An Open Letter to Disney After Watching Civil War

Dear Disney —

Listen. I’m an Old Feminist Geek. I was raised back in the bad old days when I had to scrounge up representation in genre. Mostly I found it in battered Pern paperbacks, read out of order and missing some, which a kindly but confused librarian dug up for me. Mostly I had to make do with mentally gender swapped characters, homegrown fanfic, and trying to find some sort of an arc for Leia.

I spent decades getting used to the idea that the only women I could find in stories were all princesses who were handed over as a sex reward to the hero. (Though, honestly, I’ve never forgiven Lloyd Alexander for it.)

So I go to Marvel movies with only a small wince when I see Sharon swapped in, like a “replacement goldfish“, for Peggy. I sigh but know that it’s inevitable that she’s essentially an interchangeable dispenser of emotional support, kisses, and plot advancement. Because of decades of conditioning, I keep watching even though we have to wait until 2020 for the chance of a Black Widow movie and that the entire MCU has two female-led movies on the schedule. I grumble but don’t skip Ant-Man when the movie itself acknowledges that Wasp should be the hero.

Because I remember the 1970s, I’m moderately excited when Frozen and Brave both have TWO female main characters, even if almost every other character is male. And I’m not surprised when you fail to produce enough merchandise.

Or any merchandise at all.

Hell, I’m so old that I’m excited by the thoughtfulness of the writing and acting in Jessica Jones, even though it means that Marvel’s only woman title character is a rape victim on a revenge spree. I mean, I was raised on Red Sonja. This is just the crap I have come to expect.

So I keep handing over my money to you. You’ve got me. I’m a captive.

But my kid?

She’s being raised on Lumberjanes, Gunnerkrigg Court, Girl Genius, and Zita the Space Girl. She’s got Rey and Korra and Jyn, not to mention Eve Baird and Toph Beifong, who is both cranky and kind, in her youth and in her old age. Her introduction to Marvel was Unbeatable Squirrel Girl. She isn’t willing to settle for one Strong Female Character tossed in as a romantic interest to help our Mediocre Every Man finish his quest. She expects a full roster of Complex Women and Girls, making up half the roles, the way they make up half the human race.

So if you want her money, you better get on the ball, Disney. She’s got an allowance and a bike, so she chooses her own books, comics, and movies. And she’s not willing to deal with Hope van Dyne’s arc getting sidelined for some two-bit theif or Eilonwy giving up her magic to marry a whiny little assistant pig keeper.

I’m raising her better than that.

Fair warning.

An Old Feminist Geek Mom




Dame B Reframes Recent Headlines

Melissa McCarthy’s movies make a ton of money: The entertainment press doesn’t believe that.

Bobbi Gibbs talks about 50 years ago when she said she could run a marathon and the organizers didn’t believe her.

Women leave STEM jobs because they aren’t getting paid well or promoted: Their bosses don’t believe them.

Ke$ha says she was repeatedly assaulted and raped by her producer: A judge doesn’t believe her.

Women leave STEM jobs because they are being sexually harassed: No one believes them.

Lily Allen is stalked and the police don’t believe her.

Women complain that they get paid less for the same work and “experts” don’t believe them.

Hillary Clinton says anything: No one believes her.

A board gamer complains that she has been repeatedly harassed and assaulted in her hobby and the community doesn’t believe her.

Student is harassed by her professor and the university doesn’t believe her.

Student is raped by a classmate and the university doesn’t believe her.

Geek women say that they play video games and read comics and geek guys don’t believe them.

Star Wars fans say they will buy merch with Rey on it! Hasbro doesn’t believe them.

There’s a new movie about how Anita Hill was sexually harassed and Congress didn’t believe her.

Women get abused and threatened more than men on the internet but the comments sections don’t believe them.

Anita Sarkeesian points out obvious patterns in video game narratives: Men don’t believe her.

Fans just can’t believe what the hell happened on Sleepy Hollow.







Narrative Soup Link List

You are what you consume, at least when it comes to narratives. Some smart people are talking about the narrative soup we’re all consuming.

“I Don’t Like Bullies”: Captain America and a New Masculinity:  I’m not 100 percent sure I agree with 100 percent of everything here. The “ride or die” aspect of Cap’s friendship with Bucky has always bugged me. And the “I can do this all day” inability to back down can be a dangerous amplifier for toxic behavior. But I do like that Steve Rogers is being shown as the moral center of the MCU. There are far far worse role models.

Intellectual Superheroes: I feel like the rise of really amazing special effects has undermined the tradition of thoughtful superheroes who with with their brains. It’s hard to do the FX for someone thinking really HARD. But Librarians does it! I love the Librarians for a thousand reasons, only some of which are mentioned here.

TV Killed off a Lot of Women Last Week: This is troubling in so many ways.Enough ways that I may write a whole blog entry on it later. Take the spoiler warning at the start of this article seriously, though. See also: Castle without Kate Beckett? 

Every Heart a Doorway: A novella by Seanan McGuire examining what happens when children (mostly girls) return from portal fantasy worlds. I hope that she returns to this world and talks about the reason that girls tend to need to leave our reality to have adventures.

Every semi-competent male hero has a more talented female sidekick. Why isn’t she the hero instead? The title says it all.

Kate Beacon on Tit Windows: BWAH

Finally, Annie Leibovitz has taken a photo that should be the pitch for a multi-million dollar  movie franchise.



Counting Women

Birders, when on vacation, take notice of the sorts of birds around them. Foodies just naturally notice the restaurants and grocery stores. Auto enthusiasts will pay attention to the sorts of cars on the street.

I count women.

I count the women in movies and tv ads and on billboards. I count the women who are special guests on radio news programs. I count the women authors on display tables at bookstores. I count the women who teach in my daughter’s school and the women who are in administrative positions in the same school.

Some days, it feels like there aren’t many of us out there.

Much has been written about this, with much more scientific rigor than I’m going to bring to the subject. I suggest you read the studies. But this week, I had two examples sort of smack me in the face.

I enjoy the Crash Course series, produced by the famous Vlogbrothers. (For some definition of famous.) And sometimes I watch their vlog. Today I was watching Hank Green’s “Happy Graduation, Future Dead People!” and the bookshelf behind him caught my eye. It looked a lot like one of my bookshelves, to be honest. But something was not quite the same. So, without really noticing, I started counting women.

Now, you have to imagine me, sitting here, with my cup of tea, pausing this video every few seconds and then googling madly to try to find the authors. Or image searching for a picture of the spine to confirm that I had the right book. And tilting my head sideways and getting really up close with the screen, trying to work out the fuzzy letters. (Hank, being an experienced videographer, keeps the camera focused on him and not on the book titles.)

I found the following man authors: Terry Pratchett, John Scalzi, Neil Gaiman, Rick Yancy, Bryan Lee O’Malley, Kim Stanley Robinson, John Green (obvs), Matt Ridley, Bob Seidensticker, Paolo Bacigalupi, Robert Charles Wilson, T.H. White, Greg Bear, Markus Zusak, Phillip Pullman, Andy Weir, Dan Simmons,  Peter H. Diamandis, Seamus Heaney, Alan Moore, Rainn Wilson, Phillip K Dick, Ray Mazza, Daniel Quinn, Hugh Howey, Randall Munroe, Iman Wilkens, Orson Scott Card, Sam Kean, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill McKibben.

All good authors. I have most of them, too. 31 men, many of them represented by more than one book.

I found these women authors: Esther Grace Earl, Grace Helbig, Samantha Shannon, Ursula La Guin, Maureen Johnson,  Colleen Hoover and Tarryn Fisher, Carrie H Fletcher, Diana Wynn Jones. Marie Brennan, Natalie Angier, Terry Windling. Twelve women. Two of them in the same title (Ms. Hoover and Ms. Fischer) and only one, Maureen Johnson,  had more than one book.

Now, I was picking out books that I could read on a video on my crappy monitor. Maybe there is a much more even representation of genders behind Mr. Green’s head. I don’t know. But I found it a little disheartening.

In addition, a radio show that I enjoy, On Point, is doing a whole live program early in June about women’s voices with awesome woman Cheryl Strayed. But I’ve listened to this show for years and I notice that women’s voices aren’t really given room on this show, at least. So, this morning, after counting Mr. Green’s books, I counted guests on Mr. Ashbrook’s show for the past few weeks. I choose the shows starting on April 14 until April 30 of this year becasue it seemed like a good chuck of time. (Starred guests were solo, with no one else on.)

There were 47 men, including two solo guests: Haleh Esfandirari, Sayyed Mohammad-Marandi, Thomas Erdbrink, Rep. Joe Courtney, Mark Pauly, John Burns*, Gidon Eshel, Ethan Brown, Rowan Jacobsen, Paul Shattuck, Noel Sharkey, Paul Scharre, Patrick Tucker, Jack Beatty, David Sanger, Ben Montgomery, Fred Wertheimer, David Keating, David Brooks*, Gordon Hanson, Tim Fernholz, Joseph Giambrone, Nick Bilton, Michael Lynn, Bob Donegan, Martin Haroutunian, Eric Bogosian, Yochi Dreazen, Gaylord Torrence, Benjamin Wittes, Andrew Cockburn, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), Jamal Bryant, Carl Stokes, Craig Mello, Carl Zimmer, Mike Sacks, Kenji Yoshino, Lynn Wardle, H.D.S. Greenway, Viet Thanh Nguyen, Peter Schweizer, Joshua Green, Joe Conason, Paul Rosenzweig, John Cook, Michael Cohen,

There were 25 women, including two solo guests: Elise Gould, Julie Rovner, Kate Snow, Denise Resnik, Rachel Smolkin, Mireya Ramo, Shae Fiol, Jeanne Cummings, Lori Wallach, Kate Bolick*, Amy Mayer, Sherrill Davison, Kim Halvorson, Cynthia Barnett*, Kathleen Kingsbury, Litty Mathew, Juana Summers,, Jodi Gillette, Laura Jacobs, Laura Erickson-Schroth, Renee Graham,Erica Green, Natasha Pratt-Harris, Marcy Darnovsky, Camilla Taylor, Rosalind Helderman,

So, roughly half the women are represented. I could write things about how the women were mostly representing “women’s” issues, like the all-woman mariachi band (two women guests) or the author of the book “Spinster” (one of the two solo women). But really, there are twice as many men as women on an NPR show produced in liberal Boston by a guy who cares enough to do a whole show on the issue.

I count women. And I’m tired of coming up short.

Molly at the Dunks Part 2: Why These Dudes Talk to Her

This is Part 2 of a series. Read the intro here.

The hardest part of this conversation is convincing people that emotions are real and they matter.

Do you believe that emotions are real?

As real as money? I mean, after all, money is just a piece of paper with some belief behind it. But you’d get upset if someone took money from you, wouldn’t you? Emotions are even more real, you can actually feel emotions, right? They exist. And they are real and consequential. They matter. They have actual physical effects. Getting angry lowers your immune system and mess with your digestive system. Feeling stressed can re-wire your brain. Being depressed can cause you to gain weight and lose sleep. Emotions are just as real as money and they matter just as much. If you don’t understand this, the rest of the conversation is going to feel weird.

Now, let’s go back to the money analogy.

Imagine if there were people, let’s say people with green eyes, that we were all raised to understand that we could just take money from them. Not a lot, unless we have a special relationship with them, but you can just walk up to a green-eyed person whenever you want and take $1 – $10 from them. It’s enormously helpful to you, right? You want the doughnut and you are short cash so you walk up and the green-eyed person hands you a $5 and you get a doughnut and coffee. (I live in Boston. Sometimes, doughnuts are $5 here.)

And if that person doesn’t give you any cash, well, it’s understood that sometimes the green-eyed folks don’t have money. But when it happens, especially if you really need that money and you were counting on that $5 bill, you get pissed. Most people, if refused their owed $5 bill, will walk away muttering “That was rude!”

You have been raised not to care that the $5 was going to buy beans for the green-eyed person’s dinner. You, as a non-green-eyed person, have first dibbs on that $5, gods dammit. So, sometimes, when the green-eyed person refuses to give out the money, other people beat the crap out of the green-eyed person and steal all the cash in their wallet. Not you, of course. You would never hit a green-eyed person. You just walk away muttering. But some people and you don’t approve, of course, but some people shrug and say, well… sometimes green-eyed people get beaten and mugged. “It’s sad,” society says, “but what can you do?”

The thinking person responds, “You can eliminate a culture that just assumes people can take $5 from green-eyed people!”

This is a crappy analogy but it’s all I’ve got. (I’ll discuss why it’s crappy in a bit.) I use it because women are the country’s green-eyed ATMs. But instead of cash we are forced to hand out little emotional pick-me-ups.

Thank about it. That’s exactly what these guys at Dunk’s are doing. These guys at the Dunk’s, they are older guys, mostly marginalized. They sit around drinking coffee all day. I don’t know these dudes in particular, but I know guys like them. They are married and their wives are at work or have kicked them out of the house to clean. They are unmarried and it’s raining out so their construction job is furloughed today. They are disability, they are retired, they are unemployable. I don’t know. I do know that very few people who sit and drink coffee all day at a Boston Dunkin’ Dounuts feel awesome about themselves.

So they see a woman come in. And they want to a little bit better about themselves.

And they start to chat with the pretty woman who comes in. She smiles and is polite and gives them some attention for a little while. The big smile and polite attention makes them feel good. It’s a five-minute interaction during which they just took a small withdrawal from the ATM of Molly’s emotions because they needed the emotional equivalent of a cup of coffee.

I can hear you saying, “What’s the big deal? It’s a little polite conversation for five lousy minutes.” But we’ve already established that emotions are as real as money, right? So what’s the big deal about me taking $5 from a green-eyed person? Emotions are real and they matter, so it’s equally as wrong to just assume that you can walk up and feel better by imposing on someone else’s limited reserves. If she wanted to do it, that’s fine. Like when I loan my friend or even a stranger in line $5 for a cup of coffee. But it’s being taken from her.

What’s more, those little emotional pic-me-ups are being taken time and again. Not every guy does it to her every day, but 5 minutes with five guys a day, times 5 days a week, times 50 weeks of the year…. That’s 104 hours a year, or slightly more than four days of her life every year, handing out emotional cups of coffee to strangers in Dunkin’ Donuts.

What’s more, she doesn’t really have a choice. (More on that later in the series.) So it doesn’t matter if she’s cranky or had a fight with her brother or had a brutal day at work or her kid’s sick or she didn’t sleep well. It doesn’t matter if she’s running late or needs to go the grocery store or even if she doesn’t have a good reason, she just want to be left alone today, gods dammit. She has to muster that polite smile, that cheerful attention every fucking time one of these dudes wants to feel better. 

And, this is important, it’s just the fact of being a woman that matter here. How we look doesn’t matter here. Molly happens to be stunning and petite, a black Irish beauty, but I get it, too, and I’m no-one’s idea of a petite beauty. I tend to get it from younger guys looking for mom-like validation and Molly gets it from older guys trying to feel like studs. Captain Awkward and UnWinona get it from random dudes on the train. (If you feel like it, read all the comments in the Captain Awkward post and to see the hundreds of women this happens to every day. Go ahead. I’ll wait right here.)

Now, I love the Captain Awkward post but it may confuse you because several of the tangential conversation get tangled up sometimes in the “guys are hitting on me” sub-genre of dudes who think they are entitled to talk to women. Let me be clear: this phenomenon can not be reduced to “well, guys hit on women.” The men who talk to Molly aren’t hitting on her. They aren’t even flirting with her. They are just having what they consider a polite small talk conversation with her. The guys who talk to me at Starbucks are not hitting on me. Trust me. There is nothing sexual in their conversation. The dudes who say shit to Captain Awkward on the train are not hitting on her.

This isn’t about sex. I will say that again. This isn’t about sex. Even when some guy is trying to pick up a totally random woman, it isn’t really about sex. It’s about the social dynamic that makes it OK for men to just start talking to women and expect women to be polite and interested back. Even the Onion knows it’s not OK.

Now, this is a crappy analogy. Why? Several reasons. The first being that humans don’t exchange money in small increments as we move through the day. We do exchange small social pleasantries. I say “Good morning,” to the neighbor who walks his dog. The crossing guard says to me “It’s finally stopped raining!” The barista and I chatter about Starbucks’s latest chai offering. Small social interactions are part of what makes the world go around.

That means that there’s a not a bright white line about social interactions the way that there is about money. “Good morning,” is OK, even expected, regardless of gender, right? So what’s the harm in going one step more? When does casual conversation become an imposition? Like many things that deal with the human experience of talking to other humans, it’s very complicated with many subtle nuances and contextual cues. We’ve internalized these so much that we don’t even really notice them. Which is one of the things that leads to over reaching — the subjective shading and justifiable deniability.

Another reason this is a crappy analogy is because it’s commodifies women’s attention and emotions. It equates intercourse with a woman (in this case, social intercourse) with money and frankly that’s a huge big thing that I don’t like. But that’s another blog post altogether. Possibly a dissertation.

It’s also a crappy analogy because emotions aren’t a zero-sum transaction, like money. Two people in a good conversation walk away with over-all positive feelings. These guys who talk to women against their will, they are treating it like an ATM — they demand polite attention and women give it, usually at our own expense. But some women, for whatever reason, will actually feel awesome after one of these chats. They enjoy those small conversations and come away feeling good. So the line, once again, is blurred.

Human interaction resists simplification. It’s sad (at least for bloggers who like metaphors) but true.

Next: Why these dudes don’t respect her cues that she wants to be left alone.


Molly at the Dunkin’ Donuts Part 1: A lesson in feminism, with coffee

Mac’s wife, Molly, has two Dunkin’ Donuts near her. One is much easier to get to than the other. But she goes to the one that is further away. Why?

Because the guys who spend time at the nearest Dunks won’t leave her alone. They talk her ear off. And she doesn’t feel comfortable just telling them “I don’t want to talk today.” So instead of going to the nearby Dunks, she walks another block and a half out of her way. Except when Mac is with her. They leave her alone when he goes with her.

When Molly told me about this situation, I said, “You could do an entire semester of feminist theory dissecting that.” She asked me elaborate and I blinked and stammered. “It’s too complicated for right now,” I said, as we were getting the kids’ shoes on them after practice. I felt badly, but you try explaining complicated sociological issues while a bunch of kids howl around you.

I admit that this blog was started, at least in part, because I’ve been thinking about answering her. It’s taken me over a year to try to tease apart and explain all these issues in my head. They are interlinked and dependent upon one another so it’s going to take more than one post. Here’s the list of what I’ve come up with:

1. Why these guys insist on talking to Molly.

2. Why they don’t respect her cues that she wants to be left alone.

3. Why she feels like she needs to use “soft-no” cues.

3a. Why “not all men” is a totally invalid counterargument for point #3

4. The intangible costs of going out of her way to the other Dunks.

5. Why she is not harassed when Mac’s with her and why this is a problem

So, tomorrow I’ll do part 1: Emotional capital, pretty girls, and being polite.




The myth of “Just don’t listen to it.”

I just read a great article about how some online communities are taking steps to curb harassment. It’s awesome. I commend it to you.

Then I made a mistake and read the comments. “Never read the bottom half of the internet,” my friend says. I should have listened. Because almost right off the bat came the cry “i agree, it should be addressed as it is in the real world. if you don’t like what someone says, don’t listen to them.” That’s a quote.

This particular argument befuddles me coming, as it almost always does, from someone who lives in a world with police.

Imagine, for a moment, that you go to work every morning in some nice, pleasant cubicle farm. And then one morning, some person wearing all black SWAT technical gear shows up in your cubicle, waving a pistol and knife. This person screams invective — “I’M GONNA TAKE THIS GUN AND SHOVE IT SO FAR UP YOUR ASS I’MMA HAFTA CUT IT OUTTA YOUR THROAT WITH THIS FUCKING KNIFE!”

What would you do? You’d immediately call the cops, right?

Now imagine if the cops came and took a look at the black-clad figure, waving that knife menacingly near your face, and says “How do you know it’s not a toy knife? And you know what? That doesn’t look like a real gun to me. Most of these times, these are toy guns. If you don’t like it, just don’t listen to it.”

You’d be befuddled, right? Because we have rules of behavior and laws. And threatening someone is assault and that’s against those laws. You’d expect the cops to take that person away.

But the cops declare that you should just not listen to it. So you turn back to your computer and try to work with some maniac screeching full volume in your ear.

And then that night you go to the basketball court because you really like basketball, and that’s how you unwind after getting screamed at by some asshat with a knife all day. And while you’re there, someone walks up to you and starts to whisper in your ear, “I am going to perform the Viking torture of screaming eagle on you, I am going to slowly slit your belly and pull out your intestines…” and goes on, at length, with great and vivid detail. Such detail that you kinda think this person has spent a lot of time fantasizing about this particular act. Maybe done it before, too. You hear descriptions of the feeling of the intestines running over fingers, maybe a recording of the sound of a knife puncturing the diaphragm, there’s a picture (surely Photoshopped?) of this happening to someone….

This amount of detail is disturbing, right? You feel threatened, obviously. And this person is getting in the way of the basketball game. Keeps stealing the ball.  You’d call the cops, right? Or at least the folks running the basketball court.

Imagine how you’d react if they shrugged and said, “Well, I don’t see why they can’t say that you?”

Now imagine one of your co-workers actually gets gutted and shot by a screaming black clad figure. Dies horribly. Would you take your own personal screaming figure more seriously?

But somehow, on the internet, it’s totally OK to do that. In fact, on the internet, this happens so often to women who speak out that we have gotten used to threading our way past hundreds of gun-waving nutballs to get to our office. (Are saying to yourself that I’m exaggerating? Please read this article at WeekWoman and realize that pretty much all feminist bloggers deal with the same stuff.)

And when I say get to our office, I mean exactly that. I actually work on the internet. It’s where my job is. And many of my hobbies. But not video games. I don’t play video games for many reasons, but one of them is because I don’t have fun when I have to wade through detailed descriptions of my rape.

We live in a world with rules of behavior. Rules that allow us to interact. Those rules may vary from place to place, situation to situation, but where you have humans interacting, you have rules.

Only the most examined sort of person would look at a simple set of these sorts of rules and declare that we don’t need rules, that instead  he is all “for a world of sharp edges, risk, and terrible things in the dark.” I suspect that the dude who wrote that quote has never been mugged, beaten, and run over with a car. I suspect he’s never lived in fear of his physical safety.

And I suspect that if he did get a gun-toting psychopath following him home down a dark alley one night, he’d dial 911 pretty fast.

The internet is not a lawless state. We need rules to govern our interactions. “Just don’t listen to it,” isn’t a rule.

Third-Wave Feminism: Being THAT Mom

My daughter brings home a double-sided sheet of homework every weeknight. Reading stuff on this side, math on that side. I check it over, because that’s what good and involved parents do.

And I’ve noticed something.

April goes to a charter school that is deliberately very mixed in every possible way — languages, races, socio-economic, religion. The worksheets they hand out for homework don’t fully reflect that, but they are clearly trying. You get as many Juans as Johns, as many Aishas as Annes. The kids in the little cartoons are still about half light skinned, but that means they are half darker skinned, which is awesome. Some of the kids in the word problems or stories don’t have two parents but instead get taken care of by Abuela.

But what I don’t see are as many girls as boys.

If girls appear, they are conscientiously not doing girly things — they throw balls and sail boats. So, yay! Progress. But often we’ll get a work sheet in which no girls appear at all. We have never (as far as I can tell) gotten a worksheet in which no boys appear.

Now, here’s the thing. I am a busy woman and April will hand me the worksheet to check over while I’m making dinner or getting a deadline met, so I look it over while frying onions or whatever. Which means that I can’t swear that this is true. I haven’t made a thoughtful and systematic statistical analysis of it. But I kinda feel like I should.

Because that right there? That’s the work of third-wave feminism. Statistics.

Individual acts of egregious sexism are easy to see and combat. “Go make me a sandwich, woman!” is a singular instance, outrageous and obvious. Combating that is simple, if not easy. It was the work of the second-wave feminists and I am grateful for their efforts.

But is it sexist to ask the female intern to pick up sandwiches? I mean, interns pick up sandwiches. It’s part of the job description.

Is it sexist if she’s asked to pick them up more than the male intern? If she’s asked to pick them up every day and the male intern never picks them up? Well, maybe she has a good rapport with the dude at the sandwich food truck? What if, every year, Boss hires a male intern and a female intern and the female intern is always the one who gets the sandwiches? Is that sexist? Probably. But… where’s the line?

A similar example: Two potential hires, identical resumes, Boss hires a guy. Is that sexist? When you ask Boss, they say “Well, he just seemed a better fit with the culture.” Is that sexist?

If Boss always hires guys, that’s clearly sexist, regardless of any bullshit about culture. But you can’t tell if a single hire is sexist because you need the context of a larger pattern.

Which means we need to collect data. We need to take the time to make a frigging chart and write down how many names appear on our kids’ worksheets and keep track of how many are female. It’s work that seems frankly ridiculous, sometimes. And because of that, there’s another step in feminism: We need to make a calculation.

Because that’s another part of being a feminist. Weighing the balance between what’s best for us, personally, versus the larger picture.

If I go to April’s teacher (Ms. P) with a pie chart that shows that demonstrates a lopsided statistical gender breakdown of the characters in the worksheet she hands out, then I’ll be That Mom. The crazy mom. The difficult mom. And that may have blowback on April. Ms. P is awesome and professional but she’s also human. She’s got to manage 22 kids, hand out homework, correct it, she doesn’t have complete control over the worksheets, all the second grade teachers use the same work book, for the love of God, why is this crazy mom giving her one more damned thing to worry about? And no matter how professional and lovely she is, there’s a chance she’ll have a little less patience with April at during Literacy Workshops. There’s a chance she’ll call on April less in class, or pay less attention to her homework, or just be generally less cheerful in class because of that one more damned thing.

There’s also a chance that she’ll say “You’re right! I have been thinking the same thing! Let’s take it to the principal!”

I don’t know.

do know that April is getting plenty of feminist philosophy at home. When I notice an all-boy worksheet, I point it out and say “That’s not fair, is it?” Her bookshelf is loaded with well-rounded female characters. Her life is filled with women who are scientists and lawyers and weight lifters as well as housewives and quilters and knitters. I know that exposure to works that exclude females is harmful to kids. But I’m pretty sure it’s not going to do her too much harm, because I work damned hard to ensure that.


But she’s in a school that is deliberately mixed, in every possible way. And I know that many of her classmates don’t get regular doses of feminism at home. She’s got a classmate whose family practices a religion that explicitly states that girls should wear skirts and get married young and have lots of babies and never go to college. She’s got a friend who comes from a family where that’s not the religion, it’s just what happens. There are kids who have feminist moms who have to work, so Avó  watches them after school and Avó is old fashioned about girls.  There are lots of parents whose parents wish they had the time to point out every damned sexist and racist thing, but the reality is that they are both working two jobs and don’t have time to look over the homework, much less do a statistical analysis of fucking worksheets.

Would pointing out this small imbalance help them? At all? Is the small (tiny? negligible? non-existent?) good it might do them worth the possibility of the larger harm it might do April’s relationship with Ms. P? Hell, is the small good that it might do them worth the time it will take to turn off those frying onions to sit down and count male v female names?  That’s not a lot of time, but it’s 5 minutes from my day, five days a week, for the next three months. That’s five hours of my life on statistics. To do what good? Possibly none.

This is why third-wave feminism is hard.

Welcome to the Pink Ghetto

Imagine you’re in a room with two kids, one in a green shirt and one in an orange shirt. You also have a table and on that table you have two things: a small cupcake and an enormous cake. Each is set at on a plate, with a napkin, fork, and glass of milk ready to be eaten

You say to Green Shirt, “This cupcake is yours.”

What is everyone going to assume? That the giant cake is for Orange Shirt, right? That’s just how the brain works. There are two sets of things and two people and if Green Shirt gets the cupcake, then Orange Shirt must get the giant cake.

Now, close your eyes and remember the last time you were in a toy store. Most of the store was all sorts of colors, blue and green and orange, Legos and teddy bears and fire trucks and crayons and books and art supplies. But I’m willing to bet that there was one small corner that looks like it was hosed down with Pepto Bismol. Everything in it is pink — baby dolls in frilly dresses and cute kitchens and soft white bunny rabbits and dress-up high heels and Barbie everywhere.

Welcome to the Pink Ghetto, the small cupcake that is a woman’s share of the human experience.

Of course, the Pink Ghetto is most obvious, visually, in a toy store. But it exists everywhere. There are certain things, emotions, actions, and and behaviors that designated as “for girls” or “for women”. Nursing, teaching, librarianship, nurturing, parenting, cleaning, cooking, knitting, emotional intelligence, flute playing, ballet, caring about fashion, being sexy, etc. etc. These things are all in the Pink Ghetto.

There are so many many many horrible side effects of the Pink Ghetto that I can’t begin to enumerate them all in one post. Or one blog. Hell, you could reasonably say that the entire point of feminism is nothing more than studying and mitigating the ramifications of the Pink Ghetto.

But there are some high-level problems that are easy to delineate.

The first is, of course, that society tries to limit girls to the Pink Ghetto. Girls and women look around this tiny corner, full of Pepto-pink, and they say, “This is mine.” They may say it with joy or frustration or resignation or rage, but that message is imparted very early on and it’s reinforced over and over and over again.

The fight of women and girls to get the fuck out of the Pink Ghetto is what most people (including many feminists) consider to be the central mission of feminism. But I’m here to tell you that it’s just one of the problems that feminism needs to tackle.

Because the second problem is also huge. Because women are getting this tiny cupcake, there’s a subconscious value judgement that’s going on. Well, if boys get a giant cake and girls get a tiny cupcake, it must be because girls don’t deserve the giant cake and boys do, right? And if girls are less deserving, the cupcake must taste worse, right? This isn’t logical, but it’s how humans think.

So we devalue things in the Pink Ghetto. An example. Knitting v golfing. Knitting is seen as a female pursuit. Golfing is seen as a male pursuit. About twice as many people in North America knit as play golf (citation: Pearl-McPhee, Free-Range Knitter). But there’s no Knitting Channel. There are no internationally famous knitters. We don’t broadcast knitting for a full week every summer on network TV.

In fact, when a bunch of women ran a yarn-a-month club, the (male) banker who handled their transactions decided it must be a scam or money laundering because there’s no way that mere yarn could be bringing in that much money. True story! No one would cast that doubt on the money that a golfing green makes in fees. Why? Because female-coded hobbies are seen as less important/useful/worthwhile than male hobbies.

This problem — of denigrating things in the Pink Ghetto — isn’t just a Things That Sexist Dudes Do. A lot of women, feminists even, in their effort to punch out of the Pink Ghetto, wound up sneering at all “that girly crap” they’d left behind. I can’t tell you how many old-school feminists, upon hearing that I chose to stay at home to raise my child, lectured me or chided me or just shook their heads sadly and walked away. Hell, I’ve done it. I still do it, sometimes, because it’s hard to untangle human emotions.

There’s a word for this, by the way. Femmephobia. It’s a really important concept. Make a note. We’ll come back to it time and time again.

The third enormous problem with the Pink Ghetto is that it keeps boys and men out.

Anytime society codes something as “for girls”, it keeps out the boys who might be interested. It also keeps other boys (and men) from becoming interested in the first place.  Which is bad. Because that cupcake may be smaller than the boys’ cake,  but it incorporates really vital and necessary aspects of the human experience: having a basic understanding of your emotions and the ability to talk about them; being a nurturing person; enjoying colors and soft textures.

And just as women should be participate in male-coded things, men should be allowed to participate in female-coded things.

And they aren’t. If a boy transgresses on female-coded behaviors, society directs him back towards “boy stuff” pretty quickly. It’s as pervasive and subtle as the pressures on the girls — from the casual use of “man up” to “boys don’t cry.” The further over that imaginary line he gets, the less subtle that redirection becomes, including emotional abuse, physical violence, and death.

This has far-reaching consequences, too. Inability to understand emotions other than anger and violence leads to more anger and violence, often against other men but also against women. Inability to see women and girls as full-fledged people, with just as much worth as men, also leads to violence against women.

This is another enormous problem that feminism is trying to tackle, just as important as the other two issues. That fact gets lost sometimes in the exasperated stories about yarn clubs getting shut down or overwrought metaphors about cupcakes, but …. what if Orange Shirt didn’t want the giant cake? What if Orange Shirt wanted a cupcake?

There isn’t a good single word for this, but it’s such an important concept that there needs to be a word so that we can start to define it. So I’m going to invent a word. My husband, Master B., suggests Wayag, which is short for “What are you, a girl?” We’ll come back to that a lot, too.



This is Feminism — a tortured metaphor

The other day, walking home, I noticed that someone used ketchup to draw loops and squiggles on the sidewalk near my house. It stank in the sun and I veered around it, not wanting to track the red goop into my house. I thought “That’s rude,” and walked on.

picture of ketchup squiggles on sidewalk

picture of ketchup squiggles on sidewalk

It stayed there.

Two days later, I was walking by with the family and noticed something. It wasn’t just random squiggles. When I stepped to the side, it was words. Hard-to-read words, but… I tilted my head and read aloud, “Gypsies… love… sluts.”


Ketchup graffiti that says "Gypsies love sluts"


Oh, for the love of little green apples.

The first thing I did was explain those words to April. That was last thing that I wanted to do on my Saturday morning — explain racial and misogynistic slurs to my 8 year old — but I’m a parent and what I want isn’t as important as making sure she has the right information. (I suspect at least some folks are thinking “Racist slur? Huh? Where?” To them, I will say this: Seanan McGuire says “gypsy” is a racist slur. Since she is both the only Roma-descent person I have met, and a very very smart woman, I listen to her and I think you should, too.)

Then we went around it and went on with our weekend.

The next day, I went around it again.

And again.

We live in a city and walk everywhere. That nasty bit of condiment graffiti was right there, just a half block away from my house. We walked by it a lot, at least three or four times a day.

It didn’t take a lot of energy to go around. It was supposed to rain on Wednesday, maybe it would go away on its own. It was in front of a nice building, maybe the owners would clean it up.

On the fourth day, I realized what I was doing. And I went and bought a mop. For $25. (Damn, that’s expensive.) And I came home and I filled a pot with hot soapy water and as I walked down to the gross words, I asked April, “What does Tiffany say?”

“Even if it’s not your fault, it’s your responsibility,” she duly quoted Sir Terry.

Then, with April watching, I splooshed the water all over the gross words and started to scrub.

And scrubbed and scrubbed and scrubbed. And scrubbed.

It took twenty minutes in a frigid wind, my knuckles red on the mop, and my back aching because I’d bought a crappy short mop (for $25!). Half dozen people walked by and ignored me. I worked my middle-aged ass off and only made a dent in the graffiti. But I managed to mostly obliterate the two really offensive words.

That’s been my experience of feminism. Something is irritating but I don’t really see the misogyny or the racism. Then I suddenly see it, but don’t really do anything about it. And then, because I have a daughter and don’t want her to see me ignoring that, I do something about it.