I got Dealing with Dragons, the source of my pseud, for my 7th birthday. It was an advance copy from a family friend who worked for the distributor and knew that my mom was a big fan of the series. Dealing is a prequel to the earlier Talking to Dragons, which my mom read aloud to me on an airplane flight when I was 3. (I have strong but fuzzy memories of the enchantment of my first encounter with this verse, and it's pretty mind-blowing to realize they originated at age 3.)

I had actually already heard an excerpt because Patricia C Wrede was a guest at a convention in Boston - I think my mom said Worldcon - which we attended when I was 5, and the manuscript was still in progress. My mom took me to a reading - it was the scene where Cimorene's ex-fiance appears at the dragons' cave to 'rescue' her while she is tidying the store rooms, resulting in the accidental discovery of the djinn. My mom says I laughed out loud a lot and after the reading, in response to her apology, Wrede told her it was flattering. (I remember the reading but not the conversation. I guess it was boring adult stuff to me.)

From then until MammothFail Dealing with Dragons was my favorite book. I reread it more frequently than any other for comfort right up until then, too. My original hardback copy is worn and the cloth part of the binding has splits and loose threads, but none of the pages have fallen out yet.1

I always wanted to be Cimorene. As a kid it was my favorite game. I was thinking about this because [personal profile] thefourthvine tweeted about the earthling demanding the book of The Princess Who Saved Herself, which reminded me of that one dad who repainted the pixels in some Nintendo game so his daughter could play as Princess Peach and rescue Mario. And that reminded me of the reason I didn't see Star Wars until I was about 18.

When I was a kid the younger boy down the street always wanted to play Star Wars, which he'd seen and I hadn't (well, mostly because whenever I caught bits in con movie rooms I made my dad leave with me because I thought they were boring, but I don't think I'd ever seen Leia).

He would be Luke and his baby brother would be Han, and I got to be Princess Leia by the Laws of Gender. But when I asked him what I was supposed to do as we were running around the yard - mostly he was shouting at his brother and the imaginary storm troopers - he told me he guessed just scream sometimes (inaccurately, as I didn't learn for another 8 years or so). I made a complaint about the unexcitingness of this role at the next pause in the action - in retrospect I guess we must have been in an imaginary garbage compactor - and he explained that there just weren't any other girls. And thus began a long period of hating Star Wars and refusing to watch it.

There aren't that many things in pop culture that I can think of that could even be described as 'the princess who saved herself'. Obviously. As a kid the story that struck me as most similar to Cimorene's was the Buddha's, so... yeah.

1. I don't think the book itself is racist - maybe because the djinn is the only time it even tangentially comes up - but I haven't managed to [re]read anything by Wrede or Bujold since without getting uncomfortable. (Or McKinley, since the 'Obama isn't black because he looks like a white guy with a tan' remark, or Moon, since that classism-not-racism fiasco: giant bummer, having three of my top 6 or so childhood favorites spoiled in such a short time like that. Fortunately I know no ill of DWJ's public conduct).
(I didn't get around to posting about this extremely irritating day until yesterday, when I posted it spontaneously on Tumblr in response to a post about gender-neutral toy marketing in Sweden, where someone mistakenly stated that Swedish doesn't have gendered pronouns and my wife corrected them. I thought I'd repost it for posterity and because it relates to the ongoing narrative of my Finnish class adventures.)

[personal profile] waxjism: It's Finnish that doesn't have gendered pronouns (all people are hän). Swedish has "han" and "hon".1

That said, that magical language quirk has not stopped gender essentialism from hanging around like a bad smell. Sweden is working much harder on that shit.

Finnish doesn't have gendered pronouns but it has exercises like this one I had to participate in last Thursday meant to practice the approximately 1002 different forms of the plural partitive (one of several types of objective) case: 'What are women like, and what are men like?' (The point is to make a list of adjectives in plural partitive form.)

CLASSMATE: Women are beautiful! Men are handsome!3

CLASSMATE: Women are short!

OTHER CLASSMATE: No they're not!

ME: Women are adult people.

CLASSMATE: Oh, you mean 'adulter'! Women are adulter than men!

ME: No, I don't mean that. That is not true. Men are also adult people.

CLASSMATE: Right, not all, just most women. Men are more childish!

ME: No, I don't mean that. That is not true. But! Women ARE paid less money for the same work.

TEACHER: That's true! The 'women's euro' - 80 cents. [...] Right then, what are men like?

CLASSMATES: Strong! Tall! Funny? Handsome.

ME: They're more violent, especially towards their own wives, than women are, and also in Finland, they're more violent towards their wives than in many other European countries.

CLASSMATE: I don't think so!

ME: Yes, they are.

TEACHER: Is that true, did you read it somewhere?

ME: Yes, in a sociology course at the university, 'Gender and Sexuality in the Nordic Countries.'

TEACHER: Oh I see! Actually, that makes sense: I remember that there was a lot of domestic violence in Finland when I was a child.

CLASSMATE: Probably the explanation for what you read was that nowadays Finland has many immigrants from different countries, like Africa, but the police statistics can't say which group is which.

ME: No, that's not true. They can say. It's Finnish men.

TEACHER: Yeah, it wouldn't be new immigrants; it's Finnish culture. Because I remember it was already the case a long time ago, when I was young.

ME: Finns are more depressed too.

So basically I'm the one that's always killing the mood with angry feminist opinions.


TEACHER: What doesn't a little girl need?


ME: Over 100 pink toys.

Footnotes )
The summary of this entry in image form is:


More specifically, I am reflecting over my personal history of struggles to get rid of body hair in spite of its extraordinary difficulty, vs the particular fascist beauty standards that have to do with body hair.

This was prompted specifically by having to at least temporarily give up on doing anything to my eyebrows except trimming, because the skin around them has become irritated by a number of recent ingrown hairs. Cut for possibly gross or triggering discussion of body hair mixed in with the feminism )
Apparently thinking somewhat like the distributors who didn't pick the movie up in America for more than a year, the local theater showed the sneak preview of I Love You Phillip Morris in one of the smaller rooms, and when we ordered our tickets 2 days in advance it was already nearly sold out.

The audience distribution was interesting too: a bunch of het people on dates, as well as bigger groups of friends. A few gay couples spottable, definitely more than usual, at least, but not actually all that many. The last people to come in were some lesbians - older ones than us, maybe late thirties, early forties? - who stood confusedly in the front of the room for a couple of minutes squinting at their tickets. Maybe they hadn't been to the movies there before and didn't know how to find their row. One of them was little and round and had veryvery short hair, and the other one had a blunt bob and bangs and a pissy expression. Frisson of recognition!

It reminded me of a post I read at The Hathor Legacy about the lack of willingness to use female protagonists in Hollywood:

There’s a question that comes up every time I tell my story about how I slowly realized that Hollywood didn’t want movies/shows for, by or about women to profit. To sum up that story, what tipped me off was that whenever film students pointed out how movies/shows for, by or about women had indeed profited, film professionals wouldn’t hear it. Those movies/shows were exceptions! Or it was really the alien/Terminator/Hannibal Lechter people wanted to see, not Ripley, Connor or Starling. Etc. It couldn’t be that people were actually happy to see movies/shows for, by or about women, because that was impossible – end of argument.

Why discriminate if it doesn't profit?
[personal profile] miera_c: I've reached a point where I feel that women writing about male characters, even nominally straight male characters in a homosexual relationship, is a way we are participating in our own erasure.[...] I wonder if I fell into this trap for a while, writing about two white, cisgendered, able-bodied guys. At the time I thought it was this cool, rebellious thing to do. Now I feel like I maybe rationalized it to myself why I was writing about them rather than anything to do with the women. [...] Everybody knows these excuses, and the problem is, in individual cases they may be completely legitimate, but when they get added up and you begin to see a pattern forming, it becomes highly problematic.

[personal profile] laughingrat: ...it sort of parallels some shit I said about slash back in the day (back in the day three months ago) about how women* may just be using slash** as a way of exploring sexual relationships*** between partners with equal social status, or at least between partners who have to deal with incredibly little demeaning sexist bullshit, which leaves the writer and reader free to explore, you know, actual love, or power dynamics, or class, or race, or Hawt Smexins, without having the all-pervasive smelly dead-skunk spectre of Patriarchy all up in the mix, because believe you me, that fucks up enough relationships in the real world**** without it intruding all up into our fic, too.

[community profile] linkspam's sexism tag

These posts, out of the current wave of debate, are resonating most for me. I feel [personal profile] miera_c's point quite strongly and a lot of times I find myself on hiatus from fandom sources entirely and reading books because it's the only place to get woman-centric narratives (see my old post My tv and fandom consumption: a quest for diversity). But while [personal profile] miera_c reads het for more representations of women, I, like [personal profile] laughingrat, prefer to read about romantic relationships that aren't marked by gender hegemony. Sex is sex - I don't dislike het for that reason - but het is not queer enough for me because of the way male-female interactions are marked by patriarchy. The relationships feel different and I can't get invested in them at the gut level, the way I can in queer romance, even if it's about men and not women like I'd prefer (see my old post gay media invisibility: representations of our own (gay genre) vs queering the text (slash): "This is why slash goggles aren't enough - because it's not enough for it to be visible to slashers; we need to be visible to everybody.") I also am not willing to discard my queer identity entirely in favor of my identity as a woman, which is what I'd feel I was doing if I moved to full-time het just because of the women.

More f/f is what I want the most, but here the oppression of patriarchy intrudes again, because all of the narratives are about white men. (And that pisses me off enormously, but that's another rant.) There isn't a twentieth of the possibility to queer readings of mainstream media about female main characters because we have so few female main characters in the sff genre field. Teyla, whom [personal profile] miera_c mentions, is a main character, but Teyla/Elizabeth is quantitatively different from Sheppard/McKay because Teyla and Elizabeth have a tiny, tiny fraction of John and Rodney's onscreen interactions with each other. Because of this - shows refusing to pass the Bechdel test with a very wide margin - f/f becomes a similar exercise to writing Lorne/Parrish - taking secondary characters, inventing backstory and largely inventing their relationship. That is a different sort of writing and a different sort of fannish engagement, and it's not as accessible and easy to get enthused about for many people. It takes away the possibility of shipping along as you watch in large part.

This is upsetting, but it doesn't change the fact that my imagination is more engaged by the primary narrative of the things I watch and read, and more invested in the protagonists. Of course it is: the themes, the secondary plot-arcs, they are all devoted to echoing the main plot arcs, to making you think about the protagonists' development and journeys and experiences. I can't get the female narratives I crave out of the amount of screentime given to the one or two women (always secondary) in an ensemble cast. I don't even try: I read books instead, or re-watch a few movies over and over. Where are the female equivalents of Kirk/Spock, Holmes/Watson, Sheppard/McKay, Picard/Q, Harry/Draco, Merlin/Arthur? There are few examples in the history of genre film (I do watch some non-genre shows, but they don't engage me in the same way - neither do they engage the rest of media fandom in the same way, evidently, because the fandoms of non-genre shows are as a rule much smaller), and no examples in the current crop of genre film and TV that I know of since Dollhouse and Sarah Connor Chronicles were canceled - not unless you move out into the secondary characters. Of course there is lots of woman-centric literature, but it rarely reaches the levels of fame and recognition that most healthy literary fandoms boast.

The net result is that if I prefer queerable major characters with other major characters of the same gender in basically mainstream media fandoms, I am mostly engaged by m/m slash. If I prefer female-centric genre stories, I have very few options in current tv and movies, even if I'm willing to go for ones which don't have very active fandoms. If I prefer female-centric media and queerable stories about major characters (which I do), I'm mostly shit out of luck. I can have one at a time, but not both, without wading into the much less easy and engaging waters of small fandoms, inactive fandoms, long-dead fandoms. Fandom thrives on community. It requires a lot more to be active in a small one, without the promise of a reliable audience. And fandoms grow exponentially, so the less there is the more it stagnates, while the more excitement builds, the easier it is to share enthusiasm with other fans, and the more creativity blossoms.

There are two ways to interpret all this: that our choices as queer feminists participating in our own erasure by devoting our time to m/m slash make logical sense, or that we're doing this to ourselves. Both are true. As [personal profile] bookshop says, if we want more women characters in our fandoms, we are simply going to have to fight against paucity of canon, lukewarm fan response, waves of hate from the misogynist probably-a-majority-I'm-not-sure. We're going to have to seek canon out instead of waiting for it to seize our attention, because the majority of media texts are all about men.
Even though I haven't WATCHED Glee or White Collar, I have read enough of people's intelligent and highly legitimate political criticisms on race and gender lines (you can find most of these posts via [community profile] metafandom, probably), and in light of them, seeing a marked proliferation of those bookmarks and recs popping up in different places makes me sad - not in the specific, but in the general, about fandom's trends and what they say about its tastes.

Do new fandom reccing trends really indicate what fandom's general watcher-response pattern was? You can't say that with 100% certainty, of course. But a clearly observable upswing in fannish enthusiasm for a source text at least means people are forgiving it, even if they are still critically observing its flaws, and choosing to write about it.

One could charitably assume a motive of textual healing.

In practice, though, my observations have been that the problematic aspects of the text are usually reflected in the body of fanon, even when a strong critical discourse is emerging in non-fiction posts on the topic (a prime example: Uhura meta after Reboot release, versus Uhura treatment in early Reboot fanon, which was so bad that it led to a second wave of critical discourse... this time aimed at the fanon).

My possibly over-cynical view is that in general, a blossoming of sudden fannish engagement does tend to amount, in the fanon meta-text that emerges, to a reinforcement if not an endorsement of the flaws in the canon.
I am a shoe addict who's deeply ambivalent about gender-normative clothing (I get angry about pink items for little girls) and especially shoes. In many ways, the high heeled shoe is the strongest surviving relic of an age where all women's clothing was prescribed by men to impair their freedom of movement, and its reign in Western culture is practically uncontested at this point, even though practical shoes have infiltrated from the bottom up (I say 'reign' because at the upper end of social occasions, heels are still considered largely de rigeur). Stilettos and/or platforms for women survive in almost every subculture; the most-celebrated women's shoes in pop culture, Jimmy Choos and Louboutins, are primarily separated from the most misogynistically derided streetwalker shoes by the fact that you can tell by looking at them that they cost a lot more. This is the source of my sneaker of the day posts: I'm a sneaker advocate. I wear them almost every day myself, and I think women in general should expand the situations when we wear them. (KStew wore them on the red carpet. I'd like to see more of that.) (Although I'm also pro-boot and -ballet-flat.)

I had the horrible experience of seeing Tim Gunn pushing a pair of gold lamé platform stiletto sandals on Tim Gunn's Guide to Style for a 5'11" female veterinarian who wanted help to dress in a professional adult manner in clothes that actually fit her despite her height and Jack Skellington build. There was nothing professional or dignified about those shoes. Their fashion message was entirely confined to the realms of sex and conspicuous consumption ("I'm expensive! Fuck me!"). I find the silhouette of platform stilettos ugly anyway, and the idea of them being used to teach someone to "walk properly" and have better posture? I'm sorry, but the ways in which heels alter the posture - adding unnatural curvature to the spine (not to mention deforming the foot) - are well known to medicine. And that's the lower part of the spine, dude. They don't prevent you from hunching your shoulders, they just make your ass stick out.

And then Tim introduces a guest whom he's called to teach her to walk in them, and it's... Tyrese. A MALE supermodel. "Who better than a supermodel?" says Tim.


I mean, if we were talking Miss Jay from America's Next Top Model, I could go with it; he wears stilettos when giving lessons, at least, and there's no pretense on ANTM that the world of the supermodel is like "real life" for, oh, for example, a workaholic VETERINARIAN.

Note that I don't expect Tim to push flats. He, like so many gay men, is a devotee of women's fashion as an institution and of performative femininity, and in addition, he hates casual clothing. Obviously he's going to prefer heels, but the focus of his show is eminently practical and focused usually on the actual life circumstances of the professional urban women he makes over, so usually the shoes represented are the kind of thing that sophisticated professionals actually wear. And they usually have more class than gold lamé platform stilettos.
Considering the OT3 in Hustle is practically canon ("I love both of you."/"Jealous?" & Not to mention the boyish wrestling), I was a little hopeful for it though I didn't actually expect there to be any Hustle fic at all.

But I underestimated both the range of fandom's interest, and the dedication of fandom to discarding all female characters no matter how awesome or canonically in relationships with the male ones. The Yuletide archive is full of Mickey/Danny (well, all... 6 or 8 of it) and no OT3 at all, while delicious turns up nothing that's not in Yuletide.

Sometimes the [lack of] woman thing makes me hate fandom so much that I want to retreat entirely to lesbian fiction, or chickflicks, or both.
The sideplot contained in Alexander McCall Smith's Friends, Lovers, Chocolate and The Right Attitude to Rain, vols 3&4 (I think) of his Isabel Dalhousie books, constitute the most engaging and moving het romance I've been exposed to in quite some time.

And although I find something a little fussy about the protagonist and the narrative style, I really liked these books, finding them both intelligent and extremely simple and easily-digested: one-day books, both of them, perfect for an airplane except that I've not been on an airplane trip short enough for just one of them in a long, long time.

Another nice thing about them is that, although they belong to the mystery genre, they're not murder mysteries, nor remotely hard-boiled; on the contrary, they're sort of philosophical ponderances of manners, bordering on comedies, with a lot of basic sociology, psychology, and philosophy simmering away with the other concerns of the intelligent, independent middle-aged heroine. It's interesting that, written as they are by a man, this series' underlying thematic unity is a layered and faceted contemplation on the position of women in today's society - or perhaps that's just the lens through which I view it. I read this incredibly brilliant post in between the two books, and it considerably enriched my experience of the second: [profile] aqueri's An Abstract of an Essay, which is a Racefail post also touching on feminism:

And every time there is recognition of something's greatness, there's also the attempt to recapture that greatness, and genres are created and become mainstream and the genres rarely succeed the way the original does - because I do not think a Mills&Boon romance can ever capture the true desperation of Jane Austen contemplating the fate of women in her time and imagining how she might escape that - within the strictures of her society, because that's what she was capable of imagining. Now we can imagine women escaping so much further, romance novels reinforce the structure JA was trying to break free of in a way she doesn't, and never will, herself.

You need only look around a single daycare, the little girls' clothes and overwhemling princess obsessions (because Disney princesses are the old rags-to-riches folkmyths stripped of their connotations of escape, transformed into a contemporary cultural myth for the leisured upper class of the world which encompasses the middle class of the wealthy lands of mommy's and daddy's treasured princess, where the new narrative constructed is that impossibly perfect beauty/femininity as manifested in little girls becomes the source of their 'deserving' the privileges they are born with), to know that there's a fate of women to be escaped in our time too, a circumscribed world even for the wealthy and successful woman.

I suspect that narrative will continue in the following books in the series; I don't think it unlikely that I'll be disappointed by the rest of them in some way, but I plan to read them anyway.
A couple of months ago, around the time I made these two posts, My tv and fandom consumption: a quest for diversity and Hollywood: But where are the gay people?, I was talking to my mother about the media we consume and how I think it's bad for us, no matter who we are, to see no one like us. The first post linked is about the domination of white middle-aged men in the tv and movies available to me; the second is about the domination of heterosexuality specifically.

It's easy enough, I was telling my mom, to escape into female-dominated books. I grew up with them, thanks to her - I never ran out of female protagonists. But the problem remains that these are almost universally straight white female heroines. It's better than straight white men, but if it's all evil/dead lesbians and white-washed futures, it's still painful.

So that's when my mom recommended John Varley's Titan - mild spoilers. )

For spoilerphobes, I recommend Titan as a first-contact science fiction adventure with really cool world-building, cool philosophical/theological underpinnings, and lesbian romance featuring characters of color. However, it should come with a warning for brief and unpleasant though non-graphic rape. (I would have appreciated the warning. That's one part of fandom I definitely like.)


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