Author Christine M Knight's Blog
Thursday, May 23, 2013
This blog is an update on the journey to publication for Life Song. With a few months to go before the release date, I feel both excited and a bit overwhelmed. Plans are underway for marketing, and if it all comes off as planned, I’ll be thrilled as well as very busy.
Recently, the process for acquiring a book cover design was completed. I was really interested in Highlight Publishing’s approach and impressed by the market research that went into the selection of the five finalist designs. Highlight Publishing used 99 Designs to source the cover designs. In particular, their field research focused on the story line that potential readers' saw in the book cover design. Readers make their purchase decisions based on a book cover so it is crucial that a book cover accurately suggest the novel's plot and concerns otherwise readers become dissatisfied.
Highlight Publishing kept me informed during the cover design process including sharing the links to the designers’ work. Their feedback to designers during the process was impressive. The publisher picked two winning designs and then continued market research in the field before deciding on which book cover design the company would use. Overall, Highlight Publishing feedback about the designers was that they wee great to work with and highly responsive to feedback.
I’ve uploaded the five finalist designs for you. In order, the designers are
Banateanul, Pintado, Chameleon Studio, Elveni, and LSDesigns. You
can view the entire design field if you go to http://99designs.com.au/book-cover-design/contests/book-magazine-cover-wanted-highlight-publishing-199075
Should you wish to contact any of the designers with a design project, I have provided a contact email address for you, provided to Highlight Publishing for inclusion in this and other blogs.
Designer: Banateanul Email: email@example.com
Designer: Pintado Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Designer: Chameleon Studio
Designer: Elveni Email: email@example.com
Elveni's cover design below will be used for the sequel to 'Life Song'. That novel is called 'Song Bird' and will be released October 2014. Obviously, the title will need to be adjusted accordingly and the mother and child silhouette will be removed.
Designer: LSDdesigns Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Below is an explanation to interested readers who corresponded with me by email about the choice of book cover. A number of them wanted to know why Arrowdesigns’ book cover didn’t make the final cut. I’ve copied Highlight Publishing’s marketing team’s explanation below that design.
Arrowdesigns' uses a poignant photograph of a mother and child by Mikael Vojinovic, a French photographer, (http://www.designwoo.com/2010/08/mi…vojinovic) as the central image in the book cover design. The image of mother and child in this design conveys the anguish and struggle of a single parent and her bond with her child. While this is a beautiful design, this cover design does not tell the potential reader about the story line in Life Song, and in fact misleads the reader. For that reason Highlight Publishing did not include it in the finalist designs. This cover provides a window into Mavis Mills’ earlier life as a single mother a few years before the start of the novel. Life Song is about better times.
Viewers of the competition also emailed me about Banateanul's innovative, beautiful design of the book as a guitar with the image of a young woman on the road looking back in the guitar keyhole. Field research showed potential readers had a warm response to the design but thought the novel was 'just another chick on the road trying to make it in the music industry' story. The plot of Life Song is much more than that.
Saturday, May 18, 2013
'Could Mavis live the rest of her life as she'd been living? She couldn't, not now she'd glimpsed another world, fleeting though that vision had been.'
It takes a bold woman to choose the path less travelled especially when she is a single parent.
Mavis was born to be a songbird. Her parents named her after one, a bird with a distinctive song worthy of poetry. With her wings clipped by circumstance, Mavis spent six years of her life grounded and her dream of soaring flight almost forgotten. After a time of making do, Mavis unexpectedly discovers that she has a choice: accept a life that is 'ordinary' or strive to rise above her circumstance, realise her potential, and be among the one percent that shine.
It is a long way to the top in the music industry and more than a name needs to be changed in order to succeed. It is a gruelling challenge with exhausting demands and subtle traps for the uninitiated. Can Mavis make it? Will she be able to navigate her path between singing the music that she was born to score and being moulded by music industry expectations? Can she build a better life for herself and her son? Can she have it all?
Set between 1996-1998 in Australia, Life Song explores the tug-of-wars that come with being a performer, woman, mother, daughter, and the ways individuals and the community shape our realities. It is set against the backdrop of the vibrant Australian live-music scene and a coastal town south of Sydney. Life Song offers genuine insight into the human condition and the journey of the central character to realise her potential while trying to maintain the balance between pursuing a career and being a mother. The reader shares the hard yards of life as well as the rush and exhilaration of being on stage.
Note to readers
1. Life Song is a standalone novel that follows the life of a secondary character from In and Out of Step (my debut novel), six years after the end of In and Out of Step.
2. Australians use the British spelling system and not that favoured in the USA.
RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 2013
Monday, April 22, 2013
There are different kinds of belonging and differing motivations for wanting to belong. This complexity is explored in the subplot dealing with Kate Patricia Denford's membership in the Surf Life Saving Movement and later through her relationships with the younger generation at Madison House. Characterisation as well as place and situational contexts are techniques used to examine this theme.
This blog will discuss Kate's decision to join the Surf Life Saving Movement and the consequences. Key words for the Area of Study are highlighted in bold & blue. Kate's decision was made with her attention focused on the purpose of the movement and related activity, that is: saving lives and community service, rather than on the relationships that would be forged there. I've used forged rather than formed because forge has connotations of a material changing shape and state when extreme heat and pressure/power is applied to it.
Although accepted as a member by the Surf Life Saving Movement at an organisational level, Kate is faced with resentment and rebuff by the male members at the Keimera club. The intensity of male animosity to her membership is reflected through the behaviour and language of Gary Putnam, an otherwise easy-going man, who insists on calling her Ken. The nickname attributes masculine qualities to Kate, denies her gender, and denies her a place in the club on her own terms. It reinforces the view that only men should be in the club.
Readers first meet Kate when Michael brings her home. Cassie meets Kate after having her curiosity piqued by Minna and George Madison's negative reaction to Kate's arrival. Gary appears on the scene for similar reasons.
'Cassie closed her book. She told herself that she was thirsty and walked around the verandah to the rear of the house.
The girl, a brunette bombshell, was flirting with Michael over a sponge cake and iced tea.
"Oh, hi," Cassie said, pretending to be surprised, "I got a bit thirsty outside."
"Cassie," Michael said from his seat, "this is a good friend of mine ..."
The interior door swung open, and Gary entered. He came up short, obviously surprised.
"Didn't realise anyone was here." He gave a Mickey Mouse laugh and struck a casual pose. "What are you doing here, Ken?"
"G'day, Mike and I are mates. He used to be my dance partner."
Dancing? Cassie looked at the woman. "Where do you -?"
"Does that mean you'll be dropping out of the club?" Gary spoke over the top of Cassie.
"Surf Life Saving is in my blood. I can do both"
"Oh," Gary did not attempt to disguise his disappointment.'
Later at the pub, when Cassie asks Kate about the source of Gary's hostility Kate's explanation provides the background context or back-story.
'A few years back, one of the women in the movement used the Anti-discrimination Act to force the Life Saving Club to open up the senior ranks to women."
"Whoa!" Michael said and then after consideration added, "That must have made them feel emasculated."
"It didn't exactly endear women to them."
"And they're still resentful?" Cassie asked.
"Yep." Resignation and an element of defiance coloured Kate's response. Then more upbeat, she added, "My dad's favourite saying is 'You might as well stand and fight because if you run, you will only die tired.' I am my father's daughter."
Cassie liked Kate's courage and the philosophy underlying her action made sense. Was that the way, she wondered, for women to achieve acceptance in a male-dominated institution?'
The use of contrasting perspectives from Michael and Cassie regarding Kate's situation reinforce gender divisions regarding the pathway to inclusion and acceptance in domains that were once exclusive, in this case, previously male arenas.
Earlier in the story, Michael was portrayed as a contemporary man who accepts gender equality. His shocked reaction to Kate's explanation focuses the reader on the outcome of compelling a person or group of people ( in this case, men) to a course of action that they otherwise reject. Emasculated is used metaphorically rather than literally. It highlights that the men concerned were rendered less male by humiliation. His insight emphasises the reduction and removal of male power through the legislation.
Cassie's workplace experience in one of the last bastions of male supremacy (the local high school) enables her to appreciate the depth of the male reaction - lingering resentment which is very hard to dislodge. As an aside, if you have ever tried to get glitter off your face/hands/clothing, you'll appreciate the power of such resentment.
Cassie'a experience as a first-year-teacher adds further dimension to Kate's situation. Although tacit resistance to female membership is not discussed in this pub scene, the reader brings contextual knowledge to it and is able to see the juxtaposition of female character experiences and the similarity in situations albeit one is a high school workplace.
This subplot explores the multi-dimensional aspects underlying a desire to belong. For Kate, membership in the Surf Life Saving Movement is as much about
- her enjoyment of surfing
- her skill and strength as a swimmer
- her enjoyment in community service
- continuing a family tradition,
- reinforcing shared interests and experiences with her father, a single parent, thereby strengthening that bond
- displaying courage and retaining her father's pride because she didn't 'run away', and
- satisfying her belief that membership in any group should be based on ability and attributes and not on gender.
For Gary and his male cohort, Kate's membership, and by extension that of other women, is on sufferance and does not reach acceptance. This is clearly demonstrated by Gary's reasons for nominating Kate for the Surf Club captaincy (p325)
' ... to see Big Dave about nominating Ken for the captaincy. I wanted his support. It'd be an act of protest over the captain's failure to organise meets, schedules, and surf patrols.'
Gary's attitude towards Kate ultimately evolves into acceptance when he comes to recognise her competency and through their mutual interest and commitment to having the surf club function effectively.
You will detailed analysis in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or fromAmazon
Monday, April 22, 2013
In response to many requests via my website here is the long awaited discussion of The Shearing. I've included the poem first for ease of reference.
The poem shows the connections between people and the complex nature of place: physical, social, generational, and cultural. The poem portrays the ways in which individuals live and interact in a specific social context.
Old men -
open necked white shirts,
long sleeves rolled to the elbows,
black leather shoes -
On the wooden barber’s bench.
Reticent men from another world
Witness to the shearing of a new generation.
The father -
long hair an echo of his generation's rebellion,
coloured T-shirt declaring his fealty,
faded, downtrodden jeans,
shabby sneakers -
Clashes with his son -
fashion dictated jeans and footwear
Forms the centre of the debate,
The son reclaiming
The razored induction into manhood.
Old men ruminate on the ritual,
The irony of fashion,
The source of strength ….
Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.
When I wrote The Shearing, I had Tom Roberts' painting Shearing The Rams in mind. His 1890 painting depicted Aussie men from his time: strong, rugged, bearded, iconically masculine. Roberts' painting and the men in it belonged to a time of social change. When I wrote The Shearing in 1998, I was interested in portraying Aussie men who also belonged to a time of social change albeit from a different place and time. The poem focuses on the way distinctly visual features of each generation gives insight into them.
Unlike in Roberts' painting, the 'shearer' is not in view. The' ram' is implied and has a triple metaphoric reference to the three generations of men gathered in the barber shop. The Shearing explores the ways the men belong, perceptions of strength and weakness, generational conflict as a rite of passage into manhood, and the cyclical nature of life.
The first thing to note about The Shearing is the form of the poem. The poem's narrative is set out simply on the left hand side of the page - distinctly visual. The description of each generation is set out on the right hand side and aligned. I did this to draw connections between the way dress reflects the attitudes and values of each generation. In appearance each generation differs, but the function of dress and the way it provides insight into the person as a representative of their generation remains the same. By aligning the sets of description for each generation, I wanted to focus the reader on the generational positions, identifying what was shared as well as how they differed.
Form and content are tightly meshed in The Shearing. The first and last stanzas focus on the old men, their observations, their reaction to the conflict before them, and the increasing sense of closeness and bonding between them as they observe the scene. They are united through a common experience: past and present. That bond is explicitly stated in
'Old men ...
On the wooden barber’s bench.
Reticent men from another world
Witness to the shearing of a new generation.'
The old men are aligned literally and visually as they sit in a row on the wooden bench in the barber shop (physical place). They are also aligned or allied by a common perspective within the context of the poem's narrative (social and generational place). Their perspective encompasses knowledge gained from life experiences including generational conflicts such as arguments over hair length and dress styles. They are familiar with the scene being played out before them by the father and son. They have been sons once, and perhaps fathers.
The old men are also aligned in that they belong to a distinct period in history, are a common age, and have congregated together at a specific time and place. The barber shop is part of their world; it is a masculine place. It is a place where men come together to share as well as be shaved and shorn, even when their hair is thinning.
The old men are also aligned in their dress and attitude about how a person should look when he goes into town:
open necked white shirts,
long sleeves rolled to the elbows,
black leather shoes'
The 'open necked white shirts' and 'long sleeves rolled to the elbows' suggests an informality about their attire. The 'white shirts, grey trousers,' and 'black leather shoes' suggest a sense of occasion and a sense of pride in appearance. Their clothing shows the character of the people and the culture of their generation. There is nothing shoddy or slovenly or disrespectful in the way they dress. White is often associated with the essence of being clean.
Reticent implies a reluctance to speak freely about particular matters and has connotations of being reserved and tight lipped; they are men of few words. There is a sense of unspoken communication between these old men and a quiet camaraderie. The old men are survivors of harder times. Without stating it, the historical past is implied in 'battles': wars, depression, personal crises, losses, and wins.
Through word choice and arrangement, I wanted to create a subtle rhythm and a gentle lyricism that mirrored these old men. The rhythm of the first stanza is interrupted by the description, the broken rhythm of which was meant to suggest the way the old men move - their gait is made up of steps of varied length and rate of frequency.
The old men appear to be passive observers of the argument between father and son and secondary characters. The old men are, however, central to the poem's intent - observation and comment on generational conflict and the cyclic nature of life as well as reflection on the source of strength. It is for this reason that the poem opens and ends on stanzas about the old men.
The old men see the conflict playing out before them in stanza 2 as a ritual. There is also an appreciation of the irony in this situation where father and son roles appear subverted (overturned). The father's long hair is associated with rebellion and the son's appearance is associated with a return to old values, at least in hair length. Of course, the son is rebelling against the father while the father is arguing with the son to conform to the father's standards (symbolised by hair length). The subversion of roles is also reflected in the duality of the father's roles, past and present. The father was a son once and argued for a different outcome than his son but for the same reason. Related to the overall situational irony, I wanted to convey a sense of quiet humour. It is implied that the old men appreciate both perspectives, having 'been there and done that before'.
The middle stanza deals with the narrative conflict around which the poem is built. Father and son clash literally in appearance, through implied values, and in argument. I chose 'clash' to describe the generational conflict as it suggests a close physical fight. 'Clash' also has connotations of noisy and fierce opposition as well as an intensity of action - a sense of the opposing forces throwing all their weight into the conflict - a reflection of their alienation. At the time of writing, I imagined the head-on clash of rams when they fight for dominance.
The father's appearance is 'an echo of his generation's rebellion' against the fashion of previous generations as well as their values. As such, the father is representative of his generation. There is an historical reference here to the thirty years or so after the 1960s. Visually, he sharply contrasts with the old men. His 'downtrodden jeans' and 'shabby sneakers' refer to subversion of what had been previously fashionable as well as to what was valued by the old men, an orderly well-kept appearance. The father's appearance lacks any sense of occasion.
It is ironic that the subversion of what was valued in dress trends is in itself a reflection of conformity to the fashion of that time. The father's 'T-shirt declaring his fealty' refers to his stated allegiance, an allegiance that is dictated by popular culture. 'Fealty' is strongly linked to the sworn loyalties of the feudal system in the medieval period. The linked juxtaposition of the T-shirt (modern times) and fealty (middle ages) ironically reinforce subservience rather than 'rebellion'. There is also the play of words on the father being in his middle age.
Through contrast, the shared values of the father and son are established. They are influenced by the fashion of their respective time, and they reject/rebel against what was valued by an older generation. They differ in that the son's 'logoed T-shirt' no longer signals allegiance to anything other than adherence to brand names in fashion. His jeans and footwear are 'dictated by fashion' rather than a matter of choice. The father doesn't care about fashionable appearance (his dress is outdated) whereas his son is a slave to it.
I've reversed the order of detail in the descriptions of the father and son to reinforce their differences. The reader scans the father from head to foot whereas the son is scanned in reverse ending on his face. Both descriptions, however, end simply in two words.
In word choice and arrangement in the second stanza, I wanted to achieve a less lyrical, blunt, and more abrupt sound to mirror the poem's narrative action where father and son clash and argue.
The argument centres on 'Samson’s pride' and is 'the centre of the debate'. The biblical allusion to 'Samson's pride' establishes the argument is grounded in an ancient conflict and clearly ongoing (a sense of historical place). 'Samson's pride' has a double reference. First to his hair which was identified as his source of strength. Second to his eventual weakness. In the biblical story, his physical strength meant that others could not hold him to account for his behaviours. He became very proud and with that self-centred. He disrespected authority and did not honour his parents. Samson's story, like the narrative element in The Shearing, is about contrasting definitions of strength and weakness, vulnerability to the dictates of others, and a parental desire to impose standards on the next generation.
The son reclaims the 'razored induction into manhood.' This is a reference not only to the hair length being shortened but to having a razor clean shaven neck and to the rituals associated with becoming a man. The generational argument is identified as a rite of passage with an allusion to the cutting razored inductions in other cultures. If there is pain in this induction process, it comes from the generational clash rather than suffering razor cuts to the skin. As part of that rite of passage, the old men are 'witness to the shearing of a new generation', generation of men being implied.
Stanzas 2 and 3 provide contrast in views about the source of strength as well as in rhythm patterns and lyricism. Stanzas 1 & 3 have a similar rhythm and lyricism.
For the father and son in stanza 2, strength is a matter of whose will is stronger and whose perspective will hold. For the old men in stanza 3, the source of strength is something to reflect on and discuss; there isn't an obvious or glib answer.
'Old men ruminate on the ritual.
'The irony of fashion,
The source of strength ….
Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.'
Ruminate means to think in a contemplative manner. A slowness is associated with that process. In its literal sense, ruminate is usually associated with cows and chewing the cud (food that has been previously swallowed and regurgitated). Analogously, ruminate in this poem means that the old men turn over and reassess past perspectives about the ritual. That slow consideration is contrasted against the heated argument in stanza 2 where father and son clash.
Ritual describes an act that is part of a ceremony, the codes that govern action and interaction are formally and clearly established. Depending on its use, the word can be neutral, approving, or ambiguous in its connotations. If the behaviour is appropriate to the situation, the word is neutral. Within the context of this stanza, the ritual refers to the generational conflict played out between father and son.
Within the context of this stanza, the ruminating process about the ritual involves some sharing of the thought process through dialogue after the father and son have departed, some reflection, and subsequent insight. That insight is complex.
The old men recognise the irony implicit in fashion as well as the qualities in the son, his strength, when he asserts his independence as a rite of passage to manhood and resists his father's fashion imprint.
'Fashion' as used in the third stanza has multiple meanings and reflects contradictory states/forces. First, 'fashion' is strongly linked to clothing and behaviour patterns. As such it has connotations of conformity and fitting into a desirable and acceptable mould. Second, 'fashion' refers to the influence of mass marketing and the conditioning of a person. The word focuses the reader on the malleable nature of people and their susceptibility to herd influences such as fashion in order to belong. The person is not strong in the sense of being resistant to external forces but is malleable, able to be manipulated. Contrarily and related to this, the reader is focused on the strength of the impulse to visually fit in and belong to a generation through appearance and mirroring what is valued. Third, fashion also refers to the generic way in which young men assert their manhood and in doing so, resist or no longer conform to parental directions. The key insight of the poem centres on the source of strength and 'Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.' Battle is used metaphorically and refers to a specific fight as part of a larger war. The old men evaluate the nature of combat and see the link to values: 'the conviction it is right to do so'.
The use of ellipse or three dots in the second last line after 'strength' indicates a pause in the discussion between the old men, a trailing off into silence and reflection before they come to an answer. I've also used the pause as a way of emphasising their conclusion:
'The source of strength ….
Knowing why one battles and the conviction it is right to do so.'
Finally, I enjoy writing poetry because it is a highly condensed form of expression where a lot can be said in a few words. I also enjoy the related challenge. I hope you enjoyed my poem and found this discussion of it to be interesting. I wrote this poem in the late 1990s when I was in Kiama, NSW.
Consider buying Belonging: A Related Text Companion to 'In and Out of Step' through this website or from Amazon.
©Christine M Knight
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
I was an adolescent in the seventies. The success of the second wave of the women's movement meant my world was very different from the one my mother had known. Career opportunities for women were much wider than in my mother's generation, and the notion that a woman had to give up her job/career when she married had been overturned. Attitudes to love, relationships, work, and career were definitely changing.
Many women no longer saw marriage as the way to secure social standing, economic security, and happiness. However, like the travellers in Star Trek, young women and their mothers were in unchartered territory. The central question for young women was: When I grow up, who and what will I be?
Like many other young women, I looked to novels and other people's experiences for guidance. Contemporary writers like Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Barbra Bradford Taylor wrote about worlds and people far removed from the Australian scene and that had little to do with the issues women and men faced here. Australian writers still wrote about outback and pastoral life. The world and the concerns of people I knew remained mostly unexplored and ignored in fiction.
By the 1990s, for many women and men in Australia, the boundaries between sexual liberation and promiscuity were blurred. The old codes that had defined interaction between women and men of my parents' and grandparents' generations had become labelled as out-dated and had been dismissed. What had once been common male acts of respect for women, shown through a range of courtesies and related manners, had mostly disappeared.
In many instances, men who held fast to old courtesies and manners were labelled as sexist. Vocal women's groups argued that male sensitivities to the status of women, be it in social spheres or the workplace, were out of place in the modern world.
In the subsequent vacuum, a new culture grew in an ad hoc manner where women and men 'worked it out' as situations arose within families, relationships, and in the workplace; this was not always done successfully.
The ripple effect of life in a community without clear codes of social interaction continues to be felt today: in football clubs, in workplace ethics as demonstrated by the recent lawsuit against the CEO of David Jones, and, as in the most recent news, at universities such as the Australian Defence Force Academy.
It is ironic that vocal women's groups argue the reverse now.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Recently in Australia (2011), the Kristy Fraser-Kirk sexual harassment lawsuit against David Jones and its CEO claimed damages to the tune of $37 million. Was it an overpriced cost in cutting an anti-sexual harassment suit in a modern world?
Consider the power of money and its role in undermining the power and sway of the KKK in the USA while noting that organisation was not eliminated. Laws alone are not protection when moneyed defendants can protract cases and force punitive costs on the plaintiff. Plaintiffs need paid legal representation inbuilt into legislation to avoid further punitive consequences beyond the abuse of sexual harassment. That cost should be recouped from the defendant when a guilty verdict is made.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
So what's being done about sexual harassment? Apart from awareness heightening posters and mandatory training on equity and diversity that reinforce that it is wrong, there are not any genuine consequences to sexual harassers or workplace bullies. Compare the issue of sexual harassment in the workplace versus drug abuse. People found guilty of drug abuse can be dismissed on the grounds of unsafe practice in the workplace. Surely, the cost to the workplace associated with mental health issues for people subjected to sexual harassment and/or bullying are an even greater cost than drug abuse. The grounds for dismissal are the same: unsafe workplace practice that threatens the wellbeing of others in the workplace not to mention the health of the workplace itself.
Values are embedded in everything we do and say as well as what is not said or done. Workplace lip service about sexual harassment with genuine punitive consequences to harassers makes a joke of the policy and in reality is a form of endorsement of the harassment.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
An urban myth and popular excuse used to pressure women to excuse unwanted sexual overtures from and actions by men is the notion that 'men are fixated on the size of their dicks' and 'preoccupied with sex'. This myth is not only nonsense but also an insult to mankind.
Food matters to men too as do many other priorities such as philosophy, politics, art, and literature. Patriarchal societies have evolved from caveman times. Thinking men have responded to generations of women in western societies who had asserted their human rights and demanded equality in treatment. Without the support of men in western society, women would still be suffering repression as in some Middle Eastern societies.
The selling of values through popular media has been important in the evolution of attitudes about sexual harassment and relationships. Personally, I think that media influence began when the medieval Code of Chivalry was promoted through the popular media of that time - bards and minstrels - to combat the power abuses rife at that time. The widely promoted ideal In practising the solaces of love, thou shalt not exceed the desires of thy lover was a response to a common abuse. Was this the first time a woman's rights in sexual practice were considered and recognised as valid?
In the seventies and eighties, television shows such as 'I Dream of Jeanie' and 'Bewitched' reinforced that women should not have power. Not only did 'I Dream of Jeanie' heavily sugar coat the master slave relationship, it reinforced that women who had access to unlimited power were frivolous in their exercise of it. It affirmed a woman's place was in service of her master benevolent though he may have been. Likewise 'Bewitched' sold wifely domestication as the rightful price of love. Although Samantha and her kind had unlimited power, it was used for luxury consumption, lifestyle, and getting out of jams again demonstrating that women did not know what to do with real power.
Likewise, popular media today, as part of its exploration of gender relationships and politics, reflects, challenges, and at times unwittingly affirms negative environments and cultures that foster a locker-room mentality and related harassment. In numerous story lines, genuine sexual freedom has been hijacked; real gender freedom has become shackled to sexual expectations that a woman 'should put out' as part of gender interaction and because of sexual freedom.
17 Again (2009) is a good example where the story represents the growing counter cultures of respect and disrespect in gender relationships but doesn't probe it. This is where the susceptible viewer can miss the passing editorial comment embedded in the narrative about teen female behaviour and think that such behaviour is the accepted norm, and it was the father (Zac Efron) who was out of step (although still really handsome)!
Glee offers a similar exploration but also documents harassment and bullying as a common feature of a culture where talent, intelligence, and difference are compartmentalised and portrayed as unpopular, even unacceptable. As central characters, the nerds and geeks are portrayed as types of anti-heroes, however, any validation of them in the narrative may be missed amidst images of blonde bombshell cheerleaders and body-beautiful football jocks and the preoccupation with sex and its power. The biggest concern about Glee is the representation of harassment and disrespect as part of life. Without any embedded subtle editorial comment in the show, its stories unwittingly validate and perpetuate that status quo. The unthinking person absorbs that embedded value and is less likely to draw a line within his or her own environment.
Although we are in the 21st century, many groups within the media continue to 'sell' traditional gender myths and promote acceptance of harassment and inequality as a given in life.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Having experienced sexual harassment from my teenage years, I saw it as a given in workplace and social interactions and part of gender politics, a reason to move on to new employment and relationships if it could not be avoided. The concept of making a stand against it was alien despite it being the sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, even the nougthies. My female role models were tenacious and persevering but not militant. Although they questioned aspects of the gender politics, they were still very much part of it.
By the eighties, the ripple effect of the women's movement seemed far-reaching, changing even conservative female and male worlds. The 'workplace suit' had been tailored to a female as well as a male cut - not always tasteful or fashionable. Gender politics had not been dismantled but had gained new dimensions, overt and covert. The texture of gender politics was as varied as the nature of the workplaces.
Increasingly, issues of power and intimidation manifested in the workplace as did the politics of resentment, bullying, and protest. Labels and an attitude of 'get with the times' devalued protest about harassment and contained that protest to a degree, as did the protracted nature of litigation when some women took that path.
Despite the 1984 legislation that defined sexual harassment and legislated against it, I am very aware that the workplace and locker-room culture that 'fed' sexual harassers lagged behind. It did not magically disappear then and continues to exist now. The ingrained culture of conditioned past practice meant that many women were not immediately empowered by the legislation then although it has shaped much of female and male perception now.
The old platitudes prior to the 1984 legislation have resurfaced in the first decade of the 21st century. Comments like 'You should be flattered' or 'What you lack is a sense of humour' or 'Don't be a prude' or 'Get with the times' not only isolate the 'victim' but shift responsibility to a shortcoming in her or him.
Everyone everywhere every day needs to draw a line to crush the culture that fosters sexual harassment.
Tuesday, February 26, 2013
Sexual harassment as an issue is complex and varied in nature. It can be a by-product of power, an aphrodisiac in itself for some people, and combined with the unthinking respect given to authority makes the 'architect' of such harassment feel unassailable. It goes beyond the behaviours of a self-serving lothario who does not recognise societal codes of behaviour in a modern western world where men and women have sexual freedom. It encompasses the workplace femme fatale who uses sex as leverage to broker her career goals. Her actions reinforce the view that sex is coinage for workplace transactions and interactions. The sexual attention associated with such harassment is not an aspect of romance or honest sexuality. Sexual harassment is based on power and intimidation. It extends into the politics of resentment, bullying, and protest.
The Jane Hill versus the NSW Water Resources Commission case of the mid 1980s shows the complexity of sexual harassment. That case showed that sexual harassment could extend beyond sexually explicit behaviours to covert harrying actions by men when they feel disempowered in the workplace as in Ms Hill's case when she was promoted. It also demonstrated that laws alone are not protection when moneyed defendants can protract cases and force punitive costs on the plaintiff.
After the 1960s, in its most invidious form, sexual harassment became a symptom of a culture that did not understand sexual freedom and female rights beyond the notion that the boundaries that had previously restrained sexual behaviour had been removed. That culture labelled anyone who took offence at sexual harassment or who questioned such behaviours or who said no as prudish, uptight, lacking in a sense of humour, oversensitive, and most importantly, out of step with the values of the day. Such labels resulted in dismissal and invalidation of other perspectives and responses to the intention behind unwanted sexual attention. Sexual harassment existed then and exists now because there are people in the workplace, wider community, and the popular media who no longer recognise 'what is acceptable or offensive, how and why'.
By the eighties, the ripple effect of the women's movement seemed far-reaching, changing even conservative female and male worlds, but the nineties saw the 'workplace suit' tailored to a female as well as a male cut. Women seeking powerful positions adopted male dress codes as part of the business of gaining power in the workplace. Gender politics had not been dismantled but had gained new dimension.