2013 Gen Con Schedule

So, yeah. Summer has been a bit…hectic. This is perhaps a bit on the late side (I’m writing it from a hotel in Indianapolis) but here’s my Gen Con schedule in case you want to say hi.

Tuesday

ARRIVE AT GEN CON!

Wednesday

  • Diana Jones Awards at 9:00pm

Thursday

  • Margaret Weis Productions (booth 1619) most of the day except for:
  • Crafty Games (booth 619) from 1:00-2:00
  • I’m going to try to show up at the Evil Hat panel from 5:00-6:00 in the Crowne Plaza, Hay Market B.

Friday

  • MWP (booth 1619) from 10:00-11:00
  • Family Fun Pavilion for a Little Wizards event from 11:00-12:00
  • The Campaign Doctors panel with Jack Graham, Robin Laws, and Luke Crane in the Crowne Plaza, Grand Central Ballroom A/B 1:00-2:00
  • ENnies! Union Station Grand Hall
    6:30 reception
    8:00 I’m hosting the awards!

Saturday

  • MWP (booth 1619) most of the day except for:
  • Crafty Games (booth 619) from 1:00-2:00

Sunday

  • MWP (booth 1619) most of the day except for:
  • Crafty Games (booth 619) from 1:00-2:00

Monday

  • Head back home

 

If I have no place else I need to be during the evening, you might find me hanging out in the Embassy Suites lobby. As other wise people have said, please (re)introduce yourself if we’re not close in-person friends—I don’t mean at all to be unfriendly but I’m not fantastic at quickly putting together faces and names and Twitter handles and how I know you! I will return the favor.

 

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Cover Reveal of Sally Slick and the Steel Syndicate

This is cross posted on Reads 4 Tweens.

Carrie Harris is writing a novel for the Young Centurions series for Evil Hat Productions. It’s in the same universe as Dinocalypse Now, Beyond Dinocalypse, and King Khan, but the target audience is explicitly younger readers.

Now, I’m all excited about this for lots of reasons.

  • This novel stars Sally Slick at age 14 with her friend Jet Black. You get to see their friendship in its early stages.
  • My daughter loves Sally Slick and can’t wait to read a novel that focuses primarily on her.
  • My son loves the Spirit of the Century universe, and what with the racing tractors and robots and stuff, he’s going to love this book.
  • How do I know? Because I’m the editor! I’m getting an early peek at a wonderful book. Working with Carrie is a joy, and this novel is going to be great.

Prefer to judge a book by its cover? You’re in luck! The cover by the incomparable Dani Kaulakis was officially revealed and it’s amazing.

Sally Slick Steel Syndicate 200dpi

Sally Slick and the Steel Syndicate will be available in December. I know I’m kind of biased, but it’s a fantastically fun novel and I can’t wait for you to read it.

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The Most Important Meal of the Day

It’s really easy to think that however things are is just the way they’re going to be. As the kids grow up and we all have conflicting schedules, stressful mornings and dinners out of brown bags in the car started to seem like our new normal.

This year has been…let’s just say stressful. In addition to lots of other life stuff, both kids started middle school, which means the alarm suddenly goes off an hour earlier than we’re all used to. Mornings in particular were unpleasant, rushed, and grumpy—it really sucks to send your kids off to school when your last interaction was snapping at them over something.

Recently we made a relatively simple change in our routine and it’s made a big difference. I’m not saying this exact thing will work for you, but it’s worth examining some of the times that are rough in your house and seeing if you can do something to make them different.

We’re now on week 3 of having breakfast together every morning. Clark takes lead on cooking something—with the kids’ help, we plan out the week’s menu on Sunday so we’re sure of what we’re having and we check to see that we have the ingredients. The kids get up earlier because they have a meal to look forward to—they even check the menu the night before.

I’m not going to say that breakfast has worked miracles, because there’s still some stress and some rushing, but this morning instead of yelling being the last thing that happened, it was belly laughs over waffles. A zombie kid came awake and started interacting with us. Moods that would have only grown and worsened were instead reversed.

Due to schedules, we rarely get to eat dinner at the same time, and when we do it’s usually squeezed between homework and lessons or other responsibilities. I don’t know why it took us so long to realize we could have breakfast together instead. What’s important is having some time as a family, no matter when it happens. For us, first thing in the morning works a lot better than evenings.

The hardest part has been going to bed earlier (although that was something we needed to do anyway). And, occasionally, having breakfast together just means more opportunity to grump at each other. But overall, I’ve noticed a marked improvement in our mornings and our interactions as a family. Both kids have mentioned how much they like having breakfast together. We’re going to try to keep it up over summer—although hopefully about an hour later than during the school year!

Because getting up earlier and getting downstairs sooner requires buy-in from the kids, we talked to them about why we were doing it. We discussed how mornings just weren’t going in a way that made us happy and weren’t how we wanted to start our day. And they’ve noticed the difference. In fact, our daughter has started the conversation about what we can do to make bedtime go more smoothly.

I’m not saying that if you don’t figure out how to have lovely homemade breakfasts for your kids every morning you’re failing at parenthood. (In fact, instant oatmeal in on our menu for tomorrow.) But I remember laughing when I’d read about the importance of all sitting down together as a family for a homecooked dinner every day. With our schedules, it just wasn’t going to happen. And rushed mornings seemed like a given as we tried to get three people out the door at the exact same moment. But there were little things that we could change, little things that have made a big difference.

So I’m not trying to tell you that what worked for my family will work for yours, but I do want to remind you that there may be some things you can change—the stressful, hectic times may not be inevitable. Think about one time of day that’s typically chaotic for your family, and see if you and your family can make a few changes that might ease some of that stress.

Oh, and try maple syrup and whipped cream on waffles—it’s even better than you’d think!

 

 

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RPG Editors You Don’t Know But Should

By the very nature of freelance work, there are often a lot of really talented people continuously looking for work. Some people are really quite good at the difficult-to-learn skill of putting their names out there—if you’re looking for an RPG editor and you don’t know about John Adamus or Ryan Macklin, you just haven’t done your homework yet.

Particularly when you’re just starting out, though, it can be really hard to throw your hat in the public ring. To that end, here are some people I think you ought to consider if you’re in the market for an RPG editor:

Jessica Banks

Seems I’ve known Jess just about forever and we’ve done all kinds of things together (taught writing, made jewelry, had kids—my boy and her oldest boy are only two weeks apart), but we’ve never officially worked together on an RPG product! But I know the dedication and attention to detail that she brings to whatever she does. Someday I’m sure we’ll make wonderful RPGs together, too.

Previous and Current Work

  • Editor/Proofreader and Art Director for Ars Magica Fifth Edition: Antagonists, Hermetic Projects, and The Cradle & The Crescent (Atlas Games)
  • Editor for Mecha Core Book and Mecha Mercenaries (Heroic Journey Publications)

Contacting Jessica

Sally Christensen

I first worked with Sally on the Smallville High School Yearbook where she was a writer and I was the editor. Her feedback during proofing was so solid that we brought her on as an editor for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. And recently she worked with me on the Cortex Plus Dramatic Roleplaying Game where I was a writer and she was the editor! Things come around. Now we’re working together as editors on the Firefly Role-Playing Game.

Previous and Current Work

  • Managing Editor at www.nerdgirlpinups.com from July 2010 to June 2012
  • Editor for www.silversnail.com
  • Editor for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Civil War, plus Young Avengers/Runaways and X-Men (Margaret Weis Productions)
  • Editor for Leverage Companions 1-10 (Margaret Weis Productions)
  • Editor for Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide (Margaret Weis Productions)
  • Editor for Firefly Role-Playing Game: Echoes of War (Margaret Weis Productions)

Contacting Sally

Manda Collis

I haven’t directly worked with Manda in an editing capacity, but she is one of my favorite people. When she has editing questions, she doesn’t hesitate to come to me or to John Adamus to get some advice—her desire to learn and her willingness to admit she could use some help, rather than just muddling through and hoping it’s ok, make me confident in recommending her before I’ve really had a chance to work with her on a project.

Previous and Current Work

  • Editor for Court/Ship by J.R. Blackwell (part of Fate Worlds for Fate Core – Evil Hat Productions)

Contacting Manda

Rachael Derrick

Between summer internships, Rachael managed to squeeze in a little editing on Annihilation for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. She did a lot of work on the character writeups, figuring out how to clearly consolidate decades of history into a few paragraphs. It was impressive.

Previous and Current Work

  • Editor for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying: Annihilation (Margaret Weis Productions)

Contacting Rachael

Matthew Gandy

I’ve known Matthew for years, but it’s only recently that I’ve had a chance to work with him. When we needed a rules editor for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, he was my first choice and he didn’t let me down. His grasp of rules and eye for detail is wonderful.

Previous and Current Work

  • Editor for Dresden Files RPG casefiles “Neutral Grounds,” “Night Fears,” and “Evil Acts” (Evil Hat Productions)
  • Editor for Fiasco playset “Hocus Focus” (Bully Pulpit Games)
  • Rules editor for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying line (Margaret Weis Productions)
  • Writer of “From Scratch” for Mortal Coil (Galileo Games)

Contacting Matthew

  • Twitter: mdgandy
  • Email: mdgandy AT gmail DOT com

Alexander Perry

I worked with Alex on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying. He was easy to work with and happy to help with brainstorming. He has a nice mix of skill at both text and rules editing, and he’s a great team player.

Previous and Current Work

  • Various books in the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying line (Margaret Weis Productions)

Alex has worked as a freelance writer, editor, and journalist for several Chicago newspapers and magazines including Arte Y Vida Chicago, Hoy, Extra News, TimeOut Chicago, and the Chicago Sinfonietta Orchestra. He’s also edited numerous academic papers (published and working paper drafts) in a wide spectrum of fields from religion and literature, to behavioral finance and economics.

Contacting Alexander

Karen Twelves

Karen bailed me out when I needed a proofreader for Beyond Dinocalypse—she was fast, thorough, and asked for direction rather than just barreling ahead with what she assumed I needed. I don’t know Karen very well yet, but she was easy to work with and I look forward to working with her in the future.

Previous and Current Work

  • Editor for Apocalypse Galactica (Sean Nittner)
  • Editor for Role Playing Girl (Black and Green Games)
  • Editor for event programs for Big Bad Con, 2011 and 2012
  • Proofreader for Beyond Dinocalypse (Evil Hat Productions)
  • Proofreader for Hamlet’s Hit Points (Gameplaywright Press)

Contacting Karen

Joshua Yearsley

I haven’t worked with Joshua yet, but we’ve been chatting for a while. He’s worked on some cool stuff, and I happen to know that his graduate program is very good! (I’m a bit biased, as a PSU grad and former PSU instructor.) Someday I look forward to working on a project with Joshua and being able to meet for actual coffee in an actual coffee shop to work on it together.

Previous and Current Work

  • Editor for Nova Praxis (Void Star Studios)
  • Editor for Path of Jade and the upcoming Path of the Wicked (LPJ Design)
  • Editor for Cutting Edge Machinesmith, Fleshwraith, and Temple of the Forbidden God (LPJ Design)

Outside of the gaming world, Joshua has a lot of experience in editing for science journals and authors submitting to those journals, serving individuals and publishers alike. This work is challenging yet rewarding because of the large number of ESL authors that he works with on a daily basis.

Contacting Joshua

 

This isn’t anywhere near a complete list—I’ll continue to add people as I get a chance, and please feel free to sing the praises of your favorite not-nearly-famous-enough RPG editors for hire!

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“Speak”ing Up

Trigger warning: This post is about using literature to talk to kids about rape and consent. Some things may be triggery.

A few months back I wrote about reading the novel Keeping Corner and talking about it with my daughter and how that opened up the opportunity for some tough discussions about rape culture—not an easy topic with a 12 year old who is just figuring out that sex might have a purpose beyond something you’re obligated to do to make a baby.

For a variety of reasons (including this RAINN fundraiser), I recently reread and reviewed the novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. This is another great book for bringing up tough topics with your kids. It deals with the trauma of a girl who was raped by a senior at a party a few weeks before her freshman year. Terrified and traumatized, she called the cops—that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re in trouble, right?—and brought the police down on a party full of under-aged drinkers. The chaos of the situation panicked her and she ran away without reporting the rape. Now she’s in school with him, everyone has turned against her as “the girl who called the cops,” and she bears her secret in silence—literally, for she stops talking almost completely. The novel, told from her point of view, shows what she goes through until she’s finally able to speak about what happened.

There’s a fascinating doctoral dissertation on the effects of teaching Speak in classrooms to dispel myths about rape. Mind you, the book isn’t perfect—the ending has an incident that works well for a story, but I think slightly dilutes the otherwise strong message that rape is rape, even when you can’t or don’t explicitly say no (see my review for details on the incident). But it defines rape in ways that a lot of kids, especially boys, haven’t heard before. Rape doesn’t require a weapon, a penis, or an explicit no. It isn’t the fault of the victim, even if she talked and danced with the rapist, even if she kissed him, even if she’s drunk. The rapist in the story denies that he’s a rapist—he’s just used to getting what he wants, and obviously she wanted it, too. The reader, of course, knows differently.

In the wake of the Steubenville incident, the need for this discussion about what rape is has become all the more apparent. In the ways people talk about rape—not just kids or stupid people in the comments, but also supposedly educated people in the news—it seems pretty obvious that “rape” is typically defined as something done by a stranger in an alley with a knife. It’s a very specific kind of crime. Most people are pretty clear on the idea that randomly grabbing strangers and violently assaulting them is not ok. People who do that? Obviously monsters. Discussion closed.

But relatively few rapes fit this definition. It’s more likely that a victim will know the attacker. As the mother of kids coming up quickly on their teen years, what personally concerns me most right now is that many of their peers are unclear on what consent looks like and what constitutes rape. I don’t think most boys are monsters barely in control of their sexuality about to snap at any moment. But I do think they’re bombarded with images and messages that make the idea of consent cloudier rather than clearer. I want my kids’ peers to be totally clear on what consent looks like so hopefully they will speak up in its absence without fear or confusion. Using books like Speak to have explicit conversations with them about it is an important step in the right direction.

I don’t think my kids are quite ready to read Speak—its brutal honesty requires experience they don’t have yet. My daughter, finishing up 6th grade, will be ready soon. I can’t help but fear that she needs to be armed with this information before she gets much older.

My son is 10 years old. And, more important than age, maturity-wise he’s just not in a place to even process this conversation. That’s not to say we don’t address ideas of sexual assault with him. We live in State College—home of the Sandusky Scandal. Yeah, we’ve had multiple conversations about what kind of touching is and isn’t ok.

But we’ve also been teaching both our kids to respect their own bodies and the bodies of other people. From the time they were little, we’ve been teaching them about not touching, hugging, kissing, hitting, tickling, etc. a person who doesn’t want you to do that. If you were tickle fighting and the other person isn’t having fun anymore? You stop, even if they don’t explicitly say no. The cat wants to get off your lap? You let her. You have control over your own body, for the most part (as parents we get to step in and override sometimes for safety’s sake). You don’t have to hug or kiss people that you don’t want to. And you need to offer that same respect to other people.

Stopping every psycho lurking in a dark corner may be beyond what we can do right now. But helping kids learn about consent, and that it’s SO much more than “No means no,” is something that is within our power. It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to often be frustrating and uncomfortable. But books like Speak and Keeping Corner give us a place to start the conversation.

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Why Are Fairytales “Girl Books”?

This is also posted on Reads4Tweens, where I have a list of fairytale books I’ve reviewed. I’ve marked books that I think appeal equally to boys and girls, regardless of what the cover looks like. Jessica Banks also has an interesting post on boys and fairytales.

When did fairytales end up being for girls? Is this something the Disney Princess marketing juggernaut created or something it just cashed in on?

Doofenshmirtz

“Why do I even have this button?”

A quick tangent: As a mom, a teacher, and a book reviewer, I twitch a little when I click the “Boy Appeal” or “Girl Appeal” button to categorize a book on this site. “Well then why do I even have that button?” you might ask (and I’ll be happier imagining it asked in Dr. Doofenshmirtz’s voice). Because it’s sort of useful as a general categorization, and for better or worse, some books are aimed squarely at either girls or boys. I don’t use it all that much, and if I’m honest, I use it only as it relates to boys. If a book seems to make no accommodation whatsoever for a male reader, I mark it “Girl Appeal.” If a book has a girly look to it or a female protagonist but really might also appeal to a lot of boys, I mark it “Boy Appeal.” In a quest for some kind of parity I can’t actually defend, I also mark stereotypically boyish books as “Boy Appeal” but I can do that feeling fairly certain that few girls will be chased off by that designation. And lots of books get marked both “Boy Appeal” and “Girl Appeal” which makes you wonder why I bothered.

Anyway, I bring that up because we seem to have this need to have boy books and girl books, but it’s inherently problematic to try to split books up like that. That’s probably a rant for another day. To get back to my original rant, I don’t understand how fairytales came to be so very strongly in the girl book category. I have my suspicions and they all have to do with selling princess stuff to little girls, but that’s still doesn’t seem to quite explain it.

In A Tale Dark and Grimm, the author repeatedly reminds us that fairytales are awesome—and by awesome he means full of action, gore, and scary things. And he’s totally right…well, maybe not about the “awesome” part, at least in my book. But fairytales are full of gore, and things that eat children, and creepy people and creatures, and violence and bloodshed and all the other stuff you stereotypically expect from games, books, and movies aimed at boys. You know what else they’re full of? Male protagonists. In fact, if one of our big complaints about fairytales is that the heroines are so passive, then doesn’t it stand to reason that if the plot moves along there must be at least a few active heroes? (The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom has an amusing take on how princesses have stolen the stories from the princes.)

So why are fairytales the realm of girls? Almost all of the fairytale retellings clearly target girls. And some of them really are about princesses and balls and romance and pink castles in the clouds, and that is all very stereotypically girly. But a lot of them have wonderful male and female characters, and a sense of humor, and sometimes cyborgs or demons or dragons. In other words, they’re great stories for kids who like fantastical stories.

I recently read and thoroughly enjoyed Wendy Mass’ Rapunzel: The One With All the Hair. It’s from her Twice Upon a Time series, which tell familiar fairytales from the point of view of the hero and the heroine at the same time through alternating chapters. So a full half of the book is from the point of view of the prince, an engaging and amusing young hero. My daughter, of course, loved it. Guess what? So did my son. I borrowed the book through Booksfree, which luckily meant I got the older cover, which looks like this:

Rapunzel 1

It features both characters, and it doesn’t really scream “GIRL” in your face. I’m not saying it’s gender-neutral—I think it probably would appeal to more girls than boys. But at least it doesn’t scream “THIS ISN’T FOR YOU GO FIND SOMETHING ELSE WHY WOULD YOU EVEN LOOK AT THIS” like the new cover does:

 Rapunzel 2

Now, my boy isn’t too stereotypically boyish. He’s headed more toward the longhaired poet with a guitar, or maybe the mad scientist, than he is toward quarterback of the football team. With a slightly older sister, he’s embraced some things that might send a less secure boy screaming from the room to go blow up some virtual bad guys. But I don’t think even he would have touched a book with this cover—the same book that he enjoyed, that made him laugh out loud.

What is the purpose of closing this book off to boys? Why, oh why, are fairytales only for girls? When there are numerous studies about how it’s hard to get many boys to read, when parents and teachers everywhere search for engaging books, why ensure that half the potential readers wouldn’t touch this clever book with a ten foot pole?

(You know what? It turns out that this cover doesn’t even appeal to my girl. She’d seen this book in the bookstore and passed it up, assuming it was some clunky modern retelling. You can see why, based on the flippy skirt and hand on the hip.)

I understand the appeal of rereleasing a book with a new cover. Yes, we do judge books by their covers, and you can reach new readers by presenting a new image. But was it really impossible to design a cover that wouldn’t alienate boys? To design a cover that would hint at both clever characters within?

I want to cover this book in brown paper, so maybe at least a few boys will discover the fun that is Rapunzel: The One With All the Hair. Even though, apparently, fairytales are for girls.

Addendum

While collecting the images for this, I came across a third cover. It bothers me less that the PINK one and it appeals a lot more to my daughter, but it still leaves off the prince and, inexplicably, Rapunzel is still missing an actual head. Just hair. No head. Make of that what you will. (And here’s a article that makes a lot of the headless girl cover trend, as well as other disturbing trends in book covers aimed at young female readers.) For the record, my daughter’s favorite cover is the first one—the one with both characters and their heads.

Rapunzel 3

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Fairy Tale Fortnight!

Snow White

Snow White by Trina Schart Hyman. She had the audacity to make the stepmother classically beautiful, and hauntingly evil. So much of this story is told through the illustrations – symbols and metaphors abound. One of my favorite books of all time.

I’m a total fairy tale geek. I’ve always loved fairy tales—Disney films, gorgeously illustrated children’s books, modern retellings, clever novelizations, you name it.

In college, I realized that if I combined a Cultural Anthropology major focusing on folktales with my Literature major with a focus on literature from a variety of cultures, I could actually study fairy tales academically.

I continued with this cross-disciplinary approach with my MS in Education, which focused on how we use children’s literature to socialize each generation of kids.

So fairy tales might seem like sweet (maybe even saccharine) kids’ stories to many, but to me they’re an integral part of the world around us. (Or folk tales—the distinction between fairy and folk tales is a definitional argument that I will happily have with you over a glass of wine sometime, but for now please accept “fairy tale” in its broadest possible sense.)

The ways that the fairy tales (and other stories) of a culture or a time are told reflect the things that are important to that culture or time. In exchange, as these stories are often used to implicitly—and sometimes explicitly—teach children (and others) about their current and future roles in society, fairy tales help influence the things that are important to a culture or time.

Little Red Riding Hood

Trina Schart Hyman’s Little Red Riding Hood. Who wouldn’t trust this friendly wolf?

Yeah. I’ll stop here before I get going too fast and can’t stop at all. Like I said, I’m a fairy tale geek.

So it’s with much excitement that I’m participating in Fairy Tale Fortnight this year. At Reads 4 Tweens I’ll be reviewing as many fairy tale books as I possibly can (I’m aiming for 10 in these two weeks—I think I can pull it off). I’ll also have some posts about different things pertaining to fairy tales, including two interviews with fairy tale author Jocelyn Koehler. I intend to cross post some of those things here.

This also seems like a perfect way to celebrate the first birthday of Reads 4 Tweens! I hope you’ll check it out, and I hope you find it even half as fun as I will.

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The Problems of Gendering Parenthood

I read a great article yesterday about how so much advertising aimed at women is actually advertising aimed at parents. When the infamous “They” say that women like something, what they often mean is “parents may find this convenient.” Obviously, approaching all parents as women and all women as mothers is inherently problematic, and the author of the article—a single woman with a sister who has a passel of kids—examines that better than I could. If you haven’t already, please read her article for that aspect of this issue (and because this post pretty much assumes you’ve read what she has to say).

The other problem comes from not viewing men as fitting the category of “parent.” Gendering parenthood as female is bad for mothers and fathers. This includes the way that men in general but fathers in particular are portrayed in sitcoms and commercials. They’re incompetent bumbling idiots, barely more than overgrown children themselves, who are just lucky if they don’t lose the children and burn down the house. (Update: Here’s a great commentary on a recent Christmas ad from the UK.)

It may seem like harmless humor, but when society mocks a father’s attempts to do anything besides mow the lawn, grill some meat, and throw a football with his kid, then we’re not doing any of us any favors. You want to make some serious strides toward equality for women? Maybe we should stop assuming that men are idiots about housework and childcare. Yeah, statistically women bear the brunt of those responsibilities, but if we stopped raising boys to believe they can’t do that work because any man who tries is an idiot worthy of derision, maybe that would stop being the case. If we supported men who are the primary caretakers of kids, if we stopped assuming that there’s something special about housework and childcare that means that only women take to it naturally, then maybe we’d start seeing a more even split.

Maybe it’s because I’m the mother of a son. Maybe it’s because I’m so aware of the many sacrifices my husband makes to try to be everything to all of us. But a lot of the male stereotypes really tick me off. And these stereotypes are bad for men and boys, for women and girls, and for society in general. (Plus there’s plenty of evidence that most of these stereotypes are things we socialized into boys anyway.)

Sure, in TV shows and commercials, those are fictional dads, exaggerated for humor’s sake. But it feeds our perceptions of what roles men are capable of taking on. And those stereotypes can become real problems.

It’s a problem when a dad who is the primary caretaker of three boys takes them on errands and “helpful” people try to give advice about how to handle kids during “Mommy’s day off.”

It’s a problem when you have to train daycares and schools to interact with dads as if they were parents and not just people who drive kids around and deliver messages to the real parent.

It’s a problem when a dad drops his kid off at dance class and all the moms look at him like he’s an alien, certainly unwelcome in their conversations.

It’s a problem when, to take advantage of services and programs aimed at helping primary caretakers, a dad has to be part of something clearly aimed at moms. It’s the grown up version of the pink toy strollers and ovens or the games with no female characters. It says, “Yeah, you can come in, but only if you’re willing to walk into a place we clearly didn’t intend you to go.”

It’s a problem when fathers have trouble getting time off for the births of children or sick kid days or ball games or dance recitals or dinner with the family because that’s not what they’re supposed to be doing. Doesn’t the mom have that stuff covered?

It’s a problem when women who are primary providers and men who are primary caretakers have to constantly fight the little implicit (and occasionally hugely explicit) suggestions from society that they’re doing it wrong.

It’s a problem when boys don’t see positive role models. It’s a problem when boys grow up feeling like taking care of kids and helping around the house is only going to get them laughed at. It’s a problem when those roles continue to fall to girls by default.

It makes no sense to gender “parent”—it’s a perfectly good gender-neutral word. And, at least in advertising, you can probably safely make more assumptions about what “parents” like than what “women” like. Dealing with a car full of kids is a little easier with that extra cupholder or underseat storage, whether you’re a male or female parent.

But part of that requires starting to view fathers as viable parents. Until both parents are seen as equal, we’ll keep seeing the equation of parent = mother = woman with all of the problems that brings for all of us, male and female.

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Perpetuating Cynicism Perpetuates Rape Culture

Recently my daughter and I both read a book called Keeping Corner, which is a novel about Leela, a 12 year old widow in India in 1918. (It’s a wonderful book—you should read it. You’ll find my full spoilerific review here.) It led to the beginning of a discussion with my daughter (12 years old, like Leela) about sexual assault and victim blaming—a conversation I’m sure we’ll be having for years to come.

This short conversation made me think about how to best discuss this issue with kids. It helped a lot that we had the shared context of a novel—the experience of a girl my daughter felt connected to but still had some distance from because she’s fictional. And because we see the story from Leela’s point of view, the reader knows her thoughts and emotions in a way that’s difficult if not impossible with a situation from the news.

Toward the end of the book, when Leela first goes out in public in her widow’s garb, her mother arms her with a sharp piece of jewelry, warning her that there are those who would take advantage of her. Sure enough, a man attacks her; she uses her weapon to leave long scratches down his arms and he runs off. Soon she hears that the local tailor is unavailable because he somehow got his arms all scratched up—now she knows who attacked her. She tells her family, and they tell her they aren’t surprised. He’s raped before, several times. Leela is horrified—why is he still on the streets if people know that he does this? Her mother points out that the victim is much more likely to pay for the crime than the rapist. It isn’t worth it to come forward. And so he continues to attack women with no consequences. Leela wisely holds her culture responsible for this situation—a culture of silence allows those crimes to happen. A community that knows about his crimes but does nothing to stop him is guilty, too.

My daughter and I had a few minutes alone on the way to her piano lesson, so I asked her what she thought about that scene. She found it frightening and didn’t understand why the tailor would attack Leela. I reminded her of the lack of consequences, and she intuitively understood the concept of victim blaming.

(As Clark pointed out when I talked with him about it later, it’s not surprising that kids grasp victim blaming—it’s par for the course in childhood. A few kids act up, everyone gets punished. You’re being bullied, it’s probably something you did—although thankfully, in many schools this mindset is changing. When you don’t have a lot of control over your life but you’re held responsible for the things that happen around you, victim blaming is a pretty intuitive concept.)

We talked about how the culture Leela lived in made it possible for a rapist to go unpunished and for victims to be blamed and to blame themselves. And I felt it was my responsibility as a mother to tell her that this culture is still in place in many ways and in many places. I told her that blaming the victim, particularly in a rape, is still common, including in our country.

I mentioned the recent case in India as a horrific modern example—as I read about Leela, I had that case in the back of my mind and how nearly 100 years later things haven’t changed as much as we would hope. (Let me be clear that I’m not saying that this is unique to Indian culture. YouTube videos from Steubenville should kill any complacency we in the west have about that kind of bigotry.) But I also said that in this case, because it was so horrible and because it garnered a lot of attention, it looks like maybe things will start to change. She wanted to know that the rapists would be held accountable. I told her that, after the uproar, they did arrest the men involved and hopefully they will be convicted—hopefully these rapists at least will face consequences.

For her sense of justice, she wants the bad guys to pay for what they do. But it was all too easy for her to understand why victims wouldn’t want to come forward and that, even if they do, people may blame them instead.

About to pull up to her piano lesson, I realized I couldn’t leave the discussion on such a negative note. I told her that it feels like things are changing, that people are talking about this, that slowly it’s getting better. I gave her a big fake grin and said, “So, have fun at your lesson!” She smiled for real and told me that she was going to think about all the good things that people do, instead of dwelling on this.

I know she’ll continue to think about it. In the next few weeks, she’ll probably ask me some huge and involved question about it just as I’m tucking her into bed and we’ll stay up way too late talking about rape culture because that’s just not the kind of question you can leave until morning.

But I know, too, that no matter how hopeless it feels sometimes, no matter how many horrible situations we hear about, I can’t make her think it’s hopeless. If we talk about it, but I give her no hope that she or her friends will be believed if they step forward, then I’m perpetuating that culture. If we talk about all the bad things and don’t actively look for the good, then we’re implicitly telling young girls that they might as well give up.

For the sake of the generation coming up behind us, we need to project hope, to see and acknowledge the change that’s happening, to give credit to the small changes that may not be coming as quickly as we’d like. It’s so easy to be cynical, to see hatred and misogyny wherever you look. It’s easy to dwell on the negative—we hear of new incidents every day—and it may feel important to make our daughters know just how bad it is out there.

It’s true that we’re not as far as we should be, not as far as we all thought we would be. But if our girls are going to keep moving ahead, they need to see hope—and that means we need to look for hope. They need to see that change is possible—and we need to at least allow for that possibility. They need to believe that if they speak up, there will be people to make sure they’re heard—and we need to assure them that we’ll be among those people, and we won’t be the only ones.

Sure, in time our girls may get beaten down, too. But our cynicism isn’t a legacy we should pass on to them—it’s one of those things you should earn for yourself.

Note: So far I’ve only begun this conversation with my daughter. Her younger brother isn’t quite ready for this discussion. But in the meantime, we’re raising both our kids to know and protect their own boundaries and to respect other people and their boundaries. That’s part of where the hope for the future comes from. There’s a whole post on that topic that I plan to get to another day.

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Posted in Parenthood | 4 Comments

The Quest for Characters Like Me

I’ve recently read a lot of articles, tweets, and so on about girls not finding female characters in games, movies, etc. I have a geeky daughter, and I’m painfully aware of how common this is. And while she’s not necessarily opposed to playing male characters, she definitely prefers to play a female character when possible.

Avengers Tshirt

Iron Man, Hulk, Captain America, Thor, even Hawkeye. Where’s Black Widow?

My girl loves The Avengers—the movie itself offers characters like Black Widow and Maria Hill, both of whom she likes. The merchandise, however, rarely includes Black Widow unless there are at least 5 characters depicted, and she’s usually off to the side or sort of in the background. Absolutely nothing I’ve found features her, unlike Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, and to a lesser extent the Hulk. (Admittedly, Hawkeye is equally excluded—one could argue that you don’t get your own notebook or water bottle until you’ve also gotten your own movie…but that just points out another problem.) You can only get the Black Widow Lego minifig as part of a $70 set.

Speaking of Lego, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are pretty big in our house, too. I know these settings are sorely lacking in female characters. But Lego really couldn’t have included Eowyn in The Battle of Helm’s Deep? Or included Arwen and her horse with Attack on Weathertop?

These oversights in other media make the Skylanders games stand out all the more because of their inclusion of multiple female characters. Skylanders has kind of taken over our house, but in general I’m happy to let it happen.

Skylanders-figures

Stealth Elf and Tree Rex

A quick overview: Skylanders (Spyro’s Adventure and Giants) is a line of video games that uses physical collectible figures. Part of what’s so cool is that each figure stores its own information, so you can take your figure to a friend’s house and still play your own specialized character on your friend’s game. (Here’s a better detailed and more technical explanation.) There are also several app games where you can enter the codes from each figure and play those characters on your iPad or whatever.

Caveat: I have to admit that my experience with the game is mostly second hand—I talk with my kids about it, together we choose new characters to buy, I’m in the room when they play but not actually paying a ton of attention. (Although I am totally addicted to one of the app games, which uses the same characters—when the kids buy a new figure, I get a new character in my game! Truly, this is brilliant marketing.) I haven’t given this intense academic study and my observations are primarily based on the experiences of my family and the families of some friends.

It’s true that significantly less than half of the characters are female (only about 25%), and it’s possible, even probable, that if I really examined some of the portrayals, I’d find something problematic (although I bet I’d also find male stereotypes that would bother me). But the thing that I love is that there are a variety of female characters—even at 25%, that means about 10 individual and differentiated female characters. These aren’t things you have to unlock; if you want, you can start the game with an all-female party because you purchase the figures for the characters you want to play.

Whirlwind - a unicorn dragon

Whirlwind – a unicorn dragon

These aren’t just token females, throwing a pink sparkly bone to some girl who might want to play. These are cool and unique characters. There are purple male characters and blue female characters. Yes, one of them is a unicorn dragon hybrid who shoots lethal rainbows out of her horn, but that’s awesome, too. The female characters don’t have to give up feminine characteristics in order to be effective. When we were first getting acquainted with the game, several male clerks in various game stores mentioned that Stealth Elf was the best character from the first series, meaning that the coveted character is a female ninja.

Sonic Boom with one of her babies

Sonic Boom with one of her babies

My son really wanted Sonic Boom who lays eggs that hatch into baby dragons who are cursed to go back into their eggs rather than growing up. Aside from the egg thing, there’s nothing about Sonic Boom that screams female—she’s just an armored dragon. So my boy at first thought it was a male dragon who laid eggs, which I think is also kind of cool. Dads in his world are usually quite involved with their kids, so why shouldn’t dads in a fantasy world also lay eggs? (Yes, for my son, the default gender of a character is male, just like the default gender for my daughter is female. Makes sense to me.)

My daughter is mixed on video games—she plays a bit, but it’s not a major interest for her. But Skylanders, with cool female characters and collectible figures, has grabbed her attention. No, she doesn’t play it as much as her brother does. But she does play it and she does spend her allowance on new figures. A friend of mine is the mother of three boys. She doesn’t play a lot of video games, but when she saw the female Skylanders, she bought herself a figure and she plays with her sons.

Sprocket ended up under our Christmas tree, too. How could we resist?

Sprocket ended up under our Christmas tree, too.
How could we resist?

During the holidays, Skylanders Giants descended on many houses. Over at our friends’ house, they showed us three of their new Skylanders—my friend got Chill, the winter warrior. Her husband got Sprocket who is armed with a huge wrench. And their middle son got the gem dragon Flashwing. It just so happens that all three of those characters are female. It wasn’t planned that way—they just chose the cool characters that most appealed to them.

I have way too much fun with this game.

I have WAY too much fun with this game.

I don’t play the video game, but I’m totally addicted to Lost Islands, a Skylanders resource management game for the iPad. The title page for that game features Stealth Elf and Flashwing prominently. There are bios for each of the Skylanders, which my daughter has devoured and memorized. These provide motivations for all the characters, which engages her imagination and helps draw her into the world of the video game. She particularly likes that Sprocket is searching for her missing uncle—I think it reminds her of the plots of some of the books she’s enjoyed.

I’m not going to say that Skylanders is perfect—there are some weird gender dynamics between two NPCs (the buffoon pilot routinely and ineffectually hits on the female combat instructor)—but in a world where it seems particularly hard for geeky girls to find characters they can identify with, it really stands out as an example of where I hope we’re headed. And based on my personal experiences, characters being female has in no way discouraged male players from buying and playing them, and in several instances it has drawn in female players who otherwise might have ignored the game.

Sounds like an all around win to me.

(For more on why I think gender in video games matters even though I don’t play them and for a link to a great article on the topic, see the previous post.)

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Posted in Games, Kids and Gaming, Parenthood | 6 Comments