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Back in high school, my sister and I decided to respond to a friend’s tendency to call us “witches” by circling him in a swimming pool while reciting the entire cauldron scene from Macbeth.

(Yes, we were very strange. Still are, in fact.)

Anyway, as somebody who still has that entire scene memorized, I found this to be utter and satisfying genius: “Nasty Women Have Much Work to Do.”

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

I needed to be doing some random stuff on the computer this morning, so on a whim, I put on the first episode of Rizzoli & Isles, which is Yet Another Police Procedural, though with two female leads.

First thing I see: a bound and terrified woman, in the clutches of an unknown villain.

Which led me to ask on Twitter, What percentage of police procedurals open their pilot ep with a woman chased, crying, screaming, or dead?

Because seriously — at this point, that is the single most boring way I can think of to open your show. Also problematic and disturbing, but even if you don’t care about those things, maybe you care about it being utterly predictable. There is nothing fresh or new about having the first minute of your police procedural episode show us somebody (usually a woman) being victimized. I said on Twitter, and I meant it, that I would rather see your protagonist file papers. I might decide in hindsight that the paper-filing was also boring . . . but in the moment, I’d be sitting up and wondering, why am I seeing this? Are the papers important? Or something about how the protag is approaching them? Because it isn’t a thing I’ve seen a million times before.

The only thing that brief clip of the victim gives us is (usually) a voyeuristic experience of their victimization. They don’t make the victim a person, an individual we get to know and care about. They rarely even give us meaningful information about the crime, except “this person died from a gunshot/strangulation/burning alive/whatever” — which is info we could easily get later in the episode, through the investigation.

There are exceptions, on a show or individual ep level. But the overwhelming pattern is: here’s some violence for violence’s sake, before we get to the actual characters and the actual story.

I decided last year that I was done with the genre of “blood, tits, and scowling.” I think I’m done with police procedurals, too. I won’t swear I’ll never watch another one, but they’ve just lost all their flavor for me, because I’ve seen so many. And because I am so very, very tired with those predictable openings.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

Jim Hines has been doing a thing on his blog where he genderswaps character descriptions to look at how women and men get depicted. He did it first with classic SF/F novels, then with more recent titles — including his own.

It’s an interesting enough exercise that I decided to go through my own books and see what happens when I genderswap the descriptions. Results are below. I skipped over the Doppelganger books because quite frankly, describing people has never been a thing I do a lot of, and back then I did basically none of it, so this starts with Midnight Never Come.


Read the rest of this entry � )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

My husband dubbed this show “Trigger Warnings: The Musical,” and apart from the complete lack of song-and-dance numbers, it’s very apt. The central premise is that Jessica Jones, the super-strong protagonist, spent an extended period of time as the captive of a guy whose power is the ability to control people’s minds. Now she’s an alcoholic who does her level best to sabotage her dealings with everybody around her. If you’ve ever been raped, or trapped in a controlling relationship (sexual or otherwise), or gaslighted, or addicted to anything, or had panic attacks, or suffered parental abuse, or I could keep going, then this will probably not be a comfortable show to watch.


But . . . I wound up liking it anyway. Even though it does a tap dance on a whole array of grimdark elements, which would normally be very off-putting to me. It isn’t just that the show is good — though it is; that on its own isn’t enough to make me sit through thirteen episodes of characters’ lives being miserable. (I can’t watch The Wire.) It somehow manages to tell the stories of those things in a way that doesn’t remotely softpedal how dreadful they are, without making me feel like I can’t take it any more.

And I finally figured out why. This show is about the survivors of trauma, rather than the victims.

By which I mean the narrative is one of survivorship, not victimization. It’s about how people cope with trauma — not always well, not always in a healthy fashion, but their lives keep going afterward and that, to the show’s creators, is the interesting part. We get very few flashbacks to Jess’ time with Kilgrave: one innocuous-seeming restaurant scene, to establish that he was mind-controlling her. Another whose purpose is to show the difference between Kilgrave’s perception and Jessica’s. The night she escaped. The night they met. But no scenes of him demeaning her in obvious ways, no on-screen rape. Instead we infer those things from what we see of Jessica afterward, the scars that trauma left on her, and from her own statements on the matter. Showing us what happened would have a damned hard time avoiding voyeurism. Showing us what comes after dodges that bullet, keeps the focus on the horror rather than the titillation. It makes this a story about a survivor, rather than a victim.

Jessica isn’t the only character the show handles through this lens. Partway into the series, a support group forms for people who have been controlled by Kilgrave. Even if individual moments within it sometimes seem awkward or silly to those of us on the outside, the overall sense is that this helps the characters, gives them a way to process their trauma and deal with its effects on them. We see characters using psychological techniques to reduce anxiety and ground themselves in reality. We see them asserting their boundaries against people — not limited to Kilgrave — who have trampled on those boundaries in the past. Jessica Jones very accurately depicts not only gaslighting, but how to defend against it. It explores the narcissistic rationalizations of rape apologists, and refuses to accept them. Watching this show, it’s clear how shallow the “realism” espoused by a lot of equally grim narratives is. They forget this part of the story — the part where the story keeps going.

And my god, the female characters. Not since the first season of Revenge have I seen a show so willing to tell a story about women who are unapologetically themselves, warts and all. Jessica Jones is a problematic person, not always sympathetic, possessed of mostly-good instincts but occasionally cruel to those around her, on purpose (to push them away) or just because she doesn’t care enough about their feelings to think before she says something hurtful. Jeri Hogarth, the lawyer played by Carrie-Anne Moss, is a reprehensible human being: initially I kept waiting for the revelation of her squishy compassionate center, but after a while I figured out it just isn’t there. Robyn the unstable neighbor, not entirely in touch with reality but not totally disconnected from it either, screaming at people in the hallways of her apartment building. The women of this show are allowed to be unlikeable. They’re allowed to be the kinds of abrasive, broken, complicated people male characters get to be all the time, without the story hastening to reassure us that really they’re nice after all, or demonizing them and kicking them out of the story. As one of the pieces I just linked points out, Kilgrave often compels women to smile for him — a command many women in the real world receive from men all the time, because if we aren’t smiling then we don’t look pretty and nice and don’t we want to be pretty and nice? Fuck that, says this show. These women don’t have to smile unless they want to. And mostly? They don’t want to.

Their relationships matter. Jess and Trish, her adoptive sister. Jess and Jeri, a combative boss/employee power struggle. Jess and Hope, the young woman she sets out to save in the first episode. Trish and her abusive mother. Jess and Trish’s abusive mother. Jeri and her soon-to-be-ex-wife, Jeri and the secretary she’s having an affair with. Robyn and Reva and Louise Thompson. I find it telling that when, late in the season, the show acknowledges that it exists not only in the same universe but in the same city as Daredevil, it does so via a female character from that series. Having Matt Murdock wander through would have been massively distracting, but it could have been Foggy; instead it’s a woman (I won’t spoil who), reminding us that she has a life outside of her role in that show. Heck: when Kilgrave wants to make the ultimate threat against Jess, it isn’t Luke Cage he goes after, the man Jess has fallen in love with. It’s Trish, the friend who’s the closest thing to family Jess has in the world. When the chips are down, that’s the relationship that matters most.

Jessica Jones is still a very uncomfortable show to watch, full of triggering content and characters not always dealing with it in optimal or admirable fashion. But it cares about its subject and its characters in ways that are, in my experience, rare for stories this grim. I’m not sure if I’ll ever be in the mood to watch it a second time — but I can’t wait for the next season.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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One thing that comes up a fair bit in discussions of diversity and so forth is the accusation that liberal types are only buying/watching/otherwise supporting particular books/movies/tv shows/etc because those things promote a particular agenda: racial inclusiveness, gender equality, queer acceptance, and so forth.

It occurred to me today, after reading this excellent post by Jim Hines, that we seem to have no problem with boycotting things because we disagree with their political agenda and wish to not support it. That is, in fact, a time-honored and widespread tactic for registering your displeasure with a situation. So why is it wrong to do the opposite?

And clearly, if “boycotting” is avoidance for the sake of protest, then participation for the sake of support ought to be called “girlcotting.”

(Yes, I know that isn’t the actual etymology of the word. Hush you with your logic.)

So I say, those who feel that science fiction has room for bug-eyed aliens of all kinds but not women or black dudes as protagonists should feel free to boycott the new Star Wars movie. Me, I’m going to girlcott it. I’m going to try to see it opening weekend, and if it’s good, I’ll go see it again. Because sometimes you need to throw your toys out of the pram . . . but sometimes you need to grab hold of them and say, yes. mine.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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Tonight I read an article in the New York Times about how lots of business set their thermostats according to a formula devised in the 1960s, which assumed the average office worker was a 40-year-old, 154-pound man. Because of the differences in base metabolic rate between men and women, not to mention different standards of seasonal clothing, this results in countless women bundling up every summer to avoid freezing at work.

What struck me about the article was the way it framed its topic. “Women get cold more easily,” it tells us. It could just have well said “Men overheat more easily.” A small linguistic difference — but not an insignificant one. Saying that women get cold more easily defines the male average as the norm, and women as deficient in their ability to warm themselves. Phrasing it the other way around defines the female average as the norm, and men as deficient in their ability to cool themselves.

I get a lot of this in my daily life, because I am definitely at the warm end of the spectrum. In fact, a little while ago one of my friends made a comment about how I have a very narrow range of temperatures at which I can be comfortable. I retorted that this was not true: it’s just that half of my range is considered completely unacceptable by society at large, so nobody ever sees it. Long before we get anywhere near my upper limit, everybody else is pleading for a window to be opened because they’re dying of heat. (They should try working in my office. It’s upstairs, with a western facing, in a townhouse with no air-conditioning and three skylights. On a warm summer day, it isn’t uncommon for the temperature at my desk to approach ninety degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t claim to enjoy that temperature — but almost every person of my acquaintance would flee for their life.)

The article was mostly even-handed, pointing out that it would be more energy-efficient in summer to raise the temperature a little, not to mention more considerate of female employees, and that a lot of offices have setups that completely warp temperature control anyway, with cubicles and partitions stopping airflow and thermostats in different rooms from the areas they regulate. But still, the bias was ingrained in the language, even as it was pointing out how bias is ingrained in the culture. If we want to avoid the latter, we need to notice the former.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I promise one of these days I’ll post about something other than Voyage of the Basilisk or TV. :-P It’s just that right now, I can’t say much about either of the books I’m revising (because spoilers), and I have limited brain for anything else.

So let’s talk about TV! Again!

My husband and I have started watching season two of Orphan Black, finally. For those who aren’t familiar with it, the show follows a group of young female clones (in the modern world) who are finding out where they came from and what’s going on around them.

To begin with: can I say how much the main actress, Tatiana Maslany, impresses me? Not only does she play all the clones (and we’re talking more than half a dozen characters, here), but she differentiates them beautifully. Not just the obvious things like accent and clothing changes, but body language and so forth — and then there are the times when she’s playing one of the clones pretending to be a different clone, and that performance, too, is distinct. Maslany playing Sarah pretending to be Allison does not look the same as Maslany playing Allison. It’s a remarkable achievement.

My praise is not just an idle side note. It’s critical that she be able to pull that off, because the vast majority of the show’s weight rests on her shoulders. She’s playing literally half of the major characters, for crying out loud! Virtually all of the protagonists, and some of the major villains as well!

There’s something else that struck me while watching the first season, and it has to do with the way Maslany carries the show. In a nice reversal of what we so often see on TV, the male characters are almost completely defined by their relationships to the women.

Sarah’s brother. Sarah’s ex. Beth’s boyfriend. Beth’s partner. Allison’s husband. One of the big male antagonists is a scientist deeply involved with the clone project; his entire raison d’etre is this group of women. And because a lot of those men exist in separate spheres (the individual lives of the clones), they don’t talk to one another. When those spheres start colliding? It’s because of the women, and that’s what they end up talking about. It’s entirely possible the show up until this point has failed the Reverse Bechdel Test. Everything that’s going on is mediated by the clones and their stories; they are the engines driving the plots, the forces other characters respond to.

But at no point do I feel like the show is doing that just to hammer home a point. It’s simply a matter of: these clones are the story; they are women. Therefore, this is a story about women.

It is, in short, exactly the kind of structure I would expect if the story had been about a group of male clones. Just gender-swapped.

(When it comes to hammering home a point, though: my god, how often have we seen Felix’s ass? I find it kind of hilarious that most of the nudity so far has been male, and something like 50% of that has been Felix, with another 30% being Felix’s lovers.)

Anyway, we’re very much enjoying S2 so far. I’m cautiously optimistic about the Evil Science Organization metaplot; that sort of thing is often where SF/F shows fall down for me, but this one is doing okay, at least for the moment. And I love the clones: the range they show, the odd quirks and the way their strengths and weaknesses combine. I would drop-kick Allison out a window if I had to deal with her in person — but she’s a fantastic character, and has vastly more depth than you think when you first meet her. And Helena, oh my god. Ten pounds of Mentally Unstable in a five-pound sack. (Not without good reason.) The other characters, too: Mrs. S is becoming fascinatingly complex, and I’m rooting for Art to figure things out. (And is it wrong of me that I’m trying to remember whether Felix is bi instead of gay, because I’m starting to hope he’ll hook up with Allison? I mean, he came to her musical.)

No spoilers, please: I’m only three episodes into the second season, i.e. well behind. But it’s rock-solid so far.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (*writing)

The other day on Twitter, I commented about the absence of women from a book I was reading. Because Twitter is no place for long explanations or nuanced discussions, and also because I was about to go to karate and didn’t want to start a slapfight with fans of the book that might pick up steam while I was busy, I declined to name it there — but I promised I would make a follow-up post, so here it is.

Before I actually name the book and start talking about it, though, two caveats:

1) If you are a fan of the novel in question, please don’t fly off the handle at the criticism here. This is not meant as an attack on the author (who is, by everything I know of him, a really good guy), nor an attack on you for liking it. In a certain sense, it isn’t even an attack on the novel. I’m dissecting this one in great detail not because it’s The Worst Book Ever (it isn’t), but because it’s a really clear example of a widespread problem, and one that would have been trivially easy to fix.

2) Please don’t answer my points here by saying “well, in the second book . . . .” This thing is 722 pages long in the edition I read. That is more than enough time to do something interesting with female characters. I would be glad to know if the representation of women improves later on — but even if it does, that doesn’t change my experience of this book. It stood alone for four years, until the sequel was published. It can be judged on its own merits, and what comes later does not negate what happened first.

Okay, with all of that out of the way (and maybe the caveats were unnecessary, but) . . . the book in question is The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss.

Read the rest of this entry � )

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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A while ago I posted about needing new dress shoes. A lot of you gave helpful feedback, whether on LJ, on DW, or by email, and I was optimistic for the future.

Then I actually tried to get some shoes.

Really, I should have started this hunt way sooner — and with that in mind, I’m going to continue the hunt, because the shoes I bought for my immediate purpose meet basically none of my initial criteria. The heels are too high, they have no padding, they have no arch support. They’re just the best I was able to obtain on short notice. The shoes I found that might have worked weren’t available in my size, or couldn’t be obtained in time (one site has no shipping option faster than 10 business days — wtf). But this rant is about something bigger.

This rant is about the dress shoe industry basically telling me to go to hell.

ME: I would like a pair of heels that are not an ergonomic disaster.
INDUSTRY: I suppose I can help you. Here, have a small selection of shoes with padding and arch support and heels of less than two inches. They are very suitable to wear to work.
ME: No, I need something dressy. Evening wear shoes, not business shoes.
INDUSTRY: Oooh! We have those! You can enjoy a wide selection of beautifully designed platforms and wedges and stilettos, with heels ranging from three inches up.
ME: Did you forget my first criteria? I want dressy shoes without insanely high heels.
INDUSTRY: Three inches isn’t insane.
ME: Yes, it is. Look, I don’t want to argue; just give me the kind of shoe I’m looking for.
INDUSTRY: They don’t exist.
ME: What? Why not?
INDUSTRY: Because fuck you, that’s why. If you want to look fancy, then you have to pay the price. You have to be unstable, incapable of walking quickly, and in pain by the end of the evening. Those are the rules.

There are exceptions — a very, very, very small number of them, in the grand scheme of things. But on the whole, the dress shoe industry is flat-out uninterested in letting women look nice and take care of their feet. The shoes that are comfortable are also sensible, in the aesthetic meaning of that word. Even though there’s no reason you can’t design an attractively strappy shoe with a heel of, say, an inch and a half. Even though there’s no reason you can’t build a small amount of padding into the sole of something other than a sedate pump. We live in a world where anything less than two and a half inches is a “low heel,” and the three-inch mark is treated as the median. Never mind the detrimental health effects of wearing shoes like that on a regular basis: as a woman, you can wear good shoes, or you can look nice, but you can’t do both at once. (And god help you if you decide to flip the bird to the notion of “looking nice.”)

Ten minutes at DSW and I wanted to light the entire dress shoe section on fire. I ended up walking out with a pair of not-too-expensive heels that have no padding or arch support, but do unexpectedly offer ankle support — not by intent, I imagine, but simply because they have a decorative bit that laces up. These are not the shoes I want; they are not the dressy black heels I can wear with many outfits for the next ten years. I’m going to have to keep searching for those. But I can’t say I’m very enthusiastic about the hunt, because the industry has zero interest in providing me with what I want.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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On Friday I hit a tipping point and posted about #GamerGate.

I spent a while thinking about it before I wrote that post: not so much what I was going to say (I’d had that taking shape in my head for a while), but whether I should say it. The internal conversation went something like this:

OUTRAGED BRAIN: Aaaaaaaugh must rant.
NERVOUS BRAIN: . . . do we really want to jump into that pit?
OUTRAGED BRAIN: But if we don’t, we’re part of the problem!
NERVOUS BRAIN: Yeah, but we might get trolls coming after us.
OUTRAGED BRAIN: Honey, our microphone ain’t that big. Nobody will notice.
NERVOUS BRAIN: They will if we use the hashtag.
OUTRAGED BRAIN: So? We’re still nobodies in the grand scheme of things. How bad could it get?
NERVOUS BRAIN: The answer to that question is exactly what I’m afraid of.
OUTRAGED BRAIN: What, you think somebody’s going to bother doxxing us?
NERVOUS BRAIN: No. But what if they do.
OUTRAGED BRAIN: You realize this is exactly what they want — to frighten us into silence.

And lo, I posed, and lo, I attracted some Twitter trolls. I responded to a few of them, not because I thought it would do any good with that specific person — at least a couple were almost certainly sockpuppets — but because it might do some good with people reading the conversation. Even then, though, I set some ground rules for myself: I’d give people maybe three or five chances to say anything of use, and if they didn’t (or if they set me off faster than that), I’d mute them.

Some of them didn’t even really merit that much consideration. But like I said, having the conversation in public might do some good, and since I haven’t been involved in this (or any major internet altercation) very much, I have the emotional resources to engage, at least for now. I can see, though, how that would change very fast: even dealing with the limited response I got ate most of my morning, and had things gotten scarier than they did, it would have drained me in no time flat.

Which is to say: the tactics work. Unfortunately. Even while I’m laughing at their transparency, they’re still eating away at me. And this is when I’m wandering around in the shallow end. I don’t know how people do it, the Anita Sarkeesians of the world, the ones who are on the front lines of this crap for an extended period of time. I hope I never find out firsthand — and yet, it’s possible that someday I will, because see the conversation above. I do not want to let fear for what might happen stop me from saying what I need to.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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I’ve been feeling for a while now that I ought to post something about GamerGate, but I really didn’t know where to start. I’ve seen all these posts referencing it, but none of them went back and gave me the whole story in a way I could understand. Okay, so it’s something about ethics in game journalism? Except it’s mostly turned into terrifying levels of harassment against women? What’s it actually supposed to be about, though? When we say “ethics in game journalism,” what is that supposed to mean? Why is this such a huge deal? (Sounded like a tempest in a teacup to me.) What’s the signal that got lost beneath the noise? But every time I tried to look it up, all I found was more crap about doxxing and sending death threats and a festering pit of toxic 4chan evil.

Thank you, Jim Hines.

That’s the post I was looking for — and yet not. The post I was looking for because it gives me the whole story in a comprehensible manner, with links; and yet not, because it turns out that foundation I was digging for just. isn’t. there. From the start, it was a harassment campaign against Zoe Quinn (which has snowballed to include a lot of other women), and everything else was a veneer deliberately crafted to recruit unwitting supporters and give the whole thing an aura of legitimacy. I assumed it was an actual thing that went off the rails, as internet stuff so often does. But no: this was always its nature. It was always a vicious, misogynist campaign designed to punish women for having opinions.

It doesn’t matter whether you actually care about ethics in game journalism. Or anywhere else in the game industry. If you want to talk about that, you have to ditch this name, ditch this entire moment, and start over fresh. Because right now? Any attempt to discuss this under the aegis of GamerGate means standing up to be a human shield for the assholes. It means letting them use you. It means giving your support to the actual movement — not the ethical thing, but the misogynist one. And if you do that, you have essentially announced that you don’t give a flying rat fuck about ethics, whereupon there is no reason that anybody other than fellow sewer-dwellers ought to listen to you.

It doesn’t matter what your intentions are. There is no redeeming GamerGate. You join them, or you step away: those are your two options.

That’s the actual story.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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These both came to my attention recently, and deserve a signal boost:

Daughters of Mercury — this is an art project, creating portraits of trans women “how they want to be represented, either complicating the conventional portraitist’s art of flattery with the dynamics of gender dysphoria, or celebrating features stigmatized as masculine as a woman’s features.” I know the woman behind the project, and I also know an increasing number of trans women (one of whom brought the campaign to my attention), so there’s a personal weight to this one: I’ve been thinking a lot lately about gender identity, passing or choosing not to pass, etc, and there aren’t any simple answers. But we can accept trans women for who and what they are, and I think projects like this one are part of how we can do that.

Not Our Kind — this is an anthology built around the theme of “outsiders.” Not only does a friend of mine (Marissa Lingen) have a story in it, along with several acquaintances of mine, but the topic sounds pretty dang appealing. I’m pretty sure I’m going to love the heck out of it . . . but first it needs to be funded, so.

Go forth! Support!

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Fizzgig)

Had you asked me a month ago, I would have described the Xanth series as somewhat puerile humorous fantasy that got kind of creepy about sexuality later on.

Now? I would describe it as somewhat puerile humorous fantasy that has had really awful attitudes about sexuality and gender baked into it from the start.

The change started with this post. If that isn’t enough, you can follow up with this tag, because she’s continued on into the later books (she’s partway through Castle Roogna now), giving me more than enough evidence to say this isn’t a fleeting problem. It’s pervasive. Xanth is horrible. In addition to the constant male gaze evaluating every female character (including human-animal hybrids) for their hotness or lack thereof, you have pretty women being stupid, ugly women being totally not worth anybody’s time, and the very few women who are both pretty and smart being untrustworthy schemers. You have women, countless women, who only exist to be used for men’s gratification. You have women’s protests against mistreatment being explicitly described as an act women practice to make themselves more attractive to men. You have marriage and raising a family being dreadful fates men are expected to run away from. You have men pretty much wanting to rape every woman they see, and being held up as wonderful paragons of morality when they refrain. You have a farce of a rape trial that is I guess supposed to be funny . . . somehow.

And that’s just Xanth. That isn’t even getting into his horror novel Firefly, which goes so far with the pedophilia that merely reading descriptions of the content (and the author’s justifications for same) has guaranteed I will never read anything written by Anthony ever again.

Sorry to rain on the parades of the people who remember the early Xanth books as being Not That Bad. They are. They really, really are. I mean, the original edition of A Spell for Chameleon contained the following passage (taken from that oh-so-funny mockery of a rape trial):

Bink felt sorry for his opposite. How could she avoid being seductive? She was a creature constructed for no other visible purpose than ra—than love.

Case closed.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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“The problem is that the ‘vocal minority’ of insects who make up the new generation of writers don’t scramble for the shadows when outside lights shines on them—they bare their pincers and go for the jugular. Maybe it is a good thing that SFWA keeps them locked up. The newer members who Scalzi et al. brought in are an embarrassment to the genre.” — (name withheld) on SFF.net, during the recent unpleasantness.

I hereby declare myself a proud member of the Insect Army — not a member of SFWA, but certainly part of the “new generation of writers” and unwilling to run for cover when bigotry and stupidity rear their heads in my industry.

And if I’m willing to say that when I am massively phobic of cockroaches and abhor the damn things to the depths of my soul, you know I mean it.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

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So, there’s this.

As I said in the comments on Jim’s LJ, it took me a while to read the post, not because it’s long (though it is) but because my AAAAAAAAAAAAUGH meter kept maxing out and I would have to go away and breathe for a while before I could read any more.

I just . . . ye gods and little fishies. If you’re trying to respond to a piece on gender, and right up front you tell everybody that you’re assuming the person you’re responding to is a man and you can’t be bothered to check and see whether you’re right — even though the bio is right there at the bottom of the page, waiting to answer your question — then that’s pretty much a red flag of “Nobody should bother to listen to me on this topic.”

Because you just reinforced MacFarlane’s point. Yes, sure, she’s talking about the default of non-binary gender — but sweet baby Jesus, if we can’t even get past the default of male gender, then the problem you’re trying to dismiss is even bigger than she’s saying. Correia makes it clear, over and over again, that he is uninterested in putting anything other than the straight white male default into his stories unless there’s a “reason” for it. And apparently, “people like that exist and would like to read stories in which they exist” is not a reason. Their identities have to be plot-relevant, yo, or it’s back to the straight white men (because that isn’t a political act at all, natch). Doing anything else will make science fiction BORING and then people will STOP READING IT and that’s why the genre is DYING. Because the way to make it thrive is to cater to the comfort zone of straight white male gun-loving conservatives: only non-binary people want to read about non-binary people, and presumably only black people want to read about black people, etc, so let’s stick with what’s safe, shall we?

I mean, sure, there’s money to be had in catering to that demographic. Correia is probably not wrong that he makes more money from his writing than MacFarlane does (though I don’t agree with the follow-on implication that this makes him right and him her wrong). But the notion that the future of the genre depends on not rocking the boat? That including the full range of human diversity is automatically a MESSAGE — but restricting that diversity is neutral and value-free?

Bull. Shit.

Take care in reading the comments on Hines’ site. He says they’ve been “civil,” but there are a lot of Correia’s fanboys in there, waving the flag of their ignorance on matters of sex and gender and so forth, and straying very close to the border of getting banned.

Originally published at Swan Tower. You can comment here or there.

swan_tower: (Default)
I know, I know -- that's a very motley assortment of things to stick in one post. But I'm going out of town tomorrow, and the rest of today is liable to be very busy, so I'd rather combine them than let one fall through the cracks.

The serious and important one first: I have signed on to this statement in support of trans-inclusive feminism. Because I know several people for whom this is not a matter of theory or debate, but their daily lives, and anything I can do to make that easier for them is absolutely worth doing.

Signing a statement is a minor thing, but I hope that mentioning it here is a larger one. And yes, I am thinking about ways to reflect this in my writing.

On a lighter note, my post at SF Novelists this month is "Lingua universalis fantasiae", on the tendency of fantasy worlds to default to a "Common Tongue." Comments on that post should go over there on SF Novelists, por favor.

Finally, and most frivolously, Yuletide nominations are open. Yes, I know it's only September; we're on a leisurely schedule this year, rather than cramming everything into November. The Yuletide member community is here as usual, if you are looking for more info and discussion.
swan_tower: (natural history)
The Ada Initiative, which "supports women in open technology and culture," is running a fundraising drive. They're currently about seventeen thousand dollars short of their goal, with four days to go.

I read the reviews for A Natural History of Dragons, and I see a lot of readers mentioning how much it means to them that Isabella is a scientist, and how resonant they find her struggle against the restrictions placed on her gender. As much as I'd like to say that struggle is over today, let's face it: we as a society aren't that perfect. Women still face obstacles on that path, and harassment at the end of it; especially in the open-source tech world, there's a lot of lower-level primate chest-thumping that makes the environment kind of toxic to women (and to men who like the idea of having women in their community). That's one of several things the Ada Initiative -- named for Ada Lovelace, of course -- works to counteract.

So if this is the kind of thing that matters to you, and if you can spare a bit of money, please consider donating. There was a matching donation offer from Jacob Kaplan-Moss, up to $5000, but I think we may have burned through that already, or near to it -- the meter had more than twenty-five thousand dollars to go when I saw that announcement yesterday. But it's still true that if you donate $128 (whether in a lump sum or installments), you get this lovely pendant, which is indeed "schwag done right."

Let's see if we can't get them over the finish line.
swan_tower: (Default)
Which is to say, casting female performers for characters who are canonically male, or actors of color for characters who are canonically white.

Look at Hollywood. Look at TV. Look at how frequently they remake or reboot or sequelize existing narrative properties (for a host of reasons, not all of them terrible, but we won't get into that here). For crying out loud, we've got three separate Sherlock Holmes franchises in progress right now.

If you don't turn Starbuck female -- if you don't cast Lucy Liu as Watson -- if you don't make Idris Elba Heimdall -- if you don't break the mold of those existing texts in ways that will let in under-represented groups -- then your opportunities for having those groups on the screen in the first place drop substantially. You're basically left making them minor new characters, or else cracking the story open to stick in a major new minority character (and people will complain about that, too). Because all those stories we keep retelling? They're mostly about straight white guys. And the stories that are new, the ones that aren't being retold from one or more previous texts, can't pick up all the slack on their own. You make Perry White black, or you make a Superman movie with no black people in it above the level of tertiary character.

Which isn't automatically a problem when it's one movie. But it isn't one movie: it's a whole mass of them. Including most of our blockbusters.

So either we chuck out the old stuff wholesale (and as a folklorist, I entirely understand why we don't do that), or we rewrite it to suit our times. (And as a folklorist, I entirely understand that too -- and I cheer it on. Go, folk process, go!)
swan_tower: (*writing)
I have other things I should be doing, but [personal profile] wshaffer made a very good point in the comments to my last post, so I'm back for another round. And at this point I've made a tag for the grimdark discussion, because I've said enough that you might want to be able to track it all down.

To quote [personal profile] wshaffer
The thing that strikes me about the grimdark discussion is that there are multiple different-but-interlocking conversations going on at once. One is an argument about whether "realism" is grounds for granting a work a higher degree of artistic merit. Another is an argument about to what extent realism actually requires focusing on the darker and more unpleasant aspects of life. And the third is: supposing that we grant that the historical prevalence of misogyny and rape requires that they be addressed in realistic fiction, are there ways of portraying them that do no themselves reinforce misogyny and rape culture?

I love things like this, because they simultaneously clear up a bunch of confusion in my head, and make it possible to see things I couldn't before. Let's take her questions one at a time.

Read more... )

So my take on these multiple conversations would be to toss the "realism = superior" thing out the window, to decouple realism/grittiness/etc from grimdarkness (as per my last post), and then to have a more focused discussion about the specific portrayal of negative issues, and where the line is between depicting those things to critique them and depicting them out of habit, or for the shock value. Which is a situation where you're mostly going to benefit from analyzing specific texts, before you try to make statements about trends -- and that, I will admit, is where I probably have to step out, because I don't have the data to argue my point. I haven't read Martin since A Feast for Crows was released, got only halfway through Abercrombie's first book, and so on with the rest of the key names in this debate. I know I don't agree with every criticism I've seen of Martin (nor every defense), but I also know I should re-familiarize myself with the text before I try to debate it.

I doubt we'll be able to get the debate to focus on that third question, because this is the internet. The conversation is going on in two dozen places, not all of which are aware of one another, and it's sliding in new directions with each post. But I do think it helps to bear in mind that the question exists, and isn't coterminous with the other things we're talking about.
swan_tower: (*writing)
Yeah, I'm still thinking about this topic. Partly because of Cora Buhlert's recent roundup. The digression onto Deathstalker mostly went over my head, since I haven't read it, but she brings up a number of good points and also links to several posts I hadn't seen. (Though I use the term "post" generously. I have to say, when the only response you make to this debate is "meh" followed by links to people who already agree with you, you might as well not bother. All you're doing is patting yourself on the back in public.)

So I'm thinking about our terminology -- "gritty" and "grimdark" and so on. What do we mean by "grit," anyway? The abrasive parts of life, I guess; the stuff that's hard and unpleasant. Logistics and consequences and that sort of thing, the little stony details that other books might gloss over. It's adjacent to, or maybe our new replacement for, "low fantasy" -- the stories in which magic is relatively rare, and characters have to do things the hard way, just like us. Hence laying claim to the term "realism": those kinds of details that can ground a story in reality.

But that isn't the same thing as "grimdark," is it? That describes a mood, and you can just as easily tell a story in which everything is horrible and doomed without those little details as with. (As indeed some authors do.) Hence, of course, the counter-arguments that grimdark fantasy is just as selective in its "realism" as lighter fare: if you're writing about a war and all the women are threatened with sexual violence but none of the men are, then you're cherry-picking your grit.

What interests me, though, are the books which I might call gritty, but not grimdark. I mentioned this a while ago, when I read Tamora Pierce's second Beka Cooper book, Bloodhound. The central conflict in that book is counterfeiting, and Pierce is very realistic about what fake coinage can do to a kingdom. She also delves into the nuts and bolts of early police work, including police corruption . . . I'd call that grit. Of course it's mitigated by the fact that her story is set in Tortall, which began in a decidedly less gritty manner; one of the things I noticed in the Beka Cooper books was how Pierce worked to deconstruct some of her earlier, more romantic notions, like the Court of the Rogue. But still: counterfeiting, a collapse in monetary policy, police corruption of a realistic sort, etc. Those are the kinds of details a lot of books would gloss over.

Or an example closer to home: With Fate Conspire. I was discussing it over e-mail recently, and it occurred to me that I put a lot of unpleasantness into that book. Off the cuff, it includes betrayal, slavery, slavery of children, imprisonment, torture, horrible disease, poverty, racism, terrorism, massive amounts of class privilege and the lack thereof, rape (alluded to), pollution, fecal matter, and an abundance of swearing. All of which is the kind of stuff grimdark fantasy revels in . . . yet I have not seen a single person attach that label to the novel. Nor "gritty," for that matter, but I would argue that word, at least, should indeed apply. A great deal of that story grinds its way through the hard, unpleasant details of being lower-class in Victorian London. Realistic details, at that.

Of course, the book has a happy ending (albeit one with various price tags attached). Which makes it not grimdark -- and also not gritty? Or maybe it's that I was writing historical fiction, not the secondary-world fantasy that seems to be the locus of the term. Or, y'know, it might be that I'm a woman. One of the posts Buhlert links to is from [personal profile] matociquala, who -- unusually for this debate -- names some female authors as having produced gritty work, and Buhlert takes that point further. This is a highly gendered debate, not just where the sexual abuse of characters is concerned, and if we don't acknowledge that, we're only looking at a fraction of the issue.

I'm sort of wandering at this point, because there's no tidy conclusion to draw. You can have grit without being grimdark, and you can be grimdark without grit, but doing either while being female is rare? Not very tidy, but something to keep in mind. I think I'd be interested in reading more gritty-but-not-grimdark fantasy, from either gender. Recommendations welcome.


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