The Invisible Women of Ocean’s 8

Getting away with it in plain sight.

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(There are mild spoilers ahead. Read at your own risk.)

I went to see Ocean’s 8 last weekend and it was a delight. It had everything I love in a movie: a tricky plot, fun dialogue, genuine female friendships, characters who are great at their jobs, and an underlying theme that makes you think.

And the men? Eh, they were there, and yeah, they added a thing or two, I guess. They were more plot devices than actual characters.

Oh, wait… Could that, maybe, have been the point?

The women of Ocean’s 8 aren’t love interests or motivating factors for men. They are the heroes. And they are so, so good at what they do. The heist at the center of the movie—set in the world of high fashion and a fancy ball—is specifically female coded. Men literally could not do it.

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What I love most about Ocean’s 8 was the way the gang uses society’s assumptions about women as one of their weapons. When one of them asks why there are no men involved, Sandra Bullock’s character says, “A him is noticed, a her is ignored.” Middle-aged women, especially women of color, are invisible, allowing the gang to pull off the heist in plain sight. Rihanna, Mindy Kaling, and Awkwafina play the janitor, the dishwasher and the waitress. Time after time, people look right through them. Sandra Bullock gets to play the entitled, middle-aged white woman—another easily-dismissed stereotype. Even in the film’s final act, they use old women as fences. And they get away with it, of course. If middle-aged women are invisible, then old ones might as well not exist.

The only women who are ever noticed—ever seen—are the young and pretty, so why not use that fact as well? Anne Hathaway’s character becomes a magnificent distraction. Every eye in the room is on her while the brown and black and over-the-hill women get on with the job at hand.

And what do these women buy with all their ill-gotten millions? Surprisingly modest things. A business, a production company, a solo motorcycle trip, an apartment. But they all represent the same thing—a woman who is the boss of herself, where she’s in charge.

And maybe, for once, even seen.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She loves being her own boss and is glad she didn’t have to pull off a heist to make it happen.

[Photo credits: Warner Brothers/Village Roadshow pictures]

An Open Letter to the Mayor of Ann Arbor

Standing up to Nazis really should be a basic qualification for office.

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Dear Mayor Taylor,

Last fall, Richard Spencer wanted to come to Ann Arbor to make a speech and to recruit Nazis. You immediately gave in to his demands, telling the community that you would not take steps to stop him.

There was a great outcry from the students at the University of Michigan and the citizens of Ann Arbor. Outcry which you ignored. Instead, you gave a tepid press release about free speech and then dismissed anyone who asked you to take a stronger stance.

The fact that Spencer met resistance elsewhere and then changed his plans to come to Ann Arbor doesn’t get you off the hook. It was students who scared him away, while our mayor stood silently by.

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. And you, sir, did nothing.

You can spin this any way you want to, but the bottom line is this: you are an elected official who will not stand up to Nazis. You displayed cowardice and lack of leadership when you used students as your human shields, putting them on the front lines of resistance against fascism and violent white nationalism.

Members of the alt-right including members of the Traditionalist Workers Party fight with protesters outside of a Richard Spencer speech on the campus of Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan

Let’s say it again, with the proper emphasis. You are an elected official who will not stand up to Nazis.

To my mind, this disqualifies you from office. It should disqualify you from humanity.

Now that you are running for re-election, you are suddenly paying attention to those voters you ignored last fall. You’ve repeatedly asked for my vote. You will not get it. The primary is in 60 days, and I look forward to voting for your opponent.

Sincerely,

Alex Kourvo

P.S. If you’d like to argue with me about Nazis, please read this first.

Author’s note: I contacted Christopher Taylor’s office in advance of this publication to ask for his comment. He did not respond.

 

Where Would We Be Without RBG?

So much of where we are today is because of where she was in the 1970s.

On Mother’s Day, we went to see the movie “RBG.” It seems that everyone else in Ann Arbor had the same idea, because the theater was sold out and every seat was full. RBG is a hit. It broke into the top 10 for the weekend, which is almost impossible for a documentary to do, especially when it’s showing on limited screens. But, like Ruth Bader Ginsburg herself, this film is small and unassuming and also amazingly powerful.

Me standing in front of the RBG movie poster

I knew Ginsburg was awesome. I’d seen the memes about the “Notorious RBG” and watched the way the internet blew up whenever she wrote one of her dissenting opinions. But until I saw the movie, I never knew quite how awesome she was.

As the movie showed her early life, I saw many older women in the theater nod knowingly at the details of the sexism Ginsburg endured. She navigated college and law school by keeping her head down and being better than her classmates. She made Law Review in her second year at Harvard while caring for a toddler and a husband with cancer. Just one of those three things would have overwhelmed most of us, but RBG did it all.

Ginsburg spent the 70s and 80s working with the ACLU to fight discrimination. She successfully argued six landmark cases before the Supreme Court, changing the law for everyone. She chose those cases the way she does everything—carefully, systematically, always with one eye on the long-term benefits.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg as a young lawyer

In the theater, there were several gasps from the younger crowd as a list of laws rolled by on the screen—laws that explicitly discriminated against women. It felt like the best history lesson ever as we watched Ginsburg’s work help overturn them one by one. But this is history that is still alive, still with us, still working for our benefit today. Thanks to one remarkable woman, women everywhere can almost take our rights for granted…. Almost.

We still need Ruth Bader Ginsburg and people like her. We’re grateful she’s still alive, still working for us, still notorious as ever. Which is probably why that packed theater burst into applause when the movie ended.

“RGB” has been rolled out into even more theaters this weekend, but who knows how long it will be showing? You should go see it while you can.

And you should bring your mom.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels and has recently started wearing “Notorious RBG” t-shirts.

Penguicon 2018

It’s my weekend with my people.

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It’s time for one of my favorite events of the year–Penguicon! Michigan’s SF/Open Source/Maker con is happening in Detroit, and I’ll be there all weekend. There will be costumes and ice cream and movies and games as well as panels about literature and science. I have three days to nerd out with other nerds. You know, my people.

I usually do a few panels and a reading, but this year, I decided to mix it up and propose a writing workshop, and to my surprise and delight, the con committee said yes! On Saturday, I’ll be presenting a workshop for writers called “No Hero Wants to Save the World.”

My introvert friends are amazed that I’d want to do a solo workshop rather than rely on the safety of a four or five person panel, but to me, this is actually easier. I’ve been giving writing workshops at the Ann Arbor District Library for years, so this is in my wheelhouse.

I’m also doing SF/F MadLibs. Remember MadLibs from summer camp? One person has a story with blanks in it, and the other person has to fill in random nouns, verbs, and adjectives. Hilarity ensues. The Penguicon twist is that the panelists have written the MadLibs and the audience shouts out the words to fill them in. The words they shout are usually somewhat dirty. (Okay, they’re filthy.) I wrote several MadLibs based on my favorite movies and I can’t wait to see how my fellow con-goers wreck them!

My last panel is Self-Publishing in 2018. Things have changed a lot since I started publishing my own books in 2011. It will be interesting to discuss all the changes that our industry has undergone in such a short time.

In addition to panels and workshops, I hope to see old friends, make new ones, drink a beer, see amazing costumes, and at some point, stop and wonder how the geeks somehow turned into the cool kids, and wonder even more how I became one of them.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She likes hanging out with nerds.

 

Viker

I have a new book out! My co-author and I have re-issued Viker, book three in the “Detroit Next” series.

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Morris Payne is a viker, an elite hacker famous throughout the virtual world. But now, someone has connected his virtual life to his real one, and Morris is on the run. Armed only with a virtual pirate ship loaded with the latest defensive hardware, Morris is up against a dangerous enemy—an artificial intelligence who isn’t supposed to exist.

Although it says “book three” on the cover, this book can stand alone. We re-introduce the characters and the world, so it’s okay to jump in midway. (Although starting with book one is awesome too.)

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The same cover artist is designing the whole series, and we love how this one looks. To us, it says “cyberpunk” without being too in-your-face about it.

Morris Payne would approve.

Viker is available on AmazoniBooks, NookKobo and other book retailers worldwide.

Can I Have a Hug?

I wish I could have one every day.

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I’m the single mom of teenagers. I don’t get a lot of hugs. My oldest is away at college and my youngest is a busy high school student. They’ll both hug me, but only if I ask. And they kind of think I need a reason, otherwise it’s weird.

I guess we all think we need a reason to hug someone. Usually the reason is that you’re romantically involved. Hugs are reserved for those special few people in our lives, and to hug someone too much—especially someone of the opposite sex—sends the wrong message.

But here’s the only message I want to send: I like you. You’re my friend. You’re worthy of love. I’m here for you. Life is a good and your fellow humans care about you.

That’s the message I want to get, too.

Hugs are important. A warm embrace signals the body to release oxytocin and other chemicals, elevating our moods and contributing to a sense of safety and connection. Hugs calm us down, lower our stress, and might even prevent us from getting sick.

But I don’t want to wait until I’m sad or stressed out. I don’t want to wait until I need a hug. I want preventive maintenance hugs. I don’t need a tight squeeze or a clutch that goes on for days. Just a real, genuine hug. (Not that “London Bridge” thing where your upper arms are in it but your body is not.)

Science has shown that a three-second embrace is optimal for humans. A hug is a tiny, tiny shared moment. It has no agenda. It doesn’t ask anything of you except that you be present for three seconds.

Among my friends, I’m most often the person who initiates the hug. I usually get away with shouting, “Give me a hug!” as we say hello and goodbye. So far, no one has said no, but it’s not like I’ve given them a choice. And I’m also aware that our culture lets women do that, but not men. So I’m trying to be less greedy about the whole thing, to ask for hugs rather than demand them.

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One time, in a park, I saw someone with one of those “free hugs” signs so I threw my bag on the ground to catapult myself into his arms. It was kind of weird to hug a complete stranger.

It was also the best three seconds of my day.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She’s currently hugging a puppy.

[photos: Brad Fults, cs.belgium. Licensed under a Creative Commons attribution  generic license]

Ten Conversations I’m Tired of Having About Nazis

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.

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It usually happens on Facebook. I’ll post an anti-Nazi meme like this one, or this one. Or I’ll suggest that hey, maybe as a community, it’s our job to bail out antifascists  who were arrested while protesting Richard Spencer.

And then the pushback comes. And it always, always comes from nice white folks—people who look like me. And those well-meaning white folks always, always want me to ignore the Nazis, because they’ve never had to look beyond their own privilege to see why that won’t work.

So here are ten arguments I’m sick of having about Nazis, because it’s time for me to come get my own people.

1. Why are you protesting Richard Spencer? All you’re doing is giving him publicity.
More publicity is a good thing. It’s important for people to know what the alt-right stands for and what they’re capable of. I think what privileged white people are really saying is, “It makes me uncomfortable to read about this in the news.” But rather than sit with that discomfort, they’d like to blame the antifascists for calling attention to the problem of Nazis in our midst.

2. Just ignore them! Wouldn’t it be funny if the Nazis came out and nobody showed up? 
No, it wouldn’t be funny if Nazis came to my town and no one showed up. If we all cowered at home while Richard Spencer and his ilk marched through our streets, it would mean we’ve surrendered the public square to them. They would then know that they could go anywhere they wanted, do or say anything, and the citizens would just go along with it. I don’t find that funny at all.

3. All you’re doing is making them mad.
Upsetting Nazis is a good thing. Besides, they’re already plenty angry. Perhaps this well-meaning person is telling me not to provoke the Nazis, which sounds a hell of a lot like victim-blaming. Like the abuser who tells his victim it’s her fault he hit her, because she made him mad. And please, miss me with your respectability politics.

4. The Nazis just want attention. Why are you playing into their hands?
No, they don’t just want attention. They want my children dead. That’s not an exaggeration. My children are mixed-race and queer. According to Spencer and his Nazis, they should not exist.

5. But what about freedom of speech?
Richard Spencer and his followers are calling for ethnic cleansing. They advocate domination of one group over another by violent means. This is not free speech, it’s hate speech. The US supreme court has ruled that this kind of hate speech—the kind that is inciting violence—is not protected under law.

6. All he wants to do is share his ideas! Can’t you debate his points on their merits? 
It’s adorable that someone thinks that Spencer wants a civil debate. But more importantly, freedom of speech does not mean freedom from consequences, and it doesn’t mean a guaranteed platform. Straight, white, rich men often mix these two things up, because up until now, they could say anything they wanted without pushback, and they always had an arena in which to say it. But these days, Spencer and his cohorts will show up to an event with a dozen supporters and come face to face with a wall of hundreds of protestors. And suddenly, they start squawking that their freedom of speech is being infringed somehow. Nope, we’re just using our own freedom of speech to shout louder.

7. But you’re trying to silence the alt-right! That makes you the fascist!
This is propaganda, pure and simple. Nazis love to brand all antifascists as dangerous extremists. They use that to create a convenient cover for their own, more dangerous, extreme views. Remember: hate speech is not protected speech, antifascists have the right to speak out against Nazis, and ignoring Nazis will not make them go away. Besides, when has “they’re just as bad!” ever been a valid argument?

8. As Voltaire once said, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
First, Voltaire never said that. Second, how nice for you, that you can defend Nazis. How nice for you, that your skin color protects you from them.

9. But why should we fight the Nazis? If they’re being disruptive, shouldn’t the cops handle it? 
Let me tell you what happened when Richard Spencer and his Nazi brethren came to Michigan State University this week. Hundreds of protestors showed up. They were peaceful, but they made noise. They made their presence known. Police, wearing full riot gear, lined the streets hundreds deep. As soon as Spencer and his followers arrived, the police took the Nazis in small groups and escorted them into the building. Sometimes, the cops would put the Nazis into their cars and drive them through the crowds. Basically, the police acted as the Nazis’ personal bodyguards, while beating back protestors with their bikes and their clubs. The police “handled” it by protecting the Nazis.

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10. Now you want me to help post bail for the protestors?
Yes, that’s what I want you to do.  All of us in the community should do that. These brave young people were arrested for trying to stop Nazis from recruiting.
Arrested.
For trying.
to stop Nazis.
From recruiting.
Over twenty people were arrested. You know what the most common charge was? “Failure to obey a police officer.” I don’t know about you, but that sends a chill down my spine. The message is clear: obey the Nazis’ bodyguards, or else.

You know what the others were arrested for? Trespassing, disorderly conduct, and obstructing police business. A few were arrested for peeing in public. Only two were arrested for having weapons, and it’s not specified what those weapons were. (Water bottles and rocks qualify, if the officer felt “threatened” by them.)

We should be sending a clear message that Nazis are not welcome in our towns, and if they come here, we will protest them, and if we can’t protest them, we will support those who do. Please give to the bail fund.  Even small amounts help.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you lived in Germany in the 1930s or in America in the 1960s? That’s what you’re doing. You’re doing it right now.

And I know what I’m going to do.

Update: One week after Richard Spencer came to Michigan State University, he posted a YouTube video in which he said he was rethinking his whole approach, because anti-fascists were shutting down his speeches. He is no longer going to try to go recruit or give speeches on college campuses.

Directly engaging with Nazis works.

How to Talk to a Woman with a Broken Computer

There’s a right way and a wrong way.

Last week, I suffered a computer crash. All my files were backed up, so it wasn’t a disaster, just a bummer. But it could have been an even bigger bummer without my new friends Jason, Brandon and Joel.

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After trying to reset the machine myself, I headed to the Apple store. When they check you in, you don’t take a number. The greeter uses an iPad to check you in, jotting down some details of your appearance so the clerks can find you in the crowded store. I didn’t see what the greeter wrote down, but it was probably something like, “Middle-aged mom hugging her mac like a baby.  Looks clueless.” I braced myself for a guy half my age to mansplain my computer to me.

It never happened.

A tech named Jason was working on several computers at once at the “genius bar.” He listened patiently when I told him what was wrong with my mac, never interrupting me. His body language was relaxed, interested, even though I’m sure he hears the same thing all day long. He tried, unsuccessfully, to reinstall my operating system. He couldn’t figure out why it didn’t install, but he never acted like that was my fault or my problem to solve. (I’ve had that experience before. Yuck.) I peppered him with questions and he answered all of them, talking me through the problem without talking down to me.

He ultimately had to give up and turn my machine over to an even younger guy named Brandon. Brandon had a solution. I could either go to the earlier version of the OS, which would work fine, or get a new hard drive and use the current OS. We discussed price and time to service, and I decided to go to Best Buy for a new hard drive, since it would be cheaper and faster than going through Apple. Brandon thought that was a great idea and sent me on my way. He didn’t try to talk me into staying in the Apple family. He didn’t try to scare me into using their higher-priced services. He knew I could be trusted to do what was best for my own computer.

The next day, I went to Best Buy. I haven’t visited the Geek Squad in several years and my last experience wasn’t a great one. So my hackles were already up when I approached the counter. I was sure the Jack Black lookalike was going to treat me like an idiot.

It never happened.

Jack Black’s real name turned out to be Joel, and not only did he not talk down to me, he did the opposite. He empowered me. He said he couldn’t install a hard drive on my mac, but I could certainly do it myself. When I looked doubtful he said, “There are videos on YouTube. You’ll just need a phillips screwdriver and a star-shaped one. You have those, right?” (Bonus points to Joel for assuming I have tools.) He gave me his number to call if I had any trouble, but he assured me I wouldn’t. “You can do this!”

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Swapping out the hard drive was as easy as Joel said it was and so was reinstalling my OS and my backed-up files. (Always back up your files, kids!) And even though it was so easy a cat could do it, I’m still super proud of myself for accomplishing it.

And I’m proud of my new pals Jason, Brandon, and Joel for treating me as though I could.

Now, I’m not saying that sexism is solved simply because I had one good experience. In fact, a different man called me “sweetie” the day before and someone else talked over me the day after. And of course, there was the weird guy at the con last month. But I have hope. Somewhere along the line, these three young men were taught a better way. A mom, a wife, or (or more likely) a female boss clued them in.

Now let’s hope they clue in others.

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She writes them on a macbook with a newly installed hard drive.

 

I Don’t Need His Approval

A pretty ring, quick thinking, and the best moment of my weekend.

I went to a great science fiction convention last weekend. I learned new things, got inspired, and hung out with friends old and new.

At one point, I wandered into the dealer’s room, which was filled with geeky things for sale. I admired the Firefly and Star Trek t-shirts, flipped through some awesome-looking books, and ended up at my favorite jeweler’s table, which was my ultimate destination all along. I was pretty sure I’d be bringing a new ring home with me.

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As I tried on rings and chatted with the jeweler, a man sidled up to me and inserted himself into the conversation. This would usually be an okay thing to do. People are very friendly at cons and we enjoy the small talk. But this guy was interrupting a nice conversation between two women, and he was critiquing my choice of jewelry.

I ignored him. I ignored him hard. No eye contact. Shoulders turned away. I was going to buy myself something pretty, and I didn’t need him to tell me what that was.

Then the “conversation” took a weird turn, and my new “friend” told me that he was surprised that a woman would buy a ring for herself. That’s when I quickly paid for my selection, slipped the ring on my finger, and got out of there. I recognize negging when I hear it, and I didn’t want to give this guy the satisfaction of a response.

I sat on a nearby bench and took out my phone. A moment later, he was standing in front of me. “Well?” he said. “Let me see the ring you bought.”

I was wearing it on my middle finger and I should have flipped him the bird. But I held up my whole hand instead.

“Very nice!” he said. “I approve.”

And that’s when I had my best moment of the weekend.

Because usually things like this make me tongue-tied. I usually think of the right thing to say hours—or even days—later. Not this time. This time, the right words came immediately out of my mouth. I even nailed the tone of voice. Not mean, not defensive, just completely deadpan. Just telling it like it is.

I didn’t even look at him. I kept my eyes on my phone. “Don’t need your approval, buddy.”

There was a moment of surprised silence as he backed away a step. Then another. Then he turned tail and fled.

Honestly, I was not trying to be mean or put him in his place. I was simply stating a fact. But it got me thinking. Why do men do this?

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Why do they assume their opinion is always welcomed and their approval always needed?

Why do they insert themselves into conversations and talk over women and mainsplain things to people who know more than they do?

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Why do they think random women can be negged into interacting with them?

And could they just…you know…not?

 

About the Author: Alex Kourvo writes short stories and novels. She likes to buy herself pretty things, and doesn’t need anyone’s approval to do so.

Zoners

I have a new book out! My co-author and I have released Zoners, book two in the “Detroit Next” series.

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Zoners continues the adventures of PI Aidra Scott. On a stake-out late one night, she sees her teenage son’s best friend jump a fence and head into the Zone–the ring of abandoned neighborhoods surrounding the now-thriving Detroit.

Officially, no one is supposed to live in the Zone. In reality, it’s the home of the hiding, the forgotten, and the criminal. Aidra avoids the area when she can. Tonight, she can’t.

Cut off from her high-tech assistant and all the resources of modern life, Aidra has to rely on her own wits to navigate the Zone. She finds unexpected allies in a larger-than-life reporter after the story of his career, an ambitious cop looking to prove himself, and a clever street rat just trying to survive. All Aidra wants is to find the kid she’s looking for and get out.

But it won’t be easy, especially after she makes an enemy of the local warlord who’s using the Zone to hide a dangerous piece of rogue technology.

Aidra is in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Looks like her simple search-and-rescue won’t be so simple after all.

This book stands alone. Although it’s book two in the series, you don’t have to read book one first or have any familiarity with our world or characters. Does it help? Sure. Is it more fun? Absolutely. But trust me, you can jump in anywhere.

We were lucky enough to get the same cover artist as our last novel and we love how it turned out. The cover isn’t as “glowy” as the cover of Twisted, but we like the subtle 3-D effect.

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Zoners is available  here at Amazon.com as well as Amazon stores worldwide. It’s also at Nook, Kobo and iBooks.

Happy reading!

Alex K.