Why the American PEN Award Boycott Still Bothers Me

Francine Prose has stated that Charlie Hebdo is not important. They don’t deserve any award from American PEN because they are racist and offensive and just like Nazis and just not the type of people considerate writers should support.

They’re important enough to fire bomb. They’re important enough their staff is murdered. They’re important enough survivors have death threats looming over their heads. They’re important enough you’re boycotting the PEN awards because of them. You wouldn’t do that for just anybody, now, would you? Oh, but because Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons made you uncomfortable, made you, perhaps, think, about religoius issues, and even though it doesn’t appear you’ve read a single word the magazine actually published (it’s just not about a few cartoons, you know), you disregard them because it’s far easier to do so than confront the relgious beliefs that led to their murders.

All religions have problems that need addressing. Treating Islam as if it’s special because Muslims are a minority in France gives Islamists the impression that what they’re doing is working and that they have support in further killings. It gives them handy allies to help shut down criticism and keep their own people in line. Many Muslims have fled their native countries to escape repressive regimes and cultural practices. They were followed by conservative religious types who want to continue forcing those people to follow the laws they desperately wished to leave behind, which leads to religious law trumping national law in places like England, where people are forced into those religious courts based on country and religion of origin, whether they want to submit to those laws or not. You’re helping keep the status quo by telling others that criticism has to come only from within those repressed communities–and we’ve seen where that leads.

I think what Prose and those who support her views are doing is making sure they don’t get their hands dirty. If they say that criticism is punching down and you should never do it to minority groups, then they are effectively washing their hands of problems within those communities. They don’t have to take an interest in them, they don’t have to care. They’re saying that, when women are givien the choice between wearing the hijab and injury or death, that it really is their choice to wear the hijab and who are we to complain that isn’t a real choice. They’re saying, just like the Swedish embassy said to Ananta Bijoy Das, that protestors, social justice advocates, are always targets and either change your ways, your beliefs, to conform to your culture’s status quo, or die, your choice. We won’t get involved. Hands washed and dried, you have no reponsibility to anyone outside your little intimate group. Very convenient.

Sit down, shut up, stay in your own culture. Problem solved?

So We Now Have Whiny White Men Upset Sci-Fi/ Fantasy Doesn’t Just Focus on White Men Anymore??

Apparently sci-fi and fantasy authors are writing all wrong. Poor little dears, they have to make sure that there’s nothing startling, nothing involved, nothing political or cultural, in their books that aren’t reflected in the graphic design of the cover. Want to write a deep, meaningful story set in a high magic realm? Want to write about dehumanization at a space colony? Chose another genre, because damn, some people (cough cough Brad Torgersen cough cough sad puppies cough cough) are really, really upset that you might destroy their preferred genre by having content in your books. Something other than “he cuts his enemies’ heads off with a sword”.

How dare you ruin books for the white and mighty?

I read this Sad Puppies 3 blog post to my husband. He laughed and said, “An author is really trying to tell you to judge a book by its cover?” We initially thought it was a joke. But no. It’s not a joke. It’s in-depth analysis of the sci-fi and fantasy genre by very serious writer and award winning speculative fiction author Brad Torgersen.

Seriously, what author promotes this idiocy? What author says that you can basically get the breadth and depth of a tale from the cover only? Why even bother to read the stupid thing, then? Fantasize for yourself lopping off someone’s head and move on. Nothing to read here.

Torgersen says, “Our once reliable packaging has too often defrauded our readership”. Oh noes! A mech suit may not mean a galactic battle?! A barbarian might not mean head cleaver?! I guess we need to start dividing book covers into squares and paint a small depiction of every theme covered within, just to make certain the reader knows what they’re getting into. Paint a character from the book, but oh no, his clothing and mannerism is just like the other characters’, so make sure a pink triangle is slung around his neck, maybe add a capital G, just so the reader knows what the book contains. Or hey, can’t dupe or defraud the reading audience by claiming your work is merely fantasy when your cover is a list of social issues you write about! There you go! No illustration required!

How…awful.

My first introduction to so many societal ills was through reading fantasy. The trials of being gay was one of them. I grew up in a conservative, rural area of Wyoming. I had no idea what gay really meant. No one spoke about it unless they condemned it. I knew gay was bad, though it was murky as to why. Then I read Mercedes Lackey’s The Last Herald Mage trilogy in jr. high. The main character was gay.

I read about what gay meant. And I read how Vanyel was pretty much a normal human being (well, as normal as being the most powerful magic wielder in your country will allow you to be). He had feelings. He had loves. He had enemies. He had magic. The society in which he lived did not understand his “unnatural interests”, and in many ways he was tolerated but not accepted by his fellow Heralds and his family, but through it all, he was a human being trying to deal with enemies of the land and the trials of his own personal life. In that regard, he wasn’t any different from characters in other books I had read. When I left the rural community of my childhood and went to college, I met and associated with numerous types of people, and I never thought the LGBT people to be much different from anyone else—and it was thanks to Lackey and her books. People are people. There you go.

AND—GASP! you guessed it. Nothing in the illustrations of the books pointed to the fact that Vanyel was gay. I guess he should have had a big GAY sign hanging around his neck, just so readers knew that there was more than magic and mayhem to the story. I would have still read the books, but I’m sure others would have appreciated the warning and stayed far, far away from a book that might expose them to new ideas and new ways of thinking, that might make them question their own moral assumptions and hate (yeah, that’s never going to work on the Sad Puppies. One of the authors Vox Day has promoted is John C. Wright, whose claim to fame is homophobia. Yay! Said author was nominated 3 times. That’s exactly what sci-fi/fantasy needs, is more hate, just like the real world).

*Sigh* I love writing fantasy. I love creating new worlds and new cultures. I want to share that sense of discovering something new with my readers. I want them to be dazzled, but I also want them to think. I don’t believe a fantasy book has done its job if it doesn’t highlight some social ill, some cultural problem, some political or religious stance that can be examined and commented upon. The discussions initiated are important, and can be illustrated in a context that is not as threatening as a story that takes place in the real world.

Since it’s ludicrous to believe every aspect of a story can be illustrated on the cover, what Torgersen is really asking for is staid, formulaic, boring books with predictable endings and nothing new, strange, or different, nothing that offends sensibilities or fee-fees. He wants dashing, daring, and ultimately interchangeable, heroes. He wants princesses like every other princess—meek and subservient. (Hard not to get that impression when he talks about “Heroes and princesses” as if they’re two separate people. Can’t possibly have a heroine, can we? I mean, look at his descriptions. Barbarians. Broad-chested heroes. Knights. The only traditionally non-male character he mentions is a princess—someone in constant need of saving. Yeah, we can tell who he thinks should be the main character in tales. Hint hint—it isn’t the princess.)

It’s really depressing to realize that, in 2015, we have authors begging for sci-fi and fantasy to change from its roots and just become another predictable, easily-digestible form of insufferable pop-art. Hurrah. Give readers a lollipop so they’ll ignore the steak.

In many ways, the backlash against progressive social, cultural, religious and political views in literature isn’t surprising. Many people like to be told what to do, what to think, and when to do both, without actually having to ponder the issues and make difficult choices. If you read a traditional story with a predictable ending, all’s good. All things are in the right place, all events happen at the right time. It’s comforting. There’s no reason to assume authors write any differently. They want their voices heard and heeded, and if you give people what they expect in an easily digestible form, you might just become popular enough for that to happen.

It’s a shame about the Hugo Awards, though, in all honesty, they’ve never influenced me to read an author. I could care less about awards. I want a story that inspires me. I guess some of that comes from the fact I loved the authors I read in jr. high and high school, like Wendy Pini, Mercedes Lackey, Ursula le Guin, Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey, Lloyd Alexander, and whether they won awards or not was irrelevant. When I read “adult” sci-fi and fantasy books (the books shelved in the adult section of my small town library. Almost all the books targeted to my age I got from the schools’ libraries), what I had access to usually told the story of a strong male hero and, if I was lucky, a woman might be found somewhere in the text. I read the first of the Mordant’s Need books by Stephen Donaldson and just could not get passed how absolutely repulsed I was by Terisa. I kept yelling at her to do something and she never did. I read a book by someone named Green, I think, where the hero rapes the main character and she falls in love and marries him by the end of the story. Double ugh. I wanted strong women characters and that’s what I found instead. Even the books I loved, like The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks did not have what I really wanted and loved in my fantasy books—strong female lead characters.

**Aside** BTW, before you get all up in arms about why I didn’t just read books that appealed to me, I was basically stuck with what the school and public libraries had to offer—places regularly inundated with complaints about carrying demonic fantasy stories like fairy tales. My hometown did not have a bookstore until I was a junior or senior in high school, and it basically sold romances along with “health food” like sugarless candy. I either had to wait to travel 70 miles to the nearest Pamida to buy a book, or drive 2 ½ hours to the nearest place large enough to have a mall, where I got a whole $6 to buy a paperback of my choosing (I’m sure there were used book stores somewhere around, but my parents never took me to one). So I bought authors I liked because I didn’t have the money to waste on ones I didn’t know. It’s also why my serious reading started with Elfquest—the local drug store carried comics (which, considering the environment, I now wonder how they managed that). Then I got into college and reading for fun stopped. **/Aside**

Now that the Hugos have basically turned into a giant self-congratulation fest for those who think white male heroes are the only heroes who should be found in literature, I’ll ignore them even harder than I did before. I know some great authors have won them. And there are great authors who haven’t. I’ll read the writers I like, though I have a suspicion reading a speculative fiction author who can’t seem to comprehend his chosen genre isn’t static will not be one of them.

Shaming is Shaming Even If It’s Well Intentioned

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately due to some conversations my husband has recently had with colleagues. He works at a prestigious liberal arts college where the majority of faculty have never experienced the degradation and helplessness of true poverty. My husband’s childhood experiences are as foreign to them as someone from another country. While they understand poverty exists, they really don’t get how it affects people, their interactions with others, and how they live.

For instance, he related a story to a colleague about how another colleague once joked that they would remember they could feed him dinner for only $3. He and a few others had taken a seminar speaker out for dinner–a dinner my husband couldn’t afford but which he went to anyway (that networking eventually paid off in his getting the job he now has, so it was worth it). He bought a $3 appetizer and claimed he wasn’t that hungry. The colleague had no idea that the reason my husband limited his food was that we had extremely limited funds and he simply could not afford to purchase an actual meal. It never crossed his mind there was an ulterior motive.

When you’re poor, you never share with others how poor you are. It’s humiliating to admit that, despite hard work and doing everything you;re supposed to do, you have nothing. You make excuses, tell small fibs, and hope no one finds out exactly how awful your finances are, because then they might feel pity for you, or worse, anger at you for not working hard enough to make a living (and there’s always the ‘well-intentioned’ shamer who bloviates, “God provides for those who provide for themselves, so you just aren’t doing enough for God to deem you worthy of help”).

The reason for this diary, however, is an incident that happened during one of my programs for work. My storytimes get a couple dozen families, and their financial situations range from “new immigrant, no money” to “my husband works at a local college so we are comfortably well-off”. That’s quite a range, and the wealthier families will say or do things that oftentimes show how much of a bubble they live in. In this particular instance, it involved singling out an immigrant mother because her child was not in preschool.

Three mothers who knew one another were sitting at a table while their children completed the after-story craft, talking and laughing together, while another mother helped her daughter with the activity. One of the three mothers looked at the unknown mother and asked how old her daughter was. The three gasped loudly, drawing attention from other families, when the mother responded, “She’s four.” The three began to chastise her for not having her daughter in preschool, since everyone knows that children need preschool to succeed in kinder. They told her that their older children went/had gone to a local religious preschool that only cost $400 a month, and gave the other mother a card with the school information on it, telling her the secretary would be there until 3:00 PM and that she should call right away.

The solid mask the woman’s face had become before she accepted the card and placed it in her purse made me want to punch the three mothers.

While they ostensibly wanted what they considered best for the child, what they really did was try to shame her parent into doing what they wanted her to do. The reaction to their helpfulness was either not noticed or ignored, and the mother packed up quickly and ushered her daughter out the door.

They haven’t been back to storytime since, though they still visit the library–usually during times of day when few others are around. Considering I see them when preschool is in session, it’s a good guess the mother did not contact the preschool.

There’s so many reasons why she wouldn’t. Obviously religion is a factor, and I still wonder if the three parents were thinking “here’s a person we might be able to convert!” Why assume a random stranger would willingly send their child to your religious institution for schooling? Considering how the three mothers behaved, I have a not-very-nice impression of their church and how the congregation likely views outsiders (well, I get to hear parents gossip during the craft part of storytime, so my impression is not just based on this incident, but is enhanced by it). The targeted mother certainly felt the brunt of their disdain.

Wealth is also a factor. According to the Preschool Report 2014 for the state of California, 48% of 4-year-olds live at or below 200% of the federal poverty level. Only 35% of those children get financial help to attend preschool. And, if you have not guessed, immigrants are usually not the wealthiest of people. Many need help to send their child to preschool–and those funds are scant indeed. The three mothers insisted that $400 a month for preschool was a real bargain–and simply assumed, since they have a steady and not-so-bad family income, random Jane is in the same boat and can come up with $400 to send a child to preschool. The truth is, many visitors to my library utilize our services because they cannot afford to buy books or purchase internet access. Granted, I have no idea whether this particular family can afford preschool, if they are choosing to homeschool, or what, but that doesn’t mean you can assume that people make enough to cover school tuition. When you do, it leads to incidents like these, where you feel justified in trying to shame someone to do what you deem is best for their child.

And that is the real thrust of emotional sword–the insinuation that the mother was not doing what was best for her child. Her child needed to be in preschool. That was that, and where there’s a will, there’s a way to get her there, right? Wrong. There are the above-mentioned reasons why preschool may be out of reach. There’s also language and cultural barriers. One of the reasons so many immigrants bring their children to storytime is that those children are able to interact with other children despite their limited vocabulary in the new language and lack of understanding of new social norms. They get to listen to stories, sing songs and repeat rhymes which help in learning the new language, and adjust to a new culture in a non-threatening setting, Storytime can be a very welcoming experience to new arrivals who are unsure about their new home. I try to cultivate that experience.

That those three parents completely trashed the sense of welcome and belonging I try so hard to maintain infuriated me. That they decided to pick on another mother infuriated me more. And I just get sad every time the targeted mother leads her daughter out of the library and the child asks when will she be able to do the craft again. Those parents, because they chose to shame a mother and make her feel so uncomfortable that she refuses to return to storytime, have denied the child a program she loved. She may not have had preschool, but she had storytime–and now she doesn’t even have that.

Duh-Dos, A$$#oles and Harassers, Oh My

If you haven’t read “8 Things Some A$$#ole Says in Every Debate About Sexism” article by Luke McKinney on Cracked–do it now. It’s directed at men, but it will resonate with women. It did with me.

#8 The Duh-Dos had me nodding along. I’ve experienced this, most recently in a discussion on a friend’s Facebook page when he asked for opinions on #Gamergate after posting an article about Anita Sarkeesian and the harassment she received. I made a comment about some of the harassment I’ve experienced playing Elder Scrolls online and immediately a troll popped up and went on a hate-filled rant about lying women and how they want to destroy video games. He had never experienced harassment like I described, so it didn’t exist. I had to prove that it did, which I couldn’t, because it didn’t exist.

The harassment? Early on, a month or so after the release of ESO, I was playing and actually enjoying it (I am not a fan of MMOs. I prefer single player, hands-down, so liking the experience was surprising) when some jackass decided that, after every comment a feminine-sounding moniker said in chat, he would reply with absolutely horrendous statements. He said things like, “How do you make a woman shut up? Punch her in the mouth. How do you silence a woman? Slit her throat.” Then he dared the women to complain to Bethesda about his behavior because it was an open platform, he had speech freedomz, and you don’t have to play the game if you don’t want to so that means you agreed to put up with this shit when you logged on.

That’s the reason I refused to play MMOs until now, why I refuse to play multi-player on-line with strangers. And the troll pretty much firmed my resolve in that regard (except for ESO. I love the Elder Scrolls, and I will play this game because of that).

Surprisingly enough, a woman agreed with the troll. She had never experienced such threats in a multi-player game, and had a hard time grasping that other women had. She told me I just need to get my girlfriends involved, get them playing with me, then I wouldn’t have to worry about strangers.

OK. Perhaps. Have a friends-only invite game. The problem? Women react with shock when I’ve mentioned the throat-slitting comment–and some wonder why I still play games. They see it as a failing on my part, that I would willingly put myself through that sort of thing just to play a game. They won’t. See? Problem solved.

I’m never going to stop playing games. I love them much. They’ve been a part of my existence since I played the Intellivision as a child, and I just can’t see myself giving them up. That’s not the solution to this problem. Men recognizing that women have vastly different experiences on-line, and those experiences can be very painful, will be a start. Absorbing articles like McKinney’s will help. People refusing to be assholes to other people will go a long, long way in solving some of the harassment issues women experience (yes, I know, men can be harassed too, but not to the extent that women are).

But for the most part, assholes will remain assholes. They hide behind their anonymity and make life hell for others because they see no direct impact on their own life. They can threaten murder, get off on it, and not have to deal with any repercussions that arise from the threat. My husband brought up a Simpson’s episode he thought relevant to this discussion. He talked about an episode where Bart stole a video game and Nelson told him that shoplifting was a victimless crime, like punching someone in the dark. That’s exactly it. Assholes, for the most part, are punching into the dark. They don’t care who they punch as long as they punch someone who’s female, and go on their way, satisfied they hurt someone they will never know or care about (while stories like the one Lindy West told about her cruelest troll reforming his opinions give me hope for humanity, that hope is still kinda small).

Frankly, I don’t understand this need. I don’t understand the need to hurt others to make yourself look big. That’s pathetic, but it seems to dominate the thinking of a group of men who really, really don’t see women as human (and no, having a daughter does not automatically make you a feminist. If you can’t see the woman you supposedly loved enough to marry as a human being, why would you suddenly see your daughter as one? Just think about the popular t-shirts fathers wear that are threats to their daughter’s future boyfriends. Do you think a man who wears a shirt like this sees his daughter as a person or a possession?).

Yay! About to Turn On Our Solar Panels!

Apparently SoCal Edison is known for snail-slow acceptance of solar paperwork and we should expect to wait for about two months for the go-ahead to flip the switch and turn on the panels. That was how long it took the homeowner’s association to approve the plans. Ugh.

On the bright side, we’ll be getting solar! Eventually.

We paved our back yard (our front would be concrete too, but the HOA demands grass) so we’re saving on water big-time, and now we’ll be helping the environment even more by getting solar (and our checkbook. When Edison shut down their power plant last year, our electric bill spiked from around $120 to over $300. We don’t have a pool, and our outside lighting is solar. While we run the air conditioning, so what? WTF are we paying for??). We should go back down to $120 or less (likely less) once that switch is switched.

Overall, this has been a fairly painless procedure (trying to get the city inspector and the Solar City guy at the house at the same time was the difficult part). I highly recommend it for anyone who gets lots of sun.

Go SOLAR!

Heina’s Doing The Right Thing

Heina Dadabhoy has pulled support from Sunday Assembly Los Angeles because they are sponsoring Michael Shermer. He’s on a book tour for “The Moral Arc”, where, apparently, he makes a case for logic = morality or something like that.

I’m not reading it. No one who has the past that Shermer has should even consider a book on morality. But, again, it hardly matters how many women speak up and out about his raping them, their voices don’t equal his lone one because he brings in money and they don’t. SALA said they don’t vet speakers, they only vet ideas, because then it doesn’t matter what the speakers have done, how shitty they are, how they’ve treated others, because the focus is on IDEAS.

So are the baby-raping priests going to be on your list of future speakers? Please. You’re having Shermer speak because his fan-boys will bring in the dough. I’d say it’s pathetic he still get this kind of support, but I’m a realist. Of course he does. He and his don’t think of women as human beings, and it’s pretty damn easy to dismiss little ants you’ve stepped on as unimportant.  If they squeal, well, now, you’re the big important skeptic man and who’s going to even think about questioning your authority?

I never read Shermer, or Dawkins, or Harris. I came to my opinions on my own. I don’t have any fan-girl starry-eyed awe to overcome (well, to be fair, I don’t starry-eye over anything) so when these men say stupid things, hurtful things, do terrible things, I’m not going to defend them (Dawkin’s ‘rape ain’t that bad’ and Harris’s contempt of women may not be rape, but it plays into the same ‘women are less’ thinking that allows Shermer’s despicable behavior to continue unabated). That seems to be the sticking point for too many, and it’s not just fans of Shermer. How about Cosby? Saville? Allen? Ghomeshi? Poundstone? (I remember when American Library Association had Poundstone speak after her arrest for child abuse. I was not impressed and felt her presence undermined the conference.)

As Jay Leno said about Cosby:

I don’t know why it’s so hard to believe women. You go to Saudi Arabia and you need two women to testify against a man. Here you need 25.

The truth is, when there’s power, fame and money involved, no one is going to chastise men for raping women. It’s going to get swept under the rug because a woman’s life is worth a lot less than a dollar.

No More Wikipedia, Even If It Makes My Life More Difficult

The Guardian posted this article talking about how Wikipedia banned five “feminist” editors from changing anything related to GamerGate or anything related to gender. Oh, and they banned GamerGate editors too–only those were accounts created to be banned, no ones actually active and used by GamerGate supporters.

Here we go again.

The tech industry dislikes women. It’s hard not to come to that conclusion over and over and over again. We have GamerGate assholes demanding Intel to pull ads from Gamasutra because a pro-woman article appeared there (and, BTW, Intel’s apology is useless and their promise to hire more women into their company will be believed AFTER i see it). OMG. Wonder if they’re going to try to take down Buzzfeed. Are they going to go after their editors, threaten to kill their spouses and children like they did to Brianna Wu? And here I was, thinking the “movement” had died. Must be mistaken.

I was also mistaken about Wikipedia. Hard to believe that the company actually cares about women and their struggles with death threats when they’ll let GamerGaters change posts without retribution but DAMN let’s get rid of those feminists! Status quo rules, y’all, and dammit, if management can’t get in a good word for harassers and wanna-be rapists and killers, what are they there for???

I gave you money because I use Wikipedia and Wikimedia Commons at work. NEVER AGAIN. It will be painful, but there’s no way I’m using any of your services ever again. I will steer whoever I can far, far away from you. There’s no need to subject my patrons to a site that gives a pass to hate.