Author Archives: firecrackerkate

A Strumpet Thumbs-Up review for new local novel ‘Digital Venous’


A dystopian sci-fi novel about a rebel group of tough mothers, pitted against a city of genetically-enhanced elites? Yes, indeed! Add in an intriguingly unique child caught between these opposing worlds, and some secretive and questionable leaders, and you’ve got the central cast of Richard Gohl’s gripping first novel, Digital Venous. Set in a dark futuristic vision of the writer’s home town of Adelaide, Digital Venous will make you re-think the fate of our quiet little city, should a climate catastrophe ever befall us. Spoiler alert: it ain’t pretty!
A series of fierce solar flares have destroyed the Earth’s atmosphere and split the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ into a tensely polarised living arrangement. There is a technologically sophisticated and pleasure-focused way of life for those who could afford the treatment to achieve it (called Nanopeans), which leaves the rest of the people burdened with a subterranean and subsistence-based lifestyle (called Subs), viewed as inferior and sub-human by the Nanopeans. The main interaction between the two ways of life is in the Subs performing manual labour for Nanopeans, and the secret theft of children from the Sub domain to take up into the sterile world of genetic enhancement above.
There are plenty of compelling characters in this story, however personal favourites for me are the rebel group from the subterranean world – mainly women who’ve lost children to the Nanopean child-stealing racket. They are tough, clever and funny and have a believable chemistry as a group. They seek revenge against the system and return of their stolen children. When they discover a dark secret that the Nanopean leaders have in store, it’s up to them to exploit it in order to triumph. The character of a little boy named Ryan who literally embodies both worlds is the catalyst for this, and he’s a welcome mini-hero in a book where the adult male lead is pleasingly outshone by our feisty gang of women.
The science behind the world that Gohl has envisioned both enables and serves the story, rather than the other way around, making the story feel natural to that realm. The whacky subcultural responses of Nanopean people to their genetically-altered appearances are particularly fun to read and add a depth of detail to the futuristic civilisation that the reader is dwelling in.
One of Gohl’s strengths is in great plotting that draws you in and keeps you turning the (digital) page. The story would make a cracking tv series (paging Joss Whedon!), as the episodic plot rhythm is ready-made for that medium. And of course, a visual rendering of the striking world Gohl has created would make for great viewing.
The future may be bleak, but the strength and realism of the women depicted in Digital Venous is an entertaining and refreshing backbone to this story. The novel circles around many thought-provoking themes such as alternative family structures, elitist entitlement and social discrimination, yet always keeps the story as the main priority and ticking along nicely.
My advice: get your digital copy and enjoy the ride!


Cold War Femme: Lesbianism, National Identity, and Hollywood Cinema

A review of:
Cold War Femme: Lesbianism, National Identity, and Hollywood Cinema.

by Robert J. Corber, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2011,

ISBN 978-0-8223-4947-1

TL;DR summary: highly recommended for anyone interested in American cinema history, the paranoia of Cold War culture, the treatment of female film characters and discovering a whole new coded subtext within some classic Hollywood films! Read it, it’s great! Or just read this review and then use your second-hand knowledge to leap into vitriolic internet debates…

With his 9780822349280third book Cold War Femme, Robert Corber expands upon his previous scholarship on the intersection of homophobia, Hollywood and American Cold War identity by exploring the film industry discourse on the femme lesbian. Corber aims to understand the femme both as a queer figure distinct from the butch lesbian, and as an allegedly anti-American outgrowth of women’s demands for equality. Through close readings of films in Part One, and a star studies approach in Part Two, Corber persuasively argues that the coded representations of femme lesbian characters reflected their construction as a direct challenge to heterosexuality, thereby destabilising the traditional family structure which insulated the American identity against Communism. Through the trajectory of Hollywood’s lesbian discourse, the book explores not only sexual presentation and gender performance in film, but also how concepts such as frigidity, homosociality, motherhood, domesticity and career ambition were deployed to pathologise lesbianism and bolster the Cold War sexual agenda.

Corber’s 23 page introduction includes a 19 page tour of the dominant trends in psychoanalytical and sociological opinion of female sexuality in the twentieth century. As scholarship developed awareness of the femme lesbian, her feminised gender performance made her an object of censure and paranoia due to the camouflaged threat she supposedly posed to the perpetuation of America’s normative family life. A provocative and absorbing read, this tour also provides essential theoretical underpinning to Corber’s subsequent film analysis, and lends authority to his interpretation of Hollywood’s susceptibility to, and manipulation of, the Cold War culture of sexual paranoia.

Part Two effectively complements Part One’s film readings with detailed explorations of how homophobia affected the production and promotion of female stars, and how their personas influenced the presentation of gender and sexual norms within films.  Corber also highlights the contradictions within the discourse, such as the contrast between Bette Davis, whose sexual illegibility was subsequently pathologised as lesbian, and the wholesome Doris Day, whose tomboyish masculinity resisted construction as lesbian because her characters ultimately assimilated into heterosexual lives.

The validity of Corber’s analysis relies strongly on the introduction’s literature review, which is persuasive, however his avoidance of chronological arrangement of information can produce unnecessary confusion. This would arguably have been a more lucid structure for his analysis, given that the material correlates directly to sequenced events such as trends in thought, career trajectories and backlashes against earlier discourses. Nonetheless, Corber’s obvious passion for the combined study of film, gender and sexuality is well-suited to reveal the fascinating intersections in the field and he offers richly detailed evidence without sermonising. Not only solidly argued, the book is also nearly as much fun to read as the referenced films are to watch.  Cold War Femme offers valuable insights for any reader interested in filmic representations of female sexuality. With this book, Corber redresses his admitted previous neglect of lesbian history as non-distinct from gay men’s history, and he triumphs in his goal of bringing analysis of Hollywood’s femme lesbian into the broader picture of American women’s history.

Why You Shouldn’t Tell That Random Girl On The Street That She’s Hot –

Great article on this question! by Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner


A love letter to Robin Klein (children’s author) – purveyor of girl role models and bard of the banal ‘burbs.



Since childhood, I’ve always admired the proud, funny and independent girls of Robin Klein’s books. Some of her characters, such as the feisty Penny Pollard, were outrageous to me, thumbing their noses at the stifling expectations of “girlhood”, not so much to be rebellious, but in order to just be themselves. Others were quiet, the Un-Noticeables, who were kind and quirky, toyed with loneliness, and were alternately crushed and buoyed by the waves of both good and bad friendships. We know all those girls. We’ve been those girls. At times, we probably still are.

For me, no one quite evoked the childhood of ‘80s Australian suburbia as well as Robin did. Reading her books often felt like home, like being surrounded by people I knew except that by the end of the story, some clarity would be reached and I would be reassured in a way that rarely happens in life. The sounds, the sights, the accents… the blare of the telly, the chops ‘n’ sausages in the fridges, the camaraderie and enmity of siblings, and the casual authority that could be held over you by the tuckshop lady, your Mum’s boyfriend or an old woman on a crowded bus. Robin’s books explored this carousel of people, those who slot in to our young life, for brief or extended times, and who form the strange fabric of childhood worlds that sometimes destabilised us and yet provided security.

We needed to know that that world can make sense, and her books showed us that someone like ourselves could achieve this. The stories were usually told by someone a little bit like me. Or at least, someone else who was also a bit odd, and on the wrong end of the girls’ popularity tussles at school. Or someone I would secretly like to have been, or hoped I would become, or at least meet one day! As kooky and driven as Erica Yurken, as wild and unstoppable as Penny Pollard, or as self-possessed and content as all of her beautiful Un-Noticeables became. Robin’s books taught me that whatever you love – do it. Just be your true self and be compassionate towards others who are trying to do the same thing.

Creative. Proud. Thoughtful. Hilarious. Active. Compassionate. Clever. Adventurous. Unique. Independent.

Good words for girls to be. Maybe they’ll grow up to be Strumpets! Thank you Robin.

Aspiring to Acquiesce or: “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love My Boobs”

Excellent piece by Clem Bastow on why the new trend of “aspirational toplessness” in fashion mags is just a new spin on the old rubbish.

“Media ideals tell us that her body is not “acceptable”, thus the baring of it is considered brave.” …Clever trick indeed, you crafty bastards!

It’s your choice to be a feminist or not – but that doesn’t mean feminism is about choice.

Oh, those magic, debate-ending words: “feminism is about choice”. If I never hear them again I’ll consider it a victory but I seem to hear them more and more these days. Being a woman does not automatically make you a feminist – so why should feminists endorse the choices of all women, as a feminist act? I am mostly baffled by this expectation.

Feminism is an ideology that seeks to enable the equality of the sexes by addressing gender-based limitations and degradation – which is an endeavour far more complex and nuanced than those words. Of course free choice is a vital feature of that, but advocating purely for free choices without a vision of the society you wish to achieve seems like getting a license in order to drive around aimlessly. Where are our choices taking us? At most, “freedom of choice” is a mechanism through which we can actually achieve some of our feminist goals. It is both an indication of freedom and a means of exercising it. But at its least, it is a philosophically thin but basic requirement of a life not lived as chattel. Surely we can aim for more than that? It seems unwise to stop analysing the context in which our options are incubating, and it begs more questions than it answers: What kinds of choices are we limited to by our society? How do my choices affect others? How do we go about making changes if we are unhappy with our society? The “feminism = choice” distillation cannot meaningfully address these.

What’s worse, this choice-adoration smacks suspiciously of pro-consumerist cheer leading. And what a distraction! We are loudly assured by companies competing for our (supposedly) almighty consumer dollar that we have power as consumers and that the way to wield it is to make a choice. The winning object is the anointed Chosen-One… Cue choirs of angels and warm glows of satisfaction all round (except for The Non-Chosen – those losers!). By this process, the mere act of choosing anything has become exalted in our consumerist culture, entirely equated with an act of self-determination. Unfortunately, this thinking has also bled into the spaces where our hearts and minds ought to be evaluating ideology and creating vision. The cultural world in which gender issues exist is not akin to a free-market economy. Whichever way you slice it, feminism is unavoidably about gender-based repression, not purely about free choice.

The current pressure on feminists to refrain from analysing the choices any woman makes, based entirely on the fact that she’s a woman, just seems counter-productive. And if you think something is unjustly tagged as “non-feminist” then argue the point and try to convince. How else do we learn if not by thoughtfully challenging, listening and engaging in debate? But the idea that every choice a woman makes must never be remarked upon or analysed is just a form of self-gagging that is ultimately self-defeating: “Ssshh, lady! Women are making choices here!” It reduces feminist debate to an exercise in nonjudgemental peer-endorsement.

If you need unconditional acceptance of your life choices, perhaps join a support circle. If you crave the thrill of the choice, try your local Smorgasbord every night. But if you envision a world in which women and men challenge and subvert the gender-based expectations and limitations of today (even if you’re not sure how!) then feminism is for you.

To be sure…

Happy “Getting smashed on green beer and trivialising Irish culture” Day folks!