Monthly Archives: February 2011

Riddle Me This, Riddle Me That

Leia here, taking a slight break from reading entire assigned books (yes, plural) over a weekend, and writing papers otherwise too big for their own good.

So this semester I’m in a class about women and comedy.  It (and for the most part the other girls) has a decisively feminist slant, to the point where I honestly wish we’d sidetrack for a day and talk about what feminism actually means so we’re all 1) on the same page, and 2) to cool down some of the subtle man-hating.

Hollywood: our unspoken expert on what women want.

We just finished a unit on Jane Austen’s Emma, where we also watched Clueless.  In addition, this article was assigned and the teacher posed the question, “Why does Ferris argue that Clueless, despite its contemporary setting, is more conservative?”

Around the room, girls volunteered answers, mostly quoting clips from the article. After about half the class tried answering–these feminism-arguing girls–I finally spoke up, stating what seemed really obvious to me.  Now, I’m not the most vocally extroverted person, I don’t like speaking in class (more of a listener).  It’s one of those things I do only if I feel there’s a point to be made that’s sorely missed, or if I’m really passionate about the day’s subject.

So it was after the teacher had gone around the room that I finally decided to speak.  “It’s a romantic comedy.  Most, if not all romantic comedies are about women getting men–the main character of Clueless actively wants to have a man.  Emma, by comparison, wanted to maintain her independence for most of the novel.”  Bulls-eye.  It’s honestly why I can’t ever get interested in most rom-coms, and why there’s only two Disney movies that I tolerate.

I'll give you a hint: this is one.

Now why, in class where all but maybe 5 people are female–and most of those supposedly feminist–did it take so long for us to arrive at that?

There’s an irony here that’s perhaps more facepalm to me than funny.

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Undaunted

I confess: I possessed Two Reasons for watching the Super Bowl.  I don’t even like football–never really understood the appeal, particularly this year when two such generic, well-known teams with consistently champion-ish records are competing for a title I feel we’ve all seem them go at again, and again, and again.  Give someone else a chance much?

So I sat it out and waited patiently for every commercial cut hoping to glimpse two teaser-trailers continuing the decade-strong film tradition of Revenge of the Nerds.  It’s iconic stuff for us.

It's even in their tagline: "When the heroes are in trouble..."

But I can’t help but look at this lineup and sigh…Girls Need Role Models Too.  In my geek of geeks heart, sooner or later someone (as in someone with some kind of magical Hollywood influence) really needs to make something that bleaches Twilight from our minds.  I understand that the shadowy men in charge are kinda aged, kinda old-school, and kinda have this idea of exactly what women want in a movie (which might or might not be off), but every once in a while please give the female species something that passes The Bechdel Test.

Before we all dive to conclusions, I don’t consider myself a feminist.  The feminists I’ve encountered in my time like to spout “men oppressed us this,” and “men ignore us that,” and “men don’t take us seriously,” and I believe that way back in the 20th century that kind of outcry possessed a greater validity.  But growing up at the turn of the century, I haven’t seen that as much.  I see it used as propaganda, but other than the tweens on Xbox Live the guys I know my age don’t really care what women do with their lives, so long as they get laid on occasion.

No, I’ve had problems with other women–girls, specifically.

I ended my errand run in the toy section again the other day, which is usually what happens when I go shopping at Target.  Now this sounds strange coming from a girl–unless the girl collects Barbie dolls or something–but I wasn’t in the Barbie aisle (And I don’t have kids).  No, I was looking at DC Universe toys–collectables.

I ultimately found a figurine of Black Canary so it wasn’t all bad.  There’s a point to this.  I tend to be formulaic about the toys I ogle: DC Universe, LEGOs, and Nerf in varying order.  And I’ve never strayed over to aisles decorated in that bright shade of bubblegum pink, the land of Barbie, and My Little Pony, and other things, except once when I showed a friend the point I’m about to elaborate on.

I see it in commercials, especially around the holiday season.  I see it when I am errand-running in Target, or at a mall.  I see it in the coupons crammed into my mailbox with all the deals and potential savings on things I don’t need.  But I wonder…have you ever noticed how the girls’ side of the toy aisle often resembles the parents-to-be aisle?  There are toys that burp, and cry, and need someone to feed them!  Even potty-training toy dolls (creepiest thing I’ve ever seen).  There are miniature baby carriages, and small houses with kitchen sets.

Looking at this from the perspective of an adult, is this really supply of toys aimed at young girls? The tie to parenthood and/or domestic life, fashion and makeup, etc, appears to be a (very, very, very, very, very scary) common trend. Do all girls want nothing more in life than to be well-dressed mothers?  Growing up, I sure didn’t, but according to commercials, and looking at the actual toy aisles…yes.  And if the toy aisle isn’t enough, there’s always the ever-looming head of Disney.

But girls get the better show, am I right?

Meanwhile, toys for young boys feature Star Wars, or Hot Wheels, electronics, LEGOs, GI Joe, Batman, Halo, Iron Man, Tron and more.  I read somewhere, “You don’t see boys’ toys featuring suits and powerpoint slides.”  Boys can build things, drive cool cars/spaceships, fight alien races, become superheroes–you know: law enforcement, astronaut, architect, and so on.

(If you follow the commentary of this article…) Some have already commented that girls outgrow their childhood toys after a certain age.  But what about the amount of pressure on a girl to encourage, if not force, this process.  For example, not long after my eleventh birthday I remember being told by my parents to give up everything Pokémon—toys, games, TV show, etc—because I was “too old,” end of story.

Enter middle school and girls suddenly experiment with makeup and become picky about appearances.  The differentiation over the next few years is quick, brutal, and based on an unwritten set of standards for female appearances and behavior.  This unwritten code is then enforced—not so much by men as one may initially think—but by other women: on TV, in the movies, friends at school, older girls seen around school, characters in books.  Everywhere.  Reinforcement bombards across these different mediums.

Careful, that is but her dagger.

From personal experience, by high school anything Girls + Anything Geek has been slapped with the Big NO. First, because of the association with masculinity.  Second?  The above-mentioned list.  So is that it then?  Are girls only allowed to obsess over men?  Hormonally, socially, and culturally, life to a girl—according to this standard—is supposed to be about attracting men, loving men, and keeping a single man?

So…Do not enjoy male things.  Do not associate with other men beyond the realm of acquaintance.

Really?

In my case, resistance made the few girls I knew work to change me. To make me, “Better.”  “We’re just going to…edit…the things that aren’t right,” I was told.

I am not right, and I need to be made better.

Once, on a student trip between my junior and senior year, these same friends lectured me for wearing the Star Wars t-shirt I loved on my birthday as a personal celebration.  Later on the same trip I received a sterner reprimand for out-competing the other guys while a group of us goofed off on a playground.  I was pulled aside and everything, the words burned into memory “Boys don’t like it when girls perform better than them…it’s inappropriate to act so unladylike if you ever want to attract a man.”  All this coming from a girl a year older than me, and her tone suggested I committed the eighth deadly sin.

Though the unasked lessons never stuck,  the constant admonishment left me convinced I was forever unattractive to men, an image I still struggle with.

Add one to the list:  And do not—ever—compete with men at their level.

Is this where the Taylor Swifts and Twilight Sagas come into play.  As far as that material is concerned, your only focus (as a girl) and purpose in life is to remain the pure virgin until some man comes along.  No additional work required, if you’re beautiful enough, or angst from afar long enough, he’ll waltz over and sweep you away.

This year, we get The Green Hornet, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, and on the horizon are The Avengers, another Batman, Superman, and more.  Yeah, I know people aren’t entirely rejoicing over the new X-Men, or Spiderman, but if every superhero movie churned out pure diamond-studded gold, then there’d be no more jocks and cheerleaders terrorizing your high-school aged gender of choice.

But Girls Need Role Models Too.  They’re a little overdue.

It’s why I write.

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Hello World

“Who died, and made you king of anything?”

–Sara Bareilles

Here now, I formally introduce The Undaunted Pen: a commentary, and (hopefully decent) analysis on things related to my writing processes (thoughts, opinions, observations, etc).  I’m starving for a different kind of discussion, one with actual discussion taking place, and since I can’t seem to find it in class I turn to the internet.  You know, being constructive and all that good stuff.

I want to write.  You know, with keyboard and computer screen?  But over the last couple of years I’ve built up a lot of angst, anger, and frustration with regards to writing discussions and critique.  Honestly, I expected better from my educational system than what I’ve received, and not just because of the amount of money it takes to keep me here.  I expected to learn about writing from my writing classes, to learn about finding my voice, and to build my skills around a style that I would be allowed to call my own.

I believed that what I write, and my interests within writing, don’t matter so long as the effort was there.  Well, the effort was there, but the interest as far as teachers are concerned, was not.

Not to say that all of my teachers were bad–I’ve had some very good ones–but the ones running the writing workshop courses have left me routinely with rage.

I want a creative writing teacher (outside of nonfiction) who embraces the world’s variety.  I want the kind of teacher who looks at my work and says, “I see what you’re doing, and here’s what we can do to make that happen.”

Instead, I’m accustomed to, “I see what you’re doing, and here’s what you can do to make it better for me.”

I expected better.  Something that would hold in the face of logic.

I’ve never seen a class defeat destroy its purpose, lose completely misplace its cause, and beat that dead mixture with a stick more than creative writing aka “fiction workshop.”  I understand that at some fundamental level fiction/literature, and fantasy/science fiction/mystery/horror/romance/etc are viewed on separate and unequal platforms that may never, ever intersect–and I was aware of this going into English to begin with–but I never expected the amount of resistance towards any deviation from the norm.

So far the message I’ve gotten is, “We embrace your creativity, as long as it fits our standards.”

Maybe my approach is wrong.  Maybe those in a fiction workshop to begin with are writing to the kind of people they expect to still be in a fiction workshop course at the advanced level–people who share their interests alone.  They’re reaching out to their audience because these kinds of courses provide them a sample, a test run.  And that’s fine, my problem has never been with my classmates, just the people running the class.

Call it what you like, but I’m searching for another way.

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