Divided We Fall

This morning, I sat with my clutch of rising high school seniors, all low-income, minority students, and tried to get them to discuss the Ralph Ellison short story “Battle Royal,” an excerpt from his novel Invisible Man.

I have never felt more acutely aware of how white I am in my life.

In the story (go out, find it, and read it now if you have somehow made it this far in your life without reading Ellison; I think he is where white liberal guilt comes from, and he is an amazing writer) a group of young black men are brought to a rich white men’s social gathering to fight, blindfolded, for their entertainment. The white men are in tuxedos, drinking, “wolfing down buffet food,” and yelling obscenities as the young men duke it out for supremacy. Afterward, the black men are given “the opportunity” to fight each other for money that is strewn on a rug. The rug is electrified (and, unknown to them, the cash is fake), but at the urging of the laughing crowd, they keep fighting each other.

I was trying to steer my students toward seeing the fight as an extended metaphor for society. It wasn’t just an isolated incident, and the rich white men weren’t just pitting young black men against each other for entertainment at a club, they were doing it in a very real way out in life. I wanted them to feel the power of the story. They were absolutely feeling strongly about it and seeing a lot of the imagery, but I wanted them to go further (what teacher doesn’t?).

But damn, I am white as hell. I can only do so much.

It got me thinking about the violence in low-income areas of Boston. Today marks the second day in a row that someone has been murdered in broad daylight in Dorchester. Yet it barely makes the news outside of Universal Hub–it’s just a little tidbit in the deep inside pages, rather than a headline. This kind of intra-community violence is simply accepted and normalized. This is “part of Dorchester.” Part of “what it means” to live in Dorchester, to be poor, and, ultimately, to be non-white. Self-destruction from the inside.

Anyways, all I could think about was how much that resonated with me as a female. I can’t relate to the racial issues going on, but I can extrapolate those same feelings to issues of gender. I look at the way women are pitted against each other, the way we’re constantly dragging each other down–“oh, she’s such a stupid slut!” “She is so ugly!” “She’s such a gold-digger!”–and so on, that instead of having a powerful force of women, we have a bunch of squabbling girls.

I’m not saying we should like each other just because we share common reproductive organs–that’s stupid. I don’t get along with most of the world, let alone most other women. But it would behoove us to give each other the benefit of the doubt now and again. To stop seeing one another as the enemy. It’s so easy to keep us squashed down to being simply trophies when we judge each other just as harshly.

I mean, c’mon, patriarchy doesn’t even have to really do much if we keep destroying ourselves from the inside out.

08/18/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Chocolate, shoes, and the spinster dilemma.

So, for those of you who live under rocks (like me), you should probably know–that silly comic strip, Cathy, is ending. October 3rd is the big day.

The announcement got posted over at the Post Punk Kitchen forums, where lively discussion began. Cathy certainly seems to induce reactions in people, mostly negative. Someone linked this article from Feministe, which opens by saying that Cathy ending will be the greatest day for all of feminism. There was a lot of issue with that over at the PPK.

Well, this morning in class I walked my clutch of soon-to-be-AP-English-scholars through writing one of the kinds of essays that they’ll see on the AP exam, so I’m currently thinking in literary terms. All I can say is HYPERBOLE. There have been lots of great moments for feminism! Cathy ending is not overshadowing them!

But oh, how great it will be that strip ends. Sometimes, exaggeration is the best way to get across the intensity of emotion.

Cathy, like Miss Piggy, was one of those things that struck me at an early age as hating portrayals of women in media. Of course, I was hanging out with lots of misogynistic guys and had few close female friends, so I translated them into hating women and hating my gender and myself; I went out of the way to prove that I was the antithesis of Cathy (and I still carry some of that with me). Cathy embodies so much of what drives me up a wall–she is Sex and the City but with a lower budget. She’s a single career girl… but not by choice. She hates that she’s single, she spends all her time being neurotic about men, worrying about her appearance, binge eating, and then drowning in guilt for having dared to do so.

Yes, it’s remarkable that we’ve had a syndicated woman cartoonist for 34 years. As I already covered while I was reading Trina Robbins’ excellent History of Women Cartoonists, the ladies don’t really get a lot of press. Now that we’re all big on the internets, being syndicated isn’t such a big deal, but syndication used to be the ultimate “making it” for comic strip artists/writers. The existence of Cathy was, on the outside, a victory for women.

But how much of a victory can you call it? Had Cathy been written by a man, instead of a woman, I don’t think there’d be a woman out there lamenting the end of this era. It’s sad that we’re losing a woman’s voice on the comics pages, but did we ever really have one to begin with? That strip felt like a puppet–pay no attention to the sexism behind the woman. Just because this pathetic stereotyping and denigration was coming from a woman, that somehow made it okay. That somehow made it PRO-woman.

Cathy is not, and never has been, pro-women or advancing feminism in any way. It serves the purpose of the “my [insert minority here] friend thought [same minority joke] was funny, so it’s not offensive!” line. Because Cathy comes from a female writer, it is therefore that much more insidious in its reinforcement of female psychology or whatever you want to call it.

I’m delighted that Cathy Guisewite was able to spend 34 years doing the job she wanted and hopefully loved. I wish her all the best. But I, for one, will be happy to have Cathy no longer in the papers.

08/16/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

Hold me closer, tiny dancer! Or: I’m sick of being nice.

So here’s a delightful story that has made my afternoon: in Ohio, strippers are protesting outside a church because they are sick of the church protesting outside of the club.

Fuck yes.

Look, I don’t have anything against religion. Hell, I myself grew up in a Christian family and am confirmed (I gave a speech about pie). Christians really aren’t bad people or jerks or anything. It’s just that there’s this little bundle of them who give the rest a bad name (this stands, in fact, for all religions. For the most part, they’re just nice folk and then there’s that small clique of asshats that goes and fucks it up for everyone else).

I am so delighted to see the tables being turned. Fuck turning the other cheek. Fuck being nice. Fuck being shamed into being silent through bullshit just because if you speak up, you’re somehow validating the other party’s bullshit claim.

Having a spine and defending yourself is good. But somehow, we constantly get shamed into apologizing when we try to defend ourselves, shamed into keeping quiet instead of “making a big deal” or making mountains out of molehills.

But if mountains are being made, they are not our mountains. They weren’t our molehills to begin with.

I’m sick of being nice and tolerating bullshit just to keep other people from getting uncomfortable. I am too busy and stressed out and strung out to deal with flagrant, narrow-minded jackassery.

I was at a friend’s birthday party Saturday night when a dude laid down the claim that women can’t drive. I rolled my eyes and said “Oh please. You have got to be kidding.” He insisted no, he was serious. He asked another couple guys standing nearby to back him up; they wisely dodged the question. I asked him what weight of oil his car takes. He said he has no idea; that’s what mechanics are for. I went on my oil rant. I asked him what double clutching is and why it’s relevant. I asked him what it means to turn into a spin and why. He had no answers. I walked out of the room.

Later, he came into the room and tried to explain that he is the way he is because WAAAAHHHH. He took a women’s studies course in college and he was one of three guys in the room of fifteen women. Two of the guys were dating girls in the class. He felt like his ideas and input weren’t valued and it was really hard for him. So he turned misogynistic; it’s not his fault, that class made him that way.

OH GOLLY WHAT ABOUT THE MENS.

Motherfucker, if I have to listen to another fucking sob story of when some dude took a women’s studies class and wasn’t celebrated for it, I am going to turn all misandrist.

It’s not my fault; your idiocy made me that way.

Seriously, if I were to walk around saying that I had a really hard time when I took a computer science class because I was one of three women in a class of fifteen guys and the other two girls were dating guys in the class so I felt invalidated and shunned, PEOPLE WOULD FUCKING LAUGH. They would tell me to stop being so sensitive and irrational and that maybe I was ignored and invalidated because I didn’t have anything to contribute because I wasn’t smart enough and what was I doing in a computer science class anyways?

I managed to resist whining, “Oh waaaaaahhhh the poor mens! It is tough being an upper middle class white dude in college!” but only just barely. I held back because I didn’t want to be THAT BITCH that makes the room uncomfortable. That crazy feminist.

You know, the honest person.

The dancers and club owner out in Ohio? Fucking fuck yeah to them for not letting themselves get silenced by not wanting to be the person that makes things uncomfortable.

They have absolutely pushed some boundaries and made people uncomfortable. It takes a lot of bravery to be in a line of work that carries as much social stigma as stripping does and to then turn the tables on people trying to kick sand in your eyes.

That’s fucking awesome. Those ladies rock.

08/09/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

All Your Books Are Belong To Us

So, you guys sick of hearing me wax poetic about how much I love sci-fi/fantasy and all things nerdly yet? NO? Well good, cause I am not shutting up.

First off, I am halfway through my summer class and it’s enough to make a girl cry with happiness. I spent literally my entire weekend highlighting articles, writing outlines, and creating concept maps (with the exclusion of going out for a rockin’ brunch yesterday, at which I ate so much that I think I am still digesting). My brain has been wrung out to dry, and when I get home, I stare mournfully at my bookshelf and dream of reading for pleasure.

Because books, guys. Books are goddamn awesome. Writing is incredible. I have poetry everywhere in my apartment, and post-it notes scattered around with favorite lines of novels. Books are probably the best thing that ever happened to me.

As someone who is only nine months away from being a high school English teacher, that’s not a bad attitude for me to have. What I am about to say is probably a bad thing to say, but hey, screw it.

Our kids are incredibly disinterested in books and reading because there is much more intriguing stuff out there to consume.

Author Blake Charlton writes that boys aren’t as into sci-fi/fantasy anymore, and while I have some disagreements with some of his points, I can’t aggressively disagree.

Bear with me for a second while I go on a tangent. Remember a while back when I ranted about passivity and gender? How boys are generally steered toward “active” entertainment while girls are encouraged to be passive? Little boys are subjects, while little girls are often objects (please accept my blatant over-simplifying and sweeping generalizations; I’m trying to be brief).

So here’s the thing–it is acceptable for girls to read, within reason. Books that are marketed to girls are essentially chickflicks on the page.

The things that are more “boyish” are still not marketed to girls. However, they are not marketed to boys, either. There was a time when my love of sci-fi made me tomboyish. However, the fact that I giggle gleefully at Stephenson’s humor when reading Cryptonomicon no longer makes me tomboyish–it makes me a really big geek. Hard sci-fi and, well, I guess “hard” fantasy (I’m thinking stuff like Dune, Foundation, LOTR, and other classics, as well as newer stuff like George R. R. Martin, if the dude would throw me a bone and publish another book) are seen as dense books for the truly nerdy amongst us.

When we have Cameron throwing out intense 3-D experiences like Avatar (yes, I hated it, but I will not deny what a visually phenomenal experience that movie was) why would people who want to experience other worlds turn to a book? You gotta, like, SQUINT and KNOW WORDS and shit.

Dictionaries: they are pretty damn rad. I wish I could get my students to get that, because getting them to use the dictionary or thesaurus on their assignments is an uphill battle.

Anyways, so we have this triple-edged sword: books are passive things that girls engage with (books are for sissies!), books that aren’t sissy girly books are only for super smart people, and there is other media that doesn’t ask anything of you to take you away to another world.

If boys want to imagine a fantasy world, they can pop in a videogame and not only be IN that world, but interact with it and shape it. They are a character that they control. It’s full-submersion escapism. When we as a culture are progressively more interested in instant gratification, what can compare with being able to push a button and have the world you’re experiencing immediately respond to that? You can interact with the characters, not just watch from the sidelines.

I will confess to occasionally wanting to reach into my books and shake/yell at main characters (*cough* Robert Jordan *cough*).

On top of being “non-interactive,” books make demands of their readers. You have to keep track of characters, plot arcs, politics, fictional worlds, and more, let alone having the vocabulary and grasp on the language to keep up with the author’s writing. Sometimes it can be very challenging to keep up with an author who enjoys complex styles or words. Sometimes you don’t get all the information simply laid out in front of you and you have to–*gasp!*–draw conclusions from inferences and subtleties in the text. Never mind if we get into any sort of math or science or technology; that’s yet another layer of intellectual demands.

I, personally, find all of these things rewarding. I love stumbling upon a word I don’t know, and I have reread individual sentences over and over and over simply to delight in how they were constructed. (Well-crafted writing is just so amazing. I… Uh, is it getting hot here? Anyone?) I love when authors show and don’t tell and let me draw my own conclusions or form my own image of something (would Beowulf has been as powerful if Grendel had been explicitly described?). And if I come out of a reading experience feeling like I’ve learned something neat, well so much the better! The more my brain does somersaults while I read, the more rewarding I find the experience to be.

The keyword there, of course, is “rewarding.”

We engage in behaviors that we find rewarding. Most of my students will get more sense of reward–that is to say, more affirmation from peers and family–through success as an athlete, or even a musician, than they will as a student.

Someone please issue me a cane, a lawn, and some whippersnappers so that I can wave my cane at said whippersnappers to get off my lawn, because I am about to sound really old:

Guys, we really don’t value reading anymore.

Honestly, in many ways, we don’t value education in general. Outside of us teachers, kids are not getting any sort of reward for reading. While there is a degree of personal reward for being a bookworm, the social pressure to NOT be one far outweighs it. The lonely friendless types will turn to books because hey, what else have we got? However, that’s not the case anymore–now there are videogames, that allow kids to interact with others and not feel isolated.

But we’ve already been over girls and gaming and… and…

I am exhausted. I wish I had the faintest notion how to encourage girls to read better books (Twilight, I wish I could fight you. I’d punch you in the face so hard), how to encourage boys to want to read again, and how to make our parents encourage our kids to read instead of sitting around with videogames and shitty movies like Avatar.

But no, I do not have answers.

What I have is a midterm on Friday, and I still have a lot of charts to make.

Instead, after reading Charlton’s post, all I want to do is head to my local bookshop and curl up on the floor of the sci-fi/fantasy section and read for a week straight.

So help me, I will teach a class on sci-fi/fantasy and comics as literature. It’ll be one of my little contributions to saving the world.

07/19/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 5 comments.

Sexy Geekery

Oh my great garbanzo, friends and internets. My summer class has started (that is to say, 20 hours a week of class, 30 hours a week of work (I’m just slicing off 5 and calling it sick time), and countless hours of homework) and I am OVERWHELMED. However, my field experience starts next week, so at the very least, I will be able to start providing you with some interesting reflections on public summer school here in Boston. Later in the summer, I’ll also be serving as a [paid!!] teaching assistant for another BPS summer school program, so brace yourselves. This blog is about to take a decidedly scholastic bent.

Till then, here’s a brief snippet to hold you over. I haven’t even had time to open my Google reader in days, but luckily, I have friends who send me links to the rad stuff that I am missing. This particular gem of an article comes from Dave, who writes over at the BARCC blog. You should check it out, and drop BARCC a donation nugget while you’re there.

Anyways, The Sexist has a great interview with awesome ladyblogger Courtney Stoker (who you can bet I’ll be checking up on in the coming days! Err, maybe “weeks”) all about being a lady geek.

I’ve alluded to my geekery before, and I’ve started and discarded about fifty billion posts on feminism and cosplay and the deep schism within me re: feminism and cosplay. I love cosplay, I love geekdom, I love D&D and comic books and videogames and hugging stormtroopers. I have costumes that are arguably “sexified” costumes.

As she says,

This is where some geek women find their acceptable place in geek communities, because even the most sexist of geek men is going to be okay with women being around as long as they’re dressed up like sex objects. Too often, women in geek cultures are only welcomed if they are decoration, sexy versions of the the things geek men love, not equal participants or fellow fans.

It stings a little because it’s true. I’ve felt that way over and over. I notice, consistently, the difference in reception I get between the variety of costumes I wear–the more skin I show, the more likely that people will be enthusiastic to see me, no matter how high quality any other costume may be. I’m consistently discouraged from doing non-sexy costumes, let alone engaging in crossplay (cosplaying a character that is of the opposite sex) without transforming it into a “femme” version.

I have a big long rant about this, and I’m sorry I don’t have the time or energy to write it up, as this is a highly nuanced issue, and my above paragraph makes it sound very black and white, and makes geek dudes sound way worse than they are.

The issue is something that Courtney mentions–can any of this be reclaiming of female sexuality and femininity, which is pretty much not allowed to exist on its own terms in scifi? I feel like the opportunity is there. Women can be sexual, and even in a “mainstream sexy” kind of way, on their own terms. It’s so hard to define so much of this, though–where are we are genuinely enjoying this, and where are we enjoying the attention? (Because yes, attention can be fun.) I find this relevant because it’s an issue I have when dating–I have often considered punching a boy in the jaw for pushing too hard for me to buy “sexy” undergarments, even though it so happens that black lacy skivvies delight me. Just, like, let me buy them on my own terms, dude. Do I feel hypocritical? Sure. Does it change the fact that one motivation (and often different shopping location) makes me feel skeezy, while the other doesn’t. Likewise, can one girl wear the same costume and feel both of those feelings? Of course. Can two girls wear the exact same costume and one be motivated by feminism and the other by self-objectification? I don’t see why not. Does this become a tangled mess of how do we define and how do we express? Oh fuck yes.

Cause part of me doesn’t give a rat’s ass how much we can discuss the woman-power of Princess Leia saving Han and then choking the shit out of Jabba, it doesn’t change the fact that wearing the metal bikini is gonna get you objectified. But… I love that woman-power side of Leia. I love the brazen courage it takes to wear that freaking bikini. But…

But but but. Even my non-overtly feminist friends seem to deal with the same but-but-buts when we talk of being girlgeeks. Sometimes it just seems easier to settle for being an object than to get driven out of fandom. Sometimes, you even internalize it.

Read the interview. Courtney Stoker is an exceptionally well-spoken lady who makes some awesome points, and I cannot wait to read more of her stuff. Check out her blog here: http://austintotamu.blogspot.com/

06/29/2010. Tags: , , . Uncategorized. Leave a comment.

The Weekend Vegan Warrior

I’m embarking on an experiment this weekend. I have basically zero actual obligations for once in my goddamn life, and I feel fantastic about it. Tomorrow I’m volunteering at a blood drive (and giving blood! It’s finally been long enough since I last got tattooed/pierced/traveled out of the country that I can do this!) and then going to my sister’s house for my father’s birthday/father’s day celebration.

I’m bringing a batch of gluten-free cupcakes, as my sister recently developed a gluten intolerance. She’s also historically had lactose difficulties, and I prefer soy milk anyways, so I have a shiny copy of Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World (by the same ladies who did my favoritest cookbook, Veganomicon. Check out their ultra-rad website, The Post Punk Kitchen). So, I’m bringing vegan gluten-free cupcakes. Is it possible to get anymore touchy-feely “oh wow, you are clearly a liberal who lived in Cambridge for just a little bit too long”? I don’t know!

But I’m going to try. My experiment: this weekend, I shall be vegan.

I’ve been vegetarian on and off since I was in eighth grade. I really LIKE being vegetarian, even though yes, I do miss meat (I think that is a common misconception–a lot of vegetarians really enjoy meat! It is delicious! But similarly, I really enjoy punching people in the face when they irritate me, but I nonetheless do not do it). I’ve recently been working at steering myself back toward vegetarianism, and it’s going well. I like it.

A weird observation, however: part of the reason I got away from being a vegetarian is my concerns about inconvenience. Not to me–I genuinely love tofu and tempeh and can eat a bucket of raw vegetables for a meal and be incredibly satisfied. I prefer Nayonnaise over mayo (that shit is gross, yo), and any other number of things. However, I don’t like to be the burden. I hate feeling like when I go to someone’s house, they are going to feel obligated to make sure that there is “something Cuppy can eat.” At a wedding a few weekends ago, everyone was piling the chicken and steak on their plates at the buffet while I spooned up the mushroom ravioli. A caterer asked, “Vegetarian?” “Yes.” “Oh, so you’re why we had to bring this stuff.” I know I’m not the only one who ate it–I saw other people with the ravioli–but there was a momentary flash of guilt of, “Oh my god, my friend had to add an entire dish to his wedding catering just because of me!”

And of course, there’s the pointed comments. “Well, we were going to go to XYZ restaurant for dinner, but we have a vegetarian coming.” “For every animal you don’t eat, I’m going to eat TWO!” “I’m going to eat this hamburger right in front of you.” Uh, yeah. Okay. What’s your point?*

And the more I linger on the fringe of being a vegetarian–not putting the label on myself, but simply ordering the veggie burger instead, or ignoring the platter of meaty appetizers at a party–the more I see the weird way we are about them.

If you aren’t one of them, it seems like you’re against them. This isn’t a blanket statement, but it’s a pretty regular trend. If I go out with a group of friends and I order the vegetarian option (say, a veggie burger), I will get mocked. If I make dinner for people and as they’re praising how great it was I toss in, “Yeah, and it was vegan!” they will respond by either saying, “How dare you TRICK me into eating that stuff!” or “Yeah, well, it’d be better with meat,” or both. (Cause yeah, I totally tricked you! You never would’ve eaten… pasta… and… vegetables…) I’ve had people tell me that I’m weak because I choose not to eat meat, I’m a wimp, I’m girly…

Wait, what?

Yes. Eating meat has become GENDERED. And also sexualized!

I’d really like to dig up some images or websites to go with this, but I feel like I can’t be the only one to have noticed this. In the same way in which girls who play videogames are fetishized, girls who eat meat are fetishized. There’s this huge backlash of now when women are asked what their favorite food is, there’s a huge push of “ugh, I hate salad! Give me a bacon double cheeseburger any day!” and so on.

My best guess is that this is a backlash to all the dieting restrictions thrown at women. A woman who shamelessly loves a bacon double cheeseburger is a woman who is not tied to the social mores of what is and is not appropriate for her–she eats what she wants, and, one may extrapolate from that, enjoys all of the hedonistic pleasures of her body. (Personally, I prefer cannolis to bacon double cheeseburgers when it comes to hedonistic pleasures.) There is something, well, sexual about a woman indulging in eating, and eating excessively.

Is abstaining from meat viewed by the male gaze as similar to abstaining from sex? If you don’t know that I’m eating a veggie hotdog, is my consumption of a phallic symbol any less “hurr hurr hurr”-inducing than the girl sitting next to me eating an actual hotdog? Does knowing that it’s vegetarian remove the sexiness from it?

I don’t know. But the more I stand around NOT labeling myself as a vegetarian, the more I hear people’s candid remarks on it. For all that I will get mocked and harassed for being a vegetarian, there’s a lot that they don’t say straight up. Vegetarians are painted as being repressed, joyless people. They’re no fun to bring anywhere. They’re buzzkills.

And maybe this is only me, but I started to associate it with how I used to feel about being a female. In high school, I used to proudly announce that “I’m NOT girly. I’m not like all those OTHER girls!” I took it as incredibly sweet when my boyfriend would tell me how unfeminine I was. I feel a swell of pride when my dad jokingly refers to me as his son.

Basically, I had so internalized that it was BAD to be female and feminine that I took great pains to establish that I was not like that, via renouncing my feminism. I had completely internalized the idea of what femaleness is, and it is bad.

I was even told at certain points that I was allowed to participate in certain things–attending autocross events, or LAN parties–because I wasn’t “really a girl.” I was admitted into a special club.

Does anyone else think that is enormously stupid? Because I do.

But I get the same affirmation–when I don’t speak up about dietary wants or needs, when I just go and eat wherever, I get propped up that I’m a “fun girl” because I don’t get obsessive about needing to have access to a salad or whatever. Because now apparently my gender has predestined my meal plan.

Look, I eat vegetarian for personal reasons. Just because it works for me and makes me happy doesn’t necessarily mean the same is true for you. I appreciate some open-mindedness (why yes, if I cook you dinner, it will be vegetarian!) and some sensitivity (how about we DON’T go to dinner at the All-Meat Uber-Meat-o-rama Meatfest?) but you don’t have to change yourself and I am NOT judging you.

I think PETA and the nose-in-the-air-pro-veg-bumper-stickers-on-our-Prius crowd has mucked it up a little. Sort of like people abruptly become deeply defensive about owning a car when they find out my primary transportation is a bike, people become really adamant about loving meat and defensive about that love when they hear me call myself vegetarian. They become really defensive about all their life decisions when they hear I’m a feminist.

Is it subconscious guilt? Do people recognize that using a car as a primary method of transit in Boston is wasteful? Do they get that they probably eat way more meat than they need to satisfy their body’s requirements for protein and nutrients? (And that their meat is likely not produced in the greatest way? I actually have a huge eco-friendly boner for people who care enough to buy only small amounts of locally produced, fairly raised, grass-fed meat. Now that is social responsibility and gourmand-love coming together!) Do they get that they probably passively endorse misogynist behavior?

I do a lot of wasteful shit too. Hell, I occasionally prop up “patriarchy,” or whatever you want to call it, because dudes, I like wearing thong underwear sometimes. I’m no flawless angel. So… I’m not judging. But I guess everyone thinks I am? I don’t know. I don’t understand why what I eat, where I shop, etc, is such a big deal to people. Why is how I curate my body so offensive to you?

But anyways, this has been a way, way longer entry than I ever meant. I meant to just throw out one or two cute little comments on why I’m experimenting with veganism for the weekend. Basically, I’m pushing my own boundaries–I know I can be vegetarian and enjoy it, but I’ve let myself be pushed around by external forces. So I’m challenging myself to be vegan for an entire weekend. It’s going to be tough (I have a brick of parmesan in my fridge right now), but I think it’ll be good for me. It will push me to get more creative in my cooking (I’ve fallen into a rut, and vegan cooking uses such fun ingredients!) and it will remind me of how simple it is to be a vegetarian. It’s not hard for me to live my regular life–including social life–and be a vegetarian. Vegan? A little harder. So I’m going to spend this weekend of lack-of-obligations in treating myself well and spoiling myself.

Tomorrow morning, I’m going to the farmer’s market before I head out to the blood drive. I can’t wait!

I’m really, really looking forward to this weekend. I don’t know to what extent being vegan will stick with me, but I know I want to commit to working more veganism into my diet when I can. I want to keep my vegetarianism going strong. I hope this weekend brings about some positive changes in my life. I’m excited!

Also, I’ll share some recipes and results at the end of the weekend. You don’t have to be vegan (or even vegetarian) to enjoy good food! 🙂

*I get that people do this under the assumption that it will distress and horrify me. But dude, if you’re supposed to be my friend, why do you feel like it’s funny and cool to do something that you think might be borderline traumatizing to me? (I know a very sweet vegan who would be brought close to tears by that behavior, and people know it but do it nonetheless. People who are supposedly friends.) Why will you respect my choice of clothing, or what career path I have selected, or where I choose to live. Why is what I choose to eat so offensive to you?

06/18/2010. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 3 comments.

Team Motherfucking EOWYN

Bitch, I will cut you.

I watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy DVDs disturbingly often. I know them inside out, forward and backward, and I love the soundtrack, so whenever I’m doing something but want some background noise, I often throw it on.

Every time Eowyn is on the screen, I pretty much drop what I’m doing to pay attention and get a little choked up. I am not exaggerating that I get tears in my eyes when she declares to Aragorn that what she fears is a cage, or when she grabs Merry and pulls him into the saddle to ride to battle with her, and definitely when she rips off her helm and declares, “I am no man!” I don’t suppose anyone who reads here knows me well enough to know that basically nothing (excepting several bottles of wine) makes me cry. The fact that I feel emotion over this is big.

Eowyn… She is my character. She is who I rally behind, when LOTR, while brilliant, is a giant sausage fest. Who else do we have? Arwen? Oh please. I want to gag every time she comes on the screen. And then there’s what’s-her-face that Sam has a crush on but can’t talk to. Ah, superb, another “female as reason to fight” trope, and might I add that I don’t think she actually SPEAKS in the entire trilogy?

LOTR was written by a stodgy white dude long ago. I don’t begrudge it anything because it is AMAZING, and I love it. I’m not here to whine about the lack of ladies in LOTR, because I don’t care. (And in the films, Legolas and Aragorn look like ladies at the end anyways, cause it turns out that they are only manly when they don’t shower. So, whatevs.)

What really touches me is the humanity at the end of the story. There’s a moment in the film when the four hobbits are sitting around a table in the pub, holding their beers in complete silence, just looking down, while the world goes on around them. Beautifully done. And Frodo, Frodo can’t move past that table. He’s forever broken by what he experienced in the war; in leaving with the Elves, he is metaphorically killing himself.

In college, I read The Things They Carried, another instance of me crying. (It was awkward. I was sitting out on the grass of the university lawn by the pond, and crying like a baby. I think I scared some tours.) Frodo, and to a lesser extent the other hobbits, were all suffering from PTSD from the war. They were not the same, and Frodo would never readjust, so much so that he chose to leave his life.

I believe that Eowyn should have had a similar experience. She not only went to war and nearly died, but she was so determined to do so that she had to do it covertly. She triumphed greatly, but she also lost a lot. She saw and experienced deeply powerful things.

I am dissatisfied with the fact that she returns to “normal” life only to go, “Oh sure, I’ll just settle down and be all happy-sauce with Feramir! Yay, babies nao!”

NO. Eowyn has defied gender norms, defied her society, defied her family, and both won and lost greatly. I cannot see her, afraid of cages, settling down and going, “Well, I got my dose of valor. Time to be a homebody!” No. She CANNOT just settle down and be fine with that. She’s experienced too much. She’ll either wise up and run off before that happens, or she’ll find herself going stir crazy and eventually, like Frodo, “opting out” of her life.

And just like that, I have solved the conundrum of what will happen to my heroine in the sci-fi novel I’ve been working on for so long.

Dead white guys: sure, they’re often overrated, but on the other hand, they also gave us LOTR!

06/17/2010. Tags: , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

The Crotchal Tyranny!

Fear me, for I am the High Queen Crotchula, Withholder of the Sacred Vaginamancy!

So I have had this article sitting open in a tab in Firefox for a while now, waiting for my brain to be ready to be coherent about it. I am, honestly, failing hard. It just blows my mind.

It is an article entitled “Reasons Women Withhold Sex.”

First, let’s talk title: withholding sounds evil. You withhold rent if your landlord turns off your heat. You withhold food if you’re a prison overlord from a horror pulp in the 40s. You withhold services.

I am going to say this, and I’m only going to say it once:

My vagina is not a service.

Astounding, right? Anyways, moving on.

Reason 1: She’s pissed.

A HURR HURR DURR. I see someone has been working hard on this one! Yep, sometimes, when angry at a significant other, we do not get turned on. It’s true! Just like sometimes because there are other things in our mind we do not want to cook, or balance our checkbooks, or solve multivariate calculus equations. Sometimes, the things that are urgently on our mind ARE URGENTLY THERE. So it’s hard to think about other things–including sex.

Reason 2: She’s asserting herself.

…because you are such a jackass that you have shown her the only way she can possibly hold ANY power is through her vagina. Good work. You dug this hole for yourself, so I’m just gonna stand back and laugh, okiedokie?

“If there’s one area of a relationship women think they have control over, it’s sex.”

Truly, it is positively INSANE for us to think that we have the right to decide whether or not something is put inside of our bodies. Consent–it’s totally just a figment of a crazy little woman’s imagination!

Reason 3: She’s manipulating you.

“When no other methods of getting what she wants are working, she might resort to revoking your sex privileges until you agree to what she’s after.”

Now remember, boyfriend, you can only play with the toys if you behave yourself and eat all your vegetables! …Seriously? Seriously? Can we please grow up here?

I think what bothers me the most about this statement is that sometimes it is actually TRUE. Bastions of rationality such as Cosmo encourage women to go on sex embargoes to get things from men, or to get their boyfriends to prove how they “really feel.” People, that is NOT the foundation of a healthy relationship! And in this article, the advice is to just give in and give her what she wants. How about instead of feeding a passive-aggressive cycle, you elect to be the mature one and see what’s going on and try to, y’know, communicate?

No, of course not. Why would we do that when we can continue to use our detachable genitals as bargaining chips? Just stick the ol’ vagina in a tupperware in the freezer till you need it.

Reason 4: She’s bored.

“She could be avoiding sex with you because she’s not enjoying it.”

Okay, article, good work. You have made a valid point. It turns out, dudes, that us ladies do occasionally become involved with you folk for reasons other than sex (it’s been years since I’ve done that, so don’t look at me). And word on the street is that when y0u care about someone, you put up with a lot of shit. Including your boyfriend’s unattractive beer gut, his lack of interest in foreplay, and the fact that he’s just not a good lay, if he even lasts very long. Truly, it is astounding the sort of sexual desserts women will exile them to because the guy is so great in other ways. So yeah, she might actually even actively dislike sleeping with you! But she doesn’t want to hurt your fragile penile ego, because we know how important the majesty of your dick is to you.

Scathing bitchiness aside, it’s true–sometimes couples don’t have sex often because the sex is unsatisfying. It’s the job of BOTH members of the couple to fix this. But dudes, as much as it might be painful to think, when your girlfriend is avoiding sex, instead of assuming that she’s manipulating you or trying to make a point about her power, pause to think when the last time you gave her orgasm was (and remember When Harry Met Sally. Faking: it happens). Think about to what extent you’ve really worried about her satisfaction, and think about whether or not she has been responsive. This is actually probably the BEST problem to have when it comes to lack of sex, because it means you’re not dating a bitch. This can be fixed without someone needing to be kicked to the curb. And fixing it can be FUUUNNN!

Reason 5: She’s tired.

Again, how astute. Yes, sometimes we just want some sleep. No, really. It happens. It happens to dudes, too! I’ve been turned down for sex by partners because they’re tired. It’s kind of part of the modern world–we work hard, we’re busy, we don’t get enough rest, so we’re tired. If you’ve never been too tired for sex, then either your sex requires very minimal energy, which is kind of depressing, or you have an easy life, and I would like to borrow it.

Although, a note from this section: “Or, you could be truly unselfish and devote your time entirely to her pleasure for one night, making her more likely to want to return the favor another time.”

Yeeeeeep. That about says it all. You don’t devote your time to pleasing your significant other because you like to make that person happy–you do it in hopes that it will be reciprocated in the future.

Fun trivia: when I’m with a guy, I like sucking his dick because I like making him happy. I’m not getting turned on by it because I’m gleefully thinking “Oh boy, oh boy, now he pretty much HAS to eat me out!” No, I’m thinking about how much I like satisfying my partner and how hot it is to hear him breathing hard and moaning. I really have a hard time believing that I’m the only one like that.

Reason 6: She’s cheating.

I can’t really argue that. I find cheating abhorrent from either sex, so I won’t even begin to make an argument for the woman in this case.

Reason 7: Playing games.

It’s a good thing I don’t actually own an xbox or Playstation, because I’d probably pass up sex pretty often so that I could try to beat that level. “Sorry sweetie, I can’t come to bed yet, I’ve decided to turn to the Dark Side so I’m using my Force powers to toss Jawas at stormtroopers. UTINNI!”

Oh. Oh wait, they don’t mean those kinds of games.

“Women withhold sex because men let them get away with it.”

Yeah, gotta keep those bitches in line. Don’t they know that vaginas belong to the MENS and that they can’t be ALLOWED to keep them away? Jeez. Next time your woman tries to deny you access to the vagina that is rightfully yours, squirt her with a bottle of water or smack her on the nose with a newspaper. When pets misbehave, they can’t be allowed to get away with it!

“It’s pretty clear it’s the one thing that most guys can’t live without and that they’ll do pretty much anything to keep it coming on a regular basis.”

Ah yes, the “men are slaves to their penises and have zero cognitive capacity beyond what their penis is kind enough to allow them” argument.

DUDE-FOLK. YOU HAVE BRAINS. I SWEAR. I KNOW IT. You aren’t just penis-transport-mechanisms. You have free will and the ability to think rationally and make decisions for yourself and all kinds of neat things! As much as I love the word “vaginamancy,” it isn’t actually possible for a woman to control you with her vagina unless you let her.

Please. Please stop this bullshit. I am so sick of hearing about how men are powerless in the face of sex and vaginas because they just WANT IT SO BADLY, and women are sex-hating man-manipulating lumps of frigidity.

I seriously do not understand why people continue to bother with trying to have relationships when this is the sort of bullshit that we are being programmed with. Everything about that article made me not want to be a woman, and not want to date a man.

Congratulations, Fox. I think you have turned me gay.

06/14/2010. Tags: , , , , , . Uncategorized. 1 comment.

On Passivity and Gender

So, I’ll be the first to admit that I have some pretty major body image issues. It’s really hard for me to talk about size and weight in the media because I hate my own body so much and am constantly embroiled in a vicious struggle to lose weight, tone my muscles more, and generally look “better.” (I know that I’m messed up in the head about this. I get it, I really do. I look in the mirror and suck in just right so that my ribcage angles in a bit so that I don’t look so wide from side to side and I think “God, if they offered a surgery procedure to tuck my ribs in, I would get it! I look so much prettier when I suck in my ribs!” You guys, that’s kinda fucked up.) So when I say that it’s hard for me to talk about bodies, I’m not shitting around.

I, like much of culture, frame my obsession with my physique around health. Within reason, this is valid–I don’t like getting winded when I have to suddenly run a block to catch the trolley; I want riding my bike to be pleasurable, not painful; I want to be able to have pretzel-like and marathon-length sex sessions without a post-coital ER visit; I like lifting heavy objects and changing the tires on my car; etc. Being healthy is good! I have yet to meet someone who will disagree with me that having a healthy lifestyle is good. Hell, my determination to be healthy is one of the leading reasons I don’t smoke cigarettes regularly anymore, so that’s a good thing.

Where do we draw the line between healthy in the real way, and healthy in my “oh god you guys there is a tiny bit of muffin top above my belt!” way?

My crush on Amanda Hess of The Sexist continues as she covers wedding weight loss and how, shockingly enough, you guys–it’s not about health!

First off, I really want to see the Groom Weight Loss Challenge. Cause, dirty little secret, I think dudes with guts look WAY SILLIER than chicks with guts. For all that I am obsessive about my own weight and need to be skinny, I think girls with curves can be so gorgeous–I mean, we have boobs and hips and all those nice aerodynamic curves to help even things out. I know way too many dudes who are like a floppy version of the “tits on a stick” porn star idea–they are all gangly skinny limbs and then, like, BLAM. A watermelon. Oh fragile judgmental culture of ours, I don’t want THAT in my wedding pictures any more than I want myself looking like that!

But we’re all pretty chill with dudes looking like that. (Oh hey, health obsession, I’m actually not. I’m a shallow asshole, you guys! I admit it! I consciously try not to be, but I am! I objectify dudes all the time. I’m a bike-by-ogler. The danger is real! Just when you thought it was safe to go outside, there goes some chick, undressing you with her eyes as she bikes by! And let me say, nice tattoos. And the superhero undies? Damn, boy. Unf.) Wow that was a tangent.

Anyways, our culture lets dudes look like that. I mean, we totally celebrate the super fine and extremely foxy of the dudes, I’m not saying that unreasonable dude-spectations do not exist or anything, but it’s by and large okay for a dude to have some paunch or not be perfectly groomed or not conform to an exacting standard.

Cause, like, he’s so QUIRKY and ECCENTRIC. We’re going totally gaga for so-and-so’s rebel-without-a-cause attitude and devil-may-care style! Or something like that. Whatever those headlines are.

Because dudes are busy doing OTHER THINGS. BETTER THINGS than worrying about their appearance. I mean, dudes that are well-dressed and well-groomed and svelte and whatnot are often, in fact, maligned as being too feminine, too fussy, too high-maintenance, etc. Because there are BETTER ways for them to spend their time than worrying about how they look.

Us ladyfolk, on the other hand, get to spend our time on being PRETTY. Which is why it is so amazingly unacceptable for us to carry any extra poundage, to not be dressed just so, to not have our full arsenal of makeup and hair products deployed at every minute of every day. What else would we be doing?

I was at Target the other day looking for a muffin tin. Instead of finding what I was looking for, I found these:

Om nom nom.

Okay, seriously people? There’s a “girl cookie pan” and a “boy cookie pan.” And just look at what you can bake for your pretty little girl! Crowns, flowers, butterflies, castles, a kiss, and purses. What do boys get? Rocket ships, a jet, a sports pennant, a trophy, a shirt with a medal, and a sports car.

The female items are all PASSIVE. Other than the purse, which I suppose you take your husband’s credit card in and out of, you don’t interact with that stuff. It’s just that–STUFF. Pretty things. Flowers! Butterflies! Lips! Castles! Crowns!

So, like, the chances that the little dude you bake the rocket ship cookies for is going to grow up to be an astronaut are ridiculously small. The chances that your little girl is gonna grow up to be a princess? Yeah, NONE. If the little dude holds onto that dream of becoming an astronaut, he might just fulfill it. Or at the very least, he might study astrophysics and engineering and still have a rewarding, exciting life. What do you study to become a princess? What do you major in at college? What extracurriculars do you pursue? (Please, no jokes about sororities.) You don’t. You sit and wait and hope to attract a prince.

We are socialized from the very beginning to be PASSIVE–to sit still, to be delicate, to be proper.

The only time we’re allowed to be ACTIVE, to engage with anything and to do more than just sit and look pretty, is for the sake of being skinny. We’re allowed to exercise. We’re allowed to dedicate all of our activity to improving the quality of our passivity.

Despite the fact that I can sit back and KNOW all this, I am still only eating a half granola bar, a small cup of yogurt, and a banana today, because I’m meeting up with friends later and I expect I’ll probably have some beers and snacks and I want to keep under my daily calorie goal. Because it’s healthy.

That’s some powerful fuckin’ social programming, that is.

06/11/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 2 comments.

What Girls Think, I Guess.

This was linked on Twitter the other day and I couldn’t help but laugh:

I mean, seriously. It’s hilarious because it’s TRUE. (Obviously not all the time, so on, so forth, all the disclaimers I always make.) I just know way too many ladies who think like that, and way too many dudes who think like that. (I also know way too many ladies who think that by faking that they are insatiable whores, they will get their prince charming. And, uh, yeah. I have gripes with that.)

Of course, now it’s going to be porn movies and Twilight. But that’s beside the point.

Anyways, I think we’ve all ranted Disney to death. I can spare you that. I just thought the image was great, because it takes a ton of ranting and condenses it into a nice, accessible, succinct little image.

The idea of accessibility and succinctness has been pretty heavily on my mind as of late, actually. I’ve been thinking a lot about the accessibility of learning, for the most part–how do people learn, how do we teach, etc. There’s just so many examples of how traditional educational paradigms fall short, or where they could easily be improved upon. A friend of mine is pursuing a PhD in education, studying the creation of educational videogames, games, and classroom-based role playing games and practomimes. Twenty years ago, educational videogames weren’t nearly as viable or relevant as they are now, but now they’re not only a very real potential, but they could easily involve multiple different subjects within one game. It’s a fascinating field.

But anyways, my obsession, as we all know, is literature and literacy. I can’t stress enough how much I think literature and literacy matters and can make or break a student’s future (though I do think math is incredibly important–trust me, guys, when the person with a BA in literature and foreign language says math is important, it’s because it is). Do I think that it’s essential that every student ever be able to read the exact text of Macbeth or Moby Dick? No. In an ideal world, yes, they will read it and analyze it and love it. But the exact words on the page are only a fraction of what students are learning in language arts classes (note: it’s called “English and language arts” not just “book readin'”).

Students are learning how to analyze characters, how to read between the lines, how to notice and respond to themes and imagery, and they’re learning about the cultural and historical context that the texts are situated in, but also how that relates to their contemporary world. In writing my lesson plan for The Sun Also Rises, I made the emphasis not just on the context of when Hemingway wrote, but how that applies to now. The study of literature should always be relevant to the now.

So bundle up all those ideas, and I posit that comic books should be much more heavily used in English classes (hell, in history classes! in all kinds of classes!). They allow students to interact with different texts that may be much more compelling, they provide greater accessibility to students with difficulty with reading, and they tend to engage students more easily. Plus, there’s an entire world of really awesome literature going on out there that is being ignored–literature that builds on other classics (such as Sandman or League of Extraordinary Gentlemen), literature that builds on history (Maus), or fantastic social commentary that has sparked all kinds of reactions in our culture (Watchmen). There’s so much potential that’s going unnoticed.

So with this in mind, I’ve been researching comics history more in depth. I took a couple of courses in college (The International Graphic Novel, and Comic Art in North America, which were both broad survey courses) and did an internship with DC Comics, so I’ve got a reasonable foundation of comics. But I want more. I want to really dig in, and I want to dig in from the academic side, not just the “whee, I am reading comics!” side (though I am reading comics. And usually I exclaim, “Whee!” right before I do so. You should too!).

One of the books I’ve picked up (from the amazing and fabulous Hub Comics in Somerville, for you Boston-area folk) is The Great Women Cartoonists, by Trina Robbins. Ms. Robbins was part of the indie comics movement in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s/70s and was a huge contributor to a lot of women’s comics zines and really bringing women comics creators into their own. I think she is a deeply fantastic person.

What bothered me, though, was her coverage of women in the big companies (DC and Marvel). She talked about how the women weren’t having high rates of success because they didn’t like having to draw superheroes and violence. They were unhappy with having to make things that they didn’t like.

First off, I think it’s safe to say that many of us spend our days doing things we don’t like. I highly doubt that the secretary sitting at the front desk of DC or Marvel was thinking, “Oh golly, I am so glad I’m a secretary and not an artist because it is SO MUCH MORE FUN AND SATISFYING to be filing documents and answering phones and smiling at jerky delivery guys! This job really speaks to my talents!” Now, mind you, I’m hardly saying that they don’t deserve sympathy, as they do. But still.

Anyways, she goes on to continually talk about how women don’t like violent comics, women don’t like the aggression, the fighting, etc. She goes on to quote a female artist who said something along the lines of “I like to draw ballet and dancers, things that are more like reality.”

I will grant you that ballet and dancers are more like reality than Superman and Bizarro engaged in some vaguely homoerotic wrestle-punch-fest thingie, but this is where we are looping back to that graphic at the beginning of this post.

Why do girls have to like fluffy delicate things and boys like violence?

One of the coolest things about Hub Comics is their giant shelf of local artists’ self-published work. There you will see plenty of men lamenting love, and girls writing about poop and kicking things. I know plenty of women who enjoy dark, violent comics (hell, I’m one of them!), and would rather strangle ourselves with our shoelaces than read a pink happy comic about ballet dancers.

Maybe, like, cyborg ballet dancers with lasers in their eyes sent from outerspace to destroy the evil NutcrackerBot 9000…

Anyways, I don’t doubt that for that particular female artist, ballet and dancers was preferable to violence and superheroes. That’s fine. But Ms. Robbins, for all her feminist asskickery, paints female artists with a broad brush, making it sound like ruffly dancers and sparkly romance comics were all that appealed to girls reading comics and to women artists drawing them. That bums me the hell out.

Ms. Robbins is entirely accurate when she talks about how it was such a shame that there weren’t comics for girls–that’s true! It IS a shame! Even now we’re underrepresented (though I’d like to mention that the editor I interned under at DC was a woman and still one of the most bad ass, amazing women I’ve met in my life; I will be so fucking jazzed if I turn out like her), but it’s not because we need more romance comics. GIRL SUPERHEROES! I want more asskicking girls (with or without spandex; I could go either way)!

I’m pretty excited to check out Frenemy of the State, after reading a blurb about it on Jezebel recently, as it’s a comic by a woman, targeted toward a female readership. On the other hand, I already love titles like Empowered, starring mostly women, and Fables, which has a pretty heavily-female cast. Both those titles are written by men, and Empowered is even a superhero comic. However, I don’t think either title was meant to be aimed specifically at women (in fact, the inspiration for Empowered came from a pornographic drawing commission–go figure!), but they have the appeal. They have strong female characters, engaged in exciting plots. Sometimes there’s romance, but there’s also action, intellect, and compelling relationships with friends, colleagues, and enemies. They’re fully fleshed-out worlds with engaging characters; it just so happens that some of them are women who rock.

I am all about getting more female voices in comics. I want to see more women artists and writers and editorial staff (dear DC Comics, if you are reading this, that internship was the best experience of my life; please hire me!). However, I’m also all about getting more awesome female characters in comics. Having an equal split of women, or even a majority of women, in comics isn’t really progress, in my mind, until the books that are being created are depicting awesome women doing more than swooning over boys and buying shoes. Just because a woman made it doesn’t mean it’s pro-woman (I mean jeez, just look at everything that comes out of Sarah Palin’s mouth!).

Anyways, I want to end this with a link to one of my favorite lady cartoonists right now: Katie Cook! Katie is an incredibly talented artist with a very distinct style (dare I say it even seems feminine? :P) who draws for all kinds of awesome properties, like Star Wars. She has even drawn troopers being dismembered. Take that, girls don’t draw violence! Also, she draws the webcomic Gronk, which is pretty much my new favorite part of Fridays.

So in short, don’t go for gender-assigny bullshit. Don’t wait for your prince charming or insatiable whore, instead go to your local comic shop and read some bad ass comic books!

06/10/2010. Tags: , , , , . Uncategorized. 4 comments.

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