Category Archives: Feminism

Things the U.S. Could Do To Make Pregnancy More Appealing

I’m in the waiting room for a doctor’s appointment — again — so I finally have a second to get out my thoughts on pregnancy. Specifically, how hard it is under our current system in the U.S.

So, here are things we could work toward, besides abortion, that would maybe help more pregnant people decide it was worth it to keep a baby.

Necessary Improvements

  • Expand FMLA coverage to cover everyone, regardless of how many employees are at the company or how long the person has been employed there.
    • FMLA only hold’s someone’s job for three months, IF they work for a company with more than 50 people and if the person in question has worked there more than a year. So a lot of people fall through the cracks.
  • Make work accommodations for pregnancy mandatory.
    • An employer should have to make a reasonable accommodation for pregnant people to keep working while avoiding either hazards or challenging situations. Ex. I do not know how anyone in food services makes food of any kind in the first trimester.
  • Change work culture so it is acceptable to discuss pregnancy with a boss or HR beginning at the first trimester. Accommodations should start then.
    • The first trimester is no joke. Fatigue making you fall asleep in your desk, constant nausea. Some people have to be hospitalized or miss work. Add to that the social pressure to keep quiet about it? That’s a real struggle.
  • Encourage physicians to offer off-hours prenatal appointments and/or require that these appointments are automatically considered “excused” time off work.
    • I had no idea prenatal doctors’ appointments were both so frequent (1x a month for six months, then 2x, then weekly) and so ridiculously impossible to schedule around regular work hours. At least at my doctor, I don’t get a choice for a time of day that won’t interrupt my workday. They say show up, and I just have to do it. My work is accommodating, but not everyone’s is, and I still have to get my work done, despite having to be out so often.
  • Make insurance coverage for pregnancy mandatory.
    • This really shouldn’t have to be said, but of course it does. Pregnancies aren’t always planned, and they are challenging in many unforeseeable ways. It should be covered by every insurance, especially if you want a culture that supports people having kids.
  • Mandatory maternity leave of six weeks, minimum.
    • Ideally this would be handled with some kind of federal funding or disability insurance, but no one should have to go back to work while their body is completely wrecked, they are sleep-deprived, and leaking. Some kind of payment to help people continue to get fed and housed during this traumatic time would go a long way.
  • Distribute baby boxes to encourage safe sleep and provide supplies to new parents.
    • Other countries do this; it’s a small box with a firm mattress, and frequently comes with a few small baby items and personal care items for mom. The box is used as a safe space for newborns to sleep in proximity to the caretakers, and the supplies guarantee that every new parent has the fundamental supplies they need for baby’s first weeks.
  • Strengthen existing support systems to ensure pregnant people are able to be housed and have access to care.
    • No one should be homeless and pregnant.
  • Support for breastfeeding.
    • Obamacare mandated that every employer have a secure place for pumping, which is a start, but breastfeeding is hard no matter what. People need support and realistic expectations at work if you want people to continue to do it.

Would Be Great To Have

  • Parental leave for both parents.
    • Fathers and partners are every bit as important to newborns as moms. Moms need help. And the “pregnancy risk” employers take by hiring young women would be nullified if everyone had the option for leave.
  • Paid leave.
    • Having your job held is a start, but a pretty weak one. If we were serious about supporting parents, we’d copy other countries and provide some kind of income support. For everyone.
  • Provide qualified childcare.
    • I had no idea I needed to start thinking about childcare, and how to pay for it, and its availability, while I was still in the first trimester. It can cost more than college tuition. If you want people to have kids, you need to find ways for them to be able to afford them and protect them while the parents work.
  • Provide pregnancy leave before the baby arrives.
    • Maybe it is just my insurance, but the time I am in the hospital laboring/in surgery does not count toward my maternity leave. It’s considered regular time off, as if I just didn’t feel like going to work instead of am literally in the hospital. How is that ok? Add in all the days someone may be really struggling with a pregnancy side effect, and you could have many days of missed work — which counts against the number of days that person now has available for leave. This system is broken.
  • Make prenatal care and labor and delivery costs actually affordable.
    • We need to overhaul our healthcare system in general, but all these prenatal appointments and tests (so many tests!), plus the cost of actually having a baby — it is astronomical, even with someone who is prepared and has “good” insurance. If you want people to keep their unplanned pregnancies, you’ve got to bring these costs down.
  • Provide additional/flexible food stamp/EBT options for pregnant people.
    • The first few months, I could basically just eat crackers, fruit, and cereal. After that, I got incredibly hungry, just all the time, but still somewhat picky about what sounded actually edible. If I had limits on what I could buy because I were on EBT, I would have been hungry a lot. I support people not being hungry.
  • Provide a small clothing stipend for lower-income people.
    • This is a true nice-to-have, but any illusions I had about continuing to keep wearing my regular clothes were gone by the third month. I have a small maternity wardrobe because I am loathe to spend on clothes for a few months… but I have had to buy all new clothes, from undergarments up. It’s not just a matter of being unfashionable (I still am!), but literally not being able to put clothes on my body. If I had to choose between pants I could sit down in and eating, I don’t know what I would have done.
  • Offer free or low-cost family classes.
    • Some places offer this, but it should be standard. Babies don’t come with instructions, and neither does pregnancy. My doctor is great, but I see her for maybe 10 minutes. The public needs resources to be able to support pregnancy and new parenthood.
  • Encourage vaccinations.
    • A newborn is basically restricted to the home for about three months until they can receive fundamental vaccinations and get protected from truly deadly maladies. The general population needs to step up and protect these vulnerable folks — which will also help the parents with childcare and mental health, because they will be able to get out more.
  • Offer maternity support home visits.
    • Perhaps it’s just that I’ve watched a ton of Call the Midwife, but I am incredibly jealous of that system. A nurse visits pregnant and new moms several times throughout the pregnancy, providing not just healthcare support, but also emotional check-ins and general social needs (is the home environment safe? Are there other programs the expecting family may benefit from? Etc.) The availability of a supportive environment is one of the strongest factors in reducing medical interventions in labor and in reducing the risk for post-partum depression. It absolutely seems worth it.

If supporting families and encouraging people to have children is a social goal of the country, implementing any of these changes would have a positive effect — and possibly the side-effect of reducing abortions (which banning doesn’t actually do — women just find a different, not always safe, way).

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Review: Like a Mother

Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of PregnancyLike a Mother: A Feminist Journey Through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this book up on a whim because the pregnancy book I had wanted to read was on backorder at the library. I’m glad I did! Like a Mother is one part memoir (focused on the author’s pregnancy) and one part Weird Science Facts. I now know far more about what a placenta looks, feels, smells, and yes, tastes like than I ever expected. I also know what it does.

Honestly, it was such a fascinating and frank look at pregnancy that it shouldn’t be slated as “just” a pregnancy book. Anyone interested in the human body and biology could benefit from reading it.

That said, it feels like every pregnancy book features vignettes about the author’s birth experience, which… I don’t know, I see a value in it, but that wasn’t why I was showing up to the book, and I found those sections a little too personal and intense for me compared to the Weird Science Facts.

I also thought the book had some good discussions of the feminism of pregnancy in general, and it was reassuring in a Hell Yes I’m Not Alone kind of way to know that there are other people out there pushing against the standard pregnancy mantras.

View all my reviews

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Thoughts on Pepper Potts and Why She Needs to Stop Being a Nag

Warning: Mild Avengers: Infinity War spoilers from the first 15 minutes of the movie. Scroll past Pepper and Tony when you’re ready.

 

Avengers photo from http://therealstanlee.com

 

Maybe it’s just because the trailer for Incredibles II came right before our showing of Avengers, but one thing in the movie really struck me wrong–the way women, primarily Pepper Potts, harass their (stronger, super-er, more impressive) boyfriends/fiances/love interests.

Pepper Potts is by far the worst offender. When we first see Tony and Pepper,  Tony is going on about wanting to have a baby with Pepper. She tsks him away, pointing to the arc reactor on his chest and asking him when he is going to stop.  When a wizard opens a magic portal in Central Park and insists Tony Stark has to go somewhere right now to save the world, Pepper’s first thought is to tell Tony not to go. When Tony misses their dinner reservation because he is off doing some super-heroism, Pepper is nagging away on the phone as Tony cringes in sadness as the signal fades out.

But why? Why hasn’t Pepper accepted that this urge to protect the world is just part of who Tony is? She has been with him the longest. She has risen in the movies from employee to CEO of Stark Industries, been rescued and worn the suit. Iron Man is an integral part of Tony’s life. How can she claim to love Tony if she can’t accept that this is part of who he is?

Sure, she doesn’t have to like it. And I get the writers threw in that call as a heartstring-tugging moment to let Tony be a bigger, more impressive, more self-sacrificing hero. But come on, Pepper. You’ve got a lot going for you. If you didn’t like this part of Tony, you could have left.

This is my same problem with the Incredibles‘s Frozone. Yes, that “I am the greatest good” line is pretty funny, but I’m really disappointed to see it continued in the newest movie (at least, according to the trailers). It bothers me, a lot, that Frozone and Mrs. Frozone (who we never even see on screen!) can’t sit down like reasonable adults and talk this out. Why can’t he be sitting down to dinner, and then the wife looks out the window, sees the giant attacking robot before Frozone does, and hurries to help him get dressed? Why can’t she insist he move faster before that robot destroys her azaleas? Why can’t she be supportive of his activities outside the house?

What I would like to see out of at least some female supporting characters is…support. In other movies, we get firefighter wives who cook a meal for the whole fire house, or triumphant military wives who are proud to be able to see their men off to war, or boxers’ wives who go moment-to-moment through the fight afterward with their man, patching him up for the next go or whatever. They may not like the danger, but they understand that this is important to their spouse so they do what they can to make it happen.

Where is that for a superhero movie?

I think it’s missing because of cultural norms. Thanks to Victorian America, we have this concept of separate spheres: the man’s place is outside the home, the woman’s place is in it. Women are constantly trying to “snare” a man, to “trap” him and “hold him back” with marriage. That ball-and-chain gag depicts the relationship; it’s gross.

We should be beyond that. We live in a two-income world, where relationships are supposed to be decided based on love and mutual interests. And relationships are supposed to be based on trust and understanding. Something like understanding when the motivation of your partner is to run toward danger rather than away from it.

I do have one example that gets it right. In the Dresden Files books by Jim Butcher, Michael Carpenter is a Knight of the Cross–basically a holy crusader who is always being called to danger at a moments’ notice, often with wizard Harry Dresden. He has a passel of kids and a wife, Charity. Charity does not like Harry much; she doesn’t like the dangers her husband gets in with Harry around. She doesn’t quite trust Harry. But she trusts her husband and his calling 1000%. She supports him in everything. Her fear and anger at Harry is turned into something formidable; she’s one of only a few humans who can scare Harry Dresden, and he’s fought vampires and werewolves. But for her husband? She is understanding. She helps out. She is a great spouse and an excellent role model.

I want to see more Charity Carpenters in superhero movies. I want the women, even those who are “just” supporting characters, to have nuanced, good relationships. Because the nag thing is a tired trope.

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To Boldly Go Toward Diversity in Science Fiction

With the sad little white men known as the “Sad Puppies” shitting all over the Hugo awards, diversity in science fiction has been a hot topic of late. And it likely will continue to be a conversation, in literature. But right now I want to talk about another medium, and a body of science fiction that has definitively transformed the cultural landscape for the better. Because it was diverse.

I want to talk about Star Trek, a TV show, several movies, and a long string of spin-off books. Because my friend died, and it’s what they loved.

I’ve written about my love of Star Trek before. But I don’t know that I’ve explained how important it has been in my life. Star Trek was the show that my brother, my dad, and I gathered around to watch most nights growing up (and sometimes mom joined in, too). We predominantly watched Star Trek: Next Generation, but we weren’t choosy and have dabbled in all of them. We didn’t always watch them in order, but that wasn’t important. I can’t even tell you which of the movies I’ve seen, except to say “yes.” I had a crush on Wesley as an awkward teenager, because he was a smart awkward teenager about the same time I was just awkward, so he seemed to have a lot to aspire to.

My parents were the type who didn’t allow us to watch anything they deemed “inappropriate,” and heavily favored those they viewed as “educational.” And Star Trek absolutely fit that bill (lucky for me). I probably didn’t learn that much about actual science, but I learned a great deal about philosophy, about friendship and familial relationships, about hope. And I most certainly learned about acceptance.

Of course we all know it was Star Trek that braved to blast through the color barrier on TV, with the first interracial kiss. But more than that, Star Trek taught that anyone could be accepted. You could have weird spoon indentations on your head, or a tendency to fight at a moment’s notice, or the ability to read emotions and strange marriage rituals, but it wouldn’t matter: Starfleet would find a place for you. You were respected for who and what you were. It may not have always been logical or the easiest choice, but it was Captain Picard’s (and later, Captain Janway’s) prevailing approach. To learn. To welcome those who are friendly and demilitarize or avoid those who aren’t.

I can’t have been the only one who learned tolerance from Star Trek. I know it has inspired others. It inspired my friend, who I first met the first week of college; they performed Hamlet‘s “To Be or Not To Be” speech… in Klingon. They made an impression–not necessarily flattering, but certainly brave and owning their geek pride. And I could respect that.

I’m using the pronoun “they” because, though in college my friend presented as male, some time a few years later they decided/realized they preferred the pronoun “they/their.” They identified not as male, but as “genderfluid.”

Yet again my friend stunned me a bit. I mean, that is a tough thing to wrap your head around, for sure. But I hadn’t been in close touch with this friend for years, and even so they felt the need to reach out, to share this very intimate part of their life, with me. I was touched, and felt guilty for having been so far out of touch. I admired them their brave eccentricity, their self-acceptance, their newfound sense of confidence, of self.

I think Star Trek had a lot to do with that. See, in Star Trek, no one would blink twice at this kind of switch, about the idea that gender is not fixed or biologically determined. Sure, what else is new? We’ve got these furry things that reproduce like mad, let’s go deal with them. The captain’s banging a green alien again, what else is new? We’ve got solar systems to explore, who cares about a stupid pronoun?!

My friend loved Star Trek. I mean, they were fluent in Klingon, of course they loved it! But I can’t help but think, now, that one of the big appeals for them must have been that acceptance of diversity. That dream of a future utopia wherein poverty has been eliminated, where disease can be cured by a flashy light, and where people can be who they are…whoever and whatever that may be.

My friend passed away very suddenly last week. I never got the opportunity to tell them how brave they were. But they reminded me of something important, even now: that diversity in science fiction is absolutely not a bad thing. It’s a beautiful thing. It is perhaps the best thing about science fiction, that we can create safe spaces in which we can explore the possibilities of a bright future.

I hope my friend has found their Nexus.

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The Weirdness of Weddings

wedding paper flowersLast year, just after I got married, I was lonely, depressed, and trying to come to terms with what had happened in the wedding planning: two of my three bridesmaids dropped out of the wedding and stopped talking to me. I wrote up a piece about it, framing it not as a explanation (because I’m honestly not completely sure), but as a “how to” craft piece. The step-by-step craft process gave me a little emotional distance, and I thought it was kinda poetic.

I submitted it to APracticalWedding.com, a site upon which I’d relied heavily during wedding planning. This summer, they decided to publish it, which was pretty cool. Then it was republished by Refinery29—bonus cool!
But I’ve noticed something. Women, online and in person, respond a few typical ways:
  • “Well, at least you know who your friends are now?” or “Well, they just weren’t very good friends, were they?”
    I’ve gotten this from several commenters, as well as my mom and the therapist I briefly visited. You know how helpful this response is? Not at all. Because they were my closest friends, and their absence meant the utter dissolution of my friend circle. So, sure, I knew who my friends were: older friends, from college, who I rarely get to see. I had no “Let’s go see a movie” friends left.
  • “You shouldn’t have wanted such a hard craft project! Some people aren’t crafty!”
    Mostly received online, from people I think who didn’t understand that the craft was just a way to talk about it. For the record, they didn’t leave just over the craft. They ignored me about the craft, then were dismissive about it, didn’t offer ideas on dresses or like any of the ones I picked, and didn’t bother to RSVP to any shower invitations, didn’t come to my birthday party, weren’t available to meet for dinner, and then were upset when I asked for more support. I even said that if I was asking too much of them, I’d understand if they didn’t want to do the bridesmaid thing and they could just come to the wedding if that was easier. They, apparently, didn’t think so.
  • “I think we’re only getting one side of the story here.”
    Another from the commenters, and—well yeah, of course you are. That’s how a narrative works. This comment has a little added zing of implying I’m lying or manipulating the story. But, if it helps, I don’t know any more, really. They never said why, exactly, they were dropping out. They never said anything at all, except one half-hearted “I’m sorry things turned out this way” a week later, before dropping off my Facebook friends list and not talking to me again. One changed her username so I can’t search for her.
And that would be it, except a few men I know read my article, too, because I forgot who can see things I post to my personal Facebook page. And this is what they said:
  • “Wow, did that really happen? I’m sorry. That’s really shitty.”
    And that was amazing. Because the majority of the women who responded hadn’t given me that kind of empathy. These men validated my experience and just let me say, yes, that was a thing that happened. It was shitty. They didn’t blame me or accuse me of being a “bridezilla” (more than one woman has made that suggestion—including the therapist). They didn’t tell me they weren’t crafty. They didn’t try to play it off as no big deal.
I think it says a lot about women and weddings. The women are afraid to admit that something like this could happen to them, that weddings aren’t always the Hollywood ideal of being so popular you have to be in 27 weddings. So they look for “if only’s”—”if only I don’t do that, it won’t happen to me.”
I didn’t have a Hollywood wedding experience. Parts of wedding planning were really, really shitty. I don’t think I “deserved” what happened, and it’s taken me a long while to stop feeling as hurt about it; it was hard to mourn those friendships. But I did have a lovely event, in the end, with lots of dancing and happy people. I married a really amazing man, and we’re building a solid life together.
Plus I have this kickass wreath, so that’s cool.
paper flower wreath

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The Gender Bias in Books

Last week, a coworker left me speechless. I was reading my book at lunch when she asked me what I was reading (I hate when people interrupt me that way, but you’re not allowed to be huffy about it!). I was reading Abaddon’s Gate and was about to start telling her how much I enjoyed it when she asked: “Is that science fiction?” This, honest to goodness, is how that conversation progressed from there:

“Yeah, it is.”

“Oh… Does your husband science fiction?”

“Oh yeah, my husband and I both love it, and–”

“Did you like it before you met him?”

“…uh, well, yeah, I mean, it was practically a requirement for me to–”

“Oh.” (pauses, biting her lip) “Well, it’s lucky you found a husband who liked it. I guess it’s probably easier for a woman to find a man like that than the other way around, though!”

I think I gave her this face:

Apparently being a woman and liking science fiction means I’m basically unmarriable and should be incredibly lucky that I found a forgiving man to marry me.

And if that were it, that would be one thing. I could shrug off one lady as just being kinda crazy.

And then author Catherine Nichols wrote about her query experiment—she sent her exact same book and exact same query letter to agents under a male name. And the male version of her got far, FAR more favorable responses than her real name.

Read about it here.

Here is one of the more salient points:

Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book. Fully a third of the agents who saw his query wanted to see more, where my numbers never did shift from one in 25.

And even the rejections she got were more favorable, with more long-form responses and positive reactions.

This article—particularly following those outdated, sexist comments from my coworker—just was a real punch in the gut. I may be getting tanked before a single word is written, all because of unconscious (or perhaps a little bit conscious) bias on the part of the agents, the very first gatekeepers in the traditional publishing journey.

Bias against female authors in sci-fi/horror is part of why I use my initials with my book, Undead Rising. But I thought that was just for the reader who may be wary of a “girly” book…I had no idea that this sort of bias had leeched all the way through the system. But I can’t say I’m truly that surprised. Publishing is one of the most opaque, challenging industries, with a convoluted process and a lot of gut feel on the part of agents and editors in determining who gets in the door. And with the recent events at the Hugo Awards, I think there is a good reason to be concerned.

I used to sign my query letters with my name, thinking it would be more personal and therefore welcoming for the agent on the other end. I thought I was improving my odds by being warm and friendly. But perhaps I need to switch to only using my initials there, too; perhaps that is what it will take for my fiction to get a fair shake (especially as the book I’m querying is either sci-fi or literary fiction…both genres which carry a reputation as a boys’ club).

I’m deeply frustrated by this revelation, and sure, it’s one woman’s experiment with a relatively small sample. But her results are huge. I hope it leads to some careful thought in literary circles.

Do you see a bias in publishing? What should we do about it?

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People are Making Threats Because of Video Games, Everything is Awful

I thought I was well-prepared to handle interacting with people online; I am pretty savvy, know how to avoid the trolls, not to click on suspicious links, and generally fly under the radar and try to be nice to people. But browsing Twitter for less than 5 minutes on Tuesday night left me horribly shaken, scared, and sick to my stomach. Those five minutes left me afraid to voice my opinion, made me want to quit a hobby I’ve enjoyed for years, and made me want to pack up and become a hermit in the woods, because damn, people are even worse than I thought.
What shocked me was the sudden realization that, even in America, where many voices are praised and generally accepted, where we’re supposed to know better than to oppress different ideas with violence, someone thought it was ok–acceptable, reasonable, even!–to threaten to murder an auditorium full of people who were going to listen to someone speak… just because they disagreed with the speaker.
Even more sickening, though, was that was not an isolated incident. It’s a repeating pattern of awful, horrible, wretched behavior, and not from one person, but from many people who feel safe under the cloak of internet anonymity.
All I did was click on the Twitter hashtag #GamerGate.
If you aren’t familiar with what’s going on, Vox had this pretty solid breakdown.
The short of it is: a lot of people (men) are upset that someone (several women) have offered critiques of the video game industry as not doing enough to be inclusive of women. These upset men then decide that the appropriate response to the criticism should range from mild internet dissent to–much more prominently–repeated, specific, violent threats of rape, murder, personal attacks, and damage to property.
To repeat: because someone said something they didn’t like about a hobby they enjoy, people are threatening to assault, harm, and KILL.
 
When I happened to look at it, I stumbled onto the most recent happening: because Anita Sarkeesian was going to do speak about her critiques of video games, someone decided to threaten “the worst school massacre in U.S. history” if she was allowed to speak. You can find the details in this CNN article and elsewhere.
And because Utah is an open-carry state, school officials couldn’t do anything about people bringing guns to the speech. So Sarkeesian had to cancel.
It isn’t an isolated incident. In literally just five minutes of browsing about 100 comments on Twitter, I stumbled on people supporting Sarkeesian, yes, some expressing disagreement with her views but distaste with the threats, and–this is what left me shaking with anxiety and horror–repeated threats of more violence.
I’m not going to dignify the tweeter by linking to his actual post, but I read one tweet that said, “My last tweet led some to believe #GamerGate may be pro-rape. Let me be 100% clear: #GamerGate IS pro-rape.”
****
This whole nonsense–and let’s be honest, the inciting incident IS nonsense–made me scared to write up this piece, for fear of catching even a fraction of the grief that Sarkeesian and others have had to tolerate from the horde of online assholes. Because I am a woman who writes things online, who has opinions and plays video games, so maybe I’ll be swept up and readied for the firing line by these types.
But it didn’t feel right that reasonable conversation should be suppressed by the whims of terroristic asshole children who don’t understand it’s ok for someone not to like what you like. Or even, more appropriately in this case, to like what you like but suggest that there could be more and different kinds of it. 
 
There is no reason–no reason at all–for these women to be attacked for having opinions. And any possible goodwill or reasonable debate those who agree with the “GamerGate”ers has been utterly obliterated by the vocal minority (majority? Hard to tell) who are so afraid of admitting girls to their club (girls who have actually been there, quietly, all along!) that they feel it is acceptable to threaten violence and expose people’s private information so that others can commit violence.
Our current laws haven’t quite kept up with the changing technologies. It’s unclear when a comment on Facebook, Twitter, or elsewhere on the internet is grounds for an arrest. I’m not one to advocate for the tightening of laws against expression, but you know what the First Amendment doesn’t actually give you the right to do: Openly FUCKING threaten to harm someone.
This is ridiculous. And tragic. And sickening. And, if you’re at all involved in the gaming community in any way, it’s highly likely that someone you know–likely that someone I know–thinks it’s not a big deal to threaten these women in this way. But of course it is a big deal. A huge, terrifying big deal.
I don’t know how to fix it. I wish I did. But don’t be assholes to each other. And call out those who are. That’s a good place to start.

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