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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

➝ I'll start with some sensible commentary on the predictable reactions to the casting of Lucy Liu as Watson in the upcoming American Sherlock-based series "Elementary":

Fandom's rage over all this is very typical and it's an extension of the boys'-club mentality that forms around canons that hyperfocus on white straight male homosocial relationships, and that tend to marginalize anyone who isn't that. The shows (and there are a lot of them) do it, and then the fans follow suit. There's a lot of valid reasons to not be on board with another Holmes adaptation, but I don't think this is one of them because I've seen it too many times before.

I might be worried about heteronormativity if the BBC version had provided any actual glbtq representation, but as Jodie and I have discussed before, it didn't exactly do a great job on that front. Having said that, I think there are plenty of valid reasons to be wary of this new series: here's a post with more commentary that Renay sent my way.

➝ One of my favourite reads of the week was A Plague of Strong Female Characters, a thoughtful New York Times piece by Carina Chocano:

Maybe I'm a cream puff, but few cultural tropes get under my skin like "strong female character," and it still surprises me when like-minded people use it. Maybe the problem is semantic. Maybe what people mean when they say "strong female characters" is female characters who are "strong," i.e., interesting or complex or well written — "strong" in the sense that they figure predominantly in the story, rather than recede decoratively into the background. But I get the feeling that what most people mean or hear when they say or hear "strong female character" is female characters who are tough, cold, terse, taciturn and prone to scowling and not saying goodbye when they hang up the phone.

Of course, I get the point of characters like these. They do serve as a kind of gateway drug to slightly more realistic — or at least representational — representations of women. On the other hand, they also reinforce the unspoken idea that in order for a female character to be worth identifying with, she should really try to rein in the gross girly stuff. This implies that unless a female character is "strong," she is not interesting or worth identifying with.

YES. This is something that has been worrying me for years, and it's been particularly on my mind lately as I notice more and more feminist-identified blogs using victim-blaming and girl-cooties rhetoric to dismiss female characters they perceive as "wimpy", "needy", "doormarts", "slap-worthy", or otherwise "weak". Of course, when I say this I absolutely don't mean to silence conversations about, or critiques of, stories that normalise placing women in positions of helplessness and dependency; I just think it's important to remember to "direct our attention to the straitjacket, not its dutiful wearer". (I warned you I'd be quoting this sentence a lot.)

Having said that, I definitely also don't want to dismiss female characters who "don't say goodbye when they hang up the phone" as "unrepresentative of real women". All the stories about all the possible ways of being a girl, please.

➝ Here's some Oscars commentary from a new-to-me blog I've been enjoying, Girls Like Giants. And don't miss this Racialicious piece about Billy Crystal wearing blackface at the Oscars.

➝ Rosie Swash wrote a piece for The Guardian called Among the Asexuals, and being ignorant and privileged I can't really tell how accurate or comprehensive it is. But I'm sharing it anyway because I thought some of you would be interested in asexuality getting mainstream coverage, and might perhaps have some thoughts to share.

Institutional sexism of book world needs new girls' network: Jennifer Weiner responds to the latest Vida count with some suggestions of what we can do:

I'm committed to using my voice and talking about women writers who aren't getting the quality or quantity of attention that their male peers receive. In the past few years, I've done blogposts, Q&As and I've had a lot of success with giveaways, where I ask readers to purchase a book by a female author, from Sarah Pekkanen and Julie Buxbaum to Emma Donoghue and Liz Moore, and then send them one of my books for free. (...)

I'm not the only commercial woman writer who's gone out of her way to support her peers – and, right now, that's the best response I can think of to a problem that's not going away any time soon.

I'm not a writer, but I'm a woman and a reader who shares Weiner's concerns, and as such I try to use my (infinitely smaller) voice in similar ways.

➝ And speaking of sexism in literary circles, here's an essay on Jonathan Franzen's female 'problem': ... Franzen continues to indict himself with gender theorizing that panders to the worst instincts of the male intellectual. It is neither art nor thought, and it is certainly not humor. Franzen can do better. Let us hope that he can. The response by Victoria Patterson this piece links to is even better.

➝ I love these! Critical thinking explained in six kid friendly animations.

But, Pinterest is for Girls! Sexism and Social Media. I brought up the sexist media coverage of Pinterest a few weeks ago, and in the meantime the problem only seems to have gotten worse. s.e. smith at Tiger Beatdown provides some great analysis.

This New York Times article about how young women are often trendsetters in vocal patterns and linguistic innovation reminded me of Deborah Cameron's excellent The Myth of Mars and Venus, which is about sexism in sociolinguistics. Also, have I mentioned how awesome I think Mark Liberman is?

Wow. I LOVE YOU, China Miéville:

It is depressing to have to point out, yet again, that there is a distinction between having the legal right to say something & having the moral right not to be held accountable for what you say. Being asked to apologise for saying something unconscionable is not the same as being stripped of the legal right to say it. It's really not very fucking complicated. Cry Free Speech in such contexts, you are demanding the right to speak any bilge you wish without apology or fear of comeback. You are demanding not legal rights but an end to debate about & criticism of what you say. When did bigotry get so needy? This assertive & idiotic failure to understand that juridical permissibility backed up by the state is not the horizon of politics or morality is absurdly resilient.

This whole essay is absolutely amazing. If you only click one link this week, I hope it's this one.

text that says Renay's Section

➝ The Oscars are over! I honestly didn't care much (because I rarely ever do) but am finding the articles about the Oscars and their diversity pretty exciting! Let's talk those old white dudes into a stupor. The Oscars' women problem:

None — zero — of the films in the best picture, best director, best adapted or original screenplay, best lead or supporting actor, and best supporting actress categories were directed by women. In the major categories, 98 percent of nominations went to movies directed by men, 84 percent went to movies written by men, and 70 percent went to movies starring men. The only female-centered movies that appear outside the best actress categories are "The Help" and "Bridesmaids." In the best picture category, there are as many movies about women as there are movies about horses.

Emphasis mine.

➝ Currently my partner and I are renting and our apartment has no washer/dryer hookups. This has been, on the whole, a miserable experience, including unreliable apartment-provided washers with inconvenient hours taking tons of money, the public laundromats taking even more, and adventures in borrowing the appliances of friends. We're settled now with a good set-up that's way cheaper (help the friend with the electric bill a bit, get free laundry every week). So really this is all about my complicated relationship with laundry, okay! But this week I had an interesting conversation with friends, who were boggled to learn that as a child I often used a Maytag Wringer Washer. There were other washer/dryers available, but I was on that weird cusp between old-ways and new ways, I suppose (I also lived in the very rural South). My mother used the newest versions when they worked (they often broke down). My father and grandmother used standalone washers (interesting about my father who was very anti-new washers, don't know what that means, though). I spent many, many days putting clothes on the line with clothespins, with my mom during "oops broken dryer" times but mostly with my grandmother.

That means that Life With and Without Animated Ducks: The Future Is Gender Distributed by Cat Valente was fascinating. She speaks about the technological divide in the public sphere and the private in Japan and how much the technology in public is much better than the technology in private, and what it means that technology is so gendered (more work for women, less excitement about "female" tech). I suspect that part of the problem is women themselves in tech-creating positions, which deepens the thought a little bit. I did wonder if it would differ from place to place — she seemed to be in a particular (terrible) circumstance, so I wonder if it's different for women in other locations, in other financial groups, etc. I don't think Japan (!!!) can really be this technologically similar all over.

Anyway, the real reason I have spent so much tl;dr on the topic of LAUNDRY OMG is that it reminded me of this TED talk by Hans Rosling discussing the magic of washing machines. It's 100% worth it to watch until the end. OKAY, done talking about laundry now, I'm sorry.

➝ Inadvertently, I sort of built a themed list of links without even trying. I'm going to provide a general trigger warning for the topic of abortion, privacy issues, reproductive health and some disturbing imagery in most of the links/my commentary.

➝ Funny or Die ran Women's Health Experts Speak Out. It's interesting to see how this is played for a joke. It is really funny in how ridiculous it is, but on the other hand some of the things they say are things men actually believe without coming out and owning their opinions. That's okay, I suppose — their actions say it all. Jerks.

How Target Figured Out A Teen Girl Was Pregnant Before Her Father Did. A fascinating look at the way compnies can bend data to their will, even personal data, by the digital footprint we leave behind with our credit cards, bank cards, customized coupons mailed to our doors, or if you happen to use cash to avoid these problems, even an employee discount card.

What I find most interesting about the article isn't the article itself. It's that in the article, we have talk of pregnancy, with the catchy little phrase, "Target knows before it shows" on women characterized by either a almost-to-term stomach as well as somewhere in the middle of a pregnancy. They're definitely showing. Also, these women are just pictures of stomachs and nothing else. They've been reduced to the ability to reproduce in a photo, attached to an article about how to squeeze as much money as possible from them. Wheee, objects. Author might want to look where they're standing on that creepy scale, because Target's just massaging the data we (thoughtlessly or not) give them in legal ways. The author is characterizing first-trimester pregnancies with mid-term and full-term pregnancy pictures. Classy.

I think it's fairly interesting how often when we discuss pregnancy, a woman's stomach becomes a symbol for all of them, even pregnancies that women themselves don't even know about. That's the creepiest thing about this article (and every article about pregnancy I read). It's like the FedEx arrow. Once you see that most of the media does this (especially in the context of abortion discussions), you can never, ever unsee it.

The Way It Was. I read this essay on my couch, and when I was halfway through [personal profile] zachariah walked into the room and said, "You read with your mouth open."

I wanted to snap at him, well, of course my jaw was dropped, I was reading about abortion and its history. I was so angry at that moment, maybe at him for not remembering I hate to have my appearance commented on in that way or for not asking me what I was reading instead (maybe I wanted him to care about what would make me forget to control my jaw). Or maybe at the reality of what I was reading about, the things you never hear about, the way the current debate is being framed in the media with none of the past historical context, the way the most women I know using birth control use it for everything but preventing pregnancy. Sigh.

Reproductive Parts:

A politician says abortion is bad for women. A politician says birth control is bad for women. A politician says he wants to ban prenatal testing. A politician says women should focus on their families. A politician says sex is for reproduction only. A politician says queers are disgusting. A politician says.

➝ To round this out, io9 posted What does science fiction tell us about the future of reproductive rights?, although I disagree with some of the final conclusions drawn for complicated reasons that involve the claim that the whole debate is about parenting. It doesn't feel that simple given how women have been left out of the debate, women politicians forced to submit joke amendments to make points that should be obvious to anyone, Planned Parenthood attacked even when most of their work is just plain health-care — it feels like a male-dominant culture trying desperately to put the women back in places where they can be easily controlled.

The Further Adventures of Lady Business!

This week, Ana posted four reviews: Feminism is for Everybody by bell hooks, The Firefly Letters by Margarita Engle, When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead, and The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice.

Jodie posted a review of Scott Westerfeld's Goliath, that completes the trilogy following Leviathan and Behemoth.

Renay didn't post anything, but she did contribute to the massive Volunteers & Recruiting section of the OTW's February newsletter with the help of her VolComrades. \o/

Date: 2012-03-04 10:13 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] lionpyh
OH UGH JONATHAN FRANZEN. I knew without clicking what that link was going to be about. I have tried like ten times to be fair and intellectually objective about him because enough people seem to approve of him and his writing (which I think is okay but not scintillating, and often transparently intentionally mediocre in a smug way, which I really wish wasn't the defining characteristic of self-consciously modern writing) that I feel like I must be missing something but that article was a) truly baffling as literary criticism b) the point where I decided that my permanent response to him was going to be WHATEVER DUDE. Like an email away message or that thing in novels where the lady is Not At Home even when she totally is. Text output from Mr. Franzen at 13:11:40 >> Auto-response from lionpyh at 13:11:41 WHATEVER DUDE.

The asexuality article was surprisingly unterrible, speaking as a tadpole. The fact that they took the trouble to have more than one interviewee and not edit to make them sound like batty shut-ins was key. I also really appreciated the emphasis on how people who are interested in sex try to, like, debate you into having lots of sex, in a very weird 'for your own good' way. Even weirder when they're earnestly insisting that it's not because they want to have sex with you and they're kind of insulted! that you interpret their insistence on this as such, their motives are chaste and pure, they just think you should be having sex. Because. Or respectably tormented by the lack of sex in your life, like normal, virtuous people are.* That is like 65% of the responses I have ever gotten when asked about my sexuality and I have replied unaffiliated, the other 34.9% being MY COCK IS THE CURE.
* This has been a consistent young Christian male response, and maybe my favorite for sheer projection value. Young men who are saving it for marriage want to talk about LUST like no other demographic I have ever met. Points for knowing that some women really like sex I guess but I am sorry, I do not have your problem, sir, and also no gold stars for your faith giving you the strength to refrain from groping girls on the subway as the heathen do. Please try to passionately commiserate elsewhere.

Date: 2012-03-04 09:35 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
Hahaha - love the Auto-response. I have not yet read him, but although I won't say I never ever will this kind of thing certainly doesn't make me want to rush out to get his books.

I'm glad to hear the article wasn't terrible! And ugh, so many people seem unable to drop the "Lead your life my way, because I clearly know best!" routine.

About household machines and geodemographics

Date: 2012-03-04 12:47 pm (UTC)
copracat: Lynne Redgrave and friend saluting the photographer with colourful drinks (acapulco!)
From: [personal profile] copracat
Everyone had washing machines with wringers when I was a wee girl, though we called the wringer part a mangle. I grew up poor working class in North Queensland, Australia and we started getting machines with spin cycles in the 70s. Nanna still had a copper - a tub that boiled the washing - in the 70s. I don't think my mum has a dryer now. She lives in a fairly sunny climate and wouldn't consider the electricity cost worthwhile. I didn't have a washing machine until I was 30 and I didn't live in a house with a dryer until early this century.

I thought that Cat Valente article interesting for its assumptions. For instance, she considers a kitchen garbage disposal a normal and necessary household machine. In my experience they started showing up in new build homes in the late 70s, about the same time as mixer taps. I've only seen them in the kind of houses middle class people could afford at the time of build (ie not too expensive but not cheap) and afaik they are not common outside of homes of that era. Other Australians in other demographics might have a different experience. It might be a cultural thing, I don't know where the attitude comes from, but shoving your garbage down the sink seems disgusting to me. Way more common is a little removable, usually plastic, mesh filter that captures any food waste in your washing water. You dump this in the garbage bin.

I remember thinking, soon after I started my first full-time, office-based job, that I would do anything to have a "wife". Imagine being able to come home and have someone else prep your shit for the next day?

Date: 2012-03-04 05:01 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
One of the things the Lucy Liu casting as Watson brings up for me is that progressive fans who want to see dear old projects like Sherlock Holmes reworked already have the most awesome ideas ever in place in their minds, but it's clear that the world of tv creation is not quite ready for those ideas/believes they won't sell etc, etc. So when someone makes some changes to this kind of project, but doesn't go all the way to most progressive show idea ever it is always bound to disappoint/cause concern somewhat.

I'm not saying the program deserves a pass before it even reaches screens. The format is obviously going to raise concerns before it gets under way. That guy who is a genius, paired with lady who is always getting screwed over by his genius concern is super relevant, especially considering the way The Mentalist is going at the mo. As much as I love other parts of Jane and Lisbon's pairing, the fact that she never gets to solve a crime is infuriating and we do not need more of that. But I feel like there's a crime project with an Asian actress in a leading role, loosely based on a series of much beloved books and it's pretty amazing that this project was thought of, then made into reality. There could be more diverse, progressive Holmes reinvention projects and a lot of things could go really wrong, that would make this show just as racist and sexist as the BBC version was at times (although I think something would have to go supernova wrong for this to be more racist than that second episode of Sherlock). I'm just a bit suprised to see people express definite opinions over how awful it's going to be and offer ideas for reinventing it so fast, before it's even shown and I wonder at what that means.

It's also interesting that although fans have started suggesting female actresses who could play a gender flipped Holmes alongside Lui's Watson, to make the show more feminist, there are few recommendations (I personally haven't seen any yet, but maybe someone can point out any I've missed) for filling that gender flipped role with another Asian actress, or an African American actress to play alongside Liu. I mean I think Swinton who has been suggested by a bunch of fans would be a great cast for the role (if she were ever to do tv, which she won't), but if we're talking about the limits of a program's planned diversity I think we also have to make efforts to really expand our thinking about the ways we'd like to see it re-invented. I want to see people dreaming big! A gender flipped, multi-race version of Holmes, with a lesbian romance strand. A female Lestrade, who gets in the middle of their fumbling efforts to forge a relationship. A confirmed asexual female Holmes and a Watson/Lestrade lesbian hook up after the pair solve all the crimes! Basically I am going to require all the gender flipped fan-fic for this program.

Date: 2012-03-04 09:45 pm (UTC)
nymeth: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nymeth
I'm just a bit suprised to see people express definite opinions over how awful it's going to be and offer ideas for reinventing it so fast, before it's even shown and I wonder at what that means.

Yes, fan reactions seem to have been really strong - I wonder if some of it is accumulated frustration with all the different ways the recent Sherlocks have gone wrong? I can understand being really tired of the fact that whenever something potentially exciting comes along, you have to approach it with caution; of the fact that series take one step forward in one direction and five steps backwards in others; and of the fact that being a media consumer who is not a straight white dude seems to involve endless negotiation. But you're right that when we start asking, "why doesn't it do this also?", we can always go even further. The places where people stop can be revealing of their own blind spots (and hey, we all have them). I'm all for dreaming big, and I soooo hope we'll one day get something that fulfils all those possibilities. In the meantime, I hope this new series surprises us by handling what could be a pairing full of trappings in non-clichéd ways. I'm not holding my breath, but you never know.

Date: 2012-03-04 05:33 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
I really want to talk about The Oscars and the BAFTAs in relation to The Help this year, because its reception was so troubled. I've read a lot of racial criticism of the book now and I'm aware of its problems, which have been translated into the film (I haven't seen the film, but unless it included a lot more about the civil rights movement run by black people the problems remain). And I agree that when you look at it as the only film, that was nominated for awards, which feaured black actresses it's nomination looks pretty dodgy.

White dudes love films about black women as long as they reinforce the kind of cultural narratives that white dudes love to hear. The people who hand out the awards only want to dangle the possibility of an award in front of films centred around black actresses if they're films that contain problematic elements for the communities they aim to represent, but even these films find it difficult to actually win multiple awards. You end up in no representation vs problematic representation and real life wins (an Oscar and a BAFTA for a black actress) vs creating a canon full of problems territory, which requires you to preform many acts of seperation to sort the good from the problems and hold them both in your head at once as equally important. It's really difficult to keep it all balanced and I think it's something that mainstream media really struggles to do.

Date: 2012-03-04 10:08 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
OMG to the 'Pregnant People are their belly' thing. I KNOW! I'm SO glad someone else saw this and was creeped out by it! I saw the same article earlier this week, and thought the author was creepier than Target - at least Target objectifies everyone who they think they can shill a product to. That's the nature of advertising. Amanda was talking earlier this week about how frustrating it was when pregnant to have everyone address her as basically an appendage of the baby, as inextricably connected to the baby. Pregnancy in our culture brings along with it an implied reduction of selfhood.

Date: 2012-03-04 10:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mooredatsea.blogspot.com
One day, I will remember to not be anonymous when leaving comments...

Date: 2012-03-05 02:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com
Sidetacks? I know y'all meant "Sidetracks", but that's adorable.

That article on asexuality was actually pretty-even-handed, I feel—it managed to talk about sexuals imploding about the concept while avoiding that itself. I usually get a "I feel sorry for you" or a "NO YOU'RE NOT" when it comes up in conversation. (I have never understood this. This means there is more sex for you! Be selfish!) Although I'm delighted to discover that I am an utter asexual cliche, as I am a left-handed woman with an older brother.

Date: 2012-03-11 03:36 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
I finally read 'The Way It Was' and my reaction to it was that awful not shock, but still rage reaction.

I remember in school we watched a fictional film about abortion through the generations, as part of RE. Just to explain, because I know linking religious ed and abortion sounds like a huge disaster, the RE curriculum lost its religious focus in the final two years of our secondary school education. It moved onto being more about big topic social issues like euthanasia, human rights, torture, the death penalty, which were presented with more of a liberal focus, or at least a 'make up your own mind' focus. Anyway I think Demi Moore was the actress who played a woman who had to jump down the stairs, try hot baths with gin and finally use a rusty coat hanger on herself and that passing comment in the article really pushed the image back into my mind of Moore getting the coat hanger and bleeding out.

There is no valid reason to debate about whether abortions should be legal for me and this article expanded my reasons for oppossing anyone who thinks there is, when it comes to this issue. Strangely I'd never thought of the abortion provider as a potentially lecherous threat to these women, or people who would deliberately place women in danger for money. I grew up with media images of kindly male drs like in 'The Cider House Rules' and female backstreet practitioners who tried their best, even if they knew what they were doing could be dangerous. Which I realise now is a way idealised picture of the situation. Useful to think of the dangers women faced from the people they were forced to turn to, without regulated medical support for their abortions.


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