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Let Me Tell You About the Birds and the Bees: Gender and the Fallout Over Christopher Priest
c is for cat
catvalente

I keep thinking about the Priest situation. You know, the one where a well known male writer took to the internets to blast the Clarke Award list, make some pointed critiques, call authors, including some of the most famous and popular names in the field, and jurors very rude names, and suggest they all be scrapped, sacked, and sit in a corner and think about what they’d done.

I can’t stop thinking about it, actually.

Everyone has had their say, including me. I am pro people voicing their opinions on literature, even unpopular ones, and I fully support Christopher Priest’s right to weep over the state of science fiction as he sees it. And while I don’t care for name-calling, this is the internet, and aside from porn, that’s pretty much what it’s for. People wouldn’t have amused themselves for the better part of a week over this if it weren’t so savage, wouldn’t make it the centerpiece of the SFF news cycle if it wasn’t a delicious piece of part gossip, part hit job, part serious business, and part playground taunt. That’s how you get pageviews, folks. Everyone loves an entertaining dick.

But it’s not the piece itself that has stuck in my mind like so many bar-room darts.

It’s that if a woman wrote it, she’d have been torn to pieces. No quarter, no mercy.

I touched on this in my previous post. But it’s more than lolz, he’s got balls of brass, I could never get away with those blognanigans. I couldn’t, of course, even if I wanted to. But neither could almost any other woman writer or blogger I can think of. Go after popular SF writers and a respected award? She’d have gotten death threats, rape threats, comments telling her everything from shut up and make [unnamed internet male] a sandwich to wishing she’d be raped to death because that would shut her right up.

I don’t actually have to imagine this scenario and speculate as to its outcome–it’s happened. It happens all the time. Sady Doyle got absolutely eviscerated, along with such whimsical threats of violence and forcible silencing, for merely stating that A Song of Ice and Fire had some serious race and gender issues. She didn’t say it was a bad book, she didn’t call George Martin a pissing puppy, she simply stridently, without compromise, and with humor laid out her opinion concerning a book. Requires Only That You Hate is regularly showered with hatred for her thoughts on science fiction and fantasy–she was called a rabid animal by Peter Watts, a luminary in our field, who received very little public condemnation for his statements. (A rabid animal! Because she thought a book was sexist! I thought humorless feminists were the ones who took things too seriously!) Hell, yesterday Laurie Penny, a well-known activist, blogger, and author, was improbably saved from ongoing traffic by Ryan Gosling and upon writing an essay on obsession with celebrity, lack of coverage of regular people doing good things, and objecting to being portrayed as a damsel in distress because she forgot which way traffic runs in the States, was treated to about a thousand different flavors of “shut up, you dumb fucking bitch” in the comments of one of the most prominent “liberal” blogs on the Internet.

You don’t even have to kick an entire award slate to the curb. I know female authors who have gotten such threats for daring to own a bred cat instead of a shelter animal, for not having their books available on the Kindle as quickly as some fans would like, for minor infractions. I’ve gotten them for, as far as I can tell, simply existing online. Most women who blog or are active in the cultural commentary game know that they have to watch what they say. Always. It’s a horrible balancing act, and one I rarely see men having to do.

Yes, I know it’s the net and comments are a festering pile of venom, but you do have to notice that the venom cranks up to eleven when a woman posts. You can tell me well, Requires is so mean! Sady doesn’t say things super nicely! And I will point to all the men who say not nice things, some of whom even call out properties for sexism, and are applauded for their badassery and edginess, for their disinclination to suffer fools, and the total lack of screeching hate speech in their comments.

Because, yeah. If you threaten a woman with rape because she didn’t like a comic book you like? That’s hate speech. That’s invoking an act of violence specifically related to her status as a female in order to shut her up. Men can be raped, too, of course and obviously, but the kind of person who leaves comments like that doesn’t see it that way. Rape is what you do to a woman who pisses you off. To hurt her especially. To remind her of her place.

And if you want to see the ugliest fandom has to offer, all you have to do is be a woman and say something negative about a popular SFF property. Bonus if it’s male-authored and male-directed. Shit on urban fantasy all you want. But Game of Thrones is holy.

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

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

I’m not saying everyone should just put their Asshole Hats on and have at it–but some people have their Asshole Hats on already, and they take them off for men who have a beef. I keep trying to think of what a male blogger would have to say about science fiction to have someone say they hope he gets raped to death. I’m not coming up with anything.

Misogyny in the West is coming up and it’s a gross, miserable, chthonic thing swirling at our feet. It’s getting worse, not better. Sites that consider themselves evolved, liberal-leaning, and intellectual (hello Reddit! Hello Gawker!) have comments and whole sections full of such boiling hate for women that it knocks you back. I hear people say with a straight face that the younger generation isn’t sexist or racist anymore, and unpacking how woefully wrong that is would take another post entirely. And geek culture isn’t immune, not even close. Sometimes it’s worse, because it’s so convinced it doesn’t have the same work to do as the mainstream. And, I suspect, because a lot of guys were rejected by girls when they were young and see gender as the only thing all those girls had in common, and so as adults take it out on a whole gender by either outright hostility or by excluding what they see as the source of their troubles from their presence, their media, their art.

Well, I was rejected by a LOT of guys when I was young. Often cruelly, often publically. Every awful thing “girls” do, a guy has done to me. And now, as when I was in school, I find myself navigating a world where everyone listens when the menfolk talk. When women say something even slightly off the path of accepted indietechsfgamer wisdom, for offenses as monstrous as suggesting that it’s hard to be a woman programmer in the open source world and as unforgivable as crossing the street the wrong way, a large and vocal cross-section simply screams obscenities until she shuts up. When I was a kid, I was told to soften my voice, make it higher, make it sweeter, smile more, keep my hand down in class, and over and over not to be so opinionated–a word that is not even used to describe men, because when a man has an opinion, it’s taking a stand or telling it like it is or whatever brand of keeping it real you’d like to slot in there.

I’m frustrated. I’m tired of the disparity of voices, of who gets written off and who gets their blog posts discussed in The Guardian being dismally predictable. I’m tired of still having the “when men say it it’s awesome and when women say it it’s bitchy” conversation that was supposed to be sorted in 1985. Not because I have a whole bunch of horrible shit about awards that I’d like to say. I don’t. But I have to tell you that I don’t, so that you’ll think I’m a nice girl, so that I don’t come off as threatening, so that you’ll listen to what I say and not just write me off as an angry feminist…what? Bitch. Because feminist bitches are not to be listened to, don’t you know. They are not to be considered, not the way Priest was considered, even by people who disagreed, even by people who thought he went too far and too personal and too much.

And ultimately, it won’t matter. This post will still probably net me some ugly email and assumptions that I am in some fashion The Worst. Because there is no possible way to make myself as dulcet and charming and innocent and inoffensive as some people want women to be, most particularly women writers of children’s books, without killing some part of me, burning it out to replace it with a nice tea service and a demure smile.

That’s the line I walk, and most female authors and commentators walk. On one side of it is a silence which we can’t afford and on the other are the blowback and threats, which come quietly and secretly through email or boldly and baldly in comments.

I have no doubt professional life will be a bit dodgy for Priest in the near future. But no one will wish him death. No one will email him to tell him he should be raped. No one will call him a rabid animal (with the implication that such monsters are to be put down). That he will not suffer this is undeniably a good thing.

But it’s not an equal thing.

Mirrored from cmv.com. Also appearing on @LJ and @DW. Read anywhere, comment anywhere.


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Hi, I haven't commented on your journal before, but I've been following it for a while and always admired what you have to say.

I wanted to comment this time and say thank you, so much, for this post. You hit the nail on the head precisely. I'm actually making my own tentative forays into the reviewing blogosphere, and my tentativeness is due to a lot of the comments on blogs such as the ones you mention. As a survivor of sexual assault I'm not sure I could handle being threatened with rape.

I really hate the idea that some things are beyond criticism. I enjoy Game of Thrones, but it has a lot of sexist and racist elements that should be called out. And of course, the moment anyone does call them out, fans behave as you described. I also think that a lot of Alan Moore's work is problematic, but am scared to mention it in a public forum because in the comic book world Alan Moore is God.

TL/DR: I agree, and thank you. :)

Also, at the risk of unleashing my inner fangirl, Deathless changed my life.


Same thing happened when the Big Hot Fantasy Series was Stephen Donaldson's Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the big fat whiner The Unbeliever. I said on an early online forum that I had stopped writing about the time it became clear that Covenant was going to rape a teenage girl Just Because, and not only did a fanboy all but *order* me to read the whole thing, he wrote to my then-husband telling him that he needed to shut me up.

My husband told him to pound sand.

I have only read your blog a few times and I am not following the online discussion of Christopher Preist at all. But you are exactly right about women's opinions being attacked online (and elsewhere but that is another discussion). I have seen it over and over as well. And it does seem like the sexist hate speech is getting worse not better. I've developed a think skin and don't usually care if the world thinks I am an opinionated bitch. But I hate that my daughter and her generation of young women are going to have to keep fighting the same battles.

And it does seem like the sexist hate speech is getting worse not better.

I was thinking about this, after reading a comment up-thread a ways, and I actually think part of the problem is that young people are increasingly raised to believe they live in a post-sexist society.

As a quasi-young person (not teens, but twenties), I can say that this was very much the myth handed to me growing up by the adults around me and the culture at large. I can't imagine the post-sexist meme quieted down for the children of the '00s--in fact, many conversations I've had with teens and young college students suggest that it has only intensified. And little kids? Who even knows what high dosages of that crap they're getting?

I imagine you've raised your daughter aware of the ways sexism is still present in our society, but it sucks that the culture at large is still feeding her the same brand of bullshit that it fed me. Hopefully your influence and support will help her fight the good fight, even if it's maddening that she'll still have to fight it in the first place.

That said, I don't think this is just a young person's problem--after all, somebody had to start the post-sexist meme, and I highly doubt it was a bunch of six-year-olds. I do think we as a culture are long overdue for a conversation about the ways sexism is still perpetrated in this society--and that just because women can vote and go to college and have careers now, it doesn't mean we're "post-sexist." I don't know if such a discussion will ever happen, or if it will have a marked enough influence on internet discourse to even begin to mitigate the kinds of double standards Cat described. But I remain hopeful.

History can be inspiring, too.

shadrad

2012-04-07 07:51 am (UTC)

This post, and others like/responding to it, have lit this corner of the internet on fire, and in a way I think is wonderful. Thank you, Cat.

I wanted to share something I found particularly comforting, inspiring, and resolve-strengthening today where otherwise I felt overwhelmed by the work our society has yet to do. Here:

Bad Romance: Women's Suffrage

This is an exceptional educational parody music video about the Women's Suffrage movement in the USA, focusing mainly on Alice Paul's contributions (there is a 'Making Of' video in which the creators explain they would have loved to include more of the incredible women (and men!) involved in the movement, but creative decisions, you know how it goes). I've watched/listened to it at least 15 times today. I can't recommend it enough.

I was a little upset, too, that I'd barely heard the name Alice Paul mentioned in the classes I've taken that cover the Women's Suffrage movement. Other names were familiar, but I didn't know who she was.

I found my unintentional ignorance of her story to be incredibly embarrassing and upsetting.

So I offer this, as well:

A writeup of Alice Paul's contributions and leadership in the Women's Suffrage Movement in America.

Here is a longer biography from alicepaul.org in which her background and her efforts in the UK for Women's Suffrage, as well as what she did after the 19th Ammendment was ratified.

I hope these links bring other people a bit of inspiration and reassurance like it did for me today.

Edited at 2012-04-07 07:53 am (UTC)

Re: History can be inspiring, too.

meganbmoore

2012-04-08 05:54 am (UTC)

Have you seen the movie Iron Jawed Angels? It's about the Suffrage Movement in the US and centered around Alice Paul and the women she worked with (IIRC, most characters actually are based on specific women, or represent several women.)

Just one more thank you. Finally sat down to read through all the comments. Making your personal space open to exactly the vile issues you're pointing out to everyone is an incredible act of bravery. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Do you believe Peter Watts would have used the same insult if acrackedmoon was a man (http://www.rifters.com/crawl/?p=2803#comment-37104)? I have no reason not to.

The same insult isn't the same insult when directed to a man.

Watts used gendered terms; Watts described a WOC in terms of animals, particularly very low-status & disgusting animals; and Watts specifically invoked irrationality and brain disease. (I'm willing to believe now that his use of "mental disease" was dictionary-fail and not a deliberate invocation of mental illness. Doesn't mean he gets a pass on rabies in the first place.)

All of those things are, historically, used very much to put down people white men see as "other", specifically women and people of colour. When guys use these sorts of arguments against each other, it means (more of less) "I hate you and everything you stand for. Let us resolve this with fisticuffs, and then a couple of beers, and then hot gay sex." When used against women, it means "why are you daring to express an opinion in my presence, you subhuman... thing? Go away so the Srs Ppl can talk."

Which is basically why they shouldn't do it. Even when it wasn't explicitly intended, there's enough cultural baggage for it to be an implicit or unconsidered intention. (Neither I nor Watts, nor anyone else, are entirely rational and unbiased. This is brains 101, the all-important next fact after "brains are tasty".) Even when there isn't an implicit intention, it's a dogwhistle for the subhuman male specimens who actually believe things like this, and think the poster is on their side.

Thank you for writing this. Thank you.

I think that there's a difference between the question of what kind of online statements generate outrage, and the question of what form that outrage takes. The former, I think, comes down to a confluence of causes (of which the gender of the writer is, of course, often one). The comparison to Sady Doyle's ASoIaF post only goes so far because none of the authors on the Clarke shortlist that Priest railed against have anywhere near the devoted, widespread fandom that George R.R. Martin does (and anyway one could argue that the true target of his ire are the Clarke judges). The closest is Charles Stross, and he took what seems like a deliberately positive approach when directing his readers to Priest's post. That also strikes me as very important to whether an outrage forms and what shape it assumes. When John Scalzi linked to Priest's post he did so in neutral, shading into positive terms. When he linked to Adam Roberts's evisceration of the Hugo shortlist in 2009, his attitude was more negative, and the comments on Roberts's post were a great deal more negative as well. (It probably also helps that Priest doesn't allow comments on his post, whereas Roberts and most of the other people discussed here do.)

All that said, when the outrage does form I absolutely agree that the gender of its target determines its nature. Adam Roberts may have received nasty comments on his Hugo post but none of them went so far as to threaten him or his family (that I know of), whereas this is, as you say, sadly commonplace where women writers are concerned. It isn't even necessary to go as far as threats - I don't know if you were aware of the outraged reactions to Liz Bourke's review of Michael H. Sullivan's Theft of Swords in Strange Horizons this winter, but as the person responsible for keeping that comment thread even barely civil I was astonished by how quickly criticisms of the review turned to misogynistic attacks on Liz herself. In an amusing postscript to that kerfuffle, one of the commenters who had been most critical of Liz's review and what he termed its overly harsh tone recently posted a rather sanguine and even positive response to Priest's post. When I asked him what the difference between the two rants was, he responded that he saw nothing extreme about Priest's tone, and that anyway, surely Priest had earned the right to be curmudgeonly while Liz Bourke hadn't. It's hard not to draw some pretty obvious conclusions there.

*reads* Oh, I see, the difference is in the tone.

Thanks, that dude, never heard that before. If only women would point out crap more nicely.

Edited at 2012-04-07 01:27 pm (UTC)

What's In Karen's Tabs?

livejournal

2012-04-07 01:15 pm (UTC)

User karenhealey referenced to your post from What's In Karen's Tabs? saying: [...] ing: Let Me Tell You About The Birds and Bees: Gender and the Fallout Over Christopher Priest. [...]

The thing that shocks me about Requires is not that she's angry and mean. It's that more of us aren't. It's that women account for so many of those who try to silence her for the simple fact of being loud, angry, and mean (not wrong, just not "nice").

No one is going to tell Priest that he's mean, or too angry, or not nice enough.

(Deleted comment)
Yeah, Yuki's Law sounds about right. I wouldn't want my real name on that one.

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

This sounds analogous to "Godwin's Law" about invoking Nazis or Hitler in on-line discussions. "Yuki-Onna's Law"?

thanks

(Anonymous)

2012-04-07 03:15 pm (UTC)

Thanks for this piece. Provoked my thinking/questioning on what a man can do about these things up to a new level.

User communicator referenced to your post from Not an equal thing saying: [...] Wow, here's a good post [...]

Pondering the difficulties of being a sci-fi and game fan as a woman plagues me daily. Then add that I am starting to write and find my voice amidst a sea of shut-ups is tiring work. This post inspires me to keep moving forward - we need more voices like yours, like mine, full of true feminine not the enforced societal notion of it.

Thank you for your words and your voice.

"Requires Only That You Hate is regularly showered with hatred for her thoughts on science fiction and fantasy–she was called a rabid animal by Peter Watts, a luminary in our field, who received very little public condemnation for his statements. (A rabid animal! Because she thought a book was sexist! I thought humorless feminists were the ones who took things too seriously!)"

This seems a selective focus? That's all that is remembered of ROH/acrackedmoon's blog piece - all she wrote was 'I think it's sexist'?

To me, Watts seems to be engaging in childish name calling as a responce to childish name calling? I assume to make the point it's childish. Acrackedmoon isn't speaking 'not nicely', it's childish name calling.

Maybe with all the 'don't raise your hand' and 'don't be oppinionated' yucky stuff they tried to teach you, something did get through - that women are not to be targeted with childish slurs? Which is a nice notion (better if it were equal), but somehow the notion is kept even when the woman is slinging childish slurs? Frankly it looks like both of them pooping into their hand and throwing it - but it looks like your asserting one side is somehow supposed to be immune from being hit by poop, even as they flung dung first?

Only men can be gross and women are always pretty? At best you can say Watts was being double childish - 'His poop had a stone in it!'. Seriously, it's part of the sexist raising of girls that they are taught they are little angels and it's only boys who contain slugs and snails. Actually acrackedmoon vents her own supply of slugs and snails, quite clearly if you look past the sexist dogma.

Or what, personal attacks like “egocentric snowflake” and “pompous and ridiculous” (as just a short sample) are actually high intellect? Attacking the person rather than the idea is intellectual discussion? You don't seem to throw around terms like that at people - to me, that's makes your writing a more intellectual sort. Am I wrong in how I assess that?

Yeah, I'm not saying any of that, and I'm kind of tired of pointing out that just because a reviewer says something mean doesn't mean male authors get to unload loaded slurs at them, or that they deserve death threats.

Yes, you are correct and it is a shame.

Please keep up the good work.

Thank you! :) You couldn't have said it better!

Sometime I despair of us naked primates doing anything right. I was hoping stuff is getting better, I didn't think we were golden, but I was hoping we were on an upward trending curve: it's hard for me to judge because I'm a man, and tend to not read comments as a rule.Stuff like what you describe causes me to want to scream, and to be ashamed for being a man, and then to want to go marauding among the asshats with a fucking big sword.

Blunt razor

(Anonymous)

2012-04-08 11:58 am (UTC)

Just turn this article around and put the black man where the women stand. This is exactly how I feel being male but happen to be black.

Nobody is saying that it is OK for "mean girls" to get death threats. You are ignoring that winterfox/requireshate/acrackedmoon did real, terrible damage to 50books-poc, stifling discussion and killing the community, and then deleted all the evidence. She never got death threats, either. But she felt free to use violent, derogatory language against other women of color, and got away with it. But of course you're not going to unscreen this, because it's not unstinted praise.

Of course I'll unscreen the comment. Where did you get the idea from this nearly 400 comment thread that I have any kind of insistence on unstinting praise? What an insulting thing to say to a blogger, especially since you're anonymous! I've been fielding ugly comments for days. Unstinting praise is the opposite of what this post--and posting to a blog for ten years, by the way--has ever gotten me.

Just because she didn't get threats in public in that circumstance doesn't mean she hasn't gotten it elsewhere. I am not her keeper and I'm sorry I didn't lay out in great detail every sin she's ever committed and then excoriate her to your liking. But frankly, I don't think I could have pleased you, no matter what I posted.

Confessions of a Neckbeard

livejournal

2012-04-08 10:52 pm (UTC)

User inverarity referenced to your post from Confessions of a Neckbeard saying: [...] y as a result of Catherynne Valente's observation that a woman wouldn't get away with that shit [...]

As an artist, can I just say that I STILL don't understand how you possibily manage to write all that you do while maintaining such a social presence (online and otherwise). Either the words just come brilliantly, effortlessly together, or you possess a time turner like Hermione. Moreover, don't you need quietude and seclusion to create? How do you extract yourself from this jumble and jangle of comments, posts, articles, reviews and news? How do you mute the rattle and pulse of the great big Internet that just keeps growing and growing and never sleeps? Don't you want to cut it off for good and turn away?

Not gonna lie, this post and the response ate my entire work day.

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