Monday, June 10, 2013

Female friendship in literature

The collection of short stories, Just Between Us, explores female friendship ‘break ups.’  To me it is revolutionary as it is something that is rarely spoken about and certainly never explored by the mass media or literature.  Maybe because it is a topic that is too difficult for women to be open about; the ending of a friendship makes us feel like a failure, like there is something wrong with us because culturally (and reflected through the media) women’s friendships are never ending BFFs and the ending of one is often characterised as bitches and jealousy and cattiness.  Friendships that fall apart are simplified in the most superficial way.  I have found the short stories in this anthology refreshing and has opened up great conversations with my (current) friends about our experiences, with relief at being able to talk about how it made us feel as much as discuss why it seems to be such a taboo topic.  But what it has really made me realise is that it is not just the friendship ‘break ups’ that are more often than not discussed in a stereotypical way.
Maybe the reason we don’t talk about our friendship ‘failures’ is because culturally female friendship is represented so narrowly that it doesn’t accurately reflect the reality of female friendship – the beauty and the beast of it.  It seems to be represented as either best friends forever and a sisterhood, or fuelled by bitchiness and jealousy, stabbing each other behind their back.  If we actually looked at all the friendships that fall in between the above generalisation, then dealing with the changing or ending of friendships would be easier.  Or maybe we’d be better at dealing with the friendship before it ends; our expectations would perhaps be more realistic.  Maybe we’d appreciate them even more than we already do.
The anthology has sparked an interest in how female friendships are represented in media, television, film and literature.  All are influential mediums that one can argue, set the cultural representations or reflect cultural representations.  Television and film seem to have regularly explored female friendships.  In fact, for many the focus is on the friendship (usually a group of 4 women or teenagers).  However the question remains as to whether we are seeing an accurate variety of female friendships or just a fantastical representation that is neatly resolved at the end of each episode or the film (as most conflicts are resolved easily). 
It is in literature that I have realised lacks the exploration of the female friendship.  Apart from some young adult literature or ‘chick lit’ it is not easy to identify more than a handful of novels that deeply explore this topic.  Is it not an interesting idea, viewed as only suitable for a narrow audience of female readers?   Is it too hard to write about (as the editors of Just Between Us found many writers reluctant to do so) and therefore an avoided topic by writers?
My goal is to analyse the representation of female friendships in novels I have read, or are reading.  I am interested in your thoughts on this topic, and your analysis of female friendships in different media. 

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Reading trash to understand literature treasure

Firstly I will state that I have not read Fifty Shades of Grey.  I also do not have any desire to read it.  Well, there is a definite curiosity...but only to find out if it is as bad as it appears (and has been reviewed) to be.  I don't want to miss out on being able to be specific in my eye-rolls and criticisms.  However, as one reviewer on warned, I am afraid I will not be able to 'unread it.'  I have the feeling I will only feel dirty and in need of a shower after reading it...and not because I am in any way aroused or excited by the story, but because I will feel like I have soiled my own standards of reading acceptable literature.

Secondly, I am aware of the irony of my writing about my distaste for a novel I have not read and that I am giving it credence just by writing about it.  But everyone seems to be talking about it and I would like to be part of the conversation.  And I am a little obsessed with the topic to be honest.  The whole thing is fascinating and frustrating at the same time.

Thirdly, I will acknowledge that this novel has actually created an interesting conversation about erotica fiction (especially for women) and raised debate on the quality of writing and the importance (or lack) of literary value.  It has opened up a whole new dialogue for discussing books and reading and for that reason I have to give it a little bit of credit.  Just a little bit.

I read about Fifty Shades of Grey many months ago when it was first released as an e-book.  Back then I decided not to read it.  Despite much temptation since (a feeling of reading peer pressure) I have still resisted.  Maybe I am a literary snob.  Or maybe I am just not willing to put aside the many other books on my bedside table waiting to be read to read something that I know will make me cringe and continuously roll my eyes (or annoy my husband by having to read a sentence out and then outline all the things wrong about it).  The mountain of reviews I have read or heard on websites, in newspapers and from my friends (who are the reviewers I most trust) have only confirmed my first fears when I read months ago about this 'new erotic fiction' that was taking over the world, putting erotica fiction out into the open.  
My reservations began when I read that it began as fan-fiction, an erotic adaptation of Twilight.  Then when it started receiving positive reviews (or according to some, negative feedback of the sexual nature of the story) from those on the site, E.L James (real name: Erika Leonard) took it off the site and published on her own site, reworking it so it was no longer 'Twilight'. Then publishing it as an eBook which, through blogs and word of mouth started spreading onto the e-readers of many, many women before being published in hardcopy. 
Don't get me wrong, I have read all, and enjoyed at least the first two, of the Twilight series.  But it was Stephanie Meyer's own creation (with influences obviously from other literature).  What James has done is with Fifty Shades of Grey is to make an already created story, including relationships and 'themes,' put them into a new context and added sex.  The skeleton of the story was already there.  I have heard and read many people, who did not know about the fan-fiction connection, comment on how it felt like an erotica (am using the word 'erotica' loosely here) reworking of Twilight.  Now this is not necessarily what I am frustrated about.  Fan-fiction has a valuable role for lovers of writing and reading.  In fact, in my classroom I often ask students to creatively adapt a short story or novel we've read. But these are used as writing exercises and as a way for students to explore writing in different styles and forms.  It is not about going out and publishing it under a pseudonym and thinly disguised as an original piece.  That is what frustrates me.  That this piece of writing is on the bestsellers lists (including New York Times) everywhere!  My friend Suzanne summed it up perfectly when she said it is about "preserving the integrity of literature." 
While I could focus on the many criticisms around its portrayal of women and the sex, I am most interested in the outcry over the poor quality of the writing.  For me this is the most offensive part of its success.  Not the fact that it's an erotic novel, not even the fact that it's a Twilight reworking, or that it seems to be some sort of way for women to openly read something that is 'naughty.'  I just believe that if something is published it needs to be good writing.  It's as simple as that.  Not every genre or published piece of writing is my 'cup of tea' but I respect the writing.  For example,I have a friend who has had a short story published in a magazine in the fantasy genre. I do not enjoy reading fantasy but I have read his story and I know that it is well written and well constructed.  I also know that he has written successfully in that genre.  
So what is Fifty Shades of Grey?  Erotic fiction?  Steamy romance?  Erotica literature?  By definition it appears to be erotic fiction, focussing on sexual acts with the purpose in creating curiosity and arousing the reader.  Usually dealing with different roles and acts in sexual encounters.  So if that is the purpose of the novel then maybe my criticisms of poor writing are too harsh.  Until I read the following reader reviews (on that highlight that even as an erotic fiction it lacks the ability to arouse or incite sexual curiosity. 

The first one is tolerable but as she goes on, they become so unbelievable that it becomes more laughable than erotic. She orgasms at the drop of a hat. He says her name and she orgasms. He simply touches her and she orgasms. It seems that she's climaxing on every page.

Ana and Christian's interaction and relationship comes across more as domestic abuse than a consensual dominant/subservient one, with her inner goddess urging on these unwanted beatings. 

 I had to suspend disbelief at the social and sexual naivete of this twenty-one year-old, but I guess this implied vulnerability makes her more attractive as a romantic heroine. Yet it doesn't take her long to rectify this situation, and soon she is having orgasm after orgasm at the behest of her "dominant" partner, Mr. Grey.

 My tabby cat could write better sex scenes than this woman.

Add in some clumsily-written sex scenes and a whole lot of mostly inaccurate, overblown information about BDSM. Then couch the sex scenes in a whole lot of very boring dialogue and "plot" (mainly consisting of the main characters' emails to each other - is there anything more boring than reading someone else's emails?) so there can at least be a pretense that there is a story here, and that the book isn't just bad BDSM erotica.

I understand that there are many poorly written sex scenes in well-acclaimed literature however I will argue that that was not the purpose of those novels.  If you are writing in the erotic genre surely the one thing you should be able to do is write well about sex!
There are many erotic fiction novels published (you can even download many free erotic fiction short stories through that may not be Pulitzer prize-winning writing but certainly meets their purpose, so what makes this one the trophy of erotic writing?  I imagine there must be many frustrated erotic fiction writers out there watching this quick rise (and money making) of this piece of writing wondering why.  Or maybe they are thankful because it certainly has made the genre visible and popular.  
However if the erotic is to become popular, why can't it be erotica literature, something that has literary merit - where the arousal is not just from the acts but the words and writing as well?  Turn on the brain as well as the libido.  My aforementioned friend Suzanne opened up my eyes to erotica literature through Anais Nin, often regarded as the one of the finest writers of female erotica.  The French-Cuban wrote erotic narratives in the 1940s (many in her collection Delta of Venus) that explore many cultural and sexual taboos with beautiful language and descriptions.  And it can shock you!  

There is a danger in a novel becoming much like a 'blockbuster' movie, when the hype around it is valued more than the its quality.  It's great that women are reading and talking about a book.  It's also great that women can read and talk about erotica in an open forum.  Maybe it says more about the need for there to be better novels that address women's sexuality - how else do we explain how something poorly written becomes a 'must-read?'  But - at risk of totally contradicting this whole piece - it has stimulated positive discussion around the importance of good writing.  Unfortunately this conversation has developed at expense of actually reading good writing.  We've had to read trash to understand literature treasure.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Sometimes I just don't care about every little thing you have done.

Recently I have noticed that a scroll through my Facebook news feed no longer updates me with important milestones of my friends, or amusing or interesting comments and observations.  Now it has become an hour-by-hour run down of the lives of people who feel the need to record any activity they have participated in.  Are we now in a world where something only actually happened if it has appeared in someone's Facebook status? I am beginning to see lives as a series of short statements, check-ins or still shots (and the occasional video) rather than a discussion or dialogue.  I am beginning to feel that a gym class is only calorie-burning and rewarding when five of your 'friends' have congratulated you for it.  That a dinner and conversation with friends at a nice restaurant is not really happening unless Facebook friends (who I only ever 'see' through a news feed) know where I am and what I'm doing.  That I shouldn't feel like I'm looking 'pretty good' unless I have been validated through 'likes.'  If I have accomplished something (like cooked a delicious meal, finished a shift at work) I now realise it is really only an accomplishment when I have recorded it on my status (and maybe with an accompanying photo).
Life, it seems, is now being seen through the news feed and profile pages of Facebook (and increasingly, Twitter).  When people plan on going for a nice romantic evening with their husband they are not enjoying the private and intimate time together, they are thinking about how they can write a status of how wonderful their husband is and let everyone in on their intimate evening.  Instead of ringing family and friends with some good news, they are hoping 100 other people they never speak to or see will 'like' it.  Watching a gorgeous sunset is an opportunity to take numerous photos and to post the best one.  As people witness something amazing, devastating or amusing, they are immediately wording a witty or emotive status in their mind.  We feel that 'liking' someone's status or photo is valuable communication and makes us feel we are connecting to that person.  If someone doesn't 'like' our status or photo we feel insulted or miffed at their snobbery.  
I guess I see some advantage to a status-rich life.  It saves actually having real conversations with people.  It has taught me to be economical and bland with my words - not enough characters to create an image or proper description.  It allows me to be selective in what people see I am doing with my life (and how I look - I would never post an unflattering photo of myself).  I also don't have to waste my time in expressing my moods.  I just need to write it in a status and people can then deal with it.  And a few 'we're here for you,' or 'we love you' from 'friends' can be enough to shake me out of any sad or depressing mood.  I think my problem is that I just don't think anyone wants to, or needs to, know so much about each other's lives.  Many of the things people put in statuses should be reserved for people who you see or speak to regularly.  Or maybe a yearly newsletter of your life if one must publish their daily movements.  
That witty, observant or major milestone status seems to be a thing of the past and I miss them.  They are lost among recordings of exercise, good and bad moods, complaints, bragging, cheering on football teams, what is on TV, what time one wakes up, when one can't sleep, how hungry one is, how thirsty one is, what one has drunk (and how much), how cold or hot one is, how fantastic one's husband/boyfriend is (usually for things every husband/boyfriend should, or does, do) goes on.  
However, these I can deal with.  I can skim and scroll past them.  Sometimes even appreciate them (with a lazy but effective 'like').  What I find hardest to read, what really does concern me, is the rise in 'Mummy Statuses.'  I'm not labelling them - they do enough of this themselves through their constant, hourly updates of what they and their child is doing.  Quite often accompanied by a photo (or series of photos).  I am seeing a world of mothers who a 'mothering' through Facebook.  It seems that whenever their child does something their mother is planning how it will be presented on their Facebook page.  There is no need to share milestones like first steps with those close to you, the whole Facebook world needs to know first.  It seems these mothers need to remind the world that they are a mother, that they are raising a child (usually a brilliant child) and that every little thing a child does is special and amazing.  And of course it is important that they remind us all how wonderful it is to be a mother and how much they love their child.  In case we weren't sure about it.  Those discussions that have long been reserved for between mothers (and I am sure are important and necessary conversations) such as how much sleep or number of naps throughout a day, how cute they are holding a book and how much they weigh are now opened up to all of us, even if we do not want to be a part of it.  The solidarity between mothers has extended beyond the mother's group or specific online forums to include everyone and anyone.  This may seem cold and heartless but I am blaming an increasing desensitising of excitement over the children of my friends on a saturation of these child-focussed statuses.  I am reading so many of them that those that really deserve a status mention get lost among the trivial and the bragging.  
I am not suggesting that people don't write statuses (I still write them) but I am just suggesting that people refrain from being so quick to status update everything.  Just take a moment to think about why you are posting a status.  Who would really want to read it?  Can they receive the message via another form (SMS or in person)?  And think, if someone else wrote that same status, would you want to read it?  A little bit of filtering before posting would ensure that statuses have more purpose and relevance.  And then maybe we go back to enjoying the moment for what it is, not what it'd read like in a news feed.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Blog Guilt vs Freedom from the Internet

I've got so many musings I want to post on this of course is the fabulous subject of "Winning" (you know the one, you break up with someone and you're never really free because at the end of the day you want to 'Win').  So I suffer from Blog Guilt.  Yes, although I WANT to write on the blog, I find it hard to get the chance (which I will explain why in the next paragraph) so I suffer from the guilt for not contributing.

On the other hand, I don't have internet at home...hard to grasp the concept I know.  The only time I access the internet is in my lunch breaks at work (two days a week) - if I have time.  Now this is choice.  Last birthday hubby said he wanted to get me a laptop and internet for my birthday.  I thought about it and it really hit me how much I love the freedom of NOT having the internet ie. feeling like I 'should' check Facebook namely (I also really wanted a pair of not necessary leather boots so opted for that).  I love that I get in contact with Friends, old and new, if I need to via Facebook and other mediums.  However, I am also enjoying the old school of not having the internet at my fingers and information overload.  Ignorance really is bliss!

So I suffer from blog guilt due to restrictions on when I can write something, but at the same time love the freedom of not having the internet close at hand....its a strange balance!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Childhood memories

This anecdote to me symbolises the laughter between friends.  Then, now and always!  It is a true story.

A puddle.  Small and shallow but unmissable.  In the middle of the trampoline. 

The trampoline had been a great source of entertainment since my sister and I had received it as a Christmans present.  Large black rectangle, surrounded by springs that either gave you an electric shock or caught the hairs on your legs if you dared get on or off.  Certainly no safety padding.  The skill was getting on and off without slipping between the springs and bars and 'knackering' yourself.
Hours were spent alone or in pairs (sometimes braving groups of three) jumping, doing tricks, double-jumping (a cruel but funny tactic against your fellow jumper).  Unintentional exercise.  My cousin Naomi and I would spend endless hours on the trampoline.  Jumping till our legs were jelly then sitting in the middle, quietly bobbing up and down while we chatted.  And laughed.  Telling jokes and stories that would set us off into uncontrollable fits till we were breathless.  Then we'd stop, look at each other and start all over again.
One of these particular days, as the trampoline was growing old with visible fading and stretching in the middle, we were once again caught in the grips of laughter when Naomi suddenly stopped.  Her face went from a wide grin to one of shock and slight panic. 
"What?" I asked, coming to a slow chuckle.
She didn't have to say anything.  The reason for her shock and panic became obvious as she slowly stood up (clumsily - it's hard to stand up gracefully on a trampline).  Underneath her was a puddle.  Shallow but unmissable.  A slightly yellow tinge starting to spread across the surface.  Towards me.
"Ewww...."  a combination of repulsion and laughter.  "You peed on the trampoline!"
We scrambled off that trampoline like it was a sinking ship.  No thoughts or cares of electrice shocks or knackering.  Only when we were safe on dry land were we free to let our emotions free - and the laughter flooded out. 
"Careful, we don't wnat a second puddle!"
Tne minutes later the puddle was washed away and Naomi was wearing a new and dry pair of my underwear.  No one would ever be the wiser.

Until now :)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Freckle fraud

Reporting from Turtle Bay Resort, North Shore, Oahu, Hawaii.

I do believe that I have not seen one other freckly person since I've been in Hawaii.  Did I somehow make it through some secret screening process that weeds out the 'unacceptable' skin from the others before you enter?  Did my makeup work well enough to fool them into believing I have smooth, clear skin with no freckles?  I do believe that I am a bit of a fraud here.  There are some ridiculous skin colours here.  When I say tanned skin I am talking about a whole different type of tan than the golden, healthy-glow-type of tan that is synonymous with Australia.  This is a deep, I've-spent-hours-in-the-sun, leather-looking, glistening with oil and in twenty-years-I'll-regret-this-and-look-like-an-old-handbag kind of tan.  And the worst thing is - they look fantastic!  No matter what size they are they look toned without any cellulite in sight.  They look like they belong on the beach.  They look like the sun has dropped on them softly a silky, caramel coating.  Then there's me.  For whom the sun has seen my pale canvas and just thrown the caramel at me, flicking speckles of caramel over me randomly.  Flick, flick.  Missed a spot there.  Don't forget the chest and hands.  Some larger, mole-like splotches will break it up a bit. 
As an aside, I am also in the minority by wearing hats.  They seem to be an optional extra for beach-goers here.  Especially for children.  I haven't gone further than five metres from the hotel room without some sort of hat (it also helps to hide the top-frizz of the beach hair).  On the beach this afternoon there were approximately 60 people.  I counted maybe four or five people wearing a hat.  And that is not an exaggeration.  It seems the sun-smart message has not reached these people (most who are tourists from mainland US).

Monday, June 13, 2011


I realised today that men seem to feel the need to offer solutions or solve our problems - even when we're not asking them to! 
Today I was telling a friend (and PE teacher) how sore I was after doing a Body Pump (weights) class yesterday for the first time in months.  Just sharing the pain.  However he felt the need to;
1.  Tell me why I was sore (which I had sort of guessed!).
2.  That it isn't an effective source of exercise when done once-off and is why those classes are no good (though I did point out that you have to start sometime - there is always going to be that first class).
3.  Explain to me the 'right' way to do weight training. 
I feel a bit nasty writing that because he certainly wasn't doing it a condescending way - he actually was trying to 'help' me.  But all I wanted was a little sympathy :)