But Really - Homophobia is dead.

April 11th, 2008

There’s a lot going on in this video that left me absolutely appalled, but I think my “favourite” bit is this: “I’m sure the Joint Chiefs of Staff can’t wait to report to a commander whose representative is Elton John.”

Does that just sound a wee bit like “No one will listen to someone supported by teh_gayz?”

Since apparently celebrity endorsements will affect how the US Joint Chiefs of Staff will react to the candidate…Are they any more likely to listen to someone supported by Stallone?

I know for the most part I don’t need to break down ideas about how Teh_Ebil_Homosexuals are out to get us all, right? We all know that’s not what’s going on. Gay people are not recruiting straight folks into their evil army of undead, queers aren’t trying to send god-fearing people into hell, and transfolk are not waiting to rape anyone in bathrooms. We’re all good on that, right?

But it’s a little more subtle than all of that. It’s a throw away comment that isn’t said in a vacuum. “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is a policy in the US military that “prohibits a homosexual or bisexual person from disclosing his or her sexual orientation, or from speaking about any homosexual relationships, including marriages or other familial attributes, while serving in the United States armed forces. The policy also requires that as long as gay or bisexual men and women in the military hide their sexual orientation, commanders are not allowed to investigate their sexuality. ” [wikipedia] The Joint Chiefs of Staff are the folks who run the military in the US. Sir Elton John is, of course, quite openly gay.

Gosh, I wonder what’s being implied by the sarcasm in “I’m sure the Joint Chiefs of Staff can’t wait to report to a commander whose representative is Elton John.”

[From Media Matters, via Kate at Shakesville]

Real Women Exist And Take Up Space, Even If You Don’t Like It

April 4th, 2008

Crew of the Lusty WenchLook, I know exactly where the “Real Women Have Curves!” thing comes from. I do. I look at the advertising around me and see no one who looks like me. I look at hate-filled rants about OMG FATTIES! and how any woman who isn’t built as a perfect size 4 is ALL WRONG AND BAD and feel nothing but despair. I get it all, in the face, just as much as every woman in the Western World does.

But if “real women have curves”, that makes far too many of my friends Not Real Women. That makes arabidmouse not a real woman because she’s naturally very slender and is a size 0. That makes my beautiful friend Raven with her boyish hips and her three kids not a real woman. That makes the majority of the women in this photoshoot not real women.

You know, fuck that noise

New Mantra: Real Women Have Bodies.

Those bodies are of different shapes and sizes and colours. Some of them you will find more attractive than others. That’s fine. I want to see advertising that reflects me, my friends, that beauty and attractiveness are subjective, and all of those other things. Real women have bodies. Hating on women who either easily fit into advertising’s definition of attractiveness or have to harm themselves to do so helps no one. Yes, some of the women in my life have eating disorders, and a lot of that is caused by very high pressure to be thin… and yet, they are still real women.

Real women have bodies. Big ones, small ones, curvy ones, flat ones, bodies. There is so much hate every day thrown at women’s bodies that I just can’t sit back and listen when someone spouts out that real women have curves.

Real women have bodies.

Belated FDQ: Where’s My Independent Media?

March 18th, 2008

Okay, I’ve been working on this platonic ideal of a post about the media for weeks now, and instead of becoming the definitive post on mainstream news reporting, it’s become nothing. So, now I’m thinking about horses and getting back on them.

My thoughts are basically this: Some time back I read an interesting criticism of feminist blogs from a womanist blog. She talked about how feminism don’t like mainstream media and mainstream news, but instead of working on changing them, feminists blogs tended to just react to them. I can’t say if this is true in every feminist blog (certainly groups like Girl Wonder; are working to change the media they criticise), but I certainly see it in a lot of them.

And so I got to thinking - what would a news source that I could get behind look like? How would it work?

I know that funding and staffing are serious issues. Like a lot of people, I have that image in my head of the intrepid report, living off coffee and a sense of responsibility, the maverick, going out and finding those stories that no one else will follow, getting the big lead, blowing everyone away with hir some scandal that brings down a government. These fictional reports live entirely for the thrill of the chase, since they rarely seem to make enough money to get more than a seedy apartment and a constant influx of coffee.

Reality doesn’t seem that far off, from what I can tell. According to this very good review of a book that talks about the problems with the British news, there are only four reports to cover Cardiff, South Wales, and the Welsh Assembly. I know Wales is small, but it’s not that small! A friend of mine (who shall remain nameless) works in the news room of hir local radio station. “Works”, of course, makes it sound like zie has coworkers, but no - zie works alone. To cover all the news, write the stories, make it out to any and all events, and still be bright-eyed and bushy tailed every morning on the air, starting at o-dark-hundred. How is someone supposed to get all the news, analyse it and give out strong news reports with that much on hir plate?

Is blogging the way of the future of the news? Certainly some of the bigger stories of the past year have started out being blogged and flogged by smaller blogs, until picked up by bigger blogs, and then suddenly they’re front page news. (The most obvious example of this I can think of is The Jena 6, but I know there’s been others.) Certainly a lot of things are brought to my attention through blogging, with passionate and insightful posts varying from the latest attempt (or success) to ban certain articles of clothing to long discussions on the state of privacy (or lack thereof) in the UK. I know when I blog about things on LJ, it brings things to other people’s attention who might have missed it otherwise.

I don’t think that’s the right answer, though. Most people don’t get paid for blogging (I know there are exceptions, but they are rare), which means they’re writing these passionate posts in their “spare” time. Most people who blog don’t have any investigative reporting training. Most people who blog do it in such a way that they can’t really be held accountable if they turn out to be incorrect about something.

I want a news media where I feel they are talking about something important - not making the news, but reporting the news. I want a media where half the stories are not recycled AP stories. I want a media that doesn’t focus so much attention on the antics of various celebrities, and then more attention on how awful it is that the media focuses on the antics of various celebrities. I want an independent media, that isn’t all run by one or two big umbrella companies across the various countries.

But I don’t know what that would look like.

What are your thoughts? What do you want out of the news media? What do you think a more vibrant and relevant-to-you news media would look like? What do you think the answers are? I’m curious as to your thoughts.

FDQ: Ask a Feminist*

March 7th, 2008

I joined up with a group of people who want to do a group project called “Ask a Feminist”.  The basic premise, as I understand it, is that various people will ask questions they’ve “always” wanted to ask a feminist, and the various feminists, all of whom come from different backgrounds and ideas, will answer them.

I’m really quite interested in this project, as one of my main frustrations with discussing feminism with people is that I’m suddenly expected to defend everything any feminist has ever said or done for the past 30 years, as though all feminists everywhere not only have a Hive Mind, but we walk in lockstep together and never have difference experiences or interpretations of the same event.  It also, of course, leads to people saying things like “Oh, I like lipstick, thus I <i>can’t</i> be a Feminist, because feminism doesn’t allow lipstick wearing.”

For myself, I have two things that say “this person is a feminist” to me.  The fundamental belief that women are people and men are neither monsters nor children; and self-identifying as a feminist.  It may be that I secretly think most of the people on my flist are Feminists, but if none of you have said “I am a feminist”, I’m not going to force the label on you.

After that, though, it becomes more in depth.  At the moment, my focus and energies are going into dealing with issues of poverty and issues of disability & accessibility.  I like to read about women in comics.  I want to read more about women in Fandom and in the media, and want to write more about issues of racism in the media.  I  am beginning to read more about Third World Feminism.  I like general media criticism, and things like “Killing us Softly”, a documentary on how advertising uses women.  I have many and varied thoughts on the issue of sex work, and try and read as much as possible about it, from people opposed, people in favour, women working in the industry, etc.  Womanism is something I want to understand more of, so I’m reading and reading and reading because a lot of it is based in the US and for all that we share a common border, I do not understand racial issues there.  I’m excited because my local feminist bookstore has many books dealing with racism and sexism around First Nations people.  Queer & Trans issues are being brought to my attention more often now, especially with Trans being closely related to the Disability Blogosphere, and I’m finding a lot of my assumptions on “safe” questioned.

I’m not sure if everyone and everything I read would identify as feminist, but each of those topics has branches that work within feminism, and there are many more.  Many of them take issues and don’t agree on them in the slightest, as there isn’t one overall solution that will magically make all our problems go away.  It’s complicated, and whereas I do think there are some very legitimate concerns about main-stream feminism, I think a great many problems are caused not by what the majority of feminists do or think, but by how the media portrays feminism.  (I have been doing a lot of critical thinking about the media this week.  It’s certainly not an issue unique to feminism, but I will save that discussion for Monday.)

The point of all this is that I’m very excited about the idea of working with people on this project, and I would like to encourage others to participate, through the asking of questions.

If you could ask a group of feminists anything, what would you ask?

My personal questions about feminism have a lot to do with the history, of course.  I want a better timeline on how Women’s Shelters came into being.  I want to have a better understanding of where this concept of “The Lavender Menace” came from, and how one combats the past.  I want to know where the feminists in my life stand on issues like accessibility, and Gay Marriage, and Queer Adoptions.  I’m always up for a spirited discussion on Women’s Only Spaces, both for and against them, both in public and in private.  I want to better understand the racial issues outside of my personal sphere, and get a better bead on what is happening.  I like asking feminists for book recommendations.

But, what are your thoughts?  What would you ask?

(*My random sense of humour now has the theme from “Ask a Ninja” running through my head.)

Text of the formal apology to Indigenous Australians

February 13th, 2008
Text of the formal apology to Indigenous Australians made in federal parliament by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at 7am today. [Tuesday, 12 February 2008]

Today we honour the Indigenous peoples of this land, the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

We reflect on their past mistreatment.

We reflect in particular on the mistreatment of those who were stolen generations - this blemished chapter in our nation’s history.

The time has now come for the nation to turn a new page in Australia’s history by righting the wrongs of the past and so moving forward with confidence to the future.

We apologise for the laws and policies of successive Parliaments and governments that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.

We apologise especially for the removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families, their communities and their country.

For the pain, suffering and hurt of these stolen generations, their descendants and for their families left behind, we say sorry.

To the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters, for the breaking up of families and communities, we say sorry.

And for the indignity and degradation thus inflicted on a proud people and a proud culture, we say sorry.

We the Parliament of Australia respectfully request that this apology be received in the spirit in which it is offered as part of the healing of the nation.

For the future we take heart; resolving that this new page in the history of our great continent can now be written.

We today take this first step by acknowledging the past and laying claim to a future that embraces all Australians.

A future where this Parliament resolves that the injustices of the past must never, never happen again.

A future where we harness the determination of all Australians, Indigenous and non-Indigenous, to close the gap that lies between us in life expectancy, educational achievement and economic opportunity.

A future where we embrace the possibility of new solutions to enduring problems where old approaches have failed.

A future based on mutual respect, mutual resolve and mutual responsibility.

A future where all Australians, whatever their origins, are truly equal partners, with equal opportunities and with an equal stake in shaping the next chapter in the history of this great country, Australia.


My thoughts are deceptively simple - What happens now?

Canada formally apologised for the Residential Schools back in 1998, although that apology was specifically to those who had suffered abuse, not for the policy itself or for students who had “just” been taken from their families. It was eight years after that before formal apologies were issued to all students, and compensation was sorted in September of 2007.

To me, the Residential School System was always something “historical” - not something that had happened recently. However, the last Residential School in Canada was closed in 1998. I graduated from high school in 1994.

And again, I look at my History degree and wonder why I graduated so completely in the dark about my own country.

Toronto Opens Black-Focused School

January 31st, 2008

I got another email from my friend, Mark, forwarding me a link with this comment:

The City of Toronto has just decided to open up a “black-focused school.” This school’s main emphasis will be to teach Black History and other things that have a strong appeal to black people.Some are calling it segregation. Some are calling it a victory for the Black community.

I just want to point out that it will be a public school, and open to people of all races, creeds, and colours.

Toronto trustees vote in favour of black-focused schools

[I have quoted the text here, as I am unsure how long things remain available on CBC’s website.]

A proposal to create Canada’s first black-focused public school was approved by Toronto District School Board trustees Tuesday night.

They have recommended the creation of an alternative school that features a curriculum and teaching environment oriented around black history and culture.

The vote took place after an evening debate on the controversial proposal, which critics believe is a plan for segregation, while supporters believe it could keep more black students in school.

Trustees heard from a number of delegations including academics, parents, teachers and students.

A presentation was also made by the mother of Jordan Manners, a15-year-old boy shot dead in a Toronto school last May. Loreen Smallstood in opposition to the black school plan, calling it “segregation.”

“This black school thing … it ain’t right,” she told trustees, saying teachers need more help to engage with students in multi-racial classrooms.

Some parents have said they want to try something new because the current system isn’t working. As many as 40 per cent of black students don’t graduate from Toronto high schools.

Angela Wilson is a mother of two who has been at the forefront of a push for Africentric or black-focused schools for years.

“Make our education system better for everybody,” she said.

“It’s not a one size fits all education system. It’s actually working its way to be one size fits few — and the few that are successful do not look like me.”

Trustees were supposed to have discussed a report delivered last week that makes four major recommendations:

  • Open an Africentric alternative school in 2009.
  • Start a three-year pilot program in three other high schools.
  • Work with York University to improve school achievement.
  • Develop a plan to help failing students.

Supporters said those options will keep black students engaged and in school, but opponents said it will lead to greater isolation.

“I just feel being with a mixed group of people is better, you know, you get to learn different cultures, different aspects of different people, the way they live,” said Grade 10 student Terrin Smith-Williams.

Board chair John Campbell sees an Africentric school as just one option for dealing with the problems facing young blacks in Toronto’s education system.

“It should not be viewed as the sole solution to a problem, but should instead be seen as a response to a community request for action,” he said in a news release issued before the vote.

My thoughts:
(anything in italics I took from the article)

- “This black school thing … it ain’t right,” she told trustees, saying teachers need more help to engage with students in multi-racial classrooms. I do definitely agree that there needs to be more work done on getting teachers to engage in multi-racial classrooms, but how long should students have to wait for that to happen?

- I’m not entirely certain what’s wrong with a black-focused classroom. With all due respect, the classroom I went to was white-focused, and it wasn’t like every student in the class was white. White (colonial) history was taught, white (male) artists were taught, the default assumption was white. If a black-focused classroom is a bad idea, why is a white-focused classroom a good one?

- As Mark says, it’s a public school - there’s nothing stopping people from sending their kids there at all. Which doesn’t necessarily follow that that will happen, sadly. I wonder if it will. I wonder if the school will be successful in what it wants to achieve. I really hope there are many news reports on it, because I’d like to follow it and see what happens.

- I have to admit, I went to school in B.C., which meant a lot of East Asian people as opposed to black people. I didn’t see a lot of history focused on the third of the class that wasn’t white. In fact, I have no idea of much of went on in countries outside of Europe during the 20th Century. (My high school history classes were mostly about the 20th Century, and a lot of talking about Germany, which is where my history prof was from.)

- I really just wish we could have properly integrated schools that didn’t act like races other than white (and countries outside of Europe) didn’t exist, but I don’t know how long that would take to fix, and again, how long should students wait?

- I’m certain I’m missing some very important aspects of all of this.

- Actually, now that I think about it, there’s a lot of talk that goes on when there’s a move to segregate “women’s only” transportation (like buses and trains in Japan, for example) about how doing this gives an implication that women who decide not to ride in the women’s only area are indicating that they’re okay with the typical groping and other forms of assault that go on in “regular” train cars. I’m wondering if there’s going to be comments about how “if you want education about black things, go to the black school, you black person!” (which, of course, won’t be that polite) if there are complaints in the other schools. I mean, I never went to school in Toronto, so I don’t know what it’s like there in terms of teaching.

- Arg, can’t something be easy?

What are your thoughts?

Please keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle …

January 30th, 2008

If you can see this, it means we’re moved to Wordpress. Hopefully, this will mean less spam, and of course it means a shiny new layout and such. The URL will stay the same, and we’re still on the same server, just on WordPress rather than Movable Type.

I’m still deleting spam comments and setting up minor things, but the entries and comments are all transferred. Feel free to let me know about broken links, etc.

[ETA] All spam deleted! \o/ [/ETA]

[ETA2] Please excuse the weirdness, I’m poking around with the theme and layout still. [/ETA2]

The Cost Of Femininity

January 8th, 2008

I had an interesting experience at work the other day. I work in Tech Support, and a lot of call time is spent waiting for software to finish installing, starting up, that sort of thing, so I spend quite a bit of my time on small talk, with my mouth on autopilot and the rest of my brain typing up case notes, or knitting.


Customer: “So whereabouts are you based?”
Melle: “We’re up in Scotland.” (knit knit knit)
Customer: “Oh, what’s the weather like up there?”
Melle: “It’s been snowing the last couple of days, actually.” (knit, kni–crap, dropped a stitch)
Customer: “[laughs] I’m so sorry.”
Melle: “Yeah, I mean, I love snow, but when I have to trudge through it to get to work — not so much.” (dammit where’s the proper-sized crochet hook dig dig dig)
Customer: “And you in heels and all.”
Melle: “Oh, I wear boots, actually.” (dig di–wait, what?)

Yeah. Thankfully, by the time most of my brain had caught up with what he’d said, I’d already managed to move the conversation along. But it got me thinking, about all the assumptions that lie in the one sentence, and how they reflect the assumptions society has of women, and of femininity.

Because in that one sentence, we get the assumption that because I’m female, I must be wearing heels. All the time. Even when there’s ankle-deep snow on the ground and I’ve had trouble not slipping and falling on my ass even in Doc Martens. Because I am, after all, a woman, and therefore femininity, as perceived by society, must be my first priority..

(I think this whole thing baffled me all the more because of the field I work in — female geeks aren’t generally perceived as being very feminine, and I’m much closer to the stereotype of the (female) geek than I am to any “pretty woman” stereotype. Maybe it’s my voice or something that makes me sound young and girlish and “pretty”? I dunno.)

And femininity, according to society, means work and hardship, and no comfort at all. It means shaving your legs and armpits regularly, trimming your eyebrows, wearing heels no matter the weather or circumstances, wearing make-up, having hair that’s neither too short (i.e. above your earlobes, because then it’s mannish) nor too long (i.e. below the shoulder, because then it’s too “young”) and preferably straight and thus requiring a shitload of daily styling to at least not look like ass, and regular cuts, and nails which are at the very least trimmed, but not all the way, and even.

Oh, and you should be at least relatively slim, but that’s kind of assumed as the default, because if you’re fat, you can’t ever look feminine, so why even try? You should probably also be white, and at the very least have “good hair” or relax it, but again, “white” is kind of assumed as the default starting position, really. And that’s not even getting into the cost in actual money (razors, tweezers or waxing, haircuts, manicures, etc.), or clothes, whose cost lies mostly in money and comfort.

You know, considering how much the patriarchy wants us to believe that men and women are just inherently different, dammit, so we’d best accept that and not call anyone on their essentialist bullshit, it sure as hell seems to take a shitload of work (and money, and lack of comfort) to be a woman.

November 16th, 2007

I am spreading this meme. If you haven’t seen this on your flist already, please take a moment to read about Pretty Bird Woman House, a women’s shelter located on the South Dakota side of the Standing Rock Reservation. I will quote memlu here:

In recent weeks the shelter has suffered a number of damaging and potentially final setbacks. The phone lines were cut, then eventually repaired. A group of unknown men vandalized and raided the shelter, walking out with clothing, toiletries, computers, anything they could carry with them. After a second break-in the staff deemed the house temporarily unsafe. They relocated to unheated, donated office space.

The day after they moved, arsonists set fire to Pretty Bird Woman House.

PBWH is dependent on a number of grants, some of which require that they provide shelter to battered women and their children. If Pretty Bird Woman House cannot provide this shelter, they will lose the money they need to continue helping the women of Standing Rock Reservation.

Both the links above have information on how you can help PBWH survive, and continue to give assistance to women and their children in danger and in need of shelter and help.

Please, please consider making a donation. You can do so here. Currently PBWH has collected 18% of the $70,000 needed. They have until January 31st of 2008 to collect the remaining eighty-two percent - - so consider donating in someone’s name as a Christmas present.

If you cannot donate money, please consider donating material goods such as clothing, toiletries, and other non-perishable items. Goods (and checks if you would rather make a financial donation off-line) can be shipped to the following addresses:

USPS ships to:

    Pretty Bird Woman House
    P.O. Box 596
    McLaughlin, SD 57642

–and FedEx, UPS and DHL ship to:

    Pretty Bird Woman House
    302 Sale Barn Rd.
    McLaughlin SD 57642

You Must Be This Thin: >< To Perform (But If You Are There’s Something Wrong With You)

September 14th, 2007

Every Friday on my LJ, I’ve been hosting a “Friday Discussion Question” to various levels of success. This is today’s.

Ah, yes. The age-old discussion about the beauty standard. Although this FDQ was not inspired by the whole Britney Spears thing (I meant to post it last week but got distracted), that mess is certainly very relevant to what I’d like to discuss today.

We live in a world where we constantly push the concept of “you can’t be too thin” on women. Advertising features slender models in come-hither poses. Major magazines take perfectly-normal looking women and photoshop the pounds off (to some frightening results: Hot but not hot enough - America Ferrera from Ugly Betty and Redbook Shatters our Faith… with the photoshop job done on Faith Hill [be sure to check out the animation at the bottom]). Dove does a series of ads with “real women” in them and men freak out and say they don’t want to see ‘that’ on their morning commute. (And that ads showing women in Size 6 and 8 are promoting the obesity epidemic in the US. O.o?)


In this post I talk about a woman on my flist who won’t eat in public because she’s slender and people make assumptions that she has an eating disorder based on what she eats. A Rabid Mouse talks about being invited to join a ‘Down with Size 0′ group - except she is a Size 0. When Britney Spears was on stage six years ago there were criticisms that she was too thin. Now, after having had two children, she’s apparently too fat.

It seems like the standards are setting women up to “fail”. If you’re thin, you’ve got an eating disorder. If you’re not thin enough, you’re too ugly to be seen in public in anything that shows some skin. If you’re a mom, you should only wear “appropriate” mom clothes. Don’t be sexy, unless you’re a Yummy Mummy, and even then, it’s not appropriate. How dare you, anyway? Women over 30 should be covered up anyway, because only the young should be showing off their legs, but please, let’s wring our hands over the sexualisation of our children.

[The late Dr Violet Socks has a very valid point to make about that in Like Lambs to the Slaughter - I really recommend you read it. It’s short. She makes her points faster than I do, probably because she is dead.]

I’ve read about female star after female star crashing herself against the Beauty Myth, and I’ve watched my friends and flist struggle with the same issues.

Too thin? Too fat? Not healthy? Should I do weight lifting or will I get ugly muscles? I need to lose 20 pounds before I can get married! My friends think I’m too thin and now I feel ugly. People tell me to stop losing weight, that I’m ‘thin enough’ - what should I do?

I’ve talked before about how I think advertising is a big factor in all of this, as is Hollywood and airbrushing and the general idea that women are “supposed” to be attractive - and thus anyone outside of that attractive is to be punished, but those who reach that attractive must have something wrong with them because the ideal is set so high.

What are your thoughts?

Important Note:
I usually am pretty okay with whatever people want to write in response to these posts, because they’re supposed to be general discussions and not ‘please toe party line’ things. However, I want to nip two things in the bud right now:
1. NO. It does not make me feel better that a small, but significant and growing, number of men also suffer from eating disorders. Don’t imply or state otherwise.
2. As fascinating as a discussion about what different people find attractive in women, varying from body size, hair colour, and personality, can be, this post isn’t really about that. It’s about society and pressure on women to appear in public looking a certain way and then punishing them when they don’t. It’s not about what you, I, or any other particular individual finds attractive or appealing. I don’t want to get bogged down in that.

Slightly less important note behind the cut:

Read the rest of this entry »

Friday Discussion: Walking While Female and Foolishly Asking For Violence To Be Done Upon You

September 7th, 2007

I have a confession to make: I’m not afraid to walk after dark.

I’ve read and participated in quite a few discussions about women and the sorts of things they do to protect themselves when they go out alone - clutching of the keys like claws, checking the backseat of a car before going in, never talking to anyone after dark - and I don’t do these things. It’s not that I think they’re being foolish, and it’s not that I’m unaware of what can happen if you’re caught unawares, but I just don’t fear things enough to do that. (I suspect this is because I grew up in smaller communities, and well, it’s not that violence doesn’t happen there, but there’s a different attitude about it overall that affects how I view it - I just don’t see myself as at that much risk.)

I really want to emphasize that I don’t think there’s anything wrong with the women who do do these things. Just different ways of dealing with the world.

Because, see, I’m not afraid of walking after dark. What I am afraid of is, if something happens to me, I’m going to be taken to task by everyone I ever knew, including my mother, for not being “prepared” for some random act of violence to happen. Of being told I “shouldn’t have been there”. Of the questions about what I did to be attacked. Because heaven knows that I should know better than to go out after dark, by myself. Look at what could happen!

Amy and I were talking about this a few days ago, and she brought up a statistic that I can’t quite remember about the number of women in Perth who feel unsafe if they go out after dark. (I can’t find it; my google-fu skills are obviously unl33t, but I remember the number seeming unreasonably high to me.)

Because, you know, if a woman goes out after a certain time of night, or if she’s dressed a certain way, or if she just walks in the wrong way, she did the wrong thing. She shouldn’t have been there.

Walking While Female, as I said before.

So, where do we draw the line? At what point is the woman responsible for the violence that she suffers from when she goes out of her house? At what point does how she act or react make it her fault? Where do you think these attitudes come from?

[Do you notice that, despite the fact that most violence is done by men, I’ve managed to write this entire post so far without mentioning them? Passive Sentence Construction is actually a big part of the dialog around this stuff - “the violence she suffers from”. “A victim of male violence” sounds so accusatory to me, which is also very relevant to the discussion.]

Personally, I think walking after dark shouldn’t be something that automatically puts the onus on women to carry their keys like a weapon or to dress in a certain way or to risk being told that being attacked, robbed, raped or killed was her fault. And, as I alluded to, I think the way we talk about this stuff is what contributes to the culture of fear around it - women are raped, but apparently men do not rape? “A man raped a woman” sounds accusatory to me, and I wonder if it does to other people as well. “A man robbed a bank” does not - probably because I’ll hear that sentence construction quite often, and not the other.

The other thing I think contributes to this is that the Big Three Religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) have expectations of “modesty” that do affect the greater Western Culture, even those who aren’t religious. This recent Modesty Survey (where teen boys rated how much of a “stumbling block” to their salvation the clothing teen girls wore was for the boys) reflects the idea that it is Woman’s Job to keep Man’s thoughts pure. In Orthodox Judaism, like Orthodox Islam, women pray in a separate room from the men. I was told that this is to help keep men’s mind on God, and not on the bodies of the women in the room. Women are gatekeepers.

This again gets back into that idea that Men Are Children Or Monsters, and without womenfolk to care for them or keep them away from the “uncovered meat“, men will go crazy and be forced, forced against their will, to attack the women.

We have a responsibility, after all, to not go out after dark in a t-shirt and jeans but no bra where we could distract some man and drive him into a frenzy of lust and violence.


[Original Post]

Because Women Feel Things and Men Just Do Them - Stereotypes in Fantasy Novels

August 29th, 2007

A friend of mine lent me a book a while back and I hate it. Not in that “I enjoy loathing this book” sort of way, but in the “I wish someone would take the author out back and give him a beating stern talking to about writing in cliches and how when you have a whole world to set up maybe you could break gender stereotypes” sort of way. And what really really really annoyed me about this book was, simply enough, that it could have been so much better if he had put as much thought into his magic system as he did into the way people swore.

Let me show you what I didn’t like about it:
Like a lot of fantasy novels set in a magical age, this novel has its magic system based around the four elements: earth, air, fire, water. Earth elements give the people who control them great physical strength and control over the earth, air allows one to fly and control the wind, fire allows one to make rooms and tempers very hot, and water allows one to heal, read emotions, and similar such things.

Ask me how these seemed to “coincidently” break down by gender. Go on, ask.

That’s right! The only people with any strong earth or fire magic in them were men, and the only people with any strong air or water magic in them were women. What an amazing coincidence! I’m shocked, I tell you, shocked to see such a difference from the usual fantasy story.

Oh wait.

In fairness to the author, I should point out that there’s at least one important male character who has water magic. I should also point out that he’s effeminate, goes against the male character trying to save everyone and has him thrown in jail, and is considered weak and someone to work around by everyone else.

One of the things I keep bringing up in discussions about these things is that none of this happens in a vacuum. This book, with its gender roles set up this way, isn’t precisely unique in the realms of fantasy. The female character in video games who is a healing priestess-type character continually makes “top cliches in fantasy video games”; the white-robed mystic woman who has a closer link to The Gods and yet can’t do anything on her own shows up all over the place; the woman who is overwhelmed by her own empathy and thus can do nothing was clichéd well before Deanna Troi was telling us, “I sense great sorrow, Captain”.

In a world of the author’s own creation, why is it so rare for the Aunt to search the woods for her lost nephew, wielding her earth magic against her enemies, as opposed to being kidnapped and threatened with rape and enslavement? Why does it seem, so often, to be the Uncle?

To be frank, it’s been a while since I picked up a fantasy novel or played a fantasy video game. I just don’t want to anymore. It gets frustrating remembering playing so many of them and giving the main (male) character a female name and weaving in my own back story about a woman who wants to be an adventurer but has to hide her gender in order to do it properly - bonus storyline points when there’s a romance and I get to have hidden lesbians who doubt their sexuality. I’m tired of story lines set in a Galaxy Far Far Away or a Land Before Time or A World Shaped by Magic where women are always waiting and men are always doing. I’m tired of rape threats or actualities against female characters and so rarely against male characters outside of homosexuals (Hi, Mercedes Lackey! Welcome to my blog!). I’m tired of women who have to dress like men in order to prove themselves in a fantasy world.

Writers have the whole world in their hands - let’s see more female characters who can walk it with their heads held high and their braids blowing in the wind, shall we?

[Books and Movies I’m Aware Break This Cliche and thus recommend: The Tarma & Kethry novels by Mercedes Lackey, although they do have rape as a major plot point, twice. I haven’t read a lot of MZB, but her “Firebrand” novel has a pro-active Cassandra. It has a tendency to go with “but all men are evil” a lot, which annoys me, so I’m not sure I’d recommend it because of that. The “Man of His Word” series by Dave Duncan, which while having a Princess who is Beautiful and Everyone Wants, also has her being very pro-active, has an even more pro-active aunt, and breaks so many cliches of the fantasy genre that I think every one in the whole world should read it. And buy it new, because Dave Duncan is totally my hero and deserves more sales. Also, Cordelia’s Honour by Lois McMaster Bujold also has a very pro-active set of women, but it’s the only book by her I’ve read so I can’t speak for the rest of her work.]

[See comments on LJ]

[Previously: Heroes, Heroines, and Fandom]

What Do You Do About A Problem Like Elizabeth? - Heroes, Heroines, and Fandom

August 21st, 2007

Ah, Elizabeth. Heroine of the Pirates movies, she starts out the series waiting for her life to begin, and ends the series waiting for her lover to return. In between, she learns about sword play, pirates, curses, and goddesses, and is thought of as the Mary-est Sue to Ever Mary Sue. Bring up Elizabeth and a large amount of the Pirates of the Caribbean fandom will roll their eyes and point you to their favourite slash fic. Elizabeth is too perfect, too amazing, too over the top - and too obviously set up as the love interest. {The term “Mary Sue” is defined at the bottom of this essay, for those unfamiliar with it.}

But is the problem that Elizabeth is too perfect, or that we have no one within the movie itself to truly compare her to?

In a series of movies where we’ve got a blacksmith’s apprentice who made a sword so amazing that noting it goes so far as to get men killed, who is the best swordsman and can hold off men who would have been living by their skills in swordplay for their entire adult lives, who manages to cross and double cross everyone in an effective effort to free his father from a curse, marries the governor’s daughter, and ends up as Captain of the Flying Dutchman and living forever ferrying the souls of the dead, Elizabeth is the Mary Sue?

Or is Will’s character not seen as a Mary Sue in comparison to Jack, who somehow manages to effortlessly get everything he wants, manipulates events to the point where characters say “Do you think he plans it, or it just happens and he takes advantage of that fact?”, who bargains his way out of multiple situations, is brought back from the dead (one could argue twice), happens to be one of the Nine Pirate Lords, the son of the keeper of the Pirate Codex, holder of a compass that points in the direction of one’s greatest desire, and ends the series holding a map to the Fountain of Youth and a bottle of rum, off for new adventures?

In comparison, Elizabeth helps break pirate curses, hunts down her love in order to help save him, learns swordplay and how to run a ship, is loved by two men (Will and Norrington), becomes infatuated with Jack (who becomes infatuated with her), realises her true love is for Will and marries him, is kidnapped, bargained over, and stows away on various ships, becomes a Pirate Lord due to mistaken identify, becomes a Pirate King in order to further Jack’s plans, and ends the series almost exactly where she began it - waiting.

The problem with Elizabeth isn’t her storyline, or that she’s beautiful, or that men seem to love her. The problem is, quite simply, that there’s no other women with agency in the series with which to compare her. The only other major female role is that of Tia Dalma/Calypso - a woman with such little agency that she can’t break her own curse, but has to wait for Barbossa to break it for her. She can neither direct the characters in how to break her curse, nor given them real direction on how to save Jack from Davy Jones’ locker. All she can do is cast her bones, send out her crabs, and cause the maelstrom that helps kill the lover that betrayed her and bound her. Every other character with any form of story arc in the series - Norrington, Davy Jones, Beckett, Governor Swan - is male.

The problem with characters like Elizabeth is that there are so few actual heroines in fantasy, adventure, swashbuckling or action movies to compare her to, and those that exist tend to have at least some plot that is around how attractive they are to the hero, the villain, or both. Every one stands out, and every one looks larger than life, over the top, Mary Sue-ish.

The answer is so simple to me: We deserve more strong female characters who do more than stand around, look pretty, and wait to be rescued. More Fionas who lead Princess Revolts, more Mulans who fight Mongol Hordes, more April O’Neils who fight crime. More Elizabeths, who make rousing speeches and become Pirate Kings. Even better, we can have more than one strong female character in a movie, so they can be judged on the various roles they play within the movie, instead of compared to female characters who have no agency at all. Heck, we could even go so far as to have female characters that somehow avoid being love interests!

But how do we go from deserving strong female characters to actually getting them on the big screen? That is the big problem. Solutions that occur to me are supporting movies and other forms of media that show multiple strong female characters - be they comic books, novels, television shows, video games, or whatnot - with your dollars and your enthusiasm; supporting organisations like See Jane [which lobbeys for more female characters in children’s media]and Girl Wonder [which agitates for less sexism in comics]; writing Joss Whedon and ask him why he keeps putting strong female characters in his shows (YouTube link - do watch the speech, it’s marvelous); talking about issues with movies like Star Wars: Episode III: Rise of the Sith, the amazing disappearance of Padme’s personality and the sudden lack of speaking roles for women; writing your own stories where women kick ass, take names, and then come back and kick more ass. Being critical, while still being a fan.

Elizabeth seems a Mary Sue because she is unique in the PotC universe. Let’s solve that problem, so that our Heroines get to be just as kick ass, over the top, and heroic as our Heroes.

[discussion about this entry on LJ]
[Below is a definition of Mary Sue, for those not familiar with the term]

Read the rest of this entry »

Blog Against Theocracy: Seen but not Heard

July 3rd, 2007

 Blog Against Theocracy It’s Blog Against Theocracy again.

As I said last time:

I am not a Christian, but I have studied the Bible. I think studying it is important, and gives us the lessons and words in context. We can’t pretend the Bible hasn’t affected our world. I think teaching the Bibleand the messages in it with proper historical and socio-economic background would eliminate so many of the problems with the current theocracy bent in the US and elsewhere.

In that vein, here are my thoughts.

When I first moved to Australia, I walked through the CBD (Central Business District) and was immediately confronted with a large Fundamentalist Christian group, attempting to witness on the street corner.

As I’ve said before, I’m not religious and I don’t have faith, but I’m fascinated by it, and enjoy discussions around all aspects of it. I wanted to ask these people questions, sit down with them over coffee and discuss their ideas and opinions, to understand them.

Things… didn’t go quite according to plan.

They had set up a large display that confused me - something about the 10 lost tribes of Judea and how the UK and US are heirs to prophecies of the End times, with a strong focus on emphasising that Israel and Judea are not the same. That part was never explained to me, which I can only imagine is because when asked if I had been saved, I shook my head.

“I can’t join a church that says that women should be seen and not heard.”

This, of course, became the point of our discussion - not the argument that people who are worthy in God’s sight will be healed of their illnesses, not focusing on the speaking in tongues aspect of their church, not even the slavish devotion to Paul and his epistles, but this man’s insistence that women should never and can never be heard in the church because it’s God’s Law.

God’s law.

I’m always taken aback by the insistence that Paul’s epistles are the only way to interpret the works of Christ and the words of the Gospels, that what was actually attributed to Christ, what is written in the Gospels, is less important than letters written to people who thought the end of the world was coming in their lifetime and that they should be properly prepared for it.

“Women can’t interpret the Word,” he told me, and what saddens me the most is how often this statement is contradicted in the Bible, and how this is meaningless to so many Fundamentalists.

In the genealogy given to Jesus in Matthew 1:1-1:16 there is listed five women: Tamur, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba (as Uriah’s wife), and Mary. Each of these women were, in various ways, “fallen” women, and each of them were interpreters of God’s will on Earth. Four of them would have been very familiar to the audiences the Gospels were written for, as Mary is to us today. They were put in the narrative for a reason, one that is often completely overlooked by people who explain why women need to be seen and not heard in the church.

Tamur, also known as the Harlot at the Side of the Road. At the time, when a man died childless his brother was to marry his widow, and any children they had would be considered the man’s children. Tamur’s brother-in-law did marry her, but refused to have sex with her (or, more accurately, he “spilled his seed on the ground”) and was killed by God for not following the law. Then, Tamur was sent by her father-in-law back home, to wait until his last son was old enough to marry her, but mostly to get rid of her. She stayed there in her widow’s clothes, waiting, until she heard her father-in-law would be going through her home village. She waited for him, disguised as a prostitute, and had sex with him. He didn’t recognise her, so when he heard she was pregnant, he was prepared to have her killed for shaming his family. Instead, she proved it was him that she had slept with, fulfilling God’s law and shaming her father-in-law for not having followed it in the first place.

Rahab was a prostitute in Jericho who protected two of the spies sent by the Jews before they attacked the city. She risked her life to keep them safe, and then helped to hide them from searchers, even though she wasn’t a Jew. She feared God, and was responsible for helping the Jewish army take over the city.

Ruth left her family and followed her mother-in-law into Bethlehem, leaving behind everything she knew. When there, she “lay at the feet” of the wealthy Boaz (”feet” being a euphemism for genitalia) and eventually married him, considering her children to be Naomi’s children. It’s a story often told of great loyalty, while ignoring both the sexuality (Ruth having had sex, or at least having gone to bed with, Boaz before they were married, in an effort to convince him to marry her) and the fact that Ruth was a foreign woman who wasn’t raised to believe in the Hebrew God - both reasons to distrust her.

Bathsheba was another man’s wife, taken by King David to be his own. David arranged for her husband to be killed in battle, and was punished by God by killing his first son. Bathsheba, who mourned her first husband, eventually gave birth to a second son, named Solomon, he of the famous wisdom. Bathsheba was punished twice for David’s lust for her - first by losing her beloved husband, then by losing her son. She was considered temptation, much like Eve. However, she was the one who gave birth to Solomon, one of the greatest Kings.

The man talking to me in Perth kept saying again and again that it wasn’t his idea that women couldn’t speak in the church, but God’s. That his wife didn’t mind and understood that women couldn’t interpret the will of God, only men could. That she was a strong woman, she just understood her place. That it was unfortunate, but that didn’t make it less true.

Only men can interpret God’s law.

Men like Joseph, who wanted to quietly divorce Mary for being unfaithful to him? Men like Lot, who offered his daughters up to be gang raped by the men of Sodom and Gomorrah? Men like Abraham, who despite being promised that he and Sarah would have children, agreed to have sex with her servant because he didn’t believe that God could make Sarah fertile? Men like Peter, who denied Christ three times before the cock crowed, after insisting that he would do no such thing?

Jesus had female disciples, and his initial appearances after his Crucifixion were to women. Even Paul wrote his letter acknowledging female leaders within the Church. But this group of Fundamentalist Christians, like so many others, believe that the true interpretation of God’s will and law is that women should be silent.

The man sighed at me, shaking his head. “What a tragedy that such a small thing is your stumbling block to faith,” he said.

I sighed myself. “I’ll pray for you,” I said, and walked away.

Thinking Day

June 21st, 2007

I found this quote interesting:

In grad school my department chair (a man from South Carolina, no less)told us of a classroom experiment he conducted for a semester in which he called on women and men in exactly equal proportions. Despite the fact that he did this by taking turns (calling alternately on men and women), the male students complained in the course evaluations that he called on women “all the time” and clearly favored women.

I’ve often wondered what would happen in a classroom if I did the same thing.

What are your thoughts?


May 17th, 2007

Samincittagazee asked for some more links about mothers in the workplace, though.

Professor Mama - Bitch PhD talks about many of the things did in her comment.

I also want to point out that most of the discussion, especially by academics, is presuming that people with kids are married. This isn’t always the case. Even if you wanted to be a hard-line asshole and say that anyone with children who divorces deserves to be punished by not being able to hold a job (because, you know, why should the workplace accomodate people’s choices?), do you really want to say that if someone’s partner drops dead? Not to mention that it is totally fuzzy thinking to conflate the issue of children with the issue of relationships–though obviously they often overlap, for lots of reasons. Being part of a couple does make it easier to parent, assuming your partner isn’t a complete asshole; even in couples, women with demanding jobs often end up pulling more than their fair share of parenting hours, because it’s a lot harder for men to ask for time”off”; because we’ve all–including the kids, which is important to note–internalized the “mama first” bullshit; because a commuter marriage is a lot harder to have when there are kids involved; and of course because “relationships” includes relationships with one’s kids.

People are not brains on sticks. People have lives. Whether it’s partners, parents, kids, pets, buddies, whatever, we all need time to get the hell out of the office. Yes, culturally, we say “kids come first” (though “family” parking spots notwithstanding, that is largely lip service–it’s nice to lessen the chance that my kid’s going to get hit by a car in a lot if he tears himself out of my hand while I’m carrying shopping bags, but it doesn’t really make up for the fact that the big-ass grocery store is a shopping environment designed to try kids’ patience so that inevitably they’re going to tantrum or run off before you get all the way through the store, and then everyone will glare at you for being such a “bad parent”).

Sorry, is our struggle stifling your productivity? - I really really really cannot recommend this link enough.

I’m not a parent. I do not play one on t.v. I have no desire to be a parent, so I have no concept of the realities of being a “working” mom (because, you know, stay-at-home moms don’t work *eyeroll* <-- this is sarcasm). Blue Milk puts it all into perspective, by comparing her "get out the door to work and then get back home" checklist to that of her husband.

  • Find ticket and swim against stream to get through the one ticket gate that is large enough to fit a stroller through it.
  • Walk 15 minutes to the daycare.
  • Sign Anais in, fold up stroller and put it away.
  • Put daycare bag away in her pigeon hole, get a tissue to wipe her tears.
  • Settle Anais in, try and get her calm enough to stop crying, greet the carers.
  • Leave and walk 15 mins to work wondering why I have to start my day in heartache and he is oblivious.
  • Come in, sit down at my desk, feel hungry and wish I’d had breakfast, wish I could get to work earlier, feel exhausted, listen to inane jokes about my ‘long weekend’ (gentlemen, its not a long weekend if you don’t get paid for it and you don’t get to rest during it).
  • The whole thing makes me hurt just to read.

    Work killing the family, report says

    Research has found a strong link between long and unpredictable work hours and the breakdown of family and other relationships.
    Australia is the only high-income country in the world that combines very long average working hours with a high level of work at unsocial times - during weeknights and weekends - and a significant proportion of casual employment.
    These work patterns are making employees unhealthy,putting relationships under extreme stress, creating angry,inconsistent parents, and reducing the well-being of children, says the report by Relationships Forum Australia, titled An unexpected tragedy.

    Working moms, stay-at-home moms, the so-called “mommy wars”, are not as simple as the media keeps trying to make them out to be. I have a lot of thoughts on that.

    [See comments to this post on LJ]

    Happy Mother’s Day And All That

    May 14th, 2007

    A Third Gender in the Workplace.

    Mothers are still treated as if they were a third gender in the workplace. Among people ages 27 to 33 who have never had children, women’s earnings approach 98 percent of men’s. Many women will hit the glass ceiling, but many more will crash into the maternal wall.

    Here’s a Mother’s Day card from a study just published by Shelley Correll in the American Journal of Sociology. Correll performed an experiment to see if there was a motherhood penalty in the job market. She and her colleagues at Cornell University created an ideal job applicant with a successful track record, an uninterrupted work history, a boffo resume, the whole deal.

    Then they tucked a little telltale factoid into some of the resumes with a tip-off about mom-ness. It described her as an officer in a parent-teacher association. And — zap — she was mommified.

    Moms were seen as less competent and committed. Moms were half as likely to be hired as childless women or men with or without kids. Moms were offered $11,000 less in starting pay than non-moms. And, just for good measure, they were also judged more harshly for tardiness.

    “Just the mention of the PTA had that effect,” says Correll. “Imagine the effect of a two-year absence from the workforce or part-time work.”

    Happy mother’s day, to all and sundry who are still on Sunday and celebrate it on this date.

    *sigh* I can’t even think of what to do about that - moms deserve better.

    ETA: gentlespirit reminded me that:

    Just to put it out there–that seems to be more in the corporate world. In teaching primary school, and I imagine any profession that brings one in close contact with young people, mothers are often given more respect and credence. (With strong union contracts pay is based upon position, time, level of study and such, no arbitrary raises, really.)

    In addition to struggling with my age, and language barriers, I often receive remarks such as “as a mother….” or “wait until you he your own children.” Things I have said have been dismissed with “she’s not a mom” and people who do not know have asked if I have children as a means of judging what I say.

    I am not saying that the treatment described in the study you posted is appropriate; I am rather appalled. I am saying that I feel it deals with a select part of the job force. Just saying “workplace” is hardly clear.

    [view comments on LJ]


    May 9th, 2007

    First People of Colour SF Carnival
    Hosted by Seeking Avalon on June 15th
    Submission Guidelines
    Submission Form
    Contact Willow if you would like to host.
    Its brand new, so link everywhere!

    For those of you who don’t know what a Blog Carnival is:

    A Blog Carnival is a particular kind of blog community. There are many kinds of blogs, and they contain articles on many kinds of topics. Blog Carnivals typically collect together links pointing to blog articles on a particular topic. A Blog Carnival is like a magazine. It has a title,a topic, editors, contributors, and an audience. Editions of the carnival typically come out on a regular basis (e.g. every monday, or on the first of the month). Each edition is a special blog article that consists of links to all the contributions that have been submitted,often with the editors opinions or remarks.

    (And as long as I’m here, the 14th Feminist SF/F Carnival will be on May 30th and the next Carnival of Feminists is on May 16.)

    When Dead White Men Were Actually Dead White Women, and other historical things that interest me

    May 5th, 2007

    I’m growing even more fond of the podcast for 51 Percent, which every week includes a story about women’s contributions to science. I found this one very interesting, and the great advantage of spending all day typing when people talk is that I can transcribe it rather than make y’all go listen.

    The good doctor wore three inch lifts in his shoes, carried a parasol and travelled the world with a milk goat. And he had a lousy temper. But James Barry earned the highest rank a doctor could achieve in the British Army.

    No one ever claimed Dr. James Barry was pleasant. After graduating from medical school in Edinburgh in 1812, he joined the British Army, and was appointed Medical Inspector in South Africa. He began making trouble immediately. He criticized local officials for the inadequate water system. And he insisted it be upgraded. He served from India to the Caribbean, from the Africa to Canada, advocating for better sanitary conditions and nutrition for soldiers. He also urged more humane treatment of lepers, prisoners, and the insane.

    Dr. Barry travelled in the company of a poodle named Psyche and a black manservant named John, who provided him with six towels each morning, to “accentuate” his uniform. More than once people accused him of having “homosexual” affairs. Barry performed one of the first successful Caesarean sections in the Empire. Women said he was a most considerate birth attendant. In the Crimea he was the only person cocky enough to reprimand Florence Nightingale. He was bombastic, opinionated and tactless. But he was entertaining, and maintained friends in high places. One supporter claimed Barry was the finest doctor he’d ever know, but absurd in everything else.

    Dr. Barry died in England in 1864. The woman who prepared his body discovered that the good doctor was female. James Barry’s real name is thought to have been Miranda Stuart. She took on the male persona to gain entrance to medical school in 1809, when it was practically impossible for women to become physicians, let alone enter the military. For the next 56 years Miranda Stuart pretended to be a man… and was, in fact, a top rate physician.

    I really find this story quite interesting on so many levels. I’ve seen a few pictures of the good doctor - here’s a good one with added stories about people who actually met him - and I’m torn as to whether everyone involved just “played along” with the “Oh, yes, Dr Barry is a man”, or if people were genuinely fooled. There’s an implication of both in various stories I read about Dr Barry, including in the idea that he would have gotten into the army if people had realised he was a woman in the first place. I somehow suspect not, at least in the time period, but I’m not a military historian and someone may come along and correct me on that.

    A very important person in my life gave me a copy of the DVD “Tipping the Velvet”, which tells the story of a woman in Victorian England who started her career as a woman dressed as a man (and yet still obviously a woman), realised she was a lesbian, and dealt with all the social stigmas of it. (One scene that really stuck out was “It’s not like you had real sex - that requires a man.” I wish I could believe such things weren’t said anymore, but I’m not as naive as I used to be.) There’s a lot going on in the miniseries (and even more going on in the book, I’m sure), but one of the things that stuck out to me was that there were many many women shown as dressing “like a man” while not convincing anyone they were men, while simultaneously there were other women who were actually managing to bend their gender enough to “pass” as male when they wanted to.

    Is this anyone’s particular area of study or interest that they can recommend some books or websites on the subject?

    Down With Queer Lit!

    May 3rd, 2007

    [Note: This is a slightly rewritten version of an entry I wrote in my LJ on 10 March 2005. Anna made me, so yell at her if you don’t want to read repeated material.]

    I’ve become rather burnt out on Queer Literature in recent years. Not that I don’t still love to read about boys loving boys and girls loving girls and either loving both, but I’m starting to feel a bit … ghetto-ised, I suppose. It’s not that I want Queer Literature to go away, it’s that I want more gay characters in “mainstream” lit. And on TV. And in movies. And fuck, in songs, in advertising, in the street, in every part of everyday life. But I’ll limit myself to books, and the general media to some extent, because if I get started on the rest I’ll just never shut up.

    Read the rest of this entry »

    My Deliberately Barren Self Is Having Issues

    May 3rd, 2007

    An Australian senator has caused a storm of protest for describing a female politician as “deliberately barren” and therefore unfit to govern.

    Bill Heffernan said Labor Party deputy leader Julia Gillard did not understand the public because she had no children.

    He has since apologised for the “inappropriate” comments, first made last year but repeated again this week.

    Analysts say the incident will be an embarrassment for his close friend, Prime Minister John Howard.

    Mr Howard has made it clear he does not support Mr Heffernan’s comments.

    “The question of whether people have children, whether they marry and have children, is entirely a matter for them and I do not think it should be a matter of public comment,” Mr Howard told reporters.

    Nappy knowledge

    Mr Heffernan first questioned Ms Gillard’s childlessness last year, when he queried whether the deputy Labor leader could fully understand her voters because she did not have her own family.

    In Wednesday’s edition of The Bulletin magazine, he voiced similar remarks.

    “If you’re a leader, you’ve got to understand your community,” the 64-year-old senator said.

    “One of the great understandings in a community is family and the relationship between mum, dad and a bucket of nappies,”he added.

    Ms Gillard, 45, dismissed Mr Heffernan’s views as old-fashioned.

    “The reality is that modern women know all about modern women’s choices. Mr Heffernan is a man stuck in the past,” she told reporters.

    What do you think about the senator’s comments that a childless female politician is unfit to govern? Can a woman understand people better if she has children? Are children a help or a hindrance to success in a woman’s life? Send us your comments.

    Via: BBC

    I’m so conflicted on this report.

    First - yay, the whole thing is being condemned rather strongly from various places. Woo hoo! Women politicians should be judged on their merits and not on their relationships or the number of children they don’t have (or do have).

    On the other hand…

    It’s 2007, and once again - I don’t want my damned flying cars, I want my female politicians to be taken seriously. That Heffernan felt that it was okay to say this in the first place says something in itself.

    That the BBC thinks that the question should be “Can a woman understand people better if she has children?” say something in itself.


    - Should discussions about the family status of politicians be part of political rhetoric? Do politicians have a right to a private life?
    - Can any politician understand people better if he or she has children?
    - Does having children make anyone understand people better?
    - Should Heffernan’s remarks be enough to call into question his understanding of his own constituents?

    There are probably a lot of other questions that I’m not thinking of that should be asked in response to this.

    Why the heck are they asking if children are a help or hindrance to success in a woman’s life? What, men’s lives are not affected by children? What, women’s success is only measured without considering if raising children *is* the success? It’s not like it’s an easy job, for crying out loud.

    Deliberately barren? Would she somehow be okay as a politician if she’d found out she was unable to have children because of some medical reason?

    [Oh, man, and this doesn’t even get into stuff about lesbian and gay couples who don’t have children…. I have no idea if they can adopt in Aus.]

    Yay, the politicians are condemning the remark. Think of the positive. Think of the positive. Think of the positive….


    April 25th, 2007

    I’m about to head out of town for the next four days (I know, my loyal readership of three will miss me), but I wanted to do a bit of a linkspam post before I go away. I often put these in my LJ, so this is a combination of several of them over the past several weeks.

    Do y’all remember that latest “Rape Jokes are Funny” post I did a few weeks ago? (And how sad is it that I have two posts about entirely different “rape jokes are funny” incidents? If I get a third, do I get a free bad student newspaper?) If you’re curious here’s a bit of a follow-up

    From Ian Van Den Hurk, Editor-in-Chief:

    “I wish to formally apologize for hurting Western students, the University Students’ Council, The University of Western Ontario and members of the greater community… While the issue was not written with malicious intent toward any individuals or groups, nor the reputations of either the University of Western Ontario or the University Student’s Council,I fully understand and recognize the pain it has caused. I am truly sorry.”

    The post I linked to talks about a Town Hall meeting about the whole thing, and is an interesting read. To quote:

    I watched him [University Administrator Paul Davenport], in his speeches and speaking to him afterwards as well, really struggle for the “right” language to talk about these issues, and he clearly just doesn’t have it. Again, he doesn’t get it,but he’s also not, it’s clear, had the education or exposure necessary for him to really understand where everyone is coming from on this one.He hasn’t had that “ah ha!” moment where it clicks and he gets it, and he hasn’t had clearly any kind of education in issues that would allow him to speak with any intelligence, let alone authority on it.

    Which, I might add, is no one’s fault but his own. It’s not our responsibility to educate him, it’s his responsibility to listen and to learn. Which is why his responses “we can do this but we need your help” (of course you need our help, you don’t understand, but you need our help to help you understand, and then you’re the one who has to take responsibility and action… but who exactly is “your” [in “your help”] in that sentence anyway? women? faculty? students?) … and “men must be front and centre on this issue” (what? I think he’s trying to say that men can’t think that this is only a women’s issue, which of course it ISN’T, but to say that men need to be front and centre on this, while so many dedicated women have been organizing and mobilizing around this for the last week, just wanting the big powerful men like Dr. D to listen to us, not to tell us what to do - is just insulting).It was also clearly a linguistic failure (rooted in an ideological failure) when he said he was glad to see so many groups “working for the weaker people of our society,” which (not surprisingly) attracted around of boos. His choice of the word “weaker” there, so clearly echoing “the weaker sex” was just so wrong.

    [I think I’m going to end up coming back to that post in the future for a few other interesting quotes from it, mostly because I’ve recently been in conversation with a male friend of mine who is having trouble with the “getting it” aspect of how different life is for men and women - the sudden shock he experienced when he was confronted with the fact that most rapes are committed against women by men they know, rather than by strangers. I’m paraphrasing his reaction, here, but it took me a while to figure out that his reaction wasn’t doubt that women are usually raped by men they know, but that he had never really had to internalise that idea. I really want to talk about that, because I think it’s important, but I’m still working on expressing it well.]

    A few links around or via LJ-land to share:

    Am I Bitter or Am I Property?

    I’m talking about girlfriends dying. Not side-kicks, not people who know the risks in a real and gritty way, but girlfriends.Girlfriends that are somehow easily replaceable because they’re not a family member or team member and who seem to come with the ready made excuse that either they weren’t the main characters true love or worse that they were.

    It’s like those stories about a boy and his dog. One dog dies but it’s more than possible that if the right smart, caring dog came along, the boy’s heart will be healed and all will be well until the next time we want to pluck said boy’s heartstrings.

    It’s something interesting to read after the post I linked to last week about the “You Touched My Stuff” aspect of so many “revenge” movies out there. Willow’s talking specifically about comic books in this case, but I can think of similar attitudes in books and on t.v. - that someone is really just there to be The Girlfriend That Is In Peril to goad the hero into doing the right thing.

    Yay for Finland. Again.

    To completely change the subject once again, yet another bit of political news from Finland that might interest (and cheer up) some people on my f-list: The names of the ministers in the new government were revealed the other day and history was again made in when of the twenty ministers twelve were women.

    Is Finland part of the EU? Can I move there? Can I speak English and live there? Cuz that’s just cool. {More details on what that means in the broader picture in the link.}

    From the files of WTF:

    I’m been bouncing this post around in my head today about the temptation to infantilize victims of oppression and the kind of bad shit that plays into, but man, I just didn’t have a hook, other that the llama drama of a few days ago. [snip]

    But their also survivors. My co-workers only meet these women on the worksites. That means that they doing hard physical labor,volunteering, to make a better future for the little girls in their hometowns. They aren’t broken shells of people, waiting for well-meaning white folks to swoop in and destroy the sex industry.They, like many exploited women in the sex industry, and like so many oppressed people around the world, are fighters. They need allies from those of us who benefit from so much suffering.

    A relatively short post, but lots to think about in it.

    I haven’t really examined my own attitudes about women who are trafficked into sex work around the world. I tend to just think of it in terms of “this is a tragedy that needs to stop”, without thinking about the women in question much beyond that. Which is really not much better, I suppose. The post has made me think about that more, and I’m assured that thinking is no bad thing.

    I can’t quite remember where this one hit my radar from:

    Blogging Against Disablism Day, May 1st 2007Blog Against Disablism Day

    On Tuesday, May 1st - or as near to as you are able - post something on the subject of Disabilism, Ableism or Disability Discrimination (see Language Amnesty).You can write on any subject, specific or general, personal, social or political, anything which states an objection to the differential treatment of disabled people.

    “Disabled” does include the mentally ill, for those of you who want to participate.

    {More behind the cut}

    Read the rest of this entry »

    A Woman Walks Into A Bar….

    April 24th, 2007

    I’ve been trying for the past week to write a post about why “men get X too” is such a frustrating response to feminist writing. It’s been hard, because I’ve wanted to write something fair and balanced, looking at several different reasons why it’s frustrating, but it really comes back to one thing for me:

    Why is it so wrong to focus on writing about women? What is so threatening about it?

    My primary interest in writing, right now, is writing about women. I want to talk about women’s experiences and the problems women face. I want to talk about women’s issues, and women’s only spaces, and about how women are treated in the media. I want to talk about women in history. I think these are valid and important topics, ones that do deserve the time and energy to write about.

    When the response to these posts is “Well, what about the men”, I get frustrated. The implication in that question is that writing about women alone isn’t good enough, that women’s issues on their own aren’t important enough. That I can’t write about women, I also must write about men, about men’s issues, because adding men makes it much more important than women could be on their own.

    It’s not that I, or other writers about women’s issues, don’t care about male victims of violence, or men in history. It’s that we’ve decided to write about something else. If I decided to spend my blogging time writing about ballet dancers, I don’t think anyone would come along and say “What about tap dance?” If I wrote about World of Warcraft, would anyone demand I also take into account Star Wars: Galaxies?

    I wrote a response to a comment I received on my Blog Against Sexual Violence post that I think is relevant here. A friend had commented with “A thought, though. The essay portrays rapists as male and victims as female. This is definitely the vast majority of violent rape - no argument. But how often does it happen to men when the line is simply one of discomfort? Of being falling-down drunk?”

    Here is part of my response:

    I’m certainly not going to object to either writing or linking to an essay about men as victims of rape - I could easily dig up a few for you to look at when I get home from work tonight, if you’d like.

    The reason your comment comes across as “what about the men” is because that’s what you focused on. I didn’t talk about women being raped by other women. I didn’t talk about blackmail or non-physical threats being used to get someone to have sex. I didn’t talk about a lot of other things around rape, but of all of them, you focused on male victims of rape. This isn’t to say that your concern isn’t valid - it’s certainly a valid criticism of the article, because if nothing else I should have made it clear that the main point was the meme of victim-blaming with women (if only you do exactly the right thing, you’ll always be safe! tee hee!). And I do try to make this an okay place for those sorts of discussions, at least in my reactions to them because I think those reactions are important, those discussions are important, and that I want them to continue. But what Melle is reacting to is that, on every feminist blog that I’ve ever read or that she’s ever read where discussions of rape come up, no matter in what context, it usually gets derailed within ten to fifteen comments with some variation of “what about the men” - reminding everyone that men get raped, too, or using the societal meme of “she did something wrong” to point out that we can’t expect men to act like human beings. As though just having a conversation about women victims of rape isn’t a valid conversation all on its own.

    It’s like this - if I write an essay (or you write an essay) about male victims of rape, would you want one of the comment threads to be about how women are raped? Wouldn’t that be derailing the whole point?

    Women are a valid topic all on their own. They deserve to be written about without having to write about men as well. Women exist as independent from men, they existed historically, they exist in the present. They are raped, they are killed, they are mistreated. These facts are not lessened or made unimportant if someone brings up men. Too many times the response of “men are victims, too” adds some variation of “so stop your whinging”. Don’t complain, don’t speak up, because men are affected by violent crimes more than women are.

    So, what is so threatening about writing about women? I’m still not certain, and maybe I never will be. I wonder if it has to do with the concept of “other”. As people far more articulate than I am have written in the past, the default view of the world is “white / male / heterosexual”. “A man walks into a bar” is just a statement, whereas “a woman walks into a bar” must have some sort of explanation for why you specify that she’s a woman.

    She’s a woman because she is - and she gets to walk into the bar, too.

    Women are not other. Their experiences matter. Writing about women doesn’t lessen men, it just gives women a voice.

    The Revolution Will Be Blogged

    April 15th, 2007

    I intellectually know better than making this post at 2 a.m. because it’s going to be rough and raw and will not be polished properly. I’m gonna do it anyway, though, because damn. Damn. This is insane.

    I love this article. I do. Because it’s written like an exact “How To Belittle The Experiences Of Women and Gay People Who Talk About Harassment” Primer.

    April 12, 2007 — One of them was “slightly pretty,” so the freelance film director decided to say hi.

    Next thing he knew, he was encircled, beaten and knifed in the gut right there on a Greenwich Village sidewalk - by seven bloodthirsty young lesbians.

    It came out of nowhere! It did! He was just walking along, minding his own business, when those lesbians (must make sure we know they’re young and lesbian) just attacked him for being friendly! That’s totally how this happened!

    “The girls started coming out of nowhere,” Dwayne Buckle told a Manhattan jury yesterday, describing the bizarre beat-down he suffered last summer, allegedly at the hands of a seething sapphic septet from Newark, N.J. “I felt like I was going to die.”

    “Seething sapphic septet”? That’s actually funny. I will totally give it extra points for that.

    [Since it came up at work last week, Sappho was a Greek poet who wrote about loving other women. She’s from the isle of Lesbos. We get the term Lesbian from her. Without checking it in the dictionary, sapphic refers to women-focused or women-loving women type stuff. I was floored, being that I work with college graduates, that a good chunk had never heard of Sappho, which I think says more about me than them.]

    Buckle, 29, of Queens, took the stand in Manhattan Supreme Court yesterday to admit he was defenseless and terrified after his simple “hello” spurred a predawn melee on Sixth Avenue at West 4th Street. Three of the original seven women are currently serving six-month jail sentences for attempted assault. But four others are on trial on first-degree gang-assault charges that could get them anywhere from three to 25 years in prison.

    The accused ringleader - Patreese Johnson, 20, whom Buckle called the “slightly pretty one” - is additionally charged with attempted murder for allegedly pulling a knife from her purse and slashing Buckle repeatedly, lacerating his liver and stomach.

    I want you to remember whose story was told first, and the incredibly sensationalised way it was just told. A simple hello! Defenseless and terrified! The slightly pretty one just came at him for no reason!

    Hmm… That just strikes me as a bit odd. But then, I didn’t grow up in the city. And I understand girls are now meaner, and these were young lesbians, so maybe they’re part of that. Damn. Poor guy.

    Oh. Wait. There was a video tape of this attack.

    The women, in turn, claim they were defending themselves against a violent, anti-gay bigot, and counter that Buckle provoked them as he sat outside the IFC Center movie theater trying to talk pedestrians into buying his latest movie. When they rebuffed his advances - telling him he wasn’t their type - he began calling them “f- - -ing dykes,” they say. He then spat on them, threw a cigarette at them, and even grabbed one of them by the throat -which, like much of the melee, was caught on an IFC video security camera.

    Right… that’s just “saying hello” in … some other language? Like Klingon?

    “I’ll f- - - you straight, sweetheart,” he told defendant Venice Brown, 19, before choking her, her lawyer, Michael Mays, told jurors.

    … You know, I don’t have a witty comment to make to that. It’s been too long a week.

    Buckle told a different story on the stand, assigning many of his alleged attackers monikers. There was Brown, the one he admittedly called an “elephant.” Then there was the one with the “low haircut,” do-rag and wife-beater T-shirt,whom he admittedly called “a man,” and the “slightly pretty” one to whom he first said hello. It all started, he said, when the first two walked by. “They looked effeminate [sic] and one of them was slightly pretty, so I said ‘hi’ to them,” he said. But the “heavier girl, she started to dog me out,” Buckle said. “What does that, perchance, mean,” asked the judge, Justice Edward McLaughlin. “Just disrespect me,” Buckle explained. Then “more girls started coming out of nowhere.”

    But I’m sure that he just “said hello”, right? And then suddenly seven sapphic samarai just jumped him, for no reason!

    Buckle admitted he retaliated,telling the one with the “low haircut” that “she looks like a man.” He felt spit on the back of his neck, and spat back. That’s when the women’s fists began flying. “I had my hands in the air in defense of their blows,” he said. Then “I felt like a nick in my abdomen. I didn’t know what happened. “Everybody just jumped me,” he added, including three male passers-by recruited on the spot by the women. “It felt like it was 10, 20 people.” By the end, “I was messed up,” he said.

    Which is, of course, earlier contradicted in this article by the mention of video evidence that he choked one of them after throwing a lit cigarette at them, blah blah. We don’t need to present the facts, though. We need sensational articles! We need it to be all about One Lone Man standing off against the Evil Seven Sapphic Sisters! Ack, the horrors of women - lesbian women, no less - and the way they’ll go at you if you let them out in groups!

    So, let’s review:

    - Women are just walking down the street, minding their own business, when some guy demands they buy his videos
    - Women refuse, and for some reason that he’s not their type comes up
    - Man starts hurling abuse at them for daring to be lesbians
    - At some point a cigarette is flicked, a woman is choked, stuff like that
    - Women fight back against their attacker
    - Man = victim

    Yes, I will totally agree that the man was knifed and that is horrible and bad. And yes, I will totally agree that violence isn’t the answer to street harassment (although did you hear about the woman who ignored the catcalls from a truck and the guy who was catcalling was so mad he ran over her. Last I heard she may die.).

    But why the HELL is he being presented as an innocent victim in the lead in to this article? Why is it being presented as these wild and insane women (gay women!) just going off on him for no reason for the first few paragraphs?

    This is my theory:

    Because the women being lesbians is titilating. It’s an amusing image. It’s women’s sexuality, and we can’t make it not about the sex.

    Look, I know sex sells. I do. But does it bloody well have to sell a violent attack on someone? Does it *really*? Can’t it just be about how a group of women retaliating after a gay-bashing incident? Doesn’t that make the whole thing a bit more serious? And shouldn’t the whole thing be taken a bit more seriously? The guy was knifed, for crying out loud. After attacking the women for not wanting to sleep with him. After choking one of them for… what, not wanting to sleep with him?

    Why is this even considered journalism? It’s the New York Post for crying out loud. That’s… something, right?

    Lord, I’m tired. If this comes across as sounding like I don’t think the women should be punished in any way, please believe me that I’m not trying to say that. They attacked him, that’s serious, and should be punished by the law.

    But to pretend for just a minute that nothing else was going on here is a bit much.

    I’m going to bed. Someone wake me when the revolution comes.

    Carnival Time!

    April 14th, 2007

    Just as an aside, the 36th Carnival of Feminists will be over at Fetch Me My Axe this time.

    [Quick definition: Carnival of Feminists is held every two weeks. Host blogs post links and commentary to many different posts across the blogosphere about various topics. Usually the person hosting has a theme and asks people to write about said theme, but will often post posts that are not part of the theme. You can nominate your own writing, or that of someone else.]

    The theme, or a theme: (write the feem tune, sing the feem tune…)

    Relationships between women. Including, but not limited to: erotic and/or romantic relations, friends (”Chloe liked Olivia”), enemies, sisters (blood or otherwise), mother-daughter, grandmother-granddaughter, co-workers,co-activists, classmates, flatmates, boss-employee, domme-sub…

    This is definitely one of those “personal is political” topics, but don’t feel limited to personal anecdotes: analyses of cultural trends or particular historical periods, book or film reviews, and so on, are also welcome. Also consider explorations of the mythic: Kali Ma, Gaia,other mother goddesses; relationship with any female deity or feminine aspect of the Divine, and so on.

    Also welcome/encouraged:explorations of “double (or more) jeopardy” (i.e. sexism in combination with racism, homophobia, ageism, class, and so on); perspectives from outside the US/UK (and to a lesser extent, Canada and Australia).

    Or, as usual, write and/or nominate an entry on any other timely feminist-related theme.

    If you write something that you think qualifies and for some reason you’re too embarrassed to point it out to belledame, drop me an email or a comment and I’ll bring it to her attention. I know it can be very intimidating to point out your own writing to someone you don’t know.