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Posts Tagged ‘feminism’

Lately I’ve been feeling like a bad feminist.

It kicked up a gear last month when my feminist book club read Feminism is for Everyone, by bell hooks. I learned a lot from the book, but the entire time I was reading it, I was thinking, “Wow, I feel like I’m really falling short, and I don’t even really understand how.” It talked about raising consciousness, and I’m pretty sure my consciousness is completely NOT raised. Whatever that means.

This month we’re reading Bad Feminist, by Roxane Gay, which is making for a nice change of pace. Roxane Gay is smart and insightful and funny, and she also seems like she isn’t perfect, which is reassuring since I am also far from perfect.

For example, I have this fascination with eye makeup. It all started when my friend was visiting this coast from Boston, and the friends he was staying with invited me to stay for dinner. It was a lovely evening of good food and even better company, but I kept being distracted by the woman’s eyelashes. She had AMAZING eyelashes. And I was sitting there at the table, wondering if she glued on fake eyelashes every morning or if she was able to work these wonders with mascara, and if so, why had I never been able to work similar wonders with mascara?

Thus began my fascination. It started with mascara experimentation, but after some months I branched out to an interest in eyeliner and different colors of eye shadow. And a few weeks ago I took a field trip to Sephora and obtained this fat eyeliner pencil that is a modern wonder of cosmetics.

Flawed Feminist

Flawed Feminist

And every time I play with eye makeup, I know I’m probably being a bad feminist. I’m propagating a certain ideal of feminine beauty, and I guess as a feminist I’m supposed to deliberately subvert that ideal, and I don’t. I get almost as annoyed when people imply I shouldn’t wear makeup as I do when people imply I must wear makeup. I want to look the way I want to look, and I want to wear what I want to wear, and I don’t want to care about the messages I’m sending or the subconscious misogynistic ideas I’ve no doubt internalized over the years. And so I wear makeup when I feel like wearing makeup.

Also, when I’m on a date with a guy, I allow him to pay. I’m pretty sure a good feminist would not do this. My rule is never assume, but accept graciously. I cannot pretend that this is motivated by anything but self-interest. I don’t want to get into an argument about who’s paying for dinner (conflict adverse, me?), and also, it’s really nice when someone buys you dinner. The allure of free food and being fed, which to all rights should have died down after college, remains strong. The allure of being treated remains strong. It’s also super unfair, and I know this, and yet. I accept graciously.

Even my language is suspect, and for a writer, this is inexcusable. I like to say and write “you guys.” I like to say, “Man.” I know a good feminist would never say or write these things. And I do try to avoid this gendered language sometimes, especially in tweets. But there aren’t any good alternatives! I’ve tried “you all,” but I’m not from Texas and I’ll never be from Texas. “You people” is horrible. “Friends” sometimes works, but not always. And the best substitutes for “Man” are all profanity. So I have to choose between saying “Man” and swearing a lot.

I imagine if I had my consciousness raised, I wouldn’t do any of these things. I’d effortlessly never say “you guys” and I wouldn’t wear any makeup EVER EVER and I’d insist on going Dutch every single time. So where does this leave me?

I guess it leaves me far from perfect. But that doesn’t mean feminism isn’t important to me. That doesn’t mean being a feminist isn’t part of my identity. I think what it really means is that I’m human and flawed and complicated, and aren’t we all?

You guys, I’m a bad feminist. But even so, I’d rather be a bad feminist grappling with these issues than not be a feminist at all.

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I imagine a better world for myself.

I imagine a world in which sexual harassment is not a common reality, in which consent matters and communication matters and female bodies aren’t so objectified that it becomes easy to forget there’s a person here in this body. In which harassment is strictly not allowed instead of being given a pass or labeled a misunderstanding. In which no always means no and nobody is trying to pretend that isn’t actually true so they can feel better about the horrible way they have treated other people.

I imagine a world in which people don’t tell me what to do unprompted, and people don’t explain things to me that I already know, and people don’t tell me incorrect information about things about which I already know and then won’t listen when I gently question this false information. A world in which I am not shut down when I try to express my opinion or reservations.

I imagine a world in which there are more choices for me than just the Virgin and the Whore. In which I am not shamed for having a body, for how I dress, for the existence of sexuality. In which I am not pressured, repeatedly, to do things I am not comfortable doing. In which vulnerability is not a weakness to be exploited. In which the word “tease” is never used as a weapon. In which I don’t have to worry about the possibility of being physically forced.

I imagine a world in which instead of being told I’m too emotional, my feelings matter. In which the boundaries I set are actually taken seriously. In which people take responsibility for their bad behavior instead of expecting me to be run over by a bus on their behalf. In which there isn’t an expectation that we’ll all just pretend that didn’t happen. In which my discomfort with bad behavior is met with neither anger nor denial. In which people know that empathy doesn’t mean just caring about someone but involves understanding their perspective and feeling compassion on their behalf.

I imagine a world in which people don’t feel entitled to me, to my body, to my time, to my energy. In which basic decency doesn’t expect a reward. In which my choices are celebrated instead of constrained. In which people don’t use manipulation tactics to attempt to control me. In which instead we are gifts to each other, freely given but not taken for granted.

I imagine a world in which I am surrounded by amazing and supportive people. In which none of us are perfect but all of us are willing to own the issues that are ours. In which we’ve learned how to listen, and how to apologize, and how to respect, regardless of gender or color or class or orientation.

And then I imagine myself. I imagine setting boundaries, standing up for myself, and rejecting the pervasive message that I do not matter. I imagine treating myself with the kindness and respect I used to reserve for others. I imagine allowing others to experience the consequences of their behavior without shouldering any of their responsibility. I imagine shedding shame like a skin I’ve outgrown.

Yes. I can be that woman.

Maybe I already am.

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I am not in a good mood right now.

I have spent the last few weeks dealing with my landlord and his real estate agent, both of whom act like they’re doing me huge favors by, say, not illegally breaking my lease or being willing to pay for professional cleaners to clean their property before their open house event. No acknowledgment is being made of the fact that I am the person in this situation who is hemorrhaging money and time and stress from the inconvenience.

Where is our compassion?

I am supposed to be appalled at how non-inclusive the science fiction community is becoming because of the recent hoop-la about this year’s Hugo host. Did things get out of hand? Yes. And ultimately both sides of this drama suffered. How terrible it must be to have to worry about having your win of a major writing award punctuated with a joke about your weight or gender. Can we stop for a moment and imagine what that would feel like? (Kameron Hurley has more to say about this, and it’s worth reading.) And how unfortunate that the con committee didn’t prepare Jonathan Ross for the current climate of SF&F and take more care in making and presenting their choice. Meanwhile, how ironic that this is being held up as an example of science fiction not being inclusive, when the circumstances from which this situation arose exist because of a backlash against science fiction not being inclusive.

Where is our compassion?

I recently had a conversation with a female writer, who also happens to be a mother, about how she was told that since she is a mother, she will never be as good a writer as either someone with no kids OR a man who is a father. How painful a comment that is, to tell a serious writer, “Nope, sorry, since you have reproduced, you’ll never live up to the rest of us. Oh, and by the way, if you were a man, this wouldn’t apply.” Painful, unnecessary, and untrue.

Where is our compassion?

Photo Credit: jorgempf via Compfight cc

Now that I try to be very mindful about setting boundaries and standing up for myself (go, Backbone Project, go), I notice it all the time, this lack of compassion. Some of it is simple thoughtlessness, and some of it is deeper and more troubling. Some of it is people who honestly feel if they can get away with taking advantage of somebody, then they should do it. I have been told there are entire cultures based on this principle.

There are two obvious choices when confronted by this problem:

Choice 1: Shut up, sit down, pretend everything is fine, blame everything on yourself, learn to believe your emotions aren’t valid or important, become used to being treated like there’s something wrong with you for having perfectly normal emotional responses to being treated badly, take what is given and be thankful for even that much, lose your voice if you ever had one to begin with, or else never learn to speak in the first place, let people trod all over you as you sink deeper and deeper into the muck and learn to value yourself as little as you’re being valued. In short, be a victim.

Choice 2: Stand up and demand respect. Value yourself. Protect yourself. Set boundaries and don’t allow yourself to be talked or shamed out of them. Be compassionate, but do not allow your compassion to be used against you. Trust people, but only when the trust is deserved. Love people, but do not try to save them because they’ll be perfectly happy to pull you down with them. Give yourself the compassion other people may not be willing or able to give you.

With the landlord situation, I picked Choice 2, and I am now going to be compensated for my time and inconvenience. This would never have been the result if I hadn’t spoken up. Loudly. More than once. And I’m prepared to do it again.

Where is our compassion?

It starts with ourselves.

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I don’t generally do many link round-ups, but I have so many interesting links open in my browser right now, and they deserve to be shared. So if you were feeling short of reading material this week, mourn no longer.

Female Creators in Science Fiction and Fantasy Television

This is such an important essay that it probably deserves an entire dedicated post by me, but I’m sharing it now in case I don’t get around to it.

The Truth of Wolves, Or: The Alpha Problem

The alpha-beta system of wolf behavior is actually incorrect. And yet we still use this system, one that often encourages misogynist behavior, in werewolf-based urban fantasy. Why?

Sexism at Fantasy Book Cafe

While I’m sharing Foz Meadows, I’ll also point you to her response to the post on how there isn’t actually much sexism in literature, during a theme month of focusing on Women in SF&F. Gah.

Why Do Men Keep Putting Me in the Girlfriend-Zone?

Funny and sad.

The Gender Coverup

Hopefully you’ve all seen this one by now. Maureen Johnson, a successful YA writer, talks about how book covers are gendered. It’s really worthwhile to take a look at the covers of popular books with the gender of the author changed.

It’s not about Gender

I like the analogy the author uses to make her point.

Academic Men Explain Things to Me

I find this Tumblr so valuable (and sometimes hilarious), I’ve added it to my reader.

Nerds and Male Privilege

Do yourself a favor and don’t read the comments.

For writers: Brandon Sanderson’s creative writing class is coming online this summer, and it’s FREE. Check out the details here. 

The Lethality of Loneliness

Loneliness affects physical health. No big surprise there, but an interesting read.

Student’s self driving car tech wins Intel science fair

Yay for science!

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Very soon after I decided that I wanted to be a YA writer, I learned the following “truth:” that girls will read novels with both male and female protagonists, but boys will only read novels with male protagonists. So if you want the widest crossover, you write a boy protagonist, and if you write a girl protagonist, that means you’re mostly writing for a female audience.

Then I heard the oft repeated story about how J.K. Rowling decided to use her initials as her author name so that the readers would not know she was a woman. And I heard about how YA was dominated by women writers, sometimes as though this were a bad thing.

Then I heard a couple of male writers who I respect talking about the problem of there not being enough boy books in YA. Later on, I heard about what a problem it was that there were too many female protagonists and “girl books” in modern YA.

Shall I define “boy book” for you? A boy book probably has a male protagonist. It features action and adventure and is quick paced. It probably doesn’t have much if any romance. The language and structure might also be more straightforward and simple, since one of the main reasons having YA boy books is supposed to be important is to encourage reluctant boy readers to read.

A “girl book,” by contrast, probably has a female protagonist. It may have action and adventure and be quick paced. It almost certainly includes a romantic element. It might focus more heavily on social interactions and relationships in general, as well as issues of social status (because of course, men aren’t interested in status at all. Ha!). There might also be a stronger focus on emotions. The language and structure run the gambit between simple and complex.

I’m not going to mince words: these truths about boy readers, the YA genre, and boy and girl books are harmful and sometimes flat-out false. If boys won’t read books with girl protagonists, especially by the time they are teenagers, this is not a good reason to write and publish fewer books with girl protagonists. This is a red flag that something is wrong with the message our society is sending to these boys.

Often this argument gets lost in the rush to emphasize the importance of boys learning to read. It’s fine to perpetuate this “truth” of boys being unwilling to read anything not entirely male-centered, the unstated message goes, as long as we can wheedle them to read anything at all. And this is how sexist thinking gets passed on to the next generation.

Obviously boys learning to read is important. It’s important that everyone learn to read. And it’s also important that we throw away outdated and harmful ideas about gender and stop teaching boys that girls and anything related to girls are somehow shameful or uninteresting or embarrassing. THESE CAN BOTH BE IMPORTANT AT THE SAME TIME. Revolutionary idea, I know.

If YA did have such a predominance of female protagonists, I’d be happy, given all the messages female teens receive to the contrary, that there was at least one place where they could experience other females being front and center, having agency and their own individual identities. But it is not necessarily even true that YA has more female protagonists than male. According to this study, 49% of YA protagonists are male. 49%. And only 36% of YA protagonists are female. (15% have protagonists of both genders.)

You know what else isn’t true? That YA is dominated by women writers. The same study found that 56% of YA writers were women, which is hardly an overwhelming majority.

When we talk about female protagonists in YA books as if they’re somehow a bad thing, we’re strengthening harmful stereotypes. When we believe boys won’t read books with female protagonists, we’re sending them the message that they shouldn’t want to, or that there’s some kind of problem with reading these so-called “girl books.”

The Feminist Batwoman wrote a fabulous essay called “Boys Don’t Read Girl Books and Other Lies My Society Told Me.” She ran a successful experiment exposing her little brother to novels about girls as well as boys, and she has this to say about boys not reading books with girl protagonists: “My outlandish theory is that if boys aren’t belittled for reading books about girls, if they’re not taught that girls are lesser, if they’re not teased about cooties, if we don’t teach them to fear the feminine… they’d probably like more “girl” stuff.”

We need to stop talking about boy books and girl books as if this is some kind of important and valid distinction. We need to wake up and realize that 56% of YA writers being women does not mean that women dominate the genre. And we need to think long enough to realize that if girls are happily reading novels with protagonists of both genders, there’s no reason we can’t work towards encouraging boys to do the same. Plenty of boys already do.

For a long time I took these assumptions about YA and YA readers for granted. I’m guessing I’m not the only one. Therefore, if you think this is an important and interesting issue, I encourage you to share this essay or start a conversation with your friends and colleagues. Let’s challenge what everyone knows and find out what lies underneath, shall we?

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I always wanted to have a voice. What I didn’t know about were the obligations that come along with it.

Last night I sat with a group of friends and watched the Academy Awards. Aside from one meaningful look, I didn’t say anything about the Boob Song. It was exactly the brand of humor that I don’t know what to do about, because I can see why people think it’s funny, and yet, if I think about it for more than five seconds, it’s not at all funny. (Libba Bray’s suggestion, however, is.) It actually completely pisses me off, especially in reference to an already deeply misogynistic industry.

But I didn’t say anything. (Although I did splutter indignantly at the joke at Penelope Cruz’s expense that combined sexism and racism. I mean, wow.) I’d like to think it was a world-weary kind of not saying anything, but it wasn’t. It was a self-doubting, “other people find this funny so maybe there’s not actually a problem and anyway I don’t want to seem like a negative killjoy” sort of not saying anything. Even when I have a voice, it seems, it can be difficult to use it.

When I started writing, I knew very little about social issues: sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism, classism, etc. But I very quickly became aware there was a lot for me to learn, because I began following the science fiction community in early 2009, which was around the same time the Racefail conversations were happening. It was at that point that I realized how much I didn’t know and how important it was for me to start educating myself.

I still have a lot to learn. I know I don’t always get it right. But I feel strongly that with the privilege of having a voice, of becoming a writer whose works will be read, whether that’s here on the blog or in my fiction, comes the responsibility for me to learn about issues of gender, of race, of class, and of sexuality. Because whether I like it or not, whether I mean to or not, whether I am conscious of them or not, my own biases will come through in my work.

I can’t erase all my biases, certainly not in the four years I’ve been thinking more deeply on these subjects, but at the very least I can examine myself, aspire to understand more, and do what I can to counteract these biases. Because as a writer, I am engaging in the conversation of our society, and what I say (or do not say) matters. The words I choose matter.

So when I fail to say anything about a derogatory Boob Song, I have to examine that response. I have to ask myself if I’m being wishy washy in my writing, if I’m worrying about being un-fun and trying to convince myself things are fine when they aren’t instead of working harder and writing about my convictions and observations.

This kind of self reflection makes me want to tell you how offensive I find the premise of the new Oz movie, Oz the Great and Powerful, which seems like it’s going to be about all these awesome, powerful, and magical women who, in spite of their power, need a bumbling man who’s not from around here to set everything (and everyone) straight. And then I begin to wonder if the movie is going to feminize magical power while the Wizard saves the day with common sense and practical and/or technical know-how that the magical women can’t possibly do themselves. And then I think about how the original Oz stories, in spite of being written in the early 20th century and being deeply problematic in several ways, featured Dorothy and Ozma as the prominent protagonist-heroines. I think of how uncomfortable I was the first time I read The Marvelous Land of Oz at age seven when –spoiler alert–the boy protagonist Tip turned out to be the girl princess Ozma, and how this made me question gender assumptions until upon re-reading I was completely on board with that particular plot twist. And how having this movie set in the same world in 2013 only with a man to save the womenfolk seems like we’re going backwards instead of forwards.

This self examination makes me wonder how many times I’ve decided not to write about things like the Oz movie here on the blog, because it’s so much easier not to speak up.

The truth is, since I’ve begun learning and thinking about social issues, I see and experience things that make me uncomfortable all the time. And one of the most uncomfortable thoughts of all is knowing there’s so much stuff I’m missing, so many problems I’m not seeing because they’re so tightly embedded into my cultural context, into my upbringing, and into the assumptions I bring with me when I view the world. And one of the other uncomfortable thoughts is how often I keep my mouth shut.

So this is me, using the voice I worked hard to get. The Boob Song wasn’t actually funny as much as it was depressing and offensive. The Oz movie looks dreadful, even if the previews are pretty. We are all informed by the society we grew up and live in, whether we realize it or want it to be true or not.

And we can try our best to say something about what we notice and what we learn.

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In the wake of the sexual harassment at Readercon that is being discussed all over the internet, (and there is a petition you can sign if you wish to object to the Board’s handling of the case), I’ve been thinking a lot about sexual harassment. I’ve written about it a bit before, and I want to call up one of the comments that old post received, from Cyndi:

“As another post said, life isn’t fair. Get over it. Live your life, your way, and stop looking for ways to claim you’ve been oppressed/denied/overlooked. We all have been, in one way or another.”

What, you may ask, did I say in the post to elicit such a response? Was I whining or crying or talking about how unfair life is? Um, no. I wrote a calm and reasoned essay talking about what it meant to me to be a feminist, and bringing up, among other points, the existence of sexual harassment that women experience in their professional lives. Which, apparently, we are all supposed to just get over.

In fact, we’re not even allowed to talk about sexual harassment without being dismissed or being told that we’re looking for “special” treatment. Because apparently having one’s sexual and physical boundaries be repeatedly violated is par for the course, and we should lie down and take it without a murmur.

And then we wonder why feminists are sometimes angry.

Genevieve Valentine was incredibly brave, both in reporting the harassing incidents to the Readercon board and in publicizing what was happening. Both of these actions are ones that many women will choose not to do, for many reasons. Because we don’t want to be any trouble or cause a fuss. Because it is embarrassing. Because we might not be taken seriously or be believed. Because it might have future repercussions to our careers or to our very safety. Because we don’t want more confrontation with the person who has harassed us. Because we don’t want it to have happened.

But it IS happening. And it is not expecting special treatment or playing the victim card to bring it up, to talk about it, to ask that one’s basic expectations of safety while attending a convention be met. Not only was Genevieve Valentine harassed, but the same man who harassed her had previously harassed another woman to the point where she no longer felt comfortable volunteering. There was the infamous series of incidents at World Fantasy in 2011. I myself had an uncomfortable incident occur at Worldcon in Reno last year, which–guess what?–I did not report. And that is not the first such incident I’ve personally experienced in the field, either.

I firmly believe that this is not a problem for only the people who are harassed, but rather a problem that faces our entire community. And on a larger scale, a problem that faces our society. Because when we look the other way, when we say that this behavior isn’t so bad, then we are perpetuating the problem. When someone says, “Oh, but this has never happened to me,” that person is saying that because they haven’t experienced something personally, that means–what? That it’s never happened? That it’s not really a problem? That they don’t want to be bothered with dealing with something they aren’t forced to deal with?

Unfortunately, some of us don’t have a choice as to whether we’re going to deal with harassment.

Another quote from that old post of mine, this one from Jessica:

“Life isn’t fair, period. Only we can decide how to navigate through it & when we say we believe in equality perhaps we should consider what that word really means because it takes countless selfless acts & the removal of one’s own selfish needs to see what’s truly needed for a greater good.”

It sounds like she is saying that sexism in the workplace is needed for the greater good, and objecting to sexism and harassment is therefore selfish. And I’m sorry, I generally try to be respectful, but that is one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard. It is not selfish to not want to be treated badly. It is not selfish to want to feel physically safe while working, whether at an office or at a convention. It is not selfish to want to feel physically safe period. It is not necessary for women to be selfless and allow men to paw them and make sexual jokes at the woman’s expense. Please. Next thing I’ll be hearing is that it’s selfish for a woman to not want to be raped…especially if she is wearing a low-cut top and a short skirt. Oh, wait. People say that kind of stupid thing, too.

Talking about the problem is the first step. I don’t know what the next steps look like. But I know that saying “get over it” isn’t one of them.

I’d love to hear from you: your experiences (at the workplace or not, as a writer or not, from any gender because I’m very aware that it’s not just women who get harassed), your thoughts about sexual harassment and the Readercon debacle in particular, etc. I am going to be wielding a particularly hefty mallet in the comments section for this post, because I want this to be a safe place for discussion of a difficult issue.

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