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shaking off the dust

17 Apr

Oh goodness Internet it has been a weird couple of years. Years? Oh gosh I can’t believe it’s been that long. It has been a whirlwind adventure, let me tell you.

(Disclaimer: it has not been a whirlwind adventure.)

But my dear friend Amy started a fabulous blog about YA lit and intersectionality, which inspired me, and I read a few books a friend sent me, cheery female-oriented Elizabethan YA, and I gave a deathglare to another friend when she described Jane Austen as “Victorian”, and I was like “really, the Internet should hear my thoughts on these things! So here we are. Things I will be focusing on, in case you have forgotten: history, especially historical fiction and movies, social history, cultural and material history, books and movies (especially when they have a historical slant), really interesting ladies and anecdotes from history, how writing is the stupidest hobby ever and I don’t understand why I do it, that kind of thing.

Yes, I’m currently trying to punch a draft into readable shape, how did you guess?

Coming soon: I will either wax rhapsodic about my love for Kashmira Sheth’s wonderful novel Keeping Corner, or get ridiculously defensive and fist-shaky (in the vein of those Mrs. Bennet posts I’m still pretty fond of) about girl groups. Or just capslock a lot about some of my favorite stories from history. Now THOSE will be whirlwind adventures.

Oh noes!

3 Nov

So November is NaNoWriMo, and I’ve also got some job- and job-search-related stuff going on this month besides, which was always going to make it crazy.

But then! I was sitting at home on the couch on the first day of the month, drinking a morning cup of tea and hoping that what I figured was a standard air-pressure-triggered headache would go away soon, when all of a sudden I was struck by a wave of nausea and general crappy-feeling-ness, so intense I found myself closing my eyes and trying to breathe through it. Turns out I’ve got the swine flu! True story, my friends, true story.

The point being, the scarcity will definitely continue throughout most of November. My apologies. :(

In which revelations are made and a lot of scare quotes are used.

3 Sep

MSNBC has a shocking news bulletin for us all: geeks can sometimes be ladies now! I am totally blown away by this news. Things I like about this article, for values of “like” that include a lot of sarcasm and not-actually-liking-them-at-all:

  1. Lady geeks are characterized as “invaders”!
  2. Oh there is so much to be “delighted” at in this paragraph.

    While any kind of growth in the industry would seem like good news, it hasn’t come without its share of backlash. Blogs since this year’s convention have taken male/female sides on everything from the potential sexism of the convention’s “booth babes” to complaints about the influx of female “Twilight” fans.

    Because this year was entirely the first time that women have ever made known their discomfort with some of the prevailing sexism in geek culture! Just because you have only now discovered that ladies can be geeks does not mean ladies have just now started being geeks, people.

  3. The use of the phrase “potential sexism” in referring to booth babes. There is nothing inherently sexist about using scantily-clad ladies to draw people in! It’s just that the potential is there.
  4. The use of the phrase “female ‘Twilight’ fans”, which is rubbing me the wrong way for a lot of different reasons. Would male Twilight fans be better?
  5. The fact that I find myself in a position where I feel compelled to defend Twilight, or at least its fans, because even if I think their books and movies are incredibly stupid and offensive, I think these characterizations of lady geeks are even more stupid and offensive.

In conclusion, thank you, MSNBC, for this earth-shattering “news”!

In which there is a hard truth.

2 Sep

So Sady Doyle over at Tiger Beatdown1 made a fantastic post linking to a piece she wrote at Salon’s Broadsheet, specifically on Sophie Tucker, who was this fantastic, badass performer in the early part of the century, but who got her start performing in blackface. More generally Doyle is focusing on an important truth about history, namely that, as she says in the subject line of the post on her blog, “History Is Uncomfortable“.

I guess this ties in a bit with what I said before, about how history is hard to impose a narrative on and maybe we should consider that difficulty as a warning not to. There’s any number of motivations the Serious Historian could ascribe to Tucker for her blackface career: Doyle notes that “biographer Armond Fields contends that she was told to put on blackface, not because she was fat, but because she was Jewish. The burnt cork did not hide pure privilege, but a different kind of marginalization, less acceptable because it was authentic,” and later speculates for herself that “at first, her bossiness and appetite may have been acceptable because they promoted a stereotype: a big, sassy, sexual black woman was easy to laugh at.” There are, like, a billion papers you could write here, and also probably a lot of novels or short stories or biopics, too, I am just saying.

This is sort of a constant theme for me: this fine line one has to walk in studying history between an observer’s detachment and a humanist’s sensibilities. I don’t think I’d say—and this is why I don’t think I entirely fit in in academia, that and my inability to go for more than a few minutes without capslocking—that you shouldn’t judge the actions of historical figures, because those who forget the past blah blah blah, but you have to remember as you do so that the past really is another country, and then some: they didn’t just wear different clothes and use different technology, they thought differently. Values and mindsets were different, and saying “no one should be doing this today”, or even “no one should have done that” period is not at all the same as saying “I can’t understand why that would have happened”. History doesn’t happen in a vacuum. But then, of course you can’t get stuck in detachment mode, either, because the past may be another country, but it’s the one we’ve come from in getting here and so it’s a part of us.

Also I mix my metaphors like crazy, that’s probably another reason I’m not good at academia.

1. WHY ISN’T EVERYONE IN THE WORLD READING TIGER BEATDOWN, IT IS AMAZING.

In which I wax melancholy.

1 Sep

So the other day, at a forum I hang out on, we were talking about books we’d read in school, and someone took a casual poll: how many books had we read that didn’t feature white male protagonists? The responses ran the gamut from a lot (from people who’d gone to girls’ schools) to none. I guess I was lucky: for twelve years of public school, I need two hands to count the number of books I read featuring protagonists who weren’t white males (plus a couple like Frankenstein, about white males but written by women).  The response that stuck out in my mind, though, was the person who mentioned that they’d read none, and while they were supposed to read Lois Lowry’s Number The Stars (still one of my favorite books since I first read it in third or fourth grade), “they got worried that the boys wouldn’t read a book about a girl”.

Let me repeat that: the one book about a female character this woman was supposed to read in twelve years of public school was pulled from the curriculum, because they were worried that the boys wouldn’t read a book about a girl. Did anyone think to ask whether the girls were interested in reading more books about boys? Did anyone think “gee, maybe this is how the female students feel all the time“? If they did, they never said it, or there weren’t enough people saying it.

(I wonder, sometimes, whether all the handwringing about how hard it is to get boys to read isn’t related to the fact that if girls want to see people like themselves in their books, they have to learn to seek books out on their own. This is far too simple an explanation to be the only one, and of course I have no evidence to back it up; it’s more an idle thought.)

This sat with me for a week or so after I read it, and I had a whole lot of rambling thoughts about how we devalue women’s stories, tying in chick lit and romance. But I couldn’t really come up with anything to tie it all together. Then, yesterday, it was announced that Disney had bought Marvel Comics, and the Washington Post wrote (emphasis mine):

Disney also gets a way to latch onto new boy fans, Iger said during a CNBC interview on Monday morning, a demographic the company has overlooked in recent years. Disney has successfully repackaged female characters such as Cinderella and Pocahontas into a “princess” line of merchandise. The move brought in more girls as fans but largely excluded boys.

Never mind that every single Pixar film has been about a male or male-coded protagonist. Never mind that girls might be interested in superheroes as well as princesses, just like they’re interested in robots falling in love and clownfish families trying to be reunited (or, for that matter, just like boys like a friend’s then-two-year-old son might be interested in pretending to be princesses). No—the only consumers Disney is interested in are the male ones.

I guess in light of the Sodini shooting it does make a little more sense: given how little women’s lives mean to our society, it’s not surprising women’s stories don’t mean anything, either.

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15 Feb

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