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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

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.

I am reminded that recently (in the past year) on the blog The Simple Dollar, the author discussed how when readers don't like what he posts, people threaten his wife and children. Though he's said he receives death threats as well, none of it seems to be of the scale that a food blogger I read (Shawna Ahern from Gluten-free Girl and the Chef) where people have said they hope pedophiles rape her young daughter and that they will be taking photographs of her daughter from her blog and giving them to pedophile websites. It's wide outside the Geek/SFF community, which is part of why I mention it.

Something is deeply wrong with internet culture if this is how people respond to the faintest hint that women may even, in fact, dare to exist in the world and have representation in any way -- even if the voice representing them is male. There is so much that disturbs me here about the way people are reacting to you right now to dismiss your voice as having validity to even make commentary on the field in which you are highly respected by your peers. Why do people unfamiliar with your work get to demand you provide credentials (when said credentials are a google search away) as if you are not read by thousands of people and a known entity in your field? Because they are male and you are female? Ugh. The quality of the responses by you & your readers was the only thing that got me through those threads.

Also, I am looking forward to your commentary on the medieval world as represented by the fantasy genre, as I highly respect your vision of the middle ages as I've encountered it so far, and think you and I find many of the same things problematic in those texts.

This is a comment more in reference to the comments on this post, but it does touch on the dismissal of opinions, particularly angry/upset ones, by women.

I had a long conversation with a friend about women and comics, and how the maintainer of http://dcwomenkickingass.tumblr.com/ is known to 'show up everywhere comics-related to claim sexism/misogyny in things where it's not actually present'. Without opening -that- particular can of worms, let me provide another example of this phenomenon.

A discussion about what 'rape culture' is generated a comment that the commenter 'did not appreciate being called a rapist' and that angry words and accusations did not help advocate for women's rights-- it just made him want to not listen.

In the past, I have criticized activists because I felt like their message was being lost because of the style it was argued in, and they should have done so differently if they wanted it to be effective.

I feel rather ashamed for that, in retrospect.

What I didn't realize then, as a cocky early-20-something, is that it should not be the burden of the activist to be heard-- it is the burden of everyone else to listen and give critical thought to an issue. The people who are harmed by racism, sexism, homophobia, able-ism, classism, and countless other oppressed minorities, and the ones who dare to speak out against it-- even if they are not directly victims of this-- are probably not trained orators. They may never have taken a philosophy class or remember much about it if they did. They did not participate in debate club, nor do they spend a significant amount of time training themselves to be unflappable, flawless, and the perfect avatar of their cause.

They're just people who are fed up, upset, angry, dismayed, and downtrodden, and it is NOT their fault that the people in a place of privilege cannot see past the imperfect tone/method of their words to contemplate the message itself. The derailing begins immediately, placing the blame on the speaker for not having perfect communication skills, for being too off-putting, for 'dampening the mood', etc.

So these comments criticizing you, Ms. Doyle, and any other number of outspoken individuals for not composing a statement that is flawlessly tailored to convince them, specifically, are just as you and others have pointed out-- derailing. They miss the forest for the trees, and that is never, ever the fault of the speaker. Can speakers try to find more effective ways of presenting their opinions? Certainly, can't we all? But is the burden on them to do all the work while the privileged go about their business until the oppressed get 'better at convincing people there is a problem'?

No. Never.

I try to pick my battles. I try to do the best I can. But that doesn't mean I won't make mistakes, I won't miss opportunities, and it sure as hell doesn't mean that my message should be dismissed because I've been unable to present a flawless argument.

And in the end, for the privileged, yes, I understand how uncomfortable this can make you. Hell, I'm part of the 'privileged group' in many respects-- I am white, I come from a middle class background, and I can afford to spend time on the internet arguing about things-- I have been made uncomfortable before. I have been made angry at accusations and I have felt hatred towards myself as an individual I did not thing was really warranted towards me, myself. But discomfort? Is transient.

And it is the blink of an eye compared to what the oppressed have to deal with every day, for all of their lives.

All of us can afford to feel uncomfortable and upset. All of us can afford to listen, and to think, and God willing, eventually act.

"Can speakers try to find more effective ways of presenting their opinions?"

The operative word here, is "try."

yeah, we can try. But in many instances no amount of trying will be successful. As you seem to have noticed.

Thanks for your post, it's encouraging!

Yes, the internet is an evil, hateful place. Because we never have to look at the person we're telling to crawl in a corner and die a painful lingering death. Our target is faceless. We don't hear their voice, we don't see the pain in their eyes or their gasp of outrage. We never really know the pain we've caused them.

On the other hand, hate mail can mean that your message got heard, and for every person who is vocally violent, there are others who have heard what you said and are quietly considering it in a normal, polite fashion. I'd like to think the later outnumber the former.

In any case, keep posting and talking and causing controversy. Because to put up and shut up is to acknowledge that women should be quite, have the opinions of their husband, and should have no career but taking care of house and children. And if that's what men want, well, it's not your or my job to give it to them.

Thank you for this. I've been writing about pop culture for about four or five years, and specifically devoting my time to feminist and ethnic readings of things within the past year or two. While I haven't gotten the death or rape threats, I have gotten comments of the "you're so stupid" variety. The condescending, gaslighting comments where there's clearly something wrong with me, because I see problems where "none exist." And not just from men, either, but from women. You mention that "on a long enough timeline" the chance of not getting death/rape threats goes down. I shudder to think what will happen the longer I go at this writing business.

But I'm not afraid. I'm angry. And threats or no, I'm not going to shut up. And that's just the way it is.


The very people who say "don't take it so seriously, you're just making trouble" are the very ones who take it so seriously they threaten murder and rape over a book review.

Thank you for writing this.

Looking forward to the awesome day when it's no longer necessary to make this point...

I'm late to the party, but I wanted to say you did a wonderful thing here. Well written and thoughtful and most importantly (and sadly) all too true. Thanks!

Or here is this from a British graphic design magazine. Why would a female barbarian kill a dragon? To use its blood as lipstick for her date with a male barbarian of course! And yes, that is in the artist description. http://www.imaginefx.com/02287754329705405915/50-uses-for-a-dead-dragon.html

Adding to the chorus of THANK YOUs

I'm glad you were so clear in pointing out how this is so wide-spread even on website that pride themselves on liberalism and progressive thought. Cracked, Reddit...

In reference to Cracked, the comments on videos are even worse than that of their sole female staff writer (who often is lambasted with abuse and critique). It's as if the mere presence of a woman on the screen, despite the fact she's simply attempting the same comedy as her male peers, renders any normal judgement of the video impossible for the male readership without first commenting on the physical worth of the female involved.

I have taken to shunning people and sites which allow this kind of insanity. It is the smallest thing that I can do to make things better. But it also makes my world that much easier to live in.

I can't always speak out and stop the injustice, but I can always work to exclude it from my life.

Two perfect examples:
All of my charity dollars go to planned parenthood and none will ever got to SGK cancer. EVER.
The other example is the catholic church. I actively ask women why they still support this group. A group which actively punishes women for being female. (sorry this was not an attempt at threadjacking, but an example of institutionalized hate which we accept passively in our daily lives.)

thanks for the great posting!!

I think asking women why they have the religion that they do is ... probably not the best way of addressing problems in the Catholic Church? The laity are already being betrayed by their leadership; having their religious identity attacked by people like you can't exactly help.

Also, a man questioning a woman's choice of religion is on a par with a man questioning a woman's other life-choices. Don't do that shit. It isn't your right.

You remind me of this guy who bragged to me how he advances the cause of women's safety by jumping out at women who are walking alone at night, scaring the daylights out of them, and saying, "Good thing I'm not actually trying to hurt you, right? Don't walk alone at night! Be more aware! Take self-defense classes!"

I was his guest at the time, so I felt uncomfortable responding. But what I wish I'd said was, "We, women, aren't responsible to you for our risk-management." And what I'll say to you is, "We, women, aren't responsible to you for our life choices."

I had this whole rant agreeing with you and referencing personal experience, but then I realised that those people, those exact, creepy, psycho people, could end up reading it, and I'm tired.

I guess that means they won. They shut me up, a little bit. They made me so afraid for my safety that I am right at this moment heavily censoring myself.

God damn it.

The fact that you spoke up a little bit is better than total silence, than the implicit consent silence suggests.

Just a few things, since I don't know much of anything about the context. One: wonderful post. Two: I think it needs repeating what someone else mentioned far above. If you're a guy who opposes this kind of crap, and see this happening, comment and push back. No, not to protect or champion the women in question - but to push another form of masculinity that doesn't find women who are outspoken, have opinions (different than "opinionated"), thoughful or (for god's sake) smarter-than-you as being threatening. As being something which needs to be torn down. Three: While the internet has unveiled a more visible place for this kind of speech and threats, it's also become a more visible place for people to start pointing it out and exposing it and demonstrating that it is wrong. I'm loving what I've been seeing the comic book/feminism crossover in the last few years - not that their commentaries or communities are better behaved, but that there is discussion. That people are calling out on the shit that happens and perpetuates and has been traditionalized and institutionalized and asking "Why the fuck are things like this when they don't have to be?"

I'm glad to see the same kind of thing in your post.

I read this journal because I respect your opinion. If I disagreed with you (which I don't) I would still do my best to be respectful.

Thank you for continuing to share your opinion in spite of those who lack respect, decency, and humanity.

So, wonderful, wonderful post. I agree absolutely. As a girl writer on the internet, I lay all my anecdotal information down to support your point: I certainly have received rape threats, also actual physical stalking by people from the internet, and for a couple of years I got daily hatemail, much of it including death threats. A friend of mine told me once in shocked tones that women who ran knitting blogs got rape and death threats and I said casually 'Oh, but so does any girl on the internet for any length of time' and then was stunned by the enormity of what I had apparently casually allowed to happen--to become acceptable to me--in my life.

It is terribly, scarily easy to 'offend' while being a girl: every time I've passionately expressed an opinion or a feeling on the internet, I've had a bad reaction to it.

I admit that when I saw the reference to Requires Only That You Hate, I wanted to click away, because from all I can see, by far the most frequent target of Requires Only That You Hate's ire is a female writer of colour. I understand Require is also a woman of colour, and that she dissects a lot of different authors' work. And I'm not saying any author should be exempt from dissection. I am just saying at another point I saw her discuss wanting to put dog piss in a water pistol and fire it in a (different, white male) author's mouth, and I clicked away fast because I was genuinely terrified I'd see her say something like that about the aforementioned female writer of colour. I don't say this to say 'Oh but this person is horrible' or to defend those who called her terrible names (they are absolutely, absolutely out of order, and revolting) but to say--whoa, this stuff is everywhere. It is so everywhere that I could not even read your post without thinking of another not-discussed-in-the-post lady being attacked, and how tired I am of it that I almost could not continue to read your (again, wonderful) post. What happens to Sady Doyle, who I'm a huge fan of, is also so hideous that sometimes I'm scared to check her blog, even though her posts about the abuse she gets are both insightful and funny. I also clicked away from Priest's post, as once people start talking about dog pee in relation to human beings, I start looking for an escape hatch.

These discussions are draining and hideous to have, and eventually you see so much of it that it feels like it's all over everywhere. Long way to say... it's a horrible, tiring circle. Ladies hating on ladies. Dudes... also hating on ladies! And if a lady hates on a dude.... or speaks out of turn... that lady gets it in the neck. And so I think it was very brave of you to speak up about it, and I hope (and wish I could confidently expect) that nobody is sending you hatemail because of it.

Edited at 2012-04-06 08:34 pm (UTC)

I'm not sure who you mean--I'd say Bacigalupi is the most common target of hers these days.


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