Grief, deep sorrow at the loss of someone/something important, comes to everyone in one form or another, at some time or another. According to healthline.com, grief is personal, not necessarily linear, and doesn’t follow timelines or schedules. Everyone grieves in his or her own way.
People usually recognize when someone is grieving the death of a loved one. But other deaths—other losses—any change that alters life as one knows it—can cause grief. What might cause your character(s) to grieve? Loss of . . .
A love relationship
Loss of child custody
A pet (or pet custody)
A close friend
How Would Your Character(s) Grieve?
In 1969, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross published On Death and Dying, based on her years of work with terminally ill people. Subsequently, it was applied to other losses as well. Because grief is so complex and personal, various numbers of stages—from two to seven—have been posited. The original model had five stages:
Models with seven stages include the following three after depression:
Reconstruction and working through
Acceptance and hope
Important to note: Stages can vary in order, can overlap, or can be skipped altogether. The duration of any given stage can vary widely, from days to months to years.
What Would Your Character(s) Grief Cycle Look Like?
Bowl of spaghetti?
Expressions of Grief Reflect One’s Personality
For example, people who express anger physically will continue to do so while grieving, very different from those who express anger verbally. Grieving can be self-destructive, triggering harmful eating, drinking, or risk-taking behaviors. Some might grieve by intellectualizing (finding out everything possible about the causes, prognosis, etc.) or compartmentalizing (confining conscious grieving to certain times or places).
BOTTOM LINE: What causes feelings of loss and how your character(s) respond are rich sources of adding depth and feeling to your plot.
There is an abundance of on-line information about the meaning of prison tattoos, and it’s generally consistent. But keep in mind, there are varied meanings, and context is important. One example here would be playing cards, typically found on the knuckles. In Russian prisons, the suit chosen have meanings. In other settings, this type of tattoo may indicate someone who likes to gamble, or who sees life as a gamble. (See below.)
The Nature of Prison Tattoos
Overall, prison tattoos tend to look dark and crude. Inmates tattoo each other using whatever equipment they can gather, such as staples, ballpoint pens, paper-clips, improvised needles, molten rubber, styrofoam, etc.
Sometimes the “artist” will draw a picture on a wooden plank, place needles along the lines of the design, cover the needles with ink and stamp the whole tableau on the prisoner’s body. Another method is to slice the image onto the skin with a razor and daub the cut with indelible ink. When prisoners manage to get an electric shaver and a syringe with a needle, they can jury-rig a tattooing machine.
Ink is hard to come by, so for dye, they can use pen ink. Also, they can burn the heel of a shoe, and mix the ash with the prisoner’s urine – a practice superstitiously believed to reduce the chance of infection. Research has revealed a connection between tattoos and high rates of hepatitis C among prisoners.
Tattooing is typically slow and nearly always painful. Conditions are inevitably far from sterile, so infections and complications are common. Suffice it to say that what prison tattoos convey is important to the wearer.
Not All Tattoos are Voluntary
The most famous instance would be during the Holocaust when concentration camp inmates were tattooed with an identification number. Also see the section on gender below. Any tattoo that stigmatizes a prisoner, or invites abuse by other inmates, is likely to have been applied involuntarily.
White Supremacist Gang Tattoos
Arian Brotherhood (AB)
Family Affiliated Irish Mafia (FAIM)
General white supremacist symbols
For example 1488 (or 14 or 88) found anywhere on the body identifies white supremacists/Nazi inmates. There are a variety of tattoos associated with the Arian Brotherhood, important to identify, for they make up 1% of the prison population but commit 20% of inmate murders.
FAIM members sometimes wear a shamrock as well, signifying affiliation with the AB—but this is only allowed with permission of the AB
Russian Prison Tattoos
In the Soviet Union, particularly during Joseph Stalin’s time, non-political prisoners (thieves, murderers, arsonists, etc.) in the Gulag system were often given preferential treatment by prison guards. Tattoos told the guards as well as other prisoners how to treat a prisoner, including what labor assignments they got and whether to assign prisoners as enforcers. Eventually, non-political prisoners gained so much power within the Gulags that the Vor v Zakony (Thieves in Law) essentially ran many of the prison camps. Today, the Vory is one of the most powerful mafia organizations in the world. In many areas within the former Soviet Union, anyone with visible tattoos is assumed to be affiliated with the Vory or pretending to be.
Birds on horizon
Symbol of the cross
Crowns and rings
A cat tattoo represents a thief.
One cat = the prisoner worked alone
Multiple cats = the prisoner was part of a gang of thieves
A cat tattoo (think stealthy as a cat) is considered good luck for a thief
If worn on the chest, it also signals a dangerous criminal who hates law enforcement
Playing card suits carry specific meanings: spade represents a thief; clubs symbolize criminals in general, diamonds label stoolpigeons and informants – and was probably applied by force—and hearts imply that someone is looking for a romantic partner in the prison, which may also be forcibly applied.
The knife through the neck tattoo, in Russian prisons, means the bearer is a murderer—and proud of it. Much has been written about Russian prison tattoos. If interested, you can find information specific to Japan, Australia, France, Italy, etc.
Street/Prison Gang Tattoos
Mara Salvatrucha 13
Black Guerrilla Family
Red Blood Dragon
Almighty Latin King Nations
18th Street Gang
Texas Chicano Brotherhood
Laotian Boyz (LB)
Angel of death
A spiderweb, typically representing a lengthy incarceration, is commonly found on the elbow or neck.
Teardrops can mean a lengthy prison sentence, that the wearer has committed murder, or that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and the tattooed one is seeking revenge.
According to corrections1.com, “One of the most widely recognized prison tattoos, the teardrop’s meaning varies geographically. In some places, the tattoo can mean a lengthy prison sentence, while in others it signifies that the wearer has committed murder. If the teardrop is just an outline, it can symbolize an attempted murder. It can also mean that one of the inmate’s friends was murdered and that they are seeking revenge. The teardrop has been popularized recently by rappers and other celebrities, but still remains a staple in prisons. Those who are newbies behind bars with a teardrop tattoo will make a lot of enemies, fast.”
Alternatively, Mental Floss says, “There are many stories about why a prisoner would have this tattoo, but the most common is that an unfilled teardrop might symbolize the death of a loved one, while an opaque one might show that the death has been avenged.
Three dots representing “my crazy life” (vida loca) refers to the gang lifestyle, but no particular gang; typically applied at the corner of the eye or between the thumb and index finger. Sometimes three dots, like three crosses, represents the holy trinity of Christianity.
Five dots between the thumb and forefinger represents time done in prison. It’s found internationally. Located elsewhere on the body, this design may mean association with the People Nation gang.
A clock with no hands represents doing time and a lot of it. Ditto watch without hands or an hourglass.
Barbed wire tattoos are fairly common and many have no specific meaning. Sometimes each barb represents a year served in prison. On the forehead, such tattoos typically mean serving a life sentence.
Laughing and crying clown faces/masks often means “Laugh now, cry later” attitude of the gang lifestyle.
Gender As a Factor in Prison/Gang Tattoos
Although there is much online discussion of convict tattoos in general, most of the images shown feature men. From this, with an overlay of gender stereotypes, one might conclude that tattoos among female inmates are rare. But I found one research paper to the contrary.
“This study confirmed that there is a high frequency of tattoos among female offenders, but disproved the hypothesis that the frequency would be higher and more aggressive among violent offenders in comparison to non-violent offenders. Based on these findings, non-violent female offenders were more likely than violent female offenders to have a tattoo or tattoos, to have multiple tattoos, and to have aggressive or masculine tattoos. However, offenders convicted of violent crimes like robbery and assault or battery had the most visible tattoos, primarily located on the hands, face, fingers, and wrists.”
I found no indication that the images and/or their meanings differ by gender.
And according to Wikipedia, “Forced and enslaved prostitutes are often tattooed or branded with a mark of their owners. Women and girls being forced into prostitution against their will may have their boss’ name or gang symbol inked or branded with a hot iron on their skin. In some organizations involved with the trafficking of women and girls, like the mafias, nearly all prostitutes are marked. Some pimps and organizations use their name or well-known logo, while others use secret signs. Some years ago, the branding mark was usually small, only recognized by other pimps, and sometimes hidden between the labia minora, but today some “owners” write their names in big letters all upon the body of the victim.”
Bottom line: Tattoos can carry a lot of meaning. When deciphering that meaning, tread carefully.
Last week, a woman said to me (approximately), “People think permanent make-up is a new thing, but Cleopatra’s famous eyes were tattooed on. Soot was applied with knives.” I’d never heard such a thing, and I’ve actually been to Egypt. I always assumed her face was painted. As with anything that pricks my curiosity, I googled it. Lo and behold, it’s a much more complicated topic than I ever considered.
Basically, any time an indelible design is created by inserting pigment under the epidermis, the result is a tattoo. Tattooing has been practiced in various cultures over centuries.
How Many Centuries?
As for bodily evidence of tattoos, for a long time the oldest known examples were Egyptian mummies, dated about 2000 BCE. However, Ötzi the Iceman, found on the Italian-Australian border in 1991, pushed that back. His mummified skin has at least 60 tattoos and was carbon dated a thousand years earlier, making him 5,200 years old.
If one considers non-body evidence such as figurines and and paintings, then tattooing was practiced in Egypt in the Predynastic period, around 3100 BCE.
Tattooing Was Everywhere
The word tattoo started as the Polynesian word ta, meaning to strike. It evolved into the Tahitian word tatatau, meaning to mark something. As seen in the animated film Moana, these traditional tattoos were applied by means of rapidly striking a bamboo rod to drive an inked thorn into the skin.
In nearly every ancient culture, such as those in Greece and Rome to Native Americans, Japanese, sub-Saharan African, Australian Aboriginal, and Innuit, evidence has shown that tattooing was and most modern cultures tattoos were and are everywhere.
But Why Tattoo?
A cultic symbol dedicating the wearer to a specific god or belief
For example, Amunet was a priestess of the goddess Hathor.
As a brand signifying servitude/slavery/shame
For example adulterers marked with an A, T for thief, etc.
As a professional identification (e.g., prostitute, priestess)
As a permanent amulet seeking protection
Sailors having anchor tattoos or miners with lamps tattooed on their foreheads were trying to bring good luck.
The patterns of tattoos on Egyptian women’s abdomens and thighs seem to have been for fertility and for protection during pregnancy and childbirth.
Tattoos may have been a therapeutic tool, similar to acupuncture.
The Ice Man had tattoos on his hands, lower back, and feet in areas that showed signs of stress damage.
As a declaration of group membership (think Marines, college fraternities, or Nazis)
As a visible means of intimidating the enemy (think Maori warriors) or showing bravery or success in battle
As a personal symbol of a meaningful event (e.g., birth of a child) or belief (sayings of Jesus or Buddha), or tribute to a beloved person
And, of course, as pure body art/decoration
Tattoos used by gang members and prisoners are often extraordinarily complex and will be covered in a separate blog post of their own.
The tattoos used by the Nazis in concentration camps were a form of branding, not in the same class as voluntary markings prisoners have chosen to put on their bodies for various reasons.
Tattoos to repair or restore
Today, plastic surgeons often work with tattoo artists to cover scars, burns, the effects of alopecia or vitiligo.
Many women get tattoos on their breasts after cancer surgery.
Along with her other artistic work, Amy Black (Pink Ink Fund) is a tattoo artist well known in the Richmond, VA area, for creating realistic-looking nipples or other art for women who have had cancer surgery.
Permanent Make-Up, the Daughter of General Tattooing
The goal is to look natural, or like externally applied makeup, enhancing colors on the face, lips, eyebrows, and eyelids. This type of tattooing (also known as cosmetic tattooing, dermapigmentation, micropigmentation) is also older than one might think.
The first documented permanent makeup artist was Sutherland MacDonald, in the U.K. in 1902! His specialty was “all-year-round delicate pink complexion”—i.e., rouged cheeks. By the 1920s, it was popular in the U.S. The tattooist George Burchett wrote about beauty salons that tattooed women using vegetable dyes without their knowledge under the rise of “complexion treatment.” (Personally, I can only imagine that those women were willfully ignorant, given that tattooing is generally an uncomfortable procedure with visible aftereffects, such as temporary scabbing.)
As with all matters of fashion, popularity varies over time. During the 1960s and 1970s, the popularity of tattoos took a sharp uptick. According to one article (the guardian.com) in 2016, a US poll revealed that 29% of people had a tattoo, up from 21% four years earlier. Of people born between 1982 and 2004, 47% have at least one.
Do multiple tattoos create a different impression from a single one? And if so, in what way? What difference does the reason for the tattoo make? What about the nature/content of the tattoo?
But Back to Cleopatra
According to accepted academic evidence, in Egypt—unlike most cultures—only women were tattooed. The tattoos most often seemed related to fertility and childbirth, or identifying the woman as high ranking. However, I found nothing specific to Cleopatra’s face. Bummer.
Permanent body decoration serves psychological and/or practical purposes for the tattooed one. In addition, body decorations send out a range of social signals—intentional or not. Think about it.
Like other accouterments of our lives—housing, clothing, pets—how we get from Point A to Point B communicates to those around us—and not everyone draws the same conclusions! The following observations are some of the most common (or loudest) I’ve come across; different countries and time periods have had varied observations about modes of transportation. Like most stereotypes and public perceptions, the following are of varying degrees of truth.
As general background: when users have to decide which mode of transport to use (private car, public transport, cycling, walking, etc.) gender is often a more robust determinant than age or income!
Shank’s Mare (A.K.A. walking): the Oldest Mode
Seldom chosen as the primary or only way to get around
People on long pilgrimages (Hajj to Mecca, walking cross country to raise awareness for a cause, Gandhi’s march to the Sea)
Depending on other info, may indicate poverty or health awareness
Bicycle: Impressions Depend on Model, Condition, Etc.
Bicycles, mopeds, scooters, and motorcycles are almost always two-wheeled vehicles driven and steered by one rider. The distinctions are, like almost everything else, varied around the world and prone to blurring. A bicycle is powered entirely by the rider pedaling; a moped has a small motor attached to assist with pedaling in especially difficult environments. Bicycles are relatively easily modified for people with physical limitations, compared to cars and motorcycles.
People are in the best mood when riding bicycles
Can be inexpensive or very expensive, depending on type of bicycle and riding gear
Difficult to park securely in many places
Primarily for physical fitness
In fact, the vast majority of regular bicyclists in the US ride for transportation as they cannot afford a car and do not have access to public transit
Limited passenger capacity
Not as limited as most in the U.S. assume.
In Copenhagen, “’Cargo-bike moms’ are gentrifying the Netherlands.”
Scooters are powered entirely by an engine, with a foot well for the seated rider’s legs. Unlike a car, all engine controls are in the handles.
Easy to drive
Cheaper and slower than a motorcycle
No safer than motorcycles
Popular on very rural country rides for teenagers
More popular abroad than in the U.S.
Easier to maneuver and store in crowded areas
Driving permit requirements are often different from those of a car or motorcycle
Many areas don’t require permits at all
Iran and Saudi Arabia (among others) are questioning whether scooters fall under the same laws forbidding women to drive
Motorcycle Rider Stereotypes
Motorcycles and scooters are very similar, but a motorcyclist sits astride the seat. The engine of a motorcycle is generally more powerful than that of a scooter.
Harley riders are elitist and only care about brand; Other riders are effeminate
Stunt hooligans on the road
Prone to road-rage
Have a death wish
Emergency Response personnel sometimes refer to motorcycle riders as “Organ Donors,” but that is more because of the lack of safety gear than specific behavior patterns
All young riders prefer sports bikes
Physically tough appearance
Men have long, unkempt beards
Tattoos are common
Women dress provocatively
Lots of black leather, chains, spikes, gang markings, etc.
Gear is chosen to look tough rather than for practicality
Many of these perceptions are based on Hell’s Angels and other “outlaw motorcycle clubs”
Multi-Passenger Public Transportation
Public transport is much safer than automobiles (the above photo is an exception). For example, bus and rail travelers are 20 times less likely to die en route than drivers. Even if self-driving and safety technology could reduce car by 90%, fatalities per passenger mile would still be twice as high in private automobiles.
World-wide, the largest share of public transportation users are women
Bus and train riders experience the most negative emotions
Bus: poor people who cannot afford a vehicle/gas;
homeless/mentally ill people seeking temporary shelter from the elements.
Train: long-distance commuters;
More common in Europe and Asia, where train systems are much more comprehensive
Plane: long-distance (business or pleasure) travelers of means
The second happiest people are car passengers, followed by car drivers
Carpoolers: cut down air pollution
Lessen expenses of gas/parking
Renting a limousine or similar
Driver alone: not sociality responsible
Selfish or ego-centric
Taxi/Lyft/Uber: short distance trips for those valuing convenience
People who cannot drive for whatever reason (inebriation, tourist, moving larger than normal cargo, etc.)
Consider the possible conflicts between traditional taxi services and Lyft or Uber style companies, or even the conflict between drivers and management within those companies
Car drivers are so common that to dig into assumptions, it’s necessary to get into make and model
Other methods of transportation are more common outside the US. Extreme climates, different resources, and distance have made what we might see as extraordinary into the everyday.
Dog sled, snow mobile, cross-country skiing
Tuktuk, marsrhutka, or any other kind of informal minibus system run by individual drivers
Horseback or horse-drawn vehicle (or donkey, mule, camel, etc.)
Canoe or kayak
BOTTOM LINE for writers: consider your choice and the reason for it!
Money, money, money! It touches nearly every aspect of a person’s/character’s life—and deserves conscious decision making.
How much money? These are not scientific or economic terms, rather, the sorts of terms people use to describe themselves and/or others. The actual dollar amounts associated with the descriptors may vary. What would you/your character say? Point of information: people tend to make finer distinctions closest to where they peg themselves, lumping the extremes into bigger chunks.
Lower middle class
Upper middle class
*I’ve also seen income level defined by preferred fast food options. The scale ranges from Going to AA Meetings for Coffee, through Taco Bell and Chipotle, all the way up to Whatever the Private Chef Makes.
Source(s) of income: Note that respect for various sources of income varies widely. This often translates into treating people differently.
Begging or panhandling
Theft of various sorts, with or without another source
Entertainment, anything from a classical pianist to an exotic dancer
By the job/ piecework
Having multiple jobs
Salary plus bonuses
Stability/predictability/security of income: Obviously, stability has implications for mental health and life stress. Money can’t buy happiness, but it certainly makes achieving stability somewhat easier.
Thoughts on taxes: This could be the modern IRS, but the same questions could just as easily be applied to citizens providing magic spells or Zygloxans giving helium globules to the Grand Tyrant on Planet YT-3H81.
Taking fewer payroll deductions than allowed in order to assure a tax refund vs. planning to owe and have the use of the money in the meantime
Being willing to pay taxes or looking for ways to avoid paying them
Finding quasi-legal or outright illegal methods to get out of paying taxes
Carefully accounting for every expenditure or estimating
Moral objections to the use of taxes (such as Thoreau)
Attitude toward money: Not necessarily related to amount of income.
Always more where that came from
Easy come, easy go
Best to save for a rainy day/unexpected expense
Sacrifice now for a secure retirement/college tuition/whatever
Always live below your means
Clips coupons and shops sales
Shop resale/garage sales/etc.
Buy quality, not quantity
Budget every penny and then figure out which bills will have to remain unpaid
Money by comparison: Source(s), level, etc., of income, especially compared to family and friends.
Changed over your/your character’s lifetime
Income disparity causing conflict
Where the money goes:
Whatever strikes one’s fancy
Luxuries, with or without guilt
Whatever is most visible to elicit praise, admiration, or envy from others
Supporting family or friends who need a hand
Back into a business
Sponsoring people on social media as indirect advertisement
How money is handled:
Charge everything possible
Pay by debit card whenever possible
Pay bills as soon as one arrives
Have bills paid by bank debit
Pay at the last minute, sometimes incurring late fees
Tip lavishly or stingily?
Needing to take payday or title loans
If having to choose food, rent/mortgage, utilities, gas/transportation, which?
Bottom Line: What other ways is money a lynchpin in the life of you / your character?
In last week’s blog, I discussed nom de guerre, literally war name, that in current French usage has come to mean any pseudonym. Like any other in-group, soldiers develop their own jargon—which often lingers in subsequent slang, often with a morphed meaning.
This blog will showcase just a few such words/phrases.
A.W.O.L. (Absent Without Leave) Even before the Civil War, this meant a soldier who has gone off without permission. Now business executives, teenagers, spouses—virtually anyone—can be AWOL, pronounced A-wall. The unexplained or unexcused absence is often trivial.
S.N.A.F.U. (Status Normal: All F*cked Up) The Marines are usually credited with this particular acronym, which originated during World War II. There is some evidence that radio operators came up with the phrase to give humorous meaning to a commonly used set of letters from coded messages. In modern usage, this acronym has essentially the same meaning, lacking only the cynical mocking of commanding officers. (S.U.S.F.U. [Situation Unchained: Still F*cked Up] was coined as a follow-up, but it has largely fallen out of use.
F.U.B.A.R. had several variations of meaning, though “F*cked Up Beyond All Repair” pretty much covers it. Occasionally, it was defined as “F*cked Up By A**holes in the Rear” to express frustration with military command issuing orders from the comfort and safety of their offices well out of harm’s way. Like SNAFU, it originated as military slang during World War II, and it has retained its original meaning in modern slang.
Basket case is used in a fairly lighthearted way today (often describing someone who repeatedly makes stupid mistakes, or who crumbles under pressure), but it has a strange history. Shortly after World War I, rumors circulated of multitudes of soldiers who had been so badly injured that they had to be carried from the battlefield in a barrow or basket, usually having lost all four of their limbs. This belief was so strong that it persists in the public imagination today despite direct evidence to the contrary. In 1919, the Surgeon General of the Army made a public statement that this was not the case, and only one quadruple amputee from the war is known to have survived. Ethelbert Christian lost all four limbs at the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917, but he learned how to walk on prosthetics and lived what appears to have been a full and happy life.
Booby-trap has been in use since the mid-19th century for a fairly harmless prank or practical joke. A “booby” was used in English slang to mean a stupid or gullible person as early as the late 17th century. But in WWI, it morphed into meaning an explosive device deliberately disguised as a harmless object. The English journalist Sir Philip Gibbs (1877-1962) said, “the enemy left … slow-working fuses and ‘booby-traps’ to blow a man to bits or blind him for life if he touched a harmless looking stick or opened the lid of a box, or stumbled over an old boot.”
As a nickname for body lice or head lice, cooties first appeared in trenches slang in 1915. It was presumably derived from the coot, a species of waterfowl known for being infested with lice and other parasites. Today it’s a children’s term for an imaginary germ or a repugnant quality transmitted by obnoxious or slovenly people.
In the 19th century, dingbat was used like thingamajig or whatchamacallit as a placeholder for something or someone whose real name the speaker couldn’t come up with at the moment. It came to be used for a clumsy or foolish person during the First World War, before morphing to mean shell-shocked, nervous, or mad. Now it’s used for a stupid or eccentric person.
In British English, “to be in a flap,” meaning “to be worried,” dates from 1916. It was originally a naval expression derived from the restless flapping of birds, but quickly spread into everyday English during the First World War. The adjective unflappable, meaning unflustered or imperturbable, calm in the face of crisis, appeared in the 1950s as a reference to the British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
Son of a Gun is generally held to originate as a euphemism for the child of a military father away on a lengthy deployment (and thus somewhat suspicious paternity). In current usage, it is an epithet similar to “son of a bitch,” with positive or negative meanings depending on the speaker.
Brainwashing is a literal translation of the Chinese phrase xi nao, to wash the brain. During the Korean War, military reports estimated that 30% of American prisoners of war collaborated with their Korean and Chinese captors. To explain how this was possible, the media created the term brainwashing: systematic, intensive interrogation techniques and indoctrination procedures used by hostile forces to change allegiances of prisoners of war. The term gradually came to be used to label any change of opinion or allegiance—though it still implies unsavory, unfair, or unethical methods!
Skedaddle, meaning to run away or desert from military service, became popular during the American Civil War. Now it means to leave quickly or hurriedly, to run away. In true American fashion, the etymological origins of this word are a mix of many possible languages or perhaps none at all.
OMG(Oh My God!) is very often used as an abbreviation in electronic communication. The first appearance of OMG was in a sarcastic letter Lord Fisher, a retired Naval Admiral, sent to Winston Churchill in 1917, complaining about the number of knighthoods being bestowed upon Naval officers. It has become so common that people sometimes use it as an acronym when speaking aloud: “ohemgee!”
Kilroy or Kilroy Was Here might be considered a bit of visual military jargon that has made its way into common use. James Kilroy wrote his name on sections of Navy ships under construction to certify that he’d personally checked the welding. Because his name seemed to be everywhere, British and American service members took to writing it on every surface imaginable in Europe and Asia, most likely as good-luck totem. (The origins of the accompanying long-nosed, bald man are unknown, but it may have started as a British cartoon.) Kilroy is still one of the most commonly graffitied images in the world today, with or without his name.
Bottom line: Word meanings are fluid, so be aware of timeline and context in order to truly understand what the speaker is trying to communicate.
Like so many professions, psychology has been male-dominated. Asked to name a psychologist, men like B. F. Skinner, John B. Watson, Stanley Milgram, and Sigmund Freud are likely to be mentioned —even though Freud was actually a medical doctor who founded psychoanalysis. But many of the most important movers and shakers in psychology were women. Here—in no particular order—is a brief introduction to just a few of them. I’m not including references; they are available on line in many forms.
(3 December 1895 – 9 October 1982) Anna Freud was born in Vienna, the sixth and youngest child of Sigmund Freud and Martha Bernays. She is reported to have had an unhappy childhood, and she did not have a close relationship with her mother. Her older sister Sophie was the family beauty; Anna the one with brains. She may have suffered from depression, and she went to health farms to rest, exercise, and gain weight, implying eating disorders. At the same time, Anna was a lively child with a reputation for mischief.
Contrary to other members of her family, she had a close relationship with her father—something both of the psychoanalytic Freuds must have had thoughts about! Anna made good progress in most subjects, apparently mastering English and French and basic Italian easily.
Anna left her teaching career to care for her father. Sigmund Freud was diagnosed with cancer of the jaw in 1923. He underwent many operations and required long-term nursing assistance, which Anna provided. She also acted as his secretary and spokesperson, notably at the bi-annual congresses of the International Psychoanalytical Association, which her father was unable to attend.
Ultimately, she followed in her father’s footsteps into psychoanalysis. Alongside Hermine Hug-Hellmuth and Melanie Klein, Anna Freud may be considered the founder of psychoanalytic child psychology. She is credited with expanding interest in child psychology.
Anna expanded on her father’s work. Although Sigmund Freud recognized the id, ego, and superego, Anna’s work emphasized the importance of the ego. Among her many accomplishments, my favorite is her development the concept of defense mechanisms.
Anna Freud never married. Her only partner of record (as far as I know) was Dorothy Burlingham.
Mary Salter Ainsworth
(December 1, 1913 – March 21, 1999) Mary Dinsmore Salter Ainsworth was an American-Canadian feminist, army veteran, and developmental psychologist who specialized in child psychology. Ainsworth devised an experiment called the “Strange Situation” in reaction to John Bowlby’s initial finding that infants form an emotional bond to its caregiver.
In Ainsworth’s experiments, the infant was placed in scenarios with or without the mother as well as with or without a stranger. The child’s behavior was observed in these “anxious” conditions. Ainsworth stated that infants react in 4 different attachment patterns (secure, ambivalent, avoidant, or disorganized) based on the extent of their bond to their primary caregiver.
The eldest of three daughters, Mary Dinsmore Salter was born in Ohio to Mary and Charles Salter. Although he possessed a master’s degree in history, her father worked at a manufacturing firm in Cincinnati. Her mother, who was trained as a nurse, was a homemaker. Both valued education highly. In 1918, her father’s manufacturing firm transferred him to Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where Salter spent the rest of her childhood.
Salter was a precocious child. She began reading by the age of three. Similarly to Anna Freud, she was close with her father, who tucked her in at night and sang to her. Also like Anna Freud, Salter did not have a warm relationship with her mother.
Mary Salter excelled in school, and decided to become a psychologist at the age of 15. She began classes at the University of Toronto at age 16, where she was one of only five students admitted to the honors course in psychology. She earned her bachelor’s degree in 1935, her master’s degree in 1936, and her PhD in 1939, all at the University of Toronto.
Salter’s dissertation, “An Evaluation of Adjustment Based on the Concept of Security,” shaped her subsequent professional interest. Her dissertation stated that “where family security is lacking, the individual is handicapped by the lack of a secure base from which to work.”
In 1942, Salter left teaching to join the Canadian Women’s Army Corps. She left the military in 1945 with the rank of Major. She married Leonard Ainsworth, a graduate student in psychology, in 1950. They divorced in 1960.
While working at Johns Hopkins, Ainsworth did not receive the proper treatment considering her skills and expertise: she was paid less and had to wait two years for an associate professor position even though her qualifications surpassed the job description. At the time, women and men had to eat in separate dining rooms, which ultimately meant women could not meet powerful male faculty members in the same informal way men could.
She eventually settled at the University of Virginia in 1975, where she remained until her retirement in 1984. As a professor emerita she remained active 1992.
(April 18, 1917 – August 11, 1983) Mamie Phipps was born in Hot Springs, Arkansas and died of cancer in New York City in 1983. She was the first Black woman to earn a degree from Columbia University, and the second Black student to earn a doctorate (after her husband Kenneth).
She entered Howard University in 1934 to study math and physics. While still an undergrad, she met her future husband. Kenneth Clark was a master’s student in psychology and urged her to switch to psychology. Both her B.A. and M.A. degrees were from Howard. After graduating magna cum laude, she worked in a law office for a time before matriculating at Columbia. Before graduating in 1943, she had had two children!
While working as a testing psychologist at an organization for homeless Black girls, Clark noted how limited mental health services were for minority children. In 1946, Clark and her husband founded the Northside Center for Child Development, which was the first agency to offer psychological services to children and families living in the Harlem area of New York City. Mamie Clark served as the Northside Center’s director until her retirement in 1979.
In her now-classic experiment, the Clarks showed Black children two identical dolls, one Caucasian and one Black. The children were then asked a series of questions including which doll they preferred to play with, which doll was a “nice” doll, which one was a “bad doll,” and which one looked most like the child.
The researchers discovered that not only would 59% the children identify the Black doll as the “bad” one, nearly 33% selected the white doll as the one they most resembled. Her research was central to demonstrating that separate is not equal.
Yes, she faced prejudice based on both her race and sex, but she went on to become an influential psychologist. She developed the Clark Doll Test as a tool for her research on racial identity and self-esteem. Her research on self-concept among minorities was ground-breaking. She played a role in the famous 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education case.
Clark’s work on racial discrimination and stereotypes were important contributions to developmental psychology and the psychology of race. Her effort on the identity and self-esteem of Blacks expanded the work on identity development.
Clark is not as famous as her husband. It has been noted that she adhered to feminine expectations of the time and often took care to “remain in the shadows of her husband’s limelight.” She often seemed shy. She achieved professional success while maintaining a fulfilling home life. She received a Candace Award for Humanitarianism from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women in 1983.
Leta Stetter Hollingworth
(May 25, 1886 – November 27, 1939, of abdominal cancer) An early pioneer in U.S. psychology, Leta Stetter Hollingworth made her mark by her research on intelligence testing and giftedness. In particular, contrary to her contemporaries beliefs in genetic determination, she believed that education and environment were important factors.
Important as that work was, I admire her especially for her research on the psychology of women! At the time, women were believed to be inferior to men, and their intellect and emotions were at the mercy of their menstrual cycle. Hollingworth’s research demonstrated that women are as intelligent and capable as men, no matter where they are in their monthly cycles.
When her mother died giving birth to her third child, her father abandoned the family. The children were reared by their mother’s parents for a decade, until her father reclaimed the children and forced them to live with him and his new wife. Stetter later described the household as abusive, plagued by alcoholism and emotional abuse. Her education became a source of refuge.
Stetter left home when she graduated high school in 1902, at the age of 16, and enrolled at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln. Leta completed her bachelor’s degree and teaching certificate in 1906 and married Harry Hollingworth in 1908. She moved to New York so that her husband could pursue his doctoral studies. Originally she planned to continue teaching, but New York did not allow married women to teach high school at that time!
As a prime example of “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” she enrolled at Columbia University and earned a master’s in education in 1913. Leta Hollingsworth took a position at the Clearing House for Mental Defectives where she administered and scored Binet intelligence tests (testing for IQ). She completed her Ph.D. in 1916 and took a job at Columbia’s Teachers College, where she remained for the rest of her career.
She is also known for her work in the first two decades of the twentieth century that contributed in a small way to changing the views toward women that led to women having the right to vote in a nation that had too long denied them that right. One of her students who became well known is Carl Rogers.
Although she died at age 53, her influence on psychology has been impressive.
(30 March 1882-22 September 1960) Melanie Klein was a psychoanalyst who was pivotal in developing play therapy. Working with children, she observed that they often utilize play as one of their primary means of communication. Play therapy is commonly used today to help children express their feelings and experiences. Young children aren’t able to participate in some of the more commonly used Freudian techniques, such as free association. Klein used play as a way to study children’s unconscious feelings, anxieties, and experiences.
Note: This was a major disagreement with Anna Freud, who believed younger children could not be psychoanalyzed. Today, Kleinian psychoanalysis is one of the major schools of thought within the field of psychoanalysis.
At the age of 21 Melanie Reizes married an industrial chemist, Arthur Klein, and soon after gave birth to their first child; subsequently, she had 4 more children. She suffered from clinical depression, and these pregnancies taking quite a toll on her. This and her unhappy marriage led Klein to seek treatment. She began a course of therapy with psychoanalyst Sándor Ferenczi, during which she expressed interest in studying psychoanalysis.
In 1921, Klein moved to Berlin and joined the Berlin Psycho-Analytic Society under the tutelage of Karl Abraham. Even with Abraham’s support for her pioneering work with children, neither Klein nor her ideas received general support in Berlin. As a divorced woman who did not even hold a bachelor’s degree, Klein was a clear outsider within a profession dominated by male physicians. Nevertheless, Klein’s early work had a strong influence on the developing theories and techniques of psychology.
As I said in the beginning, these are just a few examples of women who deserve more recognition and credit. There are many.
For example, Mary Whiton Calkins attended Harvard without being formally admitted. Although she had completed all of the requirements for a doctorate, Harvard refused to grant her the degree on the grounds that she was a woman. Even so, she became the first female president of the American Psychological Association in 1905.
Similarly, Christine Ladd-Franklin studied at John Hopkins and completed a dissertation, but the school did not grant women Ph.D.s at the time. Finally, in 1926, nearly 44 years after completing her degree work, John Hopkins awarded her a doctorate.
Bottom line: Choose any profession that interests you, look for members who made significant contributions to that profession but are under appreciated, and you will find women!
Editor’s Note: One of the reasons women are under appreciated for their work is that they are missing from the historical record. To correct that problem, Suw Charman-Anderson declared the second Tuesday of every October to be Ada Lovelace Day, an opportunity to raise the profiles of women in STEM fields. One of the ways everyone can participate is by creating or improving the Wikipedia pages of significant women who are not as well-known as they should be.
You may be aware by now that March is Women’s History Month. This year, it is also Lent in most Christian faiths, nearly Passover by the Jewish calendar, and almost Ramadan in Islam. I thought it a good time to focus on a female scholar of Abrahamic religious history who has had a great deal of impact on me (and on the entire field of religious study: Elaine Pagels (pronounced Pay-gulls).
I grew up in the Evangelical United Brethren Church, but by the time I reached high school science courses, I had concluded that the entire King James Bible couldn’t be literally, factually true. In addition, I resisted many biblical teachings about women and women’s roles in the world and in the family. And I started doubting that the words of the bible were the words of God.
I first became aware of Elaine Pagels (pronounced Pay-gulls), née Elaine Hiesey, by reading her book The Gnostic Gospels. This groundbreaking book examines the divisions in the early Christian church, and the way that women have been viewed throughout Jewish and Christian history.
Adjective: relating to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge.
Noun: focused on eradication of ignorance.
I came away with many questions, some of which I haven’t resolved to my satisfaction to this day:
What role did the patriarchal cultural and political structures of the time affect which of the various early Christian” books” would be brought together to become “the Bible”?
How many women were among the early followers and disciples of Jesus?
To what extent are the names attached to the books of the Bible accurate? (Except for Paul, little is known about any of the presumed authors.)
How much do the English translations of the Bible truly reflect the original language?
When whole panels of historians and scholars gather to make a revised Bible (e.g., The New Revised Standard Version), how can people believe that the Bible isn’t open to interpretation?
Modern Library named The Gnostic Gospels as one of the 100 best books of the twentieth century.
Elaine Pagels, née Hiesey (born February 13, 1943), is an American religious historian. She is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Pagels has conducted extensive research into early Christianity and Gnosticism. She started to learn Greek when she entered college, and read the Gospels in their original language.
Pagels received a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981 for her work with the Nag Hammadi research and how it related to the development of early Christianity. With archaeological evidence, she demonstrated how controversies over scriptural interpretation relate to certain social and political situations. She has published widely on Gnosticism and early Christianity, and continues to pursue research interests on topics that include sexuality and politics, visions, and the origins of Christian anti-Semitism.
Elaine Pagels’s most recent book is very different from her publication. Why Religion? A Personal Story is a description of her own relationship with religion and how it changed over time. She discusses what originally led to her questions of faith in 7th grade and how studying religion helped her get through the loss of her young son and husband. With her own story, Pagels confronts questions of religion’s place in modern society and how religious traditions shape personal experiences.
Cults are nothing new. Indeed, if asked to name a cult, you could probably name a few. In ancient Greece and Rome, a cult was simply the care owed to a deity, the rituals carried out at a shrine or temple. A mystery cult was a religious group that celebrated a minor god or goddess or a lesser-known aspect of a deity’s history. The word “cult” has different connotations today.
Janja Lalich, Ph.D., professor emerita of sociology at California State University, Chico, is a big gun in cult research. Her website, Cult Research, provides extensive information about the mental mechanics involved in cults. She has also included resources for recognizing signs of a cult and how to help others who may have been impacted by a cult.
There have been too many cults to count throughout history, but the vast majority have been small and soon forgotten. A post on Insider.com listed the six most notorious cults in history. (These cults have been extensively discussed and researched by people who were kind enough to share their findings online.)
The (Charles) Manson Family famously murdered seven people over the course of two nights. Their stated intention was to start a race war. The Manson Family was formed in the late 60s.
Members of Heaven’s Gate were told that their leader was the reincarnation of Jesus, that God was an alien, and that the end of the world was near. In 1997, 39 members died after ingesting barbiturates and putting plastic bags over their heads. It is the largest mass suicide on US soil.
The Children of God was founded in 1968 as a system of communal living under the strict teachings of preacher David Berg. Multiple former members have testified that the church used prostitution as a recruitment tool and engaged in widespread child trafficking and sexual abuse. The organization later rebranded to The Family of Love International, and it is still active online.
Jim Jones founded The People’s Temple in Indianapolis in 1955 but moved the band to Guyana, and called the place Jonestown, in 1977. Reports of member abuse followed the group from place to place. In 1978, Jones instructed all of his followers to drink cyanide-laced Flavor Aid. More than 900 people died. This is the origin of the slang expression “Drinking the Kool-Aid,” meaning a person who believes in a possibly doomed or dangerous idea.
Behaves as though people are objects to be used, manipulated, or exploited for personal gain
Is deeply offended by signs of boredom, being ignored, or being slighted
Doesn’t seem to feel guilty for anything he has done wrong, nor does he apologize
Believes he possesses the answers and solutions to world problems
Works the least but demands the most
Sees self as “unstoppable” and perhaps has even said so
Characteristics Common to Cult Members
Female: world-wide, 70% of cult members are women
Explanations for this vary
Generally average sorts of people. No trends in location, income, etc.
Suffer low self-esteem, making them especially susceptible to love bomb (compliments, etc.)
Many have rejected standard religions
From sheltered environments
Blame others for their failures
Strive for perfectionistic goals
Often have no idea they are in a cult!
Characteristics Common to Religious Cults
It opposes critical thinking
Isolates members and punishes them for leaving
Emphasizes special doctrines outside accepted scriptures
Seeking inappropriate loyalty to leaders
Devalues the family unit
Crossing boundaries of behavior (especially sexual) set in accepted religious texts
Separation from the main religious structure
Common Recruiting Tactics
Target people who are stressed, emotionally vulnerable, have tenuous or no family connections, or are living in adverse socioeconomic conditions.
People who were neglected or abused as children may be easily recruited because they crave the validation denied them in their childhood
High school and new college students are good targets for cult recruitment since they’re still forming their identity and (in the case of college students) have recently been separated from their families
One old (1980) study of 1000 high school students in the San Francisco Bay Area found that 54% reported at least one recruitment attempt by a cult member, and 40% reported 3 to 5 contacts
I can only imagine that the rise of various social media platforms would have exploded those numbers.
Damage to Cult Members
Various research has established that former cult members suffer long-term negative effects. Dr. John G Clark, Jr, of Harvard University works with former cult members and their families identifies the following
Loss of libido or altered sexual interest
Compulsive attention to detail
Because these are symptoms similar to temporal lobe epilepsy, it’s reasonable to assume that membership in a cult is a brain-changing experience.
Bottom line: There is much we can and should learn about cults—possibly in our lives, certainly in the world around us. Many of these qualities and behaviors are present to some degree in people who aren’t actual cult leaders or members. Still, they provide fodder for compatible/consistent constellations of attitudes and behaviors. Think character creation!