A Crummy Month for Geek Women

The last few weeks have been a tough time to be a geek woman, heavy with victim-blaming, brutalization and creepy gender-based harassment and lameness on a number of fronts. All of it has been fraught with victim-blaming.

1. Culture and video game critic Anita Sarkeesian, of Feminist Frequency, was terrorized into leaving her home. It’s one thing to call people names over the internet; it’s another thing to write graphic rape threats along with a person’s address. I don’t care if you agree with her, no one deserves that. (But I agree with her.) Sarkeesian does videos criticizing video games from a feminist perspective, and her last one was really good, albeit extremely hard to watch. You barely notice two minutes of violence against women in an otherwise-also-violent video game, but when those two minutes are strung together with 2 more minutes from dozens of other games over and over again… well, it turns your stomach. And it should. Sarkeesian was right, and the misogynistic abuse she has received since merely reinforces that–but people are blaming her for the abuse.

2. Video game developer Zoe Quinn became the target of a concerted campaign to destroy her career, organized by a small group of people pretending to care about games journalism. However, logs of their conversations have been released showing that it was never about journalism ethics–it was always about destroying what those people call “social justice warriors,” who want to see women and minorities positively represented in video games. People blamed Quinn for daring to produce a video game that became popular and used the old “slept her way to the top” gimmick to explain it–even though the journalist she dated did not, in fact, write a review of her game at all.

3. A major comics company hired a porn artist to create a cover for a comic book led by a female character– a book that was supposedly targeted at women. The image the artist came up with was of Spider-Woman presenting her butt like a baboon, yet the company didn’t see anything wrong with it either before it was published or afterward when women pointed out how creepy that was.

4. Someone hacked into Jennifer Lawrence’s phone and got naked pictures of her, then released them to the public. Other stars were also hacked. Rather than blaming the sex offenders who posted or passed on the photos, people are blaming the celebrities who took photos of themselves–often for loved ones. In some cases the photos were almost immediately deleted, so the criminals had to go to some effort to get the photos. If you leave your window open a crack while you are home, it is still a crime for someone to enter your home and steal from you; this is not different from that.

5. The video of Ray Rice knocking his then-fiancee unconscious was released. Rather than focusing on the professional football player who struck a woman so hard she had to be dragged away, much of the conversation has focused on how terrible the woman is for still marrying him afterward. Comments have included how stupid she is or how greedy, with speculation centering on how much money Rice makes. Women suffering domestic violence often convince themselves they are helping the abuser, that they are the only ones who truly understand and love the abuser and that they are worthless and incapable. And abusers often cut off their victims financially–exerting financial control is a common abuse tactic that squeezes off a victim’s options of escape.

Not all of these incidents involve geekery or the geek community at large, but they do all have one thing in common–women were blamed in every single circumstance.

It was Sarkeesian’s fault someone threatened to rape her to death. It was Quinn’s fault people tried to get her fired. It was women’s fault for not liking the Spider-Woman cover, because it’s a comic and they should be used to being sexualized all the time even in work meant specifically for them. It was Lawrence’s fault for taking a naked picture and keeping it. It was Janay Rice’s fault for being greedy.

And they all got called the same crappy gendered insults that women always get called.

What can you do? Sure, you could speak out and take up the cause, but at the least, at the very, very least, at the smallest possible level of humanity, there is this: Stop blaming the victims. Stop finding reasons Sarkeesian or Quinn or Rice or Lawrence deserved it. Stop. Just stop.

It is time to stop.

(And to that end, I’m going to be tougher about moderating this particular post. Normally I’m pretty lenient, but any victim-blaming is not going to be posted here, and if it gets through, it will be removed. Sorry. I’m tired of hearing it, and there are plenty of places you can post that sort of thing to if you like.)

The Frost Giants: A New UND Nickname?

The Sioux nickname issue is over for the University of North Dakota, but it has left UND without a nickname and a mascot.

Last week, UND grad Lisa Monte wrote a letter to the Grand Forks Herald suggesting a new nom de game: The Frost Giants. That’s pretty clever, actually–it’s right out of Norse myth.

Ymir, Frost Giant

Ymir, Frost Giant

The downside might be that people don’t immediately recognize what a Frost Giant is. Someone asked about them on the Herald’s Facebook page, so I got out my “D’Aulaires’ Book of Norse Myths,” an introductory guide to the subject meant for children, and tried to answer the question.

I’ve always loved the book for its beautiful illustrations, made with loving detail in colored pencil by husband-and-wife team Ingri and Edgar D’Aulaire, so I thought I’d post some of the pictures here to introduce others to the D’Aulaires’ beautiful work. I really can’t recommend this book enough.


Ymir and Trolls

Ymir and Trolls

That’s a six-headed troll sprouting from Ymir’s feet, and another male and female jotun (frost giant) sprouting from his armpits.

Ymir Gets Beaten Up

Ymir Gets Beaten Up

Ymir is a bit like the Titans of Greek mythology, really. Here, Odin and his god-buddies are slaying Ymir, and after the frost giant is dead, they build the world from his body. No, seriously, he was that big, apparently. I love how the illustration shows the remnants of Ymir:

Standing on a Nose

Standing on a Nose

As to whether the UND teams should call themselves the Frost Giants, I’m not sure. They’re usually– but definitely not always– pictured as ugly, and they’re usually–but definitely not always– the antagonists of what we’d think of as the “normal” Norse pantheon.

However, they are also scary, intimidating and large, all traits one normally wants in a sports team.

What do you think?

Public Art, Fountains, Terrifying Weather Drawings: A Tour of Downtown Grand Forks

Freezing in the Frozen North

The thing is, it’s actually not always cold in North Dakota.

I generally have to explain this to people who aren’t from the middle part of the continent, because their mental image of North Dakota usually comes from “Fargo.” Which mostly took place in Minnesota anyway.

Neither state is a desolate barren wasteland filled with snow in the summer. In fact, because we don’t get any mediating effect from water bodies it can get unbearably, painfully hot in Minnesota and in North Dakota.

Normally it’s not too bad, but there’s almost always one week where the heat reaches unbearable levels, and reporters start calling hospitals to see if anyone has keeled over from the heat, interviewing doctors to find out what people should do and chatting with vets to find out what humans can do for their pets. And we have pretty high humidity, too, so even breathing becomes a serious effort.

This week of punishing heat often hits about now, toward the middle or end of August.

Except today is Aug. 25, and it’s chilly enough out right now to warrant a hoodie or a light jacket. And the low for today is 44 degrees, if you can believe that! Somehow we’ve skipped right over September and gone right to October, as far as weather goes.

I don’t know why I didn’t wear a sweater today. More importantly, I don’t know how I’m going to explain this one to the out-of-towners.

“It’s not always cold in North Dakota! In the summer, it’s… okay, actually it can get really really cold in the summer here too. … why are you walking away, I thought you were interested in living in North Dakota! They hand out free parkas at the border! Come on! Awww…”

Leaving Jamestown

Just when you thought it was safe to go on the internet, I’m ba-ack!

But I’m not sure how long, exactly, I’ll be back for, or in what capacity. Today is Wednesday. Tomorrow, Thursday, is my last day as staff writer for the Jamestown Sun, and on Saturday, I am moving to Grand Forks, N.D., where I have accepted a job with the Grand Forks Herald as a multimedia content producer.

Even I’m not quite sure what I’ll be doing up there, but it will definitely include social media, video and updating the Herald’s nifty website. It will probably include some writing and photo editing, too! I’m hoping to continue with this blog as well, because writers gotta write, right?

I’m sorry to be leaving Jamestown, where I have worked for four years and where there are so many wonderful people who have been so kind to me and so helpful to the Sun.

My coworkers are truly wonderful people, and every single one of them works hard and yet is still willing to lend a hand when you need it, both in and out of the workplace. They have rescued me so many times–when I needed help moving, when I popped a tire, when I needed a place to stay. This is a wonderful place to work because of them.

Thank you, everyone. I have really enjoyed working here.

Remembering Jerry Kainz

Sometimes it’s hard to say goodbye.

For me, that applies to a lot of things, including shoes. I’ll buy a pair of shoes and, if I like them, I’ll wear them in, wear them out, and then keep on wearing them until they literally start to fall apart. In a few cases I’ve even attempted to glue them back together again just so I can wear them a little more.

I was wearing a pair of shoes a little longer than I should have when I stepped into the Jamestown Fire Department building one evening, and one of the soles had finally given up the ghost, flapping against the bottom of the rest of the shoe and the fire hall floor. I ignored them and looked for a firefighter, so I could get some basic information about a fire that had happened earlier.

It was Deputy Chief Jerry Kainz who helped me out, but not without pointing out the problem I was having with my shoe and teasing me a bit about it. We both thought it was pretty funny, actually–my shoe was flapping every step I took and I had to be careful not to trip on it.

After that, every time I stopped by at the JFD in the evening, I looked for Jerry. Everybody in that fire department is really helpful, but I remembered Jerry because of my shoe. He remembered my shoe too, because just about every time I’d go in there we’d have a bit of banter about whatever shoes I happened to be wearing that day.

And Jerry always knew the answers to all my reporter questions, too, and gave neat, organized answers. How many people were at the fire? How many trucks? What did you use to put it out? Any injuries? Is it totally destroyed? What caused the fire?

I was saddened to hear today that Jerry had passed away yesterday. I can’t say that I knew him very well, but I absolutely can say that he made me smile, more than once. He made my job easier, more than once.

While I never look forward to fires, I never minded going over to the fire hall, and part of that was because I knew Jerry was likely to be there, with both information and a quip about my (occasionally dubious) footwear.

I have since said goodbye to the shoe that prompted the initial exchange. I don’t even miss it.

I already miss Jerry Kainz, though–his quick smile, his knowledge and the ready way he shared them both. He made a difference to a great many people through his work with the JFD–saving homes, preventing property damage, saving lives.

But he also made a difference to me, even with just a smile and a helpful word.

Thanks, Jerry. Thank you.

Election Day!

It’s time to vote in the North Dakota primary election!

Our town also has several nonprimary elections that will be decided tonight, the most prominent of which is likely mayor of Jamestown, but there’s also School Board and Parks Board and City Council. Lots of important stuff, there.

So far, there’s been low voter turnout, so while I obviously take no stance on who you should vote for, I definitely think you should vote!

In local elections like these, your votes absolutely do matter, so go, do your civic duty. It doesn’t take long–estimates are about 10 minutes–and you get a sticker afterward. A free sticker! I know, right? Just for voting!

Go vote!

Review: Didn’t It Rain, Hugh Laurie

Hugh Laurie, known for portraying a talented, bitter physician on “House,” loves the blues, and despite being British, he’s released two blues albums — “Let Them Talk” and “Didn’t It Rain.”

Didn't It Rain

Didn’t It Rain

I’m a bit impulsive at times, so when I saw the name “Hugh Laurie” on a CD on the shelf (yes, I still buy CDs, for I am old), I picked it up, saw the genre, shrugged, and decided it was worth a shot.

Had I thought about it a bit more, seeing the artist’s name on the front cover so much bigger than the name of the album, “Didn’t It Rain,” might have been a bit of a warning sign.

It’s a symptom of what I call “Saganitis,” which is what happens when a writer or musician becomes so famous that his or her name is much larger on the cover than the title of the work–and the work inside hasn’t been thoroughly edited or vetted, because it’s Carl Sagan for heaven’s sake, people will buy it regardless of what’s in it. (I don’t want to beat up on Sagan, whose work was excellent, but at least one of his latter works could have used more editing.)

Here’s the problem with “Didn’t It Rain.” While Laurie is a splendid blues pianist, playing with panache, musicality and just enough messiness for a true-blues sound, his singing is not so great. It’s not that it’s bad, per se–he’s hitting all the notes and nothing is off-key–but he sounds uncomfortable most of the time, as if he’s self-conscious.

The only song on the album that makes this work for it is “Kiss of Fire,” a lovely multilingual duet between Laurie and Guatemalan singer Gaby Moreno that’s based on “El Choclo.” If you’ve ever heard a tango in a movie, chances are very good that it was “El Choclo.”

Laurie’s self-consciousness as a singer works there because of the song’s subject matter–he’s in love with someone who lies to him, he knows it, and he has decided he doesn’t care. And a bit of the English reticence leaks through anyway–after all, the singer knows the relationship is a bad idea.

It’s a great song, but it’s one of the few on the album in which Laurie’s vocals really work. Apart from “Kiss,” the best tunes on the album are the ones in which Laurie plays the piano and lets others do the vocal lifting– “The Weed Smoker’s Dream” (which most people will recognize as “Why Don’t You Do Right“), or  “I Hate a Man Like You,” or “Didn’t It Rain.”

As a blues pianist, Laurie is fantastic–dramatic, understated, insolent, coy, anything the song requires. As a singer, he’s weirdly self-conscious and almost apologetic. That means the album is flawed, but I’d still say the good outweighs the bad, and if you skip past most of Laurie’s singing tracks you’ll still have a good time with the CD.

Help Needed: Songs About Disasters

What’s your favorite disaster song?

I have been chided about not blogging often enough, and I said that once I was done with our upcoming totally-awesome Progress edition (really, it was fun to do this year!) I would start blogging again.

I’m not quite finished, so maybe I can get some help from my audience, if I still have one.

There are a lot of songs about disasters, whether it’s the figurative or the literal kind, and I realized the other day that there are at least a few about specific disasters. There are songs about shipwrecks, songs about storms, songs about wars, songs about hurricanes. There are even songs about the banana disaster. (It was a lot of bananas, to be fair.)

There are at least three songs about volcanoes:

1. Pompeii, by Bastille, which is about, yes, Pompeii, the town destroyed by Mount Vesuvius, so suddenly that a lot of people were buried in ash before they had time to run.

2. Volcano, by Damien Rice. This one seems to be a more metaphorical take on volcanoes, but does include some volcanic lyrics: “You give me miles and miles of mountains and I ask for the sea.”

3. 1816, the Year Without a Summer, by Rasputina. I’ve written about this before, and you probably remember it. Mount Tambora erupted and filled the skies with ash, causing brutally cold temperatures in Europe. It was the Little Ice Age.

What are your favorite songs about disasters? Have I missed any volcano songs?

Saturday’s Terrifying Incident

The scariest thing ever happened to me on Saturday: I gave my parents a perfectly valid reason to say “I told you so.”

I also slid off the Interstate at 75 miles per hour, but hey, perspective, people.

I’m fine, and while my car’s bumper is hanging down on one side, my car is also mostly fine.

Actually, the outcome of the accident was about as good as it was possible to be. I didn’t hit anyone or anything but snow. My car didn’t flip over. I didn’t even have time to be scared or worried, and afterward, I sat in the driver’s seat of my car on the median of I-29 about 20 miles south of Fargo, and thought: Well, huh. That happened.

A deputy arrived about 10 minutes after I called. A tow truck arrived about 25 minutes later and tugged me gently out of the median. Its kind-hearted driver told me my bumper was down on one side, and advised me to ask someone at a local truck stop to help me use a bungee cord to secure it temporarily, so that I could get back Jamestown okay.

I drove slowly to the truck stop and stood in line with some bungee cords; then I asked the cashier if she knew anyone who could lend a hand. The man in line behind me said he’d look at it and that I should wait before buying the cords so I could be sure I was getting the right ones.

He looked; I swapped the cords for a different set, and then he rigged the bumper up.

I went to my board game gathering in Fargo–two hours late–and asked my friends if one of them could put me up, because while I was in relatively good spirits, my taste for driving was definitely gone for the night. Two people offered me guest rooms, so I chose the one with the cat. (It is a particularly beautiful cat.)

On Sunday, my kind host fed me bacon and hot tea and sent me on my way.

The drive from West Fargo to Jamestown was awful. Along the way I saw multiple accidents. One woman sheltered a small golden-colored dog as she walked along the interstate to a waiting car, away from some sort of a wreck. At least one semi truck lay in the ditch, its weight clearly unable to protect it entirely.

Another accident occurred right in front of me, as an SUV from the opposite lane from me slid into the median. Only that unfortunate driver wasn’t lucky like me and his or her vehicle ended up on its side. As I passed, I saw one frail-looking arm push the heavy door up.

I called 911 and reported it, worrying that reporting the accident would cause me to get into another accident, but it didn’t.

It took about twice as long as usual to get from Fargo to Jamestown, but I stopped several times just to give myself a break.

It wasn’t until I was safely home that I realized the true horror of my own position. Before I left Jackson, Minnesota, to return to Jamestown, my parents had told me that the weather was bad and the roads terrible. I told them I’d simply drive more carefully.

Well, it turned out they were right, and now they have earned the absolute and total right to say “I told you so” for at least the next decade or so.

And I’m doomed.