Thankful

Today I’m thankful that:

  • I have a computer, internet access, and freedom of speech that lets me write this blog.
  • I am able to read and write, and have been able to get a very good education.
  • I have a comfortable place to live and loving family members to share it with.
  • I am gainfully employed in a job that pays me the same as my male counterparts.
  • I have the skills to cook yummy food.
  • I excel in multiple male-dominated fields.
  • I have a wonderful spouse who helps me do the job I do without too much worry about what’s going on at home.
  • I have a daughter who lights up my world, with an exciting future ahead of her.
  • I live in an exciting time.  For better or worse, the world keeps changing – technology, societies, cultures.  I just have to keep hoping that the better will outweigh the worse.

What are you thankful for this year?

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Book Review – The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight

Apologies for the long silence here recently.  Work travel schedule has been a little crazy – in fact, there was only one day this week where I was not on an airplane.

But all this travel afforded me some good audiobook listening time in the various car and airplane rides, so I finally got around to one that has been on my list for ages.  I have wanted to learn more about the Mercury 13 for quite a while, so I used one of my stacked-up Audible credits to pick up The Mercury 13: The True Story of Thirteen Women and the Dream of Space Flight by Martha Ackmann.

Written with a beautiful forward by journalist (and NASA journalist in space finalist, before that program was canceled) Lynn Sherr, the book tells the story of some incredible pioneering women in the early days of manned spaceflight.  Their stories are interwoven with political and social context of the times, giving excellent perspective on what was happening – and why- with astronaut selections.

It’s amazing to me just how close we came to having a female astronaut in the early days of the Mercury program.  The Lovelace Foundation privately put thirteen women through the same testing as the male Mercury astronauts, and they excelled.  In many cases, the blew the men out of the water with their performance on those tests.  Mary “Wally” Funk, for example, stayed in the sensory deprivation chamber for a record-setting 10 hours, 35 minutes.  There was also a strong argument for using astronauts who were smaller and lighter in a time when the U.S. space program was having difficulty getting larger payloads to orbit.

The frustrations, challenges, and – in many cases – outright sexism and unfairness did not deter these women.  They continued their personal careers pioneering as champion air racers, military reservists, FAA examiners, flight instructions, and commercial pilots, while also hoping and fighting for the chance to go to space.  NASA’s blanket policy of only using military test pilots unilaterally barred women.  Since women were not allowed to be military test pilots, none would ever pass that wicket  – NASA didn’t need to specifically say “no women allowed,” they just had to include a prerequisite that already said it for them.  The all-white-protestant-male face of NASA would not change for many more years, but it’s important that we don’t forget that there were women who were more than qualified and fighting to go.

The program was kept pretty quiet at the time, and so has almost been lost in history.  I think it’s important to remember these stories.  This book is a well-told story of some amazing women.  I strongly recommend reading this book as a fascinating piece of our history with examples of amazing female role models, and a good story of fighting for equality for all.

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Review: Boston Metaphysical Society

love me some steampunk and gaslamp fantasy.  And webcomics.  So I’m always happy to check out a new series or comic in one of those genres, especially one that’s appropriate for both adult and youth audiences so that I can write about it here.  This week I checked out M. Holly-Rosing’s Boston Metaphysical Society, which is both a webcomic and a series of prequel novellas.  I quickly was sucked in to the comic and enjoyed the story immensely.

It’s more on the supernatural side of steampunk – the characters deal with demons, ghosts, and monsters but there are also lightning-powered weapons and airships.  It also has flavors of historical fiction and alternate history, and you’ll probably recognize some of the characters from your school days: Tesla, Bell, Edison, and Houdini.

The art in the comic reminds me of the style in the Batman graphic novels I loved as a kid, but a little more sepia-toned to give it that Victorian feel.  The art is very well suited to the themes and storyline, and the people are drawn as fairly proportional people in clothing that makes sense for their jobs and culture (i.e. no women in strange, anatomically impossible poses with their chests falling out, but you will see some corsets and even bustles).

The characters range from the guy with an enormous upper-class superiority complex to a quiet, flawed hero with a past, to the under-appreciated genius whose station in life keeps him from being the tremendous success he should be.  There is also a talented young medium who the hero reluctantly lets assist him out of desperation.  She’s the only female character in the webcomic so far, and only a sidekick, but I have high hopes that in the future of the series she’ll get an even bigger role and continue to defy the conventions of her society.

The accompanying novella to the comic, The Demons of Liberty Row, is a prequel that gives background info on the early days of the Boston Metaphysical Society.  It’s written in a style similar to the comic so it’s just a little bit dark, and it leans towards the melodramatic.

The Demons of Liberty Row was an engaging story with interesting characters, but at first I kept finding myself distracted by the need for a heavier hand at editing.   Things like typos, repeated words, irregular use of commas, and long, run-on sentences with frequent use of semicolons made it hard to follow and focus on the story.   The ratio of exposition and description to dialogue and action was also a little high for my taste.

About fifteen pages in, though, I mostly was immersed and stopped being quite as distracted.  I was able to enjoy the really cool devices and doodads all over the home of genius Granville Woods.  I would totally give my right arm to have something like Granville’s amazing house filled with gadgets, workshops, and secret passages.  I also liked his spunky young niece, Sarah, and hope she features again.

My favorite part of the novella was how well it brought the steampunk and gaslamp fantasy genres together.  It has tons of cool gadgets and a healthy dose of mad scientists (both the sort with questionable morals and the simply angry sort).  But it also has plenty of supernatural and spiritual elements that make it a unique cross-genre story.

I would recommend starting with the webcomic, and if you are the kind of person who really likes more background info, then look into the novellas.  The comic and stories contain some violence and a bit of gore, but nothing overtly sexual or over-the-top bloody.  I consider it geared towards adults but appropriate for ages twelve and up, or possibly younger if you have a kid who likes spooky stuff.

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Makers Season 2

A while back I wrote about the first three episodes of Makers: Women Who Make America.  Thankfully, the show is back for a second season on PBS.  You can watch it for free on the PBS website (check  your local station’s website).  So far this season they have run episodes titled Women in Comedy, Women in Hollywood and — my favorite — this week they ran Women in Space.

My preschooler found the Women in Space episode just as riveting as I did, so these are mostly good for family viewing and all ages.  There are a few fairly rough moments in the Season 1 episodes detailing the history of the women’s movement, and the comedy episode doesn’t bleep out everything completely, so parents should be the judge of what very young ones see.

I just can’t get enough of the women in this country who blazed the trail into space and will probably watch the latest episode at least a couple more times.  Up next is Women in War, which is another topic that is very close to home.  Can’t wait to see it.

If you haven’t watched any of the episodes yet, they can each be watched alone, but I recommend watching Season 1 in chronological order, and season 2 in any order that strikes your fancy.  Enjoy, and let me know what you thought of them in the comments!

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Reasons Why I Love Geena Davis

In between my much-more-serious-than-usual series of posts about combating sexual assault, I’d like to intersperse some more positive posts.  Today I just want to point out that I adore Geena Davis.  She is not exactly a STEM female role model, but she is a terrific role model overall for young people, and actively working to improve the world by using her voice to call out the rampant sexism in the U.S. media.

If you’ve never heard of the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, you should check it out here.  The institute points out the disparity in on-screen representation between men and women, as well as how the women are represented.  Following their tagline “If she can see it, she can be it,” the institute pushes for more positive role models and realistic representations of women in all forms of media.

But other than her really great works with the institute, Geena Davis has a lot going for her in the awesome role model department.  Here are just a few of the reasons why I love her (yes, I know I’m resorting to a ‘top 10′ list… sorry, it’s been a busy month):

10. She takes action rather than just talking (see: the institute she formed).

9.  She is seriously talented.  From A League of Their Own to Thelma & Louise to Beetlejuice, she plays diverse characters really, really well.  I’d even argue she made the best out of her script in the incredibly campy cult classic Earth Girls are Easy.  And of course there’s that Oscar and that Golden Globe and… well, yeah, a lot of awards.

8. Did I mention A League of Their Own?

7. She goes for the great roles, even if they are controversial.  She goes for the fun and interesting roles, even if they are not ‘good career moves.’

6. She is a member of Mensa.

5. In addition to fighting inequality in the media, she fights inequality in women’s sports.  She works with the Women’s Sports Foundation to support title IX.

4. She is an activist with more than her own institute and core interests.  She’s worked with USAID, Dads and Daughters, and more.

3. She doesn’t just support sports for men, she’s also a competitor.  She’s a highly-ranked competitive archer and has been in the sport since way before it was cool in the wake of Legolas, Katniss, Merida, Hawkeye, and the Na’vi taking to the big screen with their bows in the last decade.  I mean she’s seriously competitive – she took up archery in 1997 and made it all the way to the semifinals in the trials for the U.S. team for the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics.

2. She was a believable, tough, highly effective President in Commander in Chief.  The role fully embodied “If she can see it, she can be it.”  Every person who saw that show saw that it was not only possible, but a really good thing for a woman to be president.  And she won a Golden Globe for the role, plus a bunch of nominations for other awards.  That show was canceled way too early.

1.  She somehow manages to do all of the above while also being a mom of three, avoiding most of the major pitfalls of fame, surviving more than three decades as a successful actress in Hollywood, and… being really, really funny.  Seriously, check this out:

Ok, ten is more than enough.  That’s plenty of fangirl-ing for today.  Now I recommend you go watch Geena Davis as the President of the United States… I’ll apologize in advance for the fact that you will get completely hooked and then wonder why there are suddenly no more episodes.

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Abuse, Assault, Personal Safety, and What Everyone Can do to Fight Rape Culture. Part 1: Statistics

Trigger warning: sexual abuse, sexual assault.  This is an important but difficult topic.

I spent the past week in training to become a sexual assault victim advocate.  It’s something I have gradually been getting more involved with over the years – last year I did a ‘train the trainer’ program and learned how to train my coworkers on sexual assault prevention and response, as well as prevention of sexual harassment.  This year I volunteered to get even more involved.

The week of training was tough, but so very important.  It made me angry, sad, and exhausted.  There is an awful lot of evil in this world.  But I also feel empowered now, knowing I have some tools to help people – if only just a little bit.  Even if I’m never called on to be an advocate, I at least want to continue with outreach and education.  Caveat: I am not a professional.  I am a lightly-trained volunteer.  But I will check and provide sources/links for everything I post.

Since there is so much information to share here, I will split this into a series of posts intended to give readers some tools and resources for both preventing assaults and how, if the worst should happen, to help yourself or your loved one.

First, since I am a STEM-oriented person, I’ll share some highly disturbing statistics about sexual assault in this country (source: Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) website):

  • 1 in 6 women in the United States will be the victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime.  Only 40% – less than half – will report it.  When you add in the other forms of sexual assault (groping, unwanted touching, molestation), this number doubles – about one in three. 
  • 44% of victims are under age 18, and 80% are under age 30.
  • Approximately 1 in 33 men in the United States will be raped and somewhere between 1 in 6 and 1 in 10 will be in some way sexually assaulted in their lifetime.  Very, very few of them report because of various stigmas and social pressures, so we don’t have a terribly good idea of the actual numbers.
  • Three percent of rapists ever get jail time.  That means for every three rapists in jail, ninety-seven rapists are out there, free to rape again.  Most of them are not convicted, and therefore not registered sex offenders, so you won’t know who they are.  Of those who do see jail time, half are arrested again within 3 years of being released.
  • Someone is sexually assaulted in the U.S. every two minutes.  So in the time it took you to read this post, at least one person was assaulted.
  • The ‘stranger in an alley’ or ‘masked man jumping out from a bush’ thing is a myth – most rape victims (about 2/3!) know their attacker.  And more than 50% of rapes occur within a mile of (or in!) the victim’s home.

This is a rough subject.  So why am I telling you all this?  Well, this is a blog with a lot of info about parenting, equality for women, and pushing for a better future.  I can’t really think of anything that is more applicable right now.

We live in a rape culture.  It makes me angry, and pretty terrified.  It ought to make you angry, too.  The odds say you personally know several people who have been raped, including someone very close to you (remember, 1 in 6, and probably even more than that since so few report!).  Most likely those friends and loved ones have never told anyone what happened to them.

As we go through this series of posts, I’ll include resources for educating kids both on respecting other people’s bodies, and how to respect and protect their own bodies.  If we are going to change this culture and reduce those painfully, ridiculously high numbers, it has to start with today’s parents.  I hope you’ll help me in the fight to wipe out sexual assault and abuse.

 

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Glaringly Awful Example of How Early the Gender Gap in STEM Starts

So apparently the Carnegie Science Center of Pittsburgh is stuck in 1950.  An awesome facepalm moment was realized in the form of their recent STEM workshop offerings for kids in scouting.

Their workshop offerings to Boy Scouts: Chemistry, Cub Scout science, Webelos Scientist, Webelos Engineering, Engineering, Astronomy, Cub Scout Weather, Robotics. Their workshop offerings to Girl Scouts: Science With a Sparkle. Where they learn about the chemistry involved in – wait for it – cosmetics.  Yep, cool stuff and lots of options for the boys, makeup for the girls.  And no, the girls are not allowed to attend any of the workshops for boys.

Way to go, guys.  Carnegie Science Center’s excuse was that they didn’t get any signups from troops when they offered the same courses for girls and that they had to make the name of the class something that would appeal to girls.  Why on earth do science workshops need to be gender-segregated?  Um… how about a schedule of workshops simply for ‘scouts’, geniuses?   Then you could include Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Camp Fire kids, Navigators, SpiralScouts, Pathfinders, etc.

Read the Jezebel article here for more info.  Actual course descriptions below.

 

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Review: Lightspeed Magazine’s special “Women Destroy Science Fiction” issue

I’m calling this a book review because this special issue is about the length of a book.  The whole thing stemmed from yet another high-profile case of rampant sexism in the sci-fi community this year, in which a bunch of whiny men complained that “women are destroying science fiction.”  Well, this naturally caused some backlash, not to mention many people pointing out that a whole bunch of the best sci-fi and fantasy coming out right now is by women.

Examples?  Lois McMaster Bujold and her big stack of Hugo awards and best-sellers.  Elizabeth Moon.  Connie Willis.  Anne McCaffrey.  Ursula LeGuin.  J.K. Rowling, who was told boys wouldn’t buy books written by a woman.  Anne Leckie’s Ancillary Justice winning both the Hugo (fan-voted) and Nebula (peer-voted) awards this year.   I could go on and on.

But I don’t have to, because the lovely people at Lightspeed magazine did it for me.  They decided to push back against the ill-informed haters and create a special issue written and edited entirely by women.  And they called it the Women Destroy Science Fiction issue, which is just really cool.

Let’s just say it’s a resounding success.  They received over 1000 submissions.  The issue contains fiction – both new and reprints, non-fiction, interviews, articles, you name it.  All of it is high-quality and it was so well-received that they are now making a Women Destroy Fantasy and Women Destroy Horror.  Women are writing in every genre, and they are writing good stuff.

As to the special issue itself?  All good stories.  The intro alone is highly entertaining.  A few of the stories I didn’t particularly care for, but that’s normal in an anthology-type book or magazine.  I especially loved the variety in the issue, though.  The stories ranged from hard sci-fi to the whimsical and fantastic.  The reprints included some very well known short stories.  There was also a great collection of personal essays, some interviews, and even podcasts if you listen from the website link or get the ebook version.

I quite enjoyed the flash fiction section, since that’s not normally a story length I read much of, so it was new and enjoyable.  The reprints were some fairly famous classics, which got me to finally read the fabulous “Love is the Plan the Plan is Death” by James Tiptree, Jr. (Alice Sheldon).  Who, as you can tell from that last sentence, had to write as a man in order to get published back in the ’60s and ’70s.

My least favorite was probably Each to Each by Seanan McGuire – not because it was a bad story, but because it’s one of those things where stories/movies/TV that deal with your profession (the Navy, in this case) have to be spot-on or they rub you the wrong way.  Just ask any medical professional who has tried to suffer through watching ER.  The story was good, and creative, but from a standpoint of women serving in the Navy I found it pretty unrealistic.

The novel excerpt from Artemis Awakening by Jane Lindskold got me hooked, and so it has now been added to my “to be read sometime soon” list, hopefully to be reviewed here at some point.  Her fantastic huntress character definitely made me want more.

The interviews section is tremendously special.  It was enlightening to read some of the stories from women who were pioneers in the genre – what they dealt with, what has changed, and what (sadly) hasn’t changed much since they started writing and interacting with fandom.  The personal essays were a great mix of experiences, some sad, some empowering, all quite powerful.

I always like stories that make me think, or look at something from a new perspective.  Two of the best stories from that aspect were “Like Daughter” by Tanarive Due, and “Walking Awake” by N.K. Jemison.   Without giving too much away, “Like Daughter” explores an aspect of cloning I had never thought about before, and  “Walking Awake” is a darkly disturbing cautionary tale one a scientific advancement terrible people could abuse.

I found “The Sewell Home for the Temporally Displaced” by Sarah Pinsker to be utterly charming.  “Cuts Both Ways” by Heather Clitheroe contained the coolest bit of new technology.  “In the Image of Man” by Gabriella Stalker is a very interesting perspective on where American culture might be headed.  “A Word Shaped Like Bones” by Kris Millering was probably my favorite story, and you’ll just have to read that one – any attempt I make at describing it would probably ruin it.

Overall, this is one I can highly recommend – you may not enjoy every bit of it, but I think you will find within this special issue something new, something that will make you think, and definitely quite a few things you like.

 

 

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This Year’s Flame Challenge Winners for “What is Color?”

I have really, really badly neglected the blog lately.  I am very sorry to anyone who actually looks forward to reading this on a regular basis for that neglect.  My lame excuse is some incredibly crappy personal stuff and much craziness at work… which all means I haven’t found much awesome stuff to share here lately, or had the energy to write about what I have found!

I hope you’ll bear with me and keep reading here, though, and I promise some good things are coming this week.  Those good things will be in the form of a new STEM female role model post, a book review, and today’s topic: the latest Flame Challenge winners.

If you missed my first post about Alan Alda’s flame challenge you can read it here, but in a nutshell he started this great annual competition a few years ago to explain a specific concept in terms an eleven-year-old can easily understand.

The entries in written and video categories are vetted by scientists and judged by actual 11-year-olds.  The challenges are questions that on the surface seem easy, and you think to yourself, “Oh, everyone knows what that is.”  But when you try to actually explain them using words in any kind of coherent manner, they are hard.

Previous years’ challenges included What is a flame?  What is color? and What is time?

This year, the question was What is Color?  The winners this year, both amazing women who work in STEM fields, are science communicator Melanie Golob for the written category, and physicist Dianna Cowern in the video category.  Here are the winning explanations:

Winning “What is a Color” entry by Melanie Golob

And now I’m totally hooked watching Dianna Cowern’s other awesome science videos.  You should check out the rest of her down-to-earth, quirky, and highly accurate science videos at her Physics Girl channel on YouTube.

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The nasty backlash against Tropes vs. Women’s Anita Sarkeesian illustrates just. how. bad. it still is out there for women

This is not the first time a woman has gotten some nasty threats for daring to point out sexism on the internet.  But it’s the first time the police have taken the threats against Anita Sarkeesian so seriously.  She ran a new series of “Tropes vs. Women” on website Feminist Frequency and got death and rape threats for doing it.  Let me repeat that.  She pointed out some of the (glaringly obvious) rampant sexism in some popular video games and then many, many disgusting, horrible excuses for human beings then made death threats.  And they made terribly explicit rape threats, and then even more threats against her family.  Lots of these threats.  To the point where even the police, who usually shrugged off such threats and told her there was nothing they could do, told her to leave her home.  Because some of these lower-than-the-stuff-pond-scum-won’t-even-feed-off slimy losers posted her address and other personal info and made seriously detailed and horrific threats.

Just read about it here if you want more details.  I’m too angry to type any more about it.

And if this doesn’t make you angry, you need to check yourself.  Think about whether you would a) want your daughter/wife/mother/female friend exposed to something like this, and b) if you would want any male you are remotely associated with in your life, let alone related to or responsible for raising, to be the kind of person who would post such things.  This is not what human beings do.  This is what sick, twisted, low-life creatures do.  And it happens all the time.

Bravo to Anita for having the bravery to point out sexism, and I pray she is safe today and that they find a way to catch these offenders.

Also, her videos are really good.  Watch them all at Feminist Frequency or the first part of “Women as Background Decoration” below.

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