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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

➝ At the risk of turning Lady Business into a Foz Meadows appreciation blog...

In pop culture, girls who crush hopelessly on guys they can’t have are painted as just that — hopeless. Over and over again, we’re taught that girls who openly express sexual or romantic interest in guys who don’t want them are pitiable, stalkerish, desperate, crazy bitches. More often than not, they’re also portrayed as ugly – whether physically, emotionally or both – in order to further establish their undesirability as an objective fact. Both narratively and, as a consequence, in real life, men are given free reign to snub, abuse, mislead and talk down to such women: we’re raised to believe that female desire is unseemly, so that any consequent shaming is therefore deserved. There is no female-equivalent Friend Zone terminology because, in the language of our culture, a man’s romantic choices are considered sacrosanct and inviolable. If a girl has been told no, then she has only herself to blame for anything that happens next – but if a woman says no, then she must not really mean it.

This is exactly what I was trying to get at when I said I craved stories from women's perspectives that legitimitised experiencing longing and desire and even idealisation in the same way manic pixie dream girl stories do for men. I know that having had access to such stories would have made a world of difference to my younger self.

On the Rights of Reading and Girls and Boys:

Our children—both boys and girls—lose when we constrain their reading preferences. Ironically, what is acceptable in books for girls today is a much wider range of characters and themes, thanks to the advances of feminism, while what is acceptable for boys is still sadly influenced by what I assume is homophobia and an intolerance of effeminacy. A girl reading Homer Price, Sherlock Holmes, or anything by Robert Louis Stevenson or Mark Twain would be viewed as a reader of classics, but a boy reading much of Louisa May Alcott, the Brontës, or Jane Austen would have a harder time with his image. Girls, at the same time, are harmed by believing boys cannot be interested in female heroines and authors.

Men Reading Women:

The very question why men should like Anne Tyler's books strikes me as odd. I haven't come across the reverse kind of question: why women readers should like, say, Henry James, or F. Scott Fitzgerald, or Edward St Aubyn. This shows that even here, in a sphere where women flourish, where the record of their achievement is truly staggering, the world is not yet on an even keel, so to say. Why males might like a female writer is still a question; why women appreciate the writing of men is not.


➝ I love the fact that there's been so much Diana Wynne Jones love on the bookish Internet lately. Here's Peter Glassman on her work in general, and Chasing Ray on Fire & Hemlock (one of my all-time favourite novels).

➝ The blog PhD in Parenting has a series of posts on children and gender. As you'll have noticed before, I'm not exactly the best at telling whether this kind of commentary is doing a good enough job of staying away from girl cooties territory, but I thought there were some interesting ideas in the post and in the comments and would love to hear what others think.

➝ And speaking of avoiding the girl cooties trap, Clare at the Literary Omnivore has some excellent commentary on The Hunger Games merchandise and on some people's very problematic understanding of what makes Katniss a better role model than Bella.

➝ The F Word on Sherlock's Victorian Values: I found much of interest in this post, but at the same time, this paragraph really frustrated me:

The BBC's Adler was not a feminist icon, she did not meet the high expectations held for this adaptation, but the reactions surrounding her depiction speaks volumes about the socially unacceptable nature of powerful female sexuality.

A sex-positive attitude is a central part of my feminism, and yet I still found Adler's sexualisation problematic - not because I find powerful female sexuality unacceptable, but because it frustrated me to see sexuality become this particular character's sole defining trait. It's perfectly fine for feminists to disagree on this, but I'm always wary of discounting other readings with what amounts to "the patriarchy made you do it" arguments. We can never quite tell how much of our thoughts and attitudes are a product of the sexist world we've grown up in, of course, but when approaching feminist readings that differ from my own, I personally prefer to err on the side of generosity and not assume they're all coming from a place of internalised sexism.

➝ Lastly, I created a Pinterest board called Die, Gender Essentialism, Die. I would love suggestions of more things to add to it.

text that says Jodie's Section

➝ I'm going to start with some good news this week. Greg Mortenson, the lying liar behind the autobiography 'Three Cups of Tea' has to pay money to compensate the charity he founded, because he benefitted financially from their mass purchase and promotion of his two falsified books. Hurray!

The Guardian article that Bookslut links to here sticks to reporting the facts in a rather bland, opinionless way which I assume is meant to be unbiased. Yet, somehow it still feels like the article's author desperately wants to remind you that Greg Mortenson is a good guy really. His co-workers like him! See this one lady says so.

For something with a bit more fire and common sense, I recommend Bookslut's response to an article about Mortenson's actions, written by Laura Miller in April 2011. Jessa Crispin also linked to an investigation of Mortenson and compared his falsified memoir to to James Frey's, earlier that month.

➝ Speaking of Jessa, she now runs the Kind Reader advice column at the Barnes and Noble Review website, where she uses books to try and help people caught by difficult conundrums. This month's advice is particularly relevant to me and I'm very grateful for the guiddance of that final paragraph.

➝ More good news; E A Games will not be removing same sex relationship options from its games, despite pressure. – via LGBT Space

➝ An influential study, claiming that gay people can stop being gay has been renounced by its author.

The article says this study has been lending validity to 'pray away the gay' therapy programs for a long time, partly because the scientist who created it had previously worked to stop homosexuality being classed as a mental disorder. As a prominent liberal scientist had produced this study it could be presented as unbiased by organisations that cited it (even though the data was criticised for emerging from flawed methodological processes). This allowed people who want to convince the world that gay, lesbian and bisexual people can become straight to strengthen their rhetorical arguments with flawed, but prestigious science from a non-religious, liberal researcher. A public retraction makes that argument invalid. - via Cheryl’s Mewsings

➝ Even though I like the peerbacking, kickstarter model of funding projects I try not to flood this space with links to projects that need financial contributions. I very much don't want to be that ass that makes you feel guilty about the starving children if you buy a nice coffee, or don't have any money to give.

I will just show you the 'We See a Different Frontier' project though, with the understanding that I don't want to tell anyone what to do with their money, the anthology that might be produced if the project is funded sounds sooooo interesting. We See a Different Frontier would be 'a special issue/anthology of colonialism-themed speculative fiction from outside the first-world viewpoint'. Sounds amazing and necessary, right? - again, via Cheryl’s Mewsings

➝ Celebrating projects that manage to find the money they need is free and we can all do it! Here's news of a great project that has been funded successfully. Katie's NHS doctors refused to prescribe her hormone replacement therapy. Her friend Paris Lees told her to ask the internet for help and help it did. now has the money to start seeking private treatment. Hurray for Katie.


➝ To end Robin Lafevers talks about second chances for published writers at Writer Unboxed. I worry about debut authors, because so often it seems like all their hopes rest on one book and a huge heaping of chance. Nice to see such a sensible and uplifting post, which can provide hope for all authors who keep going. Also, I want 'Grave Mercy' now, please to be giving it to me universe.

text that says Renay's Section

[personal profile] chaosraven linked me to BIGBANG - FANTASTIC BABY M/V. I've had it on loop for way too long. Curse you, Rose! *shakes fist*

Ashley Judd Slaps Media in the Face for Speculation Over Her 'Puffy' Appearance. This was fascinating to read except for the ableism (sigh, really?). Don't Read the Comments™.

➝ Sorry, unfortunately Lady Business is the Foz Meadows Show this month. >.> A few weeks ago, Hank Green did a video about The Friendzone. I found it really weird and kind of brain-hurty to compare it to the post Ana linked above, a piece Foz Meadows wrote about the same topic. I have some trouble parsing arguments, but find it interesting how Hank's was gender neutral and it felt very purposeful and like it was avoiding the issue but I couldn't put my finger on this issue until I read this post.

Female Science Fiction Author Reading List.

➝ I have no clue how to cite this (I do not understand tumblr), but this essay about Azula from Avatar: The Last Airbender is wonderful. Spoilers for the entire series.

The Further Adventures of Lady Business!

This week, Ana reviewed Sexing the Brain by Lesley Rogers, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein, and Zahra's Paradise by Amir and Khalil.

Jodie hasn't posted anything in ages, but is part of several co-reviews, watchalongs and readalongs right now, which is tons of fun.

Renay went back to visit her childhood home and subsequently into the past.

Date: 2012-04-15 11:19 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
I found the fozmeadows post really interesting. I had never heard of Friend Zone, but when I was growing up with the internet there was a lot of crit of the 'Nice Guy' idea. ('I'm such a nice guy, why do girls always go after bastards?').

I do wonder if there's a change a-coming on the way women who are interested in guys who aren't interested are protrayed. I agree that there's a huge tradition of protraying these kind of women as ugly and that's still going on as new media is born, but now more and more I see them equally portrayed as sexy + desperate = mildyly deranged in an unattractive way. This is much in my mind since I just saw 'We Bought a Zoo', which is full of this kind of female depiction. I'm interested in unpicking what multiple purposes/unconcious ideas I can see in the growing popularity of this trend and whether there are certain kinds of attractiveness/female sexuality that get tied to women who the male characters aren't interested in and how that links in with their characterisation as desperate.

Date: 2012-04-15 11:55 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Ana: 'the reactions surrounding her depiction speaks volumes about the socially unacceptable nature of powerful female sexuality.' - It's hard to judge this comment, because there are no citations of the types of reactions they're referring to. I bet there were a lot of really gross comments out there, but like you I get really edgy about this kind of blanket 'If you don't like the way she's portrayed and we think the way she's portrayed can be interpreted in a feminist light, then you're on the patriachy's side' stuff. Since I got it kind of totally wrong when I was addresing Holly Black's comments as being generally aimed at people making alternate feminist criticism and she was talking about two very specific anti-female articles I'll refrain from judging, but I do wish I could see some examples of the kind of critique they've seen, so I could make my own judgements.

Renay: Interesting Azula article and very relevant to thoughts I've just written down. Thanks for giving me something more to think about her, besides her awesome evilness.

Date: 2012-04-15 12:47 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
You may very well be right about there being a new trend in depictions - I haven't watched that movie (though now I really hope you'll review it) and am generally much less knowledgeable about movies and TV series than you. But yeah, in either case I just wish that this kind of feeling was more normalised for women - it's such a human experience to have feelings that aren't reciprocated that I wish it didn't get associated with desperation, whatever the tools.

Date: 2012-04-15 12:51 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Yes, you're right that we can't be sure whether that comment is directed at feminist readings that question Irene Adler's sexualisation or at good old anti-woman "a sex worker, horror of horrors, let's shame her" type comments. I'm sure the latter were far more common, even though the feminist cocoon I've created for myself means I was more exposed to the former. But the impression I got was that the whole gist of the article was "Yes, Sherlock is sexist, but people haven't pointed out the REAL reasons why", and that made me suspicious. Of course, this is a pretty ungenerous reading of my own and I may very well be wrong.

Date: 2012-04-15 12:56 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Jodie, I'm also very excited about The Rejectionist's novel - the way she describes it reminds me of Elizabeth Hand's stuff a little bit, which I just love. Also, the news about the Spitzer article made me so happy.

Renay, what Jodie said re: the Azula article.

Date: 2012-04-15 01:23 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mooredatsea.blogspot.com
Ms Ana -

I thought the article on gender-balanced parenting was interesting, for two reasons - one that it really did acknowledge that is very hard to carry through. Its hard on your kids, its hard on you, its just not easy. ITs not like breaking a stereotype one's self - you are basically enlisting someone else to bear the psyhcic brunt of the activist backlash.

Secondly, though, some of what it said about how toys have changed over the last years made me think abotu the connections between gender role enforcement and capitalism (I'm sorry, I don't mean to be your red-flagged political commenter all the time…). I look at the state of toys over the last fifty years and the big change has been in specialization. Instead of buying generic toys (a box of legos with no instructions, blocks, a fairly generic doll, etc), the majority of toys now purchased have an increasingly specialized purpose (A box of Legos for reenacting one specific scene in the Harry Potter movies, a doll allowing you to play an extremely sexualized zombie/vampire/whatever. No I'm not kidding about that. Weirds me out every time I see it). Well, as things specialize, they sort of, by definition, cannot leave the empty space necessary for the spontaneous creation of shared psychic space for play. If you dump a box of old-school legos in front of a group of kids who enjoy military play they'll make a gun out of them. IF you dump them in front of a bunch of kids who like social role play, they'll build a house with furniture. Even with the much maligned doll, if sufficiently generic, one can use it to imitate caretaking, to roleplay as a doctor, or a fireman, or a policeman chasing kidnappers, or make it into a giant to attack a lego city, or whatever). When a toy becomes ovely specialized, though, it begins to prescribe play - and isnce that play is being prescribed by adults, its going to be prescriptions that match the desires that purchasing adults project onto their children. Hence, the reinforcement of gender roles (and of any host of other problems - militarization, ethnic stereotypes, heteronormativism, etc).

Ms Jodie - The EA issue is an interesting one to me because, as someone inside the tech community, its such a boiling pot of these worries. I wrote a whole post not long ago about the fear of beign overly feminine in programmers, and teh overwhelmingly male population thereof, and the problems inherent in that. At the same time, I think I hinted at the fact that programming seems to be an enormously attractive occupation for people with marginalized states of mind in terms of gneder dynamics - there is a a higher percentage of homosexuality, transgenderism, queerness, etc in programmers, I've found. I think THIS aspect is wonderful, as it takes a dispossessed group and gives them a great deal of power in a very important media exposure market. ITs as if you took all the gender-queer and homosexual artists of the 20's - 50's, and then had them run the television industry

Date: 2012-04-15 01:26 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
(Although reading the article again I remembered that it directly addresses Jane Clare Jones' Guardian piece, which we linked to in our own Sherlock discussion, and calls it "unreasonable". I should have quoted this part in Sidetracks, since it's a much better example of what made me uncomfortable. Okay, I'll shut up now :P)

Date: 2012-04-15 01:33 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
"When a toy becomes ovely specialized, though, it begins to prescribe play."

This is such an interesting idea - and please never apologise for being our "red-flagged political commenter"! Yes, these things are all connected, but as someone who no longer has any direct contact with children and the world they inhabit, I don't always have the tools to figure out those connections. I also really appreciate your and the blogger's point about the sheer difficulty of parenting in this manner, when you know that someone else, someone you love and who trusts you for guidance and protection, may suffer the very real everyday consequences of small acts of rebellion. As much as you know this will bring them - and the world in general - benefits in the long run, I can't imagine that doing away with all the associated difficulties.

Date: 2012-04-15 04:18 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Ooo exciting comparison and I'm sure I've seen her talk about some of Hand's books. I still have to read Elizabeth Hand, but every time I hear about her stuff I want it in my face. In my head I was making a Martin Millar comparison and thinking 'must tell Ana about this one'.

Date: 2012-04-15 04:24 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
That is so interesting, I will have to look up your post. I am the least programmer like person ever, but working in admin for a tech company full of programmers and computer support people makes me want to know more about the wider world of programming.

Edited to say: I'd already read your cool post that starts out about the screensaver ponies and moves on to talk about diversity in tech fields. I feel like someone linked to it here, right?

I don't like to say too much about my job here, but I totally get that post and the distinctions you're making within it. I agree so hard that there's often a certain diconnect between some of the normative, business like 'we're all the same' reinforcement and the wider social politics of the people making these statements, like they don't even realise that they're saying things which contradict other ideas they may hold about diversity, because it's so ingrained as part of the 'it's just a joke' kind of culture, there's no examination of the structures that joke rests on. This makes it really hard to bring people round to seeing the problems of the way they're speaking and reeeeally easy to slip into that kind of chat. I spend a lot of time checking myself on that kind of stuff now, trying to cut it back and trying to make what my mouth says match what my brain logically knows as well as going 'Shit, really, again?' if I drop into that kind of teasing. It's difficult, but oh so worthwhile in the long run.
Edited Date: 2012-04-15 04:41 pm (UTC)

Date: 2012-04-15 05:13 pm (UTC)
dancesontrains: (The Rose of Versailles in thorns)
From: [personal profile] dancesontrains
a doll allowing you to play an extremely sexualized zombie/vampire/whatever.

Do you mean the 'Monster High' range, or something else?

Date: 2012-04-15 06:42 pm (UTC)
myfriendamy: (Default)
From: [personal profile] myfriendamy
Yeah I agree. This is part of why I asked if you'd ever seen Felicity once, since it starts out with Felicity ditching her college plans to follow a boy she's crushed on forever across the country to his college based on something he wrote in her yearbook. And while at first he doesn't return those feelings, of course he eventually does in the course of the series, they are the show's OTP etc. But she does come across as a bit obsessive at first and has to watch him date her friend first and so forth and so on.

But it's really true in TV at least that if a girl likes a guy, and he doesn't return those feelings she's seen as desperate and pathetic whereas if a guy likes a girl and is such a good friend to her, she's seen as either clueless or stupid for not returning those feelings. I guess maybe the only exceptions I can think of at the moment are Matt and Elena on TVD, but there are a host of other issues with that show, and some of the early seasons of Buffy.

Date: 2012-04-15 09:57 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
I was skimming and didn't see that, thanks for pointing it out :D

I re-read that article and hmm, I think it's strange to call it ridiculous or uncomfortable with female sexual power. I mean right at the end there Clare Jones points out that any notion of female sexual power is undermined by the ending of the episode, which implies she allows for that being part of Adler's character (although she could out and out state it, that might be a kind of slanted omission there).

Date: 2012-04-16 02:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mooredatsea.blogspot.com
I'm glad you comment on it sometimes - all conversations are better for a diversity of voices. Parenting, if nothing else, can tend to draw one into the parochial concerns of their particular situation - seeing through someone outside's eyes is tremendously valuabel to our whole society.

Date: 2012-04-16 02:37 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Did they? Maybe they did. I don't think so. Not that I'masking. I hope I didn't sound like I was just doing a 'ooh! ooh! Look at MY blog now!" comment :D. I just tend towards the grotesquely long comment, and figured it would be better for all to just point somewhere else.

Its difficult because communities ARE built on patterns of inclusion and exclusion - they always have been. Here in the states, for example, when I speak to social liberals - agroup who raison d'etre is largely based on inclusion - you'll hear people make jokes about the stupid people opposing their viewpoints, using southern or 'redneck' accents. This is part of who we are in some sense, that we want to fell we are part of something larger than ourselves, but something that denotes our 'specialness' by being let in to it - patterns of inclusion and exclusion. So, there is a strong urge when someone makes a joke about effeminate behaviour, or non-canonical clothes, or race, or whatever, to laugh along, to keep ones membership in the exclusive group from which we draw comfort as an identity marker. People always say 'oh, if only we coudl break down the walls and treat everyone the same', but in our hearts, I think we all want to be different. We want to memebers of gropus that have edges. The trick is to make these groupings ones that are positively, rather than negatively bounded.

Date: 2012-04-16 02:38 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mooredatsea.blogspot.com
Yes, that's the ones! I saw them in the grocery store around Christmas a few years ago, first, and thought they were joke - turns out they aren't...

Date: 2012-04-16 06:19 pm (UTC)
dancesontrains: A ladybird on a water spotted leaf (Dr. Ladybug)
From: [personal profile] dancesontrains
My first reaction upon seeing one of them (a brown-skinned werewolf lady) was along the lines of 'OMG want!' and 'eeee I love those trousers'. The only reason I don't currently own one is because of a lack of £££. So I'm not the best person to talk to about this...

Date: 2012-04-16 08:43 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
*laughs* Oh I don't mean to deny the squee-cuteness of it, anymore than I would deny that when a 'make barbie clothes with your daughter' class came up as a Groupon recently, that I didn't rue my gender for a moment. Nor do I want to imply that specialized toys are inherently evil - just that as they specialize, they have consequences - and that we as a culture find it far easier to have a specialized than a non-specialized toy marketed to us.

Date: 2012-04-18 06:45 am (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
No you weren't, not at all! I just remembered seeing it, but maybe I was just catching up on your past posts recently.

Thanks for talking through the idea that even the most inclusive communities are built around creating barriers of exclusion and guest lists of inclusion. I'd never really made that connection before, but it fits in with business/marketing theory of ways to make products and experiences seem more appealing to the customer (sell it as exclusive, tell them not everyone can get in etc). I would be so interested if you have examples of communities that manage to create positive boundaries instead of negative ones.


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