Saturday, October 8, 2016


Me, pontificating
There I am, on long gold and brown shag, all twelve or fifteen or eighteen months of me. One hand, raised - I appear to be saying something and I am certain it was important. I know I had the attention of my father, who took the picture. Who imagined for me, I am sure, an open universe where I could grow and become whatever I wanted.

It wasn't too many years later that a boy pointed at me and called me a dog. A poodle. I'd shed my long blond locks for short hair and my first eighties perm, and the playground resounded with his chants."It looks rabid!" he'd snarl. I hid inside my coat, eyes burning. It.

Later, when I started dating, it wasn't that the boys I met called me "it," but that occasionally they treated me like a thing. Sometimes, paying for dinner was an exchange for a kiss. Their needs or desires were often less about my mind or my humor, but about my waist or breasts or legs. They needed IT, not me. And this behavior continued well into adulthood, where dating became an even larger minefield.

I was lucky to marry a man raised by a strong woman who taught him about agency and equality and respect. Later, at twenty six, a sonographer said to us, "Congratulations, it's a girl" and I cried. I was scared for the culture in which she would be born, because I knew in my heart that she, too, would become "it" at some point. I knew that the outward sexism of the fifties and sixties workroom has given way to locker room talk, to conversations in men's space wherein women become a thing to be bantered about. I knew that there would be a day she'd be in a tight space or dark alley and catch her breath, fumble with her keys and wonder what sort of uninvited talk or touch she'd have to deal with.

We've armed her with agency and jujitsu. She carries herself with confidence, shoulders squared against catcalls. She knows what is okay and what is not okay. She knows how we should talk about each other and others.

And she knows that yesterday's clip of Trump speaking poorly of women in private, then stepping off a bus to charm his arm around a woman in public is only one of many pieces of evidence of how his public persona does not match his private mind. Today we are watching pundit after pundit talk about a person running to be leader of the United States needing to apologize for what he said. 

But he's said it before. He'll say it again. What he said is merely an expression of how he feels. How he feels is how the boy on the playground felt when he said to me "It looks rabid." It's how every public groper feels when they just have to reach out and touch it. It's how the wealthy man who invites a female friend but books a single room thinking it wouldn't be a big deal feels. Women are an it to be used as they will. This isn't the case for all men, but it is certainly the case for this man. How he feels is a deeply internalized part of who he is.

And it is how he feels that we should all find irreconcilable with who we are.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Rey, it isn't so!

So, let me admit it: We are slowly but surely picking up a stockpile of Rey toys. It's not necessarily easy, but it's certainly not as hard as, say, finding Black Widow riding the motorcycle that fell out of the Quinjet (Captain America, Iron Man, and Mark 30 have all replaced her in various sets leading me to say bad language words). But hey, we found Rey. And if we could find Rey, couldn't anyone?

That's right, I'm raising a Honeybadger, a Sith Yoda, and a straight up, badass lady Sith. 
Sure, she's still not included in the cool 6 figure 10" toy set along with all the boys and that's not okay, but this household's collective lady rage had dulled to a quiet simmer. Because it's been easier to pick up Rey toys these days, I didn't want to believe the folks over at Sweatpants and Coffee or Hypable but the 'Star Wars' toymakers story is picking up steam. I tried to double and triple check the reliability of the sources, because there's a peculiar confirmation bias at work in my soul as I hear that toymakers intentionally excluded Rey from manufacturing because boys don't want toys with girl characters in them.

This, of course, flies in the face of the Disney/Lucas claim that they intentionally excluded Rey to avoid spoilers. To be fair, we kind of smelt it when Disney dealt it, but I've got a little message for them:
Spoiler alert: Turns out, fans can smell your bullshit from a mile away. 
Now out of my system that have I gotten childish Yoda image of mine, I'd like to talk a little about why this is important. Captain Yoda above with the devilish grin likes to play The Force Awakens. So do his sisters. They'd like to do so with a full set of action figures. Like, say, that sweet slick 6-figure set from Target, for example. But there's no Rey that size. Get a different one, folks say. Shut up. Stop whining. There are some Rey figures for sale, so you shouldn't complain.

To that I say: Uh, no. That's not how representation works.

The toys we make - and how we package them - tell a story. Narratives aren't just about the words we are saying - and a grand storyteller like Disney/Lucasfilms ought to know that. Right now, with their various individually packaged Rey figures, The Force Awakens is telling a slightly better story than, say, Disney's Avengers set (which I covered already) or Disney's missing Gamora (which I covered here), but it's still a story wherein the girl doesn't get to hang with the boys, can be cast aside, and is, inessential in the The Force Awakens toy lineup.

You can't have the movie The Force Awakens without Rey, but you're suggesting that boys just go ahead and play the movie without her. Because who wants a female action figure mucking up their important playsets?

But it gets worse, because industry insiders claim that you've actually come out and said - behind closed doors of course (heaven help you get off message in front of Joss Whedon or JJ Abrams - who create strong female characters as a matter of course) - that boys don't want to play with toys that are girls. This confirmed our suspicions. Now, not only are you telling female fans that they are inessential, you're sending that message to males as well. These playsets reach our culture's boys during their formative years. The story you are writing in your merchandise tells the future husbands, best friends, uncles, and fathers of the world that what they really need for the games of their youth - which expand to the reality of their adulthood - are playsets without girls. You are telling them that not only can women be cast aside, but that they should.

And hey, no worries, you'll do it for them.

But here's the surprise twist: Women and the men who love them are increasingly aware that such narratives are harmful to ourselves and our children, and we aren't quiet. We speak to our children and friends about the situation and are willing to use our social media and buying power to ensure that everyone can hear the story you create with your toy lines and, now, at least according to an inside source, your words.

Disney/Lucasfilm, you're storytellers. Make your story better.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

The Awakening: On Rey, geneology, and why her parents don't matter in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

There be spoilers here.

No, seriously. A multitude of spoilers. Do not read on if you do not wish for spoilers.

Did I mention about the spoilers?  Because I'm not holding back or using spoiler font. Only read this if you've already seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens or don't mind spoilers or don't give a fiddly about the Star Wars universe and are just here for the cursing. Except there's probably not that much cursing.


As I was born in 1976, Star Wars has been a thing for all of my life - from "I love you"/"I know to Ewoks and midichlorians, the good, bad, and ugly of this space mythology/science fiction saga has enchanted the geeks I grew up with. In my household, we've eagerly awaited J.J. Abrams's addition to the universe and lost our girl-power marbles when we first caught a glimpse of Rey. But now Star Wars: The Force Awakens is also the source of some consternation as my daughters ask #wheresrey and a dude from Facebook mansplains to me that I can get Pop Vinyl Rey toys so I really shouldn't complain about the difficulty in finding the few mass-produced, non-collector's edition action figures for my ladies. Then my youngest girl child came home with a bobble head Rey and I went into a #smashthepatriarchy funk. As I witnessed yet another group of Star Wars fans discuss Rey's potential genealogy, I realized that I have a few things to say.

Of course Rey's genealogy intrigues me. Star Wars mythology called our attention to the Skywalker saga and how people are related is a key theme of this universe. As the parentage of Kylo Ren is known - and an essential plot line - viewers are left wondering about the family backgrounds of both Rey (who waits for her parents) and Finn (who never knew his parents). While a variety of theories about Finn's father abound, the true focus of commentary has been on Rey and there is much speculation regarding whether she is a Solo or a Skywalker.

I'm not here to do that. In fact, I think doing so undermines her agency as a key character in this Star Wars universe. As the audience watches Rey awaken, what is important is not her lineage, but her connection with the Force. In fact, continued discussions about Rey's mother and father tend to downplay Rey's power as something passed down, of which she is a passive recipient. Rather than acknowledging the rather tremendous (and strangely controlled, considering Luke's origin story) moment of Rey's awakening, fans appear to be focused on the occasion of Rey's actual, physical birth. This may be a good moment for us to remember that the movie is not called The Force is Born.

While the stories of the original series and the prequels were tied up in the saga of a single family, the films have always largely been about power and balance. The Force. Mythology envisioned through a family line was important, but now is an excellent time for J.J. Abrams and the Star Wars universe to take a step away from some of the ideas of the past and into a new arena where women are actualized and fully realized participants. To fully balance The Force, one must acknowledge its existence outside of the stories we've already seen. These are but a small sliver of the larger universe, and it's time for the films to acknowledge how the Skywalker/Solo/Organa trio fits into something much larger than themselves.

Incidentally, I think (or hope?) it is -- which is why Rey's genealogy does not matter. My theory?  Rey's genetic line is an intentional distraction from her origin story that we glimpse when she first touches Luke's lightsaber and her mental walls begin to falter. There are three key images in her vision: A world on its side, the Knights of Ren massacre, and Kylo Ren in the forest. My theory? Rey's a survivor of the massacre, a padawan learner hidden from herself and others. This explains the familial-like connections and protective natures of Solo and Organa, while still allowing that Rey is not, in fact, family. If mental walls were used to protect Rey and they began to falter once she touched the lightsaber, Kylo Ren's awkward fumbling brought everything down so that Rey could tap into her own, partially-trained, power.

It also allows for a fairly entrenched story to stretch outside of its previous grounding - and restore balance to a universe in which there are far more stories to tell. Remember, after all, these tales come from  Disney, who intends to spend many, many years telling them. Am I right? I guess we wait and find out. Chances are good Disney will stick with the Skywalker saga. It's like an old, comfortable pair of shoes worth over $4 billion. But if Disney wants to continue creating compelling films, they might consider breaking out of patriarchal story lines and trying something new. I think that General Leia would approve.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

7th grade: Missteps, mistakes, and grace

Monkeymoo survived 6th grade.

I'd say "And she has the picture to prove it" but I don't even know what this is.

It wasn't easy. There was a lot going on, which Monkeymoo can one day share, or not. It's hers, not mine to disclose. But I wanted to take a moment to update my Middle School Mania post from a year ago.

I want to start by saying that post might not have been fair. I can't help but feel that I might not have been fair and here's why: In addition to being these amazing, wonderful, surprising, snarky, and occasionally growling people, our tweens are still kids.

And as such, they can and do behave like kids, poking into areas they might not when they grow into better judgment and behaving in ways that aren't necessarily the greatest. As much as we might think our kids couldn't or wouldn't do such things, they can. And will. Because being a complete and fully realized human requires screwing up. It just does.

A friend told me last year that they have to be allowed to make mistakes. She's right. Even big ones. Even mistakes that are ouchy for those around them. Because those mistakes add up in the experience column to create cool people.

I hope that my daughter won't make mistakes that hurt others. But if she does, I wish for two things: That she has the ability to say I'm sorry and that those around her have the grace to embrace her accidents and apologies.

Seventh grade is better, so far. Monkeymoo and the friend she had so many troubles with are back together again, and in the meantime, she expanded her friend circle and became a little more social. Last year was tough - painful even.

But there will be a lot of years like that and each time, as it always does, it will get better.

Monday, November 9, 2015

And so it is #internetbreak(nah) #sunshineandagoodbook

Nine months since my last post. I'd like to say it's been nine months of creative writing and creation and parenting and all the good things in the universe. But if we're being honest here (and we usually are), it's probably been nine months of Candy Crush and Facebook and that should make you as sad as it should make me. I'm thinking on it - and blogging, and professional blogging, and creative writing.

It's NaNoWriMo. Several years ago, I wrote my heart out for NaNoWriMo. This year, I'll be lucky to cough out a few blog posts here and there. But I will try, I promise.

In the meantime, I wanted to share something. It's worth the read - so much so, in fact, that I'm breaking my hiatus to ask you to read it. And I'm not writing anything else at this moment. I'll be back soon.

The Guardian: Neil Gaiman

Now please accept this photo of some people who eat up a whole bunch of my time, but who inspire me to return to the library, to reading, to quiet times with a good book, and to anything, dare I say it, but Youtube clips of people playing games or endless Pinterest scrolling. All of us have to get back to something that doesn't scroll.

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