Saturday, September 29, 2007


Can someone explain to how this doesn't violate Title IX i just about every way imaginable?

(via Pandagon)

And "are you on your period?" ?!?!?!?!

ven aside from obviously being a sadistic control freak, it would really help if the people in charge of creating and implementing this policy knew more than your average high school guy does about menstruation. I don't know about you, but even though I am now on an almost textbook 28 day cycle - I wasn't back in my teen years. And I'm still not when I'm under a lot of stress. Ergo, there is always a small pad in my purse/backpack/whatever for emergencies.

(Course, I'm also trying to figure out how they carry lunch money around. Loose change doesn't work the way loose books do, and not all clothes have pockets, to my everlasting dismay.)

Thursday, September 27, 2007


I just got home from being at work (or on my way to and from work) since 9:15 this morning

........only to discover that tonight's Criminal Minds season premiere has been erased from the PVR.

Now I have to wait another week before I get my first Matthew Gray Gubler fix in months.

I want to smash something - only it would wake everyone else up.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Going Round in Circles

Yet another good example of why "the fan base demographics is the reason for character demographics" argument is a circular argument - and a blindingly stupid one at that:

PlasmaRit takes on David Gardner of EA games at Girl in the Machine (hat tip Jade Reporting), and his reasoning for why women don't like games, and finds him unable to differentiate between inclusiveness and variety of game play (and therefore unable to recognize that both are appealing).

The Logic

So - one common explanation for the gender breakdown of characters in games is the gender demographics of people who play games.

One common explanation for the gender breakdown of characters in action (or scifi, etc.) movies is the gender demographics of people who go to see action movies.

The idea, I guess, is that men consume the media, men make the media, and men sell the media - so the media is about men.

Simple and certainly not lacking in truth - if we stop there.

A Thought Experiment

Let's suppose a director generally known for making action movies makes a disaster movie where the action centers around a young woman who falls in love with someone unsuitable during the disaster (and the days leading up to it). Let's have some fun here and pretend this movie was not only a blockbuster, but was a blockbuster because women made it one. I know, I know, that's practically impossible, but hey! crazier things have happened....

Now let's say we want to recreate that success. Or at least learn some lessons from it. What lessons have we learned?

a) women like movies with suspense and action

b) women like movies about relationships

c) women like movies in which they are actually included

d) all of the above

e) none of the above

The Non-Earth Logic

According to "the fan base demographics is the reason for character demographics" argument. The answer is either C or D.

Except that apparently it's not, because the argument is most often used to explain why certain genres tend to exclude female characters, but not why women are less likely to consume media that falls into these genres. No one ever says "But women watch TV less!" in response to accusations of sexism within that medium. But they do say things like:

"Women are treated badly in comics!" - >"That's because women are treated badly in real life."

"Most action heroes are men." -> "Men like action more."

While not always explicitly stated, it's common use as a response to accusations of inequality suggests that the people who make such responses believe that, rather than character and fan demographic affecting each other, the latter affects the former, but the former doesn't affect the latter.

Plus, this seems to only work when sexism needs defending. While the demographics arguments in this thread - both of the "reflecting the fan base" variety and "reflecting real life" variety - are not explicitly saying such arguments apply only to certain shows/games/genres, such logic is required for the argument to work.

Either that, or aliens swooped down and hijacked TV producers minds, resulting in an overabundance of female detectives.

Just sayin'

Friday, September 14, 2007

How to Do a Cover, The Right Way - X2

The UK covers for Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series are exceptionally brilliant and creepy. The series is about a future distopia where everyone has full body plastic surgery+ at age 16. The covers communicate this idea by using naked and dismembered Barbie dolls. Whoever designed them did an amazing job. They are creepy as hell, but the use of Barbie dolls gives them the perfect balance of absurdity and horror.

This is the Brazillian cover for his novel So Yesterday, which is about a teen focus groupie, the Innovator he runs into on the street, and the mysterious appearance and disappearance of the coolest sneakers ever made. Thematically, it's about advertising, capitalism, consumerism, and identity.

The back continues the paper doll theme by including the actual paper dolls.

One thing I have to say about covers for teen books (worldwide, apparently) is that they are much more symbolic than a lot of adult or kid covers. Yeah, it's not a representative sample, but take a look at the covers for the top 25 books on Amazon. None of the other books (which, besides Harry, are all for adults) make use of visual metaphor in quite the same way the two teen books on the list do. I wonder what that means about the relative sophistication of the two groups in terms of literary and visual analysis. :)

ddr in schools

Just in case anyone hadn't heard this story yet, one of the bits of information given to us at the workshop I went to today (on Gaming @ Libraries) is that Virginia middle schools are using Dance Dance Revolution in PE classes.

Apparently, the kids love it.

So far.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Gaming @ the Library

I just got home from workshop about gaming @ the library. We got lots of good info, even though it was very much an overview, we didn't get into much detail. The best part though, was that our presenter arranged for Game Crazy to come by with a Wii set up to play Wii sports and an XBox set up top play Guitar Hero.

I soooo want a Wii now. I just wish they weren't $300+.

Plus, all our workshops should be this fun.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

It's a Man's World: Analysis

For the data, go here. The major bits:

Women are in about 65% of the scenes.
Men are in about 95% of the scenes.

65% of the scenes had more than one man.
15% of the scenes had more than one woman.

There are about 3 men for every woman and what's really interesting is that that stays constant for the number of male to female Heroes, despite there only being two regular female Heroes (Niki and Claire) compared to the eleven regular male Heroes (Peter, Hiro, Nathan, Matt, Micah, D.L., Isaac, Sylar, Mohinder*, Mr. Bennet*, the Haitian). So a lot of the female Heroes are not recurring and consequently are treated more like non-Heroes - their story is important only so far as it relates to our main cast, rather than in relation to the fundamental themes and overall plot. This is part of the same pattern that gives us only 2 male non-Heroes for every female non-Hero. It's not just that there are fewer women than men, it's that a greater percentage of women are more likely to be in non-recurring and/or minor roles. (edit: this also explains why Hayden is the one actor to appear in every episode so far. It would be interesting to see if that actually translates into more screen time and more lines....)

Keep in mind that these four episodes include the ones where Claire finds her birth mother and Niki is away from Micah and DL and talking to a female shrink. The two episodes in which these things happen are some of the few episodes where our two main female Heroes do a decent amount of talking to other women. And the average is still 65% versus 95%, 65% versus 15%.

I find the 2-3:1 ratio is interesting because I remember reading** that the 2 man to 1 woman ratio is where people begin perceiving that something is not only equal in terms of gender, but often they see it as biased in favor of women. Conscious or not, I find it interesting that gender ratios in Heroes tends to hover somewhere just above that 2/3 majority version of equality. And I find this interesting not because I think every show should have a gender ratio of 1 to 1, but because I get such fierce reactions when I complain that Heroes does a pretty poor job with women. I wonder if a lot of the difference in perception can be traced back to this. I'm no longer used to the two thirds version of equality, but a lot of people still are. Are they simply more flexible in terms of what they think gender equality means, or do they perceive that 2-3:1 ratio as being closer to 1:1?

What's interesting about all this is how deliberate and yet probably not completely conscious it is. You can see it not just in the math, but in the patterns of X's and O's from scene to scene. It's not just that there are so many more XX, XXO, and XXXO than OO and OOX, but that it will go back and forth. An XO will be followed by and XXO or an XXXO or even and XXX, but it will rarely be followed by another XO. It's not just that Niki and Claire have yet to talk (does Niki ever talk to a female Hero?) it's also that their scenes are rarely shown back to back. Or if they are, it's scenes in which Claire is talking to her father and the Haitian, rather than her friend or mother, or where Niki is talking to Micah and DL, not her female shrink.

The overall numbers are something that can be traced back to the initial decisions about the make-up of the main cast, for which it's easy to come up with excuses (although they are still often flimsy). But the pattern of X's and O's is rooted in decisions about pacing, which suggests that the ratio of men to women is very much about finding a gender balance that will please the audience, not just about focusing on the most interesting stories.

Since it's quite common to show two similar stories back to back for dramatic effect (Claire and Hiro come face to face with the parents in the same episodes) it's really interesting that we never even see the scenes that are 1:1 male:female back to back. You'd think that would be a nice dramatic effect, to show something like the interaction between first the Parkmans and then the Bennet parents in a way that highlights the similarities and differences.*** It's like the fact that the audience can't possibly be expected to care about more than one female character at a time trumps all else. And thus why all this bugs me so much: Heroes kicks ass, except when it doesn't because the writers/producers/directors make bad decisions that not only offend my feminist sensibilities, but result in bad storytelling as well. And then Heroes really sucks.

*For explanation as to why I count Bennet and Mohinder as Heroes, go to the first post on the topic. The Haitian counts a a regular because the question is not how much the actor gets paid, but if the character is recurring - and recurring as a Hero, like Micah and D.L. who are Heroes for the bulk of the season, but unlike Eden whom we lose not long after we learn of her Hero status.

**But (sigh) not where. Does anyone else remember this?

***Or maybe we do and I'm just forgetting because it doesn't happen the episodes I've measured?

More Fun Heroes Data: It's a Man's World

Again, x = male, o = female, uppercase = Hero, lowercase = non-Hero.

Because the point is also to compare the gender make-up on screen to the number of lines by gender, I included non-speaking parts in my scene counts.

People that are so far away that they are out of focus don't count, but people like guards at the prison hospital and the two ladies who walk by Micah on the street do. That's only true if there isn't a crowd though, the people in the street scenes between Peter and Invisible Man are too many to count, so there's a little innaccuracy there.

Keep in mind that I counted the montages as one scene, so several of the long lists at the end are from those, which means that my data for the number of scenes with more than one women/men in them is a bit of an overestimate.


1: XO
2: Xo
3: XX
4: XXO
5: XO
7: XX
8: XXo
9: X
10: XO
11: XXx
12: XXXOo
13: XO
14: XXO
15: XXO
16: Ox
17: XXx
18: Ox
19: XXO
20: XXXo
21: Ox
22: XX
23: XXx
24: XXO
25: XXx
26: XXO
27: XX
29: XX


1: Xxo
2: Oxx
3: XO
4: XXx
5: XXXxo
6: Xx
7: Xxoo
8: XXx
9: Xx
10: Xx
11: XXoo
12: Ox
13: Ox
14: Xx
15: Xxx
16: XXXxo
17: XO
18: XX
19: X
20: OOx
21: XXOxx
22: XX
23: Xo
24: XXXo
25: Xo
26: XXxo
27: XX

"The Fix"

1: XX
2: Oxx
3: Xo
4: XXx
5: Xxxx
6: XX
7: XX
8: XOx
9: Xo
10: Xxxxx
11: Oxo
12: XX
13: XO
14: XXxo
15: Ox
16: Xxxxo
17: Xo
18: Xxx
19: XXXXx
20: XX
21: Xo
22: OX
23: Xoo
24: OXx
25: Oxo
26: XX
27: Xxxx
28: OO
29: XXx


1: XXxo
2: Oo
3: XX
4: Xo
5: Oxo
6: Xxxo
7: Oxxxxo
8: XXX
9: Xxxo
10: OOx
11: Xo
12: XXo
13: OOo
14: XXXo
15: Xo
16: OOx
17: o
18: XXXo
19: Xxxo
20: Oxxx
21: XX
22: XX
23: XX
24" Xxxxo
25: XO
26: Oxo
27: XO

Now for the percentages:

(if the spreadsheets are hard to read, you should be able to click on them to get a larger image)

Analysis here.

A Little More Background on the Heroes Project

(warning: includes spoilers for Eureka and Heroes)

My brother and I got into a fight the last time we saw each other - and it was over Heroes. After several years of getting along really well, we're now back to fighting again, and it tends to be over the same general things. Generally, he's always right and I'm either taking things to personally or not seeing the big picture or making snap judgments.

Which is kind of ironic, because the fight started when I said that I had tried to watch the first episode, but couldn't stand it and turned it off. And that nothing I'd heard since had changed my mind. All of which he seemed to find personally offensive because how dare I question the obvious awesomeness of the coolest show ever. He couldn't possibly be that wrong about it; I must be. My obviously better understanding about what I like was completely irrelevant to the discussion. I am stupid for not giving it another try just because he says it's cool. How dare I trust someone else's review over his.

Now, I'd always meant to try Heroes again when it came out on dvd and I could fast forward through the annoying parts if need be. I had been looking forward to the premiere last September and part of my great annoyance was due to great disappointment that it wasn't what I had hoped for. So when it came out on dvd, I did so, hoping that it did, indeed, get better.

Yes, and NO.

I was trying to figure out why it felt like such a big NO to me the other day as I was watching Eureka, a show that is arguably not anywhere near as good as Heroes and yet makes me want to throw things at the TV much less often. This particular Eureka episode did make me want to throw things at the screen, and it was when I realized why that I realized why Heroes can. get. so. damn. annoying.

Eureka is exceptionally formulaic: "Mystery arises. Sheriff is on the case. The Sheriff points the finger at Global Dynamics. Global Dynamics says that's not possible. Sheriff proves otherwise. Global Dynamics solves the problem." I like it partly because despite causing all sorts of ruckus, GD rarely comes off as the bad guys. The Government, especially the Military, does - but scientists are never to blame. At least not any more than they deserve the praise for saving us from their mad colleagues - and giving us insanely cool gadgets. Plus, the Sheriff may not be a genius, but he solves the case through a good mix of objective observation and creative thinking, like any good scientist. Besides, how can you not love a show that includes some sort of "[blank] of Death" in every episode. Especially when Carter goes out of his way to call it that.

Why can't you people just *say* 'ice funnel of death'?

It's also full of smart and powerful women. Zoe, the Sheriff's daughter, is smart and hardworking. The head of GD is (now) a woman. Lots of the scientists (both good and bad) are women. The deputy is a woman. And everyone - Jack, Zoe, Nathan, Henry, Fargo, Allison, and Jo - has to work together at some point. And I do mean everyone. One of the nicest recent developments has been the alliance between Zoe and Jo in an effort to thwart Carter's authority. Even the death of Henry's long lost love doesn't feel like a WiR, because it wasn't done to hurt him, but to stop her work, and because the most visible person to blame at the moment is another woman.

Unfortunately, the most annoying recent development has been Allison oddly falling victim to the Evita Effect. For some reason, Nathan didn't leave after being fired at the end of last year. I hate love triangles, but whatever. Even weirder and more worrying, Allison has been leaning on him more and more as the season progresses. To the point that, during the it-seemed-to me-very-out-of-character-episode-in-which-she-withholds-information-that-could-help-Jack-solve-the-case, she and Nathan are arguing about whether to turn off the Sleep Machine of Death (the death part only being suspected at that point) and, instead of arguing about whether they are going to turn it off, they are arguing about whether he is going to turn it off. Did I mention that the Sleep Machine of Death is in her house? Yeah, whatever.

I don't always like Allison, but I rarely hate her. I hated her in this episode. She wasn't vulnerable; she was weak to the point of avoiding responsibility. She wasn't a desperate mother making a desperate choice, she was a desperate mother letting other people make bad choices for her. (Gee, remind you of anyone?) Go away fake Allison, I want my head of GD back.

The thing is, Eureka rarely does shit like this simply because if they started doing shit like this all the time to all their female characters, you'd notice because the writers would have ended up destroying half the cast. The main cast too, not just the regular guest stars. That's how Heroes and the like get away with the shit they do. Sara/Eden, whatever, is a regular guest star, you expect her to go away eventually. Simone was so one dimensional, it's amazing she managed to not fall over like a domino in the first episode. And sadly enough, they can get away with what they've made of Niki for the same reason every word she utters makes me want to send stink bombs to the writers - because it's so damn cliche. If you know a cliche is a cliche, you see it for the crap writing it is. But if you see a cliche as The Truth, you think people who complain about it are delusional. And the more common a cliche is, the more likely it is that people will see it as The Truth.

But, how do I explain this to guys like my brother? Is it possible to? Maybe, maybe not. But, unfortunately, logical arguments alone aren't going to cut it. Even those require trying my shoes on for a while, and he's not going to willingly do that. Unfortunately, it has to be pretty dramatic for him to include the empathy the logical arguments require. Otherwise, I'm just being overly sensitive.

I was watching another episode of Heroes not long after the Sleep Machine of Death episode, and it occurred to me that there were a lot of women with speaking parts on Heroes - but that they all tended to be Andos rather than Hiros. Ando minuses, quite often, because a lot of them are only there for a single story line. (I think this was about the time I was watching the Charlie storyline.) In fact, there, seemed to almost be a pattern. It was like the writers had been hit by the clue-by-four often enough that they would notice when women were completely absent for too long, but they were still so clueless that they couldn't see (or didn't care) that the women had so little substance that they were little more than window dressing to make them feel like they were being all "post-feminist" and shit.

So I thought about this, this, this, and this, and if I wondered if there wouldn't be a way to measure it. And if the measuring would be as stark as this.

Thus the recent project. Which has now been revised per comments and questions and instead of keeping track of whom talks to whom, keeps track of how many men and women - and Heroes and non-Heroes - have speaking parts and how many lines they have, and to whom. And no, it won't be exhaustive, because I'm just doing it as I watch season 1 again before season 2 starts. Hopefully it will be interesting, however.

I do have one last question for anyone that has made it this far, though, does Niki talking to herself count as a conversation or a monologue?

(By the by, one odd thing I've noticed in doing this, there aren't a whole lot of conversations that include more than two people at a time. It's really weird to go from Angel season 4 to Ando watching while Hiro and Isaac talk and then back to Eureka's staple Carter and several scientists arguing all at once. It shouldn't be as easy to do this as it is. I wonder if the season 2 will be different in that respect now that more connections have been made between Heroes.)

Saturday, September 08, 2007


Madeline L'Engle passed away yesterday.

I need to go cry now.


Because I'm a Numbers Kind of Person

So, I have a lot to say about Heroes, but for now I'm just going to give you some raw stats, inspired by the Mo Movie Measure/Bechdel Test

(because I'm that much of a dork) I kept track of the number of conversations between different characters throughout some early episodes. The raw data is below, use the following as a key:

O - female hero

o - female character with name (Non-Hero)

X - male Hero

x - male character with name (Non-Hero)

A note about classifications/terms before we get going: The idea is to separate main characters and supporting characters. Since the title of the show is Heroes, all Heroes are main characters, most Non-Heroes are supporting. Ando may have more lines than Sylar, but the story is ultimately about Sylar and the other Heroes, not Ando. For this same reason, the Man With the Glasses counts as a Hero even though he isn't one at all because we know his actions are fundamental to the overall plot (not just Claire's) even before we know who he is.

Several Eventual Heroes were classified as Non-Heroes because they are not yet known as Heroes. We may guess that there's more going on than we know for sure, but until we know for sure, they count as Non-Heroes because their story-lines are really all about the Heroes in their lives.

Conversation means that the two people must either both speak or interact. The Haitian has yet to speak, but he interacts in ways that require a response and his obvious Hero status makes him more than just a tool even if he has yet to act like more than a tool. Niki never talks to Hiro and Ando, though, although we know it's her on the other side of the door. Likewise, in one scene Claire's mother calls her, but Claire doesn't respond to her.

Conversations that include more than one person got counted more than once. For example, when Peter and Isaac are talking, and then Peter also talks to Hiro on the phone, who is talking to Ando as well - that's four conversations. If the Non-Hero isn't named by the end of the episode, they weren't counted for that episode, even if they get a name in later episodes. (ie, Linderman's rep doesn't have a name when she talks to Niki, but she does when she talks to Nathan.) I also kept record of when Heros had a scene by themselves, such as Claire waking up in the morgue. Scenes that lasted over episodes were counted twice only if significantly more time was added to the scene. Again, such as Claire waking up in the morgue.

I used just "men and women" instead of men and boys and women and girls" for brevity. Characters that don't have names don't get counted at all, because their role is closer to that of a prop. Such as all of Nathan's aides, who exist just to as window dressing to show that he really is running for something. Tina counts as a name (no matter how much I dislike her), Mother-in-Law or Police Officer or Coach or High Roller doesn't. (Although I think I may have accidentally counted a few of those, so feel free to correct my counts as needed.)

"One Giant Leap"

total conversations: 38

OO: none

XX: 8

OX: 1

Oo: 3

Xx: 4

Ox: 5

Xo: 13

oo: none

xx: 1

ox: 1

O: 1

X: 2

o: none

x: none

Total conversations with women: 23

Total conversations without women: 15

Total conversations with men: 25

Total conversations without men: 4

Total conversations with female Heroes: 10

Total conversations without female Heroes: 29

Total conversations with male Heroes: 33

Total conversations without male Heroes: 11


total conversations 39

OO: none

XX: 14

OX: 4

Oo: 3

Xx: 1

Ox: 5

Xo: 7

oo: none

xx: none

ox: none

O: 3

X: 2

o: none

x: none

Total conversations with women: 22

Total conversations without women: 17

Total conversations with men: 33

Total conversations without men: 6

Total conversations with female Heroes: 15

Total conversations without female Heroes: 24

Total conversations with male Heroes: 28

Total conversations without male Heroes: 11


31 total conversations

OO: none

XX: 13

OX: 2

Oo: 3

Xx: 2

Ox: 4

Xo: 5

oo: none

xx: none

ox: none

O: none

X: 2

o: none

x: none

Total conversations with women: 14

Total conversations without women: 17

Total conversations with men: 28

Total conversations without men: 3

Total conversations with female Heroes: 9

Total conversations without female Heroes: 22

Total conversations with male Heroes: 24

Total conversations without male Heroes: 7

Just to highlight what I think often gets missed in the blur of debating storylines:

There are on average (based on these three episodes) only about 4 conversations per episode that don't include men but about 16 conversations that don't include women. Out of 36 total. And that's before we start talking about topic of conversation, length, etc. The really scary thing is I strongly suspect that's better than average, especially considering the genre and medium.

Let me repeat, only one tenth of the conversations are without men, but nearly half of the conversations didn't include any women at all.

How can that not be shocking? I had to keep checking my basic addition to make sure it was right.

There are never more conversations with female Heroes than there are without them.

There are never fewer conversations with male Heroes than there are without them.

We aren't talking about a small difference, but an average of twice as many conversations without female Heroes as with, and three times as many conversation with male Heroes as without. While women overall are slightly better represented, that means that a significant number of the conversations that women participate in are not even about them.* After all, did we ever learn anything about Simone at all before she died, except the ways in which she was related to the Heroes?

When the numbers are as stark as they are, how can people question how this affects what women and girls believe they are capable of doing? For a show whose hook ultimately lies in it's ability to inspire us dream about being a Hero ourselves (made explicitly clear in the scene where the little boy in the cape watches Peter try to fly) lack of diversity is a huge drawback. I find Niki's storyline insanely annoying from start to finish. It bugs me even more than it should because the fact that she is only one of two female Heroes to choose from means that there are fewer female characters written in ways to make us identify with them.

And can you honestly say that the men of this world would not notice if those numbers reversed? That they would still argue that we should identify with only with characteristics, never with gender? In my experience, they tend to label such stories "chick" lit/movies, etc. even before knowing what it's about.

I love Heroes, but I hate it too. I didn't do this just to complain about it, but to figure out why I such a great show annoys me so often. This is one of the reasons: I don't exist for half the conversations and only half of those are actually about me. It would be one thing if this were Numbers (which I strongly suspect does better when it comes to women overall) but it's not, it's an ensemble show, not a show about two brothers. There's no thematic reason for it to be the way it is; the only reason is sexism.

*Do not try to argue - for example - that the (early) scenes with Nathan and Peter's Mom are about her rather than them. Nathan makes it pretty clear that it's all about him and, as I said before, the name of the show implies that he's at least half right.


Just to clarify. The idea of this project was to try to quantity the quality of characters, not the quantity (which is pretty obvious). Thus, when I talk about conversation not including men/women, that doesn't mean that men/women are not in that scene, or even that they don't have named, speaking part in that scene. Claire and her parents talking gets counted as Oo, OX, and Xo. So a lot of the conversations that only include men/women, really include the other as well. However, when there are so few interactions between female characters, and most of the conversations include male main characters in some way, it's not a giant leap to realize that there does end up being a lot of scenes where women are completely absent (the four way phone conversation or some of the Nathan/Peter scenes) and not many where men are completely absent. Most Oo conversations actually at some point included at least one man - usually a named, speaking part. Claire and her mother talking in the first episode make a notable exception that isn't counted here.

Mostly, I did this in response to the fact that it seems obvious to me that the creators/writers were actually trying to to not exclude women, but weren't completely getting that adding secondary female characters that converse with male main characters doesn't even come close to cutting it. Especially when they they can't seem to imagine women existing without men. At least not together, anyway. Women get a lot of screen time, but they are rarely the focus of the plot and even when they are they have to share the focus with men more then men have to share it with them.

How Soccer Explains Everything

(My brilliant analogies always come to me after I've finished and published my rant o the day.)

What bugs me about the question "Where are the books for kids learning to read?" Isn't so much that I really think parents don't understand that kids start learning to read before they start actually reading. It's more that it's like they are all soccer coaches asking for advice on how to teach very young children how to play soccer, and all they are asking for are drills on how to kick the ball.

The unspoken assumption in the question "Where are the books for kids learning to read?" is that they are looking for books for children to read themselves. But that's not all kids need to do in order to be good readers. No more than all kids need to learn in order to play soccer well is how to kick the ball. They are both important, and the final goal can't be achieved without that skill, but kids that are only taught to read by actually reading are poor readers, just as kids who are taught only how to kick the ball make poor soccer players.

In soccer practice we would do all kids of drills. We would practice kicking all sorts of ways. We would practice kicking while doing other things at the same time. We would practice trapping the ball as well. Sometimes, we wouldn't even use the ball at all and we would run some extra laps for endurance or do quick sprints or shadow partners in order to practice running and changing direction quickly.

Most Easy Readers for kids that are just starting out are either sight readers or phonics readers or a combination of both. Like kicking the ball, this is the most basic and fundamental skill kids need to practice the most. But teaching kids to read with only those books is like running a soccer practice with only kicking drills. Most kids still learn to read just fine because so many of the other skills kids need to to become good readers are either integrated into daily life of deliberately inserted into their curriculum.

But when kids are struggling - or even if they aren't and parents just want to help the best they can - we don't just need to make sure that kids are getting the obvious stuff , we need to make sure they are getting all those other drills as well. We need to make sure we are increasing their endurance by still reading aloud to them. We need to make sure they are still motivated by making sure that the reading activities they have to do are fun as as possible. We need to teach them to pay attention by having activities that encourage comprehension (reading and otherwise).

We also need to learn when to let things go and when to work on weaknesses. If the kid is a lefty, you encourage him/her to practice kicking with both feet (like everybody else), but you also put him/her on the left side and thank your good fortune to have one on your team. Don't force a natural sight reader to always read phonetically and don't force a kid who is good at phonics to learn sight words that can be learned phonetically. And understand that asking for advice on Easy Readers is really complicated because so much of it depends on what your child needs to work on and what he or she shouldn't be forced to do too much of.

Things I Don't Ever Want to Hear Again

"Oh, it's not scanning? It must be free!"

"Are you finding everything alright?"

"Yes, except my wife!"

(and yeah, it tends to be fathers and husbands that lose track of their families more often than kids, wives, and mothers. I really don't know why that is. Actually, I suspect it's mainly just that it's mostly guys who think it's funny to make me hear that stupid joke for the ten billionth time. The kids especially just say it straight.)

"But I just saw it at (blah blah blah."

well, why the hell didn't you buy it there?

"Is this a good book for [insert description of child here]?" - but then proceed to cut me off when I answer, ignore my answer, or get annoyed when I ask questions to prompt a better description.

And most of all:

"Where are you're books for kids (who are) learning to read?"

It's called half the kid's section. See a book for a child younger than 9? It's probably for kids who are learning to read.

Snarkiness aside, I really, really, want to do a boot camp for parents on how children learn to read.

The problem is that the parents don't actually seem to care - until they decide that it's time for their child to read. At which point they just want whatever will get their kid to read. As long as it's "high" literature; no Captain Underpants and get away from the pictures as quickly as possible.

Sometimes they make me want to chuck all our abridged classics out the window and require that every parent buying a phonics or sight readers set must not only prove they have a copy of Brown Bear, Brown Bear at home, but understand why it counts as an easy reader.

They mean well (most of them) but besides assuming I know nothing (or, alternatively, expecting me to be omniscient), people in general (not just parents) are so obsessive about the obvious parts of learning to read. They tend to ignore or not care about how people actually do read, because they figure the most important parts are the ones that are easy to watch kids do or explain how to do. But that's just not true. Not all kids can learn to read mainly through phonics and reading is more than just decoding sounds and symbols. In fact, adult reading rarely includes decoding sounds at all.

And even more than that, "pre-reading skills" consists of a lot more than just knowing the alphabet and the sounds each letter makes. It includes knowing things like shapes, colors, and opposites (the building blocks for learning the alphabet). It includes having a large vocabulary, so that when they are trying to guess what the sounds blend together to make, it's not always the first time they've heard that word. It includes an understanding of language; knowing rhymes so that they can use them as hints in lyrical stories. It also includes understanding that stories have beginnings, middles and ends; characters and settings; and knowing the difference between "stories that are true" and "stories that are make -believe." It includes learning to be writers as well as readers, by having crayons and paper and toys for imaginative play readily available.

I'm sure that most of the parents that come in asking for beginning readers books do all of these things with their children. But if they really want to help their children as they are making their first steps towards reading alone, it's best if the parents understand this all explicitly, so that they can pick which kind of easy reader their child needs the most. Do they need to practice phonics? Are they naturally better at sight reading? Can they decode words easily, but always race through the book and never read with inflection? Are they interested in learning to read at all, or do they need motivation?

When I'm asking all the annoying questions, I'm mainly just trying to pinpoint the kid's exact reading level, because new readers are easily frustrated and overwhelmed and they are easily bored and won't improve unless challenged. It would be nice if every once and a while parents came prepared to discuss not only reading level, but reading styles. Which sounds like a lot to expect from someone who is just making a trip to a bookstore, I know. But if getting every child reading by age whatever is really a priority, educating parents about how children learn to read should be one as well. To the point that my pie in the sky discussions are commonplace and easy to have, because we all already know the fundamentals.

And since I'm in a complaining mood, I'd also like to say that I recently watched the movie version of Knuffle Bunny, adored it to pieces, and now hate the AMA for their blanket "no TV for kids under 2" even more than before. Any kid that is capable of sitting through the book itself will benefit from watching the movie.

On a more positive note, I did run across this, which suggests (goodness, could it be?) that people are mixing up cause and effect when it comes to ADHD and TV watching, and that ADHD kids may actually be less at risk from the "deleterious effects of television viewing" than non-ADHD kids.

One last thing I don't ever want to hear: "Well, my child is reading well above reading level" - when said in that tone of voice that means "my child is so special you could never understand just how special."

I was reading Tolkien by fourth grade and no one in my family will be shocked if my 3 1/2 year old niece is reading within the year. Without any formal teaching involved. So not I'm not really bowled over by the fact that your fifth grader is reading the occasional seventh grade book. And when I suggest that they also read an actual fifth - or gasp! maybe even a fourth - grade book, I'm doing so as someone who knows first-hand that variety is really good for children, especially kids who are reading well above their grade level. We tend to go for impressive length and our parents and teachers don't always do the best job of making sure we practice comprehension and critical thinking as well. (Not entirely their fault, they end up having to spend so much time keeping us supplied with books that they tend to push us towards longer books in part for their own sanity.)

Double Standards

I have just one thing to say about this (hit tip Tart):

Well, of course it's ok for her too look sexy when she's peddling* something for some (male run) company, but how dare she do so just because she wants to. That's being rude and crude and inappropriate, donthca know? Just one small step away from being manipulative and abusing men with her feminine wiles.

*by the by, Hooters - and the Angels - have incurred my everlasting ire for having a continuous promotion at the supposedly family friendly Angel's ballpark.

My main issue with places like Hooters is the lopsidedness of it and the imbalance of power they therefore help to promote. (And I suspect maintain within the company.) But even if that weren't the case, I don't really think Hooters should be advertising at family events any more than Chippendale's should. Hooter's "girls" may not take their clothes off, but commodification of someone else's sex appeal is still the foundation of the business. I don't think that's something we should promote to kids any more than alcohol and cigarettes are.

Plus, I really don't like anyone that has ever encouraged my father to say the word "hooters" in my presence. Or caused me to wonder how many family members I would alienate if I refused to join in on taking advantage of Hooter's celebratory promotion.

Bad. Very Bad.

I eventually got used to Tobey Maguire as Peter Parker. After all, I wasn't that invested in Spiderman and Peter's supposed to be a kind of average Joe character.

But Tobey Maguire as Rick Hunter?

nononononononononononononono. NO!

They aren't allowed to cast my childhood crushes with actors that I don't find sexy. Somebody needs to tell them that.

(hat tip to 100littledolls)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Well, I'm a Queen - Shouldn't I Have Crown?

I am alive.

I promise.

I've just been busy busy busy. And zipping through season one of Heroes. (Which I have plenty to complain and rave about.)

But, of course, I ran across this and this just a few minutes ago while looking for this game on my parents desktop (thus the lack of bookmark) - and I had to comment on it.

I stumbled across Lifetime Games a year or so ago after looking up some schedule information. (I have no idea what, so don't ask. But I did watch and enjoy a couple of the Lifetime adaptations of Nora Robert's novels if that helps you imagine what it might have been.) Anyway, I guess I'm a walking stereotype, because, yeah, I like puzzle games. So I started playing some.

(And yes, I've played the makeover game as well. It's like digital paper dolls for grown-ups.)

Now, I'm hardly one to commend Lifetime for creating a sudoku filled with shopping icons instead of numbers. (God, that is one annoying game. I hate Sudoku and Mah Jong games where the icons are overly detailed.) I really don't see why my favorite game has to be called Princess's Tiara, either.

However, something smells fishy about the Joystiq and Kotaku articles. Mainly that they seem to be as condescending towards women as they accuse Lifetime of being. After all, why not have a game called Sally's Salon? And is the makeover game really fundamentally any different than the Superhero generator that was floating around the blogs a few weeks ago?

Sure, It really doesn't need to be called Princess's Tiara, but there's no reason why it shouldn't either. Maybe it's just me, but I get the impression that the boys over at Joystiq and Kotaku* are really cringing because it is all so very very pink and princessy, and not because Lifetime's game selection is limited and reinforces stereotypes.

Very few of us want to be girly girls all the time. But a great number of us like doing some of the girly girl stuff some of the time. That''s part of why variety is good and stereotypes are bad. But variety means just that: variety, not just girls getting to do what they boys always got to do. There's a lot that Lifetime does that annoys me, but as long as the kewl kids act like pink = cooties, ideas like "Lifetime: Everything Under the Sun for Women" will be popular because it will be the one place where we can go and be a girly girl and not be looked down upon for being a girly girl.

I think it's stupid when Sega designs a series of games for girls that reinforces stereotypes, but that doesn't mean I think that's it's a bad idea to have a game called Sally's Salon - or even a game about taking care of babies. I just think it's dumb that they are targeted to girls, and that only that kind of stuff is targeted to girls.

I also think there's a difference between when a company that has proven to be popular among adult women, and is partly run by adult women, teams up to deliver stereotypical games targeted at adult women and when a game company that isn't known for either of these things makes such games and targets them to girls. Neither situation is completely evil or completely good, but they aren't equal, either.

*The Kotaku article may have been written by a woman, it doesn't have a byline.