By now, I assume most of you are familiar with the Fake Geek Girl phenomenon, in which women’s geek credentials are repeatedly challenged, because everyone knows girls don’t like geek stuff. (Isn’t that right, Big Bang Theory?) It gets even worse if the woman in question is traditionally attractive, because even if we acknowledge the possibility of the occasional female geek, we all know she has to be ugly and socially maladjusted, right? Fortunately, we have men who tirelessly volunteer their time to challenge and harass these wannabes.
Because do you know what would happen if we let Fake Geek Girls into the inner circle of geekdom? PURE, UNMITIGATED GIRL-COOTIES!
Well let me tell you, Fake Geek Girls have nothing on the Fake Writer Girls. You know the ones I mean. Those women who think they can write stories and books that are just as good and important and serious as the ones written by us men. It’s almost like they don’t even understand that their work is inherently inferior, because GIRLS!
One of the best ways to spot a Fake Writer Girl is by looking for Mary Sues, those unrealistically competent, know-it-all, oh-so-special characters who are the Best at Everything! They’re nothing but silly, estrogen-fueled wish fulfillment fantasies. Like a girl could ever be an active, competent character. Oh, those wacky Fake Writer Girls and their ridiculously super-special heroines. If only they could write realistic, heroic protagonists like Ender Wiggin, James Bond, Eragon, Lazarus Long, Clark Kent, Kvothe Kingkiller, Legolas…
And don’t get me started on how they’re ruining science fiction and fantasy with their romance cooties! Urban fantasy? Paranormal romance? Why don’t they care about the history of our genre? SF/F stories should be about spaceships! and swords! and fighting! and yes, the occasional hooking up, but only when it’s nubile young women throwing themselves at manly protagonists!
It would be nice if these Fake Writer Girls could just stay in the romance section, because we all know romance isn’t a real genre. I mean, sure, romance makes up 55% of all fiction sales, but a real man wouldn’t be caught dead reading that stuff, so it doesn’t count. Besides, ALL ROMANCE NOVELS ARE JUST FORMULAIC, UNIMAGINATIVE HACKWORK! (On a totally unrelated note, I just remembered that I have to write a review of this awesome book I read last week. It’s just like Lord of the Rings, except instead of a ring, it’s a cursed dagger! Brilliantly original stuff.)
You might laugh, but Fake Writer Girls present a real threat to real writers like me, writers who write while also being guys. Just look at this report from VIDA that shows how lady writers are stealing review space from hard-working men! They took 33% of the book reviews in The Atlantic, 36% from Harpers, 26% from the London Review of Books, 19% from the New York Review of Books, and 34% from the New York Times. And they want to take even more review space away from real (i.e., male) authors! Why can’t they be happy getting slightly more than half of the reviews in Romantic Times and leave the rest to us? Why do they have to hurt men’s careers with their Fake Writer Girl Agendas?
Here are just a few known Fake Writer Girls, authors whose work you definitely should not immediately go check out and buy and read and tell all of your friends about.
Please feel free to suggest others in the comments. Because the more you know…
Known Fake Writer Girls
From time to time, I get a sudden flurry of comments or emails or Tweets (or all of the above) that let me know someone has stumbled onto an old blog post or comment I made, and has decided to tell their friends how Wrong I am about … well, whatever they think I was talking about.
In this case, it’s a comment I made on Twitter two weeks ago, after coming across a photo taken by Kevin Standlee. The pic was captioned as “The annual gathering of past, current, and future Worldcon chairs held at Chicon 7, 2012.”
It’s a wonderful picture, and it’s amazing to think of the history gathered together in that room. But as soon as I looked at it, I was struck by the following thought:
I hear people talk about how welcoming fandom is, how the SF/F community accepts everyone, and then I look at this snapshot of our history, and I’m struck by how overwhelmingly white it is, and how the men significantly outnumber the women.
As I said in my very next Tweet, I have nothing but respect and gratitude for the men and women who’ve volunteered to do a tremendous amount of work putting these conventions together. Yet I look at that picture, and … damn, you know?
From the sudden influx of outrage, I’m guessing someone stumbled onto my comment about 48 hours ago, and was Very Upset. Most Upset Indeed!
I’ve broken the incoming unhappiness into four categories, with my thoughts on each.
1. “What about your Best Fan Writer Hugo award that you TOTALLY STOLE with your campaigning, making that category even whiter and manlier than it was before, huh???”
I paraphrased slightly, but that’s basically the first email I saw in my inbox when I got up yesterday morning. I believe the appropriate Internet-style response is, U MAD, BRO?
(ETA: Which is not to say that the lack of diversity in the Best Fan Writer category is not a problem. It is, as I’ve talked about before.)
2. “Maybe women and people of color just don’t want to be Worldcon chairs.”
Similarly, another person talked about how PoC have more important things to worry about, and talked about the “logistics,” emphasizing that running a Worldcon required a lot of time and money.
Um … okay. Do I need to spell out the underlying assumptions about time and money here, or the racism that walks hand in hand with them?
This is also a variant of an argument we’ve heard again and again. “We’d publish more SF by women if more women would bother to submit.” “We’d love to have more non-white panelists, but they just don’t come to the convention.” “If people want to make the genre more diverse, then those people need to stop waiting for someone else to do the work; they should jump in and get involved and make it happen.”
While I’m sure this isn’t what people intend, what I hear in these arguments is that we’ve created a community that isn’t particularly welcoming to nonwhite and nonmale fans and readers and authors.1 But working to change that community would be uncomfortable, so we’re not going to do it. We’re already here. Why should we care about making you feel welcome?
You say “those people” don’t want to be a part of this community. I ask why someone would put their time and effort and money and sweat into a community that doesn’t want them.
3. “You don’t understand how Worldcons work!”
Not as well as someone who’s actually run one, no. It would be arrogant as hell for me to claim otherwise.
I do know the cons are run by volunteers. That different groups bid to host them, meaning there is no unified, unchanging Worldcon Committee. I know they’re a hell of a lot of hard work. I know the World Science Fiction Society constitution, rules, and meeting minutes are posted here, and go into a lot more detail about the rules of Worldcon and the Hugos.
I’ll happily admit that I haven’t read every page of those rules, and there are certainly people who know more about how Worldcons work. But then, I wasn’t commenting on the process. I was commenting on the results.
4. “Nobody is telling women and PoC that they can’t run Worldcon or attend conventions or be part of fandom, so your charges of sexism and racism are unfair and spurious.”
This is a very narrow understanding of what racism and sexism are about. It comes up a lot, the idea that real racism and sexism has to be explicit and intentional and blatant. Making blacks sit at the back of the bus is racist. Refusing to let women vote is sexist. But nobody’s saying or doing those things, so we’re not sexist or racist! Yay, us!
You’re right, I’m not personally aware of any recent examples of people explicitly refusing to let women and PoC participate in the convention-planning and conrunning process. 2
But there are an awful lot of ways to discriminate against people without being obvious about it. There are ways to hurt people without intending to do so, or even realizing you’ve hurt them. You can tell someone they aren’t welcome here without ever saying a harsh word.
If you’re not the one being hurt, it’s easy to miss it. If you’re not the one being made to feel unwelcome, you may not realize it’s happening at all. But if you only recognize two states of existence, Blatant Racism/Sexism vs. Everything’s Just Fine And Dandy, with nothing in between, then you’re not listening to the voices of a lot of people you’re claiming are welcome in our community. And your refusal to listen is perpetuating the problem.
That’s what colorblindness and genderblindness look like in this context. It doesn’t mean everyone is equally welcome in our community, because they’re not. It means looking at a photograph dominated by white men, and refusing to see anything problematic in our history. It means twisting one rhetorical knot after another to try to justify why this isn’t a real problem, or if it is, it’s not our problem.
It is our problem. It’s my problem and yours. And it’s a problem we’re never going to solve if we can’t get past this knee-jerk defensiveness at the mere suggestion that our community might not be perfect.
This is my best reconstruction of the talk I gave at ALA on Sunday. I’m sure I’m forgetting bits, but this should give you the gist of things…
I was originally thinking about just doing a Q&A for this. I like the informal approach, and normally I’d probably be sitting on the edge of the stage chatting with you all. But as I was driving down to Chicago, I started thinking about various incidents that have come up recently, and I decided that if ALA was going to be kind enough to give me a platform and a microphone, maybe there was a better way for me to take advantage of that.
The past few months have been pretty intense in parts of the science fiction and fantasy community. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America has been in the spotlight for a chain-mail bikini cover and a follow-up essay that dismissed complaints as the ravings of liberal fascist PC thought police. We have the former SFWA presidential candidate who accused a well-known black author of being an “ignorant half-savage.” Then last week, a well-known editor at one of the major SF/F publishing houses was outed for his history of sexual harassment.
The thing is, the blatant stuff is easy. It’s easy to focus on these instances of sexism and racism because they’re so obvious, and because they create a simple separation between us and them, between the heroes and the villains. But when we draw those lines, we tend to miss the larger picture.
These are systemic problems, not just individuals. They’re problems that show up in cover art, in award ballots, in which books get reviewed, in who shows up as the heroes in stories vs. the sidekicks, in token characters, and much more. In many cases, if not most, it’s an unconscious, unintentional problem.
So how do we respond to such a problem? Well, some of us choose to write long-winded rants online, or to contort ourselves into ridiculous cover poses. We can also speak up when we see these things happening, rather than turning away or accepting it because “it’s always been that way.” If you see someone who looks like they might be being harassed, say something. Offer them a casual escape from the conversation.
As a writer, I think one of our most powerful tools is our stories.
Take the story of the kick-butt heroine, a trope that’s become incredibly popular over the past decade or two. Now, I appreciate this trope — I’m a huge Buffy fan — and I’ve written this kind of character myself on multiple occasions. But there are ways in which it’s problematic. Sure, it’s incredibly satisfying to see the heroine physically whoop the harasser/abuser/etc. But when that’s the dominant story we’re sharing, aren’t we basically suggesting that it’s the women’s job to physically overpower and defeat their aggressors? As opposed to men learning to move beyond such behaviors, or to challenge such things when we see them?
The kick-but heroine is certainly one solution, but it’s one that puts responsibility on the victims, and by implication, puts the blame on those victims if for any reason they were unable to physically stop what’s essentially an ongoing culture of systemic sexism.
There are other stories and other characters we need to share. Stories that show men and women as equals. That show relationships built on respect. Stories that give us more than one token example per book of a strong female character. Stories that move away from narrowly defined roles.
And now is when I take a minute to talk about my own stuff. Lena Greenwood is my latest attempt to engage with the kick-butt heroine trope. She’s … well, without spoiling things, she’s also very problematic. In many ways, that was deliberate. But she’s not the only strong female in these books. You have Nidhi Shah, a psychiatrist with no magical abilities whatsoever. There’s Nicola Pallas, an autistic bard. Jeneta Aboderin is full of teenaged attitude, refusing to take crap from anyone. Not to mention the sarcastic bug-eating ex-librarian Deb DeGeorge. My hope is that each of these women has their own strengths and weaknesses, that they present different ways to be powerful.
I’m not saying kick-butt heroines are bad. Any time I talk about something like this, someone responds, “Why are you trying to censor us?” Just like with cover art — I’m not saying we should never have sexualized or semi-clad women (or men) on book covers. What I’m saying is that it would be awfully nice if we could broaden our portrayals.
I’ll wrap this up with a few recommendations of authors who, in my opinion, do this stuff well. Karen Lord is a fairly new author, but her first book blew me away, in part for Lord’s choice to step away from the well-trod tropes. Elizabeth Bear is another. Saladin Ahmed, who just won the Locus Award for his debut novel, presented us with an Arabic-based fantasy and an old, heavyset, somewhat grouchy man as the protagonist. Tobias Buckell. Nnedi Okorafor. Seanan McGuire. These are just a few of the authors working to move beyond the tropes.
And that’s my time. Thank you all for giving me the chance to talk about this with you.
Jim has a comprehensive roundup of links relating to the SFWA thing/Jim is only linking to people who agree with him.
I never claimed to be doing a comprehensive list of links. As I stated up front, I was responding to the claim that protests and complaints were being done anonymously. There are posts I agree with that I didn’t link to, and posts I’m less comfortable with that I did include.
I have no objection to people linking to that post, but please don’t describe it as a full or comprehensive list of responses to this mess.
Mike Resnick and Barry Malzberg are good people who have helped a tremendous number of people.
I don’t think I’ve seen anyone claim that Resnick and Malzberg are evil, or that they’ve never done anything positive. Nobody’s one-dimensional. So yes, I’m sure they’ve both done many good things in their lives. But I also think they messed up this time.
I believe I’ve done good things in my life, but I don’t expect people to give me a pass when I screw up. (And believe me, I still screw up a lot.)
Scalzi’s apology was weak!
I’ve seen a range of opinions on John Scalzi’s statement. Personally, I thought it was pretty good. Sure it wasn’t perfect, and there are certainly valid criticisms to be made.
That said, based on the statement as well as 1) knowing John personally and 2) his history of working against sexism and discrimination, I’m taking it at face value as a genuine apology and promise to do better. And maybe that’s where the history of positive work comes into play. Not that I think we should ignore it when Scalzi messes up. But when he offers an apology and says he’s going to work to try to fix this, I’m inclined to believe him.
All this attention is just making SFWA look bad.
You’re right. In the short term, SFWA has definitely taken a black eye. In the long term, I’m hopeful that the result will be a better organization. And I have trouble buying the idea that the real problem isn’t the sexism, but people pointing out and criticizing the sexism.
What about all of the good work SFWA does?
“I still feel like some asshole spilled something on my prom dress. It doesn’t matter if it’s just a little spot, that’s all anyone will see. It doesn’t matter how great the dress is, the stain still ruins it.”
I was at BEA last week, where Jaym Gates and Laura Anne Gilman worked incredibly hard to set up and the SFWA booth where I and other members were able to sign and meet folks. It was awesome, and it’s one of a thousand things SFWA does that I’m grateful for.
I don’t think those things should be used to derail the current conversation. I do think they’re part of a conversation that should happen, and as a member of SFWA, I’m making a note to try to have that conversation in the future, to post more about why I stay with and believe in the work the organization does.
All those age-related insults flying around? Not cool, man!
I agree. While I think some of the “dinosaur” comments are meant to refer to old/outdated attitudes, there have also been some direct shots at old people. There are plenty of older people speaking out quite strongly against sexism, just as there are young folks being sexist asshats.
It’s a witch hunt! It’s a liberal-fascist crusade! It’s a lynch mob!
It’s over-the-top hyperbole!
One of the people you linked to used the phrase “right-thinking.” Doesn’t that prove it’s not hyperbole, and liberals really are the thought police?
One of the people — out of sixty-plus that I’ve linked to so far — used that phrase. And you know what? I’m not comfortable with that word choice either. I do agree with a lot of the other things said in that post.
I also find it interesting when people latch on to one phrase in one post, generalize it to an entire group, and then use that as an excuse to dismiss or stop listening to that group as a whole. That’s some weak and lazy-ass thinking, regardless of which “side” you believe you’re on.
Shouldn’t you be writing instead of wasting your energy on this?
I’ve been doing both. 17K words on Unbound so far. Poor Isaac is having a rough time of it. And you know what? Since it’s my energy, I figure I can spend it on things I believe are important.
Why is everyone making such a big deal out of a silly cover or a bad Barbie analogy or a couple of writers describing women as attractive? Aren’t there real problems to worry about?
Interesting how often I see men trying to proclaim what is and isn’t a real problem when it comes to sexism…
Anyway, I can’t speak for everyone. For myself, I see these incidents as things that could perhaps be brushed off if they happened in isolation. But as many of the responses have pointed out, they aren’t isolated incidents. They’re part of a larger pattern of sexist behavior, and that pattern needs to stop.
It’s the death of a thousand paper cuts.
Have you gotten any hate mail about this?
I know some women have received truly nasty hate mail for expressing their comments and opinions, but the worst I’ve experienced so far is someone blocking me on Facebook. Weird. I wonder what the difference could be…
Don’t you get tired of this?
“Our Warrior Woman protesters and enemies of the adjective (who unlike Ms. Dworkin will not identify themselves) fall into the category of what Right Wing radio talkers call “liberal fascists,” and I cannot disagree…” -Barry Malzberg
The latest issue of the SFWA Bulletin went out last week while I was at BEA, including both my article about cover art and treating women as people, and the Resnick/Malzberg Dialogues, arguing against censorship and suppression. I’m not going to rehash the points I made in my own piece, but one of the many fascinating things I found in the Dialogues was the idea that the people complaining were somehow anonymous cowards sniping from the shadows.
“Anonymous.” You keep using that word…
I’ve rounded up some of the people talking about the problematic aspects of the last few issues of the Bulletin. I won’t talk about the pages and pages of discussion from the SFWA Discussion Forums, but there have been a significant number of complaints there–all of which have people’s names attached. And then you have posts and commentary like these:
One final related link, from Laura Resnick. Thoughts from a Different Resnick.
This is just a sampling, and includes SFWA members, past SFWA officers, at least
My post generated a fair amount of discussion, much of it thoughtful, some of it not so much. My favorite is the individual who tried to argue that the whole post was despicable because trying to attach morality to skin color (which isn’t what anyone was doing) caused the holocaust. Yeah, that comment got banhammered into next week. But there were other comments and arguments I wanted to respond to.
Don’t your facts show that straight/white/male culture is superior? Well, no. The facts are what they are. How you interpret those facts is another matter. You could try to use them to make an argument that straight white men are somehow superior to other groups, but I think that would be a poor argument.
For example, the fact that LGBT youth are up to seven times more likely to attempt suicide — if you think that’s because straight kids are inherently stronger than LGBT kids, as opposed to being due to bullying, threats, and hatred specifically directed at LGBT kids, then you’ve got your blinders on. Likewise, it’s rather absurd to argue that blacks receive longer jail sentences than whites for the same crimes, with the same criminal history and backgrounds, because whites are somehow superior.
Statistics and facts aren’t the be all and end all of the discussion. They’re one part of the discussion. However, it looks to me like the facts tend to support Scalzi’s argument about SWM being an easier setting, at least in my society.
Race is irrelevant. It’s all about class! Nobody said class wasn’t important. The fact that race, gender, and sexual orientation are all factors in the challenges people face (or don’t have to face) doesn’t mean they’re the only factors. Disability. Geography. Education. Lots of things intersect. Life is messy.
Asians have lower dropout rates and are more likely to earn a degree in four years. Shouldn’t we be talking about Asian privilege? The studies I cited showed that Asian/Pacific Islanders had slightly lower dropout rates (by .4%) and were slightly more likely to earn a degree in four years (by 3.5%). Of course, I also pointed out that Asian Americans were more likely to live in poverty (by 3.1%) and were severely underrepresented in Congress. Why the differences? I’m not entirely sure, but I’m going to repeat my previous point: a lot of things intersect. While racism against Asian Americans is still going strong, it’s not the only factor.
I don’t actually know what all of those factors are, but it’s something I plan to read up on and try to understand better.
By focusing on these things, you’re perpetuating the problem! We should be blind to race, gender, orientation, etc! You know what perpetuates a problem? Silence. Not talking about it. Turning our backs, plugging our ears, and pretending it doesn’t exist. As for ignoring race, gender, orientation … there’s a much larger conversation here, but in brief, these things are part of who we are. Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations is a good thing, and I’d rather celebrate diversity than ignore it.
Finally, please read this post by Michelle Sagara: Please don’t tell me how I should feel oppressed, thanks. It’s powerful, and addresses a lot of the things that came up during the discussions, things like intersectionality and individual vs. shared experience.
And now, a few more facts. Because as we know, facts are cool.
A study of orchestra auditions found that “blind” auditions, with no way of identifying the gender of the musician, led to a 50% increase of a woman advancing through the preliminary rounds, and increased severalfold the chances of a woman being selected in the final round. To phrase it another way, when the people in charge knew the sex of the musician, they were more likely to favor men over women than when they had to judge by skill alone. (Orchestrating Impartiality. 2000.)
“Black offenders spent a longer time in prison awaiting parole compared with white offenders, and the racial and ethnic differences are maintained net of legal and individual demographic and community characteristics.” Note: because the study was restricted to young men, the authors can’t say whether or not the results generalize to female prisoners. (The Role of Race and Ethnicity in Parole Decisions. 2008.)
In 29 states, it’s legal to fire someone for their sexual orientation. (The article refers to the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. As of today, that act has not been passed.) (The Rights of Gay Employees. 2009.)
“The majority (73%) of family violence victims were female. Females were 84% of spouse abuse victims and 86% of victims of abuse at the hands of a boyfriend or girlfriend. While about three-fourths of the victims of family violence were female, about three-fourths of the persons who committed family violence were male.” (Family Violence Statistics from the U. S. Dept. of Justice. 2005.)
A study of how race is portrayed on prime-time TV for ABC, NBC, CBS, and Fox found that “significantly more Latino (18%) and African American (9%) characters were portrayed as immoral compared to white (2%) characters … [and] significantly more Latino (18%) and black (9%) characters were viewed as despicable television characters, rather than admired ones, compared to white (3%) characters.” (The Portrayal of Racial Minorities on Prime Time Television. 2010.)
Looking at the world of books, Kate Hart did an in-depth study of YA book covers in 2011. 90% featured a white character. 1.4% featured a Latino/Latina character. 1.4% featured an Asian character. 1.2% featured a black character. 10% featured a character of ambiguous race/ethnicity. Compare that to the census numbers from my previous post: “In the total [U.S.] population, whites make up 66.0%, Hispanics are 15.1%, Blacks are 12.8%, APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) are 5.1%, and AIAN (American Indians and Alaskan Natives) are 1.2%.” (Uncovering YA Covers 2011.)
After reading John Scalzi’s post on SWM being the lowest difficulty setting in the game of life, and then reading the 800+ comments, I figured I’d join the crowd who decided to write a response. So I’ve dug up some information for those commenters who seemed to completely lose their minds…
I’ve done my best to find reliable, objective sources for all of the following information. Like Scalzi’s post, the following is focused on the United States, though the trends certainly aren’t exclusive to the U.S.
“[B]lack males receive [prison] sentences that are approximately 10% longer than comparable white males with those at the top of the sentencing distribution facing even larger disparities.” -Racial Disparity in Federal Criminal Charging and Its Sentencing Consequences, 2012.
“The ratio of women’s and men’s median annual earnings was 77.0 for full-time, year-round workers in 2009 … African American women earned on average only 61.9 cents for every dollar earned by white men, and Hispanic women earned only 52.9 cents for each dollar earned by white men.” -The Gender Wage Gap: 2009.
Poverty rates in 2009, from Income, Poverty, and Health Insurance Coverage in the United States (2009).
Hate Crimes in 2010, from the U. S. Department of Justice Hate Crime Statistics.
At birth, the average life expectancy of a white baby in the United States is four years longer than the average life expectancy of a black baby. -U. S. Census Bureau, Life Expectancy by Sex, Age, and Race: 2008.
“30.4% of Hispanics, 17% of blacks, and 9.9% of whites do not have health insurance.” -Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Nearly 1 in 5 women in the United States has been raped in her lifetime (18.3%) … Approximately 1 in 71 men in the United States (1.4%) reported having been raped in his lifetime.” -National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).
“Nearly 1 in 2 women (44.6%) and 1 in 5 men (22.2%) experienced sexual violence victimization other than rape at some point in their lives.” -National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (2010).
Lesbian, gay, and bisexual youth “are nearly one and a half to seven times more likely than non-LGB youth to have reported attempting suicide.” -Suicide Risk and Prevention for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Youth (2008).
39.3% of white first-time, full-time college students complete a degree within four years, compared to 20.4% of black students, 26.4% of Hispanic students, 42.8% of Asian/Pacific Islander students, and 18.8% for Native American students. -National Center for Education Statistics (2010).
The event dropout rate for white high school students in 2007-2008 was 2.8%, compared to 6.7% for black students, 6.0% for Hispanic, 2.4% for Asian/Pacific Islander, and 7.3% for Native American students. -National Center for Education Statistics.
U.S. population vs. representation in Congress. “In the total population, whites make up 66.0%, Hispanics are 15.1%, Blacks are 12.8%, APIA (Asian and Pacific Islander American) are 5.1%, and AIAN (American Indians and Alaskan Natives) are 1.2%. In Congress, whites make up 85.8%, Hispanics are 5.8%, Blacks are 7.5%, APIA are 1.7%, and AIAN are 0.2%. Men are 49% of the total population, while women are 51%. In Congress, men are 82% and women are 18%.” -Ragini Kathail, Race, Gender, and the US Congress (2009).
There are only four openly gay/lesbian members of Congress (0.7%). -Congress gets 4th openly gay member (2011).
I could go on, but this seems like enough to present a glimpse of the playing field.
Now, if you say, “I don’t care about race/gender/orientation. I only look at the individual!” these are some of the things you’re looking away from.
If you say, “Why are you attacking straight white men?” then let me reiterate that I’m presenting facts and research. Are you suggesting that reality is attacking straight white men?
If you say, “But I’m a SWM and my life wasn’t easy,” I’ll tell you to take Remedial Logic. Nobody here or in Scalzi’s original post suggested otherwise.
If you say, “Women have it easier because they can use sex!” I’ll probably just ban you for being an idiot.
If you ask, “Well what do you want me to do about it?” then I’ll say I want you to be aware. I want you to recognize the problems. I want you to take some responsibility — not for historical injustices you weren’t personally a part of — but for trying to make this country better for everyone.
I’ve been thinking more about Avengers, particularly about Black Widow. I liked her character, but something wasn’t sitting quite right. It wasn’t until I read cleolinda’s post on LJ that things started to click into place for me.
There be minor spoilers ahead…
When we first see Black Widow’s character, she’s captured, tied up, and being interrogated by nameless Russians. We see the Standard Villain Torture Kit waiting on a nearby tray. But when SHIELD calls, Black Widow goes from helpless prisoner to fully in control in an eyeblink. By allowing her captors to see her as weak and vulnerable, she got them to tell her what she needed to know. It’s set up as a reversal of expectations: the men expect the woman to be powerless, and she does a masterful job of turning that against them. She was in control the whole time, and you know it.
So far, so good. I liked the scene. I also liked the way it set up Black Widow’s later confrontation with Loki on the Helicarrier. Once again, Black Widow allows a man to play on her apparent vulnerabilities and weakness, and in doing so, tricks him into admitting his plan.
But this time, as she turns away, you realize the vulnerability wasn’t faked. She wasn’t in control the same way she was in that earlier scene. Loki got to her. You see it in her expression, and you see it again later.
Some of what bugs me is the intersection of Black Widow being both the only female Avenger and the only one to use her vulnerability as a weapon like that. In a way, it feels like a subversion of sexism, since she’s using her targets’ expectations against them. But it also feels seductive in a way that disturbs me — in the case of Loki, “I’m going to let you paw all over my very real pain so I can get the answers I need.”
And look at the way Loki treats her. He rips into her more viciously than he does anyone else in the film, including his own brother. That level of scorn and loathing is reserved for Black Widow alone — for the woman who dares to be as powerful as the men. He also — and I missed this in the theater — calls her a “mewling quim.”
I wasn’t familiar with that particular verbal assault. I believe the modern U.S. equivalent would be “whining c**t,” making it the most hateful and sexist insult in the entire film.
All right, so Loki is an asshole. But then I thought back to when Black Widow went to recruit Bruce Banner. Banner was calm and cool, except for one moment when he slammed the table and shouted something like, “Stop lying!”
Black Widow jumped back, visibly shaken. Banner immediately calmed down, saying it was just a test to see how she’d respond. He was fully in control, of himself, and of the situation. He learned she didn’t come alone, and that he’s completely surrounded by SHIELD agents. I.e., he learned what he wanted to know.
Yet the way he did it resonates with Loki’s treatment of Black Widow later on. He lashed out in a way we never see directed at men, and in that moment, everyone knew exactly who had the power and who didn’t.
I’m certain some people will read this and say I’m overthinking, or that I’m reading too much into it. To be clear, I loved this movie. And I liked Black Widow’s character a lot. She’s capable, competent, and kicks plenty of bad guy ass. However…
I find this problematic.
Comments and discussion are welcome, as always.
This is going to come as a tremendous shock to people, particularly my wife and children, but I am not, in fact, perfect.
When I write about things like sexism, racism, bullying, homophobia, etc. in SF/F circles or society in general, I do it because I believe it’s important. But I also do it because it’s personal, both because so many people I love and care about are directly affected by these things, and because — having grown up in this society — I’m still working on my own assumptions and behaviors.
I came across a blog post discussing the Hugo nominations. (I’m trying to avoid these discussions, because they do bad things to my brain, but that’s a mess for another post.) In this one, someone was pointing out that for the past six years, the Best Fan Writer category has had only a single female nominee each year (or in 2007, no women at all).
As I read, that privileged, sexist crap I complain about came crashing through my head. My brain was a bingo card of dumbassery.
Okay, I’m exaggerating with that last one. The point is, my initial, gut-level response was to take it personally, and to go through some of the same reactions that piss me off when I see or hear them from others.
You know what? They piss me off when they come from me, too. Because the poster is absolutely right. There are brilliant, powerful, amazing women writing out there, and it speaks ill of us that we’re not recognizing more of them.
Nobody’s saying I only got on the ballot because I’m a guy. I don’t believe anyone looked at their Hugo ballot and said, “Well, I like Cat Valente, but Jim Hines has a Y chromosome, so I’m nominating him instead. Go Team Penis!”1
But does the fact that I’m a guy give me an advantage? Yeah, it does. I have more freedom to write whatever I like, with less fear of backlash. I’m given more respect and authority when I write, I’m taken more seriously.
That’s not a comfortable thing for me to acknowledge. I want to believe that everything I’ve achieved has come 100% from my own inherent awesomeness … but it just ain’t so.
This doesn’t change the fact that I’m a good writer. (That’s right, I said fact! My ego blows raspberries at the haters!) It doesn’t change how honored I feel to be on that ballot. It doesn’t diminish the things I’ve achieved. What it does is start to acknowledge the reality of the context in which I’ve achieved those things, the advantages I’ve been given.
None of us are perfect, and most of us have absorbed ideas, beliefs, and attitudes that we need to work on. It’s hard, sometimes painful work to dig up and examine those beliefs, and to start to change our behaviors.
But it’s important work. And it’s work I hope and expect to be doing until the day I die.