Oh bright rain, brave clouds, oh stars,
Two thousand four hundred fires
and uncharted, unstudied,
the hours, the hours, the hours.
But what I think my calm acceptance is about (and I don't trust this thought because I really think I'm rationalizing my lack of emotional connection) is that most of these great people can and should be emulated. The good that they do should, and hopefully does, live on after them in the people they inspire to do the kinds of things they did which made us like them.
So while I recognize that (to give a recent example) David Bowie, Prince and George Michael expanded the boundaries of what men can be like, I also believe that this good and important work can and should continue beyond them. That maybe the best way to honor them is to emulate the things we liked about them and even push some boundaries, like they did.
However! There is one death I'm actually sad and angry about, and it's not because it's someone who personally had a big impact on my life but because it says something sad and angry-making about our world.
Vera Rubin discovered dark matter in the 1970s. She also died on Christmas Day.
This means, among other things, that she will now never get the Nobel Prize her work so richly deserves, because they're only awarded to living people.
As this article about her said in June, "It’s like the [Nobel] committee cannot see her, although nearly all of astrophysics feels her influence." This, of course, could also be a description of her famous discovery: dark matter is called that because astronomers can't "see" it (or detect it in any other way) and yet it must be there to explain the behavior of the matter we can see -- like stars and galaxies.
Only two women have ever won the Nobel Prize in physics, the most recent in 1963 (and even that was a woman sharing it with two men). Even with how difficult it is for women to get in, stay in, and succeed in scientific fields, it happens more often than twice a century!
Like all women in predominantly-male careers, Vera Rubin had to be extra aggressive and persistent. Stories like the one where she had to modify a bathroom sign because until then there'd been no ladies' room where she worked sound endearing and admirable at first...but then realization dawns: how could there have been only men's toilets?! How is this a thing anyone has to put up with? Rubin herself said in 2000 she was "fed up... What’s wrong with this story is that nothing’s changing, or it’s changing so slowly.”
This is why I'm sad and angry. We owed her so much better.
I'm REALLY looking forward to the day when the life story of a prominent woman in science isn't an epic tale of overcoming sexist obstacles.— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) December 27, 2016
I found out about Vera Rubin's death from the twitter of Dr. Chanda Prescod-Weinstein, one of a few space-science women I follow there. I used to follow some men too but only the women talk about what really interests me, which is space (where they say the same kinds of things as the men of course) and social justice here on Earth. Dr. Chanda P-W is Jewish and a woman of color as well, so I find her perspective especially valuable in this, plus she just sounds like a fun person to know.
The following tweets you can see if you click on that one give a good idea of what Vera Rubin was like as a person, not just as the discoverer of a bit of science so famous we've all heard of it even if we don't really know what it is.
Other good stuff about Vera Rubin I found yesterday:
“I first observed at Palomar one long dark December night in 1965,” she recalled later. “My assigned bedroom was on the second floor of the dormitory, and there was a velvet rope at the first floor, blocking the stairs. When an astronomer asked why the rope was there, the answer was ‘because Vera Rubin is upstairs.’”
I live and work with three basic assumptions," Rubin once wrote:
1) There is no problem in science that can be solved by a man that cannot be solved by a woman.
2) Worldwide, half of all brains are in women.
3) We all need permission to do science, but, for reasons that are deeply ingrained in history, this permission is more often given to men than to women."
And here are a few clips from the BBC of Rubin talking about her work.
Trying to catch possible comments before they might happen, I said "I know you only have one pair of shoes because you have one pair of feet, but I can't do that."
"I know you do!" he said, rightly a little defensive at my pre-emptive unfairness. "I don't get it but I don't get a lot of things."
"And do you know why I can't have only one pair of shoes like you do?" I called down from the bedroom where I was buckling pointless but cute little buckles on my sandals.
There was a long pause.
I'd taught Andrew that women have to choose between comfort/suitability and acceptable appearance a lot more in our clothing than men do. I've never had one of those jobs where they mandated high heels, but I've certainly had criticisms for insufficiently-"professional" footwear even at temo jobs (where I couldn't afford new shoes!). Andrew's black brogues from Clarks are the overlap in the circles of functionality and approbation but for women in almost all of society, these two circles of the Venn diagram don't meet.
The pause got almost long enough that I was going to give the answer when two words floated up the stairs: "The patriarchy?"
"Yep!" I said, slapping my knees for dramatic effect as I stood up, feet newly sandaled and ready to take on the world. He got it exactly right; I'm so proud.
I've totally forgotten that bodies like mine are expected to be hairless. And it's largely down to these two men.
Also, this happened:
Boycs: "I've heard of Supertramp"— Holly (@hollyamory) July 23, 2016
Me: "Poor Geoffrey. Hasn't he suffered enough."[I don't like Supertramp]
Andrew&James simultaneously: "No"
But I've got homework! I've got to think of three outfits, and send pictures of them beforehand. One is what I'd wear for "a special occasion," which shouldn't be too hard, one is "relaxing around the house" which honestly I could do most hours of any day though I can't expect the clothes shop to start stocking t-shirts given to me by men who love me, which is my favorite kind/at least half my t-shirts.
But the last request made of me is "an outfit you feel really good in." And...I don't know what that would be. Except for the aforementioned other-people's-t-shirts!
I wear clothes to feel good in the sense of warm and comfy, but not in any sense of feeling good
But then maybe that makes me the best kind of person for the focus group, because "plus size" retailers are falling so far short of what I think are fairly straightforward and universal demands I'm making of my clothes: I want what thin people already have, which is readily available, reasonably priced, socially acceptable (for the many demands work and life place on women's clothes and appearance), clothing that actually fits my body shape -- which is not a thin person's clothes just increased by the same arbitrary amount in all directions.
Anyway, I still need to think of "an outfit I feel good in" to take a picture of in the next few days. Such an alien concept.
The kind that makes me worry I'm about to get my period (with PCOS, this usually means one day where I can't move or finish a sentence without swearing, so pretty much the opposite of ideal when my parents are here). But I didn't.
But they're still sore, days later, and I'm fed up.
None of my bras are adequate. Not wearing a bra is unthinkable -- which is really unfair because that's usually my favorite thing to do. The fantasies of having them chopped off have only been held at bay by the knowledge that even if I have no use for them, I know a couple of other people who are terribly fond of them. But even at the best of times I consider them nothing better than a nuisance that means my shirts never fit right, and right now they just make me even more unhappy than usual with my body and my hormones and everything about me.
Today I was that I wanted some boxers to wear, because they're the comfiest with these trousers, but I couldn't see any in my underwear drawer because all the bras were in the way.
It's not a sign of gender fluidity or anything, it's just a thing that happened.
But today was fun. To cheer up my friend Katie, I met her in town.
We looked around the Magic, Witches & Devils in the Early Modern World exhibit at the John Rylands Library...something which I'm sorry to say I basically couldn't engage with at all, fascinating as I find the subject matter. Mostly it was books in glass cases, which I understand being, y'know, Early Modern need to be kept in safe conditions. But they were not just behind glass and in very dim light, they were also accompanied by very small labels, with some of the writing being light-blue-on-white, explaining what everything was, which were useless to and a bit of a struggle even for fully-sighted Katie. There was a "Large print guide" at the start of the exhibit, which delighted me because it looked to be full of interesting stuff....until I realized that I couldn't relate anything I was reading to what I could see -- there was no way to know which interesting book or object was being talked about in the descriptions I was reading. Katie thought it was the same text as the brochure she'd originally found out about this exhibit from. Add this to the light-blue-on-white or white-on-light-blue text in the very dim lighting conditions, and the fact that Katie had been led to expect a lot more than a little corridor with about six things to look at in it, and neither of us could quite say we were happy with it.
Shame as I do love the John Rylands. And now with my volunteering/museums/accessibility habits well-ingrained (as anyone who's been to any kind of museum or similar with me in the last six months can attest, I'm always going on about fonts and light and contrast and signposting now; Katie said I should make myself a job as a disability consultant), I've tweeted them to ask who I can talk to about accessibility because I have some feedback. And Katie and I found a couple of comfy chairs just waiting for us to sit in them and chat about work and health and relationships and everything (possibly annoying the Terribly Serious visitors to this corridor, but if so they were too polite and British to say anything) before we decided we should get some food.
We ended up going to Ed's, the chain trying to be 50s American diners that has recently made it to Manchester. What I knew only as "the place to go if I'm waiting for a train at Euston" Katie was familiar with as somewhere she and her friends would go after school, age twelve or thirteen, to have cheesy fries and peanut butter milkshakes and imagine they were doing exactly what all American teenagers do. So of course we had to get cheesy fries, and this time her peanut butter milkshake had banana in it too. I considered a root beer float but went for the other thing I always get at this place: chocolate malt. Being my father's child, I far prefer malts to shakes, and they're impossible to find otherwise (though Andrew once made me one with Ovaltine and it worked surprisingly okay). We also had "Atomic American Onion Rings," which is just onion rings with lots of implausible things to dip them in: "jalapeño jelly," barbeque sauce, cheese (and we're talking proper bright-yellow chemical-tasting cheese sauce here, same thing that was on the fries), guacamole and sour cream.
After we'd eaten all the onion rings, we still had half a bowl of cheesy fries left, but dumped the sour cream, guac and the other cheese sauce into the bowl as well, getting a bit giddy by this point from all the sugar and just how much we were enjoying each other's company. "Whatever the female equivalent of a bromance is," Katie said, "that's what we're doing." So I told her about Galentine's Day, which yes technically would have been yesterday but we were clearly celebrating exactly the things it means to celebrate: friendship with women you can be yourself around. Appropriately, perhaps, we'd already spent a bunch of time talking about some womanly things, like hormonal birth control, being socialized to blame yourself for everything about other people that disappoints you, emotional labor, how difficult it's been to overcome diet culture and how delighted we were that we could enjoy our meal of fat and carbs and everything that's supposed to be bad for us.
magister So what were you wrong about?
me: My jokey thing about how Time Peers is a better name for them than Time Lords cos it's gender-neutral. Apparently Time Lords is already neutral because the inquisitor in Trial of a Time Lord, etc.etc. yawn. But then I reminded him that Missy corrected someone the other week who called her a Time Lord and Romana calls herself a Time Lady too.
me: He especially irked me cos the original post was my friend Chella saying "I would love to play The Doctor one day, but as long as Moffatt is in charge, I'll automatically be cast as one of his interchangeable pointy-faced older brunette nemesis crone vixens." Whether that's fair or not, it's clear women need progress among human writers of Who at least as much as we need in-story progress among Gallifreyans. But I don't think the Andrew could understand that.
magister Don't think the Inquisitor is ever referred to as either time lord or time lady - not sure it's ever specified one way or the other. Anyway, it's 6 years into the programme before the term time lord appears and then another 9 years before you see one who isn't male, so not sure what difference watching since 1963 makes.
me: Andrew said too that he didn't think she was ever called a time lord or lady. I think it's telling that this other Andrew just assumed/remembers it that way.
magister Yeah. There's nothing to disprove his theory, therefore he assumes it supports him.
And I must have put all my leggings away somewhere safe because I have no idea where they are and haven't spotted them in any of my many attempts at re-organizing the bedroom.
There are only two pairs of trousers I'm really happy wearing these days.
The pair of shoes I wear almost every day are falling apart beyond the ability of super glue to fix them.
One of my bras broke yesterday and the old faithful one I'm wearing today is starting to hurt and pinch so I imagine it's not long for this world.
All of which adds up to the disgusting yet unavoidable conclusion that I'll have to go clothes shopping soon. Which I hate so much, but I'm clearly going to be uncomfortable until I do!
- It is possible for me to throw something in the "nah, pass it along to someone else" pile for no other reason than this looks far too much like something my ex-girlfriend wore. Seriously. If she were local, she'd be the person I offered that skirt to next.
- I personally disapprove of shapewear, both on philosophical grounds -- I've been a lot healthier and happier since I stopped believing that this shape for my body would be better than that one -- and practical grounds -- wearing stuff that squeezes my thighs and hips into a different shape fucking hurts -- but the shapewear of someone a little bit bigger than me? Makes perfect cycling shorts (or wear-under-dresses-that-might-make-my-
legs-rub-together-too-much shorts) for me. I don't care if they do have lace at the bottoms of the legs; they're not underwear any more, they're totally shorts.***
** By swap I mean I didn't offer any clothes, only take them away. Though having tried them all on this morning, I do have a bunch that I will pass along because they don't suit me.
*** Especially handy since I'm helping mother_bones et al. move to such a great distance away that I might start cycling there! People who I'm used to having within ten-minutes of walking distance will now be in ten minutes' cycling distance. I've been so spoiled having them so nearby...
I've got "accessibility" on the brain lately. It's a relatively recent addition to my working vocabulary, actually, arriving only a few years ago after a previous few years of hearing friends I thought of as "properly" disabled use it about events, places, communication and institutions. Since I've expanded my definition of "disabled" to include myself, despite my upbringing encouraging me to be "normal," I've found myself using it a lot more, too.
Just at the moment I'm in the middle of trying to apply for disability benefits and access other services for partially-sighted people like me (just tomorrow I have a follow-up consultation at Manchester Eye Hospital's low vision clinic, someone from Henshaws calling me about their hiking group because I've shown an interest in it, and I have to chase up some paperwork with the council's sensory team so I can get training on using the white cane they supplied me with.
So perhaps this gives you an idea of why such language permeates even my time at the cinema.
I remember the then-poet laureate of the U.S., Billy Collins, giving an interview in which he said that he doesn't like it when his poetry's called "accessible" (unfortunately I think his explanation of this at the time involved an ableist comment about not wanting his poetry to sound like it needed a wheelchair ramp, and I'm really not sure what's so bad about being anything like an inclined plane in any way!) and that he prefers the term "hospitable." Poetry websites like the one linked above gush that "the experience of reading his work is indeed akin to being invited into the home of a cordial and considerate host." While the last thing I want is to perpetuate any negativity about accessibility or particular things like wheelchair ramps which foster it, I do like to ponder on the overlapping connotations of these two words. I ponder to what extent Mad Max: Fury Road felt hospitable to me.
I can't remember the last time I saw an action movie where I never ONCE lost track of the action. Whole scenes in AoU were just lively blurs— DAVESEID (@davidwynne) May 22, 2015
But Fury Road is one of the most action-packed films I've ever seen and it's completely crystal clear what's happening all the way through.— DAVESEID (@davidwynne) May 22, 2015
Having read those tweets a week or so ago, I was even more excited about magister's and my plan to go see this movie today. He was one of the first people I knew who watched it, and immediately afterward he said he wanted to see it again.
Since then, the praise for this movie has poured in; the only criticism I've heard of it is that the post-apocalyptic world is thoroughly, implausibly white, something that really did bug me while I was watching the movie (I also found just enough time for my mind to wander to the bigots' easy argument if they wanted an in-universe justification for their bigotry: white people would start from a pre-apocalypse advantage in health and access to resources that might contribute to them surviving preferentially...but then I thought by that logic, people of color and other impoverished and disadvantaged groups are already used to surviving on little or nothing in an environment hostile to their survival, so they should damn well survive and continue doing badass things!).
Feminism can't ignore race if it is to be worth anything. Precisely the things that made me feel so positively toward Fury Road are keeping others from feeling that way. It was easy for me to identify with Furiosa, loving as I do to imagine myself as smart and tough and capable even as I know that really the only thing I have in common with such a character is that I've sometimes had my hair cut like that. Even though she kept her (sensible!) clothes on all through the movie and didn't even snog anyone, it really affected my experience of the film to have her, and so many of the other main characters (Bechdel-test fans keep pointing out that at one stage there are twelve named women on the screen who are having a conversation that is nothing to do with men), played by a woman.
It actually had a surprisingly emotional effect on me, seeing this movie full of women who were for the most part not calling attention to their gender but fulfilling the old cliché about feminism being the radical notion that women are people too.
I don't even know if the story about Alien being written with the expectation of a man as Ripley but nothing changing when Sigourney Weaver was cast instead are true or not, but when you watch the movie they feel true. And it feels true for Fury Road too: most of the the parts played by women could very easily have been cast as men (with I suppose the exception of the "breeders" but c'mon, futuristic dystopia; surely the nuclear apocalypse could've given us seahorse-like male-incubation genes, right?) with no apparent detriment to the movie.
But there would have been some detriment to the movie. I can tell because I had this weirdly emotional reaction to just the sheer number and qualities of the women in this movie. I felt good. I felt...like I was "being invited into the home of a cordial and considerate host"! If this is what the cis white straight able-bodied dudes get to feel like whenever they consume practically any cultural artifacts, no wonder they don't want to give this up! Or even share. It's a rush, to feel that something has been tailored to suit you. This "hospitable" is some powerful stuff!
Even more powerful, perhaps, was the realization that I got to enjoy this action movie the way most people get to enjoy most action movies. I was actually stupidly grateful for this.
At the James Bond exhibit magister and I went to last week at the London Film Museum, I noticed I got a lot more out of the clips of the older James Bond movies than I did of the newer ones, even though I like the new ones, just because they're easier for me to follow. The quick cuts and close-ups more common in modern filmmaking just mean that I'm presented by a series of contextless colors and shapes that my brain can't process quickly enough to make much sense out of them.
magister said that even he couldn't follow something like the beginning of Skyfall completely well, and then when I saw this tweet saying something similar about the new Avengers movie a few days later I started to realize that even though this was a problem I'd never heard anyone talk about before and had only recently started articulating myself, this isn't just one of my Blindy McBlinderson problems.
Which is great! Because it gives me hope that something will be done about this. Like all the people who hate 3D and won't pay for it, they're helping my cause of removing this scourge from movie theatres and leave room for more 2D showings so I can actually go see stuff I want to!
I expected to enjoy this movie, but I didn't expect a car chase to elicit such emotional responses! Between the ease of following a two-hour car chase (I was so cheerful at the end because this movie had been no work at all for me, visual-processing-wise, which is so weird you have no idea) and all the women making me glad I'm a woman (magister pointed out that the old lady who, upon examining one of the "breeders" exclaimed "this one has all her own teeth!" is probably the Granny Weatherwax of the Mad Max universe), this was really a remarkable movie for me.
Mine all but disappeared. Hooray! (I started taking them because my periods were so emotionally and physically ruinous, rather than for the actual baby-proofing of my body, so they solved the problem in one fell swoop.)
But that does mean, on the rare occasion I do get them now (and they're nowhere near as bad as they used to be), I always feel incredibly sorry for myself, because I've had all this time where I was able to take for granted the fact that it never felt like anyone was trying to extract all of my innards through my belly button.
And I have done some hard things today relating to Changing Career While Disabled, so I feel like I've earned some time crumpled up on the sofa with a cup of tea now.
I know this because men are no longer making any attempt at moving out of my way when they walk towards me.
I shared an image on Facebook a little while ago that said something like (of course I can't find it to check exactly, because Facebook) "My sister is doing an experiment: she's no longer moving first when men walk towards her. So far she's collided with 28 men."
I'd never realized before that this was a gendered problem -- I thought I was in danger of walking into people just because I'm blind and processing many fast-moving targets is hard for me -- but it totally makes sense that it is. Of course I'm sure the blind thing doesn't help, but it definitely is less of a problem if, though I'm not in any way trying to pass as anything other than the cis woman I am, sometimes people's encounters with me are brief enough that they don't necessarily treat me like I'm a woman.
I was reminded of this today when I was out with magister, because at least once or twice, a few young guys passed us, walking the opposite direction, and spread out to get around James. One of them, in so doing, changed his trajectory to walk straight towards me. James was worth evading, but I wasn't.
As I did that little dance of suddenly stopping and resisting all my momentum in hopes of avoiding a collision, I mused that this was a surprising thing to have to do, but also that it was very familiar to me.
I mused, as I walked on, that the two feelings, surprise yet familiarity, seemed to indicate that I was accustomed to having to perform these kinds of evasive maneuvers, but that I hadn't recently had to. Which fits with my unthinking trend towards a slightly more androgynous appearance... but also the fact that today I was wearing a fuzzy hat with cat ears on it, which would itself probably be enough to get me assumed female in most contexts!
And this is when I realized that the bit of self-bribery that might induce me to actually bother to get my hair cut again is telling myself that it'll probably make me have to stress less about running into people. Sad, but true.
(And yes, I know there are other ways to make my body language more physically assertive. I'm sure there are plenty of cis women who can stride unflinchingly through crowds. I know gender (or perceived gender) is not the be-all and end-all of how people treat you. But getting my hair cut does seem to be the most effective, and least-effort, thing I can do to improve my stress levels in crowds of people.)
And anyway, the hair's long enough to make my ears itch, and that's no good; it must go.
I always forget how comfy it is. This morning I wondered to myself why I don't do this more often.
My next thought was, I probably have to blame the patriarchy again. Because many of my clothes won't fit right or look right. Because as with so many things how I look is deemed more important than how I feel.
Today she asked the Doctor Who fans among her facebook chums whether or not they like football.
I tried to encourage Andrew not to get into too vehement an argument.
...And then saw someone say -- just after "while I do try to be sensitive about it, my instinct says that if you don't like football, then there *is* something wrong with you" -- "Rugby, on the other hand, is loathsome and played and watched exclusively by perverts and deviants and bastards and girls."
So immediately all the gentleness and reasonableness I advocated to Andrew has flown out the window.
I'm being good. I do try very hard not to get in fights on other people's facebooks.
Though the temptation to just point out that he's failing at being sensitive is pretty strong.
My reply ended up getting so long and involved I figured I might as well put it here.
I had an interesting conversation with a friend of my mom's, L, about a person roughly my age (20s-30s) who's just gotten married and not changed her name. L told me that this person was frustrated at people addressing her as Mrs. Husbandsname (or addressing them as a couple as Mr. & Mrs. Husbandsname, with no mention of her names anywhere!). L understood the frustration intellectually but she said in practice it was very difficult for her to not address a married woman as Mrs. Husbandsname; it went against everything she'd been taught about being polite and respectful.
As far as I can tell (though I may be misrepresenting this as it's foreign to me), L and my mom and their generation were led to believe that there are hard and fast rules about what is and what isn't polite, and that these rules apply to everyone. Respect or offense can therefore be implied and inferred solely from manners.
And so they find it hard to extract the intention from the act. I tried to help L separate her good intention -- to be respectful -- from the thing she'd customarily do to show that respect. It was a big leap for her: clearly until quite recently she had no need for a distinction between a desire to show respect and an action that went along with it. And she could be confident that the respect would universally be understood and appreciated as such because everybody she was likely to interact with knew the same rules she did. But now, suddenly the polite act would not necessarily be taken as it was intended.
I think it must seem very weird, to have these rules that have served you well most of your sixty-some years on the planet subverted by a subsequent generation who emphasize the importance of context and personal preference. It can look like swapping a bedrock foundation of certainty for a vague, nebulous world where you have to work out everything afresh for each new person you interact with. My mom and her friends are fundamentally nice people; they don't enjoy going against someone's explicit wishes, but the bone-deep indoctrination and decades-long habit of "good manners" is going to cause some distress, some cognitive dissonance, if they defy it, especially if they feel they have to leave their bedrock and move to constantly shifting sands.
This kind of cognitive dissonance is going to happen with any culture-clash, of course, but I think it's especially profound when it's to do with politeness and manners. Because manners exist to keep us from having to think too much about how we interact with people, as the point of them is to offer a pre-ordained way to deal with pretty much anything. They allow us to tell ourselves "well, I don't know why Mrs. Husbandsname was so upset, I was doing my best! I was trying, wasn't I? I only want to be nice!" We can avoid as much responsibility for the effects of our behavior as we like, safe in the knowledge that we can blame the vague authority of manners which, being bigger than any one of us, knows better than we do what's good for us.
So I can't say it baffles me. I don't like it, but I do understand it. And I'm grateful it only took me a year after I got married for my mom and my grandma to stop calling me Mrs. Hickey.