Sunday, October 4, 2009

The 17th Down Under Feminists' Carnival

The 17th Down Under Feminists' Carnival is up and running over at Ideologically Impure. I'm thrilled to be in such good company and would like commend the Queen for all the hard work. Although I have not worked my way through all the posts - two highlights strike out:
  • Full Rock Spider: A Six Step Guide, provides a scathing overview of paedophilia, celebrity and apologetics. Claire brilliantly links the current Roman Polanksi debacle to previous instances of celebrity paedophilia and notes the vast differences in societies reactions between that of sexy celebrity versus home grown kiddie fiddlers.
  • 100 Sci-Fi Women: squee! Full of fabulous sci-fi women over at Godard's Letterbox. Go read it!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Family Guy and the Popularisation of Sexism

I have a confession to make: I watch Family Guy and for the most part enjoy it. It's shallow, cheap humour; easy to follow, no great philosophy - and to be honest, I put it on when I'm stressed and don't want want to think, get into bed and fall asleep.
Sure, I've always been aware that it is sexist, racist, fatist, ableist, homophobic - and whatever other form of bigotry that I have forgotten. However, in the past, I managed to compartmentalise those aspects.

As Seth McFalan has stated, the majority of the highly offensive shite dribbles out of Peter's mouth and it's meant to be derided and is often in stark contrast to Brian's position. However, the shows sexism has always been far more implicit and in becoming increasingly explicit. For this post, I am going to focus upon the implicit sexism presented by the characterisation of Lois.

Implicit Sexism: The Characterisation of Lois
At a very basic level, Lois is the loyal and beautiful (house)wife of an overweight, useless and unintelligent oaf. Pretty standard trope, but hey, if you let that rile you to the point of rage, your popular cultural pickings are few. Lois is built up as a dream wife, of sorts.

Lois' beauty is constantly reinforced. She was Miss Teen Rhode Island, had a brief stint as a model, is objectified by many of Peters friends and Brian is an inconsistent not so secret admirer. Lois' own children admire her beauty - often as a point to contrast Meg's unattractiveness.

She ain't a golddigger
Lois loves Peter unconditionally and through choosing to marry him, has divorced herself from a life of luxury through alienating her wealthy and 'landed' family. This 'good woman' stereotype works in contrast with the negative characterisation of women as gold diggers who pursue and marry men for their future financial security. Indeed, Lois must be perfectly happy with what she has; if she deviates from this she is firmly put back in her place with accepting only that which Peter can provide. In Breaking Out is Hard to Do, after shoplifting a ham, Lois becomes kleptomanic in her desire to acquire luxury items. Her frenzied theivery lands her in jail, throwing the familial bliss into chaotic disorder. The lesson here: women want, want, want and their consumeristic desire must be kurbed as it is dangerous, uncontrollable and destructive. Live with what your husband can provide and be happy with it! (Nevermind that he buys a horse, a rocket or whatever - with no obvious impact on the family - and it is his money anyway.)

Home is where a wife is: now don't get me wrong; I'm not bagging Lois for being a housewife - it's a hell of a lotta work, and heaven stop me before I ever volunteer myself to look after all of the unpaid drudgery. The problem aspect of Lois' portrayal is that any attempt to enter workforce is either misguided or dangerous to the family or Lois herself.
In FOX-y Lady, Lois accepts a role at Fox News, after the previous reporter is fired when a new type of television exposes her wrinkles (because news reporters must be beautiful and a wrinkled woman is hideous). Brian admonishes Lois for accepting the role on the basis that Fox is an incredibly bias network. Lois, demonstrating her typical naievity, passes off Brian and decides to give them a chance. The rest of the episode is devoted to essentially showing up Lois misguided trust and Fox news itself.
Even more concerning is Model Misbehaviour, in which Lois decides to follow her earlier ambitions to become a model that we thwarted by her father. At first, Lois' success is lauded - Peter is proud to be 'hitting that.' However, as the episode progresses - the danger presents itself. Lois loses weight, takes up smoking, hangs out a celebrity events and flaunts herself (much to Peter's alarm). It's interesting that Lois' 'dangerous behaviour' seems to be correlated in the episode with the fact that she is acting outside of Peter's control. Moral of the story - Lois must return to staying at home, covering herself up and devoting herself to the family.

In discussing this with my partner, I think the thing that bothers me most about Lois is that she is designed to appeal to wants and desires of young men. She is beautiful and yet controlled, devoted and doesn't demand anything of them; alot of her bad behaviour is related to when she isn't devoted to the family or when she wishes more for herself. To my mind, these are very male centered fears - what if my wife decides she wants more than I can provide? What if she overtakes me? She'll bleed me dry with her high maintenance ways if she is encouraged.
I realise that alot of these traits are mirrored by Marge in the Simpsons. However, personally, there is something much more disturbing in their presentation in Lois.

So tell me - I am off the mark here? What's your take on Lois as a feminist? Does she make you cringe?

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Fear of Genital Mutilation Doesn't Warrant Refugee Status

Teresia Muturi and Grace Gichuh sexuality and lives are currently hanging in the balance of the Australian Immigration Department. Both women fled Kenya before they could be genitally mutilated and arrived in Australia for World Youth Day 2008.
Interviewed by Yuko Narushima for the Sydney Morning Herald, Grace reportedly sobbed while explaining the process,
"They use a knife. Just a knife, no medicine...10 men hold the woman down... while another brandishing the knife cuts off the clitoris.''

Grace had refused being mutilated in the same fashion that killed her mother prior to arriving here., resulting in threats to her life. Similarly, Teresia ran away after being sold to a 70 year old man for 10 cows.

The women have been told to pack and be ready for deportation, after their application for refugee status was denied and their appeal was dismissed by the Australian Immigration Minister, Chris Evans.
The women have launched another appeal, and Evans is being called to intervene on the basis that under pending legislation, the women would be covered by 'complementary protection.'

Typically, the Opposition couldn't restrain itself, with the Opposition Immigration spokeswoman, Sharman Stone stating she would oppose the bill, as it would "open the gates" to fabricated asylum claims:
"It could be an honour killing, it could be a genital mutilation like this, it could be a whole range of other quite complex and one-off situations where the person doesn't meet the refugee convention criteria."
However, Stone has supported the intervention of Evans within this case.

Legal Background: Australian Immigration Practice
The women have been refused refugee status as their situation is not covered by current law, which states that persecution must be based on:
  • Race
  • Religion
  • Nationality
  • Membership of a particular social group or political party.
Thus, women who fear genital mutilation are deported.
Clearly, the law as it currently stands is deeply problematic. As developing countries are increasingly threatened by globalisation, we are going to continue to see the emergence of social and religious customs that not only denigrate women, but threaten their lives. Further, isn't it arguable that women who are threatened by genital mutilation actually do form a particular social group?

Demonstrating the ineffectual nature of current immigration policy, it has been noted that women with similar cases have been granted refugee status. However, the outcomes of these cases have been dependent on the judgement of an individual Immigration Officer. So let's get this straight,
  • The law is recognised to be disproportionately narrow by some Immigration Officers, who are judging cases contrary to the letter of the law.
  • Resultingly, the lives of women are therefore dependent on the individual judgement of an Immigration Official, providing plenty of room for the entry of bigotry.
Clearly, the law is ineffective - if Immigration Officials aren't following it - and it allows for individual power over the fate of another; of which the entire point of bureaucratising the process is to prevent.
Which makes you wonder why the Liberal Party is opposing the introduction of a law that would make cases such as these so much more clear cut. Personally, this didn't come as a surprise. The Liberal Party have long latched onto the xenophobic fears that are attached to immigration in this country.

Cultural Background - The Mungiki
Judging by the media reports, both women face attack by their family members who are a part of the Mungiki tradition. Originating in the 1980s, the criminalised group is steadfastedly anti-modern and anti-western; seeking to return to the indigenous traditions untouched by colonialisms taint. As is typical with any group that steadfastedly rejects the present (fundamentalist Christians, anyone?) and aims for a return to the more innocent and pure past; shitty gender roles also come into play.*

So, get out your pens, pick up the phone and chat to your federal member about supporting this bill.
*Please note: I believe that all cultures that diminish the status of women deserve relevant criticism. I do not agree with rampant cultural relativism that embraces any non-western cultural aspect and scorns criticism on the basis of it being ethnocentric. Further, the same traits that have led to the re-entrance of genital mutilation into Kenyan society, are also present in the western religious and cultural world - but that would be for another post.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

"Think before you open your mouth*": An Australian Experiment in Redundant Reasoning

Gender has entered the national debate with a bang of misogny and irrationality with the announcement that the Government wishes to abolish rules that prevent women from applying for frontline roles. In essence, the Goverment wishes for women to be able to apply and face the same physical testing that their male counterparts must do, without lowering the bar in terms of requirements.

Cue entry of partriachialised hysteria.

Stuart Robert, backbencher for the opposition, was first to enter the stage. After calling the notion, öutrageous,"and telling Mr Combet (who introduced the topic) that he should, "think before you open your mouth," (an interesting charge considering what spewed forth from his), Robert exclaimed:

"My concern is that really only Israel and a handful of countries whose very existence is threatened have gone down this path - the rest of the Western world hasn't,"

Perhaps my feminine mentality prevents me from discerning the finer points to Roberts arguement, but, WTF? Isn't one of the most base reasons for maintaining an armed force is to prepare for the event in which a country's existence is threatened?   Also, am I catching a hint anti-semitism? Well, its alright for the Jews - but, their women are made of different metal.

Enter Neil James, executive director of the Australian Defence Association with this gem:

"It's a simple physicality thing. On the battlefield, academic gender equity theory doesn't apply. The laws of physics and biomechanics apply."

Ummmm... the laws of physics, huh?

Of course, there is nothing like the notion of women being involved in combat that brings out the construction of gender. Even supporters have framed their arguments around the notion that women are not naturally cut out for the job. As MP  Lynda Volz notes:

"You talk to any men who do triathlon and marathon running and ask them if there are not a few women out there that are freaks of nature that beat them home every time,"

That's right, freaks. Because it is unnatural for women to be as strong as men - as it is equally unnatural for them to wish to serve on the front line. But hey, I'm progressive and won't stop them....  gah!

This round of arguments that center around physical ability act to highlight the utter irrationality and redundancy of their bearers. Did they not hear the announcement correctly? Dudes, if women are not up to the physical standard, they won't get in. No ifs, no buts. Moaning on and on about how women aren't up to the standard is redundant. Because, if you are right, well, then, they won't get in.

Naturally, this topic has moved further into the morality of allowing women to serve. For a brilliant write up, visit Larvatus Prodeo.

Image by Dunechaser CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Thursday, September 17, 2009

True Blood Divergence

In response to meloukhia's brilliant summation of the current vampire trope, I'm motivated to post a little defence of True Blood.
Before I get carried away, let me layout Mel's groundwork. Mel has provided one of the best summaries of the current vampire trope that I have read:
Essentially, Mel notes that the current vamp story contains the following:
  • A socially isolated young woman (broken home, dead parents, adopted, etc). Further, our heroine is usually adolescent.
  • Enter devilishly good looking, but ultimately noble and of impeccable manners "Ancient Vamp," who is maddenly attracted to our heroine.
  • They fall in love, which results in numerous complications.
  • The vamp deflowers our heroine and in doing so, is "initiated into a magical (and sexual) world by the Power of the Vampire Penis.
Although not completely across the board, I would like to add the following:
  • Through her interaction with the vamp, our heroinse gains skillz that while increasing her ability to not be helpless against her foes, render her reliant and connected to the vamp. Think Anita Blake and the vampire marks, Bella and her creepily passive vamp talent.
  • Our heroine is not only isolated by circumstance, but appears to have very few social connections at all. Anita Blake has hardly any real friends - Ronnie turns up every few books, briefly - nearly dies and buggers off. Bella has friends as fillers - usually only there when Edward is not.
Although I'm sure there are more standard characteristics to this tale, I note the two above for my nefarious objective; True Blood's Sookie Stackhouse provides a reasonable divergence from the standard. In doing so, Sookie, gasp, becomes a rounded character.
Sookie's Mad Skillz -Spoiler Warning
Unlike some of her compatriots*, Sookie's skillz are entirely her own. Sookie's ability to read minds and shoot crazy lightning energy stuff is, as it turns out in the novels, based on her fairy bloodline. Her skills are not enhanced by Bill, nor do they originate from him.

Sookie's Social Skillz
Although Ms Stackhouse is isolated from the folk of Bon Temp due to her mad skillz, Sookie manages to have friends and family. Unlike Bella, who doesn't really relate to anyone who isn't a freak, or Anita, who only really seems to relate to freaky dick and scorns everyone else with her rather antagonist and harsh personality, Sookie can, omg, relate to people.

Although I admit that Sookie is not a feminists dream. She does present a vamp story heroine who is not adolescent who actually has agency within the story. Indeed, through Sookie not being a passive filler, (Bella), the storyline of True Blood is able to diverge from the Sookie/Bill love story, enabling the series to be about...Sookie!

*Note: I realise that this deviation is shared by Buffy.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Star Trek: A Feminist Review

Star Trek has elicted mixed reactions for this viewer. On one hand, I am not a Trekkie - and in fact, I despise Next Gen. for its goofiness. But, due to the many recommendations and the fact that I am a JJ Abrahms fan, I thought - why not?

To begin - and give credit where it is due: Star Trek was an enjoyable film. The plot line was well paced and exciting, it was visually spectacular, the acting well delivered and likable. Importantly, it produced in me the thrill of the speculative; that excited feeling where you speculate - what if we do develop interstellar space travel, what if there are other intelligent species out there.

That being said - the movie failed the Bechdel test (to my knowledge, correct me if wrong) and overall, represents a fairly spectacular, if unsurprising gender fail.

The new military uniform: Mini skirts and fuck me boots?
Aside from mothers and the martian conquest of Kirk, the film has a single main woman actor: Lt. Uhura. As we are told that the Lt. is highly accomplished academically - in a number of fields, we can assume that women are allowed to participate equally in Abrahms ST universe. Fabulous - they can get an education, join the military, participate on panels, etc.

And yet, the uniform for military women is patently ridiculous. While the men are strutting around in a uniform that looks both functional (read comfortable, accomodating, will keep the wearer warm in the air conditioned ship - and yet, allow them to engage in combat with ease) the women are running around in riding mini skirts and come fuck me boots.

Not only does this act to sexualise the women (as it is clearly meant to - we are given a number focusing shots of the Lt.'s legs) the uniform suggests/limits the functionality of what the women are able to do. Clothing is both an indication of class and of the wearer's purpose. A ballgown denotes where/what the wearer is doing - as does a set of overalls. The womens uniform in Star Trek relegates them to non-combat and administrative roles. Clearly, the women are not going to be fixing the ships engine's or kicking any physical ass.

Ultimately, the uniform represents a gender double whammy - let's sexualise the women and relegate them to the sidelines.

The feminist sf blogosphere has offered a detailed discussion of Star Trek. Rather than recreating the wheel, here are a few links:

Star Trek doesn't update gender roles
Heroine Content: Star Trek

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Nothing is created in a vacuum: On Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child.

I and it looks like many other sf fans will never read Patricia Wrede's Thirteenth Child. Why, you ask? Put simply, Wrede has written an alternative history of the settlement of America - with a few speculative twists. What are the speculative twists you may be thinking? Aside from the traditional speculative tropes, for whatever reason, Wrede has decided to reimagine an America sans Native Americans.

When I first read the summary of this on, I was speechless, dumbfounded and incredibly uncomfortable. In one sense, I attempted to give the author some leeway. Perhaps Wrede felt that she didn't want to navigate the intricacies of the immigration invasion of America, so she side stepped them. But side stepping by obliterating Native American existence - is like genocide by omission.

Here's the problem. Nothing is created in a vacuum and audiences do not read in one. To write about colonisation is fraught with danger. Wrede has in fact (perhaps unknowingly, perhaps subconsciously) written a white washed and racist text. To reimagine America as devoid of its Native occupants is precisely as many would currently choose to have American history written and read. It is disenfranchising to Native American people, and IMO reflects authorial laziness.

What is the point of reimagining colonial history - without actually putting any thought into how you will treat the indigenous occupants?

I am not American. My reaction to this is highly influenced by the Australian history wars, in which there are many calls for an essential white washing of the Australian invasion.

For an thought provoking write up, visit: Maunderings & Ponderings

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Religion and Speculative Fiction

Benjamin A. Plotinsky at City Journal has written a scathing and well, incorrect, article on religion and science fiction recently. Plotinsky argues that science fiction has lost its edge; that science fiction is no longer used as a medium for socio-political criticism and exploration, but instead focuses upon Christian allegory.

Plotinsky's article is rife with factual errors at the worse, or perhaps they are merely misunderstandings, demonstrating his lack of specialist knowledge in either religion studies or speculative fiction.

The Sun God

Plotinsky begins with a summary of what he believes to be the central motif of science fiction:
There is a young man, different from other young men. Ancient prophecies foretell his coming, and he performs miraculous feats. Eventually, confronted by his enemies, he must sacrifice his own life—an act that saves mankind from calamity—but in a mystery as great as that of his origin, he is reborn, to preside in glory over a world redeemed.

Plotinsky asserts (not completely incorrectly) and perhaps fairly, that this is the story of the life of Jesus.

Here is where Plotinsky makes his initial kapuff. While the above motiff most certainly is Christian, the notion of a godlike figure who follows the above pattern far predates Christianity. The notion of the dying and reborn god is a popular archetype and can be seen throughout the worlds religions. From Adonis to Osiris, pre-Christian religions were rife with gods who died and were reborn, with the activity commonly occuring during the Winter soltice. (Christmas, anyone?).

The Matrix as Christian Allegory....sorta, but not quite

In a rather ironic stumble, Plotinsky's thesis is based largely (although not entirely) on the notion that The Matrix is essentially a retelling of Jesus' NT exploits. While The Matrix is indeed a retelling of Jesus' life and message, it is in fact a retelling of the Gnostic Jesus, rather than the Christian Jesus. Indeed, the relationship between Gnosticism and The Matrix is so well recognised academically, that Gnosticism is often explained at a University level through reference to the popular movie.
Gnoticism (and in turn, The Matrix,) is incredibly complex. I redirect you to this article for a full analysis, at the Journal of Religion and Film.

The true irony Plotinsky's misunderstanding is that Gnositicism is considered to be a radical (and therefore threatening) reinterpretation of early Christianity. So much so, that the early Christians expounded a great deal of effort in demonising the alternative sect. The demonistation of Gnostic teachings continues into modernity.

Science Fiction - A Rather Narrow Definition

What becomes the major downfall to Plotinsky's thesis, is his narrow definition of science fiction. Plotinsky defines the genre around The Matrix and Superman returns, with fleeting references to Rowlings Harry Potter series and The Lord of the Rings. All instantly recognisable and arguable the most successful of speculative fiction pop cultural artefacts. However, the aforementioned are now, pop cultural artefacts.
It could be argued that all (with the exception of The Matrix) of Plotinsky's texts are popular beyond the speculative fiction cultural spehere precisely because they do not challenge the status quo.

Which leaves us with the mountain of texts that do explore, critise and challenge. For another post....

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Feminist Speculative Fiction: Events : Wiscon

For those lucky enough (or wealthy enough to travel) Wiscon tickets are onsale and sure to be in demand.
As jealousy is not a fine trait, post will have to end here.

Feminist Speculative Fiction: Publications on the horizon

The folks over at The Future Fire have announced that they plan to publish an issue dedicated to feminist speculative fiction in late 2009 early 2010. The announcement is included in a thought provoking editorial that opens their current issue.
The writer notes a instance of the feminist backlash running into spec fic culture last year where a podcast was charged with sexism for publishing feminist content.
While it certainly speaks volumes for the impact of the feminist movement for there to be a backlash againist it (moral panics aside, people generally don't complain against movements that aren't impacting), it fails to negate the need and importance for the continued exploration of gender as a subject of speculation.
Feminist speculative fiction is certainly starting to build a history. From MZB to Terry Pratchett, speculative fiction continues to explore the role of gender in our society through other mediums that allows for the imagination of different ways of being. Read the editorial; The Future Fire has written an eloquent statement of the genre, reducing the need to reproduce one here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Review of Turn Coat: An excerpt

It has been a long time since I have written for reasons other than academic or employment. I have just submitted my first review to The Specusphere.
Reading a novel with the intention to review definitely changes and enriches how you read. Reading
Turn Coat to review vastly increased my enjoyment of the reading process, and through considering what I liked, I stopped more to enjoy what Butcher does so well.
An except:

As can be expected from the title, Turn Coat uncovers the traitor within the White Council, providing the first direct confrontation with the previously hinted at Black Council. Turn Coat opens with Morgan, Warden and executioner of the White Council, arriving on Harry’s doorstep; uninvited, injured and on the run for murdering a senior Council member. Realising that his previous probationer is being framed, Harry must identify the real murderer and in turn, the Black Councils’ insider.
The full review will be available in The Specusphere released in May 2009.

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