Sign up for my newsletter to receive news and updates!

Posts Tagged ‘gender trouble’

Nevertheless, a whole lot of us persisted

cover art for Nevertheless, She Persisted; ed. Mindy KlaskyYesterday saw the release of Nevertheless, She Persisted. There are many things with that title these days, but this one is mine — well, mine and that of eighteen other authors from Book View Cafe. It is, as you might expect, a collection themed around female persistence in the face of adversity. If you feel like you need that sort of encouragement right now, or you know someone who might, or you want to support the general idea, or you just think that sounds like something you would like to read, you can get the ebook directly from Book View Cafe, or from Amazon, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, or Amazon UK; if you want a print edition, those are available too, from Amazon US or UK.

My contribution to the anthology is “Daughter of Necessity”, which is one of the stories I’m proudest of having written. It was inspired by an essay of Diana Wynne Jones’, and of course she herself is the woman whose work inspired me to become a writer in the first place.

It’s been six months since Elizabeth Warren was silenced on the floor of the Senate. Keep on speaking out. Persist. We will stand strong.

    Table of Contents

  • “Daughter of Necessity” by Marie Brennan
  • “Sisters” by Leah Cutter
  • “Unmasking the Ancient Light” by Deborah J. Ross
  • “Alea Iacta Est” by Marissa Doyle
  • “How Best to Serve” from A Call to Arms by P.G. Nagle
  • “After Eden” by Gillian Polack
  • “Reset” by Sara Stamey
  • “A Very, Wary Christmas” by Katharine Eliska Kimbriel
  • “Making Love” by Brenda Clough
  • “Den of Iniquity” by Irene Radford
  • “Digger Lady” by Amy Sterling Casil
  • “Tumbling Blocks” by Mindy Klasky
  • “The Purge” by Jennifer Stevenson
  • “If It Ain’t Broke” by Maya Kaathryn Bohnhoff
  • “Chatauqua” by Nancy Jane Moore
  • “Bearing Shadows” by Dave Smeds
  • “In Search of Laria” by Doranna Durgin
  • “Tax Season” by Judith Tarr
  • “Little Faces” by Vonda N. McIntyre

Yes, it’s hard. Put on your grown-up pants and do it anyway.

Background, for those who don’t follow the SF/F convention scene:

A few years back, Jim Frenkel was banned from Wiscon and lost his job at Tor following complaints of persistent harassment against a number of women. More recently, Odyssey Con decided to install him as their Guest Liaison. When their Guest of Honor, Monica Valentinelli, told them that Frenkel had harassed her in the past and she felt neither comfortable nor safe interacting with him, they blew off her complaint; when she withdrew from the convention, they posted her private emails on their Facebook page without her permission, characterized her behavior as trying to “dictate” who could and could not attend the convention, assured everybody that Frenkel and another named problem are great guys, and swore that they’re totally a safe space and will handle these problems appropriately if and when they arise.

They’ve since taken down the emails and their initial statement, so Damage Control Mode is a go. But it’s too little, too late: it is already abundantly clear that they are not dedicated to dealing with harassment in a professional manner. They don’t understand privacy, safety, or basic common decency.

But there are plenty of other people dissecting the daisy-chain of failures here. I want to talk about something slightly different.

I have, in a non-convention context, dealt with a problem like this. I am on the board of an organization that received complaints of harassing behavior and assault by a member — someone I have known for years. I was not part of the group tasked to investigate the complaints, but I was one of the people who had to decide what to do after we received that group’s findings. I’m the one who wrote the email announcing our decision to the membership at large, hand-carving every word in an attempt to minimize the risk of misunderstanding or unintended implication.

It’s hard. No matter what you do, you’re going to upset somebody — and that includes doing nothing. You have to wade into the muck of information you’d rather not hear, examine your reaction to each and every piece of that information, weigh potential responses and their repercussions, and then figure out how to translate all of that into statements and actions. Then, once you’ve done that, you get to deal with the fallout. From start to finish, the whole process sucks.

Too bad. Put on your grown-up pants and do it anyway.

And if you can’t — if your reaction to a complaint is going to be to assume it’s no big deal, to let your gut guide you instead of looking at the evidence, to stick your fingers in your ears and go “la la la” in the hopes that the problem will go away and trouble you no more — then don’t put yourself in a position where you’re going to have to deal with these things. Because the days when you could just skate along and know the woman (it’s almost always a woman) will slink quietly back into her corner? Those are over. These days, if you do this bad a job of handling a known problem, you can and will be pilloried for it. And you will deserve that pillorying, because resources and guidelines for how to do better are readily available, and it was your decision not to pay attention to them.

Creating a “fun, safe, welcoming, event where fans of all kinds can come together and enjoy themselves” takes work. So do the work. Words alone are not enough.

How to bore me in thirty seconds flat

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.

Let’s play the Genderswap Game!

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.

***

(more…)

Jessica Jones

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.

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.

#GirlcottStarWars

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.

Deviation from the Norm

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.

Orphan Black and the Reverse Bechdel Test

I promise one of these days I’ll post about something other than Voyage of the Basilisk or TV. 😛 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.

The Absence of Women

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.

(more…)