The radical femininity of Cheery Littlebottom

From a human woman’s point of view the female dwarfs on the Disc have it made. They can be anything they want to be, they are never barred from anything because of their gender. At first the lack of easily distinguishable gender traits between female and male dwarfs on the Disc is played for a laugh. But this all changes when Cheery Littlebottom joins the Watch in Feet of Clay. Through Cheery we come to realise that rather than being super equal, Dwarf society is in some ways the ultimate patriarchy. A culture that places so little value on femininity, no-one is allowed to express it. Because of this, while a woman may hold the position of the High King, she can never further any women’s rights or issues, because her very ability to hold this position is based on denying these things exist.

As a woman who studied and still works in a male dominated field, programming, I spent years rigorously policing my own femininity. I saw first hand the difference between how I was treated and how my more feminine female classmates and coworkers were treated. Especially in college I was assumed to be more capable and received a lot less sexual advances. The cost of this was high though. I hid my love of all feminine things. For example, I always have a book I’m reading in my bag, sometimes this was a romance book or a shoujo manga. On those days, I wouldn’t take it out to read at school in my breaks. I lived in terror of anyone discovering my love of Card Captor Sakura and not without reason. The few times I slipped up and used a feminine expression I was instantly and harshly rebuked. I couldn’t say I was “chatting” with male classmates, only *girls* chat. Men Talk. (I kid you not, I literally got groans from the group for this faux pas and a mansplanation of why I was Wrong™.)

It took me a long time to understand Cheery’s insistence on expressing her femininity. Why, I thought, take that risk? It didn’t help that her first attempts at expressing it are the butt of the joke. While the characters never explicitly ridicule her for it, it’s clear from the text that they *think* she looks ridiculous and are just being nice by not laughing in her face. But such is the strength of Cheery’s conviction that she keeps going and as she finds her own style the jokes disappear. It’s important to note that while the narration might have laughed at her, the fact remains that her colleagues didn’t. They consistently take her side, they lend her lipsticks, they give her pointers, most of all they give her the space to find herself. With their support Cheery becomes one of the front runners of the Dwarfish feminist movement. Slowly more feminine dwarfs show themselves, though they still face conservative opposition. Many moderate dwarfs consider them radicals, rocking the boat too much, pushing for too much too quickly. The further they push, the harsher the opposition grows. Nothing like people trying to claim a space for themselves to really bring out the bigots. The Fifth Elephant, Thud! and Raising Steam all have plots revolving around conservative dwarfs attempting to stage a coup against their more progressive government. With the acceptance of female dwarfs becoming one of the big fighting points after the Low King welcomes the openly feminine Cheery at the end of The Fifth Elephant. While it’s satisfying to see these alt-right dwarfs be defeated time and again, even though in a depressingly realistic way they never truly disappear, what really resonated with me was Cheery’s personal journey.

I initially read the Discworld novels out of order, and I can’t quite remember when I got round to Feet of Clay. Or even if I only noticed this on my first read through… Anyway, while in college and really struggling with sexism, I read the following exchange between Angua and Cheery.

“…Look there’s plenty of women in this town that’d love to do things the dwarf way. I mean, what’re the choices they’ve got? barmaid, seamstress or someone’s wife. While you can do anything the men do…”

“Provided we only do what the men do,” said Cheery.

Angua paused. “Oh” she said. “I see. Hah. Yes. I know that tune.”

This resonated with me so deeply, because here I was, acting more male than I was really comfortable being, constantly scanning my behaviour for any signs of femininity that could get me in trouble. I was “allowed” into this male space, provided I pretended to be male and never challenged their maleness with my girl cooties. This was all the more confusing, because my professors were super aware of my being the first girl to see the degree through and pushed for me to be included in recruitment materials for new students to attract more women. It’s taken me years to get through my fear of expressing femininity and Cheery’s courage and tenacity in pursuing her expression of it were a big help. Seeing her surrounded by friends, willing to stick with her, even when she ends up looking silly occasionally or regrets some of her choices.

I’ve progressed a lot in my understanding of feminism since I first read these novels. Re-reading all of the Discworld novels in order last year, I was struck by a difference between this fight for women’s rights and the one so often portrayed in media. Many empowering tales of women focus on women breaking into male spaces. If there’s one token chick in an all male action team, you can bet that she’s Not Like The Other Girls. The female dwarfs on the other hand are already fully present in male spaces. Their fight is to be allowed to express femininity. To not just be tolerated as “just like men”, but to express themselves without being demoted to the “girl’s corner”. It’s a message I badly needed to hear all those years ago, and I’m forever grateful to Cheery Littlebottom for taking the radical step of being herself in public.

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Becoming Discworld

But more importantly there’s no interaction with the city aside from a pub crawl. I just finished reading Guards!Guards! the 8th Discworld novel and I feel like the Discworld has now reached the point where it’s The Disc I know and love. So why is that? What has changed between The Colour of Magic, which I love btw, and Guards!Guards!? And which of these changes do I feel were needed to turn all these novels set on The Disc into the kinds of novels that come to mind when I think of Discworld novels? I had a hard time putting my finger on this, but I found some points that I’ve noticed and I think they’re best illustrated by comparing Equal Rites to Guards!Guards!.

Equal Rites is the third Discworld novel, but it is the first Discworld novel with what I think of as the standard Discworld plot set up. It’s a plot that’s not centred around a character or story arc, but around examining the an idea or concept from Roundworld by looking at it through the Discworld lens. That’s not to say that later Discworld novels are abstract, they have very clear plots, but the plots facilitate the examining of these concepts.

Take Guards!Guards!, I could summarise the plot by saying that it’s about a secret society summoning a dragon to stage a coup, and that’s accurate. But it’s also about how powerless a person can feel to change the system they live in, about how kings are no good because they’re inherently better than others, about how nobody, nobody, is above the law.

The difference between Equal Rites and Guards!Guards! lies in how these issues are examined. In Equal Rites, the central theme drives the plot much more obviously than it does in Guards!Guards!. Heck the very title of the Equal Rites mentions this central theme. And it’s this directness that makes Equal Rites a bit preachy and frankly predictable. You know how it’ll end from the second it turns out that Eskarina is a girl instead of the 8th son the wizard was expecting. The opposition and sexism that Esk faces is very blatant and obvious.  It’s all very in your face straight forward “women can’t be wizards” stuff.

By comparison in Guards!Guards! when the dragon shows up you can understand why people side with the people who summoned it. Vimes, our protagonist, is against it and I did root for him and the other Watch members. But I get it, I get why the citizens get swept along in the romance of a king defeating a dragon, why fear cows them into accepting a dragon as their king. And this makes Vimes’ struggle more poignant and it also makes me wonder if ultimately Vimes can win this. Not if he can defeat this dragon, I’ve read the rest of novels once already, but if he can survive this world. If his believe in the basic decency of humans is justified. It’s a more human view, no good or evil, but humans making very human decisions. And you get to see it from several points of view, not just Vimes’.

This is the approach I recognise from later Discworld novels. For instance, sexism is a recurring theme in later novels, especially within the Dwarfish community. The difference is that this sexism isn’t as blatant, nor is it solved by the end of a story. Instead some women take steps towards claiming their space and get both support and backlash directed at them. And this nuance resonates much more with me, because it’s closer to my everyday experiences.  I also find that it frees up the characters and plot in a way. These issues are part their lives, they’re part of what they’re dealing with, but the story continues regardless.

The books between Equal Rites and Guards!Guards! largely move in this direction. With the exception of Sourcery which feels like a poor retread The Colour of Magic and The Light Fantastic. I feel that it falls flat, because it doesn’t have a very clear idea of it’s main theme. Half of it reads like a romp around The Disc with Rincewind and this detracts from the whole sorcerer plot somewhat. With the other novels: Mort, Wyrd Sisters and Pyramids the focus on the theme is there, but there’s something I can’t quite put my finger on that means they’re not quite there yet for me.

Part of it is the details I think, Dwarfish culture for example doesn’t really crystallise into what it’ll be for the rest of the books till Guards!Guards!. Similarly, Vetinari isn’t the Patrician yet. Now, of course there were rulers of Ankh-Morpork before him and there’ll be ones after him, but you need Vetinari to enable you to look at politics in a certain way. It’s a very cynical and technical way and a way that no other character can give you. Nobody else uses a committee as a lethal weapon.

You really notice this in Wyrd Sisters. Lancre has always been one of the most solid parts of the Disc, I feel Terry knew what Lancre would be from the beginning. So now that Nanny Ogg and Magrat are there to balance out Granny Weatherwax this part just comes together wonderfully. It’s beyond the borders of the this rock hard country that things get shakier. The Ankh-Morpork the theatre group tries to settle down in doesn’t really feel like Ankh-Morpork yet. There’s no interaction with the city aside from a pub crawl.  C.M.O.T. Dibbler doesn’t show up to try to get a contract to sell sausages-in-buns in the theatre. More importantly, the plot is centred around the power of stories to shape how we see the world, but the Patrician doesn’t appear to care about a group with such potential power settling down in his city.

These may seem like little things, but it’s these little things that make the world feel alive to me. It feels like the characters are just living their lives in the background and then when the plot pushes something their way they care about, they notice. I’ve always felt that at the core of the Discworld novels is the message that actions have consequences and you need to take responsibility for them. These little moments add to that.


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Added to the Abyss

Welcome to my monthly backlog additions post. This post isn’t meant to list all the things I added to my various backlogs this month, because that’d be tedious and boring. Because most of the time my reason for adding stuff is just “eh, seems interesting”, but sometimes there are weirder/more interesting reasons. So here are some of the things that caught my eye this month and have now been added to the endless abyss that is my backlog collection. 😉

Fujiko Mine

So I tried to watch this way back when it first aired, but I dropped it after the first episode as I didn’t like Fujiko’s character at all. However I stumbled across this article: earlier this month and it peaked my interest in the show again. So I figure I’ll give it another shot eventually.


Sabishisugite Lesbian Fuuzoku ni Ikimashita Report

I was initially a bit weary of this manga as it seemed like it would be depressing and angsty, but after reading all the positive reviews and some preview pages it seems like it has a sense of humour as well. So I’ve added it to my to read list after all.


Sword Art Online

Okay, this one will probably come as a shock to people who know my taste in anime and my opinion on the little I’ve seen of this show. ^^; But several of my friends are really into it and their enthusiasm is robbing off on me, so I’m going to give it another go.


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Around the Disc in 41 books

Imagine a montage of newsreaders. Like the one they use in films to declare that the zombie apocalypse has really started now, so could the heroes please get on with the plot. The same words spilling from the different newsreaders lips, edited into shorter and shorter sound bites. It starts with the BBC of course, just so you know that this is real and serious news.

“Sir Terry Pratchett, author of the Discworld novels, has died today aged 66. He had been battling Alzheimers since 2007 and become an outspoken proponent of assisted death. The …”

“Breaking news, the author of the popular Discworld novels, Sir Terry Pratchett…..”

“Sir Terry Pratchett …. ”



Fade to black.

Now turn the camera and let it slowly come into focus on the face of a young woman. Tears are rolling down her cheeks as she messages her mom and brother to break the news. They share memories. She wanders onto social media and mourns with the other fans.

The next day.

There is to be one more book! One more Discworld novel to read! A Tiffany Aching novel, The Shepherd’s Crown.

Fade to black once more. Maybe insert some footage of flowers blooming and trees blossoming to indicate time has passed. There should be some in the archives.

And now the woman has the book in her lap. She’s staring at it. Afraid to read it, afraid of the pain and sorrow she suspects are in there. But also reluctant to end it. To have read the final Discworld novel, to have no more of them to look forward to. Eventually she decides. To collect them all, all the novels in the main series, and to read them all in order. In one long marathon. From The Light Fantastic to The Shepherd’s Crown.


That woman was me. And I made that decision back in August of 2015 and now the time has come to execute the plan. It’s hard for me to explain how much the Discworld means to me. I was a teenager when I first discovered the books. A lonely, depressed, nerdy teenager who wanted nothing more than to disappear and whose chosen method for this was books. My first Discworld book was The Hogfather.

“Susan says, don’t get afraid, get angry.”

Words I still try to live by, but there was so much more, Susan and Death, and the idea that justice is a lie we have to believe in, and in between this all jokes. Marvellous, side splittingly funny jokes about computers and the Oh God of Hangovers. I was confused, I was entertained, I wanted more. And so over the years I read all the Discworld novels. In no particular order, other than the one in which I could get my hands on them. And they gave me strength, they taught me to believe in myself, to do what is right and to forgive humans for being fundamentally human.

They got me through years of depression. I read them when I was down and nothing else could cheer me up. I read them when I needed strength. I read them when I just wanted to laugh. And now, for the first time in all these years, I’m going to read them in order. I don’t yet know what I’ll encounter, I plan to post again when I finish. Perhaps in between I’ll write reams on all the characters, the themes, things I’ve only just realised. Perhaps I’ll write nothing and just chuckle and cry to myself.

If you follow me on Twitter you might have seen me Tweet some comments with the hashtag #AroundTheDisc. I’ll be using this to document random thoughts. And I’ll be starting my journey before this post goes up, because I’m an impatient bugger, and frankly I could do with some laughs right now.


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What’s the purpose of a backlog?

I come from a family of readers, I love books and so my shelves have always contained books that I hadn’t gotten around to reading yet. Over the years I added films, series, anime and games to the media I’d collected, but not consumed yet. For a while all I had was a wishlist, things to buy, there was no need to keep track of things I hadn’t gotten round to yet in a separate list. All I needed to do was look at my shelves.

So why did I start keeping track of these things? Well with the rise of streaming services like Crunchyroll & Netflix, not everything is on my shelves any more. And while these sites allow you to keep track of what you want to watch on each of them, that leaves it fractured. However the main reason I signed up for MyAnimeList, Backloggery and all those other sites is they allow me to share what I’m doing and plan to do with my friends. Especially those friends who can’t easily swing by and look at my shelves. They also allow me to add little notes on what I thought of them, notify me of related stuff etc. And in most cases, they give out achievements and badges for completing certain amounts or specifically themed shows/games. Yes, these badges and achievements are utterly pointless, but they’re also incredibly addictive!


Okay, so I’m almost half way to Mystery lvl 2…

Continue reading

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Life/Blog Update

So this blog has been very quiet since January which has a lot of causes, but it’s mainly due to my anxiety disorder kicking up big time. I’ve started therapy to combat it and while that is working, it’s also draining my energy big time. On top of this I’m studying for my N4 JLPT test in July. Because I’m a massive masochist that way. xD

I’ve got a secondary blog Difficulty Setting Hard on which I chronicle my struggle trying to study while dealing with mental illness.

As for this blog, I have a plan for it and I’ve been doing some prep work. Once I’ve finished my JLPT on 3rd July and come back from the Japan Expo a week later I’ll get started on overhauling this place. Till then you can find me at my second blog, twitter and of course at That Game Club where I’ll be pretending that playing Norn9 is a valid way of studying…

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Project Diva Mirai DX

16282163155_9b5bfa581f If you follow me on twitter you’ve probably seen me tweet pictures from this game. I’ve been playing it for the past several weeks and have spent most of that time clearing songs to earn points so I can buy more cute clothes and stuff.

And there is a lot to buy and do. The first thing that struck me when I started the game was that the main menu was that you have to search for the rhythm section. The first options are dressing up and playing with your vocaloid partner. Besides these you also have the option to go outside to shop or create music and dances in the various studios around town. You can even play PuyoPuyo against your partner. You can access all these features from the beginning, but to get content for them you’ll need to actually play the rhythm game!

The rhythm portion itself is really well put together. I’ve played both Project Diva F games on PS3 and Vita and this game has more songs than both of those to start with. It also allows you to pick button or tap mode, which give you different play styles. The song selection is good, with some of the usual classics like The World Is Mine and Senbonzakura, mixed in with songs I hadn’t encountered yet like Animal Fortune Telling, Sweet Magic and Glow. I’m also really glad to see Happy Synthesizer in the list as it’s a favourite of mine. ^^
CYq9GzGUwAEwG9VWhile the songs are fun, it’s the dress up and, to put it frankly, the grinding for all the costumes, card designs and other bonus things that keeps me coming back to the game. I’ve long since cleared all the songs and gotten the “end credits” but so far the game is proving really, really addictive. So if you have a 3DS and you like vocaloids or rhythm games in general, check this game out.

As a side note, it is pretty rare for games like this to make it to the west, so especially on a region locked system like the 3DS (where I can’t just import the Japanese game) I’m happy to notice I get a fair amount of profile cards for it over streetpass. It’s great to see games like this selling here. Gives me hope that we’ll get more of them in the future. ^^

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