The most important thing I can say about the topic of women, sexism, and fantasy literature is this:
I am a coward.
It wasn’t always this way, or at least, I don’t think it was. When I was in university, I decided to double-major in Women’s Studies and International Development Studies because those two courses upset me. After those lectures, I would leave my classes full of righteous anger and conviction that somehow, I was going to Change Things.
Then my high ideals bit the dust after I graduated and got a job in “the real world.” I started it right as the first wave of the recession was cresting and leaving a host of stunted, battered careers in its wake, so I huddled down and hated myself and still got paychecks. Luckily, I eventually moved on to a job that I felt much happier at.
But still, all this time, I was a coward. Oh, I scoffed at stuff that was happening in the US surrounding women’s rights and felt proud to live in a country that legalized gay marriage. But most of the time, I turned a blind eye on similarly disheartening stuff that was happening here in Canada. I didn’t donate to women’s organizations, I didn’t go to Take Back the Night rallies, and I most certainly didn’t do anything beyond retweeting others or signing petitions, where the outlay of effort was minimal.
Over the past year or so, though, I’ve really had to reconsider my stance of supporting others without actually doing anything. Because there are a shitload of awesome writers (both women and men) in the science-fiction and fantasy genres who are totally kicking my ass on the calling-out-sexist-bullshit front, even though I’m the one with the Women’s Studies degree.
(In case you’re wondering, yes, this post was spurred by the recent controversy of SFWA’s Bulletin Issue #202. I’m not a SFWA member, but I certainly do read around.)
The past year has truly been a banner one in terms of me becoming more aware of issues surrounding sexism and gender in the SF/F community. I mean, I knew problems existed, but once I left university, I was really bad at articulating why things were bad. Sexism was pretty obvious, right? When something sexist happened, why even try deconstructing it, since its resounding awfulness was just so apparent…right?
Ha ha. Ah, no. Wrong.
I really can’t begin to summarize all of events that have made me become more aware of sexism, slut-shaming, and feminist criticism in the SF/F community, but I can definitely think of a few things off the top of my head:
- The SFWA Bulletin cranky-old-man fest
- The whole “Fake Geek Girls” thing
- Genevieve Valentine’s experience at the 2012 Readercon
- Jim C Hines’ gender-bending covers (and, on a related note, The Hawkeye Initiative)
- The idea that sexism in fantasy fiction is historically accurate
- The infamous Onion tweet about Quvenzhané Wallis
What I’m saying now is probably going to be too little, too late, now that the first wave of outrage over the Bulletin has morphed into something more proactive, but I have to anyways:
Thank you to Tansy Rayner Roberts and Jezebel and The Mary Sue and N.K. Jemisin and Requires Hate and Jim C. Hines and Kameron Hurley and Silvia Moreno-Garcia and even more people than I could possibly name for deconstructing these issues in a way that I’m too mentally out-of-shape to do.
Thank you for giving the world a quick slap upside the head to remind it how idiotic and unfair most things are.
(I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that these same people also do a bang-up job of deconstructing the racism, heteronormativiy and cis-gender bias also found in SF/F, but I’m nowhere nearly well-versed enough in those issues to discuss them. Suffice it to say that these people are all much braver and smarter than I.)
Thank all you guys for reminding me why I majored in Women’s Studies in the first place, and for shaking me out of my complacency. I’m not perfect, and I still need to up my game, but thank you all for showing me that I can be a better reader, writer, and person than I currently am.