not a pretty girl, pt. 1

God help you if you are an ugly girl
‘Course too pretty is also your doom
‘Cause everyone harbors a secret hatred
For the prettiest girl in the room
And God help you if you are a phoenix
And you dare to rise up from the ash

-Ani DiFranco, “32 Flavors

There’s a trope in YA lit that I’ve seen get called out a fair amount in recent months on the tumblogs, arising in part from the boom in YA speculative fiction aimed at girls that followed Twilight‘s success. Our heroine, introducing herself/being introduced, describes herself as roughly this:

  • i just never felt attractive even though by some standards i’m kind of okay i guess i’m thin and white with shoulder length brown hair and big eyes
  • i’m very mature for my age very grown up yes yes serious

That’s from Tumblr user delladilly’s list of tropes that are getting too much play in YA lit at the moment. (The first part is also well worth reading, as are her follow-up posts on how hard it is to find diverse characters and plotlines in YA and why YA is great in spite of the work it still needs to do on itself.)

Bella Swan (and her adult counterpart Anastasia Steele) is by far the best example of this. She describes herself as plain, pale, brunette, klutzy; she has trouble connecting with her peers and prefers to bookworm away with classic literature like Wuthering Heights. She wears flannels and drives a pickup truck and doesn’t like to shop:

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The calculus of femininity (1/3)

Picture of a woman standing on a street at night. She is wearing a vest and tie, a short skirt, and a long... jacket.

~Bummmmm baduhdadum — baduhdaduhdaaaduuuhdum~

Let’s talk about street harassment.

Consider this a content warning for sexual content, strong language, and, of course, men harassing women on the street.

Here’s the post I started two weeks ago:

So I was going to write a post about how much I like sun-dresses; I went for a run on Wednesday and it’s been warm out, and I felt good about myself, and all my pants need to be laundered anyway, so I wore a dress to go to my writing group. Dresses are great! While I am pretty much a shirt + trousers person most of the time, I have a couple of dresses that make me feel really awesome and I really enjoy wearing them, as I was enjoying wearing this one. (I think it really needs a belt, though, otherwise it makes me look a little like a Hobbit wearing a sack. A very flowery sack.)

And then a guy on the street was hassling women.

He was ambling along in front of me. I saw him step out in front of a woman, the way a sports player would step out in front of someone to block them getting to a goal, you know — wide-legged stance, hands out, a lunge as much as anything — and then straightened up again. I had my headphones in, but I could hear him saying something like “Heeeeey!” to her. She smiled at him and kept walking.

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A tangent on the VMAs

Animated gif: Ben Wyatt of Parks & Rec destroys a laptop.If you’re just here for the Camino stuff, you can come back later; I have a post scheduled.

Sorry to get all feminist and political on a Monday morning, guys, except I’m not sorry at all! In fact I’m so mad I might not even need coffee this morning!

Jenny Trout says all the things I was biting my tongue on last night when reactions to the VMAs started to scroll across my Twitter and Facebook feeds. Explicit language ahoy!

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The Love Song of Ardelia Mapp: Or, Anthea Rereads Silence of the Lambs

Ardelia Mapp was in her usual position, propped up in bed with a book. She was listening to all-news radio. She turned it off when Clarice Starling trudged in. Looking into Starling’s drawn face, blessedly she didn’t ask anything except, “Want some tea?”

When she was studying, Mapp drank a beverage she brewed of mixed loose leaves her grandmother sent her, which she called “Smart People’s Tea.”

Of the two brightest people Starling knew, one was also the steadiest person she knew and the other was the most frightening. Starling hoped that gave her some balance in her acquaintance.

Let’s talk about Ardelia Mapp for a little while, because I’m in love with her and the way her relationship with Clarice is portrayed.

First the facts, because if you haven’t read Silence it’s entirely possible you don’t remember or don’t know who Mapp is, as she is sinfully underused in the movie.

Starling and Mapp examining research in the laundry room; Silence of the Lambs, 1991.

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But he seemed so nice: Hannibal, Little Red, and the stories we tell

I think sometimes I underestimate the value of stories. Don’t get me wrong: I am always going to be on the front lines saying that stories have an enormous effect on culture, on our values, on our psychology. It’s just that I think I, personally, have tended to discount the effect stories have had on me and my development. When I first started thinking about a post about stories, I was going to write about Cinderella and Snow White and Savitri and the anxiety-inducing myth of perfection. And that’s a post I’ll probably write one day!

The story on my mind right now, though, is Little Red Riding Hood.

As many of my friends have been forced to hear over the last couple months, I am an enormous fan of Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter books and movies. All two of them. Boy, isn’t it a shame he didn’t write more about what Lecter got up to after escaping? I’m sure it wouldn’t have gone off the rails into creepy Freudian shenanigans and death by Moray eel at all. But I think we’re all glad he didn’t write some kind of phoned-in prequel giving Lecter a bizarre excuse for being a monster, just because Dino de Laurentiis wanted to milk the franchise for every penny it was worth.

Even if he had, we’d still have the exquisite Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, and any insanity that crept into the franchise later in its life couldn’t change the fact that those are excellent books and Silence is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen. I just love Will Graham and Clarice Starling, okay? Especially Clarice. Talk about an awesome role model for a young woman.

Diminutive ladies kicking ass and taking names: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn't care that she's shorter than you.

Diminutive ladies kicking ass and taking names: Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) doesn’t care that she’s shorter than you.

(Beyond this Read More I’m going to be talking about content from and spoilers for NBC’s Hannibal, including the season finale, so consider yourself warned.)

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Another blog rec: man boobz

A woman wearing a dinosaur mask, wearing a T-shirt that reads

I’m sure this picture makes sense in context. Somehow.

Another blog recommendation: man boobz, by the irrepressible and inimitable David Futrelle. I discovered man boobz sometime last year, devoured the archives, and now look forward to its updates in my Google Reader every day.

This recommendation comes with a major content warning. Man boobz is dedicated to exposing, critiquing, and mocking the Men’s Rights movement and misogyny in general. Futrelle does an excellent job of quoting and citing the people he’s calling out, letting their words speak for themselves — but that means that very often he is discussing topics like rape, domestic violence, and sexual harassment, and his blog often contains extremely misogynistic language. If those are likely to be triggering or upsetting to you, you may want to steer clear. That said, Futrelle does a pretty good job of putting in his own trigger and content warnings when he’s discussing particularly vile stuff.

(It also sometimes contains kittens to clear the palate.)

While I read Slacktivist to remind me that there’s hope and love and hippies out there, I read man boobz to remind myself that there’s still a lot to be angry about, a lot to fight for. The people Futrelle quotes are often cartoonishly horrible, but they’re still real. They are real actual people who think insanely terrible things about me because I’m a woman and a feminist. They are actually for real out there. (I have lived a fairly charmed life in terms of knowing good men who consider me a person — or at least polite men who treated me that way — so sometimes it’s hard for me to wrap my head around the fact that these retrograde excuses for humans exist in the real world.)

But people like Futrelle are also out there, calling those cartoonishly awful people out and doing it with humor and wit. So that does give me some hope.

On critically, creatively writing

I am, for the first time in some years, working on a giant creative piece — editing and revising and rewriting the novel I wrote in November for NaNoWriMo — and at the same time I’ve been having a lot of interesting conversations with friends lately about popular media, representation, and criticism.

I spent my time at school primarily learning to be a critic, by which I mean I learned to analyze, critique, and dissect texts. (“Texts” being a term that here means all kinds of media, not just written work; TV shows, movies, comic books, paintings, etc all count as “texts.”) One of my particular areas of interest was how the content we create and consume both reflects and shapes the cultures we live in. What did Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar say about the England he was living and writing in? What do the Marvel movies say about the America/global community we live in now? How do the ways we represent underprivileged groups — women, ethnic minorities, queer people — affect the way those groups are perceived in everyday life? And now that I’m out of school, I still love discussing those kinds of issues. Watching Battlestar Galactica with my roommates, we speculate about how the show is commenting on the Iraq war and laud its diverse cast; rereading or rewatching J.R.R. Tolkien, we bemoan and analyze the lack of female characters and characters who aren’t white and ponder on how The Hobbit‘s new adaptation parallels The Lord of the Rings.

That’s all me thinking with my academic hat on. When I sit down to write, I’m putting on my writer’s hat — but I find, more and more, that the academic hat never entirely goes away. Which sometimes makes creative writing a rather more complicated endeavor.

The last big creative piece that I actually finished was Bad Hamlet, a play co-written with the wonderfully talented Lillian DeRitter. That play was explicitly — and perhaps overly — academic in tone. (Just now, discussing it with some friends who have read the script, we noted that while it didn’t exactly have a plot, it did have an order, in the same way that an academic paper has an order. You have to present ideas A and B to prove ideas C and D and reach conclusion X.) We set out to tackle head-on issues of feminism, sexuality, and representation with that play, and I like to think we succeeded at least once or twice. (Although if I were rewriting that play now, I would take one friend’s suggestion and have a character stand up in the audience and demand “Why aren’t there no black Hamlets!” What could have been . . .)

What I’m working on now is a novel involving Sherlock Holmes, Alice of Alice in Wonderland, with a sprinkling of H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tentacular horrors from the cthonic world to keep things interesting. That’s three source materials that are notably short on positive depictions of underprivileged groups: Conan Doyle’s works are dominated by white men; Wonderland and Looking Glass land has markedly few women in spite of the main character being a little girl; and Lovecraft’s views on race are . . . uh . . . gross.

So I find myself trying to write a compelling, interesting, action-packed story with compelling characters and a consistent universe and all the stuff that a good book should have — which is hard enough to begin with — and simultaneously find myself peering over my own shoulder. “Why aren’t more of your characters female?” Academic Me asks Writer Me. “Why are they all going to be played by white actors when the movie adaptation comes around? Isn’t that representation of mental illness rather problematic? Where are the trans* characters, the gay characters, the disabled characters?”

“Academic Me,” replies Writer Me, “I have two whole chapters where nothing happens that I need to rewrite so my characters can get from point A to point B without losing the readers’ interest! I think that’s a little more pressing than your inclusion. And how am I supposed to include all those people without falling into tokenism?”

“You’re the creative one,” says Academic Me with a shrug. “I’m just here to make sure The Mary Sue likes your stuff.”

Can it be done? Can a single novel with two main characters be inclusive of all these different groups, or is it better to focus on making this book just a solid, compelling story and worry about writing a diverse, inclusive cast when I write a hit TV series that can have an ensemble cast? 

Ladies in Football: Making Sacks and Taking Names

Hell. Freaking. Yes. The Seattle Majestics vs. the Portland Shockwave.

One of the things I spent yesterday doing was finding out more about women in football — one of those topics that I never expected to be learning about, but found myself unexpectedly fascinated by.

Unsurprisingly, women’s football flies under a lot of people’s radar. When I got home and told my roommates (one boy, Z, one girl, E) that I’d been researching the sport and its leagues, Z’s first question was “How many of them aren’t powderpuff football?” (Powderpuff was a term I had never heard before; when it was first brought up I got really confused because I thought we were talking about the Powerpuff Girls and couldn’t figure out if people were talking about jerseys with Buttercup on them or what.)

It turns out there are at least three major women’s football leagues in the US, all working on promoting women’s involvement in the sport and providing ways for female athletes to get involved: the Women’s Football Alliance, the Independent Women’s Football League, and the Women’s Spring Football League. These leagues are trying to provide resources to and raise the profile of pro female football players in a sports world where people are more likely to think women are the ones in the cheerleading skirts, not the pads and jerseys. (Meaning no disrespect to the cheerleaders; God knows I wish I was as flexible and strong as those women!)

On a more community-based level, there are myriad numbers of women’s flag football leagues all over the country — probably more my speed, given that I’m five-foot-nothin’ and liable to get trampled by a tackle — where women can take the field in a more casual way.

Also let us not neglect the phenomenon of high school powderpuff football, because if the quotes on Tumblr are to be believed, those young ladies are NOT messing around. Do not mess with a competitive high school girl, man, and do not seek to suggest that she’s just as impressive as the pro ladies pictured above; she will bull through you faster than you can say “Pretty In Pink.”

To conclude, here’s a video of the first female football player ever to be featured on a Wheaties box: nine-year-old Sam Gordon* being more hardcore than I have ever been.

*I would say Sam Gordon is my favorite nine-year-old girl of the year, but I can’t say that because I met so many awesome nine-year-old girls working children’s theatre. But I still think she’s AWESOME. I mean oh my god she is the first female football player to be featured as a Champion for the Breakfast of Champions and she’s NINE.