Tag Archives: feminism

Mosaics on International Women’s Day

mosaics

I am a feminist.

Hardly a stop press moment if you’ve followed my writing for a while.  Still, one that is important to announce from time to time without ambiguity or any possibility of misinterpretation.  International Women’s Day is as appropriate a moment as any.  Yet I don’t put it out there for applause, or to suggest that it is somehow worthy of excessive note.  In fact I would hope, rather, that we continue to evolve collectively as a species toward a place and time where being a feminist is simply a natural component of being a man.  I say “natural component” because at present there are still far too many men in the world – and far too many of them in positions of significant power and global influence – whose factory default setting includes the compulsion to press their boots down hard on women’s throats.

I don’t get it.  I never have.

If I try to boil my feminism down to a single, easily digestible concept, it’s the basic notion that men shouldn’t be dicks to women.  I don’t see why that is so hard.  In the wilds of the Internet you’ll sometimes stumble upon these bizarre misogynist rants and just shake your head and think to yourself, “wow, if he and everyone like him had taken all the energy it must require to remain so hateful on a daily basis and turned it in a positive direction instead, we’d have world peace and eighteen cures for cancer by now.”  Since before recorded history women the world over have paid an unfathomable price for the insecurity and self-loathing of males, for this comical notion that a man’s worth is somehow defined only by how much of his world he is able to dominate absolutely; by how much he can control of the things he fears and does not understand.

We recognize this, we shake our heads at it, and yet it continues, whenever a male-dominated legislature starts introducing bills prescribing what a woman can and can’t do with her uterus.  When males harass women off the Internet with threats of rape just for saying something they don’t agree with.  When women have their personal information made public because they dared challenge males to make the playing field fair.  When a female opinion expressed aloud is met with a torrent of pictures of penises.

When a woman’s pain is greeted with male laughter.

When a lawyer can suggest with a straight face in court that ESPN reporter Erin Andrews wasn’t harmed by having a stalker post online nude pictures of her because her television career has continued to ascend, something is seriously askew.

Why does it have to be this way?

Misogyny is a bloated, slouching, Hutt-like beast relentless in its pursuit to crush out every light and smother every voice with its oozing, pustulent folds.  Its faces are disappointingly legion, and united in the horrific tenet that apparently, women should exist solely for the purpose of making more men.

We don’t have colonies on the moon yet because too many men are too busy working at grinding women into the dirt, whether their names are splashed across international headlines as they pursue the Republican presidential nomination or cried out only by the woman who begs them not to hit her again.

We should all be ashamed.

How different might things be if men made a conscious decision to learn from women rather than treating them as chattel?

I was asked by a friend to review the first volume of a short story compilation out today called Mosaics: A Collection of Independent Women.  The book brings together twenty female authors of diverse origins offering short stories, poetry and essays on the subject of femininity.  Profits from this book are to be donated to the Pixel Project to End Violence Against Women.  The pieces are by turns challenging, enlightening, magical, gritty, heartbreaking and always provocative.  One that stood out for me was P.K. Tyler’s The Book of Lilith, which recounts the legend of Adam’s first wife in the Garden of Eden, and presents the story of the first woman to have her uncontrollable spirit condemned by the (literally) prototypical man.  I was struck also by Tonya Liburd’s Adventures in Gaming, which shines an important spotlight on the positively ghastly misogyny infecting the world of online games.  While these two stories are stylistically quite removed from one another, the theme is the same:  a woman who would like to experience the world on her own terms and is slapped back hard by the rigid male-dominated status quo.  And despite what men’s rights types would immediately suggest when presented with such a collection, these and the other stories contained therein are not voices that are haranguing, propagandizing or spewing misandry – they are merely voices asking to be heard and inviting you to listen, because they are as worthy to be heard as any other.

I read on, and I nod at the lessons learned and admonish myself for not seeking out more female perspectives in the works I choose to read.  Truly, the gender of the author has never factored that much into the stories I seek out, but maybe it should.

Maybe I need to listen and learn even more.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has a piece in The Globe and Mail today.  The entire piece is worth a read but here’s the passage that really strikes home:

Every day, I meet incredible women who inspire me to be a better feminist and a better person. Women can do (and be) anything they want. But powerful cultural change cannot happen when only half of the population works toward that change. Men need to act, set examples and be role models.

I was raised by an incredible woman, I am married to an incredible woman.  I work with incredible women and I am friends with incredible women.  I have learned something from every single one of them, and I continue to look to their wisdom and their experience to guide me.  I do what I can to encourage and promote them as well, because when women do better, we all do better.  And to the prime minister’s last point, I try to impart the importance of doing so to my teenage son, in the great hope that one day we may simply breed the hulking beast that is misogyny out of existence.  That future generations may regard the concept with as much uncomprehending disdain as we reserve for people who insist the earth is flat.

The old way ain’t working, folks.  Dedicating themselves to abusing and demeaning women with each breath isn’t making that portion of the male population any happier.  What if instead, one of these men chose to lift a woman up instead of pushing her down?  Isn’t a smile more of a balm for that terribly fragile ego than a shiver of terror?  Isn’t it better to court a woman’s respect than to stoke her fears?  Isn’t it fundamentally just better to be kind – to say “way to go” instead of “get back in the kitchen”?

Isn’t treating women with their due respect what makes us better men?  Isn’t celebrating their achievements our duty – not just as men, but as human beings?

Isn’t that what we mean when we say, I am a feminist?

Mosaics is available through Amazon.

 

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A Rey of Sunshine

rey

Be forewarned.  Star Wars spoilers ahead.

Again, in all caps, just so you’re clear.  MAJOR STAR WARS SPOILERS INSIDE.  ABANDON ALL HOPE OF REMAINING UNSPOILT, YE WHO VENTURE PAST THIS POINT.

One more time for those just joining us.  THIS POST WILL CONTAIN STAR WARS SPOILERS.

*hold music hums while you decide*

We all good?  Okay.  By reading on, you hereby agree to hold the author of this site harmless for any potential Star Wars-ruining experience that may occur, in perpetuity until the heat death of the universe.

I saw The Force Awakens yesterday afternoon.  When you hit your fifth decade of life, and you’ve seen so many movies in those forty years that the tropes and cliches of cinematic storytelling have embedded themselves in your neural pathways to the point where your response to them becomes almost Pavlovian, you tend to approach any new theatrical venture, particularly one that has been so excessively hyped, with an unavoidable sense of cynicism.  Here we are now, you say warily, paraphrasing Kurt Cobain, entertain us.  And how often do you walk away feeling satisfied, or surprised?  Rather infrequently, I have to admit.  I enjoy the movies for what they are, but I always see the seams at the edges.  And I went into The Force Awakens with a healthy distrust of its director, J.J. Abrams, a man whose storytelling style relies primarily on frustratingly circular references to the movies he grew up watching, rather than any particular unique vision.

J.J., you sly, sly dog you.

Granted, one does not walk into the seventh installment of a 40-year-old movie franchise expecting mind-blowing originality (I certainly don’t expect it from Bond, my other great cinema love).  I did receive the anticipated reprises of old favorite characters and the homages and tributes to everything that has made the world love Star Wars all these years.  But what I also got, and what made me walk out of the theater with a broad, dumb smile on my face, was something that I’d been longing to see realized on screen for ages, and finding it in a Star Wars movie of all places was like the surprise toy inside the chocolate egg.  I knew too, that as happy as I was to discover this, there were millions of girls and women to whom it would mean so much more.  I’m happy for them most of all.

To wit:  the absolutely compelling character of Rey, played by English actress Daisy Ridley, is the center of the movie.  The “awakening” referred to in the title is hers.  She is brave, skilled, resourceful, determined, and over the course of the story, as her connection to the Force deepens, grows immensely powerful.  She has a past that is not spelled out for us but rather left as a tantalizing mystery.  She is no one’s love interest, and is not defined by her relationships with or unrequited longings for any particular man.  And she kicks tremendous ass, whether it’s outrunning TIE Fighters in a rusty old Millennium Falcon or confronting and defeating Dark Side villain Kylo Ren and saving Finn, the male character whom the movie’s poster and trailers would have you presume is the new Jedi of this trilogy.  (Abrams’ controversial “mystery box” promotion style has worked very well here, which is why again, I hope you’ve already seen the movie as you’re reading this.)  And Rey achieves all of these things without descending into sassy or sexualized caricature, or a neon sign flashing above her head reading “LOOK AT THIS AUDACIOUS, ENLIGHTENED STATEMENT OF FEMINISM WE MALE FILMMAKERS ARE MAKING.”

Rey just is who she is, and frankly, it’s glorious.

I’ve always found the term “empowered women” a bit troubling, as it suggests that women on their own are somehow without power.  Rather, it is better to say that a woman is powerful by her very nature as a woman.  Goes with the territory, folks.  And yet in science fiction and fantasy this is too often the exception and not the rule.  Looking back, there has never really been a good reason why in genre movies, women have not been able to take the forefront of the story, other than the increasingly outdated notion that the young boys who make up the presumed primary target demographic for this genre somehow won’t be interested in seeing girls buckle their swash, or that somehow casting a female lead means you have to turn the story into a pedestrian rom-com with true love as the object of the quest.

Instead, women are usually relegated to the secondary roles of eye candy, love interests or over-the-top man-hating villainesses, their characterizations as sketchy as the anatomically impossible poses in which they are often rendered in comic books.  Why have we had eighteen Marvel movies without a female lead?  Your guess is as good as mine, but it seems to stem largely from writers, producers and directors (and executives) unable to arrive at what feels like, in the light of The Force Awakens, should be a very obvious conclusion:  that women with power and agency won’t, in fact, scare men away from fantasy and science fiction movies.  They belong there, as much as the boys do, and audiences will thank you for it.  And yes, the dudes will love these characters too.

Thankfully, there have been huge exceptions of late that may be at last, softening this attitude.  Frozen was a story in the fantasy genre about the bond between two sisters (one with tremendous magical powers), with male characters shunted to the background, and it only became the highest-grossing animated movie of all time.  As I write this The Force Awakens has already become the fastest movie to hit $300 million at the box office, and I’ll wager here and now that it will eventually blast past Avatar and take its place on top of the all-time list.  Because audiences love Luke, Leia, Han and Chewie, but it’s Rey’s story they are going to want to see again and again.

There has been some criticism of her, centering largely on the speed with which she acquires her Force abilities in the movie without any training, and suggesting that this pushes her into Mary Sue territory.  I would suggest that there are two responses to this, one “in-universe” and another examining the broader question.  The in-universe explanation is found in a line from the very first movie, where Luke and Ben are discussing the Force and noting that while it obeys your commands, it also controls your actions.  The Force is sentient and has an awareness of when people’s greed and lust for power has pushed it out of balance, so it creates what it needs to set the universe right again.  Rey’s awakening is in response to the rising threat represented by dark-sider Kylo Ren and his mysterious master Snoke, and the speed at which it happens is perhaps a reflection of the urgency with which it is needed.  (And it also makes for the movie’s best scene in which Rey tries the Jedi Mind Trick on a Stormtrooper played by a very famous actor in disguise…)

You could also suggest that Rey is just that damn gifted, which is where the Mary Sue question comes in, and my answer to that is, so effing what?  In how many movies across how many genres have we seen preternaturally skilled guys?  How many times have we seen a young male screw-up transformed into an unstoppable fighting machine in the space of a five-minute training montage?  Why is this somehow more valid storytelling technique than seeing it happen to a woman?  Yes, Rey may be in some ways an expression of wish fulfillment for fangirls, but thanks to some great writing (by Abrams and Lawrence Kasdan) and Daisy Ridley’s magnetic performance she doesn’t come off like that, and even if she does, I fail to see why this is a bad thing.  We gents have plenty of examples on our side to choose from.  I’d love to see more women like Rey in genre films, treated with all the maturity and complexity that those characters deserve, and I’m glad that the gauntlet has been thrown down.  All those involved with her creation deserve accolades.  (It should also be noted that The Force Awakens passes the Bechdel Test too.)

I’ve come to know a fair number of women through social media who are big genre fans, and I’m excited to read what they thought of Rey.  I imagine they’ll be able to articulate what Rey means to girls and women far better than I possibly could, so I’ll sign off for the time being and let them take the stage and enjoy their well-deserved moment.  And I will wait with bated breath for Episode VIII and the joy of discovering where Rey’s story takes her next, my faith in the ability of the movies, and genre movies in particular, to surprise me renewed, and hungry for more.

Please Welcome… Emmie Mears and The Masked Songbird!

The Masked Songbird_FC (2)

Gentle readers, I’m pleased as punch to present – making a generous stopover at this backwater blog during the tour for the release of her debut novel The Masked Songbird – someone whose acquaintance it’s been my great privilege to make:  author Emmie Mears.  If you’re not already following her on social media (shame on you!) you may remember her from the post she inspired:  Shut Up and Write.  In less than a week, The Masked Songbird drops, and Emmie’s been gracious enough to spend a few moments answering some questions about her life, her work, fandom and the need to speak up.  Come then, let us away.

But first, folks, presenting The Masked Songbird:

Mildly hapless Edinburgh accountant Gwenllian Maule is surviving.  She’s got a boyfriend, a rescued pet bird and a flatmate to share rent.  Gwen’s biggest challenges:  stretching her last twenty quid until payday and not antagonizing her terrifying boss.

Then Gwen mistakenly drinks a mysterious beverage that gives her heightened senses, accelerated healing powers and astonishing strength.  All of which come in handy the night she rescues her activist neighbour from a beat-down by political thugs.

Now Gwen must figure out what else the serum has done to her body, who else is interested and how her boss is involved.  Finally — and most mysteriously — she must uncover how this whole debacle is connected to the looming referendum on Scottish independence.

Gwen’s hunt for answers will test her superpowers and endanger her family, her friends — even her country.

A few words from Emmie about herself:
Emmie Mears was born in Austin, Texas, where the Lone Star state promptly spat her out at the tender age of three months. After a childhood spent mostly in Alaska, Oregon, and Montana, she became a proper vagabond and spent most of her time at university devising ways to leave the country.Except for an ill-fated space opera she attempted at age nine, most of Emmie’s childhood was spent reading books instead of writing them. Growing up she yearned to see girls in books doing awesome things, and struggled to find stories in her beloved fantasy genre that showed female heroes saving people and hunting things. Mid-way through high school, she decided the best way to see those stories was to write them herself. She now scribbles her way through the fantasy genre, most loving to pen stories about flawed characters and gritty situations lightened with the occasional quirky humor.

Emmie now lives in her eighth US state, still yearning for a return to Scotland. She inhabits a cozy domicile outside DC with two felines who think they’re lions and tigers.

You can preorder THE MASKED SONGBIRD here (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00JD7TWZK)! Released in a box set, you get four great paranormal and urban fantasy books for less than $4!
Follow Emmie on Twitter @EmmieMears and join her on Facebook!
And we’re back!  Glad to have you with us.  Take it away (in my best Dick Cavett or Brian Linehan voice):
Let’s start from the very beginning (a very good place to start). Who are you? How long have you been writing, and how did you get from unknown aspirer to agented author with a 2-book deal and an imminent release from a major publisher?
I am…*checks passport*….Emmie? I’m a mostly-human defective cyborg who can swim with some facility and has an embarrassing penchant for watermelon. I’ve been writing since I was old enough to steal my mother’s day planners, and writing with the intent of publishing since I was about sixteen.  I think I got here via the scenic route. I have always been a very deliberate planner, and I scouted out the business for about four years before I tried to hunt for an agent at all. I bought about five years of Writer’s Digest’s Guide to Literary Agents, researched query format, generally scoured the internet for protocol, and finally started querying a few years ago with a book that wasn’t up for the task. A few months later, I wrote The Masked Songbird, and I put all that knowledge to use. Doing my painstaking homework saved me a lot of foot-in-mouth moments, I think.  My path to agentdom was relatively quick, as was my first sale.  The offer came about four months into submission time, which is really not much.  You hear about the miraculous four day turnarounds, but really, those are unicorns.  Best advice I’ve heard: write a great book, be professional, and follow directions. It cuts through a lot of hassle and hand-wringing.
What is your favorite book, what author’s work can you not miss out on, and who are your biggest influences?  Whose writing makes you wish “damn, I wish I wrote like that?”
Ooh, favorite book is like asking me which fantasy world I’d like to live in forever.  I really don’t know.  My copies of David Eddings’s Belgariad and Malloreon are dog-eared and hunched over from their cracked spines — I read those at least once a year.  Harry Potter made a home in my heart.  LJ Smith’s 90’s paranormal romances are still among my favorites. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time is one of my favorite massive stories. Pride and Prejudice is a perennial. The Giver. Hatchet.  A Wrinkle in Time.  See what I mean?  Eddings and L’Engle are probably some of my biggest influencers. I always loved Eddings for being able to make me both laugh and cry in the same book.
How would you define your writer’s voice?  What is “Emmie Mears style”?
I tend to write gritty stories that have some quirk to their telling, whether that’s from the minds of the characters and how they observe their situations, or something else.
Tell me a bit about The Masked Songbird.  Who is Gwen Maule and what is her journey?  What makes her different from the superheroes we’re familiar with?
Gwen is very much an everyperson at the outset of the book. She is, in many ways, a product of the global recession as well as a child of poverty. She has what I think is the under-represented mainstream millennial generation mindset of just sort of…plodding forward. While people like to call this generation entitled, I think for the vast majority of millennials, reaching adulthood at the zenith of global recession has put many on autopilot. Work, sleep, lather, rinse, repeat. That’s Gwen at first.  Her journey is recognizing the power she has always had to alter her circumstances and effect change in her own life and others. I think what sets her apart from other superheroes is that she’s very much engaged in the regular world. She doesn’t have Bruce Wayne’s money or the resources of Charles Xavier’s school. She is just a person with special abilities, learning how to use them in tandem with her pre-existing latent (very human) strengths.
What, for you, is the appeal of the superhero genre, or more generally, the fantasy genre?  There is an element of escapism that appeals to all of us, including the primal desire to see good triumph over evil, but what’s the difference between someone who can take or leave it and another who wants to lose themselves in these worlds to the point where it becomes their career path?
I think the appeal of the superhero genre is the ability to project yourself onto someone extraordinary.  Even the gritty superheroes call back to human nature, to the desire to fit in or the need to prove oneself.  I think that’s one of the things that makes them so alluring.  For fantasy as a whole, I think escapism is a good part of it, but that’s true for any fiction. Fantasy provides us the ability to imagine ourselves away from this world in a different way, though — to imagine better worlds, or scarier worlds, but worlds where extraordinary things happen.  At the heart of all great fiction is humanity, though. That’s where superheroes and fantasy in general shine brightest: telling human stories through a different lens.
Speaking of humanity – one thing that stood out in the excerpt I was fortunate enough to read was how well you convey Gwen’s feelings of being small next to her boss without coming out and stating it.  When you’re sitting down to write a scene like that, how much is intent and how much is happy accident?  Are you starting off by saying “I wish to convey X in this scene” or are you just writing and seeing where the story takes you?
That scene was a little bit of both.  The first sentences of the book haven’t changed since draft one, and they’re really the thesis statement of the whole chapter.  Gwen feels small and impotent, so she escapes into her imagination. It ended up working out well, I think.
What made this particular book the one to kick off your career as a novelist?
A lot of craft-related things sort of converged on me when I wrote The Masked Songbird.  I’d written two and a half books of a trilogy before sitting down to write Gwen’s story, and they were unpublishable. Structure clicked for me, as did Gwen’s voice, and it freed me up to run amok in Edinburgh for six weeks. I wish I knew what it was that made it different than the others aside from basic craft improvement, but honestly, I think sometimes what works is sort of a crapshoot. You hit something at the right time or you don’t.
Tying the story to the Scottish referendum is an interesting choice.  Obviously a controversial issue, and we’ve just seen none other than J.K. Rowling come out against independence.  You, on the other hand, are very much in favour of it.  How come, and how much of your thoughts and feelings on the matter inform the story you’re telling?  And ultimately is your priority to inform and convince, or to entertain?
I am a big supporter of the idea of self-determination. I think that Scotland’s values are distinct from the rest of the UK’s in many ways, and that it makes sense for them to be able to govern themselves and allocate their tax dollars where they see fit.  In The Masked Songbird, though, I wasn’t so much trying to inform as to make the story accessible. It’s less Mel Gibson brandishing a claymore and bellowing “FREEEEEEDOOOOOOM” and more Gwen grappling with her feelings on the subject.  She recognizes that there are valid reasons to vote both yes and no, and ultimately for her (as with Scotland at large), the question is one she has to decide for herself.  Some characters will disagree with her, including some that readers will I think not expect.  I left many of the other characters’ perspectives out of the first book for that reason.  Book 2 will reveal how some of them voted, and some of Gwen’s friends DO vote no.  My priority was to entertain, and while I am passionately pro-independence, I am fully cognizant of the fact that there will be tremendous obstacles and adjustment regardless of who votes what on 18 September.
You’ve said that you were inspired by seeing the reboot of Spider-Man and wondering where all the big-screen female superheroes were.  Obviously we’ve seen with the huge success of movies like Frozen and Maleficent there is an appetite for heroines in fantasy settings, so what do you think the reluctance is to give Wonder Woman or Storm their own solo ventures?  Are studios that stuck on how bad Catwoman was?
I think studios think with their bottom lines and honestly, with entrenched ideas of what the public wants. They’re ready to blame Catwoman and Elektra‘s failures on female leads.  I think they really are that stuck on it, for the same reasons the gaming industry lifts their shoulders and sturgeon-faces and holds up their hands like there’s just noooothing they can do about the lack of female leads in video games.  Like it’s somehow out of their control or something.  I mean, really, it’s kind of like watching people busy playing checkers who just shrug and say “Well, that’s the game” when there are chess pieces right next to them if they really wanted to play something different.  They know they’re in control.  But for some reason they act like the continuation of imbalanced representation is something happening passively rather than something in which they participate.
I see that you’ve also made a sale of a nonfiction work on women and fandom that should be a terrific read as well.  Searching for SuperWomen is getting tens of thousands of hits a month, so clearly you’ve tapped into something.  Yet the prevailing attitude is that this sort of thing remains a boy’s kingdom, which perhaps explains the lack of female-focused genre films.  When do you think this particular glass ceiling will crack?
If I could predict that, I would pile all my meager funds into the stock market.  Heh.  I really don’t know.  I think that in some ways, the younger generation is more progressive, but in other ways, I see some troubling attitudes that seem to think that feminism is irrelevant, along with a lot of people hesitant to identify as feminists (even when they’re espousing verbatim feminist views, like that women should be able to walk down the street without getting groped).  There are some inroads being made, and I think films like Gravity, Frozen, The Heat, and this year’s Lucy ought not be discounted for their importance — but it’s really going to take people in power taking a stand before this stuff filters down.  Voting with dollars works to an extent, but it’s slow.  There’s such a huge gender disparity in Hollywood in general — the men with the power to greenlight films and television shows hugely outnumber the women with the same power. It’d be foolish to assume that doesn’t play a part in what gets made.
You and I sort of “met” through exchanging blog posts about the very different and saddening ways society responds to women who express strong opinions versus men, and how it intimidates women into silence.  Since then the specter of Elliot Rodger has cast itself over the conversation.  What is something that men who don’t want to be lumped in with the Elliot Rodgers and MRA’s of the world need to understand, and what can they do to ensure that women can continue to speak up without fear of reprisal?
Hoo, doggies.  There’s a question.  I think the biggest, hardest thing to recognize is that the fact that “not all men” are like Elliot Rodger is irrelevant.  Absolutely irrelevant.  Because it doesn’t take all men being like a sociopathic murderer — it only takes a tiny percentage of the population to contribute to a culture where women are devalued, unsafe, and likely to experience abuse.  And when the larger percentage tries to treat that tiny percentage as unworthy of discussion, well…that becomes part of the problem.
What can men do? Recognize that. Recognize that even though they might be a kind, empathetic, compassionate person, women have to operate from a point of view that every strange man is a potential threat. Have to. I cannot emphasize that enough. It’s ingrained in us from childhood, and it’s beyond stranger danger. Women are taught laundry lists of ways to stay safe that don’t always succeed. Because if we let our guard down and treat strange men like they are safe by default and something DOES happen, we’re ALWAYS going to get blamed for it by someone. Always. It’s a given. There is no if.I got harassed via text message this week, by a guy who had my number because I’d showed him my old apartment when I was separating from my husband. He gave my number to someone else. They were both texting me. The first thing two of my coworkers said when I told them? “Why the hell did you give them your number?”

Because that’s how the fucking classifieds WORK. I didn’t identify my gender in the post. The guy got my number because he was going to come see the place. He already had it when he found out I was female. And a month later used it to harass me. And I got blamed for not being careful enough.

So I really think that if men want to help, recognize that once you’ve gotten sick after eating an apple, you tend to have to look at apples with a different perspective until you’re sure they’re safe (Note: there’s a difference between courtesy and assuming someone is safe. I treat people courteously, but I will still be cautious and alert). Practically? Respect boundaries. Don’t invade a strange woman’s personal space (ie: give her wide berth if you’re walking on the sidewalk next to her). Don’t try to touch her. Respect if she says no. Listen. Believe her when she says she’s not interested. Believe her when she tells you her story.

And probably most importantly, when you exist in a space where women are not present and you see or hear men saying things that you know are wrong or disrespectful or toxic or shaming to women, SPEAK UP. For the love of all things warm and fuzz, SPEAK UP. I think the internet is good proof that many men listen more to other men than they do to women. If I call a guy out on a rape joke, I get told to lighten up. If a man calls his friend out for making a rape joke and makes it abundantly clear that it’s not cool, maybe that guy will think twice next time. We all know someone who has been assaulted or raped — we just might not know it because people don’t exactly wear it on their foreheads. And beyond that, women are people who should merit basic courtesy and respect by default, just like men. Ultimately, we have to create a space where the Elliot Rodgers of the world are challenged by the very people they think will accept their bullshit without question.

What’s next for you after Gwen hangs up her mask?
After the verbosity of the last answer, I’ll say simply that I have a magical realism and an epic fantasy in development.  🙂
Any advice for writers still slogging through the trenches looking for their break?
Persist.  Do your homework.  Be professional in ALL interactions with agents, fellow writers, and publishing folks.  Work on something new while you wait.
Finally, with apologies to James Lipton, a bit of fun:
Favorite word?
Marmot!
Least favorite word?
*blushes*  Superheroine.  It sounds like a drug, and to me “superhero” is gender neutral.  Plus, the red squiggly line doesn’t like it.
Favorite curse word?
Fuck.
If heaven exists, what do you want whoever’s in charge up there to say to you when you arrive?
“Freddie Mercury is waiting to hang out with you.”
Can’t think of a better note to end on than that.  Thanks so much to Emmie for her time, her candor and just being a generally awesome person.  Be sure to follow Emmie for links to the other entries in The Masked Songbird‘s blog tour, and pick up a copy when it releases July 1st.  Onwards!

Sorry, you’re out of the club

Wendy Davis.
Wendy Davis.

The United States heads into today’s Fourth of July celebrations consumed by anger at its women, as one state legislature after another attempts to enact laws that remove a woman’s right to manage her own body.  Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis of Texas recently became a national figure when she staged a twelve-hour filibuster to kill SB5, a bill that would have shuttered the state’s Planned Parenthood clinics, an event that exposed some truly ugly anti-female leanings from her right-wing colleagues (and a swift decision by chromosome-challenged Governor Rick Perry to schedule a special session to pass the bill anyway in a manner that won’t be able to be filibustered).  Ohio’s budget bill recently signed into law by Governor John Kasich contains language that redefines the concept of when pregnancy begins.  And it appears that North Carolina has also followed suit by slipping anti-abortion wording into an unrelated bill.  Medical decisions that should belong only to women and their doctors are being shoved down throats (or, to put it more bluntly and accurately, up vaginas) by old Bible-waving men whose medical expertise is limited to having seen every episode of Trapper John, M.D.  It’s abhorrent and nauseating to imagine the damage that will be done by these draconian measures, and the mind simply reels at the idea of a country where a vagina must be strictly regulated but doing the same to a lethal firearm represents an infringement on freedom.

The U.S. is not alone, but merely the latest world player to climb aboard the bad ship Misogyny.  We look aghast across the ocean at nations where women are forced to veil themselves head to toe and walk ten paces behind their husbands, and cannot even ride bicycles, let alone drive cars.  It is the most bizarre of pendulum swings that as women become more independent, successful and (gasp!) powerful, the old guard reacts by trying to legislate them back into submission.  By suggesting that women aren’t intelligent enough to manage their own bodies, and that it falls to Big Strong He-Man to pat her on the head and tell her boys know better while ushering her back to the kitchen to make him a sandwich and fetch him a beer.  Oh, and to have unlimited sex with him whenever and only exactly how he wants it.

That kind of backward attitude can only come, it seems to me, from a place of pure fear, fear of the mystical and irresistibly compelling unknown that is the lady parts.  What continues to elude me though is why all these men are so afraid.  What do they think is going to happen?  Truly?  Perhaps it’s the terror of the eternally insecure, the paranoiac who forever walks in worry of being exposed as a complete fraud, a construct of paper with no purpose to his existence.  An excellent depiction of this fear can be found in Ksenia Anske’s upcoming novel Siren Suicides, where the heroine must deal with an abusive father who insists that women are made only to “haul water.”  Papa frequently belts his daughter across the face to “remind her” and keep her controlled.  As the story unfolds, we discover that the seed of this hatred of women lies in his betrayal by one woman in particular.  It is not a stretch to imagine that much of the world’s misogyny originates in a man’s frustration with one specific woman from his past – projecting her perceived “sins” onto her entire gender.  “You’re all a bunch of feminists,” Marc Lepine railed infamously as he perpetrated the Montreal Massacre.  You’re all.  Woman is all women.  The so-called failings of one are the failings of the collective.  They must be controlled, regulated, kept down, lest… well, that’s the question, isn’t it, and that’s where you’ll find the fear.

I’m sorry, but I don’t get it, and as the politicians say, let me be abundantly clear.  I’m goddamned tired of it.  Because as men, we can do so much better, and yet we’re letting the standard be lowered daily by mouth-breathing troglodytes who can’t handle the funny feels that spring up (pun intended) in their groins when a woman walks by.  Who resent the notion that anyone could have power over their manly manliness and who try to prove it by essentially wrapping vaginas in red tape (or shoving ultrasound wands inside them, as the case may be with some of these recent laws).  Is this really what men want to be known for when the history of the 21st Century is written?

The aforementioned Neanderthal types need to take a hard long look in the mirror and ask themselves if this is what they signed up for.  If they want to perpetuate the cycle of hatred for another generation.  I have little optimism at this point that they will do so, however – the proverbial road-to-Damascus conversion is just that, the stuff of proverbs.  So it is incumbent on the rest of us – and I’m speaking to my fellow men here, the ones who shift silently and uncomfortably in their seats when their best friend’s douchebag cousin makes a crude remark about the waitress instead of telling him to shut his filthy mouth and get the hell out.  We need to be louder, and announce that not only do the Rick Perrys and John Kasichs of the world not speak for us, but that we’re kicking them out of the club, effective immediately – do not pass Go, do not collect $200.  That’s it.  Their “man card” is revoked.  They will no longer be welcome in gatherings of real men, nor will they earn a single one of our votes come election time.  We won’t drink with them, we won’t talk sports with them.  We’ll cross the street to avoid them.  We’ll shun them without pity.  They will be condemned to peer longingly in the window from the cold street at those of us who know that a woman’s place is wherever she wants to be.

A man who demeans a woman or women in any way does not deserve the honor of being called a man.  He’s an amateur, a lightweight, an utter joke of a waste of otherwise usable DNA overcompensating for what nature saw fit – justifiably so – to deny him.  It’s time the rest of us men started treating him accordingly.  Like how he treats women.  Hopefully he’ll learn something and change his ways.  Until then, forget it pal, you’re outta here.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?

Amanda Todd.  Steubenville.  Now Rehtaeh Parsons.  When declaring one’s opposition to bullying seems to be the most in vogue catchphrase nowadays, why is the act itself still happening?  Why do young people continue to think that assaulting girls, sharing photographic evidence of same to Facebook and then tormenting the victim relentlessly until she takes her own life is within a galaxy’s reach of acceptable?  Why are wealthy libertarian op-ed writers continuing to excuse this utterly reprehensible behavior in the guise of “freedom of speech,” “boys will be boys” and “she was asking for it”?  Joseph Welch famously brought an end to Senator Joe McCarthy’s career by saying “At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”  In a similar vein, I am left to ask, “seriously, what the hell is wrong with you people?”  Truly, what in the name of God has gone cockeyed in the wiring deep in the cobweb-strewn recesses of your addled little misogynist brains?  How many more young women are going to have to suffer before you grow your ass up and act like a goddamned man?

I don’t understand it.

I went to my share of house parties when I was young.  I was intoxicated at a few of them.  I was surrounded by intoxicated women.  Some of them were very beautiful, and being near them in that kind of environment would stir the expected physical reaction.  Yet never once did I or any of my friends take advantage of a girl in her most vulnerable moment or try to document the act to laugh at later on.  No matter what might have been aching down below or how much beer was flowing through my veins I never forgot about the humanity of my fellow partygoers, and never failed to treat them with the respect they deserved.  Perhaps it was how I was raised.  What I don’t get is why respect for women by men seems to be considered in many circles effeminate; that the way to get on with “the boys” is to describe in nauseating detail the perverse sexual acts one would like to perform on the stunning blonde who just sauntered by (that is, if, in reality, the one doing the boasting could manage to get his pants off before an, um… early finale.)  No one is telling any man that you don’t have to enjoy the sight of a beautiful woman or relish the desire that she makes you feel.  But you’re not a hulking, lumbering cro-Magnon who has to stick it in every available hole and then publish the evidence to the Internet while your buddies giggle like glue-sniffing hyenas.  You are better than that.  Despite what you may believe, the brain in your head can actually overrule the one in your boxers.  You can tell your pals that “that’s not cool, bro,” and see that the girl who’s had too much to drink makes it home safely and unharmed.  You can tell classmates who mock her to shut their filthy mouths.  That’s being a man.  And I wish so desperately that someone could have been a man for Rehtaeh Parsons.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a piece about International Women’s Day in which I stated that I was ashamed of my gender for some of the things men have done.  An anonymous commenter whom I imagine was short of a few IQ points (not to mention the cojones to use his real name) suggested I should seek therapy, and whatever happened to personal responsibility?  That is the essence of the problem, right there.  We don’t take responsibility for each other.  We watch acts of misogyny and femicide on the news and shrug.  We let our governments slash funding for social programs that help the less fortunate so we can buy a new iPod with the few bucks we save on our tax bill.  We have “professional,” highly-paid mouth-breathers with massive bullhorns like Tom Flanagan polluting our discourse by asserting that looking at child pornography is a victimless crime (because for him it’s a question of individual liberty, or some other “don’t tread on me” bullshit) or Barbara Amiel claiming that had only the girl in the Steubenville case been wearing something like a burqa, the jumped-up little cretins who attacked her might have been able to resist their primal urges.  We reduce everything to right versus left and shun compromise and common sense in favor of ideological purity.  I am sick to death of society washing its hands of crimes like this one with the cop out that “it’s not my fault.”  We are all at fault because we don’t challenge each other to better ourselves.  “I’ve got mine, to hell with all of you” is going to be the epitaph of humanity.  Homo sapiens may endure for some time yet, but humanity will be lost in a flood of apathy and indecency if we don’t start working to correct this right now.  Let’s not lie to our kids that it gets better and then do jack to actually make it better.

As the father of a son on the cusp of his teenage years, when hormones he can’t control start flooding his body with feelings he can’t manage, it is my responsibility to teach him the importance of respect and what it really means to be a man when it comes to how he treats women and indeed anyone who is vulnerable.  As long as I’m breathing he will never be one of those fratboy douchebags who would stand idly by while a girl is being violated, or worse, record it and share it with the world.  He’s going to be the guy who escorts her out of danger and threatens to kick the ass of anyone who gets in his way.  So help me, he’s going to be a crusader for girls and women, the way real men are.  And he’s going to pass the same lessons on to his friends and his children and everyone else he meets.

I mourn Rehtaeh Parsons deeply.  A light in the world that should have shone for decades has gone out.  And I fear that unless we change our ways she won’t be the last.  One looks at the U.S. and how even after schoolchildren were massacred by a gunman, outraging the world, they still can’t pass any kind of sensible gun control legislation because of too many powerful people whining about “personal liberty.”  In a world where children’s bodies can be shredded by a legally purchased firearm, and where a young woman is driven to kill herself by a pack of hormonal cowards shaming her on social media for something that wasn’t her fault, no one is free.

We should all be ashamed.  What the hell is wrong with us?

Game of Thrones and the many faces of the goddess

Carice van Houten as Melisandre, warning of darkness and horror and the return of the smoke monster from Lost.

Maiden, mother, crone; child, witch, whore; the meek and the bold, the submissive and the dominant, the loving and the cruel.  The infinite and mesmerizing complexity of the feminine was embodied by the incredible women of Game of Thrones in this week’s episode, “Garden of Bones.”  While the show can come off as a man’s world in which kings, knights, lords, gentlemen and brutes alike vie for power, “Garden of Bones” reminded the audience that even as they strut in their armor and proclaim their mastery of all they survey, the men are but pieces in this grand game, and that the women are holding the board up – with a flick of their elegant wrists this precarious world will collapse.  That they have not yet done so speaks to the quiet bemusement with which they allow the boys to go about their manly and yet hollow pursuits.

That the men of Westeros are ultimately servants to the other half of the sky is evident in several scenes in the episode where men attempt to assert their dominance only to see their egos undercut by feminine power.  The arrogant Littlefinger, his very moniker a comment on his masculine limitations, waltzes into Renly Baratheon’s camp, first confronting Margaery Tyrell about Renly’s love that dare not speak its name, then presenting his unrequited crush Catelyn with Ned’s remains and dangling a chance to reunite her with her captive daughters.  In both instances the women will have none of it.

Margaery knows well that her marriage is a sham designed to secure a political alliance and is content to act her role, and Catelyn is not so naïve that a shameless appeal to her maternal instincts will excuse Littlefinger’s betrayal of her late husband.  Robb Stark is struck speechless by the simple healer Talisa when his proud military victory is utterly diminished by her simple comments to him in the battle’s aftermath, as she accuses him of massacring a bunch of innocents and having no greater plan for the future of the Seven Kingdoms.

Where Littlefinger and Robb respond to their encounters with powerful women with silence, a more sinister path is taken by another profoundly insecure man attempting to assert his dominance over the female – in the skin-crawling scene where petulant King Joffrey commands one prostitute to beat another bloody.  He cannot master them with his questionable masculinity, so he uses the coward’s fallback of fear and brutal violence instead.  Joffrey’s understanding that he can never equal Robb Stark as a military commander, the more traditional masculine role, leads him to mistreat Sansa instead.  Interestingly, while the delicate, virginal Sansa appears to be displaying battered woman syndrome in her continual proclamations of love for Joffrey despite his abuse, she is doing so not out of misplaced devotion but self-preservation – biding her time until she is freed of this monster.  Her sister, Arya, utterly defeminised by circumstance (even commenting to Lord Tywin that being a boy made it easier) is likewise still a reserve of indomitable strength, going to sleep each night muttering, like a mantra, the name of each man she means to see dead.

Indeed, the only male character who seems not intimidated by the power of women (at least in this episode) is the one whose masculinity has always been dismissed by his fellow men:  Tyrion Lannister.  In fact, it is his knowledge of his cousin’s weakness for Queen Cersei’s feminine wiles and his ability to manipulate that awareness that allows him to gain a spy against his scheming sister.

The two sides of motherhood, giving nurturer and ferocious protector, are also on display with the “Mother of Dragons” Daenerys when she is petitioning for entrance to the desert city of Qarth, first pleading that a refusal to admit her people would condemn them to death, then threatening to use her dragons to burn the city to the ground when she is rebuffed.  She is the mother of her clan of ragtag Dothraki as much as Catelyn finds herself mother and counselor not only to the Starks but to the men who would be King (treating the battling brothers Baratheon as if they were her own misbehaving children).  Where her gilded sibling Viserys was an entitled prat cut from the same unearned royal cloth as Joffrey, Dany’s leadership qualities are being forged through fire.

And speaking of fire, there is Melisandre, the enchantress, trying to tempt grizzled old Davos Seaworth with the secrets beneath her robe.  When he finally beholds her stunning (and very pregnant) naked self, the Onion Knight comes face to face with a depiction of the primal fear of all men, what they cannot understand and have never been able to control since the Garden of Eden:  the magical temple of life and sexuality that is the woman’s reproductive system, from which emerges in a Freudian ecstasy of smoke and shadow the darkness and horror that Melisandre had cautioned Renly about earlier.  To see this sheer force step forth and take shape as the sorceress smiles, at once incomprehensible and weirdly compelling, is the final affirmation in an episode already packed with revelations that the women have written the rules of the Game of Thrones, and they are its referees.  For all the talk of the old gods, even Melisandre’s repeated comments about the “Lord of Light,” it is the Goddess, in all her magnificence, elegance, vulnerability, bravery, mystery and cruelty, all her many forms, young and old, beautiful and ugly, wise and foolish, who is running the show.