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Posts Tagged ‘The F Word’

You Don’t Owe Anyone Your Time

One of the drawbacks to our “always on” culture is this expectation that if we see something, we have to respond to it. “Sea lions” take advantage of this knee jerk reaction we have to engage with people who ask us questions on the internet. They can get you to waste hours going around in circles “explaining” things to them that can be easily googled. If you aren’t careful you could find yourself spending all day “explaining” why women should have the right to vote and why slavery is bad and why police shouldn’t shoot unarmed people in the street and yes, the Holocaust really happened my grandfather helped haul the bodies out of the camps.

The fact that we feel we have to reassert reasonable moral positions and actual facts which should be common knowledge over and over is depressing in and of itself. But when you feel the urge to do so I want you to remember this quote from Toni Morrison:

“The function, the very serious function of racism, is distraction. It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. Somebody says you have no language, so you spend twenty years proving that you do. Somebody says your head isn’t shaped properly, so you have scientists working on the fact that it is. Someone says you have no art, so you dredge that up. Somebody says you have no kingdoms, so you dredge that up. None of that is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

In case it’s not obvious, this quote can easily apply to any other type of “ism” out there. No one wants you to do your work. Doing your work can change the status quo. And that’s why they work so hard to keep you from doing it.

Certainly one in a position of privilege does have a moral imperative to state, “This atrocity is wrong.” But when you buckle down to engage the haters on any issue, consider what your end goal is in having that conversation, and consider what other valuable work you could be doing with that time. I can pretty much guarantee you that, say, writing The Geek Feminist Revolution and getting it into people’s hands was worth about a billion times more than spending that time arguing with dudes on the internet who were just there to distract me. They aren’t here to change minds. They are here to keep us from doing the work that changes the world.

We all have a finite amount of time on this earth. Those of us with chronic illness or who have had near-death experiences appreciate that more than others. I feel that it’s my moral imperative to remind you that you could get hit by a bus tomorrow. And if you did, would you regret how you’d spend the hour, the day, the week, the month, the year before?

My goal is to live the sort of life where I won’t feel I’ve wasted my time if I die tomorrow. It has kept me on target through a lot of bullshit. The truth is that all this shit is made up, and because it’s made up, it can be remade. But only if we focus our efforts on creating the work that moves the conversation forward, instead of letting ourselves get caught up in the distraction.

Is Living Worth It?

As I get older, I consider mortality a lot more, though never more than I did when I was 26 years old and learned that I had a chronic immune disorder.

Prior to getting this disease I felt I was a pretty tough person. I went to boxing classes twice a week. I worked out. Sure, I had some allergies, but until my long slog into illness I didn’t get sick that often. I spent a lot of time thinking about the apocalypse, and how I’d manage to survive – a badass with a machete and a shotgun – while the world collapsed around me.

I don’t think so much about surviving the post-apocalypse anymore.

As a type 1 diabetic, I require four or five shots of synthetic insulin a day in order to survive. If I miss these shots for more than about 48 hours, I will go into a coma and die. If I don’t time these shots correctly and overdose, I could go into a coma and die. If I get stuck out somewhere without a way to increase my blood sugar should I take too much insulin, I will go into a coma and die. If I’m traveling and my insulin gets too hot, or too cold, and is destroyed, I will die.

Death is very close.

Being that close to death all the time changes the way you think about life. It’s why I feel such an affinity for other people who’ve been through it, or who are going through it. My spouse is a cancer survivor. He had just finished the last of his radiation a few months before we met. We understood life in a way that only people who’ve stared at death really do.  You appreciate the little things a lot more. You constantly feel like you’re running on borrowed time.

Most of all, you get how precious life is, and you do your damnedest to hold onto it.

In reading this post from Steven Spohn over at Wendig’s site, I was reminded of this again. I may have all the appearances of being able-bodied, but when people talk about tossing out people for being defective, I can tell you that somewhere on there, no matter how far down, I am on that list. I know that because before I got sick, I put people like me on that list. I believed in “survival of the fittest.” What I didn’t realize is that “fittest” is a lie. The “fittest” don’t survive. There are some truly ridiculous animals out there (pandas??? Narwhales??). Those who survive are the most adapted to their particular niche. That is all. They are not stronger or smarter or cooler or better built or more logical. In fact, some of the world’s most illogical animals continue to survive (PANDAS! Sorry, I just saw a documentary about pandas, and jesus). Life isn’t actually a competitive game at all. Life is, instead, an experience. Life is a fluke, maybe. Or perhaps consciousness is what drives the creation of the universe. We could be everything or nothing. But what we are is alive, in this time and place, and that in itself, considering all the things that had to happen to get us here, is extraordinary.

I don’t believe in the callous attitude that life is garbage, that we’re all expendable, that existence is meaningless and we should throw everyone who can’t row the boat overboard. Because really, is rowing the boat everything we need to survive? What else does it take, to make the world? To build a society? Who do we become, when we choose who lives, and who dies, who is precious, and who is expendable?

In many other times, I’d be dead. My doctor told me that if I’d been wheeled into the ICU in the shape I was in 20 years ago, I’d be dead. But here I am, writing this post, and writing stories for you. Does my life have value? Or should I be a plot point in someone else’s story? And if you say, “Oh, Kameron, we believe you’re a human,” then where do you draw the line? At what point will you say, “It’s OK to throw that other person under the bus, because they can’t walk, or talk, or because keeping them alive is just so expensive!” Where is your line, for which lives matter? And who are you to make that call? Unless you have the ability to bear children, you do not get to say what lives come into the world, and what lives don’t, because they are not of your body. Instead, they are part of your society, individuals who rely on one another to survive. We are all here, with are our special little quirks and our individual needs, and when you draw a line, I know, I have seen that line move. I have seen how we say, “Oh, just this one. Then that one. Then one more.”

No one would ask me, “Is living worth it?” because they don’t know what I have to do to ensure I keep living. I can tell you: some days it drives me fucking crazy. Some days I want to give up. But that’s my choice. It’s not a choice for a list. And if you are writing people who, like me, must make that choice every day: “Do I take the shot or not? Do I live today or not?” remember that we don’t exist as a plot point in someone else’s story.

More often than not, we are far too busy making our own.

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)