Feminism and this election

I am a feminist. I believe in the right of all women to be treated as equal human beings to men.

Since my adolescence, I have often found myself the only girl in the room (and after I moved to Minnesota, the only non-white person in the room). In college, I was the only girl in the physics lab or EE lab or neurobiology lab. At the workplace, the only woman in the meeting or the only woman in the entire company who wasn't an admin. 

The only girl reading that science fiction book. The only woman in that line at the beer tasting festival. The only female mountain biker. 

I've been one of the lucky ones in this situation. The men who have surrounded me have, for the most part, not been assholes. (With the exception of high school in Minnesota, where I felt like a particularly weird insect that nobody knew how to handle - thank goodness for my handful of female friends). 

But for three decades, my possession of a vagina has set me apart. 

I've had to prove my worth as an equal among the men. I have learned to raise my voice. I have learned to know more and be better prepared and impress the men with my degree of competence. I have learned to exude "Don't Mess With Me" attitudes and "I'm Not Interested" vibes.

Because that's what it takes for the vagina to stay in the room.

I've watched as many of my peers have made parallel journeys. As women, we have risen up and secured our place in the workforce. As women who are now raising children, we are teaching our daughters and sons to respect each other and make no correlation between chromosomes and capability. As women, we have demanded that our male partners - in the workplace and in the home - take their share of the unpaid labor that used to fall solely on our shoulders.

And I've watched as our conversation about feminism has progressed to equal pay, second-shifts, family leave, double standards, and glass ceilings.

That ultimate, highest ceiling in the USA - I was genuinely hopeful that we'd break it at long last. This country is embarrassingly overdue for having women in the Presidency, and Hillary Clinton is certainly qualified and no more corrupt or conniving than many men who have run for President.

But she is in possession of female sexual organs.

I get that people voted for Trump because they wanted to shake up the establishment (which Hillary Clinton is). I get that people in middle America are frustrated and hopeless and want to better their lives (and think he can deliver that). I get that some people will vote along party lines regardless of the candidate.

But he is an openly sexist predator whose only use for women is decorative or sexual. By ignoring that or giving it a lower priority, Trump supporters have given their approval in treating women like objects.

This election was a referendum on many issues, but foremost in my mind is that it's a condemnation of feminism - of the ambitions of women to be treated as more than a vagina (or a pussy, if you want to put it in his terms).

I'm female. I'm an intellectual. I'm an immigrant. I am everything that Trump's supporters voted against. How can I not take this personally? How am I supposed to ignore or brush aside this aspect of the election when it is everything I have struggled against for 3/4 of my life?

I feel like I'm back where I started, the brown girl holding her seat in the computer lab among a sea of unwelcoming white boys. And while a big part of me is screaming, "Seriously? Again?" another is saying, "This is not my first rodeo. Buck all you want, but my vagina and I are here to stay."

Intersections: "Ex Machina" and #iLookLikeAnEngineer



I had a couple of spare hours the other night and decided to indulge by watching "Ex Machina" for the first time (yes, I'm behind on movies). Critical acclaim for this was through the roof, and I hoped for the next Gattaca. Instead, I got badly stereotyped characters, exploitative female nudity, sexual moralizing, and a throwback "evil A.I." plot.

I want my spare hours back.

When the #iLookLikeAnEngineer meme took the internet by firestorm, it provided the perfect real-life counterfactual for "Ex Machina."

If you are writing fiction - especially science fiction! - you have a wealth of possibilities to play with. That reclusive internet billionaire genius? Doesn't have to be a hipster-beard-sporting dudebro. The awkward and sweet software engineer? Doesn't have to look like he lives deprived of sunshine and nutrition.

Gag me with a spoon, Silicon Valley people, because this casting lacks in imagination AND reality. As the #iLookLikeAnEngineer tag demonstrates, waifish pixie girls are also brilliant engineers. So are people who aren't white or thin or young or straight or able-bodied.

The double whammy is a bunch of naked lady sex robots and how they stick it to the horn-dog man at the end. So, basically, we know the bad guy's evil because he's turned his AI robots into sex slaves. This insults men, sex, and AIs. They make the point earlier in the movie that he's coded pleasure into the robots' sexual organs. Methinks they forgot about Pavlov: people die for cocaine. Pleasure is one of the strongest motivators around. WHY would his robots hate him for that?

Also, was it necessary to slow-pan over Every. Single. Naked. Robot? All female, of course. Hello, Hollywood double standards!

Last but not least, we have the plot. Oh me, oh my, why are the Hollywood A.I. robots such assholes? To be fair, there is an exception: kids' movies. Did you see "Big Hero 6?" Now that is a great example of imaginative characterization, a clever science-fiction plot, and - oh, wow! - a reasonably "intelligent" robot that isn't a sociopath.

The real tragedy illustrated by "Ex Machina" and #iLookLikeAnEngineer is lack of imagination. Critics of this movie seemed were so overwhelmed by style that they failed to notice the boring substance. Meanwhile, in reality, people were calling out Isis Wegner (the source of #iLookLikeAnEngineer) for being a recruiting-tool actress rather than a programmer. "Ex Machina" had an opportunity to change the narrative, to challenge people's assumptions, but they squandered it in the worst way.

Forget artificial intelligence. Let's work on improving our natural version first!