Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Let the gender games continue

I spent Monday and Tuesday at The Gender Games in Melbourne. No one died, though we had a good go at patriarchy! Seriously, though, it was wonderful to see such a diverse crowd of academics working in different fields coming together. I sat in on any number of interesting sessions and chaired a session that I flippantly referred to as 'the panel about dead women'. Seriously, the number of papers given on the topic of how often women are portrayed as 'dead' was fascinating and not a little alarming. Is our culture still more comfortable when women are represented as dead?

The coffee was good, too.

I'm still thinking about gender and I'm still engaged in my favourite topic - pink. This morning, a friend tweeted this boing boing link. It's titled "Girls' crappy fake toy laptop is pink, and half as powerful as boys' crappy fake toy laptop." I heartily agree with the sentiments, but I have a couple of issues.

1. Both boys and girls' laptops are referred to as crappy and fake, but the girls' laptop is described as pink, while the boring old grey, white and black of the boys' laptop is not mentioned.
2. The inference is that the girls' laptop being pink is part of its 'crappiness' (I admit, it's an awful shade of pink and the design could be better - the iBooks of yore did it better - but pink in itself does not make for a 'crappy' product).
3. The fact that the laptop is pink seems to be more significant than the fact that it is less powerful, has fewer features, and is comparatively more expensive as a result.

I'm really kind of tired of products getting away with being more expensive and offering less quality by being 'pink'. I'm also really tired of people getting upset at the colour, rather than the way pink products are made and priced and restricted to usage by females.

I'm also interested in how people construct their ideas of 'gender neutral'. The boys' laptop looks very masculine to me. All straight lines, boring colours, ruthlessly corporate (okay, I may be exaggerating slightly). Often people respond to pink for girls by complaining about the lack of gender neutral products. I have two points.

1. Pink should also be available to boys. Boys like pink. I know, it's amazing.
2. What is gender neutral?

I think that's a really difficult question today. There are some obviously gender neutral toys and objects. A toy penguin, providing it isn't clothed, can easily be gender neutral. But otherwise?

This question amused me when the controversy over the 'Bic for Her' pens arose. Look at how the linked Jezebel article approaches the topic, asking "I mean, women can use men's pens but all that comes out is pesky math and science. And what are we going to do with that!?" The default is that pens are masculine! Yes, the author is being snarky, but why can't women have pens designed to look feminine? Many pens are designed to look masculine - dark, utilitarian colours, metal, 'techy,' large and chunky features. They don't have to tell us they're made for men, because it's so obvious, right? And gender neutral pens? What do they look like? I mean, really? Think about it. You could say a plain old bic pen is gender neutral, but it usually comes in blue and black, colours we associate with masculinity, not gender neutrality. They're supremely, almost aggressively, functional. Again, this is something we usually associate with masculinity, not necessarily gender neutrality. Is our default for gender neutrality actually masculinity in disguise? Or at least, perhaps more troubling, the absence of femininity?

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Leia as the new Disney princess?

Since the announcement that Disney bought Lucasfilm and with it, the Star Wars franchise, there has been much speculation, many rumours and countless bad puns.

Of course, my main interest has been in the fate of Princess Leia. The moment Star Wars fell under the Disney banner, Leia became, in effect, a 'Disney Princess'. This has provided great material for fan artists and makers. Here's just a sample of my favourites.

An all-singing, all-dancing version of "Bonjour" with Princess Leia.

A pocket princess cartoon of princesses comparing weaponry.

A SMH article about Carrie Fisher's thoughts on Leia as a Disney princess.

Actually, since Star Wars is a fairy tale (in space), Leia isn't really a fish out of water, particularly when you look at Disney heroines like Mulan, Merida and Rapunzel. She already has great hair and she can talk to Ewoks and Wookies.

Aside from all the angst about this news, I think it's a positive sign for Leia. What has happened? Leia has, in many respects, become the focal point of speculation about Disney's Star Wars. Since Disney is known for fairy tale and fairy tale, for better or for worse, focuses on princesses, Leia is the obvious point of convergence of the two franchises. People are already calling for, to quote Charlie Jane Anders, more "women with blasters." Maybe I'm a cock-eyed optimist, but perhaps Disney can provide that.

And really, can it be worse than one of my all time favourite Christmas numbers?

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Sneak Peek ATS3300 Fantasy Literature

The first unit I taught as a full time staff member of Monash University was 'Introduction to Fantasy Narratives.' It was a first year unit. It was large. But I was always bothered that there was an 'introduction' and nothing more. We set out to change that.

ATS2915 Roots of Fantasy ran earlier this year, in which early works and influential works of fantasy were studied, and next year I'm taking the helm of ATS3300 Fantasy Literature, in which we look at what's happened in the genre since.

I'm just finalising the text list, but we have authors (in no particular order): J.R.R Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Diana Wynne Jones, Robin Hobb, Cory Doctorow, Phil & Kaja Foglio, Anne McCaffrey, Jasper Fforde and Terry Pratchett. It wasn't the easiest list to settle upon, but I'm hoping it'll be an enjoyable semester.

Friday, November 2, 2012


Every year I really do mean to celebrate Halloween. I mean to join in on the All Hallow's Read. I mean to remember to stock up on candy. I mean to watch one of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer Halloween episodes.

Alas, every year, I'm spooked not by goblins and ghouls... but by piles of papers to grade, Excel spreadsheets, and requests for the following year's reading lists. That kind of takes the fun out of it.

I did briefly get into the spirit though. I'm working on an essay about - what else - fairy tale princesses and I was scouring Henriette Julie de Murat's "The Savage." This is fast becoming one of my favourite tales and has more than a little Halloween spookiness to boot. Take this passage:

"Obligeantine had a chariot prepared that was made from the skull of a giant who had been found on her lands and whom she had exterminated through her art. This giant had been ninety-six feet high, and the fairy had the skull crafted in such an admirable way that one could find there all that was necessary with regard to attendants and wheels. Since she only wanted to travel at night, she had it given a black gloss. She harnessed two large mastiffs to it, and they were provided with bat wings from the Indies that were as large as cows." (from The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm, selected and edited by Jack Zipes)

Murat is such a fantastic character in her own right. She arrived at the court of Louis XIV at the age of sixteen, wearing her Breton folk costume, and flung herself headlong into a life of scandal, excitement and danger. Zipes mentions that she also wore a red cloak to church... I can't help but briefly wonder if she inspired Perrault's wolfish censure?

There's some great scholarship coming out on fairy tales. I can't wait for my copy of The Teller's Tale: Lives of the Classic Fairy Tale Writers (Ed. Sophie Raynard). I'm also looking forward to reading Jo Eldridge Carney's Fairy Tale Queens: Representations of Early Modern Queenship

A quick side note, I saw good friend and colleague, Dr Michelle Smith's recent talk at the Wheeler Centre, "From Prim to Poledance: Girls, Sex and Popular Culture." It was terrific and the video is up here. I think she had one of the best opening lines. Watch it and see if you agree!