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Jun. 2nd, 2014

Collie muse

The unexamined dissertation: not worth writing?

As some who read my blog may know already, I'm currently struggling with the process of writing my dissertation proposal. Despite writing being one of the things I do best and most easily, and for various reasons that aren't important right now, I've had some nervous procrastination issues with writing this proposal. Thus my adviser suggested I take a moment and consider carefully: why do I want to write about the subject I've chosen for my dissertation? So I've been engaging in some self-reflection.

At about the same time I was thinking about this, a family member emailed me, talking about something she'd heard recently: that there is a need for all peoples — not just the indigenous — to de-colonize themselves. As I was dashing off a quick reply to her I was first distracted and slowed, then thoughtfully intrigued by a number of associated questions which occurred to me, which were all wound up with these issues. I realized my relative had indirectly asked me some very interesting and critical questions which (also indirectly but importantly) affect my attitudes about the work I'm engaged in currently — questions such as: how do I define feminism? Why am I a feminist — and a spiritual one, at that? What is Women's Spirituality? Why Women's Spirituality instead of mainstream religion, or even "mainstream" paganism?

Perhaps the easiest question for me to answer is what I think feminism is. I no longer believe feminism is the old "equality with men" argument — although I used to. Currently I agree with bell hooks' marvelously clear definition of feminism: "a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression" (Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics, p viii). The reason I agree with hooks, rather than still believing that feminism is the struggle of women to be equal to men, is because I understand that this old definition misses a trick. Consider what it means if feminism is indeed no more than a movement wherein women aspire to equality with men: doesn't that imply that being female or feminine is somehow… lacking?

Further, once I'm being treated as equal to men in my field, why should I care if other women are not being treated equally? I've succeeded, after all. If those women were really feminists, they'd all be trying to be a man too, right? I can just ignore the question of why it is that anything associated with the female is still denigrated; I can just hire some "non-feminist" or "lesser" woman or feminine-behaving man to clean my house and raise my kids. I'm making as much money as a man, after all — I've won the feminism game, right? I'm entitled to the same rat race and running the same increased health risks and having the same occasional confused feelings about how empty my life feels as I bust my chops for a family I rarely get to spend time with. Yay, equality with men!

Yeah, that's a big steaming pile of no. Let me try again.

So why am I really a feminist? Because to me, relative financial equity between white males and females — at the expense of people of color — is still not good enough. It's racism and it's unhealthy for the species; we certainly need more and better social change than just that. There needs to be an ending of oppressions — and like the eloquent bell hooks, I want that lack of oppression, and the ensuing egalitarianism, for everyone. If we end sexist oppression then we are not valuing any gender or skin color at the expense of all others.

Let's take this a step further: if we considered the feminine to be as respected and cherished and valued as the masculine currently is, then we would shatter our currently deeply limiting gender roles. Biology is not destiny! Women may be able to give birth, but what if they don't want to? What if they want to earn money hand over fist or fight on professional sports fields or lead as politicians and judges and priests? Why shouldn't they? Men may occasionally have heavier muscle mass than women — but again, so what? What if they'd rather cook creative dinners for their families or raise and teach children or nurture those in need? Again: why shouldn't they? If we end sexist oppression, then all these possibilities for a wonderful, productive life are equally valued rather than sometimes denigrated, and all of us will have more fascinating options to live well open up to us.

This is also why I study Women's Spirituality. My definition of this field is cribbed somewhat from all my foremothers in Women's Spirituality, of course, as well as more recent friends I've meet in person and on-line through my studies. To me, Women's Spirituality is the uniquely feminist intersection of spiritual/religious and political action. It embodies a sociocultural critique which uses Goddess iconography, cultural mythologies, and individual spiritual experiences as an expression of the Divine, primarily presenting nature, women, and women's bodies as being of immense spiritual value, sacred and worthy of devotion, and deserving of defense against damagingly regressive androcentric perceptions of both Nature and Woman.

Consider this: modern organized religions purport to be for all people — and yet at least half the population of the world is pretty much excluded from at least one form of significant membership in them: the clergy. It is as clergy that the most meaningful participation, interpretation, and explanation of these religions emerges — and yet, in all of the so-called Big Five (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and Buddhism), women are most commonly regarded as inferior to men — if not outright denigrated. For those few religions whose dogma (sometimes grudgingly) allows women as clergy, there is still a struggle for female clergy to become ecclesiastical peers with the male clergy. Further, in this struggle, what do these ecclesiastical women face? More worship of Man — because the deities of all these big, dogmatic organized religions are overwhelmingly male! In fact, only Hinduism permits goddesses — and even there, modern perceptions of the religion most commonly promote the male at the expense of the female.

So we have God the Father, Lord, He — but while man is culturally believed to be of the mind and intellect and heaven and yearning upwards towards enlightenment… how do we culturally and religiously epitomize women? She is most often cast as being of the flesh: earthy and dark and dirty (as in: our cultural horror at menstruation and the messiness of childbirth), and of the emotions (hysterical, over-emotional, illogical), and animalistic (pussy, bitch, chick, etc.). In the US (my natal culture) it would appear the male has been sanctified at the expense of the female: we are actually raised to denigrate what is female and what is considered feminine. This is a trap I fell into just as much as many other women and men have: even as women struggle for financial equity with men, they're taught to believe the feminine is somehow less worthy than the masculine. Think about what that teaches us: Man is Holy, Sacred! -but women are… well… Man's servants? Come on, ladies — isn't that good enough? Sheesh, so demanding!

The five biggest religions in the world today are created by men and for men, with completely and sometimes only male deities. There is no religion today which is created specifically by women and for women, which promotes the sacred nature of Woman. In the presence of such a gaping abyss in women's lives; when there is such a crying spiritual emptiness for women… how can I not study Women's Spirituality? Until we value the female and the Earth just as greatly and reverently — Goddess the Mother, Great Lady, Queen of Heaven and Earth, She — I will continue to be a spiritual feminist, and seek to encourage and highlight the healthy cultural necessity of balance with and connection to the Divine Feminine.

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

May. 2nd, 2014

Collie muse

Sweet & sour emotions

Being a student on a very tight budget, I am particularly fond of restaurants with cards that give you a free meal after a certain amount of purchases. My local Armadillo Willy's is very good about this, and I treated myself to a free lunch there today. As I finished ordering, a song I knew was playing on the speakers. I like singing, so I was singing quietly along with it while heading to a table; while doing so I passed a somewhat surprised-looking older woman. I smiled politely at her and got a startled smile in return, and continued singing as I seated myself.

Later in my meal, just before she was about to leave, she leaned over and politely informed me that she'd really enjoyed my little bit of singing. She found it so nice that someone still knew the words to "Sweet Emotion" by the Stones! I laughed and thanked her, and she smiled and departed.

I didn't have the heart to tell her that the version of Sweet Emotion we'd been listening to was sung by Aerosmith… ;)

~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~

I also did some reading at lunch. As many who read my blog may know by now, I'm working on my dissertation proposal this semester. My proposed subject has at least partly to do with a possible way to change society for the better. One of my private joys in this process is searching for new and interesting books that are applicable to my topic, to see if I can include them in my research and use them to construct a more subtle and effective proposal for improving society.

While I know the categorizations are ideologically problematic, I've wondered for a long time why men as a broad category appear to feel such a desperate, pervasive need to dominate – to unfortunately frequently violently oppress — the broad category of women. This has formed a sort of background perplexity in my educational travels, as I tried to figure out what was going on – and how it might be socially resolved. In this process, I've recently stumbled across something rather fascinating — at least so far — and I'll likely review it here later. The book is Michael Kimmel's Angry White Men: American Masculinity at the End of An Era.

I find the vitriol of many of the very far right to be outright creepy and alarming. Their almost lockstep rage is mostly incomprehensible to me, especially when what they're purporting is clearly factually incorrect – and easily demonstrably so. A simple example of this is recent voting patterns: many of the country's central states both vote powerfully conservative, and are also those which stand to lose the most economically should the Republicans come into power. Why do these men who are most suffering from the current economic slump continuously vote for a political party which has no plan nor intention of assisting them out of their financial woes?

This has puzzled me for a while, and I don't know the answer. However, a passing few lines in the above-mentioned Angry White Men gave me a sudden possible epiphany. Initially the author notes: "Many of the men I interviewed for this book are not bad men; they're true believers in the American Dream, the same dream that I inherited, and in which I believe" (11). He explains one interpretation of that dream later as: "The promise of economic freedom, of boundless opportunity, of unlimited upward mobility, … what they [American men] believed was the terra firma of American masculinity, the ground on which American men have stood for generations" (13).

So… my interpretation of this is that what he's saying is these angry white men absolutely believe in upward social mobility: you get a job, you work hard, you make money, you're a success. They're feeling betrayed because they either are working their asses off but just barely making ends meet – or they can't find any job at all that suits their emotional and financial needs. Now, here's the kicker – the sentence that made me sit up and take startled notice:

Unlike many of her subjects [for her 1999 book Stiffed: The Betrayal of the American Man], who cast their eyes down for enemies but their allegiances upward at fictive allies, [Susan] Faludi is clear that the betrayal has not been the result of an indifferent government doing the bidding of hordes of undeserving "others" – whether women, gays, immigrants or whomever; rather, it has been perpetrated by the rich, the powerful, the corporate magnates, the corporate lobbyists and their plutocratic sycophants in legislatures and state houses. Like Thomas Frank's What's the Matter with Kansas?, Faludi observes a paradox of these white men voting for, and identifying with, the very people who are doing them in. (13-14; bolding mine)

Could these men devoted to the upward mobility promised by the American Dream… be consistently voting conservatively simply because the majority of Republican candidates are rich white men — men who appear to have risen to the top of the America social hierarchy? -because to these financially hurting and angry white men, the Republican political party apparently most epitomizes the culmination of the American Dream that they offer?

Could it really be that simple? And if so: how do we help these men help themselves?

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Apr. 25th, 2014

Collie muse

A Paean to the Librarian

My dissertation proposal research continues apace – sometimes stutteringly slowly, other times with a swiftness and surety which reassures me that I'm on the right path and doing the right thing. I need those moments, believe me!

This is one of those moments. I've just gotten off the phone with the CIIS librarian who's also gone through the same program I have: Women's Spirituality. She is such a marvelously helpful librarian! I had a class with her in my very first semester at CIIS, and she was tall, spare, short-haired, with a very direct way of meeting your eyes. Her voice over the phone is the same: firm and steady as she makes sure she's clearly and slowly explained something to you step by step, then checks for understanding. I feel rather as if I'm working with some Platonic ideal of the Librarian as perfectly conceptually suited to my needs! Best of all, when I had the nerdy squeal of glee at finally learning how to access tempting but previously inaccessible on-line research databases (I'm looking at you, JSTOR — you intellectual tease, you! ;-) ), she laughed and completely understood.

So, to record the wonderful information shared with me! I don't know if this is directly applicable if you're not attending CIIS also, but I suspect the basics will hold true – research librarian strikes me as one of those jobs you just don't get unless you love it, you know? So: always always always, the first step is to connect with your research librarian. Don't be shy, or embarrassed about what you want to research, or chagrined at not having reached out at the beginning of the semester, or believe you know it all already. There's always at least one new little trick that makes my life easier, every time I chat with a librarian. In fact, this time around my librarian's name, email, and phone numbers are in my cell phone database. I certainly hope I won't ever need to call for research assistance quite that precipitously, but that's not the point for me – the point is that I've spoken to her and know her now, she knows me and my subject, and I know how to reach her for any necessary follow-up – on her emphatic urging! — and that is very reassuring!

Next: when trying to find a particular book, article, or whatever, always try first to check it out from the CIIS library's on-line database. They have a simply enormous amount of access to on-line journals and databases! Articles can be received as PDFs or JPGs via email, or as physical scanned printouts via regular mail — though the latter sometimes have a cost attached. Also, from what I've seen, they are only B&W, and are sometimes extremely blurry. If I can, I shall always hold out for PDFs. I should also be sure to have the full citation information as well, since even if they don't have the article in question, the CIIS library has interlibrary loan available from its website. As a useful side-note, San Jose Public — my local library — also has an excellent website, including interlibrary loan. For books I shall go through them, since there's no shipping costs associated.

Okay, that covers a lot of the articles I'll want. However, there's still dissertations and theses, or perhaps more niche or more expensive journals, or those which CIIS doesn't have access to due to copyright issues. In such situations I'll likely be able to find them through researching either ProQuest or JSTOR.

First ProQuest: to access their research database, go to the library's main page at http://library.ciis.edu and on the left-hand side, under Research, click Find Articles+. Scroll down through the Suggested Starting Points until I get to the Multidisciplinary subheader. Under that category are a list of ProQuest links, but the one I'll want is titled ProQuest Dissertations & Theses. Clicking that link will lead to the CIIS Off-Campus User Authentication page where I am asked to log in with my CIIS information — have your Student ID # handy if you're following along with me. That takes me immediately to the ProQuest website – specifically to the ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Full Text search page. Enter appropriate keywords and/or search phrases, and have a ball! ;-)

Now JSTOR: though there is a link to their database right next to the ones for ProQuest, that's only for pre-1923 "early journal content" – not really helpful for contemporary research. Instead, from the main page again (http://library.ciis.edu), on the left-hand side under Research click the link titled CIIS Journals and E-Books. Then scroll down the page for the link titled JSTOR Complete Current Scholarship Collection, and woohoo! I'm on JSTOR's site! Pause to chortle delightedly… then remember I'm really a sober, staid, extremely serious scholarly researcher and click the Search dropdown menu in the upper left, then click Advanced Search – while still grinning goofily at getting to use this awesome database, woo! That's the database search page — so enter keywords and phrases, and have at it!

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Mar. 25th, 2014

Collie muse

Poisoning history

There's an odd and disturbing trend I've noticed recently in my preferred form of brain candy; e.g.: smart female protagonists within the genre of urban fantasy. From what I can tell, when the author wishes to demonstrate via emotional shorthand just how repugnant a villainous group is, or needs to hastily add a bit of tension in the background for the protagonist... a generalized and sneering misogyny is added.

Invariably this is not a genteelly over-protective patronization, either – no, this is misogyny so pointlessly widespread, so two-dimensionally vile, as to be worthy of a group of mustachio-twirling Snidely Whiplashs. I find this disturbing because I do not like my social group becoming not only the accepted victim du jour in modern fiction of this type, but also the preferred group – rather like the Russians were in all the early James Bond movies.

I first noticed this "effect" in a movie, oddly enough: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Set in an alternate world in about 1900, where characters from our literary classics are real people, we see Mina Harker treated repeatedly like crap because she's a woman… but despite the world ostensibly being in the Victorian age, men of color are treated as peers of white men. What a great message: all men should have the right to treat women like dirty laundry!



To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Beware of the story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.
-- Ben Okri, The Joys of Story-Telling


I'm not sure if it's fair of me to do so, but I have mentally tagged this effect as "cultural woman-in-the-refrigerator." To me it says the author is -- often through simple lack of imagination -- (ab)using a (sub)culture's women for either oppositional or motivational tragedy for the (usually female) protagonist. How do we know these guys is de bad guys? They beats up women! Oh, well then -- that's all settled! No two-dimensionality here, nopenope!

Let me state up front that I would not be satisfied with some other social group becoming fiction's chosen scapegoat, either. What I want is fictional backgrounds with some thought put into them: yes, women may be an oppressed class, but so are other classes of people as well. Oppression does not exist in a cultural vacuum, after all – it is never so neat and tidy as to declare only the aged, or the disabled, or red-haired women, or albinos, or whatever, as socially anathema.

Further, if we're reading fiction, shouldn't there be at least a little bit of imagination included? Instead of it always being women who are relegated to the social and legal status of children and furniture – except, of course, for our plucky heroine! – couldn't the authors try for something a bit more complex and thought-provoking?

What sort of culture might result if, say, there was a form of birth control for men that was easily visible? Maybe it turns their eyes a brilliant pink, or they glow in the dark, or something similarly obvious. I'd be intrigued by an exploration within the story of how the still fertile males were discriminated against -- both subtly and overtly – as, say, the socially recognized perpetrators of violence against women – even if the individual men in question haven't actually done any such thing. Everyone knows, after all, it's those sick individuals who have a "thing" about their personal sperm, who are the ones who try to violently impregnate bunches of innocent women. If those men were emotionally healthy and normal, like the rest of us, they'd have donated a bunch of their sperm to the banks, so the women they loved could deliberately choose when a pregnancy should occur, right?

In such a world I imagine families of more than one to three children might be ostracized due to wondering if the male of the family is perhaps sneaking off the pill on occasion. Maybe naturally sterile males might be shunned too, due to their eyes not changing color on the birth control drug. If the drug was expensive, it'd be yet one more excuse to discriminate against the poor as well. After all, everyone knows only the sick and guilty men don't take their pills!



A proper fairy tale is anything but an untruth; it goes to the very heart of truth. It goes to the hearts of men and women and speaks of the things it finds there: fear, courage, greed, compassion, loyalty, betrayal, despair, and wonder. It speaks of these things in a symbolic language that slips into our dreams, our unconscious, steeped in rich archetypal images.
-- Terri Windling, Snow White, Blood Red


So tell me: why is the "punching bag du jour" always women? Can't authors come up with anything new and interesting? I've been told this effect is due to historical accuracy. Really? As a single example, one book I read had dragons in it -- and yet misogyny apologists are still trying for that tattered old "historical accuracy" joke-of-an-excuse?! For that matter, do authors realize how insulting it is to simply erase all the historical abuse suffered by other groups?!

Casting women as the perennial and only cultural punching bag is emphatically not historical accuracy -- which even the simplest of research would reveal. If anything, this bit of plot shorthand is a blatant attempt to rewrite a new and false history. False histories are not truth -- they are a virulent disempowerment of the group which is constantly hammered on! Please, let's try for and encourage more interesting complexity in our fiction -- not less.

Collie muse

Poisoning history

There's an odd and disturbing trend I've noticed recently in my preferred form of brain candy; e.g.: smart female protagonists within the genre of urban fantasy. From what I can tell, when the author wishes to demonstrate via emotional shorthand just how repugnant a villainous group is, or needs to hastily add a bit of tension in the background for the protagonist… a generalized and sneering misogyny is added.

Invariably this is not a genteelly over-protective patronization, either – no, this is misogyny so pointlessly widespread, so two-dimensionally vile, as to be worthy of a group of mustachio-twirling Snidely Whiplashs. I find this disturbing because I do not like my social group becoming not only the accepted victim du jour in modern fiction of this type, but also the preferred group – rather like the Russians were in all the early James Bond movies.

I first noticed this "effect" in a movie, oddly enough: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Set in an alternate world in about 1900, where characters from our literary classics are real people, we see Mina Harker treated repeatedly like crap because she's a woman… but despite the world ostensibly being in the Victorian age, men of color are treated as peers of white men. What a great message: all men should have the right to treat women like dirty laundry!

To poison a nation, poison its stories. A demoralized nation tells demoralized stories to itself. Beware of the story-tellers who are not fully conscious of the importance of their gifts, and who are irresponsible in the application of their art: they could unwittingly help along the psychic destruction of their people.
– Ben Okri, The Joys of Story-Telling

I'm not sure if it's fair of me to do so, but I have mentally tagged this effect as "cultural woman-in-the-refrigerator." To me it says the author is — often through simple lack of imagination — (ab)using a (sub)culture's women for either oppositional or motivational tragedy for the (usually female) protagonist. How do we know these guys is de bad guys? They beats up women! Oh, well then — that's all settled! No two-dimensionality here, nopenope!

Let me state up front that I would not be satisfied with some other social group becoming fiction's chosen scapegoat, either. What I want is fictional backgrounds with some thought put into them: yes, women may be an oppressed class, but so are other classes of people as well. Oppression does not exist in a cultural vacuum, after all – it is never so neat and tidy as to declare only the aged, or the disabled, or red-haired women, or albinos, or whatever, as socially anathema.

Further, if we're reading fiction, shouldn't there be at least a little bit of imagination included? Instead of it always being women who are relegated to the social and legal status of children and furniture – except, of course, for our plucky heroine! – couldn't the authors try for something a bit more complex and thought-provoking?

What sort of culture might result if, say, there was a form of birth control for men that was easily visible? Maybe it turns their eyes a brilliant pink, or they glow in the dark, or something similarly obvious. I'd be intrigued by an exploration within the story of how the still fertile males were discriminated against — both subtly and overtly – as, say, the socially recognized perpetrators of violence against women – even if the individual men in question haven't actually done any such thing. Everyone knows, after all, it's those sick individuals who have a "thing" about their personal sperm, who are the ones who try to violently impregnate bunches of innocent women. If those men were emotionally healthy and normal, like the rest of us, they'd have donated a bunch of their sperm to the banks, so the women they loved could deliberately choose when a pregnancy should occur, right?

In such a world I imagine families of more than one to three children might be ostracized due to wondering if the male of the family is perhaps sneaking off the pill on occasion. Maybe naturally sterile males might be shunned too, due to their eyes not changing color on the birth control drug. If the drug was expensive, it'd be yet one more excuse to discriminate against the poor as well. After all, everyone knows only the sick and guilty men don't take their pills!

A proper fairy tale is anything but an untruth; it goes to the very heart of truth. It goes to the hearts of men and women and speaks of the things it finds there: fear, courage, greed, compassion, loyalty, betrayal, despair, and wonder. It speaks of these things in a symbolic language that slips into our dreams, our unconscious, steeped in rich archetypal images.
– Terri Windling, Snow White, Blood Red

So tell me: why is the "punching bag du jour" always women? Can't authors come up with anything new and interesting? I've been told this effect is due to historical accuracy. Really? As a single example, one misogynist book I read had dragons in it — and yet misogyny apologists are still trying for that tattered old "historical accuracy" joke-of-an-excuse?! For that matter, do authors realize how insulting it is to simply erase all the historical abuse suffered by other groups?!

Casting women as the perennial and only cultural punching bag is emphatically not historical accuracy — which even the simplest of research would reveal. If anything, this bit of plot shorthand is a blatant attempt to rewrite a new and false history. False histories are not truth — they are a virulent disempowerment of the group which is constantly hammered on! Please, let's try for and encourage more interesting complexity in our fiction — not less.

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Mar. 24th, 2014

Collie muse

Why not pulp

Some years ago a friend asked me why I didn't like pulp -- why, in fact, I pretty much loathed it.

It gets stuck in your teeth, and makes the orange juice too thick, I replied. Admittedly, I can now confess my sense of humor still needed work at that time. What can I say… I was younger then.

Haha, very funny; you know I mean pulp fiction, my friend said. Why do you despise the genre so?

At the time I simply said it was because there were no good action roles for women, and the fortuitous events which occurred to the protagonist went well beyond coincidence, instead being more a cruel destruction of one's suspension of disbelief. As an example of this stupidity (which, alas, was not unique), in the book I'd just read the protagonist just happened to arrive at the unpassable mountain pass on the one single day per year that it was even remotely passable. Further, upon learning that special suits would still be required to forge through the pass, the protagonist was delighted to discover just enough suits waiting there for he and his small group of companions -- and look! What a coincidence -- they all fit perfectly too!

Okay, my friend said, that does push the boundaries a bit. But was there anything else that was bothering me about pulp fiction?

Yes, I replied, but I can't quite put my finger on it. We shelved the conversation for the moment, years passed, we lost track of each other… and I didn't think about it at all until the movie John Carter of Mars came out. I went to watch it (somewhat under duress) to see if I still felt the same about the pulp genre. I found I did -- it still gave me that unpleasantly squidgy feeling inside, though I still hadn't been able to put my finger on why precisely.

Just the other day, however, it hit me: I find pulp fiction dull and tediously predictable because it is nothing more than a White man's self-aggrandizing daydream -- at everyone else's expense.

Thinking about it, and to be fair, I have not read an exceedingly large amount of pulp fiction. I am therefore basing this conclusion on what I have read: all the John Carter of Mars stories (which I almost immediately regretted wasting my time on), most of Robert E. Howard's oeuvre, some of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan series, most of H. Rider Haggard's short stories, and some of the Doc Savage and The Shadow stories. I think I read a few Westerns that would qualify as pulp as well, though I'm not sure they're truly part of the genre.

So that's my bona fides. Now an explanation of why I feel this way:

As I said earlier, I intensely dislike pulp fiction as a genre because it is a White man's self-aggrandizing daydream -- at everyone else's expense. The protagonist -- I can't bring myself to call him the "hero" -- is invariably a square-jawed, two-fisted White man. Everyone else is there to look up to him in awe, to loyally serve him well past the boundaries of good sense, to stroke his ego without demands, to fall dramatically before him due to being an Evil foil to his clean-cut Western self-righteousness.

No, really: anyone Asian is an "inscrutable Oriental menace" to be defeated by the superiority of that previously mentioned clean-cut Western self-righteousness. Blacks get to be either loyal but comedic sidekicks, or primitive savages to again be defeated by Western blah blah blah. American Indians don't even get to be comedic sidekicks -- they're all just more of the primitive savage typecasting -- cardboard villains the protagonist can mow down without remorse or reflection.

That's the non-White men -- women get the shaft in other ways. White women can be either the love interest -- often killed for tragic effect -- or vile temptresses. Asian women only get to be dangerous dragon ladies or subservient and nameless servants. Even worse, unless Black or American Indian women are "princesses," they're completely erased! Further, princesses are there solely to fulfill Ariadne's role: fall in love with the leader of the enemy of her people, turn her back on everything she's ever known in order to aid him in escaping -- and then, Theseus-like, he'll dump her and successfully flee.

Yes, I know there are individual cases which can be dug up to disprove one or another of these assertions, but the problem is that the general pattern holds true for the genre. Pulp is a very simple, limited writing style, to the point that once you know the pattern you can invariably predict the ending -- and for me, at least, that way lies stultifying boredom.

Frankly, I'm really glad the pulp genre fell by the literary wayside. Give me stories with well-rounded people in complex situations any day.

Mar. 20th, 2014

Collie muse

Is there science in Star Wars?




Blurred Millenium Falcon


A very blurred shot of the Millenium Falcon -- as it flies by at warp speed... :)


In exchange for a huge honkin' load of electronics recycling, my household received four free tickets to the San Jose Tech Museum of Innovation's current exhibit: "Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination." So we invited a friend and went to see it last weekend. It will still be around until March 23rd, so catch it while you can if it interests you. Honestly, after wandering through the very nice series of displays, I'd have to conclude there wasn't really much in the way of science in Star Wars... but then that's not why we went to see the movies either. :)

There were several of the ship models there, which were fascinating to compare and contrast. Shape gave clues as to whose side each ship belonged to. Also, because the camera would be traveling quite close to the models in some cases, the detail on those was amazing. Interestingly, there was no correlation between model size in this world, and the comparable size of the ships in the movie world. For example, the Millennium Falcon's model was much larger than those of the triangular Imperial Star Destroyers -- and was much more battered and weather-beaten in appearance... if you can call a space ship weather-beaten.




Luke's Tatooine landspeeder


Luke's Tatooine landspeeder


Luke's landspeeder was there as well, and it also had that shabby, constantly-worked-on appearance. I'd never noticed before (and my photo doesn't show it, alas), but the left rear nacelle has the cover permanently removed for ease of repair. The little videos by the displays explained a lot of how the ships and general background were conceived, which was nice. Even the vehicular and building paint jobs were careful to add in stains and leakage marks as well. There was clearly a lot of thought put into how to make the ships look old, well-used, maybe even antiquated. Oh, one amusing bit: it's not until you can look right at the landspeeder that you realize something: in the scene where Luke flies Obi-Wan and the two droids into town, C3-PO's legs had to be removed! There wasn't actually any space for the actor to put his legs if he'd actually been sitting there.




Darth Vader: the one, the only


Darth Vader: the one, the only.


There were several costumes presented as well: Boba Fett, Padmé Amidala, Darth Vader, the Red Imperial Guards, stormtroopers, Tusken raiders, Wookies, Jawas, young Anakin and Obi-Wan, Han Solo, and more. I think the Boba Fett armor had the greatest number of excited guys standing next to it and asking their girlfriends to take photos of them there... or giggling groups of girls doing the same. I've never really understood the fascination people have with Boba Fett -- he is, as far as I can tell, a BAL, or Brooding Asshole Loner. Those types are usually snotty, insecure, and petulant in real life, and way too sure you should be fascinated and intrigued by their character's tragic and mysterious past! -which they, of course, wouldn't dream of telling you, since that wouldn't be mysterious enough... yeah, no. The only BAL I ever saw that made a lick of sense to me was Darth Vader -- because he didn't give a shit if you liked him or not! He was supposed to be the Bad Guy, and he knew it. Having his outfit highlighted with red lighting was just right, as far as I was concerned. All they would have needed to make the display perfect would be a tape of that hoarse breathing! :)

Curiously, while studying the various costumes on display we realized the "official" stormtrooper armor/costumes weren't as good as what most cosplayers create -- though upon reflection that was understandable. The cosplayers expect to be looked at closely, while the stormtroopers in the movies were basically background props -- no one would be close enough to see any glaring shoddiness. Amusingly, Han Solo's outfit, and the young Jedi outfits, made me raise an eyebrow and think something was wrong... and then it hit me: they were all clean! Seemed uncharacteristic in such a gritty universe. Gorgeous boots, though -- always did love those boots. ;)




Wonderful Wookies!


The General Wookie & one of his compatriots -- not Chewbacca, alas. :)


It was perhaps uncharitable of me, but my thought was that the further into the movies we got, the less thought went into the character types. For example, the Wookie display was quite nice -- the museum did a beautiful job of presentation of the various props -- but if you look carefully at the Wookie on the right in the photo, you'll see that the layered-plates thingie he's wearing hangs over his thighs and knees. Wouldn't that be incredibly annoying to have banging and bouncing against your knees as you walked around? Or is this guy supposed to remain always seated?

However, it was at the Wookie display that I consciously noticed what a beautiful job the museum did: each display box was matched to the contents! Thus descriptions of the rather organically oriented Wookies was in a faux-wood box with gracefully curling braces at each corner -- while the life and people from the desert planet were presented in what looked like weather-beaten white stone displays. Ships and the Imperium's displays were encapsulated in glassed-in boxes framed with brushed, polished steel; and so on. It was really nicely done, and the multiple little videos available at each display kept things fresh and interesting to passers-by. My only regret there was that there were no directions on which buttons to push in which order.




Tusken raiders


Tusken raiders: don't move, woman!


The Tusken raiders were another case where, in the later-made movies, I think they weren't really thought through... and the movie makers were just using our culture's anthropological shorthand to quickly whip something together. For example, as nomads the raiders apparently were culturally coded as strongly patriarchal (though in our world that particular association of "barbarian nomad=patriarchal" has fortunately been decisively disproven) with all the male raiders leaving their women and children back at camp when the males went off on raids. But in a universe with satellites and flying droids, isn't that just a good way to get your families slaughtered while you're not there to defend them? In fact -- brace yourselves for an onslaught of pragmatism here -- might it not make more sense to teach the women to fight too? Duh. Also, the display presented us with an armed male raider, threateningly holding his weapon out in front of an unarmed female Tusken -- and, of course, it's not clear whether he's menacing her or the viewer. Further, the female is shown wearing a (supposedly characteristic?) iron mask clamped to her face! Not only did it look painful, but moving and breathing through the long, heavy, partially rigid thing hanging down her front must have been an ordeal.

One of the other things the Tech is really good about is hands-on displays which allow you to experiment with things. There was a hovercar, for example, though sadly you were only allowed 30 seconds per person, and the area it was in was too small to really play with much. There were some displays that allowed you to experiment with magnets similarly to how Luke's hovercar didn't work, but modern maglev trains may soon. There was a set of mechanical legs you could manipulate with levers which showed you just how complex simply walking would be for a droid. There were also three simple little games which looked somewhat like the chess game in the original movie, in that they had effectively a sort of visual scene playing over the display, and allowed you to place objects in order to accomplish a few stated goals. There were others too, though unfortunately I'm not currently remembering them. The only downside I found was that many of the games were a bit battered or lacking in reaction times from having seen intensive use over the entire span of the exhibit. Otherwise they were all clever and intriguing.




Action figure display


Action figure display: now with token female pole-stripper Leia!


Of course the exhibit ended at the little store, and I was amused to see there too an example of thoughtless androcentrism: the action figure display was full of figures... all of whom were male. Now, to be fair, the entire series of movies is shockingly void of women, and honestly I'm not sure I'm that interested in a future where there are a kabillion men to every one or two women... but seriously: really?! They didn't have any Padmé Amidala, for example, but they had a whole section of Greedo? What were they thinking?! Also no Aunt Beru, no female Jedi such as Shaak Ti or even exes like Aurra Sing, nothing but males -- with one single exception: there was a Leia action figure. Unfortunately it wasn't Leia in white robes from the first movie, or Leia in forest camo for the second, or anything similarly competent. Nopenope! Gotta make sure our little girls know their proper role in life as mere accessories to the male action-adventurers of the world, right? -because the only female action figure in the entire freakin' display was: pole-stripper Leia in her slave-girl bikini. Bleah.

So anyway, the Star Wars exhibit at the Tech was beautifully presented, and -- like Star Wars itself -- quick and light and amusing. I suspect kids will love it. Check it out!

Feb. 22nd, 2014

Collie muse

Belly dancing & comfort zones

Today has been an extremely fruitful day so far! Not only did I tremendously enjoy my first American Tribal System belly dancing class with a new teacher, but she's willing to barter with me for the training! That means I can actually take the class, thank goodness — especially considering my tightly budgeted finances as a doctoral student. Further, during the class I had a small mental revelation which explains a few things I'd wondered about for a while now. Any day where I have a fun, lightning-bolt mental moment is a good day!

I'd actually taken one ATS class years ago, which was quite interesting, but not as fun as this class. There were a couple of reasons why, which I realized after the class when I had a moment to think about it. For one, the class this time was smaller, which allowed for more personal attention and encouragement from the instructor. Unsurprisingly, I consequently also never felt lost or left behind — a big win! For another, I have no idea what quality of dancers the two instructors were… but without question, for a rank beginner like me, this teacher today was far more helpful, friendly, personable, encouraging, and… well, instructive.

As class was ending, the instructor said something which really clicked for me: she mentioned that she'd been an air force brat for a while, and thus knew what it felt like to be the new kid. That was why she made an effort to welcome newcomers and make sure they were comfortable: she understood how unpleasant it can be to be the outsider.

I mention this because I've seen situations where people I knew were ordinarily thoughtful and kind did things that were just plain hurtful. For example, I was once seated in a circle of women where one of them — a very quiet, shy woman — had the only empty chair next to her. Since I too like knowing everyone present is having a nice time, I was pleased to see not all of us had arrived yet, as that meant the shy woman would have someone next to her to talk to. I was rather shocked, therefore, to watch the next woman walk in, look around, then take the empty chair and drag it halfway around the circle so she could push it into the middle of her group of friends — who shifted a bit to make room for her.

I understand there may be some people who perform such micro-aggressions deliberately, but I'm not talking about them — I'm talking about the unconscious many who have no idea how hurtful they may have been, and wouldn't wish to be so if they realized it. I couldn't help but wonder if, for example, this newly arrived woman realized what she'd done: she'd effectively told the shy person they weren't worth talking to. I've always wondered if this was a witting or unwitting brush-off. Did the newcomer miss the small flinch of the snubbed shy person? Would it really have killed the newcomer to sit next to someone different for a few hours?

I'm guessing now, though, that it wasn't intended as a rejection at all — it was just that someone who does something thoughtless like this does so because they have no idea what it is like to be effectively segregated and ignored in such a fashion. They haven't ever been the outsider or the new kid, and so they have no emotional connection to that position — and lacking any empathy for that particular mental state means they don't think to try to alleviate it.

That's what I'm guessing for now, at least. What do you think?

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jan. 28th, 2014

Collie muse

More thoughts while ill

Some time ago I wrote a posting (which I've since lost track of) where I mentioned that in restaurants where you're supposed to get your own silverware and napkins and stuff, it seemed to me that men either always sat down and waited on the women to put together a place setting for them — or only got silverware and napkins for themselves. Out of curiosity I asked several friends about that, and was somewhat puzzled at the results. After all, if the one woman I asked agreed with me, but all of the handful of men disagreed… clearly there was a disjoint in how folks were seeing things. So, since I'm that way, I just watched whenever it occurred to me.

Results: two of the men I asked have changed their behavior so they deliberately make a point (to themselves — there are no trumpet fanfares or anything) to help out at restaurants by making sure they bring over the necessary silverware and napkins for partners and friends. Funnily enough, one of the men I asked still does not lift a finger to help, despite insisting that men and women both always do that sort of thing. Also funnily, the woman I asked reported to me (which is why I'm writing this now) that she started not getting the silverware and napkins, in the hopes that her partner would help out — and his reaction was to start getting the necessary utensils only for himself. ;-j

I think there's an entire category of experience, such as benefits which are believed somehow innate to the person, which the privileged simply do not see… and if it is brought to their attention, they'll indignantly deny it — and to them, what they're saying at that moment is true. I find this almost creepy. It makes me worry about what I do that takes unfair advantage of others. It also makes me wonder: how on earth do we effectively communicate this injustice to those who benefit from it — such that they either start sharing, or pulling their own weight? Almost inevitably it's been my experience (including my own experience with this sort of privilege) that the initial reaction is something along the lines of indignant denial and/or anger. That's not really helpful for creating change… but I don't now recall what precisely happened to me to wake me up, to open my eyes, to my own privilege. I can't communicate what I don't well recall, unfortunately.

I think about the most disjointed things when I'm sick…

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

Jan. 13th, 2014

Collie muse

The culinary Hallowe'en extravaganza! pt. 3

Next up in the Halloween dinner recipe reminiscence is Eye of Newt, crunchy Zombie Fingers, and the sweet Zombie Kidneys — all of which were quite tasty.

Funny… writing all this down has reminded me of helping out my little sister many years ago, when she was in grade school. Her class had to each pick a piece of Shakespeare they particularly liked, then perform the lines, so she and a friend chose the scene with the three witches in MacBeth. Admittedly, it had to become "The Two Witches of MacBeth," but she and the friend did an amazing job: they had little black cloaks and borrowed my mom's big cast iron pot and found things to throw into the pot for all the elements of the magical recipe.

I can't remember now if they found the dry ice they wanted for the scene, but I remember my sister being upset at the requirement for "lips of Turk." She and my mom were pondering what to do about that — maybe leave that bit out of the speech? I walked into the kitchen and heard this, and promised I could fix it for them. I peeled an orange, took two abutting segments and poked a tiny hole into each one with a sharp knife, then put several drops of red food coloring into them. The orange segments turned a wonderfully disgusting mottled/bruised color, and my sister was delighted!

When she came back after school that day she was even more pleased at how well the "Two Witches" had been received. According to her, too, when the "lips of Turk" were pulled out and brandished before being tossed into the pot, there was a gratifying chorus of, "Eeeeew!" from her half-horrified, half-delighted classmates!

So I guess I have a long history of enjoying the imaginative creation of gleefully disgusting food. Think of the addition this will be to my resume! :)

Eyes of newt

Eyes of newt

Eye of Newt

Ingredients:

  • 12 eggs
  • 1 tablespoon sweet pickle relish
  • 1 tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 pinch celery salt
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard
  • 2 drops green food coloring, or as needed
  • One 6 oz. can sliced black olives, drained

Directions:

Place all of the eggs into a large pot so they can rest on the bottom in a single layer. Fill with just enough cold water to cover the eggs. Bring to a boil, then cover, remove from the heat and let stand for about 15 minutes. Rinse under cold water or add some ice to the water and let the eggs cool completely. Peel and slice in half lengthwise.

Remove the yolks from the eggs and place them in a bowl. Mix in the relish, mayonnaise, celery salt, mustard, and food coloring. Spoon this filling into the egg whites and place them on a serving tray. Round the top of the filling using the spoon. Place an olive slice on each yolk to create the center of the eye. Dab a tiny bit of mayonnaise in the center of the olive as a finishing touch.

Notes to self: Next time I think I'll only make half a dozen instead of a dozen. I also want to round the yolk irises more, and use less of the yolk, so I can squish the olive pupil in more deeply. Rounding off the mayonnaise centers might be good too. Also, credit where credit is due.

Zombie fingers

A full serving, & the zombie fingers

Next are the very yummy…

Zombie fingers

Ingredients:

  • One 8 oz. package pitted dates
  • 4 ounces almonds
  • 1 pound sliced bacon

Directions:

  • Preheat the broiler.
  • Slit dates. Place one almond inside each date. Wrap dates with bacon, using toothpicks to hold them together.
  • Broil 10 minutes, or until bacon is evenly brown and crisp.

That's it! This took far longer to prepare than it did to actually cook, but wow, was it tasty! Next time I'm going to make more of these delicious little things.

Zombie kidneys

Sweet zombie kidneys

Finally there were the sweet zombie kidneys, which we somehow managed to completely forget to photograph, darnit. They were also very easy to make: slice an apple in half down the core, use a melon baller to dig out the core and a little of the inner fruit, then balance on a muffin pan. Pour in melted caramel; once it has cooled and hardened you can embellish as desired, though I left mine as-was due to running out of time. As can be seen, the original photo that inspired me has the caramel-filled apples cut into slices. I did manage to find a very similar recipe, however, to link to here: inside-out caramel apples. They're also occasionally left as half an apple, then sprinkled with chopped pecans, which looks really tasty to me!

 

Originally published at Collie's Bestiary. You can comment here or there.

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