The Bechdel Test

Written by Emma on January 5th, 2011

A friend posted this article about the purpose of the Bechdel test (see the article if you don’t know what that is) and how it’s not all about ‘passing’ the test. In a nutshell, the author sums it up like this:

It’s not that the audience doesn’t want to hear what “women” characters have to say, as one film pro told me… It’s that we don’t want to hear what’s said by irrelevant, underdeveloped characters who have nothing to do with the plot.

When you start thinking about movies you’ve seen recently, you might be shocked at how few pass the test – even those that have caught your heart for their other good qualities (including stereotype breaking).

Off the top of my head, here’s some movies I’ve watched in the past few months, and whether they passed: (I’m leaving out some really obvious ones, like Trainspotting and Pulp Fiction.)

  • Inception – fail
  • Hero – fail
  • Toy Story 3 – fail (!?)
  • Love Actually – fail (another ?!)
  • Shrek Forever After – pretty sure it fails
  • The Social Network – fail
  • Chico & Rita – fail
  • Despicable Me – unless you consider the orphanage lady’s commands or a few joking lines exchanged between the 3 girls ‘conversation’, fail
  • Avatar – pretty sure this fails, even though I loved the woman scientist and the kick-ass helicopter pilot
  • How to Train Your Dragon – fails, even though it reverses gender stereotypes (a strong, competitive but cold-hearted female is taught how to care by a weak, shy male with a big heart who doesn’t want to kill and connects with animals?? WHAT!?) and does a good portrayal of disability
  • Winter’s Bone – probably a technical fail, but I’d be willing to argue its case, as the whole story revolves around a missing father, even though he is never actually IN the film. So just about every conversation is, indeed, about him. However, the main character is a woman and so are many of the supporting characters. In fact, it has some really interesting portrayals of women in this society and how they interact.

However, what happens when you take it to literature? Even with all Larsson does for strong female characters in his Millennium Trilogy (especially in the third book), it is probably a fail. Though the characters are diverse and independent, they’re also islands, connected only by Bloomkvist. When they interact, it is about Bloomkvist.

Sigh. Depressing.

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The New Deal-io

Written by Emma on May 28th, 2009

As many of you may have noticed from my frustrated status messages on Facebook, I have been converting my Blogger blog to a WordPress blog. I have a variety of reasons for this, and most of them are boring, but it is giving me a chance to revamp,  regroup, and restart.

You see, for those of you who haven’t caught the word, I’m moving to Edinburgh this fall (no, I don’t know exactly when yet) to start a masters/postgraduate/MSc programme at University of Edinburgh. This is a fairly big event and I want to make sure I have a blog where I can keep everyone updated with my adventures as I figure out how to live independently in Scotland. (While I’ve obviously ‘lived’ there for a long time, it has always been with my dad, so it will be an interesting experience to do independent living in a new country.)

Anyway, I’m having Katie help me with the graphics for the website (they will be kick-ass!) and I’m fiddling around a bit with the layout. I’ve actually done a lot of fiddling, but it doesn’t really show, as most of it is in things you wouldn’t notice unless you are slightly OCD like me. I’m hoping to get the graphics up soon, at which point I will officially open the new blog. Until then I will ensure cross-posting to the old Blogger blog as well. All the old Blogger posts have been imported, so don’t worry, you can still go back and re-read all the shit I’ve written in the past seven years (Jesus).  I’m slowly working through manually tagging many of the posts, though I probably won’t go all the way back, as many of those are almost incoherent babble. One tag I am excited about is ‘fave,’ which I am using to tag my favorite posts*.

Anyway, if you’d like a sneak peak, head over to (yes, I will be buying a domain soon), but please keep in mind that it is still WAY under construction. If you have any input, tips, or suggestions on the design, let me know! Also, if you want to be on the blogroll, let me know, as I realised I’ve been bad at keeping up with people’s blogs!

And with that, I bid thee Aideu.

*If you actually dare to go click on ‘fave’ right now, you will notice that, yes, some of these posts are very depressing/sad. However if I’ve tagged it as a fave it just means there is a feeling, expression, or wording there that I especially like – it doesn’t mean necessarily agree with the post in the present.

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Males of the Species!:

Written by Emma on May 27th, 2009

Do you wish you knew exactly what it was that women wanted? Have you always thought it would be great it if you could know what females look for in guys?

Well, today is your lucky day! Why? Because I am a female (indeed!) and I am willing to share with you secrets from my mind!

1. Shave with a Straight Razor – Come on, it’s just plain kick-ass. Who isn’t impressed by someone dragging a knife edge across their face to accomplish something useful? Plus, you get to do awesome things like use a waterstone, shaving brushes, and a leather strop. Who doesn’t like to relive a little history every morning? Additionally, the shave is supposed to be the closest you can get, and you’ll apparently save money on razors in the long run (though you’re going to have to be willing to put down $300 or so up front, sadly). Finally, as the dude in the video points out, if anyone attacks you while you are shaving, you can defend yourself! And we all know that’s a big danger in this day and age….
Learn how to shave with a straight razor by watching this amusing video.

2. Get Yourself a Kilt! – Nothing is hotter than a guy in a kilt. Take my word on that. And somehow Utilikilts are even hotter than traditional kilts, maybe just because they blend into today’s society a little less glaringly. Also, possibly because tartan has been somewhat adopted by the punk/gothic crowd. Anyway, my point is, you all need to get kilts. No matter who you are, a kilt automatically makes you hotter – it’s a proven fact! And I’m a scientist – I know what I’m talking about.

So, there you have it. Women want two things: straight razors and kilts*. Simple, right? Now, go order your kilt.

* My scientific study of “What women want” was based upon the amazing opinions from a group of women of sample size one who will remain anonymous but are totally not writing this blog post right now. Promise. Also, I’m not responsible for your failure if this doesn’t work out!

(This is a post I originally wrote a year ago, but I just unearthed it and it cracked me up (I often crack myself up), so I thought I’d share. Enjoy!)

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Best Week Ever

Written by Emma on April 29th, 2009

You know that stupid show that’s on some channel called ‘Best Week Ever’? Well it’s all lies, because it’s on like every week, which makes it useless.

However, I have had the best week ever. Really.

Cities I have stayed in this week:
Wed: Manchester
Thus & Fri: Allenheads
Sat: Hartlepool
Sun: Hexham
Mon: Edinburgh
Tues: London
Wed: Ft Worth

Travelling FTW!!!

Great things that have happened this week:
1. Got unconditional offer to Liverpool
2. Visited Manchester
3. Got to see Hartlepool play
4. Got autographed picture by no 1 Hartlepool player
5. Got to see Kenneth & twins lots and lots
6. Finished HL2: Episode 2 with Kenneth – SO SAD! YET SO AWESOME!
7. Got to visit Edinburgh, which steals my heart every time
8. Got to meet and impress program director of Genetics & Genomics MSc programme at Edinburgh
9. *****Got an unconditional offer to Edinburgh University!!!******
10. **** Got HOME FEES (1/3 less than international fees!) for Uni Edinburgh!!!!***
11. Delayed flight from Newcastle meant missed the London connection to Dallas on the 28th… which was actually a bad thing.. until…
12. Dad got me a hotel room in London and I got to spend the day hopping the Underground all around LDN!
13. **** Managed to secure extremely coveted and very rare ticket to the SMASH HIT OLIVER! with Rowan Atkinson as Fagin!!!! *****

Yea. Pretty awesome. And I STILL get to go home to the best boyfriend ever today!

Man I am just bowled over by this week. LIFE IS AWESOME!

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Coming Out Against ‘Bitch’ and ‘Miracle’

Written by Emma on March 19th, 2009

I’ve set myself a new ideal: to stop using two words – ‘bitch’ and ‘miracle’. I know, those two seem pretty random! But I do have reasons.

I use bitch a lot. I call people bitches, I call things bitches, I call events bitches – I’ll even call myself a bitch (usually something like ‘Oh, I will be a bitch about it if I have to’).

The problem is, I, and many other people, use ‘bitch’ in two different senses. First and perhaps most commonly, people use ‘bitch’ in a derogatory sense. I’m sure everyone has their own exact definition to attach to this, but when I use ‘bitch’ this way I usually mean someone who’s making a scene and/or being being rude and unreasonable. The travel agent who won’t let you check in because you’re 30 seconds past the closing time might be considered a ‘bitch’. The lady making a huge scene over a coupon at the grocery store and holding up everyone behind her instead of going and taking it up at the customer service desk might be a ‘bitch’.

The second usage is usually how I use it on myself. It can almost be a complement. It doesn’t mean being unreasonable or making a scene, but it means being strong, assertive, and perhaps a little rude if that’s what needs to be done. Usually I call myself a ‘bitch’ when I’m in a situation where I’m going to have get strong about something in order to get it done. Group-work is a great example of this – I don’t stand for people slacking off or handling things so that I have to work harder to make up for it. My current payment situation is another great example – TCU has owed me about $1000 for about 4 weeks now – I will be pretty damn strong and assertive about getting my money.

The problem arises because you’ve got these two completely different meanings – one positive, one negative – in the same word. I realised that whenever I call myself or another woman a bitch for being strong and assertive, meaning it to be a complement, I am feeding fuel to the misogynists who believe any woman who dares to stand up to anyone is a ‘bitch’ – in a derogatory sense. While it would be great if we can ‘reclaim words,’ I am just not sure that with a word like ‘bitch’ that’s going to happen anytime soon. And I don’t like the idea of words (‘n*gger’ is a great example) that can only be ‘safely’ used by one group or another – I have no desire to make so that only women can call each other ‘bitches’ without fear.

So the solution, in my personal life anyway, is to simply stop using the word. When someone’s being rude and unreasonable, I have many other words I can fall back on, like asshole, without worrying much about offending the butts of world. When someone is being strong and assertive, I will call them just that – using words that can’t later be used as ammunition against me and other women!

While my problem with ‘bitch’ might be considered feminist, my problem with ‘miracle’ is purely scientific. Mainly I have developed a hate of it because it is so overused!

There are so many situations where ‘miracle’ is used in a purely historic sense, and is so obviously outdated. ‘The miracle of life’ is the most obvious example – how is it a miracle? There are 6 billion people on the world! Believe me, there is nothing miraculous about that! Yes, conception and birth are very, very cool – believe me, I will be the first to agree on that, but they’re not miraculous! And it’s not a miracle because we don’t know how it happens – we know exactly how it happens. It’s pretty day-to-day – think about how many eggs got fertilized today, not just by humans, but by all the living organisms in the world!

‘Miracle’ implies that something is amazing, unique, and shouldn’t happen. It implies that we don’t understand how it works, or it seems so amazing that obviously mysterious outside forces are at work. Now there are some situations where it might seem that the word ‘miracle’ might be appropriate – a tree falling over and missing your friend by an inch, the helicopter finding the lost hiker a few hours before he would have died of hypothermia, on and on. But even then, I don’t think we can attribute these to a mysterious power – whatever made the tree fall made it fall exactly how it did, and when you throw in random chance, there was always a chance it wasn’t going to hit your friend. The helicopter rescue team might be very well trained, they might have found someone there before, they might have decided to make that last sweep – and again, there was always a chance they were going to find the hiker.

If you personally want to invoke God or the FSM to these situations, that’s fine, but I personally believe that God is not here to direct the falling of trees or the direction of a helicopter search. And I think it covers up the science of the real world – it encourages people to get too caught up in how wonderfully amazing something is to take time to give credit to the natural order of things, and the scientific data so many have slaved so long to gather and test and interpret!

So, because it is such a wavy and unclear line, I have decided it is best not to use the word ‘miracle’. Amazing, sure, incredible, why not, lucky, no problem. There are many other words that can express my amazement without taking credit and attention from the fact that the world is a chancy place that runs on rules.

By the way, I am not advocating that everyone needs to stop using these words, though I think you might want to consider your own thoughts on the subject. What do you think?

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Because I Hate Bad Arguments…

Written by Emma on February 18th, 2009

People are often very invested in creationism*. For most, it is a moral imperative – the Bible says it is so, and if that part of the Bible is wrong, then what’s stopping the whole thing from being wrong? Or, it’s a matter of fear – not wanting to dare tread on the toes of the insitution they’ve been raised in. A minority don’t believe evolution because they’re ignorant of science.

For me, the most frustrating thing about most creationist arguments is that they’re just plain untrue. Half of them betray a complete misunderstanding of the Theory of Evolution. The rest of them betray a complete lack of a science education or basic research. Or they’re off-topic. One that continually drives me bat-shit-insane is “Vestigal organs, like humans losing their tail, are proof that evolution is false, because evolution is about advancing and gaining function, not losing it!”

If you don’t understand why this argument is wrong, then the rest of this post is probably too advanced for you. You should spend the time reading basic evolutionary theory instead, then come back.

What most creationists don’t realise (I assume…) is that the claims they gather so eagerly off the internet (seriously?) are so very untrue. Very few sites cite sources; fewer sites cite scientific research as sources. Creationists, I can again only assume, seem to think that these ideas they’re spreading around are completely new and untested. Perhaps believing that scientists wouldn’t deign to look into matters like religion, or more likely, that scientists are too scared to test these ideas in case they were proven correct! (*Gasp*) But, as so often, creationists are wrong again. While perhaps few of the arguments have been directly tested, science itself is advanced enough that most of these crazy new ideas are disproven quite easily.

Unfortunately (but understandably), in order to come up with reasons why these creationist arguments are false usually requires at least a decent understand of biology, chemistry, physics, geology, and argumentative fallacies and at most a good poke around in the scientific literature. Otherwise, you’re unlikely to even know where to start looking, never mind where to find the answer.

Luckily, these days we have the Internet. And these days we have someone intelligent enough to realise that only having scientists and professors, scattered over many fields, well-enough equipt to refute and give proof that these arguments are false is not a good enough defense against hoards of list-waving people screaming out reasons why evolution can’t exist that they don’t even understand, never mind came up with. At least, not a good enough defense if the common person can’t access a scientist or professor for the truth when confronted with these reasons. And these days, we’re lucky enough to have someone kind enough to spend the time to make a website of happy!!!

I present: Index to Creationist Claims

This website is a compiled list of pretty much every creationist argument ever made, and perhaps every personal question you’ve ever pondered about evolution. And every argument has a refutement – and every refutement has citations! Hooray! It has answers to the simpler arguments we’ve all probably come across, like:

  • Some systems are too complex to be explained by evolution [answer]
  • The second law of thermodynamics prohibits evolution [answer]
  • Ockham’s Razor says’s the simplest explanation is prefferable, and creationism is simpler [answer]
  • The eye cannot have evolved gradually – that means at some point there would have been ‘half an eye’ and that would be useless! [answer]

And the more complicated ones**:

  • Does chirality make the chance of simple chemicals/structures forming too small? [answer]
  • If DNA is replicated by proteins, but proteins are formed by DNA, how could one form without the other already being present? [answer]

So go, browse around. Have a look for yourself. There is no real science behind creationism. It’s the sad truth. If you want to disreguard science, that’s your personal choice, but please understand there’s no more reason for doing so than your own personal convictions. And please understand that your own personal convictions do not make science into a ‘pick and choose’ buffet line – evolution is proven far well enough to be taught everywhere, just like all the other hard sciences, so whether it’s controversial or not, we must include it, or degrade our own scientific system.

To quote:

“Evolution matters because science matters, and too many people (including some presidents) are willing to believe that science is something you can pick and choose from, with “good” science being anything that supports your own views and “bad” science being anything that doesn’t. …Too many people can’t accept that although scientists are not perfect, and do make mistakes (sometimes whoppers), science isn’t something you can pick through like a buffet, accepting only what is to your “taste” and designating the rest inedible. If people feel free to reject the science of evolution, they feel free to reject any science on no better grounds ” [source]

* For the purpose of this post, I’m clumping ‘creationism’ and ‘intelligent design’ together, because if you strip away the BS and politics, they are the same thing. Yes, really. To quote from the site referenced above, “A solution to a problem must address the parameters of the problem, or it is just irrelevant hand waving. Any theory about design must somehow address the agent and purpose, or it is not really about design.” [link] So you can argue your heart out that intelligent design isn’t about God, but it’s pretty obviously some kind of deism. I chose to use ‘creationism’ because it’s shorter.

** These arguments actually deal with the origin of life, which can be argued seperately from evolution. (Yes! It can! I could believe God threw a bunch of one-celled bacteria into the ocean and then it evolved into everything we have today.)

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On the Road/Railroad Tracks/Flight Path Again…

Written by Emma on January 4th, 2009

Hello all! Here is a more accurate summary of Sean and my plans for travelling the UK and seeing the sights and all that this winter. So now you can track us on your little map on your wall with pins! Hooray! Long and short of it is I will be gone Jan 5th – Feb 3rd and Sean will be gone Jan 20th – Feb 3rd.

U.K. Trip Proposed Schedule Alpha

Monday, January 5
       Emma leaves from DFW

Tuesday, January 6
       Emma arrives at LHR

Tuesday, January 20
       Sean leaves from DFW

Wednesday, January 21
        Sean arrives at LHR. Meet with Emma and take train to Canterbury midday.

Thursday, January 22

Friday, January 23
        Morning train from Canterbury to Hexham; bus to Allenheads (6 hours approximately)

Saturday, January 24
        Allenheads & Hartlepool football match!

Sunday, January 25

Monday, January 26
        Morning bus from Allenheads to Hexham; train to Newcastle (30 minutes approximately)

Tuesday, January 27

Wednesday, January 28

Thursday, January 29
        Morning train from Newcastle to Glasgow (2.5 hours approximately)

Friday, January 30
        Evening train from Glasgow to Aberdeen (3.5 hours approximately)

Saturday, January 31

Sunday, February 1

Monday, February 2
        Leave Aberdeen and arrive in London.

Tuesday, February 3
        Sean (on AA) and Emma (on BA) leave LHR, arrive in DFW

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My, My, Time Flies

Written by Emma on December 27th, 2008

Today I went out to run errands, and stopped by the shops to see the post-Christmas sales. You could feel in the air the ‘Christmas crash’ as everyone milled around the decorations that two days ago seemed so joyful and twinkling and now seem limp and out-dated.

But this feeling did not extend to me. I have enjoyed a feeling of deep calm all day. I love Christmas, don’t get me wrong! Anyone who’s been to my over-decorated apartment knows that! But it’s nice to finally get through the rush of the season – school, finals, graduation, Christmas. Done. It’s nice to get a chance to have a relaxing day with few worries and only a few small errands to run, which is a joy when your pockets have some Christmas cash.

Anyway, in regard to the title, it’s true, time does fly. I suppose it’s very typical of me post-university to look back and make remarks about how quickly it goes. It does, and it doesn’t. It does seem like 4.5 years of school, but it also seems like it went faster than I thought it would. The title, for those of you who don’t know, is from Enya’s new winter album, ‘And Winter Came’, and is a song I’ve grown quite fond of.

As I talked about in my last post, I am at a point where I feel very comfortable in life, in the future, in general. It’s a lovely feeling. I’m sitting on the edge of a cliff at the moment, but instead of it plunging me into a world of uncertainty about what the hell I’m going to do with my life, I feel poised at the lip of an adventure.

This next semester, apart from way too much research, tutoring, and auditing a CS class, I am going to be taking the GRE and applying to grad schools. Sean and I have recently been discussing this, and I am thoroughly excited. My mom wants me to try and apply to Rice, though chances are pretty much zero that would work. However, Sean and I have discussed it, and after this miserable excuse of a winter, we’re both ready to move to a climate with more pronounced seasons and a half-decent winter. In fact, we’ve decided on two locations housing universities with good evolution programs where I am definitely going to apply: Denver, CO, and Eugene, OR. Eugene is one of the greenest cities in the US, and very pretty, too. Needless to say, both are cooler than TX! This winter has reaffirmed my long-held suspicion that I can handle Texas heat just fine, but I do require a decent winter to offset months of blistering, sweltering sun. And this winter just wasn’t good enough. Perhaps time to explore.

The prospect of moving somewhere new, doing some exciting new evolution studying, having snow in the winter, finding a nice place for Sean and I to settle down for a few years – it’s all very exciting, and feels right.

We’re not sure about timing just now – my lease here runs out July 7th, so we will most likely be somewhere new after that. We don’t know if we should go ahead and relocate north (state residency for one thing), or perhaps we will head back South to Georgetown for a while, as the condo’s current resident’s lease is through June, and we can live there for awhile without having to worry about anything but utilities.

Anyway, I will keep you all updated, as time flies along…

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Written by Emma on December 14th, 2008

On nights like tonight it often suddenly hits me: I’m happy. I like life. I have a future. It’s still a little scary – when isn’t it – but it’s exciting too. And I can handle it.

It seems like such a simple revelation. But for me, it’s still an amazing event. To finally have a handle on things after so long, it still seems somewhat unreal.

I guess knowing that so many people were worried about my happiness for so long – and with good reason – makes me feel like I should write this now. To thank everyone, for continuing to care, for continuing to worry, even when it seemed like I was way too busy digging myself into a deep dark hole to be listening. I may not have been acknowledging, but I was listening. And hearing people ask me if I was happy, hearing people tell me I could be happier, hearing people repeatedly say they were worried about me, and that they wanted me to be happy – it forced me to keep, even if just for a moment, picturing the brief possibility that what they were saying could be true – before I bowed my head and continued digging.

I really couldn’t see the light. And that’s because I was digging. When you dig down, there is no light – you’re not in a tunnel. Going in the same direction – ‘working through it’ – isn’t going to fix anything. You’ve got to turn around, and look the other way – then you’ll see the light. Then you’ve got to start clawing your way out along the steep, crumbling sides.

And lord knows it wasn’t easy. I kept digging for a very long time. At first I thought there was a light, and then I resigned myself to the fact that there wasn’t a light in front of me, but there never was one behind me either, and so I might as well just keep heading this direction.

First, I lost the past. Then, I found myself. Then I found hope. Then I found Sean. Then I found my tutoring job. Then I found willpower and discipline in school. Then I found a dream, a passion. Then I found a good job. Then I was headed to making better grades than I have in years. Then I found a future.

It’s slow. It was painful, so painful. But it also was so amazing. I know it may seem shallow to put Sean on that list, at least to some, but it’s not. That we have a wonderful relationship now is a dream, but it was through getting to know him that I made some amazing steps. I finally accepted that someone could actually be attracted to me. That I was date-able. And through watching him take so much pleasure from getting to know the quirks of Emma, I remembered something I’d forgotten long ago: that I liked me too.

It’s been a long road. And I’m still on it. I still have those reactions, where I’m taken back. If I’m sitting with my legs up and Sean tries to kiss my knee, I still jerk back. In my mind, I’m afraid he’s going to bite me so long and so hard that I scream for him to stop and the bruises last for weeks, but I’m not strong enough to pull away. Sean’s never done that, of course, but my mind is still conditioned from the past.

But I hardly even care, because look how far I’ve come. I’m content and I’m happy. I’m doing unbelievably well in school. I’m climbing back onto a better road, in all meanings.

I know you already know this, those of you who stood by me so long, because I’ve heard it from so many voices so many times: “Emma, you look so well.” “Emma, you seem so happy.” “Emma, it’s so good to see you like this.” So, I really don’t need to say it, but I will: I’m happy. And all of you who gave me your words and your care and your love, you’re all part of this happiness.

So thank you.

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I Think I Like the Stars Better

Written by Emma on December 9th, 2008

You know, if you think about it, those ‘Girls Gone Wild’ videos must be a little bit of a let down. I mean, in the ads, there’s all these STARS popping out everywhere! It’s exciting! But I guess if you get the DVD, there are no stars – you just see the girls boobs. I donno, I guess maybe it’s cuz I have a pair myself, but that seems rather anti-climactic.

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