We All Have a Dream

unnamed“I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed – we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
It’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in the US, and as usual, I’m seeing plenty of MLK quotes pop up in people’s social media feeds. There is nothing wrong with quoting the man; he was a genius speaker and writer, and his words are filled with a weightiness that moves us all to do more.
I just wish we read more of his words than just a few “I have a dream” quotes. I wish we had to read him in history and English classes today, as part of American literature canon. I wish we remembered as a nation that Martin Luther King, Jr. was both incredibly dedicated to a higher morality, and also incredibly radical in challenging a status quo that has lent itself to injustice for generations in our country, much of which still exists despite the great strides we have made as a nation to do better.
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Today as you see those quotes and watch some news coverage and maybe attend a parade, I hope you’ll use this opportunity to read more of MLK’s words, many of which are revolutionary and all of which demand a higher responsibility and morality from each of us. Let him challenge you to pursue truth, justice, wisdom and stand for what is right and humanizing to all around you.
 
It may be that we’ll never change the world. Injustice seems to be a problem that plagues the human race, and our generation is no stranger to it. But we can change ourselves and we can change things for the better for everyone we encounter.
But only if we choose that path every day.
 
That’s what I love about Martin Luther King, Jr. He reminds me to choose a demanding path toward ethical living and justice every day, tempered with mercy and humility, even when it’s hard or unpopular. It’s something I need to be reminded of, since it is so easy to become complacent with the daily grind of work, errands, groceries, and bills that I forget about others around me who may be suffering.
MLK was really good at reminding us to look at things not from our comfortable position but from the uncomfortable point of view of those who are rejected, downtrodden, held in contempt, powerless… It’s an incredibly humbling thing to let go of your own opinions to truly live in someone else’s shoes for a while.
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And it’s not only humbling; it creates empathy. It’s only when you’re willing to see life from the point of view of others who are different from you that you can empathize with them and maybe help make their lives better. It takes courage to do that, because you never know what you’ll find out about yourself when you empathize… Perhaps you’ll discover you’re more selfish than you like to admit. Perhaps you’ll discover you’re lazy or uncaring in some ways.
Perhaps you’ll discover how very lucky you are that you were born in your particular skin in your particular country in your particular century, and that without that luck, you’d have a very different life.
It’s a reality check we all need once in a while, especially if we want to make the world a little bit better just by our being in it. I think that’s worth something. And Martin Luther King, Jr. certainly believed that too. It’s what he lived and died for. Let’s honor that memory by doing the same.
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Women’s Health Care Is NOT Negotiable

Warning: This is a rant. It contains spoilers of Downton Abbey and the Star Wars prequels, NSFW language, and mentions vaginas, sperm, birth control and women’s reproductive health.

So, I’m finally getting caught up with Downton Abbey. (Don’t judge, we all have our weaknesses.) I’m in season 3 right now, which is apparently the year the writers took on the challenge of shoving in every possible soap opera plot known to humankind in 9 episodes. And they do, believe me. But I’m not here to talk about all those plots, just one…

I’m talking about reproduction. And how women take the blame and bear the repercussions of it in so many ways that men can still avoid, even when we live in what we like to think of as a modern, enlightened millennium.

ethelOne plot from season 3 of Downton Abbey revolves around a young maid who sleeps with an unmarried young major who is convalescing from injuries he got in WWI. And as you’d expect, because she’s not using protection and neither is he, she gets knocked up. And as you’d expect, she has the baby. And as you’d expect if you’re a woman living in this world and know the score, the major won’t take responsibility for the baby he helped create. So the mother of the baby is kicked out of her job as a maid and forced to live in poverty. You’d think this would seem archaic, outdated…because we are so much more enlightened now (*sarcasm*). However…

I rarely get into this on the blog, but I work for a faith-based nonprofit at the moment. For the most part, I’m okay with that. It has its quirks like any other job. However… I just received a letter that my employer officially received an exemption under the health care laws so they don’t have to pay for birth control pills for their employees.

Never mind the fact that it is highly unlikely any of us will be running out to swallow down Plan B pills anytime soon, because that’s not what you do when you join a faith-based organization. Never mind that we won’t be running to the abortion clinic anytime soon. Never mind the fact that birth control pills give many women the ability to control serious menstrual problems and improve their lives, enabling them to actually make it into their damn job instead of being stuck at home, bleeding out.Never mind all that.

I’m going straight to the heart of the matter. Birth control pills should be available for free to all women of child-bearing age, whether married or single, young or old. Why? Because the fact is, no matter how archaic and old-fashioned that plot point in Downton Abbey should seem, it’s not archaic at all. This is how we still live. Two people have sex. Only one pays for it unless you force the other to pay for it (literally, through paternity tests) in a court of law.

And it is bullshit that we still live like this.

In Downton Abbey, the grandparents of the child step in to offer a dubious deal. “We’ll take the baby,” they say, “but you, poor tramp of a mother that you are, have to give up all claims to the baby and can never see him again. Because you’re a slut. Shame on you.”

Yes, right. Shame on her. Everyone blames her. And yes, she was pretty damn dumb to think that entitled ass of a major would be responsible. But how about shame on him? Wasn’t it his penis and sperm that caused the problem? No sperm, no pregnancy. And if only one half of the species carries the sperm, maybe that’s the half that should be responsible for what the sperm results in. Or at least half the responsibility.

But if you want the female half of this species to bear all the responsibility, then you better damn well let us do it. That’s why we need birth control pills. Either you expect men to be self-controlled and non-sexual the way you expect women to be, or you let us both be lascivious and we both accept responsibility for the results. Fair is fair.

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(c) Lucasfilm/Disney

How does this relate to the Star Wars prequels? Oh, I’m just going to share with you a link to a Motherboard article that describes in detail how the lack of adequate women’s health care basically led to Amidala’s death. Think about this… In a science fiction future where robots are self-aware and ships can jump to hyperspace, no one can figure out how to give a woman a test to see if she’s carrying twins, for crying out loud. How the hell is that possible, unless she never went to see a damn doctor the entire time she was pregnant! What the hell, Star Wars?

In a universe where men are clearly in charge and women are often helpless even when as a queen they should be powerful, I suppose it’s not surprising that a bunch of medical droids programmed (no doubt) by men can’t figure out what’s wrong with Amidala. “She’s medically fine,” they say. “We don’t know why she’s dying.” She’s dying of childbirth? Seriously?

(Oh, I know there are other interpretations of what happens to her. Maybe the emperor is draining her life force to bring Darth Vader back from the dead. The Motherboard article disagrees, by the way, and gives an interesting alternate view of what happened.)

Here’s the thing… It just makes me so damn mad to know that after centuries and centuries of what we’d like to call progress, women and childbirth still carries this freakish, shameful scarlet letter of a curse that is absolutely ridiculous in this day and age. We shouldn’t even have to have this conversation today. This post shouldn’t even be necessary. But it is. Which makes me incredibly angry and sad.

It makes me think that even if it wasn’t Hilary who ran this year… Even if some woman who was universally loved and respected, that paragon of womanhood still wouldn’t have been elected as president. Because she’s a woman. And we can’t even trust women to take birth control today, much less run a country. Yay America.

Oh and one final word… Women like sex as much as men do. We shouldn’t get punished for it. Deal with it.

Why I Can’t Read Books Anymore: Remember the Ladies part 2, Star Trek, and Other Stuff

A few weeks ago, I promised a part 2 of the review for Remember the Ladies, a book set in DC around the push for the women’s vote, by Gina Mulligan. But I can tell you right now, this post is going to morph into something other than a review. This is going to be a discussion of why I can’t read books (or really, put up with stories) the same way I used to.

And I wonder if you feel the same way… Or whether I’m just turning into a crazy cat lady, without all the cats!

Now, I’m not going to lie. Remember the Ladies has been hard for me to review. One obvious reason is that, as I mentioned in part 1 of the review a few weeks back, it’s a hard story to really love. The characters are largely unlikable, certainly hard to root for. The plot, at points, seems hard to believe. There are a few moments when the villain of the piece goes over the top in ways that feel more Snidely Whiplash than necessary, and it didn’t work. Yet it’s a story I really wanted to like because of its subject matter – empowering women, women in politics, and so on.

But an even bigger problem is simply that it was hard for me to keep reading, period, because I have problems finishing any books these days, period. I’ve been having that problem with all kinds of books lately, not just Remember the Ladies. Equal opportunity suffering, all around.

This never used to be a problem. I used to read avidly, constantly, but these days, a lot of books leave me feeling let down, distracted, or even worse, disgusted by the poor writing and plotting. Somehow…through age, osmosis, or what have you… I’ve become tougher and more critical and more easily bored by books than ever before.

I wish I could give you a clear cut reason why that is. As I become busier with other parts of my life, it’s much harder to be patient with books that don’t hold my attention. I resent the infringement on my time that less than stellar writing tries to demand of me.

No doubt I’m as influenced as anyone else by the ADD culture we live in. Everything moves so fast…movies, TV, my iPhone…that if I don’t feel immediately hooked fast by a piece of writing, I put it down. Gone are those Romantic and Victorian days when a writer could take three chapters to get to the main point of the action, because I can’t take it.

This malaise that’s fallen over my relationship with entertainment extends to movies as well. They’re shorter than a book read, sure. But they are no less guilty of boring the hell out of me at times. Am I more impatient? Am I a tougher critic? Does it have to do with all the writing I do, as well as all the editing and critiquing? Maybe I just can’t sit through anything without being utterly distracted by the plot holes.

It’s happening with old movies as well as new. I just tried to watch The Wild Bunch this weekend. A classic Western in many ways, right? It was nominated for awards, I know that. I have no idea why, though. I was halfway through it and still couldn’t figure out what the point was supposed to be, what I was supposed to get out of it, so I gave up.

I feel the same about the latest Star Trek movie. Discovery, I think. What I discovered was that JJ Abrams and Hollywood can’t find a new damned plot for these movies to save their lives. All the same elements were in this movie that were in the first two, only watered down. It’s like someone said, let’s just rehash what worked, only this time let’s see if we can make it not work. And I like Star Trek, including the reboot. So what’s my problem? I can’t explain it.

It’s hard to be surprised, astonished, and better yet awed and moved, by fiction these days. And I suppose the problem is mostly me. I don’t know why. It makes me unhappy and uneasy to think I have become so hard to please.

Do you find this is happening to you? Or am I alone in this funk? It’s okay if I am. I wouldn’t wish this criticality on you. But what is clear is, I probably won’t be reviewing much fiction on the blog for a while. I’ll have to find other topics.

Sorry, books and movies. It’s not you, it’s me. Well, maybe it’s both of us. Sigh.

Remember the Ladies – review, part 1

“… Gina Mulligan weaves a tale as captivating and unpredictable as the back-room political deals forged by her colorful cast of characters.” — Kristina McMorris, New York Times bestselling author of The Pieces We Keep

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So reads one of the endorsements for Gina L. Mulligan’s new book, Remember the Ladies, a book about fighting for women’s right to vote at the turn of the century. It’s an appealing story idea, particularly in a time when in many ways women are still not considered equals, and it sometimes feels like women’s rights are actually going backwards.

(For a link to the NPR story about young women’s lack of empowerment over their own bodies and sexual decisions, or a link to Oklahoma’s ridiculous loophole to the rape law, or a link to how condoms are covered by health insurance reimbursements while maxi pads and tampons or not, see the bottom of this post. Ugh, America. Seriously.)

It’s situations like this, though, that make a book like Remember the Ladies important. Every woman should be fully aware of the continuing need to fight for our rights and to be seen as the equals to men that we are – to be seen as full humans, really.

Mulligan reminds us of what it takes to be a fighter by giving us a strong female protagonist who is lively and engaging without being in a superhero suit. Amelia Cooke, the story’s heroine, is the kind of person who simply likes to use the brain God gave her. I mean, she’s smart. She’s observant. And she wants to help people.

She’s also an orphan, and she goes through a system in the late 1800s that basically trains her to be a housewife, even though she clearly shows plenty of talent for being a leader in intellectual pursuits, business or politics. She’s a Type A in a world that doesn’t even acknowledge women can be anything but Type Bs. But Amelia is tough and determined, and she makes it to Washington, D.C. and becomes a lobbyist against all odds.

Full disclosure here… I’m only halfway through the book right now, but I wanted to post today because I received an ARC of the book and was asked to review it upon its release, which is this week. I’ll review it again after I finish reading it, because to me, a full book review has to address whether the author nailed the ending or not.

But in the meantime, I can tell you why I’d recommend reading this book…and also what I feel Mulligan might want to work on for her next novel.

First, what I like: Amelia, Amelia, Amelia. I love her inventiveness, her backbone, her occasional moments of “feminine weakness” as people in her day might have called it (in other words, she is attracted to a certain man, and that’s nice to see). She’s also someone I can relate to, because it’s not easy to be smart in a world that doesn’t always welcome smart people who point out problems that no one wants pointed out. I’m just glad I live now instead of in 1887.

I also love the setting, which is well drawn and easy to imagine. The story starts off with a bang – a really strong first chapter, actually, with great hooks that I suspect will grab most readers and keep them reading. That’s no easy task for a writer, and I admire that Mulligan has pulled that off. And I like most of the secondary characters too – they feel real and have their distinctive tics that make them stand out.

What I’m not loving, and what I hope either gets better by the end of this book or better in Mulligan’s next book, is her development of the story’s antagonist. In Remember the Ladies, the bad guy is Edward Stillman. Naturally, this is the guy Amelia is attracted to, before they have a falling out that pits them at odds with one another. It’s not the end of the world to use what is essentially a trope, but I like authors to do it a bit more deftly. Something about Stillman feels forced, as if he has to be the bad guy because of (A) a father who’s essentially an abusive lowlife, and (B) a misunderstanding that could easily have been cleared up if both Stillman and Amelia actually talked to each other.

I have a friend – actually, it’s Purple Inker Donna Leahey who posts here too – and she doesn’t like it when plot advances solely because two characters don’t talk to each other about something that seems obvious to talk about. I have to agree with her on this, at least as far as Remember the Ladies is concerned. I can see why Amelia doesn’t bring the issue out into the open – she’s been orphaned, she’s been judged, and she’s afraid to open herself up and get hurt.

But what’s Stillman’s excuse? There are not enough details given to make his reasoning sympathetic, and as a result, he comes across as a big baby. I think this ultimately boils down to Mulligan’s portrayal of Stillman in a rather one-note way. The character lacks the dimensions, contradictions, and depths that could give his actions and political positions more justification.

Bottom line, though, I like the story, I like the history, I like the characters, especially Amelia… So I’ll keep reading. And I’ll post part 2 of the review next week.

Now… For those links on egregious treatment of women in 2016 America…

NPR’s ‘Girls & Sex’ and the Importance of Talking to Young Women About Pleasure

The Tampon Tax

Oklahoma’s dumbass exception to rape, which is thankfully being fixed

Also, here’s more on Remember the Ladies and author Gina L. Mulligan if you’re interested…

In an election year, debut novelist Gina L. Mulligan brings us a book that serves as necessary reminder of the all-consuming passion of a group of dedicated women who fought for the right to vote. Set in the extravagant Gilded Age, Remember the Ladies (May 18, 2016; Five Star Publishing; Hardcover; $25.95) explores the conflict between the sexes with delightful writing and elegant descriptions, which brings the reader back to a time when the struggle for women’s equality had just begun.
 
Growing up in an orphanage prepared Amelia Cooke for the high-stakes role of a female lobbyist surrounded by the egos of the 1887 Congress, a time before women had the right to vote. Her success in the isolating male arena comes from using the tactics she’s learned from those who oppressed her. So when she’s hired by the National Women’s Suffrage Association to help pass a proposed constitutional amendment granting women’s voting rights, Amelia feels empowered to at last win a place for herself and give all women a voice in the world. What she doesn’t foresee is the charismatic and calculating Senator Edward Stillman who threatens to ruin her hard-earned reputation and end her career.
 
Edward Stillman is desperate for status and power among Washington’s Old Guard. To gain control of the most dominant committee in the Senate, Stillman must crush the women’s amendment and anyone else in his way, including Amelia. He’s driven, clever, and willing to exploit any advantage. But in a political game where bribery, threats, extortion, and seduction prevail, each player must decide just how low they are willing to let the fight go. Who will win? And at what cost?
 
Mulligan is the founder of Girls Love Mail, a Northern California based national nonprofit that collects hand-written letters of encouragement and gets them to women newly diagnosed with breast cancer. To date, the organization has delivered more than 60,000 letters to women across the U.S., and has been featured on The Steve Harvey Show and in Women’s Day, Babble, BUST, and Woman’s World.

Being a Superhero Ain’t All It’s Cracked Up to Be

I am literally laughing as I type this post.

PHOTO BY BLOKE_WITH_CAMERA, COURTESY OF FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

PHOTO BY BLOKE_WITH_CAMERA, COURTESY OF FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

After seeing The Avengers 2 this week, followed by writing a highly popular post on The Well-Rounded Character vs. The Feminist Ideal, it seems only natural that I’d be listening to NPR/This American Life’s podcast this week on “Superheroes.” And let me tell you, once you start thinking about it in practical terms, being a superhero is a completely crazy thing to do. Seriously…

What would you do if you had the power to fly or be invisible? As it turns out, most people would steal stuff they don’t want to pay for or fly to avoid traffic. Such mundane uses of power. Boring, really, we’re all boring.

Would you use your superpowers to fight crime? Not only do most people say no, but once you think about it, you realize how complicated it is to fight crime without a plethora of skills and powers. Flight isn’t enough. Neither is invisibility. You need super-strength and an ability to successfully keep from getting hurt to fight bad guys in superhero fashion. It’s not for the faint of heart.

Would you have a teenage sidekick? Think about this for a second…a a know-it-all teenager attached to your hip during the most stressful moments of your life. I mean, I like teens, but even I’ll admit that if people gave birth to a full-blown 15-year-old, no one would have children. Babies that are cute, sleep a lot, and don’t talk lull us all into putting up with them when they get into middle school.

Would you be able to resist turning into someone horrible if you had the power to get away with things? Um, no. Once you start thinking about it, you have to admit you’d be easily tempted to do the wrong things all the time. It’s a lot of work to be so good that you don’t go invisibly into the locker room of the sex you find attractive to do a little, um, let’s call it what it is…creepy peeping.

If you want to hear the podcast, go here. It’s fun.

The Well-Rounded Character vs. The Feminist Ideal

(This post may contain spoilers if that matters to you.)

So, I went to see The Avengers: Age of Ultron this week with my Purple Ink collaborator, Donna. And having seen it, I just have to ask…

Why is it that when female characters express a normal desire, people flip out about it? That’s the question I’m left with as I consider the Black Widow character story line and the outcry of some people on the Internet who think this story line is the end of everything.

Perhaps these people don’t understand what it means to write a character that is well-rounded. Maybe they have an ideal in their heads that they feel will solve all the injustices in the world (of which there are many, and not all of them are gender-specific). What I do know is that my ideal world for women is clearly not the same as it is for others.

Could I be a full person with needs in every area of my life, please?

Could I be a full person with needs in every area of my life, please?

In my ideal world, women actually get to be exactly who they are in all their glory, and with all their foibles gathered around them like fine silk. People would see every woman for who she is and let each woman be herself, rather than trying to shove us all into a one-does-not-fit-all polyester snuggie.

In this world, it would be perfectly fine, even normal, for a woman to be an assassin who likes the nerdy science guy because he’s not all testosterone driven at all times…a woman who is a badass who can defend herself and trick the Trickster himself into giving away his secrets, but who also sometimes wishes she could have a child…a very, very normal desire that most women seem to have.

(And by the way, most men seem to have this desire too. When did this longing for children become gender-specific? It’s why we procreate, people!)

In other words, women in my world get to be Black Widow exactly as she was written in Avengers 2.

like the fact that she has incredible skills as a fighter, but that she also wants motherhood or at least wants to have the option of it (which as Donna pointed out in her post, was a right that was stolen from Black Widow as a teenager).

I like the fact that Black Widow isn’t all business. She wants to have a good time too. She wants a good life for herself. And part of that good life is companionship, which is perfectly NORMAL. It is not normal to fight all the time and have no love interests, friends, or social life outside of the work you do. So, why is it a problem for Black Widow to be normal?

Also, why is it a problem for these complications of work and life to be part of her story line? I like the fact that she actually has a well-rounded character with issues she’s trying to solve, and those issues actually make me as an audience member ask questions about what I believe.

Black Widow and Hulk both struggle with issues of control vs. lack of control, and freedom vs. lack of choice in this film. Who else gets something cool like that to do? Think about it…

Thor is completely one-note in this film. He’s barely even eye candy. What was up with that trip into the pool moment that clearly got edited way the heck down until it barely made sense, except that it gave Thor a reason to show up and say, “I have an answer”?

Tony Stark is an unlikable guy on a good day. In this film, he’s annoying and selfish. If only the film had done a better job of convincing us of his obsession with building Ultron. Yeah, I know the reason is given, but it doesn’t feel believable. Stark is no idiot, but his motivation in this film feels too one-note to work well.

Captain America… Well, he looked good in his tight shirt. But he was pretty darn one-note as well.

Supporting characters…mostly all one-note. Even Dr. Erik Selvig, whom I love as a character, is barely there long enough to earn his paycheck.

At least Black Widow gets to have some interesting things going on in her life. Thank God! Without her story line, Bruce Banner’s conflicted emotions, and Hawkeye’s development of a personality (MY GOD, the guy has a rich life outside of the office!), I’d have been bored to tears by this movie.

Well, I should add that I loved James Spader as Ultron. I mean, I’ll sit and listen to James Spader talk for three hours about anything. It wasn’t hard to sit and listen to him be a funnier version of Tony Stark than Tony Stark.

So, in a nutshell: Let Black Widow be Black Widow.

Let her be a badass who also might have wanted a baby one day if she’d had the choice.

Let her be a great fighter who helps hold the team together with Captain America when all the other guys on the team are lousy at it.

And let her also be open to finding a man she wants to be in a relationship with. It’s not like she’s going to quit her job and hang up the leather suit for an apron and heels. At least, not unless she makes the choice herself.

And if she does, that’s okay too…because women should be empowered to make whatever choice makes them happy. Everyone should have the opportunity to choose. That’s what makes us human. When you rob the choice from someone because you want them to be different than they are, you’re making them less than who they are. You’re dehumanizing them, just like Black Widow’s handlers did when they forcibly sterilized her.

Get it?