Women in Combat and the Glass Floor

So, this cool thing happened last week.  Allowing women into combat and requiring them to register for the draft have been on my list of things that have to happen before we can say society actually treats men and women equally though, admittedly, not particularly high on my list.  But in listening to the coverage of this over the last week, I’m going to have to admit that I’ve been wrong to brush this off as a low priority item, because it’s clear that the current status of women in the military very elegantly illustrates what I consider to be the biggest problem for female empowerment: the glass floor.

Most people are going to be familiar with the concept of the glass ceiling, the idea that in our current society women or minorities or other marginalized groups can only rise so far before they hit invisible barriers that stop them from going any further.  There’s nothing explicitly stopping them from moving on, no official policy or blatant discrimination, it’s just that he’s more devoted to the job than she is because we notice the time she took off for her kids more than his, or the clients will be more comfortable with somebody they feel like they have something in common with, and you don’t have the right look.  It’s the insidious residue left behind when you’ve solved the big problem of getting everybody to agree that X thing is a problem, but the implications of that haven’t finished trickling through and working their way out.  And sometimes you’ll have people don’t really agree about X thing being problem adding to it, subtly reinforcing the road blocks and barriers.  It’s not something you can easily legislate against, or file a law suit over, or even make people see if they haven’t bumped into it.

The glass floor is the same thing, except in the other direction.  If (for women) the glass ceiling is built out of unexamined assumptions that women aren’t as smart, dedicated, focused, aggressive/ruthless, and innovative as men, the glass floor is built out of the idea that they’re less violent, aggressive, undisciplined, dangerous, threatening, prone to crime, etc. etc.  That women are more likely to behave, be compliant, be virtuous, follow the rules, and so on.  It’s the idea that women are the victims, but not the criminals.  We don’t rob houses, murder strangers, or rape our boyfriends.  And tied up in that perception is an element of assumption that we don’t do it because we can’t, we don’t have the power to do it.

To which my response is: Snrk.  Was I really the only person whose immediate reaction when she heard about viagra was, “Yes! Now women can spike men’s drinks at parties for rapey times!”  If so, that disturbs me, because really, that should have been everybody‘s first thought.  I’m dead serious about that.  We’re not at true gender equality until boys get warned about watching their drinks at parties because predatory women might take advantage of them just as often as girls get warned of the reverse.

I’m used to, when making arguments about the glass floor, having people say, “But shouldn’t we bring men above the glass floor, rather than dragging women below it?”  I will concede that in an ideal world, yes, the things below the glass floor would be out of reach for everybody, rather than available to everybody.  But I’m a practical, cynical creature.  I’m more interested in gender equality than I am in an ideal world free of the icky things women allegedly don’t do, and I’m quite content to ignore the potential ideal world in favor of the achievable goal.

Which is why I was wrong to more or less ignore the women in combat and related draft issue.  The reason women in the military want access to combat positions is because therein lies the path to promotion (glass ceiling) and the reason they haven’t had access to them is because women are allegedly too weak or nice to handle them or because dead female soldiers are somehow worse than dead male ones (glass floor).  The last week has been full of stories of women who are dying, getting wounded, getting captured in combat anyway, they’re falling right through that glass floor, but they aren’t getting the credit for it.  I’ve never served in the military so don’t know whether or not there’s an important but fine distinction getting ignored when telling these stories, but I don’t care.  The point is that right there, in the military, is a perfect, concrete example of the relationship between the glass structures, the way not getting credit for doing the bad things feeds into not getting credit for being able to do the good things.

I should have thought of that before now.  I should have cared more about the problems for equality at large presented by the military structures – especially given the historical relationship between the military and other social changes.  Shame on me, I know better.  I’m not aware of having brushed the issue off in front of a woman who is serving or has served, but I almost certainly have.  So.  Dear people to whom I was an ass: My bad.  I hope you said nasty things about me later and it made you feel better.


Things for which I am willing to pay taxes (probably incomplete)
  • Schools/education
  • Libraries
  • Roads (construction, maintenance)
  • Garbage removal
  • Fire prevention/fighting/investigation
  • Investigation, and prosecution of violent crime, fraud, abuse and threats to public safety
  • The National Guard
  • Scientific research where all data, methodology and results are made available to the public
  • Infrastructure development and maintenance (Mainly updates to the power grid, development of a rail system, upgrades to communications networks)
  • A social safety net which feeds, clothes, houses and provides medical care to anybody under 18, over 70, or disabled, and guarantees, at a minimum, health insurance or equivalent to other people who might want to do things like start a small business.

Things for which I am not willing to pay taxes

  • A standing military
  • Investigation and prosecution of victimless crimes, or crimes where all the victims have willingly consented (I’m looking at you, War on Drugs.  Also, some prostitution)
  • Your religion.  Any of it.  Any decisions based on it.  Any whinging about how persecuted you are as a consequence of it.
  • Rescuing companies that thrive on an unfettered free market from bankruptcy
  • Restoration of American Glory/Exceptionalism/Greatness.

Luc Reid Interviews Me

Since Mondays seem to have turned into interview days around here, now’s a good time to mention that Luc Reid interview me over on his blog about Inclusivity and Exclusivity in Fiction.  It’s part of a series of interviews and articles he’s been doing, and I’m quite pleased he let me blather on about it.  Here, have an excerpt:

LUC: Modern fiction–and some might argue fiction throughout history–seems to have a much more limited cast of characters than real life does, often putting characters who are straight, Caucasian, fully able, neurotypical, relatively young, and otherwise a lot like the typical American CEO or politician center stage. From your point of view, what difference does it make? What, if anything, is there to be gained from having a more diverse range of people in the center of our novels and stories?

ANAEA: I’d specify that modern English-language fiction does that. You get a much broader cast if you branch out into fiction from other parts of the world.

That said, the biggest risk with limiting your cast is that you’ll be boring. There’s nothing wrong with writing about a straight white middle class American male in good health, but you better give me something that’s going to set that work apart from all the other stories about the same character. If you stretch out and write about somebody else, somebody I haven’t read about a thousand times already, you’re starting off on stronger ground.

Check out the whole interview to see what else I said, and the other questions Luc asked me.

It’s a Ticklish Issue

I am not a trained neurosurgeon.  In fact, I have virtually no formal training about how the brain works.  But a background in cognitive linguistics has to count for something, so relax.  Take a deep breath.  I’m strapping you to this table for your own good.  This is just a tiny experiment, I just want to see what’s going to happen, and if you aren’t strapped down you might wiggle and I could slip and that might hurt you.  You don’t want me to hurt you, do you?

That?  Oh, don’t mind that.  That’s just what it feels like to have a saw cutting into your skull.  Nothing to worry about.  I anesthetized your scalp and everybody knows there are no pain receptors in the brain.  Yeah, I hear it feels really weird to have a saw going through your skull.  This will just be a sec, I swear.  There’s just this one part of your brain I really want to poke, and when I do, it’ll all be over.

You’d rather I didn’t poke your brain?  But this is for science!  You can’t really mean that.  You seem perfectly content to me.

There.  That’s the top of your skull off.  My, what a pretty brain you have.  Look at those creases.  Oh, and there’s the spot I want to poke.  Don’t worry; I was once in the room while John Scalzi ate a jell-o brain.  Let me just get my probe and…there.

Oh, it worked!  You’re laughing.  I tickled you by stimulating your brain!  Let me do it again.  You like that, don’t you?  See, this was fun.  I knew those were just token protests and you’d come around to my way of thinking.  Here, I’ll make you laugh some more.  Doesn’t that feel good?

What do you mean you still don’t want me to do this?  You’re laughing.  And, hey, it’s not like you’re going to get pregnant.

The lesser of two…what, now?

Exactly a week ago today I voted in the Wisconsin primaries.  I had a choice: vote for the Republican senatorial nominee I’d most like to see run against Tammy Baldwin – a lady who earned my respect and a fair amount of loyalty for the Executive Branch Accountability Act – or vote in all the local offices where the Democratic primary pretty much decides who gets the office because there is no Republican opposition in Madison.

I am not  Republican.  Nor am I Democrat.  When people ask me for my party affiliation, these days I reply with a simple, “Pissed.”  So there’s a small question of whether I should vote in either of the primaries, since I’m not willing to be a team player on either side.  This question doesn’t bother me at all; I get to vote in one of them and the only question for me is the meta-game one of which one I ought to vote in.

During the 2010 elections, I voted a straight party ticket for the first time ever and felt extremely dirty about it.  I was very much voting against people, rather than for them, and while my traditional response to not having a candidate I approve of has been to write somebody in, the polls looked close enough that I didn’t dare, because one set of candidates was so very much scarier than the other set.

That didn’t work out too well for me.  Or a lot of other people.  We tried to fix it.  That didn’t work out, either.  So there I was last Tuesday, trying to decide which primary to vote in.  A double dip in the recession, or even just Wisconsin lagging in a recovery, could well kill my fledgling Real Estate career of which I am rather fond.  The Republicans are after my uterus, the school system, and have an inexplicable hatred of some projects I rather like (such as trains, and wind turbines).  I have a lot of reasons to engage in strategic meta-game voting to try making them better, or at least keeping them in check.  I have some seriously powerful reasons to hold my nose and do the classic two-party “Lesser of two evils” voting.

Let’s face it: I vote not because I think it does any good, but because nobody in power has any reason to listen to me unless I’m at least willing to show up to the polls and I find bitching more satisfying when somebody has to listen to me.  I have a spectacular record for voting for losers.  Some of my friends have asked me to vote from Romney because they figure it’ll doom him.  But until 2010, I was really comfortable with the idea that I’d never vote for somebody who had a chance.  It’s my little rebellion: I will show up with my vote, but if nobody bothered to be worth getting it, then I’ll burn it right in front of them.  I am not at all ashamed of my streak of petty spitefulness, and it makes this sort of voting extremely satisfying.

Problem is, that sort of voting doesn’t really accomplish much.  Nobody cares about the lone under-30-voter lodging a protest vote.  I’d need a cohort of angry people ready to show up and burn their votes with me and my generation appears to collectively be a sack of lazy fucks who can’t find ten minutes to go draw a few black lines even when they have a two week window to do it in.*  So here I am, burdened with responsibility, staring at polling data, and trying to see all the angles in the political meta-game.

Then I had an epiphany, and it was this: Fuck that.  I’m cynical.  I’m often within a hair’s breadth of nihilism.  Being angry all the time is exhausting, but so is working my ass off on something that isn’t going to work with a bunch of people who aren’t interested in doing the meta-gaming they have to if they actually want to succeed.  At least anger keeps me warm at night.

Given the similarities of the platforms and backgrounds of the Republican senatorial candidates, the strategically correct solution to the problem was to vote for the Republican least likely to win against Baldwin, since any of the likely winners on the other half of the ticket would be adequately acceptable.  The emotionally comforting but less optimized strategy would be to vote for Tommy Thompson because he’s the least scary of the Republican candidates and that limits how bad the outcome of the general election can be.

I voted in the Democratic primary.

To anybody who wants to argue that I need to vote for Obama because a Republican White House would be a scary disaster I say this: From now on, it’s all about me and a book of matches.  Cope.

*This is the nicest thing I’ve said about my generation since June 5.  Seriously.

On Feminists and Assholes

I keep waiting for there to not be something that could be attributed as proximate cause for this post before posting it, but I suspect that’s never going to happen, so just trust me when I say that this is not in response to any particular thing, it just is what it is.

I don’t identify as a feminist.  I don’t just “not identify” as one: I explicitly identify as “Nope, I don’t call myself a feminist.”

I’m female.  I’m firm in my conviction that this doesn’t affect my ability to do anything much past piss gracefully while standing which, outside of very narrow circumstances, is an utterly valueless skill, and that I’m therefore entitled to all the same things as the people possessing those skills.  I’m aware of the fact that this is not, in fact, how the world works and that there are a range of varyingly explicit systematic problems perpetuating the current state.  I don’t get offended if people call me a feminist, and I’ve got some serious respect for the people who are adamant about wanting to reclaim the word from its current associations with radical man-hating boogeycreatures.

Here’s the thing: as far as I’m concerned, I’m an unmarked fully functional adult who goes through life doing pretty much whatever she damn well pleases.  If you’ve got a problem with that I have two options.

1) I could label myself as a feminist to indicate my disagreement with your problem.  Lots of people do, and they accomplish a lot of really good things by doing it.

2) I can point out that your problem with me going about my business as I have every right to reflects on you, not me, and instead of labeling myself, affix an appropriate term to you.  Say, something civil and uncontroversial.  Like, asshole.

I opt for option 2.

Both options have problems.  The first isolates and segments off people who ought to be striving to be mainstream.  The second makes it harder for like-minded people to find each other and have the conversations that need having and generally muddies the waters.  There’s an assumption (valid but hopefully diminishingly so) in the first option that people who are down with equal rights across genders are not the norm.  There’s an assumption in the second option that they are.

I’m not here to say we’ve achieved gender balance utopia.  We haven’t.  I’m not here to say we don’t have systematic problems where women get marginalized, undervalued, ignored, and taken advantage of.  We do.  What I’m saying is this: That shit is unnatural.  I’m calling it out as such, rather than letting it define how I identify myself.  It’s a calculated decision, meant to force reality into compliance with my assertion about how it should work.  For me, this works extremely well.

It’s not enough on its own.  It does nothing to address cultural assumptions that the default is male and the ramifications this has for women for everything from marketing to medical research without any individuals being explicit bad guys.  We need people who spend their time digging into that, identifying problems and their sources, proposing solutions.  We absolutely need a baseline assumption of what’s normal, but we’re not yet at the point where we don’t also need feminists.

Don’t look at me, though.  I’m just a competent human adult, on the lookout for assholes.