Friday, March 21, 2014

The Great Age Issue: Reproductive Equality in Marge Piercy

“So We All Became Mothers”:
Reproductive Equality in Marge Piercy
By Mala Ghoshal
            One of the facets of science fiction which is particularly valuable to feminism is its ability to conceptually separate elements which are, in our society, nearly inextricably bound together, in order to consider each element individually. An excellent case in point is the distinction between sexual difference and reproductive difference. This paper focuses on Marge Piercy’s novel Woman on the Edge of Time, which preserves the existence of two sexes but does away with the distinction between a birthing sex and a non-birthing sex. Furthermore, Piercy argues that sexual difference in and of itself doesn’t preclude the creation of an egalitarian society; reproductive difference, on the other hand, must be surmounted before true equality can be achieved.
The story’s protagonist is Connie, a poor institutionalized, Mexican-American woman, who is contacted by a woman who lives in a community called Mattapoisett 150 years in the future.  While Connie is increasingly impressed by Mattapoisett’s tight-knit community, concern for individuals, lack of hierarchy, and overflowing joy and creativity, she is initially horrified by their system of reproduction and child rearing. Babies are brought to term in a uterine replicator, and raised by a trio of co-mothers (who may be either male or female, and who bear no genetic relation to the child). Connie protests, “How can men be mothers! How can some kid who isn’t related to you be your child?” (105). Luciente, her host in the future, responds,
It was part of women’s long revolution. When we were breaking all the old hierarchies. Finally there was that one thing we had to give up too, the only power we ever had, in relation for no more power for anyone. The original production: the power to give birth. Cause as long as we were biologically enchained, we’d never be equal. And males never would be humanized to be loving and tender. So we all became mothers. (105)
            Connie’s initial reaction to the Mattapoisett version of maternity is resentful fury, colored by her memories of the child who was taken away from her. She rages:
How could anyone know what being a mother means who has never carried a child nine months heavy under her heart, who has never born a baby in blood and pain, who has never suckled a child. Who got that child out of the machine the way that couple, rich and white, got my flesh and blood. All made up already, a canned child, just add money. What do they know of motherhood? (106)
            The mothers of Mattapoisett don’t carry or bear their infants. Connie learns, to her increased outrage, that male as well as female mothers suckle. She reacts to the sight of a man nursing first with disgust, then with jealousy, and the with anger, reflecting:
[H]ow dare any man share that pleasure. These women thought they had won, but they had abandoned to men the last refuge of women. What was special about being a woman here? They had given it all up, they had let men steal from them the last remnants of ancient power, those sealed in blood and milk. (134)
The point that Piercy leads us to see is that there is nothing special about being a woman here – nor about being a man – nor does there need to be. Connie gradually moves from revulsion to acceptance of Mattapoisett’s revisions of biology. As she continues to watch the man nurse, she reflects that “[s]he could almost hate him in the peaceful joy to which he had no natural right; she could almost like him as he opened like a daisy to the baby’s sucking mouth” (135).
            Much of the impact of Connie’s journey towards acceptance of Mattapoisett springs from its difficulty. By presenting biological motherhood as overwhelmingly beautiful and powerful, and then advancing arguments as to why aspects of it should be eliminated and other aspects shared anyway, Piercy compels her readers to grapple with the question.
            Connie finally realizes that she has come to not only accept but also embrace Mattapoisett’s ways when she sees a child who seems the double of her lost daughter:
Suddenly she assented with all her soul to Angelina in Mattapoisett.… Yes, you can have my child, you can keep my child…. She will be strong there, well fed, well housed, well taught, she will grow up much better and stronger and smarter than I…. She will never be broken as I was. She will be strange, but she will be glad and strong and she will not be afraid. She will have enough. She will have pride. She will love her own brown skin and be loved for her strength and her hard work. She will walk in strength like a man and never sell her body and she will nurse babies like a woman and live in love like a garden, like that children’s house of many colors. People of the rainbow with its end fixed in the earth, I give her to you! (141)
            All of Mattapoisett’s citizens are able to walk in strength like men and nurse babies like women; they are all free from participation in certain aspects of maternity and free to participate in other aspects of maternity. Thus, sexual differences lose meaning in the absence of reproductive difference; gender roles are completely absent from Mattapoisett, and Connie frequently has trouble distinguishing males from females. Indeed, she believes that her Mattapoisett host, Luciente, is male for the first sixty-seven pages of the book. When she realizes her error, her reflections emphasize how gendered the most minute aspects of behavior are in our society:
Luciente spoke, she moved with that air of brisk unselfconscious authority Connie associated with men. Luciente sat down, taking up more space than women ever did. She squatted, she sprawled, she strolled, never thinking about her body was displayed. (67)
Because we see Luciente through Connie’s eyes we also perceive her as male throughout the beginning of the novel. The fact that we see her first as a man and then as a woman contributes to Piercy’s successful depiction of Luciente as socially androgynous, unbounded by gender roles or expectations.
            Another remarkably effective strategy of highlighting the centrality of sexual difference in our culture and convincingly depicting a society where sexual difference just isn’t seen as terribly relevant is Piercy’s use of gender-neutral pronoun, “per.” We never learn the sex of many of the minor characters, and the sex of other characters seems unimportant partly because it is not constantly emphasized in language. Piercy’s creation of a completely gender-neutral language has the result that her society is completely androgynous. Emerging from Woman on the Edge of Time, a reader returns with new eyes to a language and a culture that suddenly seem saturated with markings of sexual difference.
            Piercy’s novel calls our attention to our concepts of identity and bodily experience. The issue of connection between mind and body, soul and flesh, occupies a pivotal place in both philosophy and feminism. Historically, systems of thought which see the mind and body as separate and separable have opposed the two in a hierarchical and antagonistic relationship which privileges the mind over the body. In such systems, the body has often been equated with women, nature, and racial others, who need to be subdued and controlled by those who equate themselves with the mind. Many feminists are understandably skeptical, then, of technologies which seek to overcome nature and “free” people from the constraints of physicality. Other feminists embrace the use of such technologies as a means of breaking down the equation between women and the body.
            Piercy embraces the use of technology to eliminate reproductive difference. At first glance, Piercy’s society, which entirely replaces natural birth with artificial birth, seems more concerned with overcoming the constraints and discomforts of the flesh. Her society also renders the physical markers of race and sex culturally meaningless. Connie, a woman who experiences her race and sex as well as her experience of pregnancy and childbirth as central to her identity, initially reacts against these aspects of Mattapoisett: “She hated them, the bland bottleborn monsters of the future, born without pain, multicolored like a litter of puppies without the stigma of race and sex” (106).
            Eventually, however, Connie and the reader come to see the citizens of Mattapoisett as both deeply embodied and cautious in their use of technology. Connie’s observation of a man experiencing the sensual pleasure of nursing is one place where the embodied experience is emphasized; when she asks Luciente why they don’t use formula, she responds, “But the intimacy of it! We suspect loving and sensual enjoyment are rooted in being held and suckling and cuddling” (135). Piercy’s novel reveals a closer sense of identity between the body and the self and more comfort with less pleasurable aspects of physicality. The citizens of Mattapoisett treat health problems largely through “inknowing,” or biofeedback; inknowing is not seen as a way of using the mind to control the body, but as a way of understanding the unity of the two. Thus, Piercy’s novel celebrates bodies as they are, be that fleshy, scarred, or aged. Surgical modification of the body appears only in the brief vision of a dystopic future against which Mattapoisett is poised, in which women are surgically “improved” to meet absurd standards of femininity and men are melded with machines to create more efficient and obedient soldiers.
            Finally, Piercy’s society accepts aging and death. When Connie asks Luciente why her society hasn’t solved these problems, Luciente responds, “But Connie, some problems you solve only if you stop being human, become metal, plastic, robot computer. Is dying itself a problem?” (125). Though Piercy is concerned with minimizing the domination of nature by humans and eliminating the domination of women by men, she is also concerned with minimizing the domination of children by adults. Consequently, in Piercy’s novel, the nuclear family has given way to trios of comothers who agree to share the care of a child until age twelve or so. Comothers are generally not lovers, “[s]o the child will not get caught in love misunderstandings” (74). The notion of the nuclear family is further disrupted by living arrangements: each adult lives in a spec of “per” own, the children all live together in a children’s house, and all meals are communal. School has been replaced with learning by doing, and children accompany adults whose work interests them. Connie notes with surprise the fact that the community has the resources to provide children with art supplies and tools and complex scientific equipment, but toys are virtually absent.  The explanation she receives provides a thought-provoking perspective on the contemporary utility of toys:
They play farming and cooking and repair and fishing and driving and manufacture and plant breeding and baby tending. When children aren’t kept out of the real work, they don’t have the same need for imitation things…. In that time…they had many toys for teaching sex roles to children. (138)
Along with sex roles, taboos against children’s sexuality have vanished. While touring the children’s house, Connie and her guides accidentally intrude on two seven-year-olds attempting intercourse; her guides are startled and amused by Connie demanding, “Aren’t you going to stop them?” (138). The relaxed attitude of the citizens of Mattapoisett towards children’s sexual activity mirrors that expressed in Theodore Sturgeon’s utopia Venus Plus X: “Questions: When are they old enough to do it? Answer: When they are old enough to do it” (145).
            Even before puberty, then, children in Mattapoisett are perceived as much more capable of engaging in “adult” activities and decision-making than children in our society. Children do still have a distinct status; but this status is formally removed following an initiation ritual in which a child survives alone in the woods for a week, has visions, and chooses a new name. At this point the child (usually about twelve years old) returns to the community as a full adult. When Connie protests the danger involved in leaving a child alone in the woods, a mother explains, “We have found no way to break dependencies without some risk. What we can’t risk is our people remaining stuck in old patterns – quarreling through what you called adolescence” (116). The end of childhood is thus also the end of motherhood. Upon a child’s return, per mothers are not permitted to speak to per for three months: “Lest we forget we aren’t mothers anymore and person is an equal member” (116).
Piercy explicitly states her belief that children are capable of a much higher level of self-sufficiency and autonomy than they are granted in our society: in the most explicit instance, one of her characters tells Connie, “[Y]our young remained economically dependent long after they were ready to work. We set our children free” (116).


Works Cited
Piercy, Marge. Woman on the Edge of Time. New York: Fawcett Crest, 1976. Print.

Sturgeon, Theodore. Venus Plus X. New York: Foundation, 1988. Print.

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Great Age Issue: Power of the Positive Crone #4

The Power of the Positive Crone
by
Carole Spearin McCauley

The following is the second of the four part series by Carole Spearin McCauley. The first part is available here
This article was written for The Great Age Issue. The author has graciously permitted us to serialize it on our blog as a prelude to the issue itself.  Our second issue for this year - 14.2 - is dedicated to aging and gender: representations in speculative fiction, everyday experiences, creative fiction or non-fiction, and more. Inspired by board member, Constance Brereton, we're calling this The Great Age Issue.  
*****
Author Bio:  Carole Spearin McCauley is a medical writer/editor, the author of 13 books (medical nonfiction, literary novels, mysteries), from large (Simon&Schuster) and smaller (Daughters, Inc; Women's Press) publishers  in the U.S., U.K., Israel, Italy.  One nonfiction book title is Surviving Breast Cancer (Dutton, Bantam Books). Her two latest mystery novels, Cold Steal and A Winning Death, appeared recently in hardcover and paperback from Hilliard&Harris.com (Maryland). Her short work (stories, articles, poetry, reviews, interviews) has appeared in about 200 periodicals, anthologies, and now online, including New York Times, America, Family Circle, National Catholic Reporter, The Atlantic, North American Review, Redbook, Woman's World, Women of Mystery. Seven short pieces have won prizes in international contests that include Radio Netherlands Worldwide and USA Today.
          Her 13th book, How She Saved Her Life, is a tale of love/business/arson--with llamas--that features a mature heroine.  It's set in the Berkshire Hills, western Mass. where Carole grew up.  She graduated from Antioch College, Ohio, and earned an M.A. in  writing from Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.  For five years she  planned programs with the Woman's Salon, Manhattan.  At Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, she has taught Basics of Fiction Writing and works with Women's Network of the Upper Valley. She speaks yearly at Berkshire Women Writers Festival, Mass.  She belongs to the Grail international women's movement and  worked years at Grailville, its Ohio N.A. headquarters, and at its Manhattan art-bookshop.

*****
RESOURCES FOR THE POSITIVE CRONE
Books
Evoland, A., Chasiotis, W., eds, Grandmotherhood—The Evolutionary Significance of the Second Half of Female Life. Rutgers University Press, 2004.
Minkin, Mary Jane, A Woman’s Guide to Menopause and Perimenopause, Yale
University Press, 2005.
Weidiger, Paula, Menstruation and Menopause: The Physiology and Psychology, the Myth  and Reality, New York:  Knopf, 1976. 
Articles
McKinley, Sonja and Margot Jefferys, “The Menopausal Syndrome,” British Journal of Prev. and Social Medicine 28:2, 1974, pp. 108-15.
“Menopause.  Social Expectations, Women’s Realities.”  Women’s Mental Health 5:5-8. 2002.
Groups
bootswebmd.com  U.K. women’s health newsletter and center.
/thebms.org.uk   British Menopause Society, latest research news.
emedicinehealth.com  Women’s Health A-Z List.
EMAS European Menopause and Andropause Society.
Medline Plus.  Web information from US National Institutes of Health. Includes clinical trials at National Institute on Aging.
menopause.org  North American Menopause Society (NAMS), 5900 Landerbrook Drive,
Mayfield Heights, OH 44124.  Publishes Menopause scientific journal and an email newsletter.
webmd.com  Menopause Health Center, latest news, slide shows, questions answered.

            

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Great Age Issue: Power of the Positive Crone #3

The Power of the Positive Crone
by
Carole Spearin McCauley

The following is the second of the four part series by Carole Spearin McCauley. The first part is available here
This article was written for The Great Age Issue. The author has graciously permitted us to serialize it on our blog as a prelude to the issue itself.  Our second issue for this year - 14.2 - is dedicated to aging and gender: representations in speculative fiction, everyday experiences, creative fiction or non-fiction, and more. Inspired by board member, Constance Brereton, we're calling this The Great Age Issue.  
*****
Author Bio:  Carole Spearin McCauley is a medical writer/editor, the author of 13 books (medical nonfiction, literary novels, mysteries), from large (Simon&Schuster) and smaller (Daughters, Inc; Women's Press) publishers  in the U.S., U.K., Israel, Italy.  One nonfiction book title is Surviving Breast Cancer (Dutton, Bantam Books). Her two latest mystery novels, Cold Steal and A Winning Death, appeared recently in hardcover and paperback from Hilliard&Harris.com (Maryland). Her short work (stories, articles, poetry, reviews, interviews) has appeared in about 200 periodicals, anthologies, and now online, including New York Times, America, Family Circle, National Catholic Reporter, The Atlantic, North American Review, Redbook, Woman's World, Women of Mystery. Seven short pieces have won prizes in international contests that include Radio Netherlands Worldwide and USA Today.
          Her 13th book, How She Saved Her Life, is a tale of love/business/arson--with llamas--that features a mature heroine.  It's set in the Berkshire Hills, western Mass. where Carole grew up.  She graduated from Antioch College, Ohio, and earned an M.A. in  writing from Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.  For five years she  planned programs with the Woman's Salon, Manhattan.  At Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, she has taught Basics of Fiction Writing and works with Women's Network of the Upper Valley. She speaks yearly at Berkshire Women Writers Festival, Mass.  She belongs to the Grail international women's movement and  worked years at Grailville, its Ohio N.A. headquarters, and at its Manhattan art-bookshop.

*****
THEN HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT AGING IN YOURSELF?
Ah, now you’ve caught me.  Although I welcomed menopause as a natural way to unload all my female complaints (hemorrhaging periods from fibroid tumors, endless breast cysts and breast surgery from one benign tumor, plus nausea during pregnancy), I don’t look forward to old age.  To deter its insidious effects, I walk and exercise regularly, including classes where I live, plus NordicTrack, abdominal lift equipment, and lifting weights in my living room. 


Here’s a poem I wrote about aging:

Kicking Bricks—or When Did I Get So Stiff?
“When did I get so stiff?”  Lifting the barbell, I ask my exercise teacher.
“When did I get over-qualified?” I ask the smart young personnel manager.

Now in the fall of the year
we gather into barns and are gathered.

“When did the skin around my eyes crinkle?” I ask my mirror.
“When did I trade pimples for dry skin and grey hair?” I ask my doctor.
            He laughs.  “Better grey hair than none at all.”
Overheard:  “Didn’t have one grey hair, but she died last week at 52.
            Brain tumor.  Can you believe it?  If the tumors don’t get you,
            the cholesterol will. Pass the eggs, Sue, will you?”
When did I choose the same dilemmas, the same house of bricks.
            the same car that stalls on left turns?

                                    Honed down, like clay twice fired,
                                    shaped up, no dross remaining.

                                                Now in the fall of the year
                                    we gather into barns and are gathered.
                                                Maturity is what’s left
                                                after the pain has subsided.

WHAT GOALS OR ATTITUDES ABOUT MENOPAUSE DO YOU HOPE THAT SOCIETY WILL ADOPT?
I want to teach people, especially women, to ask sensible questions on route to sensible solutions:
1.               What do most women really feel at this time? What am I really feeling?
2.               What medical help do I need, or how can I handle this event by myself, using whatever techniques have succeeded in my past?

3.               How can I make this a transforming experience—not a “silent passage” but a “soul event”—a stage to anticipate instead of dread?

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Great Age Issue: Power of the Positive Crone #2

The Power of the Positive Crone
by
Carole Spearin McCauley

The following is the second of the four part series by Carole Spearin McCauley. The first part is available here
This article was written for The Great Age Issue. The author has graciously permitted us to serialize it on our blog as a prelude to the issue itself.  Our second issue for this year - 14.2 - is dedicated to aging and gender: representations in speculative fiction, everyday experiences, creative fiction or non-fiction, and more. Inspired by board member, Constance Brereton, we're calling this The Great Age Issue.  
*****
Author Bio:  Carole Spearin McCauley is a medical writer/editor, the author of 13 books (medical nonfiction, literary novels, mysteries), from large (Simon&Schuster) and smaller (Daughters, Inc; Women's Press) publishers  in the U.S., U.K., Israel, Italy.  One nonfiction book title is Surviving Breast Cancer (Dutton, Bantam Books). Her two latest mystery novels, Cold Steal and A Winning Death, appeared recently in hardcover and paperback from Hilliard&Harris.com (Maryland). Her short work (stories, articles, poetry, reviews, interviews) has appeared in about 200 periodicals, anthologies, and now online, including New York Times, America, Family Circle, National Catholic Reporter, The Atlantic, North American Review, Redbook, Woman's World, Women of Mystery. Seven short pieces have won prizes in international contests that include Radio Netherlands Worldwide and USA Today.
          Her 13th book, How She Saved Her Life, is a tale of love/business/arson--with llamas--that features a mature heroine.  It's set in the Berkshire Hills, western Mass. where Carole grew up.  She graduated from Antioch College, Ohio, and earned an M.A. in  writing from Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.  For five years she  planned programs with the Woman's Salon, Manhattan.  At Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, she has taught Basics of Fiction Writing and works with Women's Network of the Upper Valley. She speaks yearly at Berkshire Women Writers Festival, Mass.  She belongs to the Grail international women's movement and  worked years at Grailville, its Ohio N.A. headquarters, and at its Manhattan art-bookshop.

*****
AS A HEALTH WRITER, WHAT QUESTIONS ABOUT MENOPAUSE—THE
“LAST TABOO” AND OUR “SILENT PASSAGE”—DO YOU FEEL HAVEN’T BEEN ASKED SUFFICIENTLY?
1.               Why do some women report no symptoms at all from the usual list?
2.               How can we integrate menopause—as with childbirth—into the rest of life?  Stop seeing it as a crisis, an estrogen-deficiency disease, the end of sexual desire?  And more accurately define its stages?
3.               Do different ethnic, racial, socio-economic groups cope better or worse, according to their own traditions?
As baby boomers age, let’s hope menopause is respected as a rite of passage.  These millions of female baby boomers, plus the one-third of U.S. women who endure hysterectomy, do constitute a sizeable chunk of our population that is still functioning in work, marriage, family and community life.  Remember when menstruation was “the curse,” with women considered dysfunctional, unclean, irrational each month?
DID YOU HAVE ANY ROLE MODELS TO HELP YOU PERSONALLY?
Don’t I wish!  No, because the French-Canadians from whom my mother came saw any amount of suffering as woman’s portion—“offer it up to God.”  I believe many health crises
that afflicted  her and her many siblings and their spouses involved poor diet;  untreated depression; hypochondria to get attention in a large family; lack of exercise and marriage counseling; problems with self-assertion, including fear of questioning doctors.  One reason I became a medical writer was to counter too-frequent medical melodramas.
WHAT IS SOME RECENT MENOPAUSE RESEARCH?
            In the U.S. some late “menopause drama” involved the German drug, flibanserin, which the FDA refused to approve in June, 2010.  Why?  Many people do believe that the nature of menopause and “female sexual dysfunction” (decreasing sexual desire) merit a “female Viagra”  Is menopause a disease—or a normal aspect of aging?  Considering that Viagra for men now approaches $2 billion yearly in sales, obviously the drug companies (German Boehringer Ingleheim and U.S. Procter&Gamble) in this country are not neutral.  The new drug, discovered as a by-product of depression research and found to increase sexual desire, operates in 100 mg. doses by increasing serotonin, dopamine, and testosterone receptors and levels in the brain, enhancing mood and desire.  Yes, women too produce at least some testosterone.  Unlike birth control pills, however, flibanserin is not considered a hormone.
Such research seems like a worthy goal, until its critics, such as Liz Canner in her film Orgasm, Inc. blame women’s lack of sexual interest on work stress, frantic schedules, poor relationships, lack of marriage counseling, uninformed lovers, untreated depression, plus the Catholic church’s continuing ban on contraception.  And the new drug does have some minor side-effects.  Depending on which company seeks a patent, the drug is called Girosa or LibGel.  So far, more than 5,000 women in 220 clinics in various countries each took the drug or a placebo for 24 weeks.  Begun in October 2009, the study ended in February 2011.  After the results are revealed, the FDA will re-evaluate.  The drug is already available on the Internet and in other countries.
Whom to believe?  If your own sexual life or desire has decreased or disappeared, be honest about the reasons why.  What do you most need in this area?  So many of us grew up when “nice girls don’t want or do that”—or even imagine it—that our chief duty was to create a good marriage, healthy children, satisfy a husband, including preventing infidelity.  Finally live chastely as a widow or single woman.
Thus, although I had no positive or immediate role model for how-to-do-menopause, I had stunningly clear images of how not to do it if I hoped to stay sane.  Although I’m not stoical or insensitive, I have tired of overreaction in myself or others (although I do mine and re-create it for fiction writing because of what it causes otherwise reasonable people to do).  I offer what help I can, but if it’s ignored by someone determined to be miserable or nasty, I’ve learned to move on.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

The Great Age Issue: The Power of the Positive Crone #1

The Power of the Positive Crone
by
Carole Spearin McCauley

Our second issue for this year - 14.2 - is dedicated to aging and gender: representations in speculative fiction, everyday experiences, creative fiction or non-fiction, and more. Inspired by board member, Constance Brereton, we're calling this The Great Age Issue. 
The following piece the first of a four part series by Carole Spearin McCauley.
This article was written for The Great Age Issue. The author has graciously permitted us to serialize it on our blog as a prelude to the issue itself.  
We are accepting submissions for this issue until March 1, 2014. Write to us at femspec-at-aol-dot-com or to the issue editor aganapath-at-gmail-dot-com if you'd like to submit your work for consideration. The extended call for submissions can be found here and our submission guidelines are available here

*****
Author Bio:  Carole Spearin McCauley is a medical writer/editor, the author of 13 books (medical nonfiction, literary novels, mysteries), from large (Simon&Schuster) and smaller (Daughters, Inc; Women's Press) publishers  in the U.S., U.K., Israel, Italy.  One nonfiction book title is Surviving Breast Cancer (Dutton, Bantam Books). Her two latest mystery novels, Cold Steal and A Winning Death, appeared recently in hardcover and paperback from Hilliard&Harris.com (Maryland). Her short work (stories, articles, poetry, reviews, interviews) has appeared in about 200 periodicals, anthologies, and now online, including New York Times, America, Family Circle, National Catholic Reporter, The Atlantic, North American Review, Redbook, Woman's World, Women of Mystery. Seven short pieces have won prizes in international contests that include Radio Netherlands Worldwide and USA Today.
          Her 13th book, How She Saved Her Life, is a tale of love/business/arson--with llamas--that features a mature heroine.  It's set in the Berkshire Hills, western Mass. where Carole grew up.  She graduated from Antioch College, Ohio, and earned an M.A. in  writing from Manhattanville College, Purchase, NY.  For five years she  planned programs with the Woman's Salon, Manhattan.  At Dartmouth College, New Hampshire, she has taught Basics of Fiction Writing and works with Women's Network of the Upper Valley. She speaks yearly at Berkshire Women Writers Festival, Mass.  She belongs to the Grail international women's movement and  worked years at Grailville, its Ohio N.A. headquarters, and at its Manhattan art-bookshop.

*****

This is a Q + A piece that combines some relevant autobiography with non-technical medical research on aspects of menopause.
DO I UNDERSTAND YOU?  YOU’RE HAPPY YOU’VE REACHED AND PASSED THROUGH MENOPAUSE?
Exactly. I sailed through it several years ago and docked happily on the other side of these bloody waters.

FACTS, PLEASE.
My final period came in December, 1990, when I was nearly 52, after some months of regular, but heavy, periods.  When they happened, I thought, “Oh, no, more fibroid tumors.”  I’d had D&C surgeries for fibroids in 1977 (on outside of uterus) and 1988, after a four-inch internal fibroid tried to birth itself in a hemorrhage, but wound up stuck in my vagina on a stalk.  When gynecologists noted that my uterus remained “enlarged to the size of a 10-week pregnancy” but could be expected to shrink upon menopause, I could hardly wait!
Further facts:  I have small fibrocystic breasts that not only got sore with retained fluid for two weeks each month, but required about 40 aspirations of cysts (with horse-sized needles) over many years.  I still recall those needles pressing against my ribs.  The largest cyst was two inches (nearly the whole breast), aspirated during pregnancy.  Again the word was, “Your breasts won’t swell anymore after menopause.”  Again I could hardly wait.  Somehow I managed to breastfeed my son for five months in 1980.
More facts:  I’m about six feet tall, weigh about 140 pounds, have been slim all my life.  I’m a widow and have one son, now married and working in Connecticut.  They, including his wife’s little girl, live in my house there.  He was born when I was 41. Before this normal Lamaze delivery with hospital midwives, I’d suffered one 1973 miscarriage, followed by guess what?  The first D&C to stop the bleeding.
Then there was the final D&C in 1993.  After my periods abruptly stopped in 1990, I had one totally normal period in October, 1992, with moist vagina, sore breasts, the whole bit.  The 1993 D&C removed a one-inch fibroid—not large enough to cause hemorrhage but possibly to cause that isolated but strangely normal period.
Before and after menopause—several years now without regular periods—I do not recall having one hot flash, night sweat, heart palpitation, weight gain, or other symptom.  Living in the northern U.S., the only times I’ve felt uncontrollably hot were during pregnancy (when I could sit before open windows during February) and whenever I visit Florida.  Ordinarily I wear long clothes most of the year.  Since I’m a health writer, I suspect my luck in avoiding usual menopausal symptoms is partly good health and good attitude, including relief at not menstruating anymore, and partly that estrogen and progesterone have left my body slowly enough to avoid the sudden drop that produces hot flashes.  I certainly have not requested hormone replacement therapy.
Psychologically I can’t feel “old” or useless with more than full-time writing and editing work, activities in the condo complex where I live and at Dartmouth College campus.  If I’d hoped that one benefit of aging is to enjoy rising at 6 a.m., that hasn’t happened yet!

HOW HAVE YOU CELEBRATED MENOPAUSE?
I dared to buy my first set of pastel underpants (instead of stain-proof black).  Next I  spent some rarer money on myself to achieve two beauty items I’d always wanted.  The first was to get my semi-protruding ears pinned back by a cosmetic surgeon, followed by some liposuction under my chin.  The next beauty bit involved extensive electrolysis—getting my eyebrows shaped and coarse, dark hair removed from my upper lip and legs. These procedures are successful and have relieved me of problems that had annoyed me since puberty.

WHAT ELSE ENCOURAGED YOU?
In my health research I found the following studies that I wish more people knew about.  During the mid-60s, medical sociologists Sonja McKinley and Margot Jefferys polled 638 women aged 45 through 54 in England.  They divided respondents into 11 categories that ranged from women still menstruating to those whose final period occurred nine years before.  Symptoms studied were hot flushes, night sweats, headache, dizzy spells, palpitations, sleeplessness, depression, and weight gain.  When headache, dizziness, palpitations, insomnia, depression, and weight gain were isolated, 30% to 50% of women, including those still menstruating, experienced at least one of these symptoms (or several together).  The fact that premenstrual women also experienced such symptoms led the researchers to conclude that this second list of symptoms is not directly or only related to menopause.
However, 4 out of 5 of these English women did experience hot flushes, including 25% who described them as acutely uncomfortable.  Another 20% described them as embarrassing.  For the still-menstruating women, hot flushes “rarely occurred.”
Conclusion?  In this group of more that 600 women, hot flushes were the only symptom clearly and directly related to menopause.  Researchers McKinley and Jefferys later continued this work to include more than 2,500 women in the Boston, Mass. (USA) area with similar results.  This included a five-year follow-up.
The next study that encouraged me is reported in Paula Weidiger’s book, Menstruation and Menopause. Her results found:
·                 10% of women report severe symptoms
·                 80% report one or more symptoms
·                 10% have no symptoms.

Friday, January 24, 2014

6 Speculative Fiction Authors You Need to Read
(Who Happen to be Awesome Women of Color)

By Maija Hatton- FemSpec Intern

            Speculative fiction, as a whole, tends to be overwhelmingly white and male. Our future is not going to be anything like that— minority populations are outgrowing white populations and more and more women are taking their places next to men in positions of power. This is fantastic news for speculative fiction. The future is going to take after the present, and be populated by incredible varieties of people. Speculative fiction ought to reflect that though a greater variety of perspectives on what’s possible for humanity a few years or centuries from now. This is an introductory list of authors whose perspectives as non-white women are guaranteed to open up your preconceived notions of the future, as dictated by the white men who have dominated the speculative genre. As the television writer Jane Espenson (Known for her work on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood and Once Upon a Time) put it, “If we can’t write diversity into scifi, then what’s the point? You don’t create new worlds to give them all the same limits of the old ones.”

1       1. Octavia Butler

If you have read any speculative fiction by a woman of color, it was probably by Octavia Butler. As a winner of two Hugo awards, a Nebula award, recipient of a Macarthur Genius Grant and 2010 inductee into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, her writing has been very much recognized in the Science Fiction community, and rightfully so. She is best known for her 1979 novel Kindred, a time travel story about a black woman who is transported back into the antebellum north and must confront the legacy of slavery in a very visceral way. Kindred is a stand-alone novel, but Butler also wrote the Patternist series (1976-1984), about African deities and aliens who hold the fate of the world in their hands. It features telepathy, romance, body swapping and epic psychic battles—everything you need for a fun time. Butlers short stories, particularly the Hugo award winners “Bloodchild” (1984) and “Speech Sounds” (1983), have the same imaginative and thoughtful prose found in her novels. A large number of her stories are collected in Bloodchild and Other Stories (1995), and could serve as a gateway into Butler’s excellent body of work for the uninitiated or skeptical. FemSpec is lucky enough to have had a personal link to Octavia Butler. She served on our board for several years, and was an absolutely amazing member. We still receive and public criticism of her work, which is a lovely reminder that she still lives on in the imaginations and curiosity of academics as well as her readers.

     Credit to octaviabutler.org

2        2.  Tananarive Due


      A natural successor to Octavia Butler, Due has also collected her share of recognition for her excellent, unique speculative fiction. She has won a NAACP Image Award, and an American Book award for her work, and has recently served as the Cosby Chair for the Humanities at Spelman College in Atlanta. Due is best known for her African Immortals series (My Soul to Keep (1997), Blood Colony (2002), The Living Blood (2008), and My Soul to Take (2011)), about a regular woman who gets roped into the affairs of a group of powerful Ethiopian immortals once she finds out that her husband is one of them. Their magical blood, true love, and the consequences of immortality are examined in this roller coaster of a series. Due has followed African Immortals with the Devil’s Wake series, co-written with Steven Barnes, about an unexpected romance that develops among the apocalypse, pestilence and flesh-eating ghouls. In 2003, she co-wrote Freedom in the Family, a Civil Rights memoir, with her mother. Her writing has the power to be educational and touching as well as wonderfully terrifying. Due has also been published in FemSpec. Her short story “Protection,” in the form of a letter to the editor, “offers a disturbing tale of a mother, a boy, and a witness that signs the letter “Unsigned.” It was published in Volume 3, Issue 2 in 2002. The thing about FemSpec is that you never know what talent you’ll find in each issue. We support women writers, particularly women of color, in order to further diversity in speculative fiction.

Credit to tananarivedue.com

        3. Nnedi Okorafor


      Okorafor was born to Nigerian parents and was raised in the United States, with frequent visits to Nigeria that inspired her imagination. Currently a professor at Chicago State University, she has published six novels, mostly in the young adult genre. Most take place in Nigeria, with a mix of magic and futuristic technology. Her first novel, Zahrah the Windseeker(2005), is a coming of age story set in a fictional world that blends fantasy and science fiction with African folklore. Her second novel, The Shadowspeaker (2008), is also a coming of age tale, but with more magic and danger as it follows a young girl trying to find her father’s murderer in 2070 Niger. Okorafor has also published multiple short stories and critical essays, and has had a screenplay, “Wrapped in Magic” produced in Nigeria.

                        Credit to nnedi.com

4   4. Nalo Hopkinson
    
      After growing up in Jamaica and moving to Canada as a teenager, Hopkinson has settled in the United States as a creative writing professor at the University of California Riverside. Hopkinson values her intersectional identity as a queer, Caribbean, Canadian, female writer of color, and it shows in the stories she writes. Hopkinson has published several novels, Brown Girl in the Ring (1998), which draws from Caribbean culture and folklore; Midnight Robber (2000), a far-future coming of age novel with Trinidadian roots; The Salt Roads (2003), which is about Ezili, an African love goddess and her manifestation at three different points in time; and The New Moon’s Arms (2007), a menopausal poltergeist tale. Her equally original short stories have been released in the collection Skin Folk (2007), which is also available as an audiobook from Caribbean Tales. Some of the first critical works on Nalo Hopkinson were published in FemSpec, in our “Speculative Black Women” issue from 2005. Two pieces, “Nalo Hopkinson’s Approach to Speculative Fiction” by Jerrilyn McGregory, and “Nalo Hopkinson’s Ti-Jeanne as Superhero in “Breastfeeding Mother Rescues City” by Gretchen Michlitsch, were in this issue, and were a nice way of introducing Hopkinson’s work into the academic sphere. A speech given by Hopkinson at the College of New Jersey was also published, “Afrofuturism: Womanist Paradigms for a New Millennium,” and allows the reader some insight into her process and the influence of the African Diaspora on her work.

                        Credit to nalohopkinson.com

5    5.     Vandana Singh

Born and raised in New Delhi, Singh currently teaches physics at Framingham State College in Massachusetts. The majority of her writing is short fiction, although she dabbles in childrens literature with her Younguncle stories. Singh has been featured in The Year’s Best Science Fiction, installments 14, 22 and 23, as well as The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, installments 17 and 18. She offers a unique perspective, being one of the few Indian speculative fiction writers who writes in English and is a woman. She has also published poetry in the 2006 Mythic anthology and the online magazine, Strange Horizons

                     Credit to bookslut.com interview with Vandana Singh


6    6.     Daina Chaviano
  
      Chaniano, a Cuban √©migr√© residing in Miami since 1991, has published in both English and Spanish.  Her novel The Island of Eternal Love, an epic, intricate family story much like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude, is the most widely translated Cuban novel of all time. She deals in magical realism and fairy tales with touches of the Gothic and science fiction genres. Chiavano’s work spans several decades, and shows her evolution from a writer of international UFO tales (The Worlds I Love (1979)), to short stories about dragons (Land of Dragons (1989)), erotic poetry (Erotic Confessions and Other Enchantments (1994)), and now, epic romance and magical realism (The Island of Eternal Love (2006)). Her work is available in both English and Spanish.

Credit to dainachaviano.com


FemSpec will always support women of color in their endeavors to write or critique speculative fiction. We’re very interested in groups that are not especially visible in the speculative fiction community, such as South Asians. We take great pride in being a space in which wonderful writers like Tananarive Due can be published, Octavia Butler can serve as a board member, and critical works on Nalo Hopkinson can be shown to the rest of the speculative fiction community.


            Do you know any other women of color speculative fiction writers? Recommend them in the comments!

We are always taking submissions of speculative art, short fiction, and criticism with feminist themes. For more information, go to FemSpec Submissions

Monday, December 9, 2013

*Extended* - Call for Creative Work - Special Issue on Aging and Gender: 'The Great Age’ Issue

Deadline for Submissions: March 1, 2014

This is an extension to our previous call for papers for a Special Issue in Aging and Gender.
For this issue - now the Great Age Issue - We are looking for creative work including fiction, poetry, photography and art.

We seek work that re-imagines the way we view women growing older and/or depict the way societal expectations of gender roles impact how we age. Keeping in mind the feminist thrust of the journal, we seek submissions that engage with our mission to examine and critique the relationship of gender to ideologies of aging in contemporary society or to re-imagine the future of aging primarily for women, but also for men within a gendered perspective.

We invite work between genres as well: coverage of conferences, personal essays, non-fiction, media critiques, analyses of popular culture, transcripts from dialogues on relevant topics, interviews with authors,  art and photography, and work by or about girls of any age. Submit your work for consideration directly to the Editor of this Special Issue at aganapath@gmail.com.

Note: Because Femspec is a fully independent journal funded by subscriptions rather than institutional support, subscription is required on submission. To subscribe, please click here.

For general submissions and other questions, write to us at femspec@aol.com