Yearly Archives: 2014

Why You Should Consider Becoming a Hugo Voter by Glory

hugo_blogThis year will be my third year participating in the Hugo process. So far, I’ve really enjoyed it, and I think you might enjoy participating too.

First, let me offer a quick summary of the awards and how to vote. The Hugo Awards are probably the most widely recognized speculative fiction awards. Awards are given for Best Novel, a variety of lengths of short fiction, Best Dramatic Presentation, and more. (A list of all the categories is here: http://www.thehugoawards.org/hugo-categories/ ) They are voted on by members of the World Science Fiction Convention, or WorldCon. But you don’t have to go to WorldCon to vote; you can buy a supporting membership for $40, which comes with Hugo voting rights. The Hugo selection process takes part in two stages. The first stage is nomination. Each person can nominate up to five things in each category. The five things with the most nominations go on to become the finalists. In the second stage, voters chose between the finalists using ranked choice voting. Most voting is online, though paper ballots are available for people who want them. The winners are announced at a ceremony at WorldCon. If you become a supporting member before January 31, then you can nominate for the 2015 Hugo awards (for works published in 2014). If you join after that but before voting closes, then you can vote in the second stage and nominate next year.

Now that I’ve explained what the awards are, I’m going talk about why I think you might want to take part. The first and foremost reason you should consider voting is because it is fun. I enjoy the process because it encourages me to read books and stories as they come out. If it weren’t for the Hugos, I would not read and recommend nearly as much short fiction. For me, nominating is about reading things  and then telling people about the works you loved. Voting is fun too and gets me to read stuff I might not otherwise read and find new writers and new stories.

One of the most fun things about the Hugo Awards is talking about them on the internet. Lots of people write about works they recommend, how they feel about the ballot and how they feel about the results. I read a lot of things that I don’t have many people to talk to about, but I love talking about what I’m reading. So having a lot people reading for the Hugos helps to create a community of readers all reading the same works, which is awesome.

Another reason to participate is because of the Hugo Voters Packet. For the last decade or so, WorldCon Members have received a voting packet consisting of electronic copies of the works on the short list and examples of the finalists in categories where the award goes to a person rather than a work. This doesn’t always include everything. Last year, it only included samples for three of the novels (out of five). But it does generally include all the hard to find short works, a good bit of non-fiction, quite a few novels, and also art. Many people think the voter packet is worth the $40 by itself.

Award design and photo by Deb Kosiba.
Award design and photo by Deb Kosiba.

The final reason I think you should consider becoming a Hugo voter is to represent your taste. There are a lot of groups that have historically been under-represented as Hugo voters, such as women, people of color, and people from outside the US. Those voices are especially needed to help the Hugos reflect the broader SFF community. Even if you aren’t part of one of those groups, you have unique taste and a unique perspective on science fiction. So I strongly encourage you to consider voting. Don’t be shy.

If you read (or watch) Science Fiction and Fantasy and have opinions about what you read (or watch), then the Hugos are a great place to express those opinions. You don’t have to have read all the things to nominate. No one can read all the things. But if you read something that you loved that was published this year, you could nominate it. It doesn’t take that many nominations to get on the ballot. Last year, the novel with the fewest nominations that qualified as a finalist got less than 100 nominations. And the short story with the most nominations had only 79. So your one vote really can matter in nomination.

And, of course, your vote will also matter in choosing among the finalists. The Hugo Awards are ranked choice voting, which means your relative opinion of each work matters. Some people find the system a bit confusing, but I like that it means that more than just your first choice matters.

So voting for the Hugos is fun, you’ll get some reading material and you can represent your unique taste. I know not every budget has $40 to spare, but if yours does, I hope you’ll consider voting. Participating in the process has given me a lot of pleasure and helped build my online community.

Please note: “Hugo Award,” The Hugo Award Logo, “World Science Fiction Convention,” and “WorldCon” are service marks of the World Science Fiction Society, an unincorporated literary society.

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planning. She also spends too much time reading and loves science fiction and fantasy.

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

So, you’re worried about Ebola…

Folks, I’m going to cut right to the chase:

bowieDon’t worry about Ebola, worry about the flu.

Yes, David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King, really.  Worry more about a seasonal malady than the disease that has been all over the news and involves bleeding from your eyeballs.

 

First, let’s look at the numbers:

According to the World Health Organization, there have been fewer than 10,000 cases of Ebola reported in the history of the world, anywhere.  Some of these outbreaks have mortality rates where the average is 50%, which I agree is alarming, but they occurred in regions of Africa with terrifyingly few doctors.  The CIA World Factbook estimates the number of physicians in the Congo at around 1 doctor for every 10,000 people.

That’s less than 1/30th of the number of physicians per person available in the U.S.

Considering that treatment for Ebola is supportive (i.e. fluids to keep patients hydrated and blood products to prevent the aforementioned bleeding), having more than 1 doctor for every 10,000 people to identify cases of Ebola and then isolate and treat them is pretty critical for patients’ survival (never mind that I doubt doctors in the Congo have stockrooms full of IV fluids and blood products to administer to their patients, unlike US docs) and for keeping the disease contained.  These countries are hobbled from the start by their lack of healthcare infrastructure.

There’s obviously no way to prove this assertion, but I’d bet money on mortality rates improving drastically if folks with Ebola had nearly four doctors per 1,000 people, like we do in the U.S, to make sure folks were getting identified, treated, and isolated as recommended.

By contrast, the CDC reports flu deaths in the US alone since the 1970s have varied from 3,000 annually to nearly 50,000 annually, and that’s with our 3.74 doctors per 1,000 persons.

Yes, more people have died in one country in one year from the flu than have ever even caught Ebola.

I think I’m slightly more likely to die of flu than Ebola, 50% mortality rate notwithstanding.

Second, let’s look at the method of transmission:

The flu is mostly transmitted via droplets of saliva.  You can be talking to someone from around six feet away, breathe in a microscopic respiratory droplet expelled while they’re speaking, and congratulations, you’ve contracted the flu!

picardYes, Captain Picard, really.  The speaker doesn’t even have to be sick—adults can transmit the flu for a day before becoming symptomatic, and for up to seven days afterward.  Kids, bless those adorable little disease vectors, can transmit the virus for even longer than adults.

By contrast, while Ebola transmission via respiratory means has been documented in laboratory animals, it’s never been documented in humans.  Ebola transmission has only been documented via direct contact with blood or other bodily fluids and broken skin, or broken skin and fabric which has recently been in close contact with someone who is infected.  Plus, Ebola appears to only be infectious while the patient is symptomatic.

So basically, don’t get your open skin in contact with the blood, bodily fluids, or fabric recently in close contact with the blood or bodily fluids of a person with Ebola symptoms and you’re not going to catch it.

Seems much simpler than not standing within six feet of anyone for all of flu season!

Third, let’s look at where Ebola prefers to live:

As best as we can tell, Ebola usually lives not in humans, but in bats.bat

Yes, really, Skeptical Fruit Bat!

Specifically, Ebola lives in bats which live in West Africa.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting a West African bat, much less eating one, which is probably how Ebola outbreaks start.

By contrast, the most common reservoir for influenza is humans, and as I mentioned before, you can get the flu just by talking to an asymptomatic human, which I do all the time.

Tl;dr: Let’s sum up:

  • Some years, more people die of flu in the US alone than have ever caught Ebola, much less died from it.
  • You can catch the flu by talking to an asymptomatic human, whereas you need to have a break in your skin and come in close contact with a symptomatic human’s (or recently dead corpse’s) bodily fluids to catch Ebola.
  • Ebola lives in fruit bats in West Africa. The flu lives in humans all over the word.

I’m more concerned about the flu than Ebola, and I hope you are now, too.

So, what can you do?

  • Get your flu shot. The CDC recommends it for everyone over the age of six months and no contraindications (i.e. allergy to eggs or chicken products, reactions to previous vaccines, etc.).  Obviously, talk to your doctor or pharmacist, but even if you’re young and healthy and probably won’t spend more than a couple of terrible days with the flu, there are a couple of reasons to get the flu vaccine.  Obviously, it will (hopefully, but that’s another blog) prevent you being home for a couple of terrible days with the flu, which is pretty great, but your immunity to the flu will protect immunosuppressed and vulnerable people from getting the flu.

VERY IMPORTANT SIDENOTE: Who is an immunosuppressed or vulnerable person?  An infant, an elderly person, or folks who are on certain medications, so obviously don’t go sneezing directly your grandma’s face, but—and I can’t emphasize this enough—you can’t always tell who these folks are.  Personally, I can think of several Sheroes off the top of my head who have immunosuppressed in the past couple of years.  These Sheroes have undergone treatment for cancer, developed an autoimmune disease and needed temporary treatment, or are undergoing treatment for chronic diseases like IBS or arthritis or Crohn’s disease.  I’ve personally seen several of these folks while immunosuppressed, and they looked like young, healthy folks because for the most part, they are.  They’re out making a living, running errands at the grocery store and post office, and being Sheroic less than six feet away from other humans, as is their right and our privilege, because they add so much to our lives and communities.

So get your flu shot.  If nothing else, you’re helping other Sheroes do their Sheroic thing.

  • Wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, or using the bathroom, and sneeze “like a vampire” .

twilightNO, not the creepy, sexist, stalkery vampire that lives in a town that shares a name with a dining utensil and the sparkles in the sunlight!  This is Sheroes, after all!  Sneeze like an old-school Dracula vampire, and then don’t rub your luxurious red-velvet lined cape onto other people’s mucous membranes.vampire

  • If you do get the flu, stay home from work/school if at all possible.   Remember how you can’t always see those vulnerable populations?  Besides, it’ll help you heal faster.
  • Support Ebola research and public health efforts, because it is a terrible disease which involves bleeding out places you should never bleed. Charity Navigator has a special interest page if you feel moved to give monetarily to anti-Ebola efforts (personally, I’m a Doctors Without Borders fangirl, but I guess those other charities are pretty rockin’, too).  I know I’ll be voting for political candidates who want to increase funding for scientific research in my local and national elections, because while an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, sometimes, a pound of cure is exactly what you need, and we don’t have one, yet.  Scientists are developing one, but scientific research is expensive.  Let’s fund that stuff!
  • Do your research, think critically, don’t post alarmist articles on Facebook (or anywhere else), and if you are in contact with someone who is symptomatic for Ebola, use contact precautions like wearing a surgical mask, gown, cap, and gloves when in contact with them, their bodily fluids, or substances which may have come in contact with their bodily fluids.

Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay Sheroic this flu season!


Fancci is a US osteopathic medical school student in her clinical years.  She hopes to one day open a rural family practice clinic, but first needs to survive the rest of med school and a residency.

Very Specific Book Recs: Food History by Glory

I like both food and history, so I’ve read quite a few books about food history. Since food is part of our lives in many ways, there are many approaches to the history of food. How we eat, what we eat, and our philosophy of eating have all changed over time. The books in this post explore those changes. I’ve picked books that I think are accessible to a non-academic audience, which look at the history of food from several angles.

belasco_blogMeals to Come: A History of the Future of Food by Warren Belasco

What is it about? This book discusses how people have viewed the future of food, and how those visions have shaped arguments about population and feeding the hungry. Belasco starts with Malthus and includes futures from speculative fiction, amusement parks, and world’s fairs.

Read If: All of the above sounds fascinating, and you want a better understanding of the arguments people are making about how to feed the world.

Don’t read if: You really want a book about strange sci-fi food, not about more general ideas about the future of food.

shapiro_blogSomething from the Oven: Reinventing Dinner in 1950s America by Laura Shapiro

What is it about? This book is a history of cooking in the 1950’s in the US. It’s not all strange casseroles made from canned soup. Shapiro looks at changes in cooking in the US within the context of women’s social history. She explains how “modern cooking” using convenience products was prestigious, but also explores the movement away from cooking starting with packages and cans. One thing I found especially interesting is the story of Poppy Cannon, a cookbook writer who took part in both extremes of 50’s cooking.

Read if: You want a nuanced understanding of American cooking in the 1950’s.

Don’t Read if: You just aren’t interested.

wilson_blogConsider the Fork: A History of How We Cook and Eat by Bee Wilson

What is it about? This history focus on the implements we use to cook and eat: pots for cooking, knifes for cutting, forks and chopsticks for eating, and more. The book is organized by technology, not chronologically.

Read if: You take a wide view of what technology is. You’d like general survey of the history of cooking and eating written in a chatty style.

Don’t read if: You want something very in depth. The book tends to skim along history, often lumping decades and even centuries together. Also, the author is from the UK and writes from that perspective. If you are not one of “we fork users,” the book might feel as though it is excluding you.

bobrow_blogWhite Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

What is it about? Like it says on the tin, this book is a history of white bread in the US. Bobrow-Strain uses bread to talk about ideas of purity and what “good food” has meant over time. I really love how this book uses the past to better understand the present and critique current food movements.

Read if: You are interested in the history of food-based reform movements and what current reformers should be learning form the past.

Don’t read if: I can’t think of any reason why not. (Yes, ok, you might think the whole idea of food history isn’t for you, but if you think it is maybe even a little bit for you, this is a great book!)

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planning. She also spends too much time reading and loves science fiction and fantasy.

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

We’re Getting Warmer! (Status Updates for the Sheroic Fundraiser)

As most sheroes members know, this forum is a relatively new home for us, and even though we’re happy to be here, there are some features we miss from our old forum. So, we’ve started a fundraising campaign to pay for some software upgrades to help us feel more at home here. This thermometer will help us track our progress.



Questions about which upgrades the fundraiser will pay for? Want to know how you can get involved? Come join us on the forums!

I Like Big Books and I Cannot Lie

MobyDickIf you haven’t read a big book in a while, I suggest you pick one up soon.

Big books are the warm bubble baths of the book world, but they’re often talked about as if they’re itchy woolen snowsuits instead. Sinking into a big, dense book should be a pleasure, not a headache-inducing nightmare.

What makes a book big? Size, obviously—let’s say (arbitrarily) 600 pages or more—but also, to a lesser extent, complexity. Although Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pushes 800 pages (and I loved it dearly), I would hesitate before calling it a big book; it followed too easily the path laid out for it by its six prequels; it tied up too neatly every loose end with an escapist epilogue. But then again, the bigness of big books may lie in the heart of the reader. For me, the really big books are those that intimidate the reader, the ones that feel like a challenge at the start, but a best friend by the finish, the ones that most closely mimic an actual marathon; instead of churning legs over terrain for 26.2 miles, readers of big books sprain their fingers flipping pages and mentally race through page after page to the triumphant end.

As usual, the public reluctance to engage with big books can perhaps be traced back to high school (what problem can’t, really), when a deadline imposed on the reading of a big book like The Grapes of Wrath or The Iliad or Ulysses is a significant threat to getting any other homework done. Students dread large reading assignments, a feeling that usually persists throughout college and beyond.

On the other hand, there are those who see a big book as a challenge to overcome rather than a pleasure. They might read one big book a year, and then talk incessantly about how they read it, leaving out the fact that they haven’t read anything else that year except their Twitter feed. These people may or may not usually be men with scruffy beards who just finished David Foster Wallace’s The Pale King. Avoid conversation with them at all costs.

Here’s a list of some of my personal favorite big books, broken up by genre. What big books would be on your list?

Contemporary Literature
Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Historical Fiction
Sacajawea by Anna Lee Waldo
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

Classics
Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Daniel Deronda by George Eliot
The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo

Fantasy
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

These books are all dear to me in their own ways, but they share one thing in common: they contain entire worlds and generation-spanning sagas so richly and completely imagined that they become real, and so real that they become road maps for navigating my own world.

So put a big book in your To Be Read pile–not just because it’s a classic or an award winner, though that’s a good enough reason, too—but because it’s epically, gloriously, luxuriously big. Sink it to it. Let it sweep you away.

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Marie is a writer and editor who lives with her feral cat, and, like most people, prefers dance parties to homework.

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

Call for Submissions!

Do you want to blog on topics that appeal to teenagers and new adults? Do you love books, movies, gaming, shopping, feminism, technology, the Internet, cats, and much more besides? If so, then you may have found a perfect outlet for your interests in the Sheroes Blog.

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Read our submission guidelines and submit a post (or send us a pitch) for consideration to sheroesblog@gmail.com. We look forward to hearing from you.

Happy writing!

Who is Your Favorite Fictional Villain?

Today, some of the Sheroes Blog editors dive into their favorite fictional villains and sheroes.

Zoë says: 

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My favorite villain is Hell (or an aspect thereof) from the book Summon the Keeper (Book #1 of The Keeper’s Chronicles) by Tanya Huff. The Keeper’s Chronicles are an incredibly engaging comic-fantasy trilogy, and the first book features the adventures of Claire, her feline sidekick, and a cast of other well-developed characters after Claire is called to deal with a gateway to you-know-where in the basement of a Guest House in Kingston, Ontario.  Hell (or some incarnation thereof) is discovered to be hanging out in the basement, sealed in by the actions of a previous Keeper, but trying quite persistently to escape.  Huff imagines this aspect of Hell as a multi-personalitied, witty, but not altogether brilliant “villain” desperately trying to encroach on the minds of the inhabitants of the Guest House.
Read this if you like light, witty fantasy along the lines of Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, or Patricia C. Wrede.
Ratesjul says:
coverI always find it hard to pick favourites of anything, whether it’s books or authors or characters (or even specifically villains)…. So I’ll give you two. One of my favorite characters is Paksenarrion Dorthansdotter of Three Firs (Elizabeth Moon’s Sheepfarmer’s Daughter and sequels). I like Paks because, well, she’s human. She has flaws, and admits to them, and strives to better herself. She goes from little or nothing to honors, and back again. She stumbles into traps, and extricates herself, but will also give in, when it seems best. I guess what I like most about her is that she fights, she doesn’t really give up (and giving in is not giving up), and even as a mercenary she won’t just follow blindly.

20020712022127_105Another favorite character is Elizabeth from V M Caldwell’s The Ocean Within and Tides. I like Elizabeth because she struggles to continue to be herself, to fit within a tug of war between her need to not let anyone matter in case they go away, and to find her place. Particularly when it comes to a small boy who calls her turtle and worms his way into her heart. I read somewhere that there was originally a third book, set between the two of these, and I’d love to read it and see how the family changed in between. Even discovering these books as an adult, I love the characters.

TamLinAs for a favorite villain, I’m not so sure…. So many of them don’t really stick with me as much as the heroes and sheroes do. (I guess I like the happy endings!) One that sticks the most is Tam Lin, who doesn’t particularly have much of a choice in the matter of being a villain. In some ways he isn’t the villain – he is a product of the life he lives (or is forced to live) – but to Janet, in some ways, I guess he is.

Marie says:

119322Compelling villains are the backbone of good literature! I don’t even know where to start. I’m always most taken in by insidious, surprise villains, where you don’t know they’re bad until close to the end. Mrs. Coulter from Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is one of those villains. You can almost feel how evil this cloying, beautiful woman is but it’s not until the main character herself figures it out that you realize just how truly horrible Mrs. Coulter is.

As for a favorite character, again, I could pick a thousand! But I’ll stick with His Dark Materials, since those books are fantastic and if you haven’t read them yet and you like young adult fantasy that is deep and sweet and smart, you need to read them ASAP. My favorite character is Lyra Belacqua, the main character,  the girl-who-saves-the-world. She does this, with extreme personal sacrifice, at the age of twelve. She is wild and tough and vulnerable and loving and her sharp as a knife little-girlness is pitch perfect, as is her wrestle with what it means to grow up.

 

We want to know: who is your favorite fictional villain? Who is your favorite fictional shero?

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Marie, Ratesjul, and Zoë are Sheroes Blog editors who fight crime…er…read a lot of books in their free time.

 

Join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

Books with Hats: Part One

Back when we first considered a feature like Very Specific Book Recs one of the examples tossed out to illustrate the idea was “Books with Hats.” This was surprisingly popular with Sheroes. So today by popular demand we bring you “Books with Hats.” This post was fun to research. We got to revisit old favorites and check out new books from the library. One of the nice things about this topic is that it allows us to cut across genres. Some these books are picture books, some are fantasy, and some are non-fiction.  Hopefully you will find something to enjoy.

 MadeleineMadeline and The Bad Hat by Ludwig van Bemelmans

You could pick just about any of the Madeline books if you wanted to find one with a hat. After all, twelve little girls with little yellow boaters in two straight lines are something of a feature of these books. But in this story the twelve little girls gain a neighbor with a tall Spanish hat. And, well, story ensues.

CapsforSaleCaps for Sale told and illustrated by Esphyer Slobodkina 

This picture book featured a cap peddler carries all of his caps on the top of his head who takes a nap and is surprised when monkeys steal his wears. The pictures of the peddler with all the caps on his head and of the monkeys wearing caps are delightful. Glory read this many times as a child, and now enjoys reading it to her niece.

howlsmovingcastleHowl’s Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones

Sophie is the oldest of three sisters and thus convinced that she will never make her fortune. When her father dies she stays and helps her step-mother in the family hat shop. There she makes different kind hats for different buyers, some of which have surprising effects. However her adventures really began when the Witch of The Waste comes to the shop and curses her. This book is one of Dianna Wynne Jones most popular, and features her trademark topsy-turvy plot, with mix of silly and serious.

TopHatandTaiahaTop Hat and Taiaha and other stories – Leslie Chapman

The title story is set in a small historic house in the middle of nowhere, where a schoolgirl is caught by imagination and plays a trick… Involving a Top Hat and a Taiaha. But there are a great number of other stories in this collection, set in all manner of places, and each providing a glimpse into another world. We  often think that  of the marks of a good short story is wishing there was more, and many of these tales met that.

FinishingtheHatFinishing The Hat by Stephen Sondheim

Look I Made A Hat by Stephen SondheimlookIMadeaHat

These two collections of lyrics, comments, principles, anecdotes, miscellany etc are chock full of all you might expect of a collection of notable Sondheim music and lyrics, and a little more besides!  Ever wondered about the differences between the West Side Story of the stage and that of the silver screen? And where did the idea for Jack’s song come from? Or how about the collaboration process between composer and lyricist? Well, here’s where you’d come to find out the answers to all those questions, and many more you didn’t even think of asking.

These two collections are more to be books to dip into for an insight into the lyrics of your favorite Sondheim musical, than as books to read cover to cover….

Probably more delightful for the music you already know than for the songs you don’t.

 Wyrd-sisters-coverWyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

How can one have a blog post about books with hats, and thus, books with people known for wearing hats, and thus witches, without mentioning Terry Pratchett? This is the first of Pratchett’s Discworld books to feature all three of his trio of whiches: Granny Weatherwax, Nanny Ogg and Magrat. (Granny Weatherwax first appears in Equal Rites.) The three are delightful together as they bring out the best and the worst of each other. The three must work together to save the kingdom.  Of course, witches hats aren’t the only hats of importance in Wyrd Sisters. The story has barely opened before Magrat points out the significance of the ‘spiky bits’ on the crown found along with a two year old boy – and it’s the crown which is of vital importance to the story.

“When shall we three meet again?”

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Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.  Ratesjul is an avid reader (of almost anything) and keen amateur (emphasis on the amateur) photographer. She loves looking through collections of family photos and hearing family stories – and is in awe of her aunt’s collection of photo albums.

Very Specific Book Recs: Historical Queer Ladies

When I was about 5 years old, my father read Watership Down out loud to me. I was way into the characters, the epic adventures they had, and even the stories they told each other about Ancient Rabbit Heroes With Unpronounceable Names, but I was less enamored of the long descriptive passages. According to my dad, I’d sit patiently for a paragraph or two of description, but if Richard Adams’s depiction of the countryside went on any longer than that, I’d interrupt with a plaintive, “But Daddy, where are the rabbits?”

Much as I love the genre, that’s generally how I feel when I read historical fiction as an adult, only replace “rabbits” with “queer ladies.” At least 1/10 of the ladies in history must have been queer, so where the hell are they? And why doesn’t the author of the book I’m reading seem to care? And if the author doesn’t care about what was happening to people like me during the time period they’re writing about, how much do I care about what happens to any of their straight characters? (Spoiler alert: probably not that much, unless they are a Naguib Mahfouz level literary genius, because I am a cranky queer feminist, and that’s how I roll.)

Fortunately for me (and for you), there are some brilliant historical fiction writers who have not only considered my “But where are the queer ladies?” question, but have answered it with, “Right here, being awesome!” Here are some of my all-time favorite books starring historical queer ladies:

1. Hild by Nicola Griffith

9780374280871_custom-dba405fdd210ea13df71aefd93403eaf3d8501dc-s6-c30What it’s about: The first book in a planned trilogy about the life of Britain’s St. Hilda of Whitby, Hild traces the title character’s life from age 3 to age 19 as she and her family navigate war, court politics, and religious shifts in 6th century Britain.

Read this if: You want a gorgeously written, immersive experience that will make you feel like you’re navigating serious sociopolitical issues and intense emotional journeys right along with Hild, and/or you’re intrigued by the idea of a writer combining historical research with science-fiction-honed world-building skills to breathe the 6th century into life.

No, really, read this even if: You’re intimidated by trying to navigate Anglo-Saxon and Old Irish names and places on this large a scale, because never fear! Nicola Griffith has created a wealth of supplemental materials to help you through.

Steer clear if: You will find discussion of rape and consent issues triggering, or you’re not feeling up to reading about the realities of war.

2. The Color Purple by Alice Walker

ColorPurpleWhat it’s about: Through a series of letters spanning several decades, Celie chronicles her life in early 20th century Georgia, from her girlhood with an abusive father to her arranged, exploitative marriage to her coming into her own, finding her voice, and creating a community for herself.

Read this if: You want a breathtakingly beautiful and compulsively readable novel about passion, love, unconventional families of choice, the discovery of self, and the survival of terrible things, and/or you are tired of white ladies hogging the historical fiction spotlight.

Steer clear if: You will find depictions of physical abuse, rape, and virulent Jim-Crow-era racism triggering.

3. The Last Nude by Ellis Avery

10836810 What it’s about: Rafaela Fano, a young Italian-American fleeing an arranged marriage, accepts a job modeling for Neoclassical Cubist painter Tamara de Lempicka in 1920s Paris. Great art, love, and betrayal ensue until World War II ruins everything.

Read this if: You want a passionate story of intense love and loss that might remind you of your own first love, and/or you find the idea of running into Gertrude Stein (and the rest of the era’s famous ex-pats, including an alternate-universe Hemingway) in a social context thrilling.

Steer clear if: You find unreliable narrators irritating or will find depiction of prostitution, rape (both statutory and otherwise), and anti-Semitism triggering.

4. Life Mask by Emma Donoghue

9781443406956What it’s about: Celebrated actress Eliza Farren, convention-defying sculptor Anne Damer, and peer of the realm Edward Smith-Stanley navigate high society and weather scandal (including accusations of lesbianism against the ladies) in 18th century London.

Read this if: You want a slow-paced, slice-of-life exploration of high society social interactions and artistic pursuits written in such a pitch-perfect historical voice that excerpts from the characters’ real-life letters are woven in seamlessly.

Steer clear if: You will be annoyed that you have to wait more than 400 pages for it to be confirmed whether any of the ladies are actually queer, let alone for any queer ladies to make out with each other.

5. Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller

f23860What it’s about: Two young women fall in love in early 19th century New England and overcome class differences, societal expectations, and homophobia in order to build a life together.

Read this if: You want a sweet, well-written love story with plenty of hot lesbian sex scenes, and/or are intrigued by the idea of 19th century non-binary gender expression.

Steer clear if: You will find depiction of sexual assault and violently homophobic families triggering.

6. Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

9781860495243What it’s about: When she falls in love with a professional male impersonator, Nancy King leaves her life as an oystergirl in small town, Victorian-era England and begins an odyssey of self-discovery that includes drag show performance, cross-dressing prostitution, forays into the high society lesbian kink scene, and socialist organizing.

Read this if: You want characters who are beautifully, infuriatingly real and unpredictable, compelling plots.

Steer clear if: You are not in the mood for a potentially-disturbing detour into the seamy underbelly of the Victorian kink scene.

7. Stone Butch Blues by Leslie Feinberg

9781555838539_custom-5c027f71c8b1d234dfc81f043c01bb8afc5dc50b-s6-c30 What it’s about: After growing up working class in a small town in the 1950s, labor organizer Jess Goldberg navigates life in the violently transphobic and homophobic mid-century United States first as a butch lesbian, then as a trans person.

Read this if: You want a front row seat for the development of the LGBT rights movement, both pre- and post-Stonewall, brought to life through such vivid description of individual experience you’ll feel like you’re living it along with Jess.

Steer clear if: You don’t think you can handle being hit with the emotional equivalent of a sledgehammer right now. ALL OF THE TRIGGER WARNINGS APPLY. NO, REALLY. ALL OF THEM.

~~~~~~~~~

Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

Very Specific Book Recs: Food Memoirs

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. I love to cook, to eat, and to feed people.  Since I love to read, I also spend time reading about food. While I do read academic books about food (especially history), I also read a fair number of food memoirs. These books center the experience of food: growing, cooking and eating.  Many have recipes.  Food is very universal and also very personal.  I enjoy learning what other people are eating, because it tells me a lot about them and their culture. Also, I love imagining eating yummy things.

animalvegetablemiracleAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver

What is it about?  Barbara Kingsolver and her family moved from the southwest to Appalachia and decided to eat locally for a year.  They had an extensive garden and keep chickens and other fowl.  This is one of the books published in the early 2000’s that helped start the current food movement.

Read if: You like well-crafted prose and descriptions of gardening.

Don’t Read if:  You are uncomfortable with descriptions of killing animals.

farmcityFarm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter

What is it about? Novella Carpenter moved to Oakland, California and started her own urban farm, including growing vegetables, keeping bees, and eventually raising rabbits and pigs.  As well as learning new farming skills, Carpenter had to deal with urban living issues like getting along with the neighbors and potential soil contamination.

Read If: You like funny books about urban living.

Don’t read if: You don’t want descriptions of killing rabbits and pigs.

 garlicandsapphiresGarlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl

What is it about? Ruth Reichl moved from California to NYC to take up the mantel of New York Times Restaurant critic. To do her job, she wore disguises so that she wouldn’t be recognized by staff at the restaurants.  Reichl found that each disguise altered her personality. Through all of this, she also had to navigate relationships with her family and friends.

Read if: You like to hear about what other people eat in restaurants.

Don’t Read if:  The restaurant scene is not for you.

 relishRelish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley

What is it about? In this graphic memoir,  Lucy Knisley uses a series of vignettes to  explore her relationship with food. Her mother was a professional chef, and Knisley grew up in a household with a strong appreciation for food.  The stories are not strictly chronologically but thematically arranged. The art is a bit cartoony but really shows the characters’ emotions and the food. I tried the chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it turned out great.

Read if: You want to try Knisley’s family recipes.

Don’t Read If: You aren’t into comics.

 bentoboxintheheartlandBento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America by Linda Furiya

What is it about? Linda Furiya grew up as part of the only Japanese family in small town Indiana during the 1960’s and 70’s.  Her parents loved traditional Japanese food and went out of their way to create it, growing their own vegetables and often driving long ways get ingredients.  In addition, Furiya had to deal with being clearly different form her classmates.  She was often teased and worried about fitting in.

Read if: You want to know more about growing up a minority in small town.

Don’t read if: The injustice of the casual racism Furiya faced will upset you.

talkingwithmymouthfullTalking with My Mouth Full: Crab Cakes, Bundt Cakes, and Other Kitchen Stories by Bonny Wolf

What is it about? Bonny Wolf grew up Jewish in the Midwest, and then later lived in New England, Texas and Washington, D.C.  Here she talks about food experiences from her life cooking for her family. She also talks to friends and family about what they cook. The book includes recipes for bundt cake made with pudding mix, real Texas barbecue, chopped liver, zucchini bread, and much more.

Read if: You love learning about other people’s everyday cooking

Don’t read if: You don’t want to know about Jell-o salads and recipes made with cake mix and pudding mix.

———–

Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

The HPV Vaccine: Part 3

Questions and Answers

In this segment, I address common arguments concerned parents make against getting their kids vaccinated.

1. The HPV vaccine will encourage sexual activity; therefore, we should not vaccinate

One of the cool things about being human is the ability to have a lot of complex, conflicting thoughts and feelings on one issue, but when our kids’ health is at stake, I think we need to be very honest with ourselves:  The anxiety that we are feeling probably isn’t about the HPV vaccine in and of itself; otherwise we would also feel this anxiety about the hepatitis B vaccine and the possibility of an AIDS vaccine.  I’ve yet to hear someone oppose hep B vaccinations on the grounds that it might encourage sexual activity, and everyone I’ve talked to hopes the AIDS vaccine gets here yesterday, so I’m not sensing that same anxiety with those vaccines.

I would like to humbly suggest that, since the feelings about the HPV vaccine are not consistent with feelings about hep B (which is given as a routine vaccination to very small children), this argument stems from fear that teens are going to have sex before they’re ready.  The HPV vaccine and its timing (when kids are eleven and are starting to develop into sexual beings) reminds us that sex is a not-too-distant possibility, so we feel fearful, and think the HPV vaccine is causing the fear when it actually isn’t.

These fears are totally valid, and I would not discount or minimize them for the world.  We live in a highly sexualized culture where teens and preteens are getting a lot of conflicting messages about sex and how it relates to them and their bodies and their self-worth.  Sex can be a risky activity; I completely understand that parents don’t want their kids engaging in sexual activity before they’re ready, and I certainly think teens and preteens need education so they know what consent is, what sex acts are, which sexual activities put them at which risks, and how to reduce those risks.

I also think these concerns need to be addressed with frequent, frank, factual communication between parents and kids.  Withholding a vaccine—trying to scare your kid out of sexual activity by threatening them with a horrible cancer—is not an honest, effective, or fair way to attempt to prevent sexual activity.  I think that if parents are refusing to vaccinate kids on these grounds, they are doing them a profound disservice, not just by putting the kids’ health at risk, but by not discussing their views and values with them.

I remember, very vividly, that as a teen not too long ago, what my parents said to me about sex was more important than what my peers, television, or the Internet said.  It sounds corny, but talk to your kids about sex.  They’ll listen.

Then maybe, after this discussion, you’ll feel less anxious.

But even if you don’t, they should still get vaccinated.

2. HPV vaccine will make teens think they are “immune” to STDs and reduce how often they engage in safe sex.  Therefore, we should not vaccinate.

I’m vaccinated against hepatitis A because I went on a medical mission trip to a third-world country.  No one discouraged me from getting the hepatitis A vaccine on the basis that it would encourage me to drink the local water, exposing me to other pathogens.  On the contrary, I was extremely encouraged to get it because it protected my liver from hep A, should I ingest the local water.

Furthermore, during my office visit to get the vaccine, the doctor, nurse, and even the secretary educated me on why I still should not drink the local water. The vaccine was a tool to help keep me safe, but not my only tool, and they made sure I had tools in addition to the hep A vaccine to stay safe.

In my ideal world, this is how the HPV vaccine would be viewed: Not an all-powerful panacea, but a useful tool among many in the toolbox of sexual health. Teens are smart, and if we educate them about sexual health, they will understand that being vaccinated against HPV means they are still vulnerable to gonorrhea, herpes, AIDS, and other diseases they’d really rather not get.  I see no reason to keep them from getting a valuable tool just because it is not an all-powerful tool.

3. The HPV vaccine only protects against certain strains of HPV, plus most infections with HPV are cleared anyway, so we should not vaccinate.

True, but, as my mother has said, “Being protected against only four strains is still one heck of a lot better than a sharp stick in the eye!” Strains 16 and 18 are the most common high-risk strains of HPV, and strains 6 and 11, while low-risk, are also very common and do carry a risk of cervical cancer.  There are other strains, but these are certainly among the most worrisome.

Yes, most HPV infections are cleared, but enough aren’t so that over 12,500 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2013.  The vast majority of these cases were preventable with the HPV vaccine.

4. There are risks to any medical procedure!  My kid will not even lay eyes upon potential sexual partners until marriage and then they will be monogamous!  Why needlessly expose them to those risks?

There are two questions here: Are the risks worth it? And why should I vaccinate my kid if, because of their beliefs and lifestyle choices, they almost certainly will not need it?
Yes, there are risks to the HPV vaccine.  Among the reactions considered serious (and thus meticulously reported to and investigated by the CDC) are symptoms like headaches, nausea, allergic reactions to a vaccine component, local pain and swelling, dizziness, fatigue, and fainting.

These same risks apply to the tetanus vaccine, too, as well as just about every other vaccine your child has ever received, and I’d venture to guess many people do not cut themselves on rusty metal at any point in their lives.  I know I haven’t!

Still, I’m betting your kid is vaccinated against tetanus, and that’s probably because you’ve concluded that the risks of your kid contracting tetanus by freak accident are significantly worse than the risks of the vaccine.

Are the risks of cervical cancer really as trivial as the risks of the vaccine?  Is a headache as bad as even the most minor outpatient surgery?  Is having a sore arm as bad as needing your pelvis, legs, urinary system, and part of your colon removed?  Is feeling dizzy worse than worrying for days or weeks about the results of a biopsy?

As to why you should still vaccinate your kid, who you believe will not engage in sexual activity of any sort until marriage and will then remain monogamous, I have a couple of reasons:

Marriage is not a cure for STDs.  HPV infections acquired before marriage will remain after marriage, and there is a good chance an unvaccinated partner will pick up an HPV infection from an infected spouse.  Given that it is generally ideal for folks to have a fulfilling, loving sex life with their spouse, abstaining from sex isn’t a useful strategy to keep them from getting infected in this circumstance.  Vaccination is.

There’s also the unfortunate but very real fact that sometimes, even married folks will cheat.  True story: One of my dear friends is a wonderful, devout, churchgoing, Evangelical Christian woman who had no premarital sex and married a like-minded man from a similar family.  She just found out he has been cheating on her with multiple women for several years.  She didn’t get the HPV vaccine because she didn’t expect to need it—she was a virgin who married a virgin, and she doesn’t believe in divorce.

Now, on top of worrying about her marriage, she is worrying about her risk of getting cervical cancer.

It would be pretty awesome if she didn’t have to worry as much about the cervical cancer.

 5. Why vaccinate just girls?  Boys get HPV, too, and it leads to anal cancer and oropharyngeal cancer and all sorts of awful stuff!  If only girls get the vaccine, something is off, and I’m not vaccinating!

I have good news for you!  The CDC recommends the vaccine for all folks ages 9 to 26, including boys! The initial studies of vaccine effectiveness were only done on women and girls, so for a while the CDC only had data for women and girls, and thus they could only recommend its use in women and girls.  Western medicine, while not perfect by any means, does make a concerted effort to not recommend things for which there is no data.
Now, studies have been done on men and boys, providing data suggesting the vaccine was effective in men and boys, and the CDC was able to change their recommendation to include them.

So you’re the recipient of outdated information, and now you have current information!  Your son can be protected from oropharyngeal cancer and anal cancer, just like your daughter can be protected from cervical cancer! Aren’t you happy?  Aren’t you going to schedule that appointment right now?

No?

Much to my chagrin, folks who use this argument are rarely happy upon hearing that news, and none of them frolic joyously down to their family doctor to get their kids vaccinated.

I suspect this lack of frolicking is because they remembered that the HPV vaccine protects boys against anal cancer caused by the HPV virus.  And then they remember that boys get HPV in their anal canal by engaging in anal sex, usually by penetration from HPV-infected partners who have a penis.

Discomfort with homosexual sex and reluctance to discuss it can cause parents to hesitate in getting their sons vaccinated.

I’m not going to offer justifications about how boys are carriers of HPV so they need to be vaccinated for the sake of their female sex partners, because I think that argument is ridiculous.  There is no guarantee your son with have sex with women.  There is no guarantee your son will have sex with men.  There is no guarantee your son will have sex with anyone.  He shouldn’t be vaccinated for their sake, because we have no clue if “they” even exist.

Your son’s health, like your daughter’s, is worth protecting for its own sake.

 

Any other thoughts or questions?  Anything else you want me to argue? (Except against Anti-Vaxers.  Do I need to pull out my video again?  Because I will.)  Anything you’d like me to write about in future blog entries?  Leave it in the comments!
Until then, stay healthy, and get vaccinated!

~~~~~~~~~~

Fancci is a US osteopathic medical school student in her clinical years.  She hopes to one day open a rural family practice clinic, but first needs to survive the rest of med school and a residency.

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

The HPV Vaccine: Part 2

Within the human papilloma viruses as a group, there is a lot of variation based on their DNA sequence. DNA is the Master Plan for the cell, and it is also the Master Plan for the virus. DNA contains the plans for cell-specific proteins, which are what make things and do things within the cell, and all cells and viruses have their own DNA.

Remember: Different strains of HPV=different DNA=different proteins.

Because of these differences in DNA sequence, some strains produce specific proteins which in true, terrible-at-naming-things Scientist fashion, have been called E6 and E7.

E6 and E7 run around the host cell and interact with some very important host cellular proteins, which, in the same scientific naming tradition, have been dubbed p53 and Rb.

p53 and Rb play vital roles in making sure that a cell does not divide when it shouldn’t.  For instance, a cell could have damaged DNA.  Under normal circumstances, the p53 and Rb proteins are guardians that survey the cell and assess its readiness to divide.  They have the power to say, “Stop!  We are not ready to divide!  Halt at once, and repair our Master Plan!” and the cell will listen, repair DNA, and not divide until p53 and Rb are cool with it.  E6 and E7 find p53 and Rb and physically prevent them from sounding the alarm, so suddenly, a cell that probably shouldn’t be dividing at all is instead dividing like crazy.

So we have cells dividing like crazy, creating masses that aren’t useful to us where they shouldn’t be…Sounds like cancer, right?

That’s because it is cancer!  See?  I knew we could Science this together!

Luckily, not all HPV viruses have E6, E7, or similar proteins.  And most humans with an intact immune system will either completely fight off most HPV infections, or the immune system will beat the HPV into dormancy.

At the same time, though, it is very rare for cervical cancer cells to not be infected with HPV, which rather strongly suggests that most cases of cervical cancer can be attributed to HPV.  Why wasn’t the HPV infection defeated by the immune system?  That may be because the human picked up a particularly nasty strain, but there’s also the fact that some humans don’t have an intact immune system—they could have an inherited immune disorder, or diabetes, or be on systemic steroids to treat a whole bunch of things, or have AIDS…I could literally make a blog entry on reasons why folks may be immunosuppressed.

The particularly nasty, common, high-risk strains of HPV with proteins E6 and E7 are called types 16 and 18.

Due to producing proteins E6 and E7, these strains are much more likely to cause cancer.

There are also two very common HPV strains, strains 6 and 11, and they usually cause anogenital warts.  However, these strains can also potentially cause cancer, and since so many people are infected by them, types 6 and 11 statistically give at least some people cancer.  It’s sort of like how, even though it is extremely unlikely, people manage to get struck by lightning.  There’s just a lot of lightning and a lot of people.  Statistically, someone will get struck.

So that’s the HPV virus in a nutshell. We’ve Scienced the heck out of it!  With that information in mind, let’s discuss the diseases caused by these cellular shenanigans!

Tell Me Why I Care:  The Effects of HPV Infections

Most commonly, HPV can cause cervical cancer.  These same strains can also cause anal cancer, oropharyngeal cancer, and something called respiratory papillomatosis which is a disease that occurs rarely when an HPV infection is transmitted to an infant’s respiratory tract from their mother during vaginal birth.  This means that masses will grow in the infant’s airway that will suffocate them if  not removed by surgery or lasers.

All of these are terrible.  All of these could potentially be a blog entry all by themselves.

However, given that this is the Sheroes blog and Sheroes has a lot of cervix-having members, I’m going to give you a relatively brief, generalized overview of cervical cancer.

Luckily for women of North America and most industrialized countries, we have access to something called a pap smear.

For readers who haven’t experienced this not-especially-fun-but-also-generally-not-too-painful procedure, a pap smear is when a doctor takes a sterile, specialized brush on a stick and swabs it lightly over your cervix. The brush picks up a layer of epithelial cells, the very cells HPV infects.  The doc then sends the sample to a lab.

A technician can put infected cells on a slide, stick the slide under a microscope, take a peek, and say, “Huh, this is not how a cervical cell should look!”

And then they will send the report to your doctor, who will tell you there is something called a dysplastic change.

Dysplastic change is a fancy phrase for “your cells look weird”.  However, in a woman who has had proper screening at regular intervals throughout her adult life, this is probably not a cause to panic right away since the change has probably been caught early. Depending on the individual patient, doctors tend to opt for either “watchful waiting” or something called a colposcopy and biopsy, in which case they’ll coat your cervix with a very dilute acid that makes the HPV infected cells turn white.  They will then take a small sample of your cervical tissue called a biopsy, and send that to the lab for analysis.

If the biopsy does show evidence of cancer, then the doctors can treat it with the usual suspects: surgery, radiation, chemo.

While a treatment plans are highly individual, in general, cancers which are caught early and confined to the surface of the cervix can be treated with a simple outpatient surgical procedure with nearly 100% success, as long as all of the cancer is cut out.

However, cervical cancer has a tendency to spread locally. It can move to the uterus, fallopian tubes, or ovaries.  This development may also necessitate a hysterectomy.  That can be really hard for women to go through emotionally, but again, survival rates at this stage are around 85%.

Even worse, the cancer can also invade nearby structures, like the anal canal, or ureters. One cause of death in cases like these is kidney failure, because the cancer literally blocks urine from getting out, which damages the kidneys irreparably.

In cases this advanced, patients may be offered a procedure that goes by several names, one of them being “hemicorporectomy.”

Dust off your Latin and Greek; we’re going to break this word down:

Hemi=half

Corp=body

Ectomy=surgical removal

…Yeah.

It’s intense.

Let’s take a moment to think about that word and what it might mean for a patient.

The patient’s legs, colon, reproductive system, and lower urinary tract are removed, because the cancer has spread that far.  Doctors recreate what structures they can, but they’re surgeons, not magicians.  It is a radical surgery with radical consequences. It is not done lightly—it is done because the patient will die without it.  Once cervical cancer reaches a certain stage, there is no radiation or chemotherapy that has been shown to increase survival rates.

And some patients still die, either because the cancer has spread too far, or because it recurs.  It is a horrible disease, and while it can be screened for, screening does not help women who without access to regular screening.  Since cervical cancer generally does not become symptomatic until relatively late, cases in unscreened women can be quite advanced, and the consequences can be devastating.  It is estimated that over 4,000 women will die of cervical cancer in 2014.

That’s terrible. The vast majority of these cancers are due to HPV infections and, thus, can be prevented. Luckily, there are two HPV vaccines on the market: Gardasil and Cervarix. Gardasil protects against HPV strains 6, 11, 16, and 18.  Cervarix only protects against strains 16 and 18.

These two vaccines are made from viral proteins produced in bacterial, yeast, or insect cells.  They cannot cause HPV infections because there is no viral DNA in the vaccine. Instead, they stimulate the immune system to respond to the viral proteins, so if the recipient is ever exposed to that strain of HPV, the immune system will be ready to kill the virus and prevent an infection.

How awesome is that?  Get vaccinated!  Get your kids vaccinated!  Vaccines for everyone, less cancer and anogenital warts and respiratory papillomatosis for all!  Heck yes!

Still not convinced? In the next installment, I’ll answer common questions about the HPV vaccine.

~~~~~~~~~~

Fancci is a US osteopathic medical school student in her clinical years.  She hopes to one day open a rural family practice clinic, but first needs to survive the rest of med school and a residency.

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

The Changing Social History of the Photograph

I’m sure we’ve all heard it all before. This generation will be the lost generation, because so many of its photographs are treated differently, shared instantly through avenues such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, email, text message, Pinterest (and other avenues I can’t even name, let alone use) – and, if printed at all, are often printed on budget paper with cheap ink. A generation or two from now, who will be able to find grandma’s university graduation photos or aunty’s first birthday party pictures? Should we be thinking about these things?

Recently I’ve been finding myself thinking about the social history shown in collections of photographs. I’ve been trawling through the well-organised photo album collection of one of my aunts, ostensibly to locate photos of some of the family who celebrate ‘0’ birthdays this year, but finding myself thinking about everything in the background instead. With little money and plenty of ingenuity and inventiveness, the legends on the back of Christmas photos show how proud my grandfather was of his young family, and their joy and happiness is evident in their grins as they pose with their trinket shelves and books and tea sets on a sunny Christmas morning. 

Brothers and sisters pose alongside the birthday girl, with a homemade cake in pride of place on a small stool. The whole family lines up along the back of the house, dressed in school uniform, clutching suitcases and schoolbooks. An older sibling comes home from university, and the whole family gets together for a photo. A younger sibling marries, and there’s a photo of each older sibling’s family group with the bride or groom. The passport sized school photograph is distributed among the family, captured forever in the family album. Baby’s first photos are printed multiple times, mailed out to everyone in the family, preserved in albums with the appropriate age handwritten on the back.

When it came to my generation, there are photos of my brothers and me on the first day of school, or blowing out birthday candles, or dressed in cub or scout or guide uniforms. An anniversary means an endless parade of family group photos, each of them getting larger as the years go by. The weddings of my generation include the siblings (my aunts and uncles), or the mixture of cousins who attended.

And then, once we get to the age of the digital cameras, the collections I have access to both grow and shrink. In five years I think we have managed two photos with my siblings and I, one of them less than a month ago. In ten years – well, you might be able to add a couple more. 

Even the background of the photos tells you something. Fashions, in clothing, in food, in cars, in toys, even in advertisements, and road signs, and shop names and sign writing. The wedding or birthday cakes, the candles, the gifts, the buffet menu. The size of the photo, and the shape – whether square or oblong, or rounded corners. 3.5 by 5 inches, or 4 x 6. Even the fading of the colours and the albums they’re so proudly mounted in – all of it tells a story about a place and a time and a way of life.

Why did we stop posing as family groups, and move towards a parade of selfies and candid photos, and group shots with hidden faces and bunny ear fingers? Do we think we’re now invincible, or so completely documented that another photo isn’t necessary? I might remember the family weekend at the beach – but will my niece and nephew? Do we spend too much time in the here and now to look at and learn from our past, or provide a record for our future? Or do we simply not take the time to celebrate who we are and what we’re doing, moving on to the next big thing?

In fifty years, in a hundred years, what evidence will there be of our existence?

~~~~~~~~~

Ratesjul is an avid reader (of almost anything) and keen amateur (emphasis on the amateur) photographer. She loves looking through collections of family photos and hearing family stories – and is in awe of her aunt’s collection of photo albums.

 

Please join us over on the forums to discuss this post!

The HPV Vaccine: Part 1

I’m here today to talk about the HPV vaccine.

I know that’s the blandest introductory sentence ever.  I’m sorry, Freshman Comp professor, but I do have a purpose behind it: most blog entries I’ve read about the HPV vaccine frame it as a controversial vaccine starting from the introductory sentence, and it really shouldn’t be controversial.  I’ve chosen to start out with an innocuous topic sentence to convey how boring and routine and non-controversial this vaccine should be.

Getting yourself or your kids the HPV vaccine should be a no-brainer, and I’m here to convince you of that fact.

First, a caveat:  There are folks who will want to turn any discussion about vaccinations into a “controversy”, because they believe Vaccines are Evil.  There are plenty of other articles debunking them and their thinking, so I’m just going to address Anti-Vaxers with this video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrjwaqZfjIY

Now shoo, Anti-Vaxers!  We have nothing to discuss, here!

Understanding the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)

The discussion of the virus is going to involve Science.  Trust me, even if you are Science-adverse, you are smart, and you can handle this!  Just hang with me and we’ll get through the Science together!

Okay, onward!  To the Science!

The human papilloma virus is, as the name implies, a virus.  It’s a pretty hardy little guy that can survive heat, drying, and some kinds of disinfectants, so if it gets on a surface,  it will probably stick around for a while and remain infective.  Most viruses are transmitted by skin-to-skin contact, but the fact that HPV is so resilient does make it difficult to prevent transmission.  For instance, scratching a wart and then touching a cut on a different part of your skin can transmit HPV from the wart to your fingernail to the cells at the cut.  Similarly, if someone gets HPV on their hands and it gets on the outside of a condom while the human is applying a condom during safe sex, the HPV can be transmitted to their sexual partner from the condom.  Fortunately transmission of the virus via an inanimate object (whether a condom, fingernail, or table)does not appear to be super common, but it is possible. So condoms (and other safe-sex barrier methods) have some use in reducing the spread of HPV, but they don’t completely eliminate the risk.

I mean, condoms are totally awesome in preventing all sorts of other STDs, like AIDS, or chlamydia, or gonorrhea, or pregnancy.  Absolutely practice safe sex and use condoms.  Just know that there are limits to safe sex, and unfortunately, this is one of them.

So moving on, how does the virus actually get into your body and infect you? Normal human skin is really resistant to viral entry, so HPV has to get in by a break in the skin—a scratch, a nick, or a microtear, which is a scratch so tiny you probably don’t even know you have it.  Also, mucous membranes – which cover the penis, vulva, vagina, cervix, GI tract, and anus, among other places –are particularly susceptible to microtears and don’t have as strong defenses as regular skin.  Unsurprisingly, this makes mucous membranes an easy target for HPV viruses.

Once the HPV gets past the top layer of cells in your skin or mucous membrane, the virus enters the basal cells.  Basal cells are constantly dividing and producing new cells that will become your skin cells or the cells of your mucous membrane,  so that you don’t run out of skin and walk around skinless (assuming you managed to not die of a massive infection long enough to walk around).

However, if you have HPV, then during the growth and maturation of these new cells the virus will hijack the cell’s growth process to reproduce itself – even as the cell continues to mature.  Once that virus-laden cell reaches the surface of the skin, the virus is shed off into the environment with its host cell, ready to infect more cells and repeat the cycle.

In fact, a lot of viruses reproduce and spread this way, and sometimes this can be pretty benign– including some HPV viruses.  For instance, warts are maybe kind of unsightly, but they are not going to kill you. Unfortunately, HPV can also cause cancer sometimes, which can kill you.

So, what’s the deal with HPV and cancer? Since when does a virus cause cancer, anyway? I’ll answer those questions in the next installment.

~~~~~~~~~

Fancci is a US osteopathic medical school student in her clinical years.  She hopes to one day open a rural family practice clinic, but first needs to survive the rest of med school and a residency.

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Feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy Starter Kit

I have always loved reading Science Fiction and Fantasy (SFF); I loved exploring what it might be like to live in a completely different world.  At some point I began to realize that the genres I loved didn’t always love me back. The most respected stories were by men and about men, and women were often not portrayed at all, as in early Asimov, or portrayed in problematic ways, e.g. Heinlein’s women who are incredibly othered.  Newer books may be a bit less blatant, but their portrayal of women can still be really problematic. Female characters often seem like afterthoughts and women’s stories are rarely given center stage.  SFF offers a lot of ways to explore gender, yet a few months ago, when Alex Dally MacFarlane posted on Tor.com suggesting the gender binary should not be the default for SFF, she was attacked.

As a teen I read lots of books that I would now avoid. I read quite a few problematic books. I read what I could find in bookstores and libraries and on my parents’ shelves.  Some of what I read was lovely, but most of my teen reading was really sexist. Books by women and books with feminist themes were not always easy to find. Over time, I’ve figured out new ways of finding books to read so I can avoid these issues. I joined online communities (like Sheroes!) where people talked about feminist books, and I started reading SFF blogs with a feminist focus. But I know it can still be hard to find feminist books that aren’t pushed through the main channels, especially older books.

This post is for people who like the idea of feminist Science Fiction and Fantasy but aren’t quite sure where to start. I attempted to include a mix of older classics along with some newer favorites of mine. These books consider feminism and gender in a variety of ways. There are books that foreground female characters or explore gender and society.

200px-woman_on_the_edge_of_time_book_coverWoman on the Edge of Time by Marge Piercy: Simultaneously dystopic and utopic, this book is about a woman in a mental institution who visit a utopic future. The mental institution is as grim as any dystopia; however, the future she visits is very feminist with roles such as “mother” being detached from the gender of the person performing the role.  The book also explores how women are disempowered and how even people who feel powerless can shape the future.

A-door-into-oceanJPGA Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski: This book uses and subverts the planet of women trope.  The planet is called Shora and the women are purple and have the most awesome eco-tech. The women have a managed ecosystem that provides for all their needs. As someone who studies ecology, I especially loved this aspect of the book. Slonczewski’s Quaker values are very much in evidence, as the main characters attempt to resolve their problems with nonviolence.

41A2XSAMWHLSlow River by Nicola Griffith: All of Griffith’s work is amazing and worth checking out, but this one happens to be my personal favorite. It’s about troubled families and finding one’s place in the world, and also using bio engineering microbes to treat sewage. I love it when the science in science fiction is biology! The main character is a queer woman, who was kidnapped and is now estranged from her family, and must work to find herself again. (Trigger warning: Child abuse)

4b98224128a0b3494b677010The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin: All of Le Guin’s work touches on feminist themes, but this one deals with gender most directly. The book features a planet were the people are physically sexless most of the time, except for a few days a month, when they become either male or female bodied in order to procreate. It is beautifully written.

 

spiritwalker

The Spiritwalker Trilogy by Kate Elliott: This series engages with feminism in a much more political sense than the works I’ve discussed so far, and features more direct discussion of the legal rights of women. This book offers a complex alternative earth, were the ice age didn’t end, the intelligent descendants of dinosaurs are still with us, Rome didn’t defeat Carthage, and, oh, there is magic. I loved Cat, the main character, who is fierce and unapologetic, and has an important relationship with her cousin, Bee.

12974372A Natural History of Dragons: A Memoir by Lady Trent by Marie Brennan: This book is secondary world fantasy about a young woman in a restricted society who wants to be a scientist. The book addresses the obstacles she faces in a very feminist manner. Brennan has a background in anthropology and folklore, which really shows in her world building.

 

cover_red_stationOn a Red Station, Drifting by Aliette de Bodard: This book is a study of two women in power. It’s also an awesome story about a complex family that lives on a space station that makes its own fish sauce.  I find the focus on domestic issues, such as running a household and planning dinner parties, traditionally women’s work, to be very feminist.

 

908311The Female Man by Joanna Russ: An under-rated classic, The Female Man mixes together the stories of women from different timelines, including the female-only society of Whileaway. Russ really focuses on feminist issues like presenting oneself as feminine and saying no to men. This book is postmodern and can be a bit hard to follow in places.

 

Bonus Nonfiction:

51aLzdI9XfL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_The Battle of the Sexes in Science Fiction by Justine Larbalestier: A great history of feminism and SFF that looks at not only how stories have been used to discuss gender, but also the role of feminist debate within science fiction fandom. The history of women participating in SFF is often erased, so I found it very valuable to have this resource.  This book acknowledges that women have always been part of SFF, both reading and writing.

~~~~~~~~~~

Glory is graduate student who studies ecology, history, and community planing. She also spends too much time reading, and loves science fiction and fantasy.

 

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Keeping YouTube celebrity in perspective

TRIGGER WARNING: The following blog post includes discussion of rape, sexual assault, and underage sexual behavior. Please be careful and read at your own discretion.

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Say “YouTube” and what comes to mind for most people are cat videos, grainy home footage of dads getting hit in the crotch with tennis balls and rakes, and comment sections populated by anonymous trolls who are most likely actual Neo-Nazis. What the average Joe doesn’t know, or knows only in passing, is that for nearly two million viewers, many of whom are teenaged girls, the name of the website brings to mind almost subconsciously the word “community,” tacked onto it like a shadow.

The community is comprised, on the one hand, of a group of people who make YouTube videos for a living (“content creators”), and, on the other, of the fans who tune in on a regular basis to keep up with their favorite artists. For these people, YouTube can be a refuge from ordinary life, and a place to make likeminded friends. Most of the time, the community is warm and inviting, and whole videos may go by with nary a racial slur.

In March of 2014, however, the YouTube community was shaken to its core when sexual assault and rape allegations against at least nine high-profile male YouTubers emerged on the blog-hosting site Tumblr. Fans’ reactions to the news typically fell on one of two very different sides of the fence: visceral horror and outrage on behalf of the victims, or a reflexive defense of the beloved YouTubers.

My own response to those defending the rapists and sexual harassers was disgust, and I wrote them off as young, impassioned teenagers who had completely missed the point. Caught up in their own feelings, they were reclassifying the perpetrators as victims in need of protection, instead of empathizing with the young women who experienced sexual assault at the hands of content creators who had age, experience, and celebrity all pulling to their advantage. I didn’t understand how so many responses could be lacking any sense of measured, thoughtful distance from the shocking news.

But then, allegations appeared targeting a YouTuber I followed. Alex Day is a 24-year old white British male, an irreverently funny entrepreneur whose vlogs amplify the comedic element of day-to-day minutiae. He is also, it turns out, an expert emotional manipulator who admitted to coercing young female fans into sexual behavior they had explicitly refused.

Until this past March, I had watched Day’s videos regularly since 2011. When the accusations came to light, I had to actively restrain myself from responding with pity for Day, and redirect my emotions to where I logically knew they belonged: with the victims. Yet I felt a personal sense of betrayal, hurt, anger, and disappointment, including, but going far beyond, a natural empathy and sadness for the young women who were stepping forward.

Why?

Handily enough, YouTuber Anthony D’Angelo uploaded a video in response to the sexual harassment scandal called “The Science and Dangers of YouTube Celebrity” explaining this very phenomenon, which discusses “para-social interaction” as a reason for the knee-jerk desire to defend our favorite celebrities against negative claims. Para-social interaction is a sociology term that can be defined as “one-sided intimacy, at a distance.” Mass media is rife with opportunity for one-sided intimacy to manifest, as it offers viewers at home frequent chances to develop a feeling of community with content creators. The nature of YouTube engenders a seemingly personal connection, blurring the line between performance and reality. YouTubers often vlog from their bedrooms on a weekly basis, and many don’t use scripts. While the intimacy is fictitious, it can feel incredibly realistic.

Over the course of three years of watching his videos, my brain constructed a pattern of fondness for Alex Day, developing something that is, chemically at least, very akin to friendship. I was therefore deeply resistant to the criminal allegations that upset my expected patterns of his behavior. Instead of immediately setting aside my enjoyment of Day’s work and writing him off, I felt both the urge to defend him and a sense of betrayed friendship.

These are false feelings that must be set aside in order to fully support and honor the victims and survivors in the community. As D’Angelo says in his video, the phenomenon of para-social interaction is especially common on YouTube, “which, by its connective and egalitarian nature, puts celebrities closer to fans than ever before.” Such closeness, however, is a fabrication. While we are eagerly watching someone whom our brain has counseled us to recognize as a “friend,” we must always remember that the person on the other side is merely staring into the impassive eye of a camera.

~~~~~~~~~~

Marie is a writer and editor who lives with her feral cat, and, like most people, prefers dance parties to homework.

 

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Hey Adriana! Can we go thrift shopping? Whut whut whut whut

Mackleme
I am a bit of a thrift store aficionado. I can tell you the pros and cons of at least five different Seattle Goodwills and another three Value Villages. On any given day fifty to ninety percent of my clothing is used. I hand out Fossil wallets like Oprah because I just keep finding them.

A lot of people I meet say they have never had any luck at thrift stores and are astonished to find out that most of my clothing is, in fact, used. I get a lot of semi-serious requests to come along on shopping trips to share my mojo. As much as I wish my mere presence made pretty dresses magically appear, it’s really about certain habits.  I have to clear through a lot of junk in one sitting to find that diamond in the rough.

1. The “touch” test. 
Do the rows of knit short sleeve shirts seem to go on for miles? The easiest way to scan through miles of clothing racks quickly is to go by touch. Pull out what feels good. This is going to eliminate a lot of clothes that you wouldn’t be interested in wearing because they’re uncomfortable, and some cool-looking ones you might buy, but would never wear. By feel you can often learn the wear on the item, the quality, it’s purpose and more.

2. Try to get an idea of how clothes will fit by sight.
When I was a wee tween, I could not figure out jeans. I would try on five million pairs in five million different sizes as my body changed, and the hope of finding something mildly stylish that would stay on my butt while covering my ankles dwindled. Then one day I let my mom help. She gave me three pairs and all three fit. I was astonished and asked her how she did it–and she told me she just looked at the cut of the jeans before the size. I started studying my jeans and shirts to see how certain cuts fit better than others on my body. Get an idea of the length of the waistband. Look at the space between the back pockets to  see the size of the seat. Check the length of your favorite shirts. Looking at what fits you now can help you instantly eliminate things that won’t work. Since, at a thrift store, you’re looking at clothes from so many different companies, sizes mean less than they would in a department store or fashion boutique.

3. Don’t be afraid to modify.
I’m not talking major tailoring or completely reassembling clothing, but you can make simple changes to alter the look of an item. Blazer a little too ’80s? Consider cutting out the shoulder pads. That cool dress make you look like a sack of potatoes? Play with its shape; see if pulling it in at the waist (like a tie in the back would do) could make it more form-flattering. Tack on ribbons or a cord to add a tie. Don’t sew? Pair it with a belt!

4. Always, ALWAYS check the washing instructions.
If you know you’re never going to dry clean anything, make sure the item you are buying isn’t dry clean only (or, if it is, consider whether it is worth the money to try washing it and seeing if it holds up). This leads nicely into the next rule which is…

5. Don’t buy it unless it’s just right.
Cool fabric but it doesn’t fit quite right? Gorgeous dress but it’s made out of half inch thick polyester and you sweat enough to fill a small kiddie pool? Don’t go for it. I have made this mistake a billion times where I think an item is cool enough to overcome its faults. It usually isn’t, then you don’t wear it, and then you donate it right back.

6. You can pull off more than you think.
One thing I’ve found over the years is that a lot of items that I thought I might not be able to pull off because they were just a little too bold, odd, or out of fashion, were some that I got the most compliments on. If you think you look good in it, and you think you will wear it, go for it!

Happy thrifting!


Adriana is a microbiologist and aspiring medical illustrator in Seattle, Washington. She enjoys backpacking, hiking, belly dancing and wandering around Goodwills. She lives with her cat Melisande Shahrizai and her fiancé, whom she looks forward to marrying in a second-hand dress.

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Very Specific Book Recs: Bringing up babies

Throughout human history, all over the world, babies have started out life pretty much the same – slimy, squishy, and totally unable to take care of themselves.  Whether their first moments are in a sterile operating room or a tent with a dirt floor, newborns want to be warm, full, and snuggly.  But from that first breath onward, the way adults perceive and treat children varies tremendously between cultures.  As a nanny, I love reading about childrearing practices of all types – it’s a good reminder that there’s no “right” way to raise a child!  Here are some of my favorite books and movies for the baby-crazed.


Babies ‘round the world

12470851How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm by Mei-Ling Hopgood

What it’s about: A journalist and mom combines personal experiences with research to cover childrearing practices from a variety of world cultures.  It’s a quick read with lots of anecdotes about babies all over the world.

Read this for: An overview of styles without any preaching.

Don’t read this if: You’re looking for something comprehensive or scholarly.

 

 

 Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman13152287

What it’s about: An American mom raising her young daughter in France discovers the significant differences between parenting styles in each county.  Interestingly, the common French methods fall well into line with RIE or respect-based parenting, but the French parents Druckerman talks to don’t see their parenting as following any specific philosophy.

Read this for: A personal exploration of French and American parenting styles

Don’t read this if: You’ll be offended that she has strong preferences and opinions about the two philosophies.

 

Cinderella Ate My Daughter by Peggy Orenstein8565083

What it’s about: Raising girls in an era of “princess culture.”  Orenstein discusses the Western focus on pretty pink princesses, early sexualization, advertising to children, and the negative effect on girls. This is easily my favorite book on the list, possibly my favorite nonfiction book of any sort, and I wish every American parent and caregiver would read it!

Read this for: A very readable feminist smackdown.

Don’t read this if: You are fiercely loyal to Disney.

 

Babies, then and now

15594 A Midwife’s Tale by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

What it’s about: A biography of an 18th century New England midwife by historian Laurel Thatcher Ulrich (author of the now-famous quote “well-behaved women seldom make history”).  Martha Ballard kept a daily record of her life and work as a Maine midwife and nurse for nearly 30 years, and, amazingly, the diary has survived to the present.  It gives a remarkable look into the untold history of women’s lives in an era defined by men’s political actions.  There’s an associated PBS documentary which I recommend as well.

Read this for: A scholarly historical work.

Don’t read/watch this if: You are looking for a light, quick read, since it’s long and quite dense.

 

 6114607The Midwife by Jennifer Worth

What it’s about: A memoir of a midwife in 1950’s London – this is the book and the woman that the popular British TV show Call the Midwife is based on.  Worth was a district nurse and midwife in one of the poorest areas of post-war London, delivering babies in often miserable conditions before the advent of birth control or hospitalized birth.

Read this for: A world of bicycles and babies that will make you want to join a convent.  Then watch the TV show!

Don’t read/watch this if: You are easily grossed out by birth, blood, or grime.

 

Bonus! documentary

Babies (2010) babies-documentary

What it’s about: A documentary that follows 4 babies from the US, Japan, Mongolia and Namibia for their first year of life.  It’s entirely footage of the babies, and the simplicity of the format emphasizes the differences in parenting and the similarities in the babies themselves.  You might be surprised at which practices you identify with!

Watch this for: The babies.  Duh.

Don’t watch this if: You will be bored by the lack of narration or plot.

 


Stellata is an infant/toddler nanny living in Washington, DC.  When she’s not baby-wrangling, she loves baking, handcrafts, reading, and museum-hopping.  Online, she is on the Sheroes Blog editorial team and serves as the Sheroes Central rep to the Board of Directors.  Her book blog can be found at The TBR Shelf.

 

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A Faith of Flesh and Blood: An argument for visceral Christian art

Three years ago, at a high school art show, my teacher used masking tape to cover the genitals of the nudes in one of my paintings.  Other students had nude figures in their work, but mine were nude Madonnas, represented dancing, in youth, maturity, and old age, as a parallel with the threefold Goddess.  My teacher told me that she had gotten complaints from several parents; not only had I represented a holy figure “naked and profane,” but she had body hair, sagging flesh, and wrinkles; she wasn’t even a “pure and classical nude.”  It seemed contradictory to me that, in a religion characterized by the humanity and mortality of the main protagonist, the corporeality of aging human flesh could be seen as unacceptable. Christian imagery has always been harshly regulated; it’s run the gamut from the sincerely faith-driven to the blatantly politically oppressive, and all conventional critiques of the institution of the Church apply here.  As with all regimes, art has always played a vital role in the propagation of all the most oppressive aspects of the misogynistic, imperialistic Christianity under which so many have suffered.   This statement functions as a sort of disclaimer, in that the history of Christian imagery, in all of its complexities, is an ocean of study and thought unto itself, and this essay barely skims the surface of those murky and vibrant waters.  As an artist and activist who is also a Christian, and not as a theologian, I’d like to discuss my problem with the insistence on a pristine Christian iconographic tradition.

"Madonna of Choice" by Katherine Cavanaugh
“Madonna of Choice” by Katherine Cavanaugh

In his painting Death of the Virgin, Michelangelo di Caravaggio, a 16th-17th century Italian artist, modeled the dead Madonna after the corpse of a pregnant prostitute who was infamously murdered by drowning and publicly pulled from the Tiber river. The church that commissioned it rejected the piece; the parish objected to the model and to the idea of a bloated cadaver as the holy Virgin.  Official Church doctrine denied the Madonna any bodily humanity; according to those who would see real women condemned for corporeal functions, the Madonna, an “ideal” woman, did not suffer the pain of childbirth or the indignity of an actual bodily death.  Taboos on the mortality of Mary have their roots largely in misogyny; however, Caravaggio was also criticized for giving his holy figures in other paintings characteristics of real life, such as dirty feet.  Social insistence on a pristine Christian iconography, and on a refusal to embrace the Christianity of flesh and blood, has ostracized important expressions of Christian art up to the present day.

"Death of the Virgin" by Michelangelo di Caravaggio
“Death of the Virgin” by Michelangelo di Caravaggio

For example, Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” of 1987, a photograph of a crucifix submerged in the artist’s urine and blood, caused knee-jerk public outrage.  Few seemed to consider the beauty of the photograph and the possible commentary on the beauty of God’s grace through Christ manifested in the most primal of moments, present in all the messiness and pain of living.  Likewise, Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin displays an intrinsically Christian compassion toward the murder victim; by modeling the Virgin on her, Caravaggio relates her suffering to that of the Madonna, and underscores the humanity of both.

"Piss Christ" by Andres Serrano
“Piss Christ” by Andres Serrano

As recently as last year, Timothy Schmalz’s sculpture of Jesus destitute and sleeping on a park bench, recognizable only by the stigmata (the marks of nails on his hands and feet), was rejected by several major American cathedrals (though it was eventually welcomed to the Vatican by Pope Francis).  It seems that many Christians still resist the immediacy of Jesus’ message; we don’t want to remember the desperate, sticky, painful, primal moments when we experienced grace, and we don’t want to acknowledge that we belie our faith every time we fail to see Jesus in all other messy, struggling humans, including those we would rather forget, including ourselves.

"Jesus the Homeless" by Timothy Schmalz
“Jesus the Homeless” by Timothy Schmalz

I actually think that discovery of holiness in the profane is what has made Christianity such an enduring story.  My faith is woven into my mortal flesh, into all my fears and desperations.  When I paint, I try to express this grace. The most compelling expressions of God’s grace come from art of all disciplines, and regardless of how such art is received by mainline ideology, it’s how I come back, again and again, to the beating heart of my faith.

~~~~~~~~~~

Katherine Cavanaugh studies painting at the Rhode Island School of Design; when she’s not doing that, she reads, sorts mail, and answers a domestic violence hotline.  She’s currently abroad in Rome, Italy.

 

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When authors change the story

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Not too long ago, JK Rowling, beloved author of the even more beloved Harry Potter series, confirmed that hindsight is, indeed, 20/20. In an interview for the February/March 2014 edition of Wonderland magazine conducted by Emma Watson (the acclaimed actress who played Hermione Granger in the eight-part Harry Potter film series), Rowling revealed that, if given her druthers, major supporting characters Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley would not have ended up as a romantic couple. Even worse, she went so far as to suggest that Hermione might have been better off paired with the main man himself, Harry Potter.

Putting aside both the fact that this is straight-up blasphemy to Harry Potter lovers worldwide, and the fact that speaking of a kick-ass female heroine in terms of which one of the boy-heroes she should’ve married undermines her important role in the series, there are other, more philosophical reasons why Rowling’s opinions on the matter are irrelevant.

The furor over this situation in the world of Harry Potter fandom brings up really interesting questions about the nature of literary characters and of literature itself, as well as an author’s authority over his or her own works of literature. Is an author always “right” about his or her characters? Can characters exist outside of their text? They are born in an author’s mind, but are they really brought to “life,” so to speak, until they are published and read?

If the answer to the latter question is “no,” as I think it must be (for example, Hamlet would no more exist in the literary canon if Shakespeare hadn’t been widely read and published than the crush I wrote about in my diary at age 12), then, by the same token, characters are contained, or “live,” wholly within the published works in which they feature. What an author says or thinks outside of those works amounts to nothing whatsoever. For example, imagine John Green saying, twenty years for now, “It’s okay, fandom. Ansel Elgort Augustus Waters actually lives.” Do we reinterpret our understanding of The Fault in Our Stars based on the author’s opinion of his own work?

Of course not. While the above is an extreme example, it demonstrates that if authors hold an incorrect opinion about their own books, they’re not granted any more “rightness” than anyone else just because of their relationship to the material. Once a piece of literature exists, its interpretation is passed into the hands of its readers. An author’s opinions may be considered secondary or tertiary or completely irrelevant when it comes to an interpretation. Like any other reader, an author may correctly or incorrectly analyze a given work, even if that work is his or her own creative property.

So when Rowling says that Hermione and Ron might not have worked out together after all, even though there is an (admittedly poorly written) epilogue in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that says that they did, readers are rightfully infuriated. Their vital role in the conversation between text and reader is being ignored, while Rowling is failing to take up her proper place as a reader like anyone else. However, it should soothe readers to realize, even if Rowling doesn’t, that as a reader, she is just as susceptible to wrong or unsupported interpretations of her own text as anyone else.

Harry Potter is finished (as much as it pains me to admit it). Not just finished, but edited, published, and offered for sale in both physical and digital versions. Had Rowling still been drafting the novels at the time of the Wonderland interview, her opinion on the matter would have the utmost importance, and she could have gone home and rewritten the scenes that so clearly demonstrated Hermione and Ron’s growing attraction and affection for one another. However, given that the complete series has been available for public consumption since 2007 (and new paperback editions with gorgeous cover art were just released in August 2013), the content of those books are now outside her control.

Then again, Rowling owns her characters and she can do whatever she wants with them by asserting her absolute authority in published writing that reaches a widespread audience as an obvious continuation of the series. While her interview comments are irrelevant, readers should beware: she could always wave her magic wand and conjure up a new novel in which Hermione and Ron divorce and split their wizarding belongings between them.

~~~~~~~~~~

Marie is a writer and editor who lives with her feral cat, and, like most people, prefers dance parties to homework.

 

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Very Specific Book Recs: Queer ladies who kick ass and take names

We’ve all been in that “I want to read a very specific kind of book” mood and then had to go on a mini-quest through the wilds of the internet to figure out which books might hit the spot. Since books about stompy, badass queer ladies who kick ass and take names own one of the happiest places in my heart, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time searching them out and now have a short list of all-time, hit-the-spot favorites to show for it. So, if that’s the mood you’re in, allow me to shorten your quest! If you want some Stompy, Badass Queer Ladies Who Kick Ass and Take Names (and really, who doesn’t?!), here’s what you should read.

1. Aud Torvingen Books (The Blue Place, Stay, and Always) by Nicola Griffith

blueWhat they’re about: Aud Torvingen, a Norwegian-American ex-cop turned sometime-PI, sometime-bodyguard, and all-the-time-badass, solves mysteries, kills people who need killing, falls madly in love, makes good friends, and tries to deal with having feelings she can’t shut down for the first time.

What’s awesome about them: Nicola Griffith’s breath-catchingly glorious writing, which creates the immediacy of a first-hand experience. Aud Torvingen’s complete and total badassery and amazingness. The well-rounded cast of supporting characters. The attention to detail. The intricate and true-feeling emotional journeys. The everything.

What’s not so awesome: These are some of my favorite books ever, so I’m going to say everything about them is awesome. But you should be warned that not all of the books end happily, some of them get very dark indeed, and the second and (to a lesser extent) third books deal heavily with emotional and physical abuse and rape. (It’s handled very responsibly, but it’s there, it’s disturbing, and it could potentially be triggering.

2. Santa Olivia by Jacqueline Carey

santa oliviaWhat it’s about: Born in a militarized, no-man’s-land, dystopian quarantine zone between the United States and Mexico, Loup Garron uses her secretly enhanced DNA, fearlessness, and general badassery to go on a crusade to get justice for her people through secret vigilantism and competitive boxing.

What’s awesome about it: What’s not to like in a book about a queer social justice fighter sticking it to The Man? The dystopian aspects are well-developed and completely believable, and the writing style is spare, straight-forward, and lovely—modern-day speculative fiction really seems like Jacqueline Carey’s forte to me! Loup and her friends/chosen family are real, complex, flawed-but-lovely people. The plot is intricate and navigates multiple strands of character concerns with seamless grace. And while I generally give exactly zero fucks about boxing,  Loup and Santa Olivia made me care while I was reading this book.

What’s not so awesome: Again, I’m going to go with everything is awesome! However, be warned that there are some sexual assault triggers (again, handled responsibly). Oh, and the ending clearly leaves space for a sequel, but after hearing my good friend’s thoughts on how bad-fanfic-y and strange the sequel is, I’ve decided to pretend that it doesn’t exist.

 3. God’s War by Kameron Hurley

9359818What it’s about: Nyxnissa so Dasheem—a badass, hardass, bisexual war veteran in a country fighting a centuries-old religious war—starts off as a government assassin, becomes a bounty hunter, and is offered a bounty by the government. Then all hell really breaks loose.

What’s awesome about it: Feminist dark-and-gritty-realities-of-war speculative fiction! Planet exclusively colonized by Muslims, most of whom are people of color! Completely badass and heartbreakingly awesome protagonist! Plotting and world-building so intricate that any brief summary feels woefully inadequate. Characters so real that it hurts. Nuanced exploration of gender roles, race, power, oppression, religion, and a whole host of other social issues, all integrated seamlessly into the story and never given easy answers.

What’s not so awesome: The fact that I haven’t had time to dive into the sequels yet? Honestly, I think everything about this book is awesome!  But you should know going in that it is pretty fucking dark, and it is not the book to read if you want an uncomplicatedly happy ending. Sexual violence is also hinted at a few times but always handled responsibly.

 4. Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

ascensionWhat it’s about: A down-on-her-luck woman of color starship mechanic with a chronic pain disorder stows away on a cargo ship whose crew is looking for the mechanic’s metaphysically gifted sister. Interstellar intrigue and action sequences, complicated sibling relationships, and adorable polyamorous romances ensue.

What’s awesome about it: Queer, disabled, completely badass woman of color protagonist! Insubstantial starship pilots! People who might be wolves who might be people! Really hot, really competent, really badass starship captains! Sisters who are really different and can’t stand each other, but still love each other fiercely and will do anything to protect each other! Polyamory!

What’s not so awesome: If you spend more than five seconds thinking critically about the world-building, the character development, the plot progression, or the villain’s motivations and actions, the entire thing will collapse in a heap of inconsistency and “Wait, what??” But who needs to think critically when there are badass poly queer ladies running around blowing things up? Not me!

5. Gossamer Axe by Gael Baudino

790426What it’s about: A 6th-century Celtic harper who escaped from Fairyland discovers that the way to free her lesbian lover, who is still trapped there, is to form an all-women ‘80s metal band in Denver, Colorado.

What’s awesome about it: ‘80S METAL BAND IN DENVER, COLORADO FIGHTS FAIRIES THROUGH THE POWER OF ROCK AND ROLL. Do I really need to say more? I especially love this because heavy metal makes me ridiculously happy, so badass queer ladies being literal rockstars and making close female friends and fighting evil fairies with minor-key power chords is just kind of a trifecta of things that make me happy.

What’s not so awesome: Everything about the way the one major character of color is written is racist and paternalistic. Also, there is a bunch of pretty explicit “Wicca and paganism are the best, most enlightened religions ever!” proselytizing. Also, trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse apply.

 6. Dust by Elizabeth Bear

2353644What it’s about: Two extraordinary women with biotechnologically-derived super powers (and their allied angels) battling it out with their evil, corrupt, super-powered relatives (and their allied angels) for control of a stranded generation spaceship.

What’s awesome about it: Centuries-old, half-forgotten biotech giving rise to a mythos of angels, basilisks, necromancers, knights, and chivalry on a spaceship, all narrated in gorgeous prose. Lots of badass ladies with specialized knowledge of everything from swordplay to science! People with genetically-engineered wings! Asexual and sexual people creating relationship structures together that work for all of them! Nonbinary characters!

What’s not so awesome: The main romance is between women who are biologically half-sisters, and even though they didn’t grow up together and incest is culturally common among their family and justified by the world-building, it’s still a little weird. Also, Dust is the first book in a trilogy, and while the trilogy as a whole ends fairly happily, Dust doesn’t…and the two sequels are not quite as well-written or fun, so it takes a little slogging to get to the happier ending. (I don’t actually mind that Dust doesn’t end 100% happily, but I think it’s only fair to warn you guys.)

 7. The Privilege of the Sword by Ellen Kushner

185867What it’s about: Katherine’s eccentric ducal uncle invites her to court, but instead of giving her the traditional court debut and young noblewoman’s social season she expects, he orders her trained as a swordsman.

What’s awesome about it: Courtly intrigue and swordplay! Katherine’s determination to make the best of her weird, not-what-she-would-have-chosen situation  and carve out an unconventional place for herself in high society. The close female friendships with undertones of feudal vassalage, which are really rare in a fantasy novel about women. Katherine’s innocent and joyous discovery of her own sexuality in a completely no-fuss, “Hey, I think I like those girls! And this boy! Whee, this is fun!” sort of way.

What’s not so awesome: Even though Katherine is bisexual, this is not the book to read if you’re in the mood for queer lady-on-lady action. Also, it deals a lot with sexual assault and its aftermath, and even though they are handled very responsibly, there is an unrelated sex scene later on which sets off all of my “WHOA, BACK UP, THAT WAS NOT CONSENT!” alarm bells, even though the writer very clearly meant it to be a consensual scene.

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Liyana is a queer actor, aerialist, bookworm, and tea enthusiast. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and is confused by the concept of “free time.”

 

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