In an earlier post this semester, we announced some of our every own SDSU faculty, staff and alumni were participating in the 2014 PAMLA conference held in Riverside, CA. Fortunately, two of the presenters were able to share their experiences and what they presented on for this year's conference .
Alya Hameed presented on the film Paranorman through both a Gothic and a feminist angle. “The presentation examined Norman's queerness as one that both subverts and systematically upholds heteronormative and patriarchal structures.”
This was Alya's second year presenting at the PAMLA conference. However, not only did Alya present her brilliant ideas but she was also able to sit as chair to two panels, both on the topic of Children's Literature. “As a panel experience, my paper thematically flowed with the other papers (one on Coraline and Meg's on The Sleeper and the Spindle). Those discussed female protagonists contending with different experiences of entrapment and conscription (whether by the narrative or my socialized feminine standards).” Alya explains that she was able to guide the conversation in a direction that discussed the male protagonist “with an explicitly emasculated or feminized heritage.” Together the panel was ultimately able to cover the question of gender and selfhood within the concept of child-identity.
“Chairing is also a great experience,” Alya says, “offering an opportunity to be active on the other side--no presentation needs to be prepared but you are actively listening and possibly preparing questions to garner discussion, especially if you have a quiet audience. I recommend graduate students consider opportunities to chair at conferences (as well as present, of course) if and when possible.”
Meg Mardian, a current graduate student at SDSU, presented on the socio-cultural issues that come about from the depiction of female beauty as an inborn virtue found within the young female heroines of fairy tales. The main focus was Neil Gaiman's "The Sleeper and the Spindle,” a combination of Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. Since both stories portray young, beautiful girls who are punished by evil, old women, Gaiman rewrote them into a Gothic twist in order to critique current day female anxieties surrounding beauty as well as age. “My main argument [was] based on the critical work of Naomi Wolf, called The Beauty Myth, wherein she talks about why the patriarchy propagates unreasonable beauty ideals for women as a way of keeping them under control.”
Interestingly, Meg points out that women over the years have focused aggression towards one another more so than trying to fight the oppression that defines gender roles. Once the female hero can assert her independence she is able to “pass on the torch—or in this case the bloody spindle.”
However, it gets better. Meg says her favorite part of the paper was discussing the absence of older strong and beautiful women, pointing out that they are normally portrayed as bitter old women who hold resentment to the younger beauty in the story and as a result wish to steal these qualities from them. Quoting Wolf, she states, “To airbrush age off a woman’s face is to erase women’s identity, power, and history. To show children that wrinkles are not beautiful means to show them their worth is only skin deep” and it allows the patriarchy to maintain dominance, which is why women should be fighting against this.
After Meg's presentation a man asked if she thought the gender of the author (Gaiman) mattered in the these new types of fairy tales that do challenge the patriarchy's agenda. To this she replied that it shouldn't make a difference what the gender of the author is, in the same way it shouldn't matter what the gender of the person reading is. “These types of texts, if they are meant to defy status quo, should be aimed at all audiences… I can't say if a woman could have done it the same way or better, just that Gaiman succeeded in creating a new fairy tale that makes the reader question their own expectations and roles in society.”