References to New Zealand in Fiction

Now, I am not generally given over to excitement, but Neutral Milk Hotel sort of changed my life. They released this absolutely fantastic album called In the Aeroplane Over the Sea in 1998 and haven’t been heard from since, purportedly because their lead singer lives in a cave in New Zealand.

– from Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan

How is your country generally depicted in fiction, by writers outside your country?

New Zealand, not surprisingly, is the stock country for ‘a place really, really far away.’ Most recently I noticed in Last Tango In Halifax, a relative who came from New Zealand to England had made a REALLY big effort to be at a wedding celebration, and therefore his very presence was amazing.

New Zealand sometimes even gets a mention in American fiction. Even in Breaking Bad! In this case, New Zealand is the stock country that ‘no one knows anything about':

Jane Margolis: Do you know what this is? [refers to a bag full of money]
Jesse Pinkman: It’s a whole lot of cheddar.
Jane Margolis: This is freedom. This is saying, “I can go anywhere I want. I can be anybody.” What do you want to be? Where do you want to go? South America? Europe? Australia?
Jesse Pinkman: Is New Zealand part of Australia?
Jane Margolis: New Zealand is New Zealand.
Jesse Pinkman: Right on. New Zealand. That’s where they made “Lord of the Rings”. I say we just move there, yo. I mean, you can do your art. Right? Like, you can paint the local castles and shit. And I can be a bush pilot.

– from Breaking Bad, penultimate episode of season 2

Ask an Australian and they will tell you that New Zealand is nothing but sheep. Sort of like Tasmania, but a different country. New Zealanders are also good at rugby, but not cricket.

Lord of the Rings allowed marketers of tourism to sell New Zealand as a really beautiful place, almost other-worldly. The Hobbit has probably turned it into ‘takes really long to get there and is actually pretty boring.’

What is New Zealand really like?

Here’s an article from a European whose version of New Zealand — from books introduced by his Kiwi girlfriend– turned out to be quite different from the New Zealand he met when he eventually visited the country.

Feminist Film Review: Interstellar (2014)

Interstellar Movie Poster

HOW DOES this film RATE FOR INCLUSIVENESS?

As I was watching my thoughts were more about race. This story is set in the near future, when current children are about 60 years old. In that real world scenario, I am expecting the world to look a lot less white than this movie does. Sure, there is a black guy on the space ship but I’m pretty sure he gets way fewer lines of dialogue than the white characters. The odd Asian face pops up here and there. My own imagination has never stretched to a future in which white Americans will save the world. There is simply so much brain power outside America now, and other countries have more successful education systems.

The Bechdel Test

The Bechdel test was never really intended to be used as a barometer for a good feminist film and I’ve recently been noticing that many stories do pass the test but are still not all that great in regards to portrayal of women.

For the record, this film does pass the Bechdel test — two women do eventually talk to each other. Given that this is about 3 hours long, a couple of brief scenes doesn’t count for much. One of those was about a man. The other depicts two women who don’t like each other. So although Interstellar passes the Bechdel Test, some have made an amendment that ideally there are two women talking who don’t hate each other. Because everyone knows how ‘women are their own worst enemies’, right?

As for the gender breakdown:

There are 15 first-billed characters (counting as single the characters played by multiple actors). One of those characters is a robot and has a male voice, but I’ll take that number down to 13. Of those 13, 2 characters are female (played by two actresses each). So when you look at the raw numbers, this film is typical for Hollywood in its gender balance.

I’m not sure whether this is good news or not (I might just be used to the imbalance), but this cast felt like quite a balanced ensemble as I was watching. This is partly because the two main female characters have agency. Both are super smart and dedicated to their jobs and we don’t have any bullshit backstory in which they’re torn between their jobs and their families — in fact, that particular dilemma is reserved for the main male character, and that’s refreshing. In contrast, Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity had a backstory which involved her family, I guess because it was thought a female astronaut without a sob story would not be sufficiently relatable for audiences who are used to women as caregivers. The women in this story do not have children that define them. This felt great.

That said, I am detecting that we’re in the age of The Hermione Trope, in which girl characters work behind the scenes as ‘secret protagonists’, working out complex problems for the male characters who get their hands dirty on the fictional battlefield, whatever form that might take. I’d thought it applied mainly to family movies but I may have to revise that.

The frustrating thing is that we’re still not seeing many movies in which the female is the plain ole ‘protagonist’. Don’t forget that this film could just as easily have been about a woman cast in McConaughey’s role, with the young swots being male. That’s just not a story Hollywood is prepared to gamble on yet. From Peggy Olsen, Claire Underwood and Kima Greggs to the girls in Paranorman and Monster House, significant female characters are still not the main characters even when they have the brains. Perhaps this smart under-dog dynamic is thought to be more interesting. Perhaps such relationships do appeal most to female viewers, for whom it’s a certain kind of satisfying to see a woman under-appreciated and then triumph, despite the patriarchal world in which she lives. I’m still waiting for more stories in which fictional worlds of the future depict a social milieu in which women have achieved full agency, not that which comes out of the shadows, behind that of a man.

AND IS IT ANY GOOD?

Pretty fantastic! This was one of those films which stays with you for several days. High concept stories are hard to pull off 100% but all loose ends were tied up. Viewers would benefit from seeing it more than once. Part of the ending did run to cheese in my opinion. Interstallar reminds me of Contact only it is more complex, more frightening, more exciting. I wasn’t bored at any stage, despite the length of 169 minutes.

I’m looking forward to watching this with my daughter when she’s old enough to understand what’s going on. Commonsense Media recommends the film for ages 12 and up.

Pair with the book The Never-ending Days of Being Dead by Marcus Chown for some mind-bending astro stuff presented in readable fashion.

 

 

Women and Sport

I have recently found myself in the most unlikely position: On the board of a local sports association. Anyone who knows my former real life glasses-wearing book-reading self would be surprised at the disconnect.

So I have come to sports late, in a sense. I had almost forgotten my child self, the child who did well in marathons but never actually won, who made it to inter-school athletics and the first eleven girls’ soccer team in high school and who consistently surprised P.E. teachers with both my negative attitude towards P.E. class and the ease at which I picked up certain sports.

Then I turned 14 and gave up sport for 20 years.

Giving up sport is pretty typical for teenage girls.

Instead of an amazing burst of power at adolescence, we start bleeding from our nether regions and any increase in strength is offset by the addition of several layers of fat in preparation for the creation of human life. I’m pretty sure that’s part of the reason why lots of teenage girls give up sport. Suddenly I could no longer do chin-ups. My lithe high-jumping pre-adolescent body would have looked ridiculous to onlookers, throwing itself over a pole, lying prostrate and disconcertingly vulnerable on a vinyl-covered mattress.

WE TREAT GIRL ATHLETES DIFFERENTLY AND MOSTLY DON’T EVEN NOTICE WE’RE DOING IT

About a month ago I was learning how to serve a tennis ball alongside a bunch of adolescent players — all boys apart from a girl — when the coach started the session by ‘teaching’ us how not to throw a ball:

“First thing to remember is, don’t throw like a girl.” (Points at a little boy.) “Now X, you throw like a girl. You’ve got to stop that.”

Seething on the inside, I pulled the coach up on his sexism. He then explained (mansplained) to me that boys and girls do indeed throw differently, because boys go out and climb trees and exercise their upper bodies, whereas girls sit inside and do crafts, and need to be taught how to throw.

This is otherwise an excellent local coach, who does a lot for the sporting community. But I have been unable to get through to him that despite his nurture over nature logic, teaching kids that girls throw badly is a classic case of sexism. Nor does he realise that he routinely calls the girls ‘Sweetheart’ and the boys ‘Champ’ or ‘Champion’. How nice it would be, to just once be called a champion! I had a primary school teacher who called me ‘Shortcake’ and I hated it. My mother had given him shortcake as a Christmas gift. I’m sure he wouldn’t have adopted the name of a pastry for me if I’d been of the male persuasion.

In this way:

GIRLS LEARN THAT WE’RE NOT QUITE AS WELCOME IN THE SPORTING ARENA

Yesterday I helped out at the tennis club open day. Throughout the morning, parents and their children dropped in to have a few hits of the ball with a variety of tennis rackets we hung on the fence to entice them in. “Look!” the little boys said to their parents, tugging at their sleeves. The little boys dashed onto the court, threw the ball, hit it badly, had fun anyway. So did the toddler girls. The older girls I played with stood at the gate and waited to be invited onto the court. (I actively solicited business.) I placed racquets in the girls’ hands and told several of them that girls tend to give up sport at adolescence, but promise me you won’t do the same. “Sorry!” they said, hitting the ball to me badly, but no more badly than the boys. And I remembered my own self, just a year ago, coming back to tennis as an adult, having to be gently reminded by the male president that I don’t actually have to say sorry for hitting the ball badly. Hell, I’ve since played with women who apologise for hitting it well.

Media Coverage

In New Zealand where I grew up, media coverage and general interest in sport is very high for men’s sport, but women’s sport hardly gets a look in. NZ is of course completely typical in the disparity. It’s possible that coverage of women’s sport is even decreasing in relation to men’s despite feminism:

There are so many ways in which the UCI could support the sport for women, but instead they have acted, regardless of their intent, in a way that has caused the sport to lose events. Gone are the women’s Milan San Remo, the Amstel Gold Race, Tour de L’Aude, Tour Midi Pyrenees, and Tour Castel de Leon. No HP tour in America. No Tours in Australia, New Zealand or Canada. Instead of a 2 week Tour de France we have nothing. Today, in January, the major race in the women’s calendar this year, the one from which I have the pink tee-shirt, has no organizer and no route.

– from Nicole Cooke’s retirement statement (cycling)

In Australia, there is more coverage of horse racing than of women’s sport.

In NZ and Australia there is too much media coverage of sport in general. I’m arguing for less coverage of male sport rather than more coverage of women’s. The percentage of air time is disproportionate to how important sport actually is. (It’s not very important.) But as long as we’re all gawking at groin injuries, our eyes are averted from bigger social justice issues that Australia is facing right now. If we all directed as much attention to the asylum seekers as we do to sport, I’m sure enough voters would be horrified enough to do something about it.

Nevertheless:

sport is undeniably a significant part of Western culture

Sport is one of the major means by which values and attitudes are shaped in Western culture. Governments spend large amounts of money in the pursuit of national sporting success, successful sportsmen are idolized and imitated, and televised sport is avidly watched by millions. Those sporting activities which arouse the most passion are constructed as ritual re-enactments of the myth: ‘our’ team, or ‘our’ Olympic representatives go forth to do symbolic battle with their opponents. They are expected to be strong, brave and dedicated to the cause. They are expected to win. If they succeed they are awarded a glittering trophy and we welcome them home as national heroes. Significantly most of the sport which is widely promoted through the media is male sport. In a paper delivered at the University of Technology, Sydney, in 1995 Gay Mason argued that sport, in general, plays a central role in the development of masculinity and that ‘sporting discourse offers a prime site for the construction of ‘maleness’. According to Mason the images of male bodies engaged in sporting activities constitute one of the main ways in which the superiority of men becomes ‘naturalised’, and the media, in their reporting of sport, ‘conspire in naturalising hegemonic masculinity’. The notions of male physical strength, force, potency and skill constructed by sport are translated into social concepts of masculine authority and power.

Deconstructing The Hero, Marjery Hourihan

We can’t be what we can’t see

“You know what, Dad? I’ll just become an umpire. There. I’ve figured it out!” He laughed, wished me good luck, and said “I’m not sure how well that would be received by a lot of the people who watch the games, Caitlin.”

– from Why aren’t there more women officials in sport? from Persephone.

AND WHEN WE DO SEE OURSELVES IN SPORT, IT’S NOT OUR SPORTING SKILLS THAT ARE THE MAIN INTEREST

Double Fault by Lionel Shriver

Note the headless female body, even on the cover of a feminist novel by a feminist author

60% of girls have quit a sport because of the way they look, from Policy Mic. (How many have never started?)

Eugenie Bouchard Asked To Twirl by [Australian] Male Reporter from SBS

Sports Illustrated Loves Models. Female Athletes? Not So Much. From Jezebel

SPORT FOR GIRLS IS MORE HEAVILY SEXUALISED

…here in Sydney: a portrait photographer submits a range of photos for an exhibition about women’s sport. Her folio includes – among others – portraits of a surfer, a footballer, a basketball player, and a pole dancer, but the gallery decides to reject one of the portraits. [The pole dancing one.]

What do you think? Is pole-dancing a sport? Is it a ‘women’s sport’?

Is pole dancing a ‘women’s sport’? from Daily Life

Yes, pole-dancing is a sport in that it requires much physical prowess and fitness and dedication. But I note with interest that straight men are not taking it up in droves. Why not? Because pole dancing is for women, or because being sexually objectified is for women?

How do women and girls feel when they see sexualised or sporty images of female athletes? from BPS

LFL is Not a Sport! It Is Glorified Sexuality (I would amend that title to ‘Sporty-Fetish Porn’

The truth is, audiences are happy to watch girls playing sport. But audiences are not so happy to watch women playing sport. Teams of unaccessorised, sweaty women playing games at the top level is harder to market.

No, Female Athletes Don’t Have To Be Girly, Thank you, from GOOD

FURTHER LINKS

ESPN Cricket News, about India’s female elite cricketers

This is also from Jezebel, so take the title with a dose of irony

Sexism, LBGT and Sport from FTB

Is Women Playing in Men’s Leagues a step forward? from Daily Life See also: Girls and Sport by Chris Scanlon

The ugly truth is rules are different for girls in sport from The Age

President Obama Is A Big Fan Of Girls’ Sports, from Jezebel. (Notice they didn’t say ‘women’s sports’.)

One! Two! Three Strikes, You’re Outdating Yourselves With Your Views on Women and Sports! from Persephone Mag

The Ladies’ Guide To Football Promises To Tell You Dumb Broads What All The Man-Fuss is About from Jezebel

Women in Sports Week: Because Being Girly Doesn’t Mean Being Weak: ‘Bring It On from Bitch Flicks

Sexism and blogging in the hockey media: Puck Daddy roundtable debate

 

The Inspector Gadget Remake Summarises How Children’s Media Has Changed

Inspector Gadget 2015

In which girl character and dog character have equal billing

 

Interestingly, Esquire calls this ‘the digital era’, under the idea that the use of computers has an integral impact on narrative. The medium is the message, and all that.

1. FASTER PACE

Steven DeNure, president and COO of DHX Media, was thrilled to acquire the rights to Gadget in 2012. But he worried the old Gadget wouldn’t appeal to its target audience of young children.

For starters, the pacing was painfully slow. Kids today are used to fast-moving commercials, quick cuts, and a thing called the Internet.

2. FEMALE CHARACTERS ARE STILL DEALING WITH A WORLD IN WHICH THEY’RE SO OFTEN RELEGATED TO SECONDARY ROLES UNDER BUMBLING MALE PROTAGONISTS

Gadget remains as clueless as ever, and Penny remains just as brainy.

This is related to what I call The Hermione Trope. We see it in movies such as Monster House, too, and ParaNorman, in which the bossy brainy girl saves the day, but completely behind the scenes. 35 years later, girls are still swots, boys are still adventurous etc. Boys see that they don’t need to be such swots to get on in the world — they’ll be the stars of the story because of their gender.

3. CHILD CHARACTERS ARE MORE FREQUENTLY SEXUALISED

“What we wanted to do was make Penny a little older,” says Chalopin, who estimates she was between 10 and 12 before and is now in her mid-teens. She also has a new love interest: Dr. Claw’s spiky-haired nephew, Talon. “He’s more of a kid of today,” Chalopin says.

4. ‘GOOD LOOKS’ ARE EVER MORE IMPORTANT, FOR BOTH BOY AND GIRL CHARACTERS

[Talon] makes a great counterpart to Penny with his good looks and his charm.

5. CHILD CHARACTERS MAKE USE OF MOBILE PHONES AND OTHER TECHNOLOGIES, WHICH CHANGES THE STORY

“Penny had a smartphone way before it existed,” Chalopin says, so that wouldn’t impress children today. To get around the problem, he created “holographic protection” for Brain and a computer that appears out of thin air when Penny needs it.

6. FOR FINANCIAL REASONS, CHILDREN’S CONTENT CAN’T JUST BE FOR CHILDREN

Financing remains an uphill battle. Much of what’s selected today, at least for content streaming services like Netflix, must not only reach a broad group of viewers but transcend countries and age groups as well. As Erik Barmack, Netflix’s vice president of global independent content, says, “The things we look for in general is if the shows transcend countries, have a new story to be told, or a new way of reimagining characters.” Gadget, he says, ticks off all three criteria.

This explains the increasingly sexualised teen characters over a pre-adolescent girl character.

– How Inspector Gadget Was Remade For A New Generation from Esquire

On Little Red Riding Hood

I am currently a bit of an expert on Little Red Riding Hood — self-described — having just done a bunch of reading from the world’s experts, and making my way through Jack Zipes’ anthology of all the most famous versions throughout history.

I summarised the most interesting bits over at my other website. (Okay, yes, I have been two-timing you.)

Why would one want to know so much about Little Red Riding Hood? I hear you mutter, noting that my lawn could really do with a mow and my fridge definitely wants to be caressed with an antiseptic wipe or two. Well, I have been head down bums up illustrating a modern re-visioning I co-wrote with my friend Liz and now it’s done and here it is if you’d like to download the pdf (for free) on Scribd.

And why would anyone want to rewrite a tale which has been re-visioned and retold thousands of times before? I used to think the same thing about fairytale rewrites, but then I thought, Hey, THAT hasn’t been done before.

Maybe it has and I just never found it. Take a peep and decide for yourself.

Lotta Red Riding Hood Cover

Click through for the link at Scribd.

Or if you happen to own an iPad, here is the slightly more beautiful version over at the iBooks Store, also free.

The Female Gaze

  1. [Guest Post] Young Avengers #1: Sex and the Female Gaze from Bad Reputation
  2. The Bachelor, Shirtless Men, And The Dawn Of The Female Gaze from GMP
  3. “Hot Dudes Reading” Instagram Reverses The Male Gaze and Makes Print Books Sexy from Flavorwire
  4. Hot Dudes With Dogs from BuzzFeed

The Male Gaze

  1. One of the most important essays in contemporary film theory: Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema by Laura Mulvey (1975), which has some weird Freudian stuff in it but is still relevant for the pretty standard dichotomy between the watched and the watchers.
  2. Fashion As A Way Of Avoiding The Male Gaze from Merf. Thinking Is Hard
  3. The Peeping Press: Understanding the Male Media Gaze from Jessica Valenti
  4. The Omniscient Breasts: The Male Gaze Through Female Eyes by Kate Elliot
  5. From the classroom to the boardroom, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And the beholder is always a man, from Soraya Chemaly
  6. Opinion: Video games and Male Gaze – are we men or boys? from Gama Sutra
  7. Six Reasons Female Nudity Can Be Powerful from Salon
  8. Why Do Actresses Have To Do The Orgasm Face? from Daily Life
  9. How Can You Tell if You’re Being Sexually Empowered or Objectified? Ask Yourself This Simple Question from Everyday Feminism