Category Archives: feminism

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

On Violence

“The violence which governed the ordering of the colonial world, which tirelessly punctuated the destruction of the indigenous social fabric, and demolished unchecked the systems of reference of the country’s economy, lifestyles, and modes of dress, this same violence will be vindicated and appropriated when, taking history into their own hands, the colonized swarm into the forbidden cities. To blow the colonial world to smithereens is henceforth a clear image within the grasp and imagination of every colonized subject. To dislocate the colonial world does not mean that once the borders have been eliminated there will be a right of way between the two sectors. To destroy the colonial world means nothing less than demolishing the colonist’s sector, burying it deep within the earth or banishing it from the territory. Challenging the colonial world is not a rational confrontation of viewpoints. It is not a discourse on the universal, but the impassioned claim by the colonized that their world is fundamentally different.”

Frantz FanonWretched of the Earth

“Violence does not always take visible form, and not all wounds gush blood.”

Haruki Murakami

A Rape A Minute, A Thousand Corpses A Year, by Rebecca Solnit, in which it pays to remember that horrific violent crime against women are not isolated incidents. (Is Delhi So Different From Steubenville, from NYT.)

Gendering Sex and Sexual Violence from Inequality by (Interior) Design:

About 2.8% of men stated that they have sexually forced a woman, but a whopping 21.6% of women state that they have been forced by a man. 

Yet figures from the same chart show that men who have been forced into sex by a woman basically match up with the numbers of women who say they have forced a man into sex. Why the discrepancy?

Mass Murder and Men from GMP is a video from Chris Menning

Erika Christakis on The Overwhelming Maleness of Mass Homicide from The Good Men Project

The Cognitive Dissonance Of Game Violence from The Good Men Project

Sir Patrick Stewart: Violence Against Women Is Learned from Jezebel

EXPLICIT VIOLENCE from The Rumpus

The Complexity Of Violence In The Media from GMP

Fashion victims: why do glossy magazines keep glamorising violence? from New Statesman

The very best indicator and predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not wealth, military expenditures or religion; the best predictor is how well its girls and women are treated.

- Soraya Chemaly

I watched an episode of Insight early 2013 sometime about girls and violence. According to a career policeman from Sydney, he’s definitely seen an upswing in violence from young women. This is a trend he can’t explain. He was sure to point out that violence from young women is nowhere near the levels of young men.

I’m pretty sure that wasn’t what equality was supposed to look like.

Victims suffer all over again in a world where sexual violence sells from The Age

 Dangerous criminals don’t turn violent. They just stay that way, from NYT

…the show isn’t treating its female characters poorly, the men are. And there’s a big difference - ‘True Detective’ and Women: Does the Hit HBO Show Have a Problem With Female Characters?

Misogyny and Consent on Game Of Thrones from Persephone Mag http://persephonemagazine.com/2014/04/misogyny-and-consent-on-game-of-thrones/

Must women be ‘fierce’ now, too?

If you are a woman there are a number of different ways of dealing with sexism in the workplace.

1. Find yourself a different workplace. Last night I watched a documentary from The London Markets series. Episode 2 features the first woman to secure a customer service position in Smithfield, London’s most famous meat market. (I suppose the wordplay is intended.) She expected the sexual harassment to wane after a few months, but when it still hadn’t after more than six months on the job, she quit. Although this documentary is an interesting case study of the meat consumption habits of Londoners through the ages, the episode functions equally well as a case-study in workplace harassment.

2. Become one of the boys. This so often involves shitting on other women trying to make their way up the ladder as you have, ignoring the fact that women have different strengths and weaknesses, developing corporate interests such as an interest in male-dominated sports (which may even have started out as or will morph into genuine enthusiasm) and harbouring a certain amount of femme phobia. If you consider yourself a ‘guys’ gal’, this might describe you.

3. Stay, put up with a lot of misery, but through minor everyday actions strive to make an unfriendly workplace slightly more friendly, as part of a wider movement. Not every feminist has that fortitude within. In fact, it’s easier to speak up if you’re not even a woman. I wonder sometimes if feminist activities can have the opposite effect to that intended. Gender equality makes slow progress indeed. Or maybe it just seems that way due to the limited years in a single human life.

BECOMING ONE OF THE BOYS

Why is it that so often, after it’s acknowledged that something needs to be done about gender equality in the workplace, women are the ones sent on special training courses and taught to behave more like men? It happened to a friend of mine recently. This friend works for the Australian government.

Now here’s a classic American case study for you:

From The Top 5 Mistakes Women Make In Academic Settings, from someone who runs a course cheesily called ‘Yes You Can! Women and Graduate School.’

I created [the course] because I just can’t bear to watch all the ways that women shoot themselves in their collective feet in academia (and other professional settings too).

So, it’s women’s own fault for failing to achieve equality in a patriarchal society. The author is careful to say that it’s not women’s own fault per se. So if the acculturation isn’t exactly our own fault, I presume it does become our own personal fault if we fail to mould ourselves around the existing dominant culture?

I work with some powerful and fierce women.  Heck, I am a powerful and fierce woman.

I have a problem with ‘fierce’. Like words such as ‘feisty’, ‘fierce’ is suddenly a good thing for women to be. Hell no, it’s not just good; we’re in danger of it becoming a requirement. This word fails my basic gender test: Is ‘fierce’ used to describe men in the same context? No. It’s not. Men are not ‘fierce’. Mice in storybooks are ‘fierce’. The same characteristic in men goes unremarked. The media was all up in a frenzy last week after Hilary Clinton delivered a calm and thoughtful response to an inane question about abortion in America. This response was called ‘badassery’. The same measured response from a man would not have been called ‘badassery’. Such calm would have been expected from a leader. (If you google ‘Hillary Clinton badass’ you’ll find there are plenty of times Clinton has been called ‘badass’, and it’s never for doing anything other than calmly responding to a tiresome interview question.)

Here are the top five ways that women undermine their own authority:

1)  Ending their declarative sentences and statements on a verbal upswing or “lilt” that communicates self-doubt and deference.

I’ve been around just long enough to have realised that people are always complaining about the way young women speak. It’s worth pointing out that there is nothing inherently obfuscating about upspeak (‘the terminal rise’ in linguistic terminology). The terminal rise is seen across all of the English speaking countries, though I’ve noticed that people seem to think their own country is particularly badly affected. It’s also worth pointing out that whenever language changes, young women are blamed for perpetuating a super-annoying verbal tic. The vocal fry is an excellent case in point.

The gendered nature of ‘vocal fry’ became a talking point recently when the old white man who hosts Slate Presents Lexicon Valley went on and on about the vocal fry as being a super annoying aspect of young female speech. All the while doing vocal fry himself. Fortunately, the women who host another Slate podcast, the Gabfest, pulled Bob Garfield up on this and dissected why the speech of young women is so often hated when men get away with doing and saying exactly the same thing. (Short answer: sexism.)

2) Waiting their turn to interject contributions instead of diving in assertively, and seeking a collective experience rather than firmly expressing an individual viewpoint.  {raises hand and waits…}

Um, isn’t this called ‘good manners’? Why aren’t the men being sent on politeness training, leaving the women to consider each other’s insight without talking over each other and interrupting? Hang on, don’t we keep getting told that women love to finish each other’s sentences while men like to take turns monologuing? (Refer to Mars and Venus and every asshat spinoff.)

Leading with, and defaulting to, what they “don’t know” and “can’t do” and what “won’t work.” ie, “I’m not sure if this is always the case, but I think xxxx.  I haven’t read everything in the field, though, so I might be off-base there.”

Confidence is a good thing. Overconfidence is toxic. We increasingly live in a world where pretend-confidence is rewarded. Read Barbara Ehrenreich’s wonderful book Smile Or Die and understand it is exactly this toxic overconfidence that lead to the global financial crisis. Why aren’t we teaching men to be honest about their own capabilities? Why aren’t we promoting to management people who accept vulnerabilities in their staff and who will provide mentorship in order to fill knowledge gaps? Wouldn’t this make for a better world?

4) Having a weak handshake and deferential body language, including smiling too much, laughing too often, trailing off, taking up too little space, and defaulting to questions rather than statements.

I don’t even… No, I will. I will comment on this ridiculousness because people obviously believe it. First of all, the ‘weak handshake’.

If you follow tennis even a little bit, you may remember the time Serena Williams overestimated her own strength and said in 1998 that she and Venus could take down any man outside the top 200. Well, Serena Williams is older and wiser now, and she’s admitted that men are simply a lot stronger than women. Nothing can change this simple biological fact (except anabolic steroids, but that’s a whole different matter). Serena has more lately admitted that she has no chance. “My thing is to play women’s tennis.” I find this really interesting because to look at Serena Williams, she seems like she’d be one of the best female matches for a man. Her biceps aren’t smaller in girth than those of a man. But here’s the thing: Men can’t have babies and women have on average half the upper body strength of men. Apply that strength differential to the handshake, and there’s the floppy hand thing explained, right there. My husband has spoken to me about handshakes, and the way in which certain alpha males use a vice-like grip and a dominant stare to subtly assert their dominance. (I’m not married to an alpha male.) Do women really want to be a part of this bullshit? Even if we do like shaking hands, do women really have a chance, in a reality where men have naturally vice-like grips?

Much has already been said about the tightrope women must walk, smiling and laughing appropriately, but not too much. For the short time Julia Gillard was prime minister here in Australia, this often became a talking point.

‘Taking up too little space’ is almost incomprehensible to me — partly, I suspect, because I haven’t taken the course, but also because women are… smaller. Should we really be encouraging people to take up a lot of space in this increasingly overpopulated world? This isn’t an anti-obesity, anti-height argument I’m making, just to be clear — this is about the Western sense of entitlement that allows us to ignore people less powerful than ourselves. Let’s move past monkey moves.

As for ‘defaulting to questions’, I wonder if Socrates was ever accused of that.

5) Expressing themselves in a disorganized and emotional manner that muddies their main point and obscures their actual achievements and goals. ie, “I think it’s just really, really important to consider the impact of xxx, which, you know, a lot of folks haven’t really done, even though of course Nelson has done some important work on xxx, but still in my own work I try and extend that…” (in this example also note the default to “I try” and to making her work derivative and dependent through the use of “extend.” )

First of all, I suspect that anyone telling women to be less ‘emotional’ is blissfully unaware of the long and unfortunate history that women have with accusations of hysteria (and witchcraft) and how recent it was that women were deemed unfit for doing anything outside the house due to a natural mental instability. Hell, this was as recent as 1960. Just look at season one of Mad Men (in which a misogynistic audience will learn to hate Betty.)

Second, anyone who’s ever transcribed human speech as part of a linguistics course will know that all genders speak like this, with hedge statements and fillers and circumlocution. To accuse women of being especially bad at speaking is ridiculous, because on the other hand, women are widely considered ‘good communicators’ (see the work of Cordelia Fine for a lengthy insight into that particular slice of cultural bullshit). Obviously, women are ‘good communicators’ only when it suits. (In other words, women are good for looking after small children, preferably in the home.)

What can women do?

I’m afraid, deep down, that women can’t do much to change this toxic culture without sacrificing a lot of personal happiness. It’s no fun calling colleagues on their bullshit, and it’s impossible to call bosses on it without personal repercussions. One thing we can do, though, is to refuse to participate in women-specific courses which teach us to be more like men. If you’re sent on one, get up, walk out.

I regret not walking out on a course I attended at the age of 25. I was sitting next to my boss, also a woman, some decades older and correspondingly wiser. Later, on the way home, my boss admitted that she’d felt like doing the same. We could’ve had a much better day at a cafe or catching a movie, rather than listen to an old white man make subtle and disparaging remarks about female high school teachers. Better still, if I could go back in time with the reflection of hindsight, I would’ve called him on his bullshit in front of a crowded room. At least if it ever happens again, I’ve had some years of processing time.

Related:

Are masculine voices just naturally more powerful? Nah. If you’ve spent anytime with opera singers you know that both male and female voices can rattle your ribcage. The answer then must be cultural.

- from The Sexy Baby Voice vs. The Voice Of God from Sociological Images

This is related in a slightly metaphorical way: Learning to rock-climb is changing the way I teach math, from Math With Bad Drawings

Research Shows More and More Guys Are Like, Totally Starting to Sound Like Valley Girls from Time

 

Women and Marketing

Get To Know The Feminist Film-maker Who Vandalises Commercials, at Bitch Media

Dear Advertising Agencies: This is what your ads for women look like, from Upworthy

Future Questions In Women’s Advertising from The Hairpin

Women Need Clothes; Women Need To Look Cute, some annoying screenshots from a clothing company, side by side and gendered

A Day In The Life Of A Target Market Female from McSweeneys

Here’s what the perfect women’s magazine would look like according to New Statesman

Pot Noodles have been added to the list of foods that women the country over are seemingly not permitted to consume. A list which includes McCoys (Man Crisps), Yorkie Bars (Not for girls), Irn Bru (weird preoccupation with mum’s boobs), Burger King (blowjob imagery) Weetabix (girls can’t be superheroes) and, thanks to the date-rapey tendencies of their advertising, microwaveable burger manufacturers Rustlers. – from Food: It’s not for girls.

15 Ways The Media Would Be Different If It Were Run By Women from Jezebel

MEN ARE PEOPLE AND WOMEN ARE WOMEN: THE HOME DEPOT EDITION from Sociological Images

Mother’s Day is about celebrating the mothering work that mothers do, and also the cleaning.

cleaning and mothers day

Hysteria

“AS A SOCIETY, WE ENCOURAGE GIRLS AND WOMEN TO BE EMOTIONALLY ACCESSIBLE, AND IN TOUCH WITH THEIR FEELINGS; WE SAY THAT IT’S AN INNATELY FEMININE TRAIT. WE SAY IT, THAT IS, UNTIL THEY HAVE FEELINGS THAT MAKE US UNCOMFORTABLE, AT WHICH POINT WE RECAST THEM AS MELODRAMATIC HARPIES, SHRIEKING BANSHEES, AND BASKET CASES “

— Tori Amos (via QUEERINTERSECTIONAL)
***
Before making formal use of the word ‘hysterical’ it pays to understand its history.

1. Stop Telling Girls They’re Hysterical, from The Feminist Wire

2. Hysteria and Femininity: A Tentative Investigation into a Victorian and Edwardian Myth from Early Modern England

3. Why Women Aren’t Crazy from The Good Men Project

4. Penetrating History In Hysteria from Bitch Flicks

5. Why We Need To Stop Saying “Calm Down” and “You’re Crazy” from The Current Conscience

6. Women Who Are Judged Mentally Ill Might Just Be Mad from Women’s eNews

7. This article discusses etymology of ‘hysterical’ and its widened use over time to include the meaning of ‘extremely funny’.

8. Is it okay, then, to use the word ‘hysteria’ even when you’re using it in an ungendered way? Perhaps.

On High Heels, Backwards

Philip Garner High Heel Roller Skates 1986

At the age of three, Grandmother’s feet had been wrapped tightly witha long, narrow cloth bandage, forcing the four lateral toes under the soles so that only the big toe protruded. This bandage was tightened daily for a number of years, squeezing the toes painfully inwards and permanently arresting the foot’s growth in order to achieve the tiny feet so prized by Chinese men. Women were in effect crippled and their inability to walk with ease was a symbol both of their subservience and of their family’s wealth. Grandmother’s feet caused her pain throughout her life. Later, she braved social ridicule rather than inflict this suffering on her own daughter.

Falling Leaves: The True Story Of An Unwanted Chinese Daughter, by Adeline Yen Mah

Christian Louboutin's ballerina slippers, with 8-inch heel. Used under Fair Use guidelines.

Christian Louboutin’s ‘Ballerina’ slippers, with an 8-inch heel

I was going to write a long, boring post about the problems with high heels and how they’re the modern equivalent of Chinese foot binding but after collecting a bunch of links I realise that I can’t say anything that hasn’t been said before.

Then there’s this, in a chapter about fashion (particularly in relation to goth subculture) and fetishization of fashion items:

I try to explore both what men were finding erotic about fetish fashion– which did often have to do with phallic symbolism, and with ambivalence about female bodies–and also what women found appealing about it, when they did find it appealing–which some did, particularly younger women. And what kind of fantasies they were constructing around something like a high heel. In both cases there frequently were power fantasies. What was interesting though, is, contrary to what feminists would assume, most male fantasies had less to do with “There’s a woman in high heels who can’t run away from me, so I’m going to catch her and rape her,” but on the contrary, “There’s a woman in high heels who’s going to walk all over me.” Women’s fantasies also tended to be like that: “I’m in high heels, and I can say, “Get down on your knees.” So in both cases, for rather different sets of reasons, there were often power fantasies, or stories about gender slippage.

– from a conversation with Valerie Steele in Goth: Undead Subculture

There’s A Fetish For Everything: Muddy High Heels, from Frisky

What Is It About A Woman In High Heels? asks Slate, in regards to Anthony Weiner. Who else?

While I think everyone should steer clear of talking about ‘feminists’ as an homogeneous group with homogeneous misconceptions, just as everyone should stay away from making assumptions about the wearers of high-heeled shoes, what Steele says is important. Any sexual act or garb can be on either side of the power dichotomy, and it depends on the participant.

So did high heeled shoes start as a regular fashion item which became fetishized, or was it the other way around? The articles below suggest it was the latter:

From Manly To Sexy: The History Of The High Heel from The Society Pages

And here what manly high heels were called. Brand Name From The Past: Sorosis from Fritinancy

The Real Reason Men Stopped Wearing High Heels from The Frisky

Where Did High Heels Come From? Mental Floss.

Sexualization of the female foot as a response to sexually transmitted epidemics: a preliminary study, from Discover Magazine

My own feminist problems with high-heeled shoes have nothing to do with what goes on in the bedroom, and everything to do with the male gaze and objectification of women, and the pain and discomfort and straight out physical damage that happens when women start wearing high-heeled shoes on a daily basis — or worse, when they are required to wear high-heeled shoes as part of their work, as flight attendants are.

Cringe-inducing 3D scan of a woman’s foot bones in high heels from io9

More Women Are Literally Chopping Off Their Pinkies To Fit Into Heels from Jezebel

Andrea Hasler sculpture5

Artwork by Andrea Hasler

So Should We Just Start Calling High Heels Body Modification? from Feministe

I also don’t like that female fetishistic fashion has become mainstream for little girls.

‘Mini-Me’ With High Heels of Her Own from the New York Times, about how heels and wedge shoes have become mainstream for little girls now.

Can Evolution Explain High Heels? from Salon, in which the title is rhetorical: some of us think it can. I’m very suspicious of these kinds of studies. (Who on earth funds them?) Too often ‘evolution’ is used to excuse substandard status-quo, especially in regards to maintaining the current power structure. This research argues that high-heels have stayed even as other fashions come and go because they exaggerate the femininity of the natural female gait.

Do Not Want: A High-Heeled Flip Flop, from Frisky, but Reversed Heels Are The Scariest Heels. From LAEM

Stiletto Workouts: Finally, A Way To Get Skinny AND Break Your Foot Bones from Jezebel

Women Wear High Heels Because We Are Idiots, Says Science from Messy Nessy, though of course, women wear high heels because we are so often judged for not wearing them. Which answers the following question: Are Women Foolish To Love Stilettos? from CNN

High Heels And Distinction from The Society Pages

The Frisky’s Guide To Comfortable High Heels, evidence that buyers of such footwear don’t even usually expect the damn things to be comfortable.

Seven Terrifying Beauty Practices From History

Let’s Shop For Shoes In The 194os from Jezebel