POC in Fantasy/Sci-Fi Novels

People keep saying that writers need to read a lot, because that’s how you get better. Mostly though, I disagree because I haven’t read anything in months. This is because I took a vow: not to read any book that had a scantily clad white woman on the cover. Or just a white woman in general.

Why, you ask?

Well, for years I was an avid Laurell K. Hamilton fan as I followed Anita Blake on her journey of kicking ass and taking names. Eventually, I fell out of love with how bitchy and deeply unlikeable Anita became, and the over dependence on sex to generate plot. As the 15+ book series progressed, I felt LKH lost a lot her ability to craft a decent story while everyone kept their clothes on.

So I journeyed forth, dying for someone with LKH’s skill but without… everything else. Many authors I found seemed to only mimic her style of a sassy 20-something white female lead who didn’t date or have a lot of sex until our stud of a (anti)hero shows up. Even just reading the synopsis of books made me want to flail around mindlessly, as I imagined all these sarcastic, street savvy women playing hard to get.

I was tired of my favorite genre being overcrowded with white, heterosexual (and sarcastic) female leads. Where are the women of color? Where are the LGBT main characters? Where’s the decent sense of humor?!

When I had complained to a white friend about the lack of POC in LKH’s work, she told me, “There’s that one black character!” I wanted to die. Tokenism is not appropriate representation in literature – or anywhere else for that matter. I’m aware that certain things sell, but how difficult is it to find some decent fantasy/sci-fi novels with non-white characters?

After I complained about the glaring whiteness of The Game of Thrones (on HBO) to a friend, she sent me some information about POC in contempary sci-fi/fantasy. I haven’t gotten the chance to read any of them yet, but I am going to look for them soon. Here are the books:

1. Ursula le Guin - Earthsea 

2. Neal Stephenson – Snow Crash

3. Nnedi Okarofor

4. N.K. Jemisin

5. Patricia McKillipMoon-flash

6. Jack McDevitt – Ancient Shores

I’m excited about these – even if some of them didn’t just hit the shelves last week, it’s good that they exist and that now you can find them. I haven’t found any books with LGBT characters in them – that might be more of a stretch, but I’m going to keep searching and see what I can find.

Honestly, I love reading – especially sci-fi/fantasy – but I don’t want to support a system that refuses to acknowledge other types of people exist and that we like books too. This is normally the part where someone might tell me to start writing this book, because I want to read it.

Maybe I shall.

Maturity is a Cultural Mirage

Flickr credit to: Calvin Z.

Girls are not innately maturer than boys. In fact, maturity is a social construct based on the premises of sexism and gender expression.

Maturity is little more than gender expression. 

I have only met a small handful of people who don’t believe in the concept of maturity. Most people, especially women, live by the idea that boys simply don’t mature at the same rate that girls do. But, I’m here to tell you that that’s not the case. Girls are forced to mature faster than boys because of sexist behavioral expectations. Such as:

1. “Boys will be boys”

2. “[Boys] sowing their wild oats”

As children, boys are both expected and allowed to behave as children for longer periods of time. Boys aren’t necessarily encouraged to “grow up” as a monolith, and there isn’t much backlash over men who still act like boys. The mental picture of a boy is one that is free.

The mental picture of a girl is one that is responsible. Girls are granted sexual power at an early age, while being held responsible for the actions of others. The act of becoming a woman is fraught with confinement: women aren’t encouraged to go out at night (especially alone – and God forbid to a club), a woman who travels alone is seen as being in perpetual danger, a woman who chooses to be single is seen as incomplete, a woman who doesn’t want children is seen as selfish and in denial, a woman who drinks too much is “asking for it”. Women bear the burden of the world – and this problem is exacerbated when confronted with racial privileges as well.

Because of systemic oppression and sexism, girls are forced to deal with the reality of their femaleness at an earlier age, and have to learn to steel themselves against things like street harassment, work sexual harassment and the constant accusations that being girl should be punishable by law.

When I was younger, my mother told me that I’d have to work harder than others because of my being a girl and black. The internalized inferiority complex some women have compels them to mature faster, to make up what they’re told they are lacking.

Meanwhile, men don’t have the same incentive to mature. Sexism and gender expression has allowed boys the freedom to do what they want for a longer period of time (if not their whole lives). While girls experience a confinement that starts so early, it would appear that girls mature faster.

People often look to psychology and neuroscience to create and establish psychological differences between boys and girls. People are hungry for research that debunks cultural influence, and instead points out that maybe humans are born a certain way. That girls, as part of the human race, DO mature faster. But this is ignoring the cultural context in which this “maturity” is taking place. This research is ignoring in what ways boys are treated differently from girls, and how people have subliminal and overt expectations for girls.

There’s no such thing as maturity – it’s just an expression that has embraced sexist mentalities and biased gender expressions. 

 

Acne Acceptance : Expanding the Body Acceptance Discussion

Confession: I have acne.

Credit to: BeautyCareLines.com

I’ve had it since I was fourteen, and it hasn’t really gone away since. Acne is a fascinating topic because it is predominantly overlooked when discussing body image. This is probably because acne is seen as transient, something that happens when you’re a teenager and goes away as you get older. Even though having acne increases depression and suicidal attempts. But unlike some other beauty standard fallacies (like strict body type standards), lots of normal men and women have clear skin too. So with acne, comes the “Why me?” question.

Acne is predominantly genetic, but the myths surrounding acne, particularly the idea that diet links to acne, can make it difficult to transition into a healthier state of mind. This isn’t to say that you can’t control your acne to some extent; not picking your face, pulling your hair back, and regularly washing your pillow sheets can do wonders in meditating acne breakouts. But I’m also an advocate for not living in the future – meaning, don’t wait until you have something before you can let yourself be happy. There’s no reason to wait to have clear skin, before you can be healthy and whole.

But the skin care industry is a multibillion dollar operation, averaging at 43 billion dollars in the US, for a reason. The skin care industry offers hundreds of different methods and antidotes to the acne dilemma. And just by typing “acne” into a search, you’ll get millions of hits from teens and young adults looking for ways to clear their skin, or express acne harassment from peers.

Everywhere companies like ProActiv and Neutrogena who use young, white, women to show how happy they are washing their face, and having clean skin – it seems like a call to arms. Add the fact that unlike other body image problems, acne is something that still manages to skip some women and men. Again – the “why me?” presents itself.

Problems are compounded when real life starts to sink in. Such as yesterday, my grandmother told me how bad my skin looked, how many break-outs I had. I break-out every day, but she said that this time it was worse. I wanted to die; I’ve been using Biore scrub and cleanser for over two months now and my skin still wasn’t improving?

Today, I looked at my Biore and wondered if I should throw it out. When I go to the store, I hover in the skin care section, wondering what regiment I can use to finally get rid of my scars, my pimples, my painful cysts. But, it seems like money down the drain. Wouldn’t I be better off not worrying about it at all? If acne is based on genetics, I might never have clear skin. And is that really the worse thing to ever happen to me?

By and large, I definitely think acne acceptance needs more discussion. It’s a problem that goes unaddressed, and is easily dismissed by pretty much everyone. Which is, of course, insanely problematic.

 

Do you have acne? Were you or your friends/family ever teased about it?

How do you handle your acne now?

I’m a Doormat.

When I was a freshmen in high school, the girls had to run the mile first. So all the boys had gathered on both sides of the track while we ran. Alternatively, they booed or cheered each girl as they ran past. I remember fear bubbling up inside me; I didn’t want to be booed. I vaguely remember the girl in front of me getting booed. Or cheered. I don’t remember. It was my turn – I got booed. The girl behind me got cheered. Part of me wondered if it was because I hadn’t run straight through and instead walked some parts. Or if it was because they didn’t think I was cute.

Maybe it was a combination of both.

Honestly – I have no idea.

Around this same time I remember playing basketball with this other black boy my brother was friends with. I told him that I don’t believe in God. And ever the proper Christian, told me I was going to hell. I thought I was going to cry. Good thing I hated him already.

During my first year at my new high school, I didn’t have very many friends. So I ended up sitting with the same few people regularly.  Two of the boys took my seat when I went to get something to eat. I saw them laughing about it. I don’t even remember what I did in response.

When I was 16, my mother didn’t defend me when my adult cousin called me names, insulting me. I cried right there while everyone watched. Only his wife marginally stuck up for me – and we’re not related.

My mother forced me to go to a state school because she couldn’t afford to send me anywhere else. I remember crying every night; I was having a hard time fitting in. Oh, and my grades sucked. I’m pretty sure I would’ve flunked out had I not transferred.

During my first semester at the new college I transferred to – I wasn’t fitting in. I ended up befriending a bunch of freshmen. I didn’t belong. They regularly said things that hurt my feelings and yet I persisted. One evening at the birthday party of a mutual friend, I made a comment I thought was hilarious. They didn’t seem to think so; and shot me down. I left crying. I spent the rest of my college career pretty much friendless.

My mother, when we moved to NY, didn’t want to enroll me in a school in the city, because she was afraid I wouldn’t be able to defend myself. That something bad would happen to me. Even my own mother didn’t believe in me.

I guess that makes me a doormat .

What about you?

 

Married to Yourself

Flickr credit to: Ghost Kid

Do you like being single?

What if you were single forever?

Having graduated from an all woman’s college, I have met many women who were hungry for a boyfriend. One day when walking back to the dorm after dinner, a girl asked me how you get a boyfriend. I offered online dating, but honestly I had no idea.

During my studies in Paris, most of the girls in my program wanted to find a hot French boyfriend. It came up frequently in conversation. How/where do I find a French guy?

As someone who doesn’t know much about dating, flirting or how to otherwise find oneself in a relationship  – I have to say that the prospect of me being “single” forever (or a really long time) is highly probable.

But my non-existent dating history has proven to be advantageous in its own way - I can’t miss what I’ve never had. I’m not used to compromising what I want. I’m not used to having someone to rely on. I’m not used to experiencing happiness and acceptance from another person. 

For a lot of women (who probably have self-esteem issues), dating is the ultimate gateway to adoration and approval. It shows that you are worthy of being loved. And on the rare occasions that someone has had a crush on me, it has definitely put a skip into my step, knowing that someone thinks I’m cute. But people liking me isn’t necessarily a confidence booster.

I’m not very many people’s “type”. Which is fine. And my focus tends to be on ME, ME, ME! As it should be. Through personal and spiritual development, my hope is to cultivate a more sustainable relationship with myself. Even if that means being single for extended periods of time.

So my goal is to get rid of the concept : “singleness”. Why? Because I don’t want to identify as a woman who is in transition, waiting to be in a relationship – especially in a culture where being married/with someone is seen as the key to happiness. Admittedly, I have my own thought processes to check. Whenever I check out a blog, one of the first things I want to know is if the blogger in question is seeing anyone. Why this information is relevant I don’t know, but I feel compelled to know. In fact, not knowing tends to drive me crazy.

Part of it might be that I love learning about the intimate details of people’s lives. Or it might be that I’m obsessed with dating and relationships.

But I don’t want to be. Which is why my hope is to have a great relationship with myself. I’m a firm believer that everything you do, have and experience is meant to enhance your life, not to make you dependent. I don’t want single to mean “waiting for a romantic interest”, I want it to mean “empowerment and self-sufficiency”. My hope is to be happy with my life, even if I don’t have another person to experience it with because it is MY life and no one else can live it.

So I wish instead of single, people could just say, “In a loving, empowering relationship with myself.” And if anyone asks if you’re seeing someone, you say, “Yeah. Myself! And it’s been going great! Been together 23 years!”

 

What about you? What are some of your feelings when people ask you about your relationship status?

 

 

 

 

La Petite Mort

The French have a unique term for orgasms. They call it, “La Petite Mort”. 

Flickr: credit to SalaBoli

I learned about sex through porn.

I didn’t get the sex talk when I was younger, which isn’t all that atypical, especially as many parents struggle with how to broach the topic with their teens. So, I suppose it was a mixed blessings of sorts that I graduated from high school, totally unawares that people my age had sex. (So college was a huge eye opener!)

Naturally, I became insatiably fascinated. With my steady consummation of porn since fourteen and evolving expertise with masturbation, I sought out all the sex stories I could find. So when my friends told me that they hadn’t experienced an orgasm, I wanted to dive in and help them understand the awesomeness of self-stimulation. And when another said that sex wasn’t that big of a deal and I wanted to discuss the possibility of tantric sex with her.

But in a world where experience is king, I often felt my lack of actual sexual experience [with another person] invalidated my opinions. Who am I to talk about sex when I’m not even getting laid? Anything I said, seemed to fall on deaf ears; I wasn’t considered an expert on sex. Which, I think, is a fundamental problem when trying to discuss sexuality. Sexuality isn’t just for men and women who are already having sex, but it’s also very much for people who are still virgins: either through chance or circumstance.

Unless you’re an asexual, your sexual preferences make up a huge part of who you are. This isn’t about labels or limiting beliefs about who we’re attracted to – but if each of us is a sexual being, then our relationship with our sexuality is paramount. Which is why I’ve been singing the praises of masturbation since forever. I always marvel at women who wait until marriage to have sex yet have never even touched themselves. If you’re afraid to get down there, how can you expect someone else to?

But it’s not just about having sex with yourself, it’s about personal empowerment when you can finally take your sexuality into your own hands. Not having to rely on another person to give you pleasure is the ultimate form of freedom. I believe strongly in establishing who you are so that you’ll never need [or want] another person to complete you.

Masturbation is key on the path to one’s sexual liberation and personal empowerment – but where does one find quality material? I believe in the power of porn, and once you find the good stuff, you can’t go back! Porn is an excellent and safe avenue for exploring your sexuality in the privacy of your own personal space. But finding quality porn can be difficult, if you don’t know where to look (or if you don’t know what you’re looking for). But I’ve saved you the trouble. Bear in mind though, I have unique preferences that other people might not have, and these links reflect that. 

Check it out:

1. I Feel Myself : Focuses primarily on women/women relationships (though there are some male/female ones) and masturbation. That’s a referral link: so if two of you sign up, I get a free month at the site! 

2. Beautiful Agony : A site where you just see the faces of both men and women while they’re orgasming.

3. Crash Pad Series : A site that’s been nominated as feminist porn! Here’s a quote from the front page:

Here you’ll find real dyke porn, lesbians, femme on femme, boi, stud, genderqueer and trans-masculine performers, transwomen, transmen, queer men and women engaging in authentic queer sexuality, whether it is with safer sex, strap-on sex, cocksucking, kink and bdsm,, gender play and fluidity, and always authentic orgasms.

They do provide free samples, although ultimately you’ll have to pay for complete access. 

Porn gets a bad rap, but once you find the quality stuff, you’ll realize how amazing and female-friendly a lot of it is.

What is your relationship like to your own sexuality? How old were you when you got “The Talk”? If you did, at all.

Why Disney Princesses Are Good For Feminism

Credit: Wikipedia

When it comes to discussing anything related to girls and self-esteem, Disney princesses are almost always at the top of the list.

Why? Because Disney is insanely mainstream with many growing up on it, and being influenced. The problem lies in the assumption that Disney princesses send the wrong message to young girls, and there seems to be an insistence that girls move away from the princess paradigm. But, when examined individually, it’s obvious that each princess is her own person, not mere caricatures. In a way, each princess gives a unique face to feminism and what it means to be a woman.

So I’ll comment on three of my favorite princesses:

1. Belle (19 yrs old): She’s an outcast because of her desire to read and be immersed in another world (ie: fantasy). Despite being very beautiful, she manages to cultivate lasting relationships with other male characters (except Gaston) because of her personality and interests. The Beast both behaves and appears monstrous but she’s always strong-willed, such as when he saves her from the wolves, and she’s tending to his wounds in the living room. All the servants fear his wrath, but she doesn’t back down from his temper and instead challenges him.

2. Mulan (16 yrs old): She has a strong sense of ethics, and knowing that her father is too old to partake in the draft, she went in his place. Out of all the princesses, she’s the least feminine, and seems more at place with masculinity than (especially considering how Chinese women were expected to behave). Mulan also possessed strong leadership skills (better than her male counterparts) and a bravery that no one else seemed to possess. She had a great deal of dedication to her comrades and her purpose.

3. Jasmine (15 yrs old – almost 16): Jasmine, like Belle, yearns for adventure, but also to get away from the confines and personal demands of royal life. She knows what she wants for herself and isn’t afraid to go after it – hence her running away. When Prince Ali comes to the palace, causing a ruckus, Jasmine declares that she’s “not a prize to be won”  and is determined throughout the movie not to settle for what her father (or the law) wants for her.

Naturally, when you look at each Disney princess film as a whole, it looks like patriarchal insanity (especially in regards to princesses like Snow White and Aurora, who wait for their prince to magically appear). But as individuals, they each embody a different perspective on what it means to be a woman: on how to achieve your dreams, on how not to give up despite insane obstacles.

Pocahontas fought for her people, for herself, and managed to educate John about animism. Tiana worked tirelessly to make money for her restaurant, and was determined and devoted to her dream – love seemed to just join her for the ride. Cinderella is infinitely patient, loving and kind despite the insatiable hatred of her step family; and there’s a certain kind of power in that.

So while many women may look down at Disney princesses as being frivolous or shallow – I highly encourage them to take a second look, because they might be surprised by what they find.

Ugly Duckling Syndrome

Flickr credit to: -MAKI-

Yesterday I saw Shallow Hal  – a film I’d already seen many times. The entire premise of the film impressed me, and watching it again (with my new and improved mentality about beauty privilege), I thought I was going to start crying.

Hal is an average looking dude who likes above average looking women, which is his only criteria for approaching a girl. So when his perception is altered by Tony Robbins via hypnotherapy, he starts to notice the inner beauty of all the women he meets.

So, what I wanted to touch on precisely is what the film calls, “The Ugly Duckling Syndrome”. This is when a girl who grew up ugly, ends up developing a personality out of necessity. The character talks about how some girls are ugly for so long, when they do become pretty, they don’t even realize it. This is considered a rare but desirable find; an attractive girl with a personality who doesn’t know/believe herself to be good-looking.

All the ugly women are virtuous: volunteering with burn victim children, helping their sick grandmother, working at a non-profit for blind children. Overall, these women are funny, gracious and selfless. They’re just really, really ugly. So, despite how wonderful they are as people, men don’t seem interested in them.

In the film, Gwyneth Paltrow tells Jack Black that she knows what she looks like, and doesn’t appreciate it when he calls her beautiful. I know the feeling of knowing what you look like, and people not really understanding that. Of people trying to convince you of a reality you don’t believe in. Even though in the ugly duckling fairy tale, he eventually becomes a beautiful swan.

However, it’s worse when you see what it’s like to be born a swan, when you’re just a duck.

When I was in high school, participating in some sort of production backstage, a girl said to my friend, “You’re so pretty.” And at some later date told her that she earned her beauty, that she deserved it.

I remember when I much younger, and me and my best friend at the time had a crush on the same person. Our shared love interest knew, but ended up choosing her over me. I was devastated. Then one afternoon, he had written her a (love) letter, suggesting that maybe I was jealous of them. Of course I was! But my friend – blonde-haired and blue eyed – was significantly more attractive than me. I knew, even then, that I didn’t really stand a chance. 

So as I sat there, tearing up at the not-so-great film Shallow Hal, I wondered if I would ever stop being a duckling, and become a swan myself. I try desperately to find other ducklings, but it seems few people like to admit to not being attractive. In a culture where “everyone is beautiful”, people are afraid of what it means to be a duckling, a sort of social pariah. Everyone wants to embrace their flaws, fall in love with themselves. I mean… that’s all well and good but…

Am I the only person willing to admit to being an ugly duckling?

How come the first step to self-acceptance isn’t admitting that we’re not all swans?