Media Round-up for 25/02/2018

Shonda Rhimes – Year of Yes

year of yesDespite achieving greatness in her career while managing to raise three children as a single mother, Shonda Rhimes (award winning creator and show-runner for Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder) was miserable. After receiving some tough love from one of her siblings, she took on a life-changing challenge: for one year she would say yes to everything that scared her.  Year of Yes is a memoir documenting the incredible changes and personal development that Shonda experienced as a result of her challenge (which wound up lasting more than one year).  Here are some of the things that she finally said yes to:

  • Having difficult conversations
  • Public speaking
  • Saying no
  • Playing with her children
  • Breaking the cycle of emotional eating

I greatly admire what Shonda accomplished during this period of transformation.  She seems to have made over her life in a way that is extraordinarily positive and, as a result,  seems to have become a much happier person.  I think that there is a lot that I can learn from Year of Yes and I will be revisiting it in the future, because I am definitely the type of person who says no too often and can sometimes create barriers to my own development.  The one downside to Year of Yes is that I think it is a little too long.  Some of the chapters dragged for me at times and I found them to be repetitive.

If you’re unhappy and looking for some inspiration to start turning things around, I would greatly recommend this book.  It’s an easy read and will probably make you laugh out loud at least once.  It may also allow you to give yourself permission to actively seek out more happiness in your life.  Shonda points out, very wisely, that sometimes we get bogged down in the social pressure to always be humble and grateful for what we have, which can stop us for striving for more.

The Story of Saiunkoku (Saiunkoku Monogatari)

saiunkoku monogatariSaiunkoku Monogatari is an anime series that takes place in a fictionalized Imperial China.  Its main character is a young noblewoman named Shuurei Hong, whose family is well-respected, but quite poor.  Shuurei’s dream is to become a government official; however, at the beginning of the series, women are unable to work as government officials.  Instead, she takes on various odd jobs to help her family make ends meet and is a prominent member of her local community.  Through various circumstances, she develops a relationship with the young emperor, who becomes determined to ensure that Shuurei is able to contribute what she can to the government of Saiunkoku.

When I first watched Saiunkoku Monogatari a few years ago, I fell in love with it, warts and all.  It has incredible charm that I just couldn’t, and still can’t, resist.  Shuurei is a wonderful shoujo protagonist — smart, determined and kind-hearted.  Her supporting cast of attractive male suitors is also impressive — they are all well-rounded characters, each with interesting traits that make them unique.  Shuurei’s journey and the overall story of the series are quite interesting, though I do think that it can be a bit slow at times and there are a few arcs that I find a little boring.

While I do love Saiunkoku Monogatari, I think it has its share of weaknesses.  As a reverse harem series (a series format where one female protagonist is surrounded by numerous attractive male suitors), there aren’t many female characters in the world of Saiunkoku; however, the few prominent female side characters are excellent and well-developed.  As I said above, I enjoy Shuurei as a protagonist; however, in my opinion the series creators rely a little too heavily on common shoujo tropes for her development: she is unequivocally the smart girl that is blind to love and romance (see Haruhi in Ouran High School Host Club, and many others).

The negative points I have mentioned above were aspects that I noticed on both my first and second views of the series.  What’s been unique this time around are my perspective and my expectations.  I will be writing at least one full blog post about this, because I have a lot more to say on the issue, but I will discuss this briefly here.  As I mentioned in my essay about my development as a feminist, years ago I was not ready to let feminism and politics get in the way of my fun.  This allowed me to dismiss many of the more pernicious aspects of the media I was consuming; particularly Japanese media, where there are significant cultural differences in the area of romance, particularly regarding consent.  Ryuuki Shi, the emperor of Saiunkoku and Shuurei’s primary suitor, kisses her without her consent on multiple occasions.  Within the shoujo manga/anime culture, this is often considered to be wildly romantic and when I first watched the series several years ago, those scenes didn’t bother me at all.  While they don’t completely ruin Saiunkoku Monogatari for me now, because I think you can still enjoy a show or a book while still being aware of its more problematic themes or aspects, it does detract from my enjoyment of the series now.

While I do still love Saiunkoku Monogatari, I don’t recommend it to anyone who isn’t a fan of shoujo manga and anime, particularly because, as I mentioned above, the pacing is so slow and plodding.  If you happen to be reading this and you do enjoy reverse harem shoujo and you haven’t already seen this show, what on earth are you waiting for?

Me and Feminism

rosieAs a young woman in my late teens and early 20s, my feminism had three main tenets: I was rabidly pro-choice; I was interested in LGBTQ rights; I didn’t want to be a housewife like my mother.  The third idea culminated in a sort of “bad bitch” attitude of privileged, second-wave feminism that, in my opinion, was  damaging to me and my progress as a person.  I completely rejected the nurturing side of myself:  I refused to do housework, I refused to learn how to cook.  I could get a partner who could do those things for me — I was a career woman and would never be trapped into servitude like my mother.  I was way too smart for that shit.

Quick side bar: my mother actually worked from home for most of my youth and only stopped when her parents needed care.  When my father left my mother in 2002, she had seen the writing on the wall, gone back to school, and was able to get a decent job as an admin in a mental health centre.  I’m not sure why I was so attached to the idea of my mother as a full-time housewife, but I think I probably just wanted to be a career-focused person and I didn’t want to get stuck in a shitty relationship for as long as my mother was.

I was also not ready to make any effort to understand true inequality (I’m not even sure I would have been capable of it at the time).  I wanted everyone to have equal rights, but I also felt as though many of the more difficult battles had already been fought and won.  I was naive enough to believe that we were living in a post-racist and post-sexist society where the only rights that really needed defending were LGBTQ and abortion rights.  In some ways, this is not particularly surprising.  I’m white, I grew up in an affluent household, I was a spoiled only child and I was never told that I couldn’t do things because I was a woman.  The only real adversity I had ever had to face was some family drama and my emotionally abusive father.

My “bad bitch” attitude softened a bit over the next few years.  My parents split up and my life got a bit crazy.  I was working two part-time jobs, going to university part time and helping to look after my father’s father.  I had a boyfriend and I tried to have a social life.  This didn’t leave me with any space for politics: lot of aspects of my life were serious and important and I wanted to have fun in my spare time.  This was when I started to become more closely involved in fandom.

When I say fandom, I’m nearly always referring to the female-dominated sector of fandom, where most fanfiction comes from.  What many male members of the video game community probably don’t realize is that discussions about diversity, equality and representation in fictional media started popping up in female-dominated fandom communities years prior to the emergence of figures like Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, who would push these issues to the forefront of video games.

My response to those discussions was always politely dismissive: I wasn’t interested in political discussion getting in the way of my fun.  Fandom was my escape from the heaviness of my everyday life and, at that time, I needed to keep things light.  My reaction to those discussions and politics was quite similar to the video game community’s reaction to Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter campaign: I wanted them to stay far away from me.  The big difference being that I just avoided those discussions rather than going to online forums and uttering death and rape threats.

I’m not a huge fan of Anita Sarkeesian, but I credit her with being the lightning rod that inspired the development of my true feminism.  When the controversy over her Kickstarter campaign began, I was horrified by the kinds of behaviour and comments I witnessed in communities where I had previously felt welcome.  For example, I had been an active member of the Giant Bomb community since the site had started and the forums had always been a place where I felt comfortable hanging out.  The reaction to the Tropes vs. Women Kickstarter campaign, however, made me feel completely unsafe.

Thousands upon thousands of men in the video game community flocked to Anita Sarkeesian’s website and social media accounts and threatened her with death and rape.  They subsequently flocked to popular video game forums to talk about what a bitch she was, how ugly she was, how stupid she was, and how she had no right to voice her opinion about video games.  Some even attempted to dox her and prove that her family was affluent so that they could approach Kickstarter and report her campaign as a scam (there was a huge thread on Giant Bomb that was devoted to this that was, thankfully, deleted).

If all this was done in response to a series of YouTube videos that probably wouldn’t even be widely viewed, what would these men say to me if I disagreed with them?  What would happen to me if I agreed with her arguments?  What if I questioned the representation of women in video games from my own perspective?  Would they speak to me this way?  Would they threaten and bully me? Of course they would.  They had given me no evidence to the contrary.

It was this horrible reaction to Anita Sarkeesian that made me realize that we were not living in a post-sexist society.   From there I started actively trying to gain a better understanding of inequality.   I read books by marginalized authors and I read feminist literature and contemporary memoirs.  My mother needed my help and I became her full-time caregiver for a year.  I taught myself how to cook and how to bake (turns out I’m pretty damned good at both).  I volunteered at a women’s shelter.  I finally started to embrace the nurturing part of myself and I allowed myself to see that there were people in the world that I needed to fight for.

In many ways my accepting myself as a nurturer was akin to accepting my femininity, something that I had never been able to do.  While this was a stepping stone in my feminist development, I have actually arrived at a place beyond that.  While activities like cooking can be caring and nurturing, it is incorrect to assume that caring and nurturing are inherently feminine.  Radical feminist author bell hooks (yes, her name is all lowercase) has written extensively about the fact that loving and nurturing should be natural to both men and women and it is our gendered view of society that limits those traits to women.  If we think about cooking from this perspective, cooking isn’t a feminine activity that comes naturally to women because they are caregivers.  Cooking is a life skill that we should all learn in order to care for ourselves and the people we love, regardless of gender.

Men and women are different, but I believe that removing gendered preconceptions from my life makes it a lot simpler and prevents me from limiting my options.  Within myself, I have the capacity to accomplish a great deal, especially if I can move past society’s, and my own, preconceptions of what I should be.  As I write this, I am 36 years old — soon to be 37.  I discovered my true feminism a little later than some and it has been a long and arduous process.  I know that I will still make mistakes from time to time and that my views will continue to evolve, but I am proud of how far I’ve come.