All Your Books Are Belong To Us

So, you guys sick of hearing me wax poetic about how much I love sci-fi/fantasy and all things nerdly yet? NO? Well good, cause I am not shutting up.

First off, I am halfway through my summer class and it’s enough to make a girl cry with happiness. I spent literally my entire weekend highlighting articles, writing outlines, and creating concept maps (with the exclusion of going out for a rockin’ brunch yesterday, at which I ate so much that I think I am still digesting). My brain has been wrung out to dry, and when I get home, I stare mournfully at my bookshelf and dream of reading for pleasure.

Because books, guys. Books are goddamn awesome. Writing is incredible. I have poetry everywhere in my apartment, and post-it notes scattered around with favorite lines of novels. Books are probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

As someone who is only nine months away from being a high school English teacher, that’s not a bad attitude for me to have. What I am about to say is probably a bad thing to say, but hey, screw it.

Our kids are incredibly disinterested in books and reading because there is much more intriguing stuff out there to consume.

Author Blake Charlton writes that boys aren’t as into sci-fi/fantasy anymore, and while I have some disagreements with some of his points, I can’t aggressively disagree.

Bear with me for a second while I go on a tangent. Remember a while back when I ranted about passivity and gender? How boys are generally steered toward “active” entertainment while girls are encouraged to be passive? Little boys are subjects, while little girls are often objects (please accept my blatant over-simplifying and sweeping generalizations; I’m trying to be brief).

So here’s the thing–it is acceptable for girls to read, within reason. Books that are marketed to girls are essentially chickflicks on the page.

The things that are more “boyish” are still not marketed to girls. However, they are not marketed to boys, either. There was a time when my love of sci-fi made me tomboyish. However, the fact that I giggle gleefully at Stephenson’s humor when reading Cryptonomicon no longer makes me tomboyish–it makes me a really big geek. Hard sci-fi and, well, I guess “hard” fantasy (I’m thinking stuff like Dune, Foundation, LOTR, and other classics, as well as newer stuff like George R. R. Martin, if the dude would throw me a bone and publish another book) are seen as dense books for the truly nerdy amongst us.

When we have Cameron throwing out intense 3-D experiences like Avatar (yes, I hated it, but I will not deny what a visually phenomenal experience that movie was) why would people who want to experience other worlds turn to a book? You gotta, like, SQUINT and KNOW WORDS and shit.

Dictionaries: they are pretty damn rad. I wish I could get my students to get that, because getting them to use the dictionary or thesaurus on their assignments is an uphill battle.

Anyways, so we have this triple-edged sword: books are passive things that girls engage with (books are for sissies!), books that aren’t sissy girly books are only for super smart people, and there is other media that doesn’t ask anything of you to take you away to another world.

If boys want to imagine a fantasy world, they can pop in a videogame and not only be IN that world, but interact with it and shape it. They are a character that they control. It’s full-submersion escapism. When we as a culture are progressively more interested in instant gratification, what can compare with being able to push a button and have the world you’re experiencing immediately respond to that? You can interact with the characters, not just watch from the sidelines.

I will confess to occasionally wanting to reach into my books and shake/yell at main characters (*cough* Robert Jordan *cough*).

On top of being “non-interactive,” books make demands of their readers. You have to keep track of characters, plot arcs, politics, fictional worlds, and more, let alone having the vocabulary and grasp on the language to keep up with the author’s writing. Sometimes it can be very challenging to keep up with an author who enjoys complex styles or words. Sometimes you don’t get all the information simply laid out in front of you and you have to–*gasp!*–draw conclusions from inferences and subtleties in the text. Never mind if we get into any sort of math or science or technology; that’s yet another layer of intellectual demands.

I, personally, find all of these things rewarding. I love stumbling upon a word I don’t know, and I have reread individual sentences over and over and over simply to delight in how they were constructed. (Well-crafted writing is just so amazing. I… Uh, is it getting hot here? Anyone?) I love when authors show and don’t tell and let me draw my own conclusions or form my own image of something (would Beowulf has been as powerful if Grendel had been explicitly described?). And if I come out of a reading experience feeling like I’ve learned something neat, well so much the better! The more my brain does somersaults while I read, the more rewarding I find the experience to be.

The keyword there, of course, is “rewarding.”

We engage in behaviors that we find rewarding. Most of my students will get more sense of reward–that is to say, more affirmation from peers and family–through success as an athlete, or even a musician, than they will as a student.

Someone please issue me a cane, a lawn, and some whippersnappers so that I can wave my cane at said whippersnappers to get off my lawn, because I am about to sound really old:

Guys, we really don’t value reading anymore.

Honestly, in many ways, we don’t value education in general. Outside of us teachers, kids are not getting any sort of reward for reading. While there is a degree of personal reward for being a bookworm, the social pressure to NOT be one far outweighs it. The lonely friendless types will turn to books because hey, what else have we got? However, that’s not the case anymore–now there are videogames, that allow kids to interact with others and not feel isolated.

But we’ve already been over girls and gaming and… and…

I am exhausted. I wish I had the faintest notion how to encourage girls to read better books (Twilight, I wish I could fight you. I’d punch you in the face so hard), how to encourage boys to want to read again, and how to make our parents encourage our kids to read instead of sitting around with videogames and shitty movies like Avatar.

But no, I do not have answers.

What I have is a midterm on Friday, and I still have a lot of charts to make.

Instead, after reading Charlton’s post, all I want to do is head to my local bookshop and curl up on the floor of the sci-fi/fantasy section and read for a week straight.

So help me, I will teach a class on sci-fi/fantasy and comics as literature. It’ll be one of my little contributions to saving the world.

Advertisements

07/19/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 5 comments.

What Girls Think, I Guess.

This was linked on Twitter the other day and I couldn’t help but laugh:

I mean, seriously. It’s hilarious because it’s TRUE. (Obviously not all the time, so on, so forth, all the disclaimers I always make.) I just know way too many ladies who think like that, and way too many dudes who think like that. (I also know way too many ladies who think that by faking that they are insatiable whores, they will get their prince charming. And, uh, yeah. I have gripes with that.)

Of course, now it’s going to be porn movies and Twilight. But that’s beside the point.

Anyways, I think we’ve all ranted Disney to death. I can spare you that. I just thought the image was great, because it takes a ton of ranting and condenses it into a nice, accessible, succinct little image.

The idea of accessibility and succinctness has been pretty heavily on my mind as of late, actually. I’ve been thinking a lot about the accessibility of learning, for the most part–how do people learn, how do we teach, etc. There’s just so many examples of how traditional educational paradigms fall short, or where they could easily be improved upon. A friend of mine is pursuing a PhD in education, studying the creation of educational videogames, games, and classroom-based role playing games and practomimes. Twenty years ago, educational videogames weren’t nearly as viable or relevant as they are now, but now they’re not only a very real potential, but they could easily involve multiple different subjects within one game. It’s a fascinating field.

But anyways, my obsession, as we all know, is literature and literacy. I can’t stress enough how much I think literature and literacy matters and can make or break a student’s future (though I do think math is incredibly important–trust me, guys, when the person with a BA in literature and foreign language says math is important, it’s because it is). Do I think that it’s essential that every student ever be able to read the exact text of Macbeth or Moby Dick? No. In an ideal world, yes, they will read it and analyze it and love it. But the exact words on the page are only a fraction of what students are learning in language arts classes (note: it’s called “English and language arts” not just “book readin'”).

Students are learning how to analyze characters, how to read between the lines, how to notice and respond to themes and imagery, and they’re learning about the cultural and historical context that the texts are situated in, but also how that relates to their contemporary world. In writing my lesson plan for The Sun Also Rises, I made the emphasis not just on the context of when Hemingway wrote, but how that applies to now. The study of literature should always be relevant to the now.

So bundle up all those ideas, and I posit that comic books should be much more heavily used in English classes (hell, in history classes! in all kinds of classes!). They allow students to interact with different texts that may be much more compelling, they provide greater accessibility to students with difficulty with reading, and they tend to engage students more easily. Plus, there’s an entire world of really awesome literature going on out there that is being ignored–literature that builds on other classics (such as Sandman or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), literature that builds on history (Maus), or fantastic social commentary that has sparked all kinds of reactions in our culture (Watchmen). There’s so much potential that’s going unnoticed.

So with this in mind, I’ve been researching comics history more in depth. I took a couple of courses in college (The International Graphic Novel, and Comic Art in North America, which were both broad survey courses) and did an internship with DC Comics, so I’ve got a reasonable foundation of comics. But I want more. I want to really dig in, and I want to dig in from the academic side, not just the “whee, I am reading comics!” side (though I am reading comics. And usually I exclaim, “Whee!” right before I do so. You should too!).

One of the books I’ve picked up (from the amazing and fabulous Hub Comics in Somerville, for you Boston-area folk) is The Great Women Cartoonists, by Trina Robbins. Ms. Robbins was part of the indie comics movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s/70s and was a huge contributor to a lot of women’s comics zines and really bringing women comics creators into their own. I think she is a deeply fantastic person.

What bothered me, though, was her coverage of women in the big companies (DC and Marvel). She talked about how the women weren’t having high rates of success because they didn’t like having to draw superheroes and violence. They were unhappy with having to make things that they didn’t like.

First off, I think it’s safe to say that many of us spend our days doing things we don’t like. I highly doubt that the secretary sitting at the front desk of DC or Marvel was thinking, “Oh golly, I am so glad I’m a secretary and not an artist because it is SO MUCH MORE FUN AND SATISFYING to be filing documents and answering phones and smiling at jerky delivery guys! This job really speaks to my talents!” Now, mind you, I’m hardly saying that they don’t deserve sympathy, as they do. But still.

Anyways, she goes on to continually talk about how women don’t like violent comics, women don’t like the aggression, the fighting, etc. She goes on to quote a female artist who said something along the lines of “I like to draw ballet and dancers, things that are more like reality.”

I will grant you that ballet and dancers are more like reality than Superman and Bizarro engaged in some vaguely homoerotic wrestle-punch-fest thingie, but this is where we are looping back to that graphic at the beginning of this post.

Why do girls have to like fluffy delicate things and boys like violence?

One of the coolest things about Hub Comics is their giant shelf of local artists’ self-published work. There you will see plenty of men lamenting love, and girls writing about poop and kicking things. I know plenty of women who enjoy dark, violent comics (hell, I’m one of them!), and would rather strangle ourselves with our shoelaces than read a pink happy comic about ballet dancers.

Maybe, like, cyborg ballet dancers with lasers in their eyes sent from outerspace to destroy the evil NutcrackerBot 9000…

Anyways, I don’t doubt that for that particular female artist, ballet and dancers was preferable to violence and superheroes. That’s fine. But Ms. Robbins, for all her feminist asskickery, paints female artists with a broad brush, making it sound like ruffly dancers and sparkly romance comics were all that appealed to girls reading comics and to women artists drawing them. That bums me the hell out.

Ms. Robbins is entirely accurate when she talks about how it was such a shame that there weren’t comics for girls–that’s true! It IS a shame! Even now we’re underrepresented (though I’d like to mention that the editor I interned under at DC was a woman and still one of the most bad ass, amazing women I’ve met in my life; I will be so fucking jazzed if I turn out like her), but it’s not because we need more romance comics. GIRL SUPERHEROES! I want more asskicking girls (with or without spandex; I could go either way)!

I’m pretty excited to check out Frenemy of the State, after reading a blurb about it on Jezebel recently, as it’s a comic by a woman, targeted toward a female readership. On the other hand, I already love titles like Empowered, starring mostly women, and Fables, which has a pretty heavily-female cast. Both those titles are written by men, and Empowered is even a superhero comic. However, I don’t think either title was meant to be aimed specifically at women (in fact, the inspiration for Empowered came from a pornographic drawing commission–go figure!), but they have the appeal. They have strong female characters, engaged in exciting plots. Sometimes there’s romance, but there’s also action, intellect, and compelling relationships with friends, colleagues, and enemies. They’re fully fleshed-out worlds with engaging characters; it just so happens that some of them are women who rock.

I am all about getting more female voices in comics. I want to see more women artists and writers and editorial staff (dear DC Comics, if you are reading this, that internship was the best experience of my life; please hire me!). However, I’m also all about getting more awesome female characters in comics. Having an equal split of women, or even a majority of women, in comics isn’t really progress, in my mind, until the books that are being created are depicting awesome women doing more than swooning over boys and buying shoes. Just because a woman made it doesn’t mean it’s pro-woman (I mean jeez, just look at everything that comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth!).

Anyways, I want to end this with a link to one of my favorite lady cartoonists right now: Katie Cook! Katie is an incredibly talented artist with a very distinct style (dare I say it even seems feminine? :P) who draws for all kinds of awesome properties, like Star Wars. She has even drawn troopers being dismembered. Take that, girls don’t draw violence! Also, she draws the webcomic Gronk, which is pretty much my new favorite part of Fridays.

So in short, don’t go for gender-assigny bullshit. Don’t wait for your prince charming or insatiable whore, instead go to your local comic shop and read some bad ass comic books!

06/10/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

Books!

Oh man. I think I almost peed myself a little watching this:

I haven’t read Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights really aggravated me (Heathcliff is a violent, unhinged man, and Catherine has some abusiveness issues) but I dig the Brontes for what they represent in the great literary world. My personal favorite trailblazing lady author is Virginia Woolf, though. Orlando is a brilliant subversion of traditional gender roles and sexuality, and no matter how you look at it, Mrs. Dalloway is beautifully written.

Anyways, I hope when I get my master’s degree, part of the process is learning how to turn into a giant dinosaur to smash the boys only literary clubhouse. I’m probably going to need that when I start teaching.

05/07/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

The Sex Trade Fallacy

As a young feminist, I’ve been struggling with the sex industry for a while, and avoiding taking stances on things that I don’t feel I have a concrete enough opinion or enough information to really make an informed decision on. For example, my jury is still out on porn. Up until this evening, my jury was on the fence on prostitution–I had a gut instinct that I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t argue WHY, exactly, I didn’t like it, and I couldn’t put my finger on why legalization and legislation didn’t satisfy me.

I’m currently reading Sexual Politics, by Kate Millett. I am so in love. I’ve been flying through it as fast as I can on my commute to and from work, and any moment in between (I do most of my reading on the T). Originally published in 1969, the contents are still remarkably relevant to contemporary issues. That says something to Millett’s writing, but also something unfortunate about how much progress (or lack thereof) has been made these 40 years.

So we come to the topic of prostitution. One of the leading arguments that has been leveled against me when I enter into “the prostitution talk” with some confident, red-blooded American boy is that prostitution isn’t degrading–it’s liberating to women, because they get to take control of their sexuality (I have great first dinner conversations, let me tell you). At this point, they usually bring out the argument of having a friend of a friend or something who is a stripper and will vouch for this.

A) Experience is not monolithic. Just because Cherry Pie or whoever thinks stripping is, like, totally bitchin’ doesn’t mean that everyone in the sex trade has the same experience. (In a contrary vein, however, often marginalized groups WILL identify a degree of pride with their identity, in order to keep themselves from being completely destroyed. Just look at marginalized ethnic and socioeconomic groups. Hookers can do that too, you know.)

B) Forgive me, but I’m going to call your friend potentially misguided. She has most likely just bought into the sex trade fallacy.

Basically, prostitution is generally not sexually satisfying for the women performing the act. (For further evidence just look to Taylor’s Syndrome, “a painful chronic congestion in the pelvic area” due to a long duration of sexual arousal without release (Millett 117), aka “blue balls,” if you will, and it’s common amongst female prostitutes.) Thus, it’s hard to argue that it’s sexually liberating, as they are not gaining anything sexually out of the transaction–it is falsely liberating in that it removes the pretenses out of male/female interactions when the male is seeking purely sex. There is no subterfuge or games or whatever. In a society where a woman is ascribed value as a sex object, to actually BECOME that which she has always been (simply between the lines, rather than directly) and have it be her surface designation rather than unspoken can SEEM liberating, as she has removed the falsehoods from the surface. However, she is still ultimately in a role of sexual object and, if you will, receptacle. Furthermore, so long as we are measuring a woman’s value on her physical appearance, so too will she then measure her worth in how “successful” she is as a prostitute, thus winding up trapped in the cycle. Therefore, in order to become a prostitute, a woman needs to internalize the idea that her only worth to offer is her body and that her value is in her appearance (notions that are constantly reinforced in our culture already, she need only take them to the next level). By finding the experience liberating, one might argue that a woman is actually falling for the patriarchal concept, hook, line, and sinker, and subscribing to the newsletter.

I am reminded of that line of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex that so resonated with me: “One is not born but becomes a woman.”

The next argument that inevitably gets thrown at me is that men have greater sexual needs and desires compared to women, so prostitution is natural, as men must have their needs fulfilled somehow (why can’t men satisfy their own needs?). In short, this simply isn’t true.

In long, “all of the best scientific evidence today unmistakably tends toward the conclusion that the female possess, biologically and inherently, a far greater capacity for sexuality than the male, both as to frequency of coitus, and as to frequency of orgasm in coition.” (Millett 116) Basically, ladies have it good. As Masters and Johnson (cited in Millett) observed in a study, women are capable of multiple orgasms in rapid succession, each being comparable to getting a hard on, using it, and then going limp again were she a dude–all that can be done several times in a minute or two. Man, vaginas are COOL.

Anyways, gals are capable of doing it more and liking it more–so why isn’t there a huge demand for platoons of male prostitutes to service us ladies? Simply, because prostitution is a transaction, involving purchasing and temporarily owning, a person’s body, something that women do not have the authority to do. Furthermore, in our cultural consciousness, men are expected and encouraged to be promiscuous, whereas women are expected and encouraged to be as frigid as possible (let me once again plug He’s a Stud, She’s a Slut) and through the incredibly pervasive attitude of sexual shaming, this is internalized and indoctrinated at a young age. That kind of mental programming can lay a serious smackdown on a girl’s biology, and anything it doesn’t successfully smother can be knocked down with fear and guilt (Victorian women, anyone?).  So our culture pretty much decimates female sexuality, or perverts into someone’s fetish, and then props up the idea that men need more sex and therefore prostitutes are necessary.

I’m not sure how coherent this was–I wrote this frantically by hand earlier tonight in a mild haze because the caffeine from my diet pepsi hadn’t kicked in yet–but hopefully it is readable, and will inspire some thoughts and/or discussion.

04/09/2009. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

What I’m Reading

I’m currently hard at work on trying to read through everything on my “to read” shelf. This means I’ve recently cruised through some excellent sci-fi (Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan and Foundation by Isaac Asimov) as well as started making a big dent in my non-fiction, specifically my academic pursuits. Here’s what I’m reading right now:

Sex and War, Malcolm Potts & Thomas Hayden
Against Our Will, Susan Brownmiller. A great classic that I have never read.
Transforming a Rape Culture, Buchwald, Fletcher, Roth (eds). I have read almost every essay in this book, and I have found one or two egregious oversights. This will be covered in my upcoming post on the military and sexual violence.
Sexual Politics, Kate Millett. I say “the personal is political” all the damn time, and yet I’ve never actually read this book. I’m well into it now, though, and loving it.
Feminist Perspectives on Social Research, Hesse-Biber & Yaiser. I read a few excerpts from this for a class in college; it seemed time to really get a grasp on it, as I enter the world of social research.

I’ve also been aggressively pursuing journal articles in assorted databases; having access to academic databases is one of the most enjoyable parts of my job. If you can get access to academic databases, either through being a student, working at a school, or having a friend who has access, I cannot stress enough how much you can gain from utilizing them. You can simply search databases on keywords that interest you and you will come up with enormous amounts of knowledge. Read the abstracts to cull through to the articles that are most worthwhile, but this is seriously a goldmine of opportunity to expand the depth and breadth of your knowledge and lend weight to any argument you might make through having sources to cite. I never get tired of perusing scholarly articles; there is always something more out there to learn!

I’ve also recently started keyword searching the NPR archives and coming up with some fascinating material. A lot of this will come into some coming posts, particularly the one about the military and sexual violence.

Information is everywhere! Let’s break free of Wikipedia and he-said-she-said; let’s take the dialog to the next level–and fucking change the world.

03/27/2009. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.