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Posts Tagged ‘sexism’

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 recently read an article by PZ Myers about how silence is political, and it gave me pause. While I do place a lot of importance on having a voice, I am frequently silent. In particular, I often remain silent about the controversy du jour of the science fiction community, of which I am firmly a part.

I remain silent because it is the easy thing to do, and it is my privilege to be able to choose to do so. I remain silent because I want to be liked, and I usually have friends on both sides of the issue. I remain silent because it takes a lot of energy to produce a well-crafted statement of opinion, and sometimes I don’t have that energy to spare.

The choice to remain silent is, however, inherently political. I am choosing not to rock the boat. I am choosing not to expend the energy. I am choosing what is important enough that I’ll brave the inevitable conflict for speaking about it. I don’t know that this is incorrect in that I have finite resources, but it is an act of privilege that I feel I can afford to stay silent, that I even have a choice at all.

Photo Credit: _Zahira_ via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: _Zahira_ via Compfight cc

It is with this in mind that I’m going to talk about my recent decision involving SFWA. For those of you who don’t know, SFWA is the professional organization for science fiction and fantasy writers. My membership came up for renewal last month, and I was quite torn about whether to renew. Much of this, I confess, came down to the mundane fact that I didn’t particularly want to spend the $90 required, but I’ve also been disturbed by the controversies regarding sexism that have been rocking this professional organization for the last year or so. What to do, what to do?

I was speaking about SFWA to a friend of mine who stated he didn’t think he’d join once eligible. He talked about how all the scandal has tarnished SFWA’s reputation and how they don’t behave like a professional organization. He criticized organizational decisions and responses and behavior. He made several valid points.

And to my surprise, I found myself defending SFWA. When an organization is striving to make large and systemic changes, it is bound to be messy and slower than we would wish, I argued. But if I support the intended changes towards more professionalism and less sexism, can I in good conscience abandon the organization before giving them time to correct? The latest revamped Bulletin (the organization’s newsletter) is an excellent example of something deeply positive and helpful coming out of all the controversy of the last year.

Ultimately I feel that my decision as to whether to remain a SFWA member is also political. And this year, I chose to pay my dues and stay a part of the organization.

I believe that communities cannot change without experiencing growing pains. And a lot of the controversy of the last year and a half is happening because people are no longer staying silent. Having people speak up about difficult issues almost always causes a push-back. Just as some people in my life were unhappy with my decision to leave my people-pleasing days behind me, so some people in SFWA have been unhappy with those members who have chosen to speak out against the sexism of the Bulletin, among other issues. Change is hard and painfully slow. But the only way the change will stick is if the people invested in the change hold the course.

So yes, sometimes SFWA does not act like the professional organization it is striving to become. Sometimes its officers make errors of judgment. Sometimes it seems like its responses are ridiculously slow. But I believe it is on the course to becoming more professional. And I’m willing to give it some more time to see if it’s able to continue to transform itself into an organization of which I am proud to be a member.

Next year I’ll probably go through the same mental gymnastics in order to decide whether to renew. But for now, I’ve put my money where my mouth is, and I’m speaking up about my decision.

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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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