Tag Archives: feminism

Reflections on men and feminism (long and rambly)

The short version of this particular set of musings is: it’s complicated. My feminism is inflected and informed by a 60’s childhood raised in contradictory but powerful influences. I’m the product of at least two (and most likely more) generations of strong and opinionated frontier farm women (Grandma was a chicken farmer; Mom could grow one heckva garden, can, and raise a good flock of layers and fryers). I also got exposed to a particularly toxic form of fundamentalist Christian repression of women in my late teens through school Bible groups and the Christian college I attended–Basic Youth Conflicts, one of Bill Gothard’s groups (go here for the Wikipedia TL:DR version). However, I never quite fell within the lure of Basic Youth, especially after I went off to college and discovered Ms. Magazine. Various adventures with conservative religious boyfriends which usually ended up with me being handed things to mend also had an influence, plus growing up in Springtucky and getting hassled by men for being blond and big-busted.

My family followed rather traditional roles that I viewed with a jaundiced eye as I got older. It didn’t help that during my high school and early undergraduate career, any boyfriends I had soon got chased away when we decided it would be romantic to take classes together. Um. Yeah. The first time I got a better grade than boyfriend did, it was bye-bye. I had three boyfriends in my college years who took me seriously as an intellectual; I married one of them nearly thirty-three years ago.

But there was more to the man I married than just taking me seriously as a thinker. One of the light entertainments of politically oriented students at the University of Oregon during my era was engaging with the different right-wing preachers who ranted at U of O students as part of their ministry. Of course, what they didn’t know is that about half the students arguing were liberals from the neighboring Christian college who were honing their theological arguments…but I digress. The man I married took extreme exception to one of these preachers personally threatening me by getting into that preacher’s face. He also did things like cook for me when I was working as an organizer on the previous boyfriend’s campaign. He wasn’t and isn’t perfect, but he “got it” (in the terms of a recent internet discussion about men and feminism) at an early age, in part because, like me, he was the son of a working mother who carried quite a bit of weight in the family economy. The personal was political for him at a very early age. He had a personal stake in understanding feminism because he saw it on a daily basis.  Was and is his feminist awareness perfect? Nope. Neither is mine, and I don’t think anyone can make that claim about themselves.

Way back when my son was little, we attended an indoor park for toddlers. It was all female, until a single at-home father started attending with his daughter. Many of the women were feminist. Did all of them embrace his attendance? Um. No. But enough of us did that we banded together over the others’ attempts to exclude the father and got ourselves elected to the governing board. I remember being heartily annoyed by complaints about insensitive spouses, but then the rejecting shoulder to a father walking the talk.

As part of the upbringing my husband received, he’s a nurturing male who has no qualms about doing housework. Our housework divisions in past years have fallen either into skill areas (yours truly doesn’t have chainsaw skills and arthritic hands mean if I do, it will be with a light saw; I still end up doing the sewing) or allergy areas (water used to irritate my eczema and dust irritates his sinuses). He likes cooking, while I like baking and canning. Our son was raised to be nurturing and with the model that the men do the housework. He likes cooking, and when he’s had a partner, part of what he does is cook.

That’s one reason why I get grouchy with those who complain about men who apparently don’t Get It about feminism until injustice touches their wives, their daughters, their sisters. If you look back far enough, every man who Gets It had that little spark of feminist awareness fanned by some sort of personal stake, whether it was watching his mother struggle or his sisters struggle. Somehow, somewhere, personal connection fueled awareness. That’s how people learn and develop politically. That’s why consciousness raising is such a crucial task in developing and maintaining a movement, and sitting back to think that it’s all done is folly. That’s why, no matter what the issue is, dear God, we have to have basic Feminism/Racism/Ageism/Ableism/etc 101, because there will always be someone new who Doesn’t Get It, until the personal becomes political and awareness flares into being for that individual. It would be nice if people were born with their consciousness raised, alleluia, alleluia, but by golly, unless we all suddenly get raptured into some sort of progressive heaven, it ain’t happening (Let’s listen, for example, to how men talk about what they’ve lost by never being able to express their nurturing sides due to traditional male roles. We have to be honest and listen to that oppression as well).

Until we reach the understanding that we are all people together, and that we should respect each other, we’re not going to get anywhere. Slamming folks for not immediately developing advanced awareness is foolish. Awareness is a learning process. We don’t expect kids to enter school reading at a twelfth grade level (at least not yet), nor do we expect to be immediately proficient in a new language. The same is true for all forms of awareness. So yes, there will always be a need for Basic Consciousness Raising, and excluding or condemning people because they are insufficiently advanced is just another form of exclusionary arrogance. It’s acceptable to be annoyed about it sometimes, as long as you take a deep breath and acknowledge that learning is hard for both student and teacher.

And with that, I’m not only tired and have probably bored everyone, but I wanna go play with my new sewing machine. Curtain-making awaits. I’m gonna go be creative in a new way.

Have fun, y’all, and remember to pay it forward. That means being patient when it’s time to trot out the 101 learning. Everyone had to start there sometime.

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A ranty morning

What is it about today? Already I’ve gone off on someone about Patrick McLaw (the Maryland African-American teacher detained allegedly because of the themes in his self-published sf books), and now I’m all ranty from a pompous interview in the Guardian with Ian McEwan. Since I’ve exhausted myself with McLaw (let’s just say I’m pissed, pissed, pissed), I’ll just rant a little bit about the McEwan.

Keep in mind that he’s a mainstream writer considered to be writing about family and drama. I think it was the subplot of his newest work that set me off originally, with the 60-year-old husband wanting “one last go” at a grand affair. Grrr. I’m afraid that these days, I wouldn’t make it past the first few pages of a work with that subplot element. I’m sick and tired of the glorification of the male sexual fantasy, especially in a work where the author is allegedly trying to think like a professional woman with homelife drama who encounters a big ethical challenge. Dear God, take me now. Ugh. Can we just say cliched, overdone, trite? Quite frankly, I think “spouse fed up with his work and wanting to retire” or “spouse dealing with onset of illness” is probably more realistic as homelife drama, unless one happens to be part of a particular rich and privileged class. Affairs? Jesus, John Updike did that to death. I don’t care what genre it is, if there’s an affair involved, I’m probably going to throw the damn book against the wall. It’s why I don’t spend much time on the literary genre. Male infidelity is just so done in fiction, in my opinion.

Maybe I’ve just had too many other family dramas in my life to be able to engage with the egotism involved in a man’s desire for an affair. I don’t know. The concept of “one last go” is somewhat offensive to me. Either you’re monogamous and you both agree, or else you’re poly and the rules and structures exist for how you engage with others and it’s No. Big. Deal. To be monogamous, and then have this one last desire for a fling with someone else is profoundly so much a violation of the original relationship (in my opinion) that the other person is justified in chucking the whole relationship and ripping the man to shreds in the court system.

Yeah. So please slap me if I ever decide to write such a thing.

There are aspects of McEwan’s interview that I like. He’s unapologetically placing himself in “what he calls the ‘family division’ of English prose.” I like his advocacy for bringing work back into contemporary writing. I just–I don’t know. Something about the tone of the description of the latest work set me off. Probably it’s more an argument with the character in the latest book who feels himself entitled to ask for permission to have an affair. It’s the male gaze issue

And probably a huge chunk of it is that the sort of sf and fantasy I want to write is more of that sort of family interactions and dynamics stuff. The as-yet undisclosed heart of the Netwalk Sequence involves some very dark and horrible stuff that happened within the Stephens family. It was kept successfully hushed up for over a hundred years. It explains a lot of Sarah’s dynamics, and her star-crossed relationship with Francis Stewart. Only I also bring in gadgets and tech and other stuff because, well…I like boom today. Boom tomorrow as well, but boom today is good. Anthony Trollope in space is fun. So is Jane Austen, the Brontes, and etc.

But it’s not taken as serious writing within the genre, unless you get very, very lucky and you write about the male protagonists. Me, I like playing with multi-generational female protagonists, including the additional drama of reproductive realities. So yeah. Probable obscurity.

However, I intend to have fun doing it. And now my ranty mcrantypants rantage is done. Whew. That’s enough for one day.

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The tiresome sexualization of female equestrians ( a mild rant, of sorts)

It happened again. Rarely happens when I’m wearing jeans and packers to ride Western, but if I go out and about in my English riding attire, either before or after a riding session, I run into some man who starts leering at me, in different stages of politeness. This time was at a fruit stand, with my husband. I heard the guy commenting–“hey, she’s got spurs on.” Then he started ogling me, even with the husband right there. He kept talking to his female companion, but kept snatching glances even as I kept talking to my husband about what fruit we wanted to buy for the next few days.

Then he asked me if I actually was a horse person or if I was just wearing those clothes. Needless to say, I was taken aback, and weighing two possibilities. The other car at the fruit stand was a trendy Fiat Smart Car with California plates. The odds were very good that this was a very urban Southern Californian who didn’t get the idea that people really do go around in barn clothes because, after all, this is Tourist Season and all. But the look in his eye was just a little different. I know that look. He was being very polite about it, but nonetheless, I was getting The Look, and matched with it, The Fantasy, which spills on over into a general dismissive attitude toward horsewomen (in particular) and their desire to be around horses and work with horses. We can’t have a nonsexual interest in horses. You know, that assumption is really, really tiresome. Stupid. And incorrect.

(Thank you Sigmund….NOT!)

So a woman wearing dusty breeches and faded t-shirt with dirty and scuffed tall black boots with stained spurs clearly must be walking around with intent to arouse rather than using plain practical English riding attire for efficiency and comfort, if you follow that particular line of reasoning. I’ve seen normally rational males start gibbering and slathering just a little bit when I talk about riding in English gear and carrying a crop (okay, I’ve also encountered that from a non-horsey lesbian, too).

It’s stupid. It’s irrational. It’s annoying. I don’t put that stuff on to arouse. I put that stuff on because, quite frankly, when I want to school my horse in English tack, I’ve found that tall boots just plain work better with English stirrup leathers. Pinched skin on calves ain’t no fun, really (plus I’m not really fond of purple-blue spots on my legs), and on a hot day my secondhand field boots are much cooler than half-chaps. It’s much easier to change clothes at home than at the barn. Jeans tend to scuff up the leather on my saddle. Therefore, I wear breeches and boots when I ride English, with whatever layer of top works best for the season, and I run errands wearing barn gear rather than waste gas by going home to change.

Sigh. This is just a part of the whole women and horses thing, though. No one really talks about men and horses having some sort of weird relationship. But females and horses? Ooh, must be sexual. Grrr.

One of the other arguments for female attraction to equines is just as annoying and circles back to sexuality. Some proponents knowingly natter that girls like horses because they enjoy the power to direct and control a large animal like a horse with an agency they lack in the rest of their lives. Poke at that one too deeply, and it comes back to sexuality, both with what that argument says about the daily lives of women and with the manner in which the woman’s dominance of a horse is portrayed.

But neither the sexual nor the dominance arguments entirely explain how men and boys can develop the same type of deep attachments to the horse life. Heck, anyone who reads the plethora of horse fiction out there starting with the early 20th century would know better. Will James didn’t hold up dominance or sexuality as motivations for connecting with horses when he wrote his stories about the ranch horses he worked with. Walter Farley wasn’t writing about dominance and sexuality. Neither was Mary O’Hara, nor does Natalie Keller Reinert, or a number of other folks who write insightful fiction and nonfiction about the relationships between people and horses.

Certainly the ability to direct a powerful horse is an issue. But I would argue that this is just a symptom of a deeper level of something else. As any horse person will tell you, the true reward in working with a horse is the ability to develop a deep-level nonverbal ability to communicate. Smart horses learn to communicate with humans on human terms while humans learn to communicate with horses on horse terms. More than most dogs, horse-human communication spans the range of communicative senses in ways and depths that we don’t necessarily use with other animals (we’re not in control of our scent communication like other species and we don’t seem to be able to read their scent messages). However sight, sound, touch, and proprioception play huge roles in horse-human communication, both in the saddle and on the ground. A large part of schooling horses is about refining cues and communication between horse and human, until they become one being in motion, able to shift directions with a turn of the human’s head, speed up or slow down based on where the human weight goes, or (for the horse) become entirely dependent on human visual perception and signalling about the correct place to take off for a complex and difficult jumping line.

In essence, that’s a whole-body experience. Horse and human in tune with each other is about grace, beauty and communication in coordination with each other. If there’s anything sexual about that, it’s that the horse-human link at its most insightful can rival the relationship between a long-term bonded couple.

Not that this is what those who make the cracks about women and horses, or who leer at a woman turned out in English riding gear who’s clearly using it have in mind. They’re just focusing on pale shadows of a reality they don’t quite understand.

And it’s damned tiresome to deal with. So no, buddy, I’m not dressing to fulfill your fantasies. I’m dressing for practicalities, and if I seem remote, snippy, and a bit like your image of querulous locals, well, it’s because I’m kind of tired of being looked at in that manner. Making loud comments about my spurs and boots doesn’t really endear you to me. Knock it off, and grow up. Instead of commenting about my clothes and asking me if I really am an equestrian, ask me where there’s a place to ride around the area. Ask me about horses. Just leave the clothing and the sexualization out of it, okay?

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Yes All Women….my experiences, good and bad

Warning: can be triggery for incidents of sexual harassment and angst–no gory details. If such things bother you, best not read. I’ll cut this in LJ.

There’s a reason I have my friendly but assertive/aggressive persona in public settings. It’s called growing up female, blond, and big-busted while being a smart, nerdy girl with a lot of self-confidence issues.

The first incident I recall happened in third grade. I had been transferred from my regular school to a nearby school due to overcrowding, and my parents had thought it would be kinder to put me in a different school where a godmother could watch over me. It wasn’t the best choice, in part because it put me in a place where I had to deal with daily bullying by a boy on my walk home. The bullying escalated to physical attack. He routinely slugged me in the gut. Every afternoon. Every walk home. For a week and a half.

One day, I had my umbrella. The boy in question came after me. He was pleasant at school, well-liked, and I really did want to be friendly with him. He led with an innocuous  comment, then followed up with–yes–a punch in the gut. I reacted with a smack/poke in his gut with my umbrella.

I had no further problems with that boy. I learned.

Fast forward through several years of bullying based on being an outsider in yet another school. I developed early, was set up with boys as part of teasing by other girls, dealt with the routine that happened at my junior high of boys snapping my bra, stepping on the back of my shoes, and otherwise being obnoxious jerks. At the same time, I watched Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In and enjoyed Ruth Buzzi’s treatment of Arte Johnson as the Dirty Old Man (hitting him over the head with her purse or her umbrella when his propositions got to be too much). I emulated Ruth Buzzi when I got bugged, and things got better.

I learned.

At the same time, my growing breasts also subjected me to a lot of scary harassment in situations outside of school. This was the late 60s-early 70s, and a young girl like me with big breasts and long blond hair really had problems walking the street alone without enduring catcalls, whistles, and other letching behaviors. I learned to ignore being yelled at, because anything further escalated the behaviors into unsafe areas, and I wasn’t at the point where I felt comfortable flipping groups of men off.

Then the really scary thing happened. My parents and I were out fishing in a big reservoir, something we did on a regular basis. I was wearing a peasant blouse my mother had made for me, one I really loved. But it revealed my cleavage and my breasts. Some drunken fishermen saw us. They started driving their boat around ours, letching, hollering, and leering, tossing out beer cans as they circled us. My father yelled at them. They didn’t stop for the longest time, and their wake threatened to swamp our boat. Other fishermen came by, and they went away.

I learned. I also didn’t wear that blouse very much after that. I don’t like wearing peasant blouses any more.

High school was better. I wore short skirts, practiced falling off of 50s-era platform shoes that I’d inherited from my mother, and hung out with a nerdy crowd.

I went to college. More exposure to catcalls and letching. I dated a Libyan guy for a few months, and became known and respected amongst the Libyan men for a.) respecting their faith while being clear about sticking to my faith and b.) not going to bed with any of them. We teased each other, but it was on the level of joking, and we all knew it. In return, I could hang out with the guys and no one, repeat, NO ONE, bothered me on campus. The guys were in the student union at odd hours when some really scary folks would hang out there, and I could sit with them and be safe.

I moved on from the Libyan group. I went through a sequence of boyfriends who all wanted me to mend their pants. I went on a date with one guy, pleasant person, excellent date–who then went out and tried to commit suicide afterwards. I was told I needed to talk to him as part of his rehabilitation. He told me he did it because he didn’t feel worthy. Now I wonder what happened to him. Meanwhile, I felt awful because I had done something to him–what, I wasn’t sure, but for some reason it was felt to be my fault.

I dated a man who moved away. He was still young and immature, and his father warned me off of him. It was my first time being seen as a predatory female, and I was confused by it. This same guy came up $1.50 short of having the funds to get a bus ticket to come see me. He didn’t call. He didn’t take my calls. I got an apologetic letter a week later, where he said he’d gone to see a movie instead.

I hooked up with a man who seemed pleasant at first. We shared a living situation called a “quad,” where each of us had separate sleeping and living quarters but shared a kitchen and bathroom. We went to bed. Then the red flags started flying. He got possessive. He got angry when he was told no. He showed me explicitly how he could break into my room using a foot-long Bowie knife.

I learned. I didn’t say no again until I had moved out. He stalked me and my family for two-three years after that, frightening my elderly parents (and Dad had been in WWII in the Italian theater). He moved into an apartment complex behind the coed cooperative house I lived in, got drunk at night, and bellowed my name across the alleyway. He came by the house once, and was chased away by the bigger and more aggressive men of that coop (I had to love the drunken redneck resident guy who, when alerted to the danger by another woman, came staggering up from the basement, bellowing and hollering like Thor). None of the men who chased him off were ever involved with me–they were offended by his harassment of me. He only stopped a couple of years later when he showed up on my doorstep and I informed him that my boyfriend at the time and our attorney were in the apartment behind me. My parents moved to a gated community. I lived in mixed households where the men were people I could trust as allies.

I learned.

There was a rapist in my college neighborhood. I had to go out at night, but I tried to call my boyfriend at the time when I’d leave where I was at (much more difficult in the pre-cell phone era). I didn’t let my boyfriend’s interests defer me from going out independently to do different things. He was working, I was going to school. One night a male fitting the MO of that rapist came out from behind a dumpster and moved toward me. I ran as hard as I could as he chased me. Luckily, I was close to my apartment and made it without a problem.

I learned.

Eventually, I married. I had a son. I learned that sometimes the presence of a child and a spouse didn’t defer the harassment, but the combined outrage of my husband and myself would. My son started going to the same sf conventions I did. We developed a code where I’d let him know if I needed backup.

There are other incidents, other times, but that’s a pretty good summary for what I went through and how I managed it. I’m one of the lucky ones. I learned to be aggressive in the face of harassment, mouthy, and developed a good offense. I also learned to partner up, first with men, and then other women, to keep harassers at bay. Additionally, I developed a radar for the difference between jokey flirtation and creepy stalking, and created my own personal line in the sand for when that happens. My line might not work for other people, either one way or another. I just developed what works for me.

My story really isn’t that different from any other woman’s. Talk to anyone my age, and unless they’ve had an extremely sheltered life, my guess is that they’ve had similar experiences.

I just figured that maybe it is my turn to share.

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A plethora of posts to write–quick hits–teacher politics, horse politics, and a fun reflection on writing with kids

As usual, life’s gotten busy and I have things to write about which just ain’t happenin’ as individual posts at the moment.

To start with, David Gilmour (NOT the Pink Floyd musician but the writer and lit prof) doesn’t like teaching about women writers. There’s dozens of excellent rants around the web about his sexism, but I’ve got an additional reaction which seriously provokes my ire–the assumption on his part that teaching is all about being able to present material smoothly and effectively (his assertion that “I’m a natural teacher” where he goes on to state that his experience speaking on camera gives him Magic Teacher Juju).


There’s significantly more to being a good teacher than whether you can deliver a brilliant presentation. If that’s your only tool, then you’re a good lecturer. That’s different from being a good teacher. A good teacher can develop the sort of connection with his or her students that allows the teacher to quickly ascertain student understanding on the fly, diagnose what is/isn’t working, and modify both presentation and individual/small group instruction (which may or may not include the lecture) IN PROCESS to facilitate learning. You can be a brilliant lecturer but a crappy teacher.

Additionally, that conflating of lecture and the art and science of teaching is symptomatic of the sort of mentality that pervades much of the current educational deformist movements in the US public education system at the moment, usually mouthed by those who haven’t set foot in a classroom since they left it as students. Yes, you have to be able to know your subject and communicate what you know to students. But–you have to be able to diagnose when learning runs off of the rails and figure out how to fix it–fast. That sort of understanding doesn’t come from book larnin’, folks–it comes from practice, observation, and more practice.

My sense from both the linked interview and Gilmour’s own statements, plus additional commentary from students, is that he may be a brilliant lecturer, but at least half of his students aren’t necessarily learning (and can we guess which gender that is?). I don’t care whether he’s at a university or in the k-12 system–that’s not the mark of an effective or natural teacher. ‘Nuff said.

Next item. Mark Arbello, the San Diego horse trainer who killed a horse in training by using a tie-around method of bitting up. From what I’ve read so far, there are so many things wrong with how he executed that particular method that it isn’t even funny. I have seen this tool used effectively with a limited subset of hard-case rehab horses whose next stop was the auction if they didn’t turn around, but Arbello did Every. Damn. Thing. Wrong. Shanked bit, not a snaffle (for the non-horsey, a shanked bit puts leverage pressure on the horse’s head in a very painful way if used for this purpose and can lead to the type of reaction which caused this lovely mare’s death). Cranked tight and hard (nope). Tied the horse up instead of letting the horse move on their own. Unsupervised. Grrr.

For the record, I don’t use this tool. I know how to use it, but I don’t. I prefer a side rein method, loosely adjusted so that the horse practices moving in balance but is figuring it out for themselves–and the horse is supervised so that if it causes anxiety instead of the desired result, the human can quickly intervene to prevent a blowup.

Of course, there are plenty of folks out there condemning both techniques with a broad brush and insisting that the way they use side reins is the Only True Way. Sigh. Horse politics are too damn much like health care politics these days, everyone’s waxing opinionated with closed minds. ‘Nuff said with that grumble.

And last of all, for those who are still reading, I’m having some fun times working on a vocabulary story with my intervention class students. I’m not fond of the drill and kill method of vocabulary development where you make kids look up lots of words in the dictionary and write them down, plus use the word in a sentence. A little bit of this work to teach how to use the dictionary is useful, but that’s what you use it for. For vocabulary development, they’ve got to use the words and understand their meaning. I’ve graded enough half-ass-done dictionary vocabulary exercises with poorly written sentences that I don’t like to do that method.

Instead, I want kids to use the words in a way that helps them understand the meaning of these words–ergo, vocabulary pictionary, vocabulary charades, and what I’m doing now–the vocabulary story.  This is a new thing, but basically, I created three categories–event, personality, scene–and had the kids classify the vocabulary words accordingly. Boy, was that ever a knock-down, drag-out argument in some cases, but the kids came up with good justification for that placement. Then, yesterday, we started creating characters, settings, and the first beginnings of plot.

Wow. Can we say buy-in? And, as we discussed how to incorporate various elements of the words into a story (conundrum, assonance, inference are just some of the vocabulary words), I noticed that the kids started talking authoritatively about the meaning of the words, and when I’d throw out a question about how we could craft a character to reflect those words, they got it.


Though I’ve gotta say, the stories may well turn out to be this rather bizarre mishmash of Philip K. Dick, Terry Pratchett, and some very, very odd cartoons. But all in good fun. After all, how often do I get to work with pink unicorn ninjas in a moldy candy cane forest? Nonetheless, the kids are excited and engaged–which is really, really good.


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On time travel and oooh them awful girl cooties

So Charlie Stross appears to have committed one of those “oh no headdesk no no” moments when he asserted that there’s a dearth of female time travelers in SF, going on to claim that it’s harder for women to exercise the sort of agency a time traveler could/should enjoy in older, potentially more sexually repressive societies.

Ahem (Marge Piercy, Woman at the Edge of Time for starters, cough-cough).

While there’s been some most excellent counters to his assertions from various excellent women writers, I want to throw my two cents in as well, based on my own knowledge of local and regional history in the Pacific Northwest of the United States.

Right off the bat, I’ll confess to an occasional fascination for the tales of women adventurers in the Old West of North America (okay, maybe I’ll give Stross a pass on these, simply because that’s a regional focus and he may not know of them). Not all of them were cross-dressing as male, though there are some absolutely incredible stories about women who lived their lives out as remote cowboys, only to be outed upon severe injury or death. Some were spouses or female companions to males–Narcissa Whitman and Eliza Spaulding are two who come quickly to mind, along with Sacajawea and Marie Dorion.

But there were plenty-many other women in the Old West who went out along with the boys and held their own. Some, like Elinore Pruitt Stewart, were simply trying to make a living. We know about Elinore because of her entertaining published letters, but she and her sister ranchwomen had no qualms about loading up wagons and horses and going out on their own for camping and fishing expeditions, either with or without the men.

Elinore wasn’t the only one, though. Looking at my shelf of memoirs and diaries of settler women, I find Eileen O’Keeffe McVicker, Phoebe Goodell Judson, Agnes Morley Cleaveland, Harriet Fish Backus, and others. If you add in the Victorian adventure travelers, there’s Isabella Bird as well as a host of others. Dee Brown, Janet Robertson and others.

Granted, these are all frontier colonial women, in a specific setting and we won’t go into the issues which arise therein (except to point out that Native women also had similar bold and adventuring women–we just don’t hear those stories). But if I can think of these histories of real, actual women on just one continent, of women who weren’t necessarily madonnas, teachers or prostitutes, then who’s to say that a time-traveling woman with appropriate research couldn’t have found a way to fit into these societies?

Hmm. Methinks I have a twinkling of a story idea here.

That is, after I write the Big Post-Apocalyptic story with strong female leads who don’t defer to Big Male Macho Boy Sex Fantasies (otherwise known as my oh no John Barnes no moment).

Yeah. Let’s just say I’m a grumpy and disgusted crone at the moment.

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My two cents on the recent sexism/ sf convention harassment controversy

Apologies in advance for all the rambling, but…it’s been a busy day and I’m tired, and I’m still pulling my thoughts together.

First of all, I want to give MAJOR props to the women who have spoken out on this issue, especially Elise Matthesen. Speaking out in the face of physical and psychological harassment is a huge thing, and she’s right. If we’re going to stop this sort of behavior at conventions, especially by people in positions of power, then we women damn well have to make formal reports when sexual harassment happens, no matter how powerful the person doing it is. Period. Full stop. No two ways about it.

I don’t have a lot of convention horror stories to share, for various reasons. Some of this may just be that I flick the verbal harassment back and ignore it. Another is that as a result of years spent around horses in various stages of training (as well as being a middle school teacher), I have a pretty firm set of boundaries/personal space and when they get violated, I’m vocal (and, if sufficiently threatened, well, I have heels, elbows and other stuff and I’m not afraid to use them). I do engage in horseplay occasionally with trusted friends (there’s one gentleman who likes to pick me up when we’re goofing around at parties, but–we’re both laughing and it never crosses my personal boundaries). And that’s the key. They’re trusted friends, with established relationships. If I don’t know someone who puts hands on me, um, well, y’know, I might decide you need to be treated like a recalcitrant stud colt who wants to put his lips and teeth on me. Doesn’t need to be big and dramatic, but I will make a correction. Don’t go there. You might not like the result. I have a Teacher Voice, and I work in middle school, so I’ve had lots of experience observing just how to stage a dramatic scene without worrying about how dignified I look. If you have any dignity, you won’t survive teaching in middle school. That’s just the way things roll.

But, in counterpoint–I have specific circles I run in and I don’t go to a lot of the big, popular cons. I don’t necessarily do a lot of parties because, hey, I have a day job with day job sleep habits so I tend to bug out of parties early. I’m older (55) and that probably puts me off limits. I also have a spouse who goes to conventions with me and I usually talk about him being in the hotel room waiting for me. Sometimes he even comes to panels. In any case, I cultivate the “very married” persona and privilege (which not everyone has as an option). Because I was a political activist in college and spent some time as a legislative intern, I’ve had experience in fending off creepy politicians and lobbyists cruising the cute interns (OMG, now there’s a snake pit for you–being a female legislative intern). As the same activist, I’ve also led more than a few meeting charges (my friends–male–used to feed me talking points, aim me, and have me lead point on some of our political meeting arguments, under the general principle that having the articulate, assertive woman who was young and attractive leading the charge would put our opponents off their arguments. It worked, for the most part.). So I am not afraid to speak out in my defense, even if it burns bridges (ouch!).

Because of the combination of these various elements, I’ve been very damn lucky at conventions. I know it, because that luck hasn’t always held in other settings. I’ve survived one rape (pre-writing, pre-convention era). I’ve been pursued by another rapist when going home from class. In the workplace, I’ve filed one formal complaint for sexism against a supervisor and informally complained about another supervisor (who was so awful that sexism and harassment were actually relatively minor parts of his utter awfulness). That’s recent history. Past history has not been so kind.

At my first job, at an isolated river resort in Southern Oregon (the owners have changed so there’s no need to call them out now), I was specifically directed by my boss (female) to let one of the boat pilots fondle me. In front of customers. Loudly and brazenly. This was in the mid-70s, BTW, so not a lot of recourse then. When I left at the end of my employment, the only pilot available was that one. Who fondled me all the way down the river.

I was young, powerless, and had no options, in an era where I had even less support than women who are the age I was then have now.

There were other incidents at other jobs but that was the worst. I had a stalker confront me at work and the boss took his side. I almost got fired over that.

So…yeah. Convention experiences have not been bad for me, but then again, that’s been a combination of circumstances that have skewed in my favor. Other women have not been as fortunate. And that is absolutely, totally, NOT RIGHT.

And that’s the bottom line. I don’t care how old, how powerful, or how privileged someone is. Age, power and privilege do not convey the right to violate other people’s personal boundaries and personal dignity. This should be social functioning 101.


We should have learned this lesson by now, damn it.

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Let the rantage begin–feminist stuff


So you’ve been warned.

This particular piece has been going around my Facebook and now my LJ. I’m putting up the full link so if you’ve seen it before, you don’t have to Go There.


Read it already?  Want to read it?  Here’s a hint: if you’re a mother and a writer, you’ve already heard this BS. I can just about guarantee it. Somehow your motherhood either condemns you to writing glowing tributes to Super!Mommy!Life! (oh god, does anyone remember the early days of Joyce Maynard’s columns? or the subsequent implosion which would have made more sense having known more About Her Past Literary Connections?) or you become Supermom With The Single Child who goes everywhere and does everything and Achieves In Spite Of Parenthood.

Yeah. The early years of my mothering life got spent in the late 80s, when Greed Was Good (oh hell yes, I was a complex securities litigation paralegal during that era and I Have Stories) and if you had a child, the mandatory rule was a.) You write many opinion pieces talking about How Wonderful Parenthood Is and How Awful Feminism Is or b.) You Were Total Careerist Yuppie And Nannies Ruled Your Life. And you wrote opinion pieces about that life as well. I started frothing pretty damn fast when reading that BS, because though I was a mother and staying at home with the kid, I was sure as hell writing and still saw myself as a feminist (and was Not Supermommy. Really. I tried. So not me).

I ended up staying at home and taking care of the kid because I’d managed to get myself compromised by working on some of the biggest local securities cases for a couple of litigation support companies which meant I had major conflicts of interests at the time with most of the local law firms–and one of the biggest litigation support companies was on the blacklist for many of the local law firms because they’d been such jerks. Plus, computerization was getting a toehold into the particular specialty I was working. In the course of five years litigation support went from needing many trained bodies to eyeball documents to code and enter into a mainframe to doing the same function on a 386. And that was before search engine optimization happened. So yeah–that profession kinda sorta went down the dumpster, but I had figured that out by observing that desperate law students trying to pay off their law school loans would take paralegal jobs. I had to review resumes for a paralegal job in one position, and realized that–um, well, the future in this profession ain’t what I was told it was going to be, given the number of desperate law students looking for work. Pay scales were dropping from what they had been just a couple of years before, so…

Realistically, at the time, any job I could pull down at the time with my experience level would not have paid for the daycare. I certainly couldn’t earn enough to justify my spouse staying at home, and I really didn’t see where it would gain us anything in that particular career option for me to stay in work and try to advance in the field. As it was, I managed to eke out time between preschool and different daycare options to scratch out enough time to write. Because I’m one of those slowly developing writers (I got bogged down pretty quickly at the almost-good-enough level, still working my way through that), and because I have the ADHD impatience trait in spades, I ended up going back to work off and on once kid went to school. Writing came and went, but that was as much a function of my own frustrations at not being able to break through with the stories I wanted to tell as it was parenthood. I tried writing nonfiction for a while, but it didn’t serve the same jones that fiction did, plus I’d get bored with it as a regular gig.

I find it to be an element of highest irony that the first paid piece I ever sold was “I Am A Feminist Housewife” to a local feminist monthly that went out of business. I think I’m one of the few who got a check from that lovely little tabloid (they paid for the first two issues). I also think I sold that piece two or three more times, with one more reprint. At the time, I was rebelling against the assumption that because I was a stay-at-home mom, I wasn’t a feminist.

And now. Good freaking heavens. You can’t be a writer and manage more than one kid? Um, I suspect that if you look at the numbers of women published during the Fifties, fercrissake, you’d find women without staffs and nannies juggling kids and writing. Good God, Fanny Trollope was far from the only nineteenth century woman who took up writing to support family–and that wasn’t a one-kid setup, either.

What this does mean is that you manage more than one kid but you don’t elevate Motherhood to High Art. After all, that’s what the subtext really is about. With one kid, or so the subtext goes, you can have A Real Life. With more than one–you’re screwed.

To which I reply–baloney. What gets screwed is the delusion that you can work and still be Perfect! 50s! Mommy! The Atlantic piece whimpers about how more than one child would have diffused the focus of the women Lauren Kessler chooses to hold up as the epitome of writing women.

Um. Yeah. Really? Look, when it comes to multiple kid families and anything other than upper class incomes, juggling happens, whether Mom works outside the house or not. I hate to break it to people like Kessler, but these dilemmas happen to anyone who needs to juggle work, family, and an intense passion that isn’t completely funded. The ability to sit and think about something intensely for hours at a time is a luxury that many people–male and female alike–simply don’t possess. So if you want to tell stories, but you don’t have that time because you lack the resources and you have a young family–you either find ways to make it work for you (because everyone’s solution is different), or you stop doing it until your time is clear. Period.

The issue that all of these debates dances around and does not face on square is that time is a commodity, and the cost of time varies depending on its perceived value to the person it’s being applied to. It’s not the issue of parenting plus job plus writing, or parenting plus writing, or parenting one child vs more and writing–it’s about the management of time as a commodity. Time of women is not universally valued at the same cost as time of men. Time of parenting is not valued at the same cost as work outside the home. Creative time is not valued at the same cost as so-called “real work” at an outside employer. Our time value priorities are screwed up, and that’s the real problem.

(And that, my friends, is a longer post than what I probably should continue on, seeing how long this post has gotten).

So yeah. I’m annoyed by this latest piece of baloney about women and feminism and writing, but I’ve seen it before. And, for the record, I am the parent of only one child–but the reason for that has nothing to do with the writing, and everything to do with the reality that I had a horrific time of pregnancy, starting with conceiving while my mother was dying, suffering through nasty morning sickness for most of the pregnancy, then going through a really tough labor while incubating a nasty case of staph and afterwards showing up with an abnormal Pap smear that had me fearing I’d leave my baby motherless.

“You’ll forget all that,” people told me.

They were wrong. I flinch at recalling those details even now. I walked away from my only pregnancy knowing that there was no way I was ever, ever going to put myself through that experience again. I love my son and I’m glad I had him–but one was enough.

And thus endeth the rantage for tonight. Hope it was at least semi-coherent.

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