Friday, June 6, 2014

Things I Saw on The Internet This Week (6.6.14)

Some weeks I drift along completely oblivious to the current memes, gossip and trending stories of the interwebs. And other weeks, every time I turn the computer on I see something that is important (in some fashion). Since this has been one of those weeks, and some of what I read will be the subject of forthcoming blog posts, here's a kind of heads about what I saw that intrigued and/or angered me. (And one thing that is just amusing.)

First (and these are not in order of when they happened) Jonah Hill. So, I missed the fact that apparently he got chased around by a paparazzi and then used a homophobic slur. I did see some of the coverage of his apology. Notably this article from The A.V. Club. What's interesting to me about that particular article, and Hill's apologies, is the fact that he admits that there is never a good reason to use that sort of language. There's no "Well, I didn't mean it that way, I was just angry," excuse. Which is a far cry from many apologies that amount to nothing more than "I'm sorry you were offended." It can be hard for anyone to apologize for doing something stupid or mean. But it's even harder when you're in the spotlight to not be defensive about being human. I think Hill handles it quite admirably and does what is so very difficult for any of us by saying "I'm sorry, I was offensive."

Next, a trollish piece of nonsense by Michael Kozlowski about "female authors". Weather wizard (and author) John Scalzi - who is always on the lookout for issues that concern decent human beings - talked about this a bit on Twitter (@scalzi) as did a number of other authors both of the male and female persuasion. I don't have much to add, other than this. If you have been in a marriage, especially one that is a good and strong marriage, you know that it is not a 50/50 split on effort, investment and reward. (In fact, when my husband and I got married we were told not to think in terms of each giving 50% to reach the 100% mark on marriage. The only way for it to work is to constantly strive for 100% individually.) You also know that when you are supporting your partner you don't think about whether or not he/she is bringing in the same amount of money or spending as much time at home or helping the kids with their homework. You just support him/her because you know that at some point the shoe will be on the other foot. Because that's how marriage works.

Also, there is still a lot of discussion about issues relating to violence against women, abuse, bullying and misogyny. Both in general and specifically in relation to the #yesallwomen hashtag. You can (and should) read Carrie Cuinn's harrowing and heartfelt blog post about it. And then read Zaron Burnett III's A Gentleman's Guide to Rape Culture. It is less uncomfortable to read, but equally thought provoking. Especially interesting in that he touches on the idea that rape culture is not just "rape", but also the acceptance of attitudes that allow rape to be a normal part of society.

Back in the realm of "mostly stupid" was this article by Ruth Graham in which she informs adult readers of YA books that they should be embarrassed. I mention it mostly because there is always someone (or a group of someones) who want to make themselves feel better by pointing out that what they read is better than what you read. We've seen this before with genre vs mainstream, genre vs literary, mainstream vs literary, classics vs contemporary, romance vs womens fiction. You name it and someone has probably said something snarky and ridiculous about why X is superior to Y. Good books are good books, folks. It doesn't matter who they are MARKETED to. (And it's important to note that YA is not a genre it's a category and is more about business than content.) So, read what you like, apologize to none.

And last, because some of this week was pretty heavy: A lovely collection of GIFs of cats being silly.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

(Not) Writing Rape As Conflict

A couple of years ago, I let another writer friend beta a short story I was working on. In it, there was a scene in which my female MC was attacked by some sleezy men traveling in her party, but her main ally and another supporting character stop the attempted rape and Yarrow is saved. (It's a sword and sorceress thing with a dragon and dark magic and stolen souls turned into little ash gremlins.) And my friend, who is very wise, said "I'm not fond of rape as conflict."

And I was like "Huh. Well, okay." And set the story aside while I thought of a different way to add conflict to the scene without it revolving around "You pretty girl. Me horny and despicable man. I will take advantage of you." (I did, eventually, figure it out and the story is much stronger for the change in conflict. Thank you, beta-reader friend.) At the time, I just figured "Rape is kind of a triggery thing for some women. I can see how it makes a dubious point of conflict."

Then Hugh Howey wrote his infamous "The Bitch at Worldcon" post. And then retracted it. And some other folks talked about misogyny at SF/F conventions and few women who spoke up about their experiences received threats. Threats of violence and threats of rape.

And that's when it started to click. See, there are a lot of fantastic men out there. And then there are the guys who are so entrenched in a misogynistic view of the world that they can only view women in terms of providing some sort of sexual gratification for men. These are men that, when confronted with an opposing viewpoint voiced by a woman, can only respond with "I will fuck you into silence."


That, folks, is a problem.

The fact that even one troll on the internet can say that and not have the wrath of all that is right in the world fall on his head, is a problem. The fact that these kinds of threats are common, is a problem. The fact that this sort of behavior happens in real life and not just in the semi-anonymous realm of the internet, is a problem.

And when I realized that, I also realized why my friend had a problem with rape as conflict. Because it feeds right into the monster that only values women as an object for sexual gratification. Because it says that even in a fictional world the best way for a man to "put a woman in her place" is to fuck her. Because it puts that image in our heads one more time that a man can best dominate and subdue a woman by fucking her.

And you know what I said?
"Well, fuck that."

So, I made myself a promise that I would find other ways to put my female characters in conflict. (And it doesn't mean that rape is something that doesn't exist in my fictional worlds, because it does. But I'm working hard to make it an aberration and a last resort for conflict with any central character, while at the same time realizing that some men will never see women as anything more than a sex object and making sure those characters get what they deserve. Fictionally, of course.)

Quite frankly, it's meant rewriting several older projects because rape as conflict is an ingrained trope. But taking it out, putting in conflict that is actually... conflict, has only served to make my stories stronger. It's made my characters stronger and given the women in my stories a better sense of agency. They no longer exist to fall prey to the villainous and sexual urges of the antagonist. They have worth and skills and strengths that make them a legitimate threat.  

It's a small step, but I know it's a step in the right direction.