Category Archives: Opinion pieces

Where I get to rant about stuff going on in the world

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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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.

 

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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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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.

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Lands End Science Shirts for Girls?

While I appreciate the efforts of Lands End and their responsiveness to the customer base in making their new line of science t-shirts for girls, I don’t quite understand why this is necessary.  I totally want more science stuff for girls; what baffles me is the need for separate ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ sizing on t-shirts.  A t-shirt is a t-shirt.  And boys and girls are shaped roughly the same until puberty.

My daughter is skinny, but got my broad-shouldered build.  ‘Girl’ t-shirts usually end up too short and too tight in the shoulders long before she outgrows them anywhere else.  This is especially a pain with long-sleeved shirts – we have to go up a size to fit her shoulders, and then roll the sleeves up.  So given a choice, I just buy her ‘boy’ shirts anyway.  Plus, you know, there’s her Spiderman obsession, and I have yet to find a ‘girl cut’ Spiderman shirt.

So if you’re only looking for more ‘feminine’ styled shirts for your kids (i.e. slim-cut shirts with teeny shoulders that have cute little gathers in them), these Lands’ End t-shirts may be for you.  And if not, we can all continue to ignore the fashion industry’s desire to make more money off gendered clothes and just buy ‘general kids play clothes’ – which unfortunately seem to only be in the boys’ department still.

Do you only shop for your kids in the girls or boys department, or do you venture across the aisle once in a while?

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Military Sci-Fi & Fantasy – Who gets it right?

The Military SF panel I was on at DetCon1 did not get to a lot of the topics we had hoped to cover (partially due to a ‘hijacking’ panel member and partially due to the fact that we only had 50 minutes!) and several con attendees asked me follow-up questions in the days after. I love Military SF&F, and enjoy talking about it, so I’m glad so many others wanted to keep talking about it, too.

The most popular question is always: so who gets it right? Not every Military SF&F writer who has been in the military gets it right. Sometimes this is because the person is far removed from their time in the service, other times because they are writing what they don’t really know (a desk jockey writing about special forces missions, for example), it’s possible they aren’t that great at writing or storytelling, and sometimes they are just sensationalizing it or following a cheesy trope trend in order to supposedly give the audience what they want.

That last one disturbs me the most, because I like to think that SF&F readers are smarter than that, and because it is damaging to military members to continue to be stereotyped. There are especially quite a few military SF&F stories that get women in the military wrong (really badly wrong) and even take us a step – or many steps – backwards, despite supposedly taking place in a better future.

People are still writing books where the square-jawed, beefy, swashbuckling white male hero serves in an all-male unit while blowing many things up and saving the day. If there are women, they are often just there as a sex object, motivation tool for the main character, or a secretary.  One panel member last week rightly called some of the worst stories “war porn” – that is, nothing but loads of gore and things going boom, and glorifying war… with no real plot to speak of and very cliche’d one-dimensional characters.

But enough on all that depressing stuff. What I really like to talk about is the people who get it right. These include both people who have served and those who have simply done their homework very well. I’ll list them here in both categories, and the branch the author served in if applicable, if I can easily find it. This list is, of course, limited to what I have read and what I enjoyed. Please share your own recommendations in the comments!

Note that there can be some debate about how ‘military’ some of these are. I include anything involving professional military members, mercenaries, civil defense forces, rebel fighting groups, and fights big enough to be considered battles under the umbrella for my own personal definition. That can be debated in the comments as well!

Good Military SF&F written by authors who have served (in no particular order):
Paksennarion series (fantasy, Elizabeth Moon, US Marine Corps)
Familias series (sci-fi, Elizabeth Moon)
Valor series (sci-fi, Tanya Huff, Canadian Naval Reserve)
Forever War series (sci-fi, Joe Haldeman, US Army)
Starship Troopers (sci-fi, Robert Heinlein, US Navy)
Dune (sci-fi, Frank Herbert, US Navy)
Lost Fleet series (sci-fi, John Hemry writing as Jack Campbell, US Navy)
Stark’s War series (sci-fi, John Hemry)
Paul Sinclair series (sci-fi, John Hemry)
The Healer’s War (fantasy, Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, US Army)

Good Military SF&F written by civilian authors (also in no particular order):
Old Man’s War series (sci-fi, John Scalzi)
Vorkosigan series (sci-fi, Lois McMaster Bujold)
Ender’s Game series (sci-fi, Orson Scott Card)
Liaden series (sci-fi, Sharon Lee & Steve Miller)

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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?

 

 

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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.

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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:

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