Saturday, February 28, 2009

Nine-year-old Pregnant with Twins

Today's news brings a sobering reminder that the evils of unrealistically buxom dolls and bras for the breastless are not the worst that could be inflicted upon girls. A nine-year-old Brazilian girl is reportedly now four-months pregnant with twins, the disturbing result of sexual abuse by her stepfather. The abuse began when the girls was only six, and the cretin saw fit to give her less than one Australian dollar (a Brazilian Real) each time he sexually assaulted her.

The major problem, apart from the psychological horror of a child raising children born as a result of sexual abuse, is that the girl's small body is likely to be unable to carry two embryos to full-term. One doctor commented: "We don't know if she will develop the pregnancy up to the end because of the structure of her body. It is a big risk for her."

Now, I understand that abortion is not commonly practiced in Brazil except for instances of rape or danger to the mother's health, but surely this case is one where both rules should come into swift effect. The tone of the responses of some of the doctors involved does not rule out that the girl might be expected to try to carry the twins to term, even though it would be an extreme risk to her survival. Surely the girl, a decided victim, too young to find any way out of her abusive family life, should be the first priority and the abortion conducted immediately before the pregnancy progresses any further?

American Girl Takes on the Aw-Sees

I am totally fascinated by the idea of the American Girl dolls. Not only does the range include contemporary and historical American Girl dolls, but there also accompanying books that tell the stories of each "girl" in her relevant time period. I'm sure these books do not contain literary gold, but I'm interested to see how this large and profitable company thinks historical girls should be presented to contemporary ones. I'm also guessing that real girls are more interested in the modern dolls and that it's adult crackpots like me who are interested in the likes of "Kirsten", the Minnesota frontier settler from 1854. Then again, the recent American Girl film, Kit Kittredge (starring Abigail Breslin), was set in the Great Depression in 1934.

When playing on the American Girls site (it took me several times to get a perfect score on the pop quiz, humiliatingly), I discovered it was possible to travel (virtually, and perhaps not even necessarily since I'm already here) to Australia. I loved the facts about Australia section. I had to laugh as some slang was given a pronunciation key that would have the speaker come out with the most American-sounding accent for supposedly ocker terms like "aw-see" for Aussie (more likely "oz-ee" from Strine mouths). Others replicated the British sounds that were adopted in that bizarre Simpsons-come-to-Australia episode, such as "gid-dye mite" (g'day mate). "Lolly water" was listed as the equivalent for "soda pop". I can't say I have ever heard anyone call it anything other than "soft drink" in my life. "Lolly water" has only ever arisen in the context of someone drinking a sweet alcoholic drink (in contrast to a "man's drink", like VB!), but that may reveal some now uncommon, earlier use for sweetened carbonated drinks.

The one that surprised me most was the phrase "See you in the soup!", which apparently means "See you around!" Again, I must not be getting out enough, and I'd have thought having a father who is the embodiment of the Bruce Ruxton skit from Fast Forward and Alf Stewart from Home and Away would have qualified me to know these things. I had to do a Google search to see where I was going wrong, and most of the results for the phrase were links to travel dictionaries, explaining to poor holidaymakers what funny (both ha-ha and strange) language they might encounter on their journey to the land where the water swirled down the plug-hole the "wrong" way. What has Hugh Jackman been telling them all?

Friday, February 27, 2009

My Little Red Book (Unrelated to Mao)

It can be a moment of disturbance, fear, irritation or relief. It can even be supremely terrifying if you're Carrie White, in Stephen King's first novel, who, screaming like a banshee in the school gym shower, had no idea whether it meant that she was about to die. But, regardless of the precise response, a girl's first period will always be memorable. The first brush with the inconvenience of it all, the avoidance of white shorts (perhaps a rule best followed all-month long), the sometimes excruciating cramps, and the embarrassment of family members having to be told leaves a mental imprint deeper than most other life events, particularly when stamped so close to, or often in, childhood. I was only ten, almost eleven, when my period arrived and what I was deeming an innocuous smudge on my underwear was something I hoped to write off as mistake that would correct itself and never have to be thought of again. Over two hundred cycles later, I can reflect that it was going to be a long time before this thing was resolved.

Every woman has her own story of this event, but it's not something that is ordinarily shared amidst polite inquiry about how work is, how the children are going, (how'd you get your first period), and how's your ankle holding out. In fact, it's not something I'd thought of considering until I heard about My Little Red Book. Rachel Kauder Nalebuff, who is not far out of school and is set to attend Yale, collected the stories of almost a hundred women recounting their first surf of the crimson wave (a metaphor that mistakenly attributes a sense of achievement the greater the swell). You'll even find the recollections of Cecily von Ziegesar and Erica Jong in the book. The same cannot be said for Glenn Close, who was reportedly bemused when bailed up in the street by Nalebuff and confronted with a request to disclose her own experience of menarche.
Some have suggested that the book is symptomatic of a trend for "oversharing" or girls as "gross-out merchants", catching up with men's propensity for scatalogical and any other excretable humour. As a source of supreme anxiety and often embarassment for young girls, I'm pleased if people are oversharing on the subject. For some families, menstruation is not talked about at all. My mother couldn't even discuss the subject with me, but, upon purchasing the new innovation in feminine hygiene products of the time (pads with "wings"), she left a demo model (a pair of underwear with one of the technological marvels stuck on) in the bathroom cupboard for me to discover and take the hint as to how to use them. If girls can talk about the moment or read other people's recollections of it, rather than battling to hide it from friends and the world in general, the better for it.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Hot Girls in Scary Places. Jinkies!

I can't imagine ever having invented the title of this blog post myself. E! television kindly stepped in with their creative wizardry to save me from having to devise my own. They've developed a new concept for a reality TV show and we're not going to need to bring in a cryptographer to decipher the premise from the title: Hot Girls in Scary Places. At least we knew there was meant to be humour in the obviousness of Snakes on a Plane.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the pilot of the show will star "three University of Southern California cheer squad friends challenged to spend the night in a supposedly haunted abandoned hospital and compete for a $10,000 cash prize." Now I'm guessing the girls must be enrolled at the University in order to wave pom poms in celebration of males fighting over a ball, but the show's press release stresses that the girls will not be bringing any scholarly brainpower to this mental duel with the unknown: "Most who dare take on the spirit world are experienced paranormal warriors, who have prepped, studied and armed themselves for battle with the nether world. Enter the HOT GIRLS armed with the latest in scientific paranormal equipment (and the hottest new shoes.)"
I'm not exactly sure what constitutes the "latest in paranormal equipment". Has the technology really moved on that much from the ghost-sucking vacuum cleaners that the Ghostbusters used? Anyway, how interesting to see those who have previously "battled" the supernatural are coded as male ("warriors") and used the masculine weapon of reason ("prepped, studied") to do so. The unnecessarily-capitalised "HOT GIRLS" will have this unspecified "equipment" to wield, but how on earth will they know how to use it when they're going to be preoccupied with their sexy footwear?
And the show's catchphrase? "Their mission a simple one: Investigate and look Fabulous doing it." Please bring back Scooby-Doo's Velma, her thick black glasses, and that shocking orange turtleneck sweater!

Twilight (Without the Penetrative Puns)

Within the children's literature community, Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series is decidedly old news. Apart from noticing the recent film at the cinema or the unusual range of "Edward" merchandise in shops, all those who do not inhabit the body of a teenage girl, however, are probably unaware of the reading phenomenon that the series is. Given my interest in girls' books and the gothic, I had to belatedly read this bestselling account of human-vampire love. It took someone else to lend me the whole series (thanks Dr Kristine!), and lots of cryptic discussions about **spoiler alert** the violent birth of a parasitic mutant baby, to place the first book in my hands.

I was disappointed to find that I was not one of those people who was going to be able to spout the "I know it's tripe, but it's so addictive" line. I have concluded book one and I think this will be as far as I can make it. Many people deride Stephen King's writing. I think he writes very well (apart from when he produces something like the sleep-inducing Insomnia), but even he, a man who had his literary initiation via dime novels and horror magazines, has spoken publicly about Meyer's shoddy writing. Sometimes frustrating books can be enticing to read from a critical perspective, but I couldn't even drag that much from the first book.

It is fascinating to read the discussion that the books have prompted, though. Even the fans of the series who were bitterly disappointed by the final title (almost half as many as the 2,000 who have left five-star Amazon reviews) have felt sufficiently aggrieved to write thousand-word explanations expressing their disgust. Feminists have found plentiful examples of Bella's passivity to fuel dozens of blog posts and hundreds of comments. Devoted fans have jumped to Meyer's defense (King's comment provoked more than 1400 online replies, a number from outraged girl readers), and there's currently a poll on the same site with more than 5000 related remarks about whether Twilight is superior to the Harry Potter series. I'd like to champion girls' fiction and speak about how boys' books are universalised while girls' books are ghettoised, but this would be a poor example to choose to champion the merits of girls' fiction. That said, I was still aggrieved by one blog comment that remarked "these are girls' books", as if that explained the myriad gripes that critics have levelled at the series. Even Harlequin Mills and Boon novels do not necessarily have such frustratingly male-obsessed heroines.

What is interesting to me is not whether Meyer's Mormon faith is infused in her choice to depict a chaste-till-marriage turned teen-mom heroine, but why these books have had such a cultural resonance. Vampire stories have been popular at various times and for various cultural reasons throughout the past century, but in Twilight the supernatural serves as a vehicle for, as King has suggested, allowing the safe exploration of thwarted sexual feelings for girl readers. My favourite blog comment had the alias "Dubya": "Twilight is why I was president for eight years." I wonder whether there's more to be drawn out there about the American political climate during the years of Twilight's publication (one in which religious influenced abstinence-focused sexual education seemed to proliferate). This does not entirely explain Twilight's popularity outside the US, however. But something must explain it!

For anyone who has not read Twilight, I would instead recommend this 1718 word summary that is a useful substitute for the novel. The humour in it is also partial compensation for those who have suffered through the book.