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Posts Tagged ‘The F Word’

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

13626679586930

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

Vintage-Ads-Keep-Her-e1334071456428

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

2008-05-04-images-image

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

brainwreck_com_42959_1398993312

2012: Vodka

rapey-belvedere-ad-400x470

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

serena_1

Bell’s

Levi’s: Go Forth

Powerade

powerade_thousand_miles

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.

———————————————————-

*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.

Die Hard, Hetaera, and Problematic Pin-Ups: A Rant

I watch Die Hard at least a couple of times a year; it’s one of the best written films out there. But there were always two moments in the film that confounded me from the very start, even when I watched it as a kid. There’s a moment when John McClane is upstairs in the floors under construction, and he’s trying to figure out how to get the attention of the police even though the phone lines are cut. During this high tension scene, the camera’s attention swoops with John’s to the building across the way, where a naked woman is talking on the phone, and the camera holds there for a few seconds while he watches her, open mouthed. Right after this moment, he hits the fire alarm to call the authorities, so I figured that somehow this scene was meant to show us his thought processes – hey, other people in the buildings next door have phones. What other way do we have to communicate? – in addition to being a general male-gazey moment for the audience.

But on actually reading the script recently, I found that this scene was in fact meant to be nothing more than what it is – John checking out a naked lady on the phone in the next building. It wasn’t supposed to lead to some other revelation. It wasn’t the bridge scene between “what do I do?” and “pull the fire alarm.”

It was just a dude watching a naked woman.

There’s another interesting moment that happens as McClane is running around the rooftop of the building. At one point he cuts through a locker room, and there’s a Playboy pin-up on the wall. He is literally being chased by people with guns, and he slows down and takes a moment to appreciate the pin-up. Later, he goes so far as to pat the pin-up again- for luck, presumably? – as his situation continues to deteriorate.

bruce-willis-as-john-mcclane-in-die-hard

Die Hard is an 80’s movie, one with a core emotional conflict that centered on real social change happening at the time – women moving into executive positions who had begun out-earning their husbands. Where was the place for men, in a world like that? How did you define being a man, when it wasn’t through being a bread-winner?  What does it mean to be a dude when there are no more monsters to fight and your wife is a CEO?

This is where the film doubles-down on John McClane’s masculinity. Not only is he a tough cop with the skills to protect his wife from “real” danger (as opposed to corporate mergers), but he’s a red-blooded type of man with a healthy, lusty drive for women. He is not, the film insists, hen-pecked or submissive or cuckolded or de-manned in any way by his financially more powerful wife.  These little nods – however odd, within the context of the actual narrative – which is a dude being chased through a tower by terrorists – showing him participating in the “normal” objectification of women are meant, I think, to be reassuring.

Weirdly.

Just as a soldier in WWII would paint a lusty pin-up on his plane, or have it folded up in his jacket, McClane both acknowledges and pats his own, for luck. She is not meant to be a real person, of course.  The real person, the problematic, complicated person, is his wife. The pin-up is the easy stand-in; something easily controlled, always there; reassuring. They are objectifications of people.  People who can be owned and called upon whenever the viewer needs them. They exist as things, and they exist primarily for one purpose.

It turns out that the other Playboy playmate featured in the film is the one who shows up topless in the film, interrupted as she and a colleague are getting it on in a spare office.

Color me unsurprised when I learned that bit of trivia.

The playmates had their one purpose.

Context is important when we choose to make a piece of art. Knowing and understanding how our piece of art will be read or viewed within the historical context of other pieces of art is vital to both understanding how others will read it and formulating the defense of our choice despite that context. As someone who wrote a very violent series of novels featuring a cast of characters who use Arabic words on occasion, I’m pretty familiar with the importance of this process.

Context, or lack, thereof, was one of the reasons I found the notion of the literary pin-up calendars the last few years really noxious and depressing.   Because despite the many posts I would see from folks defending them (folks hopping in and feeling there was a need to defend them, before they’d even been made, spoke volumes right off the bat), and the fact that the latest one was, in fact, in support of Clarion, the project wasn’t going to escape being seen within the history of the pin-up.  No matter how much everyone wished it.

And that’s what I saw. How those images have been used, by whom, and for what purpose.

But I avoided the discussion around it at the time, because wasn’t it obvious? Was it really worth my spoons?

The “pin-up” dates back to the late 1800’s, and was a form of marketing used for dancers and actresses. It’s interpreted by some as a rather rebellious act, flying in the face of Victorian sensibilities related to women’s place in the home, as opposed to in the public sphere. But it was not always the actress or dancer herself who created them, and as much as folks want to hang a hat on this as being somehow “empowering” I’ll note that it is, in fact, just a form of marketing. It was actresses and dancers all dolled up, looking their best, selling their performances based on their charming good looks; much of it just as stuffed, primped, and polished up as the worst Photoshop of our day. The pin-up was problematic already upon its inception, as they certainly would have been reminiscent of pornography; after all, if you were gussied up as a man, what other women besides ones’ wife was one actually supposed to gawk at in this medium?

Faking bodily perfection – in particular among women – has a long and sordid history, too. Did you know women in ancient Athens actually stuffed their clothes so they looked like they had bigger breasts and butts? They bound and smoothed flabby bodies. They wore wigs when necessary. They faked it.

But why? Why all the faking? Why did women have to look perfect in person, or at least perfect in the marketed pin-up?

Because women, in many cultures – and in the history of many cultures – are seen as commodities. As objects. Their worth is measured in beauty. Whether you’re selling me your idealized form yourself or someone else is doing it, the sad fact is that pushing these types of fake bullshit on us is part of a larger history of commoditizing people.  And yes, blah-blah people can be sexy in many! Different! Ways! – yes, that’s wonderful. People are sexy. But *this* type of representation of “sexy” doesn’t look like actual bed-time sexiness any more than your typical porn movie actually looks like you and your partner(s) getting it on.

It’s a trick. It’s marketing. It’s meant to be toxic, and create an unfulfilled desire – for you to want, or to want to aspire to – that only the object can fulfill.

Of course, people have fucked and procreated quite happily, full of imperfections, for hundreds of thousands of years. But we are less good at celebrating that, or simply accepting it, than we are at rubbing away people’s flaws and turning them into rock-god heroes we can all pretend we own, or pretend can be bought. Because there’s not a lot of money in telling everyone they’re attractive just as they are, or that a woman is not a thing one can own to soothe one’s problems. People still want to believe there are women, in particular, who will serve all their wants and needs and give up being a complicated company CEO in order to do it.

This is really what the pin-up is about. It’s about ownership. Inciting desire. Making people think they can own a thing by going out and seeing the actress at work, or hiring her for a show. It’s selling the desire for ownership.

After coming off a long period researching slavery in antiquity for my new series, it’s very difficult for me to go all rah-rah empowerment when I see folks trying to make perfection and/or subservience sexy.  There’s too much horrifying history behind that.

Rah-rah empowerment of this sort reminds me of the story of a “freed” woman in Athens, a former prostitute, whose “freedom” was actually bought by two men, two of her most ardent suitors. As lovely as it would be to think these folks had some kind of happy polyamorous union, or that they did this out of True Love, on reading the accounts of this particular transaction, she continued sleeping with them both from time to time (not living with them, but occasionally visiting them to have sex) because they effectively owned her; she was in debt to them.  So she was “free” sure, but only free from being forced to have sex with a lot of people instead of just these two people.  And oh, sure, it could indeed be more complicated than that. Stockholm’s syndrome, and all that. We often find ourselves in love with our oppressors, because otherwise we’d go mad. Maybe she even genuinely liked them. Maybe they liked her too, though I suspect that if that was the case, one of them would have married her, or helped her make a good living outside of fucking them.

This actually happened a lot in antiquity – men buying the “freedom” of a woman (and other men) and then continuing to have sex with them, only for “free.” It creeped the ever-loving fuck out of me, as much of my research about Athens did, because as much as the U.S. school system holds up Athens as some kind of modern utopia, the truth is the top 1% of people were ruling over a vast, stratified society of people in various states of enslavement.

It’s creepy as all get-out, these varying levels of body-ownership.

And in this society of enslavement and subservience, in a culture of people as things, courtesans and hetaera and the like also understood the importance of marketing.  It’s why they faked their looks with cosmetics and sewn-up hair, and plush butts.  Because they knew they were only as valuable as their perceived worth as sexual objects, or, at least, desirable objects that the 1% could fight over.

I hadn’t much thought about the annoying literary pin-up calendars in a while – not since January, when Justin at Staffer’s Book Review brought it up again as being intensely problematic.  As I told Justin at the time, it was one of those low-level annoyances I’ve learned to live with over the years. I try to save my ire for the truly egregious things these days. I only have so many spoons.

But this morning I clicked through to a link of a woman who’d undergone surgeries for three types of cancers. With clothes on, from the neck up, you’d assume she had the form of some privileged person, and of course, with clothes on, and with her thin frame and symmetrical features, she does likely enjoy a lot of privilege out in the big bad world.

But what she’d actually done is take her clothes off, not to be pin-up sexy, but to be real about what bodies which have survived three types of cancer actually look like. She’d had reconstructive surgery on her breasts, which were missing nipples. There was a broad scar across her belly from her hysterectomy. More scars on her legs, her arms; there was loose, stretched skin from rapid weight loss related to her illness. And though her face was carefully made up as any pin-up’s would be, her body showed us a much realer picture; her body carried the record of what she’d been through.  Hers was the body of a person who’d been through the shit and survived it, not a body we were invited to own.

It was in staring at that picture that I became angry again at the idea that pin-up calendars were being used to support literary foundations. Because it was in that moment that the whole complicated hand-wringing I’d seen so many do in support of the calendar just fell apart for me.

We are selling fantasies.

As fantasists, as fiction writers, we sell fantasy. I get that. But fantasy is not bodies. It’s stories. What we sell does not have to be in service to narrative of objectification.

I don’t sell stories about perfect people you can stack neatly on a shelf, anyway. I’d argue few writers actually do. I present flawed, angry, battered, busted, messed-up people who aren’t here to be your fucking friends. They’re not here to fulfill your desires. They are not here to be looked at, or owned. In truth, when I write “the end” I strive to ensure that all of my characters have a life that’s going on beyond that last page, a life you might think about sometimes; you might wonder what they’re up to. But it’s not a life you own, any more than you own mine. It’s a life you get to participate in for a while, maybe. But then they go home, and you go home.

When I started to try and figure out what a pin-up calendar of characters from my books would look like, I came up a blank, because my characters aren’t selling their bodies. They aren’t meant to be singular sexual objects, or actresses (or actors). They’re meant to be people. People who aren’t owned.

What you’d end up with is something like Nyx sitting on the toilet, belly fat spilling out, ragged scars up her thighs, hairy legs splayed, spitting sen on the floor from a bruised mouth. She’d be sitting there with mismatched skin lined in scars and stretch marks and maybe paging through some boxing magazine, fuck-it-all-not-interested in you, flabby breasts unbound and spilling onto her stomach. And she could give a fuck about you. She’s not interested in you, or your problems, or patting you on the head, or giving you some bit of happy luck when you throw yourself from a rooftop crawling with German terrorists.

And that’s just the one who doesn’t give a toss for being naked. There are a million other characters who would spit in your face before posing as objects, to be drawn out and commoditized; it would mean rejecting everything they were, everything they believed in, to pose as some perfect, pawed-over item in a stranger’s inventory.  I tried to imagine Lilia, the primary protagonist in my new series, with her scarred face and clawed hand and bum leg, whose entire existence has been within in a consent culture where people retain absolute autonomy over themselves and their bodies and their desires, getting pitched this idea, and I could just imagine her screwing up her face like, “You want what?”   il_340x270_522613521_kyqm

Because make no mistake – pin-ups are created to cash in on the desires of others, from the very start. They are a marketing medium. They are meant to sell us idealized fantasy, perfect objects, things, and they do this by presenting people the same way we would a sexy new dishwasher or succulent browned duck ready for the eating. “Here is something you can own,” we say. “Something just for you.”

And the bodies we present to them are flawless objects, beautifully rendered.

Own this. Be this. Do this.

But I’m not selling bodies. I’m selling stories.

Stories. 

And, just like that, after looking at that image this morning, I saw all the calendars we prop up, the calendars we go through such squirrelly mindfucking double-think to make “OK” and empowering, and all about sexy-sexy take-control-of-the-narrative actually became, quite quickly, quite simply, and quite easily, just another part of a fucked narrative. Just another example of presenting flawless bodies for easy consumption – instead of stories.

For all the back-bending work we do to defend our problematic choices, sometimes we’re not actually working out how to save the world, or stop sexism, or empower women with pole dancing.

Sometimes all we’re really doing is being a dude watching a naked woman in the next building, biding our time until the next plot token arrives.

Women and Gentlemen: Unmasking the Sobering Realities of Hyper-Masculine Characters

This post was originally hosted at Kari Sperring’s place. For those who find the format a little awkward to read, or who are having issues with LJ, I’ve reprinted it here:  

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In the movie The Jewel of the Nile, sequel to Romancing the Stone, romance author Joan Wilder has written herself into a corner. Pirates have boarded the ship containing her heroine and the heroine’s lover. First, Wilder writes that the hero sacrifices himself to the pirates, allowing the heroine to get away in a rowboat – women and children first, after all.

But Wilder found herself deeply unsatisfied with this turn of events. It’s pretty cliché, after all, and this was 1985 – women’s lib, all that. So she rewrites it so the heroine sacrifices herself to allow her lover to get away. Stuck now with her heroine in the hands of the pirates and her formerly swashbuckling hero cowering in a rowboat, Wilder, frustrated with her choices, throws her typewriter overboard.

Whatever option she chose, it all felt ridiculous.

After almost twenty years writing fiction, it’s an impulse I can sympathize with.

When I started writing short fiction, I spent a lot of time writing sword-and-sorceress stories. I wrote about women who wielded swords and magic, who sacrificed themselves for greater causes, whose concerns were lovers and children. If I flipped them from women to men, they would be considered, perhaps, softer sorts of heroes – goody-goodies, a little too warm, a little too self-sacrificing. For boys, anyway.

Odd, I thought, that I would read these characters differently with a gender reversal. Why was that?

There was something that bugged me about how I wrote these women. It was like I put a sword in her hand and it didn’t change her. It’s like I didn’t consider how a life of violence would transform a person. I didn’t consider how training a person to kill, and putting them into violent situations, would badly damage the way they interacted with the rest of the world outside a battlefield.

Like Wilder, I felt like I was writing my characters into situations that simply weren’t satisfying. images

I had a deep love of 80’s post-apocalypse movies and science fiction classics. Lone-gun hero types with no attachments; incapable of forming long-term relationships, valorized for their ability to bust down walls and shoot bad guys, but often incapable of living in civilized society. I looked at these male action heroes and wondered if we would cheer and celebrate them, their anti-social behavior wholly unquestioned, just as loudly if they were women.

So I began to write about the sort of heroes I loved – whiskey drinking, gun toting, lone wolf types – and I made them women.

I thought, at first, this was going to be really fun. I’d have these swashbuckling, heroic women who didn’t care about anyone or anything, forging off to do battle. And yeah, for the most part, it was fun. But then something interesting started to happen.

By turning squads of soldiers committing war crimes into women, and invading forces from other shores into women, I started to peel back the “normalcy” we attach to this extreme sort of masculinity, and uncover the rottenness at much of its core – while simultaneously creating more interesting and complex visions of women.

In my novel, God’s War, I created a former government assassin turned bounty hunter who was also a war vet. She could accomplish some insane acts of violence. She was notoriously tough to kill. But becoming a killing machine had taken its toll. For all the blood and glory, achieving this pinnacle of strength and perfection her society encouraged required her to give up being able to function within any kind of settled civilization. She couldn’t have normal relationships. She struggled to have friends. She self-medicated with whiskey and mild narcotics. She found the idea of motherhood suspect at best.

I had, I realized, created a monster. I’d created an 80’s action hero.

By putting women into these hyper-masculine roles, I was simultaneously challenging the portrayal of women in fiction as the people who do (as opposed to the people who have things done to them) and encouraging readers to take another look at both the benefits and severe drawbacks of that type of masculinity.

We toss men into the maw of war and call them weak or shell-shocked or mad for coming back physically changed. We say a man who hits women and children is a bully coward, but call him weak for expressing emotions beyond anger and rage. By putting my female characters into this masculinity trap, where they were expected to perform violence and shut down emotion, it gave me a new view of the expectations we have of many men in this society, expectations that linger in the broader media even as we, as individuals, cry out for change.

Expectations of masculinity can creep up on you, because to some extent we still view “masculine” as normal, the default, and “feminine” behavior as “other.” If you think this is not the case, see what happens when you send your son to school in a dress. We can pretend all we like that women are equal, but as long as men and women are continually encouraged to suppress the broad aspects of their humanity which we decry as “feminine” – we’re all screwed.

Because it’s those things we celebrate as “other” that make us truly human. It’s what we label “soft” or “feminine” that makes civilization possible. It’s our empathy, our ability to care and nurture and connect. It’s our ability to come together. To build. To remake. Asking men to cut away their “feminine” traits asked them to cut away half their humanity, just as asking women to suppress their “masculine” traits was asking them to deny their full autonomy.

What makes us human is not one or the other – the fist or the open palm – it’s our ability to embrace both, and choose the appropriate action for the situation we’re in. Because to deny one half – to burn down the world or refuse to defend the world from those who would burn it – is to deny our humanity and become something less than human.

downloadWhen I see other writers celebrating their masculine stories in worlds which are 90% male, I wonder, often, if they’ve forgotten the full humanity of the people they’re writing about. If they fail to see and interrogate what happens when they erase half an individual, and half the world, they’re suffering an incredible failure of imagination. A willful blindness. It’s celebrating a broken world that never was.

I, too, grew up on Conan stories and Mad Max. I grew up celebrating dangerous alpha males who fucked and drank and blew shit up with no consequences. But whereas other authors, perhaps, grew up to emulate those sorts of hyper-masculine heroes without question, I started to think about how Conan would actually get along in a world. I started to think about ways that hyper masculinity would affect the quality of their lives. I realized that Conan would never have a happy ending. Whether or not that’s something to celebrate, I don’t know. But it’s something we should talk about.

What I found when I started to explore the full potential of my characters is that my stories got better, too. I wasn’t impeding the possibilities of my characters with lazy stereotypes, expected conflicts, and failures of imagination. I was looking at all the different ways we express our humanity.

I was writing about people. Not caricatures.

When we go forward to forge new worlds – fantastic, science fictional – we could do worse than remember that just as our worlds are constructed, the people within it are constructed, too. We create boxes and toss people into them, regardless of their intrinsic ability to fight or nurture or build or destroy. How your characters navigate those social expectations and responsibilities has less to do with their physical sex than it does the ways they choose to adhere to or fight those expectations.

So maybe it’s your hero who gets the rowboat, or your heroine. Or maybe, in truth, there’s another option – maybe they turn and fight the pirates together. Maybe they skillfully talk them out of plunder with a witty, well-chosen story or clever ruse.

Maybe there’s another way out. Maybe it’s not either/or.

That’s the far more interesting story – what our characters do when they’re allowed to be people, not parodies of our own flawed expectations.

The Body Project, a Prelude (or, your body is a battlefield)

My body has always been a place of battle.

When I was younger, it was personal, self-inflicted strife encouraged by schoolyard taunts of “water  buffalo!” and “pig!” supplemented by family matriarchs who were permanently obsessed with the width of their own asses (and, very often, mine and that of my siblings), despite advanced degrees, working class jobs that soon became high-powered ones, and increasing awards and honors.

drunkspiration-26Near-death helped me put my body project into perspective. Three or four hours of exercise a day to maintain a still pleasantly plump physique seemed overkill. Hating myself when death had been so close seemed the worst sort of irony. So I gave up hating myself.

It was weirdly liberating.

But giving up on one’s self-inflicted angst does not magically erase the pressures of a society that hems you in from all sides.

As I’ve become more successful – written award winning books, got my own respectable job and advanced degrees, raked in freelancing work, and paid off debts, the headspace I retained for my body project – for the relentless hours a day required to maintain my pants size – dwindled.

It made more sense to focus those extra hours on money-making ventures now, while I was in my prime. This was the time to make the money and connections and (hopefully) book deals that would pay residuals in my old age.

Now was not the time to spend hours invested in worrying over the size of my ass.

So though I continued to put in time at the treadmill desk and the occasional workout video, I spent more and more time working toward career goals, and less concerned about the societal and family woes of body hatred I’d lapped up since birth.

It wasn’t until I tried to get my ass into an airplane seat for an international flight a couple months ago that I realized I was about half an inch of ass away from not being able to fit in one anymore.

Practicality is important. I like to travel. This was a real concern. I needed to work my way back into a comfortable seat.

If that was all the concern I had, though, it would hardly warrant a project. Let alone a post.

But the map of the professional writing world is changing, too. And it wants to relentlessly haul my ass around with it.

Far worse, and more troubling to me, is the emphasis that my chosen profession, writing, is starting to put on personal appearance, and how that appearance, of course, has to adhere to general societal norms. And that meant acceptable levels of corpulence. The level of corpulence allowed for women, even geeky ones, is far outside even my maintenance weight.

This shift meant that all the energy I was spending on real, tangible projects – some that, like my fiction, may outlast my corporeal form – had to be turned back to the body project if I wanted to participate with even the minimum amount of expected heckling and harassment.

I’ve been asked more and more to complete video projects, not just for fiction endeavors – acceptance speeches, video blogs, Google hangouts, taped panels, and the like – but also for job interviews. Yes, really. I realized, with increasing unease, that being both female and fat were two huge strikes against me in any video medium, no matter what I thought of myself. I was going to have to be twenty times as brilliant with a waggling chin and wide ass than my male counterparts. Because as much as I didn’t hate myself, and was happy to toss a couple years worth of body project hours into actual, tangible accomplishments the way a dude would, it wasn’t my immediate accomplishments I was going to get judged on by casual observers. I’d be judged on whether or not I had the “discipline” to take up less space in the world.

drunkspiration-01Immediately. On sight. Snap judgement.

There’s a reason I keep photos off all my books. I’ve been well aware since birth that, as a woman, if your appearance did nothing to advance your cause, best not to flaunt it.

When I was in high school, there was a brief period where I flirted with the idea of giving up writing to pursue acting full time, because I was pretty decent at it. I still pull on my theater training to accomplish extroverted events. But I quickly understood that if you’re heavier or taller than the chosen male lead, your chances of being chosen to star across from him are incredibly small, no matter how rockin’ your talent. And despite my body hatred at the time, I’d tried and failed at winnowing myself down to anything less than a size 14 (in truth, body hatred has never led to sustained maintenance, only more hatred and yo-yoing).  Only severe illness and near death got me to a “normal” weight in Chicago. To get within ten pounds of that in Alaska, I spent three hours a day at the gym, six days a week, and lived on eggs, rice, mixed veggies and string cheese. For a college kid who found school very easy, giving over this much time and headspace to a body project was a chore, sure, but not impossible. I could look more or less “normal” by dedicating my entire life, from waking to sleeping, to acting supremely abnormally.

Obsessing over a body project left me less time for real work. For writing. For speaking. For activisim.

As, I suspect, is intended by this societal obsession, spending time dedicated to the body meant less time dedicated to being an actual politically powerful member of said society.

I figured out early on that writing was the better bet. I could look the way I looked – wide and frumpy, with a decent right hook – without my talent coming into question. My talent was all on the page.

But video and the rise in insistence on author images is changing my perception of how much I can rely totally on talent.

Pursuing my writing career wholeheartedly – while having a limited number of spoons since diagnosed with my illness – has meant a number of tradeoffs. One of those was the definitive decision not to have children – which, to be dead honest, was more relief than tradeoff. Another was realizing that in order to have three full-time jobs – copywriting day job, freelancing for three clients, and writing novels – the endless body project had to go.

Now, looking at my aversion to video and addicition to international travel, I’ve had to let go of some of the hustle to focus on the ass, which twists my insides so badly I can’t even articulate it properly.

Spending three hours at the treadmill desk a day, writing blog posts like this one, is a nice exercise in multitasking, but adding an hour on the indoor bike and another half hour of strength training to that requires a lot of headspace that I could be spending, say, writing another book.

Yet here I am. Body project ahoy.

Some folks may cheer and shout happy motivational phrases at me. But really, how healthy are those motivating work-your-body-project-til-you-die quotes? What if we applied them to some other obsession, like alcohol or drugs? Maybe we’d be better off applying them to real things, like the pursuit of social justice.

drunkspiration-11

One of the perpetual rages I engage in is this realization that though I may seek to live in a space outside of the wider culture, the wider culture goes on happily without me, and is still happy to judge me by standards I could give a shit about. I can hold up my list of accomplishments and quote my salary to my heart’s content, but that doesn’t change the fact that if I start video blogging tomorrow, the first thing a new viewer sees is a fat woman, and they bring to that viewing all the societal baggage that comes with that. No matter my salary and list of awards, every time a new photo of me pops up on Facebook or in Locus I suspect that there are certain family members who will cheerfully offer to pay for me to go to Jenny Craig before praising me for my many and varied accomplishments.

So goes the battlefield of the body. It’s the knowledge that no matter if you sell a million copies of a book, or get an HBO series, or make six figures a year, you will still be viewed, judged, and measured by the width of your ass and the jiggle of your chest.

It is having to choose – every year, every month, every day, every hour – which cause I should devote a spoon to. Another hour on the treadmill? Or another story for the mill?

Often, it’s not both. It’s either/or.

You have energy for one. You will be judged, regardless.

Choose your project.

Forgotten Fantasy Favorites: Assassin’s Apprentice

Forgotten Fantasy Favorites: An irregular series

In the rush of GRRM and Joe Abercrombie madness these days, I couldn’t help but notice that a good deal of excellent grimdark-y fantasy from the last thirty years seems to have been tucked under the rug and forgotten, as if nobody wrote about incest or political intrigue before 2001. In this irregular series of posts, I want to highlight some of my favorite fantasy epics – gritty and otherwise – of the last twenty years.

You might think it’s impossible for folks to talk about epic fantasy without talking about Robin Hobb. In fact, I hesitated to put Hobb’s name on the list of writers I showcased for this series. But I’ve noticed a few “fantasy canon” or “hot fantasy that broke all the rules!”-type posts that have overlooked Hobb, which is both shocking and seemingly impossible, as Hobb’s work, I’d argue, had one of the first (and I think most influencial) “heroes don’t win shit” messages. It was proto-grimdark, and shocking for me to read as a teen in a fantasy landscape where heroes always got the girl and other Grand Prizes one gets from Saving the World

9780553573398_custom-4916c7e358c95aeafb7ebb2e67f473dc932d20a4-s6-c30If Jon Snow had been raised in the Starks’s kennels as their personal assassin, well – you’d have something very like Assassin’s Apprentice, Hobb’s first book written under that name. Assassin came out the same year as Game of Thrones, and incited quite a bit more buzz, as I recall, because Hobb was an obvious pseudonym and nobody could figure out what Amazing Established Writer had come out of nowhere to write such a gutwrenching epic.

In fact, Hobb’s name was a carefully calculated pen name, as her work under her real name, Megan Lindholm, hadn’t sold as well as folks liked and was in an entirely other genre (urban fantasy of the old school “creepy shit happening in cities” type, not the werewolves-sexing-up-vampires type). The new name and – most importantly – the dark, gritty, lush and amazing storytelling did the trick, and Hobb’s work has become a large influence in breathing new life into the fantasy genre.

The astonishing thing about the erasure of this particular fantasy great in the narrative is that not only are her books well-selling (and well-paying – after her Assassin books, her next series is reported to have garnered a 7 figure advance) but she has just announced another trilogy set in the same universe, The Fitz and the Fool trilogy, with the next book coming out in 2014.

 

 

The Blog Post that Lost Me Half My Audience

Back when I first started this blog in 2004, I grew an audience that was primarily and deeply feminist. My regular traffic was about 400 visits at day, which – at the time – seemed like a whole lot of people. Then I wrote a post about “women-only” forums that pissed off a whole lot of people, and my readership fell in half.  Obviously things have changed since then, but at the time it was a really big blow. I had made a lot of people angry, and I couldn’t understand why.

What was I saying that pissed people off? I was musing about the fact that feminist women in conversation with other feminist women was great for stuff like consciousness raising, and getting events organized and having in-depth discussions outside of “feminism 101” but if we really wanted to change things, we were going to need to have everybody talking about feminism, not just women. Because let’s face it. Women are considered a minority group. Things like having healthier babies and pregnancies (making more people!) and trying to improve poverty rates and gender discrimination in schools and workplaces isn’t important to people (even a lot of women) unless men are talking about it too. Not to mention the fact that the term “women” itself in this instance was being applied  in a very exclusive way that I didn’t agree with – you had to have been categorized as a woman from the time you were born (trans people didn’t count, which is the dumbest thing I ever heard), and also “feminist” which could mean all sorts of things. Are you a feminist if you believe a man should always make more money than a woman, but believe in abortion rights? Are you a feminist if you think women are biologically inferior to men but should still be accorded the same legal rights and protections? Or do only radical feminist women-born-women who are ready for bloody revolution count? (talk about echo chamber)

But what I recognized then, and what has been proven as it’s played out since then, is that unless men were talking about something as being important, or women did some bloody revolution thing, folks were going to tune it out as unimportant (women and men alike. We’re all born in a misogynist society. We all default to prioritizing men’s voices over women). Women had to raise feminist sons, and educate other women and their partners. Then those generations of folks all needed to get together and say, “This is fucked up.” And together, epic sea tide of change, happyville, etc.tumblr_lwbytfV7RO1qb8ugro1_500-193x250

It’s great to sit around and talk about feminist things in feminist spaces. A lot of work gets done there. But I also need to make my presence known outside of feminist spaces. I can’t just get shuttled off onto the “Women in…” panel at every con while not getting offered anything else. I can talk about religion and worldbuilding and character and creating conflict and military SF/F and a lot of other things.  So while I’m happy to do a “Women in…” panel, I have to do it alongside something else. I’m not going to get pigeonholed as the person folks come to to talk about “Women in…” because let’s be fucking real – women are in worldbuilding and religion and military SF, too, and we should be talked about in all those “general” fiction and fandom panels, not relegated to the “Women in… “ track. Want an inclusive general panel, then put me on it, because I’ll strive to talk about everybody, not just the same four dudes we always cite. I knew I had to work harder to keep from being pigeonholed. Men could talk about strong female characters without only ever getting put on the strong female characters panel. But I had to be a little more careful.

I thought this was a great idea right up until I was surfing the internet yesterday and saw somebody ask who they should talk to if they were writing an article about sexism in SF/F. The answer from one of the commenters was “Jim Hines or John Scalzi.”

Yes, really.

I about shit myself. The whole point of having these inclusive conversations was so that stuff like sexism would be taken seriously (and that’s working, hurrah!) but holy shit, to watch women and their opinions removed from the dialogue entirely was really bizarre, and a testament to how difficult it is to change the narrative of how we talk about things that are important. How wonderful it is that sexism is now deemed important to talk about… but why are we only recommending male “experts”? Why are all the women who championed and participated in these very public conversations (some of them for many, many years) – folks like Genevieve Valentine, Elise Matheson, Liz Henry, Cherie Priest, Amal El-Mohtar, Tansy Raynor Roberts, Nicola Griffith, Foz Meadows, NK Jemisin, Delilah Dawson, Cheryl Morgan, Mary Robinette Kowal, K. Tempest Bradford – and so very many others, very rarely quoted? Why aren’t they the first folks that come to mind (to women and men!)? Are people scared of them? Do they forget them?

Maybe, I thought, they weren’t quoted because, like me, they got tired of getting put in a box. Maybe they *were* being asked and were like, “Fucking A, you fuckers, ask me about being a fucking WRITER! Not a fucking LADY WRITER!!” Or, at the very least, make it an inclusive conversation.

But more likely, folks just forgot. They forgot that the whole surge of anger in SF/F about representation of women, queer folks, and people of color was actually started by women, queer folks, and people of color.

Of course, the reason we forget is the very thing we’re fighting: sexism, racism, discrimination of all sorts, the type that values one group’s narrative over another.

I should not gnash my teeth, as this was just what I talked about all those years ago, the very thing folks got angry with me about. Because now that dudes are talking more about sexism, and white people are talking about whitewashing, and hetero folks are talking about lack of queer characters, well, now we’re starting to see the publishers make a note in their submission guidelines that they’re open to “diverse” stories. And now folks are taking the whole, “Maybe it’s easier to be a white dude in the industry” thing seriously.

I should not complain. And for the most part, that’s not what this is. Instead, it’s a post about mourning the narrative. It’s a post about living long enough (it only takes 10 years) to be utterly erased from a narrative, and watch it happen, while the same old group of folks is handed over credit. Straight people will be applauded for “allowing” gay people to marry in history books, just as white people are celebrated for freeing the people they enslaved (how progressive they were!).  Women got the vote, after all, because men just felt sorry for having such a backward notion, right? The protests, the uprisings, the rebellions, the screaming, the fighting, the digging in, the sacrifices, the toil, the bravery, the hardship – all of that is forgotten.

What’s remembered, what we’ll write about, what we’ll teach our kids, is that one day a few folks magically woke up from their privilege, and benevolently freed us all from their own tyranny.

When I went through the comments on my old post about women-only spaces, and other blog responses to it, I couldn’t help but sigh over the reasons folks gave for keeping women-only spaces. “If we invite men into these spaces, they’ll take over the conversation,” folks said.

They were not wrong.

But I have to believe that an inclusive conversation will get us further than an exclusive one. I have to believe in the progress I’ve seen, though everyone keeps saying we have the same conversations every ten years. I have to believe that now that we’re making progress, it’s up to us to be aware of the narrative we tell, and the way we frame this story, as we continue to fight.

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