Movie Review: Penelope


I adore this PG family friendly movie, which just returned to Netflix. Loosely based on The Ugly Duckling it’s a story about love and acceptance. Christina Ricci stars as Penelope, a high society princess kept locked away in her tower because an old family curse had her born with a pig’s snout and ears. Her mother, played to absolute perfection by comedy veteran Catherine O’Hara, is determined to hide this secret until the curse can be broken when “one of her own kind”agrees to love her, til death do they part. Richard E. Grant plays her father, quieter and with more guilt because it was his family’s curse. 

Penelope has grown up locked away in her rooms, preparing for the day a man would marry her and break the curse. She plays piano, speaks French, and is an avid horticulturist but her only companions are her parents and their butler. When she turned 18 her mother hired a matchmaker for the rich and famous to find her a blue blood man to marry. The movie picks up after seven years of constant painful rejections. 

The most recent rejection comes from Edward Vanderman (Simon Woods), a snobbish aristocrat so disgusted by the sight of her he ran straight to the police station to report a hideous beast. Everyone laughs at him but one man. Peter Dinklage plays a reporter named Lemon determined to get a picture of the pig faced girl. The two decide to recruit a down and out blue blood to gain entry to the house, posing as a suitor, to snap a picture of the beast 

The young shaggy haired gambler they entice to do the job Max (James McAvoy) falls for Penelope, snout and all. He destroys the camera and picture, and urges his conspirators to leave her alone. But as she promises to kill herself if the curse doesn’t break upon their wedding as way of marriage proposal, he refuses her too. Unwilling to face further heartache, and knowing her mother will never stop trying to break the curse, Penelope sets out on her own. 

She makes friends with a Vespa riding not-quite bad girl played by lead producer Reese Witherspoon. She tries beer on tap, goes to a street festival, and experiences life outside her room, all while wearing a scarf across her face. She collects the cash reward for a picture of herself, and convicts Lemon in the process. He asks why she’s doing it and she shoots back, “What do you care? You got your freak.” Visibly different Peter Dinklage is able to convey more sympathy and pathos than an average height apparently abled actor could in that moment. 

Edward meanwhile has continued to speak ill of Penelope, even as the public has embraced her. “That thing should be in a cage,” he says. His father, CEO of a publicly traded company, coerces him to marry Penelope to fix the public relations damage Edward has caused. Penelope’s mother is eager for the union, convinced it will break the curse. Two very unhappy young people start the wedding ceremony. Now comes the plot spoilers. 

Lemon, determined to now do right by Penelope, realizes blue blood Max is really Johnny, the aristocratic son of a tradesman. He only refused Penelope because he couldn’t break the curse and loved her too much to ruin her only chance at happiness. Inspired by Penelope’s bravery in facing the world as herself, he’s quit gambling and returned to healthier pursuits like piano playing. Lemon brings the information to Penelope’s mother just before the wedding. She doesn’t tell her daughter, still convinced this is the only way to banish her daughter’s snout. 

Penelope walks down the aisle, then runs the other direction. To the groom’s utter delight she doesn’t want to go through with it. Her mother pleads, this is how we get a whole new you. Penelope declares, “I like myself the way I am!” And with that, the curse is broken. Her prosthetic pig nose and ears are replaced with the actress’ real ones. Her mother cries, realizing she’d had the power to break her daughter’s curse all along. All she had to do was accept her as she was. 

Johnny and Penelope meet up again for the first time on Halloween. Penelope snout masks are the hit costume that year, and Johnny declares his love for Penelope and kisses her as she’s wearing one, before seeing her new smaller features underneath. He loves her as she is no matter what her nose looks like. They can now love freely with no curses or mistaken identities between. 

This is a sweet movie with a good message, appropriate for children but enjoyable for all ages. The top knotch casting and clever writing elevate what could be a ho hum romance into something special. Some well concealed innuendo should keep parents watching this with their kids trying to conceal guffaws. It’s feel good fun. 

Advertisements

Let Children Be Princesses 2/2


I don’t mean to suggest there is no room for improvement or that I think for profit toy companies are best qualified to teach our children about gender roles and their relative value. Objecting to proscribed, enforced, narrowly defined genders and the needless gendering of things is good. Providing kids with variety of aspirational options and adult skills practice toys is good. Allowing gender nonconforming children to safely express themselves is crucial. 

But somehow all those good things sometimes twist in bad femme phobic ways. When we discourage girls from liking princesses or wanting to be one, when we rail against girls media while leaving boys media unchallenged, when we obsess over the plastic curves of a doll and seriously debate and if they’re to blachoices, eating disorders but don’t give a second thought to how He-Man might encourage steroid use some day, we betray the real problem. 

We don’t trust girls to grow up, to discern between fantasy and reality, to have humility. We think their interests are inherently bad and that it’s our job to teach them not to like these girly things. Somehow we do trust boys and their media choices, and you’d be hard pressed to find widespread critique of a toy for being too boyish. In my circles a boy princess would be more accepted and even praised than a girl princess.

As a culture we exclude girls from much of life by default, and only reserve a few colors and fashion styles for girls. Then we scorn any girl who dares to like what’s left. I still think of women’s media as a “guilty pleasure” while men’s media is just TV and movies.  The shame of girlhood is contrived and imposed all our lives, in everything we do. 

We’re encouraged or even required to don makeup to work, then despised for being so vain. We’re excluded from baseball, then called dykes for choosing softball instead. We’re judged on our fashion, including the crime of being fashionable. Our roles are limited and once we’ve been jostled into them, society will unleash its hatred. 

I want better for today’s little girls. Of course I want them to have more options – more colors, more features, more roles to play pretend. I don’t want girls told they can only be a princess or ballerina or fairy. But I also don’t want us telling girls it’s wrong to be those things, to have those dreams, to exist in this world while feminine. If the whole world is shoving them into a box marked girl, the solution cannot be to declare that the girls in that box are bad and wrong for being there. 

If a girl in your life loves princesses, don’t be scornful. Don’t be a jerk to a child. Talk with her about a princess’s real duties and obligations, like having a clean bedroom and brushing her teeth. Play pretend battles where she defends her castle or leads troops into battle to secure new lands. Explain why a queen regnant will always have more power than a queen consort and encourage her to dream big. 

Let Children Be Princesses 1/2

When I was a girl there was a popular board game called Pretty, Pretty Princess. Players would move around the board trying to collect jewelry for their royal chest. I don’t remember adults freaking out yet that princess ambitions were destroying little girls. Barbie was the toy in the hot seat and adults quite seriously debated if her exaggerated doll like proportions were causing eating disorders. I just knew I wanted one, and wasn’t allowed.

Now Barbie has revamped to include more body types and more skin tones, and princesses reign supreme. Disney’s marketing choice several years back to have a Disney Princess pantheon was more successful than even they probably imagined. Nearly every young American girl has a princess costume and a tiara. It’s what’s popular these days. 

Princesses are often seen as part of a broader “pinkification” trend. That’s what we’ve decided to call gendering toys and marketing some to boys and some to girls. LEGO markets most of their products to boys, but created the pink heavy Elves and Friends lines to market to girls. Toy kitchens come in gender coded pastels. The girls toys aisle is a narrow path beyween towering walls of pink.

But excessive product gendering is nearly as common among adult products, usually coddling the fragile masculinity of grown men. “Manly” TV dinners and soap and hair dye. We probably don’t spend enough time asking if “masculine” packaging encourages hatred of women in men who use them. Little girls are expected to pass up a toy made to appeal to them and choose a toy designed to exclude them. Men are not.

It’s rarer for us to police the actions of men and boys. Generally speaking, we think boys being boys is good, and girls being girls is a serious social issue we should find ways to stop.  I’ve always known it was shameful to be a girl, so I played GI Joe and little green army men far more often than I really wanted to. I favored action movies over romances, which I derisively called “chic flicks”. If it’s meant for girls or if girls like it, we will find ways to make them self conscious over it. 

Like this blog? Become a patron to support it! 

Guest Post: Plans, Executive (Dys)function, and Throwing Exceptions

The following guest post was written by Alyssa Hillary of Yes, That Too and is published here with express permission. 

I’ve written before about plans and routines, where a routine can become an implicit plan, and if a plan gets thrown off, I’m going to have a bad time. I’ve also (really recently!) written about “independent” (as defined by able people, not as defined by the independent living movement) living, supports, and teachable skills not being all there is to it. Now I’m writing about something that connects both of these, thanks to Avi for providing the word to describe it: Exception handling. Thanks to Avi also for the idea of writing these out as scripts. I’ve done enough programming to write psuedocode for this. The code is intentionally a bit messy because, well, the way my head actually deals with this stuff is a bit messy. So there’s exceptions and different kinds of loops mixed together, and sometimes things will just crash instead of doing what you’d expect, even if it’s not immediately obvious why.

I’ve done a little bit with programming, enough to know that sometimes you can break a program by giving it input it doesn’t expect. If my program is supposed to take a number between 0 and 100 and convert it into a letter grade, which is an actual simple script they had us write when we were learning, it might not give me an output for a number less than 0, a number greater than 100, or an input that is not a number. It also might, but it wouldn’t be especially useful output. (It’s not a letter grade for an actual score.) Still, the program just sort of … stopping … the first time the input is supposed to get used is a very real possibility if the input is wrong or missing.

Something like that can happen with my change of plans issues, and with my getting things done issues. It’s even what goes wrong for me on a lot of surveys and popular online quizzes.

Change of plans

self.goto(class);
self.eat(lunch);
self.goto(meeting);

Error: meeting not found.

And then I am done. I don’t really have a script to handle that exception, so I crash.

Tentative plans

self.goto(class);
self.eat(lunch);
try self.goto(meeting);
try self.goto(office);
try self.playgames();
while time>5:30 pm;
     try self.eat(dinner);

This time the plan for the meeting is tentative, so instead of “go” it’s “try to go” and the script does not immediately crash if the meeting is not found. This is why “no plan” or “tentative plan only” is better for me than “broken plan.” Also, there can be lines after the attempted meeting about what I’ll do if the meeting isn’t actually a thing that’s happening.

Note that self.eat(dinner) can time out or get lost at any point in this listand that any of the items used being missing will throw an exception that I may or may not be able to handle.

Cleaning my room

self.examine(room);
floor.list(objects);
for object on floor;
     try;
          self.pickup(object);
          location = object.properlocation();
          object.place(location);
          energy -=5
          if energy <=0;
               stop;
               return false

     except(properlocationNotFound);
          if energy>=10;
               define object.properlocation();
               energy -= 10;

     except(location is occupied);
          if energy>=15;
               try;
                    object=location.contents();
                    energy -= 15

self.flop();

And to be clear, this is what the script looks like after a lot of optimization. I did not always have the two except bits that could catch. Common places for this program to fail were at location=object.properlocation() because I don’t know where something goes, at object.place(location) because there’s already something else where the thing goes. These used to lead to a complete crash.

Now I’ve got some level of exception handling define a new output for object.properlocation() or interrupt and choose a new object to move because location is occupied. That’s what the exceptions are meant to handle, but you might notice that they are expensive! (You also might notice that I can get my energy as low as -5 before hitting the stop point if I’m not careful, which is a problem I’m still working on. If I were actually a computer I could just change some numbers around in my if statements, but I am not.)

I can also run through all my RAM trying to list the objects on the floor and never even get started. This is a thing that happens.

Surveys/Quizzes (must complete, no aid available)

crycount=0   % Initialize the cry count.
for question in survey;
read(question);

     if question.type()==TF or question.type()=multiple choice;
          answers={true, false};
          if question.type()=multiple choice;
               answers=read(question.answers());
          try answers.choose(correct);
               increment question;
          if “other” is in answers;
               answers.choose(other);
               try answers.write();
          try self.cry();
          crycount+=1;
          answers.choose(leastbad);
          increment question;

     if question.type()==open answer;
          try answers.write(response);
               increment questionl
          except(question.brainbreak=yes);
               try self.cry();
                    crycount+=1;
                    try answers.write(nonsense);
                         increment question;
                    try answers.write(nope.explain());
                         crycount+=1;
                         increment question;

     if question.type()==number rating;
          try self.cry();
          crycount+=1;
          random.choosenumber();
          increment question;

self.flop(crycount hours);

So there’s two things in there which lead to bad things. It’s try self.cry() because I don’t always actually cry, but the count definitely still gets incremented and this sort of thing knocks me over  pretty badly. I’m done for the day after even a short inaccessible survey. Multiple choice questions where none of the answers are quite right are bad, especially if they don’t have an other option. Certain open response questions also break my brain. I tend to think in patterns rather than examples and my episodic memory is terrible, so if you ask for an example of a thing that happened to me we’ll usually get into trouble. Choosing a number to explain how much I agree or disagree with a statement is really bad to start, and it’s even worse if the statement is ambiguous or one that I only partially agree with. These kinds of problems, by the way, are why I thought the language utilization reports were the hardest thing they asked me to do while I was in China. They were also the first time I managed to ask for help with one of these, leading to the next bit of psuedocode:

Surveys/Quizzes (not required AND/OR can ask for help)

required=read.survey.required();      % Don’t need to check help value because this script is only used 
                                                          % if help is available OR it’s not required. If the survey is 
                                                          % required, help MUST be available.

crycount=0   % Initialize the cry count.

for question in survey;
     read(question);

     if question.type()==TF or question.type()==multiple choice;
          answers={true, false};
          if question.type()==multiple choice;
               answers=read(question.answers());
          try answers.choose(correct);
               increment question;
          if “other” is in answers;
               answers.choose(other);
               try answers.write();
          elif required==false;
               return false;
          else:
               help.request();
               pause();
               answers.choose(help);
          increment question

     if question.type()==open answer;
          try answers.write(response);
               increment question;
          except(question.brainbreak=yes);
               if required==false;
                    return false;
               else:
                    try self.cry();
                    crycount+=1;
                    help.request();
                    pause();
                    answers.write(help);
               increment question

     if question.type()==number rating;
          elif required==false;
               return false;
          else:
               crycount+=random(0,1);
               help.request();
               pause();
               answers.choose(help);
          increment question

self.flop(crycount hours)

Progress! Crying and flopping are significantly reduced. (So is the likelihood of my getting the survey done, but I’m OK with that.) For timing reference, my language utilization report from my year in China was the first time I managed help.request()  for this sort of thing. They, uh, weren’t quire sure how to handle that, because these reports aren’t the hard part for most people. Their first idea was to ask the residence director to help me. This got the report done, which was some sort of progress, but it involved enough crying (by me) and confusion (by both of us) that she decided to have the program just … give up. No more language utilization reports for me, it’s not worth it. (I agreed. It was really, really not worth it.)

Notice that while someone helping me eliminates the exhaustion cost for a multiple choice or true/false question that is ambiguous or has bad answers, it does nothing about the exhaustion cost for a brain-breaking open ended question, and it reduces but does not eliminate the cost for “rate this from 1-n” type questions. That’s part of why the language utilization reports got nixed, and why the survey I was supposed to do for my university after the year abroad was done slowly, painfully, and with help.

And as for things that aren’t just teachable skills? Yes, teaching me certain skills (or practice with certain skills that I theoretically have) could have the effect of writing in ways to handle specific exceptions. That’s not the same thing as making my exception handling work at a “standard” speed or efficiency, and it’s definitely not the same thing as reducing the associated costs for those exceptions.

Guest Post: My Fear is Not of Water

The following post was written by Alyssa Hillary of Yes, That Too and is published here with express permission. 
I know my mother took me to the JCC when I was a baby,
Held my head above the water and let me bounce and splash.
But that’s not what I remember.
You shall teach your child the ten commandments and how to swim
They wrote above the door.
She taught me how to swim, a little.
Watched me in the pool as I bounced and splashed and swam underwater.
But that’s not what I remember.
My first distinct memory of water, I am in a lake.
Swimming lessons, I am three,
Too strong a swimmer for the pre-school classes and placed with the kindergartners.
We sit in a circle in the lake.
Suddenly, it matters that I am smaller than my classmates.
I am not tall enough to sit and keep my head above water.
I gasp. I stand. I cry and leave.
My fear is not of water, but of adults telling me it is safe for me to sit,
Then discovering, gasping, that they are wrong.
I don’t return to the lesson.
I do drag my mother back to the water with me.
My fear is not of water.
My next distinct memory of water, I am at my grandfather’s pool. I think I am eight.
We splash each other, shoot each other with water guns.
I pull myself up on the floating mattress, laughing.
He sits. On my head. He doesn’t know I’m there.
I stare up at him, trying not to panic.
I can hold my breath for one minute.
That’s one minute to get out.
I can reach the edges of the mattress with my arms.
I pull with my arms and my neck.
My head pops free. I can breathe.
My fear is not of water, but of adults who want only the best for me,
Hurting me because of what they do not know.
I still join swim team, in high school,
Pass out into the pool the first time I swim the 200 medley.
Swim the medley again at league championships, repeating to myself:
Butter, back, breast, free, don’t pass out.
My fear is not of water.

Guest Post: Almost 2017

This poem was written by Alex Conall of Sunbow Publications and is printed here with express permission. 

Sun sinks below horizon,
and slowly darkness falls.

Stay awake throughout the night.
Better to light a candle
than curse the darkness,
though one can certainly do both.

Stay awake throughout the night.
Watch your candle.
It might flare or fall.

Stay awake throughout the night.
The sun will rise again.

The time of fear is now,
but the time of hope is here.
Light a candle.
Stay awake throughout the night.
Bring hope.
Bring joy.
Bring sword and bow and axe,
for peace comes not without them,
liberation not without war.
Light a candle.

A Happy Solstice to you.

Nazi Resistors: Irena Sendler 3/3

Her political activities, and political imprisonment, were far from over. Sendler resisted Communist rule as well. From 1948 to 1949 she was imprisoned for her work with the Home Army, a group loyal to the exiled government. She was brutally tortured once again, the time while pregnant. She delivered her son prematurely and he did not survive. 

Sendler agreed to join the communist party and was released, but treated with government suspicion ever after. In 1965 the Israeli Yad Vashem named Sendler as one of the Polish Righteous Among the Nations, an honor bestowed upon non Jews who fought for Jewish lives during the Holocaust. The communist government of Poland would not permit Sendler to travel to Israel to receive the award until 1983. 

In her personal life, Irena was married three times to two Jewish men (by remarrying her first husband after divorcing the second) and gave birth to three children, only one of whom survived to adulthood. She lived until 2008, when she passed away at the age of 98 from pneumonia. 

Sendler’s contributions to the world were largely unrecognized outside of Polish and Jewish communities until 1999 when three American teenage girls wrote and performed a play about her dedication to Jewish children, “Life in a Jar.” The play has been continuously performed by small theater troupes ever since. If you’d like to see or host this biographical play, you can find out how at IrenaSendler.org

Sendler never considered herself a hero, despite all she had done. “Heroes do extraordinary things. What I did was not an extraordinary thing. It was normal.” She expanded on this theme in a 2005 BBC interview. “Let me stress most emphatically that we who were rescuing children were not some kind of heroes. Indeed, that term irritates me greatly. The opposite is true. I continue to have pangs of conscience I did so little.”