Tag Archives: Stories and the societal discourse

Writing for Children

Yesterday, I went to a lecture on children’s books, organized by the local chapter of IBBY (http://www.ibby.org/) and the national museum for children’s books. It’s a yearly lecture, in which a locally famous author of children’s books  is given the opportunity to speak on something they greatly care about.

Most of my work is for adults, some for young adults, and rarely I write something intended for children. But academically, I am fascinated by books and stories targeting children. So even though I tend to feel like I am the only person that does not know everyone else in the room, I tend to attend this lecture almost every year. The lecture tends to be funny, interesting and it tends to make me think. This year’s lecture was no exception.

This year, the author spoke about the role of children and those that work for children in our society. She argued that children are not being taken serious enough, and by extension, people that work for children aren’t either. People blog on the negatives of baby’s, without paying attention to the positives, and tend to wave off things that are mayor discoveries for children as things that are given, because they already know them. A lot of people have forgotten what is was like to be a child. Because of all this, a lot of people do not see the value in working for children. They think it is easier, and less important. And this is a shame, since today’s children are tomorrows adults, and they can’t be successful adults without learning and exploring today. And working for children isn’t easier, it tends to require a similar skill set working for adults does, only it gives you less status and generally lower pay.

This is also true for writing. Writing for adults is allocated much more importance, while the skill set in writing for children is not that different of the skill set required to write for adults. Writers of children’s books, she indicated, are often asked why they write for children. As if it’s a strange choice to make.

Now this is not new information. I have known this pretty much since I first went to college, well over a decade and a half ago. It’s good to stand still and think about it every now and again, though.

In the end, to me, children are probably more important than adults, since they are quite literally our future. The lecture did make me look long and hard at my own behavior. As a mom of a young baby, talking about poo-explosions and vomit comes naturally, especially with a slightly wry humorous note. So does pausing at the marvels of a young being, though. The mesmerizing moments of acquiring and mastering something new. And I make sure I share both sides with those closest to me. But I must mind the balance. My baby is not a burden. To me, she is a gift, someone I get to show the world to. The stories I tell her matter, the books I read with her are important. Probably even more important than the stories I share with other adults.

Women in series and Jessica Jones

I mostly stick to posts about written narratives on this blog, but during the past couple of months I’ve been spending a fair amount of time watching movies and series and there was one that really stuck out for me. I recently finished watching the first season of Jessica Jones, and I need to share my happiness about this series having been created.

It’s a solid story, gritty, noir, with a couple of nice plot twists. It’s an interesting take on super heroes, and the dark sides the concept can bring along. It properly tackles a couple of big issues, like PTSD, consent and sexual violence, in its storylines. They even tackle, which I especially like, a sense of entitlement that people feel towards women smiling. And this is all really, really, cool, and combined with the solid acting makes it a good show, but it’s not why I am this excited about the show’s existence.

The reason I am thrilled about this show, is because it is female driven. It doesn’t just have a female lead, and themes relevant to women’s issues. Most of the main characters are female. The story itself also is about Jessica, who is effectively a female antihero with superpowers. She’s dark, traumatized, drinks a lot and is unapologetically herself. She, and the other female members of the cast, are the driving factors in the story.

There is a ‘test’ applied to movies which assesses the place of women in the movie, the Bechdel-Wallace test. Introduced jokingly in a comic in the 1980’s, it exposed a fairly important issue with a lot of movies. The test is met if there are 1) at least two women in the movie, 2) that talk to each other, 3) about something other than men. This should be easy, right? Realistic female characters talk to each other about all sorts of things all the time. So with an exception for a couple of romcoms where all conversations in the entire movie are about dating, this should not be an issue? Wrong! A shockingly large amount of movies fail this test. If you want to read more on this, you can find more information on https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bechdel_test and http://bechdeltest.com/

Jessica Jones doesn’t just meet the tests criteria. The show flips them. There are very few conversations between men, and most are about women. Men are almost entirely relegated to the parts of eye-candy, sidekick and villain. They’re not empty characters, that have nothing to say, but it’s the women that dominate the show.

Now, I don’t believe that men do not deserve an important and significant role within fiction. I believe both genders deserve this, and that it’s important to show genuine and believable characters on both sides. However, the current discourse, the sum of all movies out there that are being watched and spoken about, is still mostly male dominated. There are A LOT of shows where women can pretty much be replaced by ‘a sexy lamp’. That’s why having a show like this matters. A show that flips expectations. A show that shows the other side of the coin, and that adds a couple of powerful, complicated, jaded female characters that aren’t there to ingratiate themselves to the body of work out there, and to the societal dialogue we have.