May 1, 2013

Sexism, censorship and the internet

Posted in Susan's Blog tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , at 8:00 am by Susan

 It now seems impossible not to engage with networking sites such as facebook. As more and more family members and friends sign up, facebook offers a way to stay in touch. There are also professional reasons to join. As I discovered recently while working with Moving Stories Theatre on the play of Vanessa and Virginia, networking sites are crucial in spreading the word.

For most of us, posting on our facebook wall or following the activities of those we accept as friends are safe and positive experiences.

But there is another, more alarming side to some of these sites.

The adverse effect facebook can have on teenagers is now well documented. They may be exposed to predatory adults, and there are concerns over the amount of time some spend on virtual relationships at the expense of live social interactions. Photos are frequently posted without permission which an individual might not like but cannot remove. Sometimes these images are edited through facilities such as photoshop with grotesque results. For a novel about the devastating consequences this can have on young people, read Ali Smith’s The Accidental.

There are other problems too. Facebook has content guidelines, but these can be reactionary when it comes to sexuality and gender. Pro-rape facebook groups may form without impunity, but a mother can no longer post pictures of herself breastfeeding her baby. It seems the female body is only acceptable when it is displayed for sexual titillation. Photos of breasts can appear as long as the nipple is hidden by a scrap of bikini. A baby’s suckling mouth will not do. Pictures of gay men kissing with the word ‘censored’ stamped across them are common – even if facebook eventually removes the label in response to protest. The fact that facebook censorship is implemented by poorly-paid workers in cultures where sexism and homophobia abound does not help.

There is a Big Brother quality to the internet. I felt for the actress who tried and failed to prevent amazon from broadcasting her date of birth because of ageist attitudes to women in the media. It seems wrong that such information should be posted without consent when here in Britain employers may not ask a job applicant their age.

A year or so ago I wrote a horrified blog about the lack of women in David Fincher’s film about the creation of facebook, The Social Network. Now, though I still don’t like it, I view it differently. I think it offers insights into some of what is wrong with the internet. The film highlights how facebook was founded by a group of undeniably gifted but immature and socially inept young men. And if one recent survey can be relied upon, that under twenty-six, predominantly male demographic of facebook employees has not significantly changed.

For google, at first glance the maths isn’t too bad. The male/female ratio of those working for the company is purportedly 70:30. What this figure doesn’t indicate is the proportion who wield influence. That percentage is rather different. Only one of the eleven-strong team advising Google leader Larry Page following a reshuffle in August 2012, it seems, is a woman.

Source: The New York Times

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November 1, 2012

Katherine Mansfield’s Legacy

Posted in Susan's Blog tagged , , , , , , , , at 8:29 am by Susan

On October 14th, the day of Katherine Mansfield’s birthday, I took part in a celebration organised by the Katherine Mansfield Society in the Keynes Library in London’s Bloomsbury, with writers Ali Smith and Salley Vickers.

The theme of this year’s birthday lecture was Mansfield’s ‘legacy’, to which Sally Vickers responded by outlining the impact Mansfield has had on her and Ali Smith with a short story in which Mansfield repeatedly appears.

2012 has been an important year for Katherine Mansfield’s legacy. Chris Mourant, a Ph. D. student at King’s College London, came across four hitherto unknown stories while working in the archive of the college library. His find includes ‘A Little Episode’, which has already shed new light on Mansfield’s turbulent relationships with Garnet Trowell (with whom she became pregnant) and George Bowden (a singing teacher she married and left on the same day).

The Alexander Turnbull Library in Wellington has acquired six boxes of materials purchased from the family of John Middleton Murry, Mansfield’s husband from 1918 until her death in 1923. These contain drafts and fragments of stories and poems, little known and unpublished letters, notes in Mansfield’s hand, many photographs, her passport, favourite recipes – even a clutch of flowers pressed while on holiday in France. The library’s commitment to making these publicly available should lay to rest the saccharine, saintly figure Middleton Murry tried to turn his wife into after her death. Even Mansfield’s biographers have had only limited access to the materials these boxes contain.

Finally, this month, to celebrate her birthday, Edinburgh University Press launch the publication of the two-volume The Collected Fiction of Katherine Mansfield edited by Gerri Kimber and Vincent O’Sullivan. This is the first chronologically presented and complete edition of the fiction, including many hitherto uncollected or rarely seen stories and prose fragments.

It was a privilege as well as a pleasure to hear Ali Smith and Salley Vickers pay tribute to the extraordinary legacy of Katherine Mansfield, and to participate in the lively discussion that followed.

The Katherine Mansfield Society has copies of a specially produced booklet from the Birthday Lecture for sale here