Thursday, 22 August 2013

Bitesize For Glory

Here we go!

Secretly confirming the myth that all girls want to be princesses

Because if even rampant feminists like royal fantasies once in a while, then surely that makes it universal to all womankind. Or maybe I just like Princeless because she has the same name as me.

I've still been busy in the comic world since my last post about it, and one of the things I discovered was this amazing comic, which turns the "princess locked in a tower" trope into a systematic thing and then has one particular princess and her guard dragon escape together, so the princess can disguise herself as a knight and go off to rescue her other six sisters, who are also all locked up around the kingdom. She teams up with a half-dwarf blacksmith who is similarly cool. Oh, and the princess is called Adrienne! Did you notice that? That's really cool.

The comic is occasionally a little self-conscious about trope busting - notably, there's a scene about bikini armour which is really quite forced (haha! the female smith character never even considered that women could wear full protective armour! haha... wait, what?) and book two sets up a "big mystery" which is pretty obvious within ten pages, although it seems like it's meant to be a long-running thing. But hey, it's all-ages, and it's incredibly good at lampooning misogynistic characters as well as expanding racial diversity beyond the "white people and mythical creatures" dichotomy that fantasy usually relies on. Also there is a great scene about hair management, which is always a winner for me.

You can check out Princeless some more at its tumblr, here, which includes download links if you go far enough. Princess Adrienne! How cool is that.

Pronouns for trans people

Should be the pronouns the individual requests. If a person says they are a woman, it's common knowledge to even novice english speakers that the correct pronouns are "she", "her" and "her[s]". This does not involve difficult mind-blowing questions about the nature of gender, because pronouns for men and for women are deeply ingrained into our language and it is very simple not-even-trans-101 to learn that trans women are women.

Now you know this, you can go and despair at the absurd number of news websites who are wrong in their coverage of Chelsea Manning.

Miss Tibet

I follow the Tibetan human rights activist Woeser on Twitter, ostensibly to practice my Chinese although really it's for when she puts up interesting stuff like this. I have mixed feelings about this sort of portrayal of Tibet and very mixed feelings about beauty pageants, especially those designed by men for women. Some of the video editing is also unintentionally hilarious, which is unfortunate. But it's still worth watching with a critical eye. And at least the organiser personally asked the Dalai Lama what he thinks of beauty pageants, so that's definitely a great opinion to have. Right?

Medieval poison rings were totally a thing that existed

Hey, you know what, let's play up the poisonous devious women stereotype briefly to point out how cool this is! Evidence would suggest it was used in Bulgaria by men, to kill other men, making it disappointingly like the vast majority of other weapons in human history. Still. Poison ring!

Doctor Jude Roberts, Porn User

You might have recently seen an image doing the rounds of a BBC Newsnight program in which a woman discussing pornography got effectively stripped of her doctorate by some hapless caption people. She wrote about the experience (and more on her stance on porn) for Femusings, and it's an excellent read.

And... that's a wrap!

Yes, dear reader: 30 days, 30 blogs. 29 on here, one exclusively on Femusings. I came, I saw, I wrote a lot of things even when I really didn't want to write anything at all (the tooth thing is still a thing, although the antibiotics are finally starting to work their magic thank goodness). Hopefully many of these things were enlightening for you! Most of them make me pretty happy.

What's next? Well, there will not be one blog every day again for quite some time. There will probably be no blogs at all here for at least a week whilst I read, recharge, enjoy the bank holiday weekend and hopefully kick this infection once and for all. BUT there will be a second "around the world" piece for Femusings over the weekend, and Stuff I like Sunday will return as a regular fixture from Sunday September 1. Depending on how busy I get and how prolific I remain without being under pressure, bitesize blogging may also become a regular fixture. I quite enjoy it!

In the long term, this blog is going to remain the major home for all of my discussion of media and culture, and for image- and link-heavy things that I want to do that belong on personal blogs like this. My news and current affairs pieces will be over on Femusings, and I'm not sure yet how much longer I will keep cross posting for - but they'll still exist, they just won't be on this particular website any more!

Thanks very much for reading (no matter how much or how little you actually read) and watch this space- I'll be back very soon.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Men and Laurie Penny and PAIN OW PAIN (30 days of blogging day 29)

Hello world! I'm still on barely-acceptable amounts of pain medication, as well as several days of antibiotics, copious amounts of corsodyl and worst of all a period of enforced sobriety right at the moment when my parents restocked the beer fridge with delicious raspberry cider. I've actually started a couple of proper articles, got a paragraph through them, and then had my face start paining so hard I actually just want to take a pair of scissors to the inside of my mouth and see if stabbing it might make it hurt less. At this point I'm going with "maybe"!

 I am so extraordinarily impressed by anyone who does pain management on a regular basis. I know usually people have more resources than just paracetamol and ibuprofen but still ‒ I consider myself a relatively hardy person and having this for just three days has already left me so behind and up in the air on all the things I have to do. Anybody who copes with something like this for longer- you're incredible. Coping with your body pulling this on you is incredible, doing anything on top of it is superhuman. Wow, you.

Anyway, this was going to be a lead-in to a bitesize article, but I actually ended up writing something reasonably long about one single topic so I'm seamlessly integrating now. Here is my seamless integration, isn't it great? Oh boy my mouth hurts. It's about half an hour until I can have another painkiller.

So Laurie Penny's article about men has been doing the rounds on my Facebook, and it's got me thinking about dudes again. I know, lame right? If you haven't read that article, go and do so, because it's a thought-provoking read both for its content (which I pretty much agree with) and for its tactics. The discourse has been concentrating so much on the minds of men who do seem to hate women recently, it seems like a good time to point out that most individual men don't hate women (although the ones that tell you they're good to women because they have sisters are probably lying). But it's also important to figure out how to reconcile the fact that, yes, most men are good people who want equality with the fact that no, we don't actually have equality and few people even realise what it would look like and derailing the few strands of discussion we have going really doesn't help anyone.

So enter Laurie Penny, to point out that there's a difference between woman hating individuals and a woman hating culture, and we accept that most men are not the former but all belong to the latter, whether they like it or not, and it's quite right to be angry about that but not right to direct this anger at women. So far so good, although more so than with any other feminist article, for the love of god do not read the comments here. Based on what I've seen around though, this article doesn't have quite the universally enlightening effect that you might have hoped.

What has been missing from the discussions I've seen so far (and hey, I have a paragraph, but OH GOD OH GOD PLEASE PLEASE STOP HURTING AHH WHAT CAN I DO TO MAKE YOU STOP I'LL DO ANYTHING I'LL CLOSE THIS WINDOW JUST ARGH NO OW OW OW you get the point) is an understanding of the difference between discrimination and sexism, and about how we can talk about the inequalities men see in a way that helps the general equality debate. Because, yes, a lot of the time those discussions are about how men are seen when caring for children, or worrying about being seen to be a bad person when you don't feel like you've done any of the things you're being accused of, or why nobody seems to care that there are women-only sports in the olympics but not men-only ones, isn't that sexism too? Sometimes this sort of stuff is derailing can't-win nonsense from uninteresting weirdos, but more often it's meant genuinely, and it's unfortunate that the existence of the former can make us a lot less amenable to dealing with the latter.

Discrimination and sexism are two different things, because sexism requires a power structure. This does rely on a bit more of an academic definition of sexism than is often understood, but at heart it's a simple point and it's one that bears repeating again and again and again when we talk about men in feminism. Men do deal with discrimination for being men, sometimes - and sometimes, the big example being with fathers, it's in very big, obvious areas of their lives! But these discriminatory experiences don't actually harm the overall superiority of men in society, and here's the important bit: they're usually because men are trying to do something feminine, and getting ridiculed for it. They face discrimination because being coded feminine is considered inherently negative for men, and therefore doing one of the relatively few femimine coded activities is dubious at best, taboo at worst.

Penny's article is a powerful argument for the difference between cultures and individuals which is important in underpinning why feminist discourse needs to discuss generalisations about systemic sexism without having every  decent man have to individually note they are an exception. Next up I hope is the powerful argument about why if men want to tackle this inequality (as most do, because as much as we are driven to despair by them sometimes, most men do believe in equality and want it to be true in the world they live in) the way to start tearing down barriers for both women and men is to confront why we devalue femininity so much.

It's the old "sexism hurts men too!" chestnut in a different form, I know. I'm not saying we hand over space to endless postulating about why men are portrayed as stupid in adverts or what would happen if the draft came back. But if talking about feminine-coded activities is the gateway drug to getting men to confront the systemic sexism which makes those activities "wrong" for men, then fine, I'll have that conversation as many times as I can stomach.

This is not the powerful argument article. Not yet. Maybe later. Time for mouthwash.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Is this the end for our intrepid heroine?

It's day twenty eight! That's four full weeks of blogging, possibly more than anybody else in the entire universe has ever done before. If there were gold medals for blogs, I would be tearing down this analogy's equivalent to a track right now, the end in sight, knowing I was about to win the big prize and everything was going to be OK. And yet! In the final lap, disaster! Sprained ankle! Broken leg (although that didn't stop that olympic relay runner)! Or in this specific case, extreme chronic pain from a wisdom tooth that's been completely fine for about three years and has suddenly decided it hates the world!

(This is totally me pandering to the people who get to this blog by Googling 'dentist Drilling in "my mouth" '. Ok the one person. Look, I'm a useful blog for all your dental needs, one person! Come back soon!)

Anyway, I am literally sitting here chewing a garlic clove.Which genuinely works by the way, although it works best in combination with constant barely-within-instructed-dose cocktails of ibuprofen, paracetamol and teething gel, but no, I can testify that on its own, the ibuprofen, paracetamol and teething gel does not stop the constant shooting pains from throat to ear, but putting raw garlic in your mouth at least makes you question what hurts most. This is the most distractingly, unpleasantly painful thing to happen to me since I got a cough for half a year and strained my intercostal muscles (not recommended). There are lots of pains that I can just power through but this is really not turning out to be one of them.

I'm pulling up. I'm staggering on. The commentators are confused and possibly holding back the tears as the culmination of my journey moves from triumph to heartbreak.

Or something like that. I don't even know, I think these barely-within-instructed-dose drugs are doing things to my head that aren't just (aren't even) "taking away pain". Go and read this thing by Dr. Jude Roberts, Porn User while I find some more effective garden herbs to chew. See you tomorrow.

Monday, 19 August 2013

You've probably never heard of her.

As we come into the final week of Blog Every Day, I've had some more time to reflect on the impact it's had on the past few weeks. There's been some really great effects, like making 26-and-counting new pieces of writing in one form or another. There's also been some things that haven't changed, like my conviction that I don't ever have any good ideas for writing ‒ objectively, I'm genuinely not a prolific question-generator but an "oh, there's one idea, looks good enough, let's go with it" type of person", but evidence would suggest I do come up with some interesting things to talk about ‒ and some things that have actually been pretty rubbish. Foremost among the rubbish things has been the imbalance between the new data collections and potential information I'm taking in, and the amount of time I have to actually sit down with some of the stuff I've collected and really get to grips with it. I miss reading things that aren't on seven columns of Twitter! 

There's a similar trade-off with living at home. On the one hand, I have already gushed about how amazing my living space currently is, especially compared to the cupboard dorm I was living in in China. On the other hand, I have to get up reasonably early each morning to make sure my dog doesn't eat the post. It's all one big, exciting trade-off. The most exciting thing about being at home, of course, is having a telly that gets english channels and the most exciting thing on that telly is the wonderful afternoon quiz show Pointless.

A ridiculous number of these appear to be uploaded to Youtube, so if you like you can discover the magic for yourself, but basically the premise is this: four teams have to give answers to questions in different categories: either by naming something that fulfils a certain criteria (Matt Damon films, eponymous Beatrix Potter characters, nationalities that end in -ian) or by answering something from a set of themed questions. The catch is that these questions have all been asked to 100 hapless bystanders somewhere in the country before the show, and each answer has a score based on the number of bystanders who answered it right. The aim is to score as low as possible, which you do by giving answers that most of the 100 people didn't know. An answer that none of the 100 people knew is a Pointless answer, both because you got no points and because it is likely to be a very obscure piece of knowledge that you had no use for before coming onto a quiz show. It's great because sometimes they ask questions in categories where I can't possibly see how anybody could get anything wrong (like how could you not name every male Disney hero, who doesn't know what the Beast's real name is in this day and age, come on) and I feel very clever, and also because despite both being male, the presenters have some pretty awesome banter.

Therefore, in honour of my favourite daytime TV show, and of things I desperately want to read more about, let's play a Pointless inspired game! I am going to show you five pictures of different awesome women, and you are going to see which ones you can recognise. I haven't gone to the lengths of asking 100 people to tell me if they know them because if I had time to do that, I'd just read the damn books I want instead. But here goes:

Number 1: 
I may be deliberately choosing pictures of women who look like they will take no shit from anyone. Which is... ironic.
Number 2:

Occupation should be easy here at least...
Number 3:

Too easy again!
Number 4:
... yeah.
And finally, number 5:

This one's technically the easiest but I've made it harder by choosing another "not taking your shit" picture.

If we were playing the gameshow, this is the point where pairs of contestants would be looking at each other in horror, wondering why they are trapped with such an awful subject as "awesome women" (to be fair it is a little broad). If you don't guess right, you score the maximum 100 points which as we can all agree would be terrible for everyone involved, because TV quiz shows are very serious business. Anyway, think for a while about who you know out of those women, and how many other people you think 

Alright. Thought enough? Let's go through the board, as they say. Up there are the top in Number 1 is Cecelia Payne-Gaposchkin, who casually formulated the theory that the majority of the universe was made of hydrogen and helium in her doctorate thesis. Second is Mae Jemison, epic physicist who was the first African-American woman astronaut and the first real astronaut to also appear in Star Trek. Third is Stephanie Kwolek, who is holding kevlar in that picture because guess what, she invented it. Fourth, Nellie Bly, or Elizabeth Jane Cochran as she was secretly known to non-readers, who faked insanity to undertake one of the first pieces of investigative journalism from a women's mental institution in 1887 (she was trying to avoid being forced to write the "culture" section). And last is the "easy" one, Ada Lovelace, who effectively invented computer programming about a century before computers actually came about. How did you do at home?

I'm being a little unfair, because scientists of both genders are rarely recognisable visually unless they're either a bit of a celebrity like Professor Brian Cox. But even without making you guess from photos, how many of those women did you actually know about before that paragraph? My guess is "not five". Cecelia Payne-Gaposckin is almost definitely a "pointless" answer, despite the fact that she figured out the composition of 75% of the universe in her PhD thesis. How many soldiers and police officers (and skiiers!) running (or skiing) around in their kevlar know that they owe this innovation in their safety (or skiing speed (or in the case of Scandinavia, both)) to a mere woman? And this is not even scratching the surface of the historical women I wanted to talk about here. Rosalind Franklin, whose work was integral to the understanding of DNA, is held up as the prime example of a woman who was screwed over and shoved aside by the men she was working with. Gertrude Bell, whose new biography is sitting on my Kindle begging to be read, spent decades in British colonial politics in the 19th century ‒ a very dodgy area to be celebrating, so don't think for a minute I am, but she spent that time fighting for independent Arab countries during the colonial period and eventually helped to install Hashemite dynasties in Iraq and Jordan, which was politically quite momentous*. Despite this, you're much more likely to have heard of T.E. Lawrence of Arabia. Oh, and who discovered nuclear fission? Not just Otto Hahn.

These women are all anything but pointless. They all did incredible things that change the ways we live in ways both big and small. But we completely overlook most of them when we look back at history, in favour of thinking that history is a men's game. Women have been adding to the stock of human knowledge, often against huge personal odds, for as long as human beings have been around, and we've been casually taking that knowledge and forgetting where it came from for just as long. And then people look back at the historical record and have the gall to suggest that because they don't "see" women, there must be something particular about men which just makes them naturally better at all these things. We sometimes make the mistake of thinking it's a particular problem of the current age that the best self-publicists win out over the most talented people in a lot of fields, but really this has been going on for quite some time. And it's much easier to self-publicise, or to get other people to like you, when they're not instead spending all their time suggesting you are worthless and out of place.

From Friday onwards, I get a bit of a break from extreme writing, and whilst I certainly won't be shutting up after that, I'm very much looking forward to having some time to actually read and reflect on some of the things I've collected about these women, and a million other topics, in the last month. Not just because I'm a rabid feminist who only thinks women are interesting (although that becomes more true every day, to be honest), or because I'm about to write a novel involving historic women scientists (FACT, so pass on any and all others that cross your mind if you are an expert on this topic because chances are I only know a fraction of what I should still!). Mostly, because these are not pointless people, and shouldn't be in any sense of the word.

*I should also point out that she was a member of the anti-suffrage league because too many women thought they belonged in the kitchen and bedroom! and shouldn't be in politics! So with that and the whole colonial figure thing I'm not actually suggesting she is any kind of feminist hero, just that she's a woman who did stuff in history that you don't know about. Which is the kind of person I am talking about here.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Stuff I like Sunday: Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Oh yeah, the big one. The holy grail. The show that went on in the late 1990s where a small blonde high school girl kicked evil in the arse repeatedly while dealing with serious high school things, and then grew up and dropped out of college and had to deal with even more serious life things, but still all the arses needed kicking all the time and that was no problem because hey, she's the Slayer! Nothing wrong or weird about that.

I could actually make this entire blog post just videos interspersed with overlong gushy sentences.

But no, let's do some writing! I first discovered Buffy the Vampire Slayer in 1998, back when I was still a young thing who should probably not have been watching violent shows aimed at teenagers (although to put it in perspective, my brother's favourite films growing up were Starship Troopers and Predator...) I was completely hooked, downloaded all the episodes onto VHS when Fox Australia did their whole season marathons (Slayerfest!) and spent a lot of the next few years writing endless juvenile stories about myself as the slayer, except of demonic frogs rather than vampires.

There were a few things I thought were weird about the show when I was nine. I thought it was strange that even though Buffy and Angel were clearly meant to be together forever, he turned evil in Season 2, wouldn't really talk to her in Season 3 and then left altogether to do his own crazy Angel thing. What's with that? Similarly, I didn't really like Spike coming back without Drusilla in Season 4, especially as it ruined the symmetry- Spike and Drusilla are supposed to be one entity! One Big Bad! You can just imagine how I felt about the Troika in Season 6. On many levels. I also had friends at school who thought it was very unrealistic that Willow would give up places at top universities in order to go to UC Sunnydale, because obviously you go to the academic best university that you are given a place at with no consideration for other factors, right?

It did not seem at all weird to me at the time that this would be a female-fronted show where women characters in general are seen as far more powerful and in touch than the men around them. Likewise, it didn't seem weird ‒ once I'd accepted the idea that characters can have more than one romance in their lifetimes ‒ that Willow would fall in love with Tara and be a lesbian from that point onwards. To be fair it also didn't seem weird that Buffy's entire life was defined by antagonisms with male authority figures (yes, and her Mum, that's true) but hey. It wasn't perfect, but there's nothing else that's ever been like it.

Proof that Buffy was better than everything that came after, if you ever needed it:

I actually thought I had much more to say about Buffy - after all, it's one of the only shows I know of with its own dedicated journal, Slayage - but actually I'm going to leave this here, if only to avoid looking up more amazing videos. This was one of the very best shows for representation of women, and it ended ten years ago, and there's been nothing quite like it since. Why is that? Hmm.

Friday, 16 August 2013

How does one get from quantum mechanics to feminism?

I ask you. In all seriousness.

Today, I did a lot of things. I played on my Iphone, because fictional high schools still don't run themselves and neither do fictional tower blocks or South American  airlines. I hope that my audience understands that even though I didn't write "fictional" before that last one, I am not yet in charge of a real South American airline, but this is excellent practice because it has taken me from only knowing one north Brazilian city (Manaus, with a squiggly maybe?) to knowing at least four. My favourite is Belem, because it sounds like a Pokemon. In between this very important airline management, I did job search stuff, because I am legally obliged to do that and actually do secretly really want a job, as great as this all freeblogging all the time thing is. I also spent a really long time doing my first week of quantum mechanics for UC Berkeley.

I have brought up the quantum mechanics (and its precursor, Learning Linear Algebra for Fun) a couple of times, but it has been pretty much irrelevant most of the time. And it still is. Basically, upon arriving home, I decided that my life would probably sort itself out without me pushing it and therefore the best thing for me to do would be to just find things to do whilst the mystical universal forces work their magic. I also became briefly obsessed with Skills with the capital S, which any chronic self-undervaluer will know means "literally all the things that I can't do yet." Being a young person and a woman and also maintaining a constant conviction that the things life has taught you so far make you worthy of getting paid for your labour are three facts that are difficult to balance in this modern world. Luckily, it's summer, and challenges make me take on ridiculous projects rather than curling up into a ball and sleeping!

So, along with the birth of 30 days of blog, there was a concurrent line of thought: "how do I prove to myself/ the world /every condescending scientist and mansplainer who has ever passed unwanted judgement on my life and abilities POTENTIAL EMPLOYERS (ugh) that I am truly an updated renaissance woman, capable of doing pretty much anything I set my mind to and also science is not so hard, look!" The answer was quantum physics on EdX. I enrolled, noticing that they wanted something called linear algebra as a prerequisite skill set. "no problem," I said, "of course I can do things with numbers in a line"! Then I actually looked at the diagnostic test and re-remembered that there are things called vectors which I have not seen since I was 18 years old, and also I only ever did one Maths A-level (foreigners: there are two) so all the linear algebra I had actually come across was "this is a vector, add it to another vector, also scalar multiplication, OK bye!"

Oh what a magical world of numbers ensued. Sort of. I got partway through the preparation and then got bored and distracted by things are less formula heavy and, in most cases, more edible. Then the course completely took me by surprise by starting last week. I had a single week to get up to speed on enough algebra and figure out everything there was to know about qubits.

Which I did. With two days to spare. 100% in homework one, YEAH. There were some hairy moments whilst my brain rediscovered the concept of radeons, and I'm still dreading the point when e comes in ‒ Euclid, who are you and why was the time I learned your constant's rules so long ago? ‒ but otherwise I am down with qubits and the double slit experiment and ready for whatever else quantum physics decides to throw at my strong sexy artist brain.

I'm still pretty sure none of this has anything to do with my original thoughts in taking the course though. Is any employer going to look at my CV, go "oh I see you passed a free online university course in quantum physics", and realise I am exactly the candidate they have been looking for all this time? Sort of unlikely ‒ although if this does sound like your organisation, and you work somewhere in either public policy or the non-profit sector, and you have a job... you know where I am. Seriously! In lieu of actual prospects, however, I'll have to rely on my innate love of learning and, more importantly, the sense of extreme satisfaction that comes from setting yourself an impossible challenge and then winning. Everything is important if it helps reinforce your ridiculous internalised ideas about success and worthiness!

What of our above question? What does any of this have to do with this blog's actual topic. Well, I googled "feminist quantum physics", and it is totally a thing that people are trying to make happen. Like this lady! I have no idea what to make of this theory and I have a reading list that is much too long and interesting to put her on it, but hey! Maybe one day, this whole linear algebra and quantum mechanics business will pave the way for my great feminist insight of the century. A girl can dream.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The third Thursday of August

It's that day of the year again! Yep, it's the day when 300,000 teenagers across the UK all open an envelope and then jump up and down in the air while photographers from every newspaper from the Times to the St. Neots Town Crier look on with glee. A-levels! There are some letters involved too, and often the small matter of your entire future, although it sounds like they've made clearing not quite as awful for everyone above ABB which is something. Gosh, hello non-English viewers, I promise I will start making sense again soon!

It's been a good few years since people first pointed out the obsession newspapers have with finding a particular type of student to go in their A level coverage. Young, hot, female, beautifully straightened and volumised hair (is volumising what kids do to hair these days? My hairstyling amounts to "wash, tie up, leave to dry, untie, CURLY BOUNCY HAIR!, dramatic mess, oh well". The newspaper hair is nicer), wearing some of that lovely low-cut "business casual" that sixth formers are into ‒ ideally with a twin, although hot groups of successful friends are also acceptable. Pose is most often elated leaping, although tears of joy and hugging girlfriends are also hot favourites. Boys are only allowed either as part of a twin set (provided they are sufficiently tall and fit) or if they have some kind of adversity story attached to them. Rules are relaxed for local newspapers which probably have less leeway to just go to every girls school in the country taking these photos. Because otherwise, you would think that A-levels are just the exam for girls school alumni who are conveniently off to a wedding reception in the afternoon and had to doll up specially.

I'm probably jealous, because I never got an excited leap, although I did get my picture in the Hunts Post ‒ that link is their offering from this year though, not me. There's a picture of me right there in the corner, go look at that if you must! Anyway, my school had a record year of Oxbridge acceptances ‒ the record was 4, I did not go to that kind of school ‒ and three of the four of us who got in had to line up on a wall and wait around for the fourth, until it became clear that she was avoiding coming in when other people were around so we had to take the photo anyway while sitting on a wall and pretending we didn't mind having our time wasted. This was also while I was trying to work out why OCR had casually just not graded an entire exam, which hadn't affected my overall situation but was causing problems for friends who had also sat it, and which was also just not a nice things for them to do. Thanks for that OCR. Still waiting for my apology. The point of this whole silly story is that I was not a particularly attractive 18 year old, and the photo included the ridiculous good-at-everything sporty boy, so actually out there in the records for 2007 is a "weird looking girl partially hidden by conventionally attractive boy" photo which is highly subversive and proves that I was already destined for great things. This year I doubt we would have made it. Competition for hot exam photo girls is just too high.

The girls who are photographed to go into newspapers have done nothing wrong of course. They are great, and I admire everything about them, including their grades, their volumised hair, their excellent fashion sense at 18, what is not to love. Incidentally I am not including any pictures in this entry both because I am exceptionally lazy today and because I would be utterly horrified if I were an 18-year-old girl and I discovered my picture being used to prove some point on an angry shouty hairy twentysomething feminist blog, I would be mortified and I don't want to subject anyone else to that. But here are some links if you need to go find the stories for yourself. You will note that there is a "gender gap" being reported on which you might think I'd want to talk about! But you'd be wrong because talking about a gender gap aggregated across all subjects for one year of results sounds like a very stupid thing to talk about. What was this paragraph going to be about. I forget.

We have known for years that this (and also the RISE! and now the FALL! of the GRADES! Like the sea and also it was much harder in my day, none of this A* nonsense) has been the favourite tactic of newspapers all over the country. They know we know. I am pretty sure that the Guardian has had a HILARIOUS self-aware feature at some point or another. But they keep doing it, for much the same reason as the Sun keeps printing women in small knickers every day and the Telegraph peppered their "hot weather" coverage with pictures of girls sunbathing topless in London parks. Because it sells and if they know and we know and it's all just in good fun and also look, they're so happy! Aren't we happy for them?

At a time when we should be most impressed with these young women for passing one of the first big milestones in their lives (well, GCSEs, but GCSEs are just illustrated with pictures of kids in school uniforms sitting at identical desks, because they are only 16, so less of a problem there), what newspapers are actually doing is reinforcing the fact that their only value is visual. The "beautiful girl gets A levels" picture is so cliched now that it doesn't actually add to our understanding of a story, and the fact that stories are revolving around this suspiciously underresearched gender gap actually detracts from the results of the individual girls by suggesting they're not representative. Yes, that hot girl did well, but so did more boys! What do you say to that, silly liberal female-intelligence theorists?

Women as decoration starts young, pervades everywhere and doesn't go away. Getting photogenic teens into your A level shoots isn't a sexist act on its own, but placed into a context where so few women don't write the news or appear in it on our own terms, where we are eye candy or victims (and as the latter, always white), it's just one more microaggression in the endless torrent which newspapers in particular seem to throw at us every day. The assumption that women can be decoration is so pervasive that when the Irish Sun decided to drop topless models in favour of "clothed glamour" shots, this was celebrated as a victory instead of with scepticism and disdain. Oh, you've covered up the boobs on your blatant objectification page! Well clearly as a woman my only problem there was seeing boobs (I always put my bra on in the dark and never look down when wearing a low cut dress), so now you have completely fixed that. Excellent, carry on sirs.

Ah, A level girls, I'm sorry. I'm sorry your pictures in the paper are tainted with this nonsense, and that you can't enjoy being fit and jumping around without it being part of the systematic oppression of your gender. That really sucks for you. And now you're about to go to universities where lad culture is getting scarier, rape is not getting a whole lot better, and I don't fancy your chances of a job at the end unless something changes pretty dramatically in the next three years. The answer? Join WomCam, or your women's student union, or your feminist society. If there is not one, start one (message me about if you want, I'd totally help). Learn about yourself and become one with the movement and achieve a state of awesome sisterhood and then come join us! It'll be worth it. And when you do, you can let me know how you do that to your hair. I'm always so impressed.

Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Medical leave a.k.a. other places to go entertain yourself (30 days of blogging day 22)

Oh my god. So today somebody stuck a drill in my mouth. Luckily, that somebody was a dentist, this is not a preamble to a story about some kind of horrible DIY accident, but it means that I am now feeling tragic and only imbibing sustenance through a straw (well, not quite, but chewing is difficult and cold ice cream is RIGHT out this evening *tragedy*). Also the new edition of Bitch Magazine came out and I spent all today doing homework for online university courses so... do I really have to blog today? Really? really? Let's call the whole thing off and come back tomorrow OK.

... no, alas, we've come too far for that. So this is still an entry, of more than one paragraph, because aching teeth and the persistent taste of blood are not a good enough reason to fail. Instead, here's the deal: I will try to make you go away by giving you links to all the things around the internet that are more interesting than being here listening to me whine about tooth pain.*

Bitch Magazine got a new issue today!: One of the best dead-tree-optimised feminist reads out there, Bitch is a "feminist response to pop culture". I'm a donor (a B-Hive member!) so I get all their exciting new stuff delivered in dead-tree-optimised PDF right to my inbox. The latest issue is "Grey" and there are some articles from it which are also up on the website.

Improve your mind, academia style: I'm currently signed up to what definitely qualifies as Too Many online university courses from both Coursera and EdX and I am enjoying all the things that have started (i.e. "The Modern and the Postmodern" and also a course on quantum mechanics which I am almost certainly going to fail). It's all free and though I am antisocial on both websites, you can also meet likeminded study people from all over the world if you choose :o

If you only follow one China blog: Make it this one. I am assuming that if you only want to follow one China blog, you can probably do without the heavy political or sociological stuff and can just skip to the fun, interesting pictures of slightly insane things that have happened in the world's biggest country. Off Beat China delivers in spades. One of the best bits of my Tumblr feed.

I would prefer to be enraged over the infuriating state of men: In that case, I recommend Mansplaining or Fat, Ugly or Slutty for some timeless examples of dudebro charm in action.

Really stupid things you can do on your iPhone: So I, er, started playing High School Story. It's like a cliched teen drama mixed with what I sort of imagine the Smurfs is about having not watched the Smurfs. Everybody has different talents that they use to work together and achieve goals and there is no in school conflict or geeky kids getting beaten up except in inter-school rivalries (which are obviously fine). I am just up to the part of the game where you start endlessly hooking people up in random bisexual combinations. My favourite students are my ginger-and-pink haired asian runner girl, and my weirdly cheesy looking blonde student government boy who literally spends all his time standing in front of the same building canvassing everyone who walks by. Is this a good use of my time? No!

Ninja Ropes? Ninja Ropes!

The best browser game you'll ever play: Is a dark room. Keep stoking that fire!

And if all that fails, you could always go back to places you already know I like, like Femusings and Twitter, both of which are conveniently linked over to the right.

That's it. Still here? Go away. Tomorrow will be more. Ow my mouth hurts. Sadface.


*My dentist today was great tough. Really insistent that I shouldn't have to put up with any pain whatsoever whilst actually having bits of my tooth drilled out (super old filling, possibly the third repair, apparently the tooth itself doesn't... produce... minerals? So the fillings all come away horribly, blah blah how exciting my mouth is a warzone but at least they're all still there, even the wise ones, excellent). So none of this is her fault, it is the abstract fault of my mouth. Also I sort of prefer the pain and weird taste to the effects of the anaesthetic, which caused me to dribble all over myself on the way home.

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Shouting back vs. shutting up: the lost art of listening

(This post can also be read as an article on Femusings)

This morning, I joined the ranks of the superconnected, and purchased my first smartphone. To be exact, it is an IPhone 4S, my first ever Apple product, and it is forcing me to learn all sorts of new technology skills. I consider myself pretty computer savvy ‒ for example, I lost track of the number of classmates' theses I helped format because I actually understand the logistics of Microsoft Word's formatting codes and systems, which apparently is not a common skill ‒ but over the past few years I've sort of revelled in being utterly lost as soon as anybody hands me a fancy phone. What is this? Why did it just turn itself off? Why aren't these keys thumb sized, even though they expect me to type with my thumbs? Can it tell when I turn it sideways? Why do you have all these silly games? Why are the birds angry and what could it possibly have to do with me?

The decision to join the world of smartphones happened for two reasons, First, because I can't actually use a Tesco PAYG Motorola Razr from 2005 for the rest of my life, no matter how much I may want to. Second, because I am now at that stage of internet dependence where actually, the ability to access e-mails and twitter whilst not sitting behind my laptop has started to sound not just good but... a bit necessary. Avoiding a smartphone upgrade because you don't want to feel like that about your Twitter feed is sort of redundant when you already do.

And yeah, it is kind of about Twitter (I know, I know, I said no more writing about Twitter! But this is a important I promise). I've upgraded to Tweetdeck and now I've upgraded to Twitter everywhere, and now my entire purpose feels like it is based around building Brand Adrienne for the world to see. So far only 115 people have actually followed Brand Adrienne, and more than one is a personification of a library building which doesn't actually tweet any more, so even if I was not being utterly sarcastic about the concept of Brand Adrienne, it's not been too successful so far. But I keep trying to be interesting, partially because interacting with strangers on social media is actually a pretty difficult skill for me and I'd like to develop it, and partially because it sort of feels like I'm supposed to. Because I want to use Twitter, and that's what I should do on Twitter, right? Tweet, follow, follow back, grow those numbers. Platforms, reach, networking. Other. Words. Like those. Etcetera.

Except when people actually ask me in person why I've started spending so much time on that website, I never respond with "oh well I'm slowly making some arbitrary numbers bigger and it makes me feel like a more important person", even if that is a little bit true sometimes.* What I usually say is "ah, when I am on Twitter I read so much great stuff that I never read when I'm not following it!" This is true. If you set it up right, Twitter can be the most amazing news aggregator. Why check news websites individually when you can get the right 100 other people to check them for you? Not to mention getting access to blogs and other less well-known opinion sources that are generally much more interesting than any newspaper-approved comment section. When I read from Twitter, I feel like I have become a generally better-informed person than when I'm obsessing over academic texts or browsing the Guardian every morning.

Two put the above two paragraphs more simply, I can use Twitter for two purposes: I can speak, or I can listen. I am a little biased in that, strange as it may seem for somebody who writes thousands of words on a daily basis, I actually tend to be better at listening than speaking. This is because I am very quick to convince myself that I don't have anything useful to say about a given issue, and that if I do want to speak I should do it quietly, in my own space, to myself and not expect anybody to care. This is a state of mind that modern feminism is pretty vocal in opposing: like Sheryl Sandberg's comments about how "bossy" girls should be celebrated, like the Women's Room, like #shoutingback as a response to abuse. Women are silenced in patriarchy, and feminism fights patriarchy, so it's logical that a big part of the movement is about encouraging women to find a voice.

Except for some inexplicable reason, we expect it to be just that: "a" voice. One voice, singular. An assumption that if all the women of the world could speak, they would be talking about the same problems, and expect the same solutions. When the "mainstream" visible feminists have differences of opinion, it's treated like it's the end of the world, or a terrible reflection of the terrible state of our terrible movement. It's the same picture of baying crazed infighting women that the anti-suffragette movement used for decades to explain why women should not be within the political system. And when I see worries about "solidarity" in feminism ‒ why attack Caitlin Moran over Twitter Silence? Why get mad at online editors for letting a known abuser use their platforms when they were secretly being manipulated too? Why is #solidarityisforwhitewomen attacking me personally, I haven't done anything wrong! What about the movement? ‒ I see a lot of women who seem to refuse to accept that the "a voice" myth of feminism doesn't exist, and is silencing a lot of very important debates.

When I think about solidarity, three things come to mind. The most basic is "people I want to give support to"; I would add to that "not doing shitty things that hurt others just because they are convenient to me", because solidarity is a state and a process, not just one action that you do and then tick off your list for the day. You have to do a bit more than just tweet "poor you :( hugs xoxo" every time a feminist internet celebrity friend has a bad day. Even more than that, "not hurting others" means learning about more than just the bad days of your feminist internet celebrities‒ it means actively seeking knowledge about how women you don't even know are affected by your actions and behaviour, and, yes, your prejudices. It means knowing what a racist microaggression is so that you can combat them in your own behaviour, it means learning about how trans women and trans* people experience violence and discrimination and adding that to our knowledge bank about VAWG instead of making snide remarks about men in dresses. It means, in a word, accepting voices, not "a" voice. It means that the women out there who disagree vehemently with your feminist priorities and still dare to call themselves feminists have just as much right to call themselves that as you do, as long as their ideology is about achieving equality for women (and here I do mean all women, so TERFs are still not really feminists.) It's alarming how many feminists see themselves as receiving abuse from above and below, as if "shouting back" at women who are telling you your feminism is incomplete or offensive is as noble an act as "shouting back" at waves of misogynist abusers. If a woman tells you your feminism is offensive to her, you are a pretty rubbish feminist if you think that is something that can be dismissed offhand, no matter how wrong you think she is.

As somebody who struggles constantly with the legitimacy of her own voice, I'm grateful to feminism for giving me the message to speak out against sexism, and against systematic discrimination against me as a woman. But I do wish that feminism taught feminists ‒ particularly white feminists, although almost all of us have our privileges in some form or another ‒ how to listen as well as speaking up, and how to figure out the difference between listening and silencing. Saying "this woman has experiences of womanhood that are fundamentally shaped by her skin colour/sexuality/gender presentation/disability as well as just being a woman, and they are different to you, white straight able cis-feminist" is a call to listen, and actively seeking out and promoting these marginalised voices is not silencing, because the majority voice already has more than enough people repeating its message (an ironic thing to say for a white girl blogger with delusions of Twitter grandeur. But I'm young and stupid enough to believe I can find my niche and maintain my integrity about this, because it's a pretty basic belief for me).

I said I had three definitions of solidarity, but I've only given two so far. My third definition is a bit vaguer, and possibly stolen from that man who did the TED talk about Disney Princesses, but it is also the one that resonates with me the most. Solidarity, to me, is about my definition of who is on "my team" ‒ if I am A Feminist, who would I most like that label to associate me with? The answer is "pretty much everyone I follow on Twitter" ‒ not Big Twitter Celebrities, not dead white people with Must-Read books. When I identify as feminist, I have in the back of my mind the diverse range of women and men who, like me, probably spend far too much time staring at Tweetdeck or an Iphone sharing their view of the world for the benefit of others. Right now, I don't give back as much as I take, because I still have a lot to learn. Mostly? I listen.

*I've just outright said I'm still very much learning about this myself, so I don't know why anybody would want my advice on interacting, but in case you do, here is my super short guide to be cool and feel good on Twitter. 1) Don't post TOO much about arbitrary things in your day, because detractors of Twitter are correct in their assertion that nobody cares what you ate for lunch. They are wrong in that they assume that is all that is on Twitter. 2) Pass on interesting things you read, especially if they come from obscure places that people may have missed. 3) Don't be afraid to tell people if you think they are great or if you agree with things they say, because everybody likes to hear that and it will make you feel good to compliment others. BUT 4) Don't apply the Nice Guy principle (if I say enough vaguely nice things, I am entitled to lots of nice responses and recognition) to interactions with anybody, "famous" or otherwise. 5) Know when a thing is serious, when it is not serious and (most importantly) when the other person thinks it is serious but really it's not worth your time. In the third case, just stop talking. Also 6) is "don't abuse people" but really that should just be unwritten.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Bitesize Monday bite three: the bite where everything inexplicably starts to taste like socks

So I didn't quite expect Bitesize Monday to become this regular, but I just ate soo much homemade Mexican food (including a half hour crisis with guacamole because I am too stupid to check if the avocados are ripe whilst in the shop) that I cannot possibly think about writing several paragraphs on the same topic because digestion. So! Here are some things that have happened.


Some more vintage Joy is up over at femusings, including a better-edited version of why Janet Yellen is awesome and America sucks for doubting her, and my piece in support of No More Page Three (the one with naughty pictures, tee hee hee!) You can of course read both of those here, but if you do, you'll miss out on all the other sweet stuff they have posted there by people who aren't me, including eight ways to cover up your next political sex scandal, a really good piece about how fat is perceived differently in men and women, and the beginnings of a super informative agony aunt column. You can also join us if you are feeling so inclined!


I have been putting finishing touches on a thing I wrote that is going to Go In A Book! This is extremely exciting, but before I get to the stage of Thing In Book I have to go through the stage of Thing Has Been Copyedited. Which is fun in a whole different ways!

The edits aren't nearly as bad as I thought they would be, although there are more minor fact changes than I am happy with. Did I really get that much wrong first time around? Apparently so. I also had no idea that those luminous rainbow cheerio things are called "Froot Loops" and not "Fruit Loops", which now I think about it is so that you can have as many Os as possible to replace with luminous cheerios. I'm sort of proud of not knowing that until now, because it was one corner of my brain that was immune to branding for a little while at least. I also wrote at one point that India cancelled trees, because why wouldn't you?


Again, if you don't know who Hugo Schwyzer is, I recommend that you keep it that way. If you do, and you've been keeping up with The Meltdown and Withdrawl of Hugo From The Internets forever, you'll know that there is some seriously divisive bullshit going on between the women who gave Schwyzer his platform for years, and the women, mostly WOC (Flavia Dzodan and @Blackamazon, to name but two), who were actively calling him out and getting abuse for it. From him. For years. With the tacit consent of platform-giving women. Anybody who is not on the side of the people who were being abused by a man and ignored by the women who could have stopped it are Doing Feminism Wrong, just putting that out there.

Today, both Jill Filipovic of Feministe and whoever that woman is from Jezebel both offered the most mealy-mouthed "oh we're very sad he's not a nice man after all, but we totally didn't figure it out until now so *absolved*" non-apologies that there have ever been in the existence of language. The Jezebel one is worth reading even if you don't know who Hugo is, because it is just the most perfect example of oblique, passive-aggressive, selfish, disingenuous journalism. The comments are split between "er, what is this even about, I have a life off the internet you know" and "we all knew, don't pretend you didn't know", because this is about a guy who made a living writing about the attempted murder of his ex-girlfriend on feminist websites, and also teaching feminism and LGBT studies to young people who he then also admitted to sleeping with and having sexual fantasies with (whoops, now you know about Hugo Schwyzer).

The Filipovice one is better because it has spawned a brilliant hashtag from Mikki Kendall about the disturbing habit of white women (who are generally the ones in power in the feminist movement, because the feminist movement has some serious racism problems) to preach about solidarity and act on threats to each other (see: twitter silence) whilst ignoring or participating in threats to WOC in the movement. It is brilliant and everybody should go on Twitter and look it up, because you will learn many things. Like, how often do you hear people moaning about misogyny in hip-hop, but it rarely occurs to the same people to look at misogyny in classic rock? One example among many many many. I'm not saying that misogyny in hip hop should not be critiqued, just that we should probably examine why we want to do it so often.

I don't write about race on this blog because as a white woman it is not my place to do so. It is, however, not just my place but my absolute responsibility to listen to women who have different experiences to mine, and to understand how my feminism is shaped by my privileges as well as my experiences of oppression. I'm sympathetic to people who go through the experience of discovering you trust a manipulative arsehole (whoops, what is this sentence). But 1) I don't think is what actually happened to the Apologetic Power Feminists and 2) the pain of that discovery does have to go hand in hand with confronting how you might have hurt other people. It's a whole cocktail of painful suck, but it's also a bit of a moral duty, especially in cases like this.

Whoops, soapbox over! And I promise I will try to stay away from Twitter stories for the rest of this week, even though that will be super hard because I just got TweetDeck and it is a disaster for my life oh help help.

This is amaze

Despite being made by a man (I think). Why don't women report abuse more regularly?

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Stuff I like Sunday: Tamora Pierce

So unlike yesterday, I was not lying when I said that today I am going to talk about the best female fantasy author out there, and one of the most important fantasy authors ever. That someone is Tamora Pierce, who also conveniently wrote my childhood. To start you off, here is a video of Tamora Pierce being an awesome young adult fantasy author winning all the awards (as well she should:)

Pierce's books are mostly orderly fantasy quartets (there is a two-parter and a trilogy in there somewhere, I think...) set in two distinct fantasy lands: Tortall and Emelan. I'll focus on Tortall because there's more of it, although the Emelan books I've read are equally as good. Tortall begin with the story of Alanna, a kid with a dead mother and a distant father, who is about to be sent off to nun school to do noble lady-type stuff. Alanna doesn't want to do noble lady type stuff, and she conveniently has a brother who doesn't want to be sent off to knight school to do noble man type stuff, so she disguises herself as a boy and takes his place in knight training and he goes off to get trained in magic (which totally exists, because fantasy!) The first couple of books books deal with Alanna trying to cope with being a page and then a squire whilst disguising the fact that she's maturing into a super tiny woman and not a big burly knight-type, whilst also foiling the plans of Bad Guys and unsuccessfully fending off mutual attraction with her BFF Jonathan, who also happens to be crown prince. Spoiler alert, this is reasonably light-hearted young adult fiction, so she gets to be a knight and everybody discovers she's a woman but they mostly get over it. Also she has a magical cat that is probably actually a star constellation.

After Alanna the next quartet shifts to another character, a kid called Daine who can magically talk to all of the animals. This is weird in universe as well as in real life, so she gets to Discover Her Powers whilst also doing the whole growing up shebang, and also come to terms with having a childhood where her mother had to raise her alone despite prejudice against single mothers, and then gets murdered by bandits who Daine then kills along with a bunch of wolves she's been chatting to. Which is a bit traumatic. Also she prevents a war both against a neighbouring country and against a magic land of magic creatures, and is caretaker to a totally sweet dragon. After that, you get Keladry, who decides she also wants to be a knight and who doesn't actually have to disguise herself, but puts up with lots of prejudice from her peers and the people training them, and generally grows up to be enormous and almost unbeatable at jousting but still gets rubbish "feminine" assignments when she becomes a knight, but then it turns out they are the most important jobs and nobody else could handle them, she is just generally the best. Then there's Alanna's kid, who is a little bit annoying but ends up in the middle of a racial/colonial war and falls in love with a crow that gets to turn himself human. Basically it is all happening all the time!

I know fantasy tends to be quite a polarising genre, and reading young adult books as a grown-ass woman is also not desperately common, so a lot of people might be scratching their heads at the moment and wondering why on earth any of this is a worthwhile recommendation. The answer is this: these books are not only brilliant entertainment (rest assured, the stories happen a lot better than how I write them down here) but they also do what almost no books for young adult women do: they combine coming-of-age with wish fulfilment. We pick up with Alanna, Daine, Keladry and Aly (Alanna's kid) when they're all between around 10 and 13, and follow them through some of their most important years, both as they grow into awesome career women protecting the kingdom, and as they just generally grow into women. Alanna gets through some of the hardest parts of knight training more easily than all the bigger kids around her, only to be completely freaked out when her period comes (because dead mother, so nobody ever explained it). Daine copes with some really serious family issues and learns to respect how strong her mother was for bringing her up, whilst also coping with some really serious "oh god I can shapeshift now and I don't know how to hold on to my humanity" issues, which most teenage girls don't ever have to deal with. Unlike the first two, Kel has loving and supportive parents who remain loving and supportive (and teach her about periods), but she's grown up in a culture away from Tortall ‒ pseudo-Japan, to be specific ‒ and has to deal with being the only girl in a hostile environment, reconciling her adopted culture with her birth culture, and also with jousting with a lance twice as heavy as anybody else's because the awful boy gave her that one and she was too proud to ever give it back. They combine storylines that young women can relate to, and which humanise the troubles of young women for men who aren't used to putting themselves in the shoes of female protagonists, with plots that are pure fantasy in the best possible way. Kids can't actually be knights of a fantasy realm, but they can dream of being a girl just like them who is.

All of Pierce's Tortall women take on a patriarchal culture reasonably analagous to discrimination in the modern world, come to terms with their differing strengths and weaknesses, and achieve superhuman things with them. What's more, where the characters do have romantic interests, said romances have nothing to do with their growth (the one possible exception, Daine, has a romantic plot which could interfere with her magic teaching, but this is at the point where spoiler spoiler spoiler so she'll probably be alright...). This is not Twilight, where Edward gets to show Bella a whole new world, protect her for three and a half books, and then finally give her her own superpowers so she can protect him for a change. Nor is it the Hunger Games, which I love dearly but which is a story of a woman being brutally crushed by a world she has no agency in, but it's OK because she gets the Nice Boy at the end. All the romances are, by and large, treated as teenage romances should be: a couple last, most don't, you don't always love just one person at one time, sometimes you aren't that interested in anybody at all, and it's usually not necessary to hook up with your best friend of the opposite gender just because you're friends. Alanna's story was originally meant to be a single book for adults, so it's probably not surprising that she has a fair bit of implied sex with more than one love interest (shock!), but none of the other characters are chaste virginal types pining constantly after The One or using love triangles to motivate all of their life choices. This is refreshing.

I also like that Pierce's women don't live in a rosy genderblind world of Strong Female Characters. In fact, one of my favourite parts of Keladry's books are the Awful Teasing Boys, who continue to be awful and not accept her even after she's proven herself to the older, stuck-in-their-ways chauvinists around her. It's implied that a couple of them are just... unwell, in the same way as some women-fearing MRAs come across as unwell in the modern world. They get their comeuppance in different ways, but I love that the moral of the story isn't "kickass woman fixes everything around her!"; it's "kickass woman follows and achieves dreams and achieves love and respect from people worth achieving it from, and more would be nice, but sometimes you do just have to accept lost causes." Kel also ends up having to balance having "fun" with one of her fellow knights with sexist reactions to female promiscuity, where an older female character takes her aside and says "this is what happens, it's completely wrong, you can choose to fight it or you can modify your behaviour because of it, both will be difficult and it will suck but you should know this." It's not exactly the most inspiring message, and it may raise some feminist eyebrows that the character's choice is to be clandestine rather than organising fantasy slutwalks, because hey, she likes being a knight and she'd rather devote all her time to doing that and fighting sexist bullshit directly related to it. But, again, it drives home that these are women dealing with the practicalities of being women, however much they may suck. Not even the most dedicated feminist can fight every microaggression all the time.

So anyway that is my Sunday recommendation to you. Relive your girlhood! Or appreciate it for the first time if you didn't have one, because if I was compelled to read Catcher in the Bloody Rye and Vernon God Little as "gender neutral" coming of age books, you should be able to read the Alanna Quartet on the same terms. Tamora Pierce technically doesn't have a british publisher at the moment, which is a travesty, but I have everything she's ever written as an ebook and I don't think I paid for them sorry about that I did also own all the paperbacks once I promise so they are, er, out there. If you know what I mean. Go forth! Read Tamora Pierce.

Saturday, 10 August 2013

A screwdriver of one's own

So remember how I promised Deep Personal Feminist Reflection today? Well, my promises mean nothing and you should never believe anything I say. In all seriousness, I feel like a Deep Reflection post, unlike most of what I write, requires an actual correct mindset, and I am not in it today. This is partly because Hugo Schwyzer's uncomfortable public meltdown (look it up if you must, but if you don't know who he is honestly I'd just keep it that way) has has a pretty big impact on my feminist feels, and although it won't change my identity in the end, it doesn't feel right to try to be trying to affirm what that identity is right now. The other reason is because I spent all of today buying shelves, then putting up shelves, then putting things on shelves, and now I have a fully unpacked, tidy living space which is both completely magnificent and completely awesome. In-keeping with some of the greatest writing advice I ever had, from a fellow SOFA*-er, I have been leaving most blogs later and later because "if you only have an hour to write it in, it only takes an hour" (seriously, all aspiring writers take note, that is the kind of thinking that will get you ahead in this life); the flipside of this is that sometimes the day just gets too mentally exhausting for serious blogging at the end of them. This is one of those days.

As anybody who has ever done intensive long-term writing will know, writing constantly takes very little time to turn even the most pleasant, outgoing person into an aggressive, selfish, single-minded hermit. In theory, this amount of writing only takes up a couple of hours each day, but as I'm never quite sure which couple of hours and I like to keep them all potentially free in case the mood strikes me, I have become increasingly hostile to any sort of organised distraction that I don't feel fully in control of. My family have unfortunately had to deal with the brunt of me aggressively not wanting to do much, or spending an arbitrarily small amount of time doing something else and then having a meltdown about how those were the exact ninety minutes I needed for feminist writing, or getting very worked up about how every minute spent blogging is a minute less that I can spend writing elaborate lists of action for the Job Centre. Rest assured, Huntingdon Job Centre, I am doing my bit. You would be amazed at what job seeking activities double up as fun procrastination when you're trying to write this much.

The one exception to this, as blog posts have occasionally referenced, has been the slow but relentless overhaul of my room from "weird disorganised collections of nonsense" to an actual space that an actual grown adult/collector of nonsense might want to inhabit. Given that a lot of this has been things I can't do alone, like flatpack furniture, shelves, lifting heavy things up flights of stairs, and screwing things into walls, allowing this to be my one distraction (OK there was some Sypro the Dragon playing too, and the ice cream continues to be a thing, but shush) has rather exacerbated the aggressive selfishness, by making it so that my only desired socialisation with parents involves them assisting me in endless room improvement tasks which I do in a state of great agitation about where my blogging time will come from. Not from ice cream time, that's for sure!

 Anyway, now the trials are over and ALMOST ALL of the nonsense collection is distributed in appropriate locations. This collection includes:

  • An exquisitely painted oar (still not mounted, making it one of the few continuing out of place things, but hey. It's an exquisitely painted oar! These things are hard to find place for)
  • An overgrown cactus
  • A giant scroll which says "horse" in Chinese
  • The Triwizard cup (which currently houses a Mudkip and three tampons, because... feminism?)
  • The TARDIS
  • Several Sonic Screwdrivers
  • A small mug with somebody else's star sign on it
  • A keyring intended for somebody called "Harrison"
  • A shell shaped a bit like a vagina
  • A marble tortoise that makes me sad every time I look at it because it reminds me of being abused into buying it in a shop in Vietnam (but which I can't throw away because I bought the damn thing and now I am going to damn well own it)
  • A cyberman head intended for growing cress in, and cress seeds.
  • A silver tankard full of plastic Daleks (a lot of this nonsense collection is Doctor Who related... fancy that)
  • Scarves. Oh god, scarves.
  • An original Game Boy and a special edition Pokemon Game Boy colour (with Kirby's Dream Land and Pokemon Blue in, respectively)
  • Some individually wrapped Hubei speciality fish packets
  • Zero accordions :(
One electric piano though. Also that scroll says horse in Chinese. AND IS ALSO A PICTURE OF A HORSE. It is a very crazy and conceptually difficult thing to understand.

Other side of the room, feat. oar that is pretty much only out of place object in the entire room. DAMN YOU, BLADES. Also everybody who has ever been to my room before will notice that it is no longer luminous turquoise and pink. This was a magical surprise that my parents pulled on me at the end of 2012! I approved of the magical surprise: those were terrible colours for a bedroom, shame on me for ever picking them.

Some things I don't have because they have mysteriously gone Somewhere ‒ probably to the attic ‒ include my DVDs of Mulan and Mulan 2 (and all my other DVDs), and my  Kylie Minogue-in-Doctor Who action figure. I have all the other companions though, currently lined up on a shelf and not in any sexual positions at all. This will not last.

I like most of my nonsensical stuff collection. Lots of it has memories either of people giving it to me (like the Triwizard cup and the zodiac mug), or of using it (the Gameboys) or is Doctor Who related and/or generally makes me feel awesome (SONIC SCREWDRIVERS AAAA). I also own a lot of redundant Real Person things, like an actual screwdriver whose existence deeply confuses my dad, who assumes that all tools in the house fall under his domain and tried to remove it from my room to go live in the garage with the fifty screwdrivers he already owns. Like everyone who moves out and then back in again, it's hard to reconcile some of the material symbols of my independence with being back at home again, and even harder to figure out exactly where on my lovely new shelves this screwdriver I will never actually need should go. In the end, as homage to the "father attempts to steal screwdriver, feminist victory won as I defend my womanly right to own my own useful tool" story (totally how it went down) I went for "pride of place", but who knows how long that will last.

Anyway, there is no real point to this entry except gushing, so... I'll gush a little more then stop. I don't know how much longer I will be staying under this roof, but it's so nice to finally have a space which represents the important material bits of the last six years as well as the most important things before that. Given that my future is so completely uncertain for the first time in my quarter-century existence, it's nice to have good reminders of my present and my past all around. Now... if only it had an accordion.

*Staircase of Feminine Awesomeness. It has an acronym now, and hey those initials conveniently spell out a word! Who knew?

Friday, 9 August 2013

Words and pictures

I feel like I have an odd, underformed relationship with my geek side. On the one hand, I adore a lot of what the subculture produces ‒ media which introduces entire alternate universes to play in, and often the explicit mechanisms to do so, alongside a general sense of awe and excitement regarding some of the most amazing parts of our own universe. I love video games, I love fantasy and sci-fi, I have already gushed about online roleplaying. I have even had brief experiences with tabletop gaming and card games which made me wish the communities surrounding them catered to me more. Despite this affinity, however, I feel like I've never devoted the correct amount of time to reading and watching to really be a geek, whatever that means. I've written before about feeling like a general culture failure because the things I like are usually too few, too specific and too far away from the "things you must watch/read/play or you are not a proper lover of media" list that people like to compile and then wave in your face. With "geek things", the problem is compounded by the way in which men attempt to protect the subculture, which has been well documented in the phenomenon of the "fake geek girl".

So, last week, for reasons which were part semi-geek identity crisis and part "I will do a thing that I can later write a blog about, how virtuous", I asked my friends at my local comic shop which comics they would recommend for an unrepentant feminist who wants to read Things About The Womens. I mentioned my friends on Tuesday but that was a very quiet blog post so let me do so again: a couple of years ago, against the backdrop of Recession and The Death Of Local Shops and Amazon Ruining Everything, a friend of mine from school and his little brother refurbished a gorgeous 16th century shop in the middle of Huntingdon, filled it with books, comics, tabletop games, action figures and imported sweets (and a Mass Effect art book which will one day be mine...), and have been quietly and successfully running Niche Comics since the beginning of 2012. If you ever find yourself in Huntingdon for any reason, I guarantee that visiting them will be the highlight of your day, because they are amazing and because Huntingdon is... not. They are down the non-pedestrianised end of the High Street, near the Samuel Pepys pub, or whatever it has rebranded itself to these days. You should also follow them on Facebook even if you never intend to set food in Huntingdon.

My friend is also very well-informed both about comics and about women's representation, so it was no surprise when he came back with a fascinating list of things for me to try out. The most prominent feminist discussion around comic books tends to focus exclusively on female body shapes, and particularly the Strong Female Character pose, here illustrated by the Hawkeye Initiative (which redraws female superhero poses done by Hawkeye, who is... some guy. I don't know. I'm not a real geek!) but what I ended up with was a very different impression. I'm not feeling desperately prose-y (perhaps because of all these comic books rotting my mental faculties?) so I'll bullet point what I've read so far.
  • The New York Four, by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly (the first one wrote it, the second drew it), is a quite Scott Pilgrim-esque book about four women college students at NYU. The main one is socially awkward, love texting (zeitgeist alert!) and is trying to develop a relationship with her estranged older sister. The other three are a Fiery Latina with Cleavage (and a secret heart of gold), an Asian-Canadian who starts stalking her professor after she gets a B in one of her classes, and someone from the West Coast who skates and Can't Understand Boys! Despite this all being a bit stereotypical, New York Four (and the sequel, New York Five) is actually pretty decent at giving its characters satisfyingly melodramatic but not entirely unrealistic lives. It didn't replace Scott Pilgrim in the section of my heart reserved for "fun youth life story comics" but I did enjoy it.
  • Local, also by Brian Wood and Ryan Kelly. This is supposed to be their magnum opus or something and it's therefore bound in a super fancy hardcover book (which cost me the remainder of my Shakespeare tutoring money, oh the things I do for blog). It's supposed to be twelve stories that represent twelve years in the life of Some Woman who lives in twelve different US cities during this time. All the reviews on the back say it will be the most inspiring thing I ever read but I only read the first two and was... not that hooked. Maybe I just don't understand poignant woman stories.
  • Mara, by Brian Wood (that guy again!), Ming Doyle* and Jordie Bellaire. It's about a superstar volleyball player (not beach volleyball!) in a grim dystopian future. Yes, you heard. Bad things start to happen to her, made worse by the whole grim dystopia thing, and we get to read on as her whole existence falls apart. It's actually very good, although I hated two things: first, all of the comic covers use Super Arty Colours which hide the fact that Mara is a WOC (the first one makes her face literally white, although everything else has colour). Second, the comic itself uses a lot of in-universe news reports which constantly represent her using this picture:
Grim dystopian future where women (NOT BEACH) volleyball players are super famous, but still mostly famous for being pinups. Thanks...?
  • The first book of Strangers in Paradise, one of two things on the list by Terry Moore. I started off really sceptical about this, because it appeared to be about a Hilariously Angry Lady getting unwanted stalker attention from a Nice Guy despite telling him she's a lesbian, and pressuring her Heterosexual Female Friend into a relationship. It then goes through a load of what I can only call male fear-of-women fantasies about rejection and castration and people knowing you have a small penis, which did nothing to improve my mood. Also it has Hilariously Angry Lady crying in handcuffs on the front cover. But! The fact that it managed to win me over from this beginning is probably the best recommendation I can give to anything ever. It vacillates wildly between "cute slice of life" and "everybody is getting shot by the mob wtf" which shouldn't work but does, and while the Nice Guy overstayed his character's welcome, I completely loved almost everything after the initial castration/small willy story. Conveniently, this lines up with the moment when Heterosexual Female friend puts on thirty pounds and is drawn for the rest of the strip as a canonically gorgeous woman with a bit of a double chin and realistically distributed fat and a complicated relationship with her body type that doesn't boil down to any stereotype. Because not everything is Hawkeye pose, guys. It also lines up with the point where almost everyone important to the story is female ‒ mob boss, mob boss's dapper assistant, mob boss's giant silent muscled type, Angry Lady's dead mentor figure... statistically, the character gender ratio probably isn't far off 50:50, but women get all the good parts.
This cover is only marginally less awful than the weeping handcuffs picture on the front of volume 1, but oh! Double chin, waist fat-fold and belly on woman who several other characters find gorgeous and irresistible, drawn even in the picture where we are supposed to think she is gorgeous and irresistible. I FORGIVE YOU FOR THE NICE GUY STORYLINE, MOORE (nah actually that's not actually how it works, but if it was, I would).
  • Rachel Rising, which is what Terry Moore is doing now he's finished writing about Hilariously Angry Lady and company (there is also something in between, apparently). Again wins no points by beginning with a frightened, scantily clad young woman digging herself out of her own grave, but it hits all the good points of Strangers in Paradise but more cleanly. It mixes the exploration of relationships with some seriously crazy shit, the good character roles all go to women, and the women (and the men) are all easily distinguishable from each other through drawing alone. Whilst there's a lot of violence, including scenes of violence against women which always make me instinctively wary, it's interesting that the women victims are the ones who return and continue to have agency, whereas the men who die just... die. Often brutally. I think there's a whole complicated thesis in here on gendered victimhood which is way beyond the scope of this blog, but suffice to say it's... interesting.
I also have one of the Love and Rockets books sitting here waiting to be read, but I didn't get to that one. Maybe it will have its own post later?

Anyway, those are things I read! All of them were good. If you listen to things I tell you to do, you should definitely read Strangers in Paradise. But most of you don't listen to things I tell you do to. So. What did I learn from my little comic book binge?

Well, there's no getting around it, these sure are a lot of stories about women by men. The only comic with significant female creative involvement is Mara, which has two women artists ‒ one to draw, one to colour. It's also interesting that it's the same men, although this might also be related to my friend's opinions on what I would be interested in as much as a comment on the state of the industry in general. I've got him to put some Alison Bechdel on order so I'll be rectifying my man overload soon!

That's Alison Bechdel of the Bechdel Test fame, whose comic which introduces the Bechdel Test (which only about 50% of modern movies pass, and it becomes much fewer if you have requirements for two named female characters). This picture is going to break my blog frames, watch me not care because it is important and awesome.

In general, this was OK. There were a few gratuitous "camera" angles here and there, the worst being that picture above of Mara, but most of the time women looked like actual real life different types of women ‒ not everything is Hawkeye! Everyone in Ryan Kelly's art, male and female, has big pretty eyes and luscious pouty lips, so I put that down to style rather than female stereotyping (and they do make varied facial expressions with their big facial features so that's nice.) Everybody acts like you would expect a comic book version of a real life person to act, which is pretty much like real life except everybody talks in complete clauses and sometimes bolds their important words. 

What it means to me, though, is that I'm much less likely to be sympathetic when women do start doing things that are, to me, Man-Fantasies and not actual woman things. New York Four has a bit of professor seduction by Fiery Sexy Latina, which is portrayed as her being predatory and him being weak, and the implications we are supposed to draw are 1) she is a Strong Confident Woman and 2) Strong Confident Women get what they want through preying on poor squashed men. Now I'm sure that this has happened in the history of the human race, but I'm equally sure that it happens far more in the minds of men who are afraid of women being inappropriately Strong and Sexy at them than it does in actual real life. Similarly with the castration "fantasy". I think this is why all these stories are, perhaps surprisingly, at their best when it's women talking to other women. Even with the best will in the world, it's apparently hard to escape unconscious worries of what might strong women do to men?

As you would expect (we've all seen Joss Whedon's Strong Female Character rant, right?), Terry Moore has been asked about the whole Writing About Women business more than once. His answer (in one of the relatively few interviews I read, I've no doubt there are many, many more) was not quite what I was hoping:
"Well, if you'll notice, when I write female characters, I don't have them doing anything that's actually very feminine. There's no scenes of women having lunch together or shopping or talking about guys.
So what I'm actually doing is using female characters and putting them in situations that are typically male, just because I find that that incongruous setting is so much more intriguing.
Put a man in a dangerous situation, and we automatically just assume he's either going to go commando or wimp. We've seen it so many times.
But if you put a woman in there, you're just not quite sure what's going to happen... Usually women are portrayed as victims of male predators. In my story, the woman is usually fighting against her own genre. I just find that a little more interesting. Instead of lions attacking penguins, what if penguins attacked each other?" (Source) 
There's a sympathetic and an unsympathetic reading of this quote. The unsympathetic reading would be to pick up on the "women only have lunch and shop and talk about guys, and men do literally everything else, what the hell", and that's definitely what first sprang to mind. But I think he's talking about tropes, not men and women themselves. As the "typically male" scenes he puts his women in are things like "get involved in mob shootout", it's pretty clear he's not actually equating "typically male" with "things that real men actually do regularly" (unless he's a really dangerous dude...) but instead pointing out that, yeah, we expect male characters to be in those situations and to react in one of those two boring ways, but when you write an unexpected character into the scene, the audience has fewer expectations for what might happen next. Unfortunately I cannot put a generous spin on the lions and penguins thing, but it's absurd enough that maybe it can be quietly ignored. I hope he doesn't actually think of women as penguins or men as lions?

In this metaphor, both the alarm clock and the women are penguins. Or... something. Let's really just leave it.

Stating that using women is great because it avoids stereotype is a risky business, because it risks denying that stereotypes of women can be problematic even when characters are written away from the most restrictive ones. I enjoyed learning about another little corner of geekdom, where men are creating stories of biologically accurate, well rounded human women doing awesome stuff. But while it's great that there are men who think these stories need telling, I'm not sure if I can fully get behind them as stories about women if using women is purely an act of subversion. Being a woman is not a subversive act, it's a fact about us as people, and that needs to be recognised by creators and, more fundamentally, by the gatekeepers of creative industries, because they're the ones who really make it so that the only comics my friend can recommend are men writing about women. Sort it out, geeks. And give me more comic recommendations whilst you're doing it, I may be addicted. Whoops.

Day 17. Tomorrow is probably going to be Adrienne's feminist autobiography. Sunday will be me gushing about the most important women's fantasy author ever, no arguments allowed. Mark it in your diary! Seriously. Just write "ADRIENNE'S BLOG" across all the pages. Doesn't your life look so much fuller now?


*I hate to act as if this is at all relevant because it completely isn't, but I was super amused to discover that Ming Doyle is, or was, dating Neil Cicierega, who made Potter Puppet Pals and Lemon Demon music and this thing that was super cool on the internet, like, ten years ago. That guy!)