Tagged: literature

Being a teenager IS uncomfortable

So, the world kept turning while I was away recovering spoons.  But thanks to the power of bookmarking, I kept track of a few things I knew I’d want to comment on when I came back.

First up:  the Into the River ~~~~~scandal~~~~.  Craig at Public Address had a great post about it, which led me to Emma Neale’s great post about it, and Edgar Wolf’s great post about it, and I don’t intend to repeat any of the points they made.

What I want to talk about is the notion, put forward in comments on Emma’s post, that some teenagers need to be protected/sheltered/etc from content which is “raw”, or challenging, or unnerving.  I want to be as reasonable and understanding as Emma, who responds really well to those comments, who agrees that parents are in a good position to judge what their kids are prepared for … but teenage!QoT has other plans.

No, the book isn’t going to be perfect for everyone.  No book is perfect for everyone.  Some books contain themes or scenes or stories which just aren’t going to work for every reader, things which some readers want or need to avoid.

On the other hand, though, being a teenager is pretty fucking unnerving in of itself.  It’s a time of grappling with who you are and how life works and what’s right or wrong and why your brain is full of weasels.  In a way, teens may be desperately craving things which are “raw” – because it’s not being delivered through their parents’ perspective – and unnerving – because they know there’s a huge world out there and they want to understand it.

I was a geek of a pre-teen/teenager, and I devoured the works of Tamora Pierce.  There’s plenty of scenes in her books which made me squirmy.  Not full-blown sex scenes, just sexual scenes.  Sometimes uncomfortable sexual scenes.  Uncomfortable because the protagonist is grappling with her emotions, or being told to ignore them, or not knowing if she’s doing the right thing or if it’s going to be worth the fallout afterwards, worried about pregnancy, worried that being a sexual being will change the way the other men in her life treat her.

Yeah, it was raw, and it was unsettling, and it was a lot to process, but fuck, I’m glad I got to work through all that vicariously rather than enter teenagehood completely unprepared for the idea that emotional decisions aren’t always black-and-white and sex can be complicated but doesn’t have to be.

Of course, there’s the other side of things:  the side of things where teenagers aren’t toddlers.  They can get out of the house and go to libraries, and if there’s one thing pretty universal to them, it’s the desire to do things which look fun and are forbidden.  Teenage!QoT just wants to know this, parents:  do you want to be the parent your teen knows they can’t talk to about the messed-up shit going on in their heads?

I hate Jean Valjean

Let me put it this way:  the hero (or, one of the heroes) of Les Miserables is a dude who, having learnt important moral lessons about stealing from the Catholic Church, becomes the prosperous mayor of a town and factory owner.

This is Good because he is Employing People and Growing The Economy.

In the popular perception of the narrative, there’s a fight between two women factory workers, and Valjean delegates the dispute to his foreman, who sexually harasses the workforce and in a complete stereotype of a move, fires Fantine because she won’t touch his penis.

So … Valjean, the hero, allows a not-exactly-subtle-about-it (because this is a musical, so characters can’t be drawn in three dimensions) rapist to have authority over a largely female workforce, and then when he figures out that Fantine’s subsequent suffering and death are pretty much all his (Valjean’s) fault, it’s all heart-rending and shirt-tearing and woe is I and not a single thought given to all the other women who were probably victimized on his watch.

How fucking heroic.

Then he’s set up in this epic eternal grudge match against Javert, who is meant to be the villain because he doesn’t believe in the power of rehabilitation.  Yet who can blame him, when Valjean is all “look, I understand I broke my parole, but I have to save this child and then I promise I’ll turn myself in in three days” and then fucks right off with said child for ten years.

And Javert’s somehow unreasonably cynical about Valjean’s honour?  Valjean’s lucky Javert didn’t find out about the whole “letting a rapist sexually harass an entire factory of economically-oppressed women” thing.

Not to mention Javert gets all the good songs.


And seriously, don’t even start me on the MacGuffin Cosette.

Because moral ambivalence is way more interesting than Disneyland

I kind of like it when questions pop up in the search terms through which people have found my blog.  One of the more recent, no doubt pointing them to this post, was:

why does the moral ambivalance of “the hunger game” appeal to people

And I felt I should answer.  Despite my shiny useless English Lit degree, I don’t really have much to back the following up in the way of analysis or named-after-some-old-white-dude theories; I think it’s totally a matter of personal taste.

But I like some good moral ambivalence in my media.  I’m a Babylon 5 fan (if you’re one too, you probably noticed already).  I’m a Deep Space Nine fan, too (a revelation after a teenagehood rejecting it on the basis it was just a B5 rip-off).  I love Homeland, and Game of Thrones, The Shield, all shows with a bit of darkness, a bit of complexity, “heroes” who can be deeply un-heroic  or cling to their heroism in the face of situations which, in accordance with the writers’ needs, demand a little bending of the rules.  Or, you know, outright deceit and assassination.

There’s a classic episode of DS9 called In the Pale Moonlight (season 6 episode 19).  It’s the ultimate polarising moment of the show, evenly splitting Trekkies into “best episode of Star Trek ever” and “worst betrayal of Gene Roddenberry’s vision” camps.

Without spoiling anything, because sure it first aired in 1998 but goddammit it’s good enough not to spoil, your good guys are in a tough situation and your chief morally-ambivalent character does a bad thing to get the result.  Faced with the good guys’ righteous anger, he shrugs and says, “Well, it had to be done, you knew it had to be done, but you weren’t going to do it, and you asked for my help because deep down you knew I’d get the results you needed.”

That’s just way more interesting to me than “the bad guys are bad because they are bad, and the good guys defeat them with the love inside their hearts.”

Even Harry Potter, god-emperor of book series based around The Power Of Love, got some darkness going (and this time I am spoiling things because, seriously, people).  How do you not feel conflicted about Hermione destroying her own parents’ memory?  Yes, it was to keep them safe, and theoretically, I suppose, from their perspective nothing has happened so you could argue that no harm has been inflicted but they had no choice and now have no concept of their daughter’s existence and HOLY CRAP that’s fascinating and has huge impact and, well, I still get kinda distraught thinking about it even now.

But hey now, Hermione could’ve just tried using passive resistance against the blood-purity death-cursing evil wizards who wanted to eradicate her family.  The book would’ve been a lot shorter, at least.

The religious fundy’s basic lack of empathy

A few people pointed me at this wonderfully abysmal “comment” on the Hunger Games books, which I have not read myself but have on the book-buying list.

The author gets fairly preachy about the terrible violence being done and how there should be another way and, despite allegedly being an editor of a reading-related website, doesn’t understand the entire point of dystopic fiction.

Where it gets interesting is where Bob McCoskrie reposts the article, without comment, on the Patriarchy First website.  One can only assume from this that Bob agrees with the arguments of the author, those arguments roughly being:

  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, Violence Should Never Be The Answer
  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, Killing Is Always Wrong
  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, What About The Children
  • Who cares about the stated facts of the setting, The Protagonist Is Just Making Excuses
  • Who cares about the usefulness of dramatic graphic description in conveying emotion and tension and conflict, Blood Is Icky

And you know what, I can slightly sympathize.  Well, no, not really.  But as an avowed fan of gratuitous gore and bleak futuristic settings, I totally understand there are people out there who just don’t like violence in their media, don’t like dark character development, etc etc.

Those people probably shouldn’t be reading The Hunger Games.

But we’re not talking about a review saying “Wasn’t my cup of tea, will appeal more to people who like X Y and Z”.  The reviewer herself claims she’s not against violence or moral ambivalence.

But I sadly do not believe her.

Because what we have is a sanctimonious whinge by someone whose chief displeasure is that a dystopic novel about children killing each other for food contained, you know .. bad stuff.  Contained conflict.  Contained a main character forced into a shitty situation, submitting herself to humiliation and danger for the good of her whole society, and yeah, above all, justifying it to herself instead of, presumably, the preferable option of an eternity of self-flagellation over acts necessary to her survival.  (And it was all so well-written and compelling that, you know, she enjoyed reading it.)

Oh shit.  There it is.

Modern Christian fundamentalism in a nutshell.  Judge other people according to an absolutely rigid, unforgiving (irony!) “morality” which allows no room for the basic facts of human existence, for individual circumstances; and refuse to acknowledge that when all your options are shit, and you pick the least stinky one, you’ve got every fucking right to come to terms with that instead of beating yourself up over some mythical Perfect Option.

And when they do allow that you might pick something non-perfect, you better not feel okay about it.  You better not acknowledge your situation and accept you had no better alternative.  You better sit the fuck down and hate yourself for not being Gandhi.  Apparently.

And it all makes perfect sense to me.  Because that’s exactly how fundies act about issues like abortion (bit of a swerve there, sorry).  They firstly lack the ability to understand that people can get into shitty situations, that people’s circumstances can be so severe that none of their choices are good, that they can only do the best they can given a crap set of options.

They secondly lack the basic empathy for other human beings to let someone who has made a shitty choice come to terms with it.

They basically refuse to put themselves into another person’s shoes and go, “Well shit.  I’m Katniss Everdeen and my options are (a) let my people starve horribly or (b) do my best to help them, even though I know the people I’m going to kill are in exactly the same spot as me, because if I refuse to go along with the regime I’ll be dead AND my people will starve horribly.  That’s crap, but I’m not going to add to my distress and trauma by hating myself for things outside my control.”

Gods forbid that a person in that situation make a decision, acknowledge it’s not perfect, and live with it.

Christianity: it’s the forgiving religion.  Unless you’re a controlling fundy wanker, then that becomes a little inconvenient.

Down Under Feminists’ Carnival XL: bigger, better, more punnage

Welcome to the 40th Down Under Feminists’ Carnival.  I am your stunning hostess, Queen of Thorns, “QoT” to my friends and “single-handed destroyer of progressive NZ politics” to my trolls.

I’m entirely enamoured of the fact that 40 in Roman numerals is XL, so I’m putting our plus-size Antipodean bloggers up first:

New study shows correlation between fatness and selling one’s soul to Satan

Definatalie writes about re-learning her love of cycling.  sleepydumpling at Fat Heffalump talks about Why I Don’t Diet and Fixing the Relationship with Food.  Bri at Fat Lot of Good sees that fat-shaming is now getting aimed at four-year-olds to the extent some are developing a fear of food.

sleepydumpling is on a crusade, people.  A crusade for all super-fatties, deathfats, people who just cannot find clothes in their size for love nor money.  Warning: utter fuckwittery in the comments.  Remember, fatshion is activism.  And no, fat acceptance will not in fact kill you.

There’s been discussion lately about the role of the fatosphere on people’s perceptions and lives.  Dr Samantha Thomas has done a for-real ivory-tower-shaking academic paper on how the fatosphere proactively challenges fat stigma, and sleepydumpling covers the same topic in Breaking Down Fat Stigma: Shame.  Sonya at Lipmag was one of the interviewees for Dr Thomas’ paper.

The body plays a huge (BOOM BOOM!) role in a lot of feminist discussion, and things always get good and heated around one fact in particular: pregnancy and how you are probably Doing It Rong right this minute.

You read a book while pregnant?  You’re gonna DIE!!!

Feminethicist posts a quick note about double standards around scars – especially stretch marks.  Aussie MP Andrew Laming fights the good fight for homebirths.  Bluebec confronts the notion that any particular way of having babies is “unnatural”.

Pregnancy isn’t always wanted or continued, of course, and that’s why apparently I have to keep explaining that the “right to life” movement are a bunch of wanks with the intellectual honesty of a guppy.

And of course once Junior makes it out into the world it’s all downhill for progressive parents, who simply cannot win.  Ever.

Buy this Mozart CD or your baby will sprout wings!

Blue milk continues to post on her presentation on feminist parenting.  Part 4 covers “what is feminist parenting?” and Part 5 looks at the difficulties with being a feminist parent.  She also talks about the idea that some parents are too sexy to breastfeed – and provides a challenge with a follow-up post on glamorous images of breastfeeding.  Another post discusses pro-feminist fathers.

Breastfeeding also shows up as a really nifty shorthand for “crazy woman” in the Game of Thrones series, as discussed at Hoyden About Town.

Bee of a Certain Age talks about learning to love after having her children.

Our kids just aren’t getting a break:  Lessons to be Learned covers the Toddlers and Tiaras phenomenon and blue milk looks at high fashion’s role in sexualising girls.  Feminethicist has been having some fun challenging the heteronormativity when people play joke-matchmaker with babies.

Unsurprisingly, I did not take kindly to Family First’s insinuations that some families are just “obviously” worse than others.

For further reading, Mindy at Hoyden About Town has reviewed The 21st Century Motherhood Movement.

Where does a lot of this crap come from? Our wonderful media, of course.

This just in: reading mainstream media could be the reason you’re really angry all the time

Feminethicist is just thrilled by a camera app that makes your romantic partner look tolerable again. I have a slight issue with bra companies’ media releases being treated as scientific fact, with a sprinkling of obesity panic on top.

Rachel at Musings of an Inappropriate Woman takes on the latest theories of Bettina Arndt and the treatment of women who are famous for being pretty and throwing together a good outfit.

LudditeJourno, posting at The Hand Mirror, covers Michael bloody Lhaws’ preference for referring to poor brown people as “feral” and coleytangerina at The Lady Garden gets freaked out by news of a “cougar attack” … then a tad depressed.

Emma at Lip asks where the strong women are in literature.  Kate Barker discusses anti-feminist imagery.  Cara at Life is a feminist issue talks about our media ban on reporting suicide, and whether that’s really looking all that effective.

MJ at Kiwiana (inked) tells Stuff where they can shove their scare quotes when reporting on domestic violence.

Time for something a bit more positive:

Retrospective:  awesome women being awesome

Penguin Unearthed talks about Gudridur Thorbjarnardottir as part of her Travelling Feminist posts – here’s another on Norway.  The Hoydens share the news that Sensei Keiko Fukuda has become the only woman ever granted the 10th degree black belt in judo.  Double Antandre talks about Nancy Wake.

Another big issue of the past month has been identity, especially given Google’s being douchebags about what’s considered a “real” name (all the more aggravating because it’s based on needing “real” demographics to sell to shitbox marketers).

I shall call him Squishy and he shall be mine

Chally talks about the kinds of history that go into building identity.  blue milk passes on information on the My Name is Me project created in response to Google+ being douches.  Giovanni talks about Google+, identity and cyberpunk.

Where does a lot of identity come from?  Our “race”, social construct that it is, and religion, and culture, and all other kinds of pretty touchy issues.

Nothing witty to put here

Mindmadeup asks if Australia is a racist nation.  Chally confronts racism at the bus stop.  stargazer discusses how the “default is male” concept extends to commentary about Muslims.  stargazer also posted about the start of Ramadan.

Chally challenges the notion that feminism and religion are mutually exclusive.  Bluebec talks about gender exclusion in the Freemasons.  Gladly the Cross-Eyed Bear covers freedom from religion.

Queen Emily at Questioning Transphobia asks “When am I trans?” and when trans people are “real”.

Love and Marriage

In happier news, Rachel is getting hitched!  Of course, planning a wedding doesn’t get any easier when you’re a feminist so she’s provided a handy Guide to Feminist Wedding Planning.  News With Nipples covers some tragi-comic anti-marriage-equality protests.  Hayley at Equal Love Equal Rights posts on marriage equality.

Mr Wainscotting is pleased to announce the launch of Legalise Love, a group looking to get some actual marriage equality happening in NZ.  Idiot/Savant has been taking an interest in our MPs’ views on the subject:  here he is on Hone Harawira and David Parker (and it’s not good news).

As Chally notes, though, we shouldn’t devalue single women.

Then there’s some perennial issues for feminist bloggers:


stargazer helped produce a session on poverty at the Human Rights Commission’s diversity forum and also blogged her speech from the forum on needing an action plan on human rights.  Maia at The Hand Mirror dissects a “game” where privileged people get to pretend to be poor for a while and probably learn some Important Moral Lesson.

Deborah Russell discusses welfare in the Dominion Post.

Rape culture / violence

Blue milk on some truly grotesque rape-as-comic-device bullshit.  Deborah discusses the ridiculous “guidance” given to women around “keeping themselves safe”.

The Naked Philologist deals in two parts with the subject of teaching problematic material – Can you teach Chrétien without talking about rape? and You might be able to teach Chrétien without talking about rape, but I shan’t.

LudditeJourno posts about the Wellington Sexual Abuse Network and preventing sexual violence.  Idiot/Savant notes that domestic violence still gets excused if you’re rich and powerful enough.


A guest poster at Hoyden About Town talks about being a “border gimp”.  Joanna at The View From Down Here talks about building community.

Pay gap

Deborah talks about the gender pay gap and another Deborah’s predictable privileged attitude towards it.  Idiot/Savant covers the Greens’ and CTU’s calling of National’s bluff: if people can just ask labour inspectors to check there’s pay parity in their workplace, maybe we should just start doing that all the time.

And finally, a little collection of random items to fill out your reading.

We can’t stop here, this is bat country!

Blue milk on potentially-problematic vulva-themed art.  Geek Feminism on social media protest action.  Bluebec on trusting people to make their own decisions.  Maia at The Hand Mirror on the cost of being a woman in public.  Chally’s thoughts on being “born this way”.  A guest post on Geek Feminism about encouraging women’s participation in geekiness.  Blogger at the Cast Iron Balcony on how to help the Sylvia Creek anti-logging protesters.  Bluebec on polyamory and doing it right. Feminaust posts on listening to sex workers.

That’s all she wrote

Thanks to our lovely submitters, especially Chally and Rebecca who made my job a heck of a lot easier!

The 41st edition of the DUFC will be hosted at A Touch of The Crazy.  As we still seem to be having issues with blogcarnival, send your submissions directly to stef_thomp [at] hotmail [dot] com.  We’re four years in and going strong but we need your help to keep it awesome!

The list of DUFC contributors is woefully out of date, but feel free to peruse it in the meantime while I get some well-earned coffee.

Literary analogy fail: caucus race edition

So Hilary Calvert said a stupid thing.  A really, really stupid thing in a series of stupid things.

I just want to throw my postgrad-English thought into the ring, on the subject of making literary references.

Because on the one hand sure, we literature nerds can get a bit bloody pedantic about our sources and quotes and canon.

But on the other … why use a literary reference at all?  Because sometimes they can be really powerful.  They can make your point really quickly, or with real impact – for those who get the reference.  They can also basically work as dogwhistles to your chosen audience – I’m yet to be outed as the true geek I am on either my pseudonym or blog title, but I know someone’s going to come along one day and praise my evident broad-church geekery.

Here’s the downside, Calvert.  You fuck up a reference to Through the Looking Glass and oh my how the literary pedants rolled their eyes.  But maybe you hope that the people who don’t get the reference won’t care.  Problem?  Your reference has no impact on them because they don’t get it.

[I’ll admit that there’s probably votes in anti-intellectuals who rebel against the pedants and their disgusting knowing of facts … but I’d assume they’re already voting Act.]

But then Calvert has stepped in to replace David Garrett, the identity-thieving sexually-harassing MP who thought it would be a sick burn to correct Kennedy Graham’s Latin pronunciation.

Please, Gods, let Epsom go true blue in November.

Rape is not your analogy even when you don’t know what “analogy” means

[TW for rape, facetious rape comparisons and abuse of the English language]

As broken by In The Gateaux, some wonderful human being on the Act on Campus bookface page decided to link to an article on compulsory student association membership which included the following:

But if the Charter guarantee of free association is to mean anything sensible at all, surely first and foremost it must guarantee the rights of individuals not to be compulsorily assimilated into larger groups merely by being outvoted. After all, if two men corner a woman in a dark alley and force her to have sex with them because they, the majority, have voted in favour of it, that would still be rape, not the exercise of their group right to freedom of association.

Yep, apparently “compulsory assimilation into a larger group” = “being raped by multiple people”.

After ITG posted, the NZUSA women’s rep issued a press release, and blow me down with a slow-news-season-shaped feather if it didn’t make it all the way to Stuff.

Which is where, if you can believe that, it gets worse.

ACT on Campus: “Thanks to the Labour and Green supporters for their comments but an analogy is just that, an analogy. No-one claimed the two are the same or equivalent.”

Okay, this calls for macros.

Description: Two Starfleet officers from Star Trek: The Next Generation have their heads in their hands in an expression of exasperation and disappointment.

And now, the OED.

  • a comparison between one thing and another, typically for the purpose of explanation or clarification
  • a correspondence or partial similarity.
  • a thing which is comparable to something else in significant respects.


late Middle English (in the sense ‘appropriateness, correspondence’): from French analogie, Latin analogia ‘proportion’, from Greek, from analogos ‘proportionate’

Oh, I see what they did there.  I await with bated breath the excuse that “no one said compulsory student association membership was literally the same as being sexually violated”.

But then, we are dealing with people who, under their real names, will say shit like this online:

Rape was not compared to compulsory student membership. Instead, the following observations were made:

2) Majorities do not have a right to take away individual freedoms.
3) Were that not the case, then majorities would, as a matter of logic, also have the right to take away people’s capacity to not consent to sex.

It wasn’t a COMPARISON, it was just, um, a logical extrapolation of what would obviously happen.*  Which is not to say that we’re comparing the two things, just saying that in this situation they would both be totally logical.  Which is not to treat them as comparable things.  Just things which are similar enough to be compar- HOSHIT.

Moral of the story:  I should learn to be less surprised that people who support Act, party of Rodney “Perk-Buster Except When It’s Me” Hide, David “Tough on Crime Except For My Own Identity Fraud” Garrett – and especially Deborah “Being Called on My Lack of Integrity is Just Like Gang Rape” Coddington – don’t think words have actual meanings.

Description: a black-and-white drawing by Tenniel of Alice looking up at Humpty-Dumpty sitting atop a wall, from "Alice Through the Looking Glass"

“‘There’s glory for you!’

`I don’t know what you mean by “glory,”‘ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. `Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”‘

`But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument,”‘ Alice objected.

`When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

`The question is,’ said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

`The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, `which is to be master – – that’s all.'”


*And isn’t it wonderfully telling that people like this go immediately to rape when pondering some kind of hypothetical breakdown of civilisation? Protip, dudebros:  MEN ALREADY “OUTVOTE” WOMEN AND RAPE THEM AND ASSUME THAT THEY HAVE THE RIGHT TO DO THAT BECAUSE THERE ARE LOTS OF THEM AND THEY WANT TO.  You aren’t hypothesizing shit.