctor so that she can hopefully run into him again.  And, in fact, her veneer of accomplished professionalism is just a charade; she’s actually empty and deeply unfulfilled so long as she can’t find the Doctor.

But that’s okay, right, because after she does finally reunite with the Doctor, she and we discover that she’s the Most Important Woman in the Universe?  Donna, of course, believes that’s impossible–she believes she can only be important because she’s associated with someone of real importance, the Doctor.  But the Doctor assures her that no, the importance is hers and hers alone.  So what is that importance?  Why is Donna the Most Important Woman in the Universe?  Because she happens to be the one who’s there to give the Doctor a hand (literally) when he needs it.  If it had been Rose or Jack who were the last ones out of the TARDIS aboard the Dalek spaceship, we’d be talking about the DoctorRose or the DoctorJack.

Yes, Donna then saves the day during the final confrontation with Davros, but critically, it is only the Doctor part of Donna that does so.  It’s the new intelligence and perception that the addition of Time Lord genetics has given her; there is, again, no reason it had to be Donna involved here rather than anyone else.  And if we really want to get all feminist-critical-theory over this, there’s the very obvious subtext to the idea that what makes Donna special, what allows Donna to fulfill her potential, is that she serves as a receptacle for the Doctor’s genetic code.

At least Sarah Jane achieves for realsies what Donna was only playing at: she’s an actual investigator and defender of Earth.  Which is not to say she ever got over the Doctor; it’s important that former companions never get over him.  She waited for him, pined after him–clearly she felt a romantic love for him that she did a remarkably good job of hiding, since she showed nary a single sign of it during her actual time in the TARDIS.

Still, she’s overcome being abandoned by the Doctor and has made a life for herself as a truly exceptional person.  She’s never found the right man to settle down with, of course, but that’s a perfectly reasonable choice for a character like Sarah Jane–she’s simply not someone who’d necessarily need a romantic relationship at the centre of her life.  Which is all fine, until Sarah states outright that the reason she never found the right man is because no man could ever measure up to the Doctor.  Sarah Jane Smith was introduced to Doctor Who as the explicit representative of feminism, a driven, focused, professional woman; a woman who took it upon herself to lecture the Queen of Peladon on the women’s lib movement.  But when New Who gets a hold of her, we find out that the reason she never got married is not because she simply didn’t need a man to make her life complete; it is, rather, because being friends with the Doctor ruined her for all other men.

Come.  The fuck.  On.

Which leaves only Martha.  Martha is the only companion of the RTD era, and possibly of New Who as a whole (I’d consider Amy a borderline case), to make the conscious choice that she has outgrown the Doctor, that she is ready to face life after the TARDIS.  She leaves entirely under her own steam at the end of series three in a scene that’s a neat parallel to her walking away from the Doctor in the cliffhanger at the end of the prior episode and heading off alone to face whatever the Earth has to throw at her.  She forges her own path–and the Doctor absolutely despises her for it.

Martha chooses to make a difference in the world by joining an organisation that the Doctor himself devoted six seasons of his life to, an organisation built by his closest friend–and yet he regards Martha has having placed herself under suspicion by having joined the organisation.  And we as viewers aren’t directed to take issue with the Doctor’s reaction, to see him as some sort of emotional predator who demands adoration and complete submission from the women he takes with him on his journeys–no, it would seem we’re supposed to agree with him for being disappointed with and suspicious of Martha for joining UNIT.

The Women With the High Concept Nicknames

The Most Important Woman in the Universe.  The Girl Who Waited.  The Impossible Girl.

(Why is Clara infantilised as the Impossible Girl instead of the Impossible Woman?  Is it possibly for the same reason that the Doctor–the fucking Doctor–, when trying to distill the sheer, fascinating impossibility of her into a single sentence, actually devotes more words to how eyecatching her ass is than to the fact that he keeps meeting iterations of her scattered throughout his timeline and watching them die— “A mystery wrapped in an enigma squeezed into a skirt that’s just a bit too tight.”  I am going to puzzle out this impossible womangirl, puzzle out what the universe is trying to tell me through her very existence, and defeat whatever profound danger she represents.  And then, Jesus H. Christ I’m gonna hit that.)

Amy, the Girl Who Waited.  Her nickname is a regular reminder of her deeply creepy origin story.  The Doctor meets her when she’s a child, promises he’s about to admit her to a universe of wonder and adventure, and then vanishes for twelve years.  Returns, shows her that that universe of adventure is real, that he is real, and then vanishes for another two years, before ultimately returning to bring her aboard the TARDIS.  The Doctor is grooming her.  He grooms her to regard him as the most wonderful person possible, as her only gateway to an escape to the life she dreams of.  He grooms her to respond to his sporadic arrivals in her life by dropping any other priorities she has so she can place herself at his disposal.  And he grooms her not to expect anything from him in return–not even his presence, or the idea that he’s under any obligation to keep promises he makes for her.

And now we come to Clara, the Impossible Girl.  Whose impossibility, we discovered on Saturday, exists purely so that she can save the Doctor, over and over again, all throughout his life.  Even if we assume River’s line about “millions” of Claras being created is hyperbole, there must still be, at a minimum, thousands.  Thousands of Claras, through all of time and space, whom, it would seem, are all born, live only the first twenty or twenty-five years of their lives, and then have their encounter with the Doctor–a few minutes, a few hours, a few days; the whole purpose of their life.  And then, apparently, they die.

And Clara is fine with that.  She’s fine with the idea that on a thousand different worlds in a thousand different times, she has lived a thousand different lives, each of them to help the Doctor on one of his adventures.  More than that, she’s proud of it.  “I was born to save the Doctor, and the Doctor is safe now.  I’m the Impossible Girl, and my story is done.”

It’s not there in Classic Who.  In Classic Who, the Doctor is the leader, yes, and he inspires his companions’ trust.  But the companions (generally) leave of their own free will, either because they have outgrown their need for him or because they have found another calling that compels them more.  But in New Who, the message is clear: these exceptional women have tremendous potential, but they fulfill that potential only by pledging themselves totally to serving the Doctor.


Pretty in pink

My four-year-old son loves sports. He loves physical activity of any kind, really. He loves to run and jump and climb. He loves to throw and catch. Lately we’ve been playing football in the living room, kicking the ball back and forth to each other or else trying to kick the ball away from each other and score goals through the legs of the kitchen table chairs. Last week we took him to his first professional sport event, a DC United match, and he loved every second of it. He’s been swimming underwater since he was three, and last week he started swimming above the water, too.

My son’s favourite colour is pink. (Though sometimes when you ask him, he says red.) He found his mother’s short, purple silk nightie and declared it his “pretty dress”, and wore it around the house for several days.

My son loves to build. He loves it when we build models of police cars or X-wing fighters. He loves to see how things go. He cranes his neck so far it must hurt in order to catch every second of an ambulance or firetruck or police car with its lights flashing out the car window. He gets incredibly excited when he gets to go to the mechanic and see what’s under our car’s bonnet, or see them raise the car up and then get to take a look at its underbelly.

The last time we stayed at my mother’s, my son found her high-heeled shoes, put them on and strutted around her house. He found a full-length mirror and admired himself in it, twisting his body around to try and see the shoes from all angles.

My son loves science fiction. For months we watched Star Wars at least once a day. Now we’re watching at least one full Doctor Who story a day, generally one with Daleks in it.

Whenever my son plays make believe, he always picks the role of the girl. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him be Luke Skywalker, or the Doctor, or Lightning McQueen. Always he’s Princess Leia, or Zoe Heriot, or Sally.

And good for him.

I read the comments on this post, and I can’t tell whether my reaction is one more of sadness or of anger. (Maybe that ambivalence means I’m gender confused.) Either way, I know there’s also an awful lot of pity mixed in.

It’s common, when one encounters displays of homophobia, also to encounter accusations of insecurity in response. I’m not generally a fan of such a response. It’s usually accompanied by an assertion–whether implicit or explicit–that the homophobe is themselves attempting to repress homosexual urges of their own. I’m sure that sometimes that’s true, just as I’m sure it’s also sometimes not. But what it always is, is an attempt to shut down the discussion. And whatever the topic, I almost never think that can be a good thing. We don’t accomplish anything when we make discussion impossible–we don’t get a better understanding of the other side’s position and of how they arrived at it, and we certainly don’t get a chance to expose the other side to our own position, perhaps to open their eyes and change their hearts, even if just a little.

But reading that thread, it’s unavoidable to conclude that the single biggest motivator behind the homophobic comments is insecurity. These commenters are deeply insecure. They’re insecure because the world is bigger than the small, narrowly defined place they want it to be. They’re insecure that they might not have control over their children’s sexuality.

Many of them shroud their comments in an attempt to restore some sort of masculinity that our society has apparently lost–to return to the days when Men Were Men and boy-children, I suppose, were boy-children. Here’s the thing, though: it’s only recently that we’ve started dressing our infants and toddlers in such a way that we differentiate their gender in the first place. Before then, all babies and small children were dressed in white frocks.

And by “recently”, I don’t mean recently as in, “It’s only recently that humanity has harnessed the power of the steam engine.” I mean recently as in Jackie Robinson was already playing in the major leagues before we started putting twelve-month-old boys in trousers. My father and my uncles were dressed in white dresses when they were infants. I have the grainy, black and white photographs to prove it.

Not that it matters whether we dress our infants as boys and girls or simply as babies. It doesn’t–because small children don’t have gender identity. When Boy wants to try on my mother’s high heels, it isn’t a sexual choice, anymore than it’s a sexual choice for him to go get out his toy tools whenever I pull out my hammer or tape measure or screwdriver and to stand next to me while I work, re-enacting whatever task I’m doing. He’s not emulating women when he wears high-heeled shoes or men when he works with his tools; he’s emulating grownups. He’s exploring the world around him and trying to make sense of it.

And the last thing I would ever dream of doing, as his father, is try to stunt that exploration by pressing a gender identity on him that he’s simply too young to have developed on his own. He knows he’s a boy. He knows he wears shorts or trousers when we go out and swimming trunks at the pool. Soon enough he’ll be going to school, where he’ll learn that girls are icky, that he doesn’t really like pink and that he doesn’t want to be Leia, he wants to be Luke or Han Solo.

For now, though, his world isn’t complicated by all that. And at the moment, he’s better for it.


Bloke Response Friday

Today I’m partaking of the response this week’s Girl Talk Thursday. Our topic for the day, therefore, is a List of Five, but this time, it’s five six seven fictional characters.

Though, this turned out to be a much wordier post than I anticipated. If anybody would rather just see pictures of gorgeous women, going back to that original List of Five post would probably do you better.

(Though there’s no reason you can’t do both.)

Lady Marion of Leaford (Judi Trott), Robin of Sherwood

Judi Trott as Maid Marion

For four-year-old Ian and for present-day Ian, Judi Trott’s Maid Marion is a huge part of what makes ITV’s Robin of Sherwood one of my favourite ever TV shows (and, for my money, the best TV or film Robin Hood retelling ever–the Washington Post says so, too). Some of you have had the opportunity to read stuff I’ve written about the character Corinne–Corinne is Judi Trott, at least physically. (Well, except that Corinne has green eyes, because I can’t resist green eyes.)

Emily and Katie Fitch (Kathryn and Megan Prescott), Skins

Kathryn and Megan Prescott as, respectively, Emily and Katie Fitch

Redhead identical twins. Don’t think I really need to say anything more.

Chiana (Gigi Edgely), Farscape

Gigi Edgely as Chiana

It was the way she moved–so alien, and so sensual. Well, also the smoking hot body and painstaking grey makeup. But Gigi Edgely deserves such credit for the job she does portraying Chiana every single second she’s on the screen, in a way most actors don’t have to. Well, either that, or it’s Gigi Edgely who has a way of moving and walking that can only be described by combining the terms reptilian and incredibly sexy.

Toda Mariko, Shogun

Mariko from Shogun

Just beats out Lady Jessica Atreides as the book character on the list. With Mariko existing on the page rather than the screen, her sexiness lies more in the idea of her than in any actuality (though Yôko Shimada makes a plenty attractive Mariko in the miniseries). Mariko is samurai; she is a woman who lives in a society where infidelity on the part of a married woman is punishable by instant death. And yet she falls in love with an Englishman and has a secret affair with him. Having a beautiful woman show you the wild sexual side she always keeps hidden, while the rest of the world has no idea and sees only someone serene and demure? Very hot.

Zoe Heriot (Wendy Padbury), Doctor Who

Wendy Padbury as Zoe

Zoe from the side Zoe from behind

(Zoe is someone who I really feel should be appreciated from all angles.)

It was a close-run thing between which Doctor Who companion made it onto my list–Zoe or Nyssa. Zoe wins on cuteness, but Nyssa totally wins on girls-I-had-a-crush-on-when-I-was-four. You know what? Doctor Who is a time travel show. What is the point of a time machine if not to create awesome threesome pairings? No reason we can’t also have

Nyssa (Sarah Sutton), Doctor Who

Sarah Sutton as Nyssa

They’ve got a lot in common, thinking about it. They’re both from advanced societies–Nyssa from the distant planet Traken, Zoe from a human space colony in a distant time known as “the year 2000”. They’re both innocent and sheltered from the ways of the world–a huge turn-on for me. And they’re both precocious, brilliant geniuses–mathematical in Zoe’s case, scientific in Nyssa’s. Women who are smarter than me? Very very hot. Super-smart girls who are into maths & science? Very very hot.

Tatiana Romanova (Daniela Bianchi), From Russia With Love

Well I guess I do have a second book character here, though I’ve never read From Russia With Love, only seen the movie. The Italian Russian accent. The choker and stockings. (Dude. The choker and stockings.) The scene where she seduces Bond in his hotel room that is still the scene being used to audition Bond girls. What about any of that is it possible to resist? And then there’s the fact that she presents herself as an eminently competent Soviet intelligence official, but when events sweep her up, she ends up in over her head, needing to be rescued. A woman who looks confident and independent to the rest of the world, but still needs you to protect her? That gets some primal urges going, right there.

Don’t forget to head over to the main site to do your own list.


Virginia Vice

As seems to be the prelude to these things, it started with Diane saying, “I think you should write a vices post.” So here we go with my vices:

Women. I’m an aspiring writer, and I always said–mostly in jest–that I couldn’t be a writer without a good, solid vice. I’d throw out cigarettes or drugs or alcohol as suggestions, but Lisa never seemed terribly enamored of any of these.

Then one day at a shopping mall in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, as I was waxing poetic about the appeal of tobacco or hard liquor, Lisa said, “Women, honey. Women are your vice.” And Nikki was totally there to see it.

So I have taken her decision to heart. I do love the company of a beautiful woman, and I’m an incorrigible flirt. Thank goodness I have a British accent, and two small children (protip: nothing attracts the attention of a beautiful woman like a small child). And a wife who rolls her eyes and laughs at me making a fool of myself.

Video games. I’ve talked before about how, as soon as I pick up a video game, it consumes my life. There are three types of games I really love: strategy games, American football games and soccer management games (where you manage the team, buy and sell players, but don’t actually play the matches). Every time I get over one, I completely swear off video games, because I do nothing else when I’m really into one. I abandon this blog and Twitter and everything else online, and worst of all, my writing comes to a screeching halt.

Books. I love books. I’ve always loved books. I daydream about getting lost in the long, winding stacks of books in an endless library. My own library has around sixteen hundred volumes right now. I’m a compulsive collector of books, with an especial weakness for history and biography; if I come across a biography of someone I don’t already have a life of, I’ll usually buy it.

Sprite. It’s what I drink. Almost never on its own, though; it gets mixed with other stuff. That might be Crystal Lite, apple juice, red wine, or pretty much any liquor. If it’s not carbonated, not milk and doesn’t require dilution, obviously it’s meant to be mixed with Sprite before consumption. I tried to give up soda a while back. Why did that not work? Because it meant giving up Sprite.

Blackcurrant. Okay, there’s one thing I drink besides Sprite. In Britain, blackcurrant is exceptionally common; in America, it’s almost unheard of, with the common flavour “purple” being grape rather than blackcurrant. I found out recently that’s because the American timber industry had blackcurrant cultivation outlawed in most states in the 1930s, because blackcurrant is a huge predator of timber.

But anyway. For years I was able to keep my blackcurrant addiction under control, with just the occasional bottle of Ribena from the British section of the supermarket. But during our trip to England this summer, with Ribena cheap and plentiful, I drank the stuff like water, and now I can’t go back. It’s been a part of my life for a long time, but since this summer it’s become a constant presence. Even though it’s $8 for a single one-litre bottle. Now I don’t think I could give up the Ribena if I wanted to, but why would I want to? It fills my life with such joy.

And so there we have it. Five bad habits–five instances of me surrendering to my senses. Anyone else care to share a vice?


Dude Response Friday

ETA: So I guess I’m not the only one who likes the idea of guys responding to what their ladies have to say on Girl Talk Thursday. I’ve never been the catalyst for something someone designed an Internet badge for before. I feel pretty cool right now:

Yesterday Lisa participated in Girl Talk Thursday with her List of Five. Turnabout is, as always, fair play, so here I’m offering my own list. It’s a list of the moment, of course–a list that evolves continually. I think back to the (gorgeous) women who were on it five or so years ago, and they’ve done things like party so hard that they had the face of a thirty-year-old when they were still nineteen, or done something really creepy like marry Tom Cruise.

So just to sum up? The list remains totally fluid.

Oh, and also–because I’m a giver, Lisa can totally consider herself welcome to my list as well as hers. If she has the opportunity to get it on with anyone on this list, she doesn’t need to feel guilty at all about taking it.

So here they are, alphabetically by first name (because you can’t have a list like this without some sort of order):


Georgia Moffett

Georgia Moffet played the title character in “The Doctor’s Daughter” episode of Doctor Who, and man, cute–as–a–button. Just look at that smile. And those eyes. She’s the sort of girl you’re scrambling to help fix whatever problem she’s having.


Mila Kunis

Long, long ago, an Internet test picked out That ’70s Show’s Mila Kunis as my physically perfect girl. And who am I to argue with Internet tests?


I’ve already talked–probably with a touch too much specificity–about my crush on Millie Clode, my favourite Sky Sports News presenter. But as I was searching for pictures of her, I couldn’t find any I was really happy with. (I’ve had this problem with several of the women on this list, and Lisa had the same problem for her post, but with Millie it was particularly pronounced.) I came to the conclusion that this is because her sexiness lies in her onscreen attitude, in the way you feel like she’s flirting just with you as she addresses the camera, and a still image can’t capture that. Diane proposed the solution, a video. This is the best one I could find on youtube; I do recommend watching the HQ version. (If you’re reading on Facebook, you can see the embedded video at the original post.)


Morena Baccarin

I don’t know what there is to say about Morena Baccarin except … wow. Loved her ever since Firefly. I’m a bit leery about the upcoming remake of V, though, given the haircut she’s wearing.


Natalie Dormer

I first saw Natalie Dormer in the Heath Ledger Casanova movie a few years ago, and instantly fell in love. Since then, of course, she’s become far more famous playing Anne Boleyn in The Tudors. For that role she went brunette, and while this didn’t dampen my ardour nearly as much as Jessica Alba’s move in the opposite direction, I still think she’s at her most indefensibly bewitching as a blonde.


Vanessa Carlton

Vanessa Carlton is one of my favourite singers, and it’s a lucky thing. It would really suck being complete putty in her hands if her music sucked.

Honorable mention

Jessica Alba. A few years ago would have been the first name on the list. The thing about Jessica Alba is, as a brunette I think she’s stunningly hot. But when she went blonde for Fantastic Four, all of a sudden she just … didn’t capture my interest in the same way before. Not that I’d be able to resist for a heartbeat (or even string a sentence together) if I walked into my bedroom and found this waiting for me (link verges on the NSFW), but she just wasn’t quite in the same place as her fellows on this list. Also, we share a birthday (though she’s two years younger than me).

Anyone I’ve missed? It’s a question asked of the gents, of course, but you ladies are strongly encouraged to weigh in, too.


Guest blog: Girl Talk Thursday

Lisa decided she wanted to contribute to this week’s Girl Talk Thursday topic, which is the list of five celebrities you’re allowed to know biblically, regardless of any monogamous relationship you’re in. So here I am providing a forum for my wife talk about the men she’d boink in a heartbeat. Incidentally, her maternity leave started yesterday, so this might not be the last Thursday we hear from her.

When Ian first told me that the Girl Talk Thursday topic was the 5 celebrities on your list, I immediately thought–that’s easy.

John Barrowman in TORCHWOODFirst and probably foremost, John Barrowman. He is the star of Torchwood, frequent guest star of Doctor Who, and passionately gay. (For the record–if I can have anyone on the list then clearly I can expand the fantasy to changing their sexuality/marital status.) John has a smile and personality that light up the screen. Watching him makes me want to be there with him and glow. He’s also really hot.

Colin Firth in PRIDE AND PREJUDICESecond, Colin Firth. If you haven’t watched the six hour version of Pride and Prejudice by A&E, I highly recommend it. Colin Firth plays Mr. Darcy–a cocky, arrogant, jerk. He’s quite attractive, but the main thing is, he’s got eyes that make you weak in the knees. I’d be willing to do almost anything to get him to stare at me with that intensity and desperate longing.

Three through five were a lot harder than I expected. Ian suggested movies, TV shows, singers, athletes, politicians, and of course authors. So while I find the following three men very attractive, there is definitely a drop off.

Justin ChambersThird, Justin Chambers. He plays Alex on Grey’s Anatomy and his character is a cocky, arrogant, jerk. He has kind of a tough guy, thug thing going on. In reality, he appears to be a really nice guy. But more importantly he’s hot and a player (on TV–in reality he has a really pretty wife).

Fourth, Toby Keith. This one is kind of a stretch since my actually seeing Toby Keith is limited to CMA awards shows and specials. I also know nothing about him. There are other country singers I like better, but I think the song “As Good As I Once Was” is hilarious. He got on the list because Ian asked about singers and I thought there are some hot country singers and a Google search revealed that he was who I was thinking of. Keith Urban was another option.

Tony StewartFifth, and a little surprisingly, Tony Stewart. He is a cocky, arrogant jerk–but it turns out that this is an attractive quality to me. He can have a really bad attitude and you never know what he is going to do. I think it is this mysteriousness and unpredictability that I like and that he’s an ass, but kinda cute.

Things I learned writing this post:

–The celebrities on my list are men that I am attracted to, but would not necessarily ever want to get to know. I came up with several options of men I would like to get to know, but when I thought about them being on my list – not so much.
–There are several shall we say older gentleman that I also find attractive, but wouldn’t want to get with. Examples of these men are Alec Baldwin and Sean Connery.
–I like eyes–a lot. (I also like butts, but that’s not really relevant.)
–When looking at photos I was a little disappointed. It turns out I like live action men a lot better than still pictures.


1. John Barrowman
2. Colin Firth
3. Justin Chambers
4. Toby Keith
5. Tony Stewart


The turnoff

A woman's tattooed torsoLast week, at Diane’s instigation I talked about my turn-ons, a post that was a fair deal of fun to write (and which left me with half a dozen photos of women dressed in Catholic schoolgirl uniforms saved me to hard drive, from the search for a suitable image to adorn the post).

But that sort of discussion wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t also mention what’s probably my number one turnoff in a woman, at least in appearance: the tattoo.

The small tattoos–a flower on the inside of the wrist, or Celtic knot on the small of the back or around the ankle, are one thing. They’re still a turnoff, but they’re ignorable.

But now the tattoos are getting bigger. One day when Boy and I went swimming, there were three attractive women under thirty at the pool. This in itself, considering that they were all there separately, is rather unusual; Boy and I go swimming on weekday mornings, so as often as not we’re alone there with the lifeguard.

And every one of them had massive tattoos across their body, like the one in the picture at the top of this post.* One over her arms, another across the bottom half of her back, and the third across her back and thighs. And it killed it for me.

Now, I’m not sitting in judgement over tattoos, and I’m not criticising any readers who might have them, so I hope they don’t take it as such. I just … don’t like them. To me, I see the female form as a beautiful, pure thing.** And a tattoo mars that purity–permanently.

Anyone else have a turnoff like that, that just kills the moment for them?


*In the past couple of weeks Facebook seems to have stopped importing the images on my posts. I don’t know if this is Facebook or the RSS feed off the blog. At any rate, if you’re just really interested in seeming some picture of a girl’s torso with her pants pulled down and sports bra pulled up to expose her full tattoo, and you’re reading this without an image on it, head on over to the original post to see.

**Please no one think that because I’m bringing purity into the discussion, I’m referring at all to virginity. Virginity and physical purity are, as far as I’m concerned, unrelated, and it annoys me greatly when they get equated.

Re: Girl Talk Thursday (NSFW)

Catholic schoolgirlAnd to make a long story short, then Diane said, “Maybe it’s time you post about your turn ons.”

To which notion Lisa responded, “Any such post needs to first be vetted by me and at least one other female. And I don’t know who that would be. Because you know what you like? Having girl friends who don’t think you’re creepy.”

So now you know what this post is going to be about. No one who reads beyond this point gets to complain or be weirded out. So here they are, presented in no particular order. They run the gamut from pretty vanilla This-Is-What-Of-the-Common-Turn-Ons-Particularly-Excite-Me to rather more white chocolate raspberry swirl ones. You can probably estimate where each one falls on the scale by how much screen space gets devoted to it.

1. Catholic schoolgirl uniforms. The little touches are important. Knee socks. Mary Janes (see Footwear below). The skirt should be pleated.

2. Redheads/gingers. The redder the better.

3. When a girl’s bra and panties match. (No, it doesn’t count when your old lady bra matches your white cotton panties.) For extra points, when they match the girl’s high heels and garter & stockings. This is a major turn on because it means the girl planned on someone seeing her with her clothes off tonight.

4. The hourglass–there’s just something about the sudden flair of that curve.

5. Footwear and stockings. Shoes are one of the first things I look at on a woman. As mentioned above I’m a fan of Mary Janes, and also of go-go boots. With high heels, I like them to be strappy, and the higher the better. The best part of high heels is what they do to a woman’s calves.

I really like stockings, with or without a garter belt. I know that I’m almost always wrong, but as far as I’m concerned, when a woman has sexy hose on, she’s wearing stockings.

6. Seeing what I’m not supposed to see. This comes in two ways. The first is what I’ll call private–there are few things sexier than being able to see partway down the top of a girl who’s, say, sat in front of you at the football game, or at the next table in the restaurant. It’s … intimate. The second is public–when a woman falls victim to a fortuitous gust of wind or a stumble. The sort of thing that a lot 1940s of pinup art is based on.

7. Watching a girl at the beach or the pool strip off to her bikini. Something else that’s both voyeuristic and intimate–a woman willingly disrobing in public.

8. Laces. Anything piece of clothing that unties.

9. Power. I guess, the kinkiest thing on the list. I’ve always been fascinated with power relationships. Probably my biggest turn on is the idea of getting women to do things in public they don’t want to do. The American version of the gameshow Dog Eat Dog had a round where an attractive female contestant would have to throw a certain number of, say, footballs through a hole, and she could buy one throw for each item of clothing she was willing to remove. I found it incredibly erotic, because obviously each episode’s contestant never wanted to disrobe piece by piece on a stage in front of hundreds of people, but every episode that’s exactly what she chose to do.

Also under power I’d file the idea of women being tricked into doing things they don’t realise. When Lisa and I were at Versailles we at one point were behind an attractive young woman in a black cotton dress. After a moment of looking, you realised the dress was actually completely transparent, and you could see every detail of her lacy black panties.*

So there you go–nine turn ons that I figured wouldn’t freak anyone out too much (so long as too much detail was avoided). And the only one I had to leave off is the order a woman takes her clothes off.


*Just as an aside, if Paris still sets the fashion for the rest of the world, then the coming fashion for young women is going to be clothing that’s see-through, at least from the waist down. In 32 hours in the City of Light we saw three different girls dressed that way–the one in the black dress, plus two sets of white Capri’s.

The women in my life (who just don’t know it)

NinaOnce upon a time, I had a life outside the home. I went to work or class every day and interacted, face to face, with grownups besides my wife. A fair percentage of these grownups were attractive young women.

Back then, I was never terribly interested in women on my TV screen. I mean, sure, I appreciated a pretty face or a bit of skin on television or at the cinema, but these ladies never really held my interest once they were offscreen. (Well, except maybe for Kelly Kapowski, but I hardly think I’m unique in that.) When I thought about women, I thought about women that I knew and interacted with.

But now there aren’t any women I interact with (except for Lisa, of course). And I’m finding that the women on telly are capturing my attention rather more than they have in the past.

To start with, there’s Nina, hostess of The Good Night Show on PBS Kids Sprout. The Good Night Show is a frame show for the various programmes Sprout shows every night, and Boy usually watches at least a little bit of it every night before he goes to bed. And because of Nina–pretty, thirtyish, friendly and softspoken–I find it’s one of the highlights of my day.

(Boy himself–who’s always been just as fond of pretty young women as I am–has also always been a bit enraptured by Nina.)

Millie ClodeThere’s also Millie Clode, an anchor with Sky Sports News whom the Sun recently proclaimed sport’s no. 1 babe. Sky Sports News is a 24-hour British sport news channel–just like ESPN News here in the States–and three or four times a day, Fox Soccer Channel shows an hour of it as its own news broadcast. I only want to watch the evening hour, but because FSC keeps moving it around (most often it’s at 7pm, but sometimes it’s at 6, sometimes at 8), I’ve had to set our DVR to tape every single showing.

What I now find myself doing is that I watch the evening broadcast, then fastforward through the others just long enough to see who the anchors are, deleting most of them unseen but watching the ones featuring Millie Clode. With the mischievous hint of a smile and cock of her eyebrow, her sultry voice and its BBC accent, that habit she has of every once in a while demurely casting her eyes down from the camera, the way she’s always at a slight angle from the camera, and her perfect, could-only-have-been-learnt-in-finishing-school posture–sat attentively forward in her chair, back unimpeachably upright but with an ever-so-slight, sexy arch to it–I find there is nothing easier in this world than watching her talking about football for an hour.

Emily and Katie FitchAnd lastly, one of the highlights of the new series of Skins–and the brand new cast it brought with it–has been the Fitch twins, Emily and Katie, particularly when Emily’s main plot arc for the series turned out to be coming to terms with realising she’s a lesbian* by aggressively pursuing and seducing her friend Naomi. The actresses who play the Fitches–Kathryn and Megan Prescott–are fraternal, not identical, and in real life look much less alike than they’re made to in Skins, but, at least in their first series, Emily was definitely the highlight for me of the new cast.

I don’t want to give the wrong impression here; I don’t have posters hanging up of Nina or go searching Google Images for pictures of Millie Clode (well, until I sat down to write a blog post about her). But it’s undeniably true that, now that I have far less adult interaction in my life than I did in the past, a pretty face on telly brightens my day far more than it used to.


*Actually, “lesbian” is far too clumsy a way of putting it. It is one of Skins’s greatest strengths that its characters–however stereotypical they might seem when first introduced–are far too subtle and nuanced to be easily labelled, and that’s just as true of Emily’s sexuality as it has been of everything else in the programme. Emily’s plot arc revolves around the intense sexual attraction she feels for Naomi, but the writers never feel the need to make any implications about her wider sexual orientation–whether toward girls or boys. To do so would be irrelevant to the storyline and far too cliché for Skins; as Emily says, “I like girls. No–I like a girl.” Indeed, her only other sexual encounter is a heterosexual one, and it and its immediate aftermath are, honestly, one of the most tender, beautiful, and sweetly-written and -acted sequences I’ve ever seen on television, so much so that I felt the need to walk through to our bedroom and tell Lisa that anything negative I’d previously said about the new cast of Skins was completely wrong. But whatever word we want to use–hot chicks make out.

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