Saturday, November 17, 2007


(Get us out from under, Wonder Woman)

The annual Gender Gap Index report (PDF) has been released by The World Economic Forum. Their press release states:

World makes progress on economic, political and education gaps; loses ground on health gaps.
"Geneva, Switzerland, Thursday 8 November – Four Nordic countries, Sweden (1), Norway (2), Finland (3) and Iceland (4) once again top the latest Gender Gap Index released today by the World Economic Forum. All countries in the top 20 made progress relative to their scores last year – some more so than others. Latvia (13) and Lithuania (14) made the biggest advances among the top 20, gaining six and seven places respectively, driven by smaller gender gaps in labour force participation and wages.

The performance of the United States (31) was mixed over the last year – its scores on political empowerment improved but this was offset by a bigger gap on economic participation – causing the United States to lose 6 places relative to its rank in 2006."

I've copied in the top 30 countries listed with their 2007 and 2006 ranks below:

Country -- Rank 2007 -- Rank 2006
Sweden -- 1 -- 1
Norway -- 2 -- 2
Finland -- 3 -- 3
Iceland -- 4 -- 4
New Zealand -- 5 -- 7
Philippines -- 6 -- 6
Germany -- 7 -- 5
Denmark -- 8 -- 8
Ireland -- 9 -- 10
Spain -- 10 -- 11
United Kingdom -- 11 -- 9
Netherlands -- 12 -- 12
Latvia -- 13 -- 19
Lithuania -- 14 -- 21
Sri Lanka -- 15 -- 13
Croatia -- 16 -- 16
Australia -- 17 -- 15
Canada -- 18 -- 14
Belgium -- 19 -- 20
South Africa -- 20 -- 18
Moldovia -- 21 -- 17
Cuba -- 22 -- n/a
Belarus -- 23 -- n/a
Colombia -- 24 -- 22
Lesotho -- 26 -- 43
Austria -- 27 -- 27
Costa Rica -- 28 -- 30
Namibia -- 29 -- 38
Estonia -- 30 -- 29
United States -- 31 -- 29

(“The Ring of Nibelung” by Arthur Rackham)

The Daily Texan at the University of Texas here in Austin reported last week about the effect of feminist writers on fairy tales.

Giving a talk on campus, fairy tale scholar Jack Zipes stated "The feminist movement made its way into fairy tale writing between 1979 and 1983, Zipes said. He said that during this period, male and female writers began an important dialogue about what constituted a fairy tale. As a reaction to sexist, racist and classist leanings of canonical tales, feminist writers began to subvert the older stories and create new ones."

The depressing aspect of this article, of course, is the fact that the prominent years of dialogue and creation are more than two decades ago.

Zipes appears to address this loss when he states "women are still continuing the trend of subverting traditional fairy tales and are also conceiving new ideas. He said influences can be seen in blockbuster animated movies like the 'Shrek' trilogy or 'Happily N'ever After.'

'The better writers of fairy tales - whether they're men or women - are trying to cope with the fact that our notions, our stereotypes of men and women fail us and they're lies, they're illusions and so on,' he said. 'But they don't want to abandon the work of the fairy tale or the fantasy.' Zipes said he is optimistic about younger generations taking up the cause."

My optimism was diminished by the fact that the first commenter on this article was a male expressing ridicule and disbelief about the very idea.

In a somewhat related story, Natasha at Homo Academicus applies the Alison Bechdel Rule to Pixar films for children.

The three characteristics of the Alison Bechdel Rule for watching movies (which, according to Alison, should actually be the Liz Wallace Rule):
1. There must be two or more women in it
2. Who talk to each other,
3. About something other than a man.
Some variants include the stipulation that the women have names.

Using this analysis, Natasha finds that childrens' films have 28% female characters.

Disturbing as this is, it gets worse. Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon points out that in recent children's movies, entire species have undergone " make sure that male primacy is preserved": The female-dominant reality of bees and ants is reversed in Bee Movie, Antz, and A Bug's Life, and cows with udders are still given male personas in Barnyard.

The usual explanation for this idiocy is that little girls will watch anything but little boys have to see males in charge or else their heads will explode -- as if children are born with either open minds (girls) and 1950's-era biases (boys). Reminds me of the great Peter Alsop song, "It's Only A Wee-Wee":

As soon as you’re born grown-ups check where you pee
And then they decide just how you’re s'posed t'be
Girls pink and quiet, boys noisy and blue
Seems like a dumb way to choose what you’ll do...

It’s only a wee-wee, so what’s the big deal?
It’s only a wee-wee, so what’s all the fuss?
It’s only a wee-wee, and everyone’s got one
There’s better things to discuss!!

Oops. Yet another harkback to 1981, when feminism could still discuss the actual meaning of sexism. Gee, it's too bad movies for children or adults with strong female leads are simply not interesting to boys and men.

For a different kind of yardstick, how about the River Tam Rule as demonstrated in this XKCD cartoon? (Thx to Angry For A Reason for the link -- click on cartoon to see a larger version.)

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