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 ;-)

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