Ashley’s Sack (and A Small Rant on Bad Word Choices)

Neat historical work, but to the author of this PR piece: please stop using ‘females’ instead of ‘women’.

CWU Professor Mark Auslander has researched and proposed likely identities for the names on Ashley’s Sack, a piece of embroidery from 1921 tracing one family’s lineage through slavery. Really neat work digging into American history.

For almost a decade, a slavery-era artifact known as “Ashley’s Sack” has intrigued historians unable to identify Ashley—the girl’s name preserved in needlework. The Smithsonian, where the sack is on display, may now attribute the recent discovery of Ashley’s identity to Central Washington University Professor Mark Auslander.

Auslander, who teaches in the department of Anthropology and Museum Studies and is director for the Museum of Culture and Environment spent the last year researching the lineage of the three women whose names were needle worked into the cloth. Research led him to North Carolina and Philadelphia where he searched slave, court and estate records, as well as early bank and census data.

“The object has become a kind of obsession for me during this past year,” said Auslander.

His findings were recently published in the article “Slavery’s Traces: In Search of Ashley’s Sack,” in the noted academic journal Southern Spaces.

Ashley’s Sack, on loan from Middleton Place in South Carolina, is currently on exhibit in the newly opened Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. 

However, reading CWU’s writeup of the news has one unfortunate bit that really stood out to me (emphasis mine):

The original object was found in 2007 at a flea market in the small town of Springfield, Tennessee. Little was known of its history, but it gained great attention by historians and academics. Even less was known about the females listed on the sack.

This really, really should have read, “Even less was known about the women listed on the sack.”

Using “females” instead of “women” is rude and dehumanizing, and to do so within the context of a historical artifact of the slavery era makes it even worse. Just don’t do it (especially if you’re writing for an institute of higher learning, and again especially if your writing about an artifact of an era where the dehumanization of an entire race, let alone gender, was the norm).

Man’s Natural State

Men should be offended when someone claims that women should prevent rape by not wearing certain things or not going certain places or not acting in a certain way.

Men should be offended when someone claims that women should prevent rape by not wearing certain things or not going certain places or not acting in a certain way.

That line of thinking presumes that you are incapable of control. That you are so base and uncivilized that it takes extraordinary effort for you to walk down the street without raping someone. That you require a certain dress code be maintained, that certain behaviors be employed so that maybe today, just maybe, you won’t rape someone.

It presumes that your natural state is rapist.

— Original source unknown, seen on an uncredited image file being shared all over Facebook and Tumblr.

The Frog Prince

‘It’s not that you got what you wanted; it’s that you settled for wanting what you got. And that is the precise opposite of a happy ending.’

From Tiger Beatdown › “Elitism:” Now, It Basically Just Means “Not Having Sex With Everybody”:

We get a lot of sexist narratives about love, but none of them are more pernicious and subtle than this: The Frog Prince story. You could call it “Beauty and the Beast,” too. Or you could call it “Twilight,” or “Knocked Up,” or “Rory Williams Won’t Stop Whining;” it’s always the same story, anyway. Girl meets guy. On the surface, this guy is unappealing! Because he’s a frog! Or he’s not sexually attractive to her, or he treats her badly, or he’s immature, or he’s Rory Williams and he won’t stop whining; all of these are frog-like states, generally considered unkissable. But only a bitch would think that frogs don’t deserve our sweet, sweet kisses, so the woman doesn’t leave. Instead, she looks for the guy’s good qualities. She lowers her standards; she changes her expectations. She gives up on her silly little “ideas” about “attractiveness” or “compatible lifestyles” or “having fun with her partner.” Finally, she loses touch with her own desires to the point that she winds up making out with a fucking frog. At which point he becomes a prince. Or a loving husband, or a responsible person, or a whiny little Roman Centurion; the point is, in these stories, once you give up on wanting things from men, men magically become what you want.

Here’s the secret, though, if you are the girl in this particular story: That guy never became a prince. At all. He’s still the same guy; he still possesses all those qualities you initially found unappealing, for all sorts of valid reasons. People don’t go from frog to mammal overnight, and they particularly don’t do so because you ask less of them; you are still making out with a frog, in the long run. The only reason he looks like a prince nowadays is that you lowered your standards to the point that you literally could not tell the difference between frog and mammal. It’s not that you got what you wanted; it’s that you settled for wanting what you got. And that is the precise opposite of a happy ending.

Not Really a Surprise

It is no accident that women have been complaining…for nearly 10 years now…. What was different? Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.

Sad, but very true.

From elusis: (stix cartoon by eyeteeth of Small Pecul:

The thing is that nothing about this is new. Private citizens being arbitrarily singled out for intrusive searches and rough treatment by authority figures because of their appearance, their “attitude,” or just a momentary need for an endorphin rush by a small-minded bureaucrat? Welcome to the lives of people of color, the phenomenon of Driving While Black, the lives of women, of transpeople, of disabled people (oh hai, Canada!).

It is no accident that women have been complaining about being pulled out of line because of their big breasts, having their bodies commented on by TSA officials, and getting inappropriate touching when selected for pat-downs for nearly 10 years now, but just this week it went viral. It is no accident that CAIR identified Islamic head scarves (hijab) as an automatic trigger for extra screenings in January, but just this week it went viral. What was different?

Suddenly an able-bodied white man is the one who was complaining.

(via Bruce Schneier’s excellent roundup of recent TSA stories)

Back to the Boys Club

We hear that Brenda Chapman, the first woman director at Pixar, has left the studio and is no longer directing _Brave_. We hear that she was pushed aside from full directing a while back, and that story artist Mark Andrews has taken over directorial duties.

Long-time readers will know of my concerns regarding Pixar’s long-running marginalization of women in their films (Is Pixar a “Boys Only” Club?, Rataphooey, Misogyn•E, More on Pixar (Or, Why I Suck at Soundbites), Pixar and Gender, and Things That Bugged Me About Up).

Even given all of that, I’ve been cautiously optimistic about Pixar’s next film, Brave, for some time now. It looked like Pixar was finally cracking the clubhouse door open. Not only is the main character a girl, but the film was being written and directed by Brenda Chapman — the first time a Pixar film has had a woman directing — and she had written the film with her daughter in mind. No guarantees, but all promising signs.

Unfortunately, the rumor mill of the past few days seems to be indicating that not only is Brenda Chapman no longer directing Brave, but she has left Pixar entirely.

Crazy rumors floating into our offices this afternoon from reliable sources. We hear that Brenda Chapman, the first woman director at Pixar, has left the studio and is no longer directing Brave (previously titled The Bear and the Bow). We hear that she was pushed aside from full directing a while back, and that story artist Mark Andrews (who also co-directed the Pixar short “One Man Band”) has taken over directorial duties.

Disturbing to hear, and I’m very curious as to what happened to prompt this move. Obviously, there are a number of possible reasons, many of which will likely have little to nothing to do with any real or perceived sexism. Also, it’s entirely possible that Pixar may still be able to release a good, quality film with a strong female lead character, and I certainly hope that they do, no matter who ends up directing Brave. That said, losing (dismissing? firing?) their first woman director doesn’t bode well for finally losing the “boys club” impression.

Things That Bugged Me About ‘Up’

As I tweeted yesterday, I didn’t end up liking the film as a whole very much. What a tragic, depressing, and, as usual for Pixar, sexist film.

To start with, a list of things that I liked about Pixar‘s Up:

  • The animation, as always in a Pixar film, was gorgeous.
  • The opening ten minutes or so were some of the sweetest, saddest, and most touching work I’ve seen Pixar do since Jesse’s song (“When She Loved Me“) in Toy Story 2. Yes, I got sniffly.
  • There were a number of funny bits that got laughs out of me.

But, as I tweeted yesterday, I didn’t end up liking the film as a whole very much. What a tragic, depressing film.

  • Lesson number one: heroes will let you down. After spending his life idolizing the explorer, Carl finds him only to discover that he’s a greedy, obsessed murderous bastard with no redeeming qualities at all. Russell obviously idolized his father, and yet the failure of his father was a recurring theme, which ties right into…

  • Lesson number two: fathers also let you down. All we know about Russell’s father is that he’s been increasingly distant, to the point of being essentially nonexistent, until eventually Carl becomes a surrogate father for Russell.

  • What’s up with Russell’s family, anyway? We spend the entire film hearing about his absent father. There’s not a single moment of worry about Russell’s sudden disappearance when he inadvertently flies away with Carl. At no point do Carl or Russell show any concern about Russell missing his family, or his family missing him. The entire movie had me convinced that Russell was the child of a single-parent family, whose father had grown so distant that there was virtually no emotional bond between them whatsoever, given Russell’s lack of concern about his (admittedly inadvertent) kidnapping by Carl…but then, during the Wilderness Explorer award ceremony, suddenly Russell’s mother is sitting in the audience. He has a mother? What was she thinking during the time that her kid disappeared? Why was she so willing to allow Russell to continue his association with the old coot who kidnapped him, took him to South America, and nearly got him killed?

  • And, finally, there’s the familiar soapbox of Pixar’s roles for women. Let’s run down the women in Up.

    • Ellie. Initially, she’s one of the best female roles we’ve seen yet. As a child, she’s the stronger of the two main characters, taking the lead in her interactions with Carl, avoiding traditional gender stereotypes by fixating on the explorer and dreaming about adventuring around the world, and becoming one of the few Pixar characters available for little girls to look to and emulate.

      Then she marries Carl, grows old, and dies.

      Sure, it’s her memory that helps to prompt Carl to go on his adventure, but she’s not part of this adventure. Her only “adventure” in life was to get married. It’s sweet and all, and many of the moments where we see Carl missing her are very touching, but still…she spends the entire movie dead.

    • Kevin. A bird whose role is essentially comic relief and plot point, given a male name.

    • Russell’s mom. Never referred to, and only seen for a few seconds at the end of the film. As if that’s not bad enough, she wasn’t even allowed to be the proud parent awarding Russell his “Assisting the Elderly” badge when his father didn’t show up — rather, she sat passively out in the audience, apparently willing to allow Russell to be humiliated, until Carl shows up to act as a surrogate father and save the day.

      If Pixar wanted to have Carl step in, then why not have her on stage with Russell for the ceremony, then have Carl politely ask her for permission? Or why couldn’t Carl be in the audience, and have him give Russell Ellie’s pin afterwards, when it’s just Carl, Russell, and Russell’s mom? Why not find some way to arrange things that wouldn’t involve further marginalizing the mother?

  • How did the explorer get all those dogs? He must have added cloning to his list of achievements, as as far as we can tell, every one of those dogs was male. (Okay, you could make an argument that he only gave the translation collars male voices…but why bother to make multiple distinct voices for different dogs, but not bother to make girl voices for the girl dogs? I stand by my assumption that every dog on that ship was a male.)

  • The dogs flying little airplanes went too far. Until that point, all of those dogs were still dogs doing dog things, simply with the added comedy of the translation collars allowing us to hear what they were saying. Once they got in the airplanes, though, they broke the rules of the world that had already been established.

So, once again, we gave Pixar a chance, and once again, we were roundly unimpressed.

Pixar and Gender

Long-time readers will recognize this particular soapbox, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one standing on it: Pixar’s gender problem.

Long-time readers will recognize this particular soapbox, but it’s good to know I’m not the only one standing on it: Pixar’s Gender Problem:

Whenever a new Pixar movie comes out, I wrestle with the same frustration: Pixar’s gender problem. While Disney’s long history of antipathy toward mothers and the problematic popularity of the Disney Princess line are well-traveled territory for feminist critiques, Pixar’s gender problem often slips under the radar.

The Pixar M.O. is (somewhat) subtler than the old your-stepmom-is-a-witch tropes of Disney past. Instead, Pixar’s continued failure to posit female characters as the central protagonists in their stories contributes to the idea that male is neutral and female is particular. This is not to say that Pixar does not write female characters. What I am taking issue with is the ad-nauseam repetition of female characters as helpers, love interests, and moral compasses to the male characters whose problems, feelings, and desires drive the narratives.

Much of the post covers much the same ground that I have in the past (first asking if Pixar is a ‘boys only’ club, then investigating Wall•E’s Misogyn•E, and then in response to an interviewer’s question). There is some word of an upcoming film that I hadn’t heard about yet that does appear to have a female lead. All may not be rosy just yet, though…

The Bear and the Bow: OOOOOH! Somebody told Pixar that they needed to make a movie with a girl as the main character! So, duh, it’s going to be “Pixar’s first fairy tale”!!! The main character will be, get this, a PRINCESS! But, since the Pixar people are probably good Bay Area liberals, I’m sure the princess will want to defy her parents’/society’s expectations. Where have we seen that before, I wonder? No cookies for rehashing the same old shit. If we’re super lucky, she won’t marry the prince, which will allow us to cover the same ground that Robert Munsch and Free to Be You and Me covered in the goddamn ’70s. Maybe it will be good, but no matter how good it is, it still PISSES ME OFF that girls get to be main characters only when they are princess (or marrying up the social ladder a la Belle and Mulan) in fairy tale worlds. Boys can be main characters anywhere, but if a girl is the main character, you can bet your ass it’s a fantasy world.

So it may be a step forward. If we’re lucky, it’ll be a big step forward, and it may even be enough to get Prairie and I back in the theater for a Pixar film. Noone can really argue that Pixar is bad at storytelling (well, aside from Cars, that is), but in the end…

…It’s not just the stories they choose to tell, it’s how they choose to tell them: in a way that always relegates female characters to the periphery, where they can serve and encourage male characters, but are never, ever important enough to carry a whole movie on their own shoulders. Unless they’re, you know, princesses.

(via Kottke)

More on Pixar (Or, Why I Suck at Soundbites)

A couple weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Jaime Weinman, who writes for Macleans, asking for a quote for an article she was working on about Pixar’s future. I agreed, and in my usual style, sent her a small book. Proving yet again that I just _cannot_ write for soundbites, my quote was boiled down to one simple line.

A couple weeks ago, I got an e-mail from Jaime Weinman, who writes for Macleans (in her words, “sort of Canada’s TIME and NEWSWEEK”), asking for a quote for an article she was working on about Pixar’s future. I agreed, and in my usual style, sent her a small book. The final article was published late in June, and — proving yet again that I just cannot write for soundbites — my quote was boiled down to one simple line:

[Non-Pixar animated films] follow the Pixar example in some respects; they’ve especially learned from the fact that Pixar’s movies all focus on male characters and appeal the most to boys. (Michael Hanscom, a computer analyst who blogs at michaelhanscom.com, dubbed WALL-E “MISOGYN-E” and says that while he likes Pixar, he’s not going to see their movies in theatres “until we see some evidence that they’ve let a girl into the clubhouse to play.”) But for the most part, these movies are far away from Pixar’s artist-oriented approach.

Heh. Not at all inaccurate (except, perhaps, for titling me a ‘computer analyst,’ as flattering as that is) — and believe me, this is not a complaint, I don’t envy Jaime or her editors the task of boiling my response down to something that would fit within the scope of the article — but for the sake of completion, under the jump is my full response to her question. If you’ve read my earlier posts on this matter, there are no big surprises awaiting.

Continue reading “More on Pixar (Or, Why I Suck at Soundbites)”