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Archive for the ‘The F Word’ Category

A More Hopeful Future

While traveling, it occasionally comes up in casual conversation with non-SF people that I’m a writer. These can be uncomfortable conversations, as they often turn into me explaining what science fiction is, or giving synopses of my books on the fly to people I know won’t read them, or listening to someone talking about how they always wanted to write a novel. So when I was sitting at breakfast this weekend and two women came up to me asking what I was reading, I answered honestly that two of the books were advance copies of THE STARS ARE LEGION, which was a book I’d written.

“Is this your next book?” the 50+ woman asked, clearly the daughter of the older woman.

“No,” I said, and steeled myself, because CNN was on, with its hysterical talking heads, “the book of mine that’s out in a couple weeks is an essay collection called THE GEEK FEMINIST REVOLUTION.”

“Are YOU a feminist?” the older woman said.

I hardened my resolve, took a deep breath, and said, “Yes, I am.”

She nodded. “Good,” she said, and I let out my breath. “It’s so sad that young women these days don’t use the word feminist anymore.”

I thought of my signing at Book Expo America the day before, when I literally had young women coming up to me saying, “I saw people with this book and it says GEEK FEMINIST and that’s ME! I’m a geek feminist. I HAVE to have this book!”

“It’s coming back,” I say.

“You know what I love about this generation?” the older woman said. “I’m 83 years old, and in my day, when you were young, you always thought about the future. Young women today live for today. They don’t waste time. They don’t put things off. Because when you’re only living for the future, well… not everyone makes it that far, you know?”

I thought of all my brushes with death, and the slow slog of chronic illness, “I do,” I said.

“I just don’t understand why politicians are fighting for the wrong things,” the daughter said. “Who cares about bathrooms? The economy is crap. They’re rolling back the regulations they reinstated on the banks.”

Her mother leaned into me and said, “What do they think we do in those bathrooms? Do they think we all take our clothes off in there? There have been transgender people forever, using the bathrooms, and there has never been a problem. Why do we have to keep fighting the same battles?”

We continued on in that vein, talking about feminism, idiot politicians, and distractions from what’s really important in the world. Then the daughter said, “We should go, mom, we’re going to be late.”

“I’m going to give you a hug,” the older woman said, and she hugged me, and it reminded me of my own grandmother, and I admit I thought about how proud my grandmother would be of me now, if she was still alive. And I missed her desperately.

She hugged me, and they said goodbye, and I thought hey, wow, you know, not everything is terrible. Not everyone is crazy. There is a world worth saving. A world worth fighting for. There are people who think this is all garbage, just like I do. People fed up that we keep fighting the same fucking battles, but who keep fighting, all the same.

I came away from this weekend in Chicago with a lot of hope for the future. I may talk grim and gritty a lot, and I need that grim and grit to get through the day, most times. But you know, there’s hope out there. There’s sanity. There are good people, with good hearts, and good intentions. There are good things in the world now.

These are the things worth fighting for.

The Revolution of Self-Righteous Dickery will Not Be Moderated


I read once that the real cost of racism was in keeping folks affected by same from doing their work. This works for stuff like feminism and homophobia, too. Instead of doing the work we were meant to do, bigots want to keep people spinning in circles, spending all their time writing endless think pieces that refute their insistence that we can’t and have never done anything. Yes, ::yawn:: we exist, yes we can do these jobs, yes we are human, and yes we matter. It keeps us defending simple bullshit truths that – if some dude said them – would go unchallenged. And those unchallenged dudes get to go off wanking about life, saying whatever fucking thing they want, doing whatever work they want, because they don’t have to sit around defending their right to exist and speak the truth.

But everybody else is constantly challenged and bullied with the threat of erasure, and most of our work is just fucking digging out from under that bullshit.

Speaking of which, I’m hip-deep in writing twelve essays – due July 1! – for my book The Geek Feminist Revolution which will come out in spring next year from Tor Books. My space opera, The Stars are Legion, is due to Saga Press on October 1.

To sum up, haters: I don’t have time for your internet wank.


Always a “but,” eh?

Then I found out that a Tor Books employee who made an off-hand comment about The Geek Feminist Revolution a month ago and clarified the term “Sad Puppies” in the comments on her personal Facebook page got a public dressing-down from her employer after somebody complained that she’d, you know, said a true thing.


I know what it’s like to be a woman who says True Shit on the internet and has people who want to get her fired for it. When I wrote a post here once related to an old day job and a health insurance benefits debacle, I had a coworker print it out and put it under the HR Director’s door. I hadn’t said anything untrue, but the HR Director asked that I “soften” some language I’d used to anonymously refer to one of the execs, which I did.

I wasn’t fired, but it was a good lesson in how personally a lot of men take being talked about in public by women, even anonymously and truthfully. Yes, as a woman, people say outright crazy fucked up shit about me up to and including death threats, I’m so fucking used to it my eyes just sort of glaze over and I’m like, “Yeah, sure, I’m totally a Nazi cunt. I have a lot of work to do with my Nazi cunt army, here, so laters, haters.”

So here’s the deal: it fucking sucks to be a woman in the workplace, and to have your employer throw you under the bus for saying a true thing. It fucking sucks that guys who have been there longer and have said the same shit for years (and others who actively harassed people and had to be encouraged to quit their jobs because they wouldn’t even fire them for it!) get a private slap at best and the public shit hammer comes down on you because you’re the softer target.

It. Fucking. Sucks.

How the fuck did we get here, anyway? How the fuck did anyone think Tor Books or John Scalzi were some kind of militant leftist front for full communism? Scalzi’s a moderate and Tor Books is a fucking publisher  (a business! a corporation!) who publishes everyone because they are here to make money like every other business. When the facts don’t match I guess haters just make up the facts (Tor publishes John C. Wright, for fuck’s sake. And they are publishing my book! Because they think it will make money. Fuck, I think it will fucking make money). But attacking, say, Aqueduct Press and Ursula Le Guin just wouldn’t enable the whining boy-pups and their puppets to do the masculine posturing and chest-beating that they all seem to get off on so much. So it’s the whining boy-pups swinging their dicks at John Scalzi and Tor Books all the way into the sunset, scrabbling over scraps of… what? Money? Prestige? Righteousness?

Here’s what fucking pisses me off: it’s that this fucking pissing contest between a bunch of dudes – none of whom will actually have careers harmed in this fucking circle jerk, let’s be real – is hurting the exact people it’s meant to hurt, because they’re the most vulnerable, the ones most likely to get thrown under the bus, and those guys and their mobs fucking know it.

You can’t even say “the sky is fucking blue” on the internet, as a woman, without public shaming. Where was the public employer outcry during RaceFail, or FrenkelFail?

I’d like to tell you there’s no solution to it, and corporations are corporations, and this is how it is, but one can write a politic letter reminding people that a company’s employees are not speaking for the company on their personal social media pages (which the Neilsen-Haydens have been doing for YEARS without public reproach) without calling out one particular person who simply explained on her personal page in simple terms the politics of a handful of people who hijacked an award ballot, the politics of which have been well documented in pretty much every major news piece (including one I wrote!). Funny, isn’t it, that nobody was publicly castigated by their employer for comments related to RaceFail or FrenkelFail but my god a woman said some dudes are sexist bigots because they have said sexist bigoted things and pushed a slate that resulted in fewer female nominees for the Hugos than in recent years past and OMG:


If you’re an employer faced with a mob of bigots because a female employee said a true thing in public, maybe take a step back and ask how you’d have responded (if at all) if they came after one of your top dudes for saying the exact same thing. You may not even have to think very long because they probably already have. images

Then ask yourself how awesome you really are now that you’ve publicly named and shamed her and basically threw her out to the Gamergate/Puppy wolves to be harassed online and in the comment sections of your own post. Ask yourself how awesome and fair-handed you are to do that.

There’s no safe space for women in public. Even doing what they want us to do: shutting the fuck up, just means mobs like the Gamergate/Puppies will swing back around and say we aren’t being vocal enough about our rights, and so deserve to live life as quiet second class citizens. So we should just delete all our accounts, pretend we have no opinions, and let folks on the opposite side of the spectrum get exactly what they want with their angry letters, which is all the space in the world to jack-off over everything without any moderation.

After all, that’s “safer” for us, right?

I was asked on the Blogger Keynote panel at BEA if I had any final thoughts or advice for marginal folks writing online, and I said, “Don’t be quiet. It’s by being loud and angry and passionate that we’ve gotten this far.”

What I didn’t say is that yes, it’s going to hurt. Yes, the mob will come after you. Yes, it’s going to suck. Yes, you might be wrist-slapped, or fired, or publicly shamed. Yes, in the end, you might feel it was all for nothing.

But we are not doing this alone. We are not speaking out alone, though it may feel fucking lonely when you’re up on that goddamn post in the public square.

We are not alone.

You are not alone.

We are not doing this alone.

This shit is going to change, but it’s going to hurt.

If you’re an ally, I’d like to remind you it’s not you it’s going to hurt. You’ll come out of it just fine with your fucking career intact.

It’s us. Every time. Always us. It’s us they will come after. We pay the price.

But we’re sort of used to it now, aren’t we?

So if you think you’re on the side of fair-handed even-mindedness while sending harassing letters to a woman’s employer, or if you’re an employer looking at how you should react to it, take a step back, and take a good hard look at whose cause you’re really serving, and what it is you really stand for.


Wives, Warlords and Refugees: The People Economy of Mad Max


I wasn’t going to go and see the latest iteration of Mad Max. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a passionate fan of 80’s apocalypse movies (I wrote a whole series in homage to them!). I love the aesthetics, the desperation, the tough characters, the monstrous masculinity that both men and women must take up in order to survive… But I’ve watched as the heroines of those gritty 80’s epics I loved have been continually debased, ground out, and erased here in the last twenty years. When you’re watching a film from 1979 that has tougher, more complex female characters than a film shot in 2012, something is rotten (I’m looking at you, Riddick, with the director who argued that constant rape attempts, threats, and 2-second “side boob with nipple” shot was actually a vitally important part of his artistic vision instead of just lazy storytelling).  I’ve seen the politics inherent in these types of stories get pushed aside too in favor of mindless, disjointed action sequences and shiny creatures with no bearing on the human plot. These films and their writers and directors had forgotten the truism of the post-apocalyptic world: every resource is valuable. Every person – and hence, every scene – has to pull their weight. Only the toughest or most valued survive. And the stories that we remember, the stories that last – are about people struggling to survive in the midst of overwhelming odds presented both by the landscape and their fellow travelers.

There’s a lot of whining about “message fiction” these days, which is bizarre because every story is a “message” story or it wouldn’t be a story. Asking for “stories without messages” makes me think this is code for a steady diet of inane reality TV shows that do actually have their own “message,” which is selling and reinforcing capitalism, ignorance, and the status quo. The reality is that every story is political, and the stories that stick with me best are incredibly and transparently so. There’s a reason we remember Animal Farm, and A Canticle for Leibowitz and 1984. There’s a reason I can’t stop thinking about Parable of the Sower. Post-apocalyptic stories have always had a lot to say about where we’re headed if we don’t right our wrongs. They warn us about our reliance on fossil fuels, our abuse of the environment and where it will lead us. They tell us about the inevitable future we are building by relying on war, and what our continued reliance on slavery as an economic system means to our humanity. Post-apocalypse stories simply do not exist without politics.

I knew Mad Max was headed in the right direction from the beginning, when Immortan Joe realizes Imperator Furiosa has gone rogue, and he runs to open up a great vault door. I knew immediately what he hoped to find behind that vault door. He is going to check up on his most valuable possessions. His possessions are people with the ability to have babies. When you are living in a post-apocalyptic world of poisoned fertility and scarce resources, controlling the people who can have babies is of the utmost importance. Those who can bear them are the means of that production. Gain control over the means of production, and you can rule the world.

And this is where this film gets all the violence-against-women stuff right, because it boldly and frankly positions it for what it is, stripping it of the male gaze, of sexuality, of uncontrollable male urges. There are no on screen rape threats, rape attempts, or rapes because they would detract from the entire point. You have to strip all that away to see it for what it is:  Sexism is about power. Sexism is about controlling the means of production.

At its core, sexism has very little to do with the act of sex.

It’s why we see a large room full of well-fed women hooked up to milking machines – yes, milking machines – because all anybody drinks in this world is water and milk, and all you ever see them eat is bugs and lizards. The animals are dead. That leaves us with those women. And these women are owned totally and completely by Immortan Joe, who controls all the means of production – he owns the water and the women.

And, once he owns those two things, he owns everyone and everything. He has consolidated absolute power by turning people into chattel.

In this world, those who can bear babies are chattel, used to breed more soldiers and provide life-sustaining milk to the elite. They are fodder used in production of more fodder.

Max (who really is actually crazy in this one. Not angry. Crazy) himself is chattel – captured and kept alive as a “blood bag” to give a much needed blood transfusion to soldiers who are diseased and dying. He is fodder to fuel the soldiers of the war.

The war boys themselves are chattel, bred and raised in a religion that celebrates their sacrifice in battle. They are fodder for the war machine.

“We are just the same,” says Splendid, one of the escaped wives, to Nux, a rogue war boy.  The people in power want them both to believe that they are things, owned and driven to just one purpose.

Women and soldiers are just the same, manipulated by the same terrible elite into sacrificing their bodies for some rich man’s cause.

When I saw the graffiti on the walls of the prison where the wives were kept, the endless recitation of, “We are not things,” I knew we were headed in the right direction.

We live in a world that has made people into things. In Max’s world, there’s just no finery on top of it. There’s nothing to shield you from it. The only media to convince you otherwise is religion, and religion is used again and again here to illustrate how it can help manipulate and control while giving purpose and hope. For mangled, dying boys in the desert, the hope of Valhalla gives comfort.f81500883574fd6d2a842f352d18e0546e635588.jpg__620x932_q85_crop_upscale

And this brings us to Furiosa, our hero. For as most folks who have seen prior Mad Max movies know, Max just sort of wanders into these weird enclaves, fucks around, and then wanders out. He is the traveler, the witness to their stories. And in just that way, he stumbles into Furiosa’s story, this huge complex thing that’s clearly been planned out for a long time and is already set into furious motion.

Max is not the hero. He’s the witness. Just like the war boys yelling at one another “Witness me!” he is the one who goes on, who drags on. He is that wandering 80’s apocalypse male hero, tied to nothing and no one. He has to be, so he can wander off at the end – as he inevitably does here – and leave the real heroes to deal with the messy business of mopping up and governing a new world.

Casting Charlize Theron as Furiosa was an astonishing choice, and I honestly had no idea she was in this film until a few days before it came out. I remember Ridley Scott giving an interview once where he said he hired the very best actors he could find for Alien so that he could give his full attention to the creature part, because he knew the creature part was going to be the toughest. It felt like Miller did a similar thing here – with so many incredible action sequences to film, he needed great actors in place who could work with very little dialogue. And Theron does that here in such a powerful, heartbreaking way that I found myself in awe of how she was able to communicate so much in a glance. There’s this moment when she re-enters the rig after Max drives it away from an attacking motorcycle gang, and she looks him up and down as he scoots over, and she has this tiny – not smile, but almost approving or knowing glance that lets us know  that she knows she’s won him over, and he’ll be on their side now. There are tons of moments like this throughout, where all we get is Theron’s eyes to tell us everything, and they do, and it’s extraordinary.

There’s another amazing thing that happens in this movie that few people have commented on, and that I want to point out, and that’s the lack of the pervy camera. We know the pervy camera. It’s the camera that zooms in on women’s asses and legs and torsos and sexualizes their bodies, like the camera itself is licking them up for the male viewer. We see these every time Megan Fox is in a movie. We see these in every movie from Transformers to Sucker Punch, to BountyKiller, to Grindhouse. It’s become so ubiquitous that I remember watching the end of Gravity where the camera pans around behind Sandra Bullock’s butt and I was like, “Oh God please no” and I was surprised, actually surprised, that the camera shot her the way it would in an actual serious film that was filming a male character instead of the way it would film a woman in a softcore porn movie. And George Miller – for all that he dresses the rebel wives in white muslin bikinis – does not shoot any softcore porn here. Max stumbles onto them while they’re washing themselves off with a hose, and while it’s a striking scene after all that sand and violence, it’s not porny. These women are washing themselves like practical people, not male sex fantasies, and the camera captures them that way. Even when the film has the opportunity for a full-frontal female nude shot – with the motorcycle matriarchy member sitting up on the broken electric pole as bait – it demurs. This is a rated R movie, but the nudity was not necessary to the story.

Hear that, HBO? The nudity was not necessary to the story.

Here’s this movie saying, “People aren’t things” that actually uses its camera work in a way that backs up its political position that people are not things. Yes! “People are not things” is a political position now. Oh, 2015! Who’d have thought arguing that “Slavery is bad” in fucking 2015 would get people complaining about how that was taking an extreme political stance, eh?

Our rebel wives also get plenty to do in this film. Unlike so many heroines hanging off the side of a male character, it’s clear in this world that not pulling your weight will get you dead very quickly, and these women fight in a way that is realistic to how they were raised (my nitpick here is that they clearly cast models for these roles, and in terms of worldbuilding, they should have cast plump women. These women likely could not even menstruate; that’s a bad condition in women you’re keeping around to have babies. Ahem). No, they aren’t out doing kung-fu, but they are hitting people with tools, using chains to haul Max off Furiosa, counting out bullets, scouting ahead, helping to get the truck unstuck, and all other manner of things that people do in a world where they’re on the run and their very survival is at stake. No one survives and escapes sexual slavery and then gets upset at the idea of breaking a nail while hooking up a winch, for God’s sakes, though so many films would have you think otherwise.

Everyone in this film does something.

What’s shocking is how shocking that is to see in a film in 2015.

And I’m not even going to bother going into the motorcycle matriarchy because what else needs to be said here but my god, motorcycle matriarchy where have you been all my life?

I do want to say a little something about the mass of refugees bowing and scraping in the dirt beneath the towers of Immortan Joe, begging and scraping for water. This may have been the oddest worldbuilding break in the movie for me (I can totally buy the metal war guitar guy, honestly). Because here we have this mass of refugees, but they don’t seem to be serving any real purpose. They are not working  – are they meant to be doing mining of some kind? Or are they literally just the masses camped out hoping for scraps? How to they serve the war machine? Is there a soylent green solution here that we’re missing? And, because its absence was really noticeable – where are all the black people in the future? If this is meant to be far-future Australia, where are all the Asian people, and the Aborigines? I could count the numbers of both in among the secondary and even background characters on one hand, which was another weird worldbuilding break.


It occurs to me I have not touched much on Furiosa here, but what is there to say? She’s the hero of the show, the warrior queen, the one with the grit and fortitude to bust out five women from prison and go riding off into the desert in search of a hazy half-memory of a place. She is the one who must ultimately make the decision whether to ride across the desert or to turn back and fight Immortan Joe. All Max can do is suggest it. The entire agency of this entire film rests entirely in her hands.

And it’s that agency that really makes this such a fine film for me, and one I’d call feminist waaaaay before I’d call something like Jupiter Ascending feminist. Because the entire story isn’t about things that happen to Furiosa. It’s about what Furiosa does with what has happened to her. I have heard all sorts of ideas about Furiosa’s back story, but listen – Furiosa is in this because she, too, needs redemption. She has propped up this guy’s patriarchy her whole life. She was been complicit in letting these other women act as breeders, a fate that for whatever reason she was able to avoid – whether because she could not get pregnant or because she was just too valuable as an imperator, or both. And in taking on the role she did, she was part of the problem. She upheld Immortan Joe’s rule. It was time for her to earn her redemption. She drives this narrative hard and fast, and nothing happens without her having to make a decision about it. She’s in charge of her own story.

Perhaps that’s the truly refreshing thing about this film, for me. It’s that instead of women playing a part in some guy’s story, in propping up some guy’s journey, we have, instead, Max stumbling into Furiosa’s story, and simply going along for the ride. He is, if anything, a Manic Pixie Dreamguy who stumbles in to suggest that she turn around and take the citadel herself. Then, after she has won the day and taken her rightful place as Queen Furiosa, he moves on to go and help justice prevail somewhere else.

Max wins nothing for all his troubles. His only win is seeing a wrong made right.

A hero who does something because it’s right, and reclaims his humanity, instead of doing it for a woman or loot reward! My god!

Oh, World of Warcraft generation, you are failing.

And it occurred to me in that moment, as I watched him figuratively gallop off into the sunset, that we’ve been missing those heroes a lot recently. Those 80’s loner dude heroes I loved were messed up, it’s true – they were terrible at making connections with people. They were monstrous. But they used that monstrousness not for their own ends, but to help make the world just a little bit better. They were usually paired up with some more idealistic sort, a truer hero – a Furiosa. And they were doing actual penance for their inability to love. They expected nothing in return. Their names were not writ large. They didn’t become king. But the world was just a little better because they helped somebody else in a fight against injustice.

I love my gritty fantasy and SF stories. But I admit I’m getting tired of rooting for the bad guys who torture people and destroy buildings without a thought for those within. I’m ready to see conflicted nihilistic heroes who accidently get caught up in hope again, who get caught up in the idea that some sliver of something can be saved, even if they must be dragged kicking and screaming back into accepting their own humanity, out here in the light.



(now can we please get a God’s War movie pretty please?)

Thoughts on That Controversial Awards Announcement…

So, that Tiptree list, amirite?

(what, you thought there was another awards announcement I was interested in talking about? Silly rabbit!)

I had a few people ask why MIRROR EMPIRE wasn’t on the Tiptree longlist, which is always awkward, when people ask why you weren’t nominated for something, because the short answer is always, “Uh, because people didn’t vote for it? Go figure!”

My work has only been longlisted once, for GOD’S WAR (though I have a hazy recollection of a short story of mine also longlisting a long time ago, I can’t find a record of that) and to be honest, I hadn’t much thought about the Tiptree because MIRROR EMPIRE kind of seemed like a no-brainer for that one.

But MIRROR EMPIRE is, I suppose, also an “in between” book. It’s made people on both the far right and the far left angry. Some thought it went too far. Some thought it didn’t go far enough. It’s was too “epic fantasy.” It wasn’t enough “epic fantasy.” The discussion of gender wasn’t radical enough, the discussion of gender was too confusing, etc. I’d actually bet that the reason it’s sold OK is actually because it walks that line between “too much” and “not enough” in all things. I’m told pre-orders for EMPIRE ASCENDANT are strong as well (which you can do now!).

So please don’t sit around gnashing teeth on my account because MIRROR EMPIRE is on no lists this year – just keep buying it. I have a royalty check nearly as large as my first book advance on the way. I’ve been telling people all year when they congratulate me about all the award noms I’ve gotten the last two years that I’d take sales over awards, and this is the year I am doing that, and yes – I’m doing just fine. Sometimes you do get what you asked for.

The reality is that the Tiptree is a juried award, and just like popular awards, it’s determined by the personal taste of the folks voting. All awards in SFF can be political awards, too. The Tiptree has always been so, the Hugos certainly are, the Nebulas are like the Oscars, etc. etc. This is a casino, friends. It’s a crap shoot.

It’s cool when people like your work who are judging awards, but equally cool to see so many fabulous writers get recognized for work that expands and explores our notions of gender. The Tiptree list is always a delight.

So do please read the fabulous Tiptree winners and excellent longlist. The Tiptree longlist always makes a fabulous suggested reading list, and this year is no different. I would certainly like to see more talk online about this list than I’m seeing; there are tons of great book discussions ahead – don’t feel limited by the selections offered for bigger awards. Go forth and read! I’m in the middle of reading Monica Byrne’s THE GIRL IN THE ROAD right now, and it’s fab.

Let’s celebrate an award worth talking about.

2014 Tiptree Winners, Monica Byrne and Jo Walton
2014 Tiptree Winners, Monica Byrne and Jo Walton

Why I Don’t Generally Boycott Conventions

Most people know I not only check the woman box on forms, but I’m not exactly the straightest arrow in the quiver (I know! Shocker!). I’m often known for angry, loud feminist rants online. So why is it, then, that when people loudly declare that they won’t attend conventions with harassment policies, or that they are no longer going to Gencon, say, because it’s legal to discriminate against, well, anyone, there if you decide that treating them humanely is against your religion (“no popcorn for you, girl-cootie Kameron!”).

Pretty simple, really. Read that opening sentence again.

At this point in my career, being who I am, with the career I’m looking to build, I cannot afford to miss key appearances and opportunities. And, in fact, making me miss those key appearances and opportunities is the entire point of what the people making these laws and policies are trying to accomplish.

When the big rush came in from folks hurrying to sign Scalzi’s “won’t attend conventions without harassment policies” pledge came in awhile back, I was noticeably silent about the whole thing. And no, I didn’t sign it. Because I knew what was going to happen, and it happened to several people when the San Diego Comic Con mess came up. There were midlisters and newer writers who had signed the pledge who had to make the choice: take the opportunity to be on panels at the largest pro convention in the country and gain more visibility, or turn down the potential opportunity to connect with fans and industry folk who could help advance their careers.

That was a hard choice for a lot of people to make. Easier if you’re already famous, sure, but not for midlisters. Not for new writers. Not for folks who are already crawling into the industry from the margins, like me.

This is why it’s great when people who can afford to make a bold statement – folks with lots of pull like Scalzi et al. – do so. Because there are many of us who weigh and measure the pros and cons and just… can’t make the math work.

But, more important than the math is the thing itself. Unless you are super famous, or you get a critical mass (perfectly possible! Go you!), the reality is that my voice not being at a venue is the point of such laws and non-policies.

Keeping me out is the whole point of the exercise. 

So if they refuse to put up a policy that says they’ll take me seriously if I’m assaulted at a con, or they make a law that says they won’t serve me cake because I’ve been known to date women, then they can fuck themselves.

Because they are not going to keep me out. 



The unBREAKable Kimmy Schmidt

It’s the Netflix original series with the most catchy theme song around, and the most unapologetically feminist comedy series I’ve seen since… I don’t even know when.

I would like to tell you that the backlash is officially getting pushback here in 2015, with shows like this sneaking onto the air, but let’s be real about how The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt finally saw daylight. Tina Fey is co-helming this one, and NBC ordered a bunch of episodes initially, but when they got the final product, they balked. Like The Middle Man, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a weird, quirky show that really has no business being on a Big Four network, alas. What makes The Big Bang Theory OK is that it actually makes fun of nerds and plays into nerd stereotypes.

But the Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt tells you to go fuck yourself, and you laugh along with it.


Unbreakable is about three teen women and one thirty-something woman who were kidnapped and held in an underground bunker for fifteen years by a madman (a literal Mad Man, played by our friend Jon Hamm). They are eventually rescued in the here and now, and featured in a mad media blitz. Called “Mole Women” by the media, they are invited to New York City to be on a talk show where they are treated in about the way you’d expect, even giving one woman a “surprise” makeover because of course, that’s how you can prove that you’ve fixed someone’s life, with a haircut and some makeup. The titular Kimmy Schmidt, on the ride back to the airport, decides she isn’t going back to live the rest of her life in small town Indiana after living in a bunker for 15 years, and jumps out of the van and decides to try and make her living in New York. It had been her dream, back in the bunker, to get her education and see the world, and she didn’t feel she’d be able to do that in Indiana where everyone would know her as a Mole Woman.

The entire concept of the show is pretty ridiculous, right? When my husband pitched this show to me, I looked at him with my Dubious Face, because I’ve seen a lot of what passes for comedy on TV these days, and it’s all How I Met Your Mother and Big Bang Theory, which feel so scripted lowest common denominator funny that I just get bored. I tend to like British comedy better because it can be far more absurd, and most importantly – dark. The comedy Absolutely Fabulous was one of my favorites, about two older women who selfishly booze away their lives while the nerdy daughter of one of them tries to deal with having a ridiculous, fucked-up home life while building her own future. My mom loved this show too, and more than a few times said, “I know you really like this show because you totally identify with the daughter, and I’m totally like her mother.” And I just smiled and nodded and then we settled in to laugh. Because that’s how we deal with the darkness of life – we laugh at it.

This is what Unbreakable gets so, so right, and it’s the laughing in the face of darkness that hooked me from the first episode. This absurd situation this girl finds herself in isn’t all that absurd, really – it’s not far from where I live where two brothers kidnapped young women and held them in their house for ten years as slaves. Yeah. This is something that actually happens. It’s not absurdist in the least. And on a grander scale, women living under the boot of men, of men’s ideas of them, enslaved by men’s fantasies of what they should be, happens at one point or another to nearly every woman in our society. We deal with it in our relationships, in the workplace, walking down the street.

I knew the show had me when Kimmy is getting ready to get on a bus to go back to Indiana in the first episode, feeling life in New York is just impossible for her. She has no skills, no job, all her references and technical knowledge are out of date, and she decides to give in and go back and live the way people expect her to. It’s at this point that she sees a rat in the trash can, and she flashes back to the bunker where she is holding up a rat in front of the Reverend who kidnapped them and tried to convince them the world had ended and he kept them locked up for their own protection, and says to him that if what he’s saying is true, and the world has ended and everything was dead, then how did this rat get into the air duct? And he says, “Dammit, Kimmy I WILL break you,” and she says, very simply, “No you won’t.”

Folks who have been following this blog a long time know that it’s not been easy for me to get to this point in my life. I spent three years trying to untangle myself from an abusive relationship in high school. I ran away to Alaska. I lived in South Africa. I got a chronic illness that means I’m just one missed shot of synthetic drugs away from dying every day. I ended up laid off, homeless, and unemployed in 2007, living in a friend’s spare bedroom in Ohio and trying to shovel myself out of extreme medical debt while I lived on expired drugs and scraped by on temp jobs that barely had me keeping my head above water, paying minimum payments on the credit cards I was using to buy my meds and food while deferring and deferring and deferring student loan payments.

There are a lot of opportunities for a person to break, in there. A lot. A LOT. There are times you want to give up writing, give up life, pack it all in. But you keep going because there is something inside of you that will not be broken, that will not go back to live the life everyone says you should accept. You go on no matter how bad things are, because the alternative is so much worse.

And here’s the thing about shows like this, and why they exist, because here you are watching this ostensibly funny show about someone who has been through something so vastly worse (“I know what you’re going to ask,” Kimmy bubbles off at one point, “was there weird sexual stuff in the bunker? Well, yeah,” and “we still haven’t figured out why you’re afraid of Velcro” and how she attacks anyone who comes up behind her and grabs her, reflexively), and you sit there and you go, “Yeah, you know, sometimes life is hard. But here is someone who has been through far worse, and they persevere, and they thrive, and they go on. And if they can, I can too.” That’s the magic of stories, there. The magic of comedy is positioning it in such a way that you can laugh at that darkness, too.

The show has missteps, of course. For all its feminist sensibilities, smartly giving us recurring women characters who are 15, 30, 43 and 60+ in the same show (I admit I can’t watch a lot of shows exclusively about teenagers anymore; as I get older, I want to see, more and more, characters who are tackling the same problems I am), it falls down a lot on race.

There are some great, insightful things, yes: there’s a powerful episode about Kimmy’s best friend and roommate, Titus, who finds that when he dresses up as a werewolf for a gig that he’s treated far better by strangers as a werewolf than he ever was as a black man. There’s Carol Kane playing an older white liberal hippie who purports to be an ally at every turn while saying the most racist things in the show; a searing skewering of white allies. But then there’s the bizarre subplot for Kimmy’s employer, who is played by a white woman but purportedly from a Native American family, a family portrayed in one of the most stereotypical ways imaginable, and has her howling like a wolf at the end to get back her power? Yeah, just squint and say la-la-la through all that. Dong, a Vietnamese immigrant, starts out promising and then quickly regresses to an amalgam of Asian Guy Stereotypes as things progress. I actually winced in sympathy for the actor who had to play him, it was so bad. I have hope that these will improve as fans point out where these fall down. There’s also a weird awareness of the Hispanic characters in the story without actually… telling their stories, if that makes sense. “Isn’t it funny we are ignoring the stories of the Hispanic characters just like the media and their employers do!” is the same True Detective problem of “See us showing all this misogyny while being misogynist.” The writers did such a great job making the primary characters complex and well-rounded that the Stereotype Brigade in the background grates all the more. Fingers crossed they fix this, as the show’s been approved for a second season.

If you can squint through the grating parts, The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a show with a lot of promise and a lot to say about current media culture, the class divide, and the struggles of being who you are in a world that wants to label you with just one narrative (hopefully for ALL the characters, going forward).

The supporting cast here is fabulous, too, with Tituss Burgess playing a man from Mississippi who came to New York to pursues his dreams, and has since been ground down by the odds of achieving those dreams. Jane Krakowski is the rich housewife you love to hate, who delivers all the ridiculous privilege of the 1% without a filter. And Carol Kane is your favorite matronly slumlord. Jon Hamm’s performance as the charismatic Reverend who convinces everyone that he’s right because he’s handsome and ridiculous will both delight and chill you.

Highly recommended.

All Together Now: Building a More Pragmatic SFF Conversation

I’ve been thinking a bit about the “generational divide” among feminists in SFF in particular, though I have a post I want to write about Tumblr feminism as well that will go into this more in-depth. There’s the camp that says we’re all overreacting, that things aren’t so bad, and were never bad at all, that they never experienced any harassment or any bias against their work because they were women so they can’t see the issue, and then there’s the camp with the long and exhausting stories of industry sexism, writing under male pseudonyms, and fighting for market share in an incredibly more competitive world. Here’s why this conversation upsets me, especially when it’s people who came of age in publishing thirty or forty years ago who are insisting that things aren’t so bad, and hey, just get to work and it was hard for me, sure, but it’s always hard, even though I never experienced any of these supposed hurdles you say women in the industry experience now, and yes, I guess I believe you but you should really just do what I did during this totally different time that didn’t have those hurdles.

To be blunt, the publishing industry, being a woman in publishing, and managing the very public way that many artists are expected to manage themselves today, is very, very different than it was thirty or forty or even fifteen years ago. It’s this: trying to communicate to writers who established themselves before 2000, or even 2008, just how different this landscape is that’s been the source of a lot of the clash, especially the generational clash among feminists in SFF.

It’s always been a hard business, but the awful and ongoing economy jag, the plunge in midlist advances (especially post 2008), the contraction and flailing of publishing as it figures out what to do in the digital age, the proliferation of platforms, the wider backlash against women and minorities in the wider culture that’s bled into publishing and our readership (as these things do), all of these has profoundly changed what it means to come up in this business right now, and what it means to be a woman in this business.spacewoman

So though I am sympathetic to reminiscences about “That’s not what it was like ten, twenty, forty years ago,” yes, that may be so, but that’s the reality of what it’s like now, and it’s now that we need to survive in. I don’t judge writers who make decisions about how to survive right now, whether they feel they have to write under male pseudonyms or only tell stories about men (ug). If anything, survival in this business is precarious at the best of times. I have made different choices, but I can tell you right now – I’ve fought like hell to make a career writing what I’d like, as myself, and I don’t ever blame anyone for trying to tell different stories, as someone else, to make it fucking easier.

Because yes, it has been fucking hard.

Survival often requires making hard decisions. I have fought with tooth and nail for every post that mentions my work on a “best of” with a bunch of dudes and oh yeah, Robin Hobb, the other gender neutral named fantasy writer. I’ve fought to get included on roundtables talking about my work. I’ve fought for podcasts, for blog posts, for readership. At no point did I think I’d “write a good story” and things would pan out. At no point did I ever think that I’d just magically grow a readership writing the weird, gritty, women-centered stories I write. And at no point did I ever once doubt that being mistaken for “Mr. Hurley” was actually very good for my career.

I knew I would have to fight for every inch. I am fighting still. I will fight until the last breath leaves my body. There is nothing given to me. There are no expectations for sales or promotion or support in my career that comes from anyone but me. Any of those things I receive are welcome surprises. “Oh, I was not belittled at a con? How lovely!” or “Oh, I was not savaged on some forum for writing about women? How nice!” or “I actually got invited to a speaking engagement by someone who mistook me for a man? Well, of course!”

Thirty years from now, there will be another generation of writers pushing their way up through the genre. They will face a lot of the same challenges as I do for market share, for visibility. But they will have a whole host of other challenges, too, and it behooves me to listen to what they’re saying, to understand their challenges, instead of insisting that in my day, we wrote under a gender-neutral name  and expected to get felt up at conventions and by god WE WERE THANKFUL FOR IT.

Me saying, “Things were so much better/easier/simpler in my day” might be true in thirty years, but it doesn’t help the conversation. It doesn’t solve the current problems. It doesn’t help us all survive and move forward and build careers out of the current mangled state of whatever publishing is now or thirty years from now.

And we do have to move forward. We have to move on. And we must do it together.

One Bloke to Rule Us All: Depictions of Hegemony in Snowpiercer vs. Guardians of the Galaxy

Note: Contains All the Spoilers for both films

I had the surreal experience of watching Snowpiercer and Guardians of the Galaxy within a week of each other. I can hear the cries now: but what the hell does a dystopic train apocalypse movie have to do with a MacGuffin-plot galaxy romp with a wise cracking team of misfits?

What actually fascinated me most in watching these two films so closely together is noticing how differently they treated the depiction of the status quo of patriarchal white leadership. Oh yeah, I went there!

Golf clap and move on, if this isn’t your bag.

So in Snowpiercer we have, surprise, a white male lead being pushed on ahead of a rag-tag band of misfits stuck at the back of a train hurtling through a lifeless environment: the only way to live is to be on the train, but what constitutes “living” is pretty grim. We’ll learn later that folks at the back of the train resorted to murdering each other and chopping off each other’s limbs and eating them to survive (let’s handwave the reality of this. This movie is an allegory – in truth, by the time you’re starving enough to start eating each other, you’re not going to have a lot of energy left to murder one another. It’s far easier to subsist on people already dead. And chopping off limbs with no proper medical care around means many of those folks would die from shock. But that doesn’t make for a good body horror film. Hand wave, hand wave we are on a magic train hurtling through an Ice Planet, after all). What these folks resorted to was following the leadership of an old white man, who is grooming another white man to take his place. As we’ll learn as we run up through the train, this grooming of Our Hero isn’t even just for the folks at the back of the train. The old white guy at the head of the train has, in fact, been grooming him to take over the whole broken, fucked up train system – a perfect microcosm of our own 1% to rule them all society, with clear depictions of all it’s broken, brutal ways writ large.

imagesWhen Our Hero is faced with the choice of taking the helm of the front of the train or blowing it up, he actually hesitates. He hesitates as many of those Groomed White Male Leaders hesitate here in real life, on being confronted with the fact that they are basically now being asked to perpetuate the very system they say they were fighting against. They have become The Man. They are The Problem.

As with Looper, Our Hero accurately susses out that he’s the problem, though it takes our clairvoyant secondary heroine to yank up the floor of the train and point to the child now in service to a broken system to convince him to make the choice. Much has been said about Snowpiercer being smart or revolutionary or something, but really, at the end of the day, it’s Our Hero who must make the choice between perpetuating the system or blowing it up – the most revolutionary part of this film is that no women are sexually assaulted, and not all the people of color die. Yet it’s not the women or people of color on the train who are given the ultimate agency in this film. They can point to it and say it’s broken, but he’s in the place of power. He has to come to the realization that he’s the problem, and end it.

I like Snowpiercer, for all that it was obviously aimed at these white men in power, poking sticks at their discomfort in perpetuating broken systems. I was clear this was not a movie telling me to rise up and smash the system. There are, as ever, two ways to change a system: bloody revolution or changing a system from the inside. For bloody revolution, one doesn’tt need the folks in power to make any decision. We at the bottom don’t need to change their minds. But if you want change from the inside, you have to reach these guys. Women who wanted the right to vote? The deciding vote cast that gave women the right to vote in the US was given by a politician who, when asked why he voted to give women the right to vote, said, anecdotally, “Because my mother told me to.”

We can push men in power to change things, but at the end of the day, unless that change is blowing up the whole system, as Snowpiercer ultimately does, the power structure itself never changes.

I admired Snowpiercer for blowing up the whole goddamn system. It could have gone with “benevolent ruler.” He could have stepped out onto the ice to lead everyone and kept the existing hegemony. It could have been a different story. Instead, he blew it up. And though I certainly would have preferred our secondary heroine or one of the children to get some agency in this matter, I will take my cookies when they’re offered.

If I hated everything I’d never watch another piece of media.

This leads us to the ending of Guardians of the Galaxy, which, after an enjoyable romp about misfits and friendship, ended rather hollowly for me. I saw, quite literally, the same exact language used to get Our Hero in Snowpiercer to the front of the train employed again here, and again given to a female character to say: “You need to lead us now/lead us.”

imagesCW8Q70Z8I failed to see anything at all in the course of the two hour movie of mostly fun and explosions that would lead me to believe me our wise-cracking Han-Solo-lite could or should lead anyone at all. In fact, in looking at the entire theme of the film – about friendship, and the power of working together – the “one man to rule us all” conclusion fell seriously flat. You can’t take a movie about the power of friendship and shared goals and working together and make it all about upholding the proper order of the universe: Star Lord should always be an ironic flippery, not something that becomes literal. Because if there is only One True Hero then fuck the power of friendship, and why does anyone need to work together? Declaring a One True Hero undermined the whole point of the film, and put all those other characters’ stories in service to the hero’s story.

It’s funny that a whole film can fall apart for me with one line, but after the terribly powerfully syrupy Friendship is Magic moment with Groot (“We Are Groot”) that was the emotional heart of the story squeezing your insides, reverting to, “You must lead us now,” was a weird whiplash of a moment, a shocking turn about in favor of the old hierarchical system that they were all supposedly living outside. Here they were replicating it again, and putting the Our Hero at center stage again, just like in every other movie, without interrogating, at least (as Snowpiercer did) if that was a good idea or not.

At the end of the day, I’m a little exhausted with One Bloke to Rule Them All films, but seeing these films both so close together made it clear that if I’m going to be forced to see one, I’d like to see one that interrogates this idea instead of telling a big, loud story with heart that turns out to be, in the end, merely a return to the status quo.

(P.S. Lest you think I hate everything, I enjoyed both films for different reasons. But there will be plenty of ink spilled on the good parts of these movies, and in truth, it’s the interrogation, or not, of monstrous masculinity here that really interests me. I’m not even going to get into the “whore” thing in GotG)

Some Men Are More Monstrous Than Others: On True Detective’s Men & Monsters

Spoilers ahoy!


When I was sixteen, I dated a guy a with a madonna/whore complex. I had no idea what that was, at the time, being a young woman from a rural town where belittling women as sluts and whores was pretty typical. You were either “the type of woman men married” or you were… well, probably a slut. All I knew was that when he talked about me, he said I was some transformative goddess, superior to all other women – smarter, and sexier – and all other women he spoke about were bitches or whores. He disrespected his mother and grandmother – got into screaming fights with them and belittled them. He had no female friends. I took him for a poor abused and misdirected kid too smart for his own good.

Boys who backlashed were to be pitied and sympathized with. They’d just had rough lives. You needed to sympathize with them, and I could, I really could, because the world was filled with stories of men who’d had hard times, and who lashed out at others because of it. I had a fistful of excuses, as did he. We had a narrative on TV, in the movies. Men ran after you and screamed and got upset because they loved you. Men were abusive, maybe, even… because they loved you.

We know this story.

What first really bothered me, though, was when he made fun of a former friend of mine because she was fat. That might seem weird, after all this other behavior. But the reason it bugged me is because as he sneered over her being another man’s “fat girlfriend” I couldn’t help but note that she was, in fact, thinner than me.

His extreme compliementariness toward me had nothing to do with me – setting me up as a singular goddess was his way of justifying his relationship with me. Because if all women were bitches and whores, the fact that he was in a relationship with a woman must mean I was something different. Something else. So he made me into something I wasn’t: a perfect picture of womanhood. A crowned goddess.

But woe to the goddess who falls.

Needless to say, a perfect picture of womanhood I was not, and have never been. Things began to fall apart in the typical way they do when these sorts of guys finally wheedle you away from family and friends. When we moved in together, a five hour drive away from our hometown, things got pretty bad. Not that they were candy before – I tried to break up with him three times during the two years of our courtship prior to us moving in together, once because he cheated on me, and twice more for outbursts of screaming temper. But then came the weeping, the apologizing, about how he was imperfect, and I was a goddess, and could I please just give him another chance…

Once we moved in together the swing between these behaviors became more extreme. There would be screaming fights. He’d throw things. I put on a bunch of weight and starting wearing frumpy clothes, secretly hoping this would finally be the thing that got him to break up with me. When that didn’t work, I actually hit him on the shoulder once, during a fight, hoping he’d hit me back and I could justify leaving him. I contemplated suicide – anything to get out.

In the end, he joined the military to spite his grandmother, who’d cut off his money for college, and the break gave me the chance to call up my parents and pack up on home. When he returned from boot camp, we went round again for a few weeks, trying to “be friends.” When that didn’t work, the death threats started.

They didn’t stop until he got a new girlfriend.

I have heard stories about him and his wife, still, and they remind me of that old life. Bullet holes in the ceiling. Screaming fights. I’m told he justifies this by saying he simply has “a temper.”

Some people never change.

True Detective is a cop bromance that takes us on a journey across the poor, rural south of the 90’s – when I was a teen – following an odd-couple cop duo as they track an occult serial killer targeting women and children.

I’m pretty burned out on murder shows featuring slog after slog of dead women, but the weirdness of the opening murder, paired with the bromacing odd-couple and great opening credit sequence intrigued me.


There are a number of things to praise in this show, from a storytelling perspective – the narrative jumping between 1995, 2002 and 2012 is remarkable and skillfully done. The writing is superb. I haven’t bumped into writing this good since… Well, OK, we’ve had a resurgence in excellent TV lately, and Mad Men and GoT come to mind, but even those shows are not, to me, this narratively ambitious. True Detective trusts viewers to connect the dots; it invites us to take a leap of faith.

I was amused to see a little of my own grim humor in the character of the introverted and this-world-is-fucked-up Rust, but the character that made me laugh out loud was Marty.

Why Marty? Because, as I said to my spouse during episode two or three, “Holy crap! I DATED that guy!”

My spouse looked appropriately horrified, because though it’s one thing to hear about a thing, it’s another thing to see it. Watching Marty neatly box up different aspects of his life, telling lies about how he lives and his morals and *believing them* while cavorting with young women and putting his wife on a pedestal was oddly cathartic, for me, because it was a validation that these type of people exist, and they are, indeed, their own brand of monstrous.


True Detective is a bromance at its core – if you think this is not a romance story, I challenge you to watch that scene in the Monster’s Liar at the end, when Marty is reaching out to Rust, and then cradles him in his lap, and you tell me that’s not some Greek hero romance shit. It’s a story of men incapable of living in the very society they purport to protect.

But unlike Marty, Rust understands his own monstrousness. He understands he’s had to become evil to fight evil.

Marty continues to think his behavior is normal, and he is rewarded for it, even partially pardoned by his family with a lukewarm reunion there at the end in his hospital room.

True Detective’s failure is the same failure of its heroes – a failure of empathy for, and acknowledgement of the humanity and autonomy of – the very women and children these men insist they are here to protect from men far more monstrous than themselves.

Marty’s inability to draw this line  – if it was not made clear before – was made crystalline at the very end of the series, when he does finally end up  fucking the former 16-year-old prostitute he hands a few hundred dollars to seven years before to help her “get out of that life.”  Rust snarkily says at the time “Is that a downpayment?” and, of course, it turns out that it is.

Where the show pulls its punches with Marty, here, is by making the girl the instigator of this relationship, later on in the show. It doesn’t have the balls to make Marty the one pursuing her, though it would have been a much more narratively accurate choice. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was Harrelson himself who rewrote this bit to make Marty more likable – by painting the woman as the primary problem. By perpetuating this narrative of the sexy lady instigator, Marty is painted as in irresponsible child who can’t resist the flirtatious temptations of a 21-year-old former prostitute. What man can control his dick, amirite? (counterpoint: Twin Peaks’s Agent Cooper). But however much they tried to tamp this down to reduce the impact, the text was still there. The women in Marty’s life were virgins and whores – his wife and everyone else.

When he loses his shit at his mistress for telling his wife of their affair, his true nature becomes apparent. Even more than trying to control who his mistress dates, and bursting into her home unannounced to beat up the guy she brought home, it was the screaming phone conversation where he says, “I’m going to skullfuck you!” that really peeled back the layers of affable family man to reveal the raging, poisonous monster beneath (calling his daughter a slut came in a close second. Have I mentioned that ex of mine has two young children now, at least one of them a daughter? Yeah).

Rust, by contrast, understands his own darker impulses. His backstory is not a fridged wife, interestingly enough, but a fridged daughter; I expected laziness here where his whole family would have gone out in a flaming wreck, but it was more telling that he lost a child through accident, but a wife through an inability to cope. When he goes off the rails and becomes a horror, he recognizes that he’s not fit to associate with the very women and children he’s chasing after serial killers to protect.

He has no illusions of what he is.

Pulling his punches does not make him any less of a monster. This is brilliantly illustrated again and again, but in particular in his fight with Marty, when he lets Marty beat the shit out of him, right up until the very end, when he grabs hold of his wrists the way he did years before, when he told him he could break his hands. You see the death grip. You see the monster in his eyes. You see Marty is about to never be able to hold a gun again.And then a group of other men pulls Rust away, and Marty keeps his hands.

Monsters wrangling monsters.

We are also not fooled after watching the crazy shoot-out in the projects, where he joins with a biker gang to go terrorize an entire community. Though he is given his “save the cat” moment by sparing a young boy in the house and telling him to hide in the bathtub, and though he tries to incapacitate instead of brutally murder the neighborhood folks as they try and defend themselves, it’s clear he knows exactly what he is, and exactly what he’s capable of.

I have always had an obsession with the monsters who walk among us; the ones our society excuses and supports, especially. I’m interested in the narrative that to fight monsters, you must, necessarily, become one.

Rust and Marty spend their lives limping along, trying to find ways to live in civilized society as casual monsters, but in the end, as shown in the brief and sadly funny roundup of how they’re living their lives in 2012 right before their final fight – they have failed at it.

Marty sits at home alone eating TV dinners in front of the tube, divorced and estranged from his daughters. Rust spent seven years working at a bar four days a week, and drinking himself senseless the other three. All they know how to do is fight monsters, because they know monsters. They understand them. They are uniquely equipped to fight them.

Because they are monstrous.

I’ve said often that there’s a difference between a show that portrays misogyny and a show that is misogynist. Mad Men portrays misogyny. True Detective, sadly, is misogynist. It paints the world in the viewpoint of its monstrous heroes, so I suppose it shouldn’t be any wonder that it comes out that way. But here’s what makes the difference, for me:

Marty’s wife, Maggie, tries to leave him, again and again. She asks Rust if Marty is having an affair – Rust knows he is, but protects Marty (remember, this is a bromance). Eventually the mistress confronts her, and she packs up her shit and leaves Marty for a few months.

But I know Marty. I dated Marty. I know this dance. And they have kids. Kids make it harder.

He woos her back. He gets down on his knees. He sweet talks and apologizes. He makes small concessions. They go to therapy. He quits drinking. But as his daughters grow up, we see his controlling nature rear its head again; he beats up the men having sex with his daughter. He calls her a slut. He pokes at her choice of clothing in a particularly amusing scene in which she tells him with the haughty voice of a disgruntled teen, “You can’t control what women wear, dad.”

And, years later, he has another affair. This time, Maggie knows. This time, she calls Rust again for confirmation. Rust again pretends ignorance.

Maggie knows she needs to leave Marty. She knows she needs something besides “you’re having an affair” because she knows how things will go. He’ll get on his knees. He’ll apologize. He’ll make excuses.

But there’s one thing he won’t stand for: another man touching what he considers his. She has spent her life wrangling this monster. She knows him intimately. She understands what she must do to beat him.

So she endeavors to have an affair.

She tries to pick up a man at a bar; no dice. Instead, she gets drunk and tracks down Rust. She knows her husband well, knows how he thinks, and knows exactly what will hurt him most and end their relationship with no blubbering apologies and promises to do better.

Though poor Maggie hadn’t been given a lot of screen time, and in fact, was only brought in (of COURSE) during the present-day interrogation to discuss this particular incident (because a woman’s role in a narrative is only as victim or whore, you know), I knew exactly why she’d chosen to do as she did, and I understood it. And I knew she was right.

I’d been there; boxed into a corner, unable to figure out how to get away. In the end, I hadn’t had kids. I’d been able to pack up my shit and move to Alaska.

Maggie didn’t have that luxury.

So Maggie has a quick coupling with Rust. Why she couldn’t have just made up having an affair, I don’t know – because, plot, I guess. Of course, Marty is also a detective. Perhaps she feared he would know if she was lying. He would demand to know who it was, interrogate her, try and find proof.

When she sits at the kitchen table with her glass of wine, waiting for him in the dark, she is finally, supremely confident. Because she knows this will wreck him. She knows, after all this time, she finally got him. Because she understands exactly what she is to him – a possession – and that the only way to bust herself down from that pedestal he put her on was to paint herself as a whore.

I hated Maggie for this as much as anyone, which was shocking. I knew Maggie. But the narrative! Oh, we know the narrative of the woman who ruins everything. Marty and Rust battle it out, naturally, after this incident, and are no longer friends. It feels like grim trickery for her to do it, and it is. But I completely understood her, and I sympathized with her. I knew she’d made the choice she felt was the only choice to free her from her situation; she’d done something awful, to escape something worse.

But I wondered, the way this whole mess was painted – how many others saw what she did as I had? How many others really sympathized with her situation? How many actually considered her a scheming whore, just the way Marty did?

Because when she shows up at the end of the show to see Rust, even knowing what I did, sympathizing as I did, I hated her. I hated that she’d hurt his feelings. I had to remind myself that she had, in part, also lashed out to hurt Rust because he’d known from the start that Marty was having affairs, and he’d lied to her about it. He’d protected Marty, and this was the most powerful way this fucked up, misogynist world had given Maggie to say “fuck you.”

It occurred to me that in a world ruled by misogynist monsters, they end up pushing people into becoming the very stereotypes they’ve created in their own minds. I flashed back to the gun fight in the projects – the four white men with guns terrorizing the neighborhood, getting them to fight back, and the cops and helicopters that swoop in. I imagined the scene in the minds of the cops who descended on the scene – “Those violent black people,” they’d say, when it was white thugs who’d instigated the violence in the first place.

Through force, abuse of physical and social power, neglect, these men perpetrate the very narratives they’ve created in their heads. They’ve made the world they imagined, and it’s a very terrible place.

Much has been made of the Cthulu mythos present throughout this tale of monsters fighting monsters. But in truth, this whole show is set in a fantasy world – the world as painted by two broken men who strive to extinguish a greater darkness than themselves in order to atone for and justify the darkness they themselves have delivered into the world.

If there was ever a show that so accurately represented that old cliché “Women take up with men to protect them from other men” this is it. What True Detective makes clear is that that saying could just as easily be “Women must take up with monsters to protect them from other monsters.”

It was for this reason that the show’s final lines, delivered by Marty, held a different meaning than the obvious one.

Rust says that when you look up in the sky, all is darkness, and the darkness is winning. Marty disagrees because, of course, in the beginning there was *only* darkness, and now the sun comes up again. So to his mind, light is making a fair bit of progress.

For me, this was not so much a glorious mythic handwave to the great literal battle between light and darkness, but the figurative one, the battle between darkness and light that goes on inside everyone, especially men given the power these two wield – the gun and the badge, the sword and the scales.

Power is a funny thing, because if you asked these two men if they had it, they would say no. They would say they were underdogs fighting a corrupt system.

But when you pull back, when you see Marty abuse prisoners and call his teen daughter a slut, and Rust cover up the shooting of a handcuffed man and sneer at Maggie, you recognize that their whole lives have been about fighting darkness to cover up their own, and raging at powerful men because those men treat them the same way they treat their wives and daughters – you understand that they cannot stand for enduring that type of abuse from powerful men. They cannot be made women in their own world.

The body they saw posed in the cane fields that day did not evoke their sympathy for it being the death of a human being, a woman. No, it bothered them because in it they saw the work of a man who believed himself to be more powerful than they, playing out a battle of wits with them writ large on women’s bodies, as so many wars between monsters have been waged.

xthe-true-detectives.png.pagespeed.ic.NVpHDik74DOn reflection, looking at shows like this and considering my own experiences, what fascinated me was that we have so many stories like this that help us empathize with monstrous men. “Yes, these men are flawed, but they are not as evil as THIS man.” Even more chilling, they tend to be stories that paint women as roadblocks, aggressors, antagonists, complications – but only in the context of them being a bitch, a whore, a madonna. They are never people.

Stories about monstrous men are not meant to teach us how to empathize with the women and children murdered, but with the men fighting over their bodies.

As a woman menaced by a monster, I find this particularly interesting, this erasure of me from a narrative meant to – if not justify – then explain the brokenness of men. There are shows much better at this, of course, which don’t paint women out of the story – Mad Men is the first to come to mind, and GoT – but True Detective doubled down.

The women terrorized by monsters in real life are active agents. They are monster-slayers, monster-pacifiers, monster-nurturers, monster-wranglers – and some of them are monsters, too. In truth, if we are telling a tale of those who fight monsters, it fascinates me that we are not telling more women’s stories, as we’ve spun so many narratives like True Detective that so blatantly illustrate the sexist masculinity trap that turns so many human men into the very things they despise.

Where are the women  who fight them? Who partner with them? Who overcome them? Who battle their own monsters to fight greater ones?

Because I have and continue to be one of those women, navigating a horrorshow world of monsters and madmen. We are women who write books and win awards and fight battles and carve out extraordinary lives from ruin and ash. We are not background scenery, our voices silenced, our motives and methods constrained to sex.

I cannot fault the show’s men for forgetting that; they’ve created the world as they see it. But I can prod the show’s exceptional writers, because erasing the narrative of those whose very existence is constantly threatened to be extinguished by these monsters, including monsters they trust whose natures vacillate wildly, you sided with the monsters.

I’m not a bit player in a monster’s story. But with narratives like this perpetuated across our media, it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s how my obituary read; a catalogue of the men who sired me, and fucked me, and courted me.

Stories that are not my own.

Funny, isn’t it? The power of story.

It’s why I picked up a pen.

I slay monsters, too. And I won’t be written out of my own story.

With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility: On Empathy and the Power of Privilege

I had the questionable delight of hanging out with a 3 year old for the last week, and at some point, when I hauled off his pants so he could go “Pee-pee in the potty” he proceeded to sit on said toilet for a solid five minutes having an argument with me because I’d said “Hey!” when he tried to hit his mother.

“You YELLED at me!” he yelled. “We don’t yell in this house.”

“We don’t hit our mom, either.”

“We don’t YELL. You HURT my FEELINGS.”

At some point, this child will understand the difference between a feeling of guilt for being called out when he does something bad and actual hurt feelings, but today is not that day.

“And you hurt your mom’s feelings,” I said. “You don’t hit your mom.”

hitting“We don’t YELL IN THIS HOUSE.”

“We don’t hit our mother.”

About this time, I realized I was standing in a bathroom arguing with a half naked 3 year old child, and I needed to cut my losses and walk away, because I was the adult. I would never convince him that his feeling of guilt was not as serious as him having almost hit his mother; I’d get stuck in a toddler logic loop. Because what one *almost* does to someone one sees as so far outside the self when one is 3 is not something that’s ever going to compute. What’s going to register is YOU hurt MY feelings.

What almost happened to his mom is moot.

I was reminded of this particular exchange the last couple of days listening to folks rage – both on Twitter and in mainstream media, now – about what idiots folks in fandom are for rising up in rage against having the Jay Leno of Britain (or whatever), Jonathan Ross, host the Hugo Awards.

Because in all the rage about how fandom must be full of crazy idiots who no longer have a Great White Hope to Save their Genre From Obscurity, what nobody seems to remember is that the actual pushback on Twitter was not raised fists to hit him, but expressions of fear that Ross was going to hit their mom. It was the internet yelling, “HEY!” and asking for reassurance that they wouldn’t be diminished, spat on, ridiculed, or raged at in their own house. (EDIT: for a sample of some of the “abuse” hurled at Ross, there’s an abbreviated storify thread here)

In fact, folks like Farah Mendlesohn spoke up pretty clearly about this early on, before the statement was made public (her post about resigning her committee position over the issue has since been made private) and Seanan McGuire bravely stated her fears point blank on Twitter, fears which, if I was a Hugo nominee and attendee, I would also share.

Farah and Seanan are both people I respect highly, and I take their concerns seriously. But others did not. So there was no accompanying statement, no reassurance from either Ross or those who chose him, just “Here he is YOU SHOULD BE GRATEFUL YOU UNWASHED MASSES.”

And in response, two highly respected women’s concerns were shrugged off like “Bitches must be crazy.”

When you play the “Bitches must be crazy” card, the Internet won’t be far behind you, my friends.

I’m a fat nerd. I’ve been bullied my whole life. When the kids in school stopped, there was the wider world out there to tell me I was too big, too loud, too smart, too brash. I got used to being hit. I saw it happen all the time.

What we want when we say “HEY!” to someone – and someone, in this case, who has vastly more power than we do – is reassurance. We’re looking for an explanation, a statement, that this person gets where we’re coming from, and despite our fears, isn’t going to raise his fist to hit us. This is not rocket science. It’s not a tough thing to figure out if you apply a little empathy.

EMPATHY, JOURNALISTS. Try it some time.

Sadly, empathy is the one thing that a lot of the mainstream pieces covering the incident seem to be ignoring. I haven’t seen one piece that actually took the concerns of the community seriously. Instead of a concert of concerned, formerly bullied geeks looking for reassurance, it was a “twitter mob” with pitchfolks and torches banging on some rich dude’s door, baying for blood.

I realize that “angry twitter mob” makes for a more compelling click bait story, but casting Jay Leno, or Howard Stern, or the cast of SNL as victim because a few dozen or a few hundred people on Twitter said, “HEY DON’T HIT ME I’M AFRAID YOU’LL HIT ME THE WAY YOU DID PERSON X” would be fucking absurd, and we’d call it out as such. When did the privileged become victims? Did somebody send the dude a rape threat? Did he have to get a restraining order against somebody on Twitter? Because these are things that happen to the people who spoke up, these are things that happen to us all the time, and are probably happening to many of the women who said, “HEY I’M AFRAID YOU’LL HIT ME!” either to or about Ross publicly. And unlike the rich with big voices, we don’t have as many resources we can set in motion to protect ourselves when those threats do come in.

We speak out because we are brave, not because we’re baying for blood. We speak out because we’re tired of being hit, and we need to know that if you’re coming into our house, you’re not going to act like an asshole. We went to school with that dude. We deal with that dude on the internet everyday.

We are fucking tired of that dude.

So instead of snarking back at people on Twitter and calling them nutjubs and invoking Neil Gaiman’s name as a ward of protection, it would have behooved the privileged person to stand back and say, “Hey. Wow. I’m so sorry! I didn’t realize so many of you had that impression. Let me assure you that I love and support this community and I take this gig seriously. I respect and love every single one of you and please be assured I’ll be respectful and welcoming, just as I hope you will be respectful and welcoming to me as a host.”

Yeah, that’s a tough thing to do when you’re being yelled at. Trust me. I’ve been there. But it’s the adult thing to do. It’s the thing the person with the most power needs the guts to be able to do. It comes with the job.

Because when somebody says, “I’m afraid you’ll hit me,” and you say, “FUCK YOU WHY WOULD I HIT YOU YOU THINK I’M A MONSTER OR SOMETHING YOU FUCKING IDIOT!” is going to achieve exactly the opposite impression of what you purport to intend.

The truth of the matter is that raising my voice in the pizza place, me saying “HEY!” prevented the 3 year old from hitting his mom. Oh, you can say all you like that maybe he was just raising his arm to hit her and wouldn’t have carried through, but I’d seen it before. I knew I’d see it again. And somebody needed to say “HEY!” and prevent it.

Yes, I raised my voice. And to a self-involved toddler, raising one’s voice, especially when everyone tells you not to, can seem liked the gravest of crimes. But the truth of the matter is that a few dozen people yelling “HEY!” on the Internet at a public figure with a global following and three million Twitter followers is even less of a threat or mob or grave insult than an adult raising their voice to a toddler, because as an adult telling a kid to be quiet, I have the privilege of being an adult. A few dozen or even a few hundred people on Twitter are just random joe-blows shouting on Twitter.  They have no privilege or power.

The person with the privilege is the public figure. The person who has to take a step back and consider their words carefully is the one with the most privilege.

In this case, that’s not angry fans or even pros on Twitter who are fearful of being hit.

It’s the public figure with the power to hit.

And if the public figure can’t show empathy, or respond cordially, as befitting their place of power, but instead snarks at people on Twitter and walks off in a huff without even trying, I can’t help but wonder if they were really such a good fit in the first place.

So please stop sharing those annoying articles that call bullied nerds a bunch of idiots who want to keep their genre in the ghetto. They don’t. What they want is to feel they’re marginally more safe among their people than they are in the wider world, even if, as recent sexist meltdowns have shown us, that’s not really true.  We want to believe it. We want to believe things are getting better. We’ve been hit before, and when we see a raised fist now – or even a potential raised fist – we react in the way that survivors do, with caution that, from the outside, to those without empathy, may look nuts, but to us are born out of sheer self-preservation.

Nobody likes how the Ross thing went down. But let’s not heap this on Twitter’s shoulders, but the shoulders of those with the most privilege, who should have stepped back, applied empathy, and responded accordingly.

I’ll remind folks that it wasn’t long ago when a pretty well-known writer got into it on Twitter for a tweet taken out of context, and after a harrowing beginning, apologized publicly and graciously, and then individually to each person who may have felt harmed by the exchange.

That’s how people with perceived power and privilege act when the shit goes down: they grit their teeth and bear it, with grace.

I’ve done it myself, though I often feel powerless, because it’s not my own perceived power that matters. It’s the power other people give me.

With great power comes great responsibility.

Prove you know what to do with it.

It may not be too late.