Monday, October 23, 2006

Today's Random Thought

This is what I learned in grade school:

Plants need sun. If you put them in the dark, they die.

Carnations naturally come in a variety of finite colors. One of them is white. If you put a white carnation in colored water, it will get colored streaks along it's petals to match the water. It's stem will turn a slightly different shade as well. Carnations of every hue will in fact, get different shaded streaks if they are put in colored water, white is just more dramatic. (I'm not sure how well watering a planted carnation with colored water works...)

It seems to me that most people who toss out statements like "the fact is that we are driven by our biology in much the same way as other species" would like to pretend that nature vs. nurture works in ways that follow only the the "plants die without sun" simple cause and effect lesson, when in reality it's complex in ways that put the "what color carnations are possible?" question to shame.

But maybe that's just me.

Generation Warfare

I had a minor meltdown at Pandagon this morning, and while I probably went off the handle a bit more than was needed, I do think it needs to be pointed out exactly how much many people in the older generations don't get anyone under 30.

Yeah, I know, it's nothing new; neither is their constant complaining that we just plain suck compared to every generation that has gone before. However, in the interest of fostering understanding, I offer an abbreviated list of ways in which we are not what you think we are. A list that I'm sure many will disagree with and ideas that very few people who bother to read this blog - young, old, or in between - are ignorant of. (But it'll make me feel better, so...)

We Do Not Believe In The American Dream

It's a lie.

It was not our Manifest Destiny to cross the Great Plains; it was greed that drove us.

Like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, The American Dream does not exist, especially for us. There are very few jobs out there and even those are fading fast. And they all need college degrees and experience. There are no homes for sale as well - not at prices we can afford, anyway. We started our adulthood deep in debt and we will always be in debt. Our friends and older siblings that bought houses they couldn't afford during the soon to burst housing bubble will be joining us in our parents basement - provided they still have one. There will be no two door garage and white picket fence for us.

We don't even want it, anyway. We grew up in suburbia and would rather not have to live and die there, thank you very much.

We don't like cars, either. Not the way you do. Road trips are fun and some of us do love driving but we don't revere it the way you do. Even in Southern California, Land of the Almighty Automobile, we are starting to wait until we need to drive to work or college before we learn to drive at all. There's just so many better things we could spend every fourth paycheck on.

We Believe In the American Dream

Not the kind with white picket fences and freeways across the Grand Canyon, but the kind that Langston Hughes wrote poems about. We may not believe in Norman Rockwell's America, but we yearn for the Freedom of Worship, Freedom of Speech, Freedom from Want, and Freeedom from Fear that it promises. We believe in equality, opportunity, democracy, variety, morality, the common good, and above all our right to pursue happiness.

We're just not sure how to get there - or even if it's possible. Nirvana sounds nice too, after all. I'm not going to skip this week's episode of Lost to go looking for it, though.

We Don't Understand the Meaning of Civic Duty

We say we believe in Democracy, but we don't know what it means. Our parents taught us that all politicians - no all leaders - are born shifty and corrupt and that our pathetic attempts at protest range from a cute phase we'll grow out of to destructive behavior that comes from lack of purpose and responsibility. Our high schools taught us that history was always set in stone, so our actions cannot shape the future, and that democracy is a popularity contest for positions that don't really mean anything anyway.

We believe without question that we have a right to our opinions but we don't understand that voicing them is crucial to a healthy democracy. Democracy is something you do in the voting booth and occasionally something you do by signing a petition or volunteering for your party of choice. The truth that it is a way of life escapes us in terms of day to day practicalities.

When some of us do figure it out and do try to engage in democracy, our parents throw their mistakes and failures back at us - usually as proof that we are not needed nor are we reliable. We quickly learn that we aren't wanted at the grown-ups table anyway - because that means less pie for everyone that is already there.

Constantly rebuffed, we instead spend much of our time debating and reading and watching TV and learning more and more, pondering how to put our vast current affairs knowledge to practical use.

We Are Dedicated and Passionate Volunteers

We volunteer more than any other recent generation. We believe strongly in our causes - with all the fervor and conviction that is characteristic of youth.

We drift from job to job because we search for meaning, purpose, and respect - not an easier paycheck. We refuse to commit to a career because we either like all of them or like none of them. But most of all because the only ones that pay the bills sabatoge the causes we are so dedicated to.

We watch our parents and grandparents struggle more and more, rather than less and less, and wonder: if we jump from cage to cage, will we mind the bars less or more? If we just spend all our time spinning on the wheel, will we learn to forget that we are trapped?

We know that you think that we are lazy, unmotivated, and ignorant. We also know that you only see what you want to see. It's always easier to blame others for your own mistakes. Besides, it takes one to know one.

And a few extra special bits about younger feminists

We Aren't Feminists

Feminism is a dirty word that that angry, ugly girls call themselves. We believe in all the things (er, well most of them) that feminism has acheived, but we are already equal to men, thank you very much, we don't need a movement anymore.

Of course, lot of us know that isn't true, but even we aren't quite sure what to do about it most of the time. Especially since, as hard as it is to get anyone to listen to us because of our age or lack of experience or childlessness, it's even harder to get them to take feminism seriously. (see above) We are feminists, but we are often invisible ones.

We Have Been Feminists Since Before We Could Remember

We don't understand that Amherst opened it's doors to women after the troops came back from Vietnam; we figure it must have been in the dark ages because the thought of not having the chance to go to an ivy league just because we're girls is as alien to us as being told we can't vote. Same goes for the pill, female astronauts, and Barbie dressing up as a doctor, just to name a few.

Our mothers tell us that when they were allowed to play sports, they had to to do so under weird rules - like basketball players having to stay on one side of the court instead of both offensive and defensive players being able to run from one end to the other, like they normally do. A part of us doesn't really believe them, though; people couldn't possibly be that stupid.

When we learned to call ourselves a feminist varies. Some of us proclaimed in kindergarten that "tomboys don't exist, just girls." Some of us came by it gradually, becoming more and more comfortable with the name and dedicated to the cause as we grew older. Some of us still think feminism is over and done with already, even if we can't imagine a world without it.

We've Always Known the Boys Are Being Neglected and Treated Unfairly

We fought the battle of the sexes with our brothers and classmates from grade school through high school and bore the brunt of their bewlilderment and anger as they saw the little things they took for granted, like being called on in class, happen less and less. We looked around at our high school honor rolls and wondered where the boys were. They angrily replied that they'd been forgotten because mom and dad and teacher and coach were too busy spending time with us.

Any complaint of sexism was quickly met with a complaint of reverse sexism (as if reverse discrimination was an idea that made sense) and sometimes we had to admit they had a point. Along with all the traditional trials of adolescence and being a female, we had to deal with our male peers blaming us for feminism's mistakes. The boys lashed out more and more as they became increasingly angrier and stronger - and many of us learned to hate feminism ourselves because of it.

We Know That Feminists Aren't the Ones Who Have Been Neglecting and Mistreating Them

Many of us also became frustrated at our male peers insistence that, on the one hand, every objectionable act they committed was programmed into them through testosterone and, on ther other, it really wasn't fair for everyone to think less of them because they were boys.

We emphathized with their plight but became scornful when many never outgrew their childish reactions. We learned to put the blame where it belonged (on the patriarchy) when practically every effort to help was rebuffed with cries of man-hating. Like Mae West we learned we were feminists though experience: every time we tried to stand up for ourselves or our boys, we were called the F word.

We learned to carry the epitath "feminist" proudly. We knew that it was proof that we loved our brothers as much as we loved ourselves, even others thought differently.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Real Men Do/n't

I really should have much profound things to say about this, but at the moment the only thought that keeps popping into my head is an exchange that happened during one of my visit's to my sister's house.

For some reason, I think in response to my sister or brother-in-law stating something about gender that I disagreed with, I mentioned a men's t-shirt that I recently saw. It was pink and said "Real Men Wear Pink."

Brother-in-law yells back from the other room: "No they don't!"

Which I found extremely funny because, while one could take the t-shirt to mean that only men assured of their masculinity dare to wear pink, they real point is the "real men" wear whatever the fuck they like.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Just wanted to let everyone know that all the hard work that has taken me away from blogging is starting to pay off.

As of the end of the the month, your friendly neighborhood Mickle will no longer be just an Hourly Bookseller - she will also be an Hourly Library Assistant.


Monday, October 02, 2006

Feminist SF Carnival #5

The 5th Carnival of Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Fans is up.

Thanks 100littledolls!

The Hathor Legacy will be hosting the next one, submissions are due the 13th of October.

"The suggested theme for the 6th edition is gender: roles, identities, and transgressions – but there’s no need to stick to the theme if your otherwise eligible post doesn’t fit into it."

Sunday, October 01, 2006

If There Was a "Politically Correct" Term for "Rape" it Would Sound a Lot Like "Forced Seduction"

In light of Racy Li's response to this post by Ragnell, I thought I'd share with you all a recent post and some subsequent comments about Romance, Erotica and Political Correctness over at Smart Bitches Who Love Trashy Novels.

Sarah's initial post is a response to a rant by author Laura Kinsale:

I read a lot--a LOT--of reader commentary on the various romance sites regarding things like alpha heroes and “rape” and “forced seduction” and how all that is so 1970’s...but we’re all enlightened modern women now and we just don’t like that sort of thing. Then in the next thread will be complaints that the genre just isn’t as compelling or interesting as it used to be and readers can’t find books they really enjoy, and gee, why are all the heroes vampires now?
Sarah ponders the question
Can you have your emotional security cake and hump it too?
and invites readers to respond. Here are my faves.

Candy, who co-runs the site with Sarah:
I disagree with Kinsale....There’s a difference between political correctness and homogenization, and she’s complaining about homogenization. There’s no doubt that political correctness can drive art towards homogeneity, but an even stronger force is market demand.....

And there’s also a difference between political correctness and speaking up about what one thinks is fucked-up shit....

...Yeah, vampires and werewolves and demons, oh my, allow us freer reign for some of our darker fantasies, but I’d argue that the sweeping historical saga of the 70s and early-to-mid 80s served much the same purpose and provided a similar element of fantasy. Not too many romances were written back then about the mousy truck-stop waitress being wooed and raped and then wooed and raped again and then abandoned and then raped and then having a secret baby and then raped and then finally falling in love with one of the truckers at her restaurant.
Laura Vivanco:
I think different people will find different things erotic...

Similarly, when it comes to romance novels, different people will have different fantasies and enjoy reading about different types of relationships....Each reader, with her/his different preferences can email authors, post on message boards etc and so the authors, like Laura Kinsale, will receive mixed messages, because they’re getting different messages from different readers.
Fucking a woman who’s crying out of fear is never hot.
Yawn. Blaming political correctness is so damn lazy.
If PC is the reason we’re not seeing the romanticization of rape, go PC.

Sorry, rape isn’t romantic. Forced sex isn’t romantic. Rough sex within boundaries? Oh yeah, very sexy. A man seducing the hell out of the woman? Very sexy.

Even studies about rape as fantasy fail to really get at the underlying issue - which is letting a woman put the responsibility for her desires that she’s deemed unacceptable or inexpressible onto the man. That’s not rape. That’s something else entirely and it’s really exciting if it’s written right.

Strong characters of both genders are sexy and compelling. A strong character can be vulnerable too. Blaming the lack of compelling characters on PC does nothing to convince me that it’s anything other than lazy writing that creates cardboard characters in some romance novels.

I don’t bemoan the good old days when heroes were asshole rapists and if the heroine got uppity he’d give her a little what for to put her in her place.
I suspect the audience of the 70s and 80s already knew the subtext and didn’t need to have it explained, or at least felt the same way he author and/or heroine did, even if they didn’t quite understand the underlying reasons for what they felt. I’ve read those books. They never bothered me; I understood what was really going on.

But the fact is, this is the 21st century, and one hopes that women today are allowed to own their sexuality, allowed to say, “Yes, I wanna!” and not be thought less of. If it’s PC-ness that demands that women be allowed to have sexual feelings, then hoo-rah for PCness.
One thing struck me in [Laura Kinsale's] quote from Ester Perel:

And eroticism thrives on something very different. It thrives on the unknown and the mysterious, on the unexpected. It’s not what you want in a long-term, secure relationship.

I’m a great fan of the In Death books and it seems to me that Eve and Roarke have a long-term secure relationship… and a highly erotic one. Nora Roberts manages to keep the heat up between two strong and independent characters… so it can be done. There’s very real conflict between the characters, in their world views and where they draw the line, and this adds to the romantic tension between them. and so far there’s not a single vampire in the entire series.

So it is demonstrably possible to have dark heros and dark heroines - or at least those with their own demons - without bowing to Political Correctness or feeling the need to stick a vampire into the series to create erotic tension.
Which makes me want to read the In Death books, because that sounds like a lot of what I like about Gabaldon's novels.

I was thinking about the term “forced seduction,” which I think is in itself a little misleading...“Force” implies total unwillingness, for me at least, on the part of the person being forced.

Seduction, however, automatically implies a certain (often psuedo-)reluctance on one side. If the other person was ready to go straight off, you wouldn’t need the seduction....even when the seduction is more physical,...[she] is almost always responding in a way that says she’s willing, she’s ready to go, she’s not being forced, though it may look that way at first. (Unless, of course, she’s only trying to lower his defenses so that she can knee him in the balls. I like my heroines kick-ass, too.)

Does that make sense? I’m all about the seduction, but adding the term “forced seduction”...that’s just a veiled rape.

Go and read it all.

And while you are there, don't forget to read one of Candy and Sarah's snarky takedowns of various romance novel covers. Honestly, sometimes they make even Greg Land look good.

To the Parents I Was Rude to Last Night at Work:

I'm not sorry that I was rude to you.

I apologize to my co-workers, because I know your opinion of me transfers to them, and they are very nice people who deserve better.

I'm sorry for myself because I really do wish I was smarter sometimes.

I'm sorry I was rude because, now that I've eaten and gotten some rest, I'm less grumpy and I've had time to reflect and realize that smiling and saying "Can I help you find anything?" might have made you realize how much of an ass you were being instead of giving you more excuses for your own rudeness. Some of you seemed pretty self-absorbed and dense, however, so I doubt it.

I am not sorry, however, that I was rude to you or that your feelings may have been hurt. You deserved it.

It's one thing to be rude because you're having a bad day and you really need to let your frustrations out somehow. (see: me, last night) It's still bad because, unfortunately, sometimes people get caught in the crossfire. I know, I'm in retail. I'm often the person caught in the crossfire. It is, however, forgiveable. We all do it.

It's quite another thing, however, to be rude simply because it makes you feel better to be rude. It doesn't matter how politely you word it, commenting on someone elses bad fortune, without asking what you can do to help, is just another form of name-calling, no matter how politely you word it.

Going up to a person who makes little more than minimum wage, as they are racing around trying to keep customers like yourself from destroying the store's merchandise and treating books like trash, and saying "Gosh, this must keep you busy all night" is not commisserating with them, it's being an ass. You deserve much worse than silence and a roll of the eyes. Especially when you are stupid enough to repeat yourself as if the reason for my silence was poor hearing and not the complete inability to come up with anything remotely appropriate in response.

People like you deserve a time out, a lengthy fire and brimstone lecture, and community service. A little bit of rudeness is letting you off easy.

PS - to the lady that was nice enough to not only point out the dripping cup left on the Klutz fixture, but pick it up and hand it to me, and then thank me for the books I found for you even though I didn't have to go to that much effort to do so, I'm very, very sorry that I was not the essence of good manners to you. You are a wonderful person.

My First Kiss

was in second grade.

We were both seven, brown haired, and brown eyed.

We sat together in class. I'd try to do my schoolwork and he would try to make me laugh by telling me silly stories. Like how his little yellow hot lunch ticket wasn't really a ticket, it was really a lunch box with an apple, and a sandwich, and all kinds of other stuff inside. I'd often giggle so hard I thought I was going to fall out my chair.

The kiss happened during recess. We sat on the hill by the fence at the back end of the little kid's playground.

I closed my eyes and kissed him softly on the cheek - nervously and hesitant.

I kissed him because he kept chasing me at recess and he wouldn't stop. I kissed him because I didn't know how else to make him stop bugging me. I wanted to go play tag or swinging statues with my friends - not be constantly asked for something that didn't even make sense. Mommies and Daddies kiss and hug. Brothers and sisters kiss and hug. I didn't hug and kiss the boys - or girls - I played with at school. Why would I want to do that?

Why would he want to do that?

Well, because his mother was the yard duty and she thought it was cute. I probably could have tried telling my teacher. There's a good chance this particular teacher would have put a stop to it. There's also a good chance she would have told me to take care of it myself. Recess was our domain and (for very good reasons) teachers and even yard duties often try to not get involved unless someone's going to be physically injured or there seems to be a pattern of bad behaviour going on. Of course, I didn't know at the time that his actions may be considered the latter, all I knew was that what happened at recess, stayed at recess, and that the yard duty was encouraging him.

But what he was doing wasn't cute; it was a miniature version of bullying someone for sex.

Let's pretend for a moment that instead of bugging me for a kiss, he was bugging me for a toy. Not one of the school toys, but my own toy. A whistle, a Garbage Pail Kids* card, a Star Wars figurine - whatever. And he didn't want to just play with it for a while - he wanted it.

Now, most adults would have no problem as seeing this as very bad behaviour on the boy's part. And while many would also consider me a schmuck for giving in, they would agree that the boy should be stopped and I should be given my toy back. Because the same people would have no problems understanding that his behavior was a grammar school version of blackmail: I'm not going to harm you, but I'm not going to let you live in peace if you don't give me what I want. They understand that lecturing the boy and giving me my toy back is how children learn about property rights.

Which begs the question: what were we being taught about sex and coercion? Nothing good, obviously.

It's the whole chicken and the egg thing. We don't teach kids that coercing someone for sex is wrong and so people have a hard time seeing it as criminal rather than just not nice, but since we don't prosecute people for using coercion to get sex, we don't make a consious effort to teach kids that coercive sex is not ok. And since many people are still confused on the whole consent/submission thing (see comments on previous post) it does need to be a consious effort.

We need to make coercing someone for sex illegal the same way that blackmail is illegal because if we don't, not enough people are going to bother to teach their kids to do the right thing. And failing to teach people to not use coercion to get sex is what makes it so easy for the guys that everyone agrees are assholes to go one step up and commit what most peopke think of when they hear the word rape.

A single line in the sand is a hard thing to see and, quite frankly, I don't think it's particularly fair of us to expect teen boys - or girls - to fully understand the difference between consensual sex and rape when we haven't defined for them an intermediary crime involving coercion for sex.

*yeah, I know, I'm old. And no, I never owned one. They weren't allowed at my house.