Friday, March 19

A bitter pill

Yesterday I spent some time watching a few older documentaries about the pill (yes, that pill). From the modern point of view most thoughts about the pill (from scientists as well as from others) are rather quaint.

There has always been a discussion about the pill. Religious and conservative people have damned it (the Roman Catholic church still does) while feminists and liberals have seen it as a way into freedom (and not just for women). The first official reason for describing the pill was not birth control, but problems with the menstrual circle (a reason why I, too, took the pill for a few years). Later on, here in Germany, it was only described to married women, to lower the number of children per family and give the women some release (as every pregnancy, no matter how well monitored by a doctor, take a certain toll on a woman’s body). By the end of the sixties, unmarried women, too, could get a description. It was a horror for the conservatives and the church in Germany. Women were running around and having sex because they liked it!

Arguments against the pill reached from ‘it’s against nature’ right up to ‘it will create crippled children in two generations’. Against nature the pill might be, but humans aren’t exactly close to nature at all in the industrialized world, are they? It still is not proven, as far as I know, that modern pills (with much less hormones in them than the ones out in the fifties) have anything to do with getting cancer. But then, not much is really known about the reasons why some people develop some sorts of cancer… There are no crippled children around from the use of the pill (that pill, Contagan is a completely different thing).

The change in hormones might have changed the mood of some women in the beginning, but those side effects have been mostly removed by now. The gain of weight doesn’t happen very often, either (I even experienced a slight loss of weight while I last took the pill).

One thing I found rather strange, though, is that some scientists who were against the pill said it would keep a woman feeling like she felt a few days before menstruation (and, women or not, all of you probably know what PMS means, for a woman and all the people around her). I learned at school that the pill actually cheats the body into thinking it’s pregnant. And pregnant women usually feel rather good, apart from some throwing up during the first couple of weeks. (My mother always claimed she never got the morning sickness and the only thing strange happening throughout her pregnancy with me was my foot kicking her belly so hard it actually showed as a little bump sometimes. She then thought she would give birth to a future soccer star.)

Yet the pill is a two-edged sword. While it gives greater freedom to women (especially sexual freedom), it also puts a lot more pressure on young women. Before the pill, a woman always could say ‘I’m not having sex, because I don’t want to get pregnant’, but now there’s the pill and pretty much pressure to take it, so you can lose your virginity early. When I was a teen, the average age at which a girl lost her virginity was around 16, today it’s down to 14 (in Germany). When my mother was a teenager, the age was well above 18. And I’m not sure whether girls should have sex that early…

On the whole, the pill was a good thing for women, but it wasn’t (and still isn’t) without fail.

Wednesday, March 10

Concerning "Tomb Raider"

Ever since the first game that came out in 1996, the computer game series “Tomb Raider” has been discussed by feminists. Lara Croft has been both hate figure and icon – and quite often at the same time. But what is really behind it?

At first, I’d like to tell you something about my own history with Ms. Croft and the games she’s featured in. I’ve played all games so far (even the abysmal “Angel of Darkness”) and I liked them very much (all except “Angel of Darkness”).

The first and foremost argument against Lara Croft is her looks. Yes, she is build a little too good. (Even though in the last three games – “Legend”, “Anniversary” and “Underworld” – she has been recreated slightly more realistic.) And nobody would go exploring the jungle in her clothes. But supermodels aren’t any more realistic in looks, especially if their picture has been through Photoshop.

She also quite often is accused of acting ‘too male’ – which has made some people describe her as a “sergeant major with balloons stuffed up his shirt”. What exactly, though, is acting ‘too male’? Is every woman using a gun (or two at the same time) acting ‘too male’, meaning women can’t fight? Is living the kind of life she wants to live ‘too male’? She’s a rich heiress and member of British nobility, if she can’t live the live she wants to, who can?

The same arguments, though, can also be used to turn Ms. Croft into a feminist icon. She looks good, but she doesn’t give the impression of doing it ‘for the boys’. (I know there’s been a time when you couldn’t wear make-up and call yourself a feminist. But, really, we should be over that by now.) She can fight and is not afraid of going up against men (or monsters … or demons … or gods). She lives her life the way she wants to.

Now I’d like to tell you something about Ms. Croft which not everyone knows. First of all, Ms. Croft was supposed to be a man when the creation of the game was started. But a male archaeologist in an action-packed and mythical adventure? Everyone would have screamed “Indiana Jones lookalike” at the top of their voices. So the developers redesigned the main character and turned him into a woman the called Lara Cruz for a start. Ms. Cruz already displayed most physical traits still associated with Ms. Croft today: the well-shaped figure, the long braid, the basic outfit. But the developers were British and they wanted their main character to be more British, too. So they sat down with a phone book and ran through a list of real names. Lara Croft made it. Ms. Cruz turned into Ms. Croft, but the looks stayed.

I won’t say Lara’s gender and looks did not influence the success of the games. She’s been through 9 adventures so far and the series has run for over 13 years. She has, as one of only a few games heroes, made it successfully from game to movie screen. (Most movies based on video games aren’t very successful.) She has had a long-running comic series. Some of the success may come from the fact that she’s a good-looking woman. But even more of it comes from the great design of the games with their breath-taking and difficult levels. (I’ve replayed the first level of “Underworld” yesterday and gazed once more at the enormous hall with the octopus in the middle of it.) Because those huge levels have been the trademark of the series from the very first part, setting the game apart from other action games of this time.

So, what is Ms. Croft? A plaything for male gamers? A feminist icon? She can hardly be both, can she?

Well, in a way she can. Every main character of a computer game is a plaything for the gamers. After all, it’s the main character you control while playing the game. So, not only Lara is a plaything, so are all the characters of “Street Fighter”, “Mass Effect” and many other games. Lara might be more attractive than some, but that’s not really the point. And only very few game characters have survived in the industry for over ten years. There is Super Mario and there is Sonic – both of which have become icons of the companies developing them. An Italian plumber and a blue hedgehog…

Is she a feminist icon, then? She is a self-assured, attractive and very dangerous person. Fifty or so years ago, nobody would ever have dreamt of such a character. Not a female one, that is. The fact alone that feminists are arguing over her says something: she’s not an ‘average’ being.

When you really get down to it, Ms. Croft is a game character, not a real person. She is a product of feminism and might also be a feminist icon. Apart from that: She’s not real!

Monday, March 8

Poor Boys

I’m watching a discussion on TV about Feminism (and its impact on the poor, little boys) while I write this. By now, quite some people bemoan the fact that the new schooling in Germany puts the boys at a huge disadvantage.

Fact is that many abilities wanted by employers today are feminine to a certain degree. The ability to work in a team (without the aggressive competition men often seem to display), the ability to understand another person’s feelings (men don’t admit they have feelings, at least in the past) and so on. Those are abilities that were readily marked feminine in the past, by men who never needed those abilities and thought them a weakness (or something). Now, I don’t think team play was amiss among the hunters in the Bronze Age (some of which, as scientists think today, have been women, too). Nor was it a bad thing for soldiers of any age to have. And team sports wouldn’t work without people working together in a team.

But back to the boys. A long time they had it easy – feminists say –, because they were treated better at school and the whole process of learning was optimized for their needs (it wasn’t, by the way, sitting still and listening is something girls have always been better at). Now girls seem to be on the fast lane, passing the boys by and leaving them behind with bad jobs (or no jobs at all).

But are they really? There are a lot more female students around these days, even in classical ‘male’ studies like engineering. They mostly have the safer jobs (meaning the jobs with less hazards around, usually office jobs). But they also do a lot of bad paid work. And in the heights of upper management women still are mostly to be found as secretaries, not as managers. Women still make less money for the same work, too.

People – mostly men, naturally – now claim that the poor boys who will, one day, have to care for a family, can’t get better job and are inferior to the girls in school. And not, because, maybe, girls simply are better students, but because the school system keeps the boys down. Because there are only women taking care of children in kindergarten and primary school.

But why are there only women caring for children in kindergarten and primary school? Because being a caregiver in kindergarten is considered ‘women’s work’ and most men who study to become a teacher want to work in the higher versions of German secondary school (there are three different types of secondary school in Germany). So it’s not ‘we’re keeping men away from these jobs’, it’s more like ‘there are no men around who want those jobs, so we give them to women instead’. Do not misunderstand me here, I think both jobs, caregiver and teacher at primary school are extremely important jobs. The society, however, sees it differently.

New studies actually claim there’s no disadvantage to a boy who spent his early years with female teachers at all. Just as there’s no disadvantage (or advantage) to a girl who spent her early years with a male teacher (but that’s more difficult to prove, because there are less of those around). The school system might favour girls nowadays, but the strange thing is: it hasn’t changed much during the last forty or fifty years. So why do girls suddenly do that much better?

There are programs for them, those in favour of the boys say. There are programs, alright, but they usually focus on making up for disadvantages or simply opening new routes for girls. For example, there’s the “Girl’s Day” every year which is supposed to allow girls to look into jobs beyond the usual ‘women’s jobs’ horizon. There have been experiments to separate the girls from the boys during various classes (science classes like chemistry, physics or biology), in order to give the girls ‘more room’ to outgrow the outdated idea of women being unable to do well in these classes.

But what about those programs or ideas could actually harm a boy’s education? All the jobs girls get to look into at the “Girl’s Day” have been open to boys for as long as they existed. And just because one half of the class is missing (the girls), the other half won’t do worse than before. Where’s the harm in it for the boys?

Is it, one might ask, the simple fact that girls are no longer kept back? For ages, one of the main principle of education was ‘girls don’t need higher education, because they will marry and have children and thus stay at home where they don’t need it’. Girls from ‘better society’, mostly the wealthy middle class, might study something for a while – either to find a husband or simply to pass time between school and marriage. Those girls usually went for courses in arts like literature, music or art history. They didn’t need to learn something they could earn money with.

Ever since the late sixties and early seventies, since women’s liberation and feminism started up ‘for real’, this has changed. Almost all girls learn a profession these days, many of them will later on, even as married women, should they chose to marry, continue to work, simply to make ends meet.

So what would the solution to these poor boys be? Take it all back? Make sure girls receive less education and are banned (as they once were) from most really good jobs? Wouldn’t it be wiser to make sure the boys understand they need to work as hard as the girls and accept that sometimes a girl might be better than them – without giving up, just because it’s ‘all so unfair’?