A year ago I went to Bumbershoot, and wrote this, but didn’t post it:
I didn’t want to have to tell you this, Bumbershoot, but this year you kind of sucked.
I know, it’s hard. You’ve had a lot of turmoil, a lot of difficulty, one budget crisis after another. But is that really a good reason to jack up the single day at-the-door prices from $70 to $109? The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage festival (from which you could learn a lot) is $70 at the door next year. Are you better than Jazzfest? No, you are not. You have no business being considerably more expensive. What are you doing wrong, such that your prices are so inflated? Where is that money going? Does somebody have a cocaine problem?
And not opening the gates until 1:30 pm was ridiculous. It felt cheap, and after paying those kinds of admission prices, like a slap in the face. Also, it seemed like a blow to your food vendors, by not opening the gates until after peak lunch time.
Speaking of a blow to your food vendors, what the hell was up with that? There were hardly any of them, and they were in the wrong place. A bunch of tedious-looking corporate booths were squatting in the space where the food booths should have been. Most of my old favorites were either missing or un-findable.</p>
Maybe you were trying for better traffic flow by putting the bulk of the food booths over in what used to be the Fun Forest, but I don’t think it worked. And I don’t know what actual sales figures are like, but it felt sparsely populated, as if I wasn’t the only person who had trouble figuring out where the food booths were.
Actually, everything felt sparsely populated. There was one point where my companion and I were standing, eating, in an empty area that’s usually a crowded area. But we saw about a dozen different groups of people in Staff Pro T-shirts go past. Sometimes it felt like there was more paid staff than attendees. Was that where all the money went?
It certainly didn’t go to the beer gardens. Those were terrible, the WORST ever, and I am not exaggerating even a little. They were sponsored by Budweiser, and what you could get there was tallboys of Bud Light, plus tallboys of a few crappy beers and ciders that Anheuser-Busch happens to own. For $8 each. Or, you could pay $9 for wine. That was it. This is Seattle, chumps, ground zero for fancy hipster beer. You cannot feed us Bud Light and expect us to just suck it up.
We waited in a ridiculously long line to get into the beer garden (even though everything seemed sparsely populated, everything also had a really long line. Neat trick, that.). We drank one glass of wildly overpriced chardonnay each, and left in disgust.
Instead, we sat drinking beer in the porch area of one of the Armory vendors, as a kind of do-it-yourself beer garden. True, we couldn’t see The Cave Singers from there, but then, we couldn’t really see the stage from the beer garden either, thanks to an ill-advised re-orientation.</p>
The sound from the Fisher Green stage was pretty good, though. I will give them that.
But nothing felt right, and none of the changes were an improvement. The wristbands with RFID chips were terrible, and seemed to be part of the reason for the long lines, as they took forever to register. The later start time made me feel like I was getting a lot less entertainment for a lot more money, which is never a good bet. The overbearing presence of the staff felt weirdly hostile, and might have contributed to an overall lack of a certain ineffable feeling — sponteneity, creativity, fun, whatever you want to call it — some essential spirit of Bumbershoot that was just not there.
I’ve been going to this festival since the 80s. The food booths and vendors and stages and beer gardens are like old friends. This year it felt like my friends had been replaced by the smiling soulless aliens from The World’s End.
I’m not one for declaring absolutes — like, “I’m never going to Bumbershoot again.” But I’m not sure if I’m going next year, unless I have reliable reports that you have fixed some of these problems.
As predicted, I didn’t go to Bumbershoot this year, although I really didn’t make that decision until I was underwhelmed by the music lineup. I don’t know, I’ve seen reports that seem to indicate a bunch of kids went and had a good time. Maybe it’s all kids from now on, as only people who’ve never been to Bumbershoot before would be able to attend without comparing it to better, cheaper Bumbershoots of the past.
And at that point I have to ask myself, is it better for Bumbershoot to survive as something I never want to go to again, or to die out completely? There’s a part of me that is absolutely convinced there’s no way Bumbershoot could possibly survive, after alienating so many old-timers and die-hards. But I’m probably wrong. It’s just going to continue on, having a good time without me.</p>
Halfway through the final week — we’re really in the home stretch now! (At the actual workshop, this was the point where we started painting each others’ toenails.) Accomplishment-wise, week 5 was kind of a mixed bag. I was on vacation for my birthday and was hoping to check two of my remaining goals off the list. But I actually got less writing done than in a normal work week.
I think this was because my writing strategy was “optimistically carry my iPad around all day with its brand new copy of Scrivener installed and hope vaguely to snatch a few minutes to myself at some point.” It needed to be a lot more definite. More like, “from x time to x time I am parked at that Starbucks/cantina/tiki bar yonder. Do not bug me unless something is on fire.” I only managed to do that on one day. So I made progress on the three remaining goals, but didn’t check anything off.
I already knew I wasn’t going to get much writing done on my birthday, which I spent at Disneyland with my family. On that day I also got a rejection notice. Really, universe? On my birthday? Yes, on my birthday. You can say it was my fault for checking e-mail, but I was in line for the Matterhorn at the time, and it was hot, and even at Disneyland waiting in line can get kinda boring. We were expecting to be joined by other family members who were with my nieces on a kid-friendly ride with a shorter line. So I was in three wait states: waiting for family, waiting for the ride, and waiting to get back into the shade. Like most people nowadays, I tend to fill awkward wait states by looking at stuff on my pocket computer.
Then, right after I got a rejection notice, they told us the Matterhorn had to shut down for a while. Universe, are you just messing with me at this point? All right, I can take a hint. I’m going off to Downtown Disney for a margarita.
I spent most of the rest of that day just trying to have a good time and not think about rejection. But then a couple of days later I got another rejection. (TWO REJECTIONS DURING MY BIRTHDAY WEEK UNIVERSE I KNOW YOU ARE JUST MESSING WITH ME NOW)
I decided to try using it as a teaching experience.
Clarion West teaches you a lot of the things you need to know in order to become a professional writer. But it does NOT teach you how to deal with rejection. By the time you are sitting there in that classroom, you have probably been rejected a few times, maybe even by the workshop itself. But you’re only sitting there because this time you weren’t rejected. This time you got in, you made it.
During the workshop you have to deal with other things that might feel a bit like rejection, like that one week nobody (including you) likes your story. And you probably get some moral support about the rejection process, by talking to other people who Get It. You know, when you find out a writer who’s MUCH BETTER THAN YOU still also gets rejected, that’s a little comforting. When you meet editors and find out they’re regular people who love fiction and not otherworldly monsters who are going out of their way to torture you, that’s also a little comforting.
Learning the art of taking a step back from your own fiction, trying to see it from an outsider’s point of view, helps rejection feel less like a small piece of your fragile soul getting shredded by a cruel universe, and more like this thing that just happens, an inevitable (if less pleasant) part of the process. I mean, the very act of living has a lot of unpleasantness associated with it, right? You’re gonna cry every time you stub your toe or have a cold or open the food and yard waste bin and it’s full of maggots and smells like death?
But there’s no way to replicate, in the workshop, the actual act of sending out a piece of fiction and getting a rejection. Maybe it wouldn’t be a good idea anyway. You can only learn so many things at one time. What can anybody else even tell you about how to deal with rejection? Most advice I see is along the lines of “I know it hurts, but get over it.”
Which… I can’t really argue with that, but… it doesn’t help me DO it. And then I get to feel like a double failure, because not only was my work rejected, but also, I’m a whiny little baby who completely lacks whatever inner fortitude is required to get over it. I don’t even know what getting over it looks like.
I try to imagine it, of course. I tell myself things like “even the best stories of all time have usually been rejected at some point.” And then I think about A Confederacy of Dunces, and how John Kennedy Toole killed himself and it was his mother who actually had that fortitude, and I just get depressed again.
I make analogies. Rejection feels like getting stabbed in the gut. Trying to deal with it feels like trying to cauterize a wound. And a part of me stands back and folds her arms and raises her eyebrows and says, “Wow, you are soooooo melodramatic about this. Is your writing self, like, fifteen years old or something?”
YEAH PROBABLY MY WRITING SELF IS THE MOPIEST OF ALL MOPEY TEENAGERS.
I felt disappointed when we didn’t get on the Matterhorn, too, but it didn’t threaten to ruin my day.
Why are these things so different? Because one involves my — ego, I guess. My identity. Hey, I go on the Matterhorn or not, whatever. It’s fun if I do. I can fret a little about how spendy Disneyland has gotten, and now that you pay a per-day fee, it’s actually worth less on crowded days, and by the way, why is it so crowded today, it’s like 95 degrees outside, why is my birthday in July, I should never have come here in July, I should have celebrated my birthday some other time of year, I should have known it would be hot, I would get a sunburn, am I getting a sunburn? Probably. I think I sweated off all my sunblock. Is this line even moving? This whole trip was a mistake. I should never have come. What was I thinking? Southern California in July. All my plans fail. I should never do anything. I should find a shady spot and just sit there for the rest of my life. Which won’t be very long if I don’t get, you know, water and stuff. And I’ll get bored. I know I will. And they’ll kick me out of the park also. I mean, if I’m just sitting there. They’ll be like, hey, the park is closed, get a move on.
Where was I?
Oh yeah. Rejection. I don’t know how people deal with it. Does it ruin everybody’s day? Does it ruin your day at first and then if you do it enough you get used to and it only ruins your day little bit? Is that my problem? I flee in the face of rejection every single time, and never develop the necessary scar tissue?
Getting a work of fiction rejected — when you’re not counting on fiction sales to pay the rent, anyway — should be no more disappointing than not getting on the Matterhorn.
Maybe the problem is that our culture does not teach us how to fail. “It’s okay if you try and don’t make it” is not a message we get. Instead we get “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” “Do or do not, there is no try.” Everything is high stakes, winner take all, zero tolerance. We don’t tell stories about the people who come in second. We’re only half-joking when we talk about a silver medal as “losing.”
But in order to learn, you have to be able to fail. Otherwise you’ll never step out of your comfort zone. You’ll never stop doing only the things you’ve already mastered, which doesn’t exactly lead to more areas, or higher levels of mastery. Little failures are the path to success.
But rejection — of any kind — feels different than other kinds of failure. It feels more personal. And I guess it is more personal, in a way, since rejection is based on a person who is not you making a decision that affects your life. Getting fiction rejected feels like a combination of being turned down for a job and being turned down for a date. It can feel like somebody telling you that you’re just not good enough, fundamentally, as a person. But that is almost never what people mean to be telling you, especially not when it comes to your fiction. I mean, you might turn somebody down for a date or a job if they seem like an unpleasant jerk in person, but most of the time, even if an editor knew you were a jerk, they wouldn’t care.
So why does it feel so personal? Like somebody taking an extra-sharp microplane cheese grater to my soul? (Those things really hurt, by the way.)
I dunno. Because I care, I guess. And maybe because I’ve always had been afraid that there’s just something… you know… wrong with me. When I was young, the other kids let me know I was a weirdo, my church let me know I was going to hell, and my society showed me what was “normal” and I couldn’t find myself there. I think a lot of us take to fiction because we feel like freaks, and fiction helps. Sometimes it tells us, “you’re not actually a freak, here’s a story about somebody who’s a lot like you in all these ways you thought nobody was like you.” Sometimes it tells us, “don’t worry if you’re a freak, freaks are great!” Sometimes it tells us, “when you look at the vast infinitude of all that has ever been and all that could be, the very concept of ‘freak’ vs ‘normal’ vanishes.”
But, freak or not, all of us like getting pats on the head. We like being told “yes, yes, you’re good enough after all.” Some areas of my life — schoolwork, say — were always pretty reliable sources of head-pats, so they became core parts of my identity. Other things, like my many hobbies, were always low-stakes, so that success was satisfying and failure didn’t seem like much of a loss.
Writing is a dumb thing to hang my identity on, I guess, in that equation. Sure, you get a pat on the head sometimes. But then you get a taser blast. And the flick of a whip made from razor wire. And a glass of broken glass to swallow. And a hundred fishing weights sewn into the flesh of your back. (Okay, obviously, I’m not talking about rejection anymore, I’m talking about the Jim Rose Circus Sideshow.) What you get is rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection rejection success! rejection rejection…
Getting good reviews means you also get bad reviews. Getting a book published doesn’t mean your publisher won’t go out of business. Failure is built in. Part of the job. Inevitable.
So why do it?
I don’t know. I guess I do it for the same reason it hurts: because I care, because I think it matters. It’s a feedback loop. Maybe everything in life is a feedback loop.
I have a new goal for the remaining two days of the workshop: find a ritualized coping mechanism for dealing with rejection, something other than tequila and self-pity.
Saint Expedite, can you help me?
I’ll come back again next week, with my Week 6 conclusion, and let you know what I figured out.
My simple goal, to send out that one story to at least one place, became a quest to devise a plan for how to send out stories, period. I put some time into thinking about the process of submitting short fiction at a meta level. What is it? Is there an art to it? How many steps does it take?
I realized there are, practically speaking, three steps:
- Match a story with a market.
- Polish the story for that market.
- Perform whatever clerical work (making printouts, etc.) is required to actually send the thing off to the editor.
I think I’m pretty good at Step 1 and Step 2. My ability to identify a story as “perfect” for a particular anthology or magazine, and have the editor agree, is why I have any publications at all. So, where am I failing?
Well, that’s obvious. There’s another step:
If it gets rejected by the perfect place, I have to have a plan to send it off to another, less perfect place. And that’s the part I’ve never really gotten a handle on.
Less perfect. Wait a minute…
That’s the epiphany bell going off.
I just realized why nearly every story of mine that gets sent anywhere at all, gets sent exactly one place. The ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place. The place I have carefully selected above all others. And if the editor fails to agree, what then? I’m supposed to send it to a less ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place? After the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place already rejected it? What’s the point? If the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ place didn’t want it, nobody else will. Obviously. It’s just not a story anyone is going to publish. A practice story. Disappointing, but, oh, well. I guess I’ll have to try again, the next time I have the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ market for something.
Now that I think about it, my trunk stories — mostly complete stories that have never been sent anywhere at all — stay in that virtual trunk because I never came up with the ☆♥PERFECT☆♥ market for them. There was never an anthology that called for just those elements, or an open market that seemed to be looking for precisely the sort of sub-genre or mood that I deemed my story to have.
I realize now that I have been going about this all wrong. I have to stop sending stories to the perfect place, and start sending them to an appropriate place, in descending order not of perfection, but of some less esoteric quality. Money, for example. Nothing is less esoteric than money.
Armed with my new insights, my submission to-do list looks more like:
- Match a story with a list of potential markets.
- Identify the first market.
- Polish the story for that market.
- Perform necessary clerical work to submit.
- Repeat steps 2-4 as necessary.
I choose to call it progress!
This is the Write-a-thon week 2 report. What, you missed the week 1 report? That’s because I didn’t get to it. And here it is, my week 2 report, coming in the middle of the week.
That… tells you something about what’s going on in my life right now. I’m at one of those points where the setting is maximum chaos. And some of it is about what’s going on externally, and all the various distractions and time vacuums, and some of it is about the way the stress affects my brain. Sometimes, right when I need to be most productive and focused, my brain is jut like “yeah…. no. Let’s watch cartoons.”
For example, right now, sitting here. Well, standing here, since I have a standing desk. Right now at this point in time, I am having terrible trouble focusing my thoughts into a coherent nonfictional narrative that will be (ideally) informative, funny, and insightful about the writing process.
Instead, every word that I type, including really useless words like “that” and “really,” feels like it has to get forcibly wrenched out of some part of me. I type a sentence and then just stare at it for a while, uncertain what the next sentence needs to be. I can’t seem to achieve flow, a sense of forward momentum, and I’m afraid this essay will read like a dying car, the engine sputtering to move things forward a few feet before making a kaCHUNK noise as the car stops. It lurches forward again, seizes up again, lurch, seize, and finally just sits there, whirring and chittering and spitting out foul-smelling blue smoke.
I give it a rest, then get back to it, and the engine starts, turns over, hums, moves the car forward — then a dog darts across the road, and I have to slam on the brakes. It takes forever to get the engine started up again.
See that break there? In between the blue smoke and slamming on the breaks? That was me getting interrupted by life. Again.
This essay is turning very, very meta.
Anyway, my first goal for Write-a-thon 2016 was to submit that one story. And if you know me, you know that submit-a-phobia — an inexplicable reluctance to actually submit my fiction anywhere — is the chief bane of my writing career. I have a hard time submitting stories the way a professional writer needs to do.It is my FATAL, TRAGIC FLAW.
So, submitting stories has always been a thing that sputters forward in fits and starts and alarming kaCHUNK noises and toxic smoke. I can’t seem to turn my occasional success submitting and even publishing into any kind of sustained forward momentum.
I’m trying to figure out how to do that. I’ve been trying to figure out how to turn the chaos of my life back into something resembling order, and integrate writing, revising, and submitting fiction into part of that overall system.
Hold onto your hats, this is about to turn into a commercial for Evernote.
I started using Evernote a couple of years ago, when I bought my iPad. Scrivener for iOS wasn’t available yet (and still isn’t available, you guys are killing me here), and I did some experimenting with different writing applications until I settled on one that isn’t technically a writing application: Evernote, a cloud-synced note-keeping program. It comes in a free version and various tiers of paid versions. I have a paid version because once I settled on using it as a writing tool, I really wanted the feature where you can designate a notebook to be available when your device is offline.
Evernote is based around the concept of notes, which are identified with tags and organized into notebooks. It’s a simple framework that can be made as complicated as you want. If you start googling things like “how to organize Evernote” or “how to use Evernote in your writing career” you will get overwhelmed with the number of interesting takes and helpful tidbits. (Still meaning to check out this Evernote for Writers podcast series)
The problem — or maybe it’s not a problem — is that until you’ve worked with it a while, and tried and failed a few different organizational schemes, you have no idea what is going to work for you. Or maybe you do. Maybe I’m the only one who ever changed notebook and tagging schemes half a dozen times. Maybe I’m the only one who stacked and unstacked my notebooks, stacked and unstacked my tags, consolidated everything into one or two notebooks only to separate them out again, named and renamed hundreds of notes as I changed my mind about how to use titles for sorting.
But, here’s the thing. Evernote lets you do that. And sometimes the very act of doing that, of messing everything up and then seeking a new order, is soothing to my brain. It’s like dumping out all your crayons so you can put them back in the box using a slightly different principle of color organization.
I have long been using the Evernote web clip feature to save submission information when I saw notices like “this market is open again” or “this anthology is soliciting stories” passing across a mailing list or Twitter feed. I tagged them “fiction-markets.” And what did I do with them? Just kinda… you know.. kept them. Sometimes I would delete them when I noticed the submission window had closed.
I kept assuming future me would get it all together. Because Future Me is going to be SO AWESOME!
Except, I already know that past evidence overwhelmingly suggests that Future Me is going to be more or less the same as Right Now Me. Future Me is not better.She is not smarter. She is not more disciplined. She is not more organized. She is not less afraid. She is not more creative.
Future Me will still be right here in the same place as Right Now Me, unless Right Now Me gets moving. That’s the only way Future Me ends up anywhere different, is if Right Now Me starts us on the journey of getting there. And figuring out “hey, this web clipping feature in Evernote is really great! And you can attach a timed reminder to notes too!” might be considered the first step. But one step isn’t enough. I have to keep walking. I have to take the NEXT step.
So… what is the next step?
I’ve spent a couple of weeks trying to figure that out. How can I use Evernote to keep my story submissions on track? What is it that I need to know? How can I use it to keep the process moving forward at a steady clip instead of stalling out and requiring a mechanic to get it going again?
Let’s walk through the process together. One step, then the next step. This essay is step one.
In 2006 I started telling the “How Saint Expedite got me into Clarion West” story to anyone who seemed interested. A version of it existed on a previous version of the gothhouse.org website. That’s how my husband’s sister Dorothy knew to call us up and say, “You know that statue that’s been in the crawlspace forever? I think it’s Saint Expedite.”
We thought this unlikely, to say the least. Because there aren’t statues of Saint Expedite — not in this country, anyway. The one in New Orleans was the only one, as far as we knew. As far as anyone knew. That’s why the tour guide could tell that story about the nuns and the mis-delivered statue, because he could be confident that nobody taking the tour had ever seen or heard of Saint Expedite before.
Still, we had to go to Port Townsend and check it out. Port Townsend, where my husband grew up, is a Victorian seaport on the Olympic Peninsula. Like the Garden District of New Orleans, it was flush with money at the end of the 19th century, resulting in many spectacular buildings. But then much of that money went away for a long while, which meant (among other things) that nobody was bothering to tear down the pretty old buildings in order to put up ugly new ones. Now, like the Garden District, it gets a lot of tourists who want to look at the pretty old buildings.
The statue in question had been rescued by Paul’s older brothers from the storage area of their church, sometime in the 1970s, along with several others. One of these rescued statues, of Mary, had been repainted and was on display in the living room of the Port Townsend house. The maybe-Expedite statue had simply been in the crawlspace for as long as anyone could remember.
We took our flashlights and crouched in the dust, wary of spiders.
Me: Well, he’s a young Roman soldier… the hand that would hold the cross is broken off, but he does have grass in the other hand… oh, he’s stepping on a crow with a word balloon! It’s got to be Expedite!
Paul: Plus, the base of the statue says “St. Expedite.”
If the stakes were higher, I would have felt like I was starring in a Dan Brown novel.
The two boys next to each other, decked out for Mardi Gras. For probably obvious reasons our boy is decked out a little more extensively…
Paul’s mother didn’t recall much about the statue, only that it was old, a hundred years or more, and she thought all the statues originally came from France. She didn’t know why that statue in particular had been in the storage area — if it was put there because it was damaged, or if it got damaged after being relegated to storage. It looks like somebody started to sand off the paint, possibly as part of a restoration effort. But he’s missing a hand and his nose is half gone, so it would be difficult to make him good as new.
Now he hangs out in our living room, where I can stare at him and ponder the mystery of his existence. Obviously — the material evidence is there — Expedite was considered, at one time, by people who felt strongly enough to make at least two very different statues of him, a “real” saint. Then he wasn’t anymore. And nobody seems to know why.
Was there a directive from the Vatican, like when they tried to get people to put away their Saint Christopher medals? In Port Townsend they put Expedite in storage without a fuss, but in New Orleans… maybe part of the original story is true after all, the part about public outcry leading his statue to be restored to its place in the church. (Because if there’s one thing you can count on New Orleans for, it’s doing things their own way.) Are there Expedite statues moldering away in church attics all across the country? And when did this directive go out? Not recently, I think. But who can say? I have yet to find any conclusive evidence.
His “real saint” credentials are found in a couple of records of early Christian martyrs, but the information is fuzzy. He is supposedly a Roman soldier who converted to Christianity and was martyred the very next day. Therefore he is associated with the principle of carpe diem. That’s why he’s stepping on the Crow of Procrastination.
Not a completely ridiculous story, on the face of it. But… doesn’t it seem a little overly convenient that a person who would later be associated with carpe diem was already named Expedite? Is Expedite even a name? Paul’s theory is that “expedite” was a kind of “and ceterah” in use at the time, but we haven’t found any good evidence of that.
So, ultimately, who knows? The physical reality of the statue — the two statues — cannot be denied. But everything else about Saint Expedite is shrouded in mystery and wonder. He is the only metaphysical being I am one hundred percent convinced is real, but I’m only half serious when I say that. He is a challenge to my skepticism. What spirits and powers truly move us, and why?
In the corner of the living room we maintain a little Expedite shrine, because when you have one of two known statues of the mysterious Voodoo saint who is also your personal patron, seriously, you’ve got to give him a shrine.
I’ve read that he is supposed to like the color red and poundcake, but I’ve never felt any special resonance when I tried giving him those items. I suspect that what he wants from me most is the thing I’ve already been doing: for his story to be told, for his veneration to be rescued from obscurity.
Years ago, when Paul and I had been dating a while, we were having issues with our other roommate situations and were talking about moving in together. We had looked at several places that just weren’t suitable and were getting frustrated. I remember vividly the afternoon we walked down a particular block of Indian street in Bellingham, and one of us (Paul I think) saying “there, that house would be perfect, why can’t we live there?” and me agreeing instantly.
Neither of us had been to New Orleans yet. We had never heard of Saint Expedite. Paul knew there was a status in the crawlspace, but had never really looked at it or made note of which saint it was supposed to be.
Still. The very next day, the house we wanted had a FOR RENT sign in the lawn. We lived there for seventeen years.
So, I don’t know — is there such a thing as fate? Is it possible to have a patron saint you don’t even know about yet? Do cause and effect ever run backwards? Is the universe as we think we understand it even remotely the universe as it exists? Is it true that all we see and all we seem, are but a dream within a dream?
Saint Expedite causes me ask these questions. Saint Expedite makes me believe in magic.
During the Great Boxing Week Ice Storm of 1996 Paul and I flew to New Orleans for the first time. We spent a day crammed into SeaTac airport with thousands of other stranded travelers, as the airport gradually ran out of food, plane de-icer, civility, and hope. The airline promised us, again and again, that our prospective flight was “your best bet for getting outta here.” And, truthfully, even if we had gotten fed up enough to bag the trip and leave the airport, the entire Puget Sound region was covered in ice and without power, so where would we have gone?
So, we stuck around. Epic delay followed epic delay. When we finally got on the plane, more than 12 hours after our originally scheduled departure time, we were deposited in the Cincinnati Airport in the middle of the night with a can of pop, a pack of peanuts, and a ten minute phone card I never did figure out how to use. (Paul’s assessment: here’s a phone card. Call someone who cares.) We slept on our luggage and finally arrived in New Orleans a full day later than planned, having paid for a hotel room night we couldn’t use.
New Orleans in the last days of December was moderately warm (70s) and insanely humid. Cash and towels were perpetually damp to the touch. A dreamlike mist shrouded the high rise buildings of downtown as seen from the French Quarter, creating the illusion that they were two entirely separate worlds.
Our first act in New Orleans was to wander in a daze down Bourbon Street and allow a nice man to lure us into a restaurant we knew nothing about. Paul had a po-boy. I had crawfish. We sat on a balcony and marveled at the fact that we were there at all. The food tasted delicious. But Paul likes to point out that the end of December is not crawfish season.
We spent the next day driving around Cajun country, where we encountered charming little towns that weren’t on the map and people who spoke French as their first language. (You know the movie Beasts of the Southern Wild? We went to Montegut, where they filmed that.) We kept being surprised they took US currency.
On the way back into town, I started to feel a bit ill. We stopped at a Burger King, where, Paul tells me, I turned green. Food poisoning from delicious but out of season crawfish? Or an infection picked up from one of the many sad people trapped in SeaTac airport after Christmas? I’ll never know.
I spent the rest of the night languishing in our hotel room watching television. It was a profoundly surreal experience to see our own Bellingham street on CNN, as the National Guard removed five feet of snow from it. Mysteriously, CNN showed every house on the block except ours. Because it was unkempt? Because we weren’t there to sign release forms? Because this whole trip was a dream I was having while stuck at SeaTac airport?
Anyway, that was our first trip to New Orleans.
On the whole, I had a great time.
On that trip, we took a Voodoo and Cemeteries walking tour. (This was after I recovered from being green.) According to our tour guide, Voodoo as practiced in New Orleans is the result of enslaved West Africans given time off on Sundays ostensibly for worship of the Catholic God and saints. So, they carried on their own worship traditions under a veneer of Catholicism. In time, the traditions merged (syncretized) and took on a spiritual life of their own.
Our guide took us through Our Lady of Guadalupe, which is the oldest church building in New Orleans. It’s Catholic, of course, but it also has — according to our tour guide — the only genuine Voodoo saint in the US. He showed us the statue of “St. Expedite” (yes, his placard has the quotes) and told us the following story:
This Italian-made statue of a young Roman Centurion is from the 19th century. It was secular, intended for a Garden District mansion. But it was delivered to the cathedral by mistake. The French-speaking nuns opened it and, seeing that it was similar in size and style to the statues of saints in the Cathedral, they assumed it was a saint they were unfamiliar with and put him on display, using the name stamped on the outside of the crate: Expedite.
Some time later they discovered their mistake and tried to remove the statue, but after much public outcry, they put him back up again. See, the local Voodoos had already taken Saint Expedite to heart as the patron saint of getting things done in a hurry.
That’s the story — more or less, as memory serves. I accepted it with the usual grain of salt, snapped a few pictures and moved on.
A few years later I started daydreaming about going to New Orleans again and did a little online research, where I discovered that there were many who insisted that Expedite was a regular, actual saint, and that his veneration was common in the Caribbean and South America. I saw pictures of little plastic statues in roadside shrines that appeared to be the same design as the statue in New Orleans. I also checked out the official Catholic Church website, and found no mention of Expedite at all. So, there might be many who considered him a real saint — but not the Catholic Church, which is the arbiter of these things.
On a return trip to New Orleans in 2001, I think we failed to pay St. Expedite a visit, although I did stop at an occult shop and picked up a bunch of Voodoo-related literature. I learned that our original tour guide was more or less accurate about the syncretic origins of New Orleans Voodoo, although there was (unsurprisingly) a lot more to it. Such as: some of Voodoo’s “evil” reputation is probably related to its role in slave uprisings in the Caribbean.
In 2005 I was starting to daydream again about returning to New Orleans. Then Katrina happened. We finally went in April of 2006. The trip was amazing. With the city still raw and bleeding and half-empty, everyone we encountered — whether tourist or local — seemed to be someone who loved the city passionately. Everyone had a Katrina story. Everyonewanted to tell it.
By then, the Catholic Church website had a mention of Expedite, specifically to claim that 1. He was not a saint, no way, no how, and never had been. 2. The story about the nuns and the mis-delivered crate (which they described as happening in Paris, not New Orleans) was baloney. It had an obvious absurdity that I had never considered: they were NUNS. They knew LATIN. They would know full well what “expedite” meant. Sheesh.
And yet, I couldn’t help but notice that the Catholic site failed to explain — if he wasn’t a saint, and he wasn’t a mis-delivered bit of garden art — where did he come from?
In 2006 I took a closer look at the statue and realized something I should have noticed right off: he was not only the same size and style as the other statues of saints, he had tokens the way they did. Saints, like superheroes, have distinctive markers that identify them. In the case of saints, these markers are related to their stories, often to their martyrdom.
Saint Lucy is often depicted with her own eyeballs on a plate.
Saint Expedite is depicted carrying a cross in one hand and a bit of grass in the other, and stepping on a crow. The crow has a word balloon. It is saying “cras,” which is a pun. It means “tomorrow” and is also the Italian for what crows say.
The statue in New Orleans was obviously originally designed to be the statue of a saint, no matter what the Catholic Church had to say about it now. My Fortean sense was tingling. There was something truly special about this mysterious saint from nowhere, supposedly beloved of New Orleans Voodoos. So, I did what I often do when confronted by something mysterious and unbelievable: I chose to act as if I believed in it, just to see what would happen. I gave him a little offering and asked for “something good.” Yes, I really was that vague, although simmering under the surface was my concern for the city I loved and its recovery, and concern for my writing and my “day job” careers, both of which had seemed stalled out since 2001.
We returned to Bellingham. That year, I was on the alternates list for the Clarion West writers workshop. As the months until June went by, I didn’t have much hope of attending. But I did joke that with my luck, I would get a call the week before the workshop started.
I didn’t. I got a call the day before. Saturday, the day before the workshop started. Just like today. Imagine me, ten years ago, getting a call that someone had dropped out of the workshop at the last minute, and the space was mine if I wanted it.
I took a few hours to think about it, but that was just a ritual. In my heart I had already said yes.
Yes, I will completely change my life for the next six weeks, and maybe forever, and I will do it RIGHT NOW.
A couple of months later, when the workshop was over, I dropped by a web development company that I hoped would be a new freelancing client. Instead, I got a job offer. And could I start right away? Like, this afternoon?
Of course I said yes. What else was I going to say?
At Orycon in November, I was recounting highlights of the year to a friend I hadn’t seen since the last Orycon. It wasn’t until then that I made the connection between things I wanted being offered to me, on the contingency that I accept them RIGHT NOW, and having earlier asked for a blessing from the mysterious entity known as Saint Expedite.
Instantly, I turned superstitious. I became convinced that I had to properly express my appreciation, and I had a feeling that the proper way to express it was by making a return trip to New Orleans. I was nervous about bringing this up to Paul — we have a limited travel budget, and I wasn’t sure how he’d respond to me wanting to go back to the same place so soon.
It turned out, he already wanted to go back and was wondering how to bring it up with me. So that worked out all right.
Sunday, June 19, begins the six week Write-a-Thon.
What is the Write-a-thon?
A fundraiser for the Clarion West writing workshop, which I attended in 2006 (10-year anniversary this year!) Clarion West is a nonprofit literary organization (501©(3), for tax purposes). Fundraisers such as the Write-a-thon help keep student costs down, and support the Clarion West mission to promote speculative fiction.
The Write-a-thon is like a walk-a-thon or a dance-a-thon.
My 2016 goals
I have been feeling kinda bummed out and directionless lately. I probably shouldn’t admit that. It’s probably bad for my career or something. Wait, is it bad for writers to admit they have angst and ennui and melancholy? Maybe not. Maybe everyone expects it.
I thought about not participating this year, mostly because I’m grumpy and feeling sorry for myself, but the instant I made up my mind to sit this one out I felt even more grumpy and sorry for myself, so… wait, where was I going with this?
Right. Goals. I don’t want to set out any overall 6-week goals right at the start. I want to set myself smaller goals within the time frame of the workshop. I want to be more like, “today I’m going to do this” or “this weekend I’m going to do this.” Set, meet (or not) and evaluate goals as I go.
However, I’m going to pick my first goal right now. I happened to re-read a story I wrote intending to submit to a themed anthology, but didn’t finish in time, and never submitted it anywhere else either, and now it’s just been sitting there on my hard drive for… I don’t even know how long. A year, probably. But when I ran into it just now, I enjoyed reading it.
- Goal : submit that one story.
Note: The information in this blog post is also linked at http://www.gothhouse.org/clarion-west-wr
My Crypticon panel schedule:
Friday | 5:00 pm | Columbia B
Horror Comics and Graphic Novels
Friday | 8:00 pm | Columbia B
Friday | 11:00 pm | Alpine Room
Saturday | 1:00 pm | Columbia A
Remembering Bowie: The Hunger, Outside, and Bowie’s Contributions to Horror
Saturday | 6:00 pm | Alpine Room
Making the Leap: Writing Short Stories vs. Writing Novels
Saturday | 8:00 pm | Alpine Room
Neo-Paganism and Horror: Good Witch or Bad Witch?
Saturday | 10:00 pm | Columbia A
Sunday | 2:00 pm | Columbia B
I started writing this back when Mark Driscoll was still head of Mars Hill Church and Mars Hill Church was still a thing. I set it aside when he resigned, thinking perhaps it wasn’t relevant anymore.
But grifters gotta grift, I guess, and there seems to be no level of humiliation that’ll ever really get rid of con men like Driscoll. He’s all set up to pretend nothing ever happened, and get another congregation going in Arizona.
Don’t be fooled. He is still the man who wrote under the pseudonym “William Wallace II.” In the original discussion thread, and also now that the statements have found a wider audience, there are some who defend Driscoll as making a “sound point” even if crudely and rudely expressed.
That’s what I want to address here. What point is Driscoll really making? And is that point sound, in a theological sense, or any sense at all?
As a warning — in the portion that follows, I quote his words directly, in order to analyze them, and they are grotesque and vile, which should tell you something about any potential theological soundness right there. (“If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” — James 1:26 )
( Read the rest of this entry »Collapse )
A couple of weeks ago, on Super Tuesday, I found myself feeling depressed for what seemed like no real reason. I was obsessively checking primary results, though, and at some point I noticed an association between Trump wins and that little squeeze of sick dread.
Oh, I thought to myself. I’m depressed that Donald Trump is looking like the Republican nominee. I anticipated it, but I’m depressed anyway. Huh.
See the look on that baby’s face? That’s me.
I know exactly when I predicted it, too, because I wrote it out and dated it: January 1, 2016. The downside of having a powerful internal alarm clock is that I often wake up on New Year’s Day long before anyone else. I like to take that quiet, dull space to let my mind wander over what I imagine will happen in the coming year, write out some predictions, put them in an envelope so I can revisit a year later.
I grew up in the 70s and 80s, when everybody was obsessed with prognostication. This was the era of Hal Lindsey and Jeane Dixon. Lindsey was famous for big-picture, supposedly Biblical predictions about the literal end of the world, and Dixon was more about what celebrities were going to get married/divorced/addicted to drugs. They seemed to have about the same level of accuracy, though, which is to say, none at all.
But that didn’t seem to matter to their fans, and this was what fascinated me. Lindsey in particular still has devotees in the evangelical world, where you would think his spectacular failure to predict little things like the crackup of the USSR would destroy his credibility forever. Nope. Nothing does. No amount of being wrong gets your true believers to realize you’re a fraud. The people who know you’re full of it are the skeptics who didn’t believe you in the first place.
Anyway, I thought I would try prognosticating to see if I was better at it than Jeane Dixon, and the habit stuck.
This year, the only important message from the future I got was that the final presidential contest would be between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, and Hillary would win, but it would be ugly. This was back when Nate Silver was still telling us that the Republican nominee was no way going to be Trump, so it was a slightly edgy prediction. (Which could still turn out to be false, of course.)
Why did I think Trump was going to win the nomination? Because the other candidates were so weak. Trump is a useless blowhard, but he’s a charismatic useless blowhard. The Republicans have had a soft spot for useless blowhards at least since the rise of talk radio/Fox News in the 90s. So far, these blowhards have been media figures, not politicians, but people like Sarah Palin have helped bridge that gap. The major Republican spokesmodels — the Limbaughs, Coulters, O’Reillys, Becks, etc. — differ not so much in how useless they are (200 percent) or how hard they blow (category six hurricane) but in how mean-spirited they are.
They range from Bill O’Reilly, who seems like maybe deep down he sorta means well, through Rush Limbaugh, who would kick a puppy if he thought it would piss off a liberal, to Ann Coulter, who already does bathe daily in the blood of puppies in a futile attempt to maintain her youthful appearance and gleefully blames this on liberals.*
How mean-spirited is Trump? He’s up there at Limbaugh and Coulter levels. He’s the closest thing Republicans have ever gotten to Rush Limbaugh running for president. And they’re ready for that, I guess.
Some people — their presence is particularly obvious on the Internet — seem to think that cruelty equals strength and power. They buy into a grade-school bully mentality, that the meanest guy is also the toughest guy, and the toughest guy will make the best leader. Trump is all about social dominance, bellowing and pointing and mocking and generally trying to come across as the number one boss primate. (Insert joke about his orangutan-orange mop of hair right here)
Everything from his surreal dick-measuring contest with Marco Rubio, to his comically exaggerated braggadocio, is part of that strategy. To hear him tell it, Trump is the smartest, richest, best looking, most popular, biggest success, ultimate maximum largest winning alpha top.
Trump and his followers seem equally convinced that with enough social dominance, the rest of the world just lines up to give you what you want. Diplomacy, economics, negotiation, cooperation, strategy, rule of law, law of nature? Pfffft. None of that matters. You get what you want through sheer force of will, provided you have enough will.
Magical thinking, basically. You can see it in this post by Jordan Correll that describes his experiences at the Trump rally he went to, not as a protester or believer, but as a kid who thought it would be a hoot and gradually had his faith in humanity destroyed:
Trump basically said the same few things the whole time. He knows exactly what will get a cheer from the crowd and he says it. He mentioned his wall several times. About five or six if I can remember correctly. At one point he said “We’re going to build a wall. And who’s going to pay for it?” And the crowd yelled, “Mexico!” and then they lost their minds. [..] He mentioned ISIS several times. About ten. But not exactly how to stop ISIS. Just comments like, “We’re gonna get ISIS,” and “ISIS is going down.”
And that was all he said on policy. Completely void of content or substance. Just statements that would get the crowd cheering.
It’s moronic, but terrifying. Because that magical thinking — that idea that pure monkey-style dominance is how you lead, how you win, how you change the world — leads directly to the worst of humanity. And Trump pounds on those evil discords again and again: racism, xenophobia, misogyny, hatred, and especially rage — raw, mindless, deadly, screeching-chimpanzee rage.
From the same post:
But out of everything I saw, the crowd was the worst part. I have never seen more hateful people in my life. Everyone was just filled with so much hatred. If a protester had a sign, even the peaceful ones, they would take the sign from them, rip it up, and throw it back at the protesters. Whenever a protester would get removed, the crowd would yell horrible things. Once, after a protester was removed, Trump said, “Where are these people coming from? Who are they?” A lady, sitting not 5 feet from me, said, “Well hopefully when you’re president, you’ll get rid of em all!”
Yep, that’s totally constitutional I’m sure.
Part of how Trump and his followers maintain their illusion of unlimited power is by shutting down the tiniest hint of dissent, sometimes violently. Trump has vowed to “open up our libel laws” to punish the press for saying anything negative about him, promised a foreign policy full of torture and other war crimes, talked about wanting to punch protesters in the face, sued people for asserting that his wealth isn’t as large as he claims, and obsessed for decades over the joking suggestion that his fingers are unusually short.
Like an infected toe, a swollen ego screams in pain at every bump or slight, and oozes infected pus if you poke it hard enough.
Even if Trump loses in the general election — even if he loses the Republican nomination — he’s already done a lot of damage. He’s built a culture of rage-filled true believers who feel empowered to start beating up on people they don’t like, because they’re generally pissed off and want to take it out on somebody. And they think they’re going to get away with it. They think it’s okay. Because Trump said it was okay, because the social dynamic of the Trump rally said it was okay.
A Trump follower who recently sucker-punched a peaceful protestor was strutting about it afterward, claiming “Yes, he deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him.”
He seems to have no awareness what he did was illegal (he’s been arrested) or that his statement could be read as threatening murder, or that punching a stranger just because he’s expressing an opposition to your presidential candidate is NOT ACTUALLY A NORMAL THING THAT WELL-ADJUSTED PEOPLE DO.
That’s the Trump phenomenon, and it looks an awful lot like fascism of the past, like Mussolini or Hitler. That’s not hyperbole. That is exactly what it looks like.
It scares me. I don’t know where it’s going. I worry that his followers will persist, that the 2017 version of the Tea Party is going to be violent and openly fascist. And I have to admit that I didn’t predict this. I knew Trump as the Republican nominee wouldn’t be good, but on January 1, 2016 I had no idea how bad it would be.
*Note: this is a joke. I do not know that Ann Coulter literally does bathe in the blood of puppies. I would, however, be unsurprised if it turned out to be true.
When I was a kid, Phyllis Schlafly used bathroom panic to help defeat the Equal Rights Amendment, which would have made sexual equality a constitutionally protected value. The claim was that the ERA would strip women of the “right to privacy based on sex” in “public restrooms and other public facilities.” Basically, unisex, gender-neutral bathrooms.
Pro-ERA supporters at the time pointed out this was a completely ridiculous interpretation of the law, that it was totally not going to happen. I believed them. But more importantly, even if the law did lead to unisex bathrooms, I didn’t know why I was supposed to be afraid of that.
Literally every private bathroom I had ever used was unisex, for one thing. (Men leaving the seat up was about the worst side effect of that.) Public bathrooms were either solo, or had stalls for privacy. What was supposed to be inherently frightening about men using the same public bathrooms as women? Cooties?
But now that same inexplicable phobia of not-entirely-100-percent-guaranteed-bina
Bathroom panic won the day in Houston, a pervert in Virginia wants to spec out kid’s genitals before they can use the restroom, and right here in Washington state, some dipwad has proposed HB 2589 specifically to allow:
limiting access to a private facility segregated by gender, such
8 as a bathroom, restroom, toilet, shower, locker room, or sauna, to a
9 person if the person is preoperative, nonoperative, or otherwise has
10 genitalia of a different gender from that for which the facility is
(Although, if you read the complete PDF, the whole thing is worded in funky-pants legalese where it allows it by not prohibiting it? Sometimes I do not understand how the sausage of our laws is made. )
I didn’t get the Terror of the Unisex Bathroom then, and I get it even less now. What problem are you trying to solve, exactly? Have you thought maybe anti-anxiety meds for your irrational phobia would be a better choice than passing legislation that literally does nothing other than humiliate and endanger trans people?
What do you think happens in public restrooms anyway? Orgies? Witchcraft? Closeted homosexual pickups? If the last one (which has a history among Republican legislators) it would at least explain why you think it’s so vitally important that the other people using the restroom have the genitalia you expect.
Myself, I have never seen anybody else’s genitalia while in a public restroom. So I have no idea what kind of sexual equipment was possessed by all the many strangers who have ever shared a bathroom with me. Could have been vaginas, could have been penises, could have been some kind of alien robot thing, could have been nothing at all — I have no clue, and I’d like to keep it that way.
Unless somebody is in a very intimate relationship with me, or possibly a performance artist, my need to know what their genitals are like is nil. Less than nil, actually. BECAUSE I DO NOT WANT TO KNOW.
It’s none of my business. It’s none of YOUR business. Have you considered that maybe this pressing need to make it your business is actually a weird sexual fetish? Best served — perhaps — by joining an adults-only club where people show other people their genitals for no particular reason while they happen to be using the bathroom at the same time?
Here’s what I expect to happen when a cis woman goes into a woman’s bathroom: she uses the toilet and washes her hands.
Here’s what I expect to happen when a trans woman goes into a woman’s bathroom: she uses the toilet and washes her hands.
I expect a trans man, should he be forced to use a women’s bathroom on account of genitalia technicalities and BS legislation like this, will use the toilet and wash his hands.
I expect a cis man, should he be in the women’s bathroom because he’s confused or drunk or desperate while the men’s bathroom is being cleaned, will use the toilet and wash his hands.
Basically, I expect everyone to wash their hands. I’m really serious about this. Wash your hands, people! It’s gross when you don’t.
The people suffering from Bathroom Panic Syndrome, however, seem to think it’s inherently dangerous for a man to be in the women’s bathroom. They often characterize it as a matter of “safety.” And we know what that means, right? We know that men are dangerous because men rape. And we women, we cis women, are supposed to be terrified of this.
But this terror is supposed to be managed only in very specific ways. I’m supposed to be afraid of men — but not so afraid that I refuse to associate with them and run off to a radical lesbian compound in the mountains somewhere. My fear is supposed to keep me circumspect and conventional, not make me angry or defiant or bitchy or feminist. I’m supposed to be afraid of freedom and strangers, but trustful and obedient toward home and patriarchal authority figures. I’m supposed to accept this vague rape danger as an inevitable fact of nature that must be accommodated only through changes to my own behavior as an individual, and not see it as a social construct that can be changed through activism.
Back in the 70s, Bathroom Panic was supposed to make me fear equality. Now it’s supposed to make me fear trans women, on the grounds that they are “men,” who are therefore inherently dangerous to have in a women’s bathroom.
But the fact is, actual male sexual predators do not pretend to be trans women and hang out in women’s restrooms.
Why would they need to? They can just hang around outside, counting who goes in and who goes out (humans are almost as good at this as crows), and go in when only one woman is in there. Or they can just barge right in, and, if the woman isn’t alone, pretend they walked in by mistake and walk right out again. Or they can use violence or weapons to intimidate bystanders into not interfering. Or they can hang out somewhere less well-trafficked than the bathroom, like the parking garage, and wait for an abuse opportunity. Or they can act like nice guys, get women to date them, and abuse the women in the privacy of their own homes. Etc. You know the drill. it’s not like the world is lacking in opportunities for men to attack women.
Why would any guy feel the need to pretend to be a woman first? Dressing up like a woman is a lot of work.
Further, it’s impossible to imagine at what point in the being-attacked-in-a-restroom process genital-related legislation like this is supposed to kick in and save us. Who is going to be inspecting bathroom-users to verify their genitalia, anyway? I don’t know about you, but I would consider some stranger waiting at the entrance of a bathroom in order to verify my genitalia exactly the kind of creepy, predatory behavior that such legislation is supposedly designed to protect us from.
And who would be paying for this? Where would we get the money to staff bathroom genital police everywhere? It’s absurd.
Practically speaking, the only way I can see such legislation being used is to harrass trans people — to make them feel unsafe and unwelcome and marginalized, and not able to be comfortable using any public restroom space. It provides legal cover for those who want to say, “you don’t belong here.”
It’s bad legislation intended to protect us from an imaginary threat. But the bigotry that inspired it is very real.
For activism information visit http://www.wasafealliance.org/
I want to talk about Star Wars, but that’s dangerous for me, because I don’t want to deliver any spoilers, but apparently I don’t know what a spoiler is.</p>
I think a spoiler is “a shocking or unexpected plot twist that’s important to the story.” Gandalf dying, then coming back from the dead — those are spoilers, except they’re not, because they were in a book that was published in 1954.</p>
That’s another part of the “spoiler” definition, for me — the story has to be recent. There are things in The Force Awakens that would be spoilers now, but won’t be spoilers a month from now. It would have been a spoiler to walk out of a showing of Psycho and declare to the people in line for the next showing, “wow, Marion Crane gets knife-murdered halfway through! I totally didn’t see that coming!” But I’m pretty sure it’s not a spoiler now. Right? It’s not a spoiler? You know what happens in Psycho?</p>
I think my definition sounds reasonable — but in practice, I’m always getting accused of spoilering when I don’t think I’ve done it. I’m like, “That can’t be a spoiler, it was in the book!” “That’s not a spoiler, it’s the premise!” “That’s not a spoiler, it’s just a cameo!” Etc. So I’ve just come to accept that I don’t really know what a spoiler is, and the upshot is that, if you read on, you will not encounter anything I think is a spoiler, but you might encounter something you think is a spoiler.</p>
So, spoiler warning.</p>
For example, the earliest preview for The Force Awakens — the one that first melted my prequel-frozen heart — features a sweaty, distraught young man in a stormtrooper uniform sans helmet, looking around desperately and then running across the desert. I thought, wow, that looks like a conscience-striken stormtrooper who defects! That seems awesome! I totally want to see that!</p>
Is it a spoiler to tell you whether or not we get to see that? I assume no — it’s not a spoiler, it’s the premise. So I’m going to tell you: YES! We totally get a conscience-stricken stormtrooper who defects! And he’s Finn! And he’s every bit as awesome as I was hoping!
I left the movie cheerfully humming the theme music, but also thinking “you know, it’s best if we don’t look too closely at either the politics or the economics of the Star Wars universe,” and then thought, “wow, I think I just pinpointed one of the biggest things wrong with the prequels.”
The even bigger problem with them is that they didn’t give us any new iconic characters, and kind of ruined iconic characters that already existed. Yoda and R2D2 were not improved by being rendered as souped-up CGI versions of themselves. Darth Vader was not improved by being shown as a whiny teenager instead of the David Prowse/James Earl Jones combo that originally won us over. He ddn’t work very well as “reverse Luke” either. Padme was not a fitting Leia substitute. Nobody was even trying to be Han Solo. Young Obi Wan Kenobi should have been great, but somehow wasn’t. Mace Windu should have been great, but was somehow so forgettable that when the question “was Samuel L. Jackson in any of the Star Wars films?” came up a couple of days ago I first declared, confidently, that the answer was no. No, of course not. I would remember him. Right?
Except I didn’t, not without prompting.
Anyway, The Force Awakens introduces some great new characters, and does no disservice to the existing ones, so that’s all good. Although one of the great new characters, the female hero Rey, is apparently being accused of being too much of a “Mary Sue” by people — I don’t know, the fragile masculinity people? The gamergate people? Their Twitter arguments have a suspiciously familiar ring, anyway.
(Although, side note, I have since found out that the original source for all this sturm und drang was an actual honest-to-God movie director, which of course does not mean he isn’t one of the fragile masculinity people, but still.)
I would say “Rey is a Mary Sue” is the stupidest thing I ever heard, but Donald Trump is apparently running for president right now and it’s hard to top that. But Rey is less of a Mary Sue than Leia — who had all the pluck and independence and Force-awareness and handiness with a blaster, and was also secretly an important rebel leader and also a princess.
What? Is it specifically the fact of Rey picking up a lightsaber that is bothering the usual easily-bothered suspects? Is there some phallic thing going on here? Sure, while watching, I did wonder a little, “how is she so good with a lightsaber so soon after picking one up for the first time?” But her usual weapon/tool is a big stick so maybe the fighting styles are similar enough… and there are hints that a lot more is going on with her… Anyway, it’s Star Wars. The answer, as always, is, THE FORCE. That’s how. That’s how anything.
The big difference between Rey and Leia that I appreciate, is that the new movie’s story arc gets to be Rey’s story arc. Leia’s story was always secondary in the first trilogy. The difference that I don’t appreciate so much, is that Rey seems a little under-written. She’s a likable presence on screen and has moments of real verve, but on the balance of “let’s keep her motivations and her past mysterious so we have secrets to reveal in the next movie” and “let’s tell you everything,” the movie leans too hard on “secrets.”
One thing both Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back really nailed, was having a trio of heroes who were sort of annoying (but not TOO annoying) and always arguing with each other. Han and Luke thought Leia was irritable and bossy, Leia and Luke thought Han was arrogant, amoral and unreliable, and Han and Leia thought Luke was an immature whiner. And they were all kinda right, and kinda wrong. I think that’s also why the fire goes out sometime during the third movie, when Leia stops snarking at people, Han stops being amoral and potentially unreliable, and Luke stops being naive.
(As a side note, the appearance of Leia and Han in the new film is glorious — I was really worried that the actors would seem cranky and detached and walk through their parts, like Jeff Bridges in the Tron sequel or Harrison Ford in the last Indiana Jones movie, but they are great, and their scenes together are magic.)
The new movie has enough banter and conflict to keep things interesting, but nothing quite like the magic of the original. Still, I don’t think that’s a realistic expectation. You can’t create magic on command. What you can do is craft something solidly entertaining, which this movie is. Putting a young woman in the Luke role is one of the things that feels fresh, in a story that is, by design, highly reminiscent of the first trilogy.
But is Rey a “Mary Sue?”
As others have observed, the Mary Sue accusation has become a cheap way of tearing down female heroes. It’s rarely used as part of a compelling argument for why a character or story is weak. Instead, the goal seems to be to “prove” the character is a Mary Sue — usually by stretching the definition so that basically any action-adventure hero is a Mary Sue — and then treating this as irrefutable proof that the movie is bad.
Which is ridiculous. Sure, Mary Sue-ish-ness can ruin a story. But let’s remember where the term came from — The first Mary Sue was a parody character lampooning bad fan fiction characters. And what made a Mary Sue-type-character bad? Functioning as a wish-fulfillment insert character for the author, to the extent that it became ridiculous — the character and their story were not entertaining except in an ironic way.
A Mary Sue (male or female) isn’t just a character the writer might want to identify with — the Mary Sue is EVERYTHING the writer wants to be, including concepts that don’t work well together, or have no relevance to the universe the Mary Sue is placed into. A Mary Sue is too much of a wish fulfillment vehicle to be allowed to do the things that interesting protagonists do — make mistakes or fail or be unsure or disliked or ignored or rejected or in any real danger.
The Mary Sue can’t ever nor be the focus of attention, which I believe automatically disqualifies anyone fighting as part of a team — such as Rey in The Force Awakens — from being a Mary Sue. If even one other character has a story arc as important or prominent as the character in question (such as Finn, the defecting stormtrooper), the character can’t be a Mary Sue.
A Mary Sue is idealized wish fulfillment cranked up to the point where the whole universe is about wish fulfillment, and so narrowly targeted to the writer’s personal desires that anyone else who reads it is likely to say, “Dude, dial it down a notch. Your character is the youngest Starfleet officer ever, the best pilot ever, more telepathically gifted than Vulcans, has a special aura of sexual attractiveness and an ability to manipulate time and space that mostly serves to land him in a threesome with Captains Kirk and Janeway… And I haven’t even gotten to the wings or the inexplicable appearance of characters from the Firefly universe.”
A Mary Sue cannot merely be any competent character the author or audience identifies with — at that point, there’s basically no difference between a Mary Sue and any other heroic protagonist. A Mary Sue, and the story that contains them, has to be so strongly driven by wish fulfillment that it’s not interesting if you don’t want to project yourself into them, if you don’t want to BE Mary Sue.
Then again — is a Mary Sue protagonist always a problem?
James Bond, in the films, is probably the most Mary Sue character ever invented. Think about it — he’s improbably good at a diverse collection of things, AND is impossibly suave, AND is super-duper desirable to the opposite sex, AND he’s famous/infamous within the movie universe, AND everything that happens in the movies is laser-focused around him to the extent that other characters barely exist, AND he kinda barely exists as well — he’s not even supposed to be an emotionally rich and depth-filled character, he’s supposed to be an awesome, never-flustered guy who looks good in a suit who does exciting things.
And yet, James Bond is massively popular. Does that mean he’s not a Mary Sue after all? No, it means that a Mary Sue protagonist is not an automatic fail. The problem with writing narrowly to fulfill your own particular fantasies, is usually that you’re an audience of one. So if you please yourself, but no one else, that’s the failure point. You’ve written a story that nobody but you could possibly like.
But if millions of people share your desire to project yourself into whatever character you’ve created? Then a Mary Sue protagonist is not a flaw, it’s a phenomenon.
This is why dismissing a female character as a “Mary Sue” comes across as plain old sexism. Adventure fiction is absolutely swimming with male characters who could be accused of being Mary Sues, but nobody bothers to accuse male characters of it. Why is Rey a Mary Sue, when Luke isn’t? Why is Bella Swan a Mary Sue, when James Bond isn’t? Why isn’t Batman or Tony Stark a Mary Sue? Why not Jason Bourne or the hero of any Tom Clancy novel? Why not Indiana Jones? Aragorn? Conan? King Arthur?
Sure, nobody thinks James Bond or Luke Skywalker is a realistic character, but nobody makes them justify their existence either. Of course there are characters designed for 12-year-old boys to project their power fantasies into. Why wouldn’t there be? But give 12-year-old girls the same experience and suddenly… she’s too competent! Too powerful! Too interesting! Too Mary Sue! She ruins the movie! She’s a bad character and you should feel bad for liking her!
So, thbbbbt to that.
Rey isn’t a Mary Sue. But even if she were, so what?
Act 1 — Circa 100 AD — two people pass each other in the marketplace
Have you heard the good news?
What good news?
We are all loved and should love one another in return.
That sounds pretty good. How do you know this?
The creator of the universe sent an emissary, to unite the human and the divine, and to show us the way. This emissary was executed, and died, and lived again. Love transcends death. We no longer need to fear death. We don’t have to be afraid of anything.
Wow, that does sound like good news. So what am i supposed to do now that I’ve heard this good news?
Love the universe with all your heart and soul, and love your fellow humans as you love yourself.
Wait. Love my fellow humans?
All of them?
Even the dirty foreigners?
Especially foreigners. In the eyes of love there is no difference. People of every kind are equally loved and equally important — rich and poor, native and foreign, sick and well, male and female —
Wait did you just say there’s no difference between men and women?
Not in the eyes of divine love.
So, wait, you’re telling me that this good news means I’m supposed to think that foreigners, women, beggars, lepers, prisoners… all these are as good as I am?
Yes, as a matter of fact, they are.
That doesn’t sound like good news to me.
But it works both ways. It means you’re as good as the emperor.
I do like that part. Can I keep the good news where I don’t have to die and I’m as good as the emperor, but lose the part where I have to love foreigners?
That is not the good news I’m trying to share.
I like it, though. Thanks! (Walks off stage, whistling. From off stage we hear, “have you heard the good news?”)
Act 2 — the present day — the first person, standing in the same position on stage, is now in modern dress. A second person in modern dress comes on stage, carrying pamphlets.
Have you heard the good news?
What good news?
After you die, you’re going to be consigned eternally to a realm of unimaginable torment.
That doesn’t sound like good news.
The good part is that you can be saved from this fate.
You have to believe in the power of my prophet to save you.
Just believe? That’s it?
Yes. But you also need to join my group.
Why? If all I have to do is believe?
If you really believed, you would believe you had to join my group.
What does it mean to join your group?
You have to go to weekly meetings, and you have to follow this list of rules.
These rules are mostly about sex.
If you really believed, you would believe the sex rules are very important.
What about foreigners? Women? Prisoners? The poor? The sick?
What about them?
Aren’t there any rules about taking care of the less fortunate? Treating people with dignity? Seeing other people as equals? Isn’t there anything about love?
Of course the creator loves you. I mentioned that, didn’t I?
No, you mentioned eternal torment and sex.
Well, the creator loves you, and that’s why he’s going to save you from eternal torment if you believe.
But who made the eternal torment?
The creator, of course.
The creator made a realm of eternal torment in order for joining your group to save me from it?
That’s right! Will you be joining my group now?
No, I really don’t think so.
(Both leave the stage in opposite directions. From offstage we hear, “have you heard the good news?”)
NaNoWriMo 2015: I succeeded, but barely, and a little sloppily.
The words weren’t all from the same novel, for example. And normally when I write, if I change my mind mid-scene about how the scene should go or what line of dialog the person should say, I will delete the previous stuff. Here, I just marked it off and kept going.
Anyway, it’s NaNoWriMo so it’s okay.
Originally, I wanted to do NaNo this year because I had an SF idea that I wanted to explore, when I’m actually really supposed to be working on a final draft of the Waking Up Naked in Strange Places sequel. So I thought, “Ah, I’ll set aside one month exactly to explore this other idea that’s been kinda bugging me!” And about three days in, I realized that other idea just wasn’t ready to be born yet. Plus, I got a fortune cookie that said something like “old ideas resurface” or “your past comes back to haunt you” or “that thing you were working on before, go back to that.” (I’m paraphrasing.)
The fortune cookie had the last word. So, for the rest of the month, I worked on Tales of the Rougarou Book 2. I wasn’t writing-writing so much as I was pre-writing: sketching things out, exploring, brainstorming. It turned out that I was more or less using the technique recommended by Rachel Aaron in her book 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love even though I didn’t read that book until the final week of November, after having it recommended by Annie Bellet at Orycon. Rachel’s book gave me some additional ideas, and also encouraged me that what I was doing was likely to pay off.
So now I’ve got 50,000 words of pre-writing, waiting to be turned into actual writing. What is the difference you ask? Here is what pre-writing looks like, in a scene between Abby and Steph’s mom in New Orleans:
oh my goodness i hear her exclaim from the other room
the newscast about a dead tourist
abby has fear
i don’t remember what happened last night
could i have done it i have to find out
showing where the body was found
???where was it found????
okay, in the quarter near the river, that little park area, down near the water where there’s all that gravel and stuff see if you can find a picture of it i think i took a picture of it
i recognize the spot
i have to get there soon or i won’t be able to tell anything from the smell
I’m feeling kind of — i need to get out of the house mrs. marchande. i’m going for a walk
it’s 11 am mrs marchande
it can still be dangerous out there
i know. it’s dangerous everywhere
sigh. i guess you’ll do what you want anyway, huh? steph always did
brief flicker of curiosity to have her tell me about steph as a teenager
but i need to go. i guess. i smile. remember why steph even knows me. because i ran away from home.
oh honey, but that was — that was a very bad situation. that’s not like — she searches around for an emotion and settles on indignation. we never treated steph the way your father treated you. that.. torture and all.
of course you didn’t. but mrs. marchande. until i left, i didn’t really know i had been mistreated. everything my father did to me, to us, he said he was doing it for the sake of our souls. and i knew how much i hated it, but i didn’t know any better. i thought the flaw was in me. that’s why i left. not to punish him or even get away from him, but because i thought i was the trouble. the one making things bad. i didn’t leave to save myself, i left to save everyone else.
my voice shakes and we sit in silence for a moment while i blink back tears.
she frowns clearly distressed but unable to think of what to say
well, just take your phone with you. and remember that extra battery!
i will. thank you for helping me pick out a dress. (dress in bag so she doesn’t have to go all the way back home to change.) ??what time was their dinner with Pere Claude supposed to be again??
This is very typical of my pre-writing. A little plot logic, a few logistical notes, a couple of notes to myself to look something up, and a whole lot of dialog. My pre-writing is nearly all dialog. (Although sometimes it’s internal dialog, especially in a first person book like this.) I don’t know if it’s just the way I do things, or a habit from years of scripting Goth House, but dialog is nearly always where I find the heart of a scene. I wind people up and let them talk at each other and eventually they tell me what the scene is about.
I might use exactly none of those words in the final edit. But I have still figured out the conflict between Abby and Steph’s mom here — Steph’s mom has an impulse to exert parental control over Abby, at least partly driven by feeling that she failed to do that with Steph. Abby needs to make her own decisions, like mot teenagers, but also, how can you possibly explain the whole being-a-werewolf thing to your adopted sorta-grandmother? Still, she doesn’t want to make Steph’s mom feel bad, so she tries to explain why she’s not very responsive to parental control, and finds herself touching on something emotionally deeper and more upsetting than what she intended to be talking about.
Also, notice the general lack of capitalization. That’s how you can tell I was writing this in Evernote instead of in Scrivener, because I have Scrivener set to capitalize new sentences automatically. It was sort of an experiment to see how well Evernote (which I already use in a possibly futile attempt to keep my life from spiraling madly out of control) and my iPad worked as a primary writing combo.
I think Evernote works for pre-writing and planning and idea-capturing fairly well, but it can’t replace Scrivener as a final-version drafting tool. It lacks certain basic features, such as global search-replace for that one character whose name I keep changing, and it does not replicate Scrivener’s nesting architecture at all. The structure I like to use puts scenes within chapters within story sections within beats within acts. The beats and acts more or less conform to Blake Snyder’s Save the Cat Beat Sheet.
This structure helps me locate individual scenes when I’m looking for them, but the ability to look at the story in layers also helps me think about the layered story arcs. You know, is there movement in this scene, in this chapter, in this section, in this story beat. Evernote is much flatter — notes within notebooks within stacks is the limit of its nesting.
But the real problem turned out to be sort order. Scrivener allows you to just put things in a certain order, while the only real way to sort things in Evernote is using titles. I made a stab at coming up with a title-sort-scheme early in the process, but quickly realized that it was too cumbersome when doing things like breaking up a scene into two sub-scenes, or anything else that changed the order of scenes.
So, what do I have now? A pre-drafted novel waiting to be turned into an actual draft. That seems like a reasonably productive November.
One of my earliest memories is my first nightmare. I was five, had just started kindergarten, and was having… social adjustment problems. As the oldest child in my family, I was used to interacting with adults. I was also a nerdy little thing, already prone to big words (for a five-year-old) and science fiction references. I didn’t understand kindergarten — it seemed like it was for babies — and kindergarten didn’t understand me, either.
In this dream, the kids in my kindergarten class were being herded into a vast and terrifying machine. I think its design was based on a combination of the harpy-making-machine in the freakily unsettling cartoon Jack and the Witch and the force-feeding machine in the grotesquely disturbing cartoon Pigs is Pigs, although now my brain keeps trying to make it into the creepy machine in the video for “Another Brick in the Wall” by Pink Floyd, which of course I didn’t see until many years later.
This machine was giving all the kids Spock ears. And in the dream, this was the worst thing that could ever possibly happen. I tried to run, but didn’t get anywhere. I tried to fight back, but couldn’t escape. I was helpless, about to be devoured by the enormous black maw of that dreadful machine.
Then I woke up. I had been terrified and now I was just confused. Spock ears? Those weren’t scary. Anyway, I liked Mr. Spock.
Over the years, I thought about that nightmare a lot. I was fascinated by the difference between scary in real life and scary in dreams, and also fascinated by the difference between things that were scary by design, such as ghost stories, and things that were deeply terrifying without apparent intent to be, like the cartoons that helped build my nightmare machine, or, the scariest entertainment EVER MADE, which is obviously Lidsville.
If this doesn’t terrify you, your fear circuits are broken.
Eventually I became a horror fan. Cabin in the Woods, the Drew Goddard/Joss Whedon horror comedy is one of my favorite movies. CITW has become a beloved modern classic of the genre, but it also has a fair number of detractors. Some non-fans are just, like, “I don’t enjoy the Whedon-i-ness of it,” which is fair, because it is indeed Whedon-y. That’s taste, for which there is no accounting.
However, another common line taken by CITW detractors is one that baffles me: that it is a failure because it is insufficiently scary, indeed, not a horror movie at all. (Becca’s position in this AV Club article sums it up pretty well.)
So that got me thinking about what makes something scary. If I made “actually scared me” my measure for whether something is horror or not, almost nothing would make the cut, and a lot of the things that would make the cut would be weird edge cases — is Eraserhead a horror movie?
In the AV Club article, the CITW fan makes a surprising concession:
If I agree that it’s not exactly The Exorcist in terms of scares, can you admit that structurally and content-wise, there’s nothing preventing it from being classified as horror?”
The Exorcist? Really? That’s your gold standard for scariness? I mean, it was a pretty good movie, sure, and it was clearly horror by genre, but the only bit that I would say actually scared me was when Regan gets a carotid angiography — you know, the part where she is helpless and immobilized and hooked up to a terrifying, thumping machine?
Sometimes I think our vocabulary to talk about fear lacks important nuance. In The Gift of Fear, Gavin de Becker works to make a distinction between real fear, an instinctive gut-level reaction prompted by our subconscious minds evaluating the details of our immediate situation, and something that we call fear, which is really more a like fretting or worry or anxiety, based on abstract social narratives and frequently about as far from the real threats to our well-being as you could possibly get.
My go-to example of the difference between the two types of fear is this scenario: a woman is walking home alone at night. (She is not a vampire.) A male co-worker drives by and offers her a ride. Something about it seems off, and she hesitates to accept. Then the co-worker turns up the pressure. You’re a woman — isn’t it dangerous for you to be out here? Aren’t you scared? And she is scared, But her real fear is of him. Her fear of being alone in a city at night is a social construct. Which fear will she listen to? (In a horror movie, she probably gets in the car.)
Anyway, we call both of them fear, but they’re not exactly the same emotion. There’s another kind of fear that shows up in horror movies, the jump-scare — adrenaline fear. You’ve been startled. Maybe you scream. It might be the killer. It might be the cat. Most horror movies include at least one of these, but a movie with nothing but jump scares quickly becomes tiresome and not scary anymore.
Then there’s the gross out, which isn’t fear, exactly, yet is fairly central to the horror genre. The grotesquerie in The X-Files is certainly one of the reasons I tend to class the show as horror. A movie where stuff happens with guts on display automatically seems scarier than the same movie without any visible guts.
And yet, the most consistently frightening sub-genre of horror, the ghost story, is also the least gross. But why are ghosts scary? What are they actually going to do to you? What is it that makes a typical action movie, where the protagonist might get killed, less scary than a ghost story, where the threat is so enigmatic you can hardly describe it?
Speaking of action movies, at what point does a thriller become a horror movie? Silence of the Lambs is usually considered a horror movie, while Die Hard is not. Is it just the serial killer factor? Why would a serial killer be scarier than any other kind of killer? It’s not like they have the power to make you be extra dead. In fact, in terms of lives lost, a serial killer is far less of a threat than a terrorist or a supervillain or a virus or a Hitler.
Which makes me wonder why there aren’t more horror movies about Hitler. Is that kind of real-world evil not good fodder for horror movies? Is it too real? Too big? Too important? Which reminds me that one of the scariest films I have ever seen is The Day After, but I’m not sure I’d put it in the horror genre. Science fictional dystopias and apocalypses are usually not reckoned as horror, unless it’s a zombie or vampire apocalypse.
Is the personal nature of the serial killer threat what makes it horror? Or is it the hint of the uncanny — the fact that there’s something inexplicable about serial killers? We can’t help but wonder why anyone would do something like that. It seems to suggest something darkly unsettling about human nature.
Unsettling. Maybe that sense of fundamental unease is a stronger marker of horror, as a genre, than fear. Is it scary? Maybe kinda. But is it weird, macabre, creepy, spooky, eerie, or disturbing? Do things happen that shouldn’t happen according to our usual model of reality? Does the movie force us to break down boundaries we thought were settled? Alive and dead, good and evil, human and non-human? Does it threaten our sense of self? Is it existentially terrifying? Does it suggest that the universe as we think we understand it is nothing more than a simple-minded illusion hiding, barely, a churning abyss of fear and wonder beyond our capacity to imagine?
By this measure, Cabin in the Woods is certainly horror, and I feel perfectly comfortable insisting that it does, in fact, belong in the genre. But, much as I love it, it’s hardly the most frightening horror movie I’ve ever seen. That honor still, probably, goes to The Haunting (1963 B&W version of course.) The scariest thing I’ve seen recently was The Babadook. What do those movies have in common? Well, they both feature a troubled but relatable female protagonist. They both have a clear but enigmatic threat, with a strong psychological component. To what extent is any of this real? Is there truly an external threat, or is the protagonist the only real danger? How can you tell what’s real? What horrors is the protagonist capable of? And, they both use sound to great effect.
It’s Halloween right now and very stormy.
Listen to the wind howl.
The title of this essay is from the Rocky Erickson song “I Have Always Been Here Before” because it was going through my head while I worked on this.
That that you remember in an early child’s delight
That that was supposed to have frightened you
But somehow you never took to fright
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 9 of 9. VICTORY IS MINE!!!!!!!! )
Let’s see, where were we? I believe our essayist was insisting that his erotic preferences are, in fact, the obvious and objectively correct default for the entirety of the human race.
It is obvious that men and women are different both in fine and in gross.
Annnnnd we’re off to the races again, with Mr. Wright obsessing about all the ways in which women are different from men. (Also, “fine and gross“? That’s almost as bad as “fecund.”)
Whew, it’s steamy in here, somebody get a fan!
We can define Political Correctness as the attempt to express fury and envy via radical changes to legal and social institutions.
I suppose we could, but that’s not really a very good definition.
I believe “politically correct” was, much like “social justice warrior,” originally — originally, mind you — a bit of an ironic way to describe somebody who had a certain kind of holier-than-thou but actually rather shallow approach to social justice. To be “politically correct” was to be perfectly orthodox and up-to-date with things like the approved language to talk about disadvantaged groups, but in practice to be more interested in “gotcha!” moments and shaming than in actual social justice.
Then, just as with “social justice warrior,” it was picked up by people who truly were opponents of social justice, to belittle social justice concerns as being inherently self-righteous, shallow, and disingenuous. To them, everything was “politically correct” if it was motivated by social justice, or even common courtesy.
So, for example, if I tell you that something you’ve said is rude, offensive, sexist, racist, bigoted, mean, or just plain wrong, you respond by dismissing me as “politically correct.” Meaning, my concerns are superficial and ego-driven. Meaning, my objection to anything you’ve said is the real problem. Meaning, you have license to act like a jerk. So you can see why that usage of “politically correct” caught on. Who wouldn’t want to characterize their insensitive, self-absorbed jerkishness as brave, politically incorrect, truth-telling?
“Social Justice Warrior,” once it was removed from its original context, lost any obvious pejorative or ironic qualities. Interpreted literally, it sounds awesome. So calling people “SJWs” has become one of those weird one-sided would-be insults, like when mean kids call little nerd kids “brains” as if intelligence were a bad thing.
“Politically Correct,” however, does continue to convey a negative meaning without having to give it a lot of context. It sounds like it means “enforced orthodoxy,” which is not too far off. But if we take that meaning, it is actually just as common from the political right.
Anyway, Wright makes a couple of points here, which are actually perfectly reasonable — if you substitute “enforced orthodoxy” for “political correctness.”
So the logic of [enforced orthodoxy] directly defies the logic of drama. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. [..]The more [enforced orthodoxy] you have, the less Science Fiction you have, because [enforced orthodox] science is Junk Science.
See what I mean?
A deliberately unnatural pose
It is a deliberately unnatural pose. The women characters have to be portrayed as the types of character female readers, by and large, do not want to be like nor to read about, and the female characters have to do things women by and large do not attempt because they don’t create a big thrill in the feminine heart,
So who’s buying the books, then?
Seriously, you are a DUDE, dude. Why do you presume to be the authority on what types of characters female readers want to read about, or what creates a thrill in the feminine heart? Don’t things like book sales and fannish enthusiasms tell you what readers want? I mean, there are things like the Twilight series, which leans a bit more toward your theory of what women ought to like, and things like the Hunger Games books/movies which seem to refute it, but last I checked, both were equally popular and beloved with female readers.
Or, look at the movie Mad Max: Fury Road. Based on all available evidence, women loved the hell out of that movie and a significant number of them instantly wanted to be Imperator Furiosa. They wanted to be her SO MUCH. Yet, she’s pretty much exactly the kind of character you claim women don’t like or want to read about — a badass, taciturn, rage-filled, heroic, somewhat androgynous, Amazon. So, what, you think all those women who changed their Twitter handles to some play on “Imperator Furiosa” or who built outfits so they could cosplay as her during conventions were lying, somehow? For whose possible benefit?
The obvious explanation is that many women do, in fact, like that sort of character. Maybe not properly feminine women, in your view. But they are just as real as you are, and they like science fiction just as much as you do.
Why in the world would anyone in his right mind pen a poisonous letter on this topic? I am not trying to Save Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters. The idea is ridiculous, so ridiculous that I honestly thought nobody, not even a humorless Political Correction Officer would take it seriously. The title is meant as an obvious joke.”
Wait — what, really?
SO WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN TALKING ABOUT ALL THIS TIME, HONESTLY, THIS THING IS AS LONG AS THE WARREN COMMISSION REPORT.
A completely accurate picture of my feelings right now.
It seems pretty obvious that he’s being disingenuous here — “I spent a million words talking about this thing, but I didn’t really mean any of it, ha-ha, so you can’t write me angry letters! Psych!”
I’m not going to send him angry letters. What would be the point? Frankly, I’d rather go back to not knowing he exists. But it all makes me feel very…
…tired. We’ve been spinning our wheels, stuck in the same mud of sexist stupidity for most of my life, and it’s exhausting. How long can we keep having the same dumb arguments in the same dumb ways?
We’ve got “benevolent” sexists like John C. Wright, who wants to do sexism Victorian angel-of-the-house style, and bro-dude “Men’s Rights Activist” sexists like the one who originally published this screed, who wants to do sexism in a confusing mixture of Saudi Arabian sexual apartheid style and Mad Men playboy bunny style, and toxic Christian patriarchalists like Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill, who manages to combine the worst aspects of both.
But not one of them is adding anything new to the conversation. I think that’s because there isn’t anything new to add. Every pro-patriarchy/anti-feminism argument you could possibly make has already been made.
I’ve never seen the basis for patriarchy expressed more neatly than by Dr. Johnson in 1763:
Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.
He’s old-timey, so you know he knows what he’s talking about
But in that same era we have Abigail Adams, in a 1776 letter to the Continental Congress, expressing the basis for feminism:
remember the ladies, and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors. Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no voice, or Representation.
She’s old-timey, so you know she knows what she’s talking about
Same battle. Same arguments. So why can’t some people let go of sexual inequality? What are they getting out of it?
I typed that question, “What are they getting out of it?” and right away the Rolling Stones song “Under My Thumb” started playing on the radio. (Thanks for the tip, universe!)
I’ve never known quite how to take that song. It’s super-catchy, and so over the top that I’m inclined to think it’s intentionally ironic — but maybe I just want to think that because it’s so catchy. The funny thing is, while it seems so clearly to be sung from a patriarchal standpoint, I’ve heard female vocalists do covers of it, and it doesn’t really change the song. It’s about domination, and domination doesn’t have to go in a particular gendered direction. It’s just that, historically, it has.
Patriarchal culture teaches that a “real man” is supposed to want to dominate, no matter what he says to the contrary, while a “real woman” is supposed to crave being dominated, no matter what she says to the contrary. As our essayist earlier asserted:
a healthy woman [..] should be delighted even if she is offended when Tarzan throws her over his shoulder [..] A man should not admire physical strength in women
The thing is, bad evolutionary psychology aside, this kind of relationship was never natural for most people. A lot of men — good men, strong men, heroic men, men who are leaders — still have no desire to dominate others (and the “real men” call them wimps and sissies.) As for female submission, that had to be strongly coerced through economic and social necessity. So, when that coercion went away — with the death of the traditional patriarchy — most women weren’t willing to play along anymore. And men who still thought of dominance as their birthright were left screaming incoherently into the void.
Maybe — once you’ve accepted the frame that relationships are inevitably an exaggerated binary — dominant OR submissive, alpha OR omega — a reluctance to give up the perceived dominant position becomes inevitable. Because you certainly don’t want to be in the submissive position. Of course you don’t.
News flash! Nobody else does, either.
Sure, you can write two million words trying to explain that women are just naturally suited to the submissive, passive, secondary, supportive role, that they are different from men, configured by nature so that they love what you would hate, and that this difference makes it okay, even admirable, to treat them in a way you would never wish to be treated, and perfectly reasonable to expect things from them that you would never give up.
But it’s not true. And somewhere deep inside I think you know it’s not true. That’s why you work so hard to build up the narrative for it. Maybe part of you even feels the tiniest bit guilty — maybe that’s the root of “benevolent” sexism, that it’s a way to soothe the faint quivering of your conscience to tell yourself that you’re putting women above you, really. You’re not dominating them at all.
It’s not domination when you say men are active, women are passive.
Please be passive for me.
I just want you to do what I say
But pretend you’re doing it because you want to
It’s not domination when you say men are direct and women are delicate.
Please spare my feelings which are so very tender
But don’t take offense when I am inconsiderate of yours
Lie to me
But pretend it’s not a lie
It’s not domination when you say men have flawless powers of deductive reasoning and women… don’t.
I’m not trying to insult your intelligence, not really
I just want you to accept what I tell you
Pretend I’m always right
It’s certainly not domination when you admit that men act like children, is it?
Please pick up after me
Soothe my troubled brow
Endure my tantrums
But don’t presume any authority over me
I still want to be in charge of the home, and the world outside the home
I want all the privileges of a spoiled child, and all the traditional privileges of an adult man
Is that too much to ask?
If you can’t get beyond the binary of dominance and submission, then no wonder you assume that the feminist struggle to overthrow male dominance must be an attempt to replace it with female dominance. But feminism is more like the American revolution — an attempt to overthrow a gendered feudal system and replace it with a gender democracy. We’re trying to get rid of dominance and submission (except as it might be practiced safely and recreationally by two or more freely consenting adults, of course).
I’m going to close out with this quote from Gandalf:
Indeed he is in great fear, not knowing what mighty one may suddenly appear, wielding the Ring, and assailing him with war, seeking to cast him down and take his place. That we should wish to cast him down and have no one in his place is not a thought that occurs to his mind. That we should try to destroy the Ring itself has not yet entered into his darkest dream.
PS: The Ring is patriarchy.
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 8 of 9. Really? We’re not done yet? Good lord. )
When we left off, we were talking about feminism-as-cult.
So why are the ladies in despair? Why do they commit suicide in record numbers?
Is it because of me, John C Wright, internationally recognized science fiction author, failed attorney, retired newspaperman, savant and scholar with my fat belly and outrageous beard and nearsighted eyes, my glorious bald spot, my dull swordcane?
Did I suppress you, my dear ladies?
Are women actually committing suicide in record numbers? That seems rather a bold statement. I want to see it backed up. Anyway, I suspect you could easily drive women to contemplate suicide, Mr. Wright, if you locked them up for a prolonged period of time with nothing but your prose for company.
As far as science fiction goes, the theory here is that all the unfairness and unhappiness of history is cause by some sort of undefined and dim half-subconscious miasma or influence of thought, [..] Sorry. My sarcasm gland became inflamed.
I think they have a pill for that now.
The theory is that stories cause or at least influence the subconscious mind with a set of expectations,
Well, yes. That’s how stories work. That’s how culture works. Don’t pretend you don’t get it. You’ve just spent roughly the length of a George R.R. Martin novel trying to make a case for “strong female characters” as an attempt by a shadowy conspiracy to influence the expectations of readers in one direction. Are you really trying to claim that it is only leftist-feminists who can possibly influence people through storytelling, and not advocates for the more conservative traditions that you favor?
Hmm, yes, I suppose you are.
I am not clear on the details of how the theory goes.
Boys adventure stories since the days of Treasure Island tend to be an all-boy’s affair [..]So, as far as I can tell, the complaint about Science Fiction having at one time being an all-boys club where women were scarcely ever seen is a perfectly reasonable complaint.
And then things changed, and became way less male-dominated. And then dudes like you started kicking up a fuss. Have I got that right? Look, dude, you should make up your mind. Either feminists have a legit complaint, or they don’t. Stop trying to have it both ways.
My argument here is that they are asking for realistic female characters and calling it strength, or they are asking for female characters in starring roles, whose decisions are central to the plot, and calling it strength, because they don’t know any other word for this quality.
And, seemingly by accident, he comes around to a point I would make myself — that “strong female character” is relatively meaningless except as another way to say “prominent female character who I like and am interested in.” One full point.
As a note to both Wright and others — the second one, the female character who is in a starring role and makes decisions central to the plot, we call that a “protagonist.” Please make a note of it.
But here is what it looks like to me, given my limited experience. I have heard C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien denounced,
Only in fairly specific ways. For example, Lewis’ treatment of Susan in the final book is controversial. And those who complain about female characters in Tolkien don’t tend to complain about how strong they aren’t, but rather, about their relative lack in both numbers and screen time. LOTR has terrific female characters. Just, you know, not very many of them.
Anyway, feminist critics aren’t exactly a group mind.
All shall love me and despair!
Now, again, it may be my limited experience, but the only female characters I hear being complimented as strong by the Left are the ones in traditionally male roles, such as military officers, vampire hunters, and vigilantes.
Why, yes, I suppose it must be your limited experience. This doesn’t fit at all with my sense of the way “strong female character” is used. Fans who don’t care for military SF, urban fantasy, or violent stories in general often use it to talk about the female protagonists in romance novels. Fans use it to talk about the female characters in Dean Koontz or the worlds of Joss Whedon. It means nothing because it’s widely used as a catch-all, not because it’s narrowly used to describe only a certain kind of female character appearing in a certain kind of story.
My cynical question is this: when they ask for ‘strong’ female characters, are they actually honestly asking for strong female characters, Deborah from the Bible, Antigone from myth, Britomart from poetry, or are they only asking for Leftist female characters, that is, for poster children for Leftist causes?”
I can speak only for myself. I want strong characters, who are female. Simple enough?
Boudicca, who is probably a strong female character
In sum, as far as I can tell, the complaint that Science Fiction lacks strong female characters is akin to the complaint that Science Fiction is meant for juvenile audiences. That has not been true during my lifetime.
Except, there’s a difference between “has strong female characters” and “half the strong characters are female.” Just as there’s a difference between “women are allowed to serve in Congress” and “half the members of Congress are women” or “women can be CEOs” and “half the CEOs are women.”
But as we get closer to parity with written science fiction and fantasy, that appears to be, from the “puppy” perspective, exactly the problem. Their whole campaign has simmered with an undercurrent of something that I would call gender panic (this essay being a prime example).
Whenever they talk about 2014 Best Novel Hugo winner Ancillary Justice, they zero in on an aspect of its style: the English female third person (she, her) is used to indicate the non-gendered third person of the language spoken as a default by the narrator.
This is an interesting choice that ties into an overall theme contrasting identity (which might be distributed, in the world of the novel, across many bodies) with the individual physical body. But as far as the puppies are concerned, it’s the most outrageously outrageous thing anyone has ever done in the history of science fiction.
Further, in their narrative, nobody actually liked the book — nobody found the use of the female third interesting in an SFinal way, providing an intriguing new twist or thought experiment on what is in many ways a classic space opera. No, Wright’s “cultists” just arbitrarily gave it an award because the whole pronoun thing satisfies a box on the political correctness checklist.
So my cynical question is this: when you question the desire for “strong female characters,” have you questioned your own motives? Are you really asking for a Deborah or an Antigone? Or do you just want female characters who inflame your lust and flatter your sense of your own masculinity?
have not seen even the slightest trace of the all-boy club mentality ever, neither in any writer nor in any editor nor in any reader.
Well, there’s this essay.
But why would you expect to see it? You’re a dude, dude. Even if it were there, you probably wouldn’t see it. THEY DON’T DO IT WHEN YOU’RE AROUND.
Myself, I would like to see strong characters of either sex doing things in stories.
One full point.
I gave this essay the provocative title “Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters”, but in it propose a rather unprovocative idea: namely, that woman can be both strong and feminine, and that one does not need to make them overtly masculine to make them admirable and edifying characters.
Oh. Oh, I see. You were writing clickbait. You don’t actually mean what you wrote. You were being dishonest. Minus all the points.
Also, edifying? Dude, do you think we are writing Victorian children’s books here?
This is actually not a children’s book but I thought it was appropriate.
I propose further that a brief, utterly unscientific survey of pre-1950s science fiction showed a healthy number of perfectly strong female characters even in the most boyish of boy’s literature.”
A healthy number. To be sure. Anything approaching parity? That is, 50/50? That is, the actual ratio of women to men in the real world?
How does nature work? Women like men who are virile, vigorous and potent. They like men who are confident, decisive, courageous, and assertive. They want a man who fights. They like strong men.
“Virile” and “potent” pretty much mean the same thing. Also, you’ve already admitted that you’re none of those things that women supposedly want from men, except possibly “assertive.” I believe you’re married, Mr. Wright — how do you explain this?
Men like women who are nubile, fertile and fecund. They want a girl worth fighting for.
Dude, that’s what you want. Okay?
And, as a writer, you should pay some attention to word choice. “Nubile” sounds like the sort of word used by older men creeping on women way too young for them, “fertile” is only relevant if you actually want children, and “fecund” is not only basically just “fertile” again, it’s an ugly word inescapably redolent of “feces.” You use “fecund” to describe things that are fertile in an unpleasant manner. The poisonous vegetation writhing around the tainted well in “The Colour Out of Space” is fecund, not a person you like.
Looks fecund to me
Why does nature saddle us with these, (to a feminist), uncouth and inconvenient urges where different things attract the different sexes to each other?
How many times do I have to say “speak for yourself”? Are you literally incapable of understanding that individual humans have their own erotic preferences, which are not yours, and might have very little to do with yours?
Look around you. Are all men exactly like you? No? Is every man paired up with someone exactly like your own wife? Of course not. Human experience is extremely varied. Why wouldn’t you expect fiction, especially fantastical fiction, to reflect that reality?
If it’s really natural, it just happens.
And it’s hard to miss that, when it comes to sexual attraction, practically everything is natural — to an extent. Sure, some things are more common than others. But why does fiction have to be about what’s common? All feminist concerns aside, a story about a traditionally patriarchal man hooking up with a traditionally patriarchal woman in a traditionally patriarchal manner sounds boring. I mean, if you want to read that sort of thing — whatever. I think there’s probably a Conservative Christian Romance sub-genre just for you.
But I want to read science fiction and fantasy. I want to read about a squid person from a planet with twelve genders who steals a spaceship with an ungendered AI and they run off to have exciting interstellar adventures with a crew of misfits that includes a superintelligent shade of the color blue and a singing houseplant and a swarm of mutant space-lobsters that functions as a single entity.
Does that sound “politically correct” to you? Or does it sound — you know — fun?
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 7 of 9. I… I don’t know if I can make it after all… let me just lie here… and die… )
When we left off, our essayist was explaining the conspiracy to take over the country for the forces of political correctness, starting with science fiction, starting with an insistence on strong female characters, because… uh, I’ll let him explain it:
The cult wants to put leftwing messages into stories to influence the minds of the reading public and make their leftwing worldview seem like the norm, the default view, so that everything natural and decent and traditional and rational seems unbearably wicked and disgusting.
Oh, I see. “Strong female characters” are a leftist plot to influence the minds of the reading public against ALL THAT IS GOOD AND DECENT. And all feminists are members of a cult. Well, that is certainly a reasonable and nuanced position that in no way makes you sound like a hysterical paranoid crank.
Notice how making men do “women’s work,” while women get to laze about like men do, is the most horrible injustice the anti-suffragist can think of
The fact that male babies need and want and love female mothers to raise them and the fact that male fathers need female wives to make more male babies never enters into this enrapturing vision of the eternal war between the sexes.
Dude, it’s very rare for a feminist to actually recommend complete sexual apartheid, and when they do, the other feminists think they’re weird. Lois McMaster Bujold had an interesting thought experiment in Ethan of Athos, which postulated a society that was, in the words of one critic, a feminist utopia inhabited entirely by men. But I don’t personally know any feminists who are so frustrated with childish menfolk that they want to get rid of them entirely. Usually we think that men are human beings just like us. We just wish they’d act better. Less childish.
In fact, I commonly see that kind of eliminationist rhetoric only among “men’s rights activists,” and it goes the other way. They fantasize about a world without women in a way that sometimes gets disturbingly reminiscent of “The Screwfly Solution.” (And if real men never talked like that, I doubt Tiptree’s story would have been written.)
By any measure, feminism has won an absolute triumph and swept the field of all opposition.
This essay seems to prove otherwise.
This essay, pretty much.
The women have more freedom, if by that we mean the lack of legal or cultural restriction or restraint, than ever did any of their mothers for all of time.
Note use of “the women” rather than “women.” Does that strike anyone else as weirdly otherizing, similar to using “females” where “women” would sound more natural”?
But, consider — women might be, in some societies (America), more free than any women in the history of ever — but if we are still not as free as the men in our society, then feminism has not yet triumphed.
It’s true that we (Americans) don’t have bans on women driving cars or having credit in their own name or serving on juries or voting or being out in public without an escort. Things that both men and women do, largely, women are no longer arbitrarily prevented from doing.
There are still many areas of both legality and custom that disproportionately affect women, because they pertain to reproduction, reproductive biology, and child-rearing. (The law, as they say, in its majestic equality, prevents men and women alike from breast feeding in public.) Planned Parenthood clinics getting shut down by aggressive conservative legislatures does affect men, but affects women much more severely and directly. The Supreme Court ruling in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby doesn’t specify women when it protects an employer’s right to opt out of having its health coverage pay for contraception, but, uh, if they developed a male birth control pill recently, I must have missed it. Single parents of either sex are equally burdened by a lack of affordable child care, but it should be obvious that women are far more likely to end up as single parents. College students of either sex are equally cautioned against getting drunk with strangers or walking home alone at night, but…
Wait, I’m sorry. That last one is completely false.
You can see why feminists think we’ve still got a ways to go.
Now, I have taken all this time to describe at length—tedious length, so I know that no one has read this far except for my one fan (Hi, Nate!)
Hey, a little bit of true self-knowledge! Half a point! And also… well, there’s me. I’m reading. it. GOOD LORD WHY AM I READING IT?
(Sits there, has an existential crisis. What hath my morbid curiosity wrought?)
Okay, I’m done. At this point I’m probably a victim of the sunk cost fallacy. I’ve come so far! I’m plowing through to the end!
Wait… hold on… if Nate and I are literally the only people who have read this thing, who nominated it for a Hugo? Could it be that people nominated it without reading it? Why, that cannot be! That would be — an abomination! A veritable blasphemy!
I wrote a book where the expedition to the nearby dwarf star V886 Centauri had an all-male crew. I did this because I wanted to have one character born aboard the ship without a clear explanation as to how exactly she was born; it was part of the mystery.
One of the cultists pretended to review the book. Pretended, because checking a book for cult-loyalty is not a review. [..] The cultist was shocked into gibbering Nyarlathotepian insanity by the fact that I was capable of imagining a ship with no female crew aboard. [..] condemned me as a misogynistic sexist”
Minus one point for a badly constructed Lovecraft reference. Should have been more like, “shocked into gibbering insanity as if by a single thin whine from the tuneless pipes that serenade the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.” This construction suggests that Nyarlathotep is the one who is insane, not the one who drives others insane.
Also, let me guess the general content of the review (based on my experiences with his fiction so far). “Badly written, poorly conceived, dully plotted, and without interesting characters. In addition, the device of having an all-male crew comes across as artificial and deeply sexist.”
Which would, of course, clearly mean that it was being checked for “cult loyalty.”
Anyway, if you want to review everything for whether you think the female characters are “feminine” enough, why can’t others do the same? Are you trying to claim that your preferences are merely the reasonable desires of an honorable man, while the preferences of women, or feminists, are obviously the result of loyalty to a mysterious and sinister cult?
Why, yes. I suppose that is what you’re claiming, isn’t it?
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 6 of 9. I can taste victory!)
When we left off, Mr. Wright was talking about how unrealistic he finds women in film who can kick your butt. He goes on:
I have never seen a scene where a woman fighting a man gets scared and starts crying and gives up,
Which is funny, because I feel like I have — so often that the scene in The Shining where Shelly Duvall gets scared, starts crying, and doesn’t give up, struck me as novel.
even though, without the madness of male hormones, that emotion of fear and surrender is much, much more common in women than in men.
In the “fight, flight or freeze” equation, I don’t know if women are more likely to freeze, but they are likely to freeze. This is a known problem in rape cases, because a woman who freezes looks, to some juries, “willing.” In fact, he just described it that way — as “surrender” — which eroticizes a reaction that would otherwise be described as “giving up” or “running out of steam.”
And what does he mean by the “madness of male hormones”? Is it code for ‘roid rage, or what? Because if he just means your stress response is set to “fight,” it may not be quite as typical for women, but it does happen. Some women get very HULK SMASH when we’re angry. Just because something is atypical doesn’t mean it never happens. And why expect fiction, especially fantastical fiction, to show what’s typical?
But I know of no little girl who picks up Barbie dolls and bend the feet to make a shape she can hold like a gun to shoot attacking pirates and ninjas and dinosaurs.
Of course not. Barbie is a glamorous international spy, or sometimes a girl detective, with ninja moves and many outfits and gadgets. As for “bending her feet to make a shape she can hold like a gun” — dude, have you ever seen a Barbie? Her feet are already bent, so that they can wear heels, and not even the tiniest baby has hands so small that a Barbie foot could reasonably function as a gun handle. Anyway, Barbie is primarily weaponized in two ways. One, laser helmet (hold Barbie in hand, shoot Barbie’s head at your foe), and two, lobbed projectile (throw Barbie at your foe). (I’m guessing Wright never played stuffed animal wars, or GI Joe and Barbie are Spies with his siblings.)
Also, you can modify your Barbie into Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
If you watch little girls run around at comic-cons and similar fan spaces, you would probably come to the conclusion that, no matter what anyone tells them, what little girls want is to be glamorously attired warrior princesses, with sparkly dresses, swords, secular authority, and magic powers.
So far, in none of these essays, have I mentioned what the objection is to the effort to making these masculinized glamour-model Amazons into main characters. [..] I have no objection to Mary Sue style wish-fulfillment characters who are good at everything and loved by all men. I do not see them as different from James Bond style wish- fulfillment characters who are good at everything and loved by all women.”
Something else he’s right about! Yes, James Bond is indeed a Mary Sue. Full point awarded!
My objection is to falseness, insincerity, propaganda, bad drama, bad art, and treason against the muses. My objection is to using art for propaganda purposes. My objection is to Politically Correct piety. My objection is to the Thought Police [..] My objection is to the spirit of totalitarianism.”
Ooookay…. so, what, all these “Amazons” would be okay if they were just fanservice for girls, but because the desire to see them is “insincere” they’re not okay? That is pretty much a textbook circular argument.
a: I want this thing.
b: it would be fine if you really wanted that thing, but you’re not sincere.
a: Yes I am. I want the thing.
b: Of course you don’t. Nobody wants that thing. It is unnatural for you to want the thing. Therefore, when you claim to want the thing, you cannot possibly be sincere.
a: No, seriously, I WANT THE THING.
b: it would be fine if you really wanted that thing, but you’re not sincere.
I have been subjected to the Leftist mob tactics of mass hatred once and once only. It was the time I mocked the Sci-Fi Channel, (now SyFy), for kowtowing to Political Correctness. My motive for objecting was perfectly clear to everyone: I would like to write without censorship, formal or informal, based on political considerations. Formal censorship is state enforced; informal is enforced by organized mob-tactics, minority pressure groups, yelling, screaming, boycotts, hysteria and general bullying.
Hmm… like GamerGate, perhaps? Or a certain TOR boycott?
I mocked the Sci-Fi Channel for encouraging the bullies by bowing the knee to them.
Specifics, dude. I want specifics.
And in return the mob tried to bully me, of all people.
Why you “of all people”? What makes you special?
As if I give a tinker’s damn for the opinions of these yowling halfwits.
Yeah? Then why are you whining about it now?
This taught me a lesson, but not the one the mob organizers wanted to teach. It taught me what they were afraid of. Not of me: no one can be afraid of a fat and balding nearsighted science fiction writer with a dull swordcane.
No indeed. So why do you keep trying to present yourself as some kind of fearsome warrior who wants to stab people through the eyeballs?
Nor were they offended by hearing sodomy called a sexual perversion, which I have done frequently before and since, never eliciting a single angry comment in reply, nor attracting the slightest notice.
Oh, you’re talking about that gay thing. Hey, wait a minute — did you notice the lesbian couple on Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Willow — the second most important character on the show — and Tara? They were kind of a big deal — an epic love story, really. They dated for two and a half seasons until Tara was killed by the extremely bad aim of an evil misogynist (whose rhetoric sounds an awful lot like that of the dude who published this essay, to be honest). Not only that, but in Seasons 6 and 7 there were some fairly explicit references to girl-girl oral sex, including the climax (ahem) of Tara’s melancholy love ballad during the musical episode, which is probably the single most-seen episode of the entire series.
DID YOU EVER EVEN WATCH THIS SHOW YOU CLAIM TO BE A FANBOY OF BECAUSE I’M NOT SURE YOU DID.
I spent some time looking for the sexiest Willow/Tara picture on the Internet and chose this one just for you
To explain what they are afraid of, I am afraid I have to explain something of the pathology of Leftism.
Oh, do tell. I suspect it will be every bit as insightful and accurate as your attempt to explain what women are thinking.
They actually think they are fooling us. No, stop laughing. I will give you a moment to catch your breath again.
Laughing at your own jokes is pathetic, dude.
They think we think they care about gays and lesbians and blacks and women and Jews, and that their motive is compassion for all these poor oppressed groups…. Please stop laughing. I will give you another moment.
Oh, I see. So liberals who are gay and lesbian and black and female and Jewish — none of them care about their own interests? That sounds very peculiar. For example, I can assure you that on my own behalf I care deeply about the treatment of women, which includes me. And stop laughing at your own jokes.
Now they know what their real motives are: to give themselves a sense of greatness which they do not deserve by thinking that they fought for civil rights that they actually oppose, out of compassion which they do not have for victims of utterly imaginary hardships and oppressions.
What civil rights did liberals oppose? How do you know whether someone has real compassion or not? Which hardships and oppressions are the imaginary ones?
Am I being unfair? Remind me of the last time a group of feminists rioted outside of a Saudi Embassy.
Oh, I see. So, literally the only thing that should be of any concern to any feminists anywhere is one of the worst countries on earth for human rights abuses of women? Come on, dude, you know perfectly well that if the only thing American feminists ever agitated for was for Saudi Arabia to change its sexist ways, you’d point to our lack of domestic activism as proof of insincerity, and claim that we have no right to try to tell a completely different country, in which we do not live, what they ought to be doing. It’s a dishonest rhetorical trick.
Incidentally, most American feminists of my acquaintance are highly supportive of the feminist women in places like India and the Middle East who are working to change their own patriarchal cultures for the better. This is a thing you might know if you spent any time among actual feminists.
You know, like this girl.
They want self-esteem without the effort of doing anything worthy of esteem. They yearn for the palm of martyrdom without actually suffering the pain of being a martyr in the same way they want the crown of righteousness without actually being right.[..]“They do not think it is evil if a man commits crimes; for them, evil is a matter of thinking the wrong thoughts. [..] They need rationalizations, they need excuses, they need a mask.
Oh. Dude. Self-knowledge, it is sitting right here waiting for you to grasp it.
They think they are smarter than us.
If “they” means me, the reader, and “us” means you, the writer — that’s fair. I do think I’m smarter than you. One full point.
these vaunting cretins whose arguments consist of nothing but tiresome talking points recited by rote and flaccid ad hominem, whose opinions are based on fashion
That self-knowledge, it’s just sitting right there, nothing stopping you.
But once on one of the subjects where this mental disease has taken hold, the cultist will and must say things no one is stupid enough to believe [..] These cultists are not monsters. Why, then, do they say things that anyone can see are utter evil, utter nonsense, utter folly?
Self-knowledge! Get your piping hot self-knowledge! Free today! All you have to do is take it!
If the cultist is frustrated, and if the frustration cannot be admitted honestly to be because of the foolishness of his goals, then the frustration of his goals must be blamed on an opponent, an oppressor, a conspiracy, a group of wrong-thinking people who have some base and vile motive for maintaining all the injustice and unfairness of the world. The wrong-thinking people are sadists, who thwart the utopia because and only because they want people to be unhappy. [..] So the Cult is interested in science fiction only because science fiction exists and the Cult demands total control over every aspect of human life down to the last nuance, (while denying that it makes that demand).
There is a psychological defense mechanism. Perhaps you have heard of it. It is called “projection.”
Anyway, once again — how many times do I have to say this — I have been both a feminist and an SF fan for pretty much my entire life, a thing which is true of most of the feminist SF fans I know. In fact, a great many of them were SF fans first and came to feminism a bit later in life — sometimes citing SF as the inspiration for their feminism.
We didn’t swoop in one day from the Planet of the Radical Feminists and decide that we wanted to take over America starting with science fiction.
Have you any idea how it feels to be a Fembot living in a Manbot’s Manputer’s world?
Female SF fans, feminist SF fans — we have been here the WHOLE TIME.
This genre is ours, as much as anyone’s.
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 5 of 9. We’re in the home stretch now!)
Earlier in the essay, we were treated to the spectacle of our essayist pretending he didn’t understand the dictionary definition of sexism. So, he redefined it to something he personally finds absurd, then declared anyone who uses the word “sexism” as it is normally defined to be obviously, inescapably, indubitably a stupid dummy head.
Here, we get the point — seemingly inevitable in any anti-feminist screed — where he doesn’t understand patriarchy:
Now, a rebuttal to this counter argument is that the categories of masculine and feminine are completely artificial, a social product of a sinister conspiracy of the Patriarchy. (I assume this refers to the government of the alien catlike species inhabiting a world circling 61 Ursae Majoris; and I assume and that this is meant as a serious argument, not merely tomfoolery and nonsense like the conspiracy theory behind Marxism, which proposes that investment bankers, not patriarchs, are the conspirators.)”
It’s common for anti-feminists to act as if “patriarchy” means The Patriarchy, as in, a specific group or cabal such as The Illuminati, then ridicule the notion as clearly be the product of a paranoid delusion. While feminists do sometimes use the term that way — as in, “I’d like to thank the patriarchy” — such a usage is both tongue in cheek and metaphorical.
We know perfectly well that patriarchy is not some guys in a room, such that if we could somehow manage to get rid of those guys we’d all live in the free gender utopia of our dreams.
These guys are not the patriarchy, although patriarchy is why they are all guys.
Patriarchy is a historic pattern of culture, politics and economics, designed to systematically deny full legal, social and economic rights to women. Earlier in this same essay, Wright acknowledged that he was actually on board with women’s suffrage — he thought being unable to vote was a legit injustice that women were correct to work to overcome.
WELL WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT IS, IF NOT PATRIARCHY?
The system that denied women the right to vote or own property in their own names or inherit or serve on juries or any of the myriad things it ever prevented women from doing — that is patriarchy. Right there. It’s a real thing, and that’s what it is.
And you can say “well, okay, then, the patriarchy is dead — we killed it. Women can vote and stuff now.”
True enough. And I would agree that the real, old, traditional patriarchy is, without a doubt, dead. Its heart — the patriarchal bargain, a certain kind of marriage and family arrangement — no longer beats. I’d like to bury it and dance on the grave, but everywhere I look, people like the essayist are trying to bring it back, to the extent that they have the power to do so.
Mr. Wright is so terribly, terribly worried that people are out there doing gender wrong. Why is he worried about that? Why does he feel such a pressing need to declare (at obsessive length) his specifics for properly feminine and properly masculine behavior?
Consider this: if men and women are truly, deeply, essentially different in inescapable ways driven by biology, then nobody needs to explain it to us. Nobody needs to lecture us at great length about doing it wrong. If it’s really natural, then it just happens. And the way it happens is, by definition, natural.
You cannot go against nature, because if you do, go against nature, that’s part of nature too
His urge to take charge of the process somehow — to make sure it happens according to his plan and his sense of how things should be properly arranged — that’s him fighting to keep a semblance of the patriarchy staggering onward.
Dead, the zombie patriarchy shambles on, dripping rotten flesh and trying to eat our brains.
Now we actually get back to the topic of Science Fiction:
My conclusion is that there is not an iota of real difference between the way women in the past were treated in SF stories and women now.
And that’s… another thing he’s kind of right about. Half a point! Only half a point, because I believe what he says is more true of how women are portrayed in the visual arts — movies, TV, comics and video games — than in written stories, but this essay has been sloppy about which kind of SF it’s talking about.
The fake difference is that some women are masculinized in order to satisfy a fundamentally illogical doctrine of Political Correctness. In the next part, I will attempt to explain why Science Fiction needs to be saved from this scourge of absurdity.
This is where his apparent inability to consider the entertainment marketplace as a manifestation of capitalism really trips him up. Why would anybody — in charge of a Marvel Cinematic Universe property, say — do anything to satisfy a “doctrine of political correctness” when there’s no money in it? If there’s money in it, it’s because fans want to see it. And if fans want to see it, what’s his problem?
As for leadership, women cannot be kings for the same reason men cannot be queens. Women in leadership roles do not lead in the same fashion as men do.
Slippery. The question was “leadership” not “kings vs. queens.” Why can’t women be leaders? And the answer is — well, of course they can! For example, some of England’s most interesting and important monarchs were reigning queens! Except, primogeniture is a system specifically engineered to ensure that most of England’s reigning monarchs have been, in fact, kings. That’s patriarchy, okay? That’s just exactly patriarchy.
Let’s hear it for the reigning queens of England!
As for strength, physical courage is something boys are good at and proud of and naturally inclined to do. Even those effete intellectual men such as myself who do not cook outdoors and bow hunt grizzly bears nor know how to fix a car engine still nonetheless approach life through a metaphor of conflict, war, duels, and tournaments.
Also slippery. He asserts that boys are naturally strong and physically courageous, then admits he is no such thing himself, then tries to defend that it’s all the same, really, because he makes extensive use of the metaphors of war.
Seriously, you want manliness points because of the metaphors you use? That’s.. pathetic.
If Supergirl is from Planet Krypton, fine, she can punch goons through solid brick walls, no problem. Ditto for Starfire of the Teen Titans. If Buffy the Vampire Slayer is possessed by all the strength of the ghosts of all the Slayers back to the First Slayer, fine, she has superduper strength and it is magic. Fine. That is all fine with me.
Yeah, okay. Me too. Except that’s not really how Slayer strength works… oh, never mind. I already questioned his fanboy cred earlier.
But when the heroine is Hit Girl or Batgirl or some leggy blonde selected for her cup size rather than fighting ability, such portrayals of wispy little she-adventuresses able to tackle boatloads of thugs built like linebackers not only as absurdly unrealistic
Seriously, “wispy little she-adventuresses”? That is so damned patronizing I want to punch you myself. And I’ve never thrown a punch in my life. (I do cook outdoors, though. I’m manly enough for that. In fact, I have a Girl Scout badge for it. GIRL SCOUTS ARE MANLIER THAN YOU BY YOUR OWN DEFINITION.)
The comic hero tradition has always allowed for really improbable feats by heroes who are technically not “super” — why is Batgirl so much more unrealistic than Batman, who apparently has the ability to do things like get his spine broken and just, you know, carry on? The problem of the women not looking like warriors — being tiny and all — that’s a Hollywood problem. All the actresses are tiny. The men are often kind of tiny too, although that’s more often disguised with heels and camera angles. Both sexes also have perfect hair under improbable conditions, never need to sleep or eat while an adventure is happening, never pull a muscle, never get a sunburn, never have an attack of gastroenteritis… oh, you know the drill.
When you’re already talking about fantastical fiction, a sudden fussy concern with “realism” in one particular area — female strength, say, or racial diversity — looks awfully motivated. Usually, it has nothing to do with realism, and everything to do with what you, personally, want to see.
The people I know who study martial arts do talk about how unrealistically fight scenes are staged, talk about combat styles that make more sense for women, talk about moves that weaker non-warriors can still use to get out of physical attacks — but they pretty much never single out “oh, she’s a tiny woman, how could she possibly win that fight?” for comment. They know the fact that this woman — tiny Hollywood actress playing her and all — can somehow manage to kick everybody’s ass is the premise.
If you think the premise is dumb, stay home. But don’t watch the movie and then complain about it on the grounds of realism.
Dude, I have four words for you on that score:
Faster than light travel.
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 4 of 9. We’re almost halfway there!)
Back to our deconstruction of the essay, we briefly diverge into something that isn’t detailing exactly the ways in which our essayist believes that women are different from men. Instead, we talk about the history of sexism in the 20th century, and things get surprisingly less creepy and wrong!
The modern women’s liberation movement got started in the same era when the sexual revolution was imposing on women a demeaning role from which she needed to be liberated
This is poorly worded, but not technically false, so he gets a point.
My theory is that in the postwar years, the returning servicemen [..] asked for an exaggerated form of domestic femininity from their women [..] women graciously granted their wish, and behaved in a more feminine fashion than their mothers.
It’s funny how he characterizes this as merely a bunch of people — millions — all spontaneously happening to make the same individual choices without benefit of any external cultural or economic forces whatsoever. These individual men, purely as individuals, all wanted a thing, and individual women, purely as individuals, all chose to comply. But still, he’s much closer to correct than usual. Another point.
The dark side of that grant [..] encouraged the red light districts of American life to begin to sneak into main-street. It was the era of Marilyn Monroe and of Playboy Clubs, where femininity first began to be treated as a soulless commodity [..] the useless female characters whose only role is to look pretty and scream at danger, the Playboy Bunny style girls, date from the 1960s, in works by Keith Laumer or Robert Heinlein.
Heinlein certainly had some… issues… with how he portrayed women and approached sex roles, but I think describing his female characters as useless screamers overall is pretty unfair. But still, this is another reasonably apt observation. Sexism in the 60s did get worse before it got better. (Mad Men in particular does a good job depicting this phenomenon.)
Used to be, all a man had to do was show up, and this happened.
Briefly, I believe it is a product of lopsided abandonment of the traditional patriarchal marriage bargain. Younger men were enthusiastically decoupling sex from marriage — the sexual revolution — entirely for their own benefit. They were, like, “yay, sex without marriage!” The thing that surprised everyone is that young women kinda had the same reaction. The “liberated woman” of the era — the “Cosmo Girl” — was in many ways a male sexual fantasy — but she was also an independent woman who supported herself and made her own life decisions.
Eventually women started saying, “hey, we like the independent part.”
When reviewers urge writers to put strong female characters into their works, they are asking the writers, in effect, to add Amazons, women with stereotypically masculine behavior patterns, values and attitudes. The only difficulty with the idea is that Amazons are as mythical as gynosphinxes.”
Who are these reviewers, exactly? What kind of leverage do they have, such that writers should care what they want? Is it money? Are they offering writers money to do this thing? If not — then who cares? Writers will continue to do either 1. What they want, or 2. What they think will sell. The urgings of unnamed reviewers will have about as much effect on the process as the urgings of long-winded anti-feminist essayists, which is to say, very little
Plus, we are talking about SF&F, right? That branch of literature specifically concerned with exploring alternate cultures, histories, and biologies? Aren’t gender roles a product of all these things? So why assume that any of the supposedly typical gendered behaviors described in this essay would even remotely apply to robots or aliens or mutants or genetically modified super-soldiers or werewolves or zombies or ghosts or sentient trees?
It’s fiction of the fantastic. You can write about actual, literal Amazons if you like. Or ghost pirates. Or gynosphinxes. Who CARES if Amazons are mythical? So are werewolves.
if you have not noticed that men, and for good reason, tend to be proud of their physical prowess, tend to be direct and adversarial, and tend to look at the world in terms of winners and losers, then I can do no more than to bring it to your attention.
I suppose we know different men, then. Personally, I know a lot of nerds, who are rarely “proud of their physical prowess.” Even the really athletic ones tend to be into stuff like hiking and biking, and not — you know, “feats of strength” or whatever he means to be talking about.
I know men who are direct. I know women who are direct. I also know men who seem to think they’re being direct when they’re actually being passive-aggressive. I have certainly known men who are adversarial and look at the world exclusively in terms of winners and losers, but I call those men “jerks” and don’t tend to hang out with them.
If his argument here is that he writes men and women a certain way because that reflects his experience — sure, fine, all writers do that. But if I write them an entirely different way because that reflects my experience, that doesn’t make my experience wrong.
[..] it can be argued that [..] masculine and feminine roles are the product of historical accident [..] By this argument, the fact that they have always existed hence is an argument for their overthrow,
I single this out for “always existed.” Yes, every culture throughout history has had some concept of different social roles for men and women. No, the particulars of these roles have not existed since the dawn of time. They are in fact the product of historical accident, although not exclusively historical accident — human biology does play a part. But so does the environment — what the tribe has to do to feed itself, for example, or what threats it faces. It’s ridiculous to talk about any particular set of sex roles as if they have been one thing always everywhere since the dawn of time.
Here again I point to experience as my witness: compare the divorce rate, the suicide rate, the crime rate, the rate of drug abuse, or any other honest indicator of social happiness between a modern urban setting, where the modern and Politically Correct ideals have had full sway for more than half a century, with a postwar rural setting where the traditional ideals once had full sway.
The crime rate is actually going down — the violent crime rate anyway — and has been for decades. And if modern unhappiness fell dramatically in the immediate postwar period, and started rising in the 70s and beyond, that tracks much more closely to income inequality than to any other trend.
the number of bastard children belonging to drug running gangs beaten to death by his mother’s live-in lover is far smaller in rural Pennsylvania of 1953 than urban Detroit of 2013.
Racist dogwhistle alert! (Or should I say “puppywhistle”?)
What’s the real difference between those two circumstances? Economics. Poverty drives social unrest.
The glory days of Detroit
Modern conservatives often display a peculiar blind spot when it comes to the ways economic circumstance drives the behavior of individuals. (David Brooks, I’m looking at you.) Crime is always a failure of moral culture; marriages break up because of feminism; people are unemployed because they are lazy; the content and type of popular entertainment is dictated by shadowy leftist conspiracies.
This seems a bit strange, since most of them also worship capitalism with a near-religious fervor. But it might be the very nature of that worship that causes them not to consider it in any practical sense. Capitalism is a sacred principle — not a thing that operates in the real world and causes other things to happen.
This could be why sexual conservatives seem unable to see things like same-sex marriage, sexual liberation, or a declining birth rate as clear manifestations of capitalism. Laissez-faire capitalism has many faults, but caring what you do in the bedroom is absolutely not one of them. In fact, if there is a way your bedroom experience can be more effectively monetized, capitalism is right there to help!
Capitalism is amoral. It is rude. It has no respect for tradition. It has no aesthetic taste. Capitalism is equally indifferent to traditional sexual propriety and human suffering. But if you see capitalism as a sacred principle, then you might be inclined to see it as something that must — somehow, through some mechanism not adequately explored — give rise to other sacred things.
Anyway, any argument about how “happy” women were back in the pre-feminist days ought to be suspicious on its face, because one of the requirements of the old patriarchal system was that women had to pretend they were participating willingly, whether they were or not.
I’m sure she’s enjoying herself. Just look at that big smile.
It should be obvious — when you are not free, you are not free to admit how much you hate not being free.
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 3 of 9. See, we’re a third of the way through already!)
So, here’s what we’ve got so far: Mr. Wright believes that “strong female character” is code for “masculine female character” and that this is a wrong and offensive thing because women are different from men. So different. Here, let me spend some more time telling you all the ways I think women are different from men, and my justification for why I think that is, and here are some more things about women that make them different from men, and here, and here — my goodness, I do love talking about all the ways I think women are different from men. I could do it ALL DAY LONG.
Tell me more, really. Uh-huh. Sure. How interesting.
In fact, this essay is so wordy and repetitive that it doesn’t give the impression he wrote it to convince anybody of anything. I’m starting to suspect that he wrote it because talking about how women are different from men gives him a thrill, perhaps even erotic satisfaction.
Which, now that I think about it, makes a weird kind of sense. If observing gender is part of what triggers our own sexual feelings (i.e. that person looks like a woman to me! Sex drive engaged!) then not only does exaggerating gender performance provide more and stronger opportunities for sexual feelings to be triggered, but talking about gender performance (as in an essay like this) functions as a proxy for the experience.
It’s like sneaky, dishonest porn — safe for the Victorian drawing room, because the engagement of lust is smothered under six layers of verbosity and petticoats. But its primary purpose is still to inflame male lust — not to a true fire that might reach a climax and die down, but to a secretive low-level smolder that never ends.
This room might explode from all the petticoats that are in it.
Gamergate and other online controversies have already made it obvious that sad, immature dudes react in fear to the vague notion that a “bad mommy” figure might take away their comic book porn, or their video game porn. But I had never previously considered the idea that when some pompous windbag starts to wheeze on and on and on about what he thinks women are like, that he’s not only attempting to give us our marching orders — he’s actually getting off just on the experience of telling us what he wants us to be like. It’s yet another form of sexual objectification, this one particularly insidious because it tries so hard to pretend to be anything but sexual.
The problem, of course, isn’t porn — per se. The problem is that porn catering to a specific taste (male, heterosexual, traditionally patriarchal) has become normalized to the point that it is never even recognized as porn. We think it’s neutral. Background noise. Air. This essay does not take the relatively honest standpoint that it is informing us how to ignite the erotic imagination of one Mr. John C. Wright (should we… er… wish to do so). Instead, it makes the creepy and disingenuous claim to be lecturing us about how how characters ought to be gendered, how romance ought to go, how men and women ought to be seen to differ from one another.
Women, for example, don’t usually sport moustaches.
Women, it must be noted, complain more than men.
Oh, DO they? Funny, I’ve never noticed this. Is there anything like… you know… evidence, to back up this assertion?
The feminine way to correct the problem is to get someone else in the group to volunteer out of kindness. [..] The masculine way to correct the problem is to endure it, fix it yourself on your own time, or command an underling to correct it
I can’t… What kind of group is he even imagining here? Family? Friends? Neighbors? Fellow commuters? Work colleagues? Post-apocalyptic survivors? Spaceship crew? Scooby gang? Random people who happen to be at the store when the mist with the terrifying giant extradimensional spider creatures rolls in?
What kinds of problems, exactly, is he imagining that women get other people to solve?
Also, once again, notice how he is giving women responsibility but no power. What is a woman supposed to do if there isn’t a man around, or if all the men are useless scoundrels? Fix it herself, right? So if a woman can fix it herself when the men are gone, why is she supposed to pretend she can’t when the men are there?
A fluttering pretense of feminine helplessness is certainly the way to some men’s hearts, but I can’t respect either the woman who does it or the man who craves it.
I have an impulse to stab my rivals through eye and into the brain pan with my sword cane
This is a recurring theme with him.
John C. Wright, presumably.
So in looking at the formal causes of masculinity and femininity, I make no remark as yet recommending whether we ought to train our young men and women to adhere to these roles or to oppose them.
Got news for you dude. The reason you have all those very specific and detailed ideas about “masculinity” and “femininity” is because “we” — that is, your society — have already trained you to see them. You didn’t make them up your own self. You didn’t get them beamed into your head from God Almighty or space aliens. They’re not a natural and inevitable side effect of being human. They’re culture. That’s where they come from.
A central goal is child-rearing: this requires a fit physique and a willingness to submit to masculine sexual desire.
I’m fairly certain I’m not the only one who shuddered in revulsion when reading “submit to masculine sexual desire.” Yeah, sure, that’s exactly what sex is. Women submitting to men. We lie back and think of England, each and every one of us, each and every time.
The pretense that sex is for dudes, that women comply only grudgingly, that it’s a favor we do for men — it’s a dirty, dirty lie, and I believe it’s actively harmful, slut-shaming any woman who feels differently, and even helping erase the distinction between consensual sex and rape.
If women didn’t, in general, want sex, the species wouldn’t still be here. The end.
You can’t get a man with a gun, except when you can.
a book like Pride And Prejudice [..] concerned with the misjudgment and the correction of misjudgment about a suitor’s character is the central theme, is the quintessential feminine book. Women, if they are feminine women, will be fascinated by a book such as this [..] Girls who do not like love stories are well advised to learn to like them, because such stories deal with the essential and paramount realities on which much or most of that girl’s happiness in life will hinge.
YES YOUNG LADY IF YOU DON’T LIKE LOVE STORIES YOU’D BEST LEARN TO LIKE THEM IF YOU KNOW WHAT’S GOOD FOR YOU
This is not only creepy, but also confirmation that his ultimate purpose here is to tell people — women, anyway — what sort of fiction they ought to like. Gooooood luck with that. Wait, no, I mean: get stuffed.
Also, I hate to break it to him, but romance in fiction is not a good way to learn how to conduct real-life romance. In fact, love stories — where the romance has to drive the plot — are probably the worst genre to tell you anything useful about love in the real world.
I think he’s getting the relationship between women’s (admitted) greater interest in the details and mechanics of courtship, and their taste in fiction, backwards. Women like the romance genre because it reflects their experiences, dreams, and desires back to them in a way they find pleasing — not because they expect to learn anything from it. I mean, the biggest consumers of romance fiction aren’t younger, unmarried women, are they? It’s mature women. Married women. Women who have already been through a somewhat more prosaic version of the same experience. Women who are at the stage in their relationship of waking up next to the same dude every day and wondering things like “Who is this guy? How did we get here? Where did the magic go? Should I have held out for the rugged and mysterious sea captain after all?”
Tell me more, really. Uh-huh. Sure. How interesting.
The inequality is between the active versus the passive role. I submit that this is not inequality, [..] It is complementary.
Nope. Nope, nope, nope. No way, no how, not even a little bit. The active role is not merely complementary to the passive role. The active role is the one that has power. THEY ARE NOT EQUAL.
You can have an equal overall relationship — between two people — where each party takes the active role sometimes, the passive role at other times. Or you can have an equal relationship where both parties freely agree that one party will always take the active role. But the passive role is not, in and of itself, equal to the active role.
There’s a pretty obvious test. You say that the active role and the passive role are actually equal? Okay. You take the passive role.
No? Why not?
And if your response is, “I’m a dude, the passive role isn’t natural to me,” I think you’re proving my point, not yours.
Those who object that men should not lead in the dance, whatever they say, are not friends of women; they just want to stop the joy of the dance.
Oh, where to begin. Does “the dance” mean courtship? If so — nobody on the feminist side is telling you how to execute your preferred mating rituals, as long as they don’t violate the law, or the boundaries of normal social interaction. (That is, as long as you’re not being rude or otherwise creepy.)
Even in the free gender utopia that is surely to come, if you want to be all, “my lady” and tugging on your fedora, if there’s a woman alive who gets giddy when you do that, you two hook up, seriously. But if you can’t find that woman — whatever. That’s on you.
And, “they” are not “friends of women” — who are they? Are they me? I’m a woman, you know. I’m also a feminist SF fan who doesn’t agree with you AT ALL. Are you seriously trying to say that I not my own friend? What’s your basis for claiming that? I think I’m doing okay. Honestly, I can’t think of a single thing in my life that would have been improved by me not being a feminist. I probably would have dated more jerks, is all.
Am I trying to stop the joy of your dance? Of course not. Find a willing partner and dance however you want. Just respect my right to do the same.
I’m sure this isn’t quite as weird as it looks?
The stark fact is that a healthy woman admires and should admire strength in her man, including when such strength sweeps her up in his arms. She should be delighted even if she is offended when Tarzan throws her over his shoulder [..] A man should not admire physical strength in women, because this is not a characteristic that differentiates the sexes for him.
These things you call “facts” — I’m not sure you quite grasp the concept.
Once again, he’s telling us what we ought to like — not merely in fiction this time, but what we, as actual human beings, should want in a mate. A “healthy” woman “should admire strength in her man” and “should be delighted even if she is offended” when he literally physically overpowers her.
Dude, can I even begin to tell you how creepy that is?
And the opposite — a man “should not admire physical strength in women.” Well, there you have it, athletic ladies! If men like you, they are being incorrect!
You heard him. Put those men down and get back in the kitchen.
The sexes are opposite, and culture should exaggerate the complimentary opposition by artifice in order to increase our joy in them, including artifices of dress and speech: when women dress and speak and act like men, some joy is erased from both sexes.
BINGO. My “erotic satisfaction” theory is confirmed. He thinks it is the job of culture to exaggerate, in an artificial way, a gender binary focused on distorting the behavior of women so that it differs as much as possible from the behavior of men. Because he likes that.
When women “act like men” — that is, when they are “direct in speech, confident in action, [..] cunning in wit, unerring in deduction” — when they fail to manifest the “slow and loving and patient bravery of [..] dealing with childish menfolk:” — Mr. Wright gets sad.
And, like a lot of childish menfolk, Mr. Wright is under the very mistaken impression that the rest of the world is supposed to care.
(Saving the world from Strong Female Characters so you don’t have to, Part 2 of 9. Don’t panic!)
When we left off, Mr. Wright was in the middle of detailing his idealized feminine qualities. Diving back in, we get to:
The female spirit is [..] deep in understanding rather than adroit in deductive logic”
Did he really just assert that the female spirit is not adroit in deductive logic? After claiming that the male spirit is “unerring in deduction”?
Dude, you just claimed that men are better at thinking than women. On the basis of — well, nothing, really. You just asserted it to be true and expected that we would all nod along in agreement. Talk about self-serving. Is this belief a great comfort to you, when women tell you — as I imagine they frequently must — that your arguments are idiotic?
Even these guys think you’re an idiot
Hence, a strong feminine character in a story is one who can [..] arrange cooperation without seeming to take or give orders and without anyone feeling left out or overruled
Notice how this “feminine” ability isn’t defined by what the character does, but by how other characters react to it. A man gives orders and takes orders as appropriate, but a woman — magically — somehow arranges things to that they work out, without anybody’s feelings getting hurt. This fits with the idea of the “feminine” as being defined by what he wants women to provide, in this case a tender care for his precious, precious feelings, no matter what.
Everybody could be drowning in a boat, but the proper feminine character will never tell the hero that his ego is beside the point and he should stop pouting and just get on with trying to save people. Not only are “feminine” women expected to deal with childish menfolk, but to deal with them correctly — without hurting their feelings by calling any attention to the fact that they’re acting like toddlers.
Of classical virtues, temperance and prudence are essential to femininity, especially that temperance of the sexual appetite called chastity, and that prudence not to excite the sexual appetite outside courtship nor to invite flattery, which is called modesty.
Here’s a tip: moral scolds always come across as perverts, and the more pompous and paternal they are, the more creepy they sound.
Temperance in action
Logically speaking, this is nonsense. Either you follow a code (such as Wright’s Catholicism) in which chastity is required of everyone, or you don’t. If chastity is required of everyone, that includes men. If it’s not required of anyone, that includes women.
But, of course, patriarchal culture has a long history of exactly this disingenuous pose. Everyone is supposed to be chaste, technically, of course — but it only matters if women are. But if women remain chaste, surely this will guarantee — somehow — that men are! Except when it doesn’t. But still! Responsibility for male chastity rests in female hands! Although, of course, men are still the ones who have to choose how they’re going to act.
Have you ever had a job where you were given responsibility, but not power?
It’s a nightmare.
A real heroine does not [..] copulate out of wedlock.
That’s rather an interesting view that eliminates probably 90 percent of modern heroines in any genre. And, wait, doesn’t he later praise Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Let me find that, here:
Then Mr. Whedon writes a simply excellent show, truly one of my favorites—let no man dare to say I am not a fanboy of that show—but I notice with the slightest lift of an eyebrow that the main dramatic tension in the show is the romance, [..] Buffy must be saluted. She is the inspiration for an entire genre of fiction, the urban fantasy. Few characters can make that claim [..] But considering that Buffy is the very epitome, or so I assume, of strength in a strong female character, a feminist icon akin to Xena the Warrior Princess, why is her main dramatic point her love story? Could it be because she is a female character, and that there is something in the female genius which naturally inclines itself to love?”
A whole series of objections here. First, Buffy has every kind of dramatic tension there can be, which certainly includes romance, but describing it as the main dramatic tension seems like a serious overstatement. What about her relationship with her mother? Her mentor? Her best friends? Her fake mystical sister? The other slayers and potential slayers? The many villains and antagonists who aren’t ex or future boyfriends (ie, most of them)? And what about the other characters? They have dramatic tensions too, sometimes romantic, sometimes not. I mean, if you’re going to talk about characters being defined by their romantic relationships and feelings, what about Willow, Spike and Xander?
Second, while it’s debatable when the first “urban fantasy” was published, there is no question that the first Anita Blake novel belongs in that category, and it came out in 1993. BTVS debuted in 1997. So, BTVS might well have been influential on later offerings in the genre, but it absolutely did not invent it. Fandom history fail.
Third, damn right Buffy is the epitome of strength in a female character. But it’s not because she can use Slayer-strength to kick your ass. (Well… not only that.)
Say all that again to my face
Fourth, “something in the female genius which naturally inclines itself to love”? Dude, seriously? WHO ARE THESE WOMEN FALLING IN LOVE WITH IF MEN ARE NOT ALSO INCLINED TO LOVE? Love is a two-way thing. When it’s only one way, we call it stalking, and it’s creepy.
If he thinks the “main dramatic tension” in the show is the romance of the title character, that’s his own bias talking, and not an accurate reading of the show. (Or it means he’s only seen Season 2) So, yeah, I’ll dare to say he’s not a fanboy.
But then, NO LIVING MAN AM I
Back to his text:
The theory here is that that every pretense of any difference, […] between the sexes will be used by the ruthless oppressors as a ruthless excuse to exploit the weak and helpless women. [..] By this theory, anyone admiring femininity in women or masculinity in men can be presumed to be motivated by [..] racism, but as if the female sex were another race, not the opposite and complimentary sex of the same race. This type of make-believe racism is called ‘sexism’, of which few stupider words exist in the modern lexicon.
These guys still think you’re an idiot
Is there a special term for the logical fallacy where you pretend to be too stupid to understand the meaning of simple everyday words?
I see homophobes try this same line of argument — they’re not homoPHOBES, you see, because they’re not afraid of homosexuals, per se, the way one is afraid of spiders or grizzly bears or global thermonuclear war.
Don’t be a dope. You’re not fooling anyone. We know that you know perfectly well that “homophobe” means “anti-homosexual bigot.” And you also know perfectly well that sexism means — let’s Google it —
prejudice, stereotyping, or discrimination, typically against women, on the basis of sex.
Seems pretty clear to me.
Really, do we have to go through this every single time? A feminist makes a statement like:
“That thing right there that you have mentioned is not actually a real difference between men and women.”
“That particular difference you have observed between men and women is better explained by social conditioning than by anything resembling biological inevitability.”
“You are characterizing that difference between men and women in a way that is artificially flattering to men and denigrating to women.”
“That difference between men and women is far less binary and absolute than you seem to think it is.”
“That exact thing might be a difference between men and women, sure, but you have extrapolated wildly about the implications of that thing in order to draw conclusions that are not reasonably supported at all.”
Then the anti-feminist, rather than disagreeing like an adult, leaps to the strongest possible expression of sputtering outrage that you are daring to suggest that there is no difference whatsoever at all under any circumstances between men and women, and how can you possibly be saying such an obviously absurd thing, it is BEYOND ridiculous! See how stupid feminists are!
So it’s a strawman argument, but it’s like a strawman within a strawman within another strawman.
A super-strawman that has EATEN all the other strawmen. And then we set it on fire.
Sexism against women isn’t “the pretense of any difference” between the sexes. It’s the pretense of differences that render women less competent, free, admirable, powerful, intelligent, individual, mature, interesting, talented, self-determined, worthwhile, or generally human than men.
You’re being sexist when you characterize a gender difference (real or imagined) in a way that artificially advantages or disadvantages one gender relative to another. For example, when you describe cognitive differences (that aren’t real in the first place) in a way that implies women are stupider than men.
Really, with all your “unerring deductive logic,” is that concept so difficult to understand?
So, this year. There was this thing nominated for a Hugo. You might have heard of it — “Transhuman and Subhuman,” a collection of essays nominally on the subject of science fiction by John C. Wright. It was in the Hugo packet. One of the essays is the novel-length anti-feminist ramble:
“Saving Science Fiction from Strong Female Characters”
Glad somebody’s on that!
Wouldn’t want those strong female
characters all up in there, wrecking things.
I ended up devoting a ridiculous amount of brainspace to this epic exercise in fractal wrongness. Even skimming madly, I kept seeing things that were so over-the-top ridiculous it would make me stop and think, “Wait, what? Is he really saying that? How could anybody really be saying that?”
So I’d stop. And I’d wade through a fog of words, hunting for the nouns and the verbs that, presumably, constituted his actual point. It was quite the slog. His chosen style is “dimwitted anti-suffragist writing letters to the editor in 1905.” It’s so ornate and ridiculous it would put a Victorian drawing room to shame. He crams words into his prose until the sentences cannot absorb any more and random clauses start to precipitate out.
But once I slowed down enough to try to make sense of it, I got caught up — in the most shameful and pointless way possible. I found myself giving it a hate-read. A thorough, annotated, hate-read.
I only am escaped alone to tell thee
Thanks to my own morbid curiosity (enough to be the protagonist of a don’t-read-the-forbidden-book horror scenario), I may have read this thing more thoroughly than any other human being alive, including the author.
I had a lot of angst about whether I should publish my reaction or not — was it simply too long? Was I just giving the man more attention he doesn’t deserve? Is there really any value to be found in deconstructing yet another parade of dumb sexist ideas?
Eventually, after getting some encouragement from other people who suffered through this year’s Hugo packet, I decided to go for it.
Seize the day, space gals!
The first draft of his prose plus my analysis and snark, was 18,000 words long. I am not kidding. So I edited down. And down. And down. And it was still, like, 10,000 words. So I divided it into sections, then edited each individual section to feel more like a standalone essay. And here we begin:
Anyone reading reviews or discussions of science fiction has no doubt come across the oddity that most discussions of female characters in science fiction center around whether the female character is strong or not. [..]As far as recollection serves, not a single discussion touches on whether the female character is feminine or not.
Um…. sure. That’s true. Reviewers also almost never talk about whether or not female characters can play the tuba, translate from Esperanto, or execute a perfect triple axel on sloppy ice while recovering from a sinus infection.
Is he honestly surprised that nobody talks about whether female characters are feminine? It’s the sort of topic that instantly marks you as an anti-feminist crank. But, as an anti-feminist crank himself, he probably thinks that’s normal. I guess?
Anyway, there’s a simple and obvious reason that normal reviewers never talk about that, and it’s not a particularly feminist reason: it’s because the femininity of female characters is assumed, and therefore, only its lack is considered worthy of comment.
These discussions have an ulterior motive.
An ulterior motive? What could that be? Money? Alien invasion? Supervillain plot?
Either by the deliberate intent of the reviewer, or by the deliberate intention of the mentors, trendsetters, gurus, and thought-police [..] the reviewer who discusses the strength of female characters is [..] fighting against culture [..] against beauty in art and progress in science, and, hence the intersection of these two topics, which means against science fiction.”
Got that? Anybody who even talks about “strong female characters” is fighting against beauty in art and progress in science. Nope, no hyperbole here.
The bit about motive has been a recurring theme among the sad/rabid slate-mongers. They seem to have latched onto this idea of fandom getting its strings pulled by a shadowy exterior conspiracy which provides marching orders, checklists, baseless slanders, talking points, etc. This conspiracy builds (and destroys) careers, and awards (and denies) Hugos.
So, his stance is that he’s pushing back against this conspiracy by agitating for properly feminine characters in fiction. Just as the “puppies” aren’t trying to steal the Hugos, they’re stealing the Hugos back. They aren’t trying to change SF to suit themselves, they’re trying to change it back to a truer, more original form. They’re not attempting to impose their own tastes and ideological concerns onto SF fandom, they’re fighting back against a mysterious other group trying to do that very thing.
He goes on to define explicitly that he believes ‘the general meaning is that a strong female character is masculine. And what is masculine? Why, according to him, “direct in speech, confident in action, coolheaded in combat, lethal in war, honorable in tourney or melee, cunning in wit, unerring in deduction, glib in speech, and confident and bold in all things.”
Well, of course. Every dude I’ve ever known was just exactly like that. I’m sure Wright himself is just exactly like that. Especially the “cunning in wit” and “unerring in deduction” part, as demonstrated so ably by this essay.
Why, it’s not a bit self-serving.
Hence, a strong masculine character in a story is one who can pilot a jet plane in a thunderstorm while wrestling a Soviet-trained python in the cockpit. He can appease a mob, lead a rebellion, give orders, follow orders, seduce a countess, fight with a longsword, build a campfire, [..] suture a wound, and escape from a sinking submarine with a knife clutched in his teeth.
Wow. That sounds kinda boring, to be honest. Does Mr. Wright genuinely think a “strong” character is defined exclusively by virtues? Because that isn’t how I would use the term.
Much more rarely do reviewers speak of strong female characters as having the virtues particular to women.”
Oh, and what would those be, pray tell?
Feminine in general means being more delicate in speech, either when delivering a coy insult or when buoying up drooping spirits.
Well, yes, now that I think about it. He probably does wish. In fact, that’s probably the driving urge behind a lot of men who insist on a rigid, vaguely traditional gender binary. Wishing.
“Masculine” is how they wish to see themselves.
“Feminine” is everything they wish women would give them.
Femininity requires not the sudden and angry bravery of war and combat, but the slow and loving and patient bravery of rearing children and dealing with childish menfolk
Or the sudden and angry bravery of saving your children from tigers or enemy troops while your husband is off getting killed in the wars. Or the sudden and angry bravery of fighting off a rapist. Or the sudden and angry bravery of killing something for dinner because otherwise your family starves to death. Fighting for sport is often characterized as masculine, but fighting for survival is universal.
Also, make a note of “childish menfolk.” “Childish” was not on his list of the manly qualities, yet here it is, on his list of womanly qualities — the ability to handle men acting like children, combined with the assumption that it is typical for men to do that. Which implies that a female hero who marches in and takes charge as the only adult in the room, when all the male heroes might as well be bickering toddlers, is exactly what he ought to think of as a female character manifesting femininity.
Black Widow ends up doing this at least once in both Avengers movies. But Black Widow later shows up on his list of Bad Examples — presumably of “strong female characters” — let me find it, okay —
the toothsome Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow in the Avengers movie or Milla Jovovich as Alice in Resident Evil, or Kate Beckinsale as Selene in Underworld. Ladies, If you think these leather-clad ninja-bunnies with guns represent strength rather than exploitation, then you have been rooked, cheated, bilked, and tricked.
Did anyone else shudder in revulsion when they read the word “toothsome”? No? Maybe it’s just me. Anyway, it’s difficult to see how this fits into his overall argument. Is his point that they aren’t really strong female characters, because they are attractive and leather-clad? So if strong female characters are bad, and they’re not strong female characters, does that make them good? But his tone here is dripping with contempt — he doesn’t seem to approve of them.
He seems to think he’s letting us in on a big secret. Ladies! Did you know! Creepy dudes like me are getting a sexual thrill from your female action movie heroes!
Well, dude, allow me to let you in on another secret: we know and we don’t care.
Drool all you want, it’s okay.
Emma Peel, as played by Diana Rigg in the 60s TV series, was specifically conceived of as a character hetero men would like (her name is a pun). Most dudes I know figure it worked. But why worry about that? I care if she appeals to me — if she works for me as an insert character. Do I want to imagine myself as Emma Peel? Since I was a little girl! Do I want to imagine myself as Black Widow? Sure! I mean, in my opinion, she is the primary viewpoint character of both Avengers movies. Maybe that’s my own bias talking. But whatever. The point is, does it bother me that dudes might get off on the sight of either woman in a catsuit? Good grief, why would that be the thing that bothers me? It bothers me that Black Widow is the only woman on the core team, and it bothers me that she hasn’t been given her own movie. But if she’s got a little dude-slobber on her, whatever. I super-duper don’t care.
Shh. Come closer. Let me tell you another secret: women like to look at sexy dudes, too. Are Black Widow’s male teammates a bunch of schlubby guys in potato sacks? No, they are hot dudes in tight costumes who sometimes take off their shirts.
Not actually The Avengers poster
As demonstrated by The Hawkeye Initiative, the problem with the way female hero characters are portrayed isn’t that they are sexy, or that they are wearing skin-tight bodysuits. The problem is the way they are so often made to simper and preen for the camera, as if caught in the middle of a Playboy shoot rather than in the middle of kicking villain butt. The problem with sexual objectification isn’t the sex, it’s the objectification.
Maybe an independent, snarky, cat-suited female spy who kicks ass is a male fantasy. But then, a meek, delicate, emotionally supportive mom-type who bakes cookies and takes care of everyone’s feelings is a male fantasy. The women are all male fantasies, really. The difference is that the ass-kicker is also a female fantasy.
Little girls don’t fantasize about growing up to be a really fantastic supplier of baked goods and emotional support any more than little boys fantasize about growing up to be marginally employed accountants.