But one of the most unusual things about Katniss isn't the way she defies typical gender roles for heroines, but the way Peeta, her arena partner and one of her two love interests, defies typical Hollywood versions of gender roles for boyfriends.
Consider the evidence: Peeta's family runs a bakery. He can literally bake a cherry pie, as the old song says.
He is physically tough, but markedly less so than she is. He's got a good firm spine, but he lacks her disconnected approach to killing. Over and over, she finds herself screaming "PEETA!", not calling for help but going to help, and then running, because he's gone and done some damn fool thing like gotten himself electrocuted.
Forcing Katniss to choose is forcing Katniss into monogamy, and as I suggested above, into doing gender to complement her partner. Victoria Robinson points out in her article, "My Baby Just Cares for Me," that monogamy compels women to invest too much time, energy, and resources into an individual man and limits their autonomy and relationships with others. What Robinson doesn't talk about is how it also limits women's range of how they might do gender in relationship to others.
It also limits men's range of doing gender in relationships. Wouldn't it be nice if Peeta and Gale never felt the pressure to be something they are not? Imagine how Peeta's and Gale's masculinities would have to be reconfigured to accommodate and accept each other?
Maybe this is why the end of Catching Fire (minor spoilers!) -- Katniss as the cliched irrational hysterical woman who can't be trusted with information -- felt so out of place compared to her gender fluidity throughout the rest of the movie.
Mr. Vollmann is 54, heterosexual and married with a daughter in high school. He began cross-dressing seriously about five years ago. Sometimes he transforms himself into a woman as part of a strange vision quest, aided by drugs or alcohol, to mind-meld with a female character in a book he's writing. Other times it's just because he likes the "smooth and slippery" feel of women's lingerie.
He said his wife, who is an oncologist, is not thrilled with his outré experiments and keeps her distance. "Probably when the book comes out, it'll be the first she's heard of it," he said. "I always try to keep my wife and child out of what I do. I don't want to cause them any embarrassment." He asked that his wife not be interviewed for this article.
My wife also gets a load of emails from people asking where our son's father is, as though I couldn't possibly be around and still allow a male son to display female behavior. To those people I say, I'm right here fathering my son. I want to love him, not change him. My son skipping and twirling in a dress isn't a sign that a strong male figure is missing from his life, to me it's a sign that a strong male figure is fully vested in his life and committed to protecting him and allowing him to grow into the person who he was created to be.
I may be a "guy's guy," but that doesn't mean that my son has to be.
Female markers include a relatively large number of emotion-related terms like sad, love, glad, sick, proud, happy, scared, annoyed, excited, and jealous. All of the emoticons that appear as gender markers are associated with female authors, including some that the prior literature found to be neutral or male: :) :D and ;). [...] Computer mediated communication (CMC) terms like lol and omg appear as female markers, as do ellipses, expressive lengthening (e.g., coooooool), exclamation marks, question marks, and backchannel sounds like ah, hmmm, ugh, and grr.
Swears and other taboo words are more often associated with male authors: bullshit, damn, dick, fuck, fucked, fucking, hell, pussy, shit, shitty are male markers; the anti-swear darn appears in the list as a female marker. This gendered distinction between strong swear words and mild swear words follows that seen by McEnry 2006 in the BNC. Thelwall 2008, a study of the social networking site MySpace produced more mixed results: among American young adults, men used more swears than women, but in Britain there was no gender difference
I don't want to draw too many conclusions from a single study especially one that, in my opinion, makes some questionable methodology choices (people who follow or are followed by more than 100 people are excluded from the study?) but the results point to an interesting evolution in conversational, public speech.
Update 2: Tyler Schnoebelen, one of the study's authors reached out to clarify. The study says "we selected only those users with between four and 100 friends", with friends being defined not as people you follow, people who follow you, or even mutual follow backs. They poll accounts and if you and someone else mention each other with a separation of at least two weeks (to eliminate one-off convos with strangers), then for the purposes of the study you and the other person are defined as friends. And they're looking to isolate people who have between 4 and 100 of those friend connections.
Now that that's clarified, that seems a really reasonable way to try to determine friendships on Twitter.
It is a peculiar fact also that an experienced operator can almost invariably distinguish a woman's sending from a man's. There is nearly always some peculiarity about a woman's style of transmission. it is not necessarily a fault. Many women send very clearly and make their dots and dashes precisely as they were intended to be made. It is impossible to describe the peculiarity, but there is no doubt of its existence. Nearly all women have a habit of rattling off a lot of meaningless dots before they say anything. But some men do that too. A woman's touch is lighter than a man's, and her dots and dashes will not carry so well on a very long circuit. That is presumably the reason why in all large offices the women are usually assigned to work the wires running to various parts of the cities.
By now, you've seen a billion instances of people taking daily pictures of themselves and editing them into time lapse movies set to music. Well, this one is a bit different. It features an unhappy young man who, over the course of three years, transitions into a more confident and happy young woman.
This video makes me happy. And there are dozens of other examples and tutorials on YouTube of people switching sexes. What a boon for those who struggle with their sex/gender to be able to see other people who are going through and have gone through similar situations.
Sworn Virgins of Albania is a project by photographer Jill Peters documenting Albanian women who have chosen to live as men for cultural reasons.
As a tradition dating back hundreds of years, this was necessary in societies that lived within tribal clans, followed the Kanun, an archaic code of law, and maintained an oppressive rule over the female gender.The Kanun states that women are considered to be the property of their husbands. The freedom to vote, drive, conduct business, earn money, drink, smoke, swear, own a gun or wear pants was traditionally the exclusive province of men. Young girls were commonly forced into arranged marriages, often with much older men in distant villages.
As an alternative, becoming a Sworn Virgin, or 'burnesha" elevated a woman to the status of a man and granted her all the rights and privileges of the male population. In order to manifest the transition such a woman cut her hair, donned male clothing and sometimes even changed her name. Male gestures and swaggers were practiced until they became second nature. Most importantly of all, she took a vow of celibacy to remain chaste for life. She became a "he".
After the race, track and field aficionados questioned her tactics. The BBC's David Ornstein said it appeared that Semenya "had more left in the tank." His story quoted BBC commentator Kelly Holmes, who won this event in the 2004 Olympics, suggesting that Semenya hadn't made her best effort: "She looked very strong, she didn't look like she went up a gear, she wasn't grimacing at all. I don't know if her head was in it, when she crossed the line she didn't look affected." Meanwhile, Sports Illustrated senior writer Tim Layden tweeted that Semenya "seemed oddly disengaged most of race and not tired at end."
I watched the race and Semenya's finish was odd...she made her move super-late and was moving at a tremendous pace when she crossed the line. Had she worked her way up to the front before the final turn, she may have beaten the field by several lengths.
Perhaps there is nothing to her performance other than that she runs a more even pace than her rivals.
A comparison between her semi-final and this race is interesting in this regard. In that semi, she went through 400m in just over 58 seconds, 600m in about 1:28 and then closed the final 200m in 29.5s, looking like she had something in reserve.
Tonight, she went through 400m in 57.69s, then through 600m in about 1:27.1, and then closed in a touch over 30 seconds. My point is, her performance in the final was slightly faster at every stage than the semi, until she closed slower over the final 200m. To finish SLOWER than she did in the semi implies that she has little reserve and that she is closer to the limit than she looks. She wasn't actually that fast over the final 200m, it's just that everyone else was very slow!
Think of all the female protagonists in Disney musicals. There are quite a number, almost as many as there are males--Cinderella, Belle, Ariel, Pocahontas, Mulan... the list goes on. Now think of female protagonists in Pixar movies.
There aren't any. Not a single one.
This claim's hedged a little bit, pointing to The Incredibles' Elastigirl and Wall-E's Eve as "strong, memorable female characters." I'd say these two definitely count as protagonists, but there does seem to be something of a two-to-one rule: Finding Nemo's Dory is a great protagonist, but she has to be paired with Marlin and Nemo (and Gill, and Crush...) The Incredibles is almost balanced. Almost.
Note that Stefan is far from the first person to point this out: these are just the links from the kottke.org archives:
The tendency of readers to interpret even gender-neutral animal characters as male exaggerates the pattern of female underrepresentation. The authors note that mothers frequently label gender-neutral animal characters as male when reading with their children, and that children assign gender to gender-neutral animal characters.
Here's a different interpretation. Pixar's movies are usually not just focused on men, but specifically on dads. Finding Nemo and The Incredibles are the best examples of this, but even Up and Ratatouille traffic pretty heavily in father issues, if not fatherhood outright.
Traditional Disney movies were really kids' fantasies, even the ones seemingly targeted for boys, like The Jungle Book or Robin Hood. Pixar seems to have realized that if you can get the dad to come to the movie and love the movie, the whole family will come. Maybe more than once. And they'll probably buy the DVD and the video game, too. That's the formula.
And of course, it doesn't hurt that the people making the movies are largely dads and young men who seem to probably be working out some issues with their dads. Pixar's John Lasseter has five children, all boys.
They're great movies. I love them. But I can't deny that's partly because they're made for me.
Update: As many people have pointed out, Pixar has a forthcoming full-length movie, Brave, about a Scottish warrior-princess. It was slated to be directed by Brenda Chapman (Pixar's first female director), then was replaced by Mark Andrews, with Chapman as co-director.
Also, my friend (and former student) Kaitlin Welborn nails me: I used "protagonist" in its debased modern meaning of "sympathetic character"/"agent for good," not its original sense as the first/primary character of the drama -- which is also just a better definition. In this sense, the protagonist of Finding Nemo is definitely Marlin, The Incredibles Mr Incredible, Wall-E Wall-E, and so forth.
I also agree with Kaitlin that Stefan also overstates how much of a substantive change there's been from the hand-drawn Disney animated films, and Pixar/Dreamworks' computer-animated films.
First, there's the obvious point that the older Disney movies were pretty ideologically screwed-up. I think this is well-known. And well before Pixar came along, Disney was already moving towards male protagonists: Aladdin, The Lion King, Hercules, The Emperor's New Groove.
I'll stick by my main point, which is that 1) an overwhelming number of Pixar movies focus on dads and fatherhood (biological or symbolic) and 2) this is not an accident.
A recent medical innovation holds out the promise that this might be the first generation of transsexuals who can live inconspicuously. About three years ago, physicians in the U.S. started treating transgender children with puberty blockers, drugs originally intended to halt precocious puberty. The blockers put teens in a state of suspended development. They prevent boys from growing facial and body hair and an Adam's apple, or developing a deep voice or any of the other physical characteristics that a male-to-female transsexual would later spend tens of thousands of dollars to reverse. They allow girls to grow taller, and prevent them from getting breasts or a period.
Ariel Levy did a piece on runner Caster Semenya for the New Yorker this week. Semenya's competition eligibility is up in the air because the IAAF (the worldwide governing body for track and field) can't decide whether she is a woman or a man.
She didn't look like an eighteen-year-old girl, or an eighteen-year-old boy. She looked like something else, something magnificent.
Two movies from now, after Toy Story 3 and Newt, Pixar is *finally* releasing a movie with a female main character. The only problem? She's a princess.
I have nothing against princesses. I have nothing against movies with princesses. But don't the Disney princesses pretty much have us covered? If we had to wait for your thirteenth movie for you to make one with a girl at the center, couldn't you have chosen something -- something -- for her to be that could compete with plucky robots and adventurous space toys?
Ratatouille: Male rat (Remy) dreams of becoming chef and achieves his goal even though movie sidetracks to cover ludicrous and unnecessary romance between humans part way through. This is the kind of shit that bothers me: Why is it important that the rat have a penis? Couldn't Remy have been written for a female lead? Why not? Collette's right -- the restaurant business is tough for women, especially when even the fictional rat-as-chef barrier can only be broken by a male character. Female characters: Colette, that old lady with the gun, um... maybe some patrons?
More than a Token score: 1/10. ZOMG, we have one female character. We'd better make her fall inexplicably in love with the bumbling Linguini, stat!
Transgender Americans are finding increasing support for their gender identities in unusual places: the so-called red states. In a small Colorado city, parents and the school administration were initially upset with the transition of a student's gender from boy to girl, but other students were not.
But on the first day of school, nothing happened. No flood of calls, no angry protests, and no bullying. Michelle was "happy and shocked" that M.J.'s classmates seemed to get it. When one student made a mocking comment to another using M.J.'s former name, one eighth-grade boy dismissed him with a simple insight. "That person doesn't even exist anymore," he said. "You're talking about somebody who's imaginary."
And the big intellectual skirmish going on was "Is it great that we're so different, men and women, or is there no difference at all?" No difference at all is where is started. Let's have equality and legistlate it like that. And then it became so much more complicated when you added sex to it and biologically the relationship is always sexist in some way. What's sexist in the office is fuel in the bedroom. We're wired that way to some extent. Women become more aggressive and it becomes strange for men.
Nearly a decade into a new century, I believe it is unacceptable for a design organization, foundation, board of directors, magazine or other enterprise, to mount an initiative with an all male panel of judges -- or, put another way, "white, native English-speaking men from the U.S., British Isles or Australia." Such behavior is no longer acceptable and should not be tolerated by a community of designers (or any other community). Designers around the world should just say no.
Analyzing data from round-by-round scores from all PGA tournaments between 2002 and 2006 (over 20,000 player-rounds of golf), Brown finds that competitors fare less well -- about an extra stroke per tournament -- when Tiger is playing. How can we be sure this is because of Tiger? A few features of the findings lend them plausibility. The effect is stronger for the better, "exempt" players than for the nonexempt players, who have almost no chance of beating Tiger anyway. (Tiger's presence doesn't mean much to you if the best you can reasonably expect to finish is about 35th-there's not much difference between the prize for 35th and 36th place.) The effect is also stronger during Tiger's hot streaks, when his competitors' prospects are more clearly dimmed. When Tiger is on, his competitors' scores were elevated by nearly two strokes when he entered a tournament. And the converse is also true: During Tiger's well-publicized slump of 2003 and 2004, when he went winless in major events, exempt competitors' scores were unaffected by Tiger's presence.
Double-blind peer review, in which neither author nor reviewer identity are revealed, is rarely practised in ecology or evolution journals. However, in 2001, double-blind review was introduced by the journal Behavioral Ecology. Following this policy change, there was a significant increase in female first-authored papers, a pattern not observed in a very similar journal that provides reviewers with author information. No negative effects could be identified, suggesting that double-blind review should be considered by other journals.
In the journal Animal Behaviour, biologist Michael Steele at Wilkes University in Pennsylvania examines squirrels' caching of nuts. While the furry-tailed creatures made a show of digging a hole in the ground and covering it with dirt and leaves when watched, one time out of five they were faking and nothing was buried.
The squirrels' deception increased after their nut caches were raided.
What's been frustrating so far is simply that in many of Pixar's prior films, there's no particular reason why one or another of their characters couldn't be female rather than male -- would Ratatouille have been any less well done if he were a she? Would the rescue of the ant colony be less spectacular if Julia Louis-Dreyfus had voiced Flik against Dave Foley's Prince Atta?
Following up on my post about gender diversity at web conferences, Jeffrey Zeldman of An Event Apart commissioned a study by hiring "researchers at The New York Public Library to find out everything that is actually known about the percentage of women in our field, and their positions relative to their male colleagues". "There is no data on web design and web designers. Web design is twelve years old, employs hundreds of thousands (if not millions), and generates billions, so you'd think there would be some basic research data available on it, but there ain't." I found the same thing when poking around for a bit back in February. They do have stats for IT workers in general...men outnumber women by over 3-to-1 and that gap is growing.
Update:NY Times: "Yet even as [undergraduate women] approach or exceed enrollment parity in mathematics, biology and other fields, there is one area in which their presence relative to men is static or even shrinking: computer science." (thx, meg)
Interesting article about the myth of American women opting out of the workforce to stay home to raise families. Most of the stories focus on white, married, upper-class women with high-earning husbands, maternity leaves are getting shorter, and bias and inflexibility in the workplace forces many women to "choose" to stay at home with the family. "The American idea of mothering is left over from the 1950s, that odd moment in history when America's unrivaled economic power enabled a single breadwinner to support an entire family. Fifty years later we still have the idea that a mother, and not a father, should be available to her child at every moment."
With that in mind, I collected some information2 about some of the most visible past and upcoming conferences in the tech/design/web space. I'm reasonably sure that the organizers of these conferences were aware of at least one of the above recent complaints about gender diversity at conferences (they were both linked widely in the blogosphere), so it will be interesting to see if those complaints were taken seriously by them.
Future of Web Design
April 18, 2007
2 women, 12 men. 14% women speakers.
4 women, 16 men. 20% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
April 19-20, 2007
2 women, 11 men. 15% women speakers.
1 woman, 16 men. 6% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
April 30 - May 2, 2007
0 women, 4 men. 0% women speakers.
8 women, 89 men. 8% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
The New Yorker Conference 2007
May 6-7, 2007
3 women, 21 men. 13% women speakers. (updated 2/28/2007)
6 women, 29 men. 17% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
Dx3 Conference 2007
May 15-18, 2007
5 women, 48 men. 9% women speakers. (updated 3/2/2007)
5 women, 70 men. 7% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
An Event Apart Seattle 2007
June 21-22, 2007
0 women, 9 men. 0% women speakers.
1 women, 9 men. 10% women speakers. (updated 3/31/2007)
From this list, it seems to me that either the above concerns are not getting through to conference organizers or that gender diversity doesn't matter as much to conference organizers as they publicly say it does. The Future of Web Apps folks seem to have a particularly tin ear when it comes to this issue. For their second conference, they doubled the size of the speaker roster and added only one woman to the bill despite the complaints from last time. This List of Women Speakers for Your Conference compiled by Jen Bekman is a little non-web/tech-heavy, but it looks like it didn't get much use in the months since its publication. Perhaps it's time for another look. (If you think this issue is important, Digg this post.)
Update: To the above list, I added An Event Apart Boston 2007 and corrected a mistake in the count for GEL 2007 (they had one more woman and one less man than I initially counted.) Ryan Carson from Carson Systems, the producers of The Future of Web Apps conferences, emailed me this morning and said that my "facts just aren't correct" for the count for their London conference. He stated that the number of speakers they had control over was only 13. Some of the speakers were workshop leaders (the workshops "are very different" in some way) and others were chosen by sponsors of the conference, not by Carson Systems. I'm keeping the current count of 27 total speakers as listed on their speakers page this morning...they're the people they used to promote the conference and they're the people at the conference in the front of the room, giving their views and leading discussions for the assembled audience. (thx, erik, mark, and ryan)
Update: I added the Future of Web Design conference to the above list. (thx, jeff)
Update: Hugh Forrest wrote to update me on the latest speaker numbers for SXSW Interactive 2007 (he keeps close watch on them because the issue is an important and sensitive one to the SXSW folks)...the ones on their site were less than current. In cases where counts are updated (and not inaccurate due to my counting errors), I will append them to the conference in question so that we can see trends. I plan to update the above list periodically, adding new conferences and keeping track of the speaker numbers on upcoming ones.
 Sadly, when I Googled "future of web apps women" while doing some research for this post, Google asked "Did you mean: 'future of web apps when'"? ↩
 All statistics as of 2/22/2007. Consider the gender counts rough approximations...in some cases, I couldn't tell if a certain person was a man or a woman from their name or bio. ↩
 This conference has released only a very incomplete speaker list. ↩
There has been a recent rash of technology and creative conferences whose speakers are mostly white males. The lack of diversity caused Jen Bekman to compile a list of women speakers for your conference. If you've got a technology or creative arts conference coming up and need some diversity in your speaking lineup, this is a good place to start.
"See? This is where Bob makes his crucial mistake. When he orders the eighth beer. If he cuts himself off at seven, he probably doesn't even talk to that woman, let alone go home with her."
"Hank, if you had to do it all over again, would you still say those pants make your wife look fat?"
"That @#&ammp;% Johnson. I would have gotten that promotion if he hadn't accidentally sent those bachelor party photos on an officewide e-mail. What a moron."
Ah, the social tribulations of the red-blooded American male. He told his wife that her pants made her look fat even though she said it was ok to say so and he actually fell for it! OMG! I think read about that in a joke book in the 80s.
Pixar: where are all the women? "To date, there's not a single Pixar film that has a female main character: The Incredibles comes the closest, but even there, both Helen Parr/Elastigirl and Violet are supporting characters, and it's Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible that's the hero." Helen Parr and Dory are my favorite Pixar characters.
Lengthy examination of what makes people gay by the Boston Globe. "What makes the case of [identical twins] Patrick and Thomas so fascinating is that it calls into question both of the dominant theories in the long-running debate over what makes people gay: nature or nurture, genes or learned behavior."