The Problem is…

I’ve finally started reading ‘Divergent’. Whilst on a New Years Eve boat cruise in Miami, a young American student suggested I read it after hearing my rant about women in youth fiction. The impression I got was that it wasn’t going to fulfil these same stereotypes. I’m approximately one third the way through and already, I feel disappointed.

The story starts off with promise; a post apocalyptic style genre with people divided into factions according to personal traits. The female protagonist ‘Beatrice’ seems to be self aware of her own ill fitting personality to her current faction and joins a faction known for courage and fearlessness. So we have a strong willed female character in an adventure novel. So far, so good.

However, it isn’t long after joining her new faction that Beatrice starts going ‘weak at the knees’ for some older, tall, dark and handsome male character. Sigh. Perpetuating the very problem I have with how female characters are portrayed.

It made me think though: what is my actual problem? Is my problem just with the addition of romance plots or subplots in novels? Because I hated Twilight (a problem that will no doubt get it’s own post eventually), but it is largely a love story that just happens to have some mystical entities in it. I got concerned that maybe my own distaste for romance was the real driver here.

But then I thought again. No it isn’t the romance. It is the fact that in an ADVENTURE novel where there is a female protagonist, it is considered essential that there is a romantic subplot. Novels containing a male protagonist don’t tend to feel they require this. And Twilight, well I’ve worked out my problem with that and it is entirely not related to the problem above. I’m still too angry to write about that monstrosity.

So i’ve started to feel good. I know what the problem is: that there is a thought that a female oriented youth fiction novel requires a romantic plot or subplot to engage it’s readers. Now that I know this, I know I am not going to perpetuate the same problem in my own writing.

For my high school English teacher, Julie Windle, who taught me to love literature and to be comfortable with being different.

I wasn’t ready to be a Mother

Over the last week, I have had a crash course in what it feels like to be a mother to a new born. My new foster cat had kittens prematurely and wouldn’t feed them and as such, I had to. Every 2 hours. All through the night. Then I had to go to work.

Anybody that knows me, knows that I am destined to grow old old and collect as many cats as my age (and quite content with that prospect). I read an article today that pretty much sums up my sentiments towards having children:

http://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/parenting/i-dont-want-to-have-children-ever/story-fnet08ui-1227249782802

So when these kittens came along, I pretty much knew that not only would I be ill equipped emotionally and physically, I was convinced that I would hate it. What I didn’t expect was although I was tired and I was sad (as the kittens slowly died one by one from illness and a failure to develop), what I didn’t expect was that at no time did I think ‘I don’t want to do this’ or ‘I resent these little beings for [insert reason here].’ I have told myself so many times that if I was somehow through circumstance cast into motherhood, that I wouldn’t want to do it and that I would end up resenting the subject of my ‘mothering.’ I saw myself as Drew Barrymore in that terrible film ‘Riding in Cars with Boys.’

Now those that are reading this shouldn’t draw a line between me enjoying looking after kittens and me somehow desiring children. Anytime I hear ‘Oh you’ll change your mind’ (or like statements), I just want to punch someone in the face. Since I was about 18 I can remember knowing that I didn’t really see having children as something I was interested in or something I thought was supposed to define me as a person or give worth to my existence. The only time I have ever veered from this line of thinking was when I was dating someone I thought I would spend the rest of my life with. I’m now convinced that this thinking was only a product of me thinking that this is what was expected of me and wasn’t actually and autonomous desire.

However, my recent experience has shed new light on some of the feelings my mother friends must feel, particularly when they’re up at ungodly hours of the morning for months and even years on end. I have always assumed, in error, that there would be some element of resentment. I didn’t realised that the greater sense of purpose at play could drown out any feelings of resentment.

For the mothers out there who are awake feeding their children, I admire your strength and thank you for doing something I am not cut out for.

The Princess Problem

I now seem to have acquired a rather large number of open browsers on my phone over the last fortnight with varying topics related to WIM.

One of the ones I am most interested in was a story about two ladies whom started a business called ‘Princess Awesome’ which produces clothing for young girls that moves away from the stereotypical ‘pink princess’ styles of clothing that dominate the young female’s clothing market.

Since 2013, the two women behind the clothing label ‘Princess Awesome’ offer a line of girls clothes that provide an alternative to ‘girly-girl’ outfits, by producing outfits that have themes such as Dinosaurs and Mathematics – themes largely reserved for male clothing in your mainstream shopping culture. Their website can be found here:

http://www.princess-awesome.com/about/

After some googling I found that there have been other similar initiatives such as ‘Pinkstinks’ – a campaign that ‘targets the products, media and marketing that prescribe heavily stereotyped and limiting roles to young girls.’ See http://www.pinkstinks.org.uk/ 

The reason I resonate with this line of thinking is that as a child, I felt that I was given ‘genderised’  gifts like soft toys and dolls and pink clothes, where as my brother received science books, building toys and musical instruments.

On first consideration of this issue, I started thinking that this then was support for my writing cause when it came to my elected audience. However, I then came across something called ‘Let Toys be Toys’: a campaign asking for toy and publishing industries to stop limiting children’s interests by promoting toys for particular genders. See: http://www.lettoysbetoys.org.uk/

I questioned whether my motive of producing a line of ‘Female-oriented’ or ‘female-freindly’ youth fiction was perhaps single or narrow minded and instead I should be writing for any audience but instead just try and avoid gender stereotypes in general. I’ve decided I like the sound of this much better and that will be my focus. However given the inequality faced by women and the culture of inherent sexism displayed in media, my research will still be focused on avoiding female stereotypes.

Through this process I found a book called ‘The Princess Problem: Guiding our Girls Through the Princess Obsessed Years”. The book is said to offer solutions, teaching parents a range of skills from setting limits on media use to helping their daughters think critically about media stereotypes and consumerism. I have ordered the book and look forward to reporting what I feel as I read through it. 

You can Find a copy of The Princess Problem: Guiding our Girls Through the Princess Obsessed Years through the Author’s WordPress site:

http://rebeccahains.com/books-by-rebecca-hains/the-princess-problem/

For the daughters of my friends: it’s ok to like LEGO and dinosaurs; and its ok to like My Little Pony as well.  

Objectifying: Is it really a compliment?

Over the years I have been the recipient of my fair share of objectification. The interesting thing is that until recently, I was ignorant of just how much I received and its many, varying forms. Already this exploration is taking me to unchartered territory. I had never once thought about being objectified in any other way other than the obvious examples, like being wolf whistled or ogled.

Recently I saw another blog that talked about the differences between a compliment and objectifying in their strict dictionary senses. The author found that objectifying was “to treat someone as an object rather than as a person” while a compliment was defined as, “a remark that says something good about someone or something; an action or remark that expresses admiration or approval.”

The author then proceeded to assess how a comment to the effect of ‘do you get hit on a lot at work’ was in fact objectifying as opposed to a compliment because it insinuated that her apparent attractiveness detracted from her professionalism and her ability to perform her profession. It assumed she was an object, and not a professional. You can see the wonderful blog post mentioned here:

This has taken me to a pretty uncomfortable area where I have realised that I have actually been complicit in some of my own objectification; not only allowing it, but supporting it in ignorance. I may write more on this (with context) at another point, but right now I just want to sit with this thought and, in particular, be mindful of it when I consider how I write my female characters.

In the interim, enjoy a humourous look at objectification from the perspective of one particularly interesting woman:

For ‘Woodstock’ who loved to wolf whistle, but was indiscriminate in his choice of victim and, ultimately, his choice of whistle. 

Should women become “one of the boys” to work in mining?

http://www.miningmx.com/page/special_reports/mining-indaba-2015/1649615-Women-should-become-one-of-the-boys#.VOPFVfmsWn9

The biggest problem that I have with some of the assertions in this article is that they start from the premise that being a woman somehow prevents you from being able to perform in your role, rather than focusing on the real issue that there is a problem with the culture in workplaces. I liken this proposition with those propounded to victims of rape by questioning whether they could have done more to protect themselves, as opposed to focusing on the actions of the person committing the wrongful act(s). The part of the story that best evidences my above concerns is:

“Women need to start helping themselves if they want to advance in the mining sector”, said Nichole McCulloch, managing partner at the Ashton Partnership, an executive search firm in London.“The question is what women can do to equip themselves in the mining sector. The men I’ve come across have zero hesitation to put their hands up for senior positions, but women hold back, thinking they’ll come across as being too pushy.”

However, I do agree with the sentiment of Ms McCulloch that “women in senior positions should reach out to their counterparts at junior level.” The problem I see with holding this ideal is that there needs to be enough women in senior positions to be able to promote women in junior positions and it ends up becoming a ‘chicken or egg’ argument. This is why I believe that workplaces and governments need to have policies and targets for the promotion of women (and other minority groups) to aim for equal representation within workplaces. 

For Erin, who despite being a minority in every sense of the word, never will be in my mind. 

Male Senator tells only female member of Senate that women are ‘a lesser cut of meat’ than men

I’m searching furiously for a few credible sources to confirm this story, but in the mean time, here is one source to outline the story:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2954133/South-Carolina-State-Senator-Thomas-Corbin-tells-Katrina-Shealy-female-member-Senate-women-lesser-cut-meat-men.html

While I am going to attempt to reflect more deeply on this issue when I ascertain its veracity, my initial ‘red flags’ (besides the obvious problem with blatantly sexist remarks of the Senator) are thus:

1. That Senator Katrina Shealy is the ONLY female member of Senate. It brings to mind the issue that the current Liberal Party of Australia are having in regards to its under representation of women in Cabinet and the wider party (and don’t even get me started on how the Minister [assisting the Prime Minister] for Women is a man).

2. The claims by Senator Corbin that ‘it was a joke’ (and by implication saying that sexist comments are ok as long as they are funny) is something that I know that I have confronted in myself with regards not only to gender, but to sexual preference. I like to try and keep things light-hearted and have a desire to please people and not upset others, but I have noticed in myself and my peers that it seems to be acceptable to make insensitive remarks about minority groups if its funny. An example would be the apparent acceptance of the word ‘gay’ as being something that is stupid.

3. I make note of Senator Shealy’s comment regarding having ‘worked 3 times harder than [Senator Corbin] to get here.’ I wonder at the background to that comment. Was it merely a reference to her having struggled due to her gender, or was it a dig at the Senator’s quick rise in Politics due to his own privilege? If anyone has insight, I’d appreciate knowing.

4. The reference to Senator Shealy having put a ‘knife in the back’ of Senator Corbin has made me think: it seems to be a phrase reserved for an action only performed by women. An action like this done by a man is more commonly, in my opinion, analogous to a ‘punch in the face’. The distinction is that a knife sounds more vicious and subversive.

For the women in Australian politics, who have to watch a man govern the interests of women in Australia.