Gender Theory and its Impact

This week appears to be ‘gender week’.  At University, today’s Research Skills seminar was on feminism and gender studies; tonight’s inaugural Popular Culture lecture is on masculinity (amongst other things) in James Bond.  On the radio on Monday there was a (lighthearted) discussion about male and female brains.  Via Twitter yesterday I read an article about language and gender: interesting moreso because our Research Skills class is for ‘language’ students (well, students in Cultures, Languages and Area Studies, so predominantly language students of some sort).

In exciting news, it does appear there is a ‘term’ or two for who I am, but it’s problematic outside of the academic sphere.  Also problematic was a fellow (non-native English speaker) postgrad’s use of the term ‘deviant’, although that in itself led to an exciting discussion about language use, lack of language capable of describing things and even the use of language to include as a means to degrade.

The first article I read was by Halberstam on female masculinity.  Unsurprisingly, I immediately picked up on the tomboy parts of the article and would now like to refer to myself as a perpetual tomboy (as if perpetual student was not enough): Halberstam talks about tomboyishness as avoiding adultness, specificlally adult feminism.  The fields I operate in (roleplayers, SF addicts etc.) are full of people who don’t want to ‘grow up’ in many varied ways, and it is also a very accepting, diverse field, which I think helps.

So, now you’re prepared as my stereotyped diversity-accepting public, here’s my other identifier: queer.  Not queer in the ‘popular’ sense (non-heterosexual), but queer in the ‘academic’, gender sense.  Nonconformist.  Contrary.  More than ‘a bit’ different.  It’s nice to know someone’s thought of me and I’m not the only one: sometimes it’s nice to have a pigeonhole to go to.  I like the German language explanation (same root) using quer, across, which is pretty accurate: just because I like planes and wargaming, and usually dress in men’s clothes and enjoy power doesn’t mean I’m attracted to women or don’t enjoy looking like a woman sometimes (although, again, that’s a power thing because it shocks).

Halberstam did go on to say (s)he* was not going to investigate heterosexual female masculinity in the article I read as there wasn’t much of it about, so I’m still in the ‘a bit weird’ category for some things!  But at least I don’t have to suffice with describing myself merely as ‘heterosexual female’ anymore, although maybe I will stick with ‘perpetual tomboy’ outside of academia…

So what about gender in my research?  That’s got to be important, right?  Oh yes, and I did come up with lots of interesting stuff while doing the reading for the seminar, not least from Flax.  I am not, however, going to attempt to include much in my research for the following reasons:

  1. It’s only a Masters and I can’t afford to include too much beyond the direct topic: it risks taking over.
  2. I have more personal interest than professional interest so I’ll leave the gender theorising to more qualified people.
  3. It is something I don’t know much about in the Russian context, nor am I sure where I’d even begin to find out.

I’m not going to ignore it: that would be stupid.  But I think it is important to not dwell on it too long as I don’t want to get sidetracked.  It is important, and there are so many aspects to it in Western metal (female participation, female fans, androgyny, homosexual lyrics…), but it’s not something I can afford much time on and I know I would be horribly unfocussed, as I often am when I’m interested in something from a personal level but not really as an academic.

So, now I have reviewed feminism and it’s James Bond reference (GoldenEye), let’s see what Nathan Waddell has to say about Bond and masculinity.

* Halberstam was a woman when the article I read was written, and is now a man.

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My First Month (Back)

I have been attending University as a postgraduate researcher for four weeks now, so I feel an update on progress is in order.

Things have not really settled down yet: it was my birthday Monday and prior to that there were many other interruptions to contend with: Vulcan tours, my parents visiting, friends visiting…  On top of only discovering at the last minute there’s a whole raft of seminars and workshops to attend, rather than the half-dozen I’d been led to expect by everyone and everything (not erroneously, either!), things have been rather busy.

It was quite useful, then, to ‘attend’ the second ECR Chat of the academic year on ‘Dealing with Competing Demands’, during which I was notably multitasking on watching Twitter and playing in Matt’s roleplaying game.  This week’s training workshop also touched on multitasking and time-management, two things I have become very proficient in recently: I have created a timetable of my entire life until the start of January!  And only that far because I don’t know yet what’s really happening beyond.

Things will settle better from this weekend onwards: less visitors, less touring, less nights out.  Yes, nights out: RusSoc and RPGSoc have had a few events I’ve attended which have been out in town, with a few more this week.  At least the RusSoc ones involved a considerable amount of Russian practice.

Another large chunk of Russian practice came when I had to go to London to have my fingerprints digitally (ha ha!) taken for my Russian visa.  Sitting in the waiting area of the Russian National Tourist Office meant I was exposed to Russian (at a level I could understand), and mine and Matt’s trip to the Cosmonauts exhibition at the Science Museum straight after involved a lot of trying to work out not only what words meant, but also semi-obscured handwriting.  At least it was all post-revolution Cyrillic this time!

With all this gallivanting about, I don’t feel like I’ve really done much.  I have, though: part of my ‘research’ is preparing for this research trip to Russia, so those hours spent writing interview requests and emailing them (or, in some cases, messaging on Facebook) are ‘counted’, as are at least some of those spent going to London, applying for my visa etc.  And I have had time to squeeze in a little bit (maybe a half-hour?) of ‘real’ research preparation.  Which is nothing, but I also know that won’t last: I’m only four weeks in, and week six sees the start of the time I have time.

I think I’ve mostly been semi-demoralised by the lack of progress as compared to other times: even my second undergraduate degree, which was similar to this in that it was part-time and I was working otherwise full-time, but being taught meant I ‘progressed’ much quicker.

Another similarity between my BSc and this MA is the feeling of isolation, which is not entirely anyone’s fault.  I might have kept in contact with the Department since 2006, but things have undeniably changed, not least the format of what I’m doing.  I have tried to make friends, mostly outside of the Department because I think it’s easier to make friends within, but even within the Department and my peer group I find it hard because we’re all working on our own projects, I’m not often in the Department or on the same campus, I don’t want to follow around the people who attend the same seminars etc. as I do like a lost puppy and, crucially, I’m a bit too independent for my own good.  Which is why I think I feel the need to attend departmental stuff as often as I can.  I was going to attend SlavSoc but it’s all drinking and that’s boring, although they do appear to be trying to start something more inclusive.

Well, hopefully some sort of stability for the next two to three weeks will mean I feel much more settled and much less like I’m floundering in a dark sea…

(Postgraduate) Welcome Week: A Re-Starting Student’s Perspective

Last week was Week One at the University of Nottingham, when students arrive or return to study.  I was in the odd situation of returning to start: I graduated in 2006 but came back this year to start my Masters.  So while I am back in familiar territory, many things are new and even Week One itself was rather unusual.

The sports hall at University Park is currently under renovation, which meant Freshers’ Fair was all up the creek as the fields the marquee has been on for the past eight years was full of construction paraphernalia.  Back in 2002, the Fair was held in the (unextended) Portland Building, but there weren’t 271 societies to squeeze in, so space was at a premium this year as we returned: RPGSoc were initially supposed to be outside with standing room and an allocated interaction space for an hour a day in the Hobbies room, but the atrocious weather on Monday was a godsend: we set up the little table in the room and did what we usually do, only with the ‘come and have a go’ space we’d always wanted.  Our allocated outside space didn’t go to waste either: we sent some LARPers out to show off our ‘public’ face too.

Other than standing around catching the eyes of introverted geeks and asking them what sort of roleplaying appealed to them, I actually had things to do.  As a part-time student, everything there was a bit weird too.  I don’t think I was truly required to attend anything, as they expected me to be away working but as I always have Week One off, it seemed daft not to get involved as much as I could.  I attended four Welcomes: two aimed primarily at Research postgrads, one for just the half-dozen new Russianists (although one was continuing from undergrad and I was sort-of a returner) and one for all CLAS (Cultures, Languages and Area Studies) postgrads.  There was also a welcome party thing for all Russian students, where I met lots of new people, hopefully didn’t scare too many and drank rather a lot of wine.

Thursday I had my ‘admin’ day: I attempted to pick up my student card but Student Services was so rammed I didn’t bother; I found out where the SSAGC (Social Sciences and Arts Graduate Centre), had coffee and biscuits with people much older and much younger than me and introduced myself to lots of postgrad History people; I also had a look around and ate my lunch in the CLAS study area at the bottom of Trent where the Language Learning Centre (not the Language Centre) used to be.

All that remains before I really push on is to get together with my fellow Russian postgrads to find out what’s going on and have my first supervision on Friday.  And that is the scariest part for me: real supervisions with people who care about something I actually care about too!  Wish me luck!

Roleplaying: The Best of Times

I am currently involved in a 5th edition Dungeons & Dragons game on Thursday evenings.  It is probably the best roleplaying game I’ve ever been in, and I’ve only been in one or two bad ones.  It’s a prewritten (published) adventure with a few tweaks and add-ons by Matt (the long-suffering other half).

I usually enjoy Matt’s games, not because he’s my other half or because he runs particularly good games, but because he attracts good people to his games that make them good.  And this group is really very enjoyable: it’s probably the best thing about the game.  I’ve been in different games with just about everyone there and enjoyed those as well.  The character mix is good (maybe not on paper) and there are more in-jokes than the average sixth-form common room.

The game system is very enjoyable too: 5th Edition is neither rules-light nor rules-heavy, it has just the right mix (for me) of freeform roleplaying and appropriately ruled combat.  Notwithstanding that the adventure book was at least partly written without two of the core books being available and makes some very incorrect assumptions.  Thankfully Matt usually has those in hand.

What Matt is not good at is the ad-hoc, off-the-cuff things, like making up names for random unnamed NPCs.  We all know this and constantly ask awkward questions.  It has led to the usual inspirationally-named NPCs we, Matt’s ‘regular’ players, know and love.

My character is an Elf Cleric, a Noble.  I’ve played many Elf Clerics: it’s pretty much my go-to D&D character, which also makes it a good benchmark for testing a system.  The ‘Noble’ part is a new mechanic for D&D: Backgrounds.  I think it adds rules to a ‘flavour’ without being too prescriptive.  it means that people who aren’t as good at the freeform background spiel-making because they’re not as familiar with the dungeon-master’s wishes and ideas or the setting (me, usually: I don’t like to tread on other people’s stories), or simply because they don’t care, have something to form more roleplaying ideas on, while those who are good at that sort of thing get an in-game reward, especially if playing under dungeon-masters who either don’t care for good background themselves, don’t have time to put the effort in or simply don’t want to be seen to favour the more imaginative players.  My Noble background is that my uncle (by marriage) is the King of the Wood Elves.  I can technically, therefore, call myself a princess.

The Elf (Race) part is pretty standard, nothing really new there, although there are variants with actual rules rather than just roleplaying guidelines, which is always nice to see.  It’s the Cleric (Class) part that really stands out for me.

Clerics, for me, have always been a bit weird.  None of the Clerics I’ve played have ever excelled in the ‘turn undead’ stakes, even the pretty charismatic ones (generally the Drow).  Nor were most particularly good at hitting things, and when they were (that Dwarf one, for example), I didn’t really like it.  Even being half-decent at ranged combat was rare.  Casting healing spells was my Clerics’ usual strong point (even the evil ones), and often buffing other characters as well.  I enjoy playing a character who isn’t the be-all and end-all, but without whom the party would crumble.  A strong and necessary support.

I’d like to add an aside here that that’s often how I work in real life: for all my extroverted egotism, I much prefer to be a second-in-command.  And I’m pretty damn good at it, if I do say so myself.

In 5th Edition, I have been very surprised.  Not only is my healing particularly effective (although that is primarily through character tailoring), I can also turn undead rather well, cast offensive spells which actually make a difference and provide support with (rather toned-down) buffs.

I also seem to have made a character who is not only playable, but truly enjoyable to play.  Alatielle’s a bit ditzy, but likeable, but then that’s how I expect a princess who’s spent lots of time with real people to be.  She’s got family issues, but she doesn’t really care (or notice…).  She’s a team player, but prone to irrational and reckless behaviour.  She’s great, I really like her.  But only as a character; I wouldn’t be her best friend: she’s too all-over-the-place!

Worst of all, she fulfils a stereotype.  Girls want to be a princess.  I’m a girl, and I’m playing a princess.  Girls want to be a princess who falls in love with a handsome prince.  Alatielle has formed an intimate relationship with a fellow adventurer, not a prince (probably…) but handsome and mysterious (so the teenage girls’ stereotype now), though I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s the romantic head-over-heels love portrayed in the literature.  Having said that, it’s a been a much more conventional relationship than mine and Matt’s ever was, which is also slightly worrying…

Epidemiia fans will note the significance of my character’s name: worse, her lover’s also a half-elf!  At least he’s not called Dezmond though…