The Sex Appeal of Female Non-Submission

One of the more offensive, although thankfully increasingly disbelieved, pieces of patriarchal nonsense[1] is that women belong only in the domestic sphere and can excel only as obedient submissive housewives. I present as a counter-argument Katherine the Great of Russia, Isabella the First of Castille, Elizabeth the First of England, Joan of Arc, the Trung sisters of Vietnam, and Nzinga of Ndongo and Matamba[2]. Most sensible people see this list as proof that women can excel in the public as well as the domestic sphere. Unfortunately, however, a few misogynistic numbskulls will use the facts that some of these women never married and that Elizabeth referred to herself as “The Virgin Queen” as an argument for the erroneous idea that heterosexual women must choose between public success and romantic fulfillment, because heterosexual men do not find non-submissive women appealing. Not only does this ignore Isabella’s success at marrying the man of her choice (an exceedingly rare event for European royalty) and Katherine’s numerous ‘conquests’, but it also ignores the numerous examples of non-submissive women being seen as highly desirable in both the ancient and modern world.

Super villains would hate to be tied down by Wonder Woman, but many men would love to be.
Super villains would hate to be tied down by Wonder Woman, but many men would love to be.

Characters like Wonder Woman, Lara Croft (Tomb Raider), and Buffy (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) have no shortage of male admirers even though their forte is kicking ass, not keeping house. Anyone who thinks their popularity is due to modern political correctness should remember that the ancient Greeks worshipped beautiful and badass goddesses like Hera, Athena, and Artemis and also seemed to be quite captivated by the legends of the Amazons and Atalanta the huntress. An attraction to untamed women and goddesses also seems to have extended to Viking warriors who hoped to be whisked off to Valhalla by equally wild valkyries should they die in battle, to the Spanish conquistadors who were so enamored with the fictional gryphon-riding warrior Queen Calafia that they named California after her homeland, and to the ancient Hebrews who describe the biblical Judith as both a great beauty and a cunning assassin who helped to defend her homeland against an Assyrian invasion.

Oyá and Changó ready for battle.
Oyá and Changó ready for battle.

Anyone who thinks that only men who today would be considered white can appreciate the appeal of female ferocity should consider these examples from the African diaspora, Asia, and the Pacific Islands. Santeros revere the Orisha, Oyá, who is both alluring enough to have attracted her husband, Changó[3], and sufficiently skilled with a machete to fight alongside him in every battle. Hawaiians revere the fiery volcano goddess Pele who has attracted many lovers over the course of her immortal existence, but is still believed to harshly punish those who don’t show the Hawaiian Islands proper respect. Hindus, meanwhile, worship the goddess Durga, whose name means “the invincible one”, and while known for her beauty was created to fight a demon that none of the male gods could defeat.

So to all the warrior princesses who may be afraid of missing out on romantic love, don’t be. There’s a good chance that your “prince charming” will eventually find you or that, given your can-do attitude, you will find him. In the mean time live, love, laugh and fight on!

[1] Nonsense has been substituted for a slightly different word.

[2] To counter the pedants: Yes, Isabella was married to King Ferdinand, but they ruled as equals. Yes, some of these women were not ultimately victorious, but if men like Robert E. Lee and Hannibal deserve credit then so do Nzinga, Joan, and the Trung sisters. No, all ‘equestrian rumors’ about Katherine the Great are completely false.

[3] Seen as the personification of male virility and clearly does not need to compensate by trying to ’tame’ his wife.


The Art of Losing Isn’t Hard to Master

Baboons enjoying the mist at Victoria Falls. I would have gotten more pictures if my camera hadn't flooded. It started working again, but was stolen in Ecuador later.
Baboons enjoying the mist at Victoria Falls. I would have gotten more pictures if my camera hadn’t flooded. It started working again, but was stolen in Ecuador later.

Travel comes with many perks. Seeing new sites, meeting new people, trying new foods, and having experiences impossible to replicate at ‘home’ like snorkeling on coral reefs, gazing at Victoria Falls, or encountering weird and wonderful high-altitude wildflowers. Unfortunately traveling also comes with certain annoyances including exotic illness, unexpected inconveniences[1], culture shock, and the disappearance and wreckage of possessions.

While I don’t enjoy shopping and try not to define myself by possessions[2] their destruction and disappearance while traveling has always produced a disproportionate amount of annoyance for me. I should be thankful for some of this, because it means I’ve never had an exotic illness that represented a serious health threat and that I’ve rarely gotten into serious conflict with other cultures[3]. Still, I feel like my exasperation at acacia punctured drybags and backpacks that ‘grow feet’ exceeds any justifiable irritation at either the cost of replacing those items or the difficulty of purchasing a headlamp in certain countries.

I have an unfortunate tendency to view my inability to retain and maintain certain possessions as a judgment on my character. For as long as I can remember I have felt that responsibility is one of the more important virtues and that la ropa sucia se lava en casa.[4] As such, every headlamp forgotten on a hostel night-stand, backpack stolen because it wasn’t hidden better, or jacket melted by standing too close to a bonfire serves as physical public proof of a gap between who I am and who I’d like to be.

Thankfully, while my anxiety over the fate of things that clearly do not feel pain causes me no small amount of annoyance it hasn’t stopped me from traveling. I know that I could certainly stand to be more careful about hiding valuables and gear maintenance, but I must also accept that every camera eventually floods, red wine will find its way onto the most carefully protected shirt, and that there will always be thieves who want some of my possessions more than I do. In the end I should just be grateful that experiences and relationships can’t be lost or stolen.

[1] I was once obliged to stay an extra day in Timbuktu, because the runway was covered by a sandstorm.

[2] I do name my surfboards though.

[3] Knock on wood

[4] The dirty laundry is washed indoors.

No Surf Industry, This Surfer Girl Does Not Love You

Proof that neoprene crop tops exist. I maintain they're only slightly less out of place in the lineup than this model's full face of non-waterproof makeup.
What Billabong apparently thinks women should be surfing in this summer.

First of all I would like to clarify this is not a criticism of the sport of surfing itself, which I love and keeps me sane. This is also not a criticism of male surfers who, for the most part, understand that women are people and should be treated as such. This is directed exclusively at the makers of surfing equipment who insist on treating female surfers as eye-candy for a particularly kooky manifestation of the male gaze, rather than as the athletes we are.

Every time I find myself shopping for a spingsuit or a swimsuit I face the same frustrating situation. Surf industry designers seem to think that they should be dressing women to pose on the cover of Maxim rather than to ride actual waves. Swimsuit tops tend to be wardrobe malfunctions waiting to happen and tend not to accommodate the ‘surfer-physique’ well at all[1]. Bonus points if those tops are equipped with fringe that makes them impossible to wear under a wetsuit. Swimsuit bottoms are even worse and often provide unwanted opportunities for both a tandoori tuchus and a bikini wax by Mr. Zog, neither of which is comfortable.

I can almost forgive the impracticality of the women’s swimsuits sold at most surf shops, because they are likely intended as fashion accessories better suited for the pool party than the paddle-out. I have yet to see wetsuits, however, catch on for any purpose other than keeping someone warm in cold or cool water. Unfortunately, the makers of women’s wetsuits, other than long sleeve fullsuits, seem to have prioritized showcasing the female form over the garment’s actual intended function. Currently O’Neill, Quicksilver, Rip Curl, Body Glove, and Billabong all offer short sleeve fullsuits for men, but only Roxy, Quicksilver’s counterpart ladies line, has the same product available for women. All of the companies, however, do seem to be happy to supply springsuits with bottoms cut like bikinis or thongs, neoprene crop tops, or front-zippers designed for exposing one’s décolletage to every eyeball and UV ray in the general vicinity. I’m sure my readers can understand why paddling with a zipper pressed between one’s stomach and a surfboard would be unpleasant and that neoprene crop tops, which are likely to result in both wax rash and weird tan lines for the wearer, are only slightly more useful than a fur bikini.

Compare the suits that Billabong markets to men for spring/summer.
Compare the suits that Billabong markets to men for spring/summer. They also didn’t find it necessary to show the model’s face.

I acknowledge that most women have more melanin than I do and therefore might not be quite as afraid of exposing skin to the sun unnecessarily as I am. I also understand that many female surfers may draw more inspiration from Alana Blanchard than Pauline Menczer and would rather look like a beauty than surf like a beast. I have no objection to surf companies making products to suit these customers, but they should not forget about us women who surf for stoke rather than sex appeal. Surf company executives probably don’t want any love from me or any other “bushpigs” who would rather use our time in the water for the pleasure of improving our own performances and the achieving the state of flow that can only be reached on a wave face than use it as yet another way to attract male attention, but they do still want our money. They need to understand that by designing only for the beauties they’re missing out on the market share of the beasts who might otherwise buy their products. After all, imagine all the money the running industry would miss out on if all the women’s shoe design was left exclusively to foot fetishists. So please wetsuit makers, design some products for the women who use them; instead of focusing on surf-inspired fashion accessories that look good in magazine shoots but are not very practical in the waves.

[1] Contrary to the ‘little surfer girl’ stereotype female surfers often have rather large shoulders as a result of years spent paddling after waves.

Let’s Not Trophy Hunt in the Ocean Either

Abbie Eubanks may be my tocaya, but I'm not impressed. Particularly since she speared that amberjack while SCUBA diving (Hall 31-Mar-2014).
Abbie Eubanks may be my tocaya, but I’m not impressed. Particularly since she speared that amberjack while SCUBA diving (Hall 31-Mar-2014).

As an omnivorous primate I have no issue with conspecifics who hunt to feed their bodies. I do, however, have serious complaints against those who hunt only to feed their egos. I believe it is shameful for trophy hunters to kill animals which are no threat to them and that they do not plan on eating. Judging by the pressure being put on airlines to refuse to transport hunting trophies, many people agree with me.

Thus far most anti-trophy hunting sentiment has only been extended on behalf of land animals, which is unfortunate, because trophy hunting of fish and marine invertebrates may be even more environmentally problematic. The desire to kill the largest fish, lobster, or abalone, not only likely leads to selection for these species to become smaller (Conover 2000; Hamilton 2007) but also jeopardizes the continued survival of these species. Unlike most trophy hunted land animals, who cease growing after sexual maturity and often do not show very clear relationships between female body size and fertility (Green and Rothstein 1991; Guinet et al. 1998) most fish and marine invertebrate species continue growing throughout their lives and it is the largest oldest females who produce the most eggs. This means that marine trophy hunters are likely to kill a population’s most important breeders as they attempt to inflate their egos by killing the largest individuals. While land-based hunters can try to compensate for this by ‘chivalrously’ only killing males, most sea hunters cannot tell the difference between live male and female tuna, billfish, snappers, or groupers.

Furthermore, attempting to apply land-based big game hunting ethics to fish can be extremely problematic. Mammals as a rule do not change sex[1], but many fish do. In species like the California sheephead, fish begin their lives as females and metamorphose to males once they grow large enough to take control of a harem. When a harem male is killed, one of the females changes sex to replace him, but the change is not instantaneous and may leave the harem without mating opportunities for several months. In this case targeting the largest and most impressive fish may be more unsustainable than hunting ‘unchivalrously’.

Clearly while fish do not inspire as much human sympathy as land animals do, they are no more morally acceptable as corpses to lay on the altar of the ego and using them as such may be even more ecologically damaging than using land animals for this purpose. Those of us who pursue fish with poles or spears must afford our prey the proper respect. We must not kill more than we can eat fresh[2], we must show the intelligence and humility to spare the best breeders, and we must understand that true predators hunt for sustenance, not for self-aggrandizement.


Conover DO. 2000. Darwinian fishery science. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 208, 299-213 darwinianfisheriesscience

Green WCH, Rothstein A. 1991. Trade-offs between growth and reproduction in female bison. Oecologia 86, 521-527 bisonfertility

Guinet C, Roux JP, Bonnet M, Mison V. 1998. Effect of body size, body mass, and body condition on reproduction of female South African fur seals (Arctocephalus pusillus) in Namibia. Can. J. Zool. 76, 1418-1424 fursealfertility Hall, J. 31-Mar-2014.

“Spearfishing: Blue Water Big Game”. Accessed 11-Jun-2015

Hamilton SL, Caselle JE, Standish JD, Schroeder DM, Love MS, Rosales-Casian JA, Sosa-Nishizaki O. 2007. Size-selective harvesting alters life histories of a temperate sex-changing fish. Ecological Applications 17(8), 2268-2280 sheepheads

[1] Obviously some humans do have gender identities that differ from the sex they were assigned at birth and I support their right to be identified as the gender of their choice, but medical science has not advanced far enough to enable mammals, human or otherwise, to switch from producing eggs to sperm or vice versa.

[2] No fish has ever spawned in a freezer.

GMOs are NOT the Solution to World Hunger

The debate on whether genetically modified organisms (GMOs) will be the source of the next healthcare and agricultural revolution or the next great technological threat to the wellbeing of humans and the environment rages on. The purpose of this post is not to attempt to support either side of that argument, but to attack one of the particular talking points of the “pro-GMO” side. Backers of genetically modified organisms, particularly those created for agricultural purposes, claim that this technology is necessary in order to solve the problem of world hunger and that is simply not true.

Proof that small fish are edible, even if first-worlders aren't fond of them. Mopti, Mali, 2009.
Proof that small fish are edible, even if first-worlders aren’t fond of them. Mopti, Mali, 2009.

It is easier for the well-fed powerful populations of the world to see the fact that some people go hungry as a problem that can be fixed with whatever technological innovations can be used to increase food production. Unfortunately, our current technologically advanced food production system favors delivering highly preferred food items to the wealthy rather than making sure there is enough, though possibly less-preferred, food so everybody gets enough to eat. Two obvious examples of this are that 76% of corn produced in the US is used for animal feed or biofuels rather than direct human consumption (Foley 5-Mar-2013) and that the overwhelming majority of Peruvian anchovetas caught are rendered into fish meal and fish oil, which are used to feed farmed salmon and tuna, as well as land-based livestock, rather than sold as healthy, high-protein human food (Briceno and Bajak 4-Feb-2013). Both of these practices result in a smaller food supply, but in greater industrial profits. According to Joshua Muldavin, a geography professor at Sarah Lawrence College, currently roughly three times as much food is produced as is required to feed the Earth’s human population (Koba 22-Jul-2013), suggesting that the solution to world hunger would be to change how food is distributed, rather than trying to produce more food. Food distribution depends on the amounts of money and power held by different populations. (Kent 1997). Accordingly, feeding the hungry depends more upon giving the hungry greater amounts of money and political power, so that they may access available and abundant food and less upon creating more stockpiles of unevenly distributed food.

Farming steep Andean slopes cannot be easy, but at least this campesino retains the right to save seeds. Quilotoa, Ecuador, 2013.
Farming steep Andean slopes cannot be easy, but at least this campesino retains the right to save seeds. Quilotoa, Ecuador, 2013.

The relevant question about the effect of GMOs on world hunger is not, “Do GMOs increase food production?” but rather, “Do GMOs increase poor people’s access to food?” While some GMO products, like the widely touted Bt brinjal eggplant may increase access to food in developing countries, at least until the brinjal fruit and shoot borers develop resistance to Bt, other GMO plants may be a threat to the self-sufficiency of poor farmers. While humanitarian efforts like Bt brinjal and golden rice get a great deal of media attention, the bulk of genetic engineering focuses on the for-profit efforts to create corn, soybeans, and cotton that either make their own pesticides or allow farmers to use more herbicides (Klümper and Quaim 2014). Biotech companies hold enforceable patents on the seeds of these plants and use these to prohibit farmers from saving the seeds of this year’s harvest to plant next year’s crop ( accessed 4-May-2015)[1]. Control of the seeds, not only deprives farmers of a right they have had since the invention of agriculture, but it also increases the dependence of farmers in developing countries on corporations in developed countries. Denying farmers the ability to use the seeds from plants they have grown makes subsistence farmers into sharecroppers working for the large multinational companies that have produced “better” seeds.

People genuinely committed to feeding the hungry will have to look beyond any form of technology for solutions. Fortunately for all of us, those solutions do exist.

The first world should stop supporting commodity prices. Price supports in the first world depress prices in the third world and prevent poor countries from ‘exporting their way out of debt’[2]. As privileged members of the first world we can work for improved civil rights in developing countries so people do not have to fear that their earnings or their land will be stolen by local thugs, corrupt government officials, or foreign corporations. We can try to encourage investment that builds society’s capacity, and avoid investment that extracts resources at less than competitive rates.

Finally, I would like to ask all of the bright plant biologists and molecular geneticists out there to think about the best way to use your skills. Eradicating hunger and poverty is a laudable goal and I applaud you for your efforts. I would hope, however, that those of you involved in plant science will try to focus your research on paths that will provide more low cost food for the hungry and malnourished rather than focusing on creating expensive protein and animal feed that may only enrich certain corporations rather than solve the problem of hunger.


Briceno F and Bajak F. 4-Feb-2013. “Pervuian Anchovy Overfishing Raises Concerns About Food Security”. Associated Press.

Cohen L. 29-Jul-2013. “Mexico’s Poverty Rate: Half Of Country’s Populations Lives in Poverty”. Reuters.

Foley J. 5-Mar-2013. “It’s Time to Rethink America’s Corn System”. Scientific American.

Kent G. 1997. Fisheries, food security, and the poor. Food Policy 22(5), 393-404 Kent1997

Klümper W and Qaim M. 2014. A Meta-Analysis of the Impacts of Genetically Modified Crops. PLoS One 9(11) KlumperanQaim

Koba M. 22-Jul-2013. “A hungry world: Lots of food, in too few places”. CNBC.

Monsanto. “¿Por qué Monsanto demanda a campesinos que guardan las semillas? (accessed 4-May-2015)

Monsanto. “Why does Monsanto sue farmers who save seeds?” (accessed 4-May-2015)

[1] Monsanto also appears to be reserving the right to sue farmers in developing countries for seed-saving, at least according to their Mexico website ( accessed 4-May-2015). It’s worth noting that 45.5% of Mexicans live below the poverty line (Cohen 29-Jul-2013).

[2] Somewhat paradoxically there might be fewer hungry people if rich countries produced less of certain types of food.

Yes, it’s Biodegradable, but that’s Not a Compost Bin

 Thankfully most people I know are sufficiently environmentally enlightened that they would never dream of throwing their empty coke cans out the car window or leaving their energy bar wrappers along the side of a hiking trail. Unfortunately, many people aren’t quite so careful when it comes to disposing of things like fruit peels, chicken bones, or even that empanada that looked better than it actually tasted. The justification for this difference in behavior is that items like the latter three are biodegradable and will eventually break down in the environment. The problem with this argument is that even food scraps won’t biodegrade very quickly in many environments and can cause plenty of other problems before they do.

A cute baby coati. Not the sort of animal many people would like to see run over.
A cute baby coati. Not the sort of animal many people would like to see run over. (Volcán Irazú, Costa Rica, 2008)

Very few people would attempt to defend leaving food scraps on an urban sidewalk, but I’ve seen a lot of those same people throw apple cores or banana peels out of the windows of their car, or worse yet out the window of my car while I’m driving[1]. Not only does this risk getting pulled over if done in the US, but it also risks contributing to the deaths of cute and fuzzy wild animals. If too many food scraps start piling up along the roadsides, animals like foxes and coatis will come and try to scavenge them, and some of those animals will inevitably end up as road kill. Less appealing animals like rats and crows are also attracted to roadside food scraps and this food subsidy can cause their populations to increase beyond natural levels, which is obnoxious both for human communities and for animals like lizards, salamanders, and songbirds, which are hunted and harassed by these voracious mesopredators[2].

This California slender salamander would like to thank you for not feeding the crows.
This California slender salamander would like to thank you for not feeding the crows. (Point Reyes, CA, January 2015)

Attempts at ‘trailside composting’ can also be problematic. While it is probably not harmful if done infrequently in hot and humid environments like tropical rainforests or cypress swamps, it tends to cause issues if overdone or if done at all in habitats less favorable to decomposition. Food scraps left in deserts tend to become mummified and orange peels left above tree line in the mountains tend to freeze-dry to the texture of Styrofoam and probably take just about as long to decompose. Leaving large amounts of food scraps along the trail or at your campsite also significantly increases the odds that the next camper will be overrun by rodents like mice, who carry hantavirus, or marmots, who have been known to amuse themselves by chewing holes in gear. Finally, it is worth remembering that mountains and other wild places are sacred to many indigenous peoples and leaving your picnic scraps at the summit is as disrespectful to indigenous beliefs as leaving chicken bones on the floor of St. Peter’s Basilica would be to Catholicism.

A final excuse used for slinging one’s scraps is that they decompose more effectively in in the natural environment, or even on concrete, than they would in a landfill. Unfortunately this may be true, but that’s justification for composting at home or pressuring the local government to start a municipal program, not for flinging one’s organic trash around like an outraged two-year old. For the sake of wild animals, ecosystems, hygiene, and aesthetics, remember: “If in doubt, pack it out.”

[1] Anyone who does this more than once walks home.

[2] Carnivorous or omnivorous animals, which occupy the middle of the food chain.

Some Women Aren’t Beautiful and That’s Okay

For entirely too long, a woman’s perceived value has been determined by her ‘beauty’, which can be roughly defined as ‘physical traits which others[1] in her society find appealing’. The appeal of different physical traits seems to be determined by a combination of evolutionary biology, culture, and the fickle whims of fashion. Whatever its cause, this standard of evaluation forces half the population, regardless or our character, intelligence, or skills, into the stressful situation of being judged based mostly on something we have limited control over. I say limited; because while women (and men) do have some ability to improve the way we look it is not nearly as straightforward a process as trying to get better at something like math, public speaking, or soccer.

Hanging out in the park with some Guayaquileños. I'm the one in the middle. This picture was posted to assure everybody that I'm not a beauty queen deigning to complement the 'less fortunate'.
Hanging out in the park with some Guayaquileños. I’m the one in the middle. This picture was posted to assure everybody that I’m not a beauty queen deigning to complement the ‘less fortunate’.

Unfortunately, the feminist movement has generally been reluctant to address this issue directly, probably because it will inevitably force some of us to admit that we are not among the beautiful. Instead, there are numerous campaigns to expand the current definition of ‘beauty’ to include a greater range of body types, ethnicities, and ages. While the successes of this campaign are to be celebrated, female beauty is not Lake Wobegon and not everybody can be above average. These campaigns also fail to address the issue of the perceived value of men and women being determined in very different ways.

I’m not naïve enough to claim that standards for male beauty don’t also exist. I know there’s a reason why LL Cool J, Brandon Boyd, and Romeo Santos are considered sex symbols, but Seal, Dave Grohl, and Manu Chao[2] are not. This has not, however, prevented the latter three from being deservedly incredibly successful as musicians and their physical appearances are rarely publicly discussed. Unfortunately, female musicians cannot generally expect the same courtesy. Adele’s weight is the subject of tabloid gossip in spite of the fact it has had no adverse effect on her voice and Dolly Parton’s breasts seem to have eclipsed her musical achievements, including having written “I Will Always Love You”, in terms of recognition.

Unfortunately this double standard is hardly confined to only the recording industry. It has crept into politics, activism, the job market, sports, the visual arts, and apparently computer programming. To fight this attitude we will need to work against it both publicly and privately. When we raise our daughters we can encourage them to take more pride in their ethics and abilities than in how they look in a mirror, we can refuse to get involved in lengthy discussions of a woman’s looks if they are not relevant to her job, and we can encourage others and the media to follow the same practice. This means we must spend some of the energy we currently use telling every woman she is ‘beautiful’ to instead cultivate a world where all people understand that women and men deserve to be judged for what they do rather than how they look. This also means that roughly half of us will have to accept that we are not beautiful, but that we still have many other, likely more important, good qualities. I am Abby Cannon and I am not beautiful[3][4], but I’m brave, adventurous, and smart.

[1] Heterosexual men are not the only arbiters of beauty in a society, but their opinion has historically been perceived as the most important.

[2] Before the angry fans attack, let me clarify that ‘not a sex symbol’ does not necessarily mean ‘ugly’.

[3] Not looking for anyone to dispute this statement. No need for reassurance.

[4] Not looking for advice either. I’m aware that I could be ‘more beautiful’ if I got veneers, wore makeup regularly, started juice cleansing, and traded my jeans and t-shirts for skirts and blouses, but I would rather keep my fangs, save the time and money, eat actual food, and wear comfortable clothes.