“The Book of Life” tells stories of strong female characters

Hey Dad,

Have you seen trailers for that new Day of the Dead movie, “The Book of Life”? I’d seen some trailers for it this summer, so when it came time to plan a Halloween activity for the boyfriend’s kids, I recommended a trip to the movies.

The plot seemed simple enough: Two deities make a bet on which of two boys will marry a girl both boys are in love with. Life and death stakes and journeys through fantastical afterlives as a bonus.

I was looking forward to beautiful animation, kid humor and a movie that focused on Mexican cultural heritage. As a bonus, I got a movie that was chock-full of awesome, independent female characters.

The first is Maria. She’s gorgeous and charming, but not content to be a simple love interest or prize. She’s the hero in her own story here, and she’s not afraid to assert herself. When a pig liberation runs amok, her father declares she must become a proper lady. Her response is, “Why?” When others refer to her as one of the male character’s “woman,” she makes it clear she belongs to no one. And when a suitor tells her it’s okay to accept his proposal because her dad already gave his permission, she is anything but happy with her father.

To top it off, she reads books, fences and knows kung-fu. And she rallies the troops when the town is threatened. If she marries anyone, it will be her own choice, and it will be someone who respects her as an equal.

I mean, the Maria toy comes with a freaking sword.

Then there’s La Muerte, ruler of the Land of the Remembered, a gorgeous, strong and wise deity. She juggles her duties as ruler of the Land of the Remembered and her tense marriage with the ruler of the Land of the Forgotten. She’s a fabulous matriarch who is always five steps ahead of her rivals.


And then there’s the twins, Adelita and Nina, I believe. Their roles are fairly small, but they quickly became the boyfriend’s favorite characters (and possibly mine). These rambunctious skeletons fought in the revolution, “and we won,” they tell their cousin.


I loved that these two women didn’t have love interests, and it didn’t bother them in the least. What they cared about was fighting for their cause, and how good they looked in their boots. They have some of the best comebacks in this film.

I’m pretty sure this film passed the Bechdel test on multiple occasions. And there are plenty of other women and girls I didn’t mention. The men in the film range from emotional to macho, too. Plus, directed and written by Jorge R. Gutierrez and produced by Guillermo Del Toro, with many Mexican voice actors, it isn’t a movie about Mexican culture that’s been coopted by white Americans.

It’s also funny, beautiful, memorable, and boasts a great soundtrack. I was really glad we took the boyfriend’s daughter because this was a movie with some great role models.

So if you’re looking for a good Halloween movie (and totally not scary), I recommend “The Book of Life.” As a feminist, it was a joy to watch.



Speak low: Pitch and feminine vocal tics

Hey Dad,

Remember that car trip where we all discussed the phenomenon of vocal fry? You know, when a woman’s voice drops to a sort of growl at the ends of words? Remember how I mentioned an article I’d read that said college women tend to use vocal fry (subconsciously) far more than older women?

That article, and conversation, made me very conscious of my own voice, and how it could communicate traditionally feminine or masculine traits. I was just starting college, and suddenly, I was hearing vocal fry everywhere. Even I was using it. And I also was working as a barista at a cafe, where I learned to speak in a higher, lighter, more girlish tone to put the older male customers at ease and make them welcome.

Over the last five years, I’ve become conscious of how I instinctually change my voice based on situation. When asserting authority or speaking up for myself, my voice drops. When I’m calling people to confirm dinner reservations at the restaurant, my voice is higher, more melodic.

Yesterday, I visited a radio station for an interview (so exciting!). As the host introduced me and then welcomed me, I thanked her before realizing I was in my warm telephone voice. I thought about how much better it would be to speak more deeply about the issue of feminism. As the interview continued, I noticed how my voice fell. (Check it out here. I talk a lot about the blog and our relationship.)

A vintage photo of a man and woman sitting across from each other with a microphone in the center. The man is talking and pointing at the woman. The woman is sitting, arms crossed, smiling and looking above his head.

This isn’t to say that one voice is better than another, or that changing voices is manipulative. Many women change their voice without realizing it based on situation. I’m guessing men might too.

I do want to point out, though, that we give more authority to male voices, and so women adapt and adopt traits traditionally thought of as male. Though vocal fry has been written off by an older generation as “annoying,” it signals a career woman to my peers. We have learned that lowering our voices grants us more weight in discussions, asserts our place at the table.



How many more?

(tw: violence against women)

Dear Dad,

I am crying right now, actually crying as I write this.

By now, you’ve probably heard about the shooting at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Washington. You may know that two students are dead, including the shooter, and four others are wounded.

The line that stuck with me the most from the story I linked to? This:

Jarron Webb, 15, said the shooter was angry at a girl who would not date him, and that the girl was one of the people shot.

Just a few months after the Isla Vista killings, a child takes aim at his classmates again in his rage against women, and I’m left feeling powerless and hopeless with the question, “How many more will die before we do something about it?”

There’s a culture of male entitlement, toxic masculinity and violence against women that pervades our society. At Isla Vista, one man killed six people because he felt entitled to sex from women. In Washington, a boy shoots his classmate because she refused to date him. Earlier this month, media critic and feminist Anita Sarkeesian had to cancel a talk at Utah State University after receiving threats of the “deadliest shooting in American history.”

I am horrified, terrified and enraged to live in a world that will probably talk about this shooter as a madman, as an outlier, while online hordes are harassing women such as Sarkeesian and game designer Zoe Quinn with threats of rape and murder. We will discuss his mental health, and gun control, and gun sales will skyrocket while the possibility that maybe, just maybe, we need to do something about a culture that teaches men to hate women will get swept under the rug.

After the Isla Vista shootings, Richard Martinez, the father of victim Christopher Martinez, went to national media to demand that “Not One More” person die of gun violence. I admire Richard Martinez’ courage and eloquence in speaking about such a difficult and personal subject, and I believe that restricting access to guns is a wise idea.

And I want to extend that idea now to violence against women, to misogyny. We need to band together as a society and take a stand. We need to take a hard look at a culture of male entitlement and misogyny and say, “Not one more. We will not allow another person to die because of hatred of women.”

I’ve attached some resources here, Dad, for info on how toxic masculinity perpetuates violence against women, and ways we can fight it:

  • White Ribbon Campaign, a Canada-based campaign that “positively engages men, young men and boys through relevant educational programming that challenges language and behaviours, as well as harmful ideas of manhood that lead to violence against women.”
  • Feminist Frequency, Anita Sarkeesian’s website where she breaks down harmful, sexist tropes in video games and movies.
  • Amnesty International, a global organization that fights for human rights, including breaking down a culture of discrimination that leads to women being beaten, raped, tortured and killed around the world.
  • Men Can Stop Rape, which engages men in ending violence against women and “embraces men as vital allies with the will and character to make healthy choices and foster safe, equitable relationships.” Currently, they’re accepting registration for the “Healthy Masculinity Training Institute.”

These are just a handful of sites that I admire, Dad, and there are plenty of other organizations out there doing their part, but it’s clear there’s so much more work to be done. I encourage you to visit the sites, spend some time reading up on them, and think about what you can do to help too.

It’s been a rough day. I love you,


Letters to women getting abortions

Dear Dad,

I’ve seen this letter floating around social media lately, maybe you have too. It’s by blogger Matt Walsh, and is a letter penned to a woman who wrote about her upcoming abortion. Walsh makes a plea on his own blog to share the post from The Blaze (DoNotLink), which begs the woman not to go through with the procedure.

When I first read the letter, it made me angry, then it made me laugh, then it made me sad. As I took some distance from it, I thought about how it embodies a lot of the pro-life ideas I was taught growing up, and how I respond to those same ideas now. It seemed fitting to dissect the letter here.

First, it doesn’t start out on very good footing. Walsh begins by calling the writer’s motives into question, and even questioning the veracity of the letter:

I can’t be sure that you even exist or that your letter was sincere. This could be some kind of sick joke. You could be a pro-choice propagandist, fabricating another story to help get rid of the ‘taboo’ surrounding infanticide. I don’t know. But I’m going to assume, right now, that this is all legitimate. I’m going to speak to you like you are real, like you are really planning to do this, because whether you are or not, everything I’ll say to you also applies to any woman in the same position.

Already, Walsh’s letter was a little off-putting to me. To write a letter that you claim is to help a woman in need, and accuse her of lying at the beginning? I can’t say I went into this letter with very much respect for the Walsh.

This beginning also serves to delegitimize the woman’s own writing about her abortion, which he then quotes. Even before you have a chance to read her post, Walsh has planted the seeds of doubt.

He also says that Reddit mods are deleting any responses to the original post that don’t congratulate the woman. I have no evidence of this, and Walsh doesn’t provide any either. It should be also pointed out that Reddit organizes responses to posts by popularity, so if his critique of this woman’s decision wasn’t popular, you’d have to slog through a lot of responses to find it at the bottom.

On to the original post: The woman writes it to her potential child. She says she can feel that she is pregnant now, but isn’t ready to be a mother. She wants to provide the best life possible for her child, she says, but she’s not ready for that now. She has thought this decision over carefully, weighed the consequences, and knows that it’s not the right time for her to have a baby now. The letter is fairly poetic and moving, and I appreciated it.

Walsh says that he can tell that she’s unhappy, though:

I felt the sadness and hesitation in your words. The fact that you published it in the first place proves that you are not completely sure about what you are planning to do. I think you want to be talked up or talked down. You want to hear what people have to say about it, which is the only reason anyone ever posts personal things on the internet.

This part seemed kind of ironic to me. Here is Walsh, talking about how the only reason people publish things on the Internet is to get advice, and he’s publishing a personal letter. Maybe he wants to be talked down.

It never occurs to him that people also write to record events, or to persuade others? (It does, since he’s already accused the writer of making “propaganda.”) People write and publish things for many reasons. I’ve written about very personal issues, including my body image and maintenance. I wasn’t looking for people to convince me to shave again, or tell me to lose weight. I was sharing my story so that hopefully other women would know they don’t have to fit into a tiny box of what is perceived acceptable.

Walsh is bringing a lot of his own assumptions to this letter, telling us much more about his own feelings than the woman’s.

He goes on to talk about the woman’s child, and how precious it is. This is the center of pro-life discourse: The babies. The children.

Who am I to say this to you? Nobody, really. I’m nobody. I’m nothing. But your child is someone. You child is something.

This part is especially telling, to me, as it illustrates a very common theme in pro-life arguments: The adult, the fully formed person is not as important as the potential child. Walsh has less regard for himself than the fetus, just as many pro-lifers have less regard for the mother than for the possibility of the child. The woman’s physical and emotional well-being are nothing compared to the bundle of cells she carries.

Walsh goes on to say that the writer is wrong that she can have that child again, as she had stated. And I would say that he’s correct here. If she gets pregnant again, that child won’t be the same as this fetus. That doesn’t mean she’s obligated to carry this pregnancy out. It’s not the point.

And then he tries to tell the woman that she should listen to her heart in making this decision (as if no woman could ever not want to be a mom), warns that she will live with a lifetime of regret and accuses pro-choice people of using her potential child as a pawn.

I know some other Reddit users commented and told you that you won’t regret this decision. They are lying to you. Don’t listen to them. Listen to your heart. The same heart that prompted you to write that letter and feel those thing for your child. Listen to it, not the broken and deceitful masses who want to claim your baby’s death as a victory for their side of an argument. Your little one is just a pawn to them. They don’t love him like you do. They don’t love him at all. But down to the very pit of your soul you feel something for your baby that you’ve never felt for anyone.

There’s a couple things to unpack here, but this is one of the most important sections of the letter.

First, Walsh says the mother will regret this decision. It reads almost like a threat, to me. It’s half true: Some women who obtain abortions regret them. Others do not.

Just like tattoos, which are also permanent, some people regret the decision. Others think it’s the best decision they’ve ever made. But if I thought tattoos were awful, I still wouldn’t have the right to tell other people what they can and can’t do with their bodies.

Furthermore, how many women regret their decision to have an abortion because of the shame we place around it? How many feel cut off, isolated because of people screaming at them that it’s genocide? (Check out this great post on a gynecologist who actually lived through genocide for some perspective on why that argument is so offensive.)

Walsh then says that “the broken and deceitful masses” want to use this woman’s child as “a pawn,” that they are using her abortion for their cause. This part legitimately made me laugh, before I was very sad.

Walsh is using this potential child, threatening the woman with a “void” in her life if she goes through with this procedure. No one is using this “little one” as a pawn more than Walsh.

Walsh even tries to put her fetus up for adoption:

I mentioned your story on Facebook last week and asked if any of my Facebook friends could offer resources to help you. Well, they gave more than that. Numerous people came forward offering to adopt your child.

Translation: Plenty of people want this baby. Why don’t you? Alternate translation: You’re a bad person for not going through with this pregnancy and giving us the baby.

Walsh completely skips over the fact that we’re still talking about a pregnant woman, and women are not required to carry your children for you. We’re not incubators, no matter what conservative lawmakers believe. Having choice is about having bodily autonomy, and Walsh tries to wave that all away by saying, “We’ll take that kid off your hands!”

I used to think the same thing. When I was a kid, I thought, “I’ll adopt tons of babies when I’m an adult so no woman ever has to have an abortion again!” I didn’t realize that I don’t have the right to force women to bear children and give them to me. Walsh still doesn’t.

Then Walsh throws the typical, “Abortion clinics are evil,” argument in:

An abortion clinic will take your child’s life and kick you out the door. But pregnancy centers and Christian charities will walk with you, step by step, and never leave your side.

I’ve been to a Planned Parenthood, one of the main abortion providers that pro-lifers want to shut down. I don’t know if Walsh has ever been inside one, or gotten a check-up.

They’re much more than the typical doctors’ offices I’ve visited. My nurse asked me about my relationship, asked if I felt safe. She checked that it was okay to call the number I’d given her. This is a level of care you don’t get from most doctors, and I got it at a facility that also provides abortions. Had I heard her words a year earlier, it might have given me the push I needed to get out of a toxic relationship. As it is, I’m grateful to know that I have Planned Parenthood there should I need it.

Crisis pregnancy centers, on the other hand, have a habit of lying to women about breast cancer, abortion and infertility. None of that seems very supportive of women.

Finally, Walsh pleads with the woman that she has a choice:

You don’t have to go through with this tomorrow. It’s such a tragic irony that the people who support abortion call it ‘pro-choice,’ yet so often, the women who get abortions do so because they feel they have no choice.

And this is just some frustrating twisting of language, as Walsh has spent most of the letter threatening the woman with how much she’ll regret this decision. She’s weighed her options, she’s made a decision, and she was able to make that decision because the options were all available to her. It’s called pro-choice because she can make a choice, instead of being obligated to go through with this pregnancy.

It’s still weird to me how people who advocate eliminating choices for women want to say that it’s about choice. I don’t think I’ll ever get it.

In the end, Dad, it’s all about that choice. It’s about making sure that people like Matt Walsh can’t make decisions for this woman. It’s about bodily autonomy. I don’t have the right to tell her what decision to make, and neither does Matt Walsh. She knows herself the best, and this decision is hers and hers alone.



P.S. Sorry for the length! You know I’m a wordsmith, Dad.

Burning the brassiere: One woman’s struggle for comfort and women’s liberation

Dear Dad,

I know living in a house with me when I was a teenager, you had an up-close-and-personal experience of what most girls experience going through puberty. Maybe too personal: Remember sitting up all night with me as I cried that time I had terrible cramps?

You also had a front row seat to the struggles I went through trying to find a bra that fit. First, I was wearing Target bras that were woefully too small, and wore out quickly. Then, I found bras that fit, but I had to shell out close to $200 for two. Working my way through college, I often didn’t have money to buy bras when I needed them, and had to suffer for months with ill-fitting, worn-out contraptions that left me with bruises and sometimes cuts.

Lately, I’ve been working three jobs, and my bra pain has only gotten worse. Because my body is constantly fatigued, it’s difficult for my bruises to heal, and putting on a bra brings almost instant, excruciating pain.

So I stopped wearing bras.


I’ve taken to wearing bathing suit tops or shelf bras. The shape isn’t the same, I don’t look like Betty Page anymore, but I’m also able to concentrate at work.

It’s been a struggle emotionally. I’ve been raised in a world where women’s breasts are portrayed as beautifully sculpted globes that just stay perky through antigravity or something. As a voluptuous woman, I learned to tie my sense of beauty, attractiveness and self worth to my breasts and the way my bra shaped them. Going out of the house in a shelf bra, I’ve felt as if everyone is staring at me and wondering why my breasts are so saggy.


Throughout my whole individual saga, I’ve been thinking about the “bra-burning feminist” stereotype that is so often thrown around to discredit feminists as extremists. I remember you telling me stories, Dad, of the feminists when you were in college who burnt their bras and hit men who opened doors for them.

In fact, feminists as bra-burners is a complete myth, fabricated to discredit the women’s movement. Jennifer Lee, director of the documentary “Feminist: Stories from Women’s Liberation,” explains what she learned about the 1968 Miss America protests in the making of her film:

Bras were just one of the items protestors were encouraged to bring that day that signified how the male-dominated culture was keeping women locked into rigid ideas of beauty, but they weren’t burned. Starting a fire on the boardwalk was illegal, so protestors opted to Playboy magazines and other items in a Freedom Trash Can. Still, the bra-burning image remained—a symbol that was easy to belittle as women focusing on something trivial. Misinformation and myths sometimes serve as placeholders in our memory when facts are not remembered.

“Bra-burning,” or rather, throwing items that represented the oppression women faced into the trash, was a symbolic gesture, an act of defiance and liberation. I too, am trying to liberate myself from a beauty paradigm that has brought me pain and bodily harm, Dad. The more I think about it (and every time I put my bra back on) the more convinced I become that being a bra-burner is being a woman who asserts her right to comfort over rigid beauty standards. (Literally, those underwires are stiff and painful.)

Of course, I support anyone’s right to wear a bra if they want, but I’m also speaking out for the women who don’t want to, who are tired of strapping themselves in every morning, who are sick of tracing the bruises on their ribs. Burn your bras, ladies! Wear what makes you happy!


Achieving parity

Dear Dad,

I saw another study about women’s representation in movies and was reminded of our brief conversation on the topic a few months back.

First, some summaries of this study:

  • Globally, there are 2.24 males for every female character.
  • Only about 30 percent of speaking or named characters are female.
  • Only 20.5 percent of filmmakers are female.
  • Female characters are more likely to be sexualized, skinny, or wearing sexy clothes. (Almost twice as often as male characters)
  • In films for children, female characters are even more likely to be thin than in films targeted at adults.
  • Women make up only 23.2 percent of the U.S. workforce in films, but 46.3 percent of the workforce in real life.
  • Comments about appearance were directed at women at FIVE TIMES the rate they were directed at men.

In my last post, I talked about how women make up about 17 percent of crowd scenes in movies, as well as about 17 percent of leadership positions in real life. You replied that women are rapidly surpassing men in holding bachelor’s degrees, and that the gender pay gap is nigh but a thing of the past. And that is encouraging (though if you read that story, you’ll realize that the reason women are graduating at higher rates is because they can’t get a lucrative job without a degree, so they’re more willing to take on student debt than men, who have more job opportunities available regardless of education, and student debt is a whole other issue that saddles students of lower socio-economic status and any gender, but I digress).

You also mention negative portrayals of dads in media, and you’re right! This is a shame! The “dad-as-dumb-couch-potato” trope is harmful to men! And it perpetuates stereotypes that are harmful to families and women. These are important media critiques to make, and I should add that the slacker dad plays into the “mother runs the home” trope, keeping Mom in the kitchen and taking care of the kids because that is her purview. The slacker dad trope perpetuates ideas of masculinity as being animalistic and lazy, thus giving men a free pass on participation at home. It’s refreshing and encouraging to see positive portrayals of engaged fathers. It’s one of the reasons “Boy Meets World” is still one of my favorite sitcoms. “How I Met Your Mother” is another sitcom, this one geared at adults, that features passionate, engaged dads. They sometimes make silly goofs, but that doesn’t make them buffoons. They can be funny without being stupid, and I appreciate that.

But on the topic of women surpassing men in the job market, even the articles you point me to say that that hasn’t yet happened. Certainly, the gap is closing, but we’re nowhere near equality. On John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” segment on the pay gap, one pundit points out that unmarried, childless women between the age of 35 and 43 make 108 cents to a man’s dollar. Which is like, great if you don’t want to have kids or get married or ever turn 44. But we shouldn’t be restricting women’s options in the name of fairness!

The full, thorough, hilarious segment here:

And, as the fabulous documentary “Miss Representation” points out (I really liked that movie, okay?), an interesting thing happened when women first started to make forays into the job market: Media representations of women became far more toxic. In fact, as women continue to make headway, our counterparts on television become weaker and more sexualized, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. This is a way of making equality harder to achieve.

Just because we’ve made progress doesn’t mean we don’t have more to get done. And the latest study on representation in media shows that there is still so much to do.



A sexism-free Destiny

Dear Dad,

I’ve written before about sexism in video games, and there’s been a lot of attention to gaming’s toxic attitude toward women by awesome feminists like Anita Sarkeesian. You know I’m very passionate about how media portrays women and impacts our opinion toward women, and a lot of that shows in critique of TV, movies, games, music, etc. Today, though, I wanted to give a little shout-out to a game that didn’t make me feel othered, not one bit.

I’ve been playing a lot of Destiny. If you’re not familiar, it’s a first-person shooter MMO by the creators of Halo (it was billed as Halo’s successor). The game is pretty fun. Gameplay is awesome, the weapons are cool, the worlds are beautiful, and over all it’s a pretty solid game. It’s taken some harsh criticism for not living up to all the hype prior to its release, and understandably so. It sort of just ends after level 20, and then you have to play a bunch of repetitive missions to make any progress. But I’m not too bothered by this because again, the weapons are super fun to shoot.

Now, as I was mainlining this game immediately after its release, it occurred to me that never, not once, did I feel alienated by it (which is humorous because you visit different planets, lol). What do I mean? I mean that I never saw a female character portrayed as a sex object. There are no women in the game as decoration or to titillate. There are plenty of female NPCs, but they are about as sexualized as the males, which is not at all. The shipwright’s character, for instance, really appealed to me because she’s obviously a woman, but also the expert on building ships to take you across the galaxy. It’s a woman in engineering!

A screenshot of the shipwright in Destiny. The computer-animated white woman has blond hair, a leather jacket and a red sash over her shoulders. The screen also shows options for purchasing vehicles.

Amanda Holliday, the shipwright, has serious skills and some serious attitude, too.

And when I first created my character, I elected to play as a woman as well. I selected the Titan class (that’s the warriors) and selected her face shape, hair color, eye color, etc. They even had a pretty solid variety of facial shapes so the women don’t all have to have the tiny-chin-tiny-nose-giant-eye-Disney-princess look. I selected a face with strong cheekbones, and a big strong nose.

My character is also dressed appropriately for battle, in heavy armor to withstand the harshest blows. The armor is fairly similar to the male armor, except that the female characters are a little bit smaller than their male counterparts. Nowhere did I have to show some leg or cleavage. This is the same for Hunters and Warlocks, as well. In the post-Apocalyptic world of Destiny, men and women are realistically covered up to protect against the elements and their enemies, instead of showing skin to arouse the male gamer.

A screenshot of a video game character in futuristic full-body armor.

My character, a Titan, is equipped with a helmet, chest guard, leg protection and gauntlets. She wears a sash around her waist to show off achievements. She is not sexualized.

I bring all this up, Dad, because I want to show how easy it is to make a fun, edgy game without objectifying women. And this game is edgy. You live in the last human city, alien creatures are around every corner trying to destroy you, and you visit all these eerily barren planets that were once human colonies but have since been destroyed. I find it super creepy and I totally love it. Plus, I never feel uncomfortable or unwelcome. This was a game created with me in mind.