Saturday, March 28, 2015

Why Do We Fight Aging?

I’m almost sixty.  It’s a year away, so I figured I should give the age some thought.  Amazing, is the word that comes to mind. I have some gray in my hair, and some lines on my face that I’m pleased to see deepen when I smile.  All about me is older than it was when I was twenty-nine, thirty-nine, and so on, you get the idea.  Everyday, in the media, I’m told about the many ways I can look younger, thinner, chicer, as if there is something inherently wrong with the natural process by which we age, and as if I have nothing else to do but groom.  I submit to the media that maintaining this ethos of fear is very good for sales.  Smoke and mirrors keep us from looking at what’s really important.

When I was young and supple my biology told me to find the best match I could, and it insisted that I procreate, to further my genetic line.  It’s just nature, which I was allowed to reason with critical thought, and then act on, or not.  It was my choice. 

I would not be that younger self again, been there, done that.  There are so many new chapters left to write.  My children would be an experience yet to come, and not the inspiring adults, whom I love and admire, and who have lives of their own.  

But it’s that fertile moment in time, when our bodies want to biologically showcase themselves for a mate, that has been engineered, by the corporations, into a lifelong quest.  Why should a woman of sixty look as if she were still trying to procreate, when what she wants is to live her life, looking at the world, and not into a mirror?  I want a life which includes good food, sex, comfortable clothes, and flat shoes.    

Why do we not celebrate the contour of the sag as a badge of honor, as a right of passage, as heroic?  Why do we want to look as if we haven't lived at all? Why is the look of starvation, visible bones, a turn sideways and disappear aesthetic, considered perfection?   While real starvation is only on view as politics, lest we make the negative comparison on our own, and enlightenment ruin a well oiled marketing machine.  

Corporations want us to be consumed with the amount of hair that sprouts on our bodies, as they supply us with so many ways to remove it, while never mentioning its value as healthy protection.  I challenge the corporations to really market to women.  Have your designer mafia create masterpieces for bodies that don’t look like boys with boobs.  Give us what we want, instead of telling us what we want. 

In the end, I’d rather wait it out in a hole that fits me, my grey hairs, my round hips, and my sagging boobs, than try to smash myself into someone else's square peg.

Friday, March 20, 2015

When the Wind Blows

The Woodstock Writer's Festival Story Slam was last night.  Great good fun!  Exciting to see so many come out for the spoken word.  Thanks Woodstock Writer's Festival for making old arts so super sexy!  Many more events through the weekend.  Check it out:

What I would have read if I'd signed up in time (Must contain the phrase- When the Wind Blows):

When my Papa moved into our house to die, I imagined a sweet old man puttering around, till one day he wouldn’t wake up, and we’d all cry. That’s not what happened, nor who arrived. He was a gale, of hurricane force, that knocked me off course, tempered me, and left me refinished. 

My mother always blamed ill temper on the Santa Anas, downslope winds that originate inland, and drive everyone crazy, while racing southwest to the water of the California coastline.  Devil wind.  Santa Anas whoosh all of the smog away.  In their wake, everything is crisp, blue skies, a desert landscape climbing to snow capped mountains.  During Santa Anas there’s a notable rise in crime, freeway gun battles, Hollywood actors in rehab,100 mile winds, forest fires, sinus infections, and generally bad tempers all around. Some surgeons say that blood won’t clot predictably during the Santa Anas, and they adjust their operating schedules accordingly.

When the wind blows off the desert, hot and dry, or fresh off the mountains, skin blistering cold, beware. This is what I know of my family, and their moods. This is the East wind my father brought with him from the West.  He was a Santa Ana.

My Papa was kidnapped by Lewy Body dementia. Held hostage by its hallucinations, he held us all captive there too.  
Papa had caregivers around the clock.  A revolving cast of personalities that came and went, depending upon their capacity for aggressive insanity.  Papa sent one nurse to the E.R.  
While awake, he was visited by the ghosts of long gone friends and family, with whom he brokered forgiveness, and assigned blame, all while offering them breakfast.
At night, this ninety-four year old, retired rocket scientist, who could barely leave his wheelchair when awake, was a spy on a mission in his dreams. In those dreams turned nightmare, we were all the enemy, unseen voices, ever on the attack. He bit, he punched, he protected himself. He crawled from under his bed, as the wreckage of bombed buildings.  He balanced on the bedside table to wave in incoming aircraft.  We lived at the eye of this storm.

But Santa Ana winds are seasonal, inflaming everything as they whirl towards the Pacific Ocean, to be absorbed and neutralized.  The devil wind always ends.  The crime rate returns to normal, and more blood clots according to routine.  Papa’s gone now, and, as in the wake of the Santa Anas, the atmosphere is recharged, it’s clean. When the wind blows, sometimes the cradle rocks, and the bough does break, and crocuses still poke their heads up out of the snow.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Against Type: The Wicked Mother

by Nicole Quinn

When villains are female they’re often unsexed, or hyper-sexed.  Cast as stepmothers, wicked step mothers, they are rarely maternal.  The bad girl’s tragic flaw often stems from a man who done her wrong, or a childhood trauma.  Seldom is it pure lust for power, a common motivator in the male villain.  

When I went looking for an anti-hero I'd already cast the protagonist as a dreamer.  Her opposite, a nightmare, I found in stories of old, as a she-demon who sits on men’s chests while they sleep, sucking at their dreams.  She seemed tailor made.

Anka is the anti-hero of The Gold Stone Girl series.  She’s the ruler of Winkin, a one city world where human females are bred like cattle, and licensed as domestic pets, while human males fare but slightly better.  She’s the Night Mare, a title conferred on her in the long ago, when she was first given the job to be the negative polarity of the planet, the polar opposite of her sister, Alma, the Dream Weaver.  Anka killed Alma in the long ago, to rule alone and forever.

The Night Mare defies the stereotype of gender, even as she imposes gender strictures on her subjects.  She’s filled with contradictions, as most are when rubbed up against convention.  She’s not nice, she’s not feminized, and yet she’s decidedly female, and also a mother.  She’s someone who exercises the limits of her power with confidence and gusto.  Evil is not gendered, nor is consciousness, and that is the point Anka makes in codifying a world predicated on the one which preceded hers, ours. 

The Gold Stone Girl story is inherently feminist.  I didn’t want to scare off half of its potential readers by making it a them and us society, with an evil man subjugating women.  I’m trying to de-gender behavior with Anka.  I wanted a humanist point of view, where we all have to stand in judgment of the actions, and not the gender of the perpetrator.  Anka subjugates human males as well, but she makes them superior to women, as happens in the world now.  She makes human males abusive, by law, and  human females legally 3/5 human, just as the US government classified African slaves, to rationalize that atrocity.  

Anka employs horrors that already haunt us. She institutionalizes them, she makes them normal. It’s a Nightmare, book 1 of the trilogy, starts a million years into Anka’s rule.  These behaviors are entrenched in the culture. No one questions the dogma of the Night Mare’s government-church now, they just live by it.  It’s been long enough into this nightmare forever, for it to seem like a long time, even to Anka.  Even she’s ready for a change.

I wanted the anti-hero to have the capacity for change, what is a world of extremes without forgiveness?  I’ve given her a child,  because it’s a side we don’t often consider.  It’s the side we trivialize as weak, simply because it’s female.  Even monsters have children.      

Anka never meant to carry her child to term.  Demons normally embed their fertilized eggs into the planet. But when she saw how the humans did it, with all the blood, and the mewling, she thought she’d breeze right through it.  She was screaming for the child to be murdered less than three centimeters in.  

Anka loves her son, Reve, sired by Boreas, the North Wind, in a tempestuous relationship.  Anka worries about her son, the way all mothers worry, is he safe, are his socks dry? Yet, she’s the reason he has never evolved beyond the two dimensional heroic villain he plays, the role he’s been assigned in her society.  He’s a matinee idol who rescues human females from the clutches of his mother’s monsters, on the screens.  Anka wrestles with her motherhood, with her softer side, while her son wrangles with who he might be on his own, outside of his mother’s world.  

Maybe that’s why females love their children so, the old demon muses, because we risk own lives to give them theirs.  The ungrateful wretches.

What I’ve come to, in the writing of these polarities, is that no one wants the job to which they’ve been assigned, no one wants to be categorized by the extremes on a spectrum forever.  The Night Mare wants to dream, and the dreamer must choose to be strong, or be eaten. Both characters are ultimately questing for a place where good and bad can become something less rigid, something more like, not all good, and not so bad, more human.  An interesting quest for demons to take on our behalf.

Are you a writer, likNicole Quinn, with female characters who defy tropes and overturn expectations? Why not submit your own Against Type essay to us? We would love to hear how your #UnabridgedWomen characters are rewriting stereotypes!

Saturday, February 21, 2015


Women As Property, Events, Button Museum
  1. high respect; esteem.
  2. a privilege.
  3. a woman's chastity or her reputation for this.
  4. an ace, king, queen, or jack.
  1. regard with great respect.
  2. fulfill (an obligation) or keep (an agreement).

Thousands of Women Killed for Family "Honor"

Hillary Mayell
for National Geographic News
February 12, 2002
Hundreds, if not thousands, of women are murdered by their families each year in the name of family "honor." It's difficult to get precise numbers on the phenomenon of honor killing; the murders frequently go unreported, the perpetrators unpunished, and the concept of family honor justifies the act in the eyes of some societies.
Most honor killings occur in countries where the concept of women as a vessel of the family reputation predominates, said Marsha Freemen, director of International Women's Rights Action Watch at the Hubert Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
Reports submitted to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights show that honor killings have occurred in Bangladesh, Great Britain, Brazil, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Sweden, Turkey, and Uganda. In countries not submitting reports to the UN, the practice was condoned under the rule of the fundamentalist Taliban government in Afghanistan, and has been reported in Iraq and Iran.
But while honor killings have elicited considerable attention and outrage, human rights activists argue that they should be regarded as part of a much larger problem of violence against women.
In India, for example, more than 5,000 brides die annually because their dowries are considered insufficient, according to the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF). Crimes of passion, which are treated extremely leniently in Latin America, are the same thing with a different name, some rights advocates say.
"In countries where Islam is practiced, they're called honor killings, but dowry deaths and so-called crimes of passion have a similar dynamic in that the women are killed by male family members and the crimes are perceived as excusable or understandable," said Widney Brown, advocacy director for Human Rights Watch.
The practice, she said, "goes across cultures and across religions."
Complicity by other women in the family and the community strengthens the concept of women as property and the perception that violence against family members is a family and not a judicial issue.
"Females in the family—mothers, mothers-in-law, sisters, and cousins—frequently support the attacks. It's a community mentality," said Zaynab Nawaz, a program assistant for women's human rights at Amnesty International.
Women as Property

There is nothing in the Koran, the book of basic Islamic teachings, that permits or sanctions honor killings. However, the view of women as property with no rights of their own is deeply rooted in Islamic culture, Tahira Shahid Khan, a professor specializing in women's issues at the Aga Khan University in Pakistan, wrote in Chained to Custom, a review of honor killings published in 1999.
"Women are considered the property of the males in their family irrespective of their class, ethnic, or religious group. The owner of the property has the right to decide its fate. The concept of ownership has turned women into a commodity which can be exchanged, bought and sold."
Honor killings are perpetrated for a wide range of offenses. Marital infidelity, pre-marital sex, flirting, or even failing to serve a meal on time can all be perceived as impugning the family honor.
Amnesty International has reported on one case in which a husband murdered his wife based on a dream that she had betrayed him. In Turkey, a young woman's throat was slit in the town square because a love ballad had been dedicated to her over the radio.
In a society where most marriages are arranged by fathers and money is often exchanged, a woman's desire to choose her own husband—or to seek a divorce—can be viewed as a major act of defiance that damages the honor of the man who negotiated the deal.
Even victims of rape are vulnerable. In a widely reported case in March of 1999, a 16-year-old mentally retarded girl who was raped in the Northwest Frontier province of Pakistan was turned over to her tribe's judicial council. Even though the crime was reported to the police and the perpetrator was arrested, the Pathan tribesmen decided that she had brought shame to her tribe and she was killed in front of a tribal gathering.
The teenage brothers of victims are frequently directed to commit the murder because, as minors, they would be subject to considerably lighter sentencing if there is legal action. Typically, they would serve only three months to a year.
In the Name of Family Honor
Officials often claim that nothing can be done to halt the practice because the concept of women's rights is not culturally relevant to deeply patriarchal societies.
"Politicians frequently argue that these things are occurring among uneducated, illiterate people whose attitudes can't be changed," said Brown. "We see it more as a matter of political will."
The story of Samia Imran is one of the most widely cited cases used to illustrate the vulnerability of women in a culture that turns a blind eye to such practices. The case's high profile no doubt arises from the fact that the murder took place in broad daylight, was abetted by the victim's mother, who was a doctor, and occurred in the office of Asma Jahangir, a prominent Pakistani lawyer and the UN reporter on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions.
In April 1999 Imran, a 28-year-old married woman seeking a divorce from her violent husband after 10 years of marriage, reluctantly agreed to meet her mother in a lawyers' office in Lahore, Pakistan. Imran's family opposed the divorce and considered her seeking a divorce to be shaming to the family's honor. Her mother arrived at the lawyer's office with a male companion, who immediately shot and killed Imran.
Imran's father, who was president of the Chamber of Commerce in Peshawar, filed a complaint with the police accusing the lawyers of the abduction and murder of Imran. The local clergy issued fatwas (religious rulings) against both women and money was promised to anyone who killed them.
The Peshawar High Court eventually threw out the father's suit. No one was ever arrested for Imran's death.
Imran's case received a great deal of publicity, but frequently honor killings are virtually ignored by community members. "In many cases, the women are buried in unmarked graves and all records of their existence are wiped out," said Brown.
Women accused by family members of bringing dishonor to their families are rarely given the opportunity to prove their innocence. In many countries where the practice is condoned or at least ignored, there are few shelters and very little legal protection.
"In Jordan, if a woman is afraid that her family wants to kill her, she can check herself into the local prison, but she can't check herself out, and the only person who can get her out is a male relative, who is frequently the person who poses the threat," said Brown.
"That this is their idea of how to protect women," Brown said, "is mind boggling."
Ending Violence Against Women
Violence against women is being tackled at the international level as a human rights issue. In 1994 the UN's Commission on Human Rights appointed a special rapporteur on violence against women, and both UNICEF and the UN Development Fund for Women have programs in place to address the issue.
But the politics of women's rights can be complex. Last year the special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions was criticized by a coalition of member countries for including honor killings in her report, and a resolution condemning honor killings failed to pass.
Amnesty International is preparing to launch a worldwide campaign to halt violence against women in 2003.
But a lot of the work needs to be done at the local level.
"Police officers and prosecutors need to be convinced to treat these crimes seriously, and countries need to review their criminal codes for discrimination against women—where murder of a wife is treated more leniently than murder of a husband, for instance," said Brown.
Countries that don't recognize domestic violence as a crime at all need to bring their penal codes up to international standards, she said, adding that increased public awareness and greater education about human rights would also help.
Some progress has been made.
In a National Geographic documentary (which airs beginning Wednesday, February 13), Michael Davie investigated honor killings in Pakistan, where it is estimated that every day at least three women—including victims of rape—are victims of the practice.
The case of one of the victims Davie examined is heartbreaking but also hopeful. Zahida Perveen, a 29-year-old mother of three, was brutally disfigured and underwent extensive facial reconstruction in the United States. She is one of the only survivors in Pakistan to successfully prosecute the attacker—her husband.
"The reason honor killings have emerged as a human rights issue is that it's the only way ultimately that it can be addressed," said Freeman. "Naming the problem and bringing international attention to it highlights the refusal of some of these governments to shine any kind of light on their failure to protect their own citizens.
"Change can't happen if it's just people working inside the system; they're overwhelmed. International campaigns and media attention give them some ballast and the ability to say 'Look, the world is watching what is going on here,' and provides support for making change in their own countries."