06 November 2010

False dilemma

Earlier this week, Arcadian talked a bit about when and why to bring up feminist issues. I'd like to spend a little time talking about how.

Winterson Responds to Stephen Fry

Just a quick note to anyone interested - Jeanette Winterson (author of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and all-round fabulous female egg) has written an open letter to Stephen Fry in The Times today (Sat 4th November).

To summarise, it points out that in women are punished for being 'sexual beings' in pretty much every culture (ranging from being labelled as a "slut/slapper/easy" to being stoned or buried alive), cites case studies in British history, the double standards of men in particular when it comes to female appearance (particularly with aging and the 'toyboy' stigma) and in porn in particular. It finishes by 'explaining' to Stephen Fry "sex for a woman is a lot more than intercourse. And is a lot more than servicing the phallus... it is not that woman lack desire - women lack good lovers."

It's split our family down the gender lines - my boyfriend describing it as "offensive to all men" , and my mum thinking that whilst a little over the top it makes some very powerful points. I wanted to post a link to it, but would have to pay to subscribe - so thought I'd flag it up as one to read if you can get access to it!

Happy Bonfire Night!

05 November 2010

Beauty: the art of cultivating oneself is all about men.

So, I was all set on praising the wonders of Fireworks Night, and how ridiculous and yet amazing it is that we celebrate an attempted terrorist attack on the Houses of Parliament. We Brits are weird, no lie.
However, I came across this article today and I raged. I tend to rage a lot, but really, it inspired a lot of anger from me. The writer of the piece has a history of fat-shaming (hurrah! We all love to judge anyone who deviates from the 7st norm!!!!) so I admittedly have a bias against her anyway, but really? I appreciate a commentary on how the beauty culture can be used as a way to build a woman's self esteem; I like to put it on when I go out because I like to feel good about my face, for me. Not for any man.
I think the worst sentence for me was "To understand what it takes to be beautiful, we need to be very clear about what being beautiful means-being sexually appealling to men." Really? How sexist and heteronormative of you.
Don't let me spoil the experience for you, though. Go ahead and read this trainwreck of an article.

(and loling at the idea of no French feminism. Simone de Beauvoir, anyone?)

04 November 2010

Seriously. What? The. HELL!?

It's been a strange week, y'all. I started writing a comment to Arcadian's post on the having of standards, but found it growing by leaps and bounds into a post of its own. Then the burgeoning post stretched out tendrils to grasp so many other works that I was afraid I'd turn into Cooks Source magazine if I kept at it, so I moved it to the back burner (heh) until I could sort out which ingredients were fresh, organic ones from my own brain, and which I'd stuffed under my coat and smuggled out of the marketplace of ideas.

Meanwhile, something is rotten in the state of libraries. Communications with co-workers and with the public have been confusing to the point of chaos all week long. In fact, most workdays, I feel kind of like Hugh Laurie's character must in this:

So, erm, basically, I've not yet sorted out those thoughts of mine on feminism, on teachable moments, on noticing injustice, and on whether commenting on said injustice every damn time it comes up makes you a big damn bore or a big damn hero. More later.

P.S. Stephen Fry, I'm still kind of angry and disappointed with you, but you do know how to bring the funny. I will give you that.


Let's indoctrinate the young, I say.  A Tea Party candidate, who couldn't manage to scrape up enough support to be the Republican candidate in a Washington state district has written a picture book about the evils of the Obama administration.

Look, don't get me wrong. I really do think that indoctrinating the young is one of the great joys of humanity and very close to the top of my imaginary list of parenthood pros, should I ever make such a list trying to decide about procreation. What gets me about this book is that it's not trying to be subtle. This is a book for adults. I can just picture a six-year-old being completely baffled by the whole thing. The Christmastution? Lots of things in kids books don't make sense to actual kids but few actively try to make it difficult for the parents to explain what they're talking about.

Via Slog.

03 November 2010

Young girls talking about themselves

"Great minds discuss ideas; mediocre minds discuss events; shallow minds discuss people."

The above quote that Arcadian mentioned in her "no judgment" post is one my mom once told me, though I forget the context of why it was said. Both my mothers are pretty awesome, and this mom has always steered me through the thorny briar patch of life with pretty sound advice ("if you don't want anyone to find out about something, NEVER EVER WRITE IT DOWN." - sorry mom, I have a journal!)

I think people use the above quote to probably keep young people from gossiping. ("Now kids, stop talking about the new kid at school and go play hopscotch")

In my University class on Chick Lit (yes, really) One of the topics I presented on was Sex and the City, and the notion that women often build friendships through talking. Like the girls on the show do - witty banter back and forth, most of the time they talk about other people. And the generality of "girls talk, boys do stuff" when it comes to friendship feels like common knowledge to me. And girls like to talk about other people. Or themselves. Or both.

So there we have it:

"talking about others makes you a low and petty person."

"women like to talk about themselves and other people"

"women are low and petty people"

which, ok, I already knew that stereotype was going around (along with how irrational we are and stuff), but I never realized how much I felt guilty for talking about people because of this uncontentious connection I was making in my head. I can't want to talk about people I know, that makes me one of THOSE women. One of those "Sex and the City" liking girls. Because after all if women like it it must be stupid. And so talking about each other and ourselves is just us being dumb and petty and things.

I'm coming to a couple of realizations:

1. Facebook. Everyone loves facebook. And facebook is ALL about other people. Talking to them, yes, networking, yes, but you're doing it ALL on a public forum - Everyone can see your conversations and is welcome to opinions on all your relationships and interactions. There's even a status button for your relationships, which everyone gets to comment on if you change. There's a reason social networking has exploded all over the internet and it's because everyone is interested in everyone else - whether they choose to talk about it or not.

that's because 2. we are a social species. It makes sense that other people interest us - we spend most of our time surrounded by other people! Having knowledge of other people actually DOES translate to real business-y world know-how - didn't we cover that in networking?

All of this has been brewing through my head for two reasons, 1 - the quote we started off with and 2. this video:

Catchy. But is that what us young girls talking about ourselves really sound like? "I was like, he was all, OMG, totally" - and do we still sound that way as young women? old women? And why aren't boys the same way - too busy playing computers and inventing things I suppose, right?

In conclusion: I've rambled on a subject that I would like to be more academic about, but have mostly failed at sounding as academic as I would like. I am proud to say I enjoy discussing people, including myself - and I would challenge people who say this makes me petty to hop off their facebook account and come and have a word with me, because I thing discussing people, relationships, words said between people, and other people in general makes sense in this social world of ours.

02 November 2010

Thank You For NOT Smoking

Now, I know it’s never a good idea to expect great things of a screen adaptation of one of your favourite books. It’s an even worse idea to hope for good things from a TV adaptation of a Terry Pratchett book. However, I’m an eternal optimist, so was quite excited to finally sit down in front of Sky’s adaptation of Going Postal. Despite the previous Pratchett adaptations inflicted on fans and regular viewers alike (an average version of Hogfather and the truly abysmal Colour of Magic/The Light Fantastic both inexplicably starring David Jason) I figured that with its lack of high fantasy and streamlined plot – not to mention the modern day and film parallels/references scattered throughout – Going Postal could actually work quite well.

It didn’t. For all sorts of reasons. It wasn’t too bad – there were some nice stylistic touches, and the majority of the casting was great – but there was still quite a lot of ‘I want to beat you round the head Mr Adapter/Director Man then do the job properly myself’. However, there was one aspect in particular that got me really confused, enraged and then despairing of film and TV in general.

The female lead in Going Postal is a character called Adora Belle Dearheart. A complete homage to female characters in film noir, and Lauren Bacall in particular, she’s strong, spiky, deeply sarcastic and a chain smoker. As in, cigarette permanently in hand – so much so that another character comments that Miss Dearheart reminds him of a volcano goddess, especially when the weather god has “rained all over her lava”. It’s a running joke, but one integral to the character.

With the target audience including children, teenagers and young adults I had wondered whether The Mob (the production company behind the Going Postal adaptation) would dare to keep this habit of Adora Belle’s alive on screen - indeed, with the anti-smoking attitude now prevalent in the entertainment industry (on screen at least) I had half resigned myself to it being surgically removed. Imagine my surprise when Claire Foy, as Adora Belle Dearheart sashays onto the screen, cigarette holder firmly in hand. My surprise continued as a large section of the plot of Going Postal developed into a half soaked, melodramatic anti-smoking advert. Rather than the chain smoking bitch expected by fans, the Miss Dearheart presented by The Mob has been morphed into a desperate, neurotic young woman, who was driven into nicotine by grief at the loss of her family’s fortune and demise of her brother. Themain character actually experiences a ‘flashback’ in which he sees a young, wholesome Adora Belle (wearing a brightly coloured dress and flowers in her hat) so distraught at the financial ruin of her family that she runs over to a stall in the street, rejects the comfort of a chocolate bar and instead chooses the dreaded box of cigarettes to the sounds of dramatic music. We later see her holed up in a barn (why?), forcing herself to smoke, coughing pitifully as she drives herself further into anti-social despair.

Now, I’m not a fan of smoking in any form. I do understand that role models, such as actors and movie characters, glamorising smoking is bad. I don’t understand however, why The Mob felt that such a melodramatic and patronising depiction of smoking would do anything for the audience save irritate the hell out of us. I looked up Going Postal on SceneSmoking.org, a website rating films based on their smoking content which I both sort of admire and find terrifying, to find out what they thought – sadly it wasn’t listed, which is a shame as they would have had a field day. Because despite the ‘beat you over the head with how bad smoking is’ attitude, if you give a sexy woman a cigarette holder, and, this is important, have the hero to take no notice of the fact his lady is occasionally puffing on it, you undo any of the vague intent behind the patronising additions to the story. Claire Foy, as Adora Belle Dearheart, makes smoking looks elegantly cool. All you’ve done is annoyed the fans, and frankly, anyone with half a brain.

The ironic thing is that in the original book character is, Pratchett very carefully, and subtly, does exactly what The Mob failed to. The Adora Belle Dearheart of the book, however awesome, is no role model. She’s neurotic to the point of needing serious therapy, and wields her cigarettes as anti-social weapons, a foul device to isolate herself from a society she refuses to trust. The main character, when meeting her for the first time watches her suck down smoke with a mixture of horror and fascination. The smoking isn’t carefully ignored, but seeps into both conversation and action – upon kissing Adora Belle, the hero comments that she tastes “like an ashtray”. Not exactly the glamorous society seems so scared of. Perhaps if more care and intelligent thought had been put into adapting Going Postal and *shock horror* stuck more closely to the text, The Mob could have had their cake and eaten it – a strong, spiky cigarette wielding heroine, who puts an impressionable audience right off smoking.

Election Day Special

We here at FnBs would like to remind and encourage all U.S. citizens to take a bit of time today and exercise your right to vote. No matter your background, at some point in history some badass representative of you said something along the lines of "Fuck this, you don't get to tell me what to do without a little bit of oversight and accountability from me," and fought so that you now get to exercise that accountability. Whoever those people were for your group, they were pretty awesome, so don't flip 'em the metaphorical bird today because you can't be bothered. Go forth and participate in the political process.

01 November 2010

On the Having of Standards

About six weeks ago, my mother, my sister, and I drove halfway across the U.S. to drop the aforementioned sister off at her new Institute of Higher Learning. We had rules about driving, snacking, and the putting on of tunes -- namely that the tunes were under control of the driver at all times, unless one of the passengers was so unhappy with the choice that a head explosion was imminent.

And it had to be a real head explosion, which is how my sister got away with putting on the new Vampire Weekend album no fewer than four times in the first three days. I finally did plead imminent burstability on that, and she switched to Taylor Swift.

I was wary. I have nothing against Ms. Swift as a person, but I'd heard a lot about her songs and none of it sounded appetizing. I listened to the lyrics with particular attention. "That's rubbish," I said, more than once. "How can she say that? She's speaking for girls and she's inviting abuse." Or if not abuse, nastiness, or shame, or some other unfortunate thing. "Sure they're catchy," I said, "and some are sweet. But how can you ignore the messages?"

"You always go right for the rape," my sister said wearily.

My sister has long been confused about why I read feminist news blogs. She thinks I just make myself unhappy, since it's not like I'm doing anything about what I read. (That is, I'm not an activist.) My mom and I sometimes quarrel in the second wave/third wave divide, which is also about standards. (I don't want to quote her here, since I don't want to misrepresent her views online, and as her daughter I have a genetic predisposition to misinterpret anything she says that I more easily may disagree with her.)

The question is, of course, how high should the standards to which we to hold ourselves be? How about the standard to which we hold our friends? Our pop culture?

If the standards are too low, you move into the territory of victim-blaming, excuses, and privilege. Nothing changes, because shouldn't we just understand where our bigots are coming from? Aren't there two sides to every issue? Don't both sides deserve to be heard? You can't hate someone (or distrust them, or refuse to listen to their music, or, or, or) just because of one poorly chosen remark, can you?

That place is one that people who fight for any equal right have had to reject out of hand, thoroughly, before their campaigns can begin to make any sort of impact. And yet -- go too far on the other side, and you can't really have a conversation with anyone. No one agrees with you 100%, not even about the "important stuff." You'd have to stop consuming pop culture entirely, I should think, since all of it is tainted by the culture in which it's made.

(The other danger of this extreme is hard to articulate, because most of the people who complain about it are too far the other way. That is, you become so obsessed with the way people say things that you forget to look at their actions and your own. This is known as becoming too PC and you usually see complaints about it from people who claim they didn't realize their language was offensive and will now proceed to whine about how you deleted their comment. Ninety percent of the time I have no sympathy, but every once in awhile I think people become so obsessed with changing language that they forget about changing actions.)

I've seen this question a lot, posted to feminist weblogs. (Some of the ones I read are on a list on the right, you can search through their archives to find examples.) A new "born-again" feminist will ask -- God(dess), what do I do now? My senses are on high alert. Every single one of my friends has already offended me at least once. Help. And the author will start talking about finding an individual balance.

Of course you have to find an individual balance. Somewhere between "Sure, I mean, I guess that's all right, I mean, the victim existing probably provoked it, or something," and "You're a bigot, and not easily distinguishable from a Nazi."

But there is something confusing about facing the fact that your balance is not exactly like anyone else's. I honestly believe it's the same feeling of confusion you get when you realize your religion is not exactly the same as anyone else's (a feeling I remember from my youth, when I was religious myself). Because, especially when you've invested thought and/or time, and/or argument into your convictions, be they cultural or religious, you of necessity become invested in their inherent correctness.

And then, before you know it, you're back where you started. Other people have different standards! How should you react to that?

Maybe the having a solution to this dilemma is just another meta-layer that traps you in the same way. Balance may only be able to exist as something ever-shifting, ever-accommodating. (But not too accommodating. Too accommodating and you get stuck at the accommodating end.) Certainly the only gauge I have for my balance is trying to look at results. Will fighting this misogynist joke have the results I want? What about fighting this rape joke? Will I alienate and offend, or clue in and wake up?

I don't know if it's a good balance. I often feel that it isn't. Plenty of people see me as too hard-ass, but I still feel like in order to be a "real" feminist I should be much more hardass. (Never feeling like you're legitimate is a whole section of cultural misogyny that deserves another blog post.) I can try to stay consistent, and I can try to stay true to myself and my golden rules. But trusting myself on this is both the most natural impulse and the one I doubt the most.

Where do you stand on this?