Sunday, October 19, 2014

In which Toddleworth's birth is discussed, and regarding our plan this time around

Bold Sections by Lady Covington

It's four in the morning and Lady Covington is groggily groaning. Lord Covington is drowsing next to her with what used to be a hot rice sock in his hand. In one corner of a room sits a large birthing pool making the air in the room hot and humid, though it's the middle of December. In the other corner of the room , Betsy the midwife rocks in a wooden chair. Everyone is waiting for the first appearance of Toddlesworth. 
 Our plan was to try and have a gentle a birth as possible, keeping trauma to mom and baby as minimal as possible. However, this has been the scene for three consecutive nights at “Covington Manor.”  It's fair to say everyone was well beyond exhausted: particularly Lady Covington, as our Toddlesworth has ever been stubborn. It was into this scenario that our midwife did a final heartbeat check and discovered that for the second time in an hour, our yet to be born baby had a slowing heartbeat. We were in a legitimate emergency situation. And we proceeded to the most dread of locations- the regional hospital.

To describe our collective hospital dread at this point is critical. Lord Covington is always concerned with putting his life in anyone else's hands. For Lady Covington, the hospital issue is more specific and personal.

I was always terrified by the thought of having a baby: it is a pretty scary prospect. In 2010 I watched my niece give birth. She is a young mom and was I think only 16 at the time. However, when she was ready to push, the doctors dismissed her (she had gone to complete dilation very quickly after a bit of a slowdown during labor.) They got there only just in time as she began to push, and the baby was quickly out. I was so impressed with my niece's knowledge of her own body; how she seemed to know better than the doctors when it was time, and how she accomplished such a powerful feat with no pain medication.
Immediately after the birth, they took her baby to a warming cot. It was only across the room, but my niece couldn't see or hold her new baby. She was anxious and uncomfortable and WHY THE HELL COULDN'T THEY HAVE JUST MOVED THE BASSINET TO HER SIDE OF THE ROOM? I felt terrible for her. The pointless exclusion of the mother during this most important moment struck a strong cord with me, and I wanted more than anything to not go through that.

Having been through several surgeries in my young life, I can say with certainty that I do not enjoy them. I have vague memories of them fixing my leg after the car wreck, and I had to have surgeries on both my arm and leg months after the event to remove medical hardware that was doing more harm than good. In addition, I know I am due for at least one total knee replacement in my lifetime.  Unlike Lord Covington, I don't have the luxury of deciding I will avoid hospitals for the rest of my life. When I thought about the events that had transpired during the birth experience of my niece, the possibility of avoiding the hospital entirely with this birth seemed like a no-brainer. I had assumed all my life that I would have an easy time with birthing babies, and I had dearly hoped to embrace this happy life event far away from strangers and sterile white environments. 

I of course wanted to avoid a csection, and I felt there were definitely increased risks of csection involved with having a healthy birth in a hospital setting, and at the same time I felt that if anything were to truly necessitate hospital intervention, it was very likely we could get to the hospital in plenty of time.

And so, when our midwife told us it was best that we head to the hospital, this collection of weariness and wariness swirled around us as we drove there, clutching our birthing plan, (which may as well have been thrown out the window at that point.)  Between the two of us, we had a nightmare scenario fear of a hospital visit.  As it turned out, the reality was pretty close to our fears.

       We waited while the doctor was called.  Meanwhile, we were handed consent paperwork.  The nursing staff seemed put out that we wanted to read the documents rather than just sign them.  The first issue we balked at was the line "we consent to a natural birth OR a C Section."  As a C Section was specifically what we were trying to avoid, we refused to agree to it until we found it absolutely necessary: necessity being determined by the health needs of our yet unborn Lord Toddlesworth.  Even though I knew at this point I was headed towards the dreaded CSection, I still wanted to hear it from the doctor before signing on the dotted line, and I don't think I was being unreasonable. The Doctor eventually came in and confirmed, and that's all I needed before signing.

The next thing we objected to was Erythromycin, an antibiotic to prevent your baby’s eyes from being infected with gonorrhea.  From what we  had read, it sometimes stung newborn's eyes and most definitely blurred vision in those first few moments after birth when strong bonding occurs. When we told them we objected, they sent in a physically larger and more aggressive nurse to attempt to bully us into signing. The issue with this infection is that the babies get infected by gonorrhea positive moms on their way out of the birth canal. As I had only had one sexual partner in the past decade, and had never had an abnormal pap smear, I was and am pretty damn sure I've never had gonorrhea. However, even if I was ragingly gonorrhea positive. WE HAD ALREADY ESTABLISHED THE BABY WAS NOT GOING TO BE COMING OUT THAT WAY. 

We also refused the Vitamin K shot.  With These numbers:
When infants do not receive any Vitamin K at birth, statistics from Europe show that 4.4 to 10.5 infants out of 100,000 will develop late VKDB - thats .00007 %.  The chances of that being an issue are statistically nil.  I believe I also read that any bleeding disorder that occurred can almost always be caught early and fixed. Beyond that, we ok'd the oral vitamin K, I just did not feel an intramuscular injection on a newborn is in anyway justified when there was an alternative.

After confirming with the doctor that we were indeed headed to surgery, my requests were made and almost universally summarily denied. (Can I have Lord C with me? Yes. Can I have my mom with me? No. Can there be a video? No. Can Lord C cut the cord? No. Can I hold the baby right away? No. (Nursery, observation, etc. etc.)) With a heavy heart I realized I was getting almost nothing out of the birth experience that I had hoped for. Many times women who don't get the birth they wanted are told "At least you have a healthy baby!" While I am thrilled with that being the case, it is not enough to ignore that it wasn't a healthy birth experience, and that these types of births can often be traumatizing to the mothers. A healthy baby should be the minimum, and women should be able to advocate for what they want without being judged for it. In a home birth, you are the actor. It is an empowering event where you and your body lead the way. In a hospital birth, especially a CSection, you are the object that is acted upon.

 After waiting a terrifying three hours, wherein they could only *sometimes* find my baby's heartbeat, I was finally moved to surgery. I was given the spinal block, and each arm was strapped down. I started shivering, which only intensified. I think it was normal and expected due to the medicine, but I'm certain much of it was the pure terror of being in this helpless situation and having everything I had hoped for in a birthing scenario being irreparably stripped away from me. I wasn't going to be allowed to see my baby once he was removed, and they were going to take him straight to the nursery, so I kept my eyes pealed on the big silver dome mirror above me.

I couldn't see anything clearly, but I could see when the doctor lifted a sprawling red figure up. He was immediately taken to a station off and to the right, above my shoulder so I couldn't get a look at him there either.  I knew they were suctioning his nose, etc, and cried when we got to hear him cry. Then, they took him away again, to the nursery.  They were supposed to have me out of there in about 20 minutes, but after a while Lord C. followed our baby while I remained in surgery for about an hour. 
I was eventually wheeled to recovery, where I stayed for another hour or more waiting for a chance to hold my baby. Finally, Lord C got to bring him to me. I held him for less than five minutes before they ordered him to take baby back to the nursery. 
I was so physically and emotionally drained, and defeated by the entire situation. My throat tightens just thinking about it. 

I am thankful for the doctor who got out of bed at four in the morning and gave me a surviving baby. I am thankful for the two nice nurses we had contact with after the birth-one in the recovery room and one who tried to help me rig up a supplemental nursing device when I had trouble nursing. Also, I will always hold a special place in my heart filled with hatred for the two nurses that made what should have been a joyous experience into a nightmare. The bully nurse I mentioned above, and the nurse who shamed and threatened me ("If your child doesn't GAIN WEIGHT we will send you home and keep him here") into giving my child formula on day one, which I feel sabotaged my breastfeeding attempts.

This kind of event can lead you to no longer trust your own body. I want more than anything to avoid the prolonged separation with this next birth. Ideally I would still love to have a home birth, but beyond all else I want to do what I can to ensure I don't end up with another emergency Cesarian birth. I do want to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after CSection) and avoid another surgery. The doctor that did my previous C-Section won't even give me a TOLAC (Trial of Labor after Cesarian) to attempt a vaginal birth. For that reason, we are going out of our way, literally, to attempt a birth in a city 1.5 hours from our current city.

We are faced with many questions in the future: Can I find a doula to be my advocate in the hospital in case I end up in the same emotionally exhausted state? Should I be induced around my due date, rather than going over? Should I get pitocin, since my previous contractions never became difficult, and perhaps that would make labor work? What are the chances, with my previous labor being 72 unproductive hours, that we would not make it to our destination 1.5 hours away? If I get turned away or don't progress once we head there, there's no easy 'go home and come back later' where would we stay in this case?

All of these questions can wait, because the ones I'm most interested in will be answered by the end of the week. First and foremost, is our little one healthy? And secondly, will Toddles be getting the little sister he is so insistent upon?

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 6

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. and continued with Monster HouseThe Little Mermaid, and ParaNorman, Here is the continuation:

Agency: Does the character act for herself? Does she make her own choices or have them dictated?
Backstory/Goals: Does the character have a past, or plans for the future?
Traditional Gender Roles: How much or little does the character conform to traditional gender roles?
Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person?
We're doing this more or less chronologically, which will also correlate with our recent increase in being critical of media.

"Coraline", based on Neil Gaiman's novella of the same name, is Toddlesworth's current favorite. When I say favorite, imagine loving a movie such that you would watch it twice a day for 2 weeks if allowed.  He is not allowed...luckily for us. This movie aces the Bechtel Test in most every scene. Granted, that's not hard to do when most of the characters are female. As discussed earlier, simply passing the Bechtel Test, doesn't necessarily imply positive or empowering roles for women.  Thankfully, Coraline is a buffet of agency in various believable ways. 

Agency: Coraline is the main character of the story; she is a young girl of about 12, who loves exploring and hates being ignored by her parents (who are too busy working to pay attention to her.) She is happy to go out on her own and explore. She bravely faces down the villain of the movie and escapes--then goes back to rescue her parents. While there are points where she has to do what her parents want her to do, the main actions of the film are at her discretion. While exploring her new house, she discovers a child sized door leading to a long dark "breathing" tunnel, which was just recently a brick wall that led nowhere.  Putting myself in her shoes, I may have been too afraid to go alone. She isn't.  Coraline crosses through the tunnel to meet the film's main antagonist: The Other Mother.  The Other Mother looks like Coraline's mom, albeit more cheerful. She appears kind and loving in the beginning, but is soon revealed to be some sort of ancient soul eating entity with sewn in black button eyes

The Other Mother shows Coraline a world of delightful toys and games and shows; and cooler versions of her weird neighbors. If anything, it's fun and exciting, until the Other Mother directly asks if she can sew buttons in her eyes.  The Other Mother herself has her own reasons for her actions. She may want someone to love, she may "just want something to eat." The Other Mother's hunting method seems to be temping children with everything they ever wanted, getting them to let her sew black buttons into their eyes, and then "eating up their lives".  While Coraline gets to escape the initial trap with the help of the Other Wybie, the Other Mother retaliates by kidnapping her true parents.

Backstory/Goals:  Both characters are shown to have a past, and plans for the future.  Coraline looks at a picture of her friends back home, and mentions that she wants things growing in the garden when they come to visit.  Her main goal at the beginning is to stave off boredom, but by the end she is faced with the challenge of escaping from the evil Other Mother, saving the souls of the ghost children, and rescuing her real parents.
We see in the dead children evidence that The Other Mother has been The Other Mother to at least three children in the past.  We know her goal is to keep Coraline with her at all costs, at first through the trickery of a pitcher plant--by seemingly offering a sweet new life. It seems keeping Coraline there is necessary to her survival, as she becomes less nice and more desperate, manipulative, and frightening at the end of the film.

Traditional Gender Roles: How much or little does the character conform to traditional gender roles?
Coraline is an explorer, who does not seem at all inclined to traditional roles. She mentions that she is too old to play with dolls, and the toys we see in her room include a squidcat and a skeletal turtle. She has many different outfits in the film, one of which is a pink striped sweater and black skirt (under a yellow raincoat), but none of her other outfits are 'traditional' pink or purple.
The Other Mother does seem to embody traditional gender roles initially. She looks perfectly presentable, and is always happy and welcoming to Coraline. She cooks wonderful meals for Coraline to enjoy, and knows her taste in clothing quite well. It is shown to all be a ruse, when under pressure the Other Mother shows her true, tall, insectoid, intimidating form.

Totally harmless....

Nightmare fuel!

Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person?
 Coraline as the eponymous lead is admirable for her cleverness and courage.  She has an adventurous and exploring nature viewable in the fist scene.  Moving to a new, large, and more than a little creepy house can be daunting for any child.  I personally threw an absolute fit for having to move school districts, and I was 12 years old.  Coraline is just brave. But not in a way that seems unreal.. just in a way you hope you would be if you were in her shoes. Her new house comes with unsettling people: creepy old has-been actresses, and bizarre blue Russian acrobat with a mouse circus no one but him can see. Also, the movie adds a character not present in the book, Wyborn "Wybie" Lovat, who Coraline initially despises, but eventually befriends.  While he may ultimately be the most innocuous of characters, his introduction is the most frightening (He rides her down on his bike while wearing a skeletal welder's mask.)  Coraline's reaction to all of these new things is initially boredom, and then curiosity and excitement as she discovers more unusual things. 

The Other Mother is a monster, and evil, that's a given.  However, she is still a well developed character with her own story or agenda.   She has issues with cats.  She controls the entire world on the other side, and all of the "Other" characters are just extensions of her, though they are not entirely under her control. But the Other Mother is a nuanced being with her power and her avarice.  It seems likely she really does love Coraline, as much as a thing like her can.

As an aside, Coraline's "real" mother is an excellent character for the screen time she has.  She is pretty obviously the authority in the household.  Coraline's father is more laid back.  While she is prone to be grouchy and authoritarian, she still cares about her daughter even if she is short with her. The truth of the roles of the Mother and Other Mother are hidden in the beginning of the movie. Coraline's Mother is no fun, and never lets her have her way, while her Other Mother is always pleasant, feeds her delicious food, as opposed to her mother's mid-movie offer: "How do you feel about a mustard-ketchup- salsa wrap for lunch?" The true natures of each are revealed by the end of the movie, as the Other Mother is of course revealed to be a monster, and Coraline's true mother shows the kindness she is of course capable of: she surprises Coraline with the gloves she had wanted earlier in the film, as well as going along with Coraline's plans for a garden-planting party, even though it turns out Coraline's mother really does hate dirt.

The beginning and middle of the film are full of nuanced characters, and a main character brimming with agency. The harshest criticism we could give so might be about the two extremely scantily clad actresses. But now we come to the end of the film. As we mentioned before, Wybie is the only character added from the book. We were both very fond of the book before watching the movie. There were a few minor differences earlier in the film, but nothing major and most were actually improvements. However, we  had a hard time forgiving the film for the change it pulled in the end.

In the end of the book, Coraline manages to escape the Other Mother's clutches, narrowly. The Other Mother's hand is snapped off and manages to escape the other realm and spends a week trying to get the key from Coraline. Coraline realizes life just can't go on without her dealing with the hand. She cleverly, purposefully, sets up a trap for the hand. She spends three trips going the long way round through bushes to a deep, dangerous well mentioned at the beginning of the book. She asks her mother to borrow an old tablecloth she didn't need anymore so she could have a tea party with her dolls. "I thought you were too old for dolls" said her mom. "I am," answered Coraline, "It's just protective coloration." These theme is discussed earlier in the book while Coraline is watching a nature documentary, and is obviously also the method the Other Mother uses, disguising herself to look like Coraline's mother. Coraline carefully removes the cover of the well and lays the tablecloth over it, using dolls and cups to weigh down each side. She then goes back to the house and loudly announces her intention to have a tea party, and mentions that she will be playing with the key. She makes sure the hand is following her, lures it to the tea party setup, and carefully lays the key on the tablecloth (over the uncovered well.) The hand takes the bait, jumps for it, and is trapped, hopefully forever.

In the movie, Coraline IS heading to the well to dispose of the key. However, she does not know the hand has escaped. It jumps and tries to snatch the key from her neck. Just then, Wybie roars onto the scene on his bike, knocks the hand off of Coraline and almost falls into the well himself. The hand falls in as well, but scrambles up Wybie and attacks his hands on the ledge of the well, making him loose his grip with one. Poised to attack Wybie's other hand, Coraline snatches the Other Mothers hand with a blanket she had been wearing for warmth. As the hand begins to escape from the blanket, Wybie throws a huge rock on it and smashes it to bits. Coraline bundles the rock and hand up into the blanket, ties the bundle with a key, and together the hurl it into the well.

This ending is NOT terrible. However, the ending to the book went so much further to showing just how capable and clever Coraline is.  For a character who was only added so Coraline wouldn't be 'walking around and talking to herself' it irks us endlessly that Wybie gets to be so much the hero in the end. Coraline's agency is diminished, even if not totally removed.   Even though it was a joint effort, in our minds Coraline should have been the one to either make a plan, or at minimum be the hand smasher.

For all of it's failings in the end scene, I think the movie holds up well and gives Toddles a great young female role model. Coraline is unfailingly brave, as Toddles will tell you. He will describe her as a hero. He has even asked to be Coraline for Halloween once or twice. (I thoroughly encourage this, even though I am sure he won't go with that as his final choice, because I am going as the other mother!) I am pleased that Toddlesworth might want to be Coraline. I recall from my childhood on a couple of occasions wearing a skirt or some such out of curiosity, and receiving shame and punishment. There was a frantic worry that I would turn myself gay, or something.   In my more mature view, I realize that that was never going to happen.  I was born what I am, as Toddlesworth was born whatever he will be. The only result my family's shaming reaped was to ultimately weaken the bonds we shared.  He will not be harmed by taking something from any traditionally gendered attributes.  Also, I'll be damned if he'll be harmed by someone ignorant shaming him.   In my view of a truly equal society, people determine their role models based on the quality of their character, rather than the quality of their arbitrarily assigned genitals.  For example, I want to be this young lady when I grow up!

The best lesson of all is given in Coraline's own voice. She tells us that being brave isn't absence of fear, but instead "when you're scared but you still do it anyway, that's brave."

Do svidaniya, readers!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 5

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. and continued with Monster HouseThe Little Mermaid, and ParaNorman, Here is the continuation:

Nightmare Before Christmas-- Oh, how I wish I had watched this show when I was younger. Can it be true that I was only nine when this came out? I don't think I watched it then, I was in a phase where I thought I was too old for it. I never understood how it became such a pop phenomenon (as indicated by merchandise *still* available at Hot Topic.) Anyway, if I had watched it sometime between then and now, I would likely not have let Toddles see it.  It is a neat film. A bit gritty/spooky, but not too much for a toddler--at least, this toddler. However, there are only two females that can actually be called characters in the film.  One is Shock, the tallest member of the Lock, Shock, and Barrel trio.
These three aren't extremely dimensional characters. Shock doesn't differ in action from the two boys, but she does wear the standard pink/purple for her Witch's outfit.

Sally is the female 'protagonist' in this story.
Sally's effect in the movie can pretty much be summed up in how she is characterized in the opening song "This is Halloween." The townsfolk introduce themselves via their scare tactics:

"I am the clown with the tear-away face
Here in a flash and gone without a trace

I am the "Who" when you call, "Who's there?"
I am the wind blowing through your hair
I am the shadow on the moon at night
Filling your dreams to the brim with fright"

Who is Sally?  Sally is the F*ing hair the wind blows through. She is an object in the song, and may as well be an object throughout most of the movie.

Sally is so... ineffectual I don't even know if I can properly describe it without being distracted by how much I've come to hate her.
Sally's abilities can be summed up in three points:
   Cooking/use of herbs
   Letting the men in her life control her actions, even when they go against good judgment or impair her freedom.

Cooking and herb use:  Sally cooks for Dr. Finkelstein, the mad scientist of the town. She has 'poisoned' him on several occasions, using herbs such as deadly nightshade to knock him out so she can gain a few minutes of freedom. Like an abused wife, she always ends up back in his clutches. At one point she picks an herb that transforms in her hand into a animated Christmas tree, then burns to ashes. I don't know how common premonitions are in Halloweentown, but hers goes completely unheeded. This aspect of her personality is something of a pathetic, watered down BlackWidow trope.  At least a standard Black Widow receives rewards for her behavior.  This one bemoans her paternal figure and still ends up in his possession.

Sewing: Sally is a rag doll. Thus, she has the ability to reattach pieces of herself when they come undone. At one point she rips off her arm and leaves it with her captor/creator. At another point, she throws herself out of a window, breaking her body into several pieces, to escape her imprisonment. It's ok though, she brought a needle and thread to fix herself back up and escape, so that she could give Jack a basket of food she cooked up for him.

After she jumps out of a tower and feeds Jack, she has the premonition. She finds him again, and they have this conversation:

JACK Fantastic!  Now why don't you all practice on that and we'll be in great
shape.  Sally, I need your help more than anyone's.
SALLY You certainly do, Jack.  I had the most terrible vision.

JACK That's splendid.

SALLY No, it was about your Xmas.  There was smoke and fire.

JACK That not my Xmas.  My Xmas is filled with laughter and joy and this--my
Sandy Claws outfit.  I want you to make it.

SALLY Jack, please, listen to me--it's going to be a disaster.

JACK How could it be--just follow the pattern.  This part is red, the trim is

SALLY It's a mistake, Jack.

JACK Now don't be modest, who else is clever enough to make my Sandy claws outfit.


JACK I have every confidence in you.

SALLY But it seems wrong to me, very wrong.

Obviously, she doesn't get him to listen to her. And instead of refusing to help with his plans, which she doesn't agree with, she just goes along with it.
She sings a sad mournful song after her premonition, when she is unable to stop Jack from going through with his utterly terrible plan. In it she laments that they will not end up together. I don't know  Sally, you've got a pretty good shot.. you're basically the only female in this world.

After using her disembodied leg to sexually distract the villain who is holding Santa hostage, She does warn Jack in the final battle to watch out, and afterwards, Santa Claus tells Jack he should listen to her and refers to her as 'the only one that makes any sense around this insane asylum!"
For an alternative view, here is a positive take on Sally. Though I can understand their point of view, I just can't help but see her as weak, submissive, and stereotypical.

Remembering my high school days, every other girl I knew wanted to be Sally, or at least wore her merchandise.  If you can follow the logic that she is an unhealthy image for women, then her prevalence among my generation becomes even more unsettling.

Agency: Her actions revolve weakly escaping her captor, then trying unsuccessfully to warn Jack. She seductively distracts the villain with a disembodied leg. She is not completely without agency, but it does seem to entirely revolve around men.

Backstory/Goals: She was created by Dr. Finkelstein, though we don't see that. She woefully wants to be with Jack but doesn't approach him. Her future plans seem to be poisoning her captor for a taste of freedom and pining over the town hero.

Traditional Gender Roles: She cooks, she sews, she is demurely submissive to the men in her life... She's basically a 1950's ideal housewife.

Relatability:  Is the audience able to form a connection with this character/are they viewed as a realistic person? It seems many people *have* managed to form a connection with Sally, to the extent that they want to cosplay as her and buy her face on merchandise, but gosh I can't see why. I do hope they aren't looking to her as a role model.

After doing even cursory thinking about this movie, I feel mostly guilt at letting him watch it for two reasons.  I don't think I have to repeat the repulsive depiction of women is a problem.  So instead I'll feel guilty about trying to superimpose my own childhood memories on a boy trying to make his own.  Firstly, I was throwing these things at him without thinking critically about them.  Second, as I roll through my 30's I've come to realize that I have been, until recently, trying to make up for anything I was denied as a child, whether it's healthy or not.  It has lead to some metaphoric and literal gluttony, and the selfishness of my young adulthood caused unnecessary strife in many relationships.  Having a son forces me to realize that is no way to be a father, a husband or a friend.  While I certainly want to share with  Toddlesworth the benefits of cool media I had growing up ( I already think today's cartoons suck), I can and will do better than just throwing crap I watched as a teenager at him

Monday, October 6, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 4

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

Toddles is also a fan of "ParaNorman". In fact, "ParaNorman" is currently his Halloween costume of choice. (It is occasionally swapped out for bat, vampire, vampire bat, or dragon. Oh, and most recently, a sword.)
               Norman is a young boy who has the ability to speak to the dead. The opening scene has him watching a horror movie with his ghostly grandmother, which is one of the only strong characters in the film. The main *antagonist* of this film is female. The town is based on tourism surrounding a witch that is rumored to haunt the town. There is even a holiday held every year, and a play put on by students. She is eventually discovered to be a sympathetic character: it seems to be implied that she is a distant relative of Norman, who shared the same talent and was put to death by frightened townsfolk because of it.
           This is not until after a small horde of zombies terrorizes the town, which Norman and friends have to talk down from trying to destroy them. The curse, originally assumed to be meant to torture and terrorize the townsfolk, is actually meant as a punishment for the zombies; the same judge/jury that put the 'witch' to death long ago.  They plead with Norman to end the curse.
                 The theme of the story seems to be not letting fear make you lash out at others. Norman eventually faces the witch character, who is revealed to be the ghost of a girl perhaps a bit younger than himself. He helps her get to rest in peace once and for all, by sharing advice on forgiveness, particularly forgiving those that have lashed out in fear themselves.  I have read a negative view of this exchange, critiquing the boy character having the wisdom that the centuries old girl did not, but I think it is reasonable to have someone who is new to the situation but has applicable wisdom share this wisdom with someone who's earthly experiences have been clouded with centuries of fear and loneliness.
Agency: The witch (Agatha) has been being lulled back to sleep for centuries. She has finally had enough and is going to mess shit up. She's pretty powerful and I don't see that anyone can tell her what to do... only make suggestions.

        Norman's sister Courtney is a checklist of every blonde cheerleader stereotype. I'm sad to point out that she's also vegan. *sigh* I believe she was basically designed to annoy everyone they possibly could. ( Success!) She follows Norman only out of familiar obligation, and then to be close to the brother of Norman's new friend. She does have a shining moment where she stands up to a crowd for her brother, including telling him "I've cheered the uncheerable, Norman, and I'm not letting you give up now!"

Backstory/Goals: Agatha started off set on revenge. The resolution of the film revolves around her letting this goal go and moving on. While Norman certainly influences her decision, it's most definitely her decision, because she might have decided to kill him with a tree bashing to the skull.  
         Courtney's goals seem to consist of not letting her brother die and finding a guy who is  "r-i-double p-i-d"  She exists primarily to aid Norman on his quest.

Traditional Gender Roles: Agatha is a pretty powerful actor in the film, even though she does listen to Norman's reasoning, it doesn't come from a place of him being superior to her. In fact, he argues repeatedly that they are the same, drawing parallels between them.  Her problem comes from being an Elsa-of-Arendale level power of female in Puritan America: those DON'T fit into typical gender rolesSadly, she is killed for it, but not before taking them all with her and making them suffer for centuries.  The movie, thankfully doesn't take the lazier, more misogynist path and have Norman defeat, kill, or depower her.  While he does convince her to end the curse and move on, it's at Norman's asking and not demanding.  She could have just continued with her curse.
          Courtney is (according to the script) "fifteen years-old and is the bleached-blonde cheerleader archetype of every schoolboy's sordid dreams." This object of schoolboy desire comes wrapped in pink velour, and brains obviously aren't part of the bargain. The writers/directors were obviously aiming for a two dimensional character and hit the mark.

Relatability:  The viewer definitely feel sympathy for Agatha. Beyond that, her goals and actions are simplified, they amount to a supremely powerful being who is throwing a tantrum. Still, for the ghost of a misunderstood child, I think she is a reasonable character.
          I don't know that any viewers are meant to identify with Courtney. I believe she is made for the boys in the audience to want and the girls to hate.

Other than the 'witch' (Agatha) and the grandmother, who dishes out words of wisdom, the other females tend to be flat, rather than dimensional characters, like Courtney. The sassy black cop, the nerdy girl with the unibrow who exists only to help out the main characters, the drama director, "an imposing woman with spectacles and a beret who looks like she smells of too-much perfume."

We haven't set out to critique the appearance of queer characters in these films, but it is an issue that is important to us, so we will also ad that there is the notable inclusion of a homosexual character, in no way stereotyped as such or mentioned to be gay until the very end of the film. If anything, the character is a spoof on the stereotypical Lone Hero archetype.  Kudos to the movie for playing with it's audience (The reveal is in a one-liner that can be seen to be at another characters expense, but I still see it as a strength of the film.)

While this movie is much better than say "Sleeping Beauty" or  even The Little Mermaid, they could still have done better.  There is plenty good about the movie I could/ have said, but it's still left wanting for depiction of women in a positive way.    

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Grappling with Gender issues, the Reel Deal, part 3

Bold sections by Lord Covington

In a recent post, we discussed how certain tv programs may have negatively affected Toddleworth's views on gender. Now, we are discussing the movies that he watches. We started here with Frozen. Here is the continuation:

I purchased the The Little Mermaid on Amazon when Toddles was just over two. It was cheap and I remembered liking it when I was little. He did like it, loved it even. He would watch it multiple times a day when we would let him. There were some immediate repercussions that were hilarious to me but at least slightly negative. He would say I was a mermaid, which was flattering, but he would be especially insistent about it when I had my top off. I discussed with him that I did indeed have some of the body parts the mermaids had, but what made them mermaids was their tails. It was just after this point that he had his brief enrollment in day care, and the teacher made sure I knew that on his very first day he had lifted the shirt on a Barbie to show the other children her 'boobies.'  I will take total responsibility for that wording. We've always been sure he knew how to refer to his penis, but I had not been so clinical about my own body parts. We have recently been updating his terminology to 'breasts.'
Agency: Ariel's agency is questionable at best: she seems compelled to chase Eric, even though I suppose it's technically a choice.  She does show agency, I suppose, in disobeying her father and going to see Ursula, but it is agency for such a two dimensional reason. It can also be argued she is only a puppet in a power struggle with Urusula the Sea Witch pulling the strings.  Also, it is Eric who defeats the villain, not our protagonist.  Eric convenietly makes that choice for her while she is a more or less passive spectator.
         Ursula the Sea Witch, by contrast, is the motivator in the movie.  She knows what she wants: "the sea and all it's spoils," and she spends time before and during the movie working towards that goal, playing both Ariel and King Triton.  Before, ya know, she's cleverly speared in the gut by a Bland-Peice-of-White-Bread-Prince steering a shipwreck.  

Backstory/Goals: Ariel's backstory consists of being a princess who sings well, but doesn't show up to rehearsal, and likes  all things humany.  This quickly revolves around exactly one human: Prince Eric.  Her interests involve hoarding and wearing bras in public. This changes not at all in two hours of "unda da seeee" adventures.
             Urusla wins the relevant race again.  Her back story is really the secret plot of the movie.  I have spent all my childhood and an embarassing amount of my adulthood wondering about this line. ( Look for it at 23 seconds in)

Ursula has goals, and realistically, she should have been able to complete them, except no one can defeat the terrible writing villain.

Traditional Gender Roles: Our female lead wants to land a man.  She is handed from her father to Eric by the end of the movie. She embodies traditional feminine roles like a paid endorser.  Ursula is less traditional, but still follows this trope to the letter. I think Disney can (and to some extent has) done better.

Relatability: Like Anna, Ariel begins the movie as a naive 16 year old red head in search of a boy.  Unlike Anna, every action in the film revolves around the boy.  Her reward she is given (she doesn't go get) is: boy.  While again, 16 year old me can relate, adult me is a little nauseous and leery.  
           As I've never had a serious desire to enslave everyone and rule over them as a terrifying  god ( I swear), it is  difficult to relate to Ursula.

               Our current feminist critique has been sharpened by Anita Sarkeesian's Vlog "Feminist Frequency" .   However, even before looking at it from deconstructionist-feminist point of view, when I watched the movie with Toddlesworth again, it was a Agency Eyesore (yup, just made that up) that Ariel is clearly not the hero in her own story.  Shes a POV supporting character in the Heroic and Studdly Badass Adventures of Prince Eric the Blandificent.  Toddles reaction, while flattering, still concerns me.  We watched this movie at a time, when, he still referred to every youngish male character as "daddy,"  so in his developing mind, I was Prince Eric: Hero.  Aside from this specifically boring one dimensional hero, this is as flattering as when he thought of me as Superman.   However, the reverse is also true: the disenfranchised female lead was "mommy".  His treatment, whether in part a result of the media or not, has been markedly different post age two.  He is far more likely to throw a fit at Lady Covington than myself.  I consider it as sacred of a duty as potty training to steer his thinking towards gender equality. 
          My current attitude on this film is overwhelmingly negative.
          I don't really know what else to say about this movie. The music is fun, the villain is unique, and it would fail the Bechdel test if there were 100 women in it, because Ariel would only speak on the subject of Prince Eric. Ariel had long been a fan of the human world, but it took an instant infatuation with the prince to catapult her into action.
I still haven't seen The Little Mermaid 2. It might be interesting to see how different the critique would be for the next generation.