Who were the feminists before Peppa Pig?

After this week’s Piers Ackerman Peppa Pig fiasco I got thinking about feminism in kid’s show.

If you missed the article, commentator Piers Ackerman decided to attack the ABC by declaring, amongst other things, that;

“Even the cartoon character Peppa Pig pushes a weird feminist line that would be closer to the hearts of Labor’s Handbag Hit Squad than the pre-school audience it is aimed at.”

As with my blog policy I won’t link to this article because it only drives traffic there, if you want to read the whole lot a quick google search will take you there – warning, you might need a cup of tea and a lie down afterwards.

As a 30 year old I have missed Peppa’s feminist agenda (my little niece is a big fan though, so I’m keen to discuss it with her). But it got me thinking about the shows I watched as a child and any subtle feminist brainwashing I may have incurred without realising it. Here is a small sample of some of the characters/shows I remember:

Pic via inspectorgadget.wikia.com

Pic via inspectorgadget.wikia.com

Penny – Inspector Gadget – The brains of the operations, Penny was a great role-model. She was smart and calm always getting her uncle out of sticky situations. An early adopter, her computer book and utility wristwatch helped her to foil the plans of the evil M.A.D. group.  I’m a bit sad that when I look back at it Penny really needed the meet Sheryl Sandberg. Her quiet acceptance that she would play side kick to an incompetent inspector could be seen as stoic, or just really bloody frustrating. A great example is this sample of dialogue found on inspectorgadget.wikia.com:

Penny: Uncle Gadget! This might be a trap.

Gadget: I’m thinking that this might be a trap.

Penny: That’s what I just said.

I’d like to think she hit adolescence, told her Uncle to grow up and is now CEO of spy organisation using her skills.

Potential Teaching: Just deal with it, you know you’re smarter but what can you do?

April O'NeillApril O’Neil – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’ve written about April before, and my distress about how she got turned into a ‘love interest’ character for a man who was not her intellectual equal in the film version. According to Wikipedia she was originally a computer programmer, but was changed in the cartoon (which I remember) to a television news reporter. She was always professional, chasing leads and reporting back on the Turtles exploits. It’s interesting to do some research to see how her character has changed over the years, if you are interested take a look at this Turtlepedia wiki.

Potential Teaching: Forget about the career, it’s better to be a love interest.

The Princess – The never Ending Story – I loved the Never Ending Story, and I loved the princess. She was such a pale, sickly, pleading little thing. Her token 10 minutes of screen time was always enthralling with that whispy voice.

Potential Teaching: Don’t bother going out there to save the world yourself, if you whine enough a boy will do it for you.

Smurfette – The Smurfs – I only have a vague recollection of Smurfette, I guess because there is one of her and a million men – great. So I did a bit of research, and my viewing of the Smurfs will never be the same again. According to wikipeadia, in the original comic:  

Smurfette was magically created from clay by the Smurfs’ enemy, Gargamel, so that she would use her charms to cause jealousy and competition among the Smurfs in order to cause their fall. He left her in the forest and Hefty Smurf took her to the Smurf Village, where she was kept out of kindness…

Gargamel’s plans didn’t work well at all. Smurfette originally looked like a male Smurf with a dress and short, black hair, and the other Smurfs found her more annoying than attractive. Papa Smurf took pity on her and took her to his laboratory, where they locked themselves in while he performed “plastic smurfery” on her, before emerging. Smurfette now had a pretty face and long, flowing blonde hair. This caused every Smurf of the village to fall in love with her.

 Potential Teaching: Where to begin….?

Benita, Noni and the Play School Team – I love(d) Play School. It’s a show I let my son watch and I love the equal gender games that are played and multi-racial hosts. I really don’t want to pay out on Play School at all. But that’s the ABC for you, there must be some evil teaching lurking in there.

 

Puddle Lane – Puddle Lane was a huge favourite of mine.  The story was based around a magician telling stories and his friend Toby the Spell Dragon. But when I think back for women I can’t remember a single one. So a quick search showed that there was a minor role – Aunt Flo. No feminist agenda here. http://www.thechestnut.com/puddle.htm

 

Super Ted –He has a sister Blotch, he is given his powers by Mother Nature, but really with Super Ted, Spotty, Texas Pete, Skeleton and Bulk it’s a boy’s club.  

I’m sure I’ve forgotten heaps. I’d love to hear your thoughts about the shows you grew up with and what’s great for kids now.

 

Why I love Graeme Simsion

In October I had the good luck of meeting and Interviewing Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project.

He was a guest of the Ballarat Writers for one of our ‘Reading Nights’ where we host a guest author to discuss all things writing with our members. There was much excitement about Graeme’s visit due to the success that The Rosie Project has had this year. I held off buying the book so that I could get a signed copy on the night (I’m always secretly worried that our guests will travel from Melbourne and get zero book sales, a small turn out, then a long and lonely drive home.) I’ve had a chance to read the book now and I can see why it’s been a hit. However what I learned from my interview and Graeme’s presentation was more about what makes some people succeed.

I’ve interviewed quite a few writers before and I’ve also attended many workshops, festival talks and industry events and I’ve met my share of ungrateful, pompous and rude authors. Graeme Simsion was none of these things. I’ve made a list if things that made me enjoy Graeme’s visit and things I’ll keep in mind for my own career.

Make time for the little people. When our committee contacted Graeme and his publicist at Text they were always courteous, treating what could be seen as a quaint writers get-together as a professional and important event. While most writers do this I have had experiences where people think that smaller events aren’t worth their while, and I imagined that Graeme may just feel this way. To put it into context – Graeme interrupted a dinner to take a call to do a community radio interview with me on a Wednesday night (in fact he stood on the street in a Melbourne laneway to take the call). He then drove to Ballarat for our event on Thursday night. On Saturday he was flying to the US where The Rosie Project had just been launched, he’d just signed the film rights and he would be flying on to Europe for another tour after that.

So if he had of said that he didn’t have the time for my little radio gig I would have understood.

Welcoming members to the reading night. When our members arrive for our monthly reading event a committee member will greet them, collect our small entry fee and leave them to mingle. Graeme met each member with a smile, introduced himself and asked their name. I’m a professional facilitator and I know how important this small step is. Do I do it every time I run training? Probably not. But I’ll make sure I do from now on because it created such a great sense of community before the event even began.

Engaging Speaking. I think we’ve all been to events that are facilitated by writers who are more comfortable with laptops than computers. There is nothing wrong with this, not everyone can be a great speaker. However when you are in a room with someone who looks like they are enjoying the experience not dreading it the overall effect is far more memorable and enjoyable.

My signed US and AUS versions of 'The Rosie Project'.

My signed US and AUS versions of ‘The Rosie Project’.

 Life Experience. Graeme spoke a lot about his life ‘pre-Rosie’. It was great to hear him talk about running his own company. It was a reminder that while you may be working away 9-5 as a project manager, baker, full-time parent, those skills will help your writing. Life experience is important. Skills like managing risks, timelines, challenging personalities help you in the years it takes to write a novel, not to mention give you some great stories and characters.

Generosity. The highlight of the night (well for me anyway) was when Graeme gave me a copy of the US version of Rosie. It was 2 days after it launched and I was wrapped – I still am. So now I have a signed Aus version, a signed US version and I’m not prepared to part with either.

The Rosie Project was great, but you don’t need me to tell you that, because everyone else has written about it already. Instead I’ll always remember how entertaining, friendly and generous Graeme Simsion is. When The Rosie Project becomes the next box office smash I won’t sob into my keyboard in a fit of jealousy, I’ll cheer him on.

I’m talking at the Melbourne Writers Festival

I am very pleased to announce that I will be a panellist and an interviewer at the 2013 Melbourne Writers Festival.

I spent some time helping the team from MWF as part of my role at Ballarat Writers and now I can announce that I’ll be involved in 2 events.

My first event is on Saturday as part of the M.A.D.E. by Writers Panel. I will be discussing how my life as a writer interacts with the ideas of freedom, power and democracy. I’ll be sharing the panel with some great writers and must confess to having what singer/songwriter Paul Kelly calls ‘the pretendies’.

On Sunday I’ll be hosting, In Conversation with M.J. Hyland. I’ve written about her work before and a few years ago participated in a workshop that she was running.  I’m looking forward to this event as it closes out the weekend of events and I’m hoping will have some great audience participation.

So let me know if you’ve got any advice, or any questions you’d like me to ask.

If you’re in Ballarat please come along to some of the events. It’s a great chance to encourage Melbourne arts groups to run regional events.

There are heaps of workshops and panel discussions so please book in.

Finding God?

If you stare at a religious artefact long enough can it convert you?

Yes, I am seriously asking that question. It’s not the type of question I’d usually ponder, being neither religious nor prone to staring at artefacts. However, last month I completed another ekphrastic poetry project with the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Ballarat University and Ballarat Writers. This year’s project was based on the exhibition, Living Traditions which exhibits a range of religious and spiritual artefacts and artworks.

A group of poets from Ballarat Writers and Ballarat University were assigned the daunting task of creating a collection of ekphrastic writings inspired by the collection. Ekphrasis is the term used when creating one artwork inspired by another. Continue reading

Reading Paul Kelly

Paul Kelly’s How to make Gravy is not a book to read fast.

Perhaps that’s why I went to the launch in 2010 and have only just finished reading it. I put it off originally because of the size – too big to lug to the station for my train ride. But it was perfect reading as a new Mum. I was able to grab a chapter at a time between feeds and sleeps, and be inspired to get into my own creative work. Continue reading

Place as Character – Toni Jordan Nine Days

art-353-Nine-Days-300x0-184x280 I’ve seen Toni Jordan speak at quite a few events, and I was fortunate enough to hear her again towards the end of last year at the Ballarat Mechanics Institute. It was just after the launch of her latest novel, Nine Days.

I knew about the general premise of the book before I bought it – that Jordan was inspired by a photograph from the Argus records. (The image is on the cover of the book) But what I didn’t know was that the nine days of the title, refers to the plot structure. The novel tells of nine days, spread across seventy years, which transform the lives of each member of the Westaway family.  Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the family as they face their transformative day. However the plot is not structured chronologically. This device is a wonderful tool for driving the plot. Readers are left to fill in some blanks when the novel jumps from 1939 to the weeks immediately after the September 11 collapse of the world trade centre in 2001. We wonder who the new narrator is and how is she related to Kip, the character we’ve just grown to love in chapter one. This continues through the book, and it’s Jordan’s skill as a storyteller that ensures that readers don’t feel dislocated, instead urging them on with a new character who is just as fascinating as the one before. Continue reading