Doctor Who Thanksgiving

Mitch and I are having a joint Doctor Who and Thanksgiving party tomorrow because of the 50th anniversary episode and Thanksgiving. I wanted a hands-on activity for our socially awkward guests (like myself, when I am a guest). So I made some custom coloring pages. Please, feel free to print them and partake from afar! If you do, I would love to see the final product or "the pretties" as my mom used to call it. Show us your pretties! 



Everyone Else in the Room Can See It

I have a problem with a mini trope in songwriting and a recent Dove commercial. It's when the song's about a girl who doesn't know she's beautiful. It has never crossed her mind that she is good looking. It's up to the singer to tell her that she is gorgeous.

The first example I have is a country song by Sammy Kershaw. (Who? I have no idea, but this song has stuck with me since 1995.) Here it is on YouTube:

The first issue I have is that the possibility that this woman has no idea - it has never crossed her mind - that she's beautiful is ridiculous. People, especially women, get feedback on their appearances all the time. So unless Lady Don'tKnow was raised in a vacuum (culturally, I mean. A physical vacuum would be fatal.), she's been told that she's beautiful. And if she's very beautiful, she's being told in numerous ways, subtle and not subtle, in every interaction she has. Girlfriend knows this stuff.

Except, in the song, girlfriend doesn't know this stuff even though people do tell her. Sammy tells her time and time again. Why doesn't she know, in that case? He explains, "She's not that kind." Not what kind? Not the kind who receives input from her surroundings and accurately interprets it? Does she have a condition? It's not attractive when I imagine her failing to respond to someone saying, "That is not food!" while she gnaws on fingernail clippers and small pieces of wood.

Another example is One Direction's "What Makes You Beautiful". I've included a clip, not of that, but of the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra's version, "One Direction meets Giuseppe Verdi", because I love orchestral covers of pop songs.

The thrust to this song is "You don't know that you're beautiful, and that's what makes you beautiful." Ignoring, for a second, that the subject of this song might have cognitive issues, this song taps into something else I have a problem with. It's the idea that "vanity" in a woman is ugly or wrong. Like I said, people experience lots and lots of feedback based on their appearance. Furthermore, appearance for women is touted, from an early age, to be most powerful factor in determining her success and happiness. In spite of this, it is considered wrong or silly for a woman to be concerned with how she looks. It's an expectation that slices twice. Also, it's stupid.

This recent Dove commercial continues the theme of the beauty unknown. They have women come in and describe themselves to a forensic artist. He draws them based on their descriptions. Then other people describe them and he draws those pictures too. The drawings are, predictably, somewhat different.

The biggest issue I have with all three of these, with this trope in general, is that it wants women to trade the trustworthiness and accuracy of their minds for the possibility that they might be more beautiful, and it calls it inspirational.

It's awesome when I find out I'm wrong about something because reality is better than I thought. As humans, we will always be wrong about stuff. We have biases, histories, insecurites, and various other "ees". Uncertainty is the price of being sentient. But I think it's a problem when women, who suffer from stereotypes like being unreliable, untrustworthy, and silly, are told, again, that they don't know what they're talking about. And worse (!), that their ignorance is a good thing.

Why can't we have a song that goes, "Reasonably accurate self-knowledge: that's what makes you beautiful"?

The message I would like to send and have sent to women is trust yourself a little bit more. You think you're a bit ugly? You very well might be. You might not be turning lots of heads or be headed to the cover of ladies magazines. (This is my first reaction to that possibility: "NOOOOOOOOOO!") But at least your assessment tools aren't broken.

It means that your interpretation of things that are happening in your life has weight and meaning, that there is coherence to how you see things. If you feel like something's wrong, bring it up. Talk about it. Run. Whatever. Your impressions are connected to real life. If you really like something that other people don't or don't think is cool, stand behind your thing because there's something in it that connects with you. And that's real.


Letter from Home

My dad found this and sent it to me, the other day. It's a letter my brother, Nate, had sent me back when we were kids and I had left for summer camp. I have Nate's permission to post it, don't worry.

*Littles is our dog. 

** So cute. 


Pictures of Carrots

I grew these in my garden.


Women Empowerment in Narrative

I think people mistake women empowerment in narrative with having a ripped, badass stonecold female character.

These female characters are endowed with stereotypical alpha-male traits. The problem with the persistence of this representation of women empowerment is that it implies that for a woman to be empowered she must be, essentially, a man.

It's an erroneous interpretation of what it means to be powerful. From a writer's perspective, it would be ridiculous to say that writing strong characters meant making characters physically strong.

Women empowerment in narrative happens when female characters make choices, when they drive the narrative, and/or when we see through their point of view.

What it means to write a character-driven story is to put your protagonist in situations where she needs to make choices. In this way, an empowering female character might be one who is weak physically or emotionally. The important thing is that she has agency as the audience watches her make her way through various conflicts. An instance where this suddenly fails is in the climactic scene of Disney's The Little Mermaid. The protagonist in The Little Mermaid is, predictably, the little mermaid, Ariel. Through most of the movie, she's making choices. But, in the third act, the climax of the movie, Ariel becomes Ursula's prisoner and is not able to make any choices. King Triton chooses to take Ariel's place. Prince Eric drives a bowsprit into Ursula's heart. All the while, Ariel just watches on. It's weird and poor story telling for an otherwise good movie.

This is a good depiction of how Triton is forced to make a decision while Ariel watches on helplessly. 
A second part of women empowerment in narrative is to have a female character driving the story. This is accomplished through her making choices, like explained earlier. But while side characters can also be allowed to make choices, the character driving the story is the central protagonist. It's her story.

A third way female characters are empowered in narrative is when they have a voice and perspective, when the audience is seeing their world through their point of view. (Again, the Little Mermaid fails this a bit in that for a while, Ariel literally can't speak.)

There is a discrepancy between how frequently consumers of media see things through male and female perspectives. Girls are coached from a young age to see things through a male gaze. They are to evaluate themselves as a man might evaluate them. They are encouraged to appear pretty rather than to see keenly, to be in front of the camera rather than behind it. Because of this practice in "seeing as men see", I think the prospect of getting into the head of a male protagonist feels more natural to men and women. It propagates the idea that men are the norm and women are slightly off-center. Practice seeing a fictional world through a female character's point of view, I think, can help offset this attitude. 

The movie Gravity employs this literally, as the audience is put inside Ryan Stone's (Sandra Bullock's character's) helmet. We see things first-person-shooter style from her perspective. 

Back to the ripped badass female character, they can also be empowering. Characters like Starbuck (Battlestar Galactica) and Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) are kickass and physically strong while also making choices and driving (at least some) story line. (While the ones pictured up top, not so much.)