The friend who holds your hand and says the wrong thing is made of dearer stuff than the one who stays away.
Are you aware that human history is full of examples of sexist, patriarchal societies where women were discriminated against? I’m sure you are, as a reader of The Mary Sue. I’m pretty sure you are as a person alive in the 21st Century, too. Yet so many of the historically inspired fantasy worlds we love are remarkably intent on reminding us of this. When I raise this issue with someone, I often get some variation of this in reply. Sexism in (to pick the most obvious example) medieval fantasy is okay or even desirable, the thinking goes, because in the real European Middle Ages sexism was the status quo. There’s no denying that, but fantasy is called fantasy because it’s a fantasy. There were no dragons in the real Middle Ages either, but we don’t have a problem including them.
A good point about dragons.
I would like to add a link to this great post by Australian writer Tansy Raynor Roberts: Historically Authentic Sexism in Fantasy: Let’s Unpack That over at Tor.com. A lot of times when people say “historically authentic sexism” they are defining it in a very limited and modern way that actively erases the actual lives people have in the past in favor of a narrow stereotype about lives in the past.
History is not a long series of centuries in which men did all the interesting/important things and women stayed home and twiddled their thumbs in between pushing out babies, making soup and dying in childbirth.
History is actually a long series of centuries of men writing down what they thought was important and interesting, and FORGETTING TO WRITE ABOUT WOMEN. It’s also a long series of centuries of women’s work and women’s writing being actively denigrated by men. Writings were destroyed, contributions were downplayed, and women were actively oppressed against, absolutely.
But the forgetting part is vitally important. Most historians and other writers of what we now consider “primary sources” simply didn’t think about women and their contribution to society. They took it for granted, except when that contribution or its lack directly affected men.
This does not in any way mean that the female contribution to society was in fact less interesting or important, or complicated, simply that history—the process of writing down and preserving of the facts, not the facts/events themselves—was looking the other way.
In history, from primary sources through most of the 20th century (I will absolve our current century-in-progress out of kindness but let’s not kid ourselves here), the assumption has always been that men’s actions are more politically and historically significant to society, BECAUSE THEY ARE PERFORMED BY MEN.
During the worst dark nights of the soul, my smaller failings rise up one by one in a chorus of metallic voices: that unwritten, obligatory important letter; my tipsy, laughing, unintentional, klutzy faux pas booming into a sudden silence; the failure to speak when speaking would have helped someone…
These things are much worse to recall than any of my gigantic, life-changing mistakes. Those are boulders too big to see all at once, hulking, unmoving, and strangely safe, whereas the little things generate a cascade that turns into an avalanche. They’re all connected to one another somehow, neurochemically, so that remembering just one of them sets off a chain reaction sparking all the way back through the decades with increasing urgency until I’ve looped through my entire life, all the way back to the first one, which now seems worse than ever in light of all the others.”
Whatever you think of Shriver, perhaps the best thing about her is that she really doesn’t care. “I have not had British or American male authors make any effort to include me in their social circle,” she explained. “I should add that this is hardly keeping me up nights.
She seemed to have no inkling that life wasn’t as orderly as her pencil case and that everything is chance and at any moment any number of remarkable things can happen that are totally beyond our control, events that rip up our maps and re-polarize our compasses — the madwoman walking towards us, the train falling off the bridge, the boy on the bicycle.
These same friends are also all good people who have told me how they are outraged by racism, hurt by it, bewildered. And sometimes that’s what makes it so frustrating: how difficult it is to talk about race even with them, people I know are on my side, because the conversation inevitably becomes one about how they’re not racist, how they’re not even, when it comes down to it, white. The bulk of these conversations end with me reassuring them that I know they mean well, and then insisting as gently as I know how that if I have to be yellow, if blacks have to be blacks, and so on, then they have to be white. The truth is that they don’t realize that it is the particular privilege of the white to say they don’t “feel” white, that they’re not bound to “white” culture. And that casual dismissal, that simple, blind, unwitting privilege, always makes me angry. I understand my anger might be misplaced, unfair, ungenerous. At its deepest level, it’s probably born of envy. It’s so easy for them to casually disavow their race, as if it were a matter of personal choice. If only it were so easy for the rest of us.
Yellow Peril And The American Dream by Catherine Chung, and powerful and incisive essay about racism, white privilege, and how even the best of intentions can’t erase centuries of institutionalized prejudice. (via therumpus)
Saving this to read later — Chung’s Forgotten Country is one of the best books I read last year.
SPEAK was published in 1999. Why is it more important than ever? Because not only are teenagers STILL nearly half of all sexual assault victims, but the victimization now continues after the attack because assholes take pictures, spread them on the internet, then slut-shame victims.
This pic is from my twitterfeed after reading about Rehtaeh Parsons, a 17-year-old high school student from Halifax, Nova Scotia. At 15 she was gang-raped. She accused four boys of the crime. After investigating, the police did not press charges.. even though photos of her having sex with one of the boys qualifies under Canadian law as child pornography.
The bullying after the attack never let up. She moved, changed schools, was hospitalized.
We can change our culture. We can make nightmares like Rehtaeh’s a thing of the past. Speak up about sexual assault.
To help a victim, please donate $10 to RAINN: http://www.rainn.org/speak
Roxane Gay tells us what it means to be a “bad feminist.”
“I fall short as a feminist. I feel like I am not as committed as I need to be, that I am not living up to feminist ideals because of who and how I choose to be. I feel this tension constantly.”
Listen to the full interview here: http://www.litshow.com/archive/season-07/roxane-gay
Source: SoundCloud / thelitshow
In Everett’s new book, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, that authority, the authority of the very narrative we are reading (to the extent we can unravel the narrative) is itself questioned, quite deliberately, as Everett takes storytelling and fiction as a mode of storytelling for targets of mockery. This quality in Everett’s work, which also characterizes such previous novels as Glyph and Erasure, is most frequently described as metafictional and postmodern, but I think the impulse behind it still best regarded as satirical rather than postmodern per se. While Everett does blatantly and persistently call attention to the artifice of fiction-making, the object seems less to simply complicate the reader’s response to the act of narration and to disruptthe maintenance of illusion than to expose both notions to travesty. Fiction as a literary form is itself not spared the hard edge of Everett’s satire. Among postwar American writers whose work consistently incorporates self-reflexive strategies, perhaps only Gilbert Sorrentino so relentlessly dismantles the existing support structures of fiction — the novel in particular — as does Everett, although Sorrentino seems more interested than Everett in supplying new such structures, even if they are only temporary, made to fit the specific work at hand.
In Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, Everett does not seem engaged in an effort to replace the blasted remnants of the conventional novel with a fresh form of his own invention. It would be more accurate to say this novel settles for deforming form as a self-sufficient aesthetic principle. […]
I read Erasure years ago, and have read many books since then, but it is a highly memorable work. I can still recall some plot elements very clearly. For a while I was recommending the book to everyone, but honestly, it may not be for everybody.
Still, if you are interested in issues of race and literature and can enjoy a good satire, get on that novel.
What women do in the books mentioned here doesn’t consist of survival so much as sabotage. They throw bricks and rocks and flaming bottles into the chinks of the masculine world machine, then pick up a gun and fire into the turning gears. If rape and other sexual violence, religious servitude, and the politically determined inaccessibility of contraception can be seen as acts of war, stories like these may not just be a means of escapism. In the mind’s eye, they might be weapons, to be picked up, opened, and deployed.