What to Read When You’re Writing

I read the advice of professional writers from time to time, like ya do, and they all have exactly two pieces of advice in common: (1) practice. (2) Read stuff. The thing is, they often aren’t great about telling me what to read, and for years I labored under the general assumption that it didn’t matter overly much as long as you read. But yesterday, my brain hit a save point of sorts where it gave me a cut scene of my reading practices as they relate to my writing, correlating and organizing and generally giving me an “oh, wait” overview.

I was listening to Stephen Jay Gould’s Leonardo’s Mountain of Clams and the Diet of Worms. I have to pick up a reading copy, as opposed to the audiobook, because I apparently do not have the attention span to catch the meaning embedded in subtlety and inferred connections that characterizes Gould’s writing while listening and driving. I have grasped maybe a quarter of what he’s saying. At one point, he poses the question of what the world might look like if China had done the empire building instead of western Europe, and I have no idea if this was an off-the-cuff thought or the point of the essay because my brain immediately screamed, “Ahhhh! That book would be SO much fun to write!” And I was off.

I started building a mental checklist of questions I would need answered:

  • What was the technological leap that made it possible for Europe to do it’s conquering?
  • Would it make geographical sense for China to need the same technology to conquer, and if not, what challenges would they face and given where they were at, what’s the minimal change that would have made conquest feasible?
  • Was a philosophical difference in attitudes towards conquest a determining factor? Who would the lynchpins have been and what would have had to change for them to be successful with a different message?
  • What is the Asian culture that would have been dominant at the time? Would an Asian conquest be more likely if a different Asian culture had won a particular war? How would the dominant philosophy (minimally tweaked for conquest purposes) impact the way that technologically less-advanced native peoples were treated?
  • What diseases were rampant in Asia at the time, and how would they have played out versus smallpox?

This is just a smattering of questions that I would need to answer and/or know more about in order to fix the questions in order to ask better ones once I learn which ones are based on flawed assumptions. I know a fair deal about the conquest record of western Europe post-1400 because I’m an American with a decent liberal arts education, but what I know about China in specific and the broader Asian context could fit in a shoe box. For baby shoes.

So that means, in order to write this story, I need to do some reading. Because I know so little about China, I’ll probably start with popularize non-fiction with strong bibliographies and work my way back to original (well, translations anyway) sources and denser history research. I’ll need to read Chinese fiction and mythology and philosophy. I’ll have to brush up on the finer points of European history to look for the credible lynchpins that make the most sense to change to posit a different world, which probably means reading some personal letters of influential people and doctrine and philosophy that was being produced at the time.

As I was making this laundry list in my head, I realized that THIS is what writers who have made it are talking about when they say writers need to read. This process, of discovery and inspiration and research. So, just to get a discussion started and for the sake of being useful, I’m going to throw some percentages out there on what writers need to be reading.

All of these numbers are bound to fluctuate by where we’re are in the process of working on a particular concept, obviously, and sometimes our background knowledge or the nature of the story means the research reading load has already been largely completed or is light to begin with, so these are just generalized averages.

  • Popular non-fiction along a broad range of categories that we’re loosely interested in. (books, magazines, blogs, trade publications, essays) – 30%
  • News/current events. (not because you shouldn’t read the news, but because you should probably be reading so much that catching up on the news doesn’t take up a vast piece of your percentage, unless current events are relevant to your subject matter) – 5%
  • In-depth scholarly reading on a subject that has sparked enough interest to merit book-writing research. (history, science, letters, historic decrees, old newspapers, philosophy, more in-depth and specific pop non-fic by reputable scholars, classic fiction/plays/poetry that will help you develop the culture/voice/what-have-you) – 50%
  • Writing about writing. – 3%
  • Fiction in genres not closely related to ours. – 7%
  • Fiction in our genre and closely related genres. – 5%

I’m only slowly coming to accept the lowness of that last number, but here’s the thing: reading other people’s fiction in my genre is more likely to inspire envy (or judginess) than ideas. Reading too much of it makes me feel incompetent, too far behind (or superior and lazy). Neither response is productive for improving my craft. And while I can swoon over a well-executed bit of SFF and learn from it’s plot/voice/structure/world-building/whatever, I almost never walk away from other fiction itching to get my ideas onto the page–that energy comes, for me, from great non-fiction and new discoveries.

But I’m only one writer, and not yet a published one at that. How does this list stack up with what you have success with in your own reading to writing life?

UPDATE 4/15: For those of you who don’t read the comments, my co-conspirator in the arcane art of writing genre fiction, Dan Bensen, responded at length, going so far as to put up an excellent blog post answering and providing resources to explore the questions posed on how China might have come to rule the world.

Double Spaces from Beyond the Century

Subtitle: Pointless Crusade #138.

So I love the work of Jenny Lawson, aka The Bloggess, and I read her blog regularly, but I am mildly annoyed at her at the moment. Someone called her on her use of double spaces at the end of sentences and rather than either changing the habit or politely keeping the email to herself, she had to POINT IT OUT on her blog and then REFUSE TO CHANGE. And now I can’t see anything but the double spaces.

*Bangs head on keyboard*

If you are not and never have been either a copyeditor or a graphic design person, you probably wouldn’t notice. It’s a subtle thing, and on websites, I often think assume I’m seeing things, because websites sometimes do weird things with fonts. I’ve experienced font weirdness on my own blog, so I try to be forgiving of others. But once you start seeing it, and once you know that the underlying cause is completely fixable, it’s like having a mosquito whining close enough to drive you insane, but just out of smacking range.

I can’t persuade the Bloggess to change her ways, I’m sure, and I get it. If you’re old and/or learned to type on old technology or with the instruction of old people who learned to type on old technology, the habit of hitting space twice after a period is probably darn hard to break. But does that mean you have to trigger twitching in every copyeditor/typographer who has the misfortune to notice your antiquated habit? No, no it does not.

Why? Because the spacing is insanely easy to fix.

If you’re working in any kind of word processor that has a find/replace function, all you do is place your cursor in the “Find” box, hit space twice, move your cursor down to the “Replace” box and hit the space bar once. Hit “Replace All” and the processor will magically get rid of all those spaces. It literally takes three seconds.

Unless you’re working directly in a content management system. On a related note: someone should get to work on adding a find/replace function to the general WordPress WYSIWYG editor, because that would make my life much more efficient.

Pointless Crusade #137

Can we talk about the phrase “oven-baked” for a moment?

Google definition of "baked"

The definition of “baked” is “cooked in an oven” (with a minimally important modifier, because while you can cooking something via non-dry heat in an oven, it’s not the more common process, so therefore, it would use a term like “oven-steamed,” which I’m okay with, because steaming isn’t, by definition, done in an oven, and using oven as a modifier therefore adds useful information), so can we please stop using the phrase oven-baked to try to make food sound fancier? It’s idiotic.

The only time I’m cool with the use of “oven-baked” is to refer to having gotten high in or by means of an oven, in which case, the phrase is descriptive rather than redundant. And also, at that point, redundant language is the least of your problems. Getting high in an oven sounds like high-risk behavior, so you might want to seek counseling if you find yourself needing to use this phrase appropriately on a regular basis.


I just finished listening to Richard Panek’s The 4% Universe: Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover the Rest of Reality. It is a gripping recounting of the history of cosmology and the birth of astrophysics, the question of the cosmological constant and dark matter, and a wonderful exploration of how we have come to know what we now we think we know about the birth and death of the universe and, more importantly, how we probably don’t actually know anything.

Gripping, I say.

I have a shelf full of popularized accounts of the cosmos – Stephen Hawking, Richard Feynman, Carl Sagan, Brian Greene, Michio Kaku – and every single time I find a new bit of astrophysics / quantum mechanics / cosmology to fall in love with, I walk away both overwhelmed with gratitude that these people are willing to take the time to explain the wild underpinnings of the universe to such as me. And every time, I tell myself I should quit my day job and go back to school for astrophysics, because I am in the wrong damn line of work.

Panek’s book came into my life at a point in time where I actually do have a fair amount of discretionary time, so this time, I followed up the sigh with a little bit of research into the course requirements for an undergrad degree in physics at a few different institutes. I found what I expected to find: I would need to do serious catch-up with the math.

At some point in my life I stopped thinking of myself as being capable of math, and while I muddled through the required classes with Bs and the occasional A, I didn’t both trying to retain the information, so at this point in my life, I wouldn’t trust myself to do much beyond what’s needed for balancing a checkbook or tweaking a knitting pattern.

The internet being what it is and my belief in my own intelligence not being quite as crippled as it was, I started looking for solutions, and as you might guess from the title, I started playing around with the Khan Academy lessons, which are wonderfully done, in my opinion. A pretest plopped me solidly into 6th grade math…not entirely unexpected, but humbling. Slightly confusing, given that I swear I passed calculus by at least the skin of my teeth, but I suppose I haven’t had reason to use it in nearly a decade.

Not to be daunted, I started going through the practice lessons and mastery modules. I’ve been getting things wrong. Less of it because I don’t remember the theory, I’m please to say, but I’m embarrassed to note that most of my wrong answers are because of (a) a lack of attention to detail in the question/instructions and (b) a tendency to make minor calculation errors that come from, guess what? A lack of attention to detail.

At this rate, I’m probably going to die of old age before I get to the level of math needed to manage even an undergrad degree in physics, but I think I’ll keep at it all the same. If nothing else, it will be an exercise in mindfulness, right?

Oh, and in the meantime, a recent discovery about the cosmic microwave background radiation essentially added the next chapter to “This is what we think we know about the birth of the universe and why,” and PhD Comics did a lovely job explaining the significance. How can you read about this stuff and NOT want to be an astrophysicist when you grow up?

The Podcast Nerdtacular

Awhile back I had a great conversation with Dan Bensen, a writer friend from way back who is responsible for The Kingdoms of Evil (serialized online) and Groom of the Tyrannosaur Queen (hopefully coming soon to a bookstore near you). He turned our conversation into a two-part episode for his great podcast. The topic: giving and receiving feedback on writing.

Part 1 – In which we cover many topics in a droll and insightful manner (you know…ish), including finding readers, taking it on the chin when someone doing you a massive favor gives you painfully honest feedback, and other topics that will probably be of interested to writers and beta-readers.

Part 2 – In which we discuss the role of turn-taking language in spoken AND written communication, the nature of the grammar nazi, my profound loathing for the idiocy of people who put pancakes on sticks, and the question of whether it is better to be blunt or to be kind when offering an opinion.

It’s possible that we’re mostly entertaining and informative to one another, but Dan is pretty skilled with moving a podcast conversation along and writes an interesting blog to boot, so you should check out his site regardless of whether or not you’re specifically interested in the fine art of constructive criticism.

Back It Up

I’m updating my writing software right now. I work with WriteWay, which has been a great tool for me for the last three years. I keep getting options to update the program, but today is the first time I’m trying because it requires me to uninstall and then reinstall the program and (a) I don’t entirely trust my registration key to automatically transfer, and who knows where I saved that information when I bought the program? and (b) are they NUTS? They want me to trust that the reinstallation won’t completely mess with my book files?

The update probably needs doing, however, so I’m backing up my files and hoping that I won’t end up wasting my entire writing time this morning restoring them, which means that now might be a decent point in time to talk backups.

The Gmail Approach

I have typically used the handy-dandy “email it to myself” route. I use Google Apps, so I enjoy the massive storage capacity and excellent searchability of having backups in my email. I try to name the files consistently (ish) to include the book title, the fact that the version is a backup and a draft, and a date. I have folders as well because I don’t really trust my memory of dates, so it’s easier to stick everything all in once place for quick reference.

There are some problems with this approach, namely: I’m a spaz, and I ignore my own system more often than not, so FINDING the backups and figuring out which one I need is likely to be a problem for me if I ever actually need to restore something from a backup. I’m also starting to think more about ideal ways to share documents with potential readers, and email isn’t always it.

The Box Approach

One of the services I’ve been introduced to through my regular work is Box.com, which is a real gem for the transfer of large files and a complete honey for version control. Yes, you can use Google Drive to do the same thing, but little secret? Box’s organization system for shared documents is less of a pain in the ass. You get 10 GB for free on a personal account, which I doubt I could ever fill even with multiple versions of all the text files I could generate if I live to be a prolific old writer up to the age of 150.

Also, it gives you the option to share the document via a link with people or to give other people (say, an editor who wants to share notes) the option to upload a new version of a specific file. And it’s an ideal place for dealing with cover art files. I doubt my own need for such complexity at this point, but hope springs eternal.

What about you? How do you back your work up?

p.s. The WriteWay update seems to have worked, registration key and book files in place with no hassle! *Wipes sweat from brow in profound relief.*

Dimensions of Good and Evil

Alignment has been on my brain of late. If you’ve never gotten into role-playing games, alignment is the scale by which the game identifies the moral and ethical stance a character is supposed to take. There are two basic axes: lawful vs. chaotic and good vs. evil. Characters tend to get grouped into these quadrants, with neutrality being a viable possibility on both axes:

Classic Alignment

The system is pretty good for your standard hero journey or typical high fantasy, and it definitely works in the structured boundaries of game play, but it breaks down faster than cheap make-up on the fourth of July when you try to apply it to real people. I think, in fact, that it breaks down nearly as quickly when you apply it to good fiction. I don’t believe this system was ever intended to be an informative or analytic tool for fiction, but I think that trying to design an alternative system for alignment opens up an interesting discussion about the nature of good and evil as well as the kind of paths characters can take to acting on their convictions of good or evil. For the fun of discussion, allow me to propose the following:

Facet 1: Self Interest vs. Greater Good

Self Interest vs Greater Good

Putting self interest and a commitment to the greater good on opposite points of the same axis would rob us of the opportunity to tease out some depth in the way these two critical concepts interact. When characters have the opportunity to experience both intense self interest and intense care for the greater good, you get great hero vs. self conflict, which is not the same as being well-balanced, or neutral, between these two sometimes conflicting notions, which is what that conflict would look like if self interest and the greater good were on the same axis. Constructing them as intersecting axes is more useful for asking, “If I plot out the relative values of these two ideals, what is the shape of the line between them going to look like, and what does that mean for my plot?

Facet 2: Efficacy & Decision Making

Efficacy and Decision Making

Lawful versus chaotic is such a complex concept that I had a hard time teasing out just a few data points worth looking at to try to arrive at a useful metric and I’ve left off a third dimension which probably lines up better with the traditional notion of chaotic vs. lawful. I think the fundamental question behind that dichotomy is whether characters derive their code of behavior from a top-down, external force, or from a bottom-up, internal force. I’m not  yet entirely sure how separate that question is from whether a character is more motivated by self interest or the greater good, however, so I’ve decided to keep that on the back burner.

The aspects of decision making and situational response protocols that I do find incredibly useful to think about are whether a character is more of a gung-ho, intuitive thinker or a “Let’s step back and make a plan” sort of thinker. It’s also important to ask just how active a character is, primarily because this is one of the most critical places where character growth happens. In my reading experience, I have seen far fewer heroes move from evil to good than from running scared to empowered.

That brings up yet another dimension of alignment that matters much more for writers than it does for role-players: change over time. If some part of your hero’s alignment doesn’t shift over time, you’re missing out on a great part of their story that’s waiting to be told.

Trying to categorize the responses is mostly a philosophical exercise, I know. Whack me with a balloon. As a writer, I do still find it interesting and even useful to step back from time to time and ask myself. “What is this character’s alignment?  Are they acting in accordance with their alignment? If they’re acting outside of alignment, do I know why?” Changing up the axes by which I’m classifying my characters has, for me, blown open my thought process about what constitutes good and evil or law and chaos. I suppose that is what happens when you move from 9 possible rough permutations to 81…

What do you think? Any other key concepts you think I’m missing? Am I complicating the question without good cause? Discuss.

p.s. John pointed out that organizing the scales as intersecting axes is deceptive because these variables are all independent, and that it would be much more sensible to display the information as a set of sliding switches. He’s probably right, but I already had the charts made and put it, so hopefully that visual will work well enough for the moment. :)

The Primacy of Practice

I just started reading Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan Saga last week. I started with Shards of Honor which is, as far as I can tell, her first published book. Bujold is a new addition to my lineup of sci-fi/fantasy storycrafter heroes, but her Sharing Knife series knocked my socks off, as did the fact that she has a damn fine record with Hugo and Nebula awards.

As a yet-to-be-published writer, I found a few things comforting about Shards of Honor:

  1. It’s not great. I mean, it’s decent for a first book, but it’s nothing stellar compared to other work of hers I’ve read.
  2. It was only accepted for publication on the strength of the second novel in the series.
  3. She was older than I am by the time she was first published.

I don’t know about the rest of you writers out there, but I thinking being a bookworm who enjoys words as a kid means that adults tend to express high expectations for your early success. I went through a weird paralyzed phase after college when I realized that I had missed the deadline to write a beloved fantasy staple by the age of 18 and I let that bizarre disappointment in myself at not being a child prodigy slow my writing down for WAY too long. The past few weeks have been a good source of inspiration for the process of outgrowing that unreasonable expectation.

It started with a conversation about writing with my friend Jennifer. We’ve both had the realization that there are some stories we have to tell that we don’t have the life experience and perspective to do justice to yet…which I don’t think is quite possible to grasp when you’re so young that you aren’t capable of realizing how much perspective time is able to give you on a situation. Standing on the edge of thirty, I am only just now beginning to get a sliver of a glimpse of the potential time has for improving my ability to see what makes a story worth telling. Makes me excited to see what I manage to write when I get old. : )

The inspiration continued in a friend reminding me of the quote from Ira Glass talking about the creative process. His main point? It takes time, and more importantly, PRACTICE…a point which Chuck Wendig reinforced for me vividly with his recent blog post about writing ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it. All of which reminds me of this piece of wisdom from our beloved philosopher-painter:

Talent is a pursued interest. Anything that you’re willing to practice, you can do. – Bob Ross

The message was crystallized for me in an unexpected way when another friend sent me a link to an incremental web-game about writing. I played around with it for half an hour or so, and I think the challenge of mustering enough dedication to progress will be familiar to any writer. Dedication to putting words on the page is the hard part.

What all of this has amounted to, for me, is a bit of comfort that the best is yet to come as long as I sit my butt at my computer and keep working towards that dream of joining the inimitable Ms. Bujold in the ranks of oft-honored Hugo winners.

Final words of pep: I’ve been awake since 2 a.m. because my body thinks a full moon is a perfectly reasonable excuse to wake me up with an adrenaline rush. I’ve put in a solid day’s work on writing for other people. I feel queasy and burnt out. And I’m going to go write for a bit without worrying about how rubbishy the result is. You might be doing worse or about the same or just barely better, but join me anyway–if you get nothing else out of a tiring day, you will at least have gotten some practice. Here’s a song to get you going…

Not As Micro As You Think

Some of you may know this about me already, but I have a habit of yelling at people on the internet. Why I continue to do this in spite of the apparent futility of smashing sphincter trolls with my hammer of reason is a post for another day, but it makes John nervous, primarily because it can take me a while to de-Hulk after reading a piece of choice stupidity and he receives the dubious honor of listening to me rant myself around to being ready to confront said troll with logic and dignity.

This morning was such a morning. I warned John as he walked down the stairs, “I’m yelling at an idiot on the internet.”

Part of John’s joking response was, “Sometimes I think you’re the man in this relationship.”

I did not say a word, but John knows me well enough to know (a) I am a vocal advocate of avoiding gender segregating language and (b) my look was not one of amusement. I wasn’t going to dignify the joke with a response either way because it wasn’t that important to me, but he immediately launched into the following defense: that comment might have no place in a public forum, but between people who know each other well enough to know that the intent was not sexist, it should be okay to use gendered language in a comic way to reference past stereotypes. He went further to say that when I chide him for a use of sexist language, it’s a breach of trust in the relationship because he feels like I don’t trust him to not be sexist, and he can’t trust me to give him the benefit of the doubt.

His argument and feelings are not invalid. John is a good guy, and taboo-breaching humor is certainly part of what defines close relationships. But there’s something frustrating behind his reasoning and baseline assumptions that I had, until this morning, been unable to communicate to him, which is that he, as a guy, does not understand what it’s like to be under the constant psychological siege that our culture imposes on women. It’s difficult to voice because it’s never one punishable breach: it’s an absolute deluge of tiny infractions. It’s the appraising look, the standing six inches too close, the snide cracks about women who are too masculine in their mannerisms, the catcall, the subtext of an ad, the thoughtless application of power in a million ways that, if you were to explain individually, would all seem inconsequential, but together act like a flight of swallows forming into a massive hand to drive women into the ground.

And people get away with these microaggressions. “What do you mean, sexist? God, you’re so sensitive.” “Grow a sense of humor, it was just a joke.” “Calm your tits.” “Stop over-reacting.” “Don’t be such a bitch about it.” Women are silenced into not calling the real assholes on their bullshit because we’re not allowed to react to the needles that slide under the radar of what’s enforceable under a sexual harassment policy. If we do, we’re put down again using gendered language that attacks an emotional or even a verbal response. There is no escaping this barrage–some of it is innocent in intention, as I know John’s comment was, but a lot of it is vicious and underhanded and characteristic of the scum that feeds on the fecal matter of the lowest scum.

Maybe this is unfair to my sweet, feminist, kind husband, but when he makes a crack that would fall decidedly under the category of aggression if the intent were sexist, I can’t not experience the emotional reaction that is tied to the myriad slaps in the face I deal with every time I walk out the door. John will always have the benefit of the doubt with me where sexist intent is concerned, but that doesn’t mean he’s magically disconnected from what I hear and see in the rest of the world. He’s not an ass for making a gendered joke once in a while either, but he was being a little bit of an ass for insisting on his right to not experience my annoyed look when the shit I deal with as a woman makes me less than entertained by some off-handed quip.

I remained uncharacteristically articulate while I was telling him off, apparently, because when I finished explaining this to him, he said, “Oh. I didn’t realize. I speak with the voice of a thousand assholes.”

It was a strange crepuscular ray in the murk that has surrounded our marital chats about feminism, but I think it sums the issue up nicely. When you use the language of gendered microaggression, you speak with the voice of every other person who uses that language, and your words are festering with the maggots and gangrene of their rotting intentions.

Take that for what it’s worth.

Be a Man

At least three of you just started singing this to yourself:

Probably more. Disney, right? Who didn’t grow up taking some of their most inspirational memories from those singing cartoons? I might smack talk them about gender roles from time to time, but credit where it’s due, they’re not as far behind the times as some, and when they fall short of creating strong female leads, I don’t think it’s for lack of trying. It’s for lack of knowing how to define a strong female because we’re still in the process of defining this paradigm.

The video above, from Disney’s Mulan, is an interesting example of the challenge of gender equality. “Be a man,” the CO tells his troops. “Be strong, be fast, be self-reliant, be deadly.” The lyrics might be a touch more subtle than that, but the training montage isn’t. Mulan is praiseworthy (and also reviled) in the context of the story because she masters this masculine skill set and finds a way to pass.

Feminism has moved, or is in the process of moving, beyond the notion that in order to be given equal power as efficacious human beings, women must become manly in the sense presented in the Mulan clip. I recently came across this preview for a new documentary from the Representation Project:

What a simple notion, that “be a man” is one of the most damaging things boys hear. I don’t know how strongly the research substantiates this claim (sorry, I’m a lazy ranter, but feel free to share relevant research links in the comments), but it strikes me as intuitively valid.

I’m reminded of the story that Plato tell in the Symposium, of how humans were once eight-limbed, powerful creatures, and how Zeus split them in half to make them less powerful. (Search for “four” with ctrl+f in the linked document, it will get you in the right ballpark if you don’t have time to read the entire thing.) They spent their lives clinging to their opposite half, trying to become what they once were. The division of gender roles strikes me as having the same impact–when we limit ourselves and one another by the structure of our chromosomes, we are not complete people. We’re missing out on half of our potential.

This narrative isn’t new for women–we’ve been fighting to be allowed to reintegrate the qualities that have been reserved for men for a while. But I think an important part of the struggle is to acknowledge that women aren’t the only ones who are damaged by a gender dichotomy. We are hurt when the world says, “female things are not good enough to be manly,” but so are men.

I was listening to NPR the other day and some pundit or other was talking about the identity of victimized shame that is part of China’s perception of its relationship to the world. Without even touching on those politics, the pundit said something to the effect that China is hobbling itself with that narrative of being a victim–as long as it refuses to recognize that it has a powerful role, the anger at being shamed by the rest of the world is only hobbling their own progress. A victim is a victim, shame is shame, no matter the circumstances, and I suspect the same thing is true for women–anger at those who still see women as less and as objects feels like shit (something I struggle with constantly), it doesn’t do a hell of a lot to hurt the folks who hold that perspective, and it gets in the way of being compassionate towards the members of the more powerful group who are being harmed by the same narrative they’re using to harm us.

It also makes sense that changing tactics (for me, at least, I realize I’m not at the leading edge of this shift) will make the idea of gender equality more palatable to more men because we’re not just trying to take ground for women and we’re not just offering to share ground with homosexuals. What if men were hearing words like this: “You know what? You have the right to express hurt and pissyness, and you have the prerogative to change your mind too. You are allowed to be struggling to be nice because your hormones are out of whack. You may express that your job is stressing you out, or that you don’t feel supported by your spouse. You can cry. You can crave chocolate. You have a voice in how your kids should be raised. You are just as desirable and strong in jeans or skirts, in plaid or floral prints. ”

The damage runs so deep that it might make little difference. The more deeply a man has been convinced that it’s not okay to be a woman, the less this offer of shared ground will mean, perhaps. But perhaps it will mean enough to enough men that by the time our children are raising children, their boys won’t be made fun of for liking neon pink crocs and their girls won’t be underpaid for their hard work.

So. That’s all just food for thought. I will continue to rant against the idiots who still act as if women are second class citizens (Spoiler alert: Planet Fitness has a polite and thoughtful nastygram headed their way soon). I will, however, be on the lookout for the ways such attitudes are hurting boys and men as well. Maybe trying to take a broader perspective on who deserves compassion and protection from such viciously stupid narratives will make me a little less angry. And maybe taking a perspective of compassion for the dopes who don’t realize what they’re doing to themselves will make them a little less threatened by the notion that feminine characteristics are essential to being complete people.