Quickies

Skepchick Quickies 12.4

Amanda

Amanda is a science grad student in Boston whose favorite pastimes are having friendly debates and running amok.

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  1. Good for Roger Ebert.

    (Did you ever notice that no one that claims to have had past lives or channels someone was a boring, normal person? They all claim to be royalty, cool aliens, etc. ) Do only celebrities get reincarnated? Is there a celestial “American Idol” that screens out everyone that’s a poor, normal peon? ;-)

  2. I love the article on Feminist children’s books. It’s good to have a list of this sort for when we have little skeptical commie-pinko kids running around.
    On a related note, my wife is working on a kids book which has a genderless protagonist. It would seem that it is very difficult to write without using sex-specific pronouns.

  3. @Skept-artist: Worse, th enon sex-specific ones are mostly dehumanizing. You can’t really run with “it” I guess. Does she just have to use the characters name constantly? Is that even awkward to children? They’re not really down with the pronoun anyway.

    Unrelated: I was not aware Roger Ebert was so awesome.

  4. I was recently reading “The Lobster Chronicles” by Linda Greenlaw and there was a section in which she and her father were cleaning lobster traps in the woods, and a tourist asked if they were having any luck catching anything. They informed the tourist that there were no lobsters in the trees today and they were thinking about trying the water next.
    Little did they know, there ARE tree lobsters, and now tree otters, too!!

  5. @SKrap: Exactly. Initially she just tried to use the characters name alot. Luckily, the character has an anchor (a boat anchor) as a best friend, so it was easy to use “They”. But in a live reading she had to use “she”. It’s just damn difficult without sounding, as you said, dehumanizing, or just plain weird.

  6. @Skept-artist: Your wife have may have already heard of and/or tried some of these, but there are a number of proposed gender neutral pronouns that have had some limited use, notably the Spivak pronouns.

    I know of some authors who have used them to decent effect for a third “sex”, but I’m not familiar with anyone who has written a truly gender neutral story to good effect, if she finishes her book, I’d love to read your wife’s book.

  7. @sylvan.nak: I’m not sure that it’s ‘better’ so to speak. But for me it can be interesting to see what kids will project onto a character whose sex is never mentioned. This is not to say that girls can’t get anything out of a story with a male protagonist or vice versa. And I’m also not certain that feminism, as a whole, can be said to be about embracing neuteredness. It can be as simple as “The character does whatever the character does and their sex is un-important”. This is of course overly simplistic of me, but I’m at work :)

  8. @sylvan.nak: I wouldn’t say it’s better per se but it does allow the reader to ascribe whatever gender they want to the characters. Say you’re writing a kids book about bears who work in a hospital. There’s really no need to specify whether the nurses and doctors are male or female, except for the inconvenience of third person singular pronouns.

  9. @sylvan.nak: Feminism isn’t about fighting for neuteredness, but fighting against gender norms. Being as neutral as possible with children is the best way for them to discover for themselves how they want to be, instead of having society badger into them with boy = adventure and girl = princess.

  10. Aslo, you don’t always have to be neutral to fight against gender norms, though it is a great way to go about it. Dora the Explora is a good example — she’s clearly a girl, but isn’t your typical girly-girl. My niece LOVES LOVES LOVES Dora.

  11. @mikespeir: I try to see it as a reclaiming of the word “chick”, since it’s women who are using it and not in a derogatory sense. Still, I gotta admit, the way Skepchicks use women’s sexuality does sometimes bother me — ie, we’re sexin’ up TAM7! Or whatever the “slogan” was. It implies, however unintentionally, that the Skepchicks were only there to make TAM sexy, instead of being there because of their contribution to skepticism. It’s fine to be sexy, but I’m not all that comfortable using such slogans and mottos.

  12. There’s a discomfort somehow in exploring the place between embracing what your sex means, and sexiness, and trying to avoid “gender norms,” isn’t there? My teen niece wears clothes that accentuate her bounteous curves … the feminist in me isn’t sure if she’s to be cheered on for embracing her femininity, or if she’s exploiting it and hurting herself and female progress all around.

    @ marilove: My boy loves his stuffed animals, and my girl won’t wear dresses and loves rock climbing, so I feel I’ve done a reasonable job letting them be what they want to be. But if my boy loves trucks and my girl loves dress-up, does that mean I’ve failed? We don’t really like it when we raise kids without “gender norms” and they pick the stereotypical things anyway. The right answer, it’s clear, is to raise a girl who likes trucks and boy who likes dolls. Then, mommies, you’ve done a good job, back-pats all around. It’s just flipping around the pressures, seems to me. There’s no freedom in that.

  13. Re: the Feminist books

    I saw the ladies who wrote the Girls Not Chicks book do a live presentation (with an oldschool overhead projection) a couple of years ago at a Neko Case concert. From what I remember they were pretty funny. I’ll have to buy the book for my daughter soon.

  14. The “Girls Are Not Chicks” thing is another example of mixed memes. It reminds me of the n-word, or the word “queer.” I feel comfortable using the word “chick” with my friends, in certain circumstances, but if I hear a man refer to women as “chicks” it makes me a tiny bit crazy. Like black people can call each other the n-word but white people never ever can use that word. I had a black friend recently tell me he believes black people should *never* use the n-word, either, because it’s demeaning no matter what — the idea of owning something derogatory to strip it of its poison, he thinks, is bullshit.

    What do you guys think about “chick?”

  15. @Gabrielbrawley: I totally get it as an exercise — I’m a writer and enjoy those kind of thought experiments myself. But I’m talking about a bigger thing, a bigger meme I see developing, that gender is bad and genderless is good. The coolest thing of all is being contra-gender, at least for girls. Look at kids’ movies — every Disney-created female character has to be an ass-kicking Ninja girl. Now *that’s* the stereotype.

    Girls, we want you to act like boys, now. And boys, well — keep acting like boys.

  16. @sylvan.nak: Well, female sexuality doesn’t exist in a vacuum, but it really is fine for your niece to dress how she wishes, if it’s HER choice and she isn’t doing it out of pressure from her peers (girls AND boys). That doesn’t make her anti-feminist. I’m having a hard time articulating what I’m trying to say, but her dressing that way isn’t just for HER benefit: It (probably, though not necessarily) makes her feel good because boys like it. Which is fine if it’s her choice, but her choices aren’t outside of the patriarchy. If that makes any sense whatsoever.

    And no one has said you failed! My 2 year old niece loves trucks and dirt and Dora. But she also loves dolls and pretty dresses. I, for one, think that’s awesome. She’s not afraid to get dirty, but she also enjoys being girly.

    We don’t really like it when we raise kids without “gender norms” and they pick the stereotypical things anyway

    No matter how hard to try to raise someone neutral, unless you lock them up in the basement, they aren’t going to be completely free of societal pressure to conform to gender norms. Media, the kids and parents they come into contact with, etc. They are still influenced by society, even if you make an effort to be “neutral.”

    Which brings me to….

    The right answer, it’s clear, is to raise a girl who likes trucks and boy who likes dolls. Then, mommies, you’ve done a good job, back-pats all around. It’s just flipping around the pressures, seems to me. There’s no freedom in that.

    That is not at all what I said. THIS is what I said: “Being as neutral as possible with children is the best way for them to discover for themselves how they want to be,”

    In the end, it’s up to your child to decide who he or she is, and whatever they decide for themselves is ultimately okay. Girly girl? Tom boy? A mix? Maybe she just doesn’t give a shit and will be whatever she wants, one day wearing heels, the next day wearing overalls? Maybe a boy decides he wants to wear makeup and woman’s clothing, while at the same time still being masculine in many ways (a la Eddie Izzard *points to icon*)? Maybe a boy decides he is gay as gay as gay can be? Maybe he’s gay but a big burly bear? Maybe something in between? Maybe genderqueer, which means not identifying with EITHER sex?

    In the end, it’s about taking away the pressure and allowing people to decide for themselves who they are, and being okay with that in the end.

    When we say we want to fight against gender norms, that means we don’t want “GIRL MEANS GIRL AND BOY MEANS BOY!” to be the default. There are too many people who DO NOT fit into rigid gender roles (and many people who do, by choice or otherwise). Ultimately, what we want is for all of that to be fine, and not a big deal.

    As it stands, if you don’t fit into most typical gender roles, you’re seen as inferior by many. THAT is what we want to fight against.

  17. @sylvan.nak: I feel comfortable using the word “chick” with my friends, in certain circumstances, but if I hear a man refer to women as “chicks” it makes me a tiny bit crazy.

    Yeah. I don’t think I could ever bring myself to use “chick” in reference to females except, perhaps, in the company of close friends who would recognize I was kidding. Then again, maybe not even then. I just don’t feel comfortable with the word in that connotation.

    On the other hand, maybe there are times when women feel, I don’t know, “chickish.” But that’s for them to determine, not me.

  18. @sylvan.nak: It’s confusing, isn’t it? LOL. I don’t call anyone chicks, because it makes me feel uncomfortable, though it doesn’t usually bother me when other women use it. At least, when women I associate with use it. If the likes of Sarah Palin use it, I can be pretty certain it’s because she’s sexist (you can be a woman and sexist). It makes me quite uncomfortable when men use it, though sometimes, like in these comment threads, it doesn’t. I think when it comes to words like “chick” context matters — it’s not quite the same as the n-word or “cunt” imo. It’s not a great way to refer to women, but it’s not quite as loaded and sometimes it’s definitely not used derogatorily, and I’m cool with that.

    I actually sometimes call myself “queer” because I really, really don’t like “bisexual”. But it depends on the audience. I use it more within the LGBT community, because they get it.

  19. I absolutely love the idea of a book with a genderless protagonist, especially if it’s done so well that you don’t even notice right away. It’s sort of like those stories that are written from a first-person perspective, and the narrator never has a name, but you don’t realize it until you try to talk about the story with someone else.

  20. @catgirl: LOL. Aren’t those great? I love it reading something that was written in first person and then 2 chapters in I try to picture the protagonist…and can’t! I’ll actually go back and re-read the first chapter to see if I missed something, find out that I HAVEN’T and then my brain says “ooooh”. I wish I could think of an example off the top of my head.

  21. @marilove: I heard something on NPR about the design of Dora. They knew she would be Latina, but they went specifically with short hair because most depictions of Latinas had long hair.

    BTW, the ultimate genderless protagonist is Varsuvius, from Order of the Stick. We’ve even met V’s spouse and children, and have no idea as to their gender… and V repeatedly comments that there’s really no reason for anyone to know.

  22. @Skept-artist: Re: “gender neutrality”: James Schmidt, the SF author, had at least one character whose gender is enigmatic; it take a while to penetrate to the reader that he doesn’t use any identifying pronouns. Schmidt is “gender neutral” in the sense that the names he uses for all of his characters are not conventionally “male” or “female” , [e.g. Trigger, Telzey, Goth, the Leewit, Gilas, Nile] and he tends to introduce them doing something active [i.e. not stereotypically female]. He wrote mostly from the early 50s to the 70s, and for those of us who started reading SF back then, when there was a paucity of female characters to identify with, he was an island.

    It is probably easier to write from a first or second person POV, if one does not wish to identify the gender of a character. I find the latter a trifle forced, TBH, but it can sometimes work [vide the early text-adventure games.]

  23. @sylvan.nak: There’s a difference between “neutral” and “neutered”. The latter implies some sort of destruction of sexuality [‘I neutered my cat’]; the former, when applied to writing a story, simply means that a reader could infer that a character was either male or female, and could, as any gender, identify with said character. It’s more about destruction of gender norms, which is what some of the “contra-gender” behaviour you described is trying to do.

  24. @DominEditrix: Great info. Thanks so much. I told my wife that she should check out this thread since people were giving such great tips / advice. She’s got plenty of Googling to do.
    Sweetheart, if you are reading this, I want steak for dinner and don’t forget to knit me a god damned sweater! Skirt.
    Love you.

  25. My favorite book when I was little was Sugarpink Rose by Adela Turin and Nella Bosnia. It’s probably the best gift my Mother ever gave me.

    The book is about a tribe of elephants in which all are born a natural shade of gray, but the girl elephants are immediately locked away in a special enclosure where their only available food is nasty tasting anemones and peonies which eventually alter their skin color to match the lace trimmed pink booties and bonnets they’re made to wear.

    One little girl elephant, Annabelle, simply doesn’t turn pink. Her father scolds her, her mother cries and threatens that no boy elephant will ever want to marry her, but try she might to please them her skin simply refuses to turn pink. Eventually her parents give up on her entirely and she joyfully tosses of her pink frills and joins the boy elephants as they play in cool water and eat delicious fruits. At first the other girl elephants are horrified by Annabelle’s behavior, but eventually they become jealous, and finally rebellious. The book ends with a happy tribe of gray elephants and a pile of discarded booties and bonnets.

    I didn’t realize what an impact the book had on me until I read it to my own daughter and found myself wiping away tears. I probably owe more of my strength to Sugarpink Rose than I’ll ever know.

  26. Maybe she just doesn’t give a shit and will be whatever she wants, one day wearing heels, the next day wearing overalls?

    That is SO me. Haha, that cracked me up, that sentence. My diva coworker just cannot figure out why I don’t wear my 4 inch heels and eyeliner everyday, because I “look SO good” when I do!

    I just find myself faced with the predicament: I can dress up super hot in 4 inch heels and eyeliner, but then it takes all the fun away of dressing up for random occasions. For me anyway. Plus, I hate having to turn down getting messy because I don’t wanna rip my nylons!

    That’s not really related to the topics here, but I just thought I’d add it because I’m sure some women here know where I’m coming from.

  27. @DominEditrix: But is it really about “destruction of gender norms” if it’s just taking stereotypical male stuff and encouraging women/girls to do THAT? How is it feminist to make the *male* the desirable? It seems to me what feminists often do, without realizing it, is perpetuate the devaluing if the feminine of valuing of the masculine by ascribing positive to masculine traits and negative to feminine ones. I’m sure there are feminist writers/thinkers who don’t do this, but when I was studying feminist literary theory in college, and studying some of the Marxist feminists, this is what I saw, as well as some other *crazy* mind-fuck nonsense. I have never felt as vulnerable and perpetually victimized as when I was in this group.

    I’m not sure there is such a difference between neuter and neutral. I think there is some self-hate in the desire for the neuter/neutral, some very, very anti-feminist self-hate.

  28. @sylvan.nak: I think you’re mistaken about “mak[ing] the *male* the desirable” being the sole result of gender-neutralising; you’re making an assumption off the top that “gender neutral” male characters are not [and cannot be] depicted as nurturing, as revealing their emotions, being concerned with a household [stereotypical “female” qualities], as being not the stainless steel knight in armour, but the equal partner of a female character, rather than either rescuer or puling weakling.

    [IMX and NSHO, Marxist critics are a bunch of loons, be they feminist Marxists or not. Of course, my outlook may be tainted by the fact that the head of my graduate department was a Marxist critic and I often thought favourably of firearms whilst enduring another ponderous lecture. ]

    Having watched my son grow up in a social group that was fluid both in its sexuality and gender identification, I don’t think that contra-norming, which has the ultimate effect of creating gender neutrality [i.e., no single behavioural sets and/or no particular behaviour considered either definitively “feminine” or “masculine”], can do anything but weaken those very norms it seeks to rebel against.

    An example: When my grandmother was young, “ladies” [read, females of any age] never wore trousers in public. By the time my mother was young, Katherine Hepburn and WWII had made them acceptable in certain circumstances. When I was young, girls did not wear them to school; by the time my son got to school, girls wore them all the time. But the women who started out wearing them were accused of everything from indecency to man-hating to penis-envy; it took guts to contra-norm back then, but now no one thinks twice about a female in jeans. FTM, my step-son is seriously thinking about getting married in a tuxedo w/a black kilt. He’s not Scottish, but he is aware that he has good legs.

    I suppose I should have asked earlier: What does “gender neutral” mean to you? To me, in relation to characters in literature, it simply means what I said above: No particular behaviour/set of behaviours is limited to either gender. Dressing to make the most of ones physical attributes, as your niece does, for example, isn’t confined to girls – you should see my son agonise over just the *right* outfit – but you say that you find that to be “embracing her femininity”. Why? Isn’t that a gender stereotype, that girls care about clothes enhancing their appearances and boys don’t? [Or, conversely, that lesbians don’t and gay boys do?]

    That’s, I think, the crux of our disagreement: You seem to feel that “neutral” and “neutered” mean the same thing, that providing stories wherein it doesn’t matter whether a character is male or female, because neither sex is superior to the other, because either sex can be the chief protagonist, is the same as de-sexing every character, turning them into the androgynous “it”.

    When I was a lass, my somewhat eccentric male progenitor once informed me that ‘every lady can do many things: She can play tennis, ride a horse, shoot accurately, dandle a baby, dress a deer, rewire a lamp, throw a knife, cook decently, and she can make others feel under-dressed if circumstances call for wearing a ballgown down to breakfast’. A short-lived romance came to a grinding halt when I demonstrated a couple of these abilities; evidently, what my father found to be indispensable to being a “lady” was not the same as what my quondam lover found acceptably “feminine”, despite the fact that I, too, wore “clothes that accentuate[d] [my] bounteous curves. That’s what “gender-neutrality” should be about, being able to wear a push-up bra [or a utilikilt] if one so desires, and being able to fly a plane [or bake a cake] whilst doing it.

  29. @DominEditrix:

    I think you’ve summarized our disagreement well, because I do often find that in the way the terms are used, gender-neutral does mean neutered, or maybe even on the male side of neutered. I want to emphasize there are exceptions to this, but amongst the university-intellectual-feminist group, this is what I saw. To be feminist was to be mannish … with personalities ranging from merely tough to downright cruel. Dandling a baby? How gender-typical. Only loser breeder-girls do that nasty thing called “getting pregnant.”

    I grew up in a household where my brother and I played with Barbies & Legos alike, both babysat neighborhood kids, both climbed trees, hunted snakes, and always had scabby knees and dirty fingernails. There was no gendered expectation, that I recall, so even to worry about that seems … almost archaic, to me. It may be more of a problem East of the Mississippi. Here in the Rockies, I would say gender roles are pretty relaxed. If you want to wear a push-up bra while you’re out hunting elk, that’s cool.

    The feminists I encountered in college were the first ones to tell me continuously how bad I had it, as a female, and to remind me how outraged I was supposed to be. There WERE bad things happening, reasons to be outraged — I was sexually harassed by professors and employers alike. Women were paid less than men for the same jobs (still are). But I was never expected to be a hausfrau, never told to cross my legs, wear a dress, and be dainty.

    Either sex CAN be the chief protagonist — but isn’t that almost a truism by now? I may be living in a weird post-feminist world of my own (my great-grandma ran around the West in the 1920s, by herself, wearing trousers and getting into trouble), but I see more gender rigidity coming from people who call themselves feminists than I do from pop culture, which spins out heroines like Disney’s Mulan (warrior-woman) every few months, it seems.

  30. @sylvan.nak:
    Your Disney reference reminded me: the Offspring despised Snow White, ‘because she’s a wimp, always crying and not thinking’, but he loved Belle, of Beauty & the Beast, ‘because she reads books and talks back to the Beast and isn’t afraid’.

    Given that Toys R Us still has “girl” toys and “boy” toys, divided by aisle, the gender divide is very much alive and kicking for parents. Books that don’t depict girls in solely passive roles are a relative novelty, in the kiddy lit time-line. That’s not to say that they don’t exist; of course, they do. But we also have unadulterated crap like the Twilight books that teens and tweens are mad about – and is there a more passive figure than Bella? [The only positive effect of those books is that a fad for pale skin may take hold, giving rise to SPF 500, which I, who lobsterise just thinking about summer, would adore.]

    There are so many “feminist” philosophies out there that it’s impossible to categorise any one as True Feminism â„¢ [yeah, I know, state the obvious], despite the fact that adherents to any given one will attempt to do so. Not everyone who wants to promote gender-neutrality in our kids’ reading matter wants to make everyone into sexless robots, or secretly believes male = superior. We just don’t want the girls relegated to toasting muffins whilst the boys have all the fun.

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