A Nobel Prize Winner and a Tattoo Artist Walk into a Bar and All the Women Start Crying

This week during my usual slate of time in which I do my best to lose all faith in humanity by perusing the Internet news, I read a blog post by Jane Marie who was denied a neck tattoo and, to put it mildly, was unhappy about it. In fact, she was so unhappy about it that she wrote a scathing rant against the artist, Dan Bythewood, in the tone of, “Can you believe this dickish man wouldn’t ‘let me’ have a neck tattoo?”

The crux of her displeasure is that she, being a near 40 adult female is perfectly capable of making her own decisions as to what to do with her own body. In this she is, of course, absolutely right. Where she is wrong is the assumption that her adult decision and a fistful of dollars entitles her to a tattoo. I’m sorry, but it doesn’t, and the belief that it does draws a line in the sand between the casually tattooed and the culturally tattooed—that is to say, those who treat tattoos as an accessory and those who treat them as a lifestyle.

Now here’s the thing: tattoo artists, being as diverse a group of people as anyone else, each have different ideological lines that they are willing to cross. This particular artist does not like to work on visible areas (hands, necks, faces) of people who are not already heavily tattooed, those who are not clearly invested in tattoos as a lifestyle. Which is fine, this is the position of lots of artists. There are also artists who are willing to cross that line in certain circumstances, as Jane Marie herself admitted. (She later went to an artist who had apparently worked on her before, who agreed to the neck tattoo after giving her a similar caution to the one Dan tried to express.)

Jane Marie wanting a neck tattoo as a casually tattooed 40 something isn’t a problem. Dan denying her the neck tattoo isn’t a problem. There wouldn’t have been a problem at all if the exchange had ended there. But instead of acting like the autonomous adult that she wishes to be respected as, Jane Marie took events to the next level.

She cried sexism:

Dan: “A neck tattoo on someone without a lot of tattoos is like lighting a birthday candle on an unbaked cake.”

Stunning analogy, right? I wonder: Does Dan know what an analogy even is? And then suddenly I’m fighting back tears because, as Dan has already correctly assessed, I’m just a feeble-minded, hysterical girl. And then I ask the next thing that pops into my head.

Me: “Would you say this to a guy?”

Dan luh-hiterally paused, looked askance, and said with a slight nod, unconvincingly, “Yeah.”

Then he asked if we were ready to get started on the other tattoos, and I was so infuriated I cannot remember exactly what I said but it was something to the effect of, “Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not going to give you money after that, let alone have you touch me or put art on my body!” And then we walked out.

Pause for face-palm.

Ok, I understand being upset and disappointed about not being able to do something you’re really excited about. We’ve all been there. But for a woman whose whole argument for getting the thing she was denied is that she’s a big girl who can make her own decisions, she sure doesn’t act like it.

The real kicker though is the tacit accusation of sexism, which is a stretch to say the least. Unless I’m missing something in both Jane Marie’s and Dan’s accounts of how this all went down, nothing was said to suggest that Dan was acting in malice against her sex. By using sexism in her argument, Jane Marie highlights the massive frivolity with which feminism is sometimes employed, which further discredits the spirit of the movement at a time when social justice backlash is becoming aggressively and viciously vocal.

Her stunning overreaction also cements the notion that we women are unable to contain or control ourselves, an idea that is still so prevalent in society that Nobel-Prize winning biologist Tim Hunt felt it would make a good joke for a dinner gathering hosted by the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations:

 …let me tell you about my trouble with girls…Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.

Pause for second face-palm.

 Hunt’s official and unofficial statements are in conflict, of course. In one account he says he was nervous and said the first, ill-advised thing that came to his head. In the other he says that he was speaking more from truth than in jest. Whichever version you believe has more weight, the more pressing problem is the worldview that not only incubated this, but allowed it to continue to thrive into the 21st century, a time when women are still vocally calling for recognition and equality. Even if this was nothing more than innocent, jittery word vomit, something in what he said apparently didn’t seem at all sexist to him, otherwise why in the hell did he say it at a gathering hosted by female scientists? That he was apparently so blind to how his comments might be taken shows a flabbergasting level of societal disconnect and male privilege that is heartbreaking from a feminist perspective.

Women have taken immeasurable pains in the past and present to be recognized as humans and professionals whose thoughts and opinions matter, especially in STEM fields and still, still we find ourselves as the butt of some bro-scientist’s sexist joke about Lady Emotions.

If ever there was a time to fling around indignant feminist rage against someone being offensively patronizing, this was it. Yet, in contrast to Jane Marie’s rant, female scientists responded in humor with the #distractinglysexy Twitter campaign, proving that some of us can control our raging Lady Tears, even when others choose to make a mockery of us.


The Book of the Courtier: Afterthoughts

The Book of the Courtier
Baldesar Castiglione
189 pages (269 with afterword and references)



For a book that’s only 189 pages long, it took a really, really long time to get through this one. Partly because it’s very dense, and partly because it was originally written in the early 1500’s, so much of the book drags in elegant language that tends to lose my twenty-first century attention span. It picked up in the middle where the dialogue gets heated, but it still took me close to two hours to get through twenty pages. In short, it’s not a book that lends itself well to casual reading.

the book of the courtierI’d say that I’m about to spoil this for you, if I was 100% sure that I understood it all.

To begin with, I liked The Prince better, if only because Machiavelli actually gives advice on how to be a good ruler, where The Book of the Courtier only goes as deep as “One ought to be good and fair”. How does one be good and fair? By doing good and fair things, obviously. It’s not very helpful in a lot of respects, but I suppose there aren’t many people these days who need to know how to be a good courtier or an effective prince.

The Book of the Courtier is a courtesy book, which is to say, a book meant to teach the reader about manners. What it has ended up being for modern scholars and historians is a great look into the life and times of the Italian court in the early Renaissance. Castiglione wrote the book as an extended letter, in four parts with each part representing a different night on which these dialogues supposedly took place. Now, apparently the people in the book are all real, however the dialogues themselves are fictional. The edition I read (pictured above) helpfully lists the characters in the beginning of the book. They are as follows:

Elisabeth Gonzaga: Duchess of Urbino, hostess of the dialogues.
Emilia Pia: Elisabeth’s friend, court agitator.
Ludovico da Conossa: Count, relative of Castiglione; another court agitator.
Giuliano de’ Medici (Magnifico): exile from Florance; highly suspected of participating in the dialogues to get laid.
Ottaviano Fregoso: suspected mysogynist.
Peitro Bembo: very much a poet; possibly also in this to get laid.
Cesare Gonzaga: relative of Elisabeth; possessor of good sense.
Gaspar Pallavicino: Count; most definitely a mysogynist.
Lots of other men and women who didn’t impress me enough to mention.

The dialogues begin when the courtiers present get tired of dancing and singing and music playing and all come together to play a game, which in this case means, ‘let’s sit together and nettle each other under the pretense of a debate’, which is pretty much how I watch movies with friends. The more things change. For a while the courtiers can’t decide what the heck it is that they want to talk about, all topics apparently having been exhausted, or being too exhausting. The Duchess puts the decision of what the night’s entertainment is to be to her companion Emilia, who immediately becomes drunk on power and takes cheap shots at the men as they give their suggestions. Finally–and with some exasperation–it is suggested that they talk about what the perfect courtier might look like, and Emilia jumps on the suggestion, and puts to task the poor man who suggests it. Honestly, I didn’t really like Emilia until Gaspar opened his mouth, which is kind of like disliking cabbage moths in your garden until you discover the wasp nest in your attic.

The first part of The Book of the Courtier is rather short and mostly deals with what the perfect courtier ought to be skilled in, which is pretty much everything. I mean, these are the first things you’d think of when putting together the perfect man: he’s got to be athletic in all the popular sports, given to masculinity over femininity, though he must also be sensitive and courteous, and well learned and well read, intelligent and prudent, likable and generous, skilled in the arts etc. etc. Draw up your vision of Prince Charming and that’s pretty much the beginning part of this book.

The second part of the book slides into the topic of how a courtier ought to speak to the various people in his life. This ends up becoming a very long (very long) discussion on what humor is, and all the different kinds of humor. And it wouldn’t be a good discussion if they didn’t include examples of each kind of humor, from puns to practical jokes. I’m sure the jokes were hilarious (actually no, a great deal of this chapter was very, very unfunny) except that the punch lines were in Italian, and so all the humor was lost on me. The chapter ends with the courtiers regaling each other with all the times they behaved like asshats at the expense of someone else. This, too, is apparently incredibly funny. However, Gaspar then decides to bring the entire mood of the evening down by suggesting that it’s totally unfair that women can play practical jokes on men, but men can’t play practical jokes on women. At which point a few of the other courtiers point out that it’s not really fair to play those kinds of jokes on women, seeing that men don’t lose much in the joking, but women stand to lose their honor, which, let’s face it guys, is all that women have of worth. But Gaspar has had his sudden woman rage ignited and won’t let this issue go, so he keeps railing on how unfairly women treat men, until finally Elisabeth says, “Since Gaspar can’t seem to find anything nice to say about women, one of you guys needs to step up and tell us what the perfect court lady is like.” (I paraphrase, of course.) This causes the assembled men of court to collectively pale and shit their pants, and request that the discussion be held off until the next night. Elisabeth and Emilia agree, and the evening is called to a close. One assumes that Gaspar is later given a swirly in a chamber pot by all the other men for getting them involved in his bullshit.

Part three is probably the most amusing portion of the book. It’s certainly the part I was most awake for. Emilia opens the conversation requesting that someone defend the honor of women from their enemies (Gaspar and Ottaviano, who takes his side). Throughout this, Gaspar continues to insist that he’s not an enemy of women, and that, in fact, he’s doing them a favor by telling them how truly inferior and wretched they are, instead of heaping on ‘false’ praises. At this point, the eyebrows of everyone in the court are raised at him and Ottaviano in an expression of Really, dude? Finally, the Magnifico has enough of Gaspar’s unfettered mysogyny, and takes it upon himself to give example after example after historical, literary and courtly example of how women are at least as accomplished, capable, intelligent and ruthless as men are. Apparently no one ever told Magnifico not to argue with the trolls. Predictably, Gaspar meets each of Magnifico’s examples with a host of logical fallacies and goal post shifting. Gaspar says women are weak; Magnifico gives him examples of women being strong; Gaspar says women are overly passionate; Magnifico gives him examples of women’s temperance; Gaspar says women are too cold; Magnifico gives him examples of women who have gone to incredible lengths for love; Gaspar says women are naturally inferior, and onward ad infinitum. Here are a few of my favorite moments from part three, again paraphrased:

Duchess: Ok, we’ve spent two nights talking about the perfect courtier. Since Gaspar wants to be an ass about it, you all have to talk about what the perfect court lady is like.
Courtiers: *pale* We…. we couldn’t presume to–
Duchess: I’m waiting.
Courtiers: But–
Duchess: Are you unable to?
Courtiers: Well, no, but–I mean… we could describe the perfect woman, but she would be a queen, not a court lady.
Gaspar: She doesn’t exist. There’s no such thing as a perfect woman, because they’re all incompetent and stupid.
Emilia: So, which of you fine and noble gentlemen is going to defend us against our enemy here?
Gaspar: Hey, I’m not your enemy.
Magnifico: *steps in to give 30 pages of examples of worthy women in history*
Gaspar: Like all women, they do things in extremes. You’d never find a man doing things in extremes. Also, current stories or they never happened.
Duchess: I notice, Gaspar, that over the previous two nights you never once raised an objection that all these fine and noble traits of our phantom courtier can’t be actually all be found in one man today, yet when Magnifico gives up examples of what a perfect lady might be, you’re quick to jab in “No such lady exists today.”
Frisio: I’ve never heard of any of the women you’re talking about, Magnifico, so your evidence is invalid.
Magnifico: You’re all retarded.
Gaspar: Women are stupid, imperfect defects of nature.
Duchess: Gaspar, I’m sitting right here.
Gaspar: I beg your pardon, my lady, but it’s true.
Magnifico: Dude, you seriously hate women.
Gaspar: No I don’t.
Magnifico: You totally do. You can’t say a single line about them without laying on the hate.
Gaspar: Look, it’s true that women are imperfect, and stupid, and without good reason or judgement, but they can’t help it, nature made them that way, thus, I accept that, and respect them for their natural deficiencies.
Magnifico: You are such a mysogynist.
Gaspar: I’m not, I’m just telling the truth, unlike you who unkindly flatter them.
Duchess: Still sitting right here, Gaspar.
Gaspar: Women will never be as perfect as men.
Magnifico: Are you serious? Here’s ten pages on how you’re wrong.
Gaspar: And here’s a paragraph on how husbands are abused by their wives.
Magnifico: Are you F***ING kidding me?! We’ve institutionalized women into a weaker role than men and you villainize them for occupying the role WE put them in?
Gaspar: Women are stupid, imperfect defects of nature.
Magnifico: ARGH!  I’m tired of talking about this. My Lady Duchess, can I stop debating with idiots now?
Gaspar: He only wants to stop because he can’t think of anything else good to say about women.
Magnifico: I could do this all night, Gaspar. You wanna take this outside?!

Gaspar: The greatest virtue of a woman is her chastity, without which no one could be certain where his children came from. That’s why women aren’t permitted loose living as men are.
Magnifico: I have no argument there, Gaspar, but tell me, why is it that we only say that women ought not to live loosely? Surely if men were as perfect as you say they are they should find it easy to live chastely as well. See, the thing is, we men make the rules, and we make them in such a way as to make ourselves blameless of everything we do, while sitting in a position to cast blame on women, as you do now, who are unable to defend themselves.

Frisio: You speak in generalities, give us some specific examples of virtuous women.
Cesare: *Gives several specific examples of virtuous women*
Frisio: Just because one woman is virtuous, doesn’t make all of them virtuous.
Cesare & Magnifico: =__=;

Cesare: You guys keep railing on women, saying that their appetites are so much stronger than men so that we have to put a bridle on them to keep them pure and chaste, yet ignore all the countless ways that men then attempt to lure women away from their chastity; with flattery, guile, threats, entreats, and violence even!
Gaspar: *Opens his mouth to retort*
Ottoviano: Oh, for the love of God, just let him have this argument, Gaspar! You’re not doing yourself any favors. All the women and most of the men already look ready to knife you in your sleep.
Gaspar: Hey, they should be thanking me! If I hadn’t goaded Magnifico and Cesare so much they’d never have heard all the praises and flattery of women.

So, yeah. Part three is a full of all the mysogyny and arguments for equality that we still see today. The more things change, am I right? By the end of this bickering between Gaspar and Magnifico, everyone is pretty exhausted, so they leave off on their chosen topic for the night again, tasking Ottaviano to speak finally on how a courtier ought to behave in regard to his prince, and how he must behave in love–both in youth and in old age. Ottaviano ends up arriving so late to the party that everyone figures he’s chickened out on the thing and prepares to just dance the night away. When he finally does arrive (likely hoping that everyone has forgotten all about his topic) the court immediately sits again to resume their conversation. Ottaviano pretty much describes that the courtier’s job in relation to his prince is to instruct him in all ways to be a good leader, which is fine and dandy until Magnifico points out that in doing so, he makes himself greater than the prince, which is unbecoming. A few conversation tangents later and they’re discussing the spiritual nature of beauty, and how (bizarrely) all beautiful people are automatically good and all ugly people are automatically evil. Unsurprisingly, Gaspar leaps in with some more mysogynistic comments, but is told to sit down and shut it, because everyone has heard enough out of him. Peitro has a sort of religious experience while describing beauty, and becomes so overcome by his own words that he turns it into a sermon (small wonder he later becomes a cardinal), and has everyone else so transfixed that they want to hear more, but he says the spirit that moved him has gone, and that is the end of the dialogues. Except that Gaspar tries to throw in a few more jabs at women, and Elisabeth warns him he’s on thin ice.

The Book of the Courtier was interesting from a historical point of view, and in a small way for picking up some cues for voice when writing nobility, but as a pleasure read it was dull and dragged in too many places to get through easily. It’s a good book for academics, not so good for anyone who wants to read an actual story.

The next book on my reading list is The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction July/Aug guest edited by C.C. Finlay.

Joining the Uncomfortable Conversation of Violence Against Women

Last week I watched a video by a YouTuber whose opinions I generally agree with which suggested that #YesAllPeople and #NotAllMen are as legitimate a statement as #YesAllWomen. To say that I was angered by it is a bit of an understatement. The desire to leave a comment was high, but as I scrolled through the comments and read the chorus of pro-men’s rights statistics and mysogynistic rhetoric I realized something that is despairingly analogous to real life: this was not a safe place to voice my opinion. The reality is that the world is not a safe place for women–even in the western world which we love to tout as being progressive and inclusive. We women exist in a culture that promotes the idea that we are tools and objects to be used and won. Where “feminist” is a dirty word, and in which speaking out about abuse and sexism is a social crime, because damnit all, look at all the rights women do have, and haven’t you seen all the shit that [x] group has to go through? Ultimately, this is where the #YesAllPeople and #NotAllMen hashtags fall short, because guys, this conversation isn’t about you.

I know it seems like it is, with how many women are coming forward recently to talk about what it’s like to live in fear of men. The horror stories of abuse and violence must seem like an accusation that you need to defend yourself against, but you’re reading it wrong. This conversation isn’t about how evil men can be. It’s about the tragic experiences disturbingly common among women, and how we can prevent them. This is why it’s crucial for you to understand that we don’t need you bursting onto the stage like you’re Kanye West saying, “I’m really sorry about your hardship, and I’mma let you finish telling your story, but I just wanna say, not all men are abusers and rapists.” Yes, we know that. But we’re not talking about the percentage of men who abuse women. We’re talking about the percentage of women who are abused by men–it turns out that that’s a bloody high number. And just to briefly address the #YesAllPeople argument, consider what it would be like if every time you talked about how outrageous the cost of living is currently, some asshole jumped in and said “Ch- You know, there are some people in the world who live off of five cents a month. You’re not the only one with problems, you selfish prick.” Not only is the relative poverty of the world not related to what you were originally talking about, but it would get old really fast.

I know that a lot of you guys out there feel bad for us. You don’t like the uncomfortable feeling that these stories produce any more than we women do. You want to comfort us and absolve yourself of guilt by association. You don’t want to be a part of the problem. But if you want to be a part of the conversation and the ultimate solution, here is what we need you to do first: close your lips and open your ears. Listen to us and our stories. Understand that even if you don’t see it, sexual harassment and violence against women is a very prevalent reality in our society. Recognize that institutionalized sexism and mysogyny exist everywhere in our culture, and speak out against instances of it where they appear. And as difficult as it is, whenever you can empathize instead of sympathize.

Women live in a world in which drinking can be misconstrued as implied consent (if she didn’t want to be fondled, she shouldn’t have had so much to drink); where inviting a guy into your home can be interpreted as a sexual invitation for which the women is at fault if she doesn’t follow through with the unspoken promise; where grown adults are advised not to walk the streets alone at night; where each date is a potential rape; where we’re taught that our bodies need to be put on display for men, but we must feel ashamed of ourselves if they overstep their boundaries. If you’re a guy and you think this is bullshit, then join our voices, but first you have to understand that we’re not talking about whether or not you’re a part of the problem; we’re talking about the reality of the problem itself, and that’s the bigger issue.

In the end, #YesAllWomen exists because #NotAllMen listen.


Follow the conversation on these great blogs as well:

Not All Men: How Discussing Women’s Issues Gets Derailed

Not All Men, But Still Too Many Men


April A – Z Highlights

survivor-atoz [2014] - SMALL

I did it. I blogged every day in the month of April. I even kept to my regular Sunday schedule (except for one Sunday when I was just too tired to have a coherent thought). It was a lot of fun researching the authors on my shelf, talking about my favorite books and connecting with fellow book lovers. Most of all, I enjoyed the incredible, entertaining, and educational content I found with other bloggers participating in the challenge. I want to give the spotlight here to a few of them whose blogs I especially enjoyed reading every morning:

Claire Gillian: Oh my goodness, did Ms. Gillian ever have me laughing and giggling over my coffee! In her theme Regrettable Books A to Z™, she gave us a new cover and back blurb for a new ridiculous, completely fictional romance novel each day. While they were each over the top with their tongue in cheek romance tropes, I admit, there were a few days when I found myself genuinely wanting to read some of those books that do not exist. Maybe Claire will pen a couple of them and satisfy my curiosity.

Editorial Stand: Giving fantastic advice and definitions from the editing side of the publishing industry, I looked forward to a new fact every day to add to my writing notebook. For writers, this blog is a must read. If you have a manuscript in need of professional copy-editing, Editorial Stand provides that service.

Jay Noel made me feel old, then young, then old again with his theme One Hit Wonders from 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s pop music. Many of the songs he featured threw me back to my childhood. Many more I’d never heard in my life. In addition to enjoying spending a few minutes in my past every morning, I also enjoyed the originality of the theme, which is what earned this blog a spotlight here.

Mina Burrows: I don’t watch a lot of classic movies (or really any movies much anymore) but I love a good monster story, and Mina took us through A – Z of classic movie monsters. Quizzes, trivia and clips from old classics–this blog was a delight for looking back into what scared us in the past, and what still does.

MopDog: With a new strange Hungarian cultural tidbit every day, MopDog was a delight to read for me who sometimes feels as though I grew up in a cultural vacuum. As the adage goes, the grass is always greener (or more interesting, in this case) on the other side– these quirks and oddities from Hungary more than once made me want to visit the country on my next vacation.

Murderous Imaginings: Love a good slasher story? Writing a crime novel and just can’t pick the right murder weapon? Murderous Imaginings has you covered. From Axe to Zip Line, throughout April this blog gave us murder weapons and the bizarre, gruesome, horrific true stories that go with them. Don’t forget to lock your doors at night.

Notes From My ApartmentIn case my theme for this challenge didn’t make it obvious enough, I love books and the people who write them. It’s no surprise then that I loved stopping by this blog through the challenge for a new author and applicable book recommendations every day. I was both saddened and delighted by the number of books and authors featured here that I had never heard of before, but that is the way of things. I recommend going back and giving this A – Z a look if you’re interested in filling your shelves with more books.

Olivia Waite: Doing her challenge on intersectional feminism in romance, Olivia Waite amazed me daily with deep analyses of the romance genre and how it portrays women and people of color. There were some great recommendations and some well deserved dressing downs, and for someone who takes an interest in feminism in literature, this was a great blog to keep up with.

SaylingAway: I love history; I love art; I loved this blog which explored the life and work of a new historical artist every day. Some of the works I was familiar with but for the most part, every entry was entirely new information for me–something I also adore.

Tales of a Pee Dee Mama: This was one of the blogs I especially looked forward to reading each morning. As a kindergarten teacher, this A – Z animal crafts theme was and still is a great resource for my lesson plans. Each letter gave a detailed craft idea, and several facts about the animal in question, which I also very much enjoyed.

The Sound of One Hand Clapping: With tales from life that were sometimes stranger than fiction, this blog had me giggling and chuckling through most of the month. A must read for those who enjoy everyday humor.

I’d also like to give my thanks to the following blogs for being so active in the comments. You guys are awesome, and I really looked forward to seeing what you had to say about my shelves! Please come by again. I have cookies!

Tina DC Hayes
Elizabeth Hein
Dean K Miller
Shere y Paul
Defending the Pen

Linda Covella
Donna’s New Day
Writing, Reading, and the Pursuit of Dreams
Anabel’s Travel Blog
Tell Me Another
Doorway Between Worlds

herding cats & burning soup
The Transgentle Wife

And of course I couldn’t have done it at all without the encouragement and support of Alex Hurst.

There are so many others too. Thank you for your time, your interest, and the audience. I had a lot of fun this April.

Armor Up, Ladies!

Let’s do some quick role play. Say you’re alone, walking home one night, minding your own business. It’s cold, so you’ve got your coat buttoned all the way up and your hands in your pocket. Because it’s late you decide to take a short cut through an alley. You’re half way through when OMG a dragon appears from the middle of nowhere, looking like it’s had a seriously bad day. (It’s a role play, bare with me.) Do you:

a) Dive into the dumpster on your right and hope it didn’t see you.
b) Crap your pants and play dead.
c) Wonder which of the two-week old mold colonies in your refrigerator did it this time.
d) Whip out your pocket knife and strip yourself down to your underwear because shit, you’re gonna fight this thing!

If you chose option d, you’re probably a woman, right? No? Curses, internet! You’ve lied to me again!

As ridiculous as the above scenario is, as far as much of the internet, gaming, comic book and general fantasy & science fiction communities are concerned, battling in your unmentionables is not only perfectly acceptable for a woman, it’s downright mandatory. Impractical, dangerous, and sexualized female armor is so pervasive in our fantasy media culture that we’ve become desensitized to the gross differences between male and female character design, and what it means to the larger gender discussion. And before we hear the chorus of ‘male characters are sexualized too’, let’s ask ourselves when was the last time we saw chain mail banana hammocks and steel nipple stickies as fundamental pieces of male battle armor in a non-ironic way. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Because that’s what we’re talking about here. The fact that female characters are portrayed as seriously going into battle in stiletto heels, with all their vital organs exposed and a couple strips of metal wedged between their butt cheeks and over their cleavage to serve as armor–while their male counterparts are wrapped in enough iron to alter the Earth’s magnetic poles. And don’t even get me started on the ‘she’s so strong she doesn’t need armor’ bullshit argument. That’s not a strong female character, that’s a masturbatory image and don’t even try to pretend otherwise.

But putting aside how ludicrously impractical such armor is and how these designs are blatantly there to appeal to male fans, these images also contribute to a number of gender stereotypes regarding sexual attractiveness, capability and womanhood. Take the strong female character argument from above. How is it that the strength of a female character is inversely proportional to how little she is wearing? We see this outside of fantasy worlds as well. Women who can’t or won’t conform to a very specific model of beauty and sexuality are seen as less intelligent and less capable of doing their jobs, even when physical fitness/attractiveness have nothing to do with their vocation.

Stepping into the private sphere we can also see how these stereotypes are damaging. The designers make it clear that beauty trumps safety for their female characters. In reality, the preoccupation with beauty, fashion and materialism is almost shorthand for ‘female’. Quick, how long does it take the average woman to get ready in the morning? Forever, right? Gawd, we were supposed to have left an hour ago! (For the record, it only takes me about seven minutes in front of a mirror to do everything I need to do to look human). It’s a bit of a catch-22: to be taken seriously a woman must be beautiful, but if she spends too much time or energy on being beautiful then she’s vapid. Conversely, if a woman chooses to walk against the current standards of attractiveness, she opens herself up to all sorts of slings and barbs aimed at her womanhood, her sexuality and her femininity. Hell, one of the arguments against covering female characters in actual, practical battle armor is that it would take away her femininity, as if that matters when she’s wading though a sea of swords and spears and stabby, stabby death.

Bogu_do_-_kendoWhich brings me to my last point: armor is not sexy. I know this from seven years of bouncing around in leather and cotton, swinging a bamboo sword at peoples’ heads. It’s hot, sticky, awkward and heavy. When I take off my men (mask) I have hair plastered to my forehead, my face is red, and any mascara left over from work has migrated down to my flushed, freckled cheeks. Unattractive as this may be, I’m relatively protected from serious injury while completely fitted out. With this experience in mind, I’d like to offer some advice to the more… liberal female knights of the fantasy world:

1) Padding is essential. The bottom edge of my do (torso protector) sits right on my hip bones. A couple good hard whacks there and even the heavy cotton tare (hip and groin protector) and hakama (trousers) can’t protect from the bruises. If you’re going into battle with metal against bare skin, you’re gonna have a bad time.

2) No uncovered backs. Oh god I wish I had some back protection in kendo. The back isn’t a legitimate strike zone, but that doesn’t mean accidents don’t happen. Getting hit in the back, right along the ribs at full force is one of the most painful injuries I’ve ever sustained in kendo.

3) Get rid of the lace and the floaty, billowy capes. The lace will make you chafe so bad you’ll wish an arrow takes you in your uncovered back, and any fabric that’s just dangling around uselessly is going to trip you. God knows I’ve tripped more than once on my hakama.

4) The shorter the hair, the better. If you absolutely must have long hair, braids are best. Pony-tails are a nightmare and get tangled in everything. I’ve been tempted a few times to ask for scissors to just cut the damn thing off rather than spend minutes untangling it from the straps it gets caught up in.

5) Boobs are malleable. It’s not going to kill you to push them up behind some flat chested armor that will protect you better in the long run than ‘female form fitted’ armor.

6) Arrows, pike thrusts, crossbow bolts and mace strikes however, will kill you if they connect with the soft squishy bits where you store your vital organs. Note above that the only piece of armor that is actually solid, hard leather/bamboo/resin is that part that protects the throat, chest and abdomen. Yeah, keep that in mind.


If you’re interested in more great examples of ridiculous female battle armor, check out Bikini Armor Battle Damage and play along with them on their female armor and female armor rhetoric bingo cards.

Want more? College Humor knows how much Female Armor Sucks. As does Chain Mail Bikini Squad. (not safe for work)


Children, Toys, and Social Conditioning

Ok, I’m a little late to the party on this one, but I have to prioritize my writing and choose carefully when I allow myself to become truly angry at something because otherwise I’d have blood pressure through the roof. This is one of the times when I found myself so swathed in disgust-anger that I couldn’t not talk about it, no matter how much time passed between the original outrage and my getting around to finally addressing it:

Children, Toys, and Social Conditioning.

In particular, this amazingly well sourced article written by Foz Meadows at Shattersnipe which thoroughly dresses down James Delingpole and his ridiculously flawed argument that nature has dictated that girls love pink and aspire to housework and motherhood, while boys love blue and aspire to destruction and violence, and that anyone who dares suggest otherwise is a sad excuse for a hobby social engineer, fighting desperately against the natural order for some political purpose, all at the expense of the children. Won’t somebody please think of the children? Delingpole’s theory of gender norms is so full of sexist conjecture and hypocrisy it’ll make you want to punch a kitten, right in its fluffy face, just to vent some anger.

To summarize for those who don’t have the time to read Meadows’s lengthy beat-down, Delingpole suggests that, in a social vacuum, girls will always become pink clad mothers, and boys will always become blue clad scientists, soldiers, builders, etc. therefore it is completely normal for girls to be interested in pink and domestic toys, and boys to be interested in blue, science and war toys. He makes this assertion while completely ignoring the fact that the world in which children live is dominated by social cues that reinforce a strict binary gender in both the color and activities that are deemed appropriate for either sex. This is akin to my growing an apple tree in a ten gallon pot, observing that it doesn’t grow higher than my shoulder and ergo assuming that, in absence of my care, all apple trees will grow no higher than a man.

Parents, teachers, peers, and all forms of conventional media tell children from a very early age how they should look, act, and play. When we tell children with our actions that boys can’t like pink and that girls are bad at math and science, we are filling their previously empty sponge-minds with what they will eventually use to form their framework for the world. You can’t tell me that children are making choices separate from what is being hammered into their brains, sometimes intentionally, and sometimes not.

Here’s the thing: playtime is training. It’s teaching children how to interact with their world and the people around them. It’s preparing them for future interests and careers. It’s explaining to them how the world works. Now tell me how it is fair that girls are being told that their pre-approved life is narrowly defined as motherhood, shopping and beauty products? How is it fair that boys are told they can’t shouldn’t step away from trucks and trains, building and destroying? What we are telling children when we draw a line through the playroom, girls on the right, boys on the left, is that boys and girls are different, so different they are completely incompatible, almost a separate species. Almost as if men were from Mars, and women were from Venus.

This is my argument, from the bottom of my feminist heart: if girls want to play with Barbies and boys want to play with Transformers, then the more power to them, but we have to stop teaching children, directly or indirectly, that they can’t cross the line and play with their differently sexed sibling or schoolmates’ toys. We need to reinforce that children of all sexes and genders walk a single path, not a divergent one. Toy companies that insist on making their products specifically for girls and specifically for boys are undermining this goal. Profits for them mean forcing parents to buy different toys for brothers and sisters and pushing the idea that the two can’t mix.

I was fortunate growing up to have a large number of toys. Looking back now and comparing what we children enjoyed to what the actual income and expenses of our household must have been—let’s just say I’m very grateful. I have a younger sister and a younger brother in that order, and we’re all spaced four years apart, so the gap between me and my brother isn’t insignificant. It’s pretty safe to say that for the  first eight years of my life, we had some fairly girly toys. I remember dressing up Barbies, creating elaborate animal towns with Littlest Pet Shops, and having parades with My Little Ponies before they became creepy and anorexic.

When my brother was born, things changed. Suddenly there were cars in the house. Hot Wheels and Tonka, monster trucks, fire engines and airplanes. When my brother was old enough not to choke on tiny pieces anymore, he was given a Hot Wheel a week. My sister and I raised a stink until we got in on this Hot Wheel toy bag. I think my dad was relieved that we weren’t asking for anything more expensive. I still remember my favorite: it was a plum colored, ’78 Chevy that turned green in warm water. I loved that little car to death.

Everything was cars for my brother. At around the time he switched from the crib to a bed, his room was decorated with car posters and model cars. His toy box was a collection of construction vehicles and racers. As I was heading into my middle teens, and my brother was beginning to come into his own personality and interests, I remember wondering if he really did like cars that much, or if he liked them only because that was the only thing he’d been exposed to. He’s twenty now, and still likes cars and engines and things that go vroom, and I still don’t have an answer. I think about my first imaginary friend: it was a car. I know this because my parents still can’t figure out why I had a talking imaginary car friend, but I know my mobile as a baby was of fuzzy plush cars, so maybe that had something to do with it. My point is, kids are impressionable, and the things that we as adults and society show them can impact them in ways we can’t predict.

Aside from the Hot Wheels, I don’t remember specifically asking for any one toy in particular (though I do remember waking from a nightmare in the middle of the night and tearfully confronting my parents with the accusation that ‘daddy ate all my toys’) so I emailed my mom and asked to pick her memory. The following is a cleaned up version of our conversation:

Me: Hey mom, I was just wondering if you remembered what kind of toys I played with as a kid?
Mom: Toys? Jees, I don’t know. Barbies?
Me: Yeah, but there were others, right? I mean, I remember liking Littlest Petshop and stuff.
Mom: Oh yeah, and Polly Pocket!
Me: Yeah, Polly Pocket was cool until they made you have to dress her in those stupid rubber clothes. That was dumb.
Mom: Let’s see, what else. You guys played with a lot of stuffed animals. I don’t know, mostly you drew a lot. And read. You were really strange.
Me: Thanks mom.
Mom: You’re welcome, sweetie.

There are two toys that I remember distinctly from my childhood. The first was Bayko, a brick toy that allowed children to build elaborate structures with tiled shingles, picket fences, windows with removable plastic panes, paved sidewalks and more. My sister and I fought tooth and nail over this toy that was passed down from my uncle to us, and I ended up victorious when I secreted it away in my room until she forgot about it. Long hours were spent building, destroying and building again.

Bayko 2 Bayko

Hey, look! There are boys and girls on that box! Funny, that.

The second toy that stands out in my mind was the Science Fair, 150 in 1 Electronic Project Kit. With a handful of wires connected to the right springs, you could make a whole host of light and sound combinations, from dying cat to ambulance from your nightmares. To be fair, the kit was really, really old, and I’m fairly certain that most of its components had corroded over time, but it didn’t stop me from trying every combination in the instructions and then some. This was, in short, a cool ass toy. A non-pink science toy that was way, way cooler than dressing up Barbie.

Science_Fair_150_in_1_Electronic_Project_Kit_df6c2346701f089aaa14_1It even came with a morse code clicker, for when the nightmare ambulance was summoned from the bowels of hell by your determined tinkering with electrical engineering.

The thing is, in the absence of anyone telling them what they should and shouldn’t play with, kids will play with whatever toy looks interesting, and we should be encouraging them to try a large range of toys and activities, to find what best suits them. Are some kids better at sports than others? Absolutely. Can we pick out those kids with a line through the sexes? Of course not. The same holds true for science, math, humanities, home economics, etc.

But again, the problem isn’t that girls are incapable on their own of being interested in science, or that boys are incapable of being interested in domestic care, despite what some people claim. The problem is how we’re teaching boys and girls to think about their world through completely different lenses. Boys are taught violence is good, caring is bad, and girls are taught that everything has to be about being pretty (and increasingly, thin, but that’s a whole other rant).

In a 2011 article, Phil Plait discusses his unease with a toy company selling differently gendered chemistry sets for boys and girls. As one would expect, they were separated into blue and pink, and while the boy set explored such science concepts as basic rocket propulsion, deep sea exploration and joke soap, the girl set explored the science of mystic crystals, the beauty spa, and perfume. Not only does this perpetuate the stereotype that ‘real science’ isn’t for women, it reinforces the idea that little girls—and women–ought to only concern themselves with being pretty. While the situation is improving in regard to the gender gap  in STEM fields, there remains a disproportionately larger amount of men in science, technology, engineering and mathematics careers. Historically this has been played off as women simply not having an interest in these fields, or being mentally unable to compete with their male counterparts. This is absolutely untrue.

Chien-shiung_Wu_(1912-1997)_(3)Deny women a science education for centuries [check]
Steal the credit from the ones who slip through [check]
Claim that women have never been all that interested in science [check]
– The Patriarchy

The perception that science and technology are a man’s field makes it harder for women to enter it themselves. Toys that reinforce women’s exclusion from science don’t help this.  To quote Phil Plait’s article:

…I’ll … readily admit that there may very well be differences between the ways boys and girls see the world. If that’s the case, I have no problem with a company, teacher, or parent accepting that and using it to help the child learn. In other words, science is the same for everyone, but how we get people interested in it and learning about may vary from demographic to demographic.

But I don’t think that’s really the issue here. The problem here is these girls’ kits all are almost entirely marketed on the idea that girls should be pretty, or should try to make themselves pretty.

So again, the problem isn’t that one set is blue and one is pink. The problem is that girls are being taught that their looks take first priority in their lives. This isn’t an innate behavior. We’re handing our little girls toys which are blatantly different than those of boys and telling them, “this is what you should be playing with. This is what matters in your life.”

Kids are incredibly complex little people. Parents face the constant challenge of ‘how do I raise this kid right?’ What works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another, and sometimes, despite all our best efforts, we’re still left with ‘where did I go wrong?’ As a teacher, I share in part of the responsibility to see that children grow with the right messages of cooperation and responsibility in their minds. We don’t allow bullying of any form. Accidents are followed by apologies, and one on one explanations on why it’s wrong to hit are frequent.


We also have some policies on toys. No war toys, no toys from home (it distracts the entire class), no characters (Disney, TV, etc), and no pink.

That last one happened mostly by accident. No characters rules out a large portion of the girl doll market, which is entirely pink; our first priority goes to buying educational toys which are rarely pink; and finally, girls tend to get very territorial over pink, which conflicts with our no bullying rule. Many girls see pink as their refuge, the unencroached zone of the female. They are told through aggressive marketing that pink segregates a thing as feminine, and they viciously mock any boys who request pink anything. Pink is girl territory, no boys allowed. Which is silly. Pink is a color; it’s not owned by any group of people, and the fact that girls feel they must defend it as their one and only identity marker is troubling.

I’ll admit, the above makes it sound as though we’ve maliciously stamped out all traces of pink from our classroom, from crayons to stuffed animals—we haven’t. One of our classrooms is entirely pink (different rooms, different colors). What we have done is removed the gender barriers that surround colors, the same way we’ve removed the barriers around playing with the toy animals (you’d be surprised how quick the girl students are to pick up toy snakes and spiders after observing their female teachers fearlessly diving into them). The point I’m trying to make is that in my classroom the toys are for everyone, be it a pink cat or a blue truck, and once the kids become comfortable with that, they all play together.

That said, there are definitely some favorites. The number one most requested toy in my class, by boy and girl students alike, is the Little People doll house:


After that, again, by both boy and girl students, it’s the kitchen set:


The Brio Trains and the foam building blocks tie for third most requested, with boy students requesting trains more frequently than girls:


Other popular toys include Potato Head, Safari Limited animals, mini cars, and anything to do with the alphabet.

IMG_0984I don’t understand why the alphabet is so much fun, but it makes my job easier.

Do I tell boys they can’t play with cars? No. Do I discourage girls from playing flower shop? Never. The kids can play with whatever they like, but I don’t want the girls to feel as though they can’t play with anything that isn’t domestic, and I don’t want the boys to feel as though they’ve committed a mortal sin in wanting the pink cup, or the pink ball or the pink marker. My classroom is inclusive. Everyone plays together, without any lines drawn through the playroom.

Want more on this subject? Chuck Wendig wrote a great article on his blog. (Strong language advisory.)