#YesAllWomen, Because

When the UCSB shooting happened on May 23, and it became clear that the Elliot Roger acted not because of racism, or political terrorism, but out of misogyny and hate which no one else successfully cured him of, people began to use the #YesAllWomen hashtag on Twitter to talk about why not all men are awful, but yes, all women experience some form of sexual harassment.

I didn’t join in, not at first, even though it’s a subject we should all talk about. I have talked about it, a bit, in posts like this one, but that’s not enough. As long as there are still big groups of people, men and women* both, who think a woman owes something to the men around her simply because she’s female, this is a conversation that we need to have.

And, it is dangerous to have this conversation, when you’re in a female body. For the last week, men have stood up and said, “No more”, and whether the people around them agreed or not, they generally were insulted but not threatened. When women have said, “No more, and here’s my experience,” they have often been not only insulted, but threatened with violence, and with rape. Because, how dare they, some men think. We should be so flattered, so lucky to have men find us attractive, that complaining is offensive to them. When I posted last year about sexual harassment at cons, some of the reactions included people talking online about how I must have invented my experiences, because (those men thought) I wasn’t nearly attractive enough to be the kind of girl who got sexually harassed. My friend Mercedes wrote this post about the reaction threats she got after using the hashtag to make two comments on Twitter last week.

Two comments. Two.

I won’t link to everyone else who’s written eloquently about their own experiences. You should go find them, and read them, and see a little more clearly how our world works. This post is about sharing mine, because I respect the others who have spoken up, and I don’t want them to be standing up alone.

I’m putting the next part behind a cut, and warn you that it’s triggering, for all the things you can imagine might be next. 

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Bringing Lovecraft’s Mythos into the future, again. (Or, hey, I wrote a story!)

A handsome boy delivered glasses of chilled water to our table, singing out, “Hydration!” as he slid one in front of each of us. They were always lovely, the ones who served our food and smiled as they took our coats.

I watched him walk away as Marc sighed heavily.

“You do look feverish,” Hassa said, concerned. “You’re sweating.”

“You should notify medical,” Elda added.

“Yes, I think …” Marc paused, putting a hand to his forehead. “I think I’ll go there now.” He lurched to his feet and left, bumping into our handler as he passed her. She looked shaken but managed to get our meal on the table in the right order. Her long hair was brushed straight and bound behind her head with a black bow. I thought about my own hair, cropped close to my head, the way it had been for years. Data processor chic; we all wore it this way.

“He’s gone to medical,” I said when I realized she was still standing at our table, Marc’s food on her tray, a lost look on her face. “You can take that back to the kitchen.” She smiled then, brightly, and retreated.

Mid-shift break never feels as if it’s long enough.

I settled into my couch, removing the cover from my data jack and slipping the transfer cable inside. The world fell away, and my real life came back into focus.

As I was unpacking the last file for the day, a vid with partial frame loss, a message flashed: my Architect advising me that I was needed on the University project. Marc’s project. I put the vid aside and sent her a reply, questioning.

“We have two processors out with illness,” she answered back. “Is anything in your queue a priority?”

“No, I’m clear to transfer,” I thought back at her, and she changed my queue with a quick “Thank you.” File attached. Info for the University. I put it aside for the next day, cleaned up my video, and placed it with the rest of its mates.

I wish I could say that I had some premonition of what was coming, but I slept dreamlessly and woke up refreshed. We have pills for that.

My cyber-Mythos story, “CL3ANS3”, is now available as part of the Eldritch Chrome anthology, out from Chaosium. This is one of two stories I sold to the same pair of editors in early 2012 (the other, “No Hand To Turn The Key”, is a clockpunk/Mythos mashup I wrote in January 2011, which will appear in Steampunk Cthulhu. I don’t have a release date for it but it should be out sometime this year).

I love getting to use Lovecraft’s universe and monsters to make something new, without the racism, misogyny, or Protestant morality endemic to his writing. Sex, especially, seeps into my Mythos tales – I can’t seem to stop making them naughty and exciting in a way poor old Lovecraft would certainly not approve of. “CL3ANS3” is definite dirty; it’s meant to be wrong, the kind of sexy that makes you want to scrub off your thoughts after you have them. It’s been long enough since I put the words down that I think I’m a better writer now, but this story was fun to write. I hope it’s still fun to read, in a creepy sort of way.

Taking out the bad parts of Lovecraft isn’t enough, though, and I tried to go further. The narrator of this story is as featureless as possible, without identifiable race or gender, to allow all readers to find a little of themselves in this character. In this future, anyone can be tempted by the darkness seeping in. I’d like to think the Elder Gods, should they ever come for us, wouldn’t discriminate at all.

Dear (Jackass) Just because I’m a woman, don’t assume I’m talking about women all the damn time.

Dear Jackass,

When I talk about increasing diversity, or problematic tropes, or the state of publishing today, you always assume I’m talking about women.

If I say, “using alien space hookers in your story is a tired old trope that came out of a time when SF writers hid their racism by attributing negative stereotypes to aliens instead of non-whites”, you assume I’m upset that you portrayed women as prostitutes.

If I say publishing should use blind submissions, because it’s been proven to increase the diversity of authors, you assume I want quotas for women.

If I say your space opera movie about a platoon of soldiers fighting alien bugs isn’t diverse enough considering the source material, you point out the two white women who play supporting roles.

Yes, having women in a book or film that is otherwise populated by men is slightly more diverse than one where there are only men. And yes, because I am a woman, I would like to see myself in some of the characters portrayed in my fiction. But you do know that “diversity” means more than slapping breasts on a white guy and thinking you’ve satasified me, right? Why should science fiction, of all genres–the one where we talk about the future and human potential and evolution of both man and machine–be struggling so hard to find acceptance for anyone who doesn’t look like Casper Van Dien*?

You want to use prostitution in your SF as a way to talk about the problematic roles forced on women by the men in their lives? Sure, go ahead. I’ve done it myself. But make the hookers human and let the aliens have some positive characteristics for once.

You want to write a novel about an army of clones serving their God-Emperor as he fights to expand the Empire? Okay, fine. But do they need to be clones of Jason Statham? Base your soldiers off the best fighters and athletes on the planet right now, since that’s what anyone actually building a clone army would do. Chances are your future scientists are going to pick people like Michael Jordan, Haile Gebrselassie, Paula Radcliffe, Jet Li, Christiane Justino, Ji-Hyun Park…

And diversity in publishing means picking the best writing regardless of who submits it, which is what blind submissions gives you. It’s not about setting a quota for how many of what kind of people you “must” let in. It’s about making sure the door is wide open for everyone in the first place.

I don’t want to less women in SF. More would be better, since twice as many strong female characters who aren’t there just to serve as a romantic interest for the main character would be, let’s see, carry the 4… About 1% of the fictional people in SF. I think we can handle a few more without the universe collapsing. But that’s not the whole of the problem, so increasing the number of white women in your book isn’t the whole of the solution.

Do me a favor. If you could, from now on, pick one character in your otherwise-white story and make them a person of color, that would be a great start. Just make sure that every time you write a story, at least one person is something other than the straight/white/male default. If you have 10 or more characters in your story, make another one of them QUILTBAG, too. Two people out of ten. That’s all I’m asking. Even if your story is only 20% more diverse than it was before, IT’S BETTER THAN IT WAS BEFORE, because it more accurately reflects the world we live in and the future we’re going to live in.

If everyone writing SF got 20% more accurate than they are right now, you couldn’t say we’re ruining SF with our calls for diversity, could you?

* I swear, if they make another Starship Troopers movie where Johnny Rico isn’t a Filipino or at least an Asian living in Brazil, I will set something on fire.

Wishing Never Changed A Damn Thing

I haven’t posted about the ongoing SFWA controversy in depth because I looked at the initial outcry, and the immediate response of some SFWA members, who stood up in the Forum* to say, “This has to change,” and I thought we were making progress. Over the course of a couple of days, the President made a statement, the previous editor stepped down, and a task force was formed to revise the Bulletin into a publication we could be proud of. I felt that if I publicly agitated for change the way that I was doing so privately, it would further distract from all of the great work that SFWA has done and is doing, and it would imply that the matter wasn’t being handled internally–and that wouldn’t have been true.

I’m proud of the changes we’ve made lately, which include not only moving to a higher standard of both content and writing in our official publication, but also creating guidelines for the official @SFWAauthors Twitter feed (which reposts member blogs), expanding the volunteer database, creating an archive project to collect historical materials, and more. I’m happy to see dozens of people step up and say, “I’ll help make this better,” by offering suggestions, volunteering their time, and being part of the discussion. I am most satisfied that when I stood up and took on tasks that needed doing–I answered questions about editing and magazine management even as the discussion turned to defending the old and attacking the new, I asked for volunteers for the next phase of the Bulletin, created and curated a list of those names and suggestions for the task force, and I wrote the first draft of a diversity statement for the Board to consider–there were people who didn’t just leave me to do it on my own, as I’ve seen in other organizations. Rachel Swirsky supported my efforts, Jim C. Hines ran his red pen over the diversity statement to help cut it down to a more manageable size, Cat Rambo and Mary Robinette Kowal stepped in to keep the conversation calm when it threatened to get negative, and a dozen people emailed me privately to encourage, ask questions, and offer their own opinions. I appreciate all of that.

But I was wrong when I thought I could do my part quietly, and things would get better from there.

For every good thing we’ve done to improve SFWA this month, there is another jackass trying to take it away. In our private space (which cannot be quoted from) I’ve had certain people not just disagree with me but were deeply offended that I would dare to tell them things must change, even when I’m saying that based on the obvious outpouring of sentiment from members and non-members alike. I’m allowed to express an opinion, sure, but I’m not well known enough, not “Big Name” enough, to decide anything. I’ve been told I must want something, that I’m only complaining about the previous iteration of the Bulletin because I wanted the old editor fired so I can take her job. I’ve been accused of being involved in a plot of force out the old guard of SFWA. I’ve been dismissed for being a woman, because that fact somehow explains away my opinions as emotional, and therefore ignorable.

I’ve gotten emails about how I don’t understand real sexism, because I wasn’t around in the 80s, 90s, and 2000s.** How if I were the editor, I would have made exactly the same choices, because otherwise I’d have lost my job. (Fact time: No, would have edited the material presented to me in a professional way, even if it meant losing my job. Because, standards, that’s why. Also, according to those in charge at SFWA, the idea that they’d have policed the Bulletin in a sexist and/or racist way is a totally unfounded rumor, and they’re working to prevent anything like that from happening.) I’ve been told I was making a fuss just to get attention, as if there’s nothing else about me anyone else would pay attention to. I’ve gotten emails telling me to shut the fuck up, telling me that I’m nothing and no one and need to go away while I still can, before I make too much noise, get too much attention, and then I’ll see what happens to women like me.

Because I commented in a private discussion about the need for stricter editorial standards. And did so while being a woman.

But at least I wasn’t making those comments in public, for the most part. And at least I wasn’t doing so while black. Because then this would happen:

Jemisin has it wrong; it is not that I, and others, do not view her as human, (although genetic science presently suggests that we are not equally homo sapiens sapiens), it is that we simply do not view her as being fully civilized for the obvious historical reason that she is not.

and

those self-defense laws have been put in place to let whites defend their lives and their property from people, like her, who are half-savages engaged in attacking them.

and

there is no evidence to be found anywhere on the planet that a society of NK Jemisins is capable of building an advanced civilization, or even successfully maintaining one without significant external support from those white males.  If one considers that it took my English and German ancestors more than one thousand years to become fully civilized after their first contact with advanced Greco-Roman civilization, it should be patently obvious that it is illogical to imagine, let alone insist, that Africans have somehow managed to do the same in less than half the time at a greater geographic distance.  These things take time.

and

Jemisin clearly does not understand that her dishonest call for “reconciliation” and even more diversity within SF/F is tantamount to a call for its decline into irrelevance.

All courtesy of Theodore Beale, writing as Vox Day. For those who don’t know, Beale is an active member of SFWA, and even ran for President this year. Though he repeatedly says things like women are ruining SF, except for those few who write like men, or women shouldn’t be allowed to vote, or women should be ignored entirely if they’re not attractive, not to mention his views on people of color (as evidenced above, and elsewhere in his public site), he still managed to get roughly 10% of the vote.

That’s the genre community for you, right there. But we ignore trolls like him, right? That’s what I’ve been seeing all day. Ignore him. Ignore his post. Don’t read the comments. Stay off the Internet for an hour until the unpleasantness passes.

You know what? Fuck that. Go read his post (it’s linked above). Read the comments. See the vile things that get said out in the open in 2013. See what happens when we speak up about it. Don’t hide your head in the sand and pretend it’s happening to someone else and you don’t need to worry about it. Hey, I’m white, what do I care, right? No, it doesn’t work that way. Nothing gets better when we pretend everything is at acceptable levels of okay.

Yeah, maybe it’s giving the trolls attention for a few minutes, and maybe people like Beale revel in the muck they create. But on the other hand, that’s a convenient excuse to ignore it, isn’t it? You can tell yourself you’re doing the right thing by taking away Beale’s power over five minutes of your time, but you’re also saying that you’re not willing to spend five minutes to find out how NK Jemisin is being attacked, how women and PoC are being characterized and treated in the genre community, and you’re not willing to get angry for five minutes.

But if we don’t get angry, what will motivate us to do anything about it? We can wish that things were different, but the truth remains:

Wishing never changed a damn thing.

Note: the wonderful Amal El-Mohtar posted a reasoned, polite, letter to SFWA, calling for Beale’s expulsion, and current President John Scalzi is matching funds for people donating to the Carl Brandon Society, or the Octavia E. Butler memorial scholarship.

ETA: Today and tomorrow, I’m donating 100% of the sales of Dagan Books ebooks to the Carl Brandon Society. See the list of books here.

* the private discussion board for SFWA members.

** For the record, I’ve been involved in the genre community since I moved to San Francisco at 18–that would be in 1991. I’ve been a fan of SF (never was much of a fantasy reader) and horror since I was a little girl. I read the Grand Masters of science fiction when I was a kid; I’ve got paperbacks of Heinlein’s work–all of his work–on my shelf now. So, I’m not someone who doesn’t appreciate or know the founding works of American SF. I went to cons and parties with some of those guys, 20 years ago, and if you want to know what sexism was like in genre in the 90s, I can tell you. I’m not coming to genre in 2013 with no knowledge of what happened before. I’m coming to it, well aware of its past, and willing to be here anyway.

5 Movies I Didn’t See in 2011 (But Saw This Week)

I love movies. I love how a great director and great actors can take a script, which is just the skeleton of a story, and flesh it out with sets and sounds and camera movements and jump cuts to make emotions. Turning it into the warm body of a film, with strength and heart. When I was young I attended the Academy of Art in San Francisco, and worked on a degree in Screenwriting (with a minor in Cinematography), wrote a few films (and saw them produced), and learned a lot about the film-making process. Though I figured out that screenwriting was basically organizing thoughts and notes to create an outline for someone else to finish – and therefore not enough to keep me interested – I still use some of what I learned then in my writing now.

When I went to UPenn I studied mainly Art History – which is one of the best degrees for a writer in terms of teaching you about art, culture, history, and how to think – but I also got a chance to take a couple of film criticism classes. I loved them! I’ve done classes on Japanese film, both pre-WW2 and post, noir films, and adaptations, and those four classes together showed me most of what is being put back into (recycled, adapted, homage’d) modern movies. Over the years I have learned to write screenplays, see a script cinematically, and think critically about film. But the biggest thing that informs my view of film is that I have watched so many of them. I’ve even worked in movie theaters in order to have access to all the celluloid I want. This has led me to watch a lot less “Hollywood” blockbusters, because I can see the predecessors in the work. Which is to say that I’ve watched enough classic, indie, and foreign films to know all the myriad ways that Hollywood is ripping them off. Why pay to see what’s already been done, and often done better, by someone else?

I ended up only seeing one movie in theaters in all of 2011, my all time low. I saw Contagion, which was wonderful, and that was it. This had, honestly, more to do with my year than with what was available, and so I started off 2012 by renting a handful of “hit” movies that I actually had wanted to see. In the last three days I have watched the final Harry Potter film, Super 8, Captain America, Thor, and Fright Night. What did I think?

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