Sunday, 23 December 2012

What I learned in school today episode 1: Gender mainstreaming

Alas, it’s the end of an era. That’s not me packing it in with blogging before I’ve even really begun, or worrying about the Mayan calendar (although I did spend far to long on the 20th thinking about Majora's Mask, culminating in this, which is amazing if you get the references). What actually happened is I’ve now done my last ever class presentation for this master’s degree, and although having to do class presentations has not made me particularly happy or, it has to be said, much better informed over the last year and a half, it still feels like a bit of a milestone. No more will I break out the Foundry theme to explain the wonders of urban planning in Hefei, or the European tax haven structure, or… whatever else I did presentations on, it’s all a bit vague now to be honest. I am surprisingly reluctant to be educated at times, it has to be said.

Useful things I did with my degree #431

Anyway, I was expecting to commemorate this final one by churning out something super rushed and boring given that it’s Christmas and term is almost over and, really, who does good stuff when it’s so cold outside oh god, but actually I ended up getting really into the topic, which was about gender mainstreaming. I’ve already whinged enough about how studying in China and being interested in gender is a bit like being a camel specialist in Newfoundland- i.e. very confusing for everyone involved. So when I discovered I needed to do an end of term presentation for a social policy course, which is incidentally the only academic course I’ve had taught by a female professor*, I figured this might be a good opportunity to get a vague handle on the world of gendered policymaking- given that it’s sort of what I want to do and all.

So, here's my version of the gender mainstreaming story. Back in 1985, at the end of the Decade forWomen (you know, one of those international things where if you put a label on a period of time it automatically makes it SUPER EMPOWERING), someone who was chilling out in Nairobi for a conference was like ‘hey you know what would be amazing’, and a nearby person was probably like ‘I am familiar with a lot of potential amazing things but not sure which you are specifically referring to’, and the first person said ‘so I had this crazy idea, where maybe when governments make policy, they could take into account not only the needs of man people but also the other half of the human population as well.’

And the second person probably raised an eyebrow and was like ‘do you mean to suggest that we should consider gendered analysis not just as its own separate policy area, or as something that should be tacked onto existing policies, but as a necessary aspect of all policy which should after all take into account people as they are, not just work from a rubbish reductionist definition of “people” which actually just means “heterosexual men of culturally dominant ethnicity?”’

And the first person was like ‘yeah that’s exactly what I’m saying mate**. It’s like if policy is a river ecosystem, right, and at the moment gender is in the backwaters, like with specific gender equality policies, or in the sidestream, like with gender related updates to “gender neutral” policies- and we all know what gender neutral really means, yeah- and what we should be doing is moving it from those places into the mainstream, and then maybe policies will actually be better and stuff.’

And the second person was like ‘Well that certainly merits further thought, let’s discuss it further at this women’s conference that we are conveniently at.’

And that is my story of how gender mainstreaming made the agenda at the Nairobi women’s conference. Fast forward one non-female decade, and a group of similar people decided to have another conference for women (I know, one every ten years, how superfluous), this time in the land of Beijing! This time, gender mainstreaming was not only talked about, but was actually made a focus of the conference. That’s right, in 1995 it was finally made crystal clear that policy should be formulated taking into account the needs of both genders rather than assuming that what is good for men must be good for women. They talked about it at an international conference, it must be important.

After this, of course, what happened is that the entire world realised what a good idea it was to include the interests of women in all policymaking and men and women lived happily ever after. No, I’m joking, that’s not what happened. What actually happened is that a lot of institutions wrote a commitment to gender equality down in their constitutions and then decided that writing down that they were doing a thing absolved them from actually doing the thing, or, indeed, continuing any previous initiatives related to the thing that they were involved in before they decided to show how committed they were to the thing.

Interestingly, most of what comes up if you image search "Gender mainstreaming" is in German, because Austria is big into the concept. It's also a key concept in Taiwan.

Which brings us to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the wonderful, wonderful things that have been going down in the government for the last few years. As most of my readers are probably aware, we currently have a government in the United Kingdom whose policy leanings aren’t exactly in line with the desires of a woman with a Marxist double entendre in her online handle. Whilst British women are able to live in a country with a fair bit of decent gender equality legislation, and there is no co-ordinated political attack on our rights like our sisters over in America have to deal with, there are some pretty eyebrow raising gender implications of some of the government’s decisions over the last couple of years which suggests they really weren’t paying attention to the cool kids over in Nairobi and Beijing back in the day.

Here is a helpful picture of George Osborne to channel rage at whilst reading on.
Most of these exist in that big disastrous realm of The Cuts- the things that the country must go without so some elites can continue to get very rich out of fiddling around with imaginary numbers. Gender budget analysis of the cuts in 2010 showed that over 70% of the costs of cutting benefits and public services will be paid by women. How about job losses in the public sector? Well, 65% of their employees were female (again in 2010), disproportionately concentrated at lower-end jobs, so that’ll also hurt women more than men. Women receive 20% of their income in benefits and tax credits, compared to 10% for men, but changes to the benefit system from 2013 onwards will “simplify” the working age benefits system by paying all benefits to the family’s “primary earner” (read: manly breadwinner types, except in the 90% female headed single parent families, but what are they doing existing anyway, haven’t you heard of family values, keep your legs shut next time because immoral sex is literally the only way this situation could have come about etc. etc. etc). This particularly means the loss of directly paid child tax credits for a lot of mothers and increases women’s economic dependence on men when they are in families. And unfortunately, as long as we retain parental leave systems which focus specifically on maternity rather than providing flexible time off for both parents, we lock women into being the caregiving economic dependents unless families are well enough off to completely lose the second income.

I draw a couple of things from this. The first is that I honestly do think feminism is incompatible with right wing politics not just from a social perspective but from an economic one as well. The economic system we operate on is predicated on an enormous quantity of unpaid work that is disproportionately done by women, and ensuring an economic fair deal for is not going to happen just because the door is also open to earn money in the current system when we’re not too busy discharging our natural womanly caring-and-housework duties. Redistribution seriously needs to happen, and whilst the ideal would be a radical overhaul of the way we value and reward work so that traditionally “female” labour is valued just as highly as “male”, in the interim having governments provide benefits and services is a decent enough medium. So when, as a government, you design your budgets without taking into account gendered effects, and you end up enacting a double whammy of both disproportionately firing women and taking away government assistance***, and then you still leave gendered analysis to other government branches even after the Fawcett Society takes you to court about it, I have to seriously doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion gender mainstreaming.. It’s all very well and good saying you want more people in work, but when you’re also from a socially conservative party and are trying to uphold “family values” which are traditionally all about using women as unpaid carers, you are failing to take into account what most women actually need from your government and the fact that it is often different from men’s needs.

But seriously George I doubt your commitment to these girls. I do. Sorry George.

Another thing also worries me, however, and it goes a bit beyond “ugh Tories”. When systems do take into account gender differences in providing social welfare, by recognising women as carers, the implication isn’t of reward- it’s about utilising a carer to pass on money to their dependent. That’s why the two big working age benefits for women are child tax credits and child benefit, and their existence is supported by research that shows that benefits paid to women tend to be spent on supporting the family (i.e. children) whereas benefits paid to men are more often spent by the man on himself. This is a worldwide trend, and is very similar to one of the main arguments used to advocate education for girls- that female empowerment is valuable primarily in terms of the benefits it provides for children, rather than being inherently valuable to, or a fundamental right of, the woman herself. 

On the benefit side of things, this is why we’re able to have negative stereotypes of “welfare queens” who apparently reproduce in order to force innocent men to give them child support which they may then partly spend on themselves- the fact that they are spending time looking after said man’s child is not considered an activity worthy of remuneration, because women are supposed to be carers and caring involves necessary and natural sacrifices that we must make in order not be morally awful. I’m not saying neglectful single mothers don’t exist at all, but the way the system is infused with gendered norms seems to suggest that anything short of angelic sacrifice on the part of mothers can be construed as women “playing the system”. If we don’t have the policy making ideology to recognise and combat these potentially damaging ideologies within politics, how are we ever going to eradicate them from real life?

Forget institutionalised poverty or climate change or global epidemics, the greatest problem faced by humanity is definitely "spending decisions that strangers can't immediately endorse" 
Hence: gender mainstreaming. Because the personal is political, and politics is personal, and, contrary to general belief- or, indeed, the make-up of our elected representatives- most people are in fact women. If policymakers aren’t recognising that in everything they do, things are a bit hopeless really.


*I specifically say academic because all of my Chinese classes have been with women. Language is a ladylike teaching topic, after all! Hard academia is more for men.

** I’m not actually sure if the person who invented gender mainstreaming was British or Australian or indeed perhaps part of the much larger group of people who would not use “mate” in this context. But roll with it. I’ve also got a translate link on the side if you’d like to put the whole conversation into another language instead of the lingua franca of the oppressor!

*** Triple whammy if you take into account that these cuts are necessary largely because of the actions of elite decision-makers in banks, who are 96% male. But saying that low income men and male public sector employees should bear the brunt of something caused by elite men just because they are both men is definitely a bit far even for this rampant misandrist...

Friday, 14 December 2012

The lowest common denominator

(TW for discussions of rape)

Sexism has had quite the run over the past few days. For example, there’s been FHM’s lad-to-lad exhortation to not wear your “victim’s” socks,

Virgin Media’s “rape or present” Christmas advertising campaign,

and ruminations by Australian Zoo readers on which half of a woman’s body can be dehumanised more.
Because the top can make you a sandwich but the bottom won't answer back! What wit.

Plus, Michigan’s abortion super bill passed, the global labour gender gap has increased since the financial crisis, and Republican opposition means like the USA’s new secretary of state will probably be John Kerry and definitely not  Susan Rice*. Add this to the normal background noise of oppression that goes on- largely unreported- everywhere else in the world and it’s not looking like we feminists will have the war over by Christmas, so to speak.

Perhaps the most explosive debate that’s been going on over the last two weeks, however, is the spectacular and continuing fail of ostensible feminist allies “The Good Men Project” over some utterly disastrous rape articles. I’ll be the first to admit I don’t know a huge amount about the GMP- I’d been to the website a few times prior to the incident but I don’t remember reading anything particularly insightful or particularly offensive at any point, so I assumed they were a mediocre incarnation of a potentially good idea and decided to continue life as normal. Apparently in doing so I missed some grand decay into one-step-above-legit-MRA-craziness but hey, I’m a development student, I only have a limited amount of time available for watching the self-conscious cogitations of white western men. Anyway, what brought the GMP crashing back into my consciousness, and into full-blown notoriety, was this article from Alyssa Royce on her nice guy rapist friend.

For those who haven’t heard about the case and don’t want to wade through the article itself, I’ll summarise: Alyssa Royce’s friend was flirting with a woman at a party. She passed out in the same room as him, and so he raped her. According to the article, this is a very insightful case of how complicated the real world is and how those complications can tragically lead to wonderful men raping women. We are told that because before she was unconscious, said woman was “[walking] like a fuck and [talking] like a fuck”** and therefore all valid logical inference pointed towards fucking, and this poor nice logical guy is for some reason exempted from also processing “flirtation partner is now unconscious” and making the logical inference to, uh, not fucking. Or, rather, he’s not, because in the moments when the article isn’t excusing rape it’s blathering on about “I know it’s rape guys, it’s totally not OK, but no this guy is so nice so here are more reasons no not justifications or excuses why would I do that Rape Is Bad but seriously NICE GUY OH GOSH”, but.. well, yes. If it walks like an excuse and it talks like an excuse, it’s probably an excuse.

The article is horrible on several levels, but it’s followed by something that people have taken even more offense to: ananonymous piece by an actual rapist about how having a party lifestyle justifies a bit of rape (presented here with Jill Filipovic's excellent commentary). He was once drunk at a party and took a kiss from a woman as a sign to push her up against a wall in full view of the rest of the party and rape her. He also believes he has been raped at parties, which is presented as an additional complicating factor in how we should view his own raping. Again, this is all against a backdrop of “goodness, isn’t the world so darn confusing, how will we ever get consent at all?” which initially seems to be played completely straight by GMP as well, although they’ve since stressed that clearly this guy has some deep psychological issues that it’s probably best for them to distance themselves from. Both articles have since been accompanied by editorial responses justifying the decision to publish these in the name of good intellectual discussion, because these are clearly the insights we need in order to combat rape and rape culture. If we don’t understand how confusing the world is for these poor rapists, how will we ever be able to give them the love and support and easily obtained consensual sex they need to stop raping?

I’m not going to wade in any further on the actual cases presented here, besides hoping that both (especially Royce’s nice guy friend, admittedly the other one is a little less well-described) seem far too insultingly clear-cut to be the catalysts for a frank discussion about the apparent deep complexities of rape and consent. If any friend of mine, no matter how close or nice (and regardless of gender!) told me they’d had sex with a sleeping stranger, I would be deeply, deeply angry with them, because there is absolutely no excuse for what a fucked up thing that is to do***. And yes, I would also be deeply angry at culture, but not in the way GMP seem to want me to be. I would be deeply, deeply frustrated not at the tragic lack of discussion about rape and consent and why rapists rape, but at the fact these discussions do exist, and it’s their very existence that stops us from being able to enshrine some of these super simple facts and actually getting on to discussing some real grey areas.

If you want to read well informed, rigorously researched, interesting articles about the composition and mindset of rapists, they exist. They’re out there. The original studies are admittedly shut off in academic journals which aren’t universally accessible, but they’ve then been reported on by other people and that means pretty much all facts are out there in free form for anybody with five minutes and an internet connection. The question “why do men rape” has been asked, and people have already spent significant amounts of time and energy trying to answer this question as thoroughly and insightfully as possible. This is the point at which we were at when GMP decided to present “my friend raped a woman once” as an aspect of the discussion which we should take seriously. Royce’s response to being told by other women that she was missing a lot of really fundamental facts was to suggest that the existence of said facts has stifled debate and atomistic anecdotal posturing is therefore justified in rekindling that.

But this isn’t what research is for. Yes, having rigorous studies which state that a tiny number of men carry out a large number of rapes does stifle potential lay speculation about a large number of men all occasionally raping, or a rape-amount pyramid dependent on wealth and social status, or a top secret sect of twenty four men and a non-binary identified person with a penis who co-ordinate global sexual assault from a hidden base on Easter Island. It also lets us move forward from having to endlessly debate that point. Want to have a productive discussion about rape and consent? Here’s the facts, let’s take it from here! Said facts are almost certainly missing some nuances- from a development perspective, what jumps out at me is that discussing who rapes in the USA may not be directly applicable to who rapes elsewhere, particularly in conflict zones- and it is important that findings are demonstrated to be repeatable and generalisable, so the existence of a few academic studies certainly doesn’t mean closing the door on a subject forever. However, they do have important implications for where we take our rape and consent discussion next.

For example: we know from facts that consent is actually not this enormous complicated nebulous issue that poor men are on the wrong side of misunderstandings about all the time, because to the vast majority of everybody these things are already utterly crystal clear. Evidence: 94% of men are not rapists. So why are we still pretending that it is hard and stressful and oh maybe we know somebody who was once confused by it and accidentally raped, poor thing- pretending that this is a point that a debate should start from!- when the majority of people this actually protects are serial rapists, whose behaviour we generalise at the expense of our own moral integrity? That is a discussion worth having, but we only get there when we actually use the knowledge we already have to inform where we’re going, instead of just wandering around in little discursive circles all the time and pretending it’s for the sake of debate.

It is, I suppose, an unfortunate byproduct of how much brilliant feminism goes on in blogs and open online communities, that for every discussion we’re constantly open to the noisy, stupid opinions of the lowest common denominator. Sometimes it’s high level stuff like the protracted GMP fail, more usually it’s comments and responses from people who seem utterly devoted to their opinions on subjects on which they know nothing and are committed to learning nothing about.

For one tiny example among millions: A good friend of mine wrote a fantastic letter to FHM and Bauer News Media about their little victim socks “joke”, whose comment section was entirely co-opted by some very concerned gentleman who insisted that a call for a magazine to respect the ethical reasons for not publishing damaging offensive jokes about men having victims was equivalent to us asking for legal censorship on all jokes that could be construed as offensive by any person ever- painting a picture of a dystopian future where the price of women not being assaulted would be the non-existence of “Family Guy”.

Discussing the things that might actually have been interesting about the letter was therefore subsumed by beating our collective heads against the immovable wall of this guy’s ignorance. None of us learned anything, because the “debate” was beneath the level where anything interesting could be learned. There’s actually a word used by some of the race blogs I follow, whose owners are also too often trapped going around in circles with the obnoxiously ignorant (including, unfortunately, some white feminists), which describes these sorts of people perfectly: “basic”. People who are not on the right level to be debating topics, and who are completely unwilling to get there. Unfortunately, the more open we are to everyone’s “opinions”, the more we run the risk of simply rehashing the most basic of debates with the most basic of people. In doing so, we leave less time and energy for actual progression to non-basic topics.

I’m aware that this might sound horribly elitist, and that’s not my intention at all. One of the most vital points of feminism is in changing and diversifying the voices we hear in our societies, and providing platforms for people to speak is the most important part of this. We also live in a world where intellectual capital is not equally accessible to all people, and where women are far more likely to underestimate and undervalue their own expertise than men are, meaning that the terms of participation for these platforms can’t be academic or elitist in nature and still meaningfully achieve their goals. But listening to more voices is not the same as legitimising everyone, and it’s an insult to the entire concept to suggest that the voice of an unrepentant rapist needs as much (or more!) of our time as rape victims, or women who can’t leave their houses after dark for fear of rape, or even of repentant rapists. It’s impossible to cut out nonsense entirely of course, or even for any one person or group of people to objectively say what is and isn’t listening to. But at the very least, trying to provoke or lead a debate about rape or any other feminist topic carries with it a responsibility about knowing the point of having that debate- what came before and what it teaches us, and what gaps in our knowledge we still need to explore. Similarly, participating requires having insights and being willing to be educated when our own knowledge is incomplete.

This requires creating the right spaces, making information accessible and readable to as many people as possible, and these are definitely areas to work on. It may also involve denying access to debate for people who have proven themselves utterly unwilling to learn. However, it does not involve saying controversial, incorrect things and then stating that “provoking discussion” justifies their existence. Doing that, as GMP have proved, just leaves us stuck in the realms of the lowest common denominator, and that’s not a discussion that’s truly worth our time.

(P.S. For a better discussion of the actual case, this is amazing. That is all.)


*Just to clarify, feminism doesn’t mean I automatically support all female candidacies above all male ones, but all else being equal I do think putting people who aren’t white men into visible political positions (especially ones with such international weight) sends out a much better signal than business as usual. China, take note.

**I’ve made you scroll all the way down here just to meditate some more on how horribly regressive and objectifying that statement is. “It” is not a “fuck”. She is a woman. Good grief. Anyway, yes, carry on.

***Related: George Galloway just won a sexist of the year award for calling previously discussed scuzzbucket Julian Assange’s use of this tactic “bad sexual etiquette”- even beating Assange himself, apparently.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Infamous vampire franchises I watched instead of talking to you

So I left you again. On a cliffhanger, no less. Like an annoying British telly schedule from the days before Freeview, I got you hooked on an interesting and entertaining program of feminist delights before callously rescheduling for several weeks in favour of broadcasting the snooker of silence. We should not dwell on why I was gone, because it is not very interesting. What is important is that I am back, and more importantly, I got to watch more things and therefore have even more fascinating insights to impart- a win all around, I’m sure you will agree!

I don't care if you have pretty boyband hair, Stephen Hendry, you ruined the lives of early evening TV watchers all over my country.

Unfortunately, this also means that I am going to have to invoke the modern pop culture equivalent of Godwin’s Law. Yes, I’m sorry, I’m going to talk about Twilight now. I watched the final film on Monday and now it is on my mind, and not just because I want to talk about how they were only able to give it a decent climax by completely ignoring one of the most important rules of the second book, what’s with that*? I know, I know- the dead horse of Twilight hate has been beaten to a mushy pulp just as much as the dead horse of Twilight love. Blogs have been made, t-shirts have been printed, weird contrived rivalries with Harry Potter have played out, alt-universe BDSM fanfictions have become standalone bestsellers. It’s all so done these days, especially now the last movie is out and we can all move on with our lives. But hear me out. I promise I will make this worth your while.

I first learned of Twilight the day before my 20th birthday, when an old friend asked me to go and see the movie with him. Neither of us really had any idea what to expect- unlike me, he’d actually heard of the books and the fact they were a teen sensation, but I’d not long come back from my first round in China so I was pretty out of touch. We arrived a bit late so had only just taken our seats when golden eyed R-Patz burst broodingly into the cafeteria, to a chorus of laughter and “wooo” from the rest of the audience. “OK,” I thought. “So this is how it’s going to be.”

Be still my beating heart.

Two hours later, we emerged, looked at each other, and went “OK, I legitimately enjoyed that.” And whilst we’ve already established that my tastes are a bit of a mess, my friend J.’s are significantly more developed. Sure, it’s all a bit faux-intense and having missed the first ten minutes, I was under the impression that I was watching a groundbreaking film about a protagonist with a legitimate motor disease rather than somebody whose childlike clumsiness is their biggest characterisation point. But beyond the silliness was something that actually did capture what it’s like being an awkward teenager with feelings. It was in many ways a perfect send-off to my own awkward teeny feeling era.

I went home to discover that my bookaholic librarian mother had already bought the book (yes, everyone in the world knew about Twilight before I did) and, though as we all know reading the book after seeing the film is a massive intellectual faux-pas, I was intrigued enough to do it anyway. And, again, I really enjoyed it, in a “yes this is exactly how it felt to be fourteen”** way. There’s some weird shit in it, sure (I especially liked the book’s one reference to sex, where it is called “being married” and it’s sort of implied that Rosalie and Emmett are refraining from having sex because they’re pretending to be schoolkids and not “married”) and it’s definitely not portraying a healthy relationship, but there’s enough of a sense of an unreliable narrator about Bella that it doesn’t really come across as problematic for the book in general.

Full disclosure: I had an ENORMOUS version of this poster hanging on my wall in second year. I'm not entirely sure why.

Then the other three books happened. And the other four movies. In all their stalky, disturbing, Mormon propaganda filled glory. Thousands of pages of mediocre prose about Edward’s Impossible Angelic Beauty and pissing contests over who loves who more (is it the person who wandered off like a dickhead because of a paper cut, or the person who literally stopped thinking after the wandering off happened? A compelling narrative) and contrived love triangles which are solved by having one of the parties actually be in love with an ovum that later gets born and fulfils everybody’s predestination requirements. Pages both loved and loathed the world over. If you’re not familiar with their contents, and want to be, I have been recommending this summary of them for years and I’ve never come across anything better.

So, an objectively mediocre book achieved unintentional brilliance and went on to resonate culturally with a large portion of a generation whilst simultaneously getting worse in its execution and message. Why is this actually considered novel or interesting? There have been rubbish and popular books for pretty much as long as there have been books, after all. I spent a considerable portion of my English literature A-level reading gothic novels, and I can personally attest that most of them are just as pulpy and awful in their execution, and often just as weird in their depictions of sexuality. The Mysteries of Udolpho, aka the 18th century’s answer to Twilight (it’s the book that Catherine Morland is reading in Northanger Abbey), is one of very few books that I have physically thrown across the room with frustration- imagine every reference to Edward’s impossible perfection being replaced with the words “and then we had repast and repose” and you’ve pretty much got the idea. My copy of Dracula started with an introduction which has an entire section wondering why the book had become so classic when its prose style is so dismal. And if we’re worried about the poor relationship models we’re providing for our young women in Edward’s stalkery weirdness and Jacob’s overentitled nice guy overtures, then we should be really worried that books like Wuthering Heights are being rebranded specifically to appeal to Twilight-loving young women!

I suppose this is fine...
We can talk about almost all artistic endeavours in this way. Everything can be criticised, and everything can be hated. There is no film, song, book or TV show that can be held up as some sort of objective ideal of human culture. Some things objectively come closer (real Disney movies are better than those awful budget knockoff Video Brinquedo films) but with the majority of stuff, we can spend just as much time picking it apart and knocking it down as we can building it up as the Greatest Thing Ever. What’s more, even when we believe something is objectively “better” than another thing, we still might not get as much entertainment out of the better thing as we do from the worst! It’s why Tommy Wiseau’s The Room will always be one of my favourite films, and why my mother has spent countless futile hours trying to get teenagers to read Mortal Engines or Skulduggery Pleasant rather than Captain Underpants. Captain Underpants and Tommy Wiseau aren’t actually wrong! Unfortunately, we tend to regularly forget this, or are told to forget it by the various people who make a living telling us that there is a grand canon of human artistic achievements that we should be looking to in all our decisions.

One of these films is genuinely worth your time.

Because, surprise surprise, those people are men. Guardian critic Mark Kermode had a great article last month about how weird it is that we have to listen to the “collective mooing” of a whole load of middle aged men to tell us what is good for teenage girls. But for some reason we’ve set up that opinion as something objective, and it’s an opinion which is far less accommodating to anything made for young women than any male equivalent. As I said last week, I’m considered weird because of my lack of knowledge and interest about a whole range of what, in my head, just look like different permutations of Men  Doing Things (In The Parallel World Where Women Do Nothing). And as literally everything I directly experience in my life involves a woman doing something, I struggle to suspend my disbelief about this parallel world long enough to care about what exactly the men are doing. So I enjoyed Twilight, because it resonated with a way I remember feeling***, and I enjoyed the latter three books because I thought they were ridiculous and I enjoy reading ridiculous things. A lot of people presumably also enjoy them because they resonate and/or because they’re ridiculous; others dislike them because they’re poorly written, long-winded and have some really troubling implications- which are also important things to keep in mind, especially when talking about media that is aimed at minors. We can respect the taste and fantasies of girls and young women and provide information about what healthy relationships actually look like. But it’s really unfortunate that the discourse about these sorts of things isn’t really run by either of these groups (or by me personally, more’s the pity) but by the group of people to whom something that resonates with teenage girls can’t be enjoyed without derision because teenage girls (and people who have been teenage girls) don’t get to define what is “objectively awesome”. Old white men do.

            I can only imagine how terrified these people must be by what is happening to the world of art now that we have the internet. Because the difference between Twilight and the gothic novels I mentioned before is that, back in the 18th and 19th centuries, reading was still largely the province of the wealthy and distributions of books were, compared to now, absolutely tiny. Now, millions of people from around the world can read and watch the same things, and in many cases they can then go online and share their opinions on what they’ve read or watched with fellow fans everywhere- and even creators themselves. This creates the potential for a massive cash cow out of every vaguely popular fad- there were no Team Heathcliff and Team Linton t-shirts back in Emily Bronte’s day, more’s the pity- but on a less cynical note it also means that the forgotten, niche demographic of everyone who can’t be bothered to pretend the concerns of white men are universal to everyone for the duration of their media experience can actually have their voices heard. Teenage girls are being listened to, and whilst the ones doing the listening might be the same old dudes who have been making everything forever, having the voices there in the first place can only be a good thing.

Historical accuracy thanks to Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant
          And doing so raises another exciting possibility- that there are people who are currently wedded to this “objective canon” who are finally being proved wrong, and embracing the media that proves this to them. The adult fans of My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic- bronies- are an interesting case study in this regard. Frankly, the fandom terrifies me with its constant pompous postulating on the nature of their own existence (yeah, yeah, you’re “uniquely studying a fandom from its inception”, not constantly trying to justify yourselves as Men Who Like A Cartoon With Female Main Characters), but the fact that this postulating is being used to celebrate their own existence rather than defending it is a really nice step forward in my eyes.

            So, having talked so much about things that other people like, I end this on an unreserved recommendation for my current favourite TV program- ABC’s Once Upon A Time. This program takes “Fairy Tale Retellings” and completely avoids any irritating stereotypes, and it’s one of the first programs I’ve watched where the gender equality is presented as pretty much unconscious- Snow White and Prince Charming are both badasses, their child (Jennifer Morrison, who is actually the same age as them all because of magical shenanigans) is even more badass and rocks the whole “hardened woman with trust issues” thing without it being stupid and stereotypical, motherhood is a key part of the story and discussed as a complicated issue which women tackle differently, and even the women who are subordinate to male characters have backbones and traits and aren’t just there to prop up the storylines of the men. Fairytale land even has gender neutral conscription, who knew! Basically, if you want to watch a TV program in which a woman pulls a sword on another woman within the first five minutes, and then it only gets better from that point on, ABC has finally made something for you. Personally, I’d go for that over Twilight any day- but hey, your choice!


*I’m talking about the “Alice can’t see the future when it involves werewolves” thing. I can’t directly remember if it’s in the second movie or not but I can’t imagine how they get around Jacob saving Bella and Alice not figuring it out if not through that weird little plot point. And yet by film number five she can project an entire hypothetical of vampires and werewolves into Aro’s mind, right down to Jake’s salty wolfy tears when Seth dies (but not Leah because who the hell has ever cared about Leah, come on).
**The characters in the book are seventeen and over a hundred respectively, but they act like I did as a year 9 and I was by no means an emotional early developer, so I don’t know what that makes them.
***I’d just like to point out again that I went to see the film with a male friend who also really enjoyed it, so I’m not saying that lived experience as a teenage girl is necessary or sufficient for enjoyment. Just that it’s why I enjoyed it.