Saturday, May 18, 2013

Week the Nineteenth: Gender Roles and Biases

At last! It's Saturday again and this time I'm actually writing on a current topic for the Introvert Social Hour! This week's thoughts are about gender roles and biases, and it raised some pretty strong feelings in the group. It's a powerful topic, to be sure, and I hope I can do it justice.
I have reason to worry about doing it justice, I think. I have to be honest, even though it's probably not going to be the most popular thing I ever say. I've never had much of an issue with gender bias. There are a few different reasons for that, beginning with the fact that I tend to be kind of "teflonesque" toward all sorts of potential offenses.

I was an extremely (possibly even pathologically) shy child, undersized at first and then overweight later, sick almost all the time, ridiculously bookish and nerdy, seemingly the perfect target for verbal abuse from my peers, but I experienced very, very little of that in my life. Occasionally someone would try briefly to be mean to me, but my response was always the same: I completely ignored it. No words, no tears, no anger, no emotional rise whatsoever, rarely even eye contact. I might glance up to see who was talking to me, but then I went right back to my book and promptly forgot about it. It wasn't that I was refusing to give them the satisfaction; it was that I truly wasn't upset by it. I honestly didn't care what people said because I was content with myself and figured they were just stupid if they thought there was something wrong with me. But the unintentional result was that they quickly got bored with me and went away. (Just for the record, this story actually gets even weirder and better, but that's another post.)

That same attitude has followed me throughout my life. It's pretty easy to hurt my feelings in some ways, but it's nearly impossible to insult me. If you say something that I feel to be true, I'll happily agree with you even if it's negative. If you say something that I disagree with, I'll assume you're simply uninformed and wouldn't say such silly things if you knew what you were talking about. So it's possible, I suppose, that people have said and done negative things to me due to my gender, but if they have I didn't notice. I just do my thing and let others do theirs. No one's ever tried to stop me, as far as I can tell.

Another reason that I've never had an issue with gender bias (and this is by far the most controversial thing I'm going to say, so brace yourself) is that I don't have a particular problem with some things being thought of as primarily masculine and other things being thought of as primarily feminine. Obviously everyone is different and lots of men and boys like things that are often associated with girls and women, and vice versa, and that's totally cool. More power to them, seriously! No one should be limited by the labels that society puts on things.

But I also don't think that means it's bad to recognize, say, romantic comedies and scrapbooks and shoe shopping as generally female pursuits while things like action movies and mud races and bow hunting are generally male pastimes. Yes, everyone should be able to do whatever they want to do, but it seems to me that some things tend to appeal to one side of the coin more than the other. I'm pretty sure the numbers will bear me out on that if anyone cares to do the research, and I don't think there's anything wrong with acknowledging it.

There is one area where I suppose I do see some gender bias, and it's a little frustrating, but it's basically the exact opposite of what you might expect. First of all, I should say that I have always worked in fields where a lot of people are concerned about gender bias: science and education. But I have never once had anyone try to hold me back in any way and, on the contrary, I've had far more support than I ever dreamed I would have. I even went to medical school and never heard so much as a peep of protest or disapproval from a single person. People frequently complain that women have a hard time breaking into the world of science and they have a hard time advancing once they're in it, but I've never seen that. I've worked with far more women than men, both in academia and in labs, and I've had far more female bosses in those fields than male. I've taught high school science for 18 years and girls are almost invariably my strongest and most motivated students. In my experience, girls are far more likely to take elective sciences, they're more successful (on average) in both required and elective classes, and they engage in science-related degree plans and jobs more often than boys do. Honestly? I worry a lot more about getting boys interested in science than about doing the same for girls. 
And yet I continue to hear concerns about the low rate of achievement by girls and women in science. That's the bias in my mind. Not that girls aren't doing science, but that people assume that women and girls aren't doing science. Because not only are girls doing science, but they're doing it great! Maybe it's different in other places, or maybe I'm just missing it or maybe maybe maybe. I don't know what the reasons are; I can only report what I've seen. And what I see is lots and lots of girls and women studying and working in scientific fields.

I want to be very clear in saying that I know gender bias does occur in all sorts of ways and in all sorts of situations, and I don't want to marginalize that in any way. It's crazy and stupid and ridiculous and should end, no doubt about it. I'm only saying here that I personally haven't witnessed or experienced it, and I know very well how fortunate I and my female students are to live in a world where we have the opportunities that we do without being pulled down at every turn.

So yeah. Short and sweet, that's my take on gender bias. Remember, if you have questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested in such things you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you've somehow landed here from some other source and haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are: 

Jill, Kristina & Amy

And that's it from me on this Saturday. Best wishes! <3

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Week the Fourth: Recommendations

Wow, is it Wednesday already? I don't know where the week has gone, but it must be because I'm back once again with a post on a vintage topic for the Introvert Social Hour.
Today's topic is book, music, and film recommendations and, like everyone else, I could go on about this for a very long time. I do, however, have some ideas that I hope you'll find interesting. This is going to be super long no matter what because I'm going to list quite a few items, but I'll keep the commentary to a minimum. Let's get started with...

I'm going to stick to artists that I think some of you might not know, with one major exception which I will explain below. I won't comment on most of them other than just a vague idea of what sort of music they play. It's hard to describe music in words, at least for me.
Medium to hard-ish rock, not always a hard beat but largely electronic:
* As Fast As (AKA Rocktopus) - Sadly, on "hiatus" (if you can still call it that after so long) since 2008 so they're tough to find.
* The Black Keys (Twitter)
* Dr Noise (YouTube, Twitter)
* Jack White/The White Stripes/The Raconteurs/The Dead Weather - I know lots of people know these artists; I mention them only because I'm not sure whether everyone knows that they all revolve around Jack White. If you like one, you'll like them all. Go get it!
* Modern Day Zero (AKA Mesh, Mesh STL) - Also on a "break" since 2008. The only thing they're "breaking" is my heart!

Softer/more acoustic-ish rock:
* Ben Folds (Twitter) - Often nerdy lyrics
* Gary Jules (Twitter)
* J.B. Dazen/The Postponers (Twitter)
* Mikey Wax (Twitter)
* Paul Turner (YouTube, Twitter)

Show tunes, torch songs, etc:
* Mandy Patinkin - This is mostly for Jill because I know she loves musicals, but others might enjoy him too. Beautiful voice, sings great songs. Check him out.

Hard to classify:
* Squirrel Nut Zippers (Twitter) - Swing, blues, jazz, whatever, but with a cool modern twist.
* Steam Powered Giraffe (Twitter) - You really have to hear this to understand. Great, but nearly impossible to describe.
* Rock Sugar (Twitter) - Live, performed (not electronically created) mashups of 80s pop and '80s metal. Sounds weird, I know, but it's fantastic. I have yet to find a person who likes any style of '80s music who doesn't love Rock Sugar.
* Molly Lewis (YouTube, Twitter) - Mostly ukulele based, mostly nerdcore, 100% fun.

Picture books:
* Love You Forever by Robert Munsch - Some people find this book to be creepy, and I understand their perspective, but I just don't see it like that. To me it's just beautiful and wonderful and it makes me tear up Every. Single. Time.
* ANYTHING by Kevin Henkes - If you like picture books AT ALL, you MUST check this author out. His books are sweet and adorable, but also have a lot to say to and about the lives and minds of young children. I cannot recommend him too highly.
* ANYTHING by Jon Scieszka (Twitter)- Scieszka writes for somewhat older kids than Henkes does (mid-elementary to maybe early teen vs preschool to early elementary) but his books are equally inspired. He takes the things we all tell our children about -- everything from fairy tales and time travel to math, science, and art appreciation -- and puts his own very special twist on them. Absolutely priceless.
* Heidi by Johanna Spyri - A book that is well deserving of its status as a classic, and the first book that ever made me cry. Enough said. 

Middle grade/young adult:
* The Book Thief by Markus Zusak - As much as I love John Green, Maureen Johnson, and a few other young adult authors, I seriously think this is one of the best books ever written for teens and young adults (and I'm pretty sure John Green agrees with me). It took my breath away and I think it will do the same for you. Absolutely beautiful.
* An Abundance of Katherines by John Green (Twitter) - I like all of John's books a lot but I specifically mention this one because I think it's fantastic (it's actually my favorite of his published books) and I think it gets ignored a lot. I love it for several reasons, not the least of which is that the main character could totally be me. If you haven't read it, please do so. You won't regret it. 

Important books that are also very good stories:
* Roots by Alex Haley - In addition to being a great story, Roots has a lot to say about the United States and, more generally, about all people in all times and how we relate to each other. It's an epic narrative that carries the reader from mid 19th century Africa to mid-20th century America while showing not only how we got from there to here but also the path that's still ahead. A wonderful book.
* Nineteen Eighty-Four and Animal Farm by George Orwell - Both are very good stories, though admittedly Animal Farm may test the patience of readers who aren't into fantasy and/or allegories. But I think everyone should read them and learn from them. They both speak volumes about what happens to a society in which people fail to educate themselves as broadly as possible, pay attention to what's really happening, and take action to protect the things they believe in. Written in the World War II era but just as relevant today. 

Books that are so much better than the movie that the entire filmmaking industry should be ashamed:
* Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell - I made the terrible mistake of reading this book before I ever saw the movie and now I can barely stand even to think about the movie. Seriously, the only reason that film is considered a classic is because not enough people have read it. It's a hefty read but if you're up to the challenge (and don't mind learning to hate the film), I recommend it.
* A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving - One of my favorite books of all time. I almost NEVER re-read books because when I think of all the books that remain to be read, I can't bear to waste my time on repeats. I've read this book three times and I'm seriously considering doing it again. It's Just. That. Good. (The film, by the way, is called Simon Birch and is so terrible that John Irving wouldn't let them associate it with his name or the title of the book.) 

* ANYTHING by Ogden Nash or Shel Silverstein - Both are wonderful, fun modern poets who write mostly short, pithy poems. Their work is often enjoyed by children, but some pieces can be fairly dark or bizarre and may not be suitable for young kids. It's all great stuff though.
* ANYTHING by John Donne - Donne's poetry is somewhat more "serious" in the sense that it was written in the early 1600s and therefore uses pretty archaic language, forcing the reader to think harder and maybe even look up some words (the horror!!) in order to understand it fully, but it ranges from riotously bawdy soft porn (in the poets younger days) and hilarious satire to poems with powerful Christian themes (after his conversion in his late 40s). He's my favorite poet. 

Amazing books that you may not have heard of for various reasons:
* Memoirs of an Invisible Man by H.F. Saint - A fantastic story of a man who becomes invisible as the result of a weird magneto-nuclear accident and his struggles to maintain some semblance of a normal life thereafter. Very well received by critics and the public, but for some reason that I've never understood (unless it was the horrific film adaptation with Chevy Chase that tried to turn it into a comedy), it has been out of print for many years. It's kind of tough to get your hands on a copy, honestly, but if you can, do. It's worth the trouble.
* If on a winter's night a traveler... by Italo Calvino - This is a postmodern, metafictional story written primarily in the second person as the book interacts with the reader. Unless you're already into this sort of thing, I can pretty well guarantee it's not like anything you've read before, but it's absolutely fascinating nonetheless.
* Hidden Things by Doyce Testerman (Twitter)- This is the first published book by this author and I may possibly be biased by the fact that (full disclosure) I've discussed the story extensively with him, but I think it's fantastic. A fantasy novel like none I've ever read before, blending several different mythical creatures and traditions into one very modern, quick paced mystery story. Absolutely have a look if you like fantasy or mystery of any kind.
* The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult (Twitter) - This is the last book I read, chosen by my local book club on a whim because it happened to be #1 on the New York Times bestseller list the night of our last meeting. I'd previously read one book by Jodi Picoult (Lone Wolf) and I liked it ok but my socks weren't knocked off by any means, so I didn't expect much more from this one. Oh, how wrong I was. An amazing story that forces the reader to ask him/herself lots of hard questions while the author rips our collective heart out with a harrowing story of a young Jewish girl and her close encounter with a Nazi officer. Yet another book that I may very well re-read.

As with music, I'm going to try to stick with things that some of you might not already know. 'Cause I'm cool like that. 

This and that:
* Trapped in Paradise and Mixed Nuts - If you like A Christmas Story, you'll like these too. Weird, funny Christmas movies for the win.
* Truly, Madly, Deeply; The Last Kiss; High Fidelity - Three unconventional love stories that feature as many tears as laughs, but all three end on the right note. I love 'em. (Note: TMD is very hard to find, but well worth the search.)
* The Usual Suspects - Probably the best known film on this list, but I couldn't resist including it. Super cool plot and possibly the best acting Kevin Spacey has ever done (and that's saying something!).
* The Majestic - A sweet film that makes its point quietly and delivers a very different ending from what you expect at the start. Controversial in some ways, but I like it a lot.
* Defending Your Life - I'll be honest: The first half of this film is slow and hard to get into. But the rest of it literally changed my life by helping me to recognize how much fear I was carrying around with me and how much it was hindering me. A solidly good (but probably not great) film that I recommend mostly for its message.

The best of the best:
* Cyrano de Bergerac (1990 version, in French) - Very hard to find, but possibly my favorite movie of all time. Even if you've read the play and/or seen other film versions, you need to see this one. After all these years, its beauty still leaves me stunned and breathless every time I watch it.
* Galaxy Quest - This makes the third post in a row in which I've mentioned this movie. Please watch it so I can shut up about it! Don't worry about the cover art. It looks cheesy on purpose because it's parodying ACTUAL cheesy movies. It's hilarious and fun and I think you'll enjoy the heck out of it.
* Waking Ned Devine - One of the funniest movies I've ever seen, and it's all about a dead guy. I can't possibly overstate the hilarity of this film. You just have to see it.
* Mary and Max  - Aaaaand at the other end of the spectrum, possibly the saddest movie I've ever seen, but the painful tears are mixed in equal measure with tears of love and hope. A beautiful animated film that you'll never forget.
*Joe versus the Volcano - Some people don't like this movie but I honestly cannot understand how. It's very funny but also makes you think about how you live your life, plus a love story that will "make your heart swell and burst". Just lovely.

And that's it, at last. Whew!

Remember, if you have questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested in such things you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you've somehow landed here from some other source and haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are: 

Jill, Kristina, Frieda & Amy

And that's it from me on this Wednesday. Best wishes! <3

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Week the Third: Nerd Survey

Good news, friends: It's time again for a Saturday post for the Internet Social Hour!
 Saturdays are supposed to go along with the current topic but once again this week is a sequel so I'm skipping it until I've done the first part. So you get another vintage topic today, and this time it's a nerd survey. I can tell already that my response is going to be long no matter what so I'll keep my answers as short as I can, but you know me by now, sooooo... yeah, you may want to get a snack before you start. I'll wait.
Ready then? Ok, here we go. 

1. Kirk or Picard?  
Seriously? I mean, I like Picard better for many reasons but even if I didn't, COME. ON. Do you SEE these pictures?! PICARD! 

2. Warrior, thief, or wizard? 
Hmmmm... I'm definitely not a warrior, and I suck at being sneaky or dishonest, so I guess wizard? 

3. Favorite subject in school? 
ALL OF THE SUBJECTS. I've always... well, since my teen years, at least... loved math, science, history, government, grammar, literature, the arts, and everything else I can remember studying, in a broad general sense. I can tell you a few specific areas that I don't enjoy much (such as plane geometry, ancient history, geology, etc), but choosing a favorite? Not possible, sorry. 
4. What would your patronus be? 
I think a patronus is supposed to be like a cross between a "spirit animal" and a protector. I've always thought it would be cool to be a cat because they tend to be strong, agile, quiet, and independent, all things that I value highly. So a protector cat... maybe a male lion? The mane gives it the sense of awe and beauty that a patronus deserves, I think. 

5. Favorite Superhero?
Ugh, I've been all over the place in my lifetime. When I was very small I was obsessed with Batman. Later I came to love Captain America, then Hulk, then Superman, then Spiderman, all for lots of different reasons. In recent years I've come to admire Green Lantern because he basically has all of the superpowers at his disposal. But if I have to choose one favorite I'm gonna have to go the unconventional route and say... the Doctor! *swoon* 

6. Star Trek or Star Wars?
If you read my last blog you'll know that the answer to this is Star Trek, mostly TNG but all the series are cool. I do like Star Wars too, though. 

7. Marvel or DC? 
As you can probably tell from my answer to #5, I'm seriously on the fence about this, but if I'm forced to choose I'd say Marvel. I just like their style a little better, plus: Stan Lee (Twitter). 

8. In what un-sports-related way do you keep in shape? 
Again, you'll know this one if you've been reading my blogs. Swimming! I'd swim 24/7 if I could. Best thing ever!

9. What is your dream career choice?
An editor of books. I love editing more than anything. Copy editing, line editing, fact checking, polishing, formatting, you name it, any sort of editing at all is fine by me. I also love writing and in a perfect world I'd do some of that too, but primarily editing. (So if you ever need an editor........ #shamelessselfpromotion) 

10. Favorite video game? 
I don't really do video games and never have. I've played a few here and there but never gotten into it on a regular basis. I guess I'll have to say the one I've probably played the most in my life (which isn't much): Tetris. I'm terrible at it, but better than I am at pretty much any other game, so... *shrug* 

11. Favorite author? 
Another impossible question. My favorite in terms of his entire oeuvre is probably John Steinbeck, but some of my favorite books are by people like Harper Lee and John Irving, so does that make them favorites? I've read probably 60% or so of everything Stephen King has ever written and I plan to read it all eventually, but I wouldn't call him my "favorite". I just like his books a lot, that's all. I love children's books -- Kevin Henkes and Jon Scieszka are wonderful, for a start -- and then of course I pretty much have to mention John Green (Twitter) and Maureen Johnson (Twitter) as some of my favorite young adult authors. I've recently started getting into Jodi Picoult (Twitter) and she seems seriously promising, so we'll see. And no list of authors would be complete without mentioning two lesser known but awesome authors that I've come to love, Matthew Cody (Twitter) (who writes middle grade lit) and the inimitable Doyce Testerman (Twitter) Seriously, people, how do you choose from a list like that?! (Side note: There seem to be a lot of people on this list named John/Jon. Weird.) 

12.   Favorite Indie band? 
Sigh. Who writes these questions?! How can a music lover choose just one band?? Plus they didn't specify whether it means just that indefinable "indie sound" or truly independent artists. My list is gonna be a mix of both, I think, so that my answer will fit either way.

Any list like this pretty much has to start with the Mountain Goats (Twitter). Am I right or am I right? Then you have the Black Keys (Twitter), Gary Jules (Twitter), and Mikey Wax (Twitter) with similar kinds of sounds. Rock Sugar (Twitter) and Chameleon Circuit (Twitter) are oddities of sorts, the former doing live (not electronically created) mashups of '80s pop and '80s metal to produce amazingly wonderful results, and the latter doing nothing but songs about Doctor Who, also with amazing results. And I can't possibly end this list without mentioning my friends Dr Noise (Bill Martin; Twitter), J.B. Dazen (Twitter) and Paul Turner (YouTube, Twitter), all of whom make some of my very favorite music.

13. What is the nerdiest thing about yourself?
I know tons of academic-type information and can expound on it for ages but I know distressingly little about popular culture. I can talk your ear off about quantum theory, the relative merits of Jane Austen vs the Bront√ęs, the US government and economy, and much, much more, but show me a picture of One Direction or Jennifer Lawrence or play a song by Justin Bieber, and I'm completely stumped. I obviously know about some things -- the music, movies, and tv shows that I've paid close attention to -- but my level of general knowledge about most things like that is just embarrassing. Such a huge nerd! 

14.  Nerdiest movie in your collection?
I think this depends on what kind of nerdiness we mean, so I'm gonna list types of nerdism and give a few examples of each in my collection.
  • Stuck in the '80s nerd: Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Say Anything, Sixteen Candles
  • Softcore sci-fi nerd (with a little bit '80s thrown in too): Tron, Blade Runner, Galaxy Quest
  • Literature nerd: Pride & Prejudice, Jane Eyre, Becoming Jane
  • Smartypants nerd: Schoolhouse Rock collection, Akeelah and the Bee
  • Foreign film nerd: Cyrano de Bergerac, Amelie
  • Documentary nerd: Connections, Around the World in 80 Days (M. Palin)
  • Musical nerd: TOO MANY TO LIST!
  • etc etc etc
15. Playstation, Xbox, or Wii?
Remember that part where I said I don't do video games? Yeah, this question is like asking me my favorite member of One Direction. I don't even know the options. 

16.  What is the biggest word you know?
I always think this question is a cheat because you can make certain types of scientific words as long as you want and they'll still mean something, and you can make up words from etymological bits that mean something, but the longest word that I know of that is neither scientific nor made up is "antidisestablishmentarianism". I will admit, though, to having a weakness for a slightly longer made up word just because it's so much fun to say: floccinaucinihilipilification.

17.  Greatest nerd accomplishment?
Probably writing for Crash Course. I pretty much pinch myself every day to see if I'm dreaming that. 

18.  Biggest nerd role model? 
Hmm. I think people like Neil deGrasseTyson (Twitter) and Bobak Ferdowsi (Twitter) are super cool because they're legit scientists who have somehow gained rock star status among the general public. I think that's awesome because it gets people to pay attention to science. But on the other hand you have your entertainer-types like Amanda Palmer (Twitter) and Wil Wheaton (Twitter), and many others who are ultra nerdy and proud of it, and I think that makes non-nerds relate to us better, which is a very good thing. I'd happily emulate either group. 

19.  What fictional character did you fantasize about as a kid? 
I'm honestly not sure what "fantasize about" means in this context and therefore nothing in particular comes to mind. I hate to say it but, unless someone wants to clarify in comments, I think I'm gonna have to wimp out on this one. 

20.  Jocks: Friends or foes?
They were foes when I was growing up, simply in the sense that I was scared and intimidated by them. But in my adult life I'm better at getting along with almost anyone, so now I'd say friends. 

21.  Old school bit games, or modern 3D graphics? 
Yeah, so.... I really, really don't know games, folks. I've seen some beautiful modern graphics though so I'll go with that. Cool.

22.  Nerdiest Pick-up line?
The pick-up lines that probably have made me laugh the most are Harry Potter based. I won't waste your time listing them here. Google "Harry Potter pick-up lines" and you'll find tons. One of my favorites, just as an example: "You don't have to say lumos to turn me on." (And that goes double if you happen to be Alan Rickman. Just sayin'.) 

23.  The nerdiest article of clothing you've ever owned? 
I have tons of nerdy tshirts but I guess the nerdiest of all, simply because it combines two nerd things into one, is this one. It makes me laugh. 

24.  Do you have a random, useless talent? What is it?
Hmmm. I can't think of much. I guess it's this impression that I do of a chola girl. (If you don't know what that looks/sounds like, look here. Terrible audio, but you'll get the idea.) People around here, where cholos y cholas (or at least their wannabe counterparts) abound, think it's pretty hilarious.

25.  Do you read the book before seeing the movie?
YES, always (if possible). There are a few cases when I didn't, but that's always the plan and I try hard to make it happen. 

26.  If you could have any superpower, what would it be? 
I've said for years that if I had a superpower it would definitely be the power to never sleep. I hate sleeping and I hate losing time to it. It literally annoys me that my body demands it from me. I would absolutely give it up if I could.

And that's it! Now you know!

Remember, if you have questions or comments please feel free to leave them below. I'd love to hear from you! And if you're interested in such things you can also find me on Twitter.

Thanks again for reading! If you've somehow landed here from some other source and haven't seen the videos that go along with this post, they are: 

Jill, Kristina, Frieda & Amy 

And that's it from me on this Saturday. Best wishes! <3