Friday, February 6, 2015

Do You Want to Build a Snowman?

It's been a long time since I guest authored here but, as the father of two daughters and a recruiter for a tech company, there's an important message I want to evangelize.  Now that most of the mass hysteria surrounding Disney's latest princess film has run it's course it's time to take a step back and address the social engineering baked into Frozen.

For the non-parents out there, let's quickly review the tidal wave from Arendelle that swept over the parents of the world in the last 12-15 months. I was planning to see Frozen when it hit the cheap theaters but didn't. Because it never got to the cheap theaters.  It stayed in the full price theaters morphing from regular showings into special sing along showings right through the DVD release ($1.2B global box office). In June, the Billboard Dance Club Songs list was topped by a Disney song (Let it Go), and for the better part of a year parents had to sell heirlooms to buy Frozen birthday party decor off eBay. A year after it released, we went to Disneyland where Kate expected to meet Elsa and Anna.  We got lucky. We had 3-day passes, so we got into the park an hour early one day.  That day, G speedwalked from the entrance to the "Meet Elsa and Anna" fastpass line (yes, Elsa and Anna have their own fast pass line), waited in line for 45 minutes to get fastpasses, and managed to get passes for 2:20 in the afternoon.  They ran out of passes before the park opened for general admission.  When we returned at 2:20 we waited in line again for over an hour to actually meet Elsa and Anna.  Apparently, before they implemented the fast pass system parents were waiting in line for over 5 hours to meet the princesses.  A YEAR after the movie released.

The fanatical devotion that surrounds this film left quite a few people scratching their heads about what caused such an uproar.  Certainly Tangled (Rapunzel), and the Frog Princess (Tianna) didn't produce anything like this. Why this one?  I thought it over for a while and ran some ideas past G.  It turned out we had independently come to basically the same conclusion. The way our kids put it was, "She's a princess, but with powers," which is a major departure from previous Disney princesses.

Not so sure?  Let's review some other Disney princesses:

  • Snow White - Beautiful, kind, sickeningly optimistic and helpless before a simple disguise.  She ends up waiting, half dead, for her prince to save her.
  • Aurora - Beautiful, loved by everyone, so trusting she dances with strange men who show up in the forest, but ultimately helpless before spinning needles.  She ends up stuck in an enchanted death sleep, waiting for her prince to save her.

Of course these are really old examples.  Maybe a more modern one will be better:

  • Ariel - Beautiful, but rebellious, and honestly not so bright.  Helpless before a witch with a lousy sales pitch.  She loses the guy, and gets transformed back into a mermaid after getting her father turned into a worm.  She's stuck waiting for her prince to knock off the witch and then STILL needs her dad to save her from the disappointment of losing her first infatuation love. (Assuming that being transformed into an alien creature and separated from your family forever counts as being saved.)

Now let's talk about Elsa.  She makes awesome stuff with her mind and a gesture, and runs a kingdom (without a guy even!).  Halfway through the movie she "loses" her princess status and becomes Queen Elsa of Arrendelle. Most importantly, she does all this despite feeling unsure of herself.  When she can't keep her fears in check anymore, she gives up the act, exiles herself for everyone's safety, and finally gets to revel in her own power.  "Let it Go" captured the hearts of millions of girls.  They will have to grow up a little before they really understand why its working title was "Elsa's Bad*** Song".

Disney is sending girls a big message here.  You don't have to feel perfect. Hiding your abilities won't help in the long run.  You can make awesome things.  You can be powerful.  This movie is about getting girls into STEM. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math)

No, I'm not really kidding. Elsa describes her own soul as a spiral of frozen fractals. She likes to be alone, and her skin looks like she's never seen the sun.  She can make her own dress, bridge, castle, and probably whatever else she wants to.  And she's been doing it since she was little with no training.  She can't stop changing the world around her even when she tries.  Can you say "power geek" louder than this?

Someone at Disney really gets it.  They understand what's keeping girls out of STEM. That's not really a surprise since I'm pretty sure "they" is John Lasseter (current Chief Creative Officer at Disney and former Pixar exec) and his Pixar cronies.  Sound crazy?  Lets review the "Pixar princesses":  Merida (Brave), Ellie (Up), EVE (WALL-E), Sally (Cars), Mrs. Incredible.  This group and the old Disney princesses have never met and it's not hard for me to see where Elsa belongs (or Anna for that matter).  Since Elsa's real heritage is a computer animation studio it's not hard to convince me that the subliminal message coming from her is a whispered "grow up and work for us".

Admittedly what I'm about to say could be biased, because I have a small sample set to work with but here goes.  I haven't seen girls treated with discrimination in the engineering workplace since I started working full-time a decade ago.  At least not in the traditional "you wouldn't understand, why don't you go get us some coffee" way.  I can't imagine a team where people wouldn't listen to a woman's technical input just because she was female.   I'm sure it still happens in some places, but I really don't think fear of being treated like a secretary is the issue.

The issue is at the social level.  In a STEM workplace some girls will end up uncomfortable.  A girl who shows up with a Luis Vuitton handbag and a perpetual manicure because that's how she rolls will likely get professional respect for good work, but she won't be one of the gang unless she's willing to keep her Paladin Blood Elf leveled up to the max or brew her own beer or something equally off the beaten path.  But that's just work, not life.

The bigger problem is outside of work.  The social scene is pretty harsh on girls who get serious about technical stuff.  If a girl wants to go into biology that's OK. That's on the softer end of science. But as soon as a girl says words like "astrophysics" or "focused ion beam", the guys who were going to ask for her number disappear faster than doughnuts at a hack-a-thon.  Not only that, but the girls who were going to invite her along to the next Neiman Marcus shopping trip forget to call her and all her relatives stop buying her gift certificates to Ulta and start buying her pink screwdrivers.  Halfway through college G started telling people at parties she was an "EE" major because a lot of them would just assume that meant Elementary Education and then treat her like a regular girl.

In the long haul, treating girls like they changed just because they are going into a new professional area needs to change, but for now girls need Frozen.  They need Let it Go to sink in deep so they won't freak or feel guilty when someone is intimidated by them.  They need to know that even if you do technical things, and do them well, you can still be a normal person with normal relationships because their abilities don't define them. It will be a tough process but the more girls go into STEM, the more people will realize that being smart and competent in math and science doesn't magically transform a girl into an evil step-sister or a witch. Or a boy.

I really think that ~15 years from now we'll see a small uptick in girls entering the STEM workforce, just from this movie.  But to be honest, I have to find people to hire from now until then, and I don't care if they are male or female.  If you have a daughter, or sister, or friend who hides what she can really do, and isn't heading down the STEM road just because of social pressure, do me a favor: open a door, climb a mountain, build a snowman.  Only love can thaw a frozen heart.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Judge Me By My Name, Do You?

I got an unexpected phone call a couple days ago.

The phone rang and it was a local number, so even though I didn't recognize it, I went ahead and answered it.

G:  Hello?
Woman:  Hello, is G*** S*** there?
G: This is.
Woman:  Are you planning on voting come election day?
G: Probably.
Woman: Well, we'd just like to encourage you to get out and vote in this election because there are a lot of Asian-American issues on the ballot.
G: **stunned silence**
G [stalling while she puzzles this out]: Uuhhhh... what are the issues???
Woman: Asians are the fastest growing minority in the Austin area and they are under-represented in local government. Also, election materials are only available in English and Spanish. They are not being translated into Asian languages, so we are pushing to make these materials available in Asian languages so that more people can participate in elections. It's really important that we get out and vote on election day to support these issues.
G: Okay... Um, thank you.
Woman: Thank you. Bye.
G: Bye. [Hangs up phone]

G explodes into hysterical laughter.

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For the record, I am not Asian.  Not even a little bit.  I'm the whitest European mutt ever.

But it just so happens that when my dad was young, he served a mission for our church in Japan. He returned and studied Japanese in college. When he married my mom and I eventually came along, they gave me a Japanese middle name. And that middle name came in very handy when we ended up living in Japan for 3 years for my dad's work when I was a little girl. I went by my middle name then and I'm very attached to it.  So of course I kept it when I got married.

It was interesting to catch a glimpse of the assumptions that were made about names when compiling that call list of registered voters. I'm not Asian-American, but I didn't really feel the need to disabuse them of that notion. I went along with it in the hopes that maybe someday it will lead to some sort of hilarious situation. M and I entertained fantasies of me being invited to some event, only to show up in all my huge white-person-ness.

(Apparently we're a little desperate for entertainment these days...)

But it's a good reminder:

A lily by any other name would look as white.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Gray

I have gray hair.

There, I said it.

Not that I've been particularly secret about the fact that I dye my hair.  But still, I've been running away from my gray for a long time now.

I saw my first gray hairs start popping up at 16 or 17.  At first there were only a few and I told myself they were "white hairs." I told myself they were like blond hairs mixed in with my brown. I was already experimenting with hair color every now and then, so it wasn't a big deal.  Since there were only a couple, I sometimes just pulled them out if they were too obvious.

Another year or so and then there started to be more grays. I realized I couldn't keep pulling them out. But I was having fun with hair color still every now and then, so most of the time they didn't show.  I mostly had one streak of gray that was getting denser, but it only showed when I pulled all my hair back and when I had gone a long time without coloring. My blond best friend started saving her old dark brown mascaras for me so I could swipe a little on my streak when it started showing too much. Problem solved.

Then my senior project in college happened. It was a bit of a stressful semester. There were some all-nighters. I can't prove it, but it seems like I had quite a few more gray hairs when it was all said and done.  And I wasn't all that okay with that.

I mean, I wanted to be confident about my natural hair. Really I did. But I was 21 years old. I was single. I was already the 5'10" electrical engineering major who talked too loud. I already stuck out like a sore thumb. It was already hard enough feeling attractive and getting dates. I just wasn't ready to add "...with the premature gray hair" to the list. Sometimes I wished I could rock a "gray streak." But I wasn't sure if my gray streak (or my self-confidence) was strong enough to make the gray interesting instead of just vaguely "off" and dorky.

So I decided that I would just dye my hair a little more frequently, at least while I was still part of the singles/dating scene.

Fast forward a little and I was married and still in my early-to-mid 20's. M knew I dyed my hair and we chatted about it a bit and I decided that I still wasn't ready to stop dyeing my hair. Someday maybe... but not yet. I decided that I just didn't want to be in my 20's with gray hair, so I would keep dyeing it at least until I turned 30. Then I'd re-evaluate.

Fast forward some more and I was 30. I still didn't feel ready to be gray. Now the problem was that everyone already thought I was so much older than I was. Having gray hair would only make it worse! Plus the transition was going to be so hard!

But the more I chewed on the thought in the back of my mind, the more I knew the time was coming. Eventually I would stop dyeing my hair. I just had to figure out when. It was never going to be easy. There would always be an excuse not to. So I started focusing on the reasons to do it.

There are a lot of reasons I want to stop dyeing my gray:

#1 - This is the hair God gave me. I don't want to be fake. It was so freeing a few years ago when I finally accepted that my hair was wavy/curly. I stopped trying to pretend to have straight hair and I finally learned to love the hair texture I had. I want the same thing to happen with my hair color.

#2 - I'm tired of all the money I'm dumping into maintaining an illusion. It's one thing to spend money to do something "fun" with your hair, but spending money just to make your hair unremarkable is so lame.

#3 - Also, the time. I'm sick of the TIME I spend getting my hair dyed. I'd much rather spend it doing something worthwhile. Or even just sleeping.

#4 - I want variations in my color without having to highlight. I look at the amazing red highlights the sun gives my mother's natural hair color and the blonde highlights in my sister's natural hair color and I envy all that gorgeous variation. Maybe I would get highlights from the sun too if I wasn't so busy covering my gray?

#5 - I want to remember what the natural color and texture of my hair is when it hasn't been dyed. Because honestly I'm not sure.

#6 - I want to see what my gray looks like. Where are my "silver highlights"? Is it everywhere? Is it just framing my face? How uniform or how chunky is it? The suspense is killing me! It's not often to we get to surprise ourselves! ;)

#7 - I am blessed to not have to convince anyone that I'm young. I'm happily married and I'm not competing in the workplace. If I look older than I am, why would it really matter? (Still working on believing this one.)

#8 - I'm not a granola or something, but I kinda don't love the idea of pouring all those chemicals onto my head all the time.

#9 - I'm not ready to burn my bra or anything, but I do like the idea of taking a stand against the false standards of beauty and youth that our society is enslaved to. And one of those standards is hair color. What's wrong with gray hair?

#10 - The longer I wait, the harder it will be. The more gray I have, the more often I will have to get it dyed if I want to hide it. (More money, more time, more chemicals, etc.) And the more obvious it will be when I stop dyeing it.

#11 - There's no reason not to transition right now. I'm not interviewing for jobs. I'm not talking to teachers about my grades. There's no weddings on the horizon for me to worry about how I'll look in the family pictures. It's as good a time as any to have funny-looking transition hair. It will never be an EASY transition, but there could definitely be worse times to do this.

#12 - In the end, I've got a bit of rebel in me. Just a tiny little benign bit, but it's there. And having gray is a whole lot more rebel than buying into the "norm" of women hiding their gray.

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Today my youngest child entered full-day Kindergarten.

Today is my 34th birthday.

I have gray hair.

Am I young? Am I old?

Who cares!  I'm me.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Any Excuse for Snowflakes in May!!!

Like every other little girl on the planet lately, Kate is really into the movie Frozen. So when her preschool teacher said she could choose a day near the end of school to celebrate her summer birthday with her class, she of course, OF COURSE wanted to bring Frozen cupcakes.

Well, she lucks out that her mother is semi-obsessed with snowflakes, because I was eager to oblige.



She really wanted chocolate AND vanilla for the cake part, so we did half and half.



I sprinkled white sparkling sugar over blue frosting then added the snow flakes made of white chocolate. (Normally I consider white chocolate an abomination, but for snowflakes I'll make an exception!)

To make the snowflakes I melted white chocolate and put it in a little plastic sandwich bag with a corner snipped off. Then I piped it onto wax paper over a snowflake pattern. (I used a pattern for DIY window clings I found here, then printed it at about half size.)



This movie is a great chance to use snowflakes in some month other than December or maybe January. YAY!

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Grilled Cheese Tragedy

Kate usually really loves grilled cheese sandwiches. Most days she asks me to make her two for lunch and happily devours them both. So last night when we decided to have grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup for dinner, I assumed she would want two sandwiches so I didn't even ask. She asked me what I was making her and I told her two grilled cheese sandwiches.

She burst into tears. I was surprised and confused but reassured her that it was okay, she didn't HAVE to have two. I said I would just make her one. But she kept crying saying she didn't want that. I was baffled. I told her I thought she loved grilled cheese sandwiches? I asked what was wrong - what did she want?

Through her sobs she explained, "I don't want two grilled cheese sandwiches, I want THREE!!!"