Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

Brigid Daull Brockway is technically a writer

A blog about words, wordplay, and etymology, with slightly more than occasional political rants.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Counting Casualties

My, but it has been a long time. The buying, making, wrapping, finishing-touching and food purchasing tend to take up a lot of one's time when one and one's husband will have visited with 60-odd relatives over the course of two days.
Yes, we tried to put a lid on the gift-giving by donating to charities instead. Didn't take; now we donate to charity and give each other presents. I don't think it's an over-commercialization of Christmas thing in our families though. I think it's just that we can't resist the urge to share with the people we love. We think of the look on Mom's face when she opens this package and it's all over.
Plus, all of us crafty folks have to do something with this toilet paper cozy we made.
Also, my mom is a sucker for fairly traded handy-crafts from folks in third-world countries, so we always find ornaments or jewelry made from recycled trash and elephant dung in our stockings. When my sister pulled the necklace of lovely newspaper beads out of her stocking this year, my mom informed us that this piece was made by a colony of Ethiopian women with leprosy. After which the beads were suddenly on the other side of the room. While one might logically know that one can't get leprosy from a trash necklace, that doesn't make it any easier to have leper jewelry around your neck. 
But I digress as usual. 

Well, another battle in the War on Christmas is on the books, and it looks like the heathens lost once again. One day the 5% of Americans who don't celebrate Christmas will emerge victorious. One day.
So now the great endangered holiday is over, and it is time to put the righteous holiday greeting indignation on the shelf beside the Christmas lights. 
Or, we could stop behaving like petulant children and realize it's okay for different people to wish each other season's greetings in different ways. Just as saying hola or aloha is not an attack on the English language; just as saying gesundheit isn't an attack on blessing people; just as saying she's at peace now instead of he's in a better place isn't an attack on heaven; choosing to say happy holidays is not an attack on Christmas.

Although going ape on a person or place of business for wishing you happiness is kind of an attack on the spirit of Christmas. And free speech. And, you know, behaving like a civilized adult.

Or perhaps you should gird your loins for a battle Christians really are losing without even knowing they're losing it. It's the battle on Easter.
Once, my dad was at church and wished an old woman a happy Easter. The woman whirled around on him and said "Easter is a pagan holiday. It's Resurrection Sunday." She's right. The word Easter refers to Ēostre (or Ostara), an Anglo-Saxon goddess celebrated in feasts throughout the month of April. Chances are good that the Easter Bunny, Easter Eggs, and several of the other customs associated with Easter go back to Ēostre celebrations. 
Take your holiday back, Jesus lovers! Don't let the pagans win!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Raindrops on Roses

So when I was a kid, I got this book from the library full of random facts. Slowly, over the course of the past few decades, I have learned that nearly everything that book told me was a lie.
I should have known better than to trust a book from a library with an entire wall full of Danielle Steel novels. Except I didn't know who Danielle Steel was and probably assumed that she was some sort of expert on sunsets, or beaches, or front porch swings or something.
Okay, honestly, I still have no idea what Danielle Steel is all about. I mean, I get erotica. It's a great way to look at porn without having to clear your browser history afterward. But romance? I have no idea what that even means. Then again, this is coming from the woman whose husband made her play Dungeons & Dragons on their first Valentine's Day together and then poisoned her character so she had to sit out the rest of the game. Yes that was the year 2000. Yes I am still mad. But I digress as usual.
Anyway, this book was busting at the seams with every trivia lie you've ever heard: the thing about the number of hooves a horse has on the ground being a code for how the rider died; the one about sleeping tight; and the reason that Silly Putty is called Silly Putty.
In retrospect, I realize that it was pretty absurd to believe that Silly Putty is so named because it was invented by Joseph Siller. Then again, I was young and thought that Daniel Steel was a beachporchologist. 
Silly Putty, that fascinating non-Newtonian fluid that never copied the funnies section as well as I'd been led to believe, was invented by a guy with a name that isn't remotely silly - James Wright. Wright, according to, wasn't trying to create a non-Newtonian novelty, he was trying to invent a synthetic rubber for the US military back during WWII. It wasn't a bad attempt, actually, other than the fact that it didn't work. It's just that tires are required to be 100% Newtonian, it's kind of a deal-breaker. (Yes, I know that solids aren't Newtonian.) Anyway, everybody agreed that the substance, which was then called bouncing putty, was really cool, but none of the best scientific minds in the country couldn't think of a use for it (apparently scientists never ran across a situation in which the funnies need to be copied onto a non-Newtonian fluid). Until an ad-man named Peter Hodgson got a hold off it and found a use. He ordered a big batch of the stuff and, because he had some on hand, stuffed the stuff into plastic Easter eggs. It was Hodgson who came up with the name Silly Putty
Back when I was a kid, we'd go downtown the day after Thanksgiving and my sister and I got to visit the Twigbee Shop inside of the downtown Higbee's. At the Twigbee Shop, your folks gave you money, and some nice ladies brought you around and helped you buy horrible gifts for your family. You know, perfume that smells like bathroom air freshener; large, hideous pins that your poor mother would, God love her, wear proudly to church; that sort of thing. Then, one year, between the neon-patterned polyester neckties and the tire gauge key rings (speaking of God loved people, my dad checked every tire on both cars in the snow with that thing), I found the perfect horrible gift for my godfather. A luxury Slinky. Gold. And resting on a wooden platform designed to let you display the device in all its glory. And bearing a gold plaque engraved "Executive Spring." I pictured the thing front and center on his desk, impressing the hell out of his very important clients and employees. It would be a conversation piece, and he would brag about his brilliant goddaughter and her miraculous gift-picking ability. But I digress as usual.
The Slinky. That fascinating metal coil that never walked downstairs as well as I'd been lead to believe. Like Silly Putty, the Slinky was born when scientist Richard James (who I've heard was a supafreak) tried to create a spring that could be used on naval ships. One day, he knocked the spring off a shelf and discovered it could walk (I call shenanigans. I couldn't make that foolish thing walk down the steps on purpose, let alone by accident). James spent a year refining the design, then prepared to sell the spring as a toy. It was James' wife Betty who came up with the name, and the toy was a smash hit from the start. I assume it's because nobody had found out about the whole stair walking thing being a lie.
All of which is to say I've been having way too much fun shopping for munchkins. I'm going to have to use all of my strength not to keep them for myself.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

This horse dead yet?

So I know I promised to tell you about some more kick-ass women who didn't embody what some Fox News op-ed said a Woman should be. Then I kind of realized the pointlessness of preaching to the choir about a debate that was settled in the minds of most sane people decades ago. And that furthermore, said article is totally irrelevant to the vast majority of Americans who can't really afford to turn up their noses at an entire additional income. 
I think it's great, happy, noble, and Womanly to stay home and concentrate on being a good wife and mom. I respect the hell out of anyone who manages. But it can also be womanly to work hard to provide for your family while in so doing answering your own calling.
I do, however, want to address this idea that I've heard a lot of people arguing: that feminism has made it okay for women to browbeat men. Y'all, the whole "henpecked man" trope is a stereotype since before written history exists and is most certainly not the product of feminism. Greek and Roman mythology is full of some browbeating, murderous, and revengeful women - I mean, look at all the evil Hera rained down upon poor innocent Hercules just to punish Zeus for shoving his junk into anything that moved. Go back to Greek theater and you've got Lysistrata, in which women use sex in a calculated effort to control their men. Katrina in Taming of the Shrew; just about every woman Oscar Wilde wrote about; Alice Kramden in The Honeymooners, that show reviled by feminists everywhere, is a sharp-beaked twit to her husband. Also, I so don't have a problem with The Honeymooners
Also, the term henpecked has been around since the 1670s, which kind of tells you something. 
All that said, I do want to give one more example of a woman whom that editorial would deny being a Woman, my mom. Yes, the woman who leaves soup on the doorstep of sick people and runs away. The woman who brings communion to shut-ins and cooks like an angel, the woman who makes up half of the most happily married couple I know.
But mom worked. She worked hard. She worked for a lot of reasons, but I'm glad she did. If not, my family would have cheated hundreds of already severely disadvantaged children out of maybe the best teacher they ever had. 
In my house, if you had a gift, you learned how to find a way to share it with the world.
There weren't boys' toys or girls' toys in my house, there were only toys. I had dolls and I loved them, but not nearly as much as I loved the awesome little set of real tools she got me when I was 7 (with which I promptly built a lovely gash in my thumb). She sometimes regrets how strict she was by not letting us play with Barbie dolls, but I completely get the logic now. Barbie's defining characteristics were her appearance and her clothes. That's not really something my mom wanted us to aspire to. Instead, I played with Strawberry Shortcake, whose defining characteristic was smelling like fruit, and what mom doesn't want her girl to aspire to live inside a strawberry, talk like she's been sucking on helium, and smell like fruit? I don't know if the Barbie ban made any difference one way or another, but I really appreciate the sentiment behind that.
I love my mom. She taught me how to be a Woman. I mean, it didn't take, but she tried.

Monday, December 3, 2012

On Women who aren't... part II

This post is a continuation in a series of posts that describe powerful, ambitious women that men love; women who embody everything that society once thought women should not be.
This very unladylike lady is a lady every man I know would like to get his hands on, and the one woman who might be able to steal my husband away if she took a mind...
Kari Byron is a geek boy's dream come true. She's hot, she's brilliant, she's a redhead (geek boys seem to have a thing for redheads), and she plays in the dirt.
Kari Byron wanted a job as a prop-maker at M5 Industries, and Jamie Hyneman said no. But Kari Byron was not deterred. Driven by a very un-Womanly ambition, she showed up outside Hyneman's workshop every day to ask for a job, and every day she got the same answer. Until one day when the answer was yes. That day just happens to have been right around the time the show Mythbusters began recording at Hyneman's prop studio. Byron was hired to work for the prop shop, not the show, but one fateful day the show needed a butt to make a plaster cast with, and they chose hers.

Byron began appearing on the show more often... apparently someone realized that, on a show with two of the ugliest men in the business, a smoking hot geek chick might just be an asset.

During her nearly ten years on the show, she has appeared onscreen shooting guns, playing in poop, operating power tools, swimming with sharks, and making things explode. Like, really,really big explosions. Who wants June Cleaver when you can have a smoking hot badass who could totally save your life in the event of a zombie apocalypse?
"I really like just getting my hands dirty...
that's the kind of science I like to do" - Kari Byron

Byron took half a season off following the birth of her daughter Stella Ruby, but returned when the next season began filming. Of being a working mom, she said this in her blog on
Being a working mom is hard. Anyone that tells you different is lying. Not that I would have it any other way... I do have dark moments of working-mom guilt, but I actively try to crush them with my list:
My daughter has a positive role model of a career woman. She can be anyone she wants to be. 
I never take a moment with her for granted. She has my full attention and I savour my time with her like dark chocolate. 
 She has a college fund and she is only 1.
I am the first one she sees in the morning and the one who kisses her goodnight. 

According to Susan Venker's article, Kari Byron is bad news, the kind of non-Woman woman responsible for causing men not to want to get married. 
But I disagree. Most of the men I know are geeks, so maybe what I'm seeing doesn't reflect what all men like, but it seems to me, guys may not want to compete with their wives, but they do want to be with a woman who challenges them. They like having a companion, someone intelligent who shares their interests. Kari Byron isn't just gorgeous because she's gorgeous. She's gorgeous because she's brilliant. Because she likes to get dirty and break things and blow stuff up... and what guy, deep down, doesn't love some or all of the same things. 
And as for women staying at home, I don't know many dudes who would choose a live-in housekeeper over having 100% more money. Do you? 
Feminism, my friends, has been framed. Feminism isn't about hating men and blaming and emasculating. Feminism is about women like Kari Byron and Tina Fey, who are sexy because they're smart and hella good at what they do. I highly doubt women like them sit around their houses brow-beating their men and blaming them for things. They're far  too busy being awesome.
As for more women who are busy being awesome... more on them to come.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

On women who aren't... part 1

So in my last post I talked about Susan Venker's silly op-ed piece on, which I am once again dignifying with a response. Because actually, it got me thinking about what men really want.
See, I talk to a lot of guys too, and I think that Venker's wrong about what men really want. Of course men don't want some angry domineering ball-buster (I mean, well, some of them really, really do, but only in the Biblical sense, if you know what I mean), but banging and blaming simply aren't what mainstream feminism is about. And I posit that some of the women that men love most would not be who they were if they were Women, by Susan Venker's definition.

Tina Fey

Tina Fey may have scorched the cover of Esquire with her incredible hotness...

But the Tina Fey that men (and women) first fell in love with everywhere looked more like this:

Gorgeous, yes, but also brainy, wearing minimal makeup, and sporting a scar that might have kept her from the screen entirely a few generations ago. A scar that she never hides from the camera, that isn't even touched out in photos, though it easily could be, a scar that might have shamed someone like her grandmother from leaving the house.
And you probably wouldn't see either Tina Fey on TV if not for the groundwork laid down by the feminist movement. The first because respectable women did not appear scantily clad on the cover of a men's magazine, and the second because she might not be on television if not for her ambition in another field. Tina Fey didn't begin as a performer on Saturday Night Live, but as a writer - a woman in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field - one of only four women on a writing team of more than 20. When she became the head writer for Saturday Night Live in 1999, she was the first woman ever to fill the position. A few years later, she did what surprisingly few women have done - she created a hit television show: 30 Rock, which is loosely based on her experience at SNL. 
Fey doesn't just show up in tons of "most beautiful people" lists and on the covers of men's magazines, fashion magazines, and feminist magazines; she's also consistently ranked one of the most powerful and influential people in Hollywood.
If her husband, composer Jeff Richmond has a problem with being married to an ambitious, educated, successful, working mom, he hasn't said so. They've been married for 11 years - which is like, a century in Hollywood marriage years.
There are thousands of women in Hollywood more thin and beautiful than she is; the reason men and women love her is that she's hilarious, talented, strong, and brilliant. She's everything Venker claims a Woman isn't, but I don't know many straight men who would kick this woman out of bed. Or gay men. Or straight women...

Saturday, December 1, 2012

She Stayed at Home, She Did Her Wool

Earlier this week, a bunch of my ugly-shod Facebook compatriots in the feminist sisterhood rage-reposted* a link to The War On Men, a Fox News opinion piece by anti-feminist author Susan Venker. Which I am now dignifying with a response while rewarding the site with more web traffic in an act of re-rage-reposting**.  
In the article, Venker exposes a chilling statistic. Men are 6% less likely to say that a successful marriage is important to them. SIX! That's as many as three twos! Or six ones!
Maybe if women were still women, Lex Luthor wouldn't have to
steal cakes. You ever think of that, feminazi? 
Venker has talked to hundreds, if not thousands of men, some of whom say that they don't want to get married because women aren't women anymore Venker tells women that we're doing themselves and all other women a great disservice with our blaming and browbeating and job pursuing and college degree getting. If we keep on emasculating men by competing with them in the workplace, well then, nobody's going to marry us and we're going to be old maids. 
...and that's terrible.
And that got me thinking: what defines a Woman? When were women Women, and what, when women were Women, was a Woman supposed to be? She doesn't think it's okay that women are getting more than half of college degrees or that they make up more than half of the workforce. Don't worry, Suz, women are still earning less than 80% of what men do!**** 
She says that non-Woman women are undermining men, what with our mannish competence and our lesbian-esque work ethics. That a Woman doesn't compete with her man, she lets him care for her. We need to stop brow-beating our men. We need to stop being so defensive and angry, and give over to our feminine natures.
Well I have to call shenanigans on you, Miss Venker. I'll have you know that I have, many times, selflessly offered to quit my job and let my husband take care of me. In fact, I make this selfless offer nearly every morning when the alarm clock goes off. He keeps saying that we need "enough money" to "pay our bills." And I never compete with my husband, because I have a vagina, making me superior to him in every way - competing with him would just be rubbing it in.
And I wouldn't be so angry, Miss Venker, I wouldn't be so defensive, if my husband wasn't such a male chauvinist pig. Do you know he expects me to help him with the housework? What century does he think this is!? Everyone knows that because men have subjugated women for millennia, it is men's turn to be subjugated. Everyone knows a man's place is in the kitchen, and when he and I get home at the end of a long work day, I expect him to make up my chocolate martini and then cook dinner while I'm communing with my online Wiccan coven about our vaginas and the new world order in which we crush men under our combat boots. Really, Susan Venker, is that too much to ask?
Also, I would never beat a man's brow, whatever that means. Like a true feminist, I only beat men's genitals. 
Oh, and Jeremy would totally back up my opinion if he weren't cowering behind the couch right now.  

This article actually did get me thinking some interesting things about Women and women, and over the next couple of days, I will be featuring some women who are most certainly not Women by Venker's definition. Women whom no man would ever want to marry.

*A new term I've just coined to refer becoming so enraged with a website that you are viewing that you must share it with everyone you know. Which I guess sort of the Internet equivalent of sniffing sour milk and then shoving the carton at your spouse saying "Ew, smell this."
** A new term I've just coined that is awfully fun to say.
*** Yes, I know that the gender wage gap is based on a number of complicated factors, and is not based on simple discrimination. 

And there it is, an entire post on feminism that doesn't mention Birkenstocks once. Oops.