Tuesday, January 20, 2015

2014 Book Experiment: The Results Are In!

Welp, the results from my very-creatively-named 2014 Book Experiment*, in which I only read books written by women for the entire year, are in.

I'll start by sharing the books I read:

  • The Heart Goes Last: Positron, Episode Four - Margaret Atwood
  • Allegiant - Veronica Roth
  • Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive: Julia Serrano
  • Paris Was a Woman: Portraits From the Left Bank - Andrea Weiss
  • Kushiel's Dart - Jacqueline Carey
  • Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood
  • Indexing - Seanan McGuire
  • You Feel So Mortal: Essays on the Body - Peggy Shinner
  • Bloodchild: And Other Stories - Octavia Butler
  • Feast of Souls: Book One - CS Friedman
  • Santa Olivia - Jacqueline Carey
  • The Kingdom of Gods - NK Jemisin
  • The Year of the Flood: A Novel - Margaret Atwood
  • Kushiel's Chosen - Jacqueline Carey
  • Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail - Cheryl Strayed
  • Spin State -  Chris Moriarty
  • The Blue Place - Nicola Griffith
  • Women, Culture, & Politics - Angela Davis
  • How to Suppress Women's Writing - Joanna Russ
  • Ash - Malinda Lo
  • Ammonite - Nicola Griffith
  • Brown Girl in the Ring - Nalo Hopkinson
  • MaddAddam: A Novel - Margaret Atwood
  • The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters
  • Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on the Appalachian Trail - Jennifer Pharr Davis
  • Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand
1) I didn't feel that something was "lacking" from my reading experience.  Although, frankly my dears, I also didn't expect to find anything lacking in my reading experience when I set out on the Experiment.

2) I have re-learned that in addition to fantasy and science fiction, I also greatly enjoy both adventure books and (not sure how I feel about this term, so scare quote) "hard" science fiction books - especially when women are the subjects.  The latter two genres in particular are often coded as "male" genres, particularly when men are the subjects - but I wonder how that would change if women were more consistently portrayed as major characters with cool roles within adventure writing and "hard" science fiction. Chris Moriarty's Spin State series was the most thought-provoking book of the bunch, for me.

3) I'm a big fan of Margaret Atwood, obvs.  But, one of my favorite aspects of this Experiment was sharing updates here on the blog and, in turn, receiving great book recommendations from those of you who made them.  Jacqueline Carey, Nalo Hopkinson, and Nicola Griffith were all authors new to me and I will be reading more of their work in the future!  Thanks to all for participating!

4) I skewed heavily in science fiction and fantasy in 2014, particularly trilogies and sequels. Carey's Kushiel books are massive, so I wasn't able to get through as many books as I thought I would. No regrets though. The only series I've given up on is Friedman's Magister series - it just isn't working for me, for reasons I wrote about here.  

Relatedly, I was unsure how I would respond to Davis' Becoming Odyssa - as some of the reviews I had read of it noted annoyance at the author injecting her Christian beliefs into her account of hiking the Appalachian Trail.  I don't share the author's beliefs and couldn't relate to them - but I could relate to some of her experiences and the feeling of being called to nature without having a necessarily fleshed out articulation as to why. So, I didn't find her injection of her religion to be a detraction from the overall story (she also recounts going skinny dipping with a lesbian at one point, so!).  At the same time, Cheryl Strayed's account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail was more raw and, to me, relatable, however. 
5) Queer fiction or fiction with queer characters- I really have missed reading it.  Griffith, Lo, Moriarty, Carey, and Waters reminded me that I want to read more of it. Suggestions?

5) Looking forward, I hope to continue writing occasional "what's everyone reading" posts, in hopes that people will continue sharing the great recommendations with one another. I'm currently reading Carey's Kushiel's Avatar.  I also have Dangerous Women, the anthology edited by George RR Martin and Gardner Dozois, in my queue so I suppose I'll likely read that at some point this year.

*The idea for this Experiment was borrowed from a post by Lilit Marcus - you can read what she has to say about her experience here.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Quote of the Day

From Melissa at Shakesville:
"How can men possibly be expected to participate in a space where the deity, his sacrificial son, that son's twelve BFFs, the author of every single book of their holy text, the pope, every cardinal, every archbishop, every bishop, every priest, every deacon are all men, but women are allowed to say things and wash dishes? No wonder men are running for the hills."
This observation was in response to the former highest-ranking US cardinal blaming the "feminization" of the Catholic Church on sexually confusing male priests, causing priests to sexually abuse children, and running men out of church:
"While he directs most of his ire at 'radical feminists,' he also appears rankled by ordinary women doing ordinary Church activities. To him, that act alone constitutes the dangerous feminization of the Church that has alienated, disenchanted and made men sexually confused. 
'Apart from the priest, the sanctuary has become full of women,' Burke continued. 'The activities in the parish and even the liturgy have been influenced by women and become so feminine in many places that men do not want to get involved. Men are often reluctant to become active in the Church. The feminized environment and the lack of the Church's effort to engage men has led many men to simply opt out.'"
His is a common whine - that once women are allowed, even in small incremental ways, into the Boys Only Treehouse, it's no longer a super-duper special place by virtue of its total exclusion of girls and women. Thus does inequality (not even equality!) for women become framed as "oppression of men," which results in an entire fucking men's rights movement.

Friday, January 16, 2015

A Most Civil Response

An update to yesterday's post: The anti-gay Christian writer has responded to Ellen's clip in an "open letter." It's an extremely odd mix of complimentary and incredibly condescending, demeaning commentary.

In it, he acknowledges that Ellen is indeed a funny gal, and pleads, "hasn't the time arrived for everyone involved in this dialogue on gay-related issues to lower our voices and approach one another with respect and civility though we have our differences?" He then continues:
"Being 56 years old, childless and with your third 'partner,' you may not understand the awesome responsibility it is to shape impressionable and vulnerable children. I've done it with children and grandchildren plus helped parents for over 42 years with this most challenging task. 
....Ellen, a nation rises or falls on marriage. If we dismantle this pillar of society, as it has existed for over 5000 years of Western civilization and redefine it to accommodate other arrangements such as yours (or those advocating for polyamorous, polygamous or other configurations) what will be the consequences for this sacred institution and the future of our nation?"
Previous articles of his include, "Are You Aware of the Avalanche of Gay Programming Assaulting Your Home?" and "Archie Comics Now Includes Homosexuality, Witchcraft, Demons and Occult."

These anti-gay (and Christian supremacist) viewpoints are nothing new, of course, but it's worth pointing out the profound disconnect.  Many LGBT people view people like this guy as obvious raging bigots who lack all awareness of the harm their words cause. To many ant-LGBT Christians, though, accusations of bigotry feel incredibly unfair, and as though the label is used to intentionally "shut down conversation." As though, by virtue of these beliefs being religious, the beliefs cannot by definition be problematic, uncivil, or immoral.

I encountered this attitude a lot when I was a guest blogger at Family Scholars Blog when we discussed civility. To me, and many LGBT people, statements like this guy's about same-sex marriage and homosexuality having the power to destroy civilization are demeaning to our human dignity. In this case, to make it super personal, referencing Ellen's past relationships and using scare quotes in reference to her legal wife, which suggests that Portia is not actually her wife, in order to make a point suggesting that she can't possibly therefore understand the implications of same-sex marriage is, simply put, an asshole move.

Over the years, it has been a learning experience to me that these kinds of statements can be so obviously demeaning to me, while many anti-LGBT Christians think they are being perfectly civil and respectful. Many anti-LGBT Christians and LGBT people/allies are operating from different definitions of civility. Working from the simplistic notion, for instance, that both swearing and slurs are "uncivil" and that basically everything else is fair game, many Christians believe that if they state their anti-LGBT opinions politely enough, without saying "fuck" or "fag," then they can cause no harm and as though there's nothing offensive or wrong about what they say.  They think there's a stark difference between the message, "all fags are going to hell" and "you're going to hell because of your homosexuality." (Erm, to me, there's not a meaningful difference between the two).

When such Christians state their anti-LGBT views while simultaneously believing they're replicating the "word of god," well, there's really no telling them that they're actually being quite awful.

I suspect that's what's going on here, as well.  Mr Christian Guy suggested that he and Ellen get coffee and talk about things in a civil manner, and he deigns to elevate the discourse to a higher, nicer level. What offers like that tangibly mean for LGBT people, however, is subjecting ourselves to verbal assaults from people who inflict them with the approval of their own consciences.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Our Leader Has Spoken

This clip is being widely circulated, but it demonstrates pretty well why I have so much respect for Ellen DeGeneres. She's consistently funny without being mean about it.  In the clip, she addresses one anti-gay Christian writer's contempt of her marriage and her purported Lesbian Agenda. I highly recommend watching it, if you're able.

Ellen DeGeneres Shut Down An Anti-Gay Pastor In The Most Amazing Way

Meanwhile, most anti-LGBT individuals that I have experienced, particularly those who dedicate to their livelihoods to opposing LGBT equality, are consistently both cruel and absolutely humorless.  It's probably a matter of time until some anti-LGBT group photoshops the above image and presents it as Ellen's sincere effort to recruit young girls into a life of lesbianism.

Remember, oppressors are often the reverse of what they claim to be, with their accusations of their opponents largely being psychological projections.

The views of bigots who refer to same-sex marriages as "marriages" and who continue to sprout Anita Bryant-era rhetoric are being increasingly marginalized, both morally and legally, as they should be.

Using her large platform, and unlike many anti-LGBT individuals, Ellen's response demonstrates both grace and humor.  That, fundamentally, is one of the largest failings of the anti-LGBT movement in the US. This is very "pop evidence," but when people post Buzzfeed-style articles about The Year's Most Movement Moments In Pictures, often included are same-sex couples, legally married for the first time in various states.

Do such photo arrays ever include opponents of equality rejoicing, holding these moments up as profound, touching statements on the human experience? Not that I've seen. With their corny anti-equality "party kits" and traveling hate buses seeking "crazy" photos of gay people, and underneath its narratives of how "Christians" are being oppressed by the legal recognition of same-sex marriage, the anti-equality movement is, simply put, unhip. Cruel. Humorless. Utterly lacking in self-awareness, thinking it can convince Americans that theirs is the real message of love and justice.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Theron Negotiates Pay Raise

In more news of "more-talented women earning less than their male co-workers," Charlize Theron recently negotiated a $10 million dollar raise to put her on par with her male co-star Chris Hemsworth, for The Huntsman.  It seems Theron's re-negotiation was spurred by the Sony hacking scandal, in which it was revealed that women consistently made less than even their less-accomplished male co-stars.

In this case, because my first thought was, "Chris who?" I immediately went to IMDb to check out some of Hemsworth's acting stats. It turns out, he has 17 nominations and 7 wins.  Theron, meanwhile, has 43 wins and 43 nominations, including 1 Oscar win and nomination.

So, of course Hemsworth would have originally been making more than her.

As Jillian Berman notes at The Huffington Post, knowing what your co-workers make often helps women negotiate for pay that is on par with the higher salaries their male co-workers are usually getting.  And, I suspect, when salaries are transparent, it also make employers more wary to consistently be complacent about gender-based pay differentials. Secrecy benefits a status quo.

Average Joe Thinks Equality Unfair
Women's Hockey Coach Fired for High Salary, Makes Less Than Male Counterpart

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Bystanders Are Bad Apples Too

If we accept the proposition that it's "a few bad apples" who make tech workplaces hostile to women, then yes, we do indeed primarily have "a bystander problem" more than an "asshole problem."

At Accidentally in Code, catehtsen writes:
"A man left an obnoxious comment in a professional document. A more senior man noticed the comment and replied, “”, signifying—I think—that he had seen it, and that he didn’t think it was funny. But he didn’t actually address the comment being there, and so it remained there for me to discover several months later."
I too have encountered this phenomenon, both in professional settings and in online interactions.

The thing is, many men - particularly sexist ones - really only values the opinions of other men.  If a man comes into a conversation with a woman assuming that he's her intellectual superior and/or starts calling her a dumb b*tch, what makes anyone think he's going to take her opinion on his sexism seriously?

It's also true that men pay a cost for not being a bystander, indeed most allies probably do. When they confront male sexists, they can be met with derision, associated with the "inferior" class ("mangina"), and lost social status (many male sexists are overly-preoccupied with establishing and maintaining social hierarchies, pontificating their pseudo-scientific theories about and categories for different levels of "males"- "alpha," "beta," "gamma," etc.).

And, of course, on a basic level, even "good men" benefit when workplaces are sexist toward women.  Thus, perhaps the safest thing, for himself, a man can do in the workplace is to *sigh* about sexism, thus mildly indicating his disapproval of the practice while also not threatening the status quo.

When we hear men complain that feminists are unfairly portraying the tech industry and those who work in it as sexist when it's really "just a few bad apples" who are making things seem sexist, I think perhaps a key question I have for such men is when the most recent time was that they directly challenged sexist behavior.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Average Joe Thinks Equality Unfair

Although at times frustrating, one benefit I find to engaging with anti- and non-feminist Devil's Advocate types who sometimes comment here is that doing so can really pinpoint a certain entitled mindset that some men have.

Take this post of mine, for instance, where I noted the instance of the accomplished female hockey coach of a successful women's team being fired for a having a salary that was deemed too high, even though her salary was lower than the less accomplished male coach's.

There, I was making a general point:

Wow, it's unfortunate that a female hockey coach who has more wins, championships, and longevity at a college was fired to save the college money, while her higher-paid male counterpart was retained. That sure seems unfair.

Furthermore, as I elaborated in the comments when commenter Joe stopped by, the unfairness seems especially compounded when we consider that the male coach of the men's team, by virtue of his gender and the gender composition of his team, is a beneficiary of the sport's world's historical exclusion, comparative lack of investment in, and marginalization of female athletes.

To my relatively lengthy response to Joe's rather simple argument that the revenue a sport brings in should be the primary determinant of a coach's salary, he simply retorted:
"I get it now. You're one of those who thinks every kid should get a trophy."
He chose not to comment further.

To me, the interaction was revelatory of a mindset that some men have. When feminists say that men benefit from certain privileges based on past mistreatment of women, what some men think is: Anything "more" that men have is actually due to men's superiority, so to suggest that women should have what men have is to give women something (like, say, a participation trophy) that they have not earned and do not deserve. 

They ignore all historical context, all other past and present explanations for unequal outcomes. They deem references to past oppressions to be unnecessary, touchy-feely dorkiness in a politically correct world gone awry.  And, even if, as in this case, the woman in question is objectively more accomplished than the higher-paid man, some men move the goal-posts and set new Objective Standards for what counts as The Best At Something.

Observation: When male sports fans talk about the greatest all time coaches, how often do you hear them talk about the coach in terms of revenue the team brought in? Never. They talk about championships, wins, molding great players and team synergy. Yet, when comparing and justifying higher salaries for male coaches compared to female coaches, team revenue is suddenly the all-consuming, numero uno criterion for coachly competence.

The lesson here is that some men can get really pissy when we stop collectively waving around the "Men Are Number 1" foam finger and start questioning their self-serving assumptions about their place in the world. Level the playing field? Nah - things are exactly as they should be. For them.

Lastly, as a meta-note and as I've said before, after 7 or so years of blogging, I've picked up a pretty good ability for knowing when a commenter is going to be a problem.  I'll try to share these patterns and clues with you all more often, because I think it could be helpful in many online interactions.

In Joe's first comment, he said:
"Why should she make as much or more than the men's coach? Do you think the women's hockey team at UMD generates as much revenue as the men's team? Honest question."
"Honest question."

To me, that qualifier of his purported motives told me that he assumed I would assume bad faith on his part. It's a similar approach to the infamous way some men precede their "un-PC" and "controversial" statements with feminists by saying, "Don't kill me for saying this" and "I'm gonna get clobbered for saying this."

It's an admission on the man's part that he thinks I, and other women, are not capable of interacting with him in a conversation about feminism in a respectful, reasoned, civil manner - and that we will, instead, react aggressively and unfairly toward him.

Nonetheless, I interacted with Joe in good faith, answering his questions, and giving him the opportunity to likewise engage in good faith. Quickly, his behavior, evasions, and immature retorts showed that his questions weren't honestly asked at all. When I engaged his questions with lengthy, reasoned responses he huffed out of the room with his "insult" about me supposedly being someone who thinks all kids should get a trophy.

His actions suggest that his real motive was, most likely, to play Socratic Question Master with me and others, leading the feminists to enlightenment with what he likely assumed to be his superior knowledge. He also likely wanted an aggressive reaction, as that - to him- would be self-fulfilling. When feminists don't engage men like him or "ban" them from our spaces, it cements in their minds that we aren't capable of objectively, reasonably, and civilly engaging their amazing, awesome Honest Questions.

The lesson is this - be wary of contrarian's who enter a conversation with 1 to 2-line retorts and who state their "honest" motives.  I find that the best way people show that they are engaging in good faith and honesty is by actually engaging in good faith and honesty, not by saying they are.