Thursday, September 29, 2016

Feminism Surrendered

Headnote ~Yes, I realize many regular people go through life making little or no effort to match their values to their words, but hey, I’m a writer.

A Cloudy Night

It’s been a rough week.

You would think that, as a science fiction fan, I would be in favor of feminism: From seeing Kathryn Janeway as the Captain on Star Trek Voyager, or the admirals on Battlestar Galactica, or from reading David Gerrold’s book series about the ecological Chtorr Wars. Gerrold’s first person narrator usually doesn’t think to mention the gender of a soldier moving in the background.

You would say that, if you didn’t know the gloom I have felt this week. My mood is best illustrated by the science fiction animated Japanese TV series Gantz; specifically, by the ending credits:

As credits roll, three people are continuously walking towards the left of the screen, along dark deserted streets. As the Japanese would read, right to left, they are: a high school girl, a tall leader, and a shorter guy. They are wearing the skintight black body suits Gantz has forced them to wear: Their lives are not their own. As they walk the gentle lyrics begin, “We all start out as pure and innocent babes. Even if you taste the bitter fruit, don’t be discouraged, walk straight.” (This week I am discouraged)

The lady who voiced the girl’s character said she cried to see the ending credits. Lyrics: “I’m lonely as floating ice.” (Me too) As they walk the girl abruptly stops, stands still, and fades to nothing. The other two are walking, but the leader, stops, turns around, stretches out his arm to her, and he too fades away. The last guy is walking, stops, turns around, and he is all alone. He bows his head. I can understand a sensitive viewer crying.

As regards the metaphor of people walking ahead, Mark Clifton wrote, in his 1962 satire When they Come From Space, something like, “If a man takes one step ahead of his time he is a genius, a star; if he takes two steps ahead he is a madman, a fool.” This week I am going around thinking the women’s movement has vanished behind me. I can stretch out my arm, but—they’re gone… Then why should I be a minority of one?

Last night I phoned up a university graduate who had hung out during her campus years with progressive ladies. Granted, she probably had to, since she was Gay and in those days there was a feeling that Gays, at least the semi-out of closet ones, were left of center. I asked her: What do you think of “guys” as a unisex term for men and women both? She told me that when she and her partner Jane were at a restaurant she felt contempt when they were addressed as “guys,” thinking, “Is our server too lazy to use an extra syllable to say ladies?” I sighed.

It was only a couple of years ago that I heard two teenage girls at a store counter, waiting to be served, ask each other what “Ms.” meant. They didn’t know. When I related this to a friend with a masters degree she said, “I think it means you’re divorced.” I sighed.

In fairness, she went through her undergraduate years without ever being an activist. I’m still chuckling over the time she was on campus calling long distance to book her place at a student weekend conference. She came down the hall to my office looking very small. She said, “… and I replied ‘No, I didn’t require vegetarian meals,’ and then I asked if I could have a room to myself. I added, ‘I’m homophobic…’and there was a long, long silence.” My friend, looking forlorn, asked me, “What does the word mean?” She had thought it meant not liking homo sapiens.

Words count. As Mark Twain would say, there is a big difference between lightning, and a lightning bug.  As Buddhists say, “Words build your world.” As professors of semiotics say, “Changing word-meanings reflect your changing world.”

And sometimes I despair at seeing the changed world being reflected to me as others are upset and offended at me saying “guys” for women.

In the award-winning science fiction novel Double Star the greatest statesman of the solar system says the public can only take so much progress. Then they need a rest. Two steps forward, one back. The historical record for my formative century, the twentieth, is clear. When my dad went off to war, Amelia Earhart could still fly heroically, and Eleanor Roosevelt still could advance us all politically, making sure a token number of “Eleanor’s troops,” of “separate but equal” Blacks, could fight in manly combat roles.

It remained for the administration after Roosevelt’s, President Harry Truman’s, to dump separate black forces and integrate the armed forces as being omni-racial. In such contrast to President Clinton’s lengthy dancing around that finally produced “don’t ask, don’t tell,” Truman merely issued a mere one page document, which included a mechanism—inspections by senior officers—for enforcement.  

But society took a step backwards, eh? None of the ladies who piloted aircraft across the Atlantic during the war remained as pilots; there were never any peaceful female prime ministers in Britain after the lion, Sir Winston, stepped down. Not until, desperate from being “the sick man of Europe,” they needed the iron maiden, Margret Thatcher, to fix their economy. After that, no more female PM’s until after the Brexit vote, because of the male rats jumping ship. In Canada, the only female PM was the one (probably) appointed as the fall guy just before the ruling party lost all but two seats. Neither one of the two seats that remained were hers. No Canadian female PMs since. And today? Today the younger generation, both male and female, don’t see themselves as believing in feminism…
So who am I? Who am I to disagree with my society, which disagrees with feminism? If equal rights are now an opium pipe dream, then why should I be the sole floating ice, a madman, a fool?

People need a rest. “The world has changed,” I tell myself. “Never mind the 1930’s,” I say, “forget the 1970’s.” Still, as the gentle lady sings at the end of Gantz, “I won’t forget, I won’t forget.”

The Morning Star

…Of course things look different in the new morning, when I consult my sensible fellow writers.

 Sean Crawford

~I wrote at great length about words in Words, Guys and Unisex archived in January 2014.

~I will avoid saying guys around conservatives, not to wimp out, but to copy the singer Jewel: In the end, only kindness matters. (Link to song)

~How amusing: If only back in university I had majored in liberal arts, then maybe my quotations for this essay would not all be from science fiction—and one pop culture song.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Old Lido Cafe

Every city should have a faded old family café. When the Lido—offering Chinese and western food—was open, rock star Robert Plant was quoted as raving over it; when the Lido closed, the local TV, radio, newspaper and two magazines all lamented the passing. On the final night, it was standing room only, and the walls were covered with paintings of the café: The paintings sold out. Some of those paintings were of the view from the crumbling alley, for the old Lido was loved from all directions. To feel like a cool regular, you came through the back hall, stepping up a big ledge from the days before wheelchairs.

Passing the freezer door and two small tiny toilets, you entered the main café, with the aisle leading between rows of plain brown vinyl booths ending at window booths. A turn to the left led to the counter with soda fountain stools, and, at one time, chrome fences holding the menus. Everyone loved the hand-made milkshakes. The chrome fences, on the formerly linoleum counter, (later arborite) had vanished back when the little personal juke boxes had been moved to the wall with the booths. That was when Ken Fung changed the Chinese red seats to brown.

Formerly with real vinyl records, now the little boxes hooked up to a machine downstairs. People loved to flip through the juke menus under glass, using a dial, and maybe write the numbers they wanted on a napkin—from an upright steel dispenser, of course. While each juke box had two volume buttons, for quiet or loud, the master volume dial was kept behind the counter—of course the management kept the sound low during the mornings, when all the customers preferred quiet. So you chose your songs and you put in your coins and enjoyed your music, new and old. I often played Patsy Kline, from my favorite decade; I always finished my set with Video Killed the Radio Star.

Once some ladies needed to push the window tables together, after more women kept arriving, and after I had relinquished my window table to them, and moved to a booth.  Then the oldest of them, their club president, leaned over the booth wall to offer me her card: I ended up joining their toastmasters club—and that led to years of enjoyment.

One day I moved from a large booth table to a small booth, so an entire aboriginal family could use fit around the table—that’s when the manager learned my name. Soon he trusted me to stay on after hours, finishing my coffee as a yard-high piece of cardboard was placed over the door glass: So we could safely allow some “members of the family” up from downstairs: two little dogs. No one ever told the health board.

Sometimes I would joke, “Don’t tell my mother I eat here so much” but it was a great place to hang out: family run, the children helping, lots of regulars—it was a family place where people knew my name. My home away from home. Not too posh. There was an art college up the hill, a huge Alcoholics Anonymous meeting across the road—no, we weren’t too posh.

Everyone knew the Lido. Once a clothing store manager, who had seldom been in the café, and never when I was around, heard a guitarist asking Sue the waitress, “Has Sean been in today?” Although her store was miles away, she guessed which Sean it was—and so they were talking together when I arrived. A homey café where strangers can talk—that was the Lido. 

Sean Crawford
Calgary 2016

~Here's a link to the local newspaper with lots of pictures.
~Here's a lot of representative reviews.
~I’m still chuckling over how that clothing store manager, in a mall, had seen me across the big hall chatting in the competition’s store. After I was gone she crossed the hall and her colleague asked her, “Do you know Sean? Isn’t he a hoot?” I was told this the next time I came by. (Probably the same day)