Alien vs. Wizards, directed by my subconscious

I feel lucky that I frequently have very vivid, detailed dreams, sometimes to the point that I can lucid dream. The other night I had a particularly amazing one:

I was trying to survive an alien invasion, darting from place to place to find a safe spot to hunker down. During that process, I was somehow able to arm myself. In my left hand I wielded a plasma pistol from X-Com, and in the right I had a Harry Potter wand. As I shot aliens with my left, I cast spells with my right. And yes, I mean Dream Jen was actually casting legitimate Harry Potter spells. Most of the time I was screaming Protego to create a barrier to reflect incoming laser beams, and when I had a chance to go on the offense I used Incendio to set the aliens on fire. Mostly because Dream Jen couldn’t remember any other spells (in retrospect, it’s amazing I remembered any in a freaking dream). When I shouted to Dream Boyfriend (who was also shooting plasma at aliens) to help me remember other spell names, he reminded me he wasn’t a Harry Potter fanatic like me and how the hell should he know any names. When things started getting hairy, I Avada Kedavra’d as many aliens as I could, while explaining that in this case using the worst Unforgivable Curse was morally justifiable because COME ON ALIEN INVASION.

I then tweeted this dream. Someone chimed in that my brain was pitching an idea for a film. I dubbed it Alien vs. Wizards and declared it should be made.

Twitter delivered. My dream had been retroactively fulfilled: apparently the BBC already has a TV series called Wizards vs. Aliens.

Sometimes the world is a wonderful place. A wonderful place where we wonder what would happen if wizards had to fight off alien invasions.

I’ve figured out why the Vatican hoards its wealth!

St. Peter’s Basilica is not actually named that because of its architecture, but for the Basilisk living beneath it! Lore tells of Basilisks converting various substances into gold, which explains the Vatican’s enormous wealth!! It also explains why they’re so reluctant to give the wealth away, because the evil Basilisk will turn the Pope into stone as revenge!!!! Quick, we need to find a wizard and a goblin forged blade!!!!!!!!!!!!

Wait. I think I’m crossing my mythologies. Catholics don’t believe in silly things like Basilisks or goblins. They believe in crackers that magically turn into flesh and people rising from the dead. My bad, it’s all so confusing. I blame the NyQuil.

Geek Girl Con was a blast

This is only the second year for the completely volunteer-run Geek Girl Con, and I had a great time. There’s something liberating about going to a geeky con that recognizes your existence in its programming and its demographics. It actually feels strange for me to walk around a geeky con being part of the majority gender – a strange sense of security knowing that my odds of being randomly harassed or creeped on are greatly decreased. The most interesting part was probably listening to Anita Sarkeesian talk about the awful flood of harassment, rape threats, and death threats she has received…all because she made a Kickstarter to examine gender stereotypes in video games. I loved meeting random blog readers – thanks for saying hi!

I bought this delightfully geeky skirt from a blog reader, Tea Time Inc.

Pixel approves. I think.

I also bought some artwork from The Gorgonist Illustration:

 I ran into Seattle superhero Phoenix Jones:

And this little girl’s costume had to be my favorite:

What if our family tree was still around?

Sometimes I wonder what our world would be like if our evolutionary relatives were still around. How would things be different with intelligent cousins like Neanderthals in the mix? Would we just be perpetually trying to kill them off, since that’s probably what helped them originally go extinct? Would there be nations of Neanderthals or would we intermix? Would their be stigma with interbreeding (which we know sometimes happened) or general species-ist stereotypes? Would there still be tension from the genocide we inflicted on them ages ago, with reparations to current Neanderthals or monuments to those who lost their lives?

Would less intelligent cousins who still had primitive language, like Homo heidelbergensis, be relegated to a lower class? How would we treat our even more distant cousins like Austrolopithecus? Would we grant them some special rights above other animals, like we sometimes do with intelligent animals like dolphins and chimpanzees? How would the ethics of genetic testing work when trying to get samples from our cousins who are not intelligent enough to consent, but are still more intelligent that what we currently research?

…This is what a human evolution researcher with a penchant for science fiction daydreams about. I guess I’ll add it to the list of “Books I should write but probably never will.”

GeekGirlCon and other weekend debauchery!

If you’re in Seattle, this weekend is packed with a lot of fun, nerdy, godless, feministy things for you to enjoy.

On Friday the 10th I’ll be joining the Seattle Atheists to see my friend Rebecca Watson give a talk on “How Girls Evolved to Shop, and Other Ways to Insult Women with “Science.”” Tickets are $15 but include dinner. I’ll be trying to convince everyone to go get drinks at the Narwhal afterward, because what can beat fruity drinks in a carnival themed bar filled with pinball and arcade games? Did I mention it was called the Narwhal?

On Saturday and Sunday I’ll be at GeekGirlCon! Here are the two panels I’ll be on with other fabulous ladies:

Saturday, 4:30 PM – 5:20 PM

Misogyny Online – RM205
Moderated Roundtable Discussion

Women who speak out online are often the targets of very nasty misogyny. Harmful, threatening, and degrading comments are all too common when a woman posts opinions in social media outlets or even on their own blogs. This panel will discuss how it happens, why it happens, and how to deal with it. An essential panel for women who have or want a strong Internet presence.

Presented by Jen McCreight, Rebecca Watson, Amy Davis Roth, Sophie Hirschfeld

Sunday, 3:30 PM – 4:20 PM *

Women and Skepticism – RM303
Moderated Roundtable Discussion

What is real and what isn’t? A panel of renowned skeptics will analyze some of the current claims marketed to or directed specifically at women. From psychics to super-antioxidant juices, this panel will show you how you can use the tools of skepticism to protect yourself, your family, and the contents of your wallet from pseudoscience and scams.

Presented by Rebecca Watson, Amanda Marcotte, Desiree Schell, Ericka Johnson, Jennifer McCreight, Cloe Ashton

I’m sure I’ll have absolutely nothing to talk about on that first panel after my last couple of posts.

Will I be seeing any of you there? Make sure to say hello if you spot me!

This is why I haven’t been blogging

My new distraction: Draw Something for iPhone.

My favorite part: Taking way too much time to draw something where a stick figure would have conveyed the message. For example, my drawing for the word “Obama”:

This is what I did for “alone”:

Feel free to add me – the username is jennifurret.

This is kind of awesome

One clever 6th grade teacher (from Indiana!) turned his classroom into a role-playing game, complete with leveling up for completing certain tasks, unlocking achievements, having random encounters, and forming alliances with other students.

Many students were thrilled right off the bat. It was mainly my group of athletic boys, who are constantly driven by competition to do well. The fantasy/sci-fi aspects of ClassRealm drew in other students as well. It didn’t matter why they cared. I just wanted them to care.

[...] Participation skyrocketed on the first day. I had students I never heard from volunteering to answer questions they didn’t even know the answer to. Students who normally wouldn’t even care were going out of their way to get XP from class participation. Every one of my students pushed themselves to focus during the day’s assignments and behave. One student, who earned a bronze level achievement, was even applauded by the entire class. It blew my mind. The amount of XP I was going to give out was undetermined, so I just let them come naturally. Share your maths answer with the class? XP for you. Let a classmate borrow your dry erase marker? XP for you!

I am completely and utterly jealous I didn’t have this when I was in middle school. Hell, I’m jealous I don’t have this in grad school. I totally would have leveled up my “Paper Reading” skill today. “Dissertation Defense” would be the final boss. Sidequests all involve finding as much free food as possible.

I’m not going to lie. I think my favorite part is the Friday quiz battles that are done to Pokemon battle music. Maybe I should just have video game battle music playing constantly at my desk…

Deep thought meets poop joke

You know what mythical creatures seems like they would be awesome if they actually existed, but would actually be terrible? Pegasi*. I mean, think how terrible it is when a bird shits on you or right on the windshield of your car. Think of what a terrible mess geese make when they come through shitting on everything. Now extrapolate that to a bunch of fucking horses flying overhead. We wouldn’t be like “Oh, look at what soaring majestic beauty.” We’d be like “Oh fuck nooooooooo” and running for shelter.

That is all.

*Yes, the plural of Pegasus is Pegasi because “Pegasus” is Latin. The Greek version is “Pegasos.” I learned this solely because I wanted my discussion of Pegasus crap attacks to be grammatically correct. Even poop jokes can accidentally teach you something.

Feminist Fantasy

I’ve just finished reading Game of Thrones, the first book of George R. R. Martin’s fantasy series. I really enjoyed the HBO series, but I didn’t feel like waiting years to learn the rest of the plot. The same thing happened with Lord of the Rings – I saw the first movie, then quickly gobbled up the trilogy, the Hobbit, and even the Silmarillion. And I’m pretty sure I don’t have to point out that I’m a huge Harry Potter fan. I enjoy fantasy novels.

But it’s always a little weird reading fantasy as a feminist. I know other feminists lament the lack of strong female characters in traditional fantasy novels. I mean, does Arwen serve any purpose other than marrying Aragorn? Eowyn is badass as she slays the Lord of the Nazgul, but then she loses all her fighting spirit to marry Faramir and have babies.

Harry Potter left me similarly disappointed in the end. Hermione was such a strong female character throughout the series, but ultimately the end is all about getting married and having babies.  Rowling discusses her accomplishments in the Ministry in interviews, but in the book her future is represented only as a mother. And really, when you think about the series, it’s all about dudes. Harry, Voldemort, Dumbledore, Snape. I love Hermione, but sometimes I can’t help but see her as a useful plot device, the clever one who will serendipitously figure out all the puzzles and advances the plot.

So far, I’m enjoying Game of Thrones. There are many strong female characters. But more importantly to me, they’re not The Strong Female Character. I hate when a book or movie is so obviously trying to introduce a strong woman to the plot, that she ends up a flat caricature without flaws or weaknesses. It makes the viewer feel like there really are no such thing as strong women in the real world – otherwise why would they be so hard to write?

And that’s why I like this series (so far, at least). The strong women still aren’t perfect. Daenerys takes a terrible situation (which is an understatement) and uses it to grow into a powerful, confident woman. I think she’s one of the most compassionate characters in the series, yet that compassion is also her undoing. Cersei Lannister is powerful and recognizes how unfair it is that her power is curtailed by her bad luck of being born female – but she’s also tremendously evil. Catelyn Stark takes matters into her own hands when her family is threatened, but the same emotions that drive her also cause her to make mistakes. And do I even have to say anything about Arya? She’s stubborn and hot headed, but she’s as much as a feminist as I’ve ever seen.

But I also like the series because there are some terrible women. Lysa Arryn is… a little off her rocker. Sansa fills me with a rage that’s only surpassed by how much I hate Joffrey (or as I like to call him, Malfoy 2.0). If there are supremely flawed male characters, I want supremely flawed female ones. Women aren’t perfect.

I’ve heard some argue that the series isn’t feminist because the women, in their culture, are basically seen as second class citizens. But when you have a series that’s basically medieval Europe placed on an imaginary map, I’m not sure what you expect. It’s inspired by history, where woman were treated that poorly. I find it refreshing that the plot doesn’t accept that (like in Lord of the Rings), but rather multiple woman try to overcome it.

But I see the point. How many more fantasy novels do we need that perfectly mirror medieval Europe, with women having the roles of wives and nothing more? If it’s fiction, why not make them equal? Or why not make them the ones in charge? It would be refreshing to see that occasionally.

I’m sure it’s out there, but I’m not as prolific of a reader. What fantasy novels do you think have feminist ideals? Who are your favorite strong female characters? What do you think about the women of Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Game of Thrones? Does one do a better job than the others? Am I totally full of it with my opinions of these characters?