289 American Lawmakers Are Hypocritical, Pants-Shitting Cowards

Today, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 289-137 to curb entry by Middle Eastern refugees into the country. This comes in response to the attacks in Paris that killed over 100 people… even though all of the attackers appear to have been European nationals, not recent refugees.

Which means this House vote was motivated not by any sort of fact or rational response, but sheer political opportunism and xenophobia. If these politicians were so concerned about safety, or saving American lives, you’d think they might do something about the 300+ mass shootings of Americans, by Americans, this year. Does anyone remember the shooting in Umpqua, Oregon, that killed nine people less than two months ago? What got done after that? Jack, or Shit?

Of course, the reason any sort of gun legislation is a total non-starter is because most politicians are also pants-shittingly afraid of the NRA. And just to bring the hypocrisy full-circle, the NRA and their allies have so far blocked legislation that would prevent people on the FBI’s Terrorist Watch List from buying guns. To date, over 2,000 suspects on that watch list have tried to buy guns, most of them successfully. Surely this is a more immediate threat than hypothetical refugees? Apparently not, given that the U.S. House hasn’t moved so much as an inch on any legislation to close this loophole.

Maybe it’s just that thousands of desperate refugees make an easier political target? Perish the thought, surely. Politicians will use their Christian faith to justify all sorts of things, from restricting women’s access to health care, to denying gay people the right to marry or start a family, but when it comes to one of the most important commandments in Christianity… they desperately seize on a false excuse so they can walk right on past the dying man.

These are the people our politicians are so mortally afraid of. Children with nowhere to sleep, desperate families risking death, fleeing the very same terror that our politicians claim to want to fight. But all we’re doing instead is adding to that terror, denying refuge to the victims we should be embracing and helping with open arms, because our Congressmen and governors are cowards. And clearly, they’re far more afraid for their jobs (as evidenced by their kowtowing toward the NRA, and xenophobic Fox News pundits) then for the thousands of Americans who really are hurt and killed by terrorism every year.

“But wait!” more than one person has cried. “Let’s take care of our own people first! What about the thousands of homeless veterans in this country?” Except that turns out to be a bullshit excuse, too, and most of the politicians who voted to oppose refugees also oppose expanded veterans’ assistance and expanded social programs in general.

Layers upon layers of cowardice, ignorance and hypocrisy at work here.

Every time the U.S. has denied entry to refugees en masse, it has been a black mark on the nation’s history. We’re in the process of adding another such mark right now.

I guess we’ll be shipping this back to France soon… Lord knows it’s not doing any good here.

Nepal is Worse Off Than You Think

Yesterday morning, I checked the news to see that Nepal had been hit by a disastrous earthquake that shook the entire country, both literally and metaphorically. The death toll is at 2,500 and rising; international relief efforts are already underway.

As it turns out, yesterday was also the six-month anniversary of my return home from my trip to Nepal last year— and I feel more connected to the country yesterday than at anytime since I got back. Reading through the articles detailing the devastation in Nepal, I recognize many of the place names and landmarks. And I find myself all too able to visualize what the earthquake may have done to the country’s infrastructure.

Even when I was there, Nepal was an impoverished country with poor infrastructure and a dysfunctional government that was not even close to capable of tackling the enormous problems it faced. Electricity is spotty, even in the major cities, where multi-hour outages multiple times a day are the norm. Cholera epidemics are still a regular threat, and the water in the city mains barely qualifies as drinkable. (To Westerners, it doesn’t.) Pollution and dust in the air in Kathmandu is so bad that most people wear masks if they’re going to spend any amount of time near busy roads or commercial districts. Many people who spend more than a few days in the city without such a mask will find themselves dealing with lung and throat problems.

Once you get outside of the main cities like Kathmandu and Pokhara, the roads are often barely navigable, if at all– even the main “highway” between the country’s two biggest cities is a narrow two-lane road that isn’t always paved. Get off the main highways, and you’re lucky if the roads are navigable at all– landslides are a constant problem, and most of the roads need to be cleared or even have portions rebuilt every year after the monsoon season. When we took a six-hour car trip from the end of the Annapurna Circuit to Pokhara, we burst two tires just thanks to the conditions of the road, and I get the sense our experience was not unusual at all. How the buses and trucks that regularly traverse these roads don’t just rip themselves apart after a month is still something of a mystery to me.

Which is why I worry that the initial death toll and damage from the earthquake is only the beginning. Nepal’s population is spread out; many or even most people live in small towns or hamlets deep in the countryside, in remote valleys or perched on high mountainsides, and the roads and trails connecting them to their neighbors may be completely wiped out. Getting emergency food supplies or medical aid to these remote places may be a nigh-on impossible task– it was hard
enough even before the quake, when many such trails were only passable by motorbikes or donkeys– and the high altitude makes it difficult to operate helicopters in mountainous regions.

I suppose I say all this because, no matter what you read about this quake, the effects are almost certainly worse and further-ranging than you imagine, and the damage will be much longer-lasting and harder to fix than it seems.

I suppose if there will be a bright side to this situation, it’s that some of Nepal’s long-standing infrastructure problems may get fixed, or at least improved upon… but that depends on the country and the aid workers having the money and resources to do things right, rather than just band-aid over the problems enough to get in emergency relief and then leave.

The world’s spotlight is on Nepal, and I hope the people of Nepal– and everyone else who is helping there right now– are able to solve not just the short-term problems of food and medical relief, but maybe make some progress on issues like running water, electricity, and health care, so that the day-to-day lives of the people of Nepal are improved, and so that the country will be better able to cope the next time disaster strikes.

With that said, please consider donating to one of the organizations working in Nepal. It is a beautiful, wonderful country with amazing people and an outstandingly rich cultural heritage, but it’s also one of the least developed countries in the world, with very little infrastructure, and nowhere near enough economic or political resources to deal with a disaster of this magnitude without outside help.

A Few Thoughts on the Sad Puppies

“Don’t say that he’s hypocritical. Rather, say that he’s apolitical.” -Tom Lehrer

Let me start by saying: I don’t have any role in the Hugo Awards, other than as one of thousands of other voters. But I do have friends who are far more involved, including folks on the Sad Puppy and Rabid Puppy awards slates that dominated this year. I’m not going to summarize the controversy here; it’s pretty easy to find the news if you Google a bit. Thousands (or hundreds of thousands) of words have been written on the topic since the awards slates were announced– many written by folks far more eloquent than me. I suggest George R. R. Martin’s blog as a possible starting point.

But I did want to chime in on a few things I haven’t heard anywhere else, and hopefully by writing them out, to at least satisfy myself, even if no one else reads or cares.

If I look at the recent Hugo Awards from my limited perspective, I do actually think some of the Sad Puppies might have a point, in terms of desiring a wider list of names on the Hugo ballot. Several names show up over and over again, year after year, and I can’t help but wonder– is it because they’re writing the best fiction, or just established and popular in the community? Probably some of both. The Hugo Awards, like every other award, is very much a popularity contest, and I can sympathize with some of the Sad Puppies who may feel like they’re never part of that “in crowd” that gets consistently nominated for awards. It’s easy to feel excluded, and I even felt it on behalf of some of my friends, of all political stripes, who lost nominations (or lost the awards) in favor of the same familiar faces.

Personally, I’d love to see more diversity on the Hugo ballot, but I’d probably disagree with them on what nature that diversity should take. The Sad Puppies want more works that are entertaining, rollicking adventures, regardless of who wrote them or what their politics are, and I’m actually inclined to believe them on that– or, at least, I believe that they believe it. But where they see a conspiracy of SJWs keeping people out, I simply… don’t. I just see the basic tendency of folks to nominate well-known, popular names who are (through their own efforts, by virtue of their audience, or their general involvement in the community) good at getting some buzz going around their stories. And I’m all for getting some lesser-known names recognized amidst the buzz.

But I heartily disagree with the SPs on how and why that should be done. I am, likely, one of those dirty SJWs that Torgersen and his compatriots consider to have contaminated the Hugos, and apparently, society in general. (I never got my membership invite to the secret cabal meetings– maybe I just wasn’t important enough.) You can review my recent blog posts to see that social justice is something I think about a lot, both because it’s an intellectually interesting subject and because it directly affects a lot of people I care about.

So needless to say, I can’t help but take some personal umbrage when the Sad Puppies rant against the evil SJWs destroying the world… and for all that Torgersen claims to be apolitical, he’s sure willing to accept the help of the far right Rabid Puppies in getting his way. He even nominated some of their works himself. But hey, it’s all about being apolitical, right?

Torgersen has certainly claimed so. In his various posts on the subject, he yearns for a time in which science fiction wasn’t so darn political and full of messaging. Unfortunately, as has been pointed out by many people, that time didn’t really exist– the best works in the science fiction & fantasy field have usually had something to say about the state of the real world. For all its adventure-y talk about “where no man has gone before,” Star Trek was also quite progressive for its time– it portrayed a futuristic utopia in which humanity had largely solved its social problems and had united to explore the stars. It portrayed a mixed-race crew who treated each other as equals, and even occasionally kissed on-screen.

Those of us who view such messages and commentary as an important part of the genre are likely to reward and vote for works that we see as doing it well– which may be where some of the Sad Puppies’ beef comes in. For them, they don’t want messaging, but a lack of it (or a conservative message), and are disappointed to be in the minority. But even a lack of message is still a message– as I will get to shortly.

For all the SPs claim that they merely want a world where works are judged on merit, not the views of the author or what they say on society, there are a few major problems with that:

-For all of SF&F history, the merit of a work has been inextricably linked to whether or not it has anything to say about the reality of the human condition– be it social, cultural, political, historical, or otherwise.

-Even if we get past that, the ability to focus purely on the work and ignore the motivations of the author is undeniably a factor of privilege. Is a queer or trans person really supposed to read John C. Wright’s work and ignore the fact that he has called for their extermination? Is a black person supposed to read Vox Day’s work and ignore the fact that he clearly thinks of black people as subhuman? On a slightly milder level, should a gay man in a happy marriage read Orson Scott Card and not worry about his politics?

I don’t know– sometimes it’s a tough call. I will say that I’ve read several of Larry Correia’s books, including the first Monster Hunter novel and Hard Times, and enjoyed them both. But I think there’s a difference between someone whose politics you disagree with and someone who attacks your very identity, calls for your extermination, says you shouldn’t be educated, or actively works to deny your legal rights. That crosses the line from the political to the personal. I don’t have a problem with reading books by people whose politics I disagree with. I do have a problem reading books by people who actively hate my good friends– and yes, I would lump Vox Day, John C. Wright, and possibly even OSC in that category.

Brad Torgersen will never have to read anyone’s work who has called for the extermination of straight white males. Even if someone who’s seriously said such a thing is out there, I suspect he wouldn’t touch their work with a ten foot pole. In fact, even among people who’ve said much milder things about straight white males (like John Scalzi, who suggests they have a bit of privilege in life, or K. Tempest Bradford, who suggested not reading their books for a while) the reaction from the right-wing has been a huge amount of vitriol and reactionary screaming about SJWs. And I’ve seen countless comments and posts promising never to buy Scalzi’s books– just for a few relatively mild progressive politics. And then many of those same folks turn around and expect LGBT folk and their allies to give John C. Wright’s work a fair and impartial reading? What a fucking joke.

My biggest issue with the Sad Puppies (the moderate ones, anyway) is they have no ability or desire to see or understand the privileged positions they’re operating from, a position in which their cultural identity, and world view, and nostalgia, is very much the mainstream default. Note, I’m not saying their politics– that’s clearly far more contentious– I’m saying cultural identity. Brad Torgersen yearns for those good ol’ apolitical thrillers in which dashing heroes rescued beautiful damsels in distress– which seemingly NO CLUE AT ALL how much those books really do say, culturally and politically, to anyone with even the slightest bit of awareness about the effect of gender stereotypes in the real world.

But this is symptomatic of something else I see a lot from the sad puppies and their like– a steadfast, almost pathological refusal to deal with (or even acknowledge the existence of) any of the larger forces that still affect minorities in our culture and society. Someone can put together a concrete list of 15 Reasons We Still Need Feminism in 2015, but any talk about sexism in society or SF&F will be met by the Sad Puppies with fingers in the ears and a cry of “Stop calling me sexist!” It’s as if they cannot differentiate between conscious sexism/racism/homophobia in individual interactions, and sexism/racism/homophobia as larger (and often unconscious) forces at play in society (for examples of this re: sexism, see the link in the previous sentence, particularly items #5, 6, 9, 11, and 16).

So a nice pulpy novel in which the strong masculine hero rescues the beautiful damsel in distress may be seen as apolitical, or message-less, by folks like Torgersen, who see it as fluffy entertainment (largely because it fits their cultural norm), but for those of us for whom it doesn’t fit our cultural norm, it’s not message-less at all. Torgersen doesn’t yearn for the days of apolitical sci-fi; he yearns for fiction that fits his cultural worldview, that doesn’t challenge him. And while there’s certainly room for escapist fun, what is escapist fun to Torgersen may be deeply sexist to someone who’s fought against those gender roles all their life.

But wait, a Sad Puppy might cry, there are women and socialists on the slate, too! Yes there are… and they’re all either Torgersen’s friends, or people who wrote & edited stories that don’t challenge his cultural default. In Torgersen’s world, and the Sad Puppies’ world, there is of course room for stories by minorities! As long as they conform to a particular worldview or are at least “apolitical” (i.e. subscribe to Torgersen’s cultural default)– anything else would likely be considered too preachy or literary for his and his followers’ tastes.

In this affair, I feel sorriest for the innocent people Torgersen dragged into this– folks like Annie Bellet, who agreed to be on Torgersen’s slate, after accepting his word that Vox Day was not involved. Only wait– it turns out that Vox Day is very heavily involved, and I suspect Torgersen is happy to have the man’s help. After all, the presence of VD in both editing categories– and three John C. Wright stories in the Best Novella category– suggest it wasn’t the Sad Puppies at all, but their uber-right wing compatriots the Rabid Puppies, who provided the bulk of the numbers to make Sad Puppies such a successful campaign. Torgersen and Correia’s handling of the reactionary right wing reminds me of politicians trying to harness the strength of the Tea Party without being contaminated by them in the general elections– it’s morally dubious, insulting to the intelligence of everyone involved, and usually a failure.

The ringleaders are happy to drag in women and other minorities into their little Sad Puppies campaign, using them as human shields to insulate themselves from charges of bigotry while tapping the strength of the rabid reactionaries who are openly bigoted and proud of it– that, possibly more than anything else, is my biggest complaint about the Sad Puppies. It’s not just hypocritical, it insults our intelligence, and is deeply unfair to the people you claim to be supporting and certainly never asked to be human shields. You can’t just sweep politics under the rug by claiming that it doesn’t matter to your effort– clearly it matters to a major portion of your base.

The mere fact that Torgersen and Correia can even pretend to ignore the politics of people like Vox Day, John C. Wright, and their ilk is a factor of their own privilege– namely, that they’re not the target of those racist and homophobic rants. For those of us who are, or care deeply about those of our friends who are, it’s not just about their politics, it’s about their hatred of the people we love.

Maybe the Sad Puppies should have a new slogan, in the vein of Fox News on the Simpsons: “Not bigoted, but #1 with bigots.”

15 Reasons We Still Need Feminism in 2015

“Why do we still need feminism in 2015?” someone asked me on Twitter recently. “What has it done lately?”

I actually did a double-take at the question. To me, the answer was obvious—it addresses important issues that affect people I care about, and it takes on problems both subtle and glaring that persist even when legal equality has largely been achieved.

I’ve spent years listening and reading, and those experiences have created a lens through which I tend to view social issues. For me, social consciousness is a learning process I’m continually undergoing, as part of a general broader goal of having empathy for other people, and maybe in the end, understanding the human condition a little better.

I do this partly because I’m a writer—and the better you understand other people, the better characters you write. But I also want to do what I can to make the world a better place—and the better I understand other people’s thoughts and feelings, the better equipped I am to do that, regardless of whether I agree with them on all the details of how the world works or not.

But to try distill all this—both the concrete and abstract—into a few blurbs on Twitter seemed impossible. Naturally, my conversational adversary took my silence as an admission of defeat.

So I wrote this list—15 Reasons We Still Need Feminism in 2015. It’s not meant to be comprehensive, nor it is ranked in order of importance, nor does it necessarily even include the most important ones. What it’s meant to be is 15 real-life issues—social, political, economic, educational—that feminism still has a role in helping to address in the modern world. (This is directed at the Western world, particularly America; international women’s rights is a much bigger topic, but for this I particularly wanted to address things that Americans still encounter in daily life.)

Obviously, with 15 items, these aren’t comprehensive discussions—talking about these problems in depth, with side effects, solutions, and ramifications, would require far more than a few thousand words. Indeed, many stories, articles, and dissertations’ worth have already been written. But next time someone asks me (in good faith or not), why feminism is needed in 2015, well, here are a few reasons to start with. You may agree with some or all of them– or you may think I’ve left out some big ones– but it’s a start.

1) The United States is the Only Developed Country with No Paid Maternity Leave

Every developed country in the world— and many developing countries, too– mandate paid leave for new mothers. That is of course, except for the United States. In the U.S., only unpaid maternity leave is guaranteed by law, and there are several large exceptions to even that. For example, women in corporations with less than 50 employees, or who work part-time, are not guaranteed any paid leave at all by federal law.

Paid paternity leave is also a thing in many countries, to allow fathers to bond with their children and help support mothers as they recover from the physical ordeal of childbirth– but once again, not in the United States.

2) Too Many Clueless Men Still Try to Control Women’s Health Care

Just a few days ago, an Idaho lawmaker made the news when he asked if women could swallow a camera to perform a gynecological exam remotely. This man sits on the board of a crisis pregnancy center, and moreover, helps set the laws governing how and when women can receive health care for an entire state.

Across states and across the country, lawmakers (predominantly male) are ignoring science and setting destructive policies that hurt women’s access to health care solely in order to appeal to a reactionary part of their constituency. Government shouldn’t impose itself between a patient and a doctor– unless that patient is a woman, apparently.

Organizations like Planned Parenthood, which devote a huge chunk of their resources to providing health care of all kinds, are targetted by conservatives because they happen to also provide abortions.

Were “pro life” forces sincerely interested in decreasing abortions, you’d think they might educate teenagers on safe sex (see #10) or focus on the improving the plight of single parents (see #14). Instead, their entire focus is on preventing women from having access to safe, legal abortions, even allowing religious belief to trump factual science in the name of decreasing women’s access to health care. Could it perhaps because their concerns are motivated by base politics rather than any sort of sincere altruistic belief toward either woman or baby? Perish the thought, surely.

3) Women Still Make Less Money than Men at the Same Jobs

The reasons for this are many and complex, but the White House estimates that women make 77 cents on the dollar to men for comparable work. The Pew Research Center pegs that estimate higher– at 84 cents on the dollar— but the gender wage gap is nevertheless present. The statistics also vary by race– while Asian-American women make about 90 cents on the dollar, the figure is 64 cents for African-American women, and 56 cents for Latinas.

Some of the factors at play include that women are more likely to take time off or interrupt their careers for children (see #14). Women may also be more reluctant than men to negotiate hard for salary benefits, for fear of being seen as pushy (see #11; it’s worth noting that conflicts over salary are cited as part of the reason Jill Abramson was fired.) In addition,  not only are women often discouraged from asking for raises, but doing so is more likely to have negative repercussions for women.

4) There is Still an Unconscious Bias Against Women in Math and Science

From elementary school through college, there is an unconscious bias exhibited by both men and women against female students and job applicants, probably because these are thought of as traditionally “male” fields. When tests and applications are made anonymous, women score higher than they did if the reviewer knew their gender.

This is deeply embedded in our culture, too. How often, when a man does something particularly nerdy or geeky, whether it be something scientifically brilliant or something rooted in geek pop-culture, is the joke made that he doesn’t have a girlfriend, or is obviously a virgin? As though girls could never find those things interesting? I know plenty of geek girls who would say otherwise.

5) Women are Drastically Under-Represented in STEM Fields

Being discouraged from science and math in their early years often means that when I.T. firms (and other firms looking to fill high-paying jobs in STEM fields) go looking for applicants, there are far more male applicants than female. Moreover, the unconscious bias from #4 doesn’t just disappear as students enter the workforce– it continues to persist, not just in applications and hiring but in corporate culture as well.

This one hits home for me because I’ve seen it play out in my own experiences in the I.T. field. In my department doing software support at a Seattle-area company, our department had 18 people– 1 of whom was female. She was an incredibly skilled and dedicated worker, but often underappreciated– she was often hit on by tech workers and salespeople. Moreover, in meetings, she sometimes felt shunned by higher ups, who would ignore her and talk to her male co-workers even when she was the lead on the project being discussed.

Unfortunately, this bias in corporate culture also serves to drive women away from the field, so as a result this problem tends to be self-perpetuating. The only way to fix it is to be aware of it, and make conscious effort to overcome the unconscious problem.

6) Men’s Voices are for Everybody; Women’s Voices are for Women

Shannon Hale is a New York Times-bestselling author. She’s written over a dozen children’s book and young adult novels; she’s co-written several graphic novels, and one of her books has been turned into a motion picture starring Keri Russell.

Sometimes, when she visits a school, the girls are given permission to skip class to see her, but the boys are not. Why? Because apparently her books are seen “girly.” Boys can’t enjoy a book that has “Princess” in the title or is written by a woman, right?

See this Storify for the full story, as told by Hale herself, as well as some of the reactions from other authors.

When we police content by gender like this, we do a disservice both to the women authors who are excluded from a big chunk of their potential audience, as well as the boys who are told that they should only like certain kinds of stories. Girls get to read all kinds of stories, but boys only get to read stories that are judged “manly” enough by their parents, teachers, and peers.

This is a problem, not just because it marginalizes female authors, but because it contributes to the issue of toxic masculinity that I blogged about in my previous post. We need to do a better job raising and educating both boys and girls, and this shit isn’t helping.

7) Men Outnumber Women in Congress by over 4 to 1, and as CEOs by almost 20 to 1.

In the current Congress, there are 104 women out of 535 members, for a ratio of 18.5%. 26 women lead Fortune 500 companies, for an even lower rate of 5.2%. There has never been a woman president in the United States, though that may change in 2016.

There seem to be various reasons for this-– some of them are undoubtedly related to #11. But there is still a bias against women speaking up and taking leadership positions in the workplace, at least partially related to the fact that women who do so are breaking our preconceived unconscious notions of how women “typically” behave. As the linked article states, hopefully this will be overcome as we have more women role models.

8) Women are Still Seen as a Separate Niche Market, Rather than Half the Population

Instances like this are all too common, in which the default is assumed to be “male” while girls and women are seen as a special subcategory that must be catered to separately.

Toys like Legos have become increasingly gendered, apparently supported by marketing research, but even children have noticed and complainedPeggy Orenstein wrote an excellent NYT Op-Ed in which she acknowledges the differences in play that have been found between men and women, but goes on to warn about mixing up nature and nurture. Playing into gender stereotypes from such a young age can have long-term consequences (see #4, 5).

At issue, then, is not nature or nurture but how nurture becomes nature: the environment in which children play and grow can encourage a range of aptitudes or foreclose them. So blithely indulging — let alone exploiting — stereotypically gendered play patterns may have a more negative long-term impact on kids’ potential than parents imagine.

In other words, by shoehorning children into such specific and culturally constructed stereotypes right from an early age, we’re denying them agency, likely with lifelong repercussions. And this is just all the more likely to exacerbate #s 4, 5, 9, and 11. (And most of the others, too.)

9) In Reality and Media, Women are Still Seen as Prizes to be Won, rather than People.

This has destructive effects on both men and women.

For women, it takes away their humanity and turns them into objects– not people to be interacted with, but prizes to be won– or perhaps even worse, prey to be duped and tricked into bed. The “pick up artist” industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum.

Men, in turn, are encouraged to weigh their self-esteem based on how many women they’ve been able to bed; how “virile” they are. For men who are late bloomers sexually, or who suffer from depression, or who are just natural loners, the effects can be incredibly toxic. I’ve blogged about more than once.

The alternative (treating women as people worthy of respect, rather than merely trying to get them into bed) is not only healthier for everyone involved in terms of self-esteem, it leads to healthier sexual attitudes, and happier people in general.

10) The Taboo on Sexual Education Means Kids Don’t Learn What They Need to About Sex—or Learn it From the Wrong Places.

In states across the country, schools are discouraged from teaching anything other than “abstinence only” sexual education. This is despite the fact that study after study shows that abstinence-only education does not lead to abstinent behavior, and that comprehensive sex ed is more effective at preventing teen pregnancy than abstinence alone.

In fact, the societal taboo about having open discussions about sex is so strong that even parents find it awkward, and so children and teenagers may instead learn about it from media, the Internet, and their peers.

Imagine if we had nationwide sexual education that included not just a comprehensive discussion on safe sex and contraceptives, but larger issues such as respect, consent, boundaries, and “no means no” (or even better, “yes means yes”). We could not only help decrease teen pregnancy but perhaps encourage healthier sexual attitudes among Americans of all ages.

This is an issue for both boys and girls, but it’s particularly a feminist issue because of the disparate impact that teen pregnancies have on girls. (See also: #1, 2, 14)

11) Strong Men are Seen as Assertive Leaders; Strong Women are Seen as Divisive and Bitchy.

Because strength, assertiveness, and decisiveness are often seen as “masculine” attributes, women who exhibit these tendencies are often seen as unfeminine at best, or stubborn, condescending, and bitchy at worst. When people break gender stereotypes, it makes people uncomfortable, consciously or not– and that has a detrimental effect on women entering all sorts of leadership and/or high-paying roles.

A very visible recent example of this was Jill Abramson’s tenure as managing editor of the New York Times. Her editorial decisions were praised, as were her skills and effectiveness (the paper won multiple Pulitzers during her tenure), but Politico published a piece extremely critical of her tenure, in which anonymous sources criticized her tone and her brusqueness. (The few non-anonymous sources actually contradicted the thrust of the article.) Here’s a brief sum-up of some of the reactions and problems with that piece.

Unfortunately, because we live in a world where women in leadership positions continues to be a rare thing (and often discouraged, both consciously and unconsciously), women who do make it to the top ranks may actually be more domineering and brusque than their male counterparts (or at least have that side to their personality), simply because they have to shout louder to be heard. But male leaders are given leeway in the personality department that women often do not have.

12) Sexual Harassment is Still Widespread, and too Often Excused with Some Form of “Boys will be Boys.”

There are so many different aspects to this problem it’s hard to know where to begin, For a start,witness the huge debate over the catcalling video that went viral last year. But the outcry was often less about the pervasive nature of street harassment and more about how supposedly men aren’t even allowed to say hi to women anymore.

These responses usually ignored the context of the comments. Even if some women are flattered by it, many more find it annoying or even frightening, and sometimes there’s an all-too-thin line between catcalling and physical harassment. In a world where men are taught to link their self-respect to their success with women (see #9), street harassment can turn to physical violence, or worse, all too easy. Too often men think they’re entitled to women’s attention, and react angrily when such attention is denied. Street harassment is a big issue– and while a small minority of men engage in it, a vast majority of women will experience it.

But catcalling is hardly the worst problem. According to some statistics, one in six American women will be the victim of a rape or attempted rape sometime during their lifetimes. And yet rape is still possibly the only crime in which the victim will suffer as much, if not more, scrutiny than the perpetrator; what was she wearing? How drunk was she?

In cases of burglary and robbery, it doesn’t matter how easy it was to break into the victim’s home or car; it’s still a crime. In cases of physical assault or mugging, it doesn’t matter if the victim was walking down a dark street at 1 am; it’s still a crime. Unfortunately, that same mindset doesn’t apply to prosecution of sexual harassment cases. Is it any wonder such crimes are still drastically underreported?

Part of the problem is that sexuality is still often portrayed in culture and media with some sort of predator/prey vibe, like one party is the hunter or pursuer, and the other is the prize or target that tries to get away, resulting in some delightful romantic chase and amusing hijinks… rather than, y’know, stalking charges. (Here’s a thoughtful video in which Hank Green expounds on this topic far better than me.) This dynamic hurts women by taking away their own sexual agency– by making them an object to be desired rather than a person with desires themselves– and it insults men by implying that they’re more or less animals who can’t actually control their own behavior. “Boys will be boys,” the refrain goes, or “that’s how just how men are.” I find this shirking of personal responsibility incredibly distasteful– own your own behavior, people.

It doesn’t help that we really don’t talk about these topics with kids and teenagers (see #10), thus making them have to infer proper behavior from popular media and their peers.

13) Because Facing Graphic, even Violent Gendered Harassment Online is Still Seen as “Normal.”

An increasing proportion of our lives are conducted in the online world. Social media and an online presence are vital for business and networking. And of course, an increasing number of our hobbies are online– video games, for example.

But for women who are outspoken online, graphic rape and death threats are all too common. And for every one person who actually posts horrible shit, there seem to be another ten who excuse it with “this is just what happens,” as though the fact that it happens is a valid excuse for it. And while both men and women can face harassment online, the harassment women face is often uber-violent, laced with physical or sexual violence, and especially designed to intimidate and threaten.

Like the line between catcalling and physical harassment, the line between online harassment and real world harassment is blurry, especially here in 2015, where the two worlds are increasingly interlinked– doubly so for women in tech. (See #5)

Even women who merely go online for entertainment, not business, face some appalling behavior. Another example arose just a few days ago, Curt Schilling’s daughter was the target of some abysmal harassment, and she didn’t even make the post that started it. Those people, at least, faced consequences, but not everyone is as visible or powerful as Curt Schilling, and most don’t have the power or ability to see their harassers brought to justice.

Such harassment cannot merely become “the way things are online”, or too many important voices will be driven off the Internet, and possibly out of tech entirely.

14) Because Mothers Don’t Get Enough Respect and Support.

America’s social programs are in disrepair, thanks largely to the same clueless idiots responsible for #1 and #2. Single parents of all genders are affected by this, but women disproportionately so. The costs of daycare, education, etc. are all through the roof, with few options for people who are financially disadvantaged except to accrue staggering levels of debt.

Moreover, even outside government programs, there is sometimes a bias against mothers in the workplace. from both women and men. And the difficulties of being a mother in the workplace are often cited as one reason women are paid less than men (see #3)– even if those difficulties don’t affect the employee’s performance. Merely being a working mother is often enough for companies or employers to lower their offered salary.

15) Because Transgender Women Still Have a Long Way to Go.

Transgender women still lag far behind other women in terms of legal rights, as well as the conscious and unconscious biases they face in larger culture. In many places, someone can still be fired for merely being transgender. On top of the legal bias, transgender people face drastically increased rates of suicide and physical violence.

Additionally, they face a great deal of mockery from folks who seemingly refuse to recognize them as a class of people at all—probably none of whom have ever had a conversation with a transgender person in real life. (Either that, or they’re sociopaths, given the stunning lack of empathy required here. It’s much easier to dehumanize people who you have no experience with.) I hadn’t met any transgender folks more than briefly before I moved to Seattle, but now I am pleased to be friends with many folks occupying places all along the gender spectrum. To acknowledge the humanity of these people is not being “politically correct,” it’s just not being a complete asshole to other people. The fact that this is still in dispute, on its own, is enough to make me a strident feminist.

16 (BONUS): Because Equal Rights Does not Mean Equality.

Over the past century, women have increasingly gained legal rights—the right to vote, the right to not be fired for their gender (although the continued lack of paid maternity leave makes this questionable), and in 2009, the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act was passed.

But even if equal legal rights are ensured, the idea that the legacy of economic and cultural oppression merely goes away with the signing of a pen is laughable. Regardless of whether you agree on the nature of that legacy or not, it is still something that needs to be considered and studied—and feminism plays an important role in that. Even if we could wave a hand and do away with blatant sexism, unconscious sexism—both on a cultural and a personal level—continues to exist.

Slavery ended 152 years ago, and segregation was outlawed 51 years ago, but the legacy of oppression is still very much real in the African-American community, as evidenced by the disproportionate number of African-American families still in poverty. This sort of damage is lasting, and doesn’t go away the minute legal equality is realized—and while it may not necessarily affect all members of the community (at least not in the same way), the effects are certainly noticeable in larger trends. And to simply ignore those trends with a wave of the hand and a “you’re on your own, figure your own shit out now” is not only callous, but ignores the reality that we all live in the same world.

It should be noted that equality improves society for everyone– almost all the problems I’ve talked about here, which women face, will help men too if we address them. Single fathers face many of the same issues as single mothers. Transgender men face many of the same issues as transgender women. Both boys and girls suffer from the consequences of growing up in a society where we rigidly enforce sexual taboos and gender stereotypes, and shutting women out of STEM careers means that the entire world is deprived of new voices, ideas, and solutions. Gendered career stereotypes hurts everyone– we could certainly use more men in the nursing and teaching fields, for example.

You’ll also notice how many of the reasons are linked, how some factors into and influence others, creating larger overall systems of bias and oppression that need to be dismantled. (That overall system, and the way it affects us both consciously and unconsciously, is often termed “Patriarchy”, despite the fact, as mentioned above, that it hurts both men and women.)

So that’s my list. 15 seems like a lot, but it’s barely beginning to scratch the surface. It took me about a week to write this, but merely by staying plugged into the news, every day I saw 2 or 3 new articles and incidents that could have been fodder for this article. (Some I added, some I didn’t.) What did I leave out? What do you think is the most important reason we still need feminism?

He Lived Long, and Prospered

I was at the annual Rainforest Writers Retreat, writing in the lounge this morning, when K.C. Ball walked in and announced that Leonard Nimoy had passed away.

I was probably about 7 years old when I first saw a Star Trek movie. I remember my Aunt was a big science fiction fan, and she thought I would love it, so one evening while she was over, the family watched Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. In retrospect, perhaps it wasn’t the strongest introduction to the world of sci-fi that I could have had, but it worked. I can’t remember whether I enjoyed the movie or not, but it definitely planted a seed.

That movie was my introduction to Star Trek, and by extension, science fiction and the world of geekdom. So when I’d heard that Leonard Nimoy passed away, it hit me harder than I expected. I thought about my life, and all the other lives he’d helped to change. Particularly for those of us who didn’t always mesh well with the rest of humanity—because we were shy, or socially awkward, or saw the world differently than our peers—Spock was kind of a reassurance that there was a place for us.

More than any other crew member, Spock adhered to his personal values– and even if he occasionally (rarely) went astray, he recovered. In a way, he was also the conscience of the Star Trek crew—when the rest of the crew were overwhelmed by emotion, or anger, or pain, Spock was there, reminding them of what was logical, of their purpose, of their identity and goals. He kept them grounded amidst the messy business of day-to-day life, and occasionally, interstellar enemies.

Spock was also eminently quotable, distilling tough, complicated subjects down to simple truths that got to the core of the matter—a talent shared by Leonard Nimoy.

Perhaps that’s one reason his death is such a powerful emotional driver—there are so many lines that tug at our heartstrings as we remember him. Even Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet was appropriate for the situation:

When I get home from Rainforest, the first thing on my agenda is watching Star Trek II, so I can have a good cry.


Dear Fellow Men, Your Masculinity is Not Under Attack.

I want to address something that I occasionally hear from men across the political and cultural spectrum: the belief that masculinity itself is under attack from modern feminism. Specifically, it suggests that the current wave of feminism is devaluing traditional “masculine” attributes like strength, and assertiveness. Even among people I know who support feminism (or think they do) there is often an undercurrent of fear that while ostensibly critiquing certain aspects of culture, feminism is actually attacking men– or if not actually all individual men, then the idea of masculinity.

This fear is reinforced by terminology like “toxic masculinity” (see, feminists do think masculinity is toxic!) or “patriarchy”, as if feminists believe there’s some secret cabal of men controlling the world. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of these terms– but the misinterpretations provide ready-made strawmen to knock down, which I suspect is why they continue to persist.

That said, I do think that feminism has major ramifications for masculinity that we, as men– particularly us regular ol’, cis heterosexual men– will have to come to terms with. But these ramifications are positive; it’s just that they represent a change.

That change is not about devaluing masculinity, but about expanding what the term means. It’s about giving men and boys the freedom to express their strength and masculinity in ways beyond the chest-thumping stereotypes– and giving them the tools to do that.

For a long time, masculinity and femininity were defined as opposites to each other– yin and yang. The feminine was delicate and beautiful, the masculine was rough and strong. Gender roles, too, were clearly defined; women took care of the family and raised the kids, men went out and made a living. The domains of industry, politics, media, business– they were all, with rare exceptions, a man’s world.

Over the past century, feminism has largely changed that. Women have broken through ceiling after ceiling, and enormously expanded their role in society. A woman is no longer just the delicate flower to be protected and provided for by her man, she is the strong, independent controller of her own destiny.

In that sense, feminism has allowed femininity to incorporate some of the positive aspects of masculinity. Which means it’s no longer enough to define the masculine by what the feminine isn’t— rather, masculinity needs its own positive definition, not defined in opposition to the feminine but by the values that we as a society want men to strive for.

This, I think, is where we run into problems. Boys are still taught to be manly, but “manly” doesn’t just mean being strong enough to pursue what you want (a good thing)– too often, it means a lack of empathy for others, because empathy and caring are seen as feminine attributes, and therefore not important (or even negative) for boys. This is largely an unconscious process– fathers raise their boys how they were raised themselves; and media and culture continue to be saturated with role models and protagonists who emphasize the more traditional aspects of masculinity while devaluing the feminine. “Good guy” men are often womanizers (James Bond, anyone?) who save the day through strength and violence. I’m not saying there isn’t a role for the action hero– just that they’re oversaturated in modern media. Most of us don’t grow up to be superspies (unfortunately).

Through their environment– both family and wider society in general– boys are taught to be self-reliant. This is a good thing, but it sometimes means they avoid seeking help they may need, whether for bullying, or depression, or simple loneliness, confusion, and self-doubt– the sorts of things that almost everyone encounters in considerable quantity growing up. Self-reliance is a good quality to teach, but we need to give boys the tools to face their problems without stigmatizing the act of seeking help. Seeking help from others is a vital tool with which to confront and overcome actual problems in adult life– whether you’re a strong person or not. Moreover, if boys are taught to look down on those who seek help, they may also avoid helping people themselves, particularly other males.

This video is a trailer for a longer documentary, but I think it does a good job of identifying the pitfalls of how we teach young boys about masculinity:

“Toxic masculinity” arises when it shuns positive values that are seen as traditionally feminine–compassion, empathy, constructive listening and discussion. Instead, boys place a priority on maintaining their illusion of strength– not just to the outside world, but to themselves. And if they feel trapped by their problems, they may lash out instead of seeking help.

There are other examples, too. Men are expected to lose their virginity as soon as possible; if they don’t, it’s seen as a slight on their manhood. “Virgin” is an emasculating insult, applied far and wide– especially in the world of geek culture. A man not strong enough to get laid? What kind of man is that?

In the wake of the Isla Vista shootings last year, I wrote a long blog post about the shooter’s motivations, and how scarily well I could understand them. The man is often portrayed simply as a boy who was mentally ill, and while that may be the case, he also posted a long rant blaming women and society for his problems. This is a particularly brutal example of that toxic masculinity I described above, which discourages things like self-reflection, or getting help, and stigmatizes anything seen as weak, from self-doubt to virginity. We see motivations like these all too often, not just in murders but domestic violence cases and sexual assault as well.

Luckily, the vast majority of boys and girls grow up to be fairly well-adjusted people. But my ultimate goal, and one generally shared by feminism as a whole, is that people should not be judged or made to feel inferior based on how well they follow some culturally constructed gender norm. Masculinity and femininity are ultimately things that people have to define for themselves, as part of the process of determining their own identity. And they deserve to be accepted by society and their family however they choose to define those terms.

ironside_quote_small2A key point here is that if someone wants to define their feminity or masculinity within “traditional” norms, that should be fine, too. If a Mom wants to quit her career and stay at home to raise her children, then that’s perfectly fine– it’s her decision. I want to see a society and a culture with room for both the stay-at-home Mom and the Mom who starts her own software company. I want there to be room for the stay-at-home Dad and the driven engineer who goes to work while his wife raises the kids– or the bachelor who never marries at all. I want people to have room to use the freedom so neatly summed up here by Michael Ironside– Starship Troopers is fiction, but that quote rings true even in our world.

I’ve heard it countered that to take such a wide-ranging view of masculine and feminine norms is to disregard biology; that as men and women, we have certain biological tendencies, and women are attracted to strong men– hence to downplay strength and aggressiveness in masculinity is to disregard certain base, monkey brain level tendencies.

But the goal here is not to criticize strength as an attribute, but rather to criticize the way it’s portrayed in our culture. Being an asshole and running roughshod over someone else, physically or emotionally, takes strength, but it’s a negative (toxic) strength. It takes more strength to achieve your goals (whether they be career, family, or romance-oriented) in a way that respects the people around you, as opposed to putting your own needs first and only helping others when it’s convenient or benefits you.

In other words, strength should be valued not just for how much you can apply to a given situation, but for how you control and direct that strength. tumblr_lw4ciws0Vn1qc1u27o1_500How we educate and raise young boys should reflect that, and I think media and entertainment that teaches those lessons should be encouraged. We put too much emphasize on the power; not enough on the responsibility that comes with it. (Thanks, Uncle Ben.)

Even if we do accept that different genders have certain biological tendencies, the idea that this norm should enjoy some privileged place in society at the expense of folks who don’t fit the norm, is silly. To argue otherwise is to put yourself on the same side of people who argue against gay marriage because they claim to support the “traditional family.” Heterosexual families will always be the norm, but to privilege that norm by denying rights to everyone else is to blatantly ignore the fact that there are plenty of non-traditional families out there that are every bit as healthy and loving as the traditional folks, and just because they’re in the minority, doesn’t mean they don’t deserve support.

My own personal view is that whatever little behavioral tendencies we may be born with– be they related to gender, or family history, or something else– are far outweighed by how we’re raised, the environment we grow up in, and the values we hold. To suggest anything less is to deny your responsibility for your own actions, and I don’t buy that at all.  As human beings, we are the one species equipped to engage in self-reflection and set values for ourselves, both as individuals and as a society. And I want everyone to have the freedom to do just that.

And it’s happening. One of the reasons we see a lot more “offense” taken over slights or insults that might have previously gone overlooked is that more people now feel empowered to speak out. People who don’t fit the traditional or majority mold– in terms of race, or sexual orientation, or gender, or beliefs– now feel like they have room to publicly discuss things that bother them, whereas previously they may have stayed silent. This, in turn, has made people on all levels of society more aware of such issues. The current plague of “SJWs” isn’t a backlash against free speech; it’s a result of more people feeling free to exercise their speech. I blogged about this a couple years ago during a SFWA kerfuffle, and I find it still holds true in the current “crisis.”

It’s sadly ironic that when the shoe is on the other foot– for example, when a popular movie like Frozen portrays a situation different from the “default” male hero, conservative commentators immediately complain (even though Kristoff, while not the primary hero, still has a heroic role to play). These people are used to having their own situations, roles, and values portrayed as the norm– in popular media, they don’t often see people not like them, and certainly not on the scale of a Disney mega-movie.

These people are made so uncomfortable by this, they go on TV and complain about it, like a completely over-the-top parody of the “SJWs” and feminists they hate. Are they really not aware that there are large groups of society who almost never get to see someone like themselves as the hero, or have a relationship that reflects their own portrayed? Imagine the fuss if Disney portrayed a gay hero in one of their animated films! The horror!

Not to mention the hypocrisy. When feminists critique a movie that blindly follows the norm, or hews to certain lazy or even offensive stereotypes of the minority, the response is often “shut up and get over it;” “you’re too easily offended;” “it’s just a [movie/game/TV show].” Until a movie comes out in which a female protagonist saves herself through her own actions, and the male characters take on supporting roles… in which case, Freak Out!

When people complain about masculinity being under attack, what they usually mean is that the traditional view of masculinity is losing its privileged place in society– we are seeing more (and better) portrayals of people out there who don’t fit the norm, in one way or another, and are successful at life regardless. These were people who were often invisible to larger society and media, but that has changed. They are finding their voices, and in the end we will all be richer for it.

Alternatively, some people seem to confuse being a strong man with being an asshole. Being a strong and assertive man isn’t being villified– but being an asshole is. More people are willing to call out shitty behavior when they see it, and behavior that might have been seen as okay in the past is now increasingly seen as not okay, largely thanks to previously underpowered groups (like women) who now feel more free to speak out.

Those of us who typically have the power in society, who fit the “norms”– whether we be white, or male, or cis, or heterosexual, or Christian– may increasingly have our own norms challenged, but that doesn’t mean we’re under attack. It just means society is making room for everybody else, too. Us “norm-fitters” will have to give up some privilege, but society will be richer for it, with a larger and wider array of voices to educate us, inform us, and lead us– in classrooms, science labs, companies, in the halls of government. It’s an ongoing process, but it’s one we will all benefit from– even the strongest of men.

2014: The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy

Back at the start of 2014, I had just quit my I.T. job a few weeks prior, with the goal of making enough money by the end of the year that I wouldn’t need to go back to I.T. I had several ideas I wanted to pursue, from photography to writing to hypnotherapy, and entertained high hopes of working on them all. In retrospect, it was a bit naive– I think if there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that starting a new business of any sort takes a hell of a lot of work, and that splitting your attention across multiple ventures in this regard is kind of a good way to ensure that none of them get off the ground.

This year has basically turned into a year of photography for me– which is different than I expected (I had hoped it was going to be a year of writing), but I don’t regret it. I’ve enjoyed my photography, and I feel like I’m close to being able to do it professionally– in fact, I am doing it professionally, just not often enough that it makes for a viable career yet.

Setting career aspirations aside, I’ve accomplished a lot of things that I’m proud of in their own right. I finished my Journeys in Seattle project over at my photoblog, successfully doing a new photo expedition in the Seattle area every week of 2014. I got involved with Go To Games, and went with them to several conventions both inside and out of Seattle.

And of course, I went to Nepal for a month, and got to visit Hong Kong and Seoul, as well. That was something that hadn’t been on my radar on January 1st; the opportunity arose mid-year and I decided to take advantage of it. I’m really happy that came along; it’s the sort of experience that can to benefit you for the rest of your life, in real but often intangible ways.

In the writing world, I managed to get a new novel written, and am most of the way through the second draft. I want to continue working on that, but I’ve found that writing needs to be something I pursue for fun, not for a career– at least, not now. The fact is, I don’t have any idea which of my various writing projects might translate to commercial success (if any), and so for now I need to pursue my writing without worrying about that– otherwise it’s almost paralyzing, as I wonder how I can most effectively use my time, from a monetary perspective. Should I focus on Project A, or project B? Will drafting project C pan out? The fact is, I don’t know, and don’t have enough information to even make a guess. I need to be able to work on project A or B or C as my creative muse sees fit, and then once I’ve finished a couple projects, then I can see and learn how they pan out from a moneymaking perspective. But needing them to make money is a bad idea, and isn’t beneficial from a creative perspective– I had thought it might be, in terms of being a good motivator, but that hasn’t panned out.

Career consideration aside, though, 2014’s been a good year for me, personally. I find myself in a long-term relationship– which is certainly something I didn’t see coming when I was planning my “break year” eighteen months ago, but is nevertheless a welcome surprise. In addition to going to Nepal, I got to take a backpacking trip to Canada, vacationed on the Oregon coast with my Dad, and went on quite a few hiking and camping trips to places I’d never been before. My depression flared up occasionally, but never cripplingly so, and I feel like I’ve generally gotten better at handling it when it does. Granted, working for myself meant that I could devote energy to myself and take breaks when I needed to… which is a luxury I may not have in the future.

I’ll post another blog in the coming days with my goals for 2015– posting more on this blog (as opposed to my photoblog over at Journeys in Color) will be one of my goals, particularly as it relates to current events and social justice issues.

In the meantime, I hope everyone has a safe and happy New Year! And best wishes to you and yours in the coming year.