Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why do you write strong female characters? "Because you're still asking me that question." ~ Joss Whedon

The title of this post is a great question and answer about women and how women are perceived. It comes from an image posted on Facebook and I love it! No one ever asks a writer why they write strong male characters, so why ask "why" about strong female characters? Women aren't strong enough? 

Quite honestly, the strongest people I know are women, not to say that men aren't but men generally aren't expected to do everything the way women are. Women are supposed to take care of the family (a seriously underrated activity - a 24/7 job) plus work outside the home and still keep it together to make everyone else happy. I have yet to hear a man speak of striving for a "work-life balance" because men aren't normally expected to shoulder the world. Women need the work-life balance because everything is skewed against them. 

Yes, feminism has brought us a long way and not all in the right direction but the basic sense of women as... less still persists. Women are the foundation upon which society depends upon for its very survival - that may sound dramatic, but it's not. Without the bazillion hours of unpaid largely female labour in the home for the family, society would fall apart. In fact, if stay at home mothers were paid, it would be an $80,000 per year job. Not too shabby. But because "women's" work is unpaid and unrecognized, it doesn't count. This is what society tells us. Society tells us to always put others first in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Be NICE and QUIET. Don't make waves, cooperate. An assertive man is strong but an assertive woman is a bitch. An unnatural creature. And the saying for a woman to be considered half as good as a man she has to be twice as good is true. People take women less seriously. Always have. Hopefully this will change.

And so it comes down to writing these 'new' stereotypes - showing women as they are: strong, capable and tough - I say go for it. I've read a lot of women's and romantic fiction and some of it drives me crazy. The brooding hero, who is damaged and self-loathing and hurts everyone around him because he's a miserable SOB, is a particular pet peeve. Why would any woman EVER love this guy and then lay down for him to wipe his feet on? That's not a heroine - that's a door mat who's even more damaged than the guy. I want a hero who has his shit together because I don't want to be picking up his crap. And I hate to see the "heroine" pick it up. 

I generally stop reading at that part because then I want to slap sense into the heroine AND hero. I'm not sure who I'd hit harder because they both piss me off. And I WISH that writers would stop writing characters like these - they aren't helping anyone see themselves as strong. I mean, yes, I write screwed up characters but they're strong screwed up characters - there's a difference. lol :D

Joss Whedon is a wise man ahead of his time.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Men and Women and Where We Are Now

FYI, this is not a male-bashing post...

I know to many young women that the word "Feminism" is a four-letter word. They deny that they are feminists even though they've reaped the benefits from earlier feminists in terms of choice. I am a feminist but I am not a radical feminist. I believe that men are an indispensable part of feminism and that changes taking place now will extend an olive branch to men. Here is the background on the different waves of feminism starting in the 20th century:
  • The first wave fought for and gained the right for women to vote in the early 20th century. These rights were mostly aimed at white upper class women. 
  • The second wave struggled to obtain the right for women to have access and equal opportunity to the workforce, as well as ending of legal sex discrimination. The time frame for this was the 1960s through to the 1980s and was primarily aimed at white women. 
  • The third wave of feminism (1990s and on) lacked a cohesive goal, and it is often seen as an extension of the second wave. Third-wave feminism does not have a set definition that can distinguish itself from second-wave feminism. The only differentiating factor is that the third wave of feminism included women of all racial backgrounds. 
I believe we are starting to experience the fourth wave of feminism in the 21st century. I believe women’s issues in re-entering the workforce after a career break (for maternity, elder care, disability etc), are the fourth wave of feminism. The difference between this wave and prior waves is that this wave will hold out an olive branch to men, a radical departure from the earlier days of feminism. This wave will improve working conditions not only for women but for men as well.

The kinds of programs promoting women’s interests in the workplace will eventually need to be inclusive of all facets of social and cultural equality for both men and women. The provisions that reduce barriers to workplace re-entry for women will improve the work and professional lives for both genders. The issue is that women are unlikely to make significant inroads in this area without buy-in from the most senior levels of management and the C-suite (CEO, CFO, CIO, COO etc), who are mostly male. Book after book after paper emphasize the fact that if the CEO is not actively, audibly and visibly engaged, committed and devoted to women’s issues for re-entry and retainment, any initiatives to get women to re-enter the workplace will most likely not succeed. 

A company can write all the forward-thinking Human Resources (HR) policies they like but if the corporate culture either overtly or covertly discourages these practices, then HR will have wasted a lot of time and effort on something that won’t happen. In order for this to work, men must be included, be onboard and recognize that what’s good for women, is good for men and therefore is good for the corporate culture, profitability and sustainability in terms of an educated workforce (vis-à-vis demographic shifts, both in age, immigrant availability and the underutilization of women in the workforce) going into the future. If men take advantage of the policy changes meant originally for women, the culture of the organization will change to be more accepting of women re-entering the corporate culture because it won’t be seen as special treatment for women or unfair treatment of men. 

In one information technology firm in Britain, where 80% of employees are male, the company was looking for ways to engage in retainment/re-engagement practices and to help women re-enter employment with the company. The company decided to offer flextime, parental leaves and company daycare for all employees. As a result of being able to choose the full-time hours they work, sick days fell from an average of 11 days per year per employee to an average of 3 days per year per employee. The fact that a high percentage of men were taking advantage of the flexibility, as well as the women, made it easy for the corporate culture to change (less stigma attached to flexible work arrangements and support systems) so that both men and women viewed re-entry policies favorably.

The main factors driving this fourth wave are twofold:

1. profits - studies show that having women in upper management and C-suite positions have a direct positive impact on profits, increasing by as much as 35% as compared to traditionally male upper management models

2. demographics - within this area there are two main issues that will occur in the next 5-10 years as baby boomers start to retire. This will leave large skill gaps that will be difficult to fill with fewer people in Gen X and Gen Y.
  • the cohorts following the baby boomers (Gen X & Y or the Millenials) have a different set of values than the previous generations. They are more interested in a work-life balance than their predecessors and will not be willing to give up their lives to work. They know how to set boundaries around what they want and will fight for them.
  • immigration will no longer be a reliable source of talent. The reasoning behind this are the emerging economic giants of China and India. As the middle class grows in Asia, fewer people will feel the need to immigrate to find economic success. Why leave your country, your family and your traditions if you can have a satisfying life where you are? This is more of an issue in America because immigration quotas after 9/11 were slashed but Canada and other traditional destinations for immigrants will be affected. 
So despite the economic climate now, especially in the Eurozone and America (and to a much lesser extent Canada, where good governance and strict banking regulations have produced one of the most economically stable countries in the world and the most stable banking system in the world), there will be a skills shortage in 5-10 years. How are we going to bridge this skills gap?

The answer is women. Women who have for any number of reason who have taken a career break (off-ramped) and want to return to the workforce (on-ramp). Out of the women who off-ramp, 93% want to return to work. Of those 93% only 30% actually find employment in line with their previous positions. Of those 93%, 95% would not seek re-employment with their former employer, implying a lack of support for women within that culture. Women with MBAs and degrees work part time in Walmart because much of the business world somehow thinks that taking a break means losing your mind. And if women do manage to re-enter their previous field, their earnings drop by 30% or more. This is a collosal waste of talent. Progressive companies like Deloitte, KPMG, TD Bank Group, Telus, Verizon etc have made re-engaging (and retaining) women after a break a priority. They have offered flexible solutions so that women can return to paid work. These flexible options are shared by everyone, including men, in the company.

Men and women both will benefit from initiatives to re-engage and retain women in the workplace. Men who are encouraged to take part in all the programs available to women become the biggest proponents of the initiatives.

I believe this is the fourth wave of feminism. The wave where we finally, FINALLY, acknowledge that men are a vital part of better work environments, a better world, for everyone. This is the wave where we can bring it all together. Feminism until this point has done somewhat of a disservice to women: they said that women could have it all and the "superwoman" myth came into being. Women are burnt out trying to be all things to all people. We need men to participate and benefit from all initiatives. The result will be a better, more egalitarian, world.

Women make up 51% of the population but we are nowhere near these numbers in various industries such as publishing and media, which play a large and growing part in how women are perceived and how they feel about themselves, nor are we represented in elected government positions in the numbers that would approach demographic realities. Men make up the agenda with little, if any, input from women. Our voices and our interests must be heard and heeded - it will make for a better world for everyone.

Just my two cents after doing a project for seven weeks on this subject matter.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Sunrise Today

Come and take a look at the pictures for Sunrise today :)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Just Give Me Time...

This past week was good. I finished a course I was taking, I received some good news on the health front and I received some much needed news yesterday. I just hope I ended the call before I started my happy dance, complete with a small shriek. I even rewarded myself with a hamburger and fries yesterday for the first time in four years. Although, I'm pretty sure grease leached out of my skin and my blood coagulated temporarily. :) It's been a while since things have gone my way and I think I've paid my dues and earned the little triumphs of the past week.

I'm not going to go into details but it's been a difficult few years (okay, so maybe it has been a decade or so). I have put so much work into looking for answers in what seemed to be all the wrong places. But each wrong answer filled in a piece of the puzzle that has lead me to be in a few right places for answers. The point of all this is that answers, most answers, do not come easily but they eventually may come if you keep chipping away at them. 

Three years ago, I blogged about the meaning of "no" ( Looking back, it's still true. My premise was and is that "no" isn't always a concrete barrier stretching up ten miles high when searching for answers. Sometimes 'no" is just the universe's way of telling you to try another way, go another route or you're asking the wrong questions. As the saying goes, a well-defined question is half of the answer. The last words in the post were, "Take responsibility for yourself. Trust yourself. Trust your instincts and intuitions...'No', in most cases, is an opinion, not a decree." It has taken time and energy and now I seem to be reaping at least some of the rewards of my persistence - I'm not where I want to be yet but I will get "there" in one form or another. But we're never completely where we want to be, no matter what our situation. There are no instant answers; instant answers are so often the wrong answers. But there are answers, sometimes in the most unexpected of places.

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was compelled to roll an immense boulder up a hill as a punishment, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. I think we mere mortals can do a better job. Yes, the rock may roll back down the hill every damn day but every once in a while, it crests the top of the hill and stays there. Maybe my middle name should have been Sisyphus because it seems I have always been rolling one rock or another up some or another hill only to have it roll back and flatten me. But apparently not this week - those boulders are staying put. For now, anyway.  

So yay! A couple big questions answered plus an accomplishment. Just another day in the life. So now, I'll have other boulders to roll up hills until I find more answers. The answers will not be instant, they may even be 'no' but they're just rocks, really, and rocks aren't known for being immensely smart anyway. They will give up their secrets sooner or later. I will move my mountains. :)

Just give me time...

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Every day I count wasted in which there has been no dancing ~ Nietzsche

I've been coming to a single conclusion for the past while. Life is too short.

Life is too short to hold grudges.
Life is too short to let your last words be harsh ones.
Life is too short to waste your breath on dead causes.
Life is too short not to go for what you want.
Life is too short for bitterness.
Life is too short for hate.
Life is too short for unending anger.
Life is too damn short to hang onto past hurts.
Life is too short for regrets.
Life is too short not to grasp love when it's near.
Life is too short for drama.
Life is too short not to laugh every day.
Life is too short not to dance every day of your life.

I hope you dance. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

It Goes Both Ways

For the writers amongst you, I have a question. Do you ever pick up bad language or attitudes from your characters? As nuts as it sounds, I do. When I get toward the end of a book, heading towards and through the black moment and climax, my characters swear. A lot. And it's not "fudge-buckets" or "sugar."

Some writers will tell you that they are completely separate entities from their characters, having no bearing on the writer him or herself. I think that's garbage. Characters are a part of the writers who create them. Somewhere inside the writer, a part of this character that we have identified with is running amuck. No, the writer is not the character but the character is a facet of the writer. You wouldn't be able to write convincing characters if you didn't identify with the little terrors to some extent.

So I hit the 'do or die' part of my current WIP last week and since then, well, it's a good thing that I live alone. I am swearing a blue streak and not only at home but in the car, at other drivers. In the grocery store, at missing produce and products and other shoppers (under my breath). It seems that I'm grumbling at everything for the past week. I'm ready to fight. I'm not sure if this is good for my health or not - on one hand I'm venting frustrations but, on the other hand, studies show that profusely negative venting is not good for you - you just become angrier and angrier.

It's a little disconcerting that characters can influence your behavior. But I'm thinking I'm not alone in this. In between the angry music I'm listening to in order to get the mood right, I am listening to calming, peaceful music to haul me out of my self-induced insanity. And it's tiring. 

I know that many people think that writers perform a core dump and vomit words onto the page, and presto, a novel appears. Writing is the most difficult thing I've done and I've done a lot of insanely difficult (and stupid, let's not forget stupid) things. The saying that writing is easy, you just open up a vein, is entirely true. You pull things out of yourself that weren't necessarily supposed to set foot out of the primordial sludge. Things that aren't nice, aren't pleasant, aren't fun and sure as hell aren't civilized and happy pink thoughts.

It's tough - especially when you set out to make your characters' lives a living hell. Which I do. I've been known to cry, to have to take walks to calm down, swear, shout and on occasion to throw things around (I limit myself to pillows so I don't damage anything). Easy? No. Necessary for writing? For me, yes.

I fully admit that I create screwed up, flawed characters. Who wants to read about a character who has ALL of his or her shit together? I don't and I'm betting you don't either. Is this a tortured part of my psyche screaming to get out? Maybe. Is this a twisted, dark side of myself erupting from my sub-conscious? Maybe. Am I a masochist? At times, I think all writers are masochists. I don't think people generally look at the darkest parts of themselves without a ton of motivation.

So when a character you're reading really gets to you? Makes you angry and squirm uncomfortably? The writer probably wasn't the happiest camper either. Who needs therapy when you can write messed up characters who explore all the dark areas? Just remember, it goes both ways - the character is influenced by the writer and the writer is influenced by the character.


Sunday, February 13, 2011

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times… it’s been quoted so many times that I don’t think anyone really pays any attention to the words anymore. But listen again… it was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It’s still true after one hundred and fifty years or so.
People have wonky memories when it comes to good times and bad times. In truth, the good times were probably fairly good but the veneer of time and distance puts a special happy filter on the good times. And the bad times are probably worse than you remember. Yes, some things are truly awful—losing loved ones, illnesses, divorces, wars, destruction and just feeling that life will never improve. Feeling isolated and alone. You’re in the black hole and you’re never going to see the light again.
People complain about getting older, especially in North America. Here, we are obsessed with youth, dismissing anyone older than thirty as ‘old.’ “I’m old,” someone says in their thirties, forties, fifties, sixties, seventies and then in their eighties. So, I’m just going to say it. YOU ARE NOT OLD. There. Got that off my chest. It felt so good to say that I’m going to say it again. YOU. ARE. NOT. OLD. With one exception—if you give up and insist you are old. Then, yeah, you are. And you may as well die right now. Give up. Go back to the dust from whence you came.
We are all aging. We are on the road to death the instant we are conceived. No, I’m not being morbid. Just very honest. But if you use your chronological age to justify acting like an old fuddy-duddy, then you are doing yourself a great injustice. You cheat those you love of your life. You’re cheating yourself out of your life. What kind of existence is that?
Life is not easy. It never is. It never was. It never will be. There will always be tragedy, heartbreak, illness and disability. Bad things will always happen. That is the nature of life. But beside those bad things are good things. The good things that are made that much better because of the bad things. I think we all forget this when we are frustrated or unhappy or having a shit day at work.
Nothing is going your way, it seems, for years. And it may very well be years. You or someone you love may be sick for years. Not just a case of the sniffles, but something that is chronic. Painful. Debilitating. Financially devastating. You may be unemployed and wondering what the hell you’re going to do when the money runs out. Will you ever work again? And after a while, doubt seeps in and you think no one in their right mind would hire you: you know nothing. To what could you possibly contribute? You’re an idiot.
And you hit rock bottom.
You have a choice.
You can stay at rock bottom, wallowing in misery and the illusion of agedness. It’s your choice. Or you can kick off from the bottom of that ocean of self-doubt and swim to the surface. Not to be trite, or Pollyanna about that whole thing, but things really do work themselves out, one way or another. Something that you thought was the worst thing to ever happen opens a door to a new way of being. That journey is a tough one. No one said it was easy. “Good” is not a destination. “Life” is not a destination. “Bad” is not a destination.  Life is a journey encompassing the good, the bad and the not-so-bad. Because when you arrive at where you’ve been heading for your entire life, you’re dead as a doornail.
So all this talk about “arriving” at your life is crap. What you’re experiencing now? Right now? This is your life. The only one you’re going to get on this earth. You can walk around bemoaning your age, railing against your "fate" (another piece of garbage people use to support their misery) or you can live your life to the max.
I have/had a great-Uncle, whom I never met and I believe is no longer in the land of the living, who went trekking down the Amazon when he was in his eighties. His eighties. That is one man who was never old. My parents are not old even though most of the people I meet their age are old. My parents are busy people, despite being retired for a couple of decades. They go places, do things (don’t ask me what but they’re always busy) and it keeps them young. People regularly think mum is anywhere from 15-20 years younger than she is. She looks great. I won’t tell you her age but, while a majority of people my age are mostly grey, she isn’t.
It annoys the hell out of me, this “I’m old and ancient” crap. One would swear by what some of these people say that they should get walkers and support hose by the time they’re forty. Start lawn-bowling any day. Feed the pigeons in the park. People younger than me are claiming that they’re old. I’m not old, so if they’re old it’s because they’ve chosen to be so.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” is always going to be true for someone somewhere every single day. I’ve lived that saying for my whole life. Nothing is ever perfect. There will always be a fly in your chardonnay. But it’s up to you whether you let that fly swim the backstroke or fish it out and enjoy your wine.