Child’s Play

Guys, I have a serious post I really want to post. I really, really do. I’ve got a lot of stuff bundled up in my head but I need the time and energy to write it down. I had to work yesterday–even earlier than usual–so I’m currently exhausted and now have a ton of things to take care of in the office today. So, here’s a thing:

The above is from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal (click image for link).

It beautifully sums up what I was saying the other day about the messages girls are given and why we don’t end up in engineering/math/science. Girls are given play houses and pretend washing machines and dishwashers and babies. Boys get to blow shit up! I wish that was closer to hyperbole than reality.

Anyways, hopefully either later today or, more likely, tomorrow I will write up what’s been brewing in my mind, which is largely about the danger of -isms and identity. It’ll be fun!

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05/17/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Vagina: The Videogame!

Good morning, my sweet muffins of delight. I know I usually don’t post until the afternoon, but today has already been so majestic. I realized that if I wrap a pashmina around my waist while biking to work I don’t get cold lower back (sure, I could just not wear low-rise jeans, but where’s the fun in that?), I had fresh strawberries for breakfast, and when I got to work, I got to write a nice long how-to for a girl who wants to put her boyfriend in handcuffs for the first time. If that doesn’t put a smile on your face, I don’t know what will.

But wait! It gets better!

There is now a videogame that takes place INSIDE A VAGINA.

You guys, I need to play this. You get to be a Marine wearing a condom hat while you travel through vaginas and destroy STDs and infections and stuff. Hell, you even get to do anal! I hope in the future they’ll release a version 2.0 where you get to repel down the shaft of a penis into the pubic hair jungle where you hunt crabs with sniper rifles. Or perhaps the next mission is the dangerous Operation: vasectomy!

I’m holding out hope that this will actually contain some information about the infections and bacteria you’re destroying–cause it sounds like hell of fun (if admittedly immature and silly fun), but you could actually teach some information under the surface.

They gave the Marines condom hats. They’re onto at least a little bit of something.

Also, I look forward to the coming glut of condom hats on Etsy. Please don’t disappoint me, universe.

05/13/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Do the Write Thing for Nashville

I would like to interrupt your regularly scheduled feminism-and-sex talk to instead talk about Nashville.

Nashville, TN, was recently hit by a huge, devastating flood. While we in Boston were suffering from a lack of water, they were suffering from far, far too much. However, while we once again have a normal H20 situation, they remain burdened with an over-abundance of the stuff.

A bunch of literary folk have banded together to offer up products and services–critiques with authors and editors, chats with authors, signed books, swag, etc–in an auction format. All of the money is going to Nashville relief efforts.

There’s some really amazing stuff up for auction. I wish I had enough money to afford some of the stuff that I would really love to get (a book signed by Neil Gaiman and George R. R. Martin and Anne McCaffrey and more?!), but it’s still so inspiring to see what authors, editors, and agents are donating.

So check it out: Do the Write Thing for Nashville

It’s good for the soul!

05/12/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

In Which I Answer The Internet’s Burning Question

Fine people of the internet, it has been a busy day. I haven’t gone grocery shopping in a month (a month!) nor have I been going to the gym or keeping my apartment terribly clean. Today I went running (it was embarrassing, to say the least), tidied my apartment, went to Trader Joe’s, and bought the next volume of Empowered (best comic book EVAR you are hereby commanded to read it NOW NOW NOW) and visited with friends. So I am kicking back with a glass of wine and my hot pink knee socks with the mustaches on them and a comfy nightie and I am finally working on my fiction writing.

By which I mean I am browsing the internet while I try to work up the courage/brains/blood alcohol content to get to that writing part.

Seen on Facebook: “______ likes ‘Why are women like parking spaces?'”

And so, because I think it is important that the tubes have this question answered, I am going to go ahead and answer it for you, oh interwebs of my heart.

Women are like parking spaces because:

  • Enormously useful!
  • Your ridiculously over-sized SUV-ego cannot be accommodated by many
  • No matter how many times you get in one, it’s still satisfying every time
  • No matter how many other people have been in one, it still works exactly the same
  • Some people are stupid enough to get into fistfights about them
  • Not everyone can handle some of the more complex maneuvers required to get into some of them, but learning tricks like parallel parking can broaden your horizons and bring all kinds of satisfaction to your life
  • If you try to mark one as “yours” for when you aren’t around, you will be laughed at, and possibly face legal consequences
  • Of course, you can enter into a binding legal contract with a parking space, but that usually costs money and requires a notary public

Okay, I think that’s enough. Anyways, I didn’t bother to click on the group to find out why women are REALLY like parking spaces, but I can almost guarantee that my answers are better.

05/11/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Boys And Girls And All Our Silly Problems

Today, I want to discuss something important: how positively difficult it is to be a boy.

You guys, it’s hard. Really hard. (Ed. Note: we here at van der Cake HQ are doing our best not to giggle right now. Heh. “Hard.” Heh.) Cause dudes have all this pressure. They gotta be manly. They gotta lift heavy things onto high shelves. They gotta have GIANT, THROBBING PENISES. They gotta SPARKLE. They gotta smell like motor oil and Irish Spring and a musk ox. All at once.

So, y’know, hug a dude in your life. After all, he is really really hurting about his average sized penis. Fortunately for him, most male fashion isn’t designed to highlight the curvature of his junk, or to give it a little extra oomph. He doesn’t need to spend upward of $70 just to find a pair of underpants that will actually hold his bits. In order for dates to push him aside because they are unsatisfied by his johnson, they have to have gotten him naked. Of course, I’ll bet he puts out on the first date, that hussy.

But anyways, if a dude successfully manages to convince a lady that his poker stick is worth takin’ a ride on, he then must spend most of his time worrying that it is insufficiently of a DISCO stick, what with the non-sparklin’. Turns out it’s a poker face and a disco stick and YOU GUYS I CANNOT KEEP YOUR BODY PARTS STRAIGHT. Men are so complicated! They are like an entirely different species or something, I mean, you guys, GENDER DIVIDE LOL. The Grand Canyon ain’t got nothin’ on this shit! So ladies, do your part to bridge the enormous chasm between male and female by always looking at your boyfriend through a kaleidoscope.

Because at the end of the day, your boyfriend is really distraught about hygiene. It is tough, having to simultaneously be clean and dirty, rugged and soft. You guys, he’s still not king. So if he’s going to set down Narsil for just a few seconds to get clean, you best bet he’s worrying about the manhood implications of being all wet and lathered up and without a sword in his hands (Ed. Note: Heh. Sword. In his hands. Heh heh.).

The point is, no matter what gender your physical body is, your mind is, or any other part of you is, we can all enjoy a good bit of immature humor and what the shit guys, I’m really sleepy and my tea keeps getting cold.

I’ll be back for something a little more serious tomorrow. Maybe. Or maybe I’ll just talk more about sex and feminism. Mmm. Sex and feminism. Yeah!

Subvert my dominant paradigm, baby! Harder!

05/10/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

Books!

Oh man. I think I almost peed myself a little watching this:

I haven’t read Jane Eyre, and Wuthering Heights really aggravated me (Heathcliff is a violent, unhinged man, and Catherine has some abusiveness issues) but I dig the Brontes for what they represent in the great literary world. My personal favorite trailblazing lady author is Virginia Woolf, though. Orlando is a brilliant subversion of traditional gender roles and sexuality, and no matter how you look at it, Mrs. Dalloway is beautifully written.

Anyways, I hope when I get my master’s degree, part of the process is learning how to turn into a giant dinosaur to smash the boys only literary clubhouse. I’m probably going to need that when I start teaching.

05/07/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

It’s The Little Things

Saturday, something really, really embarrassing happened.

While I was parallel parking my car, I rubbed the side of my car along the fender of another car.

There was no damage to either car–the Mazda I rubbed looked perfectly fine, and my car just has some streaks of silvery-white from the encounter. There is significant, acute damage to my pride, however.

I’m a car girl. My dad started me driving stick when I was 12, and I do all my own maintenance on my car. I’ve gotten one speeding ticket in my life and I’ve never been in an accident or hit anything. I can’t get over how humiliating it is to have been driving for over half my life and now to have hit another car while parallel parking (as astoundingly simple task. Anyone who tells you otherwise is full of crap).

But just like that (if I could snap my fingers, I would), I’ve gone from being a savvy car girl to being a dangerous stupid woman driver.

This is something I face regularly. I frequent the bicycle shop that I do (Back Bay Bikes at the intersection of Mass and Comm Aves in Boston, for those of you in the area who might need some bike services) because they have never once left me feeling like they were judging me as a feeble woman cyclist (an attitude I get regularly at other bike shops). Buying parts for my car is a constant exercise in aggravation (I replaced the oxygen sensor a while back and ended up walking out of a store because they were so condescending). Going to Home Depot to pick up tools or parts for projects is mind-boggling.

Don’t get me wrong–I get that there’s a lot of ditzy women out there who are awful drivers, vapid cyclists, incompetent in car parts shops, and terrified of/ridiculously confused by tools. But in my experience it is just the same with dudes. I’ve helped random guys change a flat tire on their car. I’ve had to explain to the employee at Home Depot what I’m looking for and why the random bullshit they offered me is not actually the same thing. I’ve had to take desperate evasive action to avoid dudes on cellphones biking (or driving!) the wrong way and ignoring the world.

It’s just that my vagina makes me so much more pathetic. The guy who doesn’t know how to change his flat tire is probably the sensitive artsy type so it is so totally okay that his brain is occupied with more bourgeois pursuits. The Home Depot employee probably only makes minimum wage anyways, so why should he knew more than I do? The guy on his phone oblivious to the rest of the road is gettin’ his game on callin’ his bitches, so really, why would we interfere with that? If I, however, did not know how to change a tire, did not know why I needed a dremel and not a power drill, or dared to be on my phone while driving, I would be a ditzy, oblivious, self-centered, stupid girl and just another example of why women shouldn’t be allowed near these things.

It’s a stupid double-standard and it pisses me off.

I hold myself to ridiculously high standards of proving I am above every stereotype of my sex–I am a flawless driver! I am brilliant at balancing my checkbook! I do not need chocolate and ice cream when I’m depressed! I do not like romantic comedies and I don’t cry at movies! I love power tools and I know how to use them! and so on–that when I slip up the tiniest bit, I freak out. Partially because I know what’s coming–the mockery from others about how it turns out I really am just a stupid girl, and haha looks like feminism didn’t help me out nearly as much as I like to say, and so on–and partially because I am so invested in proving stereotypes wrong.

Brushing my car against another car while rushing into a parallel parking space on a busy metropolitan artery should not lead to me still feeling angry with myself days later. That’s goddamn ridiculous.

I’m not sure of my perfectionist over-achiever-ness comes from having grown up in southern Connecticut, one of the most ridiculous places ever (oh hai, we’re the inspiration for The Stepford Wives!), or if it’s a side effect of wanting to be The Super Feminist, or if it’s just something I’ve always had. I don’t know.

But it lead to me transferring out of engineering as an undergrad and never even giving marine biology a chance. (Those were my top two career goals from when I was really, really little (well, those and author). My mom found a project from first grade when we were learning writing with those ridiculous pieces of paper with the two thick lines and the one dotted line. In precise, exact letters, mine says “When I grow up I am going to MIT to be an engineer and build cars and fly planes.” DUDE. I kind of wanted to cry when she showed it to me.) When I took the classes I needed for those programs, even though I found them incredibly fascinating and intellectually engaging, I struggled. I justified my decision to switch out into an easier discipline because “Who really wants a car designed by an engineer who isn’t so great at algebra?” The truth is, I was pretty decent, but not great. Not exceptional. And I figured the only way you can be a woman in STEM is if you are better than every single other person and you can punch them in the face if they give you any crap.

This is partially my own failing–I gotta work on the ol’ self-esteem and courage and fortitude and whatnot–but I definitely think there’s a degree of culpability in how our culture works. I certainly had no role models in the fields I wanted to pursue, and there was very little encouragement from anyone around me. I was constantly asked by teachers and those around me if I REALLY wanted to go into STEM. In one memorable incident, I went in to see my chemistry teacher for extra help and was brushed off because what I was asking about “wasn’t going to be on the final” (it turns out it WAS, actually, but that’s not the point). I was discouraged from taking AP Physics. When I tried to sign up for classes my first semester of college, I was assigned to only take calculus and computer programming, instead of the intro engineering seminar I wanted. The advisor told me I should “see how those work out first.” If I had decided to stay with engineering, that would’ve put me a year behind because I hadn’t done my freshman year coursework during freshman year.

…I almost ended the entry there, abruptly, because my word count was at 1138.

ANYWAYS. I firmly believe in individual responsibility in determining our own destinies–I am unarguably responsible for how unhappy I am with where my life is and how many regrets I have about the academic paths I chose. Yeah, I should’ve just sucked it up and been a year behind and stuck with engineering (I got an A- in calc and an A in C++, in case you were wondering), but I had zero encouragement. I had no teacher or faculty member or boss or sports coach or whatever who had faith in me. No matter how trite it sounds, when our entire culture doesn’t stand behind you, having someone who does can really change things.

I’m beyond giddy that there’s now a computer engineer Barbie. I think that’s freaking great. I hope to see more and more normalization of women in challenging, exciting careers for all the little girls growing up right now. (I’ll worry later about the fact that all the accepted bad ass women are either EVIL or conforming to regular beauty standards and still plenty obsessed with catching a boyfriend. For now, I’ll take victories where I can get them.) I don’t know how to completely overhaul our culture to be more supportive to girls in “masculine” pursuits, and I wish I did. For now, all I know is that it’s important that we do our part locally–when you meet a girl of any age, encourage her to pursue what she wants. Be the cheerleader for the girl you know who wants to go into STEM. Take ladies seriously when we talk about programming or auto repair.

A little bit of good will can go a long way toward canceling out a culture of negativity.

05/05/2010. Tags: . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

What “Sex Education” Should Really Mean

Hey guys, guess what? I’m thinking about sex! I know, you are so totally surprised. Don’t worry, hugs will be distributed at the door.

What I’m really thinking about is virginity. The brilliant ladies of The Sexist and Tiger Beatdown did a great chat about virginity on Friday. And yesterday, I missed a rethinking virginity event right here in Cambridge! Which had drinkable water, unlike my office in Boston! This is like a double-decker sammich of disappointment that I was not able to attend! So man, I am thinking about virginity like nobody’s business at this point.

Rumor has it, I once had a virginity of my very own. These were in the dark days, when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Since then, I’ve frolicked with all kinds of genitals belonging to all sorts of people and Lo, It Has Been Good. Not all of it, of course. In fact, I went through YEARS of considering sex to be something akin to a chore–“I mean gosh, this boy is my boyfriend and I guess since we did that thing with the sexytimes once, I’m pretty much obligated to just keep on going.” So, you know, I kept on going.

And here’s the thing–there is so totally nothing wrong with that. For a while, I had my share of anger toward that fellow, let us call him My First Boyfriend (for that is what he was), but that’s misdirected anger. The dude was just doing what he thought he was supposed to do, and I was doing what I thought I was supposed to do, and it’s not like either of us legitimately had any clue what our penises and vaginas should do when working in tandem, or really what they could do. I mean, we had watched porn he downloaded off the internet, and we used condoms, so I guess we weren’t doing too badly, but that’s really about it. I had no concept of the fact that I could enjoy sex or what that might mean, and I certainly had no concept that at any point I could have said, “Hey, you know, it turns out that I thought I was ready for sex, but I’m actually not. I think we need to stop having it and go back to waiting.”

This is not a sob fest–like I said, I’m not upset at him, and I’ve forgiven my adolescent self for being a bit silly. What I’m upset about is the lack of proper sex ed.

Sex ed isn’t just about knowing to put a pretty wacky dunce hat on the dude’s peenor before you start waggling it where the sun don’t shine. If you’re super lucky, someone will mention lube. The clitoris might be discussed in a purely anatomical sense (“This here body part doesn’t actually serve any purpose, kind of like your tonsils. Also like the tonsils, your girlfriend will make some really neat noises if you poke her there!”). And dudes? I’m sorry, but you don’t even get a nod to your erogenous zones.

But beyond the concept of the clinically sexy parts of sexytimes, sex ed should be covering the emotional side of sex. Abstinence is actually a great fucking idea when the idea is wait until you are ready. For some people, that’s marriage. For some people, that’s in the back of a Ford Taurus on the first date. For most people, it’s somewhere between those two extremes. But the point is, when you’re having sex as a fully consenting, entirely ready, emotionally prepared individual who understands what’s involved then you’re going to have safe, healthy sex (for the most part. Ain’t nothin’ perfect in this world).

So that’s what I mean when I say that I didn’t understand that I could’ve had any sway over my early sexual encounters.

Sady puts it brilliantly in the chat:

I had been taught “don’t have sex,” and I had been taught about the importance of putting a little rubber outfit on his apparatus if I ever DID have sex. But what I had NEVER been taught, apparently, was how to respect what I wanted, and to ask for it, and how to say “no” if I did NOT want something he wanted. I mean, I didn’t even know how to say “ow” or “yikes.” My impression was that one could Have Sex or Not Have Sex, and so my first few experiences were like, “oh, so apparently sex is AWFUL? It seems weird that people are so into it! But, OK! I am Having Sex!”

As rational, sexually literate adults at this point in our lives, it’s easy to look at that and go “Pfft! Everyone knows that they can say ‘ow ‘ or ‘yikes’ or that actually, they’re NOT ready for sex. I mean, c’mon!” And then I think about it for a little while, and I think about how nervous I can even get with new partners NOW, let alone a decade ago, and it occurs to me that no, I couldn’t have said any of those things. I didn’t grasp that “ow” was a variable in sex–I figured that if it was hurting, it was because there was something wrong with me, and I didn’t think that we could fix it. Even if it could be fixed, I didn’t know how (and poor First Boyfriend didn’t know either). These days I know that if I go “ow!” I probably need to move my hips to adjust the angle, or grab a little lube or something.

Remember that part about how we watched porn from the internet? Dude, they don’t even use lube for BUTTSEX in porn. It’s just all “TA DA! Magical penis penetrates willing (and eerily hairless and colorless) ass and then everyone is MOANING and then HOLY SHIT MOTHERFUCKING MAYONNAISE EVERYWHERE!”

Did this confuse the hell out of me? Of course! Did I have anyone or anywhere to go to sort out this confusion and my fears? Most assuredly no!

The internet was fledgling in those days and I was mostly using it to play text-based roleplaying games and sometimes to read slashfic (which also doesn’t use lube for buttsex, in case you were wondering). My parents were not accessible sources of sexual information (though my dad took me to get birth control), and I was the first sexually active person in my social group so I didn’t have friends to turn to.

Later in life, I discovered women’s health forums online, I began reading books–both fiction and non–that broached the subject of female sexuality and female sexual pleasure, and I started to accumulate self-esteem. Almost six years after I had been having sex, I finally had my first orgasm alone, and that really changed things.

I’m not saying this is the experience everyone has, or that there’s necessarily a brilliant simple fix. However, reading the chat between Amanda and Sady was comforting–apparently, I am not the only one out there! Other people have weird and bizarre and sometimes unpleasant sexual experiences courtesy of the Big Hubbub surrounding virginity and the lack of really actually useful sex ed.

As Sady mentions, useful sex ed would not have changed who she (or I) decided to first sleep with. It probably wouldn’t have changed any number of Less Than Stellar And Brilliant mate selections I’ve made in my life. But it might’ve changed how I had sex with these people, and my ability to know what I wanted, that I could want something, and how to say no (or even “ow” or “yikes”).

Sex: It’s Really Not That Big Of A Deal.

So can we accept that, move on, and just do what we can to make sure that our kids and little siblings and younger friends and nieces and nephews and all those strangers out there in the world are not getting any more messed up over it? There are just such better things to be spazzing out over.

Like good looking people being in our proximity. As if sun, water, and the air trying to give us cancer wasn’t bad enough, now it’s official–the pretty people are trying to kill us all.

05/04/2010. Tags: , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

On Living in the First World

On Sunday afternoon/evening, I spent several hours boiling water by the hot pot load (fun trivia: my hot pot holds exactly one Nalgene-worth of water), washing dishes in my sink, and then disinfecting them via boiling water baths and microwaving.

There was a huge crack in a water main serving the Metro Boston area, so a huge chunk of eastern Massachusetts fell under a boil water order as of late afternoon on Saturday (unless you want to drink the Charles River, of course). Immediately, grocery stores were flooded with panicked citizens buying up all the bottled water they could find.

I went to the Stop & Shop by my apartment to purchase cupcake making supplies (it had been a long Free Comic Book Day of standing in the sun dressed like Princess Leia, and I had Spiderman cupcake papers and a new recipe for cookie-dough filled cupcakes. No boil water order was stopping my cupcake-making destiny!). Standing in line with my cupcake materials and bottle of Diet Coke, I watched frenzied people piling water onto their carts. People were shoving. Apparently in a few communities, there were actual physical fights. A few areas had water-distribution points where they were handing out bottled water; off-duty police officers were all called in to maintain order because of how people were behaving.

People–it’s water. Boil it! Get it to a rolling boil, hold it there for a minute or two, then fill a jug with it and let it cool, then put it in the fridge! It’s really not a big deal.

It’s amazing how quickly order disintegrates with something as simple as “don’t drink your tap water.” It’s becoming even more ridiculous this morning, as no one in Boston has their morning coffee–oh the surliness! (I made a big pot of coffee using one of my Nalgenes of water, so I’m feeling fine.)

Basically, I can’t help but be a little disappointed by how soft we’ve gotten. As one of my friends remarked yesterday, if anything ever REALLY goes wrong, we’re all so screwed, because clearly no one in this city is capable of coping. It IS a little hilarious, but it’s also sobering.

We would all do well to put into perspective the comfort we live in. All we need to do right now is boil some water. It’s not the end of the world. But people are panicking, breaking down, and even turning violent. What if we had a genuine food or fuel shortage? What if we lost power for an extended period?

First off, the next person who tries to tell me that government shouldn’t have such a hand in running things is going to get laughed at. Yep, the second the water is no longer government-approved, the city goes to hell in a hand basket. Nifty!

Anyways, I want to think that this little fracas will result in people thinking more about the privilege that we steep in daily. Even in my ghetto craphole of an apartment, I can normally switch on the tap 24/7 and have a glass of fresh, drinkable water. I wash my dishes without a second thought. I don’t worry about disinfecting my hands after washing. We brew pots of coffee in our office kitchen daily, simply by filling the coffee maker from the tap.

There are huge swaths of the world where this just isn’t the case. Not ever. Hell, there are huge swaths of the world where you can’t even SHOWER in the normal water. We’re still in the clear to bathe and do laundry. Honestly, I think just boiling water to drink and do dishes is a pretty minor inconvenience (plus we have so much technology to aid us). It’s easy enough for us to drive out to the grocery store and pick up a case of bottled water. Even under a boil water order, we have it so easy.

The sad thing, though, is that I doubt anyone is looking at it that way. We’re sitting around griping because Dunkin Donuts isn’t open.

Welcome to the First World, Boston.  Do you get it yet? Do you understand why so many foreigners want to come live in our country? Do you see how privileged and lucky we are? Do you realize how much we take for granted?

05/03/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.