This graphic novel is thrilling and suspenseful. But unlike other graphic novellas, also incites a conversation of significance. There are many layers of morality included within the pages, but the nucleus is centered in the manner of which society forces women into miniscule boxes of politeness, domestication and subservience. Bitch Planet is set in a future Earth, where men reign supreme and women are meant to listen more and speak less, dress in an appropriate and attractive fashion, and be completely submissive to the men in their lives, especially their husbands. Within the context of this new future world, the planet is now run by a group of morally corrupt Caucasian men who enjoy being referred to as “The Fathers.” The Fathers set the laws for how they believe women are supposed to walk, talk, dress, and behave. It reminds me of the scene in Eddie Murphy’s Coming to America, in which Prince Hakeem is asking his future princess bride, of whom he has never met, what types of things she enjoys doing in an effort to get to know her better. He asks her questions like what type of food does she like, and what type of music does she like. But her reply is always the same, “Whatever you like.” The men in Bitch Planet would have adored her. Her only goal was to please her prince.
She had been taught since birth to ignore her own thoughts and feelings and to instead think only of her future husband. In essence, she was, “compliant”. A term used in the book to describe a woman who followed the rules set forth by The Fathers. Lisa, on the other hand, the woman Prince Hakeem eventually fell in love with and married, would have been sent to Bitch Planet. Bitch Planet is a women’s prison, supposedly on an uninhabitable planet, a fact in which, I assume, the fathers hope will keep the women from escaping. The women in Bitch Planet have been judged and sentenced for being “non-compliant” with the rules and expectations set forth by the men in their lives or “The Fathers” who run the world in this satirical novel.
If a woman is not living up to her husband’s expectations in the bedroom or the kitchen, she could be sent to Bitch Planet. If she is overweight or considered unattractive, she could be sent to Bitch Planet. If she was transgendered or lesbian or masculine in appearance, she could be sent to Bitch Planet. So pretty much every woman you know would be there for one reason or another. Most of the women on Bitch Planet have refused to be subjected to the male’s fantastical version of what she should be. And therefore, have decided to fight back by whatever means necessary, including violence. The prisoners are constantly being abused and sexually assaulted by the guards at the prison, who are both male and female. The main characters of the book are far from docile. They are fighters, strong, and regularly taking and dishing out physical punishments.
One of the things I enjoyed most about this read were the “ads” and newsletters that are placed throughout the book. Within these ads, women are given advice on how to better please their husbands, or how to act and look more pleasant. The “ads” are satirical and hilarious, however, they can also be gut wrenching as you examine how some of these same social constructs have affected you in your own life. Here is an excerpt from a fictional ad for a fictional product called Agreenex in book one:
Be the you HE likes. Good to be around, any time, any day. Agreenex helps. It doesn’t change your circumstance, but it keeps you from caring. Because without thoughts, feelings, or inconvenient opinions, you’re more fun to be around. So, use Agreenex. Isn’t he worth it? (And if he kicks you out, where will you live? Do you really think someone will give you a job? Look at you.) Agreenex, because he’s sick of your shit!
This ad and others like it found throughout the book, have a bifold effect. Firstly, they share greater insight into the setting of the book and how women are viewed in this patriarchal society. Secondly, it forces the reader to delve deeper into our current social system and contemplate on how we view women in our current society.
There certainly has been a double standard when it comes to fair compensation, roles in the home and in the workplace, and with regards to sexuality. Women who dress in business suits, run companies, and don’t make apologies before giving orders are seen as bitches, while men are seen as bosses. Women who use men for sex without wanting a commitment are seen as being promiscuous, and referred to as sluts and tramps; while men are seen as simply sowing their oats. Women routinely are paid less than their male counterparts in most professions. And are constantly picked over for promotions or management positions. There is no “good ole gals club.” There are only strong women who work extra hard to get to the same point as their male colleagues.
Women are expected to be docile, indecisive and emotional. We are seen by many men and possessions, objects of their lust and desire. And when we refuse to become subdued by their sweet comments and flirtatiousness, we automatically go from being “Hey, sweetheart” to “F*ck you, Bitch”. I’ve been called this name more times than I care to remember. I can recall as a young woman, being physically pushed at a club because I didn’t want a guy to “grind” on me. This type of dancing (especially in teenage boys and young men) often led to erection. I hated this. I didn’t want to feel his penis on any of my body parts. So, I chose to dance, but chose not to allow him to grind on me. Whenever he pulled me close, I pulled away. He became offended and angry. Then, he pushed me. Hard. I was shocked and scared of what he would do next. I was physically assaulted for the first time in my life. Couldn’t he have just moved on to the next girl? One who possibly enjoyed having random stiff penises grinding on her posterior? Why did I have to be physically and violently moved? Little did I know, a good friend of the family was there, and he came to my rescue before anything escalated. I have never forgotten that incident. Or the countless other times that I have endured a “Hey Shorty, let me holler at you for a minute” moment only to be called a bitch or a whore the next. But nothing compared to my college years, in which I was labeled a slut, because I was cute and flirtatious and because boys lie. I wasn’t a slut, I didn’t sleep around. But it didn’t matter because some men want to see us that way. Sexualized and easy prey. It had gotten so bad, that I couldn’t even hug a “friend”, because in the young male’s mind, that was an invitation to have sex. It even prevented me from having connections with other young women. They too, had fell for the hype, believing what they heard, and suddenly were no longer friendly and gossiped about me behind my back.
I hadn’t realized it then, but at that time, I made a conscience decision to change my appearance, to become less attractive, and thus less desirable. Guys would no longer tells lies about me, and the girls wouldn’t feel threatened by me. I stopped wearing dresses and heels. My new wardrobe consisted of jeans, sneakers, and a ponytail. I gained thirty pounds. And, you know what; It worked. I suddenly had no more problems with guys hitting on me or spreading rumors. And women wanted to hang out with me. Their ego firmly in-tact. But I noticed something else, men didn’t hold the door for me when coming in and out of stores or office buildings. Nor did they offer me the standard kindnesses of a gentlemen. I almost felt invisible. Eventually, I grew out of this stage of life. Lost some weight and started wearing heels again, not for men, but for myself. Soon, men were holding the door for me once more. Not that it mattered. I had learned a valuable lesson. Appearance does matter and how you are viewed, is how you will be treated.
Unfortunately, too many men view women as sexual objects and it’s always clear what is favored in America’s standard of beauty. And when young girls watch television and music videos, they subconsciously began putting pieces to the puzzles together. At a very young age, little brown girls want blonde hair because that’s what they see on television. It becomes their version of beauty until their mothers and grandmothers and aunties go out of their way to teach them, explicitly, that Brown Barbie is beautiful too. False images that we constantly feed our brain with become blueprints for how we eventually come to think and feel and behave, and dress. And we pass these fallacies onto our children and it shapes them, but it doesn’t empower them.
The ads in the book Bitch Planet, say explicitly, what real-life ads say subconsciously. That you are not good enough as you are and you need this product to look better, to feel better, and to be more attractive to men. Of course, men’s products say the same. Capitalism is always at work in the United States. A point the book does not miss as The Fathers cook up schemes to build arenas and make profit off of a barbaric sport-like competition between the abusive guards and the unyielding prisoners.
If I was on Earth during the time of the book’s setting, I’m sure I would have been sent to bitch planet. I was purposely looking the opposite of what men wanted to see. I wasn’t overly feminine or sweet acting. And because of this, I was ignored.
Similarly, another topic touched on in the book; men want women to have long beautiful hair, round voluptuous asses, nice perky breasts, flat stomachs, and small waists. But the truth is, very few of us possess all these qualities. Which is why beauty is a multi-billion dollar industry and growing twice the rate of the developed world’s GDP.
Skin care = $24 billion
Make Up = $18 billion
Hair-care products = $38 billion
Perfume = $15 billion
$95 billion dollars which doesn’t even account for the push-up bras, spanks, waist cinchers, and panty girdles purchased by women in a never-ending attempt at beauty.
When we adorn our bodies with so many concealers, is that our true beauty? The men on Bitch Planet don’t think so. Similar to real life, men on Bitch planet consider it a crime when you “deceive” them by attracting them with fake hair, fake nails, and a push-up bra. “You tricked him! You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t, you lying strumpet.” Satire at its best.
Side-note: Beauty is defined by google is…
- A combination of qualities, such as shape, color, form, that pleases the aesthetic senses, especially the sight.
- A beautiful woman.
Nowhere does it mention qualities such as intelligence, self-confidence, generosity, creativity. Would we rather see our daughters with these qualities? Is intelligence more beautiful than long hair? Or are they equally as beautiful?
But, back to the book…
I also love that women of many different backgrounds and ethnicities are included in the book. A spunky Asian woman and some very tough as nails black women. Transgendered and lesbian women are also represented. And these women are strong and ready for a revolution.
By book two there is an uprising and a man is to blame, but we secretly love this guy for bucking the system. And I’m excited to see what role he will play in the upcoming volumes. But I’m more excited about President Bitch, an unexpected character who rises with precision timing, just in time for a prison revolt to take charge and lead these… “bitches” to victory.
This is an excellent book. It will make you burn your bras, put on your combat boots, and pump your black power fist high in the air. It will bring out the feminist, you never knew was inside you. And it will make you question your own identity as a woman in this world. “Do I allow the opinions of men to guide certain decisions I make? Am I wearing this weave for me or for him? How have my relationships with men shaped the woman I am today? Have I allowed the opinion of a man in my life to alter how I view myself?”
I am very aware of many poor decisions I have made because of the men in my life. I don’t blame them, because they were still my decisions. I recognize how much different I am now compared to that time in my life. I am more self-assured and less concerned with how anyone else views me. I own my truth and have examined myself thoroughly. I am no longer afraid to be honest and forthcoming from fear of hurting the tiny male ego. I am non-compliant, and proud. If “bitch” is how you choose to describe me, that is your choice. It’s a common term for the small-minded and the dim witted, but no dilemma of my own.
What are some ways that you have been deemed as “non-compliant” in your own life? In what ways do you feel you must be “in compliance”? How can we break free of the stereotypical boxes men designate us to? And how can we teach our daughters to be completely happy with themselves, when everything they see around them says otherwise?
Until next time, read this book…
Aside: This book also briefly touched on the issue of the “stand your ground law,” and the Black Lives Matter Movement. It was done in a way that was so thought-provoking. In it, three black kids trespass on a company’s property in an effort to take a short cut. A white man in a security tower sees them on his surveillance cameras. He’s bored of his job, tired, and hungry, and instead of going to investigate, he decides within a few seconds that the kids “look shady.” So, he presses one button which activates their deadly security feature. In a moments notice, all three, unarmed, very young, black kids are dead. And the security guard doesn’t even feel the obligation to write a report. He kills them and then goes to lunch.
I can only shake my head in sadness. I pray this type of reality is not where we are headed. I fear for my daughter and my nephews. But the truth is, this type of reality is where we’re headed. In a culture where we still sing a racist song as our national anthem, where private prisons are the new form of slavery, where a police officer can be videoed shooting an unarmed black man in the back and still end up with a deadlocked jury, where even a wealthy black man get persecuted for silently protesting injustice. These are sad times. The authors of this book touch on this in a brief, yet deeply moving way.