Monday, December 26, 2011

whore

The concept that a woman's sexuality isn't her own to do with as she wishes:
A man who uses sex to get what he wants may be an asshole, but he doesn't lose anything of himself in the process. (Hello, James Bond)
A woman who uses sex as a means to an end whores herself out; it diminishes her value as a person, because as a woman her sexuality is apparently tied with her worth to herself and to others (especially herself, if she has any notions of decency! slutshameslutshame).

So bloody sickening.

Romance novels are usually chock full of female-sex-positivity and I love them for that, but sometimes the lingering negative aspects of the genre like the double standard mentioned above makes me want to tear my hair out and make a bonfire of every book that was particularly obvious in its transgression.

Palate cleanser time! Recs: Your Scandalous Ways by Loretta Chase deals with this double standard beautifully. Linked to my review, but it's more of a gushing declaration of love for the author than anything.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

tethered

I'm sitting in my room in Perth, and looking at all the things I have hoarded. Letters, notebooks, old magazines, silly hats, keepsakes. And it makes me think back to three years ago when I first came, how eager and excited I was. How I packed up anything that meant something to me, as if they were pieces of me, pieces of home, of safety and certainty–all the things I naively thought I would just cart up and carry wherever life took me.

So, so mistaken.

Monday, November 07, 2011

childlike faith

I thought of all those biblical anecdotes of people believing in Christ's ability to heal/resurrect/etc. and how the moral of the story is always: have faith and you will be rewarded for it. Who believes like that these days? When something doesn't go as you hoped (and prayed for), it's probably not God's will and who are we to presume to tell him what to do? That or, you didn't have enough faith. But that sort of faith also requires faith in your own judgment of how things should be, and most people don't have that, rightly so.

Maybe impure motives get in the way. What's a pure motive then? When does something you hope for not benefit you, and how can you ever be unbiased under those circumstances? I suppose it's all smoothed over if you stick to a vague sort of faith that he'll make sure everything turns out for the best after all (even if you don't agree), but it seems like such a far cry from the days of the woman who touched Jesus's garments wholly believing it would heal her, and it did.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

green bookcoverporn

I've always loved the colour green, so it's no surprise that my eyes are naturally drawn to green book cover art. Specifically, the ones in my favourite shades (emerald, persian, teal). Since I was bored, I decided to compile a bunch of such covers yay! :D

The following collage is limited, obviously, to books I know or have stumbled across. Also because they have to meet the very subjective criterion of having caught my eye, I'm not going to include every single green cover I've seen -- only the ones I like. On the flipside, some of the covers are there just because they appeal to me/I am nostalgic about the book for whatever reason, and not necessarily because the green caught my eye (though of course it still has to have some green).

I will add to it from time to time as I come across more books. Click ahead for the coverporn!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

whitewashed heroes

In some ways, the romance genre is pretty narrow-minded in its idea of acceptable heroes and heroines, but I can usually still find something to enjoy in its conventionality. Certainly I've always felt that the genre is easier on male characters than on female ones when it comes to likeability as a requirement. They're given much more leeway to be less than perfect and still deserve a happy ending (e.g. Reformed Rakes or the Bad Boy who is an asshole/misogynist to everyone until he meets the heroine). It's a worthy enough message when done right – that is, if the hero manages to grow from where he was when he started out at the beginning of the book.

There are times though, when authors take the popularity of those tropes for granted and use them as shorthand in the transformation of the decidedly less than heroic character to someone deserving of the heroine. It occurred to me how much this annoys me when I finished Wicked Games by Jill Myles the other day (it's free!). I thought it was a fun read. The survival game reality show set-up (I groaned at first, but the absurdity of the whole thing turned out kind of hilarious) with its highly competitive atmosphere provided a believable foundation for the h/h's Hate at First Sight as well as catalyst for changing their impressions of each other (they're paired and forced to spend copious amounts of time together alone).

In keeping with the unlikeable character theme, the hero Dean is shown to us as this arrogant, competitive jerk who is quite clearly willing to do whatever it takes to win. Fair enough, they're in an environment that's been calculated to bring out the worst in everybody. When their romance inevitably develops, the heroine Abby wonders about his sincerity, reasonably so, but things go swimmingly well anyway until she is eventually out of the game.

This event (at about 85% of the novella) triggers a whole new host of suspicions regarding Dean's possible betrayal and use of her, which is backed up by the accounts of the other candidates, as well as a set of pre-game video interviews Dean himself did. Cue the Big Misunderstanding. OK, I understand that continued smooth sailing from there on would've been boring and so it was time for some conflict, but I really felt it could've done without the pre-game interviews. Or they could've made it more open to interpretation.

Because quite frankly, they portrayed him as an unequivocally cruel douchebag. He is recorded talking about his planned strategy for the game – to hook up with whichever girl partner he has, get her wrapped around his finger, and discard her when he no longer needs her vote. He says, and I quote, "It’s all about me in this game…but of course, the girls don’t have to know that." It's kind of hard to try to redeem a cruel douchebag with only 15% of the book left to go. At this point, I think OK, maybe Myles can pull it off, because I did spend most of the book thinking the hero was a decent enough guy, so the groundwork has already been laid.

...What happens next? They completely and conveniently ignore that he ever said all those things. There's no admission of guilt, maybe wrapped up with a quick apology and a promise to reform. They don't even try to deny it, or claim it was just a joke. It's not brought up at all. Which brings me to my next question: why bother including the damning evidence of those video clips? Just so Abby could have a believable reason to distrust him? Well that part worked.

It didn't work when Abby finally reconciles with Dean (thanks to another set of interviews during the game after he met her), yet fails to say, "Well dude, you did say you were planning to use a girl, then proceed to do with me the very things you outlined, so what was I expected to think? And hello, are we supposed to gloss over just how much of an asshole you would've been if you hadn't, I don't know, fallen in love in me? But you really do love me, so suddenly that makes it all OK?".

I still say Abby should've slapped him on behalf of every woman out there he didn't love and thus would likely have no problems treating like trash. But no, she spends the emotional reveal scene guilt-tripping herself over her lack of trust and costing Dean his two-million-dollar-prize.

It's frustrating because it could've been smoothed over so easily. The author could've made him seem less unambiguously mean in the videos, have a simple acknowledgement of wrongdoing, or even just claim he didn't mean it (this would've been supported by how unexpected he found the direction his relationship with Abby was taking, but since it is never put out there, it just seems like he didn't expect to fall in love with her). Hell, I was all set to like him again; he seemed sweet enough apart from the videos, so we were already halfway there.

And therein lies the problem: the disconnect between the character I read about and got to know within the confines of the story, and the persona that was presented to the fictional public in bits and pieces. Never resolved. On a side note, I also mentioned having a similar problem with Julie James' Just the Sexiest Man Alive.

Sigh. Still, the authors probably have something there in their reliance on the popularity of those tropes. After all, I did end up giving Wicked Games 4/5 stars and Just the Sexiest Man Alive 5/5 stars. But those two worked for me despite myself, because I only personally got to know the good side of the hero. Meanwhile, I'm not even going to touch on the Harlequin Presents line's alpha-assholes-for-heroes (alpholes?). Too much WTF there.

Monday, June 06, 2011

rape and liability

Couple of scattered thoughts I've been having on the subject.

People mostly moralize through their sense of empathy (when they're not being hypocrites). We judge and intuit what we believe to be right and wrong through the simple process of imagining ourselves in others' shoes and determining what might be done best for us then. It occurs to me that if that were so, there is nothing very objective about morality.

It shouldn't surprise me then that whenever I come across a discussion about rape among guys on the internet, there will suddenly be all these 'grey' areas that seem to revolve around the worry that "that can't be rape, it's something that most guys might very well do in blissful ignorance!". The idea behind that is, surely if one does not intend to be a rapist, one cannot possibly rape. I don't know. I'm not a guy, so I will likely never be at risk of being accused of rape, or 'accidentally' raping someone. But I can't sympathize with that worry when their token response to that so often calls for a narrower definition of rape.

Consequences trump intentions. Is it really so difficult to not initiate sex with a drunk person? If you are drunk as well, then that doesn't really count I guess, but I'm talking about relatively sober people who would much rather blind themselves to how alcohol distorts true consent and accept any sexual situation arising from it at face value. Because it's 'freely' offered sex. Because the other person got themselves drunk, didn't they? No one's forcing anyone, we're just going with the flow. Or something.

Similarly, you'll have people who think that initiating sex while someone is asleep is not rape, if both parties have had previous sexual relations. Without navigating the minefield of contextual relationships and implied and/or prior consent, I think we should be able to safely say, objectively, that it can be. But with context, where do we draw the line? Where does it cross over from playful foreplay to invasive violation?

For the Julian Assange sexual assault allegations, in my opinion, it was the forgoing of the condom despite the alleged victim's insistence on it in all previous sexual interactions with Assange. In the absence of a clear indicator like that though, what makes it rape? When the alleged victim doesn't want it, or when the alleged rapist is aware the victim doesn't want it? As we all know, two separate individuals' versions of reality won't always line up, but in this case, shouldn't the alleged victim's reality trump the perpetrator's  after all, who's dealing with the feelings of violation here?

So, liability. Haven't we come far enough to admit that rape begins with the rapist? (Most) people accept it at face value, condemn victim-blaming as a matter of fact, even if they don't always recognize when it's happening, but what does it really mean? It means each and every one of us is accountable for what we sexually do to another person. We're not born rapists or non-rapists. Just like drivers are potential killers waiting to happen, can we say we're potential rapists* waiting to happen?

(*Just as drivers who caused someone else's death is on a different level from premeditated murder, the rape I talk about here is arguably not in the same league in terms of reprehensibility, as with someone who actively sets out to render someone powerless by means of drugs/alcohol or physical force or maybe even knowingly taking advantage of someone's vulnerability i.e. they were already drunk. But the outcome is still the same for the victim, they're dead/have to deal with equally powerful feelings of violation and/or shame.)

It means that our liability should go beyond accepting a 'No' to ensuring a truly, freely-given 'Yes' in any sexual situation. It means all the hypothetical situations I outlined above can and sometimes do result in a rape.

Rape can come from more than the mere intention to forcibly render someone powerless. It is often power play, but it can also come from disrespect and the subsequent dehumanizing of people considered inferior and thus already powerless ('sluts', prostitutes, homosexuals, etc.) or sometimes it's just pure self-centeredness and a dollop of ignorance. Lots of people would never imagine themselves becoming rapists, and sometimes to them that means nothing they do could ever be rape. It's a dangerous line of thought.

Note: I'm not suggesting that any of what I say here should be legally enforced. I just thought we could maybe start trying to adjust the ways we think about rape.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

true love

It strikes me that 'true love', or true romantic love anyway, is often defined by one's actions. 'If he really loved you, he would...', 'She did XXX; that's not true love'. I'm not about to disagree with the standards of what love should be, but I've been thinking about the implicit reasonings behind that line of thought, and it seems to me that it puts undue emphasis on love as a catalyst.

Here's my theory: most people who love, love to the best of their ability. In that case, 'true love' cannot be distinguished through the depth of its sincerity, because it is ultimately the individual's world views and personal values that determines how he or she acts on that love. Simply put, how you love comes down to who you are as a person. Following that vein, people who act like assholes to professed loved ones aren't doing so because they don't truly love them  they're just assholes.

It means that someone loving you won't mean jack shit if you're miserable around them, so there's no point thinking love will change things since they already 'love' you. It also means people who are in love should worry more about what they do with it than what they're feeling.

Friday, May 06, 2011

All men are potential rapists?

NOTE: This post seems to get more traffic than any other post I have O.o which makes me feel like I ought to caution any potential reader to try reading the rest of this post first before you link to it in order to prove an anti-feminist point -______-" 



It's time for our controversial feminist topic of the day! :D

Have a look at a statement oft-associated with feminism and all the 'extremism' it stands for. You might have seen it on a poster on campus, or on the internet, or had it quoted to you -- that all men are potential rapists. The statement is clearly a shock tactic, which doesn't always work the way you want them to, so I understand when people react unfavourably to what is admittedly a deliberately incendiary statement.

But I see something different when I read it. I don't know if it's the 'right' interpretation, or if it is how it was intended to be read. I can only bring my own coloured views and perspective to it, and that is what I do now. What I see, as a young woman in today's world, in that statement...it's not about the men. People often seem to interpret it as a pre-emptory accusation of all men, a confirmation of feminism's entrenched misandry, and they immediately protest, There are plenty of decent, good-hearted guys out there! I know men who would never! etc, etc.

Well, I don't think it's about the men. Flipped around, I see this: it's about the women who are told they have to live with that statement's 'reality'. This is simply what the world tells me. What every single concerned, well-meaning individual tries to impress upon my psyche.

For one, it is the truth. Fact of the matter is, every time a girl turns down a much-needed offer of a ride late at night from a guy, she's treating him as a potential rapist. When a woman makes sure not to go to the bathroom alone, she's treating every man in the vicinity as a potential rapist. She takes care not to be alone with a man unnecessarily, potential rapist. You get the pattern. And every girl out there has, at some point, done something along those lines. Every time someone utters a victim-blaming remark, What was she doing out so late alone with him (potential rapist)? What did she do to encourage him (potential rapist)? Every time people try to tell women what to wear, what to do to avoid sexual assault (watch out for potential rapists!). This is what we hear: that all men are potential rapists. I'm certainly not saying that every man out there is a hair-trigger away from turning into a ravening beast of lust and ravishing their way through towns, but that women are expected to live their lives as if that is the case.

'All men are potential rapists' is the essential breakdown of all the rules that have been taught to women, and if we break even a single one, we are often blamed when something happens to us. I don't think I need to point out how impossible it is to follow absolutely the rules of the beware-all-men tenet, but that is the paradox women have to live with, everyday.

Men are privileged in this area -- they don't have to live as if all men (or women) are potential rapists. They don't have to and aren't expected to plan their excursions and social life and daily commute around that rule. I know shock tactics can be counterproductive, and in this case it's hard to see much beyond blind accusations. But honestly, 'all men are potential rapists' really quite succinctly depicts how women have to live, and that's the meat of it. Get angry with the alleged reality that women are callously expected to 'deal' with instead of the statement that merely pointed it out.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Just the Sexiest Man Alive

Book: Just the Sexiest Man Alive by Julie James

Taylor Donovan is a lawyer working towards partner in an illustrious law firm, and she's well on the track to it. When she is given an opportunity to further prove herself in a highly-publicized class-action sexual harassment suit, she jumps at it, even though the case requires her to leave her Chicago office for the Los Angeles branch and stay there for the duration of the case. After all, a couple of months in sunny, celebrity-town L.A. is no hardship at all, is it?

We are introduced to Taylor in the opening pages, where she's annihilating her opposing counsel's arguments for settlement. And it. is. awesome. I have a soft spot for competent, no-nonsense, career-minded heroines in romance novels. This is partly to make up for all those times they were cast as The Other Woman in contrast with the virginal homemaker heroine and mostly to shout: Yeah world, romance and careers CAN mix! Ahem. Moving on.

Poor Taylor gets her first taste of how celebrity-driven L.A. works, when her boss sets her a side assignment to give pointers to actor Jason Andrews on his upcoming role as an attorney in a legal thriller. Who is Jason Andrews, you ask? Why, he's Just the Sexiest Man Alive. According to People magazine, anyway. Though galled by the thought of having to kowtow to some frat boy, Taylor is still intrigued because hey, even she who's been living under a rock has watched Jason Andrews' movies. Any goodwill she may have mustered for the job is dashed, however, when the actor stands her up twice in a row. Needless to say, when he finally does come around to meet her, Taylor is less than impressed.

Jason Andrews may be larger than life, but Taylor has been going head-to-head with men all her life, and she's more than a match for his ego. Sparks fly, and hijinks ensue.

I was a bit leery about the set-up at first, because I'm kind of pessimistic about Hollywood romances in general, and wasn't sure I'd find myself believing in the eventual HEA. It didn't help when the hero Jason initially started out proving every celebrity stereotype true. But Ms James has a gift with turning her spoiled, arrogant heroes into likeable, sometimes-vulnerable and basically decent guys.

...I hesitated a little with that last bit though. Jason, the hero, IS portrayed as decent at heart most of the time, even though I felt that his past womanizing actions said otherwise. Plus those actions were only alluded to and so felt even more removed from the Jason that was presented to the reader, I guess. In the end, the only reason I could gauge why Jason was so horrible to the women in his life was because they were all attention-seeking sluts who only cared for his fame anyway. Sometimes I wonder, why do these men get so bitter about meeting exactly the type of women they were looking for?

But all that's just a minor quibble, because the author managed to convince me that yeah, he was probably just looking in the wrong places this whole time (I know, I cringed a bit at that sentence too, but Ms James honestly did a good job of it!). Once you're convinced of that, the rest of the journey is a delightful romp that makes you laugh and sigh and fall for all the characters involved (Ms James does friendships with secondary characters beautifully). The chemistry and dialogue between the characters were amazing. I think I would love Julie James for her dialogue alone.

I liked that the ultimate issue in the end wasn't Jason's past, but Taylor's trust (or lack thereof) in him. That with Jason having done his best to prove himself, there was nothing more he could do or say to convince her -- the ball was in Taylor's court. And boy, did she pick it up.

So I started out this book with two marks against it: one, it was a Hollywood romance, and two, it was a contemporary. The latter because I've always thought contemporary settings unmemorable and indeed, up until Julie James, that had always been the case for me. And despite the less than auspicious start, this book still managed to win me over with a 5-star rating. I can't wait to try out her other books. 5/5 on goodreads.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

CryoBurn

Book: Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold

Bookrant time. I've just stayed up all night to finish Cryoburn, the latest (last?) book in the Vorkosigan Saga. Got in only 5 hours of sleep since so I'm still a little bleary-eyed and will likely be a miiiite incoherent. The Vorkosigan Saga is a series I highly, highly, recommend to anyone who likes reading for pleasure by the way, and since this is one of the later books my thoughts on it are bound to be full of spoilers, so I'll put those parts below the cut.

Cryoburn follows the latest adventure of Lord Miles Naismith Vorkosigan, who was 16 when we first met him in The Warrior's Apprentice and is now 38 and (mostly) settled with a family of his own. As Imperial Auditor of the Barrayaran empire, Miles is sent by Emperor Gregor to investigate an off-worlder cryocorps' plans for expansion onto one of their own planets. The cryocorps (cryonics corporation) in question is one of many that effectively rule the planet Kibou-daini, a planet obsessed with cheating death by freezing their dead by the millions.

Kibou-daini is the first nod I've ever seen given to an Asian culture in this series (a Japanese one, in this case). Don't worry, I'm not going to devolve into a rant about diversity and multiculturalism here, because 1) I don't feel that strongly about it, and 2) my thoughts are rather preoccupied with other things. Still, I thought I'd just mention this because I overlook things like this in fiction all the time, but the extent of globalisation (universalization?) in the future written in these books have led even me to wonder about the absence of Asian characters. You'd think China having the biggest population on old Earth would mean at least a significant, if not strong, presence in the galactic world many centuries later. Oh well.

I've read some reviews that seem to be of the opinion that this book isn't one of her best. That it hasn't got any memorable characters, aside from Miles himself, who is rather diminished as well. I think I have to agree. Bujold can write yes, but I've always felt that it was her characters who made the book, and all the interesting new ones promised in the summary,
"...a young boy with a passion for pets and a dangerous secret, a Snow White trapped in an icy coffin who burns to re-write her own tale, and a mysterious crone who is the very embodiment of the warning Don't mess with the secretary."
just didn't seem to live up to their potential. Everyone felt a little flat, smaller somehow and faded into the background, even the villains, who aren't even on-page at all. This book sounds like a dud right, so why am I still talking so much about it? Well, then there was the epilogue. Which was so bittersweet and beautifully written and in keeping with what the author has effectively set up for the whole novel, that I can't believe I didn't see it coming. In fact I feel like the entire adventure in Cryoburn was really a prelude to the epilogue, a thought experiment before the actual deed -- which may be why it seems so faded as a standalone? Because it's not meant to overshadow the ending?

I'm venturing into spoiler territory here; click for more.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

a glut of everything

Maybe it's just due to the sheer volume of them, but I've come to doubt the happily-ever-after of every Harlequin Presents novel I read. There's always such a large disconnect between what the characters know of each other and who they really are. I grant that this is probably a necessary set-up for 99% of the conflicts out there, but I really don't think that bodes well for their future together, since the HP world is so fraught with malicious, conniving evil-doers bent on splitting couples up. Most of the inflammatory evidence that usually accompany such misunderstandings can be defused with a simple knowledge of someone's character, long enough for a logical, reasonable person to seek further explanations anyway.

But really, I have a lot of issues with HP novels, this being the least of it. The problem with category novels, in this scenario, is that they're like a formula within an already formulaic genre. What might work as a character study confined to a single story, when multiplied by the thousands of books you have in the same line, just seems like a glorification of the alpha-asshole behaviour (and various other stereotypes and double standards) so prevalent in them. Because of that, when I read a HP novel, its similarities (or rather, identifiers) with the other HPs I've read makes it hard for me to isolate my experiences with them from my experience with this single individual work. So yeah, my probability of enjoying a HP novel progressively declines with each successive HP I read. I guess that means I should only take them in small, spaced-out doses : /

Saturday, March 26, 2011

"chivalry": because it really does need scare quotes

I think feminism gets asked this question a lot: where does chivalry fit into your idea of equal rights? This is my two cents; not so much from a feminist angle, although it's my personal take on it and I am undeniably feminist.

If you read the chivalry article on Wikipedia, you'll see that the origins of chivalry are 'usually associated with ideals of knightly virtues, honor and courtly love', of which duties to ladies are only one aspect of it. Chivalry started out more as a means of identity for men, and despite the shifting focus to courtesy towards women that defines chivalry today, I think it still reflects its origins. Because, let's not kid ourselves -- anyone who has to put a label on good manners towards specific members of the human race is more concerned about how what he's doing defines him than anything else.

Call me judgmental, but if you think holding doors open (only for women, because how else can the chivalrous you be distinguished from the merely good-mannered who hold doors open for men and women alike?) means you're 'chivalrous', if you think that means something...I think less of you.

Yes, I have a thing against people who brag about chivalry or upholding it. To my mind, it has the same effect as the annual breast cancer awareness meme that goes around social networks (tell us where you like your handphone!) -- it makes people feel good about themselves by thinking they're doing something to 'support' a cause, when in fact they've not made any meaningful contribution. It's harmful in that it lulls people into imagining they've done their bit for charity and they need not do any more. That's what chivalry, or at least people who think they're being 'chivalrous' for these little bits of courtesy, does. They think they're pro-women, and they think doing it elevates them somehow, even if just a little bit, and it shows in their 'Well I hold doors open for girls! So I'm nice to girls' or something. Few of them think beyond holding doors open.

Let's not even go into the classist origins of chivalry (you didn't think chivalry was reserved for anyone but ladies, did you?), because 'chivalry' in our modern enlightened times today is just as discriminating. Remember these two videos? Heartwarming in one beat, disgusting the next.

My point, to you 'chivalrous' men out there, is this: do you really care about women? Then stand up for the drunk girl at the party who is clearly in no position to consent to your friend's advances, regardless of what she's wearing, how she's responding to those advances, what her reputation is, whether your friend will ever talk to you again. Make a stand against physical and emotional abuse, especially if it's a display in front of you, if only just to show that no, people are not okay with this, you are not okay with this. Even if you think she's a prostitute. Even if you're not physically intimidating enough and all you can do is call the cops or make a public scene. I can't promise you your help will always amount to something. I can't promise you that the women you help will always be grateful. But if you care, that shouldn't matter.

Most importantly, perhaps you should start by examining your own possible prejudices and double standards where women are concerned. Because that's what really stops men from being a help: thinking she might've deserved it, thinking she could've prevented it if she really wanted to, justifying, justifying, ad nauseam.

There is no doubt that there are men out there who stand up for women, but see, these men don't usually define what they do as chivalry. For good reason, because it's so far removed from the original applications of it. Plus, I often hear guys talk about chivalry in response to oh noes feminism! or expressing disgruntlement at the lack of 'proper appreciation' (i.e. accepting his gestures). Talk about a sense of entitlement. Even then they keep harping on the ridiculously minor acts of holding doors open, offering a coat, etc. Is it any wonder that I have such a poor opinion of chivalry and those who espouse it?

And maybe some of you would like to be honest -- that you've never thought about chivalry in terms of helping women, just being preferentially good-mannered to them. To that, I really have nothing much to say, except that why you would imagine it is something to be proud of is quite beyond me, since I cannot see it taking much strength of integrity and values to be polite to only half the human race.

tl;dr Chivalry is obsolete. Universally good manners is king. If you really love women, help them where it counts.


Further readings for the interested:-
On Chivalry : A feminist analysis of chivalry.
Stuff What Boys Can Do : Encouraging anecdotes of men helping women. Kind of like a givesmehope of men and feminism.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Daughter of the Forest

Book: Daughter of the Forest by Juliet Marillier


Sorcha is the seventh child of an Irish lord, after her six brothers. When her father remarries, her new stepmother, the Lady Oonagh turns out to be a beautiful and malicious sorceress. After several engineered mishaps befall Sorcha and her brothers, they convene and attempt to do something about the enchantment holding their father in thrall. Instead, they are interrupted by Lady Oonagh, who casts a spell to turn them into swans. Sorcha however manages to run away and thus escapes the curse. Wrought with despair over her brothers' fates, she accepts the only solution given by the Fair Folk of the forest: to weave six shirts of starwort (a plant with barbed and poisonous stems) for her brothers, while keeping absolute silence. But love comes and complicates her mission.

This is a retelling of the fairy tale 'The Six Swans', and it stays pretty faithful to the Grimms' telling. It's a historical fantasy set in 9th century Ireland and incorporates the Celtic myths of its day. There are some mentions of early medieval Christianity, but the pagan lores are what drives the story, what with all the capricious Fair Folk running around messing with ordinary people's lives. I'd heard many good things about this book and I love fairy tales, so I really wanted to like it, but...it was a bit of a letdown, thanks to several things that lowered my overall enjoyment of it.

First off, there is a somewhat graphic rape scene in this book. Sorcha goes to hell and back in her quest to save her brothers. Now, I'm not against bad things happening to characters in general, but there's no denying that rape is a sensitive issue. I hadn't noticed any mention of it in the reviews I skimmed, so it came as quite a shock to me when it happened, and that probably cost me. It was all the more viscerally upsetting because I'd gotten quite emotionally invested in the character by then, and I had to put away the book for a day or so before I could pick it up again.

I don't think that the disclosure of this will in any way 'spoil' the book for anyone, so I believe it might be better if readers are given a trigger warning beforehand. Some may believe the 'shock value' of it might induce more empathy on the part of the reader, but sorry, I just can't see rape being used cavalierly as a 'plot twist'. There is no doubt that I would've enjoyed this book better if I'd been warned and knew to gird my loins (horrible pun not intended). So. If you're reading this, you have been warned.

Secondly, I found the change in tone, or rather, the shift in focus, hard to follow. The brief summary I gave above is actually quite misleading about its pacing. The events that set the tale in motion don't happen until about 100 pages into the book. It didn't start out as a romance (the love interest only turns up around the halfway mark), but it ended as a romance. Ironically, the half without the romance was my favourite, despite me picking up this book for its promised romantic elements.

I have always said that I'm not much of a prose person, and that I'm a very reactionary reader -- what I left out is that I find it much easier to articulate what went wrong than what I liked. For the latter, I'm not sure what to say beyond readthisreadthisreadthis! So this next part is kind of hard for me to write. I have to say, as little as the attention I pay to prose, that I like Marillier's. Daughter of the Forest is written in omniscient first person, almost like a memoir, and it worked for me. I cared about the world she introduced to me, I cared about what happened, and I cared, period.

It's precisely because I liked it so much in the first half that I cared much more about the characters introduced to me then, and the romance took second place. All I felt was a strong sense of urgency for Sorcha to complete her task so she and her brothers would be saved, and everything else, especially the romance, just got in the way. Well okay, that's not fair -- it didn't get in the way, I just wasn't very invested in it. I was much more invested in the completion of her task, and thus I didn't empathize with the love/family dilemma. The hero's confession at the end was romantic, or at least I know I would've thought so in another book, but I'd stopped seeing this book as a romance by page 202, and really didn't care so much about that aspect.

My apathy towards the lovers' fate carried over to the ending, and all the loose ends made it extremely dissatisfying. In fact, the only thing that's resolved is the love story, which is why I said the book ended like a romance -- since it was as if the only thing that should matter at that point was that the hero and heroine lived happily ever after. Unfortunately, as I've explained, that obviously wouldn't be enough for me. I felt like I was left hanging. I know that this is part of a series, but I just don't feel like I got any emotional payoff after sticking with Sorcha's story for so long (it felt really long, okay) and I'm a bit leery about trying the sequels because of that. Plus, they deal with a different set of protagonists.

Some minor caveats: I had a bit of a problem with the heroine being in a completely helpless and vulnerable situation for majority of the book, but since that's how the original fairy tale goes anyway, I was willing to overlook it. The heroine starts out 13 in this book and finishes it aged 16. Some people might be creeped out by that, but I considered it largely in keeping with the mores of her time, and also she sounded way older than a 13 year-old.

There is a twist on the old romance rule of the first strange man the heroine encounters being the love interest, and I found that bit intriguing. Kudos to Marillier for that.

Final thoughts: I'm a bit traditional in what I expect in my reading, which is probably why I like genre fiction so much. So despite the many things I enjoyed in this book, the experience is dampened by the things I didn't. 3/5 on goodreads for me.

I have plenty of other authors I want to try before I'll think about getting back on board with this one. (but I'll be checking reviews for any possibility of sexual violence when I dip my toe in again.)

Saturday, March 19, 2011

mirroring

I dreamed that I was trying to get to somewhere by bus, but wherever I ended up, I couldn't recognize the area at all, and I couldn't ask anyone for help.

    Get a fucking map.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Nicholas Sparks

"(Romances) are all essentially the same story: You've got a woman, she's down on her luck, she meets the handsome stranger who falls desperately in love with her, but he's got these quirks, she must change him, and they have their conflicts, and then they end up happily ever after. ... (t)he themes in love stories are different. In mine, you never know if it's going to be a happy ending, sad ending, bittersweet or tragic. You read a romance because you know what to expect. You read a love story because you don't know what to expect."
--Nicholas Sparks via USA TODAY
Hmmm. Let me put it this way: if romance novels are guaranteed happy endings, then Nicholas Sparks guarantees tragic, bittersweet endings. So I honestly don't see how one formula is superior to the other. If I'm going to have to choose between two equally predictable and formulaic genres (yes Nicholas Sparks, you are predictable), then I'm going for the one more likely to leave me smiling (guaranteed emotional payoff, okay!). Also,

Sparks says: "I'm going to interrupt you there. There's a difference between drama and melodrama; evoking genuine emotion, or manipulating emotion. It's a very fine eye-of-the-needle to thread. And it's very rare that it works. That's why I tend to dominate this particular genre. There is this fine line. And I do not verge into melodrama. It's all drama. I try to generate authentic emotional power."

Really? Systematically killing off one main character in every book kind of screams emotional manipulation to me. In my opinion, fiction is supposed to try to tug on your heartstrings. The difference in whether it works, is when the reader realizes they're being manipulated and feels swindled. That's when it doesn't work, and that is precisely why I haven't bothered to read his other books and watch his other movies after A Walk to Remember and The Notebook. 'Genuine' or 'manipulated' emotion on the part of the reader, of all people, is not the distinction. All emotions from reading fiction are manipulated, somehow. It's all in the story, and whether or not the reader can be strung along thinking that the events happening are a natural progression of what they're reading.

Of course, it is a fine line to tread, and you can't please everyone. Even though I don't adore Nicholas Sparks, I know many people who do. That being said, I have nothing against 'Greek tragedies' or Romeo and Juliet. Having a preference for happy endings is just that, a preference. If bittersweet tearjerkers are up your alley, by all means grab a Sparks novel.

And, odd -- I noticed he has Jane Austen on his shortlist of people who are 'doing what he does' (mind, it is a very short list). If love stories are spotted by their unpredictably tragic endings, how the heck did Austen make the cut?

But what especially amuses me is how Sparks tries to distinguish his works from romances (a genre he is often tagged with for obvious reasons) by linking himself exclusively with big literary names (cue: Austen despite her decidedly untragic endings) while playing down the romance genre as frivolous and adult versions of fairy tales. Because we all know only sad and tragic things ever happen in real life.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

ticking time-bomb

Some days (every day) I feel like I'm brimming with potential for failure. That I will spend the rest of my life defining its moments by how closely I skirt the edge of it.

And then on even rarer days, there is a fatalistic urge to jump (fall) anyway and see what I can do with all the pieces left after. (answer: nothing)

Friday, February 11, 2011

ache

I'm not one to indulge in could-have-been's, but on days like these I think maybe I ought to. If only just to force me to acknowledge the depth of my own cowardice and how much I've managed to let slip by me, and maybe, just maybe, the intensity of my regrets will carry through to the next crossroads and remind me to tread bravely.

Keep heart.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

mini updates

Flu. Sick meh. Only after the major new year celebrations, thankfully; I'm not missing out on much now. Contracted it from my dear visiting brother who I'd been cooped up in the same room with for a week, I bet >_>

Dance. Even brief hiatuses do me in completely :( as evidenced by my post-CNY break noobness. My resolution for this year is to get a bit more involved in the social dance scene in Perth (among other Things roar). Somehow.

Wait. This summer break is getting to be too long. Maybe it's because everyone's leaving/left and so I have nothing to distract me from my growing anxiety for the coming semester. Maybe I shouldn't have quit my job, but I felt like I really needed a breather before I jumped back into the academic grind. I hate waiting, but this wait is probably necessary :/

Jaran. It's not science fiction, disappointingly. But it was an intriguing enough story to keep me going. I loved the worldbuilding (on the micro-culture scale anyway, there is barely anything on its sci-fi outline), even if the society the author created sounds a mite too utopian for me. Would twisting gender dynamics by making women the sexual initiators and men the recipients remove sexual violence from the picture completely? I find that curious. I don't know if the author meant to suggest that, or if she simply didn't bother to examine the implications of it.

Additionally, it seemed that 'sexual aggressiveness' was really limited to issuing invitations (that is up to the man to accept), which is kind of already done in our male-aggressor culture even among females, albeit with negative labels. I wonder that women, given the power and encouraged to openly solicit men in society, would not take advantage of it, as imbalanced power structures often tempt people to. I wonder that the issue of sexual violence is never raised, as if it would never occur, by dint of men's generally superior physical strength (despite the fact that in this society they are prohibited from using violence on women, thereby conferring some sort of immunity on them?). The author tries to balance the stakes by giving men the absolute choice in marriage, which also gives them the right to act similarly to our own earthly gender dynamics, but I never felt it was much of a fair trade.

Also, human nature? I find it unbelievable that a society that condones casual pre-(and post-) marital sex would not have any venereal diseases or illegitimacy issues to deal with, even with contraception being practised regularly. Accidents happen. And the taboo with orphans was never really explained; I can only assume it comes from an aversion to tragedy.

Maybe I'm being too egalitarian for my own good, because I actually quite liked the book, so long as one does not expect too much from the romance. I'm feeling torn about continuing the series. On one hand, I would like to know what happens next, on the other, I'm not sure I want to invest more time and emotion in a hanging, incomplete story that likely won't ever be finished.

Er okay so my mini update post somehow led to impromptu book musings. These things happen :D

Friday, January 28, 2011

dear fellow feminist on the dance floor,

please don't take out your feelings of frustration and helplessness on other women. Saying 'why didn't you say something? you should've screamed! I just needed a reason to beat him up' harshly in response to our talks of discomfort, then proceeding to lecture us on what rape is (i.e. touching without consent) in the same breath, acting for the world like you're on our side (maybe you are, but I don't see it), is a big NO-NO.

you mean well, I'm sure. But when you come at us like that, and make me wonder for a long moment if maybe you're defending him, you fail. Quite epically.