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Friday, February 24, 2006

The voice of the patriarchy?

Last night I was watching Ten Years Younger, one of the most terrifying programmes on TV at the moment. For those who haven’t seen it, Ten Years Younger takes ‘old and tired’ women, mainly, and transforms them through cosmetic surgery and dentistry, make-up, hair styles and new clothes. It’s probably the most extreme makeover show made in the UK (I have seen US made Extreme Makeover – and that’s pretty fucking horrifying too). However I’m not going to go on about cosmetic surgery and perception of old age etc, I’m actually interested in the male narrator of the show.

Ten Years Younger is presented by a woman (who is early 30s max), and it is narrated by a man. The show does occasionally ‘make over’ men (I think, though I’ve never seen one myself) but the overwhelming majority of its makeover candidates are women.

The choice to use a male narrator is interesting in this context. Is he the ‘voice of the patriarchy’ passing male judgement over these women who may be going through this makeover for culturally, and thus patriarchally, defined reasons?

I am not opposed to male narration of such shows per se, just interested in why such a choice was made. I don’t think that they should change narrator or presenter to suit the gender of the makeover subject, but due to the larger number of women subjects on this particular show the choice of narrator initially is cause for thought.

A technique employed in this show is for the narrator to be the bridge to the viewer, and as such often the voice of the viewer, reflecting what the shows creators think the audience may be thinking about the show at any given moment.

For example he may make comments such as:
“As women know, makeup can be our best friend”

This is a strange sentence construction to come from a man – firstly he’s not a woman and the pronouns don’t match as they would if a woman read this sentence, and he also refers to makeup as ‘our’ best friend, thus including himself. He also refers to ‘us’ throughout the show when talking about a female makeover candidate and the procedures she goes through such as cosmetic surgery, makeovers, haircuts. Viewers know that men generally do not wear makeup – so by including himself in this statement via the word ‘our’ this narrator is familiarising himself with women and their bodies, whilst being obviously removed from their experieinces.

This kind of construction continues through out the show, the male narrator reading lines that sound as if they were written to be read by a woman.

I am interested now to see how many other makeover shows, with a focus more heavily on women, are narrated by men. Is this a constant? Does the male narrator function as the judging ‘male’ the woman is trying to appease?

It would be interesting to see what the audience viewing figures for the show are by gender. I would guess that mostly women watch it, but maybe I am wrong. Maybe men watch it predominantly, thus the male narrator, or maybe they hope more men will watch it, and the male narrator has been chosen in a attempt to make it more relevant to them.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

It's not quite science, but I like it.

I came across an interesting page via I Am Bored today – it compares 31 American 7th grade students’ descriptions and drawings of scientists before and after a visit to a laboratory.

There were 17 boys and 14 girls in the group. All 17 boys drew and described MALE scientists before their visit. Nine girls drew MALE scientists before their visit and 5 drew FEMALE scientists.

After their visit to the lab they wrote a new paragraph about scientists and drew another drawing to represent them. All 17 boys drew MALE scientists after their visit, where as 6 girls drew MALE and 7 girls drew FEMALE scientists (one girl drew both a man and a woman – though it’s unclear if they’re both meant to be scientists, so I’ve excluded her from the ‘after’ count).
This may indicate a wider dominant schema children have for scientist as MALE. This may be due to lower levels of women having science based careers, or to less successful women scientists being publically proclaimed. It may also indicate that girls meeting female scientists then identify women as scientists predominantly. Also this doesn't include social sciences (domainated by women in my experieince) - perhaps they're not considered to be real sciences?

But, the children may have been asked to drawn the specific person they met and the boys may not have met female scientists on their visit. Some of the children may also be drawing representations of themselves as scientists. Also I had to guess at a gender of a couple of the kids because they had androgynous names. I had to guess at a couple of the drawings too because again they were androgynous.

This is interesting in itself – are these children trying to represent a ‘scientist’ free from the usual gender rules?

The drawings are cute, go have a gander.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Zine vs Blog

Me and Him have been devouring the stack of zines* I picked up at the Manchester Zinefest on the weekend. Reading the zines, all produced by women (the purpose of going to the fest was to research for Subtext, hence the women focussed zine buying) I’ve been inspired again to take Subtext to the masses. I’ve also been inspired by the zine creators soul baring.

Soul baring, and talking about oneself is often termed ‘navel gazing’ in the blogging community – yet these zines are some of the most interesting and inspirations, so are navel gazing blogs. For a lot of people I think navel gazing has negative connotations, however I think it’s one of the most interesting and inspiring aspects of blogging – being able to relate to the writer, sharing thoughts and ideas, a personal form of expression, catharsis.

The zinefest also encouraged me to think about blogging in terms of zines. Are blogs the equivalent of techno zines? They can be created by anyone, they’re about anything, they often renounce state copyright laws. They’re free. People blog because they feel compelled for some reason to do so.

How then do blogs compare to zines, are they a better form of self publishing? Well, blogs cost nothing to set up, they are distributed to anyone who wants to search for them. Networking among bloggers is far quicker and easier. The internet allows people from all over the world to access your thoughts and ideas, not just people in your local region or people who go to the right places (they’re often sold in coffee shops or via distribution networks). Blogs can be updated instantaneously with new ideas and thoughts relating to right now. Feedback, ideas and discussion grow much faster in the blogging world than would ever be possible through zines.

However I’m a lover of the printed word. I like to hold my reading material in my hand, take it with me, share it with friends. Blogs can’t be read in the bath, or in bed. Unless you’re a tip-top-techy you can’t read them on the train. You can’t leave your blog in a coffee shop for the next customer to pick up and browse. For those of us who are technically challenged, zines allow for much greater expression of creativity through layout, colour, font and images. They can change page by page. This also lends a personal quality to zines that’s had to recreate via blogs.

Zines then offer a personal touch, allow greater creativity and can be taken with you wherever you go. It’s much more difficult for blogs to achieve these things. However blogs are instant, ideas are fresh, feedback and ideas take on a life of their own as they spread through the blogging community.

I’m a sucker for old-timey things, and will always cherish a zine that can be held in my hands or stored on my bookshelf. Blogs are more transient, their ideas more difficult to look back at. The writing in both, though, I believe is a gift.

*zines are home made, home photocopied, self distributed ‘scene’ magazines, usually closely related to the punk and anarcho-punk movement, but not exclusively. They can be written/drawn/created by anyone or any group inspired to do so. They can be about anything and everything. They often offer their work to the public domain (renouncing their copyright ownership). Sometimes they’re free, sometimes they’re a couple of pounds.