Tag Archives: feminism

Lady Science!

There are a lot of things that I can’t believe are still things in the 21st century. The KKK. Homophobia. Tab cola. Lately I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the gender gap, another inexplicable thing that’s still a thing. You know the one—it’s that thing where 50% of the population are so poorly represented that they qualify as a minority. I’ve been thinking about the gender gap in the sciences in particular.

The fact is, women may have long since won the rights to vote, to have careers, and to wear stylish yet functional bedazzled pants, but men still hold 70% of all careers in science and engineering. White men alone hold the majority of these positions, but men of every demographic outnumber women of the same category. All women of color combined barely add up to a tenth of the total professional scientific population.

Graph

In my novels, I write about a young woman living a century ago with a background in science. While writing, I constantly need to remind myself that it wasn’t the norm. It comes far too naturally to me to envision scientifically-minded women. I’ve learned plenty about Ada Lovelace and Florence Nightingale and Irene Curie, but more than that, my own grandmother, Mary Campbell, practically wrote the book on Medical Mycology. In fact… she DID write the book, and if you studied medical mycology at university, chances are it was on your required reading list. Incidentally, if you studied Medical Mycology at university, you are probably also doing more important things with your life than writing novels that feature a magical detective. Good for you.

MedMycMary

My family is full of female professors, nurses, veterinarians, computer analysts, and research scientists; when I was growing up, I couldn’t throw a stone without hitting a smart woman. I know. I tried. My sisters tattled and I got grounded for it. It continues to shock me, therefore, that the image of a woman as an intelligent professional is a concept that needs normalizing.

The trouble is ingrained in our culture. Women are encouraged to be supporters while men are pushed to be competitive. If that’s not blatant enough, loads of brilliant successful women have been actively cheated out of their notoriety by male colleagues.

3 Women Scientists Whose Discoveries Were Credited to Men

6 Women Scientists Who Were Snubbed Due to Sexism

8 Inventions by Women that Dudes got Credit For

ScienceLady.jpg

“Who cares?” one might argue. “Those men probably stole credit from other men, too, that’s just the cutthroat nature of the field.” But when there are so few women in the field to begin with, each overlooked achievement represents a greater loss.

The problem with the erasure of women is that as a result, countless women just don’t get to see a future for themselves in the sciences in the same ways men do, and that matters. With good role models, possibilities blossom, and limitations drop away. Without any, invisible walls grow and self-doubt takes hold.

A few years back, my sister followed in the footsteps of Medical Mycology Mary and co-authored a book called THE ULTIMATE GIRLS’ GUIDE TO SCIENCE.

Girls Guide Science

Her role models mattered to her, and in turn she has became that role model through books and camps that she helps run for kids. Her latest project is the culmination of years of research that is both practical and awesome and involves fire… and also happens to be literally rocket science. Her Kickstarter for the ROCKET MASS HEATER GUIDE has just a few days left if you want to support an awesome woman in science RIGHT NOW, by the way, although she has already doubled her goal because the concept is just so damn cool!

Erica

Women are a part of the scientific community. They just are. Awesome though their accomplishments might be, the fact that they exist should be the most boring thing in the world. Sadly, it’s STILL an anomaly in the 21st century for a woman to be seen as a scientist. I don’t want writers of historical fiction a hundred years from now to look back at 2016 and find themselves astonished at how unusual it was for women in our time to be recognized for their contributions.

So, let’s share a little recognition right now—who are your favorite female faces in the field of science and engineering?

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

K—

“What will you do with your life?” I asked my sophomores. “You’re the hero of the story. You can be anyone. Do anything. Who will you be?”

K—‘s turn. “A trophy wife,” she said. Proudly. Defiantly.

I might have cried. I worried about K—.

I worried about what all those beauty pageants had done. I worried when I learned what he had done. I worried when they made her relive it all in the trial. I worried.

Years passed. I worried more. With each year, I found new students to worry about. I worried about so many girls growing up aspiring to be worthy little objects. I taught lessons. I graded essays. I worried more and more.

“What will the moral of your story be?” I asked my senior class last week. “What will future generations learn from the tale of you?”

K—‘s turn. Chin up. “Be your own trophy wife,” she said. Proudly. Defiantly.

I might have cried. I worried less.

K—

 

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

WHY AREN’T THEY KISSING YET?

An open letter to a sharp young reader who would like my characters to just kiss, already.

Dear ______,
Thank you very much for writing to me. It makes me very happy that you liked Jackaby and that you care about how he and Miss Rook interact. You are not alone in your desire for a “ship” between them.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 2.23.04 PM
Relationships matter, and not just the squishy ones.

There’s nothing wrong with “shipping” characters if you see chemistry—that’s awesome. It shows emotional investment and speculation—but platonic relationships benefit from strong chemistry, too.

Speaking of chemistry, biochemist Tim Hunt recently insulted one of the most intelligent communities on the planet by suggesting female scientists have no place in a man’s laboratory. To be fair to Mr. Hunt, he didn’t denounce women altogether, he just called them crybabies and told them to go build their own treehouse if they wanted to split atoms and cure cancer. Simply put, “the trouble with girls” according to Tim Hunt, is that men and women fall in love, and that gets in the way of important work (link).

Hunt can’t imagine a world in which men and women might value and respect each other without romantic entanglements. Why should he? Authors and publishers can’t seem to imagine it either. Hollywood certainly can’t imagine it. Storytellers paid to do nothing BUT imagine absurd realities can’t be bothered to imagine such a thing, so why should Hunt be held to a higher standard?

The fact is we’re more comfortable imagining superheroes fighting aliens above the streets of New York or genetically mutated reptiles practicing eastern martial arts beneath them than we are prepared to imagine their sole female companion might NOT become a love interest.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 2.30.42 PM

Assemble a funny group of men or women and you’ve got a “buddy comedy,” but mix the genders and it invariably becomes a “romantic comedy.” Rom-Coms are great, but there’s something wrong with the pernicious theme that romance is the ONLY way men and women can interact.

To be clear, I’m not against love. Romance is exciting and sweet and—well—romantic, but there are already plenty of lovers in YA. What I’m against is raising another generation incapable of imagining male/female relationships that are NOT romantic. When we read about flirtation, passion, and heartbreak, we are learning valuable lessons about how to love, but there are other relationships—relationships with mentors, allies, colleagues, friends—which can teach us to respect the other people in our lives, too.

Stories matter. How many great women never rise to their full potential because they are perpetually taught that their role is to marry a hero, not to become one? How many great men subconsciously believe that the only women who matter are the ones destined to love them? Is it any wonder so many men grow up to act either dismissive or aggressive toward women?

I realize that these are gargantuan sociocultural issues, and I also realize that you are 11 years old and trying to enjoy your Summer vacation, so I’ll tone it down a bit as I wrap this up.

Basically, _______, what I’m trying to say is you’re sharp and you’re capable. You can handle big words like “sociocultural,” and you can handle it if my characters don’t kiss. Someday you’ll be able to handle flying jets or running for president or working in a lab. When that time comes, don’t let some sexist old fart tell you that girls are too much trouble.

Kiss. Don’t kiss. Find relationships of value and cherish them—all of them—for what they are.

Sincerely,
—Will Ritter

14 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Feminism Needs Your Help

    Feminism needs your help. What’s that? You’re not a feminist? Good news! You’re wrong! Here’s why:

  1. You don’t know what feminism means (nothing to be ashamed of),
    or
  2. You are blind to inequality (only a little embarrassing, but easily repaired),
    or
  3. You are willfully misogynist (go ahead and be ashamed).

    Feminism is not man-hating or bra-burning. Bras are expensive. Feminism simply means you’re aware that women face inequality, and you’re not cool with that. Lets assume you are not a fan of racism. You’re not against racism because you’re a revolutionary, you’re against it because you’re not an ass. It’s the same with feminism. You’re not a feminist because you hate men, you’re a feminist because you don’t hate women. Feminism is the radical push to treat 50% of our population as human beings.

 

Feminism: Where did you come from, where did you go?

Image

    Feminism needs your help. It’s not some bold new cause; women have been screaming that they’re not just objects in a man’s society for as long as we’ve been a society. Just ask Lucretia. She was raped by a prince and then started the revolution that pushed Western civilization toward democracy. She’s the one in that painting there, stabbing herself to death to prevent future rapists from getting away with their crimes without consequences. The Roman Republic was a result of the ensuing revolution. It was like democracy, but with more togas—you may have heard of it. This was 510 BCE. Yup, feminists have been working on the same problems further back than the year zero. Seriously. It’s getting old.

    Hard to imagine a world, 2,500 years later, in which women are still objectified, victimized,  and marginalized in the exact same ways. Unless you have—I don’t know—eyes. Women continue to earn less than men and suffer more workplace harassment. Women are fed a constant toxic blend of societal slut-shaming and prude-bashing. More than one in four women in the US are still victims of rape or attempted rape. ONE in f****ing FOUR. Elliot Rodger brought the male-chauvinist “Men’s Rights” movement into the light with his recent insane killing spree, but the problem doesn’t lie with a minority of monsters. It lies with me. It lies with you.

 

Modern Feminism: #YesAllWomen

    Feminism needs your help. Recently, the issue trended on twitter with a couple catchy hashtags. Here is a quick glossary of terms for some reference:

  • Twitter—A place to go to contribute in or observe as a spectator the death of literacy and respectful discourse. Also, a site on which beautiful things occasionally happen.
  • Hashtag—A word or phrase posted on twitter with a # as a prefix, enabling others to speak on the same subject and connect. Helpful in linking such pivotal issues as art, politics, and how well one can type “OneDirection” with one’s nose.
  • #NotAllMen—A common defense positing the obvious fact that not every man on Earth is a D-bag. Also a satirical hashtag movement created to deride men who use this point to derail discussions about feminism.
  • #YesAllWomen—A hashtag movement which shifted the focus from accusation and condescension to the very real effects of widespread societal misogyny on, yes, literally every woman in the world.

Image

    If you’ve not read any #YesAllWomen posts, then leave right now and go read a few. They’re moving. The beauty of the trend is that it stopped focusing on who to blame for the problem, and started focusing on accepting that there is a problem (which is the first step to recovery, if my vast experience with TV shows about addicts has taught me anything).

    #NotAllMen, the sarcastic precursor to #YesAllWomen, was a flawed effort. It was, perhaps, a necessary one that brought about some good discussion, but it was inherently faulty—and it’s worthwhile to learn from its shortcomings. The first problem with #NotAllMen is that it’s true. Not all men are guilty of the specific crimes in question. The discussions these posts derail are far more important than the hurt feelings of the privileged—but maligning the male gender as a whole isn’t feminism, it’s misandry, against which a defensive reaction is natural. Do women deserve to be misandrists after years of misogyny? They sure as hell do! Will it fix anything? No. Feminism needs men, and it especially needs those men who are on the line—thinking about it, but not sure if they belong in the same camp. Mocking and alienating these men is the opposite of helpful.
Image

    The second problem with #NotAllMen is that it focuses on men alone. Don’t get me wrong, men act the part, but society sets the stage. Men do the raping, but our society promotes rape-culture. Men take positions of pride and power, but our society expects that of men and insults any signs of weakness, just as it expects women to be docile and supportive and insults their boldness. This is no excuse for monstrous acts, but we need to attack the root of the problem in addition to dealing with the thorns.
    
    I married the smartest, most creatively talented human being I’ve ever met. It was not a male chauvinist who told her that she shouldn’t take an AP math class because “it’s harder for girls.” It was a female guidance counselor. It was not a male chauvinist who read her high school poetry and said, “This is good, did your boyfriend help you?” It was a female teacher. It is not a male chauvinist today who soaks up her supportive encouragement and frequently forgets to give it back. That one’s me. I’m working on it. She deserves better.

    Men ARE guilty. Yes, ALL men, but not JUST men. Men and women together are guilty of allowing these stereotypes to persist. WE are guilty of “Man up,” and “don’t be a girl.” WE are guilty of “boys will be boys,” and “a woman’s place.” WE are guilty of Beauty and the Beast and Twilight and every action movie ever filmed. WE set the stage and rehearse the strong-man and weak-woman roles until we assume that there is no other way to be.

    There is another way to be. It’s called feminism. It needs your help.

12 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Why My Little Pony is my favorite ridiculous pop phenomenon.

I’ve paid more and more attention to the ways in which female characters are portrayed in the media in recent years… and I think it’s time to talk about Ponies.
20140215-180107.jpg

I’ve been well aware of the existence of My Little Pony for decades. I was a kid in the eighties with three older sisters, so inevitably the colorful figures found their way into my surplus hand-me-down toy collection. Aside for their fruity scratch & sniff flanks, I never found myself especially drawn into the franchise. They were ponies. I had much cooler Ninja Turtles I could play with.

The only time I recall even thinking about the silly Hasbro toys before the reboot was when, in college, I saw a couch being put out to the dump. My girlfriend and I needed one, and so I sniffed it to ensure it wasn’t soiled… and it smelled inexplicably and magically like My Little Pony butts. It was delightful, so of course I snatched that thing up. When I explained my decision to my girlfriend, she fully supported me. That girlfriend is now my wife, incidentally. A woman who respects a man dumpster-diving for a couch because it smells like My Little Pony butts is a woman worth hanging on to.

Where was I? Right—ponies. I never cared about them as a kid, but recently, as a 6-foot tall, well-educated man pushing thirty, I found myself openly admitting that I’m a fan of Friendship is Magic, and explaining its virtues—to my boss of all people. Here’s why.

Friendship Is Magic is ridiculous. It’s a kids’ show with pony, pegasus, and unicorn characters who live in the mythical land of “Equestria” in a town called “Ponyville.” It’s absurd, and it knows it’s absurd, and yet… it is one of the first programs really written for girls. I don’t mean that it is written to be girly, because Lord knows countless pink frilly characters and overly-enunciated educational “girl shows” have been cranked out to appeal to the stereotypes of what a girl is supposed to be. I mean that, for once, a program came out that was written for real girls. Girls, as in well-rounded human beings.

MLP FIM didn’t play dumb to make itself more accessible to young kids, and it didn’t stoop to countless romantic tropes as if a girl’s sole purpose was to be pretty and fall in love with boys. It featured a cast of dynamically different girls who were not afraid to enjoy feminine things, but weren’t limited to them, either. The show didn’t pander.

There are a lot of good TV shows featuring male casts with a token girl or two. The girls are usually thrown in as love interests or mother-figures (Ninja Turtles has April O’Neil, Winnie The Pooh has Kanga, Peter Pan has Wendy). Girls have been enjoying these male-centric programs for generations, because until now they have been better than the “girl shows” alternatives. MLP has done the opposite, and done it well. (As a father of a toddler, I’ve watched enough drivel to feel qualified to judge.) My son now enjoys Ninja Turtles and My Little Ponies with equal enthusiasm, and I am right there with him.

More impressive than all that, MLP took a chunk out of the gender dichotomy wall. It’s been done before—after all, women can now enjoy many previously “masculine” things without criticism, from trousers to touchdowns—but rarely have groups of men openly enjoyed something feminine without fear of social ridicule. I worked on a US military base in Okinawa, where I saw manly, muscular men with guns strapped to their hips—men in the most macho profession with extreme pressure to conform—who had added MLP patches to their uniforms or carried a BRONY wallet with pride. It’s an amazing and preposterous phenomenon, and I love it.

Now, once a week, my classroom become a boisterous crowd of “Bronies” and “Pegasisters” as the school’s newest club holds session. As a staff adviser, I listen with no little fascination as students describe “coming out” as a Brony, and the various responses of their families.

In the end, it is a silly cartoon, but it is also a moment in history. Girls are being given more varied role models and more options for their identities. Boys are being given a chance to be brave through love and tolerance, rather than brave exclusively through fists and fury. The old expectations about what boys and girls should be are shifting, and I like being a small part of that.

Oh, and the music. It’s got some pretty catchy tunes.

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Girls and Boys

I was told recently that being concerned about how we write men in literature when women have it much worse meant that I have misplaced priorities. Here is my elegant dissertation on why that’s a steamy load of poo. First and foremost, the two are the same priority. The issue is not boys versus girls, it is gender roles and societal expectations, which is a single coin. Insisting that it’s about tails landing down and not about heads landing up is as logical as it is helpful. Secondly, it reinforces the divide rather than repairing it.

I recently encountered an article bemoaning the poor treatment of men in YA fantasy. The thesis, sadly buried amidst a great deal of rubbish, was that impossible masculine ideals can be harmful to the self-esteem of young men. While this is reasonable, the author provided only two examples, neither of which were used well, and then went on to suggest that young women were NOT faced with such pressures, soundly blowing her own point to smithereens.

The argument reminded me of a graphic that flittered around the internet some time ago protesting a feminist double-standard. It depicted He-Man and Barbie, and claimed that feminists protested the unrealistic body type of a Barbie for girls, but that they were okay with the impossibly muscular He-Man for boys. (below)

20140119-071432.jpg

The first fault of both the article and the graphic is that they fail to recognize why the female archetype gets more attention, and why it is more insidious. To put it simply, if a boy tries to be like He-Man, he will try to be strong, athletic, and confident. If a girl tries to be like Barbie, she will avoid exertion, starve herself thin, and try to act demure and submissive at all times. Both archetypes reinforce a gender dichotomy in which men must be strong and overpowering, and women must be weak and overpowered.

The second fault of both the article and the graphic is that they create an us versus them standoff. Those darn feminists, the graphic implies, don’t care about the troubles we men face. In truth, the creator of the image is actually making a feminist point. True feminists DO have a problem with the gendered pressures facing boys, both because it sets up a society that subjugates women, and because young boys can suffer greatly as a result of these pressures. Teen suicide rates, as we have seen, are over four times higher in boys than girls in the US.

The article tries to claim that young men have it worse when it comes to unrealistic characters in YA. She makes it a competition, boys vs. girls. This is a fight she can’t win, and one not worth fighting to begin with. Even in the examples she provided, both kinds of gender stereotypes are present, and the male characters still have the power roles. In Twilight, for example, Edward Cullen is the brooding Beast, Bella his submissive Belle. Strong & weak gendered ideals are a tale as old as time. Contrary to the article’s claim, men simply do not face aesthetic pressures to the same degree that women do, and the physical ideals men are pushed toward are less oppressive. The ignorance of the claim does not, however, mean that men do not face unrealistic ideals, or that a lack of variety in literature is not a problem.

Before completely discarding her article as ridiculous, which is easy to do, it’s worth pushing past the poorly justified rant to look at the kernel of truth. There are an abundance of supernaturally attractive male figures in YA romance (and in the media in general), which can lead young men to feel insecure and unattractive. This is true. To dismiss this in favor of the argument, yeah, but women have it worse, is not a healthy form of discourse. To use an extreme analogy, one should never dismiss the holocaust of the Jewish people because the genocide of Native Americans resulted in more deaths. Both were unfathomable atrocities. Its not a competition. To claim that one group does not have a right to their grievance is callously dismissive and does nothing to improve the issue on either side. All it does, in this case, is create the incorrect impression that feminists care only about girls, leading to ignorant internet memes (see above).

In the end, I left the article with at least one worthwhile scrap of wisdom (although it took multiple readings and one incredibly frustrating attempt at a respectful discussion on twitter). What I took away, aside from “avoid weighty topics in 140 characters or less,” was this: Conscientious fantasy authors would do well to include a wider variety of body types, both to improve the messages bombarding teens today, and to improve their writing. It’s not about boys versus girls, it’s about being good, moral contributors to the world of YA literature. 

Your leading character is the eyes through which your audience sees the world, so what perspective are you asking readers to assume? I write a female narrator in a YA fantasy novel, so the article spoke directly to me. I think a lot about what kind of person she is and who she might become, but now I plan on keeping an even closer eye on the men in her life, too. This is a priority to me as as a feminist, as a father, and as a writer, and I don’t believe it is misplaced at all.

20140119-071238.jpg

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized