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?