Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Return of the Girl Cooties

So, there's a SF&F critic and reviewer named Liz Bourke. She's sharp, she's witty, she's cutting, she's a little bit Russ, and she does it all with charm and smooth grace.

She's also a she.

Combine that with critique of male writers and sexist tropes in SF&F and whoops whaddya know...the mansplainers are out in force.

In just one week Bourke has managed to lovingly stir the pot in two articles. The first was a review of Michael J. Sullivan's 'Theft of Swords' at Strange Horizons. The second was an essay about women in military science fiction at

Get out your bingo cards people, the comments on both articles are chock full of the usual eye rolling obfuscation and justification. Tone argument! How dare Bourke point out sexism in SF&F! The author/s can't be sexist, they're nice guys! The author/commenters can't be sexist here is a mansplanation of their privilege and extensive life experience! What does she know, what are HER qualifications anyway! Reverse sexism! Etcetera etcetera and would someone please throw "How to suppress women's writing" at these people?

Psst, small note. Just because an author employs gender tropes doesn't mean they're sexist. It means they playing by culture rules they may never have had to challenge. However, if said author comes out swinging in justification of using said harmful tropes, then it's open season.

Sexists don't like being called on their bullshit, as Shaun Duke and Jen Zink at the Skiffy and Fanty Show podcast have discovered (yay, I'm so glad to discover a new podcast talking about cool SF&F stuffz!). Duke and Zink got stuck right in, taking author Tom Kratman to task for his epic derailing and take over of Bourke's Tor piece. Kratman was eventually banned from commenting by Tor moderators because no one else could get a word in edgewise with his passive aggressive, essay length comments, and he became abusive (abusive comments deleted, so the content of which is unknown). Thwarted, Kratman is now taking his aggression out on Duke and Zink at their place, because heaven knows after someone has been told to "please, very kindly, you're being an ass, shut up" the thing you HAVE to do is abuse MORE people.

Here we have a perfect example of How Not To Do Social Media Promotion For Writers 101: don't comment in reviews or essays you are cited and critiqued in. If you must, use your publicist to correct a misquote or fact. No, it doesn't matter how slighted or wrongheaded you think the author is being, Do Not Engage. JUST DON'T GO THERE. You'll end up flapping your ass in the wind just like Kratman, and other authors before. Throwing a tantrum in public is just not cool.

Sullivan refrained from commenting in the Strange Horizons review, whether because he didn't know about it or he's a smarter cookie, I don't know. However, his fans leaped to his defence with the usual bingo spots and mansplaining until the moderators had to step in. Come on nerdbois, stop proving the stereotype of sexist genre fans more.

My take away from the Tor essay episode is that I will certainly not buy or read any of Kratman's work, because I'm not interested in supporting people who feel it is their duty to scold authors, critics or academics in public who call them on their overwrought gender tropes, especially if said author, critic or academic is a woman.

If a woman says "that's not the way our gender works, we're tired of being misrepresented, here's how it can be better", it is a male author/fan's duty to listen to our superior experience at being female. We don't need yet another toy chucking episode and being told they know BETTER about the female experience because they're married to one, have a daughter, have a mother, perhaps are some ally, think their cultural experiences justified and upheld by the patriarchy are the "truth", or (cough) know about the female experience through fiction because ALL female characters are like that so they're a representation...or something... (Ahem, yeah, seriously? As in those tropes we're trying to deconstruct because they're harmful?).

Look, I know it hurts to have privilege challenged. You don't think you're sexist because you've done good things according to the arbitrary rules of a kyriachal society. Heaven knows being called a sexist is far worse than being target of a sexist system, and we must wipe that stain clean! I don't want to see another rant about some minute detail, we've seen it all before, and it's tiring, we want to move beyond that. But if someone is asking you to check your representation of women in SF&F and confer with women about said representation, you don't spend all your time questioning the critic's pedigree with passive aggressive epic rants. You stop and think "Holy shit, maybe I've hurt someone. Perhaps my thinking could be better!" Then you listen, or better yet, educate yourself (because we're not always going to have the teaspoons to do this).

Women authors, fans, and critics aren't just pointing fingers, but after historic and systemic exclusion and erasure from the genre, is it any wonder they're angry and have a right to do so? Come on, it's 2012, we shouldn't have to start from scratch with every damn discussion about gender in the genre. We want our genre to be BETTER, and that requires listening to the people who have better experience at Being Women. And that's Women.

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