Thursday, December 31, 2009

Young children's programmes

Recently I read some information about TV programmes targetted to young children. Programmes exclusively directed at young girls didn't appear until the early 1980s. Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony being the first two that contained all-girl characters and in settings that were unmistakenly feminine. The literature stated that before this time, young girls had to cross-over into the masculine domain and watch shows that were all about boys and boys adventures. This also meant that girls had to watch masculine based storylines and plots. Of particular note are characters set in eternal conflict with each other, such as Sylvester and Tweetie, RoadRunner and Coyote, Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.

But Strawberry Shortcake and My Little Pony, directly aimed at little girls, had storylines and plots that minimised conflict and highlighted friendships, relationships, feelings and sharing. My Little Pony was different in that its setting was outside. Prior to this nearly all female characters were placed inside and were affiliated with their male counterparts. Characters such as Daisy Duck, Minnie Mouse who were given high heeled shoes and voluptuous breasts were relegated mostly to inside (domestic) and affiliated with a love interest. Miss Piggy broke this mold somewhat, as in being assertive and outside/sporty but remained fixated with Kermit and was given enormous breasts, and in fact, her sexuality has been used as an asset and somewhat exploited. Even Pebbles, as a baby, was silent, and had her eyes on Bamm-Bamm, who was loud and noisy. I also learned that in the past, any female icon used to sell products/games/toys has spelt doom and hence, all icons associated with products, such as Ronald McDonald have remained male. This brought me to remembering characters from my childhood, such as Humphrey B Bear and Fat Cat, and guess what? They all turned out to be male characters.

So, with some history of young children's shows, I decided to watch a few days of what's available today, and was surprised to learn that not much has changed. Female characters are still mostly indoors, aligned with domestics, offered up as love interests (usually to the main male character), are given supporting roles only, or are used to resolve the conflict and chaos created by the male characters. There was one exception. Dora the Explorer. From what I could find Dora is the only female lead character that does not rely on male characters to help her out, or is in love with any of them, is not sexualised, makes all her own decisions and uses resources around her to get where she needs to be. But since Dora hit the screens, we have seen Go Diego Go! which is a male version of Dora, and in Diego's series Dora appears as his side-kick, not as a central figure. I'm unsure if Diego appears in Dora's series as a secondary figure.

Here's a run-down of some of the shows I managed to analyse:

Shaun the Sheep - male, outside, adventurous, mischevious, resourceful. The two female characters are Shirley who is extremely fat and eats everything, and a mother sheep with a baby and is characterised by having curlers in her hair.
Andy Pandy - male, adventurous and all other characters are male, except Lindy Lou who provides biscuits and Missy Hissy who is a snake.
Bill and Ben - male, outside, adventurous, mischevious and very resourceful. There are now 12 characters in Bill and Ben, and the three static characters of Rose, Thistle and Little Weed are all female.
Little Einsteins - rocket is the main character and is referred to as a "he". The four "little Einsteins" characters of 2 girls and 2 boys play supporting roles only, and it is Rocket that is given hero status.
Imagination Movers - 4 male lead characters who do all the imagining, with a boring Uncle who is accompanied by a female who is his secretary. The 2nd series gives the token female a bit more autonomy than the first series where she was relegated to smiling nicely and not saying very much. She is a major support role for the most boring character in the series.
My Friends Tigger and Pooh - all male cast, except for Darby who is a girl. Her role is a major facilitator in keeping the group of friends in harmony and sorting out any problems they may have assisted by Pooh, Piglet and Tigger.
Charlie and Lola - both male and female and additional characters are added in a 50/50 mix of male and female. While it seems that Lola is the main character in this series, the stories are actually Charlies. Each episode (and book) starts with "I have this little sister Lola, she is small and very funny." Thus putting the setting of the differences between the siblings right out in front.
Fifi and the Flower Tots - mostly female cast. Other than Bumble who is a close friend and helper to Fifi the other 2 male characters (Stingos and side-kick) are "baddies" and need to be put in their place, usually by Fifi who takes on the responsibility for their bad behaviour and tells them the error of their ways.
Bo on the Go - female. This show almost does a Dora. Only almost in that whenever Bo reaches a problem, she conjures up a male wizard who gives her the answer.
Odd Jobbers - male, with the only females in the show I watched given domestic roles.
Mickey Mouse Clubhouse - all male, except for Daisy and Minnie, as mentioned earlier, only in the more modern series, their breasts have been removed. They still have high heeled shoes and the bows in their hair have taken on unbelievable dimensions.
Bob the Builder - male, and in charge and in a male working role. Wendy is Bob's support character, who at times, will take on the responsibility of organising him and is his sometime love interest. The other female character is a cement mixer named Dizzy.
Handy Manny - male and in charge and in a male working role. Some tools in his box are female.
Roary the Racing Car, Brumm, and there's one about a fire engine who's learning the ropes - all male.

After doing this analysis on animated pre-school and early school aged programmes, I came to the conclusion that not too much has changed since before the 1980s. Male roles are overwhelmingly situated outside, adventurous, mischevious, chaotic, disorganised, mobile, in charge, in working roles of traditional breadwinners, domestically challenged, assertive and sometimes aggressive, scheming and plotting for personal gain.

On the other hand, female characters are overwhelmingly in supporting roles to male leading characters, in that they are either affiliated with them as a love interest, as their secretary and organiser, and/or as "fix-its" so that the male characters don't experience the full consequences of their actions. In situations when they do experience consequences it has been the action of the female characters that have brought their deeds to light. Some female characters are excessively passive, in that they can't move, and are often depicted in domestic roles of providing biscuits, cooking, making up the picnic basket and/or indoors baking. Violet and Primrose in Fifi and the Flowertots are locked in a competition of looks and vanity.

The only exception is Dora the Explorer and to a lesser extent, Bo on the Go. Programmes designed for young children conform to strong gender roles and depict storylines and characters within the confines of social expectations of what girls and boys should, or should not, be doing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Movie Review - Monsters Vs Aliens

I downloaded this off Foxtel the other day, and was quite disappointed with it. I knew Miss S had already seen it, she said she liked it, so I thought I'd watch it with her. After the first 20 minutes I really wanted to just switch it off, but was fascinated to see how worse it could actually get.

Here's the summary of what I saw.
One of the opening scenes has the bride being told by husband-to-be that he won't be taking her to Paris as promised, but they would be going to Fresno instead, because his job is more important. She reluctantly accepts this and I pick up on how her passivity hasn't even attempted to be disguised.

During her wedding ceremony she grows into a giant and nobody shows real concern for her. Everyone runs away including those who are supposed to love her, such as her fiance and her mother.

She is captured and taken to a facility where she is imprisoned. The head prison keeper arrives through a trapdoor on a personal flying contraption. She's trapped, upset, afraid, and confused. He laughs at her while he's circling around her head, making fun of her while she sobs. With full control over where he flies, he is free to come and go at will. She is curled up in the corner. So, I'm thinking, hmmm....woman=imprisoned, man=freedom of movement. We learn that the Government has captured her, that this is where she will live for the rest of her life and that she is a "monster". To confirm her monstrous status, although she actually looks picture-perfect-sexy, her prison companions are a giant insect, a slimy newt type creature, a wise-cracking man-come-cockroach and a ball of slime. I have trouble equating how a giant-sized sexy-looking young woman fits in with the other creatures. The connection eludes me.

However, an alien has come to take over Earth and our "monstrous" woman and her monster companions are freed with the job of getting rid of the alien. They are dumped in front of the large metallic alien. The giant woman has not been told of her mission, BTW, but she comes to the party and starts to fight the alien, but her companions do next to nothing. She has super strength, becomes angry, uses resources, is assertive, gives directions/orders to others and eventually saves some people. So, I'm thinking, right, the producers had to equate her to being monstrous before they could put strength into her character. I remembered how passive she was when she was a "normal" woman.

The President tries to seduce the alien with some music. His level of authority and power is demonstrated by how he brings with him hoardes of admirers - all men. The usual red carpet is put out and he is cheered on. In this scene the President actually fails at doing winning over the alien so he resorts to violence. He'd brought the army with him anyway, and they had all the right equipment to shoot and bomb the alien. Even though they do not succeed the scene is full of men all doing what men appear to do best in movies - shoot at things (or people), with the intent to kill.

Then there's the scenes where the President and all his advisers are in conference. In these scenes there are 2 women, one is used to make some sort of inane comment that is not given any credibility, and the other woman, continues to scream hysterically and is in fact, ordered out of the room, by the man in charge.

At this stage, about 45 mins into the movie, I'm intensely aware that all characters who have power are ALL men, and that the one woman who does display any sort of power has been aligned with, and portrayed as a monster. This type of thing is what fairytales are made up of. Men who use resources, show assertiveness, display anger and get upset are given positions of activity, movement and power, while any woman who does the same is aligned with evil and wickedness. In fairytales, and as with this movie, the one and only woman who has movement, and the power to save the earth, is told she is disgusting, unrecognisable and nobody wants to associate with her - even her family. Yeah, her fiance turned out to be a "stupid jerk". Something which our heroine recognises at the end of the movie. In the meantime, nobody seems to care about her at all. Her family has abandoned her and her mother and father show her minimal concern over her predicament.

At one stage, her giant-ness is removed from her and she once again becomes an ineffective, passive woman. But in order to save her fellow monsters, she voluntarily turns herself back into a "monster".

When the closing credits came up on the screen, I had an overwhelming feeling that the creators had not put much thought into the movie at all. The storyline was weak, and the stereotypes were strong. I was surprised to learn it was brought to us by those who made Shrek. Since Shrek challenges a number of stereotypes with creativity, I wonder what has changed in the Shrek team.

This type of movie, made for our kids, leaves me with no doubts that our children are inculcated with gender stereotypes and expectations from a young age.

Over the hump!

Well, that's the second year of a four year University double degree completed. I was stoked with my results. I got a High Distinction for Social Planning, a High Distinction for Demography and a Distinction for Geography - People and Space. I found the Geography topic the most interesting as well, mind you, the major assignment for Social Planning was about Hoon Driving and that led me into reading up quite a bit (even if there is not much written about it) about the social construct of masculinity and some history of the car.

So, this year I attained all up three High Distinctions, 2 Distinctions and a Credit. With a grade point average of 6.10 (out of 7) I'm well on the path to be offered Honours and to go on and complete (eventually) a Doctorate.

Exciting times. Now, all I need is some work for during the break!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Power of Intermittent Reinforcement

There's one theory about human behaviour which is based on the idea that people do what they do because their actions create either positive rewards or negative consequences. The notion is that whenever an action reaps a positive reward then an individual will be motivated to continue with that action. The converse also applies, if an individual receives a negative consequence to some action, then supposedly, the individual will cease doing that activity. This is referred to as the power of positive reinforcement and since it's one of the theories about how humans live their lives, you'll find that our legal and judicial system is based on this theory - if you do something wrong you will be punished, and then theoretically, you'll be dissuaded to never do "wrong" things again, or at least that one wrong thing that you did.

If the memory of my Psychology 101 classes serves me correctly, it was a psychologist called Skinner who proved (or created) this theory by using rats and a Skinner Box. Essentially, it's about 3 rats in separate cages. Inside the cages are levers, that when depressed, dispense a pellet of food. In the first cage the lever delivers a pellet of food each time it is pressed. The rat soon learns this is a constant source of food and nourishment and eventually learns that it can depend on the lever to dispense a pellet each time the rat needs one. So this rat, in cage 1, lives a pretty healthy and carefree life, running around on his treadmill, and getting food whenever he wishes. One could say the rat has developed a healthy attachment to the food lever. In the 2nd cage, the lever never dispenses any food. The rat soon learns that this is not a way to get food, so quickly dismisses the lever, which has no meaning to the rat, and seeks nourishment elsewhere. In the 3rd cage the lever, when pressed, dispenses with food only some of the time. The rat, rewarded once by the lever, presses it again. Nothing. Presses it again, nothing. But a third try, and a pellet of food is dispensed. So the rat, still hungry, presses the lever again, but nothing happens, in fact, nothing happens for about 20 depresses, then a pellet is dispensed. Do you know what happens to this rat? Over a period of time the rat becomes obsessed with pressing the lever. So much so that the rat doesn't walk away and go play on it's treadmill or other items in the cage. The rat doesn't even try to drink. In some experiments some rats died from a) exhaustion, b) dehydration, and c) starvation (if not enough pellets were dispensed). In other words, the rat is so focussed and obsessed with intermittent reinforcement that it's attachment to the lever is all encompassing and is unhealthy (to the observer, but not to the rat). It's the same dynamic that pokie machines work on. In fact, pokie machine manufacturers hire hoardes of psychologists to find out the best combinations to get people to become obsessed with their machines. But I digress.

So, out of each scenario, which one do you think creates the strongest attachment, and which scenario creates the attachment which is the hardest and longest to break? It's the intermittent reinforcement. Now, change the rats to small children, and change the lever that gives nourishment into a parent. If a parent gives love and emotional nourishment each time a child requires it, then that parent becomes a reliable source and the child is free to grow, to roam, to be creative and be safe in the knowledge that the parent will always provide for it's needs. In other words, the child grows up in a healthy environment and in turn, becomes an emotionally healthy adult. In this sense, the positive reinforcement theory becomes a part of attachment theory. Now, what about the parent that never shows emotional nourishment, love or caring? The child soon learns this is not a place to receive their basic needs and searches elsewhere, and one would hope finds it in another care-giver or parent. But what about the parent that shows caring, love and emotional nurturance only some of the time? At other times, the parent ignores the child or forces the child to request and beg for positive attention. Or the parent becomes competitive with the child and only gives positive reinforcement some of the time - like when it suits the parents desires. What would you think occurs in the child then? What would a child think and how would it act if a parent sulks or withholds because the child does not do something the adult wishes it to, or doesn't do it right? They become obsessed with winning that parents love and affection. It is particularly evident to an observer, but not to the parent or the child involved. They both read the situation differently. Just like the rat did - even up to it's untimely death.

This is something I read about recently and am somewhat intrigued by it. Because it explains a number of things. I've written before about how parents can be abusive. There are three main types of parenting, and one of them is the disengaged or uninvolved parent. These parents are abusive and consider their children to be in charge of fulfilling the adults emotional needs, rather than the other way around. If the child fails to do this, the parent sulks, or has a tantrum, probably screams and yells, probably insults the child, or generally becomes "mad" at them, and hence removes their affection. I'd have to say that sulking is the worst. But at other times the parent reacts positively to the child. Thus starts the cycle of the child becoming obsessed with winning the parents love. We all know that inconsistent parenting is harmful to a child's long term emotional development and healthy adult relationships. The positive reinforcement theory simply upholds this, and explains in a very clear way why some children do what they do.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

A very sporty time

Stephanie recently had her sports day at school. After a short postponement due to very hot weather, we enjoyed a refreshingly cool breeze during the morning her sports morning. Stephanie had learned her lines for her team cheer off by heart and was really proud that she had done so. She was in McLaren team with yellow as the team colour. The pictures here are of her in the relay where her team won 3rd place and a fantastic photo I managed to get of her in the long jump. I reckon she was the best girl in this event and she did marvellously.

Then last Saturday we had her gymnastics presentation. All the kids were put into groups of 6 and did three exercises they were scored on. Stephanie said she wanted to do the beam the most and she won 3rd place in her group for this. She also won 4th place in the parallel bars. The other exercise she did was floor activities and she didn't get a mention in that, but she didn't care, as that wasn't her favourite thing to do anyway, despite how many times she tries to do cartwheels.

She felt a bit nervous about going, but once there she thoroughly enjoyed herself. All the kids also got a medal which was really good, and Stephanie says she really wants to continue with gymnastics. I feel so proud of her, she did so well. Many times she had a big grin on her face.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Plasma TVs and pregnancy

What is it with Plasma TVs and having babies? What is the correlation between them? Well, according to what seems the majority of the population, it all has to do with the Baby Bonus. How's that? I hear, and I'm so glad that you asked.

I've told anybody who cares to listen that I'm doing an essay on fertility trends. This is usually only how far I get. Because at this stage I'm generally interrupted with a comment that goes along the lines of, "Well, if the Govt wants to stop the population explosion they'll have to stop giving out the Baby Bonus so that all those young kids having kids themselves will stop buying Plasma TVs." This comment comes from all socio-economic classes of all ages right across the population spectrum, this stereotype is uttered. And you know what? I think that most people actually believe it. Needless to say, there is not one study that correlates sales of Plasma TVs to young pregnant people, nor are there any studies that even credit increased births to young people per se.

But since I'm poking the elephant in the room and challenging stereotypes it's worth noting that the Baby Bonus was introduced in 2004 and the trend in increased births began in 2001. So, it's highly unlikely that the Baby Bonus has much to do with Australia's increased fertility rate. Secondly, it's the age group of 30 - 39 year olds that have contributed to the increased trend in births since 2001 - pulling the Total Fertility Rate up from 1.73 per woman in 2001 to 1.93 in 2008 (the Total Fertility Rate is the number of babies any woman can be expected to have in her reproductive life-span). BTW, the TFR must be at 2.1 for population replacement, so the Govt still does want us women to keep on having more babies than we currently are. And while there has been a small increase in teenage pregnancies, the statistics show that terminations amongst our teens are much higher than births, so financial incentive is ineffective in this age group as well as those under 30 years.

So, there you have it. In a nutshell. Before you hear of anyone touting about how "young" mothers are rorting the system to deck themselves out with luxury items, think again. It's a stereotype that has no basis. It's fiction - all of it. Perhaps some retail outlet that sells high-end TVs started the rumour in an effort to boost sales? Who knows how the rumour started, but from what I have witnessed, it's widely entrenched throughout our society.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Poking the Elephant in the Room

I think my blog is long overdue for another post. I finished the first semester of Uni with some good results. High Distinction for Women's Studies which I absolutely loved, Distinction for Human Social Development and a Credit for Access and Equity. I enjoyed all of them but it doesn't look like Semester 2 will shape up to quite as interesting. Still, it's early yet.

I've come across a great book by Stephen M Whitehead that I'm trying to get myself stuck into, but have unfortunately, not managed past page 20! That is so sad, but I'm afraid that recreational reading takes 2nd priority to all of the reading that Uni forces us to do. Most of which, I find quite interesting. Anyway, onto Whitehead's book, called Men and Masculinites to which is promising to be totally fascinating. The opening of the introduction goes:

"It is not possible to critically engage with men and masculinities without recognising two factors influencing the lives of every person on this planet. First, the relationship between women and men is not now nor ever has been, in most societies, an equitable one. Second, whatever is spoken of, by and about men, hides other agendas, other philosophies. There are no core truths to men. Once these understandings are established and acknowledged then it is far easier to move on to the harder part, which is to understand how many males come to believe in their innate superiority over women."

And this:" write of men in a critical or questioning sense is to be inevitably aligned with a larger desire for gender equality - feminism. Such scholarship recognises that men, for the most part, remain the privileged gender category so succinctly names by John Stuart Mill nearly one-and-a-half-centuries ago. While much progress has been made towards gender equity, especially in Western countries, a lot remains to be done. To be sure, feminist thinking is having an enormous influence on the subjectivities of millions of women, and a lot of men. But anyone who believes that a few decades of feminist thought and action is about to overturn centuries of ingrained prejudice, stereotype and discrimination against women is not living in the real world. Certainly, any talk of a post feminist era is decidedly premature. Perhaps we will move to such an age sometime during this millennium. If so, we will know its appearance by one assessment: that is, the question will be asked to what extent women are valued, worldwide; not just as sexual objects, domestic labour, or less costly industrial labour, but as individuals exercising power across the public and private spheres. If the answer is, from every country and cultural site, 'equal to men', then we will have postfeminism. One does not need to read this book to know that we are a long way from that scenario."

Then onto this: ", (particularly white, heterosexual, Anglo-saxon men) control, directly or indirectly, most of the world's resources, capital, media, political parties and corporations. It is difficult to imagine this group in crisis. Though the idea of a crisis can, paradoxically, be quite attractive for such men. For it posits them as victims, thus offering them a new form of validation and identity - as wounded and now under threat. In fact, a crisis of masculinity (if there could be such a thing) that challenged dominant ways of being male, resulting in men ceasing to behave violently and abusively towards women, children, other men, animals, the earth itself, would be very welcome. However, unfortunately, that particular crisis of masculinity is less visible and barely talked of."

Which leads to this:", as a gender group, are omnipresent across the social world. Are not men the very centre, the core, the drive, the universal 'mankind'? Certainly, many men have been prone to seeing themselves as such. But is being at the 'centre' the same as being 'visible'? No, for paradoxically, being at the centre can serve to hide, obfuscate, confuse, obscure. Often we do not see, through any critical lens, that which is most obvious."

And this is where I got the "Elephant in the Room" metaphor from. What this book is saying, is that the dealings of the male culture are so central to the way our society and thus our lives are arranged, that we don't view it through a critical lens. Men and (some) women, simply accept that mens' ways of being as the truth. This explains why so much responsibility is always tended to be put on women, it explains why we have victim blaming statements, it explains why our culture upholds myths and stereotypes even when they go against the results of research. It explains some long-held and ingrained beliefs about rape and that women who dress and act "provocatively" apparently "ask for it", or the more subtle, "what was she doing there (out at night) anyway?" What a sweet cop-out that is for not holding the masculinity in our society up to the critical gaze. We automatically assume that men will be violent towards women, hence, therefore, women must learn to live in fear, not go out at night, should dress and act demurely, and while we are concentrating on what women are (not) doing, we aren't holding the male behaviour in our society up for scrutiny. This attitude is pervasive and subtle throughout our culture. Once it's seen and recognised, then one can see it at work in all places at differing levels of obviousness.

Men's ways of being is the Elephant in the Room. And my motto for this year is to poke the Elephant in the Room, and see what I come up with. It should prove to be fun, and quite eye-opening I would think.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

So, really, Why Doesn't She Leave?

It's the $60,000 question, isn't it? How many times do we hear this when faced with the story of a woman who's partner treats her badly? It's something that I could say I've pretty much heard all my life, and in fact, have uttered or thought myself over the years. But more recently, I've been examining this question, giving it some critical analysis.

What has struck me most is the amount of responsibility this question puts on the person who is receiving the abuse, and let's face it, it is mostly women, so I'll stick with the term 'her' or 'she' to keep it simple. I now come to the realisation that while we ask ourselves, "Why does she put up with it?" or, "Why does she stay?", nobody pays attention to what he is doing. For me, the real question should be, "Why Doesn't HE Leave?" Seriously, why does he stay if he hates his partner so much that he has to yell at her, call her names, tell her that he hates her, puts his fist through a wall, throw a piece of furniture, kick the dog, or punch, hit, shove or choke her. Why, on earth, is he still there?

But this question is rarely posed in our conversations. We are so busy looking at the responsibility of the woman that the question of why he's being abusive is never confronted and analysed. I wonder sometimes why this is so. Ask yourself, when was the last time you thought or were asked, "Why doesn't HE leave?" when discussing a story about a woman friend who is enduring abuse from her husband/partner?

If there are children in the relationship the question "Why does she stay?" has a double burden of responsibility. Not only is the woman viewed negatively for her inaction but she's responsible for someone else's actions towards the children, and she's responsible for stopping it too. Here again, we see such an enormous focus on the woman, as the mother, yet little, if any, scrutiny is given of the man's behaviour. It would seem that she holds the burden of all this behaviour and the person who is doing the bad behaviour is hardly questioned.

This type of attitude is pervasive throughout our society, even globally. There are a number of dynamics at play, but one that I will discuss here is enculturation. We are so used to hearing stories and seeing images of men committing violence that we don't naturally think to question it. Almost everyday in our newspapers and on our televisions, we are bombarded with stories and images of war which consist of men holding a weapon, or firing off missiles. Then there's gang related shootings, bikie gang violence, public stabbings, armed bank robberies which show images of a cloaked male brandishing a rifle or gun. Images and notions of male violence are on our internet sites, in movies and throughout our video games. Each image and notion is upheld and supported through various mediums which we are exposed to each day. So, when we hear of a story of a friend of a friend who had her arm broken by her husband, we wonder, "Why does she stay?" Not, "Why on earth is he doing that, that is awful." At times we have shown more emotion at hearing of women who have been beaten for 30 or more years by their husband and how they could have put up with it for so long, than we show when listening to what he has done.

It also works the opposite way as well. TV and newspaper images of women and children distressed, injured or killed when caught in a war zone have become the norm when reports of atrocities reach us. It's as though the casualties of women and children have now become a trophy image. We've become so used to seeing this that it no longer stirs up our emotions. In other words, we are encultured to accept that men behave violently and that women (and children) will be the casualties. I propose that is why society automatically asks "Why does she stay?", without a second thought. It is because we have been force-fed to believe that the only escape from violence is to run away. And while we're running the question of who is responsible is not given the priority that it should.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Tale of Two Jokes

Well, one is not really a joke, but a story. If you want a good laugh, then read on. (I don't know who wrote it, found it on a forum post).

Pocket Tazer Stun Gun, a great gift for the wife.
A guy who purchased his lovely wife a pocket Tazer for their anniversary submitted this:
Last weekend I saw something at Larry 's Pistol & Pawn Shop that sparked my interest. The occasion was our 15th anniversary and I was looking for a little something extra for my wife Julie . What I came across was a 100,000-volt, pocket/purse- sized tazer. The effects of the tazer were supposed to be short lived, with no long-term adverse affect on your assailant, allowing her adequate time to retreat to safety....??
WAY TOO COOL! Long story short, I bought the device and brought it home. I loaded two AAA batteries in the darn thing and pushed the button. Nothing! I was disappointed. I learned, however, that if I pushed the button and pressed it against a metal surface at the same time; I'd get the blue arc of electricity darting back and forth between the prongs.


Unfortunately, I have yet to explain to Julie what that burn spot is on the face of her microwave.
Okay, so I was home alone with this new toy, thinking to myself that it couldn't be all that bad with only two triple-A batteries, right? There I sat in my recliner, my cat Gracie looking on intently (trusting little soul) while I was reading the directions and thinking that I really needed to try this thing out on a flesh & blood moving target. I must admit I thought about zapping Gracie (for a fraction of a second) and thought better of it. She is such a sweet cat. But, if I was going to give this thing to my wife to protect herself against a mugger, I did want some assurance that it would work as advertised. Am I wrong?
So, there I sat in a pair of shorts and a tank top with my reading glasses perched delicately y on the bridge of my nose, directions in one hand, and tazer in another. The directions said that a one-second burst would shock and disorient your assailant; a two-second burst was supposed to cause muscle spasms and a major loss of bodily control; a three-second burst would purportedly make your assailant flop on the ground like a fish out of water. Any burst longer than three seconds would be wasting the batteries.
All the while I'm looking at this little device measuring about 5" long, less than 3/4 inch in circumference; pretty cute really and (loaded with two itsy, bitsy triple-A batteries) thinking to myself, 'no possible way!' What happened next is almost beyond description, but I'll do my best.. .?
I'm sitting there alone, Gracie looking on with her head cocked to one side as if to say, 'don't do it dipshite,' reasoning that a one second burst from such a tiny little ole thing couldn't hurt all that bad. I decided to give myself a one second burst just for heck of it. I touched the prongs to my naked thigh, pushed the button, and . .


I'm pretty sure Jessie Ventura ran in through the side door, picked me up in the recliner, then body slammed us both on the carpet, over and over and over again. I vaguely recall waking up on my side in the fetal position, with tears in my eyes, body soaking wet, both nipples on fire, testicles nowhere to be found, with my left arm tucked under my body in the oddest position, and tingling in my legs? The cat was making meowing sounds I had never heard before, clinging to a picture frame hanging above the fireplace, obviously in an attempt to avoid getting slammed by my body flopping all over the living room.
Note: If you ever feel compelled to 'mug' yourself with a tazer, one note of caution: there is no such thing as a one second burst when you zap yourself! You will not let go of that thing until it is dislodged from your hand by a violent thrashing about on the floor.. A three second burst would be considered conservative?


A minute or so later (I can't be sure, as time was a relative thing at that point), I collected my wits (what little I had left), sat up and surveyed the landscape. My bent reading glasses were on the mantel of the fireplace. The recliner was upside down and about 8 feet or so from where it originally was. My triceps, right thigh and both nipples were still twitching. My face felt like it had been shot up with Novocain, and my bottom lip weighed 88 lbs. I had no control over the drooling.
Apparently I pooped on myself, but was too numb to know for sure and my sense of smell was gone. I saw a faint smoke cloud above my head which I believe came from my hair. I'm still looking for my nuts and I'm offering a significant reward for their safe return!

P.s... My wife, can't stop laughing about my experience, loved the gift, and now regularly threatens me with it!

Don't you just love it? Did it make you laugh?

Here's another joke that came by my inbox recently.

Tired of constantly being broke & stuck in an unhappy marriage, a young husband decided to solve both problems by taking out a large insurance policy on his wife with himself as the beneficiary, and then arranging to have her killed.

A 'friend of a friend' put him in touch with a nefarious dark-side underworld figure who went by the name of 'Artie.' Artie then explained to the husband that his going price for snuffing out a spouse was $5,000. The husband said he was willing to pay that amount, but that he wouldn't have any cash on hand until he could collect his wife's insurance money. Artie insisted on being paid at least something up front, so the man opened his wallet, displaying the single dollar bill that rested inside. Artie sighed, rolled his eyes, & reluctantly agreed to accept the dollar as down payment for the dirty deed.

A few days later, Artie followed the man's wife to the local Woolworths store. There, he surprised her in the produce department & proceeded to strangle her with his gloved hands & as the poor unsuspecting woman drew her last breath & slumped to the floor........ The manager of the produce department stumbled unexpectedly onto the murder scene. Unwilling to leave any living witnesses behind, ol' Artie had no choice but to strangle the produce manager as well.

However, unknown to Artie, the entire proceedings were captured by the hidden security cameras & observed by the store's security guard, who immediately called the police. Artie was caught & arrested before he could even leave the store.

Under intense questioning at the police station, Artie revealed the whole sordid plan, including his unusual financial arrangements with the hapless husband who was also quickly arrested. The next day in the newspaper, the headline declared ....


So, did you have a laugh at that one?

I didn't. And because I replied to the Artie Choke Joke sending person a reply about social constructs, and then a few days later followed with the Tazer Gun story, I was accused of having 'double standards'. According to my accuser, the Tazer Gun story denigrates men.

But I don't think it does. I didn't see it that way, and that got me thinking about the differences between these two jokes. I'll attempt to explain how I see the differences. I'll start with the Artie joke: First up the punch line isn't really all that clever, but someone thought of it and decided to construct a joke for it. The 'joke' is based around the sanctioned murder of a woman by her husband which is the extreme end of violence and in particular it's done by the man who is her intimate partner. Secondly, we don't know the gender of the manager and if it's a male this is conveniently left out. Thirdly, it's the husband who gets caught that is referred to as hapless, and there's no mention of the hapless circumstance that had befallen the wife and the manager, so we are left to lament the 'poor' husband because he got caught. Lastly, the joke is centred around the value of the wife's life being as low as $1. So, overall the reader is expected to laugh at this series of circumstances and find that murdering your wife is funny.

With the tazer gun story I see a man who has written a story about himself, and he's done it in a humourous way. First up, he shows that he has a moral conscience in that he should tell his wife about the burn mark on her microwave. Secondly, he shows that he has empathy, by morally reasoning that the cat should not be the subject of his experiment. Thirdly, he is not afraid to disclose his curious and creative mind. Fourthly, I believe he really does care for his wife's safety. And lastly, and most of all, the man who wrote this can laugh at himself, and isn't that such a wonderful trait to have? His story does not harm or devalue anyone, not even himself, really. Overall, I think the guy who wrote this is a warm, caring, compassionate and funny person.

The ability to laugh at oneself is one of the best traits we can all possess. I wonder if the tazer man has a brother....:-)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Disney on Ice and all that fairytale stuff

I had the opportunity to book tickets for Disney on Ice in a pre-release offer. So I thought, Why not, as you do, and I went ahead and booked VIP tickets for me and Stephanie and her Dad. The performance is on Thursday 25th June and we have tickets at centre front stage in the 4th row. I'm really excited about going, I think it will be a fantastic night, and it's things like this that create great memories of our childhoods. I think Stephanie will be thrilled.

I have a bit of a 'thing' about fairytales, you know, all that Prince and Princess stuff. Which is ok, there's nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy in our lives, in fact, I think it's a good thing, but do wonder sometimes how some fairytale stories have changed and in particular, the story-lines and characters portrayed by Disney, which seem to have so much emphasis on girls achieving happiness by marrying their prince.

So I was quite pleased to come across some literature on this very subject while looking for some readings on a topic for Uni. It was refreshing to read Tess Cosslet in her account Fairytales: revising the tradition, which looked at Cinderella and Snow White in more depth.

She writes: "the stories assume that beauty is the highest value for women, and the possession (or not) of this quality sets women against each other as rivals for male approval. It is also assumed that greater beauty means greater virtue and that beauty is constructed in terms of 'whiteness'. Beauty is what gains the love of the handsome, rich Prince, which leads to marriage, which leads to wealth. Hence, wealth is the highest goal to be aimed at and marriage is the end-point in a woman's life. But to attain their goals the heroines are not active, but passive. Cinderella has to wait for the Prince to find her and her wish to go to the ball is fulfilled by magic, not by her own efforts. Snow White in her glass coffin is an extreme example of woman's passiveness and in both cases externalities are what rescue the heroines, who just happens to be the active male. The only assertive, active females in these storylines are wicked and thus female activity, resourcefulness, energy and anger are equated with evil or villianness, while female passivity is equated with goodness."

"Furthermore, the passive females are associated with domestic roles, Snow White with the dwarves, and Cinderella with servanthood, although she doesn't want to be there, she passively accepts her role. The end result, which can cover in some form or another ALL of Disney's fairytales is that women function as passive objects and rivals for male attention, marriage is their only goal and that a good woman stays in the domestic sphere and that any other kind of female behaviour is demonic, abnormal and monstrous."

Cosslet goes on further to look at fairytale history, and tells us they were once the popular art of the poor, passed on by word of mouth for entertainment and it was not until they were written down that a number of changes were made. The point is made that they were tales of people, expressing their hopes and fears, particularly of how they may escape hunger, exploitation and injustice and get their hands on the power, money and land of the rich. In such, fairytales then reflected the social ideology of the times and it's interesting to make the connection that since Walt Disney got his hands on these particular fairytales their scope has narrowed. The theory is that they have been given the voice of the dominant ideology. Which is an interesting point. Given that, in the 21st century we supposedly live in 'enlightened' times which give a much wider scope for women (and men)to live their lives, when do you think we shall see some rather radical changes to Disney fairytale storylines?

So, you might gather I'm not a huge fan of Disney. I much prefer other productions, such as Shrek, which gave a more balanced view of the rescued heroine, and one where beauty wasn't of such ultimate importance.

Will any of my views or awareness of the narrow scope of Disney characters and stories ruin my night at Disney on Ice? Hell, no! But will I be aware of the underlying social construct on display. Hell, yes! And because of my awareness I have the ability to give my daughter a wider scope.

Such as: Cinderella: You're not stuck doing something that you really, really hate and don't wait for the Prince or Fairy Godmother to change your life for you, you've gotta do it yourself. Snow White: You don't have to cook and clean for 7 little guys if you don't want to, if you want to go to work, then you can go too. And finally, Ariel: You don't have to give up your identity to get the man you love, if he loves you back he'll accept you for who you are.....and finally, a) you can be still be happy even if you don't get married, b) there is much more to men than the image of rescuer, so much more.

It's going to be a great night!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The best news ever!

I am totally stoked. I got a letter this week, it reads:

Dear Lynn,
Congratulations on your outstanding academic achievement, which has placed you in the top 15 percent of undergraduate students at Flinders University in 2009.

I first read it and discarded it to read later. Which I did, and it took quite a while for the news to sink in. I knew I had done well last year, but this is quite unexpected. Initially I thought I'd attained the top 15% for my topics but as I re-read it more and more I realised that I'd attained it throughout all undergrads in the Uni! That is so amazing! I am so thrilled. I am also so motivated to do even better! Wow!

There's a certificate and some network connections for jobs and stuff (although I'm not at that level yet with 3 years still to go to completion), and membership to an international organisation called Golden Key International Honour Society.

It really doesn't get any better than this. Feeling nervouse about the presentation night already.....:)))))))))))))))))))))))

Saturday, March 14, 2009

The old Nature Vs Nurture debate

In academic circles this debate is pretty much done and dusted. The debates tend to centre around how much the degree of nature or nurture has life-long effects on individuals. So I was interested to read a passage in our recent readings, title The Parental Fallacy, the following: "But never, ever could the state of your soul be attributed to what your mother or father did to you some thirty years ago!"

I believe this statement is false on several levels, firstly when talking about individuals is it not incredibly short-sighted or narrow minded to use the words "never, ever"? For me, this invalidates the statement straight away. Individuals are too varied to have a "one size fits all" blanket statement to ring true for all people. Secondly, overall I believe that what your parents do and say to you as a developing child, absorbing their knowledge in an unconditional, unequestioning way does leave impressions on our psyche.

So, I was quite interested when a fellow student started to discuss this reading and the "never, ever" statement was brought up. The view was that what our parents did to us thirty years ago was not a basis for any "blame" that may be attributed to them. I didn't think the statement was referring to "blame" and I said so, and asked questions about what she thought "state of soul" meant. I was genuinely interested in wanting to hear her views, as it was different from mine, and hence, the opportunity for me to learn where someone else is coming from. She insisted it was a "blaming" statement and when I brought up the effects of abuse, she still believed that a background of abuse or not, the parents still did not have any part to play in a child's actions or circumstances as an adult. Further enquiries about where she may have got some evidence or such to support her views, resulted in a quick dismissal of the conversation, with her walking off not giving any answers, and finishing with "I fully agree with that statement". End of story.

It was disappointing to see the conversation end as such, but it got me thinking about incidences in our childhood that could and I believe, do, leave us with physiological, biological and psychological hurdles to overcome if we do wish to make a good and happy life for ourselves as adults.

I'll start with the patriarchy style of parenting. It's a hard pill to swallow and quite sobering when a person comes to the conclusion that the majority of the behaviours, decisions, comments, values and beliefs instilled in one by one's parents are actually not made in the child's best interests. In all manner of growing up, there's a hidden agenda that girls are inferior to boys, should not be given the same treatment and that high levels of control are required for the girls while the boy-child is given and taught that he will achieve things with little effort. I have more than one friend who was denied a University education because of the father's attitude, "Oh, you'll only get married and have babies and do nothing more than that in your life." Her dreams of becoming a Doctor dashed at a very young age. Or the girl-child who's opinions are invalidated, told that she is too stupid to know anything about politics, while she watches her brother encouraged to speak up and express his views. The girl-child is told that she must learn how to cook, sew, knit, do washing and ironing and spend inordinate amounts of time on the weekend assisting with household chores, while her brothers spend time with Dad searching the car yards for their next acquisition. At the same time the girl-child is told that she is responsible for the behaviours of boys and men. For instance, she should not dress as to provoke looks from boys. She is responsible for being attacked if she's out at night-time waiting at a bus stop because she should never have been there. She should stay virginal until marriage but if this does not occur and she is violated against her will, it is her fault for attempting to seek a relationship with a boy in the first place. And she is told that the notion of living independently without a husband is "ridiculous and stupid." And what about the boy-child in these types of families? They are taught that they will marry and have rights, their wife will be their possession and will attend to all their domestic needs. The boys are shown by example and emphasised with words they are born with a right to authority and a sense of entitlement, regardless of how unrealistic this may be. And while these values, beliefs and actions are infiltrated into the children, there is a hidden agenda to further the father's role of authority within the family. He's the one that is in charge, and it is to be unquestioned.

So, I ask, in family roles such as this, what "state of soul" erupts from this type of environment? How far does it follow you into adulthood before you realise what the hidden agenda was? It has been my observation that the "patriarchal" style of parenting is believed not to exist by the majority of society, it is denied. So, if you were one of those that was brought up in such a manner, what does that say about your childhood? Are your experiences invalidated, did they not exist as per your own personal observations? If the adult-child, at 50, begins to question the values of the past, if the boy-adult's sense of entitlement has landed him in trouble with the law, or if the girl-adult's sense of playing 2nd best to her husband has left her bereft of any financial status at all, how much of "blame" is on the parents? None? I doubt it. But for many people, they believe this to be the case. I believe, the parents do shoulder some responsibility for their choices of how they conditioned their child to enter into the adult world. For the boys, the sense of entitlement is a state of their soul, and for the girls, the sense that they aren't important is a state of their soul. Can it be changed? I believe so, but it still has it's limitations, they may actually never be free from the limitations on the psych that the indoctrination of their childhood has left them with.

Secondly, I'll take a look at the "uninvolved" style of parenting, which was mentioned in the same article. It can fit in closely with the patriarchal one, in so much as that many behaviours, attitudes and child-rearing practices are in fact, centred around the interests of the parents, but cleverly disguised as being in the best interests of the child. These parents use guilt and shame as their major tools to show the child they really care, but they don't. Because attending a regular sport activity is bothersome for the parents, the minute something does not go right it's the best excuse they have to stop the activity. They will however, tell the child that ballet, or little athletics, or cricket is stopped because of the "nasty" people involved and that the child is best kept away from those "sorts". Hence, almost everything the child wants and looks forward to is unlikely to come to fruition. A long-term exposure to disappointments leaves an indelible mark on the child's soul. They begin to feel they are unworthy of anything, but they are told that it is in their best interests to not continue. School trips and camps provide the only relief for this parented child to achieve an outside activity, but when back home, the child is constantly told how "lovely" the house was without their presence. I've heard my friend's mother scream at her, "You ruined my life, I wish I never had you. Kids ruined everything I wanted to do." Hmmm, now are we going to say that exposure to this type of comment doesn't leave a long-term mark?

Last of all, there's the abusive type of parenting, not that to say the above three aren't abusive, they all are. So my reading has taken me to find Genie, the 1970's discovered 13 year old child, strapped on a potty chair and locked in a bare room for more than 12 years, every single day. Her story, you can Google "Genie abused child" and even find youtube videos that show her, is one of horrendous abuse, deprivation and neglect that's ever been seen in California. It's a tragic story, which has still not ended. And the fact that she never was able to learn grammar (due to synapses pruning in the brain at 6), and that she now lives in a home for retarded adults is testament, in the extreme, of how treatment by our parents can have irreversible life-long effects. Now, if anybody takes the time to read Genie's story, or the Trilogy by Dave Pelzer, A Boy Called It (referred to in this blog archives) and can see the long-term effects on the brain and the psyche of what abuse does, then they'd really appreciate that the statement "But never, ever could the state of your soul be attributed to what your mother or father did to you some thirty years ago!" Is a statement that could "never, ever" be true.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Getting distracted

A recent event on a male-dominated forum has got me thinking. It's not like it was the first time for it to happen so I got to wondering about attitudes that are more common place in our society than we are aware of. The topic was about sharai law and discussion was started about how muslim women are jailed, tortured and even stoned to death for being victims of violence, mostly rape, perpetrated against them. Most comments condemned the actions and went along the lines of: "doesn't have any place in our modern world", "is abhorrent", "glad it doesn't happen here". Replies such as this are dismissive and don't address the real issue, effectively they aren't realistic when one delves a little deeper, and realises these comments provide nothing more than a distraction. One comment in particular, "what about violence perpetrated against men?" was the biggest distraction of all. I question whether a comment such as this is even appropriate in a discussion about violence perpetrated against women - because it isn't appropriate. The acts of violence against men and women are worlds apart. They happen for different reasons and have different consequences. Violence against men deserves it's own discussion thread and should never be used as a distraction to avoid the topic of violence towards women.

As this topic is my passion I wasn't about to let a great opportunity go past by not joining in. Thus I joined in at a level of critical analysis, using some statistics (quantitative study) and peppering it with some experience references (qualitative observations). I did this as another poster (the one who became insulting, no less) had rightly observed that both types of information gives a more complete picture. For my efforts, a return post was full of personal attacks against my character, my thought process, my knowledge, and indeed my worth as a person. Another distraction? It most certainly was. And it succeeded too. Through that one vitriolic post the whole thread got deleted and I never got the chance to really focus in on the topic at hand. Another form of discussion and possible enlightenment for the greater majority to fully realise the extent of violence perpetrated in our society gone and swept, once again, under the carpet, or in this case, the deleted cyberspace heaven.

As this experience replicated an earlier one on a different blog some months prior, I wonder about a prevailing attitude that is a common thread throughout our male-folk thought processes, but women's as well (although I am yet to experience the same vitriol through a female person). I have concluded it is one of not really wanting to acknowledge the extent to which wives, sisters, mothers and particularly daughters, are at risk of being violated in our so-called civilised western society. The prevailing attitude is that things like terrible rapes, beatings, burnings, beheadings (such as what has recently happened to a muslim woman in the US by her husband) and child-murders and pedophilia are things that happen in other countries, miles away.

But it's just not true, it's not worlds away, it's in our own society, the only difference is that we victim blame the woman for her suffering in silence, the only difference with sharia law to our own laws is it's legal to be a pedophile, or sexual offender and here it's not. But exactly how effective is that law?

The point that I really wanted to make in the thread that got deleted, and that nobody got to read is that rape crimes have convictions as low as 1.5%, and that is only on reported rapes. According to the Australian Feminist Law Journal, 2007, of an estimated 5,200 rapes in SA in 2003, only 12 of 786 reported were convicted as charged. That's a miserable low conviction rate, and an indication that crimes of this nature occur with impunity in our own society.

A comment in a recent report issued by the ABS, states, "the level of risk of women being victimised by sexual assault as they go about their daily activities in our society is on par with sexual assaults on men in jail". This says it all and the action of deleting a topic thread, supposedly to stop personal attacks on the person who delivers this information has only served the purpose of sweeping the issue aside and has successfully supported the poster who used insults to distract from the topic and thereby dismissing the fact that "it does happen here."

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Just barrelling along

Stephanie's entry into school has been so positive I'm actually a little surprised. Today she wants to attend OSHC (Out of School Hours Care) so I've booked her in early. She was always going to attend on Wednesdays and Fridays starting next week when I go back to Uni, but her insistence has her now booked in 1 week earlier and for Monday, Wednesday and Fridays after school. And she really, really, really wants to read. Last week she finished her homework, designed to last 5 days in the first night, and she did it 4 times!!! She also gets a new book out of the library every single day. And she's adamant that she's not to get on the "Consequence Chart" at school at all! Ever!

She's also going to Little Nippers that David booked her into on Saturdays, which is the Surf Life Saving Club, and she's now attending swimming lessons on Thursday nights with him. To say she's keen is an understatement, as the pic shows.

I start Uni next week and so looking forward to it.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

New School

Well, I've had a whisper in my ear that it's about time I updated my blog. The biggest news is Stephanie starting school, of course. She just loves it! Her teacher is now called Mrs Ritchie and she's Stephanie's idol. She's so keen that she gets herself ready and demands breakfast (boy, is that a new one for me!) and is no trouble at all to get ready. The compulsory blister on her heel with her new school shoes, they have to wear lace-ups, being the only minor downside. For the first week she finished at 12.45pm, of which by Friday, there were a few grumbles from the littlies about wanting to stay longer, for this past week they finished at 2pm and this coming week will be the normal finishing time. I'm really impressed with how she's been handling herself, and we're already through about 6 books from the library. There's so many rules and instructions though, I think she remembers them all better than I do, I can tell ya, I'm struggling with it all. The real upside to her going to school is that she's eating more (surprise!) and is easier to get into bed at night, with her being fast asleep within seconds of lights-out (no surprises there!). Here's some pics on her first day.

I've been busy with more seaglass collecting which has extended an interest into bottles and old glass making. I've identified 2 very old glass utility jars that I estimate date from the 1850's - 1890's, as well as big beautiful blue jug. I also now have a nice collection of small ink wells, some black glass bottles, again from about 1860 - 1890, including a Woodroofe's bottle which is a South Australian Company no longer in business (no surprises there). So with that, some flower collecting and drying to make up some pot pourri for ebay which has had some reasonable success, I've been very busy.

Lifeline is still going great guns and I love doing my shift.

Deeply saddened by the fires and subsequent loss of life in Victoria. I've tried not to read too much about it, as this type of thing can make me cry and I feel very sad and upset for some time.