Category Archives: Feminism

Awesome Video: Women in Science Fiction

Look at all these inspiring women! It’s so cool to see authors, to hear them speak with video rather than words for a change. I don’t know about you, but I have a few more books to add to my reading list now.

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October 11, 2014 · 9:58 am

Women, Money & Work: It’s 2014 and We’re Still Talking About This

Partially because of the publishing fuss with Amazon and because I just read a Dave Ramsey book, I’ve had money on the brain. Maybe that’s why these two articles caught my attention: When the Boss Says ‘Don’t Tell Your Coworkers How Much You Get Paid’ from the Atlantic, and Why Some Men Still Think Women Shouldn’t Work from BusinessWeek.

Both articles are about reasons women are disadvantaged in the workforce, and it’s pretty disturbing, because…well, basically there isn’t much I, as an individual, can do about it. And it sucks.

The Atlantic piece argues that bosses illegally restricting employee’s work-related conversations–in this case, about how much money they make–throttles the workforce (duh), but especially women and minorities, who may never find out they are being underpaid/overworked without those kinds of conversations.

The BusinessWeek article says women with male bosses whose wives don’t work should be particularly worried about being underpaid, because men in “traditional” male-as-breadwinner/wife-at-home families are distinctly less likely to feel like a woman should work at all!

I’ve experienced both, though I don’t know–of course–whether either has directly impaired my career trajectory. I didn’t actually know that it was illegal for bosses to tell employees not to share information about their salaries (so that’s good to know for the future), but it has definitely happened a few times. Then again, here in the South, money is one of the big topics you just don’t discuss. Even when I’ve wanted to know, or had a hunch, I wouldn’t know how to start that conversation.

But I am absolutely sure it is true that employees not having a gauge for what a reasonable salary is is one of the things that keeps people from earning a fair wage.

I also had a job with a company whose owner really, really liked “traditional” (ie. patriarchial and restrictive) family values. They talked a good talk about being a “family” and wanting to support everyone, but it was hard not to notice that pregnant employees departed (seemingly by choice) and there seemed to be progressively fewer women in the office. His wife didn’t work, of course, and neither did the wives of most of the managers. It is fascinating and sickening how easily the idea that women shouldn’t or can’t work can spread and contaminate a workplace just because the boss is one of the 20% of privileged families that can have a spouse (ok, woman) stay home all the time.

I have a feeling that, in both cases, something like this was a part of my treatment at those jobs. Nothing tangible though. That’s how it is with these subtle things.

Sometimes we want to blame something more concrete for problems like this, like “women don’t ask for raises enough” or “women opt out of their careers” or “women pick careers that lead to less money.” And those may be factors, too. But I think it would be wrong to completely overlook these passive, small, highly persuasive factors that can impede someone’s success just because of perceptions deeply ingrained in the structure of our society.

What do you think? Do factors outside of our control impede the progress of women/minorities in the workforce?

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A Name I’ll Miss

I’m getting married, and it’s made me contemplative. I wrote this just after picking up the marriage license, when I was feeling really contemplative about the whole name-change situation. It is a challenging choice, and I think it’s become so expected that a lot of people don’t even think about it. But I do. It bothers me. It bothers me that it is assumed (at least in my area, in my licensing office) that a name change is just a given.

Anyway, that’s how you get weird prose-poems like this. Sorry.

——–

First, they called me “the bun in the oven.” Then, “sweet baby.”

Then they gave me my name, 21 letters that spelled out my parents’ hopes, the legacy of the family unit.
My name I learned, writing it out in waxy kindergarten hand, scrawling it at the top-left corner, papers held by the lopsided staple poorly mashed in. I knew trouble was my name yelled in full.
 I grew into my name–it always was, and always would be. Even as nicknames proliferated and clung like sticking burrs, the name fit, comfortable as a hug.
Then I owned my name. Proudest moment the first time it blazed in fresh ink on a high school newspaper. My name rang out at graduations to my family’s applause; my name on a resume opened doors to shaking hands; my name on a check at the bank bought a sense of accomplishment, ability to spend.
Once again I’m called “baby,” having found my love.
But to be with him, I am rewritten, my name undone.
Though the change is a choice, it’s often assumed. Something is wrong with me if I reject a new moniker, a new life, all at once.
I grapple with this new name, this unwanted pre-supposed choice. I pin it to the ground an try it on. It fits a little tight; it’s not quite my style, but I suppose it’ll suffice.
(I leave my name on underneath, because it’s mine and I don’t have to take it off, not for no one.)
But outside, I’m different. I’m changed. The shift is subtle, but I notice, the looks, the gentle mentions. The rudimentary paperwork I plow through; the expense, the awkwardness.
In time, this name will fit me, like the one before. As I wear this second skin, it will gain meaning, import, weight. Maybe it won’t feel so strange.
I’ll be ma’am’d and not miss’d… and that I may miss.

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Let’s Talk About Bridezillas

Let’s talk about the concept of “bridezilla.”

It’s the idea that weddings inherently turn perfectly nice young women into some sort of fire-breathing, plate-throwing, tantrum-screaming monsters. That women develop this malady through their own lack of character, a high budget and the desire to achieve a selfish fantasy in which their every whim must be met.

I hate this concept. It needs to go.

First, as Slate so humorously describes, it is a really bad portmanteau. “Godzilla” and “bridezilla” don’t even sound alike, so it doesn’t make sense from a language standpoint.

Second, it is a term used to judge, cut-down, and control others. “Bridezilla” is a term that comes out when a woman–only a woman, you never hear about “groomzilla,” do you?–doesn’t perform to your expectations. It is a weapon.

Personally, I have heard it several ways.

  • “Oh, don’t worry about it! I’m sure that Major Wedding Problem will work out! You don’t want to be a bridezilla now, do you?”
  • “Don’t get all bridezilla about it, but I need you to…”
  • “You’re really acting like a bridezilla now.”

Every time, it came up–sometimes “jokingly”–as a way to brush off my genuine concerns, to minimize my experiences and stress, and to manipulate me into being something else.

Okay, by now you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Geeze, she must really be a bridezilla if this is going on!”

And maybe someone objective would say that–but I really don’t think so. All throughout wedding planning, this term has been hanging over my head: don’t be “like that.” I’ve tried to be accommodating wherever possible, and I truly don’t care about things like what color napkins we use or if we use live flowers or not.

Now, will I agree that there are women who do go overboard? Absolutely! But we already have words for unreasonable people, tons of them, and the act of being unreasonable is really not limited to women in this situation. The truth is, some people are bitches all the time.

The other truth is, weddings are extremely stressful and there are a lot of competing values at stake: what you want, what you have money for, what your parents want, what your SO’s parents want, what your neighbor who isn’t even invited to the wedding thinks a wedding should be like, etc etc. (Seriously, I had a family friend call to ask me the color of my guest book, because this was apparently critical to her preparations. Really?!)

I mean, how often do you plan an expensive multi-hour event for hundreds of people? It’s not like you know how to plan a wedding going into it; you’re stuck browsing Pinterest and getting sucked into the DIY rabbithole as you try to navigate all this.

And the wedding industry is literally built on people telling you you are not good enough, that if you don’t have XYZ, your wedding will be the worst and you’ll ruin “the memories.” I am shocked by the mountain of pressure that gets dropped on women when we get engaged (and on the men, but to a lesser degree, in my experience). (This article in The New Yorker does a good job analyzing this.)

In my own circumstance, the accusation of bridezilla-dom came from the then-maid-of-honor. What had I done? I told her I was upset that she went dress shopping without inviting me. Without even telling me. I felt left out of my own wedding, and when I told her–honestly–about my feelings, she came back with that. “You’re really acting like a bridezilla.”

It hurt. It hurt deeply, and I cried. It was an insult from someone dear to me, and I didn’t feel like I’d deserved it (particularly because the dress I was suggesting she wear cost all of $50).

That was a low moment. But it wasn’t the worst thing to come from wedding planning. There have been a lot of stress-tears, and grief-tears (which came when she decided to drop out of the wedding rather than wear said $50 dress). Wedding planning is hard, but, really, it’s just a party. And I’m not a monster for feeling hurt.

I’m looking forward to the marriage, and an end to this madness.

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Defending “Fangirls” and Why Greg Rucka is Awesome

Comics writer/novelist/awesome guy Greg Rucka (who is really, really, really good at his job) went to a comic convention last week, and what he saw so frustrated him that he went home and wrote a really marvelous piece on inclusiveness in geek activities.
The basics, if you haven’t heard a whiff of the controversy, is there is a loud (male) subgroup of the “geek” category that feels invaded by the growing population of female fans. The internet labeled these fans “fake geek girls”–ie. girls who don’t REALLY like geeky things, but were somehow pretending to in order to lure themselves a tasty geek boyfriend.
The latest trigger for Rucka was a t-shirt that read “I like fangirls like I like my coffee. …I hate coffee.”
In response, Rucka posted this incredible piece speaking up for female fans of all kinds, but particularly his wife and daughter, whom he sees personally effected by this kind of sexist claptrap.
So, I saw that bullshit piece of shit “joke” t-shirt that managed to insult not only women, not only those of us who call coffee the Black Bean of Life, not only men (via the fact that it was created by an individual with a penis who thinks said piteous appendage allows him the right to tar the rest of us with the same brush), not only fandom, not only, dammit, people with an ounce of decency and who understand that a sense of humor is viable only when it enlightens, entertains, and instructs, rather than demeans and diminishes, and yes, I’ve been thinking about this pretty much all day, why do you ask?”

Read it all here.

[Aside: I met Rucka a few years ago and heard him talk about the writing process. I wanted to become a sponge on his brain and immediately began concocting scenarios in which he adopted me and I became the Robin to his Batman, only in writing. In other words, I really liked him even before this]

I don’t go to a lot of cons, but I have seen this “boo, go away” sort of reaction. On the internet (of course, how could I avoid it?). The worst, though, was when I went to a Star Wars shop with a friend. It was cool–where else can you browse nothing but fan stuff?!

We were the only potential-customers, and the shopkeeper came to chat us up. We were happy to talk, pointing out that we had noticed the shop because of the Rebel Alliance decal hanging outside. He asked if we were looking for gifts…for someone else. No, we were just there to browse. When he caught on that we were, in fact, fans of Star Wars –how could you not be?! It’s the modern myth of our day! Plus lightsabers!–he started to quiz us.

I finally turned red and walked out when he insisted we identify the sex of the tauntaun Han rides on Hoth. And then scoffed when we guessed wrong.

…seriously.

We left the store and the shopkeeper lost out on all potential sales from us, then and in the future. And it’s not always like that. But Rucka is right: let people like what they like. Liking something doesn’t have to be a negative– it’s actually a good thing that your special favorite thing is interesting to others now!

Anyway, go read Rucka’s piece. It has a lot of good things to say.

 

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A Stegosaurus Blasted My Gender Stereotypes

stegasaurus, stomping gender normsI consider myself to be pretty thoughtful regarding gender issues. I was the kid in kindergarten who, when asked to draw a doctor, scribbled a woman in a lab coat, not a man (earth-shattering at the time, let me tell you (I’m sure this had nothing to do with the fact that my doctor was a woman and we watched  Dr. Quinn: Medicine Woman as a family. Nothing.)) I care about feminist issues and try to be considerate of the issues faced by LBGTQ individuals. I made a female lead character for my science fiction dystopia and wrote a genderless novel for my gamebook.
I think about this stuff a lot.
And yet, I still have so much to learn sometimes. Unconscious biases can be a bitch.
Neil Gaiman was my teacher, as he has been so many times previously. And he did it with a children’s book.
You’ve read Fortunately, The Milk by now, right? I mean, I gave it a breathlessly positive review, so you definitely went out and bought it already, right?
Well, if not, you may not want to read the rest of this post, because of spoilers.
Anyway, I read Fortunately, The Milk. (And it’s marvelous. Practically perfect in the most Mary Poppins way.) One of the main characters is a time-traveling stegasaurus named Dr. Steg. (I mean, of course).
I’m as enchanted by the story and the misadventures as the children in the story, and then… everything came to a screeching halt.
90% of the way through the book, you are informed that Dr. Steg is a “madam.”
LADY DINOSAUR ALERT
To be fair, this comes as a surprise to the narrator/father as well, but this really hit me like a ton of bricks. Why did it throw me off so much? Why did I automatically assume Dr. Steg was a Mr. Dr. Steg?
I’ve given this some thought, and I think there are several reasons:
  • The drawings include no eyelashes or gaudy bows, cultural codes for “lady cartoon.”
  • The drawing depicts a rather heavyset dinosaur. Often, absent other markers, heavyset cartoons are male.
  • Dinosaurs are “boy things.”
  • Despite my kindergarten drawings, doctors, particularly “sciencey” doctors, are male.
  • Time-travelers are male.
— And they all still amount to “you still probably shouldn’t have made that assumption.”
And that’s what triggered me to write this post. Question your assumptions. It doesn’t have to be “that way,” even — especially! — if that is how it has always been done. (I mean, I’d like to see someone write some elves that are not musical, arrow-wielding, thin blond people. (Yes, I’ve just seen The Hobbit…)).
What assumptions did you have squashed by a fiction book?

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The Battle of the Sexes Will Be Won By Robots

A dude promoted his book last week by publishing a long, bloated, purple prose opinion piece in The New York Times Sunday Review that set out to solve the gender gap in who has to do the housework.

His brilliant “answer”? Men don’t want to do housework because housework sucks, so women should just not care about whether the housework gets done or not. No one wants to do it, so women should just do enough and then stop whining.
Unsurprisingly, that answer didn’t sit well with a lot of folks.

Rosie the Robot Poster by Tim Goldman

Beautiful poster from timgoldman.com

But I’m a fan of speculative fiction, so I have the answer: Robots.

Obviously we aren’t quite there yet, but pretty much everyone can agree that basic, boring house chores are both essential and absolutely craptastic to have to do. If men don’t want to step up (plenty do, book-selling NYT guy!), and women are sick of doing it, we need a third option.

If you haven’t yet seen “Robot & Frank,” head out and rent it/Netflix it pronto. That’s the kind of robot I’m talking about. Or basically a non-sassy Rosie. Or a super-powered Roomba. Something that will clean the floors, remember to do the dishes, wipe down the countertops, dust the shelves, maybe water that peace lily you cherish. Nothing fancy.

Sure, we’ve made some art/movies/books about how these domestic robots would be a problem, but really, I think they’re the answer. They wouldn’t replace many jobs — in fact, it may elevate those butlers and housecleaners to a higher-pay position, because having a human housekeeper would become a status symbol. And we’re a really long way off from autonomous robots, so the first tiers of these helper-bots would be pretty limited, and therefore not a serious threat to human jobs.

But if we want that — and I think we can agree, we ALL want that — we are going to need some clever lady engineers to get on that for us.

Why lady engineers, do you ask? Before you cry sexism, just look at history: most of the time-saving housekeeping products we rely on today were invented by women (even if they themselves didn’t do much in the way of housework).

  • Cannister Vacuum, Nancy Perkins, 1987
  • Cooking Stove, Elizabeth Hawk, 1867
  • Dishwasher, Josephine Cochran, 1872
  • Electric Hot Water Heater, Ida Forbes, 1917
  • Mop-Wringer Pail, Eliza Wood, 1889
  • Refrigerator, Florence Parpart, 1914
  • Washing machine, Margaret Colvin, 1871
  • The Practical Kitchen layout, Lillian Gilbreth, 1920s
  • Scotchguard, Patsy Sherman, 1952
  • Improved Ironing Board, Sarah Boone, 1892
  • Vacuum canning and oil burners, Amanda Jones, 1880s
  • Gas heating furnace, Alice Parker, 1919

Really, I don’t care who invents our perfect butler-bots, but history implies it’s going to be a woman. Ladies, just let me know when I can place my order, okay?

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