The Reader-Author Contract

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We don’t talk about this, not really, but there are expectations that a reader has of a writer, and a writer has of their readers, especially where the series is concerned. This post is inspired by the fact that I have been waiting nearly 6 years for book 6 in the Song of Fire and Ice series by George RR Martin.

For the purpose of this article we’ll be talking about two types of series. The first is the open ended series. Think Anita Blake by Laurel K Hamilton, Mercedes Thompson and Alpha & Omega by Patricia Briggs, or Janet Evonovich’s Stephanie Plum books. These are all series in which each book has one or two large plots which are wrapped in over the course of that single book as well as several smaller, more personal, character based plots that continue on through the series. Really, any book could be the last because the personal plot lines won’t ever really end. These series can last a few books or a few dozen books, as long as the author continues to come up with original plots for each book.

On the flip side you have what I call goal-oriented series. Think Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones by George RR Martin, or the Belgariad and Malloreon by David Eddings. There is a point to the series, something the characters are trying to achieve, (destroy the ring and defeat the evil, put someone on the throne and restore peace, get the heir on the throne and destroy the mad god, rescue a kidnapped child and save the universe) and the series ends when this has been completed.

So what is the contract? Well, it depends on which type of series you read/write. For an open ended series the writer is responsible for consistent and continuing character development and for coming up with unique situations to put the characters in for each book. If the reader likes book 1 and book 2 they will generally continue buying books in the series until the plots become boring and stagnate.

If you are writing this type of series pay attention to your readers. When the plots are starting to feel forced or your readers are losing interest maybe it’s time to retire these characters, wrap up any lose ends, and start something new. Or pass the torch if a character is aging.

For a goal oriented series the writer is responsible for setting up a clear goal, getting the characters to the climax scene, where the characters will succeed or fail, and then wrapping the story up. Whether it takes three books or five or ten or whatever, this is the pattern that readers expect. Part of this responsibility is not stretching the series on too long past the entertainment value of the “quest” or past the completion of the goal.

If you are writing this type of series, finish it. If I wrote a stand alone novel and it ended just as the hero was walking into the dragon’s cave no one would publish it. It’s not complete. Publishers take a chance on a series. They take the chance that readers will like the first books enough to buy the rest but they also take a chance on the author because they are essentially publishing an incomplete book a piece at a time.

Readers are also taking a chance on a series because there’s always the chance you’ll find someone like George RR Martin who decides not to finish a series that you, the reader, have come to enjoy.

Real Women have Curves and Other Sexist Bullshit

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Can we just stop it with the “real women have curves” bullshit already? Because by that logic I was some fairy tale daydream until I was 26 and had two kids (and my curves are not in flattering places). And don’t come at me claiming I’m fat shaming now. I don’t do fat shaming and I’ll tell you exactly why.

I was about 8 years old. My mom and I were getting ready to go somewhere, or maybe I was watching her get ready. It was somewhere fancy ’cause she was pulling on stockings. Dark grey. I sat there watching those stockings, the way they stretched and changed colour. I said to her “It looks like elephant skin.”

She told me I couldn’t say things like that, that it was hurtful, that people would be mad, embarrassed.

I remember being confused and defensive. I didn’t say she was an elephant, I didn’t even say she looked like an elephant. It was the nylons, the colour, the texture, not her. I was hurt that she was mad at me for something I didn’t do.

Looking back I understand she was hurt and embarrassed. At 8 years old I didn’t understand fat shaming because my mom was beautiful to me, inside and out.

She lived with grace and tolerance and acceptance. I know know how many friends told me they were surprised by her acceptance of them. This Catholic woman with a good marriage and two straight, cis-gender girls with A-averages who didn’t party and went to church with her every weekend – she accepted people. Didn’t matter to her if they came from single parent homes, if their parents were divorced or divorcing or how nasty that divorce got, if they liked to party, if those parties involved drugs or alcohol, how they dressed, who they dated, who they prayed to, if they prayed at all – she welcomed them all and treated them all with respect until they gave her a damn good reason not to.

She was diagnosed with cancer. She fought with strength and bravery. She died with grace and dignity. She was beautiful. And I have never in my life deliberately shamed a person for their size or shape because at 8 years old I hurt the feelings of the most beautiful woman I knew, I learned that words hurt, that insulting someone’s weight directly, or through implication, hurt.

My problem with this whole “Real women have curves” thing isn’t the curves. Go be curvy. Go be skinny. Go be plain or fancy or flouncy or frilly or rough or brash. Go be you. My problem is those first two words.

“Real women”

Thank you sexist patriarchy, you can shut the fuck up now.

This “be skinny”/”real women have curves” shit is just us fighting each other over something that doesn’t matter – it’s another set of unrealistic expectations that will always conflict. Be healthy, whatever healthy looks like for you. I am never going to be a size 0 again, NEVER. And when I was a size 0 it was a gift of genetics and metabolism, not will power (though I was a lot more active then too). My goal isn’t to be a size 0 again. My goal is to have more energy, to keep up with my kids, to feel good about my body, to feel sexy in the clothes I wear. What that looks like on me is going to be different than it looks on you.

As for this whole “But men really want …” WHO GIVES A FUCK. First of all, each man wants something different. Second of all, my husband fell in love with me when I was a size 0 and he stuck with me through two pregnancies and the resulting baby weight. Doesn’t matter that I’ll never rock those low-cut pants from high school ever again. He loves me for me, not for the size of my clothes. Isn’t that how it should be? I get it, we’re biologically programmed to find certain types of people more physically attractive than others – but everyone is programmed differently.

So let’s knock this off, right now. Let’s stop comparing ourselves to each other. Let’s stop it with the “real woman” labels and the in-fighting. We have more important shit to handle in this world right now so if we want the fat shaming to end, let’s start by ending the weight wars between us.

 

Siblings Change Everything

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I’m an oldest child. I have one younger sibling. If you ask us to recount various childhood memories we will remember them differently. The way we grew up, the way people treated us, the ways we interacted with each other, this has shaped our view of the past, and our personalities today.

Our cousin right between us in age and she was an only child for twelve or thirteen years. You can tell. We could tell. Weeks spent at the cabin were interesting. Her personality was different. Her needs and expectations were different.

I studied to be an Educational Assistant and we once took a look at birth order because it does have some effect on personality, in addition to other environmental influences.

Only children are a complex creature. An only child can be very independent, they may learn to entertain themselves, to be content alone for longer periods of time. Depending on other factors they can become independent quickly and benefit from more concentrated parental attention. Other factors can alter this: they may be needy, needing someone to entertain them all the time (I imagine an extroverted pre-school aged only child would be like this), instead of being independent they may be over dependent if the parents do everything for them. Only children have the reputation of being spoiled because they don’t have to share the Christmas budget with siblings.

First borns tend to mature faster, they are expected to help out around the house, to help their younger siblings. They can become resentful of it, or become protective and nurturing, depending on other environmental factors. First borns benefit from being alone with adults until their sibling comes along. They may develop verbal and motor skills earlier.

After that things get complicated depending on how many kids there are.

Younger siblings can struggle to find an identity. My other cousins, two boys, three years apart. The eldest was exceptionally intelligent, like reading Marx in junior high smart. He was serious, dedicated, fairly quiet, even tempered. His younger brother was louder, wilder, and less interested in books and puzzles. He was needy and pouty, at least until he discovered that he could play the piano, and well. Once he found what he was good at people stopped comparing him to his older brother. This one is book smart, that one is musically gifted. Apples and oranges. He had his own identity. This struggle is especially hard for middle children – those who are neither oldest or youngest, but can affect any younger sibling.

Last born, the the baby of the family. You’ll be the “baby” even as an adult. You will always be the last. The last first word, the last diaper change, the last school play. The baby often has a reputation as being spoiled but at the same time they tend to be partially raised by their siblings as well. Often the parents are not pushing the baby to exceed milestones, when they get there they get there. Keep them little and cute as long as possible, especially if it is a planned last.

Historically there were big implications to birth order.

The first born inherited the land and title of the father (if it is a noble or landed family). Freemen also had land to pass down though no titles. In lower class families the first born inherited the shop, the farm, or the trade of their father.

The second son was sent to learn another trade, usually one that complimented the first born’s. Got a family of fishermen? Apprentice out the second son to a fish monger. You breed horses? The second son gets to be a blacksmith. In wealthier families the second son could end up the steward to the first son, depending on just how wealthy the family was. There might also be multiple properties that could be split between them. Otherwise, it’s off to the army where the family’s wealth would buy them a high ranking position.

Third wealthy son? Military, with or without a bought rank.

Fourth wealthy son? Expect to be sent to a church school to serve the church as a priest, clerk, monk etc.

Fifth son and on? Soldier’s life, or trades for you!

In lower classes being battle fodder was always a choice, helping on the family farm or working as a labourer was common. With a little money for gear you could be a “sell sword” working for traders or merchants to protect them on the road. But generally as you went down the line there was less resources to help you get a start on life.

What got me thinking about all this was the huge difference between all this books about teens with no siblings. Or one sibling that’s hardly mentioned. Half the time they have no cousins, no grandparents – they’re either never mentioned or they’re dead or their parents are only children so there are no cousins. When you’re writing you want to keep your cast stream-lined so the reader doesn’t get confused. Why drop in a cousin for a single scene? On the other hand you have the sweeping cast of Game of Thrones. A dozen major and minor houses, each with 1-3 generations – parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, in-laws, rivalries. As a fan of the books first and the TV series second I admit that the genealogies are part of the intrigue and appeal of the books.

Having siblings changes a person’s personality and skill set. Only children have less of a chance to learn peace-keeping and compromising skills at a young age (though daycare is changing that in our society). First borns are latch-key kids at 12, escorting younger siblings home from school.

Our characters come to us as teens or adults, but people don’t start out that way. People have a childhood that shapes them, and not just the traumatic backstory stuff, but the little things. At what age did they do their own laundry? Did they have to share a bedroom? That changes you.  Sure, in contemporary western society we’re more likely to have 1-3 children as opposed to the 5 Stark children or (heaven forbid) the 36 recorded Frey children! Even in historical fiction 5-10 children is more than enough!!

As writers large families are hard. Each must be memorable, physically and in personality, or they blur together. It’s tempting to leave off the siblings and cousins for simplicity’s sake. But if we had a world of only children we’d be forgoing the influence siblings have on our characters’ development. As well, siblings can add nice little subplots to fill out a novel, and they give your characters someone to talk to, care about, hate, compete with, or protect.

In the end the choice is the author’s, it always is. But I think that a literary world of only children is going to be bland. I think it’s already on its way there.

What do you think?

Writing – The Forgotten Art

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Or are we a craft now? Seriously, it’s hard to figure out where we fit in to the creative world. Are we a fine art, a performing art, a craft? Are we artists, artisans, or crafters? Wordsmith is a great word, but where does it fit in to the bigger picture?

Lately I have been wondering this a lot. You see, these designations determine where each artist, artisan, performer, and crafter, fits into the “art scene” and the marketing scheme.

Art goes in art galleries and souvenir shops. Crafts sell at flea markets and street fairs and souvenir shops. Performing arts get theatres or all shapes and sizes, stages and arenas, you name it. They also get the TV. Books get book stores and libraries. I get that. It all fits.

But what about when you get this whole “buy local, support local” movement? Everyone wants locally knit hats, locally baked birthday cakes, locally sewn baby bibs, locally painted art …… but never locally authored books. And why? Because we don’t have a market for it. Or rather, we don’t have an appropriate market stall for it.

Indie book stores are shutting down across numerous countries. We have 1 in my city and it also sells incense and purses and scarves and specializes in a certain type of new-age Eastern philosophy type book and while they’ll take some stuff by local authors it doesn’t sell if it doesn’t fit their image. Oh, we have one independent toy store as well with a book shelf but they only take for kids.

So I’m sitting here posting my books on Handmade Local pages and sites like crazy and no bites. Local salons step up and ask for local crafters who make anything that might sell at a salon – jewelry, maybe even some hats, small accessories, cosmetics and creams. And I celebrate. I love when local businesses step up and stock locally crafted items.

But not books.

See people only want to buy a book if they recognize the name of the author. So yeah, they’d love to support the local author, but only after you’ve gotten the 6-figure book deal and the movie deal. Then you’re important. Then they’ll buy the local author and celebrate their localness. Then saying “I went to school with this person” or “I attend that church” or “Yeah, they’re from my city” is cool.

Sorry if I sound bitter but sometimes I wonder why I wasn’t gifted with a talent for playing guitar. Or painting. Or decorating awesome cookies. Some art or craft or talent that other people actually wanted to support.

The numbers are against me. Over 3000 individual titles are released in the English speaking world on a daily basis, including translations into English, reprints of classics, second runs, traditional press, small press, digital only, indie, etc. All formats, all styles, all genres. 3000+ “new” titles per day. That’s a lot of noise to cut through.

People are willing to spend 2-3 minutes listening to a new song by a band they never heard heard before. It costs them a red light. Or waiting for their coffee to perk. They’ll take the chance and they’ll buy that 9-15$ CD (what does an album go for on iTunes anyway? I still buy CDs) based on one or two songs they’ve heard.

People don’t have to take a chance on art. They can look at it, determine if it will suit the room, or the person they’re buying a gift for, and buy it or not.

Movies? Maybe you’ll take the chance based on a few trailers and spend the money for a ticket. Maybe you’ll wait for it to hit Netflix. But you get that preview.

But the free sample on Amazon? The back of book blurb? The book trailers on YouTube? None of that seems to be enough to get people to invest the $2-4 dollars more than the cost of printing the damn thing that I’ll actually make in profit into taking a chance on a book by an author they’ve never heard of.Seriously, $10 for 250 pages and I’ll sign it for you and you can’t take the chance? Forget the “I don’t read” crowd and the “It’s not my genre of choice” people because I totally respect that. Not every hobby is for everyone. Not every book is for every reader. Hence the 3000+ books published daily. I’m writing in popular genres and can’t get the local “buy local support local buy indie shun the big companies” crowd to take a chance on anything I write?

I know, it takes longer to read a book than it does to listen to a CD. There is an investment of time as well as money in a book. But part of the problem is the way we’re shunted off into a dark corner at every gathering of the creative.

Take Simbi for example. A great site for exchanging services and product based on an internal meta-currency. I fully support going back to a trade culture. But writing is listed under business. Business. As in “I will help you with your resume”. And “I will edit for you”. “I will write a business proposition letter.” Are you snoring yet? I’m snoring. Where’s the creative writing? Why is “I’ll write a short story about your kid to make them smile” under business and “I’ll draw a caricature of your child” under art?

What about RAW artists? Performing artists? Check. Jewelry? Check. Crafts and designs and fine art of every style? Check. Books? Nope. Books aren’t edgy enough. You can’t perform them. You can’t hang them up so they sparkle in the light. You can’t work on creating a book while sitting at the booth to entertain people because watching someone write shit down is boring but watching someone beading or doing metal work is awesome (actually, I love watching jewelry makers in action).

Or is it the lack of word-of-mouth advertising? When was the last time you shared a song with someone? Raved about a movie? Shared a recipe? Handed out the business card of the lady who made your kids’ Halloween costume? Said, “I read this awesome book and you should check it out?” Guess which one is missing from most people’s list of “how I support local/indie/the arts”?

So is it the risk? The time and money investment? The lack of support from the rest of the local/indie/art scenes? The flooding of the market? The dying of reading as a hobby? The fact that we don’t actually bind our own books, we just create the ideas in them?

I’m at a loss. For myself and for the other people in my writing groups. Do I want to be famous, sure. But this isn’t even about that. Really it’s about connecting with a few more people, extending my reach to another network, finding a few more readers that would like my book, even just within my own city.

 

Free Product vs Fair Wages

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I saw this on the internet today:

cards

I thought “hey, neat, a company I like is actually doing something cool”. One of the comments though caught my eye.

“I’d rather see American workers get that paid vacation than Chinese ones.”

Why? Are American workers somehow more worthy than Chinese ones? No, I get it. You’re American and you’re tired of jobs going over seas. But here’s the kicker. How much are you willing to pay for that game?

We live in a world of free. We don’t want to pay for anything. Not sure if you’ll like a video game? Download a cracked version instead of shelling out anywhere from $30-$75 for the title. I mean, they’re all overpriced anyway, right? Download the movie from the web, I mean they already grossed how many million in the theatre, right? Music. Books. Art. We don’t want to pay a single penny for it.

And when we look at things that are tangible, like clothes, like food, things where we KNOW we can’t have them for free, we want them as cheap as possible.

Oh, but make it in America and pay the workers $15 an hour.

Right. And how much were you willing to pay for that shirt again?

We’re all sitting in our designer coffee shops sipping $8 coffees wearing our $5 shirts and complaining that more and more companies are manufacturing overseas.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for homegrown product. I firmly believe that a Canadian owned, Canadian based, company should provide service based out of Canada and should manufacture their product in Canada (though I understand they may be using a mixture of domestic and foreign parts/supplies to do this). I believe that American companies should work from and hire from America. Etc. But hey, we all want to export our country’s goods to the world, don’t we? Seems a bit hypocritical doesn’t it? Don’t buy the TV from Japan if you live in the US. But the Japanese definitely need American cars.

So what’s the answer? Does every country diversify to the point that we don’t need to trade with each other for anything beyond out of season fruit? Does every country specialize, dividing the world’s products between them? All cars are built in the USA. All clothes are made in India. All toys are made in China. All books etc are printed in Canada.

What would that mean for the people living there? What happens if your father works in a car factory and your mother at a printing press? What happens if there is no trade and you like Belgian chocolate more than America chocolate?

What does this mean for the future of corporations? For the future of the workers? For the future of the consumers?

I don’t have any answers. I just know that we’re too willing to spend too much on a cup of coffee and not enough on the things that actually matter. We’re too willing to demand change so long as it doesn’t affect our pocket books.

And I know I’d be very interested in what you have to say about this.

I’m Christian, Do I Have to Hate Homosexuals?

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It’s a choice. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a sin.

Sound familiar? Yeah. I’m tired of hearing it too.

I’m Christian. To be precise, I’m Roman Catholic. I know. Some of you are ready to lynch me already. My religion and denomination get a bad rap and we all know why. Hate. Christians just seem to hate people. Homosexuals. Muslims. Single parents. Abortions and anyone who has one, talks about one, or performs one. The list goes on and on and on. And it seriously makes me want to throw up.

I’m going to focus on homosexuality for a moment and I’m going to start by saying I’m cisgender, female, and straight. But I’m an ally. I will not judge you for your gender, your sexuality, your gender expression, your hair colour, skin colour, eye colour, religion, or country of origin. I will however judge you if you are an asshole, a racist, a bigot, or encourage hate speak against anyone.

That’s not to say you can’t have an opinion. You can be against abortion. You can believe that homosexuality is a sin. But you have to be polite. And you have to be kind to people even when they don’t fit your mold for the world.

Sorry. I’m off topic. Homosexuality.

Homosexuality is a choice. Therefore choosing to live like this can be labelled a sin because only choices can be sins. 

This is a loaded statement and needs a little unpacking here.

  1. Christians believe that homosexuality is not part of God’s plan for humanity and was never intended to exist. Therefore anyone who does not fit the binary gender and binary sexuality standards is choosing not to fit.
  2. There are two levels of choice here. One is choosing to be attracted to the same gender. The other is choosing to act on that attraction and date/sleep with someone of the same sex. MOST Christians will go so far as to say that being attracted is not the sin, only acting on it is. In fact  you can sometimes convince Christians that being Homosexual is not a choice if you split the issue like this.
  3. The lifestyle of sleeping with someone of the same sex is a sin because all sex outside of marriage is a sin and homosexuals cannot be married in the eyes of God.

Christians are evil and cruel because they won’t allow homosexuals to marry in the church or openly express their sexuality without retaliation. They shouldn’t be able to discriminate against us.

Let’s unpack the other side now, shall we?

  1. Christianity is protected by Freedom of Religion laws and does not, now or ever, have to cave to external pressure and allow homosexuals the sacrament of marriage. Catholics don’t allow the Sacrament of Holy Orders (priesthood) to women and we’ve been hollering about that for generations. Don’t expect Christianity to change this any time soon.
  2. Christianity is also often against short skirts, revealing shirts, pornography, sex before marriage, public displays of affection or sexuality, children born out of wedlock, and drunken revelry. Don’t worry, they’re just uptight about sex in general.
  3. Discriminate. Here we’re talking about the infamous wedding cake and wedding photographer issues. I will discuss those in detail in a moment but hear me out. Anyone has the right to refuse a job that makes them feel unsafe, right? Generally that applies to using unsafe equipment or doing a task they are not trained in. This is an extension of the Safe Work issue. They want to be allowed to refuse work that makes them uncomfortable and I say let them. Hate on me all you want but I say let them.

So how do we rearrange all this so that homosexuals and Christians can co-exist? Seems impossible, but it’s not. Except that there are people who don’t want to solve the problem, they just want gays to go away. But we’ll ignore those people for a moment and deal with the rational people first.

I’m going to start with the wedding cake and photographer issues.

Let’s say I’m a wedding photographer, and I’m Christian, and I believe that gay marriage is a sin. A same-sex couple approaches me to shoot their wedding. What do I do? Easy, I reply to their query like this:

“Thank-you for your interest in my work and your kind words about my portfolio. Unfortunately I am unavailable on the date of your wedding. Thank-you again for considering me. I hope you find someone you really like and I hope your wedding is beautiful.”

Or like this:

“Thank-you for your interest in my services. Unfortunately I am not personally comfortable working with same-sex couples. I believe all couples deserve the best on their weddings and I would not be able to provide that for you. I hope you find someone you really like and I hope your wedding is beautiful.”

See? Polite, professional. I have turned down a job without ever condemning the couple who has approached me. And cakes can be handled the same way.

But for me the issue is deeper. Why are you turning them away? If it’s just because you’re not comfortable with it, you’re not sure how to translate the poses you use to this new subject, then you’re declining for professional reasons. I’ve turned down work because it’s something I don’t think I’ll be able to do well and I don’t want to disappoint a client. There is NOTHING wrong with this. BUT if it’s an issue of beliefs, then we need to talk. And here’s why.

We already established that sex before marriage is a sin, and since Christians don’t allow homosexuals to get married in the church they don’t believe homosexuals are ever married at all so they will always be living in sin. And they don’t want to support this sinful lifestyle. And I say this should be allowed. ON ONE CONDITION.

Sex before marriage is a sin. And the only marriage Christians recognize as legitimate is the sacrament of marriage in the church before god. So anyone who gets married with a Justice of the Peace is living in sin. Common law? Also living in sin. Do we extend this to Jews and Muslims too? Or do we assume that if you are getting married before god in the religious tradition of your choice that it’s a religious marriage, and therefore a sacrament, and therefore acceptable? Debatable.

So here’s my condition. You are only allowed to deny services to same sex couples on grounds of religious freedom if you also deny services to anyone who is not getting married in the church. EVERYONE. Either you support sinful lifestyles or you don’t but picking and choosing? Not going to fly with me.

 

Can we please accept that there are two types of marriage? There is the Sacrament of Marriage and this is provided by religions. There is also Legal Marriage and this is provided by the state. So long as homosexuals are just getting a Legal Marriage and not applying for the Sacrament of Marriage they are no more living in sin than the atheist couple in the next chapel.

So let Christians keep their Sacrament and offer it only to those they choose to. Let the state offer marriage to all consenting legal adults.

And let me just cover a few tangents quickly.

“But pedophiles claim they have no choice either. They’re attracted to children. We still say it’s wrong even though it’s a wiring in the brain. We still arrest them when they act on it.”

Please tell me I’m not the only one who has heard this. There is so much wrong with this statement and this comparison. First of all, I only support homosexuality in the same contexts that I support heterosexuality. You MUST follow the law. That means obeying the age of sexual consent. That means obeying statutory rape laws. That means obtaining consent without alcohol, drugs, abuse, or coercion. Period. Always. For everyone. So that means that pedophilia is against the law, not because it’s a choice to be attracted to children, but because children are vulnerable and our laws protect them from adults and teens. If two consenting adults have sex no law has been broken so what do I care about their genders?

“If we let homosexuals marry soon they’ll be letting people marry their dogs.”

Talk about insulting. I repeat: bestiality like pedophilia is against the law not because it’s a choice or not a choice but because animals can’t exactly consent in any understandable way to having sex with a human. Second, an animal has different rights under the law and therefore cannot be married under human law (which deals with taxes and benefits). Third, you are stooping so low as to compare same sex couples to animals. Stop it.

“We’ll be legalizing incest next.”

Nature doesn’t like incest and so actual cases of incest outside of rape and porn are very rare. Most cases center around adult siblings being reunited after many many years apart. Their affection for each other is misplaced as sexual attraction because they did not grow up around each other. This normalizes after a while. It can also happen between a parent and a child who were separated at the child’s birth and reunited when the child is an adult. There’s a term for it. It exists. As far as I’m concerned, incest is wrong on the basis of genetics and in breeding and all. And I’m going to leave it there. The reason we don’t allow it under the law is because we understand the danger of in-breeding and because we understand the danger of coercion increases in these cases.

What are your thoughts on this?

Stop Calling Grown Women Girls

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Why? What would you rather be called?

I read a few articles, which you can read here:

https://www.bustle.com/articles/182414-why-we-need-to-stop-calling-women-girls

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jul/08/stop-calling-women-girls-its-either-patronising-or-sexually-suggestive

In short, they feel that “girls” when used to describe grown ups is either patronizing or sexually suggestive, and that it lends itself to our obsession with youth and our sexualization of young girls.

Actually, this boils down to a basic issue with the English language – we have one fewer feminine pronoun than we do male pronouns. So the pronoun “girl” does double duty. Let’s take a look, shall we?

Male/Female – probably the most “formal” of the gender labels. This is generally reserved for science speak, labeling patients or specimens. It can be used for humans or any species of animals. Anywhere you use “male”, “female” is acceptable.

“In this study we found that male rats were ….. compared to the female rats held in the same conditions.”

Man/Woman – we don’t use this to refer to animals so this is the most formal label for humans alone. Instead of meaning the specific gender within the species it means an adult human of a specific gender. They are interchangeable but used mostly in descriptive, 3rd person, speak or when we are teaching young children about gender.

“Mommy is a woman. Daddy is a man.”

“Yes, I know Mrs. So’n’so from church, she’s a very generous woman.”

“Mr. This’n’that at the corner store is such a nice man.”

Husband/Wife – also referring to adult humans, this is a relationship label. Her husband. His wife. (Or his husband and her wife, depending on the situation). We really only use these labels to identify one person’s relationship to another person or to identify our own status within a community, for example, I am a wife.

Father/Mother – adult humans who have or care for offspring. There are many versions (mom, dad, mommy, daddy, ma, pa, da, mum, pops ….) which are more casual. Like husband/wife these words are generally used as a way to identify one person’s relationship to another person, to identify our status, or for our children to easily identify us.

Grandfather/Grandmother/Uncle/Aunt – All other relationship tags have this duality, with the exception of “cousin” which is gender neutral. Whether we are discussing our elders or our youngers (niece/nephew, son/daughter) or our peers (brother/sister) we have a word for that. They are used to show respect to an adult (as in honourary aunts and uncles), to label others or ourselves, and to identify our interconnectivity to the world around us.

Gentleman/Lady – Here’s a complicated one. Gentleman has retained a very strict connotation. It means a man who displays certain positive characteristics. A gentleman does not cuss in front of ladies or children, he holds open doors, he carries heavy items and reaches things from high shelves. He is polite, and respectful. A lady, therefore, is a woman of poise and grace, a woman who does not cuss in polite company, holds her pinky out when she drinks her tea, takes care of her appearance, and carries herself with grace and dignity.

Okay. Enough. Can we update this to modern times?

A gentleman is a man who uses his manners when the situation calls for it, is respectful of people, and generally doesn’t go around making an ass of himself unless he’s goofing off with his friends. A lady is a woman who uses her manners when the situation calls for it, is respectful of people, and generally doesn’t go around acting like a bitch unless she’s goofing off with her friends.

While most people accept the updated definition of gentleman, lady still retains images of women who never swears, never raises her voice, never voices a controversial opinion, etc. It’s a very Victorian word.

Mister/Missus – you know, Mr. Mrs.? They mean a married man or a married woman and are generally tacked to a last name when you’re not on a first name basis with someone. It denotes not only their marital status but respect from the person speaking.

Master/Miss – bet you didn’t know that the opposite of Miss, an unmarried woman, was actually Master. Due to the negative connotations of the word Master in reference to slavery it has largely been dropped from casual conversation and replaced with Mister, shortened to Mr. But if you ever get mail for your son and it’s addressed to Mstr. Name, well that’s short for Master.

Mister/Ms. – After a certain age we stop calling men Mstr., especially in North America where the term Master has a negative connotation. So Mister also applies to unmarried men as opposed to unmarried boys. Ms. is not short for Miss, it is used to denote an unmarried woman over a certain age, or a woman who is not intending to get married, or a woman who is married but kept her last name.

Boy/Girl – Both formal and casual, this refers to children. We add prefixes to further identify the child’s age. A young boy. A teen girl. At a certain age we may replace boy/girl with young man/woman, but this tends to be used in situations similar to when we would use man/woman.

“I have a house full of teenage boys” and “I have a house full of young men” mean the same thing, but one implies they are still children at heart and one implies the potential for maturity is showing.

This reinforces that boy/girl has connotations of immaturity, youthfulness, playfulness, and irresponsibility. This is why phrases like “boys with be boys” is also troublesome, especially when applied to men. Yes, boys will be boys, they will be young and energetic and get into all sorts of trouble. But they are supposed to learn, to grow up, to become young men, and then men. And since we don’t excuse other forms of misbehaviour, well, that’s another rant for another time.

Boyfriend/Girlfriend – this implies a romantic relationship between two youthful individuals. It is now also used for adults who are courting, replacing the old fashioned term of suitor just as dating has replaced courting.

Guy/Gal – Guy is a casual term that is sometimes used as a gender neutral though it is masculine. It is used to refer to a group of males with some connection (a classroom full of people, the group you hang out with, etc). Hey guys. You guys. Hanging with the guys. Gal, while equally casual and the conversational equivalent, has, for some reason, fallen out of fashion in the last few decades. Of course the 1930s equivalent to guy is doll, and I don’t think we need that making a comeback if we have a problem with the word girl as a casual term for a grown woman.

With Gal having lost its popularity there is no other real feminine casual for female friends. That’s why “girl” tends to do double duty. Girls night out. My girlfriends. The girls. You could replace “girl” in each of these sentences with boy or with guy or with gal and get the same meaning, either masculine or feminine.

What I think is the real issue here is not the language used but the context.

If the Prime Minister of Canada is talking about his Cabinet he speaks about the men and women he works with. He speaks about the ladies in Parliament. He speaks about the men or gentlemen at the office. He is a professional speaking about other professionals, in a professional setting, so he uses professional sounding pronouns. If Justin Trudeau is speaking informally about his wife he may just refer to her as “the girl that stole my heart” as a term of endearment. If he’s speaking directly to his wife without the media around he may come in and say “Hey pretty girl,” again as a term of endearment. He is a man speaking to or about his wife in a casual context.

Context. Who is speaking. Who is being spoken to. Who is being spoken of.

These senators or governors should not be speaking about the females in their work place as “girls” especially when speaking to the media. To walk up to them and say “Are you headed out with the girls this weekend?” is perfectly acceptable, casual, office speak. To say to the reporters “they’re silly girls” or “those girls are tough to work with” is demeaning, and insulting. They (the women in question) are professionals in a professional context and should be referred to in professional terms.

We can’t get rid of “girls” as a term for adult women because adult women are the ones using it. But “boys” is often used to refer to men as well. Out with the boys. “Me and the Boys” (a fantastic song that is not about their sons). Girls night out. Girlfriends.

We need to keep our casual language to casual settings among friends and family and casual acquaintances and we need the professionals to keep their language professional in professional settings.

I would expect my doctor to hand me a paper and say “take this to the ladies at the front desk” not the “girls” at the front desk. But I wouldn’t bat an eye at me sister saying she was going out to make ceramics with the girls Friday night.

Context.

We don’t need to remodel the English language. We need to establish boundaries for professional conduct that take into account context.

What do you think?

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