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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 Jodie's Section

➝ When a piece of writing starts out like Laurie Penny's article in 'The New Statesmen' by saying 'I'm having a major political rethink this week, because it turns out that all along, feminism was a CIA plot to undermine the left' I get a wry little grin on my face. Clearly what we have here is a writer who has found a target so ridiculous, that they can't help poking easy fun at it just for giggles. I mean, come on, Mark Crispin Miller's idea that the organisations with CIA links funded 'identity politics' as a deliberate attempt to split keep liberal politics from pursuing class, or economic analysis is so laughably based on bad logic and an obvious conspiracy theory.

And...then some people started agreeing with Crispin in the comments. Oh not that the CIA were involved, of course, that was clearly just ramblings, but wouldn't the labour movement have got on much faster and better if we all just stuck together? Solidarity is the way forward, difference is separating, the most important issue is class not gender etc,etc And once we achieve the one goal of bringing capitalism into line by presenting united strength, of course everything will be better for everyone.

It's stuff I feel I've seen trotted out by activists a million times before, when I've seen commentors argue against the importance of intersectionality and I'm pretty sick of it. If uniting under the banner of a labour movement will get everyone what they need then how does anyone explain why it took longer for the ordinary women to get the vote than it took the ordinary man? What explanation do these people have for any gendered pay split, or any racial pay split? I just want to point everyone who thinks like this to 'My Feminism Will be Intersectional, or it will be Bullshit' until they GET IT.

➝ Someone at work sent me this link to the work of an amazing glass artist called Dale Chihuly.The area I'm from used to be really well known for producing glass and there are a lot of individual glass artists who learnt their craft round here. I love glass art, go to this big glass festival whenever it's in our area and have been to the glass museum (yes, that's a thing, what?).

➝ A quick article about the male equivalent of the Rest Cure which was prescribed to women who were believed to have nervous disorders. The male version sounds way more fun unsurprisingly.

➝ Another article reminding us that Andrew Motion is writing a sequel to 'Treasure Island' (yes. we get it already, I refuse to have an opinion until it is published and I can read it)', but at least The Telegraph fleshes this out with interesting extra content. This article looks at
medical content in Robert Louis Stevenson's fiction and his biographical link to the medical world.

➝ I'm sorry Kim, but I just hate the term chick-non-fiction so much :( I hate all gendered book marketing and I would please like it to stop. How does everyone else feel about it?

➝ An interesting peek behind the scenes at Google is provided by an employee who has left in Why I Left Google. I love a good nose into how the big companies work.

➝ As Renay is creating her own Hugo ballot, I figure she's probably feeling curious about other people's nominations. Abigail Nussbaum Asking the Wrong Question talks through her thoughts on creating a draft ballot.

➝ From The Rejectionist:

'When I make jokes about guillotines people get uncomfortable but you know, I'm not really joking anymore, is the thing. I know how that one ended but look around you. Look around you and tell me you don't want guillotines a little, too. Tell me you don't want language that is a shear, cutting through; tell me you don't want words that leave the streets running with blood.'

Just read the whole thing.

➝ To follow, a post from her fashion blogger friend, Meg Clark, who I just started following. 'In Defence of the Hot Mess/ A Call for Female AntiHeroes'. Various people around the blogosphere have recently started calling for less of the strong women archetype and stating their interest in more regular, or flawed, or less assertive, or not primarily physically strong female characters (Ana's linked to some of those discussions and has talked about it herself). I think Clark's post takes that discussion in a new direction, calling for more female characters who are believably fucked up.

As you might have gathered when I said I was lusting after 'The Green Girl', this is a character type I want way more of, but which is surrounded by issues that may make this type of fictional woman feel uncomfortable to some. Interested to see what comes out of all these discussions (I suspect it's going to be a variation of the ever popular "ALL THE STORIES").

➝ And I'll end with an essay about Terry Pratchett's women for Ana. [livejournal.com profile] cassiphone talks about Agnes from 'Masquerade' and 'Carpe Juggulum', with bonus fan art.

text that says Renay's Section

➝ This is hilarious review of The Hunger Games that shouldn't be missed. Via [personal profile] owlmoose

➝ The MLA would like you to correctly cite all Tweets in your papers, please. #technologywins

➝ A wonderful video answering the question "What is the most astounding fact you can share with us about the Universe?" by Dr. Neil DeGrasse Tyson.

➝ I have feelings about Henry Jenkins, mostly centering around the fact that we're letting a white dude write about our community and I want more sources like this where it's our voices writing about our community, participants writing about events they witnesses and were a part of, but this review of Textual Poachers is still a nice summary of the book's content. On a related note, Transformative Works and Cultures Vol 9 is out, and the topic is Fan/Remix Video. Someone on my reading list posted a super neat trailer.

➝ Things I don't need but would love to have regardless: Dinosaur Chocolate Molds.

➝ Native Appropriations: Johnny Depp as Cultural Appropriation Jack Sparrow...I mean Tonto. and Why Tonto Matters. Thoughtful articles with good questions.

Fiona Apple is releasing a new album titled The Idler Wheel is wiser than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords will serve you more than Ropes will ever do. I am super excited about this. \o/

The Further Adventures of Lady Business

Once again, Ana has written many, many interesting things! She reviewed Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon, A Bride's Story vols 1 and 2 by Kaoru Mori, The Next Day by Jason Gilmore, Paul Peterson and John Porcellino and discusses Chavs by Owen Jones, which explores "the demonization of working-class people".

For International Women's Day (next year our trio will have to do something special for this!), Ana created a fabulous recommendation list of nonfiction titles.

Finally, Ana created Reading and Gender: A Brief Guided Tour of my MA Dissertation.

Date: 2012-03-18 11:32 am (UTC)
berowne: (blow this town)
From: [personal profile] berowne
Various people around the blogosphere have recently started calling for less of the strong women archetype and stating their interest in more regular, or flawed, or less assertive, or not primarily physically strong female characters

I am happy this is a point that people have been making lately - as much as I love female characters that are strong both physically and morally and that are heroes in their series and inspire the same kind of loyalty that traditional male heroes always have and I love the kind attention those characters have been getting, the truth is I'm growing a bit tired of those characters being the only ones that are celebrated by fandom.

I want female characters to be as varied and rich as male characters have always allowed to be. I want to see flawed, fucked-up, even villanous female characters and that their existence is not used against the whole of the portrayal of female characters. Men have no problem with seeing a male character that is a piece of work, because they also have tons and tons of heroic role models and every possible shade in between. Because we women see less female characters written, and even less that have real relevance to the narrative, I think it's natural that we want to see the best version of a female character, specially since it seems audiences are harder on female characters, measuring them according to standards we don't use on male characters the same way, but also be careful! we don't want our female characters to be "too perfect" or somebody will start shouting "MARY SUE!" at them.

So yes, I understand why we want to see fantastic, strong, brave, inspiring, flawless women in our media. But I also regret how that bias tends to sideline excellently written characters just because they are shown in a less positive light. So I like this reaction against that, because female characters should be just as varied and rich as their male counterparts, and the artists and creators should not shy away from writing problematic women.

And I believe we do want to see these flawed, fucked-up characters, if only they were offered to us. For example this past year in three occassions when I went to the cinema I was cheered up by seeing different kinds of female protagonists (female protagonists! yay!) that were as complex and messed-up as any male character we've seen previously:

- the british horror film The Awakening features a female protagonist whose heroicity is not connected with her status as female -which is a common trope in psychological horror films of the sort- and whose attributes have always been (absurdly) associated with male heroes of the genre: she is active, strongheaded, skeptic, a scientist, brave, emotionally closed, cold and harsh, stunned by war trauma, and her narrative is, ultimately, one of identity and belonging. The film also celebrates her sexuality and desire without punishing her for it, as it so often happens in the genre. And she is not either written as a male-character-by-any-other-name: she is not more physically strong than we would expect her to be, she is allowed to be fragile and kind, she is allowed to have doubts, she is allowed to fall in love. But she also doesn't need anyone to save her in the end - she can save herself.

- the game-changing Bridesmaids has the kind of protagonist that we have seen many times, it's a well-loved figure of American cinema: the charming loser, the romaticized mess, someone who makes a lot of mistakes and is currently down on their luck but who is also charming and loveable in their own loser way. Trouble is I think I have only seen this kind of character as men. It is an almost entirely male trope. And it's an overused trope. Except that when I saw it in Bridesmaids, when I saw the romantic loser as a woman I thought "wow, there are so many things you can do with this character when it's a woman". It was refreshing. For most of the film Annie walked the fine line between hero and anti-hero, she was obviously a good person but she fucked up a lot, and you found yourself rooting for her the most because the narrative wasn't giving her a break and she needed to grab that break herself. She wasn't flawless and she wasn't phoney and she wasn't a manic pixie dream girl.

- Jason Reitman's Young Adult, about which a lot of people in fandom are talking about right now because it's a very uncomfortable film. A very difficult film. With a lot of things that I found problematic (perhaps because I'm not really a fan of Diable Cody's writing). While watching it I wasn't sure if our protagonist was meant to be a very dark anti-hero or a hero-villain. I'm still not sure. The film looked in the eye at a lot of issues traditional female representation in Hollywood movies would never touch - all those painstakingly long sequences demystifying Charlize Theron's beauty, with the make-up and the hair extensions. Our protagonist was a piece of work but the film also asked for our sympathy, if only because she is our protagonist and the whole narrative is constructed according to her POV. Of course we have seen a lot of film that do that with a male protagonist, we have plenty of male protagonists that are so messed-up that they are almost alienating but they are fascinating enough to keep on watching (a recent example would be The Social Network). But it was really confusing to see that kind of game in Young Adult, because we are never asked to do that with a female protagonist.

What I meant to say with these random example is that perhaps the fact that we are getting female protagonists that are more varied and not necessarily flawless ir heroic is helping the audiences and the fandom to get over the assumption that a "strongly written female character" equals a "flawless, strong woman". This isn't the case with male characters, where no one takes physical strength as a mark of what makes a good or a bad character (unless you -like me- roam the no-girl-allowed kind of manga and anime forums, where the measure of which character in Naruto is "the best one" depends or whether or not that character can beat up the rest).

Bottom line: I think it's a good discussion to have, how to appreciate female characters that are not strong or cool or "act like a man" - a line I'm pretty sure we've all heard when someone tries to praise a female character and that makes us roll our eye because REALLY?

Date: 2012-03-18 01:35 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
So first, love, love, love this comment, thanks for taking the time to leave so much insight with examples! I especially like this:

'But it was really confusing to see that kind of game in Young Adult, because we are never asked to do that with a female protagonist.'

Related tangent: I'm watching Homeland now and every time I read a review someone is like 'Wow that Carrie is messed up, watching the guy she suspects has been turned to terrorism by using secret, illegal cameras. This program is surely a grown up 24 where we are asked to question her behaviour, rather than approve it.'

Personally I think I've seen male protagonists do much worse in programs about the police, army and secret services. These male characters still get framed as heros (or at least sympathetic characters) by their narrative and general media reaction usually contains some sympathy for them, or interest in them as an entertaining character. Oh they're rogue heros sure, but they're still perectly reasonable heros that the audience is encouraged to cheer for (although hopefully lots of people critically analyse why in real life we would never approve these actions because they are illegal and awful, as well!). So to me, Carrie is just that kind of heroine. But it seems as soon as you put a woman in that kind of role, the world's reviewers become really confused about how to approach that character trope. It suddenly switches its focus and addresses the narrative in the context of reality, rather than as a disconnected piece of entertainment. And while in some ways that's great (hurray everyone wakes up the the fact that invasion of privacy might not be such a good thing after all) it's an uncomfortably gendered response that I feel rests on judging female characters harder than we'd ever judge male characters.

And I think like you said we see similar confusion about how to approach a messed up female character, because people are used to making huge morality allowances for fictional heroes, but many also assume a right to judge women's morality against a very strict scale. It's confusing and sadly in some cases the easiest way for people invested in women's morality to bust this complex problem apart without having to show off their alientaingly conservative principals is to uses liberal-washing tactics and name that character an example of anti-feminist representation. Of course, I'm not saying that there can't still be anti-feminist elements to the way the narrative treats a less than perfect female character, or that any feminists who think that a less than perfect female character is also anti-feminist are buying into liberal-washing. It's more that you'll often see people who have no other interest in supporting liberal issues co-opt a liberal stance against a particular female character who looks very similar to many, many male characters.

Anyway back on subject: I also agree I want to see female characters who can be all the things a male character is allowed to be and who can still get sympathy from the audience. I pretty much refuse to listen to people say female characters are 'acting like a man', or 'betraying our gender' because ick (especially as people will attach that second idea to women whose characters contain a lot of traditionally male traits, OR a lot of traditionally female emotions - female characters just can't win and I am not interested in playing a game where ladies can't win).

The one worrying thing that I sometimes feel I'm picking up on during all the 'strong women are dominating the field' conversations is that sometimes it sounds like we're in danger of enforcing a false dichotomy where you can have 'strong' women OR 'flawed' women. I would personally love to see more combinations of the competant and the flawed, which is what you get with a lot of male characters (I think you find this kind of character type set up as both anti-hero, hero and protagonist when it comes to men). There used to be a whole lot of female characters who were both physically strong, or professionally competant and yet had other flaws, or made terrible, harmful mistakes along the way. For some reason that character type seems to have dropped off along the way, maybe because women who were physically strong but emotionally hard came to be disliked for 'acting like men', while women who were physically strong, but emotionally open were seen as a reinforcement of traditional ideas about what makes women unable to be equal to a man. Like I said ladies lose out whenever someone starts throwing around arguments about gender essentialism and internalised sexism without using qualifier words. And I should see Awakening now, because it sounds like that has just the kind of female character I'm looking for.

So, I would love to see a range of different female characters develop, but I'd also like to see 'kick ass AND flawed' ladies be part of that range. And I'd like to see a bunch of ladies who aren't framed as being quite so drammatically flawed (which idk maybe this is just me, but I think flawed is quite a severe word which links a character with anti-hero status, rather than just normal humanity) but are just regular people who mess up sometimes.

Hope this makes sense as I'm running late and rambling as a consequence :)

Date: 2012-03-18 11:57 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] theliteraryomnivore.wordpress.com
I love Dale Chihuly! He's got an installation in the Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as the Atlanta Botanical Garden. His work is so beautiful.

Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers, one of Jenkins' collection of essays, talks more about Jenkins' own involvement in fandom, including his involvement in slash fandom and fanzines in the late eighties (in a essay where he pretty much just steps back and excerpts a lot of letter columns) and a conversation with his son about how Buffy the Vampire Slayer was used in their household as a site of critical thinking.

And I am super-excited about the new volume of the Journal of Transformative Works. It's just because there's an televisual component I can't read it while I'm blow-drying my hair. Ah, well.

Those are fantastic posts concerning The Lone Ranger. I was actually watching The Last Airbender with my film depreciation crew when I saw the picture, so it was just awfulness in stereo.

Date: 2012-03-20 07:47 pm (UTC)
bookgazing: (Default)
From: [personal profile] bookgazing
Oh he's the guy who made the chandelier! I saw that when I popped into the V&A a while ago. That is a feat of engineering.


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