Friday, 27 February 2009

Apologies...

...for the lack of bloggage lately. Unfortunately my dissertation is taking up most of my waking thoughts (if not so much of my time).

I thought perhaps it might be nice to describe what it is I'm working on; also, it'll hopefully serve as a reminder that I ought to be actually writing it, instead of providing you fine people with lots of useful procrastination fodder.

Anyway, my main areas of interest in linguistics revolve around gender and the representation of ideology in texts (would you ever have guessed?). In my dissertation proposal I've managed to combine these interests with another passion of mine - children's books. In particular I'm looking at the work of Garth Nix, who writes rather fantastic fantasy fiction.

Linguistic studies of gender in children's fiction are few and far between, therefore I'm being a bit of a dunce, taking on more than I ought to for a dissertation project, but hey-ho, that's the kinda person I tend to be.

Feminist analyses of children's texts, however, are much more common; these tend to focus on counting the balance of male-female characters, or searching for appropriate strong role models for young women. These role models may be represented by women acting in traditionally 'male' ways, or by women who achieve success by acting in feminine ways. This kind of analysis seems a little shallow to me - it simply serves to reproduce the idea of difference between men and women, without looking at the inherent problems of this dichotomy.

My interest is not just in the examples of women doing 'male jobs,' but more in the different ways women can be represented, ways that do not align themselves to a general 'masculine' or 'feminine' role, but allow individuals to become empowered regardless of their gender.

Fantasy is a brilliant medium for writers, allowing them to transcend the norms of modern societies, and create characters and situations outside the usual experiences of readers. This disassociation with reality allows, for example, the exploration of societies where there is no gender differentiation. (And I don't mean in the crap superficial way of 'ooh look, a non-gendered pronoun,' no, I mean in the actual attitudes of the characters, and situations they participate in).

I believe that Nix has produced a series of books that celebrate girls and women, without undermining this by making it about a difference between girls and boys. In the books, girls are undoubtedly empowered, but both male and female characters have their own power and their own weaknesses, giving a very equal view of the sexes. I believe this is an important aim for (3rd wave) feminism and that Nix achieves it in the context of these novels.

However, even in such 'equal' societies, it is possible to find traces of traditional gendered Discourses (in the Foucauldian sense of the word). My ultimate aim is to decide whether these traditional Discourses undermine the empowerment, for example, does a Discourse of Compulsory Heterosexuality reduce the women from strong characters to dominated ones? And if the Discourse is there, does it really matter in the grand scheme of things? Surely a love story in such an equal context can only demonstrate that relationships are about equality, not a demonstration of dominance?

Whether I will achieve this final aim is debatable, if I manage to simply demonstrate the feminist credentials of Nix then I will be satisfied, after all, there isn't a lot of scope in 11,000 words once you've written your intro/conclusion/outlined the method etc. I do hope that in the future I might be able to explore these issues further, but for the next 8 weeks I'll probably have to contain myself ;-)

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Alpha mummy?

Who writes this crap?

Is this what being middle class is? Drinking yourself silly before (and after!) the kids are in bed and fantasising over men other than your husband?

More than 1/2 of that list involves lusting after other men, dreaming about dating again or other such day-dreams of infidelity. Really, are these women actually enjoying their 'Alpha Mummy' lives? It doesn't sound like it.

This list actively constructs the stereotype of vapid, ungrateful, selfish bitches. it's not even funny. It goes to show that it's not just misogyny that is a problem for feminism, but also women's own attitudes to themselves!

I thought Alpha Mummy's were the highly driven career women we hear so much about. Not drunken, jealous, lazy cows who can't appreciate the man they decided to have children with. I realise the list is supposed to be a revelation that Alpha Mummys' try, but actually fail to be perfect. I realise that for the middle class snob, who would enjoy this drivel, there could be some kind of amused recognition in reading the piece. But not me.

I actually appreciate my partner, he is wonderful. I actually enjoy being semi-intellectual, I like being able to discuss things other than shopping and celebrities. And, along a different line, I don't think it's clever or funny to brand yourself as a bad parent.

Alongside my ranting about how I don't agree with the ideas in the article, I think there's also a perfectly valid point to be made about women who DO recognise themselves in the list. The presupposition is that if you do these things, then you ARE a bad mother/wife. Brilliant, way to go, just go and knock every other women who reads it and thinks that they *must* be bad if they don't constantly live up to the stereotype. Once again I'll bring it back to the ideology: stating that a person who fulfills this description is a bad mother is a subtle reinforcement of an ideology of perfection.

It's hard enough with the media representations of 'perfect' celebrity mums (Angelina?), but at least with celebrities, they *are* of a completely different world to the rest of us. When a supposedly 'real woman' blog reinforces that you are failing as a parent if you
let your kids watch a bit to much TV, (and who decides how much is too much anyway?) then, although you may be laughing on the outside, your idea of the perfect mother has just been reconstructed. It's only a small step from here to considering that aspects of your life could be counted as 'failings'.

Articles like this might seem harmless, but combined with other media and peer pressures, it amounts to social conditioning. If you're reading this and mocking me for going over the top, it just goes to show how implicit this ideology of perfect mothering is. The 'joke' of the article is based on the fact that the 'super mum' idea does exist, but real people find it unobtainable. But is it really amusing that these people now class themselves as bad parents because of this? Ha ha, we're all laughing because 'oh, we must be such bad parents because we do this!' The ideology takes away the idea that different parents deal with parenting in different ways. This article serves to represent parenting as black and white: the right way, or the wrong way.

I'm not going to say that I must be a bad parent because I don't agree with this. No, I know I am a good parent because I have a happy child. The kind of opinion presented in the Alpha Mummy article takes away this option and, in my opinion, is damaging to women's views of their own styles and abilities.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Salma Hayek

Is a lovely inspiration.
I don't usually get into the celebrity humanitarian thing, but what this lady did in Sierra Leone really touched me. If you watch through the video, past the injections and the poor newborn baby, you see Salma breastfeeding someone elses sick child.
How many women would feel comfortable doing that?
Beautiful.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Bill O'Reilly...

Wow...Browsing American feminist forums really opens your eyes to the world...
Bill O'Reilly
Mr O'Reilly is, just, wow. I can't imagine anyone on UK TV being allowed to act in such a way. Ouch. It actually hurts to watch him.
It makes me wonder, is the UK more open to women's rights, more anti-racist, or is it that the UK television media is more tightly restrained?
I know that these kinds of opinions are much more common in certain newspapers, but I feel truly lucky that the television channels in the UK are so much more tightly regulated, even if it can be argued as a constraint on free speech. Who wants to hear that kind of diatribe?

Monday, 9 February 2009

Pink

I quite like pink, actually.
I have found myself cooing over particular patterned laptops. But surely, if they're going to make laptops pink, they ought to be *good* and not just pretty?
I don't see much wrong with the principle of making a pink laptop, however, if they're marketing them at women, and not taking into account the many different occupations of women, then I have a problem. Producing a laptop with a lovely pink cover and a very limited capacity doesn't say much for how the company views women, does it?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Seems I'm not the only one...

And following from my previous rant, imagine how I felt to find this in the news yesterday.
I suppose in some ways it covers my undercurrent feelings about the whole issue of bringing up children.

I believe that all children deserve to have the love and commitment that only family can provide and that children can really achieve their full potential in that kind of environment. This is not to say that I disparage working mothers, my own mother worked full time as I was growing up, (and still does!) yet I have a close relationship with her and relate to my parents much better than many of my friends and acquaintances. However, when I was a child, neither of my grandmothers worked, and thus I always had family around to look after me. The same goes for my partner, though the child of a single working mother, he was cared for by his grandmother. But now, our parents are in their late 40s/early 50s and still working. They'll probably be working until retirement, they don't have any other option. So what can our generation do, if they have to work, but put the children in childcare?

Nevertheless, it feels terrible to me that some children are being brought up full time in nurseries, where the ratio for child to carer ranges from 3:1 for children under 2, to 8:1 for children 3 to 8. Even with all the facilities and activities they will have available, what sort of loving, nurturing environment can the children be experiencing? What terrible habits will they be learning behind the busy carer's back?! (I really don't know!)

However even with my dislike of childcare and desire to keep my daughter at home, I don't accept the stance on 'working mothers' suggested by this report, take a couple of quotes for example:

'It also suggests that having many more working mothers has contributed to the damage done to children.

"Most women now work and their new economic independence contributes to levels of family break-up which are higher in the UK than in any other Western European country."'

Firstly, what is this damage? The article directly quotes:

"Children with separate, single or step parents are 50% more likely to fail at school, have low esteem, be unpopular with other children and have behavioural difficulties, anxiety or depression,"

OK, so the original report states that broken families cause the 'damage' and that the working mother 'contributes' to the break-ups. The BBC has decided to restate this as as assumption that it is working mothers that cause damage to children, not broken families.

There is no mention of men bringing up children, it completely side steps this issue in favour of a sly attack on career women, a strategy which manages to subtly reinforce the theme in society that it is wrong for men to stay at home and wrong for women to work. Way to go with progress.

And how about this quote for some lovely 'old fashioned values:'

"Most women now work and their new economic independence contributes to levels of family break-up"

So, how exactly does female economic independence contribute to family break-ups? What is the correlation here? What about cheating partners? What about irreconcilable differences? What about 'we just don't love one another any more'? Is it the case that in the past women were trapped in the family situation because of having no money of their own? IS THIS MORE DESIRABLE?!?!

I am completely in agreement that parents should take more personal responsibility for raising children, and also agree with some of the measures suggested: free parenting classes available around the time of birth, free psychological and family support if relationships struggle and rules making it easier for parents to stay at home to rear their children. However, what I can't stand is the pervasive sexism inherent in the argument, the ideology is so entrenched that you can't even see it if you're not looking for it.