Category Archives: Gender and Sexuality

Gender Parity in Literature: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Polar Bear

 

Any discussion of gender parity is immediately biased. It has been recognised in several studies, some scientific and some undertaken by interest groups, that in any collection of mixed gender crowds/discussions/podcasts/school rooms/books there is a incorrect perception that there is a female/women domination EVEN IF THE FEMALES ARE ONLY 30% OF THE CROWD! There are several theories as to why this is the case, but the main one is that women – as the Other – attract more subconscious attention that the ‘normal’ men. This applies equally (hah) if you are a man or a woman. Please find below some articles covering this phenomenon.

http://www.missedinhistory.com/blog/our-final-answer-on-too-many-women/

http://polygraph.cool/films/

So, when you are in a crowded room, you might think you have a 50/50 gender balance, when they may be only 30% women in the room. This perception doesn’t even consider gender as anything other than the unrealistic two-option choice of Western society. This cognitive bias creates many problems in the literary arena.

  • In book collections, there may seem to be a gender parity in protagonists, when the books with male protagonists will greatly outnumber those with female protagonists.
  • Even with a goal for gender parity, publishers think they have achieved it when male authors still outnumber the female authors.
  • In literary competitions, even if there are more women nominated than men, men still win more prizes. (This also happens in schools, with end-of-year prizes.)

 

Gender Parity

 

In my own writing, I work hard to have some sort of gender parity, without it feeling like I’ve forced in female characters for the sake of having them.  This is particular difficult when I am working in the Steampunk genre, as most Victorian scientists were men. I thought I was getting some gender parity, but when I broke down my ‘cast’, male characters still dominated.

Now, I have to make a decision. Will I cull my male characters to create parity? Or will I satisfy myself with the fact that females dominate the main cast, leave in the majority of masculine secondary characters, and accept that the Victorian era was patriarchal. What do you all think?

 

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Filed under Characterization, Gender and Sexuality, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized

Écriture Féminine Mécanique: The Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Robot woman from Pinterest

manufacturing-a-womans-sentence-virginia-woolfs-criture-fminine-mcanique-11-638

In reality, a mechanism has no gender or sexuality, even if it is painted pink and covered in lace, or gunmetal grey and carrying weaponry. Even the most sophisticated computer -designed to mimic feminine or masculine traits, like Siri – has no innate gender. Our Western society posits ‘normal’ as ‘male’, and so most robots are thought of as male, unless the robot is overtly feminine.

Begging robot

Is this robot ‘gendered’ in your opinion? If so, do you see a masculine or feminine mechanism?

This androcentric designation of gadgets and robots had been used within the Steampunk literary genre as well. Unless you specifically write against this, it is a very easy lazy writing trap to fall into. However, it also doesn’t work if you designate all your robots and gadgets as ‘female’; unless you want your inventors to be characterised as straw feminists.The TV Tropes website has a page dedicated to the phenomenon of androcentric gendering.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MenAreGenericWomenAreSpecial

ruptures and spaces

As the English language has an underlying Patriarchal discourse, language cannot be considered a gender neutral medium. Western culture in the Victorian era was staunchly Patriarchal, but that doesn’t not mean that Steampunk narratives have to mimic that cultural prejudice. In fact, I would argue that the Steampunk literary genre should embrace the concept of Écriture Féminine because of the overwhelming Patriarchal discourse, to give balance and a postmodern resonance to any narratives.

Even if you are writing in an androcentric manner for the purposes of parody and/or satire, you should be writing with the awareness of how your word choices define gender within your prose. Écriture féminine isn’t – and shouldn’t be – limited to women writers. It is just another brush to add to your writer’s toolkit.

a-very-rough-guide-to-feminist-criticism-4-638

 

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Filed under Écriture féminine, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Sociolinguistics, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Themes, Uncategorized, Writing Style

Victorian Crossdressing as a strategy for Victorian Political Issues

Cross dressing Temperance Parody.

Men cross-dressing as a parody of the Temperance Movement.

Strange to say, cross-dressing was often used by staid Victorian-era men to make fun of views in opposition to their own Patriarchal discourse. This cross-dressing was a kind of negative social pressure applied to any group where women were shown to be politically active, like the Suffragettes, the Temperance Movement or the Dress Reform Movements. They wanted to depict such women as ugly and too ‘masculine’ to be taken seriously, because, you know, only spinsters and old man-hating harridans want equal rights and respect.

AN-ARIZONA-SUFFRAGETTE-antique-vintage-crossdressing-photograph

An Arizona Suffragette

This type of attack wasn’t limited to photographs. Postcards and cartoons were also written and illustrated to conform to this strategy. Because pretty girls don’t want to hang out with all the plain ones … plainness is catching, don’cha know?

Do you know what this says to me? That some men prefer dressing up as women to serious debates about basic human rights.

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Filed under Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Steampunk Feminist, Uncategorized, Victorian Era

Do Genre Restraints Create Ageism?

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to visit with Buffy now that she is middle aged?

Being a middle-aged woman who has been a fangirl most of her life, I find there is a dearth of middle-aged women characters in popular culture (unless you count all the evil stepmothers in fairy tales). And yet, with middle-aged women being one of the largest consumers and creators of pop culture and anything in the fantasy/science fiction genre, you would expect plenty of representation. I can only think of one or two really memorable middle-aged character; most female protagonists are usually very young or very old females.

My favourite is the menopausal witch, Jenny Waynest, in the Winterlands novels by Barbara Hambly.

This image is from the cover of Dragonsbane. That is meant to be Jenny being cradled in the talons of the dragon. As you can see, that damsel is a rather attractive young woman with a strategically torn dress. Jenny is meant to be short, mousy, and not fashion model pretty.

A quick search of the usual fan art sites on the internet comes up with just a few images of Jenny – with only one showing Jenny as a human. Most show her in her dragon form. If I turned up dressed as (the human) Jenny to a cosplay event, I doubt anyone would get my character right. Most would think I was Nanny Ogg or Professor McGonagall, who are considered elderly rather than middle aged (though McGonagall was only middle-aged in the books).

Lady Sybil with her husband Sir Samuel Vimes, the Duke of Ankh Morpork

Even Terry Pratchett has only a few middle-aged female characters, like Lady Sybil Vimes and Lady Margolotta (though, as a vampire, does Margolotta Amaya Katerina Assumpta Crassina Von Uberwald really count?). They are only secondary characters, though Sibyl does manage to play a major role in several Discworld novels. Middle-aged women are nearly invisible in Discworld, think Doreen Winkings (vampire by marriage), Mrs Evadne Cake, and the series of humorous landladies that pop up in the books. It must be noted that in all the Tiffany Aching books, we never learn what her mother’s Christian name might be, though we know her father’s name is Joe and her grandmother was Sarah.

(By the way Disney, you couldn’t do better than to convert Tiffany’s books into animated movies. The story for ‘Wintersmith’ will make everyone forget Frozen.)

 

Thanks to Doctor Who being such a long running show, we have had the opportunity to see characters age, including everyone’s favourite companion, Sarah Jane Smith. Sarah Jane managed to remain feisty, opinionated,and strong willed to the very end; it is a damned shame Elisabeth Sladen died so young and will never get to see an elderly old lady with grit and wisdom. And River Song has to be considered middle aged, even though she isn’t exactly human, as she is played by Alex Kingston who is 53 (same age as me).

Of course, genre has a major impact on the ages of your main characters. In Young Adult fiction, the protagonists are going to be teens or a little older (or at least look like teenagers, even if they are hundreds of years old – I’m looking at you Twilight). Older women might play secondary roles, but they are never going to be the protagonists. However, why does nearly every other television show, movie or dystopian novel assume only young people can be protagonists? Where are the middle-aged female superheroes suffering from menopause and finding it difficult to fit into the same clothes they were wearing in their twenties? Do the genre markers for our various narratives actually encourage ageism?

Captain Janeway – she never seems to garner the same enthusiasm in fans as Kirk, Picard, Sisko or Archer. (Except in slash fiction.)

Genre fiction is supposed to be able to take risks and envision strange, new worlds. So why are middle-aged women so under-represented? If you can think of a middle-aged lady protagonist in any Steampunk narratives (not a secondary character or antagonist) that will rock the world like Buffy, please feel free to let me know!

 

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Filed under Ageism, Characterization, Feminism, Gender and Sexuality, Genre, Genre Markers, Pop Culture, Steampunk Feminist, Steampunk Genre, Steampunk Writer, Subgenres of Steampunk, Uncategorized, writing, Writing Style

The Betrayal of the Nurse- one of my old university assignments

Victorian nurse from PinterestSexual politics is among the main influences on the characterisation of the Nurse in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, as the power relationships created by his era’s sexual politics influence the character’s construction, the dialogue, and her actions within the plot.  Focussing on these power relationships, a study of the characterisation of the Nurse illustrates how her conduct is restricted and constructed by the patriarchal discourse of Shakespeare’s culture.  Her actions are affected by her position as a servant of the Capulet family, by her roles as Juliet’s confidante and nurse, by her position as a woman and a widow within her society, and by her symbolic function within the text.  All of these social constructs assist in understanding her motivations and actions, as sexual politics structure the Nurse’s behaviour within the play.

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was originally written as a popular text intended for a large audience (Cranny-Francis, 1994, page 26).  Shakespeare had to take popular attitudes toward sex and gender into account when writing his plays, such as the patriarchal structure of rank in the Capulet household (Bevington, 2008, page 15 & Connell, 2002, page 5).  This means all his character constructions were affected by the same influences as those affecting the Nurse, so all the characters in the play, and their actions, responses, and dialogue, are restricted by the Shakespeare’s understanding of and opinions upon sexual politics.  The male characters must conform as stringently as the female characters to the hierarchy and rituals of a patriarchal society.

Capulet is ‘king’, for the political model of the household was of male domination and female submission in Shakespeare’s era (Greenblatt et al, 1997, page 9-10).  Therefore the Nurse is powerless to go against the will of Capulet, which mirrors the reality of the situation for servants in a Shakespearian household (Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 5, lines 168-177), where all the status and the power are in the hands of the patriarch (Bourdieu, 1998, pages 59-60).  This basic lack of social and economic status underpins the characterisation of the Nurse.

There is the complicating issue of the Nurse not being a member of the Capulet family, even though the she is Juliet’s wet-nurse and confidante (Barash & Barash, 2005, page 139).  Her own husband and daughter are dead (Shakespeare; Act 1, Scene 3, lines 27-28), and she has become emotionally attached to Juliet as well as economically attached to the Capulet family.  The Nurse’s fate is linked Juliet’s, so there should be no surprises in the Nurse advising Juliet to accept the economic security and legal status as Paris’s wife (Greenblatt et al; 1997; page 9-10).  As a childless widow, there are social, cultural, and economic pressures upon the Nurse to encourage Juliet to agree to her father’s choice of a husband.

The Nurse is subservient to Capulet not just because of her lower social rank and economic dependence, but due to her femininity as well.  Katherine Rogers’s theory of Male Misogyny highlights the ideal of Patriarchal feeling: the wish to keep women subject to men (Moi, 1985, page 28), such as when Capulet silences and belittles of the Nurse to enforce her compliance to his will (Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 5, Lines 168-177).  Women who don’t conform are hysterical or their opposition is considered to reduce their femininity; they are excluded from arguments because in the underlying discourse it is the man’s word that is law and the dominant, legitimate viewpoint (Bourdieu, 1998, pages 59-60).

This silencing of women is symbolised in the patterns of dialogue in the play.  Juliet may appear to speak as much as Romeo, but the male characters dominate the amount of dialogue in the Romeo and Juliet, with 68.9 percent of the lines spoken by men (Crystal & Crystal, 2005, page 145).   The Nurse has only a small amount of dialogue by comparison, even though her role is pivotal in the play.  Shakespeare appears to be supportive of the female viewpoint and voice, but the patriarchal discourse dominants the language on many levels, linguistically, thematically, as well as by the amount of dialogue.  The patriarchal discourse dominates the characterisation of the Nurse as effectively as a scold’s bridle, for Shakespeare illustrates how she is silenced symbolically, figuratively and literally.

In Western Society, women have been constantly under the threat of domination, violence and abuse from men (Connell, 2002, page 137).  Legal systems and social customs in Elizabethan era were on the side of the masculine abuser, and domestic violence could occur publically with no expectation of punishment (Maguire, 2004, pages 78).   Abuse need not be physical; it can include emotional mistreatment (Maguire; 2004; pages 81), such as the Nurse being verbally crushed by Capulet (Shakespeare, Act 3, Scene 5, lines 168-177).  Capulet does not confine his abuse to the Nurse, and in the same scene he verbally attacks his wife and daughter.  The characters’ roles are defined by the Elizabethan era’s patriarchal bias in the realm of familial and social relationships.

In the plays of Shakespeare’s era, the traditional role of the nurse character was as a bawd and as a go-between (Bevington, 2008, page 18), and Shakespeare’s Nurse retains aspects of both these roles.  However, though the title of Juliet’s Nurse might explain her basic role within the text, the Nurse’s actual name, Angelica, hints at other symbolic functions (Shakespeare, Act 4 scene 4, line 5).  The name Angelica means ‘messenger’ or ‘messenger of God’; she plays a crucial part in the unfolding Romeo’s and Juliet’s fates within the play.  Names are a subset of the language, and Shakespeare uses names to give significance to his characters (Maguire, 2004, 22-23).  Juliet’s soliloquy about Romeo and roses highlights the significance of names within the play (Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 2).  This layering of significance in the Nurse’s characterisation further alters the traditional aspects of her role. The complexity of her character construction means her conduct is realistic rather than ritualistic; her actions are not limited to those of a simple go-between, they are also reactions, particularly to the tensions of the underlying patriarchal discourse.

Shakespeare did not limit himself to subverting traditional stereotypes; his characterisations were based in the enduring qualities of Human Nature (Stewart, 1998, page 256). Capulet is as restricted by his role within his society just as much as the Nurse, as are all the other characters in the play.  When Capulet attacks the nurse in Act 3, Scene 5, it is not because she is in opposition to the status quo of the patriarchal discourse, but because she is in opposition to his personal will. She capitulates because he is her lord and master, not because she recognises him as an emblem of the patriarchal hierarchy of her society.  She capitulates because she has internalized those patriarchal attitudes, as theorised by Kate Millett on the power relations between the sexes (Moi, 1985, page 28).

The Nurse’s actions are typical of a woman restricted by her patriarchal society, while in contrast, Juliet covertly subverts those restrictions.  Most of the female characters in the Shakespearian tragedies were strong, rebellious, and did not change their minds (Chedgzoy (Editor), 2001, pages 25-26), and so Juliet is a typical example of a Shakespearian female character.  The Nurse is atypical of Shakespearian female characters because she is constrained by the restraints of a society so Draconian that even a complicit woman has difficulty in conforming absolutely.  This contrast emphasises the uneven power relationships of the play’s sexual politics, as Juliet is ultimately as powerless as the Nurse to defy Capulet.

Though the character is based on a traditional stereotype, Shakespeare has altered the Nurse’s characterisation to conform to the gender policies of his era.  Her conduct is dictated by her lack of status within a patriarchal society, she has no intrinsic power to disrupt or agitate against her low status without the repercussions ruining her life.  She has to submit to Capulet’s will, and she believes that Juliet should do the same, or they both will suffer poverty or worse. The strictures of the patriarchal hierarchy apply to the construction of every character’s persona in the play.  By having the Nurse conform to the rules dictated by Shakespeare’s era’s sexual politics, Shakespeare makes a harsh comment upon those politics.

Sexual politics structures the plot as well as the characters of Romeo and Juliet.  The conflicts in the plot are all created the underlying patriarchal discourse (Connell, 2002, pages 137-138): the tragedy of the warring Families of Capulet and Montague.  Though the play is considered a tragedy, it incorporates a lot of the politics of sexuality and gender from Shakespeare’s comedies (Bevington, 2008, page 42).  Shakespeare uses these concepts to highlight inconsistencies in a patriarchal hierarchy, as well as using them to propel the plot.  Without these conflicts, Romeo may have been seen as a suitable husband for Juliet, the Nurse would have no motivation to defy Capulet, and be pressured to conform to his will.

The Nurse was betrayed, just as much as Juliet.  The Nurse’s conduct is ruled by her social position as a female servant and woman, and by the traditions of the role she has been given within the play.  When in confronted by the misogynistic behaviour of Capulet, as enacted during Act 3, Scene 5 of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the Nurse has no choice but to be both betrayed and to be Juliet’s betrayer.  She is betrayed by the sexual politics of Shakespeare’s era.

 

 

Works Cited:

Barash, David P. And Barash, Nanelle R.; 2005; Madame Bovary’s Ovaries;              A Delacorte Press Book, Bantam Dell, Random House; New York, New York.

Bevington, D.; 2008; Shakespeare’s Ideas: More Things in Heaven and Earth; Blackwell Publishing as part of Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford U.K.

Bourdieu, P.; 1998; Masculine Domination; 2001 translation by R Nice; Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers Ltd., U. K.

Chedgzoy, K. (Editor); 2001; Shakespeare, Feminism and Gender; PALGRAVE as an imprint of St Martin’s Press LLC Scholarly and Reference Division and Palgrave Publishers, New York.

Connell, R. W.; 2002; Gender; Polity Press in association with Blackwell Publishers Ltd., U. K.

Cranny-Francis, A.; 1994; Popular Culture; Deakin University Press, Geelong, Australia.

Crystal, D. and Crystal B.; 2005; The Shakespeare Miscellany; Penguin Books Ltd., London, England.

Greenblatt, S., Howard, J., Cohen, W., and Maus, K. (Editors); 1997;                       The Norton Shakespeare Based on the Oxford Edition: Tragedies;             W.W. Norton & Company Inc., New York; Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Maguire, L. E.; 2004; Studying Shakespeare; A Guide to the Plays; Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, U.K.

Moi, T; 1985; Sexual/Textual Politics: Feminist Literary Theory;                          Methuen & Co. Ltd., U.K.

Shakespeare, W.; 1992 Edition; Romeo and Juliet; Wordsworth Editions Limited, Hertfordshire.

Stewart, James B., 1998, Follow the Story : How to write Successful Nonfiction, Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, New York.

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Some Thoughts About the Sexuality of Time Lords

Spoilers Sweetie!

“I think I’m going to need a bigger flow chart.”

– the Doctor in The Husbands of River Song.

The reboot of Doctor Who has never been shy about sexuality or gender issues. The Doctor loved Rose. Captain Jack was unashamedly pansexual – he is attracted to everyone, and this makes him very attractive in return. Shakespeare was portrayed as being bisexual. Clara had a romantic relationship with the Late Georgian/Regency author Jane Austen – Jane was a ‘phenomenal kisser’ and they played pranks on one another. The newly married Ponds were happy to don dress-ups as part of their sex play. The Husbands of River Song gave us an insight into the sexuality of both River and the Doctor – far more so than the Master/Missy interactions of the past two seasons.

You can’t tell me that that isn’t a lascivious look.

At one point, River lists Doctor’s other wives (that we know of). River mentions Elizabeth I, Marilyn Monroe, whose marriage proposal he accidentally accepted whilst at a party in A Christmas Carol, another Christmas special, and Cleopatra, who River posed as in The Pandorica Opens. They both have been married to Stephen Fry (lucky Stevie!). And River makes mention of her wives. Time Lords (and River has Time Lord DNA) must have a fluid gender identity and sexuality.

I know a few people who have a problem with this concept. In the old series, the Doctor was asexual, except for the First Doctor who MUST have experienced some form of sexual reproduction to have a granddaughter. But the beauty of a long running series is that you can allow your characters to change and grow. We knew the Doctor was changed when he developed his deep emotional bond with Rose. Surviving  a war and the genocide of your species might have that effect.

Time Lords might resemble human beings, but there is no reason why they have to share the same human obsession with sexuality and genders. To me, what is much more important is that they love each other in the same way as we human beings love each other. Love defies barriers and defines us. River might be looking forward to seeing the Doctor’s new incarnation all over, but it isn’t the sex that defines their relationship. It is the love.

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Filed under Doctor Who, Gender and Sexuality, Review, Uncategorized

Be Warned…

Be Warned

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October 7, 2015 · 4:48 am

Postmodern Gender Fluidity versus the Victorian-era Binary Model of Gender: A Steampunk Feminist Perseptive

The Genderbread Person v2.1

I was pretty excited when I found the Genderbread Person meme. It clears up the confusion about what defines gender, sexuality, and biological sex. What I really like about it is the use of the word ‘person’. This doesn’t mean I’ll stop calling those doll-shaped gingerbread biscuits ‘gingerbread men’; but it allows for the possibility of ‘gingerbread women’, and everything else in between. It is only in the last decade that the majority of the Western World has come to understand that gender isn’t cut and dried, that gender is a performance, and gender is fluid, not a binary.

So let’s breakdown the concept of gender binaries for the Victorian era. Basically, whatever a man was, a woman wasn’t. Men were strong; women were weak. Men were tool-users; women weren’t (so who do you think invented grinding stones, baskets and slings?). Men were innately honest; women were deceitful by nature. The perfect example of this viewpoint summarized in the song from the musical My Fair Lady – based on Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw (writing about gender and class). Extract:

Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!

Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!
They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,
vacillating, calculating, agitating,
Maddening and infuriating hags!
[To Pickering]
Pickering, why can’t a woman be more like a man?

Pickering: I beg your pardon?

Henry:
Yes…
Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;
Eternally noble, historically fair;
Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.
Why can’t a woman be like that?

Why does ev’ryone do what the others do?
Can’t a woman learn to use her head?
Why do they do ev’rything their mothers do?
Why don’t they grow up- well, like their father instead?
Why can’t a woman take after a man?
Men are so pleasant, so easy to please;
Wherever you’re with them, you’re always at ease.

Would you be slighted if I didn’t speak for hours?

Pickering:
Of course not!

Henry:
Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?

Pickering:
Nonsense.

Henry:
Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?

Pickering:
Never.

Henry:
Well, why can’t a woman be like you?

One man in a million may shout a bit.
Now and then there’s one with slight defects;
One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.
But by and large we are a marvelous sex!
Why can’t a woman take after man?
Cause men are so friendly, good-natured and kind.
A better companion you never will find.
If I were hours late for dinner, would you bellow?

Pickering:
Of course not!

Henry:
If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?

Pickering:
Nonsense.

Henry:
Would you complain if I took out another fellow?

Pickering:
Never.

Henry:
Well, why can’t a woman be like us?

[To Mrs. Pearce]
Mrs. Pearce, you’re a woman…
Why can’t a woman be more like a man?
Men are so decent, such regular chaps.
Ready to help you through any mishaps.
Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.
Why can’t a woman be a chum?
Why is thinking something women never do?
Why is logic never even tried?
Straightening up their hair is all they ever do.
Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?
Why can’t a woman behave like a man?
If I was a woman who’d been to a ball,
Been hailed as a princess by one and by all;
Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing?
And carry on as if my home were in a tree?
Would I run off and never tell me where I’m going?
Why can’t a woman be like me?

If this song wasn’t meant to be satirical, I would be completely enraged by these lyrics. But they do an excellent job of detailing how masculinity was portrayed by the average Victorian male, and how they perceived the portrayal of femininity. The problem is these portrayals are:

  1. Culturally Indoctrinated, and
  2. Only allow for a binary model of Gender
  3. skewed by our own culture’s bias towards a gender binary.

From our viewpoint – looking back at the Victorian era – we tend to only see those gender portrayals that fit neatly into the two boxes, masculinity and femininity. This view is most certainly incorrect. Thank goodness, we no longer see History as cut and dried, and most Postmodern historians realize that history is fluid and changing.

We know that women in the Victorian era were restricted socially, educationally and legally in comparison to men. But it is time to accept that not every woman  – or man  – followed those restrictions.

Cross dressing Michigan farm boys.

Cross dressing Michigan farm boys.

Carte de visite photograph of Ella Wesner, circa 1872

Carte de visite photograph of Ella Wesner, circa 1872

I mentioned the cross-dressing George Sand in a previous blog article. She was probably the best example of people rebelling against the severe restrictions of Victorian society, but she wasn’t the only one. Suffragettes were rebelling, female students were rebelling – with the support of their friends, colleagues and brothers, and the stage was set for Modernism and Postmodernism, and the Sexual Revolution of the 20th Century.

George Sand

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Filed under Gender and Sexuality, Historical Personage, History, Steampunk, Steampunk Feminist

Gender Polarization in the Victorian era: A Steampunk Feminist Perspective

Gender polarization is the concept of gender identity being dependent on men doing the opposite to the women and vice versa. I have several problems with this concept. Firstly, this binary opposition is a very Western concept, and doesn’t allow for any gradient of gender identity. As well, gender polarization creates a completely unnatural and exaggerated definition of gender, and usually this leads to the formation of stereotypes; one of my least favourite being strong men contrasting to weak women.Human beings as a species do have mild sexual dimorphism, but not to the extent that gender polarization would suggest.

In the Victorian era, gender polarization was at its peak. Men and women had different legal rights; wore different clothes; styled their hair differently; had different roles to play in society, in academia, and in the home; were educated differently; and the medical sciences even thought men and women suffered from very different diseases that had nothing to do with their actual differences in physiology (for example: Hysteria was only suffered by women). When genders become polarized to this extent, there is no overlap, no shared behaviours or attitudes between men and women; rather, they are distinctly considered opposites. Any woman displaying behaviour or traits considered manly would be met with disapproval and censure, and the same thing would happen to a man doing anything considered a ‘feminine’ behaviour. No overlap allowed …

As a writer, this situation frustrates me because of how it limits the action of both men and women. As a zoologist, I know exactly how artificial these gender performances are. As a feminist, I know that these attitudes still linger right up into the present day, and I want to howl like a werewolf with rage. But gender polarization isn’t any individuals fault. It is a society’s organizing principle upon which many of the basic institutions of Western society are built.

The classic example of Gender Polarization are sports. In 1896, the first Olympic Games was a male-only sporting event from which women athletes were excluded. Women athletes do not get the same media attention or exorbitant salaries as their male equivalents. There were – and are still – sports that are considered masculine or feminine sports.

Writing gender polarization into the Steampunk genre is a double-edged sword. You don’t want to ignore the issue, nor do you want to perpetrate it.  By understanding it exists, it makes it easier for a writer to address this dilemma with both sensitivity and common sense.

You can use the concept to point out the fallacies of a stereotype, or even as a major plot point – such as seeming reluctance of anyone to recognize cabin boy on the airship is actually the cross-dressing plucky girl. There are real life examples of women dressing as men and managing to remain undetected for years. I suspect society just couldn’t ‘see’ the woman at all, once she took to wearing masculine dress and displaying masculine behaviour.  Isn’t that a fascinating and vivid thought!

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Filed under Gender and Sexuality, History, Steampunk Feminist, writing

The Big Surprise in Murdoch Mysteries: Doctor Grace

****spoilers sweetie****

Dr Grace Murdoch Mysteries

In the Murdoch Mysteries episode ‘Toronto’s Girl Problem’, we learn that Dr Emily Grace is bisexual. I did not find this a revelation, but several other people I’ve spoken to since have expressed shock – and in one case, dismay. Then again, that dismayed person was still hoping she would find happiness with Crabtree, rather than being saddened by Emily’s sexuality; I’m afraid that ship has sailed. I wasn’t going to blog about this topic, but now I feel I must.

Being a feminist means that you want equal rights not just for women, but for everyone. This includes people with different genders and sexualities to what is considered acceptable to a conservative patriarchy. I congratulate Murdoch Mysteries on taking the step to include depictions of these people in their show, particularly as the show is generally light-hearted in tone. Dr Grace is an intelligent, beautiful and engaging character, and a staunch feminist, and it pleases me no end that she can also be a positive role model for bisexual women.

Like toilets, menstruation and runny noses, certain things never seem to pop up in fictional worlds, and I like this trend towards more ‘reality’ in my fantasy.

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Filed under Gender and Sexuality, Pop Culture, Steampunk Feminist