Archive for ‘feminism’

June 29, 2009

Nothing but praise for you, my dear

Shristi publishers continue to bring out cutting edge works by young Indian writers. Other books from them that I’ve read include Tuhin Sinha’s That Thing Called LOVE, and Novoneel Chakraborty’s A Thing Beyond Forever (which I saw in a bookshop yesterday in a new edition and with a new cover. This proves that I was wrong in saying that the language of the book might be too dense for the average reader. My faith in readers is thus re-established). Yesterday I found myself buying four new books that have come out since I left the country, and last night I read Arpit Dugar’s Nothing For You My Dear: Still I Love You….!
Arpit Dugar is a very young writer indeed – he’s 22. Impressively, he chooses to write from the point of view of a character older than himself, 26 year old Avinash Jain. The parallels between Dugar and Avinash are obvious – they both (from the information about the author given on the book’s inner front cover) have attended the same educational institutions, and are both from Jain families. At one point, due to a minor blip in editing, perhaps, a character even addresses Avinash as “Arpit”. With so strong an identification, it is impressive that Dugar manages to view his protagonist in a detached and critical way. Here he is describing Avinash on the first page of the book, where he admits straight off that his character isn’t perfect:

Avinash was the kind of guy who actually got on your nerves in the very first meeting. His physical appearance was no less than that of a super-model, his way of dressing, his smartness and of course his intelligence attracted everyone around him.

The book is structurally complex, with its story within a story. Avinash Jain’s parents are forcing him to marry Neha Bhandari, and as a dutiful son he cannot deny them their wish. He therefore begs Neha to reject him instead, and when Neha (who has fallen in love with him through the photos she’s seen) demurs, tells her the story of his relationship with Lisha, the girl he hoped to marry. The bulk of the book consists of Avinash’s narration of the story of his life and love.

You or I might tell such a story in a couple of lines. But Dugar’s narrator has clearly been bottling things up and needs to talk about it. As a result we are presented with a number of tiny details that make the whole thing real and add poignance to our understanding of the tale. Details such as this, when Avinash describes his hostel bedroom:

Then there were my gadgets, a personal desktop computer with almost all the gadgets loaded. There were two keyboards, I remember, one was of the normal style and the other was the folding one. There were two mouses even, one was Microsoft’s wireless optical mouse and the other one was the touch pad one. All the eight USB ports of my board remain occupied. Two of them were used by the wireless mouse connector and the folding keyboard. The third was used by the TATA Indicom internet card. The fourth was for the web camera. The fifth port was for the printer, which most of the time remained out of cartridge. The sixth port was an external hard drive, 500 gigabytes. And the seventh and eighth were left open for any extra peripherals to be used. Generally pen drives took hold on them.

A number of people have commented on the “student” flavour of recent novels, many of which seem to be set at least partly in an educational institution, possibly because the bulk of the readership are students or people who were very recently students. So you have Chetan Bhagat and Tushar Raheja writing about IIT life, Ravi Subramanian and Harshdeep Jolly tackling the IIMs, and Soma Das doing her bit for JNU. But the above is about as authentic a picture of student life as I have ever seen. While the references to Tata and Microsoft may seem like product placement, they actually function as a commentary on the importance of brands in daily life, as well as giving the reader a strong sense of context. Dugar is clearly aware of this, as he begins the book with a list of brands, so that we know all about Avinash almost before we know who he is. It’s a satirical take on consumer culture that is done in a startlingly subtle way for a young author and a first novel. In fact, the care with which this book has been written and edited gives the lie to Avinash’s claim that he’s not good with grammar and vocabulary, “I find grammar is some bullshit for crammers”. He has, among other gifts, a positive genius for metaphor.

I felt excitement spreading in my chest like a pleasant cactus.

One of the things that fascinated me about the book is how Dugar negotiates the gender issue. Many of Avinash’s close friends (Lenika, Akanksha, Ria, Tia) are female, for example, so he clearly values what the women around him bring to his life. He is also aware that men and women are fundamentally different, something that feminists have tried to make us forget. Thus his pronouncements on women are hesitant, as if he knows he may be giving offense and is afraid to claim authority. And yet he clearly speaks from experience Some examples:

I don’t know why girls only tell half the story. Don’t mind Neha but most of them love playing mind games and it is truly said that even the one who made them cannot judge what’s going on in their minds. And I believe that is the thing which we guys are so crazy about. Girls are so innocent and beautiful in their own ways.

I had heard from my friends that girls call boys sweetie, honey, cheeku-pie, hubby-dubby when they are in love with them.

The girls are in true sense the gamblers. They actually know the techniques to control us.

When you see a beautiful girl you actually fprget everything. Even Einstein in his theory of relativity mentioned that “Time is relative. When you are with a beautiful girl, the whole day will pass like a few seconds. On the other hand, when you are with a fat ugly lady, you will find a few seconds like years passing out”.

She came late to the college on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Maybe because we are allowed to wear casuals on those days and don’t mind but girls take hell lot of time in getting ready, choosing the best outfits and wearing the make-up.

Some of my friend once told me that staring is half the victory in love.

Understanding that women are fundamentally purer and more innocent than men, Avinash shows a wonderfully tender protective streak. He takes chivalry seriously.

I knew it had created a bad impression of my attitude but I never like attending booze sessions. It depresses me, so I avoid it. I am not against it, but I don’t support it in presence of girls and women even. It is something against my ethics.

And after all, what girl can resist being cared for?

The book is not without its flaws, however, and both of the things which spoilt it for me were factual errors. The first was a mere question of haircare. Lisha, at the point when Avinash meets her, has hair that is “cut in steps”, something that Avinash could probably not have recognised were it not straight. Additionally, he later describes her hair as straight. Yet at that first meeting, she also has “a curl carelessly on her forehead”. It seems extremely unlikely, though with curlers and straighteners freely available on the market anything is possible. And anyway, as has been discussed before on this blog, authors are frequently ignorant of the differences between straight and curly hair.

The second problem is one of timing. Towards the end of the book, Avinash waits for Lisha at the Ansal Plaza. Lisha telephones (half an hour late) from Sarojini Nagar, to say she’ll be fifteen minutes. Now, we’re told that Lisha is always late, but no reader could seriously believe that either of them think the journey even possible in fifteen minutes. What about the South Extension bottleneck? Unless we assume that Lisha also has no sense of direction as well as no sense of time, it is hardly feasible.

But it is possible that these minor criticisms arise out of bitterness and jealously from a critic who has never had a book published, yet is almost 24. All in all, a fine effort.

April 27, 2009

Toothsome things

I have watched two movies related to teeth and biting in the last ten days or so.

Last saturday night involved Teeth. I was a bit…dubious about this movie, despite the fact that a friend had said she liked it. I wasn’t sure how they were going to use the Vagina Dentata trope.
It turned out, though, that they used it pretty well. The reasons for Dawn’s condition are never made clear – both the nuclear power plant (which may or may not be the cause of her mother’s cancer) and a class on evolution offer potential explanations. What is made clear though, is the way in which the myth works culturally. As Dawn begins to do her research she learns that the vagina dentata myth exists across multiple cultures[1], and that it is frequently seen as a symptom of fear around women’s sexuality.

Dawn’s own society isn’t much of an exception. Pictures of female genitalia in her class’s textbooks are covered by gigantic gold stickers (because women have a natural modesty) and Dawn herself is a member of a group promoting abstinence. It is only after she has bitten off one penis, one set of fingers, and had consensual sex for the first time that she is even able to properly look at herself naked in the mirror. The moment at which she first looks at a diagram of the vagina is accompanied by revelatory music. Her unfamiliarity with her sexual organs is also seen to place her in danger – realising that she has no idea what is happening a doctor sexually assaults her.

I found it rather worrying that every man Dawn meets (apart from her step-dad) is either a rapist or just generally an arsehole. Within the space of a couple of days, she is raped by a classmate and then a doctor, manipulated into sex by a male friend who only wants to brag about it to his friends, has sex with her step-brother, and while hitchhiking runs into a driver who also seems to plan to rape her. Teeth presents us with a universe where there are very few nice men.

Sex is still positive, though, even if the men Dawn could conceivably have it with (the film is entirely heterosexual) are not. She is shown to enjoy consensual sex, and also to admire her naked body in the mirror. Neither of these things happen until she has discovered her teeth.

A few days after Teeth I finally watched Let The Right One In which seems to have released months ago everywhere else. People have been gushing about it all over the world[2] and there’s little I can add, but go and see it if you haven’t yet. It’s beautiful, quiet (we only realised later how sparingly music had been used), and one of the most honest vampire films I’ve ever seen. By which I mean that if you’re in love with a vampire you probably need to deal with the whole killing and draining blood thing, and that the blood-bespatteredness can be really unattractive rather than sexy (Oskar and Eli’s first kiss comes right after Eli has feasted on someone and is dripping with blood. Twilight this isn’t.

I’m told that a lot of what the movie makes ambiguous (the gender identity of Eli, the status of Hakan) is more clearly spelt out in the book. I don’t think I’ll be reading the book, because I don’t want to know. The ambiguity is what made this film for me – like Oskar, the viewer begins to accept all these odd things without questioning. Will you go out with me? he asks Eli, specifying that he wants her to be his girlfriend. “Oskar, I’m not a girl” she replies; a beat later he replies with “but are we going steady or not?”

I will, however be watching the English adaptation of the story, which will be produced by Hammer films. I look forward to seeing what they make of it.

[1] Including our own. (via my PL)
[2] The Bitch magazine review raises the issue of how LTROI fits into a feminist horror tradition (which I think already exists). I think it does, and this is one of the reasons I think the two movies fit together as part of the same post. Besides the teeth of course.

January 19, 2009

Copasetic results of internet searches

I learnt a new word today.

I have returned to the motherland for a few days and have spent today meeting people and looking at books. Since I was last here, a number of things that might interest me have been published – I was glad to finally pick up Vandana Singh’s The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet. However, one book whose existence had completely escaped my notice (and the notice of Jai and Aadisht, who were present when it was discovered) was Novoneel Chakraborty’s A Thing Beyond Forever.

The question of why we hadn’t noticed the book before is a difficult one to answer. I suspect it has something to do with the title. I’ve said before that gratuitous ellipses and the word “love” in capitals are important for popularity, and ATBF has neither. It tries to make up for this in its subtitle (of sorts, I wouldn’t think it was a subtitle were it not on the cover and spine), “The reward for every true love is not love…” The reader will immediately perceive that while “love” is written in lower case, it is mentioned twice to make up for it. Still, I don’t think this will prove adequate, even though the ellipses are all one could wish. And my reason for saying so is this – ATBF is simply too difficult a read.

This is not to suggest for a moment that ATBF is a bad book. On the contrary, the dense, lush prose at the beginning of the book reminds one of the opening pages of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast or some of Joseph Conrad’s more evocative passages. Consider:

The girl had never witnessed anything like this before. The place, like future, was an arcanum but, unlike it, there was an air of democracy all over. The view resembled the surreal painting of utopia which the brush of her rapturous wishes had made on the canvass of her heart, since childhood. It wasn’t exactly heaven but something more beatific and specific. It was a dream. And the ambience sprayed a déjà senti feeling on her.

Srishti Publishers’ earlier publication, Tuhin Sinha’s That Thing Called LOVE: An Unusual Romance… and the Mumbai Rain was praised because “no other book will give you as many big words for only a hundred rupees“. That was then. For the same price, ATBF outclasses it utterly. This is clear even on the back covers of the two books. TTCL’s protagonist merely had to “strike a balance between chimera and actuality”; ATBF’s protagonist, Radhika, is not only taken through “a cavalcade of exclusive events”, but even after she receives “the copasetic answers” (this is my new word; after much headscratching over whether it existed the internet informed me that it really does) the book is not over.

According to the back cover, ATBF is about Dr. Radhika Sharma, “an aberrant and arrogant feminist” on the outside. The book offers a frank and unembarrassed look at gender relations. Even the cover has the silhouette of a woman in pink gesturing after the silhouette of a man in a blue tie. Cutting straight to the heart of it, the book tells us that despite her feminism, Radhika attracts men so that “they felt the torch of civililization revolt between their legs” (not my emphasis). During the book’s magnificently written sex scene, Chakraborty explains the difference between men and women, showing a definite familiarity with Freud when he describes “the gap within her – the gap which epitomizes womanhood”. Women do not have torches.

The sex scene itself deserves to be quoted in its entirety (because it is so difficult to find well-written sex) but a few lines will have to suffice.

He put the tip of his thirsty tongue on her back and slithered up like a sexy snake… He descended and touching her breasts with his face reached the belly. He, with the ferocity of a caged carnivore, rubbed his cheeks on it and encircled her belly button with the tip of his tongue that was, she knew, poisoned with indomitable* passion… Next, the figure took her inside the adjacent room which, like the end of the corridor, was brightly lit but with the white luminous bulbs of true love.

*Like the Gauls.

September 15, 2008

Two book related things.

Last week Aadisht paid a surprise trip to Delhi, bringing with him a pile of books he’d borrowed from me sometime in July. These included Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness quartet (incidentally, Alanna recently turned 25). In the couple of months since he’d borrowed them, the space they occupied in my shelves had been taken up (by Elizabeth Bear, if you’re curious) and so the books have been perched on a pile of papers at the foot of my bed for a few days. Which is why for the last couple of days I have stayed up all night rereading the Alanna books, the Daine books (I’m on Emperor Mage) and will probably be rereading the Kel books after. This is the fourth or fifth time I’m reading these, and that they can still keep me up reading all night is, I think, impressive.

***

A friend has been supplying me with hilarious and excellent Mills&Boon publications. I’ve been captivated by the Sheikhs and Desert Love books since Aadisht and I read King of the Desert, Captive Bride in Starmark in Calcutta back in March. In the last week or so, I’ve also gone through The Sheikh’s Defiant Bride, The Mediterranean Prince’s Captive Virgin (which does not feature a Sheikh. Or indeed desert love) and Wanted: Royal Wife and Mother.

These books sound outrageous, as do many of the titles they’ve been coming out with recently – Bedded at the Billionaire’s Convenience? (Reading the new M&B titles is a big part of my book-shopping routine) And yet they’re really not any more regressive or shocking than most M&B books I’ve read – nothing like as bad as the titles would lead you to expect. So I can only assume that books that sound like they’re about powerless white women being held captive and raped by rich, powerful, often brown men are selling well. Oh good.

August 27, 2008

I am easily amused

From here. Click to enbiggen.
July 18, 2008

The Sixth Feminist Carnival of Sexual Freedom and Autonomy

First of all, I’m sorry for putting this up so late. It should have been up on the 14th, but it’s been a strange and generally horrendous week. Then again, delaying it by a few days did mean I was able to include some really good posts that were written after Monday. So here it is, and I hope you enjoy it.
(Note: some links are NSFW, but you would expect that, wouldn’t you?)

Women Looking:
In June, this post led a number of feminist bloggers to make it Female Desire Week. Some (Belle did a particularly stellar job) used this as an excuse to post shiny pictures of people we desired. I’m a big fan of objectification.

While guestblogging at Feministe, Natalia Antonova wrote about why she objectifies men:

I do think that because of power differentials, objectification of women more readily becomes a springboard for abuse, and worse. But I do think that there is a genuinely OK way of expressing one’s appreciation for someone else’s physical body and/or persona (and hell, a beautiful mind can be just as sexy). And I want more women to be comfortable with expressing their views on men and women that they find attractive, and even be superficial about it.

Much discussion followed, in the comments and elsewhere.

Then Dw3t-Hthr had this gorgeous post about looking too.

Sex work:

Renegade Evolution posts about her participation in the William & Mary debate, which she describes as one of the most empowering things she’s done in years.

And I’m sure I made some people angry. I know I made some people laugh. I know that before that event a whole lot of people would never think that a porn performer might also play “World of Warcraft”. I’m certain they weren’t expecting me to compare anal sex scenes to yoga. They probably never, when thinking of a woman in porn, figured that I had a husband, a Saturn, and literally lived just a few hours up the road from them. Well, they certainly had to see, as I was sitting there in the same room with them, that there really is a whole lot more to me than a set of implants and a couple of holes, that I was anything but a woman with no other options and a drug habit, that I had, indeed, picked my career, by choice, of my own free will, and that…well, I even like my job.

Here’s Ren again on sex workers’ rights and being an ally.

Kim clarifies her position on porn. One of the things she says –

My biggest concern with porn is how it has the potential to shape our expectations of sex and our expressions of our individual sexuality. I have this concern especially for kids and teenagers. I am concerned that young people could see some of this stuff and think they are “supposed” to do that. That girls will think they are supposed to like getting a wad of secretion in the face, for example. Or that they are supposed to repeat “Oh God, oh God, YES, YES, YES” over and over and over and fucking over — when probably at best they feel nothing, at worst, pain.

is something that worries me too. Here is an older post by Ren on the subject.

Radical Vixen continues her Sex Worker Solidarity series with this interview with Catalina.

Naked Feminist talks about being a feminist sex worker and the double standards she faces.

Grace, on how to be a good customer.

Elizabeth at Sex in the Public Square questions “Stop Porn Culture”‘s violation of porn laws.

It is galling to watch SPC use the work of the people they most claim to despise, and to freely distribute images they think nobody else should be able to distribute. And it is especially galling to watch them talk about the exploitation and humiliation of the women in the images all the while continuing to humiliate those same women by publicly exposing in and then condemning their work.

Renegade Evolution has written extensively about section 2257, and addresses this particular instance here.

Ideologically Impure writes about the state of the industry in New Zealand five years after the Prostitution Reform Act.

What kind of people go to brothels? They’re sleazy, lonely, gross guys who can’t get lucky in normal bar situations. And they’re well-dressed businessmen with platinum Amexes having a fun night out. They’re surprisingly often American tourists, here for work or vacation, checking out what a fabled Legal Sex Industry looks like. They’re young, happening, attractive guys who’d have no trouble with women just coming in for a laugh and a 21st-birthday ritual. They’re obnoxious loud drunks looking for a place that’s still open, quiet reserved guys with really particular tastes, regulars who all the workers know and love. They’re guys I know, who to this day are quite open about having used sex workers; and they’re well-to-do Pillars of the Community who certainly don’t want it known where they’ve spent the occasional Friday night.


Via the
SWOP-East blog, an examination of a news headline that claimed 345 people had been arrested in a child prostitution sting.

Trinity on the “No Porn” pledge.

And if you’re in Chicago, you might be interested in attending the Desiree Alliance conference on “Pulling Back the Sheets: Sex, Work and Social Justice”.


Sex and Relationships:

Sappho at Noli Irritare Leones has had a series of sex and relationships posts recently – here, here, and here, for example.

And a post by Dw3t-Hthr on polyamoury, sexism, and related issues:

And sure, there are people — of all sexes — who like a lot of reasonably casual liasons. But one of the traits of that is that one isn’t marrying them, and thus they’re not “off the market”, if one wants to go all transactional like that. Once one gets into more serious relationships, one starts hitting limited resources — even if one has infinite money, infinite desirability, and infinite sexual stamina, one has limited time.

And finally,
Things that I couldn’t think of a category for but that you should read anyway:

Penelope Friday on being disabled and writing erotica.

Whatsername writes a deeply personal post about rape and false accusations.

…and I think that’s it, for now. I have much love for Lina, who ended up doing more work than I did. The next carnival will be held at Tom Paine‘s on the 4th of August.

June 4, 2008

Improving Literature for Women

Like every nice girl, I am constantly seeking to improve myself through edifying literature. My first real exposure to the genre (tragically “moral science” was not a part of my school curriculum) after the Ideal Boy/Girl posters was this set of scans from Dr. Harold Shryock’s classic On Becoming a Woman, from which I learnt of the dangers of fiction reading, the horror of masturbation, and the wholesomeness of female genital mutilation. This was followed by a present from Alie titled What Every Married Woman Should Know* a couple of years ago.
A recent trip to Daryaganj yielded, among other things, two books that looked most educational. Both were aimed at the young-ish female reader.

The first of these is titled Girls, You’re Important: Instructions for Catholic Girls. It is by the Reverend T.C Siekmann, and was published in the 1950s. The internet denies its existence. It’s divided into short chapters, and I will quote briefly from some of these:

Liberty and License
The thoughtful girl will not resent regulations meant to save her. She will accept them in the spirit of genuine kindness in which they are given. She will appreciate liberty by avoiding license.

Glamour and Modesty
There is one kind of character that the good girls should never imitate. That is the attractive girl who does not hesitate to be suggestive. She makes herself appealing in an enticing way that is nothing short of temptation. Much of her appeal comes not so much from her good looks as from her deliberate efforts to entice. She may be very winning and very coy, but her motive is bad. How unfortunate that she should, of direct purpose, set out to undermine the virtue of the weak.

Kissing
Engaged persons, near to marriage, are permitted to kiss each other chastely out of true love, but even for them prolonged and passionate kissing is wrong. For the ordinary run of teenagers, not close to marriage, kissing between boy and girl is dangerous. If it does not amount to sin for the girl it may do so for the boy, and she would then be an occasion for his sin.

Boys
A good, clear-thinking girl will ever be respected by a boy. He will later on appreciate the reserve and good sense with which she guided him. Men are remarkably alike in this one thing and very young men are no exception: They need the help of women to keep them on the right track.

Cooking for Fun
The girl who is rapidly approaching womanhood should have a natural yearning to express herself in preparing food.

Other Hobbies
There are, of course, many hobbies for girls besides cooking and sewing.

Boy or Girl?
Although some activities of men and women or of boys and girls overlap, certain types of work or sport are out of place for one group or the other. The reason is simply that a boy is a boy and a girl is a girl and each is by nature and interest particularly devoted to certain fields. No amount of wishful thinking can make a real girl a boy or a real boy a girl.

Beauty
A girl ought to be beautiful. She should use her beauty to make herself the most nearly perfect girl possible.

Television
[Its] good effects are easy to see. We learn better English. We copy gracious mannerisms.

Keep Informed
Communism is the enemy behind which the enemy of Christ’s Church lurks today. It is a godless movement, a materialistic way of life that cannot stand the doctrines and practices of religion. Already seething in revolt for many years, this dangerous enemy is ready to strike whenever the opportunity seems ripe.

The Reading Habit
She will want to know the latest kinds of furniture and home decorations; she will find delight in discovering new recipes for exciting meals and snacks.

Other Vocations
The girl who trained for a career will often find her knowledge and skill highly useful later on in the home.

The Chance of a Lifetime
Many a non-Catholic girl is practically waiting for someone to introduce her to the Catholic Church. You can do her this favour.

The other book is by one R.Bajaj, and does not appear to have been edited at all. It is titled How to Impress Man. It is so execrable in its grammar that it ceases to be funny after the first couple of pages and I have thus been unable to read it. So I’ll just give you what it says on the back cover (unedited, of course) and hope someone volunteers to read it for me instead.

Woman has tender and emotional attributes. Education and cultural development lend grace and glamour to a woman. Physical beauty is skin-deep, mental, enrichment is everlasting. Artificiality is the bane of womanly acquirements. Simplicity, virtue and understanding, with make a woman universally valuable and respectable.
The book deals with woman’s inherent qualities which when properly tended and nurtured, will have soothing effects of humanity. A woman wins all by love and sympathy, and not by made-up behaviour. With enough of practical suggestions, guidance and episode the book is unique in its field.

*It deserves some extensive quoting, but my bookshelves are in chaos and I can’t find it. I am suitably ashamed.

May 10, 2008

A 101 post (of sorts)

“Feminist, Fangirl, and Maker of Fine Omelettes”

This was for quite a long time in the “about me” section of my blogger profile and so is probably familiar to some of you.

One of the things I fangirl is the internet. I have a crush on the internet. I love that it’s this huge, chaotic mess that allows for things like serious groundbreaking academic work, and really perverse football slash, and LiveJournal communities dedicated to pictures of baby animals.
Back in February, Amit Varma wrote this gloriously geeky article in the Indian Express:

The blogosphere is a meritocratic space. Each blog finds the audience it deserves. If you like economics, you’ll find tons of good economics blogs, often much better than anything you’ll see in the mainstream media, because they’re written by specialists, not generalists. You want gardening? Literature? Technology? You’ll find content in any niche you can think of.
There is a lot of junk on the internet, but readers navigate through it easily, and soon settle on a few sites they regularly visit. Information percolates so quickly that a good new blog doesn’t take much time to build a readership. You write something nice, people who like it link to you, their readers check you out, and so it grows. Marketing and hype are generally wasted, and everything is viral. If you provide compelling content, readers come. If you write rubbish, readers go. Competition is the best regulation.

And this exemplifies the stuff I love about the internet. Who wouldn’t be excited by a system that has space for pretty much anything, that is completely free, where your rewards are based purely on merit, and the like? The internet is really very sexy.

But then there’s the “feminist” thing too. I’ve been female on the internet for some years now. More, I’ve been a female who blogs under my real name. There’s a reason comments on this blog are moderated. Then there was the Kathy Sierra incident. It seems (cue shocked gasps) that the internet does not exist in a vacuum. How about race? How about that bloggers’ lunch with Bill Clinton in Harlem that somehow only white people attended?

Apparently some of those nasty meatspace power dynamics have cunningly leaked in here too. Who would have thought? And they’re there affecting who gets heard, and by how many people, and by which people, and yes, who gets book deals. And so on.

What I’m saying, or should be, is that it’s inevitable for people who are naturally excited by concepts/ideas to focus on the concept itself and stop noticing the cultural context within which the idea exists. But only if they’re the people who that cultural context is made for, who are not constantly alienated by it.( Note how I cleverly do not use that word.) Except you can’t separate things from their contexts because their contexts inevitably influence them.

Which brings me, inevitably to the Open Source Boob Project. I was going to say a lot more about this when it happened but was lazy and by the time I started lots of other people had said it for me. But to me, this is a classic case of the sort of thing I’m talking about. A world where sexuality and bodies aren’t stigmatised? Undoubtedly a good thing. Approaching women in a male dominated space and asking them if they’ll consent to participate in a Social Experiment where people can come up to them and ask to touch their breasts? Um.

Context. It’s important.

And so are omelettes.

May 7, 2008

How not to help women’s sports

Via Feministing, the WNBA has decided to market their players more effectively. This is necessary, of course, because women’s sports never do get the level of marketing or coverage that men’s sports do. So how are they doing this? They’re giving the players makeup and fashion tips.
The thing is, for me, it’s not just that women’s sports get less attention and air time (8%, someone quoted in the Feministing post said?), it’s what sort of coverage they get as well.
A year and a half ago, I wrote:

It gets worse when it comes to women’s sport. I was in England during Wimbledon this year, and even The Guardian felt that it was more important to talk about Maria Sharapova’s screams and grunts on court than her tennis. FIFA’s Sep Blatter said a couple of years ago that female footballers needed to wear sexier shorts, and every teenaged boy knows that the Australian women’s team once posed for a nude photograph – the only thing about women’s football that they know.

This is just more of that, isn’t it? If women want attention to be paid to women’s sports, they’re just going to have to be pretty and feminine. But then, of course, no one is actually paying attention to the women’s sports any more.

“You’re a woman first,” Brown said. “You just happen to play sports. They enjoy dressing up and trying on outfits, where back in the day, everyone just wore sweats.”

I’m reminded of this incident.

In the meantime, The Huffington Post reported that the passion fruit recipe had appeared under Mrs. McCain’s name in the Jan. 16 issue of The New York Sun, in an article that also included a recipe from Michelle Obama (apple cobbler) but not one from the spouse of the other Democratic presidential candidate. The article did include Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recipe for oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.

You’re a woman first. You just happen to play sports. You just happen to be a presidential candidate. You just happen to be at this convention. You’re a woman first. And this means (it has to mean) you like to wear make-up and pretty clothes. You are “mothers, daughters, sisters, nieces and entrepreneurs”. You bake cookies! You have breasts. Does anyone really believe this is helping?

Why do I do this? Because it’s fun and shallow and easy and I like looking at hot sweaty men? Well. Yeah. But there’s more.

April 25, 2008

Americans, Zebras and What I Learned From Sweet Valley High

I was going to write a flippant (hopefully funny) post about the IPL’s imported cheerleaders, and about cheerleading in general. But I’ve read far too many Funny Posts (and articles) about them now, and pretty much everyone who wrote one has come off sounding like an asshat.

U. Roy illustrates this in a Hindustan Times column about how cheerleaders should expect lewd remarks from crowds because of what they do (of course, he’s not “going down that dodgy route of ‘If you wear a mini-skirt in a dark alley expect the worst’ logic. He’s said he isn’t, so obviously he isn’t), how if the lewd remarks were in English the cheerleaders would feel complimented, and how amazing it is that a woman from Uzbekistan has actually been able to communicate her discomfort with said remarks.

Sigh.

As a youngling, one of my first moments-of-great-realization was had while reading Sweet Valley High # 70, Ms. Quarterback. In which Claire, who aspires to be on the football team, offers her opinion of cheerleading (unasked) to a cheerleader.

The disdain on Claire’s face was obvious. “Don’t you think being a cheerleader
is just a little bit sexist?” she blurted out. “After all, it’s just a bunch of
girls prancing around in cute little costumes….I think you’d do yourselves and
everyone else a lot more good if you played a sport instead of jumping around
and screaming.”

As awful as it is to base ones politics on bad teenage literature, this actually brought a lot of things together for me. I’ve always been a sports fan, and while this has meant occasionally being patronized by males who kindly attempted to educate me about sports (since I couldn’t possibly be as informed as them), it’s also meant that I’ve been taken more seriously for being interested in Important, Serious things. You know, sweaty men chasing a ball. Not frivolous things. Why does Claire wish the cheerleaders to play sports? Is it because sports will give them a better workout and be good for their health? I doubt this. My cultural references for what cheerleaders do are limited, but I’ve always had the impression fitness and decent gymnastic skills were a part of it. No, sports is serious business because it’s associated with boys. Regular readers of this blog know how I feel about this, and it’s why Project:Objectify exists. Men’s sports need to be taken less seriously and knocked off that pedestal, and I say this as someone who cries at great moments in sport.

(It amuses me that men’s sports tend to have far more frivolous, spectator-friendly add ons than women’s sports, simply because there are more spectators. Women’s sport is thus closer to pure sport than men’s.)

But. Cheerleaders are basically supposed to up the enthusiasm of the crowd, yes? Why on earth do we need them then? This is India and cricket – our problem isn’t a lack of crowd interest, it’s an excess of it. If any sport needed cheerleaders it was our national football league. A couple of years ago they obtained a troupe of Shiamak Davar trained cheerleaders called the ZeBras. Sadly, even the addition of scantily clad women couldn’t raise interest in the league, and the ZeBras don’t even merit a mention in the numerous articles about this new! American! feature in Indian sports.

And as a connoisseur of all that is Shiny in sport, and a caster of stern glances upon the patriarchy, all I can really do is demand glittery-thonged male cheerleaders for women’s cricket. It’s the least we can do.

(People who watch televised US sports, answer this because I don’t know – when cheerleaders are televised are there usually this many up-skirt/crotch shots? They’re all I seem to be seeing on a lot of the sports and news channels.)