Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Feminism and sexuality

Two articles about pornography and our society's hypocritical attitude to it.
The Power of Porn Stars: Why We Love, Hate, Fear and Want Them
Girls involved with paid sex, who gain benefit from their position as females while remaining independent, are feverishly desired, yet punished for their "transgressions."
By Virginie Despentes
Quiet Riot Girl - This is Hardcore: A feminist's journey into porn
Feminists and others have rightly called attention to the exploitation of women in the pornographic film industry. However, the first article points out that because of our society's assumption that a woman who is sexually active is also a brainless bimbo, actresses who work in porn films can't get jobs in other films, so are forced into a porn-film ghetto.

The second article points out that women can gain pleasure from pornography too; the kind of power games played in these films are part of many people's sexual pleasures, and just because people indulge in them in the bedroom does not mean they have to be acted out beyond the bedroom door. In fact, the playing of such games can resolve anxieties about power. The sociologist Michel Foucault liked S/M for this very reason.

Yes, treating people purely as sex objects is wrong; but lust in itself is natural and healthy; and by eroticising what we fear, it can be transformed into something else, something less frightening.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Hedy Lamarr: an unlikely geek

In celebration of Ada Lovelace day 2010, here's a biography of someone you might not think of as a scientist and inventor:

Hedy Lamarr (born 1913)
Radio communications system

The Viennese-born femme fatale of 1930s and 1940s films is a lot more than just a pretty face.

The actress, whose real name is Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler, immigrated to the United States during the early years of World War II. She is best known for sultry roles in such movies as "Ecstasy" and "Samson and Delilah," but she also coinvented a remote-controlled, anti-jamming communications system, a major contribution to U.S. defense technology.

According to Bethesda resident Anne Macdonald, author of a book about American women inventors and a patent-holder herself for a knitting machine, Lamarr learned about designs for military technologies while married to a wealthy Austrian arms dealer for three years. Soon after Nazi Germany invaded Austria in 1938, she left her husband and went to London, where Louis B. Mayer of MGM Studios changed her name and signed her up as his company's newest screen sensation.

In 1942, Lamarr and composer George Antheil received a patent for the communications system, which employed a feature known as frequency hopping. A radio signal, such as those used to direct torpedoes, would "hop" from one broadcast frequency to another at certain intervals. Therefore, if a receiver was not synchronized to receive the entire signal, the signal could not be "jammed" nor deciphered.

Lamarr's invention did not fit MGM's image of her as a glamorous movie star, and her creative side was a well-kept secret in Hollywood. Still, Lamarr was so passionate about helping the war effort that she seriously considered abandoning acting to join the National Inventors Council full-time.

Lamarr's system was never used during World War II, but long after her patent expired, the Sylvania Corp. adopted and further developed the idea.

Source: Female inventors: Mothers of invention

The annual German Inventors' Day is held on her birthday, 9th November:
This lady is Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood diva and inventor.
She is the prototype for the everyday life an inventor, not because she was an Edison, but simply because she was someone that tried to realise her idea.
She did not become rich or famous from her idea (as an actress she was already). Her invention however, the frequency hopping process is still in daily use and an integral process in our mobile phones.
Her birthday, 9th November, has been taken to represent all inventors and this Inventors' Day.
My other Finding Ada blogposts:
Lisa Barone
Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Kate and the Angels of Xara

Kate and the Angels of Xara (by Brendan Hanley) is a coming-of-age story taking place in the near future. The heroine, Kate, becomes an astronaut, and grows up in the process. The story was apparently inspired by the author's admiration for brainy sassy tomboys (the kind of gals we at the Bluestocking also admire).

I enjoyed the contrast between the dangers of space and the dangers that one can encounter on Earth. I also liked the descriptions of landscape. I thought the level of technical detail in the space scenes was rather satisfying, because it really made it feel like I was there, and thinking through the dangers and the technical details makes the reader feel like a real astronaut for a bit. The fortune-telling scene was exciting, and I really liked the way it was handled - the initial scepticism giving way to fear that it might actually be true, and Sunita's reaction. I'm agog to see what happens next. I also liked the mixture of real and invented Tarot cards (rather like in T S Eliot's poem The Wasteland). I also thought the scene where the Angels rescued the boy Otto Muller from space was great - I was on tenterhooks to know if they would all get back into the spaceship safely, which shows that the characters were real enough to be cared about by the reader.

The scene where Kate watches the shuttle launch was well written, and I thought her response to it (and that of the other people present) was very believable. Another scene describes one of the characters cutting herself; I don't think I've ever seen a description of cutting in a book before; it was really well described, as it's how I imagine it would come about.

It's funny that I have written more in response to the scenes on Earth - perhaps because they resonate with experiences that I have had - rather than the scenes in space, which were also really good, but outside my experience. But the space scenes were good too - I enjoyed the bit where Kate gave Earl the controls of the ship for re-entry, that was great. Also the stunning views of Earth from from space, and the geographical detail about the Niger delta, and the really poignant bit at the end where they see the Earth and the Moon receding away from them as they set off for Mars.

It was really noticeable how much more confident and fluid the author's writing is after the first third of the book, once it gets into space; but also the emotions of family members and Angels are handled well and realistically. I also think the pace of the writing (and the handling of conversations) was better, and about right, in the latter two-thirds. I noticed a few typos here and there, but the actual writing is excellent - very clear, and I never had to go back and re-read anything to make sense of it.

For me, the major theme that emerges from the book is the tension between life and death -- wanting to live life to the full and wring every last drop of experience out of it, whilst being aware that we will die. I thought that this was explored really well. The only other book where this theme is explored at all (that I know of) is The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates, and even there it's only touched on briefly, whereas I think this book is an extended meditation on it, and brings out the tension and the contrast, and the implications for how one should live one's life, really well. There's a great poem by Mary Oliver, The Summer Day, which includes the line "How will you spend your one wild and precious life?" It seems that the Angels of Xara have answered this question for themselves, and live in an awareness that each day might be their last, and therefore live it to the full, whilst everyone around them has not answered that question, and that's one of the reasons why the Angels make them so uncomfortable.

Monday, 22 March 2010

The naked lady

My friend Cat just tweeted about the blog of Tessa Chernoi, entitled Ramblings of a Naked Lady, in which she talks about her experiences of nude modelling and how it has enabled her to take pride in her body, and to help other women to do so too. She writes:
This enlightenment is also something that feeds my own photography, I don't care who she is, what she looks like, I would love to photograph every woman I meet. I want to be there when they discover that they are beautiful. My greatest triumph to date has been the reaction I received when I showed a good friend the pictures I had taken of her one evening as we tried to mend her broken heart with red wine. She started crying and asked how I had made her look so beautiful. I replied that I hadn't done anything. She was beautiful and all I did was see it, and photograph it.
How beautiful, and what a wonderful thing to do. Women are so constrained by the narrow mainstream definition of female beauty - it's time we reclaimed our bodies and celebrated them.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Bluestocking of the Week: Lisa Barone

My friend Kirsty just tweeted about an article by Lisa Barone rebutting an article in Canada's Globe and Mail claiming that men are better than women at blogging. And the offending article was written by a woman.

Lisa writes:
if you went to The Globe and Mail site expecting to read statistics about how men dominate the blogosphere and researched ideas as to why that was so, you would have come away disappointed.

Instead, Margaret did what women too often choose to do to one another – she cut them down for sport.

Margaret’s article featured nothing but a stereotyped opinion as to how blogging is really just a man’s task, similar to driving a snowmobile straight up a mountain, she says. Us, girls, just don’t have the stomach for opinions and pissing contests. Women are not interested in these sorts of things. We’re more restrained and less concerned with public displays of prowess.

Lisa Barone is the Chief Branding Officer of Outspoken Media.

Friday, 12 March 2010

You Shan't Go To The Prom!

I've just seen a shocking story about how a school in Mississippi won't allow a lesbian student to attend the prom with her girlfriend, and they wouldn't let her wear a tuxedo either.

Here's the email that I sent to tmcneece@itawamba.k12.ms.us, twiygul@itawamba.k12.ms.us
Dear Superintendent McNeece and Principal Wiygul,

I am writing to point out that lesbian and gay students have a right to bring a same-sex date to the prom and wear clothing congruent with their gender identity under the First Amendment, and the US Supreme Court has ruled that a policy or public entity that is based on discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people violates the Fourteenth Amendment.

Simply cancelling the prom seems like a disproportionate response to a simple request to bring a same-sex partner. Please reinstate the prom and allow Constance McMillen to bring her partner as her date, and wear a tuxedo if she wishes.

I am deeply dismayed by your discriminatory practice, and feel that it should be a matter of regret to you that your school is now infamous around the world for this bigoted, disproportionate and unjust response to a lesbian student and her partner.

Yours sincerely
I would encourage Bluestocking readers to write to the school on similar lines. You can get more information from the ACLU's letter on Constance's behalf (PDF).
Update: apparently the email addresses above are now closed (wonder why?)

The ACLU has produced an online resource for LGBT students who want to take their partners to the Prom.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

I am woman, hear me roar

I have just watched a fascinating documentary on BBC iPlayer that completely changed my view of second-wave feminism. When you realise the utter sexism that most men (and many women) espoused in the late 1960s and early 1970s, it's hardly surprising that many women thought that men were a write-off.

And in fact, many of the ideas which I had thought were third-wave feminism were actually formulated by the second wave - ideas like the social construction of gender, for instance.  Also, second-wave feminists invented consciousness-raising groups, and demanded equal pay for equal work, and abortions, and contraception, and the right to walk down the street at night without being in danger of getting raped or knifed.

And the women interviewed in the documentary admitted that political lesbianism was a bad idea, because it wasn't fair to real lesbians.