Monday, August 12, 2013

In Which I Expect Better

I have one friend who, upon hearing any complaints or concerns I have about living as a woman in this world, or in any discussion of poor behaviour by a member of the male gender, invariably responds "What do you expect?  You're dealing with men."

The answer is "Better.  I expect better, and I get it more often than you seem to think I would."

I reject the cynicism inherent in the idea that I just can't expect more than the most basic, short-sighted, thoughtless actions from the men in my life, that the poor dears just can't be expected to stand up for equality with me, to treat me as an equal, to examine or challenge their own experience, unless I nag and berate and bully them, unless I dumb down and ease up the experience until it's easily palatable for them.

"They're just like that and you'll have to drag them kicking and screaming to make them better," is an outgrowth of "Boys will be boys," the harmful mentality that says little boys can't be chided or disciplined for acting out in ways that are detrimental, because that's just their natural masculine rambunctiousness and they don't *mean* any harm.  You can't *teach* them that teasing little girls or pulling their pigtails as an indicator of interest is a precursor to not respecting other boundaries or communicating clearly, because That's Just How They Are.  They can't overcome their basic boy natures to be self-aware, thoughtful, compassionate, or mindful.  They can't be taught consensus-based negotiations, or open communication, because those are just things girls are better at.  And you can't teach boys *or* girls that the other side is not the enemy, because, well, girls and boys are so different that they're just natural adversaries.

Yes, by all means, let's spend their childhoods lowering the bar when it comes to respectful, mindful interaction, so that when they're adults we can say, "What do we expect?  It's how they were raised."  Let's spend the first twenty years of their lives dividing boys and girls into armed camps, setting them against one another, teaching boys to be active and girls to be passive, teaching girls that they shouldn't fight for what they want and boys that they shouldn't accept compromise, and then shake our heads when adult men and women don't have the tools to work together effectively in ways that utilise a broad skill set balancing cooperation and competition.

I expect better, and oddly enough I get it an awful lot of the time.  I expect the men in my life to support women's equality, to embrace the idea that women deserve equal pay, accessible healthcare, educational opportunities, and the same respect men get.  I expect the men in my life not to say "Well, but she wore that skirt," or "It's not sexist; women just aren't as good at math," or "Of course women don't get paid equally, because employers have to account for the fact that they're going to take time off to have and raise babies.  Plus, women just can't be aggressive enough about demanding better compensation."  When we discuss relationships and the possibility of children, I expect the men who want to be part of my life to approach that discussion without assuming I'll be the one staying home to care for them.

How do I get better behaviour from the men in my life?  I challenge them, but I don't take responsibility for how they respond to that challenge.  I let them know what my expectations are, and the ones who aren't already living in a way that meets or exceeds my expectations for decent behaviour often respond by rising to meet expectations when they know what they are.

If I communicate a boundary, I expect a man to honor it.  If I explain something about my experience as a woman, I expect him to consider it.  If I talk about inequality, I expect him to look for ways he can challenge it.  If he doesn't, or won't, then he doesn't stay in my life very long.  I won't waste my time spending six months 'training' someone to respect a clearly-communicated boundary, because there are SO MANY men I've met who respond to "These are my expectations" with "Oh, thank you so much for telling me, so I don't have to guess and fumble around and worry about offending you by saying the wrong thing, and by the way THESE are MY expectations, clearly stated and openly communicated, and man, it's kind of awesome to start a friendship/relationship from this level of understanding."

And what have these expectations for decency and equality brought me?  Some frustration and some lost friendships, to be sure.  But...the last several men I've been involved with respected my competence and intellect and felt secure in their own.  The practice of communicated expectations and boundaries has meant that my relationships have a lot fewer miscommunications and hurt feelings.  Among my male friends are people who fight as hard or harder for my equality as I do, who speak up when they hear sexist comments or rape jokes, who are mindful of the complexities of gender.  I know many fathers of daughters they're raising to be curious and fierce and smart, and fathers of sons they're raising to be empathetic and cooperative, and in general the fathers I know are raising their children to carefully consider and challenge expected gender roles (as are the mothers, but this conversation is about the quality of men in my life).

The men in my life are my allies.  They have my back, and I have theirs.  They're fighting beside me, and I stand with them.  They genuinely care about women because those women are half the population, because they don't accept the status quo, because they can see that inequality hurts everyone, not just the disenfranchised.  Even the man who asks me "Hey, what do you expect?  They're men," believes in and works for women's equality, because exceeds what he seems to believe his gender's capable of.

It won't get better unless we expect better.  And regardless of how many times I'm told that men are dogs, men are pigs, men just can't be trusted or counted on, I'm going to continue to expect better, and I'm going to choose men to be in my life who honestly, genuinely, consistently meet those expectations.

Friday, August 2, 2013

In Which I Am Almost Certainly Geekier Than You, But Don't Have to Demonstrate That

Almost twenty years ago, my friend Flea invited me to play in her Chill game.  I'd never played a role-playing game before, but I'd watched my older sister play D&D through the early 80s with her friend, and it seemed like fun.  Flea told me I needed ten-sided dice to play; off I went to the newly-opened game store downtown.

I walked in, and the room fell silent.  Guarded stares hit me full-force.  Trying to ignore it, I headed for the dice display at the register.  Having learned at an early age that the best response to intimidation is to keep thinking, "I belong here, I belong here, I belong here," I started to pick through the big basket of ten-siders, looking for my dice.  The clerk, a regrettable collection of basement-dwelling stereotypes, asked my left breast, "Can I help you?"  To this day, I'm not sure why the *left* one seemed to be the one he expected most likely to answer.  I told him I just needed a couple of ten-sided dice.

"Oh," he said.  "OK.  What's your boyfriend play?"

I said, "These are for me.  I'll take these two."

He stared at me (Lefty) a second longer, and said, "What system?"  I answered, "Chill."  He looked up, at my actual face, a little perplexed, and said, "But they don't have healers..."  I paid for my dice without further comment and left.

A few months later, one of my close male friends (we were sibling-close) and I were out, and he wanted to stop in at the store and check something out.  I was hesitant, and finally explained my prior experience.  He didn't believe me.  So he went in first, and I went in a minute or two later, and walked towards the back of the  store.

I have no idea what the clerk said to my 'brother', but the next thing I heard was a sound of furious rage and, "That's my fucking SISTER, man.  What the everloving fuck is WRONG with you?"

Frantic backpedaling ensued, in which I note NO APOLOGY was ever offered to me, but profuse apologies were offered to my friend because "I never would have said anything to you if I knew you knew her."

Over the years I've had better experiences with game stores, and worse ones, but that one stands out.  So this week when this video (no really, go watch it, I'll wait) started to make the rounds, it came back to mind.

So many of those cards are things I could have written.  I've been assumed to be playing in my boyfriend's game because he needed a cleric countless times.  Men playing in their first campaign have condescendingly explained the difference between a ranger and a paladin.  I've had guy friends asked to play in campaigns, right in front of me, by people who mentioned they had a hard time finding players but didn't even consider that *I* might be a potential one.

When I tell people I LARPed (Live-Action Role-Playing) for several years, most of them think of the Vampire games of political intrigue and social climbing.  What I mean to say is "I camped for a weekend each month from March to November, in any weather.  I fought with padded sticks, I made up spells in rhyme on the fly, I ran and hid and tracked and stayed almost fully in character for forty-eight hours at a time."

And for two years, I did it in a motherfucking corset (technically a bodice, but the difference is insignificant for practical purposes: I was laced into a restrictive cleavage-enhancing garment, in which I performed armed melee combat, occasionally in the rain).

I've played in game systems I can't remember the names of.  I've got a folder of old characters going back to the first one, whose information I laboriously copied out onto a blank piece of typing paper because we didn't have enough printed character sheets to go around.  Whenever a new friend asks me to list off the games I've played, usually at least one is unfamiliar (most likely Alternity or Earthdawn, but sometimes Nobilis).

When I was about nine, my father handed me The Hobbit to shut me up on a rainy summer afternoon.  I devoured it, and though the Lord of the Rings trilogy was a bit more daunting, I eventually worked through it over a year or so and was delighted, some time later, to receive The Silmarillion from him for a birthday.

I've read the books, I've seen the shows, I've played the games and fought the battles.  I saw Star Wars in the theatre (admittedly, I was four and my memory of it's a bit hazy) when it was still called that and no one referred to it as "Episode IV."

My mother gave me my first microscope at age eight, and not one of those shitty Fisher-Price ones, either:  a Tasco.  She regretted it a little later when I was growing bread mold under the fridge to make my own slides, but she never told me science wasn't for girls.  My favorite part of science class was the dissections, because you got to TAKE THE THING APART, but that didn't stop me from looking sadly at my Biology II teacher over the open abdomen of a domesticated feline and saying, "He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom." (he laughed)

But what's most remarkable about the last several paragraphs is how often I've been demanded to produce the information in them to be 'allowed' in geek circles.  How often I've had to justify or defend my right to love the things I love, to do the things I do.  How many men I've dated (and their friends) have assumed that the reason I prefer geeky men is something other than "We have things in common and similar interests."  How often that recitation of my 'cred' earns me an "Oh, so you're a real geek girl then."

I admit to a certain frustration with people who have begun to emulate my culture without embracing it.  To an annoyance with people who adopt 'geek culture' trappings as an ironic statement, who say things like "LOL look at me studying on a Friday night, I'm such a nerd LOL."  To a whole HOST of issues with The Big Bang Theory's ostentatious mockery disguised as homage.  But nobody died and made me Chooser of the Geeks.  I am not some nerdy Valkyrie, riding my celestial direwolf across the land to select those worthy to play Settlers of Valhalla at my never-ending Doctor Who marathon (though I suddenly have a really GREAT idea for cosplay).

And neither are you.

We're all real geek girls, whether we meet your test or not.  And while things are getting *better*, I still don't feel wholly accepted or entirely safe in my community.  I still walk into a gaming store for the first time, each time, expecting that silence, expecting to need to be somebody's "SISTER, man," to be treated respectfully.  My boyfriend wants me to go to Star Trek events with him, and while a large part of why I'm apprehensive is that for an extrovert, walking into a large room of strangers and risking social rejection is daunting, the underlying problem there is not the large room of strangers.

It's that I can't shake, until I'm there, the expectation that I'll have to 'earn it'.  That I'll have to prove my right to be there, and that at some point someone will say something to me that will force me to decide whether to slap him, excoriate him, or simply walk away.  And while I'm tired of accepting that as the way that it is, and tired of having to prove myself, and tired of living out that status quo...I'm also tired of fighting that fight, a little.

So, probably next year I'll go to a con or a gathering with him, and I won't defend my right to be there.  I won't give anyone the satisfaction of making me demonstrate my cred, or earn his respect.  This blog is the last place, I hope, where I will ever lay out my pat and detailed explanation as to why I deserve to be elevated from 'fake geek girl' to 'real geek girl'.  I'm brave enough to look someone in the eye when he challenges my right to be there and say, "Because fuck you, that's why."

But I'm not quite brave enough to do it without a group of friends at my back, because the world hasn't changed yet.

We still have to change it.