Category Archives: Equality

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Equality, Role Models

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces, Role Models

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.

 

2 Comments

Filed under Equality, Geek parenting resources, Opinion pieces

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.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces, STEM outreach

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.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Reviews, Equality

Two Wins for Women Today

First, the Lego “research institute” set is so awesome, it sold out in three days.  I’m glad I ordered mine the second they came out, because my daughter is completely enthralled.  We’re stretching it out and building one of the sets each night as a treat after dinner.  Toy manufacturers just got a very clear message that there is huge demand for better toys for girls.  I’ll bet the pink and purple “Lego Friends” sets made to sell on the “pink aisle” didn’t sell out in three days!

The set is marked “10 and up” but like most toys, it’s probably over-estimated to keep them safe from lawsuits.  I would say a much younger kid could build this alone.  There are a lot of the absurdly tiny Lego pieces in the set, so it’s actually a good activity for a parent and a four-year-old to build together.  I read the directions and act as coach/director, and she uses her better-sized little fingers to put the tiny pieces together.  

Second, if you didn’t see it in the news, a woman won the Fields Medal today for the first time in history.  The Fields Medal is awarded every four years, and only to mathematicians under 40.  Today it was announced that this year Stanford’s Maryam Mirzakhani won.  From what I understand, for mathematicians it’s sort of like winning the Nobel Prize and the Olympics rolled into one. 

So, yeah… it’s a great day, ladies!

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Geek parenting resources, Product Review

Female Superheroes Drawn With Actual Clothes On

I just discovered the art of Mike Lunsford, who, among other things, has drawn a bunch of female superheroes that are — gasp — fully clothed.  As in no cleavage, no butt cheeks hanging out, no metal bikinis or corsets.  As an added bonus are in positions that can be achieved without breaking one’s spine.  And guess what?  They still look totally gorgeous, even by America’s really weird standards.  I’m really loving this art.  

The only downside I see is that the outfits still don’t really look like clothes that would be terribly practical for fighting in, with the possible exception of Wonder Woman’s much more functional-looking upper body armor.

Here’s the link, and below is my favorite, his rendering of Supergirl without her usual cheerleader skirt.  

What do you think, improvement or messing with the originals?  What could make these even better in terms of both being practical and empowering the girls who read these comics?

Super Girl looking much more anatomically correct than she usually does.

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Geeking out, Opinion pieces

What’s So Great About Princesses Anyway?

I’ve always wondered how princesses got to be such a hot thing.  Obviously it’s been a brilliant marketing strategy for Disney for decades, but what is really the appeal?  A princess isn’t in any real kind of position of power – at best she is second in line for the throne, at worst she is never considered eligible for the throne.  And this is, of course, assuming the throne is even something worth having.

The princesses in the stories never have a particularly nice life, and the ‘happily ever after’ part is assumed but never actually seen/heard.  Princesses in stories don’t seem to have much fun, and often deal with curses, evil relatives, being prisoners, being forced into manual labor and slavery, cases of mistaken identities, and plain bizarre stuff like living with a bunch of mining dwarves.

The princes who do the rescuing of these princesses are bland, overconfident, and not usually terribly bright.  So much so that many princess movies poke fun at those brawny men while still following the same basic princess story formula (I’m looking at you, Shrek and Beauty and the Beast).  Most of the heroes make me genuinely fearful for the futures of the countries these idiots might someday lead – like the idiot who couldn’t recognize Cinderella after the ball.  You really want him as your sovereign?  Is he really going to be a big step up from the evil stepfamily for Cinderella?

Being a princess in real life seems pretty boring, too.  You’re basically a glorified spokesperson for your family/country, and the most anyone expects of you is to produce heirs, smile a lot, support a few charities, and show up to ribbon cutting ceremonies.  You may be rich, but you’re stuck with a job you can’t quit, ever-present security, and constant media scrutiny.

So what is the appeal?  Does anyone know the history behind this particular selection as the supposed ideal of what a girl can be, and why so many people go crazy obsessive over it?

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces

Historical Evidence of How People Didn’t Use to Freak Out About Breastfeeding in Public

In case you hadn’t noticed from all of my other posts about things like girl power, women in STEM, feminism, etc., I kinda have this thing about women’s rights.  One of the biggies is breastfeeding, and I could go on and on about the benefits, but I wont.  Mostly because that’s already been done a lot.  The short version: it’s really good for babies and moms alike.  It’s also not something that should be forced on anyone, and something that women should not be shamed for choosing – or not choosing – to do.

One of the best things about this newfangled and super-modern era we live in is that we are blessed with a lot of choices.  What really rankles, though, is how many people think it’s indecent or gross or inappropriate for public consumption and feel the need to loudly and obnoxiously force that uneducated and historically inaccurate opinion on mothers who really have enough going on.  They shouldn’t have to deal with rude, intrusive, ill-informed nasty busybodies on top of being new moms.

Uh… what do you think people did for thousands of years to feed babies, before the nice men and women in white coats came up with fancier and fancier versions of formula?  Oh, right.  They used their mammary glands for their actual function.  They do have a purpose, you know.  One that’s not recreational.  I can one hundred percent guarantee you that Jesus himself was breastfed.

So calm down about a nipple slip or a little side boob showing.  To back this argument up, I give you this awesome collection of historical images showing just how normal it was in lots of cultures – and still is, in many.  It was normal here until very recently.  It basically took only one generation to almost wipe out breastfeeding in the U.S.  Don’t be the generation that keeps it from coming back despite a whole bunch of scientific and historical evidence that shows it’s a good thing.

As further evidence of the normalcy and non-gross-ness of breastfeeding, there is also this breastfeeding segment from Mister Rogers.  Seriously, who can possibly argue that something featured on Mister Rogers is obscene?

Not a Mister Rogers fan?  Check out the Sesame Street versions, then.  They featured breastfeeding not once, but twice!

By the way, if you found yourself squirming uncomfortably every time you read the word ‘breastfeeding’ in this post or looked at one of the pictures or videos, please take some time to reconsider how you think about human female mammary glands.   You might just be one of the people who has forgotten their true purpose and bought the media’s portrayal of them as purely recreational and at the same time shameful.

Also, kudos to facebook for finally admitting this week that pictures of breastfeeding aren’t ‘obscene’ and changing their policy.  Took ya long enough.

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces

Stop Making “Like a Girl” an Insult

In the military, this one comes up all the time.  It’s embedded in our everyday culture.  Women and men both use it frequently.  They use the label ‘girl’ as an insult.

“Hurry up, ladies”  when guys are taking forever to change or catch up or complete a task.

“You hit like a girl” when someone is weak

“Suck it up, girlie” when someone is being a pansy

“You’re such a little girl” when someone complains

It’s insulting.  It’s degrading.  Find something else to use.  Girls and women are not weak and they do not have less worth than boys and men.  How can you possibly even think that of the half of the species that has to go through friggin’ childbirth, for crying out loud?

And on that note, I love this ad:

Leave a comment

Filed under Equality, Opinion pieces