While You Were Away…

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:13 am

Well.  Exciting times in the ol’ homeland.  Of course, we would have a leadership spill that results in a new Prime Minister – and Australia’s first female PM – the one time I’m overseas for a holiday.

I’m still trying to catch up on all the news; my husband Stuart and I returned home yesterday, and most of our time was spent sleeping off jet lag.  I mostly kept up with what was happening while I was away through text messages and emails from friends, and Twitter, with the occasional peek at the Age website.  Hooray for living in an age of digital communications!

So I’m not as well informed about Julia Gillard’s rise to the role of PM as I could be, but since that’s never stopped anyone from forming an opinion about anything, I’m going to post about it anyway.

I am…cautiously optimistic, but I’m witholding full optimism until a Gillard-lead Labor government is put into place by the people of Australia.  I think it’s worth noting that, even though we don’t directly elect our PM in the way that Americans elect their President, a lot of people seem to consider that we do.  And I don’t think that’s just ignorance of how the Westminster system works (although that probably accounts for some of it) – both Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd have referred to the Australian people electing their PM, and one would think that they’re both pretty well-versed in how the system works.  It’s an acknowledgement of how much Australian politics is a game of personality, of good-old-boyness and appearing to be a Top Bloke.  John Howard played that game well enough and long enough that he had a enough voters convinced of his Top Blokeness, even as he put actions into place that would shaft a large proportion of the public.

So I guess that Gillard still needs to convince voters of her Top Nonblokeness, although there seems to be a lot of goodwill aimed her way.  I am certainly excited at the prospect of having a female, unmarried, non-religious Prime Minister.  I don’t think Gillard’s success is necessarily a blow for feminism though; if women getting into positions of political power were always a sign that we’ve achieved all the goals of our movement, then Margaret Thatcher would be a feminist icon. 

That said, part of the Top Blokeness of the past has relied upon pollies convincing voters of their squeaky-clean, upstanding personal lives, with faithful wives and 2.3 kids and blah blah whitepicketfencecakes.  The fact that we’ve got a leader who quite openly does not have those things, and who has weathered criticism from her opponents about not having those things with a great deal of grace, makes this recently married but cheerfully “deliberately barren” woman quite happy, because I think it’s a step forward regardless of gender.  Yes, we want our elected representatives to be upstanding people, but a person’s upstandingness does not hinge on whether they’re a “family” man or woman who’s done the marriage and children thing.  I’d like to think that maybe, this is a small step forward in moving away from so much political pandering to families at the expense of others.  I’d also like to think it’s perhaps part of a cultural shift away from traditional values about a person’s worth, when the Shadowy Figures who helped support Gillard’s rise to the top think that an unmarried, female, childless atheist with a unionist background is what the country wants.

Personally, I’m waiting for What Gillard Does Next (presumably not become a professional travel companion).  I’d like to see the internet filtering shenanigans ditched once and for all, because as a person who likes freedom of information and, for that matter, as a professional librarian who likes the same thing, DO NOT WANT.  I’d like to see a government that doesn’t pander to Big Mining (you may say I’m a dreamer…), and I’d like to see Gillard use her status to work towards improving the status of all women, which is what would make hers a feminist Prime Ministership.  And about a million other things.  I don’t ask for much.

In the meantime, I will continue for now to enjoy the little frisson I get when I’m listening to the radio and hear the words “Prime Minister Julia Gillard”.


Book Review: Rampant by Diana Peterfreund

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:02 pm

Forget everything you ever knew about unicorns…

The sparkly, innocent creatures of lore are a myth. Real unicorns are venomous, man-eating monsters with huge fangs and razor-sharp horns. And they can only be killed by virgin descendants of Alexander the Great.

Fortunately, unicorns have been extinct for a hundred and fifty years.

Or not.

Astrid Llewelyn has always scoffed ather eccentric mother’s stories about killer unicorns. But when one of the monsters attacks her boyfriend in the woods – thereby ruining any chance of him taking her to prom – Astrid learns that unicorns are real and dangerous, and she has a family legacy to uphold. Her mother packs her off to Rome to train as a unicorn hunter at the ancient cloisters the hunters have used for centuries.

However, at the cloisters, all is not what is seems. Outside, the unicorns wait to attack. And within, Astrid faces other, unexpected threats: from crumbling, bone-covered walls that vibrate with a terrible power to the hidden agendas of her fellow hunters to – perhaps most dangerously of all – her growing attraction to a handsome art student… and a relationship that could jeopardize everything.

This review contains minor spoilers.

I am having a particularly good run with young adult fiction lately, in that I keep picking up books that make me read them compulsively, sometimes furtively, until I’m done.  Out of that already excellent selection, Rampant is a particularly notable find.

I have to admit, unicorns are a mythological beastie I have a prejudice against, because I tend to like my beasties dark and nasty and not farting rainbows (or sparkling in sunlight, ahem).  Too much rainbow farting and no horn-impaling makes Aimee something something.  Until now, my favourite unicorn appears in a few of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels, as the pet of the Queen of the Elves.  And he was only a bit player anyway.

No one could accuse the unicorns in Rampant of farting rainbows.

Borrowing from folklore that posits that unicorns are more likely to spike and devour you than take you on their back to a special land of fairies and cake, Rampant’s unicorns are venomous, bloodthirsty, and fairly revolting in general, but also at times amazing, and even sympathetic.  They are not at all a creature with whose pictures you would decorate a child’s bedroom, unless you wanted to traumatise the child in question.

But enough on unicorns.  What really makes Rampant sing, and what makes it stand out in a sea of stellar YA fiction, are the characters, particularly the main character, Astrid Llewelyn.  Astrid is smart, snarky, brave and a little neurotic – pretty much what you’d expect from someone who’s just discovered that a mythological being exists and she’s descended from a line of people who are powerful enough to kill it.  The supporting cast of characters, from Astrid’s American schoolmates to the fellow hunters she meets in the cloisters in Rome, are convincingly drawn, right down to the briefest encounters.  The dialogue is realistic, fast, fresh and occasionally hilarious, and Astrid’s inner monologue is part Buffy, part Daria, and part something else entirely that makes it unique.  She’s the kind of girl you’d want to hang out with because she’s so awesome and cool, and not just because she could save you from being gored and eaten.

Peterfreund remains faithful to the unicorn folklore that states that only virgins can tame them, and I loved how she used this; in the hands of a lesser writer, it’s the kind of thing that could potentially make me want to throw a book across the room.  The topic of sex and virginity in YA novels can always be counted on to get folks raging on all sides of the sexual politics spectrum.  Peterfreund’s unicorn hunter characters are all discovering their powers – and how conditional they are – right at a point in their lives where they’re also discovering their sexuality, and deciding what they want out of their relationships with boys, and the confusion that all this causes is pitch-perfect.  Astrid does not meekly accept that her powers are fully dependent on her virginity, and her resulting internal conflict provides some tense and dramatic moments.

Likewise, I was very impressed with how Peterfreund dealt with the issue of rape; again, a topic that many writers struggle with and cop out on, she deals with it coolly and compassionately, with a sneaky, kick-arse dismissal of the idea of “grey rape”, and a sensitive understanding of self-blame and survivor psychology.  I wish more novels – not just YA but fiction in general – dealt with this topic with the same level of compassion and humanity, rather than lazily using it, as is often the case, as a convenient plot point (motive for revenge!  The character development you have when you’re not actually developing a character!  Just random filler!  Whatever!), or treating it as something that inevitably happens to female characters, particularly in situations where there are other types of violence.

I could probably write an essay on how much I like this book, and why.  Quite easily, in fact.  I will be recommending it to people regardless of their age and their stance on the Zombies vs Unicorns debate (like I mentioned on Twitter, I’m a staunch Team Zombie girl, but Rampant has almost swayed me).  The story moves at a cracking pace, there’s a lot of intrigue, some of it out of left field at times, and, really, how many folklore-based, well-written feminist action novels do you get to read?


An Open Letter to My Homeland

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:44 am

Oh Australia,

I love you, and I’ve lived in you all my life, but sometimes I think I don’t understand you very well.  There’s a lot of aspects of your culture that confuse and enrage me, like Luhr from the planet Omicron Persei 8 and the concept of “wuv”.

So, Age columnist Catherine Deveny has lost her job, over Logies-related tweets that were considered offensive.  Particularly, from what I gather, those about Bindi Irwin.  I wasn’t following Deveny’s live tweets at the time, so I’ve only read what’s been reproduced in the media.  I didn’t think the comments were out of character and, while they may have been a little off-colour, I can see the point that Deveny was trying to make, because it’s a point I’ve often made myself, and I’ve done so in similar ways; apparently, however, dark humour and irony aren’t allowed in discussing the sexualisation of children in the media.

There’s a lot of commentary flying back and forth from all sides.  Some of it is well-reasoned and thoughtful and some…not so much.

I think Deveny’s general fearlessness when it comes to tackling controversial issues in her writing is admirable and much-needed.  Yes, she sometimes deliberately courts controversy, but this doesn’t make her arguments ingenuous.  Criticisms of her work are often far more ingenuous than anything she might do to draw attention to said work anyway; the problem is actually that often they’re not criticisms of her work, but her, personally, as a woman and occasionally as a mother.

Part of the angst about Deveny seems to be that she is apparently part of the “elite”; she makes no bones about her dislike of many aspects of Australian culture, and this sort of thing rarely makes one popular.  If you want to be a woman and popular in the Australian media, it helps to be perky and inoffensive, rather than a smart, mouthy, atheist feminist.

But, Australia, what worries me about you is that, as you’re baying for Catherine Deveny’s blood (as you’ve bayed for Germaine Greer’s before her – at least she’s in good company), and writing mean-spirited blog posts, tweets, and comments on mainstream media websites, you’re revealing your own blind spot.  You’re revealing your vicious streak, the anger you harbour against women (especially of the feminist stripe), the resentment that they won’t stay in their place and do what you want them to.

Because while Catherine Deveny loses her job, Matthew Johns gets a TV show, Sam Newman continues his stronghold in the mainstream media, and Kyle Sandilands is somehow still employed doing anything at all but commercial radio more specifically.

One of these people wrote some things on Twitter.  One of these people was accused of taking part in a pack rape, which the media gleefully referred to as a “group sex scandal”, and has apologised in the media for, essentially, the fact that he was caught out.  One of these people used a segment of his popular sports-related TV show to dress up a mannequin to recognisably resemble a female sports reporter, and then beat the mannequin to pieces.  One of these people brought a fourteen-year-old girl on his show to grill her about her sex life, and when she broke down and revealed she’d been raped at twelve, asked her if that was her only sexual experience.

One of these things is not like the others.

One of these things is out of a job, and the others aren’t.

Catherine Deveny doesn’t need me to defend her; she is quite capable of that herself.  But while she gets roasted over an open fire (mmm, delicious scapegoat), your culture, Australia, gets to pretend that it’s fighting the big fights, and that nothing is wrong.  She’ll be right, mate.

Except she won’t, because she isn’t.

I love you, Australia, but I think you’re going about this all wrong-headed, and frankly you’re coming off like a bit of a git in front of the other countries.




Razer on Nowra on Greer

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:03 pm

Helen Razer has written a brilliant takedown on Louis Nowra’s Monthly article “commemorating” the 40th anniversary of The Female Eunuch.

Part of the problem with Nowra’s article, which other writers have pointed out, although none, so far, with as much rage-filled aplomb as Razer, is that it’s a personal attack that criticises Germaine Greer – now in her 70s – for growing old. Apparently being a brilliant author, academic and incendiary public figure does not excuse one from being criticised for being a slave to chronology. I know, I’m shocked too. In addition, like many antifeminist naysayers, Nowra seems both gleeful and quick in regarding the fact that Greer’s full revolution has not taken place as evidence that feminism has failed completely. Yeah, sorry, no. Societal change doesn’t happen overnight, and especially not while there are still people ready to jump all over the fact that those pushing for it are human, too.

I am not always Greer’s biggest fan myself – like many people, I find her a fascinating, important and occasionally incredibly infuriating figure – but there is no “politcal correctness” at play in objecting to Nowra’s piece, as his supporters have tried to argue. Pointing out that someone is making a hackneyed, sexist and pointless argument to debase a powerful woman isn’t political correctness, because there’s not a level of endangered speech going on – criticising women for being outspoken – sorry, “shrill” – and not measuring up to arbitrary notions of attractiveness is something that has never moved out of the mainstream long enough to become endangered. And that’s part of the reason why we’ll still need feminism for a while yet. To slightly mangle a popular catchphrase, the time for post-feminism will be when we’re living in a post-patriarchy.

On a lighter and more personal note, that entry was the first I’d read on Helen’s blog, and as someone who’s occasionally been a bit alienated by her writing in the past, I have now well and truly been converted into a fan. While they may have wildly different styles and different viewpoints, I think that both Greer and Razer can be counted as larrikin ratbag Australian feminists, and I wish we had more of those.


2010 Amelia Bloomer List

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:44 am

The annotated biography of books on the 2010 Amelia Bloomer List is now up.  The Amelia Bloomer Project was created by the American Library Association to recognise feminist books published for readers from birth to 18 years.  The project has been running since 2002, and always provides a great, although heavily US-centric for obvious reasons, resource.

Of the 2010 list, there’s a lot that catches my eye, particularly The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly, which is on the middle grade list.  I’ve wanted to read Yes Means Yes!: Visions of Female Sexual Power & a World Without Rape, edited by Jaclyn Friedman and Feministing‘s Jessica Valenti for a while, and there’s some familiar names on the young adult fiction list.  The only one I’ve read so far, however, is Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson, which is a powerful tale of obsession, eating disorders and a friendship gone horribly awry.  Needless to say, it’s not a happy read, but I think it’s an important contribution to the pool of fiction that deals with young women’s experiences with anorexia and bulimia.

I’ll be using this list to help with acquisitions for the titles that are relevant to readers at my library, and I can’t wait to read a few more of them.  In the meantime, any recommendations of books from the list would be greatly appreciated.


Of Twilight and Sexism

Posted in Uncategorized at 7:53 pm

It’s been kicking around for a few months now, but I wanted to comment on Sady at Tiger Beatdown’s post, The Edward Cullen Underpants Conundrum.  I think said post offers one of the most original and level-headed discussions of Twilight mania (and people’s discomfort with it) that I’ve come across.

Because there’s more than just literary criticism or high art/low art debates to the dismissal of twilight fans as “Twihards” and the looking-down-upon older women who are fans.  There’s a snideness levelled at them that you just don’t seem to see aimed at other fans of highly successful authors whose books trip into the pop culture realm, like, say, Dan Brown.

Part of it is sexuality.  Part of it is sexism.

Now, as a cranky loose-moralled feminist type, I will be among the first to say that the books’s promotion of abstinence and obsessive relationships disturbs me greatly.  And there’s a lot of ink that has been spilled over that fact, by people probably more clearheaded than me.

The interesting thing, which I think Sady really highlights, is that despite or because of this (and I’m sure arguments can be made for both, and I’m sure there’s truth to both for individual fans), is that the books (and, undeniably, films) seem to lend themselves to a highly sexual reading; seem to provide a conduit for sexual fantasy in a way that even other frequently-slashed popcult phenomenons like Harry Potter just don’t.  I would argue that is has got to be in part because the books themselves are completely sex-obsessed; they’re just coming at it from the perspective of abstinence rather than consummation (at least until the fourth book).

Sady writes:

“…Edward Cullen is porn. Weird, pre-sexual, socially conservative, deeply repressed and fucked-up porn, but in a world where ladies’ sexy feelings are fenced in with shame and warnings of danger from Day 1, is it any wonder that porn which consistently ties sex to death and fear and the urgent need for repression is selling to the girls? I mean, consider: Edward Cullen has no characteristics, as a person, other than wanting to “protect” Bella and being beautiful and gorgeous and perfect all the time. (And also an insufferable asshole, but that seems more like a mistake than a purposeful effort to give him a personality.) He has no goals in life other than being with Bella. He is over a hundred years old, and he’s never had sex with another person. He’s never wanted to have sex with another person. There is not and will never be a person or a thing or an event that is more important to him than (eventually) having sex with Bella. He is an object designed for the gratification of female desire. He’s the most ridiculous person who’s so amazing at everything, and he’s so beautiful you creamed yourself. And that’s it.”

Sady’s main point, the conundrum her title refers to, is that Edward Cullen as a character (and Robert Pattinson as an actor, now) is the focal point of the kind of sexual objectification that is usually in the domain of men; she refers to Pattinson as a “male Megan Fox”.  Objectification is usually a male privilege, and seen as a male prerogative, and it’s discomfiting to see it being utilised so forcefully by a group of fans that are largely (but not entirely) comprised of teenage girls and young women.

And this is where the sexism comes into it, and is arguably discrete from the quality or lack thereof of the Twilight franchise.  Because, while the series may be eminently mockable for a number of reasons, that fact that it’s so beloved to females shouldn’t be one of them, and yet this is happening.  There’s been a number of posts to oh-snap blogs like Lamebook and various sites in the Cheezburger empire in which guys are mocked for acknowledging that they – gasp! – might have read or seen and even enjoyed a foray into the world of Edward and Bella.  Like all good eighth-grade insults, there’s a lot of questioning of the victim’s sexuality, and a lot of feminisation as ridicule.  Because, seriously, being a girl is, like, the worst thing ever.

Twilight itself may display a world view that’s deeply uncomfortable with sexuality, but those who would mock it for daring to appeal to a feminised fan base are revealing themselves to be the flip side of the same coin.