THERE’S KISSING, AND THEN THERE’S KISSING

When writers write about kissing, it’s almost always in the spirit of Klimt: love, passion, romance, sexual attraction, sexual activity, and/or sexual arousal. These kisses are often described in great detail: lips, tongue, involuntary reactions like breath and pulse, all taste, and smell. The reader is told whether it’s tender or demanding, hard or seeking, along with related sensations of hair, hands, body positions, and eye contact.

FYI, Kissing is the second most common form of physical intimacy among U.S. adolescents (after hand-holding). About 85% of 15-16-year-old have experience kissing. (At least, they say they do; one of the only things worse for a 15-16 year old to be caught doing than lieing on an anonymous survey is being shown to have less experience than their peers in any kind of sexual activity or exploration.)

Affection

Affectionate kisses are presented very differently. While not denying that affection can be a part of romantic/sexual kissing, it often has no erotic component at all.  Although seldom mouth-to-mouth, affectionate kisses are much broader, and can express loyal affection, gratitude, compassion, sympathy, joy, or sorrow. 

Affectionate kisses are common among family members, especially parents and children, and others who are “like family.” These are often cheek kisses accompanied by hugs. But affectionate kisses typically are not described with the sensory detail of erotic kisses. It is as if, given the context (of wedding, funeral, leave taking, illness, etc.) the act itself says it all.

Consider the possibilities of sensory description of affectionate kisses. A great-aunt’s overly strong perfume and clouds of fine, white hair obscuring vision as she leans in for a slightly whiskery kiss at a funeral. An exuberant friend hugging hard enough to squeeze breath out or lift someone off their feet entirely while smacking loud kisses on the cheek. A young child inadvertently pulling hair or scratching while pressing slobbery, banana-scented open-mouthed smears of affection to the face.

Greeting

Pro-forma kisses of friendship are common in Northern Africa, the U.S., Europe, and South America as a ritualistic form of salutation. Though occasionally given on the hand, most pro-forma kisses are on the cheek (or in the air next to the cheek). Think French cheek-kissing or Russian back-pounding hug accompanied by multiple kisses on both cheeks. Such kissing is very culture bound. The “rules” are different for every occasion in every society.

Joseph Stalin kissing pilot Vasily Molokov in congratulations, 1937

The Socialist Fraternal Kiss is a complicated bit of political theater, usually involving multiple kisses on the cheeks and lips combined with back-slapping and hand-shaking. Originally, it was a sign that all members of society should greet each other as equals rather than subjects kissing the hands or feet of a ruler. After World War II, the custom spread from Russia to Communist areas of Eastern Europe, Asia, and Cuba. The duration and intensity of the greeting kiss largely depended on the global standing of the country involved and the number of cameras in the area.

The Meeting at the Golden Gate by Giotto di Bondone

The Holy Kiss was an important part of early Christian ceremonies. Apostles were instructed to ‘salute one another with a holy kiss’ in several books of the New Testament, including St. Paul’s letters. This was later replaced with a handshake in Catholic services; in these days of COVID-19, congregants are encouraged to wave over the internet.

The Oceanic Kiss is not technically a kiss but is common in many cultures where actual kissing is not commonly practiced. Both parties approach and pass each other with their mouths slightly open but do not touch. Sniffing may be involved, so avoid the onions in these cultures.

Ritual

Ritual kissing has a long and varied history. Here again, the sensory detail is usually nil. Perhaps dwelling on the specific smell of feet or trying hard not to think of how many lips have rubbed that ring before yours.

Religion: kissing a temple floor, a religious book or icon. It conveys devotion, but also indicate subordination, or respect. Examples include kissing the Pope’s ring, or the foot of someone to show total subservience.

Joan of Arc Kissing the Sword of Deliverance by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

The kiss of peace: while part of religious ritual, it was also long a tradition to signify reconciliation between enemies.

Pope Francis greeting Holocaust survivors

The kiss of death: a signal from the leader of a group that the receiver of a kiss on the cheek is marked for execution.

The Godfather, Part II

Learning to Kiss 

Contrary to common belief, kissing does not “come naturally.” Although some anthropologists hold that kissing is instinctual and intuitive, evolving from suckling or pre-mastication—and others maintain that kissing evolved from tasting the saliva of a potential mate to determine health—these are contradicted by societies where kissing was unknown prior to exposure to Europeans. These include indigenous people of Australia, the Tahitians, and many tribes in Africa. 

Some people learn a little later than others.
from The 40 Year Old Virgin

Perhaps the most convincing—and entertaining—evidence is when infants and young children are taught how to kiss.  Starting with the wide-mouthed cheek lick. They are taught who to kiss, where, and when it is an appropriate occasion for kissing, with plenty of hilarious trial and error. These vary widely across cultures and time periods.

The Lovotics Kissenger, a cell phone attachment that allows people to kiss while on opposite sides of the planet!

Kissing doesn’t happen in approximately 10% of the world’s population.  Some believe it is dirty. Others have superstitious reasons, as in the mouth is the portal to the soul, so kissing can allow one’s soul to be taken and invites death.  Some cultures see kissing purely as a form of greeting or a sign of platonic affection rather than being associated with sex at all. Researchers at the University of Nevada have found that societies near the equator are less likely to equate kissing with romance than with affection or greeting.

Health Benefits of Kissing

There’s a moratorium on a lot of kissing just now because it can transmit some infectious diseases (COVID-19 as the newest, mononucleosis and herpes simplex, to name a couple of oldies). But overall, kissing is good for one’s health.

Maybe it’s just safer to blow kisses.

Kissing stimulates the production of feel-good hormones such as endorphins and dopamine. Regular kissing protects against depression and stress. Married or cohabiting couples who increased their frequency of kissing reported less stress, and increase in relationship satisfaction, and—wait for it!—lower cholesterol levels.

Another possible meaning of the Kiss of Death is an infection of the herpes simplex virus in infants. An infected person kissing a newborn can easily pass the virus on, sometimes proving fatal to the baby.

History of Kissing

Graves found in Teppe Hasanlu, Iran and Valdara, Mantua, Italy indicate that humans have been kissing for at least 6,000 years.
Sanskrit Vedas

However kissing got started, it’s been around for a long time.  Kissing is believed to have originated and spread from India. The earliest documentation of kissing comes from Sanskrit scriptures important to Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism, around 3,500 years ago. It is present in Sumerian and ancient Egyptian love poetry, in both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. 

Romans had separate words for kissing the hand or cheek (osculum), kissing relatives on the lips with closed mouth (basium), and passionate kissing (suavium). The French have at least 5 nouns for a kiss and at least 10 verbs for to kiss, depending on the sort of kiss being referenced. There are at least 12 German words for kiss.  Using the wrong word for the occasion in any of these languages can lead to very embarrassing linguistic

This blog has just skimmed the surface, raising things a writer might want to consider whenever kissing is part of a scene—or could be. If you are truly intrigued, check out The Kiss and its History, by Kristoffer Nyrop.

Bottom Line for Writers: the types and meanings of kisses are nearly infinite. Enrich your writing by giving each kiss the level of sensory details usually reserved for erotic kisses.

So much sensory detail!

FINDING THE LOST GENERATION

The Lost Generation is a term sometimes used for the post-World War I generation overall, but more frequently it refers to a group of American writers who became adults during or shortly after World War I.  They established their literary reputations in the 1920s and 1930s.  In France, these writers were sometimes referred to as Génération du feu, the “(gun)fire generation.”

Gertrude Stein is credited for coining the term Lost Generation, but Ernest Hemingway made it widely known. According to Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast (1964), Stein had heard it used by a garage owner in France, who dismissively referred to the younger generation as a “génération perdue.” In conversation with Hemingway, she turned that label on him and declared, “You are all a lost generation.” He used her remark as an epigraph to The Sun Also Rises (1926), a novel that captures the attitudes of a hard-drinking, fast-living set of disillusioned young expatriates in postwar Paris.

Andre Breton, Manifesto of Surrealism 1924

The generation was “lost” in the sense that it dismissed the values of the older generation no longer relevant in the postwar world. Though the change in artistic expression took place in many creative outlets and focused in several regions, the “Lost Generation” is generally used to refer in particular to American writers living in Paris between the World Wars. Many of these authors felt an alienation from a United States that, under Pres. Warren G. Harding’s “back to normalcy” policy, seemed to these writers to be hopelessly provincial, materialistic, and emotionally barren.  

Max Beckmann The Night (Die Nacht) 1918-1919

The First World War was the first time in history that chemicals and machines capable of inflicting mass carnage were widely used. Instead of charges and sorties like “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” infantry soldiers in trench warfare spent weeks at a time in close quarters with the bodies of their former allies, following futile battle strategies designed for previous wars and weapons. Having seen pointless death on such a huge scale, many lost faith in traditional values like courage, patriotism, and masculinity. Some in turn became aimless, reckless, and focused on material wealth, unable to believe in abstract ideals.

This change in values and social expectations is reflected in the language used by authors between the World Wars. Paul Fussel, author of The Great War and Modern Memory (Fussell, Paul, 1924-2012. © Oxford University Press.) illustrates the difference between “raised, essentially feudal language” used before the War and the more prosaic vocabulary used after. Foe became enemy; perish became die; warrior became soldier; vanquish became conquer; assail became attack; ashes or dust became dead bodies.

George Grosz “Grey Day” 1921

Everything that was traditionally structured or confining was stripped, allowing artists of all sorts to build new styles. Composers wrote without the usual chord progressions and cadences; they experimented with new types of ensembles or juxtaposed odd instruments. Dancers took off their pointe shoes and combined ballet with folk styles from India and South America. Women cut their hair short and loosened their corsets.

In 1920, F. Scott Fitzgerald had a big year: he published his debut novel, This Side of Paradise, his first collection of short fiction, Flappers and Philosophers and his story “Bernice Bobs Her Hair” was published in The Saturday Evening Post that May.

George Barbier “AuRevoir” 1920

The term embraces Gertrude Stein, Ernest HemingwayF. Scott FitzgeraldJohn Dos PassosE.E. CummingsArchibald MacLeishHart Crane, T.S. Eliot, and other writers who made Paris the center of their literary activities in the 1920s. They were acquainted and crossed each other in Europe, but often had rocky relationships.

Kate O’Connor (Lost Generation by Kate O’Connor, licensed as Creative Commons BY-NC-SA (2.0 UK) identified three themes of Lost Generation work. I quote her here.

Decadence – Consider the lavish parties of James Gatsby in Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby or those thrown by the characters in his Tales of the Jazz Age. Recall the aimless traveling, drinking, and parties of the circles of expatriates in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and A Moveable Feast. With ideals shattered so thoroughly by the war, for many, hedonism was the result. Lost Generation writers revealed the sordid nature of the shallow, frivolous lives of the young and independently wealthy in the aftermath of the war. 

Costumes designed by Salvador Dali for the ballet Mysteria

Gender roles and Impotence – Faced with the destruction of the chivalric notions of warfare as a glamorous calling for a young man, a serious blow was dealt to traditional gender roles and images of masculinity. In The Sun Also Rises, the narrator, Jake, literally is impotent as a result of a war wound, and instead it is his female love Brett who acts the man, manipulating sexual partners and taking charge of their lives. Think also of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and Prufrock’s inability to declare his love to the unnamed recipient. 

Women Tango postcards by Suzanne Meunier

Idealised past – Rather than face the horrors of warfare, many worked to create an idealised but unattainable image of the past, a glossy image with no bearing in reality. The best example is in Gatsby’s idealisation of Daisy, his inability to see her as she truly is, and the closing lines to the novel after all its death and disappointment: “Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eludes us then, but that’s no matter- to-morrow we will run faster, stretch our arms farther… And one fine morning— So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”

From the television adaptation of Parade’s End by Ford Maddox Ford

Kirk Curnutt, author of several books about the Lost Generation writers suggested that they were expressing mythologized versions of their own lives.

In an interview for The Hemingway Project, Curnutt said: “They were convinced they were the products of a generational breach, and they wanted to capture the experience of newness in the world around them. As such, they tended to write about alienation, unstable mores like drinking, divorce, sex, and different varieties of unconventional self-identities like gender-bending.”

Bottom line for writers: it’s been 100 years, but their work shouldn’t be lost. There’s a lot of good stuff here. Find yourself a Lost Generation writer to enjoy. 

Gassed by John Singer Sargent

BETTER KNOW YOUR CHARACTER(S)

Knowing things about one’s character(s)—even things that never make it onto the page—will keep those imaginary people in character, consistent, well-rounded, and flexible so that new plot twists and turns don’t leave the reader feeling like an entirely new person has been introduced.

They also help in making sure every character is not just a copy of the author, with the same political views, personal preferences, and general outlook on life. Indeed, there are profile pages that have questions about everything from birthdate/astrological sign, to medical conditions, to education, to family of origin, etc. . . 

Which Brings Us to COVID-19

A worldwide pandemic is definitely an unexpected turn (unless your character is a historical tracking epidemiologist)! And rich with complexities. For the sake of better knowing your character(s), consider what the current pandemic would reveal. Remember that traits revealed by current events can be applied by authors to characters dealing with any historical, fantastical, futuristic, or imaginary setting.

Masks

This isn’t as singular as it first seems.  What is your character’s attitude/ behavior regarding masks? And why? Here are several possible choices. The Why is up to you!

  • Refuses categorically
  • Complies reluctantly
  • Will wear only when visiting nursing homes or vulnerable family
  • Embraces masks a good thing
  • Sees masks as just another opportunity to accessorize

What do your character’s masks look like? What quality or grade? Would your character confront someone about wearing/not wearing a mask?

Social Distancing 

Easy or difficult for your character?

  • Ignores physical distance
  • Meticulously maintains a 6’ distance
  • Social distances in public places only
  • Feels safe being closer when outdoors
  • Hugs and kisses family
Hand Cleaning
  • Pays no particular attention, i.e., washes when hands feel/look dirty
  • Cleans hands when entering or leaving a building 
  • Sets up a hand washing/sanitizing schedule, e.g., every hour
  • Preference for soap and water or sanitizer?
Safer at Home
  • Does not leave residence at all; everything is distance communication and delivery
  • Goes out only for medical reasons and food
  • Travels locally in own vehicle 
  • Travels locally in someone else’s vehicle, just driver and character in back seat passenger side
  • Comfortable traveling by taxi, bus, train, or plane with appropriate precautions
  • Travel whenever and wherever, damn the consequences
Alone or Together
  • Does your character live alone? Is that a good thing or bad?
  • Does your character alone get lonely?
  • Does your character living with others experience increased tension and conflict? With partner and/or children.
  • What if your character’s friend/loved one dies?
  • How would your character handle home schooling?
    • (If s/he has no children, consider a distance learning tutor or a character educating him/herself via online resources.) 
Crowds
  • Avoids them like the plague (pun intended)
  • Braves them only for a “good cause” such as civil rights demonstration
  • Would go to a family reunion
  • Would address a crowded room for work reasons
  • Happy to party down
Work 
  • Would your character be able to work from home?
  • Is your character an essential worker?
  • Could/would your character be furloughed?
  • Is your character a business owner, responsible for others?
  • Would your character’s workplace be shut down?
  • Would money/loss of income be a problem for your character?

With But Not of COVID-19

Name Changing 

Would your character have a singular or varied response, depending on what’s being renamed? Consider the timing and speed of public opinion shift in the setting: immediately renaming provinces, shops, schools, and cities per government mandate during China’s Cultural Revolution versus the gradual shift of the capital of Kazakhstan from Astana to Nur-Sultan.

  • Rename schools, named for Confederate “heroes”
    • e.g., Stonewall Jackson Middle School, Washington and Lee University
  • Rename roadways, bridges, etc.
    • e.g., Lee-Davis Highway
  • Rename Washington Redskins team
  • Rename towns/cities
Public Memorials, Symbols 

Confederate flag, paintings, statues displayed on public property.

  • Leave them alone. It’s history.
  • Leave them, but provide context.
  • Remove them to Civil War battlefields or museums.
  • Remove and destroy.

Bottom line for writers: Remember that you are describing your character(s), not yourself. The “why” is important. Did you learn anything about your character(s)?

PSA: CLOTHING CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH!

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.

Undergarments

Bras

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.

Thongs/ G-Strings

To avoid another embarrassment, remember that UNDERwear is meant to be worn UNDER.

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?

Corsets

Available in Maternity and Children’s Sizes!

“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

Even back then, people thought they were silly.

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.

Bathing Suits

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.

Yoga Pants

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.

Shoes

High Shoes

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.

Chopines

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.

Tengu Geta
British wooden pattens

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.

Low Shoes

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. 

Small Shoes

Marathon Feet

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. 

Pointe shoes
Kabuki dancer wearing tabi

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.

Bleeding through your socks is always a good sign

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.

No toddlers were harmed in the making of this image. This is a display from the Foot-Binding Museum in Wuzhen.

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.

Accessories

Jewelry

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.

Nickel allergy rash

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.

Hats

Not the proper way to wear a helmet

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.

Nothing says high fashion like a boat on your head.

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.

Neckware

Isadora Duncan, shown here before her scarf got caught in the wheel of her car. The after-photos aren’t quite so graceful.

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.

Edwardian dandies

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.

Bags

On the other hand, a heavy purse can be very useful for beating up neo-Nazis, as photographer Hans Runesson showed in 1985. Beware the wrath of little old Polish grandmothers with very heavy handbags!

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. 

This isn’t the woman in the story. This is Jenny Buckleff, a bride who made quite an entrance at her wedding. (Don’t worry: everyone survived for the reception.)

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.

Daldykan River in Siberia after an apparent chemical leak from a textile factory

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.

Ouxia Clothing Co recalled school uniforms made with carcinogens.

Side effects run from mild dermatitis to disruption of the endocrine system to cancer.  However, different chemicals can affect different organs.

Green dye, made with lead and mixed with arsenic

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

Be especially careful of irritating or poisonous chemicals in children’s clothing.
  • 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

A LONG TIME COMING

Don’t get in Abigail Adams’s way!

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. 

Lydia Taft

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.

Now that’s just bragging!

Partial Suffrage

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.

Iroquois women inspired early feminists

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. 

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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.

Seeking Suffrage

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…”

Ida B. Wells-Barnett, early advocate for freedom and equality, campaigned tirelessly to bring racial justice to suffragist organizations

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.

Freedom Summer for voter registration, 1964

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.

Imprisoned suffragists on hunger strikes were often force-fed by jailers. This forced feeding was sometimes fatal.
Ladies born before the 19th Amendment was ratified

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.

Time Marches On 

In 1923, the National Women’s Party proposed a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex.  This Equal Rights Amendment has never been ratified.

Lines of people waiting to vote in Philadelphia, 2020
Suffrajitsu was a form a self-defense taught to suffragettes to be used when they were almost inevitability attacked at marches and demonstrations.

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.

WRITING PROTESTS, DEMONSTRATIONS, AND PUBLIC OUTCRIES: THINK BEYOND TODAY’S NEWS

Scribe Amennakhte wrote the Turin Strike Papyrus (c.1157 BCE), believed to be the first written record of workers’ strikes and sit-ins. Tomb artisans in Deir el Medina sat down on the job and refused to work until Pharaoh Ramesses III agreed to pay their food wages.

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.

Saul Alinsky

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.

Part of the Bayeux Tapestry, depicting the Battle of Hastings

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 very British protest
Swan Lake meets the Red Lady Army

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.
Russians protest 2019 election results in Moscow

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.
Soweto student march against South African Apartheid in 1976

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.
UCI nurses held a candlelight vigil protest the lack of personal protective equipment for health care workers treating COVID-19 patients and to honor health care workers who have contracted COVID-19. (Photo by Leonard Ortiz, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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.
Sections of the Berlin Wall left standing have become canvasses for murals calling for peace and freedom.

SongsStrange 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.
Activists deliver 400,000 signatures on a petition against changes to the NHS in England.

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.
Protesters shed their clothes to protest the clothing industry’s reliance on sweatshop labor

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.

  • Information distribution: tabling votes, gathering petition signatures, lobbying letter-writing campaign, teach-ins.
    • “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.
Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis shows names of Black people killed by police

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. 
A recent US Supreme Court ruling allows immigrants brought to the country as children to stay.

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
A die-in for eight minutes and 46 seconds in memory of George Floyd, to call for police reform

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.
A model for Gucci made a surprise statement on the runway to protest the designer’s use of glamorized straight jackets in a fashion show. “Mental Illness is not fashion” is written on her palms.

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.
Chilean workers on strike in support of popular protests for government change

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.
Customers and employees call for a boycott of WalMart to push for higher wages and better HR policies.

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
Miners on strike picketing in 1984

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.
Leshia Evans stood to be arrested in defiance of police orders trying to break up protest after the deaths of Philando Castile and Tamir Rice.

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.

  • Sabotage, property destruction, assasination, riot, mob

Bottom Line for Writers: Someone will always want change, and almost any method they choose to create it has some example in history.

FIFTY YEARS OF PROGRESS

“It Was Beautiful” by American painter Doug Blanchard

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.

At the time, both gay and lesbian people were classified as mentally ill in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) used throughout the mental health system. Not until 1987 did homosexuality completely fall out of the DSM!

Compton Cafeteria Riots

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.”

Stonewall Riots

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.

Stonewall Inn and the Christopher Street Park were declared a National Monument by President Obama in 2016.

More detail can be found on Wikipedia (of course) and by accessing the Library of Congress and Smithsonian portals. Irene Monroe has provided a first-hand account of the events at Stonewall in The Advocate.

Why Bother? 

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.

Stonewall Monument after the massacre at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando

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
  • Seattle, 12.9
  • Atlanta, 12.8
  • Minneapolis, 12.5
  • Boston, 12.3

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.

  • Edward Albee
  • W.H. Auden
  • Sir Francis Bacon
  • James Baldwin
  • Honré de Balzac
  • Rita Mae Brown
  • William S. Burroughs
  • Lord Byron
  • Truman Capote
  • Sue-Ellen Case
  • Willa Cather
  • John Cheever
  • Colette
  • Noel Coward
  • Hart Crane
  • Emily Dickinson
  • John Donne
The LegoLand Pride Parade is the smallest in the world!
  • Daphne du Maurier
  • T.S. Eliot
  • E.M. Forester
  • Allen Ginsberg
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins
  • A.E.  Housman
  • Sara Orne Jewett
  • Jack Kerouac
  • D.H. Lawrence
  • Thomas Mann
  • Daphne Marlatt
  • W. Somerset Maughm
  • Carson McCullers
  • Val McDermid
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay
  • John Milton
  • Anais Nin
  • Mary Renault
  • Adrienne Rich
  • George Santayana
  • May Sarton
  • David Sedaris
  • Edith Sitwell
  • Susan Sontag
  • Gertrude Stein
  • Valerie Taylor
  • Gore Vidal
  • Alice Walker
  • Walt Whitman
  • Oscar Wilde
  • Thornton Wilder
  • Tennessee Williams
  • Virginia Woolf
Stonewall Monument

Bottom line: This month you can support LGBTQ colleagues by marching, celebrating, or (amid COVID-19) by reading LGBTQ literature.

THE UPSIDE OF NOT WHITE AND STRAIGHT

Everyone reading this blog knows that reading is a good thing (I hope), but just how good is it? Let us count the ways.

I’m not saying that getting her college degree first helped Anissa Pierce become the superhero Thunder (one of the first Black lesbian comic book heroes), but I’m fairly sure all that reading didn’t hurt.

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.

Sunili Govinnage

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’s Heralds 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.”

As recently noted by Marsha Mercer in the Richmond Times-Dispatch (6/12/20), people are grappling with these issue: 5 of the top 15 books on The New York Times list of nonfiction bestsellers (6/14/20) deal with “white privilege, how to be antiracist, how to talk about race, the new Jim Crow era, and white supremacy.”

More time at home during COVID-19 presents a great opportunity to read some of that nonfiction. Maybe start with Robin DiAngelo’s White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism. This is a book I can personally recommend. James Baldwin’s Notes of a Native Son is an excellent collection of essays.

A number of websites have more suggestions for expanding your understanding and supporting diversity. “Casey the Canadian Lesbrarian” posted a list recently of 12 (Mostly) Canadian Books about Racism, Anti-Blackness, and Anti-Racism, Plus Places to Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is. Anna Borges at Self.com put together a list of 31 Resources That Will Help You Become a Better White Ally, including suggested reading, ways to support equality, community resources, and helpful organizations. TimeOut.com has compiled suggestions from multiple contributors: These Black Women are Sharing Anti-Racism Reading Lists on Instagram as well as Black-owned bookstores where you can find these books.

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.

Although nonfiction is a great source of information, facts, and talking point ammunition, there’s still a huge need for fiction’s contribution to our awareness and empathy. Reading suggestions can be found online in their multitudes. Queer Books for Teens has a list of books with Black main characters. Weird Zeal offers a list that includes books for multiple age ranges. Study Break has a list of books supporting Black and queer authors, as well as links to resources supporting both. On August 2nd of last year, Bitch Media published 7 Books by Queer Black Writers to Read in Honor of James Baldwin’s Birthday. See also book lists in Friday’s blog.

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.

Bottom line: in the words of Sunili Govinnage, “People of all cultures and backgrounds have valuable experiences and universal ideas to share, and we all stand to gain when those voices are heard.”

WHEN YOU AND/OR YOUR CHARACTERS ARE NOT WHITE: INFO FOR WRITERS

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

L.L. McKinney

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.
N. K. Jemisin accepting the Hugo Award
  • 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.

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  • 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. 

Romance writer Jasmine Guillory said, “Publishing is still a business owned by white men,” and “And, you know, the people at the top are all white men.” She made these comments in a Washington Post podcast titled Black Women on Race and Genre, in which Martine Powers talked with N.K. Jemisin, Jasmine Guillory, and Lauren Wilkinson about these issues. 

Lauren Wilkinson

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.

David Mura
“The Student of Color in the Typical MFA Program”
Gulf Coast

Science Fiction Definitely Has Problems of Inequality  

Octavia Butler

As far back as 1980, Octavia Butler (afrofuturist writer, “The Grand Dame of Science Fiction”) was asking why science fiction is so white. Transmission Magazine published her essay, “The Lost Races of Science Fiction.” It has been reprinted in GARAGE Magazine, Issue 15, September 4, 2018.

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. 

“The Lost Races of Science Fiction”
© 1980 Octavia E. Butler
Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

An Evolution May Be in Progress 

The Racial Imaginary: Writers on Race in the Life of the Mind was published in March, 2015. Edited by Claudia Rankine, Beth Loffreda, and Max King Cap. I just came across this title and haven’t read it, but it seems to be on point.

Ramón Saldívar received a National Humanities Medal from President Obama in 2011

Ramón Saldívar is a professor of English and comparative literature at Stanford University whose scholarly work is with ethnic literature.  Stanford NewsJanuary 17, 2017 profiled Saldívar prior to the publication of his book The Racial Imaginary: Speculative Realism and Historical Fantasy in Contemporary Ethnic Fiction.

Nichelle Nichols – Lieutenant Uhura
Not a well-known writer, but she broke many science fiction b
arriers

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 Times Match 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…

Cornelius Eady  
The Gathering of My Name (CMU press, 1991)

JUST THE FACTS

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.)

Showers really do spark creativity

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.

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  • 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.

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The longest wedding veil was the length of 63.5 football fields (6,962.6 m or 22,843 ft 2.11 in)

Superman didn’t fly until 1943 — before that, he could jump 1/8 mile high

The first mechanical computer was invented in the 1822 (by Charles Babbage, not Superman) — the first electrically programmable computer was invented by Tommy Flowers in 1943 (also not by Superman)

Space smells like seared steak or welding fumes

The official state drink for Ohio is tomato juice

The national animal of Scotland is the unicorn

Bees sometimes sting other bees (when bees from another colony or species tries to enter the hive without bringing pollen)

Hmong, Silbo Gomero, Yupik Inuit, Amazigh, Wam Akhah, and Kuskoy are only a few of the more than seventy communities who communicate by whistling

Whistles travel about ten times farther than spoken words, up to five miles

There are about ten thousand trillion (1,000,000,000,000,000) ants on earth

Depending on age, kids typically ask 40,000 (between ages two and five) to 300 (between ages five and twelve) questions every day

The letter E occurs in 11% of all English words

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.

The healthiest place to live is Shangri-La Valley in Panama

The first iPhone was made by Cisco

Romanian police officers often take ballet lessons to improve spatial and body awareness

King Pepi II, Egyptian pharaoh, had a slave coated in honey to draw insects away from himself

barreleye is a a large deep-ocean fish with a completely transparent head

Approximately 10-30% (depending on the source) of people have a fabella bone in their knee

Technically, Pringles aren’t potato chips

Abraham Lincoln’s bodyguard (John Frederick Parker) left his post at Ford’s Theatre to go for a drink — he told family members that Lincoln had dismissed him with the valet

Dolphins have been trained to be used in wars: Russia, Ukraine, Iran, and the US have all had Military Marine Mammal divisions at some point

Playing the accordion was once a requirement for teachers in North Korea

Several patent medicines once contained morphine

Donald Weder holds more patents than Thomas Edison

There are approximately 2,000 moving parts in a modern pedal harp

Pouring cold water makes a slightly higher-pitched sound than pouring hot water

Pro baseball once had women players, mostly to keep stadiums full during WWII

One California Highway Patrol officer (Kevin Briggs, “Guardian of the Golden Gate Bridge”) has talked-down over 200 potential suicides

In 16th and 17th century Europe, cannibalism was fairly common—for medical purposes!

Onesimus, an African slave in Boston, was the first person to introduce inoculations to the American colonies in 1706

Koalas have fingerprints

Riding a roller coaster could help you pass a kidney stone (renal calculi passage if you want to be fancy)

Most dogs can learn to recognize about 165 words

Dinosaurs lived on every continent

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

Greenland sharks can live for 300-400 years

If a pickle doesn’t bounce, it cannot be called a pickle, according to Connecticut law

The English Monarchy owns at least two private properties, one in the Moors of Shropshire and one in London near the Royal Courts of Justice, addresses unknown

Note to writers: plot lines and/or esoteric knowledge for characters, use as you will!

Snopes.com is an excellent resource for making sure your fun facts are actually factual, and it can also be an inspiration for plots or characters from urban legends. My favorite is the one about the bodies hidden under the motel floorboards!