Tag Archives: misogyny

Galactic Chat 61 – Kameron Hurley

In this latest episode of Galactic Chat, I get to talk to another one of my favourite writers—Kameron Hurley. I discovered her writing through the Bel Dame Apocrypha (God’s War Trilogy), one of the most original works of sci fi in recent times. But, she is also one of the leading fan writers in the spec fic community, and continues to challenge and subvert many of the things we take for granted with her blogging and essays.

As usual, my inner fanboy was fighting for control the whole time, but Kameron still managed to deliver a fascinating interview, where she talks about everything from Dragonlance to blog tours, and other topics listed below.

Plus, you get to find out more about her amazing new series!

This week David chats with award winning author and blogger Kameron Hurley. Kameron has been nominated for the Nebula, Clarke and the BSFA, selected for the Tiptree honour list and this year won the Hugo for Best Fan Writer. Additionally, her essay “‘We Have Always Fought’: Challenging the ‘Women, Cattle and Slaves’ Narrative” also won the Hugo for Best Related Work.

Please enjoy their chat where they talk about the influences on her most famous trilogy (including a dodgy rental apartment with bugs), when authors should speak out on issues of poor or disadvantageous contracts and what’s next on Hurley’s agenda.

You can find Kameron at her website

Interviewer: David McDonald
Guest: Kameron Hurley
Music & Intro: Tansy Rayner Roberts
Post-prod.: Sean Wright
Twitter: @galactichat
Email: galactichat at gmail dot com

What can Men do about Sexual Harassment at Cons?

While it’s currently a topic getting a lot of traction on social media, harassment at conventions is hardly anything new. It’s one of those perennial subjects that comes up every so often, is discussed, but never goes away. However, this time around there seems to be a degree of openness and community engagement that goes beyond anything I have seen in my admittedly limited experience, and one can only hope that it translates into real change. Because, when I read the accounts of people’s experiences (for a good roundup that will just get you started, go here), all I can think is that the status quo is simply unacceptable. In a community that prides itself on being progressive and inclusive and generally pretty intelligent, how can these things still go on? How can the same language that was being used about women by Harlan Ellison in his introductions to stories in Dangerous Visions almost half a century ago still be cropping up in industry publications today? How can people use ignorance as an excuse when a hundred blogs or a thousand tweets lay out what is not okay every week?

Whenever this topic comes up I feel a lot of conflicting emotions. The first one is anger. I have a mother, a sister, a wife and I imagine some of these things happening to them and my blood boils. I have female friends in the community who this could easily happen to, or has happened to, and it makes me furious. But, to be honest, it also makes me very uncomfortable. I start asking myself all sorts of questions that, if I am honest here, I struggle with. I have to ask myself, what role do I play in this state of affairs? What should my response, as a man, be? I don’t feel qualified to talk about it, and I wonder whether I should just keep out of it. I don’t want to be one of those people who simply echo what all the cool people are talking about in attempt to look good. So, I sit here and stay quiet. But, then I realise that like in most things in life, when faced with something I don’t want to do, if I feel I should be doing something but am trying to find reasons not to then that’s a good sign that I should do it.

But, what can I do? I’m only one person, and fairly insignificant in the scheme of things – I am not a publisher, an editor or a big name author. It’s hard to believe I can effect major change in our community, or in the world. So, all I can do is control my own behaviour, and change how I act, or don’t act. But, what are the things I am doing, or trying to do? I’ve made a little list, but first, a disclaimer. I don’t claim to be in anyway an example of how men should be, or to live up to the things on the list or to be anyway trying to come from a position of authority on this. Like anyone, I fall short, am a hypocrite at times, and generally have no idea how to go about most things in life. I guess this post is not “What can men do?” but “what can I do?” This is simply stuff I find useful , maybe it will be food for thought or encourage someone else to make their own list.

1. Empathise

Often when something is outside our own experience, it is hard to understand how it can matter so much to someone. I’ve been to about six cons now, and at every single one I have experience behaviour, that if you sat down and described it, could be considered sexual harassment. It’s pretty easy for me to simply laugh it off, or even to be flattered by it, but I need to understand not everyone can do that, or should do that. I am 6’3” and I can’t remember the last time I felt worried for my physical safety. Sexual harassment is not constant background noise in my life, if it happens, it is an aberration. And, fortunately, my worth as human being is not judged by my appearance or my physical attributes. Thinking about what it would be like to have to worry about all those things, constantly, is a sobering experience.

2. Self Examination

It’s human nature to be able to see the mote in our neighbour’s eye while ignoring the beam in our own. We don’t want to believe that we might be part of the problem; it’s much easier to blame it on “other men”. What I try and do is be willing to take a look at my own behaviour. Every time this issue is raised, or I read a blog post that gets me thinking, that should be an opportunity for some self examination. Am I doing some of the things that people are talking about, or that I condemn in other people?

3. Being willing to be called on your behaviour

No matter how hard we try, we all make mistakes. I don’t think that is unforgivable, it’s how we deal with it. Last year, someone whose opinion I trust told me they felt I had crossed a line. I was mortified, I am still embarrassed to think about it. But, the truth is that I would much rather be told so I knew and could avoid doing the same thing again. If I had reacting with hostility, or dismissively, then that person would probably not feel comfortable talking to me about it the next time I stuffed up. If it is a choice between being a guy that people will tell to his face when he makes a mistake, or the guy that women talk about when handing out warnings, I know which one I would rather be.

4. Realise it is not about you

Sometimes when people talk about instances of sexual harassment, or tell you that something you did was wrong, it is hard to understand what the big deal was. You might think that was just flirting, or they are being over sensitive, or whatever. But, that is to miss the point. Everyone has their own triggers and boundaries, and crossing those is what makes it harassment. It’s not about what you think is acceptable, it is what they think that matters. Whether you think something is harmless or not, if you know it is going to upset someone and you still do it that makes you a bit of a dick. No one has a right to force their own standards of behaviour on someone else, and act like they are the one with the problem if they get upset. But, as I said, it is easier to blame someone else, than blame ourselves.

5. Erring on the side of caution

As I said in the point above, people have different ideas of what is okay. Like many other people in our community, I am not really good at the whole social interaction thing, or reading the signals and cues that people give. I often don’t know what the appropriate response or action is in a given situation so I can understand how some men are genuinely confused about what is okay (though I do think some men use that as an excuse). My solution is to err on the side of caution.

As an example, I am perfectly fine with being hugged. But, no matter how well I know someone, I try not to be the person who initiates a hug because for some people being touched is not cool. If they make that decision, though, that is fine. Obviously, once you know someone and they regularly hug that is different because you know what their boundaries are, but that initial call is up to them. That way, even if I am not sure how they would feel about it, I know I am not going to inadvertently cross a line.

I think this lends itself to lots of situations. Some people would be happy having you compliment their outfit, others would see that as sleazy. In some scenarios, offering to buy someone a drink is okay (even welcome – writers love to drink!), in others it would be threatening. If you aren’t sure how it will be taken – don’t do it.

I am lucky that I am married and therefore don’t need to worry about trying to flirt with people, but I would assume the same rules apply. If you aren’t sure whether someone is interested, I would see it as better to play it safe.

As I said, I suck at social cues but I still try and be observant. If I am having a conversation with someone and they keep looking at their watch or around for other people, that’s probably a good sign that I need to change the topic or move on. Again, I think it better to leave people wanting more of your company than insisting on hanging around even when you aren’t sure if they want you to.

6. Keep your eyes and ears open

Since I have become a little more aware of some of the bad things that happen at cons, I have tried to be a bit more observant about what is going on. I can be very oblivious to social undercurrents, but I try and keep an out for things that aren’t what they should be. It might be someone getting a bit loud or aggressive, or a bit too touchy, but if you spot a problem early enough you can often head off trouble before it happens. It might just mean keeping an eye on them, or making sure that they aren’t alone with anyone, or even just hinting they should settle down. But, if you don’t pay attention to what is going on around you then you can end up getting a nasty surprise.

7. Be willing to act

This is the one that I struggle with the most. I live in constant fear of committing some social faux pas and looking stupid, or interfering in something that is none of my business. The fact that I am relatively new on the scene doesn’t help, lots of people have known each other for years, or even decades, and often I have no idea of their history with one another, or the dynamics of their relationships. This means it is sometimes hard to work out whether people are messing around or not. But, the alternative to perhaps embarrassing myself if I get it wrong is turning a blind eye and allowing harassment. Inaction is a form of complicity, after all.

So, what I try and do is give some the option of an out from a conversation or situation and leave it up to them whether they take it. As an example, I was at a con and I saw what seemed to be a situation where a female friend was looking very uncomfortable and seemed to be cornered by a very enthusiastic male conversationalist. He was someone I am friends with, so I really didn’t know what to do, or whether I was imagining things. But, I didn’t think it would be right to abandon her and that it would be better to feel foolish than find out later I had stood by. So, I simply wandered over and, without interrupting, joined the conversation and gave her an out if needed. It really was much harder in my mind than in reality.

It might not even be direct intervention, it might just be that keeping an eye on someone or making sure you are present and in between them and your friends. Whatever it is, you need to be willing to put yourself outside your comfort zone if that’s what it takes.

There will be times when it will be hard, especially for someone like me who hates confrontation and wants to be liked. But, you can talk all you want about wanting to end harassment, but unless you are willing to act you are part of the problem.

8. Engage with the issues

What little influence I have I need to be using to try and change the community I am in. I was really proud to be part of the committee for Continuum 9 because that was a convention that was trying to bring about social change and that’s the sort of thing I want to be giving my time to. But, I can also do it in an unofficial capacity, I shouldn’t be clocking on and clocking off. I can try and influence the groups I am part of by making it clear that I don’t condone certain behaviours or language, and by acting in a certain way no matter who is watching.

9. Be a safe space

What I want is to be someone that people know will be there for them if they feel unsafe or threatened. It is not about “rescuing” helpless women, it’s about understanding I am operating from a position of privilege (big, white, male really helps) and using that privilege to help others. I have mainly talked about the treatment of women, but there are other groups who experience similar harassment and I want to do the same for them. To do that, I need to ensure that when people do express concerns I listen and don’t be dismissive, and that I make time for them, whether I am busy or partying or whatever. It also means sometimes being in conflict with others, and maybe losing friends.

10. Speaking out

Ultimately, harassment in our community will not end while people sit by and say or do nothing. As well as the women and other groups who are experiencing this, men like myself need to be standing up and speaking out against this behaviour. There is no middle ground, you are either against it or you are complicit in it. Whether that is through your actions or inactions is irrelevant.

I really didn’t want to write this post, and I am sure I have made a complete hash of it, but this is me saying that I have had enough of seeing my friends feel unsafe and unwelcome in our community. If they can’t find a home here, I don’t want to either.

Geek Tribalism and Sexism

In one of those terribly entertaining cases of foot-in-mouth that makes the internet both amusing and depressing, Tony Harris recently made some comments about female cosplayers and fake geeks that, quite rightly, caused the wrath of the web to descend upon him.

You can find two great articles here and here that either address the specific comments, or the wider issues that they spring from, and they sum it up far better than I ever could. But, there were a couple of thoughts that sprang to mind after reading the various conversations that have been sparked by this furore. I think there are actually two factors at play here.

Geek Tribalism

One of the problems is that many geeks take a perverse pride in being part of a minority, whether perceived or real. I’d suggest that there are a lot of people whose interests weren’t exactly considered cool at high school and peer group pressure and bullying created a sort of bunker mentality that endures long after school is done with. If you are getting victimised as a teenager and feel on the outer, it is only natural to form a group of your own where you can feel like you belong, and look down on those who aren’t part of group as meatheads or jocks or less intelligent so you can feel superior to the “cool crowd”. While it is natural, that doesn’t mean it is healthy, especially when you are still feeling the same way when you are in your forties.

It is hard for many geeks to accept that in many ways we have won the culture wars. Superhero movies or science fiction and fantasy based tv shows are no longer the domain of one social demographic, they are becoming increasingly acceptable in “mainstream” society, which means an influx of new fans. For some people this is threatening, when your identity is defined by being the most devoted or knowledgeable fan of a particular franchise there can be resentment of people you see as newbies coming along and suddenly claiming to be fans of “your” interest.

It’s no different than when people loved a band for years while they were below the radar getting frustrated when the band hits the charts and all of a sudden they have to share them with people they see as simply jumping on the bandwagon. I know people who will stop listening to a particular artist when they go “mainstream”, or see the new fans as “poseurs” and treat them with scorn – so it is certainly not limited to spec fic fandom! But, I think that feeling of being on the outer makes it worse, and create a more poisonous type of resentment.

I can think of two areas of my fandom where there has been a huge change in the makeup of the fanbase. The first is the fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin. Since I got involved in the fan group of these books over a decade ago, their popularity has steadily grown and the recent HBO adaptation has meant that the books are suddenly part of mainstream conversation and extremely well known.

The second is Doctor Who. Since the relaunch, and especially over the past few years, Doctor Who is perceived very differently. When I was growing up it was a bit of a laughing stock, definitely not something you were quick to share with others. Now it seems too have become rather cool, I see lots of t shirts out and about and it is even going to feature at the Proms!

As a long term fan you can look at these things and get upset about people “trespassing” on to your sphere of interest, whether it speaking contemptuously of “floobs” (people who have only seen HBO’s series and not read ASOAIF) or disparaging those who hopped on the New Who bandwagon and how they don’t get the heritage of Doctor Who, or you can be excited that something you love is getting the recognition it deserves,

As I said to Neil Gaiman when we were chatting at a party (sorry, couldn’t resist haha), I was really excited by how well attended all the Doctor Who panels I was on at Chicon were, and how there were so many tween and teens there saying that they were happy to wear their Doctor Who tshirt to school and that it didn’t make them a target of mockery. As I pointed, when I was at school that would have gotten me beaten up – and I am not exaggerating, though I am sure that is an extreme case.

I am thrilled that when people at work ask me what I did on a Sydney trip and I say that I hung out with friends from a George R.R. Martin fan group they know who George R.R. Martin is! I love seeing people on planes reading his books and being able to have a conversation about it – if they want one, of course lol

Where is the logic in being upset about being marginalised and mocked for so long, but then not welcoming the fact that all of a sudden there are suddenly lots more people who share your interests and loves, and having common ground to make more friends? As a fan I want as many people as possible to know about the things I am interested in, there is not a finite amount of enjoyment to go around that is diminished by every new person that comes along. Instead, it truly is the more the merrier, the more fans there are the more vibrant a community we can build.

Geek Sexism

While that tribalism is a bit sad and I don’t agree with it, it is understandable to a degree. But, as has been pointed out, there is an even darker side to this whole issue, and that is the double standards applied to males and females when it comes to true fans. I don’t really feel qualified to talk too much about this, and Foz and Tansy have both done a far better job than I could of addressing it, all I can talk is from my own experience. There is a great line in Tansy’s post where she says:

(Frankly in the case of many female superheroes, the concept behind the character can actually be a whole lot more empowering than the reality of the stories featuring that character.)

I am sure this is true, and I am not arguing against or even using it to prove my next point. But, it made me think of the fact that for me that it applies to the majority of comic book characters. I am a huge Superman fan, but I have read maybe three or four comic of the thousands of character arcs that have been created for him. I much prefer the prose books I have read, or Smallville, or the DCAU series. Could I tell you what happened in Action Comics #234, what the hell happened with Red and Blue? And, I think I am a hardcore Whovian but I am only about half way through New Who and I’ve never listened to any Big Finish productions.

Given all that, if you had to guess, how many times do you think I have had my credentials as a fan questioned, or my right to be on as many panels on the subjects as I have challenged? If you said zero, you would be spot on. It is hard not to think that my gender has a huge amount to do with that. And that is just not right – why should female fans have a bigger burden of proof placed on their shoulders?

I do think that a lot of this comes from the fact there is a percentage of male geeks see the opposite sex as the enemy. After a life time of slights and rejections, real or imagined, sometimes people veil hurt and vulnerability under a layer of contempt and misogyny. The way they treat women is a projection of the insecurity and self loathing they feel, after all, it is much easier to blame someone else than take ownership yourself. Rather than run risk of being rejected, they would rather be on the offensive, the only way they can feel safe is by trying to put themselves in a position of power by denigrating others.

Saying that, while you might see why they would act that way, it doesn’t make it acceptable. Like people who were bullied becoming bullies, I have never seen why you would not treat people the way you would wish to be treated yourself, if you’ve been marginalised why would you not want to be inclusive? And, treating the object of your desire in such a fashion seems rather counter-productive, it’s unlikely to make them want to spend time in your company! It’s amazing how effective treating someone like a human being, equally deserving of their own interests and opinions, is in building friendships. Funny that.

As for the treatment of female cosplayers, I think that Foz hits the nail on the head when she says:

Can we just take a moment to appreciate the fact that a straight white male comics artist – that is, a professional member of a fraternity whose members frequently get froth-mouthed with rage at the VERY SUGGESTION that maybe, just MAYBE, consistently drawing female heroes in skintight, skimpy clothes, viscerally sexualised poses and impossible bodily contortions MIGHT JUST BE a little bit sexist and demeaning – is now saying women who dress as those selfsame characters are slutty? Like, do we not see the contradiction, here? How is it fine to rabidly defend the hypersexualised portrayal of comic book heroines as being no big deal, aesthetically justified, representative of their characters, traditional and all that jazz, but then start body- and slut-shaming actual, real live women who choose to cosplay those outfits? If the costumes themselves had no overt sexual component, or if such a component was present, but ultimately benign – as most comics apologists tend to argue – then the idea that actual women could dress that way specifically to prey on the sexual sensibilities of men who like those characters should be fundamentally ludicrous, regardless of the depth and breadth of their personal comics knowledge.

Seriously, angry comic guys: you cannot have it both ways. You cannot say that female comic heroines aren’t hypersexualised, and then claim that, merely by donning their costumes, real live women are sexualising themselves, and that their primary motive for doing so must therefore be to mess with you. No. THEY’RE DRESSING THE WAY YOU INSIST ON WOMEN DRESSING, AND THEN YOU’RE SHAMING THEM FOR IT.

As a male there are lots of characters I could choose to dress up as whose bodies are not accentuated by their costumes. But, if I chose to dress up as Superman, in skin tight lycra and my underwear wantonly exposed on the outside, am I trying to entrap the innocent women around me? If you think so, you obviously haven’t seen me in lycra! What I am doing is emulating a character I admire by faithfully reproducing their outfit. The difference is, I can do it without being called a slut.

That aside, so what if women do dress up in deliberately sexy costumes? What right does anyone have to tell them that makes them less than genuine fans? Personally, there are things about cosplay that do make me uncomfortable at times, some of it does seem over sexualised and there sometimes seems to be  an unhealthy exhibitionist/voyeur dynamic going on (in a minority of cases). But that’s not their problem, that’s probably mine. Just like other things that I personally can’t get into, like the SCA or filking or LARPing, I take a live and let live approach. If dressing up in costumes makes people happy and enables them to build a community and to enjoy whatever their fandom is, who am I to stand in their way? Life is unhappy enough without curtailing people’s happiness unnecessarily and forcing your tastes on them. If it doesn’t hurt anyone else, people should be able to express their fandom the way they want without having to prove its worth to people who have elected themselves the arbiters of geekdom.

The reason why I love fandom is because my experiences of it have been of inclusivity and enthusiasm and tolerance. I want everyone to have that same experience regardless of gender or orientation or race or whatever. People like Tony Harris don’t speak for me, but I think it important that those disagree with those attitudes speak up or nothing will change.

Why I don’t feel guilty about being a straight, white male

As I have alluded to in other posts, I am very much trying to find my way when it comes to issues like feminism and privilege. While I have always tried to treat all people with the same level of respect and dignity, I have to be honest and say it was from a fairly uninformed point of view. These issues didn’t really register on my radar growing up, but this changed when I became involved in the spec fic community because, in Australia at least, these issues are a fairly constant topic of debate and discussion. For example, I remember meeting the people behind Galactic Suburbia and thanking them for changing the way I read speculative fiction because it is no exaggeration to say they had a huge part in opening my eyes to things I had always taken for granted.

So, I am well aware of my lack of knowledge, and because of that I deliberately seek out articles and blogs that might broaden my horizons. There are lots of wonderful posts out there (like this one), but sometimes the most interesting stuff, and the most offensive, can be found below the comment line. One thing that I have noticed in discussions of privilege is that a lot of straight white males seem to take any suggestion that they might have life a little easier as a personal attack. One of the more common things I hear is that they didn’t ask to be born that way, and that it isn’t their fault, so why should they feel guilty about being a straight white male and having all the advantages that come along with that?

Now, I actually agree with that argument. You can’t help how you are born, the circumstances or the genetics that you are dealt, and noone should ever judge you simply on that basis (though often those making this point don’t see the hypocrisy in applying the same judgements to others born a certain way). I don’t feel guilty (other than on realising how fortunate I am) simply due to the fact I was born in an affluent country to middle class parents, with “white skin” and a liking for the opposite sex. Why should I? It’s not something any of us have any control over. I don’t feel any personal guilt for the things that were done by my ancestors, nor do I feel that I can be held accountable for the actions of others.

So, while I don’t condone the way that this opinion is often expressed, I do understand and even agree with it. But, that is where my path diverges. You see, I think there is plenty for me to feel guilty about. Not the actions of others, or my unchosen circumstances, but the things I myself have done. I don’t take responsibility for the existence of the patriarchy, or the fact that I exist in a world of privilege. I take responsibility for the things that I have done to perpetuate them.

I feel guilty about the times when I have made racist or sexist or anything-ist jokes, or when I have laughed along or when I have simply remained silent. I feel guilty about the times when I have been cut extra slack because of my status and, through sheer laziness, taken advantage of that instead of working as hard as other people must. I feel guilty about the times I have made women feel uneasy or uncomfortable because of my obliviousness to their boundaries. And, I feel guilty about the times when I have judged how others should react to my comments or behaviour, or to their own circumstances, from the safety and security of my own place of privilege, calling them humourless or over sensitive if they dared take offense.

When I was younger I was outraged by the idea that certain groups should be treated differently to make up for past imbalances, believing that it was actually counterproductive to creating a truly equal world. But I have slowly come to the realisation that, unfortunately, hard work and ability are not all that matters, and that they not are rewarded exactly the same regardless of who you are. It’s become clear to me that sometimes, when things have been stacked against a particular group for too long, artificial measures are required to bring things back into balance. It’s not a case of punishing anyone, or rewarding mediocrity, but creating an even playing field.

An example that springs to mind is the quota system in South African cricket. I used to believe that if players were talented enough that they would make the team regardless of colour or background, but now I see that this was fairly naïve. It assumes that two players will get the same opportunities, and will face the same attitudes, but that just isn’t true. A non-white player has to overcome years of disenfranchisement, embedded prejudices and most likely had to contend with less access to opportunities and resources a player from one of cricket’s more traditional demographics. So, before skill and ability and work ethic even come into it, the latter is already out in front and more likely to be selected. The quota system is not about punishing white players or denying them their chance, not does it mean that mediocre players get into the team (just ask England!), you still have to have the talent. It’s about making sure everyone starts from the same place. Hopefully one day that will happen naturally, without need for artificial constraints, but that day is not now. Not yet.

The same thing applies to a lot of other initiatives, ones that I used to decry. Now, I have no doubt that, like any human institution or system, there are times when they are abused, or go too far. But I can see the need for them now, in a way that I never used to, because I understand that due to the nature of privilege some people are born with advantages others do not automatically receive, while others are born already behind the eight ball and will have to overcome more than I will simply to get to the same place. I can’t argue with the necessity, and the morality, of doing something to try and fix the mistakes of the past.

But, it is not enough to support these institutionalised programs. To riff on Uncle Ben, “with great privilege comes great responsibility”, and I believe that I have a responsibility to do something on an individual level, rather than leaving it to others, especially the government, to do it for me. The thing is, though, sometimes it is very hard to know what the right thing is to do or to even believe I can make any difference. At a fairly removed level, there are some things I do due to this desire. I work for an organisation that provides welfare for the most disadvantaged, and does not discriminate on the basis of race, creed, gender or orientation when it comes to employment, membership or who it helps – and I take a fairly substantial pay cut on what I might earn in corporate to do so. I sponsor some children in a country not as fortunate as my own. But, these things are not enough, they don’t require any real modifications to my day-to-day behaviour.

That’s where it counts, in the constant daily interactions I have with others. That’s why I have tried to push through things in my workplace to combat bullying and harassment, it’s why I try and be a safe space for my female friends, it’s why I try and not buy into the “guy talk” at the sporting clubs to which I belong. Note I say “try”, because I often fall short. It’s why I try and be an informed voter and informed human being. It’s why I try and spread the word about things I see online that I feel are good initiatives. It’s why I try and use what small influence I have on the world around me, whether through what I write or what I say, to change it for the better.

I don’t think that to be able to do these things that I need to be ashamed of the way I was born, nor do I think that I need to take every post pointing out examples of privilege as a personal attack. Yes, there is a minority of people who will automatically paint straight, white men as oppressors, but to use them as an argument against the idea of privilege is disingenuous at best. And, maybe they have a reason to be distrustful, it can’t be easy living in a world that seems tilted against you. I can deal with reading a few posts that are somewhat antagonistic against my “kind”, it’s certainly small potatoes compared to what someone who is gay or female or non-white has to put up with every day.

Through this journey of discovery, I have become aware that there is a lot of injustice around me, not in some far off country, but here in the lucky country. My eyes have been opened to the things that I take for granted are not the reality for too many people. The fact I can express my opinion without threats of rape or violence or being called vile names, the fact I can go out at night dressed how I please with out worrying what it might seen as an invitation to, the fact I can hold hands with my wife in public without a very real chance of a beating. All these things and more should be for everyone, and I don’t want to live in a world where they are not.

Being aware of my privilege doesn’t mean being ashamed of who I am. It means using what small power and influence my privilege gives me for good, not evil. It means, rather than perpetuating the system that gives me this privilege, and being content to reap the benefits, that I do what I can to dismantle it. It means trying to support those with less privilege than me, not in a condescending and disempowering fashion, but by listening to them and finding out what they think I should be doing.

You may think that by talking about people who get defensive whenever privilege is discussed I have merely set up a straw man, easy to knock down. All I can say to that is read below the line and see the comments that these sort of posts provoke (for a great example I would point you to the post by John Scalzi I linked to at the start of this post, who I think is an excellent example of someone operating from a position of privilege and influence trying to use those things to improve the world around him). You will soon see that there is indeed a certain type of straight white male that flocks to comment in high dudgeon. That’s not the sort of person I want to be. Do you?

Rabid Animals

I generally avoid blogging on certain topics, not because I don’t think they are important, but because I don’t feel qualified or knowledgeable enough to comment, or because I simply don’t feel I have any right to do so (cowardly of me? Perhaps. You know, I actually found writing this a bit scary*). But sometimes you read things, and they make you feel so sad or mad or depressed (or all of the above) that you simply must say something.

Amidst the furore created by Christopher Priest’s comments on the Arthur C. Clarke Awards were a number of excellent posts, one of which by Catherynne M. Valente really stood out for me, where she discussed how Mr Priest could get away with a lot more by virtue of being male. It is an excellent and thought provoking piece, and I suggest you read it, but it is actually her follow up post that really hit home for me and made me want to write this post.

You really should read the whole thing. But there are bits that leap out at you and grab you by the head and shake you.

The fact is, to be a woman online is to eventually be threatened with rape and death. On a long enough timeline, the chances of this not occurring drop to zero.

This is not exaggeration for the purposes of making a point. It is simply a fact. It’s one of the main reasons why I don’t read below the comment line on many blogs because the amount of hatred and vitriol make my stomach churn, and, while it gets directed at men too, it is undeniable that when it comes to women it goes up a whole other level.

Chris Priest can say what he says not only because he is a giant in his field (Sady Doyle is barely less prominent in hers, and while I do think that harsh criticism goes down better when it’s not the authors in the field at hand who do it, both Sady and Requires are not SF authors of any stripe) but because he is a man. And we respond to it with some anger, but mostly reasoned philosophical or humorous posts, macros, examining what it means, the value of juried awards, defending the authors and jurors but mostly accepting what he said as either a sad gesture by an old man, a hilarious and miserable rant, or valuing that at least someone cares that much–even wishing someone would go equally ballistic about a different award. There is a marked lack of viciousness–and what he said was every bit as bad as some of the stuff that gets Requires Only That You Hate a fever pitch of loathing and seething fury just about every time she posts.

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