Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Move Over, Boys. Girls Game Too. Get Over It.

I'd like to preface this article first by thanking my good friends Matt and Adam for not even knowing about, yet alone believing, the bullshit claim that "girls don't have enough imagination" to play role-playing games. Second, I'd like to thank my friend Stubby for not being a skeevy, perverted, desperate bastard when I met him and he became my first Dungeon Master.

Last night, before I went to bed, I quickly scanned my Facebook wall to see what I had missed while my husband and I watched a couple movies. One of my friends had posted an article that caught my eye, but I didn't really have the time to read. I saved it for this morning, and what I read disturbed me.

The article, #NOTALLROLEPLAYERS: A HISTORY OF RAPEY DUNGEON MASTERS, reinforces a distressing stereotype that I've been reading about with alarming frequency all over the Internet. That stereotype seems to suggest that all men are sex-crazed lunatics who can't keep their fantasies to themselves and that they feel ridiculously threatened when females venture into their games. So much so, in fact, that they feel perfectly entitled to sexually harass and physically threaten the lives of women both in the industry and in the playing field.

More and more articles are being written about this sort of thing, where women are starting to finally speak out about their bad experiences with gaming groups. I've heard about this shit occurring most frequently in video games, particularly MMORPGs and shooter games like Halo, where female gamers are continuously harassed by male gamers the moment they find out the person behind the avatar or controller is in fact a woman.

I've never encountered problems like this before, personally. I think it's because I've almost always played male characters. Or maybe I just got lucky and involved myself in groups where none of the guys were at all interested in me sexually. Of course, it could also be that I also made it abundantly clear I wasn't available, let alone interested in any case, and, as my male friends have never been shy about telling me, that I'm intimidating. This amuses the hell out of me, because I'm all of five feet tall and a hundred fifty pounds at most soaking wet.

My first experience with role-playing came in the form of this game "Battle Masters" that my friend Matt brought over one day when we were 14. We sprawled the giant mat out on the living room floor of my house and played this fantastic geekery for hours. I think the spark that jump-started our delve into RPG-land was the fact that we were both avidly reading Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman's Death Gate Cycle series at the time. To this day it is still my favorite series and holds a special place of honor up on my desk shelf.

Around this time is when I first started really heavily writing my own stories, too. My friends Matt, Adam, Amanda, and I passed around a spiral bound notebook between classes during our high school career, taking turns writing bits of a greater story together. This, I've said time and again, was my first experience with free-form role-playing, in a sense.

Not long after we started rolling out the mat to play "Battle Masters" on the weekends and after school, Matt came over one day next toting a selection of manuals he had found somewhere. These books started off pretty simply as the TSR 2nd Edition Dungeons and Dragons Player's Handbook, Dungeon Masters Guide, and Monstrous Manual. I don't know whose they were originally, but I do know that I still have them in my possession.

I spent hours reading over the material in those books, figuring it out. Matt and Adam were both as eager to play as I was, and they were both unanimously in favor of me, a girl, taking on the role of Dungeon Master. I know. Terribly unheard of, right? Girls can't possibly have "enough imagination" to play D&D let alone enjoy it, let alone be Dungeon Master.

My collection has grown significantly since then, and is nowhere near complete.
Since that time, I have played in several various tabletop adventures. Though D&D remains my top favorite, and I'm a vintage elitist snob who prefers TSR's 2nd Edition to anything Wizards of the Coast has pumped out since it bought the rights, I have also played in a few World of Darkness games such as Mage and Vampire. One of my past boyfriends was really into WoD, so I got a taste for that. I think none of his guy friends ever hit on me because I was his, though he never put me through the sexual fantasy ringer I've been hearing about in articles like the one I read this morning.

The fact that there are so many women and girls who experience sexual harassment online and off in their games really distresses me. Some of the best stories I've ever had to tell have come from my tabletop experiences. Stubby and I once talked about turning his campaign world into a novel, or book series, featuring his DM PC Dusk, our friend Matt's Nera the drow, and my gangly Gammaliel the Great, Master Illusionist! He's still my favorite ever played character in a game.

I also consistently tell people the story of my elven cleric, Hisael the Paladin Slayer. That adventure was probably the only one experience I had that made me uncomfortable, and it was mostly to do with the fact that the DM and 90% of all the other (male, every last one of them) players kept forgetting that my character was male and not female. The one stereotype that has always troubled me with these games is the limited imagination among the male population that seem to think a person should only play characters that match their real life gender, "so as not to confuse the DM."

The only guy present who did not keep thinking my character was female was the only guy present who was playing a female character himself. In retrospect, I realize he was playing a big-breasted stereotypical man-dependent, helpless mage, but... At least he acknowledged and remembered that just because I, the player, had boobs and a vagina did not necessarily mean that my character did as well.

Very rarely do I play female characters. Mostly because I've always been kind of male-minded. I don't like make-up or playing dress-up or the color pink. I like steak. I think the only truly female trait I have is my loathing for sports, but... My husband doesn't like sports either. That's just one of the many reasons why I married him. I am insanely happy to be with a man who doesn't have "The Game" playing in the background all the time on the television. In fact, right now I'm hearing Star Trek: the Next Generation. Awww yeeeah.

The point of all my rambling this morning is that... Some day I hope to share my love of RPGs with my daughters. I have big dreams of getting back together with Stubby and Matt and teaching our kids to play D&D, to run watered down campaigns and stimulate their imaginations. I've had giant foam polyhedral dice on Lilah's Amazon wishlist since even before she was born! And frankly I'm really disappointed that nobody has bought them for her as a birthday present yet.

I fear for my daughters' futures, though. I fear that they are going to suffer the same indignities many other female gamers are still stupidly facing today. I fear their only experiences with gaming are going to be limited to a small, cloistered, pre-arranged group consisting of my friends' kids, and that they won't be able to talk about their joy of role-playing (if they have it) with the larger community for fear of ridicule and scorn, and, worse, sexual harassment.

Amelia first discovers the manuals at 8 months.
Long before all this gender-stereotyping bullshit came to my attention, I was strongly defensive of role-playing, one of my favorite hobbies of all time. In high school, the negative fallacies I was most aware of were the ones claiming D&D was devil worship. I wrote a fiercely defensive essay on the matter, the only paper I ever wrote in which I got an F, because I had started off insulting everybody in the first paragraph. I still have that paper. I save it like a trophy. My grammar and spelling was perfect, but my tone was so aggressive that my teacher gave me an F and stern blue-pen talking to in the margins.

To all the ignorant people out there who spit claims of Dungeons & Dragons being devil worship, I have a few things I would like to say. It is time that your misinformed closed minds be opened up to all the facts. Evangelists and related religious fanatics, just hold your breath. Hear what someone experienced in the field has to say.

There is more to that essay than that. I wrote it in response to a bunch of idiotic propaganda I remember going around at the time, when the Internet was still new. I wish I could find the same video I'm remembering right now, but essentially it claimed D&D was a gateway drug to actual devil worship. As a non-believer and child of limitless imagination, I think you can probably guess how offensive I found that as a teenager. It ranked right up there with the absurd assumption my step-mother made from point A to point R (for ridiculous) that just because I wrote an X-rated note to my boyfriend (which his mother found) that somehow that meant I was planning to elope and get pregnant and drop out of school. I was insulted, to say the least.

I feel all my male geek friends should feel insulted, too, that there still exist skeevy assholes the likes of which are described in the article I linked to in the beginning of my post here. Sleazy, gross bastards who can't take no for an answer and give other male gamers, who are not at all as insecure as the stereotype, a bad name. It's sad, and not quite as funny as I'd like to say, that most of my online role-playing/writing friends are female. Even the ones who write/portray male characters, as I do, are mostly run by women.  I think because even I am uncomfortable playing/writing with men. At least... heterosexual men. My gay friends have never given me cause to feel uncomfortable, and that's sad.

I hope for a brighter future. One in which my daughters can take part in these games and past-times that I have so enjoyed most of my adult life without fear of harassment, without being made to feel uncomfortable. I hope, beyond hope, that they'll be able to log on to the next greatest installment of Halo for the Xbox Gabillionty without some dickwad telling them to "get in the kitchen" and "make me a sandwich."

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Your Future Dance Superstar

When the Usurper was born, we received a package from my Uncle Ed who lives now in Pennsylvania. I was very happy to receive a gift from them. Since they live in another state, we don't ever hardly see them. Thankfully there are things like Facebook and I'm kind of sort of in touch with his daughter (my cousin) Heidi. So, word gets around.

In the package was this adorable little outfit that became Lilah's absolute favorite for a while. She called it her "Fancy Dance" outfit, and wore it every chance she got. It came in February, while it was still cold. Long sleeves and leggings did not dissuade her from wearing it in the Summer, though, if she could get away from it.

Around this time, we were also watching a lot of Sesame Street. One episode I remember had a segment on ballet, and Lilah was very interested in it. I asked her, "Lilah, would you like to do ballet? Do you think that's something you'd liked to do?" And she enthusiastically said, "Ye~eah!" She has this really cute, drawn out way of saying "yeah" that I'm going to have to get on video one of these days, but I digress.

My girls were early walkers. Lilah was up on her feet by 10 months old, and she transitioned pretty quickly from toddling to running circles around the coffee table. Singing her ABCs.

Apparently this is video day. I know you're not complaining. There will be a bunch of pictures, too. Where was I?

Ah yes. Dancing. Lilah has always loved to move. She's a mover and a shaker. I even tried to get her on Yo Gabba Gabba when she was a baby, because honestly she was dancing before she was even walking! Here. I have a video of that, too.

As luck would have it, when we moved into our house, we discovered that not only are our neighbors super nice people, but their children are enrolled in a dance studio. We got to talking one day. I don't even remember how it came up, precisely, but I do remember saying, "Oh really?" Perking up. "I've been thinking about putting Lilah in ballet! She really loves to dance!" Next thing I know, a couple days later, my neighbor Lisa was bringing me a brochure from the studio with information on their summer camp.

This is where I'm going to take a minute to do a little free advertising. If you're looking for a school of dance, I highly recommend I'hDe Rather Be Dancing. Looks like they just updated their webpage, too. Not only are the prices very reasonable, but the studio staff is super pleasant and absolutely wonderful with children. Lilah loves it, and can't wait to go back this year. She's super excited about doing tap, which is a new option available to her this fall, too.

ps: It looks like there's an open house August 16th that I'm really going to have to figure out how to get us to, because face painting! That's something Lilah watched a segment on recently and she's been begging to get her face pained. So. Anyone want to check out the studio? I'll be your special tour guide!

Anyway. Lilah loved ballet. There was one month there in which she didn't want to go, but we figured out that it was because she was having embarrassment issues regarding her potty training. One day she watched as all the girls in her class all took a potty break before class started. She stood around toeing the floor, like, "Aw, shucks." Once we got her fully potty trained, wearing panties and not diapers anymore, she took right back to dancing like she was born to it. Maybe she was.

Ready for her first day of ballet class.
I learned a lot of things during our year of ballet. Things I never bothered with when I was a child, such as hair styling and make-up! When I was a little girl, I wore my hair in a short bob or wild and tangled and free. It wasn't until high school that I started pulling it back in a ponytail, when it started bothering me if it was in my face, as far as I can remember.

Up-do's, curling irons, hair spray, bobby pins, barrettes, high ponies, buns, pigtails, braids... All of that? I didn't know the first thing about until I had my daughter enrolled in a dance class. The studio handbook says her hair has to be pinned up during class, and the best I could do was a couple of pigtails in the beginning. But I got a lot of practice in, until I was an expert by the day of her big recital.

First flowers from Grandma Morgan.
Make-up on a three-year-old drives me crazy, but I can deal with it for the sake of recitals, because having worked as the Stage Manager my Junior and Senior years of our high school productions, I understand the importance of cosmetics. As the studio owner and director, Elisabeth Cavallaro, said, "Otherwise they look washed out on stage." I get it. Half the other moms kept insisting they weren't going to do it and cheat the system so their little girls didn't look like... I don't know. They were very adamant against it.

I'm very anti-make-up myself. I don't wear it. As we've already determined, I am just not a girly-girl. That cruel mistress Fate decided that I should give birth to one, though, because ever since the recital Lilah has been asking me for her make-up. I use the eyebrow pencils to paint whiskers and a nose on her sometimes for fun, but . . . child? No. I am not letting you get in the habit of wearing make-up every day just because you want to. That shit's not good for you, and I don't know how to explain it to a three-year-old why!

All of this, for a three-year-old, for one night.
The make-up's sitting in a Dollar Store bag in the linen closet right now, way up high where she can't get to it, yet. I felt gross having to buy it in the first place, but kept reminding myself that at least I wasn't putting her in a stupid beauty pageant. These cosmetics served a real practical purpose, and the Capricorn in me was satisfied with that. The first time I put it on her, I was amazed with how much it made her eyes pop, and how pretty she looked. Not the kind of enticing pretty that sickos and perverts imagine, but a real doll-like beauty that made me just want to cuddle her to pieces. I realized... 

My girl could be a movie star. And I started entertaining dreams of putting together an acting portfolio for her and actively searching for roles to audition her for. Those notions still crawl up to the surface of my thoughts sometimes, but I just don't have the kind of work-motivated energy to get that ball rolling. But I suppose I'm giving her a good start with a background in dance. Who knows? Maybe some day she'll be on Broadway.

Professional photo by Tuesday Photography.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Keep the Shears Away

This time last year I didn't have much hair on my head, because I had volunteered to shave it all off in the name of charity for St. Baldrick's Foundation. I had started writing a big blog post about this four and a half months ago, but it got pushed to the wayside for reasons I don't even recall. My original intention with that unfinished entry was to pimp out my friend Ben, whom I had convinced to do the same thing I did, which was a bigger sacrifice for him because he likes his hair much more than I do my own.

Going bald is liberating. July 2013.
This morning I found myself contemplating hair again, because since the time I shaved all mine off I have gone back to get one trim. In one year, I only got my hair cut once. I know people who follow that "every six weeks" advice and go see their hair stylist all the freaking time, but I'm just not that kind of person. My hair doesn't matter much to me at all. In fact, when it starts getting long, it starts to annoy the crap out of me, and I contemplate drastic measures such as shaving it all off again.

My daughter does not share my sentiments about hair and doesn't loathe her own the way I do mine. Hers hands freely in her face most of the time, and it's a fight on the best of days just to get her to let me or my husband comb it. I don't blame her. I remember being young and getting the worst tangles in my hair, and my dad having to sit me down in front of the couch with a hair brush that he'd work and tug and pull and hack at for hours until it was clear.

I realized this morning that in just a little over two months, my baby girl's going to be turning 4, and I have never once cut her hair. All that mess you see in the picture above? Still those gorgeous locks she was born with. She has never had a trim in her life. 

We've discussed it before. I've asked her if she wants a hair cut, but she flip-flops between answering me yes and no, and it's never a subject she brings up on her own. So I've just never had it done. I haven't seen any reason to. There's nothing wrong with her hair. I think it's beautiful. It falls perfectly in a natural part on the left side of her head without having to really put any work into it. Sometimes she lets me put it up in a "high pony," and for ballet we always put it up in a bun, but otherwise she's perfectly content to sweep it out of her eyes while she's running around having fun.

My wild child riding a pony for the first time at the 2014 Summit County Fair.
Her hair comes up in conversation sometimes, especially with the in-laws. Her grandmother (husband's mom) has asked before, seemingly innocently, "When are you going to get her hair cut?" My answer remains the same: whenever she wants to get her hair cut. 

My niece commented once about how you have to get your hair cut regularly for it to stay healthy. Apparently this is something her mother told her, but I don't believe it's the least bit true. Personally, I think it's something hair stylists tell their clients to convince them they need to come back "at least every six weeks for a trim," just so they can have a steady income. Propaganda.

This morning I found myself Googling "why get a haircut" and not being able to find any hits, except, of course, from hair stylists. People who make their living by cutting hair, or selling beauty products to make your hair shiny or bold or not frizzy or... They've tried to sell me a lot of crap in those salons, and almost convince me every single time, but I'm sorry... I'm not going to pay $20 for a bottle of shampoo that's only going to last me a week when I could spend $2 on one that will last me a month or two instead.

My niece Sydney, who will be (holy crap) 15 in a couple of days, had her baby hair for the longest time, too. I'm pretty sure no shears had touched her head even by the time she starred in my wedding 11 years ago as one of two flower girls. Her curls were the most adorable thing in the world. I always thought she was, up until I had my own kids, anyway. 

My niece when she was tiny like Lilah, but obviously with bangs.
Every time I think about taking my daughter to get her hair cut, I remember this woman I knew when I was a teenager. For the life of me, I can never remember her name, but she was the sweetest woman who knew all of us, and helped out on all the school musical sets with costumes and make-up and all that. I talked to her quite a bit my Junior and Senior years because I was the Stage Manager for two of our high school productions (The King and I and then Bye, Bye Birdie).

What I remember most about this woman, besides her unending kindness, was the fact that she had never, in her entire life, ever, got her hair cut. She always wore it in this long, tight braid, and it was so long that she had to fold it up and secure it back up at the back of her head. I think of her whenever I contemplate taking Lilah to the salon to get her "First Haircut" that seems to be such an important milestone for parents everywhere. Not for me, though.

Until the day comes that I'm being begged and whined to for a haircut, I'm just going to let my daughter's hair grow wild and untamed like her personality. It's not hurting her, or anyone else. I don't think it looks "unhealthy" or anything either. Though it is a pain in the ass to find her hairs in everything all over the house, including dinner sometimes. We know it's hers, because she's the only person in the house with long hair right now!

Also, she's blonde and I'm not.
For now, we're skipping that "milestone" in favor of natural beauty. Which reminds me... Next article I should talk to you all about make-up. Yeah. Three years old and we're already in love with cosmetics. Thanks so much, ballet recital!