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Posts Tagged ‘The F Word’

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.

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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.

You Don’t Have to Be Evil to Sell Things: A Primer on Ad Writing & Sexism

I generally prefer to stick to positive imagery and commentary here, and I may eventually delete this post, but I keep seeing these lists of “vintage” sexist ads from the 50’s,60’s, and 70’s shared online so that folks may gloat about how “enlightened” we are in “this day and age.”

I work in marketing and advertising, and though I can tell you things are getting better (this is still one of my favorite of the pieces I’ve done, from my portfolio), lazy ad agencies and in-house marketers are still trying to sell things the same old way. Some of this is for click bait – the former head of American Apparel talks often about how he leaks ads he isn’t even going to run to try and get some social media buzz. But some, like the Swiffer ad below, are just insulting.

Today, there’s a more coordinated outcry against these types of ads, which is why many came down soon after they went up. Social media has made organizing and being heard a lot easier than ever before, but until the minds of marketers, designers, and copywriters like me change up at the top of that pyramid, we’re still going to get hit with these on occasion.

I wanted to share these here for folks who hear that tired old saw when they complain about sexism, “Well, at least you don’t live in Saudi Arabia! Women there can’t drive,” or “At least it’s not the 50’s anymore!” This is meant to silence – you may not get acid thrown on you for rejecting a man, but it’s quite possible you’ll be shot in the street for rejecting one.

So instead of playing oppression bingo, let’s take a good, hard look at the issues we’re still having, and work hard to address and correct them.

Be sure to check out the links at the end to studies about how sex and sexism don’t actually sell.

Vintage: 1974-ish

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2008: BMW

BMW 2008

The sexualization of young girls for fun and profit – in any age!

Vintage: Late 60’s/early 70’s

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2012: Chino’s

2012 Chinos

Women’s work is women’s work, no matter the decade!

Vintage: 1953

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2013: Swiffer

original 2013

No matter the era, ladies, cleaning will leave you feeling happy, content and empowered!

 

Vintage: 1950’s

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2011: Fluid Hair (salon)

fluid_hair 2011

Domestic abuse: look good while getting beaten no matter the era you’re getting beaten in!

 

Vintage: 1960’s

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2010: BMW

BMW 2010

And Bonus! Robots are better than cars, all of which are better than women. Because it’s easy to substitute women and objects.

2011: Svedka

svedka_sm 2011

Women’s place in the home: bodiless heads and headless bodies, or just chuck out the woman all together! It’s women-are-things perpetuated across the decades.

 

Vintage: 1970’s

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Che: Mid-200o’s

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Because we all know where women belong: on floors and in closets, as accessories, instead of doing active things, like speaking or wearing clothes.

 

Vintage: 1970’s

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2008: Special K

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We don’t have to do housework anymore! We’re liberated! Well, no. Now we’re slaves to the swimsuit. Look sexy-skinny ladies! It’s the only way to prove you’re empowered.

Lest you think I’m reading too much into the pretty obvious subtext here, here’s the brand’s subtext made actual text for another market:

2012: Special K

affective

 

Vintage: 1960’s

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2012: Vodka

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Murdering and sexually assaulting women: headlines still played for laughs. When the Belvedere vodka team was confronted about this, they pleaded that they had not considered this image “might” be construed as condoning a sexual assault. Might help to have a few women on your ad team!

And finally, let us not forget this amazing recent-ish gem that it is a perfect trifecta of racism, classism, and sexism:

2011: Kwikset

Kwikset 2011

 

To leave us all on a happier note:

Fuck the Patriarchy

Do anything

Marketing has become a necessary evil in a capitalist society, but it doesn’t have to denigrate women and perpetuate old stereotypes. I hate marketing some days too, but here’s what some of it CAN look like. Problematic still? Sure. But not this trainwreck.

Nike

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Bell’s

Levi’s: Go Forth

Powerade

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People say to me a lot, in defense of sexist ads, that “sex sells.”

It’s actually been proven  again and again that sex and sexism doesn’t sell products (especially cheap ones to women). Sex gets people’s attention, yes – but unlike ads which play on deeper emotion, people don’t actually connect that desire with the product.

What does that mean? It means that all of these ads – these sexist stereotypes, the race to the bottom, are not actually done to sell products, in the longrun, but to perpetuate a certain point of view. These ads exist to tell women their place in the world, in the home, in relation to men.

I make a decent living writing ad copy; it’s not my job to perpetuate sexist stereotypes of the world, but to sell things. Aside from my ethical stance against it, in the face of all this data, why on earth would I continue to do it?

If you’re still making ads like this in 2014, I can tell you, without a doubt, unequivocally, taking all this evidence into account, that you’re not doing it for a paycheck.

You’re doing it because you’re sexist.

So stop.

The other day, I went into an Ethiopian restaurant and read through the beer selections. There was nothing I recognized – except the Bells’ Lager. “Bells?” I thought, “why do I recognize that name?” I found myself suffused with warm fuzzy feelings, and decided to order one.

It was only as the waiter came to the table, and I opened my mouth to order, that I realized where my preference had come from. My warm, sentimental good feelings about the brand had come from watching this ad.*

You do not have to be evil to sell things.

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*it has since been pointed out to me that Bell’s Whisky and Bell’s Lager are two *entirely* different companies. I actually think this makes it even funnier, as an ad for the Bell’s Whisky made me want to buy an entirely different product from a different company, as they were both alcoholic beverage company’s which shared the same name. Marketing protip: Be sure the branded name of your product is unique to your product category, or you will be successfully selling (or turning someone off) someone else’s product!

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.

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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.

images

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.