There are a lot of great comics out there, but the one I want to talk about is Bitch Planet.
Bitch Planet is a sort of middle-finger love-letter to the women’s prison exploitation films of the ’60s and ’70s. If you’re not familiar with the genre, think of the kinds of things Quentin Tarantino is paying homage to. Cheesy, kitschy, exploitative messes that revel in debauchery and violence and sexuality and women, generally for the purpose of the male gaze. In the world of Bitch Planet, women who don’t fit the standard of the ideal woman are sent to the eponymous planet for imprisonment, re-education, or safekeeping–take your pick. These women are called “non-compliant.”
There’s a lot to love about Bitch Planet, but this concept of “non-compliant” has resonated strongly with me. In a lot of ways, I’m the very definition of compliant. I’m a cis woman married to a cis man. I do the vast majority of the cooking and cleaning in my house. I like to garden. I’m fond of dresses, makeup, and high heels.
But those are surface-level things, and being non-compliant is a hell of a lot deeper than that. From a young age, I had traditional gender roles shoved down my throat by family members who wanted me to be representative of them, not of myself. As a child and a member of a family with a particular last name, I was meant to represent them. I should have long hair. I should know how to cook. I should be quietly intelligent, pretty, and put-together.
I was very few of those things. I cut my hair short because I had head lice. I liked baseball. I always knew the right answer and I liked to laugh in class, I hated skirts because I couldn’t run in them, and I was always tearing holes in my jeans. And I was told that that was wrong, that I should be pretty, ladylike, and quiet.
I tried it for a while, when some things in my life got hard. If I could fit this mold, maybe I could make everybody around me happy. Maybe things would be better if I could be the ideal. It didn’t work, of course–the things that were wrong in my life had nothing to do with me. Once I’d moved on from trying to force myself into someone else’s image of what I should be, it was time for my middle/high-school identity crisis–roughly six years of trying on different identities to see which suited me best. It wasn’t until I graduated high school and started living on my own that I realized, hey. I didn’t have to be any of those other things. They were all a part of me, and combining them made me the happiest.
Which brings me back around to Bitch Planet and non-compliance. Having those expectations forced upon me made me hate them. When I adopted them for myself–letting my hair grow long (despite the fact that I’ve now shaved half of it off), cooking for fun, choosing to clean–I felt comfortable in them. Societal pressures still reinforce the idea that I am somehow wrong for many of my choices, like choosing not to have children and cutting off contact with certain members of my family. When the media I consume shows characters happily overcoming these same concerns–characters I identify with whose stories become about children and giving birth despite them expressing either no interest in the topic or outright stating they don’t want children, for instance, or the inevitable “forgiving your estranged family is the only thing that will make you happy” storyline–those old feelings come floating back up.
Am I being a woman wrong? If I did it right–if I had children, if I let people who hurt me back into my life, if I stopped shaving my head and cussing and talking about feminism–would that make all my bad days stop and all my insecurities disappear?
No, it wouldn’t. I know it wouldn’t. And that’s why things like Bitch Planet and non-compliance are so important. Non-compliance isn’t just fighting the system because you can, because you want to, because you’re angry. Those things play a role, of course, but non-compliance can also be as simple and important as being the person that you are in spite of every one and every thing telling you that you’re wrong for it.
My disinterest in having children doesn’t make me less of a woman. It doesn’t make me wrong. It doesn’t mean I’m a completely selfish person with no love to share with the world (trust me, I have so much love for my friends and family that sometimes I could literally cry from just thinking about them). And while not wanting children has nothing to do with my shoving my finger in the eye of the patriarchy, it’s something that does sometimes make me feel a little alone in the world, a little wrong.
But that’s the beauty of Bitch Planet; being non-compliant is almost a sisterhood. While we may not like everybody that’s in it with us, we can feel the camaraderie of not being part of the ideal. We’re all non-compliant in our own ways, but that refusal–even in our individual small ways, is enough to tie us together.