Although necessary for the economic (and possibly mental) health of most people, working is more-or-less bad for your physical health. This two-part blog explores the most unhealthful jobs. Jobs can be unhealthful in two basic ways: acute incidents and chronic conditions. In Part 1, I’m focused on acute incidents that take workers’ lives. Next time, I’ll explore chronic work conditions that injure people with repeated exposure, over time.
Writers Note 1: All of these jobs provide opportunities for murders that look like accidents–and when occupational deaths are so common, sliding in a murder would be more likely to be missed.
The rate of fatal work-related injuries overall is 3.5 per 100,000 workers. More than any other big category, transportation-related accidents killed workers (more than 2,000 of 5,250 deaths, 40%). The second-most common workplace fatalities was contact with objects and equipment, 13%. These numbers come from cnbc.com, 12/27/2019.
Although exact rankings vary somewhat from year to year, there seems to be consensus that the following jobs are the ones most likely to have workplace fatalities, based on data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The parenthetical numbers are fatal injuries per 100,000 workers, giving you a comparison metric
Loggers (109.3) most often die because of logging equipment or logs. In addition, they work outside, in isolated areas, exposed to dangerous weather conditions.
Deep Sea Fishermen (74.2) as well as other sailors (55.1) most often die by drowning. They also face risks from icy decks, working with heavy equipment, being sick or injured too far from land to get medical treatment in time. ISHN: “And to top it all off, this [deep sea fishing] is about the only profession where you can be swallowed whole.”
Aircraft Pilots and Flight Engineers (50.4) most often die in transportation “incidents.” The majority of fatalities result from crashes of privately owned planes. About 20% of fatal U.S. crashes happen in Alaska, where 82% of the towns and settlements can only be reached by plane.
Paving, Surfacing, and Tamping Equipment Operators (46.7) most often die from getting hit by construction equipment or crashes involving other motor vehicles.
Dredging, Excavating, and Loading Machine Operators (42.4) die by contact with objects and equipment. Unstable dredging equipment can sink.
Roofers (39.0) die in ways you might expect: most often falling off the roof, but also slipping and tripping: 34% of falls from roofs are fatal.
Machine Maintenance (37.4), Woodworking Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders (35.9) are most likely to die from contact with equipment.
Septic Tank Servicers and Sewer Pipe Cleaners (34.3) die from contact with objects and equipment.
Refuse and Recyclables Collectors (31.9) are most likely to die after being hit by the truck or another vehicle. Garbage collectors’ mortality rate is 100 times higher than is considered acceptable risk. By comparison, police offers suffer 15.8 deaths per 100,000.
Structural Iron and Steel Workers (28.0), like roofers, are most likely to die from falls, slips, and trips.
Delivery and Other Truck Drivers (26.0) die most often in traffic crashes. Long-haul trucking accounts for about one out of every four fatal work accidents. Although other jobs have higher fatality rates, truckers have the largest number of deaths on the job.
Farmers, Ranchers, and Other Agricultural Managers (25.6) die most often in crashes, including tractor crashes. However, there are also falls from roofs or multi-story barn lofts, trampling by farm animals, and suffocation in grain silos.
Children (16 and younger) working on farms die more often than all other industries combined. “Farmers are nearly twice as likely to die on the job as police officers, five times as likely as firefighters, and 73 times more often that Wall Street bankers.” (INSH.world)
Taxi Driving is the lowest-paying career on these lists of the most dangerous jobs, with an average annual income of $23,500 in the US. Taxi drivers are twice as likely as police officers to be a victim of homicide while working, and 20 times more likely to be murdered while working than the average American. Compared to other workers, they have an increased risk of such deaths because they work with cash, with the public, alone and during nighttime hours. Black and Hispanic drivers are more likely than white drivers to die on the job, and male drivers are six times more at risk than female drivers.
Writers Note 2: These rankings apply primarily to jobs in the US. Differences in labor laws, environmental conditions, and record-keeping around the world means that characters in other countries have an even wider range of ways to die at work!
Stunt work – doing dangerous activities on purpose for pay
Tourist attractions, street theater
Doubles for actors in dangerous roles
Stage magicians, escape artists, circus performers, etc.
Shipbreaking – stripping retired ships for reusable materials
Open welding torches around explosive gasses
Sheets of metal falling without warning
Falling from multi-story heights
Sherpa – guiding hikers up mountain trails
Carrying incredibly heavy packs
Falling off mountains
Mining – many countries have far less stringent safety protocols
Toxic fumes with little or no ventilation
Heavy, sharp, dangerous
Bottom Line for Writers: deaths, whether accidental or intentional, are great plot points, tension builders, and revealers of character.
And you don’t have to take my word for it. Whole books have been written on the subject!
But in case you don’t want to read three books—or even one—here are some highlights.
Underwire bras can kill you by acting as conductor if you are struck by lightning. Not likely, but possible. On the other hand, underwires digging into your body is common, and can be painful, cause skin irritation, even bruising.
Regularly wearing a push-up or padded bras, on the other hand, constantly pull the breast against gravity and put pressure on the delicate tissues of the lower breast. If these tissues separate from the main body tissues, it causes sagging.
Ill-fitting bras, especially for the well-endowed, can lead to pain in the neck, shoulders, back, and chest. Research by Rouillon on women 18-35 showed that women who did not wear bras developed more muscle tissue to provide natural support. Hmm… One study in 1991 suggested that premenopausal women who went bra-less had half the risk of breast cancer.
Thong panties increases the likelihood of getting urinary tract infections. Thongs that have a tendency to slide forward transfer bacteria to the genitals. And these panties have been linked to the development of hemorrhoids. (To avoid embarrassing confusion, remember that “thongs” in Australia are flip-flop shoes. Scanty panties are called “G-strings.”)
Boxers or Briefs?
In 2018, NPR reported on research that showed that men who wear tight-fitting briefs had sperm counts 17% lower than boxer wearers. This is probably an effect of heat: men’s testicles hanging below the torso stay cooler by 4-6 degrees. By extension, should men who want to father children wear no pants at all? Kilts or kimonos?
“Corset” probably brings to mind the lace-up garment of the 1890s, in ads that claimed they could reduce a 27-inch waist to 18 inches. The resulting displacement of internal organs caused constipation and weakened a woman’s back muscles, sometimes to the point of being unable to remain upright without the support of the corset.
This style of corsets today are mostly relegated to dress-up, sex play, or limited to occasional use.
A modern version would be shape wear. When worn daily, it puts unwanted and unnecessary pressure on internal organs, resulting in acid reflux because of pressure on the stomach, and possible nerve damage by constricting your sides and thighs.
As an interesting historical side note, both lace-up and compression corsets have been marketed to men as well as women.
Petticoats and Slips
In addition to trying to shrink their waists, American and European women wore big cage-like devices under their skirts to make their waists look even smaller. The hoop skirt (aka, a cage crinoline) was made of a fabric petticoat with channels to hold thin strips of wood, whalebone, or other stiffenings, and a tie to secure it at the waist.
The bigger the hoop, the more it inhibited women’s mobility. In addition, they were very flammable, making them particularly dangerous around candles, lanterns, fireplaces, and all those other commonly burning things found in the average 19th Century household. In England in the 1860s, as many as 300 women a year died this way.
By exposing large amounts of skin to sunlight, a bathing suit can contribute to some types of skin cancers.
For women, the lack of support in bathing suit tops can contribute to the same problems as ill-fitting bras.
Sitting around in a wet bathing suit for hours on end may lead to a yeast infection or UTI, plus anything associated with bacteria in the water.
Advice: change out of wet suits ASAP and use plenty of sunscreen. Swimsuits with long sleeves or pants provide better sun protection but increase the risk of fabric filled with bacteria.
For all that they are comfortable and versatile, yoga pants are susceptible to all the problems listed for compression clothing. You might get chaffing from running, inflamed hair follicles (from bacteria) or ingrown hairs (from compression), as well as fungal infections.
High heels misalign one’s posture, often leading to long-term damage to knees, spine, hips, and leg muscles. They also increase the risk of tripping, falling, and rolling one’s ankles, sometimes with fatal results. Wearing designer shoes (e.g., Jimmy Choo, Manolo Blahnik, or Christian Lououtin) that cost a fortune still inhibit a woman’s mobility.
In 16th century Italy, aristocratic women wore tall platforms called chopines, made of wood, covered in leather, and decorated. The women were essentially walking on short, fat, stilts and unable to move freely. But then, there were few occasions for them to go out, unless it was to display the wealth of the family.
Similar footwear has been worn for practical or ornamental purposes in many areas. Variations of Japanese geta kept fancy aristocrats and peasant farmers out of mud and snow. Sudanese Nuba wooden sandals, Dutch klompen, Korean namakshin, Cantabrian Spanish albarcas, and British pattens were all variations of risers worn over or clipped to the shoe.
Platform shoes are still with us.
Flip-flops have been linked to foot, ankle, and knee pain. In addition, the exposed foot is vulnerable to falling objects, getting stepped on or rolled over, an well as tripping or hitting one’s toes into whatever is around.
Crocs, rubber slip-on shoes, are very popular at the moment but with their own dangers. According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, nearly 200 wearers (mostly kids) have been injured when their Crocs were snagged between the moving treads of an escalator.
Flat shoes that don’t offer proper support can cause abnormalities in how one walks and runs.
Shoes that are too small in any way are likely to cause discomfort, even if only worn briefly. Wearing shoes that are too small for extended periods of time can cause serious damage to feet. Marathon runners are advised to buy shoes one to one-and-a-half sizes larger than normal to account for swelling caused by hours of pounding the pavement. Not doing so is likely to cause ingrown toenails, lost toenails, cysts on top of the foot, and nerve damage in the toes and arches.
Pointy-toe shoes harm feet by squeezing and molding the foot into an unnatural shape. They distort individual toes, and swelling between toes three and four can pinch a nerve most painfully.
Dancers frequently suffer foot problems caused by shoes. Some dancers deliberately wear shoes slightly too small to allow for better grip with the floor or so the material conforms better to the shape of the foot. Tabi (somewhere between shoes and socks) worn by traditional Japanese dancers and ghillies (soft shoes) worn by Irish dancers are often worn a half size too small. Ballet pointe shoes, no matter how well fitted, force the foot into a cramped position while dancers balance their entire weight on their toes.
The Chinese practice of foot-binding is the most extreme example of shoes mangling women’s feet. Lotus feet were highly valued. For one thing it denoted wealth: the woman didn’t have to work in the fields and/or being carried everywhere implied she would always be rich enough for such service. Walking at all involved a sway of the hips that was thought to be sexy.
Foot binding began in infancy or toddlerhood. It was painful at best, and if the feet became infected, could cause septic shock. The last factory producing lotus shoes didn’t close until 1999.
Big, heavy earrings may lead to inadvertently stretching or tearing one’s earlobes. They can get hooked onto objects or clothing, and even tear the earlobe.
Chunky, heavy necklaces and chains put pressure on your neck, back, and chest.
Oversized bracelets can cause wrist, arm, hand, and finger pain. Avoid nickel, found in many pieces of clothing and accessories: it is the cause of one of the most common allergic reactions. Stick with stainless steel, silver, gold, or platinum, depending on your taste and budget.
Wearing a hat per se probably doesn’t cause hair loss, but any tight headgear could break hair follicles, creating bald patches known as friction alopecia. Wearing a hat while sweating can irritate your scalp.
In 1600s France, aristocratic women wore a “pouf,” something between a hat and a hairstyle. Elaborate piles of flowers, feather, ribbons, gauze, or whatever. At least one woman died when her enormously tall pouf hit a candle in a chandelier and caught fire.
Not exactly a hat, but a headpiece nonetheless, in the 1800s men shaved their heads and wore perukes. The lice lived in the wig rather than on the body, and the wig could be sent to the wigmaker to be boiled and deloused.
Wearing scares may lead to strangulation, either intentional or accidental. (Think Isadora Duncan.) Thirty-five people a year are choked to death by their own scarves.
Around the turn of the 20th century, men wore stiffly starched collars that were nicknamed “father killers.” They were so high and stiffly starched that if a man passed out wearing one, it would cut of his air supply.
Neckties are to men what scarves are to women, only less so: ten deaths per year are attributable to neckties.
Heavy shoulder bags, handbags, and purses are typically carried on the same shoulder or arm, causing neck, shoulder, and back pain as well as throwing the body out of balance, forcing the other side to compensate, leading to all-over discomfort.
Heavy backpacks without a waist strap and book bags can also cause neck, shoulder, and back strain, as well as long-term damage to one’s posture. Advice: lighten the load!
General Hazards in Clothing
Skin-tight clothing —everything from skinny jeans to shape wear and compression clothing—has been linked to all sorts of health problems: heartburn/acid reflux, testicular damage, and compartment syndrome (in which pressure builds up in constricted muscles, potentially life-threatening), and nerve damage. Such clothes can cause tingling in and numbness in feet and legs.
Any clothing that is excessively large presents a danger. A train on a skirt can be caught under bystanders’ feet, wrapped around wheels, or snagged by anything on the ground. Trailing sleeves have a tendency to knock things over or catch any open flames. Extra padding anywhere can put uneven weight on the body or cause the wearer to bump into things. Trouser legs or skirts that are too long are a tripping hazard. Tails always seem to have a tendency to be caught in doors.
Fabrics (including shoes) that don’t breathe often cause general discomfort, as well as dermatitis and fungal overgrowth (e.g., athlete’s foot). Stiff fabrics or scratchy ornamentation can cause chafing and abrasions.
Chemicals in Clothing
Skin is the largest organ of the body, and it’s capable of absorbing substances—not only from skincare products and makeup, but also from clothing. Chemicals absorbed through the skin go into the blood stream, which has access to all the internal organs.
Warning: the following story is disgusting on many levels. A woman bought a black dress at an upscale shop in Fredericksburg, but returned it a few days later. Another woman bought the dress, and developed such serious health problems that she nearly died. It turns out that the first woman’s mother had died and the black dress was put on her for her viewing. It was thoroughly contaminated with formaldehyde. Formaldehyde and p-Phenylenediamide (in black clothing and leather dies) are in the products of 14 big-brand clothing manufacturers.
Formaldehyde—used to prevent mildew growth and inhibit wrinkling—is particularly harmful, and the U.S. does not restrict its use. (Sri Lanka and China two of the worst offenders, and major sources of inexpensive clothing.) Formaldehyde has been linked to an increase in lung cancer, difficulty breathing, and itchy eyes/nose/throat.
Side effects run from mild dermatitis to disruption of the endocrine system to cancer. However, different chemicals can affect different organs.
The U.S. doesn’t require disclosure of any of the chemicals used during production even though, according to Emma Loewe of MindBodyGreen, (How Worried Should You Be About Chemicals in Your Clothes), “…by some estimates there are upward of 250 ‘restricted substances’ used in textile manufacturing that pose potential health concerns.’”
Avoid Being Poisoned by Your Clothes
Because synthetics carry a heavier load of harmful chemicals, necessary to produce them, choose organic, natural fibers such as cotton, linen, jute, silk, and hemp.
Also avoid clothing labeled flame retardant or as wrinkle, stain, odor, or water resistant because these effects are achieved through chemical additives.
If you need synthetics, choose brands that use “rPet” or recycled polyester (e.g., Adidas and Athleta do this).
Choose clothes colored with natural dyes. If you don’t know, go for lighter colors, which contain less dye.
Wash before wearing to remove any surface chemicals picked up during packaging and shipping.
If you notice any kind of reaction to your clothing, discontinue wearing and consult a medical professional as warranted.
And last but not least: don’t wear anything that makes you feel self-conscious or nervous just because it is “in.”
Writers Note: Surely at least some of your characters make hazardous clothing choices!
A cunning murderer who makes it look like an accidental suffocation or poisoning
An advocate on behalf of someone who has suffered long-term effects of harmful dyes or chemicals
A character knowingly wearing harmful clothing in an effort to look fashionable
A character who refuses to wear harmful clothing and is shunned
A lower-class or impoverished character without the money to wear organically made or custom fitted clothing
Consider arming your character(s)! If for no other reason, sometimes a little self-defense could come in handy. And consider the reasons that character might not want to look armed. And then consider your weapons of choice, based on the character’s character and lifestyle.
Poison rings (also called pill box rings): an oldie but goody, the oldest examples date back to ancient Asia and India, popular in Europe starting in the 16th century; an empty space under or in the bezel could contain poison or other substances; a favorite with both assassins and generals
Knife blade ring: the top of the band is sharp enough to cut
Hidden spike ring: take off the top guard (rose blossom, ball, etc.) to expose a sharp, pointed blade weapon capable of ripping skin, drawing blood, and collecting the DNA of an attacker
Last shot revolver ring: ring looks like a six-shot revolver chamber seen from the back side; one 14K bullet chambered; these may not be effective as a weapon
Stealth cat ring: double-spiked ring that poses as a harmless pair of cat ears
Secret compartment ring: part of the band or top of the ring opens to reveal a small space in which correspondence, cameras, etc.
Nails or Claws
Ancient Chinese symbol of wealth and status, showing that people did not need to use their hands
A variation is a finger gauntlet, a jointed metal cover for one finger, usually with spikes or blades attached
Claws can be attached like a ring on the smaller knuckles of the fingers or slid over the tips of their finders
Blades could be attached to the top of the claw, or the tip of the nail itself can be a blade
These can be worn as a singular ornament or as an entire set on all fingers
They’re not exactly hidden, but they are easily overlooked as weapons
Hidden compartment bracelets can hold a variety of helpful ways to kill people, including poison, lockpicks, keys, correspondence, etc.
Bracelets can easily conceal knives, either in the clasp, inside the band, or in a hidden compartment
Garrote wires can be covered with ornamentation
Chakram bracelets are a traditional Indian Sikh weapon, requiring skill to use effectively as a thrown, bladed weapon
Buddhist mandala (meditation) beads are effective blunt ended weapons
Really big Rosaries can be used the same way, if a character is very determined
Dragon chains are effective wrist guards and can be used as ranged attack weapons (this requires a great deal of training)
Spikes can be hidden among decoration on the edges or tops of bracelets
Poison pendant: functions like poison rings (above)
Hidden compartments in pendants can hold many other useful objects, such as lockpicks, photos, computer chips, explosives, correspondence, lights, etc.
Almost any shape pendant can disguise a blade
Kunai Blades: particularly useful in hand-to-hand combat, but they can also be used for traction when scaling the sides of buildings
Pendants designed with spikes can stab
Garrote necklace: handheld chain strong enough to strangle a person
Rosaries and Buddhist mandalas can also be worn as necklaces and used as described above
Poison hidden inside
Secret compartments can hold almost anything
The pin itself can be used to stab
Spikes or ridges in the design itself can be used as weapons
Prominently displayed brooches often carry hidden meanings
Being so close to exposed skin on the neck limits the use of earrings as pointed or edged weapons
Carefully designed earrings can have small spike or blades
Lockpicks can be hidden within the design of earrings
Some earrings can contain specially designed shanks for breaking out of handcuffs
Earrings can contain hidden compartments for holding poison or other items helpful for maiming
Blades can be hidden in the frames
Concealed tranquilizer or infectious darts can be hidden in the hinges
Being at eye level makes them ideal for concealing cameras
Tactical cap with self-defense clip-on-bill
Spikes or tasers can be hidden on the back clasp
Perhaps the most famous is Odd Job from James Bond, who had a notoriously deadly hat with a razor-sharp brim
“Slappy Hat” has a weighted top to deliver extra punch when used as a weapon
Almost any hat or head covering can conceal a garrote wire
Designed to pierce through the hat and secure it to the head
Hat pins made ideal stabbing weapons
Head of the pin was large enough to conceal poison or other items
Could be used as lockpicks
There is ample newspaper evidence of women using and being encouraged to use hat pins as defensive weapons in public
Japanese kanzashi hairpins were originally designed for personal defense and as good luck charms
Fancy pin heads could conceal many useful things, depending on how ornate the hair pin
Throwing knives can be easily disguised as hair pins
Could be tipped with poison
Used in formal hairdressing in almost every culture in the world, by men and women, depending on the time period
Blades can be concealed in the toe
Actual stiletto blades in the stiletto heel
Shoes have been designed with guns in the heal, but they are not very useful as weapons
Spikes on sides, backs, and tops
Laces can have spike woven in
Heavy, steel-cased boots can crush or break bones
Provide holsters for knives, guns, brass knuckles, etc.
Corset stays can be designed to be removed and double as knife blades
Corsets had steel or bone stays (or were made entirely of steel) and served as defense
Holsters for knives, guns, and mace can be hidden in undergarments
Padded undergarments can provide some protection from knives
Kevlar underpants are bulletproof garments specifically designed to protect the femoral artery
Miscellaneous Concealable Weapons
Hidden belt knife: knife is concealed in buckle area, can be pulled faster than from a pocket or sheath.
Comb knife: slide the teeth off to expose the knife blade
Hidden knife keychain
Lipstick tube concealing pepper spray
Hidden knife pen
Hidden Knife highliters
Hidden credit card knife
Hand grip concealing spikes
Coin purse that doubles as a blunt weapon when full
Walking stick or umbrella with a sword inside
Carabiners with flip-out knives
Bottom line: whatever the occasion, there’s a weapon for that!
During the framing of the Constitution, Abigail Adams famously urged her husband to “remember the ladies.” But it wasn’t until the 20th century that women were granted the right to vote. As you may be aware, 2020 is the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.
In 1756, in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, Lydia Taft became the first legal woman voter in colonial America.
Voting rights did not come easily, nor did they come all at once. With the exception of internal tribal voting on a few Native American reservations, voting was limited to white women until the 1950s, Unmarried white women who owned property could vote in New Jersey from 1776 until 1807. Women were casting ballots as early as 1838 in Kentucky, where widows with school age children were allowed to vote on school issues. In 1869, Wyoming granted women full voting rights in territorial and local elections. In 1893, Colorado became the first state to pass women’s suffrage into law. Idaho and Utah gave women the right to vote at the end of the 19th century. By 1914, eleven states and one territory allowed women to vote.
During the years of partial suffrage, voting was a complicated business. One solution to the problem of separate ballots came in 1899, when Lenna R. Winslow of Columbus, Ohio—my home state—applied for a patent for a “Voting-Machine.” There were many versions of voting machines already patented, going back to 1875. But Winslow’s creation was unique. It was a single booth with two doors, one marked “Gents” and the other, “Ladies.” When one entered, the door essentially flipped a switch that brought up either the full ballot or the restricted one. Thus this voting machine was an analogue computer.
Voting around the world has been restricted in various ways for both women and men, but I’ll focus on women in North America. Several Native American nations gave women decision making power equal to men, more in some areas. For example, starting sometime before 1654, Iroquois women had a deciding vote in the councils. Women elders voted on the male chiefs and could depose them.
Through the end of the 19th Century, there was a gradual shift away from what many historians called the “Cult of True Womanhood”—the idea that the only “true” woman was a pious, submissive wife and mother whose only area of concern were home and family. Many religions encouraged this idealized gender separation.
The U.S. is typical of modern democracies in that men had the vote before women. One exception was Hawaii. In 1840, the Kingdom of Hawaii had universal suffrage—but it was rescinded for women in 1852.
Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott were active in the suffrage movement and invited abolitionists to meet in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848, to discuss women’s rights. The delegates produced a Declaration of Sentiments that began in the words of the Constitution but declared “that all men and women are created equal…”
In the decades leading up to the Civil War, the campaign for women’s suffrage was very active. Perhaps this was because in the 1820s and 1830s most states had extended the vote to all white men, regardless of wealth or property ownership.
The women’s movement lost momentum during the war, but as the 14th and 15th Amendments were passed, the old questions of citizenship and suffrage emerged again. At that point, all males were citizens, and black men were guaranteed the right to vote.
The Women’s Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), established in the U.S. in 1873 campaigned for women’s suffrage as well as ameliorating the condition of prostitutes. It was one of several organizations who were actively supporting various social causes in addition to women’s suffrage—e.g., anti-alcohol, religious movements, moral-reform societies, and anti-slavery movements.
Black suffragists started aggressively asserting their right to vote in the 1890s. Even after the passage of the 19th Amendment, all women didn’t have equal access: many women of color were disenfranchised through various loopholes and thus had to continue to fight for their voting rights. When poll taxes, literacy or comprehension tests, and onerous residency requirements did not keep people away from the polls, racist enforcers resorted to misinformation or outright intimidation campaigns to prevent Black citizens from voting.
Starting in 1910, some states in the West began extending the vote to women. The Southern and Eastern states were most reluctant. In 1916 Carrie Chapman Catt initiated a campaign to mobilize state and local suffrage groups all across the country to lobby for voting rights state by state.
Several leaders of more aggressive suffragist groups began more confrontational actions than marches and petition drives. Alice Paul used radical, militant tactics—such as hunger strikes and White House pickets—to generate publicity and support for the cause. While picketing outside the White House, 33 members of the National Women’s Party were arrested and sentenced to months in the Occoquan Workhouse. On the night of November 14, 1917, prison guards at the Workhouse restrained, beat, knocked unconscious, and threatened to rape many of the suffragists, including Dora Lewis, Dorothy Day, Minnie Prior, and Lucy Burns. Alice Cosu suffered a heart attack because of the abuse.
The momentum lagged again during World War I, but women’s work on behalf of the war effort turned the tide after the war, leading to the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920—at least 100 years after the start of the movement.
Bottom line for writers: Besides the rich background for historical writing, consider a future in which the Equal Rights Act is revoked. Consider what would happen if individual states decided to go back to partial suffrage for some groups.
P.S. Women’s voting rights varied around the world, but with the granting of suffrage in Saudi Arabia in 2013, women can vote in almost every country that holds elections. In the Vatican City, only Cardinals are allowed to vote, and only men can be Cardinals.
I’m a jewelry junkie: even staying home I wear earrings, a necklace, a bracelet (only one, unless we’re talking bangles), and at least two decorative rings. If I didn’t wear a lot of jewelry every day, how could I justify having so much of it? For me, and for those who know me, it’s just my style: sterling silver with stones such as jasper, carnelian, onyx, and lapis lazuli.
Museum visits just aren’t complete until whatever jewelry displays are available have been viewed. There are quite a few you can visit online right now!
It might be argued that jewelry has been around as long as humans have. The oldest known human jewelry is 100,000-year-old Nassarius shells that were made into beads. An archaeological dig in Croatia provided some evidence that Neanderthals might have made jewelry from 35,000 years before that!
As you probably know, jewelry has been made from such natural materials as bone, animal teeth, shells, pearls, wood, carved stones, and many combinations thereof—and it still is! The term baroque comes possibly from the Portuguese baroca for a misshapen pearl. Less stable materials have rarely withstood the test of time, but people have and do make fabulous adornments from feathers, animal skins, paint, clay, dried leaves, flowers, paper, and even hair. And consider how many body parts you’ve seen adorned with jewelry—for example hairpins, tiaras, earrings, nose rings, neck rings, finger rings, toe rings…
Throughout history, people of high importance or status have historically had more jewelry than others, and often were buried with it. Burial spots of Viking chiefs, Egyptian nobles, and Chinese warlords are identified as such because of the fancy weapon and fabulous jewelry next to the corpse. In Ancient Rome, only people of certain ranks could wear rings.
But I started by saying jewelry can be more than beautification. In earlier times, jewelry served to pin clothes together, to restrain hair, to hide weapons, and as a method of storing wealth.
Can we count dog tags as jewelry? Made specifically for the purpose of identifying military, they have a long and erratic history. In English, the term “dog tag” comes from the resemblance to animal registrations.
The earliest mention of an identification tag for soldiers comes in the writings of Polyaenus, who described how the Spartans wrote their names on sticks tied to their left wrists. A type of dog tag (“signaculum“) was given to Roman legionaries at the moment of enrollment: a lead disk on a leather string, worn around the neck, with the name of the recruit and the legion to which the recruit belonged.
Dog tags were provided to Chinese soldiers as early as the mid-19th century. During the Taiping revolt (1851–66), both the Chinese Imperial Army regular servicemen and rebels wearing a uniform wore a wooden dog tag at the belt, bearing the soldier’s name, age, birthplace, unit, and date of enlistment.
U.S. military personnel have worn dogtags since 1918, primarily for the purpose of handling casualties and deaths. (FYI: There were no official dog tags during the American Civil War. Some soldiers pinned pieces of paper with identifying information to their clothes. A few enterprising jewelry makers started making custom-ordered identification pins for soldiers to buy.)
Consider other types of ID jewelry: ID bracelets, pendants that spell out a name (usually only a first name). In some places, slaves were made to wear permanent bracelets or necklaces identifying their position and owner. In the days before photographic IDs, people used signet rings to prove their identity when giving orders or sending letters.
Dog tags show more than just identification; they now include basic medical details like blood type and inoculations as well as religious affiliation.
The military is big on jewelry to convey information: number of stripes, number of stars, Purple Hearts, and other medals proclaiming one’s expert standing or honors.
Medical alert jewelry (typically bracelets) to proclaim diabetes, a heart condition, serious allergies, etc., in case medical treatment is needed for someone who cannot talk.
In past years, “mourning jewelry” made of jet or the woven hair of the deceased proclaimed one’s grief—often for a specified period of time, depending on relationship. Malaysian, Aztec, Chinese, Indian, Zulu, Egyptian, and Celtic funeral traditions all include specific jewelry for the corpse or the bereaved. The Victorians (of course) had incredibly detailed and strict rules about what type of mourning jewelry was to be worn, by whom, for which occasion, and for how long after a loved one died.
Traditionally, Japanese women’s hair and hair accessories were practically a résumé in code. The type and placements of a woman’s kanzashi (簪) hairpieces signified marital status, age, profession, social class, training level, etc. The most elaborate hairstyles and kanzashi were worn by geisha, courtesans, and women studying arts such as flower arrangements and tea ceremonies. Kanzashi were originally worn to ward off evil spirits, and they often doubled as weapons.
Maasai women communicate similar status messages in traditional bead-work. Traditionally, every woman learns how to weave together the intricate bead patterns and designs. The jewelry design and color indicates the family a person is from and how wealthy the family is. It also indicates the status of a Maasai woman, whether she is single, engaged or married.
And, of course, wedding rings signaling that (presumably) one is not available for romantic or sexual relationships. (FYI, wedding rings for men are relatively recent: by the mid-1940s, 85% of weddings included rings for both bride and groom.) Throughout most of Europe and America, wedding rings are worn on the left hand. In some countries, particular in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, wedding rings are worn on the right hand.
This may be the most common use of jewelry of all (except as pure adornment). On college campuses, Greek fraternities and sororities each have their unique “pins,” worn by members. Consider the jewelry Masons wear, and the rings worn by “Eastern Star” members, the group for women affiliated with a Mason. Other fraternal organization that have nothing to do with college campuses abound, along with their identifying jewelry.
Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts have pins declaring their rank and troop number, but other pins and badges are earned through service and awarded like military honors. Nurses, doctors, firefighters, paramedics, dentists, and many other professionals are presented with pins when they graduate. The pin is a sign of certification and of membership in the group.
The United States Congress has an entire system of jewelry for members. Lapel pins, ribbons, and necklaces show which party a Senator, Representative, spouse, or page belongs to and which Congress they are a member of. Each Congress designs a new design and color scheme.
Jewelry made of precious metals and precious gems, especially designer jewelry, clearly proclaim wealth, and sometimes status. Societies that are very conscious of class divisions are more likely to place importance on specific types of jewelry worn in public.
Ancient Egyptians used symbols on their jewelry to show territorial pride. The white vulture represented Nekhbet, patron of the Upper Egypt, and the red cobra stood for Wadjet and Lower Egypt. When the kingdoms were combined, the Pharaoh signified leadership of Upper and Lower Egypt by wearing a crown with a both the cobra and the vulture.
During the Medieval period in Europe, royalty and nobility considered the wearing of fashionable clothing and jewelry a special privilege reserved for themselves. To enforce this idea, sumptuary laws were initiated, primarily in the 14th century. Such laws were meant to curb opulence and promote thrift by regulating what people were allowed to wear. The English sumptuary laws forbade clothing and jewelry of certain materials, above certain price levels, of certain sizes, etc.
Religious affiliation can be signaled by jewelry, usually with symbols of the faith itself, though sometimes with the presence or absence of the jewelry or by what is covered by the jewels. The Star of David for Jews, a crucifix or a stylized fish for Christians. Buddhists may wear a lotus blossom or an image of Buddha. People who fervently believe in the power of Hogwarts may wear the Sign of the Hallows or a symbol of their House mascot.
All of the above involve communication of some sort. The Smithsonian has a traveling exhibit on jewelry as a form of language and expression, particularly the pins of Madeleine Albright. The former Secretary of State loaned her extensive collection of brooches, many of which had specific messages for those in the know. Queen Elizabeth Tudor is rumored to have had a similar system of jewelry signals for her vast network of spies, but nothing has ever been proven (probably because historians are not spies).
Secret messages can be communicated through jewelry even if the wearer is not a politician. In communities where homosexuality is illegal, LGBTQ people will often develop among themselves a discreet code of earrings or particularly colored necklaces. In America before the 1970s, this often took the form of a ring on the pinkie finger or a single earring in the left earlobe. During the American Civil War, abolitionists in Confederate States wore a red ribbon or string to signal that they would help escaping slaves move to safety.
Small squares of colorful beads known as Zulu Love Letters are gaining popularity in South Africa again. Like Maasai necklaces, each bead’s color and its placement in relation to others has a meaning. Together, the beaded designs send a message of love or affection.
Perhaps the most ephemeral jewelry of all—flowers—have a very long history of communicating when worn as adornments. Flowers and greens mean different things in different cultures, but they nearly always mean something pleasant when worn on the body. Hawaiian orchids woven in a lei with jasmine blossoms, carnations, or kika blooms are given as a sign of welcome or farewell. The Victorians had such a specific flower code that people could have entire conversations without saying a word, just by wearing combinations of blooms at various times.
In addition to wearing a religious symbol as a way of declaring one’s membership in a group, many people wear religious amulets or reliquaries for protection from evil influences. In the Middle Ages in Europe, ecclesiastical rings worn by clergy and laymen as sacred emblems, were one of the few exceptions to the nobility’s limits on jewelry.
Curative rings, meant to cure ailments and diseases, were another exception to Medieval sumptuary laws. Necklaces with pouches of herbs, hair ornaments made of holy or lucky materials, and bracelets blessed by clergy are just a few of the ways people have used jewelry in an attempt to guard their health.
Many cultures allow women ownership only of her jewelry, given to her as bride gifts or a dowry. This can give women some degree of financial freedom. She will have ready access to cash if there is an emergency or if she needs to leave her home.
Jewelry can also double as weapons! Roman women wore hairpins that were long enough to be used in self-defense. Rings can double as a variation of brass knuckles or contain poison. Necklaces and very long bracelets can be turned into garrotes or used to tie up an enemy. An enterprising magic user can attach hex bags or cursed amulets to necklaces given as gifts. All sorts of useful methods of assassination can be hidden in lockets, brooches, arm cuffs, or anklets.
One of the first requirements of becoming an Evil Overlord is to acquire some piece of jewelry (usually a ring) that provide power or subdue the will of enemies. Otherwise, all the other Evil Overlords will laugh.
Three Rings for the Elven-kings under the sky,
Seven for the Dwarf-lords in their halls of stone,
Nine for Mortal Men, doomed to die,
One for the Dark Lord on his dark throne
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
One Ring to rule them all, One Ring to find them,
One Ring to bring them all and in the darkness bind them.
In the Land of Mordor where the Shadows lie.
Bottom Line for Writers: As with everything about your characters, consider their jewelry choices and the whys therefore!
Ridicule is man’s most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counteract ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, which then reacts to your advantage.
Marching against injustice or striking for improved work conditions, pressing for suffrage or civil rights, playing music or writing books to increase public awareness—throughout history, all sorts of causes have moved people to seek change. The definition of a protest is both vague and nebulous, depending on the speaker. For the purpose of this blog, I’m going to limit my definition to a conscious attempt by people in a society to change some part of the status quo.
The Battle of Hastings in 1066 was not a protest by William the Conqueror against the policies of King Harold of England. A toddler throwing mashed peas on the floor is not protesting in an attempt to change the household policies on vegetable consumption.
A protest is an expression of objections, disapproval, or dissent regarding an idea or action, typically a political one. The intention is to publicize opinions in an attempt to influence public opinion and/or government policy or to alter conditions so that the change results directly. The categories listed below can have a great deal of overlap: a rally may include protest music; a hunger strike may be accompanied by a vigil; a march may end with delivering a petition, etc. Nearly any type of protest can end in violence, either on the part of the protesters or from opponents trying to stop the protest. Today’s blog will be limited to protests intended to be peaceful.
Rally: People in the affected group gather together, often with other allies from the community, to improve solidarity, boost morale, and demonstrate the size of the affected community.
Rallies often include speeches, speakers, singing, preaching, and other attempts to raise awareness in the general community and encourage people to continue to campaign.
Crowds of people rallied together are more likely to attract media attention, providing a platform for the message to be spread further.
Roman plebians were occasionally allowed to gather in a few public spaces to make their grievances against behaviors and unmet expectations of the princeps heard, primarily outside theaters, bathhouses, and the circus.
Students rallied at Tiananmen Square in 1989 to call for more freedom and government transparency.
Turkish women rally to protest violence against women and police apathy
Georgians rally in Tbilisi to legalize marijuana
The M’ikmaq people of the Elsipogtog First Nation took a stand against fracking in 2013 in New Brunswick.
March: Affected people and supporters move from point A to point B, often beginning or ending with a rally. Marches often include prayer walks, chants, and singing, as well as signs and banners detailing demands.
Though most protests are relatively short, a few miles or circling around and around the same area, some are extremely long.
In 195 BCE, Roman women came from all over the country to march on Forum in protest of the Senate refusing to repeal the lex Oppia, a law funding the Punic Wars by forbidding women wearing jewelry.
Mary Harris “Mother” Jones led the March of the Mill Children from Philadelphia to New York in 1903 to protest working conditions, especially child labor conditions.
Marches for racial justice and equality have taken place around the world in the past few weeks
Opal Lee, who is 93, is walking from Ft Worth, Texas to D.C. to protest for racial justice and deliver a petition to Donald Trump.
Vigil: Banners, placards, candles, and/or leaflets are displayed quietly so passersby know what the vigil stands for even if those standing vigil say nothing.
Many vigils are accompanied by music and symbolic lighting or extinguishing of candles or lights to symbolize lost lives or spreading hope, among other statements.
A vigil can also be held to raise morale for someone who is unable to be there, to let someone confined in hospital or prison know that others in the community are aware of their plight, or to bring awareness to authorities or the community at large.
Vigils have been held outside prisons to ask authorities too release at-risk, nonviolent prisoners so they won’t die of COVID-19.
A candlelit vigil is held every year to mark the anniversary of the massacre at Tiananmen Square.
Jenny Holzer staged a lightshow vigil to remember victims of gun violence and to spark conversation on how to prevent it in the future.
Art – Creativity of every kind is put to use in support of various causes.
Songs – Strange Fruit became one of the most well-known anthems of the American Civil Rights Movement.
Music -The Brothers of Brass play Louisiana-style jazz at racial justice protests in Denver.
Dance – Young ballerinas in Richmond, VA dance to protest monuments to Confederate generals in 2020.
Grafitti – Tahrir Square in Iraq has been surrounded by murals painted in support of equality.
Theater – “The Other Shore” was written by Gao Xingjian in 1986 to protest government censorship and lack of individuality. It has never been performed in mainland China.
Poetry – Sextus Propertius the poet wrote several poems highly critical of Caesar Augustus’ warlike nature, generally decrying militarism as a policy.
Petition: Having a written record of multitudes who support a cause is an effective way of getting the attention of authorities.
King John was petitioned by his barons to sign the Magna Carta at Runnymede in England in 1215, reducing the power of the monarchy.
Human Rights Campaign gathering signatures to present to legislature in support of a bill supporting equal right
Satire: Rather than attack an authority directly, undermining credibility or gravity by mocking is sometimes a more effective method of advancing a cause.
Vikings historically have been portrayed as uncivilized barbarians without culture or intelligence by the people who left written records of them – literate monks whose monasteries had been burned.
Lysistrata is a comedic play by Aristophanes about women trying to end the Peloponnesian War by withholding sex until their husbands agree to stop fighting.
Environmental protesters in London protesting corporate interests putting profit over humanity.
Across the street from Westboro Baptist Church, a notoriously anti-gay religious sect, the home owners have painted their houses in the colors of Gay Pride and Transgender Pride.
PETA activists often demonstrate in public by dressing ridiculously to illustrate absurdities in the meat and fur industries.
Ester Hernandez created this illustration to express anger at the human and environmental costs of commercially grown agriculture.
“Doxxing” (or doxing) is a destructive variation of this type of protest, more common since the spread of the internet. Protesters widely publish contact details and sensitive information about people with whom they disagree in an effort to endanger their careers, social lives, families, and personal safety.
Lewis Hine’s photographs of child laborers showed the terrible conditions in which they worked, creating a public outcry
White Rose Society students in Germany protested Nazis by secretly printing anti-Nazi pamphlets and leaflets with information about prison camps and SS atrocities.
Incorrect doxxing nearly ruined the life of Kyle Quinn after he was mistakenly identified online as having taken part in a neo-Nazi rally. He was not involved in any way and was not even in the same time zone.
Lawsuit: A social movement or group can sometimes use the legal system to advance their aims.
The Sumerian Code of Ur-Nammu, one of the oldest recorded legal systems, provides methods for women to sue for divorce, for slaves to be set free or re-enslaved, for everyone to be punished, and for property disputes to be resolved.
Elizabeth Freeman was the first woman to win her freedom in court in America, having successfully sued for her freedom from her former owner in 1781.
Richard and Mildred Loving took their case all the way to the US Supreme Court in 1958 to defend their right to marry, opening the way for all other interracial marriages.
Symbols: Pictures are worth a thousand words, and actions speak louder than words… The same is true when protesting. There are many ways to call attention symbolically to a cause
Shoes left empty to stand in place of people being killed by climate change
Indian students bandaged their eyes to echo the injuries inflicted on a fellow student and to protest safety for Jamia students
Indian farmers stood in chest-deep water for days to call attention to rising floods ruining their farmlands
Puerto Rican protesters erected a guillotine against government corruption
South African women taped their mouths shut to protest community silence about rape
Chinese students against government propoganda education
Colin Kaepernick knelt during the playing of the National Anthem before football games to protest police murder of Black people
Activists in Pamplona, Spain painted themselves red and staged a die-in to protest the Running of the Bulls
A Syrian migrant sewed his mouth shut in protest of the lack of safety or empathy in the world for refugees
Tommie Smith and John Carlos bowed their heads and raised a Black Power salute during the medal ceremony at the 1968 Olympics, in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Peter Norman, the Australian sprinter who won the Silver Medal, had his award stripped as punishment for his support of his fellow athletes.
Protesters put plastic bags on their heads to demand clean air and action against climate change
Bicyclists dumped yellow paint on the roadways around the Arc d’Triomphe, causing motorists to spread the paint into the shape of the sun, raising awareness for solar energy
Toni Smith turned her black on the flag during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest racial inequality.
Taiwan workers blocked a highway with a die-in, bodies spell out “raise our salaries”
Clothing, or lack thereof, can send a strong yet silent message. People can call attention to their message by wearing clothing considered socially unacceptable, wearing acceptable clothing in an uncommon way, or wearing clothing that is strongly linked with a particular cause.
Because women have traditionally been excluded from the sphere of public discourse, many women brought attention to their causes through fashion.
Writing on clothing allows a protester to make their voice heard without actually speaking.
Refusing to wear a particular garment or any garments at all can also send a message.
Amelia Bloomer popularized the garment allowing women more comfort and freedom
Women dressed in antique costumes to highlight old-fashioned, sexist laws
London protesters showed their almost-everything to protest the unsafe and unrealistic body standards used by Victoria’s Secret
Girls from Lincoln High wore trousers to school in 1942 to call for an end to the double standards of the dress code
Boys from Clovis High School wore dresses to protest continuing, sexist, double standards in student dress codes
Congressional Black Caucus members wear Kente cloth to display pride in their African heritage.
Saudi Arabian women wore their abayas and niqabs inside out to protest laws requiring women to be fully covered in public
During a protest against sexual assault, this woman wore clothes documenting all the ways men have touched her inappropriately against her will.
IRA political prisoners on Block H refused to wear prison uniforms and wrapped themselves in blankets to protest the British government revoking their status of political prisoners in 1978.
Burkinis on French beaches have become a contentious issue, with the French government banning them and women demanding to wear them.
Jadon Sancho took off his jersey after scoring a goal to reveal a shirt calling for Justice for George Floyd.
Andrew Hawkins wore a shirt emblazoned with the names of men killed by police
LA Lakers players wore shirts echoing George Floyd’s last words in support of Black Lives Matter
US Women Soccer players wore inside out jerseys to protest pay gap
Women dressed like Handmaid’s Tale to protest anti-abortion laws
Indigenous dress to protest racist team names like Redskins
The 2016 Women’s March on Washington featured thousands of women wearing pink hats in protest of Donald Trump.
Slutwalk to protest victim blaming
French men protest gay marriage by being… naked
Philipino naked protestors against Ferdinand Marcosa buried in hero cemetary
Strike, slow down, sick-outs to protest work issues: often follows a failure of negotiations.
Pullman car operators on strike in 1894 clashed with union-busters
Factory workers in St. Petersburg, Russia went on strike in 1905, but the Nicholas II sent in the military to break it up.
Shipyard workers in 1942 staged a sit-down protest to call for wage increases
Workers at the Oracle Korea plant on strike
Employees at Woolworth staged a sit-down strike for a regular 40-hour workweek.
Inmates in US prisons went on a hunger strike and refused to work in 2016 and 2018 to call for better conditions and voting rights.
AIIMS- doctors protest racism being treated like terrorists by going on strike for one day
Boycott: Organized refusal to buy or use a product or service in protest of the owners, the vendors, the production, or another aspect that is in need of changing.
Employees at a stocking factory opposing a boycott of Japanese goods, including silk
American consumers were told to fight Nazis with their wallets during World War II
After Rosa Parks’s arrest in 1955, the Montgopmery Bus Boycott led to thousands of people walking and bicycling to work in protest of bus segregation.
Picket: hold signs, placards, or banners and walking around circles, with or without singing, chanting etc., point is to impede access to a place or to address the people going into that place, there are legal lengths now to how long a picketer is allowed to physically impede someone trying to cross the line
Women working in clothing factories went on strike for safer working conditions and better wages following the deadly fire at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory.
Sanitation workers on strike picketing to protest segregation during the Civil Rights Movement.
Verizon employees on strike form a picket line.
Civil Disobedience: Deliberately breaking laws (often seen as unjust) is a way to protest their enforcement. The laws broken are typically not violent ones (such as those against murder or driving drunk) and are usually broken with the deliberate intention of being arrested, possibly causing a scene and raising attention while being arrested.
Henry David Thoreau went to jail rather than pay taxes going to support the Mexican American War.
Students sat at the lunch counters in defiance of segregated Whites-Only rules.
Civil Rights protesters deliberately entered spaces marked for segregation, such as the Azalea Room.
Flower arranging without a license in front of Louisiana courthouse
Protesters kissing outside the DUMA in Moscow to push back against new laws against public shows of affection in same-sex couples
Kristen Stewart was disgusted by a dress code requiring women to wear high heels at Cannes Film Festival, so she took off her shoes and went barefoot.
Irish protesters kissing outside DAIL in support of gay marriage
Lebanese protesters for government reforms used multiple means to block roads, including burning tires, practicing yoga in intersections, and setting up living space in the middle of highways.
The Kiss of Love Campaign in India is a protest against moral policing forbidding public affection.
Protesters blocked traffic to the courthouse in Kansas during a Black Lives Matter rally.
Graffiti artists are illegal in most areas, but protesters like this woman send messages of solidarity with suffering and demanding government action.
Note: Many older sources reference LGBT. I’ve taken the liberty of adding Q.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled 6/3 that LGBTQ people are covered by Title VII and cannot be discriminated against in the workplace. This ruling coincides with the 50th anniversary of the organization of Gay Pride events in the U.S.
A Brief History of LGBTQ Rights in America
The 1960s was a time of civil protest in general (you heard it here first!), including protests and demonstrations seeking civil rights for lesbians and gays. In 1965, homophile organizations started Annual Reminders pickets, reminding Americans that LGBTQ people did not have basic civil protections.
Veteran activist Scott Hix provides context for the beginning of the national push for equality. “Stonewall was not the beginning of gay rights. It was just the tipping point of our continued pushback because of the exposure from the New York Times.”
For years before the raid of the Stonewall Inn in New York, Hix worked to get respect for the LGBTQ community on the West Coast, including the Compton Cafeteria Riots in San Francisco. “Scott worked in bars as a drag queen at the time and he vividly remembers the times when the cops would raid the bars, throw everyone in jail for a night, and destroy drag queens’ wigs by setting them on fire or flushing them down a toilet, then they would make the queens wash their faces with dirty mop water.”
The seminal event for LGBTQs occurred in June, 1969. Police raided a gay bar, the Stonewall Inn in New York City, triggering spontaneous riots by LGBTQ people there. An organized march on June 28, 1970 marked the first anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. This is now seen as the first Gay Pride march in U.S. history.
At the time of the Stonewall Riots, it is estimated that there were 50-60 gay groups in the country. By 1972, that number had grown to 2500, and marches took place in Atlanta, Brighton, Boston, Buffalo, Chicago, Dallas, Detroit, Miami, Milwaukee, New York, London, Paris, Philadelphia, West Berlin, Stockholm, and Washington, D.C.
By now, the entire month of June is celebrated as LGBTQ Pride Month. It has been recognized by three U.S. presidents: Bill Clinton and Barack Obama via official proclamations, and Donald Trump in via Twitter. Events range from marches to festivals, nationally and internationally.
Because any realistic group of characters that are even remotely representative of the population as a whole is likely to include LGBTQ characters. Because far too many authors write gay characters who have no personality except being gay. Because, even when LGBTQ characters are included, they are often killed off quickly as nothing more than a plot device.
Because (even if you don’t know it) you almost certainly have friends, colleagues, and family members who identify somewhere along the LGBTQ spectrum. Because people who identify as LGBTQ are still more likely to face harassment and discrimination, even in the US, even in light of the recent Supreme Court ruling. Because LGBTQ children and teens are far more likely to deal with bullying, discrimination, homelessness, and suicide from a lifetime of being told by media that they are not normal and a source of shame.
Because LGBTQ People are All Around
Though accurate numbers are difficult to estimate, a significant portion of the U.S. population is LGBTQ; 4.5% overall, 5.1% of women and 3.9% men. The number who identify as transgender is estimated at 0.6%. In addition, be aware that these percentages are not evenly distributed across states, cities, or countries.
The five “gayest” cities, in rank order by % of population are:
San Francisco, 15.4
Because Others Can’t Be Proud Without Fear
Major advances in equality in have been made recently in Europe, Canada, the US, and India, among other countries. However, in many countries, LGBTQ people face significant danger of jail or even death if their orientation becomes known. Still, people turn out for Pride celebrations despite the danger.
Because Pride Is the Perfect Time to Propose
Because Pride Has All the Best Fashions
There is more LGBTQ literature available than you might think. Wikipedia has a 44-page list. Here are some examples of well-known authors you may not have known are or were LGBTQ.
Sir Francis Bacon
Honré de Balzac
Rita Mae Brown
William S. Burroughs
Daphne du Maurier
Gerard Manley Hopkins
Sara Orne Jewett
W. Somerset Maughm
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Bottom line: This month you can support LGBTQ colleagues by marching, celebrating, or (amid COVID-19) by reading LGBTQ literature.
Everyone reading this blog knows that reading is a good thing (I hope), but just how good is it? Let us count the ways.
1) Activates existing neural pathways in the brain. Complex poetry, in particular, keeps the brain active and elastic. For example, reading 30 pages of a book the night before having an MRI resulted in heightened connectivity in the left temporal cortex, associated with language and intelligence.
2) Maintains and improves brain function. Frequently exercising the brain by reading decreases mental decline in the elderly by 32%. Elderly patients who regularly read or play mentally challenging games are 2.5 times less likely to develop Alzheimer’s. Memory is improved at every age.
3) Reading is good for mental health. Depressed patients who read—or have stories read aloud to them—report feeling better and more positive about things. Research has indicated that reading can reduce stress by around 68%. Making a habit of reading a physical book before bed can improve sleep. (Reading on e-readers or tablets can actually keep people awake longer.)
4) Reading is highly beneficial for children. A children’s book exposes the child to 50% more words than watching a TV show. Children who are exposed to reading before preschool are more likely to do well at all levels and in all facets of formal education. Children who read are better able to grasp abstract concepts, apply logic, recognize cause and effect, and use good judgment.
5) Identifying with characters in books creates an empathic experience for the reader much like real-life. In fact, people who read do exhibit more empathy in real life.
That last bit is the primary point of this blog. As recent events have made abundantly clear, people born straight with white privilege experience the world differently from “others.” And I’m not the only one to make that point.
Writing in The Washington Post (4/24/15) Sunili Govinnage wrote, “I read books by only minority authors for a year. It showed me just how white our reading world is.” Finding books by nonwhite authors wasn’t easy. “Research shows . . . a systemic problem in the literary and publishing world.” (See also my blog from Friday, When You and/or Your Characters Are Not White.)
Campaigns such as We Need Diverse Books, launched in 2014, are making a difference. Annual lists of POC/BAME lists are published by The Guardian, The Telegraph, Bustle, and others. But making something available isn’t enough.
I recently heard a sound bite from a protestor who objected to white protestors being called “allies” because everyone should be just people protesting a common problem. But whatever the label, straight white people who want to work against prejudice (the attitude) and discrimination (the practices) that have unfairly and harmfully impacted minority and LGBTQ people need to understand at a gut level what it’s like to be “other.” They need empathy.
And that’s where reading comes in. Individuals still must make the effort to diversify—one might say “normalize”—their own experience through conscious reading choices. Author Gail Carriger credits Mercedes Lackey’sHeralds of Valdemar books with validating her experiences as child and influencing queer representation in her own books. On her blog, Carriger writes, “Her books were/are important because in them queer wasn’t a big deal. It just was.”
Sadie Trombetta at Bustle Magazine recommended 23 LGBTQ books with a person of color as the protagonist. She writes, “We need to share, read, and talk about diverse stories now more than ever. There is an entire population of the country continually underrepresented or misrepresented, misunderstood, and straight up discriminated against, and we need to hear their voices.”
And it is tough. During the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings, in an exchange with a friend from college—i.e., a friend of decades—I said that he (my friend) had the benefits of white male privilege. He claimed I’d insulted him. Even though I elaborated—said that I was not saying he hadn’t worked hard, hadn’t deserved what he earned, etc., only that he hadn’t had to overcome his gender or his skin color to be successful—he hasn’t spoken to me since.
And while we’re at it, let’s go international. The U.S. doesn’t have a lock on racism, discrimination, and oppression. Several times a year, The New Yorker publishes short stories by international authors. Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian posts suggested reading lists of Canadian Black and First nations authors several times a year. These themes can be explored around the world, as shown by the rallies in cities around the world.
As everyone should know by now, given recent events and news coverage, who you are and how you look makes a difference across the spectrum of American life. Writing (and publishing your writing) is no exception. I want to thank Kathleen Corcoran—friend, colleague, and occasional guest blogger—for suggesting this topic. In case you missed the photos on the header of my blog, I should clarify that I am a white woman and thus am relying on outside resources.
Surprise, surprise! (Hear the sarcasm dripping.)
Black Authors Get Fewer and Smaller Advances Than Their White Counterparts
Take a look at the author photos on the shelves of just about any bookstore, and you’re likely to be confronted by an overwhelmingly pale gallery. The science fiction and fantasy shelves tend to be even more monochromatic.
The disparity in pay is one reason Black authors are less likely to be full-time authors. Through the magic of Twitter, people were shown just how wide that disparity is. Here are a few instances from #publishingpaidme, started by Black fantasy author LL McKinney.
White American sci-fi author John Scalzi wrote that to the best of his recollection: he received $6,500 for his first two books in 2005 and 2006, then several five-and six-figure advances before a $3.4m deal for 13 books in 2015.
In comparison, Hugo-winning Black sci-fi novelist NK Jemisin said that she received $40,000 for each book of the Inheritance trilogy, $25,000 for each book of the Dreamblood duology, and $25,000 for each book of the Broken Earth trilogy, each of which won a Hugo award.
Black American literary novelist Jesmyn Ward said that she wrote her second novel, Salvage the Bones, before securing an advance. “Even after it won the [National Book Award], my publishing company did not want to give me 100K for my next novel.”
Black American author Roxane Gay’s opinion: “The discrepancy along racial lines is very real. Keep your day job.”
Possible explanation: according to a survey earlier this year by Lee & Low Books (publishers of children’s books), 76% of workers in U.S. publishing identified as white.
In that podcast Wilkinson noted that in spy novels, from James Bond and John le Carré on, the super spies look very male and very white. So she wrote American Spy featuring a Black woman, Marie Mitchell.
Japanese American author and literary critic David Mura has written extensively about the race, gender, and identity the world of publishing. In his article about changes in the traditional path to publication, Mura identifies another challenge facing Black science fiction and fantasy authors.
The divide between the way whites and people of color see the social reality around them is always there in our society…. Creative writing involves the very description of that reality, and so the gulf between the vision of whites and people of color is very present right there on the page. And so, conflict ensues.
Traditional wisdom held that making a main character a person of color will change the focus of the story. The advice was to substitute some sort of alien for the minority human. These things were actually taught in creative writing classes! Butler maintained that if a writer can see minorities for all their humanity—faults, skills, problems, aspirations—writing minority protagonists won’t derail the plot. Butler’s essay still seems spot-on to me, and I recommend reading it!
[R]emember when men represented all of humanity? Women didn’t care much for it. Still don’t. No great mental leap is required to understand why blacks, why any minority, might not care much for it either. And apart from all that, of course, it doesn’t work.
Ramón Saldívar is a professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University whose scholarly work is with ethnic literature. Stanford News, January 17, 2017 profiled Saldívar prior to the publication of his book The Racial Imaginary: Speculative Realism and Historical Fantasy in Contemporary Ethnic Fiction.
He studied works by African, Asian, Mexican, Dominican, and Native Americans. All were born after the civil rights movement of the 1960s. His overall conclusion is that these writers find new ways to imagine and talk about race through fiction. “They are combining representations of race and racial identity with the wildest literary experimentations one could imagine.” And this is across all genres.
If you want to read what he’s talking about, here are examples of authors he studied, including several prize winners.
African Americans: Colson Whitehead, Perciival Everett, Touré Neblett, Darieck Scott
Asian Americans: Sesshu Foster, Karen Tei Yamashita
Native Americans: Sherman Alexie
Latinos/Latinas: Marta Acosta, Michele Serros, Yxta Maya Murray, Salvador Plascencia
Dominican American: Junot Diaz
April 17, 2018 The New York TimesMatch Book replied to the following query: “I’m hoping you can save me from the literary doldrums. I’m looking for black authors who can both get me excited about reading again and inspire my own writing.” The writer then gave examples of writing she likes, following with, “I need to know that there is an audience out there for mystery, suspense and science fiction written about black characters by black authors, so I don’t feel like I’m writing in vain.” Here are The New York Times recommendations. If you want descriptions of each, check out the post online.
Bottom Line for Writers: the time is long overdue to break the molds and end systemic bias in publishing.
Why Do So Few Blacks Study Creative Writing?
Always the same, sweet hurt, The understanding that settles in the eyes Sooner or later, at the end of class, In the silence cooling in the room. Sooner or later it comes to this, … And she has to know, if all music Begins equal, why this poem of hers Needed a passport, a glossary…
Below you will find facts, maybe useful in your writing, definitely fun—IMHO. As the title says, this is just the facts. If something catches your eye, you can find more about it online. (Most of these are on multiple websites, so list is just for your convenience.)
Five of the ten deadliest poisonous snakes are native to Australia
Many dogs have served US military campaigns, even earning medals, awards, and combat ranking.
Sergeant Stubby served in the 102nd Infantry Division in World War I, the only dog to be promoted through the ranks by serving in combat. He was awarded several medals alongside his handler.
Rags was a stray terrier mutt picked up by an AWOL soldier who used him to bluff his way back into the 1st Infantry Division commander’s good graces. He delivered messages in the trenches, warned of incoming shells, and replaced field telephone wires. After being injured in a gas attack, Rags and his handler were both honorably discharged and sent home. Rage is buried with full military honors.
Smoky the Battle Dog was found abandoned in a foxhole during WWI and earned eight battle stars in Papua New Guinea and the Philippines, despite weighing only four pounds. In addition to running radio cables, alerting soldiers of incoming shells and gas, and delivering messages, Smoky is unofficially recognized as the first military therapy animal.
Chips was part of the Dogs for Defense program initiated in World War II. He was awarded the Silver Star for Valor and the Purple Heart for being injured in battle. (Those medals were later taken back by higher-ups who claimed Chips was “equipment” rather than a soldier, despite the fact that Chips took out several German pillboxes and disabled all the enemy soldiers within entirely by himself. He is buried with his medals, but don’t tell the generals.)
Nemo A534 was wounded in combat during the Vietnam War but still guarded his handler long enough for the man to radio for help and receive a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. Nemo was one of the first dogs given an honorable discharge from Vietnam and sent home to retirement.
Lucca lost her leg while clearing IEDs in Iraq on her second tour of duty. She was awarded the Dickin Medal by the PDSA and a (unofficial) Purple Heart by one of the hundreds of service members whose lives she had saved.
in 1998, twelve hundred human bones were found in the basement of the London house where Benjamin Franklin lived, dating from the time when Franklin was staying there. Whether the constantly curious and observant Benjamin Franklin knew what was in his basement… the world may never know.
Bee hummingbirds are so small they are sometimes mistaken for insects (only 0.056 – 0.071 oz)
Sea lions can dance to a beat (though I can’t say much for their taste in music)
The legend of the Loch Ness Monster goes back nearly 1500 years, first spotted in 565 AD
Two-three teaspoons of raw nutmeg can induce hallucinations, convulsions, pain, nausea, and paranoia that can last for several days, and rarely, death
For 100 years, maps (including Google Earth) have shown Sandy Island off the north-west coast of Australia, though cartographers have been demonstrating that it does not actually exist since at least 1974
A Lone Star tick bite can make you allergic to red meat by transferring a sugar molecule called alpha-gal into your blood
It is illegal to allow a dog to fight a pig in an enclosed space in Florida, but perfectly legal to use dogs to hunt wild pigs