Tag Archives: gender

Don’t stick a qualifier in front of whatever I am!

lucky Lionel

As a female child I was labelled a tomboy because I loved playing with cars, building roads in the dirt, making kites, shooting at things with my homemade bow and arrows, riding my skateboard, hunting for tadpoles, playing with LEGO…..and all those other fun things that kids do, well male children do without a second look from anyone. But because I was a girl, well, obviously I was a tomboy! Quick get her a barbie and into a frilly dress before it’s too late………

I always felt there was something wrong (and I was a bit resentful without having that bigger picture understanding) with the way the toys I liked never had girls playing with them in the ads or on the packaging, or the characters in Adventure novels that were having all the fun were nearly always boys. So my solution to this puzzling omission was to make the characters female (particularly for movies and books) in my mind and imagine myself chasing pirates, fighting off aliens, and saving wild animals from poachers and circuses…EASY! Once I became a bit older it all became crystal clear. Two comments from my father will always stay with me and still make me bristle: “Girls don’t have train sets” (the response to my wish for a train set for Xmas one year, my brother got it despite not actually wanting one and I got a barbie…true story! GRRRR) and “Girls are nurses not doctors” (after announcement of my desire to go to uni to maybe study medicine…. GRRR squared! well, that was far too much study thus I became a scientist majoring in botany and entomology instead). Guess it took a while to know what it was all about: hello feminism! Thanks dad!

So the announcement of the release of a “Female Scientists Set” by LEGO was a moment of celebration and vindication for me that finally in 2014 young girls can have some ownership of these toys and see!! women can be scientists too, even LEGO says so. But then I started to get annoyed (never takes long) that it’s 2014 and we still have to be “grateful” for the few token challenges to gender stereotypes. http://www.iflscience.com/technology/lego-approves-production-female-scientist-set
And yet again, that devaluing qualifier “female” rears its ugly head when describing a job, an activity, an idea…. Sounds a lot like “not bad for a female [insert noun]”. That good ole standard complement A.K.A backhanded insult. So, let’s be clear…they are SCIENTISTS…NOT LADY SCIENTISTS or GIRLY SCIENTISTS……They aren’t smart or clever for a girl or….anything despite being a girl!!! They aren’t female musicians, female politicians, or even actresses (actor please!). When do you hear men given the same labels? Male musician? Male politician? As we know, it is implied that the people in these roles are male….unless you are a male nurse of course. Test yourself: what gender is the image of a doctor in your mind’s eye? C’mon, bet it was a male and not a lady doctor.

As Candice Chung from Daily Life argues in her article on the female (nice one Playboy) musician Neko Case: “it sucks to be defined by a single facet of you identity” particularly when it serves as a putdown. http://www.dailylife.com.au/life-and-love/work-and-money/are-you-peggy-olsoning-me-20140605-39k99.html

Thus as Case so eloquently put it “DONT PEGGY OLSON ME”…..


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.


Musings of a science lover

Over the past week or so, two texts in particular have pissed me off no end….
The first was a video produced back in 2012 by the European Commission for their website ‘Science: It’s a girl thing’ (http://science-girl-thing.eu/en) aimed at attracting girls to science in the EU. Apparently the best way to get girls interested in science as a career is to ‘speak their language’ which seems to be all about fashion and being attractive to men. See the ‘enlightened and inclusive’ images of sexy girl-scientists strutting their stuff in stilettos admired by a gormless male scientist.…and hey girls, we know you love makeup: you could invent a fantastic lipstick or blush!!! (Is that what they really think girls are all about? And more worrying, are girls starting to think that about themselves?). I’m sure it comes as no surprise the video was removed after howls of protest. It would be amusing if it wasn’t so disturbing. Judge the video for yourself:

The second was an article by science alert (see link below) concerning the discourse around the ‘revelation’ that the author of the popular facebook page ‘I fucking love science’ was actually a woman! Well, firstly that information was available if one cared to click on the ‘About’ link on the page (however, the practice of some women hiding their gender to be taken seriously continues) and secondly why the fuck couldn’t she be a woman (to use the current vernacular)? Again we have this assumption that a commentator on science and in particular the style used by this page which is funny, clever and sometimes irreverent, could only be a man. Tragically, this type of assumption is not the exclusive domain of men; plenty of women are happily buying into sexism and thereby reinforcing the gender barriers and obstacles for women in science.

The Guardian tried to help with suggestions of how to turn girls on to science and failed abysmally! They came up with some top shelf advice for parents: such as how to encourage maths skills: “make your domestic scenario more mathematic[al] and scientific. Shopping is filled with math problems, particularly if your daughter wants something that is too expensive”; and how to encourage collaborative skills: “Encourage… collaboration in your sleepovers or birthday parties. Have the girls cook dinner, or bake cookies or tie dye t-shirts together”. Absolute gems.

Maia Szalavitz (2013) says the reasons why women are underrepresented in sciences in countries where women are treated more equally is not about women’s aptitude (of course!) but whether the field is welcoming and inclusive and accessible.

Retention is a major problem. This is partly due to reduced career advancement opportunities due to the ole boy’s club mentality or women are overlooked as they have less full-time years and hence less benchmark achievements (e.g. papers published/PhD students), and they may end up leaving altogether due to competing carer demands. While the numbers of students entering university to study the sciences are similar for young men (45%) and women (55%), beyond a doctorate, numbers show an increasing difference as you move through the levels of senior positions (above senior lecturer, female representation falls to 10% or less depending on the type of science)(Bell, 2009).

So, science itself needs to work on its PR and girls need to be exposed to science in a meaningful, inclusive way (The Guardian was sort of on the right track, I’ll give them that) with positive, VISIBLE female role models. Essentially, girls need to know that they too can be scientists and…..be SMART! There needs to be more flexible opportunities for those women in science so they can advance their careers, and governments can help by providing support via paid family leave and access to affordable day care. OK, these are the same old issues and conditions that feminists have been arguing for and have somewhat successfully gained for what seems like forever now. But there is a new factor that has raised the stakes: the silencing of reasonable discourse due to constant bombardment of messages of consumerism, individualism and sexism via social and mainstream media. And sexism is at the root of the disengagement of women from science.

Considering sexism (leave the others for later), the current stereotypes in the media of girls and women are appalling. Go for a wander online if you dare. It seems girls and women are all about their appearance, their attractiveness to males (sexy over smart always!??), they love spending money, love gossiping, are fragile and need to be protected (but are also there to be used).……and more. The messages are so damaging to their sense of self and wellbeing. But it doesn’t end there as the attitudes of boys and men and their subsequent behaviour towards girls and women are also being influenced. We desperately need to hear the voices of intelligent, sensible, articulate women and men.