No, it was the herring who did the juggling.

No, it was the herring who did the juggling.
Tiny little ginsu knives. Really very dangerous. One false move and they could have filleted themselves.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Women, atheism, and metal?

Women & Atheism

I read this very interesting post over at Pharyngula about the low ratio of women to men at atheism/skepticism conventions. I've never been to this sort of convention, though I imagine I'd enjoy myself very much if I did. But my lack of direct experience makes me hesitant to offer much in the way of suggestions in response to PZ's question:
Instead of telling you my opinion, I'm going to forgo the essential principle of blogging (which is "Me! Me!") and just ask people, especially women, to leave links to their godless/skeptical feminist blog or make suggestions or gripe or tell me what these stupid male-dominated conventions have to do to correct the imbalance.
I may end up posting a link to this blog on Pharyngula, though I'll need to muster up some courage first. I mean really, the posts and many of the comments on that site are frighteningly intelligent; and while I don't think I'm a moron I can't help thinking that the content on my wee blog here isn't really on the same par as Pharyngula.

But anyway, I have spent some time pondering PZ's question since reading his post, and the conclusion I have reached is a very common one for me - I want more data. (Yay for data!) :) I don't off the top of my head know much about the empirical research regarding gender and atheism; I did a quick search of (again, *empirical*) research and this admittedly quick search didn't seem to suggest that there is a difference in the actual baserates of atheism in women vs men. So that seems to lower the probability that the gender difference at atheism conventions is simply a result of there being less of us women atheists in the first place.

So, working for now under the assumption that the rates of atheism in men and women are roughly comparable, I can come up with some possible and even plausible reasons for women attending atheism conferences less often than men, but ultimately I would like to get information from a sample of other female atheists. A boring answer, perhaps, but there it is.


While thinking about possible reasons for the male/female ratio at atheism conventions I was amused to find that several of them, though not all, overlapped with ideas I've had in the past when pondering the gender ratio at metal concerts. There is a stereotype that metal fans are primarily men, and certainly my experience attending metal concerts is consistent with this idea; it's hard to say for sure, given that metal concerts are blissfully dark, but my best guess is that on average the metal concert audiences I've seen have been about 90% male. At first glance it may seem odd that reasons for differing gender ratios might be shared across topics as apparently different as atheism conventions and metal concerts. But I don't actually find this particularly surprising myself, since I think there are several similarities between atheism and metal.

There is an explicitly anti-religion strain in some metal bands, especially those with black metal influences. For example, these guys here (Dimmu Borgir, an awesome Norwegian band) make no secret of their dislike for Christianity and religion in general.

And here's an example of one of Dimmu Borgir's album covers and concert t-shirts. I'm actually writing this while wearing the latter.  :) 

I *love* this shirt. I wore it to the grocery store today and got a few double-takes at the goat head on the front; I wonder what kinds of shocked and/or disapproving looks my back received?  :)

However, my belief that atheism and metal share similarities goes beyond the (delightful) anti-religion elements found in bands with black metal influences. I listen to a lot of death metal as well, and am relatively familiar with several other metal subgenres, and I have observed a nice underlying thread of themes such as skepticism, critical thinking, and taking responsibility for one's beliefs and actions. It is these kind of themes that make me argue that metal and athiesm share some important similarities.

Again, I could list off several possible common reasons for the differing gender ratios at metal concerts and atheism conferences, but the data nerd in me says that without further data these remain untested hypotheses. However, I'm more interested in what might be done to increase female participation in these areas. Metal and skepticism/atheism are both very important to me and I hate to think that more women aren't participating in (and thus enjoying and benefiting from) metal and atheism gatherings. I mean, really ladies, trust me when I say that there are few things in life I find more enjoyable than a good metal concert. I tend to get blank, confused or disbelieving looks when I make such comments to women, and I tend to hear irritating remarks like "but it's so loud!" (duh) and "but it's so aggressive!" (Never mind that upon questioning I tend to find that most people making such comments have heard so little metal as to render them unable to accurately make descriptions of it.)

Oh rats, I see that I'm not making much progress on my previously-stated goal of increasing succinctness. So I'll end here, even though I haven't actually addressed PZ's request for practical suggestions for correcting the gender imbalance at atheism conventions. I got distracted by thinking about metal. Horns up!  :)

My love of data

So I'm back after a rather long blogging break. There are a variety of reasons for this break in posting, though none are particularly interesting. And since I've decided that succinctness is something towards which I would like to work, I'm not going to describe any of these reasons.

Well huh... it's harder than I would have thought to mention having reasons without providing further details. I wonder why I find this challenging? Let me ponder...


Well, I came up with one hypothesis: I am a huge fan of data. I like to have lots of data, and I like to know the source of data. I very much dislike seeing people (including me) forming opinions without having as much as possible of whatever data is appropriate to the particular situation. Now my difficulty not expanding on my reasons for not blogging isn't really the same thing, since I'm not trying to convince anyone of anything with my reasons for not posting to a tiny and completely unread blog. But I wonder whether my love of seeking out, evaluating, and sharing data can, if I'm not paying attention, spill over into other kinda-related contexts.

But it doesn't matter. Succinctness is my goal, and thus I shall stop typing for now...

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Traditional gender roles and other frustrations

Several things have frustrated me in the week or so since I last posted. For example, I have spent more time huddled in pain than any other state (and I'm including sleep in this). I have also found myself rather frustrated by the beaurocratic nonsense involved in the paperwork for going off work on sick leave. I mean, yes, I do understand that forms and such are neccessary for things like this. But I would think it would be sensible to streamline this kind of paperwork because it is being filled out by people who are, by definition, sufficiently ill that they can't work. Here I am trying to get well and instead I spend several days heading off to doctors to get forms signed, filling out the same information in several different forms, trying to figure out which forms go to the employer and which to the insurance company, and trying to track down a fax machine with which to send off the various forms.

Alright, that's enough of health-related frustrations for now. I'm going to move on to one of the other areas that continually irriates me: the religious right. (Actually, the example that particularly irked me today is more "right" than "religious right.") Anyway, I ended up on this page after following a link from one of the very funny and snarky blogs I follow (possibly World-O-Crap or Sadly, No!). While the post itself was irritating, it was actually the writer's response to one of the comments that frustrated me the most.
I’ve repeatedly said in this entry and elsewhere that it is bad parenting to abandon your family and force your husband to be Mr. Mom. Either that, or you simply think a nation of Mr. Moms and husbands becoming the wives is a good thing. A lasting society is one where men occupy male roles and women occupy female ones. A matriarchy and Mr. Mom/career woman society will never survive and none has at any time in history.
It is one thing when men express beliefs like this, but my goodness it both saddens and pisses me off when I hear/see it coming from a woman! I find it reprehensible but at least moderately understandable why men would be invested in maintaining rigid gender roles; sure, they have to go out and earn money (boo hoo) but at the end of the workday they arrive home to a house that is clean, laundry that is done, children who are fed and clothed, and dinner waiting on the table. This situation clearly has benefits for the men involved. The women, not so much.

I have often tried to understand what it is that women get out of living a life in which there are no options other than traditional gender roles. I've tried to put myself in their shoes, to really try to get why some women very strongly believe that their breasts and such limit them to only one role in life, but I've not been successful thus far. Instead, I just get freaked out at the thought of being so dependent on someone that I wouldn't have the ability to pay my mortgage and such on my own if need be.

Granted, I come from a family in which my mother raised my brother and me entirely without help from my father; things had been going along fine, Mum was taking care of the kids and the house and my father was out making money...until one day he just up and left, leaving nothing behind but a tiny amount of child support. My mother had no post-secondary education and suddenly had the sole responsibility for two toddlers. I am incredibly lucky that my mother is smart and resourceful and self-sacrificing. However, she herself suffered greatly in many respects in order to provide for her kids, because she never had any money to spend on herself, and she had to juggle full-time work with full-time parenthood. I am incredibly grateful that my mother is an excellent juggler** , but as I got older I began to realize how traditional gender roles had let her down. I ended up having a very strong desire to be able to completely support myself, and so I guess it makes sense that the idea that other women actually think that I should have no option but to be a good little housewife and mother makes me feel like this:

Then there's also the religious aspect to this, the belief that you have no choice but to live your life as a baby-breeder and taker-carer-of-men or else God will send you to burn and gnash your teeth* in the firey pits of hell for all of eternity. But I am far too tired to get going on religion right now.

Oh, but one last thing: It isn't even so much the idea of "men go out and work while women stay home" thing that irritates me, but rather the assumption that these standard gender roles should or even have to apply to everyone that makes my fists clench. So what if I myself can't understand the desire to live as Suzy Homemaker? That doesn't mean that there aren't perfectly happy Suzies out there, and my inability to understand their beliefs in no way invalidates their lives. If women choose to stay home and have babies, fine. There may be things about traditional gender roles that make me uncomfortable, but I do not believe that my discomfort should lead me to make pronouncements on how everybody else should live. I am free to express my thoughts on gender roles, obviously, but even though I truly believe that inflexible gender roles are icky and potentially harmful to women I don't think I have the right to say "nobody should follow traditional gender roles." I think a more balanced and respectful statement would be something like "I believe that society would be best served by individuals choosing their roles in life, and that both men and women would likely benefit from the abilities to support themselves and their families both financially and practically." I know there are people who truly believe the exact opposite of me (i.e., that inflexible gender roles are beneficial to society and that a failure to follow them is potentially harmful to society). But even so, I don't understand why some people feel comfortable making statements like those quoted above. It just seems so fraking arrogant. And arrogance tends to make me feel like this:

(I'll take any excuse to post a Metalocalypse picture.)

* Matthew 13:49-50: This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Such a loving God, eh?

** I love you, Mummy.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I made it to the concert! And it was AWESOME.

Also awesome are my new concert shirt and hoodie. I absolutely love metal concert merchandise.

I often find it disconcerting to return to the `real world`after a metal concert. The real world is so bright, and so loud, and is populated by so many irritating people. Yes, I am aware that a metal concert is loud. But it`s a different kind of loud; it`s deep, you can feel it in your bones, and it is awesome. Also, the limited light of the concert helps balance the intensity of the sound.

So while I am often irritated that the real world isn`t more like a metal concert, I am at least pleased that I have the option of periodically escaping into the dark awesomeness of metal.

And my exciting real-world tasks for today include:

Buy cat food. (Maybe if I do this my youngest will stop yowling pathetically when I try to feed her the high quality, and not cheap, food from the big bag I bought only recently.)

Finish a second load of laundry. (It turns out that I own, and wear, a surprising number of metal concert shirts, and all but my newest are dirty. These shirts aren`t exactly appropriate work attire for me, but hey look, I seem to have just now discovered one unexpected benefit to being off on sick leave yet again. Now sure, if I had a choice I would pick the ability to consistently earn enough money to support myself over the freedom to wear concert merchandise on a daily basis. However, I don`t seem to have this choice right now, so at least I am comfortably attired in yoga pants and a shirt that says Pure Fucking Metal. Who needs to earn money to pay for one`s mortgage, right? Sigh.)

Go to the food library*. Buy lemons. Go home. Make lemonade.

So yeah, that`s my day. And chances are I won`t be well enough to do all of it anyway! Awesome.

* Food library = grocery store. This is a Metalocalyypse reference, which probably is made clear in these screencaps from the very awesome episode The Curse of Dethklok.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

You dare to challenge God?

I am in a foul mood.

Why? Because I am in so much pain I can barely think, I keep throwing up in my mouth, and the muscles in my right hip and foot are determined to cramp up by shortening themselves to what feels like about 10% of their original length. Oh yes, and because I am supposed to be going to a metal concert in about 3 hours. And not just any metal concert either. No, I have a ticket to see an awesome band (Arch Enemy)...again. This is my third attempt to see them. The first time I managed to get myself to about 100 metres from the concert when I was hit with a porph attack so bad I had to go home. The second time I had a ticket I was too sick to even attempt to use it. I will be most annoyed indeed if I am unable to make it yet again today.

I was recently re-watching the Dethtroll episode of Metalocalypse, and I was struck by Cardinal Ravenwood's line that I've used as the title of this post. To put this in context, Dethklok has summoned a troll and Cardinal Ravenwood is squabbling with ... uh ... with that Satanist guy whose name escapes me right now. Anyway, Cardinal Ravenwood gets huffy with Satanist Guy for suggesting that the troll and other such creatures are as strong as God, which leads to the "You dare to challenge God?" line. I like this for many reasons, not the least of which that I'm an athiest with a fairly strong disdain for religion. So yes, I dare to challenge God.

Ugh. I had a religion/health rant all planned here, but I'm in too much fraking pain right now. I'll save it for later.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Do you know how many of these stinking hot toddies I have to drink to keep on a happy face?

One of the reasons I enjoy this particular Golden Girls episodes is because it is one of only a few in which we see Rose acting snarky. I've always disliked when characters are written too consistently, such that they show little to no variation from their "type." Rose is almost always kind and polite and generous, but in this episode she snaps at Blanche and Dorothy when they're all stuck together with the flu. And I particularly like what she says when she snaps - that she is finding herself in need of alcohol in order to hide her flu-induced grumpiness.

Now me, I don't drink alcohol (it is one of the biggest triggers for one of my delightful illnesses) but holy CRAP do I ever understand the concept here. It isn't just the actual symptoms that make chronic illness difficult; it is very hard indeed to present oneself in a pleasant and appropriate manner when, for example, one has thrown up five times in the last two days, spent a total of several hours unable to move because of temporary upper body paralysis, haven't slept for more than two hours straight in a week, etc. I find that the people close to me, my family and friends, are usually very understanding if I am acting quiet, or sullen, or snippy with them. (I try very hard not to do this, but it doesn't always work.)

However, one cannot bite the head off of strangers in the line at the grocery store because their loud voices are stabbing into your head like a large collection of knives. And one certainly cannot lose it at one's co-workers when they complain to you at length about how awful it has been for them to have a head cold for the past few days. This latter example has happened to me on several occasions, and a couple of times the co-workers knew very well that I have, in essence, had a migraine and the flu* every day for years. And I'm not talking about someone mentioning in passing that they've had a cold; I once had a co-worker (a health professional, no less) go on at me for 10 minutes about their stuffy nose.

Now let me be clear here that I truly do not believe that "normal" (i.e., healthy) people have an obligation to constantly pat us ill folks on the head and tell us how sorry they are that we're sick. Not at all. But for the love of the gods, is it so hard for people to devote even a tiny portion of their attention during a conversation to the perspective of the person to whom they are speaking? I wouldn't complain about the size of my home to a person living on the streets, as I can imagine how this would be upsetting and offensive to a person without a roof over their head.

This issue of consideration of and for other people is one of the things that irritates me most about this species of ours. I think Dorothy's facial expression here nicely represents my feelings about this:

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Welcome to Mordhaus

Given that this is my first post ever, I suppose I should say a bit about my blogging intentions. However, to do so I have to actually know my intentions in this regard, and I can't say that I do.

I have chronic illness and pain. Despite my best efforts I seem to be getting more ill and more impaired, and as a result the last few years have been...well, shitty. Sure, I still have some pleasant or even good experiences, and I don't spend every second of every day in agony. On the other hand, I haven't had a day without pain in so long that I literally can't remember what that feels like. (My best guess is that I last experienced a blissful pain-free 24-hours sometime early in this century.) I also have the priviledge of having a sleep disorder (i.e., narcolepsy) and some gastrointestinal and muscular problems on top of my pain, and I am continually amazed at the creative ways my various symptoms can interact with, and intensify, each other.

It has been a rough decade.

I often ponder the distinction between whining about one's troubles and facing/coping with/adapting to them. I intellectually understand the difference between these behaviours, but one of the many joys of chronic pain and illness is that it can be hard to tell the difference when almost all of your attentional capacity is devoted to the liquid fire that has appeared to replace all of the fluids in your body. However, I don't care nearly as much about other people's opinions of me as I did in the past, and I've come to realize that I am willing to take the risk of being viewed as a whiner if it means that my cogitating helps me figure out how to make my life less shitty. And if my yakking here is at all useful to any of the many other people who have to deal with pain and illness, then I say "yay."

Ok, I'm going to wrap up this oh-so-exciting first post by answering two possible questions that might occur to any people who somehow meander by this blog:

What do herring have to do with anything? And why in the world are they juggling?

Well, my friend, if you're asking this you clearly haven't watched enough of Golden Girls. You should be ashamed of yourself.

Anyway, if you read the herring references at the top of the page you might be able to come up with some way that Rose's words can be interpreted in light of coping with chronic pain and illness. Feel free to do so, as did I, but when it comes down to it I just fraking love that Golden Girls scene and the mental image conjured by the phrase "herring juggling act."

What is Mordhaus? Why are you welcoming me to it? And do I really want to be here?

No, you probably don't. Mordhaus is the wicked cool (read: dark and creepy) home of the band Dethklok from the animated show Metalocalypse. This show is brilliant. Should I actually continue to post to this blog I'm fairly certain there will be many posts that reference Metalocalypse. I have found it to be a very effective distraction tool, and it seems as good a place as any to end this post.