Crowd-Sourcing a Cover, Part 2

I received some great feedback yesterday on the first draft of the new book's cover, all of which was helpful even when it contradicted other advice. I'm still torn on the ellipses vs. a comma and the necessity/utility of "a novel," but the big divide seemed to be about the lightning. So, I replaced that storm and stretched the building. Which do you folks like more, Edit 1 or Edit 2? This time, I'll give you the whole cover as it currently stands. You'll have to imagine where the info goes on the spine and the back cover. Feel free to comment here or on FB. Thanks for your help! Edit 1

Full cover edit 1

 

Edit 2

Full cover draft 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ben's New Study/Writer's Retreat/Super Villain Lair/Childhood Dream

You may have had this experience when you were a child. Some adult gave you a piece of paper, probably that kind that has lines on the bottom half and a space to draw on the top half, and asked you to draw/describe your ideal house or bedroom. If you are like me, you drew a castle. With robots inside. And lots of guns and swords and bows and arrows. And maybe a water slide snaking in and out of the windows, and a system of tunnels allowing for easy entry and escape underneath the moat filled with sharks and alligators. The adult did not tell you you could never achieve this dream. He/she did not say, "Um, Ben, that's a dumb idea. The water slide looks structurally unsound. Alligators and sharks probably wouldn't live together like that. I'm a little disturbed by all the weapons. This is a childish fantasy, and you should really get over it as soon as possible." If the adult had said that, we would all think that adult is a jerk.

But the world does say that, and we all accept it. Or most of us do, anyway.

Not me. I say the world is a big fat jerk.

My family just bought a new house. It's nothing too grand, just a cookie-cutter house that's virtually indistinguishable from the other houses on the street. Seriously, we've discussed what kind of tasteful lawn ornamentation we can buy that will help us identify our own house without making the new neighbors think we're too weird.

Inside, I get to be weird. I now have my own study/writer's retreat/super villain lair, and it is a childhood dream come true.

Warning: Some of you may find the images that follow to be childish. That's because you have been given advice from somebody who accepted some variation of the Apostle Paul's decision to become a man and "put aside such childish things." Sucker! The joke is on you! Do you know Paul's life story? He spend his adult life first helping the Pharisees and the Romans persecute and kill Christians. Then he went blind for a while. Then he spent the rest of his life building Christian congregations, getting shipwrecked, heckled, tossed in jail, and writing letters until his previous employers had him executed. But you know what he did to support himself financially while he was building those congregations? He built tents. Do you know what a three-year-old calls it when he tosses a blanket over the couch and a chair? A fort. Now, Paul was a true believer, so I'll bet he didn't look back over his adult life and wish he could trade in all the letter-writing and shipwreck-surviving for more time building forts. I'm sure he was happy with his choices. Personally, I'm a skeptic, so the whole executing people and then being executed thing does not sound glorious to me. It sounds unpleasant. Building forts? Cool.

The purpose of this epistle is not to evangelize for extended childhood. It's to show off the room that makes my wife shake her head and wonder how she could end up stuck with a man who has gone bald and grown a gut but somehow managed to get less mature during their fifteen years of marriage.

I started with a room. It looked like this, but slightly bigger and in three dimensions:

20150225_174433 (800x450)

 

 

Then I painted some lines on the walls. 20150226_015034 (800x450)

 

And more lines. Then I added color to some of the spaces.

20150227_043436 (800x450)

 

 

 

Then I did some sponge painting.

20150228_035344 (800x450) 20150228_035402 (800x450)

 

Yep. I made a castle.

Then some friends helped my bring in my bookshelves and boxes of books. (Thanks to my moving buddies!)

20150301_013021 (800x450)

 

I populated the shelves.

20150306_011259 (800x450)

20150306_011357 (800x450) 20150306_011417 (800x450)

 

My college friends will like this one.

20150306_011650 (450x800)

 

Here's my book with statues of a couple of the characters (the Egyptian gods Sobek and Khepri).

20150306_011827 (450x800)

 

 

 

Here's a couple of my favs. Yoda. And Shakespeare. And Star Wars in Shakespeare's style.

20150306_011856 (450x800)

 

I like turtles.

20150306_011912 (800x450)

 

I think Virginia Wolf described this project succinctly.

20150306_011952 (800x450)

 

Not pictured but included in the room: swords, bows and arrows, guns, and lots of toys.

And yes, I do have a robot.

20150306_012122

 

Is this room ridiculous and childish? Yep. And awesome. Should I put aside such childish things so I can be a normal soon-to-be-40 dad with a mini-van and a fantasy football team drowning his dead dreams in ironic Pabst? Nope. Should I get shipwrecked and tossed in jail and executed by Romans? Hell no! Adulthood blows. Build yourself a castle with a robot. Or whatever you wanted when you were 6. Because it's probably a whole lot more fun than what the world tells you to want now.

Now I'm going to go ask my wife if we can distinguish our cookie-cutter house by digging a trench, flooding it, and populating it with alligators and sharks. Just little ones. Classy, like a koi pond, but capable of repelling very small Visigoths. Wish me luck!

 

 

The Parable of the Good Employee

[The last time I crowdsourced the editing of one of my short stories, I got some very helpful feedback, so let me know what you think in the comments section below!] The Parable of the Good Employee

by Benjamin Gorman

 

When the employee came into the boss’ office, she found him nearly bouncing in his chair with excitement.

“I’m glad to see you today,” he said. “I’ve had an excellent idea, an epiphany, a eureka moment! This is going to be awesome!”

Her shoulders tensed, and skepticism tightened her stomach. Her job was simple. She delivered food and medical supplies to people who needed them. The people came to the entrance to the tent each day, formed a little crowd or a ragged line, and she carried small packages from shelves to their waiting hands. She always carried a suspicion with her, the sense that her entire occupation was a waste. After all, her boss sat at a desk in an office which was just a separate part of the same tent. He could easily rise from that desk at any moment, begin passing the supplies to the people, and she would be unnecessary. Sure, he wouldn’t smile at the people, but how much are smiles really worth?

Her boss was smiling today, and this made all smiles suspect.

“So, here’s my big idea! Today, when we open the tent, the people will be surprised to find that there’s nothing inside!”

“Like, no food or supplies?”

“No,” he frowned. “That would be terrible. No, they wouldn’t see anything. It would still all be here, but they wouldn’t be able to see it. See, we’ll cover the inside the door with a couple big sheets of black butcher paper. Then, when I motion to you, you’ll run and burst through. They already like you. I’ve seen them smile when you arrive. But today, there will be this little moment of worry, and then you’ll appear, and they will love it. It’s going to be great.”

She thought this idea was a great example of the way stupidity can easily become cruelty. The people wanted their food and supplies, not a show. But maybe she was wrong. They did seem to like her smile. It felt good to hear that her boss had taken note of this. Maybe this wasn’t all bad.

So she agreed to give it a try. The people arrived as they always did. They milled about, waiting for the tent’s door to open. But today, instead of opening it herself, she stood back and watched as her boss unzipped the door and revealed the flat, black, paper wall.

The people did not shout in anger. They did not make any of those up-turning noises of curiosity. The silence was disconcerting.

Her boss, now inside his homemade paper wall, raised a finger for her to wait. He held it up until she could feel a full day’s perspiration already lining her armpits. She held a bundle of food under one arm and a bag of medical supplies under the other. They were not evenly balanced, so her lower back began to ache. Finally, her boss spun his hand, urging her forward.

Obediently, she ran at the paper wall. He’d stretched the two sheets horizontally across the tent’s entrance. Her shoulder tore through the one on top, and her knee pierced the other. She stumbled a bit, and that turned out to be a blessing. As she regained her feet, she smiled and laughed at herself. The people saw this grin, knew they were being entertained, and laughed. Then some polite applause broke out, punctuated by a few claps that seemed more than polite.

She handed the bundle of food and the bag of supplies to the first pair of waiting hands, then headed back into the tent, ducking between the torn paper as she went. Inside, her boss was beaming.

“They loved it! Did you see that?”

She nodded. Yes, she’d seen their pleased reaction.

“So cool!” her boss shouted. “I’m going to go call the higher-ups. They’ll love this story!”

She shrugged and got back to work.

The next morning, her boss was actually standing outside his office as she came in.

“Today is going to be even better. I found this old refrigerator box. I cut it into a single sheet, spread it to the posts, and stapled it. I think, if you run right at the middle, it will tear along the seam and you’ll come exploding out. It’ll be great!”

The show had been kind of cool the day before, she admitted. Why not?

So he opened the tent, made her wait a second, and then motioned to her just as he had the day before. She charged at the cardboard. It did split along one seam. Mostly. The cardboard ripped out from under the staples on one side, so after she was through, half of it hung askew behind her.

The crowd was a bit larger today. It seemed the previous day’s show had become a bit of an event, and people had come earlier to see if there would be more. The larger crowd clapped more heartily when she burst through. She was pleased by the response, but she hoped this would put an end to her boss’s theatrical impulses.

She arrived the next day to find a large piece of drywall blocking the inside of the tent’s door. She rolled her eyes and sighed.

“This is going to be the best one yet!” her boss said.

It certainly produced the most dramatic entrance. Dust and tiny flakes of pressed paper exploded when her shoulder and one arm burst through the drywall. Then she had to punch and kick her way through, each time eliciting smaller gasps and clapping from the crowd on the other side. When she finally fell through the hole she’d made, some men picked her up while her boss removed the drywall so she could perform the day’s distribution. The men nodded at her and smiled, but they also raised an eyebrow each, as though showing approval to an alien, and when they looked back into the tent they scowled and shook their heads.

The next day she discovered drywall again, and she was greatly relieved. Her shoulder was a bit sore from the impact the day before, but she felt she could handle it. If the boss had settled on drywall, she decided she would eventually get used to this new obstacle at the beginning of her work day. It would just become part of the routine. She’d learn to live with it.

“I know you can do this,” her boss said. “You’re the best employee a boss could ask for!”

She picked up the usual bag of food (rice, this time), and the box of medical supplies, and she charged at the wall. When her shoulder hit it and it didn’t give at all, her head bounced into it before she was tossed back onto the tent’s dirt floor. The bag of rice hit the ground and split down one side, spilling in a neat half-mountain.

After a second, she rose, rubbing her head. She wanted to scream a handful of obscenities at her boss, but she caught herself. She couldn’t afford to be fired for insubordination.

“What...is…?” Through the fog of pain, she tried to formulate the question without swearing.

“I reinforced it with a 2x4,” he said. His face was contemplative. “It didn’t work, I guess.”

“What...the…?”

“Well,” he explained, I thought it would be a lot more dramatic if you broke the 2x4. You know, a giant ‘Crack!’ Wouldn’t that have been cool?”

She just stood there, rubbing her head and squinting.

“Um, so, I guess I should have told you first,” her boss said. “Look, the reinforcement is right in the middle of the door. Just aim for one side of it this next time, and you’ll bust through just like yesterday. It won’t be quite as cool as I’d hoped, but they’ll still like it.”

He turned around and headed back to his office. As he went, she could hear him mumbling to himself. “I guess I’ll just leave this out of the day’s report. It would have been cool, though.”

Because he wasn’t watching, and because her head and shoulder hurt terribly, she chose to kick a hole in the drywall first. Once her foot was through, she kept kicking and tearing at the space until it widened enough to let her pass. She channeled her anger at the whole fiasco into those punches and kicks, and that made her feel a little bit better. By that point, the people on the other side were not impressed. They shook their heads, rolled their eyes, and harumphed at her as they took their food and supplies from her, and they were still frowning for most of the day because her boss hadn’t removed the drywall; she had to duck through the hole she’d created all day long, and it slowed her down.

The next day she arrived to find a brick wall.

Her boss crossed his arms and puffed out his chest. “I had to stay late to get it done. It took me until 2 in the morning. Nobody can say managers don’t work hard, eh? But it should be dry now.”

“How am I supposed to…?”

“You just have to try,” he said. “I’ve noticed that your motivation is flagging a little bit lately. I know we’ve had a few changes around here, and change is hard for some people, but no one expects you to become a miracle worker overnight. Your mid-year performance review is coming up, and I want you to know that you’ll be evaluated based on your effort as much as your accomplishments. That’s how we do things around here. So c’mon.” He clapped his hands once, then rubbed them together. “Show me what you’ve got.”

She pointed at the food. “Do I need to…?”

It took him a second to understand the question. “The food? No, I don’t care about that. You can come back for it once you’ve broken through. No point in wasting it like yesterday.” He frowned. “I did have to put that in the report, by the way.”

She wanted to say something about that, but she held back. No point, she decided. Instead, she walked to the back of the tent, near the door to her boss’s office, so she could get a running start.

She charged the wall and leapt at it. This time she expected the impact, so, though she hit it with her shoulder and hip, she managed to keep her head from smacking against it when she bounced off.

As she lay in the dirt, her boss looked down at her. “I have to say, you are meeting but not exceeding my expectations.”

She got up and tried to brush herself off. “So, um, should I get to delivering the food?”

He frowned. “What is wrong with you? Of course not. Try again.”

“But….”

“Again!”

Startled by his volume, she ran at the wall and bounced off.

His polished shoes stepped into her field of vision as she lay on the ground. “I can’t understand what I’m seeing,” he said. “This shows a distinct lack of professionalism on your part. Try again.”

She got up. She didn’t bother to try to brush the dirt off. She looked up at his eyes and confirmed the answer to a question she’d been wrestling with. Was he merely an incompetent cog in an absurd machine, or was he a sadist? she had wondered. Now she knew. Yet she stepped back, looked at the brick wall for a moment, and then ran at it again.

This time she did hit her head against it. The muscles in her neck were too tired to stop it from smacking audibly against the bricks. She landed flat on her back and the wind was knocked out of her.

As she tried to suck at the air around her, he stepped over her once again. “And I thought you said you went to religious school. Didn’t the priests teach you anything? It is your moral obligation to obey, and obeying your employer is a demonstration of your fealty to the gods. Now try again. Your eternal soul is on the line here!”

She rolled onto her stomach, then curled into a crouch, her knees pushing her back up, her aching head pressed against the dirt, dust roiling as she gasped for breath.  Then she leaned back and sat up. She tried to stand but fell to one side. The tent spun around her, and she let her head loll as she waited for it to stop. Then she raised her head again, more carefully, and slowly rose.

“Again,” he repeated. Just a whisper this time.

She stumbled to the back of the tent. She knew she’d need the distance to gather speed. Then she leaned forward and let gravity pull her toward the wall, her feet doing more to keep her up than to propel her. At the last second, she leaned to the side, hitting the wall with her shoulder and head. Something in her shoulder moved in an unnatural way, and she could hear the wet, squelching sound over the ringing in her ears. As she fell backwards, she lost sight in one eye, but she couldn’t comprehend it any more than she could the sensation of falling. When she hit the ground, it seemed a comfort.

“You are worthless!” her boss shouted. “If you won’t do it for yourself, and you won’t do it for all the holiness in the heavens, then, by the gods, do it for the people on the other side of the wall. They are counting on you. Don’t you care about them at all? Are you so heartless that you will just lie there while they starve? You disgust me.”

“I’m...trying,” she whispered.

“Trying?” he mocked. “Trying? Get up and do it! It’s not just your job on the line. It’s your professional integrity, your relationship to the gods, your reputation, your very humanity. Break yourself through that wall because it’s your very self that is at stake!”

“I can’t...get up.”

He grabbed her hands and hauled her to her feat. It seemed easy for him, but he pulled with such force that her neck whipped back painfully.

“This is why I’m the boss. When the going gets tough, I have to lift you up. We’re a team, see? Now, on your feet. C’mon. You can do this. I believe in you.” He led her to the back of the tent. “Okay, are you ready?”

“I...I think so.”

“Good girl. Now, 1, 2, 3!”

He pushed her toward the wall. One side of tent seemed a blurry gray, and she couldn’t tell just how far away the wall stood. At the last second, when it filled her field of vision, she stumbled. Unable to turn, she went in head first. There was another sickening crunch, but she was unaware of it.

“Too bad,” the boss said. “She was a good employee.”

Sitala, the Goddess of Measles

In my novel, The Sum of Our Gods, I chose a variety of gods and goddesses from various cultures and tossed them all together to see what would happen. One of the goddesses I did not know about (and therefore couldn't include) was Sitala, the Hindu goddess "of sores, ghouls, pustules and diseases." (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Besides comforting children afflicted with fevers by giving them coolness (like punk-rock hairdos and leather jackets, I guess?), she also afflicted her enemies with the measles. That seems counter-productive to me since the measles, among other things, cause fevers which she would have to take care of with her leather jacket distribution racket. But the gods are all kind-of silly in their own ways. That's the whole point of the book. Anyway, as I wrote the novel, I thought a lot about what my characters looked like. I suspect many writers fall into the trap of casting our novels as though they were big budget Hollywood movies, even when we know they won't be. (If you are a Hollywood producer and would like to option The Sum of Our Gods, it's still available.) I didn't have any image in mind for Sitala because, as I mentioned, I didn't know about her and she isn't in the book.

But now that I do know there's a goddess who gives out the measles, I want to make this clear: The goddess of sores, pustules, and disease looks like this:

 

 

 

Jenny mccarthy as sitala

 

Here she is giving the measles (or some other entirely preventable disease) to some innocent little girl (who I refuse to recognize):

Justin-Bieber-Jenny-Mccarthy

 

Sitala is terrifying. The diseases she spreads are tragic. She is afraid of vaccines, though. And science in general. Protect yourself and your children from this creature!

Giving Up On Hell Isn't Enough

My mom, a Presbyterian minister now working as an administrator at a Presbyterian seminary in Cairo, Egypt, just posted a link to this article proposing that Christians, in an effort to reach out to those of us who do not share the faith, should try giving up the idea of Hell for a year. The article is interesting. It posits the rationale that Christians shouldn’t be so fearful that their non-Christian acquaintances will go to Hell. In giving up that fear, these Christians will actually invest their energy in those nonbelievers out of genuine, individual concern for our day-to-day lives rather than our eternal souls, and thus form real relationships that are more likely to lead to the conversion of us “None-of-the-above”s (or “Nones”). Mom headlined her post: “I would enjoy reading comments on this post from BOTH my Christian and ‘nonChristian’ friends in BOTH of ‘my countries."”

First of all, props to my mom for putting out an all-call to believers and nonbelievers to weigh in. I have deep admiration for believers who listen (and an especially deep admiration for my mom, of course). So here’s the opinion of a “None”:

This is a great idea.

It will never work.

Here’s the problem. My guess is that the individual who wrote this (Kurt Willems), who is announcing that he’s already given up believing in a dimension of horrifying torture for non-believers, has also given up a short list of other dogmas that have been held by Christians for a couple of millenia and which are directly supported by scripture. He’s given these up because they would make it very difficult to connect with people like me.

He doesn't believe that black people are inferior.

He doesn't believe in slavery.

He doesn't believe that women should stay silent in church, or that they should live outside the home when they are on their periods, or that they should be stoned if they are raped.

My guess is that he doesn't even believe that homosexuality is a sin.

And that’s cool. I could probably hang with this guy.

But if he’s looking to improve his relationships with non-believers, he could use that justification to give up some other beliefs, too.

He may already have given up on the notion that the world is a few thousand years old, and that the creation story (one or both of them) in Genesis isn't literal.

He may have decided that a bunch of other miracles in the Bible, like the sun standing still over Jericho for three days, or Jonah living for a while in the belly of a leviathan, probably don’t make a lot of sense given what we know of biology, chemistry, astronomy, and physics.

Given that those are unlikely, and that there’s some serious debate about the translation when it comes to the word “virgin” anyway, he may have given up on the whole virgin birth thing, too.

Also, since Satan clearly evolves from a kind of nay-sayer adviser of God’s to an all out rival, he might not believe in Satan, either.

And if that’s the case, he might recognize that God also evolves from a god among other gods who exist (and even perform their own miracles, though lesser ones) to the only God over the course of the Bible. That might keep him up at night.

He may also notice that Jesus’ idea of universal and unconditional forgiveness also evolves into a kind of political and social weapon for Paul, one that can help the early Church keep in the good graces of authorities while heaping burning coals on the heads of oppressors. Jesus doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who liked the idea of heaping burning coals on anybody’s heads.

If Kurt is like me, he might find himself in a place where Jesus, and especially Jesus’ teachings about how we should get along with one another, ends up being the only thing left to hold onto within a larger body of beautiful literature, powerful poetry, instructive allegories, and heavily slanted history.

And then this poor guy, a guy who didn’t want to turn off “Nones” who were repulsed by frightful, desperate Christians worried about the torment our souls would face in hell, has the bad luck to run into a guy like me who is equally turned off by the inescapable lack of humility that’s inherent to any belief system which says, “Despite the fact that I lack evidence either way, I have made a choice to believe this religion is correct and all others are wrong.”

Confronted by a jerk like me, will this writer acknowledge that the very same universalism that compelled him to give up on Hell could also justify giving up on the idea that there is one true faith, and that God has revealed that faith to some and not others? Just as his connection with non-believers would be strengthened if he doesn't believe in Hell, wouldn't it be easier to reach out if he wasn't advertising a my-way-or-the-highway religion?

I don’t blame him for having that kind of faith. It’s not his fault. All major world religions either say that the others are wrong or that the others are a part of them and just don’t know it yet. That’s inescapable; religions that hold that it’s fine to not believe in their teachings disappear about as quickly as the ones that teach that no one should have children (I'm looking at you, Shakers!).

The spread of Christianity is the story of a religion that came into contact with other religions and offered significant advantages. Despite its sexism, it offered a lot better deal for women. The practices of early Christians (sharing food and money, offering free childcare and education, adopting orphans, caring for the sick) essentially provided a social safety net where none existed. In the context of a conflict of religions, Christianity is going to win in the long haul because Christians are genuinely taught to treat other people better. That’s how Islam spread, too. Muslims treated people better (often better than the Christians they encountered). That’s how Buddhism spread out of India. Treating people better, not just tolerating them or being civil, but treating them better, is the key to evangelism. This writer, Kurt Willems, clearly understands that.

But now Christianity wants to spread within a context that it’s never faced. Before, it could always say to folks, “Convert from your exclusive religion to ours. Both say the other can’t be true, but we obviously treat people better.”

And people said to themselves, “Well, not having any religion at all simply isn't an option. It’s culturally inconceivable. But these Christians obviously have their shit together.”

But now, Christianity is faced with an altogether new alternative. Atheism has existed for longer than Christianity, but for millennia it was always the domain of iconoclasts who could only choose between the dominant religion of their culture or “not-that.” Now we have a whole generation of human beings who are growing up in a world where all the religious options are on our screens every day. Pluralism is as ubiquitous as the internet. And, in that world of post-modernity, we can see millions upon millions of examples of people who have chosen some variation of “not-that” and still manage to treat people well, provide for the needs of their neighbors, accept difference, and generally have their shit together. Meanwhile, the people who tend to be the ones telling women what to do with their own bodies and telling gay people who they can love and protesting at soldiers’ funerals and chopping people’s heads off and generally being the worst also tend to be the most confident that their ideas about God are the right ones.

Now, to be clear, I’m not an atheist. Atheism often advertises a kind of certainty I find just as repugnant as the most dogmatic religiosity. I’m an agnostic. I’m a pretty orthodox agnostic, though. I don’t know about a lot of things. Is there a God? I don’t know. Are there lots of them? I don’t know. Do the scientific laws we observe function the same way at the quantum level? Will they continue to function in the future? Are my own senses telling me the truth? Is my memory? I don’t know. Not for sure. Consequently, I won’t evangelize. Should people decide to be agnostics like me? I don’t recommend it. It kind of sucks. I don’t know if I’ll have an afterlife, I don’t know if my day-to-day behavior satisfies some divine being, and we don’t have any good hymns or holidays. It’s not a great sales pitch and I don’t have a better one to offer.

But before Christians consider throwing away their beliefs to reach out to people like me, they should very carefully consider the quantity of babies they’ll toss out with that bathwater. No matter how humble a Christian is (and I've known a lot of unassuming, self-effacing Christians who no one would describe as proud or vain or filled with hubris), they cannot escape the inherent binary nature of Christian belief. No matter how much a Christian qualifies that she/he believes rather than knows that Christianity is true, she/he must also believe that non-Christianity is false. A Christian can’t say, “I believe in Jesus Christ, but if you don’t, I don’t care.” Besides the fact that the text of Christian scripture is very clear about there being only one path to salvation, Christians should excise “I don’t care” from their vocabularies. Christians have to care. Otherwise, they aren't Christians.

Realistically, my expectation is that over time Christianity and all other major world religions will actually get more and more dogmatic, more regressive, and more oppressive in the face of growing secularism. And more religious people on the fringes will act like jerks and keep driving more and more people away. When it comes to evangelism, Christianity’s best bet is to show non-believers that their hateful fringe elements don’t speak from them, and to stop trying to pass laws forcing nonbelievers to behave a certain way based on religious justifications, but that’s very tough to do in a world where everybody has a microphone and the most strident (and violent) get the most attention. The Christians who believe in the most tolerant, least uncomfortable kind of Christianity will fade into the growing secular middle.

So what can a Christian do to win over a guy like me who objects to the necessary and inherent hubris of a faith that says all other faiths are wrong? Giving up more and more of your Christianity so you don't seem so kooky won't work. I'll be relieved, but not more likely to convert to your non-religion. 

You could pray for me, I guess.

Will that work?

I’m an agnostic. I don’t know.

If you’re a believer, you believe it will.

 

Opting Out of Standardized Testing

studentismorethantestscore_200_233_80I just sent this letter to my colleagues in the local chapter of my union. If the form letter included below would be helpful to any teacher or parent out there who is considering opting a child out of state testing or who might be talking with family and friends about this option, I thought I'd toss it up here.  

CEA Colleagues,

I may be walking on thin ice here, but I wanted to share something with you. Our statewide union (the OEA), has taken a strong but nuanced position regarding high-stakes standardized testing. Essentially, they are arguing for a “Let’s Put Learning First” model in which we shift from a heavy emphasis on summative testing accomplished through expensive, multiple-choice, corporate-created, standardized tests, and toward formative assessments which are teacher created and which provide teachers with information to better help students. The OEA is not creating a replacement summative test, but they are working hard to lobby for a moratorium on the SBAC and for new legislation that validates and enshrines the notion that teachers know best, and students deserve to benefit from assessment.

 

There’s another element to the pushback against all this standardized testing. That’s the opt-out movement. This part can get a bit technical and tricky for us, as teachers, because there are limits to what we can advocate in our role as teachers, and there are certainly consequences for our schools. Oregon law allows parents to opt their children out of the testing for either religious reasons or due to disability. The principal of the school may then make a determination about the opt-out. If the principal refuses to allow the child to opt-out, that can be appealed to the superintendent. If I’m reading it correctly, the law does not explicitly dictate what happens when a parent is unsatisfied with the superintendent's verdict, but no one can stop a parent from bringing an issue to the school board, so I assume it could then be appealed there. When it comes to religion, the law does allow for a broad definition of religion which includes moral objections to the testing. When it comes to disability, the disability has to be diagnosed, but any student with an IEP is eligible. We are not allowed to encourage a parent to opt their child out while serving in our role as teachers. This certainly includes any time during the contract hours, and there’s some debate about whether we can do so during our off hours if we present ourselves as speaking as teachers rather than as citizens/parents/etc. We are, on the other hand, allowed to inform parents of their rights, even during IEP meetings. The line between advocacy and informing hasn’t really been established because, to my knowledge, no district has attempted to punish a teacher for advocating for opting out, and no teacher has counter-sued. Still, it’s a gray area, and I want you all to be informed about that.

 

Here’s where the opt-out is potentially good and potentially bad for us. The parents who tend to opt their children out of the testing tend to be those who are most informed about the effects of these tests on their kids and on our schools. It’s no surprise that there is a direct relationship between these parents and the scores their children will receive.  Consequently, parents who have opted-out have received pleas from principals in other districts (bordering on harassment) to reconsider. We all understand why; if our highest performers opt out, it will affect our school’s rankings and our own evaluations. On the flip side, if a certain percentage of parents opt their children out, the tests for the entire school, or even the school district, are invalidated. This could give us significantly more time to teach our students. It could also pressure the state when it comes to a moratorium on SBAC. It could also cause the Feds to revoke our waiver and throw us back into NCLB hell. If you’d like to learn more about the opt-out movement, here’s a good website, and here’s the OEA’s page on the subject.

 

When it comes to opting out, it’s the official position of the OEA that this movement is best left to parents. Their voices are more powerful when it comes to swaying the district on this issue, and they can’t be accused of anything other than looking out for the best interests of their own children. Teachers in some school districts have joined with parent groups to attempt to broaden the number and kind of parent opting his/her child out. Some have participated in holding screenings of the film Standardized. Some have made presentations to their school boards. I’m not proposing anything like that at this time, though I’m interested in hearing where you all stand on this issue.

 

Instead, I’m writing to all of you as someone who wears too many hats. I’m your president, and a teacher, and a parent of a child in our district. One of our colleagues asked me if I was going to opt my son out of the testing. After much discussion with my wife and with other teachers, we’ve decided that we do want to do that for his sake. I want to be very clear: I am not asking any of you to do this. It’s a deeply personal decision. However, if you do decide to opt you own children out of the testing, or if you find yourself talking to family or friends about this option, I want to encourage you to remember to include a particular note in the letter that needs to be sent to the school. I think it’s important that we let our schools know that we are not opting our children out of the testing because we don’t trust their teachers or because we fear accountability. It’s precisely because we do believe in their teachers, and that they have proven to us through their excellent work with our children that they are accountable to us, as parents.

 

Consequently, I’ve taken the letter I will be sending and I’ve converted it into a fill-in-the-blank form that any parents can copy and paste, tweak, and submit if she/he chooses to do so. This is my variation on a letter written by Jerry Rosiek, a professor in the College of Education at The University of Oregon. I hope you find this helpful and don’t feel that I’ve overstepped my bounds.

 

1508072_10152961790811385_3255123785967459120_nI thank you, not just as the president of our local and as your colleague, but as a parent who deeply appreciates the education you are all a part of providing for my son.

 

-Benjamin Gorman

CEA President

Teacher at CHS

Proud Father of Noah Gorman

 

Sample Letter

[Your Address]

[Date]

 

[Principal’s Name]

cc [Teacher’s Name]

[School Address]

 

Dear [Principal],

Thank you for your work with my [son/daughter], [child’s name]. I feel confident that [he/she] is receiving an excellent education at [name of school].

 

I am writing to officially opt [child’s name] out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium tests, the OAKS tests, the Easy CBM tests, and any other standardized tests which do not provide [child’s name]’s teacher, [teacher’s name], with timely, useful information which will guide [her/his] instruction of my [son/daughter].

 

As I’m sure you know, OAR 581-022-1910 states: “The school district may excuse students from a state required program or learning activity, where necessary, to accommodate students' disabilities or religious beliefs.” The Oregon Test Administration Manual elaborates that ““Parents may request that their student be exempted from state testing based on either disability or religion. OAR 581-022-1910 allows school districts to excuse students from a state required program or learning activity, including state testing, to accommodate a student’s disabilities or religious beliefs. In order for a school district to excuse a student from testing under this rule, the student’s parent must submit a written request to the school district, listing the reasons for the request and proposing an alternative individualized learning activity for the student that meets the same goals that would be accomplished by participation in state testing. Appropriate school personnel must evaluate and approve the parent request.”

 

I believe you are the appropriate representative of the school who should approve such a request. If not, I trust you will see to it that this request is given to the appropriate decision-maker.

 

The courts have held that the term “religion” in the law should be interpreted broadly to include moral objections. I have strong moral objections to a battery of testing that is not designed to improve my [son/daughter]’s education. The coalition of people pushing these tests have a handful of different agendas. Specifically, some want to undermine public education to push voters into accepting vouchers and other forms of privatization, others want to make political gains by destroying teachers’ unions, and others have explicitly stated that they want to maximize profit for shareholders through the public schools. None of these agendas are focused on improving [child’s name]’s education, so I don’t believe any of those agendas should be countenanced by our public schools.

 

This letter is my formal request for [child’s name]’s opt-out. My first choice for a proposed alternative individualized learning activity is that such a decision should be made by [child’s name]’s teacher, [teacher’s name]. [She/He] has impressed me with [her/his] competence, professionalism, and judgement. In the face of countless demands to prove [her/his] “accountability” to politicians and pundits, [teacher’s name] has proven, through [her/his] work with [child’s name], that [she/he] is accountable to the children she teaches and to their parents. I believe [her/his] assessment of [child’s name] needs will lead to the most appropriate individualized plan. However, if you require a more specific plan from me, I would be satisfied if [child’s name] simply read books [his/her] teacher has identified as being at [his/her] reading level while other students took those tests. Frankly, just about any activity would be a better use of [his/her] time than tests designed to assess and punish [his/her] teacher and school rather than teach [him/her].

 

So that I don’t end on such a cynical note, I want to reiterate that I am grateful that [child’s name] has the opportunity to attend [school’s name] and learn in [teacher’s name]’s classroom. Please know that my desire to opt [child’s name] out of the testing is in no way a criticism of the education [he/she] is receiving at [school’s name]; in fact, it’s a reflection of my desire for [him/her] to maximize [his/her] time there learning all your excellent staff have to teach [him/her].

Again, thank you for all you do for [child’s name] and all the students of [school’s name].

 

[Parent’s Name]

Parent of [Child’s Name]

[Contact Information]

Here’s Why We Won’t Stop Islamic Violence

...though the editors of Charlie Hebdo were trying to show us how.

In the wake of the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, I’ve heard a renewed interest in the question, “How do we stop Islamic violence?” One answer is to call for the overthrow of governments in predominantly Islamic countries. Another is to promote democratic institutions in those countries with the hope that those non-democratic governments will collapse under the weight of history. The most common answer I’ve come across is that Western governments should support moderate Islamic clerics who call for peace, or to try to promote liberal, Western Muslims who have fully assimilated into Western society.

These are all wrong. None of them will work. Because the problem isn’t Islam. It’s violence.

Take note of the implied premise in the last suggestion. On the surface, we (we being “The West”) say we want moderate clerics to speak out against this horrific violence. That’s a wonderful thing to desire. It’s happening, too. There are clerics who call for peace. There are also millions and millions of Muslims who live out that life of peace every day. That will not end this kind of violence because it only takes a tiny minority of any group to perpetrate these horrific acts. But notice the call from “The West.” We are telling these clerics that they should advise against violence because it’s wrong.

We have no moral authority to tell anyone that violence is not a proper means to deal with grievances.

Imagine the way this kind of “support” would be read on the Arab street. Some pundit or politician from “The West” is asking you to tell people that violence is not the answer to problems. Meanwhile, on a daily basis, you flip on the TV and see that The West is responding to their own frustrations with violence.

When we in The West decide we’ve had enough of a truly evil dictator (if he’s not useful to us or out of our reach) we respond with violence. When a group outside of our borders advocates violence, rather than attempting to contain them or arrest them, we shoot hellfire missiles at them from drones and sometimes blow up innocent civilians who are nearby. We idolize our own soldiers and spies to such an extent that we can’t bring ourselves to toss them in jail when they break our laws and torture prisoners or kill foreign civilians. In our own countries, we’re so polarized that we can’t applaud our police when they keep our streets safe and simultaneously hold them accountable for their most excessive abuses of power; either we respond to our own police with violence or forgive their acts of violence towards our own fellow countrymen.

In that context, when we say we want Muslims to stop the violent extremists in their midst, we’re really saying that violence is bad ...except when it is perpetrated by non-Muslims from The West. Then it’s war, or it’s political, or it’s criminal, or it’s complicated, but it is certainly not a reflection on the values of all Westerners.

I am not saying there is an easy answer to the question of Islamic terrorism, nor am I making any excuses for it. Killing people to get attention for your cause or to express solidarity with some extreme strain of your religion is abominable. But until we are willing to acknowledge that killing people to solve any problem is inherently morally inferior to solutions which don’t require murder, we will always be playing the fool’s game of whose-bad-behavior-is-worse.

I’m also not advocating absolute pacifism. I used to be a pacifist, back when I was a Christian. Just as there are people who believe in a God who will reward them for killing people, I believed in a God who would reward me if I had the courage to offer my life up to anyone who wanted me dead. But I have a wife and a son. I have parents and brothers and sisters. I have the students I teach. Ultimately, anyone I could possibly save is worth more to me than the potential reward of a deity who may or may not exist. If I had to choose between using violence and letting someone be killed, I think I would be violent (though I hope whatever deities exist never put me in that position). In that light, I don’t think the editors of Charlie Hebdo were at all hypocritical for having an armed guard in the lobby of their building, though that tragically wasn’t enough. There is a place for violence in the prevention of violence. I’m very glad we have a military so that a foreign invader couldn’t traipse across our border like Russia sneaking into Ukraine. If the United States, in the wake of 9/11, had invaded Afghanistan with the sole purpose of apprehending Osama Bin Laden and any of his associates and attempting to bring them before a court of law, and if that effort had required the killing of Al Qaida fighters (as it invariably would have) when they resisted arrest, I would find that justifiable. Instead, we gave our soldiers a series of impossible missions. We told them to topple two governments and establish peaceful democracies. Since then, we’ve toppled a third government and had a hand in destabilizing a few more, and we can’t claim a single victory based on the standard some chicken-hawks defined. It turns out, even with the best trained, most disciplined, most expensive military the world has ever seen, you still can’t bring about peace by force (unless, perhaps, you convince the people you want to pacify that their only alternative is their utter obliteration). Much like Vietnam, we won every battle and lost the wars. And that’s not because our military failed. It’s because we failed them. We failed to give them a realistic charge. In our entirely justified anger, we chose excessive violence.

Now, we in The West, faced with Muslims in our own countries and in others who are angry, want to decide that their anger is not justified and demand that they not make the same choice we made. This will never work. Even if the vast majority of Muslims spontaneously decide that their grievances aren’t really that big a deal, even if the vast majority decide to be the bigger man in the face of our hypocrisy, some extremists will see our violence as a justification for their own.

There is a solution. The editors of Charlie Hebdo demonstrated that brave people can stand up and point out the folly of violent terrorists while also pointing out the folly of our own leaders. I am not as brave as they were, sitting in my safe home which has never been firebombed, but I understand some small degree of the fear those cartoonists, writers, and editors must have overcome to walk into work each day. I wrote a satirical novel that included Jesus Christ, the Prophet Muhammad, and Yahweh as main characters, along with various gods from Greek, Norse, Egyptian, Incan, Mayan, Japanese, Sumerian, Babylonian, and Aztec mythology. Considering my book’s sales, I think I’m about as likely to be killed for it by an angry believer in Apollo or Thor as by a Christian or Jew or Muslim. But I’ve thought about it. There are a lot of people out there who take their religious beliefs very seriously. Most of those religions dictate that people who don’t share those beliefs are wrong. Most go so far as to hold that people who don’t share their beliefs are immoral for not accepting their truth. And a few of those religious people hold that such immoral people should be killed, especially if they go around publically announcing their non-belief. I don’t know how to calculate what percentage of the world’s population would rather see me dead than alive, but the number is much higher than I would like. And they are certainly not all Muslim, nor do they all live outside of the borders of the United States.

And yet, in the wake of an attack like the one in Paris, too many of us in The West choose to put on our xenophobic blinders and ask for peace only of Muslims. Imagine if someone asked us to unilaterally disarm? Would we do so? If some crazed lunatic asked us to beat our swords into plowshares, and our spears into pruning hooks, what would we say? If a different crazy person told us that living by the sword would cause us to die by the sword, would we take him seriously?

Acts of terrorism are designed to provoke fear. It’s difficult to rise above that fear and treat multiple murderers as multiple murderers without concern for their motives. But when we treat terrorism as something special, we empower the next wave of terrorists. The only solution to Islamic violence is a combination of universal condemnation and the treatment of horrible criminal acts as horrible criminal acts. And the only way we will ever achieve universal condemnation of Islamic violence is when we condemn all violence and recognize that horrible criminality isn’t unique to Islam. We can’t combat homicidal reverence for Islam with homicidal reverence for our flags, or homicidal reverence for pluralism, or homicidal reverence for democracy. The problem isn’t Islam. It’s the degree of reverence.

158514_600

158514_600

The solution is a lot more irreverent cartoons.

Teaser for My Next Novel

MysteryIII know I haven't been posting as often as I ought to. A little teaser: I'll have a new novel hitting shelves this summer! It's too soon to reveal too much about it. It's complete. It's in the hands of my editor now. It's not a sequel to The Sum of Our Gods. Instead, it's a YA dystopia set 100 years in the future. It's terrifying. It's heartbreaking. And, hopefully, it will inspire readers to fight for a better future. If I really put my nose to the grindstone, I'll have this website overhauled by mid-spring, and I'll begin begging famous authors for book blurbs even sooner. This time I will make sure the book is available for pre-order, and I'll let you all know here, on Facebook, and on Twitter as specifics solidify.

So keep an eye out for more information. It's going to be a busy, exciting 2015!

Children Are Not Adults

I'm at a grading conference right now. It's put on by Pearson, a corporation dedicated to making a profit off of the free public education are students are legally guaranteed, so that already introduces a bunch of conflicts of interest that make me queasy, but that's an argument for another day. More immediately, I'm listening to a lot of brilliant educational theorists selling a largely receptive audience on the fact that we need to change the way we grade students. I know these people continually run into objections about the "real world." They are sick of it. So, to combat these, they have come up with their own laundry lists of "real world" analogies which demonstrate that their preferred method of grading is more analogous to the rules of adult society we all have to play by on a day to day basis. First of all, all of these competing analogies are tiresome precisely because they are analogies. The conversation devolves to the point where both sides are saying, "My apples-to-oranges comparison involves apples and oranges that are more closely related than your apples and oranges." Ug.

More fundamentally, this effort to compete on the playing field of the "real world" perpetuates the misconception that children are adults, and that if we treat them as adults they will be more prepared for the adult world.

Let me be blunt (because that's how I roll): Children are not adults. They aren't miniature pilots or lawyers or accountants. Children's brains work differently. The rules of their society are and should be different. In fact, when I was in grad school a million years ago, a great prof in a developmental psych class taught us that the number one motivation for child abuse is the misconception children are adults. Infants are beaten by adults who believe these children have made an adult choice to poop in their diapers at an inconvenient time or to continue screaming because they want to make adults angry. Children are neglected because adults think that children have the adult abilities to cook their own food, manage their own bedtimes, and take care of their own hygiene. Children suffer verbal abuse because adults mistakenly think these children will reason about things that are said to them as adults might.

But children are not adults. So, brilliant theorists, I know you are exhausted by people throwing the "real world" at you, but please remember that you are under no moral obligation to fight fire with fire. We are educators. We should be the ones who can take the high ground and say to these critics, "That may (or may not) be the case in your world, but it's developmentally inappropriate for children." If we can't do that because we are so entrenched in the adult world that we're blind to the differences between children and adults, we've already lost the debate anyway. But if we can acknowledge that, we can think about assessment practices which attempt to prepare children for the adult world while being sensitive to the fact that they aren't there yet.

Why I Am Raising My Son to Be a Feminist

Noah and DaddyIn the wake of the Time Magazine debacle where they attempted to ban the word “feminist” from the vernacular in 2015, a friend (rightly appalled) posted a link to this article in which a mom declares, “I Am A Mother Of Two Children And I Cannot (And Will Not) Support Feminism” (here). I am used to hearing some of my 14 year-old students parrot ultra-conservative talking points they hear at home about feminism, but when I point out the definition of feminism (fem·i·nism - /ˈfeməˌnizəm/ noun - The advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men.) they generally say, “Oh, well I support that.” Sometimes they can’t reconcile the cognitive dissonance so quickly, and they push back a bit, saying things like, “I just don’t support those extreme feminists who want women to dominate men and want to make all men feel bad.”  

Then I say, “Who says that?”

 

They invariably can’t name anyone. “I don’t know. Those extreme feminists.”

 

“So you say you are not a feminist because somebody told you that feminists stand for something other than feminism, and you believed them even though you don’t know of any self-proclaimed feminist who actually believes the thing you disagree with? I am a feminist because I believe in feminism, in advocating for equality for women and men. There. Now you know a feminist.” And I leave it at that.

 

Here’s the thing: They get it. They are 14, and they understand that. So why are fully grown adults going around printing thoughtless, just-joking-but-stupidly articles and posting rants about how they will raise their sons to be anti-feminist?

 

I just don’t get it.

 

20130706_021545I was raised by feminists. My parents both worked, both shared household responsibilities, and both made decisions together. They also went out of their way to point out that gender should not dictate what kinds of opportunities a person should have (starting when I was very young, pointing out that women and men could be garbage collectors, women and men could be nurses, women and men could be police officers, etc.) and also teaching me that women and men deserve the same protections and inalienable rights (you know, not to be treated as servants in their interpersonal relationships, not to be made to think that getting drunk or wearing whatever they want gives someone the right to rape them, far out progressive ideas like that).

 

Now, I’m very lucky in this regard. I know not everyone had this kind of experience, and it’s easy to slip back into a traditional mindset when your default is a product of your upbringing, My mom became a pastor so early in the days of women serving as ministers that her diploma when she got her masters in divinity had all the “he”s and “his” whited out and the female pronouns written in with blue pen. I take great pride in the tacky-ness of the folks who amended her diploma: Their tacky-ness is a sign of her pioneer spirit. But I also take pride in the way my dad fully embraced feminism. He not only treated my mom as an equal in our home when I was growing up, but they worked together, and he went out of his way to communicate their equal status. I remember that, when they arrived at one church, he made sure he took the slightly smaller office so that people in the congregation would recognize that he wasn’t the boss just because of his outdoor plumbing. My dad’s feminism never made him less effective. Some folks didn’t get it, but more of them did and respected him for it, and it allowed him to have a coworker who was working at her full potential. From a professional standpoint, not letting half the workforce fully contribute is just stupid. We all lose.

 

I did learn a bit of the kind of old-fashioned chivalry Kennedy-Kline references in her post. I was taught to hold doors for women and to always give up my seat to a woman on a bus or a train. I recognize that these were traditional, if sexist, lessons that my parents learned, and I don’t resent the lessons. Here’s how I handle them as a feminist:

 

If someone is approaching a door and it is within hands reach and I can open it for them, or if I am already in a doorway and I see that someone is coming up behind me intending to use the same door, I do not look to see if they have a penis or a vagina. I hold the door open for them. Because I’m not an asshole.

 

When I am on a train or a bus and I see that someone is standing up, I remember that I am able-bodied and prefer to stand rather than sit and wonder if the person next to me is uncomfortable. Their gender isn’t a factor. I offer them my seat. Because I am not an asshole.

 

Sometimes people say, “No, thanks.” I have never, not once, had someone shout at me, “You are only offering my your seat because I’m a woman, you sexist pig!” Do you know why? Because feminists are not assholes. Those kinds of “feminists” exist in movies and in the mind of Rush Limbaugh precisely because they are ridiculous caricatures and Rush Limbaugh doesn’t get the joke. He doesn’t get the joke because he is a sexist pig.

 

We need to stop telling that joke. Too many people aren’t getting it. It seems we have a generation of women and men who have come to believe in the caricature of the “extreme feminist.” Talking heads on Fox News and the right-wing shock jocks on am radio blame feminism for the decline of America’s woes, and somehow that has filtered into enough brains that it’s crowded out the true definition of feminism such that men and women and formerly respectable magazines are afraid of the word for fear that it will associate them with this straw man who radiates negative connotations.

 

We have regressed. My speculation is that feminism in academia outran the culture in the nineties. Back then, we could have really interesting discussions about difficult questions like whether or not pornography was positive for women. (On the one hand, it could provide female actors, directors, and producers the chance to depict female sexuality as something that isn’t shameful and doesn’t need to be hidden. On the other hand, the audience is largely male and the market forces push the industry to reinforce negative, unrealistic depictions of human bodies, healthy relationships, and power dynamics.) We could talk about workplace politics. (Should we advocate for more women to have the freedom to work ridiculous hours and turn their parenting over to others like their male counterparts, or should we advocate for more freedom for men and women to have healthy work-life balances and for corporate practices that encourage men and women to take time off to share in parenting? If the answer is both, how do we work towards both goals simultaneously?) Unfortunately, while these discussion were going on amongst feminists, the anti-feminists were painting this picture of the “extreme feminist” and plucking bits and pieces from the academic debate to make their case (“See? The extreme feminists support S&M where men are being dominated! They want to make all stay-at-home moms feel bad! They want to make all men stay-at-home dads!”). Then, as the economy took a downturn and men and women lost their jobs, especially in previously male-dominated fields like manufacturing, the people who had never participated in the healthy debates about the way feminist should advocate for equality were left looking for a scapegoat, and there was the “extreme feminist,” the one who wanted all the men to be unemployed and had allowed all those women into positions of authority that were crowding men out of the market. People bought the lie.

 

As a teacher, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to review. Does it feel boring and condescending for the people who already get the material? Yes. That’s difficult, but it’s unavoidable. There are too many people in our American classroom who never learned that feminism is about equality for women, and that equality for women is a good thing for women and men. The debates of the nineties focus on very difficult issues of equality and liberty, but we can go back and agree that no one, male or female, should have to worry that he/she will be abused or raped for any reason. Similarly, we can agree that no one, male or female, should be made to feel that they are less of a person because they don’t want to fit into some traditional role where they give orders or take them just because that’s what men or women are supposed to do. We can agree that healthy sexuality is about mutual pleasure and love rather than shame and dominance and suffering. We can agree that the generalizations based on biological averages are irrelevant in individual cases, and that knowing whether a person stands up or sits down while peeing is a pretty stupid way to determine what they can contribute in every other aspect of their lives.

 

Tara Kennedy-Kline seems to think that it’s a good idea to teach her sons that leering at women is fine, and that she needs to spend her energy teaching them about the danger of “easy” girls. She seems to think that giving gifts or “spontaneous hug or peck on the cheek from time to time to show their love” is somehow gendered and she needs to encourage these behaviors in her boys to make them real men, as though women don’t do these things as well. She doesn’t want her boys to ever have to “submit to the anger of a woman” because that “means suppressing masculinity.” I worry deeply about the ideas of masculinity these boys will develop, especially considering they are a reaction against feminism, a movement that says everybody deserves to be treated as a person rather than an object, everybody gets to give gifts and hugs, and everybody, male feminists or female feminists, has a right to get angry when we hear about somebody trying to force someone else into traditional gender roles. It pisses me off in the same way it will piss off the women they will have to deal with in their lives. If they can’t handle that because they’ve been taught that protecting their mother’s sexist attitudes is the key to their masculinity, she has done them a disservice.

 

I am going to raise my son to believe that women deserve social, political, and economic equality to men. That’s because I’m a feminist. I hope he’ll be one, too.