Robyn Starkey rohina at shaw.ca
Tue May 15 21:32:59 EDT 2007

Hallie O'Donovan wrote:

> However, it seems a bit OTT to think that one could never write a 
> character who happened to be fat and who was lazy, greedy or a bully 
> or whatever without being accused of pandering to stereotypes. (Might 
> be going in the opposite cause and effect direction, of course, in a 
> realistic treatment.)  My own lack of self-restraint doesn't show with 
> respect to food, but it's not because I'm admirably restrained at 
> all.  (Ask Charlie how hard I hyper-ventilated last weekend when he 
> took me to the *biggest* yarn shop in the UK!  And how long he sat on 
> the pink, pink sofa while I wandered around fondling yarn...  Nor do 
> we need to mention my glorious TBR pile and my continued acquisition 
> of more books.)  A 'normal' body weight character without a shred of 
> self-restraint would be fine, and even funny or sympathetic if it was 
> a lack of self-restraint you shared with the character, but it becomes 
> offensive if that's a fat person without the same.   What's clear when 
> there is a large weight of stereotype built up in the past (no pun 
> intended) might be less so if there's less.

That's a really interesting observation, Hallie.

> Can you have a not-very-frequently-used but still stereotypical 
> stereotype? Looking at a specific of relevance here - I found the 
> feminist, neglectful mother in *Conrad's Fate* quite offensive.  But 
> is this warranted?  Does it make a difference that in over 40 books, 
> she's the only self-proclaimed feminist character?  I know it doesn't 
> make any difference that she was based on a real person.  But for all 
> the many, many times I've heard people dismiss feminists as merely 
> men-haters (sometimes bitter because unattractive ones at that), I 
> haven't come across that many saying that all feminists are rotten 
> mothers. Only other one that comes to mind immediately is Mrs Banks in 
> the film version of Mary Poppins, and she's sweet and silly, which 
> isn't quite the same. Yet it still seems a very cheap use of something 
> *like* a stereotype. 

Well, I didn't think of her feminism as being the main issue in her 
rottenness, because she is very like my mother. :-P
But thinking about it more, there is a stereotype in older books about 
mothers who are neglectful because they have a particular passion or 
interest (in older books is also about mothers who work), and this leads 
them to neglect their children. Look at James, James, Morrison's mother 
in the A. A. Milne poem. In girls' school stories (I'm thinking 
particularly of Chalet School), there are mothers, and other female 
caregivers, who neglect their children for particular passions they have 
for things like vegetarianism, or who bring their children up poorly 
because they have Ideas. I don't know if all this qualifies as a 
stereotype, but it is a fairly common thing.


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