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Monday, 6 October 2014

Girl Archetypes

Etsy are doing good work. Apart from creating a massive, global craft and stuff marketplace, behind the scenes they're working hard and investing in women engineers with diversity as a core goal of the company. I'm proud of my friend, Kellan, Etsy's CTO, who's publicly leading a lot of this work. Now I can't find the damned thing, but, the other day on the internet, a tweet shot past me linking to Etsy’s Trying to Fix Tech’s Women Problem. Why Aren’t You? The first step is, throw out the hoodie-wearing boy-genius and build a new archetype on Medium.

New archetypes.

I'm one of those people who love fairy tales. My library is full of them. I'm aware that there's been a lot of writing of girl-centric fairy tales and feminist fairy tales. Hey, I was -- still am -- a huge Women Who Run With The Wolves fan back in the 90s. I just ate it up.

Because I'm sitting here on my couch, bashing my hotspot -- not a euphemism -- and waiting for my new bed to arrive, I have a bit of time to try a quick exercise. I grabbed a random sample from an Irish fairy tale called The Birth of Bran from Project Gutenberg. Instead of rewriting it, all I did was switch the gender and names. I'm excited by how it reads.


+++++ ORIGINAL FAIRY TALE SAMPLE +++++

There are people who do not like dogs a bit—they are usually women—but in this story there is a man who did not like dogs. In fact, he hated them. When he saw one he used to go black in the face, and he threw rocks at it until it got out of sight. But the Power that protects all creatures had put a squint into this man's eye, so that he always threw crooked.

This gentleman's name was Fergus Fionnliath, and his stronghold was near the harbour of Galway. Whenever a dog barked he would leap out of his seat, and he would throw everything that he owned out of the window in the direction of the bark. He gave prizes to servants who disliked dogs, and when he heard that a man had drowned a litter of pups he used to visit that person and try to marry his daughter.

Now Fionn, the son of Uail, was the reverse of Fergus Fionnliath in this matter, for he delighted in dogs, and he knew everything about them from the setting of the first little white tooth to the rocking of the last long yellow one. He knew the affections and antipathies which are proper in a dog; the degree of obedience to which dogs may be trained without losing their honourable qualities or becoming servile and suspicious; he knew the hopes that animate them, the apprehensions which tingle in their blood, and all that is to be demanded from, or forgiven in, a paw, an ear, a nose, an eye, or a tooth; and he understood these things because he loved dogs, for it is by love alone that we understand anything.

Among the three hundred dogs which Fionn owned there were two to whom he gave an especial tenderness, and who were his daily and nightly companions. These two were Bran and Sceo'lan, but if a person were to guess for twenty years he would not find out why Fionn loved these two dogs and why he would never be separated from them.

Fionn's mother, Muirne, went to wide Allen of Leinster to visit her son, and she brought her young sister Tuiren with her. The mother and aunt of the great captain were well treated among the Fianna, first, because they were parents to Fionn, and second, because they were beautiful and noble women.

No words can describe how delightful Muirne was—she took the branch; and as to Tuiren, a man could not look at her without becoming angry or dejected. Her face was fresh as a spring morning; her voice more cheerful than the cuckoo calling from the branch that is highest in the hedge; and her form swayed like a reed and flowed like a river, so that each person thought she would surely flow to him.

+++++ SAME SAMPLE, GENDER FLIPPED +++++

There are people who do not like dogs a bit—they are usually men—but in this story there is a woman who did not like dogs. In fact, she hated them. When she saw one she used to go black in the face, and she threw rocks at it until it got out of sight. But the Power that protects all creatures had put a squint into this woman's eye, so that she always threw crooked.

This lady’s name was Fiona Fionnliath, and her stronghold was near the harbour of Galway. Whenever a dog barked she would leap out of her seat, and she would throw everything that she owned out of the window in the direction of the bark. She gave prizes to servants who disliked dogs, and when she heard that a woman had drowned a litter of pups she used to visit that person and try to marry her son.

Now Frances, the daughter of Uail, was the reverse of Fiona Fionnliath in this matter, for she delighted in dogs, and she knew everything about them from the setting of the first little white tooth to the rocking of the last long yellow one. She knew the affections and antipathies which are proper in a dog; the degree of obedience to which dogs may be trained without losing their honourable qualities or becoming servile and suspicious; she knew the hopes that animate them, the apprehensions which tingle in their blood, and all that is to be demanded from, or forgiven in, a paw, an ear, a nose, an eye, or a tooth; and she understood these things because she loved dogs, for it is by love alone that we understand anything.

Among the three hundred dogs which Frances owned there were two to whom she gave an especial tenderness, and who were her daily and nightly companions. These two were Bran and Sceo'lan, but if a person were to guess for twenty years she would not find out why Frances loved these two dogs and why she would never be separated from them.

Frances’ father, Michael, went to wide Allen of Leinster to visit his daughter, and he brought her young brother Tyrone with him. The father and aunt of the great captain were well treated among the Fianna, first, because they were parents to Frances, and second, because they were beautiful and noble.

No words can describe how delightful Michael was—he took the branch; and as to Tyrone, a woman could not look at him without becoming angry or dejected. His face was fresh as a spring morning; his voice more cheerful than the cuckoo calling from the branch that is highest in the hedge; and his form swayed like a reed and flowed like a river, so that each person thought he would surely flow to her.

I'm curious about this. Not that it's creating new archetypes or anything, but more that it's just interesting to read stories as if the gender roles were simply reversed. Imagine women getting angry or dejected looking at a handsome man! Yes, women can have strongholds too!

I've also consciously created an all-female advisory board for my new firm. It was really interesting to observe a male friend and more informal advisor's reaction to it. He was jealous! I said ha ha!


Posted at 1:25 pm
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