Guardians of the Galaxy is not a feminist film! Yippee!! (Spoiler alert)

Posted: August 18, 2014 in Uncategorized

Two things I want to mention before I continue with this piece:

1) This is only the second time I’ve done this kind of blog, it’s basically taking something I wrote on Facebook and delving deeper into it. Last time I did it was way back in December last year (2013). I don’t do it often because I generally tend to keep the Facebook posts shorter and the blog posts longer. I wasn’t intending to write this blog, but shit happens.

2) I am a huge comic book fan.

That second point is one to remember as I go through this blog, particularly with reference to the article I’m looking at. I’ve read comics since I was small, since my dad took me to the local comic shop to buy me my first comic. Spider-man has always been my favourite super-hero. There’s a depth and wisdom to the character that seems to be lost in film and television. I generally tend to stay mainstream, I’ve read independent comics (love The Walking Dead, Haunt and Kick Ass) but generally I’m a Marvel fanboy. That also means I’m well aware of the fact that comics have long been accused of sexism, in particular its poor representation of women, or the ‘woman in refrigerator’ trope.

I’ve seen Guardians of the Galaxy twice. My knowledge of the comics is very limited. I know basic stories and plots, I know characters, I read the first few issues of the new series but haven’t really kept up. Normally I’m critical of comic book films (which is a blog entry all by itself!) but this time I’m not looking at the film, more so the reaction to it, particularly from feminist circles.

See, this article popped up pretty much as soon as the film hit cinemas:

http://www.btchflcks.com/2014/08/3-reasons-why-guardians-of-the-galaxy-is-not-a-feminist-film.html#.U_EflU13v5o

It starts with this little disclaimer:

‘Full disclosure: I’ve never read the comics and I knew nothing about the characters, their backstories, or their places in the Marvel Universe. I’m guessing that most viewers will share my ignorance. That’s OK, just go with it and let the tongue-twisters and blasters work their magic.’

Fine, so let’s focus solely on the film, not the comics. I’m not allowed to bitch about how things were changed or ‘that’s not how it happened in the comics’ type geekery that basically just ruins it for the casual followers.

Before we move on, there’s also reference to a list that James Gunn created a couple of years ago noting the 50 superheroes you’d most want to have sex with. Apparently it was full of racism, homophobia and sexism and was the worst thing imaginable. Gunn came out and publicly said it was all supposed to be light hearted, but was then forced to apologise. I just find it funny that this kind of tongue-in-cheek humour is pilloried yet ‘ironic misandry’, the new feminist buzzword, is not a problem.

Anyway, back on point. Let’s face it, of the cinema going public, the majority will not have heard of this particular group of heroes. Did Marvel make it because of baying fan support? No, probably not, it’s a brilliant way of introducing new, potentially important, ideas to see if they would work in the future (Nova and Captain Marvel, anyone?) or keeping previously introduced characters relevant until they are needed (hello, Thanos!). I’m sure they didn’t count on it becoming a smash hit.

So why is it not a feminist film and, more importantly, should it strive to be? Should any and all films strive to be feminist films? Should every film strive, toil, aim to pass the stupid Bechdel test (where two women talk to each other about something other than a man)?

God, no. Why? Well, let’s delve into the article above to see why. (oh, and just as a side note, this film actually passes the Bechdel test and feminists still aren’t happy).

Point number 1:

‘1. The first act features not one, but two disposable women. We learn that Quill suffers from parental abandonment. His father is absent, and his mother succumbs to cancer in the prologue. Later, Melia Kreiling portrays Bereet, a vaguely-alien humanoid whose key scene involves Quill shamelessly admitting to forgetting her existence even though they’d recently had sex. In the next scene (two of two for her), she speaks broken English and is servile to Quill; it struck me as an extraterrestrial variation of the Asian girlfriend trope. This was one of the few moments in the film where I actually didn’t like Pratt’s character. Unfortunately, this a-girl-in-every-spaceport sexism is leaned on for laughs throughout the film. Pratt is still playing a heterosexual white male lead, and Gunn won’t let you forget it.’

Ah, a feminist talking about disposability. To be honest, this is such bullshit. I mean, the whole list is bullshit but I honestly can’t believe that feminists such as Ande Morgan are actually taking issue with this and using it as a way to say Guardians isn’t a feminist film. Let’s push aside, for a moment, the thousands of disposable men and focus solely on these two women.

I would like to point out as well that I tried to follow the links provided in point number 1 and both of them prompted a message from my anti-virus alerting me to some malware being detected, so I’m writing this without having followed them, but I’m pretty sure I know what I’d be linked to. (EDIT: Just to clarify, I’m not suggesting that Morgan’s article is infested with malware, it’s the pages she links to that set off my anti-virus.)

The first woman, Quill’s mother, dies of cancer within the first few minutes. Disposable? Really? Yes, it’s a fact that Quill’s mother dies within the first couple of minutes, it’s also very apparent that this haunts Quill throughout not just the film but the character’s life. He still holds on to the last fragments of his mother, a retro cassette player, to the point that he risks his life to get it back when escaping the prison. He’s so distraught at her death that he can’t even bring himself to open the present she left for him. It’s revealed at the end of the film that the reason he calls himself Star Lord, the reason he’s so desperate to be known by that name, is because it was his mother’s nickname for him. She died when he was just a kid, in terms of disposability she’s actually one of the most important characters in the entire film.

The fact she dies early on does not make her disposable, not when her impact is felt throughout the rest of the film. We don’t learn her character’s name which is to be expected of disposable characters, there’s no need to learn their names because they are introduced simply to be killed off (Think red shirt wearing crew members in Star Trek), however her impact is massive. There are multiple disposable characters throughout the film and we never learn their names because they truly are disposable. Can you really label a character as disposable if they are the main character’s influence throughout the entire film? I’d say no, but then I’m sure I’m wrong, somehow.

I also find it interesting that his mother is presented as the hero of his life and somehow she’s disposable yet we don’t learn anything about his father, aside from a few throwaway comments here and there and there’s no mention of him being disposable? In the comics Quill’s father is a pretty big deal, yet we spend the majority of the film thinking he’s just some arsehole who ran out on his family.

As for Bereet, the disposable conquest of Quill’s sexuality, well we actually do learn her name, so she should really be playing a more significant role than Quill’s mother, yes? No, she really is a throwaway character, but there’s a big difference between being ‘disposable’ and ‘inconsequential’.

Bereet is ‘inconsequential’ in that she doesn’t affect the film in any way but doesn’t contribute to it either. We learn her name, we know she and Quill probably had sex, we know he kept her around, we know Quill comes across as a bit of a dick because he forgets she’s there. The article claims she’s ‘servile’. Of the 2 scenes she’s in I wouldn’t call her servile in either of them. Is it not her that answers the phone when he asks her not to? That’s hardly being servile. She’s not a main player, she’s treated badly but she’s not disposable.

I do agree that the every-girl-in-a-spaceport stereotype is sexist, but not for the reasons stated. Is it sexist towards women? Yeah, probably, but no consideration is given to the fact it’s also sexist towards men, suggesting that white, straight, male heroes are always dicks who only use people for their own personal needs: Bereet for sex, Yondu for his technology and spaceship, etc. Yeah, I didn’t much like Star Lord during this scene either, but more because it was him being portrayed negatively using outdated stereotypes of white, male heroes than for Bereet’s character. See, sexism works both ways.

As for disposability, we see a true example of disposability in between these two ‘disposable’ women. When he thinks he’s got a chance of regaining the orb, Star Lord drops a device that obliterates the two soldiers pointing guns at his head. We don’t learn their names, we don’t learn anything about them, they don’t have dialogue, they are grunts, cannon fodder, bad guys who are sacrificed to show that Quill has some pretty useful gadgets at his disposal and can get himself out of sticky situations.

Compare those two male characters to the two disposable female characters and see who gets treated worse? Those aren’t the only disposable males either. Shortly after we are introduced to Ronan we see him kill a prisoner. For what reason? None, other than to show the audience how ruthless Ronan is as a character. A nameless man sacrificed to show the power of the main villain. Disposable. During the fight aboard the Dark Aster, Groot impales a group of 5 soldiers and then uses them to batter the remaining soldiers to death, before smashing the impaled soldiers back and forth against two walls. Drax’s response? To laugh. Groot’s response? A turn to the camera and a big, cheesy grin, which received a big laugh in the cinema, both times. Men’s deaths used as comic relief? Disposable.

How many women die in this film? Two, and I will come on to that point later. How many men? Countless thousands, even established male characters die.

The point is simple, focusing on 2 female characters and calling them disposable while ignoring how many men are introduced simply to be killed off doesn’t do feminism any favours. I read one criticism that too many (read: all) of the background characters are male, despite the fact they are the ones who die en masse, yet later on this very article complains when a woman is treated like a man. You can’t win.

Number two (sorry, this one’s quite long):

‘2. I dreaded seeing this trite sexism applied to Saldana’s character, Gamora, the cybernetic assassin (why is it that sexy female aliens are always either green or blue?). When I saw her catsuit and a gratuitous booty shot towards the end of the first act, I felt that my fears were partly born out. To be fair, while she does require saving by male characters on multiple occasions, Gamora does display moderately strong agency throughout the film. Her character is a load-bearing beam rather than a Trinity-esque distraction. If only her last lines could’ve been a little less deferential.

More troubling are some of Saldana’s comments in recent interviews. For example, she told the Los Angeles Times that part of the appeal of the character was the chance to play someone “…so different from herself…”

“Gamora, she’s not feminine in the typical sense of how women are supposed to be. I feel like she has to melt that ice for you to find that little girl in there. She’s very tough, she’s able to relate to the hard talks of it all. When Quill comes at her with that luscious, ‘Hey baby’ [attitude], I’m pretty sure she’s throwing up in her mouth. I liked that, and I thought, ‘OK, that’s something I can incorporate of myself and just shave off a little bit of my femininity.’ Even though I like to believe I’m a tomboy, I’m very feminine, so I just always have to de-train myself and allow my masculinity to seep through because Gamora is much more masculine than I am.”

Her comments seem to imply that combat prowess and femininity are necessarily mutually exclusive, and that it’s not feminine to rebuff the advances of horny dudebros. Those connections elicited a little side eye from this critic.’

Let’s focus on the portrayal of Gamora for a second. I can honestly say the colour of her skin, or other ‘sexy’ female aliens, has never registered with me. It’s also, again, good to notice that it’s not just female aliens that have green or blue skin. In the comics, Drax has green skin, it was toned down to a more neutral gray-ish colour for the film so as not to clash with Gamora. Also, in Avatar, another of Saldana’s films, the entire race of aliens were blue, so why she felt the need to single out female aliens I don’t know. Are sexy female aliens always green or blue? I don’t think so, but that’s not the point, alien races as a whole are portrayed as green and blue, simply singling out females is pointless.

Is there a gratuitous ass shot of Gamora? Yes, for a few seconds. There’s also a gratuitous ab shot of Star Lord in his prison cell that lasts considerable longer than that. Also, Drax spends the entire film without a shirt, we also see Ronan in only his underwear as he is ceremonially dressed.

I’ve heard it expressed, by feminists, though to be fair this is not part of Morgan’s criticism, that these scenes are not comparable as the ‘booty shot’ is sexual objectification, reducing Gamora to nothing but her body, whereas the shots of Drax, Ronan and Star Lord are objectifications of the male ‘ideal’ and, as such, don’t matter. What bullshit.

Yes, I agree that Drax and Ronan probably are shown in terms of their masculinity, however, Star Lord’s underwear scene was a shot for the ladies, it’s as simple as that. Does he have a good body? Yes, but the scene doesn’t call for it, it’s not a scene in which the ‘ideal’ male is working, he doesn’t do anything with his body in this scene, in fact it shows his vulnerability. He’s in his underwear, in a prison cell, soaking wet. The shot is simply an underwear shot for the ladies, nothing more. Men will recognise the fact that he has an ‘ideal’ body but the ladies will realise that he’s an attractive male character in his underwear.

By the same token, we could equally apply the ‘ideal’ tag to Gamora. Does she have a nice bum? Yes, so while the males in the audience cop a look the females are saying ‘ooh, maybe I could have a bum like that one day’

Objectification is objectification, dismissing one because it doesn’t fit your agenda is pointless and does nothing to convince people your movement is full of anything other than myopic victimhood. Both characters are reduced to nothing but their bodies. The scenes add nothing to the film in terms of plot development, it’s just a nice piece of candy for the audience, male/female/gay/lesbian alike.

Now, Saldana’s comments. Is what she says inherently wrong? No, of course not. She thinks that in order to play Gamora she had to shave off a little of her own femininity and embrace a more masculine edge. Is that a problem? Is it a problem that an actress approached a role in a way that made her feel comfortable? Is it a problem that an actress interpreted a role in a certain way and developed her acting accordingly? No, of course not.

But, of course, we reckon without feminism’s power for twisting shit around. Saldana has said something in an interview that this author didn’t like. That automatically means this isn’t a feminist film. Gamora has been praised as being a female character of substance in an action film yet because of the way the actress interpreted the role, because of the way the actress, who is more important to the role than a feminist commentator, approached the role, she suddenly loses all credit with feminism? Puh-lease.

The comment that combat prowess and femininity are mutually exclusive? In the previous point she complains that a gratuitous ‘booty shot’ and Saldana’s catsuit, both displays of her using her femininity, are examples of ‘trite sexism’ yet here is complaining that it’s a bad thing Saldana hints at femininity and combat prowess not mixing. What do you want? Sexy badass or not?

Point number 3:

‘3. There is a female character credited only as Tortured Pink Girl (Laura Ortiz). For some reason, Benicio Del Toro plays the sadistic Collector (kind of an older, huskier Ziggy Stardust), with whom Quill seeks to do business. We see that the Collector has enslaved at least two women; both are displayed in pigtails and pink jumpers. One is forced to wash the glass cage of the other. The woman in the cage is on her knees, bound and gagged with electric sci-fi ropes, a clear look of pain and fear in her eyes.

Quill and crew are less concerned with the fate of the women than with money and exposition. When the uncaged woman, Carina (Ophelia Lovibond), desperately attempts to use the power of an ancient artifact to free herself, she’s immolated instead. We’re left to assume that the other captive woman is also killed in the subsequent cataclysm (though a dog and an arguably misogynistic duck survive).’

And here we come back to the idea of disposability again. First of all, it is not Quill who seeks business with The Collector, but rather Gamora. Quill’s connection backs out of the deal once he learns Ronan is involved.

Pedantry aside, is there a salient point here about the visible torture of a woman in a mainstream film? Well, no, not really. I’m not even sure what this point is trying to highlight, that there’s a background character that dies? That there’s a woman in a cage? That this particular character keeps women as slaves? I really don’t know, but once again it’s slightly misleading in its description of the scene.

The above point implies that Carina doesn’t know what the Infinity Gem will do, that she grasps it to try and free herself. That’s not the case at all, or at least that’s not how I read it. She knows exactly what will happen because we, the audience, and the characters have just been told – there are only a few people who can hold an Infinity Gem and live to talk about it. If that wasn’t clear enough, Carina also makes her intentions clear when she states, out loud, something along the lines of ‘I will no longer be your slave’ before grasping the gem and destroying pretty much everything in sight. Carina and the ‘tortured girl’ were within close proximity so it makes sense they are vaporised. The dog and the duck…well the less said about Howard the Duck the better.

The fact that Quill and his crew lack any concern of the girls well being is grasping at straws. They also don’t seem to care about the countless lives lost when the Dark Aster destroys the Nova Corps ships, leading to the death of two established male characters (there’s that disposability again). In fact, it is Rocket, and only Rocket, who seems to show any remorse at all. In contrast, when Gamora ‘dies’, Star Lord is willing to sacrifice himself to save her.

Picking one example of carelessness towards a female character, while ignoring countless other examples of carelessness towards male characters does not mean you are making a good point, it means you are grasping to try and show how badly female characters are treated within this film.

It’s telling that this particular article focuses on disposability as a theme and yet ignores the fact that the most disposable characters throughout the film are men. Carina is an inconsequential character, yet she gets a line of dialogue, Bereet is an inconsequential character, yet she gets lines of dialogue.

Is the point of this that a character is simply referred to in the credits as ‘tortured pink girl’? This is possibly the only time a disposable female character is used. Introduced simply to show what happens to those who disobey orders and then promptly, presumably, killed off to show the destructive force of the Infinity Gem.

Guardians of the Galaxy is a brilliant film. It has action, adventure, comedy, emotion and tells a great story. It is not meant to be a feminist film, it is not meant to pander to the feminist mindset, it was not written, I imagine, with feminism’s approval in mind. In fact, I’m pretty happy that feminists like Morgan don’t see it as a feminist film, especially if the 3 reasons are above are the evidence for their dislike.

Seriously, trying to apply female disposability to a film where thousands of men are killed simply for plot advancement is nothing short of pigeon-fisted, one-eyed confirmation bias. Women are finally getting a more equal representation in action films, and feminists complain when we get a butt shot, whilst minimising the equivalent objectification of men, feminists complain that the majority of background characters are men, then other feminists complain that female background characters die really easily and are labeled in the credits by their position in the film.

What do you want? Do you want a 50/50 representation of background characters? Because, if that’s what you want, penning articles like this one, that decry TWO examples of disposable females while ignoring the thousands of disposable male characters is stupid and does nothing for your movement other than present it as short sighted and obsessed with victimhood. Background characters die, that’s what they are there for. We don’t learn their names or anything about them because we aren’t supposed to make a connection with them, we aren’t supposed to see them as humans, we are supposed to see them as pawns, we are supposed to see them as cannon fodder, we are supposed to see them as disposable and nothing more. Are you seriously suggesting that a character such as Quill’s mum, who drives the entire film despite being in it for five minutes, is disposable, yet are not willing to give even a passing mention to the disposable male?

You can’t lament the use of female disposability and then lament the lack of female disposability. That doesn’t make sense.

But then, when has feminism ever made sense?

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Comments
  1. Steely_Glint says:

    Well said *claps*

  2. ayamsirias says:

    I’d love to see feminists like this get 200 million dollars to make their feminist dream film just to see it burn to ashes once it is released. However, regardless of how bad a film by people like this may be, they still have their little minority of fem friends who seem to dominate the internet’s blog-o-sphere, so we would certainly see thousands of rave reviews of such trash. (Depression Quest?)

    Great article man. Make a video of it and make sure Gamora’s ass is in it.

    And yeah, this film at a couple points brought a wee tear to me eye. Good thing the theater was dark. Don’t know how I as a man could have lived that down.

  3. swanpride says:

    I am not in the “this movie is anti-feminist” boat. That said…Marvel has still a long, long way to go.

    In the end the point is that nearly all roles in the movie are played by males, leaving exactly six named female characters….and of those six, two die after very brief scenes, one is never seen again (because she was only there to make a point about the male main character), leaving the movie with exactly three named female characters (Nova, Gamora and Nebula) who have an independent role. And the only ones who are somewhat full fledged characters are Gamora and Nebula. On the other side of the fence there are Peter, Drax, Rocket, Groot, Ronan, The Collector, Thanos, Youndu, Dey, and that is not counting Saal, the Other and a few other male characters which get disposed off. There are easily three times as many meaningful male characters than female ones.

    In the end, I ask myself the same thing I asked myself concerning Asgard: Why do the writers consider a male dominated society the default? Why can’t they show a guy fleeing with his little son from the bombs and a woman being slowly squished to dead in a heroic sacrifice?

    I love this movie to bits, but nevertheless I hope that the next movie will explore the relationship between Gamora and Nebula further, and have more female roles as side characters.

    • johnsalmon86 says:

      I don’t disagree there is a lack of female characters, not just in this film but in Marvel overall, but you have to appreciate that, until the last 10 years, Marvel’s fanbase has been predominantly male, and to suddenly chuck in a load of female characters that aren’t in the comics just to satisfy feminists is pretty stupid.

      That’s like me saying “well, there aren’t any major male characters in the Barbie cartoons, or the princess cartoons, or any other cartoon that has a majority female fan base.”

      Yes, you could argue those female characters are disposable, but if you’re going to talk about that then you, again you must appreciate the number of men who die without getting any meaningful role at all. Literally thousands of them are slaughtered and we don’t care about them, but god forbid a female character who’s a slave and gets named in the credits dies!
      I’d also hardly say the Collector, Thanos, Dey, Sall or The Other were meaningful. Thanos only appears in one scene and it’s a massive anti-climax, not bad to say he’s the main bad guy. Even Ronan was 2D typical comic book villain.

      Why do the writers consider male dominated societies the norm? Again, because that’s how it is in the comics. They aren’t, at least I hope not, going to change the entire dynamics and demographics of a 50 year old comic to appease some social justice warriors who complain. Why can’t they have a woman being slowly squished to death? I guarantee if they tried someone would complain about it being misogynistic in some way.

      This movie wasn’t about Gamora and Nebula, it was about Star Lord. The next film may well be about those two. I hope it has more female characters as well, but I also hope it doesn’t squeeze them in simply as a way to appease feminists and other SJWs.

      • swanpride says:

        The question is if there is a male dominated fanbase because only boys enjoy Superheroes, or because the stories have simply not much to offer for female readers. But that’s a mood discussion. I think the overall popularity of the The Black Widow, and the high percentage of female watchers for GotG shows that there is a market for this.

        You know, a common criticism Disney Princess fans level against the first movies is that the prince have even less personalities than the female protagonists (never mind that even in Disney Princess movies the supporting characters tend to be overwhelmingly male – the most extreme example is Aladdin which has exactly one named female character, and Jasmine is not even the protagonist). Nowadays the movies are marketed for both genders (as it should be), and there are efforts to reach gender equality. So – nope, bad argument.

        And I know that the movie wasn’t about Gamora and Nebula (yet). And I agree, females shouldn’t be squeezed in. But I also think that it is wrong to automatically dismiss those concerns. They could have shown female pilots, female mooks, a male character fleeing from the destruction while clutching a child to his chest, female Ravagers, females who are betting on the game table…the servant of the Collector could have been male just as well. There was a lot of gender coding in this movie, and while I personally praise the Marvel Cinematic universe for doing baby steps in the right direction, they are still far, far away from what could be.

  4. johnsalmon86 says:

    For some reason Swanpride, I can’t reply directly.

    When I was growing up my love and adoration for comics was the reason for scorn, teasing and bullying, mainly from females. Yes girls my age read my comics but that was very rare. Now, I see those same girls raving about films like GotG and Avengers, so forgive me if it stings a little that something that was my way of getting away from reality is now being pushed towards the feminist/SJW ‘there must be equal representation of everything’ agenda. I loved the fact comics had more male characters because, at that time, women were mean and I needed an escape, I needed a way to see how I could be a hero (whether that was Spider-man, Iron Man or whatever). I’ve no problem with female comic characters now, and I’m sure (and hopeful) black Widow will probably get her own film, I just don’t like the idea that we pander to what is still a minority audience whose participation in the genre has been pretty minimal until the last decade. Girls my age at school thought comics were read by Dweebs and nerds, they didn’t read them because they didn’t like them, not because there was nothing for them to enjoy.

    Not a bad argument at all, especially considering Disney’s reach for ‘equality’ has actually done nothing of the sort. Male characters, whether main or not, are still stereotyped into two main roles – villains or idiots/loveable-but-ultimate-bumbling-oafs. be it Maleficent, Frozen, Tangled, Disney TV shows or any other type of media. The main focus of those shows is building friendships between girls, not got a problem with that but if that qualifies as an ‘effort’ for gender equality then they aren’t trying. They aren’t even that positive for women. In Maleficent, the main character is wronged by a man (surprise, surprise) and is so emotionally weak she curses a poor child. How does that break the stereotype of women being overly emotional?

    As for Guardians, you and I approach this from a different perspective. I’m not dismissing those concerns, I’m simply saying that this film, and hundreds before it, constantly show men as disposable, they are the pilots who we don’t even see before their ship blows up, they are the soldiers who are blown apart without us even learning their name, they are the prisoners eaten by the alien before we even learn their crime. Feminists/SJWs get their knickers in a twist (see what I did there) when films show violence against women, in any form, I struggle to believe they’d somehow be ok with mass disposability on the same level as men.

    I agree, it would be nice to see female soldiers getting killed and being more of the background makeup, but it’s not like all those male background characters get any development, unlike the two ‘disposable’ women mentioned in this blog. They at least get names. There’s no such thing as a ‘perfect’ film, feminist or otherwise. Yes, Marvel could include more incidental female characters, but there’s a lot more pressure on them to improve the visible female characters, nobody really seems to care about the invisible male characters. You’re the first person I’ve seen to bring that up.

    Perhaps when feminists stop demanding all the big roles for women and start asking to see more disposable background females I’ll take their claims more seriously.

    Thank you for the respectful discussion though, those are rare! 🙂

  5. […] Guardians of the Galaxy is not a feminist film! Yippee!! (Spoiler alert) August 18, 2014 […]

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