Category Archives: Politics

The Bechdel Test for Novels?

womenNote: this post is made directly from my reply on a NaNoWriMo thread. I figured my reply was long enough (and hopefully eloquent enough) so I wanted to share it. For full discussion and other opinions, please visit the board.

The board commenter Millie714 made an interesting thread: can/should the Bechdel test be used for novels. If yes, in what form? Namely, is the Bechdel test applicable to novels, how much effort a writer should put into creating characters that represent our world (characters who represent multiple genders, races, and orientations) and if writers should be true to certain settings (for example, predominantly white towns or time periods) even if it means sacrificing inclusiveness.

As a writer who does think about this stuff, here’s my stance on the issue.

I think the Bechdel test (be it original, race Bechdel test, sexual orientation, etc.) is a nice thought experiment when you want to take notice of cumulative works. Such as, all movies released in the US in 2013. You take the list and see how many movies pass the test. I don’t have this list but I don’t doubt most of them will fail. Heck, I bet many would fail even the first requirement (“having two named female/POC characters”) Which is a good indicative that something is wrong and should be changed.

But on an individual level, it shouldn’t be taken as a law or a rule. There are actually many decent movies that don’t pass the test and many bad (and even misogynistic and racist, etc.) movies that do. Personally, I despise Sex and the City and I think it’s full of backwards ideas about sex and gender, but it passes the test.

So I do see the Bechdel test as a valuable tool. Not sure if it can be easily translated to an author’s individual written work, though. First of all, books and movies are different animals. A novel is, for the most part, a work made by one person; movies are, for the most part, a joined effort. In order to have two women talking to each other about something other than a man, all a writer needs to do is to write the scene and put it in the novel. In order to have the same scene appear in the movie, it has to be written by a screenwriter, included by a director, approved by a producer and it also has to survive the editing and the cutting room floor. It just requires more effort and different rules apply to novels.

But yes, I do think people should take the head out of the sand (or their own ass) and look around.

The problem is not having a predominantly white cast of characters in an area that is predominantly white – the problem is that the majority of (published) stories are centered around predominantly white areas and concerning white people only. Whenever something deviates from this “norm” it is labeled either chick lit (if it contains more women than is considered comfortable/acceptable), African-American/POC (if it contains more black people/POC people), gay & lesbian (if it contains more LGBT* characters), etc.

This is why you still have a strong divide between mainstream fiction (that contains just “the right amount” of minority (here including women) characters) and “minority literature”. As long as diverse characters and diverse themes are not normalized and treated as mainstream, we will have this uncanny situation.

For these reasons, I do think it’s important for mainstream literature to be diverse and to include a wide range of themes or characters outside those that often appear and are actually pretty bad (token characters, white saviours, madonna vs whore dichotomy, rape as motivation, lesbians who only need the right guy to become straight, disabled characters with esoteric powers, etc.)

I don’t, however, think a writer should force herself to be inclusive. Especially if her only reason to do so is because she doesn’t want to appear racist and those “angry POC get insulted”. No. If you truly have to be pushed and forced into even imagining a story that might include two named characters of colour/women, then I don’t think you are a writer who can give such stories justice.

So I kind of hope more and more authors will develop a frame of mind that makes them spontaneously envision stories that include diverse characters and themes. Not that they have to be dragged and forced into it.

Also, yes, an author has a right to write whatever he wants. It doesn’t mean he should be free of criticism if he happens to inject his work with sexism, racism, homophobia and other questionable stuff. Seriously, “I want to write what I want, political correctness be damned!” is often a code word for: “I know what I write is unfair and offensive but I am a nice person (honest!) and I really want to write it so I’d like to be exempted from criticism”. It just doesn’t work that way.

Photo credit: jjay69 via photopin cc

Sexism Annoys Me – The New Way

They say people change and evolve, which is probably true. However, sometimes is difficult to understand the change. For example, look at me. I consider myself a feminist (honestly, I don’t understand people who are proud not to be one), but I never defined myself a a feminist in a political sense of the word.

In short, I agree with the battle and I fight for equality, but the whole feminist movement seems to be so fucked up in certain things, and I don’t want to associate myself with it.

But lately… I see that everything around me reeks of sexism, and I’m slowly becoming that one person I never wanted to be who finds everything offensive.

Now, don’t get me wrong: everything IS offensive, one way or the other. The way our world is set, almost everything IS sexist, racist, homophobic, xenophobic, etc. It’s not an exaggeration; it’s a fact. The sooner people realize these things are not some rare abominations but the everyday stuff that make our world, the better.

However, I was able to control my disgust and not to take it emotionally. I laughed at stupidity. Women’s faces never shown in commercials, just their breasts and butts? Now how stupid is this shit? Media telling me I should be thin in order to deserve respect as a human being? Ask me if I give a fuck.

Part of this reaction, obviously, comes from the way I was raised. I’m the only child, and I never felt like my parents wanted to have a boy. (In fact, my mother was always clear on the fact she strongly preferred a girl). I was never told I can’t do something because I’m not a boy. It went without saying I’d graduate from an University and I was encouraged to have career ambitions.

It also has a lot to do with my country. Yugoslavia was a socialist country (though we had our own, non-Soviet dictated version of socialism), and socialism values a worker regardless of gender. It meant that there were many female workers in traditionally male occupations. Female doctors, engineers, scientists, professors – none of this was seen as strange. Hard science and medical science universities always had about the same male to female ratio (but not the “traditionally female” schools, such as nursing or kindergarten teachers – not many guys went to these schools).

In any case, the economic situation wasn’t bright enough so both parents had to work. Which resulted into working moms. All mothers worked, and the pay was equal to the one men received (the whole ex-Yugoslavia region still has a very little difference in salaries between men and women; it’s less than in Western countries, especially US).

None of this means feminist utopia or gender equality, though. Women with careers and working moms were a norm, but women were still expected to do all the household work all by themselves. So, her husband would come back from work and he’s watch TV or read the newspaper, and she’d have to cook the lunch and clean the house. But I digress.

The point is that I grew up without messages telling me I can’t do something because I’m a girl and not a boy. I suppose it made me a bit unprepared for the real world, because I might not be able to recognize sexism or inequality. But that’s the thing: I was usually able to laugh it off, unless it was something extreme, such as violence towards women.

But lately, I’ve been noticing all those things, everywhere, all the things.  The way women are portrayed in media, still treated as sexualized dolls. The fact there is still not easy to find a movie with two female characters talking to each other about something other than a man. That media still treats a man as a “default human being”.

And it just makes me sick. It makes me sick like it never made me sick before, save for that one time when I was 14. I guess what I find strange is that I don’t understand why. Why now? Why do I care, now? Why can’t I laugh at it and think they’re stupid and noooo way I’d buy their sexist product – and then just go on with my life? Why do I invest any energy into this?

(Why) Do I Care About Race?

This is something I get asked a lot. For all the crap that’s going on in my part of the world, race issues aren’t one of them since basically only one race lives here. Also, due to the way things are constructed, people are more concerned about someone’s ethnicity than race. Plus, we are white. Racial issues are of no immediate concern to me. So, why do I bother? It has nothing to do with me.

It would be nice to say something like: “I am interested because this issue is something that should concern all people”, which is partly true, but it’s not the complete answer.

The thing is, it does have a lot to do with me, though in an indirect way. But since some things are too close to home to think about them straight, it’s good to think about stuff such as privilege, oppression, collective identities and various mechanisms that guide human actions through a different way they manifest themselves.

I guess this is what makes the race discussion so familiar for me even if it doesn’t have much to do with my own culture. This is what I found interesting: with all the unfamiliar stuff there were always things that I was familiar with.

It also helped me in other ways. It made me understand America (= USA) better, for good or the bad, since my previous experience was either through Hollywood, my culture’s views on it or its views on my culture. None of it speaks much about America the way it is.

Plus – and let’s not forget about it – I’ve met many great people through these websites.

That being said, I am not active on the “race” websites anymore. I guess that I got too involved at one point, and when I get involved in any sort of a political issue, I usually run away. When I start feeling it concerns me, I stop discussing it and writing about it. This is the main reason I don’t write about Balkans or my experience with it. I guess it’s too personal. So maybe that’s the reason I’m not that involved with the race discussion websites anymore? Or maybe it’s because most of my friends left?

In any case, that doesn’t change my motives for dealing with this issue.

I’m back! Meanwhile: The Oslo shooting and Amy Winehouse’s death

I’m back! It was fine, considering it was a forced vacation and all. I also went cold turkey on the Internet: I missed it terribly the first two days or so, and then less and less. Now I’m back and I don’t feel the need to go online. I guess I’m cured! (Ha! Not really! But I promised my husband I’ll try to spend less time online).

And some serious things happened while I was away, namely, the Oslo shooting and Amy Winehouse’s death. Both things are somewhat related to my country, in not a pretty way, which makes me pissed off (to say the least).

Turned out that the lunatic responsible for the shootings was into Serbian history. Ok, not really. Just like Hitler misinterpreted famous philosophers and historians, this…. individual did it with certain aspects of Serbian history and culture to suit his needs. Apparently, his manifesto is full of it. Needless to say, we’re quite pissed off here right now. Once again, we’re made to look like the bad guys, and everybody’s more than ready to believe it/accept it.

As for Amy Winehouse… I’m not really a fan of all those RIP posts; it’s a tragedy and it deserves more than a random blog mention. I liked her voice, but I wouldn’t call myself a fan of hers. Still, I am familiar with her work and I do think she was a good singer. Also, I feel bad for noticing she is the newest member of the 27 Club. I hate when I notice those things; the last thing we need at the moment is drawing attention to some kind of a popular culture belief. And how is her death related to Serbia? Turned out her disastrous concert in Belgrade was her last. And some people are already selling the tickets to the concert on eBay for about 1000 Euros. Go figure.

So, that’s it for now. I missed you guys, and I missed the Internet (there, I said it). But not as much as I thought I would. (Not you: I did miss my online friends; I just didn’t miss Internet itself that much).

Related posts:
On Amy Winehouse debacle
Things I don’t write about
I am addicted to Internet

On Amy Winehouse debacle

Note: This post started as my take on Amy Winehouse disastrous concert in Belgrade, but somehow transformed into a personal rant on hate speech against Serbia.

In case you didn’t hear, Amy Winehouse’s Belgrade concert turned out to be a complete debacle. There are various videos to prove it what happened a few nights ago at the Belgrade fortress.

The author of these videos is my friend Iva. One of her YT video gained a huge popularity, but then YT disabled it without offering a good reason. The fact it’s a bootleg wasn’t the reason given; after all, so many other concert videos are still there. No. They called my friend a spammer and a scammer. So, I guess somebody doesn’t want people to see this video, which is silly; you can’t stop the Internet. AP has it, and it’s virtually everywhere at the moment.

To watch it and read the full story, visit Iva’s website. But please, remember this is not an opportunity to laugh at Amy Winehouse and her condition.

Amy Winehouse video disabled on YT

But, there’s more. The Amy Winehouse thing is a popular stuff at the moment, and it’s saddening to see how little respect certain journalists (and others) have. I’m not talking about Amy at the moment (though that one is saddening, too), I’m talking about my country.

Amy’s newest embarrassing performance happened in Belgrade, Serbia, and not in London, UK; and for some reason, there are reporters who seem to think that it’s quite different because it happened on the Balkans. That the audience and the country somehow deserve less respect than, say, US audience in New York. Or that it’s somehow our fault or our embarrassment.

But in a way, the situation IS different for us. First of all, it’s much, much more difficult for us here to spend 40 euros on a concert ticket (many people work for less than 200 euros per month). It doesn’t mean we deserve a special treatment, but is it so difficult to grasp how disappointing and humiliating this was for people here?

The latest slap in the face came from Chelsea Handler (who the heck is this person anyway?), who tried to mock Amy Winehouse, but ended up throwing hateful comments on Serbia. This kind of ignorant junk we haven’t heard since… Well, yesterday. It never stopped; the hate speech against Serbia is still going strong. But do we need yet another ignorant Westerner and her hate speech? Is this really what Americans see as funny? Laughing at other cultures?

I am quite upset will all of this. And I’m not even sure why; I’m sure not particularly patriotic (and nationalists call people like me “traitors”). But I do feel hurt, and I do feel insulted, and I do feel so fucking tired of being reminded how unworthy, evil and disgusting my country and its people are. I’ve been listening that since I was 10. I’ve been hungry, and humiliated and treated as inferior, and I was forced to hide in the basement while the bombs were falling. I’m tired, and I’m so fucking angry and sick of it.

Here’s the thing. People in Serbia love good music. And my generation lacked the opportunity to see and hear their favourite musicians. It might seem disrespectful, or simplified, to illustrate all the mess and humiliation and hunger and embargo and war and bombing and other shit with the fact we were unable to go to concerts… But it’s a telling example.

I rarely resort to “you don’t know what is like” speech, but, seriously, do you know what is like to be desperate for this kind of events? It’s not just the concerts, though my generation IS desperate for it. Musicians visiting our country – that simple thing (that was taken for granted in the generation before mine, and yes, it was during socialism, btw), that simple thing means so much to us here.

We’re all sick of being insulted as a nation, and called names (and compared to Nazis: which hurts tremendously, because this country had suffered a lot during WWII and people here were never Nazi supporters), and seen as a source of all evil (accompanied with the usual hate and disgust for the Balkans), and humiliated and treated as inferior. It continues even today. And I’m sick and tired of it.