osprey_archer: (books)
I need to be pickier in the books I get from Netgalley; I've hit a whole string of duds in a row. The latest one is Debra A. Shattuck's Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers, which is both boring and unconvincing. How do you write a boring book about early women baseball players?

It's possible that Shattuck just doesn't have the sources to write an interesting ones. Most of what she's got seems to be newspaper mentions of either women's baseball pick-up games, or the occasional touring women's baseball team, which is interesting in the limited sense that it shows that some women did play baseball, but doesn't give much insight into how they thought about it themselves.

It might, in different hands, give quite a bit of insight into what nineteenth century white American culture thought about women baseball players, but it certainly doesn't in Shattuck's, because she's intent on proving that baseball wasn't seen as a "men's game" until around 1900.

That would be super interesting if it were true, but Shattuck's own evidence totally disproves this. The newspaper articles she quotes make it very clear that baseball was seen as a masculine pursuit (possibly a masculine pursuit more suited to boys than grown-up men - this seems to be the loophole that Shattuck is hoping to shove her argument through - but still masculine). Many of them heap scorn or condescending amusement on women and girls playing baseball, and the ones that favor it do so with an argumentative air: they know very well that they're going against the tide of public opinion.

The fact that many women did play baseball doesn't mean that it wasn't considered masculine. You wouldn't have tomboy stories if women doing something automatically meant society considered it feminine!

Did Shattuck come up with her thesis and then run with it, actual evidence be damned? It's really too bad, because I think someone without that axe to grind probably could write an interesting book about women baseball pioneers - but this is not that book.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Blithedale Romance, which disappointed me twice, although the first time was not its fault. I decided to read the book because histories of the utopian experiment at Brook Farm always mention it, and I was therefore hoping for lots of thinly veiled memoir about life at Brook Farm, but that’s not what the book is doing.

However, once I’d accepted that the book was not going to deliver on Brook Farm reminiscences, I settled pretty comfortably into enjoying what it was: a book with some nice nature descriptions and surprisingly interesting (and occasionally snarky) philosophizing about the utopian impulse and the hidden selfishness that sometimes lurks behind supposedly selfless plans for human reform.

I particularly enjoyed this bit of snark, in which the narrator snipes about his friend Hollingsworth, who has a monomaniacal devotion to a plan for “the reformation of criminals through an appeal to their higher instincts”: “He ought to have commenced his investigation of the subject by perpetrating some huge sin in his proper person, and examining the condition of his higher instincts afterwards,” the narrator complains, goaded past endurance by Hollingsworth’s insistence that the narrator ought devote himself forthwith to this vision of criminal reformation.

But then the book disappointed me again with the ending, in which Spoilers! )
osprey_archer: (books)
I read Barbara Michael’s Houses of Stone because of Sarah Rees Brennan’s review. It always feels kind of pointless reviewing something that Brennan has already reviewed, because what could I say that she has not? But I will say a bit more, because I loved this book and I think some of you might enjoy it too.

The heroine, Karen, is a literature professor who stumbles on a possibly career-making find: a Gothic novel by a little-known American poet, Ismene, whose poems Karen discovered and published earlier. With the help of her friend, history professor Peggy Finneyfrock (let us pause to delight in this name), Karen sets out of a research trip in hopes of discovering Ismene’s true identity, which of course includes discovering a big scary house.

I love the way that this book muses on the gothic (and modern gothic) genre, even as it revels in some of the tropes - the scary house, the untrustworthy possible lovers - and pointedly diverges from others, notably the fact that women are often pitted against each other in Gothic novels. Peggy Finneyfrock is Karen’s most important research partner, but she has other women friends as well, and they all help her at various points in the book. A feminist gothic novel!

I love the fact that this book takes intellectual endeavor as its guiding force - it’s so rare for a book to have scholarship as its main theme. The feminist literary theories that Karen talks about have become more mainstream in the twenty years since the book was published, so some of her “let me talk about how women writers are devalued” sections seem a little info-dumpy, but that’s a minor part of the book, and following the ins and outs of her research is fun.

Of course it helps that her research concerns a cracking good Gothic novel, written during the early nineteenth century and lost for years at the bottom of a trunk. Stylistically the excerpts from the novel don’t sound early nineteenth century to me - but this is probably something that will bother only me, because who else willingly reads antebellum American novels? - but the plot points and the construction of the blamelessly pure main character who prefers quiet contemplation to recreation, and gently chastises her livelier younger sister for failing to share this taste, are spot on.

Because Karen’s research into the novel and her friendships take up the bulk of the book, the romance feels rather tacked-on, and I rather wish it had been left off altogether. It’s not that there was anything objectionable about the guy she ends up with, unless the fact that I never really got a handle on him as a character counts, but the space would have been better devoted to more of Karen’s research.

That said, as the love interest was a thing, I was so happy that Karen didn’t end up getting with the guy she didn’t end up getting with, because damn, he was a jerk and I am so tired of love interests who become magically better people through The Power of Love. Instead she gets with the guy who is actually decent, so that was good, at least.


Barbara Michaels also wrote, under another pseudonym, the Amelia Peabody mystery series. I’ve been waffling about reading these books for quite some time (there are so many of them!), but the fact that they’re by the author of Houses of Stone definitely puts another plus in the “To Read” column.
osprey_archer: (shoes)
I’ve been thinking more about Eowyn Ivey’s The Snow Child, specifically about the ending. What makes the first two-thirds of the book so interesting is Ivey’s ability to hold possibilities in suspension. Is Faina a snow child, magically born out of the snowgirl Mabel and her husband Jack made? Or is she just a normal girl, living alone in the wilderness after her father drank himself to death? Or is she somehow both?

But this balancing act falls apart in the story’s third section - although it is, perhaps, a little unfair for me to blame the plot for continuing to follow the basic outline of the Russian fairytale that spawned it.

The question of Faina’s nature isn’t resolved, but the question of whether she can live with other people or grow up is. Clearly, Faina can’t.

This is how these stories so often end: the fairy girl either disappears (as in The House without Windows) or becomes less than herself, like in the later Anne of Green Gables books. It’s an ending with the long weight of trope behind it, but it’s not the ending that I wanted or perhaps needed out of the book. I’m tired of reading about magical girls who can’t - not who don’t, or don’t want to, but can’t - grow up.
osprey_archer: (cheers)
I have finally seen Avengers! I was worried that I would feel as lukewarmly positive about it as I did about most of the other Marvel movies - I felt many of them were a little too aware of their status as prequels, which made their plots unsatisfying - but I can conclusively say that Avengers is still pretty awesome even if you've been spoiled for basically everything by the internet.

Although the fact that Coulson now has his own post-Avengers TV show kind of undercuts the effect of his death.

Captain America and Black Widow are still my favorites. (Obviously this means that I am way excited about The Winter Soldier.) I was impressed by the subtle way the movie dealt with Captain America's temporal displacement: it's not just a series of gags about his difficulty with technology/pop culture references (how cute was it when he's all "Flying monkeys! I got that one!"), but there's a real sense that he still thinks like a man from the 1940s.

I'm thinking of his comment that there's only one God - not the fact that he believes it, but the fact that he asserts it as common knowledge, as if it's not at all ethnocentric. Also, even more, the fact that when Agent Coulson dies, Cap's the one who asks, "Was he married?"

Obviously Black Widow's scenes have been discussed up and down the internet. I don't have much to add about her scenes specifically, but as a wider comment on Whedon's work - Whedon really likes the whole "feminist judo" schtick, where his female characters use other people's misogynistic underestimation of their abilities to win. It's so overused in Whedon's work - he uses it twice in this one movie, in both of Natasha's interrogation scenes - that it's not only predictable, but also suggests that his heroines can only win because their enemies underestimate them.

I think often Whedon's work is more feminist when he's not trying so hard at it.

Having said all that - it amused me that Natasha has the sensible superhero suit, while Hawkeye is running around wearing the outfit clearly designed to show off his attributes - his magnificent arms, in this case - at the expense of actually protecting him. Oh, Hawkeye. It's hard out there for the eye candy.
osprey_archer: (Disney)
Via [livejournal.com profile] goldenusagi: The Bechdel test, and why passing it isn’t as crucial as you may believe

I always find posts like this one so frustrating. Because, on the one hand, I do agree with the points that the essay makes. The Bechdel test wasn't designed to test individual works for feminism. There are works that are feminist that don't pass it. And there’s absolutely nothing in the test that says all works should pass it. All these points are true and fine.

But at the same time, every time someone posts something like this, tons of people show up in the comments being all "I've been worried because my work so rarely passes the Bechdel Test, but now that you've pointed out it's a test for wider societal trends and not individual works, I feel just fine with my output!"

(Of course, when someone posts something “Yay Bechdel test!”, there are always tons of people in comments who are all, “I’ve been worried because my work so rarely passes the Bechdel Test, but let me defensively explain why this actually isn’t a problem.” So you can’t really win.)

It's like these people think "wider societal trends" are something mystical and unchanging, rather than something created by human action: specifically, by the fact that many people feel just fine writing works where women rarely interact with each other, and only ever about men.

That being said. I don't think people have any obligation make their own work fit a social justice standard, particularly if that work is fanfic that they're writing for fun. Everyone should follow their bliss as long as it's not directly hurting anyone.

But if someone does want to their work to reflect or further their social justice ideals, and they're unhappy about their inclusion or lack thereof of female characters (or black characters, or whatever kind of characters), then it’s silly to leap on articles like this to rationalize away their niggling sense that their work doesn’t meet their social justice standards. If they don’t want to face their deficiencies head on and write more of those characters, they should admit (to themselves, if no one else) that they don’t care enough to do anything about it.
osprey_archer: (downton abbey)
One of the glorious things about Yuletide is that it shows me entertaining things I have not seen before, such as this: The Lizzie Borden Diaries!

I guess that should really be Diary, singular, because it’s just one video. It’s kind of hilarious, in a dark and slightly gory sort of way.

In other video diary news, I've been watching Emma Approved - am still contemplating how I feel about it as a show - but I found this irritating article while drifting around the internet Emma Approved is a Feminist Triumph.

We've seen two episodes (only one when this was posted), it's far too soon to declare it a triumph of any kind - it might implode midway through, who knows! And two, since when has Harriet's character in Emma been an antifeminist flaw? Yes, she's flighty and silly and not very bright and tends to follow Emma's lead in everything. What, have we gone and declared the mere existence of unintelligent women antifeminist?

Or are we just not supposed to portray unintelligent women because...because...maybe people might somehow get the idea that all women are like that? Despite the fact that Emma and Jane Fairfax and Mrs. Weston and, God help us, even Mrs. Elton all provide counterexamples?

One can argue about feminism or lack thereof in Jane Austen's books forever and a day, but one thing I have always appreciated about them is that they all have a wide range of female characters, some of whom are excellent and some far from admirable and a few downright evil. To get rid of that, especially to make the characters fit some predecided standard of what women "ought" to be - even if that standard is "strong" - would damage the books' feminism, not augment it.
osprey_archer: (window)
As I watched the pilot episode of The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries, articles that I’ve read about Sherlock floated through my mind. Specifically, the articles where people argue that the audience would roundly reject a female character as snarky, immune to social convention, and borderline sociopathic as Sherlock.

As it turns out, we have a case study, because lo! Mrs. Bradley is immensely snarky, immune to social convention, and borderline sociopathic to boot. “I don't care for the countryside,” she comments, wandering around the estate of a country house that she’s visiting. “To me, it's a soggy sort of place where animals and birds wander about uncooked.”

That’s the snark. The immunity to social convention kicks off in the first few minutes of the show, when Mrs. Bradley shows up late to her ex-husband’s funeral, tosses cigars on his grave, and comments to her son that his father was very dull and she divorced him in order to avoid being bored to death. “Marriage is one of those things it's best to get over and done with early in life,” she says. “Like chickenpox.”

Mrs. Bradley and her son don’t like each other very much. She thinks he, like his father, is terminally dull. On an American show, this on its own might be enough to prove borderline sociopathy, but - I’ve noticed this on other British shows, though to a lesser extent - here it’s not presented as particularly a problem.

Indeed, if anything, it’s a badge of awesomeness. Her son’s wife comments, “My husband's mother marches to the beat of a different drum.”

The son, grimly: “My mother has an entire orchestra of her own.”

But fear not, I have better proof of borderline sociopathy! Mrs. Bradley goes to a country house, where, naturally - this is the 1920s; what always happens in 1920s country houses? - there’s a murder. Mrs. Bradley enlists her chauffeur’s aid in trying to figure out how the murderer managed to drown the victim in a bathtub.

This involves grabbing him by the ankles and dragging his head underwater, then explaining the method of the crime to the air as he thrashes around, trying (not very successfully) not to drown. Well, but she had to see him thrash to make sure it made the right pattern of splash marks! And she lets him up before he actually drowns.

Okay, the almost-drowning made me twitchy, but otherwise I loved Mrs. Bradley. And if the Netflix reviews are anything to go by, most other viewers agree. It’s as if there were a show about the Dowager Countess of Grantham solving crimes.

So maybe the Sherlock articles were unduly pessimistic, after all. Or maybe there’s just not much overlap between people who watch The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries and the fandom audience the Sherlock articles were written for.
osprey_archer: (books)
More Newbery statistics! This time, I’ve broken down the books by gender of author and gender of protagonist.

Medal winners written by men: 31
Medal winners written by women: 61

(Some authors won multiple medals. As this would be a pain to count, I counted by book rather than author.)

Someone infinitely more dedicated than I am has crunched the Newbery numbers - not only for winners, but for nominees! - decade by decade for author gender: Gender Statistics and the Newberys. Brief summary: in the 1920s, all the winning books were written by men; in the 1930s, all winning books were written by women (possibly the committee felt a bit guilty about the twenties numbers?), and after that it settles into a pattern women consistently win a little more than twice as often.

I don’t know how this tracks on publishing industry statistics as a whole - if there are, in fact, twice as many female children’s book authors as male.

Male Protagonist: 49

Female Protagonist: 27

(Well, those are kind of appalling numbers.)

Co-protagonists/Multiple protagonists: 8 (I counted Ginger Pye, The Wheel on the School, From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler - sidenote, I love that book - Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH, The Westing Game, The View from Saturday, Criss Cross, and Moon Over Manifest. This is rather subjective, so other people might have a different count.)

No protagonist (the book is poetry or folktales or general nonfiction or what-have-you, although probably The Story of Man ought to count as a male protagonist): 6
osprey_archer: (books)
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Will James’ Smoky the Cowhorse, the only Western ever to win a Newbery Medal. I now have just three books left for the Newbery project, and all of them are on CD!

What I’m Reading Now

Clare Vanderpool’s Moon over Manifest, which is ostensibly the story of Abilene, but in fact is mostly the story of Jinx and Ned. (I am pretty sure that Jinx is going to turn out to be Abilene’s daddy, but we’ll see.)

So until recently, Abilene’s been riding the rails through the Depression Era Midwest with her daddy Gideon, but after she cut up her leg he sent her to the town of Manifest, where he spent some time as a boy. Abilene is our narrator, but most of the story concerns her digging up her daddy’s story, as he and his friend Ned dodge the Klan, learn how to make fireworks, and get caught up in the Great War fever.

It’s not precisely that I mind this, but it does feel a bit like Vanderpool made up a heroine then couldn’t think of an adventure to give her, so ended up writing mostly about her dad instead.

Last week, [livejournal.com profile] enemyfrigate asked whether there was any correlation between time period and gender of protagonist - if, that is, historical fiction books were more likely to have a male protagonists than contemporary fiction. The answer is “Not particularly” - I have the numbers below the cut, if you’re interested.

But there is a definite correlation between gender of protagonists and type of plot. The historical fiction books about boys tend to be adventure stories, descended loosely from Treasure Island, while the ones about girls are coming of age stories in the mode of Anne of Green Gables. Many of the boys come of age too, but they usually do so through the medium of adventure.

Here’s how the numbers stacked up: Behind the cut )

What I Plan to Read Next

School has started, so mostly I’m reading books for class. However, once I finish listening to Moon Over Manifest, I’m moving on to Criss Cross.
osprey_archer: (friends)
I’ve been meaning to write a post about Sarah Monette’s Doctrine of Labyrinths quartet for a long while now, because it is the perfect blend of awesome and problematic that ought to be productive of a thousand posts. If “This story fairly drips with angst and woe” makes you perk up and take notice, then man oh man, this may be the series for you.

My very favorite character doesn’t show up until the last book, Corambis, in which Monette basically managed to pile all my favorite things onto a single angst-ridden character: Kay, who was a leading figure in a battle for independence that just failed utterly when Kay’s would-be king (with whom Kay was secretly and unrequitedly in love) died in a magic spell gone horribly wrong, which also blinded Kay.

Blind, deprived of his cause, bound to the would-be king’s catafalque in a great hall in the middle of a city where people come and stare at him like a zoo animal - OH THE ANGST.

(This also highlights one of the more problematic aspects of the series, which is that it tends to eroticize the misery and vulnerability of the characters.)

But I’ve put off my reviews because, as appealing as I find the the worldbuilding and the endless angst, Monette’s handling of female characters has always troubled me - but in a way that I found hard to articulate. What is there to complain about in “Sarah Monette’s female characters are all so functional and efficient and on top of things”?

However, the article I hate Strong Female Characters has shaken a few thoughts loose. The capitalization is important here: the author is not complaining about strong female characters, who are well-written and well-rounded and important actors in their stories, but about the archetype of the Strong Female Character, who shows that she’s effective and can fight and thus circumvents feminist criticism about the tiresome commonality of damsels in distress - but nonetheless remains subsidiary.

(The article is worth reading. The key sentence, with which I agree wholeheartedly, is that “We need get away from the idea that sexism in fiction can be tackled by reliance on depiction of a single personality type, that you just need to write one female character per story right and you’ve done enough.”)

And this is what bothers me about most of Monette’s female characters in the Doctrine of Labyrinths (aside from Ginevra Thomson). They're generally Strong; you could not accuse, say, Mehitabel Parr of being a damsel in distress: she’s brisk and efficient and goes after what she wants.

But Monette’s strength lies in creating characters who are interesting because they’re angsty and tortured and make terrible and self-destructive decisions because their miserable pasts have messed up their senses of self-worth so badly. They may nonetheless be strong, in their own way; but there is no way to make "bound to a catafalque" fit into the box of Strong. And none of these qualities make for brisk efficiency.

And there is something really rather off-putting about the fact that briskness seems to be the most important indicator of a female character’s worth: that you can tell this is a good character because she isn’t going to take up too much narrative space. She will briskly do her duty in the story, and won’t take time away from the main characters’ angsty brooding.
osprey_archer: (friends)
Becky came down to visit me and see Despicable Me 2 this weekend. Her visit was awesome! But the movie itself, not so much.

First: I thought the minions were adorable in the first movie, but they really get too much screen time in this one, and it made the movie drag. Their scenes seemed flabby: they neither advance the plot nor get any character development - one might object that the minions can’t talk, but then, neither could WALL-E or EVE in WALL-E, and they had had a full-blown romance.

Second: I think Gru’s love interest Lucy was supposed to come across as adorably awkward, but she tended to strike me as embarrassment-squicky awkward, which made her scenes rather painful. Moreover, a lot of the humor in the movie revolved around romance, and it just struck me flat. I particularly disliked the scene at the beginning, with the busybody woman trying to set Gru up with her ugly friend. Haha, ugly women, their existence is hilarious!

Mostly the movie strengthened the impression that The Lorax gave me of Illuminations Entertainment: their work is cute and fun and flashy, but that’s a pretty wrapping that only half-hides the fact that their stories are soulless.


A few weeks ago Emma and Rick and I had an argument about Most Feminist American Animation Studio, with them on the side of Pixar and me on the side of Disney, partly to be contrarian, and partly because - Pixar. We are talking about the company that didn’t make any movies with a female lead for more than two decades, right?

Sure, they have some great female characters (Dory! EVE! Ellie! Never mind she dies in the first ten minutes of the movie...). But the female characters are woefully outnumbered by male characters, and until Brave it was always, always the male characters who were the center of the story.

Whatever else Disney does wrong, it’s the only major American animation studio that has a commitment to making films with female main characters who are the center of the story rather than a love interest or a sidekick, and who drive the forward motion of the plot. Films that are specifically aimed at girls.

I tend to think this makes people more willing to criticize Disney - that making stories for girls puts a target on their back, because culturally we’re more willing to criticize things that are aimed at women. Look at the scorn heaped on romance novels.

In any case, thinking back now, I think the whole premise of our argument was flawed: both Pixar and Disney have strengths in their portrayals of female characters, but they also both have such massive blind spots that it’s rather silly to argue about which is more feminist. The correct answer is clearly “neither.”

And perhaps also “Why should this contest be limited to American animation studios?” Because if we open it up to include the whole globe, then clearly Studio Ghibli wins hands down.
osprey_archer: (Firefly)
Firefly Wednesday! We watched "Shindig" today, for which I have a fondness because it features Kaylee in a ridiculous poufy dress, and all things that make Kaylee happy make me happy. I am only sorry that we do not get to see Kaylee showing her ridiculous poufy dress to an admiring Inara.

Otherwise "Shindig" drives me up the wall, and I'm contemplating not doing anymore write-ups, because really, there are only so many different ways to say "Mal is the WORST love interest everty-ever and what the fuck does he mean when he tells Inara, 'I don't respect your job, but Atherton doesn't respect you.'"

Seriously, what does that even mean? What does Mal do that suggests he respects Inara as a person? What does respecting Inara as a person even mean, when she as a person is so shaped by the job that he despises and denigrates at every opportunity? It would be like dating an Olympic athlete, whose entire life is shaped around perfecting their sports excellence, and saying "I not only think your sport is worthless, but think that pursuing it means you're dishonest and morally compromised. But, like, I respect you."

Respect, like love, is an action - or rather, a whole series of actions, an attitude composed of actions. If it's nothing but an unexpressed emotion, then it's worthless to the person you claim to respect and/or love.

Are we supposed to go, "OMG Mal knocked on her shuttle door at the beginning of this episode rather than just barging in! RESPECT"?

...Honestly, the vibe I got off of Mal's fight with Atherton is that he doesn't like other people playing with his toys, and he's afraid that Inara might actually like this one so of course Mal needs to pick a fight. And of course the episode colludes to make Mal absolutely right - Atherton Wing is clearly a horror - which makes Inara look foolish, because how did she not notice Atherton was a controlling jerk?

Has being around Mal already warped her understanding of acceptable behavior that much?

And then! And then! Mal stabs Atherton in the stomach while Atherton is on the ground, at his mercy. Twice. In a manner that is presented as charmingly roguish rather than, oh, I don't know, rankly bullying? After all, Inara walks off with him arm in arm afterward, and viewers never really disapprove of behavior that gets the girl.

...I'm starting to feel like I should tag these entries "why I hate Mal (and you should, too!)"
osprey_archer: (books)
Yesterday, after I completed my list of favorite child characters, I realized that all the characters I’d listed were girls. It’s not that I avoided male protagonists as a child - I read pretty much everything - but clearly I imprinted on the girls.

Every so often I’ll stumble on someone bemoaning the fact that there’s nothing for girls to read that has good role models, and, okay, have you looked at children’s literature recently? And by recently I mean “within the last two decades.” Because for most of my childhood I did nothing but read and I never had a problem finding books with heroines I enjoyed.

If you’re looking specifically for books about Girls Who Fight, then yes, the pickings are rather slim. There’s all of Tamora Pierce’s books. And Crown Duel. And The Hunger Games and Graceling and, oh, the Narnia books, and the Fearless series which is admittedly a bit out of date, and the Gallagher Girls series - they spy, I’m assuming they fight? - and the Samurai Girl books and, oh wait, I lied, there are PILES of books about girls who can probably beat you into the floor.

Which is great! But frankly, if Girl with Sword is the only kind of character who falls under your “good role model” rubric, then you - and I say this as someone who loves Girls Who Kick Ass books! - are doing this wrong.

There’s a huge selection of awesome girl characters, and moreover, there has been basically since Jo March in Little Women proved that awesomeness sold. Early twentieth century fiction teems with amazing heroines! I am an expert in the field. Brave girls (with swords and without!), smart girls, funny girls, artsy girls, imaginative dreamy shy girls, and any one of these characters can be a good role model.

Which is not to say that girls’ fiction is totally perfect in every way and we ought to stop fretting about it; but we should fret about things that are actually problems. Sheer quantity is not an issue in Anglophone fiction and hasn’t been for over a century.
osprey_archer: (kitty)
My friend Micky shared this with me, and I must pass it on to you because if I do not share the pain, my head may explode.

Is Jane Austen So Popular Because Her Books Are Kinda Just Highbrow Twlight?

This is a troll, right? This article has to be in bad faith. Baker is insulting Austen fans (because Austen fans clearly don't get insulted enough) by comparing their beloved books to Twilight, which is even more socially despised - Austen fans may be a little weird, but Twilight fans are positively derided.

Of course being lumped in with literary pariahs will infuriate Austen fans! The article is designed lure us into reiterating the misogyny which is inherent in so much Twilight criticism in an attempt to distance ourselves from it. "Darcy is not like Edward Cullen at all! He differs in X, Y, and Z respects! I may be into girly things, but not I'm not that kind of girl!"

It has lines like "Stephenie Meyer produced a movie about 'about a lonely Jane Austen fan who falls in love at an Austen theme park.' Triple gag."

Because ew, Stephanie Meyer! She has girl cooties! As do lonely Jane Austen fans and Austen resorts, because it is a clear and obvious fact that all things Austen are girl-cootie-ful and therefore gag-worthy. Because girly things are ipso facto gagtastic. Because REASONS.

Baker also comments that her favorite classic novels are Wharton's, because "Wharton's novels are actually cynical (read: realistic) and the opposite of romantic" - read: completely devoid of girl cooties.

Wharton books are not only unromantic, but aggressively anti-romantic - romance pretty much requires characters who are capable of loving someone other than themselves, which Wharton characters generally are not (except Gertie Farish. I love you, Gertie Farish!).

Why did Jezebel publish this? Is it a cynic ploy for hits? Or do they intend to sit back and feel superior in the face of the frothing Twilight hate? (So far, most of the commenters are refraining from froth. Is it a bad sign when the commenters are more thoughtful than the original article?)
osprey_archer: (friends)
This post. So much this post. Thinking of women as likeable in a misogynistic culture is truly a radical act.

It’s about the fact that American culture tries to teach us to see women as default unlikeable, and the fact that one of the most radical things we can do is to refuse to buy into that. To assume that the women we meet, and the female characters we read and watch, are likeable until proven otherwise.

This is, for me, the heart of being a feminist. We can speak all the right words, about rape culture and slut-shaming, and fathom all the mysteries of the patriarchy, and stand up against the iniquities of the earth, but without love, it is nothing. Without love, feminism can be used as just one more set of criteria to impose on women: yet another definition of the right way to be a woman, and yet another way to shame women who don’t fit that definition.

I always wince when I hear someone brag that they have “high standards” for female characters - that before they’ll deign to like a female character, she has to demonstrate X amount of awesomeness. Because we’ll just spot likeability to male characters, but women have to prove that they’re worth our time and sympathy, apparently.

It’s not that we should fling all criteria for judgment out the window - there are bad women just as there are bad men. But we should try to like more female characters - and more female people - not less. A mature philosophy (and I mean this not only about feminism) is one that enlarges our circle of compassion toward the world.
osprey_archer: (books)
I finished The Feminization of American Culture. GLORY HALLELUJAH, I'm free, free, FREE! It's been ages since I read a book so intensely inimical to me.

For someone so enchanted by "masculine" rigorousness, Douglas is a notably fuzzy thinker. She seesaws between exalting strength and decrying oppression, never realizing that at some point one really must choose whether one wishes to eulogize strength or sympathize with weakness, or, more importantly, realizing that she has chosen. Anti-oppession gestures aside - and I do think these gestures are sincerely meant - Douglas is ultimately on the side of strength.

This is not so much because she loves oppressors as because she viscerally loathes sentimentalism and the feminine, and the liberal theology that she sees as their creature. All these doctrines, in her mind, are weak, inherently out of touch with reality, opposed to the "intellectual rigor and imaginative precision" of the (masculine) Calvinist vision, which to her mind is more realistic.

Indeed, she goes on to argue that liberal theology, and the New Testament sources it draws from, are actually immoral. The "paradoxical anti-morality of the New Testament," she calls it; and expands, explicating a temperance poem, “The wife has been (one assumes) unfairly treated; but, in a curious way, she is pledging to treat her sinful spouse equally unfairly. He has given less than what she has earned, she will pay him with more than he deserves, but the principle is the same.”

Did you catch that? Mercy, Christian charity, generosity, love - all these things that we (and, you know, Jesus) thought were virtues - they're all immoral, because they go behind the strict demands of fairness, and fairness is morality. The highest moral good is tit-for-tat. The Old Testament Calvinists had it right with the image of an implacably wrathful Cthulhu God. Unjust such a God may be, but at least He is glorious and strong, and to Douglas that's the most important thing.

Thus, the fact that it never seems to intrude on her concerns that her beloved, rigorous, "realistic" Calvinists did not recognize - or, more importantly, effectively mobilize against - the evils of slavery. It took those unrealistic, sentimentalist, girl-cootie-covered abolitionists to do that.
osprey_archer: (books)
I've been reading Ann Douglas's The Feminization of American Culture, which is exceptionally frustrating in the way that only academic feminist-leaning books from the seventies can be. There is this sense - how do I explain it? - that Douglas has really bought into the valorization of the masculine: that she really believes that war and strength and rigorous logic are essentially masculine (and automatically interesting), and sentimentality and weakness are essentially feminine (and soppy and boring).

Rather than rejecting this binary as inherently unfair, she seems to think that the problem is solely that people see masculinity as a boys-only club. And thus, she mourns the descent of stringent Puritan theology into liberal religious sentimentality. The Puritan construction of God-as-Cthulhu might not be very attractive, but by God at least it was rigorous and manly.

It's not that I think she ought to enjoy sentimentalist literature. But there's a difference between saying "This kind of extravagant emotionality is not really to my taste, or to modern taste generally, but let's consider why people might have liked it in the context of their time" - you know, actually considering it historically - and saying, "This sentimentalism is so girly and icky and it valorizes, of all things, WEAKNESS. Weakness! I ask you! Most unforgivable character trait in the world. We should all be strength-worshipping Nietzscheans!"

This is still an implicit attitude I see a lot in feminist-leaning criticism of pop culture. No character trait is less excusable than weakness. We should all despise Fanny Price and her milquetoast sisters. No, we shouldn't sympathize with their suffering: they brought it on themselves by their own weakness, they basically deserve it for daring to be born shy and retiring and in a situation where there was no encouragement for them to work past that.

This isn't to say that we shouldn't criticize patterns of portraying women as weak. But there's a world of difference between saying "This pattern of character portrayal is bad, and we should change it," and "Weak people suck! They deserve to suffer for being so weak! How dare they let themselves be victimized???"
osprey_archer: (kitty)
Sexism in action: we assigned an article for a short response paper. The author's name is listed prominently right below the title, and is pretty obviously female.

About half of my students assumed the author must be a he.


And I was so optimistic after the last paper, when most of them were surprisingly thoughtful and sympathetic about the black power movement! It's always the unconscious assumptions that get you, I guess.
osprey_archer: (downton abbey)
Ethel walks onstage in season 2 of Downton Abbey with a "Kick me!" sign on her back. Not literally, of course; but she's signposted as a disposable and despicable character.

Ethel starts her career at Downton by being rude to Anna, proceeds to sneer at the other servants for being content to remain in service, and then foolishly falls for it when O'Brien, with transparent malice, tells her that Lady Grantham wants to see her in the drawing room to congratulate her for doing so well on her first day - a prospect that Ethel should know was ridiculous, if she hadn't been so busy sneering during Anna's Country House 101.

With a beginning like this, it's no surprise when Ethel gets caught in flagrante with a soldier (of course nothing happens to him) and summarily sacked, only to wind up having the soldier's bastard child - which of course he refuses to acknowledge or support.

Abstractly I was sorry that Ethel was suffering so much and so unjustly, giving us a crash course in the vulnerability of maidservants. But really I didn't care a twig about her or her storyline, and felt the time would have been much better spent on Sybil & Branson, or on Edith, or really any of the characters we got to know and love in season one.

Extraneous and boring storylines are bad enough. But for a story like Ethel's, which is supposed to be consciousness-raising - being a maid could really suck, you guys! - an irritatingly boring storyline extra-problematic, because it makes the whole issue of sexual exploitation of maids seem unimportant and tiresome. Same tired old story (with an ennui-laden sigh): yet another girl getting taken advantage of. How trite.

(Apparently women's pain is interesting only if it's not about anything women classically suffer over. Bad break-ups, cruel boyfriends or husbands, rape, unwanted pregnancies, miscarriages - trite! I despise the word trite.)

For the storyline to work - to be interesting, and to highlight the issue of maidservants' vulnerability - it needed to feature a character who didn't walk in wearing a "Kick me!" sign. The victim needed to be someone we knew and loved, whose suffering we'll feel like a kick in the gut. Daisy, perhaps?

Of course it would be awful to watch sweet, naive Daisy suffer like that, and I would have been miserable and hated it and thrown things at the screen, but that's the point. If you want to bring home the horror of the sexual vulnerability and exploitation of maids, then the injured maid has to be a character we'll be horrified to see hurt.


osprey_archer: (Default)

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