Thoughts from a PC Parrot
I told myself I wasn’t going to respond to the Apex blog post Plucking the PC Parrots in the Genre World. Apparently I lied.
I’m not going to rehash a conversation I’ve already had with the author, but a few points kept bugging me and demanding blog time.
Bondoni opens with an anecdote about an American Fortune 50 executive who smugly described hiring an unqualified black woman to meet their quota.
The veracity of this story was challenged in the comments. Personally, I don’t care. Anecdote =/= data. But Bondoni uses this as a lead-in to what he calls ToC Fail, “the PC crowd’s latest insanity,” where people complained about “The Mammoth Book of Mindblowing SF” having only white male contributors.
I’m missing the connection to his anecdote, since not one person in that 200+ comment thread suggested quotas. Nobody in any of the responses I read was advocating for quotas.
My Recommendation: Read what people are actually asking for, and stop derailing discussion by complaining about imaginary quotas.
“Of course, maybe [the editor] was a chauvinist pig. Maybe he went through the stories and systematically removed all of those with a female byline, and anything by Tiptree as well. But … I believe the editor simply chose the best stories he could. And this is exactly the way it should be. The best stories and ONLY the best stories should be included.”
Underlying Assumption: If discrimination isn’t conscious and deliberate, it doesn’t count.
Bonus Assumption: This all-white-male ToC actually represents the best stories.
“It seems to me that we’re still trying to fight a battle that was won years ago.” Bondoni states this more explicitly in the comments: “There is no misogyny in SF/F/H, and no racism, other than that nebulous ‘implied’ mysogyny and racism that we’re all so angsty about.”
Methinks that last sentence should read, “I’ve chosen not to see/acknowledge misogyny in SF/F/H, or racism…” Off the top of my head, without even touching things like Moon v. Wiscon or Racefail:
- Bloomsbury whitewashes the cover for Magic Under Glass.
- Justine Larbalestier on the whitewashing of Liar.
- Visual aid on the casting of The Last Airbender.
- Various defenses of the use of “Sheet head” from the Asimov Forums.
- Harlan Ellison gropes Connie Willis on-stage at the Hugos, because he apparently thought it would be funny.
- Comics are SF/F, right? Check out Women in Refrigerators.
- Or see this lovely licensed Marvel figurine of Mary Jane, from Spider Man.
- Baen’s cover art for their Young Flandry books.
- Nnedi Okorafor discusses the difficulties in getting black characters properly represented on her covers.
- A few first-hand examples of sexual harassment and assault at cons.
- EA encourages congoers to “commit acts of lust” with their booth babes.
- GenCon fails its save vs. misogyny.
Bonus Data Point:Bondoni refers to this article, which found that 85% of publishing employees (with 3 years experience or less) were female. I clicked through to the posted data, which also looked at executive information/salaries. In this “female-dominated” industry, 12 of the 14 publishing executives listed (that would be roughly 85%, right?) appear to be men. But women own the bottom of the totem pole, so it’s all good.
I’m not interested in arguing with Bondoni or in bashing him. I’ve done the former, and I suspect the latter would only reinforce his belief that the “PC Zombies” are out to have dissenters “crucified, tarred, feathered and, if possible, impaled.”
Bored now, and done. This zombie parrot has a goblin story to finish…
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October 21, 2010 @ 12:28 pm
I think you put it very well here. While my gut reaction is that some people might be overreacting (this is the internet after all) the fact that anyone could say a sentence like “There is no misogyny in SF/F/H, and no racism, other than that nebulous ‘implied’ mysogyny and racism that we’re all so angsty about.” with a straight face baffles me.
Being white, I tend not to be the subject of racism (read tend not to be as “never have been, obviously”). However, being white, I also see people perpetrating it often enough because they think I won’t care, or that I feel the same way that they do. I can’t believe the number of people who say something racist to me and then give me that wink, nudge, “Am I right?” look. Almost every instance, they don’t actually think what they’re saying is racist, they think it’s just TRUE. I had to defriend a family member who started a Facebook status with “I’m no racist but…” and then proceeded to make assumptions about a man based on his race and use the N-word to describe him. He honestly didn’t think what he was saying was racist. This kind of thing happens ALL THE TIME.
Being female, I do end up running into sexism and misogyny more than I’d like. Particularly given the fact that I’m going into a field that makes headlines every year for how male-dominated it is. It is not publishing, but one with similar statistics. The higher-ups are white males, and the racial minorities and women are filling in the lower ranks. Women are often kept to very specific jobs within the industry. It’s a bit like the outdated idea that women can be great cooks, can even be pastry chefs, but to be a real CHEF you have to be a man.
People don’t think this consciously. I’ve almost never run into someone who would look at me and say that my chosen career is impossible for me because I’m female. But they do think them. I have run up against sexism and it’s just as annoying baffling to me every time. In one particular job I held, I was frequently kept from the good assignments because the entire system was a “gold ol’ boys” club, and people who were less qualified, with less training, would be able to get the information that was necessary better than I was simply by virtue of being older and male. Nobody there ever said anything misogynistic to me in the year I worked for them, but at the same time I felt completely marginalized by the time I left.
I face less sexism in my field than many women I’ve known. Part of that is that we are slowly but surely getting better (but still have a long long way to go). Part of that is I refuse to go to the heart of the industry and instead I stay in a town that isn’t as cut-throat or competitive. Racism and misogyny are alive and well in all of America, in every industry, and in many individuals. It is by recognizing and identifying even unintentionally prejudiced actions that we are able to combat it. By ignoring it or pretending that we’re being too “PC” we simply don’t pay attention to a problem until it spreads and becomes worse.
Jim C. Hines
October 21, 2010 @ 1:35 pm
That matches with a lot of my own observations. When I run into issues of sexism or racism, it’s almost never a conscious or deliberate attempt to discriminate. It’s an automatic, learned thing, and that makes it easier to ignore for those not directly affected. I’m guessing that’s the case with the author of the Apex post.
And I agree with you that I think we’re continuing to get better, though progress also brings some nasty backlash. But pretending, “Yay, we fixed racism and sexism!” is not helpful.
October 21, 2010 @ 3:00 pm
I think the whole discussion can be boiled down to how one defines “best.” One white male’s idea of superior is not another’s, let alone that of a person of another color or gender, and to assume that the idea of “best” is objective, not subjective, is to exemplify how prejudice is still ingrained in many people’s subconscious. Racism and sexism aren’t over until people no longer feel marginalized. And whitewashing covers to sell more books certainly sounds marginalizing to me. I find it extremely important that people speak out when experiencing or witnessing such practices. It is only by altering our habit patterns and unexamined belief systems does true change occur. Once again, thanks for a thoughtful and heartfelt post.
October 21, 2010 @ 4:24 pm
What the people who get labeled PC are asking for is that their gender, race, religion, etc. be seen as part of them, not all of who they are, and as a part of them that does not have to be excised so that they sound more like white males or used to fully stereotype them in a bigoted generalization that discriminates against them and excludes them from opportunities, such as that women are not very good at writing SF, something that both the anthology editor Mike Ashley and Bondoni stated as their belief. That’s not being gender blind, that’s seeing only gender. A female writer is never just a writer who has a voice, but a woman first, and thus, unlikely to measure up. Mr. Ashley was not interested in stories written by women and non-whites and so did not find any of the ones he came into contact with sufficiently interesting, nor did he attempt to find any other ones. Mr. Bondoni ignores what Ashley said about women writers while fully accepting his word about the quality of the stories.
This is not surprising as he does the same thing in the anecdote he uses. He is told about a black woman being promoted by a (former) boss whom he knows to be racist and sexist and who he is only allowed to talk to because he is white, male and not foreign seeming (special treatment for being a white American male.) Bondoni does not know this woman, knows nothing about her personality, qualifications, education or work record. Yet, he accepts the word of his white male boss — a man who, along with his former manager, discriminates in Bondoni’s favor as a white male — that the woman is unqualified. All he knows about her is that she’s black and a woman, and that is all he sees. She’s just a race symbol to him, not an individual.
And the former boss is laughing because he’s “fooling” the black people and the government, etc. by hiring a “token” black female, to protect the nearly lily white, nearly all male top ranks where the real power is, as in most of the Fortune 500 companies still in our time. And Bondoni proposes that the former boss shouldn’t even have to bother fooling anyone. The supposedly special treatment being given to a black woman that according to a racist sexist she must not merit is a problem. The special treatment given to white males every day, systematically, from being able to catch a cab to getting paid more to not having to have your passport with you at all times in Arizona is either regretful but what you going to do or unimportant. Certainly, it’s not something to be challenged or further criticized. If you do, you’re an extremist and I can laugh at you. Bondoni is never going to listen to the experiences of non-white or female authors and fans because he can see only their race and gender. And that’s a shame.
October 21, 2010 @ 10:47 pm
Heh, I’ve made that point about women owning the bottom of the totem pole a dozen times. That very same article points out that the average female salary is ~$65,000 compared to the average male salary of ~$105,000. The point never seems to sink in. *sigh*
Anyway, I wanted to thank you for providing so many links. I’d been to two of them, read similar articles on a few more, and the rest were new sources to me. So thanks!
October 22, 2010 @ 6:52 am
I don’t want to sound ignorant or rude, but I found many of the comments in that blog post about the Mary Jane statue more “offensive” than the statue itself. I think comics are subject to this huge double standard in which it’s alright for men to be exaggerated with huge muscles, good figures, always attractive and (Sometimes) a large package, but if a woman is sexualised it’s suddenly offensive and rude. Almost all major female superheroes (Supergirl, Power Girl, Spider-Woman, Lady Deadpool etc) wear costumes very similar to the male ones in that they’re skin tight, show their figures and so forth, but a statue of Mary Jane showing her underwear (Which is *perfectly* common in real life, the amount of thongs and undergarments I’ve seen showing in public is ridiculous) is this great evil?
I don’t know about political correctness, and I don’t know how it works in the workplace. I think that all jobs are going to have a preferred gender. I would wager that if I applied for a job in a clothes shop for women and there was a woman who was equally as good as me applying, she would get the job *because* she’s a woman. I don’t believe it’s sexist, I believe it’s because she would know clothing and styles better than I would.
One film I’ve, oddly, found good for being against political correctness is American History X. The father of the protagonist rants at the dinner table because two men got firefighter jobs (Alongside himself) simply because they were black. They weren’t as good as the white guys (He makes it clear that they just weren’t as competent and it’s nothing to do with their skin colour), but their “quota” meant they had to take them. So, basically, these firefighters have two inferior guys watching their backs simply because of affirmative action. That, to me, is everything going too far, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was based on a true story.
I believe, personally, women are as good as men on average. Men are better at some things, women are better at others. Whether men write better sci-fi and women better urban fantasy, I don’t know, but perhaps there’s a reason why men dominate one genre and women the other. Society has a long way to go before everyone’s equal – Whether it’s due to a Marxist socialist revolution, men being “brought down” to the level of women (Or women being elevated) or something else. But it will take time, and I doubt it’ll happen in my lifetime.
Apologies if I missed the point.
Jim C. Hines
October 22, 2010 @ 8:37 am
You’re welcome! There are also a few SF/F and geek feminist wikis out there that have a lot of info, including links to various incidents and such.
Jim C. Hines
October 22, 2010 @ 8:45 am
Okay, let me start with this bit:
“I would wager that if I applied for a job in a clothes shop for women and there was a woman who was equally as good as me applying, she would get the job *because* she’s a woman. I don’t believe it’s sexist, I believe it’s because she would know clothing and styles better than I would.”
You’ve contradicted yourself here. You start by saying the two of you are equally qualified, but then say the woman would get the job, and that’s okay because she’s probably more qualified. If your final assumption is correct, then I’d agree she’s more qualified and should get the job. But where did that assumption come from?
“The father of the protagonist rants at the dinner table because two men got firefighter jobs (Alongside himself) simply because they were black. They weren’t as good as the white guys (He makes it clear that they just weren’t as competent and it’s nothing to do with their skin colour), but their “quota” meant they had to take them. So, basically, these firefighters have two inferior guys watching their backs simply because of affirmative action.”
I’ve seen the movie. There’s often an assumption that affirmative action means less qualified candidates getting hired over more qualified white men. However, in the movie you’re referring to, you’re taking a character who is written to be blatantly racist and trusting him as a reliable narrator and accurate judge of character. I find that problematic.
Re: the double-standards in comics and elsewhere, the question of why it’s so awful to sexualize/objectify women but not men, that’s a fairly complex discussion. One thing I’d point out is the power dynamic in these depictions. While men are often objectified, they’re less likely to be shown in powerless/victimized states, particularly sexualized. Check out http://blastr.com/2010/09/the-ten-greatest-all-nude.php which collected nude fight scenes from comics. Men and women both, but which strike you as exploitive?
There’s also the larger context. For men, sexualization/objectification is less likely to tie in to actual threats/dangers. Whereas the objectification of women ties more strongly into other issues of harassment and rape. (Yes, both men and women can be and are harassed and raped, but it’s a larger and more systemic problem for women.)
Does that make sense?
October 22, 2010 @ 10:12 am
Yep. Seems like I missed the point a bit 😉
As for my first point; Whoops. I guess I just assumed the woman would understand women’s clothing more than a man would, plus I guess it’s a sensitivity issue – If a woman was asking about, say, underwear, it’s entirely possible that a female salesperson would make her feel more comfortable.
In regards to AHX, I wouldn’t say I’m taking him to be an accurate judge as such, just that it’s an entirely plausible situation. I didn’t see him as racist, either, but I have been known to be “blind” to these things. I see that film as more of a warning of what happens if misguided anger relating from racial issues gets out of control.
As for that link, I’d say that the Batgirl one looked more like some form of mass sexual gathering rather than a fight (At least at first glance), but if you look at all the men, they’re all hulking beasts with lots of muscles and convenient muscles around their nethers. I’m not sure, to be honest.
October 22, 2010 @ 12:41 pm
Michael, in the history of comics, women have generally been drawn as sexier and with less clothing than the men, first as love interests or villains, then as superheroes themselves. The creator of Wonder Woman, for instance, used S&M fetish material and there is of course the iconic costume. Except for the occasional character like Superman, muscles weren’t that prominent. But starting slowly in the 1960’s, it became more of a style to make the male characters like Superman as you describe, with hyper stylized big muscles and, um, packages. This wasn’t for the females, because most of the audience for comics at the time were males. It was instead an idea of the bad ass powerful male, not the sexy male, the body builder. This style reached its apex in the 1980’s, when it became the standard for superhero comics and was part of the move towards darker, more noir comic interpretations of superheroes, such as the Dark Knight view of Batman. This happened to coincide with the big growth in female audiences in the 1980’s, which was not a result of male superheroes looking sexy, but of the expansion of all forms of SFFH — books, films, etc. — bringing in lots of new, female fans and the next wave of female writers who would go on to play a bigger role in comics. Today, women are still drawn with less clothing and more sexual intent than the male characters — and not as many muscles even though they are also superheroes. This is not necessarily a horrible thing. But when it comes to a statue as a memorial image, it’s a different issue. MJ is not a much loved character in comics just because she’s sexy, but because she’s intelligent, spunky and loyal. So if a statue only emphasizes dressing her up as a Pussycat Doll, declaring that her underwear is the most important thing about her, yeah, that’s going to be annoying to some. No matter how many muscles Batman is drawn with, that’s not what people are really into him for. (I don’t really care about Batman; I just want his car.)
Nor do women dominate urban fantasy. They are simply catching up in a sub-field where the majority of authors in previous decades were men. Laurell K. Hamilton had success at it in the 1990’s, and a small group of female authors had success with it in the oughts, as well as male authors like Neil Gaiman and Jim Butcher. Some of those women did probably come into the sub-field because they saw more opportunity in contemporary fantasy than alternate world fantasy, but most of it was simply women writers spreading out through SFFH, as they are into historical fantasy, international SF, and many other areas. Their gender has nothing to do with their ability to write anything, nor does the gender of male writers. People making those arguments are simply advancing massive prejudices, in the same way that 25 years ago people claimed that girls simply weren’t as good at math, a claim that has been shown to be bogus when schools invested in better math education for girls and the gap in test scores disappeared.
Women writers and women fans in SFFH have been told for decades that they should leave, that they don’t like what they like, that they can’t write as well as guys or in the right ways, and that if they are going to stay in the room, they should shut up about being overlooked and ignored. They are still being told that. And that’s not going to happen. For a long time, it mostly did happen for non-white writers and fans, who were surrounded by a sea of almost all white faces if they ventured into the category market, but over this last decade, with yet another expansion of SFFH and a more international market, they’ve decided that they’re coming to the party too. And they are not going to be quiet either.
October 22, 2010 @ 12:44 pm
Thanks for that post, Kat.
Sometimes one needs a push in the right direction to fully understand a situation 🙂 I’m guessing it’s artists like Frazetta who pushed in the direction of Uber Macho Men?
October 22, 2010 @ 12:54 pm
Yes, and also Miller’s writing, I would guess. Muscles were never entirely out of the picture, understand. There’s Conan, for instance. But I would definitely say that in the 1980’s the male superheroes suddenly doubled in size.
The funny thing about all this is that I do wish that Mr. Bondoni’s view of SFFH were true. But, we’re not there yet.
October 26, 2010 @ 8:33 pm
I’m surprised no one linked this: http://www.forbes.com/2009/06/29/new-haven-firefighters-opinions-contributors-racial-equality.html
It’s the exact situation, in real life, that appeared in American History X. Now, I don’t want to get drawn into this, so I’m not commenting on it one way or another, but there it is.
November 9, 2010 @ 3:47 am
The way I see it, male superheroes are not idealised to be sexy. They are designed for guys to identify with as power-fantasies. If some women lust over them, that’s just a side-effect.
Female superheroes are routinely “idealised” in ways that make them look “sexy”, but weaker – balancing on high heels, off-balance with swaying hips, in anatomy-defying poses to show off curves, with free-swinging breasts that magically stay in ridiculously skimpy costumes. They are designed for men to lust over, not for women to identify with. If some women who like or don’t mind the showing-off of tits and ass do, that’s a side-effect.
Your assumption that huge muscles for a standard of what women find sexy seems odd to me. Personally, I find the typical “overdosed on steroids” muscles you find there anything BUT sexy. More grotesque, ugly and offputting.
It may be confirmation bias, but I also have come across more “OMG, he’s sexy!” comments about actors like Orlando Bloom, Leonardo DiCaprio or Johnny Depp than Arnold Schwarzenegger or Vin Diesel.
November 11, 2010 @ 8:12 am
The difference is between idealization and objectification, and is probably outlined better than I could ever do it at http://odditycollector.livejournal.com/97166.html (not sure how to work links into this commenting system, sorry).
And I mean… the correlation being drawn here is “women are drawn as fantasies, which means their sexual characteristics (not muscles! stuff like tits and ass, which do not actually serve as a visual signifier of power) are highlighted; men are drawn as fantasies, which means their muscles (those things that suggest power! strength! agency! the ability to change the world!) are highlighted.”
Women = sexy to look at. Men = powerful and effective.
This… this is not really equitable, ya know? I mean, if nothing else, it sets up an idea where men get to be affect the world on their own and women can only get things done if there`s someone else there who finds them attractive.
Also, it’s not exactly easy to bring up the possibility of sexism in comics, because the conversation tends to follow a really predictable pattern, usually taking only a few comments before someone says that they find the complaint offensive, or demeaning, or sexist. And yes, this is nearly always a word that the complainant used.
(Note how by using the same word, a parallel is drawn between the “Oh look, character has tits, character is due to be depowered/raped/lose control of her powers/need rescuing/pretty much useless except to look at/go crazy and need to be stopped, ’cause you know–WOMEN *eyeroll*” that the original speaker is complaining about, and the “you are saying you are upset, and saying bad things about stuff I like; this makes me uncomfortable” that the respondent is complaining about.)
November 11, 2010 @ 8:19 am
Oh, and Michael? Rule of thumb: “political correctness” just means “treating people who aren’t like you as people (despite the fact that they aren’t like you), and getting past the stereotypes that they have to deal with.” Often with the corollary “because it’s the decent thing to do.” 😉
Pretty simple once you start trying it; I’ve had some luck explaining it to people as “common decency” or *occasionally* “good old-fashioned Christian charity.”
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