Jenny's Library

Posts Tagged ‘feminism

I’m not a nice person.

I’m not a good person.

I’m not a kind person.

This isn’t to say that I don’t ever try to be any of these three things.  I do, especially the last two.

It’s more to say that, for me, surviving in this cissexist, racist, ableist, heteronormative, classist, often fucked up world of ours has involved rejecting the idea that “good” and “bad” are static states of being.  I will never be a “good person” because, to me, “good” is not something that you achieve.  It’s an ongoing process that never ends.

It is, in fact, almost impossible not to be doing bad things as well as good when you are human and therefore flawed.  Especially when you are part of a messed up system, as we all are.

This, to me, is why it’s important to call out bad behavior, or hurtful language, or even ways of framing the world that make it easier to ignore harm that is being done to others.

Not because people deserve to be shamed or judged or called out, but because we are all fish who sometimes forget that the water is there, and part of helping each other do better involves pointing out when we didn’t do as well as we could have.

Since the world is complex (and not just in bad ways), the fact that we have the same goals doesn’t mean that we will always agree.  It may not always be possible to determine who was “right” and who was wrong about the choices people make or the words they use.

But this is where my librarian training kicks in and points out that more speech is better than less.  That it’s better to let people know what it is that you think they could have done better, so that they can decide for themselves if they want to change or not, rather than never giving them that option.  It’s also important to be specific about it, so that no one is left second guessing everything they do and say.

To me, it’s a sign of trust, to tell someone when what they did or said hurt you.  That’s not a thing you tell people when you think they won’t care.  Or worse, will use it to hurt you more.

When I tell people that what they said was sexist, or racist, or otherwise hurtful, I don’t do it because I want to hurt them. I don’t do it because I think they are bad people.  I don’t do it because I think they are irredeemably sexist, while I’m a perfect feminist, a model for everyone to follow.  I’m not specific about what they did wrong simply because I want to nitpick, I promise you that I have better things to do with my time.

I do it because this is what I truly believe, and because I have faith in their ability and willingness to do good things.  And most of all because I have faith that they will respect my opinion even if they disagree with it.

So I want to ask everyone out there who is asking all us to “keep YA kind” to remember that, while criticism is hard to take, criticism is not lack of kindness.  It’s often a measure of trust.

Everyone has flaws, everyone messes up.  That includes you, that includes me.  That includes the author you admire, the friend that has always been there for you, the teacher that inspired generations.

That someone is “good people” should never be an excuse for not listening, or used to admonish others for speaking.  Because “good” is something that you make the decision to do every second of every day, not something that you acquire and then use as a shield.

I have so much more to say on so many things that has happened this past week.  And so many links to smart women who you should really listen to more than me.  Hopefully I’ll even manage to make some link lists and get those words out and onto paper – er, pixels.  But I wanted to start with that, because I think it’s the most fundamental.

If you don’t trust that I am trying to do good as well, that my anger is a sign of hurt and not hate, that the opinions I express are genuine and not merely performative, that I am in fact trying to be kind to a great number of people, even when you disagree with me, even when I say things that hurt you or your friends or make you uncomfortable, then this conversation is never going to go anywhere.

Instead, “kindness” will once again become a way to reinforce the status quo, rather than a call to be more compassionate and empathetic.

Instead both “kind” and “good” will be used to avoid examining the problems we most certainly have, a way to once again NOT have the hard and complicated and uncomfortable conversations that are long overdue.

cover image for The Warrior's ApprenticeThe Warrior’s Apprentice by Lois McMaster Bujold

Miles Vorkosigan is determined to serve in the Barrayan military, just as his father and grandfather did before him.  No one expects him to be able to make it, what with his short stature, easily breakable bones, and other physical impairments – the result of an attempt to assassinate his mother with poisoned gas when she was pregnant with him.  But then, no one expected him to even survive long enough to be born, either.

If this were a middle grade novel, Miles would accomplish his goals with plucky determination.  Everyone would learn their lesson and go home happy. Thank god this isn’t a middle grade novel.

What makes Bujold’s Miles novels so very excellent is that even when Miles comes out on top, it’s not necessarily in the manner he’d hoped to.  Persistence can’t change everything, it especially can’t allow him to pretend that he lives in a world that expects him to be different from what he is.  So Miles path to where he wants to be isn’t typical; it’s not even a typical underdog story.  Instead, Miles life is uniquely Miles.  Which is why Bujold’s books are so enjoyable, memorable, and popular.

cover image for Olivia and the Fairy PrincessesOlivia and the Fairy Princesses by Ian Falconer

Olivia doesn’t have anything against princesses, she just doesn’t understand why all of the other girls (and even some of the boys) all want to be the same pink, fairy princesses, with sparkles and ruffles.  Why not reporter or a nurse or…at the very least a princess in a blue sari instead?

It’s so very common, when it comes to books for young children about gender stereotypes, for them to drift into dissing feminine roles and characteristics instead of inspiring girls (and boys) to be more than what gender norms expect.  The latest Olivia book does nothing of the sort.  Instead, her worry is more about not standing out, and her desire to do so will encourage boys and girls to try new roles.

(There is a portion of the book where Olivia dresses up as princesses from other cultures.  It didn’t strike me as appropriative as the costumes looked well researched for a picture book, and the emphasis seemed to be on showing variety, possibility, and drawing inspiration from real princesses. That said, I’m not the best person to judge this sort of thing, which is why I’m mentioning it anyway.)

cover image for The Artist Who Painted A Blue HorseThe Artist Who Painted a Blue Horse by Eric Carle

Why paint horses only brown or black or white or gray? This artist paints blue horses, purple foxes, and even green lions!

In this homage to artist Franz Marc, Carle’s unique style is once again put to excellent use, this time inspiring children to create books and art of their own.  The sparse text and repetition keeps readers focused on the bright pictures, while also helping develop language and vocabulary.

I have a confession to make: I’m quite sexist at times.

I blame myself when random men on the street harass me. I think I’m an awful person for being as fat and out of shape as I am. I wonder if I’m really any good at science and math. I worry that I’m wasting my talents working with children.

I think that what I have to say isn’t important or useful.

This is why I call out sexist assholes. Why I let my anger color my voice when I do.

I do it so that I don’t explode. So that the doubts in my head don’t take over. Because it’s a better choice than razor blades.

I don’t do it for them or for you, I do it for me. Because sometimes I need to hear the truth spoken out loud, even if it’s just me saying it.

I don’t use my anger to purge myself, I use it as an affirmation.

I don’t need to justify my anger to you. It doesn’t exist for your benefit.
It most especially doesn’t need to pressed, folded, and packed into a form that pleases you. It doesn’t need to be locked away so that you aren’t disturbed or frightened or “saddened.”

It’s not a weakness or a poison. It’s the stubbornness that keeps me going when people treat me like shit. It’s the sense of righteousness that placed twelve year old me between the bully and his target before I’d even realized what I’d done.

Most of all though, it just is. It’s there the same way that happiness is. The same way that I like pickles and geometry. Or the way my brain never seems to shut off.

I’ve had this temper of mine all my life and I don’t need you to teach me how and when to reign it in, I learned that from my parents. I don’t need you to show me how to make it work with me and not against me, I figured that out on my own while standing on the field in my cleats and giving death glares to the ref who missed my teammate being fouled. I’ve known how to use it to make myself faster, sharper, stronger for almost as long as I’ve known how to read.

I don’t need you to tell me what my anger is good for.

I don’t need you to tell me that I’m not being polite. That I’m not convincing you. That I’m only making myself look bad.

I’m not angry for your benefit. I do not exist for your benefit. When I speak, I do not do so for your benefit.

Except for the times that I do.

Not because I’m trying to convince you that I’m right dammit!, but because I’m trying to convince you that you are. That you are awesome and wonderful and please never stop being that way. When I’m letting you know that, as far as I’m concerned, all those sexist, racist, homophobic, ableist, classist, and transphobic assholes who even dare to imply otherwise can go take a long walk off a short pier.

The privileged may think that they’re always the center of every conversation that women have about sexism. They may be incapable of comprehending that they are not the focus of every discussion that people of color have about racism. But you and I both know that not every “you” is about them. That not every conversation has to include them, sway them, or plead with them in order to be productive.

That’s the fucking point.

Communities and conversations do not belong to them and them alone. They are not theirs to hold hostage when we misbehave.

They may think that we are the ones that turn everything into a battle. That we invade their world and divide it into groups to which they don’t belong. But we know that all we are doing is taking the war that has been waged on our bodies, our hearts, and our minds and forcing it back into the space we all share, where it belongs. Where it can be dealt with without tearing us apart from the inside. We know that we have always been here, just like them, and that it’s their choice to refuse to meet us as equals.
I don’t expect everyone to be perfect. I don’t expect people to never make mistakes. Goodness knows I make plenty of them myself.

What I ask is that you remember that there are all kinds of “yous” in this world and in our organizations. That you contemplate that just maybe you aren’t who I’m taking to every time I open my mouth. That you aren’t the person I’m primarily addressing when I point out hate and bias and stereotypes.

But most of all, that you not let the Bryan Thomas Schmidts of the world tell you that you aren’t. Don’t let them trick you into thinking that they are the only ones that need to be persuaded, as if we were merely humble petitioners. Don’t let them confuse you into thinking that I wrote this post for anyone but you.

When I packed my bags and set off for college, I expected that I would have to get used to new routines and ways of doing things.  What I didn’t plan on was having to relearn old habits when I came back home for the holidays.  It felt odd not having my friends close at hand and my stomach was often angry with me for no longer eating dinner promptly at 5:30.

Not every change was quite so loud and insistent as my disrupted internal clock.  It turned out that I’d also picked up new ways of saying things without even realizing it – until others brought it to my attention.  My mom would get a funny look on her face, as I, her second youngest child, stood there in a Disney t-shirt and referred to my classmates as “women” instead of “girls.”  Amused, she asked me one day while I was home for Christmas why I did that.  I can’t remember her exact wording, but the implied question was clearly whether or not my snobby, feminist leaning, all women’s college actively discouraged us from certain kinds of language.

The truth is that it didn’t – not in the sense of lecturing or trying to correct us.  Instead, they modeled how they wanted us to treat ourselves and each other.  Our handbooks, our professors, the welcoming talks we attended, everything that came from the college and was given to us called us women.  Sometimes young women, but always women.

So when she asked me that, I didn’t have a ready answer for her.  I’m not sure that I’d completely realized that this was not a normal thing to happen in college (did co-ed colleges refer to their students as boys and girls???? ) but I thought about it and told her that we did it not because we were all that sure of our adulthood, but because it was important that we treat each other respectfully.  It was one thing to refer to one’s close friends as girls, it was quite another to talk about a classmate’s research project and refer to her as a child while doing so. If we wanted to go out in the world and be treated with respect after graduation, we needed to get used to it now, so that we would more readily recognize when people weren’t treating us right later.

If I were to have that conversation now, I would add that the point was also get us used to believing in ourselves.  That by referring to us as adults, our college was indicating that not only did they trust we were capable of rigorous academic work and mature behavior, but that they expected it of us.

I can’t help but think of that conversation when certain kinds idiocy stumble into my corner of the internets.

What does it mean when an organization whose job it is to represent women in a professional capacity publishes, in the organization’s monthly newsletter, an article that uses language like “lady writers” and “lady editors”?  How exactly do they think that’s furthering the professional interests of their members?

Most of all, do they think their members will not notice?  Do they think it’s female members own editors, writers, agents, and publishers use that kind of language while doing business with them?  Is that how they think women in the organization think of themselves?

Is that how we think of ourselves?

I doubt it.  Or, rather, I doubt we mean to – but that’s the power of language. It not only gives us a tool to share our thoughts, it shapes them too.

The language that’s used in places like SFWA’s Bulletin is important not only for symbolic reasons, but also because insulting language encourages people to dismiss the people being derided.  It tells certain people that it’s ok to act disrespectfully and it conditions others to being marginalized.  It’s one thing for that kind of talk to happen on some random blog or even reddit, it’s quite another for it to occur (apparently frequently of late) in a professional publication.

The SFWA does a great many wonderful things for it’s members.  But so long as insults of this sort are included within it’s newsletter, all that work is going to be constantly undermined.  And I don’t just mean that all the negative focus on such asinine behavior will cast a cloud over the good work many people do.  Fighting for fair contracts and the like is only going to do it’s female members a limited amount of good if the organization itself speaks to women in such a way as to undermine their belief in their professional worth.  A single insult is hardly going to break all the amazing female writers I admire, but a persistent lack of respect is hardly going to help them either.  And isn’t that the goal of SFWA – to help it’s writers?  All of them?

The problem with phrases like “lady writers” and all the other, even worse, things that have been published in SFWA’s Bulletin of late isn’t merely that they are outdated and sexist.  It’s that they waste members dues by undermining the fundamental purpose of the organization.

Five  Must Read Posts

Chapter 4: Pollution of Agency

Russ spends much of this chapter demonstrating that even though it’s no longer scandalous for women to be writers or actresses, women writing about certain aspects of their lives is still considered immodest and renders the author unfit and unloveable in the eyes of popular culture.

photo of actor Quvenzhané Wallis

How sweet is Quvenzhané Wallis in this (and every) picture?

Sadly, I think the mores of the past are not nearly as diluted as all that.  Actresses may no longer be considered “used goods” but sometimes it seems only barely.  As I was reading this chapter my mind kept going back to the appalling behavior of this year’s Oscar host.  Not just when McFarlane called then nine year old Quvenzhané Wallis a gendered, sexual slur on national television.  Not to mention the myriad of other gendered and sexualized insults aimed at the women that were supposedly there to be honored.  But also how important it was to the punchline in his “We Saw Your Boobs” song and dance that the actresses mentioned felt ashamed for having done the job they were paid to do.  To the point that, rather than leaving it to chance, they filmed staged reaction shots showing the actors mentioned hiding their faces and looking shocked and embarrassed.  This wasn’t just a silly song about boobs, it was above all a song about how it’s shameful to be a woman who has let the public see her breasts.

photo of actor Charlize Theron

Charlize Theron wants to know how anyone finds McFarlane funny.

Let’s also not pretend that this scorn of women performing sexuality is something only raving sexist pigs do.

This morning my timeline was all a-twitter over Ms. Magazine’s Spring 2013 cover story about Beyonce, her feminist viewpoints, and her work as a performer.  Most of the women of color that I follow were rightly pointing out that Mainstream (= White) feminists and feminist organizations are a lot quicker to question the feminist credentials of performers of color, while at the same time defending white feminist creators (such as Lena Durham), even when their version of feminism is clearly problematic.

photo of Beyonce

Beyonce doesn’t have time for all this bullshit.

I wonder too if there’s not something to the fact that Beyonce’s public persona, unlike Madonna’s or Lady Gaga’s, is perceived to be Diva rather than Avante-Garde.  There’s echos of the porn wars here, with Lady Gaga being given a pass where Beyonce is not because the latter is perceived as showing off her body only because it makes her money, while the former is assumed to be showing skin in order to make an artistic statement.

photo of Madonna

Madonna wants to remind all of us that we live in a Material World.

An assumption that is also racist.  First for ascribing loftier goals to the white performer.  But also in they way that this viewpoint assumes that black women’s experiences with the Beauty Myth are (or should be?) the same as white women’s, when that’s clearly not true.  Beyonce being beautiful, talented, and sexy during the Super Bowl half time show means something very different culturally than a white female performer doing the same.  Any discussion of her feminism that doesn’t take that into account is going to fail by definition.

In conclusion, knock it the hell off Ms. Magazine; I suspect Russ would be very disappointed in you today.

Apologies for the radio silence, I’ve been a bit busy lately.

Class finished up last weekend.  The weekend before that I flew out to New York (state) for Pippi to Ripley, an academic conference on “the female figure in fantasy and science fiction.”

I presented on how the media talks about science fiction “for girls” and got to meet Tamora Pierce, who gave the keynote speech. Ms. Pierce was so very nice and spent a good deal of time with everyone who wanted her autograph, talking to them about her books and answering questions.

As you can guess, it was a great weekend.  It was also a friendly but low key conference; I strongly recommend it for fans in the area and/or other first time presenters looking for a place to get their feet wet.

However, I’m completely crap at taking notes at these things, so if you want more detailed information, I suggest heading on over to Kate Nepvue’s livejournal.  Be sure to check out her post about her own presentation as well, it was quite interesting and well done.