Masonic Boom

"Crazy" "Oversensitive" "Feminazi" "Bitch" bloggin' bout pop music, linguistics and mental health issues

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Anger Management (A Reply)

This started as a comment on Alex MacPherson's blog about Jude Rogers' piece in the Guardian, but it vastly outgrew its comment box.

Thank you for *getting* the point that Jude's piece was specifically about women in *rock* - and a very specific type of rock at that. You know that I am really not one to be down with these gunnysacking "women in music" type articles, but she was talking about a very specific role which has all but disappeared. It's like there was some weird loophole in the early 90s which has closed.

As a woman, and a musician who came of age in that era, it is disappointing how rock/indie music has changed, and written these women out of their important role in it and written a particular archetype of woman out of the story.

I think you've got Lucy O'Brien wrong - it's not that the Spice Girls and their music had a negative influence. (As you say, bubblegum music has always existed.) More that the way they co-opted a certain kind of slogan and linked it with imagery of the totally reversed message. It was that kind of double-speak way of taking "girl power" to mean the right to prance about in their knickers. That was really symbolic of the co-option of Feminism into female raunch culture - as Suzy Corrigan put it to succinctly on ILX - I do not believe it's possible to pole-dance your way to equality. That's not to dismiss female sexuality, but for years, given that that is the *only* role assigned to women - it seems to me that these "angry women" were in a way turning their back on that typical sexualisation of women, of saying "HEY, THERE ARE OTHER ASPECTS TO BEING A WOMAN, LET'S EXPLORE THEM."

It's not fun to be the "crazy bitch." In mine own "career" (I don't think of it as a Career, but I do have a 20 year path of making music professionally and semi-professionally) it's always a constant line one has to tread.

Show too much anger, even if it is legitimate, and you are dismissed, your points invalidated. Yet even if you are reasonable, funny, wry - the words "feminist" and "angry" are so linked together in popular culture that you will be accused of being "an angry feminist" even when you are being reasonable. (There was a great post about that on Feministing recently.)

The allotted, acceptable role that the music industry is prepared to slot non-standard women into is that of the "Ethereal Girl" - which these days has been bastardised into your dreaded "Quirky Girl." All those emotions which are so *important* to rock music - the anger, the sense of being an outsider, the *danger*, the ability to make people *uncomfortable* - these are viewed as inherently NEGATIVE when expressed by women. Ethereal Girl is the only way to evidence that "outsider" status without being *threatening* so that's why women take it up.

You can, as a woman, get trapped in an image. My band before Shimura Curves - The Lollies - had a deliberately planned image of being fun, being upbeat, being positive (about men as well as women) - after my experiences within Riot Grrrl. But the cute, cloying cutesy-indie sucks the life out of you, neutralises you, neuters you. I pretty much had a nervous breakdown, being in a touring band that was representing cute! happy! fun! onstage while going through stuff offstage that I needed to catharsise through music, but just couldn't because it just didn't fit.

In the end, the emotion won out - those songs simply *had* to be written, it was like a tidal wave coming through. But the sudden burst of emotion and anger and catharsis was not acceptable to an audience that were expecting arch, wry, ironic, funny and above all "cute."

(Those songs are lost forever - my biggest regret, musically, is that the Lollies never got to make a second album, because I felt those songs were so powerful - it saddens me that the only artifact of that band is the arch, twee shit that so does not represent who I was as a person or an artist at that time.)

Anyway, I digress, as I always do, because this is not abstract, critical stuff for me, it's real, visceral stuff that affects my life and my work every day.

I completely disagree with Kogan on the positioning of Swift and Simpson et al within this genre. Different genre, different beast. To compare a POP Star with a ROCK Star is apples and oranges. I'm tired of the girls = pop, men = rock dichotomy, and anger getting "channelled in different ways" for male and female stars. And the way that he talks about, say, Taylor Swift's "under the radar" anger is just frankly insulting. It reads to me as yet another man dictating the acceptable ways in which women MAY show anger without disturbing their male paymasters. Not having it. She has not been given a free pass - she is only "free" to work within a quite narrow and acceptable range of image, of songwriting - sure, this demeanor may work for male music journalists preconception of an acceptable, well-behaved female singer-songwriter - it does NOT work for me.

The absolute CRUX of Rock as opposed to Pop is, as Huggy Bear put it best "THIS IS HAPPENING WITHOUT YOUR PERMISSION."

Women who refuse those bounds, who refuse to be styled, who refuse to be constrained by the "pop" genre or the critical ghetto, who refuse to look or act the part. Women who will not be tamed. Women who almost *scare* you, by how perfectly they have captured that side you are not *allowed* to show to the world. You know - a ROCK STAR. Where are they?

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Film Deaf

This morning I had the unusual experience of engaging in a discussion about a film I actually had more than a tiny amount of knowledge about. (Sunshine - a DVD I bought almost entirely for its Dr Brian Cox science commentary.) It's strange. I like to think of myself as a vaguely culturally aware person - I definitely keep up with contemporary music, and try to keep at least aware of current trends and movements in visual arts and literature. But film?

I have a terrible confession to make. I am film deaf.

It's not that I don't enjoy films. I certainly do enjoy watching and even discussing it with whatever person who has made me watch it. It's more that I don't have much discernment when it comes to films. I don't really know enough about the artform to discuss genres or really assess them on a quality level beyond "I was engaged by that" or "this is boring, I'm going to read a book."

I took a course in basic film at art school, as it was a core requirement, but I can't say I learned anything. (Apart from reaffirming my teenage goth love of German Expressionism.) I have been taught about auteur theory and "Mise en scène" (whatever that is) but the whole concept of film as craft just slides off my brain. It's not like music, where I can be aware of the production techniques used to generate a sound, and still be caught up in the emotion of the piece. Movies are just something that wash over me without my ever really knowing how it was done.

And I certainly don't really know enough about films to actively seek them out. Despite living practically next door to a decent cinema, I think I've been there once in the past two years. I don't have a video club membership and it's very rare that I'll buy DVD unless I've seen the film before - these days, since I don't have a telly, that's because someone has shown it to me.

I just didn't grow up in a cinema-going family. Hell, we didn't even have a colour television until I was in my teens. Many of my childhood memories of familial television watching involved gathering around a tiny 70s B&W set the size of a toaster to watch Dr Who on Saturday nights, and that was about it. My Dad would occasionally take us to sci fi blockbusters - we saw Star Wars on our first visit to the States, and watched The Black Hole in an empty movie theatre on our first American Thanksgiving - but I was aware that my mother had never been *allowed* to watch films as a child. Her grandmother disapproved of films and would especially not allow her to watch anything by Disney, for fear of a pernicious Americanising influence.

So I suppose it's not accident that film-watching is something I associate with boyfriends - and why someone who is almost totally film deaf has almost exclusively had relationships with serious film buffs.

It's one of the few things I actually miss about having a boyfriend - having someone to actually make me watch films, and pick good ones to put in front of me. I mean, in most of the relationships I watch friends have, it's the men's job to provide the women with mixtapes. In most of my relationships, it's been the reverse - I'm such an insufferable music snob I'm far more likely to do the music selection. Yet choosing films is one of those jobs I'm happy, or even grateful, to rely on a boyfriend for.

Perhaps that's it, though. In my experience, most men like to be the experts in the house. They seem to actually find it vaguely diminishing if a woman knows more about something than they do. And trust me, I'm simply not the kind of person to keep it to myself if I have any kind of expertise or opinions on a subject. On film, however, I'm perfectly willing to accept and concede to someone else's greater knowledge. In fact, use that knowledge to heighten mine own enjoyment.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Ada Lovelace Day

It's Ada Lovelace Day again, the day to celebrate and bring attention to women in technology and science through blogging. Last year, I blogged about my musical and production idol, Delia Derbyshire, but this year I wanted to blog about a female scientist a little closer to home, and with a far more important and far-reaching effect on me.

Dr. M.G. Gilliland, the head of the Botany Department at the University of Natal, South Africa. Or, as I knew her, "Granny Pani" nicknamed after her love of the frangipani flower.

I often joke about having a "maths granny" and a "science granny" - it's true. My paternal grandmother was a mathematician whose lasting accomplishments I have written about before - she wrote the standard maths textbooks for the whole country of South Africa. My maternal grandmother was "science granny," an accomplished Botanist and renowned academic.

In trying to look up her body of work and research online, it's initially tangled up with my grandfather, Dr. H.B. Gilliland, a fellow botanist who rose to the role of Vice Chancellor of the University of Singapore before returning to South Africa to run the Botany Department of the University of Natal at Pietermaritzberg. Although it is commonly recorded that a new species was named after him, both family legend and academic gossip has it that the plant was actually named after my grandmother.

After his early death at the age of 54, my grandmother took over both his work and the running of the Department of Botany of the University of Natal at Pietermaritzberg. I can still find the abstacts for her papers online if I search for her initials and they are still being quoted as references and co-authors in papers around the world.

My memories are of a jolly, yet intellectually active lady with a stout figure and a wild mane of iron grey "King Lear" hair. There was no activity which could not be turned into an opportunity to stimulate and expand young minds - one of my fondest memories is aged about 9, weeding the garden path, a boring chore which was turned into a voyage of discovery by my grandmother. "Do you know what this is?!" she would cry out excitedly, seizing on the hapless plant I'd plucked from the gravel. "It's a GYMNOSPERM!" With this, she would gently take the weed to pieces, showing me the differences in form and and behaviour between the varying plants of the lawn. A simple exercise in planting seeds for flowers could become an exploration in germination and genetics - she absolutely worshipped Watson and Crick and loved to tell me about DNA at every occasion.

I got to see her in her natural environment - the lab - on a few family visits to South Africa, though this was very difficult to manage during the political unrest of the 1980s. It was amazing and impressive to me, how my jolly granny turned into a formidable lady as she entered the world of her university department, put on her white coat, and all her students and lab technicians jumped at her every word.

The day of Princess Diana's wedding - being about 10, I still cared about this sort of thing - that morning, my grandmother packed my brother and I into her car and whizzed us down to her lab to use THE ELECTRON MICROSCOPE. This was one of the most advanced pieces of technology available in the world at that time, the idea of this being wheeled out as amusement for 10 year olds is astonishing, and yet she made this happen. The preparation of the slides - impossibly small specimens had to be coated in an infinitessimal coating of gold - the hum and whir of the machine, the grainy television screen displaying previously unknown worlds of tinyness. Trying to think of tiny, tiny things to look at on it, I suggested "a fly!" "Too big!" replied my grandmother. "The eye of a fly..." "Too big! How about we look at the eyes of the tiny parasites that inhabit the tiny eyes of tiny flies!" My mind boggled.

But I remember the Electron Microscope, the lab, the bottles and jars of specimens pickled in formaldehyde far more vividly than I remember the wedding we watched that afternoon, over tea, thanks to the time difference between Natal and the UK. I became obsessed with microscopes, I saved my pocket money for months to afford a cheap 50x magnification school model found at a garage sale.

The single most important thing she ever taught me, I can still remember, in her booming Scots-African accent: "CORRELATION AND CAUSATION, MY DEAR!!!"

To this day, I hear her voice in my head, every time I read an article about science in the paper, every time I run mine own mathematical analysis for my job, every time I observe the world and think and speculate about the causes of the things I see around me. It is the single most important lesson that any scientist can ever learn - that correlation does not imply causation. Just because one observes A and B occuring together, that does not necessarily mean that A caused B. B may have caused A. A and B may be totally unrelated, except by coincidence. It is the job of the scientist, of the rationalist, of the Thinking Person to use the Scientific Method to tease out correlation from causationm and move from magic into knowledge.

She remained a scientist until the very end. Even in her 80s, when her university suggested that it really was time to retire and let someone else have a go, she could not stay away, and returned to school as a mature student, to get yet another degree. To this day, she remains the oldest student ever to acquire a PhD in all of Africa. Towards the end of her life, after a stroke meant that she had to move into a nursing home, my mother recalls fielding a phone call which declared "The Minister of Agriculture for Dr. Gilliland." "Yes, and I'm the queen of England," my mother replied, putting the phone down. It was only when the same minister rang back a few minutes later, that my mother remembered - her dear old ma was still one of the world's foremost experts in bamboos, grasses and grains.

The fact that I am interested in science and maths, that I work in technology, is down to many factors and influences. But the single greatest inspiration was the living examples of the women of science within mine own family.

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Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Mushy Gushy Crush Stuff

It's reached the stage of the crush where I'm scouring the internet for photos. His MySpace pics are blurry, he's always looking down, or away.

I'm finding it quite odd. Looking at pictures of him, I'm struck by the fact that physically, he isn't particularly my type, at all. In fact, quite opposite to my usual long-haired girly-boy tastes. One of my friends, who knows him IRL described him as being "really rugged and manly."

But that's the thing about internet crushes, isn't it? You build up an idea in your head of what a person is like, based on their personna, their posts, their words, their actions. And based on all this, I have decided that he is beautiful because he's kind, because he's thoughtful, because he's clever, because he's humble and gracious and gentle, and a host of other reasons that seem terribly shallow when I try to list them.

I suppose this is the kind of crush where you admire in the other person what you wish to be more like in yourself. Which is odd, because so much of our online interactions have been FITE-ing. Mostly playful, but sometimes quite fierce. But when it mattered, when a bunch of people were ganging up on me on account of something I believed in very strongly, he always seemed to be on my side. I really liked that, that "you got my back" feeling. But I didn't entirely realise until the infamous sex dreams, just how much of that play-FITE was pigtail pulling and repressed sexuality, well, at least on my side. That desire to get in someone's face, to annoy them - it doesn't always mean you hate them, does it? ;-)

It's bad, though. My obsessive aspects are always put into overdrive by the attraction process to the point where I think it's less to do with like or lust and more to do with OCD. I give the person way too much power over me. Yes, the power to make me feel good, to make me feel high and happy and amazing, that "sun is shining, sky is blue, world is a good place" feeling where you sit all day writing songs about them. But also the power to feel terrible, to feel small and awful and unworthy - not even with a harsh word, but just with the feeling that they are ignoring you.

It's been like this as long as I can remember. Being attracted to someone almost invariably makes me feel like absolute and complete shit. It opens a trapdoor beneath my feet and drops me down the ladder into my deepest insecurities. I just have to remind myself, don't I - that I don't stand a chance. I am old. I am overweight. I am not conventionally attractive. I am bad tempered and moody and anti-social. A 200 lb manic depressive is the punchline to a terrible joke, not a dream date. How dare I even presume! He'd be shocked, appalled, horrified if he thought for a minute that my half-joking banter was not actually joking at all. In fact, probably terrified that I have started to think about him as much as I do.

But then again, all those little details that the internet glosses over. I know almost nothing about him. I don't even know how he lives, don't know any of the mechanics of his life offline. Hell, I don't actually even know if he has a girlfriend or not. It's that crush facility shading in the details for me and the internet sharpens that glossy focus into a mirror like sheen that only reflects back what you want to see.

Having a crush on someone on the internet adds a layer of distance, an emotional shield. Yes, you can get hurt, and the emotions are real, but not as real as someone you see IRL all the time. Not as completely safe and hermetically sealed off as a celebrity crush (though curse those celebrities that use the internet to come crashing through the fourth wall) but still. It's real, but it's not real enough. It's protected, but it's not protected enough. That weird quasi-real land halfway between make believe and a somehow truer reality.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

I Thought My Interpretive Dance Post Was Funny

I will now explain this thread through the medium of interpretive dance.

(Explanation: a newbie wanders into a thread where several regulars are engaging in banter and referencing several long-running memes in mostly joking form. He then decides that everyone is doing this with the specific intention of mocking *him*.)

MB (in Betty Boo voice):

SSD: Yo, what is this shit?

MB: Awwww purrr purrr I just playin'

Erol forum en masse: LOL LOL LOL PLAY PLAY LOL LOL