On Raising My Daughter in a Sexist World

When my daughter was born, my wife and I decided to raise her to be proud of who and what she is.  She’s beautiful–and this isn’t just parental opinion–and she’s smart, and we began, from a very early age, praising her intelligence as much, if not more than, her beauty.  We want her to know she’s smart, and we want her to know she’s beautiful, but we want her to prize the smarts more.

When she was four, I asked for a kiss.  She said no.  Like a lot of dads, I pressed the issue.  She got angry, and I realized what I was doing and, horrified at myself, put her down.  She thought she’d done something wrong.  I explained to her that, no, she has every right to say “no,” and nobody, not me, not her mom, not her grandparents or aunts or cousins or even the President–she was fixated on Obama at the time–had the right to make her do anything she didn’t want to.  Ever since then, I’ve respected her boundaries.  If she says no, that’s it.

I do this because I don’t want to have a child who feels pressured, ever, to show affection in any way.  I want her to be herself, and I want her to be strong.  Since she was four, we’ve let her choose her clothing (most of the time).  We let her decide what’s in her daily snack pack, and if she wants a home lunch instead of what her school provides, we do it.*

I worry probably more than I should about the mixed messages our society is going to send her.  We try very hard to make sure she doesn’t grow up thinking she has to be some kind of chaste sex goddess, and we’re honest with her–as much as is wise with someone so young–about the world she’s going to be dealing with.

At the same time, we’re doing what we can to make the world better for her.  My wife models what being a strong woman is.  I model respecting that woman, and all others.  And we make sure she sees other models of womanhood, from housewives to career-oriented women, from families with more kids than we have to families who’ve chosen to have no children.  We’ve placed choosing her clothes in her control, with only occasional parental overrides if she chooses something inappropriate (and my wife and I have to sometimes negotiate, because sometimes our standards differ–and we let her see how that works).

In short, we try to model for her a marriage based on respect.  When we argue, we try not to do it in front of her, but if we must, we’re honest about it, and work very hard to keep her from taking any sides.

Though it’s not entirely because of my child, my novel includes not one but two strong, intelligent female characters at least partly because I want her to see these things in fiction.

She loves superheroes, and I proudly guide her to the best–her favorites are Black Widow and Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel.  She’s happy as hell that when the Captain Marvel movie comes out she’ll be old enough to see it without me having to see it first to judge its suitability.  She’s very upset that there’s still no Black Widow movie, but hopeful there will be one when she’s older.

But at the end of the day, I worry.  I worry none of this will be enough, and she’ll be hit so hard by advertising and the idiotic expectations of others that she’ll be hurt beyond my ability to see or help.  I read stories like this one and I cringe, because it could happen to my baby, too.

We do what we can, I guess.  Bottom line, I will support her, no matter what.

<small>* If you’re drawing breath to tell me how awful it is she eats school lunch: she goes to a private school that serves healthy food.  So don’t go there. </small>

How I Got Into Kayaking

A few years ago, after watching a video of someone kayaking down the Russian River, I remembered I had wanted to try it for a long time.  So I made up my mind that the next time I went to my favorite camping place, I’d take advantage of the nearby kayak rental and try it out.  Mind you, I’d never taken a class, and didn’t really have a clue what I was doing.

But, I drove to Gualala, and the next morning, my equipment was delivered to my campsite.  The guy who delivered it gave me a quick primer on the equipment, then left.  I carried the kayak down to the water and climbed in.  I spent that whole day paddling upriver, looking over the side (the water in the Gualala is very clear, allowing one to see down about 15 feet (which is the bottom at the deepest parts I’ve seen).  I got close in to the shore, under the trees that grow close to the water, and watched tiny fish maneuver around the roots.  I saw a hawk snatch a fish from the lake.

I loved it.  When I first climbed aboard, I nearly tipped right over, but managed to compensate and stay upright–and that was the last time I’ve ever come even close to tipping on accident.

I say “on accident,” because the next year, I took a course on kayaking, and that required me to tip myself over and climb back on.  Those are the only times I’ve actually fallen overboard.  As to the class itself, I have to say I didn’t learn a lot from it beyond what I’d already figured out by trial and error on my own, though I did learn a couple of useful things.

The big thing is that you don’t steer with your arms–in fact, kayaking is in general a whole-body workout. Steering is done by planting your paddle into the water and moving the boat with your legs–it sounds weird, but once you start doing it, you get used to it pretty quickly.

I won’t be riding any rapids anytime soon, and I’m not ready yet for ocean kayaking (though I look forward to it someday), but for exploring a river or lake, there’s little as amazing as a kayak for exploring wildlife spaces.

Two Kinds of Games I Don’t See Enough Of Anymore

Starfighter Cockpit Simulations

I love everything about starfighter games.  I love dropping my mind into the game, letting the real world fade away for a moment as I climb into my cockpit, fire up the engines, and go save the world.

I was a Wing Commander fan; I played all the primary games in the series and loved them.  I loved Starlancer, which took WW2 battles and translated them into the future.  I was an INSANE fan of Independence War and I-War 2–in fact I’d still be playing I-War 2 if my stupid PC hadn’t died and left me with a half-functioning archaic machine.

My love of this genre of game translates into my writing–my years of playing I-War 2, in which I basically ignore the plot and just fly around getting into trouble in the open world play, inspired a piece of flash fiction years ago.  That piece of fiction popped into my mind one day in class, and it combined with the class subject (Modern Irish Literature and its relation to the Troubles) to become my novel-in-progress.

But these games are now almost nonexistent.  They had their heydey in the mid-90s, but then they fizzled out.  There are signs the genre is making a comeback, but we’ll see. Apparently Elite: Dangerous is good, but I can’t play it on my PC, so I don’t know, really.  The Xbox One version will supposedly be out sometime this year, but we’ll see.

Superhero stories

I’m not just talking about games based on Marvel or DC properties.  Those can be good (though they’re mixed, really), but stories like inFAMOUS, which I never got to play as it was a Playstation3-only game and I’ve got an X-Box (can I mention how much I hate console-exclusivity in gaming?).  From what I’ve heard, the game is great, and is original, with choice in how you play–you can be the good guy, or the jerk.  I like that .

I want games where a protagonist–and I don’t care if it’s a man or a woman, honestly, though I do like to be able to design my own character when possible–gets some kind of paranormal ability and then sets out to save the world. I’m ok with games that allow you to choose your morality, though I rarely see both sides of the choices given, as being a jackass in a game world makes me feel almost as bad as being one in real life.  I’ve played many Star Wars games, for example, and I’ve only once or twice played the Dark Side, because it just feels creepy to be that big a jerk.  I want to be the hero, not the villain.

Some thoughts on the recent Supergirl “sneak peak”

So, I noticed a lot of anger and angst over the new Supergirl trailer for CBS.  Most of it seems to be angry because the trailer has some superficial resemblance to the parody trailer SNL recently showed lampooning Marvel’s inability to make a movie with a female superhero or, theoretically, connect with female viewers.

So I went looking for the trailer.  To be honest, I didn’t think the hoopla was warranted, as the images I saw comparing the two trailers seemed incredibly cherry-picked and out of context.  So I set it aside and came back to it a few hours later, when I could devote some more attention to it.

And I still think the complaints are unfair.

Mind you–if you are a woman and you think the trailer looks awful, well, fair enough.  I can’t speak for anyone but myself.  But in my opinion, here’s what’s wrong with the criticisms I’m seeing (mostly, by the way, from men).

1. It looks like a ripoff of The Devil Wears Prada.

Well, ok.  But TDWP wasn’t the first time we saw a show or movie in which the female lead’s boss is a diva.  And it won’t be the last.  It’s a trope for a reason, people.  I don’t think CBS using the trope means they think that’s the way to connect with women, I think it just means it’s a well-worn trope.  Which brings me to …

2. It’s too trope-y.

Well, you know, tropes as the term has come to be known–which isn’t the actual meaning, but hey, language changes, so we’ll move on–that is, commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works, are what we in the literature teaching game also call archetypes.  The way you get an archetype, or trope, is that it recurs often in literature.  And they recur because, and here’s the kicker, people like them.

Now, people don’t like it when tropes are over-relied on, but without some tropes, a lot of stories just wouldn’t exist.  Hell, the prevalence of tropes suggests they’re kind of important.  Look at the lists on tvtropes.org.  There are a lot of patterns people use over and over in storytelling.  If they’re used badly, that’s not so great.  But if they’re used well, then they’re excellent.

The truth is, we don’t yet know if Supergirl will use them well or not.  But from what I saw in the trailer, I suspect they’re going to be OK.  They appear to lampshade, or call attention to the trope, in several places.  They also might be subverting some of the tropes.  For example, one criticism a friend had is that it looks like Kara/Supergirl will be trying to be normal while the world won’t let her.  I don’t think that’s going to happen–we see her in the trailer bemoaning being “normal” as not all she thought it was. As I understand it, part of the show is showing her movement from “I want to be a normal girl” to “I’m not normal, and that’s OK,” which, to be honest, I would love to see.  For example, when she sees the news asking who the “mystery flying woman” is, she isn’t upset that her secret is in danger, she’s excited about it.   When her sister says “You’re out there now, Kara.  Everyone will know, and you can’t take that back!” Kara responds with an incredulous “I don’t want to.”  Good for her.

3. Kara with Agency

A friend of mine said ” I want her to have agency and make choices that matter to her own story.”  I don’t think you’re going to have to worry about that; it looks to me like that’s where she’s going.  She reveals herself to a guy she barely knows, she takes to the streets before she’s even sure she has the same abilities as her famous cousin, and she asserts herself when others tell her to stop.  I’m pretty sure Kara will have all the agency she needs and deserves–which is a ton.

Yes, there’s an asshole from the government who tells her to “go back to getting someone’s coffee.”  I’m pretty sure he’s going to be getting his comeuppance, and if he isn’t, I’m going to be right there with all the other people protesting.

4. The SNL Comparison

Oh, c’mon.  Are you fucking kidding me?  Oh, that guy cocked his head at the same angle as Ultron in the parody! They must be the same!

This is the Internet Outrage Machine at it’s worst.  Ignore it.  Watch the show.  If it sucks, walk away.  If it’s good, keep it.

Me, I just hope it’s suitable for my daughter, because dammit, she deserves a superhero show she can watch with a woman in the title role.  And Captain Marvel  is too damn far away.