Thursday, May 31, 2012

Engineering, Sexism & Me

I spend a lot of time on this blog talking about what I'm up to creatively. I write, and I write, and I read and I probably come across as a fairly right brained person.

You might be surprised to find out that this fall I'll be starting an engineering program at university, and this summer I'll be interning at a trade association for consulting engineering companies.

Because while I love writing and my creative work, that's not a practical degree. Engineering is practical, and stems from my other loves: of physics, math, computer science and even chemistry now that I have a great teacher.

I'm excited to be a future engineering student. I am. But something is bothering me. When I tell people I'm going to study engineering, they're often surprised, especially when I tell them I'm interested in software & computer engineering. No one is surprised when my guy friends say the same thing. Everyone treats me as special for having 'the balls' to pursue such a 'male' career path. I hate it.

I read a report about the barriers women today face in engineering. They're not explicit barriers, not anymore. Now it's pervasive "glass ceiling" type barriers, pay equity barriers and other issues that are often hard to spot on an individual basis - but the stats don't lie. I cried reading that report, cried at the unfairness of it all and cried because I'm going to face it and there's nothing I can do to fix it. I cried because I know being a woman and an engineer is going to be hard, and I'm choosing to do it anyways.

My dad is convinced that being a woman will help me in the job market, since companies are looking to even out their gender imbalances. Okay, so that's great I can get hired, but if I'm not respected and promoted when I deserve to be, does simply getting hired really do me any good?
There's a tendency now, that I've noticed most obviously in English class, to couch discussions of sexism in terms of "in those days."
Typical classmate: "In those days, when there was a double standard surrounding sex, women - but not men - were expected to be chaste."
Well wake up and smell the roses people, that double standard is alive and well. It doesn't have the same control it used to, and the consequences for breaking it might not be as horrific (at least in the Western world), but there are still consequences. Slut-shaming being the most obvious.

It's not just in the bedroom that sexism still exists. Sexism is everywhere, and if you don't notice it then likely you're a man who isn't really affected by it, or you've been conditioned to think these things are normal.
I could rant for hours and give a million examples, but I think just one will suffice. How many of you have heard someone say "Women can do anything men can do," as a statement in support of women's rights and/or equality? I bet most of you have - if not the exact words, then something very similar.

The problem with this statement is that, like too much else in our society, it implies that maleness and male achievements are the norm and the standard against which we must measure everything. I would prefer something along the lines of "Women and men are equally capable." But I don't see the switch happening anytime soon.

Monday, May 21, 2012

We Are What We Repeatedly Do

"We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit." ~ Aristotle
We all do - and are - a lot of things.

I am an athlete. I run or otherwise exercise almost every day. I love to compete, and I compete to win. But I don't think about running when I'm bored in class.

I am a student. I attend classes 9 to 3, and do homework late into the night. I work hard and earn good marks. But I don't think about chemistry when I'm waiting for a ringette game to start.

We are what we repeatedly do, and more importantly, what we cannot stop doing. When I'm bored in class, sitting on the bus, waiting to go on the ice or relaxing between track races, I sit back, relax and let the stories flow. Sometimes they come out as songs or poems, sometimes as the beginning of a short story or as the idea for a novel. But every day, in the hundred little moments of downtime every person has, the ideas for writing come. It's the act of recording these ideas, of expanding them and finishing them, that makes me what I truly am.

We are what we repeatedly to. I am a writer.

Inspired by a contest by Jeff Goins (, and my grade ten math teacher, whose posters for the rowing team use the above Aristotle quote.

Monday, May 14, 2012

First Loves Blogfest

Today, as I recently found out, is Alex J. Cavanaugh's "First Loves" Blogfest. The idea is to post the first movie, song/band, book & person that you loved. I decided to participate after reading Sydney Aaliyah's post for the Blogfest. Without further ado:

First movie - The Princess Bride
Watching this movie was a summer tradition in my family for many years. I learned to love the movie even before I was old enough to understood everything that was happening, and now that I do get it, I love it even more. I've seen it at least ten or fifteen times, and I know half of it by heart, but it still makes me laugh out loud. If you like swordfighting, meta-humour & epic adventure, this movie is for you. (even though it's old. even though it's cliche. it's awesome)

First song - Defying Gravity
Growing up, my family's music was pretty much all musicals, all the time, with some other random stuff my dad liked. I enjoyed all sorts of songs, but never had anything that was mine to love. Until my grandparents took me to see Wicked when I was ten years old. Defying Gravity, the breathtaking & epic pre-intermission song, struck a chord inside me, one that still reverberates now.

First book - My Father's Dragon
I was seven when I first read this trilogy (I had an omnibus, so it counts as one book, right?) on my own. I'd had them read to me many times before though. I loved the humour, the almost fairytale-like distance from the main character, and the sheer imaginative coolness of the stories & settings. Buy the book for any kids you know, and you will enjoy reading it to/with them.
"Bum cack, bum cack, we dreed our nagon - I mean, we need our dragon!"

First person - my sister
My sister was born when I was three, and as soon as she could toddle, we became playmates and best friends. She still means the world to me, and while we don't always get along (far from it!), she knows that when it comes down to it, I am always on her side.

How about you? What/who were your first loves?

As always, you can comment below, or find me on twitter (@Amethystars). And if you really want to make my day, read & vote for my vampire/horror story "Roses" here.

Opening line: "I will never forget the way they smelled: sickly sweet, like rotted roses."

I wish you all a great week, with plenty of time for relaxing and enjoying life, as well as pursuing whatever goals you may have. I, on the other hand, will be surviving school as best I can :)


Tuesday, May 8, 2012

What Megan Whalen Turner & Ellen Kushner Have In Common (and why I love them for it)

One of the most amazing series of books I have ever read is the Queen's Thief series, by Megan Whalen Turner. For a review that is awesome but non-spoilery (which is VERY important), go here:

Another awesome series consists of Swordspoint, The Privilege of the Sword (POTS) and The Fall of the Kings (as yet only partly read by me), by Ellen Kushner.

While obsessing over the awesomeness of these books, I realized both series have a couple of very important things in common.

Firstly, how the author treats the romance. In both books, a lot of the romance happens off screen - or at least, on screen but only half-described. Just enough to taunt you and draw you in. It's the aching passion of half-seen love and want that kills me as a reader, and draws me in looking for more.

In POTS and King of Attolia, this is accomplished by using a third character as the narrator. But in Swordspoint and Queen of Attolia, the same effect is achieved without that technique, and beautifully so. So much so that sometimes I want to scream at the authors. I'm stealing something I saw on the nanowrimo forums when I say to both writers: I hate you, which in book language really means that I love you for making my heart ache. 

Another great similarity between the books is the prominence of female characters who have power and their own honour. The idea that a woman has no honour of her own, and can only dirty her (male) relatives' or her family's honour, disgusts me. Lest you think it's an archaic idea, or one not prevalent in "western & modern" culture, let me quote recent president George W. Bush:

“The administration I'll bring is a group of men and women who are focused on what's best for America, honest men and women, decent men and women, women who will see service to our country as a great privilege and who will not stain the house.” (emphasis mine)

Women should be grateful to be let out of the house, he's saying, women need to be careful they don't make the men look bad. But women and men are all simply people, and if people have honour, it belongs to both sexes (and of course also to everyone who doesn't fit the two basic ideas).

Ellen Kushner's books take place in a city where swordsmen duel for the honour of the nearly-always-male nobles who hire them. But in POTS, when Lady Katherine learns to fight, she can defend another young woman's honour. Later, when her mother promises to save her from this insane manliness, Katherine doesn't want to go back to being the "noble society girl". As a swordwoman, she has power, and strength, and freedom. Who in their right mind would give that up for being normal? Normalcy is overrated, and as Lucius Perry from POTS proves, the only normal people are the ones you don't know very well.

There's a lesson in those books, about what power does to people, about honour as power and women as possessions, but it's too much for me to simply lay out here. Read Swordspoint, and then read POTS.

As for the Queen's Thief books, while the main character is a boy (later man) who is absolutely kick-ass, the women in the series are just as amazing - although thankfully in different ways. (I don't think the world could stand more than one Eugenides!)

Attolia, for instance, was traded by her father for peace in his last years as king. While arranged marriages can make sense for the rich and powerful, there is a difference between arranging a marriage and selling your daughter. But then again, she has no honour to be soiled, does she? Don't worry, Attolia gets what's hers back, with interest!

If nothing else, after reading this go find a copy of The Thief, and read it before you find out anything more about the series. Take your time reading the book. Savour it. Trust me. If I ever get amnesia, the one thing I hope I somehow do is read The Thief again, with no foreknowledge. It's that good.

Now go!


P.S. If you're still here, then you probably enjoyed this post, so perhaps you'll also enjoy my recent webzine published story "Roses". It's in a contest issue, and votes for it shower me with sparkles of happiness!