In Search of Ace Representation // it’s ace awareness week!

ace awareness week.jpg

All this week — the 23rd to the 30th October — is Asexual Awareness Week! It’s pretty self-explanatory, but it’s a week to raise awareness about asexual, aromantic and anywhere-along-those-spectrums experiences. (Although I don’t know why all these weeks start on Sunday. MONDAY IS THE START OF THE WEEK?? But anyways haha.)

I actually missed ace awareness week last year because I didn’t even know it existed until it came around… So this time I was especially determined to write something. I mean, I still got the dates wrong but pfft, I’m writing this in advance.

If you don’t know what asexuality is — and no, it’s not just for plants — then it’s basically just a lack of sexual attraction. That’s it! There are also people who identify as aromantic, which is a lack of romantic attraction, and people who identify as demisexual/romantic (when you only experience attraction to people you’ve known for a long time) or grey-sexual (a general time for people who are somewhere in between).  But I’m not here to you to explain what asexuality is… Whilst obviously that’s extremely important, it’s also in many other places across the internet, in a much more eloquent way than I can put! I’d recommend the Ace Awareness Week site and the AVEN wiki as a starting point.

So, after that little intro bit, I decided to talk about some misconceptions people have. Although of course raising awareness is super important, my personal experience is that people know the technical definition but don’t always understand what it actually means. The diversity of ace and aro — I’m kind of using this to mean all people who identify along those spectrums; I hope that’s alright —  is SO WIDE. Yes, some ace people aren’t interested in any relationships. Some ace people are interested in relationships, or other options like queerplatonic relationships. Some ace people are also gay or bi or trans or any other identity, Some ace people want to have sex. Some ace people don’t. (But that’s not the same thing as celibate.) Some ace people can experience certain kinds of attraction, in certain situations. You can’t just say THIS IS WHAT AN ACE PERSON IS LIKE. I mean, you can’t do that for anything. But in my personal experience, asexuality = the plant one to many people.

Yet despite all this intersection with other identities, there are barely an ace characters in books and the media? It’s estimated that 1 – 4% of people are asexual, which is kind of similar to the percentage of redheaded people living in England. I can name SO many redheaded characters, yet I can count the number of asexual ones on one hand. Often there will be a character who seems like they’re ace, but the word is never actually mentioned? I mean, I feel like this is getting better for asexuality, although I’ve never seen aromanticism mentioned once. And sometimes it isn’t always needed, like perhaps in a fantasy setting where society works differently.

It’s just so frustrating to still see media where a lack of attraction is seen as something inhuman. Take Sherlock — which, I’m going to be real, is very far from the paragon of representation, but anyway. Sherlock’s just this unreachable icy guy, and it’s like his apparent lack of attraction means he’s a psychopath? *sighs* And Steven Moffat literally said asexual people weren’t interesting to write about, ugh. (This show is problematic in so many ways, I know. And yet I still watch it. Kind of.) I will headcanon Sherlock as asexual until the end of time just because of that — because all the characters keep saying how can you manage without a relationship?

I don’t want it to be that way. I just want characters who are ace and aro without being any less human; without abstaining or choosing the high moral ground or something. Characters who are just people. Because romantic love isn’t always the most important, you know?

I enjoy reading romantic stories — like, I enjoy them even more than I enjoy romance in real life. I read a book like Jandy Nelson’s I’ll Give You the Sun and marvel at all the love there. (Of many kinds.) It also makes me kind of sad, though… I don’t know if I’ll ever have that, or even if I want to. Currently I identify as grey-asexual, but it’s fine if that changes in the future. And it probably will, because it’s sort of a deduction game… It’s a lot more difficult to tell the absence of something. I don’t think I’ve ever had a crush, but maybe I have; maybe I just didn’t know what it felt like. I’ve spent SO LONG searching things on the internet trying to tell if I’ve felt it or not.

Quite honestly, the internet has educated me about asexuality more than anything else. Some parts of mainstream media still sneer at identities like demisexuality. (I’ve seen it with my very own eyes. I have not forgiven that newspaper.) I obviously only have my own experiences, and I’m still very much learning, so I don’t mean for this post to be anything like speaking for the whole community. I just wanted to say my little bit, and I really hope to see more great books with ace representation in the future.

do you have any ace/aro book recs for me? any headcanons? read any cool things for ace awareness week? let me know!

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Brexit, Three Months On

It’s just over three months since the UK voted to Brexit, and whilst everything has changed, it also seems like nothing has changed. I’m just going back now to read my post-Brexit reaction, and whilst I’ve definitely cooled down a lot more now, a lot of my feelings there are the same. I am still scared. I am still angry. I am still upset. (And I am still half-pretending that this whole thing is one big nightmare. I honestly wish so Brexit had never happened, but there you go.)

I will admit that I’ve somewhat been avoiding the news a bit — especially over the summer holidays, when I was away a lot anyway. I’m definitely not feeling as bad as I was, but it’s just sort of…a looming cloud I don’t like to remind myself of. I’m very good at just ignoring things I want to go away! It feels kind of weird to be describing my own feelings right now, actually? I don’t see much of that. Maybe it’s just what I read. But usually politics and Brexit stuff is factual; like, what’s happening here and who said that. It literally is a massive shadow over me, though.

I’m also pretty lucky that it hasn’t yet affected me dramatically; after all, I live in London (one of the most pro-Europe areas) and I’m already pretty privileged. No one is coming up to me and telling me to go homeNo one is trying to attack me. I do still feel like the referendum vote was extremely emotion-driven — from what I’ve seen, it looks like people sort of just voted because they wanted immigrants to leave. (Or, like, to stop the oppression of the EU or whatever other crap is happening.)

Yet just this morning on the radio I heard as part of an announcement on our Brexit strategy that we would try to replicate previous business relationships as closely as possible. IF YOU JUST WANTED IT TO BE THE SAME THEN WE SHOULDN’T BLOODY BE LEAVING. *sighs* It just seems so stupid. On one hand: I don’t want everything to completely change. But on the other hand: if we just have a similar kinda thing to the European Economic Area or something, then what was the point in even Leaving? (Capital-L Leaving.) We’re just the same as before, but not getting to make any of the decisions.

Nothing MASSIVE has happening yet. Although a ton of stuff has also happened. We have an utterly new PM & Government and the Labour party is basically dying. There are some weird things happening with grammar schools which don’t particularly make sense to me, but I do go to a private school so I guess I’m a bit of a hypocrite. (I mean, although obviously I am SUPER grateful for my education, I sometimes wish I didn’t…) Whenever I see another bad thing, I think ‘at least [insert terrible event here]’ because apparently that is now a comfort to me. At least Andrea Leadsom didn’t win the Tory Leadership. (Oh my god, she wanted to get rid of same-sex marriage. I wanted to cry.) At least we are all still alive, at least my parents haven’t lost their jobs, at least the NHS hasn’t yet collapsed etc. etc.

Over the holidays I was reaing the Ron Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton, and the passages about creating a new government really struck me. There was this whole thing about how he tried to create a system where there wasn’t a too big imbalance of power between executive and the people — this is so not the right phrasing but never mind. And about fear of populism and the mob ruling over what’s actually good in the long term. I mean, I’m not going to sit here making parallels about two subjects I’m not especially educated in, but it did make me think for a bit.

And it makes me really sad to hear the little anecdotes. Like apparently this uni one of my cousins works at won’t be receiving much funding anymore… It’s not Oxbridge or anything like that so the UK institutions give them far less in grants than the EU. And everything just feels a bit like a funeral; people just sort of come up and express their sadness and we all feel sad. A funeral with more black humour. I am basically only surviving this through black humour.

There will be some good things, I am still hoping! We’re not very far into this whole procedure yet. I mean, I don’t at all thinks it’s going to be a paradise… (If you hadn’t picked that up already.) But you never know. Less money going to farmers who make up a tiny percentage of people and all that. It’s a little hard to be positive because both my parents are basically just like AAAH WE’RE GOING TO DIE IF WE ACTUALLY LEAVE but I’m living through it haha.

Recently I’ve been trying to listen to world news a bit more, too, instead of the usual Radio 4 fare. (I like to have radio on in the background; being in a silent house alone is super uncomfortable for me.) This is DEFINITELY not the worst thing that could be happening to us. It feels pretty massive right now, but that’s right now — there are plenty of bigger things out there. I guess I’ll just continue on and see what happens.

 

After Brexit

My emotions are in turmoil right now. I’ve been drifting between bleak emptiness, outrage, and flat-out crying. It feels like the world shouldn’t be able to keep happening — yet it does, and every time I remember that we voted Out it jars me. This all feels like one big impossible nightmare.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that I’m fucking disappointed right now. I am very disappointed. I cannot believe that my own country has chosen xenophobia and uncertainty for the sake of non–arguments like: ‘take our country back’, ‘make Britain great again’ etc. I despise the numbers of people who voted to Leave. I believe passionately that staying in the EU is the better choice, and I think this is catastrophic. Our country is…well we’re pretty fucked right now. We’re left with Farage in victory and potentially the idiotic Boris Johnson running for PM. You know you’ve made a bad turn when Trump and Putin approve of your decision.

It seems bad. I cried when I saw the news on Friday. I feel more sad right now than I have felt in as long as I remember. I watched my future plans slide away from me as the results came into the television. And the worst part was that I couldn’t even do anything — the people voting Leave were by and large the older generation. That was an utterly selfish vote. It’s us who will have to pick up the pieces. If anyone dares to tell me that young people don’t care about politics, I swear that I will hit something.

I fear a lot for myself and for many other young people. This is going to affect our lives in so many ways. I’m also pretty upset because Brexit is undoubtedly a bad thing for LGBTQ+ rights, and it kind of shadowed Saturday’s Pride. (Next year, I swear, I AM GOING. Instead of just sort of skulking around central London ‘by coincidence’.) (I did actually have a Guides thing, to be fair, but I ardently wish I had gone.) We’re facing the implosion of the Labour party and a probably more right-wing PM than we had before. I’m not a fan of Cameron, but quite frankly he’s the best of the Tories.

But although I am shocked and angry: we must not lose hope. This is not the end of the world. We’re going to survive. Although following the murder of the wonderful Jo Cox it may seem like we’ve gone into war, we haven’t. The vote was very, very split, and hopefully they’ll be able to take that into account. Perhaps when we go into negotiations we’ll be able to keep some elements of being an EU member. (Well, free movement will probably happen anyway, so you know.)

We haven’t left yet, guys. The fight is not over. Article 50 hasn’t been triggered and there are a ton of layers of bureaucracy to get through. No one should have the right to strip away my EU citizenship, and I’m not just going to let it go. This referendum isn’t even legally binding — I mean, they’re obviously not just going to ignore it, but it doesn’t have to be the complete final word. There are many petitions you can sign to — for instance — get a 2nd referendum with 60% majority necessary, or to require that £350 million goes to the NHS per week as promised by the Leave campaign. (Maybe London will eve become an independent city state…? Or we can all move to Scotland when it leaves the UK.)

Remaining in the EU was probably the first big political thing that I truly, passionately embraced. It’s such a shame that the xenophobia that’s sadly in many places worldwide right now had to manifest itself in something irreversible. I’m really scared for the possibility of President Trump but at least he can be voted out after his term ends. Following this result I feel even more determined to do something about the state of politics — I don’t want us to head in the direction of racism and ignorance. I want the media to properly educate people so that the don’t make bloody stupid votes for reasons with absolutely no foundations. I want the Labour party to get its fucking act together, thanks very much.

This is a sad time for us all. But there will be some positives to come out of this. Let’s remember that it’s okay, we’re okay, and we’re not giving up on Britain.

Thursday’s EU Referendum // do i stay or do i go?

The referendum that will decide whether Britain leaves the EU is coming up this Thursday. I can’t vote — and I wouldn’t be able to vote even if they did allow 16-year-olds — but I feel like this is one of the most important decisions yet in my life. I’ve seen over the last year I’ve been trying to have greater political awareness, and the more I’ve read into this issue the more passionate I’ve become in my belief that we’re better off in the EU.

This post may not change anyone’s mind. It’s pretty late know, and I’m not exactly famous. Plus, three quarters of people under 25 want to stay in anyway so perhaps I’m preaching to the choir. But I the polls are incredibly close and feel so, so strongly about this. I want to be able to look back and say: I said something. I really hope it’s not from the perspective of a Britain out of the EU.

For any readers who are a bit confused: Britain is a member of the European Union. I mean, the EU is kind of complicated and I don’t know all the ins and outs, but it’s basically a political and economic union of various states. This mainly means we can trade easily with member nations and that free movement of people in the EU is allowed. The two main issues of this debate have indeed been the economy and immigration.

I don’t think the campaigns have been the best. Both sides have gone for really negative campaigns, which I think is such a shame. Remain in particular had such a strong case to present the facts logical rather than go for crazy scaremongering. But, putting that aside: I want us to stay in. I think that the Leave campaign has really reminded me that there are people who don’t want to be inclusive. That it’s better to cut ourselves off and build a wall.

Perhaps that’s not everyone voting Leave. Obviously there are a lot of different factors. (Please do check out Em‘s post which explains the details a lot better than I can!) I’m sure there are people voting Out with a lot more legitimate reasoning. But in general I’m scared by the idea that we need to ‘take Britain back’. I’ve seen our country, inexplicably, compared to the USSR by educated people…?

I don’t want us to return to being Good Old Britons who sneer and hate foreigners. That’s not how we should be thinking. Yes, Britain is still a democracy; no, the EU is not going to remove our voting rights.(It placed sanctions on the current Polish government because they are doing some very shifty things. Like messing around with the Supreme Court. It’s not a ‘mildly conservative government’, guys.) In particular the EU does reduce the effectiveness in some areas of law, but I think that the benefits outweigh that. We can’t be all take and no give. There are lots of great EU policies! Worker’s rights. The environment. It’s not all doom, gloom and red tape.

I admit that I also believe we should stay for more selfish reasons. I want to be able to travel around Europe! I love that I could go for a day trip to France if I wanted. We can’t know the future of Britain or the economy, but most people agree that Brexit would mean higher prices for some time after, especially whilst we re-negotiate all our trade deals. I don’t particular feel like being a student during a time with both high prices and more difficult travel. Any of my current plans would basically die. Also, my parents’ jobs would be a lot worse and Boris Johnson would potentially become PM. He is a) extremely unqualified and b) not a nice person, so. I don’t love David Cameron, but he’s way better than a lot of people.

This post is not perhaps the highest political analysis you’re going to get. I realise that I’m speaking from a pretty privileged middle class perspective But I do believe, ardently, that Britain is better off in the EU. If we leave I feel the economy and security of our nation would suffer, and I don’t want us to reject all our ideas of co-operation and inclusiveness. We are not so important that countries will just make trade deals with us again. We are not so important that the EU will help us when we need it. Yes, the EU needs reforms, but you can’t change the system from the outside.

If you are able to vote this Thursday then I hope you make the right choice. And I hope that I won’t wake up on Friday to Brexit.

what’s your opinion on the eu referendum? in or out? (and does anyone else think ‘brexit’ sounds like a breakfast cereal, or is it just me?)

Why I Love LGBTQ+ Retellings

‘TIS I, actually writing something for Pride Month! *dances* I’m rather excited to write this post, because I kept writing some very angsty depressing posts about conversations I’ve had with people and it was Not Fun. (There is a time for depressing posts. But right now I just feel like being excited.) (And I HAVE SO MANY OTHER POST IDEAS THEY ALL CAME AT ONCE.)

So! Today I decided to write about something I love a lot, which is retellings with queer characters. THIS INCLUDES ALL RETELLINGS. Not just fairytales. Which sort of applies to every book if you want to get philosophical, but I guess I’m mostly talking about tropes as well…?

ANYWAY. A big reason why I love queer retellings is because I think that they give the story way more nuance than just…a straight relationship. Perhaps it’s rather self-indulgent, because in most cases I would rather about queer characters. But there are so many novels with straight romances that I don’t feel too bad.

Especially with fairy tales, the original story is usually pretty old and so is rather rooted in your typical gender and historical constraints. I feel like if you’re going to rehash a story that’s been told so many times over and over, it’s important to make it original. Also, it really sucks to never see yourself in these stories.

Loads of people are irritated because Russell T. Davies’ adapation A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the BBC apparently wasn’t’ true to the original. (He cut some lines about suicide which worked fine in the 16th century but not today and ended with same-sex relationships.) And it was really fun! QUEER SHAKESPEARE FOREVER. I saw another adaptation of it at the Globe the other week where they put in a queer relationship so I feel pretty good. Anyway, RTJ said: “I find it hilarious that people get up in arms about Titania kissing a woman, but they’re perfectly happy with her kissing a donkey.” That encapsulates a lot of my feelings.

a midsummer night's dream gif.gif
Titania and Hippolyta; source

Ash by Malinda Lo is one of my favourite books. It’s an f/f retelling of Cinderella with way cooler fairy lore. But when I first read it at the age of around 9 (probably) I didn’t understand the romance. I knew that Cinderella was supposed to end up with the prince and I didn’t understand why she ended up with a girl.

ash

I feel sad for younger me. I didn’t get the obsession I was supposed to have with boys but I didn’t know there was any other option. I really hope that in the future we don’t end up with kids growing up like that. And I think an important way to do that it is more diversity in kid lit. (Because also, let’s remember that I used to call the peach pencil the ‘skin colour’ pencil.) I find it really frustrating that people think showing kids there are options other than being straight/cisgender/allosexual is ‘pushing an agenda on impressionable minds’ or whatever. -_-

We deserve to have fairytale endings too. We deserve to go on grand adventures and spaceships and ride dragons. Retellings allow different experiences to be written into stories where before they were erased. They let us say: this belongs to everyone. I mean, I guess I’m talking more about older works of literature. In those not everything translates the same way as it would have done at the time. The audience reaction changes, you know?

I think that part of the reason I do like fanfiction (although I can’t deny that itS many flaws) is because I can read happy stories with queer characters. I guess it’s another kind of retelling, in a way. If I’m irritated at a book with no diversity — I still maintain that Keira Cass’ The Selection would have been 100% better with queer characters; SO MANY OPPURTUNITIES — then I can go and read something where the girl does end up with the girl. And they fight supercomputers together and save the world.. I can read stories about agender space pirates. I can read stories about asexual wizards. I don’t know any books with genderqueer characters that aren’t coming out/self-discovery/self-affirming kind of thing.

Those stories are important, but I wish there were more queer characters in other narratives.  I think it’s such a shame that we don’t have more queer characters in fantasy and sci-fi, because there’s such potential in a created world. Does homophobia still exist? The gender binary? Does magic or virtual reality make it way easier to change your gender presentation. *sweeps hands* SO MANY THINGS. If you’re creating with a new world there are so many opportunities to play with dynamics in society. Like in a dystopia: where there’s prejudice between, like, people of a different District, is it okay to be queer in the Capitol? I don’t understand why people can be perfectly okay reading about aliens and elves but say that being non-binary doesn’t exist. *scowls*

Overall: KEEP RETELLING ALL THE THINGS. Make it something that shows me something new about the original trope. Because I do not want to read another straight we’re-playing-Romeo-and-Juliet-in-the-school-play-and-I-have-a-crush-on-you.

do you like retellings? shakespeare fan? got any queer ya recs for me? i’d love to hear!

Generation Politically Correct? // germaine greer & freedom of speech

Apparently I am a member of Generation Z. (I have no idea what we’re going to name the generations after this, but hey.) Over the last few months I’ve been accumulating various pieces of media about how we’re all far too radical and politically correct, and this kind of culminated in me doing a whole bunch of research into attempts to no-platform speakers, most notably Germaine Greer.

Basically, there was a petition to ban Greer was banned from a Cardiff University talk for saying among other things transgender women ‘aren’t real women’. Across the issue various other people like Peter Tatchell and Mary Beard signed a petition supporting freedom of speech in unis. (Many signers later received death threats.) Although many journalists might tell you that this issue embodies how young people are destroying the concept of opinion, it’s more about the reaction of students to people being transphobic.

Okay, freedom of speech is obviously a really difficult thing to discuss: we’re supposed to be able to say what we want, but when does that become hate speech? Where do we draw the line? What’s the difference between an offensive comment and a comment born from the privileges of society? Yeah. A lot of stuff like that.

Often when people quote long words about privilege and equality and the oppression of society in comments, they’re dismissed as being ‘too Tumblr’. That attitude is sseen a bad thing, and in some ways I think it is. I am an avid Tumblr user, and I see almost daily the somewhat aggressive social justice agenda on that website. I do love it sometimes, but what frustrates me is that if you make one mistake, you are bombarded with criticisms — you’re not allowed to be ignorant. Just having no malicious intention isn’t okay: it’s are you sponsoring the discrimination of society? By using this word are you supporting that prejudice? It means that often in a discussion I will stay silent rather than risk offending anyone. Even as I write this, I’m kind of hesitant because I don’t want to offend anyone. I know that I have a lot of privilege, and I can’t speak about all kinds of discrimination. I can only talk from my own viewpoint. So if you think I’m speaking out of line then please, please say.

Anyway. I digress. I’ve realised that I’m using a lot of rhetorical questions in this post… Probably because I don’t really have any of the answers. I’m just someone trying to formulate an opinion about all these other opinions. I DON’T KNOW.

Now that we’re over my small angst introduction, it’s time for me to let out some of my current frustration at Germaine Greer. You can read some of the things she’s said, which are lots of general crude comments about how trans women aren’t real women.My immediate reaction was: well, I don’t agree with you at all, and to be honest that hasn’t really changed as I’ve researched. Obviously I’m not going to agree that being trans is a delusion…? :/ I have so, so many problems with what she’s saying, and I don’t think it’s okay.

Just because a person says one problematic thing doesn’t make all their views wrong, of course. I know of Greer, but I haven’t really read anything she’s written.  Since she’s not as much of an icon for me, I suppose I’m not really inclined to defend her. Do her views on trans people make her a less desirable speaker? Does that mean she should have been banned from speaking at universities?

I mean, going back to Tumblr I think that in particular it has a habit of shutting people down as soon as they say anything slightly wrong. Sometimes these things take a bit of time and explaining rather than righteous fury. By that logic I should probably be saying that Greer shouldn’t have been banned from speaking. I think the situation has worsened by doing that; she seems to just be defending her views as before along with a whole cohort of freedom of speech advocates. This open letter to Greer is excellent, and I’d like to hope that kind of thing would be more useful. But…to be quite honest, I feel that if a uni wants to ban her they can. There’s a difference between a casual person on the internet and an official speaker saying hateful things, you know? I personally wouldn’t have gone to a talk with someone who says things like this. Although: allowing institutions to accept this kind of transphobia isn’t cool, but perhaps it was not the decision of the institution to make the ban. I think it was the whole student union trying to ban her?  But I guess I don’t know enough about the role of unis and their relation to visiting speakers.

I am frustrated that a lot of people have spoken up saying this shows how young people always shutting down any dissent or debate. We apparently don’t want to hear any opinion to ours. It is a problem, but that’s not the whole story.  It’s not always because we don’t want to hear any different opinions. Usually it’s because we don’t think you garner respect or responsibility from misinformed views and hurtful words. We’re changing, alright? Yeah, maybe it’s not okay for you to call someone’s identity a delusion anymore. I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Look at all these far too radical and politically correct students! How dare they!

Having said this, that doesn’t make it acceptable to attack people in response. Many people who signed a petition for freedom of speech in universities received death threats. I know you might be angry, but those actions are also not cool. And they’re not going to persuade people of anything, if that’s the aim. To give this a Les Mis allegory: We need to leave the Valjean eye for an eye/several limbs phase and move into a slightly more forgiving mindset, I think.

I think there’s a lot more I could talk about on this topic. Maybe I gave myself too broad a headline. Because there’s SO MUCH. This opens a whole span of issues about the words we use and how we deal with inclusivity. I’ll probably have to write something else in the future. But I’ve looked at a crazy amount of articles for the moment, so I’d like to hear what you think.

should we be able to ban speakers from universities? what do you think about germaine greer’s comments? how do we draw the line between freedom of speech and hate speech?

But Netball’s For Girls! // gender and school sport

I go to a co-ed school. Mostly, it’s pretty good at being welcoming to all genders — we aren’t separated for any academic classes, and you aren’t particularly encouraged/discouraged into anything because of your gender. This is with the obvious exception of sport.

For some reason I’ve always directed my general frustration with school at sport. I’ve never been good at team sports, so I spent most of my primary school days being told to practice shooting in the corner as the A team was coached. It’s definitely better now, but there’s still a massive gap between boys’ and girls’ sport.We do play hockey, tennis, and water polo mixed, which is great. But continuing down the list: girls do netball, dance, fitness, and rounders. Boys do football, fives, cricket, and occasionally softball. I quite honestly cannot fathom the reasons for this…?

I often see the ‘males have a biological advantage over females’ argument put forward. I don’t actually know the science of that, but top male athletes do perform better than female athletes. Still: I would like to know the strength required to play fives. Obviously women could never be physically capable of patting a ball against a wall. It couldn’t possibly be because fives is a sport almost exclusively invented and played by public schoolboys. Of course not. -_-

It’s not just girls wanted to play ‘male’ sports. I know a lot of boys who’ve expressed interest in playing netball or rounders. (Although there are probably also many who would only play it as a joke, so that’s not the best argument.) I detest the idea that girls must do fitness but boys are…I don’t know, already fit. Encouraging gender stereotypes doesn’t help anyone, and it certainly doesn’t teach values of equality to your pupils.

And  all this discussion discounts the existence of non-binary pupils. Let’s just remember that non-binary genders aren’t even recognised under UK law, fabulous! Which apparently doesn’t result in ‘any specific detriment’. Apart from the obvious detriment of being forced to choose a gender that doesn’t represent you, and effectively being told that your identity isn’t as worthy as someone else’s. Not being able to access the right healthcare. Not being able to choose the correct title. Not being able to apply for jobs, courses, use public services because they require presentation of ID that only has two gender options. (I found some of these in this article, where you can also find many other quotes about the Ministry of Justice’s statement and living as a non-binary person in Britain.) It also means that there’s very little awareness of non-binary identities, and schools probably aren’t going to start doing things to support pupils who don’t identify as either male or female.

Sports, like many others things, is just very linked to the gender binary, since the divisions are based on sex and physiological advantage. Maybe with the exception of roller derby, which I really recommend you check out because it altogether seems pretty cool. I don’t know how we’d solve that. I probably wouldn’t want all my sports lessons mixed. I know that I’d be uncomfortable around many boys, because they have harassed me and I really just don’t like them as people. (I guess I deal with them in class, though?) A lot of young people — and above, too — are embarrassed of their bodies. They don’t want to be around the ‘opposite’ gender, and it’s difficult to just force that to happen, you know? Maybe it’s better when you’re in a sports team with fellow players who respect you, but I’m unlikely to ever be in a position. But then again: mixed teams are going well, so maybe we should just take the lessons together and be done with it.

It’s difficult. I know that I’m pointing out everything that’s wrong and not providing very good solutions. In general the state of Britain and current UK politics is pretty depressing right now. Still: to be honest, teaching fives to girls and netball to boys wouldn’t be that difficult. Neither would legally recognising non-binary genders. *coughs* But though I don’t know if there’s a perfect solution to gender and sport, I hope that it’s something we continue to explore and improve.

The Problem With the Strong Female Protagonist™

strong female protagonist2

You’re sassy, physically strong and person most likely to kick butt. You are Not Like Other Girls. You probably don’t like ‘girly’ things. But you’re in a love triangle with two guys either way. They’re in love with your unique bravery unlike any other bravery. Introducing: the Strong Female Protagonist™. *movie trailer voice*

I see the topic of ‘strong female protagonist’ come up a lot in discussions about books and feminism. I’d be a hypocrite if I said I didn’t enjoy any characters like this. I love Katniss Everdeen! I love Alina Starkov! I was always looking for girls having adventures when I was younger. I think this trope sprang from the typical weak damsel in distress figure (particularly in fantasy) and I have no inherent problem with it.

But. But. I often feel like now the only way to have a strong female character is to have a Strong Female Protagonist™. I see double standards from female readers: if male characters show weakness, it’s cute and makes the reader feel protective. If a female character shows weakness, she’s whiny. (I’m not ridding myself of blame. I’ve done this too, though I’m trying to be more aware of it.) Case in point: the Raven Cycle. I adore Blue Sargent with all of my heart, yet so many people say “She’s not a feminist; she lets Gansey call her Jane!1!!” but will ignore the assholery of the Raven Boys themselves. NONE OF US ARE PERFECT PEOPLE. I’m not a perfect feminist. Not all fictional characters are mouthpieces for the views of the authors.

Girls who want to be traditionally feminine are not weak female characters. A feminist character is just a well-rounded, realistic character rather than a cookie cutter stereotype. We’re all people.  In my eyes, a strongly written female character equates a strong female character! I think it’s very important to realise bravery manifests itself in different place, but I also want people to remember that not everyone is brave. I want cowardly and villainous characters as well as brave ones. Girls don’t have to act masculine to be strong.

I think the response to some female characters has made me like them more. (Always rooting for the underdog, me.) And I especially like to be angrily in love with characters. I will protect Agatha Wellbelove with every part of my soul; the backlash she’s received from the fandom has only made me like her more. AGATHA IS WEAK? Please. She literally tells Simon she doesn’t want to be an object to be possessed. That’s not weak. That’s bloody brave. I cannot fathom it. Of course I adore Penny too, and I like that she has to reconcile herself with the idea that feminism = giving people a choice. I liked the exploration of that — “What if I want the gingerbread men to be pink?” — but I think Agatha has been interpreted in different ways.

There are countless quieter female characters that I wish weren’t left aside or even demonised so: Eliza Hamilton, Genya Safin, Cosette Fauchelevent. (I’ve seen Sansa/Arya comparisons for this argument, but I’ve only read half the first book. So I don’t feel very qualified to make a judgement.) Cath Avery might on the surface seem like she fits into this, but I feel like SO many readers of Fangirl really saw ourselves in her. And it’s contemporary, which I feel is a little more ‘allowed’.

Fantasy and dystopia in particular seem to see the Strong Female Protagonist™ as a necessity. High fantasy draws a lot on history for its worldbuilding, and history does tend to be patriarchal. In this setting women are typically inferior, meaning the way to be strong is to act like a man. I’m just…a bit tired of that brand of medieval European high fantasy. Authors: it’s ok, you’re allowed to be creative! Obviously sexism still exists in modern-day world so, you know, you don’t have to turn it into a totally equal utopian society. Most books are based around conflict. But hopefully we’ll be seeing more books playing around with and further exploring the various balances of power in the future.

I don’t want Strong Female Protagonists™.  We never say that we’re looking for strong male characters; they’re just accepted as such. I want to see complex and rounded female characters within interesting novels. After all, women are people too.

further reading:

  • Women in fantasy Guardian books podcast — featuring Lucy Saxon, Samantha Shannon, Alwyn Hamilton and Sally Green. I highly encourage you to listen to the whole thing if you have a spare moment, but the particular discussion of this topic is at about 7:30 mins in.
  • Women Are People Too by Jupe @ The Awkward Dragon (plus the Savannah Brown video that inspired the post) — a discussion of femininity and “I’m not like other girls.”

what do you think about kick-ass female heroines? love them, like them, hate them? any other tropes that rile you up?

Les Mis v Hamilton

les mis v hamilton final

Two musicals, alike in revolution-ing… Which one is the better? Today I’m joined by the wonderful Evi @ Adventuring Through Pages to present to you the arguments for superiority of two fandoms featuring real historical revolutions: Les Misérables and Hamilton!

team les mis

Hi there! It’s Evi from Adventuring Through Pages! Eve is amazing, and I’m so eager to do this with her. I am covering Les Misérables, as you can see, though it was kinda hard to choose because asldkhflsdk THEY ARE BOTH AMAZING. (Note: this is all, obviously, in good fun. We’re just both massive geeks. 😀 )

1. While Les Mis is set canonically later than Hamilton…we’ve been around a lot longer

Les Misérables was published in 1862, and the musical opened in Paris  in 1980 – its very first performance – and has been around and loved since then. EVERYBODY has heard of Les Mis. It has performed in 44 countries, schools all over the place, and 347 cities. It’s even been made into the 2012 movie! So I think that we technically get authority credit for being so well-loved as compared to these young whippersnappers with their rapping and odd dance moves.

2.The characters are THE BEST

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t say it outright in the book…but Marius is a huge dork, Cosette is the literal cinnamon roll™, Valjean is the best father figure, and the Amis- even though they’re totally epic revolutionaries- all have so many intense personalities. Javert himself is one of the most complex characters on the planet- like, he’s a good guy…but he also wants to get rid of the main character, so that proves a bit difficult. The Thenardiers are an odd bunch as well, because literally everybody hates them but they are also massive comedic relief in the musical & movie. There’s more adorableness and less sass-and-relationship-drama-and-battle-issues-and-people-who-are-literally-the-phrase-“fight-me” as seen in Hamilton.

(Also tiny Cosette is adorable let’s face it she is)

3.The style of music is more classic and appeals to a larger crowd

While there is a lot to be said about Hamilton’s uniqueness in music style, Les Mis has a more classic, traditional style that appeals to a larger crowd than just those who enjoy rap/hip-hop. There are love songs, there are angry stirring fight-y songs, there are saddening but hopeful finale music, and there are dramatic self-reflection songs that may or may not result in you falling into a river. There’s music for everyone in it!

Also, one of my personal favorite things about Les Mis is how much there are common musical melodies that get repeated over and over in different ways. Leitmotifs are a common theme in musicals, I just think it’s really evident in Les Mis and that’s something I love.

4.The fandom is kind of ginormous and also really friendly

Because the Les Mis fandom has literally been around for nearly 200 years…it’s kind of huge. People of all ages and backgrounds love it (in fact, the musical has been translated into 22 different languages)! And because there’s not much to argue about, the fandom as a whole is really nice. There’s amazing fanart and funny textpost compilations and fan-made videos of people singing medleys. There is just so much to explore that Hamilton doesn’t yet have (though personally I hope it gets there).

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source: imgur

(so maybe it attempts to consume your entire life hahaha it’s alright you’ll be okay)

5. You learn A LOT from the book

I…knew very little about French history and their failed revolutions and basically ANYTHING until I read Les Misérables. So it’s a history lesson AND a book of ginormous emotions and pretty words all in one! I mean, we have a book (Les Mis is separated into volumes, then books, then chapters) on France’s historical sewer systems. I know what every character looks like and how much Bishop Myriel spends on his charities and personal expenses (15,000 livres, if you’re curious). I know that Marius Pontmercy apparently has “well-opened and passionate nostrils” (Chapter One of the sixth book of the third volume). I know that Jean “Jehan” Prouvaire plays the flute. Essentially, if you take away the fact that it is the basis for the musical and all that, Les Misérables is the book every fan wants- an in-depth discussion of EVERYTHING that happened and WHO each character is and WHAT they like to do in their free time and EXACTLY HOW well-opened their nostrils are. It’s a ginormous companion book that isn’t, y’know, actually a companion book. Let it never be said that you don’t come away from Les Mis learning a lot.

team hamilton
This is Eve here! MAN AM I READY FOR THIS FIGHT. *cracks knuckles* Although like Evi said, I absolutely stress that I don’t actually want to physically fight you or anything. I love both fandoms like crazy. (As you all probably know by now!)

1. The music and lyrics are AMAZING

Hamilton is just an exceedingly well-composed musical. And exceedingly well-written. Not only does each character have their own musical motifs; they also have a distinctive style of lyrics. It makes my musical side extremely pleased. *sighs happily* Hamilton just has such a unique style of music and lyrics and sooo many fabulous songs asdfjkl. They’re CRAZY DAMN CATCHY.

JEFFERSON: I’m in the cabinet. I am complicit in
Watching him grabbin’ at power and kissin’ it
If Washington isn’t gon’ listen
To disciplined dissidents, this is the difference:
This kid is out!

Have you seen these lyrics?!??? I CAN’T EVEN IT’S SO GREAT.

2. It appeals to a wide audience

Musical theatre people? History people? Students? Teachers? HAMILTON APPEALS TO ALL THESE PEOPLE. And it’s also brought in a more mainstream audience — I mean, you could hear its songs on the radio. And hopefully you will. It’s so great to see people who wouldn’t normally be interested suddenly LOVE something. (I, at least, have developed a weird interest in US history. *coughs*) I think this fact — the transformation of what is for some an incredibly boring subject into something everyone can enjoy — shows something very special.

3. Lin Manuel-Miranda is super cool

Victor Hugo was…a bit of an egotistical asshole. He thought he was an amazing prodigy. He probably wrote his own memoir under his wife’s name. Obviously I don’t know LMM (the writer/Alex Hamilton) personally, but he just seems like a Genuinely Nice Guy™. He makes nerdy musical references! He responds and joins in which the fandom! He makes stupid vines ! He has also written another great musical called In the Heights! He and the cast give us Ham4Ham shows with cheap tickets and free fabulous music when they really, really don’t have to. It feels a lot better to like something made by wonderful people doing wonderful things.

ladies of hamilton ham4ham
LOOK AT THE AWESOME CAST BEING AWESOME (source)

4. The revolution survives, as do (some of) your faves

i’m not crying there’s just rain on my face Les Mis details the July uprising of 1832, which…well. It failed. Everyone died. Yep. Hamilton is about the War of Independence in the USA, which obviously didn’t fail because it’s still independent. This particular band of revolutionaries actually manages to get its act together and you’re not (immediately) left crying. I mean, everyone has to die in the end because this was 200 years ago and even asshole revolutionaries are not immortal. But within the musical, a decent amount of people survive! Hurrah for less emotional scarring!

5. Actual history = SO MUCH CANON

Les Mis was published in 1865? ALEXANDER HAMILTON WAS BORN IN 1755, SUCKERS. HA. Les Mis is based on a novel? So is Hamilton. (It was inspired by Ron Chernow’s biography.) You can read historical documents; letters from Hamilton to Laurens, Jefferson to Madison, Angelica to Hamilton; the actual Federalist papers; years and years of historical analysis. You might even study him at school! (Alas, not I, but I live in hope.) Hamilton’s legacy is visible in the USA today. He’s on the 10$ bills. I refuse to believe there is more Les Mis fandom to explore, thanks.

thanks so much for writing this with me, evi! now it’s your turn: whose argument was more persuasive? which fandom do YOU choose?

Good Grades = Job = Money = Happiness?

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I recently read Alice Oseman’s Radio Silence. I thought it was a fabulous novel — I loved the characters and the plot and I could talk a lot more about those — but the message of education particularly caught me/

Frances, the protagonist, has only one goal: studying English at Cambridge university. It’s all she’s ever wanted. And…her story really struck a chord with me. I’m quite an academic person, and I tend to be good at exams. But I don’t feel — like I’ve worked that hard for that, you know? Obviously I do revise. Yet I it isn’t like like I’ve poured my soul into it. I hate that my academic success can be the only thing that defines me. I’m the smart, quiet girl.

Of course I’m incredibly grateful that by some miracle I slightly understand exams. (I feel extremely arrogant for saying that. I REALLY DON’T MEAN IT TO SOUND THAT WAY.) So much of our life depends on them, yet I don’t feel particularly pleased with the school system; even as it’s benefitting me. I don’t like that my entire life is focused and depends on a few hours in an exam hall. I’ll be the first to stress that being good at exams is not the same as being intelligent. People tell me that “It’s easy for me to say,” since I’m the one getting good grades. But I don’t feel intelligent because I made up some waffle English analysis. I really dislike seeing that genuinely clever people are upset by feeling worthless just because they didn’t get a good mark in an exam. It seems incredibly upsetting and anxiety-provoking.

A lot of people think I love English. It’s true that I do love words. That does not mean I  want to study English at A-Level or university. I don’t enjoy analysing books. I like writing, but I feel like it’s something you can hone alone. As far as I can see creativity is sucked more and more out of the school English curriculum as you progress. I don’t want to spoil Radio Silence for you, but I really appreciated the message that uni isn’t for everyone. It’s okay to want to do other stuff. You don’t have to take the one that will look best to other people.

I would like my entire school life to not be focused around getting a job. Of course that’s super important to support yourself as an adult, but I’m not living just to earn money and survive. I’m not learning just to earn money. If I enjoy a subject, odds are it’s because I’m interested. I just want to learn it! I want to make new discoveries and find elegant methods and analysis or ANYTHING. Doing everything for a job is like…doing everything for money. They’re very closely linked. Having a job and money does not equal happiness.

We all like books about adventures, or with wonderful character relationships. Characters who just sit there and work hard are deemed boring goody two-shoes, even if we’re told studying is a good thing. And I know life isn’t a book. I wish people would remember that life isn’t spending all your time in a textbook, either.

It’s amazing that I’ve had the oppurtunities I do — I mean, I go to a good school (and I can go to school). I know I’m addressing all the problems with no solutions, but still: I feel like there should be some better way to do thing. With less of a focus on academia and exams, or something. School can be so stress-inducing. (It’s probably the number one source of anxiety for me, at least.) I wish that we weren’t told that we have to do everything in order to go to uni and get a good job and earn money. Our lives are not defined by a letter on a piece of paper.*

*OR MAYBE A NUMBER. If they change the grade system like they’re planning to, because everyone needs confusing more.  Ahem.

what do you think about school? do you find exams stressful? have you read radio silence? (YOU ALL TOTALLY SHOULD; it’s fabulous.)