Tag Archives: Gender

Gender and Othello

15 May

When I am teaching Shakespearean drama I often wish that I was able to treat my students to multiple performances, each offering a different perspective on the play.  Why?  Because each casting decision, each dramatic decision offers insight into the play’s enduring relevance and values.

The value of performance is underscored in a recent review about a production of Othello in which the eponymous protagonist was recast as a lesbian.  If we view Othello’s characterisation as the Moor as a mere shorthand for communicating his difference, the re-imagining of Othello as a lesbian does not change much.  After all, on this reading, lesbian and Moor are both equally effective synonyms for ‘Other’.  If, however, Othello’s characterisation is about more than difference, if the colour of Othello’s skin is as central to Othello as Shylock’s religion is in The Merchant of Venice, then maybe recasting Othello as a lesbian matters greatly.   Maybe it changes everything.

The author of the review is of the view that changing the gender (let alone the orientation) of Othello matters greatly:

“In changing the gender of Othello – making the character … a woman who has excelled in what is clearly very much a man’s world – the stakes are raised, and the evening speaks to present-day workplace politics. Iago is the “ancient” who feels resentment at a woman’s success…”

Her view, it seems, is that the shift in characterisation modernises the text such that it reflects the context in which we live, offering a certain universality to the underlying interpersonal conflict.  This would be an interesting idea to discuss with my class – I what they see in Othello and how closely this understanding is linked to the colour of his skin.

I would also be keen to discuss the following:

  • Characterisation of Othello tips the gender balance in the play as three of the four key characters are now female.  If Othello is recast as woman, is Iago (the only male) recast as ‘Other’.  If so, how might this change how audiences view him?
  • Does the gender and/or the sexual orientation of Othello impact his effectiveness of a tragic hero?  Why/why not?
  • How does exploring the downfall of a woman and/or lesbian play into current social narratives regarding gender and sexuality?
  • Is it a feminist statement to recast Othello as a woman?  Explain.

Language and Gender related material

3 Oct

I cannot stop thinking about the different types of texts I would introduce students to as part of the ‘Language and Gender’ elective in Extension 1 English.  As such, I have started to compile a list (see below).  I plan to keep revisiting and updating this list as new ideas come to me.

  1. The Bluest Eye (novel)
  2. Beloved (novel)
  3. Americanah (novel)
  4. ‘Girl’ (short story)
  5. The visual album accompanying Beyonce’s Lemonade
  6.  Girl Rising (film)
  7. Poetry of Maya Angelou
  8. Poetry of Warsan Shire
  9. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (autobiography)
  10. Bad Feminist (collection of essays)
  11. The Twyborn Affair (novel)
  12. Annie John (novel)
  13. Quiet‘ (spoken word poem)
  14. Anzac Girls (television series)
  15. Call the Midwife (television series)
  16. The Help (film and novel)
  17. Love Child (television series)
  18. House Husbands (television series)
  19. Black Eye‘ (spoken word poem)
  20. Spear‘ (spoken word poem)
  21. I think she was a she‘ (spoken word poem)
  22. Real Men‘ (spoken word poem)
  23. She Said‘ (spoken word poem)
  24. Macbeth (play)
  25. ‘One Word’ (short story)
  26. The Color Purple (novel)
  27. Mr Selfridge (television series)
  28. Scandal (television series)
  29. Bush Mechanics (television series).

Language and Gender

2 Oct

As you have no doubt gathered as a result of reading this blog, I have a particular interest in the relationship between language, representation and gender.  For this reason, were I offered an opportunity to teach Extension 1, I would be keen to select the elective entitled ‘Language and Gender’ in the ‘Languages and Values’ module.

While the set texts have some appeal, what particularly interests me is the potential for diverse and exciting related material.  I would love, for example, to introduce my students to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah in which a woman grapples with her identity personally and through the prisms of culture and country.  I would also love to introduce students to the novels of Toni Morrison, particularly Beloved and The Bluest Eye.  In the former text a conflict in terms of the construction of gender identity is conveyed: is it written by the individual, society or by one’s master?  In The Bluest Eye, we see an exploration of beauty and the way in which gender expectation intersect with race.

An uphill battle

9 Aug

In Billy Elliot the titular protagonist faces a number of challenges during his journey of transition. In particular, he faces significant disapproval from his father when he seeks to escape the confines of traditional masculinity and pursue ballet dancing.

One of my particularly attentive students noted that when these challenges are most acute Billy is typically shown to be running or travelling uphill.  The student wondered if this was deliberate and, if so, if it could be read as a metaphor for the obstacles that Billy must overcome during his period of transition.  The student is now tracking this across the text, hoping to use changes in the inclines and trajectories of Billy as a means of mapping the complexities and nuances of his transition.

 

 

‘This is what a feminist looks like’

7 Aug

President Barack Obama recently penned an essay for Glamour Magazine in which he discussed feminism; what it is, why it is important, and why men should be feminists too.

I think this would be a great text to use as part of a unit about gender and identity as it challenges the perception that a prerequisite for identifying as a feminist is being a woman.

Language that resonates

28 Jul

A while ago I wrote a post entitled ‘The Power of ONE‘.  In that post, I discussed a strategy in which students had to read a section of text and isolate ONE sentence, ONE phrase and ONE word that resonated with them and was relevant to the text’s overall message.  They then had to justify their choices.

I recently used this activity with a junior class in relation to an excerpt from a Shakespearean text which we are studying.  The results were really interesting in that they reflected students’ own interests and priorities.

The more vocal feminists in my class isolated sentences, phrases and words that pertained to the treatment of women in the text and, more particularly, what they perceived as normalised or institutionalised portrayal of women as limited or inferior.

My students who are experiencing their first crushes and are beginning to embark on their first relationships were far more attuned to the sentences, phrases and words that offered advice about love and relationships.  In many instances, the sentences, phrases and words resonated because of the perceived usefulness or uselessness of the advice offered.

Other students were variously incensed or entertained by the disconnect between appearance and reality, and focused on these ideas.  These students often chose sentences, phrases and words which were susceptible to multiple interpretations.

This activity was great as it allowed me to get to know my students better.  It also offered students an opportunity to articulate and reflect upon their thought processes and, in many instances, model this thinking for students who were struggling to engage with the text.

AOS Journeys

8 Jul

A number of schools are looking to revitalise their Year 10 and Year 11 courses by introducing Areas of Studies that better prepare their students for AOS Discovery in Year 12.  A popular choice seems to be AOS Journeys.  With this in mind, I have compiled a list of texts which could be used as related material for a unit with ‘Journeys’ as the conceptual focus.  The list is not arranged in any particular order, and I will continue adding to it over time.

  1. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (novel)
  2. The Ultimate Safari by Nadine Gordimer (short story)
  3. Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta (novel)
  4. Over a Thousand Hills I Walk With You by Hanna Jansen (biography)
  5. ‘I am an African’ by Thabo Mbeki (speech)
  6. Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury (novel)
  7. ‘I Have a Dream’ by Martin Luther King Jnr (speech)
  8. ‘The Manhunt’ by Simon Armitage (poem)
  9. ‘Refugee Blues’ by W.H. Auden (poem)
  10. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou (autobiography)
  11. ‘Caged Bird’ by Maya Angelou (poem)
  12. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer (novel) (or the film adaptation)
  13. September, directed by Peter Carstairs (film)
  14. Selected The Gods of Wheat Street episodes (television drama)
  15. The Secret Life of Walter Mittydirected by Ben Stiller (film)
  16. Cartography for Beginners‘ by Emily Hasler (poem)
  17. ‘Journey to the Interior’ by Margaret Atwood (poem)
  18. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce (novel)
  19. ‘And of Clay We Are Created’ by Isabel Allende (short story)
  20. Cool Runnings, directed by Jon Turteltaub (film)
  21. For Colored Girls, directed by Tyler Perry (film)
  22. The Second Bakery Attack‘ by Haruki Murakami (short story)
  23. Americannah by Chimmamanda Ngozi Adichie (novel)
  24. All That I Am by Anna Funder (novel)
  25. The Help by Kathryn Stockett (novel) (or the film aedaptation)
  26. Grave of the Fireflies, directed by Isao Takahata (film)
  27. A Mighty Heart, directed by Michael Winterbottom (film)
  28. Girl Rising, directed by Richard E. Robbins (film)
  29. The Tempest by William Shakespeare (play)
  30. Hamlet by William Shakespeare (play)
  31. Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt (novel)
  32. Anzac Girls (television series)
  33. Time’s Arrow by Martin Amis (novel)
  34. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel)
  35. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (novel)
  36. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (novel)
  37. Meet the Patels, directed by Ravi and Geeta Patel (film)
  38. Inside Out, directed by Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen (film)
  39. The Testimony, directed by Vanessa Block (documentary)
  40. The Lie‘ by T. Coraghessan Boyle (short story)
  41. Lion, directed by Garth Davis (film)
  42. A Sheltered Woman‘ by Yiyun Li (short story)
  43. Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey (novel)
  44. The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba (memoir)
  45. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (memoir)
  46. ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire (poem)
  47. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (film or graphic novel)
  48. Life of Pi by Yann Martel (novel)
  49. Freedom Writers, directed by Richard LaGravenese (film)
  50. The African Doctor, directed by Julien Rambaldi (film)

Institutionalised inequality

19 Jun

Maxine Beneba Clarke wrote a poem in 2014 in response to the shooting of Tamir Rice at the hands of police.  In this poem, entitled ‘Even if it gets to 104 degrees’, a mother speaks to her son and reminds him of the special burden placed on African American boys to behave in ways that overtly respectful and suspicion.  She remind him that many of the things other boys can do, he cannot.  Why? Because “black boys got shot for less.”

I would love to teach this poem alongside Blythe Baird’s ‘Pocket-sized Feminism‘, a spoken word poem in which the poem eloquently and powerfully explores gendered expectations and perceptions.   Through this poem it is implied that being a woman is accompanied by extra burdens – social norms which determine behaviour and dictate responses.

I think this poems would pair well as both discuss the notion that identity does not exist in a vacuum divorced from social norms and expectations.

 

‘Decadence’

25 May

I recently stumbled upon Ed Carlyon’s Spoken Word poem ‘Decadence’, and I think it would be a great addition to a unit about poetic representations of gender.  I think it would be a particularly interesting companion text to Harry Baker’s poem ‘Real Men‘.

Carlyon’s poem begins with the confronting observation that he has “seen more men binge drink than [he’s]…  seen cry and that don’t make sense.” In this opening statement, Carlyon powerfully links drinking culture to a peculiarly Australian masculinity.  As he continues, a distinct binary becomes apparent, with certain behaviours implicitly deemed manly and others as weak.  The depth of emotion conveyed in this poem is impressive and capable of sparking interesting discussion amongst students.

Intersections of race, culture and gender

24 May

I have written a lot about poetry as a form of advocacy, as an outlet for opinions, and as a means of helping young people to engage with and express opinions about the world.  I have also written about poetry as a powerful means of engaging young people with ideas and perspectives that, although sometimes outside students’ own realms of experience, are nonetheless important and worth discussing.

Another poem that I think students should hear is Mary Black’s ‘Quiet‘.  In this poem, Black, an Indigenous woman, explores her people’s experiences.  She also rails against the expectation that Indigenous women remain quiet, arguing in favour of advocacy, opinion, and articulating experiences.