Monday, March 13, 2006

Baby-sitters, Unite!

With the Care Bears, Strawberry Shortcake, My Little Ponies and even Trixie Belden making a comeback, I should have expected to see new editions of the Babysitter's Club on my shelves. I was not, however, expecting to see them re-issued in graphic novel form. It makes a lot of sense though. People can talk all they want about more boys reading comics than girls, and it may still be true, but as far as graphic novels go, most of the ones that are actually in the kids section are written either for girls or for both genders.* Again, this makes sense, since girls are avid readers but a relatively untapped market as far as comics go. Plus, boys are more sensitive to accusations of being to babyish, so they are even more likely than girls to want to read stuff that seems as though it's meant for older kids or grownups, so when comics are written exclusively for boys, they are often moved to the general graphic novel area for marketing reasons.

But, back to the BSC:

Needless to say, I just had to read it in that "can't look away" kind of way, so I grabbed a copy to skim through during my break....

...and was pleasantly surprised to realize that it was actually very good. The story is almost identical to the original, so it should appeal as much to girls today as it did to my peers and me when it was first written. The artwork was well done, uncluttered but very expressive. It reminded me a lot of Bone, actually. Both Jeff Smith (Bone) and Raina Telgemeier (BSC) tend to use a lot of curves and they both do a fantastic job of varying line thickness to help convey perspective, meaning and emotion.

I started reading The Babysitter's Club during the few years before I was old enough to babysit, and Kristy and the gang made baby-sitting seem fun and grown-up without being too unrealistic. For girls too young to be proper baby-sitters (the series main audience) it's both a fantasy and a positive (but glossed over) portrayal of girlhood that's grounded in just enough reality to make it easy to relate to. The part of the series that was the most unrealistic, of course, was it's hook: the idea that getting paid to watch ankle biters is a bonding experience among teen girls rather than a isolating job. (Now there's a sentence deserves it's own post.)

As I read the story of the club's creation for the first time as an adult, it also struck me that the "club" was neither that nor the business Kristy proclaims it to be, but a union.

The idea for the club comes from Kristy listening to her mom calling around town trying to find a sitter for her younger brother. It occurs to Kristy that she and her friends could do parents like her mom a favor, and themselves one as well, by creating an organization that parents can call in order to get access to several sitters at once. But unlike referral agencies or even partnerships, Claudia, Mary Anne, and Stacey do not work for Kristy, nor do the four founding members have people work under them**. The point of the club is not to raise capital for the club, it's to make finding work easier on the clubs' members. By the end of the first book, the gang has already choosen club officers, started setting rules for employers (no pet sitting, only baby-sitting!), paid voluntary dues to fund a social event, and created a skills training program (a notebook where the girls write down their experiences). Over the next few books they will start to set more guidelines for employers and (if I remember right) a minimum wage as well. The club does blur the line between a business and a union - the girls set up a summer camp for their regular charges at one point - but the main focus is on making sure that are treated well as workers and are able to find enough work when they need it. They are able to do this because they ensure a high level of competency among members and they band together to deal with problem employers. Which is very much what unions, especially the first unions of skilled workers, have always done.

It's interesting to look back on something that seemed so stereotypical at the time and realize that there was always just a little bit of subversiveness running through it the whole time.

*Which really makes me wonder how the industry is going to deal when all these girls grow up and start demanding more comics for them.

**When Mallory and Jessi join, they aren't afforded full status right away because of their age and inexperience, not because the original four are the partners and everyone else are employees. Abby, after all, becomes a full member right away. Which makes the club even more like a union for skilled labour, since that means Mallory and Jessi are apprentices.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

On a Related Note

There are rights and wrongs
And in-betweens-
Why you do
What you do,
That's the point:
All the rest of it
Is chatter.
If the thing you do
Is pure in intent,
If it's meant,
And it's just a little bent,
Does it matter?
No, what matters is that
Everyone tells tiny lies.
What's important, really is, the size.

Only three more tries and we'll have our prize.
When the end's in sight,
You'll realize:
If the end is right,
It justifies
The beans!
Except it doesn't. Not because it's never ok to choose the lesser of two evils, but because if you try to argue that the ends justify the means, chances are you and I have a different definition of what the end goal is.

The point of fighting for abortion rights, after all, is not to win a victory over the Republicans, but to improve the lives of women and their families. So when the "means" increase the chance that women will be hurt the ends do not justify the means. And when you argue that it makes sense for men to support abortion rights because it may save them money, you are undermining the fundamental struggle. There are plenty of other ways for men to save money, after all, and very few of them make the world safer for women.

People who think that "women's issues" aren't "important shit" will never be better than the most dangerous of allies because the whole goal is to make people realize that "women's issues" (such as abortion rights) are "important shit."

It always amazes me how often this goes over people's heads. Sure we can work together on some things, like the USSR and the US during WWII, but we certainly aren't always going to work together. And such allies are welcome to say that we are working towards the wrong goals, but to then turn around and also lecture us on how we are stupid and naive and never going to get what we want if we don't always align ourselves with them is just fucking ridiculous.

It Wasn't the Storm That Did the Damage, it Was the Water

So I was rummaging through the archives of When Fangirls Attack and this post by kalinara caught my eye.

She makes a very good point...and yet not.

Her post is about the whole Women in Refrigerators phenomenom and how it's really just a consequence of the fact that (nearly) all the heros are male and so women are generally written as love interests, which tends to put them in serious danger from both evil villians and any writer with half a brain. She also rightly points out that when the hero is a woman, as in the case of Sydney Bristow, men tend to find themselves in refrigerators as well. Er, well, in bloody bathtubs anyway.

Kalinara concludes that the problem is not misogyny, but the lack of female heros.

Which, to me, is like saying the problem wasn't the was the flooding.

Misogyny and sexism may not be synonyms, but they're pretty damn close, and like floods and hurricaines, they tend to go together.

Now, I'm not an expert on comics; part of the reason I like Ragnell and kalinara's blogs so much is because I think that I would be a huge comics fan if I could find more comic books with characters and stories that appeal to me. However, much of what they complain about can be seen to a lesser extent in more mainstream entertainment. So I'm going to go out on a limb here and guess that comics are often guilty of type casting women as either objects of affection or token representatives of their entire gender, which is something slightly different from love interests usually being female because the heros are often male. Women, after all, are also rarely villians*, annoying bosses, protoges, co-workers, and just plain friends.** They must nearly always be mothers, daughters, girlfriends, and occasionally sisters - or else Smurfettes. Quite often both. Unlike men, their most identifying characteristic is either their relationship to a man, often the hero*** - or the simple fact that they are "the other" as if no other character development is needed. The default for every character is "male" unless there is some overriding reason to make the character female. Since this reason is usually the need to put another character through the emotional wringer or create a foil for a male character, the male default alone greatly increases women's chances of finding themselves in a refrigerator, above and beyond the fact that this also means most heros are male.

After all, men may be dropping like flies around Sydney Bristow, but the women aren't faring much better. This isn't to say that male loved ones don't get killed off as well, just that a smaller percentage of non-evil male characters are stuffed in refrigerators because they are statistically less likely to be emotionally close to the hero irregardless of the hero's gender. A female hero may cause an increases in the number of bloody bathtubs, but doesn't mean that the refrigerators are empty as a result.

So what is the point of this rant? That when the root of the problem is not just that the industry doesn't care to market to women, but also that society has difficulty seeing women as people in their own right, there is a fine line between misogyny and sexism. After all, how far is it really from "seperate but equal" to "not quite human"? Women may not get stuffed in refrigerators because the writers' get off on doing so, but they are more likely to be put in harm's way because they are not seen as people in their own right, not because they have more value in the hero's eyes.

Sometimes it's easy to tell if it was the floodwaters that did the damage or if it was the hurricane itself. Sometimes it's not.

But it seems pretty clear to me that misogyny and sexism both wreak havoc in the comic book industry - and just about everywhere else.

*Actually, to my inexperienced eye, comics seem to do a better job with this than even movies do. However, the female villians also seem to usually be the love interests of the male villians, so....not all that all that much different after all.

**The quickest way to tell if this is what's happening? Checking to see if the women have relationships amongst themselves, and thus have conversations that develop the story in some way without these conversation always being about their personal relationships to men. Otherwise known as the Mo Movie Measure.

***This rule is slightly bent when the hero is female. In such cases female secondary characters are more likely to be two-dimensional, but they are often just more likely to be important simply because of their relationship to the hero. Note that this is different from being in the story because of their proximity to her (as a co-worker, rival, etc.). After all, how many of Sydney's bosses, co-workers, and adversaries have been female? And the three adversaries that were? One was supposed to set up some silly "rivalry" - as if either character would really care beyond getting the job done - another was somone pretending to be her friend, and the other was her own mother.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Chase Me, Mugsy! Chase Me!

As I mentioned to earlier, there is nothing Precocious likes better than to try to get her doggies to play with her. Usually she tries to accomplish this by running up to one of them, running a few steps away, and giving them the command "Chase me! Chase me!"

Needless to say, this does jack shit.

After a while my sister will take pity on her and order to dogs to "Come here!' while walking away from them. Since her dogs do like to play, but are simply (justifiably) wary of the bundle of energy and noise* that is my two year-old niece, they will start to chase my sister. She then pulls Precocious along with her, and the dogs will start chasing her instead.

They are mostly indoor dogs, so the chasing is mostly done indoors. It helps a lot that the downstairs rooms all connect together, with the stairway to the bedrooms in the middle, making a nice loop where Precocious can be endlessly chased to her heart's content.

Usually the dogs will tire long before she does, but you can keep her going and happy at that point by simply hiding behind corners and jumping out at her.

*By "noise" I do not mean anything so babyish as squeals interrupted by the occasional word. No, Precocious mostly talks in multiple word phrases - often complete sentences. The constant noise is her maintaining a running commentary of whatever she happens to be doing at the moment, whatever anyone in her line of vision happens to be doing at the moment, and questions about the whereabouts of anyone not in her line of vision at the moment.

Some Thoughts on Chivalry

Andrea has it right.

For evidence I submit my one of my co-workers, who pulled a chair out for me today, calls me "lady" (which I hate, btw) and, according to others, always opens doors.

I've also had to repeatedly tell him to stop ordering me to smile. (And I can tell he still doesn't get it, he just too scared of pissing me off.) He's so freakin oblivious that he started to push the chair in for me - before I started sitting down.

He also came into to work an hour late earlier this week, on the day our district supervisor came to visit, and responded to her question with "Yes'm" in front of our store manager.

We do not live in Oklahoma.

Gee, I can't fathom why he doesn't get the hours he requests.

(He is, of course, not the only one who holds doors open for others. Since we are often going through doors that require codes with stacks of books or huge carts, everyone holds doors open for each other. Even I do it, and I'm generally so lost in my own thoughts half the time it's a wonder I notice the customers. But, of course, he's being "gentlemanly" while my female co-workers don't even get "nice" points for doing the same.)


If you can't read your kid's mind, how the hell do you expect me to?

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Promises, Promises

I promised cute stories, so here they are:

Precocious has decided that the shed behind my grandmother's house is a barn. We discovered this because she kept talking about "animals" when we were in the backyard. This is nothing new, as the zoo is her favorite place in the world, so it took a while before we started playing along.

"Where are there animals?"

Precocious toddles over to the shed, but stops a few feet away. "In there," she points. "Animals in there."

"What kind of animals? Are there Hippos in there?" My sister is obsessed with Hippos and so my neice talks about them a lot too.

"No, no Hippos. Dogs." Precocious, on the other hand, is obsessed with dogs. Her family has two small (but not yippy) dogs that she constantly tries to get to chase her (speaking off cute stories...).

"There are doggies in there?"

"And cats."

"Oh, wow, doggies and kitties, anything else?"


And then the light bulb goes off in all the adults' heads - aha! she thinks it's a barn.

"Let's go see the animals!" Precocious exclaims - cracking us all up because the inflection in her voice is so damn cute.

"Um, no sweetie....we can't....the animals are sleeping. They're taking a nap."

The second time we visited my grandmother, Precocious kept inching closer and closer to the doors and tried to peer in the cracks. I think I repeated the line about the animals "sleeping" a dozen times.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Grammar and Sexism: Why the Little Things Matter

So, I know there are all kinds of things that are more immediately life threatening than sexist language, but this is my space to bitch and this has become one of my top ten pet peeves, so listen up:

Lesson #1

"Woman" is a noun, not an adjective; therefore the phrase "a woman doctor" is ungrammatical.

This particular example of bad grammar is also insulting. Whether you mean for it to be or not, the manner of grammatical error ensures that it is. Like the ungrammatical placement of "boldly" in "To boldly go where no man has gone before" using "woman" rather than "female" places the emphasis on the modifier. She is no longer a doctor who is female, she is now a woman who is a doctor. Plus, it sounds odd (as it should) and makes the basic premise of a female doctor sound odd as well.

So, unless you actually mean to bring people's attention to the fact that a woman is a doctor, rather than simply clarify that the doctor in question is a woman, knock it off.

(Try saying "man doctor" if you don't believe me, and then think about how often that particular phrase isn't used while the other one is used quite often - and why that might be so.)

Lesson #2

The fact that "female " and "females" can be used as nouns as well as adjectives does not makes them the interchangable with "woman" and "women."

"Female(s)" can be used to mean female(s) of any species, but women are always both adult (physiologically if not legally) and human. Using "females" when talking about pick-up lines and dating norms is not exactly ungrammatical, but it's certainly less precise than "women." It's not as if you were going to proposition a cat, a dog, or an insect (or, one would hope, a girl so young "woman" is physically innaccurate). Using "female" when "woman" will work just as well is insulting and dehumanizing.

So, unless "female(s)" is more accurate than "woman(en)" - or unless you mean to convey the idea that women are sub-human - knock it off.

Lesson #3

Language does matter: many sexist arguments reveal a belief that women are not simply different from men, they are less than them - but people often get away with such arguments because they choose their words carefully.

The purpose of South Dakota's recent abortion ban - as written in the law itself - includes "fully protect[ing] the rights, interests, and health of the pregnant mother." Rep. Roger Hunt explains that he supports the ban, however, simply because "the goal is to prohibit the killing and the termination of life of all of those unborn children." "The unlawful killing of one human by another" seems to very much fit pregnant women who abort, according to Hunt's words - but who ever heard of a murder law written to protect murderers?

This is why South Dakota plans to punish doctors who perform abortions, but not the women they claim murder their own unborn children. The only way these different treatments under the law can be anything other than a contradiction is if one believes that women are either children or not quite human - and therefore not subject to legal prosecution. Instead the legal ramifications for performing abortions are structured as though all abortions are a form of criminal malpractice perpetrated on the mother, not the "killing...of unborn children." Digby, of course, says it best: "If fetuses are human and have the same rights as the women in whom they live, then a woman who has an abortion must logically be subject to the full force of the law. It would be a premeditated act of murder no different than if she hired a hit man to kill her five year old. The law will eventually be able to make no logical moral distinction. Is everybody ready for that?"

In this the authors of South Dakota's recent abortion ban have something in common with many murderers: the need to dehumanize the person they are hurting. Unlike pro-choice advocates who are actually quite up front about the belief that they don't consider a fetus to be quite a person (even though such a belief is often beside the point in a society that does not legally compell parents to donate blood to their own children) the South Dakota legislature cannot admit in clear language that they consider women incapable of being moral agents. Instead they abuse language in order to justify treating woman as children without being so blatant as to call for the reppeal of the 19th amendment.


Using "woman" as an adjective is stupid and rude.

Using "female" where "woman" would work just as well is dehumanizing.

Language is purposely abused even in legal settings - so don't tell me what you say doesn't matter. They can get away with the subtle misuse of language because you get away with even the blatant stuff.

I Love Cordless Phones

Time: Sunday night, an hour before closing

Location: The messiest part of the whole store - the toddler books

I bend down to straighten up the bottom shelf and rrrrrip - I feel and hear my pants split along the crotch seam. I checked and yes, the rip was very noticable. My underpants also happened to be a nice bright shade of green while the pants are/were beige.

I've had these pants for about a year and I wear and wash them about twice a week because they are comfy and I can't really afford new (sturdy) clothes that fit the dress code. I had noticed they were wearing thin "down there" - I have no idea why some of my pants insist on doing that - but I stuck my head in the sand and wore them anyway for the reasons listed above.

Luckily, all I had to do was dial "245" and ask a co-worker to bring me my sweater to wrap around my waist. Immediate problem solved.

Unfortunately, I that meant I needed to go shopping today and haven't had much time to blog against sexism. This is why I'm always late - because I always procrastinate and then something always comes up. :(