The Silent Majority: Fear of Sexism is a Misogynist’s Best Friend

Like I said last week, I think part of the role of men in the discussions against sexism and misogyny is to be a signal booster — to help get the word of others out. Karina Cooper — author of the Dark Mission and St. Croix Chronicles books — said she wanted to continue the conversation about women in writing and publishing and the SFF genre, so here she is to talk more about what it means to stay silent in fights like this one:

Can I assume y’all know the history of the USA?  Can I go into this comfortable with the understanding that you’re familiar with Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement in the 50s and 60s? Is that, I don’t know, a safe thing to assume?

I have to tell you, I’m just not sure. But because I’m not your mom and I’m not whatever teacher you probably ignored in school, I’ll spare you the summary. You don’t want to hear it from me, anyway. If you’re legitimately clueless, go do some reading. Yes, it’s Wikipedia—I’m not willing to strain anyone’s higher thought processes just yet.

Fast forward forty-five years. We’re still struggling with racial prejudice, but it is widely understood that a man who says, “I strongly believe darker-skinned people will lower the quality of this product” is tantamount to labeling himself the white supremacist fuckless wonder that he is. We have seen evidence of this just recently, yes?

So, that in mind: Would one of these rabid, woman-hating trollskins explain to me how “girls are making sci-fi worse” is any different? I mean, aside from the obvious, which is that one involves people with different color skin than yours and the other is naturally more inclusive, since it involves people of all color… who just happen to have vaginas.

Maybe you, dear reader, missed the memo. If you’ve been absent from the internet for the past forever, here’s a quick refresher: some people think women shouldn’t be writing “real” books, playing or designing “real games,” or speaking about anything at all. Some people, a great many outspoken people, are convinced sexism doesn’t exist.

Guess what? We have always been fighting this fight.

No Girls Allowed

For decades, women and people of color have been barred from the SF/F community due to, I don’t know, some perceived fear of cooties—or a petrifying fear of change. The people refusing them entry—primarily white men—routinely forced authors who weren’t white men to hide behind pseudonyms, behind false biographies, and refused to publish stories that attempted to feature anyone other than white men as heroes.

In the year 2013, this has not changed all that much. It’s not “PC” to bar people of color anymore, but they certainly continue to have a litany of problems going on—usually couched in more subversive terms involving “quality” and “experience.”

The issues women are having, however, seems to come straight out of the lexicon the civil rights movement deemed incorrect for public use—it’s like watching a particularly surreal episode of Mad Men, only everyone’s in jeans and on the internet. For example, in order to get any “credit” (from men, the dominating force in the literary world), women are forced to hide behind initials, or crowbarred into the romance or chicklit genres “where they belong.” They are groped by famous male colleagues, and they are ignored or jeered at on panels.

“But wait, there are all kinds of women published!” you might point out, and you’d be right. There are all kinds of women published. There are all kinds of women in the gaming field. Those who work hard are extremely well-respected, too, for—oh, wait. No, they aren’t. Really, anywhere.

You know what we ladies who are authors and gamers get? Unending amounts of shit from dickstroking mouthbreathers, an avalanche of vile abuse spewed from internet communities filled with spermslugs convinced that they are God’s gift to all who earn their attention. That they, in their tiny little worlds with their tragic lack of a loving orifice that doesn’t come shrink-wrapped in plastic, are the rightful inheritors of multi-million dollar industries—the keyholders to future generations’ creativity and imagination.

And you know what? They are right.

Despite the fact that female gamers make up 47% of the gaming community, despite the fact that women are award-winning authors, we are threatened with rape and violence if we dare to speak up about how we’re treated, by troglodytes so afraid of change that they’ll shout as loud as they possibly can just to get the rest of the world to shut up. They are so awful, so offensive, that the rest of the world looks away with a knowing, “Don’t feed the trolls.” They see the reprehensible behaviors of these soggy foreskins, say with feeling, “Aren’t you glad that’s not me?” and go about their merry days as if that takes care of that—and that, babies, is why it’s working.

Because the only way to avoid feeding the trolls is to be silent—and these trolls are growing up to run your world.

Proud and Not So Loud

If you’d be so kind, take a look at this reasonable and extremely logical post by Chris F. Holm—a fine author in his own right—and you’ll see he promotes two sound concepts. The second is the most important: be kind to one another, punctuated by a Vonnegut quote that has me calling everyone “babies” when I’m feeling philosophical. But a glance down to the comments mirrors what’s being said in Der Wendighosten’s G+ page: it’s so much better to read a book because of genre, quality, and style than it is to read a book because of gender, and so choosing a book because of gender is just another form of sexism.

Naturally, no one reading a book for quality is a bigot—you certainly can’t be blamed for any prejudice when you’re not paying any attention to the gender, color, or lifestyle of the author. And certainly, being told what and what not to read, for any reason, is anathema to cultivators of book libraries around the world.

The dialogue then becomes something like this: “Of course sexism is bad, that’s why I’m not interested in reading or acquiring books by women just because they’re women—I don’t want to be sexist!” And so the person justifying this pats themselves on the back for being an evolved being, shares some companionable nods with others like them, and lives a happy life knowing they aren’t misogynistic or prejudiced or bigoted. Which is a lovely ideal, but have you finished reading about the civil rights movement yet?

As I recall from my education in the subject, I don’t believe any of the civil rights supporters were saying things like, “Well, naturally, racial prejudice is bad, that’s why I’m not interested in showing people of color any favoritism by shopping at black-owned stores just because they’re black-owned.” In fact, I’ll wager this sort of thing was often said by white people unwilling to make the effort—or to accept the nature of equality at all.

Can you imagine how the civil rights movement would have stalled without open and deliberate support by everyone who claimed to be so open-minded?

I admire Chris a great deal, and hope to one day live the philosophy he shares, but I obviously disagree with him on various executions—primarily, that grace and dignity will see us through the unending amounts of abuse we receive. As far as I’m concerned, centuries of grace and dignity has landed women in this mess. Like my feminist forbears, it’s time to burn a few “foundation garments:” starting with the concept that the silence of good people is any support at all.

More Than a Dream

Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech was not one of waiting—though it was of dignity (okay, point for Chris). Where other revolutionaries and civil rights leaders pushed for violence, King pushed for the power and passion of speech—of “soul” force to meet overwhelming force. And he called on everyone to do it. He spoke of freedoms of color, of class, of religion.

King and the movement supporters pushed for active inclusion—standing side by side with the very same people who wanted them pushed down. He did not stop at penning dignified notes, he did not wait for the power of words to make it through the communities threatening him and those like him with violence. He gathered like-minded folks, that included the powerful voices of white supporters—political and otherwise—to help make it happen, to add their voices to his. To  bloody well say something.

Active inclusion, babies. It’s about one person—maybe you?—making the choice to pick up a book by a woman author and giving it a chance, and then treating that book like you would any other book. If you like it, pass it on with glowing recommendations—not because of how the author looks in a bathing suit, or what her genitals might be, but because it’s a good book. If you don’t like it, reasoning why, and have that discussion with your fellow readers.

It means that though you might make it a point to pick up a book because it’s written by a woman, a person of color, a man, an LGBTQ author, you’re passing it on and talking about it because it’s good. Because the author moved you. Because regardless of why you originally grabbed it, the book made you feel.

It’s about adding your voice to support women in gaming, women in writing, women anywhere—just like we would for anyone else. Because if you think this isn’t about you—if you think that I’m only talking to the sad little boys lodged in their circle jerking internet communities, convinced that “cocksucker” is an insult while desperately hoping to meet a real life woman they don’t have to threaten to rape to get some—you are sadly mistaken.

There are literally thousands of men ready and waiting to be unleashed on women like me. Men and boys who make a game of rape threats and violence, who will be spooged out of whatever black hole they dribble from, screaming that I am a threat—that I don’t deserve to live, that I should be raped into silence, that I’m just a bitch and should shut up. These are the same assholes raising boys who think it’s okay to call an eight year old girl a “cunt.”

But I know—I know—that there are thousands more of men and women who are remaining silent, because they know they aren’t among the trolls, that they’re not sexist, that they don’t want to be sexist. And because they know that, they’re content to simply be.

“Simply being” is not enough.

The Loudest Voices Shape the World

We like to look back at history and say things like, “Gandhi had it right.” We like to suggest that the best way to evoke change is to live quietly, live by example. To quote an erroneous and useless bit of drivel: “be the change you want to see in the world.” They fling this around like it’s gold and fail to remember that part of being that change is taking the opportunity to make a difference, not sit back and “not engage.” We like to think that passive protests, protests without deeds or words, are a thing of peaceful power.

We are wrong. Even Gandhi believed in refusing to bow one’s head—even at the cost of one’s life. And he wasn’t alone; or did you forget the thousands who supported him?

As long as good people are willing to remain silent—to look the other way, shrug and laugh and say, “It’s just trolls,” then people like me are forced to write things like this. As long as people are content to passively protest sexism just by not engaging in it, people like me will continue to feel unsafe at cons,  on the street, at parties and in bars, in the movie theater, and—thanks to the pervasive abuse, in our own homes. (Side note: the first person to suggest that there’s no reason to be “that hysterical” gets a goddamn boot in the back of a Volkswagen.)

In the industry I work in, I found that when authors—primarily men, but not always—thought I was a reader, they were all too happy to talk with me about various sci-fi and fantasy subjects, geek hobbies, and the like. As soon as the dreaded, “What do you do?” question cropped up, I’d answer, “Oh, I write romance!” That shut the conversation down. At the nicest, I received a very sweet(ly condescending), “That’s great, honey, good luck with that.” At the worst, a laugh and, “Oh, Christ.”

So I learned how to talk about what I write in ways that don’t use the word “romance”. I spoke of action and adventure, crazy conspiracies, love and loss, blood and murder. At least three different times, men have asked me with great interest where they could acquire my books. When they realized Avon was the publisher, I was given eerily similar versions of: “Oh, I thought it was a real book.”

I have been forced to endure painfully personal questions about my sex life, my fantasies, any regrets that I’m married to a single man and can’t really experience all that’s out there to write about it—“write what you know,” to this day, remains one of my most violent rage triggers.

You know what I don’t hear? Anyone asking George R. R. Martin if the rape sequences in Game of Thrones is based on personal experience. I don’t hear anyone credible asking John Scalzi if the RT Reviewer’s Choice Award is a real award, anyway.  I don’t hear anyone critiquing Jim C. Hines for his outfit, Neil Gaiman for his lack of makeup of hair products. No one is asking Chuck if the sex in Blackbird is a fantasy of his—or if his spouse is laying him regularly.

You know what I’m asked? If I write “aggressive men” in my books, and if that’s because I have a secret fantasy of being raped. I have been asked if I write myself into all my heroines, because I just want a man to save me—or dominate me. I’m asked if my husband supports me by helping me “block out my sex scenes”. I’m asked if he’s “okay” with me being a writer—as if it’s a personal hobby or darling quirk. One fellow laughed when he heard how crazy my deadlines can be, expressing concern that I’m not “putting out” enough for my husband to make his tolerance of my writing worth it.

You know what I’m not asked? If men can put their hands on me—which they then proceed to do. Why? Because the pervasive mentality is that men write and women “engage in a hobby.” That we’re there to “spruce up the place,” to be “token girls,” to give an appearance of inclusion without having to actually commit. I am a piece of decorative furniture, there to give the audience—comprised of men and women, because money is money, no matter the wallet it comes from—something nice to look at. “Look, ladies, here’s one of you sitting among us real authors! Guys, don’t worry about her, we won’t ask her anything too tough.”

That’s the atmosphere that needs to change. Just as Chuck is not your toy—not your “token beard” to be admired, not your manmeat waiting with bated breath to be told how nice he looks in a swim suit—neither am I. Neither are any of the women writing and reading and gaming in this industry.

We Need Your Help

Change does not happen in a vacuum. For every person refusing to go out of your way to give a book written by a woman a chance, that’s a voice held in check, silent against the hatred and oppression barring our way.

We don’t need gender-blindness, we need awareness. We need help. Not talking about it, not acknowledging the problem, only feeds the same trolls hammering us down. As long as good men and women remain silent, convinced they’re not part of the problem, we don’t have the support we need to stand up to the misogynists shouting us down.

One day, we all will be on a level playing field, and then we can afford to be blind. One day,  women will be recognized for the qualities of their work and not the qualities of their bodies, one day people of color will be referenced first by their accomplishments and not by their heritage, one day LGBTQ people will be lauded for their achievements and not what they do in the bedroom—but this is not that day.

My plea: Give books written by women and games by and featuring women a chance. Give them the same chance you’d give a new genre, a new type of story, a game in general. Maybe you’re picking it up because it’s in your favorite genre and it’s written by a woman, maybe you’re reading it because some old guy said it was trash and because it’s written by a woman. Whatever the reason, let the motive for passing it on be this: it’s a damn good book or game, and you’d like to see more women who create like this get the same opportunities men already have to share it.

This isn’t about wars on the internet. It’s about acceptance—going a little further to give people struggling against obvious and sometimes violent oppression a helping hand. Where will it start, if not with you?

207 comments

  • I can agree with you on some accounts, but on many I have to say I disagree.

    You write about a man who has ideals you value and then say he messed up in saying he wouldn’t read a book just because it’s written by a woman. You then equate that to someone saying they wouldn’t ship somewhere just because it’s owned by a certain color person as being racist. While I agree that there will be racist and sexist PEOPLE, (not just men, and not just white people) who will say something similar because they are racist and don’t want to sound so, there are going to be even more people who say that because they aren’t.

    It’s the word “just” that makes a difference and it’s the ideal world we should be striving for. Just because you’re a woman or he’s black out she’s gay or they are disabled shouldn’t keep us from exercising our right to decide what we do with our love of talent, art, entertainment, and more. Telling me to go read a book just because it’s written by a woman is a form of sexism even though I understand you are trying to get people to be more open-minded.

    What we should be doing, and what I do, I’d choose what I read, listen to, watch, etc based on content, talent, ability, QUALITY, etc. One of my favorite comedy writers, Tina Fey, whose book bossy pants is amazing by the way. Another of my favorite comedy writers, Jerry Seinfeld. It has nothing to do with gender, bit on quality of material and ability.

    I also see that you say the problem is when you say you’re a romance writer men immediately dismiss you. So are all men dismissing you? no. Do a majority of men not like romance novels, yes. Do a majority of women like getting flowers on Valentine’s? Yes. Do all women, no. This is more a stereotype than sexism.

    Also, all in all, I’d say you’re hanging around some negative people, or you yourself look got the negative on people. I’m all for your cause but anger and negativity drops us to the level of the people you’re complaining about. Real change will come from love, not hate.

    And not all men are like that at all. My book is a Christian women’s fiction novel told from the point of view of the woman. And it’s helping the women who read it and some men too.

    And I’m a straight, Christian, while make who believes in sexual and racial equality, including women’s rights, lgbt rights to marriage and adoption and more. Find the positive ways to deal with these Pelke like I’m trying to and real change will come. I will pray for you and your cause.

    • Difficult to love someone that is trying to rape you d’ckhead. Go back and read again, and keep reading til you understand fully … U may be some time …

  • June 23, 2013 at 4:56 AM // Reply

    Another condescending Liberal who is ready to bear the cross for our sins while he reaches down and pets us sub groups on the head.

    Yessir Boss, We couldn’t have done it without your Bravery. I can never thank you enough!!!!
    You should get a award for being one of the Good Uns!!! Have you got your I’m Special Speech all written out already?

    People who pretend to be out for others then themselves are really the ones you have to watch!

  • June 23, 2013 at 5:03 AM // Reply

    Oh and I was thinking about buying one of your books to read.

    Ill just put your money where your mouth is and read a woman instead.

    You probably should tell everyone to do that so you don’t come off as hypocritical.

    • More negativity and hate. I truly am sorry you are filled with so much hate and obviously surrounded by it too. I’m sorry you believe my comments to be nothing more than anything you’ve read before rather than asking to get to know me as I’d like to get to know you to understand more why you feel how you do. I would never think I’m better than anyone else and struggle with my own self worth and people who put me down. God bless.

      And I’m fine that you don’t choose to read my book. I will continue to choose books based on content and not authors and I’m glad you are expressing your right to be different. This is why my book deals with women’s equality though, because I do believe there are so many out there like you describe. Sorry if I fight the flight differently than you. Have a great day.

  • Heya, someone just posted this and since we’re talking about not caring what gender’s on the cover, this might be interesting. Let the writing do the talking. It looks as though it’s just starting and so far it doesn’t have a way to pick multiple genres and might not have very much available at the moment. Still, it could be an interesting way to discover some titles you might not find in the sea of novels out there if it grows fast. http://www.nonamesnojackets.com/launch-announcement/

    • This is a great idea. It goes along with what a lot of libraries are doing by covering books and then just writing a few descriptive words about then on the outside. Asp you have a blind date with the book not knowing who wrote it or much of anything really.

  • I saw this on a G+ repost, and one aspect of it has been haunting me since. it has been days since I first read it, and I’m still thinking about it.

    This paragraph is so uncomfortable, so contrary to the entire rest of the message that I stopped short and lost my place:

    “Unending amounts of shit from dickstroking mouthbreathers, an avalanche of vile abuse spewed from internet communities filled with spermslugs convinced that they are God’s gift to all who earn their attention. That they, in their tiny little worlds with their tragic lack of a loving orifice that doesn’t come shrink-wrapped in plastic, are the rightful inheritors of multi-million dollar industries—the keyholders to future generations’ creativity and imagination.”

    This is all wrong. sexism on the internet isn’t about single or married. it’s not about getting laid or not. It’s not about masturbation – or the vilification of masturbation.

    By deliberately constructing the message that reprehensible people aren’t getting laid – if you aren’t getting laid, you’re a reprehensible person, the message has gone terribly, terribly awry. Hello, sideways objectification. “Your key to being not-reprehensible is to gain access to an loving orifice attached to a human being. Human being, you are this person’s object of desire, because this person desires not to be reprehensible. and therefore, they want you, object.”

    I don’t even know what loving orifice, shrink-wrapped in plastic, you’re talking about, but this paragraph doesn’t belong in the middle of an otherwise brilliant piece. The playing field cannot be leveled and the wrongs of sexism righted while sexuality is the enemy and discrimination against women is equated with male sexuality, AND while being in a sexual relationship is the thing that validates an otherwise repulsive being as worthy.

    • June 25, 2013 at 4:37 AM // Reply

      To be fair, it doesn’t say anything about married men or men in lasting partnerships being any better. It leaves that part open, so men in a sexual relationship can in fact be just as repulsive, if not more. Who knows. 😉

      • Yeah, but that’s really not what she was implying here. It really is some serious hypocrisy I think. It’s the old double standard, only reversed. I’d question why the writer feels the need to even bring up the sex lives (or lack thereof) of her critics, since it has absolutely nothing to do with her argument about sexist readers.

  • I mostly read non-fiction, a lot of history especially, and there are plenty of women on my bookshelf. I don’t get why anyone would care about the gender of their authors. Even when it comes to fiction – a good writer is just a good writer. I don’t really think there’s any such thing as a “male style” or a “female style” when it comes to writing.

  • I think I must lead a charmed life. I’ve never met someone who criticizes women’s literature simply because it was written by a woman. Most of the people I know love Margaret Weiss, Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. LeGuinn and their female peers for the same reasons they love Terry Brooks, Piers Anthony and Tolkien – because they’re extraordinarily talented writers who spark the imagination.

    What I have seen is a bunch of sexist drama at SFF conventions, where one or two sexist idiots in a crowd end up acting like idiots. The problem I have with this post is that it seems to make all men into villains, rather than address the actions of specific individuals. You can’t answer sexism, which is a generality, by returning fire with yet another generality. All that does is alienate those who want to make the situation better and are in a position to do so – in this case, males in positions of power in SFF publishing. I don’t know about you, but I’m generally not inclined to help the guy who asks me for help while punching me in the face.

    Sexism and racism (really, any of the ‘isms) are all heinous, and the majority of society recognizes that fact. We need to keep working on it, but we need to realize:
    – Not all men are pigs;
    – Not all women are judgmental bitches;
    – Not all whites are racists;
    – Not all blacks are gangbangers; and,
    – Perhaps most importantly, most people have good intentions and occasionally say or do something stupid, which should be corrected without excommunicating them from their communities, which seems to be the knee-jerk reaction way too often.

    Life would be so much simpler if we all followed Wheaton’s Law. (Don’t be a dick.)

    • At no point does the author of this post make the assertion that all men are villains. She does make a very legitimate argument against the efficacy, and even the morality, of staying silent as a means of bringing change.

      Wheaton’s Law is a nice fantasy. It is not our reality and definitely NOT the reality for any group that faces discrimination.

      I have spent most of my life working in male-dominated careers, including ten years as a stunt performer. You are correct, it is usually a small minority acting like asses but that minority makes life hell for their victims. I spent a lot of years “playing nice”. During those years, because of my gender, I was groped, ridiculed, subjected to quid-pro-quo sexual harassment, and threatened. Do you know what the males in positions of power did when they saw this happening? Nothing. These were decent men who I would never accuse of being actively sexist but their silence meant the bad guys won – over and over again.

      I once had a co-worker tell me, on set, that all women were “whores who were only out steal men’s money and were only good for sucking cock”. That one, I complained about. What happened to him? Nothing. Oh, he got a little talking to, but that was it, and the behavior did not change.

      Why not excommunicate misogynists? That kind of change might actually make a difference?

      After decades of discrimination, I’m done playing nice and being quiet. Your suggestion that Karina, and all women (I assume) should be less offensive, so that we don’t alienate the men in power who might be kind enough to help us poor little females, is insulting. I WILL offend. I will stand up, shout, stamp my feet, point my finger, kick ass and do whatever it takes to make things change.

      Get used to it.

      • YES. Yes yes yes. All of this. Telling us to be less offensive is telling us to be nicer is telling us to shut our pretty mouths. It’s a slippery slope.

        I’m just getting into the film industry and for the most part it’s fantastic and fun, but I had to fight off a guy a couple weeks ago (like, physically fight him off of me). When I brought it up it was excused with But you don’t work directly with each other so can’t you just avoid him until the we’re done?
        And I’m very sad to say that I let it go, because it’s true that I don’t deal with him often, we are almost finished, and I like my job too much to be chased out of it by some asshole who can’t keep his body to himself.

        I have, however, taken it upon myself to warn the other women who work with us and check on them a LOT when they’re around him (things like if they look uncomfortable, giving them an out like “Hey, X needs you over there. Way, way over there, as in faaaaar away from here”). It’s passive-aggressive as hell and feels like I’m playing into the Missing Stair syndrome (check out Cliff Pervocracy’s blog for that one), but I’d rather be the passive-aggressive meddling bitch than the quiet little mouse.

    • You ever met a rapist? I met five , before i was even 16. One was my boss at my sat job. I dont think you have a clue what your talking about to the 1 in 3 of us that have been subject to violent sexist assault. Sexist men are nazis towards women … They use porn to spread the message that females are cunts and whores … And no, that is not the language of love and tolerance. So preach to your own community and see how far you get with the silent majority of men who dont really give a shit about their wives and daughters and sisters rights if it means falling out with the dude/bros …

  • I dunno… Just scanned my shelves and realized there’s a fine balance between female authors and male authors, the former actually more dominant, and I’m mostly into fantasy, sci-fi and historical fiction (okay, maybe historical is more of a woman domain after all… Especially historical romance). I’ve never paid attention to this before, just like I never pay attention if a black guy dies first in a horror movie. I think, the real sexists/racists/any-other-discriminators are those who point out these things in the first place. I’ve noticed before, though, that USA lags behind Europe in terms of equal treatment a little bit (no offense here). I’m not talking about equal RIGHTS, but equal TREATMENT, which is not the same thing. In my country there are more male authors on school literature programs than female ones, but hey, we’re mostly dealing with historical fiction and poetry here. I can’t think of any country/nation/region before XIX century that was not sexist in any way, (except maybe the Celts and Arab world in early Middle Ages).

    Anyhow, this “just grab a woman’s book and give it a chance, for fuck’s sake” sounds off. It’s not fair to compare women literature industry with women gaming industry. I haven’t seen USA stats, but in my country I’ve yet to see a 13-30 years old male bookworm, and the number of local female authors far outweigh the male ones. I don’t think the situation is THAT much different in USA. If there’s one field of art that women rule on equal (or mostly equal) terms with men, it’s literature.

    Yeah, well… Sorry for the long rant.

  • April 30, 2014 at 7:26 AM // Reply

    If you want to offend someone, it’s best to start by insulting they care about. I agree it’s not nessisary, and perhaps even damages her argument, but if she’s trying to hurt these hatefull dickheads, calling them sexist and unorigianlal won’t work. you have to go for what they care about, now what you do.

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