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Hero Is A Gender-Neutral Word

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This week marks an interesting trend in fashion. Not the runway type of fashion, but the lesser-known superhero type of fashion.

Marvel made the news and the Twitter’s-Most-Wanted List this week for blundering into sexism with these shirts:

This one's for BOYS, because BOYS ARE HEROES.

This one’s for BOYS, because BOYS ARE HEROES.

This one's for GIRLS, because HOLY SHIT, we're in the 13th century!

This one’s for GIRLS, because HOLY SHIT, we’re in the 13th century!

Yeah.

I was not amused. Especially because the reaction from (mostly men, sadly) tended toward the defense that Marvel makes other shirts that aren’t sexist.

Like if they made one shirt endorsing the KKK but no other racist shirts, it would be excusable. Worse were the tiresome comments that people (*cough* women) who were offended by these shirts were overreacting. Because that’s just what we women do, folks. We overreact about silly things like being told we need men to save us and getting groped on the Metro.

Just read the HuffPost article and the comments if you doubt me on the pervasiveness of that defense.

I love Marvel. I do. I lived and breathed X-Men when I was a kid and through my teenage years. But they really stepped in it with those shirts.

Today I got up and ran 2.5 miles. I then walked another .75. Then came home and did a helluva lot of jumping jacks and crunches and lunges and planks and various other exercises. I was dopping around Fitocracy (which is my new favorite toy) when I noticed that a guy in a group I’m a member of had bought a BADASS Spiderman compression shirt from Under Armour. My immediate thought was, “I have to get something like this!”

Except Under Armour doesn’t make the Alter Ego line for women.

I deflated like a flan in the cupboard.

And then I felt a whole other thing. I felt anger.

I try not to let myself get mad about this stuff very often. There’s just so much of it that I would be furious all the time if I let it in. But this week has gotten under my skin in a bunch of different ways, from the weight of so many deaths around the world due to human assholery, nature flexing her muscles, or pure, unstoppable accident to these two seemingly minor incidences of sexism.

John Scalzi wrote an interesting post a bit ago in response to a reader’s question. The post was about women in geekdom, and you can read it here. He talks about both of the reactions I mentioned at the beginning of this post, among other things. It’s a very, very good post, and I suggest you take the time to read it.

Back to the blog title.

“Hero” is a gender-neutral word…or at least it should be.

“She’s my HEROINE!”

Have you ever heard anyone say that? I haven’t.

Ever since I was a kid, I remember the heroines being the ones usually tied up, asleep, or otherwise incapacitated while some big, burly dude got his save-the-world on. Cinderella’s locked in her bedroom, Ariel literally has no voice, Snow White’s comatose, Jasmine’s drowning in a giant hourglass, and Sleeping Beauty’s…well. DUH.

The men in these stories were the ones with the agency. Princes running amok, slaying dragon-witch-creatures or dressing down evil stepmothers or outsmarting pointy-faced sorcerers. The women just sat around. Sure, they might show a brain cell or two and get feisty now and then, but until Mulan, I don’t remember seeing them do much else when it came to Disney.

It wasn’t just Disney, either. It was everywhere. I remember when I saw Terminator and fell in LOVE with Sarah Connor. That was a first for me, to see a woman being heroic. Really heroic. Save the world heroic. Then came Buffy Summers. And the X-Men. And I started to see more. But to me they were always heroes. The word heroine remained relegated to the recesses of my mind, an unfortunate homophone for a hard drug.

New millenium, same old tropes.

Even with the advent of X-Men and Buffy and Sarah Connor, the same tropes are still there. Bella Swan is useless for most of Twilight, and even though Edward has the power to make her able to defend herself (and, of course, there’s THAT — he makes that his choice of whether or not to bestow that power), he chooses to put her in danger in spite of her own wishes.

The new Avengers shirts are just the latest example in centuries of this sort of thing. When I looked into Under Armour expanding their Alter Ego line to include women, I saw that they were working on it. But here’s the thing: why can’t a company (or a movie studio or whatever) have the foresight to simply roll out something awesome like that for both sexes at ONCE? Did no one from the idea’s inception to its execution stop and scratch their heads and think, “You know, it’d be sweet if we did a female line as well. I bet the badass women who buy our gear would love that.” Because do not mistake me: the women who populate Under Armour’s Sweat Every Day campaign are fucking badass women.

Heroes are heroes.

It doesn’t matter if you’re Superman getting your umpteenth movie reboot (which looks AWESOME, by the way) or teacher Vicki Soto who put herself between a crazed gunman and the children for whom she was responsible. It doesn’t matter if you’re Gabe Zimmerman, Gabby Gifford’s staffer who ran toward her when someone opened fire instead of away — or if you’re the female runner on the videos of the Boston Marathon bombings who, when the bomb went off, veered aside to help a man push his stroller just a little faster. Or the two teenage girls out west who lifted a three ton tractor off of their father, saving his life.

Heroes are heroes.

The second big problem with the female Avengers shirt wasn’t the word need. It was the word hero. Because it implied that female and hero are mutually exclusive terms.

That’s not even a little bit true.

I think it’s high time we demand that hero is a gender-neutral word.

UPDATE: Someone from Under Armour contacted me via Twitter late last night after I’d already scheduled this post.

UnderArmourTweet2

I appreciate that they engaged with me, absolutely. However, this tweet shows EXACTLY the crux of the issue: the assumption that women wouldn’t be interested in icons of strength, heroics, and comic books. I responded by telling them that, then reiterating that I am a big fan of the company and their awesome Sweat Every Day campaign. They wrote back once more:

UnderArmourTweet1

Scalzi would probably take a moment to outline the art of apologizing, but at least they’re fixing the issue. I just hope the women’s shirts are as awesome as the men’s.

UPDATE #2: Kristy Lyseng pointed me toward this. The Disney store/Marvel have stopped selling the “I Need A Hero” shirts after a large amount of consumer backlash that landed them on the Top Offenders list of Not Buying It. They still, however, sell the “I Only Kiss Heroes” shirt, which is just about as bad. I look forward to the day where companies will think BEFORE they make, not get shamed into thinking after they’ve created offensive things.

What do you think? Who are your heroes? Have you ever said, “She’s my heroine!” in real life? What makes a hero?

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Amends

This image was selected as a picture of the we...

Get it? Because FLASH fiction? PAHAHAHA. (Image source: WikiCommons)

So, the very cool J.J. Anderson featured me on his blog for my flash fiction writing! Go forth and check out his blog, including the parts that aren’t about me! But then come back. Because I love you and we gots shit to do together today.

Aside from the awesome factor of this gentleman carving out a chunk of his blog for yours truly, there was a moment of head scratching where I thought to myself, “Self,” I thought, “haven’t you written a bit more flash fiction than all that on your Fiction page?”

And then after another moment of head scratching, I thought, “Why, yes. You have.”

Part of it was J.J. attempting to track down a bit of Twitter flash fiction he’d seen and lost in the abyss of The Timeline, which happened to be about killing a chicken. I thought, “I just wrote a blog post about not doing that.” My second thought was, “And I wrote a piece of flash about doing EXACTLY that.” I sifted through the Engine of Search (that’d be Google) and found it. And posted it on my fiction page where it belongs. Which has really nothing to do with this post at all. This post is a whole other thing.

You’re welcome for that ramble.

This post is my ineligible contribution to last summer’s End of the World Flash Fiction Contest, which I ran in July. It was a highly successful and awesome contest, and I had fun creating my own entry just for the halibut. The prompt was, in essence, happenings that occur the day before the end of the world. My preference was for human snapshots, moments that show they don’t know what’s coming — but you, O Wise Omniscient Reader, you do. I hope I captured that essence in this flash fiction piece.

Additionally, this happens to be my 500th post. *nostalgic sniffle*

I thought about doing something extravagant, like tooting a kazoo on YouTube or painting my face with gold. But then I thought to myself, “Self,” I thought, “you’re a writer. Your 500th post could totes be a bit of your writing. You know, the fiction kind. As opposed to the other kind that normally pollutes people’s eyeballs with this blog.”

(I usually don’t use the word “totes.”)

So here you go, gentle viewers. Here’s my little snapshot of the day before the end of the world. I hope you enjoy. And happy 500th postiversary to me!

Fireworks #1

500 posts! What the hell do I write about? (Photo credit: Camera Slayer)

Amends

by Emmie Mears

500 words

I hear the chuffing growl of the engine just as the cherry of my cigarette hits the filter. It’s close, but I can’t see it. But I know what it is.

“Shit.” I stomp on the butt and kick it into the grass. “Shit.”

I come around the corner just as the tow truck lifts my battered Buick onto its back axle.

“This yours?” The driver’s mouth is pinched and puckered like a dog’s asshole, and she spits on the ground before I can get the image out of my head.

“I was just having a smoke. I gotta get back on the road. My kid graduates tomorrow.”

“I’ve already done the papers, Mister. Sorry.” Her hand is creased like her mouth, and it feels like leather when her skin brushes mine as she offers a business card.

“Look. Please? I haven’t seen my little girl in five years.” My fingers jab at the healed track marks at the crook of my left arm, and as the driver’s gaze follows, I pretend I’m slapping a mosquito. “I gotta be there.”

“Maybe you should’ve left earlier.”

I snort a laugh. “Yeah, maybe. Ended up losing my job anyway.”

Her jaw slackens as she takes in my appearance. I know what I look like. Boots like barely tanned leather. Jeans I had to scrape the cow shit off of before the laundromat owner let me wash them. White button down I got for two bucks at the Second Run Thrift Store and spilled mustard on at dinner. Yeah, I know what I look like. Burned out cowboy who took too many do-si-dos with needles.

“Where’re you headed?”

“Austin.”

She nods. Hope tickles my chest.

“Yard’s open all night. You should hit the Texas border by four or so. It’s not the end of the world.”

It’s half past ten. “How much to get my car out?”

“Two fifty.”

Could be worse. Could be five. This way, it’s fifty bucks less than I got to my name.

“Where’s the yard?”

“Five miles down Route 15. Turn right there,” she points. “And just keep walking. You’ll see it.”

“Can’t I hitch a ride with you?”

“It’s not allowed.” She slams the door of the tow truck and tips her hat at me. “Good luck getting to your girl.”

The sun’s long gone to sleep, but the Mississippi air smothers me before I make it a mile. My white shirt soaks through in minutes and clings to my chest.

It’s almost midnight before I make it to the yard. My stomach’s sounding like the tow truck, but I hand over my two fifty-three to the attendant, grab a Slim Jim and a Coke, and snatch my keys from his hand.

“Second row,” he says.

Little Lou’s graduation is at one. I’m gonna make it.

I crank the air as soon as the engine turns over, and it cools my skin and brightens my mood as I speed west.

I’ll be there.

Tomorrow I’ll make things right.

To Be What You Are: Lessons From New York

photo (6)

This weekend, I was privileged enough (okay, I worked me arse off) to be able to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference East for the second year in a row. Last year was an eye-opening experience, and I wasn’t sure what to expect this time, heading into the conference with my agent at my side.

Most of all, when I left DC Friday morning having had only one measly hour of quasi-sleep after a 5 AM pharmacy run, I was looking forward to being just a writer for a weekend. I know, I know. Not the highest of aspirations. But when you work a day job and manage to write full time around your other full time hours, having only one job for a weekend is like a warm spring breeze ruffling your hair. Especially when that one job is the one you love more than anything.

Now, I’m gonna get a little sentimental here for a second. I’ve been to New York multiple times, easily five or six times by now, and still when I get close to the city something buoys me on the inside. I couldn’t help cranking Spotify over to Jay-Z and Alicia Keys singing Empire State of Mind as we crossed under the East River through the Lincoln Tunnel. New York IS the Empire State Building of publishing. If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere. And for me, New York is a city built with books.

Last January, I remember stumbling across the Random House building and seeing the careful shelves of books from floor to ceiling. Like a shrine, like a dedication, like a remembrance, like an homage all in one. New York is books to me. And crossing the river into the city, seeing the bustle overtake us — the song sort of became truth for me.

New York, concrete jungle where dreams are made of

There’s nothing you can’t do.

Now you’re in New York

These streets will make you feel brand new

Big lights will inspire you.

Because as warm and fuzzy and shiny as it might sound, every time I go to New York I feel it. It’s a city born of possibility, of millions of people just trying and trying to get farther, move upward, dream. It’s a city that got hit with heart-rending tragedy and rebuilt. It’s the place where writers, musicians, actors, singers, architects, businesspeople — all these people aching for more — it’s where they go to bring the hope in their minds to life.

It’s not a perfect city. It’s smashed as many dreams as it’s allowed to soar. But it’s the hope and possibility that keeps people coming back, generation after generation.

That’s what I went into the weekend with. Blame my sentimentality on having only an hour of sleep.

One of the first sights that greeted me as I stared out the bus window somewhere around 37th Street was a group of men clearing rubbish from a building. The rubbish they were moving filled gray bags in equal bundles. They tossed those bundles from person to person in perfect, precise rhythm. And they did it with smiles, taking some small amount of joy from their harmonic motions.

Just a small thing, but it’s those small things sometimes that bear witness to something greater. Do what you do. Be what you are.

When I’m at my day job, I do my job well. Everyone has their bad days, and I have mine too. But I try to be what I am in that moment. As soon as I drove into New York, I felt at liberty to be the most authentic me.

image

I could write five thousand words about the weekend. About how amazing my agent Jessica Negrón is in person and how fortunate I am to have someone like her as my advocate. She’s a hell of a woman to have in my corner. I could tell you how we talked into the wee hours about the business of publishing and those intricate little details that would probably bore most people to tears. I could also tell you that we followed the recommendation of some Tweeps and waited over an hour to get into Serendipity’s 3 and glut ourselves on carrot cake and their signature frozen hot chocolate.

Or I could just show you...

Or I could just show you…

I could sit here and write about how great it was to get to know my writer friend Kevin Klein (guys, he’s awesome) better and get to be the sounding board for his pitch practice. Tell you about the Bruce Willis look-alike P.I. we met (whose actual name is James Michaels, and he writes supernatural investigator stories) and how I am still secretly hoping he’ll yell “Yipee-ki-yay, mother fuckers!” in my presence someday. James was a high point for our entire little gaggle — his friendly exuberance and kindness were just over the top and awesome. I could go on about the badass H.E. Goodhue, with whom I had an eerie amount of life experiences in common, from teaching students with Emotional Disturbance (though he still fights that good fight, and I don’t) to traveling around Scotland. He also writes zombie stories and is well-versed in martial arts.

I could tell you about how much I loved getting to meet agents who were kind enough to help me through the Query Trenches, like Suzie Townsend, who is just as lovely in person as I thought she’d be. And how I didn’t quite have the courage to snergle Sarah LaPolla like her client Summer Heacock bade me. Heh. I could try to explain how much it meant to me that my agent’s boss, Gina Panettieri, greeted me with a warm hug and showed an overwhelming amount of enthusiasm for me and my book. Or how nice a surprise it was that Chuck Sambuchino remembered and recognized me from last year’s conference or Twitter or where-the-hell-ever. He will probably never forget my eyebrows, now. Or to hear Don Maass say he was excited to hear that his books had helped me get to where I am in my fledgling career — and that he was looking forward to reading it someday (I’ma pretend he meant that entirely in earnest). Or to chat to Chuck Wendig about superheroes and feminism and the awesomeness that is John Scalzi. (And about this picture…)

And there were heaps of lessons to be learned. From Tayari Jones‘ moving keynote “You Already Have Everything You Need” to Don Maass teaching us how great characters are born. There are any number of things swimming around in my head that weren’t there last Thursday.

Mostly, what I came away with was this:

In an age where publishing is a landscape that shifts as quickly as the San Andreas fault and we connect online more than in person, people are what make this business go. Agent Kristin Nelson talked about how agents and authors are partners, and I want to extend that to everyone in this field as well. Writers, editors, publishers, booksellers, readers, agents — all of us form the web that keeps stories flowing into the world.

People are hugely important. This weekend would have been lackluster without them. Marisol, Steven, Brittney, Renee, Erin, Sara, Rachel, Eleni, all the others I met or got to see again — they are what make New York that place where dreams happen. Brittney came all the way from Alaska; Eleni came from Queens. None of us make it alone.

Today I went back to my day job, and I had two tables of regulars (not even in my section!) wave me over and stop me just to ask what’s happening with my book, none of them having a clue that I spent the weekend in New York at a writing conference. And I realized then that even in the part of my life where I wait tables and sling beers and occasionally spill water on people, I’m recognized for being what I am. A writer. “Oh, here she is! I was telling you about her. She’s an author, and she’s just gotten a book published!” I immediately interjected that erm, NO, my book’s not published or even under contract yet, and this woman shook her head violently and said, “Close enough. It will be.”

For a moment I thought that these people just sort of randomly believed in me, but then after writing through this blog post, I came to the conclusion that they just see the authentic me that spills over, that leftover Empire State of Mind that’s always there even when I smell like woodsmoke and beer. It doesn’t really matter if my feet hurt and I’m exhausted and have spilled ketchup down my front when running food. I’ve somehow learned how to be what I am.

So go forth, gentle viewers. Go back to your world of whatever you make it. Be a writer. Be an actor. Be an artist. Be a musician. Believe in yourself. Surround yourself with people who are as committed to their art as you are to yours. Take risks. Be what you are.

To quote Tayari Jones in her closing keynote:

If you commit to your art, doors of opportunity will open for you.

And try to take a smidgen of this with you wherever you go:

One hand in the air for the big city
Street lights, big dreams, all lookin’ pretty
No place in the world that could compare
Put your lighters in the air
Everybody say “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah”

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