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Posts Tagged ‘The F Word’

Llama Llaunch! Rules of the Road

Hey, hey folks, my first essay collection, The Geek Feminist Revolution, drops TOMORROW, May 31!

In anticipation of its release, here are some things you should know that I know and some things you should know about how I’ll be comporting myself online during the launch:

  1. Some people (the vast majority) are going to LOVE this book. LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT. That’s not me being puffed-up. I’ve already seen this happening. It’s cool! We’re all happy! Some folks will find it not to their taste, or find it’s not for them, or will critique it mindfully and vigorously, and that, too, is great! Happy! Good! This is what we’re here for. This is what it is to publish work and be part of a conversation far bigger than you. Debate and conversation is healthy. PLEASE respect other people’s views of the books, and don’t troll people who have a different opinion of the book. We WANT conversation. Do not stifle it in a misguided attempt to ensure that everyone loves everything just like you do. I love you all! And actual differences of opinion, real engagements with the text, are good for the genre and the world, etc.
  2. Some people (the minority, but oh, what a vocal minority!) will HATE this book, even and especially those who’ve never read it and have never heard of me and have no idea what it’s actually about. I fully anticipate several pile-ons. I expect lots of garbage in my social feeds. But fear not! All of my email is screened, I’ve muted the majority of the worst accounts and keywords on Twitter, and buttoned up other things to ensure this goes as smoothly as possible. I WILL BE FINE. CHIN UP.
  3. This leads us to THIS point, which is: NO WHITE KNIGHTING. All I ask if there’s a pile-on is for you to NOT tag me if you argue with trolls. My troll policy is mute and ignore. I’ve found that very effective. You are, of course, free to argue with whomever you want on the internet, but as a courtesy, I ask that you keep me out of it, or I’ll have to mute you too, and we don’t want that! In related news: DON’T POINT ME TO BAD REVIEWS or TELL ME TO READ TERRIBLE COMMENTS. I mean, unless you’re a troll? But I don’t think you’re a troll. Like, I mean, for real, folks? I never, ever, read the comments, and I’m not going to be reading bad reviews, even funny ones, for months yet. Thank you.
  4. I’m also likely to mute folks who come up into my mentions asking sea-lion questions, so don’t ask them, even ironically. Sea-lions are pretty easy to spot these days. Also, again: keep in mind that “ironic” sexism will also likely get you muted. Remember that I’m going to have a lot of noise coming at me, and adding to that noise is not recommended.
  5. Don’t draw fire. I promise, I’m good. Don’t argue with or RT trolls if you don’t have the emotional resources to deal with the fallout. I get that sometimes arguing with trolls is a fun procrastination tactic for some people, but again: don’t draw fire on my account. I’ve been doing this since 2004. I’ve been prepping for this book to drop for a year. I’m good.
  6. Finally, for the love of all that’s good in the world, use your platform for good. There is enough garbage in the world without you RT’ing every troll. How about RT’ing every awesome feminist? Every heartwarming story about humanity not sucking? The best gift you could give the world on Llama Llaunch Day (BESIDES BUYING THIS BOOK OF COURSE FOR YOU AND ALL YOUR FRIENDS AND FAMILIES AND NEIGHBORS AND DOGS AND…) is to share the good stuff in the world, and remind everyone that there are people out there worth changing the world for. The Geek Feminist Revolution, at its core, is a book about how yeah, sometimes the world can be a trash fire, but we can change it. So be part of that change, folks. Kumbaya, etc.

Let us go forth, then, and gird our fabulous loins, and have a fabulous llama llaunch together, folks!

I Thought About Quitting…

Hey you.

Yes you.

I know you’re ready to quit. I know you’re ready to quit living loud. I know living loud looks like the best way to draw fire for being who you are. For being the best you. For being smart. For being smarter. For being happy. For being loud. For being a woman, especially if you aren’t white. Someone who’s nonbinary. Someone who speaks truth to power.

I see you. I know you’re ready to quit.

Don’t quit.

The world is engineered to get you to quit. It makes it easy for folks who aren’t you to succeed, and encourages you to give up. Do you understand? That is the point of oppression, to wear you down until you not only don’t want to fight anymore, but you don’t want to speak anymore.

I see you.

Don’t quit.

I want to quit all the time. I want to quit and then I think, “What else would I be doing?” and the answer is, “Writing a bunch of provocative shit and yelling at people in email” and I’m like. Ok, then….

Don’t quit.

Whenever I want to quit I say, “How much will it piss people off if I don’t quit?” And the answer is, “A lot,” and that pleases me, so I don’t quit.

I don’t quit

But I understand why you might quit.

I love you anyway.

But don’t quit. Even if I’ll love you anyway.

People are going to be mad at you, even if you speak your truth. Because it’s not their truth. Or because you hit too close to home. Or because they are afraid. Or fucked up. Or scared. Or maybe, yeah, they’re right.

And so the fuck what?

Write better next time.

Write better.

Don’t quit.

Don’t quit.

I can’t tell you why I don’t quit. Maybe because I don’t know how to do anything else. Maybe because I get a grim delight in pissing people off. Maybe because I live for that moment when I can say, “See, I showed you, I’m fucking awesome after all.” But whatever the reason:

Don’t quit.

Stand here with me.

I’ll be standing next to you.

We won’t quit.

Don’t quit.

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.

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. 

YMMV.

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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.

kimmy-schmidt-netflix

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)

Burn it All Down: Wiscon’s Failure of Feminism

There are two ways to change an organization: the first is from the inside out – joining existing structures, working one’s way up through them, turning like minds to your cause, and revolutionizing the institution from the inside out.

The other way to do it is to burn the fucker down to the ground. 

The first way is much harder, as there’s a very real and proven possibility that by joining an existing structure, you’ll eventually be corrupted by it. This happens to every starry-eyed politician, and most working women battling their way up the corporate hierarchy. You become corrupted by the very system you go in to revolutionize, and then you become the very thing you hated. You become everything you ever fought against.

Revolution is, on the surface, easier. But it’s messier. Bloodier. People are hurt. It involves, often, literally destroying everything that has been built before and starting over from scratch.

Revolution is a hard thing to stomach.

I’m pretty familiar with Wiscon’s failures, from the Moonfail incident to resistance to POC safer spaces and concerns related to intersectionality. I’ll admit that my cozy white feminist self, during Moonfail, kept thinking that it was simply that the concom needed to educate itself. Those running this space might know cozy white feminism, but intersectional feminism, racism, and other –isms were less visible to those making the final decisions. They needed to take the time to educate themselves; it was going to be a long road, but they’d get there. I figured they’d spend some time with a fucking book, diversify membership, look to structure more inclusive conversations.

But feminism? Feminism of the very basic variety – like, women being legally and socially entitled to be treated as human beings and not hunks of meat? The very idea the convention was founded on? Surely they understood that. Surely there would be no learning curve on this very basic, very simple tenet that the con had been built around nearly 40 years ago.

That’s why the jaw-dropping “decision” of the concom (or, at least, those with “decider” power within the concom) to continue to allow a serial harasser who’s been a problem in the field for over 20 years – who, last year, resigned due to public outcry over said behavior – to attend the convention, with only a short ban of a few years, is so bizarre and horrifying. No, he’s not permanently banned. In fact, right up until Wiscon rolled out this year, he was still on the preliminary programming. One wonders what someone would have had to do, then, to get permanently banned from Wiscon – harass people for thirty years? Why this oversight? Was no one paying attention? And then once people were paying attention, how the fuck could you ban someone for just a couple years who’s been a serial harasser making women feel unsafe and reducing them to hunks of meat for twenty years, pending “good behavior”?

Good fucking behavior? What the fuck is a concom, a fucking parole board? And how the fuck does he demonstrate “good behavior” – by coming into con spaces and *not* leering at women who are already moving to different rooms to avoid him?

Oh, wait, there are still young and newer women in the field who won’t run, who won’t know, and I’m sure that putting him in a position to “prove” himself in front of them, after proving for 20 years that he  just makes people feel unsafe through inappropriate harassing behavior, will somehow be to the betterment of the community as a whole? And what kind of “good feminist guy” continues to try and push into feminist spaces knowing his behavior insults and demeans the very women he purports to respect so very much?

What?

How in the fucking world did a feminist convention come to value the hurt feelings of a serial harasser over the safety of its membership?

What the fuck does Wiscon – does any of us – stand for if we back down in the face of white male power, of a former industry editor, a former Guest of Honor, a friend, in truth, to many on the concom?

If you don’t stand for your principles when it really matters, why should anyone believe you stand for anything?

Wiscon bills itself as the “world’s leading feminist science fiction convention.” In Wiscon’s Statement of Principles it notes that “WisCon’s commitment to feminism is also reflected in our processes” and “WisCon’s commitment to feminist science fiction and feminist process is a commitment to ensuring that our future is not just for  white, well-off, able-bodied, straight men, but rather includes everyone.”

It’s worth noting that the best way to test a person’s or organization’s principles is to pit them against the cause or behavior they’ve taken a stand against by putting them in a place where they’re going to piss off people and hurt feelings – and their own personal interests – if they stand by those principles. In this case, Wiscon ended up going up against a sexist, white, well-off, able-bodied straight man with a history of harassing the very women the convention purports to be there to advocate for.

And those on the concom with the ultimate deciding power told us exactly who they really are, and where they really stand.

Just as one shouldn’t sign a petition saying you won’t attend a convention that doesn’t have a harassment policy unless you intend to follow it even at great loss or discomfort to yourself, so you shouldn’t purport to be a fucking feminist fucking science fiction fucking convention if you can’t even uphold the basic tenants of feminism and provide a reasonably less sexist environment for discussions to take place. You can point out sexism when it exists, and remove people from conversations and spaces who are derailing those conversations and actively endangering the women whose voices you say are so equal. Like, you can do that, because you’re a private event and you can set a code of conduct that is, you know, not sexist.

Fascinating, I know. Fucking miraculous.

You can even kick people the fuck out who’ve been a problem for twenty years.

But, as with every other convention in the fucking world, Wiscon has demonstrated that some are more equal than others.

hester_buildituptoburnitdown1And they are the well-connected white straight guys.

Same as it ever was.

They may as well have put up a big fucking sign to every predator in the field saying, “Come on over, parrot some loving-kindness about women being equal, and you’re totally welcome to join us in our spaces! It will take twenty years of you harassing women at our con before we do anything, and then we’ll only ask you not to come for a few years. Just say, after twenty years, that you’re super sorry. You can do whatever you want to the people at our convention. Just promise to do better next time!”

Wiscon has shown its true colors in this decision, and it’s this: “feminism” is just a marketing phrase, just another way to differentiate a regional con from some other cons. As has been pointed out by others, “feminist convention” means exactly fucking nothing; never has, though I sorely wished it and hoped for it and so assumed the best with this rather obvious incident – I mean, a serial harasser with 20 years of known issues; should be a no-brainer to boot them from a feminist convention right? Wrong. It’s just another convention. Another space you navigate within a massively sexist society, a space that shelters abusers and harassers above those they target. It’s a safe space for the world’s many predators, even and especially men, many of whom have gone there for the cookies for decades, and never been called on it.

Wiscon is not your friend. Wiscon is not your ally. Wiscon is a part of this fucked up world; a world that will contort itself in uncomfortable ways to pretend to uphold its principles while shitting on those it pretends to advocate for.

At least San Diego Comicon doesn’t fucking pretend to be anything but a promotional brofest.  It doesn’t pretend it’s interested in giving a shit about anything but itself and your money.

I was recently asked about harassment at conventions by a reporter from the LA Times. Yes, once again, we’re about to be in the news for more of this embarrassing bullshit, and how lovely it would have been to point out that Wiscon, at least, has a fucking backbone. But as I pointed out to the reporter, what we see happening at cons – the protection of harassers above those they’ve targeted – is no different than what we see in the world outside conventions. All we have – the only difference in our community – is we have this dialogue. We have a call-out culture. And now, more than ever, it’s becoming possible to build the social spaces we want to build.

But not if we aren’t courageous enough to seize that opportunity.

Much ink has been spilled about the internal politics of Wiscon, about the infighting, the old feuds, the endless circles of emails and wayward, tardy responses from folks involved in decision making who do this all for free, who volunteer their time. We should cut people slack, folks tell me. We should understand it’s not simple. It’s not cut and dry. It’s not easy. And lord yes – I certainly know this decision wasn’t handed down by a majority of the concom. I know there are a lot of Wiscon’s volunteers who find this decision reprehensible.

But here’s the thing, folks: if you say you are a fucking feminist convention with principles, you must abide by them – everyone who runs the convention, every volunteer, must abide by them. Fuck politics. Fuck hand wringing. If you volunteer for a thing and you are not up to the task for, if you cannot step up and make a difficult fucking decision, then you need to step down and pass it off to someone else, or stop pretending you have principles. Say you’re a con that sometimes talks about feminism. Don’t pretend you’re a feminist con.

Wiscon is a mirror of a world that has lofty pretty ambitions, but can’t even abide by its own principles. Without a revolution, an influx of bold new volunteers to join those already pushing back, it is a broken, mewling, thrashing mess of politics and infighting, frantically gnawing off its own arm on one side while engaged in an endless circle jerk with the other.

A lot like the SFWA has been. The SFWA has had to nearly burn itself down several times to start marching toward relevance.

I hope Wiscon does the same, and tears itself apart and starts over. I hope the half of the volunteers who know this is an absolutely abysmal betrayal of their principles and membership burn it all fucking down. Because this is not some democratic decision. There are passionate volunteers who’ve been with Wiscon forever who think this is the biggest shit in the universe, too. But they aren’t the people with the final vote.

They need more progressive, hard-working volunteers. They need even more people who aren’t afraid to speak truth to power, and do the work of running a convention.

And if Wiscon can’t fix itself from the inside, if there isn’t an internal coup and huge influx of volunteers to fix this broken shit, let’s be real – Wiscon has demonstrated with this final cherry of an act that its purpose, its principles, are hollow bullshit. It is built on nothing but webbed, interconnected relationships spanning decades that build the real policy: just like any other con, just like the real world, it’s who you know, and how “important” you are that will save you, even if you’re serially harassing women or abusing children.

So if you want a statement of principles, here’s mine: Wiscon can fuck itself.

I hope it burns down to the ground. I hope for a hundred thousand real feminist convention heads to sprout from its ashes, and for feminist programming to continue to light up the panels at CONvergence and ReaderCon and conventions like them all across the country.

I hope we don’t need Wiscon anymore.

And I hope that when it burns down to the fucking ground its founders look up from the ruin and realize that in its destruction they have actually achieved everything they dreamed:

Because instead of a monolithic feminism in its tiny, backbiting little place, they will have created the most indestructible future of them all – a future helmed by a diverse and indestructible multitude of people even bolder, even more progressive, even more radical and extraordinary than those they dreamed of.

And I look forward to the day, in 30 years, when young women come by and burn out this new crop of feminists for being too backward and conservative.

I look forward to that day for myself, too. I look forward to being held up by radical young feminists as all that’s wrong in the world – because then I’ll know I’ve done my job in helping to nurture folks far braver than I.

People who are so fucking done with my bullshit.

So, now it’s in your hands, my friends. You can volunteer to become a member of Wiscon, take up the fight from within with the volunteers inside fighting the good fight, or go start your own truly progressive cons, and support those working to become more progressive.

Some of you, I know, will do both (bless you).

There’s a future that needs building, but somebody who’s actually courageous and principled needs to take up the fucking spade and build it.

Is it you?

On Public Speaking While Fat

I admit that looking at pictures of myself the last couple of years always involves a bit of dissonance. Since God’s War came out and I switched to a job that no longer requires me to bike into work every day, I have – as has happened to many writers – put on about 70 pounds. This is easy to forget when you work at home a lot and don’t go out much. There are perfectly good reasons for this gain, as my metabolism is super efficient; I come from a long line of overweight people with a host of immune disorders who could, however, survive famines quite well. Folks often ask me how I can hold down a day job, freelance, and write a book a year. The answer is quite simple: I roll out of bed and I write. I am sitting in bed, right before I got to sleep, and I am typing away. My life has become a constant war with deadlines, trying to maintain momentum during book releases.

I’ve worked at hacking the fitness of this – I’m writing this post right now from the comfort of my treadmill desk – but the hard core two hours a day I used to do is just something I’m not able to do and still write 1500-3000 words of fiction related work and associated blog posts I do every day. I hope to find that balance eventually, but the last few years have been hard.

The funny thing that people don’t get when they see me living it up at cons is that I have, in fact, always been considered fat. From the time I was 5 years old, people told me I was fat. I was a size 14 in high school, and people told me I was fat. I was working out two hours a day when God’s War came out, eschewing ALL THE CARBS, and at 220 lbs, I was, of course, fat. And the thing is, when you’re fat at 220lbs, you’re still fat at 290lbs. There’s not a whole lot of societal difference.  You maybe get hit on a little more at 220 than 290, but that’s about it (I suspect folks knowing I’m monogamously partnered has also reduced that number as well, thank Prime).

I have done a lot of broken things trying to get back to that 220, including calorie counting, which ended disastrously. I lost 25lbs, sure, but the minute I stopped, I gained it all back plus 30 lbs, which is what’s put me over the edge with those airplane seats; my time at the treadmill desk and indoor bike desk is all about fighting to keep me under the weight at which I can no longer fly. I knew better than to calorie count like that, but was feeling the societal pressure to punch back down a size. That was a mistake.

public-speakingWhen people come to me about fears of public speaking while fat, about heckling, about online harassment, I feel it necessary to remind people that I got the same amount of harassment for being “fat” at 220 as I do at being “fat” at 290. As a woman, you are always going to be fat. People are always going to trot that one out to try and insult you, like taking up more space in the world, as a woman, is the absolute worst thing you can do.

Which I, of course, find hilarious.

I was talking to a feminist writer/reviewer at Readercon, who said she was actually reading my blog back in the early days when it was called Brutal Women, and she’d found it via the guests posts I did at Big Fat Blog, which I participated in very, very early in my online life. I have always considered fear and hatred of taking up space as a feminist issue, as it’s so often used to shame women, no matter what their actual size.  It’s something I was acutely aware of when I signed up to do conventions this year to promote The Mirror Empire.

Having gained and lost the same 80 lbs three times in the last 15 years, I can honestly say I’m familiar with that first hand. The only time I’ve ever been praised for my weight repeatedly was when I was dying of a chronic illness, which winnowed me down to a (still considered “overweight”!) 170lbs. I’ll never forget my mother on the phone with my dad, having just gotten me out of the ICU, telling him how great I looked because I was so skinny (!!!).

Something broke in me after that comment, I think. When I pulled on my size 12 pants and they were loose, something I’d not experienced since the 5th grade, all the feels washed over me – how fake this all was, how our success was measured in the width of our asses, how my worth went up only as I lay dying.

I vowed from that moment on, crying in my too-big pants, that I would never, ever ever beat myself up or hate myself for being fat ever again.

And I haven’t.

This does not mean I don’t occasionally feel anxiety about public events, and I don’t occasionally wince at pictures and feel a moment of dissonance – afterall, we’re not used to seeing fat people represented positively in media, and my brain wants to rebel. But that fear and hate, that internalized fat shaming and body hatred I had growing up – I’ve learned to reject that outright as bad programming.

Doing this – fucking the programming – is actually really freeing.  It means I can stand up at a reading and give a performance in a loud, snarky voice. It means I can sit on and moderate panels without fear. Because I know how fat shaming works. I know that if somebody wanted to try and shame me using the “fat” call-out, the same person would say that whether I was 70lbs lighter or 70lbs heavier.

I can change all I want, trying to contort my body in all sorts of ways, but those people, our society, will stay the same. They will always, always try and burn you down with some half-baked call of “cunt” or “fat” or “insert female-gendered slur here.” And, just like the fact that I have a cunt is not likely to change, the fact that I take up a lot of space in the world – no matter the range on that massive sliding scale – is not going to change either, unless I’m dying. And I’m sorry, my friends, but I have no intention of dying so people can sit around saying how “good” I look. Fuck you.

So for folks who fear having a large voice, especially those of us who’ve grown up with bad programming, I can say this: just like with everything else, yes, you will have to be smarter, and work harder. But don’t let societal bullshit keep you down. It’s made to stop you from speaking. It’s made to get you to shut up, and stay home, and take up less space in spaces men consider “theirs.”

As with any other feminist issue, this one is meant to get you to stay home and shut up. When you view it that way, when you see it for what it is, it becomes, I think, a bit easier to step up and step out, because you realize that in some small way, you going out into the world when it wants to shut you up is, itself, an act of resistance.

Many women-identified people worry about heckling, about pointing and shouting “You’re fat! You’re not a real woman! You’re stupid! You talk too much!” and I get that the pain and fear and sorrow over that can be too much. But being in these spaces, and being heard in them, is vitally important to changing these conversations, to challenging the narratives about our worth, and what we say, and what we think, which have been created by others.

Go forth into the world, retreat when it is too much, but know that when you stand up to be heard, and be counted, you’re doing your own part to change the narrative, and in doing so, to change the world.

I promise I’ll be standing there next to you.