Category: Sexism

Frog by Mo Yan – Book Review

Frog by Mo Yan – Book Review

Talk about disappointing. Two years ago, when Mo Yan won the Nobel Prize for literature for Frog, Westerners and Chinese were shocked and elated. The Chinese were ecstatic that a Chinese writer won the honor at all (he’s the only Chinese writer who lives in China to have ever won the prize) and Westerners were amazed that the book was “about the one-child policy and forced abortions.” Unfortunately for people who can’t read Chinese, that description was a bit of a misnomer. After waiting two years for the official English translation of Frog, I can tell you that there is nothing surprising, shocking, or reactionary in Mo Yan’s Frog. In fact, Frog toes the party line just like every other Chinese writer trapped in China (though I don’t think Mo is actually trapped and rather enjoys his role as an exemplary Party member).

711BOrxouXLMany reviewers claim that the book is about a woman named Gugu, a midwife, obstetrician, and abortionist in China from the 1960s to the present day, but that isn’t actually true. The book is about Tadpole, the book’s male narrator and Gugu’s nephew. Gugu does have a large role in the book, but she is not the protagonist, and large swathes of the book leave her out entirely.

The book opens on the Great Chinese Famine from the late 50s to the early 60s. The narrator and his classmates are so hungry, they eat coal. While this is most likely based on true events, the scene is humorous and contains none of the horrors that people endured during the Great Famine. Everyone who was alive at the beginning of Mo’s book is still alive after the famine, even though as many as 40 million people died during that time, including whole communes. At one point, Tadpole says that he would “have rather starved than eat a frog.” This seems to imply that the famine wasn’t so bad if people could still be picky about what they would and wouldn’t eat to survive. The truth is that some people ate their own children in order to survive the famine. But Mo’s lighthearted approach to one of the most tragic parts of China’s history sets the tone of the novel.

The book finally moves into the family planning stories and recounts the deaths of two women who are trying to have second children, but the narrative is extremely sloppy and paltry. The first family planning policy stated, “one is good, two is just right, three is too many” and forced vasectomies became the norm. Forced vasectomies certainly did happen in frightening numbers, but they are rarely talked about. They also don’t happen today, unlike forced abortions. But then the book jumps 20 years into the future when the one-child policy is in full effect with no explanation or introduction.

None of the women in the book are “forced” to have an abortion. One woman (Tadpole’s first wife) is “coerced” (Gugu begins tearing down the neighbor’s houses and the woman eventually gives in) and the other one gives birth prematurely while trying to escape from Gugu. These are also only two women. The fact that countless women (even today) have been dragged out of their homes and strapped down while their wanted babies are ripped from their bodies is completely left out. While the deaths of the two women who have abortions are sad, and the ramifications are felt throughout the rest of the book, the deaths are just not particularly significant. I’m not sure if that the right word, but if you feel horrified, disgusted, or heartbroken over their deaths, you really are not very well-informed about what women have been enduring in China since the one-child policy came into effect over 30 years ago.

But more frustrating than the way Mo handles the one-child policy and the women’s deaths is how he completely dissolves the Chinese government, the family planning commission, and even Gugu of any responsibility. He says “Westerner’s critiques of China’s family planning policies are unfair;” “I wasn’t blaming [Gugu]…it was just our fate;” “Society didn’t create my problem; I was the problem;” “The men and women who defied the policy against multiple pregnancies could not escape a share of the responsibility for what happened;” and “Family planning has an impact on the national economy and the people’s livelihood, and it is the greatest importance.”

Oh sure, there are some nice feminist statements littered throughout the book, such as “his head was filled with feudal ideas like favouring boys over girls” and “I want them to know how hard it is to be a woman,” but in the end, the book holds up the old status quo. At 55-years of age, Tadpole becomes a father to a son, and even though he has a wonderful daughter living abroad, he says that his son “is a treasure sent down to me from the heavens, and is worth all my suffering.” See, as long as you have a son, it doesn’t matter how many women died or how many kids were aborted or how many filial daughters you have, having a son makes everything all right!

This book is beyond disappointing, it is infuriating. I honestly don’t know why it won the Nobel Prize. The book does nothing to challenge preconceived notions, is not original, and isn’t even honest. There are so many books out there that are so much better. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the selection of Mo Yan as a winner is a downright sexist decision. The book largely deals with women’s issues but is told by a man from a man’s perspective. And while men can write about women’s issues and be allies, why have Chinese female writers who have also talked about these issues with much more candor, honesty, and emotion been snubbed? Authors like Xinran and Lisa See have both written brilliantly and openly about women’s experiences in China because they have the freedom to do so by living overseas.

Mo Yan is nothing more than a communist party mouthpiece, and as long as the Chinese government continues to pursue policies of censorship and artistic strangleholds, this is the best Chinese authors will be able to give the world. Mo Yan’s Frog is an excellent example of why Chinese authors in China shouldn’t and don’t win Nobel Prizes.

Have you read Frog? Let me know what you thought in the comments. 

Sex, Guns, and Video Games – Anita Sarkeesian Takes on Misogynist Hate Group GamerGate

Sex, Guns, and Video Games – Anita Sarkeesian Takes on Misogynist Hate Group GamerGate

sarkeesian-wide-620x349My husband and I are gamers. It’s how we met. We have also both worked in the gaming industry here in China. So we have been following GamerGate pretty much since the beginning. If you don’t know what GamerGate is, lucky you, but keep reading to find out all about it. I wrote about it for the Shenzhen Daily last week. Long and short of it, a small group of misogynist gamers have been threatening to rape and murder any woman who critiques, develops, or even mentions video games. They even released the personal information of Felica Day, the Darling of the Internet, after she wrote a blog post about how much she is afraid of GamerGate.

So why am I writing about this on my blog and in a Chinese newspaper? There might not be a specific link between GamerGate and China, but a toxic, sexist gaming culture is endemic in the industry worldwide.

At my husband’s company, just last week, one of the company’s freelance employees had to call the police when a gamer threatened to kill her and her family and burn her house down. He only lived an hour away from her.

One of the company’s female employees regularly tells me about the sexist remarks made by coworkers she is subjected to on a daily basis.

The company and its partners regularly put out ads like this:wartune2 ads that are borderline pornographic and specifically tell females gamers that they are not welcome. It is important that developers in China know what is going on because they are just as much a part of the problem and need to make changes.

Even though many women have been involved in fighting GamerGate, Zoe Quinn, Brianna Wu, Leigh Alexander, to name a few, Anita Sarkeesian is someone I have been following for a long time. I really enjoy her Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. She is one of the reasons I started identifying publicly and proudly as a feminist and chose to focus on her in my article.

Finally, many game companies, magazines, websites, and celebrities are speaking out against GamerGate and misogyny and sexism in video games. Hopefully change is on the way.

Check out my article in full below.

TWO weeks ago, most people probably had not heard of Anita Sarkeesian. Sarkeesian’s name has been popular in gaming and feminist circles for over two years thanks to her highly acclaimed video series “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” Last month, though, the Internet exploded over GamerGate, a group of young men who lashed out at women game developers and critics after an ex-boyfriend accused female developer Zoe Quinn of exchanging sex for favorable reviews of her game. The accusations against Quinn were baseless, but the damage had been done. GamerGaters decided that women were out to destroy the games they loved and had to be stopped. It was only a matter of time before Sarkeesian was in GamerGate’s line of fire.

Last week, Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech at Utah State University after a GamerGater threatened a mass shooting. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Sarkeesian said, “GamerGate is really a sexist temper tantrum … They’re going after and targeting women who are trying to make changes in the [game] industry. They’re attacking anyone who supports women.” But Sarkeesian, Quinn, Brianna Wu, Leigh Alexander, and the countless other women who have been singled out for destruction by GamerGate aren’t backing down. Sarkeesian also told Rolling Stone, “We have a problem, and we are going to fix this.”

In 2012, Sarkeesian first started making headlines when she launched a Kickstarter campaign to finance her Web series, “Tropes vs. Women in Video Games.” The video series was designed to “explore, analyze and deconstruct some of the most common tropes and stereotypes of female characters in games. The series [would] highlight the larger recurring patterns and conventions used within the gaming industry rather than just focusing on the worst offenders…[The series would] look at the way women are portrayed in mass media and the impact they have on our culture and society.”

Her goal was to raise just US$6,000 to fund the series. She raised over US$150,000 and gained almost 7,000 backers. As a woman, raising so much money and attention talking about misogyny in video games immediately made her a target for abuse by men who thought she was out to destroy the thing they owned and loved. Before her Kickstarter campaign even ended, she was receiving death and rape threats.

Over the next two years, Sarkeesian was a constant target for abuse by gamers who believed she was out to ruin games. She received videos of herself being raped by video game characters. Attempts were made to hack her social media accounts. Her website was constantly subjected to DoS (denial of service) attacks and her Wikipedia page was repeatedly edited to show doctored pornographic images of her. Threats of rape and murder were a daily occurrence. One person even created a video game called “Beat Up Anita Sarkeesian,” where users could punch Sarkeesian’s image in the face until she was a bloody pulp. People who spoke out in favor or support of Sarkeesian were also targeted and abused.

But all of these attacks only supported Sarkeesian’s argument — the gaming industry has a problem with women. Sarkeesian has not backed down and has continued making her videos and speaking out publically for change.

Then, GamerGate.

In August 2014, an ex-boyfriend accused Indy game developer Zoe Quinn of sleeping with journalists for favorable game reviews. Men who believed that Quinn was the representative of corruption in game journalism (even though she isn’t a journalist or critic) began joining forces under the hashtag #GamerGate in a blitz of rape and death threats against her. Even though it was later revealed that Quinn had not exchanged sex for reviews, the GamerGate crowd was already in full force, attacking and abusing any woman in the gaming industry they could get their hands on.

Game critic Leigh Alexander wrote an article entitled “’Gamers’ are Over,” in which she talked about how the game industry has grown so huge that it is now mainstream. The image of the “lonely gamer” in his mother’s basement no longer exists, and games are now experiencing an economic and cultural boom. GamerGaters took offense to the idea that they are no longer a niche group and declared Alexander their enemy, subjecting her to sexist attacks.

Game studio owner Brianna Wu retweeted a series of images poking fun at GamerGaters. Within hours, her home address was posted online and she received rape and death threats so specific that she had to flee her home.

On Aug. 27, Sarkeesian released her latest video, “Woman as Decoration (Part 2).” That night, the harassment and threats reached such a frenzy that Sarkeesian also had to flee her home.

That GamerGate threats are so severe against women that women have had to leave their homes has revealed the true intentions of GamerGate. GamerGaters have repeatedly stated that they aren’t misogynists and that they aren’t against women in video games. They claim that GamerGate is about journalistic ethics in the online gaming press, particularly conflicts of interest between video game journalists and developers. But the fact that women game developers and critics have been targeted at a significantly higher rate than men — and that only women have had to flee their homes — demonstrates that GamerGate is, at its core, about preserving the status quo in video games, a status quo built on the exclusion and exploitation of women.

Even though GamerGate has been around since August, and Sarkeesian has been living under constant terror threats for two years, it didn’t make international mainstream news until last week, when Sarkeesian had to cancel a speech at Utah State University after receiving threats of a mass shooting from someone claiming to be a member of GamerGate.

Sarkeesian had never canceled a speech before, even though she had recieved bomb threats for speaking engagement before. This time it was different because of Utah’s extreme gun rights laws. In Utah, anyone with a legal permit to carry a concealed weapon can carry that weapon anywhere they want, even into schools. In the past, when Sarkeesian received death threats for attending events, the police would inspect guests for weapons and anyone with a weapon would not be allowed in. But in Utah, the police are not allowed to stop people from carrying a legal firearm, even if there is a legitimate threat against someone’s life.

In Utah, the right to carry a gun is more important than the right to not be murdered by one.

Even though she had to cancel one engagement, she isn’t backing down. Sarkeesian has called for all lecturers to boycott Utah campuses until Utah’s gun laws change.

While it might seem that this is the worst time of Sarkeesian’s life, it could also be the best. Sarkeesian has now been featured in Time magazine, Rolling Stone magazine and on the front page of the New York Times. After working for change in the gaming industry for two years, game companies and other game critics are speaking out against GamerGate and in support of more diversity in games.

Sarkeesian said in her interview with Rolling Stone that after living in terror for two years, she still can’t give up. She said, “I feel like the work I’m doing is really important. The amount of support that I get for doing it, the actual change that I am starting to see, the really sweet messages that I get from people … How do you stop doing this work after that?”

Surprise, Bustle, breastfeeding isn’t shamed in China

Surprise, Bustle, breastfeeding isn’t shamed in China

f04da2db148414e2aabf53I’ve been casually following the debates surrounding the topic of mothers breastfeeding in public in the U.S. I say casually because it isn’t something that affects me personally, but is a frequent topic on websites that center around women and feminism, so I read the stories but don’t generally get worked up about it. But I just read a story over on Bustle that really hit a nerve. I have never been to that site before, so I don’t know if it typically publishes this kind of garbage or if it is a fluke. The title asked “Are breastfeeding curtain on Chinese public buses pro-woman or anti-feminist?” I took the bait and clicked. The article is about how a bus company in Zhejiang Province installed curtains for nursing mothers who wished to use them. There really isn’t a story here. Mothers are not forced to use them, some women appreciate them, others just don’t use them, so…I got nothing.

The part that pissed me off, though, was where the writer, Aria Bendix, said, “In a climate where public breastfeeding is often met with dirty looks and occasionally being asked to leave a restaurant or store, what does it mean that women are encouraged to hide behind a curtain in order to feed their children?”

It’s pretty clear that Bendix has NO FUCKING CLUE what is going on in the world outside of a few buzzy news stories in the U.S. In China, there is no anti-breastfeeding climate. Women are allowed to breastfeed their kids whenever, wherever they want and no one treats them with disdain. The only problem with breastfeeding in China is that the rates are too low because of a culture that believes formula is better and most new mothers work. Almost anywhere you see kids, you will see a mother breastfeeding and no one gives it a second thought. It’s a baby, and it’s eating. No one cares.

Aria Bendix, you need to step back and realize that just because a few shitty Americans have a very narrow cultural view of something does not mean people on the other side of the world have similar beliefs, issues, or problems. You should learn more about a culture before you impose your erroneous, predetermined understanding on it and hold it up as click bait.

Why China Needs Feminism – So Male Rape Will Be Recognized

Why China Needs Feminism – So Male Rape Will Be Recognized

There was a disturbing story today about how a man’s rapist was basically given a get-out-of-jail-free card on a technicality. That technicality? The fact that male-on-male rape is not considered a crime in China. Rape is one of the most common crimes in China, but it is also one of the most under-reported. China also has some of the weakest rape laws in the world, and the penalties (only 3-10 years in prison, if that) are pitiful. China does not report statistics on rape, so we have no idea just how many rapes happen every year, but even if the government did report the numbers, there is such a negative social stigma attached to it, the numbers would be much too low.

China does not recognize same-sex rape, for men or women. It does not recognize male rape victims even if the rapist is a woman. It does not recognize marital rape. In fact, even between people who are just dating, a woman would find it nearly impossible to charge her boyfriend with rape. Even in public, if a man is seen assaulting a woman, people will generally just walk by and ignore it, assuming it is a private issue. And child rape laws are so fuzzy and misapplied that child rapists  often receive simply a slap on the wrist. 

Believe it or not, male rape is a feminist issue. Feminism isn’t about only empowering women, but about gender equality, and that means acknowledging the strengths and vulnerabilities of everyone and recognizing everyone’s need for protection and respect. When it comes to eliminating patriarchal limits, the way male rape is handled is an important part. Men can be victims too, but when they report that they are victims of rape or domestic violence, they are often ignored or even laughed at.

The really strange part about this issue in China, though, is how before 1997, male rape was recognized and illegal. But when China went through a legal reform in 1997, the definition of rape was rewritten to only include assault against women and girls. This is especially scary when it comes to male children since boys are 2.7% more likely to be sexually abused than female children.

The 1997 legal “reform” in China was a huge step in the wrong direction. It eliminated and hope of protection or justice for men and boys and also created a loophole for rapist of female children by creating a distinction between child “rape” and child “prostitution. China needs to immediately reform its reformed law so that all Chinese citizens, male, female, adult, and child, can receive equal protection under the law.

Book Discussion – Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men

Book Discussion – Unnatural Selection: Choosing Boys Over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men

unnaturalMara Hvistendhal’s book Unnatural Selection – Choosing Boys over Girls, and the Consequences of a World Full of Men was quite eye opening for me. Several months ago, American-based websites and blogs that write about feminist and AAPI issues were livid over lawmakers trying to pass legislation against sex-selective abortions in America. Most decried the laws as racist, claiming there was no evidence that Asian-Americans participate in sex-selective abortions.

However, that is untrue. According to the 2000 United States census, Asian-American female birthrates in the United States for second children are the exact same as in China, 117 boys for every 100 girls (and if an Asian-American family has two girls, the sex ratio of boys over girls for third children is a staggering 151). The only explanation is sex-selective abortions. The legislation certain organizations in the US are trying to pass are racist in that they think Asian-Americans would be too stupid to lie about why they are seeking an abortion, but they are not racist for bringing to light a very serious issue. Female sex-selective abortion (what some call female fanticide or feticide) is having devastating consequences throughout Asia, not just in China and India, and the cultural idea that females are expendable did not die when Asians immigrated to the US. In fact, among Asian-American women born in the US, the rates of sex-selective abortions are slightly higher than immigrant women.

I believe that Hvistendhal attempts to bring balance to the conversation about female fanticide by being intentionally unbalanced. For decades, indeed for centuries, Western visitors to China and India have written about female infanticide. It has continually been one of the things that mark the East as barbaric and the West as civilized. But very little, if anything, has been said about the role Western powers played in the explosion of female fanticide rates in the 20th century.

Hvistendhal acknowledges that female infanticide has always happened in Asia. Even today, if you live in China or India and talk to locals about the gender imbalance problem, the answer is always boiled down to “Asian cultures prefer boys.” In all my years in China, I have never heard anyone lay an ounce of blame on Western interference. But even though Asian families have always preferred boys and female infanticide existed, it wasn’t until the 1960s that female fanticide became so widespread that the birthrates developed skewed gender numbers.

When Western powers were worried about the growth of communism and the population explosion in Asia, did they educate women, a proven way to curb population growth? No, they took the fastest, most barbaric, inhumane way possible – the murder of the next generation of mothers. Western politicians, doctors, and even UN council members saw that Asians were having multiple daughters in an attempt to get a boy. Simple birth control wouldn’t work because it wasn’t that families wanted to stop having children, they only wanted to stop after they had their boy. Instead of elevating the value of women, teaching that boys and girls have equal worth, they devised ways to help families get that boy on the first try…the first complete try, anyway. They worked to convince people that female fanticide wasn’t really murder, at least not as bad as killing a baby after it had been born naturally.

By importing ultrasound machines and other techniques that could determine the sex of the fetus, the gender rates swiftly became imbalanced. Even though in the 70s and 80s these techniques could only be used effectively in the third trimester, these dangerous late-term abortions became standard practice in many Indian and Chinese hospitals, or simply out of the back of a truck.

The role Western powers played in this human rights travesty should be brought to light.

They should be held culpable for their actions and work to right the wrongs done. However, the West has had access to ultrasound machines and better quality, safer tests for determining gender in the womb, but Western countries don’t suffer from a gender imbalance. To say China and India’s gender imbalance is solely because of access to Western medical devices is ridiculous. The West would not have been able to encourage sex selection if the cultures didn’t have a predisposition for doing it on their own already. But this I think is Hvistendhal’s point. In a world where culture has taken all the blame, it is time for Western powers to be taken to task. Both are equally responsible for the massive gender disparity Asia is suffering today. By not rehashing the issue of culture and focusing on the West, Hvistendhal is attempting to bring balance to the conversation as a whole.

Hvistendhal does an excellent job asking the tough questions many people, especially feminists, have been afraid to ask. I think everyone would agree that sex selective abortions are wrong.

Even if you are pro-choice, the practice of killing a baby because it is a girl is something everyone, especially feminists, should be fighting to end.

But when abortion is legal, as feminists believe it should be, what do you do when women abuse that right to eliminate women from the planet? Many women are rightfully concerned that any limits on abortion could lead to more and more limits on abortions. In fact, don’t think for one second that the lawmakers and organizations working to end sex selective abortions are doing so for the good of women. They have explicitly stated that by banning sex-selective abortions, they would have a foothold in getting all abortions eventually banned.

Once again, special interest groups are using culture and women’s choices as a weapon. In the 1960s, Western powers exploited female infanticide to encourage gender-selective abortions. Now, pro-lifers are using gender-selective abortions to assign fetuses personhood to stop abortions altogether.

But pro-lifers are not the ones assigning personhood to fetuses that are aborted because of their sex – abortive parents are.

These parents are not saying “this fetus is not a person and doesn’t deserve to live,” they are saying “if this fetus is a boy, it has value, and I will let it live.” Whether or not women are people is being decided by parents who are practicing gender-selective abortion and is being exploited by pro-life groups.

In a world where a woman’s personhood is being decided in the womb, how can she ever hope to achieve equality and respect in her life?

The key here is education. Ignoring the fact that Asian-Americans have sex-selective abortions will not make them go away. These families have Western educations and Western opportunities, yet they still choose boys over girls. The Asian-American communities need to be specifically targeted for education and outreach programs for women and girls.

How many children a family has is a personal issue, but once you decide to become a parent, you don’t get to decide who that little person will be. You don’t get to decide what job they will have, what their hobbies will be, or what their gender is. Even if parents sex-select for a boy, there is no guarantee that he will identify as a male when he grows up. There is no guarantee that he will marry or take care of his parents in their old age. Gender selection, for boys or girls, forces patriarchal societal norms on all children before they are even born and needs to stop.

What’s in a name? Surnames, China, and Feminism

What’s in a name? Surnames, China, and Feminism

last-name-300x253My surname is not my husband’s surname. My surname is not the surname I was born with. My surname I took from my first husband. I kept it after the divorce because by that time the name was mine. I went to university as Amanda Roberts. All of my years of hard work were under that name. All of my scholarship was under that name. All of my professors, professional contacts, and friends knew me by that name. My degrees are in that name. Like Tina Turner, who kept her husband’s surname after her divorce, I embraced the name as mine. It’s mine and who I am.

My surname has never been an issue for me or my husband. In fact, it never really occurred to him that I might take his name. He even forgets that my family has a different surname than me. The only hiccup is when people meet me first and then my husband, they sometimes call him “Mr. Roberts,” but we usually just laugh it off and politely correct them (I don’t think anyone has ever accidentally called me “Mrs. Anderson,” but don’t even get me started on the “Mrs.” thing. I hate that prefix so much.). No one has ever been rude or overly inquisitive about it, but maybe it is just a small learning experience for people about making assumptions. But for some women, whether or not to take a husband’s surname upon marriage is a big freaking deal. Today, Huff Post Women put up an interesting article sharing the experiences of women who didn’t take their husbands’ surnames and the various responses they have gotten. It’s an interesting read. I found number 6 weird, though. As a couple who travels extensively, my husband and I have never had issues with boarder crossings, passports, or visas because of having different surnames. I think she is probably exaggerating the “problems.”

The article really stood out to me, though, because Zoe (my goddaughter) and I had a long talk about surnames just last weekend. The only issue with having two surnames in our family is what name do we give the kids (when they arrive). Anderson? Roberts-Anderson? Something totally new like Zarkov?
babyWe haven’t settled on a solid answer yet, but we still have plenty of time.  In China, surnames are much more fluid than in the West. According to Zoe, Chinese women never take their husband’s name. I don’t know if that is exactly true because I have met a few women who have the same last name as their husbands here. However, there is not as much variety in family names in China as there is in America, so it is possible that those couples just happened to have the same surname before they married. It wasn’t something I ever thought to ask at the time. Anyway, for me and my husband to have different surnames is completely normal in China, which I find refreshing.

When it comes to the children, though, there is a lot of flexibility. Chinese children do not automatically take their father’s name. According to Zoe, children will often take the family name of the half of the family who is higher class or has more money.  With Zoe, for example, she took her father’s name, but several of her cousins have their mothers’ name. Another option is that the children take the family name of whichever side of the family lives closest to them and provides the most care. Since the one-child policy came into effect and since most women in China work outside the home, it is extremely common for one pair of grandparents to live with (or very close) to their adult children to help care for the baby. If the primary grandparents are the mother’s parents, the baby might take their name regardless of social hierarchy.

I think the fluidity of a person’s name is intimately tied with gender and identity. At one time in most Western cultures, a woman was considered the property of men and her name reflected her ownership, be it her father or husband. Chinese culture, too, has always been painfully patriarchal, so a woman kept the name of her father to keep her tied to her birth family. But a woman’s identity shouldn’t depend on her relationships to the men in her world. She should have the right to strike out and forge her own identity. The same is true of men. An increasing number of men in the West are taking their wives’ names, choosing a new identity that reflects them and the family they want to create separate from the name of their fathers. For children, what surname they have at birth shouldn’t be the most pressing concern on a person’s list since they might change it themselves one day anyway.

What do you think? Did you change your name when you married? If not, have you faced problems or gotten flack? Did you have trouble settling on a surname for your kids? I’d love to hear your stories and opinions!

Penny Dreadful is Pretty Dreadful – Part 1

Penny Dreadful is Pretty Dreadful – Part 1

(It was after I started writing this that I realised just how long this post was, so I decided to break it up into two parts. Today’s post focuses on women in the show Penny Dreadful;  tomorrow’s post will focus on people of color, specifically Chinese characters, in the show.)

penny-dreadful-poster-2I know a lot of people were excited about the new show Penny Dreadful. Based on the classic horror dime novels of the Victorian era, Penny Dreadfuls (or Dime Novels as we called them in States) are seen as the predecessors of today’s Steampunk genre and other books, tv shows, and films set in the Victorian era today. When I saw the promos for it, I was intrigued. After Copper and Ripper Street were cancelled last year, there was a huge gap in the Victorian-setting entertainment field. However, in spite of the mountains of praise I have seen for it in my Facebook feed and other places on the internet, Penny Dreadful is pretty dreadful (trademarked :)) and there are a lot of reasons why.

Part of the reason why Penny Dreadful comes off as so awful is probably because of the brilliant shows that came before it. Copper and Ripper Street were not just great period shows, they were great shows, period, and largely because they scoffed in the face of mainstream media with regards to how women and people of color are portrayed in media. Penny Dreadful toes the line and is a huge step backwards when it comes to women and characters of color.

Women

Women are not sufficiently represented in media today. Even though women are woefully underrepresented in almost every field, our representation in media is disgusting. It’s even worse in period pieces, especially Victorians and Westerns.

In Victorians and Westerns, writers are stupidly uneducated about the roles women played during those times. In most Victorians and Westerns, women have two roles – Lady or whore. You see this dichotomy over and over again. The latest Lone Ranger adaptation might be the most egregious example of this (in addition to its millions of other flaws), with Rebecca Reid as the Lady and Red Harrington as the whore. Even Ripper Street fails in this regard (though it does a great job in other areas). Long Susan is the whore while Mrs. Emily Reed is the Lady. If you look at films, shows, and books set in this time period, it’s hard to find one that doesn’t fit this trope. Sometimes the two types of women will be merged into one, think Irene Adler in the 2009 Sherlock Holmes, or Dixie Cousins in Brisco County Jr. In family friendly titles, the whore will sometimes be eliminated (think Back to the Future III or Star Wars), leaving only one role for a woman to play.

There are some period shows that ignore these stereotypical roles for women. Copper absolutely blew these roles out of the water with not just two anti-stereotypical women, but a huge cast of women. You had:tvfash707

  • Elizabeth Haverford – the Lady who was also a terrorist
  • Eva Heissen – the whore, business woman, brothel madam, and murderess
  • Annie Riley – the child with the mind of a woman
  • Sara Freeman – a black, middle-class seamstress (I’ll get to THAT point later on)
  • Ellen Corcoran – the protagonist’s wife, an insane adulteress who murders her own child

and a whole bunch of other minor female characters like Sara’s mother and the women who worked for Eva.

Hell on Wheels also does a pretty good job of showing the diverse roles that women played at the time. Lily Bell and Louise Ellison both fill the role of the Lady, but both have careers, Lily as a surveyor and Louise as a newswoman. Eva fills the role of the whore (what is the deal with whores named Eva?), but there is also Ruth Cole who works as a pastor when she takes over the flock for her preacher-father.

Penny Dreadful has only two female characters, but that is a pretty generous count. Vanessa Ives is the Lady and Brona Croft is the whore. But after three episodes, Croft has barely been seen. She was not in the first episode at all and in the third episode she was on screen for less than two minutes. She is nude for the entirety of the scene, and for most of it, she is doing her job. Penny Dreadful reinforces the myth that women only had two roles in the Victorian world, Lady and whore. Not only is this untrue, it’s boring, played out, and does a huge disservice to women who actually did other things in their lives throughout time. It’s also ridiculous for any show today to have such a gender disparity. This post is a really good take down of a graphic novel that commits the same crime against women, but applies just as aptly here.  It brings out that

There was a world of professions and roles available to women in the Victorian age. Of course, aristocrat was one, but not all aristocrats are equal. For example, a duchess would live a very different life from the daughter of a country squire. The Victorian age also saw the rise in the merchant (or self-made) class, men who had no land but acquired great amounts of wealth through business. These men (and, thus, their families) often received aristocratic titles without land. So the daughter of a wealthy tea merchant would be a “lady,” but not of the same caliber as the daughters of earls or barons who may have had less money, but had landed titles. Aristocrat might not have been a “job,” but they did have responsibilities, mainly in charity work.

There were millions of women “in service” in the Victorian age, women who worked as cooks, maids, housekeepers, nannies, and governesses. This was a perfectly respectable profession for a woman of lower class.

Any woman whose husband or father owned a business was most likely well skilled in that profession as well. Women helped their husbands and fathers run shops, bakeries, haberdasheries, pubs, hotels, post offices, repair shops, pharmacies, and farms.

While women were not allowed officially in some fields, you could still find them working in related capacities. Women couldn’t be doctors, but they could be nurses, midwives, and natural healers. Victoria Thompson has a brilliant series of gaslight mysteries starring a midwife, a profession that allows the heroine to interact with people of all strata of society. Similarly, women couldn’t be police officers, but they were often used undercover or as consultants. Women also weren’t politicians, but they certainly were politically active. Many women spoke about women’s rights, helped widows and orphans, and campaigned for their favorite candidates.

Women also worked in creative fields. Women were artists and writers, though they often worked under pseudonyms since they could be denied jobs based on their sex.

Women were also teachers, dancers, singers, actresses, and models. They were hairdressers, seamstresses, and cobblers.

In the Victorian age, anywhere you found men, you also found women

Long story short, Penny Dreadful is unacceptably deficient when it comes to women.

Come back tomorrow to read about why I can’t stop fuming over its representation of Chinese people in Victorian London.

Why China Needs Feminism – So All People Can be Held Responsible for Their Actions

Why China Needs Feminism – So All People Can be Held Responsible for Their Actions

I just read an article in the Shenzhen Daily that has me fuming. A 16-year old girl gave birth to twins on Sunday. Her 20-year old boyfriend is denying paternity and avoiding her calls, refusing to take responsibility for the children.

Already, there are two problems with this story.

1) The man is not being arrested and charged with rape. Even though people in China are not considered adults until they are 18, they are considered sexually mature at 14. This is one of the reasons why China has a huge problem with teachers having sexual relations with students. Girls are not legally protected from adult sexual predators after they turn 14.

2) Why is no one issuing a paternity test? I don’t have an answer for this. I don’t know if paternity testing just isn’t common or if it is too expensive or what. But asking for a paternity test seems like a pretty elementary move. However, the real reason I am so angry over this case is probably why no one is asking for a paternity test.

Apparently, it doesn’t matter if he is the father or not; a man in China is not legally responsible for his children.

At the end of the article, it says, “Li Yaguan, a lawyer with a Guangdong Province firm, said Ah Yue [the father] is not liable for criminal responsibility because Ah Wen [the mother] is at an eligible age for her behavior, but said Ah Yue should share the responsibility of raising his sons.”

So the mother is responsible for her actions and must care for the twins, but the father is not responsible for his actions and just run away with no liability whatsoever?

This is absolutely absurd. It is blatantly sexist to force only women to take full responsibility for an act that required two people. Also, it is completely at odds with China’s child abandonment laws. In China, child abandonment is illegal (even when children are abandoned at safe havens like the baby hatches, it is still illegal). How is this anything but child abandonment? If the mother was to decide she could not deal with these two babies (she is only 16, remember) and was to abandon them at the hospital, she would be arrested and charged, but, once again, that dirtbag of a rapist would get off scot-free.

Let me make it clear, I am not saying that women should have the right to abandon their children (though I do advocate baby Moses laws). What I am saying is that both people who created these little lives need to be held responsible to them. What people seem to forget is that it is the innocent babies who are going to suffer. If this man retains his “right” to abandon his children, the children will pay the price.

This man is a criminal. He is a rapist. He is abandoning his children. He should be in prison.

This standard that allows men to abandon their children has even farther-reaching consequences. China has a low divorce rate (though it is rising). One of the main reasons for this is China’s backwards custody laws. If a couple has a child and decides to divorce, the woman will most likely lose custody of her child if the father wants the child. China’s custody laws favor the parent who makes the most money, which is usually the father. Many women will stay in a bad marriage for fear of losing their children. But the story of the 16-year old girl shows why many women might stay in a bad marriage even if she isn’t worried about custody. If a man does pass up his custody rights, according to this situation, he would not be required to pay child support. China also does not have alimony laws. So if a woman leaves her husband, not only will she have to support herself, but would be solely responsible for the costs of raising her child as well.

China’s divorce, custody, and paternity laws are archaic and keep women chained to their husbands like slaves.

China’s laws are sexist and favor irresponsible, adult rapists over innocent, helpless, sick children.

I am disgusted at China’s legal system today.

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Book Review: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

 

snow-flower-and-the-secret-fanSnow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See is about many things: a girl growing up in rural China in the 19th century; foot binding; nushu; arranged marriages; friendship; a woman’s place in the world; refection; regret. To try and sum-up what the book is about would not do it justice; to talk about it in depth would give the plot away. See manages to talk about all these things with depth, accuracy, and care.

I really enjoyed this book for many reasons. First of all, the subject of foot binding I have always found fascinating. The practice was horrific. The only good thing to come out of Mao’s rule in China was a abolition of foot binding. But out of foot binding came the amazingly beautiful art of decorated slippers and they are something I collect. See also seems to have a love/hate relationship with this practice. She goes into depth about the practice and pain and horrid consequences of it, but at the same time the practice is glorified in that though the act the protagonist, Lily, is raised from poverty because of her lovely lotus feet. Some readers will no doubt find her treatment of foot binding far too kind.

The second interesting thing about the book is nushu, the art of “women’s writing.” Nushu is the only gendered  writing in the world that we know of. (Unless, of course, you count the fact that women developed nushu because they were denied the right to read and write “men’s writing” also known as “Chinese.” In that case, Chinese could also be considered “gendered” writing until the 20th century and women were allowed to be educated as well. But I digress). Very little is known about nushu because most of what the women wrote was burned with them when they died. What we do know is that it is a phonetic-based language developed over hundreds of years in southern Hunan. Which would lead me to interesting point 2.5, the book takes place in Hunan and talks about the hardships people faced during the Taiping Rebellion and the Grand Hunan Army’s campaign to reclaim the region.

lisa seeThe last thing I enjoyed/hated about the book was the way women are portrayed. The book is about women, from the view-point of women, written by a women, and for women readers, but it is filled with so much misogyny it made me want to scream. But that is kind of the point. See isn’t writing women as lesser creatures because she believes them to be so, she is writing them that way because they were treated as lesser creatures and even women themselves believed they were so in China at the time. The main character says absurd things like “who among us has not felt disappointment at the sight of a daughter” and “sons give a woman her identity.” The book is filled with so much nonsense it is maddening. But it is mostly maddening because it isn’t nonsense at all, but is a true reflection of the role of women at the time. It provides a backdrop to show just how little in China has changed today. Women are still viewed as less, and this book shows why this archaic view-point is still prevalent today.

So, should you read this book? I say yes. It is at least a 4 out of 5 and I look forward to seeing more books by Lisa See and finding the film adaptation to compare.