Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Beat Goes On: Kumbaya Mode, The Tone Argument, and Stompy Godzilla Socks

I sat on this one for a day because...I'm still broken like that. I might look like I'm all Pulling Up The Stompy Godzilla Socks, but deep inside I'm still immersed in the system, still unpacking what it means to be a Good Girl and not be the Good Girl all at the same time, still caught by The Noise.

Who are you? Who are you, to think you're anything in this industry? You haven't even made the pre-requisite to join SFWA yet, and here you are, thinking you can have an opinion on how things go? You're a tadpole, you're not professional, you're not being nice, and you know what happens to girls who aren't nice. They don't get anywhere. Hells, I know I invoke Joanna Russ far too often, but she's my bloody patronus. And she's sitting on my other shoulder, giving the stink eye.

I can't link to the post that started my mind boiling between the 50-50 of "Be Cool" and "You fucking WHAT?!" because...apparently people aren't being nice enough, and it's been removed (I'll get back to that in a moment). Mmm hmm. So here's editor and critic Natalie Luhrs round up and dissection, including screenshots of the original article: How Not to Have a Conversation: A Case Study

Here's how it lies: author and editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt wrote a seemingly innocuous call for civility in the current debate about sexism and racism within SFWA, including admonitions that if people didn't behave People With Power in the industry would start taking names and stop writing cheques. Can't we all just get along? Because if we don't, here's a black list, y'all.

Wow. Oh but wait, it was just gentle advice. Stupid me, reading too much into anything (gaslighting!). Like that's never been held over women and PoC as a silencing tactic, ever. Says SL Huang in "SFF Community, Please Make It So I can Stop Blogging Angrily About You":
Women, POC, and other marginalized people are constantly, constantly told to brush things off, to not make a stink, to be more “professional.”  To the point at which every time someone is sexist or racist or homophobic or diminishing towards us, we question whether we should speak up.  We question whether our own careers would suffer if we objected.  More often than not, we swallow hard and opt for being polite.  Ninety percent of the fucking time.
[...]
You know what?  I’m sick of hearing that speaking up about sexism or racism will damage someone’s career.   I’m just sick of it.  Does Schmidt not realize that women and POC live with that same Sword of Damocles every single time we open our mouths? Does it not occur to him that this threat always hovers in our minds, and when we take a public stand, we do so despite it?  Does he think he is somehow revelatory in shaking his finger at us this way? 
I was demure for a moment, I couldn't help it. I'm still a flailing noob around this joint. I want to make a point without stepping on toes. And then I remembered my patronus made a career out of stepping on toes, coz it's the only damn way she could cross the troll bridge. I got angry - not just at myself for letting my stupid socialization kick in, but at people like BTS thinking they have some sort of control over the conversation, over that bridge. Dammit, I will make my point, and I'll do it in my fiction as well. There are people out there who are supportive, who want this change too.

Says Luhrs:
telling people who are angry that they shouldn’t be talking about their anger is a silencing tactic. It is simply not possible for anyone to ever be as calm and as civil as Schmidt would like them to be–when the tone argument and silencing are deployed together, there is no winning.  Schmidt is simply not willing to have the conversation and he’s  attempting to shut it down. Because it doesn’t meet his standards.
This silencing tactic is called "Kumbaya Mode": hush little ones, if you don't stop arguing in the back seat, we'll just stop this car right now, and you'll have to walk the rest of the way. I mean, I know someone has done or said something really egregious that's actually harmful to your existence, informed by cultural privilege, and threatens your inclusion in a community, but is that really a reason to be so loud and angry? (hint: great oozing gobs of sarcasm right there).

It's not about readjusting a conversation that's got "out of control", it's about realigning the tone of the situation to something the person is more comfortable with. They're invoking tropes of "hysterical women" and "animalistic/savage PoC". As Luhrs points out, "rabid jungle cats" is absolutely loaded with intersectional meaning, anthropomorphizing ergo dehumanizing a woman's outrage into simple cattiness, a PoC's anger at their treatment into animal-like status. A quaint little throwaway joke, that's actually just piling on more of the same shit.

BTS refused to link to Jemisin's GoH speech about Reconciliation  because the speech was the wrong tone and divisive to him. He removed comments that critiqued his stance, then shut down moderation, THEN completely removed the post all together because he had better things to do, and the conversation was so "exhausting". If he wants to do that, fine. It's his space, he can do whatever he wants with it and his time - marginalized people who blog are acutely aware of burn out because of having to deal with the same shit different day.

But here's the thing: that's not a conversation, it's a perfect example of the Tone Argument, realigning things away from the people with an actual grievance. If you're going to do that, you better be prepared for criticism of such tactics. Taking your toys and going home is not an option, not when others are invested in seeing the problem through to the end.

You know what's really exhausting? PoC, women and other marginalized people being shit on by their chosen industry on a daily basis. Being told to shut up, lest we screw our careers. Threats. Harassment. Abuse. Hate Mail. Exclusion. Living with the weight of one more straw (man? camel?). Being told to eat that shit and like it because we don't center the conversation on white men's feelings.

As so many people have been pointing out, there's the egregious hate speech you can pin a tail on, and there's the insidious drive by stuff. Be nice. Be calm. Be rational. Because lords knows there's no rationality in being angry about pervasive, institutionalized, historic, systemic problems (hint: that gobby sarcasm is squidging across the floor, becoming sentient).

No. It is absolutely possible to be rational and angry at the same time (when dudes do it, it's "righteous anger"; when women do it, it's "hysteria"...and when genderqueer people do it, it's...?). No. It's not possible to remove someone's gender, their skin colour, their queerness from the debate - because that's all it is, you want them to be more like the default. No. If you're playing devil's advocate, your silence or attempt at balance works in favour of the elephant - bigots see silence as assent.

To quote Luhrs:
let me tell you something: you don’t get to set the terms of engagement. You don’t get to tell POC and women that they shouldn’t be so angry and that they need to calm down.  You have, more than likely, gone through life with the implicit understanding that people will at least pretend to listen to you and you have also, more than likely, gone through life assuming that you are the intended audience.  You probably haven’t been told, over and over again, to sit down and shut up and wait your turn–except your turn never comes.
You know what? We are taking our turn.
I've been feeling like a broken record lately.  It's still hard to remind myself, every day: I can say no, it's not right to treat people like this, I can have a say in the make up, the depth of the community I want to be involved in. It's not okay any more to wait for the room to be made.

I hate feeling like I'm not welcome in a place I love. I know people are working hard to make things better, but I still hate feeling like things have barely moved an inch even with all that good work. I want to be putting my energy into writing, want other incredible authors to have that energy too, not arguing that we should be allowed to write, arguing that we are human beings with strong desires. And if you're scared of those desires, then that's a pity because you're missing out on so much beautiful and interesting diversity, but don't take it out on the people trying to make a difference, to their own lives and those of others.

Keep on, keeping on. And the mental image of Joanna Russ in Stompy Godzilla Socks is such a great one. It keeps me going.

More Good Reading:
Karina Cooper via Chuck Wendig's Terrible Minds - The Silent Majority: Fear of Sexism is a Misogynist's Best Friend
ETA: Kate Elliot Storified Thoughts on #SFCivility

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