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Book Review: Wolfpack by Abby Wambach

30 September 2019

Real Sports: On the Basis of Sex: Girls' Baseball


I needed to log into HBO GO to catch an episode of Real Sports that I missed about girls and baseball.

The topic is fascinating for me. I played softball in high school and still play in a league - of course, Chicago 16" softball though. But as you know, I love baseball too. I did play Little League and never felt comfortable there.

But you need to watch this episode. It goes through the history of Maria Pepe who sued Little League USA for the right to play baseball. They fought her for 2 years. And after she won, Little League started softball.

I love both sports. And it breaks my heart each time I reflect on softball's role in discrimination against girls and women.

It infuriates me to watch the clip of men giving bullshit excuses why girls shouldn't play baseball including:
  • Dental injuries will make girls less attractive
  • Getting hit in the chest will lead to breast cancer (isn't it FASCINATING how people who don't want women to do something will find a way to link it to breast cancer?)  
  • No one wants a girl to be hurt by a boy (I was on La Vida Baseball a few weeks again and we were discussing women playing in men's leagues. Another panelist brought up this issue as to why he couldn't support women playing in men's leagues.)
  • Some fathers didn't want boys to tag their daughters on the butt or chest. Because apparently everything is sexual, especially at the Little League age. Good lessons there, dads!
It's a great segment and will lead to some great conversations.  Watch the trailer below then log into your HBO account!




06 September 2019

Review: Maybe He Just Likes You

Maybe He Just Likes You Maybe He Just Likes You by Barbara Dee
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

School is back in session and I know some of you are scrambling for good books for your tweens to read. "Maybe He Just Likes You" by Barbara Dee should be on your child's book list.

"Maybe He Just Likes You" tackles a lot in short succinct chapters and amazing grace.

Mila is in 7th grade and suddenly receiving attention from a group of boys at school. At first she thinks it is all in her head and then a girl friend accuses her of flirting. As things escalate Mila is overwhelmed with confusion and frustration. She does not like the attention, but all her friends dismiss her feelings. In the middle of all of this, her mother is going through her own drama.

I need to be real with you. The way Dee writes makes you feel the action. This includes the anticipation Mila feels when she is expecting unwanted attention. I felt it in my body and flashed back to my own hellish time in 7th grade. I wish I had handled my own situation the way Mila attacks hers. Don't get me wrong, she flops around and fails a lot, but you are always sympathizing with her, even at her worst.

The ending is pretty pat and may give young readers the idea that life has perfect bows, but I choose to think of it as an aspirational ending, not an idealistic one.

This book could be a great salve for a young person on the receiving end of unwanted attention. It is also a great mother-daughter book. As Mila's mom was wrapped up in her very real and valid grown-up issues, it still made me wonder of what I may have missed with my own daughter when I've struggled with my life stuff. This book is also an excellent learning tool for all tweens about being a good friend, about being brave enough to be a good friend.

Disclaimer: I was pitched this book by a publicist. I am happy I said yes!!

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05 September 2019

Review: Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up

Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up by Heather Corinna
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

"Wait, What?: A Comic Book Guide to Relationships, Bodies, and Growing Up" is the book I wish we all had when we were in middle school. And if you have a middle school human in your life, you should get them this book.

One of the first pages, page 9 to be exact, sets the tone of the book. That humans develop in all ways at a different rate from each other. Some of us mature physically, some of us mature romantically earlier, and that's all ok.

Heather & Isabella take great care to talk about all things puberty-related with not just great care, but in a gender inclusive manner. Vaginas are not talked about things women have, rather vaginas and breast development are things that happen to humans and if that what you are experiencing, great! If not, maybe you have a penis and other stuff is happening. Don't get me wrong, there are pages that talk about boys and girls, but in a way that allows each reader to identify how they feel, including that some people feel feminine one day and masculine the next.

One of the favorite parts of the book are the discussions around consent and relationships. Consent treated not just as a topic in order to reduce sexual assault, but woven in to how we relate to each other in relationships. At the most basic level it is that you need someones consent to be in a relationship and everyone has the right to not be in a relationship. It makes you imagine how much dating would suck less if we all learned how to talk to each other about our expectations for relationships when we were 12 instead of in therapy in our 30s or 40s.

I attended the Chicago book party. Instead of Heather & Isbella reading everything, they asked for volunteers to read for different characters. Hearing the story from the mouths of tweens was everything. It cemented how perfect the narrative is in helping middle schoolers understand that puberty is a hot mess, but you're going to be just fine. Even if you don't have a Superteam like we one we follow in "Wait, What?"

Disclaimer: I received a review copy, but did purchase a copy for myself. Also Heather is a friend and someone whose work I have greatly admired for many years.

View all my reviews

13 May 2019

Book Review: Everything Grows by Aimee Herman

A lot of books show up at my home that go unread - to be given away or on the never-ending TBR pile. Thankfully something about Everything Grows urged me to read it and now. And that is exactly what this books does to your heart - it plants into your heart and tears it apart as it blossoms.

Aimee Herman gives us the tale of Eleanor, a teen in 1993 (This GenXer is still floored each time she reads a book that is nostalgic for her own high school days and LOVES it. Even if it is hard to read "historical fiction" for that time.) whose bully has recently taken his own life just months after her mom attempted to do the same. At the prompting for her English teacher, Eleanor journals her way through the months after the bully's death, exploring not just their relationship, but also her relationship with her mother, and most importantly herself.

There are definitely places in this book where I felt it was a bit unrealistic, but it works in the end. It all works. 1993 was a huge year for me. I am the same age as Eleanor's sister, who struggles through her first year of college. Every step along Eleanor's journey was deeply felt due to both superb writing, but also personal flashbacks.

I am not sure how this would go over with someone who has survived their own attempt to take their lives, so please consult someone. I do know that this book is full of hope as Eleanor wrestles with what suicide means - is it giving up? Is it giving in? Why? Why not? This book is also about queer youth, as signaled by the rainbow button on the cover. According to the Trevor Project "suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among young people ages 10 to 24 and LGB youth seriously contemplate suicide at almost three times the rate of heterosexual youth." From everything I know of LGB youth and young adults, I would like to think this book is a welcome addition to their lives as it is affirming not just for one's identity, but for the really fucked up ways we all stumble through figuring out that identity.

As a parent, I appreciated the insight into the teen mind. As I get older, I lose the finer touch of my memories. Aimee Herman reminded me of all the drama that happens in our minds and hearts. And why sometimes the best thing a parent can do it simply say, "I love you. I accept you." and the shut the fuck up.

I was going to give this to a parent who spotted me reading it at soccer, but I think I'm going to walk this over to our Gender and Sexuality Center over my lunch break.

Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for an honest review.

30 April 2019

Marvel-ing at Grief

Spoilers Ahead

Spoilers head for Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse and Avengers: Endgame.

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When Stan Lee died many fans were quick to point out that his legacy is much more than just comic book characters, but the messages that those characters endear to us. He spent years reinforcing those messages on his Soap Box. It is with his words about the power of love in mind that I outline that Avengers: Endgame is a film about grief masquerading as an action flick. Grief is everywhere in the film - appropriately since it takes place in a post-snap, post-apocalyptic universe. The grief of Thor is central to this lesson, but is the one most undercut by humor.

Avengers: Endgame begins with Hawkeye losing his family to Thanos' snap. And this snaps something in him causing him to become a vigilante. Rhodey reports to Nat of his slaughter of Mexican gang members. Nat finds him in Tokyo after his latest slaughter. We first see Thor upset because he did not go for Thanos' head, allowing Thanos to complete the snap. He makes sure not to repeat that mistake by beheading Thanos to stop his holier-than-thou speech about why the snap was good, blah, blah. After Tony is saved, he is so upset about the snap (most likely because of Peter Parker) that he collapses. Of course Tony is always upset about something, so grief or Tony? Your guess.

Five years after the snap, Steve Rogers runs a grief support program encouraging others to move on. Then he remarks to Nat that they can't move on. When it is time to get the band back together, Bruce/Hulk and Rocket find Thor in a deep depression - he is heavily drinking, staying in his home, and gaining weight, presumably due to over eating (the fact he is a god is to be ignored). Whereas Steve & Nat identify that they are stuck in grief and regret, Thor's grief is played off as a joke.

The first time I saw Avengers: Endgame the entire theater gasped at Thor's beer & pizza belly. I know I did. It was shocking especially compared to the scene in Infinity War where Thor's perfect body is compared to Peter Quill's non-Godlike body. And it should be noted that while his body was perfect, Mantis does say Thor is filled with grief. Back to Endgame...On my second watch, I paid attention to how Thor's belly is framed and lit to highlight it as a gag instead of a manifestation of his grief.

Later on when Thor is discussing the Reality stone and how he needs to time travel back to Asgard, he starts to mourn the loss of Jane as a girlfriend, his mother, and ends before getting to losing his father, brother, Loki, and Asgard itself. But when he gets to Asgard he is overcome with emotion at the sight of his mother on her deathday.

Rocket rightfully does some truth telling - how he is not the only one who lost something from The Snap. That they have a job to do and if they do it, they can put things right. I even accept the slap! But what I don't accept is how the slap played as humor. Rocket dug deep into his own trash-filled soul to give some tough love. Maybe the humor was there to take the edge off the heavy moment. We'll return to this idea later. 

As mothers are apt to do, Frigga can see his pain in his face. She counsels him that even he is like everyone else in terms of failing, but that doesn't mean he stops trying. Frigga even gives him direction by telling him to be who he is, not what he is expected to be. That's some real mom truth-telling there! To cap off the scene Thor summons Mjolnir and when it arrives he exclaims, "I'm still worthy!"

Thor's journey through grief and embodiment as a pot belly is played off as a joke. Compare this to how Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse handled Peter B. Parker's grief and depression. Yes, it was played off as a joke at first, but Peter B. offers up some hard truths to Miles about #ThatSuperheroLife, marriage, and how sometimes heroes don't get the happy ending we assume they do. His longing for a second or third chance with Mary Jane is palpable. Which is why I bawled when he showed up at her door at the end.

Given that the target audience for superhero movies is still young men and boys, Marvel has an enormous opportunity to normalize grief for a population that is obviously struggling with their emotions. When men experience mental health issues, including grief and depression, they are more apt to lash out than women. In fact they often lash out at the women in their lives.

Violence by men and boys is a national epidemic. Gun violence. Intimate partner violence. Sexual violence. All are disproportionately inflicted by boys and men. I for one do not believe that it is because men and boys are somehow inherently terrible human beings, but our society warps them into ignoring their feelings AND tells them that they way to get things out is to lash out at others. This is royally fucked up.

What if Rocket had hugged (I know, hard for our fave trash panda to hug our fave Norse god) instead of slapping him, or after slapping him, much like the hug that Tony gets to give to his father and Peter Parker? We get a taste of this empathy when Bruce/Hulk talks to Thor in New Asgard.

Can you imagine the impact on the young men and boys sitting in theaters around the country and the world if Thor's depression and grief had been given the same weight as Tony's death? Grief makes us all feel weird. We don't like to talk about grief. After my mom died, I had a few people in my life tell me to get over it so I could move on with my life. We don't know how to deal with grief, so we tell people to get over it or make awkward jokes. I don't think we needed Thor to end up with a grief counselor, but more acknowledgement of his losses and less jokes and body-shaming would had been awesome. Especially in light of the overwhelming sense of grief everyone was carrying throughout the movie.

If Stan Lee's legacy is a catalog of superheros that inspire us to be our best selves, why not include being inspired to talk about our grief and understanding that eating a salad will not resolve our depression-weight-gain.

Disclaimer

This blog is my personal blog and is not reflective of my employer or what I do for them.
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