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This entry moves from gushing to contemplative and critical to critical. This is an entry comprised mostly of pop culture critique along political lines, specifically around issues of sex and race. If that is not fun for you, or you don't think that's a worthwhile use of fannish energy, you should skip this entry.

This entry includes spoilers for all aired episodes of all three of these shows.

Rizzoli and Isles

Have you ever watched a buddy cop show and thought, "If only this were about women"? If so, Rizzoli & Isles is the show for you. Angie Harmon plays detective Jane Rizzoli while Sasha Alexander is medical examiner Maura Isles. Together, they solve cases. They're also the kind of buddy cops who are practically married. They go undercover in a lesbian bar in season one and pretend to be together (unfortunately badly) in season two. They bicker and talk about fashion and facts and people. The show also does a fantastic job of including Jane's family. And I like the male cops. My two favorite things from this season: Spoilers )

Haven

Earlier this year, [livejournal.com profile] norwich36 linked me to an anonymous thread about shows with strong women characters to catch up on over the summer. Haven was one of them, so I started watching it. I was fascinated by how many people commented back about it when I tweeted about it, particularly for a show I'd never even heard of before. It's really good. Those of you reading this might also like it: the lead character is a woman, and there's a fantastic slash pairing. (Nate/Duke forever! Where is my story where they're exes?) But in the context of this post, what I want to talk about is how Audrey is interestingly nonsexual and nonsexualized, which is not something you see in women on TV. Spoilers )

Suits

In case you haven't noticed, I love Suits. The plot is stupid and gets in the way of a really fun show, but the fun stuff is enough to make up for it. My strategy has been to watch it once, and then only watch the fun parts again. But that's not what this post is about. This post is about women, so let's talk about the women on Suits. Parts of fandom (including me) are very excited about the women: Gina Torres as Jessica Pearson, lawyer whose name is in the firm name and who got Harvey out of the mail room and into law school in some fashion we haven't been made privy to yet; Sarah Rafferty as Donna, Harvey's fantastic assistant who gets all the best lines; Meghan Markle as Rachel Zane, paralegal who's smarter than most of the firm but with test-taking anxiety that's keeping her from taking the LSATs; and Vanessa Ray as Jenny, Mike's best friend Trevor's girlfriend who later becomes Mike's girlfriend. (Okay, fandom isn't as fond of Jenny. I think there are strong possibilities for some interesting stories there, but fandom's "OH MY GOD A WOMAN" thing means no one's likely to write them.)

But what I haven't seen yet (largely because I haven't gone looking for Suits conversation outside of the two email threads I'm on) is any discussion of the ways in which the show's portrayal of women is problematic. I think there's a layer of sexism on the show that's particularly insidious precisely because it's under the surface. Details/Spoilers )
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Edit: The comments have made clear to me that I have done something I didn't want to and written a post that made people feel talked at. So this is a belated disclaimer: This post is about what I think about when I'm writing and what I think about this particular discussion in fandom. This is not a prescription for what you should do. I do believe the fandom as escapism approach is absolutely valid and useful, and I also go through periods of wanting just stories and no meta in between periods of wanting to tell you everything I think about meta topics. /edit

A very long while ago, [livejournal.com profile] inlovewithnight linked to a very interesting post about the question Why am I not writing the stories I say I want to read? In case you don't want to read the post, the question is specifically around the issue of saying we want more fic about women and poc characters but continuing to write slash about white men. ([personal profile] happydork phrases this entirely about her, but I'm using "we" deliberately because I think it extends beyond just her.)

For me, the one of her reasons that I'm actively changing in my own writing is the "habits of mind." She says, "There are comfortable ruts in my mind that any story I write can happily rest on. It takes me a long, long time to change these, and a lot of thought, insight and effort." But we can change them, and even if it takes a long time, you have to start somewhere. I've specifically, consciously been doing this around writing about women and gender roles. I'm sure I'm not always successful, but I have been making the effort. I specifically tried to avoid anything that referenced roles that were determined by gender in Fighting For (although I reread it somewhat recently and realized I missed one that needed to come out). I made an effort to make You Have My Heart (In Your Hands) pass the Bechdel test. When I edited A Great Idea to fix the sex scene, I also took out Andi's references to being "girly" as something she didn't want to be/like being.

Part of my resistance to editing my Gabe/Victoria accidental marriage story is that it's at least 40% about how Gabe doesn't sleep and Victoria gets him to - and I don't like the idea that a woman's role is to be in service to men. I've had people tell me that every relationship has its give and take, that if you have trouble sleeping it's easier with someone else in bed with you, and that one plot point is not necessarily a patriarchy-upholding pattern. And yet, I'm still uncomfortable with it. It may just be one plot point, but it's one plot point in the context of a society that tells us in a million other ways that women are supposed to serve men.

This got a little long, plus this part talks about sex and sex writing. )

There's one more point in this discussion where you might have figured out what I think but I'd like to say it explicitly. In a comment on [livejournal.com profile] inlovewithnight's post, [livejournal.com profile] mosca said:
I think there's an additional wrinkle here, which is that there's so much "We have to write more women and people of color!" talk, that when one actually writes about a woman or a person of color (especially the latter), it's often seen as a political move rather than an actual expression of fannish affection for that character.
There's an implication in [livejournal.com profile] mosca's comment - and particularly in the fannish response it describes - that writing about a woman or a person of color as a political move is a bad thing. I don't think it is. Fandom isn't going to change unless we - the people who make up fandom - make that change happen. One way to make that change happen is to choose to tell stories based on the political change we want to make in combination with what interests us.
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I had this grand plan yesterday that I was going to get a lot of things done, and I did get a fairly large number of them done, but then I got distracted by reading [livejournal.com profile] justthisfic's Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails, which I recced to friends as "trans Brendon," and she describes as "genderqueer fic." It made me cry, in a good way. It also meant that I was already in a space where the question of who you really are was on my mind when I started reading Style Statement.

Here's how the style statement exercises work: there are eight sections meant to represent different parts of your life. Each section has a series of inquiry questions. First are the "what works well for me" questions, followed by a "filter & interpret" section that asks you to look at what's "important and intriguing," "themes," and "words, images, or feelings." Then there's the "what does not work well for me" section, followed by the same filter and interpret questions. I did each of the eight sections on a sheet of paper.

Some of it wasn't surprising. My idea of home and stuff is light and uncluttered, which I knew.

Some of it amused me by how well it fit into an 80/20 split. My fashion and sensuality page is all about simple, soft, clean lines, kind of businessy (what's working in my wardrobe: polo shirts, v-necks, two of my skirts, new socks; what's not working in my wardrobe: jeans, scoop necks). But then for "Even though it's completely out of style or over the top I secretly love . . . because:" section, I said, "miniskirts, because I like my legs, like feeling them bare." In the "If money were no object I would go out today and shop for" section, I have "pants (not jeans), dress shirts (stretch, no-iron), skirts," and then sex toys. For "important/intriguing," I wrote down, "comfortable, businessy, sexy edge."

Some of it was surprising. I still have this high school idea of myself as smart, intellectual, rational, inflexible. When I looked at my spirit and learning, relationship and communication, and service and wealth pages, it's all about love and close relationships. Fandom and women showed up all over the place. My answer for "My purpose in life is:" was "to write, to be there for my closest friends, to be a good friend."

Once you've done each section, you write down all of the "outstanding words and themes" from each section, then narrow it down to "three to five words that have the strongest resonance and attraction for you," then write out synonyms for each of those words.

My five words: light, love, simple, stories, comfortable.

Love resonated so strongly with me, but it doesn't describe physical things, which your foundation word has to be able to do. The format for their definitions of foundation words is to describe the spirit, then the look and feel, and then they have a series of words in italics. In the profiles in the book, the creative edge word is the one that get the italics. I didn't really want to read all of the foundation word definitions, and none of the ones in the profiles felt right, so I started skimming the italicized words for one that included love. The italicized words for "Graceful" included love, compassion, kindness. I wrote "Graceful?" down as a synonym for love.

In the next step, you write down the three or four possible words in two identical columns: the left is your foundation word possibilities, the right is your creative edge word possibilities.

My four words: understated, graceful, simple, comfortable.

In the back of the book, they have a chart of the most common foundation words arranged in ways that similar words are near each other. Understated, graceful, simple, and comfortable make a C around natural.

Then you cross out anything that couldn't describe a material object or doesn't feel like it could be 80% of your life from the left column. Then you cross out any word that's still in the left column from the right column. Then you play around with combinations until you find the right one.

The only one I crossed out from the left column was comfortable, because it showed up all over my pages, especially in physical areas of my life, but their definition for it just didn't feel like 80% of my life. It's a good fit for the 20%, though, because "Comfortable is the consummate pleasure seeker. Physical comforts are paramount, and sensual gratification is a fundamental part of their lives." That sexy edge fits right in there.

I like the ideas of understated and simple, but their definitions just weren't right either.

I kept coming back to "graceful." I don't think of myself as graceful. But.
Grace/Graceful/Gracious

Spirit: Greek mythology tells of sister goddesses of joy, charm, and beauty called the three Graces. Graceful is poised and dignified and, at her best, is a giving, generous spirit who seeks to impart kindness and dignity. Love is her fuel; goodwill is her motivation and guide. Graceful prefers meaning and substance but will practice courtesy and compassion rather than forcing her views about a situation. Graceful has a sense of fit and propriety, a craving for balance and good form and proportion. She adores harmony and material and immaterial luxury - from finery to leisure. Rooted in feminine power, Graceful has a quiet and steady confidence. She endeavors to make everything special in the most considerate and ultimately charming ways, and she tends to make it all look effortless.

Look & Feel: Adroitness, agility, allure, attractiveness, balance, beauty, cleanliness, ease, elegance. The proper fit and hang. Flow, warmth, comfort, harmony. Shapeliness, smoothness, style, suppleness, symmetry.

attentive, benefaction, blessing, breeding, caritas, charity, compassion, consideration, cultivation, decency, dignity, divinity, etiquette, favor, finesse, finish, forgiveness, form, friendly, generosity, goodwill, invocation, kindness, love, mercy, poise, polish, prayer, propriety, tact, tastefulness, thanksgiving, royalty
It seems like too much, but they say, "This is not the time to be modest, act small, or fear grandiosity," and, "If you feel yourself shying away from words that seem 'too big' or 'too special,' then it's time to expand your perspective." It doesn't fit who I still think of myself as being, but it fits who I'm trying to be. It fits the part where love was the most important word that came out of all of the sections. It feels more right than "understated" or "simply." That brought me to this style statement:

Graceful Comfort

What's funny is that there's the part where it seems like too much, and then there's the part where it seems so boring. It reminds me of the intense training where I was fascinated with the interesting woman who worked with teenagers at the Model U.N., but really connected with the quiet urban planner. I've been thinking recently about how I don't think I'm that interesting or special. But then I think about my friends who don't think they're anything special when really they're amazing, which makes me think I'm special and amazing too and I just don't see it in myself. Maybe I'm just special and amazing in a quiet, comfortable way instead of in a flashy way.

They say the style statement is supposed to be your true self, and that it should work for you indefinitely, possibly for a lifetime. I don't know if I would have come to the same answer ten years ago. I wonder how much of that is that I've changed and how much of it is that I've allowed myself to be who I truly am rather than who I think I should be. I wonder if this will still work for me in ten years.

Here's where I ask you: Does Graceful Comfort sound like me?
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This month I read Mary Roach's Bonk. You may remember that I read Spook last year and said I would read something else by her.

Bonk is hilarious. I laughed so hard I cried. Unlike Spook, some of the best parts of the book are where she talks about her own experiences:
I sent Dr. Deng an email asking permission to come to London to observe the first scan. He wrote back immediately.
Dear Ms. Roach, Many thanks for your interest in our research. You are welcome to interview me in London. . . . However, to arrange a new in-action would be very difficult, mainly due to the difficulty in recruiting volunteers. If you organization is able to recruit brave couple(s) for an intimate (but non-invasive) study, I would be happy to arrange and perform one.
My organization gave some thought to this. What couple would do this? More direly, who wanted to pay the three or four thousand dollars it would cost to fly them both to London and put them up in a nice hotel? My organization balked. It called its husband.

"You know how you were saying you haven't been to Europe in twenty-five years?"

Ed was wary. It was not all that long ago that his agreeable nature, combined with a touching and foolhardy inclination to help his wife with her reporting, landed him in a Mars and Venus relationship seminar that involved talking to strangers about his "love needs."

I pushed onward. "What if I offered you an all-expense-paid trip to London?"

Ed sensibly replied that he would want to know what the catch was.
The part of the book that made me laugh until I cried also involved Ed, in this case mishearing the instructions on a video Mary was watching for research and coming to investigate. And this is after her prologue where she says, "My solution was to apply the stepdaughter test. I imagined Lily and Phoebe reading these passages, and I tried to write in a way that wouldn't mortify them."

If you're thinking of reading the book, I do have two caveats. First, it's not particularly sciency. It's much more about people doing science than it is is about the science itself (although there's a fair amount of that in there too).

Secondly, most of the book is very heternormative, which, to be fair, is probably true about most sex research throughout the ages. It's pretty vanilla heterosexuality too; she talks, at one point, about inventions designed to prevent erections (from a time when even wet dreams were seen as a negative thing) and doesn't quite get to the point where such things are now used in orgasm denial play. Her last chapter does look at the conclusions of Masters and Johnson's Homosexuality in Perspective: "The best sex going on in Masters and Johnson's lab was the sex being had by the committed gay and lesbian couples. Not because they were practicing special secret homosexual sex techniques, but because they 'took their time.' . . . The other hugely important difference Masters and Johnson found between the heterosexual and homosexual couples was that the gay couples talked far more easily, often, and openly about what they did and didn't enjoy." It's interesting data, but the chapter feels a little tacked on, and she goes right back to the realm of heteronormativity: "It seems to me that heterosexuals have come a long way since 1979."

Still, the book is entertaining, and I would, all in all, recommend it.
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Please be forewarned that this post includes information that may be TMI of a sexual nature. If you're under 18 or whatever the age for such things is in your jurisdiction, you probably shouldn't read this. If you're related to me, you probably shouldn't read this. If you're over 18, you should think about whether or not you really want to know before you click on an lj-cut.

This is inspired by both [livejournal.com profile] norwich36's frank entry about vibrators and my own efforts to clean out my house.

Sex Toys )

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