So I went to Ravencon over the weekend and it was much fun. RES, Laura M., CACS, physics geek and some people who read this blog incognito, as well as Speaker, Kate, Dave Pascoe and his lovely wife came out and hung out with me, which means my horrible sense of being exposed to strangers was gone, and I felt all warm and fuzzy, like a family reunion.
In fact, finances improving we would like to put it at least on a every-other-year rotation, because that way I can see these people more often. (Unless they get tired of me.)
The panels weren’t bad, either. Okay, I lie. There was the humor panel at 9 am on a Sunday, aka the morning after party night, but never mind. I’m going to assume the person who booked it didn’t realize how difficult it is to be funny at that hour. (It’s either that or catch them and make sure they die laughing.)
For the full report for the con, sashay on over to Mad Genius Club. This is going in another direction.
I found myself on a panel on Matrons and Crones. I have a vague memory of indicating that I wouldn’t be totally opposed to it, but heaven alone knows why. I usually have better sense than that. However, Through Fire has had me so turned around and upside down that well… maybe I thought it would be okay.
By the time I was at the con of course, I knew it wouldn’t be okay. Let’s just say there was quite a bit of glitter in the air that didn’t come off Kate’s outfit. Of course with a theme like Women in Science Fiction what else could we think.
We’ll avert our eyes from the panels support for the “Women destroy SF” and apparently Fantasy now, anthos and their belief that because the kickstarter funded “there’s a great hunger for this out there.”
Oy. In the ghetto that science fiction has become, maybe, though I don’t think even there. I mean, a question for the audience, how many of you have EVER had trouble finding an sf/f book written by/featuring women? None, right? Because since the eighties, I’ve been going up and down bookshelves muttering about how women shouldn’t be allowed to write.
…Which usually causes my husband to choke with laughter and make gestures that indicate I too am a woman. Yeah. Aware of that. Like it even. My fetish for lace stockings and really high heels would make me even odder than I am, had I been born male. But the thing is not that the people writing are women, but that they’re… enamored of being women. Like the poor people who dressed themselves as vaginas for political events, they seem to think what’s between their legs is THE most interesting thing about them. Alas, I don’t share the interest, so most of their books leave me cold. I want to read about space and the future, about magic and strange events. Inchoate paens to the specialness of women and the evilness of men leave me cold. Partly because I was RAISED on the specialness of women and they quite mistake the matter. But we’ll leave that for later. It’s entirely possible that there is a great hunger for even MORE inchoate vagina-praising in the reading public that remains in the ghetto that’s now science fiction. I doubt it though. Considering how kickstarter works it’s possible for people to spite-fund something to “show them” without their numbers being very high.
I wish the ah… destroyers well, I just wish they’d cool their jets. You see, I work in the same vineyard and I’m getting sick and tired of having people WHO FOLLOW THIS BLOG or who talk to me on Facebook tell me they’re ONLY NOW reading Darkship Thieves and are surprised they love it because “I got tired of reading all the female-written science fiction, because it tends to be about how men are evil and everything sucks.” So, to the extent they’re polluting the waters, they annoy me, but hey, I don’t own the field and unlike them I don’t confuse the wrapper with the gift, so I don’t even think taking back SFWA would help.
I wish them well, and I’ll make my way on my own and prove myself – which, er… I do.
We’ll also gloss over the audience member who thought she was being so … thoughtful… in telling us that Robert A. Heinlein couldn’t write women. I was very tired which can do one of two things to the berserker. Right then because I’d been prepared for clever stupidity, the berserker was “dulled” and I didn’t leap across the room screaming “Yeah, he was so terrible, he’s the one who broke SF out of the ghetto and it took you clever boys and girls about fifty years to chase off all the normal reading people and lock us back in as a place for weirdos and people who think the world is NOT full of binary gender, and other genius insights.”
This was probably to the good. I hear throttling fans is very bad for business.
I’ll confess the panel irritated me at a low level gradient, including the question on who was our favorite matron or crone character. (Rolls eyes, which are conveniently on a little chain, to avoid becoming cat toys.) Do people do that? Keep little charts of “my favorite sex/age character?” Or do women read to look for women characters? (It reminds me of this writer I used to know, raised in Colorado Springs which is, ah, rather lacking in minorities, and in an upper middle class environment. Young man was black, though, so his books were completely full of black people. Because he thought he was redressing oppression. The fact that he had known fewer black people than I had, and was therefore drawing from (bad) movies and TV series was just icing on the cake. Pity too. One of the greatest raw talents I’ve ever met. Wonder if he ever got over the fact he had a congenital tan.)
You see, I don’t read that way. I read for characters that impress me. Vimes and Granny Weatherwax are filed somewhere in the same place as “Guardians.” The putative gender doesn’t matter, though their source of power is different (and we’ll go into that too) which is one of the things that Pratchett does very well at an instinctive level.
I was so beffudled by the question I couldn’t even think of Granny, or of Granny Aching (as close to a spitting image of my grandma, except we weren’t from a sheep shearing region and grandma didn’t chew tobacco) or for that matter of Mimi from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. If I hadn’t taken the precaution of having a Kate in the audience, I’d have gawped like a gold fish.
Then we went to the question of which historical women we admired, and I realized what was wrong. Very, very wrong. The people they admired were people like Queen Elizabeth or the Empress Matilda, or…
Women who were queens and at least nominally commanded armies. Women who in fact, exerted masculine power – the sort of power that required armies and force, which is not a female sort of power.
These women, all of them “feminists” were in fact enamored of the idea that to be powerful women must be men. That sound you hear is my head hitting the desk. Hard.
I started by trying an experimental sally on the other error of their premise. They were picking people who were prisoners of their role, and who were therefore not “women” in any sense of the word, but symbols, rulers, functions, ranks.
The reaction convinced me there was no point further challenging their fundamental beliefs. Besides the main offender was the guest of honor at the con, and I have a policy of never beating the guest of honor about the face and head with their mistakes of reasoning and logic, no matter how much I want to.
So I went inside and took a little nap while uttering platitudes. I did at one point mention that women pretty much ran the village I grew up in. They took this as brave resistance from prisoners of the patriarchy, so there was no point. Again, they quite mistake the matter.
You see, I grew up hearing lectures about how superior women are to men. I think I heard these lectures more than other girls, because I was a tomboy. I think I started hearing them around three as I was being dragged away from some boy-group and told “Girls play with girls and boys with boys.”
We’ll leave aside the fact that clearly the society was too bi-gendered for words and unenlightened to boot, and skip to what I learned in the kitchens, while sitting around and pretending to read while women talked, or what was told directly me as I got older.
I was told women were superior to men and more powerful too. I’m almost afraid of telling these stories, because I’m afraid the league of women will come out and take away my woman card, as the feminists have already done. Never mind. It needs to be explained.
I think it is this sort of story and “feeling” that has become the poisonous anti-man and “all men are stupid” stuff in our culture – because most women are raised away from older female relatives and because their teachers are full of stupid feminism that thinks men have all the power and therefore want to take it away.
I’ll start by saying that I do disagree with a lot of the provisions in the Portuguese law when I was very small, such that a married woman could only get a job if her husband signed a permission form (and since this was a shame for him, families starved rather than do it,) women had to be part of a “family passport” with either parents or husband, and women couldn’t vote. I disagree with them, but I’m not particularly exercised about them. I once asked my mother – a feisty independent woman, whose income from her self-started, self-created business (she had a 4th grade education, too, far less than dad.) supported us until I was about ten (dad’s job was white collar but poorly paid) – if she minded those things. She said, well, she didn’t want to make dad sign the paper for her to get a factory job, so she created her own business. And she had never had the money to travel anyway, but if she wanted to she could have got the family passport and got dad to sign the paper saying it was okay. As for voting she said any married woman who can’t make her husband vote the way she would have, doesn’t deserve a vote.
And that’s where we start. You see, it wasn’t that women didn’t believe men were smart or good at stuff. They did. They would actually brag about their husbands. Qualities such as ingeniousness, ability to climb the job ladder (such as it was. In the village most people were self-employed craftsmen and small time farmers) and to make money, ability to hold their own in a discussion, etc. all of these were highly valued. Women also valued men as protectors (they ARE bigger) and as influences in the kids’ lives.
What they didn’t think – and forgive me, I’m just reporting what I see – was that men were competent to run families or groups, or, frankly themselves, at least in some regards. For instance, if a guy appeared in public in utter disarray (or drunk) it was considered a grave fault on his wife’s part. Unless his wife was beaten and abused, in which case it was considered a REALLY grave fault on HIS part and often something the village women decided to do something about. (Meeting a bunch of very upset women in a dark alley at midnight cured some of them – if not all.)
Women were in fact supposed to manage money, manage kids and manage men. By extension they managed life. If you wanted to rent the vineyard rights to someone else’s property you could argue it with him till you were blue in the face – the smart person asked his wife.
This wasn’t subversion. It was simply that by making life pleasant and comfortable, women held all the power.
They were, btw, sternly opposed to lifting any of the restrictions on women, so this wasn’t subversion. The gender role thing I so often fell afoul of were enforced BY THE WOMEN. This was not for the men to do. The men concerned themselves with the external world, not the people management. I think the older women viewed it as an intelligence test.
Now, am I proposing this as a role model for a society? Oh, h*ll no. As I’ve pointed out, I came to America for a reason. And in America, we’re supposed to start anew. And that’s fine.
But here’s the thing – women should keep in mind what is their NATURAL source of power. I don’t want to hear any frigging nonsense about gender being a social construction. Some gender behaviors are, but gender itself isn’t. And though individuals vary markedly, the general trend of genders has been shaped by evolution.
Oh, sure, there were women fighters in the middle ages (not nearly as much as our glittery friends think) but the bulk of the armies was men. Oh, sure there are women who do the hard, dangerous, unpleasant work. In the village these were usually “to ugly to get a husband” though not always. When they married, their husbands tended to be small and meek, though. BUT in general, if you drop in to a group of people cow-punching, most of them will be male (as Dave Freer pointed out.) Most construction workers? Male. Most long distance truckers? Male.
In the same way I have a number of friends who are house husbands, partly because they are writers, and so of course stay at home. However, even in our small mountain town when we lived there (we doubled the heterosexual population of the town by moving in. Okay, maybe not that bad, but the general sense is right) Dan was looked askance as a kindergarten mom (for a couple of years, he worked from home and I was teaching in college.) Not because these people were sexist (probably 80% of them were gay) but because it was odd.
In general, the genders were shaped by evolution so women do the indoor, group, persuasive, word-oriented (as in rabble rousing) work, and men do the outdoors, difficult, painful, dangerous work.
Not saying that women should be kept from that, understand, or men for that matter. Just saying that where I grew up, women would be chased away from a wood-cutting party, and men would be chased away from laying out the dead. (Both unpleasant, in different ways.)
I’m not advocating for a return to rigid gender roles. See above where I never fit in. (I wasn’t ugly, but I was a moose compared to Portuguese women my generation, and a hundred years earlier would probably never have married, because I didn’t FIT and was taller and bigger than most guys, which it turns out is a turn off for them.)
All I’m saying is women had a source of power too. In these older societies that women, now, imagine were patriarchies (and were, in outward form) women had their power too, and often more power than the men who were nominally ruling. Yes, they stood in danger of the man finding out. See Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Yes, the law often left them unprotected. But women could do things and arrange things and often got to positions of prominence if they wished to. And they were often the holders of the line.
Sexual persuasion? Sometimes. Look, no one said it wasn’t a weapon. Oh, okay, idiots convinced young women it’s empowering to just give it away. Tell me, if this were a plot of men to get ah… laid without any ties, how would it be any different? Right.
But there were others. “Woman” in man’s mind has incredible power. Elizabeth I used the power of the “Seductive but untouchable virgin” to get what she wanted not a few times. In fact, by dint of makeup she kept it up into her old age. Because those archetypes have power over men’s minds.
As does the fact that women nursed them as children and likely women will look after them as old men. I found a thing in a book, can’t remember where “We start out surrounded by women and we end surrounded by women.” If you think that doesn’t have power you don’t understand human psychology.
Trading it all in for being shouty and saying “me and my army?” Ah… that is throwing away the gift and keeping the wrapping.
Even Elizabeth the first didn’t do that. She played the game as well as she could, in her very restricted role, and she shamelessly used her femininity to play both foreign princes and her subjects, which was no small part of her success. (That said, do I admire her? Not really. Like Isabel of Castille, she did some truly horrendous things, and it’s hard to tell how many she HAD to do. Power on that scale deforms the mind.)
If I had a daughter – which I don’t – and if I ever have a granddaughter, what I’d try to teach her is that women have power too. Yes, by all means, move in the world of men if you wish to; perform a male function if you want/need to. But never forget you’re not a man, and that you have more power over them – ultimately – than they have over you. Use it wisely and kindly, and not as a whip to drive them. And never assume they’re stupid. They’re not. Yes, they have their blindnesses (my mom’s favorite trick when she’d blown money on something dad would disapprove of, like a new piece of furniture, was to put it in an inconspicuous place for months, before moving it to its intended location. Then, when he noticed it, she said “Oh, that? We’ve had that for months.”) We have our blindnesses too. To assume that only women are smart or accomplished or capable is a mistake. Yes, I can see how easy it is to do, because of course, you see your strengths and their weaknesses so well.
But I bet you from the other side, it is easy to see the opposite.
So, treat your male friends and colleagues with respect, because they see things you can’t see or aren’t interested in. And in return use your powers for good. Don’t use them to guilt males for being males. Don’t use them to try to turn yourself into an ersatz male or them into females.
It’s a good thing we come in two varieties, and for more reasons than how much fun it is in bed. Making us all alike would – besides being impossible – leave us with some serious cultural blind spots. And it’s not needed. Also it might be evil.
Treat people as individuals. Know the powers within you and be aware of them.
And if you ever feel tempted to say something like “Well, women are smarter” remember that yes, they are. And men are too. Just in different ways.
And if you push your way too far, theirs will inevitably come back at you. We’ve seen the end result of the male form of power prevailing and I don’t want to live in Saudi Arabia, thank you so much. We haven’t seen the end result of female power prevailing and I have my suspicions as to why, but before you think it’s a utopia, let me assure you I went to an all girls’ middle school and high school and paradise on Earth, it wasn’t. Nor peaceful. In fact, the boys’ school across the street had far fewer fights, let alone battles.
Don’t throw away the gift for the wrapper. Be a woman, not a man manqué.