May 17th, 2012 by writerandcritic
This month on The Writer and the Critic, Kirstyn McDermott and Ian Mond spend some time discussing the results of the recently announced Aurealis Awards. Ian valiantly attempts to pry a little out-of-school talk from Kirstyn, who convened the Horror judging panel, but Kirstyn just as valiantly resists the spilling of any beans. Well, mostly. You know how persistent Mondy can be.
And from the Department of Filthy Lucre, Kirstyn and Ian are pleased to announce the opening of a brand spanking new Writer and Critic Zazzle Store from which their loyal listeners can purchase all kinds of yummy merch! Okay, there's just one design available right now, but it's very classy. Inspired by last episode's conversation about stick figures, which was in turn inspired by listener feedback from Mark Webb, Kirstyn has designed a female stick figure logo which is now splashed across shirts, badges, stickers, mugs and a whole heap of other swag. Why is the stick figure female? The more important question is, why is it male? Go on, you know you want one.
Around the 26:20 mark, discussion turns to the first of the two books for the podcast, Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti, which Ian recommended. Ishtar, an anthology from Gilgamesh Press which includes a novella by Deb, is tangentially mentioned and garners a bonus mini-review from Kirstyn. At 45:00 they switch over to Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (also known as The Brides of Rollrock Island outside of Australia), which was Kirstyn's pick. Ian mentions this review of the book by Abigail Nussbaum and, for listeners wanting to know more about the writing of the novel, Kirstyn suggests watching this interview with Margo. Sea Hearts was expanded from a highly acclaimed novella of the same name, which can be found in the X6 anthology from Coeur de Lion Publishing.
If you've skipped ahead to avoid spoilers, please check back in at 1:25:10 for final remarks and some exciting -- and exhausting! -- announcements about future episodes. Kirstyn and Ian would also like to thank the wonderful Charles Tan for creating a Pinterest board of all the books they have review on the podcast so far. There's really quite a lot of them!
Next month, The Writer and the Critic hits the road once more to record its second live podcast in front of an audience at the Continuum 8: the National Science Fiction convention in Melbourne. Their very, very special guests will be Alison Goodman and Kelly Link, who have recommended The Crystal Singer by Anne McCaffrey and The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater respectively. (Ian and Kirstyn have wisely decided not to choose books of their own because, well, four people talking about four books in less than two hours would be a frantic kind of madness.) Read ahead and join in the fun!
The stick figure is a symbol. Symbols are a graphic representation of language.
Meanings are attached to the symbols and they represent something else by association, resemblance, or convention.
Words, also, are made up of symbols that create the alphabet. Sounds have meanings assigned to them to create a spoken language. Colours have meanings assigned to them, eg red means stop, green means go. All are arbitrary assignations, many evolved over millennia.
Symbols are used everywhere as a visual form of communication. The streets are full of them. Turn left arrow, turn right arrow, stop!
Symbols need to be easily recognizable by all, whether the person speaks a particular language or not, or is “illiterate”. If people are confused as to the meaning of a symbol then “language” would fall apart. No-one would understand each other. It would be the Tower of Babel. And there would be chaos in the street as no-one would know what a stop sign or red light means.
The stick figure is essentially “sexless” and has nothing to do with gender politics. The stick figure is a symbol for man or human (depending on where it is used) and is used as a simple means of communicating information. It is easily recognizable as a human without being too abstract.
On an Exit Sign the stick figure represents all humans; it is not an exit for men only. On a toilet block, the stick figure is male. It is universally understood to be male without being vulgar. We don’t want any confusion when it comes to public toilets, do we?
Why is the stick figure male? The simple answer is, “Why not?”
By the way, I noticed you used traditional symbolic colouring for your “female stick figure” - red or pink for female.
Actually, red and pink were both traditionally masculine colours until the early 20th Century. Pink was considered an appropriate colour for boys, as it was a more diluted form of red, and boys were not yet men. Pink only started to become synonymous with girls in the last hundred years. Currently, red is fairly gender neutral, hence the reason I chose it, as well as the fact that it is a common colour in general signage.
The question of why the stick figure is deemed to be male is the whole point of the logo, and of our conversation on the previous episode. You say “Why not?” but that’s not really an answer. Why isn’t the standard stick figure thought of as female? Wouldn’t the same answer apply? “Why not?” I understand the purpose/theory of language and semiotics, but the underlying point remains that in our current culture, the female is defined as being a subset of the male. Our language, and our language of symbols, serves to both reinforce and illustrate this. And there is nothing arbitrary about our language and the symbols we choose to create and employ — I’m definitely going to disagree with you there!
What I find interesting is the dissection of language, and of its subtext, meaning and evolution. The fact that we have a universal symbol which means both “human” and “male human” is telling. It’s the women which need to be differentiated, to be made “other” than the default, and this “default male” mindset has far reaching consequences in all aspects of society and culture. Which is the sorts of things Ian and I were discussing last episode.
I do not believe every one who creates a symbol has a gender agenda. Symbols are graphic designs created to convey information in the most immediate and easily recognizable way possible. I don’t believe there is a worldwide conspiracy to disenfranchise women through the use of graphic art.
In order to impart information, at some point a decision has to be made as to what a symbol means. The stick figure has been designed to represent humans and in most cases represents the male. If the meaning of a symbol is rubbery, its meaning would be lost and we would not be able to convey the information.
I come from a visual arts background and I don’t view the world in terms of gender politics as you appear to now do. So we will have to agree to disagree.
~ Antoinette www.weirdwildart.com
PS. here’s a joke you might enjoy…
Q: Why can’t men get mad cow disease? A: Because men are pigs.
We weren’t saying that there was a “gender agenda” in the creation of the human/male symbol, nor that there is a “worldwide conspiracy to disenfranchise women through the use of graphic art”. Cheap, simplistic shots there, Ant. Nice.
I don’t know if you listened to the first twenty minutes of the last episode, or if you’re simply riffing off the image and text in these shownotes, but we did have a very in depth discussion of the issue. We did not say that a bunch of men sat down, rubbed their hands and plotted to remove women from the default visual language. (But, you know, they probably were men who designed and then designated that symbol as male. Which says something in itself.) There is value in pointing out the connotations and complexities of language, even when that language is that of visual symbols — perhaps especially so in that case, as humans are very much visual creatures — and in thinking about what the language we use says about us. There is also value in considering subconscious intentions as well as unintended consequences in the formation of languages, symbols, definitions, and so on. You might disagree.
Gender politics is one of the filters through which I view the world, yes. Maybe that’s because I see it at work on a daily basis and it’s hard to cast a blind eye to the damage it does — to *all* genders, I hasten to point out. You might disagree with that as well. But this is not an either/or situation. Just because people talk about gender imbalances and inequities, does not mean they believe in a vast and conscious conspiracy of all males to oppress all females. The situation is far more complicated and nuanced than that, and far more insidious as well.
You don’t see the world in those terms? Okay, fine, you’re more than welcome to your own filters. But please don’t try to reduce a complex and valid discussion about social semiotics to hysterical hand-waving about non-existent conspiracies.
P.S. If you’re implying that I would like that joke because I think men are pigs, or because I’m anti-male in any way, then … well, cheap simplistic shots once again. Very nice.
The t-shirts are cool. I just ordered mine…
(…I may have also ordered a mug…)
Fortunately I was able to stop before further purchasing madness ensued.
ps Look forward to seeing the magic live at Continuum.
Kirstyn, it saddens me that you appear to have lost your sense of humour and resort to personal attacks when all I’m trying to do is explain a bit about graphic design. So I’ll let you have the last word.
Here’s an article I found that you might find interesting. It was published in The Mentor #89 - January 1996.
A MATTER OF SEX(ISM)!
by Kirstyn McDermott
Men are lazy, insensitive, unorganised and unable to concentrate on more than one thing at the same time. Dominated by his penis, the lifelong ambition of every man is to screw as many long-legged, silicone- stuffed Playboy bimbos as he possibly can. Men are unintelligent workaholics who leave all the menial tasks to women and yet delight in taking the credit for a job well done. Men cannot sew, cook or look after children. Men have no fashion sense. Men do not understand the mysteries of menstruation and female orgasm. In short, men are responsible for all the ills in the world.
It’s because of attitudes like those expressed by Lyn Elvey in her article A MATTER OF SEX! THE MENTOR #88) that I have voluntarily exiled myself from the contemporary feminist movement. Too many women these days are going overboard, claiming superiority over men instead of demanding equality. Is it any wonder that “Feminist” has become the new “F-word” of the nineties?
To purport the myth of female superiority is as equally destructive to society as it would be to assert male dominance. All the (valid) feminist arguments about psychological oppression and self-fulfilling prophecy would be just as applicable to men were they to become the inferior sex. I remember discussing feminism with a male relative a few years back when I was still one of the “party faithful”. He expressed a (common) fear that women wanted to turn the tables, that we sought to oppress men, that we demanded a complete reversal of the societal order. ‘Oh no,’ I assured him naively, ‘All we want is equality.’ Why do I feel the sudden urge to ring him up and apologise?
The stereotypes and generalisations about men and women are just that - stereotypes and generalisations. I’ve known women who lust for power and men who are content to be dominated; men who’d cook you a meal to die for and women who barely manage to pour the milk on the cornflakes; men who revel in shopping for hours and women who’d rather wear the same clothes for ten years than go anywhere near a Sportsgirl sale; women who’d kill for front row seats to a boxing match and men who appreciate the finer points of knitting; men who are afraid of sex and women who think with their cunts. I’ve also known women who are the epitome of dumb-blondness and men who are no more than brainless jocks - and vice-versa.
Why would society be any better if women were the superior sex? I’ve got two words for you, Lyn: Margaret Thatcher. What a caring, sharing and nurturing woman she was! As opposed to Mahatma Ghandi who was, as everybody knows, a cold and inhuman male despot. Women can be just as ruthless, scheming, militant and power-hungry as men, and if anybody seriously thinks that the world would be a more caring and tolerant place if there was a female President in the White- house then I wish they’d give me some of whatever they’re on!
Feminism has a lot to answer for these days. It is creating and enforcing myths that are as bad as those that existed before World War II. Women are now made to feel guilty if all they want to do is stay home and have children. Women now have to be able to efficiently raise their children, have well-paid and respectable careers, actively participate in their communities, manage their households and maintain a healthy social life - and they have to be able to do it without the help of evil, selfish, uncaring men - or they are not real women! What a load of garbage!
But, I suppose that this is all sour grapes. After all, I am a traitor to the cause. True, I am a woman but I have absolutely no maternal instinct, never plan to have a family, and am in a very happy relationship with (horror of horrors) a man - a man whose dream in life is a room dedicated to a library, who does think there is more to life than work, who is intelligent and can commit himself to plans more than two weeks in advance (yes Lyn, he does exist, oh really and truly he does - I’ve pinched him!). And there are other black marks against my name: I do not want a well-paid, white-collar, office-type career; I have male friends whom I get along with as well as my female friends; I do not think that every man is either a potential rapist or a would-be oppressor; and I quite like (good) pornography actually.
I’m sick of all this sisterhood crap being forced down my throat. Sure some men are selfish, insensitive, Neanderthal bastards- some but by no means all. By the same token, there are some women whom I would loathe for their stupidity and shallowness if I even thought it worth the effort. Maybe it’s the case that some PEOPLE are idiotic and senseless and pathetic and mean and materialistic and workaholic and seIf-centred, and it doesn’t really have all that much to do with what sex they are.
As I see it, the problem lies with the whole equality issue - or, rather, some people’s interpretation of “equality” as meaning “alike”. Women and men are not alike. There are biological, physical and psychological differences between the sexes which will never to erased by any form of socialisation (thank god!). There are some things that men and women do differently, and there are some things which one sex (on average) is better at doing than others. Note, “different” should not be equated with “inferior/superior”, though it all too often is. Do we want a society of automatons where every person things, acts and reacts in exactly the same way? Is this equity?
Lyn’s comments are so ludicrous, so “CIeo Magazine”, that part of me really wants to believe she is joking. Unfortunately, I don’t think she is. I’ve listened to too many women exactly like her. Women who tell me to burn my copy of AMERICAN PSYCHO because it is a piece of misogynist trash. Women who tell me to sign petitions against pornography because it encourages violence against my gender. Women who tell me that I am being oppressed, that I shouldn’t go out at night alone, that male editors will reject my stories, that my male lovers will use and abuse me, that I cannot do what I want in this patriarchal society because oh it’s so sad but that’s the way life is and that’s why all men must be castrated in order to make way for the Society of the Superwoman where all will be peace and love and roses.
Note, it is women who are telling me such things these days, not men. SelfuIfilling prophecy: if you believe in something, then it will happen.
Well, I refuse to believe!
I think Lyn’s “final argument” concerning male (iI)Iogic needs to be set in its proper context. The reason girl babies are often secretly disposed of in China and some other Asian countries is more an economic one than anything else. It should be pointed out that this practice does not usually occur in richer families (usually because money has a way of talking itself around the law), but is prevalent amongst the poor. The reason for the preference of sons is not primarily because they will carry on the family name, but because they do not require a large, expensive dowry to be provided upon their marriage, and because a son is expected to look after his parents in their old age. Quite literally, poor families cannot afford a daughter. It is hardly an example of male logic, but of cultural logic.
In short, Lyn Elvey’s article was sexism pure and simple, and I refuse to be associated with her caricature of womanhood. Sure, there is lot - and I mean a lot - wrong with our society, but the solution will never lie in inverting the problem. Women better than men? The last time I heard something so ridiculous was when men were running around claiming that they were the superior sex.
The answer is really simple, boys and girls. Can anybody say “symbiosis”?
The Mentor #89 JANUARY 1996 page 3
I remember that article, Ant, and I’m happy to stand by my 23 year old self who wrote it. As can probably be gleaned from the references to Lyn Elvey, it was written in response to a highly polemical article published in a previous issue of the fanzine which basically argued that women should rule the world instead of men because they were intrinsically the better gender (more logical, less violent, etc, if I am recalling correctly). A position which I thought — and still think — is a load of old tosh. Elvey was expressing precisely the extreme feminist views that I had been bombarded with during my years at university and I was — and still am — wearied, angered and frustrated by them.
Of course, sixteen later, with sixteen years worth of experience and knowledge beneath my belt, my views are necessarily less simplistic than they were. They’ve have to be or what was the point of living and learning those sixteen years? I realise now (and have for several years) that the feminist movement is made up of many, many different viewpoints, and that none of its extremist proponents represent it as a whole. Base level: feminism simply holds the view that all genders are of equal worth and should be granted equal rights and opportunities. Full stop. If you believe that, you’re a feminist.
I find it funny, and a little sad, to realise that views which aren’t actually in keeping with this philosophy (i.e. “women are superior”) but which label themselves “feminist” anyway were what led me to distance myself from feminism in my twenties. And of course, the attitude I held then is the same attitude which seems to be (sadly) prevalent today: if you call yourself a feminist, if you talk about gender politics and inequality between the sexes, if you suggest that (white, straight) male privilege exists and needs to be interrogated and dismantled, then you are obviously one of those humourless, man-hating, female supremacists who are just as bad as the system they would like to overthrow.
Very. Very. Sad.
Reading that article, here’s a few things I’d like to tell my 23 year old self:
“You’re awesome. Really, you are. You’re passionate and you stand up for what you believe in and you don’t like it when people try to tell you what to think, how to act or what you should be based on reductionist reasoning. You’re also smart and you like to come at things on your own terms, after you’ve thought about them a lot. (Sometimes, a little too much. You should work on that.) But here’s something you don’t want to hear: the world is really, really complicated. I know you think you have a whole lot of stuff worked out right now, but actually you’ve only just started. And you’re never, ever going to finish. That’s what life is like. Just when you think you have a worldview nailed, some pesky opinion or fact or argument is going to come along skittle things. Not completely, not always — you do get better at this, I promise — but enough to make you realise that things are rarely black and white, that the world and its inhabitants are complex and nuanced and don’t like to be put in a pigeon hole any more than you do. That’s all right. That’s how it works. The day you sit back and decide you’re done, you have all the shit worked out and you never have to learn anything or refine your opinions ever again, that’s the day you know you’re in trouble. Seriously.
“That thing about China, for instance. That’s funny. You’re going to realise just how funny in another decade or so. I can’t believe you can’t see it now, actually. It’s *right there* in that naiive — but passionate — little paragraph you wrote, how gender is intrinsically entwined with economics, how women have been traditionally valued to market, how “cultural logic” is thoroughly meshed with “economic logic” and “gender logic” and a whole lot more. How can you not see it yet? Never mind, I’ll wait. Then I’ll laugh with you. And give you a big hug.
“(Also, that guy you’re with? Not going to last, sorry. But don’t worry, there’s the most amazing man in your future. Seriously, A-MAY-ZING. You’ll love him. I do.)”
So thanks for the walk down memory lane, Ant. (Though next time, maybe just the link will do, rather than cluttering up the comment stream with a cut-and-paste.) And don’t worry, I certainly haven’t lost my sense of humour.
Mark: The mugs are brilliant! Much better quality than I expected, actually. Haven’t received my t-shirt yet (it’s the only thing left), but hopefully it arrives well before Continuum. See you there!
Well now I have mug envy. Come on Zazzle, process my order already!!!