Archive for May, 2013

I am female; I am a geek

While I was in college, I took an English course, specifically in science fiction. I’d been an sf (my professor preferred “sf” to “scifi”) fan for some time by then, having been introduce to it by my father. He suggested I read Dune, by Frank Herbert. I think that’s the equivalent of being tossed in the water to learn to swim. Dune was a long book, with a sprawling plot that eventually spanned six books in Herbert’s lifetime, and a few more after that.

Back to my college course, we read material by various authors, new and classic. We read Heinlein and Asimov but also A Door into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski, even a little cyberpunk, or pre-cyberpunk, perhaps. One short story that stayed with me was The Cold Equations (1954) by Tom Godwin. In this story a young girl stows away on a ship that is making a trip, but the trip has only enough fuel to make it to its destination and back, with its pilot and cargo — and no stowaways. The pilot works to save the girl, but in the end, she must be jettisoned out the airlock.

It is a good story (turned into a mediocre TV movie if I recall), but I was bothered by the thought that if the stowaway had been a boy, there wouldn’t have been a story. I know — the story was written in 1954 when cultural attitudes were different, not least between men and women. Still, it bugged me. This lead to two things. First, our prof said if you don’t like the story you read, write the one you want. Sound advice. Second, a male student made his observation that women couldn’t appreciate science fiction as much as men.

Right. So Ursula K. LeGuin, Andre Norton, Margaret Atwood — they just don’t get it. Pffft.

This is on my mind because I saw this article today. Headline: “Why Girls Hate Game of Thrones.” I have to hope this is some kind of satire, because otherwise it’s really depressing. The opening graphs:

Game of Thrones ranks somewhere on the Girl Dislike scale between NASCAR and that National Geographic show where the guy sticks his hand in a catfish’s mouth.

But why does she throw so much shade? If you just can’t understand why we’re intent on harshing your medieval buzz, here are some telltale clues.

  • We hate gross things. Know what’s gross? Screwing your sibling.
  • It’s hard to follow. Brilliantly developed storylines are great, but whipping out a dry erase board and Venn diagrams to figure it all out isn’t our idea of a good time. Unless we’re talking about soap operas. Those are perfectly fine.

You what? I love this show. I have seen every episode. I read recaps and reviews and HappyPlace.com’s Facebook episodes (hilarious stuff). Know what else is gross? Serial killers. Murderers and rapists. Yet I bet plenty of women watch Law & Order, and Dexter and The Following.

But worse than that is the second reason, and perhaps worse yet is that this article was written by a woman. I’m sorry — you can’t follow it? That has less to do with your gender than the fact that this is an epic story spanning not just continents but tons of characters. If you haven’t been in from the beginning, or haven’t read the books, you will be a bit lost and believe me, that would apply to men as well. As for the soap opera comparison — well, what the hell do you think Game of Thrones really is, minus the medieval trappings? If you can’t follow it because people ride horses instead of drive Priuses, that’s your problem.

As I write this, my husband and I are watching Star Trek: The Original Series on DVD. I have seen Star Wars many times (a gimme for sf fans, right?), and watched all the movies in the series. I loved Joss Whedon’s Firefly and its conclusion with the movie Serenity and have seen both multiple times. I have been a Doctor Who fan since I saw the original series as a kid, complete with cheesy props and costumes where you could see the zippers in the back. I love the new series and the Torchwood spin off. I watched Babylon 5 and one of my favorite more movies is Strange Days. I have read Asimov, Heinlein, LeGuin, Simak; my favorite fantasy series is Michael Moorcock’s Elric Saga. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman comics are amazing.

Have I established my bona fides? Would I be reading and watching all of this if I didn’t like it or appreciate it?

I do hope the article I linked to is a satire; in a way it’s hard to believe it isn’t. But you don’t have to look too hard to find articles about how women gamers still face all kinds of opposition, some of it minor insults and some of it dangerous threats. It’s frightening for those women, I’m sure, and it’s depressing to read any article by another woman that just reinforces these stereotypes.

Now go catch up on Game of Thrones, and then read the episodes as Facebook posts. And I don’t care what your gender is.

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Back in the day…

When the Columbine High School shootings occurred on April 20, 1999, I was twenty-nine years old. I was living with my fiancé, with the wedding not quite a year away, and I had been out of high school for twenty-two years.  I went to a Catholic high school, but it was a regional school and so drew from a large area and had a pretty diverse student body, at least for the time and place. It always amused me that I knew two or three Jewish kids whose parents had sent them to this school, as it was better than any available public option (or so I guessed).

Sometime after Columbine, my dad asked me if I’d ever worried about such a thing while I was in high school. First, I have to say, I often characterize myself at that time (mid/late 1980s) as rather oblivious. I don’t mean to say I was ignorant or naive about the world, although I wasn’t the most savvy. I kept to myself, read a lot of books, had some friends and generally flew under the radar. I was not bullied, although I suppose it was safe to say I was somewhat ignored by any in-crowd. Some of this resulted from the fact that I transferred schools about five weeks into the first marking period; any groups of friends that had formed by that time were pretty solid and no one was really looking to add anyone into their group. I kept to my own devices and was generally left alone.

Back to Dad’s question — had I feared someone coming into my school with guns or bombs or anything else? No. Truth was, as I told him, it wouldn’t have occurred to me to think about worrying about something like that. Of course now with one child in elementary school and another about to start this fall, such things kind of niggle at the back of your mind. But you can’t do much about a lone wolf bent on destruction — I have to trust the school officials to make the building as secure as possible; to the other parents of the kids in the school to keep an eye on, well, everyone; the teachers to keep an eye on their kids; even my kids to tell me if they think something’s wrong somewhere. It’s a crying shame that at some point I will have to tell them these things.

These days I read about a lot of sex stuff with teenagers. Surely by now most of us know the names of Audrie Pott, or Steubenville, OH, or Rehteah Parsons. And I think, my God, in four or five years my son will be the age of the perpetrators; in ten, my daughter will be the age of the victims. And it all makes you say: WTF?

I get that kids, teenagers, do stupid things. Fine. The brain is still forming. Logic is circuitous, if it’s there. What seems to make sense in the moment is obviously totally wrong in hindsight. I try to tell my kids that mistakes are fine, but learn from them. When they’re old enough, I will tell them to call me at any time day or night, for help if they need it, and I won’t care whose fault the situation is.

What I want to know is how do these kids come to these horrible conclusions that their actions are acceptable? In Steubenville, we can blame some of it on alcohol. But afterwards? Is high school football that freaking important?

It seems amazing that after all this time of equality, slow though the path has been, and as long as it may stretch in front of us until we get to the end, that when it comes to sex, girls are at fault, even if they aren’t at fault. Yeah, I agree that no one should put themselves in a bad situation. But it happens. And when it happens, that doesn’t mean the “gate is open” or that the victim (no matter the gender) is at fault. The people at fault in Steubenville and the other cases are the ones who committed the crime. 

Did no one watch The Accused?

As I said, I flew below the radar in high school, or I’m guessing I did. No one went out of their way to make things hard for me, which unfortunately is probably what a lot of kids would love to have happen. I remember one slight incident that pales to the point of invisibility given what we read about today.

I hadn’t been in the high school long when a couple of girls approached me and told me that some guy liked me. I probably barely knew who he was.  My reaction was something like, well, okay fine. I didn’t rise to any bait. They kept trying, as I recall. At one point they told me the guy wanted to make out with me and “finger me,” and although I guessed from context what that meant, I didn’t really know. It was getting on my nerves. It ended when they came to me one day at lunch and said the guy wanted my phone number.

Now, when we moved and got our phone number, the phone rang all the time and a lot of times at night. My dad theorized the previous number owner had been a drug dealer or something. After a few weeks of this, we got a new number. When these girls approached me in the cafeteria about the number, I wrote the old one down and handed it to them. I never heard another thing about it (although I thought this was pretty clever on my part, and I’m usually not that sneaky). Whether the guy ever called the number, or the girls did, I have no idea. But that was the end of it.

Like I said, that was nothing. But I can imagine now that if I’d fallen for it, I might easily have gotten the mid-80s version of “slut-shaming” at some point. Actually I bet that version isn’t much different than today’s, except today such things an spread faster with the internet and social networking. And I am still left with why such a thing would happen. Why do people (of any age) want to do that? Why  are parent so oblivious about it? What can we do or say to help prevent it, or prevent a drastic reaction to it?

I hope that my daughter doesn’t have to go through that. I also hope that neither she nor my son ever perpetrate or contribute to such a thing. Saying “How would you feel if it was you?” just isn’t going to work.

And obviously much of this comes back to sex. I’m not blaming anything on sex per se, because sex is well, something you do. It’s what leads up to it that is important. It’s a bit like a story, but in real life, it’s obviously fraught with more consequences. And this is not about saving oneself until marriage. This is about teaching your kids to be as smart as possible, to protect themselves as well as possible from the physical and the psychological damage people can inflict — and that’s a hell of a job.

Let’s reach for the stars, shall we? What would help: a healthier attitude about sex all around; access to information and contraception without judgment; that you should respect yourself and your partner; that it is never okay to forward photos of a person in a bad or compromising situation; that it is never funny to do that either; young men need to be taught that yes, they have needs, but lack of refusal from a potential partner (of either gender) is not implication of consent; young women need to be taught that as well, but also that saying no to anything they don’t like is their right, and that you’ll help them — and believe them — when they tell you they’ve been assaulted (and young men, too).

Maybe in another few decades, we can shake our heads that we ever had to do this.

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