In which I envisage using contemporary CBeebies shows for sexual orientation and gender identity educational purposes. Honestly, I kind of wish they would.

Octonauts
Episode in which Shellington, aka the walking encyclopedia, comes out as non-binary.
Kwazii: “Shiver me whiskers! Who knew you could be a boy AND a girl at the same time?”
Tweak, biting meaningfully into a carrot: “Duh, Kwazii.”

Charlie & Lola
Episode in which Lola decides to be a boy.
At the end, Charlie reprises the intro: “This is my little brother Lola. He’s small, and very funny.”

Bing
Episode in which Bing discovers his feelings for Pando are different from his feelings for Sula or Cocoa.
Flop: “Queer love: It’s a Bing thing.”

Clangers
Episode in which it is revealed that Clangers are sexually undifferentiated and reproduce via parthenogenesis.
Narrator: “Somewhere, out there in the vastness of space, there is a species whose stories have resisted being shoehorned into heteronormative human expressions of family life. Up until now, this wasn’t one of them.”
nanila: (tachikoma: broken)
( Jun. 16th, 2016 08:46 pm)
A little over a year ago, I wrote this, about what I wanted from the UK government. After the general election, I did something I’d consciously rejected all my adult life: I joined a political party. Slowly, verry slowly, I’ve been getting involved in my local party’s activities. I attended a meeting for the first time about a month ago, about campaigning for the Remain side on the EU referendum.

Now, in my constituency, joining any party other than the Conservatives could be seen as a bit of a jolly. Put it this way: Sajid Javid (Business Secretary) is my MP. He toes the party line so hard it’s a wonder he’s not permanently wearing sandals. But still, for me, a naturally cautious person, it was a big step. Even working myself up to entertaining the idea of campaigning for a political cause took me far outside my comfort zone.

Some of that caution has been trained into me. Many scientists discourage their proteges from being actively political. The message that’s tacitly (and sometimes overtly) drilled into us is that politics is for people who are willing to make bold, brash statements and even change laws based on very little evidence or popular sentiment. This idea is anathema to scientists, who are taught to prize the acquisition of repeatable results and well-considered, demonstrable precepts above all things. It takes months or even years to even think of putting possible conclusions based on those results before your peers.Politicians simply don’t have that kind of time to make decisions.

Anyway, my point is that for the first time in my life, I was actually willing to, however remotely, entertain the notion of running for a political office.

And then, today, Jo Cox MP, who has been outspokenly supportive of refugees and campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, was killed in the street by a man who allegedly shouted “Britain First”* as he committed the crime.

Jo Cox is, apparently, the first MP to be murdered since Ian Gow, who was killed by a car bomb planted by the IRA. In 1990.

Jo Cox is a woman only a couple of years older than I am. Jo Cox is survived by her husband and two small children, aged three and five.

So if you’re asking, is this heinous crime going to put women off of the idea of becoming active in politics? I can assure you that the answer is yes.

* an ultra-right political group
Humuhumu is presently in love with the Clangers. She has Clangers bedsheets, the Clangers DVD and a set of Clangers miniatures, all acquired from the BBC Shop clearance.

The episodes she loves most are centred around Granny Clanger. These include "The Curious Tunnel", in which Tiny and Small discover a tunnel that sucks things up and spits them out onto the surface of the planet, coincidentally where Granny is trying to have a peaceful moment to herself, and "The Knitting Machine", in which Major invents a knitting machine as a labour-saving device for Granny. (Granny is less appreciative of this than he expects.) I suspect the attraction is at least partly because Granny is a central figure in the Clangers' clan in the way that Humuhumu's grandmothers are not, due both to distance and personality types. Granny is embedded in the home lives of Tiny and Small, always there, knitting away, napping, caring and being cared for by the other family members.

The set of Clangers miniatures included: Tiny, Small, Mother, Major and Baby Soup Dragon. The set did not include: Granny and Soup Dragon. Soup Dragon can be purchased separately. The only way to acquire a Granny miniature, however, is to buy the Clangers Home Planet play set. I can afford to, and will do this for Humuhumu, but I find it most aggravating that the only way to acquire Granny is to spend about four times more than I spent on the set of other figures. Especially since all the other Clangers are available in pairs and individually as well.
So apparently it's International Women's Day.

I have celebrated by achieving new nadirs in parenting.

Humuhumu is off ill from nursery for the week. The bloke and I had agreed I would look after her today because he had to lecture. (Don't worry, I get uninterrupted working time later in the week. Equality, you see!)

We had received an appointment for Keiki to have his eyes checked for long-sightedness and amblyopia - since Humuhumu has both - several weeks ago. I tried to have it moved a few days ago when we thought neither of us were going to be able to take him in, but was told that because of cuts in local services, the next appointment would not be available for another four months. So we kept it.

It was at a clinic I'd never been to. If I'd known then where it was, I'd probably have decided to take the appointment at the hospital in four months' time.

Humuhumu and I had to pick up Keiki from nursery in the afternoon. The area around the nursery is currently a construction zone and its entrance is controlled by a three-way traffic light. The fun thing about this arrangement is that you can't actually see people coming in or out of the nursery slip road until they appear on the main road, and sometimes they block off the slip road during the day to do work on it. So I waited patiently at the light, observed that the road appeared to be blocked, and drove past and parked along the main road. Never an ideal situation when you're on your own and have two small children to manoeuvre in and out of a car. The walk to and from the front door was long enough that when we finally managed to collect Keiki and get everyone back in the car, we were already late for his appointment. I tried to keep calm and drove off to the clinic.

The clinic turned out to be off a tiny one-lane road with double yellow lines on either side, meaning that there was nowhere to park within 200 metres of the entrance. The metal fencing around the clinic featured a dizzying array of signs, which I tried to parse as I drove carefully through the narrow entrance and manoeuvred into a parking space. The wonderful setup of this car park meant that I was blocking off two other cars, and would have to reverse very carefully indeed in order to exit.

The one good thing about the appointment was discovering that Keiki's vision is absolutely fine. The orthoptist was the one Humuhumu likes best as well, and she monkeyed around the room the way toddlers do when they like someone.

We said goodbye to the friendly receptionist. I discovered that in the twenty minutes we'd been inside, two more cars had arrived and parked perpendicularly behind me. Also, someone was waiting to take my space. In theory, I still had just enough room to reverse all the way back to the gate.

And if I didn't have a toddler and a baby howling at me from the back, and if I were not quite so inexperienced a UK driver (coming up on nine months since I got my licence), I might have been able to do it, but after three attempts to get through the gap between the building and the first perpendicular car, I was very nearly in tears.

The woman waiting to take my space parked up next to the clinic entrance (double reds) and came to my window. Another woman who had just left the building noticed, and came over as well. Both of them were terribly sympathetic and understanding, which made it more difficult not to cry. One offered to guide me out, and the other to go in and ask the person behind me to move their car. I tried twice more to get past with the guide's help, but she stopped me after the second go, saying she didn't think I could do it without taking a wing mirror off.

A third woman exited the building, and after coming over and making a lot of comforting noises, moved her car so I could, finally, get out.

While all of the above was happening, the primary school next door let out, meaning the road and pavements were full of small children. As I reversed very, very slowly past the clinic gates, I managed to read one of its signs. It said, "This car park is for registered clinic personnel and disabled persons only." Ah. That would be the icing on the cake of this EPIC MEGA DRIVING FAIL, then. To any such persons using the car park that day were inconvenienced by me: I apologise.

After we arrived home, I plonked my children in front of the television (don't worry, it gets worse) so I could dial in to a telecon. Usually this telecon takes about 20 minutes, so I reckoned two episodes of the Octonauts would suffice to keep them quiet. But of course, this was the one occasion in fifty when everything was not normal, and people actually had to have discussions about non-routine items. I realised we were coming up to the time when I was going to have to speak just as the emperor penguin episode was drawing to a close. As the end credits rolled, both childrens' heads swiveled round to regard me where I sat on the sofa with my laptop. I cringed as they spoke/babbled simultaneously.

"I'm hungry!" announced Humuhumu.
"BWABAAAACAT!" shouted Keiki.
"Can we have your input now, Dr Nanila?" requested my laptop speakers.

I cast about in desperation and my eyes fell upon the box of Mother's Day chocolates I'd been given on Sunday. Flinging the lid to the floor, I selected two at random and shoved them into my startled childrens' mouths, which allowed me to give my crucial 45 seconds of input after a slight delay. Afterwards, I discovered one of the chocolates contained raspberry liqueur. (I told you it got worse.)

Hundreds of years of women fighting to be allowed equal opportunities in working life and pay as men, and you get days like this. Is it worth it? Pardon my sweariness, but (please imagine me saying this in full American mode): Ab-so-fucking-lutely.
I'm spoiler-immune AND I read the book before I went to see the film, so I will do everyone who is spoiler-sensitive a favour and simply put this entire post behind a cut.

Spoilers, spoilers everywhere I'm sure )

Still, A++++, will def get on DVD and watch again.
As usual, I’m more than a year behind the curve when it comes to viewing films. First of all, let me state that I enjoyed this one very much. I liked that it was a nuanced mother-daughter story. I found Maleficent’s shifts in character (mostly) believable. I cried over the revelation of the meaning of “true love’s kiss”, even though it was blindingly obvious what was going to happen. It’s visually beautiful, and I will certainly re-watch it many times - though probably not until Humuhumu and Keiki are a bit older.

Still, there were things that bothered me.

  • Racefail: Rant 1: The fairies - the good, happy, sunny, nature-loving, communist fairies - all have RP English accents. I imagine this is at least partly because Ms Jolie does best role-playing an RP accent, as she did in the Tomb Raider films. But then the film-makers decided to give the humans - the greedy, vain, grabby, grubby, feudal humans - Scottish accents.

    And then the one human who ends up proving to be the unifying element between the races is the one raised by the (English) fairies. Who, of course, doesn’t have a Scottish accent.

    Nice job there, film-makers, for (possibly unconsciously) enforcing and even glorifying the English colonialist perspective. You’d think Americans would know better, given all that business in 1776. Especially since there is plenty of evidence about that it is still entirely possible for people to oppress one another for racial, religious and socioeconomic reasons, even if they’re not officially doing it under the mandate of colonialism. Er.

  • Racefail: Rant 2: The one (visibly) black actor with speaking lines is pretty much just there to get smacked in the face by the human king. Er.

  • The Ending: Rant 1: The fairies - the good, happy, sunny, nature-loving, communist fairies - start off by having a lovely society in which everyone gets along by cooperating and sharing resources. They have no rulers. Maleficent, though she is powerful, pointedly requests the assistance of her peers when facing an outside threat.

    Then after getting a massive bee in her bonnet over the wing-stealing business, which is fair enough, she suddenly decides to set herself up as queen. An ill-tempered, capricious and dictatorial queen.

    Okay, in the end she has a change of heart and all is wonderful and beautiful again and she hops gladly off her throne. And instead of going back to their peaceful, delightful, communist society, the fairies decide, “You know what I miss about that period of darkness and fear? Having a queen! So let’s appoint this teenage human - humans have a wonderful history of tolerance and peaceful accord - that we hardly know into that capacity. What a great idea.”

    I mean...What?! Why not just declare peace between the two realms? There was no need to introduce a completely different and obviously flawed system of monarchical governance into the one that got along fine without it for centuries before that. And again, wtf @ Americans. Er.

  • The Ending: Rant 2: Diaval. Am I mistaken, or did Maleficent set him up a little with that whole I-saved-your-life business? And then use him as a slave? And then at the end, he’s standing next to her, looking like he’s now her equal and after that flying around joyfully, looking like a partner and friend? Because that really bugs me.

    Yes, most American films err on the side of spelling out far too many things that don’t need to be. But in this case, I think we could have done with some explicit statements. Specifically, Maleficent releasing him from his obligations, which it appears she obtained on false pretenses and oh, I don’t know, at least verbally apologising for robbing him of his autonomy for a mere sixteen years. He deserved a little more compensation than, “If I take off the hair-shirt and step off this self-appointed throne, you’ll forgive me and we can have a normal relationship, yes? Yes. Good.” Er.


I know that most of these complaints can be easily dismissed if one takes the view that, for all the improvement in gender dynamics on the original Sleeping Beauty fairy tale, it’s still a Disney film. But I think it’s worth considering the places where it could easily have been done better (casting a more diverse set of actors), and where problematic elements were unnecessarily introduced (the rest of the above list).
nanila: (tachikoma: celebratory)
( Nov. 3rd, 2014 07:25 pm)
My boss has been awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship!

The blurb for the fellowship says: "This scheme is for world-class scientists who would benefit from a period of long-term support to allow them to focus on research and collaboration based at an institution in the UK." Appointments are made for up to ten years (usually the full amount).

And my boss said:
“I am very excited to have been awarded a Royal Society Research Professorship,” said Professor Dougherty. “It will enable me to focus on the fantastic science which my instrument onboard Cassini will produce during the final 3 years of orbit around Saturn, as well as plan the instrument design and science we will do with the JUICE mission to orbit Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon.”


*happy dance* EVERYTHING IS AWESOME

[PS Her appointment brings the grand total of female persons currently holding an RS Research Professorship to three (out of 17).]
First, the JUICE mission to Jupiter and its Galilean moons, which our group has been working on for ages, has been recommended by ESA to win the first launch in the Cosmic Vision programme. This is the BBC article about it. Please note that this is not the same as full approval - the member states of ESA have to vote on 2 May to select it over the other two proposed missions. But it is seen as "rather unlikely" that the member states will vote against the Space Science Advisory Committee's recommendation.

And second, my boss has been made a Fellow of the Royal Society. Professor Michele Dougherty, FRS. In your face, persons who claim women can't be great scientists.
I attended the Women in Aviation and Aerospace conference at the Royal Aeronautical Society a couple of weeks ago and I finally had a chance to type up my notes. It proved to be an inspiring experience. I met some fantastic people - helicopter pilots, aircraft designers and engineers, young and old - and all women.

Update 07/11/2011: Web site for the event, with some presentations available.

Conference Notes

From Clare Walker’s introduction: “This is one of the few occasions when there aren’t enough women’s toilets available at the [Royal Aeronautical] Society.”

Lee Balthazor: For the first time, three of the four key lectures at the RAeS will be delivered by women this year. Currently aviation and aerospace careers average around 9% women. This is pretty sad. The aim is to get to 25% by 2015, and the eventual hope is that one day conferences like this will not be necessary because parity will be achieved.

I’m not holding my breath.

The keynote speaker was Professor Dame Ann Dowling, Chair of Engineering at the University of Cambridge - the first woman ever to hold this position. She was absolutely inspiring. She’s the sort of person you’d expect to have green lasers shooting out the top of her head or be physically imposing or have a loud, strident voice. Instead, she’s the kind of lady you’d expect to see placidly knitting on the train or absorbed in a book. She seemed comfortable in her own skin. In my experience, this is an uncommon thing for an ambitious high-achiever to be. Her talk was pitched at exactly the right level for an audience with technical backgrounds in diverse areas.

Her topic, the design and development of a silent, environmentally friendly passenger aircraft, was both timely and relevant. Although aviation currently accounts for only 2% of global CO2 emissions, the sector is growing, so it can’t afford to be complacent. Prof. Dame Ann Dowling )

~*~


Four talks took up the rest of the morning. The first was given by Gail Hewlett, granddaughter of Hilda “Billy” Hewlett. Gail Hewlett wrote a biography of Hilda, the first female pilot, entitled Old Bird. Gail Hewlett )

Emily Teesdale, a patent attorney with a background in aerospace engineering, gave the second talk. Emily Teesdale )

The third talk, Innovation in Aerospace, was given by Ruth Mallory. I’d tell you what she did and who she worked for, but I honestly wan’t all that clear about it. Ruth Mallory )

The final short address was given by Brenda Horsfield, formerly the second Chair of the British Women Pilots’ Association (WPA). Brenda Horsfield )

~*~


We then broke for lunch and networking, after which there were three seminars we could choose to attend on different topics. I’ve posted my notes from the one I attended elsewhere, and as they were quite interest-specific, I don’t think I need to mention any more about them. We reconvened at 3:30 PM for the last talk of the day, To Mars!, given by astronomer and spacecraft instrument designer Dr Helen Walker from the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. Dr Helen Walker )
It's 2011. I'm seriously annoyed that I even felt compelled to write this letter. When I was a child, I'm pretty sure I was promised a world free from gender and race inequality by the time I was an adult. Why is it not here? Dammit, why am I still trapped in a world run by a bunch of white dudes who can't see what the problem is because they have everything they want?

No wonder escapist media is so popular.

To whom it may concern:

Recently, my partner brought home The Little Big Book of Metrology, an accessible and appealing piece of outreach material produced by the National Physical Laboratory about the history and development of measuring units, from a conference. I was delighted, until I had finished reading it and realised that something was bothering me.

I went through it again and carefully counted up the number of scientist and engineers portrayed in The Little Big Book. Of the 15 photos containing humans in the book, three contained identifiably female humans. Of those three, one showed a woman in the background at a tea party, one was of the women’s hockey team and only the last showed a female scientist or engineer at work - helping a male colleague.

I then counted up the cartoon portrayals of humans in The Little Big Book. Here, I think, there is no rationale for not portraying a balance between the sexes. Here again, however, I found that of the 18 cartoons showing humans, 17 contained male humans and three contained female humans. Of those three, one was actually measuring something (the length of a queue of male humans), one was of a mixed group looking at a candle and one was of a woman shopping.*

It also concerned me that the photographs did not seem to contain any persons of colour. Amongst the cartoons, there was only one portrayal, in the group looking at the candle.

I do not feel that this is a balance of images that will engender inspiration among women to work in the field of metrology, or indeed in science and engineering generally. I realise that historical photographic material cannot be edited to contain women or persons of colour when it does not. However, I can’t help feeling that more of an effort could have been made to portray an equal gender balance and more diversity in modern science and engineering. If the ratio is indeed still so skewed at NPL, it risks projecting an image that is unlikely to appeal to any persons who are not both male and white.

I hope that future published materials from NPL will endeavour to portray a more diverse working culture, for the sake of female scientists and engineers everywhere.

Sincerely,

Dr [personal profile] nanila (a female person of colour and a scientist working as an engineer)
[real name and work address will be supplied, of course.]


* I was seriously pissed off when I saw this, but I’m not sure how to express this without being dismissed as strident...?

I plan to send this to the NPL Communications and PR office. Does anyone have other suggestions? I have a complete list of the page numbers for the statistics on photographs & cartoons - should I append that?
.