Tag Archives: feminism

Ursula K. Le Guin: Into the Space Ship, Granny

Because it’s January and my brain is currently soupy, when I made my list of literary ancestry I somehow missed Ursula K. Le Guin, which was a huge oversight on my part.

I don’t know how I could have missed her. Much like A Wrinkle in Time, Le Guin’s The Dispossessed left an indelible mark on me. I don’t think it was the first thing of hers I read, but it’s the first thing of hers I remember.

The Dispossessed

Like Wrinkle, it turned my world inside out. It fundamentally changed how I thought of the world, how governments and societies functioned and how they could function. I learned about anarcho-syndicalism here. The following year I would write an essay for the local Optimist Club on the topic, “Freedom, Our Most Precious Heritage.” I remember writing about three freedoms, and how limited they were depending on who you were (this was my attempt at a proto-feminist analysis). I concluded my essay with a statement about things ending in anarchy, which in my mind meant an egalitarian, non-hierarchical society. My father read it as chaos, which is the general reading. Somehow I got second or third place in the contest, which meant I had to read the essay out loud, to the Optimists. The only women/girls in the room were me, my teacher, and the mothers of the two other winners (both boys). After the event I think I had to shake the hands of the Optimists, and many of them told me I was brave. I couldn’t figure out why until I went home and re-read my essay. I had talked about economic inequity and women getting paid 73 cents to every dollar a man earned, among other things, to a room full of white men.

I would go on to read many of her books, including The Left Hand of Darkness, which did a similar thing to my worldview except for gender. I avoided the Earthsea books in my teens, because I thought I was too good for fantasy. It wasn’t until I was in college that I finally got around to reading them, and maybe it was better that I had waited, because I’m not sure I would have been open to them earlier. Also, the fourth book, Tehanu, didn’t get published until 1990, only a couple of years before I read them. Like the other literary ancestors, Le Guin’s girls and women have stayed with me, especially Tenar. I copied this out by hand when I read it:

“It seems to me we make up most the differences, and then complain about ‘em. I don’t see why the Art Magic, why power, should be different for a man with and a woman witch. Unless the power itself is different. Or the art.”
“A man gives out, dearie. A woman takes in.”
Tenar sat silent, but unsatisfied.
“Ours is only a little power, seems like, next to theirs,” Moss said. “But it goes down deep. It’s all roots. It’s like an old blackberry thicket. And a wizard’s power’s like a fir tree, maybe, great and tall and grand, but it’ll blow right down in a storm. Nothing kills a blackberry bramble.”

At a time when it felt like men had a lot of power, and honestly, still do, I found and find comfort in Le Guin’s visions. I also see her humor, which I had missed when I was younger. Only a resident of the Pacific Northwest could venerate the blackberry bramble in this manner.

Her nonfiction has been equally powerful, most notably the essays contained in Dancing at the Edge of the World. I want to make a short digression by noting that the image below contains a book of stories written by her mother, The Inland Whale. Additionally, she did her own translation of the Tao Te Ching, which I studied as part of my major in college. Her work runs like rivulets throughout my own life, as I meander and wander and time and again come across her work. Also not pictured, because I keep forgetting I have yet another book, is Steering the Craft. You can listen to her talk about it in the podcast Between the Covers. David Naimon interviews her, and it is wonderful. I kept wanting to stop and write things down. There are two other interviews he did with her that you can also find on his site.

Le Guin shelfie

“The Space Crone” was written in 1976. It’s in Dancing at the Edge of the World, and is another brick in my self-conception. I read it on the cusp of adulthood, in my early 20s. She addresses menopause in the piece. In reference to women experiencing a third stage of life, she says, “Why borrow poverty?” (as opposed to men, who once they go through puberty don’t get a second transition). She ends the essay with these words:

She knows, though she won’t admit it, that Dr. Kissinger has not gone and will never go where she has gone, that the scientists and the shamans have not done what she has done. Into the space ship, Granny.

She created space for women and gender minorities, and she did this work in so many ways throughout her life. I’ll end with this speech she gave upon receiving the National Book Foundation’s Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 65th National Book Awards on November 19, 2014.

I encourage you to watch the whole thing. It’s six minutes. I will leave you with this line:

We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable – but then, so did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art. Very often in our art, the art of words”.

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Why I March

I’ve seen people asking with true curiosity why people were marching yesterday. I marched in Seattle.

Here are a few reasons why I marched: Because my feminism is intersectional. Because Black Lives Matter. Because police need to be accountable to the communities they serve. Because too many people are still disenfranchised from voting. Because treaties between sovereign nations need to be respected. Because women should have control over our bodies. Because access to healthcare saves lives. Because ADA and DARE and DACA. Because I’m mad as hell. Because I voted with the majority.

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My friend Brigid made this hat for me. She wasn’t able to march, but she was with us! I have so many friends who weren’t able to march, for a variety of reasons – from health to access to family obligations to work. I marched for them, too.

Pussy hat

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Over 130K people marched in Seattle. I heard an estimate as high as 175K. They were expecting 30-50K. This was true of every march around the country. The turnout was phenomenal. The day was peaceful and friendly. Saw a lot of signs, but these lined up so beautifully. The future is female.

The future is female

As we waited to leave the park, a pair of bald eagles soared overhead in a benediction. I thought how the bald eagle is the symbol of America, how it was brought to the brink of extinction, of the legacy of grassroots movements and the formation of the EPA (which I will note, was under Nixon who was hostile to environmental protections).

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Because I know that when people get together and push for change, change happens. Because I want to control my story, not live a script someone else has written for me. Because in the words of Lin-Manuel Miranda, love is love is love.

Women's march collage

The puppet at the bottom is Wangari Maathai, who won a Nobel peace prize for teaching women how to plant trees in Kenya.

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There are many ways to make our voices heard. Marching is one, but if you didn’t march yesterday, there are other ways to participate. I encourage you to contact your elected officials. Calling is the most effective, but if that’s too scary, email or write letters. If you can, donate money to local organizations. Yesterday was just the beginning. I will leave you with some resources. Find a way to engage. Here is a list I’ve compiled. I encourage you to find at least one weekly action you can do. Several of the resources have suggestions for concrete actions you can take. Collectively, we will make a difference.

And as a final reminder, always take care.

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Geek Girl Con Part II: Not like other

Team Nerd

The second thing I wanted to write about was sparked by the panel Not Like Other Girls. There was a general discussion about what this phrase implied and how divisive it can be. Geek culture tends to be defined by boys and men, and they are the gatekeepers and identity policers. I’ve heard other discussions about this phrase, so the panel wasn’t the first time I’d come across this concept. If you want to get some perspective from the inside, I highly recommend reading David J. Schwartz’s essay, Masculinity Is an Anxiety Disorder: Breaking Down the Nerd Box.

Not like other … is used as a tool to create more isolation and separation. The panelists spoke about how special it made them feel, to be identified this way, at first. They also started to look down on the girls who weren’t like them. They then believed that because they weren’t like the other girls, that those same girls wouldn’t like them and vice-versa. So they withdrew or withheld and stayed with those who approved of them. They spoke of a desire to maintain approval, which included not appearing too emotional or “high-maintenance.”

There are wide-reaching implications for this phrase. It’s not just limited to romantic relationships, or social interactions. This plays out in the workplace, too.

The panelists talked about how this affected their relationships with women in the workplace. One panelist told a story that I am sure was incredibly painful for her. She was the only woman on her team, and in a lead role. A second woman joined her team, and the panelist didn’t reach out to her or welcome her. She was afraid of losing her position within the group, and felt threatened, rather than seeing her as an equal. This ended up creating more conflict and affected cohesion and trust within the group.

Because we are not immune to the messages we receive from society, we internalize the messages and judgment of the mainstream, even when it contradicts our own internal knowing. One of the panelists talked about how we have a first thought when we meet someone. These are the judgments we’ve learned from society. But hopefully we then notice this thought and reflect on it, leading to a second thought, which is what we think. Second thoughts are generally considered bad, but in this case, HAVE SECOND THOUGHTS!

I also wanted to talk about you’re not like other … in general. I don’t know if you’ve ever had someone say this to you in a different context, but I have for pretty much every demographic I can fit into: American, women, Jews, queers, femmes … Probably twins, writers, brown-haired people, tea drinkers, etc. This has had the effect of making me feel weird. It sends me the message that I don’t fit in or belong. It never felt like I was receiving the “cool” badge.

We all have ideas of what defines a particular group of people. I know I do, too. The next time you meet someone and you think, “Gee, that person isn’t like other [people],” consider flipping it around. Try seeing them as a way of expanding your definition of what qualities or attributes define that group, as in, “Oh, [people] can be like that, too. Coooool.”

Next week I’ll do my final write-up, which is going to be the panel discussion with Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn. So stay tuned!

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Geek Girl Con Recon

I spent last weekend at Geek Girl Con. For those of you unfamiliar with it, here is the description from their website:

GeekGirlCon celebrates and honors the legacy of women contributing to science and technology; comics, arts, and literature; and game play and game design by connecting geeky women world-wide and creating community to foster continued growth of women in geek culture through events.

I wanted to write up a summary of my weekend, for a variety of reasons, but mostly because several of my friends asked me to since they weren’t able to join me.

Splendid

Panel Discussion on Gender v. Sex

Saturday morning I was on a panel with four other awesome humans. It was described as a discussion about the distinction between sex and gender, positive and negative examples of trans and non-binary characters, and where we can go from here. My fellow panelists were Raven Oak, Janine Southard, Winter Ellis Downs, and Fran Stewart. Four of us had gotten together a few weeks earlier to chat about what we might discuss. We talked for three hours, so you can imagine how quickly 50 minutes went by.

We were asked what first changed our concept of gender. For Fran, it was Warriors of the Wind, which was an edited version of Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. For Winter, it was music. Annie Lennox, David Bowie, and then Britpop bands like Suede. For me, Ursula LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness. Raven grew up with limited exposure, and it wasn’t until she had a friend with gay parents who introduced her to the world of science fiction and fantasy that her ideas began to change. Janine spoke of growing up as a theater kid, where the rules of engagement were based on different rules, so she didn’t realize that there were more rigid ideas of gender.

Fran pointed out that cyberpunk was about being dizzied by technology. She wants some genderpunk stories, where we can be dizzied by gender. I would love that, too! She also talked about the show Steven Universe, which is delightful, and if you haven’t watched it yet, give it a try. Fran pointed out that while the characters have apparent genders, they don’t end up being restricted by them, nor do they seem to matter to anything. The main character is a chubby little boy who values harmony. He’s half gem, his powers are pink and decorated with flowers. Connie is a human girl. She’s learning to sword fight, and she’s quicker to take action. Steven is more often in a support role. The gems themselves are ostensibly female, and they have romantic relationships with one another.

Winter talked about Greg Egan’s book Distress, which has seven genders. They found it problematic, in that each gender comes with its own roles and expectations.

The comic book Loki: Agent of Asgard does a good job of depicting gender variance in an individual, rather than attempting to deal with it on a societal level.

Seanan McGuire’s October Daye series were mentioned as also doing a good job representing gender.

We took questions from the audience, who also made several recommendations including the following webcomics:

There was also mention of the tv shows on Netflix, Orange is the New Black, and Sense8.

While this didn’t get mentioned at the panel, the Tiptree Award was specifically created to recognize work that “expands or explores our understanding of gender.” Go check it out for the list of winners, as well as the long list. I’m sure there’s enough to keep you busy for quite a while.

So, that was the panel. Since this post is getting longish, I am going to break the rest into one or two more entries. Oooh, look at me, building suspense. You might almost suspect I was a writer!

I’m listing the titles here as suggestions for further reading. I haven’t read or seen most of them, but I do encourage you to check them out. If you have recommendations for cool stuff and how it presents gender, please leave a comment!

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Lavaballs

Next car: women only

I had heard about women-only cars on the trains in Japan, as well as some women-only buses in Mexico. So when I saw this sign, I had to take a picture of it.

Not a minute after I sat down, in the mixed-gender car I had entered, an older man came up to me and started gesticulating wildly. I thought he wanted to pull down the shade behind me, or something? So I stood up. He and I were roughly the same height (that is to say, short, around 5’1″). Next thing I knew, he had ousted me from my seat. He pulled down the shade and then sat down, spreading his legs as wide as was humanly possible and holding up his newspaper as a literal shield.

I had been lava balled. I first learned this term last summer, but the experience wasn’t new to me. I’m sure you’ve experienced it, too:

it’s when someone sits on public transit and, presumably for reasons resulting from an unbearable, scorching heat in their groin, must spread their legs wide. The vast majority of the time, this is a man. The vast majority of the time, they encroach on the personal space of a woman.

I could laugh, because there was plenty of room on the car, an open seat across the aisle with my parents and my safety wasn’t compromised. I had the privilege and freedom to laugh about it. My gentle father wanted to sock him in the nose. We were all “dealing with it.”

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