rowyn: (Default)
"You're so nice
You're not good you're not bad you're just nice
I'm not good I'm not bad I'm just right
I'm the witch
You're the world."
-- the Witch, from the musical "Into the Woods"

This stanza comes while the giant's wife is on a rampage through the town in "Into the Woods". She is hunting for Jack, who killed her husband. The witch wants to give Jack to her so she'll leave the rest of them alone. The townspeople refuse.

It's a powerful stanza, made more powerful by being delivered by the very talented Bernadette Peters. I first heard it in 1991; it is the first time I clearly remember hearing niceness disparaged.

"Nice" is not "doing the right thing". "Nice" is being pleasant and agreeable toward the people who are around you. Sacrificing your neighbor to the giantess is not nice, even if he did respond to her husband's threat to kill him by robbing her house and killing her husband.

On the other hand, is it the right thing to do, either?

Since then, decrying "niceness" has felt like a thinkpiece staple. Nice is getting along with people even when they're wrong. Nice is caving to peer pressure. Nice lacks self-confidence. Nice is for children. "Nice guys" aren't nice at all, they're entitled and manipulative. Nice is weak. "Nice", as a label, is an insult.

Nice is feminine-coded.

"Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice".

I aspire to kindness. "Kind" is not the same as "nice". Kindness is warmth, friendship, and compassion. Nice is pleasant and agreeable. Nice is Kindness's maligned younger cousin, accused of superficiality and fakery. Kindness can be cruel, but niceness never can.

I have long regarded this as an important distinction. When I talk about my aspirations, I am careful to say "kind" and not "nice". But as I get older, the distinction feels increasingly like splitting hairs.

The truth is, I don't think it is a kindness to tell a young artist "it's too hard to make a living in art, you're not that good and probably never will be, just focus on getting a regular job instead." It is not kindness to give unsolicited criticism to an author of their work, no matter how weak it is or how much I dislike it. Perhaps the former would be happier if they had a steady job and no dreams. Perhaps the latter would write better books with my advice.

Perhaps it's not my call to make.

I write fantasy novels and I can spin a million hypotheticals where the "right thing" is cruel or harsh or alienating. But in my actual life, interacting with actual people, I am hard pressed to think of a time where a situation was improved because someone decided to be mean. It's happened, I'm sure. I just don't remember it.

I do remember that one woman I worked with as a teaching assistant, who told me that all my co-workers hated me and wanted me to stop talking to them because I was clueless and rude, but they wouldn't tell me so because it wasn't "nice".

I am sure she thought she was doing the right thing.

I have many regrets in my life, but "I was too nice" has never been one of them. This is no doubt in part because niceness has never come easily to me. I don't mean to deride anyone who feels that they need to be less nice because people take advantage of them. I'm not going to say you're wrong if you think you have to take a stand against evil even if that means being unkind to some people doing the wrong thing. You do what you have to do. 

I just think I'm done with making fun of niceness. Being pleasant and agreeable is hard work, too, and it makes the lives of the people around one a little bit better. I'm not going to sneer at that as "merely nice". The pleasant, agreeable, nice people of the world are not the ones making it a worse place to live. Quite the opposite, really.
rowyn: (studious)
A few nights ago, I got another comment on my Fake Bi Girl post, and as I was responding to it, I thought about how every comment had been positive about both the post and my decision to label The Moon Etherium as LGBT. And then I thought, "But that makes sense: comments are almost always supportive."

Followed by, "No, wait. LiveJournal comments are almost always supportive."

The first time I saw the "don't read the comments" meme, many years ago, I was actually confused by it. Comments were the main reason I blogged! I loved reading the comments! Why wouldn't you read the comments? Is it just me? Am I just lucky?

And I think luck is a factor, though less of one than my comparatively small audience and that I rarely post on controversial subjects. But Livejournal is, itself, a huge factor. Specifically, one of the factors about Livejournal that eventually made it a niche product with a small if dedicated audience: that Livejournal's basic concept was of people who not only kept journals, but who read each other's journals. That the Friends List was not named "Friend" by accident.

We used to complain about that word, "Friend", because it made the business of following and unfollowing LJs a lot more dramatic than it needed to be. But the truth is when I started on LJ fourteen years ago, it's because my friends were blogging here. I read Livejournal to keep in touch with my friends, and I wrote in it to keep my friends updated on my life. People have drifted away from LJ over the years for many reasons but I think the largest part of it is that mot people don't like to write the essay-style posts that the LJ environment encourages.

But the sense of community has somehow persevered anyway. People on LJ are less likely to hate-follow, less likely to search out things they dislike to complain about, than Twitter users. People on LJ are more likely to stay silent if they disagree than to leave a comment. The vast majority of LJ users treat blog posts as if they were written by other human beings. Elsewhere on the net, on Youtube and Twitter and personal-domain blogs, there is a much larger fraction of the community that treats posts as if they were written by content providers. By some thing, some entertainer who is not a real person or who will never actually see the comments or who otherwise doesn't matter, doesn't count, doesn't merit respect.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think it's just chance or size. It's that LJ, having been used for so long as "a way to keep in touch with your friends", has held onto some of the corollary: "so of course you'll be kind to them, because they're your friends." Places that were designed as broadcaster-to-audience don't have that benefit. The audience feels free to heckle.

I'm glad this space still has that. I wish I knew how to export it. :/
rowyn: (studious)
I am a couple of weeks late for Bisexual Visibility Week, but I'm gonna write about bisexuality anyway. I don't think the point of the week was to have us all re-cloak when it was over.
I don't think it's a secret that I am bisexual*. I mention it now and again.  I am, in some ways, perfectly comfortable with my sexuality.

But I noticed, during Bisexual Visibility Week, that I was not that comfortable about participating in it. For reasons that mostly boil down to "this is for Real Bisexual People, not you." It's weird to feel that way, after so long thinking I'd finally gotten over being defensive about my sexual orientation. But it bleeds into other things, too.
Ardent, the female protagonist of The Moon Etherium, is bisexual.  At the start of the book, she's not in a relationship.  Over the course of the book, she almost hooks up again with her ex-wife, and ultimately becomes romantically involved with the male protagonist.

Amazon asks for up to seven keywords for every book, and it's a good idea to use all seven because keywords are one of the main ways for readers to discover your book. One of the keywords for The Moon Etherium is "bisexual".  Amazon chose to put it in two LGBT subcategories (one for fantasy and one for romance) and the Romance > Multicultural subcategory.  I don't know what algorithm Amazon uses to figure out the subcategories to use; if I controlled it, I'd've listed it in three fantasy categories, not one fantasy and two romance.

Anyway, I find myself uncomfortable with having The Moon Etherium listed as an LGBT book.  Sure, it's got a bisexual protagonist and, for that matter, nonbinary supporting cast members.  But is that really what LGBT readers are looking for?  Aren't they looking for MM or FF pairings?  Perhaps MMF or MFF triads? Isn't that last the only way to be really bisexual?  Because everyone knows monogamous people can't really be bi.  They're actually hetero- or homosexual, depending on their partner's gender.

You don't need to tell me those last three sentences are BS.  I know perfectly well that's garbage.  I mean, intellectually, I know that.  Emotionally, part of me believes that sexual behavior dictates sexual preference. Unless you're straight, of course.  You can identify as straight without having dated anyone.  That's fine.  But if you identify as bi or gay, you have to prove that, by having sex with members of every gender you claim to be attracted to. No, no, just knowing that you're attracted to them isn't enough.  And it doesn't count if you've only had sex with that gender as part of a threesome with someone of another gender.  You might just like threesomes or something. And really, do one-night stands count?  Or a short term fling?  Honestly, if you were a real bisexual you'd have both male and female long-term partners. (We'll let you off the hook for finding nb ones. Maybe.)

For each "you" in that last paragraph, substitute "I", because I would never have the unmitigated gall to spew such hateful rubbish to anyone but myself.

I am so very tired of thinking these things about myself, but I do.  Among my past and current lovers are ciswomen, transwomen, cismen, and nonbinary people, and my mind still thinks "you're just faking it".  Really, brain? I'm 46. I realized I was bisexual over twenty years ago. Can we stop having this conversation yet? Can we at least not have it about my fictional characters? Can I at least classify Ardent as really bi even though she's not currently in a relationship with both a man and a woman?

No?

No.

I think part of why I wrote Ardent this way was, perhaps, to grapple with my internalized "fake bisexual girl" feelings.  "Here, she was married for decades to a woman and now she's seeing a man and her sexual interest is just not tied to gender and she doesn't have to prove this to anyone". Maybe I thought I could fight for her in the way that I have not been able to fight myself.

I don't know if I can.

But I haven't taken the "bisexual" label off the book yet.

* I like the word "pansexual" better than "bisexual", all things considered.  I am attracted to cis, trans, and nonbinary people of all genders, and I like the way the root "pan" suggests expansiveness.  But bisexual is the more widely recognized term and most people seem to understand it as inclusive.  I'm pretty happy to revisit using the label if people have arguments against it, though.

Unlearning

Jan. 28th, 2016 11:05 am
rowyn: (Me 2012)
There's a curious phenomenon where talking about certain advantages and disadvantages is associated with guilt. For example, if I say "I was lucky, my parents had a healthy marriage", no one thinks I should or do feel guilty for having been born to a good family. But if I say "I have the advantage of being born white", a subset of people will think that I mean "I feel guilty because I was born white".

But I don't.

I was born into a culture that, like every human culture that ever was, makes a whole bunch of assumptions about how to treat individuals and how individuals should/will behave based on factors that are largely out of the individual's control. We make assumptions about what people will be like based on race, ethnicity, genitalia, socio-economic class of parents, the language they grew up speaking, the accent they have, physical attractiveness, and many, many more. We make further assumptions based on things that are somewhat within individual control but still don't necessarily mean what we think they mean. Like "if you're interested in math, you can't like makeup" and "people with a lot of tattoos can't have a professional work ethic" and "if you like sports you can't like D&D" and many other things that might have some correlation across a population, but certainly aren't 1:1.

My culture -- and this is a little unusual among human cultures, across the whole of human history -- has started to think that maybe pigeonholing its members is silly and perhaps we should think about stopping. We haven't actually STOPPED, mind you. Slowed down some. In some areas. Not all of them. Pigeonholing saves ever so much time over evaluating an entire individual each time, after all. And there are so many things one can leap to judgement on! Most of them we don't even notice, or think are perfectly justified. ("Of course all liberals are naive!" "Of course all conservatives are narrow-minded!")

This is too big a topic, which is part of my point.

I don't feel responible for the prejudices of my culture. I don't blame myself for being born white, female, middle-class, with educated parents, etc. It is a happenstance that mostly worked to my benefit, but I don't feel guilty about it, because it wasn't something I did or something I could have changed.

What I am trying to be is aware of it.

This is partly in the hopes of doing a little bit to change the massive ocean that is my culture (I've got an eyedropper! HERE I AM.)

But it's mostly about unlearning the habit of judging by my own experience. When I wrote about frugality last week, I wanted in particular to let go of faulting other people for their spending habits. To stop thinking "I managed when I was poor, so why can't everyone?" Other people are not me, and the reasons for their struggles are many and varied and mostly invisible to me. And maybe I can't learn to see those reasons (sometimes they are deliberately hidden, for that matter), but I can learn to assume such reasons exist.

I might sometimes make the wrong assumption there, too, but when I assume humans are all doing their best the world feels like a better, brighter place. Maybe all I have is this eyedropper against the ocean, but other people will wield their eyedroppers too! Things can get better.
rowyn: (hmm)
I was talking to a coworker about this earlier today, and I'm not sure I ever talked about it on LiveJournal.

I took a philosophy class in Existentialism as an undergraduate, and one thing in particular stuck with me about existentialism: the concept of personal responsibility.

Which has been coopted by politicians now, and I don't want to use the phrase because of the baggage strewn on top of it. But I don't know what better name to use.

I need to distinguish this from "responsible behavior". There is a meaning of responsibility that is "doing what you said you would" or even "doing what you're expected to do". When I clean my room, or do the laundry, or go to work, or complete the report I said I'd do, or finish writing my novel by 12/31 so that I make the goal I set for myself -- I am behaving responsibly. This is not at all what I mean by "personal responsibility".

It is not about doing the right thing. It is about acknowledging that whatever I do, right or wrong, it is because of my choices. It is not my parents' fault if I'm in class, because I could have skipped it if I really wanted to. It is not my boss's fault that I came to work, because I could quit if I chose to. Sometimes those choices suck. I may not want to choose between looking for a new job and working late at my current job.  For some people (not me), those choices may be really awful, like between getting killed yourself or killing someone else.

But for me, my choices have never been between awful things. I may be scared of the consequences, but when I think about them, the worst case scenario isn't "starved to death in a gutter" or "shot by an abusive ex" or whatever.

And I always found that idea of being responsible for my choices liberating. I was not in the thrall of teachers, parents, corporations, schools, managers, whomever. I am free to choose my own actions. Those choices may be constrained by various forces (the laws of physics for one) but I still get to make them. And within the space of those choices, I am free.

I don't know how to explain how much difference that made to me.  Because I was not only free to drop out of school and be homeless and shiftless if I wanted, but I was also free to stay and learn. I was free to own the choices I had been making all along. Once I acknowledged that it was my choice, it no longer troubled me as much that I was doing it. It made all the difference in the world.

Cred Check

Aug. 6th, 2013 11:07 am
rowyn: (studious)
The little slice of the blogosphere that I watch has been writing about a quiz crafter by Lisa Morton, purporting to sort professional writers from hobbyists. In her commentary, [livejournal.com profile] ursulav asked "Do professional accountants get this kind of crap?"

And this made me think about the areas in my life where my credentials have and have not been questioned.

Areas where I've been questioned:
* Am I a real woman?: This never happens in person and hasn't happened much if at all in the last 15+ years. But in the pre-Web days of the Internet, I got this all the time. I remember on one MUD where one particular guy asked every single alt I had, and then threatened that he'd try to get me banned for having alts when I commented on it. (Answer, yes, I am).
* A real geek? I don't even know what this means.
* A real comics fan? I used to be keen on the Marvel mutants, but I stopped buying comic books 16+ years ago. I still buy graphic novels on occasion and I read a number of webcomics. So this depends on what you mean by 'comics'.
* A real cosplayer? No, I just like to dress strangely at any venue with a reasonable tolerance for unusual attire. I don't costume in the sense of mimicking a particular character.
* A real gamer? Yes. I've even been known to drag my boyfriend to gaming events at times, although all of my SOs have also been gamers. Board games and mindless puzzle games are my favorites.
* A real writer? These are real words that I am really writing, so I guess so? I don't get paid for it and I am not a professional, however. This is my hobby.
* Really bisexual? Yes. Really.

Areas where I do not get questioned:
* Am I a real artist? I am not. I am not sure why I see a lot more "real writer" cred-checks than "real artist" ones. I don't know if illustrators (the sort of art and artists I see a lot of) are less hung up on this thing than writers, or if it's just that I'm not diligent about drawing even as a hobby, so no one asks.
* At my actual job. Despite not being qualified for half the stuff I end up doing at the bank (sure, I'll write and maintain your VBA code! why not?), no one at my job ever questions my ability. If I really can't even fake doing something, I always have to tell them because they won't ask. I have no idea why this is.
* A real furry? Technically, I can remember one person saying I wasn't, but he wasn't serious. I've never had a furry try to exclude me. (I am at the periphery of the fandom these days but still a furry).
* Really polyamorous? I don't know why 'poly' gets less doubt than 'bi', but it does. (Yes, I'm poly.)

I'm not sure where I'm going with this, but I thought it was interesting to reflect on what parts of my life inspire sufficient disbelief that some people feel a need to question me about it. I don't even know what the difference is, really; it all seems quite arbitrary. What do you get cred-checked on?
rowyn: (Me 2012)
[livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar wrote a post about different kinds of listening a couple of days ago. One of the things that struck me about it was that she contrasted "listening to feelings" with "listening to ideas", and I've seen more often a similar-but-different dichotomy, between "offering validation/sympathy" and "offering advice/solutions".

To some degree, this is the stuff of social anxiety --"ZOMG I am LISTENING WRONG I didn't even know you could screw that up. D:" But it's particularly interesting to be conscious of the different response styles when you're the speaker: "when I am saying something, why am I saying it? What sort of response do I want?"

Frequently, I write about things where I don't have a strong need to receive or avoid a particular kind of engagement. If I write about what I did on my staycation or post a book review or my exercise routine, my purpose is to chronicle my life for my future reference and to share bits of me for the entertainment of my friends. Any response to these that's well-intended will be fine. I am not going to be upset if someone disagrees with my review or offers cleaning advice or suggests an alteration to my biking habits. I may not agree or accept the suggestions, and I wasn't looking for them, but I am perfectly happy to have them offered.

But sometimes I write something specifically to get advice: "why can't I get this database to do X?" and in those cases I'll stipulate I want advice: "Suggestions welcome!"

But when advice isn't welcome, like if I'm whinging about going to my day job or because I got poison ivy, and all I want is sympathy and not suggestions on how to save more money or poison-ivy-avoidance strategies (step 1: stay inside and avoid all greenery), I don't usually put up a disclaimer "not looking for advice".

... actually, a lot of the things I don't want to hear advice about, I just don't *write* about. Many of the things that I'd like my ideas to be heard about, I don't write, either. Religion. Politics. Finance, even, to a lesser degree. Topics so fraught that it's very easy to trigger defensive reactions in the listener, or to have a response trigger the same in me. Sometimes it's not even that I mind listening to contrary responses, but that I often don't have anything to add in reply. I don't start the conversation because I don't know how to end it. "Agree to disagree" doesn't seem to work as well as I might hope.

Anyway, I am wondering now if it's feasible for the person who introduces a topic also to define what they hope to gain from talking about it. Explicitly, instead of implicitly, via the dozens of social rules and cues we imperfectly share across our culture. This seems, perhaps, more achievable in blogging -- "my journal, my guidelines" -- than in normal conversation. It does seem a bit awkward, but maybe less so than 'I'm never going to talk about this at all.'
rowyn: (current)

"What women want" is one of those perenial topics that always make me cringe inside. So does "what men want", for that matter.

 

It's not that the answers to the questions tend to be particularly stupid, or that gender differences are nonexistant. Sometimes people write things on the topic that are insightful and reasonable, or at least, not ridiculous.

 

But the question itself seems so profoundly misguided. It's existance implies that you can make useful generalizations about three and a half billion people, generalizations that you can or should use to guide your behavior in interacting with them.  Worse than that, it sets women and men up as alien species, as if we had fundamentally different desires and that the gender differences -- the stereotypical gender differences -- were crucially important. "Women want respect" -- as if men don't! I don't think I've ever seen a "what (gender) wants" article that was both (a) reasonable and (b) not equally reasonable if applied to the other gender.

 

What people want is to be treated as individuals, and not the current representative of their gender. Does it really matter if 75% of women like chocolate as a Valentine's Day present, if your girlfriend doesn't? Does it matter that most men don't care about anniveraries, if your husband does? We are not cultivating a relationship with half the human race, but with particular individual members of it.  Just treat them like people. Whatever tendencies they share or don't share with their gender are things we need to determine on a person-by-person basis, just like everything else about them.

rowyn: (current)

I read this article by Kristine Rusch about writers and pay.  I like Ms. Rusch's business writing quite a bit: she's generally sensible, knowledgable, and well-researched, although her math and assumptions are sometimes overly simplistic.

 

This particular essay was one of those where her assumptions struck me as especially ... peculiar.  Her chief assumption is that the goal for all writers is to maximize revenue from their writing. The implication is 'If you are writing, and you are not maximizing your revenue from writing, you are clearly an idiot.'
And I find myself imagining a World of Warcraft goldseller writing a rant about how these crazy people who are playing WoW and not selling the gold their characters earn!  What kind of idiots are they?  Don't they know that their efforts are worth money?  Don't they realize how many hundreds of hours they're throwing away for nothing?

 

Or a professional actor railing about the foolishness of amateur theatre: how could anyone perform in a production for free?  Don't they realize that acting is a business?

 

Do you suppose landscapers marvel at the ridiculousness of people who choose to tend their gardens for free? Or movie critics are astonished that people pay to see movies, and then tell other people what they thought of the film for nothing?

 

I'd guess that the average American devotes more than half his waking hours to activities that he doesn't get paid for and doesn't care about getting paid for.  There's nothing inherently foolish about doing something for free, and the fact that other people do get paid for the same activity doesn't mean you're an idiot. Your circumstances and goals may just be different.

 

ETA: lt's a bit unfair of me to single Ms. Rusch out on this -- she is, after all, writing about "writing as a business" and assuming that her audience is interested in making money by writing is fairly sensible -- that's her target audience, really.  Still ... it's worth examining assumptions, sometimes.

Posted via LiveJournal app for Android.

rowyn: (studious)

This idea has been stuck in my head for a while now.

 

Yesterday, I was reading an article about DC's latest reboot; they now have only two women working on the 52 DC Universe titles (one author writing two titles, and one artist doing one cover).  That's out of 209 artists/writers/cover artists.

 

The sole female writer called on DC to hire more women, and one of her fellow creators was unhappy about that. His argument, albeit not in so many words, was 'which of the us do you want to get fired for this?'

 

And this seemed like entirely the wrong question.  DC and Marvel's superhero comics are read by, I dunno, maybe a couple million people.  Out of the seven billion people in the world, these giants in the field are reaching maybe a thousandth of a percent.  And it's not that people don't like superheroes: I'd guess that at least ten times as many people watched Captain America as read even one superhero comic in 2011.

 

So this guy is saying 'I don't want to lose my job to some woman just because she's a woman and there aren't enough jobs for everyone'. Which is totally understandable.  Except that it ignores the ability of people to MAKE MORE JOBS.  It ignores that maybe if the DC Universe wasn't a No Gurlz Allowed club, maybe it would appeal to more people. Not just women, but men too.   Maybe if you weren't so jealously intent on protecting your little bitty pie from anyone else getting a slice, you'd find out that you could make a much bigger pie.

 

But it's not just this one little thing.  It's so many things where I feel like we as humans are totally misguided, where we act as if resources were not just finite but narrowly bounded, as if there's a fixed amount of wealth in the world and there can never be any more so we have to grab as much of it as we can and keep anyone else from getting their hands on it. We can't let immigrants into our country and steal OUR JOBS.  We can't let people get rich because that should be OUR MONEY.  We can't be happy for a friend's successful blog because those should be OUR READERS. 

 

One blogger called it 'slottiness', when aspiring writers would get jealous of another being published, as if that author had taken their slot.  But we do it with so many things.  It seems like common sense to think that if one person gets X, the next person can't.

 

But it's still wrong.  There's so much that we can create. Life is not zero-sum. We don't have to make sure someone else loses in order for us to win.

Posted via LiveJournal app for Android.

rowyn: (current)

Sexist pseudoscientific crap.

This just pisses me off. Biology is not destiny. Whatever problems you have or create are not an inevitable product of your gender that you “just can’t help”. Fine, I can believe that there are certain traits which are more common to one gender than another in my society. Making that leap to “and they always have been and always will be” is utter nonsense. What my cultures is training people to do today is different from what was inculcated two hundred years ago and different from what cultures on the other side of the world are doing, and I find it very difficult to believe that your little list of anecdotes and small studies generalize to the global population from now to infinity.

I don’t know where I’m going with this, except that I get so tired of the little gender-based insults and excuses. What exactly is this accomplishing, anyway? -.-

Posted via LiveJournal app for Android.









Scum

Dec. 15th, 2009 12:00 pm
rowyn: (thoughtful)
"What are you talking about?" I asked the co-workers who were chatting near my cubicle.

The two women laughed. "Jerry* asked us a question, but he doesn't like our answer."

Jerry looked at me. "How many men would you say -- just in general, not specific ones you know -- are scum?"

I considered. "I dunno ... 5%?"

The other women giggled, while Jerry gestured to me. "See, there's an optimist."

"I said 50%," Michelle told me.

Lee offered, "65%."

I stared. "Really?"

"I'd say about the same for women," Michelle added. Lee's estimate on women was a bit lower, 50% or so.

"What about you, Jerry?" I asked him.

"I don't know. 30%? Hmmm. Maybe 2 in 10," he decided. "For both sexes."

*

I'm not sure if the wild variations in our estimates are because I'm generally kinder in evaluating people (it is awfully hard to make me feel like a person is actually bad or malign) or because they had a different idea of what was meant by scum. What about you -- how many people do you think are scum? And what qualifies a person as scum or not?

* No real names used here.
rowyn: (determined)
A couple of weeks ago, gender differences were all over LJ. I had some things I wanted to say about the topic, and didn't. Maybe because it didn't seem worth the trouble of writing down, maybe because everyone else seemed to have said it all, already.

Except that I never did read some of the things I most wanted to say, so maybe it hadn't all been said.

Some of what I saw a few weeks ago felt like it was aimed at making men feel ashamed for being male.

That bothered me. A lot.

I've always considered myself a feminist, in the sense of thinking "all humans are created equal and should be treated accordingly by law and society". In the sense that biology is not destiny, and that individuals should be judged by their abilities and actions, not their gender. That's what "feminist" meant to me as a kid: that women and men are equals. Maybe not "identical", but generally worth treating similarly in the absence of any other distinguishing information.

I don't know what "feminist" means to other people. To some it seems to mean "one who believes that women are victims of male oppression" or "one who thinks there's an evil conspiracy by the patriarchy to dominate women" or "one who thinks women are better than men". I don't think any of those things. (At least, not about modern American society. In some other cultures "male oppression" is a lot more applicable.) If that's what you think feminist means, then I'm not one.

I don't feel oppressed. I don't feel like a victim. I never have.

I'm not saying prejudice isn't out there, or that it doesn't affect other women in negative ways. Or even that it hasn't affected me. I don't feel it and I don't think about it, and that makes it less real to me but not less real.

At the bank where I work, at least 90% of the employees are female. At my branch, out of about twenty-five people, two are male. My department is loan operations; we do all the back-office support for loans -- preparing documents, processing payments and advances, booking loans, etc. There isn't a single man in loan operations, out of twenty-plus people. Among the sixteen loan officers, who are substantially better paid than loan ops, one is a woman. She works in collections and has no lending authority.

I don't think this is an accident, or coincidence. I don't think gender has nothing to do with it.

But I don't think it's because the bank won't hire women as loan officers, or men as loan processors. I don't think it's because men are trying to keep us down, to maintain "male privelege". I'm not even sure it is privilege, because being a loan officer is a sucky high-pressure job. The bank couldn't pay me enough to do it, and even if they did I'd be terrible at it.

I don't know what exactly causes the disparity, whether it's subtle cues lingering in the way we treat each other, or part of genetic propensity or what. But one thing I'm pretty sure of: it's not a male conspiracy against women. It's not men saying "women are too stupid/weak/incompetent" to do this job. I don't even think it's men at all, not anymore. Women are also complicit in accepting what's expected of their role. Men are complicit in accepting their roles, too.

These roles aren't imposed for the benefit of either gender above the other.

If I'd been born a man, I think I'd be a computer programmer now instead of a bank employee with an English degree. If [livejournal.com profile] koogrr had been born a woman, I think she'd be an artist now instead of an engineer. I think I'm happier as a bank employee and a wannabe author than I'd be programming computers. I think Koogrr would be happier as a starving artist. That's where gender roles got us. Is it a privilege? For which?

Am I privileged to have been encouraged to place my happiness and the people I love before my career and material wealth? Is he privileged to have been encouraged to pursue material wealth and judge his worth based on his financial success?

I don't like gender roles. I don't like one-size solutions. But I don't dislike them because they screw my gender. I dislike them because they screw people. Men and women. Anyone who doesn't fit in the right box gets shafted. Stay-at-home fathers and career women, male kindergartner teachers and female loan officers. Women who don't want children and men who cry when they're upset. Women who dress for comfort and men who want to be beautiful. It doesn't matter how you don't fit in, all that matters is you're swimming against a current of expectations. Silly expectations.

[livejournal.com profile] haikujaguar wrote a good post on comparative pain -- the point being, it does not compare. I don't know if she was thinking about this when she wrote it, but I was when I read it.

That men get falsely accused of rape does not compare to women being raped. That women get locked out of high-pressure jobs does not compare to men dying young from the stress of high-pressure jobs. That men get judged by the size of their wallets does not compare to women being judged by the size of their chest. The one does not justify the other. It is not okay.

People seldom want to hear about the problems of others when they are weighted down by their own. Don't tell me my problems aren't real. Don't tell me they're insignificant compared to yours, or someone else's. Don't tell me it's all in my head. Don't tell me the things I see can't be real just because you don't see them. It's real to me.

Our problems are real to all of us, and we're all in this together, doing the best we can to rise above them. That's the important thing.

I'm rambing. What I want to say is this:

Most of my friends are male. This isn't because I like men better than women. I just happen to like a lot of male-dominated hobbies so I mostly meet men.

I do not feel patronized by men, or devalued, or objectified, or looked down upon. I can't imagine thinking such things as characteristics of my friends. My friends generally have more respect for my intelligence than I do. It pisses me off to see people write these things about half of the human race, about my friends, to look at men as if they need to apologize for being male, for existing, for having gotten stuck with a gender role they never asked for.

I didn't ask for my gender role either, but you know what? Mostly I'm grateful for it. I'm glad I can cry when I'm unhappy and hug my friends and say "That's a nice dress" and be sexy when I want to and all the other things I got with the Female Package Deal. When I look at the kinds of problems men have to deal with, I think, "I'm so glad that's not me."

I'm sure it works fine for plenty of men, of course. It's a pretty roomy box in America and it fits a lot of men fine.

Still.

I just want to say, to all my friends, that your gender isn't anything you need to apologize for.
rowyn: (studious)
One of the reasons that people like levelling games is that with practice, your character gets better. Always. It's a simple linear formula: do Y for X times and you will improve. It's based on the popular fiction that doing something will make you better at doing it.

Which of course isn't true. If it were true, skill-based games would be just like levelling games: the more you played the better you'd be. But they're not. In part that's due to natural differences in talent, and to skills learned in prior games that apply to the current ones. (Even levelling games have a certain amount of skill involved, with better players progressing faster and capable of more difficult challenges than inferior players of the same character level).

But a lot of it is that skills are acquired not merely through performance, but through the conscious effort to learn the skill. For myself, I find that simply doing something for a while will make me better at it until I reach a plateau. After that plateau, doing more of the same doesn't make me any better.

And at some level, I think that performance stifles my ability to improve. I once wrote, in full knowledge of the irony: "I'm too busy writing a novel to learn how to write a novel!"

I did learn some things about writing a book by writing a book. But there's other stuff that I still haven't figured out, like "how to write a book concisely" or "how to write action" or "how to build tension" or "how to work in reversals of fortune to keep the narrative interesting". I'm not sure I'll ever learn those things just by writing.

More subtly, when I'm focused on producing, I'm not focused on improving. If I read a book for enjoyment, I don't notice most of what the author does well or badly, or how she does it. I only see the product and not the process, not the pieces. To notice those things I need to pay careful attention, to keep in mind what I'm trying to learn and see how it's done. When I'm trying hard to make the writing happen at all, it's more difficult to think about how I might do it better.

With this in mind, and also because my muse quit a few weeks ago and I haven't been able to woo him back or hire a new one (does anyone know where to get a good muse?), I dug up my copy of Creativty Rules!, a book of writing exercises that I started a few years ago and only got through a few chapters of. Maybe now that I'm not writing anything, I can figure out how to get better at it.

Obsession

Apr. 30th, 2008 11:24 am
rowyn: (worried)
'Everyone should work hundred-hour weeks. Find something you want to do for 15 hours a day. Make that your job.'

I can't find the quote on this, although I heard the sentiment attributed to Harlan Ellison.

I'm not sure how I feel about this idea. It's got two core assumptions: (1) that everyone can find something they'd want to do for 15 hours a day and (2) that it's possible to find someone to pay you for whatever (1) is. Just satisfying (1) is difficult: even on the weekends I sometimes find myself without anything I really want to do. Nevermind just one thing.

And yet there is a beautiful, appealling elegance to the idea. Recipe for happiness: find the thing you want to do, and do that. Why cast life as the quest to be happy with what you've do? Why not the quest to do what you'll be happy with?

Although "be happy with what you do" is an elegant answer, too. There are two business self-help books that my job has paid its employees to read in the time that I've been here: Who Moved the Cheese and Fish! I could summarize the former as "go find what makes you happy" and the latter as "be happy with what you have". Some people I know hate both books, which I understand, because both books are focused on playing by the rules of business and what some people really want to do are change the rules. But as general "rules to live by", it seems like one of them ought to be appropriate to any given situation. Either be happy with what you're doing or do something else. How hard is that?

Ah, so much easier to say than to do.

But back to my original quote: there's an implication in it that people can find one thing that they'll be happy doing forever. Oh, not necessarily, I suppose. A career can be a broad thing, spanning many different aspects. Even a job like "writer" or "artist" has wildly different parts to it: writers do outlines and research and revisions and summaries and query letters, as well as the actual "writing" part. Artists don't just paint: they have to get models and study anatomy and prep canvases and clean utensils and so forth. In theory, you could make a job out of doing just one part of those careers and have other people do the rest, although in practice that rarely happens. Likewise, in theory, you could make a career out of doing a bunch of unrelated tasks, all of which you enjoy.

But the implication remains: find that one thing you love enough to do exclusively, and you too can be happy.

I think I see that in the quote because some of my fondest memories are of obsessions. Times when I was absolutely obsessed with doing one thing, when I could do it for 15 hours a day and be happy, when I didn't want to do anything else. Like the fugue state I was in when finishing Silver Scales.

I don't know if it's common for my obsessions to bring me joy. There's an experiment I heard about with rats, where they put two groups in separate cages. One group got food pellets when they pushed a button, and the other got delicious treats for pushing the button. Once the rats had gotten used to this, the researchers deactivated buttons, so they didn't do anything anymore. The first group stopped pushing the button after a while, and looked for other ways to get food.

The second group kept pushing the button until they died of starvation.

Sometimes I feel like that second group, still pushing the button even though it's not working any more.

I've never been able to sustain that state of joyous-with-doing-one-thing for very long. Maybe a few months at the outside. After that, maybe I've finished the project, or gone on to a different one anyway, or keep working at it until it's done and/or makes me happy again (which sometimes does work: see Silver Scales.)

And I don't know which I should try to fix. Is the problem that I obsess, and the solution for me to stop doing it, to pace myself? Is the problem that I do try to pace myself, and I'd be happier giving my passions free rein? Is obsession part of who I am, and I need to find a way to make it work for me? Is there out there, somewhere, the one perfect thing that I can obsess over forever, and I need to keep looking for it?

I don't know. Pretty sure it's not that last one, though.
rowyn: (artistic)
When I was a sophmore in college, I decided to take a figure drawing class. "Artist" has always been on my list of things I'd like to be good at, though it's never ranked high enough for me to be very ambitious about it. But I took classes in all kinds of things in college, because my major and minor combined took up less than half of my required credits for graduation.

In the first or second class, we had our first live model. I knew the class was going to have live models, because there was a modelling fee to take the class. When the students walked in, she was talking to the teacher and wearing a bathrobe. I thought, "is she going to ...?"

Then class started, and she disrobed to pose.

No one had told me the class was going to have nude models. Which made sense, because the class had no prerequisites and I'm sure no one in the art department wanted students to enroll just so they could spend three hours a week ogling naked women and getting course credit for it. ("College really is awesome!")

The thought that we might have nude models had crossed my mind, but not very seriously. The actuality floored me.

We were all very mature about it. No one tittered, or joked, or ogled, or indeed made any acknowledgement whatsoever that there was anything remotely unusual about this at all. We sat and we drew and when we stared, it was in the same way that we stared at still life subjects.

But in my mind, it did not feel at all like drawing a still life subject.

It wasn't erotic. In fact, back then I thought I was straight -- there were only four people I'd ever been sexually attracted to and all of them were male.

Yet it was intimate. I felt humbled, honored, priveleged, amazed. Aware that this wasn't normal, but that a specific set of circumstances had arisen that allowed us to say that it was acceptable and appropriate.

I thought she was beautiful.

She was beautiful, with coffee-and-cream skin and supple muscles that showed in the subtle shadows and highlights on her body. I remember watching the teacher draw her face and thinking "you're doing a terrible job of it, she's so much more beautiful than that."

Yet she wasn't that beautiful. But she was my first model and I wanted to repay that trust by drawing her well, by capturing that sense of wonder and amazement and beauty in my simple charcoal renderings. I tried very hard to capture what I saw, which was light and shadow and curve and line and awe.

The awe was not the least important part.

She wasn't the only model we had over the course of the semester, but she came for several more classes. We had seven or eight different models. Four or five were lovely young women, two athletic and fit, the others merely slim. The ones with muscle were more interesting to draw, more complex. Two were young men who only came once each: reasonably attractive but not strikingly handsome. One was a sixty-ish man; I remember cringing inwardly when he disrobed. I wonder now if it would still bother me, or if I am old enough now not to care that his body was not young and slim like all the others.

We did not discuss in class that the models were nude, but I talked about it with my friends. One of the things that amazed me about drawing from models was that I could do so much better with a live reference. A photograph is better than nothing, but a photo doesn't capture all the nuances that you can get from a live model.

A funny thing happened then: my friends started volunteering to pose for me. Nude.

I only asked one of them, a female friend I'd known for a year or two. She was happy to model, first clothed and later nude.

After that, I didn't have to ask anyone: they all offered. And because then as now almost all of my friends were male, everyone who offered was male. Over the course of a couple of years, I had five different male friends who posed live for me at one time or another. A couple of them were artists themselves.

I never posed in return. I can't, now, remember why -- whether I never offered, or whether I offered but no one took me up on it.

But I remember a magic to it that I can't describe. It was neat. To be trusted. To be breaking this taboo that wasn't really a taboo, not in this circumstance.

But that was still what made it special: that the taboo existed. If I lived in a country of nudists, drawing nudes would still be just as artistically challenging and interesting. But it would no longer be an act of the same intimacy, not with the same intensity.

Sometimes I think that is half the point to certain taboos. Not because violating the taboo is bad, in itself. But because breaking it ought to have weight, ought to be made special and magical.

Not to make sure that the taboo is always maintained, but to make sure that when it is, the wonder and awe of it is appreciated. Is making it taboo in the first place the only way to be sure of that? I don't know.
rowyn: (Default)
A long, long time ago, on a site far, far away, a diarist called Imago posed the question: "If you could have a super power, what would it be?"
Finally, I'll answer it. )
rowyn: (Default)
This topic was brought up in an entry by Postvixen yesterday. I decided to do an entry because, y’know, I'm longwinded.
And the comment-cruncher would've chopped me half-way through )
rowyn: (Default)
I have a game tonight, so I have to write about that. I’m more tempted to write about the WSJ article I just read, or the book I just bought because of it. But…Well, what the heck, I can write about Rasheeka later. I want to get this down.

The column was by Russell Roberts, author of, among other works, The Invisible Heart. He was writing about a recent move on the part of the Author’s Guild to lambast Amazon.com for, of all things, selling used books. Why? Because authors don’t get royalties on used books.

Of course, used books have been available in used bookstores and libraries, where authors also do not get royalties-per-read, for centuries, and not noticeably to the detriment of authors. Mr. Roberts wrote his column better than I can, however; I’d link to it, but the WSJ’s site is subscription-only. Well, I’ll link to it anyway. You can get two weeks free if you feel like signing up. :) To summarize, his point is: “I am an author, and I am darned happy if people read my book at all, by any method, so by all means, please feel free to check ‘em out of the library or buy one used at Amazon.com or however else you want to get your hands on it. Thank you.” Before he got to this part, there was much heavy-handed sarcasm on other avenues the Author’s Guild might want to crack down upon.

I thought it was a charming sentiment. So I went to Amazon.com and looked for the book the byline mentioned for Mr. Roberts. Then I read the first chapter--much to my surprise, it appeared to be a work of fiction about two high school teachers, one in economics and the other in literature. It looked entertaining. So I bought it. I was going to follow up with an email to Mr. Roberts, because the whole scenario seemed so deliciously just, but I couldn’t find an email address for him on the WSJ’s web page. Maybe I’ll just send a letter-to-the-editor on it instead, and hope the story wends its way back to him.

And now…I’ll get started on that Rasheeka stuff.

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