So there’s been an awful lot of talk about people wanting to stop women from writing (does sinal salute with thumb and forefinger on either side of the nose, head inclined.)
Since we don’t live in Iran or another of the places that legitimately make it difficult for women to write or even to learn to write, this was a bit puzzling. It was all the more so since the people accused of wanting to make “women stop writing” are people with almost no power in the traditional book marketplace.
I mean, seriously, on the Sad Puppy side you have Baen authors and indie authors. That the other side manages to simultaneously characterize us as small fish who don’t matter AND gatekeepers who can keep “women, minorities and all these new voices” out of the field is a feat of mobius thinking that goes with their belief a highly regulated top-down economic and political system is “freedom” and that justice is collective.
However, possibly the funniest of their attempts at speaking power to truth is the accusation that we want to make women stop writing.
(Okay, yeah, you might have noticed that Kate, Amanda and I are women, but that’s okay because they have an answer for this too. We’re tokens or mascots. On their side, though, where the best selling authors (you name them in your head) that promote the party line are male and white? Yeah, there the women are totally empowered. (Can someone find my eyes. I rolled them so hard they fell off.) Isn’t it amazing that they don’t EVER think “How would my hypothesis that these are racist, sexist, homophobes be falsified? And if it can’t be falsified perhaps it’s a religious tenet?” Never mind.)
First, I’m less than impressed with the new attempt to claim that women were always held back from writing and that ZOMG they’re only now receiving their due. Pfui. Flummery.
Look here and here for refutation. Women have been in the field almost since the beginning and the GOOD ONES got awards almost from the beginning. Yeah, there weren’t a ton of women initially, but that might have to do more with society in general than with science fiction or science fiction holding them back. Most nerds love women. More on that later. (And btw, even if women were scarce in sci fi they were hardly discouraged from WRITING. Romance is dominated by women writers to the point men writers use women pen names — this also happens in UF and PNR now, I hear, not that I care. — and before you wrinkle your nose at the “romance” it is still the best selling genre in popular literature.)
The thing that annoys me about this claim that “we are the first and great strides for women/minority of choice” are only happening now is that it’s an inherently REGRESSIVE claim. By claiming this, you are denying the true pioneers of the field and those people who embraced it when it was a small and looked down upon genre.
You are also diminishing current women writers, and, yes, discouraging them.
And this is without getting into the insult to the truly oppressed women and minorities around the world. Go to a Muslim country to find women who are not allowed to read or write, or even drive or be out on their own. And yeah, I know all this is excused because “little browns peoplez.” Well, suck it up, buttercup, they’re not any more brown than I am and I’m here to tell you their “culture” is a horror and a disgrace, and Iran’s forced sex changes of gay men rank up there with denying another human being’s humanity and power of choice, and if you weren’t such unmitigated cowards you’d be screaming against it from the roof tops, or even better arranging an underground railroad to save those guys from a fate quite literally worse than death.
But you don’t have to go to the horrors of Islamic fundamentalism to find societies that treat women worse than America does. In point of fact ALMOST every culture and society in the world treats women worse than America does. (Exception might go to the Scandinavian cultures but that is changing for the worse with the importation of people with toxic misogynistic cultures.)
I was born in a country that is at least mostly western and at least mostly … well, probably second world, at least when I was born and perhaps again. (I don’t know about the again. I don’t LIVE there and reports can’t be trusted, as it depends from whom they come.)
This meant that legally, in point of fact, I had the same rights as a male born at the same time. Legally. What goes in between legally and culturally is… a lot.
In the Portugal I was born and raised in, a woman could not walk outside after about 8pm without a male escort. This wasn’t written anywhere, but if you were outside at that time, alone, you were assumed to be a prostitute.
If you were between the ages of 9 and 80 you were ALWAYS catcalled and had bizarrely explicit suggestions shouted at you when out of doors. Forget construction sites. There was always what my husband calls “three Portuguese guys leaning on the wall” outside every store, who made sure they knew that if you could lick that popsicle you just bought, you could lick other things. (I never understood the point of this, btw. Do they really expect us to turn around and go “oh, yeah, I never thought of that before. That’s what I want to do” or is it a macho thing for their buddies?)
These were minor annoyances, but they did restrict your life. Like, I was careful not to wear short-shorts outside the home, unless I was going by car to a friend’s house and no one else would see me. And I had to give a pass to college electives that ended after 8 pm. (Of course I broke that last rule. Because I’m an idiot. This led to some interesting incidents, mostly involving my using dictionaries as blunt instruments, until my dad decided the best part of value was to pick his crazy daughter up at college, and drive her home, when her classes ended after 8.)
The more serious, all-pervasive encumbrance was that people literally and clearly assumed women were dumber than men. Blame Latin culture and Muslim influence, but professors would actually say things like “I was surprised the best grade in this test went to a woman.” Sickly smile at the guys. “You men need to work harder.”
And then there was the “nice professions for women” which might or might not have existed mostly in my mom’s head, and which I never got. Stuff like “buying and reselling” was a nice a profession for a woman, but refinishing furniture wasn’t. I got nothing.
Now, understand please that I’m not running Portugal down. this was the sixties and seventies, and if you talk to people from around the world, you realize none of these assumptions are rare or even strange. Yeah, some people in the US have them too, but few of them, and even those who have them wouldn’t dream of voicing them.
So did I protest the patriarchy? Sometimes. At home. And I did stupid things like book night classes. And I took unholy delight in doing better than men at things. BUT — but — in public? Did I spend my life writing about how the patriarchy was holding me down?
No. What would the point be? In a really patriarchal culture, where these things are so deep down and so ingrained they’re presumed and never really discussed, you don’t protest, and you don’t agitate and you don’t talk about microaggressions. (for one, you have tons of macro ones, every day.)
You don’t do it, because in a true patriarchal culture people won’t beat you down. They’ll just ignore you. If you intrude on their consciousness, they roll their eyes and say “oh, please. She must be nuts. Everyone knows women aren’t that smart.”
What you do instead is what you CAN do. You surprise them. You work harder, you work smarter, you devote your energies to being better: you win academic honors, leaving men in your dust; you win writing contests; you never cry in public, and you never give up.
Fair? Of course it’s not fair. What is this, kindergarten? You come into a world that has assumptions about who you are, whether you’re a woman or a man, and whatever your level of tan. The only thing you can do is fight to do what you want to the best you can, and IF POSSIBLE to open up the way for others.
This doesn’t mean whining and complaining and moaning you’re oppressed — that only works in a culture in which you have some power — it means being the best you can possibly be.
I know this. I’ve done this. I’ve done it all along in the field, including mentoring beginning men and women by the dozen.
But the pampered children of privilege among American women (and some rich European women) who were born at a time when everyone told them how special they were and how they should be bowed down to don’t get any of that. They don’t know how long the way has been. They think women were held down, not by biology, pregnancy, early death (they also don’t get that in the middle ages everyone was held down by nature and lack of resources) and the other peculiar downsides of being the child-bearers, but because men were “afraid” of them.
In their minds (do they even know any men?) they think men are this cohesive and hostile group, perpetually seeking to hold them down or to push them down again.
And so they view anyone who says that women shouldn’t get prizes just for being women as “wanting to hold women down.” (I’m not sure in what world that makes sense. Are women so inherently superior that just possession of a vagina makes them smarter and better writers than men?)
Since in the past women didn’t get prizes just for being women, it was a time of darkness, they think, and only now are women coming into their own… or something.
What they miss is that this type of nonsense holds women back. Just like the incident at that college, where a statue of a guy in his underwear was considered so scary it had to be removed, and which would give any impartial observer the idea women weren’t ready for prime time, holding up mediocre (or at best “competent”) writing (or games, or anything else) as extraordinary because it was created by a woman only gives impartial observers the idea that women can’t achieve like men can; can’t create like men can.
Making special prizes for good little girls because vagina and actually going so far as to argue that creations like games or books which are engaged in as ludic pursuits don’t need to be fun, but only relevant, and that you should enjoy them even if you don’t enjoy them because they’re created by women, does the reverse of what I (and a lot of others, I was not a paragon. I’m using my experience because I lived it) did when I had the best grades and won contests DESPITE the inherent prejudice against me. I and others like me proved women can be grown ups and can function in the adult world; these victimhood pony-riders are convincing people who by an large believe in female equality to reconsider and think that women are fragile, not so smart creatures who need easy steps and easier tests and accommodations to function.
And btw, the exclusion of all of us who don’t believe in making it easier for women to win prizes, or in giving women accolades just because their women from the argument by calling us “tokens” or “mascots” is in itself a slap with the back of the hand to women who are striving to write and express themselves. This is particularly awful because it comes from the powerful publishing houses and the writers they support and promote. It tells us that there is only one way to be a woman, and that this way is to act victimized and helpless. If you don’t act that way, they erase your identity as a woman and do their best to silence you.
This, my friends, is what we call holding women back. It is convincing them they can’t achieve anything unless these — mostly white males, btw, even if they rage against other white males — people in power give them a hand, and unless they behave exactly as these powerful people expect them to.
Does it compare to the oppression of Iranian women? Oh, not even close. But I’d say that the people on that side, accusing us of what they’re doing and acting as though WE (a ragtag collection of indies and Baen authors) were SOMEHOW gatekeepers, are at least as annoying and disgusting as the generic three Portuguese guys outside a shop telling you to lick their popsicle.
I didn’t let those stop me before, and I have no intention of letting the newer version stop me either. At most I find them annoying.
Women who let themselves be suppressed and held back deserve to be suppressed and held back. Women who need prizes for being good little girls might want to grow a spine and some self-pride.
As for me and mine, we’ll just continue working. In the end, it’s the best revenge.