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Hello, Ladies ([personal profile] helloladies) wrote in [community profile] ladybusiness2012-01-20 23:30

Sidetracks - Episode III

Sidetracks is a collaborative project featuring various essays, videos, reviews, or other Internet content that we want to share with each other. All past and current links for the Sidetracks project can be found in our Sidetracks tag.





text that says Ana's Section

➝ I really enjoyed this panel on Young Adult Speculative Fiction at SF Signal — so many smart people saying interesting things all in one place! It touches on many things, including the clear disconnect between the YA and speculative fiction communities. I would love to one day see an in-depth discussion of the possible gendered elements behind this.

Being conscious about gender — Malinda Lo on writing passive female characters. There was a lot about this post that I found very useful, but at the same time, I really don't want writing passive female characters to become kryptonite. There's a difference between fictional ladies being passive by default and being passive in a story that is in part about their passivity and the culture that shapes and encourages it — novels like Consequences by E.M. Delafield or Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson come to mind. I think these are excellent feminist novels, even though their protagonists are the opposite of what we understand by feminist heroines. It's all in the handling.

If the Clothes Fit: A Feminist Take on Fashion — I would love to read a whole book about gender and fashion. Recommendations, anyone?

How I Live Now: The Sequel — the always awesome Meg Rosoff on how books belong to their readers.

➝ Look, look! Tor.com has clips from The Legend of Korra. Cue in much excited squealing. (PS: Don't Read the Comments™.)

This is an old post about the potential problematic elements of costume dramas, which I'm sharing mostly so you can join me in headdesking over Hugh Bonneville's comments about Downton Abbey. The post then gets much, much worse, but I would expect no less from Daily Fail commenters. Conversations about these things often turn into exercises in guilt-tripping people for what they enjoy, which is something I don't believe in at all — thoughtfulness and critical thinking can easily co-exist with enjoyment, after all. But the comments on this post are interesting and refrain from doing that.

Are Women People? — a fascinating piece about a book of suffragette poems the author randomly discovered on Project Gutenberg, and which I now of course want to read. I should add that "the sheer bounty, the gems you’ve never heard of on Project Gutenberg, which are yours, for free, and which will break you with gratitude" are definitely also my favourite thing about having an e-reader so far.

A woman's place — a Sydney Morning Herald piece on literary sexism and the ways we're all socialised to privilege men's writing. Many thanks to [twitter.com profile] irisonbooks and [twitter.com profile] beautyandthecat for the link.

A letter from a 14-year-old to Lego:
Quite honestly, I don’t have that much of a problem with you painting your new Legos pink. Lots of girls like pink, and while that fact is an incitement of our popular culture in itself, it’s not your fault. In addition, adding pink might encourage some girls to try Legos. My problem is with the theme of the collection, and the ideas it enshrines. You are telling girls that they can do, or should do, nothing more than sit and prink. You are telling girls that the boys get to have all the fun, while they have to stay home and be bored. You are saying that all girls care about is makeup and how they look, when in reality there is so much more.

Yes, more. I always worry this kind of thing will turn into "even girls have girl cooties because girl things just suck", but she's too smart to do that.

Undoing Gender Math Stereotypes — yay, science.




text that says Jodie's Section

➝ Lots and lots of previously unseen pictures from Scott's expedition to the South Pole. I am a little obsessed with stories of exploration.

➝ The BBC ran a series of three programs called 'Stargazing Live' this week, about the wonders of the universe and oh my, they were fascinating and reasonably accessible to someone like me with no real scientific background. The whole team of presenters and invited scientists were enthusiastic, passionate and serious, but I just wanted to highlight one of the contributors, Lucie Green and give you a chance to check out some of the science work she's done with the media.

➝ Possibly one of the oddest, most indefensible cases of book banning I've heard about so far has taken place in Tucson, Arizona. It seems an ethnic studies program that demonstrates measurable results is being shut down, because it tells the truth about history and there's a white guy in power who doesn't like the way this version of history makes other dead white people sound. Karen Healey sets out the details in Save Ethnic Studies in Tucson.

➝ I wanted to show off the cool handmade octopus ring I got for my birthday. I asked for a squid ring because of my interest in marine life and because I had just become besotted by 'Kraken', but this whole online store is full of gorgeous monochrome, acrylic jewellery.

Illustrated maps are pretty.

➝ Sarwat Chadda's Billi SanGreal books are on their way to becoming a TV series. I love these books (and am sad that it seems the third one has been put on the back burner for now), so I'm really excited that we could get a kickass TV program as well.

➝ If anyone is making 'what to do in England lists' let me make a passionate plea for you to add The National Portrait Gallery to your top five. The Gallery contains so many surprising pictures of your favourite historical figures (yes I have favourites and they include Oliver Cromwell) and houses the only portrait of Shakespeare thought to have been painted from life (Shakespeare was a distinctly attractive rake, with an earring). And for those who like modern portraits, the National Portrait Award exhibition is worth seeing as well (I saw that on tour though, not in London).

Anyway, I got distracted singing the praises of the Portrait Gallery. What I actually meant to link you to was Vulpes Libres recent post about a new exhibition there, showing portraits of people who can't be identified, which is a project designed to make me release all my social history nerd feelings on the Internet. Ordinary people in history! The impossibility of holding onto all our past! Everybody had a story! Selection by importance! Fallibility!

Anyway a group of well known writers were commissioned to write stories to go alongside
some of the paintings and while initially I thought 'woah, bad idea', Vulpes Libres says that the resulting book is good. They actually managed to convince me I would like it by disagreeing with one writer's assessment of character. What can I say, I am contradictory and like to see people argue with the chroniclers.




text that says Renay's Section

➝ I really enjoyed this post from The Pervocracy about consent culture, specifically this:
I think part of the reason we have trouble drawing the line "it's not okay to force someone into sexual activity" is that in many ways, forcing people to do things is part of our culture in general. Cut that shit out of your life. If someone doesn't want to go to a party, try a new food, get up and dance, make small talk at the lunchtable—that's their right. Stop the "aww c'mon" and "just this once" and the games where you playfully force someone to play along. Accept that no means no—all the time.

➝ Foz Meadows puts into words how I grew frustrated with the YA community back in 2009 but could never really express:

Like Tyrion Lannister, we have taken the things for which others sought to mock us — magic, dragons, elves, dwarves, wizards, kings, quests — and made them our strongest armour. We have proved we are not ashamed, because there is nothing in what we love to shame us. And yet, this success has come at a cost. By choosing to present a united front, we have forcibly ignored internal dissent. By armouring ourselves in tropes, we have bred homogeneity in their expression. By refusing to be criticised for what we are, we have started ignoring criticism of what we’ve done. And now that we are a force to be reckoned with, we are using that force to suppress our own diversity. It’s understandable — but it’s not acceptable.


It's a great post. I'm not surprised it's easily applied to SF/F and YA both. So often I see blogs going, "posting negative reviews makes me uncomfortable." and it's easy enough to see why, if the reaction is a questioning of your mental health and authors/agents mocking you on Twitter. The whole post is fabulous and makes other excellent points. Definitely worth checking out.

SFWA Names Connie Willis Recipient of the 2011 Damon Knight Memorial Grand Master Award! I guess this means I should be reading her work before people that shall remain nameless come after me with a pitchfork and rope and that eye contraption from A Clockwork Orange.

➝ There's a wonderful review of A Wind in the Door up at Tor.com. When asked by some unsuspecting person to pick the favorite books from my childhood, depending on my mood I may unload a list of terrible but amazing Sweet Valley University titles, or some terrible historical fantasy YA with shapeshifters, or god, horrible tweeny romance novels mass produced in some kind of hivemind where all the characters were the same but with different names and plots. In fact, I believe that hivemind was latter tapped to help produce every teen movie of the late 90s and it was really, really good for me. But the book I never fail to put on the list is A Wind in the Door. I checked out A Wrinkle in Time so many times, but A Wind in the Door was my favorite. Meg and Calvin, Progo, kything. This book is hugely important to me. I have a domain called echthroi.org and my partner of almost ten years has a domain named echthroi.com and it's because of these domains that we met (Googling yourself sometimes pays off). This book changed my life when I read it as a kid, and changed my life again when I reread it and chose a domain to remind myself to always, always Name people. L'Engle was one of my introductions to fantastic literature, to fantasy and science fiction and the impossible made probable within the confines of a page. There's a celebration going around for the 50th Anniversary edition of A Wrinkle in Time. The book definitely deserves it, but for myself, A Wind in the Door will always remain my favorite of the series.

➝ Cracked.com posted The Five Stupidest Habits You Develop Growing Up Poor. There's so much truth in this for me and I'm still suffering from some of the things it talks about, specifically about spending money:
When a windfall check is dropped in your lap, you don't know how to handle it. Instead of thinking, "This will cover our rent and bills for half a year," you immediately jump to all the things you've been meaning to get, but couldn't afford on your regular income. If you don't buy it right now, you know that the money will slowly bleed away to everyday life over the course of the next few months, leaving you with nothing to show for it. Don't misunderstand me here, it's never a "greed" thing. It's a panic thing. "We have to spend this before it disappears."

Oh god. My life. It's all so painfully true.

➝ I took a look at my last.fm lists for the past year and it was pretty dire: lady, dude, dude, dudes, dudes with one lady, dude, dude, and so on. I decided to make it a goal to search out more female artists. Ana recommended me Bat for Lashes, who is really lovely. Siren Song is very low key and sort of makes me want to burn some incense. Then break out in hives from the smoke. But I would still feel super cool for about three minutes.
bookgazing: (Default)

[personal profile] bookgazing 2012-01-22 03:50 (UTC)(link)
I agree with your point about some of the journalism. At least that's why I haven't said anything about all the Lego links a flying, because I was trying to work out quite how close this commentary comes to 'being into boys stuff is the only way to be a feminist/ positively grow up as a girl' stuff. It's tricky to work out, but I can see why older women would be so invested in the original Lego line - not just because of the reasons you've explored (I guess I should state here that I had both toys traditionally for boys like my own airport set and trains, as well as toys that were traditionally for girls like Polly Pocket and Barbies - declares toy interests like a grown up ;) ) but because creating a Lego 'for girls', well, it does mean Lego are inevitably caught up in the 'why do we need a seperate line, why can't it be both progressive and integrated' argument.

I think that's a good argument to check out. The market research suggests that girls don't like the original boxy characters, which seems to make a case for a seperate line, unless the boys can be shown to be just as happy with Friends like figures as they are with original Lego models. Is research into that pending? Is it likely to ever happen, considering that boys will play with the original figures and change costs money? And I'd like to see if someone if able to interrogate the Lego market research and ask why girls prefer figures that look more human like (it's unlikely that it's just a natural preference spread over a wide range of girls, so it's socialisation, but is it positive, or negative socialisation). These are all questions I have, that I'd like to see satisfied and that will always be hanging until Lego does some more research. At the same time I agree that some of the coverage of this issues seems a bit unbalanced.

I think my problem with the colour coding (the pink, purple and the pastel) is less about Lego specifically, and more that I'd rather nothing was gender colour coded. It's not that I want primary colours to be everywhere because they're idk cooler, it's more that I wish colours weren't associated with genders when it comes to marketing. I'm not really sure how we get out of this trap now that they are. I don't like that Lego went the pink, purple, or pastel route with the Friends brand because I'm not convinced that girls respond better to those colours than they would to say a whole lot of bright yellow and blue. But I'm also not exactly thrilled that the main Lego brand (which has according to their research at least never succeeded at attracting large amounts of girls and as you say has never really made any attempt to be gender neutral) doesn't seem to include purple and pastel so obviously, because is there really a whole lot of research to suggest that boys don't respond to purple and pastel (Ana will know better than me and will know if it's research that could be challenged by making societal changes)? As you say Lego could have made everything pink and they've avoided that...great - but they still seem to be gender colour coding. And that troubles me, along with the fact that they're probably not going to make colour changes to their existing main lines. If they were evening the colours out across the lines, so that we didn't even really notice that one kind of colour (primary or pastel) dominated one kind of line I'd feel more positive about their approach to colours.

I'm being a bit harder on Lego than I might be on a company just starting out with a line like Friends, or an individual who was trying to be progressive but maybe falling short of idealistic standards because, well, I kind of think a company that creates a project which has had such a dearth of active female figures and focus up until now has to expect their efforts at encouraging a growth in female consumers to be examined intensely. Do I think that means the Friends line needs to cease to exist as some do? Well, no. Like you, I think this is a start. I also think that Lego should have started a long time ago and now they're playing catch up, which means criticism, when appropriate, is more likely to be the order of the day than praise, until they get a bit further and because they're a big corporation they are equipped to take that. That doesn't mean that I personally think all criticism of the product is absolutely right, or that I'm not worried about the particular way some of the criticism has been formed. But I do think Lego are going to have to do a lot more before I'm going to see them as progressive, in any other way than in relation to other toy companies (who, wow, I will tell you the horror story about a company I've personally heard talking about toys if you like). They don't have to be perfect, or fit my own personal definition of feminist allies, but they do have to do more, because they've done so much that isn't good before. I know that probably sounds harsh, but it's kinda the way I feel.

Totally want to acknowledge that your post about this issue made me think deep about this piece of news and gave me extra things to factor in. I'm so happy that we're all able to have this discussion. Like Ana says, this is part of what I hoped LB would be about, a place where we can all air our own views and be heard, but still disagree if we feel the need and not have to hate each other.

[personal profile] phoebenorth 2012-01-22 04:14 (UTC)(link)
This is SUCH an awesome, nuanced discussion.

I should say perhaps that my own toys were very gender-mixed (and as an adult, I have more than what is probably considered a healthy interest in toys generally--I get the Playmobil, Lego, AND American Girl catalogs because I love looking at tiny accessories). I had Lego Castle and Paradisa toys--but I felt the dearth of female minifigs just like modern girls, and had to put together a freckle faced figure that I felt approximated my own, short haired appearance to go play with the knights and the wizards in my castle.

I also can't help but think of little boys like this one and how the set might appeal to them. I think it's a positive that, while sorted on their website under "girls," this isn't literally branded as Lego for Girls. "Lego Friends" has in it at least the potential to be a line with cross-gender appeal.

As it is, I'm holding my breath a little--Lego promises to release 29 figures as part of the first Friends line-up, and I'd like to see more boys, and a little more diversity (maybe some sort of imaginative set--some sort of superheroes? It would be off theme but the potential is there.) And yeah, I'd like to see a wider variety of colors and figs in the main line, too. I think the fact that this seems to have been largely a step in the right direction for the core audience according to, say, amazon reviews, despite the protests, is promising. From the company's statements, they seem to very much establish this as a growing brand in the same way that their core line is--and it's with that growth that we'll get greater possibility for positive portrayals.