Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Feminist Movies!

Yup, even the sometimes intimidating MarkH is looking forward to seeing The Golden Compass, a children's movie that stars a girl for a change! I am proud of New Line Cinema for neither taking Warner's line that movies about women don't sell, nor being cowed by the religious crazies.

Look, Americans - Catholic Spain isn't afraid to market a movie in which the Church is portrayed as evil. Yet another example of how they more progressive than we are now. Also, by popular demand, here is the site where you can take the test to "meet your daemon." I took the test twice and got a raccoon both times (because I am inquisitive and sociable), and then I took it once in which I lied on all the questions and got a mouse. So. What's your daemon?

UPDATE II: I can't take that preview opening up every time I check the site, so if you want to see the (beautiful) trailer, you are just going to have to check out the official site.

Monday, October 29, 2007

HPV Vacination for British Schoolgirls - What About U.S.?

Well, those crazy Brits have once again let reason trump the arguments of the nut cases:
Schoolgirls in Britain will be vaccinated against the virus that causes cervical cancer from September 2008, ministers have announced.
So, Great Britain must not have religious fanatics who oppose vaccinating children, arguing that protecting girls from a killer virus will encourage them to be more promiscuous, right? Wrong, actually - GB has its nutters too:
Some have expressed concerns that providing a jab to protect against a sexually transmitted infection to children at a young age might encourage promiscuity.
Yup - the UK has its share of morons, wackos, and heartless misogynists too, they just aren't letting them run things.

When will the U.S. follow suit?

UPDATE: Our friends across the pond at the f-word have also noticed their comparative good fortune, writing that unlike the citizens of the United States, future generations of Brits will "...not look back and say that our politicians forfeited the lives of thousands of women in an attempt to prove a supposedly-moral point." How long before we will be able to write the same?

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Movie Review: Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited

I really like Wes Anderson's work. I like his visual style, I like the dialog he writes, I like the amazing sound tracks, and I like the pacing of his films. Most of all, I love thinking about the theme of every movie he's ever written (it is always the same), man's need to be loved despite his complete dirt-bag nature.

Having said that, The Darjeeling Limited is Anderson's laziest film to date. In a recent interview with James Sanford, Anderson explains:
I wanted to make a movie in India, and I wanted to make a movie on a train... The other thing was that I wanted to work with Jason and Roman. They're good friends of mine.
Anderson's description of his inspiration for this film rings true; I came out of the theater thinking that I had just witnessed the type of art that results when a talented writer has the desire to create, but no particular story in mind that he wants to tell. Like all of Anderson's films, the plot centers around characters who seek to connect with others despite their amazing lack of empathy and self-awareness. This time, the socially challenged heroes are three brothers who travel through India, hoping to connect with one another and their estranged mother while mourning the loss of their father. I have no problem with the thematic similarities between this film and Anderson's others. Some of my favorite authors spend their whole lives addressing one theme from various angles, and the result is inspiring. Austin, Hemingway, Stein, and Wolf were each preoccupied with one central question and dedicated their artistic careers to exploring the nuances of their chosen themes. Yet, The Darjeeling Limited hints at complexity rather than exploring it, and fails to express anything that Anderson has not portrayed more aptly in films past.

Perhaps what is more disappointing, however, is the complete lack of development of the three female characters in the film. Jack's ex-girlfriend (Natalie Portman), Rita (Amara Karan), and Patricia (Anjelica Huston) are, to quote Paste's Andy Beta, "chilly and hastily sketched, serving mainly as objects of desire." Portman's character, who appears in a short film which precedes the main feature, serves to establish Jack (Jason Schwartzman) as needy, passive aggressive, and cruel. She is all of these things as well - needy since she's followed Jack to France, passive aggressive as she asks if he's slept with anyone and then gives an unconvincing "no" when he returns the question, and cruel as she manipulates the more spineless Jack. However, the scene's darkest moment comes when Jack notices that she has bruises all over her body, but does not bother to ask why, or if she needs help. By creating a seemingly abused character who is deemed unworthy of concern, the scene comes across as misogynistic.

Rita is also included in the film merely to establish Jack as a well-practiced ass, and perhaps to give Schwartzman a second sex scene. Their brief romance seems unlikely and superfluous to the story. Perhaps these two female characters have been included so that Anderson could make use of stray bits of dialog he liked, originally written for another film, for they seem out of place in this one. Rita gives Jack another moment in which to show a genius for passive aggressiveness by giving him someone to whom he can say "Thank you for using me." Of course, it was Jack who instigated the affair, but Rita, after a brief pause, accepts his view of the situation. She is not portrayed as a victim, but merely as a stand-in.

Patricia is the boys' mother, and mirrors Jack's ex in both looks and mannerisms. Her role is to provide a bit of an excuse for the boys' neuroses by feeding them some empty lines and promises and then disappearing on them.

Yet, while I acknowledge that in this film Anderson comes across as a poor writer of women, I can't agree with those who claim that his female characters are always "chilly," "hastily drawn" objects of male desire. Etheline Tenenbaum (Anjelica Huston) from The Royal Tenebaums is subtly, not sketchily, drawn and Thea from Shameless has is wrong when she claims that Ines from Bottle Rocket is Anthony's (Luke Wilson) romantic recourse after a 'white girl' rejects him (while there is a mention made of Anthony's ex, it is merely to mention that he has a mental collapse in her presence after realizing that he never wants to answer another question about water sports again). So, I don't think Anderson should be written-off. But I do hope that his next film has something more substantial to say. Or at least better jokes.

The Hathor Legacy's Mo Movie Measure (explained in this post): fail

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Writer Mindy Kaling: Fellow Blogging Dork

When Jezebel claimed that Mindy Kaling, who wrote many of my favorite episodes of The Office, has a blog entitled "Things I Bought that I Love," I was initially skeptical. I mean, really, who doesn't want to spend their days writing in the voice of Kelly Kapoor? I know I do. (It would be so much easier than trying to be captivating in my own voice, the same voice I use for all the boring things I do, like insisting that someone bring me tea.) Besides, the claim seemed a bit spurious since all the images were gettyimages and Kaling doesn't even post under her own name, but under the pseudonym Mindy Ephron (a tribute to screenwriter Nora Ephron, as it turns out). So, still feeling doubtful, I did a little snooping and found this Kaling interview with Keith Phipps of The Onion's AV Club where Kaling claims that when she's on set but not acting she keeps:
...the shopping blog. Me and a bunch of other comedy writers basically are contributors, but it's my blog. It's called "Things I've Bought That I Love." Actually, I really love shopping. It's one of my big hobbies, and other than that, I'm kind of the big napper of the writing staff. I sleep a lot. Between the blogging and the napping, that's usually what I'm doing when I'm not on camera.
So, I guess it's true.

Kaling's blog is an amusing read, full of Kelly-esque "likes" and non sequiturs (ex: did you know that "it is considered kind of disgusting and raccoon-like to use the warm washcloth [that they give you on planes] to clean your face"?) Yet, as you read you realize that she is not writing in Kelly's voice, but that Kelly's voice is, in fact, an amped-up version of Mindy's voice. So, she's insightful, talented, and intelligent - and always ends her sentences on an up-note, even when off camera.

Ummm... take that, patriarchy?

Anyway, go show her some love. Lots of it. Maybe if we're charming enough she'll come blog for us. And, ya'll, I would so let her give the 2008 Cute Awards to like whoever (whomever?) she wanted, although I'd have to put in a good word for capuchin monkeys.

Friday, October 26, 2007

How About Some Non-Sexist Halloween Costumes for Girls?

Each Halloween, parents of girls have a choice to make. They can either use the holiday to encourage their daughters to be excited about all the different things women's lives can be, or moms and dads can take the opportunity to indoctrinate their daughters with destructive sexist stereotypes. For parents preferring the first option, here are some feminist costume ideas that should be pretty easy to put together:

Marie Curie Costume

Make a lab coat out of a large white button-up shirt. Long hair can be put up in a bun. Dab glow-in-the-dark face paints into test tubes for props (representing the radio active elements, polonium and radium, that Curie discovered). For a more morbid take, the glow-in-the-dark paints could be smeared directly on the hands - it is Halloween, afterall.

Hermione Granger Costume

All you need for this one is a child-sized white button-up shirt, a red and gold tie, and a black robe (although a choir robe would work best). Hair can be braided in many small braids for a few hours beforehand, so that when the braids are taken out a proper Hermione mane can be easily achieved. Books and a stick for a wand make great props.

Amelia Earhart Costume

A leather jacket, an aviator's cap, and a scarf to tuck into the jacket are the main components of this costume. To make the aviator's cap, a skull cap or swim cap and some goggles could be used.

Billie Holiday Costume

This one is easy to pull off. A fancy dress, some fake pearls, and white face-framing flowers. A microphone is a good prop.

Janis Joplin Costume

Yeah, with styles being as retro as the are right now, your kid might already have all the long necklaces, huge sunglasses, and little bracelets she needs to dress as Janis Joplin every day. Achieving the mane might take some mouse and and a blow-dryer.

Of course, some parents seem to prefer to dress their children as trollops and tramps for Halloween. For those, I recommend this site, where you can find the:

Baby French Maid Costume

and the "Adult Woman Dressed as a Trollop in a Cat Costume" Costume

Ridiculous. I might have mentioned my annoyance with this sort of thing before.

A Little Perspective on Feminism, Please

Today the usually fabulous Jezebel posted a ridiculous article entitled "Can You Maintain Your Feminist Ideals in the Modern World?" Apparently the Jezebel crew thinks that London Times columnist Caitlin Moran has brought up a valid question in the Elle UK article in which she ponders "what should a woman do when the only way to get ahead at her job is to make use of her feminine wiles?" Jezebel goes on:
Moran suggests that while "writhing around on top of piano like Michelle Pfeiffer in the Fabulous Baker Boys is definitely out...you could certainly allow yourself to be a little bit extra 'charming' in that rather tight Moschino sweater."
Look, there are two problems here:
1) This seems to make the argument that wearing flattering clothing is somehow an anti-feminist act. Allowing yourself to be attractive or sexy is in no way a betrayal of your feminist ideals. This notion that feminism is trying to rob the world of sexy is a perfect example of a strawfeminist argument. Men and women alike like to feel attractive and both can be stupidly forgiving of the obvious flaws of someone they find alluring. I am aware that I have occasionally gotten away with one half-baked argument or another because my listener thought I was 'charming' at the time. Is it anti-feminist of me not to immediately say "Ah-ha! I just said something dumb and the only reason you think it's clever is because I look good in this dress"? Of course not. But...
2) The original question posed was "what should a woman do when the only way to get ahead at her job is to make use of her feminine wiles?" So, this hypothetical woman is well qualified, but is still not advancing professionally? She is in a situation where it is understood that she has to flirt (or sleep?) her way to the top? Now we are talking about a case of sexual harassment, not a failure of feminism. In this case the answer should be to document everything until she can bring up a lawsuit, or to find another job where her success is in no way dependent on her sweater collection.

To be clear, flirting is not an anti-feminist act. Denying someone opportunities because they are not behaving in the sexual way that you wish they would, however, is an example of sexual harassment. Jezebel and Elle alike should be clear on this point.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

From whence came wench, and other slanderous slurs?

From the 11 October 2007 edition of Nature:
A 'hussy' was once a perfectly respectable housewife, and 'wench' just meant 'young woman,' but both terms now connote a woman of loose morals. And 'lady'- once used just for a woman of noble birth- is now the standard term for any woman.

Intriguingly, words for men generally don't suffer the same fate, and sometimes even improve their connotations ('knight' originally meant just a boy or retainer). Parallel patterns have occurred in other languages (for example, as with the German Weib, which suffered the fate of 'wench').
So, commonly used words that simply mean woman take on ever more slanderous and sexualized meanings until they eventually become offensive slurs, while words that refer to common men tend not to transform into insults over the centuries, but actually tend to turn into words with positive connotations. Why might that be? The Nature article continues:
The most obvious explanation for this phenomenon is that language users (or at least those who have historically been responsible for recording language - men) are consistently misogynistic. But a more convincing 'invisible hand' explanation invokes a simple individual rule: when talking to or about women, err on the side of politeness. Given two options, on normal and one more polite ('hussy' versus 'lady'), this rule, if applied widely and consistently, leads to 'lady' becoming the common form. 'Hussy' or 'wench', by comparison, become ever-less polite over time. The best intentions lead to pejoration as an unintended consequence.

This 'people err on the side of polite' explanation fails to address two questions- why the same does not happen with words referring to men (one supposes that people tend to use the more respectful terms when referring to unknown men as well), and why words like hussy and wench took on sexual meanings as well, rather than just seeming to denote poor or low-brow women?

As Arnold Zwicky of Language Log notes, we might be witnessing a rapid modern day pejoration of a common word. The word "moist," he writes in his October 25th post, is becoming widely seen as an offensive word. Zwicky cites the experience of one University of Georgia English professor:
A student in my Shakespeare class announced that the word "moist" (which I had uttered to describe Egypt in Antony & Cleopatra) is offensive to women. Some of the other women in the class concurred (not hostilely--just as a matter of information for a clueless male professor). I was somewhat flabbergasted, and nobody would articulate a reason for the offensiveness--except for one male student's eventual suggestion that the word reminds women of sexual arousal. That association is not at all beside-the-point of my description of Egypt in the play--but why would such a connotation make the word offensive per se? As far as I could ascertain, "damp" and "wet" don't carry whatever stigma attaches to "moist." What am I missing here?!
I am with the professor on this one. While moist might very well be a favored descriptor in adult lit, it is surely used with equal frequency in cooking magazines. Certain adjectives are also frequently used to describe male arousal, yet these adjectives out of that context do not connote anything scandalous. So how is it that common words can so rapidly pick up sexy or offensive meanings, but only when referring to women?

Scientists: Creating Lesbian Worms

Well, so much for the argument that homosexuality is a choice:
Altering a gene in the brain of female worms changed their sexual orientation, researchers said on Thursday, making female worms attracted to other females.

The study reinforces the notion that sexual orientation is hard-wired in the brain, said Erik Jorgensen, scientific director of the Brain Institute at the University of Utah.

Yup, you can't blame Gay Dumbledore if your kids are gay, you have to blame your own genes.

The study can be found in the journal Current Biology.

UPDATE: I thought I was still the only one to have noticed this story, but as it turns out, the kids at Good As You have gone pro-worm in response. Also, the Nature blog might quibble with my title for this post:

The ‘lesbian worms’ line is a bit of red herring. There aren’t true females in the C. elegans nematodes used, only hermaphrodites and (rare) true males.
Alright, fine, we hear you. But I'm still not changing the post title unless someone can think of something cuter.

Pictures from Feminist Pumpkin Carving

Well, first I promised. Then I stalled. But today I keep my word and post the photos from our Feminist Pumpkin Carving Night. So, without further ado, I bring you...

Tribute Pumpkins: Fabulous Feminists
Princess Leia Pumpkin

"I don't know who you are or where you've come from, but from now on you'll do as I say, okay?" Enough said.

Princess Bonobo Pumpkin

OK, I admit - this was my first attempt at Leia. But, seeing as the Bonobos are close cousins of humans who live in matriarchal social groups, the resulting Princess Bonobo can still be proudly displayed.

Space Alien Watermelon

SI is pro-immigration! Also, since space aliens do not conform to our sexist stereotypes and space women feel no need to constantly flaunt their secondary sex characteristics, you might not be able to immediately recognize this alien as a woman just by looking at her, umm... melon.

Jack O' Lanterns: Scary Sexist Pumpkins
Vladimir Putin

After Russian President Putin
called on his nation's women to have more children, journalist Vladimir Rakhmankov wrote a satiric article calling Putin "the nation's phallic symbol." Prosecutors have charged him with insulting a representative of the state; if convicted, he faces up to a year's hard labor.
Just imagine how scary the US would be if we could face hard labor every time we called our own president a dick for wanting to govern women's baby-making.

George Bush

The list of Bush's anti-woman policies is long, so click here to see his sexist policies, actions, and opinions enumerated.

Finally, a group photo:

Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Fun With Shirtless Protesting!

Ever feel like your body was being over sexualized and objectified in order to sell a product? Ever feel like protesting all the half-clad unrealistic representations of what your body should be? Well, some men have been having some fun with the Abercrombie all-shirtless male models campaign (A & F even puts shirtless greeters in the stores) - and it is hilarious. Going to promote naked bodies on the billboards? Well, then you must be cool with real men's shirtless bodies in the flesh - wandering around your store. Operation Shirtless Shopping went down like this:
There are four floors in the Abercrombie, so I divided everyone up into four groups by birthday month, to ensure we’d have an even number of men on each floor. Those on the second floor were out of luck, as they’d be shopping on the women’s only floor. I instructed them to claim to be shopping for their girlfriend. I then divided the group up by birthday year and had them enter the store at staggered times, to prevent an obvious line forming at the entrance. At exactly 4:37 everyone was to discreetly remove their shirt on their assigned floor and hide it in their pocket or pants. (We figured that if we had 100 people trying to enter the store shirtless, they’d probably stop letting us in after the first 20 or so slipped by.)...

After about 15 minutes, the Abercrombie management decided it was time to kick us out. Security employees started approaching all of our men and asking them to either put a shirt on or leave. They informed us that the model was a paid employee and his state of undress didn’t justify ours. So despite the fact that the store constantly bombards you with the image of the shirtless male, Abercrombie still maintains a “No Shirts; No Service” policy. Some agents protested that they were trying to buy a shirt, but the staff countered with the not-so-logical, “If you put on a shirt then you can buy a shirt.” Many agents just politely agreed to leave and then walked to another floor to shop some more, getting asked to leave several times before finally heading out.
Go read the whole thing. Really, go look now - it is hilarious.

Ladies, I feel a protest coming on... how about we all descend on Southwest Airlines dressed as their own vintage flight attendants? Anyone else have any other targets in mind? We recruit women of all shapes, races, and sizes to go to Victoria's Secret in high heels and underpants...

Via Conspiracy Factor

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Next on Bush's Agenda - Veto Feather Weight Non-Discrimination Act

As Think Progress explains:
Tomorrow, the House is expected to vote on the Employment Non- Discrimination Act (ENDA). The bill, introduced by Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), would make it illegal to fire, refuse to hire, or fail to promote employees simply based on sexual orientation.
Seems reasonable and good, right? Yet, although White House officials apparently helped craft exemptions that were added to the bill excluding “small businesses, religious organizations and the uniformed members of the armed forces” from mandatory compliance (robbing the bill of much of its usefulness), the White House issued this statement today:
H.R. 3685 would extend existing employment-discrimination provisions of Federal law, including those in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to establish “a comprehensive Federal prohibition of employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.” The bill raises concerns on constitutional and policy grounds, and if H.R. 3685 were presented to the President, his senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.
This effectively announces a will-veto policy. As Pam from Pam's House Blend points out, conservative groups are campaigning against ENDA, claiming that "This dangerous bill would pit the government directly against the free exercise of religion, a situation which is unconstitutional on its face." Really? And if your religion calls on you to refuse to work with minorities or women, should those bigotries be protected too? It wasn't too long ago when religion was used as a justification of all sorts of racist injustices.

You can encourage your senators to pass this bill here.

Coach Greg Ryan Sacked... and Solo?

Well, Greg Ryan will not be asked back to coach the U.S. women's national soccer team next year. I must admit, I'm a bit surprised. I know that some have been calling for this since his decision to bench Hope Solo for the critical semifinal match against Brazil in the World Cup, a decision that many people believe is directly responsible for their loosing the match. Yet, as The Footie reminds us, Ryan maintained 45-1-9 record. And, I rather thought that Solo might have taken the heat off her coach with the ungracious comments immediately following the loss:

As for Solo, whose fate we've discussed before, one assumes that she will continue to play with her team.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the US Presidential Race

Yup - Brownback supporters are very angry about J.K. Rowling' claim that she sees her fictional character Albus Dumbledore as being gay:
-Psycheout at Blogs 4 Brownback called it “revolting,” saying “Dumbledore is a gay homosexual who doesn’t deserve to live on G-d’s green earth.”
Amazing. Perhaps this guy would have been alright with the outing had Dumbledore been one of the non-gay homosexuals.

Pandagon also has an excellent post on the Dumbledore buzz and the conservative portrayal of romantic relationships in the Harry Potter series.

In the meantime, the Log Cabin Republicans are angry that Mitt Romney turned away from his previous stance of relative tolerance. Their response has been to 'smear' him by producing an ad which quotes him as saying:
“I believe that abortion should be safe and legal in this country,’’ and, “I believe that since Roe v. Wade has been the law for 20 years that we should sustain and support it."
Wonderful - punish Romney for turning anti-gay by claiming that he isn't sufficiently anti-woman. Thanks, guys. Don't the Log Cabin kids understand that all the Republican candidates are running on identical homophobia platforms? Their base demands it of them. Their supporters seem to fear allegedly gay imaginary characters. Really, is playing into conservatives' irrational fear of all liberals a good agenda for a gay community seeking societal acceptance?

UPDATE: Not shockingly, Bill O'Rilly is using this as an opportunity to do a little fear mongering. Yup: "J.K. Rowling is a provocateur... and now is going to let all hell break loose." Talk about out of touch with reality.

But that's just the Fox propaganda network, right? No other news network would even cover this, much less try to sensationalize it, right? Wrong - according to MSNBC guest Robert Knight, head of the Culture and Media Institute, an allegedly gay Dumbledore is dangerous because kids who look up to him will try homosexuality and contract STDs. Because no one ever got an STD from straight sex. It is ridiculously embarrassing to watch Dan Abrams of MSNBC try to emulate O'Rilly's style. Just because one moron gets ratings, should we all act like buffoons?

Shamefully Stalling: What Feminist Pumpkin?

Yes, the pumpkin carving party was this weekend. (Happy birthday, me!) And, yes, I promised to post pictures. But... you see, Princess Leia didn't turn out quite as planned. She looks more like Princess Baboon. So, I plan to carve the leftover pumpkin this week. If anyone is up for making a decent Leia pumpkin template, well, I obviously need a little pumpkin help.

Several other people, however, carved beautiful pumpkins. I will post a teaser picture for now, but check back tomorrow - I'll post more photos right here as I get some clearer shots from the awesome pumpkin carving people who were present.

Tonight's Teaser of a Gourd
Scary Vladimir Putin Pumpkin (carved by real Russians!):

UPDATE / EDIT: As Another Anonymous points out in the comments, you have to see the pumpkins lit to really judge their quality. I'm working on getting the pictures of all the pumpkins lit, but for now you'll have to settle for my (slightly) improved Princess Leia:

A Sad Day for Geeks

What? Orson Scott Card is a homophobic bigot? But I loved Ender's Game! According to Card:
The Lord asks no more of its members who are tempted toward homosexuality than it does of its unmarried adolescents, its widows and widowers, its divorced members, and its members who never marry. Furthermore, the Lord even guides the sexual behavior of those who are married, expecting them to use their sexual powers responsibly and in a proportionate role within the marriage.
PZ Myers of Pharyngula takes apart Card's article - displaying for all its logical fallacies, inconsistencies, hypocrisies, and plain ugliness. The whole Pharyngula post is makes for excellent reading, but here is one bit that particularly struck a cord with me:

There are several misrepresentations here. One is that homosexuality is all about sexual behavior, which must be controlled in ways of which Card approves. Throughout, get the impression that all Card considers when he thinks of homosexuals is the gross icky carnal things they do with their bodies; an infantile idea that sex is all about and only about slippery bits of meat sliding about, which must be regulated.

I know heterosexual and homosexual couples, and I don't even think much of, let alone obsess over, their private physical behavior. I see them as people who love each other, which ought to be enough for all of us.

Yes, why is it that so many people see their own love as complex and beautiful, but insist on viewing other people's relationships as purely carnal instincts?

UPDATE: Apparently, Card's homophobia is well documented and has been angering librarians since 2004. And Austin Cline of About.com points out that Card's bigotry isn't of the usual anti-equal marriage rights variety, but an even scarier "throw gays in jail" blend:

Laws against homosexual behavior should remain on the books, not to be indiscriminately enforced against anyone who happens to be caught violating them, but to be used when necessary to send a clear message that those who flagrantly violate society's regulation of sexual behavior cannot be permitted to remain as acceptable, equal citizens within that society.
The goal of the polity is not to put homosexuals in jail. The goal is to discourage people from engaging in homosexual practices in the first place, and, when they nevertheless proceed in their homosexual behavior, to encourage them to do so discreetly, so as not to shake the confidence of the community in the polity's ability to provide rules for safe, stable, dependable marriage and family relationships.

Gay love as a threat to safe, stable marriages? Are there unstable marriages that are likely to explode? I know that Card is a fiction writer, but this is the most unbelievable (and revolting) nonsense he's penned yet.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Barbra Boxer Breaks it Down

The U.S. Senate has voted down a proposal that would have denied federal money to any family planning clinic that provides abortions as part of its services. Although the law already prohibits the use of federal money to pay for abortions, many women's health clinics do receive federal funds that allow them to provide a variety of family planning services to low-income women. Yet, some conservatives would like to deny any funding to these clinics. According to the Associate Press:
By a 52-41 vote, the Senate rejected a proposal by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., to stop funding health clinics, Planned Parenthood and other providers of reproductive health services if they use money from nonfederal sources to perform abortions.

"His amendment will do nothing to reduce abortions," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. "It will make contraceptives harder to get, so it will increase the number of unintended pregnancies."

Cheers, Senator Boxer! Thanks for helping us avert a crisis.

Friday, October 19, 2007

A New Look for Second Innocence

The new artwork currently up on the banner is by the amazing LilinaFaerie, whose work can be viewed on deviantART. Go take a look and send her some love.

NBC's The Office: Satire, Feminism, and ...Sexist Stereotypes?

I fell hard for NBC's The Office when I saw it for the first time, in the middle of its second season. I had seen the BBC version of the show and enjoyed it, but it's humor stemmed mainly from Ricky Gervais's parody of his former employer's misbehavior. The American version, however, was more than a clever lampooning of one man's quirks. It was pure, brilliant satire aimed at exposing and ridiculing the bigoted attitudes on which corporate America has long been based. I ran out and rented the first season and I have been a ardent fan ever since.

During its first three seasons, NBC's The Office satirized corporate America's bumbling attempts to change its own entrenched sexist, racist, and homophobic attitudes. Michael Scott is a comic representation of the hypocrisy of the American business environment; personifying both its urge to be seen as likable and tolerant and its longing to return to a time when it could freely run on a system of white male privilege.
A manager who became successful during a time when business shamelessly ran on the good ol' boy system, Michael cannot change his sexist and racist outlook to keep up with the corporate world's new need to seem inclusive. Yet, it is he who has to lead the diversity day training (where he requires all staff to say racially insulting things about whatever ethnic group is named on a card taped to the person's head) and oversee the sexual harassment awareness training (in which he constantly sexually harasses the office women). However, no matter how diverse his staff or how many diversity training sessions he attends (or leads), Michael continuously fails to rewrite his sexist and prejudiced views of people. Michael treats every woman as either a sex interest, a matron, or an emotional fluff brain and insults every minority by mimicking stereotypical representations of their ethnic group. He is constantly surrounded by women and minorities who are far more competent than he is, but he unfailingly adjusts his view of them to match his preconceived notions of a group to which they pertain. Part of the humor of the show once came from watching people decide how to react in the face of his egregiously incorrect views of who they are. We watch people react to Michael's misbehavior and recognize the decisions we make on a daily basis about when to let an offense go unmentioned and when we should protest.

In fact, until recently I would have said that The Office's satire of workplace sexism made it a great feminist show. One of the best feminist characters was Jan, Michael's competent and level-headed boss who must constantly try to correct his misbehavior with equilibrium while simultaneously being harassed or condescended to by him. Jan's pauses and sighs could sometimes have me in stitches. When Jan becomes romantically involved with Michael, it seems a bit out of character, but a lot of us will recognize the struggles to correct sexist thinking in our love interests as well as our bosses, so the situation still provided a lot of humor.

Yet, at the end of season three, Jan has a break-down and her character turns into a sexist caricature - practically during the course of one scene. And this season's Jan seems to be as much of an embodiment of sexist stereotypes as any misogynist could write - she is a catty insecure jealous shop-aholic with a penchant for irrational emotional outbursts. She accuses Pam of wanting to steal Michael. She goes on spending sprees with Michael's card. She throws a tantrum when Michael gives her the bad news about his financial troubles. Mindy Kaling, genius author of "The Dundies" episode - how have you let this happen?

As Courtney of A Feminist Response to Pop Culture notes, "
Melora Hardin is the first one to say how much she loves the way that Jan’s character is ‘developing.’" Of course, what Hardin seems to ignore with such statements is that a character's being more challenging to portray does not necessarily mean that the character is more complex or interesting. A stereotypically histrionic Jan is much less interesting than a controlled Jan to whom viewers can relate. Caricatures are seldom interesting characters.

So, while I await next week's installment, I make this appeal to the writers of The Office - please, review the rest of the episodes in Season 4. If they promote sexist stereotypes instead of subverting them, then go back to the drawing board. Call the actors back in and re-shoot. Bring back that lovin' feelin.'

Oh, and as for the Hathor Legacy's Mo' Movie Measure: this past episode failed.

A Masculine Intonation, but with a Gentle Touch

What will it take for a woman to convince Americans that she has the leadership qualities needed to become their president? According to Beth McGuire, dialect coach to the stars, the secret might lie in pitch and intonation rather than policies and political insight.
"Any woman in a position of authority tends to lower her pitch,” she said. “But Hillary doesn’t vary her range a lot. She ends all her sentences on a down glide, which can make her sound masculine and hard."
So, have you got that, ladies? To prove your competence, try to speak using the lower pitches of a masculine voice. Wait, no, don't sound too masculine - that might make you seem... unfeminine.

So, perhaps we should talk in low voices, but use the intonation of a valley girl? Mark Liberman of Language Log is skeptical:
...is McGuire really suggesting that a candidate for president of the United States of America should systematically engage in uptalk? That would do wonders for her image, I'm sure.
He forgets, however, that sounding like an idiot has been a great political advantage for our current president. I mean, you wouldn't want a 'stuffy intellectual' who knew facts and stuff running things, would you?

The New Yorker article in which McGuire is quoted ends with Majella Hurley, another dialect coach and an associate of McGuire, timidly stating "I would hope that people actually listen to content," to which The New Yorker's responds, "that is not bloody likely." Well, it isn't bloody likely that people will talk about Hillary Clinton's content instead of her bloody intonation if our highly regarded journals don't talk about her content, is it?

Stupid gits.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Susan "Contraception is Not Health Care" Orr Appointed Chief of Family Planning Programs

Once again the Bush Administration is waging an attack on women's right to decide when and with whom they have children. This week, the "Bush administration again has appointed a chief of family planning programs at the Department of Health and Human Services who has been critical of contraception." Wonderful, a head of family planning programs who opposes our most effective family planning tools. As The Washington Post tells us:
Susan Orr, most recently an associate commissioner in the Administration for Children and Families, was appointed Monday to be acting deputy assistant secretary for population affairs. She will oversee $283 million in annual grants to provide low-income families and others with contraceptive services, counseling and preventive screenings.

In a 2001 article in The Washington Post, Orr applauded a Bush proposal to stop requiring all health insurance plans for federal employees to cover a broad range of birth control. "We're quite pleased, because fertility is not a disease," said Orr, then an official with the Family Research Council.
Hummm... if you wanted to reduce abortions, you would think you'd promote contraceptive methods. However, if your goal was just to punish women for having sex, well then keeping them off the pill makes more sense.

As Thus Spake Zuska explains:
The motives of the FRC are pretty clear: disempower women, suggest they're bad parents if they don't stay home at the beck and call of the children God sends them, keep them pregnant for 30 years, out of the workplace, and subservient to men. Think I'm kidding? Why the vehement opposition to birth control? It prevents conception - you'd think they'd approve; fewer abortions that way! Why should they oppose contraception if not to tie women down by the uterus? Or to deny them from possessing sexual power equivalent to men?
Yup, that is exactly what this is about. It isn't even that we have a nation that loves babies so much that we want every woman to have 8-10, since, as you know, making abortion illegal does not reduce the number of abortions. So, what are we really after? Sexually subservient women and punishment for women who dare seek the same freedoms as men.

UPDATE: Cara from Curvature tells us how to join the Planned Parenthood campaign to protest Orr's appointment and encourage the President to instate someone more in keeping with the ideas of the family planning programs that they would oversee. Yet, since Bush has shown himself to be oblivious to both reason and criticism alike on many other important issues, the chances of this campaign succeeding are, well, nil. But, it is good to remind politicians that sane women (who would like to see their rights maintained) vote too, not just the fundie nut jobs.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Kids Ask: Does my Hussy Costume Make my Butt Look Big?

According to the Eating Disorder Information Network, "20-30% of normal weight 4th graders think they are fat." Since fourth grade is not a normal age for kids to be worried about maintaining alluring figures, we as a society must be doing something wrong that exposes these youngsters to unrealistic body expectations at such a tender age. What message could we possibly be sending that would encourage kids to think of their bodies as sexy showpieces? What could we do stop this destructive trend?

Well, to start with, we could not dress our elementary-aged daughters in costumes like these for Halloween:

The Mo' Midriff Little Pop Star Costume:

The "Drama Queen Major Flirt Girls Costume" (Their real marketing title):

The Cheer Leading Vamp Costume:

I mean, really. There was a time when Halloween was not a holiday for sexist stereotype indoctrination, but a night when all kids could dress up as brain-eating un-dead goblins from Mars. Where have the good old days gone?

Instead of passing our young girls the fish nets and knee-highs this year, maybe we could have the kids research Amelia Earhart and dress up as aviators. Or perhaps we could have a few Marie Curie kids running around in lab coats. Or Queen Elizabeth kids, even. At least let them dress in the firemen and doctor costumes, for Pete's sake.

UPDATE: Jezebel noticed this too, and points out the ironies of parent-provided stripper costumes with their usual eloquence. They have also posted the worst example of stripper costumes for kiddies. Also, Strollerderby breaks the issue down for us with these words:
It's nothing new, but it still irks me to no end that from a very young age boys are given role models who use their minds and bodies to do something useful, something productive, while girls are taught to leave their minds at home and use their bodies to attract attention. Even while wearing masks.
Yeah, it sorta irks us too.

UPDATE II: In response to popular demand, we've posted some of our ideas for kiddie Halloween costumes here.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

What Fox News and the Bush Administration Already Know

Reuters has published a review of a study that will be filed under the "old news" heading at the White House. The article entitled "Gossip More Powerful than Truth" simply describes the mechanism that has allowed this administration and Rupert Murdock to manipulate Americans for years. Apparently, most people toss evidence to the side when forming opinions, instead basing their decisions on "... what they hear through the grapevine even if they have evidence to the contrary."

Researchers at the Max Planck Institute in Germany found that, when playing a game in which participants had to decide with whom to corporate, players often made decisions that were contrary to their best interests. Players avoided working with participants who were rumored to be "nasty misers" or "scrooges" even if they were also presented with a list of these players' past decisions that proved them to be ideal partners who cooperate generously. Ralf Sommerfeld, who led the study, explains that "Rationally, if you know what the people did, you should care, but [the study's participants] still listened to what others said... They even reacted on [the rumor] if they knew better." Sommers comes to the sad conclusion that people are prone to base their decisions on unfounded rumors even when they have access to solid facts. Meanwhile, Rupert Murdock yawns and wonders if a "is the earth round" study is next on the docket.

In light of this information, perhaps we liberals and feminists should change our tactics.

Hey, did you know that failing to comply with the Geneva Conventions causes erectile dysfunction? It's true... Alberto Gonzales hasn't had a successful romantic interlude in eight years!
Have you heard that feminists are better lovers? (Actually, this isn't just a rumor - it's true)

Monday, October 15, 2007

Needed: Feminist Tribute Pumpkins!

Every October, pumpkins are carved around these parts - many of them by me. Last year I carved a Stephen Colbert tribute pumpkin, and the year before that I carved the pirate fish of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I've realized, though, that in all the pumpkin carving parties I've ever attended, there has never been a pumpkin carved with the likeness of any female. This is a travesty and must be remedied! I need ideas for an easily recognizable (and carve-able) female icon for my next pumpkin. The party is this Saturday, so please submit ideas ASAP.

Just to give you an idea of what can be done with a pumpkin as an artistic medium, here are some examples from the last two years:

El Che:

Le Colbert:

The Group (Florida was scary at the time, trust me):

For more examples of our work, visit Give Up.

UPDATE: What is a bigger travesty - that most pumpkins don't get carved with women's images, or that I don't notice the ones that do? My apologies to the Harriet Miers pumpkin (spooky, huh?) and to her carver, who is both a feminist and a gentleman.

UPDATE II: No way! Pink Raygun has pumpkin carving templates - and they include Pan's Labyrinth images and Uhura from Star Trek. Sweet.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Are Single-Sex Schools Good for Girls? A Brief Review of Trends and Statistics

In the past, I have had some concerns about the effects of single-sex education, especially after reading an article in the AJC in which parents talk about how great it is that their sons are allowed to shout-out answers in the boys' school while the girls' school students are becoming "young ladies." However, if anything could convince me that single-sex education is actually good for building girls' confidence, it would be this video promoting Girls Prep (via Feministing):

After watching this clip, I had to acknowledge that many elementary schools do not have an abundance of images of successful women or minorities. In a school that consciously focuses on confidence-building for girls, students will be presented with positive role models on a daily basis. This could be a great advantage for girls who would otherwise be in male-centric environments and saddled with the 'boys will be boys' but 'girls will be good' stereotypes.

Yet, while opinions abound about whether single-sex or coed classrooms are most effective, solid research on the matter is practically non-existent. According to Diane S. Pollard of the University of Wisconsin:

At this point few definitive conclusions can be drawn about the overall impact of current efforts to implement single-sex classes, especially with respect to their impact on girls. Three problems associated with much of the research and practice in this area make it difficult to offer a general assessment of single-sex classes: (1) the disparity in the goals of single-sex classes, (2) the differences in how these classes have been implemented, and (3) the lack of systematic, long-term research.

The Department of Education seems to be of the same opinion, stating:

Research in the United States on the question of whether public single-sex education might be beneficial to males, females or a subset of either group (particularly disadvantaged youths) has been limited.

They did, however, attempt to do a systematic review of all the studies on the benefits of single-sex research done to date. As you can see, they ran into a few problems:

Of the 88 quantitative studies, 48 were eliminated after further review using the coding guide, and 40 studies met the inclusion criteria and were retained. The reasons for the exclusion of these articles were 1) failure to operationalize the intervention properly; 2) failure to apply statistical controls during the analyses; 3) work that was actually qualitative in nature rather than quantitative; 4) work performed in a non-Westernized country and therefore not comparable; 5) work written in a foreign language and therefore not codable by the researchers; 6) failure to draw comparisons between SS and CE schools; and 7) participants not of high school, middle, or elementary school age.

Forty studies did meet these criteria and were evaluated by the Department of Education. A summary of the results of these forty can be found on this table, which categorizes each as pro single-sex ed, pro co-ed, null, or mixed. While “roughly a third of all studies reported findings favoring SS schools, with the remainder of the studies split between null and mixed results,” the Department of Education does note that:

There is a dearth of quality studies (i.e., randomized experiments or correlational studies with adequate statistical controls) across all outcomes. Even using the more relaxed criterion of allowing correlational studies, each outcome has only limited candidate studies. Too few researchers report descriptive statistics or effect sizes. Mathematics achievement test scores, English achievement test scores, and school subject preference were the only outcomes to have 10 or more qualifying studies. Even within these three categories, the studies differ in the criteria they use and the statistical controls they use to compare SS and CE schooling. This somewhat limits the arguments that can be built and extended from this quantitative review and renders it nearly impossible to conduct a meta-analysis on any outcome area. Many of the remaining studies have other conceptual or interpretive flaws. Many of the studies lacked well-developed hypotheses, and the hypotheses were often not linked directly to the outcomes being studied.

Of course, there is the National Association for Single Sex Public Education, whose sole mission is to promote research that supports single-sex education. Their website, however, relies mainly on anecdotal evidence to support its thesis that same sex classrooms are preferable and merely summarizes data instead of providing links to any original studies. Worse, I felt that this site was intellectually dishonest in the presentation of the little data that they did summarize. For example, the first study mentioned by the NASSPE involved only the fourth grade students at one Florida school, Woodward Avenue Elementary. Woodward Avenue has six classes of fourth graders, and the average class size is about 14 students per class. That means that only about 84 students participated in the study. Half the fourth graders in the study were enrolled in single-sex classrooms while the others spent the year in co-ed classrooms. According to the NASSPE, the percentages of students “scoring proficient” on the end-of-year Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test were as follows:

boys in coed classes: 37% scored proficient

girls in coed classes: 59% scored proficient

girls in single-sex classes: 75% scored proficient

boys in single-sex classes: 86% scored proficient

While these results are dramatic, they are also problematic since the results for the boys and girls in co-ed classes are dramatically less that the state-wide proficiency levels. In classrooms across the state, 86% of fourth graders scored at or above the proficiency level of 3.5. Since the results for the students in co-ed classrooms at Woodward Avenue are so much lower than the scores of students state-wide (who were also enrolled in co-ed classrooms), they are not a credible standard against which we could measure the scores of the single sex classrooms. The question begged by the numbers published by the NASSPE is not why the single sex class scores were so high (they were actually in keeping with the state averages of students in coed classrooms), but what could have gone so very wrong in the coed classrooms that only 37% of boys passed.

So it seems that, for now, no overall conclusions can be made. Since single-sex schools are most often private, perhaps the most important task for parents deciding whether a single sex school is right for their daughter is evaluating the ideology of any individual school. In the case of Girls Prep, the decision to have single sex classrooms is motivated by the desire to give girls access to the affirmative environment that boys generally have in any classroom. This is not the motivation for all single sex classrooms, and parents will have to continue to evaluate the appropriateness of each school environment for their students.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Why Be Feminist? Because Too Much Cleaning Causes Asthma

The Washington Post has truly lost its dignity this week; publishing the latest in a series of sexist drivel pieces that accuse feminism of robbing women of the joys gleaned through submissiveness and inequality. In “Women’s Liberation Through Housework,” it is suggested that women are genetically programmed to realize their deepest fulfillment through days of drudgery, and that the desire for a clean environment is somehow a sex-linked trait:
Though I hate to come across as a biological determinist, despite decades of attempts to reeducate men, you simply cannot make one of them care about how the towels are folded.
I felt sick as I realized that I and all the women with whom I’ve ever shared an apartment must have some sort of strange genetic disorder that leads us to toss our towels on the floor. Or might we all actually be men? Relief came in the form of Amanda Marcotte’s amazing take-down of this sort sexist idiocy. Marcotte meticulously dissects the article’s absurd arguments, explaining the glaring logical mistakes in statements like this one:
A lot of girls in my generation took to heart this message of liberation from the perceived drudgery of housework and grew up to have careers that our mothers never even dreamed of. But apparently, even with the monetary and psychic rewards of paying jobs, we still yearn for that cozy, clean nest.
As Marcotte points out:
That someone enjoys having a neat, clean home is not evidence that someone enjoys cleaning. In fact, as men in the pre-feminist era were quite aware, the pleasures of having a neat, clean home are only compounded if it magically appears that way without you having to lift a finger.
Hear, here!

Yet, just in case you needed another reason not spend all your days devotedly cleaning, "[g]iving your house a weekly clean could be enough to give you asthma." According to research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine, “Exposure to cleaning products could account for as much as 15%, or one in seven adult asthma cases.” The danger stems from breathing in irritating cleaning products and aerosols. So, just perhaps, it might actually be healthy for women to take a break from their scrubbing to indulge in other interests. And what do we have to thank for giving us the opportunity to do so? Feminism.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Words, Bunk Gender Studies, and Rampant Sexism

While reading about how languages evolve in the new edition of Nature (future speak: "I readed the article and thinked it was interesting!), I was reminded of the lovable linguistics-buffs over at Language Log. I thought I'd pop on over and see if they'd discovered the Nature article as well (they have). It was then that I noticed that they are still discussing bunk sex-difference studies, this time in the form of a short post entitled "Are Pop Gender Studies from Uranus?" I love that the ever proper grammarians are in no way too stuffy for a 'talking out your bum' pun (do I get points for slant rhymes?), and I also loved they they noticed the chauvinistic and condescending attitude with which NYT writer treats author Deborah Cameron in a recent Times interview in which she discusses her new book, Talking Tosh on Mars and Venus (also, Language Log delves into what all is meant by the term "Darwinism" these days - its initial meaning to refer to Charles Darwin's grandfather's idea that "all warm-blooded animals have arisen from one living filament" and its use by evolution denialist cranks as a disparaging term for the sane people).

So, after spending an enjoyable morning thinking about words, I was prompted to see if anyone else was still talking about that bunk "happiness gap" study that first led me to Lang Log and - alas! - my own local paper, the Atlanta Journal Constitution is not only still treating this mythical gap as though it were real, but also debating whether or not feminism caused it! Shaunti Feldhahn, dimwit extraordinaire, mis-defines feminism to include not only the opening up of opportunities for women but also for the sexist attitudes that continue place full responsibility for child care on women. As she sees it:
Most women have a deep desire for someone to share their life with, to have children and watch them grow. There’s nothing wrong with seizing our modern workplace opportunities. But if a woman pursues those opportunities at the expense of those personal desires, and then finds that she’s lonely, past child-bearing age, or has missed the key moments in her children’s lives, why wouldn’t she have regrets?
Yes, let's not consider the poor men who also fail to spend enough time on personal relationships - a feeling of isolation in the modern world must be a problem for women alone. Heaven forbid that men and women share responsibility of child care so that everyone's lives might include family as well as other interests. It was so much better when men were emotionally distant and women were intellectually unfulfilled. Feminism, and not continued sexism, makes women unhappy. What tripe!

It is official, I now live in the most regressive city in the world.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Breast Cancer Denialism?

Well, you’ve heard of Holocaust Denialists and crazy HIV/AIDS Denialists, but now there is a new breed of denialist in town – the Breast Cancer Denialist. According to one such crank, breast cancer is a conspiracy cooked up by the pharmaceutical companies and would be best treated with herbal remedies rather than modern medicines. Apparently, since “…every system of medicine has a treatment for breast cancer,” sick women should seek out “Chinese medicine, Ayurvedic medicine, Tibetan medicine, Western herbalism, American Indian medicine (with all its variations), rainforest herbs / Amazonian medicine, Australian aboriginal medicine, Hawaiian / Pacific islands medicine, etc.” instead of following the recommendations of their doctors. He encourages women to choose any system of treatment except the ones actually proven to work. You had to know that the ever vigilant MarkH of Denialism Blog was prepared to point out the logical fallacy:
One should note that the mere presence of dozens of folk-remedies doesn't mean they are effective, likely the opposite is true. One notes that historically, when treatments for a disease don't work, there are countless treatments for it. Once something efficacious is found, it usually ends up being only one product that eclipses the dozens of ineffective measures previously thrown at a disease.
Really, cancer in any form is a serious disease and it is irresponsible to encourage people to seek out ineffective remedies in place of real medicine that might save them. If people want to supplement the regime prescribed by their oncologist with some other alternative treatment as well, then that is their decision. Yet, it is cruel to suggest that any such treatment could take the place of medical treatments that have actually been subjected to trials and been proven to work.

Poor Eve!

I see that the new banner for Second Innocence proclaims that Eve got a bad rap. So, I couldn't resist doing a wee bit of surfing to determine if anyone else proclaims the same. Ah, how I relish like minds. While I find the formatting of this post distracting, I do love proclaiming Eve as our hero, our giver of knowledge, our giver of curiosity, our earliest feminist savior. You go girl!

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

But Mommy, where are all the girls?

My new favorite feminist is Cecilia, an opinionated five-year-old upset by anti-feminist attitudes rampant in the entertainment industry. According to Cecilia, children’s movies are “boring for girls.” Her negative view of the genera is entirely due to the scarcity of female characters in many of the kiddy movies she has seen. For example, after viewing the first fifteen minutes of Disney’s The Jungle Book and finding no female characters, Cecilia lost interest. Cecilia’s questions as she searched for a character with whom she could identify were really quite eye-opening. “Is Bear a girl?” No. “Is Tiger a girl?” No. “Is Buzzard a girl? Is Snake a girl? Is Monkey a girl?” No, no and nope.

Cecilia’s strong reaction to female-less plot lines got me thinking about the portrayal of female characters in my own favorite children’s movies. These are the children's movies I love best, and how they measure up:

Monsters, Inc.
The good news about this film is that one of the three main characters is a little girl, Boo, and she is curious and brave. The bad news - she doesn’t have lines, per say, since she is a toddler who can’t yet speak. Worse, however, is that almost all other characters in the movie are male. All the “scarer” monsters are male. The technical assistant monsters that run the closet door machines are male. Even the comic janitor monsters are male. In fact, in the energy plant where most of the action takes place, only three monsters are portrayed as female: the secretary, the administrative assistant, and the monster that runs the nursery. Not a great message about the job opportunities that await young girls – answering phones, filing paper-work, or watching the kids are the only gigs to be had – even in Monsterdom. Of the three, the female who gets the most scenes is the ditzy, baby-talking secretary, Celia, who is also the love interest of main character Mike Wazowski. To be fair, the administrative assistant, Roz, does turn out to be the head of a secret sting operation and “Number 1” at the Child Detection Agency, revealing her to be the most powerful character in the film. Roz has the power to put the bad guys behind bars, shut the plant down if need be, and return Boo to the human world. Given that, it seems like perhaps Monsters, Inc. doesn’t do that badly, but you have to wade through a lot of negative gender stereotypes with Celia, the dig-bat secretary, to get to the final feminist pay-off. I’m not sure that Roz’s secret power makes up for the overall lack of empowered female characters in the monster world.

Beauty and the Beast
Obviously there are tons of Disney movies in which female characters are given the lead, but most of these characters are portrayed as admirable based on their good looks, and their sole quest seems to be to find a true love. Perhaps I liked Beauty and the Beast a bit better than the other Disney “princess films” because it broke somewhat with this tradition. Belle, the Beauty of the title who is drawn to be as lovely as her name suggests, is intelligent and yearns for adventure - and is a peasant rather than a princess. The adventure she finds happens to lead her into a love story, but at least she does not start out pining for a prince, like Snow White. Yet, I am disturbed by the underlying message that 'if you are attractive enough, kind enough, and smart enough you can change a man-monster into the sweet prince you’d like him to be.' Listen kids, do not put up with abusive brutes that yell at you and try to lock you up, no matter what promises you’ve made or what potential you think they might have with just a little magic help. Just save your poor dad and take off.

Wallace and Gromit: The Curse of the Ware-Rabbit
Although the two main characters are male, the love interest of Wallace also scores a major part and has a delightfully distinctive personality. Yet, although I love Lady Tottington (or Totty as Wallace is sometimes allowed to call her), it must be admitted that she is a complete ditz. While the male characters like Wallace, Gromit, and Victor Quartermaine have very active roles in the plot, Lady Tottington serves two functions – to remind the characters of their better natures and to provide a prize for which Wallace and Victor compete. All in all, I would recommend this movie to Cecilia, but I would like to see it paired with one in which a smart and active female character plays a part other than the love interest.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
Here, perhaps, is one such movie. Hermione Granger is one of three main characters and is both intelligent and active. The movie makers were not quite daring enough to choose an odd-looking child to play the female lead, so the movie character strays a bit from her description in the book, but at least Hermione’s attractiveness is in no way portrayed as the source of her appeal. Hermione avoids being cast as a love interest for the duration of the film and takes part in almost as many of the adventures as the boys. There is one key scene in which Hermione is strangely cast as the damsel-in-distress when she is attacked by a troll and must be rescued by the boys. Yet, Hermione has the opportunity to return favor when she saves them from a strangling plant. Hermione’s fairly prominent roll is attested to by my own niece’s referral to this film as The Hermione Movie. Although she is not, in fact, the title character, she does make quite an impact. Finally I have a movie that I could recommend to Cecilia. Yet, I'm still looking for a movie where a Hermione-like character is actually the lead.

To see how more children’s movies held up, visit the fabulous Hathor Legacy. And in case you think that this problem is limited to children’s movies, be warned that Warners has threatened not to make any more movies that feature female leads since many recent mega blockbusters have been male-centric. Well, that’s the rumor anyway.

UPDATE: I am looking forward to seeing The Golden Compass in hopes that it will be the movie which finally presents my nieces and Cecilia with a hero with whom they can identify. Lyra, the main character, is a bold leader and an artful lier - finally breaking from a long tradition of sweet side-kicks. There are also many additional female characters in the book version of this story, among the heroes and villains alike, and it looks from the trailer like the movie will include them all. Let's hope audiences turn out in sufficient numbers to show Warners and others that there is a real desire to see films with interesting female characters in the lead.