Category Archives: feminism

Gendered Insults Still Okay; Racist Insults Appropriately Not

So, this latest thing where Daniel Handler (Lemony Snicket) made a reference about watermelon when presenting Jacqueline Woodson with the National Book Award for her memoir Brown Girl Dreaming. With me being unschooled in the details of American racism, I had to look up what the hell watermelon has to do with anyone. If you’re not American, and similarly baffled, here’s an explanation. (Or maybe it’s just me, for whom this particular stereotype is news.)

Daniel Handler has since made an apology and is even donating money towards helping fix lack of diversity in children’s literature. As a consequence, we’re all reminded how it’s not okay to talk about someone’s race when she is accepting an award — hammering home, again, how someone’s main identity is ‘black’, that she can’t just go ahead an be a writer and a person during one of the most significant events of her career.

When it comes to language and joking and big-name authors and the language they toss off lightly, I’m reminded of something written by Neil Gaiman, but I don’t remember the attendant twitter storm. Maybe there was one and I didn’t see it. Anyhow, remember a while back he schooled up readers on why we shouldn’t be harassing George R.R. Martin for taking his sweet time before releasing his next Game Of Thrones instalment? Gaiman wrote on his blog:

George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.

This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right now.

When I hear the word ‘bitch’ I feel a twinge. Maybe it’s similar to the reaction a black American hears when they get linked somehow to ‘watermelon’ — who knows. When our female prime minister was called ‘Bob Brown’s Bitch’ I felt it, independent of how I felt personally about Julia Gillard.

Because isn’t the word ‘bitch’ a gendered insult? Whoever provided the definitions for ‘bitch’ at Urban Dictionary didn’t include any gendering in this particular use of the word:

(3) Modern-day servant; A person who performs tasks for another, usually degrading in status.

And it’s true — bitch is applied to both men and women as an insult, in the same way men are quite often called ‘girls’ or ‘grandmas’ as insults (most recently, in my experience in the first Wimpy Kid movie, by the coach, oh no, and also in The Grey, a crappy film which happened to broadcast on TV a few nights ago… I could go on.)

Etymology only takes us so far, I know it. When I tell someone ‘goodbye’ I’m not saying ‘God be with you’, and although ‘bitch’ refers to a FEMALE dog, we’re not talking about dog breeding. But take a look at another of the Urban Dictionary meanings of ‘bitch’ (which isn’t used much Down Under):

(2) Person who rides specifically in the middle of a front-seatting [sic] only car meant for 2 passengers or less [sic].

We don’t need much of an imagination to realise how this meaning came about, with driving historically being a man’s job, with any woman sitting in pillion position.

Bitch is still a gendered insult. Even when applied to men, the insult is still gendered because the main thrust of the insult comes from being a man losing his manhood due to behaving, supposedly, like a girl.

Gendered insults are so prevalent in the culture that they have been completely normalized and people often don’t even notice when they are using them, but “being completely normalized” is not equivalent to “unsexist…”

- More Women In Skepticism

When Neil Gaiman says ‘George R.R. Martin is not your bitch’ I’m reminded instantly of another, earlier time, in which I squirmed whenever my grandmother would say regularly and without awareness of her own racism, ‘I’m not your little black boy!’ This was one of her regular sayings. She’d come out with it if we asked for a drink of water or something. Not so implicit meaning: Black boys are for doing your jobs.

It also reminds me of signs in workplace kitchens which say, ‘Your mother doesn’t live here.’ Not so implicit reading: Mothers are for tidying kitchens.

Of course we’re supposed to read these things ironically. Ha ha. Except it usually is the mothers doing most of the kitchen work. It is still black people disproportionately employed in low-paid work.

That’s why it’s still not okay for a white author to draw attention to a black author’s race at the National Book Awards. Tried and tested now, thanks Handler.

What about the gendered equivalent of oppressive language? When is that going to be not okay?

 

The Real Difficulties In Giving Up Sugar

Yesterday I made pancakes for breakfast, and drizzled maple syrup over the top. This was to celebrate a birthday in our family. Normally for breakfast we’d be eating eggs fried in coconut oil, free range fatty bacon, with broccolini or 10 brussels sprouts.

When I say ‘normally’, we’ve been eating like this for over 2 years now: I hesitate to say the ‘Paleo Diet’ because although Loren Cordain created a longterm bestseller out of this branding, it’s too easy to poke at with the skeptic’s stick. People who eat a Paleo diet are already aware that the Paleolithic Era was very long and contained many different cultures who ate many different things, and that it’s impossible to recreate a Paleo diet these days anyhow because we don’t have access to the same seed stock etc etc.

Apparently it’s easier for a human to change religion than to change diet longterm.

So we eat a Paleo template diet, which doesn’t include added sugar, and with people I don’t know really well, these days I talk about our food choices as little as possible. That’s still quite a lot of talking, because food always comes up. Book club conversations go a little something like this:

“Would you like one of these [magnificent looking baked goods] that I made this afternoon?”

“No thanks, I’m fine. Thanks.”

“Oh that’s right. You don’t eat anything these days, do you?”

“I gave up sugar two years ago, yes. Still on it. Yes.”

“Oh, but these don’t have much sugar in them.” *sugar crystals on top of sugar biscuits glint under firelight*

“No thanks. They look delicious, though. Oh, look at that knitting. What are you knitting? Anything? Anything at all?”

“You do need a bit of sugar in your diet, you know.”

And at this point I reach a conundrum: Do I argue with this, or do I let it go? Because the fact is, humans don’t need sugar in order to live a healthy and full life. Specifically: there is no metabolic pathway which relies on fructose or glucose or any other kind of sugar in order to function properly. This sort of conversation can get uncomfortable, because first it depends on a definition of ‘sugar’. Humans may not need sugar, since our bodies can be well adapted to fat. Nor can humans avoid a bit of fructose, because fructose exists in tiny amounts in green vegetables, to let humans know that the leafy thing not poisonous. There is no fatally poisonous plant out there which includes fructose. Which explains why we like it so much. Ergo, we can’t avoid fructose because we can’t healthily avoid vegetables.

I did a lot of research before changing our diet completely. The following fact resonates with me the most, and I keep coming back to it:

There are many different healthy diets around the world, from cultures who eat very little besides sweet potatoes, and others who eat little other than goat’s milk and blood. But there are two things which unite all healthy diets, transcending time and space. Healthy diets are:

1. High in fibre

2. Low in sugar.

SO LOTS OF PEOPLE ARE GIVING UP SUGAR NOW

And we are part of the zeitgeist and not at all hipster. Indeed, we are the cliche.

People do mean different things when they say, “I’m giving up sugar”, from

  1. “I’m no longer adding sucrose to my hot beverages,
  2. to “I switched from sucrose to artificial sweeteners in everything” to
  3. “I kicked sugar out of the house but I’ll still eat it if it’s offered to me, to celebrate some special occasion, or National Catfish Day” to
  4. “I’m giving up added sugars but also refined carbohydrates, which break down to glucose in the body and elevate the blood sugars in the same way table sugars do”
  5. to “The only sugar I ingest comes in the form of green vegetables, which I eat alongside organic, freerange meat, because I’m living in ketosis for health reasons.”

We started off closer to 4, but have settled between 3 and 4, with celebratory food limited to the birthdays of immediate family members and Christmas.

Yesterday’s pancake celebration was appreciated mostly by the resident 6 year old, who demonstrates a very human need for rituals which surround celebrations — this is something we all seem to need — but since this family eats (super expensive) free range bacon on a regular basis, switching to any other kind of food for celebratory purposes actually means a lowering of nutritional standards, and in our case the pancakes feel like the food people have survived on in times of need. Indeed, the Disney version of Little House On The Prairie shows the family stopping on their journey west to eat pancakes, which they only ate because they had nothing else. Flour products start to feel like the food of peasants. (And for much of the world, pancakes would be a step up. Acknowledged.)

Anyway, I had a slight bellyache after eating those pancakes, which is super common for those of us who have switched to eating nothing but whole foods.

A woman called Eve O. Schaub wrote a memoir called Year Of No Sugar, and in this article she explains the feeling you get when you’ve been eating really well for ages then you suddenly eat something highly processed: You really, really do feel like crap. I don’t care if it’s placebo — it’s a thing.

I could write a book-length memoir about this topic, too. But I can’t be bothered and apparently it’s already been done, so here are the main things I’d like to say about giving up sugar in Australia. These are different things I might say about giving up sugar in Japan. In Japan it would be easier, especially if you live in the north, where there is no tradition of adding sugar to everything. In fact, I did by default give up sugar when I lived in Japan some years ago.

The situation is much different in Australia.

WE CELEBRATE EVERYTHING WITH SUGAR

About 2 years ago I approached the director of our daughter’s preschool and asked if they might reconsider their birthday cake tradition. With a roll  of 70 kids, there was cake dished out every week, and that’s on top of the ‘cooking lessons’ they get — gingerbread men, easter eggs made of cheap ‘chocolate’ products, flavoured milk (to teach stirring) etc. I was asked to write a letter about this to formalise my complaint, so I did, and a year after that the director finally got around to putting a stop to the cake tradition. (Coincidentally, she had given up sugar herself, because the nutritionist had put her on an exclusion diet to remedy a skin complaint). By that stage our kid was due to leave preschool anyhow. (For all I know, the birthday cake tradition started up once me with the gob left.)

The start of primary school was celebrated with gingerbread men, because it’s apparently impossible just to read a classic tale about a gingerbread man without also eating one. Every fundraising meal deal includes food which is not only full of sugar, but of ethically dubious dinosaur shaped chicken-meat, fried in damaged oils. Almost everything from the school tuck-shop includes sugar. When the students volunteer to do an important job such as MC assembly, they are rewarded with a chocolate brownie. I first noticed this school culture when attending their information session, so at the interview I told the principal that we’re a sugar-free family and I don’t agree with sugar being used as reward. He told me I didn’t have a thing to worry about, that their reward system involves blue stars blah blah blah, but sure enough, sugar features highly each week in class. I pack no sugar in our daughter’s lunchbox but she gets it not only from birthday parties but from the place where she is required to be every day of term, and there is not a damn thing I can do about it.

ON THE TOPIC OF SCHOOL LUNCHES

You won’t find an Australian school which allows peanuts or tree nuts — these are common anaphylactic allergies in Australia. So the Paleo recipes you find online which rely on nut flour aren’t permissible as part of a lunchbox. Nor is dairy, sometimes. Well, my daughter can take dairy, but she has to sit on the ‘dairy seat’, which is hot in summer and freezing cold in winter, and so if I do pack berries with heavy whipping cream, the kid chooses not to eat it.

Since treating refined carbohydrates as sugar means giving up bread, no bread. I can see why bread became popular, though. Sandwiches are really convenient.

Obviously, school lunches need to be brought from home when you’re a sugar-free family. The thermos is your best friend. You end up making large dinners, and sending leftovers for lunch. You’re rewarded with a healthy kid who never has a day sick, but it does all take time, and time is a resource that many people don’t have much of. Summers in Australia are hot — our child’s school isn’t air-conditioned(!) and so you’ll need to include freezer packs around the salads and meats and boiled eggs. (Though you’d need to do that anyway. That said, we never had freezer packs and we turned out all right. *taps cane angrily*)

SOME PEOPLE GIVE UP SUGAR FOR AGES THEN START EATING IT AGAIN DESPITE THE HEALTH BENEFITS. WHY?

Before I got rid of sugar I was seriously worried that I might not be able to do it. I figured I was addicted (in the broad sense of the term), that I just liked it too much, that eating life would be unsustainably boring, and I already don’t smoke or drink… I figured I might, if I were lucky, be able to give it up for a few months, and I’d see how I felt, then keep going if it were worth it. (People on the Internet and in books said that it was.)

Sure enough, it is worth it, for all the reasons that many others have already gone into. But in hindsight, my worries were misplaced: I thought that giving up sugar would be like going onto a permanent restriction diet, constantly salivating over things I could no longer eat. In fact, what happens about a week after giving up sugar is that your taste starts to change. Fruits start tasting sweeter. Carrots start tasting sweet like fruits. Feta cheese started (weirdly) tasting like Russian fudge. (It was after making a shit tin of Russian fudge — and obviously scoffing way too much of it — that I started this whole ‘journey’, as they say.)

If you keep with it, you’ll probably end up making other dietary improvements, such as replacing damaging fats with healthy ones, or switching flour products for starchy vegetables, or taking up a sport or buying kettle bells… (It has taken two years, but I’ve now done all of these things) so it’s hard to know how much of any health improvement can be attributed to the elimination of sugar. Commonly reported, and true of me: you won’t get colds very often, and when you do it won’t be for long. Minor health complaints you didn’t really know you had will miraculously disappear. You’ll be able to work with your brain all morning AND all afternoon without thinking of food or sweets or coffee (assuming you also gave up coffee… as I had to do *sniff* in reluctant acknowledgement that heart palpitations are not a Good Thing). Your brain, in short, works better. And the brain is really quite important and something you should look after. You are your brain.

And anyone who has given up sugar for any length of time already knows this, but here’s why it’s hard:

  1. Sugar is in every damn thing. Even in supermarket meats. WHY DO THEY PUT SUGAR IN ALL THE SAUSAGES? Sugar with meat? If you’ve given up sugar, you know this combo is just wrong. I even found sugar in tinned corn. And in sauerkraut. (That stuff is meant to be sour.)
  2. You can’t get sugar free fast food anywhere. If you’re at the mall, don’t rely on the sushi bar, either. That shit’s full of damn sugar. The Japanese eat it on special occasions for a reason.
  3. People are always forcing sugar onto you, and more so, onto your kid. We even got stopped by the rubbish truck driver one year because he wanted to give my kid a big bag of lollies at Christmas time (which lasts an entire month — an entire month of nothing but high fructose corn syrup). She loved it, and it was nice and well-intentioned and everything, and she still remembers that part of the footpath very fondly, but people don’t realise: Other people are giving your kid sugar All. The. Time. Stage whispering “Is it all right if I give her a lolly?” doesn’t cut it, either.
  4. We live in a drinking culture. Beer and wine is hyper-sugar. That’s the way to think of it. You can’t really cut out sugar unless you cut out drinking, or at least switch to hard spirits. I never drank in the first place so for me it was a non issue. But if you ‘give up sugar’ and continue to drink, you may not get that wonderful effect of a change of tastebuds (which is probably a change in the brain not on the tongue but heigh-ho), in which everything else tastes sweet, in which case you have lost something.
  5. And this brings me to the most important difficulty: Cutting out sugar is flat out antisocial. Until you change your diet to something which is radically different from that of your friends and family you may underestimate how important food is to socialising and friend-making. No one wants to invite the non-drinking, gluten-free, sugar-free, dairy-free, grain-free people to dinner. You probably haven’t been to a social gathering lately which didn’t involve food. Hell, I just got invited by cold-call to a solar panel information session at Yass Soldiers’ Club and they wanted me to tell them if I was going or not ‘for catering purposes’. (I don’t think they were offering spicy lamb bites.)

IF YOU’RE CONSIDERING GIVING UP SUGAR, HERE ARE SOME POINTERS FROM SOMEONE WHO’S KEPT WITH IT FOR OVER TWO YEARS, AND PLANS TO KEEP GOING FOR LIFE

1. Read up about fats, and eat a bunch of healthy ones. (Fatty fruits like avocados and olives; coconut oil and good quality butter for garnish and frying; avoid transfats and seed oils — there, I just saved you a whole bunch of reading.) Unless you increase your fat intake (assuming you’re following the government’s low fat recommendations) you’ll have real trouble subsisting on a sugar-free diet. You do need to get your calories from somewhere.

2. Pick your conversations. Be aware that food is a very political thing. You might as well talk about religion or abortion rights, really. Women especially — we all have some sort of relationship with weight-loss diets, which gets enmeshed with body image issues, which is conflated with self-worth. Women have absorbed the low-fat, high-carb (by default) message more thoroughly than men have, and you won’t be persuading anyone who isn’t ready to listen. This includes correcting people who are straight out wrong: A wise person once said, you don’t have to turn up to every argument you’re invited to. You can just say, “Gotta die of something,” when people point out, again, that putting cream in your coffee is going to kill you dead. (My husband works in a big office and they’re used to him now, and to his cream clogging up a space in the communal fridge, but he had months of that.)

3. Your friends will be the ones who like you even without the food and alcohol lubrication. So you may end up with fewer friends, but better ones. Some of them may even change their diets along with you. Birds of a feather, and all that.

4. You can’t support different diets under the same roof. Not long term. My husband needs to be milk and gluten free, so we all are. Gluten is particularly insidious, because even a tiny amount makes a difference and spends at least 6 months in the body (though I’ve heard varying times around this length.) So we can’t have bread crumbs floating around on the bench. (Besides the fact lots of people who advocate sugar elimination also advocate elimination of gluten products, and I’m inclined to believe those people now.)

5. Health improvements are rapid at first, but keep on keeping on. If you’ve given up sugar, you’ve probably given up processed food. If you’ve given up processed food you’ve probably given up man-made transfats (I say ‘man-made’ because they do actually occur in nature), and it takes 2 years for the body to get rid of those, because our tissues use them as building blocks. So if you go on an elimination diet for six weeks and your particular health complain doesn’t improve, try it for two years and then see. (Though six weeks is pretty magical, mostly.)

6. Eating well is expensive. People say it’s not. In Australia, it is. If you compare eating well to buying all your foods in the form of Big Macs, then yes, you’ll come out better off eating whole foods, because Big Macs are expensive last time I checked. But if you are sensible, budget-wise, and have been bulking your meals up with pasta and other flour products then yes, switching from flours to sweet potatoes, and from crackers to tree nuts, and doubling your vegetable intake, you’re going to be spending more on your food bill. (But less at the doctor’s, and less on medications.) It may seem like you’re spending way more at the supermarket/butcher’s because you’re no longer splashing out on incidentals at fast-food venues, because you never thought to include those in the food bill in the first place.

7. Find a doctor who’s on board with this stuff or who at least doesn’t try and get you off it. I don’t actually know how my doctor feels about my switching to a so-called high fat diet because I HAVEN’T HAD TO GO SEE HIM YET. Hooray me. I can tell you what the dentist said, though. Fantastic gum health. (And I hadn’t actually been in for a pro clean in almost two years.) This is particularly gratifying because I have severe gingivitis in my recent ancestry, which is apparently a window into heart health.

8. On that note, you can’t just switch your diet without a good intellectual understanding of why you’re doing so. I read a bunch of books (Gary Taubes, William Davis, Udo Erasmus, Nora Gedgaudas, Sally Fallon et al) and listened to a heap of Paleo related podcasts before a switch flicked over in my head. Some of these people are anti-vaccinations. I just thought I’d mention that, because I am pro-vaccination. Strongly. Long story short, use your thinky things, do a lot of reading, and practice skepticism as best you can, given your level of philosophy and science training. Rule for life, that.

I am stoked with our high fat, low carb way of eating. It has been a bit hard, but not in the ways I expected. We gave up nothing and gained so much*.

 

*Mainly, my husband now controls his severe asthma without 2x daily Seretide. This has been the most obvious health improvement of all.

 

 

 

 

I’m Not Sure Which Is Worse

The gender essentialism or the lack of apostrophes?

Big W Toy Sale

Big W Toy Sale

Or maybe it’s that in order to get the odd ten dollar discount at Woolworths Australia I have to get these emails every second day, and then ‘activate’ my offers.

Every now and then the checkout operator says, after scanning my Everyday Rewards card, ‘Oh wow, that’s wonderful. You just saved ten dollars!’ and I say something along the lines of, ‘No, your company just paid me ten dollars for the private details of my shopping habits.’

But then I am a glass half empty sort of consumer.

Feminist Film Review: Frozen

Frozen

The thing about all things for kids: We think a lot more about whether it’s good for them. We don’t tend to think so much about the merits of pop movies for adults. We just let them be. By writing posts such as this, I’m another one of the handwringers. I’d be more inclined to give animated films like this one little thought and webspace if films such as Tangled weren’t so consistently held up as examples of feminist films, simply for featuring a female protagonist. In fact, the animated films which are more frequently held up as examples of feminist ideology are no such thing.

A film with female protagonists is not necessarily feminist. Whatever else is said about Frozen, it’s still a Disney Princess movie.

WILL THIS FILM ANNOY A FEMINIST?

There is at least one line of dialogue that annoys me in almost every animated film I watch, but I genuinely thought this one was not going to do that. I mean, they surely weren’t going to put in any ‘girl stuff is dumb” jokes in it, were they?

No, they didn’t. This film has an active feminist message in the sense that two (very obvious) fairytale tropes were subverted:

1. Love at first sight is bullshit

2. A validating type of love doesn’t have to come from a male love interest such as a prince, but can come equally from a significant female in your life; in this case, your sister.

Here are my issues with the film in bulletpoint form, because I’m sure this has been discussed at length elsewhere:

  • A lot of people have pointed out the ridiculousness of anatomy: That the young women’s eyes are bigger than their wrists. To those who argue that these are stylised characters that should not be taken literally — that is true — but the real-human template from which these stylised versions are modelled are obviously slim and white. So a stylised version or not, this is the same old Western Beauty Standard we’re working with here. One thing I hadn’t seen before were freckled shoulders (on Anna, not on Elsa. Freckles are more in keeping with Anna’s less-perfect quirky personality.) I wonder if the character developers thought that freckled shoulders were somehow transgressive, though? I really do wonder that.
  • Quick, quick, what are the things that Women Like? Answer: Shoes, handbags and chocolate. There were several references to chocolate — one in a song and the other in decontextualised dialogue between the sisters — which seemed completely random in this film, and I’m guessing they existed to convey the message that girls are allowed to eat chocolate and enjoy food too, you know. This is just more of that Maybelline type of idea (which I wrote about in my review of Gilmore girls) that you can be pretty and skinny and eat a heap of sugar at the same time… if you’re special enough and live inside a Pinterest board. I find it irritating that Women Like sweet things like Chocolate (and men like manly things like chargrilled meat). I mean, I like chocolate but I don’t regard eating it as some sort of feminist statement. It is what it is. And in this film the out-of-context references to chocolate were nothing short of bizarre.
  • There is a paucity of stories about female friendships, in film as well as in books. (Ooh, found one!) Frozen could have been a story about two sisters, but it wasn’t. (Stephen Metcalf at Slate’s Culture Gabfest also thought that more could’ve been made of the sister relationship. He has daughters, and the relationship didn’t ring true for him.There was very little dialogue between the young women. For an animated film which really does explore the relationship between two sisters, see Lilo and Stitch, another of my daughter’s favourites. (That film is also notable for having a female baddie.)
  • One exchange stood out to me for being annoying, though. The sisters compliment each other on their looks (because, ya know, that’s the most effective way to brighten a gal’s day), and Anna tells her older sister that she may look beautiful but the older sister looks ‘beautifuller’. Realising that this is not a word, she self-corrects and says, ‘Oh I don’t mean fuller‘. Except she’s not really correcting her grammar, is she. She’s worried that she just called her sister a semi-euphemistic version of ‘fat’ — and along with the wrists-being-bigger-than-the-eyes visual cues, little girls learn once again that being a version of large — taking up your due space in this world — is one of the worst things you could possibly be. There’s a dumb joke just like that in one of those crappy Ice Age movies. About a female mammoth having a big butt, and taking it as a compliment, which is meant to be hilarious, because (white) women in real life don’t tend to take that as a compliment.
  • Anna is a klutz, in the Zooey Deschenel kind of way. A goofy, klutzy character with Freudian slips — a character whom adult audiences, at least, will have seen many times before. I must remind myself that this film is for kids. What this main character is not: Poised, self-assured and forward-thinking. This is a particular brand of femininity which little girls are perhaps seeing too much of.. at the expense of the other kind.
  • The Mary Sue didn’t like Frozen all that much. I felt the same way about it.

In short, long-time feminists may go meh about Frozen. Though people completely new to feminism may see this film as a triumph in its own way. I like to think that this film signals a change in the Disney Princess culture, but honestly, it’s just as likely that every single animated film that comes out over the next year is right-wing, conservative and poorly done in respect to girls. Folk at the Onion obviously think this too.

DOES IT PASS THE BECHDEL TEST?

Someone on a podcast made the tongue-in-cheek comment that she wondered if this film was going to even pass the Bechdel test if the sisters were going to spend the entire film singing about a snowman.

It did strike me, too, that all of the promotional material features the male characters (posters, trailers) to a disproportionate degree given that this is a film about young women, and that the first characters we see are male ice-cutters, and that the first line of dialogue goes to a little boy who is either not seen ever again or is otherwise so unmemorable that I don’t remember seeing him again.

Although this film does pass the Bechdel test, as mentioned above, ONLY JUST, ACTUALLY, and it passes the test partly because the girls are complimenting each other on their looks.

Ironically, in order to subvert the tropes of princess stories, the story must be largely about the relationships between the young women and the men who come into their lives, which involves much conversation across genders, and therefore little between the sisters. This film has an active feminist ideology which sets out to quash a few ancient ideas about womanhood, but if it set out to make a story about a relationship between two sisters, it fails; one film can’t do everything. This film is one step forward in the Disney Princess Story evolution, but I am still waiting for a story like Frankenweenie or Paranorman which just happens to star a girl rather than shit all over them. I’m waiting for that big-budget animated box office feature film that stars a girl without starring a girl because it has an active feminist ideology. The white-skinned, middle-class boy protagonists of Frankenweenie and Paranorman were on no such bandwagon. Hayao Miyazaki has demonstrated that girls can star in animated movies without the story being ‘about girl stuff’. But the West is not there yet.

AND IS IT ANY GOOD?

My six-year-old daughter really loves Frozen, and is particularly engaged by the slapstick comedy and the Olaf the snowman. I enjoyed the snowman and the wacky dance by the old man from Weasletown as well. The scene of a reindeer giving back the snowman’s carrot nose is especially adorable.

Will my six-year-old understand that this film subverts tropes? I’m not expecting her to know the word ‘subvert’ or even to understand the concept. I mean, Will she get that a when she watches nothing but girl-films about princesses, that being a beautiful princess isn’t the be-all and end-all? That Anna’s relationship with Kristoff isn’t the actual point? (I mean, they did get together romantically at the end. They didn’t have to have that one extra romantic kiss. They could have left it at a friendly peck, thereby demonstrating that young men and women can actually be friends.)

For all its feminist agenda – so damn obvious and didactic to a thinking adult audience — I’m not so sure that this story will work as we hope it will. This film relies on a background of fairytales, in order to understand that these tropes exist in the first place. More and more modern princess stories are not actually of the folkloric kind: a modern six-year-old may well have been brought up with the Babette Cole Princess Smartypants form of princess — the grubby-kneed version.

In all honesty, that, my daughter probably gets, despite my reluctance to read Rapunzel too many times. She may not realise, however, that the first third of the film, in which Anna looks set to fulfill the typical princess dream of finding a handsome prince and settling down, is completely ironic, including the lyrics to the songs. The lyrics to Fixer Upper are a case in point. Disney songs have a habit of being sung outside the movies (*shiver*) in which case we’d better hope the little kids singing along have seen the film and understand the song’s context.

The Mary Sue article (linked above) said: “I’ve been noticing a lot of films lately just meandering along. Not really concerned about a beginning, middle, and end, or at least what should happen in between all of those.” I think I know what is meant by this. Like the random chocolate references (the rule of Chekhov’s Gun applies — if chocolate ain’t gonna ‘go off’, don’t include it), and the extra characters, some of whom didn’t really need to be there (the little boy at the beginning, who followed a rather Moby Dick like fate, in which the character we see first disappears forever), and the romantic kiss at the end, when everything about Anna and Kristoff’s relationship suggested they were going to be just friends for now… The plot was actually a bit of a mess, especially considering how much these big budget films follow a template. An interesting question to ask ourselves: Is this sense of ‘looseness’ to do with the fact that the story doesn’t follow the trajectory we expect? This is a question worth asking of any film which subverts our expectations, but I think my examples are specific enough that there really was a bit of loose, random dialogue and characterisation.

In short, this is a big-budget story which will appeal to little kids, and it has the visual appeal we’ve come to expect of modern animation, but as an example of magnificent storytelling, not so much. As a film to hold up as an example of feminist storytelling, not at all, really. For that, look to the less self-conscious films. The ones no one would ever accuse of being ‘empowering’. If you hear someone use the phrase ‘girl power’ in relation to a film or book, you know it’s probably not.

RELATED BUT NOT NECESSARILY WORTH CLICKING ON

Frozen Turned My Son Gay (oh boy, the headline is enough for me. People think these things.)

Pro Gay? Disney is pro-being yourself from Film School Rejects is a response. Because apparently more than one person somewhere said that Frozen has a gay agenda. All of this just goes to show how much these normative traditional stories need to be challenged.

Why ‘Frozen’ Is Also the Perfect Movie for Overprotective Fathers, at Pajiba creeps me out

Honest Films Trailer of Frozen

NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour thought it was okay, but they liked Tangled, too (I didn’t.) Their discussion made me want to watch Wreck-It Ralph.

Frozen has a score of 7.9 at IMDb. I’ve noticed across the web that fans of Frozen really are huge fans.

Women and Writing

“America is now wholly given over to a damned mob of scribbling women,
and I should have no chance of success while the public taste is occupied
with their trash.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne, 1855

women beat writers

Things that were said about writing by women:

  • that it was weak, vapid, and pastel, as in strong “masculine” rhymes and weak “feminine” ones;
  • that it was too subjective, solipsistic, narcissistic, autobiographical, and confessional;
  • that women lacked imagination and the power of invention and could only copy from their own (unimportant) lives and their own (limited, subjective) reality — they lacked the power to speak in other voices, or to make things up;
  • that their writing was therefore limited in scope, petty, domestic, and trivial;
  • that good female writers transcended their gender; that bad ones embodied it;
  • that writing was anyway a male preserve, and that women who invaded it felt guilty or wanted to be men;
  • that men created because they couldn’t have babies; that it was unfair of women to do both; that they should just have the babies, thus confining themselves to their proper sphere of creativity.

The double bind: if women said nice things, they were being female, therefore weak, and therefore bad writers. If they didn’t say nice things they weren’t proper women. Much better not to say anything at all.

Any woman who began writing when I did, and managed to continue, did so by ignoring, as a writer, all her socialization about pleasing other people by being nice, and every theory then available about how she wrote or ought to write. The alternative was silence.

- Margaret Atwood, from If You Can’t Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All

OTHER DEPRESSING LINKS

J.R.R. Tolkien heavily influenced by obscure female writer? from Reel Girl

Women Writers And Bad Interviews, from Talking Writing

Naipaul says no woman writer is any good.

Women Still Not Equal In Writing World from The Rumpus

Linda Leith says it’s because women are not submitting in the same numbers.

Prikipedia? Or, Looking For The Women On Wikipedia from The Chronicle

TV Writing Remains A White Man’s World from The Wrap TV

Hey TV Networks! Hire some women writers! from Bitch Media

Has Virago changed the publishing world’s attitude towards women? from The Guardian

Where Are The Women Kerouacs? from Salon

My So-Called ‘Post-feminist’ Life In Arts And Letters from Deborah Copaken Kogan

15 Great Female Film Critics You Ought To Be Reading from Flavorwire

Why Is The Women’s Fiction Prize A Thing? asks Book Riot, then answers it.

Sexism and Silence in the Literary Community from Huffington Post

TOP TEN TUESDAY: WOMEN WRITERS WHO DESERVE MORE RECOGNITION, For Book’s Sake

Why are op-eds written by women more prone to verge on the personal? There is nothing inherently wrong with first-person narratives, but there can be too much of a good thing at The Guardian

Danielle Steel on being asked if she’s “still” writing: “I think it is something that only men do to only women, and not just to me” from The Hairpin

Women who write erotica get asked different things from men who write erotica, explained here.

The work of Carol Ann Duffy, the Poet Laureate, has been compared to “Mills & Boon” authors in a damning attack by the Oxford Professor of Poetry

Did A Debut Writer Get Bullied On Goodreads? from Salon

28 Female Thinkers You Should Know, Even If Wired Magazine Doesn’t from Huffington

Editor Tries to Mansplain Gender Disparity, Fails Miserably from The Atlantic Wire

Sleeps With Monsters: Reading, Writing, Radicalisation from Tor

Masquerading as Male in Crime Writing: A Pseudonym Story from Women Writers, Women Books

A Picture Says It All Or Does It? Judging an Author by Their Photo from The Daily Beast

Why I Only Read Books by Women in 2013 from Flavorwire

Publishing and Prejudice: 5 Female Writers Weigh in on Sexism in the Literary World from Brooklyn Based

Eleanor Catton, being young and female and daring to write lengthy works of fiction, has a few things to say about women and writing, here and here.

JUST BECAUSE A WOMAN WROTE IT DOESN’T MEAN IT ISN’T SEXIST from xojane

Nicholas Sparks Confirmed My Fears from Illegal Writing alerted me to the fact that Sparks refuses to call himself a ‘romance writer’, but female authors have a harder job escaping the term, if they should so wish.

Why Is Television Losing Women Writers? Veteran Producers Weigh In from HuffPost TV

Patchett was asked nothing but personal questions.  Delving into her life, her first marriage, her second marriage, her husband’s health scare, her first dog, her first dog’s death, her second dog.  When asked the extremely personal question about why she had not had children, the author managed to answer with her characteristic grace. – The Sorry State Of Author Interviews

Everyone’s Afraid Of Teenage Girls

Handler’s Min is smart, ever-so-slightly pretentious, and prone to fits of melancholy—just like, ya know, every actual teen girl reading the book.

- Barnes & Noble review of Daniel Handler’s Why We Broke Up, because all teenage girls who read this book are obviously exactly the same.

When I taught in a girls’ high school, I generally had two reactions when sharing what I did for a job. The first was, ‘Oh god, I could never teach teenage girls. (Teenage girls are hideous.)’ The second, which came most often from teachers who taught in co-ed schools, was that teaching girls was a walk in the park, because girls are so much better behaved in the classroom. So which is it?

Neither of those assumptions is true, and I have wondered where it comes from. Once I started wondering, I didn’t have to look far.

Media is partly to blame, with the disclaimer that media reflects existing views in a society, and can also be interpreted by misogynistic audiences in unintended ways. (This is what concerns me most about Breaking Bad - Skyler-hate – and Chris Lilley’s Ja’mie: Private School Girl.)

The genre of ‘reality TV’ is an especially obvious example of the ways in which storytellers like to depict teenage girls and young women. People are actually studying this stuff:

The report took the form of a survey, and asked tween and teen girls, both reality show watchers and non-watchers, a variety of questions about what they saw on reality TV and how it affected them. The results were rather disheartening, with a majority of girls stating that reality TV places girls in direct competition with each other (86%) and that gossip is a normal part of a friendship between girls (78% of reality show watchers compared with 56% of non-watchers). And boys certainly also come into play: more watchers than non-watchers feel that girls need to compete with each other for male attention (74% vs. 63%) and that they feel they’d be happier if they had a boyfriend (49% vs. 28%).

from The Mary Sue

“One reason women have traditionally gossiped more than men is because gossip has been a social interaction wherein women have felt comfortable stating what they really think and feel. Often, rather than asserting what they think at the appropriate moment, women say what they think will please the listener. Later, they gossip, stating at that moment their true thoughts. This division between a false self invented to please others and a more authentic self need not exist when we cultivate positive self-esteem.”

While counting reality TV as a genre of fiction, is it our fictional culture, perpetuating the mythology that teenage girls are competitive, nasty and gossipy? Whether it’s TV advertisements, sit-coms or novels, there are very few ways in which teenage girls are portrayed positively in fiction. I’m starting to think that the sullen teenage girl trope feeds the idea (mistaken, I believe), that teenage girls are terribly difficult while teenage boys are not. It’s part of that whole Venus/Mars ideology in which women are complex and men are simple. While I’m fully conversant with the difficulties of the teenage years, I do think that it’s unhelpful to make these distinctions along gender lines. There is far more individual variation than gender variation, which makes gender distinctions unhelpful.

Though perhaps if we expect our teenage girls to be image obsessed and bratty, then that is what they will become. Likewise with boys and sullenness, though I know less about the trials and travails of boys.

Here is an example of a typical adolescent girl in adult, mainstream fiction:

‘Only because I told you every time he looked uncomfortable,’ reminded Loren, who had that pretty but gangly appearance of many twelve-year-old girls, pre-teenage and just beginning to take a greater interest in what was worthy of ‘cool’, be it music, clothes, or Mother’s make-up. Sometimes she assumed a maturity that should not yet have been learned, while at other times she was still his ‘princess‘ who loved her dolls and frequent hugs (the latter more occasional than frequent these days).

Loren had been adamant that no way was she leaving her friends and school in London to live in a place thousands of miles from anywhere, a place where she didn’t know anybody, a place she’d never even heard of. It took some persuasion, plus a promise of having her very own cell phone so that she could keep in constant touch with all her girlfriends, to convince her things would be okay in Devon.

[Her father] realised at that moment that he missed the extra ‘d’ and the ‘y’ at the end of ‘Dad’ and wondered when it had started happening. Was Loren, his princess, growing up so fast that he hadn’t noticed? With a jab of melancholy that perhaps only fathers of growing daughters can know (sons were way different, except to doting mothers), he swung back in his seat, glancing at Eve as he did so.

- The Secret of Crickley Hall, by James Herbert

I wouldn’t accuse James Herbert of being a great stylist, nor would I count him as a writer who offers insights into the complexities of human nature. But I would expect a little more imagination from any published and much promoted author, instead of relying solely on the trope.

As noted on the TV tropes page, ‘If the teenage daughter is the show’s protagonist, she probably won’t be this character, or at least, not as extreme a version.’ To paraphrase: in stories about teenage girls, for teenage girls, the main character is likely to be more rounded. The problem with this is, it is mainly teenage girls (and some adult women) are reading books about teenage girls.

What I’d like to see are fewer bratty-sullen-teenage-girl tropes in fiction aimed at a wider audience. That said, I’m sure there are a few out there. Can someone point me in the right direction?

RELATED

NEW STUDY SAYS TEENAGE GIRLS ARE SEXUALIZED ON NETWORK TELEVISION from The Mary Sue

Regarding the tendency for girl stars to pose naked for men’s magazines once they hit adulthood:

It’s not just attempts to classify these spreads as empowerment that’s so frustrating. It’s the photos’ implicit suggestion that little girls growing up is somehow remarkable, or dirty, or wild. Why do we continuously liken the release of these photos to “good” girls gone “bad”? Why do we still put such a premium on feminine purity that any evidence to the contrary becomes news?

from Policy Mic.

Quoting from a GQ article, Group Think points out the sexism of certain kinds of journalism (ie shitty journalism):

“By now we all know the immense transformative power of a boy band to turn a butter-wouldn’t-melt teenage girl into a rabid, knicker-wetting banshee who will tear off her own ears in hysterical fervour when presented with the objects of her fascinations. Hasn’t this spectacle of the natural world – like the aurora borealis or the migration of wild bison across America’s Great Plains – been acknowledged?”

The GQ writer who published that is either oblivious to or doesn’t care about the historic (though uncomfortably recent) use of the word ‘hysteria’ to describe and disempower women.

Boy Bands and Sexism: Can We Stop Hating Teenage Girls? Yep yep yep.

The Top 5 Female Character Stereotypes & 1 Tip To Avoid Them from The London Screenwriters’ Festival. If only all published authors were aware of the tropes and the history. If only writers were keenly aware of inequalities. If only…

REAL GIRLS, FAKE GIRLS, EVERYBODY HATES GIRLS from The Zoe Trope talks about Mary Sues and coins a word for her counterpart: the Sarah Jane. “It turns out the vast majority of talk about Sarah-Janes – realistic, flawed, prominent female characters in fiction – *still* centres on what is wrong with them, and all the reasons they are SO ANNOYING for… not being perfect?”

HOW NOT TO TALK ABOUT ADDING A FEMALE CHARACTER TO YOUR STORY, TOLD BY RAGEFACES from The Mary Sue

In Defence of Solipsistic Teenage Girls from YA Highway gets it right.

We care about young women as symbols, not as people from NS

Why does female-leaning fandom come in for such criticism? from Den of Geek

 

On Objectification

Anyone who’s aware of this phenomenon has probably heard the term ‘objectification’ in terms of white women. There’s a good reason for that.

Cinema Classic Posters by homework , via Behance/

There’s also a bunch of other kinds of objectification, slowly getting more attention. 

SELF-OBJECTIFICATION

That thing where you size yourself up every time you catch your reflection. In the absence of mirrors you’re wondering how you appear to other people… Even when other people aren’t around. That. That’s called self-objectification. Teenagers have it bad, but many carry it around for much longer.

Women Who ‘Listen’ To Their Bodies Are Less Likely To Objectify from PsychCentral

Body Shame On You from Beauty Redefined

Running From Self-Objectification also from Beauty Redefined

OBJECTIFICATION OF MEN

I find it hard to believe that even though feminists have been talking about this issue since at least the 60s, not only has the situation got worse for women, it’s also getting worse for men.

DOES THE RISE OF MEN’S SEXUAL OBJECTIFICATION = EQUALITY? from Sociological Images

Watch Rebel Wilson objectify a man in a short film. (Of course, this is a backwards take on an old gag about a woman.)

Men Deemed ‘Too Handsome’ Deported from Saudi Arabia for Fear They Would Be Irresistible to Women from Gawker

Money Porn: Simply put, men are objectified in terms of money in a way that parallels the sexual objectification of women. from PsychCentral

Male Bodies And Objectification at GMP

Male Actors Hate It When You Treat Them Like Actresses at Daily Life quote a couple of high profile men who complain about the very thing female actors have endured all along.

Chuck Wendig explains why the objectification of men isn’t ‘just as bad’ as objectification of women. In brief: Years of unfortunate history.

Pictures of men posted by a woman just don’t carry the same meaning as pictures of women posted by a men – HTML Giant

OBJECTIFICATION OF BLACK MEN

I have always been interested in African American manhood and masculinity and particularly by the way that – although contemporary discussions of objectification most often focus on the bodies of white women – Black men too are highly objectified by the news and entertainment media. Black men’s images – their bodies, in particular – are used to sell products, ideas and political campaigns, including those that are actually deleterious to Black men and their communities.

- visual artist Arjuan Mance

And here are some of the most thought-provoking articles about the sexual objectification of women. Once you notice it happening, you’ll see it absolutely everywhere.

OBJECTIFICATION OF women

Further analyses showed that men’s preferences for larger female breasts were significantly associated with a greater tendency to be benevolently sexist, to objectify women, and to be hostile towards women. (from Men’s Oppressive Beliefs Predict Their Breast Size Preferences in Women, PubMed.)

The consequences of the media’s objectification of women from The Not So Quiet Feminist

Staring Is Caring: Anti-cancer campaigns often use fundraising or awareness for then cause as an excuse to sexually objectify women. (Not to mention animal rights!) from Osocio

Why lads’ mags don’t ‘celebrate women’ by using their bodies to sell copies: The Five Worst Arguments from Newsweek