Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What does our writing convey?

I almost forgot to write today's entry. School started yesterday for me, and usually, when the schoolwork starts, my time to write disappears. I have two classes this semester. Both are very interesting to me...

This will relate to writing, stay with me.

Last night I had my history colloquium, Modern French Identities. This afternoon, I had my special seminar in Values in Science and Technology on Body Politics. Having a French family in my novel and a fashion house... Well, it should be a fun semester.

My identity is full of contradictions. I'm an educated, bilingual feminist addicted to fashion. I'm not a naturally patient maternal-type, but I wish I could have been a stay-at-home mom. I have trouble, psychologically, how parents can leave their kids in daycare for eight hours a day. If they sleep ten, go to daycare eight, spend one in the car, another eating, another getting dressed/ready for bed, when do you get to enjoy your kid?

But that's another argument.

I also don't believe it's the mother's job to stay home with the babies.

Again, wrong argument.

But we talked a bit about women, self-esteem, body-image and cultural expectations today in class. We each had to draw a picture of our bodies and show it to the class, and rate our comfort with our bodies on a scale of 1 to 1o.

The one male in the class said 10.

The highest woman's score was 8.5. Mine was 8.

The teacher pointed out that in the years she's taught the class, no woman has EVER given herself a 9, and when the classes had a better gender ratio, the men never went LOWER than a 9.

We talked a lot about how society makes gender myths into reality, how we train women to be graceful, more petite. How men are strong. How a woman always needs to lose weight but a man always wants to be "bigger."

And we talked about the era of Photoshop and how the people in the pictures don't even look like the people in the pictures, not in real life.

And this made me think: What societal biases/ideals do we convey in our writing?

I write about a fashion house, and my fashion designer √Čtienne loves women, loves curves, and complains how thin the modern models are. His supermodel Adelaide is a Cindy Crawford body shape, and she has self-esteem issues. Throughout the first novel, she keeps comparing herself to the girl in the photos and thinking that she will never be that girl. And she's the top model! So, am I writing a satire? a commentary?

In book two, she accuses √Čtienne of hiring her only for her beauty, and he tries to deny it, but she does screw things up and he forgives her probably because she's pretty. ]

Next week's class will look at intersexuals, or what used to be called hermaphrodites. For instance, girls (as in genetic XX) born with enlarged genitalia that resembles a phallus. Many doctors will cut it off and not consult the parents. In some cases, this removes the infant's clitoris or disconnects the nerves. Now those who know me know I tend to go ballistic at the practice of circumcising the penis of a boy child, and I certainly wouldn't want them hacking body parts off my child without my permission. I don't care if my little girl had a full-blown penis.

Anyway.

The magic word was hermaphrodite. I read of one intersexual disorder: Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome I believe. With this disorder, a traditionally male fetus (XY genetically) cannot process testosterone and will exit the womb looking like a girl. In many cases with labia and a vagina. And potentially with an enlarged clitoris of like an inch. At puberty, the child will develop hips and other apparently female characteristics because of the estrogen produced even though the child does not have ovaries or a uterus. Despite the fact that the body DOES have testes and produce testosterone, the body cannot use any of it. In some cases, the person may be oddly hairless in the armpits and pubic areas.

Based on genetics, this person is male. He/she would appear and act female. The sex is male. The gender is female. Roll that around your mind.

The supernatural forces in my novel are based on masculine and feminine elemental magic. Sex rituals have profound power because of the interaction of masculine with feminine. Air and fire are masculine elements, and earth and water feminine. Your sex does not dictate your ability to do magic, but the magic itself has a gender. So regardless of your physical sex, your gender has to be balanced in order to master all four elements.

Wouldn't one of these women with AIS, then have the capacity to be the perfect witch? It's a woman with a Y chromosome. That's a unique form of balance.

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