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I enjoyed this column on memos to Hollywood in the NY Times today, if only for this bit:
To: John Lasseter

From: Manohla Dargis

I’m psyched that you and the guys at Pixar Animation Studios are finally making a movie with a girl as the lead character and with a woman as director, no less — another first for you! Congrats! Of course we have to wait until 2011 to see “The Bear and the Bow,” but on behalf of 51 percent of the population, I salute you.

I've been bitching for years that The Incredibles was the only Pixar movie that passed the Bechdel test, and that most Pixar movies don't even have main female characters.

Despite our free movie passes -- and our desire to see as many movies as possible before October -- I've only seen three movies in the theater in 2009 so far. Usually we're good at seeking out the lesser-known and indie movies, but this year seems like a dry spell so far. And the only summer movies I'm looking forward to are Julie and Julia and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

So what would you add to the memos? And what movies are out there that I've missed this year?
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The eeee! and I had a lovely and low-key Valentine's Day. We met friends for ice cream, made coq au vin and polenta for dinner (with pound cake and strawberries for dessert), and watched several first-season episodes of 30 Rock. Whee!

I have lots of work to do today, but yesterday was so wonderfully refreshing.

On Friday night we saw Coraline in 3D, which has the dubious distinction of being the only movie I've seen so far this year that passes the Bechdel test. Sigh. Anyway, it was quite good. I particularly loved the way the music added to the atmosphere of it. It's a great movie to watch on a rainy day (the way that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban is a great movie to watch on a snowy day).

Despite going to a late-ish showing -- 7:30 p.m. -- there were a ton of kids in the theater. And once the movie started, they were all dead silent. I was really impressed by that.

Hope you're all having great weekends!
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Last year I saw many more movies than I usually do, and I thought I'd see how they fare on the Bechdel Test. Of the 26 movies I saw, 8 definitely passed it, 13 absolutely failed it, and I'm unsure about the remaining five, which is not a good sign.

My TV-watching is a little better: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are both male-heavy in terms of correspondents and guests, but Chuck is the only other show I watch on a regular basis that fails it. (Oh, wait, Flight of the Concords. Okay, so I'm looking at about a 60% pass rate here.*) The Office only squeaks by, but a pass is a pass.

This may sound petty, but it's not a lot to ask of a movie or TV show. If we flip it around -- two male characters talking to each other, and not about a woman -- then only four of those movies fail it, plus two more I'm unsure about. 38% passing vs. 83% passing (ignoring the unsures). Of the TV shows I watch, 100% passing the inverse test. That's pretty sad. I really thought it would be higher than that.

* Other shows I watch that pass: Big Love, The Office, 30 Rock, Top Chef, Mad Men, Project Runway, and Lost (no spoilers! I haven't seen the season premiere yet).
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I put the pictures of my comments on the Physics Today letters on Flickr, starting here. Enjoy, I suppose!

Right now I'm avoiding writing Christmas cards while watching A Muppet Christmas Carol. Whee!

The eeee! gets back in 48 hours. Yay! I'm really happy about this, and not just because in the past two weeks I've set a potholder on fire and melted a spatula to a frying pan.

Tomorrow night is the grad student holiday party, and then on Saturday I'm going down to my parents' for the day for our family Christmas party. That is a looong round trip for one day, but luckily I'm carpooling with a few cousins. But before tomorrow night I have to buy crackers and cheese (family party) and wine (grad party) and a general gift-exchange gift (grad party) and a fruit basket gift (family party) and a birthday card (family party). Ack!

Oh well. Some hot chocolate will probably hit the spot right now.
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I just spent about half an hour editing the letters in the Dec. 06 issues of Physics Today. With a motherfucking red sharpie. And hung it up on my office door.

Damn, that felt good.

And now, back to work, which I will clearly fail at because I'm not a math genius! And because I'm genetically predisposed to a more people-oriented career! And because my biological rhythm doesn't match my career and I'm going to go extinct anyways! (. . . what?)

Meg Cabot!

Jan. 3rd, 2006 08:42 pm
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I totally love Meg Cabot for her ranty letters, and especially for her entry about feminism.

Not that I'm going to read The Princess Diaries any time soon. But I want to go to Key West and drink margaritas and watch Gilmore Girls with Meg Cabot.
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I started reading Pope Joan, by Donna Cross, and so far it's pretty good -- much better than the other books out there about apocryphal Church history. The book begins with Joan's birth, and as a child she's the only girl studying at the seminary with a group of boys. A woman in a man's world -- does this sound familiar?

I'm keeping this reading journal in part to see how my life is intertwined with the books I read, but this is getting ridiculous.

Then again, which is the cause and which is the effect? Do I keep reading books about successful women who overcame whatever obstacles because I'm working in a male-dominated field, or have I made it this far in a male-dominated field because I've been reading about successful women for my entire life? I remember when I was a kid, I went through the biography section alphabetically (yes, this was before reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), and so I read tons of biographies of Abigail Adams, Jane Addams, Louisa May Alcott, and Clara Barton. Er, don't know why I didn't make it even to the C's, but Florence Nightingale and Molly Pitcher and Eleanor Roosevelt were also in the mix.

I'm sure several of those books were courtesy of my mother, who never missed a chance to say, "Did you see that there's a woman governor/star athlete/shuttle commander/whatever?" It never occurred to me that I couldn't do something just because I was a girl, and a large part of that was because of my parents, but perhaps the books reinforced that view. And hell, a few days after talking to my mom about being discouraged about the chances of having both a family and a career in academia, How Jane Won arrived in the mail.

Clearly my mother knows me.
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I haven't read much science fiction, and what little I've read was all set on Earth, so reading The Left Hand of Darkness, by Ursula K. Le Guin, was a bit of a revelation for me. I'd never realized how much fun it could be to completely make up biology, geography, climate, and mythology for a new world, and then throw in an Earthican (tm Futurama) Envoy and see how he deals with it. You still have political intrigue, man against the elements, friendship, and the isolation of the outsider, but then this throws in the added kink of (lack of) gender and sex drive. (Really, this is such a rich book that I could talk about it for hours, but I'll stick with the parts I can relate to me, because it's All About Me.)

The premise is that the Gethenians are effectively genderless for about 85% of the time, but for a few days each month go into kemmer, at which point the gender they develop is either random, or in response to a companion already in kemmer. Ai, the Envoy, speculates as to how this affects the global politics of the world, but I was more interested in how the characters from Earth viewed the Gethenians on a personal level. The first few are appalled at their inability to classify Gethenians as "male" or "female", and must (gasp!) treat them on an individual level. Meanwhile, Ai originally despises the feminine characteristics he perceives in the various leaders, but eventually grows to see them as (gasp!) individuals -- to the point where he is uncomfortable when encountering male and female humans.

All these gender perception issues really stood out for me, especially because just yesterday I went to a talk about women and the future of physics. The speaker, Howard Georgi, didn't really say anything I didn't already know, but it was one of the only times I'd seen a male physicist talking with other male physicists about why physics needs women. Maybe for some men, the arguments are more persuasive from another man, so I guess for that reason alone it was a good talk -- I didn't learn anything new, but maybe there were some professors who finally got the message. One of Georgi's more persuasive points was that making physics more friendly for women results in it also being more friendly towards men -- you don't need a "hypermacho" attitude and a swagger to succeed. But one of the biggest things his talk boiled down to was making sure to treat all the students like individuals.

Treat people like individuals. That seems so obvious, yet in both cases here it's almost revolutionary. I thought this was supposed to be the 21st century -- flying cars and an end to sexism/racism/homophobia/etc. Why is it that we'll probably see the flying cars first?

March 2013



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