Category Archives: Feminism

Review: Lady Astronaut Series

Lady Astronaut Series by Mary Robinette Kowal

Title:  The Lady Astronaut Series
The Lady Astronaut of Mars” – short story (free!)
The Calculating Stars
The Fated Sky
Author: Mary Robinette Kowal
Published: 2013 – 2018
ISBN 13:  9780765378385 & 9780765398949
Publisher: Tor
Twitter: @maryrobinette
What’s Auntie Reading Now? pictures:  Fated Sky

Publisher’s Blurb:   (Calculating Stars):  … with so many skilled and experienced women pilots and scientists involved with the program, it doesn’t take long before Elma begins to wonder why they can’t go into space, too—aside from some pesky barriers like thousands of years of history and a host of expectations about the proper place of the fairer sex. And yet, Elma’s drive to become the first Lady Astronaut is so strong that even the most dearly held conventions may not stand a chance.

(Fated Sky):  Continuing the grand sweep of alternate history laid out in The Calculating Stars, The Fated Sky looks forward to 1961, when mankind is well-established on the moon and looking forward to its next step: journeying to, and eventually colonizing, Mars.

Mary Robinette Kowal with yours truly
WorldCon 76 – 2018

I am not kidding even a little when I say these books jumped to the top of my list of favorites.  And getting to meet Mary Robinette Kowal was a highlight of my WorldCon experience.  She really is kind, patient and generous.

The Lady Astronaut series is entertaining, even while discussing important topics like sexism, racism and, climate change, just to name a few.

And her publisher Tor has announced there will be two more books in the series.

The Calculating Stars
This book literally starts off with a bang.  A cataclysmic event which takes out most of the east coast of the US, and precipitates a space race to move the world’s population to another planet.

It’s an alternate history of the US space program set in the late 1950s and grapples with the big question we find ourselves facing now, “How do we save ourselves?”

Elma is a mathematician who ferried planes around during World War II.  She is smart, capable and, stubborn.  Her only visible flaw is that she’s a woman in that time period.  She has to fight so much just to have her contributions to the space program noticed.  She’s fine  out of the public eye as a computer.  But that’s not what she wants for herself, or her friends who also fly.

Part of Elma’s story is her social anxiety.  In school she was shamed for being smart.  One of her coping mechanisms is to count prime numbers.  But doing that doesn’t keep her from throwing up before she makes public appearances.  So she does what any sensible person would do, she goes to the doctor for help.

Miltown prescription in hand, Elma is better able to handle her anxiety.  It has to be kept a secret though, because open knowledge would cause those the men in charge to view her as an hysterical female and drop her from the program.

It would have been just as easy to not write this about Elma.  It’s already nearly impossible for her to make any headway on equality in the space program.  Giving her protagonist social anxiety, Kowal shows just how determined Elma is to make equality a realty.

The things the women have to do to prove their worth are demeaning.  Something most women would identify with, no matter their generation or profession.  And all the women striving to be in the space program paste their best smiles on and go through the paces.  They know there’s a lot on the line for so many reasons.

By the end of The Calculating Stars Elma has earned her place in the program setting up the Moon as a way station to Mars.

The Fated Sky
There’s a colony on the moon now, and Elma rotates on and off, flying shuttles to Earth and helping prepare for the next big step, colonizing Mars.

It isn’t until the director realizes that the navigational computer isn’t reliable and too hard to program that a woman is considered for the crew.  Elma’s highly visible profile as the “Lady Astronaut” makes her the choice to go at the expense of someone else’s place.  And living in close quarters makes it harder on everyone involved.

Seven people on a space ship to Mars.  There’s a lot of tension.  Affairs are revealed, old wounds are picked at, and Elma does her best to roll with it.  We finally see what’s been festering between Stetson Parker and Elma York in both books.

We also get to see the astronauts try to work through the personal issues which could very well be the downfall of the mission to Mars.  The best thing about Elma is she’s always trying to understand, and learn, when her privileged white background gets in the way.

By the end of the book, landing on Mars has become not routine, but is well on its way.

New to the Stacks: Hugo Winner

The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin
Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Karmeron Hurley
The Fifth Season by N. K. Jemisin
The Obelisk Gate by N. K. Jemisin
The Stone Sky by N.K. Jemisin
  • The Arabian Nights: A Companion by Robert Irwin – Read (No review)
  • Uncommon Type by Tom Hanks – DNF
  • In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
  • The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley – Read
  • The Broken Earth Trilogy by N. K. Jemisin
    1. The Fifth Season – Read
    2. The Obelisk Gate ~ read
    3. The Stone Sky

Three Days at WorldCon 76: Saturday

Day 1 – Day 2: Saturday, August 18, 2018 – Day 3

WorldCon Saturday

The must do event was the KaffeeKlatsche with @Mary Robinette Kowal and @astroKjell (Kjell Lindgren) .  MRK has written two of my favorite books ever, her Lady Astronaut series.  (Reviews coming much later when I get caught up with stuff.)

Getting to sit at a table and talk to the woman who wrote a fantastic book whose protagonist is strong, smart and an advocate for women in the space program knocked my socks off.  Oh, and a real live astronaut.  What a great way to start the day.

Mary and Kjell are some of the best people I’ve ever met.  They were kind and generous with their time, and allowed the 10 of us at their table to ask questions.  I’m grateful to for the opportunity to meet and engage with them.

Mary Robinette Kowal

The Calculating Stars signature

Kjell Lindgren

Kjell Lindgren signature

Panel:
1001 Years Later – What Happened to Arabian FictionShayma Alshareef and Yasser Bahjatt

1001 Nights is the first anthology ever.
“Fiction gives voice to the voiceless.”

Science fiction writing is booming in the Middle East now.  Yasser Bahjatt started a publishing house so that these voices can be heard.  One of his goals is to work with translators so that English readers get to hear the voices too.  It’s a really exciting development for world science fiction/fantasy

Recommended reading:
Frankenstein in Baghdad

Celebrity sighting:  George R R Martin in the audience

Panel:
Women Who Out Steampunked Steampunk:  Real Life Soldiers, Inventors, TravellersCarrie Sessarego.  

I couldn’t possibly do justice to Carrie’s roll call of Regency and Victorian era women who “broke” the rules.

Recommended Reading:
The Glass Universe by Dava Sobel

Panel:
Houston, We Have a Problem …Bridget Landry, Norman Sperling, Kjell Lindgren

Two thoughts:  Failure is how we learn, and make new mistakes

New to the Stacks: Magritte, Surrealists, Feminism, Nnedi Okorafor

SFMOMA Magritte exhibit haul

The Lives of the Surrealists by Desmond Morris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dada and Surrealism by David Hopkins

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rene Magritte: The Fifth Season

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

See Red Women’s Workshop
Feminist Posters 1974-1990
Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor

Review: The Last Girl

#ReadingIsResistance

The Last Girl
by Nadia Murad

Title: The Last Girl
Author: Nadia Murad
Published: 2017
ISBN-13: 978-1-5247-6043-4
Publisher: Tim Duggan Books
Twitter: @NadiaMuradPeace
What’s Auntie Reading Now? picture

Publisher’s Blurb

Yazidis believe that before God made man, he created seven divine beings, often called angels, who were manifestations of himself. (p. 27)

#ReadingIsResistance to ignoring the call of bearing witness to the atrocities of the world.  Resistance to becoming complacent in our corner of the world while those around us suffer in unimaginable ways.

I expected to struggle with the content of this book.  I expected it would be hard for me to read about Nadia Murad’s horrifying experience at the hands of ISIS.  I did not expect The Last Girl to be fascinating and easy to read.

Imagine you’re a 21 year-old-woman living in a community where everyone is loved and cared for.  Things are not easy, but everyone gets by and helps each other.  The village in which you live is the only one you’ve known, and your dream is to teach history or do make up for others.  It’s all you know, and it makes you happy.

One day, all of this is torn apart and the life you once knew no longer exists.  ISIS, the most hated terrorist group in the entire world, comes to your part of Iraq and lays waste to everyone you ever held dear.  All the men are rounded up and killed.  A few escape, but not many.   All the women, girls and boys are rounded up in the school house.  These women and girls are sorted into two categories, house slaves and sex slaves.  The boys are sent to camps where they are brainwashed and become fighters for ISIS.

This is Nadia’s story.  And it happened because she is Yazidi, a religion not recognized by the fanatics of ISIS.  There is no tolerance for something different.  Different is “other,” and “other” is not human and can therefore be treated in abhorrent fashion.

For a month, she was passed around between men who raped her repeatedly, grew tired of her, and sent her to another man.  There is no sugar-coating this, no way to make it easy to take.  Nadia Murad’s memoir makes sure the reader understands exactly what happened to her, and girls like her, in state-sponsored genocide of the Yazidi people.

Murad was a “lucky” one.  She escaped and was helped across the border into Kurdistan where she was reunited with the few remaining members of her family.  There, she realized she needed to tell her story.  She’s gone from someone who had never seen an airplane to flying all over the world relating the horrors all Yazidi suffered at the hands of ISIS.

The Last Girl is a powerful book, and I’m glad to have been able to bear witness to Nadia Murad’s story, and her drive to help others become aware of, and stop such horrifying atrocities around the globe.  I, too, hope that she is “the last girl in the world with a story like [hers].”  (p. 308)

I received a free copy of The Last Girl as part of the Blogging for Books program. In return, this is my honest review.

 

#readingisresistance is a collaboration between readers and book bloggers who believe in the activism of reading; especially in the current political climate. Reading enriches, teaches, and allows us to experience the lives of others. It leads us to understanding. It forces us to confront the hard questions, and asks us to engage with the world in a way which leads to change. Join the resistance, read.

Review: Reviving Ophelia

But most important, we can change our culture.  We can work together to build a culture that is less complicated and more nurturing, less violent and sexualized and more growth-producing.  Our daughters [children] deserve a society in which all their gifts can be developed and appreciated. (p. 13)

In early adolescence girls learn how important appearance is in defining social acceptability.  Attractiveness is both a necessary and sufficient condition for girls’ success.  This is an old, old problem.  Helen of Troy didn’t launch a thousand ships because she was a hard worker.  Juliet wasn’t loved for her math ability.  (p. 40)

Girls are trained to be less than who they really are.  They are trained to be what the culture wants of its young women, not what they themselves want to become. (p. 44)

I first read Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher, Ph. D. when it came out in 1994.  Even then I was searching for me.  I was very confused about being female and looking for answers that would make me worthy in the eyes of society.  I missed what Dr. Pipher was saying.  Society is not the place to turn to for answers, it will only confuse you and set standards which are impossible to meet.  I wasn’t ready to hear that I was good enough on my own, and screw society.

Twenty years later, I returned to this book in search of answers on how to be a good auntie to the children in my life who have been raised in a society which is more pornified and sexualized than when Reviving Ophelia was first published.

I didn’t find those answers either.  Not because Pipher doesn’t offer a good explanation of what happens when puberty hits and many of the ways parenting and society can stack the deck against young women without meaning to.

I have to take it on intellectual faith that the maelstrom that is puberty and adolescence really is as described.  There was so much other dysfunction going on in my family that I truly cannot relate on an emotional level and do not have physical memories of what it was like to be a teenaged girl.

Hormones rampaging?  Didn’t notice.  Black and white thinking?  Don’t remember.  It’s hard for me because my memories involve a father who came into my bedroom at night and a mother who undermined my development at every turn.

Watching my six nieces grow has been quite the education for me.  I can see the things Pipher describes happening in them and I have learned it’s okay because it’s normal.  I’ve watched them go through these stages and come out the other end to be strong women who can face society on their own terms.  In no small part due to the parenting they received, from family prepared to teach them the pitfalls of living in a pornified society filled with highly sexualized standards for girls and women.

Reviving Ophelia is well-written and easy to read.   Dr. Pipher’s case studies are still relevant, as are her explanations about what goes on when a girl hits puberty.  That I didn’t get what I wanted from it is not Dr. Pipher’s fault, I was looking for a book she didn’t write.

 

 

The Female Pose

My friends are all feminists. All of them. Especially the men. And we often get into discussions about the pornification of society and the expectations that for women to be deemed worthy  they must adhere to impossible standards of beauty.

One of the communities I used to be active in was science fiction/fantasy fandom. While the people who welcomed me were some of the most accepting people I’d ever encountered, and were willing to teach me the not-so-secret handshake, over the years I noticed the cliques, the gatekeeping (by males), and even more sexualization of women, especially in cosplay.

It’s so sad this happens and people make up excuses for why it’s acceptable, when it isn’t.

In 2012, Jim C. Hines and John Scalzi held a pose-off to raise money for charity. The object, male authors attempting to pose in the same positions in science fiction/fantasy cover art as women are drawn. Of course, they’re drawings, because those positions are impossible to hold by real, actual women.

Today, I came across this on io9:  10 Stupid Arguments People Use To Defend Comic Book Sexism.     (I look forward to the day when links and titles to articles no longer have numbers in them.  Why couldn’t this have been simply titled “Stupid Argument People Use …”?)

The conversation continues to be the about objectification.  Reducing women to only their body, and judging them on the impossible standards of beauty as enforced by society.  We feminists rail against this all the time.  We don’t want the children of the world growing up to believe that the only worth a girl has is based only on her appearance.

We need to understand that every person we meet is a fully realized individual with talents and interests that don’t show on the surface.  It isn’t about sex.  It’s about sexualization, and objectification. And those are wrong.

How do we change the conversation?  As always, we start with ourselves.  When we see someone handsome/pretty, do we think of them as people?  Do we wonder what stories they might have to tell?  Or do we just think of them only as something shiny and bright that would look good in a picture on our walls?

Changing the conversation means we train ourselves and those around us, especially kids, to see people as people.  To see women as people.  Seeing women as people means accepting that not every body is the same, and that no matter how much you think they should do something (lose weight, stop wearing stripes, wear tighter/looser clothing, etc.) to look good to you, they are under no obligation to do so.

Every person on this planet has a story to tell that is more than just how their body looks.  We all have interesting stories, and we need to be asking about those instead of judging people by their looks.