rants

The Publishing Lottery and Other Insults

Dear Anonymous Commenter,

Thank you for taking the time to comment on my post about Self-Publishing Myths.  While the poor grammar and spelling were annoying, (something you might want to work on as you self-publish that second book), I was struck by this part of your comment:

“Lets be realistic- how many people get published through traditional publishers? When people used to ask me if i was published i would ask them if they had won american idol.
Its not about talent, its about pitching, luck, who you know and the stars aligned!”

I spent way too much time thinking about your words, trying to find a response that would capture the true depth of my feelings.  I came up with the following:

Bite me.

To elaborate, you wander over to the blog of an author who’s published five books with a commercial publisher and proceed to explain that talent and skill and work have nothing to do with it; I just got lucky and knew the right people.  Because the right people will happily risk their careers to publish their friends’ books, even if those books suck.  Is that the line of pseudologic you’re following here?

From what I’ve seen, this sort of nonsense usually comes from one of two scenarios:

  1. You drank the Kool-Aid from one of the scammier vanity presses and bought into their crap about “traditional publishers” being run by evil overlords who live only to crush the souls from peppy young writers like yourself.
  2. You submitted a few times, got rejected, and decided to take your toys and go home.

You go on to say, “My books are good, as im sure a million unpublished books out there are.”  Right.  Much like everyone who tries out for American Idol is sure their singing is good, and that they deserve a major record deal. 

Because it’s so easy.  Because anyone can sit down and crank out a great story.  Heck, my cat hocked his breakfast onto the keyboard last week and produced a dandy little flash piece about zombie squids.  Everyone’s wonderful and brilliant, and it’s just a lottery as the Publishing Gods roll their d1,000,000 to see which of those worthy candidates shall be chosen.

Most of the people who get rejected from American Idol are sent home because they suck.  The ones who make it to those final rounds are the ones who’ve worked their asses off to learn how to sing.  Writing is the same way.  It takes time and a lot of work.  No magic fairy is going to blow sparkly story dust up your butt and transform you into the next J. K. Rowling.

I understand if you’re frustrated.  I know it can be discouraging trying to break in as a writer.  I’ve been there, and so has every other commercial author you so casually dismiss as “lucky.”

You chose to go the self-publishing route.  Maybe because your unique creative vision was too special for the New York publishers.  Maybe you really are as good as you think you are, and the entire publishing industry was just too blind to see it.  Maybe not.  I don’t know, and I don’t particularly care.  I wish you all the best, and I hope you’re happy with your choice.  But if not–if you’re going the passive-aggressive “publishing is mean and out to get me” route to console yourself–could you please at least keep it to the privacy of your own blog?

Thanks.

Girly Books

From time to time, I get an e-mail or a comment from male readers who enjoyed my goblin books, but are hesitant to pick up Stepsister Scheme or Mermaid’s Madness because they look like they’re for girls.

My reaction to this is all over the place.  The goblin books went over well with younger boys, and I can understand why a teenage boy might be hesitant to walk around with a book that has three women surrounded by swirling pastels on the cover.  I also think it sucks that we’re still raising boys to think it’s shameful to be caught reading something “feminine,” but having been a teenage male myself, I can understand that reluctance.

I like the cover for Mermaid better, less because we lost the pastels, and more because I think it’s just a great image.  But I still get the questions.  This is obviously a book about three girls, so doesn’t that mean it’s written for girls?  (Much as Name of the Wind was written for red-haired boys, and the Zombie Raccoons anthology was written for decaying scavengers.)

I’ve said in multiple interviews that I wrote Stepsister for my daughter, in response to the Disney/Barbie princess infestation we went through at the house.  So in a way, these books are written for girls.  Or at least for one girl.  Which means … what, exactly?  I don’t even know what a “girly book” is.  I assume it’s shorthand along the lines of:

Boy Books = Action/Adventure; Girl Books = Romance
Boy Books = Plot/Idea-centric; Girl Books = Character-centric
Boy Books = Explody things on the cover; Girl Books = Chicks and pastels

There’s value in being able to find the kind of books you want.  If you’re into character-oriented fiction, you want to be able to discover those books in the store.  You don’t want to buy a book, take it home, and discover that what you thought was an action-packed vampire adventure is actually a 400-page relationship angst-fest.  I get that.  But trying to classify those preferences by gender, with all of the stereotyping and judgement that goes with that?  It doesn’t work for me.

Josh Jasper wrote a piece over at Genreville about genre shame, and about being male and reading romance novels.  “Why should I be ashamed of reading something fun when women aren’t?  The answer is that I’m afraid of being judged by people I don’t know, whose opinions don’t really matter, about something they have no real business judging me over.  Social conditioning is strange and stupid.”

When you ask me if Mermaid and Stepsister are girly books, the answer is that I don’t even know what that means.  I don’t want to know.  I can’t tell you whether or not you’ll like the books, but I can try to give you an idea what they’re about and let you make your own decision.  In a nutshell, the princess series is about:

Fighting and magic and family and fairies and revenge and unrequited love and requited love and hairy trolls and sailing and a three-legged cat and flying horses and wolves and drunk pixies and sewer goblins and enchanted swords and mermaids and friendship and ghosts and strong women and not-so-strong women and also some men and birds and rats and lots of ass-kicking.

It’s bad enough we still try to force people into fairly rigid gender roles.  Do we really have to do it to books too?

Lincoln U’s Big Fat Fail

In 2006, Lincoln University in Pennsylvania instituted a policy that students with a BMI of 30 or higher must take a “Fitness for Life” class. The students affected by this rule are now seniors, some of whom may not be able to graduate, either because they haven’t gotten their BMI tested by the university or because they have a BMI of 30 or higher and haven’t taken the class.

James DeBoy, chair of Lincoln’s health, PE, and recreation department, explains:

“This country’s in the midst of an obesity epidemic … We need to address this problem directly with our students.  No student should ever be able to leave Lincoln and not know the risks of obesity.”

For reference, I’m 5’7″, around 160 pounds (which means I’m “overweight”, according to the BMI).  If I hit 200 pounds, that puts my BMI at 30.5.  I am now “obese,” and would be required to take the extra class in order to graduate.  (Presumably, I’m also required to pay the university for the privilege.)

My God, what would these people do without the rest of us to remind them how fat and unhealthy and generally repulsive they are?  It’s not like heavy people get smacked with this message every day.

The underlying assumption is that obesity is caused by a failure of willpower.  People are fat because they’re lazy, gluttonous, or both.  If they really wanted to, they’d lose the weight.  Ergo, they’re fat because they choose to be.

In some cases, there’s truth here.  When I switched from a job fixing computers throughout a six-story building to one where I sit at a desk all day, I gained weight.  I could have added exercise to my life to make up for the walking I wasn’t doing anymore, but for a long time, I didn’t.

However–and this may come as a shock–people are different.  Not everyone’s body works the same.  I know people who eat healthy and play high-intensity racketball for 2-3 hours a night, 3-5 nights a week, but are heavier than me.  My wife knows enough about dieting and healthy lifestyle to teach that Lincoln class, yet despite living a much healthier life than me, she struggles with her weight more than I ever have.  But she’s the one who would be punished by Lincoln’s arbitrary policy.

Do the folks at Lincoln really think fat people haven’t picked up on the fact that society thinks they’re horribly unhealthy and undesirable?  That’s not a problem.  To pick one study, “[o]ver half of the females studied between ages eighteen and twenty-five would prefer to be run over by a truck than to be fat.”[1. Gaesser, Glenn A., Big Fat Lies.  (2001).] (Emphasis added).

I’m sure Lincoln’s intentions were good.  They’re trying to help people be healthy.  Healthy = thin!  Everyone must be thin!  (By the way, an APA study found the death rate for eating disorders to be between 5 and 20 percent.[2. “Practice Guidelines for Eating Disorders,” American Journal of Psychiatry 150(2) (1993).] But at least they died thin!)

If you want to add a class on lifestyle and healthy eating, that’s one thing.  Having seen what people pay for diets and weight loss programs,  the class should fill up fast.  But to force everyone with a BMI of 30 to take your class, or else they can’t graduate?  Sorry, Lincoln.  Your bigotry and ignorance are showing.  Just ask the the Mayo Clinic:

“[O]verweight patients had better survival rates and fewer heart problems than those with a normal BMI. This apparently perverse result, drawn from data from 40 studies covering 250,000 people with heart disease, did not suggest that obesity was not a health threat but rather that the 100-year-old BMI test was too blunt an instrument to be trusted.” [3. “Body Mass Index (BMI) Badly Flawed.” http://www.preventdisease.com/news/articles/081806_bmi.shtml (2006).] (Emphasis added).

Can obesity be a health risk?  Sometimes, sure.  But if you think that gives us the right to judge, condemn, and punish everyone who doesn’t conform to our screwed-up ideal of human beauty?  Well, I’m planning a mandatory logic class for everyone with an HUA (Head Up Ass) score greater than 30, and you just qualified.

Top 10 Books of 2009 (Girls Need Not Apply)

By now, I imagine many of you have seen Publishers Weekly’s roundup of the ten very best books of 2009, a list which just happens to only include male authors.  Sure, the girls made it into some of the secondary lists, but the ten best?  All boys.

I would also check out Lizzie Skurnick’s response at Politics Daily, which included this bit from PW: “We wanted the list to reflect what we thought were the top 10 books of the year with no other consideration . . . We ignored gender and genre and who had the buzz . . . It disturbed us when we were done that our list was all male.”

So here’s my question: What should PW have done when they realized they had come up with an all-male list?

We pause now for the predictable response.

“You keep your quotas off of us, you damn, dirty PC police!”

Right.  Moving on, the thing I don’t get is that the folks at PW say they were disturbed by this, but they don’t appear to have done anything about it.  Did they ever take that next step and ask, “Why, if we were truly ignoring gender, did we still come up with an all-male list?  We’re talking less than a 1 in 1000 chance of this happening purely at random*, which suggests maybe we weren’t as gender-blind as we thought.”

Our own biases are hard to face.  It’s easier and safer to turn the blame outward or make excuses:

  • It’s just one list, and we have girls in some of the others!
  • Maybe more men published good books this year.
  • It’s the story that counts, not the gender/race/etc. of the author.
  • Women helped to make this list, so it can’t be sexist!
  • Maybe women should be proactive and start writing better books!

I could go on and on listing reasons that basically amount to “It’s not my fault,” and “I’m not sexist!”  We could spend the whole month debunking most of those reasons.

But in the end, Publishers Weekly published this list.  They were aware enough to recognize something wasn’t right, and I give them props for that.  But that’s much easier than actually taking responsibility.  We can say, “Oh look, a list of all men.  That’s gonna be a problem, because those bloggers are going to raise hell that we didn’t include a token woman.

Or we can stop making excuses and try being accountable for our own choices and behaviors.  We can say, “I tried to be  gender-blind about this, but ended up with an all-male list.  Huh.  I didn’t consciously try to pick only male authors, but maybe I’m not as gender-blind or unbiased as I thought.

Nobody’s asking for quotas.  Me, I’m just asking people to grow up and take responsibility for their choices.  Yes, we’re talking about an industry-wide issue that affects publishing on many different levels.  But the industry is made up of individuals, and every one of us, myself included, has our own biases and prejudices. We can ignore them and make the same tired excuses, or we can face them and try to do better.

We all mess up.  I just wish more folks would own up to it when it happens.


*Assuming a 50/50 breakdown of male and female authors.

Rapists and Abusers

I’ve been reading various discussions about the gang-rape of a 15-year-old girl in California and the aftermath. (Warning: the article is intense and potentially triggering.) One constant, as with almost every such conversation, has been the mindset when it comes to rapists and abusers.

There’s a strong sense of us vs. them.  How could they do this? How could the bystanders just watch? I’ve come across various theories–they were poor and desperate, they were in a gang, they were drunk…

We want our villains to be easy to identify, like on TV.  We recognize the bad guys the instant they enter a scene, complete with foreboding music. We cringe as the poor victim is attacked, but we rest easy knowing we were smart enough to recognize the villain for what he was. He’s one of them. Because humanity is broken into two distinct groups:

 

There’s a clear boundary between the groups. That works for me, because it excuses me from having to worry about my own behavior.  I’ve never gang-raped a girl.  I’ve never beaten my wife.  I’m safely in the “normal” circle.

It’s comfortable. The evil rapists and abusers are over there, and us normal folks are over here.

Unfortunately, the real world doesn’t work like that. People don’t fall neatly into categories. I’ve found it more helpful to look at behavior, like so:

There’s no “us” vs. “them.” No neat boundary separating good guys from bad. We all fall somewhere on the curve, and that position isn’t constant. Do you think the guys who gang-raped that girl woke up one morning and decided to be rapists? In most cases, it’s a behavior that changes over time, moving further and further to the right side of the curve.

One day it’s a shouting match with my girlfriend. Maybe I use body language to intimidate her into backing down. Eventually, when that doesn’t work, I grab her. Not hard enough to bruise, just enough to let her know who’s boss. A month later, I’ve stopped being quite so careful about the bruising. Step by step, my behavior becomes more abusive.

Likewise with rape. Maybe it starts by trying to pick up a girl at the bar. Trying to talk a woman into going home with you is just part of the game, right? If that fails, I can buy her a few more drinks to loosen her up. Then maybe a few more–it was her own choice to get drunk, right?  Or maybe I just spike the drinks to speed things along…

Our society has strong attitudes about what it means to be a man. Real men are strong and in control. We go after the things we want. We’re assertive, even aggressive when necessary. We’re determined, and we don’t take no for an answer. Given all that, do you think it’s coincidence that men commit 95% of rapes?

How could they stand by, refusing to call 911 while a girl was raped in front of them? We’ve all stood by and done nothing at one point or another. Every one of us has heard someone making sexist comments and failed to call them on it. We’ve wondered if someone was being abused, but kept silent because we didn’t know what to say or how to ask.

If your response to all this is “But I’m not a rapist,” “All men aren’t rapists,” or the ever-popular, “Why do you hate men?” congratulations–you’ve missed the point. It’s not about you. It’s about recognizing that the “me” vs. “those people” approach doesn’t really work for understanding or ending rape and abuse.

Discussion welcome, as always.

Quotas in the ToC

I came across a post yesterday telling folks who complain about the lack of gender/racial/etc. balance in anthologies and ‘zines to shut the hell up.  The author has since removed the post and apologized, but the whole thing got me thinking and trying to understand where this reaction comes from.

So imagine you’re a reader, and you’re enjoying your copy of The Year in Zombies, Volume XCVIII, when someone goes online and complains that of the 20 stories in that anthology, only 2 were written by women, and 19 of the authors are white.  Others join in the now-familiar chorus of racism and sexism. But … you were enjoying the anthology! The editor picked good stories!

I can understand feeling defensive.  If you like the book, does that mean these people are accusing you of being racist or sexist?  It probably feels that way.  You might start to wonder what they want to do to fix the problem.  How many women writers would it take to make this book acceptable? How many writers of color have to be added to quiet the anger?

But then, who gets cut out of the book? Does appeasing the anger mean removing that awesome steampunk zombie tale from Whitey McHairychest? Would we lose that delightful alternate history squid zombie story from Paleface Manlyparts?  More importantly, would these great stories be excluded from the book purely based on the race or gender of the author?  Not cool, angry internet mob!  We want good stories, period.  Choosing stories based on race, gender, sexuality, and so on is bull!

I agree.  But I think the problem is that we’re already choosing stories based on these factors–that we’ve been doing it for decades.  When I complain about the latest Mammoth Manthology of Manly SF, I’m not saying I want a quota system to ensure equal representation.  I’m saying I’m tired of the quota that already exists–the one that seems to require a majority of white men in so many ToCs.

Yes, editors should pick the best stories. But if some editors are consistently choosing stories by mostly white and/or male authors, what does this mean? Should we assume that women and nonwhite authors just aren’t good writers? Or does it mean these editors are deliberately and maliciously trying to keep the White Man in power?

I don’t buy either explanation. Sure, there are sexist idiots out there, but I believe most editors choose stories they enjoy, based on what they’ve read.

Looking at my own reading growing up, I read mostly books by white authors. I never deliberately tried to exclude nonwhite writers from my bookshelves; I just read what I was exposed to, and what I enjoyed. Good books all, and if you asked me who my favorite authors were, I’d have given you a list of mostly white folks.

It takes deliberate effort to read outside your learned comfort zone. It takes zero effort to sit back and perpetuate the trend of a certain privileged minority of writers dominating the genre.

If you tell me editors can only buy the stories that are submitted, and only white men are submitting to you for your project, then I’ve got to ask why that is. Places like Strange Horizons and Fantasy Magazine have made conscious efforts to broaden their range of authors, and that’s paid off. Why do you think these other authors are avoiding you and your publication?

I don’t see anyone asking for quotas. Nobody’s saying good stories by white men should be excluded in order to allow minorities into the table of contents. I think the anger comes when good stories by those authors continue to be excluded because some editors don’t make the effort to look beyond work by white men.

Discussion welcome, as always.

Polanski Apologists in Translation

I’ve been reading a lot of justifiably angry posts about those who would defend Roman Polanski, who was convicted of raping a 13-year-old thirty years ago.  I did a bit of research, trying to understand the mindset and the concerns of the people arguing against Polanski’s arrest.  What follows are the most common reasons I’ve found, as well as my translation of those reasons.

Polanski is a charming, intelligent man – We should only arrest scary-looking, deranged rapists, preferably the dirty homeless types.  Bonus points if they’re a racial minority.  Arresting “nice guys” forces us to consider that many rapists do appear charming, intelligent … even normal!  This disturbs our simple view of the world and makes us uncomfortable, so please cease at once.

The victim’s mother pushed the child at Polanski – He shouldn’t be blamed because men are helpless to resist a 13-year-old girl.  Remember, rape is always the fault of the women!  If we can’t blame the victim, we’ll blame her mother.  Even when that girl is saying “No,” and trying to get away, men are helpless to control our urges–the male penis forces us to drug and rape the girl.

It was more than 30 years ago – Accountability comes with an expiration date, and if I can avoid taking responsibility for my actions for a certain period of time, I should be absolved of that responsibility.

The victim doesn’t want to put herself or her family through this ordeal anymore* – If I can intimidate my victim enough, I can get away with it!  Note: I have a great deal of sympathy for Polanski’s victim, and I’m torn about this one.  Polanski has been on the run for 32 years.  I’ve read commentary about how hard it’s been for him–he couldn’t even get his Oscar, he poor man.  But what about the survivor?  She’s also lived for 32 years with no closure, and wants to be done with it.  *My research might have fallen short on this point.  See this comment thread for clarification and further discussion.

He didn’t know she was thirteen – All girls should be required to tattoo their ages in a visible location in order to protect men from accidentally raping them.  Also, it would have been perfectly okay for him to drug and rape her if she had been sixteen.

Nobody would even care about this case if Polanski weren’t famous – Who cares about rape anyway?

Sadly, there’s some truth to this last one.  According to RAINN, 1 in 6 women will be raped in her lifetime.  (My sense is that the numbers are even higher.)  Yet only 6% of rapists will ever spend a day in jail.  As a society, we don’t care.  At least, we don’t care enough.

PublishAmerica’s Twittery

If you’re bored by publishing talk, go learn how to build TRON lightcycles out of LEGO instead.

PublishAmerica has been around for a while.  You might remember them as the publisher who offered to buy Atlanta Nights, an educationally awful book designed to demonstrate that Publish America would accept just about anything.  Nor does PA pay much attention to things like cover art, as you can see in one of my old LOL books.

PA claims to be a traditional publisher (a term with no actual meaning).  They emphasize that they’re not a vanity press; they pay an advance (generally $1.00), and they urge writers to avoid self-publishing.  From their FAQs:

PublishAmerica adheres to the traditional publishing concept … we earn our income by selling books.

So who do you think they’re selling those books to?  You’ll find few if any PA titles in bookstores.  They’re listed on Amazon like everything else, but an Amazon listing by itself doesn’t sell books.  As far as I can tell, PA appears to make most of their income by selling books to their authors.

PA recently joined Twitter as @publishamerica.  They’ve already protected their feed.  For those of you who don’t want to follow PA, let me sum up.

There’s a note about a 66% discount for online orders, which is cool.  I’d love to be able to sell my books at 2/3 off.  (But my publisher doesn’t sell horribly overpriced books, so that kind of discount is difficult to pull off.)

Reading on, I see a few tweets about individual authors … and a ton of tweets talking about how great PA is.  Canadian libraries stocked seven of our books!  Our authors have booksignings in 50+ bookstores this weekend!  A bookstore in NY just ordered some PA titles!

This isn’t advertising intended to sell books to readers; it’s aimed at selling PublishAmerica to new authors.

Compare this to @dawbooks, my own publisher’s Twitter feed.  DAW also uses Twitter for marketing, but almost every post includes an author’s name and/or a book title.  The goal is to sell books to readers.

From the PA stream:

one cool element of PA’s success is that it drives the opposition nuts. they keep writing about us, fortunately spelling our name right.

Opposition?  That implies that PA has any impact whatsoever on serious publishers.  But they’re right about one thing.  PA does drive me nuts.  It pisses me off when people take advantage of new writers.  I spent years trying to break in.  I remember that feeling of desperation, of wanting someone, somewhere to validate my work.  Of wanting to finally be a published author.

If all you want is to be published, PA might be the right choice.  You’ve got almost zero chance of rejection, and they’ll create a book with your name on the cover.  You’ll probably even get that $1.00 check as a bonus.

If, on the other hand, you want to be read–if you want people to seek out your book, to read and enjoy it–well, there’s a simple test.  PA claims to have 35,000 authors, orders of magnitude more than any commercial publisher I’m aware of.  How many PA books do you own?  How many PA writers have you read?

So how does PA stay in business?  I’ll toss out one final tweet to answer that one:

one twitterer just purchased 200 books, using his ‘twitter’ coupon. his savings: over $3000.

Why worry about selling books to readers when you’ve got authors willing to shell out thousands of dollars for copies of their own books?

There are no shortcuts.  Frustrating as this road can be, I’m very happy to have waited until I could sign with a publisher who would get my work out to readers and fans.

Why Linkbacks are Better than Reposting

• 4 weeks until the release of The Mermaid’s Madness [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy]!  Early reviews are starting to pop up.  Romantic Times called it quick-paced, engaging, and a great read.  Rhonda Parrish, who won the NCADV auction for an ARC of the book, posted a nice review here.  ::Happy dance::

• I’ve said before that it’s okay to write crap in a first draft.  For me, this helps me get to the point where I can figure out the story and rewrite to actually make the thing work.  Dean Wesley Smith offers an alternate approach.

#

Welcome to everyone who showed up after yesterday’s Neil Gaiman Facts post!  Lesson to self: if you want more blog traffic, joke about Gaiman groping Ellison.  Huge thanks for the linkbacks, the comments, and the extra Gaiman facts.  (The comments include some very funny suggestions.)  Y’all gave me a serious case of the warm fuzzies 🙂

No love, however, to the very small minority who simply copied and reposted the whole thing without asking.  Way to harsh my warm fuzzies, people.

I was torn about whether I should even say anything.  I’m not planning to go all DMCA on anyone’s ass over this, but it bothers me.  Maybe I’m oversensitive after dealing with the whole Google Settlement mess, I don’t know.  But here’s the deal: reposting someone’s work without permission is rude.  It’s also illegal, but in this case I’m more annoyed by the rudeness.

The primary reasons I post stuff like the Gaiman list are because it’s fun and because I love entertaining people.  It makes my week to get comments from folks telling me they laughed so hard their significant other came in from the other room to find out what was going on.  It’s a high like nothing else, and I love it.

There’s a secondary reason, though: the crass, greedy, totally commercial reason.  When I write and post this sort of thing, it brings new traffic to my sites.  New people who might remember my name, who might decide to stick around on the blog, who might even decide some day to go out and buy one of my books.

If you repost the whole list, you’re taking away some of those new visitors.  Is it a terrible, crippling blow to my success as a writer?  Not at all.  But it is rude.  So don’t do it, ‘kay?

Enough on that.  I love 99.44% of you, and I’m not going to let the other .56% spoil things.  So as a reward for reading this far, here are a few more Gaiman facts.  Enjoy!

  1. Neil Gaiman writes faster than Harriet Klausner reads.
  2. Neil Gaiman solved the Rubix Cube in 7 minutes. One-handed.
  3. Chuck Norris could roundhouse kick Neil Gaiman in the head. But Neil Gaiman could write Chuck Norris out of existence.

Why it’s your fault if you’re raped at the Stamford Marriott

Potentially triggering discussion of rape and victim-blaming.

Yesterday, tinylegacies pointed me toward an article about a woman who was raped at gunpoint by a stranger in the Stamford Marriott parking garage.  The woman filed a civil suit against the hotel, claiming her attacker “had been in the hotel and garage acting suspiciously days before the attack, as well as the afternoon of the attack, and the hotel failed to notice him, apprehend him or make him leave.”

The full article is at http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/ci_13048639

The article is too vague for me to judge the hotel’s responsibility.  Did they receive complaints about this individual?  What does “acting suspiciously” mean?  Was the rapist’s behavior something a reasonable person should have noticed?  What security precautions should be in place?  I have some ideas, but I think these are questions to be answered in court.

What really struck me was the approach the Stamford Marriott took in defending themselves.  They claim the victim was careless and negligent, and “failed to exercise due care for her own safety and the safety of her children and proper use of her senses and facilities.”

Let’s break this down.  Gary Fricker stuck a gun into this woman’s back, forced her and her children into her van, and raped her, threatening to do the same to one of her children.  The Marriott claims that this was “unforeseen and beyond their control,” but at the same time, they’re blaming the survivor for her carelessness, for not being sensible enough to avoid “mitigating her damages.”

In other words, it’s not the Marriott’s fault, because everyone knows rape is the victim’s responsibility.  If she got herself raped, that’s entirely on her.  She should have … well, what should she have done differently?  What are we really asking victims to do here?

  • Enter parking garages at your own risk!  (Make sure you bring a big burly man to protect you!  Don’t forget bullet proof jackets for yourself and the kids!)
  • Use common sense!  Everyone is a potential rapist, so don’t let anyone get within 100 feet of you or your children.*
  • If a guy sticks a gun in your back and threatens your kids, it’s your duty to “mitigate the damages.”  I suggest spontaneously developing superpowers.  Freezing time is a good one, as is the ability to generate a magical force field.  Superspeed will do in a pinch.
  • Stop worrying about your kids.  If this woman had been searching every shadow for potential rapists instead of wasting time watching her children, this whole situation could have been avoided!  If your 3-year-old gets run down by an idiot driver, that’s a small price to pay for your safety.
  • Avoid places you might be raped, including parking garages, hotels, dark streets, your own home, your friend’s place … actually, you should probably just lock yourself in a bank vault and be done with it.

The Stamford Marriott has attorneys who are responsible for defending the hotel in a lawsuit.  It’s their job, and I understand that.  But why is this an acceptable defense?  The lawyers should have been laughed out of the courtroom the instant they made such a bullshit claim.

Maybe they would have been, if not for the fact that it works.  Because too many of us still buy into the idea that survivors of rape deserved it.  That they were asking for it, or they were careless, or they were drinking too much, or they were dressed slutty, or they didn’t scream or fight back enough, or….

Lawyers play this defense because it works.  As pissed as I am with the Stamford Marriott and their attorneys for spouting this crap, I’m even more disgusted with the society that continues to believe it.

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*I don’t know how many times I’ve heard men complaining, “Why do some women say I’m a potential rapist just because I’m a guy?  That’s sexist!”  Well gosh, could it have anything to do with incidents and reactions like this one?

Jim C. Hines