Lefou, I’m afraid I’ve been thinking…

It was this article that got me started: reporting on research conducted by Girlguiding UK which concludes that sexism in the UK is widespread enough to impact “most aspects” of girls’ lives.

“Girls identified sexism as a priority issue for their generation”, with three-quarters saying sexism affected “most areas of their lives”, says the report.

Of the 11- to 21-year-olds questioned, some 87% thought women were judged more on their appearance than their ability.

More than a third (36%) of all those surveyed had felt “patronised or made to feel stupid” because their gender, rising to 60% of the 16- to 21-year-olds.

It got me thinking, because I started to consider my own life between those ages: I started thinking about the environment I was in, about the influences around me. These are more random thoughts than any kind of conclusion, and I wasn’t entirely sure whether to post it – but in there somewhere might be something I thought was worth saying, so.

I went to a school which was – admittedly – small and – also admittedly – private. But in that school, all three of my science teachers were women. My English teacher – also a woman – was precisely the kind of take-no-shit teacher you need to sit in front of a class of rugby-playing fifteen year old boys who have no desire to be studying poetry thankyouverymuch. We had two PE teachers: one male, one female. It goes without saying that the our female PE teacher was far more hardcore than our male teacher. Oh, and she also taught both junior Maths and Classics.

My mother never really wore make-up, and I remember being utterly stunned when, at some point in her mid-50s, I discovered she’d recently bought an eyebrow pencil. When I was little, she had a jewellery box I liked to poke around in and play with. I seem to remember finding a lipstick in there once (this would have been sometime around 1987…) that had clearly been in there since around 1970. It still had a (pre-decimal) price sticker on it, and had been used at best two or three times. It wasn’t some right-on feminist statement about make-up that she was making. It was just, y’know, that for her, she had better things to be doing with her time. I guess I inherited the attitude.

One of my uncle’s many girlfriends when I was growing up took it upon herself to buy me a make-up kit one Christmas. I think, rather like my mother’s lipstick, it got used about twice. Girlfriend Number 4 called me on it at some point the following year, asking why I wasn’t wearing any make-up. I shrugged and made the kind of sound I usually made when I was a teenager. She responded by telling me that it was “a woman’s duty to wear make-up”.

The one person who ever commented on the way I looked at school was a girl.

I’ve been in two fights. Both times, I was called a bitch. Both times… by women. (Well. I say “women”. One of them was at school. There’s a backstory, which is long and tedious and involves her getting her big brother to come into school and threaten to beat me up. She called me a bitch, I threw a chair at her. It would never have occurred to me to insult her based on her gender or her appearance. Her attitude, on the other hand, or her carefree willingness to pick a fight and then hide behind her nineteen year old brother? Yeah, totally guilty.)

My university lecturers were, certainly for my BA, mostly women. The vast majority of them held doctorates. Several of them were, at the time, either in senior lecturer or head of department posts. They terrified my male classmates – particularly when the most senior and serious of all of them took the seminar on women’s bodies in medieval religious literature…

I was born in a period with both – for better or worse – a female Prime Minister, and a Queen.

When I started university as a completely green undergrad, my department arranged for a novelist to come and give a commencement address in one of our lecture theatres. As it happens, since then that particular novelist has become the first woman to be awarded the Booker Prize twice, and continues to be one of my heroes… as she has been since that day, when she took the time to stand in a university common room and talk to said completely green undergrad about what it means to be a writer.

I used to work in a very corporate environment, for a very big company. My boss had many faults – and I can still list most of them, many years later, because that’s how crazy she drove me – but she was also capable of walking into a room full of senior investment bankers and getting them to shut the hell up every single time she spoke. And she did. The Chief Executive of that same company was also a woman. Her office was just across the floor from where I sat, and every day I saw her take meetings with – again, admittedly – mostly men. It wasn’t her hairdo that got her into that position. It was the fact that she was smart and she worked hard.

All my life, I have been surrounded by strong and capable women. Talented women. I continue to be surrounded by them, both personally and professionally. I continue to be surrounded by men, too, who both value and recognise women’s ability.

It comes back to this:

Of the 11- to 21-year-olds questioned, some 87% thought women were judged more on their appearance than their ability.

More than a third (36%) of all those surveyed had felt “patronised or made to feel stupid” because their gender, rising to 60% of the 16- to 21-year-olds.

Maybe I’ve just been lucky. Others may not have had the same luck, but I can only speak for myself and my own experiences. I grew up not just believing but knowing that I could be and do whatever I wanted to be, because everywhere I looked there were women who were doing and being just that, and reinforcing the idea that a woman’s place was wherever the hell she wanted. It would never have occurred to me that the world was otherwise.

(Of course, the negative here – which also needs saying – is that the times I’ve felt someone has been judging me by my appearance or based on the fact I’m a girl, it’s been other women. There’s a thing there, but it’s complicated and needs someone a lot smarter than me to articulate it without tying him or herself in knots.)

But overall, yes. I’ve been fortunate.

It would be nice to think that the generation who follow could have at least the chance to be just as lucky, wouldn’t it…?

(And yes, that blog title is me – without a hint of irony – riffing on one of Gaston’s songs from Beauty & the Beast. Well. Maybe a *bit* of irony…)


Blinded by (sparkling) science

Stephanie Kwolek. Sophie Germain. Gillian Bates. Lise Meitner.


And this is how we’re planning to attract young women into the field of science?

I wasn’t that keen on science at school. My little heart sank at the prospect of double chemistry, almost as much as it did before PE. I wasn’t as good at it as I wanted to be, and – to be honest – that frustrated me. I also found it boring.

However, it bored me because I wanted to be in English class, reading Faustus or Hamlet (true).

Saying I wasn’t as good at it as I wanted to be was not because I’m a girl and am therefore only interested in lipstick and poncing round in a pair of sunglasses: it’s because I’m Thicky McThick when it comes to science and I still can’t do a simple titration or explain how a blast furnace works*. I can, however, quote you chunks of Shakespeare and Marlowe, and tell you exactly why they have the effect on us that they do. I can read Anglo Saxon, I can give you a detailed (and mind-numbingly dull) description of the differences between the Insular and Continental traditions of early Arthurian literature.

I did not need a pink-tinted video to entice me into this.

Neither did the women whose names I’ve given above.

Like me, they chose to study and work in the fields which interested them; the fields in which they felt their talents lay. I chose arts and humanities, they chose sciences. End of debate. Boys do it too, but apparently we don’t need to try and entice them to become doctors by showing a bunch of consultants knocking back the beers or playing football, do we? And yes, that’s just as mindless a stereotype as the one in the video.

My younger cousin is about to go to university, hoping to study genetics. She spends her free time shopping with her friends and (if her Facebook page is anything to go by) making innuendo-laden comments about Justin Bieber. She goes to parties. She has an unhealthy obsession with Primark. She’s also an Air Cadet. She’s probably one of the coolest people I know, and I imagine if you asked whether her choice of future career had been influenced by that video, she would laugh at you.

And then punch you. (Because we do share some genes, after all…)

We don’t need to Barbie-ise science to get girls interested.

We don’t need to pinkify it, sprinkle it with unicorns and glitter, or insist that yes, women in science can wear heels zomgwtfkthnxbai.

We just need to tell them that they can do anything they put their minds to.

Because they can.

Marie Curie.
Scientist; woman.

*Incidentally, my physics, chemistry and biology teachers were all women…


I just discovered the amazing thing that is Rookie Magazine. A website aimed at teenage girls, it makes me wish broadband had been around when I was somewhat younger.

Streets ahead of the progression through Smash Hits, Just 17 and NME (look, we all know I wasn’t really a girly-girl. OK?) which was so central to my own early adolescence, Rookie features articles for teens, by teens. Updated three times a day, its topics range from Live Through This to Eye Candy via a pretty impressive Books & Comics section.

Each month, articles are themed: next month’s is “power”.

Please send any photos, articles, illustrations, or anything else you might’ve made related to power (duh), strength, weakness, relationship dynamics, politics and activism, and, on the aesthetic side, ’80s goths, New Romantics, or a John Hughes prom…

And even though I’m far, far too old to be in their core demographic, I can’t wait to see what they come up with.


Suffragette poster

It’s International Women’s Day.

What does that mean, exactly – the whole “woman” thing?

What is it, to be a woman in the modern world? What’s our role, our purpose? What are our goals?

Well, presumably, to some people, that’s an easy question. And here’s the answer.

Yep. Sorry about that.

Believe it or not, I actually saw that on the flight back from New York last December. The cabin crew had to forcibly drag me back to my seat as I screamed “Make it stop!” And to anyone who points out that I could have just turned it off, I would answer: I already had… but like one of Lovecraft’s unfortunate protagonists, the horror had burned itself indelibly into my memory, where it lurks and gibbers unspeakable things.

And to others…




Keep the Choos. That’s what I’m talking about, right there.

And that’s even without mentioning Elizabeth I or Aung San Suu Kyi; without bringing up some of my own idols Jane Espenson or Sera Gamble or Tina Fey; without getting close to talking about Emmeline Pankhurst or Emily Davison

From the sublime to the ridiculous, from the banal to the brave, there are many, many inspirational women out there (the Guardian is running a fantastic feature on their website to celebrate. It’s worth a good long look).

And because it’s still as awesome as it was all the other times I’ve posted it, you get the Team Unicorn ladies again.

Just because I can.

Ladies! Be all that you can be – because you can be anything.


(apologies if the sound’s stripped from a couple of the videos, by the way. The joy of youtube, eh? Put something stirring on in the background, I would. This would do perfectly.)

Comics for Girls II (or: We Are Woman. See Us Draw)

I threatened, didn’t I? And I do make good on my threats (even the ones involving sledgehammers. Especially the ones involving sledgehammers). So here’s a round-up of a few things I’ve come across re: women and comics.

Eden, who writes the Comicsgirl blog, left me this link in her comment on my earlier post: an interview with Hope Larson & Raina Telgemeier, the authors of “Mercury” and “Smile” respectively. Incidentally, I’ve seen both of these being talked about as great examples of both female-written comics (with female protagonists) and as very well-written comics, regardless of the gender involved… ticking plenty of boxes.

Hope also conducted her own survey on girls & comics (bearing in mind she’s a YA author, the results are probably slightly skewed towards the mid-teens) which bears out a lot of what we all suspected anyway: that girls care about characters (but not to the exclusion of art), that they want to see more strong, female protagonists, that they need to feel welcome in the comics community–and that the extreme attitude towards women in mainstream comics needs to change. Interestingly, the survey also picked up that a lot of teen girls don’t really have anything more than a peripheral awareness of comics. The full thing–complete with Hope’s caveats–is here.

See also the great interview with Hope on the topic here: She Has No Head!


Geekmom’s post on women in comics looks at the template for the comic-book princess. Her theory is that they’re hard to find unless you adjust the pattern slightly, and stop looking for stereotypical fairy-tale princess figures, and instead look for superhero princesses. In other words, take Wonder Woman as your exemplar and you’re away:

Wonder Woman aka Diana Prince is actually Princess Diana of Themyscira. But wasn’t her status as a princess that made Diana the ambassador to the outside world. It’s her physical and mental toughness in a tournament that leads to her becoming a hero for all the world.

In other words, while she’s a princess, she’s also a warrior woman.

And this seems to be the template followed by most other superhero princesses.

They come from all over the Earth, from galactic kingdoms, and from far-flung fantasy worlds but none of them seem to be waiting for Prince Charming.

Instead, they’re all fierce defenders of their friends and their countries.

What I learned about super heroine princesses is that they will kick your butt, especially if you happen to be an evil overlord.

Gin & Comics comes at it from an altogether different angle, but nonetheless raises a valid point–that of merch. And he’s right: why should I be stuck with baby-pink tees with characters I don’t care about as my only options? (I should point out that I’m not above nicking my husband’s Silver Surfer t-shirt, but wouldn’t it be nice if I could get a shirt that featured Deadpool, or Gambit, or any of the other characters that apparently Girls Don’t Like)

An interesting blog post over here, on the “5 Worst Things to Happen to Women in Comics in 2010” (as well as, to be a little less doomy, the 5 Best). It’s a little more character-focused, maybe, but there’s some valid points.

A quick shout-out to the Ladies Making Comics Tumblr site as well as to the Laydeez Do Comics graphic-novel reading group (London-based). And I can’t miss out Selina Lock’s Girly Comic while we’re here, nor can I pass on the brilliant blog & website of Susie Cagle, which has just made me smile bigly.

It’s not entirely related, but it ties in with a different post I made on here a couple of days ago about The Vampire Diaries (and specifically the contrast between the female characters in the TV show compared to the books): yesterday, Alex Bell did her own post, and it’s a very good one indeed.

Thanks to everyone who commented and left me links: if I’ve missed something relevant, nudge me and I’ll update. I should add that I found several of these articles via the Fridge Dispatch site, which has been invaluable and comes highly recommended by moi (like that counts for anything…)

And yes, I know I’ve posted the Danger Maiden “Geek & Gamer Girls” video before, (and I accept it doesn’t exactly bring any sensible discussion to the table) but I like it, and you can’t be serious all the time…


Alice of Abergavenny

The lower border of the third panel of the Ros tapestry shows Alice - complete with axe - seeking revenge for her lover's killing.

I’m still thinking about comics–and how they relate to women, and how women relate to them. And, god help you all, I’ve been reading about it.

Now I’m looking for them, I’ve found some fantastic blogs, articles and general geekery on the subject online, which I’ll come back to tomorrow once I’ve had time to organise the links (there will be many).

In the meantime, how’s this for Fem-Rage? The story of Alice of Abergavenny.

Her Welsh-Norman lover took her with him during the Fitzgerald-led Norman invasion of Ireland in 1170 and although the Normans were massively outnumbered on landing, their tactics enabled them to kill 500 of their opponents and take 70 prisoners. Unfortunately for Alice’s Marcher Lord, the invaders also suffered casualties–and he was one of them.

Alice’s considered response was to pick up an axe, and to personally behead each one of the 70 prisoners in revenge.

You go girl…


First of all, I want to say thanks to everyone who commented on the rambling musings about women in the comics industry I posted yesterday. There were some really interesting points raised: things I hadn’t necessarily ever thought about and things I’ve thought about plenty of times and still can’t get my head around.

One idea I have been batting around is something that came out of Comicsgirl‘s comment, which I sort of got going on in my reply. It was a question of whether women are possibly more noticeable on the indie side of the comics industry because of the relative narrative (or artistic) freedom afforded by a smaller press environment, away from the juggernauts of DC or Marvel or Dark Horse. Are women drawn to different stories and different ways of telling them from those offered by the big players?

This isn’t just a comics question either: you can expand it to encompass all literature… all art. I remember discussing a couple of Kathryn Bigelow‘s films with a (female) friend a while back–probably just after The Hurt Locker won the Oscar–and her reaction surprised me. She said she didn’t understand why a woman would want to tell stories which were so fundamentally rooted in violence, because that’s not what we’re about. I’m still not quite sure what the right response to that is, but it feels somehow relevant to the discussion of women in the comics industry–particularly the mainstream.

Is it true, I wonder, or–accepting it’s a monstrous generalisation aside–is this a question we even need to think about? Ever seen that shelf in a bookshop: “Women’s Literature”? What is that, exactly? Books for, by or about women–or all three? What differentiates it from just plain old bog-standard “Literature”?

Amanda over at Floor to Ceiling Books covered the idea of sexism in publishing in a post yesterday, and brought up a recent online discussion of women in SF which opens the debate up even further: if we go back to the question of whether women want to tell different stories, is this simply a case of SF being less appealing to women–or, like Margaret Atwood, do they see their stories as being “beyond” the genre? As a card-carrying Friend of Geek, I can’t help but think this is going to twist my noodle round another half-inch–so much so that I’m probably going to take a day or two to think about it, and work out whether I should be activating the Fem-Rage.

In the meantime, I’m going to go read a comic. Well, it’s either that or a bit of Germaine Greer….